A Note from the Editor:
This is yet another great little story from our Image Prompt Challenge. I want to point out that the author uses a first person narrative for her story which I found interesting. I reviewed a book for an author a couple years ago. The book was called The Spider Catchers by Marilynn Larew. It’s a fantastic spy thriller with a strong female protagonist written in a first person narrative. It’s not an easy point of view to pull off as a writer. I thought Marilynn Larew pulled it off quite well, and it made her story more exciting because, as the reader, you’re in the protagonist’s head feeling the action first hand. I think Phyllis does just as well with a first person POV here in her story. Enjoy.
By Phyllis Wintter
I’ve been running for days, maybe weeks: hell, maybe all my life. Drenched in sweat and covered with bites that itch beyond scratching anymore, I lean against an old red oak tree, grateful for its shade. I have a drop of water left in my silver metal container. I thought I was prepared for my escape.
The silence, the beauty of the forest, the sweet smell of honeysuckle grabs my attention for the moment. The sun filters through the canopy in straight lines weaving through branches and leaves to the ground. I take it all in while turning in a slow counter-clockwise circle.
“Deep breaths. You are okay. You are alive. One foot in front of the other. You can do this,” I whisper to the forest expecting encouragement.
As I turn slowly, something catches my eye protruding just beyond the slope. It’s the top of a structure of some sort. I pick up my pack and tell my legs to move. They feel heavy and weak, like someone poured cement in my jeans. My knees feel like crushed glass. I will myself up the hill. And there, in the middle of the forest, is an old stone chimney.
Drawn like a magnet, I forge my way to touch the stones, first with my hands, then with my cheek. It’s cool and moss-covered on the north side. On the south face is a perfect hearth where I imagine a family cooking stew. The thought of food reminds me of hunger. There’s one can of Dinty Moore beef stew left and a granola bar.
I decide this is where I will stay for the night and set up camp within a circle of cedar trees about twenty paces to the west. Full bellied and weary, I stretch out in my pup tent.
“I can live like this,” I tell the tent. “It beats where I’ve been.”
Then, darkness draws her curtains.
I am startled awake by the sound of footsteps just before sunrise. I hold my breath as fear pours through me and puddles on the floor. I can’t imagine who would be here, especially at this time. There’s rustling through a bag. Then, to my complete surprise, the sound of a Native American flute.
A man’s voice speaks, “I call to the spirit of the east to illumine my mind, clear any negative thoughts on this day and light up my thoughts of goodness.”
More flute, sweet high notes carried by the wind.
He stops and speaks again, “I call to the spirit of the north to guide me with the knowledge that I am related to all things: to remind me that my mind is to be used for the good of all.”
The flute lifts up in a song, and I am mesmerized. I sit up as if, maybe, I can hear better.
He stops and speaks again, “I call upon the spirit of the west to bring me inside myself, where all answers lie, where silence prevails. May I speak only from this place.”
Again, the flute sings, this time in lower notes. I wonder if he knows I am near.
He stops and speaks again, “I call upon the spirit of the south to soothe my emotions, like water. Bring me into balance in all my relations.”
The flute continues.
He speaks to the sky, “I call upon Father Sky, and I am humbled by your greatness. Thank you for choosing me to bless this place. May I remember who you are and who I am.”
He speaks to the earth, “I bless Mother Earth on this day and walk upon you in gratitude for all you give every day.”
He left silently. I peek out of the tent when I can no longer hear footsteps. The sun is just over the hill covering the cool morning with warmth.
I feel like I have been blessed. Tears were close. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful: never knew such prayers existed.
I walk to greet the chimney and there on the hearth is a brown bag. Curious, I open it. It’s a sweet roll and a sausage biscuit. I sit in gratitude and eat.
That night the full moon rises through a glorious pink and orange sunset. When the sun is fully hidden, the moon’s silver light makes patterns through leaves as a soft breeze creates shifts in perception. I hear coyotes in the distance as I build a fire. I found water in a nearby creek to boil for coffee. The taste is heavenly and hot. My body aches, especially my knees, as I sit on the hearth of the chimney. We are becoming friends, the chimney and I. I find myself talking to it.
“I just left city life. I saw a man get shot. I decided I’ve had enough. I’m sick of it. Sick of TV, radio, the internet. The stress is too much. People are unkind, paranoid, and all about money, material things, race wars. Sometimes, I think people look for targets to point their own anger towards. I know there has to be more to life than money and crime and competition. I left to find a better way, a better life. So here I am”, I told the chimney, feeling safe.
Suddenly, women’s voices giggle up the hill. I quickly gather up my cup and boiling pot. Panic sets in as I kick dirt on the fire. I can’t smother it soon enough. I am caught.
“Greetings,” one of the women says.
I looked behind me as if someone else might be there.
“I see you’ve started the fire,” she said as she pointed to the smoke curling upward.
“Yes,” I said quite unsure of myself. “Who are you?”
“We are the Grandmothers. We come here on full moons to drum for healing of the earth and peace. We come to be with our ancestors. This chimney holds their spirits,” the woman says motioning towards the chimney.
She extends her hand. “I am Jerilyn”.
Fear drizzles out of my limbs, and I smile in return but do not introduce myself. I don’t know these people. I’d rather remain anonymous.
The women begin preparations in low, reverent voices. Blankets are folded into sit-upons; feathers unwrapped from red cloth are handled respectfully; a sage stick is lit from the fire; drums removed from woven cases; a thin line of corn meal is poured from a pottery cup encompassing the outer rim of the circle of folded blankets. I revive the fire.
Jerilyn holds the sage stick in one hand and a feather in the other. She asks us to stand in a line to be smudged before we enter the circle. She smudges pungent smoke thirteen times.
I am given a rattle with a leather-wrapped handle: an eagle carved on the ball end. The drums begin in unison. Deep resonance vibrates, echoes through the forest, bounces off the chimney standing behind us and permeates to my core. I forget I have the rattle, forget where I am.
As I slip into a trance, Jerilyn floats to me from across the circle and takes my hands in hers. Soft white light streams from her eyes. She seems lit from the inside out. I stand facing her.
“You have come here to resurrect your spirit. You have come to heal from the world in which we live: a world of violence and hatred. Come now. Relax and take a deep breath.”
I do as Jerilyn instructs. As I breathe in, a golden eagle sweeps through me like a blast of warm air. All but one drum stops. It beats in time with my heart. I glance at the chimney top where the eagle is keeping watch, its yellow eyes glowing reflections of the fire.
Jerilyn continues, “The world you see is not real. It is a reflection of human suffering. We were meant to live in peace and love and you still can. Let go of the illusion. Let go of anything that does not bring you joy. Let go of what others say that does not resonate with you. Love yourself. Love those parts of yourself you do not like. It is love that changes the world. It is you who will change the world through loving. Everyone you touch will be changed, evolved to a new level of understanding what is needed both for themselves and for the world.”
Tears gush in great release, like wound up rubber bands inside my gut being severed. I know she speaks truth. But I don’t understand how I can change the world. I’m a mere single human being.
She reads my mind. “As you love yourself, everyone around you feels joy. Joy is contagious. Be the change you want to see and change will happen. Bless everything and everyone.”
Jerilyn inches close. She takes my face in her hands and blows a sharp breath between my eyes. Blue sparkles of light fill my vision. I gasp. She leans down and touches my knees, and the pain melts away.
She says, “I am compelled to name you, Eagle Dancing.”
The sound of eleven drums drives the name into me. The eagle on the chimney spreads its wings and turns in a circle. Jerilyn hands me an eagle feather attached to a long staff.
“Dance now. Dance like you’ve never danced before!”
The drums beat louder. Around the fire I dance, staff in hand. I feel free, unencumbered, light on my feet. There is no pain. I spin around the fire, and the others join in.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the eagle fly away.
The ceremony now a memory, sleep comes easy.
Up with sun and bursting with energy, I roll up my tent. I approach the chimney and kneel before it to express my gratitude. I promise to be back often. It feels like home.
Eagle staff in hand, I begin the hike back to the city blessing trees, rocks, the ground, everything I see.
Phyllis Wintter is an emerging writer. As a graduate of Maharishi University of Management in 2014, she won the Most Outstanding Student Award for her “humorous and, sometimes, gripping” stories. She won first place in 2016 Northeast Georgia Writers Group in the short story non-fiction and poetry categories. She is also a singer/songwriter. She calls herself an “Imagine Agent”.
In her previous life, she worked in Human Services as a Programs Director developing curriculum, as a trainer, and as a grant writer. She started a non-profit called “The Teachers Re-Center” which won “The Most Innovative Project Award” from Keep Georgia Beautiful. The project provided hands-on experiences to awaken creativity.
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