Fiction: Half Shaman, 16

Walking …

There’s jogging and there’s jogging, I think. The second kind is when a pair of people jog with a stretcher on their shoulders. The person on the stretcher jounces mercilessly and indeed must jounce to help the joggers keep their pace. Which is what I discover when I try for a change to sit with my back straight.

Wren and Meerkat, my bearers for that stretch, slow to a walk. As we’re approximately in the middle of the line everyone behind us also slows. What’s worse, the line breaks. The fast front continues jogging. The rear slows to a walk.

Limber drops back from the front to discover the wherefores. “You two tired already?” he asks my bearers.

“Only been at it a couple of hundred paces,” Meerkat says. He sounds offended.

“It’s the way she’s sitting, straight as a maul-handle,” Wren says. She indicates up with her thumb, steadfastly refusing to name me. “Without give in her, she bounces, comes down hard. The sticks bend deeper. They want to spring off from our shoulders.”

“Show me,” Limber says.

We advance the few paces needed to illustrate Wren’s explanation. “She wants to ride, she’s got to move to the rhythm of the ponies,” Wren says.

“Wren has a point, Shaman Jeb,” Limber says. “It’s important we don’t split the group. Easier for Lotor to take out a small group than a larger one.”

“I apologize, Wren. Meerkat. Limber.” I try to catch their eyes to show that I mean it. I force myself to relax into the cross-legged jouncing posture and my bearers resume their labor.

Limber springs ahead to warn the fast front about the gap and the need to allow the rest of us to catch up.

I wonder whether the rules Puma has set for this stage are really necessary. Keep the line unbroken. The pace is a slow jog. Follow in the footsteps of the person in front.

As in, keep exactly to the single-file trail. “Who leads?” I ask. I’m guessing Meerkat will answer.

“Every thousand paces, the leader of that stage falls back,” Meerkat says.

“Funny how she hasn’t noticed them checking their way to the rear?” Wren says. “What Limber just did, didn’t he?”

Oh. I continue the conversation silently. This is my first time traveling by stretcher. I sneer at myself. That’s just an excuse. There’s a lot to see. Another excuse. But none of my conversational gambits will solve the reason for Wren’s dislike if I don’t open my mouth. “This is my first time traveling the desert. Lame excuse, I know.”

“Limber was at the end of the front,” Meerkat says. “I never heard about anyone being born on a platform. Everyone else will have had a first time in the desert too.”

“All you boys are smitten with her, and for what?” Wren says.

“Oh!” I can’t stop myself bursting out. “I suddenly see why you persist in speaking about me. It allows you to do exactly what you just did.”

I’m not totally sure what I am accusing Wren of, just that it suddenly made sense for a moment. The effect of my outburst is total silence in our little group. I have time to notice that the wind from the south is picking up. Its searing soughing hits the cavalcade side-on. Everyone’s clothes flap northward.

I see Limber skipping back down the line from the front. The person he needs to pass sways to one side, Limber sways to the other. Both manage to keep their feet on the single file path.

Very clever I’m sure, I think grumpily. Why couldn’t I have noticed that before?

Limber reaches us.

“Wren is done here,” Meerkat says. “But I will need a hundred thousand paces to work off my rage.”

Limber looks to me. I shrug helplessly. I feel as hopeless as ever about my chances to fit into the society of my age group. I used to pretend high and mightiness and that their resultant dislike was because of my totem. “I’m sorry.” For being what I am.

“I am so fucking angry,” Meerkat says conversationally. “I’ll probably strangle someone if I get loose. Get Ant.”

“I am so fucking angry I could burst,” Wren says. “That ugly bitch up on the sticks takes both my boyfriends and I’ve got to carry her like she is an Earth-born princess?”

Limber signals to the rear.

I pull my hood over my eyes and close them for good measure. I try not to take any notice of the changeover. I hear Wren and Meerkat take the loads given them. I hear Meerkat sent to the front. I hear Limber order Wren to the rear. Was Mongoose one of Wren’s recent boyfriends?

“There now, my pretty,” I hear from a way to the front.

