After the Rain

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Michael K Laidlaw About 5 000 words

#406 3524 31st NW

Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5

Email: 4451moana@gmail.com

After the Rain

by

Michael Kamakana

After the rain, she sees the river of fire. She has many names once, but these titles are not important. It is always clear cold night, the White Path curves in brightness, the moon is always full. The river of fire flows right to left, one stride before the cross-legged figure in which she has arrived. She knows where she is, she knows why. She knows that her death passed well, that those who burned her corpse committed all essential rituals, scattering her ashes on the nearest river, green and placid as in rainforests, or white and rapid as in mountains. She sees now the river of fire, the glowing, rumbling orange magma of many unseen volcanoes. She smells molten rock ash, she hears rumbling turbulence, but stone currents do not smooth glass flakes of the riverbank straight as city way, not here, not now, not ever. She wears warrior costume of mask, jaguar-hide vest, quilted armor, calf and arm shields, belt, helmet. Before her rests unmarked shield and sword. She gleams bright, smooth as dark wood, in her living beauty has attracted many lovers, many young men and many young women, but always, always, always her sad gaze dismisses them. Others sense her marked for salving pain beyond their offered physical or emotional balms, not here, not now, not ever. And so she has been often alone. She is here alone, waiting.

#

After the rain, exhausted in stifling heat, she tastes the stench of decay as it joins cleansing funeral fire, black fumes rising to still sky. She finds another sharp flake of volcanic glass, and draws one long, deep cut on her right forearm. She howls in agony and exultation. She is here. In her lap glows stone White Cat. Under her gentle caress chipped texture of fur softens, warms, becomes. Blue eyes open, the red tongue licks her cut. In her mouth rests the flake of green stone. Under her tongue, over, she tastes it, moves it against cheek and teeth. She knows it must not be lost or her spirit will never cross the rivers of fire.

#

After the rain, she wades into the river of fire, her soles cut in glass flakes of broken Path. In her arms White Cat purrs. She slips. She finds no foothold, no river bottom, gasps, but quickly she closes her mouth on her stone of spirit. Her eyes close, open blind, and costume and weaponry sinks as she struggles free. White Cat escapes her embrace and splashes away. She sees, smells, tastes, hears, touches, thinks nothing. Bone hands of the thousand thousands uncounted drowned grasp lines of pain upon memory of her body, grasps denied in each desperate upward kick. She suppresses her desperate drowning scream, knowing that this is what the thousand thousands uncounted drowned want, for her mouth to open, to steal her stone of spirit.

#

After the rain, she rests on the riverbank. White Cat is deaf to all entreaties, to all promises, to all lies, of unseen spirits. Pain swells in her ears, throbs where once rested her heart. She vomits bitter rock, grimacing stone of spirit, crawling over fractured glass flakes. She cannot see the opposite bank she briefly remembers. She hears currents of stone. She is naked as at birth, her armor, and her weaponry, even her Purpose now floating downstream. She hears the river of fire speak, hiss, laugh darkly, voices unheard before passage, but sounds escape meaning, for it is language of spirit alone and new to her. Riverbank is now featureless plain with no direction here, no Path, not here, not now, not ever. White Cat looks to her, starts away on an unmarked line. No sound here, no howl of desert wind, no rainforest breeze, no city songs, nothing, nothing, nothing. She cracks one glass flake against another, but there is no sound. White Cat looks at her, she hears its patient breath. No sight here, gray as eyes closing, but no dreams of light or colour come. She is gray in mind, in body, in blood, does not draw out stone of her spirit, for she fears it is now gray. White Cat looks at her, blinking blue eyes and licking red tongue. Wait, I am tired, she would say, wait. But she does not want to lose the stone of her spirit. Sudden burning force slams her but she absorbs this blow, rolling away, now rises to her feet crouched in pain and anger, looking for the attacker. Shestands tense, alert. She sees the dark plain, the sky over black mountain range, no stars, no moon, no clouds. She summons her spirit to mind, but its shape, its body, have faded. She listens to her anxious heartbeat. She tumbles forward, the nauseating stench riding her back, her skin peeling off as if chili skins on fire. She twists, she rolls, she throws herself side to side to side to side, but the hunter of spirits is a fierce if unskilled wrestling opponent. She almost throws it, but desperation fuels its reach between her growling lips, unable to reach the stone of her spirit, and untiring claws rake her sides, her shoulders, her breasts, her thighs, enraged by her strength, her denial, her spirit. She pins one claw by her hip, but another approaches behind, between her legs, brutally invades her sex in unimaginable Pain. She would scream, would reject, would spit out her stone of spirit, but more torture endured more rage resists. Pain is torture. Pain is memory.

