People of the snake-eye God



            Everett Johnson and his family had left the wagon train and set a course for their own homestead.  Like many unsuccessful people, the Johnson family had decided to discard their lives in favor of a new start in the territories.  They had been given a land grant and a description of the place they now owned.  The reality of going west had turned out to be more rugged.  They had joined a wagon train of fellow settlers and headed out, with everything they owned in a covered wagon along with some provisions.  They had been traveling for months with no roads and little idea where they actually had traveled to, aside from the proclamations of their guide, an uncouth fellow who preferred giving orders to answering questions.  As the wagon train had traveled, families had left one by one and stopped to claim their homesteads. Everett had led his family away, into a wooded valley, after using the information in his paperwork to calculate that their new home would be at the far end.  His wife Samantha sat next to him as he drove the wagon, acting as navigator and lookout, and his son David rode the family horse to the left of the two mules as they pulled the vehicle.  His daughters Lucille and Rose sat out of sight in the back of the wagon, but he could hear them chatting.

            As Everett steered the mules, he saw his wife’s head turn suddenly.  A plain brown bonnet covered her, hiding and protecting her face, but Everett knew that she was alarmed.  The sudden movement had startled him out the daze he often eased into as they traveled.  Squinting thoughtfully, he examined the place that her bonnet pointed to.  She was looking at a tree stump with a flat top, which let her know that the family was not alone.  Its presence brought up questions that made Everett pull gently to slow the mules.  He was wondering if they were in the right place, if other settlers had claimed the area and if they would greet his family as trespassers.  He did not want to think about the presence of wild Indians, or the frightening stories he had heard about them.  He looked around for answers.  The wagon was on a path that someone had cleared through the forest. It was large enough to accommodate a wagon, unlike a bear trail or creek bed.  He should have noticed, as he could see more stumps scattered around.  All of the tree stumps had flat, smooth tops, with only a jagged edge in a corner, which told Everett that someone had been using a saw.  Far ahead, the land was brightly lit, not the shadowy forest one would expect.  David eased in front of the family wagon with youthful enthusiasm, his horse walking briskly.

            “David!” Samantha called, with urgent sharpness.  The boy halted his horse and turned his head as the wagon crawled cautiously forward. 

            “Someone is here”, Everett commented gravely, inviting his wife to discuss the matter.

            “Yup,” she chirped deeply.  “We lost?”

            Everett winced.  “I don’t know.  We figured the way our best with what we got.”

            “We?”  Samantha’s bonneted head turned toward him, so he could see only the smirk on his wife’s lips.

            “Thanks for pitchin’ in with that chore,” he shot back.  She responded with a good-natured chortle.

            She stiffened suddenly.  “Sh!”

            The rhythmic, hissing crunch of leaves and twigs being stepped on reached into their ears.  Someone was coming on horseback, ahead of the wagon.  They watched the lone, black clad figure seated on a simple brown gelding approach.  He was a tall, lean man wearing a hat with a flat, wide brim low over his brow, riding with confidence as he trotted into the center of the path.  Everett breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed the man’s clothing, which consisted of a formal suit and preacher’s collar. The man removed his hat politely as he approached the Johnson wagon, revealing the pale baldness of his head. Although old and weathered, the stranger seemed strong, perhaps due to his confident bearing.  The friendly smile on his face was without shyness, although his brown eyes were intense.  He waved as he rode, letting his hand hang in the air as he closed in.

            The preacher halted his horse directly in front of the wagon and David eased onto the path behind him.  “Greetings, friends”, he said in a cheerful, strong voice.  “I would be the Reverend Josiah Hobson, at your service, and may I inquire as to who you would be?”  As he spoke, Everett recognized the preacher’s Northeastern accent.  He hesitated to speak and reveal his own origins.  The War Between the States, which Everett had managed to avoid participating in, had not been over for long enough.

            The preacher’s smile shifted slightly, becoming more inviting. Everett spoke, attempting to sound friendly and humble.  “I would be Everett Johnson and this is my wife Sammi and my son David.”  He gestured as he spoke and the preacher nodded in greeting upon being told each name. 

“We have a land grant,” Everett declared as though no other explanation were needed.

“We’re trying to find our land,” Samantha interjected.  “We did not mean to trespass.”

“My flock and I endeavor to welcome strangers with Christian charity,” Reverend Hobson responded. “Our friends spotted you yesterday and came to get me so that I could greet you.”

“Someone from your flock has been watching us?  I could have sworn we were alone,” Everett commented, not sure how to react.

The reverend chuckled.  “Not part of my flock, precisely, but friends, none-the-less,” Reverend Hobson explained.  Suddenly, the old preacher made a shrill cry that echoed around them.  It was answered by more calls, made by unseen people in the woods around the wagon. The mules fidgeted and David’s hands fought for control of his horse as his head turned, looking for people hiding around them.

“Wild Indians?” Everett asked with alarm. 

“Comipache,” Reverend Hobson corrected him.  “This valley is their home.  They can be a touch shy, but they are friendly enough, and they share this place with us.”  Everett and Samantha exchanged surprised glances. 

Moving quietly through the woods on foot, three men approached.  They were brown and shirtless with long raven hair tied back behind their shoulders.  Two carried bows and a third held a long throwing lance, which looked like a giant arrow.  Their eyes were on the ground before them, but as they came close to the wagon, they looked up and smiled. One of the men waved.  Samantha waved back uncertainly and the three men whispered to each other in their own language.  Reverend Hobson motioned for them to come closer.

After an awkward moment, the elder of the three Comipache eased close to the wagon and extended a hand.  Samantha and Everett each shook his hand in turn.  The man’s grip was firm but tentative and his black eyes seemed to be inspecting them. 

“They don’t speak English,” the reverend explained.  David waved and then looked into the depth of the forest.  There were more Comipache standing in the woods, looking back.

“So they are your friends?” Everett asked, trying to sound as though he were only curious. 

“They do share their valley with us, we have an arrangement with them.”  The reverend made a hand gesture, showing the Comipache a circle using his thumb and middle finger, with his index finger forming a vertical line from behind.  The three Comipache returned the gesture.  “Anyway, I expect that you and your family tire of the road, brother, and would find comfort with a roof over your heads.  Many members of my flock have room for guests.”

Everett hid his suspicion.  If this Yankee preacher and his savage pals had something evil in mind, he figured they could just as easily do it here, on the road.  Also, a meal cooked in a kitchen and a night spent sleeping in a bed was a hard temptation to resist.  “Mighty kind of you, Reverend.”

The reverend’s smile broadened. “That which you do to the least of my brothers...”  He exchanged a look with the elder Comipache.  “One thing, first.  Our friends do prefer to have a look at any wagon brought into the Valley, if they may.”

Everett nodded. He went to the back of the covered wagon and helped Lucille and Rose down from where they sat.  Lucille, a slender ten year old with long black hair, had a strong resemblance to her father, while Rose had more of her mother’s features and curly, light brown hair that she wore in pigtails.  She was a stocky girl of seven, whose green eyes were wide and inquisitive.  Everett turned to the Comipache, bowed slightly, gestured to the wagon and then took his daughters by the hands and led them near the reverend.

“They won’t take nothin’, will they?”  He asked the question softly.

To his surprise, Reverend Hobson did not keep his voice down when he answered.  “They’ll let you know if they want anything of yours,” he explained.  “Like I say, we do have an arrangement with them.”

“Ah,” Everett said.

“Besides, they would be more interested in knowing who you are,” Reverend Hobson added.

As two of the Comipache examined the covering over the wagon, opened it and poked through the Johnsons’ things, the elder walked over to where Everett stood with his family. Samantha removed her bonnet and fumbled nervously with her hair.  Her face was plump and very white and her green eyes were uneasy.  She wore her unwashed, light brown hair in a complex braid behind her head.  She stepped closer to the girls as the man walked over.

The man favored Samantha with an embarrassed grin, thrust the tip of his lance into the soft ground, undid the leather belt that secured his knife to his side and hung it on the lance.  He walked closer, making a gesture of holding his open palms up and then knelt next to the two girls, speaking softly to them in his language.  Rose stepped forward and offered her hand to shake. He took her small hand between his thumb and index finger and held it for a moment, before speaking again and pointing to his eyes and then back at her.  Samantha looked to Reverend Hobson with an expression that ask for an explanation.

Reverend Hobson, still on his horse, made a series of complex hand gestures.  The Comipache pointed to his own eyes again and made more, similar gestures.  The reverend responded with a shrug.  The Comipache stood up as his two fellows left the wagon and walked over.  One of them held a box of matches.  They removed their bows and set them down next to the lance.  The man with the matches looked to Everett questioningly.

“May he have those matches?” the reverend asked Everett.  “It would be impolite to refuse.”

Knowing that he had three more boxes of matches on the wagon, Everett decided to be gracious. He motioned in a way he hoped was yes. The three Comipache quietly gathered their weapons and left.  The elder turned and waved with a smile before they disappeared into the woods.

Everett turned to Reverend Hobson.  “What was that all about?”  He pointed to his eyes with two of his stubby fingers.  Samantha chuckled.

“That was the hand language they use when someone does not know their spoken language,” Hobson explained.  “I know some of it.  He thought your daughter had pretty eyes.  Its good luck to them, or some such.”  Reverend Hobson straightened a bit.  “No sense standing in the road.  Follow me and I would see if we can provide room and board.”

Everett nodded and went to talk to David, who had dismounted the horse he had been riding.  Soon, they were on their way, with Everett riding the horse and Samantha driving the wagon with the children next to her.  The family’s horse was large and heavy, bred for plowing, which allowed Everett to tower over the tall preacher.  They traveled down the dirt road and passed the Comipache camp, which consisted of round leather tents that were easily large enough to hold families.  Comipache, mostly women and children, came out to see the wagon as if it were a parade.  Many of them waved in greeting and Reverend Hobson waved back with a warm, broad smile, which provoked a confused look from Everett.  Past the Comipache camp, the land was cleared, and a cluster of twenty or so log cabins had been constructed, with cultivated earth, barns, chicken coups and a horse corral scattered around the edges.  One large building stood on the higher ground at the end of the valley, with a simple wooden cross overlooking the cabins from its roof.

As the two men rode beside one another, Reverend Hobson told Everett about his flock and their journey west.  Hobson had been an independent preacher, with no authority to speak on spiritual matters other than the freedom of speech.  Still, he had spent his life presenting his views to any who would listen and getting by on the occasional odd job as well as Christian charity.  A few did listen, especially during the War Between the States, and soon Reverend Hobson had gathered a modest flock of followers.  Although Reverend Hobson was quite pleased to see the demise of the “Peculiar Institution”, a term he used with naked contempt, he also believed that it was a sin to kill another human being.  Everett listened quietly as Reverend Hobson slipped into a manner of speaking appropriate for a sermon, explaining that the Good Book was quite clear about killing and that no Earthly authority should place itself above the Word.  After the war had raged for three bloody years, former soldiers from both sides had joined Hobson’s flock, as his message had appealed to men who had seen enough bloodshed and craved a simple, peaceful life.  As some of his followers had made the transition from soldier on duty to former solder without seeking the approval of the Earthly authorities, Reverend Hobson and his flock had decided that a simpler, more basic life awaited them in the wilderness.  The reverend chuckled as he explained that he and his flock had wandered in the same manner as Moses and the Israelites, dodging bandits and wild Indians, for years.  Over two years ago, they had come to the Valley and met the Comipache, after Reverend Hobson had dreamed a prophetic dream.  As skilled as those Comipache were, Hobson and his flock were soon surrounded and captured.  Although they had rifles for hunting, their beliefs prevented them from fighting their way out of the situation, which had turned out for the best.  Reverend Hobson had used all of the power of oration that the Good Lord had given him to restrain his flock and convince them to have faith.  As the captives feared for the worst at the hands of savages, the Lord, in his mercy, had seen fit not only to spare Reverend Hobson and his flock, but also to give them a clever lesson in the perils of passing judgment on one’s fellow man.  The decision to free the captives and allow them to live in the Valley was made by the Comipache chief, an elder who was also a sort of holy man.  By conventional standards, the chief was a savage heathen priest, but Reverend Hobson would come to know him as a shrewd statesman.  What had happened next had been hard to figure, as only the chief and a few other Comipache spoke English and less than proficiently.  Apparently, the chief had asked the spirits what to do, and had been given a vision.  Reverend Hobson and his flock would be allowed to stay, for a price.

“The arrangement you spoke of earlier?” Everett asked in an attempt to get past the sermon and to the part of the conversation that effected his situation.

“Oh, yes,” said the reverend, discarding his preaching voice for a more familiar tone. “It would be something like paying rent, the Comipache do help themselves to what we can provide, in return for allowing us to stay.”

“They let you remain here so they can rob you on a regular basis, Reverend?” Everett asked with suspicion.

“Do feel free to call me Joe,” Reverend Hobson said invitingly.  “May seem that way, but our friends are a practical people.  They never have taken the last of any one thing a person has.  Also, I have seen them turn down gold and jewelry in favor of a simple iron pot for cooking.  I expect that there is a lesson to be learned in that.  Besides, they only live in this valley from spring to fall and leave us our harvest to get us through the winter.”

Everett was skeptical, but opted to mind his own business.  He rode quietly next to Joe, observing his surroundings as they approached the log buildings.  The people were hard at work, tending crops and livestock or maintaining the structures.  Children played in the unkempt spaces in between homes.  Watching quietly, he learned what he could about life in the village by observing it. The buildings were all made of round logs, stacked and kept in place by clay that also sealed the spaces in between the wood.  The rooftops were pointed and made of clay and boards.  A simple chapel dominated the small town under which, it seemed, each family had a modest home and field.  Barns and animal pens stood out of the way of the dwellings, but only a few, which the residents must have shared.  There was also a smokehouse and some sort of workshop.  Everett noticed that each and every building displayed a symbol, a circle with a single vertical line from top to bottom painted in white or bright colors.  Everett considered asking what that half-moon insignia meant, but he figured he would find out later.

Reverend Joe led Everett and his family to a clearing where the road ended, on the edge of the village.  The people stopped what they were doing and drifted in lazy knots, to assemble around them as Samantha drove the wagon close behind her husband.  The reverend waited, smiling and nodding to the people as they arrived.  Conversation buzzed around them, until the reverend held up his hands, palms down, and lowered them slowly, as though he were in the pulpit inviting his congregation to be seated.  He spoke in a friendly tone, but loud enough to be heard by all.

 “Brothers and Sisters, as you can see we have guests. The Johnson family is passing through, on their way to a homestead and a better life.  Let us welcome them.”  Reverend Joe began to sing and his flock joined him, filling the place with joyful voices.  Everett could not make out the words, something about being welcomed by strangers and the joys of Christian charity.  He waited politely as they sang and observed the people around him.  Although most had long hair and the men had beards, they seemed familiar, much like the people he had grown up with.  Their clothes were a mix of contemporary, though ragged, garments and the same softened leather that the Comipache wore.  Everett noticed that some of them were black people and that there seemed to be none of the separation of races that was the custom where he had lived.

After the song concluded, Reverend Joe called for volunteers to take the visitors in.  A few of his flock stepped forward and Joe dismounted and went to talk to them.  He chatted enthusiastically, motioning with his broad hat, which he held in his right hand as he spoke.  The conversation was noisy and good humored.  Everett turned his horse and walked next to Samantha, who held the wagon-mules by the reigns.  He glanced behind himself to see if anyone was listening.

“What do you think, Sammi?” 

She stretched before answering, straightening her back and rolling her head from side to side. “I don’t care, Everett.  I just hope they have a bath tub.”

Everett Chuckled and stroked his greasy beard with one meaty hand.  Like most of the men on the wagon train they had headed west with, he had shaved regularly early on, but had eventually allowed his grooming to lapse as they traveled.

“The preacher is asking one of his neighbors to put us up.  Worried?”

“Little,” she shrugged.  “Safer with them than camping out with them savages.”

Everett nodded, relieved that his wife would agree to take the shelter offered without complaint. He thought for a moment.  “The preacher says they got a arrangement with ’em.  I figure he’s telling the truth.  They’re friendly enough.”

“Could be,” she said and shrugged again.

Reverend Joe approached the wagon, along with a middle-aged couple.  The woman was small and plump, with loose, raven hair and intense, sky-blue eyes.  The man was tall and lanky, with short, graying chin-whiskers and a slightly stooped posture.  Reverend Joe introduced them as Thomas and Meg and Thomas explained that they were the keepers of an empty cabin next to their own, which the Johnsons were welcome to use. 

“Please come by for supper this evening,” Meg requested.  Her voice had a hint of an Irish accent.  “You too, Joe.”

Reverend Joe offered to put the mules and horse in the town corral and soon the Johnson wagon was parked at the edge of the clearing.  Thomas showed the family to a basic cabin.  Inside, the furnishings were modest but nice.  The earth floor was covered with animal skin rugs and the homemade beds looked temptingly comfortable.  A wooden table stood in one corner with chairs stacked on top.  The evening sun shone through two wood-and-glass windows set in cabin’s walls and held there by hardened clay.  The fireplace in the far wall looked clean and unused.

Reverend Joe held open the simple wooden door with one foot and strode inside.  He deposited Samantha’s two bags that he had insisted on carrying, after Everett had found a change of clothing for his family in the jumble of possessions on his wagon.  “I will let you folks get settled,” the reverend declared.  “There would be a shower in back and if the water buckets are not there, they will be soon.  Meg will ring a bell come suppertime.  Hope to see you then, that woman certainly can cook.”  With that, he strode off.  Everett and Samantha decided to find out what the reverend meant by a shower in back of the cabin.  The unfamiliar device they found consisted of a large funnel nailed to the wall at an overhead height, which ended in a head similar to the sprinklers that rich folks used to water garden plants.  Under the funnel were two wide boards with their edges attached to the wall, with a leather curtain hanging from a horizontal pole on the opposite edge. The arrangement formed a small private stall and a flat rock had been placed there for a floor.  A short wooden ladder stood to the right, along with a half-dozen water buckets. 

