The Year of the Dragonflies
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    Default The Year of the Dragonflies

    Through the early morning mist, a young boy leaped between mossy rocks in a stream, anchoring a straw hat to his head with one hand as he did so. The quiet mutterings of the water as it licked at each stone and the low humming of insects in the tropical foliage overhead were eclipsed entirely by the excited yells and hurrahs of the child, who had snuck out early and was bursting with pride because of it. He had an important mission, after all. If he got there early enough…

    The stream began to widen and with it the boy grew quiet. He had to be stealthy from here on, if he wanted to see it. The boy made one final leap onto a muddied embankment, and stooping down so as to keep hidden, slowly sidestepped his way through the thick leaves of low growing trees until he reached his favorite viewing point - a little dip in the earth that hid him from the sight of the pond below. And as luck would have it, the view he wished for was there, standing in the pool of clear and unmoving water. It was her.

    Even in the light of an awakening day, her skin was as dark as a night without a moon; her hair as black as the feathers of evening birds. In the shallow water that hungrily lapped at her ankles, she did not appear to be anything less than a forest nymph, her eyes gentle, face narrow, and thin frame welcoming. The boy gulped as she raised the gingham cloth of her skirt, bringing the edges to one side and knotting it. She was ready to begin her dance.

    Every sound seemed to evaporate as her left foot slowly rose beyond the surface of the pond. The girl brought up her hands and began to pirouette, turning slowly at first before picking up speed. She took a sudden leap and spun, hugging her arms to herself. She danced as she thought the village girls might dance, with twirls and quick jumps and fingers held in dainty positions. But the style quickly lost her interest, and she switched to something she knew not only from long practice, but from a body remembering long held tradition. Her fingers splayed and her hips rolled, and her feet began to tap atop the pebbles of the pond floor as if to a beat. With an emerging smile, she began to clap her hands and the boy was lost in her and the music that seemed to play with each motion of her body.

    It was at this point that the real show began. Out of the brush that edged the water, a tiny head appeared. It seemed to be wearing a green mask over its eyes, contrasting with the orange-red of its body and flitting tail. The insect tilted its head curiously at the movements of the beauty before it, and floated slowly to her side, its transparent wings creating a low drone as they flapped. Another masked face appeared, with the same curious look and the same slow pace as it moved to the girl’s other side. She laughed.

    “Here again today, are ye?” Her voice felt like soft cloth against the boy’s ears, her accent an added massage. The bugs did not give any form of response, only continuing to tilt their permanently grinning faces and hover beside her. The girl laughed again and twirled around once in a circle. “Come out, all of ye. I won’t have ye being shy.” Throwing out her arms she spun around and around, sending sprays of water in every direction, all the while continuing her unabashed laughter. The boy almost let out a yelp as bugs suddenly zoomed past towards the pond. They poured into the space in a frenzy, their beating wings creating a symphonic buzz in the grove, each membrane of their leaf-like pinions forming trailing rainbows as the morning light grazed them. She was caught in a tornado of dragonflies, yet she continued to laugh and spin and clap her palms together.

    The boy leaned forward from his hiding spot, completely entranced by the whirlwind in front of him. He was so focused on getting a better look that he forgot about the sharp incline between him and the water, and with a scream he couldn’t suppress, tumbled into the wash below.

    The girl shrieked and the dragonflies immediately scattered into the surrounding trees as the boy spat out a mouthful of pond water and snatched at his now-soaked straw hat. He looked up to find the dancer frozen in place with her dark eyes stuck on him, stuck on his white skin. She took a step back.

    “W-Wait,” the boy spluttered, “that was….” He tried to get to his feet.

    “Don’t get any closer!” she screamed. Despite her tone, he knew there was nothing she could do to harm him, except to run away.

    He put his arms up, his right hand keeping hold of his hat in such a way that water began to drip onto his head. “Look, I ain’t gonna hurt ya. I, I just wanted to watch yer dance.” The girl remained still.

    The boy hurriedly racked his brain for any kind of solution, as he didn’t much like the cold water or the mud that seemed to be swallowing his toes. “Er, those lil’ ones from before… what are they?” The girl closed her dark eyes for a moment, as though making a decision. Finally, she began to speak.

    “The winged ones… those are Yanma.”

    “Y-Yanmer…?” the boy stuttered, and she nodded.

    “Aye. They are an insect from the south. Very common, down there. Shan’t come here more often than once a decade, t’nest their young…” Her voice cut off, and her eyes grew stern. “Boy, ye from the village, yes? Go home now. No place for ye way out here.”

    He lowered his arms and vigorously shook his head. “Th-That ain’t got nothin’ t’ do with it! Ain’t nobody watchin’ me most of the time. No one’ll notice till noon time, least ways. ‘Sides, I always sneak out here, everyday.” The boy puffed his chest out a little at the last part. “Th’ name’s Bo, an’ I ain’t gonna leave till I wanna leave. Now you tell me yours, and we’ll shake on it.”

    The girl hesitated, seemingly astonished at his forcefulness, but managed to choke it out. “... My name is Nuru.” She solemnly raised her hand. Bo took it with the crude enthusiasm that could only be present in a boy of barely ten years, and they shook on it, just as he had wished.

    The boy had a million questions buzzing in his head, her hand still held in his, her fingers rough as a man’s might be from calluses. He wanted to ask her who she was and why she came there every morning to dance, and how she came to know so much about Yanmers, but after his initial bravado, he couldn’t seem to get another word out. The handshake slowly dissolved.

