Kahlei Sanders

The Heron and the Mongoose

If it were not for the perfect breeze that welcomed his lean face, the white glow of the eye that gaped overhead, and the clear night sky, the Mongoose would have thought twice before entering a field ruled by a Heron.

With the valley dying around him and the poor residents groaning and suffering, one would find it easier to become a nomad. At least that was his logic when he had abandoned a poisoned body that withered beneath his feet. With each start of a new day, Mongoose would run until his weathered body would give out. However, even if he could run forever, the black that devoured the once beautiful valley had finally caught up to him. Something he had feared the most had suddenly become his reality. There was no escape now, no refuge, and no reassurance of a better outcome. A problem he thought he could avoid had followed him like a shadow, cloaking his world with its dismal darkness. He had failed himself.

Some of his earliest memories still evoked pain at the back of his mind. No matter how painful, or how frustrating these memories were, he still felt the fragments resurface. This predicament had reminded him of the first time his family was forced to rush to a small pond to share the last remnant of water the village had. He could remember the countless days his siblings would go parched and unsatisfied. No one in the village would dare bathe or pry an eye from the small pond that held their lives within its slippery fingers. That day he could feel the damp soil between his toes. His village voted the best way to wait for the rainy seasons would be to restrain their villagers from drinking freely. Every time the eye was above their heads, the villagers would sip what they could stomach for a solid minute. Whenever he would try to receive what his body ached for, the substance they were all forcing down their throats so thirstily would always sting his tongue. The stream that once flowed there had been clogged up by ash of an unknown fire. The water was poison to all who drank it. Mongoose thought many times to drink the black river that seeped past the parched village, but that would only bring more suffering on his part. The ash would have become a part of him, and the flames of his rage would feed the fire that would evaporate his blood.

He could see that the village’s logic was flawed for not everyone was guaranteed a sip. That day, he could stand the taste of the pond no longer and chose to watch the others grovel around it in their desperate attempts of survival. Even if he could get to the pond, he wouldn’t drink it. With his small beady eyes he would witness the adults shove their own children away, for they had lost their privilege of rationality. The adults who pushed to the middle of the pond too early toppled over the rest of the villagers, leaning over to bend down to take just a lick of the water for themselves. Mongoose would stare at the adults who were overly eager, their lifeless bodies floating atop the pond, rage drowning him more than that poisonous water.

There was a day that Mongoose would always try to keep dormant within his mind. But every waking moment he would be reminded of the time his innocent eyes trailed over his family’s bodies, rid of movement. For all who continued to drink from the pond had been poisoned within a few days.

Mongoose remembered thinking, why should something as simple as living be this torturous? Despite that they had no one else to blame but themselves and their blissful ignorance.

He couldn’t recall where his feet had taken him, or the surface that peered back with his face; a surface smooth and wavering. His ragged coat and the same beady eyes that once raged on blindly. Shaking himself out of his daze, he took a small sip from the stream he had stopped at and made his way to the ‘New Village,’ a place he once knew by the name of home. 

He had been moving from place to place for so long that he could hardly recognize it now. Weathered buildings groaned, alienated by being old and still standing. Hazy faces he once knew by name caused him a headache. If he tried to remember what their life was like back when they were still living he found himself frustrated. The only resemblance of their personalities salvaged in the empty houses and dens, occupied by someone else. He passed the other residents of New Village, his ears instantly met with strings of hurtful whispers. Faces distorted by the protective cloak of the night sky, thankfully too fuzzy to make out.

There was always a place he was never allowed as a child, a place adults went to when they needed to forget. The mountains curved with the wind, the air forever dry.  He followed the path illuminated by the eye overhead. As the path glistened before him through the cracks of the narrow path laid before him was a patch of color.

The lush grape bush winded across the rocks that rested there. It was a treasure to the eye. His eye, however, searched for something far sweeter. Fallen grapes that rested at the bottom of the bush, like a mischievous abandoned child. His nose sniffed out a few grapes that were rightfully aged and his tongue had never tasted something so sinfully bittersweet. A few others were left untouched and he worked through the bottom. Only the most morbid of the adults would submit themselves to this ritual, but it did make it hard to focus. He wanted to eat more to fill his mind with nothing but the savory taste. The trail of grapes stopped suddenly, a few squished at his feet. He whipped around wildly for another presence.

“Come out and make yourself known!” Mongoose growled. The moving black only growled back. Something far larger than him tackled him to the ground. He yelped. His ears were filled with laughter, familiar and sharp. The unknown black mass he recognized as a friend he had met during his travels, Badger.

