“I will follow the white man’s trail. I will make him my friend, but I will not bend my back to his burdens. I will be cunning as a coyote. I will ask him to help me understand his ways, then I will prepare the way for my children, and their children. The Great Spirit has shown me — a day will come when they will outrun the white man in his own shoes.”- Many Horses
Gleams of flames twisting like the knots in our hearts from the fire in the center of the field. My ceremony. My day. All the attention on me that Chiam would much rather have. Tribe members hooted, and hollered before the fire wearing masks of various animals. Plumes of cannabis smoke covered half of the field, and the stench drifted with the wind.
The frills from my dress swung with the whispers, and my hair tied up in a tribal bun knotted like a pretzel. I could make out Paco in a bear mask wearing his familiar pancho weaving his hands back and forth over the fire. They called him the fire weaver making threads out of flame to show our passions in the dark of the moon.
Within his flames weaved a shape of a dancer flowing with the beat of the drum coming from Dayami. I tasted the sweat from other teens in the tribe who were dancing to the rhythmic thrum as well. My bare feet stepped on stones twisting the sharp edges between toes. Hums of songs sifted around me and I felt like a stranger in a new country but there are my people. My people that follow traditions of the old fellows, and speak of stories as lessons.
Our ceremony of the spirit started as a community endeavor and ended with the individual alone. The music, the people, and the smell of grilling buffalo mixed in with the flames. I passed Paco’s weaving fire to make it to mother’s fortune telling before the fire. Her mat a dark blue with a clear ball shining the colors of flames in it.
I sat cross legged allowing the ribbon closer to place a ribbon around my eyes to keep out all distractions. A jarring echo from drums and bell alerted all in the tribe that the spirit ceremony is commencing. Around me silence overcame with only the crackles of our lit fire behind me, and owls hooting atop bare treetops.
Deafening in the silence a waft of half cooked buffalo and spiced potatoes entered my nose. Food of the warriors. “Open your mouth child of Nvda” Grandfather’s booming voice melded with the simmering flames. “Take in the food of our forefathers, and may you be guided with strength, and conviction over pride, and ego on your journey.”
I opened my taste buds to the half cooked food. Feeling it sticky, and hot sliding down my throat. No water. No drinks. For liquid was said to deter your spirit animal. After scarfing down the wretched food I could sense the dying of the fire as people began to leave the sacred fire pit, leaving only the fire weaver, and fortune teller to aide me for only a little longer.
“May your spirit bring you strength my u-we tsi-a-ge-ya,” Her hands yanked me to my feet as they threw me on my father’s horse who had him on it. Tonight began my week long journey, and some say the dead will speak to you, and others say the dead have taken lives out there. If you are not strong, you will not survive says the Cherokee legends.
After a while, I felt my eyes drift like a log upon the ocean. Floating.
My body flung onto cement and I rolled a little scraping my knee on rock. In the back ground, a rushing waterfall caressed a lake, and my eyes blind to space before me. I heard the horse riding away, and felt shivers of cold from whispers of the wind. Dots circled behind my eyelids, and dizzily my mind tried to awake to the strange place.
I ripped the ribbon off my eyes revealing forest all around me. Great. Off to a wonderful discovery. The forest of nowhere. Water accessible middle of nowhere. Maybe I should of attended tribal school…it might have taught me how to survive in a cobweb ridden place of horror.
Slivers of cold caressed my heels. Crickets screamed in mating season, and I could feel my eyes swirling from dehydration. My ears listened to make out the lulling of water coming from behind me. Water. I turned forgetting I was bare foot starting to leap past similar trees, and hit a huge rock a little ways away with my foot. Howling in pain I hopped on my foot trying to assuage it from throbbing with my eyes.
After a second, I began to hum with the owls in the forest trying to not think about the pain as I tip-toed now forward. Along the path slithering from a snake. It writhered along my feet a bright color along the light from the moon. Hissing and curving diving for my toe, impacting two of my toes before being kicked away towards a tree. I heard it scurry away in fear but liquid dripped from my right foot now. Great. Both feet have damage. My first night and it can’t get much worse than this.
I came upon a ledge where the world began to spin like the Earth rotating quickly. I lurched all over grass, and bugs wiping it away with the back of my hand. Slipping to my knees the flow of rushing water quailed my yearning desire to move. Sleep covered me like a comforter. Lulling me into an elusive dream.
Talking animals, and swirls of rainbows is what I expected. Not what I got. I remember waking with my heart a flutter and an image of me standing in a church watching Chilam’s eyes getting gauged out by a ghostly figure. Behind her there was an image of Jesus with blood drooling down from his lips, and a heart that slowly beat to the thrum of drums in the background. The whole ordeal felt surreal.
Sprinkling rays of sunlight graced the puffy clouds passing by. A tiny bird blue bird came swirling over to me poking at my hair as it flew away just to come back. Damn Wa-le-lu. “Leave me alone and let me die in peace.”
I stood up searing in pain, stumbling to the edge of the ledge. Down below, bright clear water is being pounded by the flow of the rushing waterfall. Swirls from fish breathing, and Lilly pads for frogs decorated the water. My eyes shut and I decided to step forward into the air, and dive down into the water. If I was going to sink to my death, or die of poison..I’d much rather die in water.
Cold covered me as my body splashed into the water, and I sunk a little into its embrace. Floating in the water I felt feather’s tickling me along my ears as if nudging me. Whispers in the sea like a young woman tried to encourage me to swim up. Breathe.
I kicked my feet hard moving my arms upwards till I broke out of the clear water. The blue feathered humming bird buzzed around my head as I swam for the rickety shore before me. Its tune like a lullaby sung for a baby. I heaved a sigh pulling my weak body above the water, and back onto slick grass.
I wiped my hands along the grass expecting them to be twisting before my eyes from the venom of the snake fangs. But I saw the stones, and long trees ahead of me as clear as day. My feet no longer hurt but soaked from the chilled water. Exhaustion paled compared to my curiosity as to the little buzzing bird next to my head. Along the path before me small budding pink, yellow, and purple flowers. The North is lucky with all of its land, and cultural flowers that decorated the forest. Here, we only got certain types of flowers that grew year round.
A fragrance of fresh flowers, and dirt sifted into my nose. Great. I’m more lost than I was before in the forest of nowhere. The bird hummed ahead of me leading me deeper into the forest. Traversing along the dirt path, we came upon a giant oak tree. I heard the humming bird as it perched up into a branch. I am your guide through the trials of your heart. For some it takes a week, and for others there are none to be found. But you my dear, and I are bred of the same material.
I looked at the tree for a mere second. A talking tree is my spirit animal? Are trees even animals? My hands touched the tree but no magic, no earth rattling connection like our tales speak of occurred. Just plane bark and fingertips. I heaved a sigh. Can trees even guide? “ How can you guide me if your implanted into the ground six feet under?”
A chuckle like chimes resounded. Sweetie above you. The words echoed in my head, and I swear I’m going mad like Hamlet. My eyes lifted to the little humming bird, and her feathers ruffed up in what could be sass at me. “Your my spirit guide?” I huffed in disbelief. A tiny bird can’t protect people.
I am your spirit animal. Guide you to darkness, and out of it. I am the singer of sorrow, and the sound of joy. My name is not yours to know yet or keep.
The bird’s bright blue feathers spread out only two inches long. Her beak sprouted out as she dove for my shoulder like a personal perch. Pretty sure hallucinations include talking birds. I heaved a sigh. “Alright, twitter bird, tell me what forest did I get thrown into?”
Forest of gods. We call it. Courtesy of what your people call the Un-ne-ga. But in your tradition we are in spirit forest. A boundary between what you perceive, and what is reality.
Walking on past the oak tree, and forward I smelled the aroma of fresh dung, and water coming from the pond behind me. The twitter bird silent as I kept trekking forward hoping it would eventually bring me to civilization so I could eat. Tracking animal shit is not a favorable option for food.
Back on the Reserve
Montega threw out his cigar on freshly cut grass. His eyes strung up with bright red, and wetness. Police lights flickered along the street leaving an echoing flow of light to keep the half the reservation up. His hand rubbed back and forth feverishly from an internal layer of ice. Trickles of sweat opposing his internal furnace streamed down his arms.
“Sir, Are you sure you came back home to find this girl dead?” Quizzically he looked at the chocolate colored Un-Ne-Ga. He spoke a slightly stranger version of the UN-Ne-Ga cultural language and his people considered apart of their way of categorizing them. A brother whose ancestors too were bloodied by the white man. A history paved in the past.
“Are you implying me of murder?” He was no fool. Maybe not half as educated as his sister dearest but a fool he is not. “I came home after our tribes ceremony, and found a body lying on the floor of my kitchen. It is not costume here to lock doors unlike in the city where you are familiar with it.”
“Do you have any relatives that can — stupid question. Where is your chief?” The officer set down his pen enabling a breathe of fresh air out of Montega.
“My chieften is sitting at home curious at what his grand-daughter’s spirit walk entails.” Commoners knew nothing of the importance of tradition anymore.
“Where is his home?” Montega pointed his fingers at the only house with an American flag hanging from it. The only place that tried to support the Un-Ne-Ga and their savage ways. The chocolate covered Un-Ne-Ga turned to leave but before he did — he took off his cap as an officer and tucked it away. “Thank you brother.”
Pounding disrupted Paco from his thoughts as he stared at his daughter’s proposal. “Coming,” He shoved the document covered in red ink into the desk, and shakily stood up moving his joints by force. The door swung open to see a sergeant standing without his cap. “What happened?”
“Sir, We found a teenager dead on one of your residences premise. Tribal police made the call but we could not locate you at the time due to your ceremony.”
“Do you have a name?” A fire, and a death. Paco breathed heavily as his fists clenched.
“Name is disclosed till I find its parents.”
“You want me to go identify it?”
“Yes Paco. If you wouldn’t be troubled.” The pair began to walk off his property chatting about ideas on a new casino proposition from another tribe that neither the cop, nor he approved of. Coming up to Montega’s, the yard looked filled with Christmas lights in June from the cars.
“Hello Paco,” Montega slipped another cigar in his mouth. “Busy night tonight.”
“Do you know where my grandson is Montega?”
“He has not come home since the ceremony. I’m sure he’s just romping around with one of the tribal girls.” The cop whistled alert to the other two who were guarding the property. Just like soldiers their stiffened shoulders loosened at the sight of Paco.
Paco entered the familiar home painted a sleek gray, with a tribal flag hanging half staff for Dayami’s home. A form of respect stolen.
“Its not good Montega. Its no good to allow the Un-Ne-Ga to widdle around our property.” He whispered in Montega’s ears grabbing the cigar to take a puff out of it.
“Too late now.” He smothered her hands on his tan pants. Lack of sleep written on his slouching eyes.
“Can I see the body?” Turning Paco looked at the Sargent.
“Sure.” The officer waved his hand for Paco to go in. His eyes glanced over the snow like body as drips of rain slipped down his face. His half Grandson’s girlfriend laid sprawled out, and naked. Dried blood circled around the floor.
“I will contact her mother. Her father is still in the hospital from a terminal illness in the state capital.” Paco’s arms folded as unwarranted water slipped down his face. Where is his grandson?
“I will leave you to handle the rest. Your people have particular ways of burying the dead, and ours do not want to interfere with sacred rituals.”
They shook hands before the men of the Un-Ne-Ga world departed. Paco standing left with the debris of the problem. “Montega, go tell the girl’s parents. While your running past my daughter’s grab her as well.” Paco squatted next to the body noticing white powdery flakes near her nose. Un-Ne-Ga powder is a dangerous game.
An hour floated by before Montega returned with Aiyanna. “Paco, did she over dose on an Un-Ne-Ga drug?” Took his medical daughter all of five seconds to come to a conclusion that took him fifteen.
“Yes.” Silence clung around the panic air.
Hours passed with burning lava glaring down on my skin. Thirst again welted up in my throat like a hot bubble about to burst. Twitter bird flew me farther away from the lake, and deeper into nowhere. I stood surrounded by trees with a mystery inside my head.
Clambering past twig after twig I felt my toes starting to bleed again. Desperate water droplets trickled down my cheeks. Two days, and I wasn’t any closer to escaping the torture of the jungle. My twitter bird remained on my soldier whispering deceitful advice. Take this turn, go past this tree, and why? To get even more lost in a place that is eating away what little body fat I have stored already.
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the…
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