Monday, April 15, 2013

Itsy Bitsy

by Kaye Jeffreys -

The summer night was not unbearably warm, thought Jereth. Although the extremes in temperature were the hardest thing for him to get used to on the surface of Eclectia, tonight when he sat down to relax he eventually stopped perspiring. He settled back into a surprisingly comfortable, collapsible chair. Next to him, Uncle Logan sat in a swinging chair that hung from a beam supported by two sheltered wagons. It was the only one they had and the favorite seat in the circle. Logan had the honor of sitting in it now as he swung his sleeping granddaughter on his lap. Someone absently strummed a rickety stringed instrument nearby.

The sound of grit blasting the metal sheets over Jereth's head was deafening in comparison to the rattling of the circuit office window back in Woodless Valley somewhere near civilization. But after a few days it had become background noise to the activity of Apollo Unit's circle while they waited out the storm.

Kellie approached and reached for the child on Logan's lap.

"She's fine here." Uncle Logan smiled.

"Rose is going to tell Itsy Bitsy. I want my baby sleeping in her cubicle before the story starts."

Logan grimaced and handed the little girl off to her mother.

Rose approached the tack box, stepped up, and faced the small congregation of people with her eyes closed. Her somber face, bare arms, and coarsely woven shirt reflected the flickering orange and black patterns of a nearby oil lamp. The stringed instrument fell silent. Rose took a deep breath then opened her eyes wide and recited in a steady voice.

"Long ago
Near the time of the beginning
Darkness came
The angels stopped singing
What is this
The time of gleaning?
Where to go
Away from this stinging?"

Then Rose relaxed and took on her storytelling stance. She glanced around the circle, making eye contact with a few of her listeners.

"Eclectia sat upon her orbit, warm and firm. The early colonists saw her beauty and they settled there singing, 'Arise, Avenir Eclectia. Be strong, Avenir Eclectia. Stand firm, Eclectia, live on, Avenir Eclectia." Rose raised her arms even with her shoulders as she sung and smiled promise and hope.

"But then, the mountains erupted." She threw up her arms over her head. "And the big bugs marched." She marched in place on her box. "And they knew with all of her beauty Eclectia was a dangerous place for men." Anyone else marching on a metal box would look silly. But somehow, in storytelling mode, Rose could pull it off.

Rose stood still again and looked straight ahead. "But there was no greater danger than..."

She crouched down, got a wild look in her eye, put her hand out in front of her, and wiggled her fingers like a bug.

"A gnat, a mite,
a tiny spider,
took to flight
and sat down beside her."

Rose stood up again into her casual story mode. "Merreth Morrett and wife Sara led their family out into the waste. They had gear, they had supplies, and they intended to stake a claim. 'Arise, be strong, stand firm, live on,' they chanted from Merreth down to his youngest child, baby Jayne. They chanted with hope and promise as they steered their land rover out into the swirly grit."

Rose clasped her hands together. "There was a pond in a valley fed by a spring that spouted out of the side of a cliff. More than lavabush grew around the pond. It looked like a garden sheltered from the wind and waste."

Rose looked around her in amazement as though she saw the garden with her own eyes. "This was it. They knew it. Perfect in all things, except..." This time several joined in with her as she crouched and recited:

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her.

"The purity of the water from that plentiful spring amazed the family and they drank their fill. But in the night something attacked baby Jayne. She clawed her skin and cried out in pain because..." more joined in with her.

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her.

"'It was the water,' they said, 'an undetected toxin.' They filtered and purified and comforted little Jayne. But all she could do was cry and say, 'my body, my head, I wish I were dead.' 'Do not speak thus,' her mother Sara soothed. But soon another child cried out in the night, and then another until one by one, all four in agony died, because...

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her."

The hairs on Jereth's neck tingled.

Rose dropped her head into her hands and held it there as she said. "Merreth cradled Jayne in his arms as the skies opened and poured down rain. He shook his fist at the spring-spouting cliff and cursed the day he led his family away from the safety of the colony."

Rose lifted up her head with worry in her eyes. "The safety of the colony." Determination replaced worry. "The safety of the colony.

"And then Merreth knew what he and Sara must do."

Rose turned to look at some unseen person next to her. "We must preserve the colony, Sara. We must save the colonists from this deceptive place, this false garden, this paradise of pain and death."

Rose turned her head the other way to respond to herself, "But what can we do, Merreth, my love? How can we save them?"

Rose turned back, "There is only one way. We must destroy it all, bury it all and leave no trace."

Rose looked back at her listeners. "They guided the land rover to the base of the cliff. They clawed their skin and cried out in pain out in the torrential rain as they rewired their machine. They kissed one another and sang, 'Arise, be strong, stand firm, live on, Avenir Eclectia... live on and on...'

"Merreth touched off the wires and the explosion could be seen for a hundred miles. The cliff and the spring collapsed on the pond and the garden. And the colony was safe, the tiny mite was stopped.

"Or was it?"

Then Rose stiffened and made her eyes wide as she tipped her head back and looked down on Apollo Unit. She quavered her voice as she slowly sang,

"Itsy bitsy spider
went up the water spout
down came the rain
and washed the spider out
Out came the sun
and dried up all the rain
and Itsy Bitsy spider
climbed up the spout again."

The hair on the back of Jereth's head felt like electricity. He turned to Logan and asked, "Where is Itsy Bitsy and this garden buried?"

Logan bore into Jereth with his eyes, "Don't believe this story. There is no such thing as Itsy Bitsy. It was made up by the people on Avenir to scare us away from striking out on our own and to keep us from scattering seeds."

Jereth sat back into his chair, rubbed the back of his neck to coax his hair flat again, and worked to convince himself that there was no such thing as Itsy Bitsy.