This is a fantasy short story about a brother and sister and their experiences with a crisis of faith.  I attempted to have it published, but didn’t have success.  Though the plot and pacing are imperfect, I do think that the story touches on some interesting themes that I will revisit in the future. 

Eva and Seth

Seth’s knees buckled and he collapsed like a shanty in a hurricane.  His bag of rice landed on its side, sending a cascade of grains across the dusty landscape. 

“Are you okay?”  Eva tugged at his shirt.  “You need to get up.  The Theran are watching.”

Seth watched the drops of sweat roll off his forehead and disappear in puffs of dust as they hit the ground.  Sharp little pebbles prodded at his knees and he wondered if they’d made him bleed.  He dug his left foot into the ground and tried to lift his body.  It wouldn’t move. 

“You must get up.”  Eva pulled desperately at his arm.  It hurt, but Seth didn’t have the energy to protest.  “There are two nearby.  I can feel their eyes.”

Seth turned his head and saw one of the four-legged beasts grazing among a patch of tall grass.  It snorted, shaking a bug off its shoulders as it foraged for food.  It wasn’t watching him. 

Seth spit the dirt from his mouth and took a deep breath. Teeth grinding, he pushed off of the ground with both his palms and managed to get his feet under him.  The sudden change in position made him woozy, but Eva was there to hold him up.  “They’re not watching us, Eva.  They’re just animals.”

“Don’t say things like that.  I’d have thought your sickness would have taught you a lesson.”

Seth looked down at his fallen bag of rice.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to carry it. 

“Here, I might be able to take your bag for a little while.”  Eva balanced her own bag precariously on her knee while she reached for Seth’s with her free hand.  There was a time that Seth envied her strength.  As his illness became worse, he had needed it.

“This isn’t worth it.”  Seth’s voice cracked.  “I’m going to die before we get there.”

“Quiet you big baby.”  Eva’s eyes betrayed the smile on her lips.  “We’re almost there.  Then you’re going to get better, and we can go home and celebrate with Father.”

“Don’t talk to me about Father.  You could build him a castle and he’d thank the Theran for it.”

“You shouldn’t speak of him that way.”

Seth looked at the ground.  He dragged his feet, following Eva as quickly as his legs would allow.  She hauled both bags in her arms and still moved faster than him. 

“You’re doing fine.”  She readjusted her grip on the bags.

The walk ended with an uphill climb through a thick patch of brush to the top of the highest waterfall in the land.  Seth could feel the cool mist kissing his neck and he sighed, recalling the days that he used to travel here in the mornings and listen to the birds sing in the treetops.

When they approached the top of the waterfall, Eva handed him his bag of rice.  She smiled.  “I don’t think it will matter that you dropped some of it.  The Theran can’t punish you for an honest mistake.”

Seth looked over the edge of the cliff.  The water careened off the cluster of rocks below, shrouding the descent in whitish-blue mist.  He wondered what it would feel like to leap off.  To feel the wind blow through his hair for one last time.  Would the joyous days of his youth flash before him?

Eva leaned over and put her hand on his back.  “Go ahead.”

With his eyes closed, Seth curled his toes and took a deep breath.  He held the bag of rice out in front of him and poured it out into the waterfall.  He couldn’t hear it over the roaring of flowing water, but he imagined that it sounded like rain.

Eva dumped her bag out and took Seth’s empty sack.  She smiled.  “It’s done.  You’ll feel better now.  I promise.”

“I already do.”  Seth sighed and extended his arms. 

A smile broke out across his face and he inched closer to the edge of the waterfall.  The cool droplets of mist condensed across his neck and chest.

“It’s nice being up here.”  Eva smiled and folded her arms.  Seth didn’t move.  He stood with his head tilted towards the water.  “Hey, you alright?  We can go back now.”

Seth bent his knees and jumped down into the waterfall.  Eva reached out reflexively to catch him, brushing the fabric of his pants with her fingertips as he slipped by. 

“Seth!” She stepped up to the edge and threw down the empty sacks.  She swallowed and prepared to dive after him.  There was no other way down, but the rocks were too jagged and the water too shallow.  Seth’s body collided with one of the rocks and got tossed aside like a hailstone against a rooftop.  He disappeared under a cloud of mist. 

Eva’s knees weakened and she examined the water to find him.  She sat on the edge of the cliff, letting her feet dangle over the side.  She’d looked over the side a thousand times and had never seen a way to descend without falling.  But she looked again. 

For a hanging vine. 

For a path of rocks to leap down. 

For a magical ladder forged by the Theran.

There was nothing.  She watched the water pool up around the place where Seth fell.  No sign of him.

“Seth.  Why did you do this?”  She stood up and backed away from the edge of the waterfall.  Staring so far down made her dizzy.  Feeling the blood rushing into her face she clenched her fists and turned to the Theran.  “Why didn’t you stop this?  He did everything you asked of him and you let him jump.” 

The Theran ignored her.  Faces buried in the grass, they pretended not to hear.  She took a step forward.  “Was his sacrifice not good enough?  What more did you want from him?”

