By Gail Gentry
Erin slid the leather belt through the loops, tucked her white blouse into her khaki colored pants and slipped on her leather jacket. She finished with the Air and Space Museum yesterday which had been, truth be known, a little boring. Once you’ve seen one Apollo spacecraft and one spacesuit, you’ve seen them all.
She couldn’t wait to hit this museum today. Erin had put it on her list as one of the main tourist attractions she wanted to see when she got to D.C. earlier this week. She grabbed her Broncos baseball cap, pulled her ponytail through it’s open back, and closed the hotel door.
No time for breakfast, she wanted to be first in line when they opened. Her heartbeat thumped louder the closer she got, her footsteps keeping in time. Finally, maybe the dreams would stop.
She could still remember in vivid detail the one from this morning. Erin was perched on a boulder away from the riverbed, her legs tucked under her deerskin dress. Children were gathered round at the base watching her make a necklace out of beads hewn from pebbles. She listened to the children whispering to each other that the necklace they made would be prettier than the other’s. Taking her time, admiring her work, she was not prepared for the scream that pierced the morning air.
The warriors grabbed their bows and knives and ran towards the Chief’s asi. The screams from the Chief’s wife turned into wails as she stumbled out of the asi holding her face covered in third degree burns. The children and women, first frozen with fear, bolted and ran in the opposite direction. Erin, the Chief’s daughter, was not afraid. She had often been punished by her father for following the warriors into a hunt, acting more warrior than girl. She reached her mother first and glanced inside beyond the open door. Erin stared in disbelief as an ethereal green light slowly dissipated.
That was where the dream ended. For the last two years, no matter how hard she tried to go back to sleep and pick up in the same place, it was useless. It would begin again and end the same.
Erin looked up at the building. “The American Indian Museum.” The guard dressed in the crisp navy blue and white uniform unlocked the doors precisely at 9:00 a.m. and held them open for Erin. All was quiet as Erin was the only visitor so far. The squeak from her rubber soled Nikes hitting the tiled floor echoed throughout the lobby as she passed the souvenir shop and made her way to the information booth that lay ahead of her. Picking up a guide to the exhibits, she began her tour.
There wasn’t much to see on the first floor. The common exhibits you attribute to native American history – the wax figure of Pocahontas standing over John Smith pleading for his life; Sacagawea riding an Appaloosa horse in her expedition with Lewis and Clark; maps showing the different Native American Tribes of North America; and, of course, with all the Twilight mania an exhibit about the real Quileute tribe and wolves.
Erin climbed the stairs to the second floor. Now, Erin worked out. Swimming, treadmill, so there was no reason for her to be tense climbing a mere flight of stairs but with each step, her muscles tightened, her breath quickened. At the top of the staircase, every hair on the back of her neck stood out in anticipation. As if by some force, she was drawn to the hall to her left.
The frontier exhibit at the end opened up into a scene from a typical Cherokee camp. The dome-shaped asi stood in the corner. The figures outfitted in Cherokee attire appeared to be standing there, ready for the day. Built into the floor lay a shallow pool of water simulating a lake, beside it a young woman squatted picking up pebbles. Children hovered near her, giggling, their hands covering their mouth, holding in their excitement and laughter. They look so life-like, she thought.
Erin walked tentatively over to the young man. Her hand touched the side of his face. For a moment she saw not a wax figure but a strong warrior her age, his brown eyes bore into her, his head came down and touched forehead-to-forehead with her’s. A tear welled up in Erin’s eye.
Erin stepped away, the warrior remained frozen in time. She walked over to the asi. Erin shook her head. This was all wrong. This structure was built with plastic tubing and raffia instead of the limbs and thick grass used by the real Cherokees. She opened the door to peer inside. A green mist glowed from within and enveloped her.
Minutes later a security guard passed the entrance to the frontier exhibit. Empty, save for the wax statues.
Erin, dazed, lay on a bed of pine needles and leaves. She turned her head at the crackling sound and saw a small fire within a circle of stones. The warmth from the flames felt good on her skin warding off the cold air.
“Daughter, you waken.”
Erin tried to focus on where the voice was coming from. A man’s torso leaned across her. The weathered face came in to view.
“Daughter?” Erin mumbled.
A comforting smile spread across his lips.
Strange, but Erin recognized him. “You are Chief Brown Bear.”
A deep laugh rumbled up from his chest. “Yes, my Dayita, I am. But am I not also called ‘Father’ by you?”
Erin lifted up on her elbow, “What am I doing here?”
“You were thrown from your horse and been asleep for almost two days. I have been very worried and sent Mahesh back to camp to bring medicine.”
Erin didn’t understand. The last thing she remembered was stepping into the asi at the Smithsonian exhibit. Yet here she lay. The clothes she wore this morning gone and replaced with a cloak and buckskin skirt. She no longer wore her Nikes but a pair of mukmuks.
