Our own fields were supposed to be safe. Some of us claimed we saw a shadow earlier that Falling Season—great wings breaching the pool of sky above. Our mountains were only so high, and could only keep so much evil out.
Many whispered of Ruth having lost herself in the mountains for days. Adam said she went searching for blackberries and morels in the thick pine and blue-juniper forest. Ruth never spoke of it. In fact, if we asked she would laugh and smooth her frock, and say that she had never been lost.
A rainy night nine months later brought the twins. Ruth screamed of claws inside her womb. We administered Black and Blue Cohosh, wet satchels of Valerian and Shepherd’s Purse for her forehead. Hallucinations took her over when first one, and then the other twin arrived. She murmured of feathers and the vastness of the wasteland. Adam held her down and spoke gently in her ear. We heard some of his affirmations about mountain tops and rivers, and the stars above. The twins cried in short, sharp bursts, their little mouths opening and opening with want of milk.
At the Borning ceremony, the trees were hung with white linen canopies and lit with pinpoints of candle flame from gently swinging jars. Honey wine and juniper cakes, rivers and mountains, overflowed on the heavy wooden tables brought out from our houses. After the first song and dance, Adam wheeled Ruth and the twins into the center of the gala. Ruth sat in a wooden chair that Adam had attached wheels to and under each arm she carried a bundle. Out of each bundle there peeked a full head of gossamer hair the color of muddy straw. We had never seen hair like that before, but Adam and Ruth beamed and so we beamed too. The midwives took the babies and danced with them, gave them their first taste of honey wine, while their mother chewed juniper cakes in her own mouth before fingering the mash into theirs.
Four months later one of the twins disappeared.
Ruth said she had only gone inside for the shake of a lamb’s tail. When she came back out, she found only one baby and two baby blankets—a spread of stars behind teddy bears in bubble-helmeted suits. And a dark shadow in the sky. Those of us who were working in higher fields thought we saw something that day, a darkness crossing over the sun.
Everyone mourned the loss of the twin. But like grains of sand through an hourglass, our hands of sympathy turned to clicking tongues of how careless Ruth was to have left the twins on the lawn, and how Adam worked too much, left his wife alone too often.
We questioned all of us:
How big was it? What color was it? Did it have feathers? Did it have scales on its feet? Did it have a blood-red eye?
We questioned Ruth and she said:
All I could do was fall to my knees and hold Eloy and cry and cry. Eloy started to cry too and we cried there together, my knees wet from the grass. I remember holding Eloy out to look at him, look at his round red face and make sure that he was still really there. I looked at him and I saw Roy, only it was not Roy of course, it was Eloy and he had these big round eyes. It was like something in them was missing.
We questioned Adam and he said:
I could do nothing but look up at the empty blue sky and wait for something sinister to appear. But even if it had appeared I would not have known what to do aside from get the wife and Eloy inside. I have no weapons that could harm a creature like that. It was all I could do as a good Believer to keep my mouth shut, with all of that bad-talk you are all doing. How else can I get food on the table if I do not work the Horse-Man’s fields day in and day out?
We questioned Eloy and he said:
My first memory is this internal change. I had this feeling of being grounded, in touch with things, happy I guess you could say, and then a sudden lightness, like the only thing holding me to the earth was my mother’s arms, the weight of my security blanket.
If we had questioned Roy he might have said:
I felt a sudden lightness of being. Removed from the earth. Up and up I saw the whole Valley. All around the edges the weeping yellow of the wasteland. These things, all things I was never supposed to see. And then myself, altered, part of the sky, and my arms became shadows filled with wind.
Sometimes we swore that we saw two shadows in the sky. Sometimes there were noises in the juniper trees like a great raspy breathing. Talk of red eyes in the forest meant no one walked alone at night. We did our best to move on. We tilled our fields, hauled our water, and picked sangre berries only at the forest’s edge.
This is all to explain why, on the first day of every Flowering Season, we take a jar of honey wine and two juniper cakes to Ruth. She sits them in the yard, and in the morning they are gone.
Sara Wolfe Vaughan is a hybrid writer who explores the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction. She has her MFA in Fiction from the University of Arizona, and is the former fiction editor of Sonora Review. She currently serves as President on the Board of Directors at Casa Libra, an arts and letters non-profit in Tucson, AZ that provides a platform for emerging, female, and LGBTQIA artists.