Less Than Nothing

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Outside the house where his wife shrieked in pain, Pok paced. He wanted it to be over. He wanted to hold his son, his new warrior.

The shrieks stopped and he stood still. A breeze whispered through the trees, and the footsteps of Koko crunched as he carried something to the Sky Chief, the father of Pok’s wife, who even on this night preferred to stare at the sky from his circle of stones while his grandson came into the world. What Pok did not hear were the cries of a newborn.

He went onto the roof and climbed down the ladder, holding his breath as he passed through the smoke rising from the fire in the hearth, and once inside, with only the wan light from the failing fire, he saw the albino midwife he didn’t trust and his wife looking at a thing that seemed impossibly small and still.

“What is that?” Pok asked.

“It’s your son,” said his wife. “It has no spirit. The gods are not happy with you.”

Pok felt anger rise. He loved his anger. It’s what gave him power over others. He’d learned long ago that everyone backed down from his anger, and the more freely he loosed it, the more he got what he wanted from the world. Anger had become his personal god, an alter-ego to the perpetually mild Plumed Serpent god, who gloried in butterflies and flowers like some doe-eyed adolescent girl romancing the world.

He leaned close to the lifeless body and inspected it, his lips pulled tight, fists clenched. A boy, no doubt. But it had no fat and looked like a stick-child, its head too large for its body, its hands like tiny curled spiders. A roar erupted from him in an orgasmic shudder. The white-haired midwife cowered, hands crossed over her face, but his wife continued to look at him as if this were his fault.

Pok felt uplifted by his anger. He kicked the midwife hard in the stomach, then again in the face, hearing a crunch of bone. He pulled everything from the walls, smashed the pottery, scattered the Sky Chief’s sacred stones, then turned on his wife, still watching him in that calm way she’d inherited from her father. The time had come to show her. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her off the birthing mat. She grunted and fought him.

“If you cannot give me a better son than this, then there is no use for you in this world.” He put his foot between her legs, pulled her head back with her hair, and kicked her toward the fire. He lowered her face-down into the fire and she jerked and flailed. Her screams, not unlike birthing screams, filled the house. When he smelled searing flesh and her body rattled and trembled, he shoved her face fully into the coals and stepped hard on the back of her head, holding her down. The stench, he thought, smelled lovely.

He looked around the quiet room, the silence broken by a faint pop, followed by gurgles and a choking sound. He thought the midwife was coming to, but then the sound turned into the unmistakable cry of a baby, only weak and small, not like a normal child.

He picked it up and held it in his hand, its lolling head resting on his fingers and its legs bouncing on his forearm.

“You are less than nothing,” he said, the beautiful rush of anger draining away from him.

He climbed the ladder one-handed, walked to the edge of the cliff, and tossed it into the trash pile below. Then he looked around and felt a deep sadness, a sliding down, as if he were losing consciousness. Hoping no one saw, he climbed down a steep, little-used path, and lost himself in the darkness.

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24 Comments

Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Ancient Americans, Chaco Canyon, Chimney Rock, Historial Fiction

24 responses to “Less Than Nothing

  1. Pingback: The Chase Begins « Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

  2. Pingback: Pok, Unveiled « Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

  3. skrblr

    I thought I would read this a few times before comment 🙂

    The brutality is harsh, but not out of place. Pok is a violent man, in a violent society, in a tough existence. The weak are not countenanced and weeded out remorselessly. Even against this backdrop, Pok’s actions are extreme and he will be held accountable, by the tribe, or by himself. But he will defend his actions – even after the birth, his wife blamed him for the quality of their offspring, surely it was her that was ill-favo[u]red of the gods, since she carried the child?

    I felt two bumps in the story – the first, an “orgasmic shudder” implies pleasure, as well as loss of control. In this case, only the latter is implied. Second one was when Pok felt sadness. Is he emotionally qualified to even know what that means? When anger recedes there is a withdrawal, as the adrenaline and hormones disappear – regret, guilt and maybe despair ensue, a dip as an equal and opposite reaction to the high of the anger, the casting off of societal responsibilities, the berserk. But sadness is too tender a state for this individual, methinks.

    Scary story though, I must admit. 🙂

    • Anasazi Stories

      Extremely thoughtful comment, and I thank you for that.

      It’s interesting that both “bumps” were ones that I fully planned. I did indeed wish to imply a pleasure of sorts in Pok’s orgasmic shudder of the rush of anger. I’ve felt the faintest shadow of that myself. I leveraged that feeling mightily for Pok.

      I also think it’s possible, maybe even probably, that all but a pure sociopath would feel some regret, some sadness, after succumbing to their anger and committing unspeakable acts. I’ve felt this, too, much more than the pleasure of anger.

      But I didn’t think about the wife’s contribution to the stillborn child. The Hopi are a matrilineal society, so it’s likely the Anasazi were too, which means children are more “related” to their mothers than their fathers (to Westernize the concept). So you’ve a very good point. Thanks for making me see that.

      –Jeff

  4. Deeply, deeply disturbing!

    The writing is excellent! I love your style. I had to read it twice before I realize that Pok thought the child was stillborn at first.

    I love the line “The beautiful rush of his anger drained from him.” And the line “You are less than nothing.” Is he saying that to the child or to himself? Love the guessing.

    I hate this character Pok, I want justice for this hideous act! This segment draws strong emotions, nonetheless and hooks me to see what happens next.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Fred, thanks for the read and the comments. They help me learn. I always think of writing a story as guiding a reader on a daydream, and it’s my job to write the instructions for that daydream. Anything that confuses is something that could be improved. Your comments help me improve.

  5. I read this a couple of times so that I could get past the initial shock of what was happening. I’m glad you gave us some clues as to why he is so violent then backed them up with his enjoying the anger: ” A roar erupted from him in an orgasmic shudder.”, shows us it is more than just a tool for him to wield, it sustains him. I can appreciate an antagonist who has a reason to be violent as opposed to simply being violent because the story needs a bad guy. Really well done.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thank you, Chris. I certainly can’t say I understand this guy. He’s like a demon that erupted … from me. Kind of disturbing. How’d he get in there? I haven’t the slightest. The problem is, I have to interview him this week. Kind of gives me the willies.

  6. dan

    Powerful stuff. Thoroughly unsympathetic but completely believable protagonist. The end hints at the shame he might feel deep down. Very engaging.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thanks, Dan. When evil characters come out of you, it’s kind of a strange feeling. I understand why my main character wants to beat the lights out of him.

  7. Oh Man… Incredibly vivid and well written; I am going to be thinking about this for days.

    Many apologies for being late.
    ~2

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thanks, Tomara. Don’t worry, this guy will get his payback — death’s too good for the guy. I’m going to hold his face to an entirely different kind of fire.

  8. battypip

    I’m glad that fellow disturbs you – I’d be quite concerned if he was one of your heroes! Powerful stuff.

  9. Wow. This is a very dark and emotionally charged piece. It says volumes about the type of society the characters lived in. The midwife got off easy. I have to wonder if the wife would have not shown more fear, as she knows her husbands tendencies towards anger and violence. Pok is a monster of a man, and will be a great antagonist for your readers to hate. What you’re aiming at, I presume. It worked well for that.

    I was a little confused that Koko carried something to the Sky Chief. I assumed it was the lifeless body of his grandchild, yet the baby was still in the house with the mother and midwife when he lost it.

    I look forward to the day Pok get’s his comeuppance (assuming he eventually will). You have a great antagonist here.
    ~jon

    • Anasazi Stories

      Jon: Great critical read. My wife caught the same mistake — in the creation of this, I employed Koko walking up to the Sky Chief only to create a sound other than wind through the trees for Pok to hear, no other reason. But as you point out, there’s an unstated implication that it means something more. Which means I made a mistake in writing it. I’m leaving it in to remind me. Thanks for reading and for pointing out this flaw. That’s the main reason I love #FridayFlash. Readers are always right.

  10. KjM

    I’d go with “nightmare”.

    Goodness, but you have the ability to take your readers right into a story. May we have some butterflies and flowers now, please? 🙂

    Well done. Yet again you have written something with real impact.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thanks, Kevin. Maybe not butterflies and flowers — but “medicinal” plants, perhaps? As in the midwife getting back at Pok? Yeah, maybe some of that next Friday. The butterflies and flowers will have to come later.

  11. Wow. Brutal in its depiction and disturbing in its context. Pok putting his wife to the fire is an image that will stick with me for a while.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thanks, Stephen. Yeah, me too. And the stench. Makes me gag. But this fellow Pok, he likes it. There’s something wrong with that guy. Really wrong.

  12. Very graphic and disturbing!

  13. You always write such vivid imagery! Such a difficult piece to write and you do it well.

    • Anasazi Stories

      Thanks, Laura. This one stemmed from a dream (nightmare?) about my protagonist, Pok. That fellow disturbs me.

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