TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She had an ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach as she gazed attentively at the wearied old woman. Red and yellow leaves fell gently around them…silent witnesses to the occasion.
“It’s yours now,” the elder said as she handed over the thick stick, its knots and bumps matching her gnarled, arthritic knuckles. “But be warned,” the old woman added, “It can be used for good AND for evil.” The forest seemed to darken a bit as the ancient lady shuffled off.
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Is it any wonder that I doubt?
The things I have seen. Women, their heads hacked clear of their bodies by men, rage flowing through their veins, consumed by their egos, afraid that their secrets will leak. Beasts, too weak to defend themselves, imprisoned, tortured in a myriad of ways. Children, too young to consent, taken in ways too horrific to recount. Bystanders watching.
Don’t lie. I know you have seen it, too.
I am scared to say it aloud, scarce whisper it or even think upon it. But the truth is, I don’t believe in it. The baculum.
I don’t believe in its power. I don’t believe it can do good, I don’t believe it can do evil.
I believe it can do nothing.
Miriam handed it over to me yesterday, in the woods. We had the ceremony, in private, the way it is ordained in the ancient books.
In the first light of twilight
>From seer to seer
The handing over will come to pass
In the way of old truths
She gave me the usual disclaimer, the whole it can be used for good and bad, and all I wanted to say to her, all I wanted to scream out loud was: What did you use it for anyway? Did you use it at all or were you asleep at the switch?
Everything burns around us. Where were you Miriam?
But I said nothing. Nothing. She’s old. She’s been old for a long, long time. They say she’s done the best she can.
Now it’s on me.
It’s warm this morning. Usually it’s cold, but today it’s warm. Tushar sleeps beside me. I like to look at him when he’s like this. It’s the one time he cannot be claimed by anger or impatience.
Thank you, Sleep. You have more power than the baculum. You have restored Tushar to the man he was once, briefly, before the day claims him.
I blaspheme. And yet I breathe, another instance of its powerlessness.
I am surprised little Tuvar hasn’t come, woken us up in bed. Pressed into us for our warmth. Where is my little darling?
It’s the ceremony today, at mid-day. Where I will preside over all. Hold the baculum high. Prepare myself to lead our village into the future, in good times and in bad, and use the magic that is vested in me to protect us all.
Pretence. That’s the word that comes to mind. It will be a grand pretence, and I will pull it off with my usual panache, my silver tongue, my chutzpah, as what else am I to do?
When you are born a seer, the choice of what you will be is taken away from you. You can be a wife, you can be a mother, you can look after your family, but you must lead when it’s your time.
And now, it’s mine.
In our kitchen, I stand in front of the fire that has burned overnight, and warm myself.
Something is wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Warm. It is warmer than usual.
I cast my eye around the room for the baculum, which I left in its receptacle on the wall.
Horror of horrors! It is missing!
I am seized by an extreme panic. I run from room to room. I pull the blanket off the sofa, look under the table, the armoire, snatch up the rugs, but nothing. Books, pots and pans, and chairs fall to the ground and cause a great commotion.
Tushar comes running out of the bedroom. “Is everything okay, my love?” he asks. Tuvar follows, rubbing his sleepy eyes.
“The baculum,” I say. “I cannot find it anywhere.” I moan. My doubt, my disbelief, all is suspended while I panic at the prospect of being discovered as irresponsible. My mind flashes to what people will say: the new Seer, it’s quite unbelievable, she lost the baculum. The looks of absolute horror and condemnation that would cross their face. I halt my mind for a moment before I lose it.
“Tuvar, have you seen it?” I demand.
“What?” he says.
“It’s the stick,” I say. “The stick. Not any old stick, but the baculum.”
“You mean the one on the wall?” he asks. He is still bleary eyed, and I love him in that moment, my child. My precious child.
“Yes,” I say.
“It was cold, so I put it in the fire,” he says.
Before he can finish, Tushar and I are jumping up, running, running, towards the fire, which burns brighter and warmer than ever, and I am putting my hands in it, and pulling out the logs, and it comes away in my hands, the knobbly shaft, at least what’s left of it, eighty centimeters, and I wrap myself around it, consuming the flames, putting them out with my body.
It cannot be salvaged.
The forest is full of the limbs of trees, knotted and gnarled, limbs that the sun has warmed, and the rain has shed its tears on.
Tushar, my wood-cutter husband, my savior, knows where to find the baculum’s doppelganger. So, later that day, I stand proud, holding it in my right hand as ceremony dictates, and vow to lead the village in good times and in bad, using the magic that is only mine to command, with my very own, supernatural baculum.