is one of those stories that rattled me out of bed in the middle of
the night and insisted I must write it NOW. Do not pass sleep. Do
not count sheep. Just do it." -Della Van Hise
The cracks in Merkinder’s window fractured Willow’s silhouette, warping and bending it like a funhouse mirror. Just as he had warped and bent her when he had plucked her from the savage shore along with four others. What had it been? 10 years ago now?
The others had all gone.
That was how he thought of his students, how he named them. Earth and Water were always girl-children. Earth he schooled in the arts of building and growth, while Water was the flow of knowledge who might go back to the humans as the new teacher. Fire and Air were the male children – Fire being the warrior and the hunter and the guardian of mathematics, Air the custodian of the arts – music-maker and mischief-maker, poet and priest of words.
And then there was the matter of Spirit, whose gender was determined by Fate with each new tribe – for he thought of them as his tribe while they were under his care, living under his earthen roof, tending the garden, practicing dance and the fighting arts, and polishing their knowledge until, eventually, the ravages of puberty called them back to the wild, and, one by one, they left his home, never to return.
It was no coincidence that Willow had been his Spirit – pointed out to him by fate. Most of the children, upon being dragged to the shore and left by their parents to die, wept or wailed or screamed until they lost the energy to protest, or created their own end by calling down upon themselves the coyotes and the other predators who were never far away in the ever-dusk, a quick bolt from the edge of the forest to the edge of the sea. The shore was littered with rags and bones, child-ghosts, undefined wraiths who never had the chance to grow up, never the opportunity to earn a face. The blind ones. The ones who howled like banshees now-and-evermore in the night that never ended. At times, Merkinder believed it would drive him even madder than he already was.
But Willow wasn’t like the others. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She wasn’t afraid.
Instead, she sang. Not in a particularly beautiful voice, but with an undeniable connection to... something.
That something, Merkinder knew, was Spirit. And so she had completed
his tribe – the fifth element of creation, the one who must carry
the blessings and the burdens of metaphysical knowledge: the myths
and the legends, the very soul of Rebirth and the bloody scythe of
Death – for Spirit was the spark at the heart of all Creation.
Without Spirit, the other elements might lay dormant for eternity...
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