The Glittering White World
By: Dawn Bear
Coyote sat at the edge of a mesa overlooking a riverbed swallowed by sand. The lone windmill croaked with age and thirst. A large expensive looking button twirled between his fingers like a magician. The area reeked of his old friend the giant. His long legs dangled over the edge, with long knobby callused feet swinging back and forth.
“Back to your old ways,” Coyote said out loud, like the giant could hear him. His large teeth shimmered in the moonlight. A cloud formed in the south like a dust storm but came with a buzz. Coyote’s grin widened. “But now you’re getting Biblical.” He jumped from the mesa’s edge, slid down the side and ran off toward the house he had grown to call home.
Corn Pollen Woman
Corn Pollen Woman stood next to her sister and Spider Woman just outside the red door of their home. The sun was about to rise and they were ready to do their morning prayers. The last of the stars blinked with sleepiness as the pale blues took over the sky to ready for the royal purple and oranges.
The two peach trees reached out in silhouetted form like hungry claws and just as the first oranges breached the horizon a loud buzz broke the silence and darkness encompassed the sky again. Locus swarmed what was left of their harvest and their song was enough to drive anyone mad.
Corn Pollen Woman screamed out in frustration. Her powers were too weak to stop them.
Chapter Nine: The Land is Ravaged
A scream woke Ariana. She scrambled to her feet, past the bathroom and rarely used living room, toward the den. The door left open. She crept forward, not wanting to believe what she was seeing. Her jaw dropped.
Her brother was outside in the middle of a storm of bugs like a super hero with lightning bolting from his body. Carcasses crunched beneath her bare feet as she crept forward. Fewer and fewer of the bugs remained. She ventured a hand on his shoulder and for a moment felt the static shock she had felt many times before, but this time it subsided almost immediately. She felt her hair standing on end.
He crumpled like a paper doll to his knees.
She put an arm around him and tried to pull him up.
“Just give me a sec,” he said, breathing heavily.
She managed to get him to his feet.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Coyote said, leaning against the garage door.
Ari glared at him. “Can’t you see that he’s hurting?”
“But look at what he can do!” Coyote twirled, arms spread out like he was dancing in the rain, his callused heels crunching on the exoskeletons like he was tap dancing. “Now that’s a power we can work with.”
“The corn is gone, the sheep, all our stocks are now diminished,” Esther said.
“It’s like being corned by Kit Carson all over again,” Grandpa said from the open doorway.
Coyote picked up a locust and put it in his mouth.
Ariana gagged. “You’re so gross.”
“If the People are anything,” he said. “We are resilient.” And picked up another one.
Grandpa walked toward the garage as Grandma began sweeping the concrete.
“Grandpa, you need to train your dog better,” Bryant said, brushing Ariana aside.
Ariana elbowed him in the belly. “That was a fast recovery.”
“As Nizhoni said, we are resilient.” He winked and jabbed at her shoulder as he ran into the house to avoid her retaliation.
“Stop calling me that,” Coyote shouted down the hallway as he bit into another locust, offering one up to Ari.
“No thanks,” Ari said with a look of disgust.
She started to follow Bryant into the house, but Coyote grabbed her arm. Ari looked at him, not used to be being grabbed by any man other than her Grandpa, Bryant, and of course Jeff. Her eyebrows furrowed and she yanked him off.
He raised his arms in defeat. “No harm. Just wanted to have a little chat. How ‘bout a walk?”
“I don’t have my shoes on,” she complained.
“Man, I’ve watched you since you were just a little rez rat with lizard skin, gettin’ into all sorts of trouble. Your feets so big cuz you been walkin’ around bare foot since you were in swaddlins.”
“I’m in my pajamas,” she said stoned faced.
“Who’s gonna see? Ole man Yazzie?” He laughed, his teeth flared over his full lips, too large to keep within his large mouth. “He’s got enough to worry about with his own sheep gone and now his crop gone too. Just hush and take a walk with me. The indoors is gettin’ to me.”
