And there it was, I thought. The word. I took the oil bar firmly in my hand and wrote it over my flat stomach. "LOVE".

I stared up through the slats, and the sun fell in bands upon the word. I decided to nap until nightfall. I didn't dream.

The evening sung with more insects. The shaman's presence woke me. He hadn't said a word. He made a quick gesture with his left hand that I understood to mean, "Follow me." We walked, in-step with one another, toward the communal house, and I noticed the village lay silent. I paused at the doorway and lifted one corner of my tunic. "LOVE". As if to show the stars. The shaman nudged my shoulder, gently cupping a bowl of dark liquid with both hands. I let my tunic fall back into place, and took the bowl from his hand. His nod was simple and certain. "Drink," he seemed to say. I looked into his steady eyes, the bowl pressed against my lips. And swallowed. The drink was bitter, but the taste was not unbearable. I gently stretched, spread eagle, across the bamboo mat he'd laid across the floor. The process had begun.

Pulsating color, a hum. I felt the masculine and feminine harmonize. A hole tore through the roof, through which a thin needle poked around for me. To thread me. I feared it would gauge through me, and for a while, I evaded the tip. But suddenly, I could not move. I could not speak, and could not move. Two sturdy, green limbs held me in place, cradling me, as a thin, luminescent string was picked from my chest and threaded through the needle above me. Out through the hole in the roof it drew me. My vision was pulled from my body as this string, and I was someplace beyond the outer limits of the known universe. Lights and lights and lights flew past as I was pulled. Into a sheath, an unperceived layer that moved rhythmically, in subtle waves, and encased all of everything I knew, or thought I knew. My skin, against this sheath, tingled, and I was threaded through.

I was suddenly in a field, surrounded by shoots of tall, brown grass that stood like men. My vision was not fixed. Instead, the scene and the field revolved like a spinning panorama - one that I was witnessing from a third-point perspective. All was deathly quiet and still until, from a distance, a giant, burning hawk lifted and soared from over a lone, black mountain, sagging and swooping as he turned and flew towards the place I stood. As he approached, he opened his great mouth, not to scream but to release a long, deep human sigh that was both the softest and most bone-chilling sound I'd ever heard. As he drew closer, he sunk sharply towards the ground, as if to land, and time seemed to slow. His motion was suspended. As I watched him fall, my hands were pulled upwards, involuntarily, as if they were being lifted by two invisible hoops. Time was so slow now that the hawk, gliding only a few feet above the ground, seemed to barely move at all. And my feet, too, were laid in the same invisible hoops and lifted from the ground. And I realized I was floating. I could fly. And the burning hawk crash landed slowly, hitting the ground with an eerie, gasping moan - almost like a weak, scared human child. Debris kicked up around his huge, broken form. Red and gold dust rose and slowly fell in his wake, sweeping up fragments of dried and yellow bone, rusted metal, and bands of moving silver, what I sensed was the rapid ticking of streams of digital data. These things fell past me as I floated forward, towards the body of the hawk. I tried to guide my legs to the ground, but they seemed caught in these invisible hoops. I could only go forward or stop to hover. I felt ashamed. The giant hawk was dead, and I could not touch his body. My arms and legs were hooked against the air that held me up. I hesitated above him. His lifeless body was long. The rotation of the field around me allowed me to look upon him from all angles. He had been so beautiful. He must have been 40 feet long. His wings were splayed out, twice the width. He did not move, but every one of his great, long feathers burned beneath me. I watched them burn and change colors: from red to gold to black to yellow, and back again. At that moment, as I lingered there, I let my head fall over him. My long, red hair was a curtain around my heavy face, which felt as hard and dark and cold as obsidian. And I cried. I felt hot tears press around the stone of my eyes, pushing over my cold ocular cavities which did not and could not move, to pour over my hard, black face and spill from underneath the red curtain of my hair. The tears came out like water bursting from a fountain, and drenched the burning body of the dying bird beneath me. The fire of his feathers, that had seemed so alive, were extinguished by these wild, hot, uncontrollable tears, and a cold, gray gust, tight and concentrated, erupted from his back - like a ghost. It rushed through me, breaking away the stone of my face and thrusting back my head. My hair flew behind me, whipping around wildly in the chilling ghost wind. And I noticed, suddenly, that I was nude. My hair had turned to fire. I was a levitating torch. I felt my abdomen burn. The burning split off and spread in two directions. Down my body: it went inside me, intimately, and moved down my legs, to my feet, left to burn slowly at the tips of all ten toes. Up my body: it swirled at my breasts, and up my arms which seemed to stiffen and become very solid and strong. It churned at my chest, ignited my heart, and burned twice as hard up my neck and into my face. My eyes, which had been closed throughout this process, burst open with such intense power and authority that the air and earth shook. It was a tectonic force. My eyes had changed. My pupils were huge, dark, and bottomless. I felt something stirring there - I heard euphoric voices calling there. My irises were an intense, hard gold. Physical gold. My irises had become solid, strong, circular gold gateways that led into the howling, lively world that moved the mysterious dark depths of my gaping, shameless pupils. The gold seemed to extend almost to the edges of my eye. The white was just barely visible at the points, at both edges, in both eyes. I closed them heavy and fast, and held them shut hard, as the burning ignited in my lashes, which turned stiff and gold, like ornaments. Ghost diamonds spun, for a moment, at the tip of each gold lashes, but disappeared into the dark of my eyes as they shot open. I heard a high-pitched bell ring. Ghost diamonds filled the dark holes of my eyes and glittered and rung. My face still burned. Burning lines of concentrated energy moved freely about my face, marking my skin with rich, brown patterning. Pattern around my eyes. Pattern across the bridge of my nose. Pattern across my soft cheeks, and up my jaw. Pattern under my mouth. Pattern on my chin. The burning crept into my mouth and rushed down my throat. I hissed gold steam. My tongue had taken a darker tint. My eyes remained fixed, intense, focussed, burning. The sensation shot sharply upward and hit hard against the roof of my skull. My brain, I felt. It swam in fire, and I could feel it being penetrated from every angle - the neurons all caught flame, and everything burnt. I could remember everything, anything. And another sharp upward thrust of burning - again it hit up against the roof of my skull, but this time broke through the bone, like burning spears forced out in all directions. My hair that already burnt burst into flames a second time, and burnt stronger than ever. The flames fell and cascaded down around my eyes, my face, and over my back. And, suddenly, I was no longer on fire. I was burning, but not on fire. I was steady and alive. And, as I floated there in my new form, I still remembered the hawk. I looked down at him, and watched as all the color drained from him, and suddenly, from tail to beak, he turned gray and grainy, like ash. The gray mound retained the shape of a hawk. Again, I tried to guide my legs towards the ground. I was more forceful this time - more insistent. I fought against the invisible hoops that held me and, with a shrill scream - like that of a hawk - I broke them. And to my surprise, I was still in the air. My limbs were free, I was light, and I could fly. I flew around the ashy form of the hawk, halting at his side, and stepped lightly to the ground. I stood there, in the field, amongst the shoots of grass that looked like men, and suddenly the spinning panorama fixed in one place and panned in. And, suddenly, I could finally see through my own eyes. My new, deep, gold-rimmed eyes. And I could see through the air. Another tectonic shock rumbled from within me and I was in another place - alive again.

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