Chauve souri yo te vole moute nan syèl la epi yo te toupatou. Yo te defann zòn sa a. Kufu pat ‘konnen poukisa. Fason yo t’ap rele byen fò te etranj. Kufu te gen men l’ nan zòrèy li. Li te eseye kominike avèk yo, men li te konnen yon bagay ki pat bon . . .
From the tall, lush forest, large brown fur bats descended from the shadows, moving to the rocky floor. Their wingspan: abnormally wide. Their screeches: abnormally loud. They echoed through the valley’s ancient, vine- and-plant-covered ruins.
Kufu knelt upon the floor, covering his ears with his hands and asked her, “Why are they doing this?” He rocked on his knees back and forth. His breath was heavy, and sweat was dripping from his armpits, drip by drip.
“They’re the defenders of this place,” said Ayida, slithering her boa body into a large open tree behind the wall of bricks before turning back. “Come now, we have to back away. It’s not safe for you” Ayida continued with her forked tongue out.
“We can’t leave now. I’m closer than ever to discovering the truth” Kufu said with a stern look, raising his head to the sky. He wasn’t going to give up on his quest.
“I have to speak to them,” Kufu said, making a circular motion on the floor—tracing the ancient spell. Light set the whole space ablaze. More bats swooped down, their clawed feet hacking away at Kufu, who was jumping out of the way and rolling down the hill a bit farther down.
“Come on! Get in here!” Ayida screamed. One of the bats heard Ayida hissing and began heading for the dried brown tree trunk on the side of the hill.
“Why isn’t it working? I can’t connect with them. That can only mean one thing,” Kufu said horror spread across his features.
“That’s not possible,” Kufu said.
Just a couple days before, Kufu lay on the sandy beach. His face was planted in the sand. His head began to lift, and his eyes opened wide with a small layer of white sand over his skin. He used his hands to clean it off fast. The sounds of the waves crashed on the bank. The smell of the salty ocean immediately reminded him what had happened. His small ship had crashed in the sudden storm last night.
He had worked on this ship for a month, hiding in the evening hours during his apprenticeship so he could travel to the mysterious island. He would go to the shores and place together—one by one—thousands of palm leaves and tree branches, sticking them together with a special living polymer he found downtown in Cap-Haitien. He would merge with a large blue parrot’s body, borrowing its wings. Kufu would then take flight inside to grab the freshest leaves at the top of the tree.
Kufu got up and looked at the blue horizon and ran toward his meticulously built green ship, which had taken him hundreds of hours to assemble. Now the boat was destroyed. Half of its parts were spread out all over the beach, partially buried by large palm leaves.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!” he screamed with his hands to his head.
“I hope this is the island. This is the place I must venture to,” he said.
He pressed his feet into the sand, leaving heavy marks on the ground. The other part of the boat remained stationary—an old artifact—with the Caribbean wind pushing it back and forth.
“How am I going to get back now?” Kufu said. He was fifteen and hadn’t mastered the magical art of transmuting with an animal. He couldn’t travel very long distances swiftly. Twenty-eight minutes: that’s all he could do in a jump-in with an animal. No matter how hard he tried, that was his limit.
“Grandma is sick, and she’s going to die if I don’t do something,” he said. Just last week, Kufu arrived at his scheduled exposure. Everyone his age in the Caribbean Sky Islands had to go through it. Masses of children would be scheduled to spend the month-long apprenticeships in different villages, learning the ins and outs of the society. It was a new way to see what sparked in their eyes. The calendarist had scheduled for Kufu to meet with the magical mycobacterial scientists stationed on the island of La Navase. It was a few kilometers beyond the boot of Haiti.
They tried everything—the regeneration plant pods where grandma’s body had lain there for months inside a large green geuy leaf pod plant that smelled like honey and could regenerate the entire vital immune system of people—and yet she didn’t get better.
They got her to drink the special tonic potions mixed with magical enzymes . . . and yet she didn’t get better either.
They even got her on a regiment of playing music as a way to align her spiritual energies and feed them back to the earth. Nothing happened; she still wouldn’t get better. No one knew what was wrong. It was the first time that this had happened to someone on the Sky Islands.
