The Totem-Maker (part one)
Chapter One: The Little I Can Tell
I would not have asked to be born under a portent. The day of my arrival on earth began, at daybreak, with a fearsome one.
I knew the story so well, I could for years picture the event vividly. I believed even, alone most hours with my imagination, that the vision was not of my own conjuring. I was despised. Despised yet untouched, as are prophets, and I cherished all my suffering promised.
I have come to know the world better. If I were chosen specially for anything, it was at the agency of men, and the thing was to shoulder the thankless task at hand. If I’d possessed any gift, I had been well taught not to nurture it, to let it die. Envy bites hardest those hearts for whom triumph must walk, hand-in-hand, with the debasement of others.
The story I recounted, though, in times I call helpless, not innocent, was this the old woman sang, stirring the pot. My place had been to serve; she would not have me call her mother. She longed for her days of labor to end in rest, she dreaded the intervention of a god…
And tidings of great change to come. “Because you are small, Lotoq keeps quiet, he listens for you,” she would say.
This god’s name could be spoken, as it was thought a word of strangers, an old tribe living at the mountain’s feet when orchards, forests of pine, had greened its flanks, when game teemed so, bright-feathered birds filled each morning’s nets. This was known. The old woman kept her back to the mountain. Only I stared at it, rushed to the door for a bold look. Lotoq, living mountain, god or devil, was shaped like a crouching spider, the more imposing for the black ribs of rock that buttressed the snowy peak, and the web-like wisps that spun above it.
A road connected our town to the next, and the next after that; it, like the temple columns risen when the flood subsided, had been built by these prosperous, doomed ones. Their pavement was sound, stones surely a thousand-weight each, and fitted with cunning, that no grass could grow between.
But nearby the road ended, its slabs thrust from below, splintered and heaved all directions. It ended in a crevasse, deep and foul-smelling. However the rains fell, this never filled.
The month before my birth, cruel signs had begun to show themselves. Birds fell from the sky, in such quantity as to block chimneys. A terrible groaning shocked the soles of the feet, a glow, a burning light in colors no fire of dung or charcoal could produce, hovered, turning the snows of Lotoq to a metal-hued, steaming cloud.
Something awful and tragic then occurred to that city, that place of might with its golden gates locked, not long after—somewhere below the mountain’s opposite face.
“I cannot go near the place,” a traveler brought word. “I think we will never know. I think none escaped.”
(2018, Stephanie Foster)