    “I-I’ll come agin t’morrow!” he bellowed, and took off into the trees before Nuru could blink.

    “And the boy say he won’t leave,” she muttered, but she couldn’t keep herself from smiling.

    **********

    He kept his promise. Once again, on the dawn of the next day, the boy found himself peering through the underbrush at the gently swaying form of Nuru. Although he had tried to stay silent, the girl had been keeping close watch after the last day’s occurrence and called out to him as soon as she could see his nose peeking from between the leaves.

    “Out with ye, boy! No more peeping for ye!” she yelled. Reluctantly, he came out of his hiding spot and stepped onto the bank of the pond. As he did so, he sensed that something else was present in the surrounding brush.

    “Are the winged ones around?” he asked, his voice squeaking slightly. Nuru twirled herself in a circle and laughed.

    “Yes, of course. Don’t ye hear the buzz in the air? I been dancin’ all morning, but they’re on their guard today. Must be scared of ye.” She laughed again. “Boy, ye’ll have to gain their trust somehow, if’n ye want to see them again.” Bo frowned a little.

    “Cain’t be too hard. I’s just gotta impress ‘em, right?” he asked. Nuru brought a hand to her mouth to cover a widening smile.

    “I shan’t give ye no hints. I want ye gone, y’know. Ye’ll have to use yer own wits.” With that, she whirled herself around and began to walk away into the trees.

    “Don’t leave without givin’ at least a hint first!” Bo yelled, but Nuru only gave a soft trill of laughter before her body was lost to the green monster of their surroundings.

    “Rats.” The boy crossed his arms behind his head and let his body fall back onto the packed soil of the pond’s embankment, the brim of his straw hat creating a shade over his eyes as he did so. The quiet murmurings of pond life and the chime of wind through the leaves were the only sounds that he could identify; there was no buzzing in the air like she had said. He tried to think of a way to impress the insects, but these thoughts, and the lullaby of noises around him, quickly put him to sleep.

    “Sleeping, huh? The child lacks adventure.” Bo grumbled at the sudden sound of whispering that met his ears, and turned onto his side. “I thought he’d be runnin’ ‘round the entire forest just trying to catch a glimpse of Yanma, frustrating himself until he never wanted to come back… but then I find this.” He heard a soft chuckle. “Wake up, boy. I brought lunch.” At ‘lunch’, Bo shot up, which sent the speaker into another bout of giggling.

    When his eyes finally adjusted to the light of the afternoon sun, he found himself looking up at Nuru, who had been watching him sleep with an amused expression. He quickly wiped away the drool that had pooled around his mouth and blushed. “W-what are you doing, watchin’ me sleep like that! It ain’t right!” Nuru ignored him and sat down at his side, still laughing to herself, and took a large bundle out of the pocket of her apron. It was a pair of red apples, both shiny from recent washing.

    “Is that for me?” Bo asked, and Nuru smiled.

    “I thought ye’d be hungry, but it seems ye have been sleeping the day away out here. That’s no way to catch a Yanma, boy.” Bo angrily snatched at an apple and took a bite.

    “Yer, well I couldern tink er noffin’! It ain’t like yer gave me any cluesh!” The boy said while chewing like a savage on his meal. Nuru grimaced a little as tiny apple chunks flew from his mouth.

    “Yer manners could use a bit of work… but I refuse to help you. Yanma are very picky when it comes to who they trust. I doubt ye have what it takes.” Bo furrowed his brows.

    “Ya ain’t that nice, ya know that?” he muttered, but Nuru only grinned and brought the apple to her lips, biting into its skin carefully. “Whatever. Those yanmer can do what they like. I ain’t gotta impress no one.” With that said, he too took another bite of his lunch, but with an awkward slowness as he tried to keep his mouth closed while he chewed.

    Soon Bo’s apple was nothing but a core, and with a contented sigh, he set it to float on the surface of the pond. The two watched as it bobbed up and down in the water like a broken ship. A thought came to the boy. “Nuru… how come ya know so much about Yanmers?”

    The girl paused her eating and looked up at the sky. “I told ye they came up from the South didn’t I? Well, so did I.” She bit her lip.

    Sensing that this wasn’t the best topic, the boy tried to change the subject. “I don’t see ya ‘round the village. Where do you live?” Unfortunately, this question seemed to be even worse, as Nuru’s body stiffened and she completely turned away. “Err, I mean… uh…”

    “Ye really are a child…” she whispered, before facing him again, her expression stony and grim. “Look at my arm boy, and tell me what color it is.” The boy swallowed.

    “Brown, like tree bark,” he answered, a little hesitant.

    “Yes. And where do ye see people with skin like mine?”

    “I…” He didn’t really know; he had never really thought about it until that moment. He had seen people like her before, but they had always been in the backrooms of shops, or working in fields. “I don’t know,” he finally said.

    “... I see.” Nuru took a deep, shaking breath. “On the other side of this forest, there is an estate. Do ye know what that is?” The boy nodded. “On the estate property, there are some sheds the owners turned into houses. I live in one of those. I can’t pay for it, so I work for them on their fields as an exchange.”

    “So ya work for free?” Bo asked, and Nuru gave a small nod. “That’s not right! Even my old man makes money, and he’s good for nothin’! Someone smart as you should be makin’... hundreds!”

    Nuru laughed, and put a hand on the youth’s shoulder. “Don’t get worked up over me. Compared to some, my pain is very little.” The girl took her hand away and stood, wiping the dirt from her dress. “I’ve spent too long chatting. I’m going back now. Lunch time is almost over.”