Little Kufu got onto his knees, praying and praying to the Sky Island gods. “Please, hear me out. Don’t let anything happen to my grandma. She’s the only one I have left. She’s the only one who understands me. Please . . .” Kufu prayed to the sea gods by the ocean. Then, he went to the forest during the sacred rain shower. Water passed down his feet, red and purple frogs hopped over leaves, and the rain from the leaves above dropped on his head.
He even prayed when the Leavening happened. All of the islands were moving up into the sky, and it took an entire afternoon, as the ground would shake and rumble, then smoothen. And this time around, they were readying for Carnival. Most children his age went outside to watch the event.
Kufu was inside. He prayed and prayed and prayed until tears were dripping down his face. Then, one night, through a dream, a woman with black and green skin appeared before him. Her hair was braided with green vine plants. She approached him and touched him on the shoulders.
“Kufu, find the magic mangos. The latest tree deep in the forest of Iklo. Gold as their skin. With one bite, it will give you unimaginable powers. With this, you will be the one who will save your granny and many more to come. Journey west from your next apprenticeship, and everything will be unveiled. Trust the powers you have inside of you.”
Kufu woke up in the middle of the night with sweat on his forehead and ran toward his desk. He opened a green plant leaf tablet and drew images from the dream on a piece of paper. It was the most real dream he had ever had.
That morning, while pulling down his shirt, he noticed a blueish imprint left on the chocolate-covered skin of his shoulder blade—right where the mysterious woman had touched him.
“It must be the gods,” he said. He knew it deep in his gut, and stern was his face in that moment—a shining spark of determination. Everyone on the islands had tried their best but would leave granny to transition to Guinea. But now, this time, he knew a secret only he could manifest.
The next day, Kufu ran towards the public library in his village. It was a structure with large trees and plants inside and out. It was a four-story building, and green grass had framed the outer walls of the architecture in its entirety. Inside was cool with timed sprinklers to quench the plants’ thirst. He placed his palm against a screen made of sunflower seeds, searching for any sign of who that woman from the dream could have been. He started to ask around his village. Part of Kufu knew it was something out of this world. It was one of the island gods.
Kufu knew it was something out of this world. It was one of the island gods.
He had heard stories from his granny about the Sky Island Gods interacting with the people on the island, but one would never know, as they would morph in unknown ways. They might be yellow finches, green tree frogs, dandelions, or even black ants. They might never reveal their form. One thing was for sure: they were here, and it was a fact that the Gods loved the sky island Caribbean people. The Gods granted people their blessings for being good and doing good things. Knowing this alone gave Kufu reassurance that something was, indeed, possible for his grandma and his search for the magic mangoes would bring good to the lands as a whole.
Kufu stared back and forth on each side of the sandy beaches and the blue crashing waves. He sighed, looking by his feet, where little ants were moving in a line and small red crabs were crawling about. Right behind him were the bushes, tall palm trees, and large green forests that extended far out to a band of mountains that touched the sky. Kufu knew in his gut this was the right island. He could only go within the forest—that was the direction to take. He would do anything for his Grandma.
Kufu began to walk on the sand to find a proper entrance and an open trail to follow into the forest; it was completely natural. It seemed strange that no humans had visited this island for a long time, even though it was part of the chain that came together for the Leavening.
From the distance, he saw something large and colorful on the floor. The sun was right above, and he knew that if it was an animal, such a brown thing couldn’t survive for long out here. He walked faster and eventually ran toward it.
It was a large boa. It was nearly three times the size of Kufu, and his body was greenish-brown with black and yellow circles all over. It had a rainbow glow to it. Its stomach was constricted and its scales were shiny.
Kufu looked worried. “Mister, are you alright?” he said, placing his fingers over his own chin, moving back as the Boa body shook a bit. Then, Kufu approached. He couldn’t speak its language, but he remembered that one of the basic levels of magic you learn is Palé—being able to communicate with certain animals from the Sky islands.
He crouched down and traced an intricate pattern on the ground between them. His fingers pressed against the sand, twisting in a circle, spiraling like a shell. He then traced a square and a triangle over it, facing the east. He said a small prayer, and the ground lit up in blue light.
“Hello? You don’t look so well” he said again.