The old shaman strokes my soul and my eyes almost overflow. I imagine the Totem Reality. It has slopes of lush grasses, stony outcrops and a blue sky. Sunlight beams down.

I spread my wings and hunt down a rabbit. Just when I’m about to crush its life, I notice it has Wren’s face. Out of shock I release her and she escapes down a hole. I press my hood against my eyes to soak up my tears. 

Fiction: Half Shaman, 15

New Chief, Old Shaman

Uncle flaps a hand. The red-tailed woman and one of the men, both of the guard squad, step through the seated crowd. With soft encouragements that I don’t hear, and without touching him, they direct Simmon to the edge of the platform.

Where he sits down. The guards stand either side of him. Not at their ease.

Uncle must have signaled that there is something more about the prisoner than the mere inconvenience of his presence? I feel a bit better.

“So here we are.” Uncle’s tone says that he will not accept any nay-saying. “What’s not to protect?”

People meet Uncle’s glare or they don’t. It’s a good way of discovering his, and so my supporters. The way people accept Uncle’s leadership surprises me.

Ant jumps into the opportunity both feet first. “So I was thinking back along the road a bit that Puma should be Chief?”

Uncle narrows his gaze.

“A boy talking,” Simmon calls from his place. A lot of people bristle.

“Sez you,” Ant says. “You’ve been with us for how long? Got a loud voice when you don’t even know if we’ll keep you.”

“What is it with you doing all the talking suddenly,” Jackdaw says. “Usually it’s your mate.”

Ant takes a deep breath. “I figured my role in the Great Project could be to liaise between the young Shaman and the group?”

“Why bother with that when you’re set on picking me as Chief?” Uncle says.

“Often Shaman Jeb won’t be able to talk with everyone separately, when separate is needed. She doesn’t know people the way Thyal knows everyone from birth practically. And by the time we have forty in the troop, say, even Thyal will have a problem getting to everyone’s individual concerns. I can help with that.”

Everyone is sitting there slightly agape, it seems.

Ant continues. “And we should always have a singing group on standby. It doesn’t have to be the same people all the time. I can help organize there. Jeb isn’t accustomed to the kind of life we lead, always on the move, I’m already helping with that. I’m pretty sure more things will come up.”

Then Ant repeats what he said to Mongoose and me, adding in a few encouraging words. “Much less confusion with a separate Chief. What the Ark-Ship says, not knowing the conditions on the ground, might be a lot different to what an experienced Chief will recommend. Better to have a discussion, with a Chief’s final vote than Jeb being advised by all and sundry and worrying alone.”

“Ha!” Simmon says. “There’s that worrying again, Jeb. Everybody is onto you.”

Despite that Simmon should be a person of no consequence to me, I think back. Was I worried while I was in the white cell? Only when people were doing things to me, or when I wasn’t in control of my life. Was I worried escaping through the black cell? Didn’t have time. Was I worried walking away from the old man in the chapel? I was walking away. So … maybe I worry when I’m not in control?

“I see that you don’t merely choose a chief,” Uncle comments, “but that you also expect him to be open to discussion. Is that your idea or Shaman Jeb’s?”

Ant and I both stay silent.

“It’s the love-struck loon’s idea?” Uncle says.

Lithe grins. Mongoose grins.

“It’s the idea of all of us pack animals,” Meerkat says. “We’ve been brewing it. And we’ve decided we need just one person giving us our instructions, not fifty all wanting their own stuff carried in as many quirky ways. And, most of all, we need someone who realizes that if we carry all day every day, we won’t be much good carrying nights as well.”

Now everybody young enough to be a pack animal, grins. “Meerkat for chief!” says a girl.

Limber is the next to agree. Which he does quite sneakily? “So when shall we start the next stage, Chief?” he says.

Uncle thinks. “Tonight is too soon.” He smiles a fleeting glance toward Ant with approval and gratitude mixed in it. A chief-in-waiting can’t take the position no matter what the need as he sees it. He has to be chosen.

“Got a couple of pack animals needing a night off,” Uncle says. “The next stage is twenty-five kilometers. We’ll be crossing several regions of the carnivorous sand.”

I’m sure I grow pale. I feel the skin of my face constricting.