    The boy barely computed what was being said to him, the feeling of her hand still fresh on his shoulder. “O-okay.” He watched as she left once again through the trees, and felt as though he should have said more.

    **********

    That evening, Bo asked his mother about the estate. It was after supper, and the woman was vigorously scrubbing a pile of dishes in a washbasin. “Oh, you mean the plantation? It’s on the other side of that forest, yes. Why do you ask, dear?”

    Bo meanwhile, was fidgeting at the table, kicking his legs back and forth beneath it. “No reason. Jus’ wonderin’... but Ma, who lives at that ‘plantashun’?”

    His mother sighed. “Just a bunch of rich folks and their slaves. Sure could use one ‘round here, seeing as nobody will help a poor old woman with chores.” She shot her son a glare before turning back to the dishware.

    “Wait, slaves? What’re you talkin’ ‘bout Ma?”
    “What are you on about boy? I know we haven’t booklearned you, but surely you’ve heard about slaves. It’s those dark folks that come in on the ships every summer. They sell ‘em in the square. Not that we could ever afford one, mind you, but we used to take you to watch ‘em be sold at auction.”

    Bo began to have a bad feeling about the whole affair. “Sold? But why do they sell people? How can they do that?”

    “Why? Because, those black people aren’t the same as us whites. They hate us and we hate them. They’s less than us, less smart. All they’re good for is plowin’ fields.”

    ‘Less smart?’ Bo thought, ‘But Nuru’s smarter than me, or just about anyone I reckon! She can’t be a slave, she just can’t!’

    “Thanks, Ma. I’m gonna go out fer a bit, a’right?” Bo said, before jumping up from his seat at the table and dashing out the side-door. His mother simply sighed, already used to his strange and flighty behavior.

    Bo ran to the forest as quickly as he could, and felt a rush of panic as he noticed the sun beginning to set on the horizon. He had no plan, or even a reason for coming to the woods late at night, other than a strange sense of urgency. All he knew was that he couldn’t wait until morning to see Nuru, and that he had to find that estate.

    Bo rushed into the trees, but he wasn’t used to seeing the forest in dim light, and was forced to slow down. Everything felt like a big, scary monster about to swallow him up, and every sound made his heart race even faster. Despite his fears, he continued on through the brush.

    By the time he reached the pond, the sun was a distant memory, the only light coming from a sliver of moon and a sprinkling of stars overhead. ‘I’ll never make it there like this. I can’t even see two steps in front of me. I won’t even be able to make it back home now.’ The boy sank down to his knees and began to cry.

    His nose leaked mucus and his entire body shook. Heavy tears streamed from his eyes, following the curve of his cheek and chin before racing down his neck, blotting themselves on his collar. As the fear and loneliness overwhelmed him, he let out a wail. “Nuru! NURU!!”

    Suddenly, he felt a soft prodding on his arm. “Wah!” he yelped, before making out a tiny and familiar face staring up at him. “Y-Yanma…?” The bug seemed to grin before bumping its little head into his arm once more. “H-How come you’re here?”

    The Yanma didn’t reply, as the boy expected, but instead floated up to meet his face. The boy gasped, and the Yanma tapped Bo’s nose before hovering above his head. “Do you want me to follow you?” Bo raised himself from the ground, sniffed, and began to walk, the Yanma acting as his guide. Although the forest had felt sinister before, the little bug’s appearance had suddenly made it feel very bright.

    The two made their way through the underbrush for what seemed to the boy an hour before the trees thinned. Through them, he saw the outline of the largest house he had ever seen. “Izzat the estate!?” he asked, dumbfounded by its size. Receiving no confirmation from Yanma except an urging to continue, he surged forward towards the building.

    There were faint lights visible from within the house, the source probably candles, but there was nothing to illuminate the grounds. Bo had to travel carefully after the Yanma, so as not to bump into anything in the dark and unfamiliar territory. They circled around the back of the house - which to Bo’s astonishment featured a full wrap-around porch - to a series of fields filled with a crop that Bo could not identify. Skirting these fields was a set of shoddy-looking structures. “Those must be the houses she was talkin’ ‘bout!” he exclaimed. The Yanma flitted to his side, seemingly urging him on. With a whispered “Thanks!”, the boy ran towards the first house of the bunch.

    The house seemed about the size of a small tool-shed, and probably was one before being hurriedly refurbished. There was however a small window on one side, which Bo crept towards. It was barely low enough for him to peek into on his tip-toes. Within the room, Bo could see two beds, one filled with the sleeping figure of a woman, while the other housed two young boys. ‘Well, she ain’t in this one.’ Bo went on to the next shed, which featured a similar dynamic, before finally coming to the third.

    Once more, he stood on his toes in order to peek on the world behind the window, and to his delight he saw the familiar curves of Nuru’s body. Unable to contain his excitement, Bo ran to the door of the shed-house and knocked. Nuru slowly opened the door and gasped as soon as she realized who it was. Before she could fully react, the boy had made his way past her and was traipsing around the room, wide-eyed. With a low groan, she closed the door, and turned to face him.

    “What are ye thinking, coming all the way out here? And at this time of night!” Nuru hissed, trying her best to sound angry without being loud. “This isn’t good!” Her reprimands were for naught however, as Bo had become hypnotized by the space around him. This room was completely different from the others, which had been decorated but loosely so, instead filled with practical items. Nuru’s room was to a boy like the inside of a treasure chest. On the walls were a myriad of collected works - loose pages from books, newspaper clippings, animal bones, and insect wings, each tacked on with nails; her shelves were filled with plants grown in wooden bowls. It was the kind of room that suited Nuru, Bo thought.

