Spirited Away Excerpt

1: ORBIT

It was bluer than he expected. A blue so deep, so dense, that it did more than call to him; it lulled him forward.

Chen leaned forward, nearly pressing his nose to the screen that allowed him to spy the celestial body from his perch in the Heavens. The white clouds that moved over the blue taunted him, revealing a flash of sapphire on the Eastern Coast, covering up waves of azure in the Western Hemisphere, while cobalt swirled in each pole. He stared so hard at the brilliant colors swirling before him that soon it felt as though he were looking directly into a star.

Chen squinted. His large eyes drew to slits. The play of colors lulled him into such a state that he leaned far forward in his seat. Not just his eyes were pulled, something deep inside yearned for him to come closer. Chen came ever closer. Until he lost his balance and toppled over.

He righted himself and opened his eyes wide. Traveling through the Heavens was mostly a monochrome of black space and pale light from distant stars. The color blue was not prevalent in the universe. He’d seen the Earth many times in his mind, but never with his own eyes.

His mother’s memories had not done the young planet justice. Soon, he would no longer need to filter his experience of that world through the prism of her recollections. He would make his own memories, have his own experiences to sift through. And he wouldn’t be making them alone. The blue wasn’t the only thing pulling him to the planet.

She was there on the planet, somewhere.

Chen shifted in his seat at the thought of her. The thought was a feeling that pulsed through him as a wave of energy. He had no face to go with the thought of her. He had no idea what she would look like, sound like, feel like. But he would soon.

He pushed that thought aside and pushed away from the console. Soon he would be a bonded male. But before he gave his soul over to a woman, he was determined to have a bit of fun. It had been so long since he’d felt pure joy. Chen turned back to the blue planet, a light of mischief in his eyes.

He had a whole itinerary planned. He’d been planning it since he was a youngling. The first item on his list was to dive into the pure blue waters of the Earth. He’d visited many planets, but the few that had the elements to produce water were unsafe. The waters, none of which were blue, were either toxic or needed to be filtered before consumption. Or the liquid bodies were filled with life-threatening organisms intent on making a meal or a host of him. From his mother’s memories, Chen knew that most of the aquatic life on Earth was friendly, or at least not as deadly. The first thing Chen wanted to do was to dive into the depths of the ocean and allow the waves to crash over him.

The next thing on his list was to sample Earthling food. He wanted to try blueberries, plums, figs, and eggplants. It was true; he had a blue motif going on. He’d never experienced sweet fruits in his life. Taste did not translate well in telepathy, but sight did.

And finally, well not finally, but the third thing he absolutely must do on this visit after his body had been washed in the waters and his belly was full of food, Chen planned to ride a Bengal tiger. These creatures fascinated him the most.

He’d sifted a memory from his mother’s childhood where she’d seen one in the distance. There was the metallic taste of fear surrounding the edge of the memory. But unlike his mother, Chen could communicate with any species. He would make friends with the beast and then grab a ride. Perhaps the beast would like to accompany him back to the ship too, along with her.

Excitement hummed through Chen at this amendment to his plan. As the ship moved closer into the Earth’s orbit, he plotted his visit. It had been nearly one thousand revolutions of the planet around its star since his kind last visited. The beings there must be far advanced in enlightenment since that time.

Chen imagined people helping one another, living in harmony with each other, the animals, and the planet. He would go down, experience the items on his list and then perform his duties. It would be a fulfilling experience all the way around.

“We have little time.”

The no-nonsense sound of his brother’s voice interrupted Chen’s plans. Chen turned around in his seat and into a face that was exactly like his own, except for the deep frown lines marring Hsing’s brow and the grim crease that tarnished his expression.

“This is a momentous occasion, Hsing,” Chen said. “We have returned to the place of our ancestors.”

“This is the place of our mother’s ancestors,” Hsing corrected. He peered out at the blue orb, no hint of wonder or excitement in his eyes. “We no longer have a homeland. Or have you forgotten?”

Chen hadn’t forgotten. It was burned in his mind, just as it was in his brother’s mind. Just as it was in the mind of every male aboard this ship.

“You will complete your mission, and you will return immediately.” Hsing’s voice brooked no argument. “It is not safe to orbit this planet. Too many eyes are upon it.”

They both looked out into the darkness of space as though they could see the myriad of other beings that enjoyed stealing down onto the young planet against the orders of the Council. At the moment, the Heavens were barren. Chen’s eyes caught once more on the many hues of blue upon the orb before them.

“All journeys come full circle,” he said.

