Miakoda’s eyes flash open and she falls forward. The guards rush forward to catch her before she falls into Quidel. Her breathing is short and rapid and there are tears running down her face, and for a brief moment it looks as though her skin has chunks taken out of it, but when she lifts her head into the light her face is revealed to be unscathed.
“Miakoda! What did you see?” a hunter asks. She is even paler than usual, the contrast between her skin and her hair even more exaggerated.
“I spoke with Quidel, but he’s gone now.” She speaks in between huffs.
The guards that were supporting release her and back away, their eyes wide and mouths hanging open.
“You… you spoke with him?”
Miakoda looks at him, a frown on her face, shivering in the warm afternoon sun. She looks back down at the ground, and rises to her feet, wobbling a little. The guards do not move to steady her, and she continues to face downward.
“Let us return to the village. I need to speak with the chief.” And she begins to walk back towards the village, each step a slow swing of her legs. The guards move with her, but not too close. They look at each other, brows furrowed and frowning.
They arrive back at the village just as the dust is rising again over the desert, the warm winds lifting it skyward and blowing the tumbleweed up against the tents. The guards separate and go back to their posts around the border as they pass among into the settlement, relaxing as they leave the presence of Miakoda. The medicine girl continues on towards the center, towards the one structure made of wood rather than fabric, the chief’s longhouse. The dark brown wood of its walls is weather-worn, and the roof comes to a rounded peak. It is as wide as two of the seven foot diameter tents sitting next to each other, and as long as four.
Miakoda passes under the patterned cloth hanging in the doorway and into the house. It is dark, and various animal skulls hang from the walls. Empty eyes stare from coyote, vulture, and rabbit remains. There are pads filled with grass upon which to sit strewn about the smooth dirt floor, and further back there is a large blanket covering the ground. At the very back sits the chief behind a short wooden table. Facing him from across the table is another old man, and Miakoda stares at him from the halfway point of the house, waiting for him to leave. She raises an eyebrow as five minutes of waiting becomes twenty, the two men still talking, the one with his back to her waving his hands at regular intervals.
“I’m telling you, there are more and more monsters appearing lately! It seems like every village I visit is plagued by a different fiend. And worse still, there is a giant bird that is killing… well, I mean, it seems impossible, but it is hunting heroes! The Great Mystery may have banished these creatures a hundred years ago, but now a hundred years have passed and something is causing them to come back!”
“Kaga, please, calm down. Sasul, I understand that your village was ravaged by wild beasts, but just as you say, that was such a long time ago. Have you any proof of the recurrence of these creatures? I’ve heard nothing from our scouts nor from the messengers that sometimes pass through with word of the goings on in other tribes.”
“Of course not, the ones that you receive no word from are all dead! Tell me, who have you not heard from recently?”
“Hmm, a fair argument, but then we only receive word from others very infrequently, sometimes as little as once a year, and from only one tribe. I do not think this proof enough to start preparing for war.”
Miakoda has been slowly making her way forward as they talk, but then her foot catches on one of the cushions, and the noise causes both of them to look at her, the chief glancing up and Kaga jumping to his feet and whirling around. There is a moment of glaring eyes and hands raised but he relaxes this posture when he sees Miakoda.
“Whoo, I’m too high strung lately! Or maybe not enough. Would it be possible for you to sneak up on me like that every now and then, keep me on my toes? I would appreciate it, my lovely young lady.”
Miakoda stares at him and wrinkles her nose, and then looks past him at the chief. Kaga makes on ‘O’ with his mouth and raises his bushy eyebrows.
“Please excuse my intrusion, Hassun, but I have an urgent matter to discuss with. It concerns the death of Quidel and also… something happened while I was using my medicine on his remains.”
“Miakoda, please have a seat. Kaga can be trusted in his friendship, if not in the information he shares. Tell me what happened.” She looks at Kaga, who grins at her, and she closes her eyes.
“Well, as I usually do, I summoned the medicine within me and communed with the fallen Quidel. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the details of his death, how his entire body was charred. In the land in between ours and that of the spirits, I found his temporary dwelling place and looked at him. But instead of seeing the last moments of his life, the body arose and spoke to me.” The chief starts in his seat at this, leaning forward on his palms, and Kaga raises his eyebrows and whispers a ‘wow.’
