Read People of the Earth Online

Authors: W. Michael Gear

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Native American & Aboriginal

People of the Earth (8 page)

BOOK: People of the Earth
9.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You know, there's one great truth about
life," he said.

"What's that?"

"You have to live before you die."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That whether Warm Fire gets well or his
spirit joins with the earth, he gave all of us something wonderful. He gave you
life and taught you many things that you will know until you die. Like how to
hunt, how to hide your tracks, and how to pick an ambush. He taught you the old
stories of Fire Dancer and of the Power of White Stone Gleaming, who Dreamed a
new way for the People. He told you about the Creator, who made the First
World, and about how First Man led the people through a hole from the First
World to this one. Any life is a gift, Tuber, no matter how long it is."

The boy grunted, watching Bad Belly from the
corner of one eye.

Bad Belly couldn't blame Tuber for
disbelieving his words-—not when they sounded hollow even to his own ear. What
would it be like to lose a father—just like that? But he understood. He could
feel the frustration and anger and fear that filled T. It burned bright, almost
like a physical heat.

I worry about the boy. If Warm Fire dies,
Tuber will never be the same again. The injustice of it will eat at him, sour
in his belly like a runny mold.

Bad Belly tried to grasp yet another gnarled
brush the boy held up to him. "Tuber, that's about enough. We'll have to
get more later. Fortunately, sagebrush grows everywhere. Not only that, but all
the places where we've twisted sagebrush out will grow goosefoot next

"I know."

As Bad Belly turned, he tripped over Trouble
and lost his grip on the fragrant sage. Most of the load tumbled to the ground,
bouncing and rolling this way and that. He sighed as he got his feet under him
and saw the irritation in Tuber's eyes.

"Here, uncle, let me. You can't carry
stuff. All you're good for is to talk to."

Bad Belly stopped short at the bitter words;
the pain in his soul reminded him of a cactus thorn's burning sting.

Tuber looked up, suddenly shamed. "I'm
sorry, uncle."

"No, it's all right. We're all on edge.
When death hangs over people's shoulders, no one thinks right." And
silently he cursed his bad arm.


White Ash wavered back and forth between the
worlds. Just as she dozed, Bright Moon groaned in her sleep. White Ash started.
Each time she started to drift off, something would bring her back to the
endless vigil. The lodge had begun to suffocate her—a cage for her soul,
oppressive, heavy, like a curtain between her and the world. The hunger knot in
her stomach cramped and twisted.

"Bright Moon? I'd give anything to help
you. Anything."

How many times through the years had Bright
Moon smiled at her, love and happiness brimming over in her eyes?

Remember the good times? Do you remember,
Bright Moon? I can see your smile, hear your voice. It lives in my mind.
Remember the time I cut my arm? You made a poultice of holly-grape 1 root and
tied it on my arm to fight the infection. Bright Moon, it was you who taught me
the Songs of the White Clay. You taught me how Thunderbird dove down when the
world was all water and brought up mud for Bear to sit on. Yes, see the twinkle
in your eyes as you tell the stories? See your smile grow wide as you clap your
hands and laugh?

The pain grew inside as she stared at the
bundled shape of her mother and reached over to tuck the hides where they'd
come loose. How many times had Bright Moon tucked the warm furs around White
Ash on nights when the deep cold settled over the land?

"If only I could save you. I'd give
anything—even my soul—to repay you for the stories you told me, for the special
treats you saved. How can you die when I've never had a chance to show you how
much I love you?"

Bright Moon lay silent, mouth hanging open to
expose the gaps between her worn brown teeth.

White Ash rubbed her face, massaging her
burning eyes. If only she could sleep . . . just for a little while.

Eyes closed, she imagined she could see the
glowing coals of the
. The black oblongs of
the hearthstones shimmered in and out of focus, making the shape of a face in
the red-orange background of the coals. Where the sandstone slabs lined the
pit, they looked like rich black hair, shining in the gaudy light.

Why does Bright Moon have to die? The question
repeated in her muzzy head.

“It's all the way of Power.'' The voice rose
hauntingly from the coals.

A flicker of fear tickled White Ash's neck.
"Who are you?"

The voice continued as if it hadn't heard.
“You're the way . . . Mother of the People. They come from the north. You know
them. The ways of the People are changing. You are the future. You stand
between the peoples. You 're the Power and the Dream . . . if you choose.

