Give Them Wine
by Mary Brunini McArdle
In the mid-22nd century, a mysterious apocalyptic event has destroyed the world as we know it. In the Mississippi delta country, survivors reorganize in isolated enclaves and live in primitive conditions with little knowledge of their own history.
Donas, a beautiful, bright, curious girl on the verge of womanhood, discovers that her community is hiding a terrible secret: drug-induced conformity. She flees, taking her younger brother Mak and sister Rani with her. They make their way south and find a new life with a new people. They find hope, love and maybe some trace of their own past that might point the way to the future.
Katera’s dark eyes were all Donas needed to stiffen her resolve to escape as the community prepared for the morning meal. The prospect of including Lucee, Thea, and Cherin crossed Donas’s mind, but she decided against that; she didn’t command quite the same trust from them as she did from Mak and Rani.
Donas felt a twinge of sadness when she considered Thea’s innocent eyes and chubby little body. ‘But I know I can’t count on silence from one so young,’ Donas thought. And Donas knew the chances of success would be reduced by too many conspirators.
As Donas ate her breakfast she mentally outlined the preparations she would make. Now Mak and Rani would be able to stay awake after the other three slept. They and Donas could talk together in their bed.
Fortunately the rains of the mild held off, giving Donas the chance to garden. She used it to steal empty seed bags, stuffing them under her shirt to be hidden later in her room. The bags would be needed to carry food and water. She knew most of the native edible plants; she hoped some of them grew on the way to the south.
Donas forbade Mak and Rani leave the bed, and waited until they slept naturally before beginning her nocturnal excursions.
Every night Donas went down the back stairs to the kitchen to take bits of food, never noticing the dark shape standing in the corner. More than once she heard the sound of celebrations, but she wasn’t able to locate where “wine and cakes” or apples were kept.
Once she had to retreat hastily; just as she was about to embark on a food-gathering expedition, she saw an adolescent female emerge from a bedroom across the hall. The girl walked stiffly toward the front stairs, her eyes glazed as she responded to an unheard summons.
Donas watched through a slit in her door. ‘She must have awakened,’ Donas concluded. ‘I wonder how she knows what to do? It’s a good thing they go down alone and the leaders don’t come up after them — I’d never have been able to get around at night.’
By now the girl was descending the front stairway. The ever-curious Donas decided to follow.
‘I can go halfway down without being seen,’ she told herself. ‘Like the night I overheard Katera and the other leaders talking about me.’
She inched carefully along the wall, pausing at each step. The sounds reaching her indicated a crowded room, with male and female voices intermingled. Smoke from numerous fire sticks hovered in the air.
Donas’s eyes burned from the smoke as she peered at the strange scene before her. Mates and trainers reclined about the dining room while serving women bustled around filling cups with amber liquid. Katera and Vervia and the rest of the leaders stood behind a large table containing a platter of unfamiliar edibles. The newly awakened initiate faced her leaders, reaching out to accept a goblet holding something of a deep crimson color.
“Drink this,” Katera commanded. “It is the wine of the Rose Garden. That’s it, finish all of it. Now the cake.”
‘Nobody else is drinking that red “wine” or eating that “cake” except the girl,’ Donas observed. She jumped, startled, as Katera began leading a song, unlike any Donas had ever heard.
“Most Perfect Rose,” the chant swelled to a crescendo, then fell. “Welcome, Most Beautiful Rose.”
Donas climbed the stairs contemplating her new insight, too engrossed to watch for unforeseen intruders in the surrounding area.
‘Of course,’ she ascertained. ‘It’s not the apples themselves that make us sleep. It’s something in the apples. And there must be something in that red wine and the cake that makes us obey. Now I know what happens in an initiation — the leaders feed those who awaken.’
Donas’s thoughts broke off abruptly as she bumped head on into a sturdy body. Gasping in dismay, she looked up into Ter’s face.
“Be careful, little one. You know too much already, except when not to let your guard down. Now go, quickly, before someone hears us.”
Donas went shakily to her room. She stayed awake a long time, worried and confused. ‘What have I done?’ she thought, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. ‘What danger threatens my brother and sister now?’ In spite of her youth, she sensed she was in a most vulnerable position.
How did he — what was he doing there? she fretted. ‘Oh! Did he find apple sections in the trash barrels? Why didn’t I think of that? Will he tell? Has he told already?’
She went over and over what Ter had said, finally realizing he had not indicated any intention of informing on her. Rather his words had had a protective tone.
‘We can’t stay here, anyway,’ she sniffled. ‘We have no choice but to keep on trying to escape.’
* * *
When Donas attempted to explain that she was planning to take her brother and sister away, Rani objected strenuously. She was too young to be unattached to the motele, however strange it was. She sat up in their bed in the dark room, her eyes enormous with distress.
“There is a wrongness,” Donas said softly. “Don’t you feel it when you look at Katera?”
“I’m afraid of Katera,” Rani admitted.
“I get tired of having to be a ‘perfect rose’,” Mak stated. “But, Donas, where can we go?”
“To the south. I’ve heard there are others there who live differently.”
“How?” Rani questioned, her large eyes intent on her elder sister’s face.
“Well, I’m hoping we can ask about things. And sing while we work and talk together when we eat.”
“And we won’t have to listen to The Rose ever again,” put in Mak.
A long mild period had set in. In the garden Donas stood to test her orientation. She knew the gate was on the east because the sun was there in the morning. She knew that if she turned around so her working hand was on the opposite side of the gate, she would be facing the south. So once the three were outside the gate, all they had to do was to turn toward their working hands and walk. It wasn’t too long before the hot. Light clothing was all that would be required.
Donas sat down quickly on the hard, dry soil and continued trying to weed, feeling an exhilaration — too inexperienced to understand that curiosity and rebellion had been replaced by the first real purpose in her life.
‘Soon,’ she thought. ‘Soon we’ll be on our way.’
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle