“Survival of the Chosen, 16”

by Brianna G. Harte

“Oh good. I’ve got a little cooking oil put off to the side you can dip your sticks into, but you’ve got to make your own fire,” he decided, gesturing off to the side where a couple cans lay.

It was too easy. Maybe a little time consuming, but not strenuous. Flint was all too common in the area, and all that was needed was a good strike, though this tended to be a setback when lightning storms rolled in. Taking a stone into my hand, I rubbed it briskly against a nearby stone, attempting to keep a stick nearby. The fire was soon lit, and fear began to crawl into my heart as I faced the cave. It seemed as though several minutes passed before a foot touched the tunnel’s flooring. Despite my incredibly sluggish pace, the overseer made no attempt to interfere.

The tunnel curved around, soon making the only light the one in my hand. The darkness had consumed me, only kept at bay by the torch. “Herold?” I called out. My voice reverberated, the name repeated a few times more, as though ghosts spoke farther down the passage. “Herold!”

A minute passed.

“Herold!”

“Tristen?” a voice called, sounding far away.

Something approached at a quick pace. Footsteps pounded against the dirt. The light of the flame would not extend far enough for me to see a face. “Herold?”

Soon, his face came into view, one smeared with dried mud, causing the whites of his eyes to stand out. “Thank goodness you’re here!”

“Thank goodness?” I asked, taken aback. “It’s not a good thing that we’re here, Herold. Are you crazy?”

As he shook his head, I noticed how grimy his clothes were. Rather than torn or broken, they seemed to have worn down several days in only two. Mud seemed to be caked onto his shirt and the front of his pants. With his feet barren, the dirt had made the skin a couple shades darker.

“Why are you so filthy? Haven’t you washed yourself? They haven’t forced you to stay here, have they?”

“Nah, that man’s not so bad,” he said, not too concerned about it. “But I did find something I don’t think they want us to know about. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Herold led me deeper into the tunnel without a light to aid him. As he walked, he said, “I’ve known about it since the afternoon of the day I got sent to this mountain. They’re part of our community’s history, something we haven’t really known much about since these people moved in. I wanted to show people, I really did. But none of you came the day after. And if they noticed one of you gone without their say, others would be in danger. I had to make the fence fall.”

I recalled the object hurled at the fence, with Reen desperately trying to hold it up. It caused her so much anguish, anger boiled my blood. “You did that?” I asked on the line between disbelief and outrage. “You almost killed Reen!”

Herold wouldn’t turn around. “She would’ve been alright. It’s not like she cared about the fence, or any others for that matter. Actually, I thought she’d be sent here instead of you, because they would have blamed her for the incident. Guess that didn’t happen.”

“No,” I muttered through clenched teeth, “It didn’t. I had to help her, along with a few others. I wound up here ‘cause I called out the overseers for it, even though they apparently weren’t the cause.”

“Chill, Tristen. I only wanted someone else to see this.” He waved his arm off to the side.

Bringing the torchlight over, my breath was caught in my throat. Strewn about, covered in dirt, were masks carved out of wood and decorated with feathers, jewelry with symbols of past leaders of our community, shields meticulously painted with berries and a few kinds of mud, and much more. Gold that would have been ceremoniously gilded upon the three-foot masks seemed to be stripped away, as faded outlines were seen on each creation.  Some of the wood cracked, yet not from horrible care. Such strong wood would have been at least a century old to begin to crack like that.

Copyright © 2016 Brianna G Harte. All rights reserved.

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