Doren Damico

Excerpt from The Unraveler’s Star

Justice Piper has traveled time to a post meteor impact Earth, and joined two young brothers on a dangerous journey.  When she realizes a terrible apex predator is stalking them and she is powerless to change things, she reaches out to a young woman of the jungle.  Will Malami understand Justice’s message and save the twins?

Chapter 11 – “Esthetic Applications”

     Malami ascended the twisting bridge between the kumula her family lived in and Kaiko’s kumula.  Every tree in their village connected to the bridge leading to Kaiko’s kumula, but theirs was a long meandering route around storage trees and other families sleeping in their kumulas.  She used her hands and feet like a manakuke, scurrying across tree branches and over roofs then back onto the meandering bridge to get there more quickly.  She often visited Old Kaiko in the morning to tell him about her dreams — he could turn a knot into a straight shoot—and she needed to understand the strange dream the ulula-àu had sent her in the night. 

     Shouts of “Ka!” and “Kokami!” followed her, but she ignored the sleepers’ complaints.  Kahokuokalani might still be walking sideways through the ulula-àu but Kaiko always said, “Morning begins when you wake.”

     Despite her rush, Malami took care not to bruise the handful of pipi fruit in her pouch.  These were Kaiko’s favorite, and she had been taught well to take care of others. 

     He was very old.  He walked the bridges slowly and didn’t climb anymore, and hadn’t taken a journey to the sea since before she was born.  But he knew the song of the ulula-àu, and he could tell all the old stories:  How Kawena, The Glowing One, made the long winter and changed the world from one family to many lost islands.  Why the whales ate all the double canoes.  When the Lilinokoa and the Poè were friends and killed the Kanai together.

     Kaiko was also a great maker of stories.  He said the best stories came from listening to the Wai-oli, the song of the Water of Life.  But he also made stories from the constellations and from dreams that came on the song of the ulula-àu.

     She needed his help to tell the story of her dream.  She knew it was important, but she was afraid the nakoa of the village wouldn’t listen if she didn’t tell it right.

     As she neared Kaiko’s kumula, she started chanting.  Kaiko didn’t like to be surprised in the dark.  He said it turned his heart into a lizard, and it wouldn’t be kind to make such a proud old man afraid.  Secretly, Malami thought he didn’t want her to catch him snoring, his mouth propped open as if to catch spiders.  All poè ate spiders in their sleep—that’s how they learned the languages of the world—but everyone knew if you ate too many spiders when you got old, you’d wake up mute.  Kaiko was too old to hunt with the nakoa, and he could no longer travel to the sea for Manau’s blessing, but the poè still listened to him because his tongue was swift and true.

     Malami took her last few strides slowly up the creaking bridge to Kaiko’s door.  “Wai e Kahokuokalani, Kaiko” she called the morning greeting, Water and daylight. 

     She could see a soft light through the weave of his window covering.

     “Is that you, Malami et Nakuali?” he asked.  “Wai e Kahokuokalani.  Come in child.”

     She opened the door and found Kaiko sitting up on his pallet, his chest bare, aged skin yellow and wrinkled in the wane light of a flickerlamp.

     “You know I’m not a child anymore,” she announced, closing the door behind her.  “Brought you some pipi fruit for breakfast.  And a dream, Kaiko, a dream of danger and need, from the ulula-àu.”

     “Breakfast and a dangerous dream,” he said with a smile. “Then I was wrong.  You must be a woman.”  His laughter quickly sent him into a coughing fit. 

      Malami didn’t like that wet sound.  The village healer said it was a sign that Manau was calling Kaiko, and the nakoa would soon take him for his final journey to the sea.  She moved through the hut, snapping on a few more flickerlamps, their bioluminescent glow casting a net of shadows throughout the room. 

     “My first wife used to bring me the same two gifts everyday,” he said after spitting the sea from his lungs into a jar by the pallet.  “Except she didn’t bring them in that order.  ‘Danger and need before breakfast,’ she used to say.”

     Malami knew he was playing with the words, twisting the mea pō’lne to moe’uhane, and the ipa to sampa, to flirt with her.  She didn’t mind his flirting.  Kaiko had been a great nakoa in his youth, and she respected him as a man, even if he was an old man.  It was his mastery of words she sought.

     “Moe’uhane, first, then,” she said.  “In honor of your first wife.”

     She handed him a cup of fresh water and wandered the small hut while he alternately drank and coughed, then pulled on a tunic.  The ventilation fans hummed from two walls, drying the air to help him breathe better.  Her fingers caressed the odd bits and tools on his craft table.  She looked into the husk of an old cambox that had an unfinished tableau of poè in a canoe with playful hoikluna leaping around it. 

     Despite his failing sight, Kaiko continued to carve the miniature scenes he was known for, each one an intricate representation of poè interacting with various sea creatures.  A flickerlamp penetrated tiny holes in the top of the cambox.  She leaned over it, trying to figure out the specific constellations, then bent her head to look up from within the cambox.  It was Ke Kā o Makali, with two big holes for Nā Mahoe: The Twins.  She’d always been fascinated by Kaiko’s tableaus.  Most of the poè pursued one talent or another, valuing creation for both its practical and esthetic applications.  But few were as multi-talented as Kaiko.

     “It’s beautiful,” she sighed, sitting on a mat in front of him.  “I really like how the light of Nā Mahoe, shine down on the canoe.”

     “The first and last stars.  Nana-mua looks forward and Nana-hope looks behind.  Long ago, the poè would take their canoes into the sea at night with Nana-mua and come home with Nana-hope.  In this tableau, the hoikluna are telling them to stop eating the fish because the sea has been poisoned and the fish will harm the children of the poè if they are consumed.  Many of the poè didn’t listen to the hoikluna whistling their warning.  But our mothers did listen.”

     “And they told the poè to stop eating from the sea.  Their children lived when other children were born weak and deformed or died before they could see Kahokuokalani’s light.  And these children grew up and became new mothers.  The new mothers listened to the sea and the stars.  So before The Glowing One came they moved our poè into the ulula-àu, where we were safe from the whales that ate the cities, and learned how to survive the long winter.”  Malami finished the story every child of the ulula-àu knew.

     Kaiko was silent, thinking about the sea he so loved.   Or perhaps, about how he might soon return to the sea.  Malami didn’t want to think about that.  Who would help her understand her dreams when Kaiko died?  So she quickly changed the subject.

     “Last night, I dreamed…but it wasn’t my own dream, Kaiko.  I could feel it come up on me from the ulula-àu branches below our kumula, singing in my blood.  It was like I was woken up by the ulula-àu, but I thought I was still asleep…”

     Kaiko said nothing in the space of her pause, so she continued.

     “It was a circle song, you know, like a child’s chant.  First line: my name, Malami et Nakuali.  Second line: a child in the clutches of the Maka-ú.  Third line: hold the child.  Then it repeated again and again: Malami et Nakuali.  A child in the clutches of the Maka-ú.  Hold the child.”

     She paused a second time; again Kaiko said nothing.

     “Well, kapuna, what do you think it means?  Why was the ulula-àu disturbing my dreams with the Maka-ú?”

     “Not so confusing, this dream of yours, if it was a dream.”

     “Felt more like the ulula-àu chanting, like I said, a circle song biting it’s tail, ’til I learned it true.”

     “Did you dream anything more before you woke? Or did you wake up to the song?”

     Malami, in answer, chanted the dream, this time adding melody to the words.  They hung in the room between them.

     “What are you not telling me, Malami?”

     “The feeling, Kaiko?”

     “Feelings are the first indication of significance.  What did you feel when you woke up?”

     “It was important.”

     He waited for more.

     “It was important, urgent.  I thought I should wake my father to tell the nakoa before they climb the canopy…that maybe…maybe the Maka-ú is hunting for children today.”

     “The Maka-ú will not find its hunger fulfilled in the village, where the poè fear nothing, Malami.  Would you ask the nakoa to stay here all day?”

     “No.  Not… That isn’t what I meant.  Maybe there’s a child that’s wandered away from his kumula, maybe he’s climbing in his sleep.  Would you tell the nakoa to search the village for me?  They’ll listen to you.”

     “Now you’re sounding like a child again.  Even when the long winter came, the poè never forgot that women are the true leaders of poè.  Women know how to grow the vines that draw men to their wombs, and nurture the seeds that grow into future poè.  I thought you said you’re a woman.”

     She chuckled at how easily he wrestled her with his words.  Fumbling in her pouch to cover her discomfort, Malami pulled out a handful of pipi fruit and offered them to him.  He took three and left two for her.  They sat quietly peeling the thin skins and sucking on the pungent juices of the ripe fruit.  Malami spit out the pits into her hand and waited for Kaiko to finish his fruit, then she held out her hand to collect his pits and skin.

     “When we eat the pipi fruit, we can’t eat it all.  Look at your hand, Malami,” he indicated with a nod.  “What do you see?”

     He wasn’t making this easy.  Malami should have remembered how Kaiko had been treating her dreams lately.  He’d invite her to tell the knotted dreams, then make her untangle them herself. 

     Frustrated, she closed her hand over its contents, looking at him instead.  But he was silent, a few blobs of the orange pipi meat resting on the corners of his closed lips.  She wanted him to give her an answer, to legitimize the power of her dream.  But he was an old man, and she was a woman of the poè.  That was his answer, she realized, and smiled at him.  He smiled back at her and licked the corners of his mouth, his eyes nodding to her hand.

     Malami sighed and opened her hand.  The skin and pits had been crushed into a ragged ball.  She could take the ball to the jungle floor and plant it.  But a new pipi tree wouldn’t grow unless she planted it in a place where Kahokuokalani’s light would find it.  She’d have to sing the Wai-oli and make sure to give it water every few days, little rain making its way from the jungle canopy to the jungle floor.  Even then, the pipi tree wouldn’t have a chance to thrive unless she cleared the surface of la àuhihi vines until it was big enough to bear fruit.  It was a lot of work to grow a pipi tree in the ulula-àu.

     “I see a child that won’t live unless I make sure we find him a proper home,” Malami said.

     She looked up at Kaiko.  He was smiling so wide, she could see all the gaps where his teeth had withered away.  She smiled back at him, then sprung to her feet.

     “Got to go, Kaiko.  A hui hou.”  Until we meet again.

     “A hui hou,” he replied, but she was already out the door slamming it behind her.

I hope you enjoyed this free excerpt from the Unraveler’s Star.  When the book is released, travel time with Justice Piper to this strange island, discover if Malami can save the boy she dreams about, and whether Justice can escape time’s trap before Death takes her.  

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