Beyond the Falls
A. M. Stickel
Butterfly drifted, silent as a water
snake, among the reeds, her long black hair trailing behind her. As usual, she
was spying on her older twin brothers, Black Bear and Brown Bear, who had their
heads together with that handsome rascal, Coyote Call, a spoiled only child,
too big and far too clever for his own good.
“Listen, you two, now that our path
through the forbidden place is all marked, we need to put the animal bones into
the cave pools,” said Coyote Call. “We’re almost ready to give our group a good
“What’s to stop our pesky sister from
tagging along like she always does?” said Brown Bear.
“Has she bled yet? The three maidens
I’ve chosen to join us have, and I’m going to enjoy them.”
“Not that one,” said Black Bear, holding
his nose. “She stinks bad enough already. I’m not looking forward to her woman
“I know how to fix her so she won’t
bother us.” Coyote Call gave a nasty laugh.
I hate that laugh,
thought Butterfly, wrinkling her perfect nose in disgust.
“Tell us your plan, please!” begged
Brown Bear, putting his fat hands together just like bear paws.
“I’ll give you some powder to put in
Butterfly’s stew the first night of the full moon. She won’t feel a thing, all
snug in her fur blanket, until she awakens tied to the bed of pine boughs I’m
going to build. She will make the perfect bride for Woods Whistler, the full-moon-forest-haunting
“There’s no such monster here in the
south,” objected Black Bear, shaking his head.
“She won’t get hurt, will she?” added
Brown Bear, frowning in concern.
“Of course not, you stupid bear, because
I will be disguised as Woods
Whistler, and bend her to my will, hee-hee-hee! Wait until you see the terrible
mask, fake claws, and grizzly fur I’m going to wear.” Coyote Call rubbed his
hands together gleefully.
The youths chattered on about the
details, and Butterfly tried to picture what she would do to Coyote Call, but
couldn’t think of anything vile enough. Finally, the three stopped plotting and
left to attend to chores. Butterfly had gone through a long list of her own
schemes, ending with: Drop a bee’s nest
on his honey-coated privates as he naps? No, there has to be something worse. She
pulled her shivering brown body out of hiding onto the shore and retrieved her
clothes, still undecided…
The evening meal on the night of the
full moon found the twins solicitous of their sister’s comfort. They warned her
over and over about not venturing outside the tent even to make water, for
Woods Whistler was on the prowl for a mate. She only pretended to eat the stew,
and fed it to the dog when they weren’t looking. Butterfly went to bed early
and waited, pretending to sleep soundly at the back of the tent until her
brothers made their move. They didn’t disappoint her.
like being carried through the woods. It’s fun. Maybe I’ll make them do it a
few more times, after I’ve exposed their game,
thought the girl. Her light body swayed
back and forth in the furs as her brothers lumbered on, tripping every now and
then in their excitement and shushing each other.
Butterfly let her head and limbs loll
loosely as her brothers lowered her to the pine bows, whispering things like,
“I don’t think we’ll need the leather thongs. She’s really out.” and “You’re sure a wild animal won’t come along and
try to eat her?” The girl could barely keep from laughing at these exchanges.
Finally, the clumsy brothers moved off,
still whispering together, but stopping to greet Coyote Call. After he shushed
them with a hiss and a warning—“Leave her to me!”—his steps thudded nearer and
nearer, in time to Butterfly’s beating heart.
Before she knew it, Coyote Call in his
smelly-fur monster guise pounced. Butterfly felt a carved mask touch her face
and choked on the hot tongue filling her mouth. A thick, slick snake slid
between her legs, its hard head spurting venom. Instead of crying out in pain,
the girl gnawed on the tongue and struggled to dislodge the snake, kneeing the
monster in the groin as hard as she could. At last she took a gulp of air and
yelled loudly, “HELP ME, COYOTE CALL! I’M TOO SMALL TO CARRY WOODS WHISTLER’S
BABY. ALAS! TWINS RUN IN OUR FAMILY. I LOVE YOU, MY HERO. SAVE ME BEFORE IT’S
TOO LATE. HE WILL TAKE ME AWAY FROM YOU FOREVER.”
The ‘monster’ rolled off her and onto
the ground, howling in agony, but immediately sprang up at her words and fled
into the dark woods in utter panic. It was hard to run all bent over, yet run
Butterfly lay there awhile, hugging
herself, but was so exhausted she fell asleep on the pine boughs. Only in the
morning did she realize she should have gone to the lake and washed
immediately. It was too late to stop the serious process begun as a prank. Time
after time, she caught Coyote Call, still stooped from the tenderness in his
groin, rubbing his privates as he eyed her. She acted as if he was invisible.
She made sure he never saw her vomit,
and to act surprised when he invited her on the jaunt the elders had forbidden.
Luckily, she had stopped losing her breakfast.
The eight chosen by the popular and
handsome shaman’s son felt lucky. While children played and most adults napped
in the shade, the Bear twins and their pretty but bothersome sister joined two
older male cousins and three sturdy maidens—two of them vying for Coyote Call’s
attentions—on the forbidden explorations of the dark, moist cave behind the
falls and the delicious delights of youth.
The youngsters set out, a little
breathless and giddy already. They’d had to sneak away, one by one, to avoid
arousing suspicion. Lightly provisioned for a swift excursion, they carried
enough weapons to excuse their absence as a hunt. During the Long Journey south,
the tribal elders had cautioned everyone against entering any place that might
be magic. The falls near the camp smelled like just such a place. Coyote Call
had convinced his closest friends (and Butterfly) to go there anyway.
The group lit torches and, splashing
through shallow green pools full of bones, followed the cave to its exit, a
rise above scraggly pines with a view of the azure lake below and the black,
red, and white-painted tents of the people. Half of them felt uneasy about the
bones and about leaving behind the familiar sounds and smoke of the side they
already knew in order to enter the silent white mist of the unknown.
The explorers descended the ridge
leading down into the mist, bumping into more pines, and scenting lake water,
but no smoke from a camp. Raucous blue jays and sassy squirrels on overhead
tree limbs oversaw the scramble-down, needle-strewn path deer had made. Twigs
and stones slowed the way for scuffling feet. The breeze sighed, but did not
Alert for signs his father had taught
him, Coyote Call was sure the lakes on either side of the falls were fire-born
sisters. He was relieved to see the mist disperse and the thin air shimmer with
heat rising from a sea of black glass below. Now I’ll show them! Bolder
than the rest, the sly instigator of the
quest turned the group toward territory meant only for bears, buzzards,
cougars, snakes, and sacred secrets.
will be first to run back to camp? wondered Coyote Call,
stopping to glance behind him. His
admirers nervously shifted their positions, so he told them, “Since no one
wants to walk last, we will take turns. Although we are far away from our
elders’ ears, keep your voices down. Above all, do not laugh, in case they are
right and this is a magic place. When we reach water, I will drink first while
the rest of you hide. You can drink once I decide it is safe…and there are no
monsters like Woods Whistler around.”
Coyote Call grinned to himself at the
hush that followed his speech. On all sides, evidence of an ancient cataclysm
loomed ever higher to confirm his ideas about the two lakes. Eyes and ears
focused warily on the path before and behind. Thirsty shuffling silence reigned
in the endless windings through razor-sharp alleys of rock, its many surfaces
intensifying the inferno of the noon day sun. Jagged boulders absorbed nature’s
sounds, seeming to transmute them into more merciless heat. Footing grew tricky
on the narrow path. Blisters throbbed on moccasined feet. Hearts pounded
harder. Sweat evaporated. Raw skin shriveled under sticky leather. Noses bled.
Doubt and exhaustion drained even the leader’s confidence.
could the marks we made be wrong? thought Coyote Call.
Butterfly’s brothers, who had worked hard
putting the bones in the cave pools and helping him mark the path through the
black rocks earlier, looked worried too. Finally, he signaled for a rest stop
in the shade of a huge boulder he did not recall being there before. The
youngsters huddled, avoiding each others’ eyes. He knew their minds dwelt on
the Lost who had run the magic gauntlet already, only to end hungry, thirsty,
sunburned, bloody, and dying slowly among hungry predators and angry spirits
clothed in scalps trailing long black hair.
Coyote Call grimaced, wiped his furrowed
brow, and whispered to the twins: “It is said the Lost eat the liver first and
the eyes last, so as to prolong the torture of trespassers. We were mad to dare
this wasteland. Its cruel bright heart kills with cold by night and heat by
day. I feel the wrongness here in my very bones. But, if we flee, the shadows
of the Lost we’ve offended may follow to punish our entire tribe.”
Eyes downcast, Butterfly asked through
parched lips, “What is your solution, shaman’s son?”
“We must reach the lake, and do so
before dark,” said Coyote Call. “I’m going to climb this rock and put you on my
shoulders. I can smell water, but you might be able to see it and point out the
After Coyote Call made it to the top of
the rock with Butterfly on his back, he stood panting, tight-faced, dry-mouthed,
and silent. The sun was setting too soon. A chill wind had begun to blow.
Butterfly shaded her eyes and
yelled from her perch atop the leader’s shoulders, “I see a blue lake in a
green valley of many trees…and our tents! The rocks end not far from here in a
falls where mist rises.”
“Have we been walking in circles all
this time?” asked Brown Bear, gaping up at Butterfly.
She continued, “I see our camp preparing
a feast. Elders are chanting. Hunters are cleaning game. Fish are drying in the
sun. Women are filling cooking baskets, pounding and steaming roots—”
“Then we’ll be back in time for dinner!”
interrupted Coyote Call. “But…how can you see that far?” Suspicion distorted
his handsome features. “And how can we possibly be going home and not away?”
“We cannot go back to what we were
before,” said the girl, her beautiful eyes huge as she stared at something
visible only to her inner gaze.
Coyote Call glared up at her, and then
set her down roughly to demand, “Stop trying to frighten us with your
sun-craziness. If I’d known you were going to spoil our fun, I’d have made you
stay home. I ought to throw you off this rock right now and tell your parents
you fell, brat.”
On tiptoe, Butterfly prodded his broad
chest with her finger, hissing, “And kill our child, Lightfoot, in the
process?” She pulled her smock over her head and threw it at his feet.
“What do you mean? Your brothers assured
me you hadn’t yet bled,” said he, eyes wide as if he couldn’t get enough of the
sight of the full breasts and thighs she unbound.
Coyote Call went pale when Butterfly
unbound her swollen belly and said, “You think I don’t know who was
behind the mask and furs when
you convinced my stupid brothers to sacrifice me to ‘Woods Whistler’ to assure
the success of your little venture?”
“I only wanted to scare you so you
wouldn’t tag along and slow us down. I didn’t intend to take you before you
were willing,” said he, his head lowered in shame, “but Woods Whistler’s wild
spirit really did enter me. I struggled against his nature and ran from
it…after you screamed so loud for my help. Woods Whistler wouldn’t have left
you there once he’d finished enjoying himself, believe me.”
“I think you brought me so you could
enjoy yourself again.” Butterfly began to bind her thighs.
“I let you come along because I knew
you’d tell on us to the elders if I didn’t,” he lied.
Then Black Bear hollered from below,
“What is taking you two so long? Here we are, lost in the wasteland, surrounded
by monsters waiting for night so they can jump on us and snatch off our scalps,
not to mention gobble down the rest of our bodies—”
Coyote Call interrupted him, “You’re
right. We should move on so we can at least fish in the lake that I am sure is
not much further, gather some berries, and build a safe shelter. But first,
choose a girl to keep you warm. I have mine already. We’ll catch up with you as
soon as we’re through here.” Grinning broadly, Coyote Call stripped his lean,
well-muscled body and made his pile of clothes into a bed.
His shame forgotten, the shaman’s son
grabbed Butterfly and drew her to him, kissing her. When he could catch his
breath from her response, he begged, “Forgive me, beloved. Why not enjoy the
father of your child? I’ll keep you safe. What you saw in your vision must have
been our wedding feast.”
The maidens overheard her cries and
moans, and, sure she was in pain, ran ahead through the rocks to escape
Butterfly’s fate. Four eager youths followed after. They never saw the cougar
awaken from his day-long sleep and leap from his rock to follow them, sunset
being the favorite time for cats to hunt. The group made so much noise they
didn’t hear the cat. He caught those fat Bear twins who had betrayed their
sister. With a swipe of his mighty paw, he brought them down. They were only
knocked unconscious, but the hunter dragged them to dirt and covered them, so
he could feed later. Before he could return to the hunt, though, the cougar
felt something land on his back. It was Weasel Tail, the fattest and sturdiest
“Oh, no you don’t,” she growled. “I’m
not going to let you eat my future husbands!”
The two maidens and two youths heard
Weasel Tail scream as she rode the cougar, who headed for the lake in sheer
panic. The cat had quickly realized he was no match for her, especially when she
bit his ear. The four outran the cougar and dived into the lake without even
checking for monsters first. They swam in the gathering gloom toward campfires,
the painted tents of the people, and the hot food of a feast. Butterfly’s vision
had come to pass!
The four survivors pulled themselves out of the lake expecting a
warm welcome. But, everywhere they looked, people wailed, threw ashes on and
slashed themselves, and shaved off their hair, then burned it, while fragrant
food sat cooling beneath eight new funeral platforms. Walking among the
mourners, the four kept bumping into them, but no one noticed. The young
survivors eyed one another, shook their heads in disbelief, and stayed silent
out of respect for the newly dead. Finally, Weasel Tail’s sister Meadow Lark
climbed a tree above the platforms and stared down to see who might lie atop
them. She saw her own body and Weasel Tail’s on the first two platforms, and
tried to scream. Nothing came out. Next, she saw her other three companions on
separate, pine-sweet platforms. Each of the Bear twins lay upon his own
platform. On the last and largest platform lay Coyote Call, Butterfly in his
arms. They seemed peacefully asleep in their wedding regalia. All the dead
youngsters were dressed in their best clothes with their favorite things
alongside them. No one had a wound or a scar or even a frown—only the look of
dreamers enjoying a paradise. Of those chosen for the place beyond the falls
which would become part of Napper’s
Holler, seven were virgins, two lovers, and the last, an unborn
innocent—the very first Lightfoot.