“Can you walk?”
“I believe so, yes.”
The Chief held out his callused hand and Erin reached for it.
“Good, then we ride to camp.”
When Erin rode into the village she felt as if she were living in her dream. Sounds of children playing and laughing, young warriors talking and shouting, and the women sitting in a circle shucking corn and preparing the food for the evening meal.
One woman stood up and ran toward them. Vaguely familiar, Erin watched as she came closer. Of course, she thought to herself, the woman with the burns. The Chief’s wife, her mother.
By then, the rest of the tribe saw the Chief with Erin and came over hugging and welcoming her back. All of them seemingly talking at once, touching her, assuring themselves she was okay. Erin smiled, nodding her head, when she felt a presence behind her. She turned around and there was the young warrior she had seen in the exhibit. Mahesh.
He took his hand and placed it on her cheek. Touching his forehead to hers. No words were necessary. The love for this man bloomed in her chest. She remembered it all – growing up with him, sharing their first kiss. He was going to ask her father for his permission to marry her.
Very quickly two months had passed. Erin delighted in learning all the intricacies and duties expected of a young female member of the tribe. But while Erin had fallen into an outwardly happy existence in the village, she was underneath it all homesick. She missed her real family – her own mother and father, two brothers and a little sister. She tried not to dwell on how worried they must be.
The dreams had started again too, except this time they ended differently. After the Chief’s wife had come out of the asi screaming, Erin had gone in after the warriors. There in the center, the Chief laid with his eyes open, his mouth frozen in surprise. His face, arms, chest, all visible skin was burned. The blisters so severe water seeped out of them making the skin sag and peel. Next to him sat a neon green rock. The Chief’s wife talked rapidly recounting how the stone’s glow had started to burn brighter with a green light inside of it. The Chief wanted to see what made it so bright so he took his tomahawk and split it open. When it separated, a green light burst from within burning her and killing the Chief. The warriors all looked at Mahesh for he had given the stone to the Chief as an offering for Erin’s hand in marriage. The Chief’s wife screamed at Mahesh, pointing her finger that he had brought this curse into their home. The warriors dragged him out of the asi and tied him up. That night after the Elders met, Mahesh was put to death as punishment. The tribe was thereafter thrown into chaos. The Elders fought amongst themselves as to who would become Chief. During a freak blizzard at what should have been the onset of spring, the tribe was ill-prepared. The warriors had left the village days before on a hunt and hadn’t returned. Erin’s dream ended watching the young children huddled with their mothers in the large asi used for ceremonies; the fire having died out earlier in the day and with no firewood left in camp to replace it, one by one they all succumbed to hypothermia.
To break up the monotony of her routine, Mahesh would take Erin out of the camp every few days and they would go in to the forest to hunt together. Erin had become quite the expert with the bow and arrow, able to shoot fast rabbits or running deer. When they would tire they would find a nice spot to lay a blanket and eat the best corn bread Erin had ever tasted and smoked venison.
Erin loved listening to the deep timbre voice of Mahesh as he retold her stories of hunts with the other warriors.
One afternoon as they sat talking, Erin said, “Tell me again the story of how you became friends with the little black bear.”
Mahesh flashed a grin, “How many times have you asked for this story?”
“Once more, please. It is a nice story.”
“Late one afternoon after my cousin, Nayu, and I had been hunting all we had caught were a few rabbits and squirrels. We came over a hill and there in our path right in front of us was a big black bear.” Mahesh threw his arms out wide, “He was two times the size of both of us together. The black bear smelled the blood from our hunt and stood up. His roar filled the whole mountainside. Nayu and I jumped off our horses grabbing our bows and arrows and started shooting. My aim was true and hit the bear right in the eye. The bear was easy to kill after that. Nayu’s horse had run off and I helped him go look for it. When we came back to get the bear there were two cubs sitting beside their mother. Nayu was going to kill them. I said ‘No! They cannot provide food.’ He laughed and said they would make good mukmuks. He lifted his bow and arrow and I leapt from my horse and pulled him off of his. We landed on the ground. Nayu is strong but not as strong as I. He took his bow and hit me across my forehead but I pushed him off of me. I held him down and said to him that I would tell the other warriors how he left me to kill the bear while he went after the defenseless cubs. Nayu knew I would do this. He does not speak to me to this day. I took the cubs and put them in a cave close to the village. I brought food to them and played with them each day until they were able to take care of themselves. Then I set them free. The next winter when I was out hunting alone, a cougar took me by surprise. My horse threw me off and I lay there as the cougar advanced on me. Suddenly from out of nowhere a black bear appeared and stood between me and the cougar. The cougar ran off in fear. The black bear turned and looked at me and then walked away. I knew in my heart it was one of the cubs returning the good deed I had done them.”
Erin sat up on her knees and leaned over to Mahesh, brushing his hair off his forehead.
“Is this where Nayu hit you?”
“Yes, there is a scar there to remind me.”
Erin kissed his forehead. She looked into his eyes and softly kissed his cheek. She moved lower and covered his lips with hers.
“What are you doing?” he said, pushing her away from him.
“Kissing you. We’ve kissed before, haven’t we?”
“Yes. But never like that. Why did you open your mouth?”
Erin giggled, realizing this was something a little more modern than what he was use to. “I thought I’d try something different.”
Mahesh stared at her, a seductive smile creeping across his face, “I liked it. You are different now, Dayita. Ever since you were thrown from the horse you have been a different person. I sense this.”
“Oh, really,” Erin said teasingly. She pushed Mahesh to the ground and laid on top of him. “You like the new me?”
“Yes, I do,” he said as he shifted underneath her.
Erin kissed him again. Opening his mouth wide beneath her lips to receive her tongue, Mahesh wrapped his arms tightly around her hugging her against his frame. Erin could feel him grow against her, his leggings not much of a barrier. Erin moved over top of him.
Breathless, Mahesh said, “We must stop. I am not your husband yet.”
Erin started to protest but Mahesh stood up.
“Come. We need to go back to camp. I will ask for your hand soon.”
Erin, her cheeks flushed went to her horse. Mahesh followed behind her and offered his hand for her to step in.
“I can do it myself, thank you.”
Mahesh cocked his head to the side trying to comprehend what just happened as he watched Erin grab the horse’s mane and steer it into a gallop towards camp.
Erin found even with all her chores and playtimes with the children, she had too much time on her hands to think. If she were back home, she’d be working during the day at her dental hygienist job and going to class at night taking art classes. Friday nights would find her at the local clubs dancing the night away. Saturday would be date night with one of her friends or if she got lucky, someone she met Friday night and then Sundays would be spent at her parent’s home.
This change had certainly been an adjustment for her. Wake up at sunrise, join the women and help prepare breakfast and get lunch started, then she would go tend the winter crops for a few hours. Since she was the Chief’s daughter she was given certain leeway’s. She had shown those who would listen how to take better care of their teeth and she had made the children busy making necklaces and bracelets. Her art classes came in handy too and she had stitched beautiful designs onto some of the skirts for the women. Warm weather would soon be approaching and many from the tribe would travel closer to the coast and barter with other villages for provisions. She and Mahesh still kept to their weekly outages into the forest to hunt but ever since the time when she had tried to be close to him, he became aloof when away from the camp.
The dreams were becoming more intense and more detailed. She would wake up either crying or not being able to sleep at all, afraid of what her dreams would hold in store for her that night. It was at the point where it was disturbing the sleep of the other two young women she shared the asi with. They finally asked Erin if she would mind if they went elsewhere to live. Erin was embarrassed it had come to that but actually it was a relief to finally be on her own again.
Erin felt more herself than the whole time she had been there. It was almost as if she were back living on her own in her apartment again. This new independence reflected in how she carried herself and Mahesh became concerned. He felt she was drifting away from him. One afternoon while in the forest hunting, he asked her if she still loved him.
Erin lowered her head, “Yes, I do,” but with renewed confidence she took a deep breath and added, “I’m just not the same girl you once knew.”
“Have I done something wrong?”
“No! Not at all.”
“Is there someone else you have eyes for?”
“Then I have waited too long to ask for your hand?”
“I don’t know what I want any more. I’m not sure I can be the wife you want me to be. I’m not like the other women.”
Mahesh took her face in his hands. “I don’t want you to be like the other women. I want you to be like my woman.” He wanted his Dayita back and leaned down and kissed her. Mahesh touched his forehead to hers, placed his hand on her cheek, “You will be a good wife.”
Erin wondered how could she marry a man who doesn’t know who she really is? What if she were to find a way home, could she leave him? That night, the dream returned. She saw Mahesh being dragged away from her father’s home. After the Elders’ decision, the young warriors, with Nayu first in line, beat Mahesh and then slit his throat with the Chief’s tomahawk. She awoke shaking. The dreams were becoming so real. Not able to go back to sleep, Erin went to Mahesh’s asi. He slept there with three other young warriors. She quietly opened the door, just wanting to see him to reassure herself he was safe. Mahesh was not asleep and saw her. Getting up, he took her elbow and led her outside.
Erin lay her forehead against his chest, “I need to talk to you.”
“Now? It is late, the moon has passed us and it will be morning soon.”
“Please,” she begged, “I want to tell you about me and if I don’t do it now I might not have the courage to do it tomorrow.”
Erin led him back to her asi and told him of her world. Mahesh listened intently, asking her questions, particularly about airplanes and big cities made of concrete. When she was done, he just sat there, cross-legged looking her.
“Dayita, do you truly believe what you have told me?”
“Yes. I must admit in the last few months I have wondered if I dreamed it while I was unconscious but I know what I have told you to be the truth.”
“Have you told your father?”
“No, you are the only one I’ve wanted to tell.”
Mahesh took a stray lock of hair and placed it behind her ear. “Are all the women in your world like you?”
Erin put her face in her hands and wept, her shoulders convulsing, releasing all the tension she’d felt all these many months.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“You spoke to me like you believed what I told you.”
“I do believe you. You say it, therefore I believe it.”
Erin went and sat on his lap. “Hold me, please. I need to feel your arms around me.”
Mahesh embraced her. Erin lifted her face to his and they kissed, their tongues dancing. Erin leaned into Mahesh and they laid on the blanketed ground. She kissed his neck, his chest. Mahesh began to say something but Erin kissed him quickly and whispered, “Tonight I need you.”
Mahesh gave himself to her. He held and stroked her while she kissed and tasted with her tongue every sinewy muscle. Erin lifted up and straddled him, pushing aside his loincloth. He groaned as she plunged down on him. She moved over him, gyrating slowly then as their breathing quickened, so did her thrusts onto him. When they came as one she leaned onto him and kissed him smothering their cries of ecstasy.
Mahesh whispered in her ear, “Woman, I will begin tomorrow to find a gift for your father. We will be married in a fortnight.”
Erin nodded her head. “You better go, it will be light soon.” They walked in a lover’s silence to the door, each not wanting to let go of the other. As they stepped outside for one last kiss, Erin looked up. “Oh look, a shooting star.” Her eyes grew wide in alarm. “That’s going to be close!” It crossed over their heads and they could hear the thud coming from the forest as it landed. Mahesh looked at her. “That will be the name of our first born, Shooting Star.”
The next day Erin stayed at camp with the women while a group of the young warriors went scouting for food. Erin was in a wonderful mood, humming a tune she remembered from her iPod.
Later that afternoon the men returned. Their hunt had not been as successful as they hoped. Mahesh passed Erin not stopping to say hello and headed straight for the Chief. “I wish to speak with you,” he said.
The Chief motioned him into his asi. When they came out the Chief spoke loudly, “My daughter and Mahesh are to be married.” Erin jumped up and ran to her father. “Your future husband brought me a wonderful gift, daughter. Unlike anything I have ever seen.”
“What is it?”
“I will show you later. For now you must help the women prepare a feast to celebrate!”
Erin sat down next to Mahesh as they ate. “So, are you going to tell me what you gave my father?”
“Do you remember that shooting star we saw this morning? I found it. It is beautiful.”
Erin looked around for the Chief and saw he was talking to the elders. “I want to go see it.”
“You are too curious. Your father wants to show the tribe tonight. The rock glows.”
Erin grimaced, “It glows?”
She got up and snuck over to her father’s asi. When she went inside, the meteoroid was in the center. As she got closer to it, the hair on her arms stood and she could feel herself being pulled towards it. Erin stopped. She remembered now the green light that surrounded her as she stepped into the exhibit back in the Smithsonian. She was looking at her way back home.
Her breath hitched in her chest knowing she had fallen in love for Mahesh. She wasn’t sure of course, but the woman in her told her he had planted his seed in her last night. She looked at the door wanting to run outside and into his arms one last time but heard the revelry grow louder. Soon the Chief would be coming in to show off the gift. Erin looked back at the meteoroid and saw her dream and the death this would bring to Mahesh and the tribe if she let it stay. Sweat ran down her temple to join the tears running down her cheek. Erin moved forward and picked up the meteoroid.
Chief Brown Bear stepped inside his home but did not see the stone. He searched and called his wife asking her if she had taken it. It was only moments before they realized Dayita was nowhere to be found either.
Erin sat in the window box in her apartment looking out at the street. She had no idea whether the tribe had survived or not. When she returned, the stone was not with her. She used the explanation that she had run away with a man she met in D.C. but it hadn’t worked out. Erin didn’t know if her parents bought it or not. The dreams had stopped. She got her old job back but gave up the art classes. Her time at home was more needed. The baby she held in her arms smiled sweetly up at her, pulling at her hair while he sucked on a bottle. She cooed, “One day, Shooting Star, you will understand all the stories I tell you about your father.” Erin took the empty bottle from the baby’s mouth and laid it on the bench beside her. Lifting Shooting Star against her shoulder, “My favorite,” she continued, “is the one where he became friends with the black bear…” Softly she pat Shooting Star’s back in rhythm to a long ago silenced tribal drum. With his mother’s comforting voice lulling him to sleep, Shooting Star fought against heavy eyelids. Unlike his father’s and mother’s brown eyes, Shooting Star was born with beautiful hazel eyes. And if you looked deep enough and long enough into them, you could make out a green ember sparking to life.