The Glittering White World
By: Dawn Bear
Spider Man searched the outlines of the house. All the dogs, cats, sheep, and horses had been found dead except for his prized Australian Shepard, Nizhoni, who was still missing.
The corral was piled with bodies. It would have been a longer job for him and Cuts the Enemy’s Life, if Grandma hadn’t called Corn Pollen Woman. He wanted to salvage the wool and leather, but as he had stooped down to sheer, the coats felt like sand in his fingers and smelled of stagnant water, bitter and slimy. They were cursed and any yarn or blanket or rug made from it would only carry the disease.
The sun peeked from the East when he finally gave up on Nizhoni. He soaked the bodies with gas as he prayed and then threw the last momento from his days in World War II, a gold plated lighter, rubbed gray from use. The bloody ruin engulfed in flames.
Corn Pollen Woman
Corn Pollen Woman faced the sliver of light rising from the East. In the distance was Spider Man, heaving the last of the dead onto a pile with the boys’ help. She hadn’t tied her hair in the traditional tsiiyeel, instead she allowed it to drape down her back, the ends tickled her back like feathers.
The smell of gasoline hit her nostrils. She prayed to the four directions, sprinkling the little remains of the first corn pollen she had ever produced. Smoke bubbled and spun from the corral and as the sun peeked his head over the surface of the earth, the bodies were gone.
Chapter Four: The Heroes Awaken
The alarm woke Ari, but when she looked it was already 8:30. Grandma had to given an herbal remedy to calm her to sleep. She had slept almost two hours with the alarm going off and no one had woke her or bothered to mess with it. Her eyes ached. She felt the salty coarseness of her dried tears as she rubbed her eyes awake. Her room looked normal. Academic trophies scattered here and there. Posters of her favorite band, Sleeping with Sirens and pictures of her schoolmates and her goofing off. Her zombie slippers slept at the foot of her bed, as always, and she let them swallow her bare feet.
The familiar smell of coffee and grease wafted down the hallway as she opened the door. The bathroom was empty, but she didn’t feel in the mood to wash her face or brush her teeth. Everything seemed normal and she wanted to walk into the kitchen to find that nothing had changed. That maybe it was all a dream.
The rarely used living room was alive with sunlight. Dust bunnies floated like fairies in the rays. She peeked into the crack of the door to Bryant’s room. The bed was unmade and empty.
The flapping of tortillas came from the kitchen. Her feet did not want to work. It was a struggle to take each step. It was not Grandma in the kitchen.
She held onto the counter for support. “Hello?” she said.
The elderly woman turned around, her satin skirt propelled.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Her face round as she smiled.
“Hazel!” She ran over and collapsed in her arms.
The old woman held tightly, patting her back with one hand, as the raw dough drowned her other. Hazel was an old family friend and medicine woman. During the summers Grandma would send her over to Hazel’s house for a few weeks. She always had her up before the sun rose and in bed by the time it set. Before bed Hazel would boil water on the little pot belly stove in the center of her hogan and lay her over a large plastic bin while she poured it over Ariana’s long mane and washed, her long fingernails massaging Ariana’s scalp. It was something Ariana missed.
“Where’s Grandma?” Ari asked as she pulled away.
“She’s outside helping your Grandpa.” Hazel slid the bread onto the grill pan. The spam sizzled in bacon grease as she flipped them. She was the only person Ari knew who cooked the spam separately from the potatoes but she loved the way Hazel made spam. Crunchy on the outside, salty, and soft in the middle.
Ari’s shoulders fell. It wasn’t a dream. “It was awful, Hazel. All of them dead. And Nizhoni! We can’t find poor Nizhoni!” Her lip trembled and eyes burned as she fought back another outpour. “Is it like this everywhere?”
Hazel shook her head. “It seems to be only here in White Cone.”
“What could do that and to an entire Chapter?”
Hazel poured a cup of coffee. The mahogany stream was surprisingly calming. Her hands were spotted like a leopard from age. Ari had never noticed that before. Her fingernails well kept with white tips and pushed back cuticles. The type of fingernails a salon would be proud to claim, though she’d never even gone to a salon to get a hair cut.
Hazel handed her the cup. “Go sit down. Breakfast will be ready soon.”
“But,” Ari protested.
Hazel ushered her into the dining room with unexpected strength.
The table was set with two extra chairs. Ari sighed. She knew who the other guests would be. Jeff, Hazel’s grandson, always tagged along with her when they came out to visit, and the extra was probably for his mom, Esther. Ever since she could remember Grandma had steered her toward Jeff. If arranged marriages weren’t frowned upon, Grandma would’ve arranged Jeff and her to be engaged from birth. Ari couldn’t stand him. He was never serious, couldn’t care less about school, and spent most of his free time playing video games or watching silly anime. He was more like a brother to her than anything else, and picked on her almost as much as Bryant.
Grandma had told the kids that Esther was a school buddy of their mother’s, but Ari laid little stalk in what Grandma had told them of their parents. Yesterday had changed everything for her.