“This platform is higher,” Uncle in his Puma-guise says. “So we’ll pare some longer staves from the stem. Make a stretcher so we can all help carry our young shaman. Pair up according to shoulder height. Nobody carries more than a thousand paces at the time.”

“Is a chief really necessary?” Simmon says from afar.

I hear how he makes his voice sound bored. If he thinks he’ll influence people that way, he doesn’t know us at all. And why is he even trying to keep people aware of his presence? I grin. Answered that myself just then.

Lithe leans toward him. “Earthborn, how long do you think I will tolerate you in the troop without a totem? Puma is the right man for the job. Always before, he was Puma-in-waiting as I was Lithe-in-waiting, as Limber was Limber-in-waiting.”

Limber smiles and expands on his brother’s comment. “We waited for trouble and jumped in according to need. But we two,” he salutes his brother. “We are also of the Black Swan Totem. Which comes with its own and entirely different role.”

 “We welcome Puma’s leadership,” Lithe says. “Him taking the lead will enable us to spend more time on our Black Swan work without worrying things will fall apart in the organization of the troop.”

He glances at me.

Why?

 “That’s right,” Limber says. “But don’t think to play up, anybody.” He glances round maybe at the known troublemakers. “We’ll still be Puma’s lieutenants. As the Ant said, much less confusion.”

Everyone laughs.

I guess because of the confusion of a pair of identical twins telling how it is as if they are one person. I want to know more about the Black Swan totem and why Lithe looked at me just then.

“So. Simmon,” Uncle Puma says in the slightly ponderous way he has always had, but which now suits his role. “To stay with us, my lieutenants feel you ought to adopt a totem for real.” He stared at Simmon, maybe daring him to tell us he already had a totem, the Sea Eagle. To prove it, he’d have to shuck his shirt for us to see his Sea Eagle tattoo.

Simmon stares back and stays put. Therefore no Sea Eagle tattoo, or totem. More likely in my opinion Simmon hopes to keep us ignorant of the skin disease.

“Thyal and you won’t be carrying,” Uncle says. “You’re the wrong size. Thyal is old. In return for you backpacking Thyal’s swag, he’ll teach you your totem. Twenty-five kilometers gives you plenty of time to pick it up.”

Thyal laughs old-man-style. “Huh huh huh. He’s a Grey Wolf if I ever saw one. Got some of the character already. Can grow into the rest, the way we all do.”

Simmon perks up.

Though I worry about Simmon’s infection passing to Thyal, I laugh into my hand. Everybody wants to be a Wolf some time in their lives. Usually when they are kids.

 “I guess the Earth-born contains information that hasn’t yet been extracted,” Mongoose says. “Learning the totem will be enough of a distraction, maybe, that they can pick his brains while he doesn’t realize.” He ends doubtful. “Maybe. He could be smarter than people realize.”

****

The dome of the sky overhead is studded with stars.

I don’t sleep. Not enough exercise, I expect. The Ark-Ship passes regularly along the arc of its orbit. The stars along the edge of the platform become red pinpricks. They are wild little eyes above hungry little mouths waiting to eat me alive …

“Come to me, young Shaman.”

A voice like a soft paw pummels aside the little things with eyes and mouths and nattering teeth. “We will practice a vigil together. Many are the nights that a vigil is all that I achieve.”

The paw speaks to me? I see a flash of sandy brown fur. A long back striped with black.

“Old Thyal, seated to your north.”

I see him now. A shadowed triangle shape breaks the pin-pricked rim. Everywhere else lays the troop, restless or still according to the quality of their sleep. All their heads near the dangerous rim, feet toward the middle. Left and right of me sleep Ant and Mongoose.

“Take the inner road, young Shaman. The Earth-origin gadget will not bother you again.”

I can’t sleep anyway. Trust him about the gadget? Why am I so scared about everything? Been dallying on the low road, I answer myself. Despite that I already worked out what happens when I do.

But, is it because I don’t know how to love and live at the same time? How will I learn that? I slip from between Ant and Mongoose, both near but courteously far enough not to be touching. Although Mongoose manages to keep a big toe so near to my shin, he might as well be. Lithe called him a love-struck loon?

