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At the Base of the Ceiba

Today’s post is a little different. It’s a work of flash fiction, created in response to the the challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The idea was to take two randomly generated literary genres, smash them together, and create a story of about 1000 words from the mess that resulted. My two genres were Southern Gothic and Superhero — neither of which I’ve ever had much experience with. The “superhero” in my story isn’t traditional… so sue me. Hope you guys enjoy! Feedback is always welcome.

 

At the Base of the Ceiba

 

Kinah kept her eyes down as she skirted the outside of the big house, the hem of her faded blue dress kicking up small clouds of dust. The midday sun was particularly brutal for this late in the year, but she didn’t dare stop to wipe at the beads of sweat tickling the back of her neck. Someone would be missing her in the crowded kitchen, and it wouldn’t do to get Misses’ ire up again.

 

She found Ben kneeling on the hard packed dirt under the Kapok tree. Ceiba, they called it back home. At least that’s what she’d been told. Home to Kinah was the plantation where she’d been born. But Ben clung stubbornly to the stories of the place he’d last seen as a child – and his back and arms bore the scars of his willfulness. Above his head, two fat bumblebees traced lazy circles in the dappled shade.

 

“The ceiba is sacred to Chango.” Ben spoke without looking up.

 

Kinah sighed heavily as she stepped closer to him, her bare feet relishing the change in temperature as she approached the spot where he knelt. In front of him, a small candle burned at the base of the tree.

 

“I know. You’ve told me a million times.” Crouching low, she took a moment to rest her head against his broad shoulder.

 

“What are you doing out of the kitchen, Kinah? The overseer won’t much care that your hands are soft and your hair smells like cinnamon if he catches you out here.”

Despite his admonishment, Ben turned and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to her forehead as he held her tight. Had he not been so close, he wouldn’t have seen her wince. He was on his feet in a breath, pulling her up with him.

 

“Let me see.”

 

There was really no point in playing dumb. Carefully, she pulled the collar of her dress bodice down, revealing a fresh set of bruises around her neck and shoulders. Ben ran a calloused hand gingerly along the raised welts, his dark eyes clouding over with fury as he hissed a slow stream of air out from between clenched teeth.

 

There wasn’t a soul on the plantation that didn’t know better than to try to talk down an incensed Ben. But then again, Kinah’s head was easily as strong as her brother’s. Quietly, she slipped her hand into the tattered pocket on the front of her dress and pulled out the small red apple.

 

“I brought a gift for Chango,” she smiled and placed the stolen fruit on the ground by the lump of candle. The sun glinted off the apple, blurring her vision. Or maybe it was unshed tears in her eyes. Deep in her throat, a lump burned.

 

Kinah had long since given up any hopes that the gods of her homeland would somehow make her life any better. Resigned, she simply spent her days in the kitchen and her nights waiting for Mister to come for her. But she knew how much Ben’s faith meant to him. It was all he had. So she played along, and let him believe that she prayed as hard as he did.

 

“I better get back before –“

 

“Before someone notices your gone? I’m afraid it’s too late for that, girl.”

 

Spinning around, they came face to face with Tobi. Mister’s favorite overseer was crueler than anyone had a right to be; his fingers petting the frayed edges of the whip with a reverence usually reserved for lovers.

 

Everything seemed to spill forward in muddled slow motion. Tobi reaching for the handle on his whip, Ben pushing her aside and rushing forward towards the overseer.

 

Stumbling against the Kapok tree, Kinah felt the spine slice into her palm before scrambling back up towards her older brother.

 

At first she thought the rumbling and cracking was coming from Tobi’s whip. But even as he raised his hand again, the sky darkened to the color of spilled ink, a hot wind picking up dust and pebbles until Kinah had no choice but to shield her face and turn her head back towards the tree, where her blood dripped, thick and slow, over the apple.

 

The thunder roared louder, seemingly rolling across the fields to mix with the screaming wind and the shrill cries that she hadn’t even noticed were escaping from her. And then, as suddenly as it began, the wind died. Still trembling, Kinah looked up at Ben, only to find his gaze fixed back at her. Or rather, just behind her.

 

Spinning around, it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the light erupting all around the tree. Flames licked at the hem of her skirt, and before she could scream again, a man stepped from the center of the fire. Only, “man” seemed too light a word for the figure. Easily towering over even Ben, he seemed a mix of royalty and unadulterated power. Even as her mind refused to acknowledge it, Kinah knew she was looking at the orisha of justice and war himself.

 

“Chango…” Ben’s harsh whisper echoed her thoughts.

 

Behind them, Tobi spewed venom and grabbed for his whip again. A single wordless look from Chango had him dropping the bundle of leather, the telltale hiss of skin and smoldering flesh letting everyone know what had happened. In the blink of an eye he ran off, gripping his burned hand as he called blindly for help.

 

It was then that the rumble of thunder began to blend with the distant pounding of a drum beat.

 

Ben fell to his knees in front of the deity, and Kinah watched in wonder as the raw slices of flesh that had been sliced open by Tobi’s merciless hand sealed themselves. Behind Chango, the fire died down, and a doorway appeared at the base of the tree. Feeling her brother’s hand wrapped around her own, Kinah felt the warm embrace of hope for the first time in her young life. Together, they walked towards the door.

 

Towards uncertainty and, for the first time, a future.

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2 responses to “At the Base of the Ceiba

  1. varun

    I agree with you…

  2. It's Lena

    Took me a while to read this from my phone with blurry eyes…but dang. I like it!

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