#

After the rain, she sees the river of fire. For the first moment since before crossing she knows where, how, when, who, why she is here, what Purpose she carries. She remembers in pain. She has torn the hunter of spirit’s skeleton apart and listens now to White Cat gnawing bones. She now has no body, needs no body, is now all spirit. All directions are one, here without stars, moon, sunrise, or even riverbank guidance. No direction here, no Path, not here, not now, not ever. White Cat looks to her, starts away on an unmarked line. She closes her eyes, seeing the thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits. She carries thighbone of the destroyed one as warning to discourage other attackers. She glimpses laughing faces, sneering faces, of monkeys, jaguars, eagles, men, women, but they will cast die for other travelers.

#

After the rain, she sees the river of fire, flowing from left to right. There are only two directions, along this bank straight as city way, or across the river. She knows the river of fire is the last river, knows no fear, knows she will easily cross. She senses current warm as hot springs, flow gentle and welcoming. Fire rises to her knees as she enters. White Cat licks her bruised jaw, cradled in her arms.

#

After the rain, she walks on the straight city way three strides wide, on glass blades of Path. Voices of spirits murmur questions, as if summer thunderstorm approaching from far across the valley. White Cat follows two strides behind, pauses, starts, pauses, starts again. Now the river of fire falls away, glass flakes larger, mountain slopes beneath cliff rather than fractured Path. She slips, crashing on her right knee, and pain comes, no blood, only pain. She ages on each stride, but will not stop. Stones placed in this garden wait for her step. The thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits rise behind her, and murmur in wonder, but even as voices rise in her mind she never looks back. In each voice are questions she resolves in each step, summoning new questions she resolves with the next step. White Cat clasps paws around her neck, silent. Her hands come down on steep slope as it becomes cliff, now overhang, but action at a distance means nothing to spirits, and easily her spirit floats upward on each climbing pull. She reaches the pavement of upright stone blades, the circle of bones, the hall lit by full moon, the circle of now starry night sky inside the void of black above. White Cat mewls, she puts her down at her feet.