Before she realized it she was skirted beyond their fence and out onto the dirt roads, already dry from the brief rain from the day before. Their tire tracks dug deep trenches. Grandpa would have to grade the road to make it even again.
“What do you want, Nizhoni?” she asked. Her feet starting to feel sore from the earth. It’d been a long time since she’d gone barefoot.
“I told you to stop calling me that.”
He fumbled in his pockets, pulling out a soft pack of cigarettes, offering her one then popping one in his mouth. He puffed and puffed. She couldn’t help but laugh. He was the spitting image of the wolf in fairy tales feigning being human.
“I’ve missed tobacco,” he said. “It’s not as good as our traditional stuff, but it does it’s job. Sure you don’t want one?”
“I’m only sixteen.”
He puffed again, thinking on what she meant, gave up and shrugged.
They walked in silence for a bit, the sun rising higher up the horizon. There were no signs of darkness but the locusts had done it’s job. The familiar yellow buds that sprouted Navajo tea were gone, neighbors corn fields and melon harvest were destroyed. Most of the sheep had been hauled into piles and burnt but there were strays here and there collecting flies. It angered Ari.
“What do you want? Why bring me all the way out here?” she asked.
“I didn’t make you do anything,” he said coyly.
“Ugh!” She turned to head home.
He grabbed her arm again. “I’m just playin’ around.”
“I’m sick of these games. No one ever wants to put anything bluntly. Just tell me what you want.”
“I want you to help me make our move.”
She raised an eyebrow and did the wonder woman power stance. “You’ve got my attention.”
“You’ve let them tread all over you guys and not once have you struck back. If we leave everything in their hands,” he pointed toward the house with his chin. “It will take a whole ‘nother generation before we do anything. You, me, Bryant, that’s enough power to really get something started.”
Ariana bit at her tender thumb. She’d been doing a lot of nail biting over the last few days. “Do you have a plan?”
His teeth swarmed his lips as he nodded.
“I’ll talk to Bryant,” she said, turning to go back to the house.
He placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
She rolled her eyes. “I already agreed.”
“There’s one more thing.”
“We’ll need to find your friend Jeff.”
Her body stiffened. “Absolutely not.”
“Some paths are meant to cross with each others whether we choose for them to or not.”
Her fists clasped and unclasped at her sides. “You are a trickster, you cannot foresee the future. If you are right, and if your plan puts Jeff at harm I will not be part of it.”
“You choose the life of one man over the life of the People?” Coyote asked, grinning.
Ariana glared at him, her stubbled fingernails dug into her palms as her fists shook. “I see now why they call you the trickster.”
“I’m just putting the choice before you. We can defeat them now, or suffer a generation and end it later. Your choice.” He offered up another cigarette. When she refused he skipped back toward the house. She followed behind, sulking.
Breakfast was bland and silent. Grandma had made a batch of old blue corn mush, and everyone ate it with heavy hearts, with the exception of Nizhoni. He had not lost his appetite.
He patted his stomach contentedly. “We’ll be off then,” he said. He ruffled Grandpa’s head like he would a dog and scampered off into the den.
Everyone froze, expect for Grandpa. He grabbed at his crooked hat and pulled it free, inspecting it for any indentions and then straightened it back onto his head.
Nizhoni leaned his head back into the entry way. “You two coming?” he asked.
Ari put her hand on the table as she stood up but Grandma dug her nails into her skin.
“Where are you going?” Grandma asked.
Ari yanked her hand away, cradling it to her heart. “That hurt, Grandma.”
“It’s not safe for you to wander,” Changing Woman said.
Bryant prodded the small of Ari’s back. “We won’t go far. Grandpa said he knows where Jeff’s at.”
Esther looked up hopeful. “Are you going to bring him home?”
“If that’s what he wants,” Bryant said.
Esther stood. The table shook as her palms hit the table. “He belongs with us,” she said. “Let him decide and if chooses to come home, let him.” She looked daggers at her sister. “He may not be one of us, but he is just as passionate as any of us, if not more so, about the cause we fight for. If…when he comes home, I will not have any of you run him off again.”