She stared at the face in the fire and saw a
handsome youth smiling up at her. The golden light of his expression warmed her
weary soul. "Power?"

"The way of the Dream, a path between the

"Who? What are you?"

''All that you are . . . and are not. The Wolf
Dream that Dances fire and Sings the stars. Good and evil. Ecstasy and
suffering. Extend, loosen the bounds of your soul. Feel the One. "

Another voice, that of an old woman, rose on
the wind, whispering through the sage beyond the lodge covering. The eerie call
haunted, lost in reverie . . .

South, ever south we go . . . find an end to
the blowing snow. Death in the high plains. Others come. Our old path they
follow from. Shelters they dig in the ground. Make them like holes in the

Further . . . further south they go. Shelters.

Rock piled high. Raise the infants to the God
in the sky. Earth, hey earth, from it spread.

Raise the underworld from the Dead.

"What's she talking about?" White
Ash cried out, moved by the lilting words.

"Wolf Dream. The Spiral turns, earth and
people changing," the gentle voice prompted. "Yours is the blood of
First Man. You are the Mother of the People. You are the bridge between the
earth and sky. Opposites crossed. Follow the way. Seek . . . seek ..."

White Ash fell into a warm, gray mist that
wrapped around her like marten fur, soft, comforting, and warm. She could feel
a soul, frightened, unsure, hovering close to her. She tried to see, to
penetrate the mist, finding only haze.

“Bright Moon? Is that you? Where are

"She's just beyond the One," the
familiar voice told her. ''Feel the freedom. You and Bright Moon are One . . .
and you are not. You are both hidden from yourselves in cloaks of illusion. You
live the Dream . . until the body fails as hers has done.

"Seek, White Ash. Seek the Power. Follow
the Dreams. The One brought you here. The People change—the Spiral turns. The
way has always been south. Singing Stones knows. Prepare. Dream in the high
places. Singing Stones knows the way to First Man Spirit Bundle.

"When the fire has burned, you are all
that is left. You will be on your own soon. You can become the fire or the
darkness. The Truth, or the illusion. Seek the Bundle . . . seek. ."

The gray mist billowed around her, pulsing
with the beat of her heart. She could feel the soul of Bright Moon passing,
moving around her like stream water around a rock, ebbing away in the gray mist
until nothing remained but a sweet memory.

Pain stitched her back, her head falling
limply forward. With a jerk, she caught herself, blinking awake in the dim
light of the lodge. Before her, the fire had burned to isolated coals. The
first fingers of chill had stolen beneath the hide door. Reflexively she
reached for another knot of sagebrush and dropped it on the fire.

She looked over at Bright Moon. Her mother's
eyes were open and a smile graced her lips. White Ash froze, the Dream
replaying in her mind.

"Bright Moon?" She reached, knowing
even as she did that the woman's soul had departed. She'd felt that flight
toward Thunderbird—shared the warmth of its passing.

"Mother ..." An ache built in her
chest. She clasped Bright Moon's cold hand. In a bare whisper she said,
"I'll miss you. Go in peace."

Weary, so very weary, she reached over and
unrolled her bedding. Building the fire up one last time, she allowed herself
to sink into a troubled sleep. Hints of the wonderful Dream played through her,
like sunlight through breeze-stroked fir boughs. The feel of the One lingered
like the taste of honey on the tongue.

The words echoed in her head. "Seek the
Bundle . . . seek. . . .''


Bad Belly sat with his back braced against the
furs that lined the earthen walls of Bitterbrush's house pit. He'd done his
share in the excavation of the pit. Having only one good hand, he could
nevertheless use his chest against the padded butt of a fire-hardened digging
stick to peel off strips of moist clay. Now he could imagine the soil behind
the hides, still striated with grooves left by the digging. Warm Fire, with
and Bad Belly's father, Cattail, had done the bear's share of the labor,
peeling the soil loose while his mother and his aunts hauled the dirt to one
side in baskets. After the roof supports had been planted in the floor,
stringers had been run across and rafter poles laid from the ground surface
outside to form the slanted walls.
from the banks of the Cold Water had been
cut and packed in. After the willow had been woven into the rafters, grass was
laid over the willow lacing and the excavated earth had been packed over the
whole. Part of Warm Fire's soul had gone into the building of this structure
that kept Bad Belly from wind and weather.

BOOK: People of the Earth
9.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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