#

After the rain, he is first and last ruler of lost spirits, body of many poisonous spiders, one body composed of many, sometimes six arms, sometimes four legs, sometimes more. Hissing, spitting, shaking jaguar skull side-to-side, bone dice rattling in its eye sockets, its twisted spirit, pushing, pulling, undecided in measuring her. She is only one woman, but not the typical dreaming mother bargaining life for her child in common despair, instead she bears patient, unafraid, intent Purpose. In one of the lost spirit’s right hands an orb glows dark blue, dark green, dark brown, all under turbulent white clouds, as its claws gouge lines of orange fire. Around its golden throne lie dismembered skeletons, bones split, bones broken, skulls empty. Some many bones assemble into two skeletons that crawl down its steps to her. Approaching silently, the two skeletons attack but each move is predicted, each move failing, and in wielding the heavy thigh bone she crushes two skeletons, tears two skeletons apart, now another two skeletons assemble, she destroys them, now two more, two more, two more. She never tires, as the dead do not, never senses passage of time in blink, breath, turns of the Calendar Wheel. Silently the skeletons fight, now to clapping, clicking, piercing whistles from the thousand thousands lost spirits and hunters of spirits who watch. Silently she fights, growling, baring teeth. Coaxing voice comes to her mind, Give me the stone of spirit, Daughter. No, she thinks refusal, No. She wields the thighbone and shatters one collarbone, one ribcage, disjoints shoulder blades. She turns to another skeleton and brings her weapon up beneath its jaw, tears its skull off spine, crushes it under stamping foot, and two new skeletons stumble back from her fluid, graceful, inevitable destruction. She discards her weapon and tears apart connections of bones with bare hands, crushing last bones beneath her feet and mounts steps to the circle. White Cat does not follow. I could kill you in a blink, says the ruler of lost spirits. She does not reply, not here, not now, not ever. I could eat your heart, woman, or you challenge me. I do not accept. I could destroy you easily, open your mouth and taste stone of your spirit with kiss, I could. She steps closer, only four strides from its moonlit skull. It shivers doubt, hissing surprise, bone claws flexing impatiently eager yet afraid to reach out, its jaws opening in abortive biting, its entire evil wanting to attack, held back in uncertain fear. Neither man nor beast will ever defeat me, will you, woman, the lost spirit says. Skeletons shape behind her but in dancing flash she turns, she stamps, she shatters two skeletons now three skeletons. I have no name here, you have no name here, the ruler of lost spirits says, but O, you have Purpose, I see it there, beside your heart, I will taste it after destruction. Claws probe her closed lips in these lies. She steps slowly closer but the few final strides to its moonlit skull recede. You would remember this Purpose, woman, would have me tell you. Cold fractures her teeth in these lies. Speak, woman, do not fear your own voice, speak. She resists words of heroes, words aching for expression, words not here, not now, not ever. Every cut blossoms in Pain, her feet, legs, hands, arms, front, back, breasts, sex, all pain in blink, breath, turns of the Calendar Wheel. Speak woman, speak, it says. She closes her eyes on triumph, and the ruler of lost spirits attacks as if jaguar leaping from memory of rainforest tree, roaring all languages of animals, all searching to destroy, but in weak fury it knows all attack is futile. She grasps its something neck, turning it, throwing it down. No, it moans, no. Impossibly, this plea stops her. She grasps its throat tenderly, watching with compassion more terrible than it has ever imagined hate. It tries to crawl away but her gaze drains all resistance and all desire to escape. It has always expected no mercy, no pity, no forgiveness, it has never imagined love as rescue. She opens her mouth to her spirit stone. On her tongue. Between her lips. Confusion over unimaginable trade trembles over the watching thousand thousands of uncounted lost spirits. She displays her stone of spirit, whispers loving soft voice in words heard by all, Purpose, she says. To end it forever, it says. End what, she says. No, end Who, it says, you will know Who, when. And the thousand thousands lost spirits who waiting to destroy fallen ruler now pity her, for nothing happens the first time, nothing happens the last time so how can she dream to end it forever, the river of fire does not flow at our command. Now, resting on steps below, it weeps, this boy who would have desired her in another place, in another time, but this was not so, is not so, will never be so. She need not have offered this forgiveness, such impossibility tearing away all its own mercy, but she cannot weep for it, not here, not now, not ever. Run, she whispers, and you may reach the river, they wait, they want. Run.

#

After the rain, she sees the river of fire. She has many names once, but these titles are not important. It is always clear cold night, the White Path curves in brightness, the moon is always full. There is no time here, there is all time here. Stifling heat hovers in this darkness as stench of decay joins final cleansing fire now rises black fumes to still sky. White Cat does not move, blue eyes blink, red tongue flickers out, back, quickly as a dream. There are now fading lost memories of rainforests, deserts, mountains, seacoasts, marshes and grasslands. There are hunters in the darkness, there are rivers of fire to cross. She has assumed focus of the Pain. How can she end anything forever, if unable to end this Pain, if nerves do not abrade numb against constant assault, not here, not now, not ever. She never bears children but not even that Pain compares and of this no joy comes, no Purpose. For a moment, from the lost spirit, she has heard Purpose, she has remembered, and now lost memory is only another texture to shapeless Pain. She presides on a stone cloud, great strides across skeletons and circle of stone blades, now down unseen cliff, to that river of fire circling with an inside current flowing right to left, with outer current flowing left to right, the river more whirlpool than direction, but around no drain and as long the riverbank straight as city way. Above, soft humidity carries fragrant blossoms of rainforest, whispering mist caresses ferns, trees, and vines, promising aroma of cooked corn, chilies and chicken, joyous laughter of children playing and sighs of lovers loving and all and all and all unreachable pleasures of the living.

