Born in South Africa, Kalearah Locksley was raised by an English teacher who nurtured the love of reading, writing and research.
It started out small. A fisherman, struck by lightning under a near cloudless day. The ground falling away beneath a hunters feet a few seconds before the perfect shot. A farmer trampled to death by the same animals he took ‘out back’ to slaughter. Small things. Things people could write off as unlucky or coincidence.
Over a period of months, things escalated. A pyromaniac who loved setting wildfires and then recording the resulting carnage, recorded himself as the fire took on a life of its own. It burnt and killed only him. Not even the ground was scorched. Two weeks later, some biologist’s corpse was found inside a cocoon, which I might add, was spun by the same butterflies he liked to collect. A couple, picking wildflowers on the riverbank, were found strangled and strung up in the branches of a weeping willow.
I could go on but I think you get my drift. And this was when folks started taking notice and getting scared. They were mainly hippies, conspiracy theorists and a few religious fanatics who were convinced the end was near. The majority did not pay them any attention. If only we had listened to them. If only we had understood the gentle warning. If we had, we might still have things like the internet, electricity and running water. I don’t know much about that stuff, but I’ve heard the stories.
And then they came.
In the end, it was not God. Nor was it aliens. It was the Earth itself. Mother Nature. Gaia. Whatever name you know her by. And she is a mother. Just not ours. And as it turned out, she was pissed. At us. So she had sent her guardians.
People living in the cities thought they were safe. And they were at first. But soon enough the guardians made their way into the iron jungles and the civil world descended into chaos. Don’t get me wrong, we tried to fight. It was pointless. Nature was reclaiming what was hers and humans had to learn the new rules fast or die. And the death tolls were high. Overpopulation was a thing of the past within five months of the guardians’ arrival.
That all happened a good twenty-five years ago. Seven years before I was born. I grew up in Africa. There is not much I can tell you about me. About a week before I was born, my parents, along with some other folks, were on the move and trying to find somewhere safe. My father spotted and saved this man from being snuck up on and killed. It cost him his own life. The man he had saved was the leader of a San tribe that were living nearby. They gave us refuge and a home.
The San, or Bushmen as you might know them, were once a dying people. Now they are probably one of the few remaining tribes of man who are thriving. They aren’t farmers in any sense. But their knowledge on plants and animals cannot be beaten. They know every plants’ use, from nutritional to medicinal, mystical to recreational and even lethal. San men can track any animal across any terrain. And their people have always had a close bond with nature, so as long as you did what they told you, you were pretty much safe.
‘I wish I had that connection,’ I mutter to myself as I wait for Mtoko.
Mtoko is the son of the man my father saved. And my best friend. He calls me Ghost because of my yellow hair and light skin. I’m watching him from across the fire, conversing with grey-haired baboon the way you and I would talk about the weather. Baboons scare me. They always have. But the San have always had this ability to talk to these animals. No matter how avidly I listen or pay attention, the barks make no sense to me. I can speak in the villager’s dialect as well as any of them. But this was different. It was part of them. A memory passed down through blood. I can only hope the conversation is going well.
The baboon turned its head and stared at me, baring its long, yellow teeth before disappearing through the bushes and over the rocks.
‘And?’ I ask, my heart thudding in my chest.
‘You are sure this is what you want?’ his tone a grave one.
‘She will see you.’ He shakes his head, ‘But careful you do not come back a real ghost. I cannot carry your body all the way to the village.’
My arms are shaking as I push myself up off the ground. My mouth has suddenly gone dry, so I give Mtoko a smile, hoping this will stem his fears.
‘And take the honey.’ He reminds me, pointing at the small parcel that contained a large piece of waxy honeycomb dripping with gold. ‘Just hope it will be enough.’
With a last nod I grab the parcel and set off in the same direction as the baboon had. The cave entrance is not too far from where we made camp. And just like Mtoko, I hope my gift will be enough.
My eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness of the cave. When they do I see she is already there, waiting for me. Her skin is darker than the night sky and the whites of her eyes look silver in the gloom. She is not the first guardian I have come face to face with, but she is the most beautiful. Still, I’m terrified. I fall to my knees and place the bounty in front of her.
‘I know what you seek,’ her voice echoes inside my head, ‘You think that a gift made of nectar will suffice?’ Her movements are languid. She stalks towards me with the same grace a panther would. ‘The flower you seek is very rare and would have been extinct if humans had continued to rule.’
‘Please,’ I know that she can help. I also know that she could have refused this meeting. ‘It is for my mother. The village shaman said she would die without it.’
‘The shaman is right.’ The guardian said, ‘And if you came from the same bloodline as Mtoko and his people, I might have been willing to give you a single seed.’
‘You will not help me?’
‘It would be pointless. A single seedling might save your mother. That is if you can find dirt rich enough and it grows in time. But the disease that grips her will soon spread to the entire village and will only die out when they do.’
I can feel my heart slip into my stomach. ‘I will bring a better sacrifice.’
‘All the honey in the world will not change my mind.’
I swallow the lump in my throat as best I can. ‘Take me instead.’
‘Do I look like the sort of guardian that partakes in the flesh?’ Her face pulls in disgust as she hisses at me.
‘Take me.’ I whisper.
I can see the relief on Mtoko’s face as I appear. He has the brightest smile I have ever seen as he jumps up to great me. He waits for me to tell him.
‘I must not sleep until we have returned to the village.’
‘Then when night falls, I must make a bed in the dirt outside the shaman’s hut. By morning we will have what we need.’
Holding his gaze I can tell, the curiosity is burning inside him. Mtoko, with his peppercorn curls and sweet smile. I have to put him out of his misery.
‘She also said that your people have been good to the Great Mother.’ I can feel the lump rising in my throat, ‘Your bloodline will flow for many years. They will always have someone to watch over them.’
I see the pride blossom with his smile. I let him lead the way back, chattering like the birds he is so fond of.
As I bend down to kiss my mother on the cheek, I feel a sense of relief. I know that she will be safe now. Everyone would. And they will always be protected.
Mtoko is waiting for me. In silence we walk to the shamans hut.
I lay down in the dirt. I know he will sit with me till I get comfortable and fall asleep. I watch him twitch uncomfortably.
‘What is on your mind, my friend?’ I know him too well.
‘What did the guardian say of your future, Ghost?’
I roll onto my back, folding my arms behind my head, ‘She said I will always be a part of your people too.’
This must have sufficed because he asked no more questions as he lay next to me. Together we listened to the silence that is the night, watching the stars dance across the vast sky.
Mtoko woke with the sun and looked over to his friend. His cry brought the shaman and most of the villagers out of their huts. He looked up to the shaman, with her papery thin skin and ageless eyes.
A bush that stood taller than Mtoko had grown overnight. The red blossoms that covered it larger than his hands. It had grown in the same spot his friend had laid down. There were enough blossoms to ensure medicine for years to come.
The old medicine woman shook her head. ‘I am sorry your friend is gone.’
Mtoko touched the delicate flowers. A small breeze brushed against his cheek with the gentleness of a lover. He let a tear roll freely down his cheek.
‘She is not gone,’ he said, smiling at the blossoms. ‘She watches over us now.’
Author Kalearah Locksley blames her love of story-telling on two younger brothers she spent hours entertaining. Her first publication was in an anthology of poems: Silhouettes and Shadows at the age of sixteen.