RURAL FALCON RIDGE
April 19, Thursday
The log cabin was a vestige from another time. Within its rustic interior, Charlie sat in a sagging garage sale recliner, mulling over the past two days. Like his thoughts, the room was dark, the only light admitted by two opposing windows. His gut ached, but not from hunger. The few bites of dried venison and an apple had failed to take it away.
Earlier that day he'd gone by the hospital to check on Sara. She remained in intensive care, visitors restricted to family. He spoke briefly with her father and his wife, who'd taken his number and promised to stay in touch.
Why? Why was his brother taken?
He and Bryan were both thirty-six. Men in their prime. Something felt wrong.
He needed the truth, whatever it might be.
He cringed as shades of guilt crushed him in a strangle hold. Such knowledge resided in the world of spirits. Something he shunned for over two decades.
Perhaps this was one of those hard lessons his grandfather had warned him about.
Eaglefeathers tried desperately to convince him to embrace the Cheyenne way of life. He loved and respected the old man. Thus, he listened to his teachings and attended various ceremonies on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeastern Montana.
Accepting any of it to heart, however, stumbled over scars left by his Navajo mother's harsh criticism of such beliefs. His ears, mind, and heart closed, acceptance impossible.
He knew deep inside his grandfather could have explained this. A true holy man, patient and wise, who always knew the answers. He could have told him why fate left him forsaken and alone.
The Creator's mind is unlike that of man. His ways are not understood by two-leggeds. You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.
His head bowed beneath the weight of self-recrimination. His childish behavior the day before was disrespectful and offensive. His throat burned as his anger at the Great Spirit rebounded back where it belonged.
No wonder he was being punished. He'd taken it for granted that he could ignore Eaglefeathers's teachings according to his own selfish timetable without consequence.
Teachings he needed now as never before.
If you follow the way of Maheo, as I have taught you, then you will never be alone. He will always walk with you and be with you.
He winced as fear and embarrassment shadowed him with shame. He'd ignored Maheo for years. Would the Great Spirit reject him now as well?
Desperation raged to know the truth.
Was Bryan's death an accident?
The sun hung low in the west as he retrieved a pouch of tobacco and a box of matches from the rough-hewn mantle and went outside. The stone-lined pit in front of the cabin was overgrown with weeds. He yanked them out and tossed them aside, then gathered pine needles, small twigs, and a few branches to start a fire.
He arranged the wood upright, struck a match, and held it to the kindling. The needles sparked, smoldered, then a small flame emerged. His need for answers prevailed, subduing what little remained of his pride. He clenched his jaw, ready to accept his punishment, whatever it might be.
He scooped up a handful of soil, pondered it a moment, then proceeded as he'd been taught years before. He rubbed his palms together, the dirt's gritty texture a reminder of life's irritations. He spread it on his arms and face to honor the Earth Mother, then thanked her for the water of life.
The fire's crackle grew steady, its breath warm against his face. He opened the pouch and took out a pinch of tobacco, then tried to recall the proper way to make an acceptable offering.
He closed his eyes, seeking divine direction for the first time in his life.
Moments later, it felt as if a hidden force raised his hand toward the east. It lowered to the ground, then repeated the motion to the other cardinal directions. The prompting continued. He lifted it above his head, then down in four steps, when his hand touched the ground. The tobacco sifted through his fingers to the Earth.
Heart and mind focused on the world of spirits, he implored them to accept his offering and carry forth his request. He pleaded for forgiveness and that he might yet attain the qualities he'd been taught.
Strength—to shun past unhealthy behaviors he'd fallen prey to in difficult times and endure the hardships required to prove his worthiness and intent as a Cheyenne man.
Protection—from evil forces that may have taken his brother's life.
Wisdom and courage—to discover what happened and why.
He inhaled deeply, mind open to answers.
His heart fell.
Of course. He didn't deserve a reply.
Yet still he waited. Being impatient with Maheo was as wrong as ignoring him or his counsel.
What seemed a long time later, he realized why no response had come—he already knew the answer. Eaglefeathers taught him what to do, years before.
His forehead wrinkled with thought. Did Maheo ever respond directly? Or was prayer no more than finding answers within?
Did it really matter?
He blessed himself again with the Earth, then stared into the dying flames until only embers remained.
A few handfuls of earth put them to sleep.
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