Everything will eventually end.
Cycle 19- In the year of the falling turtles
The Compolche walked in tight rows behind the old man, through foliage so thick that they had to twist and weave through the jungle like torn flags waving in a brutal wind. Though there were hundreds of them, they were silent, as they always were while in this part of the sacred jungle. Each tribes person walked on the tips of their toes, exposing as little of themselves to the ground as possible, leaving behind tiny indented dots upon the leafy carpet. The muscles in their calves trembled with each step. A mask of fatigue shadowed over the faces of many of them but they continued there reverent sacrifice as they continued on, deep into the heart of the jungle, to the place where only their people were allowed to step and had been guarding since the beginning.
The man in the front was weathered and beaten by both time and the struggles of living in such a hot, wet place. His skin was dark caramel and full of the bravado of a hard wrought life; it hung in small folds where his muscles had once swelled with youth and vigor. His back, arms, and head were decorated in the traditional blue tattoos of The Compolche. He wore a sash around his waist made of quail feathers and beads of river rocks. There was a tortoise shell resting on his left shoulder and tied with bands of leather across his bare chest to the sash at his waist. He too walked on his toes, though his trembling was very noticeable and he looked as if his old frame would topple over at any moment. He stepped onto a patch of low growing bushes covered in bright green berries. As he came to the last line of trees, he stepped sideways between two of them and into a clearing with the sun high overhead.
The wind pushed into him, flushed against the line of trees, and swept back behind him. The twirling gust knocked him off balance and sent his left foot to settle flat on the grass . He winced and immediately resumed his balance and arched his weight back onto his gnarled toes. He reached into a small leather satchel tied to his waist and pulled out a pinch of grass seeds and sprinkled them over the spot his foot had landed.
The other Compolche had stopped along the edge of the treeline and sat upon the ruddy bushes,using the bendable branches like cushions. They sat tightly up against each other with their legs crossed, in long rows. Each row was so tight that the tattoos the people displayed had blended together, resembling one large sinewy creature, both chaotic and orderly. Trailing the last rows were the children. The sat down in sections according to their age.
In each grouping the children were the same age with only a few days between them. The Compolche procreated every 5 years, as a group. The women communally controlled their birthing through the use of a white flower that grew plentifully in the jungle. The women drank a tea daily made from its petals that kept them from being fertile. Each 5 years women could choose to refuse the tea and bring forth another Compolche if they wanted. This process insured they were able to give each generation the proper training, attention, and discipline they needed. Each Compolche was responsible for the upbringing of another, there was no separation based on family for they were all one.
The youngest group of toddlers sat down in the last line- maintaining as much focus and silence as the others. Their tiny bodies looked unusual with the old wisdom and intensity that their eyes had. They seemed to be much older than their tiny bodies appeared.
As the old man spread the seeds, those seated picked the berries from the bushes and chewed on them. They placed the discarded seeds in their laps and watched the man as he became a shrinking silhouette toward the center of the clearing.
The man, hunched slightly over from the pain in his bones, brushed the sweat from his brow and looked over his shoulder at his people. Each one of them was looking him in his mud brown eyes, unwavering from his attention. He did not need to say anything to them. He gave them all a gentle smile, nodded his head and turned around back toward center of the clearing.
He adjusted the tortoise shell, moving it up higher on his sun-spotted shoulder. He had that shell since he was born, when he was placed in it for his first sleep in the living world. The leather strips that tied it to his waist had his name etched across it; Albacothra, “Son of Myself.”
Albacothra began to cough. With each bark of air, pain shot down through his chest, making him grab his stomach and bend over. He turned away from the Compolche, hiding his clenched expression. This cough he knew very well, it always meant the same thing in these aging bodies- that this Cycle was nearing it’s end. He was a part of The Cycle longer than a lot of the Compolche sitting in the jungle. He knew it well could feel his body, once powerful and perfect, slipping into the void and becoming dust. His breathing was shorter and rushed. His hands occasionally moved and jerked on their own as if that soul within him was trying to break through its cage within his chest. It was time. He knew the importance of entering The Cycle when the first symptoms came. He would never wait, the risk was too great. He couldn’t chance dying in this body so far away from Her children.
He walked into the center of the clearing, to a small round pile of soil. A little mound of dirt, no larger than a river pebble had slowly started pushing up from underneath the ground. He would not have time to prepare for this one so he just stood over the patch and watched the mound grow ever so slightly as more dirt was pushed up from underground. Two small black armored legs pushed up through the ground and anchored against the dirt and began pulling its body up. A bulbous, gray bug crawled out and brushed the dirt off its body with its back legs. Its four translucent wings flexed and unwrapped from the side of its body. The outer wings, on either side, had a small bright red circle in the center. The bug’s abdomen had a soft orb of flesh, gently pulsing a light from within. The bug jerked around looking from the ground to the sky and shot up into the air. It hovered just above his knees. The fleshy bulb on it’s abdomen had begun to pulse. A bright light flashed and a sound like two flat rocks being smacked together cracked at the air. After the flash, the bug was gone. Her child had vanished to the place he was readying himself to travel to, if only for a moment.