“You will come full circle, brother. You will go down. You will take a female and return.”

“Abduction is against my nature, Hsing. Coercion won’t make for a happy life.”

“We don’t need happiness, Chen. We need to save our species. Take the first female you see. This diversion is already a disruption to our itinerary.”

“If only we had father’s sutras on human women.”

“But we do not. We have nothing from our family. Nothing from our homeland remains.”

Hsing came before his brother and peered into his eyes. It was an unnecessary exercise. There was no thought Chen could hide from Hsing. Still, Chen looked away from the scrutiny.

“We do not have time for your childish play, Chen-Na. You will do your duty to your family and to your kind. The alternative is the extinction of our race. I know you understand this.”

“I do, Hsing-I.”

Hsing came closer and put a hand on Chen’s shoulder. The rare show of affection startled Chen.

“You look only within, Chen. You seek joy, zen, and a higher plane of enlightenment, but war follows us. You must look outside of yourself and for once let reality inform your path.”

Hsing gave Chen’s shoulder a squeeze. Then he looked once more at the pale, blue dot before departing the room. Marching back to his command console, no doubt.

Chen followed his brother out of the room and into the common area. All around him he spied the devastation the war had had on his people. Hsing had a point. He had to do what he must for their survival.

***

 

2: ASHRAM

“Ommm.”

The vibration of the chant tickled the back of Shanti’s throat, and she coughed. The hacking sound broke the flow of the aural vibration. A few eyes of her fellow chanters opened and glared at her.

Shanti winced in apology. Few acceptances were forthcoming in the room full of zen-seekers. She wished the sky would open and she could float away. That is, until the yoga instructor’s gaze found hers.

Yogi Wizdom’s hazel eyes locked with Shanti’s. His easy smile spoke of encouragement, patience, and peace. None of the things Shanti felt. Shanti felt warm, hot, and wet.

“Focus on a single point,” Wizdom encouraged the room of meditators. “And in that point, you will find enlightenment.”

Everything in Shanti focused on one point, all right. It all arrowed straight to her core. She shifted on her yoga mat as she imagined those hazel eyes gazing down at her while she lay prone instead of folded into a lotus flower. Wizdom’s brown skin made Shanti think of chocolate sauce, spiced chai tea, curried lentils.

Wow, when had her fantasies become Indian in flavor? Wizdom wasn’t Indian. He was American, just like her. She’d found that out her second night at the ashram when she’d spent a good twenty minutes chatting him up, sharing stories of their unconventional youths.

They’d both grown up with alternative parents who believed in healthy eating, yogic exercise, and mindfulness. The difference, she learned, was that Wizdom’s parents were music moguls who’d adopted the lifestyle late in their lives and passed the knowledge, along with their millions, down to their only child.

Shanti had been born on a commune. Pushed into the world in time to the sound of drumming and her mother yowling at the moon during her water birth. Not in a tub. In the actual ocean. When Shanti’s parents passed, they did so without a dollar to their name and they left it all to her.

Shanti had been hoping to get to know Wizdom better the other night. Hoping that the knowing would come while they were between the sheets. Hoping that he would focus on a single point of her anatomy. Hoping that she’d be the one finding enlightenment at the throbbing core of her being. But they’d been interrupted.

Bow, short for Rainbow, Montgomery had sashayed her size zero Lululemons into the midst of Shanti and Wizdom’s conversation. Bow sent friendly smiles in Shanti’s direction. Though Shanti had never attended a formal high school, mean-girl was a universal language. Bow continued to send Shanti false smiles while cockblocking Shanti’s efforts to get Wiz alone for the rest of the night.

Now, as Wiz led everyone in the final breathing exercise of the yoga class, Shanti had his attention. He smiled at her. She wondered if he was thinking what she was?

Was he thinking of bending her body over on the meditation pillows? Was he thinking of slowing down her breaths and teasing her until she was left panting and gasping? Was he thinking of opening her body along with her third eye?

Wizdom’s mouth opened wide. Shanti leaned forward as though she could kiss him. He closed his eyes. His lips rounded into an O and…

“Ommm,” he chanted.

Shanti sighed in frustration as her libido crashed back down on this plane of existence. She shut her eyes and tried to pick up on the tail end of the intonation, but she was completely out of tune.

She sat on a cold marbled floor -the yoga mat gave little cushion. Her long legs were folded into the unappetizing pretzel of the lotus position. She tried to concentrate on the words of the chant but her big toe was going numb. She tried wiggling it, but then her ankle lost its footing on her knee. Her body tilted to the right. She tried to correct herself, but over-corrected and crashed down to the left, into the person sitting beside her.

