The last things I remember are trees splintering and slashing at my face, my arms, my whole body, as the elephant crashed through the woods with me on it. Before that, all is a peculiar grey, like a heavy mist over perfectly still water; close-feeling, but still and infinite.
I sit up amid soft, tall grass, and nothing hurts. My skin is nut-brown as I inspect my arms, and I seem to be naked but for a few shreds of fabric. I am, apparently, thin but muscular- as I stand, I can see my ribs, but also the bunched muscles of my chest and belly. There are scratches here and there across my body which bled, but have already clotted.
When I put my hand to my head as I look around, I feel that my hair is matted. My first thought is blood, but my exploring fingers find no wound, and come away clean.
Around me are the trees of some forest, with grasses and flowers in sunny spots where the sun shines through. It's hot. I smell fresh water nearby. It all somehow feels familiar, but I don't know where I am, or what it all means.
"Dēvatva, ātē haiṁ, āpa kī pratīkṣā kara rahē haiṁ... isa saphara taya." ~Divinity, come, come this way... you are awaited.~
The soft Hindi words come from behind me. I turn to see an old man, nut brown like me, only old- skin wrinkled, back stooped, and shaven-headed. He's wearing a saffron-colored robe, which I instinctively know is traditional.
He turns to walk, and I follow him. His pace is slow, and he glances back over his shoulder at me, smiling widely and beckoning. His teeth are yellowed, with gaps; his eyes are rheumy; his joints swollen. He is entirely his smile, and he is beautiful.
Shortly, we arrive at the shore of a lake where others like him wait. They are humming, but stop when I arrive. All turn to look at me.
The old man who led me beckons me to the water's edge. ~Drink~ he says.
I look at the still and gentle lake and can think of no reason not to. I kneel and cup the water in both hands. It is cool, and slides down my throat as delightfully as sweet lassi.
As I stand, the semblance of humanity sloughs away from me- first one new arm sprouts, then a match on the other side, giving me a second pair below the originals. I feel my wings once again push out from my back, and I extend them, enjoying the stretch. As I turn to face the monks, my third eye, in the center of my forehead, opens and sees them as they begin to sing.
"Om Shivaya nahama…" ~Salutations to the Auspicious One… ~
And I know myself again, transcended from the mortal existence in which I had found peace. I turn to the monks, who bow to me, still singing.
I am once again Shiva, and necessity calls me back to all I am.
I move towards the cluster of robed, singing monks, and their faces are suffused with adoration, with revelation, and with selfless joy. I see their ranks part to reveal a blindfolded child with a cloth-wrapped bundle across his arms. He stands trembling- it is because he is weak, and I read the gnawing illness in him through the lines of his flesh. His nostrils flare, his head twists first left, then right, as if to get some sense of my approach. As I come close, he holds the bundle up to me, and his breathing speeds as his arms shake with the effort. The boy says in a thin, piping voice:
“Dēvatva, svīkāra karēṁ!” ~Divinity, please accept!~
I take it from him, and the rough cotton wrapping falls away to leave my hand clutching the shaft of a trident.
The monks fall silent. The boy waits, chin up, trembling. I raise the weapon in my fist to point it at the child. It is now so quiet that I can hear the beating of a dragonfly’s wings in the grass by the water’s edge. I know what I am supposed to do- I am The Destroyer.
I gently thrust the sharp spikes on the end of the trident into the boy’s chest. His mouth forms a perfect O, but not even a breath escapes. The monks, too, make no conscious sound, though I hear them exhale softly, together, as if they were one creature.
But I know that I am also The Transformer, and so, when I pull the trident back out, there is no longer a boy standing there, but rather a short bilva sapling. The monks murmur to each other. The oldest one, he who led me here from where I awakened, is again smiling. ~Divinity has seen that this one made a poor boy, but will make a much better tree,~ he says to the others.
“He will grow into adulthood now, when he would not before have made it a moon,” I say. “He will provide for you and those who follow you in the years to come, paying back joyfully the food and care he received from your hands. Finally, one day, a hunter who flees a tiger will climb up into his arms and make an offering of his leaves, which will break him free from the cycle of life and death.”
The monks hush, and bow to me as if they were again one being.
“Come,” I tell them. “We will ascend to the mountains and you will help me.”
~Help you in what way, Master?~ the eldest asks.
“To learn a new dance,” I respond, and begin walking. They follow, voices by ones and twos rising into song, full of wonder, and we leave the boy-tree behind. He will be a part of the next story, the next dance; but for now, I must consider the shape of the coming age. The music of the monks surrounding me calls for peace, contemplation, and joy.
Those seem a good place to start.
David M. Hoenig is a practicing physician for whom writing is his 'second career'. He's had multiple stories published/accepted to different anthologies with Horrified Press and Zoetic Press/NonBinary Review. A recent sci fi story was published in Nebula Rift Magazine, and he is working on his first novel. Slowly.