& Other Stories
A collection of exotic high and low fantasy short stories
and novellas by Glen Spoors, including:
Gibbet: a criminal in a gibbet on a crossroad talks to passers-by while awaiting his fate.
The Nehzrud Demons: children are being kidnapped from a desert town and the men journey into the mountains to retrieve them.
The Huorijam Butterflies: a boy in village that breeds butterflies must enter the woods to catch his 'Tweedie' as part of his initiation.
Rapanoikhi: in a small coastal fishing village, a small girl is marked by a sacred creature and, as she grows into adulthood, begins to learn why.
A'Pdell Cherie: Wippet, an old traveller, investigates the possible murder of an old friend in a border town.
The Milk Tiger: a man responds to a newspaper advertisement for a magical cat and is allowed to give it a trial before paying the price.
* Not final cover
The seagulls swooped over the ocean with long, piteous cries, but Illawee did not recognise their warning.
She sat on the beach with her legs clasped tightly to her chest. The clouds that had rained so heavily last night were now faint white streaks stretching towards the ocean horizon. Fishing boats were straining away from the shore, their patchy sails puffed out like potbellies. Only Illawee's father and brother, Wananipu and Hualoki, were left on the beach, pushing their old family boat, the Kalalah, into the water.
Wananipu climbed into the Kalalah with such painstaking slowness that Hualoki shouted: “Hurry! We are last again!”
“The fish will wait,” Wananipu said, pausing to scratch the back of his head.
Hualoki kept pushing into the breaking waves and Illawee wondered if he was intending to push the boat all the way to the fish. It was only when he was stomach deep that Hualoki leapt into his seat, grabbed his oar, and paddled furiously.
Illawee noticed her father's rod on the sand. Without thinking she jumped up and dashed across the sand to fetch it.
Hualoki's splashing obscured her voice, so Illawee ran into the water with the rod.
The boat was gliding quickly forward with every stroke, so she ploughed on with the rod held high. “Your rod!”
Wananipu somehow heard his daughter over his son's crazed paddling. He turned to see her wading after them, then looked at his side, where his rod should have been.
“What is it now ?” Hualoki shrieked. “Why are you stopping ? Keep-”
Hualoki stopped and frowned, and since he was not one to finish mid-sentence without good reason Wananipu turned and followed his son's gaze. The men in the other boats were scrambling and hollering. The nearest boat belonged to Spetalupa, a thin, bald man whose tongue often protruded like a third lip. He was wildly gesturing at the water.
Wananipu and Hualoki turned and waved Illawee back to the shore.
“Illawee! Honopika! Run!”
Illawee splashed onwards in a fit of childish pique. If Hualoki could walk in to his chest then she would walk in to her neck .
The Kalalah was knocked from underneath and Hualoki dropped his oar. Wananipu tried to regain his balance but he already saw the stream of bubbles moving with terrifying quickness.
“ Illawee! ”
Now his daughter saw the danger and was splashing for the shore, but the stream of bubbles swerved unerringly, tracking her. For a moment the whole world seem to be held in stasis: the gull's wings were caught in flight, the ocean was quiet, its salty spray hanging in the air like a net, and the beach was asleep in its sand. The only sounds were Illawee's cries and splashing. The only movement was the flailing of her arms.
Then the world was moving again.
Illawee made it to her knees before water and foam exploded around her.
* * *
Naup walked as quickly across the beach as his hefty form and white skirt allowed. He was bald, with narrow eyes, and a broad mouth like a guppy. A dark amulet bounced on his bare chest amidst strands of dried seaweed.
He ducked and entered Wananipu's hut. Illawee was limp on a mat where she was tended to by Muroroa, a muscular giant with red paint around his deep-set eyes. Except for a scruffy bulge of black hair that circled his skull behind his ears, he was as bald as the newcomer.
Muroroa did not look up but the painted muscles of his monumental back shifted as if to form a grim face. “She's alive,” he said.
“Huapahla vomited her guts before they got her to the sand.”
“Illawee had a brief fit, that's all. And look at this.” Muroroa lifted a wooden bowl full of blue-black scum. “She spat it up.”
Naup widened his eyes and turned to Wananipu, who was standing quietly against the withe wall with his wife Mithraup, his eldest daughter Lupokuoana, and Hualoki.
“What was she doing?”
“Bringing me my rod,” Wananipu quietly replied.
“Perhaps the punishment was displaced,” Muroroa said. “Remember when Sapanopai's son was crushed between two boats because his wife slept with Paelakah?”
Muroroa's inflection was flat but Naup felt the disdain and snapped: “This was no punishment. Bleed them and bring the bowl to the Paaiih.”
Naup glanced at Illawee's family in consternation, then shook his head and left the hut.
Muroroa examined Illawee a moment longer before standing up, his head brushing the roof. “Illawee will rest a fortnight and only eat what I give her. Lupokuana!”
Lupokuana was a year older than her sister, with long, straight hair. “I don't want to bleed!”
Hualoki grabbed her arm and pushed her forward. “Shut up and do what you're told, or I'll put an Armapawapee on your belly.”
The Armapawapee was a fabled limpet squid that, once attached, could never be pried off, forever hiding the skin beneath. Lupokuana's face registered horror, but Muroroa was already lifting a large shell with his left hand and a conch shell knife with his right.
Lupokuana was shaking like the rope of a tethered boat as she moved forward. Muroroa stuck his knife in the middle of her arm and made a long, straight cut. Lupokuana whimpered as her blood fell from her thin arm into the shell. Her eyes were swollen by the time Muroroa pulled out the knife.
Muroroa gently put down the shell and picked up another. He turned to Wananipu.
* * *
They were shy at first and just watched her, but as the years passed they came to trust her and swam so close that she felt the water roll against her skin. Then one day they pressed up against her and guided her between the clouds of luminescent jellyfish, through the painted coral reefs, beneath the herds of whales, to the part of the sea where the giant seaweed grew. Each strand was long, flat and straight, and descended for miles towards the darkness of the sea floor. The strands intertwined in thick clumps that swayed endlessly and for the next few years she lived there. Sometimes the sun, a shifting blur seen from underwater, became focused and the water parted to reveal the sky. Her head would bob to the surface and she would see unfamiliar coasts stretching into the distance. She would stay awhile, liking the calm beaches and listless sun, but before long she always became uneasy, too hot, and would slip underwater. Sometimes as she swam as deep as she could go the seaweed parted and saw dead people looking back at her, bubbles streaming from their noses. When they spoke she heard the distant voices of her sister, father and mother like the ocean in a seashell, but when she tried to respond to them she only heard a sound like air squeezed through a bladder.
A few days after the Honopika had attacked her Illawee opened her eyes and saw Lupokuana's dark hair swinging down. “Lupo,” she slurred. “I'm thirsty. Where's Wananipu's rod?”
“Safe. But you're not allowed up. Muroroa says you have to rest half a moon.”
The swelling passed and the scratches did not itch. Illawee began chatting to anyone who entered the hut. In a few days she was strong enough to roll over and sit up. Every morning Wananipu and Hualoki got up early to go fishing, and not long after Mithraup headed off to join the other women working along the Paaiih. This was the short, shell road of haunted shell houses which ran uphill through the woods to the Mouth, the mysterious temple where the priests lived and performed the most important ceremonies. Lupokuana would sit by Illawee and tell her what was going on.
One morning, Lupokuana asked: “What did you see when you were dreaming?”
Illawee looked around to see if anyone was listening. She couldn't hear anything except the waves smashing against the breakwater. “I don't know. What did the priests say?”
“Spetalupa said you were attacked because you went into the water, but Honokapado said you weren't trying to fish and that's all the Honopika would have cared about. He thinks the Honopika was probably waiting near the boats for you.”
“To mark you.”
“But Muroroa said there would be no scars.”
“He meant . . . I don't know. Honokapado said you would find out when you're older.”
Three times a day Muroroa strode into the hut and checked on Illawee, roughly petting her limbs, inspecting her mouth and gums, and staring rudely into her eyes. Then he would sit and wait until she had drank every drop of his watery soup, which was so noxious that she could barely swallow it.
After a week she was restless. Only Muroroa's enormous size and her sister's attention kept her quiescent.
That night Mithraup brought a tray of cooked salmon, crabs, herbs and pastes into the hut and the family sat around the small fire to eat—all except Illawee, who was full of Muroroa's soup.
“I don't want to stay in bed.”
“Muroroa says if you get up you'll get sick.”
“I'm sick of Muroroa! He treats me like a dumb fish!”
Wananipu burped and held up a fishbone between thumb and forefinger. “Look at this salmon. Hualoki caught four just like this. You should have seen what Sapanopai caught. Even the gulls got their share. I saw flying fish behind us.” Wananipu looked at Illawee. “Muroroa is wrong. You would get better much quicker with salmon like this.”
Hualoki nodded uncertainly. “It is good fish.”
* * *
Hualoki's snore turned into a splutter. He opened his eyes and crawled over to shake Wananipu. The old man stirred, yawned, and smacked his lips. “Light a fire. It's cold.”
“We're up early for once! Why waste it with a fire when we can have the whole sea to ourselves?”
Wananipu saw Illawee open her bleary eyes. He crawled over to pat her head. “Good morning, Illawee! How are you?”
“Where is Lupo?”
Illawee turned and saw that her sister's blankets were empty.
“Pissing somewhere,” said Hualoki. “You know Sapanopai? He went pissing one night and when he came back his father thought he was a disgruntled ancestor and cracked him on the head with a paddle. Now you know why the boy is so stupid.” He unrolled three tunas from a piece of cloth and cut them up, offering half of the pieces to his father.
Hualoki left the hut. Wananipu sighed and followed.
Mithraup awoke soon after and touched Illawee's forehead. “You're cold. Bad dream?”
Mithraup enveloped her in her arms, held Illawee for a moment, then kissed her forehead, as radiant as a mother holding a newborn child. Illawee felt the world grow light.
When Mithraup was getting ready to depart for the Paaiih, Muroroa and Naup appeared in the doorway.
The hut suddenly erupted with hysterical screams and Muroroa and Naup jumped back, startled. Illawee had thrown herself against the wall of the hut and was gesticulating wildly, screaming in piercing waves.
Mithraup, terrified by the force of the cries, could not get past her daughter's flailing arms. “What is it, Illawee? What is it?” Then she saw what Illawee's eyes were fixed upon.
“Get out! Get out!” she shouted. “She's scared of your necklace!”
Naup, confused by such emotion, hastily stepped outside with Muroroa. The pair looked at each other, and Naup shuffled his feet.
“You are very generous to oblige the ravings of a hysterical mother,” said Muroroa. “A lesser priest may have stayed and reprimanded her for addressing a priest so abruptly.”
“It is kind of you to point it out.”
Illawee quietened and Muroroa stepped back inside. The girl was huddled in her mother's arms.
“You are certain it was Naup's necklace?”
“It is the first image of a Honopika she has seen since the attack. Would you apologise for me? I was scared for my daughter. I meant no disrespect.”
Muroroa nodded and rejoined Naup. “If you took off your necklace you wouldn't frighten the girl.”
Naup waved a hand. “It doesn't matter. The boy has obviously left.”
* * *
Around noon Wananipu and Mithraup entered the hut and asked Illawee if she had seen Lupokuana. When she shook her head they tried not to look worried, but Illawee sensed their anxiousness. Further along the beach, past the foot of the Paaiih, was a rocky promontory that extended a cliff over the sea. Not far out from the cliff-face was a slowly turning whirlpool. More than one villager had been sucked into its spiralling maw, never to be seen again, and it was the first dread of parents when their children went missing. Sometimes the whirlpool stopped turning for a day or two and brave fishermen would paddle over to look beneath the surface. One reckless man, Sapuapih, had tied a cord to a boat, taken his deepest breath, and dived downwards. He was underwater for several minutes and those waiting in the boats above were starting to worry when he came up in a panic. He told the others that the water was too dirty to see clearly but that he had felt the edge of a hole. Then he had felt a faint suction and seen something moving nearby. Sapuapih could or would not say what he had seen and never talked about it again. The next day the whirlpool stirred up sand, shells and seaweed and resumed spinning.
Mithraup saw the horror welling in her daughter's eyes and told a story. Once, when she and a friend were young they had walked a long way up the beach and found a place where there was no sand, just shells. Mithraup said they had heard a voice coming from a clamshell. They knew it was a Kueance, a water spirit, and said hello. It told them that the shells had washed up that morning and that all manner of things washed up all along the coast. Sometimes strange people woke up, confused, and wandered off.
“Is that true?”
“That is what the Kueance said.”
“It could have been a boy hiding in the clam shell.”
“The shell was not big enough. And after that it grew bored and stopped. When we opened the shell there was nothing inside.”
“It is true,” nodded Mithraup. “But one of the priests called for us, and we had to go.”
“Didn't you go back?”
“Yes, but the Kueance didn't.”
