Always Katya

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
What if the "Burning Times" were something... else?

Submitted: September 22, 2008

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Submitted: September 22, 2008

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There has always been a Madre Katya.

She had grown old. Feeble and frail. The white spittle would run down her chin when she found herself murmuring in the ancient tongue that few still understood. The sparse hairs that remained upon her shrunken, skull-like head had long gone to gray. A gray to offset the yellow her eyes had taken as her sight had begun to fail her. Skin as thin as the paper in the holy books from before the burning times, you could almost see the thicken blood slowly pumping through withered veins.

Yes, Madre Katya had little time left to stroke the fur of the many wild cats she had come to tame in her life. Little less time to enjoy the sound of the small clean river that meandered near her home. And even less time to pass on all the wisdom that she had accumulated. But these things, they did not concern the old woman: there had always been a Madre Katya.

Her husband, the shaman of their people, had died many years ago. This was usually the way of things. Women so often outlived their men. Such loneliness was not too unbearable, for he had provided Katya with many children and that time had passed when she could provide him more. A strong brood, he had suffered the last few years of his life from the breathing sickness and his end came soon enough. No, she had her family and her people surrounding her.

But it was time again. Time again for the next shaman to be granted his sight into the further realms. And for that, Katya had to die.

But there has always been a Madre Katya.

She knew that her people were fearful, almost to the point of suffering. The shaman had grown into full adulthood now, patiently waiting for her to pass on. The young man had nothing but the utmost respect for Katya and she knew he would wait an eternity if need be. No, it was from the village elders that Katya suspected plotting. They would not be above murder, even it was her.

Katya was not about to allow such a thing. She was not about to allow a man to touch her in violence, in ignorance. Yet she understood, and in that knowledge, that wisdom, came compassion. Little time was still time and her people was fearful. Katya would see to the affair in her own way.

And so after sitting by her river all day, allowing her many cats to run about playfully, Katya returned to her home. There she took a small wooden box of powder and mixed it with strong wine that her husband had kept in the home. The wine would make her sleepy, the powder would stop her breathing. It would be a somewhat slow, but very peaceful death. Her disciples would find her the morning when they came to bring her the daily supplies. They would find her body cool from death, and...

There has always been a Madre Katya.

The next day, early as the sun rose in the sky, her two young disciples came to Katya's home with the food staples and their books. They entered to find the old woman, and Elesha wept at the realization of Madre Katya's death. May did not. May knew what this meant, knew that the Madre had done something to speed along her demise for her people. May wished that she would have such strength one day.

The young shaman came, as did the elders. They inspected the body to ensure it was quite dead. Upon their decree, the two disciples and the shaman began to work upon the body of Madre Katya.

With a thin blade, her hair was all shorn from her head. Her eyes were carefully scooped out and their tendrils cut short. Katya's tongue was pulled from her throat and placed in small tin of boiling water while her eyes were sat outside under a precious piece of clear glass. The shaman nodded in appreciation as her checked the dead woman's teeth and found many remained. They were each pulled out. Her blood was drained into a large vial, and her fingers removed. Those small bones were skinned, then ground into dust. Her breasts were sliced off and skinned, while her womanhood was carved out and set to boil with her tongue. The rest of Madre Katya's remains were butchered into scrap to be feed for her cats.

It took days, but eventually, everything was ready. The skin of her breasts were fashioned into a satchel, her hair used as a lining. Her eyes, which had dried outside under the glass, were placed inside along with the now bloated tongue which had been caked with the powdered bone. Her sex served as an aperture to the satchel.

This was to be the root.

To the burning field, Katya's people went. The men and the women and all of the children. Here was a place of pain and misery, a place of rebirth and of mystery. Once every few generations, was this trek made, once a lifetime. Every trip, some would grow sick afterwards, but that number grew less and less with every journey. It was the price to be paid, the lottery of the living.

Here in the field, the two disciples buried the satchel, the root, the memory of Madre Katya. They buried her and the young shaman sprinkled her teeth upon the restless soil, praying a strong one would take hold. Katya's blood had been mixed into various jugs of water, and now each of her people lined up before the planting. The men and the women and all of the children, they took a mouthful of the mixture and spit it upon this grave, this memorial. They watered Katya with their spit and her blood.

And then they all left, for it would be a year. In a year they all would return, would return to see if all had gone as it had so many times before. They would return to see if a tree had grown.

So the four seasons passed and the people wondered and they feared. The shaman prayed and the disciples carried on their studies alone. Finally the time came to return to the burning field and witness the truth, see for themselves this thing that was spoken by the elders. Time to see if the tree had grown.

And it had, tall and proud, symmetrical and green. It was beyond like any tree, any plant any of the people had ever seen before. Even the largest man could just barely wrap his arms around it, it towered over them. It was the most beautiful living thing many of them had ever seen: and now they had to burn it down.

Everyone lined up, a large vat of pitch carried all the way from their homes. The men the women and all of the children, each one of them placed their hand into the black sludge and painted upon the bark and the leaves. Each one of them, until the weight of the pitch threatened to weigh it down into the earth, until they all had done it once.

The two disciples, Elesha and May, they came forward with the fire together and handed it to the shaman. He said a prayer and lit the tree, flames cascading up it swiftly. The orange heat engulfed it, the single thing that had lived and thrived here in the burning plains succumbing to man's will. Within moments, it seemed, it was gone. It was gone and nothing but a pile of ash held in its wake.

Now was the time, now was the truth.

There has always been a Madre Katya.

So from the ashen pile she rose, the gray soot covering her naked form. Even under the blackness, even through the body of a beautiful young girl, they all knew. They knew from the ancient wisdom in those eyes that shone out. They knew from the voice that asked the young Shaman for his blessing in their marriage union. They knew, because they had been promised a miracle and they had been granted one.

And the shaman carried his wife, the witch known always as Madre Katya who was reborn in flame from the burning tree in the field, back to her home to be among with her people once more. For this has been the way of things for generations now, for lifetimes. This is how we live after the burning times.

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\"Always Katya\" is found in the collection The Glorious & The Wretched by Brian Fatah Steele


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