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An Omen

The Wise Ones

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She wasn't a woman who believed in omens, usually. After the third night of waking up to the demonic growl of a barn owl she was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of ignoring these apparent warnings. With her latest discovery she had been leery, feeling as if she was being watched and would be discovered in violation of the Tenants at any moment. She knew it was dangerous to posses any printed words, but this wasn't a book, this was a secret cache of writings; folded pages with scrolling text and tucked inside a paper packet and on one side in a top corner there was a tiny painting of a barn owl and the number 50. She knew people who had turned in books which they had found. She knew them and never saw them again. The wise ones, the ones who knew what the words said were hunted and had high bounties on their heads. Even with all of this information she couldn't resist picking up the bundle of writings. When they fell out of the rafter where citizen 103050 was searching for food stores she didn't put them back, she didn't burn them, she didn't take them to the authorities & report the abandoned cabin. Perhaps it was the face of the owl in the tiny painting, or the grey twine that bound them that made them so intriguing. Of course she didn't know what the words meant. Somehow she felt connected to the painting, the number 50. The wise ones had whispered stories of times when the writings were everywhere, when even small children understood and were able to decipher their meaning. These stories always left citizen 103050 feeling that something must be wrong. If they were shared with children how could the writings be so dangerous that they required total destruction? Tonight she woke in a cold sweat. The otherworldly sound of the owl had awakened her from a deep sleep, but unlike the previous two nights it didn't stop. The growl of the bird was intended to scare off would be attackers and usually did the trick and subsided reasonably fast. This night it kept growling and she knew that she needed to act fast if she hoped to see daylight again. In a flash she had the bundle of writings in her hands; four papers per packet, each one sheathed in the heavier weight paper pocket, six in total, each baring the image of the owl and tied tightly together. She raced to the hearth, thankfully cold from lack of use, and stood up inside the vast stone chimney. Carefully she placed the toes of her boots on one side and her back against the other. As fast as she could maneuver she shimmied up the inside of the stone stack driven by the constant call of the owl outside. As high and as far as she could ascend she moved not knowing what was to come, but knowing it was coming for her and the writings. Suddenly the growls of the owl stopped cold and so did citizen 103050. The last dust of chimney soot settled on the hearth as the door swung open. Whoever it was had no concern about being stealth which indicated that they were likely with the authorities. She could hear the sparse furnishings being overturned, the one cupboard was open and the closet was open and inspected. The intruder stepped toward the hearth and placed a hand on the stone slab just inside the chimney. Instinctively she stopped breathing. As the hand withdrew from her view she exhaled silently and as she breathed in something tickled in her throat. This was it, she felt a cough working it's way down into her lungs and ready to erupt from her mouth. She knew it would mean sudden death to be found with writings and yet there was nothing she could do to stop the sound from revealing her hiding spot. In the exact moment that her own body betrayed her and threatened to end her life a shrill screech emanated from the owl in the woods masking her wretched choked cough. In that second she knew that she had to discover what the writings meant; that she was destined to find their meaning. No matter the threat to herself, no matter the hardship she would have to endure, no matter the Tenants she had to break she would find a wise one who would read the writings to or she would die trying.

humanity
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Elisabeth Martell
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