Month: April 2018

Homecoming

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

An almost volcanic heat rose from the dark green lake in heavy, steaming clouds, while the sun, smoky and dim, lent the day a faded, dusky cast. Andrea peered up at the thick, leathery trees, which clung to the perimeter of the water like towering ancient sentries, then back at the squat, vine-encrusted hut where she and her husband, Zemon, had lived for the past seven years.

A strange world, with little that resembled the home she’d grown up in. But Zemon was a native, and she’d decided to follow him back. It had been a difficult adjustment, and even now, she couldn’t say she loved this world. The days were intolerably hot, the locals could be private and standoffish, and while beautiful, the alien plants and wildlife, along with the brilliant emerald green oceans that covered ninety-eight percent of the planet’s surface, were irreconcilably different from her world of bright sun and blue skies.

But today, things were going to change. Today, they were going to pass through the Iron Gate and move back home to her family.

Ready, Andrea?

Her husband’s words unfurled inside her mind without sound. After all these years, the experience still sent a shuddering thrill across her body.

Soon, dear.

He came up behind her, his eyes reflecting back the dim, uneven light from above, and encompassed her in his lithe, silvery arms. She could sense his sadness. He tried to mask it, but she knew him too well, and it was impossible for him to be anything but himself with her.

Andrea reached out to give his hand a gentle squeeze.

It’ll be all right. We’ll only be gone a few years, and then you’ll be home again.

It was the compromise they’d struck the day they agreed to spend the rest of their lives together. Seven years in his world, followed by seven years in hers.

Zemon nodded.

A curious combination of anticipation and guilt fluttered in her chest as she conjured a mental image of her hometown in Iowa. She thought of her parents, her grandmother, her nieces and nephews, all living together under a single roof. She thought of fresh baked bread, biscuits and pie. Most of all, she thought of endless corn fields and navy blue skies, all priceless treasures of an ordinary life she hadn’t appreciated until after she’d gone away.

Now I know how you felt when you gave up part of your life for me.

At least there’ll be cornbread, she replied.

Zemon’s eyes lit up, a bright yellow rush of avaricious desire.

Yes, cornbread.

And grits.

Yes, he agreed. And grits.

Once more, Andrea would be the native and Zemon would be the foreigner. But he loved her as much as she loved him, and through that love, they would forge a path through the next seven years.

Come.

They clasped hands, and together they set off for the Iron Gate.

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Totem, Part 5

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Deep inside the dappled light of a tall oak tree, the six blackbirds stood watch. They’d followed the girl to this location, a two-story house in the suburbs, and had spent the rest of the afternoon contemplating how best to proceed. When they first arrived, the sun had still been bright overhead. Now it was a dull, burnished copper, slipping fast beneath the roofs of the other houses.

She hasn’t been outside since she got home, remarked one, a slim creature who in another life had gone by the name of Zane. A boring one, she. He took a moment to preen himself with his beak.

She’s troubled. That from Rashidi, their leader. You saw the way she fled from us.

A hopeless cause, argued Kasim, another of the six. Millennia of endless flight, just for it to end like this.

Not hopeless, said Jahi. He’d been so quiet that, until now, they’d forgotten he was there. His voice was elegant, stately, bellying his many years of experience as a diplomat. No cause is hopeless as long as one maintains hope.

A worthless platitude, spat Kasim.

And one, said Rashidi, that I happen to believe is true.

Chibale, barked Kasim, what do you think?

I think, came the creature’s reply, That we should stop arguing and focus on the girl.

He’s right. Rashidi addressed them each in turn. Let us consider the task at hand.

Kasim offered his bitterest telepathic grumble, but did not reply.

Azibo, the last of their number, was staring into the sky and hadn’t said a word. The youngest of the six, he was only a teenager when he was changed. He rarely spoke and spent much of his time peering into the heavens with longing. Rashidi felt for him, for he also felt the weight of his own punishment and could only guess how much more it must have affected the boy.

An Egyptian magician had set it all into motion over two thousand years ago. A man history no longer remembered, yet a man who was once the most powerful in the world, for although he was mighty in deed and strength, he preferred to rule from the shadows.

“Better to be the power behind the throne,” the cruel old man proclaimed when Rashidi was still one of his most favored servants. “Let the Pharaoh enjoy his pomp and ceremony. True power lies in obscurity.”

And the man had been wise, his continued rule all but certain, until a plan set in motion by Rashidi and the others nearly toppled him.

After their failed mutiny and subsequent transformation, they’d taken to the skies. They dwelled among the Babylonians and the Assyrians, then traveled Northeast into Persia, then farther East still toward the lands of the Huns and the Mongols. When enough time had passed to hope their master had forgotten them, they circled back in search of the bracelet, wishing to destroy it and undo the spell that bound them.

But when they returned, they found their old master’s estate in ruins, neither he nor the bracelet anywhere to be found. Farther West, a vague interior sense whispered. Farther West is where you’ll find the bracelet. So they took to the skies once more, wandering the world in a futile search, that sense of the bracelet’s proximity moving almost as fast as they themselves moved, until finally it drew them toward the North American continent on the other side of the world.

Now, Rashidi began to pace along the tree branch.

We must find a way to communicate with her.

We could get into the house ourselves, offered Chibale. Sneak in through an open window when no one’s watching.

And then what? scoffed Kasim. How do we break the bracelet? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re birds. Unless they make hammers and chisels for our delicate size and shape.

Kasim, said Rashidi, Be calm.

He’s right though. Jahi jumped in once more. We’ll need her help.

Azibo? Rashidi pulled up behind him. What do you think?

No reply.

Azibo? He approached the boy and tapped him with his beak.

With agonizing slowness, Azibo finally turned. But his eyes were blank, as if he had no idea where he was.

Help us. If the words had come out as sound, they would have been the faintest of whispers.

The others were all looking at him now. He’d always been quiet, but never this strange.

Help who, Azibo? Once more, Rashidi tapped him with his beak.

Please, help us.

Who’s he talking to? asked Kasim, all his characteristic bitterness and sarcasm gone.

I don’t know, Rashidi answered. Azibo, who are you talking to? What’s wrong?

And then, just like that, the youth’s eyes blazed to life. Startled, he tottered back almost to the edge of the branch.

Azibo! What’s wrong?

The boy’s head twittered, and he stepped to the side, ruffling his jet black feathers.

I felt the girl.

What do you mean? Chibale.

A pause while Azibo collected his thoughts. I don’t know. I was gazing into the sky, daydreaming. Then I was a wizard, and a girl came to seek my wisdom. A different girl, yet the same.

Azibo shook his head.

I was in her head, I think, like we were sharing a dream. I asked her for help, and I could feel that she understood me. Then she was gone, and I was back here with you—

Again, Azibo shook his head.

How can this be? asked Rashidi. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

They began to argue. Rashidi and Chibale asserted that Azibo should rest, while Zane and Kasim insisted he’d gone mad. Finally, Jahi broke in.

I’ve heard of it.

Reduced to silence, they all turned to face him at once, an unspoken question burning in their eyes like hot, black stars.

I don’t think he’s mad, continued Jahi, and I don’t think he was dreaming. Azibo, this has happened before, hasn’t it?

The boy didn’t answer, only put his head down and refused to meet Jahi’s eyes.

Azibo?

Still no reply.

It’s okay, Azibo. The master is dead. He can’t hurt you now.

Still the boy hesitated, until at last Jahi sidled over and gave him a gentle nudge with his beak.

You can tell us, Azibo. You’re among friends.

After more prodding, the boy looked up and said, maybe.

Jahi nodded, while the others looked at both of them aghast.

I thought so. You hid yourself well. The master would have killed you if he’d known.

Would one of you please explain what’s going on? It was the first time in centuries that any of them could remember Rashidi losing patience.

And with Azibo’s silent assent, Jahi told them a story.

Read part 6 here.

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