The tribes members watched the flash with excitement, taking in the brazen wash of colors like a drug. Most of them had walked The Cycle as well and had themselves stood were Albacothra now stood. To some of them, like most of the young toddlers in the last row, the memory was all too fresh. There were a few, though, who were here for the first time, they were the ones sitting very straight, eyes wide open, and keenly focused like an eagle that had found a river full of salmon spawning. This was the first time to see one of Her children dig out from the ground fly off into the Ether.
Albacothra knew it would be a few hours before the next child would emerge from the ground, so he stood in the sun feeling its heat against his skin. He took for granted that feeling, all the tiny pricks of heat spread out over his skin. Like a flood in the valley, he could feel it ebb and flow over the deep cracks in his brittle skin. He closed his eyes and sang within himself the songs from his past. One by one, the past voices within him joined into the song, each singing their part and harmonizing within the layers of his body. His people treasured the collection of inner voices they each gathered from The Cycle. The choir of voices resonated within him like a cathedral, the tones bounced off every chamber within and around him. They echoed from the top of his sun kissed head all the way out through the tips of his bent toes.
He opened his eyes and saw a group of leopards along the far treeline. He smiled to them even though did not show anything across their majestic faces but cold, intent stares. He knew that letting him see them was a sign of acknowledgment enough. Albacothra wondered if she was still among them. It had been so long ago that she had joined their numbers. He soaked in the warmth of the sun; unfocused on the passing of the hours.
Two small black legs emerged from the dirt and drew Albacothra’s attention back toward the soil patch. With his inner choir still singing, Albacothra sank to his knees beside the dirt. A bug, Her child, identical to the last crawled out.
Before it had time to react, Albacothra grabbed it and slammed the bug so hard against his head that the force knocked him to the ground with his legs still folded under his knees. A bright light flashed and a sound like two flat rocks being smacked together cracked at the air.
The body was motionless, the eyes flat white and the pupils bleached of all color. There was a splatter of blood on the forehead and in the palm of the outstretched hand.
As the body had fallen, Compolche begun to stand up, stretching out. Five women walked, on toes, out into the clearing to the soulless body. Four of them grabbed a limb and picked up the body, carrying it back into the forest like a stretched blanket. The other woman reached into her own satchel and spread a handful of seeds over the ground where the body had been. When she finished, she turned, and walked into the forest where the other people had begun pulling up on the sturdy branches of the bushes and tossed the seeds from those berries amongst the area. Within just a few days, this place would show no sign that anyone, let alone hundreds of people, had been there.
As if rehearsed a thousand times, they all turned on their toes and begun the long trek back to The Stone in silence. The four women who had retrieved the body sat it down along the treeline, stripped it naked, and folded the arms across the hairless chest. They walked off, leaving the body for the jaguars that were watching from the other side of the field.
On the other side of the mountain stood a giant honeycomb shaped fortress of solid stone, which was almost empty because The Compolche were still deep in the jungle returning. Enormous trees grew in a circle around it, hiding it, and encasing it in shadow. Deep in a corridor was room with over a dozen women laying on soft beds of feathers and leaves, each of their stomachs were bulging and eager to birth those they were harboring inside. A young woman in the back, started to scream out in pain. An old women, with her hair trailing to the floor behind her, came in and rushed to her side as she pushed her legs out and pulled them as far up toward her thighs as she could. A pool of brackish water flowed out from her and soaked into the feather down she was laying on. The elderly women squeezed the screaming girl’s hand and smiled to her with toothless reassurance. This helped calm her breathing as they both waited for the baby to break the veil and cross into the living world.
The young woman panted and clenched her eyes tight. She pushed with all her strength. From between her, the old women placed her hands into the swollen folds and helped pull the head of the baby out as the young woman pushed and screamed. As if the air rushed out of the room and carried all the sound with it, the woman just collapsed gently in relief and silence as the old woman lifted the baby up and slapped at its bottom until it let out a puff of breath and began to cry. She wiped the baby with a cloth and wrapped it tightly in a fresh one. The new mother leaned over and picked up the small tortoise shell that was beside her, waiting for this moment. She set it on her naked chest, just under her breast. The old woman took the baby and laid it in the shell so that it’s mouth would touch the cusp of young woman’s nipple.
The baby’s eyes slowly began to open, mucus separated from the lids on either sides like a melted chocolate being pulled. For the first time with these eyes, Albacothra looked upon the world. A new Cycle was beginning.