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Brigit's Flame: October week 4 ("hands")

Title: The Shape of Change
Community: brigits_flame October week 4
Prompt: "hands"
Rating: G
Word count: 1583

Where I grew up, you're not an adult until you know how to change. Not change like changing your clothes. Change like your whole body turns inside out and becomes something else.

Ashvir from my village thought it was the funniest thing in the world. His laughing woke me up one morning. I looked down and there was Mother Kiri in tiroth-shape, her hair all standing up on end and her fangs bared, facing off against the biggest fattest spider you ever saw. Her eyes were bugging out from a face all covered in fur, and her arms had grown an extra elbow. Ashvir was hopping on a branch right behind her, pulling his eyelids inside out and biting his bottom lip. She kicked the spider off our platform and I burst out laughing because Ashvir kicked the air too and tripped. He fell down so hard it shook the whole platform and knocked the mother right on her furry tiroth butt.

Grownups hated him, but to me he was like the fruit you weren't supposed to touch. I shadowed him wherever he went, secretly hoping some of that daring would rub off on me.

We played Change, me and Ashvir and the other kids. It was forbidden, of course, until you were fourteen and they took you off into the jungle and you had your shapefinding for real. But we were impatient. The other kids would crowd you in and roar at you and grab at you until you puffed your chest up and bristled your hair, hissed and spat and bared your teeth. I made a good tiroth. I was fast. When I pretended to change and jumped for you, no yelling in my face could stop me. I'd get a handful of hair or tunic before you could dodge.

Most of the people where we lived were tiroth. In other places, they changed into other things, but here, odds were nine in ten that you'd come back knowing how to grow fangs. But until then, the kids just played, and flocked around their next victim. Pretty soon somebody wouldn't be able to take it and and they'd burst into tears and run away.

The afternoon the storm came, we were bored with the usual games. So we all clambered down to the river.

The grownups kept shapefinding a big secret. But we knew. When our fourteenth summer came and they took us away in the night, they were going to kill us.

So we played Kill You too. Today it was Ashvir's turn.

We balanced on the rocks by the rapids, ankle-deep in rushing water. It bit our feet to pull us off balance, and black mud oozed between our toes. All around us, spray rained down over the slick-steep rocks. Jirekka and one of the boys had Ashvir by the arms. He struggled and kicked them, and they yanked him after them, all three of them nearly tumbling into the water.

Everyone jostled each other for a good view and sung out the shapefinding chant, waya-hey, waya-hai.

Over their shoulders, I saw Jirekka dunk Ashvir's head under. He came up spitting water.

We chanted louder, banging our fists against our knees. Everyone's hair was slicked down by the rain, and through the mist it was hard to see whether all the dark shapes were kids or river spirits.

Ashvir shook his hair out of his eyes and tried to stand proud like he should.

She dunked him again, longer. He started thrashing. Wrenched off balance, she stumbled, and they both went down on hands and knees on the slippery rocks.

“Baby. You're supposed to stay still!” Jirekka said and shoved him. He slipped into the deeper water and surfaced with a gasp, struggling against the current.

Jirekka turned back to the rest of the gang. “Come on,” she said to the boy who'd been holding Ashvir. “You can do it better, right?”

The kids broke their circle and pushed for places to see the new show. Jirekka had just grabbed the boy's wrist when the village gong sounded, faint and insistent.

Everybody went still like they'd just been caught with their hands in the sacred wine. Then as one, they were scrambling to their feet and racing up the riverbank.

I was just about to follow them when I spotted a pale still shape by the rocks. Ashvir. He was lying half in and half out of the water, his eyes closed.

The gong was still sounding. I wanted to run after them. We weren't allowed to stay out here by ourselves. I crept over to Ashvir instead.

“Heya, you all right?” It was hard to hear myself over the rain and the river.

He didn't open his eyes.

Tentatively I poked his arm. “Hey. You need to wake up. We have to go.”

Something moved above me. I looked up the bank, spotted another silhouette. Shel. One of the littlest. She crouched at the top of the slope, staring down at me and Ashvir.

“Is he dead?” she asked.

I squinted through the rain. His sopping tunic clung to his chest like a second skin. Underneath, his ribs were moving. Weren't they, just a little? How were you supposed to tell?

“I don't think so,” I said.

“Can you pick him up?”

Fear chilled through me. I felt like a grownup. “You're not supposed to move someone. You have to go get the mothers.”

She looked at me with big dark eyes.