“Miakoda, that is amazing. We knew your medicine was powerful, but actually communicating with the dead… that is unheard of. Though it was known that there was something special about you even when you were born. That mark upon your face and your eye are powerful portents.”
“I’m still not sure it’s such a blessing, and especially not after this, but nevertheless something terrible happened to Quidel, something beyond being burnt as he was. Someone or something was responsible for this, and enjoyed doing it. Though he did not… or perhaps could not say much.” She shudders. “I guess it was more of a feeling I got from his words and actions during our brief intersection.” She crosses her arms, hugging herself and looking at the floor.
“See, Hassun, it’s what I’ve been telling you! There is a monster even here, killing your kin. We must act now. You agree, Miakoda?” Miakoda does not reply, just remains seated, her long black hair hiding her face. Hassun looks at her and scrunches his eyes shut.
“Hm. Well, I cannot ignore the murder of one of my people, no matter what the cause might be. I shall conscript more guards and double our efforts to either prevent or catch this fiend. The hunting parties shall have to wait.” Hassun folds his arms and nods, but Kaga rolls his eyes and huffs.
“Do you have something to say, Kaga?”
“No, not at all. Just that if one of your guards was already killed, I’m not sure if adding more to the fire will help the situation.”
“And what would you suggest I do instead?” Hassun’s voice ricochets off the walls of the house, and Miakoda jumps. Kaga shrugs at Hassun and looks at Miakoda.
“I guess it’s a start. I’ll join the guards if you have no objections.”
“I don’t know of what use an old bag of bones might be, but an extra pair of eyes could be useful. Do what you will.”
“What should I do, Hassun?” Miakoda’s hands are clasped in her lap.
“Miakoda, I think you should rest and stay within the village. It is not unknown for those with powerful medicine to become targets for others, be they jealous or simply scared of the unknown. On the chance that there is truly something beyond human actions or natural happenings going on, I’d rather know that you’re safely within the village than wandering about as you’re wont to do.”
Miakoda nods her head at this and rises to leave.
“I understand. I shall wait for word from the guards and try to comfort the others as they wait as well.”
Kaga follows Miakoda outside, trotting to catch up to her.
“Miakoda! Wait up. I’d like to ask you a bit more about what happened earlier.” Miakoda keeps walking, perhaps a bit quicker than before.
“Please, Kaga, I do not have time for your questions and, honestly, I’d rather not recall what happened earlier anyhow,” she says, looking back over her right shoulder.
“You must listen to me whether you want to or not, or even if you think I’m just a crazy old coyote. I think you may be the only one who can actually prevent more deaths.” At this, Miakoda turns and faces Kaga, who walks up to her, his pack slung over his back and a frown upon his face.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it just so happens that I saw what happened to Quidel.”
“And why didn’t you tell Hassun of this? Do you know how suspicious that is?”
“Look at what he thinks of my words! He barely acknowledged that there is a problem even now. And if I told him what I saw, well… I feel as though you’re the only who might believe me, as you’ve seen many things that no one else has.” Miakoda’s face softens at this. “At least, no one else other than me of course, hahaha!” She makes a noise of disgust.
“Just tell me already – what did you see?”
“Well, as you know, I’ve been staying in your village for a few days now. I make my camp atop that crag over there, which overlooks the area where Quidel was patrolling. As the sun was rising this morning, as was I, and as I stretched and rose from my tent, I noticed something strange. The rays of sunlight streaking the sky, there was one that didn’t fit.”
“What do you mean by that?” Miakoda squints her left eye.
“It looked a bit.. thicker I guess? Just slightly more opaque than regular light. It made me uneasy to watch it just sitting there in the sky. And then it started to move, drifting down towards where Quidel was walking. I watched as it moved, though I lost track of it several times. It was like trying to track the movement of mist. And then he just flared up, he didn’t even have time to scream. It was over in a second.”
“I see what you meant when you said Hassun wouldn’t believe you. It’s barely an explanation for what happened.”
