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The Tinkered Mind
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May 1st, 2022
From a high perch of slate rock exposed, shaded by the tall trees of the shallow valley, motionless eyes watched from within the hollows of a painted skull. The bone mask was adorned with the teeth of the young and the cured, the antler ends fitted with young tusks jutting out from the hood of thick fur. The eyes did not watch the tribe, but instead focused on a group of boys down stream.
Crusted red flaked high on the mask where there was carved the symbol of his being - a shape and an utterance in a form long before letters and words, before borders had been drawn with ideas and the mind could slide across forms without knowing their difference.
The boys by the stream kicked a younger one who kept trying to stand back up in the shallows of the stream, each time knocked back down.
From the bone hollows, the eyes had watched over the tribe for hundreds of moons, keeping the sinews of their entangled ways braided neatly with the world they always felt and could sometimes see. He was their conduit to subtler ways, and though all feared him, even the strongest of their warriors, they could not fathom his absence.
Small beady eyes shivered forward as a tiny snout tasted the air, but a hand painted of mud smoothly reached from beneath the thick fur and plucked the animal from its spot and vanished with it back within the thick fold of skin. And then the mask and its shaded eyes were gone, soundlessly from the perch high above the valley world of these people.
The tallest of the young boys snickered, feeling the power bestowed upon him by the union of other boys around him. He spat on the smallest, the little one bracing himself with hands dug into the mud of the stream.
Several more kicks landed into his young ribs, the runt whose father never returned from a cursed hunt they were shunned from pursuing. They had not heeded the meaning spelled by the seer in the hollows. And now their orphan was taunted.
The little one waited for the next kick, but the older boys suddenly grew quiet. He dared to look, and their faces where motionless and wide, trained as though in a trance of fear by a vision across the water. The little one looked and on the far bank there rose as if a piece of the land turned to animal. The stitched hides spiraled up to a hooded black void where floated the bone mask - it’s antlered tusks snaking out into the air like cracks in their vision.
The specter moved across the water, as though hovering, the stream unperturbed, and it advanced until it stood with the cowering boy between. The older ones did not even breath, their eyes burning with the vision of the unseen one. And then with a speed none of them knew the animal apparition split in two, a small piece screamed through the air to latch to the face of the eldest as the others ran.
The little one looked at the oldest who had kicked him, who now laid motionless where he fell, and beyond, the forest swallowed again its piece of frightened animal, the screams of the others fading in the distance.
A painted hand emerged from beneath the floating bone skull and grasped the unconscious boy, dragged him up the bank, and there it knelt and painted forms on the eldest boy’s face and chest as he lay fainted. And all the while the littlest gazed.
The little one stood and when the specter was finished invoking its message to the tribe, it turned to the little one, and the painted hand stretched out from the animal form.
Unafraid, the little one reached out and took the hard and sinewed hand, and the specter lead the little one away, to a place in the forest where the tribe never dared to go, where stood mammoth ribs bowed up from their staked hold in the ground, bound round with skins, and filled with the ways of the first shaman, who now needed to pass on his task to a little one who would give birth to more ways for the people to follow.