#

After the rain, she sees the river of fire. She has many names once, but these titles are not important. It is always clear cold night, the White Path curves in brightness, the moon is always full. She watches her hunters of spirits rise up the thousand thousands uncounted passages to the living, to haunt, to terrorize, to steal unprotected spirits of children and eat delicacies of their hearts. Seven hunters have been women, six have been men. White Cat does not move, blue eyes blink, red tongue flickers out, back, quickly as dreamed. She feels no mercy for the living. She may now not so proudly rejoice in triumphs as has previous rulers, but this will come. She remains distracted by an unremembered Purpose, watching the river of fire in circle with an inside current flowing right to left, an outer current left to right, river more whirlpool but around no drain and before riverbank straight as city way. White Cat pretends not to hear plaintive questions. She examines bones laid out for inspection, hears echoing mourning mothers’ cries, nods in appreciation, snarls and hisses and nods to hunters of spirits eager to please. In twisted, deathly emotions they feel for her beauty dark fire of love. She is here almost a mother, and this is not how they have ever felt about previous rulers, should their erratic memories reach so far upstream.

#

After the rain, she remains the young woman warrior from the riverbank, her skin shiny, smooth as dark wood, eyes green and bright, in body disturbingly seductive. White Cat sits unmarked on upright blade edges of the circle. She gambles die, frequently generous to her hunters of spirits, she names difficult raids on the living, never sends another hunter after the first if it has succeeded and will pass, often doubling chances by sending two after one traveler though this may degenerate into three fighting over one stone of spirit. She joins rueful laughter when too often the only option is to weep. She cares in patience and indulgence of an original mother. She disperses new flesh of living victims but is careful bones are added to dais of her throne. She alone may animate skeletons and knows now the hunters must never develop this skill, so must never have the bones. She follows dark logic of the thousand thousands uncounted first and last rulers. She knows that even her thoughts have been here before. Nothing happens the first time. Nothing happens the last time. She watches the battle of between hunter of spirits and traveler by the river of fire. The hunter of spirits wins but the traveler coughs that flake of green stone onto mounds of identical stone fragments, and both reach frantically, search desperately, as it flames brightly, gleams briefly, now darkens inert gray and White Cat fades. The hunter of spirits and traveler are now two hunters of spirits and together they climb slope and cliff. There is another number in the lottery for the next traveler. It does not matter to her, only to hunters of spirits, who howl like gamblers over broken luck at this outcome. Perhaps the next traveler will prove exceptional and not simply beat off attack but also destroy its opponent spirit hunter, restoring that sacred original number of thirteen. Hunters of spirits’ dice click and tumble in jaguar skull eye sockets.

