Repeat: If this isn’t your thing, please come back on 12/1 (why yes, that is this coming Wednesday…). Today through Tuesday you might expect to see multiple posts each day. Again, read or don’t read.
Quick refresher: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Unlikely that I’ll get past 25,000 words before the deadline at this point, but why quit?
Need to get caught up? Here are the previous entries:
- Sharptooth: 1
- Sharptooth: 2
- Sharptooth: 3
- Sharptooth: 4
- Sharptooth: 5
- Sharptooth: 6
- Sharptooth: 7
- Sharptooth: 8
- Sharptooth: 9
- Sharptooth: 10
- Sharptooth: 11
At the end of the day’s run, in between their last delivery and when they pull into port for the night, when the papers have all be distributed and the main cabin is a clean slate, the people on the boat gather around the stove and take turns telling stories, so they will remember. They wait until it is dark on both banks, when they have departed the last stop but are still too far to see light from where they will ultimately land. This is their favorite time on the river, whether they are telling or listening.
Some of them are inventors, who pull stories of their own from the air. Others are historians, devoted to factual evidence. A few of them, like the man in the green hat, are teachers.
Tonight, it is his turn in the center. He is their favorite storyteller, going back and forth in time with tales of love and war and places none of them will ever see.
Everyone huddles in close.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….” He delivers this line with a strange accent and great drama. They laugh. They have heard him start this way before, though they do not all know the point of reference.
“No, no; none of that, I suppose.” He chuckles. “Tonight,” he leans forward, elbows on knees, and takes a more subdued, almost somber look, “how about the story of what happens to men who swallow their children.”
“This tale comes to us from a quarter of the way around the planet and more than two millennia ago. The ancient Greeks, you’ll all remember, were master storytellers.” He begins:
Cronos was the golden god of the universe, and Rhea was his wife. Warned by Earth and starry Heaven that he would be overthrown by his own son, Cronos swallowed his children whole each time Rhea gave birth. In her loneliness, Rhea begged Earth and starry Heaven to save just one of her children. She was their beloved daughter, so they sent her to Lyetus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great Zeus, the youngest of her children. When Zeus was born, Rhea tricked Cronos into swallowing a stone. Zeus grew up, unconquered and untroubled, until he was strong enough to strike Cronos, freeing the gods that had grown full formed in Cronos’s stomach, and taking from Cronos the throne.
“And that’s how Zeus became the golden god of the universe, according to the imaginations of men who are long gone away.”
“So, Zeus was the original ‘boy who lived,’ then, wasn’t he?” a woman says. Everyone laughs.
“Ha! I hadn’t thought of it that way,” the man says. And he truly hadn’t, which amused him.
“Bit of a short one tonight, huh?” says a young man who is new to the group.
“Long day,” he responds. “I’ll make up for it next time, yeah?” He stands and stretches. “Tonight I might just need a bit of rest. Might do us all some good.”
The circle breaks. A few people stay by the stove. Others lie down for a short nap.
The man in the green hat walks out on the deck, to the quietest part of the boat, where the woman who’d spoken earlier stands at the rail. She is wrapped in a thick, dark gray shawl, and if he hadn’t known she would be there, he wouldn’t have seen her.
“It was an awfully short tale tonight,” she says, quietly, “and a strange one, too.”
He says, so softly that she isn’t sure she’s heard correctly: “I think they know about the books. Which means someone here has been talking about our story times.”
She takes a sharp inhale, and looks up.
“What happens to mothers who swallow their children?” she says.
“Did you have this book, ‘The Treedwellers’ book?” Katharine asks her mother as she’s getting settled into bed.
“Yes, exactly like this one, in fact,” her mother replies, turning the book in her hand to inspect the dark blue cover and feel along the tree that is engraved on the front, above the name ‘Katharine.’
