The First Tale - Shaman
Simon P. Clark
The old man was blind. His eyes were milky white. He sniffed and smiled as he spoke, his cheeks shining with sweat despite the bitter cold. Patrick sat down, feeling stupid. He bit his lip, scratched his ear. His throat felt dry. The air was too smoky. A tiny fire was burning in the centre of the tent.
‘Problem?’ said the man.
‘No,’ said Patrick. ‘I’m just ... getting used to it.’
‘The smell? Hah!’ The man threw his head back and laughed.
Patrick took a sip of water.
‘Do you –’ he said, but the man held up one hand.
‘I ask questions. Okay? I’m the wise man. I’m the prophet. You’re just a child. I can smell you. I don’t need to see you. What are you ... thirteen?’
I could lie, thought Patrick. He’s blind. He’s just guessing.
But something else told him that lying would be pointless.
‘Twelve,’ he said. He frowned.
‘Good age,’ said the man. He licked his lips and nodded as if he were agreeing with something Patrick had said.
They sat, neither of them talking, for an uncomfortably long time. Patrick shifted his weight. He wanted to uncross his legs.
‘You’re looking for your mama.’ said the man, leaning backwards. It wasn’t a question. Patrick blinked.
‘She got lost.’
‘She’s been kidnapped.’
‘Oh? Oh. Right.’
Don’t lose your temper, Patrick thought. Don’t get angry. You have to keep him happy. That’s what he said, right? Keep the old man happy.
‘I thought you could help.’
‘Maybe. Maybe. Why would I?’
‘I can pay, a bit.’
‘Money’s nothing but the promise of dust,’ said the old man. He pulled his jacket tighter. The wind from outside trickled under the door.
The old man leaned forward. ‘Hmm. You came a long way.’
‘I came from England.’
‘And where are we?’
‘You don’t know?’
The man raised a finger. ‘Careful,’ he said. Patrick closed his eyes, counted to five, and opened them again.
‘Somewhere in Russia,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to pronounce. Obdensky. Something like that. It’s cold and high up.’
‘Ooohee! Russia. And you came all this way to ask me for help. But tell me, how did you know about me? Who told you what I am, what I can do, hm?’
A deep, dark voice rose up from Patrick’s memory. It was thick and oily and spoke in a whisper. Don’t tell him who I am. Don’t tell him that I sent you.
‘No one,’ said Patrick, then he winced. That was a stupid lie. Of course someone had told him. He had to think quickly.
‘I mean, I read about you. In an old journal. From the 1800s. A wise magic man, it said. A shaman. He has a tent, that moves, but follows the moon. I read it all.’
‘Did you, now?’
Do not tell him about me, the voice had said. Do not tell him that we spoke.
The shaman spat on the ground and closed his eyes.
‘To find your mama, you came,’ he said.
‘Stolen, was she? Taken by bad things?’
The man began to hum, moving his head back and forth.
‘I don’t need paying,’ he said. ‘But I want something from you.’
‘Tell me how you found me. I’ve been alone in this tent for 276 years. Yes, I count. I count. I remember.’
The tent poles creaked. The snow outside was getting worse.
‘You’re ... old,’ said Patrick.
But the thing had said, hadn’t it, not to tell him? Don’t tell the magician about me. That’s what it had whispered.
But he had to find his mama. He had to.
‘You can find her?’ said Patrick. He heard voices outside. His guides, and a translator. They must be freezing. He didn’t speak Russian but he’d heard them muttering all the way up here. It didn’t take a genius to guess what they thought of him.
The old man reached out a hand, faster than Patrick would have thought possible, and grabbed his own, making him jump.
‘You miss her very much, eh?’
His grip was too strong. Running wouldn’t help.
‘I do,’ said Patrick, staring into the man’s eyes.
‘Good. Then I will help. Tell me how you found me.’
‘Tell me how you found me, boy.’
The thing must have seen this coming. He’d known that Patrick would break. He’d smiled as he’d told Patrick what to say. He’d licked his lips. Patrick remembered the dreams.
Do not tell him I sent you. Don’t tell him I spoke to you, boy. But ... when you tell him, because I know you will, give him this message. You listening, sprog? Good. Tell him this: The story isn’t over. It hasn’t even begun. And then you can tell him that the bear is coming.
His voice had been so low it had almost been a growl, and each time Patrick had woken up, sweating and cold, he’d stared at the ceiling for the rest of the night.
The thing had known about magic, though. He’d known about the shaman.
Patrick gave the shaman the message, and the old man’s eyes grew wider and wider. His hand began to tremble. He let go of Patrick and knocked over his cup.
‘No!’ he said. ‘Get away!’
He stood up, stumbling into the side of the tent, making the whole thing shake.
‘What have you done?’ he shouted. ‘He’ll find me! He’ll find me through you!’
‘What? Who is he?’ said Patrick, but the man had raised a hand, backing away.
‘Get out!’ he shouted. ‘Get out!’
‘You have to help me find her!’
‘Get out! You work for him, don’t you?’
‘The Story Eater!’
‘I don’t work for him. He was in my dreams. He told me you could help.’
The old man grabbed Patrick by both arms and stared into his eyes. His breathing was frantic. His sour breath filled Patrick’s face.
‘You have no idea what he is,’ said the shaman. ‘And no idea what he will do now that he knows exactly where I am.’
He clicked his fingers and sparks shot out. Bright flames appeared in his palm, then died again with a puff of black smoke.
‘I never thought he’d do this. He’s clever. Oh, he’s clever. But now … I have to go. I’m sorry.’
‘You should move houses. Your room is not safe if he has found a way into your head. You should move.’
‘The Story Eater!’ said the man to himself. ‘After so long ... after all my life ...’
He flung open the tent’s door. Ice cold wind filled the room.
‘Your mother,’ said the shaman, turning back. ‘I would give up hope of finding her. The beast you’re facing is far worse than a bear.’
He strode out into the snow. Patrick ran after him, calling to his guides, waving his hands. ‘Stop him!’
He turned his head away from the wind, his eyes watering. He looked back and the man was gone. The guides came over, frowning, clapping their hands together.
‘What is wrong?’ said the interpreter. ‘Where did your mystery man go?’
The world was white and empty and noisy. Patrick stared at the empty tent, at the empty fields surrounded them. His mind buzzed and his feet hurt.
‘The Story Eater,’ he said, not even looking at the men. ‘The Story Eater. What?’
In the wind, he heard laughter. It was a mad, high giggle.
Isn’t it fun to play? said a voice, but there was no one to see, and nowhere to run. Isn’t it fun to play with things? Come on, Patrick. Let’s play.
Shaman, Eren Tales © Simon P. Clark 2014. All rights reserved.
Photography © Brandon Rechten 2014. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission
from the author or publisher is prohibited.