Ari looked at her feet as she nibbled on her nails. “I understand,” she mumbled. “I will not let my own feelings get in the way of our cause again.” She looked up, forcing her tender finger tips into the pockets of her jeans. She couldn’t bear to look at Esther, so her eyes feel to Grandpa instead.
He took off the bottle capped lenses and cleaned them meticulously with the handkerchief he kept in his shirt pocket and place them back on his porous nose. He folded the handkerchief and placed it back into the pocket at his breast.
“I know you, Ari, and I know you mean no harm, but you,” Grandpa wagged a finger at Nizhoni hovering in the shadows of the den. “I know there is more to your going than you say. I have observed you since we emerged into this world from the last. I watched as you stole and created chaos. Bringing Jeff home reeks of your madness. Don’t think that because our powers have slighted us, that I am so weakened I cannot sense a wolf among my flock.”
Nizhoni squealed. “I’m no wolf Grandpa. Just bringing home one of your flock like a good sheepdog.” He winked.
Grandpa nodded. His pointed finger logged against the table sturdily.
“I—“ Grandma started.
“It’s fine.” Grandpa put his hand over hers. “Let them go.”
Esther sat back into her chair heavily, a glimmer of hope sparkled in her eyes.
“It’ll be alright.” Grandpa got up, took one last sip of his coffee and headed toward the den. He ruffled Nizhoni’s hair as he went out the door. “Take both trucks and fill them up at the chapter house,” Grandpa called over his shoulder.
Nizhoni rubbed his hands together. “Does that mean I get my first driving lesson?” His teeth shined with saliva.
Ari rolled her eyes as she pulled Grandpa’s keys from the bowl. “You’re riding with me,” she dictated.
“But I was hoping to get to know your brother better,” he whispered.
Ari stepped on his big toe as she side strolled to the front door. He squealed exaggeratedly.
The drive seemed longer than usual as they crossed the border into the joint unit area where their family used to live before the borders were reassigned between the Navajo and Hopi. It was barren of the peach trees that used to be planted sporadically, the sheep herds, wild horses and houses. Over the last ten years the old remnants had been knocked down and demolished and buried with the garbage in the old washes.
“How do you know he’s out here?” Ari asked. “No one comes out here anymore, except to party or reminisce.”
Nizhoni sniffed the air. “I can smell him.”
“Over there.” He lifted his chin, pointing over to a small hill known to the locals as star mountain. It was rumored a star had buried itself in the earth long ago, gathering the antique moss colored sands around it like an ant hill, leaving a small sliver opening at the top so it could peak out into the night at its brothers and sisters, creating Star Mountain. Within the crater were drawings and pottery. It used to be all in tact until someone became greedy and took the pottery and sold it. The roads that led to the base were washed out and weed ridden, scratching at the bottom of the truck. The two of them bounced as they climbed up, down, and sideways through the washes until they got to the base.
“It’s all walking from here,” Nizhoni grinned.
Ari stared at his feet. “You didn’t even bring shoes.”
He batted away her remark and jumped out of the truck.
She got out. Grey green stones cluttered the base of the mountain. One lone juniper tree stood barren. A tattered, flowery piece of fabric waved in the heavy winds from one of the branches. A strange pile of fine sandstone stood not far from the tree.
Old beer cans littered the path as Ari climbed the steep hill. She almost fell face first into the stones as Bryant flung an arm around her shoulder, breathing heavily.
She pushed him. “Jerk! I almost fell.”
“Someone’s grumpy.” He held his knees as he caught his breath. “Odd place for Jeff to run off to.” He tossed his head up to the peak.
Ari nodded. “He’s run off to odder places.” She laughed. “Remember that one time when he was like five years old and we found him in the out house reading comic books with a flash light.”
Bryant fell to his knees laughing. “Hazel burnt his clothes because they smelt so bad.”
“How could he even bear the smell that long?”
“Well no one really ever used it by that time unless we had guests.”
