Alaya dances beneath a shattered sun. The once blazing orb is now pieces scattered across the sky. Village men stride through the village, light cloths binding their eyes, fingers clenched about useless weapons. Sage elders seek the reclusive shade, lines of worry overlaying their wrinkled faces. Amidst them all, Alaya dances.
She dances in the dry, dusty streets, her feet kicking up puffs of gritty sand. The dust and sand swirls about her, obscuring the air in which she dances.
In the sparse shadows three old men sit hunched over deerskin drums, rhythmically pounding out a beat.
The hot sun has parched the earth, leaving cracked soil festooned with tattered streamers of green, the faded remnants of once healthy crops. Dried vegetation tumbles fitfully across the fields as though actively searching for water.
The drums sound a steady beat, a beat reflected in the shifting pattern of her dance. Her bare feet flicker in the dust, the glass beads strung about her ankles catching the multitudinous beams of the shattered sun. The refracted light mimics the splashing patter of raindrops.
In the sky above her, the pieces of the sun continue to rise, spreading further apart. The horizon glows, sparse trees are starkly outlined against distant mountains. As the shattered sun expands, shadows are ruthlessly abandoned, leaving the little village overexposed.
The soft patter of the drums continues; the men’s aged hands steady on the taut skins.
The young water-seeker roams in the distance, his forked stick held in trembling, desperate hands. His pompous posturing and verbal abrasiveness are diminished in the unrelenting heat, replaced with barely contained terror. His chapped, split lips mumble half-remembered phrases of the ancient prayers even as he brandishes the talisman of a lesser god.
Alaya dances the traditional dance of the Goddess. Her feet trace the pattern of healing on the earth. The old traditions have not been forgotten, but subjugated by a slow shift towards the lesser gods.
For a time, the lesser gods had treated them well. But the lesser gods are fickle, their attention easily drawn away. Now it amuses them to watch this little village, once so desperately devoted to them, wither under oppressive heat.
As she intended, the traditions invoked by the Goddess are quickly remembered, aided by those that never forgot. Only days after the sun shattered, leaves of the kelas plant were harvested, young children spending hours stripping out the fibers, stringing glass beads in timeworn patterns. These glass beads hang in the windows, casting jewel-toned rainbows across the bare streets. Some still pray fervently to the lesser gods, spitting at the glass ornamentation of their neighbors, but their ranks atrophy every day.
Alaya dances in the rainbows, her feet moving more rapidly now, the dust swirling through the brilliant motes of light.
Her body moves fluidly through the ancient patterns and ancestral rhythms, moving easily despite the fatigue that slowly burns her muscles and parches her throat.
The shattered sun has glared down upon the village for days on end. Even with nightfall there is little relief from the unremitting heat. Heat resides in every stone, every cracked section of earth; even the water is hot, metallic to the taste.
Voices of angry dissension ring through the barren village. Ignorant hands rip down strands of beads, tossing them in the dust. Hotheaded young men spout rhetoric, seeking to prevent a return to the old traditions.
Her dance would anger the lesser gods, they declaim. The old men of the village sit undeterred, hands still drumming, puffs of throat-parching dust thrumming beneath their hands. The young men, driven by pride and anger, press forward.
One reaches Alaya, a thick, hard hand grasping her forearm. He is stopped by shouts of dismay from the others.
Alaya no longer dances alone. The women of the village sway into the village square, the glass beads around their ankles casting sharp, fragmented light across the faces of the young doubters. Arms, rounded with youth, wrinkled with age, rise to the sky, welcome the heat, welcome the shattered sun. Not all know the steps, but the steps are not important.
Slowly, timidly, a young man steps from a nearby hut. A single glass bead winks in one earlobe. The dance does not pause, but dips and bends and his feet are soon lost amongst the others.
A young woman, her hands strong from working in the fields, replaces an elder at the drums. The beat does not falter, but thrums with new urgency.
The old tradition is rewoven, old and new, young and aged intercalated into the spirit of the Goddess.
Alaya dances, reveling in the sound of glass beads tinkling like water. The dust puffs around her feet, swirls around her skirts. Gray-bellied clouds slowly dim the fragmented brilliance of the shattered sun. And rain, blessed rain, begins to dance in the dirt aside Alaya.
AUTHOR BIO: Diana Rohlman lives in the Pacific Northwest, invariably spending the rainy days inside, writing, with a glass of wine nearby, and her dog offering helpful critiques. Her website can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/rohlmandiana