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.
The weather became noticeably warmer at Katera’s motele. The outside men tethered the ponies outdoors to graze rather than stabling them much of the time. But the mild rains put an abrupt stop to this.
‘Almost time,’ Donas thought constantly. ‘If we can just stay safe a little longer.’ Each night, the sound of the rain muffled by the covered windows, the three siblings conversed, enthralled with the pleasure of such a practice.
Donas chose the day following the next bathing slot as the departure date. The food bags and extra clothes were under her bed. The children became adept at carrying out their tasks under the trainer’s supervision without any difference in attitude or demeanor, although Donas remained uneasy about the encounter with Ter.
Twenty-four hours before departure, the evening the rains ceased, there was the sound of a door opening. Donas held up her hand and listened intently. Someone had awoken! The someone must be headed for the front stairs, just like the girl Donas had followed. That meant there would be an initiation and a noisy celebration. Donas came to a fast decision. The celebration revelry would be an excellent cover.
“Mak, Rani,” Donas whispered, “we’re not waiting; we’re leaving tonight — now! Remember what to do? Get dressed and get your food bags.”
She led them into the hall, down to the dark kitchen, and to the outside door. Again she overlooked the shadow in the corner, a shadow which crept silently after them.
As they emerged into the cool, clear air, Mak and Rani’s eyes were wide with astonishment at their first sight of the fires overhead. This time there was something else, a huge, round globe of light with a bright fire twinkling underneath.
The children stepped lightly over the young, sprouting plants and edged closer to the gate. To Donas’s dismay, a dark shape had beaten them there, a shape that ominously took on the appearance of a human being.
Donas froze. No, she thought, terrified. It must be one of the mates. Why is he out here?
The shape began to move toward her.
Donas closed her eyes. Now Katera would kill all her offspring.
The male voice spoke quietly, just in front of the three children, who were standing as still as a cluster of stone statues.
Donas opened her eyes.
“Ter!” she gasped. “It’s Ter!” Then she saw the cart and the pony, the reins dangling from the outside man’s hand.
“Oh, Ter... how did you—”
“Ah, little one. How wise and yet how foolish. Fortunate for you that it was I who found the apples in the trash barrel. I’ve been watching you ever since. Trying to protect you — to help you. You will fare better with the cart. There is more water for you also.”
“Who are you?” Rani asked. “Haven’t I seen you in the garden?”
“Hush, Rani, of course.”
Ter smiled at them. Mak, unsure of his opinion, scowled back. For once the raucous eight-year-old was keeping his own counsel.
“Come with us,” Donas said suddenly. “We need you. Come with us.”
“Because Katera is your sister?” Donas spoke aloud as the idea flashed simultaneously through her mind.
“But Katera is bad,” Rani interrupted.
“We grew up sharing a bed. You understand?”
Rani nodded. That bond was easily understood by a child of the motele.
“I shared a bed with Donas and Rani. I will always be with them,” ventured Mak. Ter responded with approval. “You are the male. You must be strong.” This time he was rewarded with a solemn smile.
“Katera does not know it,” Ter continued, “but her power is coming to an end. Whatever is in the ‘wine of the Rose’ is doing something to the people. Their lives are shortened. And I fear the mates are becoming sterile. Katera has been unable to conceive a child since Rani was born six and a half years ago. And Vervia... Ah, it has been more than nine years.”
Donas tried to comprehend what Ter was saying, but it was difficult. The forthright Rani broke into her sister’s thoughts by stamping her foot and challenging, lower lip quivering, “Then why can’t we just stay here?”
Ter knelt and took her by the shoulders, but he was really speaking to all of them. “Hear me, my blood. Those changes will be too late for you. You three are in the gravest danger. You must go, and my task will be to wait.”
“Can I ask you another question?” Rani persisted, intrigued by this new game of requesting and receiving answers.
“Ask quickly. The celebration will be over soon.”
“What is the great circle of fire and the little one below?”
“The great circle is the ‘night sun,’ which visits us sometimes. The little fire is called a ‘star’.”
“Star,” Rani whispered, taking Donas’s hand and pointing.
Donas stood looking into the black for a moment, then took Mak with her other hand and helped the young ones into the cart.
“Our thanks,” she said.
Mak waved at Ter as Donas guided the cart out the east gate and turned the pony to the south.
* * *
Little did Donas know how much Ter sacrificed for them; he had been summoned by Katera, and he risked making her angry by being late. Once the cart and pony were out of sight he took a broom and swept away the tracks near the gate. Then he took another cart and pony and rode it two miles to the northeast to make it appear that was the direction taken by the three children. Then he lied to Katera to protect them even further. They probably owed their lives to him.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle