Frozen Head

Here’s a scene I wrote tonight for Altars and Acolytes (or whatever the title ends up being). It seems as though I may finally have this draft done by the end of May, after over a year of disassembly and revision. I haven’t edited this scene apart from a couple of misspellings, and I don’t know how well it works out of context. Anyway, enjoy!

The air was unseasonably cool for mid-October, and Lily drew her jacket close. She waited with Simon and David at the trailhead in Frozen Head State Park, about an hour’s drive from Queensboro. Simon had let her drive his car with him riding shotgun, an act of forgiveness for the mess she had left it in just weeks prior.

Half an hour after they arrived, Lily spotted Anya and a child walking towards them. No, not a child, Rashmatash. The Bouin wore a balaclava over her face, although her facial tattoos could be seen through the eyeholes. Anya swept Simon into an embrace; Lily looked away, feeling awkward.

“Your face is all covered up.” David waddled to where Rashmatash stood, looking like the world’s smallest burglar. “I like your face pictures.”

“Thank you.” With a couple furtive glances, Rashmatash removed her balaclava for David to see, then pulled it back over her face. “I have to stay in disguise.”

“I should be wearing that, girlie.” Anya broke away from Simon for a moment. “I had to drive the long way around to keep from entering Sumter county.”

“Let’s just go hiking,” Lily said, and started without the others.

Behind her, Anya told Simon about her new job at the surf shop in Knoxville. Lily hadn’t known there was even a surf shop at all in Tennessee, let alone where she lived. Simon’s face looked relaxed. Lily guessed he and Anya were nearly out of money from weeks of living out of a motel on Anya’s part.

“We can get an apartment,” Simon said. “Now that both of us…” His voice ran short, and he glanced at David, who walked hand-in-hand with Rashmatash.

“Maybe we should wait until I get my first paycheck,” Anya said.

Lily shivered under her jacket, pulled her arms closer to her chest. Everyone else seemed so much warmer.

“Lily.” Rashmatash joined her. She had taken off her balaclava, since there was no one else on the trail that morning. “You seem unhappy.”

Lily glanced behind her. Simon had picked up David and put the boy on his shoulders. The three of them were smiling.

“Our lives can be very solitary,” Rashmatash said.

“You mean the acolytes?” Lily said it with more bitterness than she wanted.

“No, not that.”

Lily turned to the girl. “What do you mean?”

“It’s taken me some time to learn your social customs, although they’re not that different from those among my people. You’re jealous of your brother and Anya.”

“Of course not! He’s happy. He hasn’t been happy since he came back from Florida.”

“Lily.” Rashmatash touched Lily’s cheek, turning her head towards her own. “My translation spell doesn’t work as well when someone lies to me.”

Lily’s eyes watered. “Anya loves him. If I weren’t different … If I could just … Galen was a good boyfriend, I had no reason to leave him, I just couldn’t stop thinking about if it were Mars instead…” She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “No, that’s stupid, I don’t like girls. Mars likes girls sometimes, but I don’t.”

Rashmatash shook her head. Lily understood the common gesture.

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“You know,” Rashmatash said, “being an acolyte is more common among … uncommon people. Like you. Like me.”

“Like you?” Lily whispered.

“I was betrothed once. He was a kind and decent man, and one who wanted to join me in our cause. But I didn’t feel the way that a betrothed does. I cared for him, but not like that. In fact, I have never cared for anyone like that. There are very few acolytes from among those who marry the way most others marry. Yophet, my leader and comrade, is one. I can think of three others. The rest of us…”

Lily’s stomach curled into a knot. “Mars told me not to tell anyone about her. She says it’s different back in England where her family’s from, but around here. There was a boy. Matthew Shepard. They tied him to a fence and let him die out there. I couldn’t even tell Mom or Dad about it.”

“It’s different in Tibero.” Rashmatash nodded.

A breeze caught the branches above them, rattling the leaves. Lily winced, thinking she heard a distant buzzing sound. Rashmatash gave her a curious look, but didn’t ask.