Edition 31: The Skull Collector by Jody L. Milner
The Shaman waits, every year, for the body of the community’s best and brightest. The seemingly endless sacrifice in service of a dream that never comes to pass, and bearing the secret becomes too much. – SY
The young man’s corpse washed ashore in the hushed chill of morning. The Shaman had been waiting, watching for the body through the long hours of the night. He dreaded the lies he would be forced to tell the tribe. He carried the youth, who through his aging eye appeared no more than a boy, from the waves and placed him on top of the prepared funeral pyre.
His striking flint and steel felt too worn in his hands. He had lit too many of these fires on this sacred beach with only inquisitive sand crabs for company. This winter ritual, this lie about earning the right to journey to the Golden Island, was wrong. If the gods wished the tribe to sacrifice their youth, they deserved to know their fate. Ages ago, before the Shaman’s birth, many would die trying to reach the island every year. His father convinced the tribe that holding a contest would better please the gods. At least then only one would die.
A brilliant spark caught on the coconut fiber kindling and red tendrils of fire snaked through the bundle in his hands. He coaxed the fire brighter with a soft puff before adding it to the larger slivers of wood. Soon, the pile blazed hot and bright, sending a tower of smoke high into the sky that would be seen for miles. The villagers gathered on the other side of the steep rocky ridge dividing them from this sacred space would see the smoke and know that all was well.