Sticks, Stones and Monsters
by Nathan Elberg
The girls met again at the small skiff they had prepared.
“Did he see you?” Tamsyn asked, as they climbed into the shallow boat.
“Yes, but it doesn’t matter. He’s dead.” Anahita tried to keep the tears out of her voice.
They both started paddling towards home.
“I hit him with a stick, and then held his head under water. I dragged his body so it looks like he tripped, hit a rock in the water, and drowned.” Anahita sniffled, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “He struggled. I almost let him go.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I remembered what he wanted to do to us.”
They paddled in silence for a while.
“How about you? Did you...?” Anahita asked.
“He didn’t see me coming. He was unconscious before he knew he was under attack. There’s no mark on him. He might even think he passed out on his own, except that he’ll wake up to discover both his arms and legs are broken.”
“What good does that do us? He’ll come after us again when he’s healed.”
“No, he won’t. He’ll be afraid. They’ll all be afraid. We can’t change what that priest did, turning everyone against us. We have to use it as much as we can. Let them be terrified of us.”
“What about Mom?”
A tear came from Tamsyn’s eye. “If we have to, we’ll make sure she still loves us.”
“What will we tell her we were doing today? Killing friends and family? I’m sure she’ll love us for that.”
“We killed our father’s nephew, not hers. She won’t care, as long as she doesn’t know we’re the ones who killed him. It could start a war.”
Anahita sighed. “I’m the cruel one. I killed him, not ‘we’.”
“You’re cruel? What about my rat boy? He’s going to suffer a lot before he dies.”
Anahita suddenly shoved her paddle down into the mud beneath their boat, turning it onto the shallow beach of an islet. She climbed out, and lay face down on the rocks, crying. Tamsyn sat beside her, stroking her hair.
“One more, Ana. We’ll do one more. Then maybe we can stop. Maybe things can be like they were before.”
Anahita rolled onto her side. “You know it will never be like before. Before he came.”
“Well, we’ll make him go away. And we’ll make sure everybody thinks it’s us but can’t prove it.”
“I don’t know.”
* * *
Their mother wasn’t interested in the girls’ excuses for wasting a morning. She stood beside their small mud and reed house. “You were supposed to be weaving. The dry-landers pay well for mats. Instead, you disappeared.”
“Boys were chasing us; throwing rocks at us. You know what they say...”
“Of course I know. Of course, they’re going to chase you. Why shouldn’t they?”
“So what should we do? Stay here and let them stone us?” Anahita’s anger was rising.
“You came back. I don’t see the point of running away. Anyways, you’re the twins, not me. You’re the ones with dark powers. It’s not my concern.”
Tamsyn clamped her hand on her sister’s wrist, and shook her head. The fury in Anahita’s heart quickly faded, replaced by misery.
“You’d better get to work. It’s hard enough living with a couple of witches, especially when they think they’re so special they can run around all day and other people will take care of them. Go take some reeds and get started. Your brothers are out fishing. When they come back you’ll clean and dry their catch.” She turned to walk away, but Tamsyn let go of Anahita’s wrist and grabbed her mother’s shoulders, .
Tamsyn stared silently into her mother’s eyes. Anahita didn’t know if she would want to stop her sister if she attacked. She wouldn’t be able to anyway; Tamsyn was the deadliest fighter among all the Marsh people. If the boys had known that, if the priest had known that, they probably wouldn’t have started up with them. If their mother knew, she’d be telling her daughters how much she loved them rather than call them witches.
Tamsyn didn’t attack. She just stared. Her mother gazed back, unblinking, her face rigid as if she was under a spell. Was she? A mosquito landed on her nose, but she ignored it. Others landed on her forehead, on her cheeks. She stood still, her daughter peering into her, using her eyes as a window.
No, not peering in. It was as if Tamsyn had actually climbed into the open window, and was rearranging the furniture: her mother’s senses, her feelings. Anahita was terrified. Could her sister... could the two of them actually do such a thing?
A dragonfly buzzed in front of Anahita’s face, looking for food. “Go to my mother,” she silently instructed. It obeyed, and cleaned away the mosquitos.
The dragonfly was long gone when their mother finally spoke. “You know what? The dry-landers can wait for their mats. Why don’t you have fun? Go hunting or something like that. Your brothers are away fishing. Take their bows, if you like.”
Tamsyn smiled. Anahita shivered.
She fetched her daughters each a bow and a full quiver, and kissed them on their cheeks. “Bring home a deer,” she called as she walked away. “Or get a fox; we can use the fur.”
“With an arrow?”
“Spell it, to slow it down.” Their mother disappeared into a cluster of bushes.
“Now what?” Tamsyn asked. The girls put the bows and quivers back where they had come from.
“Let’s go look at the dry-lander village and figure out how to get away with killing the priest. Tammy...”
How could she ask her sister? It was too frightening. They walked in silence, the dampness, the mosquitoes fading as they moved towards dryer land.
“Tammy, what did you do to Mom?”
“When you held her shoulders, and stared into her eyes. What were you doing?”
“I was holding her shoulders and staring into her eyes.”
“Tammy, what were you doing? What else?”
“You saw: nothing.”
“Tamsyn!” Anahita practically shouted the name. “First she said she didn’t care if people threw stones at us. She called us witches. Then after you let go she told us to go have fun, and to take our brothers’ bows. Usually we get a beating just for looking at them.”
Tamsyn shook her head gently as she continued to walk.
“What did you do? Why did she tell you to spell a fox? Did you put a spell on Mom?”
Tamsyn stopped, and gently held her sister’s shoulders as she climbed in through her eyes. “I thought about her not fearing us. I thought about her accepting us as we are. I thought about her loving us. I didn’t do anything to her, Ana. I did something to myself, though. I don’t know what.”
“Whatever it was, you did it to me, too.” Anahita sighed, and fell into Tamsyn’s arms.
Not for long. Anahita straightened herself, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Enough moping. We have to kill the priest.”
“Maybe we should kiss him.”
“What!” Anahita stared.
“Make him think we’re going to have sex with him, and lure him to our marshes. We’ll put him on our boat, and then toss him out near a fire snake.”
“It won’t work.”
“He’s too fat to get into our boat. And I only use my hands and feet as weapons, not those other parts of my body. I’m not... we’re not that kind of girl.” Anahita started to lope up the path to the dry-lander village.
“Well, then let’s think about him being dead.”
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Nathan Elberg