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Scene Title Kivuli
Synopsis Kivuli; Shadow, ghost, vision. — The retreat that is Huruma's dreams is intruded upon.
Date July 4, 2009

The Dark Continent.

Not so dark when it is daytime; especially not when the golden yellow sun high in the vast blue expanse of sky is shining, unhindered by the stray wisps of pale clouds that seem to create blotches of diagonal patterns where they stream past on the wind. The sparse, thorny trees along a dirt road shade it only in patches of shadow, delicate yellow pops of flowers visible between the thumbprint-sized green leaves. The path itself is less than an actual road, and more of a meandering line where the green and gold grass has been stomped flat by the bottoms of feet and in at least one place- the digging imprint of blocky tires.

The only sounds that seem to call out are the caws and warbles of various birds, the rustle of the tops of the acacias, and a faint bleating from the direction of the horizon, in the direction of a fat-bottomed old baobab tree that provides a foreground for the lumpy shapes that begin once the rolling grassland ends. The tic-toc-tic-toc of a stick being rapped upon the travel hardened ground joins the various music of savanna, and the soft snuffles of small feet in the sienna dust are as obvious as the sudden kik-kik-kik-ohk of a bird perched in the extremities of the nearest tree limb.

The source is small. Not too small. Just small enough to be somewhere in that awkward little phase before a child begins to figure out how to be independent of adults, but not after the onslaught of puberty. Dark-skinned, legs home to a layer of that reddish, earthen color, the clicking of a beaded belt against the metal rim of a bulbous fabric canteen slung around a previously vibrant wrap- in turn pulled taut around a pair of bony hips. The small figure of a young girl, wrapped in that faded swatch of color, walking along the middle of the road with a gnarled stick tapping at the ground beside her as she goes. Around a small neck are a few strings of necklaces, at least one made of what seems to be small shells. The glint of a few faux-golden pieces come from around her neck as well. The shimmer that they make amongst the plain and ordinary dress is almost as noticeable as the eyes in the head which has a thin buzz of black hair. Disturbingly pale eyes, white, shaded by already heavy lashes and a downward tilt of her fine-boned face towards the grass to the right.

Something, wicked, this way, is coming and following Huruma.

It is discreet, at first. The most reasonable facsimile to that being the illusion of distance. In her dream, this means there shows a speck on the further horizon which then stretches into a line, torso, stick-limbed, a rickety sort of slender, inking in between the silhouettes of starkly limned accacia. This impression is, of course, in the most tawdry sense, a lie: in truth, the intruder who tries the most esoteric terrain of Huruma's acquaintance is very close by— technically, inside her mind.

But that would be rude. A little less tawdry, a little easier on the sensibilities, then. She is seeing a man on the road.

Up ahead, the shape of him twisting, squirming, the herky-jerky motions that mimic the simplified inflection of heat wavers, but even at nine years of age, Huruma can tell. That isn't merely heat: that is the stumble and hitch of a man tormented by the heat, drained by fatigue, swatted senseless by dust, pleasantly blinded by the sun.

He doesn't see her yet.

If there were any time that someone would be safe in sneaking up on Huruma, it would be in her sleep- in her dreams. She always dreams. This one is certainly more lucid to her than the usual; a dream formed out of multiple memories, multiple wants and needs. She herself can smell the grass, the dust, the warm air- one who has never so much as opened a National Geographic would be lost in what looks to be something that gives her great pleasure. Even as a girl, the calm of her face is plain as day. Somehow, this may be the most comfortable place in the world to her.

Eyes drawing up from the silky dust beneath her heels, the girl looks ahead when a twitch of movement catches her eye. She does not pause. Instead, she watches, her steady strolling pace bringing her ever closer while the man on the road ahead stumbles and bucks in discomfort. Takka-takka-takka. Her stick draws over the spines of brush as she passes. Another bird screams in some garbled language when the man ahead passes close to the edge of the road.

"Ewe! Unakwendapi?" Her young voice retains the level drawl of her grown one; it does not have the mature purr behind it, but the sound of her speech remains smooth on the ears.

"«I don't—»" by contrast, the stranger is fucking hideous to listen to. Voice reduced to nails on corkboard, rumbling stone, a hoarse rasp of noise on flesh, so mad with heat and exhaustion that he's barely human anymore.

There's probably a face somewhere underneath all that powdery brown dirt, caking the seams of frown lines, the nook where eyelids and brows, fattening the fringe of lashes. Blue eyes in between— not as white as hers, but indicative instantly of whitey, a genetic legacy shortly thereafter corroborated by the uncertain cut of his face underneath the patina of grit and grime. Shirt and trousers are same.

Only then, a flesh, metallic tinkle. Silver-bright metal standing out against the monochrome of soil, a pendant hanging heavy on a chain looped around the breadth of his tawny neck. Silver, metal fashioned into a shield, sporting the image of a saint, spear clenched in hand and demon writhing in hateful terror at his feet, wings splayed and fiercely armored.

The stranger's teeth are the only other relief against the orangey dirt, a weary, fastidiously optimistic smile. To go with the fact that he is staring at her water canteen. "«Village,»" he rasps. "«I fell.»"

"«You fell.»" She is not so surprised at his knowing how to answer her- what she is more surprised at, is his bad explanation. Huruma comes parallel to the man, the tall stick in her hand acting as a third footfall. Shuff, shuff, pluk. Her eyes bore into his, upper lip curling slightly. The free hand at her side flexes irritably. Contrasted, her small, dark, skinny frame offers little in the vein of physical intimidation. The air of self-importance that she carries certainly does not help, but it seems as if it is fading in and out, as if she cannot decide whether to be helpful or not.

"«You do not belong out here.»" Did you know? Huruma eases ahead on the road, so that the stranger is offered a more diagonal view of her wiry back and shoulders. Her bare feet kick up dust very suddenly, angrily, dust which floats around her knees and dissipates onto the path again when gravity calls it back.

He might have gleaned a hint, somewhere between — 'falling' and showing up at the feet of a girl half his size. Not precisely extraordinary circumstances, but uncomfortable ones enough to merit him thinking he would rather be somewhere else. He shuts his eyes and opens them again, and it almost makes a scraping sound, membrane scraping and snagging on the flats of his desiccated retinas.

Sometimes, Teo dreams about Africa. About being sunburned, muscle-weary, foot-sore. It's good source material, a working draft of the puppet he presents Huruma now.

She's right, of course. He doesn't belong here, in more ways than the one he volunteered to answer to. "«Please.»" The bag clicks and scuffs when he turns to follow her with his eyes, shoulders in an oblique slump. "«Have mercy. May I have some water?»"

The girl does not respond immediately. In fact, Huruma draws out the time between his begging and an actual answer, leaving him to essentially follow her down the road. Even after a short time of nothing but the background noise of feet and his rough breathing, there is no offered reprieve.

"«What are you doing here?»" Her face turns to look at him once more, inspecting in silence the features of his dirty face.

There is distortion. A visual artefact, like a snare of chemical defect on the surface of a poorly-produced photograph, the outline of him wobbling slightly, fraying into multiple, translucent overlays thereof, before abruptly snapping back into place. His skin is smoother afterward. Less age clotting the shape of his face, though the edges of his eyes are still raw, weakness pervading the stoop of his frame.

The pendant is different, too. The etched demon reconstructed, morphed, no longer the lupine beast of long, writhing snout, fur, claws wheeling violence, but one in the shape of a human being, long hands bent back in surrender, face upturned, features locked up in an inscrutable expression, strangely still under the point of Saint Michael's spear.

The stranger exhales a translucent mushroom of dust. "«I am asking you for help.»"

"«I know that you are.»" Luckily for both of them, Huruma was looking ahead to the grass when all of his subtle shifts occurred, visible or not. She looks back to say this, eyes coasting back to the road they have both traveled over so far. The lines of footprints, the dug shapes of where Huruma's picked up walking stick kneaded into the earth.

"«Why are you out here alone, anyway? Foolish. You are lucky it is still sunlight.»" Her bitter question morphs to a scornful tone, arm gracefully gesturing the stick into a jabbing point both at him, and then towards their surroundings. "«Perhaps I should simply leave you here for being so stupid. You would be deserving.»"

