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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god—Aristotle

Vespa looked at the mountain looming above her.  It was early in the morning and the young Souh girl had a long way to climb.  In the bag she carried, the roasted ptarmigan smelled delicious.  It was not for her to eat.  It sat next to the amulets and the holy text.  Items she was carrying as gifts to the gods.  

According to Souh culture, the gods lived in the bitter cold and snow, on the high mountain plains above. The Souh leader, known as the Tjila, chose Vespa to deliver the gifts.

The gifts were the start of a ceremony that would last several days.  At the end, the Tjila would reveal who he’d chosen as his successor.  He was getting older and the time to step aside was approaching.  

Vespa was certain she’d been given this task as punishment.  She was a rebel.  At the age of eleven, she’d told another child she didn’t believe the holy text.  That caused a commotion, enough to warrant a visit from the Tjila.  He sat next to her and asked if she meant what she’d said.  She didn’t back down.  

It wasn’t the last time Vespa drew attention to herself.  At sixteen, when Souh children come of age, Vespa announced she would never get married.  That was unheard of.  She answered “Freedom” when the Tjila asked her why.  

Now, she was experiencing the freedom of a difficult and dangerous mountain climb.  By noon, she’d reached the frost line.  Above the line the mountain was covered with snow and ice year round.  She didn’t have far to go.  To the left was a smooth cliff, she’d noticed the sun reflecting off it from below.  Above the cliff were some small rocks.  That’s what she was looking for.  She would visit that spot on the way down.

With another hour of climbing, Vespa reached the top.  She stood and gazed at the glacier.  It spread out in front of her, as far as she could see into the cold mist.  After a short rest, she pulled a wedge shaped piece of flint from the bag.  

She found a rock the right size to use as a hammer.  Vespa knelt at the edge of the glacier.  She struck the flint with the rock, until a chunk of ice broke free.   She wrapped it in cloth and placed it in the bag.  That was proof she climbed all the way to the top.

It was time to offer the gifts.  She recited the poem as she had been instructed.  She ended with, “The Souh offer these gifts to the gods, so you will guide us to select our new leader.”

She smoothed out a spot on the ice.  She laid the amulets in the pattern she had practiced.  Then placed the holy text in the center. It was protected from the elements inside an exquisitely carved box.

The ptarmigan was to be set next to the other items as the final gift.  It was as much meat as her family ate in a week.  Winter was coming.  The ptarmigan stayed in the bag as Vespa began her climb down.

Above the smooth cliff, Vespa created a cavity by pulling away some rocks.  She deposited the ptarmigan inside, then packed the opening with snow.  As a marker, she arranged three rocks in a triangle.  The meat would freeze quickly, giving her time to retrieve it later.

As darkness was falling, Vespa made it to the village.  Everyone was gathered at the meeting place.  The Tjila spoke.  “Were you able to complete your mission?”  Vespa smiled and said “Yes.”  

“Let us see the water of the gods.”  Vespa pulled the chunk from the bag and handed it to him.  The Tjila held it up for all to see.  The last rays of daylight refracted through the ice.  “The ceremony shall now begin!”  The crowd cheered, and the party started.

The Tjila turned to Vespa and said, “Job well done.  Enjoy the celebration, you deserve it.  Later, I wish to speak to you about your journey.  I will send for you.”

Vespa found herself to be popular among the villagers, she wasn’t used to that.  Someone handed her a mug filled with mead, she began sipping the mild alcoholic beverage.  Everyone had questions about the climb.  By the time the Tjila sent for her, Vespa was pleasantly drunk.

When she entered the tent, she realized she was alone with the man.  He motioned for her to sit next to him.  “I have visited the gods myself, when I was your age.  I am aware of what you endured today.  Our village owes you our gratitude.  I am very proud of you.”

He picked up a long, ornately decorated pipe.  He filled the bowl and held an ember to it as he inhaled.  Vespa had smoked ganja with other children a few times and recognized the aroma.  They passed the pipe between them a number of times.

Ayahuasca was a drug Vespa had not consumed before.  It was strictly reserved for the village elders.  A bitter brew containing hallucinogenic herbs and mushrooms.  

“Just one spoonful at a time.”  The Tjila passed the mug and spoon to Vespa.

The man watched the girl and noted her pupils dilating.  The potent drugs were working.  They each took a second and third spoonful.  He spoke.

“Tell me about your ascent to the heavens.  Take your time.”  The girl recited the details.  As she described chipping the ice from the glacier, the drugs had reached full effect.  She felt disconnected from her body.  The Tjila’s voice came to her from far away.

“Vespa, one of the effects of ayahuasca is truth telling.  You cannot lie to me.  The questions I am about to ask are important.  Your answers will determine your future.”

“Did you recite the sacred poem before you made your offerings to the gods?


“Did you arrange the holy text and the amulets on the ice as you were instructed?”


“Did you place the ptarmigan next to the amulets as the final gift?”

Vespa paused.  She wanted to lie about what she’d done, she couldn’t.  The drugs coursing through her body were too powerful.  “No, Tjila.  I carried the ptarmigan back to the edge of the frost line and buried it.  I planned to retrieve it later.”

The Tjila sat silently for a moment, then replied.  “That’s what I needed to know.  I have one more question.  This isn’t important, I’m just curious.  Why do you think I chose you to bear gifts to the gods?”

Vespa answered.  “Punishment.”

The Tjila let out a hearty laugh.  “Well, I suppose that is one way to look at it.  There will be times when you will look back on this day and curse me.  Your journey was not punishment.  It was a test.  I wanted to find out if you had what it takes to be a leader.  You do.  You will be the next Tjila.”

Vespa was stunned.  How could that be possible?  “Me?  But I broke my promise.  I didn’t leave the ptarmigan for the gods.”

“We will spend many hours talking about the challenges of being a good Tjila.  Let this be your first lesson.  As a leader, you must always think for yourself.  You have to know what is right, in your heart and in your mind.  No matter what someone else believes.  No matter what other people tell you.  Holy books and amulets are for the gods.  Ptarmigan is for people.  With each gift, you made the right decision.”

“Go home now, and get some sleep.  You will need to get up early to retrieve the ptarmigan.  It is for you and your family.  After you have eaten, find me.  We will begin your second lesson.”

Submitted: November 11, 2018

© Copyright 2020 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



Criss Sole

I was sure Vespa was in big trouble! Not at all what I expected, but in the end it did make sense. She has a mind of her own and seems to be a very independent individual. She would make a good leader.
Great story!

Sun, November 11th, 2018 2:55pm


We need leaders like Vespa!

Sun, November 11th, 2018 7:09am

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