Friday, May 4, 2007


It's week four of my essay or short story postings. This week I have another offering from If - E - Zine(tm) from Issue #2 originally published in October of 2003. Enjoy.

by Charles Shaver
Inspired by Serrano and Brule Sioux legends.
© 2003-2005 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Dana Redcloud screamed in pain. Blood flowed quickly and easily from her. Jason Redcloud held his wife close.

"It'll be alright," he whispered into her ear. She screamed again. Jason looked to the end of the bed where a doctor sat, intent on his task.

Jason looked back to his wife. Her eyes met his and frosted over with the chill of death. Jason held his wife closer still, unknowing of what to do. Jason felt something leave his wife's body. Her spirit lingered near her husband. And then, something departed from Jason. The doctor held Jason's newborn baby in his arms, clean the young one off.

* * * * *

In a small trailer, just inside the door, a small shrine had been built up around a photograph of Dana Redcloud. Each night, like tonight, Jason sat in front of the shrine and prayed.

"When the hell are you going to give that up?" Jason's mother scolded. She was a haggard woman whose face had been cut and scarred by the knife of time.

"I will honor the spirit of my dead wife." Jason replied.

"And what of your son? When will you honor him with your presence? Or are you going to wait until he's dead, too, to pay any attention to him?"

Jason breathed deeply, his eyes closed.

"I will honor the spirit of my dead wife," he repeated.

"It's been three years, Jason. Do you expect your sister to raise your child forever?"

Jason breathed deep once again, ignoring his mother. He began a ritual chant.

* * * * *

"Are you okay, Jason?" Stan Barris asked. He was a big, burly man. The perfect kind of man to be a police officer on a reservation.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess I was just day-dreaming." Jason replied.

"We can't have our dispatcher day-dreaming," Officer Barris said. He took a seat next to Jason's small desk. "I know what it is. How long's it been?"

Jason hesitated, contemplating playing dumb, then decided to answer Barris straight. "Three years today."

"Jason, you cannot go on like this. Have you gone to see Chance Crow Dog?"

"I haven't seen him since she died."

"Go see him again. Maybe he can give you some medine," Barris urged.

"Nah, I'll be okay. Besides I got work-"

"I'll call in Lewis. Get him to come and cover for you today. Come on, Jason. At least go home. You're no good to us here if all you're going to do is let your mind wander." Jason saw that Barris wasn't going to budge on the matter, but decided to stay at work despite the officer's stubborn and stern manner.

Officer Barris stood to leave. "Thoughts of the dead will drive a man crazy. Thoughts of the dead will conjure the dead." The officer left Jason alone at his desk.

* * * * *

Grandmother Redcloud gathered many of her neighbors. Together they hauled away all of Dana's things, including those of Jason's shrine, and took them to a nearby caern. There they collected brush around the pile of things and set it all aflame. Offerings were made and prayers chanted. The smoke of a deceased woman's belongings filled the air.

* * * * *

Jason Redcloud stepped into his house later that day. with one look he saw the emptiness, the sace of nothingness that was once his whole life.

"Where are my things?" he demanded immediately.

"Come, have dinner," urged Grandmother Redcloud. She lay two plates on the fragile little table.

"Where are my things?" he demanded again.

Grandmother Redcloud continued her task of setting the table as she spoke. "We put that poor wife of yours to rest, like you should have."

"What are you talking about?"

She stopped finally. She stared at Jason. "We laid her things to rest. We took them down and did the ritual. Now come and eat."

"I can't believe you did this! How dare you! You had no right!"

"We did it for you! You were making yourself ill. Thoughts of the dead conjure the dead." She said.

"Shut-up! Who cares! It's my wife!" Jason turned and left the little trailer home, slamming the thin door behind him.

* * * * *

Jason Redcloud knew where he had to go, but he took his time getting there. He wandered the outskirts of the reservation avoiding contact with others. he wandered and wondered what had happened within history for his people to have to live like this. He wandered and wondered what he had done to deserve the life he was given.

A couple of times Jason stopped to watch the other little Indian families in their nightly rituals. He watched children play in the mud near the well that provided them with most of their water. He watched elders sitting on crickety old porches as crickety as them, gossiping down the sun whose figure took on a shabby shape in the distanced horizon reflecting off the wavering shabbiness of the world around him. He watched men return home from what work the could get that day to their little shacks and mobile trailers filled with families. He watched as men who couldn't or wouldn't find work open up another bottle of hope.

All of it made him miss his wife and son. All of it made him want to get away from here like his sister now living in New York with his own son. She was lucky enough to have found a white man to marry. They didn't live the high life, but then they weren't living here, either. Thinking of his sister he thought again of his son. And Jason felt alone.

* * * * *

Hours passed. The sun had set and the moon was now hanging high in the sky. Jason stepped into the circular caern. A pile of black and white ash lay at its center. Jason knelt before the ashes. A small tear came to him. Everything he had of his wife was now gone.

The air grew quiet. Everything came to a moment of stillness. Jason hated nights without a wind. He found it comforting to hear the nature about him rustling, speaking softly. Nights like these also brought an air that was warm, sticky and uncomfortable. So when the winds picked up again, Jason was quite relieved. The cool night air brushed his skin and gave him some relief from the days' happenings.

When the ashes rustled before him, Jason opened his eyes. The ashes blew around in a small circle. Some of them whipped close by his face almost playfully. Then the winds picked up, becoming fierce. Strands of Jason's hair thrashed about his face and nurturing the whirling whirlwind. The ashen whirlwind before Jason grew and grew until he became almost overwhelmed by it. He staggered to his feet as it attempted to engulf him. The windswept ash became a creature of air. And then, from within the devilish swirling beast stepped out the one person Jason never guessed he'd have a chance to see again. From within the whirlwind stepped out his wife, his love, Dana Redcloud.

"Dana?" Jason asked in a whisper.

"Jason, my dear," she answered with a sweet smile.

"Oh, how I've missed you!" he fell to his knees and embraced his wife's waist.

"I've missed you, too, my dear," she said.

"You've come back to me," he said.

"Because you need me," she answered.

Jason smiled. "Come. Let's go back home. Everyone will be so happy to see you again."

"No," Dana said firmly. "I cannot go with you."


Dana shook her head, her eyes focusing distantly looking for an answer. "I cannot... cannot stay."

Jason's smile disappeared. He stood before his wife. "I can't go on living like this. First you are taken from me. Then you come back, but only as if to tease me because now you tell me you will not stay. If I can't be with you in life, the I will join you in death." Excitement grew in Jason's voice as he grasped his wife's wrists, "Let me go with you back to the World of the Dead!"

Dana's face grew bright with a smile. "That we can do. Follow me." She left the caern, Jason following close behind. The landscape was dark around with the inky blackness of night. Soon, though, Jason realized his surroundings were being splashed with an odd glow of red light. The horizon looked like a distant forest fire at night, bright red and dancing. The voice of nature quieted. Trees quickly shriveled and charred black as soon as they came into Jason's view. He grew more and more frightened. But then his wife, Dana, turned and gave him a soft smile. "Come," she said as she led him. "It's not too much further."

She lead him through thick brambles. Jason found it tough to get through field. Yet, he noticed, his wife glided smoothly through it all. Once to the other end of the field they came to some foothills at the base of a large mountain. A single, small path skirted along the cliffs of the mountain. Jason followed Dana as they slowly made their way up along the path. Loose gravel and stones fell off the path and down the mountain to their right every step of the way.

At one point Jason stopped. Up ahead, perched precariously above the path, was an enormous boulder rocking back and forth ever so slightly, ready to fall down upon any passerby. Dana noticed that Jason had stopped. She, too, stopped and looked over her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she called back.

"That boulder. I know what that boulder is. It is the Stone of Judgment, isn't it?"

"Yes," she replied. "So?"

"If I've lived a good life, I'll pass safely. If not... i-it will fall on me and crush me."

"Jason, my dear," Dana said soothingly, "Trust me. It will not fall."

Jason could not bear the idea of being crushed under the immense weight of the boulder, but when his wife gave him a gentle smile his resolve changed. If he was to die on this night, what did it matter how he was to die? He crept slowly forward. After some small steps, he passed safely under the boulder and rejoined his wife at their previous steady pace. Long was their journey to reach the other side of the mountain. When at last they made it, they found a deep valley that had been carved by a trickling river of blood. The river ran deep and wide.

"I don't think we can cross this river," Jason said.

"You cannot," Dana said. "No living being can and you are not yet dead. But I can carry you on my back."

"B-but, I am so much bigger than you," Jason replied.

"That does not matter. Things that make sense in the Realm of the Living do not hold truth here in the Realm of the Dead." She explained.

Dana had been correct about the Stone of Judgment, so Jason let himself trust what she was telling him now. Despite Jason being bigger and heavier, as he climbed upon his wife's back she held him firmly and carried him easily. She simply walked into the river of blood. The river at its deepest came up to her neck, but never did she stop or slow in pace or show any sign of fatigue. It was not long before they were both on the other side of the river with nothing more than a layer of blood caked upon their skin to show for it.

Before them lay a solitary path surrounded only by darkness, as if it were suspended in the black void of a starless space.

"We must walk down this path. Once we do, there shall be no returning for you. They'll know you're not one of them," Dana told Jason.

"What do you mean?" He asked.

"Just because you're in the World of the Dead does not mean you have to be dead. You're not dead. Not yet, anyway."

"Will this cause a problem?"

"Some will ignore you, others will want to eat you. Almost all will want to kill you," Dana explained.

"Eat me? Why?"

"To consume your lifeforce. Some of the dead seek power and the only power we know is the consumption of the dead for their lifeforce."

"Well, why will almost all want me dead?" Jason asked.

"Jason, my dear... In the World of the Living, how often did you see spirits?" Dana asked in return.

"None until you," he answered.

"And how did seeing me make you feel?"

"Happy, of course! And a bit sad because it served as a bitter reminder that you were still dead."

"And?" She urged Jason to explain more.

"And hopeful that maybe you'd returned to me," he replied.

"And?" She coaxed once again. Jason withheld from answering. "Jason, my dear, I already know. You're only keeping the truth from yourself."

"I-I was afraid," Jason knew he couldn't lie to his wife. "I'm ashamed to admit it."

"Do not be ashamed. It is natural. Spirits are everywhere in the World of the Living. They are in the rock, in the sand, in the tree. Our ancestors, too, are always present. They are in the air. Yet we do not always see them. They rarely reveal themselves. There is no reason for them to do so. They are just there, existing, and that is all that is needed of them.

"When they finally do reveal themselves it is always with good reason and they must take care to do so. Most people have so little contact with the spirits around them that when a spirit does step forward the living become quite frightened. This is a perfectly natural thing due to a lack of contact and understanding. Therefore the living often fear spirits.

"It is the same in the World of the Dead. Not many living creatures have wandered this far. The spirits in the World of the Dead have legends of visits from the living, but few can claim to have had experiences themselves. When the spirits see you they, too, will become frightened just as you became frightened of me. Some who have lived before might envy you. Whatever the reason, as I said, most will try to kill you. Not all, but most."

"If it is so dangerous for me to walk down this path that lays before us, then why did you bring me this far?" Jason asked.

"Because that is what you wanted me to do. Loved ones fulfill the wishes of those they love, no matter the potential cost." Dana explained. "If you wish to be dead, then join me and walk this path where they will take your life."

Jason hesitated. "What of our son?"

"Your sister has done well by him and will continue to do so," Dana paused. "Though she cannot truly do all that he will need. In some areas, it will be best if you would take care of him. You can do it, my dear." Dana stared at her husband. For the first time, Jason did not see her as his wife, but as the spirit of her wife. A misty memory.

"You would make a good father," Dana said. The she added, "Trust me."

Jason looked over his shoulder across the thickly flowing river of blood. He looked down the narrow and deadly path with the precariously dangling boulder. He thought of the razor-sharp field of brambles he had to walk through. He knew he could trust his wife. He turned back to her. She smiled and pulled him close. His eyes closed as they kissed.

* * * * *

Jason's eyes snapped open. He was once again sitting in front of the ashes in the middle of the caern. A slight breeze shuffled the ashes. Jason was covered with caked blood, scrapes, cuts and bruises. Jason looked to the ashes, then to the sky. His wife was somewhere in the air. He smiled.

Jason got up off his knees and walked home.

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