#

After the rain, the group of travelers appears on the riverbank, thirteen mercenary warriors, thirteen debtslaves, drawing up the narrow stone boat of the single elaborately costumed man. He wears many gold necklaces, gold breastplate, gold bracelets and anklets. He wears woven cape of vivid feathers over quilted armour, under two jaguar pelts, over suit and mask of interlocked pieces of jade. Mercenary warriors are nude and defenseless, stripped by the river of fire, but from the boat gather armor and weapons. Thirteen White Cats circle them as they dress and sheathe swords. Debtslaves pick up glittering boxes of gold, silver, turquoise, jade, opal and diamond. Mercenary warriors form watching, nervous circle around the boat as debtslaves help the man-in-jade step ashore. No lies are spoken as each movement is choreographed, rehearsed, precise as assassins to silence, and disturbed wonder murmurs from the watching thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits. Hunters of spirits look to her suddenly quiet, her gambling dice still. She leans eagerly forward, her furious spirit swelling across night sky, touching each hunter with insistent joyful pain. Her voice is rumbling earthquake, crackle of fire, churning flood of lava, and the travelers sense this Change and now walk faster after White Cats, Mercenary warriors surround the man-in-jade, debtslaves carry the stone boat, the boxes of wealth. No lottery this time, for the rules are broken, she says quietly, All attack All, All but the man-in-jade, he is mine. And hunters of spirits praise her in thunder. She watches her hunters of spirits ripple in freedom. It is not hunt but battle. The thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits circle, joining attack only when one Mercenary warrior is downed and disarmed now another now another. Debtslaves wail, moving to drop burdening boat and boxes and run, but Supervisor cracks glass bladed whip and promises ruin if they desert Stay together, keep moving, Supervisor orders, stay in a circle. And this seems an effective strategy, for with mercenaries facing swords out her hunters of spirits cannot advantage in surprise, and their weapons are added problem though only tearing out remembered hearts will stop hunters of spirits, broken limbs damage attack. Five hunters of spirits crawl swiftly after, eight others circle and force travelers away from the unseen path White Cats mark. She descends on translucent slivers of moonlight to the river of fire. Hunters of spirits welcome her approval, following her White Cat, and draw travelers from the escaping path straight as city way into circle of no transcendence and no completion. Debtslaves sense now futility, recognizing each step as taken before, so disregard Supervisor’s whip, abandon boat and boxes and flee to the river of fire. Let them go, she says, stay with the Mercenaries. Thirteen hunters of spirits reach the river of fire to which all travelers come from the beginning and come to the end. Seven Mercenaries try last desperate escape and flee to illusions but return solitary, defeated and weeping. Now, the river of fire is to each essential childhood terror and adult despair and comfort of wealth and power abandon each and all acts and all senses and all memories fade as thirteen White Cats fade. Mercenaries each alone face implacable and inevitable Death as once for mere money they have brought to others, weeping as the thousand thousands echoes clamor triumph and revenge and force each crawling, begging, struggling Mercenary to the riverbank, I was only following orders, I was only, I was. Hunters of spirits mock this pathetic claim in cold laughter. The man-in-jade rushes to the river of fire but does not enter, for the current is now turbulent and impassable and the boat is gone. Mercenaries hear lies of each own voice in searching for escape, in excuse, in denial, and can no longer pretend belief of claims nor persuade the thousand thousands uncounted spirits to forgive him, I was only following orders, I was only, I was. Hunters of spirits mock this pathetic claim in cold laughter. Mercenaries summon failing promises now fall weeping to their knees, mouths opening, tongues offering from each flakes of green stone. Thirteen hunters of spirit step forward and take each from each lying tongue, now rise as travelers from the flakes of green stone lost of Mercenaries, now line the river and watch with the thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits, as eyes wide in amazement and terror, the man-in-jade dances his fear. He is alone. He is lost. No wealth, no power, nothing he can offer. He collapses weeping to his knees, mouth opening against his will and black tongue extending his flake of green stone. Jaguar pelts and bright feathers fall from defeated shoulders and fade black as riverbank stones as he emerges in final memory, skin pale as death, and at her gesture his suit of jade comes undone and slips off. Around the man-no-longer-in-jade’s neck is the necklace of thirteen flakes of green stone. Rustling horror murmurs through the watching thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits and anger ripples through the waiting thirteen hunters of spirits. She finally recalls certainty of her Purpose.

