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Manuel sniffed the air.
The eastern sky was dark, blending with the grayness of the sea. Manuel—a Wild Human who was superstitious, like all of his kind—wondered if God had thrown up a veil there, to hide some terrible mischief he was perpetrating out in the South Atlantic.
Maybe he would ask God about that, later.
The strengthening wind brought the tang of ozone. Manuel sniffed again and felt momentarily light-headed. There was a storm coming and tomorrow there would be driftwood on the beach, and perhaps pieces of fascinating wreckage. The oxygen-rich air lifted the boy's spirits. He gave a shout of joy and ran across the sand, paralleling the waves, kicking them as they swirled around his ankles and were spent and easily defeated.
Giving the ocean one last kick, laughing, he turned and ran toward the shack that sat huddled under the low cliff. He opened the door and entered—and stopped dead.
Somebody was there. He smelled a presence, and as his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he could see a figure sitting in his only chair. He froze, fearing that it was the strange old woman who had been seen around these parts lately.
But the voice was low and soft, with a Pu'este intonation.
He exhaled, his gaze straying to the place where his Simulator was hidden, but the carefully placed heap of brush was undisturbed.
"Hello, Ellie," he said casually, wondering.
Ellie was safe as a tame guanaco. She was the niece of old Jinny in the village of Pu'este—and, some said, a daughter of one of old chief Chine's more human moments. The chair in which she sat hadbeen fashioned by Manuel from a driftwood tree stump, and her form was soft and sweet against the wizened timber. So far as Manuel could tell in the half-light, she wore very little.
"Manuel . . . ?"
"Yes? What do you want, Ellie?"
She hesitated. Manuel was strange, that much was acknowledged in the village. But for two weeks, now, his body had tormented her with unconscious challenges and she'd felt herself wriggling, her breath coming faster when he was near. That morning he'd passed her on the road, and she thought she'd seen something in his eyes when his gaze met hers for an instant. So here she was. But he was known to be strange.
"I was waiting for you," she said.
Manuel likewise was on his guard. He had his desires too, and a while ago they'd centered on another village girl, a darkly pretty thing called Rhea, after a ridiculous local bird. Recently Rhea had asked, "Why do you keep looking at me like that, Manuel? You want sex—Right, let's get going. I don't have all day." And afterward, when he'd clung to her in affection and gratitude, she'd said, "Get away. You're making me sweaty. Don't you have anything to do . . . ?"
Innocently, Manuel said to Ellie, "What were you waiting for?"
She didn't answer. Instead she asked, "Why do you live here all alone?"
"It's peaceful. I like the sound of the sea."
"You like the sound of the sea." She repeated it carefully, as though it were a foreign language.
"You haven't told me why you're here, Ellie."
"I was curious. You're a strange one, Manuel, you know that? What do you do in church? I saw you coming back. You spoke to Dad Ose up there, but you did something else. You went inside by yourself. You've got a girl in there?"
"I spoke to God. Why did you come here?"
"I saw the clouds and I said to myself, 'I'll see Manuel.'"
"Don't lie to me, Ellie."
"I wanted sex," she muttered. She'd never been ashamed of it before, but now, with this odd youth standing above her, it seemed an inadequate reason for having come. Her body began to cool down. Fleetingly she wished she were back in the village helping fat Chine fight off the encroaching guanacos.
"Is that all?" Manuel seemed disappointed.
"Well . . . It's good enough, isn't it? You do find it good, don't you, Manuel?" She was out of the chair, reaching for him.
"I can't describe how I find it." Millennia ago Wild Humans might have had a word for it, but not now. "I just feel that sex isn't good enough by itself. Just touching for a few seconds and then walking away, like animals do. It's not enough."
"I'll stay the night if you want me to, Manuel."
"That's not what I mean." His gaze moved toward the hidden Simulator again and he found himself thinking of his latest composition. He called it The Storm. It was the best mind-painting he'd ever done, but he still wasn't satisfied with it. "There's something inside my mind that I want to use . . . that I want to give, Ellie. I don't know if I can give it to you. I don't think you'd understand what it was, if you had it."
"Try me. I'm a very understanding person, Manuel. Joao, Pietro, the others, they all say how understanding I am." She was standing very close, so that her hard little nipples touched his chest with their fire, and her lips turned up to his. "Sex is the most wonderful thing there is. It's the best thing we do, better than eating roast peccary, and it makes you feel so good. What's the matter with you, Manuel? I'm prettier than Rhea, surely. You didn't mind sex with her." She pouted. "Aren't I good enough for you?"
"There has to be something more."
"What more can there be?"
"You don't feel anything more?" He took her hands, and now he was the desperate one, trying to see into her eyes in the dim, storm-laden light.
"I feel enough, Manuel. Don't worry." She spoke softly, mimicking his way. If this was how the strange boy wanted it, why not? There were worse ways.
"And what do you feel, Ellie?"
"I need a man, of course. You know."
"Ellie . . . Please go away. Go back to the village. There are plenty of men there." Still holding her hands, he led her outside, where the wetness swept in from the sea, a blend of rain and salt spray, and the horizon was very black. And the air was like whiskey.
Ellie sniffed it and, suddenly exhilarated, tossed her head, so that her hair flew like blackbirds, and laughed. "You're crazy!" she shouted into the wind. "A crazy boy!" Something flashed by; it might have been a Quickly. "And I'm crazy too, coming here. Goodnight, Manuel! Sleep well, and dream of what you might have had!" She made a playful snatch at him but he swung away, smiling too.
He watched her go and wondered at the thing she was lacking, and—of course—regretted not having had her anyway. But he had more important things to do.
Copyright © 1983 by Michael Coney
Posted May 12, 2014
I sit and wait. <br>
My parents have gone. <br>
I feel my brothers and sisters surrounding me, <br>
From where I am, curled up tightly, wondering, <br>
When will I be free? <br>
Free to fly the sky around me? <br>
For that is what I am. <br>
The fierce fighting <br>
The high flying <br>
The unborn predator of the sky <br>
The hawk. <br>
Waiting, trapped, in an egg. <p>
That's one of my more cutesy ones. 'celestial song' is the search. Thank you!