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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

stories, stories, stories

In honour of the greatest story ever told - the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus - I am piling on stories for the month of December. Some have been published, some aren't published yet, some may never be published. A few are experimental, a few aren't fine-tuned and polished, a few I'm not sure about. Long, short, tragic, comic, straightforward, labyrinthine - all kinds of stories, many of which have never seen the light of day in the public eye . . . until now.

I hope you find one or two of the unknowns that you will enjoy.

Merry Christ Mass, happy holydays (that's what holidays stands for), Season of the Incarnation's Greetings, God rest you merry!

manygreyhorses

manygreyhorses

by Murray Andrew Pura





1

The Creek



July burned your skin like a fire can burn you and that’s the way it always was under the purple mountains after the June rains. The grass was brown before summer was halfway through unless you spent two or three hundred dollars watering it and until the snow covered it brown was what you saw for miles stacked on top of miles. Even the white came and went because the snow came and went with the big warm winds that blundered over the mountains from the Pacific. So you got brown and white and brown and white and finally green again in May and June when the clouds were big fists that squeezed out blood and water.

All the dark rain came at one time, it was never laid out so that you had rain once a week or a half dozen times a month, it came in a few hard days and lashed the poplars and cottonwoods and made the rivers and streams boil. Houses were flooded, streets and towns and square miles of cities, and sometimes people were swept away and they never found them until the waters had gone down and the flowers had opened and the lawns and bushes were lush.

Our creek was a fury one day and rolled and broke like a sea and uprooted trees massive and black came heaving like boats. Another day it was itself and walking steadily down out of the hills, not too fast, coming in careful measured sliding steps, skin and nails clean and gleaming as the silt settled, jade and glass making a window on the baby trout and the slipping mink and arrowing beaver, and the etched bark logs settled against boulders rooted to the earth’s deep core but which the creek could move and toss anytime it wanted.

“Where does it come from, Dad?” I asked in the days we caught small trout in
buckets and water snakes in our hands.

“God knows.”

“Where?”

Dad sat on the creek bank and never put the cigarette to his mouth, he just let it burn out between his fingers.

“Up in the Rockies. The BC side. Maybe a piece of it comes from Montana. You

hear things about it.”

“What things?”

“Fed by a glacier up high. Comes out of a hole in the ground and the hole in the ground goes right to the centre of the earth.”

“Does it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can’t we go up there and find out?”

“When you’re older, Kipp.”

Big Roaring Man had come out of the ground and laid everything low to left and right with his hatchet in the one hand and war club from the Sky Chiefs in the other, just like the stone clubs you see at the museum at the Little Big Horn that can crack a man’s head like a nut. He hewed rivers and lakes with his weapons and his hands but he made the creek with the finesse of Binding Wounds Woman, using just the sharp tip of his hatchet and slitting rock from peak to foothills and beyond out through the grasslands to dip his iron in his rivers so the creek could run with the big water all the way to the cold sea and Ice Bear. When water first came into the cut he had made it walked like a ghost and under Sun Warrior and Moon Woman it was silver by day and grey by moonlight and the Elders On The Other Side Of The Sky named it Manygreyhorses. Woman Who Gives Birth To Wonder lay in it and washed her shining skin and streaming hair and the first children of the Earth came from the love she had with I Am Under The Waters. The children slipped down the mountain and out along the plains to the great north sea and wherever they touched the creek banks foxes sprang up and wolf willow and wild rose and jackrabbits but they had different names for them then, the names are so far away Blackfoot does not know them or Crow or Sioux or Cheyenne or any words the People brought with them over the path between worlds when they crossed the seas by foot back when Fire Maker was lighting the stars.

"So the People called the water Manygreyhorses and then the ones with skin like Ice Bear named the town after the water. But before that our family had the name because we had our lodges here and made the arrows and slew the buffalo when they came to drink."

"Is this what the elders say on the reservation in Crockett?"

Wick was lighting one cigarette with another and a trout made perfect rings in the green and silver as it took a mosquito.

"You'll never hear it that way from them."

"You made it up."

"They made it up. So I can make it up."

How'd you get a white nigger for a brother a Blood had laughed at school and Wick put the Blood's head into the Coke machine and got expelled. I got expelled too for being the white nigger with him. For years no one had bugged either of us about him being Peigan Blackfoot and me being white but as soon as we hit high school it all changed and the native gangs wanted Wick to dump me and he wouldn't do it. The Coke machine was the first fight in Grade Seven and there were half a dozen more after that in Eight and Nine but the school only found out about one of them when Wick dislocated Billy One Owl's shoulder. Every time I tried to fight beside him Wick would turn around and shove me back.

"Hey, we were fighting before you guys got here," he'd say.

We had the War At St. Joseph's because two families had come together, mine,
the Schultzes, and Wick's, Manygreyhorses, and they came together because of our
fathers. Back in the 70's they had gone to Wounded Knee together, crossing the border in a black LTD they rented and heading straight for South Dakota without stopping because there was an uprising, Indians had taken up guns and soldiers had them surrounded.