It was Bow. Bow dropped her fake zen and threw Death Stars at Shanti. Turning, Bow looked up at Wiz. Her brows rose, her eyes rolled, and her shoulders shrugged as though to indicate that Shanti was out of their league.

Bow scooted up in front of Shanti, directly in front of Wiz’s eye line. She refolded herself into a lotus -without the assistance of her hands- closed her eyes and easily slipped back into the meditation.

It appeared that everyone had strategically scooted away from Shanti. She sat in a wide circle of nothing. No one near her. No one touching her.

“Omm.”

Everyone’s eyes were closed, mouths trembling out the tones, hands laid open to receive the bountiful energy from the universe. Shanti’s eyes were open, her teeth chewed her inner lip, her hands clenched into fists. She looked over her shoulder at the door.

What the hell had she been thinking coming here? She’d stayed away from these places for the last ten years of her life for a reason. This reason. She didn’t fit in.

She didn’t have the attention span to sit still for meditation. She lacked the flexibility for the intricate yoga poses. Why hadn’t she gone on a single’s cruise instead? She didn’t need to get in touch with her inner self. She needed someone to touch her inner self. That’s what would solve her problems.

She gave Wiz a fleeting look before rising. His eyes were closed as he continued to lead the chant. Shanti rose as quietly as possible and exited the room.

Walking into the hall, the explosion of colors and statues brought her back to her childhood. Her father had been a part of the Black Panthers Party’s breakfast program before he began following an Indian Mystic. Her mother was one of the mystic’s many children. Shanti had grown up with a sense of righteous indignation and tolerant compassion.

Her parents were hippies, the kind that pillow surfed from ashram to ashram; mat-surfed through yogavilles; and couch-surfed into the basements of the strangers who they’d met at the ashrams and yogavilles. The way she’d grown up didn’t make it easy to maintain long term relationships with kids her own age.

Her parents had been content to shout, pray, and talk a problem to death. They’d host sit-ins and bed ins, labor strikes (though neither worked a day in their lives), and hunger strikes.

As much as Shanti hated moving around as a kid, she hated sitting still even more. She’d been introduced to too many gods to wait for answered prayers. Shanti was a doer. A mover. A shaker.

She moved quickly to her room and shook the contents of her drawer into her suitcase. She’d thought that getting back to her roots would help her figure out what to do with her future now that her past was so screwed up. But that was a load of bull.

Her early past had been an exercise in trying to be still and peaceful while waiting for the world to change. Her more recent past had been full of her doing, moving fast, and shaking up the status quo. The problem was Shanti learned that those outside of the zen community also preferred to move at a slower pace and wait for the world to change instead of taking the initiative to change it themselves.

Shanti snapped her suitcase closed and made her way back down the hall. She’d planned to be at the ashram for thirty days. She’d wanted to cleanse her spirit and sweep out her soul to rediscover her authentic self. But what she found in a week was that she was who she’d always been.

“You are running away?”

Shanti stopped in her tracks. She turned back to face the little Indian woman. She’d seen the woman a few times during her stay. The woman’s face was round, her cheekbones high, and her eyes overly large. Gray hairs poked out of a scarf. She was bent over on her knees cleaning the floor.

“Your feet move faster than your head,” the woman said. “Slow down so they can catch up. Then you will be where you are supposed to be.”

“I’m not supposed to be here,” Shanti said.

“No,” the old lady smiled. “But slow down and you will get there, yes.”

The old woman came over to Shanti and peered in her eyes.

“Water never needs to rush. It goes slowly and brings the whole beach with it.” She gave Shanti a gentle pat on the check. “All journeys come full circle,” the old woman said with a secret smile on her lips.

Shanti was done with riddles and koans for the time being. She turned and let the door close behind her. She stepped out into the night’s air. She didn’t run. She didn’t have to run. She had nowhere to run to. She’d run so far, so fast, away from all of her parents’ teachings when she became a legal adult.

Well, most of her parents’ teachings.

Okay, well maybe not their teachings, but definitely their lifestyle.

During cold season, Shanti still drank Echinacea Tea and swallowed a clove of garlic instead of visiting the pharmacy. She had a recycling bin instead of a trashcan and a compost under the sink instead of a garbage disposal. She cared about the environment. She cared about animals. She even cared about the humans who were doing all the damage to the environment, the animals, and to themselves. But unlike her parents, Shanti wasn’t content to sit on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion and light candles for peace and compassion.

After her years in the Peace Corp, she found a job that used her specific set of skills in political science and human resources. Instead of sitting down and waiting for change, instead of simply trying to be the change, Shanti tried to pull the change into the present day.

In her small little town, Shanti not only became a loud advocate for change. She became a thorn in the side of farmers who sprayed pesticides on their crops and then posted organic labels on their foods. She helped unionize daycare workers, aligning them with teachers’ unions. She fought for public spaces for women to breastfeed. But when she went after the polluted waterways of the adjacent fishing community, it all came crashing down.

Now, Shanti walked down the busy streets of a small village in the middle of India. Her suitcase bumped her heels as the wheels bumped over the graveled pathway. Off in the distance she saw flashing lights.

Everyone on the streets paused, looking over at the display. Obviously someone had set off fireworks over the waterways. It was a beautiful display of yellows and blues.

Shanti took a seat at a bus stop. The bus might not come until morning, but she had nowhere else to be. No one looking for her.

The nights were warm in India. But a cool breeze blew through the air from the body of water nearby. Shanti had tried to go down and see it earlier in her stay, but the ashram’s strict schedule of peace always precluded her.

Looking at the posted schedule, she saw that the next bus out of the village wasn’t coming for hours. She decided to take a moment to herself. She could go down to the waters. She might even catch more of the fireworks display.

She made slow progress down the path. It gave her time to think. Her feet matched the slow pace of her thoughts as she walked down into the clearing at the water’s edge.

At the clearing’s edge, Shanti looked out over the inky blackness of the still waters. She couldn’t tell if the waters were polluted here. She supposed so.

Even though the planet was seventy percent water, humans seemed to think they couldn’t harm it. They didn’t seem to realize that only a small fraction of that water was viable to them, and the animals needed it more than they did.

But no, humans tossed their refuse into the oceans as though it were a garbage disposal. When she’d gone after the corporations who helped pollute the waters of her city the community had been behind her.

Initially.

Then once the people of the community saw that Shanti’s plans would hurt their pocketbooks in the fishing and crabbing industry, that they’d have to give up some of the rights to their beachfront properties, they turned on her.

It was like the tale of the scorpion that needed a ride across the water and asked a turtle -or was it a frog- to help it get across. The turtle-frog was apprehensive at the request. Who wouldn’t be? The potential passenger had a death ray on its tail. Still being a good-hearted, compassionate creature, like its parents probably crammed into its reptilian brain, it put its trust in the scorpion.

Halfway to the other side, the scorpion stung the turtle, or was it the frog, causing them both to sink. Before they were submerged, the turtle-frog asked why the scorpion did it? Hadn’t the scorpion known they would both die? The scorpion replied that it was his nature.

Shanti sat down under a tree. She reached for the compassion that her parents had instilled in her, but it would not rise. All she felt was bitterness at the people in her community for turning on her when she’d tried to help them. Jealousy that Bow would probably be doing advanced yoga poses in Wiz’s bed tonight. Direction-lessness at which way to go with her life now that she was out of a job and didn’t care to show her face in the community that had said thank you, but no thank you to her help with change.

Out over on the other side of the water, Shanti thought she saw something move on the bank. She peered into the darkness, but stillness reigned in the twilight. She slunk back against the tree and looked up at the branches.

The leaves looked like they bared fig fruits. On closer inspection, she realized she sat underneath a Bodhi Tree. The same tree the Buddha sat under when he became enlightened.

Shanti chuckled. “All right.” She spread her arms skyward. “Enlighten me then.”

She heard a rustle on the ground. She looked down. Under the starry night, she made out the small body of a scorpion. The two stared off; Shanti and the scorpion.

Shanti inched back. The scorpion took a skittered step to the side.

Shanti sprang to a crouch, but she wasn’t fast enough. The scorpion struck. The last thing she remembered, as she toppled over from the poison coursing through her blood, was a hooded figure floating down towards her.

***

 

3: WAYLAID

Chen glided across the waters towards the prone figuring laying beneath the foliage of an arbor. He’d heard the woman’s cry of distress. Before that, he’d heard her heartfelt plea.

He didn’t understand her words. The language was not his mother’s tongue, but Chen read emotions clearly. Before something caused her distress, she was calling out to the Heavens for enlightenment.

As Chen made his way over to her, he looked down into the murky depths of the waters. A wave of disappointment crashed over him. Though the only light was from the moon’s glow, Chen saw that the water didn’t match any of the blue from his mother’s memories. There would be no diving into its murky stillness.

When he’d landed a while ago, he’d seen the water clearly, though the liquid wasn’t clear. Both the light from the planet’s star and the lights from the ship’s transport illuminated the waters. Refuse bobbed to the surface along with the carcasses of dead and decaying marine life. Chen’s plans of sailing on a clear blue wave crashed when he saw the metallic scrapings he’d meet if he dared to wade in.

Careful of the vegetation underfoot, Chen glided away from the transport and wandered around perplexed. The bottom of his long robes trailed over a plant that closed off its petals in the absence of the light. Chen felt the petals sparking to life and reaching up to the soles of his feet as he drifted above them.

This was his mother’s village. He would never doubt Hsing’s navigation. His brother was meticulous and precise in all things.

Chen had stepped out of the clearing and came face-to-face with human life. Not exactly face-to-face as he was covered in dark robes and a hooded cloak. His kind genetically and physically favored their fathers’ and not their mother’s species. Though Chen had many traits from his human mother, there were some noticeable physical differences and Chen didn’t wish to alarm the humans. Access to this planet was restricted and abduction was illegal.

Chen was not typically a rule breaker. But the times called for drastic measures. It wasn’t in Chen’s nature to go to extremes. He could bend, not break. He’d decided he wouldn’t abduct a woman. He would take one that was willing. Not just any woman; one who called to his soul.

Moving into the mix of humans in the village, Chen felt his soul weighing down with each step. The amount of people out overwhelmed him. His kind were a small society, even before the war. The amount of humans out in the streets were more than the entire crew on his ship.

There hadn’t been this many people in his mother’s memories. There also hadn’t been so many structures cluttered together. The dwellings were tall and spaced close together. Smoke rose in the air coloring the night’s sky gray. The lights posted on the faces of some of the structures were of a spectrum on the light scale that hurt Chen’s eyes.

As he made his way deeper into the village, his nose was assaulted with the smell of various foods. When he inhaled, his throat seized. He spluttered, coughing loudly. His hood nearly slipped from his head to reveal his face. A few humans looked his way.

Chen took smaller breaths, breathing through his mouth. Like humans, oxygen was necessary for his life’s blood. Oxygen was a naturally occurring chemical throughout the universe.

The human food was laced with several chemical compounds, most toxic, others he simply couldn’t fathom why they’d allow them near their food supply? Not only were the chemicals unappetizing, the look of the food turned his stomach. It appeared as though they’d purposely mixed the chemicals into the brown, orange, and yellow mush on purpose.

Chen also noticed a lack of wildlife in the area. What animals he saw were caged or on leashes. Chen closed his eyes and reached out into the surrounding hills. He sensed a conscious effort of animals in the wild keeping their distance out of fear and loathing for humankind. He sensed no tigers nearby.

Chen’s shoulders slumped. There would be no blue itinerary. There would be no new memories of his own. This place resembled a bad dream he wanted to escape quickly.

How had things changed in such a short time? One thousand revolutions was not a lot of time on the Heaven’s clock. The Earth was still a young planet. It didn’t get many uninvited visitors from the Heavens. The planet was under the protection of the Neterians, the oldest beings in the universe. Since they had a vested interest in the bipedal beings the Earth had birthed, most higher beings stayed away from the planet. Or at least they didn’t make themselves known to the adolescent humankind.

Chen pulled his cloak further down his forehead. Hsing’s edict had been to grab the first woman he saw and return. As much as Chen abhorred the idea of abduction, he felt even more revulsion at taking a woman who didn’t call to his core. None of the women in the village appealed to him. They all rushed about with hunched shoulders. Many had children in their arms. Chen was completely averse to taking a mother away from its offspring.

Many of the young girls had the countenance of grown women as though they’d lived a hard and jaded life in their short time. Chen felt the weight of their sadness. He wanted to go to them, to help to alleviate their strains. But he couldn’t. He didn’t have time.

Both Chen and Hsing wanted a mate of their mother’s heritage. But none of the women Chen encountered in the village compared to the light in their mother’s eyes, the strength in her heart, the clarity of her mind. Chen would not condemn himself, or his brother, to a life of discontent.

That’s when Chen turned and headed back to the transport. This was a decision that would affect the rest of their lives’. It would affect the direction of the lives’ of those remaining on their ship. It could not be made in haste. The woman they chose could not be random. She needed to be special.

Now, looking out across the water, something pricked at the base of Chen’s spine and the crown of his head. The base of the spine was the seat of sexual desire. The crown of the head was the highest point of awareness. The prone form on the opposing bank called to both points, and Chen made his way to her.

