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The City Anthology by DK Gaston

Welcome to The City by Howard Night

Welcome to… The CITY

September 22, 2015

Howard Night

 Somewhere in this universe exists The City.
It’s sprawling, cavernous, mazelike… a riot of bio-organic steel superstructure, plasticrete roadways, neon lights and digital…virtual madness.
Its streets are filled with throngs of tricked out urban adventurers, mutated, cybernetic bullies and scheming would be emperors all in a game of techno-cat and cyber-mouse.

Yet The City itself is…alive.

It moves and plays in the same game as its inhabitants. It Watches and changes the game board as it sees fit.
It maintains control.

Classic cyberpunk right?
Yet the denizens of The City are Funkateers!

Still the loners struggling against the BIG CONTROL, still the cyber hopping, data stealing hackers living as digital rats in a virtual world yet these players have steel hearts forged from the trials of the diaspora. Funkateers have found their way to cyberpunk……check that;CyberFUNK!

Cyberpunk has always had a cool, urban vibe to it. As it’s tapped into a vision of a multi-cultural future though, the African American perspective has often fallen flat. As a fan of all things science fiction I felt the gap even as I noticed the urban landscape was a familiar one.

So why not close the gap?

A little while ago the “Hardest Working Man in Spec Fiction”; Milton Davis posted a tempting writing prompt…as he’s prone to do:
‘The City. No one knows how it began or when it will end. No one knows how we came to be here, 20 millions souls, 1500 different species all crammed together in plascrete and biosteel. No one’s been in or out of the city in 20 centuries. Some have their theories why, some don’t care. But no matter who you are, or what you are, you have a story, don’t you? The trick is finding someone that cares to listen…’ –Milton Davis.

And quickly there came a rush of equally tantalizing responses. Speculative fiction authors from across the diaspora began dropping equally tantalizing dark cyber vignettes onto the pages of The State of Black Science fiction. Even better, these creators linked their techno-noir visions by referencing each other’s creations.

I couldn’t help but to join the fun…:

The Wall?
Yea…I been up the wall…up and over.
Up past the shell heads…past the tweekers…past the wild girls and past the Blue Authority.
Up through Angel Bay with the haughty golden kids and the richy riches…
Higher than the Sweepers and farther than runners go…
High enough to look down on the Sun Tower and the carrier ships…
Past the smog where even the drones don’t go.
Got to the top…the wide scarred metal and crossed the antennae fields, the dish lake and looked over beyond and up above.
You know what I saw?
…more CITY.
Kit Henson, Henson Repairs. Looking up

Soon an anthology was announced…The City…and the vignettes bloomed into the beginning of something special. There’s a good mix of veteran writers and new among the voices telling tales from The City!

The Cityzens!!

Jeff Carroll,
Gerald Coleman,
Milton Davis,
Ray Dean,
Malon Edwards,
Ashtyn Foster,
Otis Galloway,
Keith Gaston,
Chanel Harry,
Natiq Jalil,
Valjeanne Jeffers,
Alan Jones,
Brandee Laird,
Kai Leakes,
Edison Moody,
B. Sharise Moore,
Balogun Ojetade,
Ced Pharoah,
K. Ceres Wright
and of course myself; Howard Night.

The City is availible right now for pre-order in KINDLE format on AmazonHERE!

  And will be availible for print September 25th! Also on Amazon!

Here are links to blogs by other Cityzens:

Jeff Carroll

Balogun Ojetade

ZZ Clabourne

The City: A Cyberfunk Jazz Session

It began as a random thought in the middle of the day. I was sitting at my desk during lunch when words popped into my head.

‘The City. No one THE CITY - COVER 1knows how it began or when it will end. No one knows how we came to be here, 20 millions souls, 1500 different species all crammed together in plascrete and biosteel. No one’s been in or out of the city in 20 centuries. Some have their theories why, some don’t care. But no matter who you are, or what you are, you have a story, don’t you? The trick is finding someone that cares to listen…’

As I normally do I posted the statement on The State of Black Science Fiction Facebook page. What happened next is an example of why I love writing so much. A writing improv session began, with different writers adding words to the narrative and supporting those words with artwork. At some point it was inevitable, The City would become an anthology.

Balogun Ojetade (http://chroniclesofharriet.com/) gathered the thoughts then organized them into a manifesto, creating an outline of the city and it’s wide range of characters. We shared the document with everyone then put out the call. In the beginning I worked to make the stories follow a specific path, but then I decided to drop that idea. I wanted to keep the same jazz-like improvisational vibe we experienced at SOBSF. So I took the stories as they came, accepting every story as the writer submitted them. Every story. Some writers collaborated, joining the stories of their characters, some wrote stories about the same characters. The result is an anthology containing a wide variety of interesting stories that stretch the boundaries of what some people call Afrofuturism, but what we choose to call Cyberfunk.

But it doesn’t stop there. The City is a multi-sensory experience. Edison Moody and Natiq Jalil added their amWatcherazing artistic skills to the project, creating amazing images for the anthology. Otis Galloway, a DJ from the UK inspired by the improv session, created mixtapes reflecting the moods and emotion of this mysterious urban space.  It’s a project unlike any I’ve worked on and it’s a project that you’ll enjoy experiencing. For the next week you’ll read about the development of The City from its ‘Cityzens,’ the artists that have brought this world to life. Get ready. The City will be available as an e-book via Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook) and Kobo on September 25th and as a paperback at MVmedia (www.mvmediaatl.com) and wherever books are sold by October 15th.  Welcome to The City. I hope you enjoy your stay.

 

Why is it important to show ethnicity in Speculative Fiction?

We live in a diverse world, a world of different landscapes, climates and cultures. Although the internet and our various modes of transportation has made this world ‘smaller’ to us than to our ancestors, there is still an abundance of diversity among us. What I consider a daily routine may serve as a fascinating representation of my values, concerns and expectations in my life.

