Aniyah, a Short Story by Jason H. Abbott

This story was inspired by an image writing prompt. The photographer of the image is unknown.

Aniyah got down on her knees and looked into the square hole that served as the shack’s entrance. It wasn’t dissimilar to peering inside a doghouse, and moments later she shook her head noticing several doghouses actually were cobbled together as parts of the hovel.

“Yo, Phil. Thanks for savin’ my ass ‘n all with that meth-head… but this looks like the last damn place I should crawl into with some crazy homeless white guy who says he’s a wizard.”

Philder,” corrected the old man, “And I do have a home, right here.”

The fourteen-year-old rolled her eyes, then poked her braided head cautiously into the opening. “You’re lucky I’m a crazy bitch, Phil!”

She crawled into the eccentric shack composed of oddly angled junk. “You said you owed me a favor, Aniyah. In exchange for it, I’m unsealing a hidden talent within you. ‘Tis a substantial boon… one that some would kill for.”

“Yeah, yeah, magical talent, blah, blah. You’ve been telling me for weeks. What’d ya have in here? Hogwarts?”

On hands and knees, her eyes adjusted to the dim light. Phil sat cross legged with a knit cap on his head, and pushing aside a long grey beard and hair he reached into his dirty jacket.

“I have no hogs,” he said removing a carved pipe.

The girl reclined back to sit, and brushed dirt off her birthstone ring. “It’s like, a school for wizards ‘n shit. Don’t you wanna turn me into the ghetto Hermione Granger or somethin’?”

Opening a pouch of tobacco, he packed his pipe and struck a match. “I never said your talent was for wizardry. In fact, I’m certain it isn’t.”

Aniyah hugged her legs clad in yoga pants, sitting opposite to him on the dirt floor. “Whatever, Phil. Let’s just do this so I can keep my promise, and then you can stop following me around.”

He smiled, sweet smoke beginning to fill the cramped space.

Reaching to his side, he lifted a rock off the dirt floor. Digging a shallow hole with his fingers underneath, Phil unearthed a small crystal. He rubbed it clean, then regarded the gem’s sky blue facets. The girl’s eyes widened at its iridescence as he offered it to her.

She drew in a breath. “Is it, stolen?”

“No. ‘Tis the last of my Onn Stones. This is the key that will unlock the sealed talent I sense within you.”

She offered her cupped palm. “You shouldn’t give it to me, you should pawn it. That looks like a lot of Benjamins.”

His eyes were as blue as the crystal he held. “It’s worth more than coin or coffer, having survived the journey to this world for a special purpose.”

“Now I know you’ve got crack in that pipe,” she said as he dropped the crystal onto her hand. “There ain’t nothin’ special ‘bout me.”

The old man leaned back, kind-eyed. Stroking his dirty beard, he placed the stem of the pipe on his lips.

Aniyah turned the gem in her palm and it sparked in the poor light. Then it suddenly became warm, and before she had time to blink the crystal dissolved. The blue liquid that remained seeped through her skin, disappearing as she tried to shake it off.

“Phil —”

Her hand spasmed violently, and she cried out. Grabbing a trembling wrist with her other hand, the girl braced her arm against the shaking that began to take hold.

“What’d the fuck you do?! Phil! What the fuck was it?!”

He calmly puffed on his pipe. “I know it’s disconcerting, but there shouldn’t be any pain.”

As her fingers receded into the paw her hand was becoming, the sensation was indeed painless, but still unlike anything she’d ever felt. Gasping as her digits shortened and thickened, she watched her birthstone ring get pushed off the tip of a growing claw.

Phil’s eyes widened. “Shapeshifting! That’s quite rare where I come from, you know.”

Black fur overtook Aniyah’s chestnut skin, then raced up towards her shoulder as her arm became an animalistic forelimb. “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!”

“Yours is a very broad aura, it’s impressive.” The wizard nodded, taking the pipe from his mouth.

The metamorphosis spread, her body remolding like clay under her clothing. She collapsed as a whipping tail escaped now ill-fitting pants, her mind churning with sensations.

“Stop it! Sssstop…” her words collapsed into hissing as a catlike muzzle and fangs replaced her human features.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s disorienting, but it’s almost over.”

He watched the final changes solidify, taking a new puff from his pipe as finally she lay still. “Yours is a versatile talent. With practice I foresee you being able to assume any kind of feline form, from housecats to lions. Even creative humanoid mixes.”

The black pantheress Aniyah had become glared and loosed a growl at the wizard.

Phil blew a smoke ring into her face, chuckling as she pinned back her whiskers annoyed. “Can you speak?”

“F-fuck,” she panted. “What the fuck have you done to me?!”

