MAHUIKA • by Eugen M. Bacon

SHE FELL from the sky, a daughter of the sun. She was many forms, how fiery. In Phoenicia, she wore a flame of feathers and lived as a phoenix. In Persia the thunderbird built a nest and burst into fire, and regenerated as a cosmic serpent. In West Africa, she was first a leopard and then a goldsmith who forged an iron sword for the Fon people, before she destroyed the divine tool in a blaze. In Greece, she found logic in the bed of Apollo, and then illogic that caused her to make fire in a sacred place that was the Oracle of Delphi — it melted. In her fifth birthing, she took the form of a human, and found a website.

***

Scorcher sat behind the wheel on Coral Bay along the peninsula. Winding roads swept past Kauri trees and kopi, and toppled towards the coastline. You faced out the window, silent, as the car juddered after a van with a sign: How’s my driving? Call 0800 BE AFRAID.

***

Basque — her online handle. No spas, massages, spooning or watching DVDs on the couch. She adored sunlit beaches, a hearty laugh. She sought someone who didn’t stress the small things, her profile. She didn’t ask what you were wearing within nine seconds of your instant chat. There she was, a brand new someone in blonde shades gazing at you right there on your screen. She was hotter than your ex. A whole day eyeing your cell phone, Beethoven’s Fifth: the arrival of her text.

***

On Little River Bay you sank bare feet through the opulent gold of hot, wet sand. Sweat made silhouettes of the contours of Scorcher’s skimpy undies and her braless torso through her ankle-length sarong, enveloped by shimmering air. She was Mahuika, your fire goddess. Her fecund laugh accompanied malevolent surf that washed you toe to crown. You tried swimming in a humping sea but the water’s resistance, the mercury in your shoulder, the mallet in your head … it was a swim through a rock. Ashore, one look at Scorcher and your sun shone through her eyes. Life without her didn’t bear thinking.

***

But her temper! First time she roared, a pillow away, a boulder entered your stomach, and cuddled. You stared at the roar like it was a stray animal, a jackal or a serpent, wilderness sprung into your world. You gazed at the night long after the roaring. You questioned ‘in sickness and in health’, asked yourself over if you were ready. You understood, with her, you didn’t know what you were getting. As your mind formed the right answers, Scorcher laid her head on your chest, shone stars through her eyes.

***

Moon — a powerful arbiter of relationships. The astrocentre assured compatibility, there you were, two water-signs in the Western horoscope: Scorpio and Pisces. In touch with your feelings. The Chinese zodiac told the story different. Scorcher was a fire tiger, her personality intense. You were an earth monkey, your nature playful. Your witty barbs speared the delicate ego of a tiger. Yet within your cosmic elements it was an affinity relationship: fire generates earth. You listened to your soul and behaved young again.

***

Her rage! Second time she roared, you stayed away three nights, five hours, thirty-six minutes and one second. Rewiring put such rapture in your body, it was minimising to think of it as a melt in your thighs and your buttocks and your big toes, but you did.

***

On the way to Track Bay in a ferry, you watched as sweltering wind whipped Scorcher’s sand-speckled hair. You walked hand in hand a mile down the cliff, and gathered oysters, scallops, mussels and pipi — bleached as Scorcher’s hair, fair as her eyes. Later you wore towels around your waists, wolfed eggplant chips with the shellfish at the terrace bar with pohutukawa trees, pheasants and tui in bush clad hills out yonder.

***

Her vicious! Third time she roared, on a narrow and twisty road, her unreachability made you ravenous.

But you said, “Stop the car. Put me on a beach.”

“Your best work right here,” she said.

Tears stuck in your eyes as you walked barefoot with mercury rising, the sand heating. You were like a cat on a tin roof when Scorcher chased after you, promised stars with her eyes.

Soot in your heart, you kept walking. You wondered how it was that she burnt everything she touched. Out in the horizon the cheet cheet of a piwakawaka; no sight of the bird anywhere.


Eugen M. Bacon is a computer graduate mentally re-engineered into creative writing, and has published over 100 stories and articles. She has a creative non-fiction book out with Palgrave MacMillan in 2017. Eugen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Award Winning Australian Writing, AntipodeanSF, Andromeda, Aurealis, Horrified Press anthologies, Meniscus, TEXT, through Routledge in New Writing, and in journals and magazines worldwide.


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