Beyonder, Part 5

Part 4 here

During the day that followed, young Praful could hardly contain her excitement from Yanai’s story. She poked and prodded her meager dinner with her slender fingers until her father, angry at the waste, took it from her. Praful hardly noticed. She floated on clouds of imaginings to her small room and lay down to a fitful night’s rest spent staring at the full moon and wondering what it must be like to fly to it. By the time the dawning sun awakened the great cities of China to the east, Praful was standing at her watering hole, bent at the waist, and gasping over muddied feet from her sprint through the woods. To her great delight, but no surprise, Yanai was already there, fully an hour before they would normally meet.

“How did you know I would be here early?” she asked.

“Perhaps I was awakened by the growling cats that probe the forest through which you ran,” Yanai answered.

Praful frowned and turned to peer into the dark thatch of trees behind her. “Don’t be silly. There are no cats here. I’ve never seen one and I come her every day.”

Yanai probed the soft earth at her feet with his proboscis. “Then what do you call those?” Carved into the mud, in a straight path that intersected precisely where Praful stood, were the footprints of a large tiger. “Male, from the smell of it,” Yanai said, his voice curling with indignation.


The single word was enough to shatter the air’s warm embrace and send shivers along the girl’s spine. With no more than a whisper, the elephant bent to his knees, allowing his companion to grab his ear and sit astride his back. Praful managed the ascent with the grace of a seasoned mahout. She sat there, eyes wide, before a broad grin seized her face, squeezing their muscles into a smile that risked causing her an ingestion of pre-dawn insects. Yanai turned, strode purposefully across the edges of the growing lake, and headed east toward the soon-to-be-rising sun. It took several minutes of this journey for it to register with Praful that they were moving, and the years of protocol in sitting quietly by the watering hole was being broken. She had never been so high, had never ridden on an elephant, indeed, had never been invited to do so. She’d long thought it an indignity to even ask.

“Where … where are we going, dearest Yanai?” she finally asked, as the lowest branches of trees tussled with her, trying to rid the elephant of its rider.

“That way,” he answered, pointing ahead with his trunk.”

“Well I can see that. I meant why are we going that way and what is there?”

“I thought it better to show you my uncle’s journey rather than continue to try to describe it. Besides, it is not safe for you here. The tiger looks for you. We must find another place.”

Praful was filled with two immediate gusts: one of excitement in seeing the story that had begun to grip her personified. The other was dread; she had responsibilities and the morning was short.

“But I cannot go with you,” she said. “I will be late for school.”

“School is for foolish, naked monkeys. You are neither.”

Praful again thought to object, but Yanai’s words were true. She was tired of being in school, tired of pretending not to be much more clever than the others so that they would not grow angry, tired of never making a friend lest she be discovered. Indeed, she was tired most of all of being a boy. Instead of giving voice to her rising fear, she closed her eyes and held tightly to her friend’s neck with her long legs. She was free, if only for a moment.

Before long, she came to the edge of what had always seemed a low hill in the distance. Up close, it was immense. “What is this place?” she asked.

“This is it,” said Yanai. “This is the path my Uncle Rajan took.” He tilted his large head to look up the slope. “It holds great promise and mystery … at least that is what my mother told me.”

“Have you never been here?”

He shook his head. Reflexively, Praful mirrored the movement.

“What … what is it called?” she asked. Several hundred meters along the path a dense body of fog claimed the ground, seeming to pull the sky lower. She began to feel much too close to it, sitting there on the back of her elephant. With a dancer’s grace, she slid from his back, using one of his large limbs to brace herself. Yanai seemed not to notice. His eyes were closed and he continued to shake his head as if all the no’s in the world needed telling.

“Dearest Yanai.” She caressed his trunk and his movements stopped, his small eyes blinking open at her. “I am so blessed that you have brought me.” She turned, taking in the grandeur of the structure before her. “What is this place called?”

“We call it the path Uncle Rajan took.” When Praful gave him a sour look, he explained. “We elephants are spiritual, but we are also a very pragmatic lot.”

“Yes … yes, I suppose that is the best name for it then.” She took a few steps up the path but stopped short upon seeing the dark fog ahead. “Will we be going on then?”

