I am nothing, going nowhere: bleached canvas, empty plates, naked and lonely walls: living, aching tabula rasa. I know. I’m self aware and, I think you would see, quite adept at self-loathing…

Source: Tattoo for the Void.

Edna put the special dish away, and turned towards the sink. More dishes. Always more. A spot of grease caught her eye, and she scoured it for the rest of the afternoon.

break

From a master.

THE REZ

Standing Bear sloshed hip deep in the Smith. A powerful and broad river. A new fishing season and new waders. The war was coming, the water gurgled. He felt the strong current, invigorated by the water rushing around him.

He was tired of the culture of liars. Fear laced into the news, cleverly controlled content, domination by proxy. Every day. Every moment.

Bear laughed. He was getting out of hand.

Whether, as some of the more conspiracy minded around him said, it was controlled and orchestrated by alien reptiles or whether some lingering echo of Rome, no matter. It was too much. Misguided. Going back to earlier ways couldn’t happen now, enit?

He wanted, fought for, a kind of mutation. He thought of all the X men movies, then shook it out of his head. He worked with mystery not science. Literalism tended to kill inner life. His father had said there would be a change, his father the medicine man, the mystic. His dad would turn inward and look through white man lenses often, to feel his adversaries.

When standing within the ghost of his father, Standing Bear could feel the hatred of the materialists. He understood those who raged against people like his father, and against what they would call magic. Bears compassion mitigated this knowledge. His dear father would pass through often though dead many years now. Others would never know of his presence. Just as the whites and a good majority of his ilk were deaf to a river speaking or the ways of a hawk. The ones now in power, the ones who controlled without wisdom, would always underestimate him and his kind.

With a higher insight, a deeper knowing than those in “power”, he and his tribe had a plan in motion. His father had told him to bring a white man into the tribe. Swaddled in white man’s cultural mistakes, he and they were to be raised now by the grace of Great Spirit. A path, a new path towards something…something…

The line pulled. Standing Bear held his ground. A fighter, the trout.

Culture…what culture?

What freedom? Could he roam much past Two Dot without borders and papers and pablum. Could he do anything without money? He jerked to the right.

Bear wrestled with the fish, forcing a step back. He could see the shadow of it downriver, beyond several boulders and near a dense carpet of underwater algae waving in the midday sun. A splash from the dappled nook spoke a story of a large trout fighting for its life.

Good for him, not so good for the fish.

The line pulled harder. Yes, a big one! The trout in this river had a reputation as a sneaky breed, managing to escape most fishermen. But this, this flashing hook, this special creation, would hold. It’ll stay in, and then..aye, he thought, the hook stays in this time. Yes.

The trout roared up out of the river, out of its depth, spraying a rainbow, leaving his home behind as he took flight towards Standing Bears net.

SNOWMELT

“Snowflake melts into coffee.” That phrase repeated in Harold Fontaine’s head, an echoing migraine as he looked at his once steaming cup of Sumatra, on the 50th floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper. He loved coffee, the great comforter.

Those words, a phrase, one he’d never heard, and one that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him. He’d hear strange things sometimes, but not so…immediate. “A snowflake melts into the coffee? What does that mean? It’s not even snowing.” He didn’t care if anyone heard him.

Snowflake melts into coffee.

Hmm, alright. The office was winding down, the fax machine silent, papers shuffled back to piles, goodnights all around, and work stations tidied. Harry finished his coffee and prepared to leave. He’d done well to take the job a year ago, and to rise up the rank and file.

His sweet smelling assistant ground her hips into the room. A new hire, Mandy was the song and more, and he was glad to have her. Her oversize lips parted.

“Now or later? Oh, and by the way everyone can hear you talking to yourself.”

“Just put ’em on the desk.” He had to be gruff. Gruff was what garnered respect, here in the working world. And it was what she expected, judging from her look. The twentysomething face carried a mix of scorn and desire. Her pretty nose lifted just a skotch above normal.

He liked it, being a minor functionary in a division of the BIA, perched above the noise of the street. He lived on the Government teat, glancing often at the skyscrapers dominating New York City and saw a universe that was well defined, predictable and safe.

