*Here’s a short story that’s been floating around in my head for a few months and I finally got it out of there!!*
All she knew was that it glowed.
“Why does it do that?” she asked.
It lit up as he answered, “I don’t know.” It only happened when he spoke.
After the sun set she would sneak away from home, wrapped to shield her body from the bitter cold. He waited for her, pacing his small room, embracing when the snow yeilded her on his doorstep.
“Tell me a story,” she’d plead. It was one way to get him talking. He wove stories of birds and bears, foxes and hunters, magic and folly. She listened, rapt attention with every word, eyes trained on his arms turning from from black to gold and every color in between.
Stolen evenings spent by the fire became heated evenings spent in blankets. Wrapped in his warmth she traced the black bands ringing his limbs from elbow to forearm. Different pictures for each permanent bracelet.
She asked, “What do they mean?”
He sighed. And told a story.
“Once a boy was born from the pit of a peach,” he began. The bands began their golden dance. “He was called Momotaro.”
His voice carried the tale of Momotaro growing into a warrior, his marked arms carried the beauty of the sunrise. He told of the Peach Boy setting out on a quest to defeat a group of evil ogres. His mother made dumplings for the long journey and sent Momotaro away. Along the way Momotaro met a monkey, a dog and a pheasant. Each animal offered to help the warrior in his quest after the Peach Boy shared his precious dumplings.
“And here is the important part,” he said, his marks unglowing. Sometimes when he spoke the black would remain black. She wished they would glow always. “The pheasant flew out of reach of the ogres,” the marks took on a lazy hum of gold, “dropping rocks on their heads and alerting Momotaro of their strategies. The monkey scaled walls and moved swiftly to confuse his enemies and beat them with cunning. The dog bared his teeth, using his brute strength to overcome many an evil ogre. Momotaro fought a mighty battle but only won because of his friends.”
He took her hand in his, using her finger to trace the marks on his arm. “Loyatly and bravery go hand in hand,” the bands did not glow. “I wear the mark of the Peach Boy,” he traced their fingers over a ring of connecting circles. “He reminds me to be brave and train hard to reach my goals. The pheasant’s symbol,” he moved their hands to a ring of black feathers, “tells me I cannot always have what I want right away. The mark of the monkey,” he said, tracing a band of swirls vaguely resembling monkey tails, “reminds me to use intelligence to achieve my ends. And the dog’s symbol,” he lightly stroked their hands over a ring of different-sized squares. “The symbol of the dog tells me that sometimes force is necessary. But it is always the last resort.”
She sat, his hand covering hers, contemplating the story.
“Why are they not glowing now?” she asked.
He breathed in deeply. “I don’t know.” They glowed.
She breathed in deeply. “How did you get them?”
He sighed, then told her of a ceremony of magic, known only to his tribe.
“Can I be marked?” She asked his hands.
He lifted his hands and gently, gently, turned her face to his. “You are not of the tribe,” he said.
She looked unwaveringly into his eyes. “But I want to be.”
He tilted his face to hers, placing a breath of a kiss on her lips. “I will speak with the Shaman,” he said. The bands did not glow.
They continued their nights of stories and magic. Her sneaking away, him warming her soul. The day was just beginning when he took her hand, guiding her to the house of the Shaman.
He led her through three rings of houses settled in the snow until they came to a perfectly round structure of wood traced with gold. Inside were walls of gold and black woven tapestries and a withered old woman marked from finger to forehead.
“You wish to be marked?” the Shaman rasped. Her symbols did not glow.
She nodded. The Shaman began. Spices filled the air, chants filled her head, needles pricked her skin and she was marked. Feathers. The pheasant to see all, lining her forearm.
“You are pleased?” the Shaman rasped. Her symbols did not glow.
She nodded. He led her away from the Shaman, back to her home. He would see her tomorrow. She was marked of the tribe.
She entered the house of her parents happy.
“Is that you?” came her mother’s voice from the kitchen.
She lifted the sleeve of her clothing, watching her mark as she said, “Yes, mama!” The mark did not glow.
“You’re late today. Where have you been?” said the pleasant voice of her mother.
“Nowhere,” she answered, nearly laughing as the black faded into gold.
“Well, what were you doing?” accused her mother’s voice. She moved to the door of the kitchen, keeping her arm hidden behind a wall to watch the mark.
“Nothing,” she replied, watching the mark light up as she spoke, an idea forming in her mind.
“Mama,” she began. “How would you feel if I dated a boy from the tribes?” The mark did not glow.
Her mother scoffed, “Darling are you seeing someone?”
“No,” she lied. The mark glowed.
“Mama,” she began again. “I went to school today,” she lied. The mark glowed.
“Well, that’s wonderful, dear, but I want to hear more about this boy,” said her mother’s voice.
Eyes wide, she lied again, “There is no boy.” The mark glowed.
“Then why,” her mother’s exasperated voice chided, “would you bring up a boy?”
Her voice trembled as she said, “Just curious.” The mark glowed.
Her mother looked at her for a long moment. “Ok, then, dinner will be ready in thirty minutes. Would you like to help?”
“No, mama” her voice quavered. The mark did not glow.
“Are you alright?” her mother asked.
“Yes, Mama,” she lied. In that moment she knew why she was marked with the pheasant to see all.
In that moment she knew why the marks glowed.
In that moment gold became an ugly color.