“I'll stay here. You tell the mothers and come back here, all right?”

She bobbed her head very quickly and disappeared over the ridge.

The gong rang and rang and finally stopped. I imagined everyone shaking themselves off under the shelters, crowding into the tree nests as the mothers counted heads. There, they would notice I was missing. There, Shel would come running up and tell them what happened. It would take them to a count of five hundred to run all the way from the platforms to the river.

The rain slowly tapered off as I sat there beside Ashvir. Any moment now, they would come racing over the bank, asking what had gone wrong. Hesitantly, I took his hand. It was as chill and damp as a fish. I rubbed it between mine to warm it.

The sky slowly turned evening-purple.

I wondered when Ashvir would wake up.

Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he was already dead. He fell really fast. Maybe he hit his head on a rock and drowned while nobody was looking.

Why hadn't they come yet? How long should I wait? I tried to think of what could have gone wrong. Should I start carrying Ashvir home by myself? But what if he was hurt and moving him made it worse?

I reached over and opened his mouth. There wasn't any water coming out.

When people died, you were supposed to put seeds in their mouth, so that their spirit could get born again out of the earth. If he wasn't dead – well, it wouldn't be bad, would it? He could just eat them.

There was a fruit tree bending right over the water. I let go Ashvir's hand and scrambled up the trunk to pull down two fruits for his mouth. They were too big, so I sucked out the juices myself and spit the fat seeds into my palm. It was weird putting them into his mouth. I kept thinking he was going to grab me suddenly and hit me with boy-cooties.

The sky was deep purple by the time Shel's silhouette appeared over the ridge. She was breathing hard from running. She was by herself.

I stood up slowly. “Why didn't you come back?”

“They wouldn't let me,” she said, staring down with frightened eyes.

“Didn't you tell them he got hurt?”

“They said he was gonna be all right.”

I looked over at Ashvir. He lay still on the bank, with his hands laid over his chest and two round seeds nestled on his tongue.

We did it right. The great-mother would find him with his eyes open, ready to be taken back to Her land down below the deepest roots of the tallest tree.

Then there was nothing to do but go back home.



I know the men went out later, to see if he was really gone. When they came back, the grownups clustered on their own platform and talked in quiet voices. But nobody ever asked me why I didn't come back with the other kids when we heard the gong.



The kids were wrong. They didn't kill you on shapefinding night. They just tried to make you think you were going to die. Took you out to the jungle in the middle of the night, left you tied to a tree all smeared with nectar, till the worms and the beetles crawled right over you and you got so spooked your body changed and broke the slipknots. They tried to make it worse by making out that if I just kept still enough for long enough, then even if I couldn't change, somebody would come and untie me before anything came that was big enough to eat me. They figured I'd stand there, hoping and waiting and driving myself mad.

It was all right though. Me, I changed right away. I already knew nobody was going to come.

I'm going to be out of town from today till next Wednesday, so I don't know if I'll be able to respond to comments right away. But thank you in advance for reading, and I hope you enjoy. :) I will answer people's posts as soon as I can when I get back.
- Pyraxis


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 1st, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)
Oh, this was very imaginative. I felt I was in a strange place amongst strange people, and I was very worried for Ashvir when he did not move. This feels like it's a part of a bigger thing. Would love to read more of this vein, from you! Lovely work.

Hope you have a safe and pleasant trip, too :)
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:20 am (UTC)
It is part of a bigger thing, the world and culture at least. Glad it was enjoyable. I've used this setting for a lot of my stuff in the past and I intend to keep using it.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
Thanks! I haven't seen Mean Creek but I'll check it out. Kids can be freaky.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
I really like this one. It's an interesting combination of fun and disturbing. Reminds me of what we were talking about a while back about child mortality rates, and the dynamics of that on Karn, but it's still surprising to read something where a child dies and there's none of the extreme grief and "oh my god, none of you children are ever allowed to play in the river ever again" reaction you'd expect in our society.

And now after wondering about what rsakk look like, we're wanting to bug you to draw a tiroth. :) I think I get the basic idea, but I'm still curious about how you see it. Loved the description of the tiroth facing off against the spider. Vaguely reminds me of how my roommate's cat reacted the other day when we were watching youtube and the computer made some cat-noises.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:16 am (UTC)
This was actually inspired by something that happened to me as a kid. Recess, and everyone was playing soccer, and the class clown/general numbskull was going around doing stupid stuff and running into other kids. He falls down and everyone just keeps playing. A few minutes later the bell rings and everyone runs off inside and he's still lying there. Me and this other shy girl are the only ones who notice. We go over to him and it kinda looks like he's breathing, but it's really hard to tell. So I tell the other girl, go get the teacher, I'll stay with him. She goes and sure enough she doesn't come back.

