Jantelagen

Dec. 24th, 2016 12:18 am
sorchawench: (Mouse)
[personal profile] sorchawench
“Maja! What are you doing?” his hushed voice, urgent. “You shouldn’t…”

I hissed between my teeth at him to be quiet. They would hear him.

They always hear us. They ALWAYS listen.

He became quiet and watched me. His eyes said what his lips could not.

Stop.

Please. Stop.


I could practically feel him trembling next to me, holding back the tension of the danger I was putting us both in.

My hands flew, silent, strong, and sure.....the clay took shape beneath my fingers.

Curves, dips, long smooth stretches.

It began to form. A woman, poised, graceful and still....frozen in pointe. Her arms extended up and wide, as if she were welcoming the touch of a lover. My knife quickly formed the wild tangle of hair down her back. And, with my tongue sticking out of the side of my mouth, I carefully sculpted the details of her tiny face.

The look on her face was one of ecstasy. Of freedom. Of willful abandonment.

I sat back on my heels and took a look at her. My eyes floated over the curve of her breasts and hips. I admired the length of her legs, smooth muscle holding her high. Her hands, so very small, open in supplication.

And her face.

Ahhh, her face. I could not say for certain that her expression was one of true freedom, but I imagined it was. It looked like how I felt that one winter eve that Father had gathered us all close to the fireplace and, using his finger to caution us to silence, reached into his bag and pulled out a piece of chocolate. We all got a small bit. Even Mama, sick in her bed.

That taste of the forbidden, eaten in total silence, lit only by a low fire, felt like freedom. It was a moment where we enjoyed something different. Chocolate had been outlawed for years, bad for people, made people prone to spontaneity and noise. In large amounts, it caused people to grow fat…..out of the legal societal standard. And so it became regulated and restricted. As was everything that The Council found to be outside of its collective ideas of aspirations and personal development.

You must be so. You must be as we are.

People were not encouraged to step outside of the boundaries that The Council had determined should be put into place for the good of society. And, the times before were definitely more chaotic and dangerous. In the times before, people were free to create and laugh and be spontaneous. But they were also free to hate and yell and kill.

And they did. Many died. The Wars changed everything. That was when The Council came.

When it was formed, standards were set into place. If you could not follow the legal standards, then you were sent to the reeducation facilities. People who went there came back...different.

Hollow.

We called those who returned The Soulless. We did not speak of those who did not return.

It was easier to conform. It was easier to not “be different”.

.....It was supposed to be easier.....

And then one day, while gathering wood, I stumbled across that slash in the earth. A boulder had been there for all of my life, but time and water did what they do, and it had given way. The clay beneath it was solid, moldable, and irresistible. I had dug out a handful, packed it tightly, looking around for the watchers, quickly put it in a pocket of my bag.

Then, in the still hours of the night, when not even the owl is awake, I crawled out of the loft I shared with my brother and made my way across the packed earth floor. There I sat silently, near the coals of the hearth fire, clay in hand, and began to create.

My first shapes were sloppy and ill made. My clumsy hands could not talk to the clay about the things my mind envisioned. But, over time, I learned how to warm the clay, how to bend it, how to mold it, how to gentle it to my touch.

I never kept my creations. As I felt the night shift, I would take one, lingering look at them before mashing them down, and rounding out the clay. I would then wrap it in the scrap of parchment I had found one day, blowing against a fence along the border. Then before anyone woke, I placed it back into the pocket of my gathering bag, hidden from prying eyes.

I should have known that it would never last. My secret. It was early spring, after Mama went to be with the angels, when my older brother discovered me. He had risen during the night to use the outhouse and practically stumbled over me as he returned. We both froze in terror at his exclamation of surprise, at finding me sitting near the fire.

They always hear us. They ALWAYS listen.


