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Zoey Le Mar vacations at Mesa Verde National Park, and a supernatural adventure, consisting of angry ghosts, join their family fun. A hard choice needs to be made: to save her family, or to save the park patrons, all the while risking exposure of her secret. What will Zoey do?
CH 1 – DEFILEMENT
The sun crept over the horizon and displayed its lighter hues on the sky’s grand canvass. The early birds home to the valleys of Colorado greeted the intense striations with a chorus of melodious songs. This woke Morningstar. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, threw off her deerskin bedding to a chill in the air, stood up, and stretched her slender adolescent frame. She then tiptoed into the next room, tied her long course jet-black hair into a ponytail, put on her ornate turquoise jewelry—a symbol of prominence—and dressed in silence, all the while trying not to wake her grandfather, the village shaman.
She snapped the last clasp to a deerskin pant and pondered over last night’s conversation.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a busy and special day. Please do your part, like an apprentice to the shaman should,” her grandfather reminded her in a stern tone.
She turned toward him and curled one side of her mouth up into a partial smile. “Why of course, old wise one.”
He shook his head side-to-side in disbelief. “You better, young lady, almost sixteen years of growing wisdom. Now, promise me?”
“By the Great Spirit, grandfather, I …” She stopped her rant and transformed. Doe-eyed and hugging herself, she sweetly replied, “Of course, I will. I promise.”
He tilted his head sideways a bit and furrowed his weathered wrinkled brow, but she held her ground, continuing being playful and innocent. He threw up his arms, turned and walked away, but released a husky laugh. She grinned, knowing, she had got to him, again.
That memory faded as slivers of bright morning light peeked around the front door made of buffalo hide and brought Morningstar back to the present. She snaked in between the beams of light and located what she needed. She plucked a collection basket off a shelf and gingerly placed some buffalo jerky, an apple, a water skin, and a jawbone ax in it. Finished, she checked over her shoulder, noting her stealthful success, and brushed past the buffalo hide, exiting her home.
She marveled at Father Sky’s portrait of the day’s welcoming. Inspired, she stopped, knelt, and greeted Father Sky, Mother Earth, and the Great Spirit with a quiet prayer. Satisfied and thankful, she stood, slung the basket of goodies over her shoulder, and started for the valley floor, about a mile away. A waft of smoke crossed her path and drew her attention to a fire burning by the village’s center stage. Many costumed dancers, Black Ogre, Wolf, Red-tail Hawk, Sunface, Roadrunner, Kokopelli, Ram, and Mudhead, circled the flames and practiced their movements for tonight’s big performance.
Morningstar slipped by the dancers and crept around other rooms of the cliff dwelling, only hearing the sounds of their inhabitants’ deep breathing or snoring. She cleared the last of the rooms on the upper level before tiptoeing down some steps and around a ladder leading to a morning kiva. She kept walking until she reached a fresh-water well. She childishly stroked the surface of the cool water with her dangling fingers. While she watched the peaceful ripples ebb, she became vexed by tiny grains of sand and dirt that had worked their way between her feet and sandals. She removed her footwear off, brushed out the sand and dirt, and slipped her feet back into the sandals. Realizing she had wasted time, she continued with her surprise and left the village via the main trail.
A cool breeze greeted her, and she rubbed her hands over the rising goose bumps on her bare arms. As the gentle wind continued, it delivered a foul odor intertwined within it. Her inquisitive nature piqued and drove her towards the smell. Inching toward an answer, she waved away the growing pungent stench as she approached some hunters huddled around a freshly slain buffalo. They stopped cleaning, skinning, and dividing the meat and greeted her. She returned the salutation but did not linger. She covered her nose, picked up her pace, and scanned for nearby wildlife with eyes of the red-tailed hawk. Sounds of nearby rustling in the brush indicated abundant life at work or in search of food. She smiled but continued on with her self-appointed assignment.
Streaks of bright blue stretched across the sky by the time she reached the inner boundary of the village on the valley floor. The guards, who stood post against wild animals, other raiding tribes, and the white man, nodded at her passing.
She recalled their purpose.
Many moons ago, a small regiment of white men breached the outer borders of the Anasazi’s lands, many horse gallops from where Morningstar stood, and waited for a response. A Native American, a guide and translator, led their party.
Her grandfather, Bodaway, recognized the message’s content and headed a small armed detail out to the edge of their lands. This bravery started the talks. It took many full moons, but an agreement gave way to safe passage and trade. Still cautious, the village shaman used wisdom and time to reveal the true intentions of the white man, if there was any, and waited them out. After four consecutive peaceful seasons, Bodaway suggested a sit-down dinner celebration. The white man accepted, but with the one concession: they could bring a priest from the church of the one god. The village shaman questioned this, but in the hopes of continuing peace, he agreed.
Morningstar dismissed the memory, acknowledged the guards with a nod, and dashed about the valley floor. She took out the basket and ax from her pack and cut wild flowers: several orange paintbrushes, loco blossoms, and poppies. She laid them in her basket and caught, out of the corner of her eye, inquisitive looks from the guards. She smiled but ignored them and moved off to another location. While in route, Morningstar gazed at the sea of blue in the sky filled with white clouds and took a break, noting she had the time. She sat on a flat rock near some orange paintbrushes and nibbled on two pieced of buffalo jerky and an apple. She quenched her thirst and drank from her water skin. She cleaned up, and as she stood, the sudden movement of a scorpion, scurrying away and finding protection under a sunbaked rock, triggered another memory. She recalled a story her grandfather tells the young children of the village.
One day, a scorpion looked around and decided he wanted a change. He set out on a journey and scuttled over hills and through the forests until he reached a river.
The river was swift and wide, and the scorpion stopped to consider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across. He checked upriver and downriver, thinking he might have to turn back.
Suddenly, a frog splashed out of the river on his side. He decided to ask the frog for help.
“Hello, Frog,” the scorpion called. “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”
“Well now, Scorpion, how do I know that if I try to help you that you won’t try to kill me?” The frog asked.
“Because,” the scorpion started. “If I tried to kill you, then I would die too. For you see, I cannot swim.”
This made sense to the frog, but he still asked, “What about when you get close to me? You could try to kill me and scuttle back.”
“This is true,” the scorpion agreed. “But then, I wouldn’t cross the rapid-flowing river.”
“Alright then, how do I know you won’t just wait till we get to the other side and kill me?” The frog asked.
“Oh,” the scorpion crooned. “That would hardly be fair to reward you with death for your generous service, now would it?”
The frog thought for a few moments then agreed to take the scorpion across the river. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back. Once settled, the frog slid into the river. The rough water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface. The frog kicked strongly through the first half of the stream’s powerful current.
At the halfway point, the frog felt a sharp sting in his back and saw, out of the corner of his eye, the scorpion remove his stinger from his back. A deadening numbness crept into the frog’s limbs.
“You fool,” the frog croaked. “Now we shall both die! Why did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugged, “I couldn’t help myself. It’s my nature.”
A shadow fell across her face, pulling her out of the memory. She gazed upward and shaded her eyes with her hand. A small cloud animal, an owl, drifted across the sky. She lowered her head and smiled at the childishness still present within her. She cut several floral groupings nearby and put the last of the blue flax, mouse-ear chickweed, gaillardia, and alpine sunflower in the overflowing basket and stood. Morningstar turned on her heels and headed for home
when thundering gallops from racing horses spooked her. Moments later, a deep drumming echoed through the valley.
She gasped, “Please, no. That’s the Drum of Warning. The village is in danger.”
Morningstar bolted up the trail, basket swinging, flowers flying out.She dashed as if she were a deer, fast and spry, and looked up, seeing smoke rising from her cliff dwelling village. The dust of the inner guard’s horses headed there. She coughed and willed herself to run faster; however, she ran uphill and carried several extra possessions.
A deafening boom thundered and shook the ground.
“By the Great Spirit!” She tried to steadied herself but fell to the ground. “Grandfather, no!”
Dirt and debris filled the air, some of it raining down on her. She covered her head, but dust blurred her vision. She took out the water skin and poured some water over her eyes, clearing them.
The pungent odor of smoke and burnt flesh reached her. She jerked her head up and realized a horrific possibility. She stood and ran. Tears streamed from her eyes. They blurred her path. She ran anyway.
Screams, frightful and agonizing, reached her ears. Her skin crawled, as if covered by dozens of tiny insects. She covered her ears and tried to block them out. The children’s wails pierced her being and leeched away more of her reckless bravery.
She focused and chanted, willing some courage back, “I am a granddaughter of a shaman. I am guidance. I am a granddaughter of a shaman. I am hope …”
Morningstar continued with her mantra and hurried past the last of the brush and trees hiding the cliff dwelling village. She skidded to a stop, stunned by what faced her. Her possessions slipped from her hands and bounced off the path.
She stopped her chant. “The white man’s here. The scorpion has stung.”
Collapsed stone covered a third of the village. Morningstar gasped for air and watched helplessly. White man soldiers manhandled the dancers and forced them into a kiva. Other soldiers, directed by the priest of the one god, shoved and shattered sacred carvings of her ancestors and their creators. Other soldiers chased some of the villagers, knocking them over and hitting them with their weapons. Tears rolled down her face. Her knees buckled. Fear transformed into anger, and she released a gut-wrenching cry.
More smoke rose from the village. Guns continued to fire, and villagers continued to scream. Pounding hooves echoed across the valley. More white man soldiers arrived at the village. Anger turned into rage. She picked up the jawbone ax, stood, and headed home. Nearby bushes rustled, and she brought back the ax in two hands, ready to use it.
One lone inner village guard, Running-Wolf, appeared, looking worried, and then relieved.
He carried a medicine bag, a deer skin, and a ceremonial knife. “Here you are—safe. By the Great Spirit, thank you. There’s hope yet.”
She held the ax high. She noticed that the warrior's eyes did not reflect fear, but instead happiness and triumph. Morningstar dropped the ax, and the tears started again. She took an awkward step forward.
Her trembling hand touched the medicine bag, and she threw her head back and howled, “No!”
The warrior scooped a collapsing Morningstar in his arms and ran from the village.
Under a star-filled sky, Zoey, Danielle, Lucy, Rhea, Owen, Patricia, Jason, and Varun slept around a campsite fire pit.
Danielle mumbled in her sleep, “Running-Wolf, hurry. Run.”
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