Title: Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun
Author: Kali Kucera
Genre: Mythical Realism
Author: Kali Kucera
Genre: Mythical Realism
In a time when supernatural and industrial worlds are staged to collide, an Andean boy finds himself in the center of an epic struggle between the cosmos and the earth. Unawqi is born with both insurmountable power and a fate of certain death, both of which are challenged by his hunt of the emperor, Aakti, the Sun: the very force that desires to abandon the earth unless Unawqi can overcome him.
Premise: How easily we take the Sun for granted. We are conditioned to its rising and setting on time, and assume it enjoys doing so, or more likely is indifferent. Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun reveals a more perilous tale: the Sun, Aakti, is a being who is a reluctant player in providing light and warmth to our world, and even more has always desired to leave us to die if he didn’t have certain personal complications standing in his way. Aakti will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if that involves murder of his own kin or annihilation of an entire living planet. Ironically, what holds him back is the very life he is creating; the family from which he tries to but cannot wrest control, and among them a young intrepid boy emerges, a hunter who sets out on a journey, not to stop the Sun, but to overcome him with a force we also take for granted: our humanity.
Beware the empty chair.
It was the only one unclaimed in the room of hungry diners in the basement of St. Rita’s church in Tacoma. The legs were slightly turned out, as if an invisible waiter had pulled it back to let me slide in.
Guilt had gotten the best of me to be there in the first place. It was Thanksgiving morning, and a day earlier, my neighbors, who were never ones to shirk a promise, came to me with panic on their faces. Their son’s house had burned down, they said, and they needed to leave immediately.
I gave them my sympathies, but something else was bothering them still. They had obligated themselves to help prepare free breakfast at St. Rita’s in the morning, an annual tradition for the city’s homeless. I tried not to wince at the pious sound of it all, but I could sense what they were leading up to and I remembered the many times they'd watered my garden when I was out of town. I knew my morning would be free before needing to drive to my aunt’s house for our family dinner, so, of course, I told my neighbors I would be glad to fill in for them and they should think no more of it.
Never having even been to St. Rita’s, I was loathe to socialize and threw myself into the work, but after a couple hours of scrambling eggs, I was impressed by my neighbor’s commitment to do this year after year. My feet felt like two ends of a barbell, and I was just about ready to grab a plate myself and take a break.
If I had not been so tired, my finicky nature would have guided me to pass up the solitary chair and look for a less conspicuous corner of the room where perhaps there were fewer people. The less forgiving angel on my shoulder bit me with the words: “You hypocritical, insincere, lazy ass.” It was right. The people were streaming in through the door. Most had no home, no job, and no money. Their bodies told their stories of broken dreams, crippling work, and damaged minds. And here I was, fancying an emperor’s throne somewhere, so I could separate myself off to swallow my grits and baked apples?
The lonely chair in front of me could have been reserved for someone else, so I asked the person sitting on the opposite side of the table if it was taken. He said no, gestured for me to claim it, and I sat down with my plate and coffee without giving it another thought.
It wasn’t until I looked back up that I noticed something about him seemed out of place. I glanced at him across the table as he salted his eggs, observing how his right hand moved gracefully to the shaker. He had none of the typical displays of mental edginess. He was not disheveled, or weary on the brow. His hair was combed, and he wore a leather jacket that didn’t bear a single tear. His eyes were calm, like having emerged from a prayer, and he was happily occupied with his own thoughts.
But his left hand remained fixed in place on the table, appearing to be hiding something underneath his palm.
I must admit, it was also plain to me how strikingly handsome he was. His jet black hair, and his face with the sheen of a brown eggshell suggested he was Latino, and I wondered what had brought him here, far from where he might have been born.
Normally, it’s prudent in these settings not to ask. People are scarred enough by their circumstances and they don’t want to be interviewed as the price for their meal. I wanted to protect his privacy and let him eat in peace, and in my own defense, didn’t want to unleash an emotional outbreak. But still, his appearance challenged me, and his seeming self-confidence broke through my etiquette, and I asked him that inadvisable question anyway: “So, what’s your story?”
His face sprung up like a soldier’s salute and he gave me a smile, wide with contentment.
“I am Unawqi. I am hunting the Sun.”
It was such a terse thing to say, and he was so oddly composed in saying it, that I could only smile and nod back, disguising my disappointment, sure he was just as crazy as the rest, albeit happily crazy.
I thought some more about the strangeness of his name, sounding out the phonemes in my mind. Was it Finnish or Japanese? Apache, perhaps? A second later I thought again that maybe he was making a clever joke in order to break the ice. After all, Tacoma has plenty of days of being overcast with gloomy clouds refusing to budge, and talking about the weather is indeed how we all usually start a conversation. So I returned to him again and said, “Yes, the Sun has a lot of good hiding places in November.”
Unawqi dropped his fork on his plate and his eyes bore into me as if I had just given him the key to paradise.
“So you have seen him?” Unawqi beamed.
Regretting, now, that I had not taken the warning sign of the empty chair, I searched my mind for an excuse to get up and return to the kitchen. But before I could finish my breakfast, Unawqi had lined out enough of his story that I found myself not only glued to my seat, but devoid of any fatigue or hunger but for the feast of his very next word.
I fell in love with Unawqi instantly, as I imagined everyone did. In the first thirty minutes he made me laugh more than I had over the course of a year. It puzzled me how such an energetically positive young man could end up in a basement of broken heartedness, but this only compelled me to listen all the more.
I wouldn’t be telling you this story if Unawqi was, in fact, merely making a joke about the weather. His opening line was literally and plainly what he'd meant: he was a hunter, the Sun was his prey, and his extraordinary pursuit, which had begun ages ago, had finally brought him here, to Tacoma, of all places. And it was here, in Tacoma, that he was just as zealous as he had always been to see his hunt come to an end.
Naturally, I had to ask why would one hunt the Sun, and this was when his story grew more complicated, his face showing pain, at many points, as he struggled to justify the emotional struggle of his journey.
He set his plate aside, for the heaviness in his heart overtook any appetite he had left, and he reached out and took my hand, asking me to listen.
“Think back, if you will, to the first time your father took you for a walk in the night. The darkness, how it horrified you. It swallowed you whole, and the only link you had to the light was the touch of your father’s fingers in your palm. So small and tenuous a wall, you remembered, separating your life from your death.
"For a brief second he let go of your hand, to, instead, put it on your shoulder, and in that moment you felt what it was like to be forsaken. You cried out in terror, and even when his hand returned, you realized it could leave again, throwing you into the vastness of space to be on your own.
"Still, he urged you to continue, to go further, deeper into space, farther away from home. So you trusted him again, and you walked together until you shivered from the cold.
"But for some reason still a mystery, imagine that he truly chose to let his hand go, and his voice to go silent. You would pray it wasn't true, that he must soon return, and yet he would not. No matter how many times you called, he would not answer. He just left.
"This time you would be all alone, a boy, abandoned to face the boundless night, led to the loveless abyss, rejected by your own genesis, without a compass or line to find your way back.
"No greater a cruelty can be imagined than this. But this is just between one father and his son. How much greater is the cruelty when the father casts a million sons, indeed, the whole world, to the abyss?
"That is the crime. That is why I'm here.
"But there is more, for now the father is no less the boy, and the boy no less his father.
"We are all in danger of casting each other out.”
Unawqi told me he was not hunting for sport or pleasure. He was a bounty hunter of sorts, and the Sun had committed a crime against humanity, a preconceived crime that had not yet come to pass, but still could, if the right conditions were met. It was a crime that Unawqi said he himself needed to overcome. Indeed, that we all must do the same, at some point or another.
My mind came around again to his left hand, which still had not moved.
“And what is this you’re keeping?” I asked.
“Oh, this,’’ he answered with a little chagrin and lifting his palm. “This is a gift. A little silk worm I hope will bring me good fortune and make things right.”
The tiny insect was crawling around in a nest of straw, making spindles of silk that played with the overhead light. This smallest of living things, manufacturing the miraculous in the middle of such a somber place, enchanted me to no end.
Unawqi, of course, wanted to protect it, which is why he kept it covered so securely. His hand was its shelter, its mighty fortress, and he would be certain to never abandon this creation for as long as he lived.
His story would not have come from Finland or Japan or the mesas of Arizona. His beginning belonged to a patch of green, high in the Andes, where farmers herded goats, and unearthed potatoes, when they were not dancing to the sounds of their magical flutes. It was a peaceful place, and he longed to return home, as soon as he was able, but only if he could bring the whole world home with him.