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From the ocean, the island was a strip of white beach set against the green mountains set against the perfect blue sky. The colors pulsated in the bright sun, and Lori felt the thrill that must have passed through those European sailors who first espied Tahiti. She supposed that some of them must have thought they had found the Garden of Eden. The lush vegetation, the warm water, an almost perfect climate, she didn’t doubt that some considered the island heaven on earth. Toss in the fact that the natives were gorgeous and wore next to nothing, and those randy tars would have licked their lips and swarmed the island. She could only guess their level of excitement. Months at sea and chancing upon a jungle paradise inhabited by almond skinned women with little guile. It wasn’t heaven. It was better than heaven. It was a dream.
Tahiti had been her dream since she was a teenager. She had never been sure why. Perhaps the name spoke to her, perhaps the French influence. Perhaps, the carefree island persona tantalized her streak of independence. Whatever the reason, she had managed to save enough money for a vacation to the island. The hours on the plane had been small sacrifice. As she gazed at the island, she felt a renewed sense of adventure. Tahiti lured for a reason. She was certain of that. Some part of her destiny meshed with the island, some facet of her soul. That perfect blend of water, sand, jungle, and sky sang like a siren. Something waited for her, something big.
With a smile, she started the waverunner. The view was breathtaking, but the island promised more. If she wanted to learn the secret, she would have to explore. Spray hissed off the bottom of the waverunner, across her skin, cooling her. As she shot toward the beach, she wondered what special mystery awaited.
An attraction of Tahiti was the warmth. The bright sun and trade winds allowed her to wear her bikini all over the island. A wraparound skirt, some sandals, a floppy hat to ward off the sun, and sunglasses, and she could go anywhere. The weather freed her from the heavy clothes she wore in Chicago where the weather always seemed too hot or too cold. She either froze or sweltered, so the moderate weather tasted even more delicious. She was wearing a bright skirt as she turned off the main street and into a smaller way.
She held the notion that real adventure, the real Tahiti lay off the tourist paths. Let the fair-skinned people from the luxury liners ply the main drags. They would sample the tepid fare of the visitor, which was not for Lori. She wanted something different, something wild. That wildness wouldn’t wave to her from a window on main street. That wildness would prowl the narrow byways, the shaded places most tourists never encountered. Real life existed amidst the natives. Real life cackled in smoky kitchens and drank in dimly lit bars. Every city, even Chicago hid its core essence. Lake Shore Drive lured in money and gawkers, but the pulse of Chicago could be felt in the taverns and neighborhood hangouts. Life began and ended far away from the bright lights.
So, she pushed up the hill, higher into the underbelly of the city, away from the resorts. As the street wound, she smiled and wondered what she might find. Several men called to her as she passed an open bar, but she paid no mind. She paid no attention. That bar was not the place. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she knew. She would not find what she wanted in that bar or in the café she passed either. Not in the little shops or groceries. Not in the small houses. No, she searched for some place special.
She turned a corner and stopped.
The sign hung over a door across the street. The open palm, faded from years in sun and rain, beckoned her. The symbol was universal enough. A fortuneteller plied the trade behind the door, someone to predict the future. Lori knew that she looked at the destination of her quest. A forgotten gypsy far from the crowd seemed more than fitting. It seemed right. Adjusting her hat, she crossed the street, knocked once, and entered.
At first, she saw nothing. After the brightness of the street, the dim light revealed no details. She removed her glasses and waited, afraid to push forward. She had no idea what awaited, and she didn’t want to blunder into something. So, she stood like a statue, expecting someone to greet her. No one did. As the details of the room emerged from the dark, she wondered if anyone was home.
“Hello,” she called.
No one answered.
She was tempted to turn around and leave, and maybe she would have if she hadn’t seen a sort of glow in the next room. A bead curtain separated the rooms, but she saw something. Back home in Chicago, she would have abandoned this shop. In Tahiti, the glow seemed more lure than a threat. She pushed ahead, somehow sure that what she sought crouched behind the bead curtain.
The beads parted with a clicking sound, announcing her. As dark as the room she had left and smaller, a small round table and two chairs were the only furniture. No windows, bostancı escort no doors, blank, dark walls. No glow. What had she seen? No people. A dead end. She turned to leave and heard him.
She whirled, and there he was. Incredible. One moment, the room was empty, and the next, she faced a tall man whose age she could only guess. Where had he come from? No doors, no windows, had he been hiding under the table? She would have sworn that he wasn’t there when she walked in, and that fact both scared and teased her. Only magicians appeared out of thin air.
“You came for a reading,” he added. “Please sit.”
Lori hesitated a moment before she moved forward. What did she have to lose beside a few minutes and a few dollars? This fake was like the fake in Chicago or New York or anywhere. He would spout a few cliched assurances of future love or future fame or future riches, and she would feel thrilled for a moment, until she realized that the words were merely words. He knew no more about the future than she did.
Hard wooden chair, hard table, she watched him sit. He was handsome with dark hair and eyes. She guessed him around 40, but she couldn’t be sure in the dim light. Yet, there seemed a kind of energy around him, almost a heat. The notion struck her as odd until he reached out. She placed her palm in his, and she felt the heat. His skin felt warmer than normal, as if he had been wearing gloves. The feeling reassured her even as she noted the oddness. Wasn’t there a saying about warm hands?
“Before I read,” he began.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She reached for her handbag. “How much?”
He shook his head. “It is my curse to charge only what the seeing is worth. You decide.”
“Before I read, I must warn you. Knowledge is both powerful and dangerous. Sometimes, it is disturbing. That you may not like it renders it no less true. Should I continue?”
His solemn tone and face gave her pause—until she realized that it was part of the show, the act, sort of a don’t-try-this-at-home disclaimer on at TV show.
“Of course,” she answered.
With a knowing smile, he pulled her hand closer and gazed into her palm.
Then, he began to shake.
She couldn’t see his face clearly, so she had no idea what upset him, but she felt his hand shake. She saw his head shake, his whole body begin to shiver, as if he had met some mammoth terror.
“Kona Sika,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“Kona Sika,” he repeated. “You have returned.” He looked into her eyes, and she felt as if he were trying to see into her brain. “You have returned.”
“I’ve never been here before.”
He held her hand. He shivered, shaking despite the heat. “You have returned that the cycle may be completed. The ancient texts predicted this day, but I never… You must come with me.”
He stood, not releasing her hand.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.
“But you must.”
“I don’t have to must anything.”
He stared a moment before he dropped her hand and sat. “Forgive me. I forget. You are unaware. You do not know yourself.”
“I know myself well enough, and I don’t think I like where this is going.” She stood.
“Please, please do not leave. I will explain. Please.”
His face was sincere, and his voice pleaded, and Lori had no real reason not to listen. She sat, crossed her arms, and waited.
“Kona Sika is the goddess of light,” he began. “She set the sun in motion, and as legend says, she returns every thousand years to renew the light.”
He spoke quickly and earnestly, and the legend unfolded before her. Kona Sika was one of a pantheon of gods and goddesses sacred to the island and its people. In the beginning, the pantheon looked out upon the universe and decided to create a new world. They joined together and made the earth, the sun, the stars, the wind, the ocean, and the animals. They made all things. But they did not make them forever. Every thousand years, the pantheon came together to renew the contract with the heavens. She was expected and needed. The others had already arrived. If she would join them in the ceremony, the island and the world would be saved from destruction.
The myth sounded familiar, the invention of people who looked upon their world and supposed the gods had made it from whole cloth. Forget evolution or the big bang, the explanation involved only the nature at hand. Abstractions be damned. Yet, she had never been likened to a goddess before. Oh, with brown hair and sea green eyes and a nice smile she had had her share of compliments, but no one had mistaken her for the goddess of light.
“What kind of ceremony?” she asked.
The ceremony could not be described in detail as it happened once every thousand years. Yet, the myth decreed that the pantheon would renew the contract with the heavens. The others who had arrived earlier had already moved up the mountain to prepare. She was the last, and the most important, for without light nothing could ümraniye escort bayan exist. He stood and held out his hand.
The ceremony sounded exactly what she had been searching for, something not orchestrated for tourists, something authentic.