I tiptoe through the central depression, expecting at any moment to feel pain shirring up my feet.

Nothing.

I breathe out in relief and take a great gulp of air before sitting myself cross-legged in front of the old Shaman. The shine of his eyes catches the starlight until they are themselves twinkling stars.

“There now,” he says. “There now. You get no peace from your vigils, I think.”

He waits, it seems.

“I’ve always used them for deep thinking, to try to solve problems,” I say. “The Head Shaman …”

He takes my left hand with his right hand. His left arm is missing to above his biceps. “I remember the Head Shaman,” he says. “He’d bonded with the Tarsier Totem when I knew him.”

I’m shocked. This old shaman knew my mentor and calls him mischievous?

“There now, my pretty.” He rubs the back of my hand with his thumb.

I don’t pull away. He’s old, half-blind, and pretty is just a word.

“Your eyes are very beautiful,” he says. “Your loon fell in a heartbeat, did he not? Unfold and flower, my pretty. Look on him with love and he will never leave you.”

I feel my heart jump. I hear its glad thudding high in my chest. I wish I wish I wish. Thump. But how will I be independent as well?

“Come back, my pretty.” The old shaman turns my hand in his and rubs my palm. “Now,” he says. “The planet progresses along her path. Do you see the Ark-Ship?”

I locate the ship. “A point of light in the northeast quadrant.”

“I trust you. My old eyesight doesn’t reach that far. Two hundred and fifty kilometers above us …” He shakes his head at the wonder of it. “Do you know what our Ark-Ship looks like?”

“No.”

“Neither do I,” he says. “It must stay a point of light in our minds for now. But reaching it is the Great Project of our hearts. Track its journey for me, down through Lotor’s sky sphere.”

I kneel up. “With your hand?” I lift his hand and pointing finger, and trace the Ship’s path along its arc until it disappears behind the planet. “It’s gone now. Behind the planet.”

 I sit back down.

“Let’s think now about the Ark-Ship’s interior,” Thyal says. “How things might be arranged inside it. I hope there will be a Totem Reality where we may harness ourselves into our Totem animal’s skins, to live their lives for a time, so to learn their wild ways for the sake of understanding our totems the better.”

He looks at me. “What will you imagine?” His voice fades while he still instructs. “Don’t tell me … think it … dream it … practice your shamanic arts.”

Can I still be the Harpy Eagle? I need her strength. Can I integrate the two people I am becoming? I spread my wings. Time stops while I soar up the thermals. A green grass and grey stone mountain-scape unfolds beneath me. Goats and smaller prey animals live and breed on the slopes. I hunt and give thanks for my existence.

“Come back, young one.”

I wake to the old shaman stroking my hand.

“Go back to your loon now,” he says. “We’ll practice our arts again another night.” 

I am mesmerized. I don’t feel the glassy platform under my feet, maybe I’m still soaring. I subside between Mongoose and Ant.

“Took you long enough,” Mongoose mumbles.

I don’t laugh because I don’t want even a breath of my lightness-of-being to escape me.

Art: #huevember2019, 2

Big fish cruising

This began as a piece of paper I used for practicing leaf shapes with a new brush, using indigo with a bit of yellow top and bottom.

Then, doing this project, I’m recycling paper as I go since everything I do is trial and error.

So, when trying phthalo blue over indigo and mopping out the centres of shapes–another thing to practice–that fish became a thing when I added its eye.

I realize that it is only through the corrugations formed by leaf shapes that I have a shaped mouth, and that I’ll probably never be able to reproduce it.

Bat out of Hell, Nov 17

This pic began with red. Bush-fires have burnt out large swathes of forest and hundreds of animals have died, four humans among them.

Red mixed with indigo and phthalo blue gave me the fire-ground. Indigo for the bat with a touch of orange for its eyes. The blue touches contrasted and made the clouds. Made it realistic, in fact.

After the Fire, Nov 19

After the fire when dead trees stand smoking and still aglow. The sun still shines, an angry ball. This little scene was to give me shades in indigo, but as usual I get carried away by the content.

