Release Day: Year of the Mountain Lion by Maria E. SchneiderPosted by Darwin - 22/06/11 at 12:06 am
Today’s release is courtesy of Maria Schneider, who has been a font of knowledge that I have leaned on during the restart of Evolutions. Aside from being a talented author with a gift for empathetic characters and gripping plots, she is also an experienced hand with the ins and outs of e-book publishing. A great deal of the efforts being undertaken to expand our reach to readers is being done with her reassurance and guidance.
The story she shares with us today, though, is a classic Darwin’s Evolutions style adventure. An alternate American southwest wherein legends are both real and unreal, curses true and false, and a young woman betrayed finds herself the object of a hunt by the very tribe who cast her out into the desert to die. Prepare yourselves for the challenges and triumphs of the Year of the Mountain Lion.
Year of the Mountain Lion
Jolan ran across the sand and stopped near the top of a gully, crouching. She glanced backwards, scanning the dry, gritty landscape. There wasn’t much time. They were very close now, and if she didn’t lose them soon, their arrows would have her heart.
She jumped and rolled, not away into the sandy center of the gully, but up against the base. From there, she used her agave swish to brush the sand where she had landed. The rolling marks barely showed, and she left them because there wasn’t time. The hunters might easily mistake the slight markings as those made by an animal anyway.
Her clan didn’t know the desert like she did. When they had abandoned her in the cliffs, blaming the lack of rain on her curse, she had learned to live on the scant water that trickled occasionally in the last, drying stream beds. She had learned to move deeper into the desert in the winter, living on even less water, finding it with the same curse that had gotten her cast out from her clan.
Keeping close to the crumbling sidewalls, Jolan headed for the red rock overhang. The harder ledges would give her some cover and the ability to run full out.
This was the third time her tribe had hunted her. Two seasons ago, her comfortable existence had been shattered when she looked down at a curious pattern in the sand. Jagged sticks formed a lightning bolt. Animal hide, representing thunder, was held down with pebbles. It took all her discipline to keep from scattering the pieces into the wind.
“Wat—” Out of habit, she had started to mutter the name of her people, but her voice was so disused, she uttered only a croaking whisper.
Could it be an enemy of the Watahal who chased her and not a tribe member?
No. Only someone from her clan would know that the lightning bolt with clouds was her old name: Taima, Thunder.
Each time she found the sign, she trembled. Each time she took the old, worn piece of hide, torn from…she could not tell. Whoever followed left only rotted hide, likely desperate, likely out of water.
Leaving a few false trails and wandering in random circles, she had led the enemy away from water until they gave up the chase. Finding water was her forte and traveling her life. If she didn’t stay too long in any one place, her curse didn’t steal the rains for too long.
But the enemy got smarter. She had found the signs again this fall, including a few parched oak twigs from the valley, twigs that signified her new name, Jolan: Dead-Oaks. Part of the wood had been burned, a way of cursing her.
Over the seasons, the clan learned where she roamed: the plains, the mountains or the low hills. And they were close this time.
Her breath came hard as she ran under the protective rock outcrop and then out into the open, sun flashing into her eyes before steady steps took her under the next overhang.
She didn’t slow, even as she tossed her swish into a bundle of fallen rocks. It was nothing there, only a dried branch.
Better they chased her now, rather than in the northern mountains where she stayed after the spring melt. The heat of the desert would discourage them from hunting her for very long.
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Illustration courtesy of John Dotegowski.