Sister and the Thunder Beings of the West

Sister stared at me with those eyes of hers.  Like big black pools of nothing.  “Blackhole,” I called her. “Ain’t nothing gonna git outta them.”

“Event horizon,” she called me back, with her words all refined they was enough to make me rub at a spot of dirt on my thumb.  “You appear to go no where, skimming the edge of things, but really you’re already on the other side of it.”

I swept my toe through the grit on the floor and drew a picture of a heyoka.  Its face was just as lopsided as a rotten apple and one of its horns pointed straight up, while the other teeter tottered toward the ground.

Just then, the thunder ground rocks in the sky, and the front door swung open so hard the nob stayed stuck in the wall.

“Shit,” Sister said, her voice all grownup and severe.  She grabbed my arm, pulled my back to her front and shielded my eyes.  “Close them.”  I could feel her leg swing around me, and heard her foot scuffing over my picture on the floor.

But the footsteps still came. They fell so heavy the whole house trembled with each touch of foot to ground.

“Damn it, Grim.  Why do you always have to do this?”

Her fingers clawed my shoulders and she hauled me back to see if my eyes was closed.  But my silver viewfinders were still drinking in light and shadow.

“Close them.”

“I don’t wanna,” I said, looking at her nose ‘cuz I just couldn’t look in her eyes.  A stinky wind was running thru and ruffling her hair.  I could feel her eyes going all wide.  That’s when I closed mine, and I kept ‘em closed, even when she shoved me across the room.

Laughter, like the high-pitched screech of a coyote, sliced through the room.

“Hello brother Heyoka,” Sister’s voice said from a place where she was not a moment ago.

More laughter shook the house, as a whoosh sucked all the air out of the room.

I couldn’t help it no more.  I opened my shutters and looked around.  A tuft of hair drifted across the planks, along with a big black feather.

“You gonna tell me just what’s going on?”

Sister just stood there, staring into nothing, not blinking, not even once even though her eyes looked about as dry as beach glass.

It took her a while to get unstuck; it always did.  When she did move, it was to close her eyes and fall into the nearest piece of furniture.  “Grim.” Soft, barely heard over the rain that was starting to pummel the roof.

I didn’t move, even though I wanted to pick up that feather, so big it coulda been a whole wing of a bird.

“Remember what we talked about.”

After mom and dad, she meant.  After they went and never came back.

“Remember?”

“I didn’t do it,” I said.  Though I wasn’t altogether sure what I was denying.

She just watched me.  “We’ll talk about it later, then.”

~~~

Sister is a sad sort.  She’s always telling me just what I can and can’t do.  Writing letters is okay.  Drawing pictures is not.  Taking photos is ok; playing pretend is not.  No dress up.  None.  Reading is sometimes not okay.  The only time it is, is when the book is so dang boring I don’t want to touch the thing anyways.

She says it’s for my own good.  Sometimes she gives me this look.  It’s the kind of look you’d give to a sickly pup that ain’t got no chance of making it.  Inevitability.  That there’s a big word.  Inevitability and the weight of it.  She looks at me with that heavy sad of hers.  It comes just when I get the itch to do something I oughtn’t do.

“One day you’ll understand,” she says.  “And then you’ll know why I’m like this.”

She ain’t always been like that.  Sister used to smile.  She used to take me in the fields and show me the bones of animals.  How to track a deer.  How to swim.

One day Ma and Pa said, “Git.  Go on now and play.  We gotta be grown up right now.  Ain’t no cause for you to suffer with us.”

So we got.  Sister packed up some sandwiches, and I threw in some cookies, and off to the woods we ran.  Trees stood at the edge of the field, which was full up of lush green blades grown way past my head.  Some were so heavy with flowers, they bent back towards the earth.  And the ones with fat bumbles stumbling around their innards were compelled to nearly touch the ground.  We could get lost in that field, and play a mean game of hide and seek.

But not today.  We stomped our way to the forest and the straight trunks waiting there.  They seemed like thin black lines against the day, and far above the leaves shimmied, as if they were all competing to wave the best hello.  I waved back, and hollered up, “How do ya do?”

“Grim.” Sister rolled her eyes at me, and took off.  She was a roman candle zooming around those trunks.  She made sounds like an engine, and said, “Look at me.  I’m displacing air.”  She zigged and zagged, disappeared and reappeared.  A bird, she carved through the air.

I had to run as fast as I could to keep up with her ole Hawk self.  The ground swallowed up most of the noise my paws made thudding on it.  I skidded around big rocks and roots, and vaulted over the smaller bits.  And I was breathing so hard I felt like half of me was missing at every exhale, that’s how much my body shrank, and how much air my body drank.

Sister circled around me, her arms outstretched.  “Come on, Grim.  I can’t show you the surprise if you can’t keep up.”

So I grit my teeth, and pumped my arms and legs until they blurred with motion.

I was a wolf train.  A coyote torpedo.  I was a mountain lion missile homing in on my target.

Sister laughed, and it sounded like raindrops on glass.  She slowed, and then stopped.  Her eyes was closed so her ears could be wide open.

I gathered up my torpedos and trains and missiles, and tiptoed up next to her.

Sweat dripped from my hair, and my breath was wheezy, but Sister waited patiently for the run to dry up outta me.  As soon as I was motionless, I could hear it.  It sounded like a million plates being broken, and those pieces swept up in a tornado where all the tiny bits kept bashing together in an endless process of breaking.

“What is that?”

“Do you want to see?” Sister asked without moving nothing but her mouth.

“It sounds big enough to swallow you up.”

Sister grabbed me in a big hug and blew some monstrous raspberries on the back of my neck, in the exact spot that gave me the most creepy crawlies.

I squealed.

“It is.  So you have to mind me, now.  If I lose you into some big black nothing, Ma and Pa won’t look on me too kindly.”

“You can’t lose me.”  I stared up at her.  I meant it. We was blood.  That was part of it.  But something else, too.  We was locked together.

Her eyes seemed to get darker as she stared back at me.  “Come on.”

We followed a faint trail, left by animals, to the sound.  It got louder and louder until my ears was all full on it. The air started taking shape.  Specks of water oozed all around me.  And then I saw it.  A massive wall of water churned over the edge of the cliff and crashed down with so much force, the water couldn’t decide if it wanted to be liquid or vapor.

I stripped off my shoes and rushed in. The cold of it shot straight up my legs and set me teeth to chattering.  Sister grinned at me, but didn’t come in.  She strolled along the shoreline, moving closer and closer to that soaking wet wall of rock.  Only when she came to some boulders stacked on some slabs of rock did she make her feet naked.  She glanced back at me and smiled, before she climbed on the first body of granite.

There was a message in that smile.  And a secret.  If she had told me, ‘Come on, Grim, you have to see this’ I might not have been quite as compelled as with that smile.

I waded through the water to where she was hopscotching on the rocks, and climbed up.

Them rocks was slick with wet, but had these perfectly shaped chunks carved outta them, something like a cereal bowl.  I grabbed the edges of the bowl and hauled myself up.

Sister put her finger to her lips, pointed to a gap where there was not water and no rock.  Then she went, slipping through the space like a specter, or a spirit animal—all full of intent and knowing.  I paused; that there was a passage to another world, a place of dreams, and underworldly critters.

I slithered in as quiet as I could, even though the roar of the water would have swallowed any noise I might have made.  At first it was black and unknowable.  The light came in tiny dots reflected off water droplets, then slowly gathered to reveal the space.  There was deep crevice in between two sweeping veils of rock.  A little pedestal seemed to grow right up outta the floor.  Sister sat, cross-legged and calm as a Buddha, like the space was meant for her and she had been there all this time in body, and it was only her spirit self I had ever encountered.

The walls of the crevice had been etched with pictures and symbols.  I orbited around those walls, and acted out every single thing I encountered. Sister started singing.

That was how it used to be.  Before Ma and Pa left.

~~~

“It’s still raining,” I said as I peeled back the lacy curtain.  I wiped the fog from the inside of window and peered through the glass.  Our driveway was a river, and everything outside was grey. “It’s been raining two doggone days.”

Sister crouched on the wood floor, and was trying to fix that hole made by the door knob.

“I wish it would stop.”

She went on smearing white goop over the patch.

“Maybe the thunder beings are trying to tell us something.”

“Grim.”  She finally spoke, but it weren’t no friendly talk.  That there was a warning.

Before I knew it, the clouds was gathering and forming shapes.  The darkest grey of them condensed into a great big bird with broad wings.  The lighter clouds weren’t no less of a threat.  They boomed just as loud, and let out a torrent just the same as the nearly black mass.  A head grew out of each of the two triangular bodies.  They flanked the bird, and together the three figures sprawled over the western skies.

Loud booms erupted, and shook the trees outside, and the house and us folk inside.  The booms even caused the raindrops to take a jagged path toward the ground.

Sister’s arm fell, and the putty knife clattered on the floor.  She sat on her heels.  “You pictured them, didn’t you?”

Maybe I did.  Maybe I pictured them with thunderbolts clutched in their hands; for the bird, in his claws.  Maybe I imagined them with chest plates of woven lightening.  Maybe I even heard them whispering.

Sister tilted her head back.  Her lips moved without sound, and she started bashing the floor with that putty knife, getting white goop all over herself, the floor, the wall.  Her thumps coincided with the thunder outside, and became layered with more sound than what should have been.

“Sister?”

There weren’t no response in her; at least none she was interested in giving.  But her lips kept up their furious motion, and she had abandoned the putty knife and was bending her whole body forward each time she slammed her palms against the floor, playing it like a drum.

Three separate bolts of lightening put the house in darkness at the same time they lit up the sky outside.  Sister jumped up.  Instead of using her hands, her feet stomped on the ground to keep the rhythm, and change it.  She danced the dance of ancients, and slowly, as if her voice was connected to volume control, the motion of her lips found their sound and became louder and louder.

The door swung open of its own volition.  Three creatures in shaggy garb, and with strange faces, stood just outside.

“Go away,” I said.

They didn’t move.  They said nothing.  Their presence and the threat of what they were oozed into the room.

Sister didn’t haul me to safety, or tell me to close my eyes.  Instead she extended her arms, and swooped in circles, stomped in circles, and called out in circles.  She danced her way right out of the house, and into the storm.

The creatures made room for her, and mirrored her movements.  Lightening cascaded all around, like a thousand arrows falling from the sky, and turned them to black figures against the hills and trees and rain.

People was gathering in the distance.  A whole crowd of them.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” I shouted.  “It ain’t my fault.”

No one could hear me, though.  And if they had, I’m not sure they’d care, ‘cause while Sister’s eyes was still closed, something inside her set to laughter.  Her cackles had the sharp crack and brilliance of lightening.

Then everything stopped.  The dancing.  The rain drops froze were they was.  The jagged slash of light cutting through the sky stayed like a great wound.  Only Sister, full of body shaking laughter, moved.

“Stop,” I told her.

But she couldn’t.  She opened her eyes, and they weren’t black anymore.  They was silver, and outta them spilled a Heyoka, just the same as what I’d drawn two days past.  A wolf leapt outta them next, which is what I had pretended to be last month.  After him came the twins playing unkcela pte; I had dreamt them about three months ago.  Out of her poured all of my imaginings, and they were as real as I was.  They had weight and body.  They had desires and purposes.

The last thing Sister released was a cloud of fireflies.  Then she and the thunder beings resumed their dancing.  They draped a shaggy costume around her.  Over her face, they placed placed a mask, which had a wide, grotesque mouth, a long pointed nose, and sharp eyes.  Lastly they crowned her with crow feathers and buffalo horns.

The storm stopped, but her laughter echoed.

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