Content Warning: Abuse and Torture
“Daddy, please stop,” I whimpered, my chin stuck to my chest, glued with blood. I opened my eyes as much as I could, squinting through the pain and the darkness surrounding my vision. He wasn’t even looking at me. His whip fell at his side as he looked off into the distance. His long black hair stuck to the sweat dripping down his chest.
Finally, he turned back to look at me. He opened his mouth to speak but paused, his bright white teeth shimmering in the sunlight like diamonds. His black eyes stared into my soul as I attempted to lift my head again. I felt the dried blood pulling off my chest. He reared his hand back, bringing the whip back behind him. With a quick snap of his wrist, the whip came down and across my chest.
I slung my head back, slamming it into the tree my hands were tied to. I grimaced in pain, holding back a yell. Blood flowed into my mouth as I bit my tongue. I swallowed, the thick liquid trickling down the back of my throat and leaving a coppery aftertaste.
“Toughen up, boy.” He laughed, taunting me with each deep belly breath. “You’re weak. I need to toughen you up, weakling. You’re an embarrassment!” He reared his whip back again and brought it back across my chest.
I yelled out in pain, unable to hold it back anymore. My head fell back down to my chest, the fresh and warm blood curdling up in my neck rolls. I spit out blood, a red glob landing in front of me at my feet. “Daddy,” I started weakly. “Please.”
My vision faded as I lifted my head up slightly. Alo stood off in the distance behind a tree, watching as I bled. I opened my mouth to ask him why, but the world went black.
I shot up from the cool ground in a cold sweat. My heart was racing, and the scars cut deep into my skin were throbbing. I reached up to grab my chest, clutching at my heart. The pain raged, making me feel like I was having a heart attack. Quick and short breaths emitted from my lips.
“Another dream about Father?” Alo asked from behind me.
I turned my head 180 degrees to find him sitting cross-legged behind me. “How did you know?” I scowled.
“You keep whimpering daddy,” Alo told me.
I wrinkled my nose and turned my head back around. I hated appearing weak and cowardly. That wasn’t who I was anymore. I hadn’t been that person in a long time. “Fuck you.”
I heard the flapping of wings as the pelican floated his way down to the ground. He cocked his head to the side, looking around the empty space surrounding me.
“I already told you, bird, my brother. Well, his spirit.” I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “We should leave.” I shifted into an owl, and we both lifted off the ground, heading towards New Orleans.
“How could you let him do that to me, brother?” I asked him in between desperate sobs. My wrists burned with pain from the rope still binding me to the tree.
Alo brought a blade to the ropes binding my hands and sawed away until the last thread was cut. I slid down the tree, my back scratched by the bark. “I had no choice. I can’t stand up to Father. You know that.” His eyes made their way to the ground, quickly avoiding mine.
I turned my head slightly and spat out another glob of blood. “You stood and watched. You did nothing to help me. You’re my big brother. You’re supposed to protect me!”
He snapped his eyes up and caught my gaze. “Do you want me to sacrifice myself for you, Sani? Is that what you want? For me to be the one beaten and bloodied?”
“I want you to care, Brother! I want someone, for once, to care about me!” I snapped back. The tears welled up in my eyes as I looked away from my brother, not wanting him to see the weakness building up inside of me.
We sat in silence for another couple of minutes, my eyes still glued to the ground in front of me. Of course, I didn’t want to see my brother hurt, but I was tired of being the one who was always beaten and never defended. The one time my mother defended me in front of my father, he laid his hands on her. He beat her until she was as bloody and bruised as I was. Alo, though, had never borne the brunt of Father’s anger.
“I’m sorry,” Alo said, barely above a whisper.
I snapped my head up, catching his gaze. It took a lot for my brother to say those words. His pride was one of his best and worst traits. He had been taught from a young age that he could do no wrong, that he had nothing to ever apologize for.
I nodded my head, a silent acceptance of his apology. I stood up and placed my hand on my brother’s shoulder and held his gaze, fighting back the emotions. Tears filled my eyes, and I closed them, holding the water threatening to escape. I turned around, walking away from my brother. It would be the last time we spoke.
I snapped back to reality, flapping my wings and then soaring through the air behind the pelican. There was a change in the air’s feel about me. I looked around and spotted mighty cypress trees jutting out of the murky water below us. The humid air felt sticky and heavy. In the distance, I could see herons and egrets floating in the dark waters, occasionally shoving their head under the surface. Massive strands of Spanish moss hung from the low-lying branches of the trees surrounding the swamp.
We had made it to New Orleans. We landed on a branch on a nearby tupelo tree, and I shifted back to my human form. I turned my head to face the pelican and said, “Is this it?”
He shook his head as he peered around the swamp. “This is the bayou. I figured you would be more comfortable out here for now. It’s about as far away from people as you’re going to get in New Orleans.” Alo’s voice rang in my head.
I have to admit, at first I was hesitant about the pelican, but he was turning out to be a valuable resource. I surveyed the surrounding bayou, listening to the chirping of birds and buzzing of insects, the ribbits of frogs and growls of alligators. It all exhilarated me.
I turned my gaze back to the pelican and asked, “Are there houses out here?”
The pelican nodded at me, making a circular motion with his head to indicate they were hidden around us. He nodded at a rundown shack in the distance.
“There are, Brother,” I heard Alo say. “You’ll have to look hard for them, though. Most of them are protected by the swamps, hidden by the moss, and guarded by the wildlife. They aren’t your typical houses, and most of them are rundown.”
“That doesn’t matter. As long as I’m as far away from humanity as possible, that’s what matters.”
“Of course,” Alo chirped from behind me. “You always want to be a loner.”
I scowled, turning my head all the way around. “Go away, Alo. I don’t need your shit right now.” As the words left my lips, so did Alo from my sight.
The pelican extended his wings and lifted himself off the branch, taking off into the sky.
I shifted back into an owl and took off, diving below the treeline to look for a place to stay. I flew around the bayou, keeping an eye out for any kind of house that I could take residence in for the next however long I was here. I soared through the air, examining the scenery around me. While most people would find this area to be revolting, I loved it.
A light caught my eye in the distance, glistening off of some metal surface. I turned my direction and headed for it, hoping it would be some sort of place to live. As I got closer, I saw a skinny but tall building sitting on a dock with a crescent moon on the door. Connected to the dock was a quaint cabin made of wood weathered by the countless storms that rained down on it over the years. It looked to be abandoned, with only a few empty moonshine jugs and animal skulls sitting outside. Part of me was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to kill anyone to take the place as my own.
I landed on the dock and shifted back into my human form. This shift was surprisingly smooth, less painful than it typically was. I rolled my shoulders and cracked my neck with my hands. I glanced at the small swamp cabin in front of me, examining the tin roof and moss-covered outside. It wasn’t in the best shape, but it could be fixed. “Welcome to your new home, Sani,” Alo’s voice rang in my head.