Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Skinwalkers Part 4

The deed done, he notices Jenson face down in the sand, blood seeping and turns him roughly onto his back, enjoying his wincing. This is not a mortal wound. It's bleeding badly and Jenson's not in good shape but Lawrence has mortal thoughts. "You'll be OK Redneck" and slaps the man firmly on the side of his arm. Jenson has lost his mess tent arrogance and resembles a frightened child, he grabs the Navajo.  "Hurts man, fuckin' hurts real bad!" The Navajo inspects the wound, unsympathetically spits, "Put pressure on it. Stay put, I'll be back."

He moves towards the Pillbox and his first aid kit but thoughts he doesn't want to think enter his head, terrible thoughts.  Jenson would have killed him had he not sprung to his feet. This is his chance to take the life that would have snuffed his own. Perfect, pre-determined by a Japanese bullet, enemy fire.
A wave of resolution crashes over him and his soft heart becomes dark. He pulls the bayoneted rifle from the dead Jap, and walks back towards Jenson's groaning frame. Looks fair and square into Jenson's terrified eyes, speaks something, in Navajo "Ashiiké tóó diigis" and plunges the foreign blade into his chest. Body vibrates, air is gasped, blood gurgles like a sticky spring and another of America's finest lies still, bleeding and contorted on the sulfur sand.

The flares desist and all is quiet.  Lawrence, sophisticated as he is, lets superstition take hold.  The ritual begins.  He strips, naked apart from his boots and rubs his body with black ashen sand.  For now, he is invisible to the spirit world, dusky and stinking. He does not speak. It's important to keep quiet. Jenson's journey into the spirit world must not be interrupted. He must not find his way back. The Navajo reverses slowly away from Jenson's body, dusting bootprints with his jacket, as he moves. Jenson remains exposed for others to find.

The Navajo kneels and scoops dry sand into his hand, allowing a thin trickle to escape and draws an intricate pattern. A picture for the Holy Ones.  Four symmetrical elements for each compass point. He is meticulous as circular heads form in relief on the charcoal silica and grainy rosemary sprigs connect his art with the natural world. He isn't proud of what he's done and knows his shadow may well leave, opening a portal for the Skinwalkers to claim his soul.

He heads back to the field tents and washes the dark sand from his body. Water shears off the ashes but he is tainted as a woman raped. A dog howls. He didn't even know there were dogs on this God-forsaken island but this one resonates and gives him chills. He imagines Skinwalkers tearing at his corpse and shakes the image from his mind. He performed the ritual, sent Jensen on his way.  Self-preservation is a mighty thing, a wrathful thing, a soulless thing but Jenson deserved it and will be thought of no more.

Another casket is shipped  home. Another American son buried, and a native survivor declared "Hero."
Amid the rows of uniforms, aboard the US Hornet, Hunter Lawrence's name is called.  A Navy Cross pinned on his chest for code talk and the not-so-stealthy killing of five Japs on patrol, for trying to 'save ' a fallen comrade.  Beneath congratulatory smiles, superstition runs like acid through his veins. He's lost his shadow in more ways than one but doesn't know it yet.

Once home, life takes over. Wife, no kids but life is good. Unlike the other five, he's survived. All but two perished and they return damaged and distraught. Like so many they drink to forget and sobriety forsakes them. They don't speak of the war and wait for welfare checks.

Hunter Lawrence puts all behind him until widowed and begins to age. As advanced years encroach, so does the wolf to his door and images of his treachery seep like Jenson's sticky blood into his heart. He's aware of his mortality and fears the retribution of death.  Jenson's face comes back to haunt him as does the sensation of steel through skin, muscle, organ and bone. He turns to the solace of the bottle and drinks himself into oblivion.

A Navajo without a shadow is open to the darkness and the guilt he harbours deep inside has led him there. He is condemned to an existence of remembering, after a lifetime of forgetting.  He lies awake at night, dogs howl, coyotes yelp, shape-shifters gather, banging hard on his walls and sleep evades. Gunfire is in his head and guilt his only bedfellow. Jenson's eyes burn his back and he feels the blade between his shoulders. The bottle provides solace and he pours another mind-numbing draft.

At 86 years old, his heart is weak, his liver tainted, his comrades dead, his family gone.  He reaches into his pocket and fondles the shiny thing.  He gazes through glazed eyes at the Navy Cross and makes a last apology to his murdered protector.

An old man sits on the porch, left alone as is tradition. Medicine man already naked and smoothing ashes on his skin. Grave dug, mourners holding back as is their way.  Navajo die alone.

Feeling a shiver and a presence, Hunter Lawrence looks down on sunbleached boards. Breath rasping and his black heart failing. At last, a shadow is cast, looming long and dark and menacing. An animal howls the howl of Hell.  The wind gains force and once more a billow of dust is at his feet. Yee naaldooshii, the Skinwalker has come to make a claim.  "Forgive me" are his last words as the medal falls spinning towards the boards, slips through the gaps and rests quietly for posterity to ignore on reservation earth.
Only the Holy Ones will know.


  1. enjoyed this the whole way through. Not quite as finished as some of your stuff, but still pretty ambitious...i can see you've done quite a bit of research to come up with a good story!

  2. I really enjoyed this, as I suspect you knew I would. It could use a good edit (I could recommend someone...), but you've told the story well.

  3. USS Hornet, dammit. Double-S! And ship names are italicized! Dammit!

    But, yeah. Excellent story. Definitely needs an edit and some expansion. MUCH better than that crap Windtalkers movie.

  4. Why are ship names italicised?

  5. I do not know this story at all, so do not know if it is a good re-telling.

    I found it hard to emotionally bond with either the Navajo or the redneck.

    I think maybe too, you could reassess the way you use white space.