We waited, but the night did not change. His voice was stern and afraid, but low. He admonished me for my behavior, that I was putting the entire family in danger. I cried silently. Large round tears streaked my cheeks because I knew he was right. But, the burning to *create* was so strong, I hadn’t given thought to dangers and consequences.....only soothing the urge of my fingers to mold and sculpt.

He saw my sorrow, and my fear....and my desire. And he grew quiet. I felt his thumb cross my cheek, wiping away a tear. He shushed me and knelt close, drawing me into a hug, letting me weep silently against his chest. When I was done, he looked at me with thoughtfulness in his eyes.

“You will not be able to stop, will you, little sister?” he asked.

I shrugged. I could try....but we both knew that it was unlikely that I would succeed. We both knew what would happen, if my secret were discovered. My brother had a legal obligation to report me to The Council. But, he was my brother.

Over the next several weeks he lectured me. In hushed but angry tones, he tried to make me stop. He tried to explain why I HAD to stop. I heard what he said, but my soul had been touched by a deep emotional need.

I HAD to stop.

I HAD to create.

Soon he began to take me with him, when he would go out to check the snares. He would pack his bag with two apples, a larger bit of cheese, a half a loaf of bread....and then, looking at me with those serious deep brown eyes, he would jerk his head at the door, and I would follow him into the misty woods.

We would walk in silence, our scruffy, ill-fitted shoes falling softly on the moss and forest floor. We were so silent, we didn’t even disturb the wildlife around us. We would walk until the sun was high and it’s motes broke through the heavy trees, scattering golden rays like stained glass. At the river’s edge, we would have lunch on a large flat rock. The rapids and rush of water would help to cover our low conversations.

Every day he would ask me if I had stopped.

Every day I would shake my head.

Then he would say to me, “Show me.”

I would reach carefully into my bag and pull out the creation I had made during the night. One time it was a bear, hulking and rounded....when they have prepared for the winter hibernation. Another time it was a wolf, head tipped to the moon in song. A flower, a bird, a rabbit, a squirrel...all of them born in the light of coals, and all of them doomed to die by sun's setting.

He would take them from me, each time. He would cradle them carefully, turning them this way and that...looking at every angle, every nuance. His eyes were filled with something I couldn't name. And, after a time, he would hand the clay back to me. I would sit it on the rock between us. Then we would eat in silence, watching the water rush and tumble over the rapids.

After lunch he would lightly cuff my head and smile, always kindly, always tinged with sadness. That was my signal. Brushing crumbs off my lap, I would take the clay, warmed by the afternoon sun, and with one last look, I would begin the process of unmaking. I hated this part, I felt like I was betraying each figure I had sculpted. They had such a short life. They deserved longer, better. But I knew the rules. And the risk. So I dutifully flattened and smoothed, and erased....every day.

We moved in this circle throughout the spring and into summer. We would search the snares for prey that Father could turn into furs and sell in the village square. We knew each deep spring in the forest and each flower in the mountain fields. And every day I sculpted. There was peace in the feel of the clay. Peace and comfort.

But with comfort comes carelessness.

We were not the only ones who prowled this spot of forest and field. There were other families, also scraping out an existence as best they could. One warm summer afternoon, while laying on my back in the meadow, I thought to pull out my clay and sculpt the hawk that flew the drafts far above my head. He seemed so free, so unhindered by rules and laws, free to fly anywhere....my mind wandered the sky with him.

That was when one of the others found me. A boy, of similar age of my brother, stumbled across me in the field. At first he apologized. And then his eyes saw the clay, and my fingers, tinged with grey. My heart froze as I saw his eyes grow large with fear. He began to slowly back away, and I sat up and reached out to him....

But he shook his head and turned, running down the hill, as I called out, "Wait!". As he disappeared into the treeline, I felt my stomach plummet. This would be bad. I gathered my clay and parchment, shoved them into my bag, and ran for the forest and home.

When I arrived, my brother was in front of the cabin. He had been looking into the forest, looking for me. I burst out into our yard, out of breath, a stitch in my side. My brother immediately grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into the house.

