Kuma lives on a tiny island estranged from everything. She is a haggard old woman with toasted skin and grey hair to her knees. She curses and spits at the sun and the gods, waving her fist to the sky and screaming. Her eyes are bloodshot, her lower lip hangs below her teeth, and there is bile running rampant through her blood always. Those few that have stumbled on the island fear she is a witch, tell tales of her hut made of victims’ bones, of her necklaces made of human teeth. Those that cross her path are forevermore cursed, scringe out their days in misery.
Or maybe Kuma is the crane. Silver-feathered and luminous, she has lived on the island longer than the woman, is seemingly eternal. She lives atop the mountain, luxuriates in the sun, speaks to the surf and the fauna. Some think she controls the tide, others see her guide the sun across the sky. She spends her days in celebration, every moment a gift. She is silent for the sunset, asleep at dusk, dreaming the night sky. To see her is balance, a conclusion.
Or else Kuma is the mountain. Young but as silent as one would expect, the mountain is a welcome presence by day, an anchor to the island. But in the dead night the mountain dreams, and her nightmares pour down from her sides and terrorize the island. This part of the ocean also dreams, and his dreamstuff is borne from the waves and wages war with the mountain’s. When the dreams are concrete, the wars look like the ones fought by day, but when they are formed of half-realized concepts there is no describing their violent clash and the resulting horrors. The island is traumatized nightly, heals in the mornings. On sunless days it is agony.
But perhaps Kuma is the general. The head of the mountain’s army and the only recurring character in her dreams, she keeps the endless onslaught of the ocean at bay, protecting the mountain from nightmares that aren’t her own. On dreamless nights she steals away from the island on a small boat and pushes against her tether until morning, hoping to find land, or the woman she met one quiet night on the island. Her slow dissolve in the light always leaves a scar.
So perhaps Kuma is the scars of dreams, shared by all of us, invisible in the morning, stabbing dully at us every night, taut and proven and pure.
Illustration by Christina Mrozik