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Adi looked at him expectantly and Honi wasn’t quite sure how to start. Her outfit was drab, her hair parted in the the middle and tied into a messy ponytail. There was nothing special about her at first glance but the closer he looked at her, the more he noticed. The girl was truly beautiful. She obviously didn’t know this herself which added to her appeal. Her perfect lush lips, her cute nose, slightly turned-up at the end, her luminous honey brown eyes, now slightly narrowed in growing irritation, it all made her increasingly attractive.
“You’re quite done staring yet?” She lifted her eyebrow as she waited for his response. He liked this about her as well. She certainly wasn’t a pushover, maybe a little too aggressive at times, but always with an underlying vulnerability that made him feel like wanting to protect her.
Before she could say anything else, he put his cup down. “There are stories about people like us in our tradition,” he began slowly.
“People like us?” Adi interrupted.
“People who can see spirit animals. I’ve been able to see them since I was a little child. The shaman recognized my gift early on and trained me.”
“Why do you keep calling this a gift?” Adi looked a little upset. Honi’s heart went out to her. It must have been very hard for her to be able to see people’s souls but not understand what she was seeing. Once again, he silently thanked his family who took such great pains in educating him and showing him his path.
Then he looked back at Adi’s troubled face and tried to think how best to approach this. “It’s a gift because we are the intermediaries between the spirit world and the representations of the human spirit. Soul, essence, character, it all means the same. When we die, our spirit rises to another realm, the spirit world.”
“Yeah, I’m not really religious,” Adi interrupted.
Honi could see that he was losing her, so he continued quickly, “This has nothing to do with organized religion. These stories have been around for many many generations. And aren’t the animals you see around you every day enough proof that there is more to our world than people know? Do you think it’s a coincidence that all our mythology has animal representations of human characteristics?”
“What do you mean?” Adi leaned forward a little.
“Well, you know I’m Mekui’te. Our people have many stories that were passed down the years. For example, Wi’ite the great trickster was both a spider and a man. Wanna hear the story?”
Adi nodded, “Yes please, I really love fairy stories.”
Honi laughed. “I’ve never heard anybody refer to the great trove of Mekui’te legends as fairy stories! There are no princesses or Prince Charming and a lot of them are not exactly PG.”
Adi’s mouth twitched a little. “Really? That sounds interesting, please carry on.”
“Yeah, many legends deal with incest or girls marrying animals. When animals take on human shape or men can turn into coyotes, modern rules don’t apply.”
“True, Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog, even Little Red Riding-hood are borderline.”
“I’ll tell you a quick legend of Wi’ite.” Honi’s voice dropped as he remembered when he first heard this tale. John had told the story to all the kids around the campfire. They had huddled together, staring into the orange heat of the flames. The crackling and whooshing of the leaping fire was a formidable barrier against the night noises and black shadows of giant firs encroaching on their little campsite.
Honi had felt safe in the arms of his father whose bulk was both protective and warm against his own scrawny 5-year-old body. When John began speaking in a hoarse deep murmur, every child’s eyes were wide and glued to the shaman’s silhouette next to the fire.
“A village owned two horses. Little Fox, Wi’ite’s enemy, was the Chief’s son-in-law. Wi’ite found out that Little Fox wanted to play a trick on Wi’ite and decided to punish him for it. He went out into the wilderness.
There he found one of the horses and he put it to sleep. After it was fast asleep, he found Old Mouse and he said to her, “here is a dead animal. Go to Little Fox and tell him, ‘My dear grandson, here is a dead animal. I couldn’t move it. Just near the village, that’s how far out it is. Pull it to one side, and we alone shall eat it,’ you may say to him.
“Mouse was very willing, so she ran back and spoke to Little Fox. But Wi’ite ran back and waited for them in the village.”
Honi paused. Adi was listening intently with a little smile on her face. Honi felt a flutter in his stomach. He really liked the way she focused on his face so intently. While he talked, he had forgotten where they were. The background noise had all but disappeared and it felt like there were only the two of them. Adi blinked and he hurriedly continued before the spell broke.
“Mouse tied together the tails of Little Fox and the horse. She tied them very tightly. Little Fox said, ‘I am strong. I will pull it.’ When he tried to pull it, he woke up the horse. When it saw an animal fastened to its tail, it became frightened. It ran away and dragged Little Fox like a branch to the village.