    Noticing his distraction, Nuru took Bo by the shoulders. “Bo, listen to me. Ye cannot be here. Do ye understand? Ye must leave this instant!” The boy’s happiness vanished at the intensity of her words.
    “But, I had to ask you… are you really a slave?” Remembering his original purpose, the boy began to tear up once more.

    “So ye’ve realized it…” Nuru sighed. “Yes, I am a slave of the people working here. But that is not important now. Ye must leave. There are still things ye don’t know about, but having a white boy in my room is very dangerous. If they find ye here, I will be in deep trouble, ye understand?”

    The boy did not, but he nodded anyway. “Good. Now quickly, go ho-”

    Knock, knock. Nuru’s voice withered. There was a pause. Bo almost yelped as Nuru’s nails dug into the shoulders they were clutching. Another knock.

    “Open the door, darkie. We won’t hurt you. There was a sighting of a boy on the property. My daughter saw him from the upstairs window. Seemed like he was heading over here. You wouldn’t happen to know about it, would you?” Bo could feel a wetness forming on his shoulders. “Open the door, we just want to check everyone’s quarters to be safe. Unless you have something to hide?” Nuru whimpered.

    “Well, I hate to be rude, but you leave me no choice.” The door, devoid of lock, clicked open easily as the man on the other side turned the knob. And there, plain as day by light of candle, was the figure of a slave girl hunched over a crying boy, her dark claws breaking the peach of his skin.

    “You n-----!” the man yelled, lunging into the room. The three men behind him followed suit, with the daughter staying behind and shouting, “Oh mah lawd!” The man grabbed Nuru’s arm and pulled her away, twisting it behind her back until she shrieked. “You b--ch!” he exclaimed, as he saw the deep marks on both sides of the boy’s neck. “What were you going to do to him! Did you lure him here!?”

    Nuru screamed as the man slapped her face. The men behind him all gasped as they saw the boy, and the woman chanted, “Oh my lord, oh my lawd!” One man rushed up to Bo and kneeled down to his eye-level.

    “Boy, what did she do to you?” he asked, but Bo was no longer of that world. All he could see was Nuru’s eyes, her eyes when she had heard the knocking, the eyes of a person consumed by raw fear. That was an expression that didn’t suit Nuru, and he realized that he never should have come to this place. This Nuru, the slave Nuru, was one he wished he had never seen.

    “The boy’s out of it! She’s put a spell on him! She’s one of those, those witches Mr. Monroe!” the man in front of him yelled, and the man holding Nuru gasped.

    “She was always a weird one!” the daughter wailed. “I always felt like she was cursin’ me, like all of my luck had gone away when I was around her! Now I know why, she’s one of those voodoo freaks!” The girl began to sob. “And she’s done gone tried to kill this little boy!”

    “Mr. Monroe, let’s send a carriage to the sheriff! We must detain this woman at once, before she can do anymore harm!” Mr. Monroe, the man holding Nuru, nodded.

    “Yes, I do say this little incident goes beyond any I’ve ever heard of. It’s sick! Take that little boy into the house and wait until I can contact the sheriff. I’m going to go lock this one away in the meantime.” With a huff, Monroe pushed Nuru forward, her arms still held tightly in his grip. “Walk, you!” Nuru began to walk and Monroe followed behind. There was no resistance from her, only the complete obedience of one long-used to serving others.

    “Now, boy, can you walk?” Bo nodded absently. “Alright, take my hand. You’re safe now. We’ll take you home soon enough, the sheriff just has to ask you a few questions first, okay?” The man took Bo’s hand and they, along with the other two men and Monroe’s daughter, walked back to the main house.

    *********
    Bo could barely remember the happenings of that night once he had finally made it home. It had all been a strange blur to him. The man had taken him into a parlor of some sort, and he vaguely recollected someone handing him tea and hard cookies to eat while he waited. After a while, a new man with a potbelly arrived and began to ask him questions. He could barely answer, as none of them had made any sense to him. All he could say - and he repeated it often - was that Nuru was innocent, and it was all his fault.

    Eventually they stopped trying, and simply asked him where he lived. The potbellied man then drove him home in a horse-drawn carriage, the first he had ever been in. By the time he got home, the morning sun was barely peeking out above him, and his Ma was on the front step waiting. Although it hadn’t surprised her much at first for the boy to be out all night, the arrival of the carriage as well as the town’s sheriff gave her a fright and she ran to meet her son as he got out of it. The sheriff then told her the whole story, and horrified, his mother snatched Bo up in her arms and wept.

    “She must have put a spell on him, lured him out there!” his mother sobbed. “Why, I wondered why he was askin’ so many questions ‘bout those dark folks last night. That n----- put a spell on him, plain and true!” Bo wanted to cry back, “You’re wrong! She’s innocent!” but kept silent. It hadn’t worked with the sheriff, and it certainly wouldn’t work on his flustered Ma.

    The rest of the day felt like a dream. His mother spent the entire afternoon baking him a treacle pie, and put all of the chores aside to dote on him. Even his Pa, hung over from a long night of drinking, pat him on the back and called him “one tough nut”. When Bo went into town, everyone suddenly knew his name, and called out to him and waved. “That’s the boy! The one captured by that witch!” they shouted, and Bo hurried along past every one of them.

