Jill held her shawl over her face as a gust of dry wind pelted her with dust. She used to enjoy going to the village, back before the drought, but now she hated it. Death seemed nearer here, the people more desperate. They huddled together in the shade of their huts, watching her pass with their hungry, hopeless eyes.
The wind made her arm sting, and she glanced down at the angry red marks. Her mother had scolded her for splashing the hot oil, loosing those few drops into the dirt floor and against her dry, cracking skin. The burns had left three tear-drop shapes on her wrist. She tried to pull her sleeve down over them, but it didn’t stay.
Jill passed the well, sorry that it had gone dry, for she sorely wanted a drink of water. She had a little with her, but she would save that for her walk home. When she reached the market and went to the place where she usually sold the fine flaxen thread her mother made, she wondered if anyone would even care to buy thread when they were dying of hunger.
There were a few people in the market, moving slowly among the nearly empty stalls. Jill spread her shawl on the ground under one of the tattered canopies and set out her rolls of thread. A long time passed before anyone stopped to look.
“All three for this,” the old woman said, holding out a single egg.
Jill agreed, and reached for the precious egg, but before she took it the old woman gasped and grabbed her wrist.
“The prophecy!” The woman shouted. “She has the mark of water!”
“Let go!” Jill tried to free herself. “What are you talking about?”
A crowd of people formed around them, more hands grabbed her, lifted her to her feet, began moving her through the market. Her arm was thrust into the air.
“See? Do you see?”
“The mark of water!”
Jill’s burn seared with pain, exposed to the dry wind. “It’s only a burn!” She shouted angrily. “I got it yesterday! Get off!”
Someone in the crowd lifted Jill off her feet. She kicked and fought and screamed, but the current of dusty, bony limbs carried her along, eyes too hungry to see, too desperate to care.
And then she fell.
A jolt of pain jarred her whole body as she hit the cool, dark bottom of a deep shaft. The well! They’d thrown her into the well.
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