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[Eleanor]: 668.Contest entries.May 2007 - Famous First Lines

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2007-06-06 15:32:44
short story
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I could never remember when it was that May started to be thought of as my birthday month. Mind you, there is much I don’t remember: my actual birthday, for instance, or what my parents named me, or even who my parents were. My memories begin when the Gravitors found me, amnesiac, wandering in the woods like an animal, but unlike a wild animal totally unable to care for myself, hungry, dirty, ragged and scared, as though I were a domesticated pet who had been thrown out of a fast-moving car into the wilderness to survive or perish. If the Gravitors had not found me, I surely would have succumbed to death. Nor do I remember how old I was when my new tribe found and adopted me, only that I had begun my monthly bleeding and that it terrified me.

It’s funny what I did remember from before I arrived in their encampment. I knew human language, but the Gravitors spoke a dialect I had to learn in order to communicate effectively with them. I also remembered a song which I had presumably memorized in my earlier life, and that is possibly where the idea for May being my birth month came from. The chorus went:

          But when the flowers bloom again
          You’ll come to me, for that is when
          We’ll celebrate our wedding day
          Upon the twenty-third of May.

I didn’t mind at all. Birthdays were joyous occasions for the Gravitors, who liked any excuse for a party. Since I couldn’t remember my actual birthdate, they substituted the date from my song, which meant that once a year I was guaranteed a party and gifts.

I was told how I was found in the woods, practically naked, scrabbling in the dirt for something to eat, half-starved, wild-eyed and fearful of every movement. Kress, the hunter who spoke to me quietly as one would a spooked animal, wrapped me in his cloak and brought me back to the tribe, where I greedily ate and drank everything that was put in front of me. I have no idea how long I had been wandering among the trees, nor how I had arrived there. There was no clue to my identity on me, no jewellery, no identifying marks. Yet, I must have come from somewhere, for all the evidence pointed at my having lived a civilized life, and the song that I sang indicated that I had been educated in some fashion. But my memory of before has never surfaced, and I have stopped poking at it.

Kress was very kind to me, as were the other members of the tribe. I was “adopted” by a family almost immediately, at least I became their responsibility to feed and clothe until I was able to look after myself a little better. They were Closs and Djinna, and they already had small ones, Frass, Vruss and Karta, and I helped out by looking after them while their parents went about their daily jobs. Closs was a tanner. He took the hides of the animals the hunters brought back to the settlement and turned them into leather to make clothes, footwear and other uses. Djinna farmed the communal garden. She could get anything to grow, I was told, and it’s true that when she was working at planting and hoeing and cultivating, things thrived better than when she was doing other work.

The community was run by a committee of members which changed periodically. There was no “boss” and everyone had a turn at being an administrator. This involved making contact with the outer world and keeping open avenues for trade. But for the most part, the Gravitors did not mingle with the world of men, keeping to themselves, living a mostly agrarian lifestyle, supplemented by some hunting, and they were happy, as was I.

I had been with them for many years and had learned their language and their customs, ate their food and dressed in their fashion, it never occurring to me that I was anything but a Gravitor, when I accompanied Kress on one of his hunting expeditions which took him farther from the compound than I had previously gone. Kress was older than my adoptive “parents” and was very experienced in the ways of the world outside the forest. He had taken a keen interest in me right from the beginning, possibly because he had delivered me from certain death, either from starvation or from some predator, but he was my main teacher and companion when I was not occupied otherwise in the village.

On this occasion we followed the spoor of a beast whose flesh and hide the Gravitors particularly prized. One spaktil would feed the tribe for a whole season, as it could be preserved well by drying and curing, and the hide was stiff enough to use as a building material, perfect for repairing dwellings against the harsh conditions of winter. Kress and I were tracking it to its lair, and would return later with a hunting party, as it was too large and fierce for one aging hunter and a human girl to take down themselves. We followed its trail for several days, and Kress became more and more agitated the farther we got from home. He would not tell me what was bothering him, but I could see that something was on his mind.

