Today’s post comes from Phil Yeats. Last week, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.
A Waif’s Treasure
by Phil Yeats
Mary gently shook the youth sleeping on the open ground near the communal fire. “Shh, Daniel,” she whispered, placing her index finger before her lips. “Get dressed and follow me.”
He slipped from under his rough blanket, rolled it, and secured it with a strap. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly before reaching for his ragged clothes.
She sighed. Those little expressions of affection kept them sane in the cruel world they inhabited.
They’d been together for several years, orphaned children dumped into the unforgiving wilderness where they’d survive by scavenging or die. After six months struggling to avoid starvation, they were rounded up by the Protectors, marauding thugs who enslaved them, branding them as human cattle before setting them to work. Daniel and Mary scavenged the dusty plain and adjacent badlands for anything the Protectors could sell during dry periods. In the infrequent rainy spells, they tended crops of quick growing grasses festooned with blue flowers.
Daniel followed Mary in the half-light that accompanied dawn. An hour later, she pushed aside some sage and squeezed through a narrow opening in the rock. As Dan’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he realized they’d entered a narrow cavern.
Mary peered into the gloom before turning back toward the entrance. “I’ve returned as promised.”
A girl crawled from a crevice near the opening to the outside world. She stood, eyes darting furtively, ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. She was very young, barely pubescent, and wearing meagre fragments of cloth that made Mary’s tattered clothes appear majestic.
Mary took one step toward her and extended her hands palm up. “I brought my friend Dan. We’ll help you avoid our fate. Together, we can get you to the city and someone who’ll protect you. But you must trust us.”
She crouched and extracted something from her crevice. “It’s too frightening.”
“Please, show Dan your treasure.”
With shaking hands, she held out a clear glass sphere containing a miniature scene. It was attached to a shiny black base. She overturned it, and the sphere filled with white specks that sparkled in the cavern’s dim light.
She smiled as she offered it to Dan. After Dan took it, she reached out and fingered the scars left by the hot branding iron the Protectors applied to his forehead. Mary’s forehead was similarly disfigured, but the girl’s was untouched. Was she trading her treasure for a promise to protect her from branding?
Minimal exploration proved this cave, like others scavengers discovered, contained the possessions of refugees from the global chaos in the 2050s. Decades later, their long-abandoned possessions supported the meagre lives of another generation of outcasts.
Dan and Mary loaded their two-wheeled cart with items they could trade. At the cave entrance, Mary addressed the barefoot girl. “We’ll leave tonight when it’s dark. You know where to meet us?”
The girl nodded without comment. She’d crouched by the entrance fiddling with her treasure while Dan and Mary filled their cart.
“Don’t forget to bring it,” Mary said as she pulled the cart into the heat of the outside world. Dan followed shouldering a large iron bar he would trade with the camp cook for food they’d need on their journey.
The girl peered outside, nodded again. “Thank you.”
She appeared as Dan and Mary reached the rendezvous point. Mary passed her a ragged old shirt to cover her semi-nakedness, and they strode eastward on a two-day trek to the walled city.
At dawn on their third day, they gathered outside the city gates waiting for the morning watch. When the gates opened, they registered for outcasts’ passes and queued at the trading center. With their chit for credits earned, they headed for the professor’s house.
The professor, a frontier town legend, was a renowned collector of unusual stuff. He paid handsomely for relics from the lost era.
The professor barely glanced at the girl’s treasure before hustling Dan’s two companions to a bathroom. They’d soak in a warm bath, a luxury unheard of in their normal existence.
When the professor returned, he picked up the girl’s treasure. “Do you recognize it?”
Dan shook his head. “Never seen anything like it, but it mesmerizes our friend. It must have magical powers.”
The professor laughed as he extracted an old text from his bookshelf. He leafed through the pages stopping at an illustration. “Snow globe. A popular ornament in more civilized times. They’ve always fascinated young girls.”
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/