Black Petals Issue #84 Summer, 2018

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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Goodbye to Nowhere Land-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Just a Minute-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Nobody Should Be in 1610 Maple-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 1
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 2
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 3
Prey-Poems by Michael Keshigian
Asunder-Poems by Mike Rose

beyondthefalls.jpg

Chapter 3


Beyond the Falls


by 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 scare.”

“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 time.”

“I know how to fix her so she won’t bother us.” Coyote Call gave a nasty laugh.

How 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 monster.”

“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.

I 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 he did.

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 refresh.

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.

Who 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.

How 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 way.”

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 maiden.

“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.

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