Mongoose started to laugh with him and they batted at each other’s faces like they used to.

“What brings you here, in MY hometown? Hah? Hah?” Mongoose laughed, romping around with his lost friend in their drunken states. 

“Bah! Why I’ve taken over I ‘ave! Buh what is one like you doin’ at mah’ bush! I’ve claimed it! The packs are too scared to fight me ferr it!” Badger cried, getting down low and rolling his shoulders in a playful manner.

Mongoose rose a brow and smirked, “Sounds like a challenge I’m willing to take!”

Teeth bared and claws sharpened they wrestled playfully for hours on end until both contenders were left breathless.

Badger pushed past him, chuckling, “Guess it’s a draw!-like always!” He paused for a moment, and his mouth opened with a realization, “Ah! What are we doing here? We’ve recently got control over somethin’ that would be of your interest–”

Intrigued, Mongoose followed his friend back to the village. Stopped in his tracks by a peculiar sound, his ear twitched. He forced his heavy feet to move towards New Village’s square. Glancing back at him with a smile, Badger snaked through the bustling crowd that surrounded the unusually illuminated square.

The rise and the fall of the music made his hopes soar for the valley. Even if it was a lovely hallucination, he would rather listen mindlessly than to digress. He failed to comprehend what the celebration was for. That definitely didn’t stop the villagers from swaying about like the young fools their hearts were. Their movements would rise and fall with the music that pumped his lungs full of air and just as playfully yanked it away with the chords it held and teased back and forth and again.

His tiny eyes darted through the crowd, searching for the source of energy that had the crowd buzzing and celebrating. His heart leapt out of his body, and he could do nothing but gape. The village had harnessed the power of the greedy eye that had once enveloped the wood in it’s fiery gaze. With the eye they had the power to vanquish the darkness from the valley and work wouldn’t have to end at dusk.

It was something that he should fear, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. This eye wasn’t at all different, but with it came warmth that he couldn’t quite make out or understand yet.

The crimson in his eyes eclipsed when the purest white filled his view. It was the constant sparkling of a translucent stream with a soft gentle eye watching over it. With a tranquil and steady flow did it move. Tufts of white ash floated down in clumps to feathers as soft as clouds. He hardly noticed that it happened to be a lovely Heron that enraptured his interests. She was so captivating with her dance that he had nearly mistaken her for a swan. She was moving so closely to the fire that one wrong move would ignite such beauty aflame.

Badger nudged him with a chuckle, “Ey, you’ve got a good eye dontchya! She’s the princess of the sky, many of the locals say that she’s the one who brought the eye here.”

“I … wouldn’t be surprised if she were a phoenix,” he sighed in a dreamy manner, “I believe I’m going to go dance with her.”

“Eh-BWHAT! Ya can’t! She’s–she’s a real feisty one Mongoose–” Badger sputtered to his side, a place vacated by Mongoose, who had dispersed already.

To wait for the right moment was mere agony for him to bear. When he finally leapt into the circle, her dance did not cease, not even for a moment. She curved towards him, craning her neck with a slight displeasure. Every step she took he would do the same, and if she picked up her tempo, then he would do it to his best ability. The Heron was so much larger than he was that she stepped over him to enforce her superiority. With his persistence, Mongoose began to figure out her captivating dance. To prove that he wasn’t someone to be taken lightly he decided to do the next step and follow her in perfect sync, and dance together, much to her annoyance.

 The music began to slow as the adrenaline reached his brain. His eyes made out her figure extending her wings towards him. She was wavering like the eye, a silhouette that glowed. In his drunken world, he leapt through the eye for her, but he fell short when her figure happened to be the smoke. He collapsed and stared at the floor, panting. In the silence he could hear a single feather nestle the floor. He picked it up gently and moved his gaze to the dreamy night’s sky. There he could see her silhouette again, this time, he knew that she was real.

Things had changed. Mongoose wanted to know how, or why? Not to say that change was bad, but he wanted to know if this could affect the future, even if it was doomed at the start.

“I tried to warn ya, she’s always got somewhere better to be, huh,” Badger scoffed and rolled his eyes, “prissy little thing, ey? I hear she doesn’t like to talk to anyone a different color from her. Bah, forget about her. I’ll take you home. I’m sure you’re pretty worn out trying to keep up with such long legs.”

“You said she had brought the eye, what for? And why are you guys celebrating the valley is on the verge of mass extinction?” Mongoose asked.

