Harvest

The year my brother was born was a year of hunger. The rain never seemed to make it to our lands and those surrounding us. Without the rain, there were no crops to feed us and our animals. We couldn't eat the animals because our teeth aren't made to chew through bone and that's all those creatures were, bone. A newborn made life twice as difficult as it usually was.

Children caused more problems for already troubled people. If you walked out our back door, headed down to the well, turned until you're facing the apple tree and walked straight until the sun was opposite from where you started, you'd come to a clearing; a place that would break your heart with the cruel necessity of it.

My father went there carrying that baby for a purpose, to get rid of it. And I say "it" because it had no name. You get attached to something you name and maybe without a name, it'll seem less of a person. My mother disagreed.

A woman had no say in her life or that of her children. She was property, an object. If a man wanted to throw away one of his own children, well then, by the Lady, he would.

That day, when my father walked the path, my mother told me to follow him. She said I was going to see a terrible thing, but she needed me to be strong, to be strong enough to find my brother, her child, and take him to the Woman of the Wood, who would know what to do; She always knew what to do.

I waited to follow my father until the world woke up; I waited until the men headed out to the fields, praying that today would be the day they would find young, healthy shoots. I waited until the women set about the kitchen, cooking what little was left. When the world was too busy trying to survive to notice a young girl doing what she ought not be doing, I walked out our back door, headed down to the well, turned until I faced the apple tree and started walking.

I was a half an hour behind my father and it never occurred to me to worry about him seeing me on his way back, but the Lady was with me, I heard him coming before I saw him, giving me time to hide in the prickly bushes by the side of the path. He took no notice of the creature in the brush. I was just one more dying thing.

I wondered if he would even notice me missing or if he would be relieved that there was more food to put in his stomach.

I reached the end of the path a little after midday. The smell, the way it seemed to push the air out of my lungs and replace it with death. I would have cried if I had any water left in me to cry with.

Mounds. There were piles of them. Some were covered lightly with dirt, as if someone had half-heartedly tried to cover their deeds, but most had been left out for the elements. The gnawing of animals, the erosion of wind and rain made most corpses unrecognizable. I hoped I wasn't too late. An infant would not last here.

I moved with caution, not wanting to disturb the bodies, partly out of respect for the lives lost, partly in revulsion of the bloated, festering sacrifices. I wanted to find him soon, before he too disgusted me.

It was easier than I thought, but my father has always been lazy. He would do the least he could to get the job done. The boy lay whimpering on the top of the second pile, barely past the border of the burial ground.

He was weak, could barely wave his arms at my intrusion. I needed to get him to the Woman before my actions were for naught. I wrapped his naked body in my shawl; father hadn't even want to spared a piece of cloth for the child, not even to kill him in.

My path was not set out for me on the second half of this undertaking. It was said that all one needed to do was enter the woods and She would find you when she was ready, but he did not have time to wait for her. She was needed now.

The woods showed the earth's pain, as everything else did. Trees centuries old bent down with age and sorrow had once stood tall and strong. No more. Not even the moss had the strength to cling to its perch; fell limply to the forest floor.

The baby's breath was getting slower, heavier. I put a finger in his mouth, giving him something to suck on, even if it didn't give him what he wanted. The trees swayed, sending out a lullaby of sound as though to help soothe him. It was a good sign. She had seen us.

She was on her way.

Or I was.

The trees were moving, making the way easier. Telling me where I needed to go.

Anticipation. I could feel it in the air. Whether it came from the dying forest or me, I could not tell. The difference didn't matter at the time.

Give it a name.

I spun around, searching for the voice. Only the woods looked back at me. I saw no humans. The air seemed to swell; it was no longer comforting, but overwhelming, suffocating.

The Woman had found us.

Give it a name.

The voice was growing more demanding. I bowed my head at its dominance, its overpowering presence. I did not need to see it to fear it. It wanted me to name the child, so I did.

"Jakob. His name is Jakob." My father's name. May he carry it as my father never had.

Is it loved?

I shifted, holding him closer to my body. "Yes."

Give it.

I wanted to leave. I needed to get away, but the forest closed in on me. I would not be allowed to go until I was given permission.

I looked down; Jakob's chest was barely moving, his clinched fists loosening. I was asked to save him. I moved toward the trees.

I will not tell you what I did that day. All I will say is that I gave him to the forest; I gave him back to the earth. Unlike the other children given to death in those years, he was buried with love; he was planted with the hope of the future. He was not a nameless corpse left to rot in the sun, giving nothing to the ground around him. His last breath was given to the earth.

Since then my mother has had other children, fed by the fields exploding with vegetation that came back that summer.

I gave back to the earth and she was thankful.