She took his hand, and he led her out of the room, out the front door, under the weathered sign of the palm, and into the street.
He didn’t speak. At the end of the street, they turned into a narrower street that soon became a path leading into the leafy jungle. As they entered the jungle and started climbing the mountain, he began to chant. Lori knew it wasn’t French or English. She supposed it was the ancient language of the island, prayers lost in antiquity. It occurred to her then that she didn’t even know her guide’s name. Did that matter? Not really, and she wasn’t about to interrupt the chanting to ask. He was leading to a unique adventure, and for that she was grateful enough. Her heart raced. What a story to take back to Chicago.
Despite the shady path, the steep going proved hard, and she was thankful she wasn’t wearing layers of clothes. Without wind, perspiration coated her skin. For the first time, she wondered if she had made the best decision. The chanting continued as she considered her plight. She was following a native she didn’t know to a destination she had no inkling of. She was a single, American woman without so much as a traveling companion. If she disappeared in the jungles of Tahiti, no one would even know to look. She wouldn’t be missed for a week—the day she was due back in Chicago. Her vulnerability weighed on her. In fact, she had never felt so vulnerable. What was she doing?
Having an adventure.
Allowing herself to be vulnerable.
Trusting someone in a way she had never trusted before.
Growing, she was growing.
The chanting allayed her fear, promising something wildly different. Was that enough?
They emerged from the jungle into a clearing. In the middle, stood a small hut with single entrance. He led her to the hut, held aside the red curtain, and she entered, half expecting the hut to be full of people, those involved in the ceremony and spectators.
The hut was empty.
Fear leaped from the back row of the bleachers in her mind, directly to center stage. She was alone with a stranger in a jungle hut, far from anything, far from anyone. If she screamed, she doubted anyone would hear. As she faced him, she steeled herself for the attack. She wouldn’t succumb without a fight.
“Please,” he said. “Sit while I prepare the others.”
She noticed a pile of blankets on top the rush floor.
“Please,” he repeated. “It will be a few minutes.”
She sank to the blankets. If she didn’t like how things looked, she would sneak out and down the path they had used. Without him guarding the door, she could get away.
“I will return,” he said and left.
She pushed her handbag behind her and looked around a hut that fit the image in her mind. Native material, small, round, dark except for the light filtering through the walls and the smoke hole in the ceiling. The hut smelled of smoke and something sweet, incense? She supposed the local flora provided a plant that produced a pleasant smell when burned. Native people discovered all manner of things over time.
The curtain parted, and her guide entered. He carried a canteen which he offered her.
“The climb was hot,” he said. “This will refresh you.”
She hesitated. Someone had once warned her to never accept anything she hadn’t fixed herself.
“Water,” he added. “And some sweetness.”
His smile seemed genuine enough, and she was thirsty. She accepted the canteen. He watched her sip, and when she smiled, he left again.
The liquid was water—and a bit of sweetness. She couldn’t identify the taste. She supposed it some sort of native sugar. Whatever it was, it met both her need for water and her desire for something exotic. She leaned against the wall, sipped, and decided this would be a terrific story to tell at dinner parties. Yes, she had been to Tahiti, and she hadn’t confined herself to the usual tourist traps. She had been part of an ancient ceremony. She had been Kona Sika!
She laughed out loud. Her buddies at the tennis club would be sooooo jealous. She closed her eyes to imagine their reactions. And she slept.
How long she slept, she had no idea. When she woke, no direct sunlight filtered into the hut. Night had not fallen, but she supposed the afternoon had waned. How had that happened? Had he drugged her? She checked her handbag. It was exactly where she had left it. The canteen was still there, and she hadn’t been touched in any fashion. She had merely slept. And she had needed the sleep, for she felt refreshed, energetic. Where was her guide? What had happened to the ceremony? Had it all been a ploy, some kind of game? She stretched her legs and started to rise as the curtain parted. Into the hut came her guide—but not her guide.
The kartal escort man who leaped into the hut wore a grass skirt and carried a drum. His skin bore a number of circles and triangles and symbols unfamiliar to her. His face was painted blue and he fell to his knees in front of her. Chanting that same alien language, he bowed before the moved to one side. Sitting cross-legged, he began to beat the drum.