“Not yet. I thought I should tell you the remainder of Uncle’s story. Then you can decide if you wish to go with me there, or whether I should take you home.” He looked toward the west from whence they’d come. By now, the sun was midway between the horizon and its summit. Even at these higher elevations it had begun to grow hot. The lower regions would be unbearably so. “I am certain the tigers have left the watering hole by now in search of a shady spot in which to rest if you wish to return.”

With his customary silence, Yanai began walking, not up the mountain path, nor precisely the way they’d come, but through a patch of trees that bent at a sloping right turn that hugged the mountain’s base, disappearing into the dense brush. Praful, thinking he’d taken a shortcut toward her village, called after him. “No, please! I cannot go back.” Praful slumped to the ground where she’d stood, her legs curled below her on the dusty path. “At least not now.”

With the sky now bent low enough that she could feel its breath at the nape of her neck and fog sliding down the mountain’s slope like an oily snake, Praful never felt so alone in her life. She stood and bolted into the trees, following her friend. Through cutting vines and biting brush she ran, carried along by some dim instinct. She ran for minutes, perhaps hours, until the jungle grew dark and dense, with only the barest bits of sunlight breaching its bosom. She stopped, her slim chest heaving with exertion … but no longer fear. No, not fear at all. Though she’d never been this way before, and never so far from home, Praful felt a calm flood her veins like a warming liquid. This was home: the bird calls were familiar; the chirping of the insects was a song whose words she knew. Even the mottled light that freckled her hand when she held it before her was the same light that pierce the trees at home. She needed no guide. She knew where he’d be. With an abrupt left turn, Praful pushed aside the branches of a dying peepal tree and was blinded by a gust of piercing light. She stood, her hand before her, allowing her eyes to adjust. As her personal fog cleared, she saw a opening lit by the mid-morning sun. She’d entered a verdant lagoon, lost within the forest and fed by a trickling stream that ended in a sun-warmed lake. The water was clear and calm, a counterpoint to the soothing violence of the stream’s noisy trek down from its peak. At the lake’s edge, half-immersed in the water, shaded by a robust fig tree, was Yanai.

With no words, as none were needed, she approached him, walked into the lake, and knelt, laying the flat of her palm against his forehead and her own upon that.

“Will you not be missed?” he asked.

“Aunty will miss me, but she will understand. Appa will only miss his son.”

“And are you not his son?”

“I cannot remain his son if we are to make an elephant-headed child. You said so yourself.”

“He would be magnificent,” Yanai agreed.

“And brave like you,” Praful added.

“So, you have chosen to become a girl?” he asked.

“I suppose that the girl has chosen to become me,” she answered.

Time passed, then more time, and more, all the while with silence dancing between them and the song of the mountain’s river calling them to peace. When the music was done and the sun took its place directly overhead, illuminating the lake into crystal brilliance that rivaled the nighttime sky, Yanai lifted his trunk from the lake and spoke.

“And so, if we are to continue our trek, I should continue my tale, dearest Praful.”

“Please do, dear Yanai. Please do.”

T’ree A.M.


It t’ree a.m.
High I&I
rakkle and roll,
swing an’ sway,
irie feelins t’ru de day.
Night-a call, me
sess a-blow,
rakkle me brain now
don’ cha know.

It t’ree a.m.,
me reggae flow,
bounce ‘pon de train
an’ mek we go.
T’ru dem tunnel,
out de side,
down we block,
so me can hide.
Rakkle and blow,
Sess na sway,
life naw good
it waste away.

Beyonder, Part 4


The next morning, dawn swept to the edge of the land, and with it, Praful. In no longer a time than it takes for a wisp of smoke to clear, she was pacing along the water’s edge, anxious for her friend’s arrival. Yanai was on time, as always, and not a moment earlier. He was a clock by which she could always set the rhythm of her day. They repeated their daily ritual of greeting, with long bows and mutual, silent consideration. Then it was fruit and small talk, before Praful again bent low to the ground extended her hand, caressing the young elephant’s trunk. “Please, gentle friend, may I have your story now?” she asked.

Yanai settled into the dust and beckoned his friend nearer by tugging her from the earth with his proboscis. Though already powerful enough to do rough field work should the loggers capture him, his pull was as tender as a baby’s embrace.

“You must sit close,” he said. “My mother made me promise to tell no one, lest bad things happen.”