He nodded at her, then got back to the expense reports his boss was waiting on.

Mandys mouth made a click. “You’re a sludge monkey. I’m leaving.” He watched her uppity self saunter through the door. Yes, he thought, this was better than what he was before, a year ago. Characterless. Harry had no idea what a sludge monkey was, but it didn’t sound too good. Still, better one of those than having no identity other than the one given to him in a script. So many scripts and characters. All behind him now, but lingering like ghosts. The curtain falls. Sooner or later. Necessity is the great dictator and forces a bow to the great God commerce.

He let his thoughts wither to commonplace musings and scattered worries. One of them being the new road going through tribal lands. The People. Paving the rez. It’s a job.

Standing Bear, the contact name on the report, wasn’t too fond of anyone white. That’s what Bill down in accounting said, though one could if pressed, understand a lack of fondness for Bill. Harry had once had the misfortune of spending an entire lunch with a pontificating Bill, and a small undercurrent of racism bled through.

File it away. Close the drawer. Get the road in and through. That was his job. Well, he sighed, that’s why it’s called work. He grabbed the office telephone and dialed. It rang on the other end…and rang. After awhile, his hand started to cramp, even after shifting it from the left. When ten minutes had gone by and there was no answer, he fought the urge to hang up. But he held on. Just hold on. If he had to hold it all day. Wait!

He pushed the speakerphone button, allowing the endless ringing to continue, reverberating through the office like a sacred mantra of possibility.

“Will someone tell me what the bloody fuck why there’s a telephone ringing and noone is answered back! We need to stop this!” It was Bevis, the Station Manager.

He came to them from jolly olde England and was supposed to be some organizational guru. His intent, if not his English, allowed one to get the message quite clear. He was not happy with Harry. Every head in the office turned, sporting frowns and smiles of conspiratorial satisfaction.

Harry could hear the Station Managers footsteps, thudding ever closer. His office, which was a corner one in the Office proper, had a distance to give him a few seconds time to prepare. Harry began to worry about his future. Not the right fit. Next!

Bevis opened the door to Harrys lair. “Hang it up or answer the ringing that will stop!” Harrys mouth dropped open and stayed that way. He could feel some drool beginning to form on his lip.

“Did you not hear me lad? Close your yap, hang it up and get back to the spreadsheet we asked we asked yesterday for please just do it!” his boss bellowed, turning and slamming the glass door behind him. Harry was surprised it didn’t shatter. The glass held, and he looked through. He shivered at the sight.

It was a cold, wide smile from Mandy.

LOST LITTLE GIRL

“Another close fucker,” Chadica Davenport said to herself, relieved she was working again. She was safe for now. Everything will be okay.

She pulled out a cigarette from the nearly spent pack of American Spirits and lit it with a lighter Walter Whitetailfeather had given her on their way out of the bar. She was living in a tiny trailer a block or so from the main road, rented from a Blackfeet woman who lived in the double wide next to her. And again, she was working in a cafe’, this one nicer than most, being a gallery as well. Whoda thunk it, a gallery in a podunk place on the rez, but here it was.

And Walter, the scourge of the states, big in AIM and a lodgepole of a man, living here. For now anyway. She was grateful as all getout for decent digs and a legend as a friend.

Donna, the owner of her place of employ didn’t seem to mind her piercings and general bad attitude as long as she promised to “show up on time”.

“Damn, did you see those eyes?” she said to the grit covered paneling. She exhaled fully and took another puff, the rush of attraction was so hard to handle. She was reeling from a dream she’d had that took place at the local bar. There was this guy she’d seen and seen hard. Love at first sight. She didn’t know if this guy lived outside of her dreams, but she hoped to find out. If she could remember what he looked like. The details became fuzzier by the second, but the feeling of urgency remained. The drive to find him. She needed to calm down so slid over to the ancient boombox and turned it on.

“And it’s whispered that soon, if we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason.

And the new day will dawn, for those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter.”

Another puff, then she crushed out the cigarette in the skulls head ashtray. Walter Whitetailfeather, man! Now there, that is what is was to be a friend. They’d escaped the Cougar last night, like a lot of nights lately, and she’d have a drink at his place and he kept talking about inviting her to join some group. Hell yeah, you’re Walter Whitetailfeather, scourge of the states. A few more details would be handy but yeah sure, I’m in.

Shit, off to work in a few. Dammit!

Maybe the dude she’d locked eyes with in the dream would come on by.

Be real, she thought.

Materialize.

What a wacky night, dreaming so hard! And she’d gone to bed sober as a judge. Just one or two drinks. And a pack of Spirits.

She checked her privates. The kitty wanted Purina bad.

“Should ask Walter about it, but then again let’s not should ourselves all over the place. And that shit might not be appropriate. Fuck it. Let it go.” Hearing her, the neighbors chihuahua started yapping.

Time to go to work.

Donna would be waiting, and Chadica tolerated her pretty well. Owns a gallery, after all, an example of a strong woman. Chadica liked working for women. They had a fuck of a lot harder time starting businesses, but once they were up and running watch your back jack!

She resolved to stay here longer, especially if she could suss out the rebel she’d spied in that very lucidy dream.

Once he got out of jail, of course. In the dream, they’d all got busted.

That was so hot.

To get arrested is the tat of any good injin. A bad injin is a good injin.

Chadica often had a fantasy of a time when all would live peacefully, in tune. At one with the natural world, maybe guiding it a bit but not doing the total takeover she saw all around her. Fuck.

Right. Work. Get to work. The time was gonna come if it was gonna come and there’s no reason to tense her out more than usual, as usual. She looked at her watch. She was going to be late. For the first time. Damn!

Fuckin time and schedules and enforced unwritten agreements! A glance or a smile suddenly meant lifelong fuckin servitude. She lit another cigarette and eyed the tiny splash of Jack left in the bottle. No, she couldn’t start drinking this early. Don’t light a match under that fucker, or it’ll burn, and burn harder than the last time. And the time before that. Oh yeah and that other time…

Who’d want that?

Not her, not this time.

But that fire, that damn fire in her belly, aching.

“And love, love, love…can’t give it away.” Fuckin Psychedelic Furs. Why WAS THIS ON THE TAPE?! She remembered, through the haze, back a few years, some boyfriend putting this one together. That guy…Paul or Steve something…really called her on shit. Donna was like that too, but in a different way.

She was just so fuckin’ sweet! If you accidentally burned her, she’d fuckin destroy herself. Go apeshit with sadness and grief. Possibly commit suicide. So fuckin tender. Fuck. She couldn’t fuck her over.

“And this thinking shit is making me even more late. Fuck!” she said aloud. The neighbor’s dog started barking. Great. Just great. Moving along…

Chadica shoved on her Keds and hefted the purse onto her shoulder. She swung the door open with the same shoulder and whisked through, letting the door slam behind her.

Donna, or was it Dorothy? was there at the counter with her apron on. Not a good sign.

It was times like this Chadica wished she hadn’t even bothered to come in. One of those days. Now she’d have to say something, try a lie or two.

Ok, ok, meet the eyes. That’s a start. She stood in front of the counter for about half a second and found there’d be no contact here. Nope. Not now anyways.

Turning on her rubber heels, she hustled to the back. Thankfully, her apron was still there. She’d have previous owners wear hers in some unholy mindfuck just to show her that she could always, always, always and ever, be replaced.

She fought against the urge to grab a beer out of the cold storage. Something like a Cold Smoke or maybe one of them Trappist beers that made her drool every time she saw one. Damn. Shit.

A small bit of spittle mixed with drool spontaneously erupted onto her chapped lips.

She walked out back, where the butt can was. She pulled out a likely suspect, then fired it up. Pall Mall. Donna…or Deidre…one of those big teeth fancy-assed horse owner names…smoked those toxic pieces of shit. It’d have to do. There wasn’t time.