Badger paused, his face stretched thinking against inquiring about what was bothering him. “You’re more considerate than I thought. Aren’t you Mongooses supposed to be hot-heated?”

He knew that such skills were unnatural for someone of his species to have, but he was always looking to improve himself.

“Is that a problem?”

“Naw not at all! I was just sayin’ you’re thinkin’ too much,” Badger huffed and shrugged. “I think we’re celebrating because we know that this valley is coming to an end.” He started to chuckle to himself, “Some of the pups have gotten the idea that on the other side of the mountain there’s another valley. A better valley where the fruits are bountiful.”

“Has anyone been there? Or tried?”

Badger yawned, “Ya! Foolish buggers, the lot of em’! All who’ve tried ‘ave failed; it’s been goin’ on for so long that villagers are makin’ bets that the valley is just another word for suicide.”

Mongoose nodded thoughtfully, a solemn expression on his face. Badger watched his friend become more melancholic.

“What would you want to do before you die? Because I think I would try everything! Even if it’s foolish,” Badger yawned and stretched.

Mongoose nodded, still recovering from the whiplash that was Heron. “Something foolish it is.”

The next morning Mongoose awoke before the eye had woken up. He set out to find Heron. She had been too invigorating to let slip away. The wood had a terrible solitude to it. As he trudged on, he found that the forest evolved with every mile. Life in the trees had replenished, and he wondered why he had never been there before. The grey transformed to saturated until it was a completely new color. Perhaps this was the bountiful new valley that Badger spoke of?

He found himself staring at his paws that rested against a log. Admiring the wrinkles and curls the bark made with its old age. He wondered what it would be like to grow old like the log that once was a tree. It sounded quite pleasant, but not even the old withered tree could support his weight. He cried out in surprise and plummeted down into the brush.

Old ash from the eye that had fallen from the sky the previous night clung to his fur coat. He crawled to a nearby pond to admire his complexion, covered from head to toe in pure ash. Preoccupied, he had little time to notice the long thin legs that waited for his eyes to trail up them. He thought that if he looked away, even for a moment, she would disappear before his very eyes.

“I haven’t seen one like you around here, what is your name?” Heron asked softly as she eyed Mongoose. He remembered what Badger had told him about the peculiar species she was. Mongoose’s face filled with content and found this as one of his rare chances. But who was he now? With this new facade?

“W-Well, I’m Ferret,”Mongoose mumbled, careful that his accent would not give him away.

“I’ve never seen someone like you around here,” she murmured, sounding intrigued. She waded through the water, stepping carefully and refined like wine. Treading so lightly that not even a ripple escaped her feet. She lowered her protruding neck to his level and eyed him with her amber suns.

“Well I’m just a simple nomad,” Mongoose chuckled, embarrassed that only now was she interested in him.

“Well I hope you stay long enough for the celebration I am to have in the lily fields tonight.” Heron stepped out of the pond and quivered, the sapphire droplets rolling off of her feathers.

“What’s the celebration for?” he asked, his voice trailing down a tunnel that she waited on the other side for him. His form did not move, too afraid that she was but a figment of his dreams.

“Why the end of this world and our transition into the next one of course!” she cawed, her curtains extended towards him like she had done the previous night. “It’s after dusk so don’t be late,” she cooed into his ear. Mongoose listened intently, hanging on her every word. She pushed him into the pond with her legs and giggled as she flew off with the grand presence she had.

He sat up to watch her leave, the ash melting off of him in the water. Mongoose couldn’t possibly let her know of this secret, even if it was theirs to share.

On his way back to New Village, he hummed to himself in such a pleasant mood that it could lift anyone’s spirits. Leaves crunched beneath his feet, he could snuff out the smells of New Village below.

Leaving the wood’s edge, he crept back into the realm he belonged to. The tiny grey valley dismal against his retinas. The grotesque village so faded that one could not tell what season it was, even if the plants were supposed to hold the colors of spring within them. Amongst the ash that stung his eyes, he watched an animal twist and turn in the wind. It surfed on the air and skipped off dust. It cut through the grey with its resilient maroon color. Ignorantly he thought the ghostly animal to be a dragon. He had pondered so much that the beautiful bright dragon headed straight for him and crashed into the ground with a loud clatter. The impact had lifted some dead leaves with its glorious descent.

He couldn’t tell what the contraption was, but to see something come from the heavens and plummet with grace was something to marvel at. It resembled a bird tied down by steel wire, the wire soft and flowed better than anything Mongoose had ever seen. The bird’s wings were clenched and rippled, no feathers in sight. Mongoose ran his paws over its lifeless body, the texture of dried leaves but not nearly as rough. He couldn’t possibly think of leaving something so special to rest there for someone else to discover. Not a chance.

Mongoose waited for the eye to descend past the hills that he stared at longingly. Badger nudged him and rose a curious brow, “Somethin eatin’ at ya? Before I can!”

“Thinking,” he sighed and continued to stare at the eye, his face weary with concern.

“Stare at that for too long and it might just stare back,” Badger chuckled leaning on a log he was to lug back to the village. “An obsession can eat someone up just the same as the rot will eat up this valley. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Mongoose grumbled something between his teeth in annoyance. Badger crouched down beside him, his bulky build pressed against him in an irritatingly pushy way. Mongoose wanted to lash out at him, but desperately needed the other’s advice.

“What can I do to impress Heron?”

“Why on earth wouldya’ wanna impress someone like her?” he scoffed and squinted at him.

“I may or may not have gotten invited to a get together with her,” Mongoose replied matter-a-factly.

“How did you manage?! She never talks–”

“To people who don’t look similar to her. I know! I already figured that part out. I just don’t want to bore her— so I need your help—please.”

Badger felt his chin and examined Mongoose. He circled his smaller form and mumbled to himself, “Well I wouldn’t start with that attitude.”

“Attitude?” Mongoose growled, exasperated to say the least.

“She doesn’t like anyone who seems less than her, so I would try some ‘chivalry’ and ‘manners.’ I still don’t know about this. I don’t think you guys would mesh well together. She’s all calm and stuff and you’re—not. Hm … try ‘please and thank you.’ Bwahah! She’ll getta kick outta those!”

“Something tells me you’re not taking this seriously. It’s like you’re setting me up for failure when you say that,” Mongoose growled and bore his claws, “I can prove them wrong. How am I even supposed to keep her interest?”

“Hey man! Don’t make me beat ya again like I did yesterday,” Badger snorted, running his claws down the side of the log he held, “I would be bold, be–hm … unforgettable!”

“This has worked for you?”

“Yeah! Worked on my wife,” Badger shrugged, dragging the log across the floor.

“Y-you don’t have a wife,” Mongoose sighed.

“Well she will be mine! I think if I do things more irrationally, she’s as good as mine!”

Mongoose shook his head and groaned, “This is not! Going to work!”

“Do somethin’ that would shock her at the least and even if you mess up, it would make an interesting story,” Badger laughed as he passed by Mongoose. “Well tell me all about it whenever ya get back. Remember, something gutsy!”

An epiphany struck him suddenly, he jumped to his feet and called, “I’ve got something good for her! Thanks for your help!”

Badger stopped and waved with his hardy laugh, “Good luck crazy Mongoose!”

So worried about what she would think of him, he had hardly noticed that the eye had already rested long prior to his realization. As the woods changed around him and life breathed through his lungs again, he knew how close he was. Before he could meet her amber suns again he would have to recreate his disguise. With the sound of his breath in his ears he galloped through the wood. His heart beat wildly against his ribcage and he slowed to catch his breath. He was desperate to have a reason to stay, and the other night he might have found what he yearned for.

He was getting dizzy now, his senses blunted. His vision clouded, something sparkled through the blur. He followed it with his head, letting it skip from frond to frond. The firefly buzzed his insecurities away and made him much more empowered. The energy it gave him provided the courage he needed to run towards the field of ash.

After his transition through the valley of ash, completely white, he matched the luminous eye that watched overhead. The damp soil beneath his toes made it hard to find grip but hinted his nearing of the desolate celebration. The wind that whispered to the hills above, folded the tall grass that slapped his face whilst he ran. Slowing his clumsy pace, he squinted at the eye that appeared to be buzzing. Eyeing it keenly, he watched its shape twist and contort. The ripples of the mirror rolled and its reflection moved out of the moons outline. The answer struck him sharply, and he approached the clump of animals.

Now that he could see some of the the attendants clearer, he noticed how mundane his attempts were. Everywhere he looked the bunched members of various shades of white contrasted gravely with the gardens deep emerald. Badger was absolutely right when it came to guessing her obsession.

Mongoose slipped into the crowd with ease. The band of crickets chirped the most minuscule of songs. Their effort very much appreciated, but all in vain for the others’ conversations neutralized their melodious tunes. He sat himself down and admired the scenery rather than the bored group before him. This wasn’t his idea of a celebration, especially with the absence of its hostess.

