"Ouch! Shit!" I hit my head on the tailgate latch of the hovercraft as I'm unloading groceries. I actually see stars -- and something else. Out of the corner of my eye, just a glimpse, but as clear and as real as the pain I feel I see It. It is as white as new snow with horizontal black slits for eyes and mouth, vertical slits for nostrils and a wicked snake of a black tongue flicking in my direction as it stares back at me.
"Father, are you OK?"
Toon, our ten-year-old daughter, is looking up at me with concerned eyes. She rarely calls me "Father." She favors my first name, Ganesh, or some tribal term of disrespect. She reaches up and touches the back of my head and draws away two bloody fingers.
"Kamini, Ganesh has done something stupid, again."
"Toon, don't yell. Don't disturb your mother. Shit!" I ease down to sit in the bed of the hovercraft. Toon grabs my arm to help me.
"Ganesh, are you going to be OK? I'll go get Mother."
"No, no, I'm OK. Go tell your mother I'll be in in a minute."
Toon looks like she's too concerned to leave me by myself.
"Go on, Toon. Take the groceries with you. Go."
She glances over her shoulder at me as she carries the bags into the house.
I'm not OK. Not OK at all. I've forgotten about the bump on the head. That thing, the look it gave me. Scared me to the bone, rocked my foundation. That thing will give me fucking nightmares.
In our kitchen, with the strong, talented hands of my wife tending to my wound, I start to relax.
"Kamini, what're you doing to my head, honey? It's just a scratch."
She leans over me and cushions my head with her bosom and massages my shoulders.
"Ohh that feels so, so good. Don't stop."
"You are such a big baby. You know that, don't you? You need three stitches and a little bed magic, and you will be as good as new."
"Skip the stitches and let's go directly to the bed magic. Send the girls to the store or something." I start to stand, but those strong, comforting hands push me back down.
"No. Stitches first. It will be quick."
Kamini has skilled hands that have saved more than one life. I'm comfortable in her hands like no others, including medical professionals. But Kamini calls Toon and tells her it's time she learned to treat this kind of wound. Our daughter is a bit too eager to take a needle to my flesh.
Toon postures and addresses me as her version of a medical professional. "Ganesh, I do not ordinarily make house calls, but I will make an exception in your case. Now, could you describe how you received this wound? Did Kamini do --"
"Toon, get on with it, or you will be on permanent house restriction. And be careful."
Under Kamini's supervision, our daughter does a quick and neat repair. I give her a hug in payment and a smile for a tip. Of course, Toon, like any medical professional, requests cash.
Toon is eager to spend her surgery income.
"Hey, take your sister to the store with you."
"Ganesh, she's hiding. She's so stupid. She's mental and --"
Kamini gives Toon a look that stops her rant immediately. Toon swallows hard and looks away from her mother.
"I'm sorry. I apologize. I will get her green grapes. Clue likes green grapes." As Toon leaves, she sticks her head back in the doorway. "I hope you two have a good time doing the nasty." And she is away like a flash.
We do have a good time doing the nasty.
"Ganesh, what troubles you? Are you troubled over Clue?"
Clue is our other daughter. The eight-year-old that's hiding. "Wife, in your presence nothing troubles me." I lean over and nibble at her earlobe.
Kamini ducks away from me. "Husband, Clue may need to return to the Aboriginal Home Lands for help --"
"No, no Clue is in a development stage --"
"Ganesh, she is traveling into forbidden places --"
"Kamini, I will not send her away to the Tribal Lands or anywhere else. That will not happen."
And we are at it again, face to face, eye to eye. Stalemate.
"Look, look I'm sorry. I just ... Look, I was not worried about Clue. Clue will be just fine. I --"
"Something troubles you. What is it?"
I shrug and tell her what I saw out of the corner of my eye.
"NO! No! Fuck!" I have never heard my wife curse, and I have never seen the expression on her face before. She's flying out of bed, throwing on clothes. "I'm going to get Toon. Find Clue. Stay with her. Do not let her out of your sight. Now!"
"Kamini, what --"
"Slith! It saw you looking at it. You never let a Slith see you looking at it! It will come for us all. Move husband, now. Our lives depend on it."
"But, what is --"
And it's too late; my wife is disappearing out the door.
Clue started hiding when she was six. It was cute. She was easy to find, and we all treated it as a game, at first. But it got more and more difficult to find her. It was like she faded into the wall or floor or furniture. Like she was invisible.
She made us all a little nervous with her disappearing act, and she disappeared for longer and longer periods of time. She has been gone for over sixteen hours at a time.
Kamini thinks Clue is visiting the underworld and other worlds where she has no business being. Dangerous places where she may be trapped, unable to return to us. I respect my wife's beliefs, but I don't believe any of that tribal myth.
I'm the only one that can find her now. I don't look for her. I close my eyes and call her in my mind, without words. Sometimes, I call until I'm exhausted, until my brain is on fire. And eventually, she will send me a picture of where she is. I will go to her, hug her, chastise her and she will promise not to hide for so long. And we both know that promise will not be kept.
This time, I only call her name once. She's in her room sitting in a corner.
"Do you know what a Slith is, Daughter?"
Clue is small for her age, but nowhere is she weak or fragile. Her eyes are wide now as she shakes her head no. "Father, what's wrong? Where are Mother and Sister?"
"They are --"
We both turn at the sound of the front door opening and Kamini's shouting. "Toon! Ganesh!"
Clue and I meet Kamini a few steps into our front room. "Kamini, where is Toon?"
"Dead or on the run. We --"
"Kamini, I will find her. She's not fucking dead! Don't say that! She's alive!"
Kamini steps in front of me, grabs my face in her hands, looks into my eyes. "The three of us have little chance. Without you we have no chance."
I want to slap her hands away, dash out the door, find Toon. Instead I ask questions. "What the fuck is a Slith? Why is it after us? How do we kill it?"
Kamini drops down and looks Clue in the eyes. "Little one, we need you with us. Stay with us." Kamini looks up at me. "A Slith is a thing that lives in between. It has no home. It lives off the rage, anger, jealousy and such of other beings. They are invisible to our kind most of the time. If a Slith knows it has been seen it will kill the witness and those the witness might have confided in."
"Sure, yeah, right, I should have known that, right? Kamini, I didn't grow up on the tribal lands. Okay, How do we kill it?"
"We defend ourselves." Kamini moves to the fireplace and grabs a poker and tosses it to me. She moves toward the kitchen when our kitchen door explodes open. I leap in front of Kamini and Clue. Toon slams into me. I grab her and glimpse something white dashing up our back walk. I twist around and slam my body into the door at the same time the Slith hits the door from outside. The door holds.
I take my hand from Toon's back. It is red with blood. Toon is shaking with fear and shock.
"Mo-No." It is an order from Kamini to our daughters to stand and fight. "Husband, let her go."
I'm too angry at my wife to respond with words. I hold up my bloody hand to Kamini. It means nothing to my Indigenous People wife. "If she can run, she can fight." Kamini grabs Toon by her hair and snatches her away from me, she plucks up a long-bladed kitchen knife and forces it into Toon's hand.
We all turn to look at Clue standing with her thin arms folded across her chest.
Our attention snaps back to the door as a thick white arm burst through the glass at the top of the door.
We are on the attack instantly. Kamini stabs deeply. Toon provides a vicious slash both cuts leave an ugly black sludge draining from the wounds. I provide two blows with the poker that focus my anger, fear, and frustration.
The arm is snatched back out of the door.
A second later the door explodes into the kitchen, knocking me back several feet and smashing me to the floor. The Slith steps in and fills the doorway, and once in the kitchen it grows to stand a few inches below the ceiling.
I roll to my feet as Kamini and Toon dash in to slash at the Slith's legs.