On Earth, though, eventually the kid opened his eyes and sat up, acting really disoriented. (Running it past Wolf a few days ago, he said the kid probably had a seizure.) So I guided the kid back inside, and we walked into our class which had already started, and no one even asked, we just sat down and started doing our work. Sure enough I asked the shy girl later, and she said the teacher said he'd be fine and she wasn't allowed to come back out. So fuck, I don't know what would have happened if he'd actually had a concussion and brain damage or something.


I'll see what I can do about a tiroth pic.

I'm back, btw. :P
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
Wow... surprising to hear that happened. Sounds like the sort of thing you'd read in a news story right after "Parent sues school because-". Glad the kid was okay. Wonder if it was because he was the class clown and she thought he was faking it when she heard he looked hurt or what?

And welcome back! :)
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's what Wolf thought too, that people probably figured he was faking it because he had a history of being a dumbass.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
People are stupid.
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
I'm back, btw. :P

Hiiiiiiiiiii! I'm kinda crashed out right now... but I totally need to say hi to you. :D I hope you guys had a good time doing whatever it was you were doing!
Nov. 4th, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
Climbing rocks, of course!

Get yourself uncrashed soon. :D
Nov. 4th, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
Climbing rocks, of course!

XD I shouldn't even have to ask, should I? That's gotta be like the new default answer to stuff. "Where's Daria? Where's Pyraxis?" "Probably on top of a rock somewhere."
Nov. 7th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Hello! I'm one of your editors this week! I've done a quick read-through now, but I hope to have a full-blown edit ready for you late tonight!

Sorry for the delay (I know how it feels waiting a week for your edit)!
Nov. 7th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I don't mind the wait. I know you guys have been blasted this month.
Nov. 8th, 2009 06:15 am (UTC)
Edit: Part 1!
All right, so you requested No Holds Barred, and a Grammar Check. Gotcha on both counts.

Whew! Okay, where to begin? Let's start easy. You had very few grammar errors that I noticed; what few I noticed could arguably fall under the first-person narration style:

- "against the biggest fattest spider"
comma after "biggest"

- "He struggled and kicked them, and they yanked him after them, all three of them nearly tumbling into the water."
An awful lotta "them" in that sentence.

- "Then as one, they were scrambling to their feet and racing up the riverbank" and "There wasn't any water coming out" would read a little stronger without the passive voice: "...they scrambled to their feet and raced up the riverbank" and "No water came out".

Overall, there was a bit more passive voice than is probably healthy, but again one can argue that that's the way people speak. Removing some in key places that could benefit from more kick-in-the-pants action would tighten up the piece (which really only needs a few turns from a verbal socket wrench).
Nov. 8th, 2009 06:21 am (UTC)
Edit: Part 2!
I'm not even entirely sure how to categorize these. "Lines with faults?"

- "Grownups hated him"
"Hate" is an awfully strong term, especially for someone speaking from later in life on an early experience. It would seem that if the adults truly hated him, then by the ending the narrator might be more outraged that the adults had let him die.

- "he was like the fruit you weren't supposed to touch"
Two things:
1. I know this is a personal opinion, but I find simile with "like" to be less effective. "He was the fruit you weren't supposed to touch" has a little more strength to it.
2. This is a tough simile to make here, since I'm assuming you're working from a completely new religious structure. The reference is very obviously Old Testament, but there's no other evidence that they follow that or a similar religion, or have a similar myth.
It's tricky, and most people probably wouldn't even think about it, but it would probably be best to remove the reference and replace it with something less specific.

- "In other places, they changed into other things, but here"
"Here" is a tough word to use when discussing the past, especially since the story opens with "Where I come from," which (to me, at least) insinuates that the storyteller is not in that place at the time.

- "Everyone jostled each other for a good view and sung out the shapefinding chant, waya-hey, waya-hai."
1. I love bits like this, with singing thrown in to dialogue. It's fabulously casual, really drives home the point that an actual person is telling the story, and makes for very effective first-person narration.
2. BUT, it is a little confusing. If the chant is a part of the ceremony, how do they know about it? If it's a part of their game, it might be an interesting fact to include.

