Part Three: As the Curses Rage
Several weeks passed, Blue slowly getting to accept the fact that I wasn’t a god. She started praying away from me, closing the eyes near the hatch, a couple times a day. I accepted this trite attempt at penance and listened to her apologies made to the Protector God.
Her tentacles had healed, but the week or so before she was able to care for herself aptly was difficult. I dropped wood into the fire when she was asleep, pulled buckets of ice over the side of the house and purified them myself. Everything was more difficult now, but that was ok. I knitted in my spare time, told Blue about more things on earth, speaking in such vague terms that I felt like a prophet who had seen the end times. I wondered what she was thinking.
More recently, though, Blue had resumed the collection of ice and begun caring for the fire once more. She wore her coat and the shoes I had made for her when she went outside. I always kept an eye on the time when she left, just in case she took too long.
This time, however, she wasn’t gone too long. She was barely gone at all.
“Creature!” Blue shouted, “Creature – please, can you help me?”
I put on the gloves and went to the hatch, looking down the hole. My eyes widened as I saw Blue dragging in another Osminog, the body stiff.
“What are you doing?!” I asked, “Is that Osminog even still alive? Don’t bring corpses inside!”
“This is Chirchirrup, creature! You helped me live when I was freezing. Can you help her too?”
I sighed, unable to recognize the spot patterns of the Osminog well enough to be able to tell whether the frozen body had been Blue’s daughter or not. “She looks too far gone, Blue.”
“Osminog return from this frozen sometimes. They start on the outside of the pile, but then are moved in to thaw. We don’t have a huddle, creature, but you knew how to fix me anyway. Come help me, please, creature!” Blue begged.
I sighed. “Take your coat and put it atop her. Leave her near the fire, then take the water in your bucket and slowly rub her tentacles in it. Warm her slowly. I’ll warm some water and send it down.”
I watched as Blue thawed Chirchirrup out, worried that it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t help but wonder what Chirchirrup was doing out here, think about how she hadn’t visited in a very long time. What had happened? Had a predator invaded the tribe?
I didn’t think I’d ever find out. I looked at her body and saw how stiff it was. She’d been outside, alone, for far too long.
Eventually, though, I saw blood pumping in her legs. I was surprised that she was still alive.
“Shh, Chirchirrup, Zzzzawhir’s here. Zzzzawhir and the creature are going to help you,” she said quietly.
“I don’t know, Blue. I think it would be best if you didn’t mention me to Chirchirrup. She thought I was the God of Predators last time she was here,” I said. I tossed down the bandages that were left in my med kit, looking at the quickly dwindling supply. I’d need to sterilize and wash the old ones that Blue had used, at this rate. “Wrap these around her tentacles when they’ve been thawed.”
Blue did as I said, wrapping the first tentacle she’d warmed with two of her own palms, warming the other tentacles with her remaining two. “Something’s wrong. She couldn’t have made it out here without other Osminog to bring her and keep themselves warm, but I didn’t see them outside. What happened to them?”
I shook my head even though I knew Blue couldn’t see me. “I don’t know.”
Eventually, Chirchirrup blinked, and Blue launched herself to squeeze her daughter tightly in a warm hug. Blue rubbed her daughter’s spotted skin, cooing with sounds that I couldn’t make with my gloves, sounds that I hadn’t heard before. It was something like purring, gentle and soothing.
“Who are you!?” Chirchirrup asked, lifting her own tentacles. She started, looking at the bandages on her tentacles, and tried to wander away. Blue held her gently back, and the purring noise stopped.
“Oh, Chirchirrup! I got to you in time!” Blue said. “It’s me, your Zzzzawhir. I found you in the snow and brought you here.”
Chirchirrup moved a bit, her eyes flitting around to look at the mysteries of the house. “Where am I?” she asked, knocking the coat off of her body. “Who are you!?”
Blue seemed upset. I looked at her skin and realized for the first time that her spots were completely gone, likely had been for more than a month now. Blue evidently thought that Chirchirrup was still going to recognize her and was upset when her daughter didn’t. My heart hurt as well, knowing that this was bound to happen. It’s what happened to all wizened eventually as they lost their spots and became suspected of treacheries, of belonging to other tribes and bringing pain and downfall.
“It’s me, Six of Blue, your zzzzawhir. I found you, Chirchirrup, cold and frozen in the snow. The creature we thought was a god told me how to save you. Now rest, stay calm, and we’ll keep you fed and warm.”
I grimaced, trying to stay silent despite my unhappiness that Blue was trying to introduce me to Chirchirrup.
Chirchirrup seemed distressed when she asked, “How can I know? Look at you, suspect! What if you are just trying to throw me in the way of the predators!? The God of Predators already had the soul of my zzzzawhir, you could have learned from it!”
I harrumphed, standing and walking over to my bed. I hoped the sound of my feet scared Chirchirrup just enough to spite the young Osminog for forgetting its own mother!
My ruse worked as I heard Chirchirrup squeal. “This is the bad place! Eternal fear! Souls slowly eaten!”
Blue, less than satisfied, calmed her, “No, no – this is your zzzzawhir, and we’re still alive, still in our natural bodies. The sounds won’t bother you they’re just… they’re nothing, after all, but the sound of winds in the trees. You’ve just been thawed and, uh, the power of the gods has warmed you. I’m your zzzzawhir, Chirchirrup, and I love you. Stay calm, that will help you heal.”
Chirchirrup seemed only lightly consoled. “How… how can you prove that you are my zzzzawhir?”
“Well… when you were little, you wanted to go to the mountains. I tried to help you get there, but the grass got so tall and we were so scared. We turned back. No one else has done that, no one else knows.”
“You can’t prove it,” Chirchirrup said. “You could have gotten any information you need, deceiver, from my zzzzawhir. She had sold her soul to the God of Predators, you could be anyone.”
With sadness, Blue began to shake. “Then why were you coming to me? What were you trying to do, leaving the tribe in the dead of winter?”
Chirchirrup didn’t answer. I heard movement below, a scuffle between the two Osminog.
“No!” Blue shouted, “Don’t take those off – they are to help you heal!”
I rolled my eyes. The bandages. I shuffled back from the bed, looking through the hatch to see what I could do to stop Chirchirrup from doing this self-destructive act.
“I don’t know what you want. You could be a mimic, an Osminog mimic of the Predator!”
Blue seemed taken aback. The eyes that were facing the hatch looked up, examining the hole through which I often spoke. She said to Chirchirrup, “Then I will leave you to pray to the Protector. Though I love you and want the best for you, you’re not going to listen. Do what you will, but realize that I really want the best for you, and frozen death surely awaits you outside if you don’t accept my help.”
Blue hid in a corner, Chirchirrup drawing herself to another corner wrapped in the blanket I had knitted. I frowned, watching Chirchirrup take up the blanket and nervously cover herself. I felt strongly that the Osminog daughter didn’t deserve the warmth of the blanket.
Blue patiently brought over fruit in a jar to Chirchirrup, took water that I had earlier purified and lowered down the hatch, and tried to nurse Chirchirrup. She eventually took the food, marvelously impressed with the preservation as Blue had been earlier.
After hours of care, Chirchirrup finally began to accept that Blue wasn’t evil. She chewed the food, drank the water, and watched with less wariness. Blue seemed satisfied with her progress, cooing every so often.
I ate my own nutritious paste, nearly gagging as I slurped down the cold mixture. It was difficult to eat while hot, difficult to eat while cold, difficult to eat while lukewarm or anywhere on the temperature scale. I looked at the canned vegetables that I had brought from the ship, knowing that I needed to continue rationing them. One reasonably tasty meal per week was all that I should manage.
As I ate, I heard Chirchirrup ask, “Why are you helping me? What is this place?”
I sat down next to the hatch, seeing Chirchirrup move in fear of the sound. Blue tapped her gently, nicely helping Chirchirrup to be calmed.
“I told you before, I am your zzzzawhir. But since it seems I am no longer trustworthy, but only a suspect, I’ll just say that I want to see you live and thrive. This is the place where you left me in the summer. Remember the trees in the air? Remember the bushes that were all in a line? How you thought I was speaking to the God of the Predators in that hole right there? This is that place, but the god or creature that lived here created this place, this wooden place that is warm.” Blue motioned to the room, showing everything that she had all to her own. I saw Blue struggling with words, struggling to explain what she had so quickly come to accept as normal or good.
Chirchirrup wasn’t happy. She snuggled up against the wall, eyes wandering where Blue pointed. She couldn’t very well control her tentacles, and continued to be put off by the presence of the bandages.
“Chirchirrup, why did you return? I know how cold it is out there and you were alone. How did you get here?”
Chirchirrup waited a moment before she returned, “The curses rage hard this winter. I had hoped to come here and see if I could pray for help from the Protector, possibly see my zzzzawhir, but now I’m not sure if that was a good plan.”
Curse? What did she mean?
“Then doesn’t it make sense that I am your zzzzawhir? You were coming to see me, after all.”
“But… but your spots are gone. How can I be sure?”
I cringed at the lack of logic. By all means, Blue was definitely Chirchirrup’s mother.
“It doesn’t matter, child. What matters is that you’re here, that the curse will not get to you. You can go back when the curse is done and you won’t get it.”
Chirchirrup pulled her tentacles in a bit. “You don’t understand; I have already lived through the curse, and it’s one of those curses that do not affect the same Osminog twice.”
A virus. That’s what the curse was.
“Then why are you here?”
Chirchirrup closed her eyes, tired and gloomy. “Because… because half of the tribe is sick. Three Osminog had come with me, but now all of them are dead from the curse. It’s horrible. So I am here to pray to the protector for help.”
Blue sat down. “The Protector isn’t here, Chirchirrup-“
“She has to be… My zzzzawhir was alive for many days, even as she worshipped the God of Predators. This place is sacred.”
Blue sighed, or made a noise as close to a sigh as I had ever heard an Osminog make. “Yes, yes dear… here. Let me get you some fruits.”
Blue walked over to my hatch, looking up for another jar. I did nothing as she signaled.
“Come on,” she said quietly, “Please. I just need four fruits from the jar.” She shot a glance at Chirchirrup, who stared at her suspiciously.
I did nothing. Chirchirrup didn’t like me and didn’t need to know I existed.
“Please, Creature… please,” she begged.
Blue angrily squinted. “Fine,” she said, “Be that way.” She turned back to Chirchirrup, patting her daughter on the side.
Chirchirrup was tired, though, and soon drifted to sleep as Blue sang her calm songs. I listened to the songs, the words carefully crafted to give the song a tune. Poetry were necessarily songs to the Osminog, their tonality limited to the four versions of their primary teeth. Blue used this limitation expertly as she sang to Chirchirrup, lulling her daughter to sleep.
Once Chirchirrup was satisfactorily asleep, I opened the hatch and sent down the fruit. Blue saw, coming over to me with angry, stomping feet.
“Why didn’t you help me when I asked?” she asked.
“She didn’t need fruit then. Besides, she thinks I’m the God of the Predators. Would you eat food given to you by the God of the Predators? Wouldn’t you think the fruit was going to poison you, or that the thing in the floating nest was going to pop down and eat you?”
Blue sagged a little bit. “Yes, but… but she needs help!”
“Tell me about curses, then,” I said. “I think I know what she’s talking about.”
Blue sat down in the mud next to the fireplace. “When the Protector hasn’t been sacrificed to adequately, she sends a curse upon us all. It means our souls will be called to her side early, starving the God of Predators but costing the Osminog in numbers, making it harder for us to survive the next year. Numbers are what keep us thriving, creature.”
I nodded and looked about my room. No medicine I could make would help the Osminog any more than it would poison them. Antivirals that were actually potent had taken humans a long, long time to invent. With what I had, they weren’t going to be easily reinvented.
“What do Osminog do with the bodies of Osminog that died from curses?” I asked.
“They are put on the outside of the pile until the winter is over, protecting the rest of the Osminog even in death.”
I groaned, Blue unhappy with my vocalization. “That’s the worst thing you could do, Blue.”
“But they keep us warm! Otherwise, we freeze in the winter. The curses, though devastating, make it possible for us to live. The curse must have been very bad for Chirchirrup to come… it is likely my fault, praying to you rather than to the Protector.”
I shook my head. “No, Blue. That’s not true. Curses aren’t… they’re not magic, not divine. They’re a tiny predator that, uh, that eats you from the inside.”
Blue blinked hard a couple of times. “The curses are from the God of Predators?”
“Sure. If that’s what makes sense. But they’re carried in dead bodies, Blue, and that’s why so many people get affected. They’ve got to get rid of the bodies if they want the curse to stop raging,” I said.
“But then they’ll freeze.”
I thought. Anything I suggested would be giving technology to a tribe, not just to Blue, a harmless single Osminog that benefitted from my knowledge as I benefitted from her company.
“Let me tell you a story,” I said. I cleared my throat and wiggled my fingers, prepared to tell Blue more than I ever had before.