“Wh-what kinds of bad things?” she asked.

“I do not know. She died before I could learn more.”

Praful turned and hugged her friend, needing to stand on tiptoes to reach his back, though he was lying on the hard ground. “I’m so sorry you’ve lost your amma too,” were the only words she could think to offer. They were sufficient.

“I will tell you my uncle’s story, but you must promise to tell no one.”

Praful lifted one hand in a solemn vow. Yanai mirrored her movements with his trunk.

“Good. Then we have sworn it, and so it shall be,” he said. “It is a sacred vow, and harm befall whomsoever shall break it.”

Praful exhaled in a gush. “Wow, such fancy words, Yanai.”

He responded in a deep sound that might have been a chortle had she understood his language better. “That is how my Uncle Gajarajan would speak. My mother said he was quite an educated fellow.” Praful settled in next to Yanai’s front, left limb and cooed with delight. “Did you know that there has been a Gajarajan in my family for six generations in honor of him?”

“No, I did not.”

“Yes, it’s true. I heard one descendant even had a statue built someplace.”

“Ooh, that’s wondrous. I wonder if we can see it sometime.”

“I would like that,” said Yanai. “I’ve long wondered precisely what a statue is.”

Praful shrugged and lifted her palms skyward. “I do not know, but I am certain it is lovely.”

Yanai rolled his head from side to side, a simple, excited gesture that made Praful want to imitate it. Being an impulsive child, that is exactly what she did, and together, the two waggled their heads in a happy, spiritual bond, that to Yanai was a sign of deep affection. After nearly a full minute of this, he suddenly stopped moving and spoke in a low, solemn voice.

“Uncle Gajarajan was a very clever fellow,” he began. “In fact, he was the first elephant to attend University.”

“Oh really, in a real school?”

Yanai harrumphed. “If by real you mean a people school, then yes, although my family have always thought it was a monkey college. That is, until you taught me that you naked monkeys prefer another name.

“Dear Yanai, please don’t be surly. I meant no disrespect.” He tilted his head toward the sky, ignoring her bequest until she began soothing strokes along his trunk. “Do continue the story, my lovely friend.”

“Humph. Well, yes … yes, I shall.” Praful stifled a giggle, as it was obvious he was putting on his Uncle Gajarajan voice once again. “As I was saying, Uncle, whom the family called Rajan for short, or even Raj by those who loved him most, was quite clever. After University, he began to travel the lands, seeking his fortune, so to speak. It is said that Uncle could not find his particular fortune because no one had told him what form that was to take.”

“Isn’t a fortune money?” Praful asked.

“Only to those who value things that aren’t gifted by the All.”

“The All what?”

Yanai swept his trunk toward the horizon. “All of this. All of all.”

“All,” his friend repeated, in a whisper.

“Anyway,” Yanai continued, “after a time spent drifting from forest to village and yon, Uncle came upon a high mountain. Uncle looked up toward the top, but could see nothing but clouds. He walked along the base of the structure, but could see only small footholds that would carry only the most diminutive of creatures.

” ‘I must reach the top,’ he said.”

“Why must he reach the top?” asked Praful.

“Ah, for the usual reason. Because he had already seen the bottom.”

Praful nodded as the elephant continued.

“After a few hours’ walk, which is quite a distance for a large bull such as Uncle Gajarajan, he came to a path. It was narrow and quite twisted, but sturdy enough that he could make his way along it, if he was careful. He’d barely placed one foot on the path when a white bird with grey wings landed upon his back.

“ ‘I wouldn’t go up there were I you,’ it said.

“ ‘Were you me, I would be now speaking to myself, which would make me a bit of a madman,’ replied Uncle.

“The bird seemed to consider that for a moment. ‘Perhaps you are speaking to yourself. I’ve seen no one else here. I suppose it is possible that even I am not here.’

“Uncle turned to the bird and snorted. ‘You are a puzzle, cheeky bird.”

“ ‘That is precisely so,’ it replied. ‘And since you seemed to have solved me, perhaps this is the path for you after all.’

“It fluttered up into the air, rising along thermal currents until it was only a small, white dot against grey clouds above. Uncle stepped fully onto the path, heading toward the peak.

