Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1937410
Native American supernatural adventure 1995 words
The first time, I saw only one of them. It was the autumn of the second year I lived in this area of Southern Oregon. I was walking in the woods near my home, admiring the colors brought on by the cold temperatures of the last few clear nights. I moved from California, the land of unending temperance. The autumn color parade was still a marvel to me.
I made my way to a grove of younger trees that worked together on a massive display of lemon yellow. Each tree’s limbs dipped low to the ground with the weight of their final show. The yellow mass breath-taking for today and maybe tomorrow, but with the moisture of the next storm, the show would end. The leaves would fall on their slow, steady path to winter. The branches held hand-shaped fans, each one touching and overlapping with the next to form an uninterrupted cover.
I stepped into the hollow created by the bent branches. It gave me the cozy feeling of security like a child in a fort made of chairs and blankets. I stood enjoying my shelter.
A deer walked out of the fir forest into the clearing. She did not catch my scent as the breeze that whispered by my canopy came from her direction. She patrolled the surroundings with rotating ears, trying to take in the world and why she felt so leery. She stood perfectly still and listened for the least bit of unfamiliar sound I hoped I had not made. She took a snipping bite of a bush at her shoulder, still unaware of my presence just a few yards away.
When my attention turned back from the deer to my leafy enclosure, I was no longer alone. I was standing a tree trunk away from a native man, an Indian. Before I could be startled, he motioned with a flat hand for my cooperative silence. He readied a red stone arrowhead attached to a straight, thin, peeled branch into a slinging devise on his arm. I was his confidante. We shared this moment across time.
The man’s movements were slow and well rehearsed. He knew exactly how to accomplish his task without alerting the deer. This was his method of getting food of course. He had completed a stalk many times, and at some point his survival depended on it.
I was watching his hunting process, amazed by the ability if only with such archaic means. His arm was as much a tool as the apparatus with which he worked. His veins, tendons, and muscles, each tight and well defined, combined their effort to achieve his goal. There was no waste to the combination.
I became aware of my breath and steadied myself by laying my cheek against the cool, gray bark of the maple’s trunk; my lips open to let the air I needed in and out. My heart was palpitating in my throat; its excited beat loud and accelerated within my chest. I wondered if the man could hear it.
I stared at the deer silhouetted against the bright yellow background. I dared not move my head. The Indian flung the stone-tipped arrow. The arrow’s path was straight and true, as if mechanically projected by a more modern devise.
The doe’s sixth sense protected her. She took off in the direction of the dense forest; her retreat marked by leaping jolts of survival energy. The native man looked at me as if I were his hunting partner, shrugging in an age-old gesture of failure and acceptance. He smiled quickly in a winsome, lose-some way that left me concerned, oddly connected to him now. I silently wished him well as he turned and walked away from our shared tree cabana. He disappeared through a screen of fir branches and some hundred years.
I was not sure at first if I should move in case he still hunted close by. I longed to remain in the past. Finally, I did depart from my hiding place, reverent and mystified. I walked through the clearing in slow motion with a new, all-encompassing view of my surroundings. Whatever I had experienced before seemed two dimensional in comparison now. I moved through the world as an integral part, no longer an outsider.
I caught the gleam of red on the ground before I ever stepped up to it. It was, as I had hoped and somewhat feared, the hunter’s arrow. The hair on my neck poked at the collar of my shirt. Goosebumps dotted my arms. The shudder that ran through my body was real even if I wasn’t sure about the last half-hour.
I tried to explain the encounter to a dear friend, but she thought I was talking about a dream. I did not elaborate further. I was alone with my knowledge. I knew what I knew. I could only wait for another visit. Each day, my hope grew. I didn’t have long to wait.
The colors of fall had lured me out into the woods again. Some trees were finished with their painted displays and others had taken up the colored banner. The vine maples had a way of ripening that would cover the full spectrum from green to red, and sometimes all on one tree. I searched for the best one. I stayed on an old logging skid road where the going was much easier.
A new noise joined me as I walked through the darker, thicker part of the forest. The noise was rhythmic like the hard, hollow panting of an animal. When I turned to follow the trail back uphill, I could tell the noise came from straight ahead.
