Palo Alto Weekly 16th Annual Short Story Contest
2nd Place - 12-14 year olds

Catastrophe

by Avy Lamm


The speeding bullet flew through the air headed directly for Yazmine’s heart. The witnesses saw this act as if in slow motion. They turned their heads away, waiting for the scream. But it never came. Yazmine was the village outcast, for superstitious and religious reasons.

In the small village in the South Pacific, exactly 15 years ago amidst festive, colorful celebrations, a baby was born. But this was a baby the likes of which had never been seen before in this quiet little village. Yazmine was milk-white like a windswept bone, with flowing flames of rusty orange hair. Her almond-shaped, vivid sapphire eyes contrasted wildly with lemon pink lips. She was stunningly beautiful, which made the villagers wary. Her mother, Loama, loved her, even though she was odd, because she was her daughter. The father was unknown which wasn’t unusual in the small village. Her mother cared for her, and with every day that passed it became apparent that her looks weren’t the only unusual thing about her. She often, too often, wandered alone into the forest and disappeared for hours at a time, during which the villagers heard screeches and yowls. Some said they were being punished, and others said that the noises were made by her and that she was possessed, but no one really knew. One villager even claimed that he had tracked what he surmised to be a Sumatran tiger, a large kill and of great value to the villagers, but that he had tracked it to the edge of the woods, but found only Yazmine, looking startled.But there were good things about her that were often over-looked; she was increasingly quick and smart. Her delicate fingers darted quickly and the tightest knot was undone. The years passed and Yazmine grew. With every year, the villagers loathed and feared her more. Her skills increased every day.

Under her watchful eyes and strong, nimble fingers, a beautiful rug was woven in a few hours. There were no rats dashing in and out of bags of grain, so fewer illnesses occurred. The crops flourished, except for tobacco which whithered and died. In its place grew abundant foliage with delicate
white flowers, green, waxy leaves and a strong fragrance that smelled of life and new rain. Children and animals alike were drawn to her as if by magic, and like the beautiful rugs, Yazmine quickly wove intricate stories which they adored, because, like most children their naïve ways helped them see what the blinded adults could not. A good heart. Yet still the other villagers shunned her.

When Yazmine turned fourteen, her mother became deathly ill.

Despite what Yazmine did, she became worse, and it was evident that she would not live to see spring. Yazmine was with her mother the night she realized Loama was going to die. She had been weak a fortnight, her breathing shallow and uneven. Yazmine at her side, she requested her relatives and friends to leave, she wanted "a private word" with her daughter. Everyone gone, Loama gazed into Yazmine’s eyes.

"I want you to know that you are not my own." Loama muttered shamefully.

"My own daughter died in childbirth. Grief-stricken, I ran towards the jungle, hoping to kill myself to ease the pain. But as I approached the forest edge, I saw you, abandoned. You were small enough to pass as newborn. I took you under my care. Only one girl knew of the truth, but I convinced her never to tell. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you." Loama averted her eyes, obviously in both kinds of pain.
"I know," whispered Yazmine,

"I’ve always somehow known."

Silent, happy tears rolled done both women’s cheeks, and Loama grew silent. She was dead.

Three months later, Yazmine stood at the edge of the jungle, staring defiantly at the double-barreled gun pointed at her chest. She gazed sadly around, at the villagers whom she had grown up with, yet had always somehow hated her. Yazmine looked around pityingly, held her chin up, braced herself, then said,

"I could never have hated you, even if I wanted to. Realizing your mistake will be punishment enough." She smiled a sweet, sad smile, and looked once more at the double-barreled gun. The villagers sniggered uncomfortably and muttered vicious names, but managed to look gleefully relieved. The chief loaded and cocked his gun, aiming. They watched hopefully and sighed long sighs of relieved stress. He fired, but just before the bullet hit, there was a flash of bright light and they were momentarily blinded, but they didn’t worry, the chief never missed his target…but where was the scream?

They uncovered their eyes cautiously, looking for her body, but it was not found. The only thing there, was a large, rusty wildcat, sapphire eyes wide and staring, dead. A communal cry rent the air, and the people wept over her still body. For all who wept that day, their eyes turned a dazzling blue, as a mark of their regained innocence.

To this day, if you travel to the small village in the South Pacific, you will see a large cement statue, from one side woman, from the other wildcat. Jasmine bloom about her base, and her pedestal is adorned with offerings of fruit, dead rats and rabbits, and a gold plaque says:

"Realizing your mistake will be punishment enough."


Judge's Comments:

The story has many elements of wisdom that we look for in a folktale. This tale has a moral message that invites serious thought. It is full of jewel-like details and metaphors that flow quite naturally.