She assumed the ceremony had begun. But where were the spectators, the chorus, the validators of the spectacle? As the drumbeat penetrated her skin, she wondered when the others would arrive.
“Kon Haki!” he called loudly, and added, she supposed for her benefit, “God of wind.”
Through the curtain came another man, and this man wore—nothing.
The shock of seeing a naked man fall to his knees in front of her kept her from averting her eyes. His body was painted with symbols, wavy lines mostly. She supposed the lines represented wind, but she couldn’t know. She was more struck by his youth and strength, for he looked in his twenties, well-muscled, virile. He bowed to her, jumped to his feet, and began a dance, some native thing that both pleased and tantalized her. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“Kon Biki!” the drummer called. “God of fire.”
A second naked man leaped into the tent and fell to his knees in front of her. Same age and build as the first man, Kon Biki’s skin bore red tongues and lines, like fire licking at him. He bowed, spoke an ancient greeting and joined the god of wind in the dance. Two naked men cavorting around the hut seemed more than she could handle, and yet somehow it seemed right. This was the thousand-year renewal. The ceremony demanded something outrageous.
“Kon Moki! God of earthquakes.”
The third naked man seemed a clone of the first two. Skin bearing brown and yellow earth tones, he fell to his knees, greeted her, and joined the other two gods.
In the fading light, the three naked men weaving their dance in front of her seemed surreal. They moved about without tripping each other, without getting in the way, with a blend of color and motion that spoke to her. She supposed much of the movements resembled the familiar gyrations of any club in Chicago, but at the same time the movements were different and new. And yet not new. Somehow, she felt as if she had seen this dance before, witnessed this ceremony. Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind the dance struck a chord, a harmonic convergence. Maybe she hadn’t seen it before, but the movements spoke to her, called to her. Perhaps it was a universal summons, something that would appeal to all. She didn’t know. All she did know was that the dance seemed part of her life, her destiny.
Which was why she joined the dance.
Actually, Kon Haki pulled her into the dance. He placed her in the center of the hut while the three men danced around her. The rhythm of the drum infected her. She found herself swaying to the beat. She felt alive and ethereal, lost in a tribal rite. As the heat rose inside the hut, she felt her body come alive. How could a drum do that?
Before she could answer, the gods changed the dance. They moved closer, writhing around her, their bodies slick with paint and sweat, their smell filling her. She wanted to reach out and touch them, but she didn’t dare. Although she felt part of the rite, she was still the interloper, the person from off island. She couldn’t presume to know the proper response.
But she didn’t have to worry.
Because they began to touch her.
Kon Haki started with her hair. Kon Riki touched her arms. Kon Moki touched her back. Six hands ran lightly over her, barely touching, according to some pattern she could barely discern. She had the idea the movements were stylized, practiced, and yet they seemed almost random. It was incredible, but she could feel all thirty fingers, each sworl of each fingertip, every bit of skin that touched her. As if hypersensitive, every stroke and touch was amplified a hundredfold. It was as if something had thinned her skin, bringing her nerve endings closer to the surface. The feeling went beyond exquisite, it was sublime. She closed her eyes to savor the sensation, and they began to strip her.
Her eyes popped open.
She looked at three men whose hands moved so quickly, so effortlessly. Her bra unsnapped. Her skirt knot unraveled. Fingers ran along the waist of her bikini bottom. She used one hand to hold up her bra, the other to keep her bottom in place, and the three gods stopped, completely stopped. As if robots unable to cope with a change in the rite, they stood absolutely still, staring, waiting. Alive one moment, inert the next. She turned to the drummer, her guide. Her face must have shown her concern, for he smiled. Although he said nothing, she swore she heard his voice inside her head.
“It is the way, Kona Sika. Do not be afraid. It is what you desire and what they will provide.”
His voice, the words, somehow they soothed her, reassured her. He was right. This was what she desired. This was the reason Tahiti sang to her, lured her with its charm. This was her destiny, and although she possessed the will to deny it, she didn’t want to. She had flown thousands of miles for this. To quit now might doom creation.
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