I let the tribals cleanse, and comfort me, for how long I have no idea, but their soft stroking of my feathers lulled me to sleep after a time. When I awoke I noticed I was human again, having shifted at some point during the night. A soft blanket covered me, and a thin dress of dyed leather and ornate feathers clothed my body. Outside a bonfire burned brightly, soft chanting washing over me in waves.
To the side a young girl kneeled, perhaps twenty years of age, She introduced herself to me as Mia, and told me she was honored I had chosen to appear to the village in their time of need, and even more honored I had taken human form to walk among them as an equal.
I tried to explain to her I was a Delta, and no more a goddess than any of them, but she looked at me and laughed, a light sing song laughter that seemed to wash away the blood from my mind as she smiled, choosing her tone and words as if speaking to a small child.
"Kalamu Kifo tries to trick me, I not so easily fooled! I know truth, and you no make me think different!" Her English was badly broken, but I could feel trying to convince her otherwise would be fruitless.
I only nodded and said nothing more. She took me by the hand and led me outside, the villagers pausing in their chanting and dancing around the bonfire to kneel as one before me. "They celebrate your coming and saving the village!" Was all she gave me by way of explanation, placing a necklace of ornate beaded, and feathered beauty, around my neck.
I learned not long after tribals have a way of celebrating that puts American parties to shame. Fermented berries, all manner of questionable psychedelic drugs from local plants, and a hypnotic dancing, that combined with a village wide orgy to leave me both breathless and amazed at the creativity of such simple folk.
Oddly enough they seemed to accept my lesbianism without question, nodding as if my sexuality was never open to debate. "Mortal men unsuitable for the Kalamu Kifo! Their seed unworthy for her flower!" Was the only coherent response I was able to garner from the various tribals that demanded my intimate attentions, both as a human, and later in my more familiar raptor shape, when I at last changed, after their continual gentle urging to "resume your true shape."
The following night they held the funeral for Kiala, wrapping her in white sheets with African violets covering her chest and placing her body on a gathering of wood. They looked to me to lead the ceremony, and I still wonder what they thought of their mighty goddess of feathered death weeping like a child as I touched a torch to the funeral pyre, Kiala's mother telling me in broken English her daughters hair formed part of the necklace I wore, and I would carry her spirit with me always, to keep me company in the darkness.
It felt odd to be there in that village, walking alongside people who only a day before were strangers, no, less than strangers to me. Yet now I was one of them, their protector, one whom they wanted to stay among them. Always.
That temptation to lose myself, to never go home swelled within me, but at the same time I sensed I could never be truly satisfied with such a tribal lifestyle, and I knew others would come looking eventually. Ellen had a wife who had the backing of a world spanning mega-corp at her command, Sarah was a Fed, well, ex-Fed, that no doubt still had sources she could contact for favors.
They would grow concerned eventually and make inquires, even my publisher would notice after my return date came and went without word. I wanted to think I could disappear into the African dust without a trace, but knew they'd hunt, and keep hunting, until they found me, or at least answers they could live with.
I see now they would come looking because they cared, because I mattered to them, because they loved me in their own ways. (Well… Maybe not my publisher.) At the time however they felt like intruders, unwanted shackles holding me to my old life.
I remember cursing them, wishing they would just let me go, to be free, where I could hide from them the monster their beloved friend had become. At the village I felt obligated, wanting to run back to the lion pride and bury the events under memories of animal existence, but I was involved.
They looked me for protection, direction, I feared if I was to depart they would be vulnerable should the next petty warlord come farming for slaves. I directed them to lead me to the bodies of the men I'd slaughtered, feeling sickness well up inside me as I saw and smelled the charnel house a distant ditch had been transformed into.
Gagging I forced myself to walk among their bloated, half eaten corpses, harvesting weapons and ammunition, placing them on a makeshift litter of deadwood and dragging the collection of death back to the village.
I felt as if I was robbing the tribals of their innocence as I showed them the workings of modern day weapons of death, my vague knowledge on firearms supplemented by a dog eared and oil stained owners manual I found under one of the jeeps seats.
For primitives they caught on quickly, seeming to pay attention more in an effort to please me then feeling any real need for protection. in the end I was confident they would be no easy prey for any who came searching for conquest.
Looking back on it, I wonder if they were really so primitive as I assumed, and weren't playing up their tribal origins to better placate the goddess they believed to walk among them.
It didn't matter, I made them understand I could not, would not return for many moons, and when I did, it would likely be after their children had grown and had children of their own.
There's a small part of me, (a human part?) I can hear even now, shouting in the voice of Patrick Stewart about violating the prime directive, and changing the course of theological evolution of the village, contaminating them with false beliefs and the worshiping of feathered idols. I tell that part of myself to shut the hell up, and count the living.
The village lives because I acted, the living out number the dead, and I carry the dead around my neck as a reminder of my failings, and a resolve to be better. Her mother said Kiala's spirit would keep me company in the dark places, but it's not the company of the dead I longed for, but the living. The human.
Ellen told me once, she worried if I used sex to gauge affection, I told her I used it as a way of expressing friendship, sharing a mutually enjoyable activity. That was only half of it. I use sex, (with humans anyway,) to remind me of my humanity, to reconnect on a physical level with someone (anyone) and remind myself I'm still of their species.
With the animals it's primal, and it's hard (damned hard) to
feel the same connection with humanity without sharing that same primal union.
For me anyway, especially since
But I'm drifting again, I was writing about my first visit to
I waited until night fall, told them I had to return to the sky, clasped the necklace in my left talon, leaped into the sky high over the bonfire, shifted into a raven and lost myself in the darkness still clutching the memory and spirit of the little girl in my claws.
What happened after isn’t important. Safe to say I ran, or
rather flew, and tried to lose myself in the most remote part of
I came back of course, but only because I knew I couldn't hide forever. The plane trip home was nauseating, the turbulence combined with the sickening smells of humanity, jet fuel, and my own inner demons to make me violently ill, for the fist time since expressing.
When I got off the plane in New York and phoned friends to reconnect, I learned of Sarah, and the mess humanity was making of their east coast nest. Sarah had been badly hurt, and was in the hospital in Baltimore. A plague had broken out among the Deltas, and riots had devastated parts of the city.
The flight to Johns Hopkins was much better than the one from
It's true animals can sense the sick and dying ones of their kind, that a mother cat will force the diseased kittens from their nipples to perish for the good of the rest. I could almost feel that around me from humanity, that they could tell I had changed, that I was tainted by death, and no longer fit to be a part of them.
I confess I nearly re-boarded that plane, made plans to leave my few worldly possessions I still had with me in an airport bathroom and stow away in the luggage compartment of some outbound flight. Let them come find me then, when I could be anywhere, anything.
But turning my back on Sarah when she needed me most was something neither my humanity nor my bestiality would allow. Say what you will about animals, they are loyal to those they call kin.