Samantha eyed the unfamiliar arrangement.  “One of the little’ns should try it first”, she suggested.

“No,” said Everett. I’ll be the first.  He stepped inside the stall, drew the curtain, undressed and tossed out his cloths.  Using the shower was a group effort, requiring someone to go up the ladder and pour the water and a second person to pass up the full buckets.  The funnel held the water and sprinkled it slowly through the head, providing time to wash and rinse.  Someone had left a bag of what seemed to be perfumed lard inside the stall and, as the Johnson family took turns in the shower, they figured out how much easier it was to lather up, call for the water to be poured and rinse clean.  Another family member was needed to hand the discarded cloths into the stall when the bather was finished.

After all family members had taken a turn, Rose spoke up.  “Pa smells like a girl,” she observed.  She and Lucille giggled.  The flowery perfume mixed into the lard had done its work.

“Git you for that!” Everett declared.  He pounced on the little girl, tickling her hard under the arms and making her shriek.

The family went back inside the cabin and Everett arranged the chairs and table while the children picked out where they would sleep.  The two beds were large enough to accommodate two adults each and some of the floor rugs were no less soft.  David stretched out quietly on one rug, crossing his feet and covering his face with his hat while Lucile and Rose stood on the smaller of the beds.  Soon, they heard a bell ring four times nearby and made their way over to the cabin next door, following the smell of chicken and bread.

When the Johnsons arrived at their hosts’ cabin, they were greeted by heat.  A fire blazed in the fireplace, adding to the warmth of the sticky summer evening.  Thomas sat at his basic wooden table puffing on a corncob pipe, along with Reverend Joe, who sipped something red from a glass.  Meg hovered over the fire with a long fork in one hand, tending to chunks of chicken sitting in a frying pan with a loop for a handle that hung from an iron bar over the fire.  The windows had been removed, allowing the air to move lazily through the cabin’s single room.  The two men rose as the Johnson family entered. 

“Supper is almost ready,” Meg informed them.  “Bread’s on the table.”

Thomas moved the table and arranged more chairs while Reverend Joe, smiling as always, greeted the Johnsons warmly.  The table was set with knives and forks, as well as plates and bowls made of the same kind of light brown clay that held the cabin together.  Thomas offered them slices of warm brown bread, along with something green and mysterious to spread on it.  Reverend Joe poured them each a glass of red juice and started a conversation by asking how the guest cabin suited them, which became a discussion about the shower.  Thomas explained that the cabin was built for his son and daughter-in-law, before they chose to leave the Valley.

Meg placed one heaping plate of chicken on the table and invited everyone to take some and pass it around.  She went to the corner, retrieved an egg-shaped ball of clay, returned to the fire and smashed the clay egg against the wall with a cracking noise that made Samantha utter “Oh!” Meg caught a leather bag that had been inside the clay and looked back at her startled guests.  She chuckled as she opened the bag and retrieved another helping of cut chicken, which was soon sizzling in her frying pan.

Samantha turned to Thomas.  “You keep food in clay?” She glanced at the heap of clay eggs in a far corner of the room. 

He nodded, taking a deep draw from his pipe and releasing a cloud of smoke from his nose that drifted toward the empty window before speaking.  “Preserves it well,” he commented.  “Our friends taught us that, they call it ‘laying an egg’. Meat still has to be dried and salted.”

“That clay is useful stuff,” Reverend Joe added.  “The Comipache showed us where to find it and how to mix it.  Let it dry and it keeps its shape until you boil it in water.  Then it goes back to being mud.”

“Talker says that ghosts or some-such in the air can’t get to the food and devour its essence, if you package it in the same way a mama-bird packs up her young’ns,” Thomas explained.

“Who’s Talker?” asked David. 

            “Talker is chief of the Comipache,” answered Reverend Joe.  He chortled before continuing.  “They call him ‘Talker’ because he goes down in a hole and talks to their God.”

            “Ole’ Snake-Eyes!” Thomas interjected around his pipe, speaking with reverent affection.

            “A god in a hole?” Everett asked the question with good-natured disapproval.

            Thomas leaned forward, placing his pipe on the table and poking the ashes with a long splinter.  He spoke with his eyes on the task.  “Comipah’s the snake-eye god and the Comipache are those who follow his advice.  They say they have learned much from him.”

            “He sounds like a devilish fellow,” Samantha commented.  “Do you truck with that, Reverend?”

            Reverend Joe grinned.  “My place is not to pass judgment on sin, only to spread the good word when I can. I have tried to get through to Talker, but he has such a stake in the old ways.  Still, he and his people seem to know the creator in their own way, but they would follow spirits and such, without placing them before Him.  Now, if Snake-Eyes were the devil, I expect he would have had his followers cut us to bits.  No, surely he would be a figment of the chief’s imagination.  Our arrangement has worked out, God be praised, and as I say, it is not my place to judge.”

            “Big-Chief Talker, eh”, Everett interjected.

            “Chief, holy man and a doctor who has saved many of us,” Thomas answered. He paused to puff on his pipe, making it light his face with an orange glow.  “And more than a few folks have seen ole’ Snake-Eyes here about.”

            “Oh,” Reverend Joe interrupted dismissively.  “People get fevers or are not sure what they see at night.  The mind plays tricks.”  Thomas looked skeptical as air hissed through his pipe.  Meg placed a second plate of chicken on the table and took a seat, interrupting the conversation by making everyone move over.  Reverend Joe insisted on saying grace before supper.

            “So you’d be seeking a homestead?” Meg served herself a helping of chicken and offered the plate to be passed around once Reverend Joe had finished. 

            “True, a homestead of our own.  My family never has owned land,” Everett responded with a far-away look.

            “You’ll be finding out that it’s more than owning land,” Thomas commented.

            “Life is sweet with no one to bow to or take orders from,” Meg added.

            “We’re lost,” Samantha said, responding to her husband’s sharp look with raised eyebrows. 

            “That so?” asked Reverend Joe with gentle concern.

            “We thought it was in your valley, but this valley was shorter than I expected,” Everett explained carefully.  “We need to go further west, I reckon.”

            “In the mountains?”  Thomas’s eyes widened slightly as he asked.  Everett responded by retrieving his paperwork from his pocket and unfolding it.  Reverend Joe glanced at it.

            “Perhaps Arthur would be able to help,” he suggested.  He put on his hat and made a sandwich with the bread and chicken on the table, complimented Meg’s cooking and left.  Meg kept the conversation going by asking questions and giving explanations.  She spoke about her son and how he had left the Valley.  Adults were free to come and go as they pleased.  Children were also allowed to move freely, unless there was a bear around or some such.  Bears could be a blessing when brought down, though.  The shower soap was made from bear fat, another lesson from the Comipache. Thomas had a good laugh as he described the way the Comipache waited for heavy rain and ran outside to wash up, as naked as newborns.

            “The savages really do that?”  The word savages provoked serious looks from Meg and Thomas.

            “David!” Samantha scolded, to placate her hosts.

            “Its a funny way, but there’s no harm in it,” Thomas observed.

            “Do the children see them do this?”  Everett showed the concern of a father.

            “Not unless they sneak out in the rain to watch,” Thomas answered with a leer. “Hard to keep that secret when you are soaking wet.”

            Reverend Joe returned with two other men.  One was strikingly blond, with the long hair and beard of a frontiersman, and the other was an older Comipache, with two large feathers in his graying hair.  Reverend Joe introduced them as Arthur P. Cort and Talker.  Everett and Samantha stood and shook hands politely.  David rose as a courtesy but Lucille and Rose whispered and giggled to each other, only to be quieted by a look from Everett.  Arthur explained that he had learned to read maps during the war and asked to see the papers.  Talker sat down at the table and helped himself to supper, eating with his hands.

            Arthur looked over Everett’s papers carefully and looked up after a couple of thorough examinations.

            “I am sorry to say that you have been sold a bill of goods, sir,” he said with sadness.  “This homestead is in the mountains to the west, rough country and no good for farming.” In spite of his looks, Arthur spoke with the voice of a gracious and educated gentleman of the Deep South.  Everett could guess which side had taught him to read maps during the war. 

            Everett and Samantha exchanged frightened looks.  “You’re certain?”  Everett’s voice was a disappointed croak.  Arthur nodded, quietly.

            “You would be welcome here, I’m sure,” Reverend Joe interjected.  He looked expectantly at Talker.

            The old Comipache swallowed and licked his fingers.  He spoke in careful, accented English, using hand-language in place of some words and looking to Reverend Joe to translate.  He explained that the newcomers would be welcome, so long as they honored the arrangement and put the mark of the Comipache on their home.

            Everett looked uncomfortable.  He was not sure he wanted to stay in the Valley and give up on the idea of a place that he could have for himself, but he did not want to say so to his hosts.

            Talker continued to explain.  With reverence, he declared that the Valley was where he and his people belong.  As a young man, he had been given a vision. That had been unusual, as it was his people’s way to seek visions, and to simply have one without working for it was odd.  The vision itself was a private thing, but it would lead Talker to prosperity in this valley.  Those among the people that Talker had lived with who believed him did follow him.  The people’s holy man did not believe Talker, but no man can tell another man what to do, so Talker and his followers made the Valley their summer home. Along the way, he had gone to meetings and shared his plan and more people decided to travel with him.  Talker’s ancestors had known the Valley, but had avoided it and told frightening stories about the place, but Talker and those who traveled with him had come anyway.  Talker’s vision had told him that he would meet someone ancient, a spirit that can be found in the Valley sometimes.  And it was so.  The ancient spirit with eyes like a snake’s had taught Talker many things that had been forgotten and Talker had taught his followers.  He also asked questions, but to answer those questions, a man has to think about what should and should not be so.  When Reverend Joe and the other white people had arrived, the snake-eyed one asked his questions about what should be done.  In answering, Talker saw that they had come looking for peace and prosperity.  The best thing to do was to make an arrangement that would benefit both his people and the newcomers.

“That arrangement could benefit you as well”, the chief concluded.

            As Talker finished explaining, Everett struggled to hide his thoughts. To him, it sounded foolish, even frightening.  This talk of a snake-eyed spirit and an arrangement was all nice and fine for the savages, but he wondered how far Reverend Joe and has flock had strayed into heathen ways.

            Reverend Joe noticed Everett’s apprehension and smiled reassuringly. “No need to decide now.  If you do decide to stay, we would not make you join the flock, although you would be welcome at our service on the Sabbath.”

            Talker stood.  “I will leave you to decide,” he said officiously.  “If you go, you are welcome to come and trade with us before you leave.  The,” Talker performed a pantomime of striking a match before continuing, “are good to have.  I wonder how you make them.”

            Everett chuckled, feeling more comfortable with the change of subject. “I don’t know how to make them, I, ah, traded for them myself.”  Talker nodded.  He helped himself to another slice of bread before he left. 

            As soon as Talker closed the door behind himself, Everett turned to Reverend Joe, smiling as if he were sharing a joke.  “So they worship that Snake-Eyes fellow?”

            The preacher smiled proudly.  “I have managed to reach some of them,” he explained.  “With patience and a good example of Christian life, I have faith that they will come around.”

            Everett asked his next question delicately, hoping to disguise the accusation as simple conversation.  “And the half-moon drawing on the buildings is a religious mark?”

            “A simple courtesy,” Reverend Joe answered, fidgeting slightly.

            “It’s not a moon, but a snake-eye!”  Thomas punctuated the statement by holding up his left hand with the thumb and middle finger in a circle and his index finger held behind as a vertical line.  “A symbol of our arrangement.  Lets them know they are welcome and will get their due.”  He sat back and inhaled through his pipe, watching Everett with open expectation, as if challenging him to disapprove.  Samantha was also looking at him and he knew what the look on her face meant.  She was watching to see how he would get out of this one, with a twinkle in her green eyes.  Everett said nothing.

            Meg broke the uncomfortable silence.  “Supper’s cooling,” she urged.  “Would you like more juice, Mr. Johnson?  Sorry we can’t offer you a beer, our faith does not allow it.”

            Juice was poured and food passed around the table.  Meg steered the conversation to everyday life and news from the East.  Later that evening, the Johnsons returned to the cabin they were borrowing and retired with full stomachs. With the girls tucked in one bed and David curled up on one of the rugs, Everett spoke quietly to his wife. “Sammi, think that fellow was bein’ true about where our homestead is?” 

            “Can’t say.”

            “I think this is our homestead and these people are on it,” he complained.

            He felt her roll over onto her back in the darkness next to him.  “You will just have to tell that nice preacher and his congregation to move on,” she suggested.  “I’m sure they will agree, once you explain it to them.”     

            Everett paused.

            “I wonder how them Coma-peachy fellows will take the news.”

            Everett grumbled incoherently, making her chortle quietly.

            “So I suppose we will be movin’ into the rough country,” he decided.  “We should stay a few days, if they let us.”

            “Certainly,” answered Samantha smugly.  “Should be most comfortable out there alone.” 

            Everett sighed, sharply.  “Tell me straight,” he grumbled.

            “I could not care less what that paper says or who is supposed to own what. Hell, I expect them Indians got it all, anyhow.  We have been invited to stay and it would be plumb foolish make a go of it alone.  Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, whether it’s in a stable with a snake-eye on it or not.” 

            “You always were a practical sort,” Everett conceded.

            “Shh, listen!”

            A wolf howled in the distance.  Everett and Samantha lay quietly, ears seeking answers in the darkness.  How many were there and how close?  They could barely hear a second howl.  With relief, they realized that the animals were far away.

            “I’m for staying,” Samantha declared before rolling over and going to sleep. Everett drifted off, thinking. 

            In the morning, Arthur slipped quietly into the cabin, along with the dim light of dawn.  His moccasin-clad feet carried him silently over to the fireplace where he deposited the two logs, bucket of eggs and loaf of bread he carried, before easing silently out the door.  Everett watched him go, hazily, and sat up to see the door ease shut.  He rolled over to contemplate the window.  The homemade glass was not quite clear, so that the outside was a blur, and the homemade window was not quite airtight. The cabin seemed as cool and fresh as the morning outside and Everett could clearly hear the birds singing. The sound dispelled the fearful feeling his vivid dreams of death in the wilderness had given him when they had awakened him early.  We will stay here, he decided, smiling to himself.

            Samantha rose out of bed first.  She tied her disheveled hair in a knot and organized her slept-in clothing before making a trip to the outhouse.  Everett started a fire in the fireplace and the family had a lazy breakfast before finding Reverend Joe and telling him that they did, in fact, want to stay in the Valley.  Joe lived in a room at the rear of the chapel, but spent most of his time in town, visiting and helping. He was pleased with the Johnsons’ decision and went to spread the word.  Everett was not sure how the flock decided where his family would live, but it was a suitable plot of land on the edge of the village.  Over the next week, villagers came and went, bringing clay and cutting wood.  Reverend Joe organized it and created a party atmosphere.  He saw to it that, when the work began to get to people, they took a break and sang or told stories and jokes.  Several of the villagers brought drums or harmonicas, and even a flute and guitar, so that there was almost always music playing. In spite of the festivity, the work got done.  In the evenings, when Everett was sore and seeking a comfortable place to sit, the Comipache came, bringing with them freshly hunted venison and grouse as well as other unknown meats and greens.  The days went by quickly and Everett learned much about building a home.  When the work was done, Samantha began to trade with the neighbors. It was a good thing too, because, after all of the help he had gotten building the cabin, Everett would have given away the sacks of seeds he had brought on the wagon.  Instead, his wife traded them for food, as well as bean seeds, which would grow quickly enough to provide a harvest before winter came. She also acquired a milk cow and a few chickens.  The Johnsons soon found out that the villagers kept all their animals together and took turns guarding them against wild predators.  They were not picky about whose milk and eggs were whose, so long as everyone was given a share.

            Life in the Valley had its own rhythm and the Johnson family adjusted to their new surroundings.  There was a Sabbath on which no work was done every seventh day, which may or may not have been on Sunday, and the villagers took cues from the natural world around them as late summer slowly turned to autumn.  Early in the season, the Comipache left for their winter home. Before leaving, they came to the village and celebrated, drumming and dancing.  They invited the villagers to join in and came and went, visiting each household and taking a little something.  Every time, no matter how trivial the item, they would hold it up and show it to their fellows, shrieking a joyful, high-pitched call.  They were particularly happy when they took one of the Johnsons’ mules.  That was fine with Everett.  His family’s wagon had been dismantled to make his roof and he still had one steady mule and a strong horse to use and loan to his neighbors.  The next day the Comipache streamed out of the Valley and down the road, with all of their things packed up.

            Soon after, the harvest came in and the villagers set about bagging food and making clay eggs.  Samantha soon learned that, if she found other families and helped out with this chore, she would be given a share in the food, as well as practice in mixing the clay and making the eggs.  Soon after the harvest, the village prepared for winter.  A villager was selected to make the three-day ride to the nearest town with a hog in tow.  The hog was to be sold to buy blankets, winter clothing and supplies.  Samantha was making friends among the villagers, for which Everett was grateful, as he was more of a shy fellow but wanted good relations.  Winter was harsh and snow filled the Valley and shifted in the wind, piling up against the log cabins, and without neighbors to help, a person could easily be snowed in.  On the Sabbath, Samantha typically took the girls to Reverend Joe’s service while Everett and David slept in, favoring the aspect of the observance that involved taking a day of rest.  Some of the neighbors teased him about it, but it was always clear that it was his decision whether or not to attend the service, a fact that put him at ease.  Everett was, however, unable to resist the lavish Christmas celebration held by the flock.

            In the winter months, there was little to do.  The village children played in the snow on the less bitterly cold days and the adults had come up with all sorts of games to pass the time.  Reverend Joe’s flock did not gamble, but versions of poker and dice gaming were popular, although not played for keeps.  When Everett saw how good some of the players were, he figured that it was for the best.  Spring came and the snow melted, turning the floor of the Valley to mud.  The villagers hosted another celebration as the Comipache returned.  Everett and his neighbors planted their crops.  Soon, it was summer again and Everett and his family had nearly forgotten the world outside the Valley.

            In late summer of the Johnson family’s second year in their new home, Samantha came down with a fever.  She got sick just before the Comipache would be leaving.  Reverend Joe came to visit her soon after the neighbors became aware that her condition was serious enough to keep her in bed.  He spoke softly to her, prayed over her and then took Everett aside. 

            “Talker should have a look at her,” Joe said with uncharacteristic sobriety.

            “I don’t know what good that will do, Joe,” Everett said, dejectedly.

            “I know you are not entirely comfortable with the unfamiliar ways of our friends, but he is the only doctor about and he will be leaving soon.”

            “Expect so,” Everett said, giving the floor a hard look. 

            Reverend Joe put a gentle hand on Everett’s shoulder.  “I’ve seen him work,” he said in a reassuring tone.  “Besides, you and I will be there to watch.”

            Everett made his decision.  “Will you go and fetch him?”

            Joe nodded.  “Have faith,” he said as he strode out the door. 

            Later, Reverend Joe returned with Talker.  Everett welcomed them and thanked Talker politely for coming.  The chief shrugged and went to see Samantha.  He greeted her warmly, spoke to her quietly, looked in her eyes, touched her forehead and had her open her mouth.  He said more to her that Everett could not hear, stroking her hair as he spoke.  Then he took Everett and Reverend Joe aside.  He explained quietly that Samantha was being attacked by something unseen.  Everett tried to hide his skepticism and listen.  Talker explained that the unseen force could get inside other people, so others should stay away, but also that she needed care and attention. He advised that anyone who did visit her should cover his or her mouth and nose with cloth.  He also said that he would mix medicine powder to expel the force that was causing her sickness.  She should be kept warm and given much water and a spoonful of the powder dissolved in soup at least once a day.  Before returning to the Comipache camp, he said that he would send a boy with the medicine tomorrow and that he would ask Coh-Meh-Pah to watch over her.

            As Talker left, Everett turned to Reverend Joe, looking pained and confused. “So I am supposed to protect my wife from evil spirits, now?”

            Joe reacted as if he had been struck and his ever-present smile disappeared. He answered in a tone that one would expect him to use in a fire-and-brimstone sermon.  “I have seen Talker’s medicine at work and, for your wife’s sake and the sake of our community, we should heed his warnings!”

            Everett answered with a sigh of frustration that hissed out of him. “You heard him say he will be prayin’ to that heathen god of theirs, Reverend,” he said in a harsh whisper.

            Reverend Joe smiled and the gentleness returned to his old eyes as they wrinkled.  “Perhaps we should be asking her,” he suggested.

            Everett agreed and the two men went to her bed and discussed the matter quietly with her.  Her answer was feverishly frantic.  “Take the children and go, Everett!  I don’t want no evil spirits or vapors or whatnot to be gettin’ into my little ones.  Tell David I want to see him and give him the medicine powder when it gets here.  Out!”

            Everett strode out mumbling and Reverend Joe followed him.  “It seems her treatment would be decided,” he commented. 

            David, now a young man, cared for his mother over the following months. Everett and the girls camped out next to the cabin, using the bedrolls and covers they had used during their journey from Virginia.  The medicine Talker had sent worked and Samantha was up and around, but she was still sick and needed rest often.  Neighbors came to help Everett harvest his patch of corn, wheat and beans, as well as bringing apples and berries to share.  After harvest, as the trees changed color and the weather grew cold, Samantha’s condition worsened.  Her fever returned, along with a constant cough that prompted David to wear his bandanna over his face, as his mother had insisted he do when he began taking care of her, before the medicine had soothed her.  A young, single neighbor named Zak, who lived within sight of the Johnson cabin, took in Everett and the girls, as nighttime in the Valley went from cool to cold.  Several times each day, Everett went to see his wife.  He made certain she was taking the medicine and did his best to reassure her that she would pull through.  He even prayed with her, which was not his usual habit.  He was still worried.  Her cough was getting worse and they were running out of medicine.

            One cold night, David was dozing in the bed that Lucille and Rose normally shared. His mother’s persistent cough kept waking and worrying him.  As he lay nearly sleeping, an odd noise in the darkness dispelled his semi-conscious thoughts.  He struggled to recognize the strangely metallic whisper.  He slowly became aware of an unnatural clicking as well.  He rolled over to look at his mother, who was only a shadow in the weak moonlight from the window.  A glowing something winked on in the darkness, making eerie light.  David suddenly saw his mother, asleep and quiet, as a figure bent over her.  The figure was lean and wore baggy clothing.  Its long hair was loose and hung from its head as it leaned over her.  It held the bizarre, glowing thing in its hand.  David’s gasp of surprise was loud in the silent night and the figure straightened as its head turned toward him.  Its face was a ghostly shadow in the unearthly light and the one eye that David could see was green circle interrupted by a broad black vertical oval.

            With frightening suddenness, a strange dream was upon David.  In a blink, he could no longer see the dark cabin, only a sea of pale blue water, filled with bloated, misshapen squid.  The sea was stirred and one by one the squid vanished.  The creatures writhed the way David had seen worms move when first put on a fishing hook, before winking out of existence one after another.  The dream was gone as suddenly and jarringly as it had come.  David leaped out of bed, breathless and frightened.  He struggled to light a candle, which finally glowed, dancing and flickering in the draft from the cabin door, which hung open.  As David rushed to close the door, he stopped as he noticed that the floor was littered with dirt and leaves.  David read the floor, using the language known only to a skilled tracker.  It said that someone had come in the door, walked slowly to his mother’s bed and then walked out.  A wet, grimy footprint on a rug informed him that this someone wore an oddly shaped boot, not like the shoes and moccasins most people in the area wore at all.  Instead of closing the door, David ran out, tugging it shut behind him before hurrying to Zak’s cabin and waking up everyone inside by hollering for his father.

            Everett hastily lit a homemade candle and rose from the floor, glancing toward Rose and Lucille, who were using one bed, and then to Zak, who was a lump under the covers of his own.  Placing the flickering candle in a holder, he approached his son, who had grown taller than himself.  “Shut the damn door,” he said tiredly, hoping that the practical instruction would give David some perspective.  “What’s wrong?”

David was breathless and wide-eyed in the dim, flickering yellow candlelight.  “I saw someone with Ma,” he breathed, giving a wild look behind himself to the door.  “I think it was Snake-Eyes.  I saw something else too, something that wasn’t there!”

Everett tried to stay calm.  “How have you been feelin’, son?” he asked, reaching up to place a hand on David’s forehead.  Have you been coverin’ your mouth and nose like your Ma said?”

David relaxed, responding to Everett’s concerned voice and taking comfort in the reasonable explanation that his father was implying.  “Yeah, Pa.”

“You’re not feverish, I think,” Everett observed.  “You should go back to bed.  I’ll be over to make breakfast in the morning and we can talk then.”  Everett blew out the candle and walked out the door with David, silently escorting him back to the family cabin.  He nearly blundered into Samantha in the darkness.

“Sammi!  What on God’s green Earth are you doin’ out here?”  Everett was frantic.  Samantha grinned and spread her arms, squeezing her husband and son together as she hugged them.  “I’m fine!” she declared.

“You lost your marbles,” Everett disagreed, grumbling. 

“You right, Ma?” David’s tone whined for an explanation.

Samantha stood back and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.  As Everett and David looked on in dismay, she did it again. “No cough,” she explained. 

Everett’s response was forceful, but quiet so as not to wake the neighbors.  “Woman, get back in bed before you catch it all over again,” he ordered.  “You too, boy.  Go on!”  Everett followed Samantha and David as they hurried back into the family cabin, closed the door and made sure they both went to bed.  He spent the rest of the night with them, lying awake on the floor rugs.

The next day showed that Samantha was fine, as was David.  She was her old self and set about working to catch up on all of the things she had not been doing while she was sick.  She talked Everett into letting the girls move back in and made a new blanket for Zak, as a thank you gift.  For the Johnson family, life in the Valley went back to normal.  David decided that what he had seen had been a dream and maybe he had been a little sick.  All Samantha knew was that she had suddenly felt better.

Years went by and the girls grew up as Everett and Samantha grew steadily older.  David spent most of his time hunting and prospecting in the mountains to the west, but stayed with his parents when he was in the Valley, and the girls got married.  Lucille married a man named Arnold Kent, who had been a friend of hers for some time.  He was a farmer from somewhere in the Northeast and a good provider.  Rose, on the other hand, had chosen a husband from among the Comipache and went to live with them.  This irked Everett.  Although he had come to respect the Comipache over the years, his notion that they were savage and inscrutable had persisted.  No matter how he felt, there was little he could do about the marriage. Reverend Joe convinced him to accept their union, if not approve of it.  In his cheerful but persistent way, the old preacher gave him several talks about personal freedom laced with well-targeted scripture quotations.  Samantha helped by pointing out that if he pushed Rose on the matter, he would only push her away.  In the end, Everett resigned to let Rose have her way, without making a fuss.