“I don’t think we had quite as much fun with it as you’re having, though,” her mother goes on. She stretches out next to her daughter and props her head up on the crisp white pillow. “I hear you were a very fierce hyena and a very protective mother hog, all in one reenactment.”
But Katharine’s mind is elsewhere. “Will it always be the first Primary book, forever?”
“Forever? I don’t know. Forever is a very long time. But I imagine some version of it will be around for a very long time, yes.” Her daughter is staring intently at the ceiling as if she’s waiting for something but isn’t sure what.
“And what will happen to this book,” she turns and points, “to my book, if a new story takes its place. Can I keep my book forever, even if a new one replaces it?”
“Do you remember when you first learned to write your name,” her mother asks, “and you make a backwards ‘K’?” Katharine shakes her head. “Well, like many children, you did do that. It was sweet and funny. And eventually, we knew you would get it right. We would like here in your bed, the two of us, and practice writing in the air, every night before you went to sleep.”
She takes her daughter’s small hand, and with its index finger, she writes K-a-t-h-a-r-i-n-e in the air, with added flourish on the K.
“But it took you a while. And since you signed all of your drawings, the whole house was decorated with pictures that had a backwards ‘K’ at the bottom.”
“When you finally had it down pat, you went around, picture by picture, with a big red marker, writing the ‘K’ correctly on top of what you’d written before. We teased you about it, just a little. And then you took down every single one, tore them into tiny pieces and threw them away. ‘I’m not little!’ you said, and you stormed into your room and slammed the door. You don’t remember, really?”
She did, in fact, remember very clearly. But she would not say so. She shook her head again.
“Well, anyway,” her mother continued, “that’s a bit what it’s like with books. When we make new discoveries, when someone finds a better way of telling a story or teaching a lesson, the old one feels wrong somehow. Instead of having the old book around, reminding us of the old ways and the old ideas, we just have the new one. We don’t need the old one anymore. Do you understand?”
“I’m very sleepy,” Katharine says, instead of answering.
Her mother tucks the covers around her, gets up, and walks around the bed to turn out the light.
“And your grandmother wrote it, all of it?” Katharine says, as her mother is opening the door.
“She wrote this edition, yes,” her mother says, carefully. “The very first copy was written a long time before that, by an earlier Katharine, but also in our family.” She walks back to the bed and kneels close to her daughter. “Is that what’s troubling you? Is it because this book is in our family that you’re worried?”
“How did she know her name was Sharptooth?” the girl whispers.
“She gave her the name ‘Sharptooth’ the same way I gave you the name ‘Katharine.’ The Treedwellers didn’t have letters and words and paper. They did live in the trees and search for food and protect their young, just like in the book. But they didn’t have writing or names, so she gave the people names we would remember, so their stories would come to life.”
Katharine closes her eyes. Her mother kisses her cheek, tucks the covers again, and closes the door when she leaves.
That night, the girl dreams of fire.
How Sharptooth discovered fire.
One day, at the start of the rainy season, Sharptooth and her son wandered far across the plain to hunt for food. They were hungry, and she knew food would soon be scarce. The trees and fields had turned gold and brown, and the edges of the forest were covered in leaves and dry branches. They searched all day. When the light started to fade, they were very tired. Sharptooth could smell rain coming. She found an oak tree with big, sturdy branches. She carried her son high into the tree to take shelter for the night. They closed their eyes against the bright streaks dancing across the sky. They covered their ears against the loud crashing sound. But they could not sleep because of the storm. Lightning struck the tree right next to them, and the spark set the tree on fire. Sharptooth thought the fire was a red monster, and she was afraid. The monster kept growing bigger and getting closer. But the rain started coming down harder, and slowly the fire monster became smaller and smaller until it was gone. Sharptooth wondered where it went.
Total word count as of 11:59 p.m. on 11/27/21: 14,956/50,000 (Hey, I’m almost a third of the way there, with three days left to finish. Yes, I know I’m not going to make the deadline. I accept that truth and am still writing anyway.)