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An Excerpt from Harvest Moon by Krista D. Ball

Yesterday we caught a glimpse of Krista Ball's latest work.  Today, I want to share with you an excerpt from Harvest Moon and tomorrow will review it.  Enjoy and consider leaving a comment for Krista.

Harvest Moon

Cross-legged, Dancing Cat sat pounding the sun-dried Saskatoon berries between two hand-sized rocks. The stone, her hands, and her buckskin dress all bore the tell-tale signs of berry duty. Streaks of red dye, impossible to clean, striped her clothing and tanned skin. She tried pushing her hair off her cheeks, only to have the sticky residue coating her fingers glue the dark strands in place. The black flies swarmed and buzzed, ready to feast.

She worked in silence as part of the greater circle of twenty women, who chatted as they worked. Dancing Cat had no reason to join in. They only spoke to her to criticize or belittle, never for companionship. The band no longer even called her by name.

Her attention faded away from her work. She stared past the women to catch a glimpse of Eagle Eyes, her brother, mounting his horse. He was only six years older than her and already leading hunting parties, while she sat, docile and obedient, making powdered berries. His gaze caught hers, full of warning. She looked away with the heaviness of her situation pressing against her chest. Dancing Cat pounded her berries harder, trying to crush her own aching loneliness.

“I wish I could ride again,” she mumbled.

Her mother, Crow, glared at her. “I have no patience for you today. We have berries to crush. Shall I remind you why we need them?”

“No,” Dancing Cat said, sullen. They couldn’t start the pemmican cakes without the berries. Without them, they would starve when winter fell. She’d heard the lecture many times before and did not want to hear it again.

“Good. Put aside your childishness and work in silence, Cursed One.”

Dancing Cat swallowed down the slight. She remained silent against the grunts and nods of the other women. She dropped her gaze, making snide, internal comments about how her mother’s black hair no longer resembled a crow’s blue-black feathers. It made her feel better, petty though it was.

Some days, she saw herself as Cursed One instead of her name. But today was not one of those days. Today, she was still the girl who wriggled out of the womb twenty years before and was joyously named Dancing Cat. Today, she hated her duty and silence. But she would do both and would not complain. One day, she would escape into death and be free.

Using a sharp stone, she scraped the mound of berry powder off the buckskin in front of her into the main pile. She dumped several handfuls of the tiny Saskatoon berries back on her ragged buckskin to resume pounding. But not before licking her fingers clean of the tart, feathery residue. No one noticed.

“Creator wills it, the men will bring home a buffalo from the hunt,” Crow said to the other women, who nodded in agreement.

Dancing Cat let her mind wander as the women chatted about the tribe’s need for a buffalo. The herd would move southeast in another moon cycle and so the entire tribe would move with them before the final move into their winter camp. Faded memories of riding ahead of the hunt flashed across her mind; images so foreign that she wondered if they were true anymore.

A chill crept up her spine. The late summer wind had turned cold. She flicked her gaze back to the hunting party. The rest of the men mounted their horses and galloped off to the nearby buffalo herd. She sighed, remembering the freedom of riding. She had been their tribe’s first female messenger. She missed it.

“Cursed One! Pay attention. You are chipping your rock. If I find stone in my cakes this winter, I will take yours and let you go without.” Her grandmother glared at her, her thin lips pursed. “Stop daydreaming.”

Dancing Cat stared at her grandmother, trying to control her tone. “Sorry, Nohkom. I was just…”

“Daydreaming,” Hawk Sight snapped. “We expect you to do your share of work. If you do not, you will be the first to starve this winter.”

Dancing Cat hung her head, fingers trembling from the nauseating mix of anger and fear. She bit back the disrespectful words that boiled inside her. Hawk Sight was not just her maternal grandmother, but also the band healer and an elder. No one would dare speak back to her, let alone the band exile.

She looked up at the several generations of women around her. The nodding heads and smug looks told her that the threat of starvation was real. She pushed her grandmother’s words out of her mind by grinding the berries perfectly between the two flat rocks.

“Remember Stoney?”

Dancing Cat slumped. Hawk Sight never could let things go.

“She thought she could laze around while we women worked. But when we ran out of food that winter, she was the one left to starve. We don’t need lazy women.”

“Yes, Nohkom.”

And on it went for the afternoon, story after miserable story about women who starved to death. It would have been bad enough for just her grandmother to have told the stories. Instead, the others joined in, telling of captured Red Valley, Cree or Inuit wives who had been left to starve when food stores ran low. All at her grandmother’s say. Hawk Sight might have been a great healer, but she was also cold and merciless in Dancing Cat’s opinion.

They told the stories to make her work harder, but it had the opposite effect. Her work slowed. She could not stand up for herself against an entire band, but she could refuse to obey the people who threatened to kill her. If they wanted her to die, then they could starve, too.

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