"We never stopped," Dad told me when I was twelve. "All those yellow hills one
after another. And buffalo, sure, we went past a herd of them but we kept going because all the stuff was coming down and the guns were out. Our friends said we'd never get in because the whole place was covered, US Marshals, FBI, troopers, but Big God laughed and opened the ring of steel as easy as you open a charm bracelet. We showed up and there was a truce. They'd been shooting to kill each other the night before and now there was a truce so I'm driving and we come around another hill and there's an army half-track, cam green, and this guy swings a big 50 around and points it at me. I slam on the brakes and Wick''s Dad is saying, Hey, what are you stopping for, get going, get going, he won't shoot, he's just trying to scare you. A 50 calibre cartridge is what, five inches, six inches long? But I creep up on the half-track because Jimmy is pounding on the dash, get going, get going. I've got my hands up and I climb out of the LTD and up till then I had to pee bad, but I didn't even feel it now. Go down at your own risk Mister 50 says. So Jimmy tied a pillow case to the aerial and down we went, you drive down into a valley at the Knee. Right away an old car cut us off down there and it's full of Indians with every kind of rifle, the barrels are sticking out the windows like a bunch of needles - " so Dad was a nurse, an ER nurse he always emphasized - "and they want to know how many troops are up there. Friendly, you know, wanting outsiders on their side. Wanted to talk about the fire fight the night before, tracers like shooting stars, there was a big tepee up now, they were doing the ceremony for warriors who'd been blooded, had their first blood, you know, been in their first fight. They laid their hands on the monument to the People who had been massacred by the Seventh Cavalry in 1890. Anyway, okay, we stayed there a week, saw too much stuff to talk about, one guy wanted to use me as a shield and start blasting, charging right at the FBI, but that was a joke, he liked to joke, but what wasn't a joke, Jimmy went and got himself shot, you know that scar tissue, looks like melted plastic up by his armpit, he got patched up and they smuggled us out, that's when we decide to do the blood brother thing, we were both nineteen. We were going to make up a new name at first, like Walks On The Sky or Takes In Fire or Wolf Eagle. But in the end I said I'd take his name, it was a good name, so that's us now, Manygreyhorses."
So they were living on the rez in Crockett and we were in town and Wick and i played together and went to school together and our families were always having barbeques together and the creek ran right through our backyard so we swam in it and caught trout and snakes and in the spring the water was higher and faster and we rode fat inner tubes down the white current.
Dad and Mom were killed by a semi coming home in the snow from the city when I was fifteen. The will gave Wick's mother and father the house and put me and my younger brother under their guardianship. So they left Crockett and moved into Manygreyhorses. This was okay for them because Wick's mother was a nurse in the hospital in town anyway and Wick's Dad drove out to the university twice a week where he taught courses in archaeology and Egyptology, Horses was just as good as Crockett for that, maybe better. But it was my brother and me, my little brother Ticket and me, who got the whole family kicked out of St. Joseph's for good, which is how at sixteen I thought we should honour my father by finally walking upstream for as long as it took to find the source of Manygreyhorses.
The final fight was between me and a white kid and Wick wasn't even around and none of the native gangs had hassled us for months. It was Grade Ten, Mom and Dad had been dead for seven or eight months, and this guy grabs my beef sub in the cafeteria and starts eating it, and the teacher supervising lunch hall looks the other way as fast as she can, because this guy is a teacher's kid, Brent, I'd known him since Grade Two, but he only became a jerk in high school. He's talking with his mouth full of my sub and saying Kipp Dances With Indians, Kipp Dances With Retards, so I winged my Science text, my heaviest book, right at his nose and broke it and then knocked him right over the lunch table and onto the floor. Which still wasn't good enough so I got on him and used my fists a few times. The teacher had come with the cavalry once I spun the book at Brent, not before when he stole my lunch and started calling my brother names, so I was out and my brother and Wick too and his sister, they wanted the whole family out.
Ticket was born with the cord wrapped around his neck and he lost so much oxygen it killed his brain on the left side and crippled the whole part of his body on that side too, so he walked with a brace, sometimes used a wheelchair, couldn't talk. No choice left in time and space, Wick's Dad told me after the fight, I had to beat the crap out of Brent Fraser, the gods had left no other doors of possibility open. There was some court stuff from Brent's family, some court stuff from St. Joseph's, some court stuff from our lawyer, the Mounties huffed and puffed, but nothing came out of it except we weren't getting back into St. Joseph's forever. which after I'd calmed down I knew was too bad because I had my three or four good teachers and some good heads in the front office and a girl I liked a grade ahead of me and Ticket was treated like gold there. So Brent kept going to St. Joseph's with raccoon eyes and tape over his face and we finished up the year at Maxwell Hastings and then talked about home schooling.
"If you white guys would stop killing each other off we'd be in Grade Eleven at St. J's and you might get up enough jazz to ask out Logan Sparks."
The rains had just left the week before and the water was brown and muscular and Wick looked down at it and had a cigarette but never lit it.
"Tell me how the white people came to Horses."
"No Colour Man painted over their skins so some of the People became a new creature, they frightened away the game and the buffalo, always fighting, small hearts, souls no bigger than the aspen leaves that fall in August because of the dry weather, brown and curly like burnt potato skins, they never take the gold colour into them, it never happens, they flourish like the blue weed, and it started here because No Colour Man lives under the purple mountains."
"We don't have to go to school in the fall."
"Yeah, we gotta do home schooling, what's the difference?"
"So we can start anytime. Let's go up the mountain. Let's follow the creek."
"Why?"
"I want to do it for my father. He always talked about finding the source once I was old enough."
"What about your mother? What are you going to do for her?"
She had hair like water, like the creek, but her face ached with Ticket's dead brain, "I should have demanded a C section, somebody should have made them do it," and in the photos I had in a box in my room the eyes in her head were always far away where she was being hunted. So I would go up the mountain for her and maybe this would happen, maybe Big God would heal Ticket.
Wick never said his stories were just stories. He said they were as good or better than the stories the Elders knew. He said he didn't think them up, he got them. Maybe Binding Wounds Woman, he said. Maybe Heart Dead Walker. He flicked his unlit cigarette into the brown creek.
"Maybe i'll give up smoking."
When we went to Jimmy with this he was hunched over the Egyptian Book of the Dead in the kitchen. He had his mug of Prince of Wales tea and he'd just peeled off his T shirt because of the heat. So there was the bullet wound like a lump of melted ice cream bucket.
"It'll take you weeks," he said.
"Yeah," said Wick.
"People say it's just a hole in the ground. A lot of mud oozing out of mud. It only gets good looking when the other streams feed into it. Billy Jo says all you see is a chunk of glacier all scuffed with dirt and ugly and drooling into the muck."
"His Dad always wanted to go up."
Jimmy stared at me and began to laugh. "Sure, Bobby would do that. Climb the bloody mountain. Never mind what anyone else says or if there are people shooting at you. I could drive you two out to Milk River and you could look over at the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana and burn some sweetgrass instead."
"Nah."
"Smudge you here in the backyard. Go see Tommy Many Guns and have a sweat."
"Are you crazy? I hate those things. I feel like I'm gonna suffocate. Hot and black as hell."
Jimmy closed his book. "We've got family on the rez that take the Jesus stuff in. They could anoint you with oil, pray, make the sign of the cross."
"What's that supposed to do?"
"What do you want it to do?"
"We don't want a healing. We just want to find the source of the creek. Kipp wants to do it for his parents."
"No healing. Nobody wants any healing."
"For what?"
"They're square," I said. "Or rectangles. Or rounds. Sweats. Lodges. Churches. I want to go up under the sky. I don't need a vision Mr. Greyhorses - "
"JImmy."
" - I just want to do what Dad wanted to do."
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah." He stood up. "Let's get you guys some groceries. Haul out the backpacks. Tell your Mom and sister. You know you'll be up there for a couple of weeks. Probably more."
"Yeah."
Ticket helped me a bit. He could walk with a heavy leg brace but it was a loud jolting walk so he usually used his wheel chair. He handed me socks and underwear and a nice bowie knife I forgot I'd stuffed in a drawerful of shorts. Wick's sister Breath was helping his Mom divide up the food for us, lots of dried stuff, light to carry, some you needed water to cook up. I put too many books in my pack and it weighed a ton. Breath lifted it with one hand and grinned.
"You never go anywhere without your library."
Breath's smile and her body with the jeans on them made me hurt all over.
"You should come," I said.
"What? Hang out with two smelly old boys all summer? And both of them my brother?"
"I'm not really your brother."
"By guardianship."
"But not by blood."
Breath dropped into my lap and put her arms around my neck. I could smell the cinnamon and lemon soap she washed her body with.
"So you gonna marry me?" she laughed.
"Why not?"
"Fight for me?"
"Yeah."
"Sure, I know you'll fight for me. I seen you fight."
She kissed me on the cheek and stood up. Her hair was pulled back but now she looked down at me and undid it. It went black and shining down her back.
"Why you going up there, Kipp?"
"Dad. Mom."
"No, you're not. That's not all of it. You want the vision? You want the word?"
"No."
She put her hands on my legs and leaned into me. Her fingers had lots of rugged silver rings. "What?"
"Ticket."
"What else?"
"Ticket. Just Ticket, that's all." Her eyes were too close and so was her hair. "I prayed once when I was a kid that my parents would never die. If I go up to the source maybe that'll work better."
"You believe it?"
"No."
"But you'll go up anyway."
"Why not? I can only drive out to those two white crosses on the number three so many times."
She squeezed my legs with her hands and put her mouth over mine and came down hard. Ticket thumped into the room and she pulled back.
"I'll keep the flowers on the crosses. fresh ones. All summer, Kipp."
Jimmy lit the fire pit that night. It took a long time for the day to get dark but around eleven it was just our faces, no bodies. Breath was beside her Mom, wouldn't keep my eye, Ticket sat between Wick and me, swinging his head and grinning. Jimmy poked at the fire with a long stick and the sparks went up like red and orange stars.