Probably not untrue. There is no temporo-spacial accident of catastrophic proportions to excuse the stranger's arrival now. The stranger drops his head slightly on its axis, the musculature of his neck going slack over the concatenation of rounded spine bones. "«I came here to trade.

"«I was robbed, and that was when I fell.»" A longer explanation. One no less true on various existential levels, according to the permutation of events in future history, of grief, loss, and the fact that he's an asshole, now, but arguably better to pass muster subject to Huruma's interrogation. He drags his boots after her, leaving chunky, squared prints between the scant dust compressions of her own bare toes. "«I think—

"«If you leave me here,»" he grates out, "«I will die.»"

"«I never said that I was leaving you here, you stupid man. I said that I should. An elephant without her ears is better at opening them than you are.»" Huruma turns her head sharply to scathe him with a stream of words that should be out of place in children. She stays ahead of him, the bump of the canteen on her hip making her keep considering. Her pale eyes follow the horizon, stopping for a moment before zipping to the man just at her flank.

"«If I had wanted nothing to do with you, I would have been gone forty-five meters ago, and I would not have just told you about them.»" She pauses to point upwards into the sky with a slim finger, the leanness of her showing as she turns the joint of her shoulder. No more than a couple of vultures seem to be following them, drawn to the spot by the man, rather than Huruma.

Naturally. They have been feeding of the dead long enough that learning the signs of someone nearly there must be programmed into their genetics. Or else, Huruma's subconscious feeds neatly into that particular compunction. Possibly useful. Potentially not. Ghost smiles through his eyes, wipes a hand-print of translucency ionto his cheek.

"«What do you want to do with me?»" the stranger asks, instead, calling upon some secret reserves of diplomatic grace he probably hasn't tapped into since he quit lying about who he was. He stops looking up the point of her finger into the smarting brilliance of the sky, in favor for watching the jig of triangular shadows winging across the terrain.

Whatever she may see over the horizon or winding over the land, she passes over mention; Huruma starts off again, and by now they are already relatively nearer that bulbous old tree at a fork in the road. An endangered plant left there for many years, serving mainly as a marker. Mainly, only because there are some that use it for other things. "«If we here, something will only smell you dying. I do not feel like starting a fight over you.»"

"«Here.»" Finally, after so much trouble, Huruma's spindly hands unwind the loop of fabric connected to the canteen from around her, the rattle of something hanging by her neck echoing in their ears. The canteen certainly is not something she would have made- it looks like something to be picked off of a soldier. Olive green, metal, an actual cap that screws off the top. Right after handing it over, the young girl pulls on her belt in the back, lifting the dusty end of that worn stick and tucking it behind her; as soon as she does, Huruma speeds up down the road, the thud-thud-thud of her feet getting fainter, but her visibility remaining all the way down the path- where she stops, finally, to stalk off the trail and towards the old Baobab.

Upon closer inspection, there is another trail leading off of the main road, but smaller, less traveled, and fairly hidden unless you were looking for it.

The road less traveled seems characterized by the fact that you should not go there with Huruma if you know anything about her and particularly enjoy being alive. Still, the stranger seems to have no compunction about following, now with a canteen clutched in hand, deprived of its cap.

Water slopping up into his mouth with every skewing step that hits the dirt, jouncing the shakey laddering of muscles inside his skin.

Wonderfully, he chokes at one point, a graceless mushrooming of water vapor but little of it makes its way past the filth-streaked fingers barred across his nose and mouth. He swallows with effort, exhales hard. Drinks again. "«Thank you,»" he manages eventually, twisting his head to wipe it on the fabric of his sleeve. "«Thank you. I— where are we going?»"

Huruma has no answer for him. She winds her way closer to the big old tree, leaning forward to look for something on the ground while one hand digs around under the edge of that wrap around her waist. Pulling out a folded fabric and all but ignoring the man with her, Huruma begins to scour through the semi-flattened grass again. The fabric is shown to be some sort of small sack when she picks something up; an oblong-shaped brown object, tossed into the bag. And another, and yet another.

"«You shall see.»" Finally, a response.

