Important notice to rights owners: I respect and enjoy these worlds. If you object to any of my work within a world you legally control, please contact me and I will remove it.
by J. Stanton
Digger wasn’t sure why she told Trader Manuel to stop at the cave. She knew it would make her cry…but it was all that was left of Ed, and she had never said goodbye.
All those nights I sat with him, she thought, next to his fire, drinking his vile warrior tea. There weren’t so many, really, but she remembered each one perfectly. She had felt safe there, in a way she had never felt anywhere else but home…though Ed was male, and hunted and killed his prey with claws and teeth, he still felt motherly somehow, full of comfort, wisdom and sage advice—once you understood his strange way of speech, that is—and she realized that his barren cave felt more like home than anywhere else she had stayed during this entire adventure.
Now he was a god, perhaps. Or his legend was. Or something else too vague and slippery for her to understand, or care about…because the Ed she knew was dead, his body skinned and his pelt preserved by the lizards, somewhere underground and far, far away.
She jumped down from Trader Manuel’s carriage. “Give me some time alone. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she called over her shoulder.
It wasn’t far to the cave: taboo kept the hyenas away, and the hyenas kept everyone else away. She took a deep breath and walked inside, looking for the familiar drawings, and particularly the huge one that made her choke up just thinking about it…the hyena reaching for the sun.
It was bright daylight outside, so it took some time for Digger’s eyes to adjust to the gloom. It took even longer for her to understand what she was seeing, because the familiar, crude drawings were gone.
And soon she didn’t even have to squint, because a white, luminous kingfisher flew into the cave, settling on her shoulder, and she could see everything perfectly.
Whatever Ed had become was still a painter, Digger thought…or whatever legend had become Ed still remembered his story.
She addressed the kingfisher, though it was difficult to twist her neck that far. “I’m sorry for telling you to bugger off, Ed. I didn’t know it was you. I thought it was just He-Is, or his heart, or something else magical I would never understand.”
To her surprise, the kingfisher spoke. “Is both.”
Digger flinched, surprised.
It flew over to a ledge on the far wall. “Is Ed. Is also He-Is. Is…not explaining so well.”
Digger smiled, tears forming at the corner of her eyes. “That’s fine, Ed.”
“Is…part of He-Is. Always was. Was good part, part still alive, knowing, thinking. But always remembering badness. Betraying She-Is. Killing…our child.” The kingfisher shivered. “No room left in head. Only guilt. Pain.”
There was nothing to say, so Digger waited.
“So, is making…a Person, yes? Person from good part of He-Is. Is being very small part. Just enough for newborn male.” The kingfisher chuckled dryly. “But no remembering of bad things.”
“She-Is-Fiercer is seeing. Is laughing. Big, cruel laugh. ‘I take your child’s children,’ she says. ‘You will know my pain.’ But newborn male is growing, is lucky, is happy. Soon, is with Blood Eyes.” The kingfisher paused. “Digger-mousie is knowing this already, yes?”
Digger nodded again.
“Is good, for a time. Then, madness. Yes?”
Oh, no, Digger thought, guessing what had happened.
“Madness of Blood-Eyes…is of She-Is-Fiercer.”
Poor Blood-Eyes, Digger thought. Innocent in all of this.
“But Skin Painter is killing Blood-Eyes. Is not right, is not plan of She-Is-Fiercer. But is happen.” The kingfisher sighed. “Is more badness. Is great anger, great sorrow of She-Is-Fiercer for death of great hunter, great warrior. Is leave Skin Painter to justice of tribe. Name is eaten.” The kingfisher shivered.
“Many years, long and long, alone. Nameless. Is having nothing, is being nothing. Then, Digger-mousie comes. Gives name.”
“After bopping you on the head,” Digger said. She still couldn’t believe that Ed was still there to talk to…or sort of there. She still didn’t understand magical things very well…
…and something was eating at her.
I wish birds could have expressions, she thought. I can’t tell what this Ed-sounding thing is thinking.
“Are you a white kingfisher, or a god, or what? Where did you come from when I walked into the cave? Where will you go afterward? How did you paint this cave? Is this you, or just the ghost of He-Is talking like Ed did, to make me feel better?”
The kingfisher ruffled its feathers. “Is…not so much understanding, yet. Is here, is also…other places. Is other times. Is not having words for Digger-mousie.”
“I don’t know, Ed. I almost feel…cheated, somehow. Like you weren’t really a person. You were just part of a god who was trying to kill the bad part of himself.”
“No, Digger-mousie. Is not remembering. Is newborn cub. Is living, making own choosings, own rememberings.”
Digger nodded doubtfully. “If you say so, Ed.”
“Is not He-Is. Is Skin Painter, is nameless, is Ed. Now, is remembering He-Is. Is still Ed.”
Between Ed’s tortured syntax and the complicated story, Digger’s head was spinning. “So if you’re Ed, you’re part of He-Is…but one with no memory of ever being He-Is. So how are you remembering him now? Didn’t you kill him? And didn’t you die yourself?”
The kingfisher nodded. “Is dying with nothing, no name. Is also dying with He-Is, with demon, with much magic. All died. But no place for death to go, in cave. Then…lizards is taking skin, yes?”
Digger nodded. “I wanted to carry your liver back to the surface and make Grim Eyes eat it, but…” She gulped. “I couldn’t do it. I was too weak.”
“Is okay, Digger-mousie. Lizards is taking skin, yes? Rest is going free?”
“I don’t remember, Ed. When Mirai and the lizards talked about that, it just sounded like insane rambling to me.”
“Is true. Is…confusing. Was Ed, was also He-Is. But was slowly…fading. Magic dying. Going where dead gods go.” The kingfisher shivered. “But Digger-mousie is telling story of Ed. Telling daughter, telling elders. Males tell children, other males. Is many People knowing story, now. Even other tribes.”
“Does that matter?” Digger asked. “I just did it to make myself feel better for leaving your liver down there in the cave.” And for getting you killed, she thought.
The kingfisher nodded brightly. “Is making Ed strong. Can paint cave, speak to Digger-mousie.”
“Oh, Ed,” said Digger, sniffling. “I wish I could hug you. Now I’m just crying at a bird that doesn’t really exist.”
“Is not the way of things,” the kingfisher reminded her gently. “But is painting for Digger-mousie.” And it flew past the simple but beautiful illustrations that told Ed’s story with perfect economy of line, the culmination of the skills Ed had been practicing ever since his Name had been eaten, down to a small painting Digger hadn’t seen at first, tucked in the far corner like a signature.
It was the two of them, hugging.
Digger cried, staring into the unreadable eyes of the kingfisher.
Some endless time later, she heard Trader Manuel calling…and, from the sound of things, crashing clumsily through the underbrush. “Digger? Digger?”
“Just a minute, Manuel,” she called out, voice shaking. “I’m almost done.”
“We must go, Digger, or we shan’t even make our first night’s rest.”
“Shut up, Manuel, while I finish,” she snapped, turning back to the bird that was also Ed, a fact she still couldn’t quite get her mind around. “Ed…?”
The kingfisher nodded.
“Are you happy?”
The kingfisher paused and cocked its head, considering. “Is not knowing, yet. Is so many things different.”
That doesn’t help, Digger thought. “What I mean is, did I do the right thing, by telling your story?”
It nodded. “Digger-mousie is giving Ed name, giving Ed friendship. Now, is giving Ed second chance.”
“But you’re not Ed. You’re a god that manifests as a glowing white kingfisher and can’t explain where it is or how it sees time.”
“Is not like first chance,” the kingfisher agreed. “But is good. Is becoming stronger, because of Digger-mousie. Maybe strong enough for She-Is-Fiercer, someday.” The kingfisher chuckled dryly. “Ed is hunting own prey for long and long. Not like village males, sitting in hogan making self pretty, maybe tending fire.”
Digger laughed. “‘Hunt deer, hunt sambal, hunt everything’?” she said, quoting Ed’s story from so long ago.
It nodded. “Is not being like before. She is fiercer, always. But Ed is hunting too. Ed is not making mead, decorating hogan.” Digger laughed again. “Is for sleeping, for stopping rain and wind. Males is being too much like humans. Is too much drinking, worrying about shiny junk.”
“But you’re an artist, Ed,” Digger said, looking at the astounding beauty around her.
“Ravens love shiny junk. Is not beautiful,” the kingfisher replied.
There was a long pause.
“Time to go, Digger-mousie.”
“Digger-mousie is part of Ed, always. In its liver.”
The tears welling up in Digger’s eyes bent the fading light of the kingfisher into a many-pointed star.
“Digger!” Trader Manuel shouted, bursting into the cave, clothes covered with brambles and mud.
“Look around you, Manuel,” she said, striking a light, eyes still blurred with tears. “Look.”
Manuel’s jaw dropped, his head swiveling up and around and down as he slowly took in the narrative.
“My God,” he muttered. “Who did this?”
“A friend,” Digger said, smiling.
“I…” He was speechless.
“Take as long as you like, Manuel.” And though Digger knew she would never forget a single brush stroke, she stood silently with Manuel, reliving Ed’s story.
Thank you for reading.
I’m sure there is much more to tell about what happened to everyone else…but this is all I’ve got for now.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
PS: I’d love to hear from you! If you want to talk about what happens to Digger and the rest of the characters—or just let me know what you think of my work—jump into this forum thread.