Her small hand covered her mouth to stifle the scream as she pulled herself up. Braced against the wall she looked down at the massive amount of golden hair covering her pillow. Tears ran down her face and stung as she cried. She reached up to touch her head small patches of hair still clung to her scalp, but most of her hair lay on the pillow. “How will I hide this? Use your brain Altori.’ She cried silently. ‘I must eat, it will give me a bit of strength.” Slowly, she placed her feet on the floor, wincing with the pain, her skin a mass of welts and bruises now.
One foot in front of the other, she thought hobbling to the table. A loaf of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a bowl full of over ripe apples left over from the last picking lay on the coffee colored wood. She picked up the small knife, cut a wedge of cheese, a slice of bread, and paired the apple. After placing them all on the cream colored plate, she sat. The rungs of the straight backed chair dug into her back, causing her to smother another cry. Instead, she put her elbows on the wood of the table and held herself away from the back of the chair as she ate her meal.
After a few bites and a sip of cool water, Altori’s mind began to clear. The fog of sleep gone now, she began to make her plans. “I’ll use some of the cream, I make especially for the Mistress to cover the dark circles under her eyes, on my welts. I believe I can braid the hair and sew it into my work cap.” She murmured aloud, glancing at the hair that nearly hid her pillow. It was difficult to look at it and she feared looking into the mirror, standing in the corner of the room. The mirror had been covered since before Helen had left. Altori hadn’t paid attention to how she looked after Helen was gone and Helen hadn’t wanted to see the horror that she had become after coming back from the void.
“Whatever possessed me to go into the void anyway? Altori mused as she carefully applied the cream on her welts. ‘If I can keep them out of water I believe it will work!”
She carefully placed her small blue work hat with the braids sewed into it on her head, tying it to her head she eyed herself in the mirror. “Luckily I never wore bangs so the front won’t matter.” She muttered to herself. Altori made sure her now almost bald head was not noticeable. Taking a bit of the cream she applied it to the bruises on her face. “Well I think if I keep my head down no one will notice; she thought as she closed the door and walked down the path to the great house to wash and polish the floors.
I wonder what is going on; she thought, noticing the large group of villagers standing in front of the great house. Quickly making her way closer she heard the crier calling everyone to order.
“Hear, hear! He yelled to quite everyone down. The master will be out soon, and he will tell us all the news until then stand quietly.” A hush fell over the crowd, though a bit of jostling still went on as people vied for a better position. Standing away from the crowd, but still near enough to see Altori waited. She stood in the shelter of the large oak tree, the glare of the morning sun hurt her eyes. They didn’t have long to wait before the master road up on his bay colored horse.
A groomsman took the bay and tied it to the rail and melted into the crowd as the master climbed the stairs to the wide porch that wrapped around the great house. For a moment, he took his wife in his arms, held her and whispered something in her ear before turning. His large brown hands clasped the railing of the porch, his grip so tight on the rail you could see his knuckles turn white. The crowd was silent now, the crier stepped back behind the mistress and the master looked up.
“We all know that the void happens on the night of no moon. It is true that this is a dangerous time for us all, and we must prepare the village for this night. No one must be out, no window must be uncovered. All animals, livestock, and family pets must be sheltered in their barn, the hatches battened down. No glimpse of the sky, the earth, or the air must reach any living thing. We also know that the night of no moon only happens once every year. What we didn’t know is that every thousand years there are four no moon nights.”
The air filled with cries of horror from the crowd.
“Shush, shush.’ The crier yelled. ‘The master is still talking.”
“This year is the year of four no moon nights, and because of this there will be four voids. It will be a hard year. No one must waste a minute on any project that does not involve putting aside food, clothing, water, or other stores. Each able bodied man must make sure all roofs, walls, doors, and windows are tight. We must be ready. Unfortunately, we have only one week to do it in. The astronomers were clear about that.” He finished, this time grasping the hand of his wife while they both took a child in their other arm.
“Master, how can this be?” The tall, dark, large nosed man asked loudly. “Why weren’t we told before?” Someone else in the crowd yelled.
The master put his little boy down, turned back around to the crowd, held up one hand and said. “The histories were lost in the fire a hundred years ago. Since then the astronomers have been working nonstop to read the signs. No one wanted to believe this was the year, no one wanted to believe this horror would happen in our lifetimes. However, it is true, there is no question of it, and everything has been checked in every way possible.”
A grown went up from the crowd, men were holding their wives close to their chests. A few of the women had swooned.
“My friends and neighbors, I wish this was not true, but it is. The void is coming, and because it is so near the last it will be worse. We must make ready. Stay here while I speak to the foremen and women so chores can be assigned correctly. There will be no washing of floors, each of you must clean up after yourself as best you can in the commodes and the kitchens.”
A shriek came from the crowd as another woman fainted, her family pulling her to her feet and bracing her body against theirs.
“All must be ready, take a short rest my friends while I speak to the foremen.” He said as he turned and went into the great house, followed by five men and five women all of them large, brown, and brawny. None of the foremen could be called small or delicate, each wore a red kerchief around their neck and a large straw hat upon their head.
The crowd sat on the ground, some were whispering to each other while others sobbed loudly. Altori sat in the shelter of the tree and waited. Maybe, I can go back into the void? She thought. I might die or heal. I might find Helen or learn what those lights are in the void. Whatever I find I must go for I will not last here in this village, not the way I am now.
Copyright 2013 Marta Moran Bishop