I laid in my new bed filled with straw, staring up at the ceiling of the tiny swamp cabin I had taken residence in. It wasn’t much, but it was my piece of home. It almost reminded me of the hogan I grew up in, the one where my father constantly beat me. A chill ran through my spine as the memories of my father flooded my mind.
“You have to forget about him, Brother. It’s been thousands of years,” Alo said from beside my bed.
I snapped my head to the side to see him sitting with his legs wrapped around the back of a tiny wooden chair. His condescending smile sent a fire throughout my body. “I can’t!” I shouted, sitting up in my makeshift bed. “I can’t forget what he did to me. Every day, I feel the scars on my body. The pain radiates through them and eats me alive. You don’t know what I went through, Alo!”
Alo blinked rapidly a few times, pulling his head back. He stood up from the chair and looked down at me. “I don’t know? Did you forget I’m dead? By your hand?”
I looked away from him, staring at the rotting wooden floor beneath me. I didn’t know what to say. He was right. As much as I wanted to pretend I didn’t care, it was something else that ate at me every day. I took the life of one of the few people who had ever loved me for me.
“This is your chance for a new beginning, Sani. You can embark on a life of good instead of evil. Make the change, become something better,” Alo said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I looked back up at him, a tear glistening in my eye. “I’m sorry, Alo, but I can’t be good. There is no good left in me anymore. This is who I am, who I always will be. It’s why I choose to take the form of the omen of death.”
Alo shook his head slowly, disappointment written all over his face. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. Growing up, you were nothing but pure, Brother. What happened?”
“Father happened,” I snapped at him, anger rising in me again. “He made me this way!”
“When are you going to accept that you are the only one who can control what you do?” Alo hissed at me. “You decided to practice black magic. You decided to become a skinwalker. You decided to take my life.”
I jerked my shoulder away from my brother, directing my gaze across the empty room. I could hear the buzz of insects coming from outside as I sat in silence. When I turned back around, Alo was gone. I shook my head in disappointment.
I walked along the river bank with Alo, skipping rocks across the water. I had a fishing pole in my hand, and Alo carried the worms we had dug up for bait in a clay bucket. We were both teenagers, young and naïve, with the world ahead of us. Alo was my best friend, the only one I ever had.
Suddenly, a bird flew down from the sky, plucking the makeshift bucket full of worms from Alo’s hands. Without thinking, I stuck my hand out and shouted, “Aniné!” A stream of darkness came from the palm of my hand and wrapped around the bird. It let go of the bucket, falling from the sky and landing in Alo’s arms.
As the darkness disappeared, the bird fell headfirst into the ground. Alo looked from it to me and back to the lifeless bird. His eyes grew wide as his jaw dropped. “Sani, what did you do?”
I glanced at my brother, shame stricken across my face. “I-I used magick on him.”
“That wasn’t just magick, brother. There was something dark about it. What did you do?” Alo asked again, taking a step away from me. I could see the fear in his eyes as he kept glancing from the bird to me. “I always knew you had healer abilities, but this…this is something different.”
“It’s black magick. I’ve been practicing it,” I confessed to my brother, shame seeping through in my tone. “I needed to do something to become more powerful. I had to, brother. I have to stand up to Father one day.”
“No!” Alo shouted as he tossed the bucket of worms on the ground. The clay bucket shattered when it hit the ground, and the worms inched their way to freedom. “You can’t do that, Sani. You can’t turn to black magick. It isn’t right. It goes against everything we believe in.”
“Everything you believe in, maybe. Not me. I have my own set of beliefs, Brother. I’ve developed my own views on things and didn’t blindly follow the tribe and customs,” I spat back, the anger building inside of me. The heat flowed down my body, my blood beginning to boil. How could he not understand?
He shook his head, turning his back to me. “You can’t do this. Please don’t do this, Sani. I don’t want to see you go down this path,” Alo pleaded. I could hear the sadness and hurt in his voice, but it was something I knew deep down I needed to do. Turning to the darkness felt good. It felt right.
“I have to—” I started.
Alo spun around and pointed at me. “You don’t have to do anything, Sani! You are making this choice!”
The sound of feet outside my cabin brought me back to the present. I slid my hand into my pocket, wrapping my fingers around the bone blade. I quietly lifted myself out of bed, tiptoeing to the door. With my ear against the wooden door, I listened to the heavy steps outside. They got closer, and I stepped back from the door, crouching down. I snuck to the closest window and peered over the windowsill.
Making its way across my floating deck was a five-foot alligator. I rolled my shoulders and focused my thoughts on shifting into a black panther. I felt my bones begin to break and bend. The ligaments throughout my body popped and disconnected, reconnecting in various places. When I fully shifted, I was a six-foot black panther.
I leapt through the glassless window with my claws extended. All of a sudden, the hunter became the prey. My claws dug into the tough skin of the alligator’s neck as it flailed. I held on tightly, reaching down and taking a bite out of its back. I savored the sweet taste of the animal’s meat as blood dripped from my muzzle. It swung its head in the air and rolled us over into the water. I let go of the alligator and barrel-rolled so that my head was above the surface.
I spotted the wounded alligator attempting to swim away with a trail of blood floating behind him. I propelled myself forward, wrapping my jaws around its head. I bit down with over 1,000 pounds of force. My teeth sank into the alligator’s tough skin, cracking its thick skull and paralyzing my prey.
I dragged the dead creature to the bank and pulled it onto dry ground. I had dinner for the night and would eat well for a couple of days. I laid down beside my meal and began to feast. I was starting to really like it out here.