©2023 michael raven
Notes about this piece: This piece was written during a single session based on prompts from the “Wildwood Tarot” with a thirty minute writing limit, followed by a ten minute limit for revisions. As such, there are likely both logical and typographic errors within. The three cards selected at random were: 5 The Ancestor, 15 The Guardian, and Five of Stones (Endurance). I allowed myself three minutes prior to the timed writing session to brainstorm ideas. The story may or may not reflect the meanings of the cards drawn.
The air was thick with humidity as the air rolled across the plains, flashes of light followed by thunder announced the coming rain. He’d get wet and the flames he tended would be washed away when the rain fell; from where he sat, he could already see the mercurial sheets slashing down in the last rays of the setting sun and the flames would cease to be within seconds of the arrival. But he hesitated moving any deeper into the cave, where his fire would continue to thrive and he’d stay dry. Inside was doorway and its Guardian, and it scared him to be anywhere near either, with the scent of rotting flesh and the musk of underearth perfuming the interior space.
He had yet to go inside, and he could smell the decay and death from where he sat, hoping against all odds that the rain would burn itself out before reaching him and knowing he told himself lies as he entertained such impossibilities. Soon he would have to go inside, but he wanted to delay the inevitable.
Latka wondered if he dared pretend to have gone into the depths as he had been ordered and just return emptyhanded, saying that the door would not budge for him and there had been no sigil or sign that he was to be, as the Ancestor said, Chosen. He hadn’t wanted to be Chosen, not ever in his life that he could recall. He had tried to live a life of obscurity for as long as he could remember. And yet, the Ancestor walked out of the thickets near the tribe’s campstead, her antlers crossed with the trees making dancing shadows of the sun that shone through at the meal, blinding Latka with the flickering brilliance.
Everyone stopped what they were doing, even Pol ceased turning the meat on the spit and Latka could smell it searing as it sat in one place too long. The Ancestor strode out to the center of the camp, raising her staff to the air, eyes burning with full life as she scanned the group. Latka tried to become as small as possible, as he had done throughout his life. Unnoticed meant survival.
You cannot see me cannot see me cann–
Her eyes finally picked Latka out of the people gathered for the meal and lowered her staff so that it pointed directly at him. Pol and Herr moved off to the side, leaving no doubt as to whom the Ancestor was pointing toward, as the staff continued to point at him, unwavering.
Kai, the spirit-talker stood and cleared his throat before speaking.
“The Ancestor has found a new Chosen,” he said, arms raised to a crowd that seemed to follow Pol’s and Herr’s example and moved away, as if Latka now carried a plague they might catch. The Ancestor nodded, turned, and melted back into the thicket, quickly becoming invisible within the dark, dense foliage.
Kai spoke softer, now. Apologetic. “Latka. You must go to the Door. The Ancestor has chosen you.”
“No,” Latka said. “I refuse.” The tribe members gasped at his audacity.
Kai shook his head. “You cannot refuse. You are now Chosen. If you refuse, you are no longer alive to us and you must find your own way. You know this. It has always been so. Please, for the memory of your mother, do not refuse.”
Latka sighed. To refuse was taboo, this he knew. Still, he had hoped, “for the memory of his mother” that Kai would not make him go to the Door. He didn’t want to face the Guardian, nor endure any trials. But he knew he would not survive long in the forest alone, as an outcast. And Kai would see to it that Latka would be chased away from the comforts of the group, should he dare show his face around them.
“Bring back our past, Latka. Hold your head high and remember you have been Chosen. The tribe is depending on you.”
Latka kept his response to himself. He did not think Kai would think to highly of what he had to say. Nor would the others.
He got up and walked without looking back at the others, like a man going to his death, down the winding trail to the Cave and the Door.
And now he waited outside the cave, heavy rain on the way and the Door with the Guardian waiting within. Why had the Ancestor made him Chosen?
The rain was almost upon him when he heard the growling coming within. A warning, either to enter or to leave. Latka was not sure which.
4 thoughts on “Chosen”
I really enjoyed this, Michael. You have built the intrigue well, with just enough back story to tantalise without over-detailing. Could be the start of a longer piece?
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A longer piece? I dunno. I am wary of falling into tribal and rites of passage tropes. I’m afraid it might go that direction.
Of course, if I had time, I might just as easily had the unwilling Chosen get gobbled up by the Guardian and have an entirely different tale… A fetish or McGuffin found at the cave’s entrance that points to a larger horror within. Hmm. 🙂
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What a rich and well told tale. It felt timeless, like it could be either some far off future or a long ago past civilization. We don’t know what it means to be The Chosen, but we do know it’s scary. A step forward. The start of an unlikely journey. I think we can all relate to that feeling.
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Thank you. 😊