One spring afternoon, Everett was out planting.  The horse he had borrowed from the corral had helped to plow neat little furrows in the modest plot of land by the old cabin.  He was intent on placing the seeds in the moist ground when he heard a crowd of hoof beats and an army bugle.  He looked around, franticly, and saw that he was standing among the Comipache tents outside of town.  Shots rang out and sabers gleamed in the sunlight as the cavalrymen attacked.  The Comipache fought back with bows and hatchets, but were overwhelmed by the onslaught.  Everett tried to run toward a wounded Comipache who lay on the ground nearby but stumbled, falling to his knees.  Then he was back in his field, on his hands and knees with the smell of fresh soil filling his nostrils.  He looked around and saw that everything was calm, as if nothing had happened.  Everett hurried away, toward the camp.  The Comipache settlement sat sleepily, with no sign of soldiers.  Women were scattered around, occupied with sewing, making pottery and doing other everyday tasks while children played between the tents.  Everett sat down on a tree stump and took in the scene, allowing the relief he felt calm him.  Uncertainty over what he had just seen tickled his mind.  Those few moments of carnage he had witnessed had seemed real, but had obviously not happened.  He rose slowly to his feet and made his way around the village and up to the chapel.

Everett knocked before pushing the large door to the church open.  He was reasonably certain that Reverend Joe would be there.  Everett had never been inside the building and he looked around as he entered.  The outside was made of logs and clay, like the cabins, but the inside was filled with bare wooden benches, which served as pews.  A homemade table with a white cotton blanket draped over it served as the altar, with a wooden cross hanging on the wall behind it.  Joe had been sitting in the front row of the crude pews, reading by the light of a window.  He was very old now, to old to wander through the village and find ways to help out, as he used to.  Having seen him on a regular basis, Everett barely noticed how wrinkled, weather-beaten and unsteady the preacher had become.  “Everett?” Reverend Joe greeted him as he walked to meet him in the isle.  His smile melted as he saw the wild look in the man’s eyes.  “What is it, friend?”

“I, Ah,” Everett fumbled.  He took off his hat and clasped it nervously over his chest.  “I saw somethin’, Joe, somethin’ that did not happen.  I think I’m crackers.”

The knowing look on Reverend Joe’s face made Everett pause.  Joe leaned on the edge of a pew.  “See Talker about this.”

Everett was taken aback.  “Can you help?” he pleaded.  He knew Joe well enough not to add that he did not want to go to the savages for help.  Everett had remained stubborn in his view of them, and before he could ask Talker, he would have to swallow his pride.  “I had a nightmare without being asleep, about soldiers attacking the Comipache.”

Reverend Joe surprised Everett by raising his voice.  “I would not know a thing about such matters!  I am just a simple messenger, trying to keep my flock together.  The good book says to love my neighbor and judge not, so that is what I do.  You can see Talker about it, or you can pretend you saw nothing, the choice would be for you to make.”

Everett was silent for a moment.  Reverend Joe had only raised his voice slightly and spoken a bit firmly, but coming from him it had been an uncharacteristic outburst.  The old man stared at an empty pew.  “Sorry, Reverend,” Everett said with soft sincerity and concern. 

Reverend Joe looked up, the easy smile returning to his face.  “Oh, I’m the one that would be sorry.  You know how cranky old folks can be.”  A look of pain came into his eyes as he turned to regard the window.  “If soldiers are coming, I pray that the Lord takes me home before they get to this valley.”

“Don’t say that, Reverend,” Everett whined.

Joe smiled, gently. “Go see Talker,” he urged. 

Everett fumbled for more to say, feeling worried.  Reverend Joe walked back to the patch of sunlight where he had left his book.  Everett looked back once before leaving the chapel.  He walked back the way he had come, taking the time to avoid walking in between the cabins.  He was not in the mood to exchange pleasantries with his neighbors, in the easy-going way of the Valley.  He paused when he had almost reached the Comipache camp, to work up enough nerve to seek out the old chief and share the embarrassing reality.  It was late afternoon and the sun made long shadows and bright highlights in the distant woods.  The area around him had long since been cleared, but the occasional ancient, broad trunk stood by, towering over him.  Conflicting urges tugged him toward the Comipache and back to his cabin. The spell he had experienced proved that there was something wrong with him and he had little doubt that Talker could help.  Everett had to wonder if he was sick and remember the medicine that had helped Samantha.  It also bothered him that Reverend Joe seemed to think that the nightmare scene might actually be about to happen.  He did not want to think about it.  On the other hand, he did not want to set aside his pride and ask for help.  Everett hated to do that for his closest friends, much less for a man he barely knew. Although the Comipache had much to teach a man about the wilderness, they did have a tendency to laugh, if one did not know as much as they did.  He resisted the urge to decide that those wild Indians had nothing to offer him.  He knew that he was making excuses and that he should know better, after having lived in the Valley. Everett made up his mind and strode purposefully toward the crowd of tents.


Everett turned when he heard the sharp, cheerful cry.  Rose sat with two other young women near one of the tents.  She was happily surprised, as Everett never came to visit her in camp and she knew he did not approve of her husband.  She spoke gently to her companions in the Comipache language before rising and rushing over to Everett.  She hugged him and looked into his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” She went straight to the point.

“I Ah,” Everett fumbled.  “I’m sick or something,” he explained.  “I came to see Talker.”

Rose glanced toward the back of the camp, an area obscured by tents scattered over the grassy ground.  “The men are having a meeting,” she told him.  Rose was not quite her usual cheerful, playful self and Everett knew something was making her nervous. 

“I still need to see Talker,” he pressed on, gently, “It’s important.”

“You don’t look sick, Pa, just rattled,” she observed.

            “Rose, I...” He was fumbling again.  He decided to tell her and spoke in an urgent whisper.  “Your old Pa’s been seein’ things.  I wanted to see old Talker before I lost all my marbles. You know what he done for your Ma.”

            She nodded.  “Prayed to Coh-Meh-Pah, he did,” she said, with the air of one who had just won an argument.  “If you’re going to the meeting, I should go with you.”

            Everett followed his daughter through the settlement.  He was still a little surprised to see her as a young woman.  In his memory, she was still the skinny little girl he had come west with.  Now, she was a tan and healthy lady, dressed in leather and walking with confidence through the camp.  The women around them looked up from what they were doing with curiosity, but nobody interrupted them as Rose led Everett to the circle, where all of the Comipache men sat listening as one man spoke firmly in their language.  Talker sat among them, as did Everett’s son-in-law Cingen, and there were other faces Everett recognized.  A man stood to meet them and said something to Rose that sounded suspiciously like scolding.  All eyes were on them, but nobody else spoke.  Talker got up and came over.  He was shirtless, old and wrinkled, and his long hair was gray, but Everett marveled that he still moved like a young man.  He spoke firmly to Rose in his language, for all to hear.  She looked down with humility when she answered.  Everett tried not to look nervous, knowing that she was probably explaining his problem to the Chief.  Talker spoke once more and then took Everett by the arm and led him out of sight between two tents.

            “I am glad that you came to see me,” Talker began.  His English had improved much over the years.  “May I ask what you have seen?”

            Everett was not sure how to explain what had happened.  “I must be sick and need some of your medicine-powder,” he admitted.  “I’ve been seeing things.”


            A wave of terror washed over Everett as he heard the phrase, making it hard for him to breath.  His hands shook slightly.  He wondered how Talker could know what he had seen, unless something was really happening.  He did, however, know that the attack was a dream, as he stood in the center of the unmolested Comipache settlement.  Talker was smiling, with a twinkle in his dark eyes, waiting with gentle understanding for Everett to unclench his teeth and answer.

            “Yes,” Everett stammered.  “I had a strange dream, but I was awake when it happened.  I saw soldiers, bluecoats, attacking here.” 

            Talker chuckled, dryly.  “I must tell you a private thing, something you will not believe.”  He looked to Everett for a reaction.  Everett nodded.

            “There is a war near our valley.  The bluecoats are driving people away.  We are not certain why this is, but it is said that they do it to make room for white settlers.  There has been some fighting between whites and the people who live where they settle and so the bluecoats have come.  Coh-Meh-Pah is very upset and worried by this.  I did talk with him today and was given visions.  What you saw was a vision of what might be.”

            Everett listened.  Then he looked at Talker through squinting eyes.  He figured he should have known better than to go to him for help.

            “So, you’re telling me that I got a vision from your heathen god?  Of all the ridiculous notions,” Everett observed, shocked and suspicious.

            “I told you that you would not believe,” Talker reminded him.

            “You got that right,” Everett mumbled.  “Even if it were true, why would he give me a vision?”

            “Sometimes he shouts.”

            “Sometimes he shouts?”

            Talker nodded.  “You overheard.”

            Everett turned away, raising his hands in frustration.  He felt Talker put a hand on his right arm.  The gesture brought him back to reality.  As Everett turned back to face him, Talker leaned forward and whispered, “whether you believe or not, the bluecoats may still be coming.  This meeting is to decide what the Comipache are to do.  Please, sit with us.  We do not normally invite women, but your daughter may stay and translate for you.”

            Everett snorted.  He wondered why they did not invite women to the meeting.  If he had not listened to Samantha, his family would have been alone in the mountains.  Still, he decided to keep his criticisms to himself.  “Thank you, I believe I will stay.”

            “This will effect all of us,” Talker observed.  He walked with Everett back to the meeting and spoke formally to the circle.  Rose sat next to Everett as he took a place on the ground nearby and translated.  Talker had informed the people that he had invited Everett and Rose to join the meeting and asked if there were any objections.  Nobody objected, so the meeting continued.  Everett was surprised by the civility of it.  The men spoke one at a time and the others listened quietly and did not interrupt.  Some speakers suggested that the Comipache should arm themselves and prepare to fight if the soldiers came.  Others were in favor of leaving and looking for a new, safer home. Still others, Talker included, had decided that the best thing to do was to hide.  It was pointed out that a soldier must find a target before he could shoot it.  Everett grew more agitated as the discussion went on.  The reality of the situation sank in and images of what was at stake danced through his head.  He imagined the Valley violated, the Comipache driven off and even his own daughter molested by a musket ball.  Although he sat quietly, trying to contemplate Rose’s steady, sober voice as she translated, he was fighting for control.

            Rose translated the calm speech given by a middle-aged Comipache man at the far end of the circle.  “I do not see why the soldiers will come for us.  We have done nothing and we have peace with the white settlers here.  I think we should simply wait for the trouble to pass.”  What the man said almost made sense, but the embarrassing truth made Everett wince inwardly.  The soldiers would not acknowledge the peace of the Valley.  They would see the Comipache as Everett himself had once seen them and, to a degree, still did.  They would only see savages.  As a second speaker finished, supporting the first, Everett raised his hand as if he were a schoolboy in a classroom in Virginia.  All eyes were upon him.  Rose translated as he spoke.

            “I know the bluecoats well,” he began.  “They will have orders to remove all Indians and they will not see a difference between the Comipache and others.  It’s not fair, but it’s true.”  He paused as the circle of men reacted.  “I believe that we should fight them.  Perhaps we could attack and then lead them away from the Valley, but I think that it is our best choice.  If the choice to fight is made, I can go to town and buy rifles as good as the ones the bluecoats carry and bring them to you.  I am a white man and can say that the rifles are to protect a white settlement.”  He leaned back.

            Talker bobbed slightly and the men of the circle turned to him.  “No man can tell another man what to do, but it is best if we stay together and act as one.  Coh-Meh-Pah has allowed me to know that there are too many bluecoats to fight and attacking them will only make them angry enough to keep coming until they have found and defeated us.” 

            Talker finished and another man spoke.  “But if our guest is right, and he would know, the soldiers will come here and look for people to drive away.  It would be cowardice to give up the Valley without a fight.” 

            The discussion continued as the sun went down.  In the end, most of the Comipache took Talker’s side and developed a plan.  They would ask Reverend Joe if he could help.  When the soldiers came, they could hide in the cabins.  It would be the last place that the bluecoats would expect to find an enemy.  Talker had faith that Coh-Meh-Pah would warn them when the soldiers were coming.  However, many of the young men liked Everett’s plan to fight using rifles.  They wanted to give him things to sell in the nearest town, as well as to take a collection from the white settlers, as they were allowed by the arrangement.  Talker did not like the idea and warned that his plan of hiding and waiting would be ruined by an attack on the soldiers, but the faction in favor of fighting would not be deterred.

            The meeting ended and as the men went home, Rose followed her father to the camp’s edge as he walked slowly and thoughtfully. 

            She hugged him goodbye and asked, “Do you know what your doing, Pa?”

            “I sure hope so.”

            She sighed heavily.  “Talk to Ma and do some thinking,” she advised before turning back to the Comipache settlement. 

            Everett did go home and explain what was happening to Samantha.  He got about half way through it before the argument started.  Samantha was furious and convinced that Talker and Snake-Eyes were absolutely right.  Fighting would only make things worse.  As the disagreement grew into a loud quarrel, Everett became more determined, becoming hard and stubborn to defend against his wife’s loud disagreement.  The yelling contest was in full swing when there was a knock at the door.  Samantha stomped over to the cabin’s only door and flung it open, to see Reverend Joe standing in the evening’s soft light.  He was smiling as always, but his eyes were intense.

            “I would be sorry to disturb you as it seems I have arrived at a bad time, but I have got to talk to Everett.”

            Samantha stepped aside and looked at Everett expectantly. 

            “Come in, Joe,” he acquiesced.

            “I have been told what you want to do, brother,” the elderly preacher began. “You are a brave man, and I understand your sentiment, but I cannot ask my flock to contribute.  You know what I believe, so I would not be boring you with one of my sermons, but I have to ask you to look inside your soul, to see if killing other men is the right thing to do.”

            Everett resisted the urge to yell at the gentle preacher.  “Yes, Reverend.  But I must say that there are times when we have to defend ourselves.  I would be willing to take lives, if it means preserving what we have here.  I should think that you, of all people, would understand the need to hang on to it.”

            “I have my faith to defend me,” Reverend Joe said with pride.

            Everett sat down, heavily.  “This is something I have got to do.  We can’t just let someone attack us!  There’s no justice in it.”

            Reverend Joe turned to go.  “Know that you do it without my help,” he proclaimed, facing the outside.  “Have faith, Everett.  Those soldiers with their guns would be powerful men in life, but they are still only men and their time will come.  They will have to stand before Him and explain.  No man escapes justice!”

            “We will still lose what we have here if we do not fight,” Everett observed with self-righteous serenity.

            “I would not be party to any killing, even for the best of reasons,” Reverend Joe said before leaving.

            Everett convinced his wife to leave him alone by asserting that another fight would not do either of them any good and ended up sleeping on the floor.  In the morning, the Comipache were packing up their camp.  Reverend Joe was with them and many of the young men of the flock helped as they stashed their tents and belongings in the chapel.  The flock held a meeting and it was decided which Comipache family would stay in which cabin.  Samantha attended and Rose and Cingen moved into the Johnsons’ home.  Everett borrowed two horses from the corral, one for himself and one to carry baggage.  He was met by a contingent of twenty or so Comipache men, carrying the valuables they had gathered.  Arthur Cort was among them and had added a gold watch and a diamond ring to the jewelry, cash and produce that the Comipache had gathered to be traded.  Everett and Arthur packed the bags and loaded them onto the packhorse.  The Comipache men, all smiles, shook his hand and spoke gratefully to him in their language.  About to leave, Everett decided that taking his old revolver would be a worthwhile precaution and went home to fetch it, leaving Arthur to watch the horses. 

            When Everett arrived at home, Talker was waiting for him at the cabin’s only table, sipping black coffee.  Rose and her husband sat at the table with him, conversing in the Comipache language. Talker stood as Everett walked in the door. 

            “He wants to see you,” Talker said bluntly.

            Everett was intent on searching the wooden boxes against the back wall, intermingled with the clay eggs that held his family’s food. 

            “Everett?”  Talker’s tone got his attention. It was as if he were not sure that Everett was really there.  The oddness of it compelled him to turn and listen.

            “I must ask you to come with me before you leave,” Talker said, almost stammering the foreign words.  “Pa”, Rose added sharply.

            “I’m here to fetch my revolver and then I have got to go,” Everett explained, tersely.  

            “Why are you in a hurry?  The bluecoats are not here yet,” Talker pointed out.

            Everett changed tactics.  “Who wants to see me?”

            Talker did not answer, but the look on his face may just as well have told Everett that he knew full well who wanted to see him.  After a pause, Everett breathed, “You don’t say?”

            Talker walked slowly toward the door and motioned for Everett to follow. Everett spoke with sarcasm. “Tell him thanks anyway, but I think I will be going.”

            Talker paused and thought for a moment.  “No man can tell another man what to do, but this is important, Everett.”

            Everett jumped as he saw a noose in front of his face.  He was no longer in the cabin, but sat on a horse in a place he did not recognize, surrounded by soldiers.  His hands were bound behind him.  An officer maneuvered the noose over Everett’s head, by pushing the long knot with the flat of his saber in one easy motion, and then brought the side of the weapon down on the horse’s backside.  As the horse lunged forward, Everett was standing back in the cabin, trying to steady himself.  Talker was looking at him with a smirk.  He held up his hand and motioned with four fingers for Everett to come.  Talker exited the cabin slowly and quietly and Everett followed, shaken.

            Talker led Everett to a tangled patch of meadow not far from the cabin. The old man squatted and grabbed something on the ground, pulling it.  A hidden trap door opened, revealing a steep, gray stone stairway that descended into darkness.  Talker held it as Everett entered cautiously and closed the trap door behind them. Everett could hear him fumble in the dark and then strike a match against the wall.  A lantern came to life and Everett looked around himself.  He was in a square corridor, decorated with carvings on the walls and sloping ceiling.  The stairs were dangerously steep, but Everett could see a flat floor at the bottom, not far away.  Everett looked at the strange, square carvings of animals, cryptic scenes and unfamiliar creatures around him.

