Story by David Shifflet

There are places in this world where there is no emotion described as happiness. There is no reason to smile or laugh, no time to enjoy being alive. And there is no music. Dirt fills the air they breathe, no grass to comfort their bear feet. Heat that stings comes from above, but never rain to cool. There are places where all the people know how to do is work and then die.


            There is a man who knows the suffering of the world. He sits naked upon a boulder in the midst of outstretching grey. His name is Kimba. He knows this only because it is what his mother once called him, before she died. He thinks of her now, trying to remember her face, tries to draw it in the dirt with his finger. Kimba stands, surveys the lands before turning towards the sun.

            “You have returned! What have you brought us today?” A man, black skinned and wearing a skirt made of grasses, approaches Kimba with stern eyes.

            “There is no food here. The land is dying.” His pleading carries to the man’s heart.

       &nb sp;    “I know this.”

            Kimba’s tribe has been unable to relocate to more fertile lands because of their low supply of food. The lands surrounding are known as the ‘badlands’, separating them from the rivers.

            As the sun sets on the small village, Kimba ducks into a poor room with a bed made of leaves, and sleeps.  In the night there are the noises of animals hunting and dying. Large black beetles crawl into the homes and make nests.

            Kimba has been tasked with finding food buried in the ground of the badlands. Early in the morning, before the sun rises, he goes away from the safety of his family. He sees them working on safer tasks than his own. They stay near to each other, but Kimba stays far because of his mother. He cannot see her face, but her words stay with him.

            “Child, do not live in your life in fear. Live fore a purpose. Our people will not live without your aid.” She had a beautiful voice. Kimba thinks of her as he walks along the hot, grey plains. The rotting remains of an animal poke u p from the ground. Nothing is left on the pale bones. Tracks left from the night before catch Kimba’s attention, and he follows them eagerly.

            There is a depression in the cracked earth. Water was once here, but no longer, only the traces remain. Kimba sits near and soaks his feet in the mud.

            Kimba remembers once sitting by his mother and listening to her play a small instrument. She was one of the few people who could play the music. She used to say that music was special because of the joy others felt towards it. But some did not feel that way. The tribe’ leader thought that music was unproductive. Playing all day like a child made her useless. Regardless, she kept on playing. She was the only person in the village who ever had shown love to Kimba.

            Kimba took the mud into his hands. His thumbs smoothed over it, and made a small sphere. His mother’s instrument had holes in it, on top and two more on bottom. She would blow into the side and noises would come out. Kimba tried to make the basic shape, but his hands fumbled. His memories danced around the face of his lost mother.

        ;     Kimba remembers why both his mother and father left him. When the village chief declared that no longer acceptable, his mother had spoken out. Enraged, the chief took the infant Kimba from her arms by force, while the father was restrained. She was taken away form the village. Her husband became mad and killed a man, and for this he was beheaded.

            This story has been told to Kimba ever since he was a child, countless times. He looks into his hands to see a squat little ball not resembling his mother’s instrument. The sun began to lower in the sky, so Kimba returned to his village, empty handed, except for the clay. The chief approached him at the village gate as always. He sees that there is no food, and walks away from Kimba.

            Throughout the night, Kimba fingers the clay mud into shapes. He discovers many things with the clay, but is unsuccessful at reproducing the instrument. He does not remember how his mother’s instrument had worked, so neither does his. Frustration drives him to tears. The next morning he awakes, slumped over his pottery. Kimba must spend his time in the badlands where fewer and fewer edible plants or animals appear. On the third day of searching, Kimba stumbles upon another mud pit. His head swims with colors reflected from the su ns rays. Bugs bite at his skin, his head is on fire, there are birds in the sky that circle him. A brightly colored songbird flies down next to him and calls to him with rhythms produced from empty air. Kimba mindlessly fingers his clay as birds circle, blocking out the sun until he is in all darkness and falls over blind. “Mah head’s on fire.”

            “I know child.”

            “Is that you, mother?” He opens his eyes to a dark face looking down on him. A man besides him, they are in his hut. The man sees that Kimba is awake, and then he leaves. Kimba raises his hand to wipe his sweating forehead. In his hand, clutched tightly, is a small clay flute like instrument. He smiles toothily and sleeps once more.

            Kimba rests for a day until he can walk, then he sets out to search for food once again, his clay instrument held safely around his neck by a string. He knows to stay far from the village before trying his instrument, so that the sound does not carry. He walks with out stop to reach a safe place, melodies filling his mind, his mother’s song in his ears. When he feels safe enough, he raises the instrument to his lips and blows out a sweet sound. The wind stirs around him, rustling the bush trees. With changing notes swimming in the air, the melody of his mother rings out. Kimba’s heart beats in harmony with every note. The beating of one thousand hearts of the savannah drums to the sound. Kimba plays his instrument and his memories of the past return to him. His mothers face, her words, why she and her husband were brought to death. And one other thing, a feeling, a pull toward the north. It was as if someone was yanking on his chest to move him, but the badlands surrounding were filled with danger. Tall mountains with deep valleys dotted the north. Kimba shot a glance back at his village before walking north to the mountains.


            Along a rocky ledge, Kimba balances delicately above certain death. His feet grip the earth. His hand reaches for a safe passage, his heart drums in his ears fast and sporadic, and all things trying to remove his mother’s rhythm from his mind. He reaches for a handhold, but the deceiving shadows trick him and he falls. The ground approaches his to smash his body; Kimba grasps a perched rock with flailing arms. With great effort, he pulls up. Kimba lays on his back, breath gone, body drained. As night falls, the air begins to freeze. Kimba is alone on the mountain, shivering. He knows he cannot stop moving or he will surely be dead. He begins climbing up the cliff side hand over hand.

            There is a light coming from above. A fiery glow and black smoke comes from above. Kimba smells the fire burning, and he knows that his prayers of warmth are answered. He stalks quietly towards the camp. A strange man lies by a campfire, a spear near his hand. Kimba stops to watch the man. He doesn’t move, or notice Kimba. The promises of heat overpower him, daring him to step closer. In a sudden burst, the man notices Kimba and grabs his spear. He stands defensively, pointing the spear at Kimba.

            “Who are you? How did you find me?”

            “My name is Kimba, from the south. Please, I mean no harm.”

            “There is nothing for you here, boy. Leave now.” The man meant to kill, but Kimba decided that without fire or food, death would be upon him by the morning. He pleaded with the man. Kimba had no weapon or way to defend himself. For only a second, the wild man dropped his guard when he noticed the instrument around Kimba’s neck.20“Where did you get that thing, boy?”

            Kimba was taken back by the question. His answer came after thinking for a moment, “It belonged to my mother. I am looking for her.” The wild man looked puzzled. He demanded that Kimba play the instrument. Kimba raised the instrument to his lips and played a haunting version of his mother’s melody. The wild man dropped his guard, a strange look on his face. He dropped the spear and listened closer to the music. The fire glowed in the back, reflecting off of Kimba’s face, the wild man stood entranced. The man slapped at his own legs and chest to make hollow drum beats that matched Kimba’s song. The sounds spread throughout the entire mountain range.

When Kimba ended the song, the wild man asked him, “Where do you know that song?”

            “My mother,” Kimba replied sorrowfully.

            The wild man moved to Kimba and grasped him in his hands. Kimba reacted but was unable to break the grip. The wild man made a noise, unintelligible. Kimba stood there, not willing to breathe. The man looked Kimba in the face for a long time.

            “My mother… plays that song. I know that you are my brother. I know it. You are my brother, and mother has asked me to find you. She said that the music would lead you here!”

            Kimba was amazed at his words. The idea swam in his head for a while, but his body was quickly dragged besides the fire to get warm. The two men rested until dawn, when Kimba was taken down the other side of the mountain to meet his mother. She was awaiting him. At the mountains peak, Kimba could see all things to the north. A valley opened up, a rich field of emerald green. Blue diamonds sparkled in the distance. Herds of animals grazed below. Paradise Eden was unveiled for the first time in Kimba’s eyes. Colors that did not blind, and sun that did not burn.

            “What is this place?”

            “This is home, brother.”           

            Kimba is taken to a village with homes made of adobe. Laughter and the sound of music filled the air. The ground was made o f strange grass that cooled Kimba’s feet and tall trees that shaded him. Fresh waters shone in the sun, and people bathed and drank happily. Kimba knew not of the wonder, but neither would he stop to see them in full. He was led by hand to a home decorated in exotic designs. Kimba entered.

            A hunched woman, dressed in purple fabrics, sat on a bench made of wood. Her home was covered with dozens of clay instruments of varying shapes and sizes. She looked up into Kimba’s face. Tears falling from her eyes.


            “Son, I have waited for so long to see you again. Come closer to me.”

            Kimba held his mother in his arms. She told him many things about the lands. When she had left him, she crossed the mountains just as he had. The small village was only beginning to prosper, but the true beauty made her stay. The people of the land welcomed her and her music. She could play music all day, and make the instruments that she called Ocarina, by night. She gave the people the gift of music and in return she was honored. Now, though, her old age has caught her.

            “I do not have much longer to live, my child. Play our song with me. I heard you from the mountains, and I knew you were coming.”

            Long into the night they played their ocarinas. The village was whole with music, a signal of one sons returning, and a mother passing. The song ended when Kimba’s mother stopped playing.

            Her breath went away.

            The melody echoed into the valley.



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