He stepped onto the shore. The gravel crunched beneath his feet. The first thing that caught his eye was her brown skin. It was a deeper shade than his mother’s had been.

Her dress differed from his mother’s as well. The woman was clad in a small scrap of cloth that covered her sex and showed off her long, toned legs. Her waist was small in comparison to her hips and breasts. Though she lay prone, her breasts were still full and mountainous. Her long, lush eyelids rested at the tops of her cheekbone. His gaze traveled down to her pink lips and something deep inside of him flared.

Chen swallowed. There were no more distress signals coming from her. She was at peace. He reached towards her. His fingers itched to make contact.

A rustle of sand sounded beside him. Chen turned and caught a flash of blue. The small creature with many legs and external skeleton resembled the Arachnites of the planet Spenthro. Only this being was miniature. It was a lovely color of blue. Chen smiled in greeting.

The creature reared its tail, a sharp point at its end. Chen didn’t need to reach out to know that the creature felt threatened by his presence. He reached out because he knew the creature did not understand that he posed no threat.

Chen sent a wave of compassion toward the animal, showing it he meant it no harm or malice. He showed the creature a few of his mother’s memories: blue waves, lush green forests, the sound of laughing human children.

The creature sent back an image of the refuse in the murky waters, the shaved stumps of cut down arbors. It sent an image of pebbles turning as it scurried away from small humans with sticks swinging at it. The creature wanted to be left undisturbed, to live its life in quiet. It attacked in defense.

This would be an animal after Hsing’s heart. Hsing would go to any length to protect what was left of his home and his family. The creature showed refuse littering the path to its home. Next it showed long legs towering over the entrance to its abode.

Chen looked to the woman lying prone on the ground. Her long, shapely legs matched those of the creature’s vision.

The creature continued sending short bursts of images. A flash of the woman in its path. A flash of the woman raising her hands; large, menacing, and crowding out the night star. A flash of her large eyes as she stared at it, intent on destruction. A flash as it scurried forth and struck the woman in self-defense.

Chen saw the woman in the creature’s mind’s eye. He heard her desires and her heartfelt plea. But, looking through the creature’s eyes, Chen saw how the movements could be perceived as threatening to something so small.

Watching the creature’s memories, Chen saw the fear in the eyes of the woman as she saw the creature preparing to strike. The woman fell. The scorpion retreated a few steps, now defenseless after expending all of its venom.

Venom?

The creature sent a final flash to Chen, a flash that left him cold. The last image was of refuse covering the woman’s body as it decayed in the murky waters.

Chen felt a double dose of fear. This was not a memory from the creature, it was its intention.

Chen narrowed his eyes on the small creature. Its eight legs backed away, its pincer high. Chen was a peaceful being by nature, but anger rose in him at the creature’s threats towards this woman.

With the creature now gone into the night, Chen turned back to the prone woman. His hands shook as they hovered over her body. Something deep inside told him that once he touched her it would change everything. A prickle of energy ran up his spine from the base to the crown.

She’s the one, the energy whispered.

Chen found the spot on her leg where the creature struck. The skin was puckered and red. He saw it throbbing with pain. It wasn’t peace she was experiencing. It was paralysis. He could wait no longer.

His fingers wrapped around her thigh. His eyes were caught in the contrast of brown skin and blue fingers. The pads of his fingers contacted her skin, and it was as though his entire being opened. Chen’s instinct was to latch on to her and never let go. But overriding that instinct was a self-preservation instinct; an instinct to preserve her.

The poison wasn’t life threatening. But it caused her body great distress. The distress arrowed directly to Chen’s heart. He had to make it stop.

Chen folded himself down next to her. He gently lifted her head and placed it into his lap. Her lips parted, and he froze. His loins pulsed with desire. He shoved the lust away and focused.

He placed one hand on her forehead, the other on the inflicted area of her thigh. Chen dug into himself, reaching deep into his well of peace. Then he reached to her, for her.

He pulled against the venom, pulled against the current within her that spread the poison through her. Chen pulled against the tide. He separated the venom from her blood. He wrapped his will around the molecules that contained the neurotoxins and he pulled them until they receded from her body.

Slowly, her body began to move. First her legs twitched. Then her chest rose. Her hands clenched. Her thighs pressed together. A deep moan escaped her lips.

He knew he should remove her from his lap. He was deeply aroused. But the last thing he wanted was to be parted from her.

Her eyes opened. They locked with Chen’s.