The forest opened from dense fir and maple to an occasional oak. The sun was warm where it came to the ground unhindered. The noise was sharper as I came closer. It was more of a syncopated percussive scratching than the muffled panting I’d first thought. As I stepped from the cover of firs, I could see two women sitting on the rock bluff. The man I’d hunted with stood as sentry just beyond them.
I was excited to see him again, but I was unsure of my place with the others. I paused and waited where I was. The women were clothed in shirtwaist dresses of deer hide trimmed with brown and gray fur. They were working over a project on the ground in front of them. I adjusted my position to get a better view.
Each woman had a large flat rock upon which she leaned her weight, straight armed, holding another rock in her hands. They formed small arches, rocking back and forth, back and forth, thus the repetitious sounds. The grinding was creating a pile of beige crumbs, much like Parmesan cheese in consistency, at one end of the flat stone. I could see now that the rock wasn’t completely flat, but slightly dished.
As I watched, they finished their work, transferring the pile of acorn meal into baskets. They had chosen this sunny spot to work. They got to their feet, prepared to walk away. Only then did I tune in the background noise. I realized they were talking and had been doing so the entire time.The notes of their voices went from clicking and guttural to an occasional high pitched, accented expression. The man also began to move. He waited for the women to go before him down off the rocky opening and along a path to the creek below.
I did not move for a minute, not sure what would happen next. The chatter of their voices and the rhythm of the grinding was interrupted by silence. I stepped forward to where the women had been working. The view of the canyon was spectacular with Berry Rock in the distance. There were brown acorn shells everywhere on the rocky point. The dished rocks sat in the sun where their owners had left them, ready for their eventual return. The man turned to me and waved to catch my eye. He made a cupped hand gesture, beckoning me to follow.
At the bottom of the hill, the group moved easily through a small notch in the barrier of creekside trees and tangled blackberry canes. We descended to the sandy beach. I’d been here before, but always alone. The man re-positioned himself on a log pushed up by higher water. The two native women were already busy pouring water over the oak mash in depressions they had made in the sand. The creek water passed quickly into the sand, carrying the bitterness away from the nutty meal. They continued this process for many baskets of water. Once more I heard them chatting, passing the time as they worked.
Suddenly, the group alerted to something across the creek. I couldn’t make out what it was. I heard a yell from across the stream somewhere below us. The women gathered their acorn meal back into baskets. They made their way up the bank and hurried into the trees that lined the creek. The group's departure was quick compared to our arrival minutes earlier. The man waved both at me and for me. His expression of terror was still foreign to me. I paused, turning my gaze in the direction of the sound I had heard, curious to know what had interrupted them. I didn’t move, waiting to see what they had already seen. As the man’s fleeting form disappeared around the corner, fear overtook my better judgment and I, too, began my ascent from the sandy beach.
Behind me was wind; not the wind of an incoming storm, but the movement of air caused by the displacement of large bodies. There was the thundering noise of heavy animals, horses, coming rapidly up the water’s edge. A hoot, a yell, the clinking of metal, and then the roar of so much sound and air forced into my ears as if the elevation changed abruptly.
They would be upon me in seconds. There was no room for both of us on the narrow sandy bank. All my senses were compressed into the small space between the creek’s beach and the reality of my life. I felt it all; sand thrown into my hair, the shaking ground, the terror. I scrambled in a frenzy to reach the other side of a wall of blackberry bushes. A branch clawed at my leg, holding me back for precious seconds. I pushed myself past it in pure panic. I felt it all, but I saw nothing.
When it was over, a warm breeze cushioned me back to the present. The only sound around me now was the gentle trickle of water over rocks. I sat for a long time, calming my heart, wiping sand from my neck, blotting the blood stripes on my leg. I reasoned with my senses. I looked around, no longer an intricate part as I had been. I was back outside; moving through the present.
I looked for tracks on the beach. I looked for broken branches, displaced debris, and overturned rocks along the bank. There was nothing disturbed. I was the only thing dislocated. Assuring myself that I would come here again, I made my way up the hill and back to all I knew. I wondered if I would ever see these native people again. Years later, I still wait.