Bounce, bounce, bounce; the small, orange ball danced its joyful rhythm between the small hand coaxing it downward, and the polished, marble floor sending it back u. Occasionally a shrill of glee eched through the scented afternoon air as the ball changed into red, purple or green, depending on how long it kept its rhythm going without interruption. A beat was missed and the ball leaped into the air.
Kiu's green eyes looked upward, following the ball's path where it struck a branch from an overhanging tree. The ball bounced off, sending rainbow lights in every direction. Her delicate ears heard it whirling and humming as it flew overhead. She raced across the courtyard and caught it just before the ball would've bounced off the railing and vanished into the jungle below.
With the shiny ball held tightly to her, Kiu peered gingerly over the iron and stone railing. The rock cliff supporting her house fell away in a mosaic of grey and emerald patterns. From her vantage point she could see the red tiled roofs of other houses far below as cliffs marched away into the sparkling blue ocean. She watched the breeze play with hundreds of colorful streamers attached to roofs and trees; each dancing to its own melody. Even a few kites ventured over the cliffs; attracting blue and red, long-tailed birds who flittered and darted between them.
"Kiu, supper time!" called her mother from the house.
She turned and ran into the low lying wood structure with its broad porch, tiled roof and stained glass windows.
"Mommy, why doesn't the Curacura give us any more fruit?" Kiu was asking while sitting on her mother's lap.
"We used to have them but a couple years ago they stopped and now we go hungry."
They were seated beneath an arbor overlooking the jungle. The evening air was thick with scented flowers. A soft, warmish glow illuminated the area via Light Orbs dangling from the arbor and tree branches.
Her mom didn't speak for awhile as she ran a comb through Kiu's waist- length, black hair. "Because the well feeding it is dry, Honey," she explained.
"Can't they find another?" the 8-year-old girl asked, turning and looking up at her. "I don't want those trees to die, Mommy."
Her mother sighed. "That well is special; none can replace it."
Kiu was silent, allowing the comb to get the tangles out. "Then why don't they go into the well and get more water?" she thought out loud.
Her mother offered a toilerant smile. "Because of the snake. It won't let anyone near the well."
"Remember, Honey, several of our bravest warriors have vanished," her mother added. "It's a very dangerous place and until the snake is gone we can't get water to feed the Curacura trees." She finished combing the girl's hair and swept her arms around her. She hugged Kiu and tickled her until the girl's shrill laughter filled the evening...
Morning, two weeks later. Bounce, bounce, bounce went the orange ball. Kiu was in the courtyard with a friend playing a game that changed the ball's color by alternating the bounces or sending it glancing off the house or branches. The trick was getting the ball to turn gold where it would send of silver sparkles. This required a complex order or bounces, throws, rhythmic beats and timing. Their laughter and the ball's melodies increased in pitch and cadence until at one point Kiu's friend struck the ball with the back of her hand, sending the ball straight at Kiu. She flinched and ducked.
"Oh, NO!" her friend cried.
Kiu looked back just in time to see the ball vanish over the railing.
"Aki, NO!" Kiu whined, stamping her foot.
"I'm sorry," Aki replied. "I thought you'd get it."
They ran to the railing and leaned over. Both girls watched the ball sail away into the trees.
Kiu climbed onto the rail. Aki stared at her, wide eyed.
"What are you doing, Kiu?" she asked.
Going to get the ball," Kiu replied, spreading her arms out like wings. "It's the only one I've got."
"But you're not fully trained in Wind Walking!" Aki reminded her.
"Now's not the time to worry about that!" Kiu retorted. "Come on, Aki!"
Kiu saw the hesitation in her friend's eyes but didn't let it stop her. With a shout of glee she pitched forward into the air, hearing her friend's muffled cries vanish as she fell.
Kiu felt the jubilation of her new freedom. She watched the jungle rise rapidly to her then shifted thoughts in her mind. Her body seemed to lighten; first her head, then down her arms, torso, legs and finally feet. A tingling sensation overcame her and she lost all sense of weight. The wind rushing past her ears slowed then ceased. The jungle no longer rushed up but now seemed to reside calmly below. Kiu giggled.
"You scared me, Kiu!" exclaimed Aki.
Kiu looked up and saw her friend's very concerned face hovering close by. The two girls watched each other then burst out laughing. They darted around each other, somersaulted, dove, climbed with such ease; even nearby birds studied them in amazement.
"There," Kiu pointed as they hovered above the trees. "I saw it go there." Kiu again shifted her mind and gradually felt the weight of her body return. She carefully slipped feet first through the dense branches then touched the ground. She suddenly became tired and dropped to her knees until her body felt used to the weight. Aki joined her and staggered as she regained her composure. They smiled.
Kiu noticed a wide granite canal carved into the cliff. Huge trees grew on either side, shielding much of the sunlight and hiding it from view. There was green moss clinging to its circular sides, and Kiu saw worn carvings decorated along much of the exposed granite. They found stone steps following the canal's edge, leading upward.
Aki studied the area, her face registering uncertainty. "I don`t like this place," she confessed.
Kiu surveyed the jungle and shrugged. "I want to find my toy," and started ascending the steps. Reluctantly, Aki joined her.
They stood before a huge stone arch leading into a cave. Both girls reached the top of the steps and peered into the darkness where the canal vanished. The arch was decorated with those ancient scripts. Kiu remembered her mother telling her about old ruins but until now had never seen any. Now she was sure this cave had her ball and she wanted it back.