"«What are those?»" More questions. Predictable, these foreigners, who don't watch their back against the vultures. Peculiarly, the query has another lilt to it this time, the assertion of an accent that wouldn't have been familiar to the girl-child at nine but that her adult mind identifies unerringly from acquaintances and associations not made until Huruma is far, far older.

Son of the Empire. An Englishman— for the space of three words, until it fades out, again, washes into the neutral phrasework of Swahili plucked out of a textbook. A bright dab of water swats his chin, makes muck out of dry dirt, is smeared down the back of his hand, dribs crystalline down the metal of the pendant's chain. "«Is there a war?»" The canteen's strap slacks down his arm. Clumsily, he fiddles the lid back on, corkscrewing circles with forefinger and thumb. "«Which side are you on?»"

"«Fruit.»" She is rather quick at filling up the bag whilst he stands there, watching. When it is full, she ties it in a knot at the top, and undoes the knot under her belt where the wrap is tied. It comes off, though she at least has a second one- pale yellow, with a red pattern- under it. The first one she folds, bringing it up over her head and tying it around.

Huruma does watch him closely once she tucks the wrap in around her skull, eyes taking him in again. "«War? There is always war. Most of it because of you, bringing your God and your diseases, and your silly ways of terrorizing others, calling it 'government'. I'm on the side that does what it has to.»" A mocking tone. "«I found that, I kept it, if that is what you mean.»" She points to the military canteen. "«I take it if I want it.»"

The red pattern on the side her underskirt is strangely familiar. More of a splatter than a pattern, really…

Blood. Trust Huruma's subconscious to render its trajectory, consistency and color in realistic high-definition. The stranger stoops his head, briefly, nodding acknowledgment to the accusations laid at his door, the weave of subterranean opinion and how it folds in, seamless, with the stitch of his suggestion. "«You found that,»" he says, agreeably. "«You hate the English.

"«Our silly ways of terrorizing others. Am I in trouble?»" Perhaps a ridiculous question for a full-grown man to ask of the coltish girl, though less so from a perspective that includes the bleak and unforgiving wasteland around them. His voice isn't as coarse now, lubricated by the liberal swallows from the canteen she had offered him, but the residual gruff and texture in the walls of his voicebox seems to imply structural damage.

He stares at the lumpy bulge of fruit in her bag.

Both hands finding grips on the sack, the girl lifts it up with a small heave, perching it expertly onto the padding now encircling her head. Trajectory, consistency, color, sights, sounds, smells, the feel of Kenya. It is not the only thing that her brain is able to render as realistically as being there.

"«I found it on his body, yes. No, you are not. I'm sure people will help you when we get there. Help you get back to wherever you came from, anyway.»" She looks at him a moment, eyes flicking along towards the path and back again- and then, she starts off down the smaller path once more, one arm upraised to curl onto the topside of the bag, which rightly seems like a lighter sack of potatoes. "«I love my home. I hate people.»" Not just the English, or the French, or the Dutch- or whoever. People, on principle.

Incredulity looks maybe out of place on a face that has grim matters of baseline survival to tend to, but maybe now that he has a path to walk on, a guide, a canteen of water and some fruit to beg off a small of haughty girl, the stranger is not as much concerned about baseline survival. He curls his forefinger under his bottom lip, flips away dirt and moisture from the nook above his chin.

"«Home is where people are,»" he points out. It isn't contradiction; not exactly. Ghost has a small problem where he can't stand people, either. Has no patience for them, little pity. Blankly, he adds: "«Or so they tell me.»"

"«Leopards are solitary, but cubs still stay with their mothers.»" Huruma says flatly, without looking over her shoulder at him. They seem to be making their way towards a line of brush; as they get closer, it turns into an obvious wall of thorny timber, stacked to guard the crest of a hill. Huruma pauses to unhook a simple jutting piece of timber, showing the stranger in through a makeshift gate. Just inside, the savanna suddenly dips downward.

Like a giant fell onto one knee, the small valley is greener, littered with little packs of goats and small squares of farm. The thatched roofs of houses are still a ways away, but plain in one's vision.