Eventually we came to a part of the forest with which even Kress was unfamiliar. He cautioned me to stay hidden, and I strove to obey him, although I did not blend into the background with my pale skin as easily as he did with his mottled olive complexion. In order to be less conspicuous, I daubed dirt on my face and arms, in an attempt to camouflage myself should we meet up with a spaktil. I did not know at that moment, but it was not spaktils that Kress was worried about encountering.

As we tracked our quarry, the forest changed. Suddenly the underbrush was thinner, there appeared to be actual cleared paths beneath our feet. The spaktil had followed such a one, and we found ourselves walking alongside it, keeping to the trees, lest we be seen. I had never seen anyone of my own kind before, not remembering the people of my pre-fugue state and having lived only with Gravitors since my discovery by Kress. We came upon a group of humans in a clearing and immediately shrank back to avoid detection. But I was extremely curious and could not help but stare and edge closer, even as Kress motioned me urgently not to.

These people were tall and pale like me, dressed in the kind of fabric the Gravitors acquired in trade with the aliens. I edged closer yet so that I could hear their voices, and realized with a shock that I could understand their speech. Many of the words I did not understand, but the sound of the language was not unfamiliar to me, and was the same as that of the song I had sung when Kress first found me. I felt an irresistable urge to expose myself, to walk out into the clearing and let those people see me. I was about to when I felt Kress’ six-fingered hand close on my wrist and pull me back silently into the deeper woods. He signed to me that the spaktil was not in this direction.

When we finally located the lair of the beast we hunted and returned home, Kress went immediately to the council and told them of my near encounter with my own people. They called a tribal meeting to discuss the matter. Kress and several of the other elders spoke, as did my foster parents, and the same point kept coming up: I was getting to an age where I should be found a partner, and there was no one among the Gravitors with whom I could mate. It was simple biology. I had never considered it before. The Gravitors mature later than humans and I had been fertile for years, accepting my monthly bleeding as an aberration which must be endured. While they knew what transpired in my own body, I did not. I learned more about myself that night than I had in all my previous life.

Finally, after several votes, I was asked to stand and Djinna relayed what the council had decided. As much as they loved me and would hate to see me go, I was not a Gravitor, I could not stay with them for the rest of my life. There would be no mate, no young ones, no happiness for me were I to remain, and they all thought it best if I rejoined the world of men once more.

I couldn’t believe what they were asking, no, telling me to do. The village was the only home I remembered, Closs and Djinna the only parents I loved. I tried to argue with them, but their minds were made up. As much as they loved me, as much as I had become a part of their community, I was still an alien and must rejoin my own people. There was no lack of comfort offered, but no other solution was put forward. I must leave.

Closs helped me gather my few belongings, and I bid them good bye, hugging my foster brothers and sister, and holding onto Djinna as though I would never let go. Kress was to accompany me back to the spot where we had seen the aliens and make sure that I was found. He remarked that it would be similar to his own discovery of me years before, except that this time I was not a wild, scared animal running blindly through the forest.

When we came to the clearing, there was no one there. Kress and I walked along the path until we emerged from the forest into an open area where many people were gathered. There were adults and children, all running about and making noise. I was overwhelmed, yet drawn towards them. For a moment I hesitated and looked back at Kress, but he was gone, vanished into the forest where his people felt most at home. I had no recourse but to walk boldly out into the open and declare my humanity.

That was many years ago now. It was not easy for me to reintegrate into the world of men. I never did find out who my real parents were or what my given name was. Other kind people took me in and made a home for me, and eventually I did meet a man with whom I mated and had two children, a boy and a girl, whom I insisted on naming Russ and Karla. It was as close as I could get to my foster brother and sister. I learned that humans were not native to Graviton, that I was an alien, a newcomer. For a long time I felt as though I did not belong anywhere, either to the society of men in which I now found myself, or to the planet which had nurtured me before I knew what I was. I never saw Kress or any other of my tribe of Gravitors again, although from time to time natives did come into the city to trade their local goods for our cloth and plastics.

I kept May 23 as my birthday and celebrate it in the Gravitor fashion, insisting on a party and presents, starting a new tradition with my own children and their friends. But I have never forgotten Kress, Closs and Djinna, the people whom I consider my true family. I miss them still. I suppose I always will.


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