Raven and Mischa stretched their arms. They slid like fish, twirled like birds and swayed like bears in rhythm to the traditional drum beats. Mischa’s skin glistened in the afternoon sun. She grooved gently beside Raven, eyes closed, completely engrossed in the dance. Raven blew a kiss to her. He thanked god for the magical moment.
The music grew loud. A strong wind gushed through the trees.
Raven suddenly shivered, missed his steps, and started drifting away from Mischa. He held his ancestral amulet close to his chest and recited holy verses.
“Not again!” he mumbled. He witnessed the yak man pass by.
“I’m here to snatch what you are holding close.”- Did Raven hear the yak man speak!?
Raven flummoxed, stopped dancing abruptly. Mischa opened her eyes.
“What happened, Raven? The festival is just a few days away.”
Raven didn’t reply.
“We will continue tomorrow!” Mischa sighed and left.
It was mid-September in the northeast Russian province of Kamchatka. Raven belonged to an indigenous tribe of the region. Each autumn, his tribe made an arduous journey to a designated town to celebrate the festival of Alkhalalalai and thank the nature for the bountiful harvest of fish, games, and agriculture. Raven looked forward to winning the ‘best dancer’ award in the ethnic dance marathon during the Alkhalalalai. He planned to propose to Mischa, his dance partner, on the day of the festival.
Raven lit a fire by the river at dusk to pray, before cooking his dinner. The smoke rose and engulfed the banks. A blinding white light emerged amidst the smoke. Raven spotted the brown man riding on a robust yak moving towards the lake.
The yak man adorned heavy gold jewellery, studded with colourful gems. The horns on his head gear sparkled in the twilight. The man appeared tall, strong and intimidating. His big face had thick, black whiskers.
A snowy owl hooted from a tall tree nearby. Withering leaves susurrated as a cold river breeze teased the branches. Raven’s legs were hurting from the strenuous dance rehearsals. He felt a chill run through his body. Pulling his fur coat closer Raven looked around perplexed.
“Who are you? Are you really here or am I imagining you?” He shouted out into the darkness. The stars blinked eerily. Raven rubbed his eyes.
“I’m the god of death,Yaman. I’m here to take lives, lots of them.”
Raven’s throat parched. He trembled and fainted by the lake.
Dawn spread its light over the town’s canopy and the tall pines and birches clutched the lustrous golden rays of the sun from falling onto the ground. The birds crooned by the river when Raven’s friend Ijachu woke him up.
“How many times have I told you not to sleep in the open? Don’t you know evil spirits roam by the river during the night? The salmon are here, let’s get going.”
A pale Raven staggered behind.
A school of salmon jumped over the surface of the river as Raven and Ijachu pulled their boat away from the banks of river Zhupanova.
They lifted their hands up, jumped and made the throat imitation of seagulls. It was the tribal way of expressing thanks to the spirit of seas for a good yield of fish.
“Do you see him?” asked Raven.
“Who? The spirit of seas? I can see his blessing here.” Ijachu got a substantial catch of fish in his first throw.
“No, look!” Raven’s face reddened as the man on the yak crossed the swollen river with ease.
“What happened?” asked Ijachu.
Raven shrugged and forced a smile before falling down on the boat.
He was scared to discuss the issue with Mischa or Ijachu. His clan believed in spirits and any information about Raven’s unusual encounters with the strange spirit of death would result in his exile from the clan.
Raven skipped his dance rehearsals to visit the shrine of the fire god.
Alone in the shrine, Raven cleared his throat and made the prayer sounds. He sought answers for his presentiment.
“Death is a bitter truth.” He heard the yak man inside the shrine.
Being in the confines of the shrine, Raven spoke boldly, “The Alkhalalalai is a festival that celebrates life. Winning the title in the dance marathon is my dream and Mischa is my future. Death is the last thing I want to think about, now.”
“Death is not the end, it is the real celebration.”
“What do you mean? Who celebrates death?” Raven couldn’t believe he was actually arguing with a form visible only to him.
“The Alkhalalalai, what is the true meaning of the festival?” The yak man questioned.
“We celebrate life, It is thanksgiving to nature, to the spirits that guide us, for the plentiful yield during summer, for the bountiful salmon in the river, for the food that nature provides us.”
“The… what in the rivers?”
“The salmon, they return for spawning from the sea.”
“What happens to the salmon?”
“We catch them, or they die, soon after spawning.”
“And aren’t you celebrating their death? I’m here to escort their souls.” The yak man smiled.
Raven wasn’t scared anymore. “The death of Salmon? Fish is food. Do they have souls?” Raven almost chuckled.
“They do, animals are selfless, they have no desires. They sacrifice their mortal selves to help grow new life on earth. I arrive here every year to honour their sacrifice. The dead Salmon provide the nutrients required for the vegetation in Kamchatka, making the region fertile.”
“But why is it you are visible only to me?”
“You pray so sincerely Raven!” The yak man disappeared with a guffaw.
Raven did not faint.
- A tribal man from Kamchatka would not have seen or heard of a buffalo, hence the yak.
- The author has taken the creative liberty to show that Yaman is the only spirit that appears whenever Raven prays sincerely, since the story revolves around Raven’s fear of death.
Photo Credits: Drew Farell
This is an entry for the event #Supernatural #UniK-7 being held at Writers Room | Room8.
Read the event guidelines here: UniK-7 event guidelines
Shop for Room9 books here: https://room9.artoonsinn.com/shop/