It has been many years since the village found an oracle. The strange creature with scales like a dragon is said to have the power of prophecy and to make strong and wise any who would eat it. Suah's father, Rashidi, is the village medicine man and would offer up the oracle in sacrifice to the elders. Suah, however, has different plans and soon he and the oracle are struggling for survival in the wilds, far from home with only each other to rely on.
Learn more here about this book's voice actor, Howard Wilson, and enjoy the audio sample below.
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The four men moved silently in the night. The moon and stars were obscured by storm clouds that had yet to birth lightning, thunder or rain. Rashidi led the other three through the scrub and trees. He wore his ceremonial cape across his shoulders and bore his staff in his left hand. His guardians, warriors of the village, each carried a long spear. In addition, the first bore a small cage, the second a weighted net, and the third a folded tarpaulin.
The three warriors had accompanied Rashidi on many such walks in recent weeks. All three knew what he sought and all three had little faith he would find it.
Rashidi, however, felt certain this night would be different; this night they would not return to the village empty handed. He stalked quietly ahead of the warriors and listened for the slightest sound that would mark their prey. He was tense. He could feel the building charge of unspent lightning and the weight of the rains to come.
He forced himself to breathe deep, to step carefully and with purpose, to remain focused and calm. Much depended on his success. Though already deep into the rainy season, his village had seen not a single drop. The elders and the villagers were nervous. They wanted answers. They wanted hope.
Rashidi froze. Ahead, above and to his right he heard the faintest rustle in the branches of a tall tree. He strained his eyes against the dark and, as if by command of his will alone, the clouds parted in front of the moon. Thin beams of pale light shot through the thick cover of leaves.
There in the moonlight, Rashidi saw the scaled round shape he sought. Without taking his eyes off the beast, he gave a short quick whistle and signaled with his hand to the men that followed him.
There was no hesitation, no question what was needed of them. The first dropped the cage he carried, took careful aim, and loosed his spear. It struck, stuck and shook hard the branch where the creature sat. Though it had claws and a tail holding firm to its perch, the force knocked it free and it fell toward the ground.
In anticipation, the second warrior had thrown his net only a moment after the first had launched his spear. It flew true and in mid-air wrapped tight its target. The beast hit the ground with a thump that cut through the silent night.
All four men rushed forward. The first warrior brought the cage and opened it for Rashidi who bent, picked up the entangled and struggling creature and placed it quickly inside. The third warrior shook open the tarpaulin and covered the cage.
Rashidi gave the three young men a smile and a nod. He could tell they were a little embarrassed for having doubted him, but they had acted quickly and had not failed. He would tell the elders and all the villagers of their prowess this night.
Thunder rumbled far off in the distance and the clouds once again obscured the moon. Rashidi picked up the cage and headed for home with the three young warriors close on his heels.
Rashidi stepped out of the night and into the firelight that filled his hut. It was small and sparsely decorated, but was solid and well made. The mud and grass walls kept it cool when it was hot and warm when it was cold. He built it himself when he was a younger man and his wife was full with their only child. Those were happier days.
A quick glance around the single room assured him all was well. There was wood enough on the low fire and the furs atop the small sleep mat gently rose and fell with the soft breathing of his son. Rashidi stepped quietly out of his dirty thin-soled sandals, leaned his staff against the wall and set his covered bundle on their small table.
In the moment it took for him to remove his cape and drape it across one of the two chairs by the fire, Suah was awake, out of bed, kneeling by the table and peering under the tarpaulin that covered the reed cage.
"What is it, Bapa?" The boy's voice though hushed was thick with curiosity.
Rashidi did not turn, but instead bent low to gather a bowl and a spoon from beside the fire. He couldn't help but be proud at how quietly his son had moved from his bed to the table. He hadn't heard the slightest noise. As he spooned his meal from the pot hanging over the fire into his bowl, Rashidi replied, "Why are you not sleeping, my son?"
"I was Bapa, but you stomp through the hut like a parade of elephants."
Rashidi smiled, shook his head softly side to side and chuckled quietly to himself. He pulled the second chair from beside the fire and sat down at the table opposite his son. As he set his bowl beside the covered cage he said, "You sounded like your mother then, Suah."
"Yes, yes, Bapa. And you see Nana in my hair and in my eyes and when I am angry and my whole face frowns. But what have you found Bapa, what have you brought home?"
Rashidi placed his hand atop the coverings to prevent Suah from lifting them off the cage. The boy looked up and met his father's eyes.
Lightning flashed, the fire cracked and Rashidi whispered, "I have found the oracle."
When Suah saw that his father would not remove his hand from the covering on the cage, he moved to sit on the floor before the fire.
"When last was the oracle seen, Bapa?" Suah asked.
"When I was a boy, my father told me stories that were old when his father told him of the last time the oracle was brought to the village."
Suah bit his lip and his brow wrinkled as he tried to measure that span.
"Will the rains come now, Bapa?"
"So the tales say and so the people believe," Rashidi replied.
"Don't you believe, Bapa?"
Rashidi turned in his chair to face the fire and his son. "I believe it is a good omen that I have found such an elusive creature. I believe the oracle will give our neighbors hope and once he has been cooked and stewed and rests in the bellies of the elders, our people's faith in them will be renewed. Hope and faith are good things Suah."
Suah's eyes widened and his lips parted to form a tiny circle before he spoke. "Why would a stew and the fat bellies of the elders give anyone faith, Bapa?"
Rashidi stifled a smile and chided his son. "Have respect Suah when you speak of the elders." Suah only sat silently staring at his father, thin lipped and arms crossed just as his mother had always done when she was displeased.
When he saw that Suah would not relent, Rashidi explained. "It is said the oracle is very wise and can speak to the earth and the trees as well as the wind and the clouds. When the trees are thirsty and the earth is dry, he can ask the wind to bring the clouds and ask the clouds to release their tears."
"His wisdom is bound up in his flesh and by eating him, the elders will bring that wisdom into themselves."
"That is silly. You don't believe that Bapa, do you?"
"Suah, it does not matter what I believe." Rashidi patted his knee and his son moved from the fire and climbed into his lap. Looking down into his eyes, Rashidi continued. "Nor does it matter what you believe. It is what our people believe. It is my duty, and someday will be yours, to nourish that belief so that their hope and faith may live and grow."
"And how will I do that Bapa when you would cook what may well be the last oracle? Besides, who will talk to the trees and the earth and the clouds and the wind when he is eaten?"
"Suah," Rashidi replied growing frustrated with his son's debate, "the beast in this cage is but a scaled anteater. It no more talks to trees than I do. My duty is to draw upon all the stories of our people to comfort and guide them."
"I will present the oracle to the village and cut him up for the stew so that our neighbors can be calmed until the rains finally break and end this draught."
Rashidi stood and carried Suah back to his sleeping mat. "When trouble next comes to our village, I will draw upon another of the stories we tell to see our people through."
As he put Suah back to bed and pulled the coverings over him, Rashidi comforted his son saying, "As for this being the last oracle, have no fear. I will teach you how to find a scaled anteater just as I have done, should you ever have need."
Rashidi returned to the fire and gathered his cloak. "Now sleep, Suah. I must speak with the elders and prepare for tomorrow. There will be a gathering to view the beast before the feast." His dinner uneaten, Rashidi slipped on his sandals, took up his staff once more and departed, leaving Suah alone with the oracle.
Amanda is a talented, young, award winning artist and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a recipient of the Dali Museum surrealistic art award and was recognized as an emerging artist in the 2012 Tampa, FL Gasparilla Arts Festival.