“Right away, Trickster shouted very loudly, ‘Look at Little Fox, the son-in-law, he is doing something crazy. Look at him!’ All of them ran out. There Little Fox was bouncing up and down, tied to the horse’s tail. Finally it went back to its owner and they untied Little Fox. His mouth just quivered as he sat there. He was very ashamed. He didn’t even go back to his own lodge. Now from there he went away somewhere and that was the last of him. He had a wife and many children, but he left them all there.”
Honi paused for effect, “since then he has never again been among the people. Anywhere they saw him, he would feel ashamed. If one is seen someplace, his mouth would twitch as he sits. For he is ashamed of this same thing, even to this day. That’s the story why foxes are so shy, to this very day,” he finished solemnly.
There was a moment of silence. He nervously looked at Adi. Was she bored? He had always liked the story but it was very simple and maybe Adi didn’t appreciate the old-fashioned feel of the tale. But then Adi’s eyes lit up.
“Wow, that’s a great story! You know, this really reminds me of the tales my grandmother in Germany read to me. Everybody only knows the disneyfied versions, like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but there are so many more stories. And many of them feature animals with human characteristics like Oda and the Snake or the speaking horse head Falada!”
Honi sat up in surprise. It hadn’t occurred to him that European tradition might have anything in common with his own Mekui’te legends. But of course, at some stage Europeans had lived off the land not unlike the plains tribes. And if you went far enough back, research into human history showed that all of humanity derived from only 3000 individuals. So why wouldn’t the spirit world and its animals be a common phenomenon all over the world? Just because modern society didn’t believe in anything that couldn’t be measured and photographed?
“Would you tell me some day? I would love to hear those stories and compare them to my own tradition,” he asked.
Adi returned his smile. “Of course.” Then she frowned. “I still don’t understand what that has to do with my… my gift as you call it?”
Honi took another sip of his milky drink, then glared at his glass as he set it back down. Warm frappe, not his favorite thing. He considered his answer for another few seconds.
“My point in telling you all of this is that these stories have been around as long as people have. And there’s a reason for it. My ancestors, and yours as well, used to see spirit animals everywhere. For some reason the ability has declined and now there are very few who can see them.”
“But what’s the point?” Adi asked, not unreasonably.
“I’m not sure. Our shaman told us that losing the connection to the spirit world is a bad thing. They feed from the living and we feed from them. There should be an exchange between the spirit world and our world, and for generations, that exchange has become less and less. We just don’t know what the effect will be in the long run.”
Adi looked very skeptical. “And you really believe that?”
“I do. Have you not noticed that many of the animals are looking sick and act aggressively?”
“I wouldn’t know what’s normal.” Adi swallowed. “I saw them when I was a child. Then I got better and they disappeared. Now they’ve come back. I’m still not sure if you’re sharing my delusions or if you’re serious.”
Honi bent forward and took her hand. She was so fragile and her fingers felt like he could crush them if he tried. The wave of protectiveness towards her surprised him with its intensity. He swallowed and concentrated on her eyes.
“I’m not delusional. And neither are you. I don’t know what happened to you as a child but believe me, you weren’t crazy then and you aren’t crazy now. This is real. And if you want to, I’ll help you control the visions.”
Adi’s breathing had turned shallow and fast, and while Honi still watched her, he saw her emotions flit over her face until they settled on determined. She firmly pulled her hand out of his. Honi immediately missed the warmth and softness of her palm.
Adi got up quickly after glancing at her iphone screen. “Thanks for the tea. I had a great time but I’ve really gotta run. I’m late for class,” she quickly said. Her voice was firm and she had obviously come to a decision.
She grabbed her bag and before Honi could say anything else, he looked at her back halfway to the exit already. The mirror above the sofa where Adi had sat only a minute ago reflected his confusion back at him. That could have gone better. He was sure he had gotten through to her but at the last moment, she had withdrawn, just like last time. Something was preventing her from trusting him fully.
He pushed down hard at the little flutter of worry rising inside of him. She would be back, he was sure of it, and maybe she’d be more willing to listen to him then. He only hoped it wouldn’t be too late to help her. A whine and a quick wet swipe of Ho’neo’s tongue let him know that his wolf shared his concern.
Link to Chapter 1
Link to Chapter 15
Link to Chapter 17