“Oh, that’s excellent! Speech across forms is always useful.”

She struggled to rise; a great cat now comically stuffed into yoga pants, a tank-top and sneakers. “Drugs! You slipped me goddamned drugs!”

“Magic,” Phil corrected, “most of it yours.”

She bared her fangs. “Change me back, you asshole!”

The old man grinned. “Not my spell, young lady!”

She rose wobbling, half-attempting to swipe him with a paw. “Damn you, Phil! I didn’t ask for this!”

He was unflinching. “I didn’t force you to come here. You had curiosity in your eyes… And you must have had it in your heart to unlock the Onn Stone.”

Aniyah looked down at herself, then back to the wizard. “I didn’t want to turn into two-hundred pounds of big ass talkin’ cat!”

“Yes, but you’re magnificent all the same!”

The claws of her forepaws raked lines in the dirt. “And I’m getting seriously pissed-off!”

He listened past her anger, looking kindly to the cat and hearing a crack of fear in her voice. “Aniyah—”

“I don’t want to live like this!” Aniyah blurted out finally letting a tear roll from an eye. “I don’t want to be your pet. Or be put in a zoo!”

“Aniyah, if you’ll listen, I’ll teach you a basic technique that will return you to your human form. With a talent such as yours, you’ll probably master it in an hour.”

The panther’s ears perked and she sniffed back a tear. “Really?”

He nodded puffing his pipe.

She took her first hesitant steps on all fours. “I- I dunno, it’s so weird. I still think I’m trippin’…”

A sneaker was left behind as she stumbled closer to Phil, still unsure of her quadrupedal balance. “But I’ll be able to change back ‘n forth? Like, when I want?”

“Of course. Yours is not a curse, my dear. ‘Tis a gift.”

“Phil, what have you made me? What am I?”

He reached out, a dirty hand rubbing behind her ear as if she were a giant housecat. “Special, Aniyah. You’re something extraordinary.”

Her face betrayed a feline savor at his scratching touch. Then there was a sudden rumble as she found her purr.

She withdrew from his hand, looking slightly embarrassed. “So, you’re gonna teach me what to do?”

“Yes. And in exchange I would hope that you might assist me in my lonely quest to aid both your world, and my own.”

Aniyah sat on her haunches with a tail curling behind her. “Oh shit… you’re not crazy! What you said about some badass dark lord is true, isn’t it?”

Phil nodded, eyes suddenly somber.

“O-okay, I’m in. Teach me. Does this make me your student or something?”

He smiled. “Something more. A friend.”

Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.

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Ounta

ounta_card_2_pngAen crouched in the brush, surveying the path that curved between massive redwood trunks and lesser conifers. The young hunter, no longer a child but still absent a beard, concealed himself beside a rotten and shattered pine. Having been there since dawn, dusk now deepened the shadows that filtered down from the towering forest canopy above.

Green eyes still focused on the path, Aen’s finger touched the knapped flint head of his best throwing spear. He left the weapon on the ground beside his knee to glance at the ash wood shaft of his second javelin. It leaned upright against the stump, beside a stout fighting spear.

Aen heard a shift in the birdsongs around him, and turned a keen ear to listen as the calls fell silent one-by-one. His gaze returning to path and forest, the growing hush was interrupted by a chittering treetop squirrel. He saw it drop a pinecone to the ground before skittering branch to branch.

His tanned limbs and back moved with a controlled, lean strength. Shifting his squat in a buckskin loincloth, Aen licked a finger and tested the air. Confirming he was still downwind of the path, he crouched deeper in the leaves and took hold of the spear on the forest floor beside him.

Slow, padded footfalls barely disturbed the carpet of orange pine needles upon the animal path. Yet Aen heard their approach, and eyed the bend that disappeared around a great redwood trunk.

She rounded past the tree, and Aen drew a breath of awe and fear at the entrance of the great cat.

Tartara strode fully into view, the broken neck of a deer carcass clamped in her teeth. The buck would have taken two men to carry, and she held it aloft like a toy. As massive as a bear, the thick shouldered tigress stalked up the path with a smooth grace no ursid could match.

She was as grand and terrible as in any fireside story ever told of her. All the tribe could recount the tale of Tartara —of how the old chief and his five best hunters had dared to rescue an infant at the mercy the demon tigress. And how all but the one hunter escaping with the baby had paid with their lives.

Coming from such bloodshed, the child was named Aen, ‘ill omen’. Never fully accepted, he now scrutinized the approaching saber-toothed fangs that had haunted and shaped his life.

Even safely hidden, the young hunter fought back a tremble and the urge to run. Adjusting his grip on the spear, he watched Tartara’s sinew and muscle slide beneath a tawny hide. Her every step bringing her closer, Aen studied the dark spots and lines of the tigress’s fur. Catching a partial glimpse of the bone collar that adorned her, he even dared a glance at her jade green eyes.

She stopped.

With a flick of her short tail, Tartara surveyed the brush while Aen’s heartbeat raced in his ears. Her bestial glare narrowed, training to where he crouched beneath the leaves. Eyes shining through veiled shadow, a long, low growl rolled forth from her throat while snarled fangs remained clamped on the dead buck’s neck.

Aen sprang to his feet, spear in hand. Pulling back his arm with a furious cry, he hurled the weapon at her.

It sailed through the air. With a lightning twist of her neck, Tartara swung the carcass in her teeth and the javelin pierced the buck halfway through.

There was a second bone-snapping thrash, and the great cat flung the skewered whitetail into the brush paces away from Aen. He reached over to the old trunk beside him as Tartara’s roar echoed like thunder through the trees. Snatching his second throwing spear, Aen threw it in a blur of motion.

She bounded towards him, rearing up on her haunches. Swatting the javelin mid-air, Tartara struck its shaft with a forepaw. The weapon careened into the forest behind her, and the great cat resumed her charge.

“Nay gheer!” she shouted thick-voiced before leaping at him.

He dodged a swipe from her splayed claws, and Tartara rended a chunk the size his narrowly missed head out of the rotten pine beside him. The impact of her blow knocked the last spear over, but Aen grabbed it, jumping backwards. Tartara dashed after him, and the young hunter avoided an eviscerating lunge of her paired fangs by bounding to the side.

Aen tucked and rolled through the undergrowth, bursting onto the path and springing to his feet with spear at the ready. The tigress pounced in, then paused as he leveled the weapon’s glossy tip of black obsidian at her.

He held her at bay with the stout fighting spear’s broad point. “She-demon!”

Tartara growled, the hairs of her massive shoulders and back bristling. She watched him brace his footing and weapon. In return, Aen eyed the loose collar of sun-bleached ribs and vertebrae swaying on her neck.

The great beast began to circle him, tactically outside the reach of his spear. “Nay gheer!”

Aen pivoted where he stood, his gaze never leaving the pacing tigress. “Do you speak proper words, demon?”

“Nay gheer…” she snarled.

His hard face scowled. “Why did you curse me? They cast me out!”

Tartara continued to pace, eyes narrowing. “Kursa…”

“Why, you monster? Did you devour my parents and think a salvation from that fate was too kind for me?”

“Nay, kursa…”

Aen’s stance lowered. “They said I can only return holding your head.”

Tartara’s whiskers bristled, rising to his challenge. “Nay gheer!”

I hate you! You made me the ill omen! And then your curse took what little else I had fought to earn!”

Aen lunged forward with his spear, Tartara dodging with a leap to avoid a double-handed thrust. The black spearhead grazed her furred brow and cheek with a stinging slash.

Tartara roared, blood from the superficial wound stinging her eye. Seeing an opening as she reeled, Aen charged again. The tigress barely evaded a thrust that would have pierced her throat.

Aen advanced, swinging the obsidian blade horizontally as she ducked and backed away with hissing growls. Both looking for openings to a kill, Tartara struck first after a third swipe of the weapon whizzed past her muzzle. Pouncing at Aen, she slipped past the spearhead to crash a forepaw into the wooden shaft just below it.

Her blow wrenched the spear from his grip, smacking it against the towering trunk of a redwood beside them. The sturdy shaft of ash snapped under the brutal impact, flinging its spearhead onto the path behind them. Claws and fangs bared, Tartara flew at Aen.

With a yell that was equal parts terror and bravado, Aen bounded up from where he stood. Leaping above a swipe from the roaring tigress, he crashed onto her back and gained a handhold on her bone collar.

Tartara thrashed and bucked as he flipped himself around. Holding on tenaciously, he threw a punch into the back of her skull before she dropped and rolled to knock him loose.

Aen emerged from snapping undergrowth scratched and bloody, but with his grip intact on the rein of her collar. He pulled and twisted it like a garrote, straining and grunting as Tartara reared and slammed him painfully into a tree. Jolted, he continued his attempt to strangle her.

Then his body betrayed him.

With an agonized scream, his fingers collapsed and receded. Bone and flesh flowing like water, Aen’s hands became thick, furred paws.

The collar fell slack. Ears perked and bristling at the sound of the distorting cries above her, Tartara reared to smash him against the tree again. Aen’s weight increased three-fold before she could, and pulled off-balance they both hit the ground.

Claws gripping the spots and stripes of the tigress’s back, she let out a pained roar that was joined by another as she twisted free of the grapple. Bucking off her attacker, Tartara spun to face him in a spray of dirt and pine needles.

Aen’s great fangs finished their descent as she beheld the end of his transformation. The juvenile tiger he had become snarled, enraged.

“Cursed!” he bellowed.

Tartara’s ears pinned back at the sight of him, and she shouted back wide-eyed. “Ounta!”

He rose, muscled and formidable on all fours. With a shake he fought off the lingering pain of his change, and the remains of his snapped loincloth fell away. Tartara crouched and circled him as she had before, now bloodied and panting.

With a growl, Aen began to circle her as well. “Your curse makes me a demon!”

Her nose flared, breathing in his altered scent. “Nay kursa! Ne ni Ounta!”

Aen leapt, crashing into Tartara. Maw to maw, he sank claws into her with savage blows. They grappled and snarled, roars echoing through the forest. Bashing heads, Tartara blocked several fang swipes from Aen as they wheeled on the ground.

Tartara’s hind-paws threw a raking kick into his underbelly, drawing blood and tufts of hair. Provoked, Aen lunged to drop his saber-toothed fangs into her like daggers. Instead he was sent flying… Tartara having curled back and used his own strength and momentum against him.

Aen rolled into the brush. Regaining his footing, he rose disoriented for a mere moment. It was all the time Tartara needed to launch herself forward. Her shoulder slammed him into the rotten old pine and it splintered into shards. Knocked through and uprooting the tall stump, Aen hit the forest floor in a cloud of wood dust and termites.

“Ounta!” Tartara shouted.

He pulled himself up on unsteady legs, panting and winded. Aen eyed Tartara as she too breathed heavily, then surged forward with his last reserves of stamina.

She reared up and swung a paw that crashed into the side of his head.

Staggered by the blow, his charge stumbled past her and onto the path. Aen’s run faltered, and numb and reeling he collapsed into a sprawled heap. Tartara pounced as he fell, the grip of her claws flipping him onto his back in an instant.

Her young opponent spent, the tigress roared pinning him down with her forepaws. Jaws and fangs rushed to his exposed throat, and Aen looked to the darkening green canopy above him.

Yet, pain and death did not come.

Feeling only panted hot breaths on his thick neck, Aen’s eyes gave an exhausted loll to find Tartara’s teeth hovering just above his throat. She saw his bewildered glance, then lifted her head to his face. Their bristled whiskers brushed as her nose hovered just beyond his.

She released her claws, still pinning him under paws. Then Aen witnessed Tartara shift and change, her features redrawing. The weight of her body pressing down upon him reduced, matching the woman’s form she gained in passing moments.

Still panting, Aen felt his own flesh flowing like water. He looked to Tartara’s hands, now tan and human on his chest that would soon be likewise. Her touch held a guiding warmth, and unlike any other time his curse had changed him, it now did so without a torturous agony.

The transformations ended, and he found a fit woman of early middle age holding him down. Her human face still bore the gash his spear had given the tigress, and she was as bare as Aen save for the large bone necklace hanging from her neck.

Tartara slid her knees off of Aen and knelt beside him. Still huffing and exhausted, he weakly tried to wave away her shaking fingers that touched his bloodied face. Tartara’s hands found their way under his arms next, pulling him up to limply sit.

Her chin slipped over his shoulder, and her hold became an embrace. “Ounta…”

Stunned, Aen felt Tartara press against him. His eyes narrowed in the long silence that followed, staring at the ground just beyond her backside. There, lying flat in the dirt, was the obsidian spearhead.

His hand grabbed the short wooden remnant of the weapon’s shaft. Lifting it stone-faced, he turned its deadly point towards her back.

Tartara spoke unaware of his actions. “Ounta… Son…

The blade’s thrust was stayed by Aen’s hand, a finger width from her walnut colored skin.

She struggled voicing a tongue she had long abandoned. “My son, the cub stolen from my breast… Is returned to me!”

The knapped spearhead fell back into the dirt.

She held him with a strength and warmth none had ever given Aen before. Pulling back, his green eyes widened with dawning revelation as they met Tartara’s irises of the same shade.

He touched her tearful, bloodied cheeks. His lips tried to speak the stories that had been told him all his life. Of the babe at the mercy of the demon tigress. Of his horror, despair and shame when he changed into a monster like the one vilified by a generation of tribal retellings. Of how they stoned and cast him out.

His lips quivered mute.

He tried to voice a new story as Tartara smiled at him in silence: A story of a shapeshifting mother and child separated by the misguided actions of men.

Instead, his tongue asked only what was important. “Forgive me.”

Aen offered his arms, and Tartara pulled him into a renewed embrace without hesitation. “Yee, ni ounta.”

 

Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.