Real Life: Bush Fire Emergency

Hugh and Nan Nicholson’s rainforest burning

Those of us in my region living in towns feel ourselves fairly safe in this emergency. So far. People from out of town have been evacuated and are staying with us. Others ask us to store their precious goods. I’m hosting four musical instruments and three large containers with photos and documents.

Recharging batteries is another thing we can do for people who no longer have electricity laid on. Whose power lines and generator sheds have been burned. In two cases I heard of today, the fire was stopped only a few meters from the main house.

The bushfire season began early this year. We’ve been burning since September, and the fires are getting worse, if that’s possible. Hotter, faster, and more destructive. In the past, diligent back-burning and fuel reduction in winter reduced your chances of being burnt out in summer. Now there’s hardly time. Winters are shorter and we’ve had less than half the rain we had last year when we already had a third less than in 2017.

It’s possible for a fire-ground to be burnt twice in two months. This despite the traditional view that rain-forest plantings, in contrast to Eucalyptus forest, will protect your property. No such thing now. Fires burn so hot that rainforests don’t stand a chance and they don’t grow back the way eucalyptus trees recover.

How will we live in a forever-blackened landscape?

Catherine Ingram’s article Facing Extinction, about the state of the world and humanity’s chances of surviving, is more a prescription for coping with the grief than a wake up call. It’s too late, she says, to try and save our Nature.

The way my countryside is burning, it certainly feels too late. I’m with Landcare. We plant trees. What if no trees survive either? It’s difficult to plan how to live now, when there’s said to be no future.

Art: #Huevember, 1

As well as tripping over imagery while researching online, I use photos and any images I may have produced in the past and present, as inspiration for my writing.

Though inspiration may not be the exact word.

Often I need to describe something so that it resembles reality. Landscapes are easy. Find a photo of a landscape and describe how your MC operates in it. Old calendars are great, although they do get cliched, almost always using the same Disney-esque castle in Bavaria, for example. Travel photos, my own and anyone else’s, are my next resource. But, of course, sometimes I’ll want a landscape not on Earth.

And this year I tripped over #huevember. “Make one painting every day of the week, using the appropriate color on the color wheel as the main color for that day.”

I could do that, I thought. If I was painting. [I hadn’t painted for over 6 months when I thought that.]

But, once you do start thinking that way, it’s hard not to get excited by something like #huevember. So. I fell for the dark orange dedicated to November 7, got my paints out and continued the journey of learning to paint with watercolors.

Main color is dark orange, November 7

Here I painted over the top of an uninteresting yellow scene. Turned out pretty impressive and got me over my initial will-I-won’t-I-commit doubts.

Burnt orange mediated by grainy paper, November 8

I painted this one over an uninteresting pink scene and didn’t get the desired burn-orange hue. May do it again sometime …

Scarlet for November 9

Scarlet … I don’t have a cool red tubepaint, or watercolor crayon. Had to dig out some old aquarelle pencils. This is an experimental animal-look pattern that might work for a shaman’s cloak.

A Cat’s Story Ends

Miss Maggy-bag

A sad thing to report … Miss Maggy-bag was euthanased this morning due to tick paralysis. She was eleven years old and the most intrepid cat I’ve ever had the pleasure of guesting.

Intrepid because though she was too swaggy and inept to climb trees, she ran up walls after Asian House geckos, up fences to see off intruding felines and up the shade-cloth shed to sneer at the neighbor’s dogs.

She lost every collar with bells she was forced to wear as well as every flea collar. Under the house there will be a place where all these things lie, a testimony to a smart cat.

She was missing for sixteen hours. When I called her I only heard that squashed-frog sound, that frogs make when they are stuck in the drainpipes and it’s raining.

Finally found her at the bottom of the steps, cold, wet and unable to move. That noise was her, even her vocal chords were paralyzed.

I could’ve taken out a loan and gone through all the rigmarole of seeing if she’d make it with the antivenin, but she was 8x smaller than my dog who got a tick the same size and barely made it.

So I have her at home, swaddled in a towel, dead on my lap. It’s easy to imagine she is still alive because she is lying against me and I am breathing, she with me. It’s raining at the present, softening the ground. Later I’ll go out and dig a hole.

