Micah Victor sat at his desk in the small room dedicated for scribes-to-be, and scratched at his curly black hair pulled back and tied with a cord. He had been selected last year around his thirteenth birthday. It was an exhilarating moment, if he recalled correctly. Though now, he was no longer sure if it was because of the assignment or because he would no longer be in the same class as the others his age, the other children working toward that moment in every Tishbian’s life when the Council selected their permanent labor as part of a rite of passage. He didn’t like those other children; they were immature and teased him relentlessly. He could not help it if he had gained a little weight when puberty hit. He was still as strong as everyone else.
Micah and the two other scribes-to-be had been assigned genealogies, a rather boring task and one he was not interested in doing once his Labor Rite was complete. No, it would not be fulfilling to be sequestered in a room documenting the histories of all those who went before—the elders and the second generation—and writing down the mundane goings-on of the third generation. The only excitement to that job was the prospect of another child being born into sunshine and serving witness to the child’s first few days of life.
No, genealogy was boring.
What he hoped to do—what all scribes-to-be hoped to do—was sit in on Council meetings, recording the arguments for and against any sort of legislative action. If he was lucky, he might be able to record the punishments levied by the Council on those who strayed from the path. The last such punishment, however, was doled out years ago before he even knew he was destined to be a scribe.
Sister Marie Roberts, one of only two schoolteachers in the City of Nod, stood at the window of the small classroom, her eyes trained on some commotion out in the main street. Micah tried to see what so interested her, but from his vantage, he saw only the sky above. Dark clouds had gathered and cast a gloomy light on the three children silently working on their assignments. A light rain had started to fall outside. It was a welcome gift from the heat of late and might keep the classroom cooler.
“What’s happening outside?” Micah asked.
“Keep to your genograms.” Marie crossed her arms and looked right and left. A few shouts filtered through the thin walls.
“Yes, ma’am.” Micah turned back and sighed. Genograms were the worst part of genealogies, and he had not yet grasped their true purpose. They were graphical representations of a family tree that contained detailed information about relationships. They went much further than marriages and divorces, however, looking also at friendships, affairs, major life events, occupations, emotional ties, and social constructs. In other words, they were as complicated as could be.
His current assignment was to map out all the friendly relations of one of the elders, a Peter Grubbs who passed into shadow two years ago. He had been married to Mary Green and they gave birth to a child named Thomas who married some Joanne who eventually gave birth to Patience, a scout a few years older than Micah. The task was not to focus on the pedigree, however, but the relationships that Elder Peter Grubbs had with those in his employment circle as a line cook. It was a pain and would require several interviews with those elders still alive who knew the man, if even briefly.
Micah hoped the commotion outside would give him a reprieve. It had been going on for long enough.
The door opened and Eldress Glenda Pursley stepped in. Her wiry frame bounced in time with her braided long gray hair. She quickly crossed the small room and found Sister Marie. The two exchanged words, then Marie turned to Micah.
“You are to go with Eldress Glenda,” she said. She picked up the work on his desk along with the quill and ink well. “You can finish this when you return.”
Micah swallowed. What was so important that he was to be pulled from class? It rarely happened, and only when bad news had come. The other two classmates watched as Micah stood, grabbed his satchel and walked out behind Eldress Glenda.
“Where are we going?” Micah asked.
“Your parents need to pull you out for the rest of the day.” Glenda’s age disagreed with her quick pace. Micah had trouble keeping up as they crossed the school commons. It wasn’t a long walk and at the end, Micah saw his father with his arms folded over his chest. He had the most disapproving of expressions.
“Brother Richard.” Glenda grabbed Micah by the upper arm. “He has exams tomorrow, so please make sure he is back in the morning.”
Micah’s father nodded. He did not say a word, however, and that told Micah all he needed to know. What had he done now?
He dutifully followed his father out. A light rain fell on the two as they walked silently toward the dwellings set up on the far north wall. Puddles had formed on the dirt street and the longer Micah walked, the more soaked his moccasins became. It was good to have the rain, and maybe later he could venture out into the tivas root fields and play in the streams that were sure to form. Building dams was something he was good at (although the farmers were less than thrilled when the backed-up water consumed a portion of their crop).
The dwelling Micah lived in with his parents and sister Candice was not large, but it was newer, with an updated roof slathered with an adobe mixture to keep the weather outside, new windows provided by the glassmakers, and a kitchen complete with a wood-burning stove. It was only because Richard Victor had been assigned construction during his Labor Rite that Micah was so lucky to live in this prototype of architecture that was supposedly destined to become the model upon which newer homes would be built. Other children—especially those who teased him—were jealous, said it made Micah “soft.” Their homes were much older with thatched roofs, very few windows, and no privacy. They would be even more jealous when they learned Micah’s home was scheduled to be the first to be fed power from the nearly complete generator system the engineers had been working on for the past several years.
Electric lights. Now there was something that would drive the other kids out of their minds with jealousy.
During the walk back to their home, Micah considered all the things he could have done to make his father so angry that he was pulled out of class. Surely it couldn’t be because of the chores he had neglected that morning. It was conceivable that it might have been the passing of one of his grandparents, Elder Eric or Eldress Patty Page, but Micah put that fear aside. What else could he have possibly done?
When father and son entered the house, Micah knew instantly. His sister Candice sat against a far wall, knees to her chest, crying uncontrollably. Their mother, Sister Elenore, stood with her arms crossed and a sneer that mirrored Micah’s father’s.
“The holes?” Elenore said by way of greeting. “You sent Candice into the holes?”
“I— I—” Micah struggled to find words. “I didn’t think she would actually do it.”
“You didn’t think. That’s right. You know as well as anyone else that the holes are off limits.”
“What happened?” Micah set his satchel by the door. He didn’t do anything wrong. His sister did, and that meant he could relax a little. He moved to grab a vermillion aichmiri, but the little balls of sweet spiky fruit in a bowl on the table were quickly swiped away by his mother.
“You can eat later, young man.” Elenore put the bowl on a shelf. “You explain to me why you thought it would be funny to send your sister into the holes.”
Micah ran through all the possible things he could say to soothe his mother’s anger, but nothing seemed to stick. He looked at his sister on the floor. She was muddy, her arms scraped.
“Why wasn’t she in school?” Micah asked. Maybe deflecting the anger was the best idea.
“You know it was their day off,” Richard said. He stepped next to his wife and crossed his arms, too. They were a formidable pair. “You’re not answering your mother’s question. Why did you send Candice into the holes?”
Micah looked at his father then his mother and once more at Candice. There was no way he was going to win any argument. While he had gone into the holes when he was her age, and his parents likely had as well, those past behaviors would not be a good enough excuse for why Micah had dared Candice. Big brothers are supposed to care for little sisters.
Then again, what was the big deal? Everyone did it.
Candice’s cries had weakened a little. She raised her head and wiped her eyes with the back of a dirty hand before her gaze met Micah’s.
She looked terrified.
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