Drifting throughout this diversity are images in fiction and non-fiction that rightly or wrongly influence our perception of others and ourselves. These images suggest to us overtly or covertly what we may or may not be capable of or what we can or cannot be.  I’ll give a couple of real life examples. I grew up with two male cousins, cousins I consider brothers. Both were talented artists; they would spend hours drawing pictures from comic books and other sources. As we grew older one of my cousins abandoned his artistic ambitions while the other continued. One day, as young men, he showed me his latest images and a question popped in my head. I looked at him and asked him: Why aren’t your superheroes black?

I’ve seen this same condition among other artists and creators of color. The answer is simple; we duplicate what we see. We also tend to accept what we see. Although I’ve heard many artists, especially musicians, argue against it, what we create influences what people think of others and themselves. This is why I believe it is important to show ethnicity in Speculative Fiction. While it’s easy for some to see astronauts and imagine themselves as one, for others the connection can’t be made unless they see themselves in that position. It is also important that readers see others in all walks of life, not just stereotypes. Giving readers a well rounded view of society opens the mind and lowers the barriers that stereotypes raise.

I could go on at length on this subject but I must give room for  my fellow bloggers to share their view as well.  Check out the other members of this Online Black History Month Event:Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer— is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy.  Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him:   http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/
L. M. Davis, Author–began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade.  Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers:  A Shifters Novel will be released this spring.  For more information visit her bloghttp://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com andwww.wagadu.ning.com.Margaret Fieland, Author— lives  and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA
with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry/ is available from Amazon.com  Her book, “Relocated,” will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy,” will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013.  You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.comValjeanne Jeffers, Author — is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ Thaddeus Howze, Author— is a veteran of the Information Technology and Communications industry with over twenty-six years of experience. His expertise is in re-engineering IT environments using process-oriented management techniques. In English, that means he studies the needs of his clients and configures their offices to optimize the use of information technology in their environment. Visit him: http://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or  http://ebonstorm.weebly.comAlicia McCalla, Author—writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.comCarole McDonnell, Author–She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction.  Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/ or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/Balogun Ojetade, Author—of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/

Rasheedah Phillips, Author–is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.Nicole Sconiers, Author-is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her:http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him:  http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd

The Sword and Soul Primer: Part Three

Our next once_upon_a_time_in_afrika_book_cover_by_djele-d5gnrnqbooks that are essential Sword and Soul reading were written by Balogun Ojetade. Ojetade describes his journey to Sword and Soul in his own words:

‘My interest in Sword and Soul came from my love of indigenous African martial arts and my first encounter with Bilbo Baggins.
I have been a student of the martial arts of Africa since I was four years old. I have also been reading since I was two years old – first with comic books, then I moved on to fiction. By the time I was six, I had read Watership Down. Hungry for more fantasy, I picked up my sister’s copy of The Hobbit and read it over a weekend. I wanted more fantasy!
My sisters checked out the Lord of the Rings trilogy from the library and I fell in love with Epic Fantasy…but I yearned to see myself in fiction. Also, during this time, I became acutely aware that the world of Epic Fantasy was very…white.
I searched for non-white worlds of Epic Fantasy to no avail. However, my search did lead me to a subgenre of Fantasy I enjoyed even more than Epic Fantasy: Sword and Sorcery. My favorite tales were those of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Elric of Melnibone. Later, I got into the Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan comic books from Marvel Comics. Still, I wanted to read about African heroes, using African weapons and African spirituality in African settings.
I got my wish in 1980, when I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons and due to the racism of the white players, I was quickly thrust into the position of Dungeon Master for an all-Black group of players. As I mastered the game, I began writing my own adventure modules and eventually created a campaign set in Africa.
I enjoyed writing African adventures so much, I began writing Sword and Sorcery stories set in Africa.
In June, 1987, issue #122 of my Dragon Magazine subscription came in the mail. I checked the contents and I was surprised – and elated – to find two entries: Out of Africa, by Charles R. Saunders and Gaming the Dark Continent, by Roger E. Moore.
Out of Africa – a collection of beasts and monsters from African folklore and legend – really impressed me. The article was masterfully written and well-researched. “This is a white man who got it right,” I said after reading the article. At the time, I had no idea that Charles was Black and I really had no idea one day I would call him a friend and inspiration.

Balogun has contributed two outstanding novels to the Sword and Soul archives. His first Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika which is pictured above, weighs heavily on his Afrikan martial arts experience and his background as a Yoruba priest. Once Upon a Time in Afrika Tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors. Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way

Balogun’s second Sword and Soul novel is Beneath The Shining Jewel, a story based in world of Ki Khanga. In this novel Balogun not only deliver his usual outstanding action scenes and storytellingbeneath-the-shining-jewel-cover, but he also unleashes his talent to tell a good horror tale. Beneath the Shining Jewel takes place in Ki Khanga’s jewel city, Sati-Baa. Mba, a retired constable, is called back to active duty to deal with a situation that still haunts him twenty years later. Mba and a host of characters battle a scourge that once ravaged the city and may be poised to return. Beneath the Shining Jewel is both familiar and unique, combining African folklore with a good dose of horror and action adventure. Sword and Soul – African-inspired Heroic and Epic Fantasy – has been taken in a new and thrilling direction with Beneath the Shining Jewel, a tale that will have you riveted from beginning to end.

In addition to these two excellent novels, Balogun has contributed Sword and Soul short stories to the Griots Anthologies  and is co-editor and writer in the Ki Khanga Anthology. You can purchase Once Upon a Time in Afrika and Beneath the Shining Jewel by clicking the following links:

Once Upon a Time in Afrika

Beneath the Shining Jewel

And don’t forget to check out our Ki Khanga Sword and Soul Role Playing Game Kickstarter and level a pledge:

Ki Khanga Role Playing Game Kickstarter

Next up, someone I’m very familiar with. 🙂  Stay tuned!

