Coils Everywhere

Where the devil was this place? The Minister was expecting her. He’d told Kiana, oh it’s only a half hour drive at most from the Storehouse. So far, all Kiana had come across was mile upon mile of dry season veldt. She couldn’t be late. This meeting would determine the level of security she and her crew received over the next couple of seasons. After that last attempt on her life in JoBerg by the self-styled Colonel Welles, they’d need it. Well, she certainly could use some.

            Mile upon mile stretched ahead of her beat-up Jeep, and while she loved the outdoors Kiana did have somewhere to be tonight. The Moon shone full upon the South African grasslands. That could be a good or a bad sign, depending on your superstition, she mused. And she was gonna be late, she just knew it.

            She only hoped she hadn’t gotten herself dolled up for nothing. She preferred shorts and tank tops, but tonight she needed to make the best impression. She had showered and shimmied into a brand-new shimmering indigo gown and opera gloves, all of it faux leather. Joshua thought it suited her tanned complexion and short strawberry blonde hair. He could be such a sweetheart. She’d put a clean towel on the dusty car seat so as not to stain her bottom–a rare consideration given how raw she lived–and set out. She would meet Joshua Mzima, her second in command at the Storehouse, as well as the Minister at the field station.

            That had been the plan, anyway. Had she taken a wrong turn? According to the Jeep’s onboard GPS she was pointed in the right direction. “Alia,” Kiana addressed the dashboard’s AI unit, “give Joshua a ring. Tell him I may be a little late.”

            “That line is unavailable,” the prim AI responded.

            “What do you…? Never mind. Try again.”

            “That line is unavailable.”      

            Kiana tried to keep her focus on the ‘road’ and not how stuffy it was inside this motorized coffin. She darted a glance to her pocket cell, which was turning out to be a useless slip of plastic. “Why? Is the battery not charged enough?”

            “Your cell’s battery capacity is at 92 percent. There is a connection error.”

            Kiana slowed down. “Explain.”

            “There appears to be a counter signal interfering with reception.”

            “What, we’re being jammed?”

            “Affirmative.”

            “Alia, has someone been hacking into your base program again?”

            The reply was almost tart. “My cognitive functions have not been penetrated.”

            She’d been relying on the GPS too much to guide her. Kiana realized as she drove on into the dark that might have been a mistake. Ahead loomed a tree with incandescent bulbs strung through its branches. “All right. Stand by, I’m pulling over…So stupid, should have pulled over sooner.”

            “Is that an inquiry–?”

            “NO! Shut off!” Grass rustled beneath the undercarriage as the Jeep rolled to a stop under the tree’s arching branches. Kiana slipped off her fancy indigo flats; no point getting them dirty, given what she’d already spent on this outfit for this ONE evening. Then she popped her Poppa’s compass from the glove box. It was his gift to her, upon announcing that she was returning to continue his work collecting gene samples of all the wildlife in South Africa for restoration, once present-day disruptions to the climate settled down.

            This tree being here, so very conspicuous, screamed ‘too much coincidence!’, but she had to stop somewhere to get her bearings. She stepped out, hiking the trailing fabric of her gown off the grass in her left hand. Using the Southern Cross as a base point, she ought to be able to take a reckoning and gauge exactly how far off the mark she was.

            Welles. Huh. She wouldn’t need security if not for his pranks, disrupting her work and that of her crew. She couldn’t figure that man before. The authorities billed him as some kind of ecoterrorist but that just did not fly. They shared the same goals, or so she thought. Surely they could work together. A conversation with Stempf brought some welcome insight.

            Stempf had been involved with Welles’ organization prior to joining her staff. Circumstances had apparently disillusioned him toward the good colonel’s methodology, so, on a recent tagging mission involving two displaced lionesses, she got him to open up. She wasn’t sure now whether that had been a good thing.

            “I was outside his door, ready for the day’s assignment,” Stempf said in his clipped Germanic tone. “I don’t think I was meant to overhear but…he, uh, he sees your relationship with Dr. Mzima as unnatural, as normalizing relations between races. Apparently it was a notion Colonel Welles found repellent.”

            The lioness beneath Kiana jerked as she clipped too hard on the tag she’d just put in its ear. It was 120 degrees in the shade, but her skin suddenly felt chilled. “Not you, though,” she prompted.

            Stempf smirked. “I never gave it a thought. It’s obvious you’re both crazy about each other. Everyone knows it. I think it’s kind of adorable, but I’m young. It’s not like my grandfather’s generation, when they still had all that racial separation shit–sorry, didn’t mean to curse.”

            Kiana smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t sick the other lioness on you.”

            “There’s also the fact that you’re American. You know some people in your country still consider it the greatest nation in the world, even now that it’s broken into several nationalist provinces.”

            “Yeah, I know. Here, help me get her into the shade so she can shake off the tranq without boiling alive.” Thus endeth that conversation.

            She took her bearings beneath a string of small white bulbs, groaning at the anomalous readings. Well, the compass worked fine. She knew where the field station was. But it was stupid easy to use that GPS, and that thing in her Jeep had steered her in a polar opposite direction from where she should have been. But as she tipped the flash on her cell toward those lights, her eyes adjusted to the dark. And this tree with its long spindly branches seemingly supporting the sky had taken on a familiar aspect.

            Once a season she and Joshua would come here to volunteer alongside a team from the Ministry of Health to vaccinate the children and give adults boosters for their AIDS and Ebola shots, welcome diluted strains from once fearsome diseases. Then she and Joshua would picnic in the shade at this tree’s base, now defaced with smooth bore holes from some joker’s router saw or some other tool.

            She imagined this was the kind of tree George Schaller would lounge beneath to write a thesis, or Dian Fossey interacting with her gorillas at Karisake, right before–

            “AAAAA!”

            Why did this crap always happen when she was thinking of Dian Fossey? A scrape above alerted her too late. Suddenly she found herself the victim of an ice bucket challenge. Kiana screamed as much from frustration as anything. Stupid, sticky, gooey–! She noticed a note clinging to her soaked bare right shoulder. As she peeled it away, she also became aware of the pungent sickly-sweet perfume, almost muskine, bathing her skin.

            At least that bucket wouldn’t come crashing down on her head. Her motion beneath the lights probably triggered a pulley trap that yanked the line attached to its rim. The handle was still secure by an outdated ol’ zip-tie. More scrapes, like tarps against wood, sounded from lower down. Now, something else. A hiss in the dark. In fact a whole chorus of them. A fleshy plop of muscle issued…from inside the tree?

            Kiana rotated the flash on her cell toward its bole, as a half-dozen thick oily roots seemed to pour out of those bore holes. And she was suddenly aware of how very alone she was. This wasn’t natural behavior, she told herself shakily. Pythons are not naturally gregarious creatures. They’d never nest in the same tree in such numbers, unless… “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” she said.

            The sheer isolation she so often craved was its own kind of enemy. The snakes had cleared the holes in the tree, oozing along the dry grass toward her. Perspiration dribbled from her pits as her empathic sense detected the echo of an unnatural…no, not actual hunger. Their bellies seemed full at least. This was a stronger, overpowering urge. If they were human, she’d have called it by its name among the Seven Deadlies, lust.

            She sniffed her arm in sudden suspicion, aware now of a pheromonal element in the greasy crap Welles’ bucket had spilled all over her. It was surely overwhelming the natural pheromones her body normally produced, as a means of gaining an animal’s trust and fitting into any environment. God, but they were so glossy and gorgeous, the mottled patterns in their hides rippling with each sinuous movement. Even the weight of the closest fellow on her bare feet enticed–

            Kiana yanked her foot away with unexpected reluctance. Her breathing shouldn’t be this deep, so HUNGRY– Crap crap crap! She thought. Don’t tell me this goo was affecting me the same way! “The latest temptation,” she gasped, chilled in her flimsy clingy gown. Someone had stashed those snakes in those improvised dens. When that bucket tipped and the lights switched off, that probably engaged a separate control that released these cuddlies.

            “No wonder lust was one of the Seven Deadlies,” she whispered, her breath a bit shallower than she preferred. Between her and the Jeep lay five slithering tubes, all issuing long extended hisses. Her feet backpedaled on the gritty soil. It should be possible to lure them around, she reasoned, angle back toward the Jeep. Once she winced as the sharp edge of a stone bit into her left heel. Despite that she kept her feet, nimbly prancing backward. Anyway, that wasn’t what tripped her up.

            A thick muscular tube slapped her behind the knees. Kiana swayed for balance. The sky rushed away from her as the ground punched the air out of her lungs. Her mouth worked like a fish but she wasn’t getting any air. Her arms, legs, chest, nothing would obey her. Why didn’t she have any energy…? After a quarter of a minute she started to take in a few small breaths as the first serpent flopped across her chest.

            Two of the pythons joined as one, corkscrewing around Kiana’s waist in opposing directions. Another thrust between her legs, spreading them apart. She pushed herself up, despite being bundled up to her stomach. Her left hand slipped on a rubbery hide, plunging right up to her armpit into a fistful of coils. This particular herp seemed to take delight in the sudden bounty. Like a fist the loops tightened, and a moan was torn from Kiana. Needle pricks stung up and down her imprisoned arm as the circulation began to die.

            Kiana dropped, but this time the snakes squirming under her bare back cushioned the impact. She’d grabbed one of the buggers with her free hand by the scruff of its neck. The problem was they were ALL neck, and these stupid faux latex gloves didn’t allow for a sure grip. In the space of a breath it’d slipped through her hand, and with her other hand trapped there was no way to catch a firmer grip. She stared half in fascination while circles of reptilian muscle flopped around her wrist and arm.

            The boys were in no hurry now. Drawn by her empathic nature, as well as her extraordinary body heat, the serpents had enveloped Kiana in seconds, pressing her to the ground, helpless in their glistening coils. A writhing mass of slick hoops like Medusa’s hairdo enveloped her, binding her legs and piling on double, one on top of another, weighing on her ribs. Latex crinkled as she flexed her fingers, in tandem with the firming of those reptilian bodies. Kiana’s small nose wrinkled as a trunk the thickness of her thighs–which she was thinking way too much about right now–oozed across her left shoulder, and the sensation of its sheer weight, its scales clinging to her skin, rocked her with shivers.

            Her teeth chattered while a rounded body crept along her throat, brushing her chin. A tail slid into her open palm, cinching tight around her thumb. The noose draped around her neck was pushed up as a second loop landed with a fleshy plop beneath the first. Usually, she was the one who initiated these interactions. This was one instance where she might have no control over the outcome, and no backup to extract her if the situation turned sour.

            She might never wear this gown again. It was too stupid easy for these snakes to push beneath its folds. At times like these Kiana was uncomfortably reminded of what a small petite thing she was. Still they piled on, thick meaty coils nestling to her torso, pushing the fabric down, down until her breasts flopped like two pale protuberances sweating under the moonlight. Perspiration tickled her nakedness as a second tail stroked her right breast. She rarely gave them much thought, as other girls she knew in the church were ‘more blessed’. She wasn’t sure if pride or embarrassment were more evident as the flesh mounded over the tail securing a firm grip on her.

            “Please…stop…”

            More thick bodies like trees pushed from beneath, lifting her back off the ground, winding around the coils already encircling her. Her feet could no longer touch the ground, pedaling incrementally, her range of movement restricted by the loops binding her to the ankles. Yet another tail insinuated itself in the space between her left thigh and her womanhood. Worse still, some primal sinful instinct compelled her to clench her thighs around the supple elastic skin rippling against her bare skin, stirring shameful desires she usually kept to herself.

            “No no no no no–! Not again,” she wheezed. Her hips wouldn’t obey her conscious directive, rocking inside her muscular cocoon. At least before she’d had a choice. She would go to the savannah, alone, when she couldn’t take her mind off of Joshua, when the urges became too strong. All alone, when she was sure there was no one around for miles, she would relieve her tensions.

            But this–! Her bare thighs tightened around the sinuous trunk thrust between them, a spasm building as an irresistible urge, body jerking as tears burned her eyes. The leathery hides crinkled as the coils oozed over her, firm and inescapable. A coil slipped over her chin, brushing her lips. Shame drove her to bury her face into the folds of its coils, muffling her screams. Her nostrils flared, drinking precious air as creeping death compressed her cheeks.

            Finally, blessed release! Her limbs jerked spasmodically one last time, every muscle straining to the bone. Then she’d gone limp, finally sated.  Kiana wheezed in her serpentine cocoon, a slick coat of perspiration coating every inch of skin, her body devoid of all energy. The coil willingly slipped off her chin as her head sank into a cushioned mass snuggling firmly to her cheeks. Chest still heaving, Kiana struggled to lift enough of the weight off her ribs to breath deep.

            Why weren’t they constricting? That was probably what Welles had been counting on. For now, her companions seemed content to continue this bestial embrace, muscles softly contracting and relaxing, treating Kiana to a full body massage she could never hope to escape. That forked tongue lapping at the bare soles of her right foot wasn’t helping. A brief tickle brought the giggles on top of her shortness of breath.

            In the moment when her foot slid along a moist cushion, clarity snapped back to her. A double row of recurved teeth stabbed into her ankle. If she’d had the air she would have screamed. Her leg jerked but the predator wouldn’t be denied. Mucous dribbled thick as its jaws worked its way up her calf, skin stretched tight, just as a second carnal urge pulsed in her loins.

            “You can’t be serious,” she moaned. “Not again–AAAA! N-no, think nasty things… autopsy…think autopsies, yeah–GAAA!–scat! Raw, putrid, diarrhetic dog shi–AAA!”

            Sweat poured afresh as her heart hammered triple-time against the creeping snakes. Oh God, what if these other brutes turned on her? The rest of them seemed quiescent enough, for now. That bastard had chewed halfway up her thigh, each bite a thousand needles sinking into skin and muscle. The only thing that stopped it was when it reached her crotch and couldn’t engorge her anymore. She had no idea whether her foot had pushed into its stomach or not. Her entire right leg was crushed in a mucous filled tube, tugging at her in a relentless swallow.

            Her stomach gurgled, an empathic echo of the juices swirling in her devourer’s empty belly. It was to be expected that at least one of these coiling monstrosities would need to eat. Odds are that was exactly the intent. Think positive, girl, Kiana told herself, one of them could have gone for your head.

            Its snout pushed up beneath the coil binding her already-enfolded arm to her hip, glaring into her eyes. It was her first good look at one of her aggressors, and her attention was drawn to the pinhead, a small round red button set between the bony ridges over its eyes. Its distinctive design was intended to commemorate a doomed state, featuring two red diagonal bars symbolizing the cross of Saint Andrew; overlaid on top of that were images of a palmetto tree, a steamboat and a Seminole woman scattering flowers. Just like that, Kiana knew with perfect clarity where Welles’ goons had acquired these herps. Breasts crushed between their obscene caress, Kiana sank slowly, inexorably into their hungry embrace.

            Morning brought little relief. Everything was actually kind of a blur. Her ribs ached and her limbs cramped, what she could feel of them. She had no feeling in her left arm; her fingers felt like five bloated sausages. The overhanging canopy of leaves would probably protect her from the worst of the Sun’s heat. A tongue flicked into her gloved hand. The empath in her rubbed her fingers across the top of its head as it nudged her palm.

            If the Minister didn’t kill her, she thought…Teeth sank patiently into her thigh, bringing fresh tears. Those red eyes fixed on hers, willing her to die. The snake in her hand gazed down on her almost dispassionately. They were all so beautiful and sleek, glossy and patterned in gorgeous spots. Every coil glistened with each fresh contraction. If only she could be certain this was the naturalist in her talking and not those stupid pheromones…

            A subtle vibration jiggled her deep inside her cocoon. Kiana craned her neck, only a few inches. But the only thing in sight was a mound of coils. Still, the supple scales peeled away from her cheeks, reluctantly, high enough that her ears pricked at a distant putter of engine…engines? It was impossible to pinpoint whether those Jeeps were closing in on or speeding past her position. Joshua and the others must have been out searching for her. They would know she wouldn’t have just blown off the Minister.

            She had an inspiration for how she might attract their attention, too. The keys to her Jeep had a miniature touchpad that set off the alarm if she even breathed on it. She’d always thought it’d been a bit too touch sensitive, but that just might be the thing. Please tell me I didn’t leave them in the Jeep, she prayed. No, she remembered pocketing them automatically as she slipped out onto the grass. She could feel them poking around in her right pocket… her head slumped onto the meaty coil supporting her neck. “Of course it was,” she grumbled.

            Her keys were practically sitting under that snake’s palette. Fine. She grit her teeth and closed her eyes. It had to be done, she told herself, before the guys drove right past her. Yet even an incremental shift of her right hip set off a fresh round of constriction. Whatever feeling she still retained returned full-force as stinging needles in her cramping limbs. She still wriggled, trying to nudge the padd that was suddenly too stubborn to activate. Damn it, usually it was too sensitive, why did this have to be the one time–?

            Even with both ears cushioned in a muscular embrace, the sudden muffled hooting startled her. Were the Jeep’s headlights also strobing, or was that just the effect of the constriction?

            The snake’s head oozed out of her palm, rising on a stalk half a meter high as its jaws distended. Saliva dribbled over its jaws, onto her lips. Funny, it wasn’t really glaring at her; there was something off to the side. What–? Then a blur, and that head exploded. Moments later Joshua dropped his bloodied prybar and skid to the ground, his stricken face over hers muttering “No no no no no no–!” Another python’s head rose, to be snared in a burlap sack as Joshua unwound the coils drooping around her neck.

            His gaze drifted down, widening over her exposed nipples before he snapped away. Someone swore in Afrikaans, and then Stempf peeled his shirt over the top of his head and tossed it to Joshua. Then he too swung away as Joshua carefully draped it over her breasts. “I’m sorry,” she kept repeating, to which they both answered with a shake of their heads.

