The sun is rising over the mountains, and the shadows of the desert are vanquished by it’s onset. A few shooting stars can be seen streaming across the sky in the last bit of dusk before daylight. Miakoda is watching the sky, her face turned to the side, her long black hair covering the left side of her face. The light approaches across the ground, then on to her legs as she kneels in a patch of dry, faded green grass on top of a sandstone hill. Just as it reaches her cheek, she opens her eyes and smiles, and the sun catches and reflects in the green-flecked iris.
The sun is now a bit higher in the sky, and the village below is showing signs of activity. A young girl in a plain brown shirt and shorts is running up the path that leads to the spot where Miakoda is seated.
“Miakoda! Miakoda! Come quick, something terrible has happened!”
There is no response from the kneeling girl. “Miakoda?” She reaches out to touch her shoulder and Miakoda jerks at the touch, almost falling on her side but steadying herself with a palm to the ground.
“Wha – what’s,” and she yawns, “what’s happened, Nuka?” A scream breaks the silence and Miakoda starts at the sound. She rises to her feet, wavering a bit. Her light-grey cloak billows about her but the arms that extend from its sleeves are slender and pale, the color of petrified wood, though not quite of the same hardness. A single porcupine quill hangs around her neck, straight and white.
“Please, help me down from here. Tell me what has happened.” And pulling the hair covering the left side of her face back her other eye is revealed to be pure white, the skin surrounding it and the cheek below even paler than the rest.
“One of the guards was found – I can’t even describe it. They found him this morning. The guard that was going to replace him found him.” Nuka leads Miakoda, pulling her arm. Miakoda’s feet move rapidly and she stumbles, holding her other arm out as they move down the dusty path that leads down and around the rock.
“They were calling for your presence due to how… how it is there.” They are following the dusty path back to the village now, and movement can be seen between the tents and the occasional wooden house. “They want your advice, what with your medicine being so strong.”
“I’m flattered, but truly I am still learning. But I will do my best.” Her mouth is set in straight line, lips pressed together. Nuka glances at her and then looks forward again, giggling a little.
“You’re always so serious, Miakoda.”
“Well, you brought me serious information!”
Nuka’s smile fades. “Right.”
They have reached the village now and are walking along the main path that leads through it to the other side. The people bow their heads at Miakoda as she passes and she ignores them, staring straight ahead and walking a bit more surefooted on the level ground. As they approach the opposite border of the village, Nuka slows and then stops. Miakoda turns and nods at her, and then continues onward. As she continues to walk, the packed dirt of the clearing becomes looser dust and cracked earth on the outskirts of the village. A guard is looking out towards the horizon and, seeing her approaching, rushes over to her, his spear up.
“Miakoda! Our apologies to interrupt your morning meditation, but we need your help. Quidel was found and… has Nuka told you of his state?”
“No, she did not seem to want to describe his death. Tell me, what did you find?”
“Well, her shock is understandable. Rather than try to describe it, come, I will show you his remains. The others are standing guard, that no coyote might wander by and further desecrate Quidel.” They walk further out into the desert, and the wind rises as they leave the shelter of the cliffs by which the village lies. Dried up bushes shake and rattle around them, a buzzard floats through sky, forming a half circle around them before continuing on its hunt. They shield their eyes with their hands and squint. Several yards away, four shapes can be seen through the haze, standing around a fifth shape, a blob on the ground. As they approach the shapes become the other guards and the blob becomes only a little more defined than it was. It is a twisted, black thing, with streaks of dark grey trailing dust in the wind from sharp cracks in its surface. The men turn to face Miakoda and Nuka as she approaches. Two of them have spears and two have tomahawks, the wooden clubs hanging loosely at their sides. They bow at Miakoda and the one closest to them walks to meet them.
“I’m glad you’re here. We’ve all been feeling restless being close to that thing.”
Miakoda walks right up to him, very close, and the man looks down at his feet, shifting from one to the other.
“How can you say that about Quidel? All are equal once they have joined the Great Mystery, no matter their physical appearance. Rest assured I would not falter in burying you if your body were ravaged by coyotes or the like.”
“My apologies, Miakoda– ”
“Apologize to Quidel’s spirit and be more respectful from now on. Now show me what has all you guardians of our village so spooked.”
“Well, as you can see, he’s nothing more than– I mean, his body has been scorched to cinders, but there is no kindling to be seen, and besides, who would do such a thing and how? And there were others on guard and they saw no such fire that could have produced such a result.” His fellows nod in agreement. Miakoda kneels next to the remains, a dry soot smell emanates from them and she coughs a little but looks closely at what used to be skin but is now more like the burnt wood from the remnants of a bonfire. The eyes vacant in form rather than expression, two empty holes over a gaping mouth with blackened teeth. Her hair hangs and runs over the form and she moves her hands over it, just a quarter of an inch from touching it. She closes her eyes after about five minutes of this and moves closer, moving on her knees from side to side. She places her hands upon the form and closes her eyes, leaning her head even lower, her hair further pooling and even entering the cracked surface. Tears drop from her eyes and quickly disappear on the dehydrated skin as if they had never fallen at all. The men shift upon their feet and glance at each other throughout this process. In a flash, Miakoda’s face tightens, eyebrows drawn together and eyes clenched shut, she grimaces and –
Miakoda slowly drifts down onto the dusty ground, her hair floating around her, face relaxed and mouth parted open. Her eyes are still closed, but when her toes touch the ground they open. Both of them are mottled white now, and pieces of skin detach from her face and float past her, floating out into the darkness. All around her is the white-grey dust. Circular holes of varying depth litter the ground, the bottoms most of which cannot be seen unless one were standing right at their edge. Rocks scatter the ground and as Miakoda walks on tip-toe she dodges these, pointing her feet so that they touch the ground at all. Only a few feet later and she stands in front of one of the holes and bends to look into it. The same burnt shape can be seen in the shade of its concavity, the part that rests at the bottom obscured by shadow. As she looks at it, she once again raises her hands out in front of her, moving them as if turning a wheel, palms facing outwards. As her hands move a light begins to shine from them and the hole is revealed to be as simple as the surroundings, grey dust and small rocks, the sides smooth and crumbling.
Miakoda lowers her hands but the light remains, flowing around the body in the hole, its form curled into the fetal position and its face twisted in an open mouthed frown, frozen in its final shriek of pain. As the light falls over it, it moves, a quick jab that cuts through the floating dust. The movement is accompanied by a rain of pieces of its own flame-hardened skin and a scraping crunch that causes Miakoda to draw back from it, blinking. It continues its grating movement, scattering more and more pieces of black flakes on the ground, stretching out on its side, legs extending to the edge of the pit, and rolls onto its stomach, pushing itself up with its arms. As it does, several fingers snap off at the bases, but this does not halt its rise. The head uncurls from the chest, and the throat cavity can be seen clearly through the cracked and crumbling skin. The corpse’s lips do not move, but the sound of a voice comes from the hole in its neck while its empty eye sockets stare from above.
“Mi-a-ko-daaaaa, youuu, ahh, hellooo.” It’s voice is the sound of wind blowing through the trees of a forest claimed by wildfire, airy and hollow. “I can haaarrdly see youuu. Whaat, what has haaappened to meee?” The corpse continues to fall apart as it speaks, chunks falling to the ground from its face, torso, and arms.
“Hello Quidel. I’m sorry to call upon you so soon, but you are even now upon your journey to become one with the Great Mystery. I am simply interrupting your trip to ask you of the matter and manner of your death.” Miakoda’s voice has the same hollow quality as Quidel’s but retains the clear, light tones of her voice. Where her skin is visible it continues to deteriorate, but at a much slower pace than Quidel’s. The new skin below is ever lighter than the skin around it, and her hair has faded from the deep black that it was to strands of grey.
“IIIII, I am dead?” The face does not change its expression with this statement, it remains in the same grimace it had when it died.
“Yes, Quidel, you are dead. But fear not, for we will both be on our separate ways very shortly. I need to know though, did you see anything before you died, or do you perhaps know what happened that would leave you in such a state?” As they speak, a line of light is approaching from several yards behind Quidel, and Miakoda glances at its progress towards them.
The corpse slowly raises a hand to its face until it is less than an inch in front of the holes were there once eyes, flakes trailing its three-fingered movement.
“IIIII do, I do not r-re-member, I… there wasss, there was somethiiing… it was very bright…” A piece of throat falls into the opening from which his voice comes, and Miakoda shivers.
“Please, Quidel, you must try to remember what happened. I need to know if our village is in danger.” And again she looks at the approaching light. As it passes over the holes they begin to steam, though there is no hiss as would be when dropping a cool stone into boiling water.
“No, no, it, it is simply too bright…”
“No!” Miakoda reaches one hand out as the burnt face tilts downwards, and with a snap Quidel’s head falls off and though the still extended hand in front of it. The rest of the body crumbles as well, and in a matter of seconds is simply a pile of black chips and dark grey dust, sifting and blending with the dust around them. The line of light has reached their hole, and nothing is visible beyond it through the glare. Miakoda draws back from this light, shielding her eyes with her sleeve. She turns, and bending her legs, jumps into the air, where she hangs suspended for a moment. Her extended foot is just visible from beneath her dress, and then none of her is visible.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )