death-bringer – Mary Drover

The fire burns still.

Morana listened to her mother whisper these words over and over again into the dead of night, a quiet lullaby to her sleeping children.  The cold nipped at her heels as she left them to tend the fire, and Morana huddled deeper under her furs, watching her go with wide, bright eyes.

When she was beginning to find her place among the women of her tribe, Morana was finally allowed to stay up and watch the fire with her mother.  Her first few nights, she sat a silent vigil with her mother only to wake in her bed the next morning.  She tried every trick the older girls in the village teased her with in order to stay alert through the night until she finally gave up, amounting their words to nothing but lies.  They laughed behind their hands at her, with their unsullied furs and perfect braids, until Morana turned her wild face upon the girls and snarled at them with her sharp teeth.  They always fell quiet, frightened, until she had passed by.

And then, nearly a year since she had begun sitting by her mother, tending the fire, Morana discovered her mother sipping from a blue lemon.  After she had been put to bed and her mother gone from their hut, Morana crept into the kitchen and dug through their stores until she found another.  She bit into it hungrily, without preamble, and nearly choked.

Knelt on the floor, gasping for air, Morana watched as blue lemon juices dripped between her fingers and fell with great, thunderous noises to the floor.  She hastily shoved the lemon in her mouth to mask the noise and looked to the door for her mother.

Instead, she saw a man on fire.

The blue lemon rolled from her mouth to the floor, and Morana let out a shattering breath, her lips stained blue as she sagged to the side, watching as the man extended his arm, and then his fingers, palm up and waiting.  Morana shook her head desperately, but the sudden motion sent her tumbling over, and her head bounced off of the floor as she wept cold tears.

Charon.

She heard her mother’s voice, her last, lingering words, whispering carefully through the small hut.  Morana had always revered her mother, imagined her as a witch of great and terrible power, and perhaps that was why the other girls feared her.  To mock the daughter of the tribe’s witch was tantamount to leaving a coin under your tongue in the middle of the night.  The boatman was sure to come looking.

And yet, for all the strength and prominence she had always seen in her mother, Morana had never listened properly to her lullaby, had never heeded her warning.

My fire burns still.

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2 thoughts on “death-bringer – Mary Drover

  1. Things that ARE Working:

    – The Length. I know you were worried that this story was too short, but I think it’s wonderful just the way that it is. Even though it’s short, every single sentence is doing SO much work, and it does feel like a complete piece. I definitely felt satisfied at the ending, and not left feeling like this was just a chunk pulled from a bigger work.

    – Detail. The little details in this piece are spot on. Without saying much, the reader can easily imagine this taking place in a frozen northern country. Yes, it could just be winter, but the fact that staying up to watch the fire is a right of passage indicates that it’s cold for most of the year, if not all year round. The name “Morana” is gorgeous, and points to a European setting rather than a Siberian or North American setting. Morana’s insecurity, her mother’s distance, all of it is really subtly done.

    – Background. This piece definitely leaves the reader with a lot of questions, but in a good way. The fact that Morana’s mother isn’t guiding her or helping her makes me wonder about the quality of her relationship with her mother. It also makes me wonder about the mother’s history, since she’s such a powerful witch. Was she was once extremely powerful, and then something happened, and now she and her daughter are poor and distanced from the rest of the tribe?

    – The Ending. There is so much emotion packed into just a few paragraphs, you’re almost breathless when you’re finishing reading. It doesn’t feel rushed or over done, either. There’s just the right amount of tension, mystery, and suspense.

    Things that are NOT Working:
    Since this is such a short and well-written piece, I really only had line edits, so I’ll put a few of them here.

    – 2nd Paragraph. “The cold nipped at her heels as she left them to tend the fire, and Morana huddled deeper under her furs, watching her go with wide, bright eyes.” We understand who each “her” is in the sentence, but I don’t think it would hurt to say “watching her mother go,” just to maintain clarity, and maybe give the mother a little more of a physical presence in the story.

    – 3rd paragraph. “When she was beginning to find her place among the women of the tribe, Morana was finally allowed to stay up and watch the fire with her mother.” A more precise time marker than “when” is needed here, I think. We understand that this is a rite of passage, but even something like “now that she was…” or “the year that she began…”, etc. would give us a firmer grasp of the timeline.

    -4th paragraph. “She bit into it hungrily, without preamble, and nearly chocked.” You don’t need the “without preamble.” Just take it right out. It’s a much better sentence without it.

    – 5th paragraph. “She hastily shoved the lemon in her mouth to mask the noise and looked to the door for her mother.” The whole entire lemon? How big is this lemon?

    Like

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