(I used to drive 45 miles to work each way. I wrote stories and songs {Actually my first novel}. This was a spooky one...enjoy...)


R.A."Ben" Miller
First written 10/76, rewritten 2/98

Slowly, at first, and then, with gathering strength, the new wind blew through the trees and into the streets of the village. With it came the howling of the wind beasts. Like unwelcome guests, the noises passed from house to house, kicking leaves and making tiny dust spinners.

As the villagers awoke in the morning light, they heard the howling and, with it, fear was there to greet them. The sounds grew, and as they did, the villagers' fear grew until it became thick enough to touch. No one wanted to hear the wind's treasure. No one looked at the dust spinners that came as tiny messangers of their loss.

One by one, the men went to the house of Shrev the Elder. Silently, they sat to await the meeting. The Elder looked from man to man. Slowly, he lifted his hammer of authority and pounded the table before him. The booming noise echoed among the scared men.

Milen, the bull master, fiddled with the leaves of calm in his pipe. Today, they only made him cough. They were no help, so, he rose stiffly to his feet, " Elder..."

The oldest them sat in a corner. He tried to focus on the changing face in the flickering light of the morning fire, "Cousin, what do the bull tenders say ? "

"We think that no good will come of this new season," he growled.

Murmurs of agreement flickered like a small flame around the room. Seeing that he was unchallenged, he gained force to continue. "If we can hear them, the beasts can hear us as the wall dies." The murmurs grew around him.

The elder looked from face to face, "Who has been to the edge of the edge? Who has seen the wall?"

In the corner, the potter, Djor stood, "I have been to the edge of the edge, Shrev. The wall is thinning. With each new wind, the beasts are gathering...they know it too..." The murmurs grew louder.

Again the hammer was lifted and lowered. Its noise quieted the room. He turned to a small hunched man near him in the corner and motioned him to draw near, "Tulon, go to the woman, Tria. Tell her the Gathering Time has come. Demand that she tell us when to build our fires." The old man hobbled off.

At that moment, in an old, windy hut near the center of the village, Tria opened her eyes. She heard the wind. She had heard the beasts. In her slumber, she had heard all that had been said in the hut of the Elder. She moaned softly, thinking of the pain that came with the giving of her gift.

In her dusty yard, a tall, thin boy was untying a bundle of sticks for the fire. On his brown back was a purple stain in the form of a flying bird. When it itched, Jawey would run.

He didn`t know the meaning of the mark on his back or the manner of his birth. As far as he knew, Tria was his mother, not some girl who had died giving him life. But, as soon as the Elder had seen the mark and had looked into the blue eyes of this infant, he had sent Jawey to Tria for her gift. It was her lot to fight with ther night Gods, to nurse him throught the fevers and the spots, and grow him to this point so that he would become the runner.

He heard the wind and the other sound. It sent chills up his back. The chills made his back itch more than ever.

He went into the hut, " Mother... why do you moan?"

She looked away from him quickly to hide her tears. "Pay me no mind, child. These old bones creak in the morning."

The old woman caught his eyes. She had poured a lifetime into those eyes. All the times she had seen them, each one on a runner, she never had gotten used to looking into blue eyes. "Now be quick and make the fire. We must soon move to the edge of the edge. "

He looked surprised at her angry response. He wondered what he had done to bring this out. She was not angry with him. She was angry at the Gathering. The wall was dying and she must make her gift. This was the time to use her gift and the magic of the runner to remake the wall.

Today, he could hardly eat. He was filled with energy. The energy made him run. So... he ran. She gave him bundles of their belongings. Back and forth he ran from the old hut that she had showed him many moons ago.

Since borning day, he had run faster and faster. The villagers had marveled at the speed in him. Whenever he passed by, the men looked, and then, looked away. "This boy is for gathering," they whispered and made a sign of protection over their heart.

They told their wives, "Keep thy daughters from him. He's a runner and not for loving."

Some months before today, Shrev the Elder's own daughter, Yuli, was seen to place herself in the running track. The Elder himself visited Tria's home in town. "You must take the gathered child to the edge of the edge."

"You know that it is not time."

He turned the crying child so that she must look at the old hag. The girl was frightened. "Look...look at my Yuli... see her face... My own daughter fancies this boy. They must be separated."

"Right is right...and time is neither right nor wrong...but, it is not time... you must handle your gift as I must handle mine..." They had waited. Now, it was time. She could wait no more.

That morning, on the edge of the edge, she cleaned the windblown litter out of the hut as she had done uncountable times before and prepared to move her household in. Jawey was sad to leave the old place, but, he was obedient. They carried their things to the old hut at the edge of the edge.

As always, when he had come before, Jawey grew stronger out at the edge. She sat at hut door in an old chair and watched him run. Her dark eyes glowed with pride and sadness. Another runner. Another soul for the beast wall. Another test of her gift.

To train the runners was her fate. To love them and give them up was her price. She thought back to the day they had come to her hut to make their offer. The Elders stuffed themselves into her hut. "We can show you how to live forever," they had said. "We ask only a small price. That you train the runners and deliver them up at the gathering time."

Since that time, season after season, she had paid and paid. Only her gift could make the beast wall stand until the day when the beasts would come for her. "Not tonight...they aren't coming tonight..." she hummed as she cleaned.

On this night, the pressure in Jawey's chest was too much to bear. The only answer was to run. He could not outrun the pressure tonight. He ran and ran. Tria heard him in the forest. She waved to him as he ran by. Tonight, she kissed him and held him for the last time. "Take the long path around the edge," she told him as she had told all of the others. "The running is better there. "

Soon, she could not hear him running. At the far side of the edge, on the other side of the village from the hut, a new shelter had been built. As Jawey drew near to it, he slowed as he done before. From the shadow of a bush, a young girl arose, "I have waited here for thee. My father says this is my last night in his home. I am to live with the potter. "

Jawey said nothing. She took his hand and led him to the shelter. "Here, I have made thee some soup." Jawey found that, suddenly, he was hungry. They sat together on the soft furs and ate. When he was finished, his blue eyes looked intensely into her own dark ones.

Without a word, she pulled on the knot at the shoulder of her dress. In one motion, her clothes fell away. She reached for him as she had often done here in their secret place, and he went to her. In youth and hunger they were bound.

After a time, he slept in the evening shadows. She traced the bird sign on his back, kissed him softly, and cuddled up to dream her own dreams.

In her hut, Tria had felt their fire. She smiled at the irony of it all. She shed a tear for the sweetness of the love her son had shared. At least, he would not go alone into the night. The gift would not be forgotten. Shrev, the Elder, would pay a as much as she at the next gathering. She shuddered as she remembered too many blue eyes and too many nights like this. "Serves the old bastard right..." she said to no one.

Night deepened as Jawey slipped from the shelter. The pressure in his chest was worse than before. He began running. The sound of his running was muffled in the darkness.

The old ones listened to the beasts and to the footpads of the runner and to the wind. These were the sounds of their night. Would the beasts accept their special gift tonight? Will we see this boy in the morning? What's to become of us...?" These questions were murmered as they built their smokey fires along the edge of the edge and around their huts that night.

Tria sat before her fire singing the smoke song. Jawey was fast. She knew this because she had trained him in the runners way. She knew that the smoke was the villagers' only escape from the gathering of the beasts. The smoke would help the gift to be accepted.

All night, all the village fires burned smokey red in the darkness. Mothers sang their own prayer songs for nearness of the morning and for the wall. But the smoke did not rise as before. Like a ghost, it followed the boy around and around the long path. It wound around the edge of the village, thicker and thicker, until nothing could be seen. Soon, even the runner's footfalls were lost in the wind and the night.

At daybreak, Tria checked Jawey's bed. He was not there. She looked to see the new wall that was in place. The gift had been accepted. The other mothers quietly went to their children's rooms to count their little heads. Yet another gift from Tria and another gathering spared them and theirs.

Tria closed the home at the edge and returned to her own home. She paused to wash herself in a streamm. In the quiet pool was her reflection. She looked at the dark hair and unlined skin that was her pay for the broken heart of her gift.

She could not look at the wall that would hold the beasts. She could not look at the path. There was no reason now to wait for those pounding little feet, no sweaty hugs, no more baths to give for a while yet.

The fears were not all gone. Who would be next. All too soon, the wall would begin to fade and a new runner would be needed. Then they would call for Tria's beauty to be poured into her gift. She was the only one who could. She bore the burden for them all.

Through the winter, she walked among the market stalls. All the men wanted her beauty. Many came to visit her hut, but, none stayed. She was the Giver. That was her lot. That was her choice.

In the spring, she passed the elder's daughter walking wide with child. Djor the Potter thought it was his. Both women knew better.

In the summer, she went to her door. It was the broken face of the Elder. He had brought the child. It had blue eyes and the mark of an eagle in flight on it's back. Without a word, she took the child, "Ooohhh...you have come back...my little bird," she cooed softly to the baby. He kicked strongly...a bad sign...

He looked at the old man, "The mother..?"

Silently, he shook his head. She knew the answer. Throughout time, she had been the only one to ever bear the little bird and live to tell it. Many died of broken hearts as soon as they saw the bird on the baby's back.

"You have other daughters...live for their children," she told him.

"Not like this one," said Treve, covering the bird sign with a blanket.

"No.., "Tria said sadly, "not like this one..."

THE END, for now...

So...if you like this (or... God forbid... you hate it) please E-Mail me B<><