Here is the opening of short story I wrote at our writers retreat in September. This story came from two writing prompts. One was given to us by Marta, but the other one had stuck in my head earlier in the morning when I was walking about the Mendocino village. Thanksgiving Coffee’s slogan is “Not just a cup, but a just cup.” You can see the influence of that in the opening line. Marta’s prompt was an image of an abandoned chapel in Estonia.
Often, my stories end up being about faith, various kinds of faith. As for miracles, I don’t know if I do believe in them, I want to, and this is basically a miracle story. I don’t think it will find a home out in the world (except maybe here) but I can see it being part of another work — say, a miracle tale the true believers of one religion tell each other.
Without Further Ado:
The New Prophet
Just one cup. Just one cup of water.
They didn’t pray to The God for water. The God loved the strong. The God loved those who found what they needed, who took what they needed. Zeon would have taken water if she had found some.
Zev lay in a swoon in the thin shadow of a great red rock, where, the night before, Zeon had dug a shallow hole to lay her in. It had been slightly cooler, but that wouldn’t matter if Zeon didn’t find water for them soon. Already Zev’s breath was shallow, with a catch in the throat at the start of each exhalation.
Zeon pulled the edge of her veil-cloak higher across the bridge of her nose. The ground, the red rock, the air around her pulsed with each heartbeat.
She skirted the gashes in the earth, the remains of the mining projects, where the last of the ore had been torn out of the ground, pale metals and black juice squeezed from the chunks. That had happened before she’d been born, but they’d heard the stories; great men, great machines, great cities, great wealth, all bestowed by The God. And water.
She needed some now; enough to fill the dry gourd that banged against her hip, even just enough to fill her cupped hands, that she could carry back to her sister’s side. She scanned the horizon, seeing only rocks and the rents in the red earth.
Her blood pounded against her skin, which already stung from the heat every time she moved. She searched the horizon again, for a plume of dust that might be a sign of their caravan. The sky, yellowish where it touched the earth, was unbroken except for the rocks.
They would have weathered the dust storm. They would even have survived raiders; they’d done that before. But they couldn’t stand against men from the plant. They’d gone to the town on the outskirts of the plant to trade, as they had every year as long as Zeon could remember. But that first night a dozen men had ridden out on their two-wheeled vehicles.
Her mother said, “Hide and don’t come out until we’re gone.”
“We have no water,” Zeon said.
Her mother handed her the water vessel and they ran, hiding deep in the rocks. Other young ones saw them and tried to follow, but the men from the plant surrounded the caravan and caught them before they made it out of the oval of wagons.