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Chasi n a M e r n i i c i o d e M Death of a N n a Cavem TM Magazine - 1
Contributors Authors Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan Robert Bagnall Lancer Kind Managing Editor Brett Peterson Layout Design Chris Taney Editors Andrea Jakeman Daniel Friend Nyssa Silvester Savannah Woods
Credits Cover art by Pink Sherbet Photography Creative Commons license, some rights reserved. Flickr. com: Pink Sherbet Photography.
Special thanks to Karen Swan.
Table of Contents
“It wasn’t Ishme, but me.”
“This is My House!”
You can tell everything about a man by his shadow.
Death of a medicne man
Chasing august Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan December 20th, 2006, 10:05 am
ir? We found someone!” Inspectors D’Mello and Asnodkar turned their attention from the forest that lay ahead of them back towards the house. A tall, gangly man stood just outside the doorway, his hands waving animatedly in their direction. Behind him, two other officers came rushing out. Asnodkar watched as the younger of the two officers frantically beckoned the paramedics beside them towards the house. “Come on. Looks like they found something,” he said. As they approached the entrance, the paramedics came rushing out. “We’ve got to get him to the hospital. He’s been stabbed through the forearm. Hard to ascertain blood loss.” “Why is that?” D’Mello asked. “Christ! Have you seen the place? There’s blood everywhere.” “Can I talk to him? Is he awake?” “He’s awake, sir. But I don’t know if he can answer your questions. He’s in shock. And I don’t think it’s entirely because of the blood loss, if you know what I mean.” Asnodkar nodded, gravely. They watched as an old man was brought out in a stretcher. He was covered up to the chest in a white sheet. His arms lay outside the sheet and the primary bandages that had been applied on his right arm were already staining red. He was of medium build and had a thick mane of white hair that fell away in all directions, accentuating his sunken eyes. The crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes suggested many a summer gone by. Asnodkar would have guessed his age to be sixty years, at the least. He noticed the flecks of dried blood on the old man’s face.
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“Where was he? How did we miss him when we first searched the house?” The officer shrugged his shoulder. “He had locked himself in a servants’ stairway, Sir. The entrance was made to look like a hall cabinet, but it opens up into a passage connecting the two levels of the house. I’ve seen one like this earlier at the Serrao’s mansion as well. It’s so that the servants do not inconvenience guests during parties. It was purely luck that we found it—we just noticed the scuff marks on the floor near the entrance. He was curled up in a corner inside. Didn’t say a word as we entered. Damn near gave me a heart attack when I realized somebody was in there with us. But we really need to get him to a hospital.” Asnodkar turned to the man on the stretcher. “Sir, can you understand me? Sir?” The man looked around, his face registering everyone as if he had just seen
head and stared back at the house. Asnodkar and D’Mello stared as the figure on the gurney shivered in the damp heat of the morning sun.
December 19th, 2006, 8:05pm (14 hours earlier) “How much do you suppose I would get for selling this house, Carruthers?” Peter asked. “It isn’t for me to tell, Sir.” Peter smiled as he laid down his empty glass of wine. As always, Carruthers preferred to be on the safe side. He was a lost relic in today’s world, Peter mused to himself. Having been brought up with a strong sense of culture and etiquette, he had fashioned himself along the lines of the butlers they had all seen in countless British movies. It was amusing to watch, yes, but it was also endearing—a lost relic, indeed. “Oh, come now, man. Who would have a better idea than you?
He was curled up in a corner inside. them for the first time, and then turned towards Asnodkar. He nodded, the nod beginning at the head and then passing through the entire limp frame, giving the appearance of a shivering body. “Sir, what happened here?” The man in the stretcher turned his
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You’ve been looking after this place ever since my family left this town. There’s no need to be modest with me. I value your judgement.” “Sir, if I may be so bold...?” “Please.” “Sir, your family have been the owners of this house for over a century now. Wouldn’t it be wiser
perhaps to just let things stay that way, especially given its history?” Peter frowned at that. He knew very well what Carruthers was referring to. Every house carried its own secrets and skeletons. This house was no different. Unlike other houses, though, this one had kept its secrets well. In a metropolitan city, where land for accommo-
it after his grandson August, Peter’s grandfather. Back then, the house had been the envy of all eyes. Everyone had loved its welcoming looks and the grandeur that seemed to emanate from it. The interiors of the mansion were just as magnificent, with the best of teak and sandalwoods imported for the furniture and hand-painted por-
In the last decade, the house had taken away everyone he had loved. dation had long become scarce, this house would have been considered equivalent to a mansion for a God . . . or a film star, at the very least. Here, in the state of Goa, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ in India, it was just another British-style house among many. Lost between the overcrowded beaches and vibrant night-life that had earned this tiny state the sobriquet of ‘India’s tourist paradise,’ manors like these, alongside the synagogues and churches, provided a link to the state’s past. Peter headed off to the mahogany cabinet in the next room. He stared at the choices in front of him. For some reason, the wines weren’t dulling his mind the way he wished they would. His hand reached out for the bottle of brandy on the bottom left corner of the cabinet. Yes, he would need it tonight. Augustus Manor had been built in 1902 by Peter’s late ancestor, Daniel Fernandes. He had named
traits watching one’s every move. Curtains and chandeliers had been procured from afar by paying handsome amounts to those who had come to India from abroad for trade. Grand. Brilliant. Magnificent. Divine. Unparalleled. These were the reviews that had greeted Daniel during his lifetime. It took over half a century for a new term to be added to that list: Ominous. Normally, Peter preferred to have his brandy with hot water. But tonight, he found himself lifting the glass to his mouth undiluted as he thought of the newspaper articles. “The House of Hell,” an idiotic reporter had labelled it, and sadly, the name had stuck. The bloodseeker. An apt description unfortunately, Peter thought to himself as he refilled his glass. Involuntarily, his hand started shaking as his mind drifted towards the past once more.
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In the last decade, the house had taken away everyone he had loved. His mind went back to Jacob and Sarah, his elder brother and sister. While he had been sent to a boarding school in Coorg, they had been forced to grow up early and take on the world. They had done a remarkable job, too, looking after him and keeping him oblivious to the roots that tied them all, roots that had led them to come back here one ill-fated December morning ten years ago in 1996. Peter would later find out from their business
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partner that they had come to the house to see the state of the place and take a decision between renovating it and selling it once and for all. The house had remained when that dark winterâ€™s night had passed. But there had never been any sighting of his siblings ever again. Carruthers had searched all over the house the following morningâ€”he had searched all over town for Jacob and Sarah. No one had ever seen them after that night. Of course, the real tragedy was that it had not been the
family’s first brush with disappearance in Augustus Manor. Peter entered the living room again. Carruthers sat beside the television set, watching an English movie on television. Poor Carruthers, Peter mused. At least I’ve had the chance to leave the house for all these years. Carruthers had stayed, bound to the house, by the one chain that always enslaved mankind—loyalty. “What happened here, Carruthers? Not in ‘96 . . . in ‘64, wasn’t it? You were alive back then, weren’t you?” Carruthers answered without taking his eyes off the television. “It was a night I would sooner forget. Your grandfather, master August, was a good man to me. I will never say otherwise. I was just a child then, entering into my teenage years. My father, as you know, worked for master August. I was a weak child in those days, forever alternating between hospitals and beds. Yet
“What happened that night, Carruthers?” “I was away that night, looking after my mother, God bless her soul. It was what saved me. A madness, ‘till then hidden, erupted in your grandfather that night. What provoked him, no one ever knew. He went on a killing spree—he killed his wife first, I heard. He then murdered his closest friend, the Malayalee Mr. Cherian, and my own father, too, before disappearing into the night. They searched everywhere, but could not find him. For months, I remember, my mother had nightmares of him coming back to kill her as well.” Peter stared at Carruthers. The old man had deliberately left out one fact out of respect for Peter. And in a way, Peter realised, he was grateful to him for it. But it did not change the truth. Peter had been the lone survivor of that night. “Why do you think he did it?”
“It was a night I would sooner forget.” master August took care of me as though I were his own son. He used to call me Alexander, I remember, after the ruler of the world, and would tell me stories of how to be strong in life. I have always imagined that it is these stories that have held me together in the midst of all that has transpired since.”
“I have considered this question for many a year, sir. If I may be so bold...” he stopped his sentence midway. “Come on, man. No secrets between us. You know I’ve always considered you as family. What do you think?” “I believe it is the house, sir. I
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know it’s an old-fashioned myth, but some myths are based on legend. Your grandfather was a good man, and I will never believe otherwise. He would never raise a knife on anyone, let alone his friends and family. It is this house. It possesses the ill-will of generations of envious visitors and guests. All those years of people cursing the family for their opulence finally manifested itself into an evil entity—the house itself. And it possessed the then-head of the family, Master August. The
tomorrow. Not that they would leave him alone, of course. They had left his and Mary’s hands full. The young child upstairs, their grandchild, all of three months old, would be their ward, apparently. He smiled at that. How do you have it in you to leave your baby for an entire week? he wondered. Children today, with their hippie music and flawed ideals. “Smithers, could you see who it is at the door?” “Yes, Sir.” August smiled to himself as a
The young child upstairs... disappearance of your brother and sister has just furthered that belief for me, Sir.” In any other city, Peter would have wondered if Carruthers was not slowly losing his mind. But he knew what he was talking about. The legend on the streets was pretty similar—that the ghost of his Grandfather August, still hungry for life and blood, resided here in the building occupied by Peter and Carruthers. Any reply Peter could have given was curtailed by a sound. There was a knock on the front door.
December 19th, 1964, 8:30pm “Who is it?” August called. It was too early for the children to be back. They were only due to arrive 10 - October 2012
familiar voice greeted Smithers. He had forgotten about the very guest he had invited earlier that day. “I’m in the dining hall, Dr. Cherian.” Cherian was a walking puddle when he entered. The man was of average height for a Keralite but made up for it with a large belly that seemed to enter the room a few seconds before him. The buttons on his shirt strained against this injustice, threatening to pop at any given moment. He stood there, drenched, surveying the damage done to his clothes and shaking his head. The torn umbrella in his hand added to the tragic figure he cut. In his other hand he held a small briefcase. August couldn’t help but smile. Cherian caught the smile and shook his head. “I see. You call me
out in the middle of the night, tell“Can I ask you something? And ing me to bring the oddest of things be honest with me.” as far as your tastes are concerned, “Sure. What is it?” and now you mock me.” “Do you really think the ghost of August laughed. “I’m sorry, Grandpa August haunts this house? Cherian. Forgive me. Smithers, get towels please. I’ll wait. And, I assure December 19th 1964, 8:45pm you, there is something I need to Cherian turned to his friend. discuss with you that is of utmost “There is definitely something in importance.” this house, Augie. I feel it too. And while I cannot pinpoint this evil ‘till December 19th, 2006, 8:40pm we begin, I am glad that you have “I know why you called me, Peter. finally come around to calling me The history of this place is known to in on this. It may seem like necroeveryone here.” Jonathan remarked mancy or black magic to you, but as he dried himself up. “Yet, I am our methods are accurate and effecsurprised that you too have finally tive, I assure you.” succumbed to becoming a believer. August grimaced. “I only hope As I recall, you were always a sceptic I won’t be wrong by the end of the where ghosts were concerned. Oh, a night. There have been so many brandy would be swell Carruthers. odd incidents happening lately. Pets Thank you,” he said, taking the glass have disappeared. I found the skulls offered to him by the servant. of three cats in the attic. Smithers “I don’t know how much I believe, has been awakened on many a
“I feel as though some evil force is closing in on me.” to be frank,” Peter replied. “But I can’t deny that something is wrong with this place. And you can’t deny it too. I’ve only been here less than a day and already I feel as though some evil force is closing in on me. And I remembered how everyone used to mention your . . . well, talents.” “Ha ha ha. Talents. Is that what they call it, Peter? That’s a swell term to describe it, I guess.”
night by the sound of someone walking up and down the stairs, yet there is no one there when he investigates. I have begun to hear it too. I am not imagining things, Cherian. It is deafening in the silence of the night.” Cherian placed his arms on August’s broad shoulders, reassuring him. “Relax. If there is evil, we shall confront it, August. And we shall rid this house of it before the Crimson Fog - 11
sun rises. This is the promise of Cherian Valathal Pazhankandy.” “Seriously. Doesn’t your tongue get hurt wrapping itself around your name?” “Oh, go to hell, you bloody pumpkin.” Cherian smiled as they headed towards the living room. “Now, if you’re ready, shall we confront the demon of the house?”
a particular letter, I will write it down for us. Now, if you’re ready, shall we confront the demon of the house?”
December 19th, 1964, 9:45pm
August watched patiently as Cherian cleared the living room and started arranging various items he had brought along with December 19th, 2006, 9:30pm him. As requested, Smithers got him a set of bricks, which he made As Jonathan towelled his hair into a perfect square. dry, he motioned for Carruthers “I must be honest, Cherian. to retrieve the knapsack he had Seeing all this kind of makes me left near the coat-rack. Carruthers wonder. How can a doctor like and Peter watched as Jonathan you believe in all this? You are a removed a rectangular board from man of science.” it and wiped it dry with the towel. “There is so much that you fail to A look of hesitancy must have understand. Science does not stay shown on Peter’s face, for Jonathan still, only our understanding of it. quickly began to elaborate. We used to worship the sun and “It’s a Ouija Board, Peter. Forget moon as gods. Do you know they what you see in movies. Too many are actually planning on sending a misconceptions have turned it human being into space to make
“Now, if you’re ready, shall we confront the demon of the house?” into a dating game. The Ouija board is no laughing matter.” He searched around and fished out an arrow shaped marker inset with a magnifying lens. “This is called a planchette. We hold it together when asking the spirit questions. He will guide us through the letters on the board to speak his mind. As the planchette stops on 12 - October 2012
him land on the moon? The very moon we Hindus worship as the God Chandran. And they are talking of having human beings walk on it.” “I read about it, Cherian. Frankly, I don’t believe it will ever happen.” “Ah. I do, though time will tell, Augie. But that’s not the point. The point is, once upon a time, what
we could not understand, we considered divine or magical. Sadly, if you believe in the power of the divine, you must believe too in the power of evil. There is so much we can understand about it, yet so much we don’t know yet. We have witnessed evil in humanity during wars and calamities, but what about the evil that lurks beyond that? We talk about the miraculous powers
sure that Madam and the baby were asleep. It wouldn’t do, Sir, to have the Madam walk in on this.” “Thank you, Smithers. I’d forgotten about Mary in all this. Come, sit with us.” “How is Mary?” Cherian asked. “Tired. It’s tough having to look after a baby at this age.” “You’re right. Just another day and then everyone will be back, right?”
“It wouldn’t do, Sir, to have the Madam walk in on this.” of God…can we honestly ignore the fact that the devil may possess a similar degree of power beyond our present understanding? I have seen too much over the years not to believe. It is only through extensive studies with trained astrologers and swamis that I can now do this. Hand me that bag, will you?” August looked at the powders, the oils, the beads, and the little packets that were strewn across the table. He watched as Cherian started consulting an astrological board and marking small points on it. He turned towards the bag. “Do I even want to know what’s in it?” Cherian just smiled and shook his head. “Let’s just say that they didn’t teach this in any medical college here in India.” • Twenty minutes later, Smithers walked down the stairway. “I made
August nodded. Cherian motioned to August and Smithers. A fire, fuelled by wood and bordered by the square made of bricks, separated them as they sat down. Cherian sat at the other end, crosslegged. With the beads around his neck and the vibhuti, the holy ash, smeared across his chest and forehead, Cherian couldn’t have looked less like a doctor. Cherian gave August and Smithers some flowers mixed with the holy ash he’d brought with him, instructing them to throw it all into the fire on his cue.
December 19th, 2006, 10:15pm Peter, Jonathan and Carruthers each placed their fingers on the planchette. Peter could hear Jonathan mumbling beneath his breath. “Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there? We mean you no harm. We would like to talk with you.” Crimson Fog - 13
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Peter and Carruthers looked at each other. Upstairs, the faint cry of baby Alice could be heard. “I guess she wants to talk,” Peter said, grinning at Carruthers. “Would you like me to look in on Ma’am, once again, sir?” “No, she can handle her. Besides, it’s just one night.”
it wants. Cherian, can you tell us what it wants?”
December 19th, 2006, 10:30pm They stared at the planchette. Jonathan was using his free hand to write the letters as the planchette stopped intermittently under
“Something is here, Augie. I can feel it. Stronger. I sense it.” their palms, before dragging them to its next destination. It finally came to rest and they felt it slump under them. “Well, what did he say?” Jonathan turned the paper towards them. Six letters were scrawled across it. GETOUT Before they could respond, Peter felt the planchette vibrate once more under his palm. He looked up at Jonathan who obviDecember 19th, 1964, 10:26pm ously had felt it too. However, it was Carruthers who finally gave Cherian did not open his eyes voice to the unspoken fear that had as he kept praying. Smithers and embedded itself in their hearts. August stared at him as he contin“He’s not done talking.” ued to chant what they assumed “Who?” Peter asked, though were some sort of Hindu ritual he thought he already knew the prayers. answer. On cue, the planchette “Something is here, Augie. I can began to move again under their feel it. Stronger. I sense it. There is palms. something evil here.” Smithers looked at August. December 19th, 1964, 10:38pm “Perhaps, we should stop this, Sir.” “It doesn’t want us here, August. I “No. I must know what it is. What “Concentrate!” Jonathan hissed. But it wasn’t his tone that scared the other two. They all looked down at the board. The planchette was vibrating in their hands. And then it slowly started to move within the confines of the board. It was now Peter’s turn to hiss at Jonathan. “Are you doing this, John?” Jonathan shook his head. “It isn’t me.”
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feel rage. I feel its presence growing closer. It wants blood. It hungers for it.” Smithers said, “Sir, I really feel we should—” “Quiet, Smithers,” August said. “I must know who this evil is. Why is it in my house? Cherian, can you find that out?” Cherian shrugged his shoulders. “I can try.” Then, taking another handful of holy ash, he turned towards the fire. He threw the ash onto it, and the fire glowed a dark gold.
December 19th, 2006, 10:42pm Jonathan wrote down the letters as they came up across the lens, then cursed beneath his breath. AUGUST Peter looked at Carruthers. “Grandpa. So it was him all along. Jonathan, can you tell him that we mean him no harm, that we come in peace? Why is he doing this?” Jonathan once more held their hands over the planchette and repeated Peter’s words aloud. As if on cue, they felt the planchette tingle under them. It then started to slowly move once more. Jonathan read the words aloud as he wrote them down. L-E-T-T Jonathan stopped. Something had fallen on the back of his hand. Another dark drop fell on the lens, obscuring the next letter. 16 - October 2012
December 19th, 1964, 10:45pm Cherian touched the drop that had fallen on his hand. It felt thick, yet spilled easily across his hand onto the floor. Another droplet fell into the fire, making a hissing sound. Cherian stared at his hand more closely. His eyes bulged as realisation dawned on him. It was blood. All three men looked up and gasped in horror.
December 19th, 2006, 10:50pm
Carruthers moved to get up. “We’ll come up too, Sir.” A huge horizontal tear-shaped “No! Finish this. Find out what stain stared back at them from the my grandfather has to say. I’ll get ceiling above. Even in the dark- Miranda and Alice.” ness, it was clear that it was slowly growing. Another droplet fell onto December 19th, 1964, 10:52pm the Ouija board. Peter’s expression changed from shock to horror as August ran up the stairs, skiprealization dawned. He tumbled ping two for each step. Reaching over and fell as he stood up. up, he let out an involuntary cry. “Miranda? Alice? They’re up The blood stream was emanating there!” from the master bedroom. It had
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obviously seeped through the wood and fallen down into the living room. Here, though, on the first floor, August could clearly see the slow, shapeless stream of dark blood as it made its way out the bedroom door. The same bedroom Mary had chosen for the night. “No! No! NO!” he screamed. He
“Oh my,” Carruthers said. “It really is Master August.”
December 19th, 1964, 10:53pm Cherian turned to Smithers. “Is there another way into that room?” Smithers nodded as he rose from the ground. “The servant’s stairway. It connects directly to
“The door’s jammed! Mary’s not responding” could hear the baby, Peter, crying furiously inside the room now. Despite his calls, he could not hear Mary’s voice. Why was she not answering? “Mary? MARY! Open the door! Can you hear me?” “What’s going on?” Dr. Cherian called out from below. “The door’s jammed! Mary’s not responding, either. I’m going to break the door down. Cherian, I need your help!”
the two guestrooms; including the one Madam is in. I’ll go in that way.” Even as Smithers raced off towards the stairway, he heard Cherian call behind him. “Get in and help Augie. I have to put out the fire here.” •
A floor above them, August massaged his sore shoulder. “God help me . . .” August whispered to himself. His shoulder hurt from trying to force the door down. He December 19th, 2006, 10:53pm remembered his days as a young Carruthers and Jonathan heard man, assisting his father in gatherPeter throw all his weight on the ing wood from the forests behind door upstairs even as more let- the mansion. His father had told ters ran across the lens. Jonathan him it was a way to build muscles kept adding the letters into the on his scraggly teenage frame, but paper. A chill ran up Carruthers’s August had always felt it was just spine as the words began to make his father’s way of getting some of sense. When the planchette finally the household work done for free. stopped at “R”, both Jonathan and Today, he wished he had heeded Carruthers looked at each other. his father’s words. He had grown
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up a thin man more prone to a stimulating conversation than violence. He hadn’t lifted a log of wood since the day he had left for college. From within, Peter’s cries seemed to gain a new edge of urgency, as though he sensed his grandfather’s despair. “I have to get through . . . have to get through.” August took a few steps back, stared at his footprints, now bloodied from the pool that had escaped from the bedroom, steeled himself for what was to come, and rushed headlong at the door.
December 19th, 2006, 10:55pm Seventh time’s a charm, Peter desperately thought as he charged at the door again. Both he and the door crashed down into the room. Instantly, he felt a fire in his shoulder, burning down his entire arm. He screamed in agony as he realised his right shoulder was dislocated.
anticipated. The burning barks had given rise to infuriated plumes of smoke when he had poured the jug of water onto them. He struggled as the smoke covered his eyes and mouth, causing him to cough violently while fighting back tears. He shut his eyes and rubbed them vigorously, trying to lessen the sting. “Smithers,” he called out, his voice breaking as the smoke irritated his lungs. “Smithers, can you hear me? We need to open a door. Smithers?” He tried opening his eyes again and once more, the tears blurred his vision immediately. Too much smoke, he thought to himself. He closed his eyes and moved towards the main door, feeling his way forward with his hands. Just as he reached the coat rack that stood beside the front door, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Thank God, Smithers. Open the front door and a few windows. And get me some water. My eyes are
“I have to get through . . . have to get through.” He could feel the humerus jutting burning. And what about upstairs? out abnormally from its socket and What happened in the room?” the hollowness within. The pain was all-encompassing and unrelenting, December 19th, 2006, 10:58pm searing through every nerve fiber in his body. He felt the putrid taste of Peter could feel blood soak his bile rise inside him. hair and clothes, but found he couldn’t will himself to rise against the pain that was coursing through December 19th, 1964, 10:55pm his body. He felt fresh bursts sting Dousing the fire had proved his right arm and willed himmore difficult than Cherian had self to turn towards it. There were Crimson Fog - 19
splinters of wood forming an almost absurdly symmetrical circle on his right arm below where he had dislocated his shoulder. They had stabbed through the skin, right into the muscle, and he could see dark rivulets of blood starting to emerge from the entry points. Willing himself, he bit down on the pain as he moved his neck and looked up towards the room and its tableau. He could make out the old
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dressing cabinet across the room. Slivers of light floated in through the window beside it. He could hear Alice crying somewhere within the room, though he could not see her. Most of the space in the room was taken up by the regal bed in the centre. The queen-sized bed seemed majestic even in the darkness. The intricate handicraft across it had apparently taken the local workers nearly six months to complete,
Peter remembered hearing from someone a long time ago. His breath shortened as he noticed the stained edge of the otherwise pristine white bed sheet where blood had dripped down. He tried straining his neck but he could not see what was on the bed from where he lay on the floor. Behind him, a loud gong suddenly roared in his ears. He turned back towards the door.
December 19th, 1964, 11:00pm The grandfather clock struck ominously in the darkness. August felt his heart beating violently as his mind gradually equated the sound with the image. It was only the grandfather clock, nothing else. He stared at it as it continued to strike. Nine. Ten. Eleven. An hour to midnight. â€œCherian! Smithers!â€? he called out. There was no response. Where were they? And what was taking them so long? His eyes wandered away from the grandfather clock to the painting beside it. None of the features could be discerned in the darkness, but August remembered it to be that of a deer grazing in the forest. Another deer stood silently by, staring behind it, alert to some hidden danger. August recalled how he and Mary had fought about a particular bush in the background. Mary had been convinced that it was the head of a jungle cat, perhaps a Bengal tiger, hidden and watching its prey. Try as he might, August could never see it. It was just another bush, its leaves glistening gold in the morning sun. As August drew his gaze away from the painting, his eye fell on the full-length mirror above the ornamental dressing table. Regal, intimidating, and exquisitely crafted, it somehow seemed to be intentionally leaning forward, a silent observer to his sorry predicament. It took August a few Crimson Fog - 21
seconds to realise what troubled him about it—the mirror had been displaced forward at an unnatural angle, straining against the very nails that held it in place. In its reflection, he found he could now see more of the room and the queen-sized bed—and what was on it. He tried to scream, but found no voice coming out from within him. There was a figure sitting on the bed.
downwards, away from him, as if it sat pondering some grave dilemma. Its hair sat unkempt upon it; Peter had an absurd sudden vision of his wife disapprovingly shaking her head and going to get a comb to smoothen out the tresses. Miranda. Where was Miranda? “Miranda?” he whispered quietly, praying the person on the bed wouldn’t hear. “Miranda isn’t here anymore.” The reply came from the baby’s crib.
December 19th, 2006, 11:05pm
December 19th, 1964, 11:10pm
Peter heard himself scream. Or so he believed. The only sounds that emanated from the room were the cries of a terrified baby. Peter found he couldn’t take his eyes off the person sitting on the bed. He could not make out the features clearly in the darkness of the room, but what he could identify sent shivers down his spine. The figure sat motionless on the far end of the bed, facing the opposite wall. From his vantage point on the floor, he had not
August lay on the floor, bleeding through the splinter wounds, biting through the savage pain of the dislocated shoulder, trying somehow to make sense of what was happening. Perhaps he had been stunned by the presence of the person on the bed. That had to be it, because he had not seen anything in the room earlier. And yet now, a figure in black stood gazing at the baby in the crib. Had he been there all along, hiding in the darkness, watching his every move?
“THIS IS MY HOUSE!!!” been able to see it resting on the bed, but the person was clearly visible in the mirror. The bed sheet appeared to be wrapped across the figure’s body, though for what purpose Peter could not fathom. Its head was slumped 22 - October 2012
Had he come in from the servants’ entrance while August had stared, transfixed, at the mirror? He felt tears flow down his cheeks again. “Please. Please, I beg of you. Who are you? What do you want?”
December 19th, 2006, 11:13pm
December 19th, 1964, 11:15pm
“August. I beg of you. Please leave my wife and child alone. What do you want?” The figure in black appeared to mumble something, but Peter could not make out what it said. Its gaze had not left the crying baby in the crib. Its dark robe sat serene upon its limber frame, adding a further sense of stillness to the room that seemed so out of place with the events transpiring. “What do you want?” Peter repeated. “THIS IS MY HOUSE!!”
