The valley lay below, misty fog shifting like a marshmallow cloud, sticking to my skin. The smell of pine and dank soil wafted around me. I shuddered. It wasn’t much further. Better keep moving.

I hoisted my rucksack over my shoulder and stomped up the rocky hillside. My heart raced as I tripped on an errant branch, managing to keep my feet.

It had been ten years since the last Choosing was held.  The clan-folk revered days like this. A day of power and tradition. A blessing, they said. For over a century, this was how our elder came to us. We had no choice, I was told. Gooseflesh rose on my arms as the chill dusk air touched me.

After ten minutes, I stepped past the pine trees into a clearing. This had to be the sacred place. It was just as my kin had described it, an old wooden cabin with a gaping maw of a door. I hesitated at the entrance, peering inside. The bare walls seemed as weathered on the inside as the out, as if storms of hailstones had peppered it for years. A screeching wail nearly knocked me over. My stomach lurched.

“It’s alright,” I whispered as I patted my rounded belly. “Mommy’s here.”

I shuffled into the crowded room, taking the last rickety chair. Eleven women, swollen with child sat in a circle.

“It won’t be long now,” one woman whispered. “It’s such an honor to be chosen.” She stared at her knees.

Their eyes avoided the center of the room. Crackling noises came from the blankets in the deep bassinet. My scalp tightened and I rubbed my taut neck muscles.

“Look how dark and rough the skin is.” More whispers rolled over me, like a breeze biting my earlobes on a cold night.

Eunice, our clan elder reached into the blood red bassinette. She propped the young creature up. Its eyes glowed emerald green, and a forked tongue flicked out, sniffing the air out of me. I kept my features blank, touching my belly with trembling hands. Then, I looked it in the eye.

The thing erupted in a piercing cry as its long, dark finger pointed around, pausing at each woman. It stopped at me. Its vile finger didn’t touch me, but it stabbed me in the heart. In that instant, all sound left the room. An intense fire churned in my womb. My belly glowed red as if a lantern shone behind my skin. I gasped in pain and my body arched back. Tears streamed down my cheeks. Then it all stopped. When I looked down, my stomach was as flat as a virgin’s, my unborn baby gone. I struggled for breath.

Eunice placed the hideous creature in my arms. Its tail cut my cheek as it flicked. Amusement spread over its scaly lips. I wanted it dead.

I leaned forward and spoke the words in its ear. “I will kill you.”

“Momma,” it cried. And suddenly she was beautiful, my darling two-year-old baby girl. Her chubby legs and flowing curls, the sound of her voice like a little angel singing. Heads nodded, sighs and tears, many women cupping their own bulges. The scent of relief and sweat clung to them all. Eunice knelt beside her saying, “Welcome, Elder Philonia.”


Six years have gone by, six golden years with my perfect child. I sit on my porch and watch my teen daughter receiving her guests. I try to hide my pride at how advanced and clever she has become. Children pay their respects to our future clan elder, leaving her birthday gifts of bitter berries and poison oak leaves. She eats them with relish. Elder Eunice has come to say goodbye and offer last instructions to Philonia. The time has come for Eunice to form a new clan, to bring our traditions to others in the world.

I’m not aging well.

The clan told me that the pain of childbirth had damaged me, made me pass out. I wish I could remember but memories fade in me so quickly. Large sections of my skin are covered up, encrusted and dark. I grow weak while my Philonia grows strong. Still, all I feel is a blood-red love for my perfect child.

They say it always ends this way at The Choosing.