My left side is useless as I lunge in with my poker.
The Slith snatches me up and uses me as a club to send Clue and Kamini flying into the kitchen counter. A knife slices my right shoulder. Clue is out cold. Kamini has an injury to her right leg and is crawling frantically toward a knife on the floor. The Slith slams me down on Kamini and moves in for the kill.
I see Clue sitting in the corner, her knees drawn up to her chin, her eyes as big and bright as moons.
I know we're as good as dead. "Hide!" I'm screaming it to Clue.
There is a blink in reality. I'm lying on some strange soil that feels like flesh. Trees with tentacles. The sun is black and the sky is gold.
The Slith looks as surprised as I do.
The green and orange lizard is twice the size of the Slith, and its lightning attack takes off the Slith's right arm, the black sludge leaps from the wound.
It is not a fair fight. It's over in seconds, and the lizard is gorging itself on the Slith's remains. The red-eyed lizard shifts its attention to me for a second.
There's a blink.
I'm back on the kitchen floor looking into Clue's eyes. She's on her hands and knees, licking black sludge from her chin. The Slith has vanished. I want to reach out and embrace Clue, thank her, but I can't, not right now. After I tend to Kamini and Toon, I will hold her. I will. If I can, I will.
I look at my wife, Kamini, the outsider in so many ways. Among her Plum People, she's an outsider because of her dark purple, almost black color. The Plum people have a decided preference for lighter, brighter skin tones.
And she's a Badlands Aboriginal Person. All the peoples from the Badlands are suspect, feared, and despised because the Badlands have a reputation for corrupting and distorting the best of human instincts and qualities. The Badlands "... are a laboratory for the perverse," according to a High Government report.
Kamini is also an outsider because she married me, an "Invader" an "Inhuman" a non-aboriginal person.
And we, Kamini and I, and our daughters, Toon and Clue, live outside the Tribal Lands, in the "inhuman world" where all Aboriginal People are viewed as outsiders as are those who consort with them.
Toon and Clue are half-breed, two-toned, mixed up, mongrels, outsiders in the Aboriginal and the "inhuman" worlds.
Our family, the four of us, are a nation unto ourselves. For us, everyone else is an outsider. We are our own sanctuary. And that's why I find it almost impossible to understand why Kamini is demanding I kill -- no, destroy -- our eight-year-old daughter, Clue, because Clue is different.
"The difference is the near certainty that our daughter will bring great harm to those closest to her and many, many, uncountable numbers of others."
"Kamini, wife of mine, that harm is all speculation and projection, all based on myth and legend. That is not the basis for harming, much less, killing anyone."
"Ganesh, husband of mine, Clue is a Traveler. She's not hindered by space or time or situation. She defies all rules of nature and being. You know this better than I. She took you to the giant lizard's home with the black sun and the gold skies."
"Yes, yes she did, but to protect us. To save us from a monster. We should celebrate her, not fear her."
Kamini touches my face with the tips of her fingers, follows the lines and contours, a light caress, a soft blessing.
"Think, husband. Clue did not need to take you to that odd place to protect you. She could have left you here as she did her sister and me. You would have been far safer here. She put you at an unnecessary risk. So, why did she take you to that distant world?"
"I, I don't know. I just don't know. Maybe to show me --"
"To show off. She's a child with the powers of a Goddess. She was showing off to the most important person in her life. Husband, she could have killed you in the process of showing off."
I take my wife's hands in mine. She is right. I hadn't thought about it, but my wife is right. I ponder and reflect as I massage Kamini's hands and fingers.
"Wife, what would you have me do? She's a child. She, like the rest of us, deserves the chance to grow up, to grow wiser. I want that for her."
"Ganesh, you are a husband and father. Your duty is clear, to protect your spouse and other daughter from almost certain harm."
"I don't see the threat clearly, and its certainty is even more vague and distant."
"And you are a citizen. You owe a similar duty to your whole human family and to other living things."