August stared at the figure more closely. With the window open and the incessant rains outside, the creature’s robes fluttered back and forth, and August could make out how illfitting the robe was. The creature was much smaller than he had earlier imagined. But there had been a violent menace to its words that could not be ignored. There was a streak of malevolence in its voice that scared him more than its size. He saw its arm extend towards the crib, reaching down towards the baby. “Please. Just let my wife and child go. We won’t come back.”
Flickr.com/Pink Sherbet Photography
Crimson Fog - 23
The figure stood silently, its robes again flowing around like a bizarre puppet. August could not perceive what was going on—was it considering his offer? Was it— His thought was broken midway as he realised that Peter had stopped crying. For a brief moment, he felt his heart tighten as he feared the worst, and then the baby’s cries were replaced by an even more mystifying sound. In the midst of all that was transpiring, it took a few moments for August’s mind to register what it was. The baby was laughing.
old spies in MAD magazine, only this was a more terrifying version of them. The figure in black leaned forward and appeared to gaze straight into the other’s face. The latter did not flinch as the black creature placed its arm around it, its bony hand visible only for a second before disappearing within the clumps of hair. Peter watched as the black creature started mumbling words into the other’s ear, stroking its back gently, like a soothing lover. And then, in a sudden move, its hand caught the untidy maze that was the figure’s hair and pulled
“Please. Just let my wife and child go.” Peter was laughing at the crea- backwards, snapping its neck in a ture towering above him. single effortless motion.
December 19th, 2006, 11:18pm
December 19th, 1964, 11:18pm
The figure seemed to gaze into the crib one final time at the laughing baby girl before finally moving. It crossed the room to the other side of the bed. Peter noted that he could not see the feet of the creature, as the over-sized robes covered them entirely. He tried to make out what was going on, but the strain crushed his arm again. He turned back to the mirror. As the two figures—one on the bed, one in black—faced each other, Peter did his best to view the encounter from where he lay on the floor. It seemed almost like an absurd caricature—black versus white. Peter was reminded of the
August screamed as the creature propelled the limp body in his direction. It landed but a few feet away, splashing down in the puddle of blood. August stared at the face and once again, a violent scream left his lungs. Only this time, it was not just rage, but despair. Subconsciously, he would have noted that there was no blood coming out of the ghostly pale form that lay before him. For whatever blood had been the lifeline of his wife had long left Mary’s body and travelled down the sheets, through the floor, and onto Cherian’s hand nearly thirty minutes ago. It had been her final warning
24 - October 2012
to her husband to save himself and their grandchild.
the dam that had tried to suppress his memories gave way and it all rushed through. Instantly, the pain in his ribs lessened as he felt the pain December 19th, 2006, 11:23pm of his shoulder again. He could see The creature in black stood still, the blood trail that ended at his body. watching Peter scream as he gazed He followed its pathway and saw that into Miranda’s lifeless eyes. After it disappeared up the stairs. He had what seemed like an eternity, it finally been rolled down them and the baby walked across the bed towards him. placed beside him. But why? It stopped briefly as it reached the
He could make out the dark coat of the
murderer standing at the doorway
crib and stared at baby Alice within it for a few seconds, as though deciding something. Finally, it turned and walked back towards Peter. As its foul smelling robes descended upon him, Peter found his voice failing him again as he lost consciousness.
December 20th, 1964, 12:05am When August finally stirred, he found he was back in the living room. He felt movement beside him and turned. His baby grandson, Peter, lay beside him. Incredibly, he was fast asleep. His tiny figure was wrapped in a thick warm blanket. August knew the child had not been draped in it while he was in the crib. What was going on? His whole body ached, and he struggled to breathe. He was sure he had cracked a rib, but he could not recall how. Where were Cherian and Smithers? He started to call them, but stopped abruptly as
December 20th, 2006, 12:10am Where earlier he had rushed to his wife’s aid, now Peter’s mind now methodically weighed the scene before him. The creature had killed his wife. There was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t let his emotions overwhelm him at this point. August. Grandpa August who would have been nine decades old, had he lived. Somehow the old man had returned. There was no point working it out now. He was a sitting duck presently, lying on the floor of the living room. As the ‘flight or fight’ response of the adrenaline coursing through his blood finally kicked in, he got up, ignoring the burning pain across his body. He tried to recall where he had left his mobile phone, but couldn’t remember. For a brief moment, he stood there, shoulders slumped. But then the anger again rose within him. Crimson Fog - 25
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“I cannot. I must not. I must live. I can’t let it—him—August—kill Alice. There must be somewhere to hide.” He heard the sound of footsteps above him. He felt the creature
summer. The house had grown too large for just two old grandparents to reside in. They had informed the children of their decision last Monday, which had prompted the recent visit.
“I cannot. I must not. I must live.” walk slowly in the room above him The children! They would arrive and knew he had very little time. tomorrow! What would he tell them? Clenching his lips as the pain seared How could he explain? through him, Peter lifted his baby girl He heard the door to the basement as he got up. He knew where to hide open, and turned around. her from the creature. But first, he had to make a stop in the kitchen. December 20th, 2006, 12:33am Peter held his breath as the basement door slowly creaked open. Fifteen minutes later, August closed He could barely make out anythe door to the basement. He gazed thing through the darkness of the back into the darkness and heaved a basement and the room above. He sigh of relief. From where he stood, felt sweat dripping down his forePeter remained hidden from view head, into his eyes. It stung him and within the old crib that lay behind he blinked it away. Irrational as it the discarded sofa sets. He could only seemed, he feared that his blinking pray that Peter did not awaken and would give him away to the creature. cry. He took a couple of deep breaths He could make out the dark coat of to try and calm himself as he slowly the murderer standing at the doorwalked to the centre of the room. He way, motionless. It just stood there, tried to examine his surroundings staring, and Peter trembled as the but could barely make out anything thought crossed his mind—was the in the darkness that surrounded him. creature staring straight at him? He knew better than to light a lantern in here, lest he give away his position. December 20th, 1964, 12:34am The basement had been constructed Even as the thought crossed his just a few years ago—the first renovation that this house had received as mind, August sprung into action. He part of its makeover before putting it knew he would have only one chance on the market. August and Mary had and he had to make it count. From discussed it at length over the past where he sat crouching, he let out a
December 20th, 1964, 12:25am
Crimson Fog - 27
murderous bellow, stood upright, and ran straight at the creature. The creature did not flinch but stood still at the entrance, watching him in the darkness as he raced towards it. August noted that the creature seemed to have grown in sizeâ€” where earlier it had been almost child-like in the room above, now
which had fallen on its back beside him. The black robes gave way and fell apart as the creatures arms fell limply by its side in an absurd tableau of the crucified Lord. As dim rays of light now flowed in from the room behind him, Peter saw the face of the monster for the first time as he lay there on top of it.
He knew he would have only one chance. its body covered the entire doorway December 20th, 1964, 12:40am As he reached the creature, he raised August stared at the familiar his hand and the glint of steel glistened briefly in the darkness before portly figure that lay dead beneath he brought it crashing down on the him. Cherian had always been a remarkably calm character under creature. adversity, but in the moments prior to his death, he had finally known December 20th, 2006, 12:34am fear. August could make out the Peter felt the satisfying crunch three fresh gashes that he had of metal on bone as the cleaver inflicted upon his old friend. But landed on the shoulder of the crea- they were far less frightening than ture. It tottered back awkwardly, but the heinously violent tears across somehow stayed on its feet, block- his right cheek, temple, and eye. ing the doorway. But Peter had Those happened while he was still the answer he needed: flesh. This alive, August realised, feeling his was no ghost. This was a creature heart fall. Even as his eyes remained of flesh, and where there was flesh, on Cherianâ€™s lifeless form, he felt there was blood flowing through another presence standing above vessels, nourishing it. He raised the him. He feebly attempted to turn his knife again and once more brought head towards the new assailant, and it down towards the murdererâ€™s he only briefly glimpsed the light chest. Even as he did so, the crea- reflecting off the cold steel descendture hurled itself at him headfirst, ing upon him. disturbing the swing of his arm, and they both tumbled backwards into December 20th, 2006, 12:43am the basement. The cleaver fell away The blade struck Peter in the from his grip as they hit the ground. Peter rolled over onto the creature, lower back, severing his spinal cord, 28 - October 2012
almost instantly leaving him paralysed below the waist. He cried as the pain burned through his back, the nerve endings crying out in anger. Even as he rolled off Jonathan’s body and fell limply beside him, he finally saw the creature as it stood before him, drenched in the blood of an entire family. They both locked eyes on each other and Peter found he could not take his gaze away from those eyes, even as he tried unsuccessfully to feel his waist with his one good arm. “Why?” he asked. He tried to frame the question, but his voice failed him. “Because this is my house!”
And I’m confident that with the right medication and the tender, loving support of a devoted family like yours, he will have nothing to worry about as he grows up.”
December 20th, 2006, 12:46am “I grew up here! This is my house! You cannot take my house away from me. All you want is to rid yourselves of this place. I will not let that happen! Not when your grandfather was trying, not when your brother tried, and not now!” Carruthers bellowed. Peter had no answers, no questions and no pleas left in him as the
“MY HOUSE!” blade rose again. His last thought as he saw the blade descend was but an “MY HOUSE!” repeated Carruthers. anti-climatic, Why are his eyes movAugust stared at the young boy stand- ing around like that? ing above him. The knife in his hands He would never know. seemed too large for such a young child. December 20th, 2006, 10:03am “Alexander . . .” he called, hopAsnodkar addressed the man in ing in vain to see compassion in the the stretcher. “Sir, can you understand boy’s eyes. But involuntary trembling movement was all that the eyes me? Sir?” The man looked around, offered in reply. What had the doc- his face registering everyone as if he tor called it? “During these episodes, had just seen them for the first time, he may suffer some trembling. There and then turned towards Asnodkar. He nodded, the nod beginning at maybe an occasional case of altered judgement. But relax, it isn’t serious. I the head and then passing through just meant silly little things like wear- the entire limp frame, giving the ing his shirt the wrong way around or appearance of a shivering body. “Sir, what happened here?” The misplacing things. The nystagmus of his eyes is just a temporary phenome- old man in the stretcher turned his non. It will pass as the episode passes. head and stared back at the house.
December 20th, 2006, 12:45am
Crimson Fog - 29
Asnodkar and D’Mello stared as the figure on the gurney shivered in the damp heat of the morning sun. “Sir, can you understand me? Sir?” Asnodkar asked again. The man nodded. “Sir, what happened here?” The man turned and stared back at the house. “He killed them . . . killed them all. I had to hide . . . he stabbed me. Oh God! The cries of those poor people! The madam and that friend of his. OH GOD!” “You’re safe now. He’s gone. It’s going to be okay, Mr..” The old man’s eyes finally turned and gazed back at the Inspector.
in the family, remember? Obviously, it just passed on to this guy as well.” “Any other sign of him?” D’Mello asked. “No, but we’ll catch him eventually. He couldn’t have gone too far.” A uniformed officer handed D’Mello a piece of paper. D’Mello stared at it. “There’s so much I just don’t understand. What did he get out of killing everyone like this? And what do you make of this paper? They found it in the hallway.” Asnodkar examined the bloodstained paper. “More rantings of a madman, I guess. Save it for evidence. We’ll ask Peter personally when we find him.”
“He killed them . . . killed them all.” “Carruthers, Sir... I’m the butler. I’ve been here... all my life.” “Okay. Well, you’re safe now. I promise you, we will catch the man who did this. That monster can’t harm you anymore. It’s over.” Carruthers shook his head weakly. As the paramedics started to move him towards the ambulance, for a brief moment, to Inspector Asnodkar it almost seemed as though the old man’s eyes themselves started to tremble. Asnodkar heard him whisper “It’s never over.” Asnodkar watched as the ambulance left the house.”Spooky, huh?” “Did you see the amount of blood in there? What would possess anyone to do that?” D’Mello asked. “There’s a history of mental illness 30 - October 2012
D’Mello stared at the house, then back at the paper. “Just makes no sense, these words.” He read them aloud. “ G E TO U T— AU G U S T— LETTHEMLIVEALEXANDER.” “What do you suppose it means?” Asnodkar asked. D’Mello shrugged his broad shoulders as he turned and walked back into the house. “I don’t know. Peter . . . this August guy from before . . . if I didn’t know any better, I would have said it’s almost as though history were repeating itself all over again.” “That’s where you’re wrong. Remember, in the first case, the survivor was an—” “Stop the ambulance! We’ve got
another one. Stop the ambulance!” They heard an officer scream as he ran out, flagging the ambulance that was departing. “What?” D’Mello bellowed.
after the second corridor that leads down below into a sort of basement. There’s a lot of blood in there, too. But the baby doesn’t have a scratch on her. How is that possible, sir? How could
LETTHEMLIVEALEXANDER.” The officer took no heed of his senior as he raced past them, cutting across the lawn in an attempt to try and stop the ambulance before it turned around the corner. Behind him, another officer came running out. “A baby girl.” He said, his words coming out between laboured breaths. “There’s a baby girl inside. We heard cries from below and went to check it out. There’s a trapdoor
there be so much blood in all the rooms and just two bodies?” Asnodkar and D’Mello stared at each other for a brief moment. Even though neither man spoke, D’Mello’s words seemed to hang over both their heads—“It’s almost as though history were repeating itself all over again.” Asnodkar had no reply to offer as they headed back inside, seeking answers once more from the House of Hell.
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Death of a medicine man
s the sun began to set behind Sanchez, and the battered Chrysler ate up the dusty miles, the lick of fire on the mountainside ahead became clearer—a flickering, vermillion flare set against the growing shadows. Sanchez kept his eyes fixed on the flame, his hands iron tight on the wheel as the car shot down the arrowstraight track across the desert, kicking up a tail of powder behind. Occasionally his eyes would flick to the slowly sinking red orb reflected in the rear-view mirror, washed out by the cloud that followed him. He wondered if there would be any daylight left by the time he got there. He wondered what he would find. By the time he pulled the car off the road, the edge of the sun had touched the horizon. He pulled his leather case from the backseat and set off hatless. By the time he had negotiated the shale-covered slope, his clothes tugged at by cactus and shriveled, skeletal bushes, more than half had sunk out of sight. The heat was beginning to seep from the day, and the beacon fire, lit by the medicine man to direct the carriers of his spirit, was now nothing larger than a glowing, crackling core of snapped brushwood branches. It marked the end of Sanchez’s journey. Glowing embers, just when a fire’s warmth would be most appreciated. “He just said it was time to die.” Sanchez leaned over the body of the medicine man. He was laid out on a blanket by the fire, his feet pointed toward the last sliver of sun. Sanchez made only a cursory examination to confirm what was already obvious. Then he took a step back to look at him as a man, as another person, rather than as another case for certification. Time, for once, was no longer of the essence. The skin was like leather, leather that had been worn in or rode on every day for seventy years, laced with a myriad of cracks but shiny in between. The hair was white and thin, the chin neatly shaved. The nose slightly hooked. The old Indian’s eyes were closed, his mouth in a half-smile. The smile had made dimples in his cheeks, and these now cast spiky shadows up his face. Soon the crimson fog - 33
shadows would be gone, joining like black quicksilver into a single sheet of darkness. His arms were folded over his chest neatly, formally. To Sanchez he seemed the most peaceful person he’d seen in a long time. Sedate. But dead. Maybe that was why. “What did you say?” Sanchez said, turning to the younger Indian for the first time. Randolph Half-Moon looked at him, his face scared. For a moment Sanchez wondered what Half-Moon had
“I showed him these.” In the half-light, Sanchez could make out a small bottle of pills in Randolph Half-Moon’s shaking hand. “I showed him these. He asked what they were, and I told him, and then he said he was tired and the world was beyond his medicine now. I came back a couple of hours later and found him wandering up here to die. He never said another word.” So, Half-Moon did think he’d killed him.
Death was merely an
occupational hazard to Sanchez, to be afraid of. It wasn’t as though he had killed the old man. Then Sanchez remembered that it was probably the first dead body Half-Moon had seen. Death was merely an occupational hazard to Sanchez, the inevitable that he fought against all the time, always knowing that in the end, however hard he tried, he’d lose. It made him forget how unfamiliar and therefore terrifying it was to others. Then again, maybe it was just the coming cold that made him shake. “He just said it was time to die.” Sanchez looked down at the Indian, ever peaceful, ever still. He’d never feel the cold of a desert night again. “Yeah. Guess he was right,” he said flatly. 34 - October 2012
“I don’t want to take your pills anymore, Doc. They bring death.” Sanchez didn’t argue. “I was going to prescribe something else anyway. Now that your condition appears to be easing.” It was a lie but told casually enough not to arouse suspicion. They covered the body up and set off in darkness, feeling their way carefully downwards, Sanchez wondering what alternative remedy he could give. A vitamin supplement, probably. “What exactly did you tell him?” Sanchez ventured when he pulled the car back on to the track. “That they were pills you had given me to treat my illness. That they were what was making me better, not his potions and spells.” The car bounced slightly along
the track. Half-Moon’s arm snaked through the open window, his big, flat hand holding on to the roof. Sanchez remembered that his mother used to joke about all the people having to hold on to their car roofs. He grew up with an illogical belief that car roofs were somehow weaker than the knees of the newborn calves that his uncle used to take him to see out on the ranch. “Was he angry?” Half-Moon shook his head. “He was sad.” “Suicidal?” “No, sad. And tired. Like he had gambled and lost, and that was his last game. He said if I and the world no longer believed in his medicine, then I and the world no longer had a use for his medicine.” And they spoke no more as the lights of Jackson came on them. Sanchez dropped Half-Moon at the entrance to the trailer park at
pertinently and supplied no details that were not specifically requested. When he put the receiver down, he wondered whether his behavior amounted to a sign of guilt. Whether the sheriff, beneath his insouciance and laconic drawl, was trained to spot such psychological signs. He swallowed the remainder of the whiskey and told himself that he was being paranoid. After all, what exactly was he guilty of? And anyway, Sanchez told himself, he mustn’t forget how lowgrade, endemic racism could help him for once. As a Mexican—even a Mexican doctor—in the white man’s country, Sanchez sensed it every day. However, the sheriff would see this case as just another dead Indian. And everyone knew that even a Mexican trumped an Indian. Sanchez’s unease stemmed from another, earlier, telephone call.
“He was sad.” the edge of town. As the big man got out, Sanchez leaned over. “I’ll arrange for you to go to Tucson. For another scan. Check there’s nothin’ nasty still lurking in there.” Half-Moon nodded. After he had arrived home, and after pouring himself a generous whiskey, Sanchez telephoned the sheriff to report the dead Indian on the mountainside. He was to the point, business like. He answered what questions he was asked
Would he have made the call, he asked himself, knowing what he knew now? Yes, he would. But perhaps he would not have allowed events to take the course they had. Not allowed Walvis to talk him into it. Henry Walvis had been in med school with Sanchez. He was a blustering, over-talkative man, a man who always had a deal going down somewhere, a man who knew a man who knew a man. Sanchez had Crimson Fog - 35
been wary of Walvis since the first time they met. Since the first time he had seen Walvis, a face on the other side of a crowded room at some get-to-know-you party. He possessed what Sanchez called “jackals’ eyes,” always scanning the crowd, looking for a patsy, looking for a mark. Looking for somebody to try the patter on. Sanchez steered clear. But when, in the second winter, Sanchez’s mother had grown worse and could no longer afford the medicine, it was to Walvis that Sanchez went. He knew that Walvis would be able to produce 36 - October 2012
a solution. And he did. At a price that stayed put and with terms that were stuck to. Walvis had one other useful quality, and it was because of this that Sanchez had called him some two months previously. He knew far, far more about cancerous growths than Sanchez ever would. • Eight weeks before the death of the medicine man . . . “Hell-oo.” Walvis was chirpy, chirrupy from the beginning. “Why, Dr. Sanchez. What an honor.”
“Tell me about the lumps,” Walvis said at last, choosing his moment, not Sanchez’s, to cut to the chase. •
And so it went on, the pleasantries, before Sanchez found an opportunity to mention Randolph HalfMoon and the inexplicable lumps. Even then Walvis chose to dwell on Half-Moon’s name: half Indian, half white. Half-breed, Walvis probably assumed. Incorrectly—Randolph Half-Moon was probably the last Native American in Jackson that could swear to be of pure stock. To the city dweller Walvis was, such a name was unusual, comical. As desert people, Sanchez, and presumably Half-Moon himself, took it with the stoicism that the arid land tempers into a man.
Eleven weeks before the death of the medicine man . . . Randolph Half-Moon came in to the clinic to see Sanchez. He had lumps under the skin. Tough, fibrous nodules. They caused him no pain, merely annoyance and some little concern. Half-Moon told Sanchez that they were growing, although on further questioning it was unclear whether the Indian meant growing in size or in hardness. The two concepts seemed to strangely meld into one for Half-Moon. Sanchez sat there for a while, sucking on one of the pill-like mints that he kept in his drawer, hoping that an answer would spring magically into his mind. Nothing did. The lumps or growths or cysts— whatever they were—were like nothing he had ever seen before. And, as far as he could tell, there was nothing else apparently wrong with the patient. In the absence of anything concrete, he gave him a steroid in cream form to rub on the lumps if they should prove irritable. HalfMoon told him blandly that they hadn’t up to that point in time, so why would they in future? Sanchez had no reply, but Half-Moon took the steroid away with him anyway. • Crimson Fog - 37
Eight weeks before the death of the medicine man . . . “I’ll be in Tucson in a few weeks,” Walvis said. “Why don’t I drive down to see you? We can have dinner. Chew over old times.” Whatever those were. And then Walvis hung up. Without offering any prognosis
with the white man’s medicine. Now he would tap the knowledge of his own people. Then he would decide. Randolph Half-Moon was just getting into his pickup when Sanchez caught up with him on the street outside the clinic. The doctor was slightly out of breath,
“I’m a medicine man, too.” or even suggesting he might have one, but leaving an upbeat air, as though he had given the answer but simultaneously cast a spell that made Sanchez forget what it was. As if he had said without saying that he knew. Even looking back on it more than two months later, a little part of Sanchez nagged at him, insisting that Walvis had said, “This is what it is, and this is what you should do, and, hey I’ll be in Tucson soon.” But he hadn’t. Sanchez knew he hadn’t.
having procrastinated before deciding to come after the Indian. “Randolph, about the medicine man.” Half-Moon’s eyes narrowed, perhaps suspecting that Sanchez would somehow try to stop him seeking an alternative prognosis. “Would it be possible for me to, you know, tag along?” “Why?” “I’m a medicine man, too. I can learn a lot from how other medicine men work.” Half-Moon thought for a • moment, the voice of Rosemary Eleven weeks before the death of Clooney drifting out of an open the medicine man . . . window farther down the sideBefore he left Sanchez’s clinic, walk. “It’s not up to me,” he said, Half-Moon said he was going to pulling the door of the pickup shut see the old medicine man in the after him. Sanchez watched Halftrailer park. This wasn’t a request Moon carve out a perfect semifor advice over the wisdom of this circle in the dust as he departed, course of action, nor a plea for the not sure how his request had been doctor’s permission. It was a sim- left. ple statement of intent. “I will lisSanchez endured a sleepless ten to what he says,” Half-Moon night wondering what the Indian’s stated and then left. He had sought condition could be. A form of the counsel of the Mexican doctor skin cancer? Not a melanoma, but
38 - October 2012
something operating well below the germinal layer? A lymph condition was much more likely, but this was no lymph condition that Sanchez had ever seen. And then the test results arrived and seemed to rule that out conclusively. • Six weeks before the death of the medicine man . . . When Half-Moon came in to see Sanchez again, all the doctor could give him were negatives. A lot of things ruled out. Nothing ruled in. No answers. No solutions. And the lumps had grown in both size and hardness, the skin beginning to stretch, mottled red and white, over them. Sanchez could do nothing but suck on another Tic Tac, shake
His receptionist looked up, taken aback. “What about Mrs. McClure?” But Sanchez was gone. Half-Moon’s pickup was not built for comfort. It wallowed in potholes and felt close to tipping on corners. The Indian drove with an unchanging, blank expression, elbow in the breeze, showing no reaction to anything the road threw at him. The medicine man lived in the trailer park alongside Half-Moon and, in all probability, all the other remaining Native Americans within a ten-mile radius. The park had begun with prefabs, rushed housing put up after the war. Temporary dwellings that, given desert conditions, would last forever. Sometime between Korea and Vietnam, trailer caravans had been moored along-
“No answers. No solutions.” his head, and promise to arrange to send Half-Moon for tests in Tucson. On his way out of the clinic, HalfMoon paused at the door. “If we’re going, we go now.” Sanchez looked up, confused. “Go where?” “To see the medicine man.” This was unexpected. It was four in the afternoon; Sanchez had a few more patients to see. But HalfMoon was already out of the room. Sanchez grabbed his hat and bag and trotted after the Indian. “Sally, apologize to Mr. Fitch,” he called without stopping.