"Let's go home, Kiu," Aki whined. "I'm scared."
Kiu threw her an annoyed glance. "Of what?" she asked, trying to sound indifferent.
Aki's troubled eyes swept the area. She tightly wrapped her arms around herself.
Kiu looked towards the cave. Taking a deep breath she replied in her most authoritive tone. "My toy's in there and I'm not leaving 'till I get it back."
"Wait here," Kiu replied, annoyed by her friend's behavior.
She took a deep breath, mustered all her strength and entered. She didn't want Aki to know how frightened SHE WAS, but the girl was determined to find her ball.
Cool, moist darkness enveloped her. Her eyes strained to see in the receding light. Kiu slowly placed one sandled foot ahead of the other, feeling the earth crunch beneath her delicate step. Her small hands searched the smooth, moss-covered side of the cave, following the canal deeper; each step taking her away from the light into...
She had no idea what she was doing in this pitch blackness, groping along like a blind person in quest for a toy she couldn't see EVEN IF she found it. All she knew was that she MUST have it back because it was the last thing her father gave her before he died.
The walls fell away. Now she could detect the faintest contours to the rocks. A dim, bluish light seem to grow from the nothingness. She paused, allowing her eyes to take in her surroundings. Kiu found herself standing at the edge of a huge pool. Sunlight filtured in from an opening far above and reflected off its marbled sides. Long strands of moss dangled from the ceiling like twisted hair; at the far end of the chamber stood a faded painting. Kiu wandered over to it. Through the ancient cracks, moss, and missing shards she recognized the outline of the Curacura tree. There seemed to be something coiled about its massive trunk and it appeared to be holding or reaching for a yellow flower: a Curacura blossom. Kiu had only heard of these flowers, since it was reported that none appeared on the tree in hundreds of years.
She turned and looked into the huge circular pool. Her eyes went wide and she uttered gleefully.
There, far down near the bottom, was her ball! And, there too, was a person!
"Could you please toss me that!" she called, her voice dying away in the stillness.
Nothing. The person didn't move. She hailed him again. Still he ignored her. Kiu moved closer then noticed the white, toothy grin of a skull.
She moaned. Now she'll have to Wind Walk down there and touch that icky body to get her toy. She studied the pool, noticing her silhouette staring back up from its murky surface. Her toy was near that water and if it slipped, she'd lose it forever.
Kiu gasped and pulled back. The surface was being disturbed by SOMETHING beneath. She hesitated, looking around. Maybe that thing was attracted to the ball's orange, metallic surface. Now she had no choice but to retrieve it before that creature took away the last memory of her dad.
Kiu stepped onto the edge, looked down and screamed.
At that instant her vision was filled with the gaping jaws and fangs of a huge hissing snake leaping from the water...
Bounce, bounce, bounce danced the orange ball to the gentle coaxing of small hands. Kiu made her way along the canal, humming a tune and strolling towards the growing light at the mouth of the cave. Her heart sung with joy; she retrieved her ball and found a WONDERFUL pet; an emerald snake coiled about her and rested its head atop hers. It clinched a yellow flower, like the one on the painting. The snake hummed so loud to her own melody that its body vibrated through her, adding to her warmth. Won't mommy be surprised!
Kiu paused, hearing distant sounds; crying wailing, shouting. She wondered what all the commotion was about and quickened her step.
The sounds grew louder and she became aware of people gathered at the entrance. Angry voices, accusing voices, shouts, laminations. As she stepped into the light a gasp went through the crowd. Complete quiet befell them and hundreds of eyes watched her from the bottom of the steps.
Kiu's mother was closest. Her tear-streaked face was aghasp; her dark eyes two, huge saucers.
"Hello, mommy," Kiu said, smiling. "I found a nice pet while I was in there."
Utter silence prevailed.
Kiu's faced looked uncertain. She pouted. "Why are you upset, mommy?" she asked, placing the ball down.
Her mother struggled for words, her eyes not leaving the reptilian head. She took a deep breath. "Aki said you went into a cave and never came out, Honey." Her voice was flat, controlled.
"But I'm back," Kiu reported, smiling. "And I have a pet who says I was very brave and wants to reward me."
"I see," her mother replied, registering concern as her eyes watched the snake. "You've been gone three days and we became concerned."
"But it was only a few hours," Kiu insisted. "I went to get Daddy's toy." She felt their silence. "I didn't mean to scare you, Mommy; I'm sorry."
The ground shook. Deep in the earth life awoke. People looked around, unsure if it was an earthquake or sound coming from the cave. Drops of water drifted out from the cave. The sound became a deafening roar. Moments later a wall of water gushed forth, cascading down the channel and racing away into the distance. The water continued to fill the canal until it nearly reached the top. Kiu giggled as the rumble tickled her feet. The snake opened its fanged mouth and dropped the flower. The yellow blossom drifted towards the water. As it touched the foaming surface the water glowed brilliant gold and instantly traced down the valley. The yellow ribbon reached a clearing where the canal formed a circle. In the center of this circle stood the single, massive Curacura tree; its arching branches void of leaves. As everyone watched, its branches suddenly burst forth with a thick canopy of yellow blossoms.
Kiu excitedly clapped her hands and jumped for joy. "Good snake; you did what I wished for!"
In loving memory of Silver Lee Davis.