Like Sun Flashing Upon the Mohawk

It was the smell that caught my attention first.

Not the usual smell of woodsmoke you’d expect from a farm settlement back along the Hudson. Nor the aroma of your mum’s cooking or baking on the breeze. No, this was an earthier smell, more like burnt meat, a grease fire and boiled out vegetable pots. This was the Mohawk town called Teatontaloga.

Strange how the longer I kneeled there in the hills above the north shore of the Mohawks’ River among the hemlock, hickory and spruce, the less offensive the smell became, tempered, as it were, by the scent of nature. I almost felt like dozing in this odd perfume, transfixed by the sparkle of the sun on the river.

But I could not afford the time to sleep. I had been sent out here to scout for the German colonists on their way up the Hudson with designs on settling land patents purchased from the old Dutch burghers in Albany. Traveling through the valley, for the past six days, keeping a cold camp, always alert lest I run across the trail of some Mohawk hunting party, I never allowed myself to sleep more than a few minutes at a time.

One more look at the sun flashing on the mouth of Schoharie Creek joining the river and I was ready to go. I’d seen what I needed to see. Then came that one big flash.

I awoke not feeling like I’d slept, but more like a a trussed up Christmas goose that had been dragged behind a wagon on Albany’s cobblestone main street. It was dark and smoky.  That smell I’d discovered from the hill above the river was stronger than ever and there was no forest to soften it. A dog growled next to me when I stirred.

“Finally awake I see,” said a voice in perfect English, if a Yorkshireman’s accent could be called perfect.

“What happened to me? Where am I? Who in the name of God are you?” I said, my head dully aching except where I imagine a rifle butt sparked the big flash then darkness.

“I should think what happened would be quite evident, young scout. I suspect you know where you are, as well. As to who I am, my Kanien’kéha family here call me Karawase, their word for ‘A New Way’.” Who I was back in Sheffield doesn’t much matter anymore,” the silhouette outlined by the glowing fire said.

“What do they plan to do with me?” I said.

“First, you are lucky to be alive to ask that question. Secondly, that is still being debated. Before the clan leaders make any decision on that, they want me to find out what you’re doing here,” Karawase said. “I suspect it might be something of the nefarious ilk, knowing my greedy and unconscionable English brethren as I do.”

“You appear to be an educated man, sir. I would hope that we could reach an understanding that the people who sent me here to scout this country would be more than willing to parley with your leaders to reach an accommodation in terms of…”

“Stealing their ancestral homes? I don’t believe that is possible, young scout. By the by, youngster, what is you’re name?” Karawase said, edging closer to me so finally I could see his features.

“My name is Jacob Brown. Actually, Jacob Braun. But since the Huron killed my Papa, my mother went back to her English roots and translated it.”

“I see. You’re also a man of two camps.”

“I suppose you could say that. But, my two camps aren’t making war against one another,” I replied.

“Not yet. But they will. It’s the way of the world, young Jacob Brown,” Karawase said, rubbing his fingers on a new tattoo he sported on his cheek. “So you’re representing English or German interests?”

“German. Families of Palatinites are coming upriver to Albany, looking to establish homes out here in these valleys. And they would like to make sure they can do that, raise their crops and families, without having to fear attacks from your people,” I said, figuring my recognizing his current status might soften him to my plight.

“It’s true that some of my people have taken a shine to the English trade representative, Mister Johnson. Or, should I say, he has taken a shine to us. But these Dutchman you describe will only foul our rivers and streams with their hogs and cattle, use up the land with their constant planting, never letting our Mother rest from her labors of feeding the people.”

“Not if I can spell out terms that the Mohawk can make, allowing them to come here and live in peace. Their coming here is a definite thing. The peace will be up to you.”

“That is quite true, Jacob Brown. For we are a great people, the Guardians of the Eastern Door of the Five Nations. It is our place to see that your western-advancing floods do not drown us with their foul smelling beasts and fouler smelling progeny.”

The entrance to the longhouse opened and a tall, lean man entered. He walked toward Karawase, ignoring my bound-up form on the mat next to the fire. He spoke softly but forcefully to Karawase, who replied in kind. This surprised me, for I never expected a white man to be so familiar with the savage red man.

Karawase leaned down after the man left, and said, “My brother, the son of my Kanien’kéha mother, asked me what we have been discussing. I told him what you told me and he would like to see you roasted over coals and fed to the dogs. Strictly as a means of ensuring you not only return to Albany with your scouting report, but also to ensure your spirit never leaves this place, as well.”

His words turned my empty stomach into knots. I had already seen what the Abenaki and Seneca could do to a man, his color notwithstanding. I had also seen what the English could do to Delaware, Huron and even the unfortunate Mohawk who crossed the trail the whites were determined to own, as well as the hectares on both sides of it for miles.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, Karawase.  You could be the man who helps the Mohawk become the wealthiest of the Five Nations, accepting tribute from the Palatinites for the meager amounts of land they need for their farms. They truck in fine silver and fabrics from Europe. The guns they make are legendary for their small size but powerful kick. Perfect for your people to defend, if not expand their reach to the south and west.”

“Jacob Brown, we can take those treasures from your Dutchman any time we have a mind to. We are not only Kanien’kéha, which you call Mohawk, but one of a confederacy of five nations that rule the lands from the north river you call Hudson’s to the biggest of the western lakes, from the northern mountains to the lands of the Cherokee. We are stewards of this country, given that charge by the Creator himself. We have never been defeated and never will, save for if one of our own nations aligns against us. And why would they do that? They wouldn’t. So, you Jacob Brown, man of two camps, I would prepare to see the light of the Creator this day. You seem to be a brave boy, but my brother has broken brave men many times. He is a fearsome warrior. I will ask him if I may kill you before he lets you suffer. You seem a nice enough chap,” Karawase said. And then he left the longhouse, the dog following him.

I looked down the smoky, dim length of the longhouse, realizing that the last smell I would inhale on this earth was the one that drew me to where I would die. I was both intrigued and repulsed that I would soon be another source of that burnt meat smell. I felt just the same about how that German silver waiting for me back in Albany. How it more than likely would end up dangling from the ear of some Mohawk warrior. Or it could be pounded and shaped and used to decorate the fine Jaeger rifle he took from its Palatine owner.

If I was to fail in my mission, as I indeed had, I was happy for the promise of Karawase to dispatch me before I succumbed to the fires of hell on earth. I wondered if I would be able to see the flashes of light on the river once more before I went before the light of the Lord’s judgment.

Karawase threw aside the cover of the longhouse entrance and stood in the doorway, the light of dawn surrounding him like he was a saint, instead of a traitor to his people, which is what I imagined was why he lived among and abetted such savages that would cook a man for looking at where they lived.

“I have spoken with the elders and the old mothers who hold sway over the clans. They have decided you will not die the slow death my brother spoke so stridently for. At my claim for leniency, they wish to see you run through a long gauntlet from the center of the village and the river,” Karawase said. “Reach the river and you may float back to Albany.”

“This is good news,” I said.

“Depends on how quick and shifty you are, Jacob Brown. By my eye, the distance between here and the river is twenty rods if an inch. Easily half a furrow-long,” Karawase said.

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Aye, and a chance is all ye have.”

“When do I begin?”

“I’d say when the sun clears the hills to the east. Perhaps another hour or so.”

“I’ll be ready.”

That hour passed and I could hear a crowd milling, laughing, shouting outside the longhouse. Karawase and his brother entered and loosed my bindings, setting me on my feet for the first time since someone, I imagine Karawase, brought that musket butt down upon my head.

The crowd of people had strung themselves out in two lines snaking from the center of the village to the shore. I could not see the river from where I stood, nor would I until I made it to nearly the end of the gauntlet. If I made it.

“Are you ready, Jacob Brown?” Karawase said above the din of warriors hooting, women keening and youngsters laughing. All but the men were carrying switches of birch or elm. The men and older boys had something more resembling weapons, clubs or the like.

“I don’t expect I’d better not be ready, Karawase. I should thank you for saving me from the fire.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure this is going to have any better ending, Jacob Brown.”

“If I may, could you tell me what your name was before you became one of these barbarians?”

“You wouldn’t believe me, Jacob Brown.”

“Please. In case we don’t have another chance to talk.”

“You might not believe me, but it was Brown, Simon Brown. Now prepare yourself, boy. My brother and I will be waiting at the far end to see you make it to the river. Godspeed, Jacob Brown,” the man called Karawase said.

“I will, Simon. I will.”

And then he was gone. Two warriors ripped off my shirt, took my arms and stood me between the long lines of impatient savages looking to mete out their worst punishment on the white man who represented all the whites encroaching on their country. They didn’t know I was but one drop in an ocean whose tide was coming in from the Atlantic.

“Kanónhsa raksà:ʼa,” the biggest one grunted, and pushed me so hard I fell to the ground between the first couple of pairs on my run. They were older women with switches and they hit me with a fury of decades of pent-up anger. I rose to my feet and grabbed one of the switches and lunged forward, using the slender branch as one might a sword in warding off the cutting blows of the women and children.

My skin was aflame with small welts and scratches, but I was still alive. Up ahead, I could see I was coming to the older boys and men, who were waiting with angry faces and hooting and howling in such a frightening manner I almost spoiled myself. But I plunged into their forest of branches and clubs.

I whipped my switch in the face of one of the boys and grabbed his club and swung it wildly around me to again deflect the worst of the blows. By now, my lungs were burning, as I had run a long way as fast as I could, bouncing from one side of the gauntlet to the other. My legs felt like tree trunks and I could taste blood. From where I did not know.

I looked up and could see the end of the lines ahead. And there was the Mohawk. It sparkled like German silver and I had to fight to maintain my composure and best defensive parries and feints. I held off one warrior’s blow with my club, but felt the sting of a blade on my back from another. I turned for an instant and caught him a blow on the arm, whereupon his knife bounded to the ground ahead of me.

I ran best I could and picked it up and fought my way to the very last six men on the end of the line. Four of them crowded me and I battled my way through them and ran into Karawase’s brother, standing there in my path to the river.

The sun had climbed well above the hills now. I could feel it on my face. I could smell the mud and water waiting behind the savage in front of me. To my left, I saw Karawase, a club resting in his crossed arms. I dove at his brother, screaming like I was one of the Mohawks now. Perhaps this is how Simon Brown became Karawase. I’ll never know.

I charged the final warrior, as quickly as a desperate man could. I must have surprised him, because I got close to his body and his club came down dully on my back. I slashed his ribs with the knife and he went down, the smell of him, that same earthy smell from… Was it only day before yesterday?

I could see the river only a few yards away, see the sunlight flash in my eyes. I half-ran, half-staggered to its muddy margins. The sun above glared in my eyes and the moist smell of the Mohawk spoke of escape.

From the corner of my eye, I saw an Indian, a familiar form, rush toward me, his club raised above his head. The world suddenly lit up around me like a lightning flash. Then came the feeling of water on my face, beautiful, cool, like meine Mutter’s hands after drawing it from the creek called the Krum Kill.

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And Crown Thy Good…

At the end of the bar, I saw old Mason Snyder sitting in his semi-usual ruminating funk, so I decided to slide my beer down there to here him out and see if we could repair the world a bit together.

After asking why the long face, Mase said, “Last week, I saw a study that broke down the average life expectancy in all the States and the spot with the longest living residents–at 85 years–was in some Colorado ski resort area, while the shortest are in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, where on average, people there can expect to live to age 67,” Mase said.

“Beyond the obvious disparity, is that what’s pissing you off so much?” I asked.

Mase had a long pull on his Bud, took a deep breath and said, “I saw some news bunny ask if the lives of Oglala Lakota County residents there were so short there because they died of boredom out there in the high plains.”

“Uh oh,” I said, knowing the righteous wrath coming in three, two,….

“Yeah, honey, the type of boredom that sets in where you have no prospects to change your life from the grinding poverty of being members of families who’ve essentially been prisoners of war for a century and a half. The type of boredom that drives people to drink and drug themselves into oblivion because they lost the home version of the Manifest Destiny game show. The type of boredom that causes kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation to kill themselves at a ridiculously high rate,” Mase said in his indignant and borderline angry tone when he talked about the treatment of America’s native people.

“That’s pretty tragic,” I said, feeling both sad and guilty watching Mase, who was of mixed Navaho and German heritage, take another gulp of his beer and the breath to go on.

“Oh, and by the way, Miss Talking Hairdo, that average life expectancy was for the whole of Oglala Lakota County, where
the numbers just a few years ago for Pine Ridge Reservation residents only were 52 years for women and fuckin’ 48 for men– 48 years of age and done,” Mase said, spun on his stool and stalked out the bar entrance.

“What the hell was Big Chief Bottom-of-the-Bottle going on about?” Charlie the bartender asked me in the wake of Mase’s diatribe on the mistreatment of red folks by the sorry-ass  Great White (absentee) Father over the years.

“C’mon we’re as guilty as any White Americans in not doing enough–or anything–to help these fellow Americans live better, safer, healthier lives,” I said in my own Mase-stoked righteously indignant tone.

“Yeah, well you tell him for me if he–and you, for that matter–expects to get his firewater in my joint anymore, he’d better keep it down or, better yet, take his whiny shit to some liberal fern bar, ’cause us real Americans don’t want to hear it,” Charlie said, flipping the channel from the fifth inning in Cleveland of another one-sided Mets matinee loss over to Fox News Channel.

A poor pass at my Day 24 effort for Story-A-Day May. The prompt was to write a “Sonnet Story,” one with 14 sentences and carried the sonnet structure, save for no rhyming or anything like that. Just twelve sentences of any length, with or without rhyme or meter. I don’t think I hit the mark of a Petrarchan nor Shakespearean sonnet, but at least it’s written and the data is absolutely correct…and shameful. 

Return of the Bungu

Birch Creek Pictograph panel. Birch Creek Valley, Idaho. 5.15.10

Dainape-wenoo’-mukua, Man Carrying Spirits on His Back, always looked around once again to see if he was followed before he entered. A great priest such as he could ill afford any mere hunter or child, let alone a woman, find the source of his dream medicine.

Man Carrying Spirits would part the bushes that hid the entrance to his sacred space within the bluffs above of the River That Moves Like a Snake. He carried with him a piece of wood the length of his arm whose end he’d dipped in pine pitch. With his fire-starter stones he’d spark a patch of dry grass and light his torch before entering the cave only he knew.

Pushing his torch before him and crawling into the small opening, Man Carrying Spirits could feel the cool breeze coming from within the cave on his face. It smelled of mud and moss and iron and it always gave him renewed vigor. Once through the opening, the priest was able to stand, for he had entered the first chamber of the spirits, the one he found as a boy and from which he carried home stones in a sack on his back that bore the marks of the Ancient Ones.

As he held his torch high, he could see the marks they painted onto the cave walls, circles and stick figures of men holding spears standing above other men who lay at their feet. But these paintings of victorious men at war were not the primary reason he came to his sacred space. That lay in the chamber behind a rock at the far end of the first gallery.

Pushing aside the rock, Man Carrying Spirits would feel the great whoosh of dank air, the breath of the ancients, blow his long hair from his face. It was as if they were saying, “Open your eyes, my son, to what we share only with you.”

As he stepped into the secret chamber, he’d quietly sing an incantation seeking guidance and the blessings of the Ancient Ones, for his people were hungry and game was growing scarce in their small hunting grounds. Man Carrying Spirits’ mission was to beseech the Ancient Ones to bring back the herds of buffalo and more elk and deer than the few his hunters could bring down with their spears and arrows.

Once again, he raised his torch, singing as he circled the chamber, its walls towering above him seemingly as tall as the bluffs within which they were hidden. No one would ever understand what he saw lit by the small circle of torchlight. He didn’t fully understand, but he knew they represented a powerful medicine only the Ancient Ones mastered.

On the wall were the faint drawings in charcoal and white and ochre mud of men chasing beasts Man Carrying Spirits had never seen, never considered possible to exist. There were scenes of great bison taller than a man hurtling over cliffs as men stampeded them forward, as his people hunted them to this day.

But mixed among these were fearsome beasts, some with horns growing from their noses, some like slender bison but their humps set further along their backs, some towering humped monsters with long horns extending from their mouths.

But the drawings that intrigued him most were of fat animals that resembled dogs, only much larger. Perhaps if these beasts would return to their hunting grounds, they would provide easier game to kill and more meat than The People could harvest from the deer and elk that had grown so scarce. He knew this animal would be the key to his people’s survival.

He reached into his parfleche sack and withdrew two small deerskin bags, one filled with bear grease and the other with mud from the place in the River that Runs Like a Snake where the mountain bled white along its banks.  He poured some of the dried mud powder into the grease and mixed it with his finger. He took a daub of that mixture and outlined and colored in the picture of the animal as he prayed to some great Dog God he thought held power over the animal. Then, gathering his things, he’d withdraw from the medicine chamber, push the rock over its entrance and crawl back into the sunlight beating upon the bluffs above the River that Runs Like a Snake.

But the hunting failed to improve and The People had to move further south, requiring Man Carrying Spirits to travel great distances back to his sacred place to pray and gather his spirit medicine.

Growing older, he decided to take on an apprentice who he believed could follow in his place as intermediary between The People and the spirit world. He chose young Daigwade-dugaani, Talks in the Night, who had always sat quietly listening as Man Carrying Spirits told tales of the ancient times and the great beasts that lived along with The People, but were no more.

The men would laugh at Man Carrying Spirits, claiming the old priest was going mad with age or had been touched by a bad spirit during one of his disappearances. But Talks in the Night was resolute in his faith in the old man.

On his first trip to Man Carrying Spirits’ sacred place, Talks in the Night was frightened by the drawings of monsters by the Ancient Ones.

“Don’t be afraid of these drawings, Grandson,” Man Carrying Spirits said. “They have great medicine, but were put here by the Ancient Ones for me to find and talk with them, beseeching them for the blessings they represent. Blessings in war, in hunting and in living as The People.”

“I see, Grandfather, but they are such odd and frightening creatures. Except that one,” Talks in the Night said, pointing to a depiction of Man Carrying Spirits’ Dog God. “That one speaks to my spirit, to my heart.”

“You feel the same as I do, Grandson. Should we encounter this creature again, it will bring great medicine to our people. I am certain of that.”

“I can see why you would not want to share this knowledge with The People. They would not understand and so would consider this an evil place, bewitched, full of bad medicine,” the apprentice said.

“But I knew you would see the drawings for what they are, connecting us to the ancient ones and their world,” Man Carrying Spirits said. “Come, let me teach you the incantation to summon the Dog God to return this fine animal to our people so they will not have empty stomachs in the winter.”

Before they left, Man Carrying Spirits dipped his finger into a mixture of grease and crushed charcoal and dabbed it upon the hindquarters of the white beast.

“This represents one more time I have prayed to the Dog God to bring this animal back to The People. Let us go home, Grandson.”

It came to pass that Man Carrying Spirits’ eyesight succumbed to his years and the world grew dark to him, so he relied on Talks in the Night not only as his apprentice, but his eyes as well. The old priest’s body could no longer accept the rigorous trip back to his sacred place. He would send Talks in the Night to invoke the ancient ones, certain they would listen to the boy whose spirit he felt was as pure as his own. The old priest would go as far as he could and then would wait in a shelter for the boy to return, then ask him what he had seen on his journey.

One day, having spent from dawn to dusk praying in the caves, Talks in the Night was almost back to the place he had left his teacher, when he heard the great noise, a pounding as if in his heart. As the sound grew closer, he thought it sounded something like the sound of the bozheena, the bison, when they ran during the hunt. But this was different, a sharper sound that startled him, so he climbed a tree to both hide and to give him a longer view of what was approaching.

He saw the dust cloud from behind the rise, but could not make out what was making it. Then he heard the snorting, and eventually, the scream. From around the bluff came a herd of animals fleeter than any bison, any deer, any elk he had ever seen. At the head of the herd ran an animal of almost white, save for its rear quarters, which bore the black spots Man Carrying Spirits dappled on the cave paintings.

It was the Dog God returning the magical creatures to His People, just as Man Carrying Spirits had prayed for and foretold. The beasts thundered by just below the branch upon which he crouched, their legs seemingly whirling like a child’s spinning wheel.

After they passed, Talks in the Night jumped from his perch and ran to the shelter of his teacher, but the old man was on the trail when he found him.

“Did you see them, Grandson? Did you see them? It was the Dog God and his herd, was it not? Nothing in our world sounds like that, screaming like the wind and rumbling like thunder. What did they look like, Grandson?”

“Just as the Ancient Ones and you drew them, Grandfather. Their leader, the Dog God himself, even bore the spots you put on his hindquarters. But these animals will be difficult to hunt, they are so big, so swift. They also are too beautiful, too full of strong medicine to hunt. They must have another reason for coming back to our country,” Talks in the Night said.

“As they ran past, I had a vision, Grandson. In my vision, I saw the Dog God and one of the Ancient Ones together, chasing down the bison, but the Ancient One was not running next to the Dog God. Somehow he seemed as one with him. Most curious,” the old man said.

“Shall we go back and tell The People of this miracle,” Grandfather?” the boy asked.

“Not yet, boy. I would like to capture one to bring back first. Otherwise, they would think us mad.