“Some party,” he sighed to himself.

“I apologize that it’s not to your liking,” the woman to his side giggled softly, “but I’m glad you could make it, Ferret.”

“Hm?” he mumbled absentmindedly, turning a blind eye with his long expression. Someone who contrasted from the crowds could just as easily be drowned out if an overwhelming number of people clung to her sides. To his horror, he had overlooked her completely. “My apologies! To be fair this isn’t very much of what I expected from what I saw of you yesterday,” Mongoose chuckled with a nervous clamor. Just as beautiful the night before, but blurred behind the blanket of snow that acted as her guests.

“Well I could not simply sit and let some animal slip into my party with ease,” she responded, the rehearsed line resonating within his twinging ears, “I wanted to see if you would put on the disguise you did this morning, did you really think you could fool me? You even referred to the other night, foolish Mongoose.”

Completely dumbfounded he struggled to form a response. “Did you just want to mess with me?”

Heron laughed in delight, her melancholic laughter soothing his stress and subsiding his anger. “No silly, I just wanted to know your secret.”

“To … what?”

She stood up to her full height and peered down with hungry suns, “I’ve wasted my entire life grooming myself to stand out anywhere I go. I would prefer to be a weed in a field of lilies rather than blend in. So how do you do it?”

He thought for a long moment, and she tapped her feet impatiently. “Well, I would very much just stay true to who I am,” Mongoose answered truthfully. “Nothing should influence what I have to think or what others should think of me.”

“And by staying true to oneself you’ve decided to change every aspect of yourself?” She tilted her head, a mischievous smile resting on her face.

“Well in the sense of how I’m not what you think I am. I can be your Ferret if you want me to be, but that doesn’t mean to disguise myself all the time.”

“But what if this is all I am?” she sounded hurt, “Am I necessarily troubled?”

“No not at all, I think you’re just confused.”

“Well I don’t understand how one like you can have something so complex figured out,” she harrumphed and turned away. “To stand out one must become something they are not.” Her voice was dangerous and sharp; she spread her wings and brought her feet to his chest. He let his body fall into the translucent mirror below. The reflection of the grand eye bled, his coat purified by the shards.

“Someone like you I must distance myself from, especially if we contrast,” Heron whispered softly as Mongoose sat up and shook himself off. “A Mongoose is someone who’s blinded by rage and toils with foolishness.”

His suns flared at her aggressively. He knew this would be a challenge, but he would not give up now. She watched compliantly and took a step back, a pleased look in her eye. Mongoose stuck his face as high as he could towards hers, “I’ll prove to you that I’m different! I bet I can take us to the other side of the mountain, to the valley that thrives with plentiful fruit. If we get there first then we will both stand out.”

“Fine, and if you manage to prove this to me, I will stay by your side,” Heron bowed and watched him storm off. “Crazy fool.”

“Meet me at the base of the mountain before dawn,” he grumbled before he stormed off. Was it his love that made him boil or was it his passion that burned him? Icarus flew towards his destiny, fate and ambition sealed his future.

Before daybreak Mongoose instructed Heron to fly the both of them over the mountain, with him riding on her back. The vultures who awaited them at the top were still asleep. They had avoided the reason others had failed. Soaring over the valley they never expected to exist, they both admired its evergreen beauty together. Heron knew that this would not last forever, and she took the first step by knocking Mongoose off of her back and into her arms. Mongoose clung to her and stared at her expectantly, “Wh-Whats the matter?”

Heron smiled, “You told me how you would get us here, but your wit never told me how you were to get down.”

Mongoose thought for a moment murmuring, “Easy, as long as you’re with me, I have nothing to fear. Let me go, and we will both descend. Then you will see, I have wings.”

Heron wanted to trust his words but she felt conflicted, something she’d never felt towards anyone before. With her clear hesitance she let her claws give and watched him slip. She didn’t want him to make the descent alone so she did as was instructed and dove down with him. Mongoose had nothing to fear, content that Heron had joined him in his last moments that would lead to his new life. As the eye began to awake, the shadows of the field of flowers beneath them churned and flowed like a giant ocean of life. Mongoose smiled to himself as the brilliant valley welcomed him into its arms.

Before Heron could touch the ground, she curved away from the mess of magnificence. A storm of petals flew around the portrait of death by someone’s free will. Crimson like the wings of the dragon, Mongoose did fly.

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