The bell rang obnoxiously and the hearty laughter of young men echoed throughout the house. Jeff entered, stopping between the dining room and den, like he was caught between two worlds. Jeff was at least four inches taller than Bryant. He had copper skin and a nose the Roman’s would envy. He wore faded black skinny jeans with holes at the knees, and not the kind of holes put there superficially but because of hard work. A black hoodie was zipped half over one of the many band shirts he collected. His inky hair dripped into his face.
Ari felt a burn of embarrassment knowing she was still in her pajamas and her hair looked like an amped up version of Pebbles Flintstone. She tugged at her hair, taking it out of the band that held it and tried to smooth it back into a neater messy bun.
“How can I shake hands when your hands are imprisoned by that mop on your head,” he laughed.
Ari’s face burned. She took the black band from her mouth and tied her “mop” back as quickly as possible then gave him her hand, taking it back as fast as possible.
“Make room for Jeff,” Bryant said.
Ari looked at the table and what scooting over meant. It meant she’d be stuck between the window and table at the opposite end of Grandma again, and this time there would not be any escape with so many people.
“Why don’t you sit over there?” she complained.
“Because you’re smaller.” He nudged her over.
She conceded but not without sulking. “Why are you guys so happy? There’s nothing to laugh about.”
“Come on, Ari. Even in dark times you have to find some sunshine.” Jeff’s eyes glimmered like black sardonyx in the light as he smiled.
Ari looked at her empty place setting. “Did you see it?” Her teeth dug into the small ridge of her index finger, already cracked and red. “There’s nothing left.”
“It’ll be okay,” Jeff said. His hand reached out but the distance between them was too far, so he withdrew.
The stomping of boots against the step at the front door was heard. Grandpa grunted as he walked in, taking the seat next to Ariana. He never sat there, even when they had guests.
He patted Ari’s shoulder. “You can go out now,” he said. “There’s nothing more to see.”
Grandpa looked worn. The veins on his hands popped as he took up his cup of coffee. Darkness fell over his eyes, even through the thick lenses of his glasses.
Ari didn’t know what to say. What could she say? I’m sorry? It just wasn’t enough.
Grandma sat down, silent, not looking at anyone. Her eyes glazed over as she stared absently at the table before her.
Esther came in, trailed by the stranger. Esther’s jeans were cut off at the knee, revealing her cinnamon legs down to white socks folded over thin ankles. She looked like she could be sisters with the stranger. Ari knew her to be quick to laugh, a trait Jeff inherited, and the best hug giver, though Hazel gave her a run for her money.
“Good morning sweetie pie,” Esther said. Her cheeks blossoming as she looked at Ari. “It’s been a long time.” Her voice was warm like a hug.
The women sat at the end of the table, like the Fates. Hazel further back, close to Grandpa. Plates of food sat before all of them, mostly untouched, though the coffee ran quickly between their thirsty lips. The only sound was the pad of the cups hitting the plastic table cloth or spoon ringing against the rim of ceramic.
Grandma cleared her throat as she dinged her spoon against her plate. “There’s no easy way to say it, but we are all here for the same purpose. The monsters have returned.”
“Why didn’t you see it coming?” the stranger asked.
“I spent all night looking over the weave and there were no signs. Peaks, like there has been since the colonials came, but nothing that seemed so out of the ordinary.”
“Grandma, there have been peaks in Navajo rugs for generations. That doesn’t seem so uncommon. Plus you’re the one who weaves it. You have control over how it looks,” Ari said.
“Maybe it was aliens.” Jeff smirked. “Like that dude from Fire in the Sky, that was not too far from here, maybe they left Apache land.”
Ariana rolled her eyes. “It was probably those helicopters we saw yesterday. I read an article recently about how the constant propelling from wind energy affects cattle and sheep, there was a whole herd in Sweden or something that died as a result.”
“Did it happen overnight? In matter of minutes? And why would the necks be broken or bit into?” Bryant asked.
“I don’t know. But it seems more logical than aliens or monsters.” Ariana bit her lip.
“See, aliens.” Jeff winked at Ari.
“Monsters have been around for a long time,” Grandpa said. “They were around before you were born.”
“You were born because we needed someone to face them. To save our people,” the stranger said looking hopeful.
Ariana looked away, pulling her legs up to her chest.
“You should have told them who they were. It wouldn’t be like this if you would’ve just guided them the right way,” the stranger said.
“How could we know that the time had come?” Grandma asked. “There were no signs.”
“We wanted them to be able to have a childhood,” Grandpa slammed his fork on the table. “That is something that they have never been able to experience before. They had always carried the burden of knowing they’d one day be called upon to save the people and after centuries of nothing happened we thought we owed it to them to live, to live just as the People do.”
“You’ve lived too long amongst the People,” the stranger said.
“Esther has been here with us too,” Hazel said. “She sees what the People are going through. She’s been more help to us than you who have disappeared.”
“I have helped. I have given hope. I’ve brought beauty to this world,” the stranger said.
“Have you seen our world?” asked Grandma. “It no longer glitters.”
“We gave them all we could in a world that no longer believes,” Grandpa said.
“I’ve lived here amongst the People. I knew,” Jeff said. “I lived just as them. I grew up with the Hero Twins. While I had to live with the burden that one day I will have to risk my life to save the people, they were free to laugh, to carve their own paths.”
Bryant’s jaw dropped like the mouth of a gumball machine.
Ariana gulped down her betrayal.
“I’m sorry,” Jeff said to Bryant, mouthing it a second time to her.
She pretended not to see. Her eyes focused on the window to the Arizona room. Inside was full of dust and their discarded memories or furniture. When they were young, the three of them would camp out in there during summer nights telling scary stories about skin walkers and ghosts. She’d take both over what she was hearing.
No spoons stirred. No slurps of coffee too hot to drink, or cups thudding against the table.
“What was done is done. We cannot undo it,” Grandma said. “But we can mend it.”
The stranger’s body relaxed.
“We need to find a way to stop it,” Esther said.
“Do we know who the monsters could be?” Hazel asked.
“No, but we know the Big Giant and Rock Monster have returned. All the wells are dried up in the area. And the animals are dead.”
The image of the sheep popped into Ariana’s head. Her body shook the picture away physically, but their bodies still branded her eyelids each time she closed them.
The elders shook their heads in unison.
“If we don’t know them, how could they possibly know who we are?” Jeff asked.
“Maybe they don’t know who we are,” Grandpa suggested.
“White Cone isn’t big, but it isn’t small either. And the whole area is affected,” said Esther.
“It’s a warning,” said Hazel. A faraway glaze settled over her cataract eyes.
“They have an idea of where we are, but they don’t know who we are…yet. This a good sign. Have you heard from the children’s father?” Grandma asked the stranger.
She shook her head. The veil of her long hair falling into her face.
“I’m sorry, but I’m still finding this unbelievable,” Ariana said. “I can’t sit here and be quiet while you all talk nonsense. Like I’m not even present. And all this stuff happening could be a million things. The only monsters I know are humans. Only humans do bad things.”
Grandpa covered her hand.
“Like lie,” she added.
His eyes watered.
“We haven’t found Nizhoni, Papa. Maybe she got rabies and did…” She couldn’t finish the logic.
“To the whole Chapter?” Grandpa asked.
“The coal mines are always using up the water tables.” She tried to reason with them. “Maybe they dammed the river again so that all those people in the dessert can have more golf courses.”
Grandpa continued to pat her hand slowly.
“Ari has a point,” Bryant said. “Don’t you remember that comic I showed you that was going around on social media, with the glowing radioactive sheep? It’d explain the glow from last night.” Bryant winked at his sister, nudging her shoulder.
Ari felt an electric pulse run down her arm and up her neck, through her head. She saw a large body collapse making a huge cavern in the land, but it didn’t seem to be through her eyes. It was more of a memory. The pulsating increased. A man stood on the edge of a canyon, his suit too small for his frame, the buttons about to pop. A windmill. Her windmill full of water and then with a gulp it was all gone.
“Did you feel that?” Bryant stood up shaken.
“Did you see that?” Ariana’s legs no longer secured her between the chair and the table. She lost balance, toppling over to the ground.
Grandpa helped her up as Jeff calmed Bryant back into his seat.
“What just happened?” Bryant started at his hands. “It was just like in my dream,” he mumbled.
“Your powers are coming back,” Grandma said.
“We need to teach you how to harness them,” said the stranger.
“What’d you see?” Grandma asked.
Ariana rocked back and forth. The table clang from her motion. No one chastised her or asked her to stop.
“Ari?” Bryant placed his hand over hers.
Be still she heard ring over and over again in her ears.
“Ari?” Grandma asked.
Esther squeezed in from behind Grandpa. “Sweetie?” She balanced on the tips of her hiking boots as she wrapped her arm around her. Esther lips grazed Ari’s ear. “Lay your head down in peace, then your head will be at peace. Be still changing child. Be still” she whispered.
Ariana yanked her head to face Esther, her eyes bulged in surprise. Esther’s face was as warm as she had ever remembered. Her touch soothed. Her whisper soothed. It was better medicine for her soul than she had had in a long time. She wrapped both arms around Esther. It was as if everyone at the table had disappeared and it was only the two of them. Esther was the yellow in the world. The warmth and the happiness. At least to Ariana.
She pulled away gently. “Esther, that’s what I heard him say.”
“What did you hear who say?” Esther asked. Her arm still dangling around Ari’s shoulders.
“The man in the black suit.”
Esther’s eyes squinted but she said nothing.
“There was a man on a ledge across from our windmill. He laughed and said be still. What does it mean Esther? It was just a dream, right? But how could it be a dream? I’m awake aren’t I?” She rambled and couldn’t control the word vomit. “He was so big and his suit didn’t fit him. And one minute he was looking at our windmill full of water and surrounded by flowers and with a blink it was all gone and his belly was even more swollen. He wiped his mouth like a cat. It wasn’t real, right?”
Esther padded her back as she looked at the others.
“It felt like I was right there,” Ari said. “It can’t be real. It can’t be real. It can’t be real.” Ari’s stomach sunk. All the reason in the world couldn’t explain the feeling in her gut. The monsters were real.