The story teller’s melodic voice haunts the night air around us. The bonfire crackles and casts a surreal glow over bodies seated on logs as they look up at the standing writer who has bewitched them. She stares at something in the distance with a forlorn expression. I think it’s more than just a technique to draw in the audience; she sees a world that no one else does. Her ability to imagine things that others can’t is what she loves most about herself.
The story teller walks closer to the fire in the gathering’s center. Her long white dress seems to glow in the orange light. She carries herself like a warrior, but she is nowhere near to being one. I clench my fists as the blood pumps faster through my body. She has never known the atrocities of war nor does she understand how it feels to watch your friends die on a bloody battle field. They have forgotten the war. She made them forget.
“The black stag leaped away from the window, melting into the darkness,” she says, raising her voice loud enough for people in the next camp to hear. “The uncertainty is what frightened the young girl the most. Was this mysterious buck a figment of her imagination, a real creature, or a ghost?”
Several people inhale sharply. A few of the children shriek. I roll my eyes. How can anyone be so involved in this stupid tale?
“Tell us what happens next, Almaz,” someone begs.
I smirk at the pathetic people sitting all around me. Almaz the storyteller never ends a tale on a good note. It keeps them coming back for more. The suspense is the only thing good about her stories. Without it they’d fall flat and no one would want her to tell them anymore.
“This story will be continued on the weekend,” she says with a devious smile. “If you want to hear more, that is.”
“Of course we do!” someone cries.
The rest of the crowd agrees except for me. I rise from my seat and walk away from the excited crowd. The story teller’s voice turns shrill as she laughs along with several of her admirers. I imagine them all gathering around her asking questions and begging her to continue the tale. Almaz the actress. That is all she is. Her stories are childish at best, but the people look to her as a goddess sent here to take away all the pain they’ve been trying to erase. Are they not strong enough to bear it as I have? Why do people seek to fill their heads with nonsense rather than deal with the truth of life?
Alone in the darkness, I inhale the cooling air. I am safe from being provoked by her now. I don’t like crowds. I never have. Being close to groups of people for too long makes my ears ring. Once I am in my hut, I fall onto my straw bed and pick up the piece of wood I was carving earlier. The story teller’s voice is still echoing in my ears. I whistle a tune to drown it out.
Most of the men here have fallen for her charm while the women and children admire her whimsical nature. I hate her. I have fought and almost died for our land and our home, but they don’t see me as anything noteworthy. I have become like the ghosts Almaz talks about in her stories. I take my knife and carve away at the wood, shaping it to my will. My carvings are one of the few things I can control in life and I am proud of them. I should be. I’m more of a creator than she will ever be. They are beautiful to me regardless of who sees them. I don’t need their validation.
Sweat drips down my face as I work at the piece of art in my hands. It was once a slab of wood. As I hold it, carefully focusing on the details of my work, I grin. It has become something.
“You’re such a beauty,” I say quietly.
I set the fox carving down on my night stand next to a carved buck. The raccoon and eagle stand behind them. I designed them all over the past year. They’re inspired by the wild things I’ve seen while hunting and exploring. They remind me of what I love about life – the wilderness, exploring, purity, freedom.
I blow out my candle and stare into the pitch black. A vision of her face comes to my mind’s eye. I scowl and close my eyes tightly, but she won’t disappear. Her bright hazel eyes are a striking contrast to her ebony skin. Her pouty lips try to tempt me, but I have not felt desire for any woman since the battle. She’s just another weak female who needs the attention of others to feel strong. I grit my teeth in defiance until the visions of her go away. My limbs tremble as I sweat. My hate for her is growing and I’m not sure how to make it stop or if even I want it to.
I touch the tip of my carving knife with my finger and smile. One day, life will give her what she deserves.
“Then I will get what I deserve as well.”