    After awhile of this, Bo couldn’t take it anymore. He ran to the forest, to the pond that had become his favorite place, and began to scream. “Why? Why is everyone treatin’ me like this? Nuru’s innocent! She did nothin’ wrong! Why won’t they believe me?” He fell to the ground and wept. ‘It’s ‘cause I’m white, and she’s not,’ he thought, wiping at his tearing eyes. ‘I get it now, all ‘o it. That’s what a slave is, and that’s what white folks is like.’ Once all of his tears had been expelled, the boy raised himself up and took a deep breath. ‘I’ve gotta find her and make things right. No matter what, I gotta save her!’ Thinking this, the boy left the wood and made his way back into town to the jailhouse.

    The jail in town was a small black building set up next to a general store and the sheriff’s office. It was the only place Bo could think of that Nuru would be. Unfortunately, the boy had no idea how to get in without being noticed, or where the girl was locked up. He had no choice but to stay outside in the thin alley between the jail and the general store and wait.

    “Morris, what d’you think they’re gonna do with that voodoo woman? She put a spell on that kid, right?” Two men were walking past the alley, and sat on the front steps of the general store to engage in their daily smoke. Bo shrank back against the side of the jail and listened.

    “Yeah, it’s a crazy story. I heard it from the sheriff hisself. ‘Parently that n----- cast a spell on a lil’ boy that made him walk all the way to her cabin on the plantation. The owner’s daughter noticed him wanderin’ ‘round the property from a window on the second floor of the estate, and told her father so as he could catch the kid. At the time, she done thought he was out to steal their crop, y’know. So the father and daughter go out lookin’ fer the kid in the fields but don’t see him, so’s they go out to the slave cabins t’ask the n-----s if they seen anythin’. And whaddaya know? They walk right in on that witch woman ‘bout to do somethin’ nasty to that lil’ boy!” The man takes a drag of his cigarette. “If’n ya ask me, I dun think he was just a sacrifice. Somebodies are sayin’ that she’s possessed by the devil, or as I reckon, a succubus. I think she was ‘bout to make that poor kid a man! Guhahahuh!” The two men laughed.

    “You sick bastard. Though I can’t say it don’t got a little truth to it. Who knows what she was plannin’ ter do? Coulda wanted to cut the dang thing off!” Another round of laughter, interrupted only by a coughing fit from the rightmost man. “But really, Morris. What does the old sheriff plan to do about her? Ain’t nobody gonna feel safe with that witch livin’ in the jail. She could magic herself out of it at any moment!”

    “That’s what I was gonna say next, if’n you’d waited. Well, o’ course they ain’t gonna let her live. She’s only a n----- anyway, ain’t no real reason to keep her around. They’ll be doin’ an execution right quick in the square while it’s still fresh in everybody’s heads. Why, the sheriff done said it’d be happenin’ t’morrow morn, bright ‘n fresh.” Morris took another drag.

    Bo almost gasped, but managed to keep himself quiet. ‘They’re plannin’ to kill her! But that ain’t right. She did nothin’ wrong! It was all my fault, not her’s!’ Bo had heard enough. He ran down the alley and all the way home, barely containing another round of tears. He refused to let himself cry anymore. Instead, he was going to do everything he could to save Nuru and make things right.

    **********

    The dawn of the next morning was unusually bright, and forced Bo to open his eyes after a long night of restless sleep. As he trudged into the front room, he noticed that his Ma and Pa were not yet awake. He used this time to change and put on his trusted straw hat. He would need it as a disguise for the upcoming execution. After finishing with his clothes, the boy rushed out of the house and off into town.

    As expected, the town was full of people. He knew that it was just luck that had caused his parents to stay asleep, as they had wanted more than anyone to see the beheading of the woman who had bewitched their son. Everyone else in the village seemed to be awake and almost cheerful, going about their early morning preparations with twisted smiles on their faces. Men were already in the storefronts with drinks in their hands, singing songs about liquor and conquest while laughing with hearty delight. The women stood wherever they could find room and primped, talking to one another in harsh whispers while sending glances to any man that would meet their eye. Children ran through the streets, absorbing the excitement that they didn’t quite grasp while pretending to be executioners.

    Bo ran on in disgust until he reached the square. There was a large crowd formed, and he had to force his way through a plethora of legs before he could see the main attraction - the executioner’s block. A shiver ran through him as he saw it - still empty, but unforgivingly there. Just then, the sound of a horn played and everyone began to cheer. Bo was too short to be able to see where it was coming from, until finally a small group made their way through the opposite end of the crowd and onto the central scaffold. The group consisted of the sheriff, a man dressed in long robes of black holding a large book, another man holding an axe, and the body of Nuru being dragged forward by a jailer. Bo gave an agonized cry as his gaze came to Nuru.

    Her body was a shell of its former self. Her dress and apron had been torn and ripped, and were dirtied as much as a beggar’s. The girl’s face was swollen and bruised from beating, with dried cuts lining both cheeks. Her arms were also marked with the indentations and cuts of a whip, and were now bound behind her with chains. Even her shoes were missing. The only part of her form that had been left intact was the single braid of her hair. Bo was paralyzed by the sight, and could feel himself shaking with a rage he had never before had to feel. In that moment, the girl’s eyes seemed to meet with his, and as if to forgive him, she winked. Bo felt his heart break.

