“Ahhhh!” As she rolls she can see Kaga peering at her from atop the cliff. Her arms and legs are flailing as she falls but there is no sensation of hitting the stone, and with each pass she sees that there is someone else next to Kaga. As she skids to a stop at the bottom, she lays on her back for a few seconds and then pushes herself up, wavering in the growing light. Looking back up, forty feet above her, Kaga is pushing and shaking a figure lying on the ground next to him. Miakoda’s mouth opens as she watches him.
“I’ve left my body… but I’m still in the land of the living?” Her surroundings have taken on a faded and indistinct look, everything is soft edges and the blinding clouds blend together with the pale blue sky. She turns to look at the men walking towards her and then up, where the drifting patch of light is no longer invisible. It is no longer small and no longer bright, it is now an expansive shadow that seeps down, a long black trail that extends far into the sky and away over the horizon. It is thin and bends at sharp points, a crooked path that avoids clouds, right angles branching at random intervals. The jagged edges of the blob make Miakoda think of a cut out piece of cloth, carelessly hemmed. It is difficult to determine depth or dimension of the pitch black mass. As she watches, it twitches and two red patches flare up, diamond shaped and uneven in size and form, pointing in her direction.
Oh. Hello. The voice echoes through her mind, and though it is in her head it sounds distant. As soon as it goes silent there is a faint ringing noise that does not stop. It continues, a sustained, piercing note. Miakoda shivers and takes a step back.
“What… what are you?” The shadow blinks, and as the eyes close there is a scratching noise, like stone being dragged across sand.
Oh, me? I am Ohanzee. How do you do. And it shakes a bit, producing a rattling noise, and drops of darkness falling to the ground. One lands on one of the guards and he jumps, his mouth opening in a silent ‘ow,’ and he brushes his shoulder off. Miakoda glances at this and then looks back at Ohanzee.
“Are you the one who killed Quidel?” Her fists clench at her sides.
Killed? What do you mean? The diamonds widen a bit.
“One of our people was set ablaze, and I noticed that you were moving towards these men just now. So I ask you again, was it you who burned Quidel?” The shadow shakes again, this time for longer than the last, and the diamond eyes thin out, almost becoming lines. The two guards have long since passed, and the falling drops do not burn anything other than the ground this time.
“Are you laughing?” Miakoda’s eyes narrow.
Laughing? What’s that? I just came out here to look at you. Especially you, Miakoda. You’re very interesting.
“I didn’t tell you my name. And stop laughing, you’re not fooling anyone.” She takes a few steps back and folds her arms. As they talk, Ohanzee inches forward, the black trail extending further as if it is coiled up within its dark mass. “And you’re sorely mistaken if you think that now I am your prey since those two,” she waves a hand at the retreating guards, “have gotten away.”
Oh, you think I was after them? And of course I know your name. Before Quidel… fell apart, and Ohanzee rattles, I was there when you appeared. I was very surprised! You are certainly special, though it was rude of you to intrude like that. Very rude. And it continues to move closer to Miakoda. She glares at it.
Well, it’s as good a time as any to test out Kaga’s theory about my medicine. I definitely know what I’m feeling right now, Miakoda thinks. And as Ohanzee inches towards her, she jumps forward, arms in front of her, fingers splayed. As she rises through the air her teeth bared and her eyes glaring. Ohanzee makes to move away but she grabs it before it can, and together they hurtle through the air, the long cord raveling up within Ohanzee’s body. The surface where Miakoda is hanging on is illuminated, pale light radiating from her body and revealing the once black material to be alternating rough like reptile’s skin and tufts of bristly hair stick up. The ringing in Miakoda’s head ends and is replaced by Ohanzee’s shrieks as it flails back and forth, but she clings to it and does not budge.
The land passes beneath them, a blur of sand-orange desert and the occasional dead tree or taller stacks of stones, the shadow screeching all the way. They fly over miles and miles of land, passing forests and plains, the like of which Miakoda has not seen before. She also glimpses other settlements as they follow the tail of Ohanzee, scorched bodies littering the ground, their outlines visible from the air as dark blotches.
“I see you’ve been busy, you monster!” she cries over the rushing wind, her hair billowing behind her. Tears run across her face as she tries to keep her eyes open. Ohanzee’s mass shrinks as they travel, getting smaller and smaller until Miakoda is wrapped completely around it. It slows down until they are moving slow enough for Miakoda to relax a bit, and the red eyes leak, falling to the ground bit by bit. Passing birds squawk and make wide circles around the floating pair. Miakoda looks around her, a ghostly girl sitting upon the back of a monster, its shrieks now just little coughs that cause minute shakes in an otherwise smooth ride.
“How am I going to get home? And where is this thing taking me?” She looks down at Ohanzee. “Where are you taking me?”
Back to me. You are coming with me to me. Cold handed monster. Burn you blaze you incinerate you. The voice is very light, hard to hear.
“Quite the boast from a shrinking shadow.” Ohanzee gives no reply, they just continue to drift through the air. It seems like hours go by, and Ohanzee shrivels to six inches across, and their rate of movement becomes a slow constant. The grassland below shows signs of fires in the past, but the vegetation has grown over these, obscuring Ohanzee’s trail. It is only visible from above, a pattern that would otherwise be unnoticed.
“I never thought fighting a monster could be so relaxing.” Miakoda stretches out and reclines on the thin strip of shadow. In the distance, a mountain range can bee seen, the mountains many and gathered close together, dark grey and bare of snow. The black trail leads out over them and curves down a good few miles inward, wending through the sharp points in its jagged path. Miakoda sits up and looks around.
“So we’re finally descending, huh?” She looks down at Ohanzee. “Gotta say, I do like the silent version of you better.” Lower and lower they go, silent peaks slipping past them. The jagged tail leads down amidst the stone, and they continue to move closer to the ground. Miakoda wrinkles her nose, the smell of burnt flesh, sour and cloying, wafts up from somewhere up ahead. She narrows her eyes and leans forward, hands gripping the unfeeling flesh below. The sensation of touch is dull and it almost feels as though she is holding onto air. As they pass between two mountains, a clearing opens up before them, shadow obscuring the ground. But as they get closer, the ground becomes no clearer, just blackness spread across the ground, the trail extending from its edge. They are now just five feet above the blackness and Miakoda feels a warmth radiating from it. She jumps from Ohanzee just as it passes by the border between the stony ground and the impermeable pit. Turning around, she can’t even see the ground on the other side, and she takes a few steps back, watching as Ohanzee floats out over the pit and then sinks into it. Narrowing her eyes, she tries to see it moving down through the abyss but nothing can be seen of the shriveled killer. She crouches down and then crawls on her hands and knees to the very edge. The edge moves towards her, a rapid flex of what appeared to be void but is closer up is revealed to be more of the same material that Ohanzee was composed of. She stands up and stumbles backwards, catching her balance by reaching her arms out to either side of her. A buzzing noise fills her head, getting louder and louder until she falls down and blacks out, the sound of her shriek cut off by unconsciousness.
Some time later Miakoda regains consciousness, but there is nothing to be seen around her except darkness. It feels as though she’s under a thick, heavy blanket, and she gets the sensation of increasing heat from all directions. It’s hard to move and breathing is a struggle. She has to work hard to force air in and out of her lungs. Where am I? What happened? She tries to turn her head to look around her but she cannot. But there is no sense that there is anything around her other than the feeling of pressure all over her body. Then, in the distance, there is movement, tiny objects seem to be floating towards her, getting closer by the moment. Their movement is erratic, like the legs of an insect on its back, twitching every which way. Minutes pass and the shapes get closer, taking up her entire field of vision, up, down, all around. The crowd of shapes rushes onward and she can see now that they are thousands of the same red eyes that appeared on Ohanzee, and with them comes the sound of wind roaring in her ears, the heat increasing to burning as they get closer. The wall of pure red eyes floats in front of her, blinking and vibrating.
WELCOME, MIAKODA. WE ARE OHANZEE, AND THIS IS THE END FOR YOU. And the wall gets so close that all she can see is the red of one of the hundred foot wide eyes. She forces her eyes shut, feeling the drag on her eyelids as she closes them, and opens her mouth in a silent scream, the roaring noise blacking out all thought.
No, I must focus! Miakoda thinks, and struggles to pry her eyes open, teeth grinding behind her sealed lips. The red light reflects off her eyes, flashing and pulsing in a rapid assault. Once her eyes are open again it is somehow easier to move, and the light that hurt Ohanzee’s tendril before begins to shine again, radiating out from her hands and left eye. The soft white light envelops her head, dulling both the noise and light of the all encompassing eye. The red and white meet and push back and forth, and do not mix. Ohanzee yields a bit and the eye widens, and the other eyes are pulled towards and then into it from all directions, coalescing into one vast red circle. It inches toward Miakoda, who raises her hands in front of her, fingers spread. Still it comes onward. Miakoda rotates her hands outward and pulls them in as if to throttle Ohanzee and leans her head forward, hair hanging around her, a grimace on her face. There is a blinding flash of light and the clearing between the mountains is empty of both girl and shadow.