"I knew your Dad and I were in when they told us to go up and get soup at the Catholic church. It was pretty much in the middle of the Knee and it had an upside down American flag over the altar. And a stereo set up on the altar. So Bobby and I started getting our food there. We never held a gun. Helped out in every other kind of way. Digging pits. Filling sandbags. Setting up concrete blocks, you know, we rimmed the pits with them. I don't know if they were much good. Bullets pulverized them. Maybe they deflected a few. We rode out with a group the one time early in the morning, cold as needles, so Bobby and I were good riders and we both had paints, we circled around in the hills and came up behind a bunch of FBI and federal marshals and the AIM guys, and there was a woman, they were laughing. I thought that was enough, we saw where this bunch was and we could go back, but the lady let off a clip of 7.62x39 Russian, AK-47 ammo, hey, then we're riding like it's some kind of crazy Western, and I felt a bullet go through my shirt just like it had a pair of scissors. So I got the feeling then, like a cut, that another bullet would hit me. I knew it. We rode out of there but it's like the bullet was in the air now, hanging, waiting, like it had eyes and teeth. It was about a week later, I remember somehow they'd got a beef cow into camp and we were slaughtering it and it was bellowing and the blood flying till someone finally figured it out and pulled a trigger. That one shot and the FBI opened up. They were using tracer and it was getting near dark so you see these lights coming, like Christmas lights strung up on the sky, floating, bobbing, yellow and white, then they'd be right on top of you and moving fast and cracking the air. I got lifted up and thrown down and there was blood in my mouth. It went through clean, 5.56 mm, 223, M-16, small hole, flat shooter, tore up my muscle. Our own crew patched me up, the shock was the worse thing, not the loss of blood, just the damn bang of it, the hit. I lay there on my back in the church right under Jesus and I said to him, "Why'd we do this thing? Why did we come down to the Knee? What difference if I'm here or back in Canada?" Jesus was pretty quiet. "You're thinking the same thing, aren't you? Why'd you come here? What difference if you're here or up there? Now you're bleeding too." You two want to go up the mountain and find the hole in the ground. Should I be surprised? That's what Kipp's father and I did. Just take it easy. Do what you've got to do and come back in one piece. Or two. Don't make it a bigger deal than it needs to be."
Later on I wandered over to the far side of the yard, it was a big yard, maybe a third of an acre, and I took a look a leak in the dark, listening to the creek running just near me. I'd zipped up and was looking up at the Big Dipper, Big Bear, it was draped over the cottonwood branches. Someone came up behind me and slipped a hand in my front pocket. I jumped but they started talking to me, whispering to me, real soft and like a chant, in Blackfoot. It was Breath and she leaned against me and lay her head against the back of my neck. Her hair smelled like ripe purple plums. This just about killed me.
"I'm giving you my good knife so bring it back, okay?"
"And something for you."
"Yeah."
She turned me around twice with her arms and then took me in, kissing me so deep and strong I felt like I was drunk. I tried to gather her in for more but she broke off and went back to the fire.
Horses has a gravel path that runs from one end of the town to the other, east to west, following the creek, and we walked that to the edge of town the next morning about seven, already warm, the sky like a blue lake, Breath pushing Ticket in his wheelchair, jimmy and Shar with me and Wick. People were walking their dogs, or just walking, a couple of women were jogging. Hey, Jimmy, they'd say, hey, Shar. Tommy Tom stopped his pickup when we were crossing a street.
"Where you all headed to?"
"Camping," said Jimmy.
"All of you? How big's the tent?"
"Plenty of room. Where you headed, Tommy?"
"Rodeo in Browning."
"Good day for it."
"Oh, yeah."
We passed our school and someone was cutting the grass there and watering the flower beds. There was the whip-whip of the sprinkler and the mower snarling on the other side of the building. Some guys were playing hoops in the back. Brent was one of them. And Johnny Little Moustache. They stopped playing and watched us go. For whatever reason I lifted my hand to Brent and he lifted his back. A car stopped so the guys inside could call over to Breath. At the electronics store, The Source, Mr. Appleby was taking boxes out of his truck with Zack Freeman. He nodded and kept lifting.
A couple of hundred feet after The Source there's a lot of houses and a Baptist church and a fire hall but the path dips right down to the creek. so many trees you can't even see the buildings for awhile. Then you're up by the rodeo grounds and once you're past that you're heading into the saskatoon bushes and the farms and the foothills.
Ticket was swinging his head and his whole body from side to side and laughing. I hugged him and kissed him. His skin was softer than Breath's. There came into my mind the picture and feeling of holding him when he was a baby. Jimmy gave me a hug and so did Shar. Shar was blinking.
"Your mother was good, very good, she'd want you back."
"Okay, Mrs. Greyhorses."
"No bears. Absolutely no bears. I don't want to see either of you in Emerge."
Jimmy was poking around in our packs while Wick and I stood there with them on our backs.
"I gave you the pepper spray, Wick?"
"Yeah."
"And the shotgun."
"Yeah."
"Where's the ammo?"
"Left pouch."
"I gave you the 22, Kipp. You might need a squirrel for the pot."
"I saw that. Thanks."
"And a brick of 500. That should feed you. And you both got fishing tackle."
"Yes, sir."
"Wick's Uncle Seymour is a holy man. And your Uncle Lawrence is too, Kipp. Seymour has his rattles and smoke and chants and Lawrence has his Bible and candles and hymns. Don't know who's right. If either of them were here they'd want to do a song or pray a blessing. I could give you something from The Book of the Dead. But I'll just tell you to wrap the sky around you like a garment and pull the constellations into your eyes."
Breath hugged Wick but she wouldn't come near me. Only when she had her hands and fingers of silver rings on the back handles of Ticket's chair did she meet my look. And drop her head to kiss the top of Ticket's head and then wheel him around and start pushing him away.
Wick and I came to the end of the gravel path. We waded to the other side of the creek but it was deeper than we thought and Wick soaked his pack when he slipped. We got up to a sunny spot near a nest of great horned owls and spread out his clothes. The food and matches were in watertight plastic bags. We took off our boots. It was not even nine yet and it was hot.
"You like my seester?" Wick made himself sound Spanish.
"Why not?"
"She's your sister too."
"She gave me the same line."
"Me, I don't even think of her when she's not in the room. But you wonder what she looks like when she pulls her jeans off."
"Last night I lay in bed and wondered what she looked like when she got dressed. What it was like when she pulled her jeans on."
Wick laughed. "You crazy mixed up white kid. What good is it if the chick's got her clothes on? What are you gonna do with that?"
"Take them off for myself."
Wick threw a stone into the creek. "I thought you liked Logan."
"No. You do."
"Nah. Loganberry doesn't smile enough. She's too sour."
"So who?"
"Morden."
"Morden White."
"Yeah."
"She was cheering the other guy when you were fighting."
"I can win her around."
"How are you going to do that?"
"Bring her something back from the mountains. Just like you're doing for Breath. How'd you get her knife?"
I was flicking the blade in and out of the turquoise stone handle. The sun shot off it like splashes of bright water.
"She gave it to me."
"Yeah? Must be love. Gotta be love."
We laughed and lay back in the grass.
"We could just stay here and camp out for three weeks," said Wick.
"Sure."
"Lie out in the sun. Catch some rainbow."
"Sounds good."
Two horses came clopping through some bushes to look at us.
"We could ride them," said Wick.
"Right up into the peaks."
"Whose are they?"
"Jackson's? Pickard's?"
"How'd the horses come?" he asked me.
"You tell me. The books say the Spanish."
"The books are wrong. That's why none of us can get a good education anymore. That's why so many of us get stuck on the rez or live the rest of our lives in town stacking grocery shelves. The horses came when Many Arms Woman had two lovers and the one, Long Tooth, got jealous and cut off all her arms except two. But the arms came together, four at a time, and became horses, some gold, some silver, some painted."
"Some grey."
"My story. So Many Arms Woman's suffering blessed the People. And Long Tooth became a great hero. And the two of them married. Sure. Why not? She loved him a lot even if he was a bit wild. His name changed. He became Long Time Man. And she became Many Horses Woman."
"You're going to say that's where the name came from."
"What name?"
"The town. Your family. The creek."
"Maybe that's your story. So you tell your own story."
"Yeah, right."
"Why not? Hey, we're gonna be up in these hills how long? Three weeks? More? I don't want to spend the whole time talking about my sister pulling her jeans on and off."
"Or Morden White."
"I can't tell all the stories. I'm only this one Peigan. So you tell the others. What are you anyway?"
"Native."
"Yeah?"
"Born right here. Didn't come from nowhere else."
"Our politicians talk like we've always been here. But the Crow were here first and we pushed them south. And the Cree we pushed east. And who was here before the Crow and the Cree? We're all immigrants. Came over on the land bridge when there was more ice and less water. Beringia."
"You got here first."
"Still came from somewhere else. You came late. On the water bridge. Hey, it's everyone's land, it's no one's land. The Elders say only Grandfather owns the land, Big God, and he shares it, but it's none of ours."
"You have a story for that?"
"Not yet. No, I guess it's in me but way down, don't know how to get it up."
"On one side there's German and Swiss and French, you know, the borders in europe were so weird back then. And Ukrainian, lots of Ukrainian. They wouldn't let us work here except as peasants. Garlic eaters. Aliens. I read this book in the library, it was sermons these Christian ministers gave on Sunday mornings a hundred years ago, not even a hundred. They hated us. Don't let them near your daughters. Dirty Slavs. They're stealing jobs from good white men. They don't belong here. It's not their land. Ship them back. Burn them out. Couldn't speak Ukrainian in school."
We watched a kingfisher dive into the creek headfirst and then roar off down through the canyon of green leaves shrieking.
"What about the rest of you?" asked Wick.
"Jewish. And Lebanese."
"No way."
"Oh, yeah."
"Hey, man, you are pretty jacked. With that kind of a mess going on inside you there's got to be stories. Lots of stories. No wonder you tan so dark."
We heard the rumble of a quad. a man came over a hill and up to us, CAT cap pulled down close to his glasses. He turned off the engine.
"What are you boys doing here?"
"Just resting," says Wick. "We're heading up into the mountains."
"Well, you go and rest somewhere else. This is my land, I don't want you dirty Indians squatting on it."
"He's Lebanese."
"What?"
"He's from Lebanon."
"You been drinking here, haven't you? By God, I got a mind to put a couple of 7 odd 8s into your backsides. You two get before I call the RCMP. Spooking the horses. Pissing on my land."
"No pissing, sir. Just drying out our gear. I took a spill in the creek."
Wick smiled big.
The man started his engine. "You're two crazy niggers. I come back in ten minutes and you're still here liquored up I'll bring in the cops. Get off my land."
"It was our land first," I said but the quad snarled back over the hill.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"Skaj."
"Brittany Skaj's old man?"
"Yeah."
"How can she be so hot and the old man be such a bastard?"
"Isn't it always that way? That can be your first story. How Brittany Skaj came from Leif Skaj's loins."
We put the stuff back in his pack. Most of it was still damp. I found a long piece of paper and turned it over. It was a bumper sticker in fluorescent orange. Beat up a bit and wrinkled from the creek now too. WOUNDED KNEE, in big black letters, NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE. In smaller letters, Museum. Trading Post.
"Your father's," I said.
"Or yours. Is that a couple of bullet holes in it?"
"Looks like it."
Wick rolled it up carefully.



2

The Grasslands




By noon it was stinking hot. We passed all kinds of horses and cattle and a bunch of lamas. A border collie chased us for about five minutes, barking the whole time. We quit the land at one and took off our boots and socks and waded up the creek, taking the shallowest water we could. It was cooler and there were no dogs but another farmer spotted us anyway, he had his pickup backed up over the creek bank and was dumping a pretty big load of grass clippings.
"What are you boys up to?"
"Just walking in the creek, " says Wick. "No law against walking in the creek."
"You're on my land."
"We're in the creek."
"The creek runs through my land."
"So does the wind. You own that too?"
"Don't get smart. I can bring the cops here in five minutes with my cell phone."
"Hey. Great. We can tell them about you dumping garbage into a trout stream."
"It's just grass. It's natural."
"Sure. All mixed up with the oil and gas from your mower."
He started to curse. "Damn it, you boys move on. You move on or there'll be trouble."
"Big trouble?"
"What?"
"We're just walking up the creek."
"You keep walking up the creek."
We splashed around a bend.
"Jeez, a nice goodbye from the municipal district of Manygreyhorses," I spat.
"Hey, you know what it is. Like around our place. The Creek People. Sleeping in the bushes. Drinking on the creek bank. The campers come in with their million dollar RVs and thousand dollar tents and they're sitting by their fires and Johnny God Damn Indian plops down beside them and wants a beer or a smoke or some money. I'm trying to get this through to you, all us Indians are drunks."
"And all us Slavs eat garlic before we rape white women."
"Yeah. And you damn Jews want to take over the world too."
"Hello, boys."
We looked up at the bank, which was getting higher and higher above us as we got closer to the mountains. An older man with a grey beard that ran around his jaw in a hurry was smiling down at us, his hands in his pockets.
"That's Gerry Friesen," I said. "One of the Holdeman Mennonites."
"He's okay. Hey, Mr. Friesen."
"On a hike?"
"Yeah. We're going to camp in the back country for a few days."
"Got fishing rods?"
"Yeah."
"I saw some nice rainbows this morning. Hanging under the big rocks."
"We'll try and catch some tonight."
"My son is down there somewhere with a few of his friends. Tell him I need him back here to help at the barn, will you?"
"Sure."
"You two look out for each other."
We found his boy a hundred yards farther on. Three of them were swimming in some deep green water while a girl stood nearby in a long white dress. Her hair was pulled back in a bun with a black cap. She wore white Brooks and ankle high white socks. She had her hands behind her back as we came up. She shielded her eyes with one hand and blinked and smiled. Her eyes were more blue than the sky.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," we both said.
The guys swimming stopped and looked over at us.
"One of you Mr. Friesen's kid?" Wick asked.
"Yes."
A tall skinny boy with straw hair and skin as white as quartz stood up. He was wearing shorts.
"We passed your father just back there. He wants to see you. At the barn."
The girl laughed. "Oh, Eric, I told you we should have gone farther. Then no one would ever have found us."
"We're going all the way up," I said to her, looking at her face. She didn't drop her eyes. "We'd have found you."
"Are you sure?" she smiled. she still had her hand over her eyes.
"Sure I'm sure."
"Are you the one they call Kipp?"
"Yeah. But I don't know who you are."
"You fight too much they tell me."
"No one else would do the fighting for me."
"Maybe you didn't need to fight at all."
"But you weren't there."
"They told me."
"I was fighting for my brother."
"A brother can fight for himself."
"Mine's in a wheelchair. I thought he could use a hand."
She kept her eyes on me but she wasn't smiling anymore. If I took off her black cap and tugged her bun loose and all her yellow hair fell down over her shoulders, what would she look like then? And if I gave her jeans and a T shirt?
"Nice to meet you," I said.
Wick and I waded past.
"Karrie," she called out and we both looked back. She was smiling again and not shielding her face. The sun was coming off her eyes and hair. "Karrie Friesen. Eric's cousin."
"Hope we see you again," I said.
"If I need someone to fight for me."
Wick flexed his shoulders. "This pack is killing me. It weighs more all the time. Can't figure out why so many of the Holdeman women are so good looking."
"Are they supposed to look ugly because they're religious?"
"You get the girls from some of the colonies around here and they're fat and wear glasses or they're skinny and wear glasses and then you get these Holdeman in their granny dresses and Nikes and you feel like scooping them up and taking them away.
"Did you want to ask her camping?"
"Like she'd come."
"Never know."
"She's married to Menno. And even if she did marry a guy and have sex she'd still be married to Menno."
"You think she likes me?" I asked.
"Why? You already wondering what she'd look like in tight jeans?"
The day baked us and by evening we were still a good distance from the mountains.
"The creek goes all over the place," Wick complained. "We gotta go overland again in the morning."
"And get shot by a rancher."
"What'll he think we are? Coyotes?"
We got our brass kerosene stove going and cooked some soup with boiled creek water. It took us awhile to get the stove going. Wick kept trying to read the different languages.
"That's gotta be Spanish. And German. What's all this wormy stuff?"
"Arabic."
"So you should be able to read it."
"They never taught me Arabic, Wick. Or Hebrew. Or Ukrainian. They wanted us to assimilate. Not stand out. Be like everyone else."
Wick got out his rod and pieced it together and started running a line through the eyes. "Sometimes I think, hey, head back to the rez where no one cares if you're white or not. But then you go back for a visit and someone's hung them self or jumped off the railroad bridge onto the rocks or overdosed on crystal meth or been knifed or shot and all these ten year olds are walking around with sideways and backwards ball caps and metal bats looking for someone to beat the shit out of. And the dogs piss on you."
"I thought rez dogs liked to bite."
"First they bite you and then they piss on you."
"What's the difference?" I said. "The white kids get loaded and T boned playing chicken and go through the windshields and snap their necks. They do the same drugs and carry the same knives and pull the same crap jazzing around in their old man's truck."
"We get away with it better. You can't do nothing to an Indian kid or you're the big R word, the Racist, hey? They never put away Jimmy Joe. He bent the locker out of shape with that white kid's head. But the white kid fought back so he got expelled. They never touched Jimmy Joe. His parents would of screamed the R word."
"Mike Mackenzie tried to organize that dry grad last year and I was at the school and parent meeting with my Dad. Mike gets up and opens his mouth and the parents are out of their chairs and screaming. Shaking their fists. Shouting him down. I thought Dad was gonna jump across the room and get up there with Mike and dare the ranchers to take him on. Let him talk, let him talk, it's a free country, Dad's yelling, but no one heard him anyway."
"He didn't get up?"
"Your Dad sat on him."
"JImmy sat on him."
"Yeah. He was the only one there wasn't white."
"What was I doing?"
"I don't know. Still playing hockey."
"Your Dad liked his beer."
"Sure never beat on us."
Wick tested his line in the water. "Jimmy stopped drinking years ago."
"Yeah."
Wick never caught a trout or whitefish. We put our two person tent up on the bank under a willow because the mosquitoes were still bad, there was still too much moisture around from early June when the rains fell hard. We got in our bags and it was dark.
"Oh, shit," he said. "Whites, Indians, beer, meth, knives and guns. Forget it. Leave it behind. Just leave it all here and go into the mountains."
"Okay."
It was quiet a little bit and then Wick climbed out of his bag.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I need a smoke."
I sat with him on a flat rock under the willow. There was no moon and you could see the Milky Way dust between the stars.
"Better than DVDs," he said, blowing smoke out his nose.
"Some DVDs."
"Don't you like it out here?"
"Yeah, I like it."
"You thinking about my seester?"
"I'd like her to bite my ear."
He laughed and choked on his cigarette. "She bit me plenty of times. And she used her nails. And kicked."
"I just want the bite."
"You believe anything'll happen for Ticket?"
"Don't know."
"Finding the source and all that bs."
"Hey, I guess i just wanted to go on a long walk with you."
"Get out of Dodge."
"I guess my Dad stuff. Yeah. i'm pretty sure him and Mom would like me doing this with you. Jeez, Wick, I can't keep going back to those crosses."
"Yeah." His cigarette tip went bright orange as he sucked in. "I saw a ghost once."
"What?"
"On the rez. Frankie Many Wounds. Remember him?"
"Yeah. He hung himself."
"He hung himself with a power cord. About a month after that I wound up spending the night in his bedroom. Couldn't sleep I was so spooked. Started talking to him in the dark. We'd never been friends but we'd never been enemies either." A beetle was crawling over the back of Wick's hand. He was looking at it and turning his hand over and over. I thought he might burn it with his cigarette. But he just kept turning his hand over and over. "About two there was a glow from the closet. That's where he'd done it. I started praying to the Great Spirit, to Jesus, I sang a song Uncle Seymour had taught me, God, I sang a hymn, the glow came into the bedroom and it had a head and shoulders and i was pissing myself, singing and praying, then my Mom was knocking on the door, "Are you okay in there?" and the thing was gone as soon as she spoke."
"Did you ever see it again?"
"No. But I climbed out the window and went over to the Baptist church and slept under the staircase that goes up to the front door. The mosquitoes ate me alive."
We each took a leak and crawled back into the tent. I was just about gone when he spoke.
"But when I thought back I never felt anything bad coming from the thing. No threat. Nothing like it was going to harm me. But it was too weird. So maybe there are spirits."
"Maybe." I was half asleep.
"Maybe something'll happen. You know that church story where Moses goes up the mountain and sees God."
"Yeah."
"Or the Christmas story. These angels keep showing up, right? And every time they show up what do they say? Fear not. And these are angels, the good guys, right? They're on our side. But they still freak everybody out. Anything in the spirit world is spooky. I don't know how you're supposed to figure out good from bad."
I fell asleep. It seemed like a long time because I had a lot of dreams. His voice woke me up.
"How do I know it wasn't an angel? What if it had something to tell me?"
I had made myself dream about Karrie Friesen taking her white dress off over her head and underneath she's wearing ripped jeans and a grey T with LEVI printed on it in black letters. And her hair's loose. But after Wick's voice she was an angel, all in white, her hair shaved to the scalp, no sex, no blue eyes, no jeans, but wings, not two but five or six. And in the morning the night had happened a hundred years ago. We didn't talk much, ate some oatmeal with powdered milk and water, rolled up the tent and stayed on the land, heading west, keeping the creek on our right shoulder.
The mountains came brawling out of the six o'clock haze. They looked bigger and closer than they had the afternoon before. We talked about sleeping in a cave that night. But by one o'clock cumulus clouds started piling up like mounds of white and purple smoke and hammer head thunderheads with bottoms like massive anvils took out the sun. There were no trees and it wouldn't have been a good idea to go under them if there were because lightning legs dropped out of the black towers and started walking towards us in flickers and flashes. The wind came at us and flattened the tall grass and put the first rain into our faces. We got up the tent and jumped inside but a huge gust took it down and bent two or three of the aluminum poles out of shape. We stayed inside anyway, the walls of the tent covering us like sheets. The water got through anyway but not as much as we'd have to deal with if we were out in the open. We were stuck that way the rest of the day, the night, the next day and another night. We only went outside to pee or take a dump. When we did the wind and rain almost broke us in two. Our bags were good bags but old down ones without a waterproof coating so they got wetter and wetter and by the second night we had to sleep close together to try and stay warm. Even then I could feel a chill working its way deep into my bones. We talked some but mostly we lay there, wrapped in nylon tent walls, or we read, listening to the wind screech. The second day Wick had a book open his Dad had given him called Fool's Crow. It was about the blackfoot people in Montana and Alberta in the old days. I had a paperback about Lewis and Clark. When they shot a Blackfoot brave it began a war between the whites and the Blackfoot that never ended.
"Know what the mountain men called the Blackfoot?" I asked Wick who didn't look up from his book. "Bug's Boys."
"Who's Bug?"
"The devil. Bug's Boys, they'd say. Satan's Children."
"Great names. White devils or palefaces don't have the same bite."
"How's your read?"
"Good."
"You getting cold?" I asked.
"A bit, yeah."
"We got anymore cookies?"
"We ate 'em all."
Hey, I only had three or four."
"They're all gone."
"What about crackers?"
"If you want pieces."
"What pieces?"
"They're all crunched up. They're like little bits of paper. Or sawdust. Tent pole fell on them."
"Or someone rolled over on them."
"You saying me?"
"Just give me whatever we've got."
The cracker bags weren't even broken. But inside they were just sacks of crumbs. I ate one bag by the handful and threw the other to Wick. The second night was cold and loud with wind and longer than anything I'd known that had been long before. The darkness tipped up and went right into us. In the morning I heard Wick mumbling as the tent became grey. I was trying to get up the courage to go out and get wet and pee.
"What?" I asked him.
"Praying," he mumbled so I could hardly hear the word.
"What?"
"I'm saying, God, give us some blue sky, give us a break."
"We could just go hike over to one of the ranches."
"Sure. Ask the white rednecks to take care of his Indians. Is that what our hike's all about? Sucking up?"
So we made up our own chant and I started doing it with him. "God, give us a break. God, give us a break." When we finally rolled out to take a leak the grey clouds were shredding and a blue curve was rushing at us from the mountains.
"It's a chinook arch," I said.
"But it's not winter."
The wind blew but it blew warm. We staked out the tent completely flat to dry and put stones on our bags so the wind and light would dry them out too. The sky was washed and the land scrubbed clean. Everything was bigger by half, the mountains bigger than we had ever seen them, and prouder. The creek roared, brown and flexing and breaking big over the stones.
The bread was squashed but we ate it that way, balling it up soft like dough, mixed some powdered orange juice into our drinking water, chewed some bruised apples. By eleven everything was dry enough and we packed up and followed the run of the creek as it came through the grasses. The day cooked us up and at night we looked at the stars for a long time, they were getting bigger too, and brighter, I wanted to pick them like apples, then we wriggled into our sleeping bags that still had some of the day's heat in them and didn't talk but fell like stones into sleep and didn't move and didn't dream. Meadowlarks woke us up.
"Sweet," said Wick. "You roll up the sun and the sky and you put them in a bird and that's the song, hey."
That afternoon we put our feet on the first mile of rock and followed the side of a cliff through a small pass choked with wolf willow. The wolf willow left its good smokey spicy musk on us.
"I'd like to smoke that stuff," I said.
"Go ahead."
"Maybe I'd like to smell someone else smoking it."
"I'm still into tobacco."
"I thought you were giving it up this trip."
"You wouldn't like it if I did. I'd be tearing your face off and chewing the bark off trees."
It wasn't easy following the creek now. We edged along cliff sides that animals used that had smaller feet than we did. The creek dropped farther and farther below us. Horseflies and deer flies and black flies ate us up. Wick swung at one and went right over the side and only a thick cluster of green aspen saved him. His cheek and left arm were cut open.
"What day of the week is it?" he called up.
"I don't know."
"Is it still July?"
"It'd have to be. We haven't been out much more than a week."
"Who are you thinking about now? Karrie or my seester?"
I held up the turquoise stone knife.
"Hey!" he shouted. "I'm not spending a million days with you and your fantasies. Let's find a good way down and get into these mountains and get to this source. No more cliffs. No more up and down."
It wasn't long after we made our way to the creek bed that we ran into our first waterfall. It dropped about fifty feet and thundered like a storm. We found a deer track to the side of it and cursed and fought our way up through wild rose bushes and burrs the size of grapes. We got to the top and there was the creek again, flowing smooth and flat and stained glass green again. We took off our boots and socks and waded. Trees draped the water like thick curtains. It was a shining path into another country.
it stayed that way another day and then we hit a bigger waterfall, about seventy feet high. This time we didn't find an animal trail and battled our way up with yells and shouts. I kicked open a yellow jacket nest on the ground but no way was Wick going back down to escape so we tried to run uphill at an eighty degree angle until we collapsed with heaving chests. The wasps caught up, took a piece out of us and left us alone to pretty much die.




3

The Mountains




There's always a bear story when you spend enough time in the mountains. When I was twelve I had two dogs that were lab and coyote cross and we were always running into bear, usually on abandoned logging roads. My dogs would send them up trees or scrambling down paths. But these were all black bear stories. And Wick and I were looking at grizzly bear cubs with their scooped nose profiles and little humps on their backs. And the long claws.
"Momma's will be longer," I whispered.
"What?"
"Her claws."
"Nice looking cubs, hey?"
The breeze was coming from the west so the cubs couldn't scent us. But we had no idea where the sow was. I squatted lower behind the boulder. Wick had his camera out and was taking digitals. The camera made no sound.
"Where do you think their mother is?" he asked me as he put his camera away.
"Probably right behind us. Following our scent. We'll be dead in a few minutes."
There was nothing behind us. But as soon as we looked back at the cubs there she was. Leading her babies downstream towards us.
"Back up, back up, don't run," Wick hissed.
I was already moving backwards like a crab. It felt like I was watching the whole thing happen on DVD. It was impossible not to make noise moving back over rocks and water and at a loud splash of my right boot Momma lifted her head.
"Where's the bear spray?" Wick's whisper was like a roar.
"I thought it was in your pack."
"Can you see it?"
"Keep backing up."
"I am backing up. Can you see it?"
"No. But I can see the shotgun."
"The shotgun, yeah, get it out, get it out. Is it loaded?"
"You think your Dad would pack the shotgun loaded?"
"Get the ammo."
We ahd gone back about fifty feet. Momma had almost reached the boulder we'd been crouched behind. I handed Wick the over and under and a box of shells.
"These are 22s," he whispered.
"I just grabbed them."
"I need 12 gauge slugs."
"Which pouch are they in?"
"How can I look? My pack's on my back."
Momma reached the boulder, ran straight up against our scent and snorted like a wild horse. She swung her massive head back and forth, trying to spot us, and we were frozen in the shadows of a cottonwood, Wick with a shotgun in one hand and a box of 22 shells in the other. Then Momma spun and went straight up the creek bank and right up the mountainside with her cubs tearing along behind her trying to keep up. Wick sat down on a fallen tree. After a moment he smiled up at me.
"It's a good omen, " he said.
"Almost getting killed?"
"But we didn't get killed. A bear is a big deal among our People. It's a soul, a spirit, a sign."
"Of what?"
"It's good for us to be here. It's right for us to follow the creek into the mountains."
There was a man of great compassion among the People and everyone loved him. Snake Maker grew jealous because everyone kissed the ground this man walked on but no one liked the creatures Snake Maker put upon the earth even though they ate the rats and mice that ate the People's corn. So Snake Maker tricked the man into putting his hand down a hole saying there was a treasure in it that would help the People. But a great and angry rattlesnake was lurking in the hole and he bit the man's hand and arm seven times. The People wailed and the holy man burned his sweetgrass and shook his rattles but the good man was on the verge of passing to The World Beyond The Sky when Big God took pity on the People and turned the man into something new, something tall and heavy and covered in fur. The poison was not enough to kill this new thing and it tore up the snake's lair with its great claws and snapped up the snake in its jaws and shook it until it was dead. The People were astonished and frightened but the bear did them no harm, it simply dropped on all fours and went away. A woman followed the bear while the others hung back. She had loved the man who lived inside the bear and would not leave him. Far into the mountains she went, trailing him, sitting near him when he slept, eating the berries he ate. Big God took pity on her also and made her into a bear also and not a moment too soon for Snake maker had sent a diamondback to slay her. But she was no sooner the new creature Big God had made her than she saw the snake and trampled it to death with great roars. Then she and her man disappeared high into the peaks and loved each other and brought their children into the world. So the earth was made better by the great bear with the hump that some call ursus arctos horibilis, the grizzly.
"Tell me how it got its hump."
"Sure. I'll tell you how it got its hump. As soon as you tell me how the mountains came."
"I'm no storyteller. Not like you."
"Maybe you are."
"No way."
"Still thinking about my sister?"
"When I look at the knife. All the Breaths and Brittanys and Karries. It's like we lived somewhere else and then we moved on and now they're gone."
"So your head is clear."
"I've got Ticket in it. Mom. Dad. But it's all a long time ago."
"Anything else?"
"Thunderheads. Cottonwoods. The creek's in it. Green leaves floating on the green water. Trout. Air. Light. All the winds are in it."
"That's all you need. Tonight at the fire you tell me how the world came to be. But especially how the mountains came."
"It's too dry for a fire. They'll send a chopper in to check on the smoke."
"Fire. No smoke. Your story. It will be a good night for it and Big God is giving you a half moon to help you out."
We had six packages of soup left and maybe another five of oatmeal and a bag of raisins that had gone hard as a rock. Maybe he started pushing the stories to keep our minds off our hunger. We were both lousy fishermen and the one time I'd used the 22 to bring down a rabbit munching clover I hit a toad. We ahd chicken noodle soup and hot chocolate that night and the half moon was up and the fire small and red. The air was blood warm and we sat in our T shirts.
"What month is it?" I asked.
"July."
"You think it's still July."
"It's August when I see dragonflies."
"Your parents will start to worry. Jimmy'll call Search and Rescue."
"Quit stalling."
At first there was nothing. But the will of all the unborn and uncreated made it impossible for the making time not to come into existence. So Creator came. And his laughter became the stars, shining in the long dark. And his voice was the sun and his breath the wind and air and with his hands he formed the earth and the moon and all the worlds that spin. His nostrils formed the seas and streams. And big talker came and said he could do better. So Creator let him go down to earth to make it better. But Big Talker made it worse. He made volcanoes and tornadoes and hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes when he tried to make the mountains better and the wind and the dry land and the waters. Creator took him out of the earth and sent him far off into the farthest stars to think over what he had done. Big Talker brooded there among the stars and watched Creator make man and woman. He decided to kill them because Creator enjoyed them so much. He set loose one of his tornadoes and it threw the man into a rock cliff and crushed him. So he became Destroyer that day and laughed that he had done so well at unraveling Creator's work. But Creator was not done. He took the woman's tears and made children that sang and spun like the worlds. He took the man's body and brought deer and fox and elk and dog to the earth and from the man's eyes came the songbirds and from his left arm the eagles and from his right arm the wild geese. From his left leg he gave the earth the great tigers and lions and elephants and zebras of the great jungles and from his right leg the fly and gnat and insect as food for the birds and as a pleasure in themselves for those who could understand. From the man's lips he filled the seas with whales and dolphin and shark and the rives with trout and salmon and sturgeon. And from the nostrils another man as beautiful as the first so that First Woman would not cry any longer. Destroyer went raging down to earth to kill and make havoc and bend as many men and women to his cruel purposes as he could. Creator did not wish to become Destroyer by killing him but he put spirits in the air that would thwart much of Destroyer's wickedness and he put his heart in as many as wished it so they would also thwart Destroyer's will. And Much Loving Woman he sent to make peace among all the People. And Good Binding Man to staunch the flow from the many wounds.
Wick was stretched out on his back.
"How did the mountains come?" he asked.
"How did the bear get its hump?"
"Is Creator always a man?"
"It's just a story. Make it a woman if you want. Just a story."
"Your story."
The next day as we were walking and scrambling over rocks and following the creek Wick told me that when man became a bear Creator took all of man's troubles and rolled them up in a bundle and placed the bundle on the bear's back. Man would still bear the burden of the human race but, as an animal, he would never know it or feel it in the same way. I told Wick the first mountains Creator made were small, no more than large hills. After Big Talker messed them up with volcanoes Creator asked the new man that came out of First Man's body to lift the mountains up and make them higher. New Man knew Creator could do this with one word or one thought but he followed a tunnel under the earth Mole had made, put one mountain range after another on his back, and lifted them up towards heaven. When New Man came dirty and sweaty and exhausted from the bowels of the earth Creator showed him the miracle he had made, the height and tall beauty of the mountain peaks that reached the round moon. "See," Creator said, "snow will come to the mountains and ice because you have made them so high and this snow and ice will melt and form streams that will cause forests to grow on the mountainsides and animals will make their homes there and the streams will be filled with fish. So the mountains will refresh you and the waters quench your thirst but you will always long for their highest peaks and this longing will be both a happiness and a grief."
We were without food for two days. Wick had three cigarettes left and he had them rolled up in a leather glove. He would open up the glove and look at the cigarettes. "This is my food," he'd say. "People who stop smoking get fat." But he never lit up, just rolled them carefully in the glove and stashed the glove back in his pack.
All we had was water. We'd take it from the creek, sometimes boil it, sometimes not, sometimes toss in chlorine tablets. We'd gotten over our runs weeks before - when we still had toilet paper - so mostly we drank the water from the creek straight.
"There's no Shell Oil above us here," said Wick, "and there sure ain't a town with a sewage treatment plant."
We looked forward to the night fires, the constellations, when the leaves turned over on their branches in the dark and talked. We crammed our stomachs with water but it was the fires above and below that fed us. Fox ran so fast when he was being hunted by Dog that he burned red like coals and Creator let him keep the coat. The Trees were once naked because Creator had not thought up leaves but Old Willow Woman always clothed her infants in grass she wove together and thought the Trees should be clothed too so she gave the naked Trees coverings of grass until Creator laughed and formed the leaves and made it so that every time a breeze blew the leaves would talk about Old Willow Woman and every time the wind was strong and the leaves roared with pleasure it would remind the People of the sea where Old Willow Woman liked to bend her head and let her long hair trail in the water and sleep.
"A lot of stuff happened after they got back from the Knee, you know," Wick told me as we sipped from our water bottles and the flames made our faces red and black. "Jimmy didn't tell you the other day. Made it sound like it was no big deal. But I found his scrapbook with all the newspaper clippings a couple of years ago. Your Dad wrote a story from there and they published it in on the front page of the paper, not our little weekly in Horses, I mean one of the big papers in the big city, twice he did that, and when they finally got back here they had tons of speaking engagements, they were in schools, in colleges, on TV."
"What'd they say?"
"They were with the People, saying natives had to stand up for their rights, ahd to get the whites to sit up and take notice like blacks had made them do with Martin Luther King. Oh, yeah, the two of them were everywhere. this went on for months."
"So they made something happen."
"Yeah, and Dad had photos in the book from the Knee and driving down to it from Canada. Like there was your Dad writing notes on a napkin at a restaurant in South Dakota at three in the morning. And another one of the inside of the Catholic church and the upside down American flag. All of the Indians are in a line with their guns with this other one and there's a big white tepee and some kind of ceremony going on and my Dad wrote under it, "Don't stand in front of the opening." Other stuff looked like it had been tacked up somewhere. Like on a piece of loose leaf that's torn in half you get, "You only die once, let's all die here together." Or, "It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Wounded Knee (again)." Then you had the cover to that book, you know, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee or whatever, and underneath, "Bobby and I have never read this." He had this scrapbook stashed away in a cupboard next to a bunch of our board games like RISK and MONOPOLY."
"You been thinking about turning around, Wick?"
"Sure. haven't you?"
"I'm getting pretty hungry."
"Hey, we got water, we can go forty days without food."
"Who told you that?"
"I heard it in a church camp when I was ten or eleven. Indian preacher from Oklahoma."
"Aren't we gonna be pretty weak after forty days?"
"Our Dads made it right through so we got to."
"Why?"
"You said for your father you'd do this. And Ticket."
"You think God's gonna heal Ticket just cause I went up a mountain to find out where Greyhorses creek starts?"
"Stuff God does looks crazy to us lots of times."
"Since when do you know all about it? You don't even believe in God."
"Okay, sometimes I think there's nothing there. Then up here I think, sure, why not?"
I was going to fight some more but I surprised myself by lying back and looking at the night sky.
Winter White Wolf loped down out of the north and her tail was big and bushy and swept the stars out of the sky so they fell as snowflakes and each one different. But all winter the sky stayed black. Even the moon she swept away so it rolled across the cold lands and made the world white as bone gnawed clean. The People pleaded with Ice Bear to do something about it and brought him fresh seal meat. He ate the meat and lumbered over to a hole in the ice pack and dived out of sight. The People thought they had been cheated, giving up a month's supply of food for nothing. They began to wail. "Now we will starve and our children will starve and still there will be no light in the sky." But suddenly Ice Bear lunged out of the sea and stood among them and shook his coat like a dog. They shrieked and threw up their hands to keep off the cold water. But the drops of water Ice Bear shook out made light and when the People threw up their hands they lifted the light to the sky where it danced and sang and leaped like Ice Bear. As the People gasped in wonder Ice Bear rolled in the snow and the snowflakes stuck to his wet coat. Then he shook again from head to hind foot and all the snowflakes burst into the air and became stars again. So the light the People had after the darkness was greater than the light they had before. And Ice Bear laid seven seals he had slain before them and said, "Go and feed your children. You trusted me."
Wick caught his first rainbow on the fourth day without food at the foot of the biggest waterfall we had run across. Sun struck the spray and chipped off bits of yellow and purple and blue. Wick stood in the rainbow and the rock around him was the colour of desert. He kept casting his line right into the froth where the waterfall like snowfall hit the jade green stream and suddenly he went under, came up, went under, came up and had a beautiful fat rainbow on a short line.
"Hey! Hey!" I shouted. "There's supper!"
"Look at him. He's incredible. Yeah?"
"Awesome!"
"Look at his colours. The fins."
"Yeah."
"Can't kill it."
"What?"
"It's gotta go back. I'll get another, I'll get four or five."
"Wick! Don't put it back!"
But he pulled the hook loose and let the fish go back in where the water was smooth and cold and slow. I could feel the heat rising from my throat into my head.
"Wick! They're just stories! Don't start living the stories!"
"I'll get lots more."
The sun was gone over the edge of the high creek banks before he caught another and that was three hours later. I sat cussing on a rock until he brought the whitefish in and laid it up in some tall grass. He caught three more whitefish in the next half hour and called it a day. There was a nice white sand beach just back of the waterfall and we made a fire there in the shadows and filleted the fish and fried them in water. Maybe you think we wolfed them down we were so hungry. But we did just the opposite. I put the first chunk of hot fish in my mouth, tasted it, and let the fish swim there for awhile. I found two small bones, pulled them out with my fingers, and left the fish swimming. Then I chewed it slowly and swallowed. And took my time with the next piece. Wick took even longer than I did to finish his two fish.
"Now it's your turn," he said. 'Squirrel or rabbit stew. I don't care which."
I got three squirrel a day later and made a mess out of skinning them but it was all right, Wick's Mom had given us so many little bags of spices the two of us could have made skunk taste like T bone. And i got a jackrabbit in a clearing in the forest later in the week. I hated to do it. He was in the red and pink wildflowers and eating away and having the time of his life. But we were still hungry and Wick hadn't caught anymore fish. Almost as soon as I pulled the trigger I wished I could take it back. Wick would never handle the 22 but he went and brought the rabbit in.
"Thank you for your strength," he said to the rabbit, holding it as if it were sleeping. "We'll need it."
Later on after we had skinned and eaten it along with a handful of wild onions a dragonfly landed on the back of Wick's hand. It was scarlet and gold.
"What are you going to bring back for my sister?" he asked me that night as we stared at blue and white coals.
"Don't know."
"You still remember her, right? The one with the jeans?"
I laughed.
Jimmy Thistleback would not stop pestering Sky Swallow After The Storm. so she gave him eight tasks. if he fulfilled them she would be his woman. But Jimmy was very ugly and Sky Swallow had no intention of marrying him. She preferred Tall Talking Eagle and so did her father though her mother was not so sure. all tall talking eagle had to do was show up at the lodge of Sky Swallow's father the first sunset after the full moon with two ponies. Jimmy Thistleback had to find a silver acorn, a basket woven of grass that had never been pulled from the earth, a bow made from a living eagle that fired red-tailed hawks for its arrows, a bowl shaped out of moonlight, a drinking gourd fashioned from a crimson waterfall, a pony with six wings, a dress put together with a thousand white sky stars, and a robe made from the hide of a white buffalo that had never been slain. Of course none of this could be done by any man and few gods would dare to try but Jimmy loved Sky Swallow so much he went ahead and tried to complete the eight tasks anyway. He almost drowned, he was tomahawked, horses hooves drove him into the ground, he was burned alive but escaped, hit with many arrows, he fell twice from great heights and was swept away by mighty waters. Not one of the tasks could be completed. But he loved Sky Swallow so much he showed up at her father's lodge the first sunset after the full moon anyway, ignoring the shame. Tall Talking Eagle saw him coming and laughed. Jimmy was covered in mud and blood from a dozen wounds. His face was scarred from flames and hatchet cuts and his hands and nails were torn to pieces. His clothing of deerskins was in shreds. Get away, shouted Sky Swallow's father, how dare you disgrace our lodge, how dare you come before my daughter looking like a foul spirit? Where is the pony with wings? Where is the bowl crafted of moonlight? Where is the dress of a thousand stars?
I have nothing but my heart, replied Jimmy, but he could barely speak for his mouth was cut and the tongue in his mouth swollen from lack of water. I will love her more than the Sky chiefs love the earth, more than a million gods who love the daughters of men. I will even return to the eight tasks if she wishes. But she must be by my side for I love her more than I love my own skin and my own spirit.
Tall talking Eagle laughed again and Sky Swallow was about to send Jimmy Thistleback away in disgrace when a great small thing happened. The Sky Chiefs took pity and did only one thing, they put colour in Sky Swallow's eyes. She saw how hideous Tall Talking Eagle's face was, how cruel and dark and pitiless. And when she looked at jimmy she saw that his heart was a strong dove with wide white wings that flapped and flapped, dying to fly.
You will say, of course she takes Jimmy Thistleback into her lodge and then he becomes more beautiful than the sun but that isn't how the story ends. She does take him into her lodge but his face never changes for the better. He grows uglier and uglier from his wounds. But she sees the dove. She always sees the strong dove. They ride out together to complete the eight tasks and Tall Talking Eagle lies in wait by a waterfall and tomahawks him but not before Sky Swallow will bear Jimmy Thistleback twins, a daughter and a son. And it is said the lovers completed two of the tasks, the bowl of moonlight and the dress of a thousand stars. And the children and their children ride out to complete the remaining tasks, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
"What do the children look like?" I asked. "Are they ugly?"
"I don't know."
"It's your story."
"Sometimes it's my story. Sometimes it isn't."
"So I can give Breath my sunburn and wasp stings and knee cuts and all the purple, green and yellow bruises and it'll go over well?"
"With my father maybe. I don't know about Breath. She's still into looks. You'd probably be better off staying up here in the mountains. I can leave you sacks of bread and cheese now and then."
"I'll make it okay on rabbit and squirrel. Maybe I'll even learn to fish."
"Hey, I'll stay with you. We'll go looking for the source of this creek forever. Always another mountain. Always another waterfall. We'll become spirits."
"Always looking, never finding? No thanks."
"Don't you feel it? This was a great crossing zone. All sorts of tribes, mountain men, hunters, white, black, Hispanic. Sometimes battles, sometimes peace. Don't you feel them?"
The constellations seemed to draw together and press down on me. I looked into the fire. It was its own galaxy of burning suns and spark bursting upswirling stars. I thought for a moment I had the power to become small, small enough to walk in among the shining walls of heaven and feel no heat or pain, touch the living, breathing coals of God and make a way through the fire and also through death, hold the dark throbbing of all existence in my hand, and feel its weight and its undying. So we did not use the tent again that night or ever again but slept under the soft black summer sky and all its fires. I threw away my shirts, which were shredded anyway, and slept with my chest bared to the moon's knife and by day to the sun's claw and grew as black as the black stone that made up the mountain.
One more day and we were high enough to look back and see the creek like a bloodline in the hills and grasslands and Wick thought we could see the town. We entered a box canyon after a cluster of grey jays and the creek ended in a small lake or pond, it looked deep and the water hurt the lips and teeth. Sheer walls of rock rose up around us as if they had suddenly sprung from the ground and the rock was yellow and carmel and purple. A sheet of white, speckled like an egg, ran water down one side of the canyon and into the pond. The canyon was about three hundred yards by two hundred, longer than wide, and the water was maybe two hundred yards by one fifty, the same colour as Breath's knife handle. I know we stayed there eight nights because I counted each one by making a mark with the knife on a tree. There was rainbow, the water was sweet, deer came to drink with moon spotted fawns, and probably some other creatures at night who only rustled softly through our dreams.
One morning Wick, who had been exploring each part of the canyon while I was learning to cast, shouted to me and I left my rod and ran towards him. He bent where the glacier water rolled down the rock face and showed me under the run of water where several petroglyphs had been etched. There may have been a time when pictographs were close by for we found old smudged colour. But it was enough to glimpse under the water, as if under time, the stick men, the bows and spears, the crude shapes we thought must be a bear and bison and then off a few feet a deer or elk with great antlers.
It was a sacred place. We knew we would find things buried here or hidden behind rocks in small holes. I turned up a stone scraper and six perfect arrowheads when I was making a new spot for a fire. Wick pulled a piece of deerskin out of a rock cut and it was wrapped around another skin of drawings that showed a hunt and maybe a battle and there was with the skin one small eagle feather. He also discovered another petroglyph where it looked like they were worshiping the sun or a god high in the sky, maybe Big God. When Wick thought I wasn't looking, busy frying up a few trout, I saw him take out his cigarettes and break them open and lay them in a bandana he sometimes wore on his head. He was talking to himself or talking to whatever, spirits, gods, ancestors. He folded the blue cloth up carefully and placed it in a hole in the rock wall and pushed stones in after it to cover it.
When we lit the night fires they threw freaky shadows up the canyon walls and our shadows jumped up and down and back and forth like giants leaping and fighting but they were stick giants and the two of us down below were stick men. We talked and made up our stories and listened to the grey horses shake their heads and begin their run to the plains. One night Wick asked me to help him braid his hair and I had to brush it out for him first because it was snarled from our weeks coming up the mountain.
"Make the braid tight," he said.
"Just started."
"Real tight."
"Okay."
He was staring at the water. It was grey and silver in the thick milky star white. He watched as it surged and rolled and sang like an arrow.
"We gotta go soon, Kipp. Go with the water."
I was twisting his thick black hair over and under and I heard the creek running faster and faster. I didn't want to talk.
"I guess, " I said.




4

Downstream




Going down was easier than coming up. We fell on our asses a few times, sure, got ripped up by the wild rose bushes again and the yellow jackets were still out for blood. But it's still easier going down. In one day we'd pass two or three of the camps we'd used making the climb. Never made any new ones. Just used the old fires.
"You got stuff for Breath now."
"Yeah."
"Got all of it on you?"
"Sure."
The arrowheads were in the front pocket of my shorts. Wick had given me the eagle feather and that was in a book in my pack. He had the deerskin for Billy Morning Bull at the museum. We came down fast, sometimes in the creek, the rest of the time up beside it. We ran a lot of it. That was easier than thumping downhill as if we had wooden legs and banging the crap out of our knees. We were lean and dark and slipped like the water down and down, running with the horses. We made paint out of the stones in the creek one day, we got some red, some black, some yellow and white, grinding one stone into a flat slab of grey rock and mixing in a bit of water and making a paste. None of it was very bright, all of them were dirty colours, but Wick's face was shining and wild for a few hours but the heat and the sweat and the branches we came down through took most of it off.
We saw the new construction site just before we got into the foothills. Where there had only been field at the west edge of town when we went up now there were cats and rollers and dump trucks and stick men and steel frames.
"They been talking about the new Wal Mart and Ramada for months," said Wick. "And they're building on the ski hill too. Every thing's going nuts."
"Advanced civilization."
"Hey, advanced civilization is up the mountain. Should've made Breath and Ticket come and find us."
"We can turn around."
"No we can't. First we see Ticket. Then my family. Then we can go back."
Manygreyhorses twisted through the grass and we stepped off the land and walked through the waters to keep cool. Every day the creek had grown more shallow and it was easy to move quickly.
"When was the last time you remember it raining?" Wick asked me.
"More than a month."
We heard girl laughter one afternoon and we came around a bend where the clay banks of the creek were high and Karrie Friesen was in her long white dress splashing water at two girls in dresses like hers. The two friends stared at us and Karrie turned around. She looked and laughed, putting a fist to her mouth.
"Where did you two go? Idaho? Wyoming?"
"All the way to the top," said Wick.
"You look like you are from another century. Don't you have any clothes?"
"Just shorts."
She took a long look at me. Bright water ripples moved up over her face and her blue eyes were as dark as rain.
"Did you fight Kipp Manygreyhorses?"
"Yeah, I guess we did."
"Did you fight for me?"
"And others."
"My Uncle Gerry would love to get a look at you. It would make his day to see the both of you like this."
"We gotta get home," Wick said. "We'll come back and pay a visit when we're cleaned up."
"Oh, don't clean up."
"Yeah? And your aunt would want us in her house looking like this?"
"Aunt Jan would not say a thing. Just feed you. You could each do with a shirt though."
We walked past her friends.
"This is Amanda Goerzen and Sara Reimer. They are visiting from Manitoba."
"Hey," we said and the girls smiled and looked down at the creek swirling around our legs.
"You will come to the house?" Karrie called.
"Sure, why not?" said Wick.
"You be sure and come Kipp Manygreyhorses."
"With a shirt," I said.
We went out of sight around the next bend.
"Still thinking about my sister?"
"And everyone else."
Ten minutes later we were sitting on a flat rock and eating whitefish we'd cooked the night before. The sun was in the water and the colour was too sharp to look at. The sky was a deep blue with light white chalk strokes of cloud.
"if you wanted to spend the fall up there where would you pitch the tent?" I asked Wick.
"The canyon. Nowhere else."
"We'd need one of those tents that can take a stove and chimney."
"Nah. Just good bags. Better than we got now."
"Your parents won't go for it."
"I'll get Uncle Seymour to talk to them. You get your Uncle Lawrence. The holy men. I'll get them to say it's a spirit mountain like Chief Mountain, a Moses mountain. They'll bend."
"Yeah?"
"This is good water. I just can't look at it."
We went splashing through the creek again and it was green, it was white, it was gold. Sometimes a lot of bush had grown into the creek from the banks and we shoved our way through the branches just as we'd done going up the mountain, snapping and cracking and grunting and cursing. we came through one patch of bush that had thorns, getting all scratched up and bleeding, and wick was just ahead, pushing through, and he slipped and went down and I laughed and the sound of a shot came when I laughed and Wick tried to get up and fell under the water, a deep stretch with water crashing between white boulders. I ran and grabbed for him but the creek took him away from me. I threw off my pack and dived and got his legs and then his waist and dragged him onto a gravel beach. Leif Skaj came out of a clump of cottonwoods up on the bank and stared down at us, rifle in his hands. He looked stunned. There was blood all over Wick's head. I thought he'd hit it on a rock.
"Help me!" I shouted.
But Skaj went back into the trees. I peeled the pack off Wick and threw him over my shoulders and my legs collapsed under me. I tried again and went up the creek bank and my back and legs were on fire by the time I got to the top. I put Wick down and sprawled beside him to catch my breath.
"I just need some air," I told him. "Then we can run. You can run too."
I got him over my back and held an arm and leg in front and took off across the field for the Friesen place. I saw the three girls walking in white through the tall hay just ahead and just ahead of them I saw the white house with the dark green roof. The girls snapped their heads around as I ran up to them, pouring out my breath.
"Help me," I said but I did not stop, I kept going for the house but in a moment Karrie was running beside me and then ahead of me in her long white dress and white Brooks. The door was open and Gerry and Janet were on the deck when I staggered up. I laid him down on the wood and tried to get my breath.
"He hit his head on a rock, " I got out.
Karrie wiped away the blood on his face with her the hem of her dress. The blood kept coming back. I looked at how white her dress was and how red the blood was on it. Gerry was bent over him.
"A rock, " I repeated.
Gerry looked at me. "There's a bullet in his head."
A bullet. A bullet. I leaped up.
"He's a dirty damn Indian. That's why he shot him. That's why you shot all of them. That's why you shoot all of us. A dirty drunk Indian. A dirty Jew. A stinking Arab."
I threw him over my back again and flew off the deck and across the fields.
"Kipp!" Gerry shouted after me. "We have to get him to a hospital!"
But I was heading back up the mountain where all the good was and anything could happen and anyone could be healed. I couldn't even feel my feet or his weight. Summer Swift Runner had beaten the elk and the caribou and the wolf. He had even beaten the fox. Summer Swift Runner ran so fast he outran death. I followed the cut of the creek through the grasslands, running like the water ran, keeping my eyes on the purple mountains. I heard a truck behind me but I kept going until I couldn't feel anything anymore and I couldn't breathe and I couldn't run and I fell and the creek rushed past me and on.
I was in the waiting room at the hospital and Jimmy and Shar and Breath came in with Ticket in his wheelchair and it was no good, it was no damn good, I knew we shouldn't have come down, we shouldn't have come down for anybody.
"It was beautiful up the mountain," I said. "God was up the mountain and the spirits. And Ticket was healed up the mountain and Breath and me got married and you can live forever up the mountain and you can believe anything."
A man can hunt black bear all year round in Manygreyhorses. Don't need a tag or permit. Just shoot them where you see them. Skaj was out looking for a nice black he'd seen rooting around. He heard him in the bushes at the bottom of the creek and let off a quick shot. He knew what had happened when he stepped out of the cottonwoods. Got back on his quad and headed for home. Took the rifle into his workshop to clean it and lock it away. Then he put the barrel in his mouth and fired the second bullet in his clip.
His funeral came first. I don't know how the hell I ended up there. Karrie was there but she was in black. So was Breath. We had a memorial service for Wick at one of the churches and another on the reserve with his Uncle Seymour and some smoke and some wailing. Saw Karrie there too. And Breath was beside me. Then the leaves started coming down over the grass.
The creek looked good in the fall. All the colour made it a postcard. The water had a deep settled green as if it had made up its mind about something. So many leaves fell from the cottonwoods in our backyard that we never used a rake, just a big snow shovel. We piled the leaves up on a gravel bar on the creek bed just below the house and burned them.
"I need to go up the mountain," I told them.
Jimmy nodded. "Anytime you like. I'll go with you. Breath'll go with you."
"I just need to go up the mountain."
"You take Wick with you. His ashes don't belong in the garden. Take him up to the canyon."
I sat with Ticket under the cottonwoods that were stripped bare. A few last leaves would drop now and then and land with the noise of a stone they were so dry and stiff. There was smoke in the air. Not much. It smelled right.
"A lot in me, Ticket, " I said. "A lot of good. Like in you. The creek brings it down. I have to go back up the mountain and get Wick there. He'll never come down. But he'll put his good in the water and the good will get down to us. All the good will come down to us."
Ticket swung his head and body back and forth and laughed and smiled and I laughed with him. I could hear the creek running past but I couldn't see it because we were sitting back under the trees in our wooden lawn chairs. The light from the sky settled down more freely on us now that the branches of the trees were empty.
"Old Willow Woman shamed Creator into making the leaves," I told Ticket.

eden

I saw Eden once in a very ordinary way.

There was a sun, a moon to come, or at least half of it
a creek that flowed from west to east
in the grass an unblemished yellow plum.

There was a door that I stepped through
but it was only glass and metal and it slid to the side
as I came from my library to the back of the house.

There was a blue kingfisher that watched the creek
but it did not dive
and it did not kill.

At the edge of the bank I looked down
at my son and daughter
and a friend with a ball cap and a small smile.

They were catching fish with nets
and placing them in buckets of creekwater
and naming them.

The children waded up to their hips
and the three of them found a snake
pretending to be a dead stick.

They lifted it in their hands unafraid
and spoke to it
and named it.

I cannot think of what else to say to recommend the day.

The snake was returned to the creek unharmed
all the buckets emptied
and the nets left to dry.

There was a cool jade diving plunge over my body and head
silver hurling from palm to palm
between daughter and son and friend.

There was an evening and a climb up the bank
with nets and sandals and sticks
looking forward to food and drink and a good story.

There was someone else now that I remember.

I was distracted by a leaf that dropped at my feet
green, orange, brown, spotted
veined elaborately

and one perfect curving stem.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the man who wouldn't weep

The Man Who Wouldn’t Weep

by Murray Andrew Pura


He would not weep when a friend or acquaintance died. He would not weep at funerals.
“It is not that I am an iron man or a man without feelings,” he would tell others. “It is just that I am a man of faith. These people are all going to be with God in heaven. They all believe in Jesus. Why should I weep?”
His mother died, his father died, brothers and sisters died, his best friends at church died. He stood quietly at their gravesides while others poured out their grief. Sometimes he even smiled slightly. “I can’t help it,” he explained. “They are going to be with God in heaven. They all believe in Jesus. Death is good.”
Others watched carefully when his wife died. But he was the same. Death was a gift. His wife was with God. There was nothing to be upset about. “Now she is fully alive with Christ,” he told his friends.
His youngest daughter died in childbirth and twin infants with her. It rocked the entire community in which he lived. He stood stalwart before the three coffins. “It is a faith thing,” he told the hundreds of assembled mourners. “Emotion has nothing to do with it. Love has nothing to do with it. God said it. I believe it. They live in heaven.”
A month later his other daughter was killed in a car crash. A shadow seemed to fall over his features. Yet he remained defiant: “I haven’t wept before and I am certainly not going to start now. She lives. How can I grieve if she lives? To God be the glory.”
A week later his only remaining child, a son, collapsed during classes at university and was hospitalized. He had contracted a rare and deadly virus and only lived another 24 hours. His father stayed with him until the end.
“I’m slipping away, Dad, I’m sorry,” the son whispered.
“Stay with me a little longer,” the man said. “I love you.”
“I can’t hold on. But I’m going to heaven, aren’t I? God loves me, doesn’t he?”
His boy died while he held his hand. The man felt heat and wetness on his cheeks and a burning in his throat. Ashamed, he tried to fight back the crying. But he could not. It erupted from some place deep inside and poured over his face. He heard himself calling out his wife’s name and his daughters’ names, the names that had been chosen for the twins while they were in the womb, the names of his parents and his sisters and his brothers and his friends.
“My God!” he shrieked in his agony. “Where is my faith?”
He ran out of the hospital and across the street to a park where he hid himself in a grove of trees. He could not stop himself from crying no matter how many Bible verses on everlasting life he shouted out loud. The dark of night covered him and still he cried. “I hate death, I hate death, I hate death,” he found himself saying again and again. By dawn he lay exhausted and chilled on the grass under a poplar. “I have no faith left now,” he whispered. “I have nothing.”
A man in a dirty suit who reeked of beer and garlic squatted down in front of him. “You kept me awake half the night with your wailing. But I got no cause to complain. We all fall on hard times. I’ve cried myself to sleep a few times in my life. I used to be a brain surgeon, y’ know. Name’s Leo.”
The man looked at him. “What do you want? Money?”
“A fellow can always do with some money. Do you have any to spare?”
The man took out his wallet. He had several hundred dollars in bills. He gave them all to the man in the dirty suit. Leo smiled and tucked the money into a suit pocket.
“Thank you for that.”
“I don’t need it. I have nothing left to live for.”
“What? Are you going to take your life?”
“Why not? Everyone I love is dead. I’ve lost my faith.”
“Now there’s a strange thing. I would say you just found your faith.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Jesus wept. You finally got that part figured out. And death is rotten. It's the last enemy. From what I heard last night you got that part figured out too. Put that together with eternity and Jesus Christ and the universe is in your pocket.”
“Who are you?”
“Leo. I’m a messenger. Are you afraid of me?”
“No.”
“No one ever is. Ah, well. Here’s your money back. Thanks for the kind gesture but you’ll be needing it more than me. Take care.”
Leo walked into the bushes and disappeared. The man stood up and the sun shone full in his face. That Friday he got to his feet in front of three hundred people and the sun shone through the stained glass into his face again.
“There is a heaven,” he said. “There is life with Christ long after this one is over. But I cannot hug my son today. I cannot kiss my wife or my daughters or my grandchildren. Cry because death was never meant to be. Cry because God never wanted us to suffer. Jesus wept more than once. Christ help us be spiritual enough to weep with him. Christ give us the faith to grieve. Christ fill our eyes and make us more like God.”
And he sat and put his face in his hands and sobbed before his son’s coffin. So he did not see what all the others glimpsed for the briefest moment. A vision of people dancing at the front of the church. And the people had the faces of his wife and his parents and his children. And another with them had the look of the Son of God.

two churches

TWO CHURCHES

by Murray Andrew Pura


Once upon a time there were two churches. One was big and the other was little. The big church had a massive building, an enormous parking lot, and thousands upon thousands of members. the little church met in a hotel and it was a small hotel at that. It only had a few dozen members. “Come join us!” boomed the big church. “We have hundreds of programs for every member of the family!” And family after family did join the big church. “Spend some time with us,” said the little church. “We are small enough that we can really get to know one another and together we can help one another get to know God.” Very few families joined the little church.

Magazines and newspapers wrote stories about the big church. the big church smiled. “We have found the key to spiritual success,” they said. “People will be talking about us for a hundred years. We’ll inspire millions.” No one wrote stories about the little church. Members of the big church stopped members of the little church on the street and said, “You are so small. You can’t do much with 20 or 30 people. Why don’t you join us? Then you could really make a difference.”

“But we are making a difference,” responded the members of the little church. “We pray, we worship, we love God, we love one another.”

The members of the big church shook their heads. “No one notices,” they said.

Things carried on in this manner for some time. The big church grew bigger and bigger and offered more and more programs and the little church held on for dear life. Families that wanted to be part of something large and exciting, or who wanted to get lost in the crowd, or who wanted to just sit and watch and not get involved, joined the big church. The few families that did want to get involved, that wanted to know and be known, that wanted to be part of something intimate, joined the little church. The big church shook its head at the families who became members of the little church. “I don’t know what you see in it,” the big church grumbled, “nothing is happening.”

“Perhaps,” the new members of the little church replied, “what is happening cannot be measured by the criteria you use to measure success.”

The big church snorted, “Don’t talk nonsense. Where the numbers are is where God is doing something that matters. And we have the numbers.”

One day the government of the country where the two churches were situated changed. At first business went on as usual. Or better than usual. The economy improved, unemployment dropped, taxes were cut, and the airplanes were safe and secure and departed on schedule. Everyone said, “This is marvelous.”

Then people began to disappear. Neighbours vanished. First a few at a time. Then dozens. Then hundreds. Then thousands. Shops were burned. Men and women were beaten on the street in broad daylight while police watched. Families were given notices in the mail and told to report at various bus depots. When they did so they had to line up behind hundreds of other families. everyone was loaded onto buses and the buses drove away. No one ever saw the families again.

“What is going on?” blustered the big church. “You have taken away hundreds of our members.”

“Shut up!” the police ordered. “Obey the law or we will burn down your building and load the rest of your people up on the buses.”

“What shall we do?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.

“What can we do?” it told itself. “The Bible says we must obey the law. The government has not asked us to shut down any of our programs, have they?”

“No.”

“They have not asked us to stop preaching Christianity, have they?”

“No.”

“They have not taken away our building or our parking lot, have they?”

“Not yet.”

“Then let us carry on with the Lord’s business. As for our families that have gone missing, the only thing we can do for them is pray.”

But the little church went to the government leaders and asked, “Where have you taken all those families?”

“That is none of your concern!” snapped the government. “You stick to your religion.”

“It is part of our religion to care about the people you have taken away,” the little church answered.

“None of your own church families have disappeared, have they?”

“No.”

“Then mind your own business before some of them do.”

“All of those families you have taken away are our families,” the little church said, “because all of those families are God’s families.”

“Listen,” said the government, “you stick to your church programs and let us handle the government programs.”

“We don’t have any programs,” replied the little church. “Only people.”

Rumours began to spread through the country that the families that had been bused away were being placed in large camps surrounded by guards and barbed wire and were being executed. Soon the rumours were verified as fact by journalists who had found the camps and photographed what was happening to the thousands of missing families. People were shocked. The journalists themselves were the next ones to disappear and the TV stations or newspapers they worked for were broken into, looted and burned.

“What shall we do now?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.

“They have not tried to shut down any of our programs, have they?” it told itself.

“No.”

“They have not ordered us to stop preaching Christianity, have they?”

“No.”

“They have not touched our building or our parking lot, have they?”

“Not yet.”

“Then let us carry on with the Lord’s business. The best thing we can do is pray for our country and those in leadership over us.”

But the little church challenged the government. “You are murdering thousands of innocent people. In the name of God, stop this outrage!”

“We will decide who is guilty and who is innocent,” the government bristled. “I thought we told you to stick to your religion.”

“This is our religion.”

“Preaching from the Bible and praying over people is your religion. Politics is none of your concern.”

“Everything is God’s concern.”

“We’re warning you for the last time.”

“Warn us all you wish. But we must do what Christ would do. If you will not stop these massacres then we will start hiding families from your police.”

“If you do that we will put all of you on the buses with them! Stay inside the walls of your church and do your sermons and your baptisms. Leave the running of the country to us. That’s how God intended for nations to govern themselves.”

“No true church has any walls,” the little church retorted.

“Well,” growled the government, “you had better put some up and get behind them. And the sooner you do so the better.”

Week after week people and families continued to be bused far away. More TV stations were closed. More newspapers shut down. Then the government announced it was the head of all the churches and must have total obedience in all matters of church and state. It distributed outlines of what programs could be run and what beliefs could be taught. Churches that did not swear an oath to follow these new laws would have their property confiscated and their members placed on the buses.

“What shall we do now?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.

“They have not taken away our building or our parking lot, have they?” it told itself.

“Not yet.”

“We have to make sure they have no excuse to do so. Let us take the oath and obey the law of the land.”

“But what about our Christian faith?”

“We don’t need to be literalists about these matters. It’s the spirit that counts. We can let a few things go and still be true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“What about our brothers and sisters in other churches?”

“What happens to other Christians is between themselves and God. As for ourselves, we have to carry on with the Lord’s business. We will pray for them and for our government.”

But the little church confronted the government and said, “The head of our church is Jesus Christ.”

“The head of your church,” said the government, “is us.”

“We will not take this oath.”

“If you do not take the oath you are not true Christians because the Bible commands you to obey your government.”

“Not when your laws conflict with God’s laws.”

“We will take way your property.”

“We have no property.”

“We will take away your building.”

“We have no building.”

“We will take away your lives.”

“Our lives are Christ’s.”

“Then we will give you back to him as quickly as we can.” And that very hour the police rounded up the members of the little church and loaded them on a bus that took them far away to a camp the government had designated as Rest Centre Number 12. They all perished there, every single one.

When it heard the news the big church shook its head. “There was no need for their deaths. All they had to do was obey God and obey the government. They had a skewed idea of Christianity. That’s why God kept them so small. They should have followed our example. Lord knows the Christian faith is not a faith of self-sacrifice. It is a faith of self-fulfillment.”

When it became known that the big church had taken the oath and had received praise and honour from the government for its decision, many families saw it as a safe church and left their own churches and flocked to the big one. Now it became bigger than ever. The leadership thanked God for his blessing. And when the government felt it was necessary to wage war against other nations the big church thanked God for the holy war from the pulpit and sent many of its young men and women into the fight. Everytime there was a great victory they held special services of worship and celebration. And after every service of worship and celebration they gained even more families.

“It’s God’s doing,” the big church told the nation’s one newspaper. “He is blessing our country and he is blessing us because we have obeyed his laws and obeyed the laws of the government he put in place. We will become the greatest church of the greatest nation on earth.” And the big church continued to grow bigger and bigger while its government and its country waged a war that grew bigger and bigger until the war covered the entire earth.

But one day the war turned against the country. And one day the armies of the nations it had waged war against marched over the country’s borders and forced it to surrender. Then the armies of the nations discovered the camps and the thousands of dead bodies, the millions of dead bodies, and they showed the pictures of the dead to the world and the world was horrified.

“Was this not a Christian nation?” the world asked. “Was this not a country full of churches? Was this not a state where the citizens followed the teachings of Jesus Christ? How could this have happened?” And the churches of that country stood condemned in the eyes of the entire earth.

Now it so happened that one journalist stumbled upon the story of the little church. How it had stood up to its government and demanded to know where people were being bused to, how it had cried out for its government to stop the mass slaughter, how it had refused to take an oath of ultimate obedience to the government but had chosen instead to obey Christ, even if that obedience meant death. “Here in this little church with only a few dozen members,” wrote the journalist, “we at last find that true Christianity still exists on the face of the earth.”

Millions were inspired by the story. More journalists were assigned to uncover more details. Magazines and newspapers and TV shows carried the story of the little church. Books were published. Diaries of members of the little church were discovered and printed. Films were produced. People who had been hidden by the little church and survived told their own stories with tears shining in their eyes. A hundred years later people all over the earth were still finding new hope and new faith and new inspiration in the story of the little church.

“It had to be God’s special church,” many people argued. “Look how small it was and look at what a difference it made.”

Thousands of leaders of other faiths stated simply, “If this is what Christianity was like all the time we would all be Christians.”

As for the big church, once the war was lost and millions of dead unearthed and the big church became the focus of scorn and contempt for the nations of the earth, all but 20 or 30 people left it and never returned. “God was not in the big church after all,” they complained.

“It just goes to show you,” said others, “that even if a lot of people believe in something it can still be wrong.”

“I now doubt,” grumbled a few, “that there can even be a God.”

But the handful of leaders that remained with what had been the big church sought out several of the international journalists. “Until the end of the war we were the largest church in the country,” they said. “Even before the war we were filled with people of all ages. We ran hundreds of programs. Held seven or eight services on a Sunday. Clearly we were doing something right. Don’t you want to hear our story?”

The journalists all turned away. One had just come from a tour of Rest Centre Number 12 where a memorial had been erected to the three million that had died there including all the members of the little church. He looked the leaders square in the eye. “Now that you are a small church yourself,” he said, “maybe you are fit to do something that matters.”