    “Here lies the gravest sinner of all, folks!” the sheriff suddenly cried, waving one arm with grandiose superfluity in the direction of Nuru. “We have gathered y’all here this morn for the much needed execution of this monster! As y’all may have heard, this woman cursed a young boy in town two nights ago, and would have killed him if it weren’t for Miss Victoria Monroe’s taking notice of the boy on their property. Because of this woman’s actions, we found it pertinent to give her punishment without forcing a trial, as it is obvious to everybody that she is a danger to the people of this town.” The sheriff gave a little cough and cleared his throat. “So without further ado, we will…” The boy stopped listening to the sheriff’s speech as the jailer brought Nuru up to the executioner’s block. Without any regard for the girl, the jailer shoved her down onto the block so that her torso rested fully atop it, keeping her down on it forcefully with both of his hands. Nuru only grit her teeth, bearing the pain.

    The executioner walked up beside the block with slow and deliberate steps. Every footstep felt like the tickings of a clock. When he reached his destination, the executioner unhooked an axe from a rope around his waist, its silver edge catching the sun’s light like the eyes of a devil. The executioner readied his shoulders, and raised the axe slowly over his head. The crowd yelled and cheered as they watched the reaper ready his swing, clapping and throwing their hats into the air. Nuru closed her eyes, and braced herself.

    YANMA, GO!!!” A sudden shout, louder than the others as only a child’s could be, rained down upon the crowd like a summer shower. The executioner looked up, distracted by the strange word, and screamed in sheer terror. The crowd followed his gaze and shrieked as they saw the cloud of black and rapidly moving bodies racing towards the square. It was a cloud of hundreds, if not a thousand insects flying for the center of the square, aimed right for the scaffold. The executioner lowered his axe and dropped it to the ground before running screaming into the crowd, but was too late.

    The hoard dove into the square, their tiny bodies buzzing together in symphonic ensemble. Everyone was screaming, trying to run away from the strange and foreign bodies while trampling over others. The square became chaos; the Yanma obstructed any available sight, and flitted in zigzag patterns to the executioner’s block, creating a miniature tornado around it. Bo grinned and made his way through the evacuating people to the scaffold. The Yanma yielded in his presence, creating a path for him through their storm, brushing their wings against his face as he went.

    Upon reaching the block, the Yanma closed the hole in the tornado that they had created for him, causing him to collapse against it. Nuru was standing then, watching the whirlwind of shining wings circulating around them. “N-Nuru!” Bo cried, before quickly undoing the chains binding her wrists. As they fell to the ground, Bo leapt into Nuru’s arms, and despite himself, began to cry.

    “Oh, don’t cry, boy,” Nuru whispered, her voice squeaking from her damaged throat. Bo only cried harder, and clutched at the back of her dress, smothering himself in her bosom. “Fine. I guess ye can do it, just for today.” And the Yanma swallowed them up on their collective wings and took to the skies once more.

    “A-Are we flying!?” the boy shrieked, and Nuru laughed as much as her throat would allow.

    “Yes, I dare say we are.” Nuru and Bo fell onto their backs against the writhing body of the Yanma, and laughed nervously as they were taken lazily through the air above the town. All they could see was the horizon before them, and with no clue as to their destination, neither was sure what to feel.

    Eventually, and with some relief, the two were let down beside the pond that was their dearest place. The Yanma scurried to and fro, unsure themselves of what to do next. Nuru dusted off her skirts. “Bo, I think ye have realized it, but I can’t stay here any longer.” The boy nodded slowly, and looked at the ground. “I have to leave. And I think I know how I’m going to do it. Yanma?” She turned towards the insects, and their faces tilted at her question.

    “I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused ye, but I have one last favor to ask. Take me home.” Her voice broke, and tears began to form in her eyes. The Yanma understood, and began to circulate once more into one massive and unruly body. Nuru brought her face to Bo’s. “I’m sorry, but I am leaving now. I probably won’t ever see ye again. Thank ye for saving me, and for yer concern. I know that ye only had good intentions that night.” She bit her lip and closed her eyes. “Although it was foolish and roundabout, I think ye’ve gotten yer wish. I’m going home, and I’ll never be a slave again.” Bo sniffled, and hugged her for a long time.

    “Alright, it’s time to be off. They’re gettin’ restless,” Nuru whispered. Bo nodded. Seeing that she was through with her goodbyes, the Yanma circled slowly around Nuru’s body, coiling themselves around her.

    Before her face was completely gone from view, Bo held his hands up to his mouth and yelled, “I’ll remember you!” Then her face was gone, and the Yanma began to raise themselves into the sky once more. In a blink, they had disappeared, and Bo was left alone, waving a solemn salute to the clouds above.

    That was the year of the dragonflies.


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    ._. Synthesis's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Year of the Dragonflies

    Claiming ;o

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    Default Re: The Year of the Dragonflies

    Sorry, but I really don't have the time or expertise to grade this. We have so many great graders that this was only a slight delay, though.

    coughelysisaprobablycough

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    Default Re: The Year of the Dragonflies

    SLIGHT DELAY, HEH, IT TOOK ME A FULL THREE MINUTES TO SEE THIS

    I'LL TAKE IT. GNAR. ^^

    Edit: screw u syn i ken do wut i want ;-;

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    Default Re: The Year of the Dragonflies

    Fun fact, I’m actually from the deep South (although not Louisiana). Of course, I know about as much about this time period as anyone else would, so I’m not going to be able to offer much decent feedback on historical accuracy. XD

    I’m also experimenting with a more organic format for grading, so this grade is somewhat disorganized. If anything I said didn’t make sense, please ask me about it. Also, I know that this is for a Medium story and I probably wrote too much again, but I’m sorry for that. D:

    Also, I was sort of confused by your request in the author’s note (to focus on telling you what went wrong with your approach or if it worked to fix for next time). I wasn’t sure if you meant your approach in general or your approach to hiding in the unanswered questions/subtlety (I didn’t find the former and wasn’t bothered by the latter), and I ended up addressing the general approach rather to a story of this type/genre. If this wasn’t quite the feedback you were looking for, please tell me and I’ll refine my grade. ^^


    THAT BEGINNING STUFF

    Your introduction is ridiculously fitting for this story—we start with Bo looking for something; whether it’s a dancing girl or a greater understanding of his world, he certainly manages to find it by the end. As a result, the rest of your story felt much more satisfying, and I encourage you to do bookend-ish things like this in the future: while they’re difficult to pull off, when you get them to work (as you did here), they really do work.

    Another thing that made you introduction click for me was its general tone, which was so different from the rest of the story. It’s innocent, it’s beautiful, and it’s almost a little fantastic, with the vivid colors and the mysterious dancing girl and the flock of Yamna. And this colorful innocence makes the most fantastic juxtaposition with the actual dark matter of the story while suiting Bo’s outlook on the world—point being, it suited really, really well.

    In short, your introduction did everything it needed to do. While the mystery of searching for the girl wasn’t exactly what drew me into the story, the other elements: the fantastic Yamna, the promises of a deeper conflict, and Nuru’s reaction, certainly served as solid hooks. You introduced your main conflict early in, gave us a glimpse of your characters, and built the setting—again, exactly what an introduction should do. So solid on so many fronts here; I’ve got very little suggestions for improvement why you put me out of job

    THAT STUFF THAT HAPPENED AND STUFF

    I got some serious Boy in the Striped Pajamas vibes here once Bo went back to his mother and started asking about “plantashuns.” The unfolding of the plot, while well-executed, was quite straightforward under that particular line of hisfic: child sees something horrible about his world that he doesn’t understand; child makes friends with someone on the flip side of this horrible thing; child decides that this horrible thing is wrong; child unintentionally gets friend in trouble because of horrible thing; friend is then killed because society—

    Wait, Nuru doesn’t die and it came across as believable; you must be a wizard.

    While this plot isn’t exactly unique from a lot of other stories that address terrible social understandings in hisfic (again, Boy in the Striped Pajamas provides a fantastic example of the trope I’m trying to describe), your take still worked. What impressed me the most, however, was that you saved both Nuru and Bo, and I found that I liked it better that way. I was genuinely expecting her to die after she was taken away, but having Bo save her abruptly changed the story from a depressing take on a depressing situation to an uplifting take on a depressing situation.

    I do wish there had been a little more leadup to the Yamna-rescue, though. Earlier, Nuru mentions that Bo can’t possibly get the Yamna to come to him if they don’t trust him (and they don’t, really), but suddenly he can command a giant flock of them to save her. It’s an awesome entrance, yes, but it teetered a little dangerously on the edge of deus ex machina.

    I also had problems believing that ten year-old Bo didn’t understand slavery. While his mother chastised him for never noticing and mentions that they made a point not to take him to slave auctions and his family didn’t have a slave, Bo’s ignorance came across as a little forced for the sake of plot: from what I understand, slaves in the Deep South were fairly common, at least in theory. While a lot of the poorer families didn’t have any slaves, everyone knew what they were. This is going to be horribly de-humanizing, but think about it like a Lexus or something: at the age of ten, you might not know the socio-economic ramifications behind that car, but you understand that tons of money = lots of nice cars that other people won’t have. Again, that comparison was probably horribly offensive, and I lack the ability to time travel to understand the exact mindset of southerners, so it’s not necessarily accurate, but Bo’s innocence did feel a little forced for the plot. It made sense that he wouldn’t understand why some people were slaves and some were not, but it made less sense that, at the age of ten, he wouldn’t understand that slaves existed, period.

    It sounds like I’m bashing your plot here, but I’m really not. The fact that you saved Nuru (and it made sense, mind you) impressed me the most, and, while iterations of your plot have been seen before, the twist at the end really sold me on it (plus, as they say, there’s no such thing as an original plot any more, heh).

    SERIOUSLY YOU MADE THIS A HAPPY ENDING HOW YOU WIZARD YOU MY FEELS.

    THAT PRETTY STUFF

    Description was pretty solid at most places. Special kudos to every time you described the Yanma, which really captured the feel of a thousand iridescent insects fluttering around in their little rainbow tornado, but props for the entire ravine scene and the scene in Nuru’s hut.

    Sometimes, your descriptions might’ve had a few too many words, but the change would be hardly noticeable. For the sake of streamlining, though, I’ll dredge up an example (there were very few):
    her fingers rough as a man’s might be from calluses
    The “might be” isn’t entirely necessary—when examining a human hand, it’s pretty easy to tell what’s a callus. Furthermore, if you’re describing the hypothetical callused hand of a hypothetical man (because not all men have callused hands), it might be easier just to specify a kind of man that would have callused hands—a farmer, for example. Having words like “might be” aren’t necessary and also add a hint of variability into your writing, while we want specifics.