The field of holes is empty, the wall of light receding over the horizon. In the blink of an eye, Miakoda and Ohanzee appear in mid-air and start to descend towards the dusty surface. The surface of Ohanzee ripples as it falls, eyes of various sizes opening and closing all over and tendrils come out of both its top and bottom as if searching for something to hold on to. Miakoda’s face is smooth and relaxed, her hair floating around her. She touches down and a puff of dust rises up around her feet and then hangs there, suspended. She opens her eyes and looks at the writhing Ohanzee.
“Do you ever watch the sky, Ohanzee?” There is no response from the creature. “No, I guess you’re too busy looking down on us. If you had simply looked up every now and then, you’d be squirming even more right now. That is, if you even know where we are.” Ohanzee continues to writhe and for once Miakoda’s mind is free of its piercing voice.
“I wouldn’t even know about this place if it weren’t for you. So thank you for showing me what I can do.” She looks up into the void above them, where pinpricks of light can be seen, growing larger by the second. “They’re beautiful no matter where you see them, though this is–” Her voice is cut off as meteorites slam into the ground all around them, one after the other. Miakoda disappears in the onslaught of falling stone, and Ohanzee is peppered with holes in its vast, flat body. The meteor shower comes to an end several minutes later, and the once inky being is now grey with dust, tendrils unmoving and its tattered insides leaking bubbles of maroon fluid that float off into space, and Ohanzee follows them. Once the cloud settles down, the field of craters is empty of life again, the new holes awaiting further travelers.
Miakoda is back in the center of the clearing between the mountains, though the ground is now visible, a field of rocks of all sizes. She looks at them – they stand out from the rest of the surrounding slate, being a much paler grey where Ohanzee made its home. She walks out of the discolored area, holding her arms out and watching her feet as she hops from rock to rock. Once outside the circle, she looks up at the mountains that bar the way out of the expansive range. The sun is rising again, peeking over the peaks.
There’s no way I can find my way home. I wonder… and, closing her eyes, she focuses on her home, bringing it closer in her mind. She feels a wind blowing towards the west and she then she is flying through the air, though her feet still feel as though they are standing on the ground. In a matter of minutes, the wind dies down. She opens her eyes again and is greeted by the familiar sandy orange of her village. She’s at the foot of the cliff off of which Kaga pushed her, or rather her spirit. She looks up at the ledge but no one is there. Maybe they took me back to the village? But she makes her way up the path to check anyways.
As she reaches the top and pulls herself up across the sandy stone, she sees some flies buzzing through the air. She stands up, and brushes herself off, though there is no sand on her to actually brush off. The stone is clear, there are no footprints or signs that two people had camped here the night before. There is however a dark patch near the edge of the cliff, and the majority of the flies are hovering around or landing on it. Miakoda stares at it, eyes wide. She walks towards it, each step as though wearing shoes of stone. More than before, more than when battling the monster Ohanzee, there is a sense of unreality, her heart beating rapidly in spite of it feeling as though her chest is empty. She reaches out to touch the dried blood, her hand shaking. Her fingertip brushes the stain and her eyes flare white.
Miakoda stands over her prone figure and Kaga. Kaga is shaking her, pushing her shoulder and saying something to her, but there is no response. She can see her spirit down below, speaking with Ohanzee. Everything is faded and pieces of their surroundings fade in and out, as though being scratched and rewritten. Time passes and she sees herself fly off on the screeching Ohanzee. Kaga has stayed by her and looks back and forth between her and the next patrol of guards. He lays down next to her, head resting on his intertwined hands. They stay like this for a while longer. Miakoda feels as though she is tied up, staked to the spot upon which she stands. And as soon as Kaga raises his head and looks up to the sky, her gaze follows his. Soaring towards them, the hawk-man comes.
Who dies? Which one of us? Or both? What IS that thing? Miakoda’s mouth is open and her face contorted as Ántimán approaches, drifting lower towards them. Kaga jumps to his feet, putting himself between Ántimán and Miakoda. Ántimán looms over Kaga, who mouths words at him, arms held out, and is then swept away by one giant wing, flying through the air and then tumbling over the edge and down the path.
No! Miakoda shrieks, and then, breathing in rapid gasps, she looks up at Ántimán who hops over to her body, wings folded. He looms over her, mere inches away from her, the sun at his back. The grey feathers on his torso move with the muscles below, inches in front of her. Looking up at his face, she can see what would appear to be skin from far away is actually a beak, solid and smooth. His red eyes are wide and the ‘lips’ are parted, giving him the appearance of a slight grin.
“Moon maiden. Where are you? Where are you?” His voice, even more than Ohanzee’s, is horrifying, the sound of entrails being ground between rocks, screams coming from their owners. She stands in between him and herself, a hand held over her mouth as she gags, but he walks right through her. Seconds later, the wet sound of tearing skin and crunching bones can be heard behind her. Miakoda takes a shuddering step forward, and screams.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )