History + Fiction + Spirit
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Excerpt from unpublished, work-in-progress
This is an excerpt from an un-edited, work-in-progress, which features the title character from my book Wanders Far. I plan for the main character of this new book to be a boy named Stung, who is Wanders Far’s 9-year old great, great-grandson. It is early in my work on this project. From what I’ve written so far, this is the section I feel most strongly connected to as a writer. The chapter is called “Discovery.” I have no idea what the book will be named yet.
Discovery, AD 1197
Stung and Wanders Far were foraging in the forest a half a mile to the west of Copperas Pond, just across Trout River. They had planned to fish that morning. Stung had suggested they explore the other side of the river before going fishing. Wanders Far had always been curious about whatever was over the next hill, or around the next bend.
On the other side of the river, they picked up the faintest trace of a trail. Maybe it was a game trail. They followed it up a hill, and around a bend toward the east. The woods grew denser. The trail ran directly into the woods. Wanders Far found a strong, thick stick, a little thicker than the sticks he sometimes used as a walking stick. The trail they had been following was remarkably straight. As the woods grew thicker, the trail became harder to follow. Wanders Far used the stick to clear away leaves and deadfall to show the path continued. Stung followed Wanders Far’s lead, picking up a stick of his own, and replacing it with a better one whenever an upgrade appeared.
The dead branches at the base of the mature trees became impenetrable. The trail hadn’t been used in a very long time. They couldn’t explain why, but the man and the boy both felt a compelling need to discover where the path led. They used their sticks to smash the dead branches at the base of the evergreen trees, creating a tunnel through the dark woods. Eventually they came out of the thick woods.
Twenty feet from the last tree, the trail ended at a steep hill. They turned around and looked back through the tunnel they had created through the woods. They shared a warm glance between them, acknowledging that they had created something interesting together. Perhaps it was nothing of value, but they felt a sense of accomplishment nonetheless.
They cleared away rotten leaves and branches from the forest floor. As they worked, Wanders Far kept making curious noises. Stung thought it look liked the path was everywhere, rather than having ended at the hillside. Wanders Far expressed his opinion, “I think at some time, long ago, people lived here. I think those trees we smashed through have grown since then. Maybe our ancestors came to this area also. Maybe they lived here instead of at Copperas Pond.
While Wanders Far searched the forest floor for the outer limits of the ancient campsite, Stung brushed leaves away from the steep slope of the hillside. It didn’t take much effort to bring the dry, rotten leaves down. He brandished the walking stick like a war club. As he worked, he imagined himself in battle, laying one enemy after another at his feet as he moved from right to left, vocalizing the sounds he thought a warrior would make. Twenty feet from where he started, the appearance of the hillside caught his eye. Instead of dirt, roots, and random stones, he suddenly found stacked rocks, purposely stacked and fit together snugly and intentionally. Each rock was three to five inches thick, and a foot or two long. His brow furrowed. Confused and intrigued he continued, echoing the wonderous sounds of discovery Wanders Far had been making earlier. Stung attracted Wanders Far’s attention from across the little clearing.
They worked together to clear the hillside. Each scrape of the hillside revealed more of the curiously stacked rocks until they had uncovered a wall of rock twenty feet wide, and eight feet high. At the center was a perfect rectangular shaped opening, six feet tall and two feet wide. Above the rectangular opening was a big rock, about three times larger than the rest. Stung looked at Wanders Far, one eyebrow raised, curiously. It looked like someone had filled the opening with dirt. Who? Why? “We have to dig that dirt out of there,” Stung said.
Wanders Far nodded. He needed the diversion as much as his great-grandson. “This could take a lot of work, and it isn’t putting any fish in our bellies,” Wanders Far said. Stung hung his head, then Wanders Far continued, “but what are we waiting for?”
Excited, Stung said, “I’ll get some digging stones,” and he hurried off through the tunnel under the trees, back to Trout River. Wanders Far stood there, facing the stone wall in the side of the hill, admiring the handiwork of the ancient craftspeople who had built it. The rocks were weathered, speckled with bright, flaky, lime-green lichens that looked almost unnatural, and patinaed with a pleasing moss green color. Wanders Far stood, hands on his hips, and wondered how many generations must separate them―these ancient builders and himself. Already two generations separated Wanders Far and his great-grandson.
Since he lost Trillium, his visions had almost completely stopped. Without his abilities as a seer, he wondered what purpose he served. Standing before the mysterious hill, he began to feel an old familiar feeling―that feeling that came to him just before a vision. Only the vision didn’t follow. He inspected the stonework from another vantage point and felt the feeling of impending vision again. But still the vision didn’t follow. In the past he had rarely wished for the visions; they seemed to come to him of their own volition. That afternoon Wanders Far yearned to have a vision. In addition to fulfilling his curiosity, Wanders Far hoped to feel like himself again. He hadn’t felt like himself in many months―almost half a year.
Stung was hardly quiet as he came barreling down the path with a good digging rock in each hand. When he arrived at the hillside and spoke to his great-grandfather, he was puzzled. He couldn’t seem to get the old man’s attention. Wanders Far stood there, as if he were frozen, with a vacant look on his face. Stung grabbed his arm, and shook it, and suggested, “Why don’t you go have a drink at the river? The water is delicious this morning.”
Wanders Far’s body shuddered slightly, and he looked at the boy. “Yes, perhaps you’re right. I could use a good drink of water.” Stung watched as his great-grandfather walked back through the dark green tunnel. It almost looked like he was floating down the path, rather than walking.
Stung began scraping the dirt from within the rock shaped rectangle. The dirt was gently packed and gave way fairly easily as he scraped his stone from as high as he could reach, all the way down to the level of his knees. Thirty scrapes later, dirt fell from the top of the rectangle, revealing a two-foot-wide hole with dark, black, emptiness behind it. Thirty more scrapes with his stone tripled the size of the opening. He dug a bit more to allow some light to shine beyond the opening.
Stung climbed up the mound of dirt at the base of the rectangle and slid down the other side. He had no idea what to expect in the empty space. If he had thought about it first, he might have been frightened. Inside, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
There was enough light to make out a roomy, rectangular-shaped cave, about six feet deep, six feet tall, and twelve feet wide. Inside, the stone walls continued on three sides, and above. The wall at the back of the cave was made of dirt. Beneath an inch of sandy, sifted dust, the cave floor was also made of stone. Stung ran his hands through the dust on the floor as he sat there. His hand came upon a small, flat object. It was perfectly round, unnaturally so. It seemed to be made of stone, smooth on one side, and a pattern was carved or molded onto the other side. He held it in the palm of his hand. It felt good to hold it. He closed his eyes. He felt the skin tingle in his palm, and then he felt the tingly feeling spread up his arm and across his chest. On the inside of his eyelids he saw sparkling stars on a dark blue night sky, with no moon. The last thought that occurred to him was to compare the tingles in his body with the twinkles before his eyes.
When Wanders Far returned from the river, refreshed, he saw the opening at the stone doorway. He climbed through the hole, and into the dark hillside. That place had a smell all its own, a very earthy smell, mossy also, and something else he couldn’t place.
Inside Stung sat, silent and still, eyes closed, reclined against the dirt mound that had fallen inside from the digging at the doorway. His right hand was gripped into a fist, and his left hand lay open on his lap.
Wanders Far cleared his throat to get the boy’s attention. Nothing. He shook him gently—still nothing. Wanders Far crouched before Stung, cupped his hands beneath the boy’s chin. Wanders Far closed his own eyes, and hummed, slowly, in a deep voice. He felt the tips of his fingers tingle. Wanders Far gently asked, “do you feel your skin tingling, Stung?”
“Yes. It comes in waves, from side to side,” the boy replied.
Wanders Far noticed Stung’s eyeballs moving rapidly behind his eyelids. In a low voice, Wanders Far said, reassuringly, “You are safe, everything is going to be fine. Tell me what you see.”
Stung replied, “I can see an amazing, magical place. I don’t just see it; I think I am actually there. Can you see it too? Are you with me?”
Wanders Far suggested, “I think you are in two places at once. I am here with you in the cave we found today. I think you are also somewhere else. I can’t see that place. Do you feel safe there?”
“Yes. I am safe. I don’t know where I am, but it is not frightening here. It feels like a cave, but I can’t see the walls. It is warm. It is dark around the edges, but bright at the center. Everything is brown―every shade of brown, light, medium, and dark brown. Everything is shiny, and there are sparkly white lights and brightness. There is moving water, spraying up from a small pond. It looks too perfect. The spraying water is shaped like a toadstool but made of water.”
“What else do you see,” Wanders Far nudged.
“Behind everything in the middle, there is a long crescent-shaped row of chairs. Very big, comfortable-looking, fluffy chairs. It looks like there are people in the chairs, except for one. One of the chairs is empty. The one in the middle is higher than the others. From the middle, each chair is a little lower than the others. Maybe the middle chair is the most important.”
Wanders Far inquired, “What are the people doing? Do they see you?”
Stung gasped, “One of the people just got up. She is moving toward me. She is smiling. She is an older woman. She looks like a grandmother. Her hands are joined together at her waist, her shoulders are scrunched in toward her body, and her head tilts to the side. She is telling me not to be scared. She is telling me she loves me. She is telling me I am safe, and she is glad I am here.”
Wanders Far echoed, “Yes, I am sure you are safe. You may speak to her if you wish. If you do not feel safe, squeeze my hand.” Wanders Far sat before Stung. He was grateful not to be crouching anymore. His knees and ankles had begun to ache, but he hadn’t wanted to disturb Stung’s trance.
A minute later Stung told Wanders Far, “She is telling me she is your grandmother. She asked me if I jumped from the rocks at the pond.”
“Gentle Breeze,” Wanders Far gasped. “Please tell her I miss her.”
“She said she loves you and she’s proud of you,” Stung said.
“Ask her where you are. What is that place,” Wanders Far suggested.
Slowly, tentatively, Stung began, “She said they were my personal Spirit Council, and she is my Guide. She said I should always know that I have someone looking out for me. She said I was lucky; most people never get to see their Spirit Council.” Stung paused curiously for a moment, then continued, “The last thing she said was to give her baby girl a hug and a kiss. Then she went back to her big chair. Who is her baby girl?”
Wanders Far sat there for a long minute, too amazed to voice a thought. He wondered how he could have been a seer for so many decades, and not known anything about a Spirit Council. Finally, Wanders Far said, “Her baby girl is your 106-year-old great, great grandmother.” Then he inquired, “Tell me about the rest of this Council.”
Again, Stung described the nine big chairs. “The first, and lowest chair on the right is where Gentle Breeze sits. She is sitting there, smiling, almost laughing, like she must be the happiest person you ever met. The next chair, a little higher up has an older man. He looks like us, too. He is whittling something with a small knife. He looks toward me periodically. At first, he waved. Since then he has been busy with the whittling.”
Astonished, Wanders far exclaimed, “Follows Stars! I think that’s my friend, Follows Stars.”
Stung went on to describe the occupant of the third chair. “He is another old man with a big long white robe, a tall hat, a thick shiny, corn colored necklace, and long, white hair growing from his face and the top of his head. It is so long it covers his belly and his lap. He has been awake since I got here.”
Wanders Far asked, “What do you mean, awake?”
Stung answered, “Oh, I didn’t tell you, most of the people sitting in the chairs are just sitting there with their eyes closed. They all glow like they have light inside them. One of
the chairs is empty. Only four of the people are awake, with their eyes open, and the awake ones glow much brighter than the ones that are just sitting there.” Stung paused, then he started to tremble.
Wanders Far told him to stay calm, and not to worry.
Stung quickly whispered that the bearded man had gotten up and was coming around the fountain. “He is approaching me. He is spreading his arms wide. Oh, it is like he is welcoming me. Now he is speaking.”
Stung was quiet for a minute. Then he continued, “He says his name is Conchobar. He says his name means Strong Willed, and that he is my great grandfather, 40 generations back.” Stung was quiet for another couple of minutes and then continued, “Conchobar said that he came from a mystical green island across the water. When he was a young man, he was fishing alone in a boat. A storm came along and blew him out into the big water. Eventually he found land. Our land. He went up a river, then continued north.” Stung paused again, then exhaled in a rush. “This was his home. He built this place with his three sons. He said we could use it whenever we wish. Now he is returning to his chair.”
Stung was quiet and still for about a minute. Then his body tensed up. He whispered, “The scary-looking man who sits in the second chair from the left is approaching. The closer he gets, the stronger he looks. He must be a powerful warrior.” Stung was quiet for a couple of minutes, and then he continued, “The man asked me lots of questions. He asked me if I knew my purpose. I told him I wanted to be a great warrior, and I told him I wanted to be a chief―not just a war chief. I told him I wanted to be Tadodaho. Chief of all the tribes.”
Wanders Far frowned. He had hoped that Stung would become a seer. After many years of searching, hoping, and waiting, he had failed to find a worthy student to pass along his wisdom as a seer. Just in case a protégé never materialized, Wanders Far had spent months with Three Fingers and Gathers Seeds. They were great healers, and Wanders Far was forced to share the ancient secrets with them. Unfortunately, the Great Spirit didn’t manifest within the souls of the healers.
All of a sudden, Stung started talking fast, “The man said he was the very first Tadodaho. He told me you killed him. You had to do it. He told me he was an evil chief. He said he was sorry. He asked me to tell you he was sorry for what he did to you. He deeply regrets how he tormented our people.”
Stung paused a moment after spitting out sentences so quickly. Then Stung continued slowly, “He said his name is Entangled. He is on my Spirit Council to help me become a warrior. I will have to learn how to be fierce. I will need to kill many enemies. I will need to learn the ways of war to save our people. Our enemies want to kill us and claim our lands for their own. He told me one day I would become a war chief. Then he waved his arm toward the other figures on my Spirit Council and told me I must be destined for greatness with such a group looking out for me. He also told me the way would be hard and that I would have to suffer greatly before I could achieve greatness.”
Stung was quiet so long, Wanders Far had to coax him. Softly, Wanders Far asked, “What is happening now?”
Stung took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and continued, “The last thing he told me was that he didn’t know if I would become Tadodaho, but that I am destined to strive to serve as Tadodaho. He said our people could do worse than to choose me. Then he returned to his seat.”
The boy was quiet for another minute, and then he told Wanders Far that the others remained asleep. “I’m ready to return,” he said. Then he opened his eyes, almost surprised to see Wanders Far sitting right in front of him. He blinked several times, rapidly. Wanders Far thought Stung looked as if he had just seen the most amazing sight that ever was. Stung thought Wanders Far looked as though he were just a bit jealous. They crawled out of the cave hut and walked slowly back to Trout River.
Back at the river, Stung went to tie a hook and twine to his walking stick and realized he still had his fist tightly closed. Then he remembered picking up an object from the floor of the cave. He thought it felt good in his hand. He couldn’t wait to relax his fingers and reveal whatever was in his hand. It probably hadn’t seen the light of day for a thousand years. He felt privileged just to be holding it, and he didn’t even know what it was. He stood there so long, enjoying the anticipation, Wanders Far glanced over and saw him staring at his closed hand. Curiosity brought them together again. Stung looked at Wanders Far, flicked his eyebrows upward, as if to say, “Let’s see what this is.”
Stung flipped his fist over, and relaxed his fingers, one by one, slowly opening them. His jaw dropped at the beautiful sight of the large coin that sat in the middle of his hand. The pattern he had felt embossed on the coin was three raised spirals, all connected in a single line. Stung followed the line into the first spiral, to its core, then back out and off to the second spiral, and then from there to the third, and finally back to the first. Wanders Far did the same, and when they had completed the trip with their eyes, they glanced at each other, knowingly. Stung flipped the coin over. The back was smooth, shiny, and the same color as Conchobar’s necklace. The coin almost had the heft of a rock, a little less heavy, but just as rigid. He had never seen anything like it before.
Wanders Far told Stung he thought the symbol was magical. Looking at it was both comforting and exciting at the same time.
Stung thought about the cave hut, and told Wanders Far, “That is a magical place. I think that coin is meant to remain there, to protect the magic spirits that live there.”
Wanders Far rubbed his chin pensively, and told Stung, “You may be right about that. Hm,” Wanders Far’s voice trailed off, not entirely convinced. It was hard to know what to do in such situations. Wanders Far was still contemplating when he realized the boy was already half-way back to the cave.
When Stung returned, he had a funny look on his face. “What’s wrong,” Wanders Far asked, concerned.
“I’m hungry,” Stung exclaimed.
Wanders Far laughed and said, “Let’s get some fish.” Neither had much to say while they pulled speckled trout from the generous river.
The end refers to the end of this excerpt. It will probably be near the beginning of the
From a historical perspective, I want to let you know that this ancient cave is fictional. The mystical Stone Chambers in Dutchess and Putnam counties, near Poughkeepsie, New York, were the inspiration for the cave in my story. When were these structures built? I don’t believe that has been proven yet. For my fictional purposes, I have located a similar ancient stone chamber in the Adirondack Mountains, and I have supposed that my fictional character, Conchobar, was the builder of the structure.
I hope you have enjoyed this taste of a book that is currently in the imagining stages. It’s all subject to change. Your feedback is welcome and encouraged; just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org