It was said that before the elders came the mountains were a godless place. Too many people, too many bodies. The girl knew not of those times, for she had yet to be born when the first of them came to correct the evil that fed off the residents of the hollers carved into the side of the rough-rocked hill. No one spoke of these lawless people whose misbehavior cried out for correction, but she had heard that some ran wild, eating the flesh of others out of a hunger that did not abide in the belly. The hollers were better for the rules and as her mother said, the mountain as before was no place for safe living. Safe was quiet, safe was not telling. The elders were pleased with the silence, the open breath of air that allowed for the communication of birds but not of people. It was not right for people to be there, where deer tread carefully along the dirt paths, their pert noses twitching, testing for safety. The girl had been silent like the deer when they visited, fighting would have been useless and the attention forbidden, and her mother never questioned the swell of the girl’s belly nor did she explain the birthing, instead pressing her hands over the girl’s face to quiet the surprised screams. The girl had not been ashamed, for she had been silent and accepting and obedient, an empty vessel to their repudiation. The baby suckled at her skin with a mouth like a fish, and screeched in short bursts at strange hours. She had done nothing wrong, the girl reminded herself, walking carefully as the soreness between her legs spoke to her, squeezing an ache up through her belly and back. She swallowed against the rising vomit as she followed her mother’s measured steps to the gathering place, the infant wrapped sleeping against her. Many were already standing with their eyes focused on the solitary woman standing erect atop a flat rock at the front of the crowd. The woman’s voice rose but the girl could not understand the words, only the sounds, insistent. The baby began to wiggle against the sore belly, against the small hips that had miraculously held it up inside her for so many months. She pulled the baby tight against her to muffle its protest. The words from the elder’s lips had no form as the tiny legs beat against her hip, the head resisting the pressure that kept it close against her breast, her heart. The girls’ parched lips fell open when she saw the burst of fire from the speaker’s mouth, her attention full and fast on the elder’s face, her small body tight and unyielding as she cradled the dead child to her heart.