Dieselfunk!: The History behind the Funk

Yesterday heralded the release of Dieselfunk!, the follow up anthology to the groundbreaking Steamfunk! anthology. The idea for Dieselfunk! came almost simultaneously with Steamfunk. Balogun and I had discussed the anthology at length; as a matter of fact he coined the term around the same time as we adopted the term Steamfunk to describe Steampunk rooted in the African/African Diaspora experience. Many of you are familiar with the afterDIESELFUNK - COVER 1 (1)math of the release of Steamfunk; it’s was my top selling anthology until the release of Dark Universe and has been taught in a number of colleges and universities including Georgia Tech.

Although Steampunk is relatively well known among speculative fiction enthusiasts, Dieselpunk is a bit more obscure. So what exactly is Dieselpunk, and why does it deserved to be funkdafied?  Let’s start with the definition. Wikipedia defines Dieselpunk as a genre similar to that of its more well-known cousin “steampunk” that combines the aesthetics of the diesel-based technology of the interwar period (World War I and World War II) through to the 1950s with retro-futuristic technology and postmodern sensibilities. Balogun Ojetade defines Dieselfunk as ‘a type of fiction, film and fashion that combines the style and mood of the period between World War I and the early 1950s with Afrofuturistic inspiration. Dieselfunk tells the exciting untold stories of people of African descent during the Jazz Age. Think the Harlem Renaissance meets Science Fiction…think Chalky White (from “Boardwalk Empire”) doing battle with robots run amok in his territory…that is Dieselfunk!’

It makes sense that Dieselpunk would be of interest to people of African Descent, particularly African Americans. This was a volatile time in America. The country was 50 years away

The 369th Harlem Hellfighters

The 369th Harlem Hellfighters

from the Civil War and Jim Crow ruled the South. The Negro of the early 20th century was significantly different from the 19th century; black people were educated, restless and becoming more and more vocal against the inequality of America. Many sought to prove themselves by joining the armed forces to fight against the Germany and its allies. What they found when they reached Europe was an attitude that while not perfect, was significantly better than the racism in America. Black soldiers and pilots distinguished themselves in battle; Eugene Bullard became the first Black American fighter pilot, while the 369th ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ earned a ferocious reputation among allies and enemies alike while at the same time enduring the insults and discrimination of their countrymen.

When these soldiers returned home they found an America even more hostile to them than when they left despite their service. The Ku Klux Klan experienced a resurgence due to the fear of thousands of black men returning from war and the shameless propaganda of the movie ‘Birth of A Nation. Still, black people continued to strive and achieve, building communities such as Harlem, New York and Greenwood, Tulsa, also known as Black Wall Street. When World War II arrived Black men and woman once again answered the call. The push for equal rights at home and overseas resulted in the integration of the arm forces and changes which eventually led to the Civil Rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s.

So as you can see, the time in which Dieselpunk rests its hat is fertile ground for a unique perspective. In other words, Dieselpunk was begging to be funkdafied. While both Steampunk and Dieselpunk stories can be written without mention of the racial dynamics of the time, it is telling that most of the writers of Dieselfunk! chose to incorporate the history within their stories, resulting in stories that in my opinion raises the Dieselfunk! anthology to a level beyond it’s sister anthology.

Balogun Ojetade’s story, ‘SOAR: Wild Blue Yonder‘, sets the pace with an action-packed adventure which includes the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first all-black paratrooper unit and the Tuskegee Airmen joining forces to carry out a secret mission.

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion

Day Al-Mohamed’s ‘Powerplay‘ centers around the real life story of mob-buster Eunice Carter with a special twist that qualifies her story for pages of the anthology.

S.A. Cosby’s ‘The Girl With The Iron Heart‘ takes us on an inter-dimensional journey where the main character finds himself invisible to the system, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Then there’s ‘Into the Breach‘ by Malon Edwards, an imaginative patios ladened story that takes place in a Chicago like you never

imagined.

Eunice Carter, Mob Buster

Eunice Carter, Mob Buster

Angel’s Flight by Joe Hilliard tells the story of a boy pursuing his dream and the legacy that fuels his life.

Ronald T. Jones ‘Unusual Threats and Circumstances‘ takes us back to Chicago, specifically to the city section known as Bronzeville, where Jericho Aldrige’s terror filled night becomes the beginning of an amazing adventure.

Carole McDonnell gives us rocket men and the personal trials of the Jim Crow South in her story ‘Bonregard and the Three Ninnies;’ and in my story ‘Down South,’ Roscoe Tanner travels back to the South against his better judgement to help a woman retrieve something of great value.

The Dieselfunk! Anthology ends with ‘Big Joe and the Electro-Men‘ by James A. Staten a perfect blend of science fiction, espionage and undercover brothers and sisters.

Though significantly shorter than the Steamfunk! anthology, Dieselfunk! packs a punch. The weight of history and the imaginative storytelling makes it an anthology I’m very proud of. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

To get your copy of Dieselfunk!, visit http://www.mvmediaatl.com/.

The Gate: Part IV

impundulu (1)Changa remained awake long after Sayidana slept, worry and guilt refusing him rest. His decision to come the tainted island revealed his inexperience. Maybe if he had studied his situation long he could have found another way to redeem his losses. But he had chosen what he thought would be a quick way to alieve his debts. His life and the lives of his crew were in danger now.  Belay’s sons were right; he was not fit to be a merchant. When…if they returned to Mombasa he would sell the business to the sons then hire himself out. A man should know his place, the saying goes. Changa had discovered his.

