This was written back in ’06, but remains a serious try at penning something worthwhile. I hope some will take the time to read it and comment. Included above is a photo which might somehow set the stage.
Counting the Bones – A fiction
I had another dream. This time it was a complete saga of discovery which I remember in vivid detail, and, furthermore, filled me with a full range of emotions. As I sat up and shook off the night chills, I could see my watcher sitting calmly by the fire. Joe had not said a word in five days, nor would he, because it was not his purpose to converse with me, but only to listen to what I would say. He would not even nod or smile, nor give any indication of reaction to what I would tell him of my nightly dreams. Joe came to me at dusk and left me at the rising sun, going back to sleep at his home. I knew there were other watchers during the daylight hours, but they would stay hidden from me. My waking hours were solitary.
The sun had not yet risen over the calm waters of Georgian Bay, but the sky had brightened considerably and the birds were making a racket in the maple bush further down below the escarpment. From my high perch, I could see across an unbroken expanse of forest spreading for two miles to the rocky shores of the bay, beyond which the seemingly unlimited blue waters stretched to the horizon. From this rocky shelter, my view was to the southeast, and the rising sun would soon fill my temporary home with light and warmth. Only in the evenings, shortly before sunset, would my high nest fall into dark shadow, making me reach for the blanket and the comforts of sleep.
The fire Joe had tended during the long night crackled with blue flames and rising sparks as the cedar burned. I took in a deep breath of the scented boughs upon which I had slept, filling my lungs with the aroma laden air, and began the morning ritual of telling him about the dream.
It had begun with scrabbling through loose soil, filled with pine needles, snail shells, small stones and mushrooms. I was searching for something without knowing what I was searching for, but, determined as always, I ran my fingers through the dirt and detritus carefully, firm in the knowledge that I would find something. I remember smelling that soil, its punguent odour assaulted my nostrils with a heady mix of decay and pine gum which I found extremely pleasant. My bare knees dug into the loose earth to give me purchase as I clawed deeper and deeper when my fingers suddenly closed on a hard little object. I knew I had found something of great importance even though I had yet to lift it from its deep repository. Bringing it into the light and brushing it off, I saw it was a tiny statuette…no larger than a bumblebee. But this was no insect. It had four chunky legs, a solidly built body and a large head with a horn at the top of its muzzle. I spit onto my fingers and carefully wiped the dirt from its faceted body, picking flecks sticking between hooves, polishing the head and body, finding what seemed like armour plating around the thick neck. I recognized it immediately. It was a tiny rhinocerous, carved so expertly that every part was perfect, even the tiny eyes glowed with a blackness deep in the folds of its grey hide.
I thought to myself that this was highly unusual. After all, I am here on the Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay…in Canada! What was a carving of a rhino doing here? Flabbergasted, I held the miniature close to my chest, clenched within my filthy fist, and began walking, I had no idea where to. Before long I came upon a well built barn…strangely, because there are no barns where I was, not even farms. Regardless, I entered the huge dark space and sat upon a large banded pirate chest, and, when my eyes became adjusted to the gloom in that silent place, I opened my hand to view the object I had found and brought here. It was a thing of beauty, gleaming with the sweat of my palm, it gave off a pearlescent sheen much like a seashell. I so admired it that I was filled with awe at the exquisite workmanship of the artist who had created it.
But, then, it flew from my hand on fluttering moth wings. A feeling of terror and loss filled me. How could this be? It was a stone statue. How could it be alive? But it was and it fluttered like a tiny butterfly into the dark empty space above me. As it flew, every now and then, it would be visible in the beams of light which passed through the chinks in the barn walls. It beat its silent wings and dove and spiralled all around that cavernous barn but I stayed put upon my pirate chest seat and stared open-mouthed at the marvel being played out before my eyes. The feeling of loss no longer pained my gut and instead an elation grew within me. I felt I had released the wonder from its earthy prison and given it life from the sweat of my palms. I was happy.
And then, just when I was completely satisfied with my fortunes, it came back to me, dancing in front of my face. I put out my hand, palm down, and it landed upon it as lightly as a feather. The joy was profound, complete…I had made a precious friend.
And then I had awoken to see Joe, wrapped in his blanket, his dark eyes like coals in a deeply lined face surrounded by long grey hair. He listened carefully as I detailed the dream to him, his face emotionless. When I had finished, he rose, folded the blanket, lay it in the same cranny as he had the other five mornings and abruptly turned and left.
As the sun now rose higher in the sky, I descended, like I always did, down the rocky dangerous path to the bay below. It was my daily trek and I would spend my day among the rock strewn beach, listening to the waves as they clinked the gravel together on the shoreline, mesmerised by the musical notes. I would bathe and drink a little water, sit in the morning sun, drinking in the warmth in turn. Then I would swim in the clear cold waters and watch the minnows scatter as I dove deep and opened my eyes. I hadn’t eaten for five days now but the urge to do so had left me on the third day. Tasting the water now seemed far different since my hunger and thirst had gone. It felt thick and sweet on my tongue, full of flavour. I could taste the fish and the stones as I sipped small mouthfuls. Everything around me had taken on a new aura. The different trees smelled of their differences, for instance, as did everything else around me. My senses were heightened, there was no doubt in that. My hearing was much more acute too, as was my sight. That gull that just flew by, giving its highpitched call, echoed in my brain. I could see its eyes look my way and noticed that my sudden presence had shocked it slightly, making a tiny hitch in the wing movement.
And so my days had passed…never uneventfully, becoming ever more fully aware. In the depths of the forest, just past the beach, I knew there would be a watcher, quietly sitting and never their taking eyes off me. I even fancied I could hear their heartbeat and tell where it was they had hidden themselves. It was good to know there was always someone, though, because I was becoming…stranger by the day. Everything interested me intensely, whether it was the depths of the sky, the fluffy white clouds soaring by and watching the winds tear at them or, whether it was tiny ants as they hauled their immense loads, dragging them over impossible rocky obstacles.
I was becoming child-like, enraptured by all the life around me, my senses inflamed. The days now seemed too short and soon it was time to climb back through the line of old twisted cedars at the edge of the beach and on up to my little camp under the rock ledge.
When I arrived, Joe was shrouded in sweet-smelling smoke as he worked the coals back into fresh flame. The shadows had returned as the sun sank behind the rocks and a chilly west wind curled into the recess, blowing grey billows of smoke around the six foot four inch frame of my night watcher. I had met him several years ago when he joined me in a sweatlodge ceremony. Afterwards we had buttered thick slices of bread and carved up a deer heart done in a slow cooker. I learned a little about him then, how he had done four tours of Viet Nam and how he was troubled by unknown ghosts better left to himself. Tall and lanky, he smelled like woodsmoke and leather, always wearing the same jacket and rarely speaking. What I knew of him most were his actions and I held him in great respect
His eyes met mine as he turned towards me and held there as I climbed the last few steps to the ledge. When he looked at you directly, there was an intensity in his eyes…they sparkled like dew, even in the shadows, as if light actually came out of them. I sat at my usual spot, re-arranged the cedar boughs I had for a bed, and wrapped my thick blanket around me, staring at the flames as they grew. Soon my eyelids grew heavy and before the light faded in the sunset, I was fast aleep.
I was dreaming again.
I lay on my back in soft soil…so soft, I had actually sunk into it a bit and it was so very comfortable. My eyes were open and I looked up into a mauve sky framed by the branches of tall trees all around me. I smelled a strong perfume in the air, as if there were many flowers nearby and the leaves were turning back and forth upon those branches. There was no breeze, though, these leaves seemed move on their own, each in a different way. Their glossy surfaces reflected the purplish sky in reds and greens, so that they shimmered with an alien light. This is how I knew I was dreaming.
There was a weight on my chest and, looking down to my body, saw a huge snake passing over me, thick as my arm and very long, it moved as snakes do, finding purchase by coiling and pushing against rough scales. The design on its back was diamond shaped, in green and gold with white ribbing on the belly. I could see each scale move and flex as it travelled over me, and, as I twitched, its’ head slowly turned my way and the eyes bored into mine. Opening its’ mouth wide, it smiled at me, wagging that forked tongue wickedly. Then I felt another snake sliding over my legs, going the opposite way. Without panic, I looked around and noticed that the area was full of snakes, in all colours and sizes. They were in the trees, among the branches and their lively leaves, and winding their way up and down the trunks of all the trees. They were like a blanket upon the ground. Some were so big that it would be difficult to reach around their thick bodies and clasp hands while others were quicker, whip-like creatures small as my little finger.
But they were all aware of me lying there.
Slowly I rose to a sitting position, careful not to cause them to fall. Running my fingers along their cold sides, they would respond by smiling graciously at me. I thought I could hear them thanking me in sibilant whispers, grateful for my touch. And I became at ease in this strange landscape of snakes and flowers and sentient leaves. Standing, I reached out and touched their graceful bodies, loving their beauty, their complicated designs, their flowing strength and their absolute kindness. Soon, I was carefully stepping among them, a strange human in a jewelled sinuous world.
Suddenly I sensed a different motion, a tiny fluttering figure just outside of my vision. Turning to its direction, it darted away to the periphery, avoiding my eyes and yet seemingly drawing my gaze. A tiny taunting teasing thing, there was no telling what it was, only that it was there and that it avoided my eyes.
Going forward among the reptillian carpet, I came upon a mossy open place where my bare feet sank to the ankles and was confronted by three alien beings. They wore long white robes tied at the waist by ropes from which dangled many nonsensical shining objects. Their heads were bare and bald. I saw no ears or nose. Their lips were a horizontal slash and emotionless. Their eyes, slanted upwards at the outside, were almond shaped and black as polished ebony.
They spoke to me then, telling me not to be afraid. Their lips did not move, nor did their mouths open, but their voices were clear and pleasant, calming my jangled nerves at the weird apparitions standing tall before me.
“We are here for the counting”, they said in a musical way, “do not fear us. All is as should be. All will be well. Be silent and be at ease.”
I stood still, my arms at my side, and they came forward. Not walking, but sliding slowly towards me. One, who was in the center, came directly to me, stopping inches from my face. They were taller than me, by an inch or two at least and they smelled of cinnamon. The others came to my sides as the former held my gaze, peering into my eyes as if they were but windows into my brain.
“Don’t be afraid”, said the one before me.
“Be calm”, said the two at my sides.
Beyond, I could see a tiny winged creature flying as a butterfly does, bobbing and weaving. It seemed familiar and comforting.
“we are here for the counting”, they repeated as the two on each side of me took hold of my arm.
“Do not be afraid”, said the one before me as he lifted a blade to my face and inserted it between my lips.
The cold slippery steel slid quickly past my teeth and under my tongue. I twisted helplessly in their hard clutches as the blade tore into the back of my throat. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets in terror as the sharp edge sliced through cheek and throat The beings’ great strength was behind the knife as he tore through my neck down to the spine and, with a deft twist, I heard the discs seperate.
The being lifted my head free by the hair.
“Do not be fearful, all is as should be”, he said as he placed my head upon the soft green moss.
It was strange, but the fear left me as soon as my upper teeth touched that sweet carpet. Far above me, those dark eyes watched mine for a bit before turning back to my body, with its tongue lolling about on that stump of a neck, garlanded by white teeth and lower lip.
This they cut first, seperating it completely and stripping the flesh off the chin and lower cheeks. They then passed it around, nodding as they turned it over and over, studying the teeth, pointing out the shape here and and the hinge there. It was a clean white bone when the set it down beside my decapitated skull.
They then turned their attention to my clavicles, my ribs, my arms and so on. Every bone they cut and lifted from my body. They stripped clean until it was white as …well…bone. There was no blood at all, and that confused me. I saw red muscle and grey sinews, pink lungs and red heart, long, long windings of light coloured intestines, lumpy greenish brown liver, on and on it went in technicolour, but no gore whatsoever. I had such a grand view of it all from where I lay.
When they were finally done, my body was a pool of offal, steaming on the soft moss. On either side of me, arranged in some strangely ‘correct’ way, were all my bones, from the smallest to the largest. They had even taken the tiny bones from my ears and inspected them closely. But, now they stood in a semi-circle before me, holding one bone…a small bit of white which I could not identify.
And they were very pleased, these beings, nodding and animated by their excitement…and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t happy about them finding it myself!
And then I awoke.
Dawn had come again and Joe stared into my eyes. And, for the first time, on that seventh morning, he finally spoke to me.
“you have passed the test”, he said, covering the embers of a dying fire.
“I had a really weird dre…” I began, but Joe’s raised hand stopped me.
“Don’t talk about it, your bones have been counted and you have passed the test, keep it all in here”, he said, smiling and tapping his forehead.
“I think I saw that rhino again, Joe”
“That’s no rhino, my friend,” he smiled ear to ear, “that was me”.