Misha is cajoled into going to a café by an enigmatic sparrow. Just as she is about to dismiss it as a joke played on her by her neurons, a lanky boy, who looks eerily similar to the sparrow, walks in and reveals to her the secret of her ancestry – and the powers that she has received as a result of it.
Misha woke up feeling dizzy and disoriented. She was on her side facing the window. She must have been really tired, for she remembered having dreamed of something really ridiculous. Unfortunately for her, she had never been good at recalling her dreams. There was a boy turning into a bird at a coffee shop or something like that. She couldn’t believe that her subconscious could be so creative.
But, wait. The bed felt unfamiliar… and the window, it wasn’t the one in her room; it was smaller and darker. She jerked upright on the bed and found the boy in her dream making a smoothie on the adjacent kitchen counter.
“Finally awake, are we?” the boy said without turning around.
“If you think you can get away with kidnapping me, then you’re completely deluded, young man. My mother tracks every second of my day. She’ll be here any minute to crack your skull.”
And then, it dawns on her – it wasn’t a dream! His hands had feathers, they… they were turning into wings. He had kidnapped Misha to his underground lair with a halfway-up window that was too small to wriggle out from. Things weren’t looking very promising for her.
“Your cell is a 1998-Motorola flip phone; I doubt it has any tracking features. And why are you calling me “young man” like an 80 year-old grandma?” the boy quipped while pouring some blue-colored smoothie into two large glasses. “Are you one of those girls who think they are old souls, born in the wrong era, among the wrong people?” he smirked while approaching Misha.
Misha jumped away from him and backed into a corner, “Hey, stay back alright! Lemme make this clear. I’m not gonna cooperate with you. GET ME OUT OF HERE, RIGHT NOW!”
“Alright calm down, you may go. The staircase is right there.” He moved away while gesturing at the door right behind where he was standing. “But don’t you want to continue our conservation at the coffee house, which you unceremoniously ended by fainting?” the boy lowered his chin while hiking one of his eyebrows up.
Misha pursed her lips at him and dashed towards the door unstopped. Climbing the stairs two at a time she reached for the latch and threw upon the second door. Sunlight poured in, inciting her to run but she couldn’t let go of the latch. The boy… the bird… shape-shifting? Oksana?
She needed to have some answers. Or it would mess up her mind more than it already was. She had a way out. She could make sure that the door was right behind her back, so she could easily reach for it should the need arise and lock in that strange bird-boy or whatever he was. “Alright, I can do this. It’ll be fine,” she thought.
She stepped inside the inner door, and remained on her feet.
The boy was leaning against the kitchen counter 3 feet away. “That’s what I thought,” he said with half-lidded eyes while sipping his blue milkshake. “Blueberry smoothie?” he offered Misha from where he stood, “Come on, you saw me making it, so there’s no funny business. I’m drinking a glass myself.” He raised his half-drunk tumbler.
“I’m not an idiot who accepts drinks from people I was just trying to run away from.” She glared at him with a scathing smile.
“Alright, suit yourself. I’m Kelly, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“Your name is Kelly?” Misha scoffed while firmly gripping the door knob behind her back.
“Well, my full name is Kalonorenda but Kelly makes conversations faster and that’s good for me” he shrugged.
Misha just stared at him. An awkward silence persisted for a minute as they just both stared at each other warily.
“Has anything weird ever happened to you, Misha?” Kelly asked.
“Not before today.”
“Have you ever been depressed… or anxious?”
“What are you? My therapist?”
“So you do have a therapist, eh?” Kelly observed.
Misha bit her lip and gave herself a mental smack over the head. Her last therapy session had entirely been about not doing that but she was getting there.
Misha had had problems with her mind since forever. Mom had once told her that, when she was around 5, she used to put the “late” symbol used to denote a dead personality, in front of her name. Misha pictured the sign, a check mark with a dot inside its little curve. The symbol was not a part of the English language, she recalled. Mom had said that it was from their mother tongue, Oksanic. She must have picked it up from one of the scriptures her mother used to make her read for their religious rituals. Those never made any sense really because they were only read for their religious connotation during the festivals; their meanings were never explained. Nevertheless, she had somehow gleaned the sign at that age and used it in her own name. She let go of the train of thought and glared up at Kelly.
“You’re not the one who’s going to ask the questions here, bird-boy. If you don’t stop your desperate sarcastic comments and start explaining your disrupting appearance in my life in the next five seconds, I’m going to fly out of here so fast that you won’t even be able to catch my shadow.” Misha said through gritted teeth as Kelly looked on half-amused.
“Misha, are you proud of being Oksanic?” Kelly asked out of nowhere.