Maggy, wishful thinking. She tore off her toe on a fence and she could not go outside

Ideas Mash-Up

First, being in a state of nit-picking doubt about my novel Meld, I re-read about the need for micro tension at sentence level. The novel’s so far milky pale sentences paraded in front of my mind’s eyes. I wondered where or when to start. Continue writing pale and milky? Start writing micro tension when I’m about half way? I haven’t even finished the first draft?

That was last week.

I started writing micro tension in Zebe’s POV chapter—where my head was at that moment—but soon hit a place where Zebe’s mood needed to be able to play off a moment of micro-tension that should’ve been written several chapters earlier.

Writing is a lot like sketching. For me, anyway. Sketching, I make a mark on my paper. Another mark alongside it, or continuing from it. If I make a mark in what proves to be a wrong place, I’ll erase it, and redraw it in a better place, or draw over the top of it.

Getting a story down, if I change direction, I can’t just keep writing into the now incorrect direction. I need to go back and change where that direction is coming from, to be able to remember it correctly for the next swag of material to be fitted into place.

And so I decided I need to start again, again. Bring the manuscript up to scratch before continuing.

BUT the day I present the Fungi Walk-and-Talk is approaching. Saturday 21 at 1 pm I’ll be out in Brunswick Valley Heritage Park trailing twenty keen-to-learn-all-about-fungi learners. Gone are Zebe and her problems. Because this week I’ve needed to refresh my mind on all things fungi. The novel is on the back-burner of the writing stove again.

Path through Brunswick Valley Heritage Park

Because, yes, there is what started as a little idea on the front burner. I asked myself, what could be a better way to practice writing micro-tension than with single, or at most two sentence stories? Of course I agreed. Who doesn’t, when they’re talking positivity at themselves?

Little stories they’ll be, part of larger stories of approximately 30 sentences and or 300 words. With that word count it could only be a kid’s book. Inevitably, I mashed that idea onto the Duplo story idea.

The Duplo people are tired of living in a box … They build a staircase for everyone to get up, and out…


[The staircase (previous post) is a MOC I learned, which is an acronym for My Own Creation.]

I’m using these sentences to learn my new version of Powerpoint, which is the only appropriate format I could find to publish a read-aloud book for toddlers. That, as well as another idea, is also a justification/rationalization to continue with this much more finishable project when I could working on my so far 77k sf manuscript.

At the same time as studying up on Fungi, of course.

Ideas … don’t ignore them

#ideas #Duplo #Duplofigs

Completely distracted today by an idea. My son is 34 and my grandson is 2. My son messages me with photos of fungi. I send my grandson photos of my cat, and of interesting stuff I’m doing.

So, the idea. I got my son’s Duplo down from the attic, built a staircase to get the Duplo figures out of their box, should they be bored in there, and took photos. Sent them.

Have yet to hear of the junior’s reaction, his parent sent me the usual.

Fungi: Parasite

Fungal parasite on a ‘waxy’ bracket

This is the 83rd fungus I have observed in Brunswick Valley Heritage Park, a white crust … type 13 … that apparently parasitizes the undersides of ‘waxy’ and ‘pikelet-like’ brackets.

My filing system is littered with labels like that. Crusts get a number. Polypores and Agarics get descriptive words if I don’t have any other clue.

Fungi have three main life-styles. They are parasitic, like the one above, living on other organisms; they are saprophytic, consuming dead wood … if we didn’t have saprophytic fungi we’d be neck-deep in wood; and they can be mycorrhizal in habit.

Mycorrhizal fungi help keep us alive, by helping to keep 95% of plants alive. They help plants to gain more nutrients and moisture when plants and trees themselves can’t reach, by extending plant roots with fungal mycelium.

You’ll Have Noticed…

…a dearth of anything. Am dealing with a bout of influenza. The doc said, go home two weeks in bed. This after I already spent eight days ailing, including an overnight stay in the local hospital.

All else is the fluttering of leaves in the wind.

Twin ink caps (fungi) that dried on the windowsill while I had my attention on other things