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“Calling Into Silence”

Incense and flutes, drums and the wailing songs of women. The sun beating down on the clearing, watching what went on below. Bloodflowers and fronds of the sunset palm laid in a circle, marking the sacred ground, the space for the dance. The spirit ground.

In this ring Ngwela danced from noon until sunset, until the murmur grew loud and the music stopped, and she stopped with it.

The women all whispered it, but Imbule announced it for all to hear.

Gendra’s daughter had called, and no spirit had come.

 
This story won the Grand Prize in the 2003 Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing (later renamed the Dell Magazines Award for same). The prize was the first money I ever earned from my writing; I consider this story my first success.

It was inspired by a class I took as an undergraduate, where several of the ethnographies we read had to do with African spirit possession; the concept really interested me, and this story was the result. “Calling into Silence” is set on the Nahele Peninsula of the Nine Lands, a long, thin tropical peninsula on the southern end of the continent. Dead Can Dance’s album Spiritchaser provided mood music for me while I was working on this story.