“What’s wrong?” His voice growled but held a tinge of watery burbles. “Where is our baby? I heard birthing cries earlier.”
“They took him Wikatcha. When I birthed our baby they never gave it to me. The medicine mother took the child straight out to mother and father. My parents want to drown our baby, like a kitten!”
Wikatcha sighed and held the trembling woman close. She felt frail, weak, and the scent of blood still clung to her. He wondered if his bride had even been allowed the dignity of cleaning up the birth blood.
“I will not let them. He or she is our kitten. I will take you both away. Keep you both safe. I am sorry. I hoped that you wouldn’t have to make a choice between…”
She sobbed quietly and he bit his inner lip, holding back the way he felt about those who gave this maiden, now mother, life. Resolutely, he nodded.
“Are you strong enough to go to our meeting place on your own?”
Sniffles now, but she nodded. “Yes.”
“Go. I will fetch our child and meet you there. Hide. Let no one see you.” Wikatcha took off one of the strings of beads around his neck and looped it instead around her own. “No one, until I say. It is safer.”
She nodded and turned wobbly, slow, painful steps away. He watched after her a moment, his hands wishing to float after her and steady her, or to sweep her up. There was no time though. His own struck for the village. Muscle, bone, and sinew flowed into a new form and soon the water cat stalked his prey.
It did not matter to him if she was not far enough away to hear the screams that would come. It would hurt, he knew, but it would also bring her a strange form of peace. He poured silently along the path. His nose knew where to go and the village never moved anyway.
It was the inhabitants themselves. He needed only three. With that thought he caused the waters to rise and smiled grimly as it reached the first of the dwellings.
Wikatcha found the ones he sought by one of the streams that fed into the lake, higher up the slopes. A squirming bundle squalled with a cry far more like his own. The humans shifted nervously as they tried to quiet the child and attempted to decide which of them would do the unspeakable deed.
“You are her father, you made the most noise about what happened!”
“Wife, you are her mother. Surely then this proclivity is from YOUR side and is YOUR duty to expunge.”
“Expunge indeed. You blame ME, as if that… that… thing hadn’t tricked her, us all, into thinking him human and a suitable suitor.”
“Then the medicine mother.” Her father’s dark eyes turned on a woman half a generation older than himself. “You did not tell any of us. Did not know at all with all your powers he was one of THEM.”
The medicine mother’s voice was low. “I would have taken care of it in a better way if you had not insisted on this fashion. If you would go I could take care of this without anything spreading to you.”
“I can’t trust that you wouldn’t be fooled. It is a baby, but it is one of THEM.”
“So you think that a baby would trick me into what, exactly?”
Was that hidden anger in her voice he heard, anger he smelled as her eyes bored into the man that would kill his own grandchild? Could she be an ally, or at least someone that would not commit such an act if she had the opportunity not to?
He stalked as silently as he could. They may not hear him but surely they would know he would be looking for revenge. It puzzled him how they could be so loud knowing this.
“I don’t know. Into not killing it maybe, or perhaps just leaving it on a stump and risking that one of THEM would find it.”
He wasn’t going to wait to find out how the argument went. Wikatcha took his chance and pounced. The water cat mauled the male while his mate’s mother fled with high screams.
Once he was satisfied his adversary was lifeless his golden eyes fell on the medicine woman by the water. The baby had stilled and the bundle no longer squirmed. She stood with her back to the water. His mate’s mother was nowhere in the vicinity.
“You never intended to kill the child, did you?”
If she was unnerved by human speech rolling from the mouth of a drippy puma the medicine mother did not let it show. “No, not if I could help it. I was going to hide the baby, say it died to keep her parents from learning, and then later smuggle both mother and child out somehow. It… did not work that way. The birth was too loud.”
He nodded. “She thinks you were in league with her parents.”
“I can understand why. You will keep her safe? It’s not safe for her now.”
“I will. They will live with me. My home is ready to support your kind now.”
“You will have to do more than that long term. Children always want to know where they came from, and wives eventually wish to see old faces. You will have to make them part of your world eventually, properly.” She was so much younger than he, but going by her eyes she was so much older than he.
“I love them as they are.”
“That is good. However we both know that your kind are much the same way and fear what they should not.”
He sighed and regained his human shape, gently taking his child from her. “I will discuss it with her.” He looked at the medicine mother, her white hair and lining skin. “Will there be trouble if I let this one’s grandmother live?”
“I will see to it that there is not.”
Wikatcha nodded tiredly.
“I will still punish the others. They have to be reminded of how to treat their children. There is a flood. It will continue rising until I am satisfied the baby and my mate will be safe and they have paid enough for how they treat those that are different.” The blood in his mouth cloyed and he had no wish for more. Silently he made his way toward where he hoped his mate was safely waiting.
This was intended to be a much shorter flash fiction but turned out to be larger and more detailed than I expected. Wikatcha is an underwater cat the Creeks of North America tell tales of. He is said to live near the town of Coosa. The version that they tell states the survivors of Wikatcha’s flood founded Tulsa.
You can listen to this read here: https://youtu.be/BbHOb4vj3S4