When the storms hunt
The storms weren’t new. Although they scared the little ones, Ása knew they had been around for years. The sea always warned them in advance so they could herd the sheep together, barricade the doors to the sheds, and bring in enough firewood to last while they rode it out yet again.
But it was frightening none the less. Being locked in, waiting for something far beyond their control to pass on. Sometimes Ása wondered if even the gods were able to tame such monstrous winds. She never said that out loud, she knew better than to question the immortal deities. So while her mother prayed, and her father fixed his nets, she told stories to the scared children. It was her job to keep them busy at times like these, and she had taken it upon herself to learn all the stories their people had ever told. Her father sometimes joked that if something were to happen to her, all of their history would be lost, as she was the only one who knew all their tales and myths. Ása laughed when he said that, claiming nothing would happen to her as her only other job was to herd their three sheep. Who would harm her on their fields? On their small island? She couldn’t imagine anything happening to their peaceful lives.
Ása heard the wind slam into the house, and heard a door bang. Her father got up to lock it again. One of her nephews looked up at Ása, fear in his eyes. His parents were in the house next door. So close and yet so far away during this one moment.
“Ása,” the little boy asked, she could hear the tears in his voice. “The house won’t be blown away, right?” Other children looked at her now as well. Ása smiled.
“Of course it won’t,” she said. “The house is mostly underground, and wind can’t go underground. Right?” The boy nodded. That sounded reasonable. “Now come on, dad caught fish today, let’s help him clean it.”
Distracting the children was never the hard part, there were enough stories, there were enough chores. The only problem was the storm. They never knew how long it would last, or even how bad it would get, and they didn’t have enough space to keep all the children in their own small house.
Ása sat down at the fire, shivering, drenched. She had just brought the last one to his own house and family. Everyone had a part to play in the community during the hard times and she and her family had now fulfilled theirs for the day. The children were kept save, fed, entertained, while the others had made the village storm-proof, had secured the boats and livestock, and hauled in the crops and stacks of wood. The village took care of each other in all situations, Ása knew nothing else but that.
While she sat down to dry her clothes, she could hear the wind. Tugging at the roof, crashing against the portions of wall that were located above ground, pounding the doors and fences. She had never seen a storm like this, it seemed almost as if the wind was trying to push them away. Off the island, to a place Ása had heard tales of but had never seen.
She sighed, grabbing a small crust of bread to nibble on. The fire in front of her let out small flames. Red, yellow, an occasional blue, and even a shimmer of green. The wood crackled, hissed, fought against the destructive power it fed.
Her mother sat on the bed, and smiled at Ása. “Before you know it, it will be over and we can return to the preparations for winter.” Ása nodded. She could imagine her parents’ relieve that they had finished the harvest yesterday, before this storm hit. It had already been a bad year, and weather like this could have easily resulted in the village going hungry in the cold, harsh months of winter. Autumns hadn’t been as plentiful as they used to be anyway, it worried some of the elders that the crops rotted away because of the long rains, and that some of their summer pastures started to turn into silty swampland. Ása had noticed it as well, when she watched the sheep.
Her mother closed her eyes and smiled. “You can still smell the sea in the wood.” Ása smiled too. She liked fires from driftwood. Their colours were more fascinating, shifting to greens and blues, as if the sea as still inside it. It reminded her of summer, when they had collected it, when the weather had been good, when they didn’t have to hide in their houses like lambs running from the foxes. The foxes hunted their lambs and chickens as much as the storms hunted them. The only thing they could do was hide, and pray for safety.
“Come on sweety, time for bed.” Her mother’s smile looked sweet, but it was stern. There was to be no discussion about this. Ása couldn’t help but laugh.
“Okay mom, goodnight.”
For days the storm kept howling, chasing them every time they had to go out, like a hungry pack of wolfs. It stripped the trees of their last leaves, drove the sheep insane, even started tearing some of the roofs. The elders told them not to worry, but Ása noticed her mother praying more than usual. Every day, more offerings were added to the little statue of the mother goddess, as they could only hope for her kindness and protection. Ása was preparing the meagre dinner when she suddenly smelled the sea again. Surprised, she looked up. It was too early to start the fire, they had to be careful with the remaining wood. But there were no new branches in the pit, only the remaining ashes of last night. Confused, she looked at her mother, at her siblings playing on the beds. She was sure she smelled the sea.
With a loud bang, the door slammed open. Her father ran in, his face twisted with panic. He had gone out to check on their sheep, and he had seen the horror yet to come. In one motion, he grabbed one child off the bed and looked at his wife. “We have to leave, now!”
And with just that, he was on his way out, leaving Ása and her mother in shock. When he realized they weren’t following him, he returned even more panicked than before. At that point, Ása was collecting food, clothes, making sure the house was clean and tidy. Her father grabbed the other child and stared at her in disbelief. “Leave that! There is no time!”
Ása’s face turned to shock. He had never yelled at her before, and she had never seen her father like this. But before she could respond, she heard the most frightening noise, as part of the roof opened to show a shimmer of grey, cloudy sky. Shocked, terrified, they all stared while the wind let go and dropped it back in its place. Not a second later, they heard something crashing against the outer wall, a crashing they recognized all too well. The sea had reached the village!
Within seconds, water was seeping in through the wall and the torn roof. Her father stormed out carrying nothing but the child in his arms and the clothes on his back, followed by her mother. Ása looked around their, now empty, house, too shocked to move. She looked at the shelves filled with food, and the beds covered with warm furs. Their tools, grooved pots, clothes, the little statuette that was supposed to protect them. She barely felt her father’s strong hand around her arm as he pulled her out, to safety. She felt a slight tugging around her neck as they squeezed through the small door together but didn’t truly realize that her necklace had snapped. Just a couple of weeks ago she had laughed at her father, claiming nothing would happen to them, and here they were. Running through the rain and blasting wind, being chased from their homes towards strange territories by the sea.
Ása managed to look back once, before turning her attention to the children and sheep running for their lives, and realized this would be the last she would ever see of Skara Brae.
More and different short stories, can be found through here.