“ ‘What do you expect to find up there anyway?’ the bird asked, scaring Uncle so badly that he tumbled back down the path to the ground below. Although he’d watched it disappear into the clouds, there it was sitting again on his back.

“ ‘What are you doing here, trying to get me killed? And … how are you here? I saw you fly away!’

“ ‘Of course I flew away. I’m still there. I love to fly.’

“Uncle was confused, but managed to stammer out, ‘Well, I suppose that makes sense, since you are a bird. But still, how is it that you are here, if you are up there?’

“ ‘Well, no one ever told me I could not be in two places at once, and so, I am in both.’

“Uncle thought about that for a great while, as he ascended the mountain with the small bird on his back. After the greater part of a day, just as Uncle was reaching the mist of the cloud cover, he stopped and called to his companion. ‘Bird! Come here where I can see you.’ The bird did as he was asked. ‘I think I have figured out another of your puzzles.’

“ ‘I have no puzzles,’ it said.

“ ‘Ah, yes. Well then I have solved another of my puzzles.’

“ ‘Indeed? And pray, what might that be?’

“ ‘How one can be in two places at one time.’

“ ‘Truly? Do tell. I have recently been informed that such a thing is impossible.’

“ ‘So have I,’ said the bird’s other self, which was now circling on thermals closely overhead.”

Praful giggled, laughing at the thought of two copies of the bird tormenting Yanai’s poor uncle. “He must have been quite frustrated by now,” she said.

“Oh no,” said Yanai. “Mother said that Uncle, being quite wise and educated, was enjoying the bird’s company immensely.” He gave as pensive a look as an elephant is capable of giving. “Or is it birds’? I am not sure, exactly. Still, to continue …

“Uncle looked from the flying bird to the standing bird and spoke. ‘I have determined that anything is possible as long as one chooses to remain ignorant to impossibilities.’

“ ‘Possibly so, but how can one, in good conscience, choose ignorance when so much knowledge is available?’

“Uncle pondered that thought for quite some time as the bird amused itself by catching and eating insects that had found their way up the steep mountain. Finally, he spoke. ‘One cannot confuse knowledge with knowing.’

“ ‘Say what now?’

“ ‘I mean to say, one must find one’s own truth. Just because I know you cannot be in two places at once doesn’t prevent your doing so, if you know my truth to be your lie.’

“ ‘Quite so,’ said the standing bird. The flying bird echoed his response. ‘But how do you know that I am actually in two places at once?’

“ ‘Be-because I can see you.’

“ ‘What if that is not me, but my brother?’ asked the bird who was pointing to the sky with one wing.

“ ‘If you claim that your brother is you, and I cannot prove you wrong, then perhaps you are still right and you remain in both places.’

“The flying bird landed and disappeared in a great poof of smoke. Before Uncle could cry out, the other bird lifted into the sky, grew to twice his former size, and said, ‘And so, great Gajarajan, you likewise must find your own truth within. If you must travel the world, do so not to find your truth, but to make it.’

“And with that, he too disappeared, but in a great clap of thunder that shook the mountain.”

“Ooh,” said Praful, clapping. “I do so love magic, although the swami disapproves of it.”

“I have come to believe that swamis disapprove of most things,” said Yanai.

“No,” she answered, pouting, “only the things that are enjoyable.” She brightened as quickly as her mood had turned to sunset. “But where did the bird go? Was … was he a god?”

Yanai gave her a stern look. “No, he was a bird. Were you not listening to the story?”

Praful sank again into sunset. “Not as well as I’d hoped, apparently.” She sighed, leaning against her friend’s great bulk. “What happened to your Uncle after that?”

“It will have to wait until tomorrow.” Yanai pointed to the sun, now high over the trees. “Your sun calls you. Once again, you are late.”

“Oh my!” Praful exclaimed, jumping to her feet and heading out in a dead run. “I will have to wash at the school before the boys show up. Swami says that I come smelling of elephant each day.” She waved and disappeared into the trees.

“You are fortunate,” said Yanai. “Smelling of elephant is an improvement.”

Handful of Blues

Monday Night is blues Night
so I wrote you a song that go
something like dis.

I was born with the blues in my hand.
I thought it was a flesh axe,
but it was a silent guitar that only played one note.
If you’d been there, I’d have sung it for you,
but I doubt you’d have heard me.

