Friday, November 13, 2015

The Shaman's Hut Sings

All the totems in my hut know how to sing, but not everyone can hear. The door lintel was hacked from the heartwood of a spruce in the northern forest; it sings of its life, short summers and long winters under shimmering skies, of its maker, a man cloaked in fur like a bear, and of the guests it welcomes into my home. The carving in the center of the top beam, a great eagle with wings outspread, winks its cracked amber eye each time someone enters, and utters a piercing cry. No one has ever remarked upon it.

When she first steps on the shore of our village, my metal bowl begins to ring. I’ve only heard it make that sound one other time, when I bought it from the traveller from the east, enchanted by its oily brightness, the fine lines etched into its outer walls.. He stroked a feather around its rim and it sounded like starlight. Now the starlight-sound builds and builds, a thin keening that begins in the corner of my hut, traveling outward, past the totems, past my bed and my table, up my hand which is poking the fire, and pushing into my head until it rings, too, struck by apprehension.

Then all the totems sing together at once. By the window, the preserved wing of the flapjay spins as if caught in a cyclone. It casts shadows on the dirt floor like branches and leaves moving together in a wind. The hollow gourds strung from the ceiling thump and rattle together. All of the faces carved into wood--on my bed-post, my table-legs--open their mouths to babble excitedly.

I don’t even need to look up when she enters to see if it is really her, if she completed her quest. The eagle shrieks and the finger-bones in the curtain rub together in glee. She’s here! The crackling of the fire says, She found it. She brought it with her! Then my bowl and all the rest goes silent, as if a blanket of snow fell over every object in my dark hut, muffling everything except for the beating of my heart.

This was a writing exercise for the Iowa Workshop MOOC I'm taking this fall, called "How Writers Write Fiction." This assignment was on establishing a world through setting. But I think this is going into a story now!

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