“As I said, I don’t know much about Oksana. And, by the way, didn’t I just ask you to stop asking me questions and start answering?” Misha wouldn’t relent.
“Alright, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?”
Misha just stood there expectantly with her hands on the door knob.
“Oksana was an island country. Actually, it was a group of small islands connected by mangroves. The people there were tribal and were very much connected to the nature around them. In fact, they were completely dependent on it. The forest, the rivers and the sea… everything, was a crucial part of their livelihoods. Thus, they were quite protective about their woods and worshiped them. Especially the Mecredotaks, also known as the bone trees. These trees were left untouched, but anything that was planted in their vicinity grew like magic. They are almost shaped like bamboos, but a little bit thicker and denser and, as the name suggests, bone-white in color. They don’t have any leaves, but, once a year, they bloom black flowers that stink up the entire forest. That being said, they’re quite important. You see, Misha, every bone tree harbors the spirit of a deity.”
“A deity? As in a godly being?” Misha asked with her eyeballs almost popping out of their sockets.
“Yes, don’t interrupt me.” Kelly straightened up and started pacing.
“Legends have it that the roots of the Mecredotaks reach deep into the Bellows, or the underworld according to the general lexicon around here. And these roots help the spirit of the dead reach there upon their time, assisting them to go back inside the earth’s womb whence they originally came. Every year, when these bone trees bloom, all the members of the tribes gather to pay respects and basically… party. At the end of this celebration, the adolescents gather while the adults go back inside their homes. They walk among the bone trees, exploring, touching their porcelain-white barks, trying to connect with the pulse of the nature around them. And… one among them is chosen by the trees,” Kelly paused to check if Misha was paying attention.
“Chosen? For what? And how?” she asked, more questions blooming inside her head.
“Those who aren’t chosen never seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. However, the one who is chosen keeps the experience to themselves. The secrecy is related to its divinity and rumor has it that the chosen one is transported to the Bellows and tested if they are up to it or not.”
“Up to what? No, chosen for what?” Misha leans over as if trying to see the answers inside Kelly’s head.
“Chosen as the protector of the tribes, the trees and the forest. After being chosen, the protector gains powers that last as long as the forest does. They vary from person to person, but they may include shape-shifting, premonitions, necromancy and there is some other obscure stuff as well. They all serve a purpose and fit into the ecosystem of the Dotakis that the bone trees create.”
“Dotakis? The group of powerful protectors?” Misha deduced out loud.
“Yes, Misha. You’re not as stupid as you look right now.” Kelly remarked unsmilingly.
Misha crossed her hands and waited for him to continue.
“You have to know that the protectors depend on each other to navigate through a precarious life that awaits them upon being chosen. Loyalty is valued above everything else. And when one of these elite groups decided to betray the whole island, everything blew apart because nobody could even imagine that a protector would do that.” Kelly grew silent, something pulled at his shoulders and his head drifted down.
But he continued, “The betrayal caused greedy money-mongers from other nations trying to destroy the very gods of the island, the bone trees. It was a new discovery for the people outside. And they decide to bulldoze them like the heathens that they are. The Dotakis fought as they hard could, but the betrayal had left everyone shaken. When the last tree fell, the islands started crumbling. Everything drowned, even the tree-cutters. Our homes destroyed, our families gone.”
Misha gripped her forehead as a bead of sweat dripped down her brow. “My mother never told me anything. It’s not like I never asked. She always suggested that Oksana was very far and behind us and we should just embrace the home we have now. I just…” Words were coming slowly to Misha. Her brain felt like cotton.
“This happened after your mother had left. Her family had already died. She couldn’t have known.” Kelly assured her.
“How do you know about my mother? You must be Oksanic… but you’re my age. Is it your parents? Did they tell you?” Misha pressed, now inches away from Kelly’s shoulder. She was eager to know everything.
Kelly walked over to the bed and brought out a box from underneath it. It was wooden with leafless white-tree decorations that had almost faded. He took off its lid to reveal a bunch of photos, semi-precious looking stones and other small knick-knacks. He took out one of the photos and handed it to Misha.
The photo was black and white but had yellowed over time. The edges were tattered and spots had formed over the features of the two people in it, who were smiling. But they were recognizable. One of them was Kelly, in what seemed like khakis, looking just like he was looking then, maybe a year or two younger, but the one next to him… She had jet-black hair tied in a loose knot behind her back. She had draped herself in a long piece of cloth in an entirely intricate manner, probably in the traditional style. And her nose was adorned with a small round ruby the size of a lentil seed, the same ruby nose-pin that Misha had searched for in the underside of her fridge when her mother had lost it last weekend and the same nose that bumped her face every time her mother kissed her goodbye.
To be continued…
…now that you’re here
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