The doc let me home with a slap on the ass
and the usual kick in the balls.
We paid him for the one, but the other was on the house.

It always seems that when I sing the sweetest—
my softest songs—
can’t nobody hear me.
Y’all don’t hear me neither.
And ‘round about 4 (years not o’clock)
I wrote you a sweet song and called it
“my head is full of you but my hands
only caught the blues.”
Mama would sang it wif’ me,
but she only sings off-key, and her one note
sounded like a song she wrote
to my melody.
Still, it made me feel good, knowing
I had accompaniment
of a sort, and I needed some damn
I’m telling you.

So when I met you,
lyrics in your left hand, sheet music in your
sweet pocket,
I figured we’d sit the fuck down
and finally write all them goddamned blues
I was born with.
I gots a muthafucken library of ‘em,
as you prolly know,
and they all have happy endings,
my songs,
‘cause see
somebody’s songs got to.

I got a pocket full of you
but my hands are left
holding the
muthafucken blues.

(With thanks to Michael Burks for the inspiration.)

Beyonder, Part 3


Yanai sometimes worried that the little monkey would forget to come. It wasn’t that he thought it stupid; it had proven time and again to be a clever friend. It was that he’d come to realize it was a special sort of monkey—one of the naked ones that sang words to the heavens but killed without eating. These monkeys were untamable. His mother taught him to fear them, a lesson reinforced by his aunts after his mother succumbed to starvation and thirst. In the year since, the rains had returned, and Yanai liked to believe it was his tears that brought them. None of his kind disagreed with him. Unbeknownst to humans, elephants are a superstitious lot given to repeated movements and gestures that could bring good fortune, while they eschew bad omens and places they deem cursed. Yanai’s watering hole was such a place. They would not return there, but he did, each morning, to see his friend.

At nine, Yanai stood well over eight feet at the shoulders, tall for his age, but nowhere near his adult size. He was, however, elephant enough to lift the small, excitable monkey from the dusty ground and carry it over the rising lake to the other side. There were big cats on the side from which the monkey came, and Yanai did not feel safe there. Once safely ashore, he eased his friend to the hard ground and waited. It was a ritual that reassured him.

“Down, Yanai,” she said, gesturing with her hands. She removed a satchel that draped over her shoulder and knelt before him. “Here,” she said, reaching into the bag. “Breakfast.” She handed him a large fruit that he took from her palm with the delicacy of a surgeon and plunged into his mouth, pulverizing it with one bite.

“How do you use your big trunk to pick up such a small thing?”

“Proboscis,” he answered, crunching while the sweet juices ran along his tongue.

“Pro whatsis?”

“Proboscis. It means ‘before the lip.’ We do not use the other word.”

“Oh, I see. Is it offensive?”

“No, merely inaccurate. It is not precisely a nose nor a lip. And, since you monkeys do not have one, I believe you should not get to decide what ours is called.”

Praful had been flipping through her book for something to read and paused, peeking up at him. “I’m not a monkey. I keep telling you that. Why don’t you believe me?”

“Why do you believe I am an elephant?” he answered.

“Because … because you look like an elephant.” She was going to add he smelled like one, but wasn’t certain that wouldn’t be offensive.

“Do others of your kind talk to elephants?”

“Some do, but I don’t think they talk back.”

“Well then, how do you know we wish to be elephants?” he asked.

Praful stopped, fluttered her eyelashes at her friend, and spoke. “I am sorry, my dearest friend. What do you wish to be called?”

“Yanai, and by no other name,” he answered.

“Then I will only call you that. And you may call me Praful, but no other name than that.”

Yanai bent his head in agreement. “I am sorry to have considered you to be another monkey.” He slowly lowered his heavy body until he was resting on the knees of his back limbs and the elbow of his forelimbs. He faced the kneeling girl, looking her almost in the eyes. “Surely you are wiser than the monkeys I have met. Exactly what, may I ask, are you?”

Praful’s eyes widened in surprise. “I’m a people, of course.”

“A people, ah. And are you a male people or a female one?”

“I’m not sure exactly,” she answered. “I’ve never seen anyone else without clothes. My amma said I was a girl, but Appa tells everyone I’m a boy now. So, I suppose I have changed from one to the other.”

It was Yanai’s turn for his eyes to widen, though his vision diminished as the sun grew brighter. “Can you … peoples … do that?”

Praful shrugged. “I suppose we can, although Appa tells me not to talk of such things. I would ask our Swami, but he says we are beings beyond the flesh in which we live.”

“What does that mean?” Yanai asked.

“I have no idea.”

The pair sat quietly for a time, pondering that thought. After a long think, followed by grunting and an even longer one, Yanai spoke up. “Perhaps it means that you peoples are spirits, like the stars, able to leave the world.”

Praful shrugged again. “Maybe so. I guess that’s what I’m supposed to be learning in school then, how to fly to the stars.” She made a frowny face. “So far, though, all we’ve done is learn to read.”

“What is read?”

Praful held up her book. “This is reading. There are words that tell stories. We learn to read them so we can remember them.”


“So you understand?”

“Not at all, no.”

“Oh.” Praful thought for a time, then shouted, “Oh! Maybe I can read you a story, and then you’ll understand what I mean.”

“Why, that would be excellent, said the elephant. He lowered his massive head, curling his proboscis over his forelimb, and grunted a low, happy note that Praful could feel but not hear. She read him a short story she’d been made to practice, one about how a man made of mud came to have the head of an elephant. Yanai was delighted, then horrified, and finally enraptured upon learning the elephant, or at least its head, had become a divine being. “However,” he said, “I must admit I thought the elephant was divine before your kind cut his head off in the first place.”

“Yes, that part makes my stomach hurt. The first time we read the story, I had to pretend there was dust in my eyes.”

Yanai shook his head in a rolling motion from one side to the other, as if the lolling would shake the thought from his ears. After a time, he asked, “Do you suppose that is the sort of divine being we would make? You know, the elephant-headed peoples?”

“How would we go about making one of those?” There was a distinct edge of excitement in the girl’s voice.

“I’m not certain, exactly,” he answered, “but my aunts tell me that the males sometimes make new elephants with the females. I think it involves rain in some way … and dancing. The big males love to dance, although the females never seem to join in properly. Perhaps …” He lowered his head even more, such that his lower lip practically dragged in the ground’s dust. “Perhaps you can become a female again and we can try our hand at making one of those elephant-headed peoples. I am certain to be good at making things, by all accounts.” He lifted his head proudly, sending dust flying into Praful’s eyes.

“That would be an adventure, she said, wiping away dusty tears. I suppose we’ll have to wait until you learn how. The swami doesn’t like to talk of such earthly things.” Praful stood, looking as the sun rose to the tip of the tallest tree. “It’s time for me to go,” she said. “Will I see you tomorrow?”

“If there is fruit, I will be here,” answered Yanai. He stood, a delicate movement that belied his lumbering size. “Tomorrow, I will tell you a story, one my mother told me when I was small.”

“Oh, that would be marvelous,” said Praful, stuffing the book in her satchel and starting towards the school. “What is the story about?”

“It is a true story of my uncle and how he learned to fly,” the young elephant answered, without looking back.

“A true story is the best kind,” Praful whispered to herself as the first clear rays of sun burst from above the forest, signaling she was late again.

Beyonder, Part 2 (revised)

I didn’t like the direction my story was headed, so I scrapped all but the introductory section and continued again. Here is the revised second part.

Praful grew into a lovely child. She had a symmetrical face that began at the smallest chin imaginable and ended in a thick crown of black hair that needed cutting fortnightly in order to sustain any semblance of boyishness. Dismissive adults would sometimes miss her raven-eyed stare or the way light lingered when she fixed her gaze; however, even the most casual observer noticed that her eyelashes fluttered like lustrous butterflies when she laughed or how her teeth glimmered in the sun like perfect pearls. Fortunately, the only humans who ever saw her laugh were her amma and her nanny, or else her father might have had his plan to pass her off as a boy become undone by Praful’s feminine grace. She was too pretty for her own good. Amma, having resigned herself to the fact that her daughter was blessed with a perfect face, finally agreed she had no choice but to keep the child’s hair shorn nearly off. Praful didn’t mind. She’d never been much for frills and preferred sloshing through her muddy watering hole to wearing the constricting saris that Amma insisted she wear at home. God forbid she wear the itchy boy suits Appa tried to wrestle her into.

