I am among the masses as they limp and drag toward some foreign place they are afraid to imagine. Even in the dimness of the nearly moonless night the exhaustion, the sickness, the fear is everywhere in their swollen faces. The weaker among them, the very old and the very sick, the very young and the very frail, are driven in wagons steered by ill-tempered soldiers. The riders are not better off than the walkers, their sore, screaming bodies bumped and jostled by the wobbly wheels over the unsteady forest terrain. No one notices as a few drop like discarded rags from the wagon to the ground.
“Here!” I cry. “Let me help you. I will find water for you to drink.”
But they pass me without looking. They see nothing, hear nothing. They walk. That is all they are. Walk. That is their name. Walk. Or “Move!” That is what the soldiers scream in their faces. They struggle under the weight of the few bags they carry and stumble under the musket butts slapped into their backs. And still they do not see me.
I wave my hands in the air and yell to make myself heard over the thumping of thousands of feet.
“Here!” I cry. “Who needs something to eat?”
I push myself into the center of the mass. Men in turbans and tunics, women with their long black hair pulled from their faces as they clutch their toddlers—all focus their eyes on a horizon too far away. One old man, unsteady under the weight of the pack he carries, stumbles over some rocks and he falls. The soldiers beat him with their muskets—their futile attempt to make him stand. The man tries to push himself up but cannot, so the soldiers try the whip instead. The old man prostrates himself on the ground, arms out, face away. He has accepted that this is how he will die.
“Step around him!” the soldiers bark. And they do step around him, their eyes straight ahead. They do not see the old man any more than they see me. To acknowledge the fallen elder would force them to admit that his fate is their fate and they will all die here among unknown land and foreign trees. The old man does not stir. He does not lift his head or seem to breathe. And the people pass him by. When they stop to make their encampment for the night, the old man does not arrive.
I throw my hands into the air again, my frustration boiling the blood in my brain. “Let me help you! Why will you not listen to me?”
“Because they cannot see you.”
I have seen the man before—his blue tunic, his white turban, his solemn bearing—and he has seen me. He is an elder, his hair silver, his face a ridged map of everything he has seen, every thought he has had, every prayer he has said. There is wisdom behind his wary glance and oh so tired eyes.
“That’s ridiculous,” I say. “I am standing here among them.”
The old man shakes his head. “You are the Kalona Ayeliski. They cannot see you.”
“The Kalona Ayeliski. They cannot see the Raven Mocker.”
I watch the walkers, hundreds of them, their heads bowed under the weight of losing their possessions, their land, their ancestors, everything they had in this world and beyond, and I realize the man is right. They do not see me. They have never seen me.
“What is a Raven Mocker?” I ask.
“An evil spirit. All the Raven Mocker cares for is prolonging its own life force, and it feeds from others to do it. It tortures the dying and hastens their deaths so it can consume their hearts. The Raven Mocker receives one year of life for every year its victim would have lived.”
“I am no Raven Mocker. I mean harm to no one.”
I turn away, watching the families reuniting after the long day’s walk, children crying for their mothers, husbands searching for their wives. They are setting up their campsites, eating the meager gruel and drinking the few drops of water given them. I cannot meet the man’s eyes.
“Not for a long time,” I say. When the man’s stare bores through me, pricking me somewhere I cannot name, I shrug. “I do not hasten death in anyone,” I say. “Not anymore.”
“We shall see,” he says.
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