She’d have to be back at the crack of Donnas ass, kissing whatever psychic fecal matter she had to. Keep the job. Keep the fucking job, until the Revolution, or Armageddon, or the Great Spirits Final Fucking Giving Up, occurred. Finally. Thanks very much. Took ya long enough.

Okay, down to da bidness, as day say. She blew out a stream of smoke from her pursed lips, hard. Let’s not get all precious. She’d have to soothe whatsername’s feelings. Promise it’ll never happen again and all that shit.

“Why do I have to spend all my time on this BULLSHIT?!” The Dobermans across the street started barking.

Very fucking funny. She thought she might bark back at the injustice of it all despite what THEY all think. Tell it to my face. Oh, am I not stature laden enough for you? Is that it? Where are the cigarettes? She felt herself up for a lighter, then resorted to twirling her hair and thinking of a way to evade further crap.

Get a gun, maybe.

But no…

Just talk to her, say it was something like an adjustment to the schedule, that she forgot to tell her that her starting time should be more along the lines of later maybe. Because of the volunteer work she’s doing at the food pantry. Yeah. That’s it. Good on her and all that.

She dropped the cigarette down into the bucket and marched towards the front, taking care to slow down as she approached the counter. Wouldn’t wanna spook her. That wouldn’t do anyone any good, no not at all.

Slowing to a crawl, she made her way to DonnaDoris. Why couldn’t she remember names?

“Hey.” She was going to take it easy with this one.

“Why are you late?” Donna said, still not looking at her.

Okay, well, let’s start it right up, then. Chadica cleared her throat. “Sorry Denise…”

“It’s Donna.”

“Donna, right. Sorry but this is just a hiccup. I didn’t give myself enough time after my volunteer job.”

“Volunteer? Where are you volunteering? I didn’t know that.”

“In the shuffle, I suppose I forgot to tell you. No big. It’s at the food pantry.”

“I didn’t know we had one of those.”

Shit! Well okay, make something up.

“Yeah it’s in that trailer on that road. Doesn’t matter.” That’s it, take the A train. Engine room. Drive it down the rails. “Doris…” The owner of the restaurant cafe’ didn’t bother to correct her this time, but Chadica knew that wasn’t it. She waited, then remembered she had an aunt like her once. Her name was Debra.

What the fuck, take a roll on the roulette wheel. “Debra, all those achievements, all those college age dreams, you let it turn to dust. All of it. Then rose from the ashes with something new. That’s amazing. I wish I could do that.” Chadica looked up at the ceiling, imagining the woman standing in front of her as CEO of the worlds most successful business known to the world.

Dumbstruck, Donna looked at her new employee with an expression of awe.

Chadica nearly fainted.

But it wasn’t the look of adoration on Denise’s face. That was fading. It was something else. Chadica began retreating into herself so deep she couldn’t stay awake and felt her consciousness slipping.

“You’re lost, little girl…” A voice inside her head crooned, softly, melodically.

Donnas face contorted into a grimace of concern. Taking her elbow, the middle aged woman led Chadica to a side table and sat her down.

Lost, little girl…

Damn the fucker was repeating over and over what the fuck, Chadica thought. And why am I being targeted for this kinda mindfuck anyways? She let Donna position a chair underneath her. Soon the empty cafe’ swam into clearer view. Chadica said, “Thanks. I just…it’s just…”

“Don’t you worry a bit dearie. Let me get a wet cloth.” Doris stared at Chadica for another second and gave her a sweet smile before heading into the kitchen.

Chadica missed her immediately.

“Calm down. It’s just me.” Softly into her brain it came.

“Well fuck me dead, Walter?”

Yeah, I’m telepathing with you. If it makes you uncomfortable, we can talk in person.

Chadica sat up, which caused the cafe’ to swim again.

Just let it pass. Closing your eyes might help for now,” Walter thought, and let some gas pass into his Barcalounger.

Chadica let out a sigh.

Eyes slowly closing, Chadica relaxed into a calm sitting position.

I need a cigarette, her mind demanded.

Not needed now. It’s okay. We’ve made a connection.”