When Praful was seven, Amma died, taking with her Praful’s last semblance of girlhood. She had Aunty, but Aunty was not Amma–she would never stand up to Appa. Her mother’s absence and Appa’s long hours condemned her a solitary life. At least having no hair meant she could sneak out of their small house without having to worry about being seen, and her watering hole always promised adventure. Each morning, before the sun rose, before the morning birds’ songs played the day’s music, before the wind whispered dry promises, and before the trees began their cockcrow stretches to reach the heavens, Praful would awaken, don the loose garment worn by students of their local swami—a compromise she reached with Appa that allowed her to attend school without fear—and headed for the only place that gave her comfort.

It was never clear to those who learned the legend of Praful and Yanai why no one ever saw the child disappear from her five-room house and trot, barefoot, along the winding forest path to the clearing beyond. Aunty was a diligent woman who kept a clean house and by all accounts slept with one eye open to any dangers to her charge. Yet when Praful awoke in the small bed that sat opposite hers, the woman never awoke. Neither did Appa, although late nights in his small tailor shop rendered him all but useless in the morning. Praful would dress herself, stroke Aunty’s cheek, take the small portion of food prepared for her lunch at school, and head out. By the time the sun peeked over the lowest part of the horizon, she was in full stride, humming a tune her Yanai had taught her and beaming her butterfly-eyed smiles to the dawn.

Beyonder, Part 1


Praful and Yanai had been friends ever since Yanai decided not to kill the young girl on the occasion of her second birthday. Even at so young an age, Praful seemed to be grateful for the gift and returned the favor with her most precious offerings—a toothy smile followed by a hearty giggle and a pledge of lifelong adoration. Some would later claim the precocious child understood how generous a concession the pachyderm had made considering the toddler had escaped her nanny’s watch and encroached on the giant’s favorite watering hole. Others claimed it was the innate spirituality of the divine beast.

Their meeting came on a dry June, the fourth consecutive year that the month had returned to the southwest without bringing the promised rain. There was hardly enough to dampen the dust that Yanai used to shield his delicate skin from the harsh sun. He’d wandered from his family hoping to cool himself in the last, dewy drops in the mud-caked water hole. It was not to be, however. Trumpeting his indignation, he stumbled across a hairless jabber cat dancing and splashing the precious water from its gasping bed and into the thirsty soil that grasped at its banks. Yanai raised his trunk in warning, blinked a blurry eye in the jabber cat’s direction, lowered his enormous head, and prepared to stomp the little beast into dust.

It only giggled at him.

Yanai stopped, wondering at the sound, which to his elephantine ears sounded like the song of thunder from over the mountains that loomed in the distance. Surely a beast that laughs the promise of rain cannot be a demon. He paused, trunk still raised, and stared, blinking the bright sun from his weak eyes. The odd beast stood facing him. She was as naked as the sun was strong, and bounced up and down while attempting to reach the tip of his long proboscis. The elephant realized the small creature was not a cat at all, but some sort of mud-tinged monkey that was bathed in the sweet smell of flowers and ripening fruit. Yanai took three careful steps backward, even though the strange, babbling monkey’s smell made him hungry. He so yearned for the rains and greenery that had eluded him since the year of his birth. Now, ordinarily, a brave and strong beast such as Yanai would have taken the small child’s aggression as an affront and dealt with it swiftly. However, Yanai’s mother was nowhere around and Praful’s full height was enough to intimidate the young elephant (though he would never have admitted it). Besides, the more she babbled, the more soothing her sounds proved to be.

He decided to let her live.

Instead of charging, he gave a few careful sniffs with his trunk and snorted an exhalation that blew the girl’s hair in a puff around her head. She laughed even louder, finally scaring young Yanai into scampering back toward the safety of his browning forest. He soothed himself with thoughts that he could have killed her had he wished. Monkeys are hardly worth the effort, he decided.

From behind, he heard a plaintive, “Bye, bye,” followed by a shrieking that he thought could only have been a real jabber cat taking the poor, naked monkey for a meal.

In truth, the shrieking had come from Praful’s panicked nanny, who’d tracked the girl to the watering hole and was at that very moment admonishing her—not for being alone among wild beasts—but for running naked where “someone might see” her. God forbid their neighbors discover Praful was a girl instead of the son her father had claimed her to be.