            “This is an old place,” Talker said with reverence.  Not wanting to know, Everett was silent.  Talker descended the stairs, walked to the end of cramped, stuffy stone hallway and then set the lantern on the ground.  He picked up a straw broom that had been leaning in a corner and swept the floor in front of the wall that blocked the corridor.  In the lantern light, Everett could see an elaborate circle carved on the floor, decorated with more, smaller carvings.  Talker touched something on the wall in the darkness and Everett heard a strange, soft chirp that made him jump.  A point of pure white light appeared on the stone wall that blocked the corridor.  It grew, expanding into a square and then a rectangle, illuminating the carvings and showing their intricacy.  Everett wondered if he was seeing things again.  The light was completely white, not natural at all, and as it grew, he saw a wall beyond which looked like it was made of smooth steel. A silhouette of a person dressed in baggy cloths stepped out of the light and onto the circle and the light shrank away to nothing, leaving only the dim yellow illumination of the lantern. On the circle, a person was now standing, looking Everett straight in the eye, intensely.  Everett could not tell if it were a man or a woman, but its face was unnaturally pale, its long hair was straight and black and its eyes were green, with vertical pupils that were slowly widening, adjusting to the near darkness as it looked back, gazing deeply into Everett’s eyes.  Hoping that it was not what he thought it was, Everett looked down and examined the one-piece, dark-brown garment it was wearing, as well as its feet, expecting to see cloven hooves.  It wore boots that were not quite the right shape. 

            It stirred slightly and Everett looked back at its face.  It was still looking at him, its expression hard to read.  “Snake-Eyes?” he was asking under his breath.  It nodded, slowly.

            Everett glanced at Talker.  He was relaxed and smiling, with a smug twinkle in his eye.  Everett looked back at Snake-Eyes and backed away, still watching it, preparing to bolt back up the stairway.  “What are you?”

            Suddenly, Everett stood in a vast, rocky desert.  The sky above was overcast and dim and the daylight flickered as lightening flashed and boomed far above with uncomfortable frequency. The air around him shimmered like a giant desert mirage, reflecting the face of the barren rock to create a confusing jumble of images.  For a fraction of a second, Everett thought he was falling and everything was black. He landed in a subterranean room with shining metal walls, filled with strangely smooth, incomprehensible machinery. There were a few dozen of them with him, people with pale skin, long black hair and green or golden snake-like eyes.  The light around him was the wrong color, an unearthly white and only slightly brighter than moonlight. The machinery also glowed dimly, adding pale blue illuminated shapes to the scene.  Something touched Everett from behind and he was suddenly standing in the familiar yellow light of the lantern.  Talker had put a firm arm around Everett, as if he were about to faint and needed to be caught.  Everett gave him a look and he backed away.  As he rubbed his eyes, Everett felt a strong, unsettling sense of urgency and an odd feeling that it came from Snake-Eyes.

            Everett decided that, whatever was about to happen, it was best to get it over with.  “You wanted to see me,” he prompted, sounding unsteady and miserable.

            Snake-Eyes nodded.  Suddenly, Everett was in a forest, lying on his belly.  He noticed a strange lack of sensation, realizing that he could not feel the solid earth he lay on.  In the midst of that disorientation, he saw himself aiming a rifle at a troop of soldiers. The weapon discharged, jarringly. Around him, the Comipache recruits who had met him at the corral earlier, as well as Arthur and a few men from Joe’s flock, were hidden on the ground or behind cover as they attacked with their own rifles.  Some of the soldiers of the blue-clad cavalry troop fell, but there were too many and their horses carried them too quickly.  They easily overwhelmed Everett and the others.  Suddenly, Everett sat on a horse, with a simple rope noose in front of his face.  A second later, he was back in the Valley, watching the cavalry ride through it, firing at will as the log cabins burned.  A bugle played, victoriously.  Suddenly, Everett was back.

            “Stop it!”  Everett felt sick.  A strangely reassuring hunch washed over him, soothing him and letting him know that it was just a warning of what might be. The feeling also told him more, with a subtle undertone.  Everett concentrated, pulling himself together.  “You want me to give up on fighting the soldiers,” Everett mumbled as he came to a conclusion.  “If we give up, the soldiers will come here and run us off anyway, believe me.”

            “Do not talk with words,” Talker coached.

            Everett almost asked him what he was supposed to talk with, but he understood. He pictured the dire prediction in his mind, the soldiers coming to the Valley and forcing the Comipache to surrender, accusing the white settlers of betrayal because of their friendliness with the savages and forcibly ending the way of life that both peoples had built. 

            In answer, Everett saw a green snake-eye with the image of a troop of cavalry reflected in it.  Then he saw the Valley.  He was looking down on it from high in the sky.  The Comipache settlement had disappeared and the people were intermingled with Reverend Joe’s flock in the village.  A bell rang and the Comipache suddenly dropped what they were doing and hid in the cabins.  Shortly after, the soldiers rode in and asked a few questions before moving on.  As Everett found himself standing with Snake-Eyes and Talker again, he had another hunch.  Snake-Eyes wanted to make a deal and was offering to act as lookout, if Everett would help by giving up his provocative plan of attack. 

            “All right, deal”, Everett mumbled, sounding defeated.  He tried to focus his mind on the idea of accepting the arrangement.  Snake-Eyes held out his hand and Everett shook it.  The hand was warm and firm but felt eerily wrong, not like human skin at all.  Something chirped again and the expanding white light was back.  Snake-Eyes stepped into it and the square of light shrank to nothing, leaving Everett and Talker facing a blank wall once again.  Talker quietly replaced the broom and picked up the lantern.  Everett followed him back up the stairway as he replaced and extinguished the lantern and pushed open the trap door.  The two of them hurried out and closed it behind themselves.  The daylight was dazzling and the two of them stood together, blinking. 

            Everett gave Talker an urgent look.  “What can I tell the brave men who were sending me for rifles?”

            Talker favored him with a reassuring smirk.  “They are Coh-Meh-Pah-Cheh.  They will understand.”

            Everett looked down.  Even though he knew the trap door, stairs and ancient, mysterious carvings were there, he saw no sign at all on the ground.  He swore in wonderment.  “I just made a deal with the devil! I got to choose from watching the Valley die and making that deal!”  He swore again, with frustrated loudness.  Talker made dismissive hand motions and whispered “ah-ah”, as if soothing a frightened animal.  Everett stopped cussing and paid attention.

            “My people once thought we saw devils,” Talker said, sagely.  “They were white like dead men, with strange-color hair and eyes.  They had things with them that we did not understand.  Now we know them.”

            Everett swore again, softer this time.  “Other devils?” he asked, wild-eyed.

            Talker waited calmly for Everett to get it.  “Oh, us.”  The old Comipache nodded repeatedly, grinning.  He slapped Everett gently on the arm and began to sing a cheerful song in his own language as the two of them went home to Everett’s cabin.

            Over a century later, Arturo Mendoza labored on the construction of a new highway. He adjusted his hard hat to fit nicely over the bandanna that covered his black hair.  Arturo Mendoza was his outside name, and he had picked a Spanish one to explain the brown features he had in common with his co-workers from south of the border, although he knew only a few words of Spanish.  His inside name was Nanuchish Johnson.  He was happy to work on the highway, although the pay was unattractive.  The highway would replace the road through his hometown of Snakeye Valley and reduce the number of outsiders who stopped there.  The wall he was constructing would protect the town from the noise of high-speed traffic and, he realized, from the curiosity of travelers who would now shoot past the place with their eyes on the road, instead of driving through town.  It was true that there had been debate within the community that was hidden inside the modern homes and quaint stores that the small town consisted of.  The shop-owners would lose business, on the one hand, but fewer outsiders and drifters would arrive.  The matter had never truly been settled, but no one can tell another what to do, so Arturo and some others had applied for highway jobs.  It was his way of preserving the way of life he had grown up with, which he and his family and neighbors could walk into and out of as easily as changing clothing.  He knew that most people would find it strange, a life with no rules or orders, only persuasion and opinion.  The community preserved the old traditions and sought harmony with God and the land, as well as enjoying a unique relationship with their advisors.  As the land around Snakeye Valley was settled, the town was typically avoided.  Most of those who settled nearby were good frontier people who tended to mind their own business.  Although suspicious of the strange cult that lived in the Valley, the most disapproving thing they had done was to avoid the place and that was just fine.  The community did not dislike outsiders, but they did seek to preserve the tradition of privacy that had been encouraged by their advisors.

            Arturo paused, noticing the tattoo on the back of the man in front of him. The fellow had taken off his shirt to display a feathered serpent that adorned his right shoulder and lower back. To Arturo, a serpent with a few feathers around its head was a familiar image.  He had seen a few of them carved on the walls that housed the ancient stairway in the place used by advisors as they came and went through their mysterious doorway, to run unknown errands as well as giving advice.  Arturo had been down there a few times.  It was not forbidden, only hidden beneath a seemingly ordinary shed behind the town’s only gas station.  To see the familiar image painted on an outsider made him wonder. He considered asking about it, but decided not to.  If Arturo were to remove his own shirt, it would make him uncomfortable if people were to ask him about the tattoo of a green, snake-like eye drawn over his own heart.



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