side the prefabs, boarded down to ground level, porches and verandas added. But even a hanging basket of peonies and all the paint in Arizona couldn’t hide what they were. The irony that an elder of a wandering tribe, geographically rootless, had been forced to put down roots in a mobile home that itself had been tethered to the Earth, was not lost on Sanchez. Yapping dogs pulled on chains as Half-Moon brought the pickup to a juddering halt. “Wait here,” he said without pausing for a response. Sanchez watched as the medicine man answered Half-Moon’s Crimson Fog - 39
knock at the door. There was a minute or so of quiet discussion with a glance from each of them thrown his way. Then a nod from the medicine man and the slow wheel of Half-Moon’s arm indicating Sanchez should join them. “We will follow,” Half-Moon explained; the medicine man was already striding toward the edge of the trailer park and out into the desert, toward the late-afternoon sun. Sanchez pulled up alongside Half-Moon. “Where to?” “No. I will follow first. Then you follow me.” Half-Moon turned his shoulder to make it clear that the procedure was non-negotiable. Sanchez hung back a few paces as they left the temporary houses, but permanent homes, behind. It gave
against his hip. Sanchez found himself breaking stride, having to give a little run to keep up, while the two Indians seemed to glide effortlessly along. “Hey, how far are we going?” They had left the trailer park well behind. Sanchez had assumed that there would be a consultation in the trailer, some herbs and incantations. He hadn’t expected a route march. His shoes were rubbing. Half-Moon pointed to where the ground rose ahead of them. Perhaps another half-mile ahead the shallow slope ended at a cliff face. It took them an hour to get to the base of the cliff. The sand hardened under foot, making waking easier as they rose, but, as if to balance this, a steppe of scrubby cactus and brush arose to be crossed. Sanchez lifted his bag
“I will follow first. Then you follow me.” him a chance to compare the two Indians. Half-Moon: big, lumbering, with glossy black hair hanging straight down to the collar of his light denim shirt. The medicine man: small, squat, with silver hair streaked with black lying lank across his shoulders. His hair apart, he seemed to be less than half of Half-Moon in every dimension: lean, lithe, and wiry where the younger man had muscle bulk. But incredibly energetic, beating out a demanding pace, a small haversack bouncing in time 40 - October 2012
over thorns and spikes, protecting the jacket of his suit, while the Indians, as ever immune, slipped through, pausing only to cut particular branches and stems at the medicine man’s direction. By the time they reached the base of the cliff, Sanchez could feel sweat running down his legs. His suit had stuck to him, the material snagged. He pressed his hand into his side to alleviate the pain of a stitch. Half-Moon, on the other hand, looked just as he had when he stepped into the consulting
room almost two hours previously. The thought occurred to Sanchez that his wife must be wondering where he was. “We have to beat the sun, or all is lost,” Half-Moon explained. Half-Moon and the medicine man had led Sanchez to an unnaturally level semi-circle of ground, the straight edge being the vertical rock face behind them. From here the ground ran flat from the rock face for fifty feet in all directions before gently sloping down toward the
over the gray wood; the medicine man added two of the greenest branches he had hacked from a stocky tree, sending a billow of white smoke over Half-Moon. Sanchez saw his head tip back slightly as the smoke hit his nostrils. Then the medicine man, back stooped, set to work—not on Half-Moon himself, but on his shadow, scratching at the hard-packed earth at the edge of the shadow with a handful of leaves. He danced on the balls of his feet, moving ever sideways, chanting
“Chanting, brushing, dancing. They began to adopt a single rhythm.” scrub they had just walked through. There was something artificial about it, man-made, like a viewing platform or misplaced landing pad. Sanchez made a mental note to ask when this was all over. The medicine man positioned Half-Moon away from the cliff face, towards the setting sun. Crosslegged, the big Indian closed his eyes against the glare, his shadow cast back towards the rock face. Sanchez sat to one side, wishing he had brought water. Expertly the old man kindled a fire at the lip of the ledge a few paces in front of Half-Moon. It was too small and too far away to feel its warmth. However, the rising heat caused the edges of Half-Moon’s elongated shadow to blur. The flames licked and crackled
under his breath, brushing the dust up, and, Sanchez noted, never stepping on the shadow itself. Half-Moon himself had begun to chant as well. Chanting, brushing, dancing. They began to adopt a single rhythm. Sanchez felt the beat of his heart in his chest; it too seemed to have fallen in line with the cadence of the cosmic dance. The medicine man, having completed a circuit of Half-Moon’s steadily lengthening shadow, picked up the smoking bough from the fire and waved it around HalfMoon’s head, shaking the smoke over him. White wisps caught in the breeze and floated to the Mexican. Sanchez found the buzzing tightness in his head that he hadn’t even noticed before was suddenly gone. In its place was a cloying sweetness. Crimson Fog - 41
Another, thicker waft of smoldering branch caught Sanchez. The smoke had the strangest effect, as if it were a blue-colored lens: Objects far away suddenly rushed forward in sharp relief, overwhelming his view of Half-Moon and the medicine man. Instead he could see the leaves of trees on the distant horizon. He blinked and saw each and every caterpillar and bug crawling on each and every leaf. And all shot through with a blue of incredible clarity, as if Sanchez were looking up through the clearest seawater imaginable. The smoke passed and the image reverted to Half-Moon, chin thrust towards the setting sun, eyes closed. Sanchez rubbed his face, not sure of what he had seen. The Indianâ€™s shadow was now smeared up to the rock face, the sun almost level with their elevated position; Sanchez noticed that even the smallest pieces of grit at his feet cast shadows as long as his fingers. The medicine man was completing a second circuit of Half-Moonâ€™s shadow, chanting and brushing, brushing and chanting. The medicine man fed the fire with the remaining boughs. A mass of blue-white smoke bubbled up and caught the breeze, momentarily wavering back and forth before curving around to engulf Sanchez. For a second the Mexican was completely lost in the smoke. 42 - October 2012
When it cleared Sanchez found himself face-to-face with a fox. Small, yellowy-red, it cocked its head expectantly. Sanchez had no idea where it had come from. There seemed to be only the Mexican and the fox. Nothing else existed. Sanchez did not find this strange. He had only the dimmest recollection of there being anybody else with him, of there being anything else in the universe apart from himself, the fox,
and the piece of ground on which they stood. The fox yawned, a single, laconic roll of its jaws, but Sanchez clearly heard the words, “Follow me.” The fox spoke like George Sanders. Sanchez got up and followed the fox. Without the fox asking and without Sanchez speaking, the fox learned everything there was to know about the Mexican doctor. Sanchez did not have to verify this. He just instinctively knew that
the fox soaked up Sanchez’s own self-knowledge with each pad of its paws. They stopped by a tree. The fox yawned again. “And now you must fly like a bird,” it said. Sanchez found himself in the tree. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. As he kicked off and soared, he forgot that there had ever been a talking fox. The world looked strange from above—trees that were themselves
Flickr.com/ Peter G Trimmin
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casting shadows that stretched way into the distance. The shadows seemed to be the trees, and the trees mere details at their feet. He wheeled and soared, felt the wind against his beak and feathers, and far below saw the tiny figures of the medicine man, Half-Moon, and himself, marked by a long thin tongue of grey smoke seeping from the dying fire. The medicine
the bottle in addition to whatever he prescribed. “Explain to me what that was about?” “You can tell everything about a man from his shadow,” HalfMoon explained enigmatically. Sanchez wanted to get him to explain what he meant but found he was too busy untangling himself from the thornbush he’d stumbled into. Half-Moon and the
The medicine man and Half-Moon seemed to be leaning over Sanchez.. man and Half-Moon seemed to be leaning over Sanchez... The water being poured into Sanchez’s mouth made him cough, and he retched up a mouthful of bile. It was Half-Moon standing over him in the half-light, holding his head in one hand and a water bottle in the other. The sun had not yet set but had fallen well below the level of the base of the cliff; Half-Moon’s lower body was already in shadow. “We need to hurry. Soon it will be dark, and walking in the desert is hard in the dark,” Half-Moon said. There was no mention of Sanchez’s condition, the only concession being a hand to help haul him to his feet. They set off at what Sanchez felt was a fast trot. He’d seen patients who looked like he felt, and he usually advised a spell away from
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medicine man had already disappeared out of sight. Half-Moon drove him home, the milky headlights picking out practically nothing in the darkness. At home, Sanchez looked at himself in the hall mirror. His suit was dusty and creased, threads hanging in loops where thorns had snagged the material. His hands were cut and grazed. He had the taste of old vomit in his mouth. “Sheriff said you had to be missing longer before he’d do anything,” was all his wife had said before turning out her bedside light. The next morning he found the bruises that covered his chest and back. Sally canceled his appointments for him, and he spent the day in bed. •
Five weeks before the death of the medicine man . . . A week later, Sanchez met Henry Walvis. He arrived dead on time and wrapped his hands around Sanchez’s wiry paw. “So good to see ya,” Walvis almost sang. They went to a bar on the main drag, sat in a booth, drank beer, and shared a big plate of nachos. No, Walvis did not offer a diagnosis of Half-Moon. He did not even request to meet the patient. “Have to charge you if I do that,” Walvis had jittered, a big smile wrapped across his face. He drank in the tales of the desert. Stupid details like the road kill on the Arizona roads that he’d never see in the city. Sanchez talked of ranching and the associated injuries he saw that Walvis never would. Something to spice up the diet of a small-town doctor, Walvis said. “I worry about skin cancer. Nobody in the south gives two hoots about it. Go to New York— they know. But how much sun does New York get in December?”
“What is it then?”“Don’t know,” Walvis deflated the situation. “But what I do know is . . .” He reached into his pocket for a small, brown, plastic bottle of pills. “. . . these may help.” He pushed them across the table, in between the beer bottles. “What is it?”“It’s a new drug. Lazradine 8192.”“I ain’t heard of it.”“Like I say. It’s new.” And then Walvis pulled out a long, brown envelope and laid it next to the bottle. Sanchez didn’t say anything for what seemed to him like a long time. Just kept his eyes firmly on the envelope, as though he were trying to burrow through the Manila paper to understand what was inside. Walvis leaned back, spreading himself over the red leatherette seat on his side of the booth. “Don’t you want to open it?”“What’s in it?” It was a naive, needless question. “Like I said. Lazradine 8192 is new. The people who make it gave me a supply to use and paid me handsomely. Now I’m letting you have a bottle. The makers are anx-
Time to call. Time to show the cards. Walvis fixed him with a searching look. Those jackal eyes again, judging the right time to make a move. “Ain’t cancer. Your Indian. Ain’t cancer.” Time to call. Time to show the cards.
ious for any information as to its . . .” Walvis searched the air like a poet. “Efficacy.”“You mean side effects.”“I mean efficacy, dammit,” Walvis glowered. And then he laughed, defusing the tension. “Look. It’s good. It really is. How many
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medications are there that operate below the dermis but don’t attack the deep tissue? That’s where your Indian’s problems lie. I’m just offering a potential solution. You said yourself you were clean out of alternatives.” Sanchez considered. Walvis had a point. Half-Moon had an alternative, a second opinion. He didn’t. He was straight out of choices. But even so . . .
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“Look at it as a trial,” the Texan slyly offered. “This ain’t no trial. I know how drug trials run.”“Okay. A pre-trial trial.” Sanchez looked at the bottle. He didn’t like the idea. His mother had brought him up with a very black-and-white sense of right and wrong, and this fell unambiguously into the black. But then he thought: What would happen if he carried on treating the Indian
with what he knew? The answer was simple. Randolph Half-Moon would die. Even if Walvis were right and his condition wasn’t deserving of the name “cancer” proper, the tumors, whatever their origin, would probably grow and multiply, God knew where to. Doing nothing added up to the worst-case scenario. And who else but him would be interested in treating some Indian from a trailer park anyway? He hated what it all added up
to, but the only alternative that he could see was Walvis’s little, brown, plastic bottle of pills. But an untried medicine? The risks . . . “How much does a hick-town medicine man make around here anyway?” Walvis said, trying a different tack, and Sanchez laughed. For a naive moment he thought Walvis was referring to the grizzled, old man with the watery, blue eyes that the Indians in the trailer park called the medicine man. But of course he wasn’t. Walvis had no knowledge of Jackson’s other medicine man. Sanchez hadn’t mentioned him, had no need to mention him. It would merely have confused the situation. But then again, if Walvis had known of the old Indian, maybe he wouldn’t have distinguished between him and Sanchez. Walvis drained his bottle of beer and held up two fingers to the barman for more. “You sent him for tests, you say?” Sanchez nodded and detailed the tests he had asked the hospital in Tucson to perform, one professional to another. He thought that he had weathered the subtle storm of Walvis’s sell. But then he was taken by the sucker punch. “I didn’t have this much trouble last time I tried to give you drugs, John,” Walvis said blankly, looking deep into the eyes of the Mexican. And Sanchez knew then what the outcome would be. That it was inevitable, like death itself. It was a matter of honor. A matter of a debt repaid. Crimson Fog - 47
Walvis settled the bill, and they onto the mountain to die with the left the bar, the heat and sound of day, it was routine insofar as death the desert night hitting them. As by natural causes went. The small, they ambled back to where Walvis brown, plastic bottle of pills was had left his car, they talked about never mentioned. “He just said it their med-school days, the people was time to die” was good enough they had known, the incidents, so for the authorities. petty and domestic in retrospect But Sanchez had expected a but seemingly so important at the telephone call, if not from Walvis time—a stolen wallet, a dance, a himself, then at least from the man caught in a females-only drug company in order for him to dorm. Sanchez was surprised at report on Lazradine 8192’s “effihow many events of this nature cacy.” It came just before six one they shared, of the similar circles evening as he was clearing up they had moved in. And the whole paperwork at the end of the day, way back to Walvis’ Buick, not one strips of orange sunlight dashing word was uttered about what they the blue and yellow forms he had had just wordlessly agreed. spread out before him. Sanchez flicked a Tic Tac into What he had not expected was his mouth and watched Walvis’s the fear, the voice jittery with panic. taillights fade into the hot night. In “Did you give the Indian the 8192?”
“Did you give the Indian the 8192?” the pocket of his pants sat the little, “Yes,” Sanchez said slowly. brown bottle. And tucked inside “And?” his jacket was the long, brown “And the tumors seem to have envelope. subsided.” “Totally?” • “As far as I can tell.” Seven days after the death of the He could hear the Texan breathmedicine man . . . ing heavily on the other end of the Sanchez heard nothing from line, as if he had just been running Walvis again for two whole or working out. “Take it from me, months. The sheriff had taken he’ll die. You’ll think he’s in remisstatements, pushing his hat back sion, he’s clear, but then he’ll die. over his pool-ball head like it It’ll take a month or two, but the somehow ran on oiled hinges. To symptoms will reappear and he’ll the sheriff, it seemed, as unusual as die.” it was for an old Indian to go up Sanchez said nothing. 48 - October 2012
“If you’ve got any sense, you’ll make it look like something else. I’m getting out of here. I’m not sticking around.” And the line went dead. Sanchez saw Randolph HalfMoon a few days later for a routine check. It took no more than three minutes. A visual inspection showed the tumors had virtually disappeared. To the touch, the flesh felt entirely normal. Blood pressure matched notes on Half-
The interview room was cold and dim, a small, cream-and-green painted room with a high window filled by wire-reinforced, obscured glass. It reminded Sanchez of the clinic drug cupboard. The sheriff laid on the table the small, glass bottle that had contained the pills Sanchez had given Randolph Half-Moon and, next to it, the envelope with the money Walvis had given Sanchez. Sanchez
“Now tell me about Henry Walvis.” Moon’s medical history from before all this had started. Sanchez took blood samples. Half-Moon seemed slightly resentful of the unnecessary intrusion.
hadn’t banked the money. He hadn’t felt comfortable doing so. Instead he’d put the envelope on top of his wardrobe. If the sheriff had the money, it meant that he had searched his house. If he’d searched • his house, it meant that his wife Three weeks after the death of the knew what had happened. And if medicine man . . . he had the pill bottle, he also had Nearly two weeks went by before Half-Moon. the sheriff strode into Sanchez’s “Tell me about Henry Walvis,” the consulting room. At least he had sheriff said simply, his eyes never the decency to come at the end of leaving Sanchez’s face. There wasn’t the day after the last patient had left, really anything else the sheriff and Sally too. “We have a situation could hit Sanchez with. It was like here, Dr. Sanchez. We’d be grateful starting a game of poker by calling for your help.” a full house. Sanchez waited. He didn’t want “Shouldn’t I have a lawyer or to incriminate himself by an inju- something?” dicious word. After all, it might not “You people make me sick. You have anything to do with Walvis, the can have a lawyer when I charge Lazradine 8192, or the death of the you with something. Now tell me medicine man. about Henry Walvis.” “Down at the station.” The sherSanchez said nothing, just met iff ’s tone removed any sliver of the sheriff ’s gaze. Two beady doubt. eyes in an egg-shaped head, hair Crimson Fog - 49
cropped so close the color was indeterminate. “If that’s how you want it,” was all the sheriff said. Sanchez was led to a basement cell, a bare, concrete affair with a bucket in the corner. A concrete shelf—eighteen inches high, the same distance across, and about six feet long—served as a bed. There was no mattress, no blanket. The only other feature of note was a single, bare bulb hanging at least nine feet above the floor, well out of reach. Sanchez huddled in the corner and turned his face to the wall to try to get some sleep. Every hour or so, the spy hole in the solid-metal door would be drawn back with a clang and, a moment later, slid back again. He suspected that, had he not been Mexican, the light may have gone out at some point in the night. It felt like he had only just gotten to sleep when the cell door opened. Sanchez swung his legs down and rubbed the cramp out of them. The sheriff had the air of a man who’d had a good breakfast. “Lab boys just got back to us with the results of those pills in the Indian’s bottle. Looks like you’re free to go.” “Just like that?” “Just like that.” To Sanchez’s surprise, it was Randolph Half-Moon who was waiting for him on the steps of the sheriff ’s station. He hung his head
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slightly in embarrassment, big hands holding his big hat in front of him. “I’m sorry, Dr. Sanchez. But they asked me and I told the truth.” “That’s okay, Randolph,” Sanchez replied. “I wouldn’t have wanted you to do anything but.” “But they found the pills. I should have gotten rid of them. I was going to get rid of them.” “I’m glad you left some in the bottle. Gave them something to analyze.” “I don’t understand. Your medicine made me better, but the sheriff says it’s bad medicine. But the sheriff let you go?” Sanchez paused, wondering how much Half-Moon really needed to know. “All they found in that bottle were breath mints.” “Breath mints?” “I was out of options, not counting Walvis’ bad medicine, because I wasn’t counting that as an option. Breath mints. That’s all that I’d given you.” Half-Moon looked utterly bewildered. “But you cured me.” “No. You got better. But I didn’t cure you.” Half-Moon’s eyes swung towards the foothills at the edge of town, to the place where the medicine man had climbed the slope to die. “If it wasn’t you, then . . .” “Yeah. Looks that way,” Sanchez agreed.
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Caveman Noir Lancer Kind
t was the hottest part of the day when Arwi pretended to be nice to me. The wheat we harvested was near the great river, and she asked if I wanted to cool my feet in its waters. Her hair was tied back with a leather strap and wrapped around one of her shoulder clasps. She was always trying to be different. I liked my hair in a braid so it swung when I moved, like the tail of a lioness. She said those words and I let the wheat cutter slip from my hand. It shattered against a stone, making the sound of breaking clay. The other women stopped cutting, sensing that something was going to happen. “Zarina,” she said to me. “You will have to replace that tool.” I caught her hair and pulled. The clasp was bone and wouldn’t break, but the strap pulled the bone from its place, and her gown dropped to her feet. She screamed and tried to fight back, but I pushed her into the dirt and held her there, my foot and then my knee on her back. She squirmed like a naked worm and cursed me, and cried as I scrubbed handfuls of dirt over her back and down to her thighs, trying to get the smell off. It wasn’t her smell. She had stolen it. It was spring when my husband returned me to my father. And now she had Ishme’s smell because she shared his sleeping furs. It should please the spirits that she now smelled of dirt. Through her cries the others watched, refraining from interfering out of respect, since my father was the Eldest. I knew none of them liked me. In the distance, smoke floated from the huts of our village. The hunters must have returned with game. I dusted my hands over Arwi’s head while she sat up and gathered her gown from the dirt. While the women watched me with looks as sharp as spearheads, I said, “It’s time to stop cutting. We will eat soon.” I lifted an armload of the wheat grasses and started back to the village. The trail to the village passed through grasses as high as my shoulder. From my village came two crimson fog - 53
dark-hairs carrying the leg of a deer between them, followed by a third dark-hair named Maru. The men filled the trail as they walked, the grasses never reaching above their breasts. They carried the deer with their arms extended so the fresh kill didn’t drip on their skirts. The dark-hairs were so large that it was easy for them to carry so much. To let them pass, I stood to the side of the trail, pressing against the tall grasses. The two carrying the deer walked past, but Maru stopped and blocked my way. He kicked his foot over the dirt, as was their way. “Zarina, your father is not a good Eldest. We carry two deer from the mountains and all your father gives us is one deer’s quarter.” “I’d give you less, but he likes your people. He can keep his hunters out hunting longer because you carry his kills.” Maru puffed up his chest. “I will carry what’s in your arms for only a kick.” “Only a kick?” I said, smiling at his poor fluency but knowing what he’d meant to say. I tipped my head up and pushed out my lips. As he leaned his face to mine, I kicked him in the shin and then pushed the armload of wheat to him. “Here.” Like all big men, he feared looking small. He didn’t yell, even though my sandal was of wood, not moccasin like his people’s. 54 - October 2012
He held still for a moment, and then repeated, “Kiss. I will help for a kiss.” I pulled the wheat back. “You need to carry much more for a kiss.” The other dark-hairs had stopped. They spoke to him in their language and then laughed. Maru frowned and yelled curses. I didn’t know what the words meant, but dark-hair curses were always about things that are done with a
tree branch when alone in the forest. The two dark-hairs continued down the trail, their faces angry. I held the armload to my chest and tried to pass Maru, but though the wheat and my elbow pressed into his stomach, he would not move. I swung the wheat at him and shouted, “Go back to your village, Maru. You will miss supper.” Maru frowned and took a deep breath, pushing his chest into me
so I had to back further off the trail. The dark-hair curses I had kept were lost in my anger. “I come for you in morning,” he said. “Nuh! You are not making sense. Stop speaking my people’s words and go.” “Today, I asked your father for help. Instead of sending his son, he insults us by sending you, Zarina. Tomorrow, he says, you will go to our village.”
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He could tell I was going to kick him again, so he moved away. “My father is mad.” I spit, and it landed on his knee, just below his skirt. Maru pulled up grasses and used them to wipe his leg. “And my father is a fool for agreeing.” “Agreeing to what? You are making me angry.” Maru’s toes curled his moccasins into the dirt while he talked. “I told my father it mattered not who made this man dead. Spread his possessions among the tribe and then it is done.” “Have your people gotten so violent they slaughter each other for prey?” “This dead one was a fool. He made magic that was forbidden.” “Then chase him away. No one hunts their own kind.” Maru nodded his head in a round motion as the dark-hair peo-
What does any of this matter to me?” “Too many are angry,” Maru said, the sap stick slurring his speech. “My father wants someone not of our tribe to help in this matter.” I could drop the wheat and slip by, but I wanted to know more so I could bury this bone with my father as fast as possible. “You told my father of this man’s foolishness?” “I told to your father, I told to my father—none listened. For each day you are in our village, a man of my tribe will carry your grasses. I would have laughed in your father’s face but he looked very sure when he spoke this price.” Maru spit on a beetle that was crawling across the ground. “Now I see your father’s way. He sends his broken daughter so she takes many days to decide, and we carry grasses all summer. It’s
“He made magic that was forbidden” ple do, and took from the waist of his skirt a pouch of sap sticks. He offered me one, but I shook my head. I wanted a clear spirit when I yelled at my father. Maru put the stick in his mouth, one end sticking out from between his lips as he sucked the sappy end against his cheek. “Maru, this wheat grows heavy while you numb your mouth.
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dumbchuck!”—a rude thing to do with a branch when in the middle of the forest and in need of leaves. I watched the sap stick move between his lips; the spirit behind his eyes looked as unhappy as mine felt. “Stay home tomorrow, Maru. I’d rather carry all of my tribe’s wheat than spend even a morning at your village.”
“Yuh? I will tell my father that too.” Maru spit out the sap stick and walked towards his village, not looking back. He passed through the group formed by Arwi and the other women with their bundles of wheat, forcing them to stand on the side as he walked down the middle. I continued home and dropped the wheat in the granary. Right away, I took food and went to my father’s
leave because you are too wild. You must do this to earn some standing.” I tried to get free; his arms held me, and we stumbled over Mother, who had been sleeping. Mother pulled herself and her coverings away from us. “You are Eldest to everyone in the tribe except Zarina,” she said to Father. Father held me to his chest. I couldn’t pull away; I dug my nails
“ She is my daughter. Treat her as such.” hut. I didn’t want to see Arwi sitting at the fire next to the man who was once my husband.
into the softness of his wrist. Father suddenly loosened his hold and said, “Make me bleed and I will give the dark-hairs our entire har• vest to keep you—and my spirit will I attacked my father with words be glad.” until they turned to spit. He raised I used the new insult I heard his fist, and his teeth showed like Maru say, and Father’s face was lost an angry animal. Then he used the to anger. back of his hand to wipe my anger “Out!” Mother said to both of us off his cheek and left the hut to sit and pointed to the hut’s opening. at the fire. He must have come back I let Father drag me outside. after I had fallen asleep, because he Maru and another were nearby, and woke me the next morning. they laughed as I untangled my “I’m not going,” I said. braid from the cinch at my father’s “You’ll leave with Maru even if skirt. I must carry you.” His face was Maru smiled and said, “I think watchful, that of a hunter standing the dawn just got brighter.” before a cornered animal. “Yuh,” Father said and stood He grabbed my arm. I put before Maru, his feet planted wide, my other hand on his chest and like he was gauged a goat for spearpushed away, but he didn’t let go. ing, though Maru’s shoulder was as He dragged me close. I could smell high as Father’s head. “She stays in only him and his sweat. He smelled your care until she has answered of anger. your father’s questions. She is my “There is talk of a vote that you daughter. Treat her as such.”
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Maru pointed at the younger man beside him. “He will carry your wheat until she returns.” Father looked at the man, who was as wide as Maru though shorter, since Father’s head was about level with the man’s. “A little small,” Father said. Maru looked offended and translated, but before the man could grow angry, Father slapped
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the man on the back, smiling at him. “Enough. We go,” I said. I started to leave, but Father stopped me and kissed me on the cheek, his beard tickling my face. “You will be welcomed back when you’re done,” he said. His face pressed into my hair. “I am sure of it.” •
children out of the huts to gather firewood. Their doings and talk stopped when they saw me. Maru waved and many turned back to what they were doing. A woman carrying furs to the river stared so long that she stumbled into a hut. A handful of men circled around another fire and gave us no notice. Each had sap sticks wiggling in their mouths, and one man made noises through his lips. The ends of the sticks burned. The moaning man spit his stick into the fire, and one by one, each did the same until the last one raised his arms in victory. The winner was large, even for a dark-hair. They noticed me, and the group became silent, like they had forgotten their words. Maru called to them, and the large one removed a new sap stick from his pouch and gestured with it to Maru and then the fire. When Maru shook his head, the man made a rude gesture. Maru said to me, “My lips still hurt from last night’s contest.” He grabbed a couple spits of meat from I had never been to the dark- the fire and handed one to me. “Better breakfast than your peohairs’ village before. It was near the foothills, hidden among cypress ple’s lumpy wheat,” he said. Olives were packed between trees. Every morning and sunset I had seen smoke rising from it on slices of gazelle, and it smelled the other side of the great river, but wonderful. As the meal’s heat I never had any need to pick fruit escaped into the air, I looked around the camp. and roots or cut wheat near it. An old man, probably an elder, It was breakfast when we entered. The women worked at the drew pictures in the dirt and talked fires cooking meat that was chilled to a man with a spear, who kept in the river and chased the young watching me instead of what the Crimson Fog - 59
elder was drawing. Others talked little talk and doings had been to each other in voices as soft as happening in the camp stopped. winds talking through grass. Like Everyone watched her from the my own village, did they also corner of their eyes, and I felt whisper why my husband had sorry for her. They were doing to returned me? her what my people had done to “Why do your people talk me. secrets?” I said. “Zuzu is the man who was “They know why you are here.” hunted?” I said. Fat dripped from the stick onto Maru wriggled his hands at the my hand. I bit off some meat. It sky as if he had walked into a cave tasted as good as it smelled. of spider webs, and then he looked “This has spice,” I said. around to see if anyone had heard. Maru put the whole stick in his “We do not speak the name of one mouth to suck off the food. He who is no longer with us.”
“Why do people talk secrets?” nodded in his way, somehow not spearing his cheek. “ Good, yuh? Much better than eating grains.” Maru made a face as he chewed. A piece of meat hung from his mouth. “If we ate only meat, then we wouldn’t have any left for trade. Then you would have to hunt and carry, not just carry what my father’s men kill,” I said, and then ate off the spit. “Then I’m glad you have the fields. Searching through forests and mountains for game makes my feet ache.” A woman leaned out of a hut’s opening and seemed to look for something. Maru pointed at her. “Zuzu’s wife.” Like the wind had ceased, what
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“You spoke his name with his wife.” “I spoke of the wife, not the man.” I chewed more meat from the spit and then said, “Does she have no name?” Zuzu’s wife saw me, and her eyes and spirit connected with mine. I saw the hurt in her eyes, and I looked at the ground. She went back inside, closing the skins over the opening. “Yuh, she has a name.” Maru shoved a second spit of food into his mouth and pulled it out, cleaned of meat. “Let’s go to her now,” he said through the food. While Maru walked to her hut, I stayed and cleaned my teeth with the end of the spit. Maru noticed I wasn’t following and turned. The
men at the fire laughed at Maru, except for two who stared at each other, each with a burning sap stick between puckered lips. Maru waved his arm. “Come.” I raised my chin. “Tell me, Maru, why are your people being so strange about her instead of comforting her spirit?” All listened to what I said, but only Maru and perhaps his father knew my people’s words. Maru’s cheeks grew red. “Her husband made magic he shouldn’t have.” He pointed at a group of men leaving the village. “Any one of them, or all, could’ve hunted her husband and had joyful spirits when finished.” All those that watched said nothing. Their faces hard. Their spirits waiting for something to happen. Even the women seemed angry enough to have hunted Zuzu. I dropped the spit and followed Maru. Even though the dark-hairs were
he was dead. She didn’t have to see him with another every day or have the whole tribe whisper stories about why she was alone. Instead of going in, I said, “Why is knowing who hunted Zu—” I stopped at the look on Maru’s face. “Why is knowing who hunted the husband important?” “Our tradition says that all that was of the husband be shared by whole tribe. But it would make bad medicine to have wife of Zuzu live in the hut of the one who did this.” Maru tipped his head toward the entrance, but I didn’t move. I didn’t like hearing that the tribe would decide without listening to her words. Would they even listen to mine? “My arm grows tired,” Maru said. When I didn’t move, he entered the hut. Perhaps they will listen to an Eldest’s daughter, I decided, and I crawled through the opening. The
“Why is knowing who hunted the husband important?” much larger people than my own, their huts were only chest high and made of skins and branches instead of reed and mud. Maru pushed aside the skins that covered the opening. The inside was dim and smelt of Zuzu and this woman. I didn’t want to talk to this woman who had lost her husband. At least
woman pulled some skins from her pile and made me a place to sit, and then made another pile for Maru. She sat on the thin gazelle skin that covered the floor, even though there was another nest of sleeping skins. Light came in through an opening in the top. Maru’s hair brushed the wood ribs of the ceiling.
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I smiled at the woman, but she smiled at the floor. I pointed to myself. “I’m Zarina.” “Abi-simti,” she said. “Call her Abi. It saves breath,” Maru said. The way Abi’s eyes flickered with a spirit of anger made me wonder if she knew some of our words. Like Maru and Abi-simti, I sat on my knees in silence. I wanted either one to say something, to just start talking, but Maru swayed from his right knee to his left and chewed his lips, looking bored, and Abi-simti stared at the floor. Neither was going to help me finish so I could go home, but someone had killed Zuzu. Someone did it on purpose. Someone from the tribe. The dark-hair tribe was smaller than our own.
language. Maru repeated my question in their words, and Abi-simti rocked on her knees while she answered. Maru changed her words to my people’s words. “She says that she loved him. She says everyone loved him for the great things he did. He had a strong head and powerful manhood. He would have brought many children to the tribe.” Maru kept biting his lip like he didn’t believe it, and his hands teased his braid, which lay down the front of his shoulder. “Maru, for your ears only—why are they so mad at her husband?” I pointed in the direction of the hut’s opening. “Abi’s husband was small and very lazy. He never helped carry meat or used his strength in doings
“Someone did it on purpose. Someone from the tribe.” I thought about speaking with Arwi while the women were cutting wheat. Someone other than the hunter must know who ended Zuzu. In a tribe, all walls are thin. “Zu—” I stopped when Abisimti and Maru both made their faces hard. “Abi-simti’s husband was well loved by everyone?” Maru stopped chewing his lips and said, “Nuh. Husband was—” Abi-simti slapped Maru’s knee, and said something in her 62 - October 2012
that would bring meat back to the tribe. Instead he talked of making tools that would let people as small as your own, even women, move things by themselves.” Abi watched us talk and then slapped Maru’s knee and asked him questions. Maru ignored her and continued, “Everyone told him to stop, but he was stubborn. Two nights ago, he wasn’t at the supper fires. When the sun came
back, children found him outside the gazelle-skin floor. “Nuh . . . I the village, slain as if he was a deer.” don’t know. Mej-eek said her husAbi reached to just above Maru’s band comes if the spirits allow it. knee and plucked some hair. He Abi does not completely trust him. yelled and guarded his knees with She said to him that she would not his hands. I smiled at Abi. go to Mej-eek but stay here and wait Maru retold our words to Abi. I for her husband’s return.” understood enough dark-hair to Maru punched the ground. “Mejtell he skipped the words about why eek is a fool! He should not have the tribe was mad at Zuzu. told her such things.” Abi spoke to Maru, her voice Abi started to cry. She rubbed at becoming weak and soft. Maru’s her cheeks like she could remove braid lay forgotten in his hands and the hope from her face. his eyebrows became strong over Maru yelled at her to stop and his eyes. Abi’s spirit leaked water to forget about Mej-eek. This only
She lay on the floor, curled up, like something inside chewed at her guts.
down her face as she repeated the same words. It sounded like a plea. “What does she say?” I asked. Maru threw his braid over his shoulder, and it thudded against the hut wall. “Our medicine man visited her while I was in your village. Mej-eek asked her to come to his cave. He said he will recover her husband’s spirit so it can say who struck him down.” Abi stared to the floor as Maru shook his head. Her spirit stopped its leaking. Her eyes had an intensity of hope which made me scared for her. I understood what that hope was. I shook my head. “Can he do this? Will his spirit stay so he can come back to her?” Maru combed his fingers through
made her silent, and she lay on the floor, curled up, like something inside chewed at her guts. Maru stared at the floor like it covered his enemy. I looked away, giving them both privacy from my eyes. A toy lay near the wall. It was too dim to see what it was other than the shape of an animal. Abi sat up, noticed where I looked, and picked it up. It was a zebra made of wood. It had a mane, braided and hanging from its neck. I touched its head, and as if it had the spirit of life, its head moved down so it could graze. “Uh!” I said and showed it to Maru. He held it in his hand and played with it, making its head go up and down like it was watchful of lions while grazing. Crimson Fog - 63
Abi smiled and talked while we looked at the toy. Maru retold her words, “Husband made that and loved his daughter very much.” I thought of how my husband and I lived after our marriage. Our hut was built in the new ways— tall so we could stand inside. His strength mudded the walls, and his smell was in our sleeping skins. I could smell Zuzu on this woman and in everything in the hut, even the zebra. My head started to hurt as I imagined how our daughter would have held the zebra. Her hands like mine, looking at me with eyes colored as my husband’s. I felt weak, as if I had held my breath too long beneath the waters of the great river. Everything in the hut—Abi, Maru, and the toy— wavered like I watched through water. I shook my head, but the ill spirit didn’t leave. I pushed against the skins covering the hut’s opening but some tangle kept them closed. My eyes grew weaker, and though my breath went faster, I wanted for air. I had to get out. I punched at the coverings, hoping my fist would find the secret. Abi-simti spoke in her words. Maru reached over my shoulder and somehow lifted the skins aside. As I would fight for freedom from a river, I dove through the opening and lay in the dirt, my cheek against the ground, my breath pushing dust and tiny rocks beneath my mouth. Maru crawled out of the hut. He stood above me 64 - October 2012
and poked me in the ribs with his moccasin. I turned upward and looked up at the sky. The sun was warm, and the leaves of cypresses made patterns of shadow on my gown. A breeze carried away the ill spirit. Maru poked me again. I caught his toe and twisted it. “Stop! I’m not a tree lizard,” I said. Maru smiled, and then I sensed someone else nearby. Before I
could turn, I was lifted into the air and onto someone’s shoulder. Over the other shoulder was a deer, its tongue hanging out of its mouth. “You have been greatly honored,” Maru said. “Even busy with deer, the tribe’s strongest has stopped to help.” “Maru! Get me down before I hurt him.” Maru spoke to the man, who then set me onto my feet. Maru laughed again. “He worried
I had broken you, and he came to your rescue. He wasn’t even going to charge your father for the extra work.” It was the man who had won the sap stick burning game. He was a head taller than Maru and had even more hair on his chest. His hair braid was flipped over the front of his shoulder and reached to the top of his skirt. A scar from some animal’s claw stretched across his cheek to the bottom of his jaw.
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Many necklaces of ivory teeth hung on his chest. On a tight strap around his neck was the tooth of a shark, a fish rarely seen in the great river’s sweet-tasting water. A fish that can kill men. Father calls them “the cheetahs of the river.” The only shark teeth I had ever seen were a pair given as part of Mother’s dowry.
angry as Maru’s had earlier. He threw the deer off his shoulder like a sleeping skin and shook his fist. Others looked in our direction. Lu pointed at me, and shouted more to Maru. A woman carrying cutting stones stopped near the three of us and gestured at the deer lying in the dirt. I understood
“Lu-beau is stronger than any spearhead.” “Lu-beau must admire you,” Maru said. “To carry you, I would have demanded at least a quarter of deer.” “Shark teeth should be saved for the hunting spear, not worn about as pride,” I said. The word for shark must have been the same in their language because Lu leaned close, his cheek inches from my own, his hand lifting the tooth so I could better see it. Maru said, “Lu-beau is stronger than any spearhead. When your father’s men slay much game, Lu carries four men’s worth back to your village. That’s eight of your tribe’s men.” While I fought the angry spirit that tried to master me, the two of them continued talking. During this, Lu sometimes nodded at me and then to Abi’s hut. Maru said “Maj-eek,” and Lu’s face grew as
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some of her words about ‘disrespectful’ and ‘animal spirits’. Lu left, carrying the deer to the river, the woman following. I said, “Why is Lu filled with so much anger?” “No one has found the tool Abi’s husband talked of making. Lu’s spirit is troubled. He says putting the breath back into Abi’s husband could mean his lost tool will be found.” “It sounds like it would make life easier for everyone. Even Lu-beau.” “Nuh! Such a tool would mean an end to our tribes working together. Your people hunt and harvest grains; my people carry. That is a good trade.” “Why did you tell me Abi’s husband was slain as if a deer?” I said. “It’s best you don’t think on this. Not good for the spirit.”
“Maru, I don’t know what to tell your father. I need to learn more.” Maru looked at the cypress branches above and dug a finger into his eye like something was bothering it. Then he nodded his head in the way of his people. “We go to the medicine man,” he said.
the bulk and hair of his tribe, but his nose drooped down and his face was narrow instead of fat and round. Twigs and berries from a juniper were so tangled in his hair they seemed to grow from his head like a bird’s crest. His eyes were open and staring across the great river, and they didn’t move as we walked to him. It was like he was asleep. At • his feet was a clay bowl filled with The sun fell a short distance as we dirty-looking water. I stood in front moved through the cypresses and of him, not sure what to do. He held into the savanna. Ma-jeek lived in still as stone. a cave where the great river flowed Maru whispered, “He is often like near the foothills. Maru said the this. Frozen, and keeping the formedicine man was asked to move est in his hair. The tribe celebrated out of the village after the dark- when he moved away.” hairs complained of strange dreams “Maybe the breath of life has left during Ma-jeek’s late-night rituals. him?” I said. Maru said, “Ma-jeek’s drums and Ma-jeek spoke, startling me and incense made the spirits restless, Maru, “Better to be late here than
“Ma-jeek’s drums and incense made the spirits restless.” and no one could sleep. My father thought it better to have distance between the people and the spirits when trying to rest.” Maru was full of bad spirits since leaving the village. He was silent and not full of the words he liked to say to make me mad. I took it as a sign that he either respected Ma-jeek or was scared of him. He kept rubbing his eye, so it was probably the second part hunting the first. Ma-jeek was squatting in front of his cave when we got there. He had
in the underworld.” He had spoken with my people’s words. He picked up the bowl, sipped from it, and then gestured for us to follow him into the cave. Maru didn’t follow but looked at me with wide eyes. “The spirits told him of us before we knew we would come!” Maru said. “Come, Maru,” I said. I didn’t worry because I drop medicine men in the same basket as Eldests’ sons and strongest warriors—they
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look for moments to appear bigger than they are. I entered the cave, and Maru followed, many steps behind. There was a fire inside, and the place held strange smells. Zuzu lay near the fire; Ma-jeek, kneeling next to him, was working at Zuzu’s skirt. He had most of the dried blood cleaned off of it. Ma-jeek said, “When the spirit comes back, we don’t want it reminded of past unhappiness.”
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Zuzu’s eyes were closed like he slept, except his face was the color of a wet sky. From the top of his skirt to his ribs, his skin was stitched with thread made from wool. I said, “I don’t understand. He was killed in this cave?” “Nuh,” Maru and Ma-jeek said together. Ma-jeek said, “I brought him here to bring his spirit back. A child found him near the
swimming stone, a few rests from the village.” “Did you see the hunter’s tracks?” “The ground was hard,” Maru said and he lifted a spear that was lying beside Zuzu. He held it over Zuzu’s breast. “The spear stuck him here. The hunter opened his stomach to show his guts—like a deer that needed gutting.” Ma-jeek nodded, then coughed for several moments, finally stopping in a fit of spitting and cursing.
“He will need his guts when he returns from the other world. I put them back.” I thought of the stories mothers told children to keep them near the village. There were ones about strangers with horrible ways. “Deer are gutted so the meat doesn’t go bad. Are your people taking the way of eating each other?” I said. This upset Maru, who shook one hand like a spirit possessed it. Ma-jeek stopped what he was doing and made a face. “Nuh. Dark-hairs taste terrible. No one would bother when the hunting for gazelle is so good.” Maru crossed over to my side of Zuzu, keeping the spear in his hands pointed at Ma-jeek. “He was killed with that?” I said. “It has no spearhead.” Maru nodded. “Yuh. Found next to him. The hunter was wasteful to leave the spear behind.” Ma-jeek finished cleaning. “The hunter left hand marks all over the skirt.” I shook my finger at him. “Do you know how large the hunter’s hands were? We could have taken this skirt to the village and seen whose hand had made it, like hunting a deer with a strange track.” Ma-jeek shook his head hard enough that a juniper twig fell free. “Nuh! It would make his spirit uneasy to have his clothes taken from him. None of that matters.
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Soon his spirit will be back and then Zuzu will tell us himself.” Maru hissed through his lips and then said, “Save his name for when his spirit is back.” Ma-jeek might have said, “Yuh,” but it was stopped by a fit of coughing that pushed him to his knees. After it passed, he shoved a juniper twig back into his hair. Next to the fire was a pile of grasses, herbs, and branches. He threw an armload into the flames. While the cave became strong with the scent of the dying spirits in the grasses, Ma-jeek chanted, moving around Zuzu and nudging Zuzu with his foot just like Maru had nudged me when I was lying outside Abi’s hut. Maru didn’t like the smoke and moved to the entrance of the cave. He stood there, a sap stick hanging
Zuzu so he appeared to be struggling to come awake. I felt lighter, like my spirit wanted to float. Ma-jeek danced to me and put juniper branches in my hair, one above each ear, and then pulled me along in his dance. Ma-jeek pushed Zuzu with his foot, and Zuzu rolled onto his side like he wanted to stand but had decided it was too much work. Ma-jeek screamed, “Return to us, Zuzu! We call you from the world of the living. Return!” Zuzu rolled into the rocks guarding the fire and then back against the brush pile. Ma-jeek put his arm around me and my heart beat faster. He was as tall as Maru, so I only came to his breast, but he tipped his head so his mouth came near, like he
The air smelled strong with spirits. out of his mouth, his arms crossed. Ma-jeek gestured for me to add more brush to the fire. It made my hands sticky with sap, and my nose became numb when I sniffed my fingers. The air smelled strong with spirits. Maru stayed near the entrance. I could barely see his figure through the haze. I started to feel hot. Sweat came off my face, and my neck felt damp. Ma-jeek pushed his toe into Zuzu’s side, harder and harder, shaking 70 - October 2012
shared to me a husband’s secret. “His spirit has been in the earth for a long while. We must put all of our spirits into calling him and dancing to him. He will come!” Ma-jeek, his eyes so close to mine that I could see only myself in them, spoke to me, simply, like he’s done it all his life, like my dear Ishme. When Ishme’s words used to brush against my ears, I felt his spirit embrace mine. When the snow left the mountain tops and the leaves were small, we became
lovers. He called to me from the dark and I came away from the evening fire, and we went to the grasses together. “He will come, Zarina he will come. But he’s lost. Only if we pour out all of our spirits will he find us.” I nodded. A drop of sweat rolled down Ma-jeek’s nose and landed on my shoulder. Our spirits shared water.
body crashing into Ma-jeek’s pots and over Ma-jeek’s sleeping furs. Ma-jeek threw the rest of the brush into the fire. Smoke filled the cave, and then I was with Ishme, together in the grasses as man and woman, and then at night in our sleeping furs. Ishme’s arms around my neck as he kissed me. Ishme growing sad as the white came again to the mountains and still no child. The
Zuzu struggled like a sleepy man beneath our blows.
Ma-jeek returned to Zuzu, his fists shaking, his whole body shivering. He screamed, “Zuzu, we are here!” I stood next to him, yelling with all my breath until there was no sound left. I took another breath and called for Zuzu again and again. Like a spark leaping from the fire, I floated with the echoes. I moved above Zuzu with Ma-jeek. We hefted his body and coasted down the cave, following the smoke to the outside. Maru was peeking into the entrance. His eyes were wide, the sap stick still between his lips. I called to Maru, “We will know soon. We will know who killed Zuzu.” The sap stick fell from his mouth, and he backed further to the outside, surrounded by daylight. I screamed along with Ma-jeek. Zuzu struggled like a sleepy man beneath our blows. He wanted to wake. He was trying. I floated above myself. I watched myself kick Zuzu, his
sadness in my father’s face when Ishme returned me and demanded additional dowry for wasting his time. Father gave him the two shark-tooth spearheads he had received from my mother’s dowry. “No!” I had screamed, telling Ishme to give them back. I begged Father to take them back. To Ishme, while standing close enough to breathe the same air, I had whispered, “Do this, and you kill me.” But Ishme had left me with my father. Whenever I left the hut, everyone looked to the ground when I searched for their eyes. They hid their spirits from me. When Mother returned from the river and asked what had happened, Father had only said, “Zarina now stays in our home.” I wanted to die. For a week, Ishme had worn his new prizes on a necklace so the whole tribe would know. I had followed my father to the Crimson Fog - 71
place where he made spearheads when he was trying to find peace. I had tried to convince him to help me prove that it was Ishme’s seed that was bad, not my womb. But he would not. Though my father said he was not ashamed of me, I could not believe that he meant it. His hands were decided and firm as he struck flakes of stones from the spearhead, but his heart was not clear. The heads he made that day were not straight and true, but curved and broken.
Maru gestured toward the darkhairs’ village with the spear, his lips pulled back, showing his teeth. “You think my father believes the judgment from the worst woman of your tribe? We came to your father for wisdom. It’s an insult that we got you.” Maru threw the spear at the empty shell of Zuzu and its point bounced off the chest. Ma-jeek hissed and then shoved a handful of dirt into his mouth which he spat in Maru’s direction.
It wasn’t Ishme, but me. That night I took a lover in secret. After two moons, I too held shame. It wasn’t Ishme, but me. “Zarina.” It was Maru’s voice, and he was shaking my shoulder. I was lying on the ground near Zuzu. Ma-jeek was pushing himself up, but his coughs made his arms give out. Maru said, “Zuzu is still dead.” I sat up and coughed. I didn’t correct Maru’s blasphemy. Zuzu’s arm was still cold. Ma-jeek sat up and spat. Maru said, “Zarina. You must choose who killed him.” There was a spent sap stick stuck to the back of my hand. I pulled it off and threw it at Maru. “I don’t know who!” My throat hurt and my voice was worn out.
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Maru said, “We go back to my village now so you can choose.” I stared at the spear but it was Maru that wouldn’t stop poking at my mind. “Yuh! I choose now. I choose you, Maru!” I pointed at him and Maru stared at me in quiet, his face like that of a man jumping into a river before noticing the bottom had rocks. Ma-jeek opened a small bag and tipped into his hand three sap sticks and handed one to me, Maru, and himself. I put the stick into my mouth and tasted the sweetness against my tongue before it went numb. I pulled the stick out, holding the sappy end up and making a face. Ma-jeek smiled. “That always happens your first time. It will be easier now. Let it ease your spirit.”
It was better the second time. I held the stick with my teeth so it touched the same place on my tongue. My anger became lazy and the scratchiness in my throat faded. Maru was oddly calm. “You shouldn’t choose me. My father will not like slaying his own son. He will never forgive your father.” I stood up and spit the stick onto the floor. “Who I choose will be killed? You never gave me those words!” “I was making it easy for you.” I spit at Maru’s feet and said every dark-hair word I knew about rude actions performed on one’s self with branches. When Ma-jeek laughed, I spat at his feet too. “You did not bring Zuzu back! Your medicine didn’t work! You should be embarrassed!” I had bitten my tongue when I spoke, but it didn’t hurt, even
in a basket and buried them like I said.” When Maru nodded to those words, I threw the spear at him. He blocked the end with his palm, knocking it down. Ma-jeek squealed and shook a juniper branch at me. “Lucky it had no head.” “You saw Maru throw it at Zuzu,” I said. “With no spearhead it couldn’t press past his ribs.” I put my foot on Zuzu’s stomach, my toe touching the sewing. I thought on the broken spearheads Father had made that one day. “The hunter did this for a need different than eating.” Maru took the sap stick from his mouth and spat. Ma-jeek lay on the ground, watching me; the sap stick between his lips stayed still. “He left the spear behind when no hunter would leave a strong and straight spear. He did that because
“My father will not like slaying his own son.”
though blood came into my mouth. I spat on the ground, picked up the spear, and then shook it at Maru. “Nuh! I won’t let your father or mine do this! When this man of your tribe is slain, your father doesn’t want your people to think of him, he wants them to think of me.” Maru looked at Ma-jeek for help. Ma-jeek shook his head. “All would be better if your father had put Zuzu with his wife and daughter
someone came while he was searching for something even more valuable than a spear.” I reached with my hand along Zuzu’s body as if I reached through his stomach up into his chest. “He had to hide before he could find the spearhead. It’s still in there!” “Yuh!” Ma-jeek said nodding his head wildly. He shook Maru’s shoulder. “Zuzu has come back. His
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spirit whispers into her ear. I’m sure of it!” “It’s in there, Maru! You just have to get it,” I said. Maru’s eyes were wide and he shook his hands above his head so fast they blurred like butterfly wings. “Nuh! Zuzu’s spirit would haunt me forever. This is forbidden!” Zuzu was cold against my toe, but I was getting hot with anger. Perhaps Zuzu’s spirit spoke to me because I knew he wouldn’t want any chance that Abi and his daughter would share the hut of the person who did this. He would want that person to be punished.
went in deeper, my fingers touching cold and wet things. My elbow disappeared inside and grew cold like it was in a river. My hand and arm pushed past things slimier than fish. I lay on top of Zuzu’s chest, my neck tiring from holding my cheek away from his cold skin. I felt something and squeezed. It popped, and more stink pushed past my arm. I was going to have to breathe soon. Then I felt something shaped the right way and pulled it out, holding my arm straight so all the wetness fell away from my arm. Pinched between my fingers was a shark tooth.
“You will not stop her.” “Then I will get it.” My foot was still on Ma-jeek’s sewing. I put all my weight on that sandal and the stitches ripped through the skin. “Nuh!” Maru moved to stop me. Ma-jeek caught Maru by his braid so he couldn’t step forward. “She is Zuzu now. He is entering his own body. You will not stop her.” The smell, the cold wetness, I endured for Abi and her daughter. Like I was going to plunge into the great river, I held my breath. Zuzu’s guts made a sucking sound as I pushed my hand inside. Though I held my breath, I could feel the stench coming out of the hole in his stomach. My arm 74 - October 2012
• Maru sent a runner to my village to talk to Ishme about trading his shark teeth to Lu-beau. After the runner returned and spoke to Maru’s father, there was a council at the Eldest’s hut with as many as could fit inside. None were happy to see me, and they became even less happy as Maru and his father told them who had killed Zuzu. The men of the tribe surrounded Lu-beau, and he was slain with a spear through the chest as he had slain Zuzu. His wives and children found shelter among the others, and his possessions were divided between them. Many of
Maru’s people sat at their fires and cried. An elder, his hands gnarled like the branches of an old cypress, shouted words at me that I couldn’t understand. Others watched, their eyes hard like the elder’s. Some lifted spears and said words about how I had taken their spirit. Maru silenced them, and all were made to leave Maru and me alone with the Eldest. The Eldest pressed Lu-beau’s necklace into my hand and said to
me, “The teeth are now together. Take this and leave now. Go with honor, but go quickly.” He looked a little happier when I accepted them. I think he believed they had brought bad luck to his people. As Maru led me out of the hut, I tied the strap around my neck. I thought of how I would walk through my village and stop at the supper fires so that all would see my prize. Especially Ishme and Arwi. When I saw their amazement, Crimson Fog - 75
I would then give the necklace to my father. It would restore some of our honor. Maru said, â€œFather has chosen that I take Abi and her daughter, Umi, into my hut.â€? This made me happy. Even though Maru was like a stick that poked you whenever you sat down, he acted well around Abi. Maru walked with me past the grieving people huddled around their fires. Maru gestured for me to
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go. I walked slowly to the cypresses that ringed the village and ignored the whispers that came from behind me. It was sad that again a people held ill spirits when they thought of me. But they didnâ€™t matter to me now. I walked like a hunter coming back from a successful hunt. Before I passed into the cypresses, a voice called out. Abi waved from her fire, and a small girl, too young to bother covering her breasts, ran to me.
Maru shouted at her to stop. When she didn’t, Maru chased and caught the girl a few steps from me. “What does she want?” I said. Maru looked angrily in Abi’s direction. “Abi told Umi that you held her father’s spirit. Umi has been full of strangeness ever since.” “Let her go,” I said and held my arms out to her. Maru did, and Umi jumped into my arms, and I was awash in her
spirit: her young smell, her thin arms around my neck, her black curls brushing at the wetness that leaked from my eyes. I wanted the feeling to last until the mountains fell. I held her until Umi said something in her language and then pulled away. She took my hand, squeezing together my two longest fingers, and pulled me in a different direction through the cypresses. “Umi!” Maru said, starting for his new daughter, but Abi called Maru back to the fire. I was surprised to see him obey. As Umi lead me through the cypresses, I couldn’t shake the spirit of confusion that I shouldn’t be with this girl. I should be on my way back. But she pulled me somewhere, and I liked the feeling of her wanting me. Umi kept saying words in her tongue but I only understood one—“Zuzu.” When she said it, she looked at me with her dark eyes. “Where are we going?” I kept asking, even though she wouldn’t understand. “I can’t go this way. I must go to my village before the sun drops too low.” Umi led us into a clearing where the grass was knee high. In the middle was a boulder the size of a sleeping water buffalo. This wasn’t anywhere near the direction I wished to go. I shook my head. “I don’t have Zuzu inside of me. No Zuzu. No—” Crimson Fog - 77
Umi let go of my hand and ran through the clearing to the rock. I looked back to see if Maru or Abi had followed to get their child, but there was no one there. Umi stood on the rock and shouted her words, jumping up and down. A nearby bush hooked her skirt so it moved with her, bending when she landed and straightening when she jumped. I ran to her, afraid she would fall, sure she would crack her head on the boulder. I ran like she was my own child. She, the one I’d never have inside of me. “Zuzu!” she said when I got to her. She pointed down at nook in the boulder. There, a basket woven from reeds lay on its side, attached to a neat stack of branches as thick as my arm. “What?” I said. Umi looked at me, her face as happy as she must have been when she was with her father. She said more things I didn’t understand, words I was sure weren’t for me, but for Zuzu. Then she grabbed one of
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the branches and everything, the branches, and the basket moved out of the grasses together. “Wheedle barroo,” she said, and pushing on the branches. It moved over the ground as easily as something that had come alive. Umi stopped and put some sticks and rocks in the basket, and then pushed it to another pile of sticks and added more. “Wheedle barroo,” she said again and pushed it some more. Only a clay circle touched the ground when she pushed, and it turned over the ground like it turned for the claymaker when he spun it to make pots. And I saw that Zuzu had made a powerful tool. With it, one woman could move all the grains without any help from Maru’s tribe. I called Umi to me and gave her a hug because, that’s what Zuzu would have done. That evening, I took Zuzu’s tool to my village. He had created it to be used, and that is what he would have wanted.
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An Indian haunted house, the death of a medicine man, and murder in pre-history.