Curse of the Shifter
A Short Story
Precursor to The Cursed Leviathan, Goddess of the Moon Vol. 2
By Glenda Reynolds
Even in death, the beauty of the young Indian girl made your heart ache. Her complexion, once a rosy bronze, now took on an ashen color. Eyes that once twinkled with warm smiles now starred unblinking at the tall, billowy clouds and the flocks of tropical birds. Her body bore marks of bites and claw marks from more than one beast, yet the inhabitants of the Everglades had not claimed her body. At least her face was not frozen in fear nor her hands raised to shield herself from an unspeakable horror. No, she lay at peace with her surroundings in contrast to the scene that played out just hours ago. Her heart had betrayed her to her tragic end like a spring flower that is picked just after blooming at the peak of brilliant color, not left on the stem to fade with age. But just as a picked flower that is cut off from its life source soon withers and dies, the brilliant beauty of Sueniko was quickly fading.
It began during the Spring Festival of the Calusa Indians. Their name meant “the fierce ones” for the reason being they were very tall, warlike people who dominated Southwest Florida. The Calusa Indian nation gathered from all of Southwest Florida to observe this annual celebration. It involved competitions, good food, and traditional tribal dancing. The most popular event was hatchet throwing. The more skilled an Indian boy was with using his hatchet or arrows, the more he was accepted as a man among his people. It was also a chance to attract the females, a potential life mate.
So it was that rivals from two different tribes had always been at odds with each other.
Cheveyo was from the poorest of the Calusa tribes. They lived under the worst conditions and had more old people than young ones. There was not much happiness in his tribe. His leaders would gather around the fire at night and talk about the glory days of the past before the Spanish came to occupy their land. They talked about the Gifted Ones who were able to take on the token form of an animal to protect the people. So far they had kept the Spanish from invading the Calusa territory. But there weren’t many young braves in his tribe to carry on. One of their own tribesmen had betrayed them to the Spanish in return for strong drink. The betrayer told them that if you kill a life mate of a Gifted One, the young brave would remain in his animal state forever. So these shifters remained in the Everglades; many of their women died too.
On the other hand Kitchi was from a wealthier tribe with many young braves. They always had successful hunting or fishing trips. Their women bore many children. They too had tales of glory when they kept the Spanish invaders at bay. Kitchi’s tribe had magic in their blood. They had their own token form of animal protector that was given to certain braves of the tribe.
For a few years now, Cheveyo and Kitchi sought each other out to see who was the better of the two in the skilled events at each new Spring Festival. Both young men were very athletic and skilled in all weaponry.
Sueniko was always present at these events at the urging of Kitchi who secretly wanted to marry her. But she only had eyes for Cheveyo. After all, he was the most beautiful warrior she had ever seen. Though his face had a few scars on his cheeks from battle, they were barely noticeable. His fierce eyes grew kinder whenever she gazed into them. His back and arms rippled with muscles under his bronze skin; his torso tapered to a lean waist traveling to strong thighs that were partially covered with a deerskin loincloth. He didn’t smile that often, but when he did, it was as if she starred into the sun. His brutish and often moody nature only made her want to give him a compassionate touch on his shoulder or brush the hair away from his eyes.
It had been many moons ago when Cheveyo came to Sueniko’s village to visit a cousin. Fortunately, Kitchi was away on a hunting trip. Cheveyo and Sueniko had known each other as children over the years, but this visit changed everything. They found themselves strolling to a private area near a creek where they indulged in intimate conversation. The signals were there between them: the eye contact, the smiles, the flirtatious remarks, and finally the first kiss. Their bodies’ responded in the primal grind. Their breath came more quickly. If it weren’t for the voice of Sueniko’s mother calling her nearby, who knows what things may have happened in that heated moment. They rose from the ground and brushed themselves off. From then on there was desire in their eyes for each other. When Kitchi returned from his hunting trip, Suenicko treated him with indifference. It wasn’t until the Spring Festival that Kitchi now knew who the object of her desire was. This inflamed Kitchi’s jealousy. He ordered her to come away to another event. Cheveyo was filled with anger that Kitchi treated her in this manner.
That little son of a snake! Who does he think he is, ordering her around as if she were a slave? Someone needs to teach him some manners, and quick.
Cheveyo followed the couple to the next event to Sueniko’s delight. The hatchet throwing was in progress. No one had yet hit the bull’s-eye. Kitchi came forward, took a moment to judge the distance, and then threw his hatchet. It landed a few inches right from the center of the bull’s-eye. Not to be outdone, Cheveyo stepped forward and concentrated. He hurled his hatchet at the target. It landed dead center. Cheers went up from the crowd. The other competitors were too afraid to continue. Cheveyo was declared the winner of this event.