The boa looked at him, and its eyes widened with amazement. “It’s ma’am, excuse me.” The boa coughed a few times. Her voice sounded old. Very old. “Excuse me, I haven’t spoken to a human in over a hundred years. You are the first in a long while,” said the boa, lifting her small head closer to and looking at Kufu with mystery.
“I just arrived this morning. I just saw you over there, and it looked like you were having trouble. Where are you going?” Kufu said
“I’m dehydrated. I need to get back to the forest. Can you help me?” the boa said.
“Sure,” Kufu replied. “Hmm. Ma’am, do you mind if I pull you from your tail? You are kind of large, and I don’t know if I can carry you all by myself,” Kufu said.
“Call me Ayida,” she said.
“Ayida, this might hurt, but it’s not my fault,” Kufu said, moving back, walking a few feet away to grab her tail. He dug his hands in the sand and tried to pull her large tails over his shoulders. He dug his feet into the ground and began to grunt loudly. Nothing happened.
“This isn’t working,” Kufu said.
“Clearly,” Ayida said.
Kufu’s eyes raised. “Would you be able to do a jump-in?”
“A jump-in?” she replied skeptically
“Yeah. That’s where we would merge as one and would be able to move you forth toward the forest, using our collective might.”
“That’s what they call it these days, huh? We called it a pack bond back then—something real sacred. Haven’t done it in a hundred years, but why not?” Ayida said.
Kufu looked sad, looking down at the floor. “I can only do a jump-in for twenty-eight minutes.”
“Twenty-eight minutes. Interesting. I’ve heard this before,” she said.
“Let’s do it. The sun won’t go away—especially when the islands are so high up in the sky.
Kufu made a large circle with his feet around Ayida, then a large circle around himself. He chanted and hummed once more, and upon touching Ayida, faced the east. His face, his hands, his entire body melted as it moved inside Ayida.
Ayida grew a bit larger.
“Can you hear me?” they both said.
“Yeah,” they both said.
“Alright, let’s do this,” they shouted in unison.
Ayida’s body was able to move across the sand, constricting in waves and leaving marks on the floor. In just a few minutes, she slithered her way into a green clearing with fresh wet moss passing underneath her belly. They slithered through intricate trees, layers of brown leaves on the floor, and much more humidity. Kufu looked through her eyes in amazement, beholding strange plants and bugs he’d never seen before.
Large purple beetles with antlers. Singing pink flowers growing on the side of trees. Mushrooms that were completely orange. Translucent frogs that jumped grace. Every time Ayida flicked her tongue out, Kufu could smell the freshness from the forest.
Large purple beetles with antlers. Singing pink flowers growing on the side of trees. Mushrooms that were completely orange. Translucent frogs that jumped grace.
They both went inside a large river. It was gushing fast, forming white bubbles. Ayida’s body was almost long as the river was wide, and she drank contently. Ayida was back to her old self.
“Let me show you something,” Ayida said, twisting her body up a tall tree.
“Woah,” Kufu cried, looking through her eyes at the vast valley and distant mountains.
“I sense a sadness in you, Kufu. I want to repay you,” Ayida said
“It’s my grandma. She’s . . .” Kufu said, unable to finish his sentence. He soon found himself pushed out of Ayida’s body and falling fast toward the ground floor. The twenty-eight minutes were up.
“Ahhhhhhhh,” Kufu screamed.
Ayida shot down the tree trunk and grabbed Kufu by his left foot with her tail. He was upside down a few inches from the bare ground. She’d saved him. Then, Ayida slowly placed him on the floor as a small piece of paper fell from his pocket. It said “magic mangoes” and bore the image of a golden fruit. Kufu had drawn it right after his dream.
“I’ve seen this before,” Ayida said, slithering down to the mossy floor, looking at it very carefully.
“Where have you seen it? I need it to save my grandma. It’s really important,” Kufu said, getting up and looking at the mud that was on his pants. The sounds of the river animated the background, and the crickets, too, sung.
“You’re not going to like it. You see this mountain? It’s at the top of it, and it’s protected. That’s where I last saw it,” Ayida said.
“This is why I’m here. I need it,” Kufu said, with desperation in his voice.
“If we head out now, we can make it by morning. That’s the least I could do since you saved my life,” Ayida said, looking him in the eye. “Get on my back. It will be faster.”
They moved through the darkness of the forest. Kufu could see the stars shining. He could see the fluorescent bugs flying, and he could see the endless flora bathed in moonlight. He slipped in and out of sleep.
In the morning, they arrived at an open space that went downward, pushed in like a valley. It looked like ruins and was covered with structures that seemed manmade. The area was a crater of sorts.
“I see you’re awake, does the jump-in take a toll on you?” Ayida said.
“Yeah, I get a surge of energy during the merge, but I crash after the twenty-eight minutes are up,” Kufu said as he got off her scaly back and began walking around. “What is this place?”
“Twenty-eight minutes. I’m sure I’ve heard this before. Not sure where,” Ayida said.
Suddenly, large bats showed themselves above. They looked violent and unwelcoming, not wanting to have anything to do with them journeying here.
When Kufu looked closely at the center of the crater, he saw a very large tree, with golden mangoes hanging from its branches, hidden among green leaves. Each of the mangoes was shining like gold. Eyes widening, Kufu began descending toward it.
“What are you doing!?” Ayida screamed as multiple bats went for Kufu. He had to dodge them, and Ayida was in the back watching.
“This is the only chance I have,” Kufu yelled, looking back, hiding between a large rock planted on the ground of the slanted hill.
“It’s obvious they’re defending it for some reason. We can come back with a better plan,” Ayida said.
Kufu refused to listen and began walking down the hill, thinking of his grandma—thinking of the dream he’d had.
“Watch me. These golden mangoes must be it. All I have to do is take one bite for me and one for granny,” Kufu said.
The blue sky suddenly darkened. When he looked up, he saw hundreds of giant bats, which began to circle the mango tree with the golden mangoes. Their teeth were sharp and their eyes were towards him.
Kufu stopped, gulped, and with fear, he walked back up to where Ayida was.
“You’re right,” he said with his head hung. They both escaped the space, and the bats didn’t follow them.
They walked back in the mass of the forest. Giant ferns, yellow and purple bugs, and chirping green frogs. There was a passing rain shower that rattled the leaves, and water started to drip down from high above. Kufu extended both of his hands out and looked up. “I don’t know If i can do this. Why am I doing this?” he said with a sad face, looking at Ayida’s long extended body, which was curling and constricting. “It’s not possible,” Kufu said. “I couldn’t speak with them. I couldn’t make contact. It means there’s someone jumping in those bats already.”
“Come to think of it, twenty-eight minutes . . . yes, yes, I remember,” Ayida said. “At the start of the century, there used to be a group of people living in this area. I met a young girl and she wanted to do a pack but could only do it for twenty-eight minutes. Actually, it was a whole group of people. Every time, twenty-eight minutes they would say.”
“That must be it,” Kufu said, surprised, and listened carefully while sitting on the side of a large root, scratching his head. “That’s it,” he said. “I will go in the middle of the night.” If I could do a jump-in with these creatures or at least tap into their consciousness, I might figure out the mystery of this missing tribe and get them to give me the mango.
“That’s too dangerous. They could rip you to shreds,” Ayida said, moving around Kufu gracefully.
“I’m willing to risk it. My grandma doesn’t have much time left,” Kufu said.
“If we do a jump-in together again, I’ll have twenty-eight minutes to go down,” he continued.
“I won’t do it. It’s too dangerous. Not with my old body” Ayida said.
“Come on! You promised to help me,” he said.
“I did it, but I didn’t sign up for this suicide mission, dear,” Ayida replied, shaking her head back and forth.
“If we both use our minds, we can make it out alive, and you’ll have greater strength,” Kufu said, getting closer to Ayida while reaching for a banana tree that was right behind her.
She didn’t look convinced.
“Okay, what if we do it in twenty minutes? What if we do a jump-in, go down there, and come back up in that timeframe?” Kufu said.
Ayida started to drop her defensiveness and embrace this crazy idea. She enjoyed Kufu’s determination and enthusiasm and had grown to like him. Finally, she agreed, and Kufu jumped with excitement.
A few hours later, in the evening—after the sun had traveled to the other side of the sky—the stars were showing. Kufu appeared right near the crater-like space, holding his arms by his hip. He had a serious look. There was a small warm breeze that passed through him. It was then that he and Ayida did a jump-in.
They both descended to the middle. Ayida’s body was slowly moving along the rocks like a slug, passing by the phosphorus plants and flowers that lit this downward hill at night. They could see a few of the giant bats perched upside down breathing heavily, in and out.
About halfway down, Ayida and Kufu stopped when a piece of rock dislodged from the ground and made its way bouncing and rolling down the hill to the center where the tree was. They both stopped and froze in fear. They thought that they were through. But none of the bats had awoken. They kept moving downward until they approached a large bat. Kufu emerged outside of Ayida like an amorphous blob and made the incantation, touching the forehead of one of the bats.
A bright green and white light shone as Kufu appeared inside the bat.
He heard a soft voice talking to him. “Ricardo, is that you?”
“No, it’s Kufu,” he replied.
A young black woman appeared among the lights. She was wearing brown clothing and had dots of paint all over her eyebrows—purple, gold, green, white.
“Sorry, you look just like someone I used to know,” she replied.
“My grandpa’s name is Ricardo. I’m here for my grandma, Miriam. Something’s wrong with her,” Kufu said with a sad look.
“Miriam and Ricardo? Yeah, that must be them. Your grandparents?” she said with a shocked look, beginning to wonder how long she had been in this space.
“What happened here? What happened to the tribe that was here?” Kufu said urgently, remembering that he didn’t have much time left.
“Here? Where is here?” she replied.
“You can only do magic for twenty-eight minutes, right?” Kufu said urgently
“I don’t know. The last thing I remember was after the Leavening during Carnival. Most people in our tribe couldn’t go beyond twenty-eight minutes, and this prevented us from doing many things and being contributors to the Sky Islands. Some of our people got sick. We tried everything, but our magic was limited. We then devised a way to unlock all of the magical potential we have as Caribbean people. The council of elders didn’t want us meddling in it. They weren’t in favor . . . and I remember a large explosion,” she said
“What about the magic mangoes?” Kufu said.
“Magic mangoes,” she replied reflectively, looking upward.
“Golden mangoes that, if eaten, can give powers,” Kufu said.
“So, Dr. Ybio succeeded? The gold that he was told to harness as a gift from the God of the Sun who appeared to him. That must be it. It was said to give everyone new powers, and it would change the Sky Islands forever! It must have appeared as the Mango tree with golden mangoes,” she shouted.
“How do I get passed all the bats?” Kufu asked
“You must chant.” As she began to sing a melody, she slowly faded away.
Back in the darkness of the valley center. The large bat whose consciousness Kufu had tapped into awoke.
Kufu was afraid. His head was small compared to the large orange eyes of the bat. The creature screeched loudly, awakening all the others.
“We only have a few minutes left,” Ayida said, knowing a jump-in split would take the same amount of time as merging.
Kufu started to hum the melody that he heard from the woman. He started to sing it out loud, locking into the rhythm of the beat he had heard from her.
The bats had covered the night sky with their joint wingspan and were heading straight for Kufu and Ayida.
“What are you doing? We’re done for!” Ayida said.
‘Sing with me, Ayida! Sing!” He looked at her and lifted his arms, bouncing his body to get in rhythm.
Ayida started to hum, and Kufu returned to his natural form.
The bats got closer and closer and eventually stopped in mid-air. Suddenly, they began screaming the same sounds, halting their flights as they landed on the ground dancing.
It was then that little Kufu ran toward the middle tree and reached out with his arms to grab the golden mangoes, of which he took a bite.
Ayida was overjoyed.
Kufu’s entire body lit up as did the space he was in.
As he danced, reviving the song, orange light extended from his body and into the bats, which turned into humans.
Pandan li tap danse ak rekòmanse chante, limyè zoranj soti nan kò l ‘nan epi li ale nan chauve souri yo. Epi yo tounen moun.
Fabrice Guerrier is the Haitian-American founder of Syllble, a sci-fi and fantasy production house. He is a writer and poet whose work has appeared in several publications, including the PEN America Blog, Public Pool, and Blavity.