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Badlands V: The Hatching
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

"We could stop for a little while, mother," Santi replied, knowing it would do no good.

It did no good. "We canít spare the time," Aanjn said. "Even when we get to the pass, itís only halfway down. Tomorrow weíll have to start over again."

"If we donít get through the pass tonight, what happens?"

"It might be blocked by tomorrow." Aanjn threw a look over her shoulder and shuddered. "Besides, remember what old Kirtee said last night. I donít want to spend the night on the slope if...thatís...around."

Santi snorted expressively. "Mother, Kirtee cooks up tales to make herself sound important. You really donít believe that the thing she said really haunts the slopes on winter nights, do you?"

Aanjn glared at her. "Kirtee is the oldest in the tribe," she reminded, as though it needed reminding. "Sheís seen things nobody else now living has. Donít mock her."

"But she didnít even say she saw it," Santi argued. "She only said that when she was a child, she heard of it. Itís like one of the stories you used to tell me to make me go to sleep."

Aanjn began to frown angrily, and then broke into a laugh. "Youíre right, in a way," she said. "Thereís no way of knowing if anything she said is true. But weíre still going to keep going until we get to the pass, and nothing you or I think makes a difference to that."

"Faster," someone shouted from the head of the line. "Youíre straggling. Come on, move faster."

"Faster, itís always faster," Santi muttered to herself, grabbed hold of a fistful of Aachiís fur, and leaned into the wind.

It was well into the night before they finally reached the pass.

By then, everyone was so cold that nobody even attempted to grumble, because that would mean opening oneís mouth and letting the freezing air in. Even the herd had fallen into silence, and just trudged through the snow, as leaden-footed as the humans pulling them on. By then, Santi had completely stopped noticing her surroundings. It was only the hunger she noticed, that and the cold.

The pass was still open, fortunately enough. The tribe made what camp they could, pulling the loads off the herd, feeding them hay and lighting a few small fires. The rocky slopes on either side reflected the glow of the flames back, so it looked much warmer than it actually was. Aanjn roasted a little grain for herself and Santi, and fell asleep without even finishing her share. By then Santi was already fast asleep.

The fires were still fitfully burning when Santi woke. She lay curled up on her side, the skin cloak pulled over her, obscurely thinking something was amiss. There was something missing that should have been there. She ran her hands over her belongings, but they seemed to be where they should be. She reached further, to make sure Aachiís load was all present, too.

Then her questing hand hesitated. Aachi wasnít there. The calf, who should have been lying snug by her side, was gone.

At first she wasnít too worried. The calf would be somewhere close by. She couldnít possibly be far off, not in this night and the cold wind. She would be with the string of animals Aanjn had been leading, which had long since finished chewing their hay and had settled down in a huddled heap.

"Aachi," she called quietly, certain that the calf would come bouncing up as usual. "Aachi, come to me."

There was no response, and no Aachi.

Then, with shock, Santi realised something: she didnít remember unloading Aachi, didnít remember feeding her.

She didnít even remember leading her into the pass; by that time sheíd been so frozen with cold her hands had been frozen numb and sheíd been too exhausted to see, so if the calf had gone missing somewhere up the slope, perhaps fallen behind or wandered away to snatch a mouthful of grass, she might well have gone on without her.

The cold of the hillside seemed as nothing to the cold which filled her at that moment. Exhaustion forgotten, she jumped to her feet and looked anxiously around the encampment. Among the huddled forms in the flickering light, she could see no trace of the calfís shining golden-white fleece.

[ Continue to page 3 ]


Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:7.87 / 10
Rated By:10 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:18913

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