            “We’ll have those things off you in a minute,” Joshua smiled. “First, we thought now would be an opportune time to discuss our wage increases for the coming year.” He winked. Even knowing it for the joke it was, Mkosi still swatted him on the shoulder.

            “Yeah? How’d you like to wake up with these herps in your sleeping bag?” Kiana retorted. It hurt too much to grin.

            Joshua spread his big hands to take in the spectacle enfolding her. “How the fu–how is this even possible?” Maybe Joshua was just trying to keep her lucid while a second Jeep coasted to a stop near them.

            “Welles…” Kiana moaned. “He set this up, disabled GPS…he doused me with a pheromone extract to attract ’em…sexually–“

            “Sexually? Kiana, what…?”
            “I-I couldn’t help myself…” but he didn’t seem to hear her. He was screaming orders, about hazmat conditions, fresh clothes, a portable boma, stuff…

            “I’ll kill him for this,” Joshua muttered, bare seconds before he spotted the snake that had swallowed her leg. She practically felt the profanity before he blurted it. “Get my knife from the truck!” he shouted to Stempf. “Get it now! We’ve got to get this off her–!”

            “Don’t kill it,” Kiana wheezed.

            Joshua hesitated. “Kiana, I know you value life, but there are limits. That thing must have been chewing on your leg all night. It might be infected. I don’t know if we can even save it now–“

            “Just sedate it, please! It’s just following its instincts. There’s no malice on its part–“

            “I don’t care!”

            “This is what Welles wants, don’t you see, to drive us apart. He knows I wouldn’t lift a finger to harm these creatures. Please, you and me. Don’t give him this victory.”

            Joshua ducked his head, shaking it. Eyes brimming, he looked left and right, but the others were either not paying attention or pretending not to. “Kiana I can’t stand this. It pains me to see you violated like this.” That last string of words was spat with venom; towards who, it wasn’t hard to guess. But she knew him. With that one mighty clap of his hands, Joshua was on board.

            “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he began. “Mkosi, Stempf, you and I are going to sedate these things. We’re going to peel them off Kiana, and then we’ll sort how to get this monster to regurgitate her leg. Call the Storehouse, we’ll need as many sedatives and as many transport pods as are available. All right, chop-chop!”

            The other snakes were relatively easy to extract, excepting the brute chewing her thigh. Between the three of them, Joshua, Mkosi and Stempf took the time to safely slip a hood over the head of each successive constrictor, then uncoiling them. Each animal would then be piled into the very transport pods that she and Joshua had ordered for crating injured animals they usually brought back to the Storehouse for recovery and later, release. As the coilee, Kiana had little input into the process.

            “Where the devil did he acquire these things? Most of them aren’t indigenous to this ecosystem,” Joshua groused to himself as he snapped on a disposable glove, the kind they normally used when sterilizing equipment. He whispered, “I’m sorry,” as he reached beneath her right breast to unwind the tail digging into it. This was done quickly, with as little contact with her fleshy nodes as possible.

            “They’re not,” Kiana said. Stempf offered her a waterskin, which she sipped from slowly. “Welles’ goons stole them from the holding area in Joberg we’re using for our cooperative reintroduction program with Florida.”

            A collective groan rose from all parties. These snakes were part of a program the South African Ministry of Ecology had initiated with the former state of Florida, now a member body of the New American Confederacy. This was an effort to relocate what had been an invasive species anyway, back to their natural environment. This had become necessary with saltwater encroachment into Florida’s aquifer and the steady loss of land that could no longer be denied, which had actually begun decades ago, in her father’s young adult life.

            Finally, they’d come to the real challenge. This whole time Stempf has been preoccupied being the middleman as it were, cradling the midsection of the first five snakes they’d peeled off her. Now suddenly he’d dropped to his knees, eyes wide and bloodshot, sweat pouring off his brow as he stared at the beast where Kiana’s leg should be, blood filling every puncture mark in her thigh where its teeth remained sunken in. A lump rocked up and down in Stempf’s throat, and for a moment she thought he might throw up on her.

            Kiana thought he might when Joshua’s big hand clamped on his shoulder. But his voice was surprisingly mellow. “Stempf–this wasn’t you. You had no part in this. You’d parted ways with Welles’ organization a long time before he planned this. Look at me, young man. The best thing you can do is to help us get this thing off Kiana and get her some medical help.” A brotherly thump at the self-same shoulder followed. “Okay? You ready?” The young man forced a smile and nodded.

            “Begging your pardon, sir, but why don’t we just have Kiana summon a lion?” the others stared at Stempf then like he’d just landed from Mars. “I mean it’d regurgitate her if it was threatened! She can control animals, can’t she? Uhh, no offense, miss.”

            “There’s no lions around…” Kiana panted. Every rib ached from last night’s ordeal. “Dry season…they followed the herds to a moderate climate…”

            “She’s in no condition to control wild predators, even if any were nearby,” Joshua confirmed. “Those things squeezed all the strength out of her.” He rubbed one hand over his scalp with a sigh. Kiana’s soft whisper galvanized their attention.

            “a-5, in the genetics tanks…you could use the coolant reserve in the Jeeps…”

            “Yes–lower environmental temperatures,” Joshua nodded, glancing toward his compatriots. “That’s also what forces a constrictor to regurgitate its prey. Threat or lower temperatures–“

            “…guys…? Right here…I can hear you…”

            “Sorry,” the three men chorused. Joshua beckoned them to follow him a ways off. Apparently he was outlining a plan, judging by the speed his hands chopped at the air. The huddle broke up, while each man pelted toward a Jeep. Joshua seemed to have chosen hers. Kiana was left to stare down the length of her small body, criss-crossed in black and blue bruises, down to the mouth gushing fresh gobs of saliva over her crotch.

            “…don’t suppose you’re ready to just let me go…?” Her burning eyes widened as instead the jaws yawned ever wider. Somehow it inched around her right buttock, its gums pressing to her roundness. “…guys…!”

            Three sets of knees scuffed to the ground around her. Their hands were bundled in double layers of haz-mat gloves, each man cradling a thermos-sized coolant tank. The hoses trailing from each tank were now deployed along the python’s flanks. “Brace yourself,” Joshua said as he aimed the tip of his hose right at its broad snout. By either fortune or sheer luck, at that moment the beast opened wide to take in more of her hip.

            “No you don’t!” Joshua snarled. His hands twisted a knob. A jet of Antarctic coolant hissed down its gullet. Two more jets sprayed its glossy neck from both flanks. While on their expeditions to collect gene samples from wild animals, Kiana’s crew stored the collected sequences in insulated iceboxes stowed in the back of each Jeep. The iceboxes were chilled with the most recent innovation in coolant technology, ironically dubbed ‘Antarctic ice’, or a-5 for short. That was shorthand, her dad used to say, for ‘it’s five times colder than a witch’s teats.’

            This might not have been the use its makers intended, but it achieved the desired goal. The snake’s jaw stretched impossibly wide, gagging as all four meters contracted, roiling backwards as its mouth slid off her butt. Her thigh, a mass of tiny punctures, was suddenly chilled as its muscular embrace oozed from her too-pale skin.

            Stempf’s tank was the first to spit and sputter out of coolant. Joshua and Mkosi kept up the pressure, practically jamming their hoses in its mouth. It was a slow motion swallow in reverse. Once it had vomited itself past Kiana’s knee, Joshua dropped his tank and slapped his hands beneath Kiana’s armpits, tensing, waiting. Mkosi and Stempf did the same, tossing their now-useless tanks to one side and hefting a lump of python in their arms. Then Joshua called, “Go!”

            Joshua scrambled to the rear, dragging Kiana finally free of its death swallow. Which led to a new problem: now Stempf and Mkosi were stumbling to control an angry, hurting python denied its meal, writhing in their arms. Fog clouded the edges of Kiana’s vision, so she couldn’t be sure if Mkosi was really pressing one foot on a length of coil bucking beneath him. It seemed only seconds passed between the time Joshua laid her head down and bolted, to the moment he was standing over that livid python, pumping one tranq dart after another into its exposed neck. After that, she didn’t know.

            Two strong arms bundled her into a blanket. Then Joshua lifted her and padded across the swishing grass. A tailgate rattled down, and tender hands eased them both into the open bed of one of their Jeeps. She drank in his strong man scent, sprinkled with the eggs and jam he must’ve wolfed for breakfast. Joshua held her close, plucking sprigs of grass from her auburn mane. “I’m such a mess,” she moaned. “How can you stand me…?”

            “Must be your shining personality,” Joshua quipped. “It’s okay, the Minister was quite concerned about your absence, after his initial tantrum. I don’t think we’ll have much of an issue getting that extra security now.”

            Just then Mkosi dashed up to the tailgate with a message. “Magistrate Malaza is sending an air-foil,” Mkosi reported. “He’ll be here in five minutes.”

            “That was quick on his part,” Joshua said. “How did you persuade him to do that?”

            “I said it was Welles and, ummm, that there might have been sexual crimes involved. I hope I, mmm, haven’t overstepped my bounds.”

