"COME, I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING," THEO SAYS . . .
The trail winds off and reaches the blackened forest edge where the berries are sparse.
“We should not be here,” says Pyramie.
Then she points to the edge of the forest. “See.” She points to the bundle of red flowers in bloom on the charcoaled tree. “One of your women put that. Do you know what that means?”
He does not answer and she smiles at him. They walk farther and she leads him by the hand. Here and there bushes grow, but because there has not been rain, many are not blooming as they would be in the charcoal. He does not see this. He only watches Theo until they come to a massive old tree with wild crooked branches that stands crisp from top to bottom.
“Here,” she says.
When he stops walking he hears the noise sounding off some distance ahead in the woods.
“Do you hear her?” She points.
Just ahead Kakoaw is pressed deeply against Marnea behind her knees. Her mouth is open.
“She moans like a bullfrog,” Pyramie says.
“She looks like a bullfrog,” Theo says.
They turn and run away, the moaning having stopped, and move farther into the charred forest laughing. Theo leads until they reach a deep bower ringed round by red flowers. Water here seeps from off the hillside edge and flows underground keeping the grove moist even in drought. Theo sits on the wide crown of a freshly fallen tree. Shoots of buds and greens of all shades spring up around her. She pulls Pyramie’s hand as he looks up at the sky above growing dark quickly. She pulls again and he sits.
“Have you seen that?”
He does not answer.
“That is where you are from.”
“The tree?” He asks.
He does not respond.
“That is how Gatherers breed. They put flowers for Hunters to know they’re ready. Your women do.”
He hates when she says the things he does not know, but he will not move. Her eyes are on him. He meets them. “Do you put flowers?” he asks.
“No. I am not a breeder. I will be in love.”
“What is that?”
She does not say. Instead: “You promised you would kiss me last night.”
But he is looking off. “I think rain is coming.”
“This is silly,” she says, “I am leaving.”
“Do not go.”
“Why?” she says, and sits back down.
“I do not want you to.”
But she turns away. “You were supposed to find me today.”
“How could I find you?”
“Don’t be afraid of Terreo. He is just a bully.”
There is a flash in the near distance and then the sound of the sky.
“It will rain, I think,” he says.
“Do you only care about the sky?”
“The sky fire,” he says, pointing off to where the light streaks but does not touch the earth.
“That is a silly name you are taught.”
“What else?” but she laughs at him again.
“I do not like when you laugh at me,” he says. “I will go back now,” and he walks out of the bower, but when he reaches the edge she says, “Sorry,” and he returns to sit where she sits, looking at her skin.
Taking the rolled leaves off his waist, he says, “I made you these.”
She reaches out and takes them, smiling, then brushes her fingertips down his forearm. “I cannot have you if you are afraid of them.”
Then more flashes and rumbles. The sky darkens and a flash of sky fire strikes the earth by the end of the fallen tree. Pyramie throws himself down. Theo remains where she, a look of shock on her face, then laughs at him for his fear.
He looks away from her and over to where the sky fire struck. On the ground, old bark from the dead tree glows alight and he walks to the fire.
“What are you doing?” Theo shouts.
“I want to see it,” he says.
“You are not supposed to touch it. It is not yours.”
“It is not yours, either!” He bends down and picks up a long hunk of bark on fire. Then he turns and holds the flaming end against a section of the tree that was not burned. A small flame glows alight.
“Look,” he says.
“Stop it. Stop fooling with it. Now, Gatherer!”
But he will not stop and turns and holds the flame up against the stalk of a green bud. When it touches, the stalk curls up and browns. The smell is terrible. He smiles when he sees it shrivel and points to show her what it does. She seems interested and walks toward him with a beautiful smile that warms him. When she gets close, he grabs her with his free hand and kisses her.
“You love me,” she says. Her eyes glisten. Her lips are soft. They taste like her voice sounds. He kisses her again. He wants to ask her how she means that word, but he sees Marnea standing at the edge of the bower with hatred in her eye. He pulls away from Theo.