I awaken to heaviness weighing down on my chest like an invisible boulder. Waves of ice whisper down my back and arms even though the air is warm for early morning. I rise, eat a quick breakfast of apples and nut butter, then walk over to the field. Even out there something ominous hangs in the air. I haven’t felt a presence this eerie since before the battle. I close my eyes and wait for the sensation to pass.
Almaz doesn’t seek me out today. This will be the evening that she continues her tale about a peeping black stag. I almost laugh at the idiocy of it all, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. I glance at her hut where she must be writing. She’ll have everyone else’s attention tonight so I likely won’t cross her mind until her performance is over. As always, her gentle voice awakens the night air like a song. There’s pride in her tone. I hate arrogance, because it’s the sort of quality that starts wars over land and resources then forgets the sacrifice of those who fought for them. As I lay in my bed carving a figurine in the shape of a river otter, she tells the story of the creepy male deer who peers through women’s windows. It makes no sense to me how they find her tales so interesting.
The jolly quality in Almaz’s voice sets me on edge as she continues her story of that damned stag and his flimsy little damsel in distress. Most of the women and children urge her to tell them what happens next as she pauses emphatically. I set my handiwork on my lap and raise an arm, about to hit the table hard with my fist. I restrain myself and rush out of my tent, desperate to get away from the sound of her voice. I cover my ears with my hands and speed walk toward the river. It feels like no time has passed when I reach the river. I take in a deep breath of the air I love so much here. I am a little surprised at my anger. I seemed to be managing it well for a time, but the storyteller’s popularity with the people has been growing with each passing week and I can’t stand by and watch as it happens.
“She’s using them,” I say with disgust. “For her own glory.”
I close my eyes and focus on the sound of the river’s gentle rapids. I listen to the crickets and frogs sing in harmony with the water’s song. This is peace. When I’ve reached a cool calm, I make my way back up the ravine. Someone puts out the big fire and darkness falls over the camp. I stretch in front of my hut, basking in the fresh air and quiet.
“You’ve stopped attending our campfires.”
My calm mood suddenly boils over. I resist the urge to stomp my foot and scream. I turn slowly to face the story teller.
“I don’t care about your camp fires,” I say, feeling my arms shake. “I told you already!”
“Barak, please tell me what is wrong. You seem troubled.”
“Do you want to know something? You are the person who has the biggest problem here.”
She takes a step back. The whites of her eyes seemingly glow in the dim. “Why do you think that, Barak?”
“People like you are all the same,” I say, taking a step forward.
“People like me?” she asks, holding her ground.
“Storytellers, Almaz. You want to make your mark on the world no matter what the cost is. You’ll never be happy unless you’re the center of attention. The world’s glory goes to the liars and the tale spinners rather than to those who have actually done the things you write about!”
“What are we without stories?” she asks calmly. “All of us are little more than stories ourselves.”
“Nonsense. You make those stories up to spread your own agenda. Do you ever ask other people about their real life experiences? Did you ever stop to think that I might want to tell someone about what happened to the men in that fucking war?”
“Barak, please quiet down,” she says calmly. “People are sleeping.”
I shake my head at her. “All you care about is pleasing the people who cook you special meals and give you pretty gifts for entertaining them. You’ve charmed them so much that they’d fight a war for you. Is that your plan? To rule them?”
She crosses her arms. “You think I want to rule?”
“Yes. I do,” I growl.
She moves away from me with wide eyes. “I had no idea you disliked me so much, but for the record, I arrived here a while after the war. I chose to settle at this place because it’s so peaceful.”
“Your ability to lie is incredible,” I say as calmly as I can to hide the rage that is boiling steadily in my blood. “No matter. In two days, I will leave this place.”
“If you think it’s best,” she says in a neutral tone. “Maybe it would be better for you to try out another place.”
I smile without humour as I straighten my posture. “Oh, you must be so relieved. Did you feel my eyes on you all this time while you were telling your campfire stories? Have you sensed my hatred for your pathetic fairy tales over the past few months? I hope so, because while they’ve all been buying your fantastical shit, I’ve been seeing right through that mask you wear.”
“I really hoped to talk to you in a civil way,” she says with a defeated sigh, “but I can see that you have no desire to do that. I’ll leave you alone.”
I chuckle as she scurries away from me like a dog with its tail between its legs. It’s about time someone told her what she really is. She rushes to her hut and sharply closes the door behind her. She’s afraid of me. Good. She should be. She will finally leave me alone.