            Joshua glanced at Kiana, dabbing a damp cloth to her cheeks. “I only wish it wasn’t. No, you haven’t, my friend. Well,” he added, smacking his hand together again, “I suppose after what happened in Joberg and this incident, we can now officially declare that Colonel Welles is a fetishist.” 

            A flare of light in the south-eastern sky, like the light of Bethlehem, preceded a rush of air, like a rocket falling from space. The Magistrate’s supersonic airfoil wasn’t that far away now. Kiana pawed kitten-soft at Joshua’s wrist. “Hey, I’m curious. How’d you resist Welles’ pheromones?”

            He smiled. “I didn’t, not completely. But I’d wrestled with my hormones back in our college days. I knew your religion would never permit a mixed-race relation any more than Welles would. We’ve been friends since childhood, Kiana. I valued that too much. So I could either cut myself off from you, completely, or I could choose to live with it. I chose the latter. And I can always hope.”

            Kiana stared down into her lap. “I’ll always love you.”

            He nodded, “I know.”

Excerpt: Midnight Interruption

A short excerpt from my next novel in progress, Sanity’s Edge. Enjoy.

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I slipped off the ship after dark, once I could sense that everyone in the village was asleep. The forest was new but Mama had found me a new friend. We stared at each other under the shade of a mango tree as the Moon climbed into the sky.    Its tongue flicked the air in the three-meter space that divided us. This wasn’t one of the gen-altered snakes I was accustomed to from my home. This bugger was all wild, possibly the first of its kind that I’d seen since childhood, possibly the first I’d ever seen in my life. Sweet Ngai, was she massive! Her trunk was thicker around than my thighs.

I sensed her full belly, so I had no worries on that score. Her scales had a fresh gloss, as though she had just completed shedding not too long ago. I suppose she wouldn’t object to a warm body to enfold. I closed the distance between us and stepped into her embrace.

I knew this would be a problem as soon as a hundred kilos seemed to land on my hips, pressing me down. My knees buckled at first, but I kept to my feet as a second curl of muscle wound behind my legs, brushing the skin of my thighs before plopping atop the first coil, in the process pushing up my breasts.

Both were solid rippling muscle. A thrill shuddered through my chest, and perhaps a little excitement. I’d never given myself to such a beast before. A third coil slipped past my shoulders, pressing my breasts into flattened ovals between them. Sweat trickled over them and down the middle of my back; but that was probably just the heat of this place. For now, I was content.       As I held out my hand, the last meter of its tail settled in my palm, circling twice before cinching tight. With my eyes shut, we dropped as one bundled mass into the soft grass.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it. When was it ever so? The sun had barely emerged as a pink fingernail on the horizon when my hand comm chirruped in my waist pouch. This was ten meters away, along with the rest of my clothes.

Brutus, for so I named her, showed no inclination to release such a rich source of warmth, and gods, I didn’t want to leave this body hug just yet, either. Oh well. I stretched forth my free hand, the new new left one.

The hand comm made an oddly hard thump as it whipped through the grass into the false meat of my false hand. I settled back in Brutus’s coils, pillowing my neck on hers as I put the comm to my ear. “Jambo?

“The correct greeting would be I ni sogoma, young miss, but we will let it pass this time,” a firm male voice replied. “Am I speaking to Miss Jamai Dlamini?”

“Yes,” I said, suddenly a little nervous.

“My name is Magistrate Oumar Hadad, the local prefect for this hamlet. Would it be possible for you to spare me a few minutes?”

“H-have I done something wrong?”

“Not at all. Your Captain Ismalla discovered you missing this morning and got it into his head that you would be in the fields, with a snake. And so you are.”

My body seemed to have frozen, even snug in Brutus’ coils, though my stare darted left and right. “Don’t be alarmed. The local children spotted you sleeping from some trees they were climbing. They almost took you for dead, but for the fact that you were snoring.”

“I snore…?”

“My deputy has been watching you via long-range glasses, to see to your safety. He will escort you to my office, in your own time.”

My own time…I could make them wait another hour…No, best to be done with it. “Whenever he’s done masterbating, I’d like to dress in peace.”

A deliberate pause followed. “Let me speak with him. You can pull yourself together while I’m berating him.” And the comm chirrped off.

mango-trees

Lianna: Into the Microverse-introduction

Lianna into the microverse300(This is a short story fragment serving as an introduction to a current art series on my DeviantArt page. It follows on from two previous art projects, requests really, that have come over the past couple of years. Enjoy.)

Bad luck that the Professor came in at the precise moment I was adjusting my skinsuit’s fastenings. “Ah, Lianna, we need to talk about–whooaaa!” He swerved to one side so as not to see his little girl peel her suit off her torso.

He covered his eyes, still looking away, as my crimson bloboid Stavros peeled the legging from my right foot, then proceeded to work on the left one. Amba was on my left to steady me. The guys at the observatory had gotten used to their presence, my two alien lovers. Huh, alien…that’s a funny word. As far as the universe is concerned, we’re the aliens.

I have my own ideas about these two girls. Clearly they’re largely photosynthetic, manufacturing energy from their respective stars. Minerals augmented their nutritional needs, but it’s what they can do with their bodies that fascinates our resident stargazers. They can contain themselves in roughly humanoid forms; Amba especially has a height advantage over me. Still, it’s an approximation, where their faces hold the shape of a human face without any definition–their eyes are like round anime buttons. Back on my ship, they’re apt to slump into a mass of gel and…well, that’s for me to know.

Apparently my nakedness was more than the Professor could stand. Yeah, he bathed me as a child, but the last time he did that was like fifteen years ago. So now he snatched the nearest cot blanket and tossed it over my head. That was no deterrent at all. Stavros had been swept under the enveloping coverlet too, still assisting me in stripping down. “Might I ask the purpose of this?” the Professor inquired as the skinsuit flopped from under the covering onto a nearby seat with a rubbery smack.

“I told you what I saw, Poppa,” I muttered. “Lady Smirnoff is still alive on the microscopic level. She’s a prisoner of Kali, or a form of Kali, I dunno.”

“You’re seriously going to do this, undertake a rescue mission on your own, to a world beyond our comprehension, on behalf of a woman who’s already tried to kill you once, using the same gas she was exposed to herself? Oh dear…” He averted his gaze as Stavros and I flung off the blanket.

“Yeah, that about sums it up,” I said.

“Well that’s crazy! Child, consider what you’re saying. You may have been mistaken in what you saw.”

“How could I have been? That’s a very specific delusion, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“The mind plays tricks. You have had some extraordinary experiences. Perhaps–”

“I can’t stop thinking about it, Poppa!”

My butt slapped on the cold bench beside him. Neither of us could look at the other, mostly because of his discomfort at my state of undress. “I can’t stop seeing her, dissolving into Kali’s body. I can’t forget the hate in her voice when she tried to kill me. I didn’t know she felt that way about me. I didn’t–if I hadn’t made her storage tank rupture–”

“She’d have sprayed you with the same dosage of reducing gas she was exposed to, and you’d be lost.”

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“Do you hate her so much, Poppa?”

“NO! it’s not–” his hands fidgeted, but then he reached over with the right hand to squeeze mine. “In the past you’ve come back to me with so many injuries because you never took the proper precautions, or you were careless. Lady Smirnoff was jealous of the attention I lavished on you, but what could I do? You were my child…adopted child, since your parents…

“Are you really willing to undertake a mission where no blame is attached to you? She’s not going to stop hating you. God knows, she might be on the brink of madness, after what she’s seen in that hidden world.”

God, he was so sad. Out of some childish habit, I dropped down in front of him and clutched his knees. “Poppa, I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. Whatever she feels about it, I can’t live with myself if I don’t try to help her. And I have listened to you enough that I’m taking some precautions.” I stood up then. “Come on, girls, let’s get started.”

Now that the suit was dispensed with, both my shipmates, my blobs, my lovers began what at first might have seemed like a massage, rubbing their hands over my body with circular strokes. I’m sure the Professor observed, at one of those times his avoidance strategy lapsed, the thin sheen of green and crimson goo they smeared over my epidermis, which was quickly absorbed by my pores. “A biological coating to shield you from contaminants on the microscopic level,” he said. “Very good.”

“I can’t take the skinsuit, it probably won’t shrink as handily as a biological subject–” and I tapped my chest with my fingertips, accidently jiggling my sweaty gigs. Oddly enough he wasn’t looking at me as a sexually active woman. Maybe in his eyes I’d always be that wary seven-year-old girl he picked up off a derelict starship, suspicious of all things except for that skinny balding scientist who became her adoptive father.

He swallowed, then seemed to remember not to stare. “Umm… assuming you find them, what’s the plan? Are you just going to ask the Goddess of Death to give you whatever’s left of her?”

‘That’s the general idea.”

The circular door hissed open like a gushing refrigeration unit, admitting Pederson, our overly tall microbiologist, carrying a tray of samples. “Hey, how’s my favorite geltoid?” he grinned–at Amba.  As soon as he bent over the coolant unit to slide in his tray, Amba’s arm reared back, stretching an extra half meter as her ‘hand’ flattened into a roughly paddle shape. A sharp crisp smack rang from Pederson’s ass on impact.

Pederson’s head banged on the coolant unit’s upper frame. He staggered around, slipping on the slick tile floor. But there was no mistaking the sly grins that passed between them. “Ayy, are you two flirting with each other?” I demanded. Pederson shook his head, not very convincingly, while Amba offered only the slightest shrug.

The door gushed again to let Hue in next. “Oh please, the more the merrier,” the Professor grumbled. ‘Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

The small stipple-haired fellow also avoided staring at me in my birthday suit. “Professor, we have tested the reduction samples. The subjects have all passed. We can replicate the process that reduced Lady Smirnoff safely with Lianna and recover her when needed.”

“Wait, wait, it’s illegal to test an experimental procedure like this on people–or animals, for that matter,” I interjected. “What did you test it on?” I happened to look in the mirror at the precise moment Amba and Stavros both tentatively raised their right hands.

“Girls!” I exclaimed. “What did you think you were doing? You don’t know what that stuff will do to you! Whose idea was this, anyhow?” And again, both ‘geltoids’ pointed at their own chests.

Then the Professor’s hand rested on my shoulder. “Child, they volunteered. Nobody coerced them. The young ladies volunteered a small quantity, barely a teaspoon from their core bodies. The formula Lady Smirnoff left on her database was applicable on both test subjects. Believe me, nobody in the observatory would dream of harming your best friends.”

“Even if some of you are bent on hitting on them,” I said, glaring at Pederson as he ogled Amba.

“Misses,” Hue continued, “we’ve prepared the nanobots, as you instructed. They have already been miniaturized and will be waiting in the lab when you’re ready. Forse will be here momentarily.”

Sooner than expected, as the door admitted yet another specialist, this time our resident optometrist. “Hey Four Eyes, whatcha got for me?” I grinned.

“Nothing if you insist on that peculiar frame,” Forse replied, but still with a twinkle in his baggy eyes. He opened a compact, keeping his stare on the two round half-orbs resting inside instead of my boobs. “These contact lenses will serve the same as compound eyes. Each has thousands of optical facets that will adjust to the focal points of your eyes, enabling something resembling normal vision.”

“Thanks, doc.” That’d be one advantage I’d have over what happened to Lady Smirnoff. At microscopic levels the light spectrum is pretty much irrelevant. God knows what I’ll find but at least I might be able to make some visual sense of it. It only took moments to pop the contacts in each eye, but then, I was facing a thousand semicircular images, all the same and yet peeling off from another angle, and another–

“Focus,” Forse chided. “Concentrate on one image, one form. The professor–seek him.”

Well I could see him, thousands of him, some facing me, more at half-profile the further out each image zoomed. But maybe, if I chose the one in the middle, and focused–Yesss! All those hundreds of warped eye-fields seemed to blur towards the center, dimming wetly before coming into crystal clear sharpness–probably the sharpest I’d ever seen my old man as he smiled.

From there it was but a short march to the lab. I entered alone. On the platform lay an open valise. Sensing my presence, there now rose half a dozen drones, barely visible to the naked eye. That’d change soon enough as the gas took effect. The nanobots I carried inside my own body had already received their peculiar instructions for whatever dangers we expected to encounter. Kali alone knew if that’d be enough.

Sucking in a last few deep breaths, I called, “All right, boys, let ‘er rip!”

LITM Into the Microverse 1300

My DeviantArt gallery: https://www.deviantart.com/mike3839/gallery/

FATHERS & DAUGHTERS is still available on Amazon.com as a Kindle & paperback form.

f & d cover

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

 

Golden Messiah: Adam Warlock Phase One

B-Marvel Pre. 1 cover  B-Marvel_Premiere 2

I encountered Adam Warlock through the usual venues, i.e. reading comic books after my brothers were done with them. I was too young to have any set parameters; my mind was wide open to the possibilities. The cynicism that characterized the rest of the 1970s wouldn’t set in for another three years.

Apparently I was more taken with Warlock and the original Captain Marvel [Marvel Comics version, not Shazam!] than most readers, considering that he couldn’t seem to hold a comic down. I’d read Warlock’s debut story in a Fantastic Four reprint magazine a couple years after his book ended abruptly in 1973. Back then he was a product of genetic experimentation known only as Him

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I caught the first two issues of that plotline, which brings up another pet peeve of mine–I couldn’t stop missing the FINAL issue in a comic book’s multi-part arc. I reach the cliffhanger, and somehow the following month, I always missed the final part. If I wanted to know how a story arc wrapped, I’d have to gather that from the recap they helpfully provided in the following issue. Either that or I’d have to wait YEARS to track that comic book down at a used book-store.

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What I’ll call Phase One of Adam Warlock’s comic book life was an allegorical retelling of the legend of the Son of God, where the newly christened Adam was cast as the golden-skinned  action-hero Jesus who steps forward to rid a new world, a Counter-Earth of its fallen angel, the Man-Beast and his horde of New Men, beast-men really. The role of the Father was taken by the High Evolutionary, once a man like us but elevated by scientific means unto godhood.

Don’t worry, I have no intention of proselytizing anyone. The Jesus-Father connections are more tenuous than at first appears. If I may, I always saw Jesus as self-assured and unwavering in his purpose, whereas Adam Warlock has always been uncertain of his role and plagued by guilt over the deaths brought to his followers over his crusade.

Reading Warlock comics was often an exercise in frustration since he never seemed to wrap his own storyline up in his own magazine! We were left dangling at the end of Issue #8 when Adam and Astrella Carpenter confronted the Man-Beast revealed as the President in the White House. That chapter would have to be taken up a year later in the Hulk comics, which I was reading religiously [ironically enough] at that time.

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I see now as an adult that it should have been no surprise the Man-Beast took the form of U.S. President Rex Carpenter, a charismatic Kennedyesque figure who persuaded millions to follow him down his dark path. That resurrects a chilling thought, from a lecture I attended by Dune author Frank Herbert. He warned us that Kennedy was the most dangerous President of the 20th Century because we were willing to do anything he asked. It’s likely JFK would have pulled us out of Vietnam had he lived. But people in this country have blindly followed lesser men into Middle Eastern debacles, and let’s not forget our more recent paranoid delusions over immigration, fears fanned by an even less informed mind.

I was too young to appreciate the script’s Savior underpinnings, nor was I too fond of the late Gil Kane’s art style, either. I was used to the blockbuster panels by Jack Kirby. I’m able to appreciate Kane’s naturalistic style; his heroes were muscular without being musclebound. And when the stone actually melts under Warlock’s hand beams, it’s like they are really oozing life. And God, the expressions! He was a master at capturing anger, heartbreak and the awe in each character’s face.

Gil_Kane Artist Gil Kane, 1926-2000

The Savior parallels would be most pronounced in the three-part arc in the pages of the Incredible Hulk in 1974. This would close Phase One of Adam’s life. There is the Last Supper scene, where Hulk is cast as both Judas and Peter. A public trial would follow, and then came that heart-rending crucifixion and Adam’s cry to the High Evolutionary, “Why have you abandoned me?”

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We depart briefly from the Biblical narrative when Hulk leads a revolt to indeed overthrow the evil kingdom on Counter-Earth. It only takes two days for Adam Warlock to be resurrected, and to banish the Man-Beast after he devolves him back to his wolf form. In a final Biblical allusion, Adam ascends into space with a final quote from Ray Bradbury: “Are there mangers on far worlds?” This has a profound effect on a sad Hulk, but not to worry. By the very next issue he’d be back to his raging self again.

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A New Celebration [holiday story]

My beautiful picture

Illustration to accompany ‘A New Celebration’ by Simon & Buburuz, c. 1997
A NEW CELEBRATION
Narrated by Youssou Hissen Hadebe

Jamai was in her father’s garden, her copper-toned skin slick from the pouring rain. Not that it was the place to be on this, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, but what is one to do? Her long legs pranced among the millet stalks as she sang praises to Ngai.

Behind her glided a mechanical mahuti, which resembled a rooster in block form. Its cockscomb of sensors wriggled in search of grubs. The built-in box behind the ‘neck’ was already half-full of grain when I called from the trail: “May I help?”

Jamai glanced up with a smile and beckoned me on. Her rain shawl, I noticed, was embroidered with a tangled design of vines. Woven them was her totem, the butterfly. I shunted my sandals and joined her.

We were both in our mid-teens at that time. Although Jamal I s skin wasn’t black like mine, it is a feature our two families, the Hadebes and Dlaminis, have chosen to overlook. However, her strange features—those green eyes and split parentage—were enough to bar her from virtually all tribal functions.

“My uncle is visiting us today,” she said abruptly. The sudden break in the silence almost made me tear up a stalk by the roots. The mahuti chirruped imperiously as Jamai smiled and continued.

“I’ve never met him. My relatives in Kibarenge cut Baba off when he married Mama.” She rambled on in the same cheerful voice, plucking grains faster and faster. “I wonder what he’ll be like, if he’s as dour as Baba or…well, whatever.” There was a new huskiness under her natural Swahili, no doubt an influence of her mother’s spirit.

There were about twenty plots here, one for each of our village’s families. Fruit trees and amaranth bordered individual lands, and at alternating corners were container-blocks of humus. Our machines were housed in nearby sheds, from which they could be floated out at our convenience. A normal work shift would last six hours. Jamai didn’t have to pick the millet heads by hand, we had specialized tools for that. That was simply her way, the traditional ways she embraced.

Over the patter of rain she asked, “Youssou, is it true Kwanzaa did not originate in Africa?”

“That is so,” I replied. “My teacher says the ceremonies crossed over from the Americas about four or five hundred years ago, not long after the last war. It first landed on the Atlantic coast and spread inland like kudzu. Supposedly Kwanzaa has replaced all the old festivals lost in the destabilized times, and every people has made it to their own liking.”

“Ah. I ‘ve often wondered.” She reached into the humus-bag strung across her belly, and carne up empty, I shook myself off and started to rise, but she smiled and said, “Never mind.” Then she closed her eyes and stretched out her hand. Jamai had become very practiced in the use of her power. Except for the rise in the wind she gave few outward signs of its use. In the corner of the field, the humus block’s lid flopped open. Suddenly a black glob streaked towards her waiting hand.

It didn’t land gently. Dirt splattered in a dozen directions. Jamai t s eyes snapped open with a start and stared at the putrid clods scattered in a five-meter radius around her, and already attracting flies. “Sorry, I must have wished too hard

“So you have,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I see your butterflies are not around. Come to that I haven’t seen many caterpillars, either.”

She glanced at me meaningfully. “I can’t allow them in here,” she replied, turning away. “You don’t know how hard it is to keep them away. All this ready-made food is such a temptation even I–aiii!”

Her anguished cry and a sudden squirting sound made me snap around, Jamai’ s face and hands were drenched in a yellow, rancid-smelling liquid. I whirled at the rustle of grass in time to see a pair of ten-year-olds, led by an older boy, scurrying away. I ignored all three then and, taking off my overshirt, wiped Jamai ‘s face off. Then I yanked up the offender, a jokester’s squirting flower, and flung it among the weeds.

“If they put as much ambition into their studies as they did with their pranks,” I grumbled, “Baba Elgonyi would be the envy of Africa! Their fathers will hear of this–”

“No, they won’t.”

“Jamai, those boys should be punished.”

She gripped my arm and insisted, “Let them have their way. Once I’ve been initiated into the tribe, they’ll have no choice but to accept me.”

That made sense, so I let the matter drop. We worked another hour, trying to ignore the flies whining about us. When the rain petered down, we Ioaded the tools in the mahuti’s chute and sent it back to its shed.

The instant Jamai ‘s feet stepped from the field, she was swarmed by dozens of butterflies that almost seemed frantic for her company. A momentary spring carne into her step, and with her allies flapping around us we walked up the trail, lugging several sacks of pickings on our backs. A weaverbird poked its head from its nest as we passed, then nipped back inside to tend its young.

As our village, Baba Elgonyi, came in sight I felt Jamai’s nails dig into my arm. She smiled but her grip tightened. The shoulder-high grass was kept trim by automated mahutis to ankle-height in a twenty-meter radius around the village, which was bracketed by acacias.

By the time we reached Baba Elgonyi Jamai ‘s smile had vanished altogether. Old women scolded me with their eyes, their mouths puckering in disdain. Jamai glanced at a mother and child. The little one ducked behind her mother’s skirt, and Jamai stared longingly at the ground.

Part of me wanted to scream. What was the matter…no, I already knew. Part of it was pride. Our elders claimed to be the true custodians of African tradition. Such claims were dubious at best; our celebrating a festival that originated in the American Union ought to be proof of that!

Of all our people Jamai followed the Old Ways most faithfully, and that had to gnaw at their entrails. Yet the biggest part was that, emotionally, Jamai had always been something of a mouse. And mice attract -tormentors.

But this mouse had claws—a power she didn’t understand and couldn’t control. This, plus her outlandish appearance, made her someone to avoid. She didn’t want this but what could we do? Only slender, knobby-kneed Kalila Maji had the courage to call out to us. We exchanged greetings, then we moved on. I nearly jumped out of my skin when Jamai gave a husky shout: “HODI!”

Ah, we were near her father’s dwelling, so it was proper to announce our coming with the traditional cry. Her breath wheezed away in the next moment. I soon saw why. There stood her father Siboniso Dlamini and her grandmother Cele, old and frail but no less straight or proud than she’d been in her youth. I didn’t know the other fellow until Jamai whispered, “Uncle Kadar…”

So this was her long-lost uncle. He was a slight man, not so muscular as mzee Dlamini, but tall and lean. There was a difference in spirit, too. He practically radiated sociability and joy, a great contrast to his brother’s expressionless gloom.

At her father’s bidding Jamai approached with awkward steps, a gazelle in unfamiliar territory. I’d rarely seen her so small and brittle. After some time where she looked like she would swallow her teeth, she lowered her gaze and murmured, “Jambo, mzee.”

She wasn’ t ready to commit herself, uncle or no. The silence was abruptly shattered when Kadar Dlamini lunged and practically sucked her into an embrace. Her eyes flashed wide with shock. She glanced to me, mouthing, “What do I do?”

I shook my head, mouthed back: “Oh no, you decide

She bared her teeth. Slowly her fists uncoiled and clung to her uncle’s tunic. The elder Dlaminis took Jamai inside their hut. I was still standing there rather stupidly until Cele Dlamini squeezed my arm, saying, “We shall expect your family for dinner this evening.” Then she too entered the hut,

At home in my room I lay on a woven grass mat hoping to relax. I started thinking, anyway. I suppose it was my youth, yet for several seasons the Kwanzaa ceremonies hadn’t meant as much as it had when I was a child. Jamai was part of the problem. In past Kwanzas she was always at her father’ s knee. I made a habit at each year’s karamu dance of asking her to dance. She in turn always refused and I would find another partner. At night’s end she would compliment my dancing and follow docily behind her father.

In the two seasons past Jamai had been a stranger to the dance, and I had found partners few and far between. No one was accusing me of being a kohingo, or heart- breaker; they simply found excuses to beg off on.

What was it with Jamai and me? Since our first meeting I ‘d treated her like a younger sister… well, perhaps that was it. I’ d lost a brother and sister before my eighth year. I must have had a need to protect those closest to me. Perhaps I think too much, also,

My family’ s dinner was quiet. All the Kwanzaa implements were spread on the sacred mat. Center-stage as it were was held by the kinara, or candelabrum, having one candle for each of the seven days of Kwanzaa. At one corner was the corn, symbolizing children. My father’s eyes often wandered to them, perhaps remembering the ones he had lost, On the wall behind us was the bendara flag with Nguzo Saba, the Seven Values, written across its red, black and green bands.

On the five days past we had celebrated the principals guiding us and knitting our peoples’ together. Tonight, the sixth, was no exception. Our words were no different than any other families, so I will not waste any space in repeating them. It was afterwards that we threaded our way through the crowd gathering for the evening’s festivities to mzee Dlamini t s dwelling.

We heard the ululations and stamping of happy dancers from our host’s guest room. Tonight was the community feast Karamu, and all the village’s families had come together to celebrate. Later on would come the libation speech. For now there would be singing, dancing and poets expounding their verse.

Kadar Dlamini, I observed, listened to the ringing drums with delight. A cushioned bench ran around the inner curve of the partition wall, separating this room from the rest of the house. I sat beside my parents, then carne Jamai’s grandmother and the two reunited brothers. Jamai was on her knees, much to her father’s chagrin, at his feet. Traditionally this was the place for an elder’s daughter, though frankly I think Jamai took the Old Ways too literally sometimes.

The unity cup was passed around, beginning with Siboniso Dlamini. Jamai sipped from it next, then her uncle Kadar until we each had taken a sip. After much small talk, Kadar turned to Jamai. “Your father tells me you have been silent these five nights regarding Nguzo Saba,” said he. “Does something disturb you? Tell us.”

“No, nothing is the matter, n she replied, too softly. “I haven’t found my direction, that’s all. It’s nothing.”

It was a lie, everybody knew that. We also knew it was a matter to be discussed in private, so we did not press her. Now Kadar Dlamini addressed his brother. “It is time I explained why I am here. But first, I want it known that I had no objections to your marriage outside the tribe. That is your own affair.”

“Thank you, brother,” Siboniso Dlamini said.

“Brother, our family has finally been persuaded that fifteen years has been long enough. Your kin invite you to spend the final days of Kwanzaa in Kibarenge.”

A world of expression chased itself across mzee Dlamini’s face—disbelief, doubt, finally open-mouthed joy. This news had to be the fulfillment of fifteen years’ hopes. Jamai pressed his knees together and nodded excitedly. Still, he hesitated. “Brother, I’m delighted, but …I am expected to deliver the libation speech tonight—”

“Leave them a visual,” Cele Dlamini snorted. “Others have done so.”

“Then I accept, brother. Tell our elders Jamai and I won’t be long.”

Kadar’s features lengthened. His hands twitched as he spoke “Brother, the invitation…was for you alone.” The regret was evident in his tones. Still, the effect on mzee Dlamini was electric.

“Is that supposed to be an invitation? You welcome me and reject my child!”

“It wasn’t my decision! The family elders are not prepared to accept one of foreign blood, even now. I told them this was foolish–”

“Not bloody well hard, it would seem!”

Neither combatant noticed their mother Cele pull her shawl tighter around her body. With a sinking heart I looked to Jamai. Her hair was beginning to stir, a sure sign of the spirits working in her. “Elders I said quietly, but my father silenced me with an impatient gesture. Beside me Mama asked, “Youssou, is there a ventilation leak somewhere?”

I swallowed, then gave her an abashed smile. Cele Dlamini had also noticed and sat erect. Jamai’s hair now flowed as though it were propelled by a harmattan wind. Only when the walls creaked did the elder DIaminis cease fighting. This home had survived earthquakes and monsoons with impunity. Now we could all feel the floor shudder under our heels. Power was building inside her spirit and I feared a terrible blow when it was released.

Trembling with her own turmoil, Jamai slammed her hands on her knees, shrieking like an enraged mandrill: “SHUT UP!”

Thunder smashed in our ears, rock scraped. The room threw us in a sideways lurch. When our hearts resumed beating, at a faster pace now, we saw a crack in the partition wall behind the two brothers deep enough and wide enough to slip one’s hand into.

After that spectacle nobody dared speak. Jamai sagged onto her knees; these surges were always a drain, I knew. The scent of perspiration salted the air. I will not be the cause of this,” she said. “Go with him, Baba. I will stay.”

“That’ s a relief.”

My family and I stared with absolute astonishment, as did Cele Dlamini–and Kadar. The speaker, Siboniso Dlamini, glanced around the circle of faces and hastily added, “The better to heal our family’s rift. Perhaps next year they will have come to their senses and accept my child.”

Next year, I fumed inside. How many times had I heard this before? Next dance, next Kwanzaa. But Jamai nodded, as she had countless times before.

Needless to say our gathering degenerated into polite conversation. My family said its farewells long before Jamai had begun to clear the dishes. While the others said their goodbyes, I ducked towards the kitchen when Jamai was scrubbing dishes by hand, alleviating her frustration in fevered activity.

Then her uncle stepped in from another doorway. I hung back, fuming, as he paused, his hands crossed in front. With her back still turned Jamai said with a plea, “Leave me alone.”

Kadar took her arm and turned her to him. “Little one, this isn’t what I wanted. Your cousins are simply… dense.” Jamai huffed, but she almost smiled. “You understand?”

She nodded again, deferring in silence. He hugged her, and then, perhaps because of the surroundings, my head cleared. Yes, I thought, there was still something I could do. I wasted no time gathering allies. Hurrying back to the guest room, I took Mama and Cele Dlamini aside. They needed little persuading to go along with my plan.

Everything fell into place fairly easily. Yes, yes, we didn’t have the official Kwanzaa implements, but we made do. In a clearing not far from Baba Elgonyi, a poster-board became our mat, leftovers our provider. Between us we were able to cop seven candles and a pair of antiques which, when put close together, made a fair imitation of a kinara.

I was helping to hang silk screen prints from my room on nearby limbs and vines. As she arranged our makeshift table-mat, Cele Dlamini asked, “Aren’t you concerned you may well widen the rift between yourself and your friends? You cannot be loyal to two masters.”

I paused only a moment in my actions; Cele Dlamini did not. “You are a hunter who has chanced upon a gazelle of extraordinary loveliness,” she said. “Moreover, it heeds your voice. Your brothers fear it is diseased from its mother’s womb, that this is why its mother died. Soon they begin to fear you have been as well, and with sticks and pebbles they try to drive it off. For your sake, it will not leave.”

She straightened over her work and studied me wryly. “Why am I different?” I blurted, “Why am I the only one to see what’s good in her?”

“When you see my granddaughter, she replied, “You behold what a wonderful thing Ngai has created. That is your gift. There is also your father’s stubborn streak. You may need that. There will come a time you will have to stand alone by her side.”

“Let them come,” I retorted. “I will fight them, individually or in pairs–” And I may have gone on all night if Cele Dlamini hadn’ t laughed. I laughed, too, but she had given me pause. My spirit was part of the rocks and springs and the land that was Baba Elgonyi. To be cut off from my friends and kin was not part of my plan, if one could say that I even had a plan. I turned to the third party in our conspiracy. “What of you, Kali la Maji? Is the risk worth the prize?”

“My father is not the council of elders,” she replied in her birdsong voice. She stood in the fork of a ground-hugging tree, hanging ribbons. “Not everybody hates Jamai, they just haven’t the courage to rise above the rabid jackals in charge.”

That was a point I hadn’t considered, Kalila was hanging another ribbon when Mama staggered through it. Cele Dlamini and I rushed to take her burdens.

And what burdens! A fiber-sack dangled from one arm, a tote of food was tucked in the other. On her head was a silvery box-like contraption which Kalila snatched up while we exchanged “jambos.” “An Atomizer 2-7!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted one!”

I ignored her ramblings over the music box and asked Mama where Jamai was. She panted, “She’ll be along shortly. She wants us to play the track on that disc.”

That was more in Kalila’s field. Like an excited monkey she fiddled with controls, seemingly at random but with actual precision. Fortunately she tuned the volume down to .05; after all, it was not called an Atomizer without good reason.

From the machine came a steady pounding of a drum, beating a one-two rhythm. Toom-dm-dm-toom…then, above the drumbeats there was a shaking of leaves. Her presence was near, yes. My gaze rose into the tangle of’ vines above.

From a point five meters above us issued a keening moan, A silhouette began to rise, arms curved like leopard’s claws. There was no need to guess who that shadow was. Beside me, Mama gasped. Cele Dlamini was more serene, watching Jamai with interest. As for myself, I felt a surge of excitement rising in my belly. Jamai did not disappoint us.

Her arms snaked up and crossed above her head. While the rest of her body was quite still, her hips swayed sinuously, attentive to the drum’s every beat. The keening became a whisper, then a song.

With hips still in motion, she did a half-turn, curtsey, another spin. She glided beneath a branch, moving with a butterfly’s grace. Mama began to keen, too, though for vastly different reasons. Meanwhile, Kalila Maji was whispering quiet encouragement as Jamai went on with the dance.

The drumbeats quickened. Jamai I s feet pattered faster on the branch, about as fast as my heart thumped within my chest. The branches had to be slippery from the recent downpour. One slip would bring her crashing down. No, I scolded myself, I wouldn’t allow such thoughts.

She spun, her feet completely leaving their perch. For an instant that stretched into infinity my body went numb and my blood turned to water. In the same breath she completed the turn. Jamai flung her arms wide and with a cry of “haiii!”, the dance was over.

She clambered down a vine to our applause. Flushed and perspiring from her endeavor she ran to me, crying, “Jambo, Youssou! Habari yako?”l

“Mauri sana, Jamai,” I replied, adding, “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”

Jamai overlooked that remark. “Mama Hadebe, Jambo! And Kalila Maji, tool What a far-flung conspiracy you’ve gathered, Youssou!”

We settled down for what amounted to a small snack. Here talk was not stifled by fear of idle ears. Kalila and Jamai spoke of women’s things until I had the muster to ask, “How did you, well…?”

“You are glass, Youssou,” Jamai said wickedly. “My eyes are everywhere, in the tallest baobab or the lowliest sprig.” A pale-winged butterfly fluttered onto the knuckle of her upraised finger, which made her point rather effectively. “When my friends showed me your haul it wasn’t hard to guess your intent. Besides, you have been a good and trusty friend. I wanted to thank you without words.”

“You have,” I agreed, raising a gourd. We all did the same and together drank a toast. I ‘m afraid Cele Dlamini dampened our festive spirit.

“Granddaughter, it is still customary for you to speak what you believe about the Seven Values. Has Nguzo Saba no meaning for you?”

Jamai bowed her head. “No, Grandmother, why should it? I don’t know I should believe about myself, or where I belong.”

“We know that,” Kalila grinned. “That’s why we invited you here, so we could be a clan unto ourselves

Jamai hadn’t yet raised her eyes, but a smile grew at the corners of her mouth. “You’re right, I am a selfish child. Perhaps…” She reached into the trusty pouch around her waist. “I should give this to you now.”

She passed me a narrow wooden tube, with holes drilled along the spine. “You made me a flute,” I said, rather stupidly.

know you like made-things,” she said. I blew in the mouthpiece and was rewarded with a pleasant whistle. Not perfect, but well enough. Jamai started to turn away.

I held up the cloth-wrapped package I’d been carrying all night. Jamal watched as I peeled back the corners, then her eyes flashed bright, green. I was holding an armband of polished brass. On it was a raised pattern featuring her totem, with its wings spreading from the hinged edge. It took me three months to make but her awed stare was worth all the effort.

She hardly breathed as I clapped the band to her arm. For the longest time she fondled it, just grazing it with her fingertips. Taking her hand, I guided her to our improvised kinara.