“Which at that time was all the time!” Ari reached down and pulled him up.
“This hike is a lot steeper than I remember.”
“Too many cream pies and fry bread.”
“What can I say, I’m a growing boy.” He winked and started up again.
“Why can’t we have cool powers like flying?” Ari complained as she followed behind.
“I’ve always wanted to be invisible. I think that’d be cool.”
“Hate to break it to you, but you might as well be, at least to girls.” She laughed at her own joke.
He threw a handful of dirt back at her. “Not as invisible as you are.”
“I know at least three boys who’d disagree.”
“If they’re in your Calc class, they don’t count.”
Ari threw dirt back at him. “That’s mean.”
“You two coming?” Nizhoni called from the top.
“Did you notice he doesn’t even wear shoes?” Ari said as they continued up.
“That’s nothing compared to his smell.”
“I had to keep the window rolled down the entire way here. Couldn’t even use the air-conditioning!”
Bryant laughed. “You sound spoiled.”
“What?” She wiped sweat from her brow. “It’s hot and it’s the only time I can get that luxury. I wish Grandpa would break down and at least get some window units.” She frowned.
“I’ll take him on the way back.”
She was about to agree, but then she thought about how sneaky Nizhoni could be when he got people alone. She shook her head. “No. It’s ok.”
Bryant shot a look back to her. “You sure.”
“You’re Jeff’s best friend. I’m sure he’d rather be in a car alone with you than with the chick who told him to go away.”
They reached the peak. Coyote relaxed at the crest, his lanky legs curled up to his chest as he smoked a cigarette.
“Took you long enough.” He spat.
“I don’t see him,” Bryant said.
“He’s down there.” Coyote nodded toward the cavern.
Bryant grunted as he lowered himself down.
Ariana went to follow.
“Stay,” Nizhoni commanded.
“I’m not a dog.” She glared at him but obeyed, planting herself on a rock a good distance away.
It was quiet, with the exception of the wind. No cars weaved through the barren roads and no live stock skirted the open terrain. There was so much open land she could see the dusted white crown of San Fransisco Peaks in the far off distance. What happened to the lives that used to fill the joint unit area? Were the Hopi People impacted by the same monsters who were torturing her right now even though they had separate gods?
She felt a strong nudge on her shoulder.
“You ready?” Bryant asked.
Jeff lingered in his shadow.
She nodded her head and got up slowly.
“You look like an old woman,” Bryant teased as he reach out a hand to help her.
“Who’s that?” Jeff asked, chin pointing to Nizhoni.
Bryant sauntered over to him, planting a hand on his shoulder, grinning. “This, my friend, is Nizhoni!”
Jeff laughed. “Who?”
“You remember, our old dog, Nizhoni.”
Jeff grinned. “Wait, don’t tell me, let me guess.” He held up a finger. “Coyote.”
“How does none of this stuff bother you?” Ari complained.
Jeff shrugged. “If I was bothered by this stuff, it’d distract me from the stuff that can really hurt me.”
His words stung.
They mostly slid down the mountain to the trucks in silence.
“You look like you’ve pooped yourself,” Bryant said.
The men laughed as Ari quickly put her hands to her ass and began dusting it off.
“You too!” she said.
“I guess it’s off to the chapter house,” Bryant said.
“Why are we going back there?” Jeff asked.
“We gotta get gas,” Ari said.
“Grandpa’s orders.” Nizhoni winked.
Jeff headed toward Bryant’s truck, but Nizhoni skirted past him and dove in.
“I want to get to know my grandson,” he said.
Ari’s jaw dropped. She walked over to Bryant’s truck and pulled at the handle but Nizhoni locked it and rolled up the window.
“It’s ok,” Bryant said. “Now you can use your a/c.”
“But—“ She maneuvered her head toward Jeff, trying to be stealthy.
“It’ll be ok, Ari. You’ve hurt me worst before.” Jeff put his arm around her waist and led her the truck.
Grandpa always chose cherry red. It was easy to spot but with all the dust it collected on their journey it looked more like a brick color. It was large with a double cab. Ari always had to put the seat up as close as possible and straight-backed with her hands at ten and two o’clock, chin basically resting on the wheel. Big trucks were not her forte. She wasn’t exactly short, average, almost five foot six, but she could barely see over the hood.
She checked the mirrors twice, put on her seat belt and checked them again before starting the truck.
“I forgot what an expert driver you are,” he said.
“You can always go back to your slumber party.” She nodded up to the mountain.
“Let’s just go.” Jeff turned to the window.
They headed back the way they had come. Bryant’s cloud of dust far in the distance the only sign of life aside from a few dust devils and prairie dogs.
A single barbed wire fence signaled their entry back into the Navajo Nation and off the joint unit area.
“I wonder why there aren’t any border controls in this area,” Ariana said.
“Because the Hopi are included in the detainment.”
“How do you know?”
“I was trying to find a way off the reservation. I figured if I could get into Hopi that they had to be able to get out somehow since they weren’t experiencing the same stuff, but no one is allowed to come in and out either. Remember Kootz?”
“He said there’s no water coming from the Colorado.”
“How can that be? How would he know?”
“They have some old lines set up or something. They’ve been doing a lot in some of the villages to be more self sufficient with solar energy and other stuff.”
“But we all need water.”
“If you believed any of us could do anything about it, Ari, you wouldn’t have pushed me of all people away like you did.”
The truck jerked as she drove over a washboarded area too quick. The truck fish tailed until she recovered.
The cab went silent.
She looked over to Jeff, but his gaze focused out the window.
After a few minutes of silence he turned on the radio, tuning the snow, trying to pick up anything but all that was found was a faint word hear and there within the static, but not enough to reveal what was going on in the world. He stabbed at the dial with his fingers until it finally turned off and then curled up as close to the other side of the cab as possible.
“I wish I had a cigarette,” he mumbled.
The truck rumbled to a stop as they crossed the last cattle guard to enter the main highway.
“You don’t smoke,” she said.
“But it seems like the kind of thing to take up when the end of the world is upon you though.” He half smiled, sitting up.
“Now you’re exaggerating.”
“It feels like it though.”
“It’s not the end of the world.”
“Maybe not for all those people out there,” he said, lifting his chin and pointing it over the imaginary border that divided them from Holbrook and Winslow and the rest of the world. “But it is for us.”
She turned onto the highway and sped faster than usual. It felt safer to speed. Who would stop her? The Navajo police would have more concerns with their families than to stop someone from going over the posted limit.
“You should have seen Bryant this morning,” she said, trying to break the tension.
“What his face do that weird zombie looking thing again because Grandpa woke him up too early?”
She laughed as she shook her head.
“No. It was better. When the locusts came he went all Storm on us and all these lightning bolts came out of nowhere and all the locusts fell dead at his feet.”
“Sounds cool.” Jeff’s voice was flat.
She looked at him. His face was stony.
“Why are you even dragging me back? I can’t do anything? I’m a nobody. Just a simple human.” He slumped back into the corner, putting his hood over his ears.
“You’re not a nobody to us.”
He ignored her.
Ari slowed down as she got closer to the Chapter House. A line of vehicles waited to turn into the small area. There was a crowd of people around the convenience store and vehicles parked in every empty spot available. A big make shift card board sign was posted over the gas prices that said, “No gas.”
Jeff straightened. The hood fell from his head.
“How much gas do you have left?”
“Three quarters,” she said, looking at the gauge. “Grandpa filled up the last time he took the truck. He must have known something would happen.”
“Turn around and park on the other side of the road. Let’s see if there’s any news.”
She did as he said and parked near the wire fence. Bryant’s truck was well ahead of them and they ran across the road toward his truck.
Nizhoni’s feet dangled out the window as they came to the passenger side. Jeff padded the side of the truck to warn them of their presence.
“How’s your gas situation?” Jeff asked.
“Not great.” Bryant admitted.
“We can syphon some from Grandpa’s truck.” Ariana suggested.
“Got enough to get home?” Jeff asked.
Nizhoni didn’t move. A tumbleweed thorn dug into one of his heels but he didn’t seem bothered by it. He stared at Ari like he was waiting for her to say or do something.
“Jeff wants to see if there’s any news,” Ari said, looking down at her feet.
“Maybe we can get some rations today,” Bryant said.
“Hopefully they won’t remember us.”
“We all look the same to them,” Jeff said. “Brown and expendable.”
Nizhoni jumped out as Bryant began trying to back up and maneuver out of the way to park next to the red truck.
“There’s gas on those trucks,” Nizhoni said. Nodding over to the canvas covered military trucks.
Jeff laughed. “Like they’d give those to us.”
“I didn’t say we’d ask.” Nizhoni winked as he raised his foot and pulled the bullhead from his heel and tossed it at Ari’s feet. “Damn tumbleweeds everywhere.”
“That’s why we wear shoes,” she said, lifting her foot and pointing at her own pair.
“They make too much noise. Now if you can find me a good pair of buckskins…” His eyes glazed over dreamily.
“Bryant never wears his,” she offered.
“Or, you know, since I have such big feet, I guess you can wear mine, but Grandma might beat you with the newspaper if you stink them up.”
For a moment, she thought she saw a hint of thankfulness in his eyes, but then he put his arm around her shoulders and buried her head in his arm pit.
“I never knew you’d show me such kindness,” he mocked. “But you see these feet.” He picked one up and put it almost directly in her face. “You think this will fit in your shoe?”
She shook her head violently trying to break free. She could hear Jeff and her brother laugh as he reunited with them.
“Bry,” Nizhoni called out. “Can I use your moccasins when we get home?”
“As long as you promise never to return them,” Bryant said laughing.
Nizhoni released her.
She shook her hands and rolled her neck from the strain. She undid her sloppy pony and put it back up. “Don’t do that again!” she said as she sniffed at herself to make sure his smell didn’t rub off on her.
Nizhoni smelled himself. “You kids really know how to make a man feel self conscious.” And he strolled on ahead.
Ariana felt a poke in her side.
“Not you too,” she wined, as she smacked at her brother’s arm.
“He’s just joking around,” Bryant said.
“I don’t care. I don’t like him.”
Bryant nudged her. The gravel cracked behind them. Jeff followed close enough to hear, but not to join in.
“He’s here to help us, you might as well be friendly,” he said.
“What makes you so sure he’s here to help?”
“He told me.”
“And you believed him?” Ari laughed. “I never thought you’d be so gullible.”
He pushed her away.
“Me? You’re the one that agreed first. He told me.”
“It wasn’t like I had much choice.” Her throat suddenly felt very dry.
He stopped, planting both hands on her shoulders. “What do you mean?”
She tried her best not to side glance at Jeff but felt herself subconsciously doing it while she aimed her view to her dusty shoes. The rubber points were no longer white. Covered in the greenish sand like mildew.
When she had settled on an acceptable excuse, she looked up. “You know because otherwise, it’d take another generation or longer to put an end to this.”
His eyes narrowed. She could tell he knew she was only being half honest, but the heaviness of his grip left her as he smiled.
“Did he tell you what we’re gonna do?” he asked.
Jeff joined them. “You mean we’re actually gonna do something?”
Bryant grinned, nodding his head. “And you my friend,” he put a hand on his shoulder. “Are a pivotal part in our plan.”
The darkness of Jeff’s clothes left his persona, and his eyes glittered with excitement. His lips lifted in the half smile that weakened Ari’s knees.
“I’m not agreeing to anything until I hear it out,” she said, though a smile escaped her lips.
“Where did the old man run off to anyway?” Jeff asked, his knobby fingers running through his black hair.
Bryant lifted the collar of his shirt to his pocked face to clear it from sprouting sweat as he looked around.
“I don’t know.”
“Last I saw, he was eyeing those gas canisters,” Ari said, nodding over to the grasshopper trucks.
The three turned to look. The canisters were gone.