In the Loams of Hope

~2800 words, ~14 minutes reading time

You were born on the first day of Decimation Season when the hateful sky god Yadoh swallowed the fifth star, his daughter Mafuah. This is a story that will always follow you, you who came from the heaving swell of your Fourth Mother, planted by your Second Father. No matter what they tell you, none of these things matter. They will not determine your end. Even in your infantile state, you somehow know this truth as the great shamans speak over your small, squirming frame and declare your birth an ill omen. They deem you cursed.

It’s on this night that you’re born you learn your first pain, your first lesson on how to bear the things that are sure to come. They prick your brown skin eliciting a wail from your fragile form, using the blood of a slaughtered sheep to draw wards along your tiny, innocent limbs.

These wards will serve as protection but not for you,  for them. This is another thing you seem to know as if a secret has been whispered to you in the darkness.

They call you Bhutami, sometimes Soppo. When you earn their praises, or bring them good tidings that make their souls fat and satisfied, they might call you Sweetling or Child O’Ears. These are the sweetest of names that they call you and so freely and stupidly you give to them until you realize that they have two tongues. This is your second lesson and it comes for you quickly.

This is the day you learn to use your ears.

You hear the angry gnashing of their teeth as they speak behind your back. In the shadows they give you names like Foolish Girl, Easy Bird and Unclean Child. But you always knew this, didn’t you? Even before you understood language you heard their voices on the wind stirred on by the one who devoured Mafuah. Nevertheless, you smile.

Yes, smile. You keep it firm on your face even when they finally take your birth name from you and you let them because you’ve been taught to cause no trouble and so you don’t. You do run however, fast and far into the forest on the outskirts of the village where you press your hands into the wet earth in front of the black tree that has existed since the beginning of time. It’s no wonder you think to bury yourself beneath its roots and sleep under its shade for eternity. A place to protect your head full of dreams.

Second Mother eventually finds you here, knelt in the dirt and drags you away with worry on her tongue. When you grasp her hands, smooth like blown glass, you feel her thundering heart and for the first time, but not the last time, you kill your dreams. When the black tree’s roots seek you out urging you to return, you don’t. Not yet.

On the eve of Prospering Season you slip from sight and stand at the lip of the same forest daring yourself to listen to the whispers calling to you. It’s a small thing that you do, grabbing a fist full of dirt and swallowing down the loam. A sweet taste lingers in your mouth when you whisper your dreams against the bark. You don’t know it now but this simple act will be what saves you. This will be the one thing that will never be taken from you.


A rough patch of skin forms along your left elbow just two months shy of your fourteenth year. The right one is covered a week and a half later before the rest take shape, peppering your gangly arms like unsightly wild weeds. Each one of them is misshapen and dark and, to your dismay, the other children quickly take notice of them.  Their lips curl back as they hurl assaults like spears in your flank, their hateful gleaming teeth showing them for the jackals they are.

When you sleep that night you dream of her. Who you come to call Dead Sister, and it’s in these dreams where she teaches you your first trick. In the morning when the dark rings about your wrists itch, you blunt your nails until you feel the same numbness in your lips spread along your fingertips.

Almost a year passes before the rough patches finally go. They peel off like apple skins, now soft. The velvety spirals slip down your throat with ease when you bring them to your lips. The new skin on your arms is just as soft, an enviable shade of carob that glows golden when the sun illuminates you. Though it’s no longer necessary to blunt your nails you continue to do so. A trick no longer. It’s a part of you that cannot be undone.

The other children turn more vicious because of this. Some of your teachers as well, though their infractions are more subtle. Regardless, you still hear them.

Your Dead Sister hears them as well, this sister who isn’t one of your fourteen siblings, and when she comes and cradles you in her many black arms cooing a lullaby she brings with her another trick. Her spindly star-stained fingers push a new lesson into your scalp between the braids she weaves down your back. The stars become a bead, each becoming an anchor to steady you on your journey.

This time when you wake you know how to bite your tongue without drawing blood.

You do bleed eventually but this is inevitable as a girl. The pain that follows isn’t one you can absorb because it’s already inside of you, making your limbs curl and your back bow at this new hurt. All the while your four mothers celebrate as your knees buckle and bile threatens to clog your throat. Had you kept your eyes open when you threw your head back to howl, your hurt thrumming through your core, you might have seen the fifth star watching you.


The next five years bring a century of wars you never asked for. They tear through your flesh, leaving a million and one pockmarks. War wounds. Only when it becomes too much do you figure out how to stretch yourself around this unwanted pain.

For each spear and notched arrow that hits its mark, you weave yourself around their broken shafts trying to make them a part of you. Foolishly, you nurture them, thinking of them as just an extension of you, like a tree with a great many branches in which you’d bloom the most beautiful of flowers and fruits. The pacifist in you is too complacent to contemplate the consequences for what you’ve done so when the moment arrives it’s far too late.

It arrives in the form of the now-grown children who renamed you, the great shamans who warned against you, the strangers who eyed you and your four mothers, two fathers and twenty-nine brothers and sisters who speak of you but not to you. One by one they take from you, plucking your ripe fruits to satiate their hunger. And you let them feast. You feed them, never hesitating to bear more of your harvest, not until the brambles and burning arrows build a black pyre in your throat.

Because of this it isn’t long before Dead Sister returns. She comes to you when you cough up black plumes, thick enough to block out the angry sun that now scorches your bones. She comes when your First Father speaks of marriage and your second, your future.

Only once the moon is high above everything does Dead Sister whisper conspiratorially to you about a thing she calls fire. A different fire. It appears in her many-closed fists and roars in her eyes and mouth like a million suns. This, of course, scares you until she shows you how to bring it to heel. You, however, can only manage a spark between trembling fingers. She wears a proud grin at this. It stirs something within you, wakes it and makes it hungry. Starved and greedy you swallow this new feeling and burn.

This is how you die the first time.

In death you dream as Dead Sister collects your ashes and throws you into the stars above the village. Here amongst the blackness that warms you into a great inferno you are remade under her gaze. Your unformed mouth opens and your hands float constellations apart to search for something. For anything. Soon enough you find it in the shape of teeth you cannot see. Suddenly you remember the story of the fifth star and all your terrible wounds that came afterwards.

Then just as swiftly you take shape and now reborn come down with the rain and thunder. Violent and loud.

Nameless and alone in this rebirth you take naming yourself Naawa, she who heralded in Reckoning Season.


Voice now forged with the same fire that serves as both your weapon and shield, you cast your fury down unrepentant. You scorch the old dirt paths you once travelled in fear and shame, the rain unable to smother your rampage. Twenty-nine brothers and sisters become fifteen, become nine, become five. The great shamans fall powerless and the now-grown children turn into smoldering cinders when you spit back all the hurt you’ve swallowed and made part of you for too many years.

No new season comes after your arrival, you don’t allow it even when your four mothers come to you with their hands outstretched and tear-stained faces. Your two fathers come to you as well, faces painted and weapons in hand. They’re prepared for battle and so you greet them in kind. They call you daughter, in turn you call yourself vengeance then set everything ablaze.

For a time this is how you live, with none to stand against you, not because you want to but because you must. While unfortunate it’s inevitable when you become fire itself, all lashing flames and inferno passion until your tears and woe extinguish you one night.

Fourth Mother finds you in the aftermath, naked and burned to the bone keening for both your death and birth. ‘Bhutami’ she calls you but you don’t know this name. Nor Soppo, Sweetling or Naawa. Trembling like a frightened child with your knees against the cold damp earth you’ve forgotten who you are.

Inconsolable, you shriek within your Fourth Mother’s arms until your noises are drowned out by the bells that toll for Drowning Season.



A single word greets you like a prayer as you lay prone under a black shroud, soon to be reborn once again.

‘Breathe and let it go.’

They tell you this while burning oils with mint and eucalyptus. The scent suffocates you until fat salty rivers run down your cheeks.

‘Be docile.’

You sag in defeat, back to appeasing them once more even when a great heave breaks your ribs.

‘This is good’, they sing in jubilation as they finally dare to reach out and touch you.

‘Let it out, cursed child, it’s the only way.’

Tired, you believe their words because they are all you have now with Dead Sister having long gone quiet. And so you find a hate you’ve never had and hold it in your heart for her, convinced it was she who hurt and led you astray. Not like your mothers and fathers. Or the grown children who named you things you can’t remember. They are the ones here with you after all, they with their strong bodies and even stronger voices.

‘Here’, they say, ‘we will make you better if you just listen.’

It takes some time but soon enough your tears finally dry up. Lessons of how to start a fire no longer interest you. The hot magic that once set your blood alight shrivels in your veins and cracks your skin with angry fissures as pain becomes your new song. You swallow every note down, never letting out the melody that courses through your bones because you’ve learned that silence is better.

‘Good’, they croon and pull your shroud away.

This is your third life and in this new life they call you Good Woman.


The village presents you with your first lover when the last sliver of earth, once scarred by your rage, is once again covered in green fertile fields.

‘A gift for the Good Woman’, they all insist.

Something deep inside you screams sacrifice as you reach out in the way expected of you and bow your head to speak your gratitude. But these words aren’t yours. Nevertheless, you take the man. Or rather he takes you. These particulars aren’t something you teach yourself to remember for he is not the last.

Over the Harvest Season many come to you and you take them. No. They take you. He. She. They. All of them sink their hooks into your flesh and make you dance. Sightless, you feel them reap your favors and feed from your freshly grown fruits once more. You’ve returned back to your old ways and therefore don’t feel the pain as they pick your bones clean.

Though you smile at this new life over time your teeth grind with the effort.

When a would-be husband caresses your scalp with mint and claims your bed as his own, you throw up wet dirt behind his back. And when a would-be wife kisses you with eucalyptus on her tongue, you exhale hard enough to spit up two ribs. This, you also do behind her back. You endure these things, drowning in sharp tastes that burn your eyes, nostrils and innards unlike the fire you once called down and wielded with ferocity. The fire you can’t remember ever having.

Months come and go before your secret ritual is complete. When you’re finally empty you slip unseen from the bed you never claimed and underneath the door. Quick and silent you slither blind with an urgency you don’t recognize but command as if it has always been within you. It has. You think you know this when you make it to the foot of the village boneless and ragged intent to rest. To sleep.

You can’t rest here’, you tell yourself. And you can’t, they’ll come find you and take you back. You must move. You must live, if only for now.

Tired, you slip into the high grass grown from the dregs of your anger and pain and hide there for many days, maybe weeks or months or even years. The thick scent of familiar loam in your nose lulls you into an unwaking sleep.

Once more death greets you and for the first time in a long time you dream.


Your last and final rebirth comes now as you break free from the cocoon that was once your corpse, a body that has long not been your own. The labor is long, your cries scare the birds and sways the grass that weaves towers around you as the body that was once Bhutami, once Soppo, once Naawa, once Good Woman stares dead-eyed up into the sky.

This is the sky that you, No Name, reach towards as you crawl from the rotting husk.

On foal legs you suck in air smelling new blood and flesh, all yours, finally yours and sprint down green slopes with your head tipped back towards the sky. You don’t stop until you reach the same forest your Second Mother led you away from. The place where you killed your dreams.

As you stand before the black tree with its powerful roots an old hunger pulls at your guts dropping you to your knees where you stab bony fingers into the damp, black earth. Fervently you dig until you can see the welcoming roots and their magic. There too are all the dreams you killed, you who was born on the first day of Decimation Season. You who had uttered your first breath into the night as the hateful god Yadoh tore the fifth star, his daughter Mafuah, into nothing to sate his evil belly.

But what if I were to tell you that this tale is a lie? 

That Yadoh took his daughter from the skies to hide her from the hurt he’d seen taking shape in her constellations, the same thing which I have endeavored to do for you? Will you believe me? No, I suspect not for they never allowed you a chance to be anything but what they deemed you unlike I who let you dream. I who showed you your strength with fire.

Yes, dig further, unearthing my bones and a face not quite yours but this should not worry you. I should not be you who kneels before me staring into my face for one day you shall see me as I have seen you. Now, give me your hand and unravel me from these roots, we have work to do sister and I’ve waited too long in the loam for you.

My name?

I think for a moment keeping your hand firmly in mine as I inhale the crisp, night air.

Hope. My name is Hope.

Jorja Osha is a speculative fiction writer living on the East Coast. When not writing about otherworldly beings, troubled characters and everything else in between she can usually be found playing video games, listening to music or baking. Her short stories have previously appeared in The Dark, NIGHTLIGHT, A Coup of Owls and Martian under the pen name Bibi Osha.

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

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