Theme: A crime is being or has been committed
Required Element: Reference your favorite author (By name, quote,etc.)
Required Element: First person narrative (I had also decided it was time to try my hand at present tense. Hmm)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man is, in Goona, a precious resource. A virile, fertile, single man. When there are only three men to every twenty women of child-bearing age, the competition is fierce, and the fiercest are ovulating and mean business. A woman’s power and influence when old are directly related to the children she bears when young, and we have but ten years of fertility. Partner a sterile man and you waste two years, fail to partner in three successive mating Games and you’re either too old to produce young at all, or the resented outrider in an older man’s pack and wondering whether he can impregnate you before he drops dead. Men don’t last long here.
Lin stumbles into the square, looking distraught, as I go out to take down my finery ready to dress for the dance, the start of the Game, and I cross to her instantly, because although she is, right now, the enemy, we are friends between Games. She’s on her second Game and has sultry experience and one child already at heel. This is my first Game and I have youth and novelty. She shakes off my first attempt to catch her arm but bursts into gusty sobs.
‘Carl. CARL,’ is all I can hear between the sobs, enough to make my blood chill. Carl is my choice for the Game. He’s young, merry, a father four times over, a good hunter and, I have been watching him covertly, a good partner. Most of us want him but he watches me and this year, my first year, all the men want me.
‘What about Carl?’ I pinch her fiercely and she wails, eyes huge with grief.
‘Where?’ She just points and I run, fleet as a deer, heart pounding with terror. He’s lying by the path, only minutes from the village, and he looks as dead as a man can, his throat gaping open. I fling myself on my knees by him anyway, shrieking his name and my shaking fingers on his neck next to that obscene and bloody grin. The blood is already drying, and the skin under my fingers is already tepid. My Carl, my mate, my hope and plan for the future, is gone and I raise my face and howl like a wolf as others hurry up the path and crowd round.
‘He was never yours.’ Anol, his recent partner, objects, paper-white, spots burning in her cheeks. ‘We were going to re-partner for another two years. We bred sons together, and he loved me.’
At this, Lin’s tears abruptly stop. ‘You lie. Re-partnering isn’t allowed, it breaks our laws on consanguinity. He wanted me, he told me so.’
‘He wanted me,’ I want to say; but he never said it. Just watched me. Many of the village men watch me, and try to draw me aside to discuss Game strategy, but Carl—Carl and I would have needed no strategy. Raw with loss, I ask instead, ‘who did this?’
‘What is done is done,’ Anol whirls on me, harsh and abrupt, but I hardly hear her, tears pouring as I look despairingly from face to face, seeing shock, horror, sorrow; on one face they look fake. Jake’s face. I blink, re-focus, and he feels my stare and looks away, and I know. Jake has been watching me for seven months, always ready to wink, to smile, to come over to me at any encouragement whatsoever. I rise to my feet like an avenging Fury. ‘Jake!’ my voice breaks and I have to clear my throat, start again. ‘JAKE murdered Carl!’
He breaks and runs, and after a frozen moment of shock the other hunters pound after him. The older men look stunned, but the women, young and old, are glaring at me with fury in their eyes and it takes me a moment to realize what I have done. I have robbed us of another man for the Game.