“We must chase one into one of the canyons with one door, then get a rope on it. We will pray that it sees we mean it no harm so it might not kills us,” Man Carrying Spirits said with a small laugh.

A week later, Talks in the Night was able to chase an inattentive one of the creatures, which he called a bungu, which was a contracted version of the words meaning “whirling legs,” into the box canyon and slip a rope over its head. Together, he and Man Carrying Spirits sang and talked to the beast until it quieted.

“Help me onto its back, Grandson. I wish to see if my vision was true,” Man Carrying Spirits said.

“Grandfather, you are a great priest. You brought the Dog God back to this country. But I fear this beast is too wild to accept you,” the boy said.

“We must have faith, boy. You believed in me and my visions before, it is now time for you to see my greatest one come to being.”

Drawing closer and closer, gently singing and holding a fistful of grass, the old priest reached out and felt the animal calmly snort as it smelled its first whiff of man. As Man Carrying Spirits drew closer to its side, his apprentice helped him to its back. The animal turned its head and snapped at the boy, but allowed the old man to sit on its back.

The Shoshone people would talk for generations about the first time they saw the animal we know as the horse and how Man Carrying Spirits rode upon its back to show how it would help feed The People, just as the old priest foretold.

My story-a-day prompt for Day 20 was to write a story that focuses on the discovery/invention/ramifications of something that shapes my characters’ physical world. I wondered what it must’ve been like to be the first Native American of your tribe to see the horse arrive in your country after the Spaniards brought them to Mexico and the American Southwest. I chose the Shoshone people of southern Idaho because I wanted to incorporate cave drawings representing original horses that roamed the Plains and left prehistoric North America for Asia over the land bridge. I discovered there were such drawings discovered near the Snake River. I’m sure paleontologists and anthropologists will poke more holes in the story than I provided, but, hot damn this was fun. 

The Dollmaker of the Onöndowága,

Iroquois False Face Society mask

He was a powerful shaman, a man of great spirit and fearsome medicine who The Creator imbued with the power to heal and the power to strike down.

And he was my grandfather.

The People called him The Doll Maker. And nobody dared wonder aloud why every doll he made had the same face. Except for me.

One night I said to him in his special hut in the furthest corner of the village from the palisade entrance, “Grandfather, why do all your medicine dolls have the same face when they are meant to represent different people and spirits?”

“That is not for you to know yet, Grandson. Soon enough, I shall reveal my secrets to one of you children, for someone must take my place when it is my time to join our fathers and their fathers’ fathers in the Land of the Dead,” he said, never moving a muscle as he stared into the small fire before him, save for his lips around his pipe.

“I see, Grandfather, it’s just that I never understood.”

“And perhaps you never will, Grandson. But, if the spirits of our ancestors place their hands upon you, you will be the one to whom I will share the secret of the dolls,” he said and closed his eyes as if in a trance.

“I know why he does it, give all the dolls the same faces,” my older brother Kakë:’ët neokë, White Deer, told me one night in our family’s portion of the longhouse. “It’s because he’s become so old and feeble he can no longer carve any face but that one. While I, on the other hand, have schooled myself in the carving art and have surpassed that old man. All I need is the knowledge of his incantations and medicine and I will succeed him as our clan’s shaman.”

White Deer pulled from beneath the bear robe on his pallet six small wooden doll heads, each carved to look like a member of our family. Their likenesses frightened this boy of eleven winters and I stepped away from them while not being able to tear my eyes from their piercing stares.

Hahji’, my brother, while your craftsmanship is great, you should not show those to anyone. And you should learn to keep your plans to yourself. The Grandfather hears with more than his old ears and he will punish you for speaking against him in such an arrogant way,” I said and walked to the other side of the fire to where my mother was nursing our baby sister.

Over the next few months, I began doing more and more chores for Grandfather, learning more about the history of our people and even some of the healing arts beyond those dispensed by the False Face Society, the masked healers who held ceremonies throughout the village in the green-up and harvest times.

Several men, including my father, were members of the False Face Society. Father said they all learned the story of the False Faces from The Grandfather. How the Creator, when he had finished forming the world, was wandering around admiring his work, when he encountered another being who said HE had created the world.

“In a competition to see which of them had the most power, each was to move a mountain, though they were supposed to turn their backs to the mountain while the other used their power. The stranger went first and moved the mountain but a little, yet he moved it. The Creator then took his turn and reminded the Stranger to keep his back turned. But the Stranger’s curiosity was too great. He turned before the Creator was done and was struck in the face by the mountain, leaving him disfigured. Despite The Stranger’s now hideous face, the Creator recognized his great powers, and decided to let him stay in the world to use those powers to heal and prevent storms from harming The People. In his honor, the False Face Society members carve their masks in their own special representation of the one now called Ethiso:da’, The Grandfather” Father said.

“And it was your Grandfather who taught three generations of our men how to carve our masks. No one was a better teacher or a better carver than our Grandfather,” Father said.

“White Deer feels he is a better and will succeed Grandfather as our great shaman,” I said.

“Your brother will become a great man among The People. His strength and confidence will serve him well in war and politics. But your baby sister stands a greater chance of becoming Shaman than White Deer,” Father said, and laughed. “And we shall keep that between the two of us, son.”

He sent me off to see to Grandfather’s comfort and needs. When I entered his hut, I saw Grandfather placing a new doll over by his carving knives. It had the same face as all the others, but it’s clothing looked familiar and on its hand it wore a bandage.

“That doll reminds me of White Deer. It even has the bandage he wears since he cut himself,” I noted.

“Perhaps he should be more heedful to what he has in his hands rather than dreaming of grasping for those things he cannot reach,” Grandfather said.

“Grandfather, did you…?”

“White Deer cut himself, Grandson. I only had the vision that he would and carved a remembrance of the act. Now come, look more closely at this doll,” he said.

I sat next to him and he showed me the doll, whose face looked like every other doll’s face.

“I have decided to begin teaching you how to carve, Grandson. You shall be my apprentice, my student, my successor,” he said.

“Grandfather, I am just a boy,” I said.

“Yes, but your heart and spirit are pure and have the welfare of all The People foremost at all times. Even as young as you are, you do not judge a man, woman or child by how he looks, but what lies beneath.”

With that, he tugged the face, the same face as every other doll, off the White Deer doll. Beneath it he had carved an exact likeness of my brother. He pulled the face off another and it was my face, painted a strong medicine red, beneath it.

“You will learn the carving and the medicine easily enough, Grandson. But you, above all my generations of children, have the greatest gift necessary to succeed me,” Grandfather said.

As you can see, The Grandfather taught me well. Oh, you see only one face on my dolls? True, but my brother, Chief White Deer, will attest to its striking resemblance to our Grandfather.

For Day 3 of Story-a-Day May, I was tasked to write something using the following prompt from author Kylie Quillinan:  “People called him The Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face.”  I decided to set t in the culture of the  Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy of my native New York State. Had a lot of fun taking a fantasy-like prompt and pulling it into my favorite genre., American Historical Fiction

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Because he could, Lieutenant Mal Forbes flipped over his Nieuport 28 fighter airplane and flew upside down. He bent back his head, as to look up, but now up was down. He could feel the strain of his seat belt upon his waist, the blood rushing to his head. He peered over the cockpit coaming at the cloud-plumed blue sky now below his lower wing.

This ability to change point of view with a flick of his wrist and a kick of the rudder made these solo hours in the air, while potentially deadly, his respite from the foes he faced back at his squadron aerodrome.

After righting his nimble, though fragile, French-built aircraft, Forbes took one more swing along the front, hunting German artillery spotting planes. His fuel on reserve, he whispered a “Damn it” that blew away in the slipstream almost before he finished saying it, and headed southwest for the squadron landing field.

Forbes wished he could just remain up there, flying, never having to go back and face those Ivy League pretty boys and their snide jibes about the “half-breed” cowboy pilot. He’d passed five-victory Ace status in the American Air Service two weeks ago, more than anyone else in the squadron, and still they treated him like a stable boy.

Maybe it was his dark skin he’d picked up from his mother’s side of the family. She was half-Ute and he’d grown up on a ranch with his Ute grandmother.

“Hey, Forbes, is it true what they say about Indian women, real wildcats in the l’amour department?” Lt. Edmund Garry said one afternoon in the officers mess. This was the third time he’d made such a statement and Forbes instinctively reached for the Colt on his hip. Instead, he threw a left hook that sent Garry to the hospital and him to the Squadron CO. Other pilots confirmed that Forbes was to blame for the altercation. The incident gave him three days confined to quarters and a reputation as not only an Indian, but also a hothead.

Where more than half of his squadron mates boasted fathers and grandfathers who’d served as state governors, United States Senators, or congressmen at the least, he thought of countering with the fact that his Grandpa Forbes was once the mayor of Winfield, Colorado. He never mentioned that Grandpa was the only mayor of Winfield and that the silver mining boomtown went bust in three years.

They don’t even deserve a lie, he told himself.

After a smooth landing, Forbes taxied the Nieuport to its assigned hanger tent and hopped out of the cockpit to greet his mechanic, Dino Cenci, already waiting with a pail to drain the oil from the Gnome engine and prepare it for his pilot’s next sortie.

“Might be a ring going on one of the pistons, Dino,” Forbes said. “She’d give a pop and sag a little whenever I pulled up quickly to gain a little altitude. Check it out for me, will ya, please?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant. By dawn, she’ll be purring like our cat on mia dolce nonna’s lap,” Cenci said, as the rest of Forbes’ ground crew inspected their respective parts of the Nieuport.

“CO says he wants to see you, Chief,” Forbes’ flight commander, Capt. Benton Stearns, an upstate New York farmer’s son and Cornell graduate, called over from a nearby card table where he was playing penny ante poker with his crew. “I raise two cents,” he said.

“Thanks, Cap. Any idea what the Old Man wants?”

Stearns had to laugh. Their squadron commander was all of twenty-eight years old.

“Nope, just said to send you over to his tent when you got back. Or as he said, ‘If that pain in the ass gets back.’ For what it’s worth, I find you sterling company and a damned calming presence on my right wing. I call,” Stearns said.

“Thanks, Cap,” Forbes said.

When Forbes entered Major Phillip Bush’s office tent, he noticed Bush’s expression change from its normal staid to thinly veiled contempt.

“You asked to see me, sir?” Forbes said with a click to attention.

“Yes, Forbes. I see you made it back. Still flyable? No perforations and broken ribs or such?” Bush said. He meant the airplane. As far as he was concerned, Forbeses were more easily replaced than aircraft.

“Just a little engine trouble, sir. My mechanic will have it in good shape by morning.”

“Good. Now let’s talk about you.”

“Me, sir?” Forbes said.

“I won’t frame this in any coddling way, Forbes. The pilots tell me you’ve become a problem, a distraction, a victory-hogging vulture. In other words, they want me to transfer you to another squadron.”

“Would that request come specifically from Lt.Garry, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“It doesn’t matter, but, yes, he was one of the men who pointed out your consistent lack of team play and flight integrity.”

“Flight…integrity…”

“Yes. It’s said you will break formation to hunt on your own, which I will not allow while a regular squadron sortie is being conducted.”

“Have you discussed this with my flight leader, sir?”

“No. Captain Stearns needn’t be consulted on such a command decision. Therefore…”

“Who’s command would that be…Sir?

“I beg your pardon, Lieutenant? You may have been able to play fast and loose with military decorum in your French squadrons, but not in mine. In the hopefully very short time you will be under my command, you will recognize my authority and that of all your superiors,” Bush said. His patrician pallor shifted to a farmer’s red neck.

“Yessir. And where is it you’ll be transferring me? Sir!”

“There’s an opening at the 103rd. Maybe you’ll fit in with Soubiran, Larner, your fellow Lafayette Corps types under Thaw’s command. I figure anyone who’d buy a live lion as a squadron pet, plus served with Bert Hall without killing him, should handle you and your…proclivities…quite… Well, he has a chance to make you a gentleman,” Bush said.

“When do you wish me to leave, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“After your dawn patrol with your new flight commander, Captain Garry,” Bush said with a smirk. “That’s all.”

Forbes stalked to his tent and began packing his effects into the cases he bought on holiday in Paris after his fifth victory in ’17. The one that made him an ace in his French squadron, Spa. 75.

Stearns burst into the tent and roared, “What in the hell is going on, Chief? I just heard that piss ant Garry whined to the Old Man and, et voila, you’re sacked? Going over to the 103rd?”

“Yep, but at least I’ll be with guys who know what they’re doing, and flying SPADs, to boot. They may have the glide angle of a brick, but at least they don’t fall apart in the middle of a scrape.”

“You’re okay with this, eh?”

“Sure. And you can’t help but love the irony of moving to a squadron whose insignia is an Indian head, can you?” Forbes said.

“These punks wouldn’t be that smart, would they?”

“Garry would.”

“And I heard you’re going up with his flight in the morning,” Sterns said.

“Yeah, a goodbye ‘Fuck You’ from Garry, Bush and their frat brothers,” Forbes said

“Well, bon chance, Chief. I’ve learned a lot from you. And my right wing will feel mighty bare-ass and at-risk starting tomorrow.”

Bon chance, Cap. See you at Maxim’s when this is over.”

In the pre-dawn chill, Forbes met Garry and two other pilots at the flight line.

“Well, Forbes, nice of you to join us. Let’s see you stay with us for the duration of this patrol,” Garry said.

“You know, Garry, I wouldn’t miss this sortie for the world, just to see you oblivious to all the Boche observers with your head up your ass instead of on a swivel. You only join the fray when someone else spots the Boche and then fire off a few bursts and claim their kills. My guess is you’ll be dead soon enough, so this morning I just wanted to say goodbye,” Forbes said and headed toward his Nieuport and ground crew.

“We’ll be much the better for your departure, you half-breed mutt,” Garry yelled at Forbes’s back.

“The crew’s awful sorry to see you go, Sir. We liked to think you were one of us,” Dino Cenci said as he extended his oil-stained hand to Forbes.

As he shook each man’s hand, Forbes said, “I like to think that, too, Dino. Every time I step into that cockpit, we’re all in it together, right?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant.”

“Now let’s twist this pussy’s tail and see if she purrs like your nonna’s cat.”

After a smooth start and climb to the flight’s prescribed altitude, the patrol began. Each man was to hold his aircraft in a specific position for the other’s protection and to multiply the chances of finding enemy aircraft to engage.

Forbes was first to see the seemingly alone German LVG reconnaissance plane five thousand feet below. He wagged his wings to get Garry’s attention, but shook his head “No” and pointed up to the flight of eight Fokker D-VIIs breaking through the clouds.

An obvious trap, but Garry pointed down and the other Nieuports dutifully followed his attack on the LVG.

Forbes lagged behind, knowing that the flight would be under the guns of the Fokkers in moments. He broke off and swung around the diving Fokkers, picking out one with some bird device painted on its side. He may have hated Garry and the Harvard man’s gang of snobs, but he would protect them whether they knew what was about to happen or not.

He touched off his dual machine guns and hosed tracers up the spine of the Fokker to its cockpit, watching its pilot slump and then saw the plane burst into flames.

That’s one, he thought. Look the hell behind you, Garry!

The LVG dove away from the American pursuit planes just as the German fighters opened fire. Chapman, another Harvard man, never knew what hit him.

Forbes flipped his plane and turned on another Fokker as they began leveling off to chop up the over-matched Nieuports. The American planes had a slight advantage of maneuverability in the right hands, but Forbes’s were the only right ones in this fight.

He let go a burst just as the Fokker flashed by and saw its left aileron come loose and float away like a leaf. The Fokker dove in hopes of surviving a landing on the American side of the lines.

Two.

Above him, Forbes saw Garry tailing one of his flight members, who was jinking and rolling madly to elude another Fokker. Garry’s tracers cut through the German’s fuselage, but to no effect. Forbes pulled a twisting climb and caught the Fokker with a burst from beneath.

Three, Forbes thought. Now where the hell are the rest?

Red tracers whizzed past his head, as bullets from a pair of German Spandau machine guns stitched holes through his left wings. Tracers crossed the German’s path and Forbes saw Gerry’s aircraft, flight leader pennants straight out in the slipstream from its struts, flash across their path. With that distraction, he fired into the Fokker’s engine, which began to smoke.

Four.

But Garry didn’t see the Fokker behind him who buried a burst into his Nieuport’s slender, tapered fuselage. He immediately dove in attempt to escape, but the Fokker had the weight and power advantage.

Shit, I should just let the bastard get it and head back to the base, Forbes thought.

But his training, from his Ute Grandmother, his ranching parents and his French comrades wouldn’t let him. He gave chase and potted the Fokker with a burst and then another, causing him to pull away from Garry.

Five. Now get the hell out of my life, Garry, you pompous prick. Where the…

The burst of bullets arced from one of the remaining Fokkers Forbes had lost contact with while coming to Garry’s aid. Forbes felt the burn through his chest and in the briefest of moments saw all the good in his life, then the killing and the bad, then…nothing.

Garry managed to bring his damaged Nieuport down to a French aerodrome. When he returned to his own, he claimed three kills, which were approved and moved him past Forbes on the squadron’s victory ranking.

The two Fokkers who survived Mal Forbes last fight returned to their Jasta. There, a party of fellow Prussian officers clustered around one of the planes, praising its pilot for wiping out the American flight. Forward observers would relay that information to the Jastas.

Down the flight line, only the ground crew of the other pilot, the one that killed the American ace, welcomed their Herr home. They inspected the stripe of bullet holes that pierced the six-pointed star on his fuselage’s side.

From amid the cluster of Prussian officers walking past the lone pilot came a laugh from the other surviving pilot.

“Even the Jew got his Amerikaner today,” he said, just as they always described Leutnant Oskar Schneider, even after today’s fight brought him to ten-victory Kanon status and a sure Pour le Mérite medal of a hero of the German Empire. Even if he was nothing but “the Jew” to his Jasta mates.

Schneider wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, an American, where your comrades didn’t care about your race or religion, just your character and courage.

“Thus it will always be, boys,” he said to his crew, but they ignored him and had already begun preparing the aircraft for its next flight.

Here’s the too-long first draft of Story #2 for my September Story-A-Day Challenge. It’s rough, as any first draft should be, but I think it has “good bones.” I was supposed to write a story using the following words: Blame, State, Frame, Holiday, Relay, Waist, Pail, Gain, Raise, Mayor, Airplane, Remain. 

Pretty certain I did. You check. I’m done for the night.

A Kiss Before Dying

Tipi01-2

Sioux tipi, watercolor by Karl Bodmer, ca. 1833

Mose Randolph sat bound and beaten in a dark, empty and smoke-filled Oglala lodge when the tipi’s flap opened and a handsome girl entered with a bowl of food and a gourd of water, which Mose was sure was his last meal.

“I’ll tell ya, missy, I’d go to hell with a smile for just one more kiss from a beautiful, entrancing woman like you before these savages kill me,” Mose said as the woman in her colorfully beaded elk skin dress loosened his bonds and checked his wounds.

Feeling he had nothing to lose, Mose leaned over and kissed the young Oglala woman–who responded in kind–but recoiled when he felt beard stubble against his lips.

“What’s wrong, mate, a fine looking man like you never kissed or been kissed by a winkte, a Two-spirit before?” said one-time stage performer Alfie Windemere, now called White Star, himself once a captive, but who had found the one place in the world he felt accepted for who he really was.

The Oglala men, including a bloodied White Star, took care in slowly dispatching Mose Randolph after he beat the respected winkte and lost a chance to live in a place where people accepted you for who you really were.

A quick draft of a five-sentence story based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt, ENTRANCE. Let’s say I took that word and used a scatter of its meanings.

I’m pretty careful in writing anything concerning gender, but the idea of man potentially being saved from death by someone for whom he could never imagine a place in his life (or death) appealed to me. I hope I got the dynamic of the Oglala Winyanktehca close to right. The winkte were not marginalized, but rather were considered to be people with special spiritual and other talents that fulfilled some needs of the community that other people could not fill.

Like a Wave

Johnson_1920_HighPlains
An 1897 photograph of a buffalo wallow, by Willard Drake Johnson. 
Photo via Wikipedia

After the third day and night on the run from the Cheyenne with no food and little water, his horse now lying dead a thousand yards away, Cleve Mason settled to rest in a buffalo wallow somewhere south of the Platte River in western Nebraska Territory.

Gathering some buffalo chips from the rim surrounding the nearly dry depression in the prairie, Mason lit a smokeless fire and began cooking off a piece of his mount’s stringy haunch.

Mason had been lucky enough to evade his pursuers this long, but fatigue and hunger proved too much, figuring it was only a matter of time before the marauders rolled over him like a red, feathered wave.

“The hell with this, just let ‘em come,” Mason said, as he gorged himself on a huge chunk of horse meat, closing his eyes and trying not to think that only an hour before it had been his companion for two years.

So intent was he with his meal he never saw, heard nor smelled the wall of flame, a speeding prairie fire set upwind by the Cheyenne, as it rolled over him like a red wave, though not the one he expected.

A quick five-sentence piece of flash historical fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, ENGULF. Thought I’d try a couple uses of the idea of the word.