- "He slipped into the deeper water and surfaced with a gasp, struggling against the current."
"He fell really fast. Maybe he hit his head on a rock and drowned while nobody was looking."
The two statements don't really match up; if Ashvir was breathing and struggling against the current in deeper water one moment, how is it that very shortly afterwards he's ashore and drowned?
The problem could stem from two things. One, the pacing of this section (immediately following the gong) is not slow enough to indicate a longer passage of time in which his body could have washed ashore. Two, the details of his death are *too* vague for the reader; it's curious that, even when caught red-handed (at least, if the sacred wine isn't a white) and running back to the platforms, *no one* in the group noticed that he'd stopped thrashing in the water.

- "Everybody went still like they'd just been caught with their hands in the sacred wine."
On the other hand (see what I did there?), it's an amusing twist on the "cookie jar" saying. On the other, the image this conjures is a very literal one, which led me to wonder why children would dip their hands in wine instead of drinking it out of a vessel they'd nicked from somewhere nearby. I'm not sure it can be changed without changing the meaning, though, but it may be worth consideration.

- "When people died, you were supposed to put seeds in their mouth"
Seems odd to have this in the past tense, even though that's where the story takes place. The problem is, the narrator's telling the story *now*, and presumably the belief still holds. "When people die, you're supposed to put seeds in their mouth", or even "I'd been raised that when people die".
Nov. 8th, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
Edit: Part 3!
A few overall notes:

- I'm not quite sure the age the narrator is speaking from. It's 14 or older (since she's gone through the Change), but seems a little immature still for someone who's technically an "adult" by the standards of their culture.
"knocked the mother right on her furry tiroth butt"
"until you were fourteen and they took you off into the jungle and you had your shapefinding for real"
Fourteen may seem like a very young age, but the point of traumatic rites of passage were to scare the bejesus outta you so you'd stop acting like a kid. There's some language early on that still has the smell of a very young narrator; it may be that it needs some tweaking so the reader realizes the narrator's paraphrasing her own verbal reactions to these situations.

For the most part, though, I had a really tough time editing this! This is a very well-written piece. You did a very good job keeping the first-person narration formal enough to read like a story but informal enough that it reads like a person could actually speak; that's a very tough balance to strike, and you hit it with both fists.

Some might argue that the piece did not really reflect the prompt, "hands", but some take the prompts very literally. I think hands figured in enough key places that it's obvious the images drove the creation of the story, which counts when I'm keeping score.

The world-building was very well done; I'm not a reader of fantasy, and when you try to show off a brand new world to people not used to it (I know what a dragon is, because a dragon is a dragon; I don't know what a tiroth is, because a tiroth could be anything and Wikipedia just said it was a reference to Pern) you run the twin risks of not giving the reader enough information and giving the reader so much information that it should be subtitled "Exposition, ho!" You struck a good balance with that in this piece; that the narrator seemed to be telling the story to a third party who's ignorant of her culture really helped. You also did a great job of making this a story in itself, rather than just a small chunk of a larger piece.

So, overall, it's no wonder you made it to Week 4; I felt like I was nitpicking when I went through this. Well done, and good luck in November!
Nov. 9th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
Re: Edit: Part 3!
Wow, thank you for the edit! It was totally worth the wait.

Good catch on the passive voice. It wasn't intentional. I need to watch that. And about the moments of Ashvir's drowning, I think you're right, I really need to flesh them out and give more sense that time passed between his surfacing for the first time and his getting sucked under again.

It didn't occur to me that the forbidden fruit bit would come off as a biblical reference; tirothi just love sweet fruit (not to mention sweet wine, nectar... comes with the whole jungle life). I should put in a line to explain that.

Also good catch on the confused place-references, whether the narrator is "here" or "there", still living in her birth culture or explaining it among outsiders.

I'm glad the world-building came off well. It's always my hope to appeal to people who don't usually read the genre I'm writing.

I'm not competing in November, unless by some miracle I get some spare time between NaNo sprints and enter something just for fun. Good luck with your entries!
Nov. 10th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Re: Edit: Part 3!
It's always my hope to appeal to people who don't usually read the genre I'm writing.

Well, I'll tell you right now, I'm fairly anti-fantasy (blame my older sister and her trying to force her favorite books into my brain), but this left me thinking that phrase every writer wants to hear from their readers but dreads if they don't know the answer: "Ooo, what happens next?" So, very well done.

Good luck on NaNo!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )