People of the Moon
SUN CYCLE OF THE WATER SERPENT, THE MOON OF PRAYER FEATHERS
The mountains are quiet and cold. The stone upon which I sit sends its chill up through my flesh, into my spine. Cold. The world is cold. Even this sunrise spilling across the landscape below me in a blaze of orange-yellow reflects its cold in the purple shadows cast by the buttes, canyons, and peaks.
I look into eternity. There, distant in the southwest, the light narrows to focus on a rising column, a pillar of billowing pink climbing into the sky: the Rainbow Serpent.
For five years now, it has been pumping steam and lava from the underworlds. Sometimes ash drifts down like brittle flakes of snow. At other times, it is a fine dust that catches glints of sunlight. Here, so far from the source, we observe it as a feathering of gray on open containers of drinking water.
Signs and portents.
They weave around me, and I no longer care. Once I fought against them, seeking to save the people. Now, I no longer seek to influence Power, only to let it wash over me, through me.
My lover is dead.
His name was Badgertail. He kept me safe for twenty summersand it is still a miracle.
I see him as a young man, tall, with a squat toad face and the burly body ofGrandfather Brown Bear. The blue spiders tattooed on his cheeks dance when he smiles.
I rock back and forth to ease the pain in my chest. Blessed Spirits, how I miss him.
For over a sun cycle, I had to watch my Badgertail grow more transparent each day, until he became a skeleton with kind and loving eyes. Even at the hard, lonely end, his love shone like a fire through his suffering. I keep that last glimpse of his living eyes.
When he died, it was as if some grasping force inexorably pulled the guts out of my souls, ripping away their essence and leaving me nothing but the painful hollow of memory.
Now I yearn for Death. We are old companions, more intimate than lovers. Sometimes in the midst of crowds, but more often among wounded or sick people, Death stands so close my legs will not hold me. I must sit down. Even when I am alone and warm, and my belly is full, I catch myself staring at the doorway, anxious, as though my heart hears Death's soft footsteps just outside. I long to reach out, to pull Death close, to feel it wind around my shoulders and tighten about my waist. I want its chill to cup my breasts, and stroke my throat. Death's cold thrust will spread from my womb through my hips and into my bones. As it slips around the base of my skull and lies metallic on my tongue, I can finally let go. Then, and only then, will I be free to find Badgertail again.
Meanwhile, I wait. And watch.
People have been coming to me for some time now, braving the "Mountain Witch" to ask if I know the Rainbow Serpent's purpose.
I tell them, "Look to your souls. The monster that lurks below is risen. Let loose, it brings death to those it bites."
They listen wide-eyed, sober, and chastened.
But they do not understand.
Some monsters rise from the depths. Others lurk just below the surface. Monsters are everywhere.
In the distant clouds, I see figures. They fly noiselessly over the morning-mottled desert below my mountain. Silent. Shifting. Cloud People. They are aptly named, for I see human forms there, winged, wearing masks that are at once beautiful and grotesque. They Dance with the trailing streamers of the Rainbow Serpent. Brother Sky mating with Grandmother Earth.
From the corner of my eye, I am aware of a misshapen form pirouetting through the dew-silvered meadow. There, in front of the white-barked aspens, he is but a flicker of movement, a sleight of the eye.
"What is being born, old friend?" I ask. Like me, his attention, too, is riveted on the Rainbow Serpent where it crawls upward to insert itself into the sky.
I hear his voice whispering to my souls ... .
Ah, yes. Of course.
In the end, all human endeavor comes to this.
I am more than a witch. I Dance the darkness, whisper with the dead, and smile down upon the dying. I have witnessed the deaths of great kings and seen empires Dancing toward their dissolution.
That is why I was chosen. To see the signs. To know the future.
I rise on stiff legs and draw a deep breath into my aged lungs. My world is about to end. The signs are here. The future is here. And the Rainbow Serpent is the proof.
I lift my arms and step down from my rocky perch. Closing my eyes, I sense Brother Mud Head. He sways this way and that, his feet shuffling in the Dance.
I match his movement, my uplifted hands mirroring his. Together, in a state of lethal bliss, we Dance the death of a nation.
Copyright © 2005 by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear