Race of Death
I put a hand to my swollen stomach and feel the kick of my unborn eighth child. I want to tell it to run, run far away from me. I want to tell it I'm sorry for ever linking myself to the Mountain, to have my name given to this weird couple with magical powers to be "Chosen" by the "Spirits" . I want to tell it a million things, but I can't tell it anything for another three months. And it might already be dead by then. I can't stop the tears from rolling down my face, of rage and anger, of sorrow and grief. But I feel the rough, worn hand on my shoulder, and the dry, cracked lips settling on my cheek in a warm kiss.
"Hey, Sally." Mister Smith sat down next to me and caressed my stomach in his hands. Mister was my husband. His father died as he was born, and called him his Little Mister on his deathbed. He has fathered my other seven kids. Meggie is nineteen next Tuesday, twins Lucinda and Janice are nearly thirteen, Little Mister is ten, Marcus is four and Johnnie and Carla are two year old twins.
He is linked to the Mountain too, and Meggie is as well. Once Lucinda and Janice turn eighteen they will have to be too. It's the law that all eighteen-year-olds are linked to the Mountain. If they aren't, they are sentenced to death on their next birthday.
People think it is unlucky to have a lot of kids, but I think it's quite good. If you have four or more kids aged ten or over then the others get a large discount off their school fees. But a lot of mothers smuggle their children out of the country before they turn eighteen to stop the linking ceremony. I actually tried to get my Meggie to leave, but she wouldn't. She said she had to be there for me and the kids, as most of the others were born and I was pregnant with Johnnie and Carla.
"Only tonight left before the Ceremony!" Mister squeezed my hand. I squeezed it back, and then let it fall. Just then, Meggie walked in, a twin on each hip and one at each side.
"These two little monkeys will not get to sleep, and these two need their medicine." Meggie jiggled Carla and Johnnie until they squealed. Mister stood up and led Janice and Lucinda to the kitchen for their medicine.
"Little Mister and Marcus are both asleep!" Janice popped her head in through the doorway.
"What good boys." My voice was expressionless. What if I was picked tomorrow? What if my newborn baby died of cold, laid in a dark and gloomy cave, huddled up for warmth? What if…
"Mum?" Meggie put a hand on my shoulder. "Are you OK?"
"Fine. I'm just… fine." She could sense the doubt in my voice. I hate lying to any of my children.
"What's up, eh? Not feeling too good?" she sounded like my mum when she said that. I almost cried. She was there for me. I couldn't cry. Not in front of the kids.
"Is it about tomorrow? I won't let you go, Mum. You won't climb that mountain. Dad wouldn't let you either." She didn't realise she was linked to the Mountain too.
"I'm linked too, you know. It might be me!"
Oh. She remembered.
"Get to bed, Meggie. Everything will be alright in the morning, I promise. Now get to bed." She obediently kissed me and climbed the stairs, Johnnie and Carla giggling all the way up. And I was left on the sofa, whilst Janice, Lucinda and dear old Mister walked up the stairs to bed. I cried myself to sleep, full of fear for the next day.