"Maja, where have you been?!? There is talk" he said, low and angry. "They have called The Council."

My heart stopped.

"They will be coming soon. Father is still on his trip. You have to hide."

I started trembling. This was bad. This was beyond bad. This was the worst that could happen. They would take me to the reeducation center. I would come back Hollow. Soulless.

If I returned at all.

I stood frozen in fear as my brother began to gather items around our meager cabin. A blanket, some food, clothing. He stuffed it into his bag hurriedly. When he was done, he turned to me, his face like stone.....but his eyes....his eyes had that emotion that I could not name.

He shoved the bag into my hands and took mine from me. "Go!", he ordered. "Go deep into the woods. The closest village is 3 days, west. You must go!"

He took me by the shoulders and shoved me out the door. I stumbled on the threshold. I tried to turn to him, but he was taller and stronger than I was. He continued to move me forward, towards the forest. I was vaguely aware that I was crying. With a final shove, he pushed me into the shadows. I stopped and turned to him, my mouth open...but no words would come.

"Go", he said softly, "And Maja....never stop. Do you understand? Never. Stop."

With a sob I spun away and ran. I ran deep into the woods, farther I think, than I had ever explored. Eventually, exhaustion and fear caught up with me and I collapsed into the leaves and moss. I sobbed my fear and anger into the earth. I clutched at the dirt, fingers clawing trails in the mud. Fists pounding against the soil in futile anger.

Finally, my sobs became soft hiccups and gasps. I lay there, smelling the deep wet smell of earth, and prayed for death to take me. Silent tears fell across my cheeks, leaving dirt stained trails. That was when I heard, far off into the distance, the noise.

It was a wailing noise. High pitched and painful. I sat up quickly, fear clutching my heart, and looked around. It seemed to be coming from the direction I had run. From my home. I suddenly couldn't breathe.

I forced myself up off of the ground. My legs were rubbery and pained from the exertion. I was covered in dirt and leaf litter. I felt the sting of a scrape across my check. I must have caught a low hanging branch. I never felt it.

Slowly I began to creep forward. I could see a ledge ahead, a small jut of earth, overlooking the homesteads. I belly crawled under the ferns to the edge. And I looked out.

Lights. A vehicle with flashing lights of red was parked in the center of our small community. The lights were dancing across the walls of the cabins. They bounced and rotated around the open center of our dwellings. I could make out several large figures, in dark grey, going into every cabin and pushing the families into the center of the cabins. I could see the mothers clutching their children. I could see the bowed heads of the men, hands clasped in front of them.

My breathing began to pick up. The air crackled with tension. Finally, I saw what I had dreaded. A pair of the men in grey came out of my cabin. They each had an arm of my older brother. One carried a bag. They dragged him to a man who stood with two guards and threw him to the ground. The one with the bag held it out to the leader. He took it, reached in, and withdrew a small round object.

I knew immediately what it was.

The leader turned around, holding my clay high in his gloved hand, showing it to the people who were gathered. I could not hear his words from where I lay, but I knew what he was saying. He was telling them that my brother had been caught with unauthorized material. That he had not been authorized to create Council approved art, and yet, he flaunted the rules by having clay to sculpt.

I knew the words by heart. We all did. We were raised on them like milk from a mother.

"You will not defy The Council. You will follow the rules and laws of The Council. Peace comes through obedience. Defiance will not be tolerated."

With that he gestured to the guards who hauled my brother to his feet. They dragged him to the rear of the vehicle and opened the doors. My brother began to struggle, but I knew it was in vain. My tears flowed like the river we would sit at for lunch. For a moment, I held my breath as he jerked free from his captors and ran a few steps away. He put his hands to his mouth and yelled.

"NEVER! STOP! DO YOU HEAR ME? NEVER! STOP!"

That was the moment the flame of resistance was kindled in my heart.
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