The witch woman had medicinal plants, aromatically pungent, and multicolored vines intertwined within her braided hair. She had sunken features, dark plum hued skin matted with mud. She stared through fiercely judgmental eyes, downward in direction, gazing at a man who was standing just below her doorstep in the shade of the jungle.
“Who's there?” she commanded.
The man, shirtless, his tan torso drenched in blood that looked freshly shed was carrying a wounded man on his back, over one shoulder, and a wooden shield was clutched in his other hand. From the looks of it, the witch could tell that he was very tired, shaken, breathing laboriously. Half hidden by wet foliage, one hand on her hip and facing him was where the witch stood. Before speaking, the man knelt respectfully and bowed his head with the body on his back and all as deadweight, then rose to both feet, straightening his posture. He called out to her in a powerful voice.
“Shini-Tari! Woman of the forest! Sacred witch doctor! I come to you on this night to ask you to save this man. He was fatally wounded in battle and needs healing of your kind. Supernatural healing only you can offer him. I do not have money, but I assure you that I can offer you the eternal gratitude of my people.”
After momentary silence, the witch doctor mumbled to herself skeptically. This night intruder was unwelcome here, yet she seemed unable to stifle a certain curiosity. Perhaps she could...well, she would have to see.
“Is he dead?” she asked.
“Yes," said the man.
"What's your name, boy?"
“Well then, Zang, bring him up and I will take a look,” she said.
Bring him up? Zang thought. Why can’t she come down and look at him on the ground right here? He decided to follow the advice of his fellow warriors back in his native village: "do not question the witch doctor’s requirements, for she has her reasons."
But the woman read his thoughts.
“If have enough strength, you will haul his body up the tree. I will see if I can heal him, but only then! I have not the strength to descend from this tree and I do not wish to leave this tree. There is food and there is water for me to live here. I do not deal with the forest floor. Too many dead things…too much misery," she said.
“I accept this task. I will bring him up now,” he declared.
The tree wasn’t exceptionally inaccessible, nor very tall or broad. It was a simple jungle tree but still of considerable size and breadth. There was also one additional anomaly, being that it was draped in a thick coat of thousands of fully formed spider webs, some quite large, some miniature. The witch doctor was also known as The Spider Catcher, or Arachnid Eater, in some distant villages. Normally, Zang didn‘t have a problem with climbing tree since his upper body was built for it, having been through many battles, and he would normally use a machete to beat away the thick webs in this jungle region. The problem was that he had a human being slung over his back, but alas, navigating through this labyrinth of webs and branches had to be done. Zang had no choice. Collecting himself for some moments, he dropped his shield at his side and began thinking. Should I go up there and break the webs first and then come back down for the man, or will the witch protest? What if I get stuck in the webs? He stopped brainstorming strategies, then began to climb.
His body glowed in the sentient moonlight, slick with sweat and tree sap juice as the man hacked and grunted his way up the treacherous skeleton of the spider tree. The dead warrior over his back was frequently rested upon a branch as Zang ascended to a higher branch and lifted him from there, treating the tree as a platform for lifting and resting in alternating sequences. What felt like dozens of large furry spiders ran up his back and over his neck and face but he paid them no attention, brushing them away. He gritted his teeth, though they were in the process of being flossed by infiltrating gray webs that waned and snuck into his open mouth, intaking deep breaths. He strained and tugged and pulled through grueling movement until finally after over a full hour, the man reached a set of stone steps at the top of the tree, exhausted, and collapsed.
“There is fresh water in a bowl over there. Revive yourself,” the witch said.
Zang obliged, and following a series of incantations and a strange ritual that consisted of the witch smacking the dead warrior in the chest with branches and rotten banana peels, she sat down, fanning herself with a leaf.
“Stand him up,” she instructed. Zang did as he was told.
“Now move away, quickly.”
“But he is dead, he will fall off of the tree,” Zang retorted cautiously.
“Shush! Do as I say or I will banish you from my house and I will eat him.”
As soon as Zang backed away from holding him up, the dead man somehow found balance with gravity, remaining upright, his body swaying, toes and hands twitching erratically. His throat made loud guttural noises before he became full of life again. He vomitted blood over the edge of the tree as consciousness returned with a mystique that Zang would never forget. Suddenly, the man who was alive now ran at Zang with inhuman speed, and without warning he latched his arms around him and body-slammed him down into the jungle periphery below. Zang briefly managed to scream in surprise before his head collided with something in the darkness, most likely a branch, and then fell headfirst onto the hard earth with a snap. Zang's neck was visibly broken, rendering him lifeless.
"What have I done!" cried the witch. She rushed back inside of her house in fright.
The reawakened man hopped down from the tree, landing firmly on two feet. He trotted over towards the man he had recently murdered, and then slowly knelt and weeped at the realization of who he was, a friend and comrade. He mourned in disbelief, clearly unaware of what he had just done nearly moments ago.
“I will heal you. I will go to the Arachnid woman of the forest!” he said, slinging his fallen comrade over his back, retrieving a wooden shield from the ground and headed back up to the treehouse from whence he came, through a path that was recently cut through the spider webs and the labyrinth of branches.
"The witch will be able to help you."
In : Short Stories