    One of the misleading things for me, though, was the accents. It made sense later, when I realized what accent you were trying to emulate, but I was sort of confused about why Nuru was Irish:
    “Yes, of course. Don’t ye hear the buzz in the air? I been dancin’ all morning, but they’re on their guard today. Must be scared of ye.”
    Obviously, the way you chose to spell things makes sense for the kind of accent you wanted to convey, but the problem was that it also made sense for my hypothetical-Irish-ish accent, which made the story a bit bewildering the first run through. One of the more popular trends is to stop typing out the accents altogether, so to speak—the idea is that people actually might get offended because you presume that they can’t speak English properly, and what sounds like “ye” should still be “you” and such.

    I was never one to tread lightly on toes, though, so if you think that the ye fits better in your jargon, go for it. However, you might want to add some sort of description outside of the dialogue—perhaps talk about how Nuru rolls her vowels or has that soft upward lift at the end of each sentence. You can’t convey this directly in the dialogue, of course, but it would help specify what her accent is while being more eloquent than “HEY THEY’RE ALL SOUTHERN Y’ALL.”

    In terms of actual grammar, you were solid. One or two typos, I think stahp putting me out of work, but that was it.

    THAT PEOPLE STUFF

    I wouldn’t normally add in a section for characters in this story, since it was fairly short and there wasn’t terribly much time to develop one character, let alone two, but since you (somewhat?) requested this in your author’s note, I figured I should.

    Bo is the main character/somewhat narrates this, from what I could gather. He is our classic so-called “innocent child” who witnesses something horrible and doesn’t understand why humanity in general is so jerkish, and there’s not super-much to go into in terms of his development (because it was quite good), so we’ll focus on his voice/narration. We have a third person limited narrator that is tied to Bo’s views, and, in some cases, his childish ideals.

    Note that I said some cases, however. While we do get a lot of childlike innocence from the narration (things that stand out include “but Nuru was just as smart as he was”/“it wasn’t fair that Nuru was a slave”), there are some parts that seem clinically adult-like: “grandiose superfluidity,” for instance, is the phrase used to describe the sheriff’s movements when he’s about to execute Nuru, which, while an excellent use of SAT vocabulary, was kind of jarring.

    NONE OF WHAT I SAID MAKES ANY SENSE. Um, what I’m mostly trying to say is that third person narrator who kind of speaks like Bo should have consistent voice. If he (it?) is confused about the inner workings of slavery, he isn’t going to muse about the grandiose superfluidity about anything, especially not when he should be more nervous that his friend’s about to lose her head.

    Anyhow.

    I see what you mean about Nuru—for me, her age fluctuated in my mind depending on the situation. However, I had the reverse of what you suggested: I saw her as younger during the dancing scene (probably around Bo’s age), but with everything else, I saw her as much older than seventeen or eighteen. It probably has something to do with the fact that I haven’t worked in the fields since before puberty, but Nuru seemed too old to be a late teenager.

    Heh, now I sound like a jerk, but I found it difficult to believe that she would be so young and yet so patient with a little boy who can’t understand slavery. She purposefully misguides him/doesn’t tell him what her skin color means, and then only reacts with a little “oh, so you just found out.” She’s starving and beaten to death, and yet she gives food to a boy whose family can afford to buy a slave. She winks to forgive him even as she’s about to be executed. She comes across as a little too Messiah-like for my taste. It wasn't that Nuru is a nice teenager and nice teenagers don't exist (YEAH, LET'S SHOOT MYSELF IN THE FOOT HERE); it was more the mix of cynicism and compassion that made her age difficult to gauge, and I think that's why you might've seen her as too young while I saw her as too old.

    If there are deeper reasons for this, perhaps under those hidden tidbits you mentioned in the author’s note, you might consider make these a little less subtle. I could see an argument that she would be motherly toward Bo because a) Nuru is probably old enough to be a mother, horrifying as that is and b) children Bo’s age did work in the fields, and they were supported by their older siblings/parents/other slaves, or for a plethora of other reasons that could work as well. However, these explanations might’ve been a little too subtle; if they were in the story, they went well over my head.

    THAT NUMERICAL STUFF

    Yanma is a Medium-ranked mon, which means you actually only need 10k-20k, instead of 20k-30k. That being said, I’m glad you went well beyond the actual Medium target and what you thought was the Medium target—this story wouldn’t have been nearly as effective shorter, and you should never feel limited by suggested character counts.

    In terms of pacing, some parts might’ve been okay a tad longer—Bo’s realization about slavery and how it’s bad, and perhaps the lead-up to Nuru’s execution/salvation. While these parts still work how they currently are, they might function slightly better if you gave them more space (the former to develop the central idea of your story, and the latter for dramatic impact, ish). However, the flow of the story was generally pretty fluid, so you’re good here as well.

    THAT STUFF YOU ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT

    The only real issue of any substance might have been Yamna’s involvement in the story, but I was never a stickler for that kind of stuff anyway. In my opinion, their role was large enough; furthermore, the rest of your story was more than good enough to merit a capture. Having more Yamna, as you mentioned, would’ve felt cumbersome and detracted from the story itself, so I find no issue here.

    Most of the stuff that I pointed out in this grade was semantics, and the objective stuff that I did mention (mainly just the dashes, I think, although you may want to look into how you convey accencts), wasn’t anything major. The rest, of course, is up to you for your consideration. I think that this story was executed beautifully, and my ideas for improving it might not strictly click with your ideas for writing it, so don’t feel obligated to alter anything. In the future, you may consider putting more attention into your narrative voice, especially one as unique as a child’s, but it worked fine here and for this rank.

    In case you were ever in doubt, though, Yamna is captured. A beautiful story describing an ugly truth, with a surprisingly heartwarming ending.
    Last edited by Elysia; 1st December 2013 at 02:00 PM.

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