Other events followed such as the bow and arrow event, tree climbing, canoeing, and lastly the foot race. The top warriors competed against each other in this event which entailed racing from one point in the Everglades to another while carrying a painted stake. When they arrived at the finish line, the competitor placed his stake into the ground. Cheveyo and Kitchi once again competed against each other.
The young men lined up at the start. A chiefly-looking man with a long pole that was decorated in feathers signaled the start of the race. The young men ran wildly and sometimes blindly into the Everglades where they would encounter many perils. They sometimes came upon snakes or wild animals in their pursuit of the finish line. Sometimes the natural terrain was too difficult to overcome. One by one brave young men dropped out of the race. Only two remained in the running. They were covered in dirt and bloody scratches. These were only trophies in their race for triumph. The finish was in sight. Cheveyo and Kitchi ran with all of their might, but unbeknownst to Kitchi there was a stone in his path that proved the end of his efforts. His toes caught the base of the stone which caused him to somersault once. His palms were outstretched, acting as his breaks. He skidded to a stop on his belly.
Cheveyo loped to the finish line and plunged his stake into the ground. A waiting crowd was there to applaud him. Suenicko was also there. She awarded Cheveyo with a kiss on his cheek and a beautiful smile.
Kitchi pulled himself off of the ground and saw the interaction between Cheveyo and Suenicko. Murder was in his eyes.
As the sun was setting, Cheveyo took Suenicko far away from the crowd to spend some time alone with her. Kitchi followed them at a distance. Just as the couple shared their first embrace and a warm kiss, Kitchi came out of hiding.
“How dare you lay a hand on her! Do you really think that you are good enough for a woman of my tribe, you dog?”
“She apparently has chosen me. Why don’t you ask her yourself?” countered Cheveyo.
“Is it true? Are you interested in this worthless piece of garbage that calls himself a Calusa?”
“I care very much for him. We have promised ourselves to each other. We will be life mates soon,” Suenicko said defiantly with a lift of her chin.
“You won’t be life mates if he is dead now, will you?”
“Stop! Leave us alone!” she pleaded.
“It’s too late for that, Suenicko. Go back to the village while I make an example of this dog.”
Before she could protest any further, Kitchi unsheathed his knife and started to circle Cheveyo. Likewise, Cheveyo took his knife out to defend himself. They scrambled wildly, slashing through the air to draw blood. Kitchi lost his footing while his knife was knocked out of his hand be Cheveyo. It went sailing into the carpet of green sawgrass. When Kitchi realized that he had no weapon to continue fighting, his only option was to shift into his other form. He quivered and became a giant panther.
Cheveyo looked on with wide eyes. He was afraid only for a moment. He could not defend himself against a panther with only a knife. He dropped the knife, and his body quivered. He became a giant alligator.
The panther let out a ferocious growl as it came closer to do battle, but it was clear that there was uncertainty. The alligator hissed and opened its jaws wide to display his teeth. His monstrous tail swung back and forth. The panther pounced on the back of the alligator and tried to chew on its neck as if to strangle him. The alligator did a number of rolls to rid the creature from his back. It worked momentarily. They slowly circled each other. The alligator lunged at the panther, grabbing one leg in its powerful jaws. It tried to drag the panther to a nearby pond. The panther then lunged on the back of the alligator again, though more awkward, and tried gouging its eyes out. This caused the alligator to release the leg. The panther bit into the right front foot of the alligator and tore two of the toes off. Once more they circled slowly before going in for the kill.
Finally, Suenicko who had been watching in silent horror came out of her hiding place. Just as the two creatures poised to lung at each other, she stepped in between them with her hands raised to stop them and screamed for them to stop. The alligator grabbed her around the waist with his powerful jaws. The panther’s claws made deep gouges in her chest while its teeth bit into her skull. The three of them rolled and slashed about in the low growing palms and sawgrass. Finally, the two beasts realized that in their blind instinct for survival, they had both killed the Indian girl.
The panther let out a mournful roar. He quivered and returned to the young Indian boy.
“You have killed her! If it weren’t for you, she’d still be alive!”
The alligator shook his head from side to side as if to say no. He let out a giant hiss.
Kitchi ran back to the village to concoct a story of how Cheveyo murdered Suenicko. Cheveyo remained in his alligator form thereafter because his life mate was now dead. They never found Suenicko’s body. That is because the alligator known as “Three-toed Cheveyo” dragged her deep into the Everglades where he spent the rest of his days.
Want more stories by Glenda Reynolds? Go to Write On (an Amazon writers' platform) and read Short & Twisted Tales. http://amzn.to/2iS2fId