He finally slept. A warm breeze rustled the coconut canopies, the occasional call of an animal in the distance breaking the silence. Changa was awakened by a gentle touch to his cheek. He opened his eyes to Sayidana hovering over him. She straddled him, her nude body almost touching him.

“It has been so long since a man has touched me,” she said, her voice echoing in his head. “You can have me, if you wish.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his. Changa reacted instinctively, his arms embracing her waist and pulling her close. She nuzzled against his neck, nipping his skin with her teeth.

“Changa!”

The shrill cry pierced his ears. It was Sayidana’s voice screaming from a distance, yet she lay atop him.

“Changa! It’s not me! Free yourself!”

The gentle grip around his neck became a painful hold. He felt pain as the thing pretending to be Sayidana bit into his neck with a snarl. Changa gripped the thing’s neck then forced its head away. He rolled until he was on top, pushing it further away. It thrashed under him, its face transforming into that of a bird-like visage. With a cry it shoved Changa away. Changa scrambled to his feet, ready to defend himself. The being continued to transform into a giant bird, resembling the money eagles of the interior. It jumped upward then with a snap of its wings ascended into the dark sky. It let out another blood chilling cry as it flew north.

Changa’s neck wound burned like fire as he swayed then fell to the ground. The real Sayidana rushed to him.

“What…what was that?” Changa said, his energy waning with each second.

“It was the inpundulu,” Sayidana said. She squatted beside Changa, her hands working furiously.

“How?…”

“When the inpundulu is weak it must feed,” Sayidana said. “If its master cannot feed it, it fends for itself. It prefers human blood.”

Changa fell to his back, the burning more intense.

“Can you…”

“Yes,” Sayidana replied.

Something cool pressed against his wound and the burning subsided.

“You are lucky. The inpundulu wasn’t able to inject a full dose of venom. This poultice will take most of it away. I’m afraid some had entered your system. You’ll be weak for some time. We’ll stay here until you’ll ready to travel.”

Changa could only nod. He closed his eyes and let the darkness take him.

When Changa awoke his energy had returned. Sayidana sat beside him preparing a meal of coconuts and bananas. It was noon, the warm sun shining from overhead, its heat coaxing the moisture from the forest which gathered on his skin. He grunted as he sat up; Sayidana turned toward him then smiled.

“Good,” she said. “I was beginning to worry.”

“How long did I sleep?” Changa asked.

“Two days,” she replied. “One more day and I would have had to continue without you.”

She handed Changa the fruit and he ate voraciously.

“I thought you said you could not do it alone.”

“I can’t,” Sayidana replied. “I was going back to the city. Your big friend seems a worthy companion.”

“Yusef? He’s good enough. Not as good as me, but he’ll do.”

“You are a man with pride,” Sayidana commented.

“You must be to be a merchant,” he replied.

“And a warrior,” Sayidana said.

“Pride can kill the best warrior,” Changa replied.

Sayidana smiled. “Then I chose the right person. Come, we must be on our way.”

They finished their meals then continued their trek. They worked their way down into the valley then crossed the broad yet shallow river. The climb up the opposite slopes was taxing but they continued without rest. As they emerged from the vale a large compound rose over the trees a short distance away.

“That’s the gate,” Sayidana said. “We must hurry to reach it before dark.”

“Why before dark?” Changa asked.

“If we are not within those walls before dark we are doomed. There is much worse than nyani and inpundulu protecting the gate.”

They ran the entire distance, Changa’s attention vacillating between the looming compound and the setting sun. As they neared the compound’s door the sound of breaking branches reached his ears. A nauseous pang welled in his stomach; he pulled his sword and a throwing knife then turned toward the sound.

Sayidana stopped at the gate. She approached Changa, a puzzled look on her face.

“There is something coming,” she said. “It feels different. I do not know this threat.”

“I do,” Changa replied. “Go inside.”

“What is it?” Sayidana asked.

“Something from my past,” Changa said.

The tebo burst into the clearing in the form of a massive gorilla, dragging a small tree in its right hand. It slammed the tree against the ground as it grunted and bared its large fangs. Changa swayed from side to side, bracing himself for the charge.

“Changa!” Sayidana called out. “I can help!”

“No you can’t!” Changa shouted back. “Get inside!”

The tebo roared then charged, the tree rose over its head. Changa roared back then sprinted toward the beast, his eyes on the descending tree. He waited until the last moment before leaping to his right, throwing his knife as he dodged the tree club. The tebo howled as the knife struck its neck and the tree slammed into the dirt. Changa rolled on his shoulder to his feet then ran at the beast again, another throwing knife and sword at the ready. The gorilla-beast yanked the knife from its throat, flinging it into the woods. Changa threw another knife; the beast smacked it away. The distraction gave Changa enough time to hack the back of the creature’s left leg, severing its hamstring. The creature struck out, its huge hand crashing into Changa. His sword flew from his hand as he rose from the ground, landing in the forest’s edge. Changa blinked in pain, trying to regain his eyesight when the tebo grabbed his arm then lifted him high. Changa reacted, snatching a dagger from his belt then plunging it into the beast’s hand. Changa fell; the tebo shook its injured hand as it staggered backwards. Changa clambered to his feet, limping to his sword. He followed the tebo, determined to end the fight. He took a deep breath then ran at the tebo again. With a yell he jumped, smashing into the tebo’s chest. Gripping the beast’s hair with his free hand, he pulled himself upward until he looked into the tebo’s malevolent eyes. The tebo’s arms wrapped around Changa, but before the beast could crush him Changa plunged his sword into the beast’s throat. A garbled cry seeped from the tebo’s mouth, its fetid breath washing over Changa’s face. Changa pushed his sword deeper until it protruded from the back of the tebo’s neck. He twisted the handle then yanked it free. The tebo’s head jerked back, its arms falling limp as it fell backwards onto its back taking Changa down with it.