Her mouth moved. Chen couldn’t understand the words coming from her. He was too distracted by her lips to reach out to understand her emotions.

He pushed his hood back, revealing his face.

The woman let out a blood-curdling scream.

***


4: AWAKENED

Shanti expected pain, but her whole body hummed, like that glowing feeling after an orgasm. God, it had been so long since she’d felt that hum of electricity between her thighs. If only this feeling were from a man.

But it wasn’t.

The last thing she remembered was the blue scorpion coming towards her. Then pain in her leg. She’d heard that some predators sent endorphins into their prey as they ate them. If so, she wished she’d gotten stung to death a few months earlier so that she could’ve experienced this kind of release before laying down a chunk of her savings in search of a spiritual release in India. This feeling traveling through her body was the ultimate release.

Oh no, she grimaced. She was dead. That eight-legged freak killed her. All she’d been doing was looking for a sign from God. But she guessed God intended to talk to her face-to-face.

Shanti struggled to open her eyes. When they adjusted she saw the dark blanket of night disturbed only by the stars that poked through. She wondered where she was. That looked like the Big Dipper over there. Was she still on Earth? Maybe she was having an out-of-body experience?

But…no. It felt like she was still in her body. The tingling in her leg continued. It radiated down to her toes and up through her spine. There was no pain. Instead, it felt…good. Really good.

Her mind turned to the sweet release that hummed at the base of her spine. She gave into the need to press her thighs together. But the friction didn’t work. It increased the pressure. And that wasn’t the only place she felt a delicious pressure.

It radiated up and down her leg. She also felt a pressure resting on her head. When she tried to blink, she felt an obstruction on her brow. Her eyes flicked over to the side. A hooded figure loomed over her.

This must be the Angel of Death. Wasn’t that Saint Peter? But she was pretty sure Saint Peter didn’t wear a hood. Plus there were no shimmering wings.

Maybe it was Anubis, the Egyptian god of the Underworld. That was whom her father had expected to meet at the end.

Shanti had spent many nights wondering who greeted her parents at the end of their lives. Her parents subscribed to different religious systems from each other. Her father began his life praying to Jesus, then prostrating to Allah, and finally ended up following a cult that worshiped the ancient Egyptian gods.

Her mother had been a different story, or rather the same continuous story. From birth to death, Shanti’s mother continued her lifelong devotion to Shiva. In life, her parents’ different beliefs didn’t interfere with their love. They had been the most accepting people she’d ever known.

Shanti had never subscribed to any particular religion. She’d gone through so many in her youth that they all melded together. She did know that there was a Creator. It was evident in every blade of grass, in the organic systems of all living creatures, in the perfection of the ecosystem. That is, before humans began poking at it with a stick.

She was surprised to find her easy acceptance of this next stage of her existence. She was health-conscious by birthright. She’d expected to live an active life as an octogenarian as the coach-potato adults and the handheld-device addicted youth in her community withered away after half a century. She’d wanted to be able to say ‘I told you so’ to everyone who went against her and continued to pollute the waterways. She’d wanted to dance in front of them in her svelte yoga body as they all lay in hospital beds on dialysis. Now it looked like they’d have the last laugh.

Thirty was too soon to go. But so far death was having its perks. For example, that building buzz of an orgasm. She wanted to hold still and let the waves of pleasure consume her. But then they stopped. The pleasant pressure released from her leg, but not her forehead.

She looked down at her leg. The hooded being had removed his -or maybe her- hand. Shanti tried to peer into the darkness of the hood, but she could see no facial features. She saw no dog muzzle to indicate Anubis either.

“Am I going to heaven?” Shanti asked.

No response.

“To Nirvana?” She wracked her brain through all the religions her parents had introduced her to. “Elysium? Shangri-La? Zion?”

Still no response.

“Well, I can’t be going to Hell. Not with all the work I’ve done for the environment and animals.”

The hooded figure pushed his hood back, revealing his face and Shanti let out a blood-curdling scream.

She’d never thought the Creator was a being like her. She didn’t think such a craftsman had a huge ego to shape its highest being in its own likeness. Plus she believed in evolution, which told her that humans were not born first. Neither were they naturally the highest on the food chain. Had it not been for a meteor, the dinosaurs would have eventually evolved to write the stories that would make up religious texts and humans would be worshiping a reptilian god.

It was a shock to see such a different being up close and personal. The closest approximation Shanti could use to describe this being was that he looked like a depiction of the Buddha. Not the human prophet Siddartha Gutama, who was an Indian, human male. This being resembled the cone-headed Buddha depictions with nodes around his dome instead of hair. His skin was a pale shade of blue. His eyes were overlarge and without lashes.

