Storytime with Rhetaskew (6)

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Welcome back! In this weekly series, we present, for your reading enjoyment, some of our favorite short stories, in easily digestible serialized episodes. Each week will contain links to the previous episodes of the story (in case you miss one). Please let us know what you think — and if you have written a story you would like to see serialized, please feel free to let us know that as well.

Shoshawna’s Tale – Andrew Regin
(Part 2 of 3)

[ Part 1 here ]

. . . Shoshawna adjusted her grip on the knife as she began following the tracks. The knife, which had been her brother’s, would only become hers if she were successful. She stooped and grabbed a pinch of dirt, sprinkling it into the air to test the breeze . . .

. . . She followed the tracks left by Keasi a short time earlier. She came across others that he had intentionally left two days before, but she ignored them; at ten she could tell the difference. The tracks ran alongside a large boulder. As she followed them around the stone, someone grabbed her from behind. Keasi tickled her until she screamed.

“How did you know I was there?” she asked.

“I could smell the flowers in your hair,” he said. “Next time, leave the flowers at home and stay down wind.”

“How do I track you and stay downwind at the same time?” she asked, but he just smiled and winked . . .

. . . She was definitely downwind of the bear, and it didn’t take long for her to catch his musky scent. She was closer than she thought. If she wanted to back out, now was the time, but for Shoshawna there would be no turning back. It was time to do or die. That phrase took on new meaning for her as she prepared to face the beast . . .

. . . “Okay, Sho,” Keasi said. “It’s time to do or die.”

He held his spear in both hands, and Shoshawna came at him. Her own spear was just a long pole but it served its purpose. She was too young to wield a spear. Only warriors were allowed to compete in the games, but she and Keasi would often steal away where he could train her; this was much more often than anyone else knew.

“Some day you’ll surprise them all,” he said when the impromptu battle was over. “I can’t wait to see the look on father’s face when you win your first fight.”

“But before that can happen, I have to become a warrior,” she said.

“There’s plenty of time for that.”

“Can I see your knife?”

He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then pulled the knife from his belt, handing it to her handle first. She grabbed it blade up, but he corrected her. “Not like that,” he said. “Turn it over so the blade is facing down.” She did as he asked and he continued. “Now put your arm straight out and bend your elbow so your forearm is across your chest with the blade sticking out toward me.”

“Like this?” she asked, raising her arm.

“Perfect. Now put your other forearm on top of the first, so the fist of each hand is touching the elbow of the other.”

She did what he asked, and he gently removed the knife from her hand.

“Keep your arms there.” He grabbed a small stick off the ground and put it in her hand to simulate the knife he had taken. “Now, I’m the bear.” He grabbed her forearms and lifted them up, placing them against his neck. “The bear is going to go for your throat. When he does, bring your arms up under his chin. He’s big and heavy, so you’ll only have one shot before he kills you. When your forearms touch his throat…”

Shoshawna—anticipating his next command—jerked her arms apart, drawing the stick across Keasi’s neck and sending him tumbling backward. She dropped the stick and put her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said. There was a deep scratch where the stick had come into contact with his skin, and a trickle of blood ran down his throat. She was afraid he would be mad, but his eyes shone with pride . . .

. . . rounding a bend in the animal path she’d been following, she spotted the bear. He had his back to her, and when he turned his head to look at her, his muzzle was stained red with blood. She had interrupted his breakfast, and he roared his displeasure at the intrusion.

Shoshawna’s heart raced as she gazed at her target. His black fur glistened in the morning air, his black eyes shining like agates. He gave another roar and turned back to his meal. He seemed to be giving her the chance to change her mind.

Cold fear gripped her heart, and for just a moment she considered backing away. Keasi’s image appeared in her mind however, and she steeled herself.

“No!” she shouted. “I’ll never give up!”

The bear did not turn his head as he had done before. Instead, he spun his entire body around to face her, turning much faster than she would have thought possible for a creature so large. He stood on his hind legs and was taller than her father. He probably weighed more than two of the biggest warriors in her village, and fear coursed through her once again . . .

. . . Shoshawna looked at Keasi, and he smiled encouragingly. She had fought in the ‘Kid Games’ several times, but her latest opponent was much larger than her.

The Kid Games were unsanctioned and held well away from the village. The parents and warriors knew about the games of course, having participated themselves at a young age. Some of the younger warriors—like Keasi—were even present to coach or cheer on their younger siblings.

“Never let them see your fear,” Keasi said. “If you do, the battle is lost before it begins.”

Shoshawna steadied herself and gripped her makeshift spear in both hands as she made her way to the circle that had been scratched into the dirt. If her opponent drove her from the circle, the point would go to him. All she had to do was strike the larger boy with her blunted spear while avoiding a hit from him, but his size was intimidating.

“Aaah!” she yelled. The older boy blinked, surprised by her scream. She took advantage of the boy’s distraction and swung the butt of her spear at his side . . .

. . . the bear lumbered toward her on his hind legs, his massive paws were covered in daggers and his mouth was agape, revealing sharp teeth, dripping with blood and saliva.

“AAAH!” she shouted, bolstering her own nerve.

The bear roared back and then charged. He was on her in a moment. She fell backward, but she brought her arms up just as Keasi had shown her. The bear did not react as predicted, however; he didn’t go for her throat with those horrible teeth.  Instead, he caught her on the left side with his claws, raking them downward. Pain exploded in her ribs, and her left arm fell limply to her chest . . .

. . . pain shot through her ribs as the older boy’s weapon hit her in the side. Stumbling backward, she landed on her butt in the dirt. The boy who was acting in the war-leader’s stead yelled, “Honor!” and motioned to her opponent, awarding him the point for that round. She tried to rise, but fell back down, wincing at the fire in her side.

“Feel the pain, Sho,” Keisi yelled. “That’s your pain, not his. Use it. Feel it. Make it work for you.”

Gritting her teeth she forced herself to stand and face her opponent once more . . .

… conclusion next week

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