As usual, the shaman was riding his drum in search of a lost soul-fragment.
Riding it like a fine little pony through the underworld.
He was wearing a suit of sage, covering every inch of his body. Even his glasses were made of sage, with tiny little slits to look out of. To get to the underworld you have to pass through astral planes, and the shaman had stuck his head into the astral plane a while back unprotected (he had awakened and without thinking, still in a hypnopompic state, he had taken a look) and evil spirits had attached themselves to him like flying leeches, and getting rid of them had taken forever, and he didn’t want to chance that again.
The shaman was riding his drum down the street in the underworld in his sage suit and arrived at where the house should be, except it was a parking lot.
He had been warned this might happen. The original, historical, worldly house he was in search of had been torn down and the area turned into a shopping center. From the maps he had studied, the house ought to be right about there, in the parking lot between the office supplies store and the power transformer. The shaman remained calm and began beating his drum double time, with both ends of his stick.
Back in his yurt, the people surrounding him, keeping the small fire burning, watching his breathing, ready to bring him back should he stop, gasped.
What’s wrong? asked one.
Bodhran solo, whispered another.
The shaman rode his drum around the parking lot in a circle. Gradually, the outlines of the shopping center dissolved and an old house appeared. He went inside. The fire in the woodstove had gone out and the house was cold. It smelled of dust, old furniture and cooking grease. He found the soul-fragment standing in the corner of the living room downstairs.
Light fell through the window panes in angles that made no sense, and motes of dust swam in the beams of light.
Hello, said the shaman.
The soul-fragment was a small, black-haired boy with bright green eyes. He regarded the shaman briefly, then turned back to face the corner of the room, hugging himself.
Would you come with me? asked the shaman.
Why should I? asked the boy.
He sent me. He wants you back.
He doesn’t want me back. He left me here. For a real long time.
He wants you back, said the shaman.
Go to heck, said the boy.
I come from there, I believe, said the shaman.
The green eyes regarded the shaman. Are you the devil? Or a demon or something? said the boy.
I am a shaman, said the shaman.
That’s what the devil would say. He wouldn’t say he was the devil, would he?
Look at me, said the shaman. You see clearly. You are awake. Do I look like the devil?
The devil doesn’t look like the devil either. He looks like the angel of light. He looks like, I dunno, a pretty girl.
So am I him, said the shaman.
The boy looked hard. No, you’re not. You’re a guy. What’s a shaman?
Like a doctor, said the shaman. He wants you back.
He doesn’t want me back.
He wants you back. He sent me to get you. He wants to wake up. He wants to see.
I don’t believe you.
Back in the yurt, those watching grew concerned when the shaman’s breathing slowed down so much it was nearly imperceptible. They stoked the fire.
May I take your hand? said the shaman. He stood closer to the boy, and the boy did not shrink away so he took his hand. It was small and light and warm, despite the unheated house.
I promise you he wants you back. He regrets leaving you here and he wants to wake up, but he sees that he needs you to do that.
He said that? said the boy.
The shaman nodded.
I have stood here a long time. A heck of a long time. But you are telling the truth, said the boy.
Back in the yurt, the watchers sighed with relief when the shaman’s breathing picked up, and the drumming slowed back down.
The fire had burned down to glowing embers, so it was not immediately clear when his eyes opened.
Still motionless, the shaman looked around. He was awake, for the first time in a heck of a long time.