“There’s more though! After he was incinerated, his shadow zipped away into the desert, straight towards the sun!”
“Your story gets more outrageous by the moment. I know for a fact that his remains had a shadow when I inspected them.”
“Ah, but the shadow that I saw was a human silhouette, despite there being nothing to cause it. It was as if Quidel was soaring high in the sky.”
“Now that is strange.” Miakoda frowns at this.
“It’s almost as though his shadow was being stolen, huh? Or maybe it was a fire so intense that it blew his shadow away…”
Miakoda folds her arms and stares at the ground.
“But what can I do about this?”
“I’m not the one who can see the unseeable. That’s your specialty, right? I don’t think the thing that did this is of the physical world, which is truly worrying. The other creatures I’ve encountered could be made to bleed, be it by claw or by hatchet. Not to mention the implication of how pervasive this infection of monsters is, that it has even reached beyond the land of the living. The Great Mystery far too often lives up to its name.”
“I don’t know if my medicine is the answer to this problem. I’m not even really sure how it works in the first place!”
“Of course not, that’s the nature of such things. Do what you feel, just as you’ve done before. I’ve heard of your talents, and I can attest that there are not many as adept as you are. I’ve seen fakes that can put on a show and I’ve seen true medicine men that could commune with the spirits. But I’ve never known of one who could hear the voice of a dead man, no matter how faint or how little he said.”
“I don’t even want to experience that again, it was awful. Just seeing past events was fine, but this…”
“It’s only because of the nature of this situation that Quidel had to speak to you! Do you think it was easy for him?” Miakoda’s body stiffens.
“I did not think of that. And I scolded the guards for being disrespectful of the dead, I am just as insensitive, if not more. I should know better. Kaga, I never thought I’d say this, but thank you for your counsel. Now I can only ask, how should I got about this? I’m not sure where to start.”
“As I originally saw this evil spirit from atop the cliff, I would advise we make our camp in the same place. Wait and watch and we shall see if it visits again.”
The sun rises on another day, dreadful rather than rejuvenating. Dawn breaks, inch by inch, a bandage being pulled back from a still fresh wound. Miakoda stumbles out from the tent, a few hairs sticking up and bags under her eyes, though only one bag is visible.
“Finally up, eh?” Kaga is crouching near the edge of the cliff, looking out over the spot where Quidel died. The ground where Quidel was is off-color, a dark brown oval that deepens in hue towards its center.
“I could hardly sleep. I’m used to a bit more cushioning than none.”
“I’m sure that’s the only reason.”
“Stating the obvious is not clever. Let us pay attention – here comes some guards.” The men walking below are talking to each other, spears relaxed.
“They aren’t taking their duty very seriously.” Miakoda whispers.
“They’ve been walking around all night with not much to go on for what they’re looking out for. I’d get bored, too.” Kaga is looking out towards the horizon, face passive and strands of hair moving in the light breeze.
“Ohhh, there it is again.” Kaga points his finger and tracks a seemingly invisible object through the air.
“What are you talking about? I don’t see…” but as Miakoda watches, the light from the sun is distorted as something moves in front of it, drifting down and towards the two men. It is four feet long and almost feather or leaf shaped, without the stem that would connect it to bird or tree. Back and forth it falls, moving closer and closer to the guards, its path of travel about to intersect with theirs. Miakoda rubs her right eye and looks again.
“It’s as though something’s there but it’s invisible or see through, it’s making me uncomfortable to watch it. And we should warn them! Let’s go down there!”Kaga places his hand on her back and keeps her from getting up.
“Mm, I think we should stay up here. I’m warm enough without being incinerated.”
“But what about those two? We can’t just watch this happen!” The transparent shape is now only twelve feet above the heads of the two men.
“And that’s why I’m up here with you. You need to go over to the world of the spirits now, when that thing is present. You need to grab hold of it and give it something to think about! Banish it back to the sky!!” Kaga’s voice rasps as he throws these words at Miakoda.
“I can’t just go there on command, I need something to reach out to, I need–”
“If those two young men down there aren’t something to reach for I don’t know what is! Focus and go!” Kaga whacks her on the back, and Miakoda goes tumbling down the cliff.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )