Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Short Story - Farm Rules

Joseph peered through the large brush and into the pale blue sky.  One of the demons roared overhead, its large tendrils leaving a cloud of vapor in its wake.  The boy didn't think it would come after him today should he expose himself - he was, after all, still obeying all the rules - but better to be safe when the demons came around.

He was average size - around 5'4" - for the boys in the valley at his age(226 lunar cycles).  His height made climbing trees to get fruit a challenge, but his well muscled frame lent itself to tearing out of the ground what he needed, and his bronzed skin protected him from the sun

Corn was on his mind.  The family crops were scattered around the valley - a stalk here and there, usually placed in a random pattern over 100 feet apart.  He loved corn, which was one of the few foods he could tolerate raw.  Demon activity would mean that father wouldn't risk them burning a fire tonight, so raw vegetables it would be.

His stomach growled as he thought of the roasted beaver they'd eaten last week.  Something had already wounded the animal, so it was easy to catch.  Demons hadn't been in the area at that point, so, under the cover of a shallow cave, father allowed them to build a quick fire and cook the critter.  Joseph mused that life would be easier if he could fashion a sharp stick and stab at the animals, or even build a small trap, but such things were strictly taboo - they attracted demons, who were supposedly ruthless when people displayed any kind of technical ability.

That meant that he had to carry the corn by hand.  It was difficult to do so, and it usually meant several trips to the cave.  The scattering of crops throughout the valley made it that much more physically exhausting.  As such, it was near dusk when he made his final trip for the day.

"A good haul today," father said.

"Yes.  We can eat well...although I'd like to have some meat."

His mother sighed.  "Son, we've been through this too many times.  Any meat we had now would be bad for us since we couldn't cook out its poisons."

"But we could hide a cooking fire with pine boughs.  And we'd be quick - just long enough to turn it pink."

"Joseph, you know the smoke cannot be concealed, so we'd have to go into the cave or further into the mountains," father said, his voice stern.  "Even then the demons have been known to spot the heat from fire, and their migration through the area leaves us vulnerable.  Besides which, we have no meat right now anyway, so this whole discussion is academic."

Joseph plopped on the ground and crossed his arms, his face sullen.  "I've never seen the demons attack anyone.  Why do we do what they say?"

"Well, they've never actually said," Joseph's father conceded.  "However, tradition and oral history dictate the demons' rules.  And we've seen them strike the gatherings several valleys over - the fires raged for a month after they hit.  Yet they don't kill the bear or the owl, for those creatures are naked and use no instruments besides their wits to gather food.  For this reason, we shun the deviled tools of others, and we've remained unmolested as a result."

Still sullen, Joseph grabbed an ear of corn and bit into it.  His mouth ached as a kernel hit his bad tooth, so he moved the glob of mush to the other side of his mouth and continued to chew.  He hated being so afraid of the demons that he hid his ability to do better.

According to the stories his parents had told him since he was young, the creatures went after anyone so arrogant as to assume he could use more than basic gathering to improve life.  Apparently, long ago, people gathered in clusters and used fire on a regular basis to cook, as well as adorned themselves in the skins of animals and plants to protect from the cold, but the gods grew angry at mankind's presumption to do that which should only be the province of the heavens.  Therefore, they sent the demons to drive humanity back to perfection.

Joseph despised both the gods and the demons.  The demons could fly, and there were even stories they shot lightning from their bodies to punish those caught in contravention of the gods' edicts.

"Father," Joseph ventured, "we could try to capture a demon and use it to negotiate for a better set of rules."

Now his father laughed long and loud.  "My son, even if we could get close enough to a demon to capture it, my own father once saw the hoards destroy one of their own in going after the fools that attacked them.  They are merciless in how they enforce what the gods want, so we have no hope of changing their minds."

"One day I'll get one of them," Joseph murmured.  "I'll make them see, and then I'll use my sticks to get fish and wear the pelts of the bear.  One day."

It was the same fantasy he went to sleep with every night.  As he was closing his eyes, he could see one of the demons' rotating eyes overhead, blinking light and watching for anyone who broke the rules.  Rumors said that some people escaped their grasp long ago, but those people abandoned the rest of humanity when they tried to get to the gods.  Joseph cursed them as much as the demons that had been around as long as anyone could remember.  A world without them was but another story.

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