When all the air left her lungs at the end of the scream, Shanti calmed down and caught her breath. As common sense returned, she guessed this all made logical sense. She was in India, after all. It was fitting that one of that culture’s idols serve as her guide into the after life.

The being held up his hand. Even his fingers were overlong. It took Shanti’s mind in a different direction, wondering if all of his limbs were long.

God, she was horny even in death.

The hooded figure stretched out his fingers to her as though he wanted her to take his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Shanti placed her hand in his. The second their palms touched, warmth flooded her body.

Pictures flashed through her mind. She saw an Indian woman smiling at her. The woman was familiar. She looked like the old woman who cleaned the ashram; the one who’d told Shanti she’d come full circle. But this woman was younger, and she was surrounded by other cone-headed males with big eyes. Blue men, purple men, green men. Then stars. So many stars. And planets. Planets of colors she’d never imagined.

Was this what she could expect after life on Earth? To travel amongst the stars?

“Yes.”

Shanti blinked and refocused on the being before her. His lips hadn’t moved, but she got the sense he was communicating with her.

“Would you like to see the stars?”

Shanti gasped. Her gasp was the only sound in the clearing. His lips still hadn’t moved. The words she’d heard in her head hadn’t been words, more of an image of the stars in a sea of dark space and a sense of someone welcoming her into that space.

“I have not heard the language of the Earth for many years.” His large eyes probed hers. “My deepest apologies if you find this invasive.”

He went to withdraw his hands from hers. Shanti clasped his back, tightly.

“No. It’s fine,” she said aloud. “It’s just -I’ve never experienced this before. Well, of course I’ve never experienced this before. Unless there’s such a thing as past lives, which my mother believed in, but I’ve never been so sure. I don’t really know what I believe? Which is crazy now that I sit here before you and you’re giving me a choice of what to do next with my soul.”

Shanti stopped her tirade and took a deep, cleansing breath. She stared up at his eyes. His deep, soulful eyes.

“Did you understand any of that?” she asked. She waited to hear his response, but it sounded from within her, from somewhere deep within. It began in her gut and radiated to her head. She struggled to concentrate on his words, or were they his thoughts?

“I understand that my touch does not repulse you.” His thumb rubbed the ridge of her hand.

Shanti felt a thrill skitter up her arm. “I like the way you touch me,” she said.

A small smile ticked at the corner of his mouth. His lips were full. She wondered what they would feel like against her lips, her neck?

His hand moved to her neck.

Shanti’s eyes widened. “Oh god, are you reading all of my thoughts?”

He shook his head slowly, his eyes still fastened to her neck. “I do not understand all of your words.”

His eyes traveled across her lips. Shanti felt the heat. She pulled the corner of her lower lip into her mouth.

His eyes locked on her mouth. “I can read your emotions, your desires, clearly.”

Shanti’s lips parted. His nostrils flared.

Oh God, was she seriously flirting with this…she didn’t know what he was.

“I am Eloheem.”

Shanti knew that word. It was the Hebrew word for angel. So this was it. She really was dead. She looked down at her leg. The wound was closed. Only a red spot remained, but the redness was fading fast before her eyes.

“I sense unease within you,” the Eloheem said.

Shanti turned back to him. But he was no longer looking at her eyes, lips, or neck.

“Does it still ache?” His hands went to her thigh.

When his long fingers brushed her skin, Shanti shivered. That pleasure-filled pressure ran to her core. Her eyes closed unbidden. A soft moan escaped her lips.

“I sense another ache in you.”

“Yes,” she moaned aloud.

The physical feel of his fingers combined with the mental invasion of his voice threatened to send Shanti over a cliff of pleasure.

“Tell me your name,” he whispered into her mind.

“Shanti.”

“Shanti.” This time the sound hit her ears.

Shanti opened her eyes. His large eyes roamed over her body leaving a trail of heat in its wake.

“If you come with me,” he said into her mind, “you will never ache again. I promise you…”

Shanti watched as his mouth opened. She saw his tongue, saw his teeth clench the second before he sounded out her name.

“…Shanti.”

Shanti couldn’t form any words with her lips. Luckily she didn’t have to. He said he could read her emotions, her desires. What she felt was crystal clear.

She reached for his hand. When their fingers clasped, Shanti knew her life, or whatever this existence now was, would be forever linked to this man, or whatever this being before her was.

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