I take grapes from the bowl, peel and feed them to my wife of 12 years.
"If only I saw the danger from Clue --"
"Husband, the danger is a child with power beyond imagination, and the other thing that you don't speak of to me or even allow yourself to reflect on."
Kamini stands behind my chair and massages my neck and shoulders. "Close your eyes, husband, relax and tell me again what you saw on the black sun world."
"The lizard attacked the monster without warning, without hesitation --"
"With eager enthusiasm, with glee?"
I nod in agreement. "And it ripped the arm from the Slith, and chewed off the monster's head and devoured it."
"The lizard was not satisfied with victory or dominance. It was ravenous. Was it not?"
My response is barely a whisper. "It was, indeed it was." We are silent for a moment. The whole house is listening now.
"Husband, what did you see when you returned from the land of golden skies?"
I take a deep breath and pull Kamini around to face me. "I saw Clue on her hands and knees licking the monster's black blood from her chin."
"Did you rush to our savior and embrace her, thank her, celebrate her victory?"
I shrug, shake my head no.
"Was she a hideous thing in your eyes?"
I kiss my wife gently.
"Did she frighten you?"
I gather my hat and jacket.
"A child, a child of enormous, voracious appetites. A creature bound by no rules but her own. You have to see her threat to all living things."
I need to walk to think about the unthinkable.
"Husband, before you go. I would do it. Toon and I would do it, would have done it, but Clue would see the thoughts forming in our minds. She would destroy us with little discomfort and some satisfaction. She would have you all to herself. Be safe husband, be well."
I walk toward the Red River in the cool autumn night without the illusion of safety or the hope of ever being well again.
Clue and I are walking the narrow beach in Red River Park. Our fishing gear is in our backpacks. My bayonet from my service days is new equipment I have added to my pack.
Clue usually flies down the beach, pretending to be a bird or aircraft or rocket, but this morning she reflects my somber mood and walks beside me with her head down stealing occasional glances up at me.
We leave the Park and take a narrow hidden path through thick shrubbery to a tiny little inlet just a few feet deep and six times as wide. It is our hidden fishing spot. My daughters and I have spent many mornings here. This is where I taught them to fish. This is where they sneak off to sometimes to surprise us with fresh fish for lunch.
We take out our rods and reels, bait our hooks, say prayers to the Goddess for luck and cast out.
"Father are you angry with me? Toon is. She called me a coward. Father, my sister is ashamed of me."
"Did you tell her how you saved us all?"
"I tried to, but she said that was just some bullshit you and I had made up to cover my yellow streak."
"So, what did you do?"
Clue holds up her right fist. "I smashed her in the stomach." Clue is trying hard to hold back her tears. "She would not hit me back. She spat on me, called me worm droppings and walked away."
A few tears escape now.
"Clue, give your sister time to understand. She will, and soon you two will be bashing each other like old times."
"Are you mad at me Father?"
"No, but I need to understand your, your travels. How do you pick a place a destination? Had you been to the black sun world before?"
"No. I just made it up. I just thought about what we needed to kill the Slith."
I reach over and wipe away her tears.
"So, there's no real black sun world?"
She looks at me sideways like she does when she thinks I'm being dense, or I'm teasing her.
"Father, of course it's real. I made it up, and that makes it real. You were there."
"But, but just making up something doesn't make it real. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, that's true for some things. Like, I want to turn Toon into a monkey or, or have the chores do themselves. I think that all the time, but it never happens."
"You want to turn your sister into a monkey?"
"A monkey would be way more fun than Toon. Do you think we could get a monkey?"
"I, I -- no monkey, we can't get a monkey. But you created a whole world, a planet, a solar system. How did you do that, Clue?"
"See, it's simple. I needed the lizard, and I created the lizard and the rest just fills itself in."
I'm speechless. I have no idea how to respond to that.
"Hey, Father are you OK? You have a bite." Clue grabs my pole sets the hook and reels in a good-sized bass.
"Clue, how many creatures or worlds have you created? If you know?"
She shrugs and carefully removes the hook and places the fish on the stringer.
"OK, OK, the lizard on the black sun world, was that you? I mean --" I don't know what I mean.
Clue smiles up at me as she baits my hook. "Yeah, cool, huh?"
I feel a little faint. "You, the lizard, ate the Slith? Right?"
She licks her lips in fond memory. "Yeah, like Mother says, 'don't waste food.' I ate every bit of it."
I close my eyes, rub my forehead. "You, you must have been very hungry."
"Yes, making up stuff makes me hungry, real hungry."
"Do you eat like that on every place you create?"
Clue concentrates on her fishing as she responds. "No, that was just a snack. I could eat a herd of Sliths. I mean, I do eat a lot of things." She turns to look at me. "You know, it's like baking cookies. You have to eat some, right?"
I nod in response. I do not want to pursue this topic anymore, ever.
"Clue, right now, this minute, could you take me, us to the moon, to our moon?"
"Huh, don't be silly. How would I do that? I could create a moon and take us there. You want me to create a moon for us?"
"I couldn't live on the moon, honey. There's no air, no --"
"Father, you could live on our moon. Why would I make us a moon that you could not live on?"
I shut up and fish. I nod or give yes and no answers to her questions and comments. We each catch two more fish; the tide rolls out, and we head home.
The moon is full and high in the sky. Kamini and I sit across from each on our back lawn, resting on the litter of fallen leaves.
"Wife, as you see, she's not a Traveler. I don't know what she is. Do you?"
"She's impossible, inexplicable, beyond memory and myth ... She is a killer on a mass scale. That she is."
"And a creator on an even larger scale."
We sit. The breeze ruffles the leaves, touches our skin.
"She may be unknowable, husband. She may be a Goddess?"
We reach out and hold hands to warm us, to bind us, to give each other courage.
"Husband, I married you because Travelers run in families, and there is a rumor, that we had a Traveler in our family in the deep past. I believed that in marrying outside my people, I could break the curse forever. Our Elders approved of my marriage for this reason."
"You made a sacrifice for the good of your people. How noble."
"Have I not been a good and sufficient wife to you?"
"I do and did not want to be used for the good of the fucking people. I married you because I loved you."
"And now you will stop loving me because I have told you a bit of the truth?"
"You used me."
"Yes, to provide a strong, loyal companion, a competent lover, a considerate friend, a stellar father. I used you for all these things."
"Kamini, I -- Competent?"
"Hush, there is more. If you had allowed me to send Clue back to the Tribal Lands, the Elders would have destroyed her as we destroy all Travelers. I would have betrayed you. I was wrong. In that, I have shamed you and our family."
I hold her hands tighter now and stare deeply into her eyes. "Is there more?"
"No. Yes. In trying to avoid my fate, we have created something beyond comprehension. I deserve this fate, but not you."
"Wife, listen and hear me on this. I think we, this world and all we know and are, exist because that creature we call Clue imagined herself into being, and we are the fill-ins, as she calls them. We are the necessary conditions for her existence in this particular form in this particular time and place."
Kamini pulls her hands away, touches my face, shakes her head in confusion and disbelief.
"Clue wants to take you and Toon to the black sun world to prove to her sister that she told the truth about saving us. Think on that, wife."
"Toon is a woman now. She fought bravely for her family. She must make her own decision. I will go with my daughter. I will accept her invitation."
I stand and reach down to my wife. "Come to bed, wife. I need your comfort. I need you."
In my heart, I know I'm right about Clue being the cause of our creation and maybe all creation, but she's not all-powerful. She can't change her sister into a monkey or automate her chores or travel across time and space at will. At least that's what she tells me.
It is all too much to deal with now or perhaps ever. Maybe, I will mull it over on our own family moon. Now that would be something. That would really be something.