Suddenly: civilization. Or a rustic but charming and deeply encouraging facsimile thereof. Instantly, Ghost's fingers are in his hair, swatting dust out in a haphazard effort to groom himself enough to face whatever hierarchy of savages that Huruma is about to present him to. Must be on his best behavior, properly accoutremented. Minimal dust.

The shade of trees disconcerts him enough that he lags behind a step, has to drag quicker to catch up, canteen thwapping the leg of his pants. "«Leopards mark their territory with piss,»" he points out, hoarsely. The pendant clicks against his shirt buttons. "«You're going to give this place up. 'M surprised— you aren't dying to get away?»"

"«And what makes you think I'm no different?»" Little Huruma snipes back at him, somewhat hilariously. Too much to know, but hey- she is nine years old. "Not yet. Not until I can, without putting myself in danger.»" Incidentally, she is kicked out before that time, come a bare year or so. "«If survival means that I must put up with my family-»" She does not finish the rest of this, instead turning her eyes in a squint, sunlight filtering onto her face while she looks over the grass towards a teenage boy redirecting a line of waddling goats.

"«Why do you care?»"

What would make an Englishman think she's no different? Because— she's human. Finds strength in numbers, even when she's been granted nearly seven feet's height of strength in her own muscle and bone, a way around any given handheld arsenal known to military and as many kills as the ghost has ever seen decorate a man's reputation.

Not, however, a presumption that an Englishman thusly lost to the savannah would care to make. "«I care because I need your help,»" he answers, again, irrelevantly, but its easily disguised by the peculiar wrinkle and unravel of the dream's esoteric tapestry, losing coherency, color and sentiment threatening to warp, darken, curl as if melted or scorching. "«It doesn't make sense you'd help me if you just hate people.»"

Huruma's careful pace slows slightly, the sack wavering only because her hand has clenched onto the side. Her eyes shade themselves, with her heavy eyelids drooping; she turns her head to him, peering much like a possessed child out from under the bag of Baobab fruits. "«I only hated these people- my family-»" Past tense. Her voice quivers. The tones of smoothness that she has always had suddenly twang with a rasping anger, then a purr, growing mature, and into the voice that so often creeps up behind unsuspecting victims over in the real world. But then it cracks. "«-because they hated me first…»"

Slipping off of her head, the sack of fruit hits the ground with a heavy thud as it rolls down off her back. It hits the dirt path, crumples, and rolls- spilling palm sized fruits over the grass. Huruma has not visibly noticed, staring at the stranger with that same look and her wiry arm still held half in the air. Her eyes are wary- then somewhat threatening, silently.

Behind the intruder's ear- that is what he is, after all, an intruder- there comes a rasping voice, sudden and just as threatening as the look he is getting from a dark-skinned nine year old Huruma. "You do not belong here." An echo of the first words. In English. In an unfamiliar voice, almost purring in wait for the man to turn.

Poor girl. There's something uncomfortably explicable about this, which isn't to say that the monster given origin is somehow less of a monster. The man's eyes thin slightly, into something peculiarly like a smile when she says so. They then pop wide as seaglass marbles at the insinuation of quick approach from behind. Indeed, approach so quick that it hadn't actually bothered to acknowledge the distance implied behind him.

Huruma isn't the only one being followed around these parts, apparently.

"You aren't the only one to think so," he answers, without quite turning. His breath hangs in front of him like a transparent veil of extra heat, moisture dissolving in the bleached air. He watches the shepherd boy and his goats string away around the ragged green of sedge. "I'm too pale for this weather."

It's in his other ear next, anyone there as silent as win. Not even the feel of a presence. But the older voice is still there. "You do not belong here." And not a millisecond later, there is a hand curling around the front of his throat from behind, but only to sink fingernails into his skin. A threatening gesture, simple as that. This is not his turf. "You do not belong in this place."

The girl in front of him hasn't moved to pick up that bag, nor does her youthful face turn away.

A quiver shakes the air around them, a curving and violent jerk of dislocated colors. The caw of a hornbill trips into a screech, like the squeal of a record skipping.

Sowing nightmares isn't good for diplomatic overtures, not even in the rather callus sensibilities of one Teodoro Laudani, recently displaced from the saner standards by which human beings conduct themselves.

