My apologies if this posts twice. I don’t see it and I KNOW I posted it!!!
[My dream actually started with her hiding and I woke up when she was in the “hospital” getting her skin dyed by her community — she wasn’t sure if they were going to help her or not, but I guess they’re going to. Anyway, she’s a lot younger in this section than when she’s in High School helping Isaac, so I wasn’t sure if it was her (Isaac’s mother) at first. But I think it is. I’ll write about her actual hiding later. This kinda wore me out.]
She was excited to be going to the village; she remembered that. Though she thought she was older before now. Leave it to Greensleeves to be messing with time again. She wished she knew what country they were visiting, though he told her it wouldn’t matter – parallel time constructs. It could mean everything – or almost nothing.
They landed in a deserted patch of nothing – she counted six planes. Each plane, she would learn, carried one “ambassador” – one boy or girl about her age. They were all going to be taking part in the New Year tribal game, though what the game was — she had no idea. She hoped she would have time to get to know the other ambassadors – though if they were going to be in a cage match or something, maybe it was better she didn’t.
Each ambassador was huddled around by a group of adults. Most of the time, the women were in 60s style suits and skirts with pump heels and bobby-pinned hats. Their suits were covered in glamorous-looking furs. She didn’t have any women with her, and Greensleeves was keeping invisible. Just one man, a husky Peruvian gentleman who had piloted the plane, accompanied her. He was friendly, and spoke English well, although the Castillian accent was a bit distracting at times. Did that mean the people she was going to visit were Peruvian as well?
“No. Not the way you’d think.” Greensleeves spoke directly into her mind.
“You know, since we have this mind-to-mind capacity, you could be filling me in instead of making me guess everything.”
“You’re going to have a kid just like you, you know.”
Several heads turned to look at her. Shoot, she thought. Her “Ewww” was out loud.
Greensleeves just laughed.
She turned her thoughts back into her head and directed them at him. “Another thing that WOULD NOT have happened if you’d been talking to me about the mission instead of messing around.”
“Self control – you need it.”
“I have plenty. See? You’re still here.” She retorted.
“Most girls would love to have a friendly Leprechaun on their side.”
“Are you on my side? Geez, sorry, I couldn’t tell.”
“That wasn’t an apology; that was sarcasm.”
“Really?” She could feel Greensleeves grinning. “I couldn’t tell.”
“Niña?” The pilot said. “It’s time to go.”
Niña – was that her name here?
“It just means ‘girl.’ Don’t worry about it.”
If it would have mattered, she would have glared at Greensleeves. Instead, she took the elbow offered by the pilot, and they set off.
She tried to say hello to the other ambassadors. She knew “hello” in several different languages and if they were ambassadors, such a simple greeting should not have needed translation. But the other children looked straight ahead and did not acknowledge her.
“I knew it!” She said to herself. “It will be some sort of Coliseum death match. What am I doing here?”
“Relax.” Greensleeves said. “It’s not a cage match or a Coliseum match.”
“Then what is it?”
The pilot was looking at her expectantly. She realized then that he’d been talking to her while she had been talking to Greensleeves, and now he was waiting for her to answer.
“Are you ready, Niña?” The pilot asked kindly. He spoke very distinctly, possibly thinking she had not understood his English the first time.
“I’m nervous.” She admitted. This she could say without confirming or denying readiness for what was to come.
“It’s alright. Every ambassador is nervous until the game is over. And I will help you as much as I can.”
Well, that was a relief. If an adult could help, then perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.
“Gracias.” She replied.
He smiled back at her in response.
“The Game has been a tradition among our people since the first New Year.” An Elder’s voice boomed as the throng of people gathered round to hear. “When we were new, strangers came among us. Not knowing if they were for good or ill, they were hidden. Little by little, the strangers provided lessons that could be useful to our people. In time, they assimilated and we regarded them as our own.”
This proclamation was met with cheers and applause by the crowd.
“This year, six strangers have been brought to our village. Each community has already claimed a stranger to care for or convict.”
“The first community to bring their stranger to the Judgment will bring Punishment to their stranger and a reward for themselves. The second community to bring their stranger to Judgment will be rewarded and their stranger will not be Punished. The third, fourth, and fifth communities will receive either reward or punishment, decided at random by the Judges and the stranger’s tests. The last community to bring their stranger to Judgment will be handsomely rewarded, and their stranger will receive a place of honor among our people.”
Second or last in a game of hide and seek? She could certainly tell something about the values of these people. Tests? Probably they didn’t mean spelling tests. She was very glad she had not been able to dress up for this gathering. Her jeans, black shirt, and grey hoodie were much better for hiding in than anything dressy would have been. The natives were dressed festively, but some of the children were in jeans, too. Maybe during the game, they would all be more casual. Her skin, on the other hand, was a problem. Potentially, it was a big problem. The people around her were dark, some kind of Middle Eastern or Indian. She would have to find a way to cover her own pale skin. But even though they weren’t speaking her language, she could understand them somehow. She thought reluctantly that she would have to thank Greensleeves for the SMALL favor of communication. Then she thought she heard him laughing.
She backed out of the throng of people. She didn’t know which community had chosen her. She didn’t know what she could offer these people to keep them from turning her in. She cursed Greensleeves – there was a lot she didn’t know. Then she thought she saw the pilot. She tried to make her way over to him without drawing attention to herself. As she walked, she thought he looked even darker than before. Maybe he was not the same guy? But he glanced her way and smiled when he saw her. “Niña. Good. I’ll show you home.” He pulled her hood up over her head and put an arm around her shoulder. Gratefully, she leaned into him. She was also aware that this protective gesture and the hood hid the paleness of her face. So the game was beginning already. There was so much she wanted to ask, but something in the pilot’s quick steps and manner silenced her. Hopefully, when they got home, she would have some privacy to ask her questions.
“Home” was a clay hut with open holes for windows. The pilot brought her a bowl of ruffage. Before he had brought it, she hadn’t realized how hungry she was. Still, she forced herself to eat slowly. If she was going to have to hide, she didn’t know where her next meal might come from. It was a good thing she had trained for this.
“I’m very sorry the dyers can not treat your skin yet, Niña,” the pilot was saying. It seems obvious, but too many ambassadors are dyed and too many eyes see them. It is better to wait some days and prove yourself. But don’t worry. First reward is both blessing and a curse – only a shamed community or a rash individual will settle for it. Coming in second is usually best, but a bit much to hope for.”
“So I should lie low and come in last?”
“Aha. Good girl. Once the first and second stranger have been found, the wait can be long. You may decide you’d rather pass a test.”
“Did you play this game once? Did you win?”
“I did, and yes, that, too. I am from another place, but I am accepted here. Every New Year, I visit the dyers and become more like them. You’ll see many skin tones here, but the children are usually darker. Your tone will stand out.”
“Should I paint my face? Put mud on it or something?”
“Not deliberately. It’s too obvious. Just lay low here. What talent are you going to offer the community?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what they need. I can teach. I can tell stories. But those things”
“Make you a target, yes. Hmmm. Can you weave?”
“I can’t knit, but I can crochet a little. My aunt taught me.”
“Can you write?”
“Of course. But my handwriting is not very pretty.”
“That won’t work. What about art?”
“Well, for tonight, sleep. Tomorrow, we will plan. I’m sure you’ve had a long day.”
The pilot showed her to a bed that was little more than a pallet of blankets. She lay down and closed her eyes, but did not sleep. As soon as the hut was still, she crawled from the pallet. She would not be caught sleeping in bed, anyway.
In another hut not far from “home,” she found piles of discarded clothing and large vats of water. Woodpiles were nearby – it was not hard to discern that this was the “laundry” room. Perhaps in the morning, they would permit her to help them here. For now, she would cover herself and sleep.
Sometime during the night, she dreamed she heard the pilot shouting for her – “Niña, Niña!” She dreamed she smelled smoke. She opened her eyes. The smell of smoke did not linger, as it often did in dreams, but instead became stronger. There really was a fire. The pilot really was calling for her. She peeked from the laundry hut to see the commotion. She did not dare go there – that would be expected. If someone was trying to flush her out, she was going to have to disappoint them. She wished she could get word to the pilot, but he had won this game before. Certainly, he would understand. Dawn was breaking.
No one entered the laundry on the second day.