They reach the platform and Marnea screams for Dahtah. . .


The village is empty. But as Marnea continues screaming, some of the Mother’s women come forth. A few point at Theo while others point at Pyramie. He tries to hide.

Opposite the hut where the women stand, two Elders in forbidden animal skins shuffle out from where they were holding council concerning the drought. The Leader emerges behind them.

He sees Theo pulled along by a Gatherer woman and pushes through the Elders, an entire head taller, and shouts: “Why, Gatherer, do you touch her!”

Marnea falls to her knees. “She was with him in the burned area! He was holding the sky fire in his hands and would have taken her if I had not arrived and Kakoaw was not close enough to hear me scream!”

Marnea is breathless – shouting. When she finishes her defense, she begins again calling Dahtah.

The Leader does not do anything to stop her screaming laments for the witchdoctor. He seems to be waiting for Dahtah himself, confused about what is happening.

Dahtah emerges from the hut and squints in the sun. He has white chalk in his hair and some on his face. From the hut opening, the witchdoctor watches the village motionless like one of the poles, then runs forward. His Followers behind him look frightened by his sudden sprint and chase him in a line, while others remain behind.

The virgins emerge from the opening of Dahtah’s hut to watch. They do not leave the mouth; instead they remain in shadow. When the sunlight hits them they pull back within, cast in the red glow.

Pyramie has never seen these before. He has only heard stories of why they live there and their special devotion.

Then Dahtah reaches the altar. He grips a virgin’s skull on a staff in his hand, and walks beside Theo, sniffing her from the ground up. She looks at him like he is irrelevant as he stands up close to her face, breathing heavily, nostrils flaring out and in. Then he turns to Marnea, who quivers.

“He held the sky fire.” She points at Pyramie from the dirt where she has prostrated herself, nose dripping with dust caked to the places on her face that are moist. “Please. She was with him. He held the sky fire and was killing the greens, and she was with him! She was with him!”

Theo glares at her like she would a vulgar insect who has crawled into her food.     

Dahtah now turns on Pyramie. The boy looks away, but the witchdoctor leaps forward and takes him by the hair. He sticks his finger into the stoup of skull he carries on the staff and spatters gore into Pyramie’s face. Pyramie flinches and Dahtah splatters him again with the blood, observing how the boy responds as though there is much wisdom to be gained from the action.

Dots of crimson stain Pyramie. He cries more now. And Dahtah shrieks at him in mystery runes, first jumping forward so that Pyramie blinks, then falling to his knees on the ground facing the Leader. He carries on in grunts shaking his hands in seizures.

Pyramie struggles to stop crying. Theo watches him. He grits his teeth and wipes his eyes. But she turns away, and he slumps to the ground.

The Leader now addresses the boy: “It was you at my hut, Pyramie.” He says the name like he is spitting out food that has rotted. “Pyramie, you arranged this with her last night!” Pyramie looks away.

“What are you?”

But Pyramie does not answer. The group of Elders forms around them now, talking in whispers as they observe Pyramie and then Theo. Some point at her, others at him, while others yet point to the sky. They reenact what happened.

The Leader’s eyes are bloodshot. He then holds up his hand and says one word, “Terreo!”

The people gasp, and Pyramie fixes his eyes on Theo. She is a whole world to him now.

When the Leader shouts “Terreo!” one of the Elders moves to the rostrum by the promontory cliff and clatters the large drum with the shrouded femur. The sounds echo over the savannah.

The Gatherers begin to come in from their task.