Gravity (Flash Fiction)

Preparing the despacho

“You’re dropping down the well?” Lisbeth asked. Glyphs fluttered in agitation around her head, broadcasting confusion and disappointment, anger and bitterness. Beneath her halo, Lisbeth further punctuated the sentiment of her glyphs with a mildly furrowed brow. The effort marred her otherwise placid expression.

“I am,” Ji said with a smile. Glyphs of confidence and comfort blossomed above his head. He reached a tentative hand towards Lisbeth’s arm, but she flinched away from his touch.

“Why?” she demanded. Her face returned to perfect calmness, but the agitation of her glyphs continued.

“Aren’t you curious?”

“No.” She shook her head minutely. “There’s nothing down there. We left it all behind, a long time ago.”

Lisbeth’s response was a familiar echo. No one in Ji’s family or circle of friends shared his curiosity. His planned journey had bewildered and disgusted his entire clan. Their reaction only galvanized his desire to depart.

“You’ll still honor our agreement?” Ji asked.

Lisbeth raised one eyebrow. Her glyphs radiated amusement, tinged with annoyance. “If necessary.”

“Good.” Ji leaned over to brush his lips across his sister’s cheek, then stood and departed his home, possibly forever.

Outside the biome, his pre-programmed body transmogrification began. Ji’s long, delicate bones grew thicker and stronger, his muscles rippled under his skin. He watched with fascination as his prehensile feet lost their additional toes. His nose became more pronounced, as did his brow, and his scalp and face sprouted coarse, dark hair. By the time he floated through the airlock, his nu-human form had reverted to something crass and primitive. Something better suited to gravity.

Ji allowed the ablative armor of the descent vehicle to surround his new body in its swaddling cocoon. The barest whisper of pressure tickled his spine, and then he was free-falling again. Only now his orbit was decaying quickly towards the planet below.

Ji watched with rapt attention as the landscape below him rapidly resolved itself. His armored shell blistered and peeled as it bled energy into the atmosphere, but the cocoon surrounding him sheltered his body from the heat and noise. When his feet finally touched down on the surface, all that remained of his craft were a half dozen ribbon-like tendrils that fluttered lazily to the ground around him and dissolved.

Ji spent a few moments curling his remaining toes into the soft, loamy soil beneath his feet. He took a tentative step forward – his first step ever impeded by more than the barest of microgravity. The thumping of his heel against the ground felt abusive at first, but a few more steps helped alleviate the strangeness. He felt solid and tangible.

With a few intricate gestures of his hands, he dismissed the vestigial augmentations plaguing his body. His glyphs were the last to go, fading from his vision only after he’d assured his internal safeguards that his desire to rid himself of his virtuality cloud was indeed genuine and intentional. When the last glyph disappeared, Ji looked around at his new surroundings, and felt like he was seeing for the first time.

That first night, under stars hazed by clouds and atmosphere, Ji slept for the first time in his life. His dreams were filled with mountains and sunlight, bright birds and crystal waters. When he woke, he was delighted to find his dream and his reality were one and the same.

The hike through the Sacred Valley took more than a week. Ji enjoyed the feeling of the stone roadways  beneath his feet – a network of roads that the Q’ero had rebuilt throughout their reclaimed empire. During his first day of traveling he met a group of shepherds on the road, dressed in their bright weaves and distinctive hats, ushering their alpaca to the local market. Despite Ji’s newly formed body, the shepherds recognized him as a pilgrim from Hanaq Pacha – the World Above. They cooked for him and offered him coco tea. They laughed when he offered to trade his perfectly fabricated clothing and equipment for their coarser, more authentic materials. Laughed, but did not reject his proposal.

Preparing the despachoAfter stopping at the market, one of the shepherds offered to walk the rest of the journey with Ji. Together they passed through Intipuncu – the Gate of the Sun – and descended into the reconstructed estate of Pachacuti, nestled between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu. Alone, Ji climbed Wayna Picchu. At its summit, outside a single, simple hut, the shaman waited for him, smiling and beckoning. Ji joined the man on the ground, taking the proffered coco leaves and chewing on them while the medicine man prepared the despacho. On the ground, the shaman spread a colorful Andean weaving. Incense and flower petals were carefully arranged in a delicate pattern. Another set of coco leaves was presented to Ji, and he dutifully prepared his kintu and returned the leaves to the shaman.

More items were added to the bed of items: nuts, seeds, sweet candies, a seashell, silver and gold papers, confetti,  miniature tin figurines, llama fat, cotton, condor feathers, and more. The items were symbols of every part of the Andean cosmology, each imbued with intent for connection to the mountains and the cosmos. When the shaman was finished preparing the bundle, he tied it tightly, stood up, and held the despacho bundle up against Ji’s body, cleansing him of heavy energy. Then he smiled and beckoned Ji to descend back down the mountain.

Below, Ji’s shepherd companion asked, “Will you return to the World Above now?”

Ji looked up towards where his sister and family were waiting. “No,” he said. “I intend to receive the Munay-Ki Rites. Become a shaman.”

“You cannot stay. You are not of the Q’ero.”

“No. But transformation is possible.” Ji raised his hand and beckoned to his faraway sister. As promised, lightning flickered down from the clear blue sky. Ji cried out in pain and collapsed, unconscious.

When he awoke, Ji’s new life as a shaman began, and he was finally happy.

But his dreams were forever haunted by the fading memory of living above the sky.


Note: this story is inspired by my recent visit to Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley in Peru, and a ceremony I participated in with a local shaman. My story does not do adequate justice to the amazing Andean people and the ancient traditions that still exists in the Peruvian highlands. For more information about the Despacho ceremony, you might want to check out this link:

1 Comment

  • I really, really liked this. Even with your economy of words, you developed strong characters, painted a vivid setting, and gave it a potent theme. So incredibly awesome. What an amazing experience you had, especially to have produced such a powerful story.

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