Changa lay on the dead creatures torso for a moment as the pain in his ribs subsided. He sheathed his sword then rolled off the tebo, barely landing on his feet. When he looked up Sayidana gazed at him, a slight smile on her face.

“You are hard to kill,” she said.

A sharp cry from above caught their attention. They looked up to see the inpundulu circling, dark clouds spreading from its wings.

“Inside! Hurry!” Sayidana said.

Changa and Sayidana ran to the entrance. Changa grasped the handle then jerked the door open, surprised it was unbolted. They entered as a barrage of lighting descended from the black clouds, pummeling the stone structure. The walls shuddered as Changa and Sayidana ran down the wide corridor in darkness. Another deluge of lightening hammered the building. The walls transformed, the grey stone emitting a faint blue light illuminating the corridor.

The Gate    “What’s happening?” Changa shouted.

“The inpundulu is opening the gate. We must hurry!”

The long corridor led to a wide cylindrical room. In the center of the room the granite floor shimmered like the surface of a lake, its color the same as the walls. The surface began splashing violently. A human like head emerged; pitch black with eyes that burned like the sun. It rose from the liquid like surface, the figure of a man made of blackness and stars.

“Sayidana,” it said. “I should have killed you.”

Changa stood motionless as Sayidana walked onto the wavering surface. Her clothes and head wrap merged into her skin as she became like the man standing before.

“Yes, you should have,” she replied.

They attacked each other, the force of their clashed creating a shock wave that flattened Changa onto his back. He scrambled back onto his feet then watched as the travelers battled each other with an alacrity that made them seem as blurs. Then they stopped, the male being grasping Sayidana by the throat as he lifted her off her feet.

“I will finish you this time,” he said.

Changa threw his knife. He acted on instinct; sure his mortal blade would make no difference in this celestial battle. But he was wrong. The blade bit into his shoulder and he dropped Sayidana, turning his attention to Changa. He yanked the blade from his shoulder.

“What are you…?”

Sayidana appeared behind the man. She grasped his head then twisted it hard. The crack echoed in the chamber; the man slumped then fell into the waves. His form dispersed, tainting the water, then retracted, pooling around Sayidana’s feet before being absorbed by her. Changa’s throwing knife floated by her feet.

Sayidana picked up the knife then strolled to Changa as she transformed into the woman that he knew. Changa stepped away, his hand going to his sword hilt. It was a foolish move; he doubted if he could protect himself from what he just witnessed.

Sayidana extended the knife to him. Everything about her was the same except her eyes. The cloudy film that once blocked them was gone. Her sepia eyes regarded him.

“You were right,” she said. “You were enough.”

The building shook, then the ceiling behind them collapsed. The inpundulu struck the simmering stone the slowly sank into the shrinking pool.

“You must leave,” Sayidana said. “The gate is closing.”

Changa took his knife from Sayidana.

“I believe there was much you did not tell me,” he said. “I’m beginning to believe you are the one to be feared.”

Sayidana smiled. “It doesn’t matter now. He is dead and I will go home.”

She grasped Changa’s face between her hands then kissed him softly. Changa felt a surge of desire that dissipated as quickly as it appeared. He could tell without looking that his wounds were healed.

“There is a compound three streets west of the mosque,” Sayidana said. “If you pull up the floors in the veranda you will find what you seek.”

The building shook again.

“Time for you to leave, Changa. I hope you live a long life. Maybe I’ll see you again in my travels.”

“I am no traveler,” Changa said.

Sayidana smirked. “You could be.”

She turned then followed the pool as it shrank to a small circle. Sayidana faded as the circle disappeared. The compound walls became translucent, the surrounding hills and forest becoming visible to Changa. And then it was all gone. Changa stood in the middle of an open field. There was no sign that the building ever existed.

“I could be?” he whispered. Changa knelt where the building had once stood. He touched his hand to the ground and the grasses shimmered like the floor of the compound. He jerked his hand away as he shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I am Changa Diop, merchant of Mombasa.”

He stared at the space a moment longer, then turned and walked away.

The Gate: Part III

SeerThere was movement at the door. Changa and the others leapt to their feet, weapons at the ready. The doors swung open and a woman entered, her wet clothing clinging to her body. She leaned against a thick carved staff, her head covered with a plain head wrap. She as she looked about Changa noticed her eyes. A milky white veil covered both orbs; the woman was blind, yet she looked about as if she could see her surroundings. She coughed, and then pulled herself straight.

“Who are you?” she asked.

Changa signaled for his men to keep their place. He approached the woman warily.

“I am Changa Diop from Mombasa,” he said.

“And the others?” she asked.

“My crew,” Changa replied.

“You should not be here,” she said. “He will come for you soon.”

“Our dhow has been destroyed,” Changa said. “We won’t be leaving soon. Was this your doing?”

“No,” the woman replied. “He has sent his herald.”

Changa looked puzzled. “His herald? Do you mean the nyani?”

The woman shook her head. “No. They are an annoyance, a side effect of his power. The inpundulu is his herald and his warning.”

“We have encountered no other creature,” Changa said.

“Yes you have,” the woman said. “You think this storm is natural? It’s not. It is the inpundulu.”

“And who are you?” Changa finally asked.

“Sayidana,” she answered.

Changa lowered his sword. “Why is it that no one remains in Kilwa Milikiya except you?”

“I have not always been here,” she said. “Like you I have traveled from afar.”

“Where did you come from?” Changa asked.

Sayidana looked away. “Far away.”

“Sofala? Pemba? Mogadishu?”

Sayidana smirked. “Much farther.”

The sounds of the storm subsided.

“Listen to me, Changa. The one who claims this land is coming soon. If you and your men are here when he arrives he will kill you all. But with your help we can stop him and we all will have a chance to return home.”

“So be it,” Changa said. He turned to Yusef.

“When the storm clears survey the dhow and salvage what you can,” Changa said. “We’ll have to cut trees to repair the dhow. I’m going with Sayidana.”

“That is not wise,” Yusef said. “She may be the cause of our misfortunes.”

Changa glanced at the woman. “I don’t think so. I believe she is just as much victim as we are, but for a different reason. I plan to find out what that reason is.”

Yusef’s eyes said what he could not.

“If I don’t return by the time the dhow is repaired, take them home,” Changa said.

Changa turned to Sayidana before Yusef could reply.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“How many of your men are coming with us,” Sayidana asked.

“Only me,” Changa replied.

He grasped Sayidana’s arm then lead her out the mosque. She jerked her arm away.

“I need all of you!” she said.

“You’ll get only me,” Changa replied. “If I take my men with us I’m sure some of them will die. I didn’t bring them here for that to happen.”

“The two of us cannot stop him,” Sayidana insisted.

“I’m sure you haven’t survived this long alone without some skills,” Changa said. “And I am not easy to kill.”

Sayidana’s eyes seemed to glow with her sour mood. Changa braced himself for some type of attack, but the glow subsided.

“Let us go then. I hope for your sake and mine that we will be enough.”

Changa nodded. “We’ll have to be.”

The storm waned as Changa and Sayidana made their way north from the city. It did not dissipated or travel west as most storms do. Instead it traveled the same direction Changa and Sayidana traveled.

“The inpundulu returns to its lair,” Sayidana said. “It thinks it has done its duty.”

“Will we see it again?” Changa asked.

“Most likely yes,” Sayidana replied. “But not in this form.”

They crossed from the ruined city into the surrounding forest. There was a narrow trail leading into the bush which Sayidana followed. Changa trailed close behind, his eyes studying the foliage as they passed.

“Are we going to its lair?”

“Yes. The inpundulu’s lair is His citadel and his gate. We must stop him before he enters his citadel, before He can possess his full power.”

“So we will wait outside to confront him,” Changa said.

“No. He will enter from within through the gate,” Sayidana said.

“From inside through the gate?” Changa was confused. “How can he enter the citadel without passing through the outside? Is there a tunnel leading from the shore?”

Sayidana smiled. “You do not understand, and I’m not sure I can explain it.”

Sayidana stopped by a coconut tree. A pile of coconuts lay at the base of the tree. Sayidana went to the tree then sat. She arranged the coconuts so they touched.

“What do see, Changa?”

Changa folded his arms. “I see coconuts.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!” Changa replied.

Sayidana grinned. “Even though these are all coconuts, they are not the same. Some are bigger, some are smaller. If we were to cut them open we would discover that some are sweeter than others, and a few may be rotten.”

“What does this have to do with ‘Him’ and you?” Changa asked.

“The world you live in is not the only one, Changa,” Sayidana said. “Like these coconuts, there are others, many others. Some are very similar to this world, so similar it would be hard to tell them apart. Some are sweeter, yet some are rotten.”

Changa’s eyes narrowed. He wanted to dismiss Sayidana’s words but his experiences proved to him that many things existed beyond the senses.

“Just like these coconuts touch, these worlds touch too,” Sayidana continued. “These points of contacts are called gates. There are some who have the ability to travel through these gates. He is one of those who can; so am I.”

“So when you told me you were from far away…” Changa began.

“I meant I am from another world,” Sayidana finished. “We are travelers.”

Sayidana stood then continued walking down the path. Changa followed, pushing away the questions flooding his mind. He knew better than to seek deeper answers. All he needed to know was what to do to keep his men safe and leave Kilwa Milikiya.

“Sayidana is not my true name,” the woman continued. “It is what I call myself here. My world is very different from yours.”

“So why did you leave?” Changa asked.

“I had no choice,” Sayidana answered. “Travelers are driven to travel. We are born with wanderlust. Passing through worlds also exposes us to different abilities. Some of us use them to help others, some to help themselves. And then there are those who stay silent, content to travel and observe.”

“Does this adversary of yours have a name as well?” Changa asked.

“He does, but you could not pronounce it,” Sayidana said. “Besides, some say to speak His name is to summon his wrath. We travelers have our own superstitions.”

They crested a steep hill overlooking a deep valley sliced by a narrow river.

“We will rest here tonight,” Sayidana said. “It is a safe place and easy to defend.”

“We should probably sleep in shifts,” Changa suggested.

“That won’t be necessary,” Sayidana said. “You and your men killed the nyani and the inpundulu must rest to regain its strength. Tonight will be peaceful. Our days ahead will be much more interesting.”

The Gate: Part II

flying baboonsThe two spent the remainder of the day procuring supplies from the market.  When they returned they loaded supplies on the dhows then shared a meal with the men on the docks. Changa didn’t return to his counting room that night; instead he slept on deck with his crews, savoring the open air and the clear skies. There was a time in his life long ago when his view was that of a stone room to a small cell. His days were filled with training; when he wasn’t training he was fighting for his life.  Since the day he fled his homeland twenty years ago his life had been one struggle after another. To lie on his back and gaze at the stars was truly a gift, a blessing he owed to Belay.

Niko’s doubts intruded on his musing. The baharia was always a contrary one, but for some reason his doubts seemed to linger on Changa’s mind. Changa had seen many strange and wonderful things in his life and he knew that nothing was beyond possibility. Kilwa Milikiya may be a myth, but he had to try. He had no choice.

 

*   *   *

Changa and Yusef stood at the bow of the Kazuri as it sailed into the harbor of Kilwa Milikiya. An unnatural stillness ruled the scene, the roaring waves lapping the landing beach the only sound. Sturdy docks lay empty as were the hard packed roads leading from the shore into the stone city. No seagulls hovered overhead, the undulating fronds of palms trees the only motion.  From a distance the warehouses seemed recent, but as they sailed closer the buildings revealed their neglect.

“This is not natural,” Yusef said.

Changa didn’t reply. He studied the shore, seeking a good place to land.

“There,” he said, pointing to a stretch of beach closest to the warehouses.

The navigator steered the dhow to the landing; the baharia dropped the anchor in deeper water.

“Let’s get the boats and go ashore,” Changa ordered.

Yusef hesitated and Changa glared.

“We are here,” he said. “We will get what we came for and we will leave. Don’t let Niko’s words haunt you, rafiki.”

Changa and the landing crew boarded the boats and rowed to the empty beach. Once aground they headed to the nearest warehouse. The white stone was barely visible, covered by thick vines as nature reclaimed what men had abandoned. Changa hacked away the vines blocking the warehouse entrance with his machete. Stale humid air filled his nostrils as he entered the abandoned structure. The others followed, their swords at the ready.

“We’ll start here,” he said.  “Make sure you search every corner.”

For two hours they rummaged through the rotted furniture and decaying palm leaves but found nothing. They finally gave up, leaving the building, dirty, sweaty and empty handed.

Changa spotted Yusef and the other baharia coming from the warehouse opposite the docks. Yusef wiped his bald head with the palm of his hand then grimace.

“There is nothing here,” Yusef said. “I think bwana Belay was wrong.”

“Maybe,” Changa replied. “Let’s search the city. A few merchants may have left behind valuables in their homes.”

Yusef sniffed. “I doubt it. Swahili are very thorough and very greedy.”

“We have the time,” Changa said. “We might as well.”

They followed the road into the stone town. Like most Swahili cities the mosque occupied the center, and Kilwa’s mosque was an impressive site despite years of neglect. The main structure rose four stories high, the crown ringed by elaborately carved ramparts. The minarets climbed even higher, their copper domes green from exposure and neglect. Changa saw movement near the top of the mosques and minarets.

“At least something lives,” he said.

“Those birds are large,” Yusef replied. “Vultures?”

The creatures leapt into the air simultaneously then circled the minarets, their cries echoing through the empty city.

“Those do not sound like any bird I know,” Changa said. “They sound like…nyani.”

“That’s impossible!” Yusef said. “Nyani don’t have wings!”

The flock flew toward them descending as they came closer.  As their features became clear Changa’s eyes went wide.

“They are nyani!” he shouted. “Run!”

The baharia sprinted for the nearest building.  Changa was the first to reach the home, shoving open the door with his shoulder. He ran back into the open, waving his men to him.

“Quickly!” he shouted. “Inside!”

The men ran into the building. The flying nyani descended on the last two men, knocking them to the ground. Changa rushed to rescue them, sword in one hand, throwing knife in the other. He threw the knife; it struck one nyani in the head, knocking him off the closest man. With his sword he cleaved another nyani in two. Yusef appeared by his side, swinging his sword wildly. Together they drove the flying primates away far enough for two other baharia to grab their injured comrades and drag them into the building. Yusef and Changa stepped backwards, fending off the beasts until they were able to join their men in the building.

The primate attacked the house, tearing at the palm frond roof and beating at the doors Changa and his men prepared themselves for the onslaught when the attack suddenly ceased, replaced by the rumble of a coming storm. Changa inched his way to the door then slowly opened it. A sky that once showed no sign of ill weather was now black with swirling clouds.

“We should not be here!” Yusef said. “This city is cursed!”

Changa looked at his friend and his men.

“Back to the dhow,” he said. “We’re leaving.”

Changa was answered by thunder. The nyani screeched and the rumble shook the house.

Changa dared to open the door. The nyani were gone. A sudden gust of wind pushed Changa back into the house.

“It seems we’re not going anywhere,” Changa commented.

“We should go to the mosque,” Yusef suggested. “This house will do little to protect us from the coming storm.”

Changa looked incredulous. “So you wish to go to the name’s den?”

“Allah will protect us,” Yusef said.

Thunder shook the house and rain crashed against the roof as if dumped from a well bucket. The ragged thatch ceiling gave way and the baharia were drenched.

“To the mosque!” Changa said.

The baharia splashed toward the mosque. They were almost there when an ear-piercing screech cut through the storm. Changa grimaced as he hunched and cupped his hands over his ears.

“Look!” Yusef shouted.

The dark clouds rippled above them. Changa thought he caught a glimpse of something moving through the clouds but his view was obscured by the torrential rain. The undulating clouds made a path toward their dhow. It swirled above the craft, spinning faster and faster.

“No,” Changa whispered.

Bolts of lightning showered the ship, blasting the mast and deck.

“No!” Changa shouted.

Flames erupted throughout the dhow despite the rain. In moments the entire ship was engulfed in raging flames.  The baharia stood stunned. Their only way home had been destroyed before their eyes.  Changa’s shock was brief. His mission had changed. Instead of coming to Kilwa to save his business, he had doomed it. He had to save his men and himself.

“Go,” Changa said to his men.  “Go!”

They ran to the mosque. Changa was the first to reach the doors, shoving them wide open. The winged nyani huddled in the center of the building. They howled at the baharia, bearing their sharp teeth. The baharia charged into the beasts, releasing their anger on them.  In moment the beasts lay slaughtered. The men dragged the dead beasts from the building, tossing them into the streets. Their bodies seemed to anger the storm. It became more intense, the thunder and lightning battering the holy site. The walls and the roof of the mosque were much stronger; they held against the unnatural onslaught.

Changa slumped against the wall. Yusef sat beside him, crossing his legs.

“What will we do kibwana?” he asked.