Five of the seven candles were lit. She took one tapir, I took another. As we touched the tiny flames to the last candles, the distant drumbeats from the village reached a shattering crescendo…then died out altogether.

The tapirs froze in our hands. The dance wasn’ t scheduled to end before dawn; it was scarcely past moonrise, Kalila Maji hurried back to investigate. Jamai climbed onto the fork of a dead baobab and watched her do. Twenty minutes later Kalila returned with news that made the lot of us pack our things and follow her home.

Everything was as Kalila had said. The beaten paths in the marketplace were deserted. Lights shone from every home, but not a soul was about in the village. A circle of inward-curving hooklamps still illuminated the Celebratory Square. In the purified dust, delivered only five days ago, were the imprints of dozens of feet, all leading away from the lights.

Jamai gazed at me with beetled brows, but I couldn’t understand this, either. The karamu was the height of our Kwanzaa festivities. Where had everyone gone? Suddenly my father appeared, calling “Jambo, my friends!” We all mumbled a dazed “jambo” and continued to stare like mesmerized goats.

Father said to Jamal, “I didn’t hear what you said to your baba, child, but it appears he has heeded you. What did you tell him?”

Jamai fidgeted with her hands. “I-I only spoke from my heart,” she said. “I said I was tired, that I wanted to dance with the elder mothers like every other girl.”

As I listened Jamai t s shoulders no longer slumped. The hesitancy vanished from her voice. “I told him I wanted to run with the children and browse in the market without feeling like the crawling death. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

Father beckoned us into the communal hut. Once in the ground floor Reception Hall, he played back the libation visual that mzee Dlamini had given a little over an hour ago.

It wasn’t, a flattering speech. The entire village was brought under condemnation for ‘having violated the spirit of Kwanzaa’, as he put it. This was on account of our arrogance, he said, and our self-deception in believing we represented the pure African. He closed by saying, “Go to your homes, and contemplate the folly we have all committed.”

None of us knew what to say. Father solemnly stood. “The elders have rescheduled the karamu for two nights hence. We would be honored if you would attend, Jamai Dlamini.”

Upon hearing this Jamai’s arms flopped to the ground where she knelt. Her eyes shone as she tried to stammer a reply. “She says yes, Father,” I finally said.

“What does my father say? n Kalila asked.

“He boils as the waters of Baganda Falls,” Father chuckled, “but in this he was overruled.” At Father’s urging our little party returned to our homes also. All but Jamai and me. Her hands still brushed the gleaming band on her arm.

“The dance you did tonight was the most assertive act you’ve ever done,” I told her. “I’ m proud that you did this for us.”

“For you, she whispered, with an intensity l t d never heard from her before. ” l’ d walk through Hell for you, Youssou. I’ve tasted your heart and know it to be true.” Her hands sought mine, squeezed tight. “Whatever comes, whatever devils we might face, know that I am yours, flesh, blood and spirit.”

“And I ‘m yours,” I replied with equal fervor. Hand in hand we watched the flames of the kinara, burning bright.

My beautiful picture

This story was originally published in Medusa’s Hairdo, @ 1997 Byrd White Press, editor Beverly Moore.

News Flash [fiction]

My beautiful picture

NEWS FLASH

DATELINE: ARCTIC CIRCLE (AP) A battalion of Marines has been deployed by Democratic President Nero to the North pole in search of “left-wing communist sympathizers”. This action was undertaken on the basis of an informative tip provided by the American Conglomeration of Popular Merchandising.

Under the direction of self-styled patriot General Dick Eastmoreland, the 96-1/2 Marine Battalion quickly captured a small toyshop operated by a Mr. Kris Kringle. A horde of plastic rifles, pistols and other weapons were confiscated. Sources claim that each item was tagged a legend, like “Merry Xmas Tommy.”

“The kids ask for them, I just deliver them,” explained Mr. Kringle. “All the boys seem to be into Rambo and toy Uzis nowadays.”

Countered General Eastmoreland, “This is obviously an enemy weapons depo. There are even naked dolls up here. Apparently Mr. Kringle is operating a child prostitution ring on the side. Just listen to that spine-tingling ‘ho-ho-ho!’”

“Ohh, the dolls are for the girls,” Kringle says, “Except for a few orders from San Francisco. HO HO HOI Y’know, I have to admit thig job is getting a mite dangerous. Last year a bunch of MiGs tried to shoot me down over Russia. Now it’s the dagnabbed Marines!”

A brief dispute ensued when Eastmoreland informed the elderly toymaker that he was being evicted. Mr. Kringle claimed squatter rights, then reportedly made some remarks involving ‘coal in their stockings.’

The toymaker was put in tough with Admiral Billy Chickenhawk, second-in-command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Kringle is reported by reliable eyewitnesses ae saying, “I understand your position, my dear fellow. Now GET OUT!”

The Marines were hastily withdrawn with Mr. Kringle’s promise of leniency and “no coal this time around.”

In an unrelated development, a team of Greenpeace scientists in winter gear were discovered roaming the beach at Pago Pago. Among their belongings were several crates marked ‘Reindeer Feed’.

Details at eleven.

 

 

Featured

The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

800px-Vachellia_erioloba_-_Camel_thorn

On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

Character Development

How do you progress with a character you adore? Trust me on this, as the author and creator you are the last person with any objectivity on this subject. I’ve been carrying the soul of my OC Jamai since my high school days, which isn’t saying much considering way back when she was second banana to her lover Youssou’s predecessor Conan-the-Barbarian wanna-be. Oh yeah, they were white too. A white barbarian tribe in Africa. That’s how much work I had cut out for me.

Well, yes. I brought that on myself. Fortunately, I was connected with some friends in a Seattle group that called itself Writer’s Cramp. I’m trying to remember all the details; forgive for if I get a few wrong. I was invited to one such meeting, in Kent I believe, and as we were leaving for home, Fran asked what I thought. I just spent two hours reviewing the works of five people who were considerably more talented and imaginative than I was, who took considerable pleasure in ripping their precious works to shreds. All I could say was, “You guys are vicious!”

That kind of breaking things down from the ground up was exactly what I needed. It was a hard couple of years, but I am grateful to all my friends for the grueling education in improving your science fiction writing that I acquired. What this meant for Jamai was that I had to take a few months off to do a hard reset.

In Her Dreams 1 closeup- (1)

For starter, that whole ‘white barbarians in an African setting’ b.s. had got to go. Second, and in no way would I suggest there was a stark moment of enlightenment that drove my thinking at this point. Doesn’t really happen in writing, folks. Sorry. At some point, however, I started putting Jamai face-forward, as she seemed to be the stronger character, even with the shoddy works I’d been showcasing her in before.

So where did that leave us? Well, now we had a new problem, something you may have noticed with most TV programs and comic book characters. Namely, that at the beginning of each story Jamai wound up at the same point she started at in the last fekking story! My strategy, such as it was, would be to lead up to the big life-defining conflict she’d face as an adult. The new stories began in childhood and would lead her through her teens. My friends in Writers Cramp pointed this weakness out to me, and honestly, I didn’t want to hear it! I knew what I was doing! Heh heh, I thought did, anyway.

Took a while for the lesson to sink in. Things happened. I lost contact with Cramp, and in the Double-Oughts, the ever-lovin’ 2000’s, I was engaged in a self-engaged quest to raise awareness for the issue of the slave trade in the Sudan. I was proud of the work I did with my fictional team, the Emancipation Posse; I think I did some of my best work with this book collection. I loved these people: Kate, Fong, Quench and Dru. And about three stories in, I added my favorite OC to the mix.

This wasn’t the same girl I’d ben writing tales for before, though. This was Old Jamai, hereafter known as Granny. I liked Old Jamai. She was confident, self-assured, a spiritual guide who did not suffer fools. I needed that time apart in her narrative to jog my brain cells and figure out how that young lady grows into the goddess she would become. And in a way I’m still exploring that issue.

 

B & S new cover

Butterfly & Serpent

in paperback and Kindle

available at Amazon.com

Butterfly & Serpent–thoughts

b-B & S Book Cover Image

We’re in the final stages of proofing and I’m looking forward to putting this baby to bed.

I never really intended this to be a trilogy at all. I hate trilogies; they’re as bad as cliffhangers, or major motion pictures of books that stretch ONE book into two–or three- pictures. Thank you very much, Harry Potter, for starting that trend. I thought this series would wind up at two books, at best.

Well, the first book, Butterfly & Serpent (above) was already clocking in at over 200 pages. Once I finished the first section of the follow-up volumes, I realized this section would be completely different from the rest of the material and would probably work best as a stand-alone.

Not to give away too much, but in Book 2, Fathers & Daughters, Youssou is forced to call on Jamai’s help when a new situation rises, and he has to confront his family’s pains of the past. Jamai will come forward as a stronger, more assertive personality.

For Book 3, because of their actions in the previous adventure Jamai & Youssou find themselves thrown into the wider world. Their relationship will be tested, with the usual troubles one can expect from two very young people.

Strolling the Shores of Lake Tana

That’s all for now. I’ll keep everybody up to date as things move along.