They remained quiet.  It wasn’t the first time they had ignored her.  Perhaps she should have been used to it.

Eva held her head and looked towards the sky.  Her legs were tired and the smell of the waterfall made her nauseous.  She thought about the words she would use to tell Father. 

As she began the walk back, she caught eye of the Theran standing around her.  Their vacant eyes seldom settled to meet hers.  They wandered like cattle from one patch of grass to the next, shifting their bulky bodies as minimally as they could.  For the first time they looked like animals.

Eva was startled to see the village when it appeared over the horizon.  Seth and the Theran had consumed her thoughts.  Until now she hadn’t noticed her tiring calves burning with every footstep. 

“Eva.  You’re back already?”

A familiar voice echoed through the woods.  Eva turned to see her friend Ella approaching with a bow slung over her back and a fox dangling by the tail from her hand.  She wore a smile far too jubilant for the circumstances.

“Where’s Seth?”  Ella looked around and then back at Eva.  The smile faded.  She lowered her arms and dropped the fox into the dirt.  “Something’s wrong.  Did the Theran refuse the sacrifice?”

“Refuse?  I don’t know what you mean.”

“Did the waterfall return the rice?”

Eva shook her head and scowled.  “Don’t be absurd.  Have you ever seen that happen?”

“No, but it happened in the ancient times.”

“It didn’t happen this time.”

“Then what’s the matter?  Where’s Seth?”

“He died.”  The words sputtered out before Eva could think to contain them.  The shock on Ella’s face made her regret saying anything.

“But…” Ella looked at the ground.  “You made the sacrifice and he still didn’t recover?  How is that possible?”

“Please.  Don’t make me talk about it.”  Eva felt her throat clenching up.  She wanted to run away.  “I need to talk to my father first.”

“Of course.”  Ella picked up her fox and brushed it off.  She looked tense and unsure how to react.  “Perhaps the Theran can still bring him back.”

“Perhaps.”  That wasn’t how it worked and Eva knew it.  She suspected that Ella knew it as well.  She turned away and jogged towards father’s hut until she sensed that nobody was behind her.  Father was outside crouched over the fire pit toasting thin strips of venison.  Seth’s favorite.  She could hardly stomach the smell.

“Father, we have to talk.”

The old man stood up and brushed the silvery long hair away from his face.  His lips trembled.  “Seth isn’t with you.”

A light breeze blew the smoke from the fire into Eva’s eyes.  The hot sting sent a single tear down her cheek.  “I couldn’t save him.  The Theran…”

“The Theran didn’t save him?  What of the sacrifice?  All that rice.”

“The sacrifice went fine.  He…”  Eva felt another tear tickle her cheek.  She sniffled.  “He jumped off the waterfall.  It wasn’t the illness that got him.  He just spread his arms and… jumped.”

“Idiot.”  Father threw the venison into the heart of the fire and kicked at the flaming logs with a bare foot.  The meat shriveled into ashes.  “Had he no regard for his soul?”

“Father, stop.”  The smoke poured into Eva’s face.  She coughed and stepped back.  “The Theran have no reason to punish him further.”

“You know so little.”  Eva’s father didn’t seem to notice the burn on his shin. 

“Why would you say something like that?”

“Our oldest records state that anyone who takes their own life is doomed to wander the planet forever as a lost soul.  The Theran themselves decreed it.”

“Well, maybe Seth didn’t believe that.”  Eva wondered if she spoke for Seth or for herself.  “He never believed that the Theran were anything but animals.”

The muscles in Father’s neck tightened and contorted.  His face grew as red as the evening sun.  “Then he got what he deserved.  I am ashamed to call him my son.”

Eva watched her father shuffle back to the hut.  He stopped at the doorway and lowered his head.  “Two weeks of rice.  Gone for nothing.”

He disappeared inside.  Eva watched the fire fade into dying coals.  She laid in the dirt and looked up at the sky.  The stars came out one by one.  People passed by.  They stared at her, murmuring to each other but saying nothing to her.  With all thoughts with her brother, Eva closed her eyes and slept. 

#

“Get off the ground, girl.” 

Eva stumbled to her feet.  The early sun blinded her and tickled her nose.  She forgot for a moment why she was outside.  Her father stood above her, dressed in his white ceremonial gowns of mourning.

“Father?”

“Look at you.”  Eva’s father pulled out her sleeve with his fingertips and examined it.  “Filthy.  What were you thinking?”

“I was tired.  I must have accidentally dozed off.”

“That’s no excuse for laying in the dirt like a swine.  Cleanliness is one of our most important virtues.”

Eva lowered her head.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s a wonder you haven’t contracted Seth’s illness.  You should be on your knees thanking the Theran.”

The Theran.  The same creatures who would punish Seth after all his sacrifice and hardship.  If Seth’s soul was to wander around lost for the rest of time, then Eva couldn’t expect better  She swallowed and looked up at her father.  “I owe nothing to the Theran.”

The old man looked at her with stony eyes.  He lifted his hand and struck Eva’s face harder than she thought possible.  Her teeth chattered and she reached for her cheek.  The sting brought tears to her eyes.  When she looked back up, Father had already started off towards the falls. 

A few other villagers followed him in their own white garments.  Eva rubbed her face and wondered if she was even welcome to follow.  With Father gone, she ducked into the hut and looked upon her own ceremonial gown.  It hung against the wall right next to her bed to remind her of lost friends.  She ran her fingers over the soft velvety fabric and up to the copper crest on the left sleeve.   

Cool and smooth. 

A big brown eyesore on an otherwise fine gown.  It meant ‘Praises to the Theran.’  The phrase no longer held any significance.  She put her palm over the top and tore it off in one motion.  She smiled, surprised by the ease of its removal.  Turning away from the gown, Eva saw her bow and quiver propped against the wall next to her bed.  She picked them up and left the hut.

Ella and Victor approached in their own white clothes.  Ella smiled weakly.  “I’m so sorry.”

Victor shook his head.  “Are you sure he didn’t fall on accident?  I just can’t believe Seth would do something like that.”

“I guess my father has already told everyone.”  Eva gripped the limb of her bow.  

“Where’s your gown?” Ella asked.  “Your father will be furious if you’re late to the funeral.”

“I’m not going.”  Eva braced herself for the reaction.

“Come on.”  Ella delicately put her hand on Eva’s shoulder.  “I’d be mad too if my brother defied the Theran, but this is the last time you’ll get to pay your respects.”

Eva threw Ella’s hand off.  “You don’t understand at all.  Neither of you get it.”

“What’s the matter with you?”  Victor stepped forward.

“Follow me.”  Eva gestured towards a small grove of trees nearby.  She cupped her hands to her mouth and looked out across the village.  “Everyone who loves the Theran, follow me.” 

Victor and Ella protested, but since they kept following, Eva ignored them.  She marched towards the grove of trees, itching to lift the bow off her back.  She could sense a few other villagers following close behind.  She felt powerful.  Powerful enough to prove her brother right about everything. 

“There’s one right there.”  Eva stopped before the grove and took aim with her bow.  One of the Theran stood not a stones throw away, shading itself underneath a big oak tree.

“What are you doing?”  Desperation flooded Ella’s voice.  “You’re going to doom the entire village.”

“I want to prove something.”  Eva pulled back the drawstring.  The beast before her rested its head in a patch of grass and stretched out with its two front legs. 

Eva didn’t know if she could do it.  The protests from the crowd blended into a blur of white noise.  Her arm became shaky and she strained to keep focus.  Suddenly a hand bumped her elbow and she felt Victor breathing on her neck. 

She panicked.

The arrow soared through the air and hit the animal between the shoulder blades.  The Theran bucked up and let out a scream that echoed through the forest.  The beast shook from side to side, trying vainly to loose the arrow.  The screaming became louder while the beast thumped its hooves against the ground creating a great cloud of dust.

With a shaky hand, Eva loaded another arrow.  She aimed carefully and fired.  It struck the Theran in the neck.  The mighty animal’s legs shook for a moment and it fell to the earth.  It dug its hooves into the dirt, struggling to move.  Its lower body caked with dirt, it inched along towards the grass.  Too weak in the knees to rise back up. 

Its screams slowed and gave way to delicate whimpers.  Eva held her forehead and watched its lungs rhythmically expand. 

In and out.  In and out.  She could hear every labored breath, but it still wasn’t dying.

Eva sighed and approached the animal, dragging her feet as she got closer.  It raised its head once to look at her, its fur soaked in blood.  It didn’t know her.  It didn’t even know she had done this.  It whimpered one last time as if asking for help.  Eva closed her eyes and loaded one more arrow. 

She let it go.

Noise in the forest ceased for a moment.  Aside from a distant breeze whistling passed the branches, all fell silent.  Eva watched the wind blow through the animal’s fur.

“Why did you do that?”  Ella asked. 

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t understand,” Victor said.  “Why didn’t it stop you?  The Theran are supposed to be all powerful.  Was it just an animal?”

“Yeah.  It’s just an animal.”  Eva returned the bow to her back and turned around.  “Just a peaceful animal.  And I knew that.  But for some reason I had to kill it.”

Ella shook her head.  Her eyes were red and her lips quivered.  “This doesn’t bring Seth back.  If anything it means he’s gone forever.  It means everything we ever believed was a lie.”

“Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything.”  Eva sighed.  “I don’t know where Seth is.  And I don’t know why he left me the way he did.  But I still hope to see him again.”

“We can’t let anybody else see this.”  Ella grabbed the fallen theran by the back legs and began pulling it away from the village.  “Your father would lose his mind.” 

“Yeah.  He probably would.” 

Eva returned the bow and arrows to her hut and draped the white gown over her clothes.  Her father would punish her for being late, but nothing he could do would match the emptiness she felt. 

As she began the long march, she whispered to herself.  “Maybe someday I’ll see Seth again.”

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