Saturday, September 23, 2023

“Harvest Day” • by Jocelyn DeVore


When I was chosen, my heart swelled with so much pride it threatened to burst with each passing millisecond. 

Those who led the Harvest Day parade each year were celebrated until the crowning of the next leader the following year. The idea of having my name and likeness on signs for the next four seasons brought tears to my eyes. Me? Why me? Certainly there are girls more worthy of such an honor.

Our Harvest Festival was a blissful time. Storefronts were decorated with whimsical colors and fancy lace. Plates overflowed with delicious meats, cheeses, fried fish, and sweetbread. Our community might have been small, but we thrived; our harbors overflowed with fish and the soil in our fields turned constantly with an abundance of crop. We shared our joy and our prosperity with our neighbors every year. My village was generous and filled with love which made me proud to represent my home in the parade.

“What am I going to wear?” My words tripped over each other like children racing out the doors of the schoolhouse. I stood in front of my meager wardrobe, wondering how the girls of the past had managed to lead the parade in such beautiful gowns. “I want to make sure I do a good job.”

My mother wrapped her arms around me. “You are a delight, my butterfly,” she said. “You will do wonderfully; I just know it.” Her embrace loosened. “The seamstress always handcrafts a dress for the parade, so we’ll get you measured and then you can pick out the prettiest fabric in the shop. And the morning of the parade, we will adorn your hair with the loveliest wildflowers we can find.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m so very proud of you.”

The big day couldn’t come fast enough. I donned the dress tailor made for me. It fluttered against the breeze with embroidered butterflies on the hem. A canvas belt wrapped around my waist three times and looped around itself in a bow. The wildflowers pinned in my hair were bright with petals soft like the ears of a rabbit.

The men of the marching band stood behind me at the center of the town square until it was time. Their feet moved in tandem with mine and the beating of their drums followed my heart. My friends waved from the sidewalks and ate their sausages and rolls with smiles on their faces.

The band followed me to the neighboring towns where we picked up other women in dingy, tattered white dresses. Some were older. One wore a scar on her face. Another was missing her left hand. None of them smiled, despite the uplifting music. Once we left the last town, the instruments came to a stop. I thanked the musicians with a smile, then the girls and I continued on our journey.  

The trip was silent save for the birds singing in the trees, the rustle of leaves, and errant sobs from behind me. Once the sound of the waves overpowered the chirrup of the birds, I knew it was time. I untied the rope and unwound it from my waist. After knotting one end around me, I gave the loose end to the girl behind me. She tied my rope to hers, and looped it around her waist, before handing the other end of hers to the girl behind her.

I led the string of paper dolls to the edge of the cliff.

In my head, my mother’s voice gave me strength. My butterfly, she said as she braided my hair. You have been chosen because of your purity and the bright light illuminating your soul. You are the best we have to offer. The other towns care not about sharing their elite. Instead, they offer…lesser. Therefore they receive less. But we give Him our best and in return, He gives us all we need.

The sound of the waves crashing brought my attention from the far horizon, to the water below us, just beyond the cliff. I watched the Ancient One rise from the depths of the bay as if Mother Nature was birthing another island from her womb. He was green and slick with slime from the ocean floor, His skin scaly and iridescent in the sunlight. He rose to the height of the cliff until my two eyes met with His four. I could feel the sea mist on my skin as the wind lashed us with the water from His many-tentacled face.

This is my destiny. Freedom was earned with blood and with sacrifice. Freedom from famine. Freedom from worry. Freedom from being beholden to others. All of it was to come from my sacrifice. Nothing is free unless I give everything, and I would give my all to ensure my family and friends would be free from any sort of fear.

I could feel His thoughts and His judgment. I drank in a deep breath and strode forward.

Be fearless. We will sing your praises until this time next year.

Behind me the crying got louder and for a moment there was resistance in the rope. I turned to face the women. The last one was trying to run but some of the other girls had stopped her and were pulling her toward me.

I called to her. “This is what is asked of us. Our people need us.” I raised my voice to resonate over the sound of the crashing waves. “We must be brave.”

She shook her head. “Please, no. Can’t we just leave? Or just let me leave.”

Mother had warned me of this. I must lead. “Come,” I said, turning to face the Ancient One again.

Show them what bravery looks like, little butterfly. Arms outstretched; I stepped off the edge. The ground disappeared under me, and the wind whipped against my face. My dress and my hair fluttered and, for the briefest of moments, I was

f    l    y    i    n    g  …



Jocelyn DeVore is a freelance writer, scriptwriter, and ghostwriter of both fiction and non-fiction. She lives in Washington with her patient husband and adorable terrier. She is an avid reader, coffee drinker, amateur miniaturist, fountain pen enthusiast, unlicensed private investigator, and an admirer of octopi. 

This photo is from her 2014 appearance in our virtual pages, “Fulfilling,” on the old SHOWCASE site. Digging into it more deeply, we found that her very first appearance in our pages was actually “The Key,” in Issue #2 of the original SHOWCASE webzine.

Goodness, how the web world has changed in these past ten years. Ms DeVore (nee Bernardo) probably has a more recent author’s photo, but she didn’t send it to us.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful, layered story. Gave me chills and made me slow down and feel.

Made in DNA said...

That took a dark turn. Well done.

Brady said...

Oh my goodness, not what my heart was ready for, and so sudden.