There's the risk. Tenuous, uncontrollable, uncomfortably real. He is beginning to thin, too. Warp, folding inward, going thready as if caving or unraveling under the pressure of the woman's clawed grasp. He bares teeth, breathes inward. Or, at least, this puppeteered representation of himself does so. Angles his eyes down at the bag of fruit on the dirt.

"I'll leave," he rasps. Only the cold slick of metal links remains strangely solid in her grasp. "R-really. I— can jus' go."

The smooth, thin hand slides back, and as it moves, the old woman that it belongs to steps around in front of this intruder to stare him in the eyes. Her fingers link underneath of the chain dangling around his neck, the metal sliding through her forefingers and thumb as she brings her hand down to take the silvery pendant in her hand.

She is not too tall, but stands with an air of pride that somehow is fitting for someone of her age. Lighter skin than Huruma's, a square jawline, thin, agitated lips, smoldering brown eyes. The arched eyebrows on her face and the shape of her nose are mimicked on the features of the fuming child visible past her shoulder. The fine lines of her face grow more rigid, if possible, her fingers holding onto the end of the necklace.

A purring voice. It is where Huruma gets her more feline feel- this woman, on her father's side. Even the old woman's smallest of movements seem calculating. Waiting. Too observant and meaningful in the subtle ways. "And you will never come back, unless you are invited… Do you understand me, boy?" Her now hissing tone implies that perhaps- just perhaps- he was lucky, today. There is no guarantee of next time.

The canteen slips out of the stranger's hand, its leathery material and screwcap bouncing heavily off the blunts of nerveless fingers, crashing earthward in a swinging arc of the loose-hinged strap. He jerks away.

Saint Michael comes loose in the old lady's hand. Before language was invented, there was tone of voice, and hierarchy built into it. Despite being a full head taller than the African woman, there's wilting deference in his retreat, the splay of empty, grimey hands at his sides. His eyes blink momentarily, an instant's cat's-eyed green.

Long legs and scraggle-laced boots tangle, threaten to overturn him on the shadow splatter of the pathway. They don't, quite; instead, there's a sliding, scratching loose-jointed retreat, a shock of pallor underneath the layer of dirt. He doesn't look up at the vultures.

Saint Michael's countenance is clutched in her hand even as he turns, the chain swinging like a pendulum. Slow, as if time has gone into a crawl. Pressure comes, and for those moments it feels like the world has turned, the force of gravity pulling from the inside, aiming at the bottom of the steepest hill. Nothing has visibly contorted until-

-the dusty path from whence the two had come turns into shadow.

Blackness seeps over the world like water poured into a bowl, sloshing, flashing glimpses of tawny African countryside as it surrounds the only figure that did not belong here. A shine of eyes sits in the apparent distance, reflected like the twin moons on a cat.

Easy as the squeeze of fingers in scissor handles, Ghost cuts John Logan loose. Snik.

And then, after that, there is only the small, white daub of the Englishman's thin, tumbling limbs clad alternately in dust-beaten khaki and coiffed silk across the terrain of the nightmarescape, his fingers reaching, grabbing, entreating much as the iconographed demon had etched in at Michael's feet earlier. Throttling fear, puckering sweat, the scream of a heart punished by limping distance.

He moves toward the light. Tries.

The reflection is just that. A reflection. Of what? Nothing that the eye can see here. Moonlight reflected off of eyes glimmers away, only to be replaced by hands. First one, two, three, a dozen, multiplying in the dark, grabbing, thrashing, pulling, scratching, tearing, ripping. Hot breath washes over his face, the shine of an animal's teeth flashing in sight before disappearing again. Boiling heat comes, making the clawed hands into searing brands, the popping of burning skin under fingertips and bloody fingernails.

The abdominal line of muscle splits. There is a searing pair of hands latching onto the edges. One reaches inside, burning and wriggling violently.

The last thing that floats into visibility overhead- down below- which direction? Is a familiar toothy, bare smile- sharpened teeth inside of a glistening, gaunt, skull-like face, in the shades of spilt oil. Black, shimmering with colors under the surface. Pinpricks of blinding white light come from deep within the circular sockets.

The maw opens wide, tendons stretching and snapping in its decayed, withered cheeks. It bears down.

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