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Jan 13, 2024

This month's story is "Blackberry Picking" by Daniel Stride, narrated by Calyopi Utterances.

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The baking heat of late summer was upon her, and the flies were out. Iris wiped the sweat from her brow, and stuffed another blackberry between her teeth. She knew she shouldn’t. The more blackberries she ate herself, the longer she’d take to fill the basket, and the longer she’d need to stay out in the sun. But she couldn’t resist the temptation. The berries hung amid the thorns, juicy and succulent. She thrust her hand back into the bush, and grabbed a couple more. The thorns scratched, but the prize was worth it. The sweet, tart taste ran over her tongue. Delightful.

But her fingers were now sticky with berry juice, and the sweat was running again. And there were the flies, hovering and buzzing. Never mind her miserably half-full basket.

This was hotter than last summer, by far. Or any of the seventeen other summers of her life. 

Maybe it was the terrible lack of wind. Other times, the salty tang from the south – the sea lay two days’ donkey-ride from her village – might have relieved Iris’ pain. But today? The air hung like a hazy and listless shroud. To be trapped outside on such an afternoon, why, it was like being cooked alive inside a brazen maze. A maze choked with bushes and thorns.

Iris gritted her teeth. A plan formed in her mind.

The festivities of Sungit were yet tomorrow night. She could nap in the shade for a few hours, at least until the coolness of evening. Then she’d fill her basket, and hurry home. Her mother might grumble, but her mother wasn’t out in the afternoon heat. She was bowing and scraping before Sungit’s stone altar, along with all the other mothers. So long as Iris delivered a basketful of blackberries by nightfall, that was what mattered. 

Besides, the visiting Priest ate half the fruit offerings before the ceremony, and the goddess never seemed to mind. Sungit felt generous these days. The harvest had not failed in a full twelve years, and the grain ran plentiful.  

Iris’ heart fluttered, as she glanced around her. There was no-one in sight, nor could she hear anyone talking or singing. Perhaps everyone else thought similarly: the day was just too hot.