The Glittering White World: Chapter Six – The Black Cloud

The Glittering White World

By: Dawn Bear

Big Giant and Changing Woman

Big Giant stood before the red door. The smell of the fresh corncake wafted in the air. It was familiar. Only Changing Woman knew how to make corncake the way he liked.

“How nice of you to make me such a delicious meal,” he said as she stepped from the red door.

“Pretty food like this is not meant to be eaten by such ugly people,” she said.

Big Giant huffed, familiar with her smart remarks. “My spies saw those sweet children of yours.”

“As before and always, they will defeat you,” she said.

The buttons on Big Giant’s vest popped. The shoulders to his jacked frayed at the seam.

“Your peacocking doesn’t frighten me,” she said. “Save it for the mortals.”

He shrunk and looped his thumbs into his belt. “And here I thought it was a social call.”

Changing Woman faced him. She looked older than the last time he had seen her.

“Then why call me here?” Big Giant asked.

“To see who we are facing,” she said confidently.

Big Giant’s face burned. “I know the Sun is not with you. I know the Talking God has abandoned you. You are weak, and this is why I will win.”

Changing Woman laid the cake down before him. “This is the last time you will taste the fruits of our labor.” She disappeared back behind the red door.

Big Giant looked at the cake, but left it where it laid. As he walked away he pushed one of the trees that greeted the driveway, it’s roots green with life but broken by his strength.

Chapter Six: The Black Cloud

Ariana skirted the dirt roads to their home. The scenery was changed.  There were no horses grazing along the side of the road, no sheep to force the truck to a sudden halt.  It was empty.  The weeds even looked thirsty.

She turned onto Pueblo Way, the road that only used to have a number until surveyors came one day demanding a name or else they’d designate one for them. Grandma couldn’t think of anything so they took on a name that didn’t even suit their little dirt road. There were no Pueblos, just their little trailers and make shift railings to hold in the cattle.

Grandpa had made a fence around their home to keep out the neighbor’s cows but at the front of their driveway were always the two dead peach trees Grandma desperately held onto.  As she got closer she noticed one turned over.  The truck stopped midway into the gate. She jumped out of the truck and ran her hands across the break.

The tree had fallen.  It hadn’t bore any fruit for ages, but she could see the roots were still green.  Grandma’s hunched frame hid behind it as she clipped from the roots.

“What happened?” Ariana asked.

“It fell,” Grandma said.

Jeff and Bryant walked over slowly, whispering quietly to each other so that Ari could not hear.

“How did it fall, Grandma?” Bryant asked.

She shrugged, fixated on her task.

“What are you doing?” Ariana asked.

“I’m preserving it.  If I can get these roots in water fast enough they may live and produce more trees.”

“It’s just a tree Grandma,” Bryant said. The sadness in his voice overshadowed his calm demeanor. He had always fed into Grandma’s hope that the trees would produce fruit again.

Grandma looked up at Bryant. His eyes red rimmed.

“Let’s go inside,” Jeff said to Bryant, putting an arm around his waist to lead him away.

The red door ate their frames.

“What happened?” Grandma asked as she cut at the root methodically and placed it into a five gallon jug of water.

Ariana didn’t know what to say. How could she tell her Grandma that people were being murdered and she just ran away? She was a coward, not a hero.

She shook her head. “The same thing that happened to this tree. Nothing.” She walked away.

When she entered the red door her home didn’t feel the same. The crackling of meat being fried was familiar, but the air felt stagnant. It felt like time had stopped or was moving at a pace more rapid than she could keep up with.

Changing Woman stooped at the loom. The only wrinkles on her hands were at the knuckles. No veins protruded from the skin. No scars from something as little as a cat scratch like Ari’s had, they were smooth like well polished oak.

“What are you doing at Grandma’s loom?” Ariana asked.

“Studying it.” She beckoned Ariana to sit with her.

Ariana desperately wanted to escape to her room to blast Black Veiled Brides or anything that would take her away, but instead she relented. And it surprised her.

She kneeled beside Changing Woman, her knees hugged by the woolen hides Grandma liked to sit on. Changing Woman grabbed her hands, one in each of hers. Her touch felt like silk.  They weren’t the kind of hands that mended fences, husked corn or dug ditches.  They were soft and firm, like fry bread dough.

Ariana’s fingers were guided by Changing Woman across the weave. She felt knots and bumps she had never realized before, even though her hands had brushed against the rug a thousand times.

“Feel that?” Changing woman asked as they got toward the end.

Ariana’s eyes squinted. The thread felt divergent. Knotted but the thread felt precarious.

“It feels worn,” Ariana ventured.  “Why is the wool so thread bare? Grandpa’s an excellent spinner.”

Changing Woman led her fingers to the beginning. “And what do you feel there?”

“It’s similar.”

“That’s when the monsters first arrived.”

“This is where they come again,” Ariana said, her fingertips brushing against the end of the rug.

Changing Woman nodded.

“There’s nothing after,” Ariana observed.

“That’s because there hasn’t been anything to write.”

Ariana folded her hands in her lap.  She didn’t want Changing Woman to know she had enjoyed the moment more than she had expected.

Grandpa’s boots stormed down the hallway. He hit his shin against the recliner as he turned into the den.

“What happened?” Grandpa asked. “Your brother won’t say anything and he’s as pale as a ghost.”

Ari looked down at her folded knees. Her My Little Brony socks peeked from the outlines of her ankled converse. She fidgeted with the elastic.

“Ari,” Grandpa said in his impatient, no room for bullshit tone.

“We tried to go to Holbrook,” Ariana said. Tears boiled at her eyes. She relayed the news they had gotten from the Chapter House and how instead of going home the boys wanted to see what was going on at the border. She told them about the Grandma and Grandpa, the little boy and the orange bronco.  She dug into the pocket of her cutoff jeans for the medal and held it out to Grandpa.  The weight of a man who risked his life for a country which no longer believe him, seemed to lighten as Grandpa took the medal.

“Instead of helping, I ran away. We all ran away,” she told them. “Those men looked at us like we were animals.” Her voice cracked. “And Alex…we just left his body. He was the only one who did anything and all we could do is watch him as he died.”

Changing Woman scratched her long fingers across Ariana’s back.

Grandpa collapsed into his recliner.  Shadows fell across his face. The crows feet seemed to dig deeper impressions.

“Alex was a good kid,” Grandpa said. “It falls to you and Bryant to tell his family.” He turned to Changing Woman. “Have you got the arrows?”

“Corn Pollen Woman has gone to get them.”

“Tonight we need go to the border. We need to do something.”

“Grandpa,” Ariana said. Her nails dug into the folds of leather and wool she sat on. “I had another vision.”

The wrinkles on Grandpas face fell, shrouding his already sunken eyes.

“I know who one of the monsters is,” she said. “At least I think so. And he was the one who killed our animals.”

“Tell me about the vision,” Changing Woman demanded.

Ari told them of the man at the gas station. “When he touched me I saw the slaughter.”

“Just as I was afraid of,” Grandpa said. “Rock Eagle Monster is back. How many more have been dormant only to come out now?”

“There is little time,” Changing Woman said. “On the fourth day we will strike back against the first of the monsters.”

“That’s two days away,” Grandpa commented.

“The twins grew once in four days time. Four days will be enough time for their powers to awaken.”

“I can’t do it,” Ariana said. “You didn’t see all the blood. You didn’t see the blind hatred. I’m not good with a bow like Bryant. I can barely lift a box of books to put it in storage. I can’t do this.”

“I know you can save our people,” Jeff stepped from the shadows of the hallway into the room. He kneeled down next to her, taking both hands in his. “You’re the strongest, smartest woman I know.”

“Grandma says, my mind is cluttered with stories, how will that help us?”

“I’ll be right beside you.”

Changing Woman rose to her feet, towering over their frames. “We will give you tools to defeat them, but Jeff, you will not be with them.”

Jeff stood. “This is my fight too.”

Changing Woman’s shoulders straightened, her neck stretched to make her appear taller than she was. “You are not one of us.  If you go, you will die. You cannot follow where they go.” She paused. “You are not Esther’s son. Corn Pollen Woman should have told you a long time ago.”

Jeff fell back into the couch, stealing his eyes with a callused hand. It was as if all the joy and laughter had been severed from his body.

“It was not your place to tell him,” Grandpa said, his wiry frame straightening to exert his power.

Ariana crawled over to Jeff, her hands on his knees. She cared for Jeff, maybe not in the marrying/dating kind of way everyone hoped for, but she had known him all her life. He was the one who protected her when the boys at school shot spitballs into her hair when she was too absorbed in a good book to notice anything around her. It killed her to see him so defeated.

Ariana turned to Changing Woman. “You’re not a god, you’re a vampire. You leech out all the joy from this world.”  She regretted the words the moment they spilled.

Changing Woman stiffened. “I am doing what must be done. I can see how much this boy means to you.  Don’t let him become just another victim of the monsters.  Let him live to grow our people.”

Ariana looked to Grandpa. His head bobbed back and forth in slow motion.

“I’m sorry, Ari,” Grandpa said. “She’s right.”

Ariana stood, her hands balled into fists at her sides. “You’re cruel. He has known since birth you were all real, he knew who you were, he kept your secret and thought because he was in on it he was special too. Well, he’s more special than any of us, because he believes, he hopes, and has followed all of you blindly, willing to give up his life.”

“Would he be so willing if he knew there was no coming back?” Changing Woman asked.

“Of course I would,” Jeff said, getting to his feet. “You may say I’m not her son, but she raised me.  She told me one day the monsters would come and I would play a part in getting rid of them.  Whether that means taking my life or not, she prepared me to face them. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Our hearts could not bear the sadness of losing you,” Grandpa said. “We have lost so much already.”

“The moment you ask me to walk away from my destiny is the moment you have all lost me.” Jeff unballed Ariana’s fists, hinging his fingers with hers. “You have faith in me, right?”

His eyes watered.

Ariana looked down, taking her hands out of his. She could not imagine a life where Jeff was not there. It was as if a piece of her heart would be absent.

“We can’t lose you,” Ariana whispered.

He yanked away from her, stepping back toward the garage door.

“I’ve always had faith in you.” He took another step back. His eyes not leaving Ari. She felt them even when she found it hard to look up from her feet.

“I know.” Her voice cracked.  “But you shouldn’t have. I’m a coward, Jeff. I’m not courageous. I’ve never expected to be the protagonist in any hero tale. I’m not willing to say goodbye to anyone I love.”

“Love?” Jeff said. “What do you know of love. Your love is selfish.”

She looked up. He was at the door to the garage. His hand rested on the well worn door knob.

“Goodbye, Ari,” he said, turning his back on her. The darkness of the garage swallowed his dark frame.

Her feet cemented to the ground. She could not run to catch him, to stop him from leaving.

Grandpa wrapped his arms around her. “You are not selfish,” he said.

“I don’t want him to die,” she cried. His faded cotton shirt darkened with her tears. “I am selfish. I’m too selfish to do this.”

Grandpa squeezed her tighter. Her ribs felt like they were corseted in. “You will do it. You’ve done it before. And you will succeed.”

The sliminess of her snot webbed and glistened across his shirt as she shook her head against his chest. But he didn’t revolt, instead he held her closer.

“You did the right thing,” he said. “Where we are going, he won’t be safe. He cannot follow.”

Ariana nodded her head, but she couldn’t help but feel that without his presence she didn’t have the motivation to go on.