“Are you the eff be Eye?” Chadica said. Donna looked at her, and felt her forehead.

Walters mirth shook Chadicas body. “Soon you’ll be ready for boss hog. When you revive in a few seconds, you’ll be alert and attentive to Donnas needs.”

Chadicas voice came out as a sort of slurring whisper. “Okey Doke…”

There might be some residual effects from this. Maybe some ectoplasm. Maybe. It depends on the person.”

“Ecto…” She began to heave, wanting to throw up.

Aw shit. It won’t happen every time. Just let it out. It won’t do you no good now.”

Chadica doubled over in a muted pain. An image of the man, dark clothes, beard…flashed once, twice. Donna came into the small dining area from the kitchen and laid a plate of food in front of Chadica, who seized upwards, then projected a thickish green goo from her mouth onto Donnas apron.

HOME AGAIN

Bob, bring me a soda or some soup.” Robert Running Deer eyed his plump squaw from the kitchen. She was settled inside the squishy chair. The television on with a rerun of Sanford and Son. Sanford was yelling at a telephone repairman who couldn’t quite figure out which wires went where. Stoopit whites.

Berta guffawed. Why did she watch this stuff? He waddled into the tv room, with a sugary carbonated drink firmly in hand. There she was checked out as per, glued to the white mans torture box. It was filling her brain pan full of low ideas, making her a slave. Sarcasm was top dog, yeah just stuff all those real feelings away. Bob sighed as he set the drink down on the small table next to her chair. What can I do? Can I stop her from watching? “Honey?”

“Thanks for the soda, poopy butt.”

“Berta?”

“I can’t talk now, now can I? Wait for the commercial. Enit?”

The phone started to ring.

Bob answered it before B had a shitter. “Yo.”

“You know, most Shamans appear batshit crazy to normal, responsible, child-rearin’ folk,” the other voice intoned, with a wink that Bob felt coming over the phone.

“You aren’t? I mean, you even got a real job, yo. Hello? Yo Bear! Hello?”

Sheriff Standing Bear musta hung up.

Bob waited, hoping he didn’t piss the guy off by calling him ‘Bear’. Sometimes he got kinda touchy. The transmission would be coming in soon. He felt the first ping. Well, at least he warned him with a call.

Opening the fridge, Bob picked off a cool one. Just wait for it, s’all you could do. Sometimes it came on like some weird headache, then ratcheted up a few notches. But he loved how calm it made him feel eventually, relaxing into a more serene scene for sure. Okay, except this time.

Oh oh Navajo this is gonna be a dinger. Bob thought. Better sit. Bob plopped down on the couch. Berta didn’t notice.

The anger of Bear morphed into a gentle annoyance, then calmed into a kinda connection Bob could handle. Just barely. It was always tight and swift at the onset, coming on like a dentists drill, then lessoning and softening into an awareness. The communication followed. A connection made.

Bob, what are you doing? It was Bear.

Restraining white boy. I got er under control esse, Bob thought, then focused on the space underneath the trailer, where her and Berta kept all their money. It felt safe. Who needs a bank account anyways? Safe, all they’d ever need to move, or do what they wanted. Freedom.

Standing Bear brought him back to the task at hand.

“Why’d ya bring him into it anyways?” Bob said aloud. Berta didn’t notice.

The thought on the other side took a moment…a reflective pause. Then a knowledge infused Bob’s sternum. A heart connection. A camaraderie that transcended all the colors, the skins, the million differences in culture and genes. The answer was more than enough. Robert Running Deer started weeping.

IN THEIR MIDST

Harry ambled towards his office in the far corner, slowly, avoiding the inevitable flipping open of the laptop. He veered towards the breakroom, but corrected his path and entered his office. Sitting behind the desk, he flipped the fiend angelical up and waited endlessly for the thing to boot, got on a browser, navigated to his email account, opened it.

Boy howdy, they sure knew how to pick the losers. Endless spam.

His bank account was probably overdrawn and that sent a message to the vultures. Everything is interconnected. They were probably monitoring his thoughts right now. But no, that’s science fiction. But the usury, the link to a link in a metadatabase with a little kiss ontop, that was real. That happened. That went on. A big Snowden. No, no, he thought. No, it was…yes, yes, yes, it was a resounding yes. Why not? Just say yes, right?

He adjusted the cushy office chair. This time, it was bound to be better. All those chances at a normal life he’d blown off, not right, not this time. But the decision was made. Keep the job. Get comfortable. Freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose, right?

Mandy, his buxom assistant, sauntered in.

“Here’s your plane ticket.”

“Come again?”

“One of the perks of the job. You’re going to the Blackfoot reservation,” she said with a lusty grin.

“Blackfeet”, he corrected.

“Whatever.” Her skirt brushed his desk as she dropped a flight voucher and motel reservations on his desk. “Delta, you’re lucky, I hear they have good food. Can’t say the same for the motel. Hasta.” Turning on her stilettos, she swished to the door and flashed him a smirk as she closed the door behind her.

He was personally going to the reservation. He was hoping to avoid that. He doubted he had any People blood in him but couldn’t be sure. In grade school, two had razzed him mercilessly. Intimidation. A sock on the jaw on the way home from school. A kick in the nuts weeks later. Unpredictable and horrifying. And he never knew why.

Yet he was the front man, the communicator.

And he was hazed while studying acting at the University, in the form of Robert Running Deer, who had tortured him with put downs at every party both of them attended. Ridicule and teasing were Running Deers forte’ then, being liquored up the majority of the time. It tested Harrys courage, and the memory tested it now. Running Deer was part of that reservation. Give him a call…look him up on Facebook? It would be a benefit to have a local contact of some kind. Maybe the man had changed, mellowed with age. Harry settled into the task, opened his laptop, and got on the Internet. Searching all variations of Running Deers name…Running…Deer…lots of leaping stags and the like but not Bob.

Then it hit him…Bob. He always insisted people call him Bob, usually with a threat of some sort. Harry turned to a search engine and typed in the name of the reservation, plus “Bob”. The results were better, less numerous and without links to animal sites. He clicked on the Facebook link. There he was…older, but him. The ungainly largesse of him. There were few posts visible to the public, but those that were there were peppered with anti-white rants and People rights issues.

There it was, the ‘friend’ button. He just had to click it. What if Bob didn’t remember him? Was he still drinking? No way to know. He had to take that leap of faith and hope that Bob would now be a friendly face. Nothing like nostalgia to paint a rosy glow on things, even horrific memories of torture. Harry clicked on it. We’ll see, he thought. It was at least a chance. Pulling a file off the growing pile on his desk, he dove into the minutia of the day and tried not to think, at all.

It was nearly 3 in the afternoon when he finished off the pile. He looked at the airline ticket. Tonight. Tonight?! Mandy had gone to coffee for the rest of the day. Where was the car? Well, he’d need a car to get to the airport, and he’d also need a car once he arrived. He’d just have to call her once he was at the motel the next day. Gathering himself up, he shot the papers and itinerary into his briefcase and took a cab home to pack.

He had just enough time. Barely. In particular his electric razor had gone missing, and the search for the instrument took an hour before he stuffed it into his bag, heavy but manageable. He’d be there for a week, the reservation he’d only heard about in movies and the news, the last being a skirmish with the FBI. He was nervous about it all, tried not to think about it. Better that way. Move on and repair what you can. Onto the next task. One foot in front of the other. One last message to Bob.

Bob, I haven’t heard from you, but I’m going to your town and would love to see you. Do you remember me?

A message flashed back.

Hey Harry. Shure I remember yu. Im at the bar most niets. Placid Cooger. C ya when I c ya.

Despite the poor spelling, Harry made it out. Good. A contact. Maybe a friend.

“Flight 6546 to Salt Lake boarding.” Harry hustled to the gate. He had a few connecting flights before he hit the reservation, increasing the overall flight time. Sleep on the plane. That would cut the time. He thought he’d say one last said hello to the flight attendant, then the dreadlocked man sitting beside him before taking a bye.

Harry turned his head further towards the man. “Where ya headed?”

“I’d rather not talk right now. Paper due tomorrow.” He turned towards the window and put on his headphones. Harry sank further into the plush seat, relieved. He loved liftoff, not ever having flown on a routine basis and sensitive to every movement. The experience of climbing above earth, into the skies and leaving it with a whoosh. thrilled him immensely. The Boeing 737 rose into a nimbus cloud.

Hello Harry. I heard of you from a friend, thought I’d give you a call.

Harry wasn’t on his phone. Nor was the man beside him. This sentence echoed in his head as he drifted off to sleep. It changed volume and intensity as it repeated, soft and lulling.

When the plane landed, he was fully rested, thankful for the sleep. He’d need the energy for the last leg of his journey. The motel room. He saw on the voucher that it was near the middle of the town and was called Super Saver Inn. The airport he’d flown into was 50 miles away. He’d need a car, which meant calling Mandy. Which he didn’t want to do, but his itinerary didn’t mention anything about transportation while he was here.

“Mandy, I need a vehicle.” He could hear the sounds of the office and the soft thump of the copier.

“What for?” she answered in her silky voice. “There’s a bus that goes up there.”

“I’m not taking a bus, and I’ll need to get around once I’m there.”

“Rent a car then. Why are you bothering me? Do I have to do everything for you?” She sniggered a bit, enjoying his discomfort.

Harry was about to start screaming, but thought better. “Mandy, you’re a real pill. Next trip, please make sure I have a rental car. Thanks.”

“Whatever you say boss.” An audible snort, a click, and silence. Harry hung up, slowly made his way to the rental car counter.

The economy vehicle had a hard time going up the hills, but the scenery was breathtaking. Forested hills rose scary crazy high on all sides, up to craggy tops laced with snow. He had a hard time keeping his eyes on the road. It rose and fell and scraped the edges of the forest then opened onto a vast plain. He approached the small town of Harlee, where the offices of the Tribal Association were tucked into a cul-de-sac. Or that’s the way it looked on the map.

On the main road was his motel, the Super Saver. A cheap one story affair built in the fifties. He parked, got the key from an ancient surly woman, entered the room and unpacked. The onslaught of a strange deja vu held him in thrall as he put his undies in the drawers and settled in for the week.

SWEAT LODGE

Standing Bear lifted the bowl of water and poured it on the rocks. Steam, heavily scented with peppermint, filled the makeshift shelter of sticks, boughs, and blankets. He sat naked and crosslegged on a thick buffalo hide his father had given to him before his death. Walter Whitetailfeather sat opposite him, breathing in the steam, rubbing his body. Both of the men felt the qualitites of the steam and peppermint infuse body and mind, clearing the senses. This made an opening for the spirits of the ancestors, the ancient ones.

Niitsitapi…” Walter crooned into the center of the enclosure. Standing Bear chanted along with him and poured more of the water on the hot granite rock, whispering once, “Snowflake melts into coffee.”

Standing Bear began drumming as Walter rattled. A shape formed from the steam. The head was familiar to both of the men. It morphed into a scene, a camp dwelling in the forest. No horses, no steel, just tipis, trees, mud, feasting, fun, grasses, fish and bison and a vast sense of grace and community. Both men shuddered a bit, their bodies wanting to follow. They endured the confusion, then left their mortal shells behind for a moment.

Children were running, chasing a rabbit. Their faces were of pure joy, the ecstasy of movement in easy bodies, with a task of letting the rabbit practice. The rabbit enjoyed the process as well. In the center of the village, a large fire pit. Around it, women were knitting, sewing. And the men…hunting. And bickering between tribes. Theft, love, and betrayal lent a warm humanity to the life. The simplicity of the life astounded both men. They knew it could never be that way again.

It would have to be a combination, a melting pot of gender roles reversing, technology embraced perhaps…but to the task, something the techno-man would never be able to do with his circuits and transmissions. Contact another soul through thought.

They concentrated on the girl Walter had befriended. In their minds eye, a cafe’ in town. Walter recognized Donna, the owner of the store. He was a frequent customer there but didn’t know Chadica worked in the place. Deeper into the lucid stage, both men focused attention on the tattoo Walter had seen. It was a coiled snake, etched rather poorly on Chadicas left shoulder, which she had shown proudly to Walter one night. They pulled into the image. It served as an intimate guide to Walter and Standing Bear.

They knew something wasn’t quite right when they felt the girls presence. It was too much for her. Residual effects. Standing Bear took himself out of the psychic equation by coming back to the sweat lodge, into his body. It was enough he had lent his powers to find her.

He looked at the man opposite him with a gentle affection. They had spent most of their lives together, knowing these days would come, both dreading and anticipating the necessary actions. Walter shuddered, his body twisting. Some ectoplasm left his mouth in a slow drool. He shook his head, gently. Then he began rocking and spinning in a slow imitation of a top winding down.

Standing Bear grabbed Walter by the arm. There wasn’t a second to lose. He had to be out of there and no mistake. Fast. The river was about 20 feet away, so this wasn’t going to be the easiest race, but he had to get started. Standing Bear gave Walter a big hug and didn’t let go. Once they were out of the sweatlodge, Walters legs turned to rubber.

Standing Bear dragged him to the river. “Come on, Whitetailfeather, work it out…you’re almost there.”

Shocked but relieved, the big mans body hit the slow moving part of the river with a large splash. “You’re gonna give me a heart attack!” Walter screamed. Then he started laughing which turned into a great guffaw. It was sweet to Standing Bears ears. Maybe now was a good time to talk about Running Deer, to persuade him to make peace. The two hadn’t talked for over a year, making a decision to walk away after an argument rather than resolve their differences. For Standing Bears plan to work, it was going to take cooperation from everyone.

“You talk to Bob lately?”

“Aw shit, and I was feeling good. No, no I haven’t spoken to the rude, superior s.o.b.”

“Well,” Standing Bear replied, “that’s got to change, Walt. In order for this thing to work, we’re gonna need all the help we can get esse, and he’s already working with the white man I told you about.”

Walter looked at his friend, “I don’t speak Spanish. Can’t we just enjoy the river and the day?”

“Always, my friend. And like the river, we’d do pretty well to go with the flow.” As Bear said this, both of them heard a voice whisper. They strained to make out the words.

“Don’t say anything.” Standing Bear released his friend, and tried to assess where the sound was coming from.

A swirling mist rose from downriver. Bear whispered to Walter, “Turn around…slow.”

Walter turned, and caught the sight of it immediately. “Please tell me that isn’t talking.” The sunlight glittered, turned into rainbows, inside the vapor. Images lent themselves to the men. A People woman washing her hair, a skyscraper, flatbread on the fire. The scenes were varied and nearly without a through line. Standing Bear poked Walter, softly. Walter turned to him.

The Sheriff whispered to him, “Let’s find out what it is.”

“We don’t know what water spirit that might could be, and I’m gettin peckish. Let’s go back and do some research before we run around doing any recon.” Walter licked his lips. “And I could also use a good nap before we attempt something like communing with some damn water spirit!”

“Coward.” Standing Bear waded further downstream, picking his way through the rocks at the bottom of the stream. It was hard going. He’d picked this particular spot for the sandy level area next to the sweatlodge they would construct and tear down every time, deep in the forest. The rest of the river was rockier, and deep. He got closer, and felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand. As he hazarded a look at the misty apparition, he stumbled, tripping over a rock. Walter was there to catch his fall.

“Well shit, I couldn’t let you do it alone, big guy.” The strange water spout shimmered brighter than before. It engulfed both men as it grew.

As the sunny bean sunflower captured my corneas, the train and the purple haze you brought swallowed me up.

“Peitro, did you bring the milk?’

She swept into the kitchen, a flurry of yellow dress and attitude.

“And who is WonderGuard?”

As she wrote, the chandelier swayed in counterpoint. Never one to miss the obvious, Henrietta made a comment then and there.