Changa looked at his friend, his face grim.

“When the storm ceases will go the beach and access the damage to the dhow,” he said. “We’ll rebuild it.”

“I’m not talking about the dhow,” Yusef replied. “I’m talking about this.”

He waved his thick arms around.

“None of this is natural. “Flying nyani, a storm attacking our dhow; this is sorcery!”

“You are probably right,” Changa said. He’d had his share of otherworldly encounters and this was very familiar. He tried to deny it, hoping the original reason for his safari would resurface, but this was no longer about finding a lost wealth. It was about survival.

The Gate: A Before The Safari Adventure – Part One

dhowMombasa slumbered under a sliver of a moon, the eastern monsoons blowing a warm wind across the waters. The beaches were empty save the dhows, the baharia that sailed them either gone to their homes in the stone town or country town or sleeping below their decks. The stone warehouses bordering the beach landings were empty as well, all save one small warehouse near the water’s edge. In a cramped room on the second floor a wax candle burn on a writing table, illuminating the space with its wavering light. A heavy set man sat at the table, reading numbers scribbled on the yellowed pages of his journal. He turned the pages with one hand while scratching his bearded chin with the other.

Changa closed the journal then leaned back, raising his chair onto the back legs.

“Belay, you taught me many things, but not everything,” he whispered.

The day Changa learned his mentor Belay had bequeath his shipping business to the young BaKonga was a joyous day. Never before had a Swahili merchant done such a thing. It was well known among the other merchants that Belay favored Changa and treated him as a son. But to deny his blood sons the business for a non-Swahili was unheard of.

Changa’s joy soon became worry. Many of Belay’s old business partners were not happy with his choice and refused to do business with Changa. He still retained the ivory trade, but other business disappeared. He could barely pay his men and his bills, let alone afford the basic necessities for himself. Belay’s true sons circled him like scavengers, ready to pounce in and take the business if he failed. Changa was determined not to do so.

Still, he could not continue as he was doing. He needed to find new customers and he needed to find a new source of revenue. Creditors were out of the question.

Changa pulled open the desk drawer then removed a map, spreading it on the table.  It was a map of the coast with each Swahili city-state marked. His eyes rested on one particular island to the south, close to the mainland city of Sofala and the Kilwa Sultanates.

“Kilwa Malikiya,” Changa said. “Could you be the answer to my troubles?”

Belay had talked often of the island. The legend said it was one of the few Swahili cities ruled by a woman, her name lost in the annals of time. It was said that she was the first to trade with the Benematapa, gathering a vast treasure of gold and ivory. After the mysterious queen died her son gained control of the island. His reign lasted only ten years. The people of Kilwa Malikiya abruptly abandoned their island, founding the cities that now made up the Kilwa Sultanate. No one knew why they left, but the rumor was that they left all their possessions behind.

Changa took out his instruments, confirming the route to the island. Belay’s map was the only map that revealed the location of the island. It was an heirloom passed down through his family and the last item the old merchant gave to Changa before his death.

Changa yawned. The night was finally getting to him. He would sleep, his mind finally made up. In the morning they would sail for Kilwa Malikiya.

Changa met his crews with the sunrise. The mabaharia went about their normal maintenance duties, with Yusef yelling at them every step of the way.

“Yusef!” Changa called out. “Gather the men.”

Yusef waved then hurried about as fast as his large bulk would allow. Moments later the men stood before Changa, curious looks gracing their faces.

“I don’t have to tell you that my business has not been well,” Changa said. “Many of Belay’s friends have chosen not to do business with me. Because of this I must forge new relationships. But that does not help us now. The dhows must be maintained and we all must eat.”

“What must we do, Kibwana?” Yusef said. “We will starve before we leave you.”

The looks on the others faces told Changa that they did not agree with his bulky friend.

“There is a place that may hold the answer to our dilemma,” Changa said. “Kilwa Malikiya.”

One of the baharia stepped forward, a short man as broad as he was tall.

“What’s on your mind, Niko?” Changa asked.

“Every man here has heard of Kilwa Malikiya, bwana,” he said. “It is not real. It is a myth.”

Changa reached into his bag then took out Belay’s map.

“I was given this map by Bwana Belay before he died. It is a map that shows the location of Kilwa Malikiya. I plotted a route to the island last night.”

The men gathered around him, staring at the map. Niko shook his head.

“Many maps are wrong, bwana,” he said. “Just because this one shows the island does not mean it exists.”

Changa nodded as he rolled up the map. “I’m not asking anyone to come with me. I plan to set sail this afternoon. I would love to have my crew around me, but I will not ask you to risk your lives on a safari that may not bear fruit. Each man makes his own decision.”

“They say other things about Kilwa Milikiya as well, bwana,” Niko said.

“If you believe the city is a myth, why would believe anything else said about it?” Changa asked.

“I am with you kibwana!” Yusef announced.

Changa grinned. “Thank you, Yusef.”

One by one the baharia joined Changa and Yusef. Soon only Niko stood opposite them.

“I can’t,” he said. “I will not follow a myth.”

Changa approached Niko then placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“I understand, Niko. Go be with your family. There will be a place for you with my crew when we return.”

“I hope that you do,” Niko said.

Niko walked away, peering back at the others until he merged into the Mombasa crowds.

“Yusef, you will come with me to the market. We must gather supplies for the journey,” Changa said.

“Yes, kibwana.”

“The rest of you prepare the dhow.  We set sail as soon as Yusef and I return.”

Changa visited his counting room before they visited the market. He opened his chest then frowned. There was enough for supplies to take them to and from the island. If there was no treasure on Kilwa Malikiya he would be ruined.

Yusef entered the room.

“Kibwana, are you ready?” he said.

Changa closed the chest then lifted it.

“Yes, Yusef.  I’m ready.”