Written for Microcosms, “Blood and Tears” received an honourable mention. The prompts were “guard”, “exhibition hall”, and “crime”.
Blood and Tears
They had always said that my blood wasn’t pure enough to work here, that the gods would take vengeance for having their holy objects exhibited for all to see. I rolled my eyes at them – but only behind their backs.
The priests added their voices to the surging crowds once money changed hands and their earlier blessing of the travelling exhibition was recanted. All objects were to be returned to the half-forgotten temples. It was fascinating to watch from outside how one leader could sweep the people along, change their religion with shouting and rhetoric and no one seemed to notice. When father dared to question the leader, all hell broke loose.
I pulled my body along the floor, leaving a trail of smeared blood behind me. I knew which one of the smashed and looted cases I needed to reach.
My arms were weak from blood loss and exertion when at last I took the cracked clay bowl from between splinters of glass and cradled it in my hand. I could still see the light impressions and fingerprints of my father in the dried clay. He had made many such bowls.
I would have followed in his footsteps if my hands had been different, my fingers not suited to rather carry a gun.
Tears dripped into the bowl as I cried for my dead family – they who had made the bowls for the gods’ sacrifices. They whose blood was not deemed pure enough to enter the temples.
I cradled the bowl to my chest. I shall die as my family did I decided; with a prayer-song to the gods on my cracked lips.
I coughed blood, spattering the liquid onto the bowl’s surface to join the tears.
I heard the footsteps behind me before I heard the trigger.
Behind the story
Manuscripts, ancient cities and temples, shrines and statues. During the past few years, the world has seen the destruction of cultural memory and history through the use of explosives, sledgehammers, and the like by groups such as ISIS. In Timbuktu, thousands of manuscripts were saved through the work of some Bad-Ass Librarians, but sites like Palmyra were not as lucky.
As someone fascinated by history and culture, this destruction has hit my heart hard. (Although that doesn’t mean that I don’t think just as much of the people stuck in various conflict zones. Especially the innocents.)
As usual, “Blood and Tears” has a speculative element to it, an almost fantasy feel – at least that’s the impression I wanted to convey. There is, for instance, some more backstory I developed for the story (which also saves space for another story set in the same world). But I cannot say that my idea comes from just one culture or place. This story really is a mash-up with a soupçon of my own ideas thrown in for good measure. That is also why I opted to only say “gods” and not specify a specific religion, as it was a “fantasy religion” in my mind.
Part of the outcry against the exhibition was even inspired by a letter to a local newspaper by a lady when Body Worlds came to Johannesburg for the first time. Let’s just say she felt the exact opposite of my excitement and fascination. And that’s putting it lightly.
Overall I think this is one of my darker stories simply from the hints given as to what else is happening in that world at that time.
Further reading and listening:
I can highly recommend the following book and podcasts.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. (This book also explains the background to the conflict and the conflict itself very well.)
The BBC podcast series – BBC – Museum of Lost Objects