Rivers

In her life, she has crossed many rivers
Some she swam with sure, steady strokes
Some she walked over on burning bridges
Some were so shallow, she easily waded
But fording the last one, she almost drowned
Failed to reach the other side

The swift, black waters dragged her down
Filled her lungs with life’s heartaches
Then cast her battered body back to shore
Left her choking, gasping, gagging,
Down but not defeated
Never defeated

Older and wiser, she bided her time
Waited at the river for the dire wolves to come drink
And built a raft from their strong bones
Made a cape from their warm, gray fur
Then floated across upon the cold choppy surface
And stepped off safe and warm on the other side

She fashioned a home from the raft bones
Made a bed from the sleek fur cape
And she abided there in the high desert
Content and happy as she grew old
Until the time came for her to leave
For there was one more river yet to cross

The Preacherman–conclusion

Part 1 here

“Adam…wake up.”

Something was shaking me, bouncing my brain around inside my head, each bounce setting of a sick boom of pain.

“Adam…please.”

I didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to open my eyes.

“Adam…”

Warm breath fanned my cheek, soft lips pressed gently against mine. Loi’s lips. And it was Loi’s voice that again whispered a name: “Adam…”

Adam? Who was…

Oh yeah, Adam was me.

My eyes opened to darkness, to a shadowed face hovering over mine. I sensed more than saw her: my sweet Loi. She was here in my bedroom, where she’d never been before. Something must be wrong. “What—”

“Shhhh.” Loi’s hand covered my mouth. “Don’t say anything or you might wake her. Just come with me.”

Wake her? Wake the Other? She didn’t want the Other to wake up? What was going on?

Loi tugged on my arm. “Hurry.”

Then it all crashed into my head in one giant wave. The church house. The crying babe. The Other strangling it. Loi screaming. And someone, most likely the Preacherman, knocking me out.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up. My head pounded harder. I sucked in a couple of deep breaths and the pounding eased up, settled into a steady, throbbing pain. And swimming around inside my head with the hurt was a thought: just where was Loi wanting us to go? Continue reading

The Preacherman–part 3

Part 1 here

Part of me was curious as to what the “some things” were, but a bigger part didn’t want to go sit in that chair, didn’t want to know “some things”. And judging from the frown on the Preacherman’s face, I was sure what he was fixing to tell me weren’t good. But I did what I was told.

I sat down on the edge of the chair, too edgy to relax. Though the Preacherman had been good to me, I knew his kindness was conditional. One wrong move and he’d swat me like a fly.

God’s Book lay open on the Preacherman’s lap. His fingers moved over the squiggles covering the pages while he stared through the night-black eye of the window that looked out over the flatlands. I wondered what the Book told him. When I was a youngen, old folks said it was the black marks that did the talking, but I’d never heard a peep out of the Book or the marks either. The few times I’d laid my hand on Ma’s God’s Book, it hadn’t said nothing. But then I weren’t no preacherman.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, son, but what you’re wanting ain’t never gonna happen.”

Heat flooded my face. My ears burned. I couldn’t look up; my eyes stayed pinned on the Book as he gently closed the well-worn cover.

“I can see you love my daughters as much as I loved their mother,” he said. “And I know very well what you’re feeling. I’m a man, I know what you want. But it ain’t gonna happen. It can’t happen.”

His hand drew away from God’s Book, and I felt the meaty weight of it settle on my shoulder. Cold. Like the Other’s.

“You’ve been a good son, Adam, you’ve done everything I’ve asked of you.”

And here I thought I’d been told what to do. And was fixing to be told again. Continue reading

The Preacherman–part 2

Part 1 here

I didn’t know what I expected, though what came through that door surely weren’t it.

A gal edged sort of sideways through the opening, and it was her. “Is he awake now, Pa?” she asked, her eyes all big and bright with excitement. She smiled my way.

That beautiful smile pulled an answering one out of me. Forgetting that I didn’t have so much as a stitch on, I started sitting up in bed, and then I saw the Other come through the door, and Lord, they looked exactly the same. But where the first’s smile was sweet and warm and held everything that was good, the second’s was cold and hostile and filled with a jittery darkness.

And it only got worse.

As the two of them glided across the floor toward me, I remembered what I’d seen when they were perched up on the wagon seat: three arms. One arm on her right, one arm on the Other’s left, and where their shoulders touched, one more perfect arm. And I knew good and well that if I could see up under the long, full skirt of that gray dress, I’d see three legs.

What in God’s name was she?

Her lips quavered. She looked confused. The Other’s grin widened, showing all those cruel white teeth. Continue reading

The Preacherman

I’d been down in the Cheyanna strip pits for so long I’d just about forgotten what the sun looked like, when Cracker pulled me off the sorting line and told me I’d done my time and was free to go. Wondering if he was pulling a funny on me, I followed his fat arse through the dim, winding tunnels where it seemed like I’d spent pretnear my whole life working and eating and sleeping and dreaming of blue sky; then it was up a narrow flight of steps carved into the gray shale of the south wall to the ore platform.

Many a time I’d watched that contraption haul piles of yellow-threaded chunks up the long, dark shaft hacked through the rocks overhead, and had seen it bring down a few unlucky men like me; but the only time I’d set foot on it myself was the long-ago day it’d dropped me smack-dab in the middle of hell.

“Climb on, Dooley,” Cracker said, nudging me none too gently in the back. And I knew then that he weren’t funning me.

I stepped on, Cracker right behind me. He gave a couple of sharp tugs on a rope and the platform lurched, then rose upward into that hollowed-out tunnel barely bigger than the lashed-together timbers under our feet. The four thick cables attached to its corners seemed alive, hissing and vibrating as they roiled up into the darkness. The noise put me in mind of Albo snakes, with their red eyes, and slick white bodies as long and skinny as a whip.

Up we went, on and on. And when at last I saw a pinprick of light overhead, I knew that I wouldn’t have to sleep no more with my arms wrapped around my head to keep the Albos from wriggling into my ears or nose.

The dot of light got bigger and bigger, filling the mouth of the shaft with a white glare that my eyes couldn’t bear. I shielded them with my hand, but that weren’t enough; I had to look away, down at my grimy boots instead of the clean, blue sky above.

“Here,” Cracker said in a voice made gravely by too many years breathing Cheyanna’s dust. “This’ll help.” He pressed a wad of dirt-smudged white cloth into my hands.

It was a kaul, a head covering worn by the traders who traveled the roads between Cheyanna and the outside world: a hood that fit over your head with a narrow slit cut out for your eyes. Without it or something like it, a man could go blind out in the desert staring day in and day out at all that white sand.

I mumbled a “Thanks,” and pulled it over my head. And looked around, having my first drink of daylight in…”How long?” Continue reading

Millie’s Story

“Move away from it!”

Prodding my ribs with the dragon’s barrel, Pa attempted to push me aside. I hunkered over Keme’s bloody, prone body, gripped his shoulders tight, knowing if I gave Pa a clear target, he’d shoot Keme again, kill him. If he wasn’t already dead.

“Damn it, daughter, I said move!” Another jab with the dragon.

Not looking up, I shook my head. “No!”

Silence invaded the shed, broken only by Pa’s raspy breathing. I felt a light touch on my bare shoulder, then the hand jerked away as if my skin had burned it. Pa growled, “Millie, what’s going on? Where’re your clothes?”

I looked up into a face that was more shadow than substance in the lantern’s feeble light. I opened my mouth, but no words came out.

“Did it…did it force itself on you?”

I finally found my tongue. “No, Pa…I…we…” And lost it again.

His eyes raked both Keme and me, taking in our nakedness; they narrowed, hardened. “Are you telling me it didn’t…you willingly had congress with this demon?”

“He’s not a demon, he’s—”

“It has wings, daughter, it is a demon, and I’m going to finish it. Then…” A loaded pause. “Then I’ll deal with you.” Continue reading

Home

Down a distant country road
Lined with hickory and oak
Sits an old weathered house
Its roof wreathed in gauzy smoke

Wash flaps on the line
Hound dogs rest in the shade
Kids shimmy up a walnut tree
Wearing clothes handmade

Mama stands on the porch
Daddy towers at her side
Unconditional love in their eyes
Welcoming arms open wide

Here’s my baby,
Daddy says with a grin
We’ve been waiting for you, Mama adds
Supper’s ready, come on in

I close my eyes, take a final breath
My heart no more shall roam
I leave the road, pass through the gate
At last…at last…I’m home

Photo from Pixabay

 

Keme’s Story

“I saw the most beautiful girl yesterday,” Keme said to his mother. “More beautiful than any I have ever seen.”

Wapun continued grinding the pestle into the multicolored corn contained in the hollowed-out mortar stone. “Oh…have you been traveling north again, visiting with the Hidatsas?” She glanced over her shoulder, smiled up at him. “Has some pretty little thing caught your eye, my son?”

“No, not the Hidatsas.” Keme remembered the girl, eyes as green as prairie grass, hair the color of gold. And her smile.

“The Kansa then? Or the Mandan?”

“No, no, she was…well…” Keme trailed off, uncertain how to tell his mother about the beautiful girl, how they had met, and how she had not been frightened of him.

The pestle stopped. Wapun turned toward him, her black eyes locking on his. “You did not go over the mountains again, did you?”

Keme looked down at the stone floor. It had been a mistake, he should not have told her about Millie. But he had been so excited he had to tell someone about the girl and his love for her.

His mother grabbed his arm. “Look at me, Keme.”

Slowly, he raised his eyes. Worry twisted her features, causing the fine, white down that covered her face to bristle like an angry dog.

“This girl—does she live across the river?”

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he nodded.

Her wings rose slightly, quivered, the tips making a raspy noise upon the floor. “You know this is wrong. We do not mix with them.”

Keme knew. From an early age, he had been warned not to fly south from the Redochre Mountains where they nested, that since war had broken out among the Earthbound Ones many, many moons ago (so long ago that no one now living remembered just when), they had changed; the Earthbound Ones now believed their avian brothers to be witikos or other evil spirits. Continue reading

Wings

The wings are still there
Propped in a dark corner
Of a forgotten room
Since childhood

Shaggy and moth eaten
Dull gray with dust
Feathers drooping
Beneath Time’s weight

They whisper of a dream
Where anything is possible
Where I can fly
If only I believe

And possess a child’s courage
To strap on gossamer wings
Constructed of innocence and faith
And leap blindly into space

Photo from Pixabay

Wagon Wheel

Old Crow Medicine Show is a Nashville based string band that has been recording since 1998. Their music has been described as Americana, alternative country, folk country, and bluegrass. They have garnered many nominations and awards in their long career, including the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album of the Year for Remedy.
My favorite single, “Wagon Wheel” (which has been covered by various artists), was nominated for Song of the Year in 2013 by the Country Music Association, and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry of America in 2013.