By Aine Susan
Darkness that creped so deep into the soul that it drew the breath right through your pores; a silence so stiff that it set a string of rings through your ears; a ghastly cold that kept your feet bonded with the dark humid soil and kept your hands clenched. At this point, he could no longer distinguish facts and truth from the forest’s lies’ or the images his mind made up to keep him; amidst the taunting howls, screams and laughs, from creatures he only hoped to never come face to face with. At times he thought he heard voices; music and chatting in his sleep – perhaps it was the forest spirits; perhaps his ancestors trying to keep him awake; perhaps the memories from his village.
Katabani lay in waiting, a hungry beast watching his target – the trap was set; draw the fool in with the bead, then kill him with the very spear he seeks; the rest was yet to be figured out, but the brothers would fall. He led Gipiir closer to the beast’s lifeless body, using staged tracks and exaggerating broken branches. The beast was the perfect distraction for his foe.
Hunger is a funny thing; a longing that takes a wave of energy from man’s entire being and yet at the same time, drives man to fend beyond his known limits.
A strange mist filled the forest; perhaps an ominous sign from the gods. Gipiir struggled to catch his breath and his sight got hazy. He thought he saw a figure rush ahead, scouring before him. Katabani also gasped for air – Could this be the night curse; just like the one which scourged his home on that night, when the fateful raid took his sister from him. He lay on the ground and let go of the bead he’d grasped so tight. “Nessi!” he sighed. He was sure he saw her standing right in front of him, and then she faded and his eyes closed against all his opposition.
Gipiir crawled below the chocking mist, embracing each scrape from the rocks and thorns; determined to finish this journey; he couldn’t let the beast go any further before he caught up with it, for he was sure to lose it. He finally made it to the carcass, and could see the spear stick out from the beast’s side. He gathered just enough strength to stagger towards his prize. He gripped the spear and nugged it out with so much energy that his frail body dropped again. He couldn’t help but smile amidst the struggle. “I did it, brother! You will have your spear and I will have my glory!” he whispered in triumph. He had a greater challenge though; getting back through the toxic mist. He trudged along, on all fours, but could only go so far before he lost his balance and allowed his beaten body to lay in the dirt. Flashes of his past failures ravaged his mind and he felt light – a freedom he had never experienced.
“Mama!” he cried, watching his mother; her back to him and her black hair adorned with trinkets. “Was he dreaming, or was he dead?” he wondered. She turned and placed the lost bead in his palm, then smiled angelically. “Mama,” he murmured, as she walked further from him. He followed after her, but found himself by a mysterious hut. He heard muffled sounds behind the hut, forcing him to seek his mother there. Instead, he found a wrinkled woman, bent over a cooking pot. “Where is she?” he asked.
“Your mother rests now. You will finally tread the path she believed was meant for you,” her voice shook, “While you conquered the forest, a modest life was lost.”
“No one died in the attack,” Gipiir stammered in confusion.
“The spiral of humanity,” she sighed, still hiding her face, “Every life taken will eventually be replaced during a time of peace.” No man knows how it began; each man only knows his own pain, and waits for his turn to pass it on; a trivial attempt to erase the hurt. “Now your ploys invade the forest; what used to be a haven for all life will soon become a wasteland!”
“You mourn the beast,” he realized, “I had to protect my people.”
“The cycle will go on, unless at least one decides to let the hunger subside.”
“What do you mean?” Gipiir wondered.
She finally turned, but only revealed her arms through the bark in which she was enshrouded. She took the bead from his hand and placed it on a string of similar beads. They had a mix of colors that merged to create a beautiful glimmer. “Like the bead, you were once alone; now every decision you make will set the cycle in motion. The way of the man could head towards prestige or peace. Which one will you take?”
At this, the entire scene faded and Gipiir was back in the forest; the morning sun softly embracing his skin and the cool dew soothing the wounds on his flesh.
“A dream!” he sighed, in a daze; yet in one hand he held the spear, and in another, a string of brilliant beads.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEDNESDAY