This was written as an assignment for a fiction writing course on Character and Voice from the University of Iowa. I've gotten some feedback from other participants already and know I have a bit of reworking to do - development, and oy, so many adjectives here! Would love some feedback, especially with regards to cutting back on descriptions where they come off as too heavy, and identifying holes/questions/inconsistencies in the character/voice. Thanks, guys!
As a younger girl, Arana would sit atop the roof of her father's tool shed, following the curves of the bulbous island with her eyes, as if she were tracing the thin, hopeful lines of a treasure map. She could sit this way and dream of what might be hiding beyond the pregnant horizon for hours, or until her mother returned from the hospital, intent on bathing and brushing the girl - an intention that on most days led to an argument and a licking, followed by streams of silent tears drip-dropping into the murky, gray water of the warm bath. On the evening her mother failed to return, Arana sat on the shed until the moon had traversed the entirety of the sky and fell back out of sight again. She had been so enthralled by the glistening of the cosmos, unremitting and seemingly hers, that she hadn't taken note of the passage of time or the unexpected bought of solitude, until the cry of a baby pierced the foggy air and interrupted Arana's blissful encounter with the night.
Arana looked around at the undulating fields and jumbles of sleeping conifers, which were nearly being swallowed up by shadow. The blanket of night appeared thicker and heavier than she had imaged it from the sanctuary of the bed where she slept with her mother, caressed by the wispy fingers of candlelight. Arana felt her blood thin as the fortitude of her newfound freedom dissolved into uneasiness and fear, her heartbeat picking up speed as she climbed down from the cool metal roof and onto the dewy grass. She ran through the yard to the house, which seemed to be empty, with the exception of a lone chicken who had taken the curious vacancy as an invitation to jump up through the open window and seek refuge under a shelf in the kitchen.
"Mama?" Arana called into the dark. She hadn't expected an answer but hoped for one nonetheless. She was used to being home alone in the daytime, while her mother went to work as a nurse. Her father was gone most of the time, for months at a time, working on big ships that carried goods and livestock back and forth from the mainland - Riria, the forbidden place. But she had never been alone in the night, which seemed to be teeming with spirits and other dark forces lurking in the shadows. Arana stood still, letting the fear bubble in her gut until her juvenile instincts took over and she bolted through the open door and into the yard. Startled chickens scattered as she kicked open the gate and ran in the direction of the neighbors' house, which was nearly a kilometer away.
The neighbors were a young couple who had welcomed a baby just a few months prior. This must have been the same baby that Arana had heard wailing from atop the shed not long ago. Praying they were still awake, she sprinted through a cluster of forest to the gravel road that would eventually lead her to their home. Her legs felt weak beneath her, but the trees were singing with the sounds of nocturnal things that Arana didn't want to be left alone with, so she carried on. Her feet fell to the rhythm of an ancient canoe-hauling chant that rang in her head. The Haka, her father had taught her, was used by their forefathers to pull their canoes to the safety of the island during the Expulsion. She let the harsh melody pull her along the winding forest road, trusting in the song's power to guide her over the branches that lay hidden in her path under cover of the moonless night.
The booming of the Haka in her head, the shuffling of gravel beneath her feet, the cracking of sticks and leaves left in her wake, echoed together in a symphony that carried Arana like a cloud above the trees. Suspended in a howling wind, she looked down at her stout brown body weaving drunkenly through the woods, and, despite the fear the brimming inside of her, she felt a rush of elation at her ability to carry herself through the darkness, to harness the innate power that her father, and his father before, had handed down through bloodline. She longed for both men - her father, who had been at sea for nearly two months, and her grandfather, who died when Arana was a baby - to see her now, soaring above the world, less of a little girl and more of an animal than she had ever been. Down below, Arana's body slowed as she approached the wooden fence snaking along the edges of the neighbors' estate. Her lungs struggled for air, and exhausted, she pressed the weight of her body against the gate, breaking the latch inside clean off, and sending Arana tumbling onto the gravel.
Propping herself up on her elbows, she looked out at the grassy yard that separated her from the door. She felt her adrenaline drain, as her spirit descended from the sky and housed itself once again to her immovable body. The morning air was cold against her sweaty skin, and Arana could smell her own filth. She found herself yearning for her mother, yearning even for a licking followed by a warm bath. Surrendering to exhaustion, Arana rested her head on her forearms and closed her eyes. She slept that was for an hour, maybe more, before the dog found her. His howl was reckless and alerted the sleeping couple of the girl's presence, just before sunrise. Unfamiliar with her surroundings and unsure of how she had gotten there, the girl curled up into an unbreakable ball and remained there sobbing for some time before she be coaxed into the house. Once inside, Her legs dangling off of a stool in the kitchen, Arana relayed the events of the previous night with a trembling voice and tired eyes.
The couple, Aron and Nakia, were gentle with Arana, shielding her from their disquiet upon hearing of the girl's predicament. The woman rubbed Arana's hair as her mother would have done, if she had been there. Arana didn't cry much but she didn't speak much either, uttering only grunts that meant 'No, thank you,' and high-pitched hums that meant 'Yes, please.' Eventually Aron rode into the town to call on a doctor and to investigate what one should do with an abandoned and uncooperative child such as Arana. Nakia - who, although a new mother, was proving to be an effective one - convinced Arana to finish a bowl of lamb stew left over from dinner and then tucked her into the bed where the baby also slept. Nakia hummed a melody that seemed to be weaved into a memory Arana couldn't quite reach; A ghost of her forgotten infancy, whispering, "Sleep now baby, go to sleep." And Arana slept.
Chicago-born citizen of the globe, rich in the things that really matter. Let's get weird.