Hualoki entered the hut, full of anger. “Where is Wananipu? We are the only ones left on the beach again!”
“He is looking for your sister.”
“She is a squid that won't stop pissing!”
“Illawee is ill, no one knows where Lupo is off to, and you say something like that! And what did Naup want with you? To know whether Lupo was worth looking for?”
Hualoki knotted his brows defensively. “He just wanted to talk.”
Mithraup's face was strained. “You think you have to insult us? So they like you more?”
Hualoki shuffled around uncomfortably, glanced at his sister, and left. He returned with Wananipu an hour later. They reported that no one had seen Lupokuana all day. Several days later there was still no sign of her. After a week it was assumed that Lupokuana had been swept into the whirlpool. As was the custom during such disappearances the old, bony priest Honokapado joined Lupokuana's family for a small ceremony on the beach while all the others in the village sung a dirge around the fires in their huts.
Muroroa, having requested that Honokapado remove his necklaces during the ceremony, had declared Illawee well enough to attend.
* * *
Honokapado performed elaborate rites on the beach for the villagers and requested Illawee's presence at the next one, assuming that she was better.
At the sight of his necklaces she fell into another seizure.
“Illawee has been touched by the power of the sea,” Honokapado said. “Tonight we honour her fear,” he said, and began to remove his necklaces.
Unfortunately, the moment his necklaces were out of sight, Illawee's eyes shifted and her seizure persisted. Following the path of her wild gaze, Honokapado realised that it wasn't just his necklaces that was distressing her, it was every other sacred image used in the ceremony.
The men trying to restrain Illawee were cursing at her ferocity so Honokapado told them to take her to her hut. It wasn't until Illawee was in the darkness of her hut that her lashing ceased. When the men who had carried her returned they complained of fertile bruises.
At the end of the ceremony Wananipu saw Muroroa whisper into Honokapado's ear. The old priest, though dubious, went up to the Paaiih, no doubt to consult with Ptaup. When he returned he told Wananipu that Illawee did not have to attend the rituals until she recovered. Muroroa would teach her substitute meditations on the more abstract virtues of Rapanoikhi.
* * *
Since those younger than eight did not attend the more important rituals at the Mouth Illawee's peculiar phobia caused no problem for some years. Indeed, she was granted a unique freedom. One day, when Hualoki was in bed with two badly cut hands, Wananipu let Illawee come with him to help bait his hooks. Woman were not usually allowed to fish, but the other fishermen agreed that it might help Illawee recover from her fear of Honopikas and so said nothing to deter her. When Hualoki got up to fish two mornings later he looked at Illawee, who was running ahead.
“How can we fish with her bothering us?”
“I caught more in the last two days than I have in the last two weeks. She is quiet and patient on the boat. Maybe the Honopika made her lucky? Besides, Muroroa didn't say anything.”
When the boat was out upon the sea Wananipu asked Illawee if she would like to hold his rod for a moment.
The instant she took hold of the rod the line jerked. Hualoki moved to grab the rod but she slapped his hand away.
“I can pull on a rod!”
Hualoki's brow darkened. “Girls shouldn't fish!”
“Girls shouldn't fish if they can't fish! How do you know I can't?”
Hualoki waved a hand dismissively. “Fine, reel in the fish and you can use my rod for the rest of the day!”
To Hualoki's dismay Illawee kept the pressure even, wound the line, and brought the struggling fish into sight. With a grand tug she pulled on board a good-sized salmon. She neatly clubbed it, threw it under the seat, and poked her tongue at her brother.
“I didn't cut my hands like you. Now I can use your rod.”
Hualoki snatched his rod. “It doesn't matter what I said.”
He felt a whack the back of his head and his rod was taken from him. He saw anger in his father's face. “You made a promise,” Wananipu said, and handed the rod to his daughter.
The two baited their hooks and cast their lines while Hualoki glared at the other boats.
When they came to shore to eat Hualoki said: “I'm going to spend the afternoon fishing with Spetalupa. See how far you get without me.”
“We've already got two each!” Illawee said. “That's further than you got while you were in bed with your cut hands!”
Hualoki stomped off down the beach. When the boats came in again Wananipu announced to the other fishermen that his daughter had caught ten good fish. At first they didn't believe him, thinking that Wananipu had merely had a lucky day, but when Wananipu showed them the four fish that he had caught they were not so sure.
Copyright Glen Spoors (2018)