#

After the rain, she pulls off this necklace over his lowered head. Out of darkness too complete for any light thirteen lost spirits come, that sacred number, and as travelers accept each offered flake of green stone. All nod to her great love, their obvious kinship shared. One by one, thirteen lost spirits now become travelers. Six have been women, seven have been men. Mother, Father, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces and Nephews bow respect, perhaps amazed it is only the child she is, who alone who frees them to re-enter the cycle of Life and Death, but some know it always comes, in the beginning and in the end, to one child, one woman, each our mother, who sends us out into the world in life, who gathers us home in death. Thirteen travelers bow to her and one by one enter to cross the river of fire and thirteen former Mercenaries now fade into the thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits. The man-no-longer-in-jade is first and last ruler, looks up pleading mercy, pleading forgiveness, all mocked, all rejected, but now pleasure curves his lips in false smile as he calculates ultimate triumph that transcends even her power. She takes the flake of green stone and weighs freedom of passage across the river of fire. He knows she will take his stone of spirit, will leave this circle by the river of fire, and so he shall return through natural cycles of life and death, he will not end here, his spirit will never end. She turns the flake of green stone. The thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits allow something like pity, to end it forever, is this possible, the river of fire does not flow at our command. She examines the stone of spirit, searching for something that names his falseness. White Cat gazes at her curiously, calm, each emotion read in minute tension around watching cat eyes which never blink, glowing eyes, immobile eyes, mirroring eyes, but there is there no answer to her questions, only her final, shared, irrevocable judgment that will hear no arguments, will offer no mercy, no hope. She turns the stone of spirit over. The man-no-longer-in-jade watches her. She feels its unmarked faces, its sharp edges, and its oval shape. The man-no-longer-in-jade has been Ruler, in the living worlds, who has stolen the life of his father’s heir in his own child cousin. Who has condemned that spirit to ghost life and the living house of his own lands to haunting and plague and burning and so has brought the death of many living. Who has, for all these crimes but most for killing the child and sending him to the river of fire without necessary flake of green stone, become the one alone of the thousand thousands uncounted lost spirits in here who can never pass by the stone of spirit of an unfortunate traveler. All his strengths and cunning and skills and evil are without power. He can destroy, dominate, rule but never lead, and never use that flake of green stone he has denied the child. She wrist-flicks the flake of green stone out over the river of fire. The man-no-longer-in-jade watches in confusion as it skips, it skips, it. The man-no-longer-in-jade jerks upright, eyes wide in helplessness, reaches for her but feet no longer obey commands, instead he stumbles backwards into the river of fire, mouthing surprised denial but no words serve him now, his tongue is silent, his urgent lies revealed useless against this silence. Eyes of the man-no-longer-in-jade plead for mercy he has often denied so many supplicants and now has denied responsibility of lies that ordered much cruelty. He stumbles back deep now deeper, as the river of fire slowly rises over his knees, rises over his waist, rises over his chest, recognition coming to him just as the river of fire rises over his neck. You, he cries in wonder as fire plunges into his mouth. And now he is gone.

#

After the rain, thirteen hunters of spirits bow before her, weeping in their spirits. Six have once been women, seven have once been men. As each alone faces Death, each alone faces the river of fire. The river of fire flows left to right, the other side cannot be seen. Shadows of the mountains have disappeared. There are only two directions, along the bank straight as city way, or across the river of fire. Rainforests, deserts, mountains, seacoasts, marshes and grasslands, all the darkness she has crossed does not exist. One hunter of spirits, this tall man marked as Sun Circus Player, steps forward, opens his mouth and offers her his flake of green stone. His eyes are black, his face sad, as she gestures him away. He closes his mouth on words never said and joins the others. Hunters of spirits know this river of fire is the last, know no fear, know they will easily cross. Hunters of spirits cradle each their White Cats and bow respect, patiently sense currents of fire warm as hot springs. The flow is gentle and slow, the river of fire is wide. Fire rises to their knees, now they dive in. She returns to the slope beneath the cliff, again following White Cat.

#

After the rain, she sees the river of fire. She has many names once, but these titles are not important. It is always clear cold night, the White Path curves in brightness, the moon is always full. The river of fire flows right to left, one stride before her. There is no time here, there is all time here. Stifling heat hovers in darkness as the stench of decay joins cleansing fire, black fumes rising to still sky. White Cat is immobile stone, blue eyes blink, red tongue flickers out, back, quickly as dreamed. There are fading lost memories of rainforests, deserts, mountains, seacoasts, marshes and grasslands. There are spirit hunters in the darkness, there are the rivers of fire to cross. If you have curses, expect only harsh laughter in return. If you have promises, say them now, there, do not open your mouth to the flake of green stone. On throne of gold, she waits. She waits for all of us.

061219


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