For those who remember, I had some fun with a practical joke sitting around a beach campfire in a story I wrote around Christmas time… The link is here for those of you who don’t.
Annie shrugged. “I’ve been hanging around Billy too much, I guess.”
“Don’t be putting your insanity on me,” Billy objected. “I’ve got plenty of my own.”
The image of Annie’s flaming nails faded into the silence of the distant surf and the driftwood crackling in their campfire. No one really knew what to say. A loud pop showered a cascade of sparks onto the blanket cloaked over Annie’s head. They all sat hypnotized as one tiny ember struggled for life in the tinder of the fabric before fading harmlessly to black.
Jessi screwed the cap back on Annie’s makeshift accelerant, wondering how she pre-meditated stunts like that. She handed the bottle back and Annie took it quietly. The shadows played on Annie’s face, dancing memories of Jessi’s sixteenth birthday through her mind. She lay down with her head in Annie’s lap where Annie instinctively began combing her fingers through Jessi’s hair.
“Tell us a campfire story, Flower,” Jessi said. Even upside down, she could still see Annie flinch.
“Yeah, Pockets,” Billy piped up. “Tell us a story about that girl-on-girl action.”
“You’re a freak, Billy,” said Missy. “Why don’t you go find that cave again and make up some hand-on-little-Willie action.”
“Your hand maybe,” Billy snorted.
“Why?” Tyler asked. “Yours getting too sore?” He and Missy and Jessi all laughed.
Jeff strummed his guitar dramatically and everyone turned to look at him. His face was dark and serious. “Pockets…” his fingers delicately plucked out the notes in a minor chord, “…is going to tell us a real story.”
Jeff and Annie stared each other down as Jeff’s fingers plucked away at a gypsy-like melody. Missy snuggled close into Tyler’s arms again. Jessi scooted closer to Annie with her feet by the fire, head still in Annie’s lap. Billy looked enviously at the two of them, and Annie knew she’d been recruited. Her story began…
Two hundred some years ago, maybe, I can’t say exactly when, the Kiawah lived strong in these parts.
She gestured to the south and west before returning her fingers to Jessi’s hair.
Their home was in the woods above these beaches. You know, before all the deforestation and housing developments and golf courses and stuff. The Kiawah were a small peaceful tribe, who were very respectful of nature and they believed…
She dropped her voice to a whisper.
…in the spirits of the animal world. It was believed, that each young member of their tribe would find a kindred animal spirit.
She stopped to nurse her Sex on the Beach and glanced toward Billy to see if there was any more left. Jeff’s gentle melodic riffs filled the silence.
Your animal spirit gives you a special power, or so that’s what the Kiawah believed, and so every young man and woman, when they would come of age, would be taken into a sweat lodge and caused to dream so they could meet their kindred spirit. A fire was built in the middle of a round hut and you would sit with no food and no water while wet wood was added and herbs to make a certain smoke. Only the Elder of Medicine was allowed to come and go. The hut would get intensely hot and you stayed in the heat and the smoke, fasting and sweating until you finally passed out and fell into a dream.
“Why didn’t the medicine dude just throw some Ganj in the fire?” Billy interrupted.
“Shut up, Billy,” Jessi and Missy snapped instantly from their opposite sides of the fire.
“Well, it would have been faster,” he grumbled.
Annie took another sip of her drink and she went on.
When your dream came to you, a great spirit guide would appear before you in animal form and take you on a journey. Only when your journey was completed, would the spirit bestow upon you your special gift of power. Each gift was a trait that belonged to the animal form your spirit guide came to you as… each gift that is… until a young girl named Falling Deer got her dream.
“Wonder where she got her name,” Billy snickered.
“Shut up, Billy!” everyone but Annie chided in unison. They all knew where Annie had gotten the name. Before the sun went down, they had all been climbing out on the rocks below the cliff at the south end of the beach. Jeff had rescued a helpless fawn they found stuck in the seaweed-covered rocks, battered among them by the merciless surf. It must have fallen from the cliff above, so they had hiked up, with Jeff carrying it, and set it free.
Annie smirked a little at Billy’s rebuff.
Now you’re probably thinking Falling Deer was the beloved daughter of the chief, or at least the most beautiful maiden, sought after by the braves for her affection. Sorry, she was just a girl. But she was very much loved by her tribe for the compassion in her heart and so it was with great curiosity that they awaited the Elder’s emergence from the hut. If the spirit guide who chose her was the bear, she might gain a gift of fierce protection, or of powerful dreams. Should the hawk come to her, she might see better in the distance or gain speed with the wind. These gifts were ordinary. Falling Deer’s dream would bring no ordinary gift.
Jeff added a quick dramatic strum in Flamenco style for effect, and Annie had to hide her approving smile.
By now you’ve all guessed that the Kiawah took their adult names from their dreams. So of course it was the deer who eventually came her, but not before she had sat three days in the heat and the smoke with no food and no water. When she finally collapsed into her dream, the Elder feared she had died. Falling Deer did not die.
“You have been chosen,” the spirit guide said to her in her dream, “but to complete your journey, you must perform three tasks. You must follow wherever I lead but do not speak a word. You must find the mist that falls as it rises. And you must find the strength that comes from weakness. Do you understand?”
Falling Deer nodded without a word. Weak with hunger and dying from dehydration, she followed her nimble and quick-footed spirit guide. Across valleys and over hills, through streams and rocky beds, she followed as she was told. Though she stumbled, she said never a word. Finally, they came to a place where the land was no more and the deer spoke to her again.
“We are near your end. Remember your tasks.”
And with that, the ground disappeared beneath his hooves and he plunged over the edge of the very cliff on this very beach where we climbed today, and was he dashed against the rocks below.
Annie paused to finish her drink, while Jeff ad libbed some dark funeral chords.
Falling Deer followed where her spirit guide had led her. Over the cliff to the sea’s edge below, she fell in her dream. As she fell, suspended not in the air, but in time, she watched the waves crash against the rocks. The mist sprayed into the air, tumbling within itself, falling as it burst into the air. She knew her gift.
Before the rocks could take her life, she cast herself into a mist against them. As she fell, she rose, and she stood next to the broken body of the deer struggling in the waves. Compassion was what Falling Deer was made of, the essence of her being. She bent to help him, crying still without a word, and when her weakness made her dizzy, she knew. She must find the strength to leave him. Without a word, she did.
Jessi sat up out of Annie’s lap, upset that she’d let the deer die. She remembered the poor trembling fawn from their afternoon, frightened and bleeding. She wouldn’t interrupt, but her scalp was creeping now, and she didn’t want her hair stroked anymore.
Falling Deer awoke in the hut, dizzy and sick and the Elder let up a cry. Quickly, he dragged her from the heat and the smoke to the fresh air outside. While the others gave her fresh cool water in small sips, he cried his most glorious cry, because the one chosen to be the Kiawah Elder of Medicine is the one with the gift to see the dreams of another.
“People of the Kiawah, I give you Falling Deer, but listen well. She has been given the gift… to bring back life from death!”
A clamor arose among the Kiawah people and with good reason. Her gift was indeed a great one. She could bring a mist to fall on the ground and bring life to dead crops, and the girl who was loved for her compassion, became the most beloved member of her tribe. But with her gift, there came a curse. It was not long before it happened. A child had tasted poison berries, and in her compassion, she dashed the poison in a mist against its heart. Its fever fell as it rose, and the child lived.
They came to her. With every illness, with every accident, even with old age they came, and begged her for her gift, but she knew that in the weakness of her compassion was the strength of denial her spirit guide had taught her. Some she could save, but only some, and so little by little, the people who had loved her turned selfishly against her.
At this time, colonists, mostly of British descent, inhabited the area to the North. In their years of trading, the Kiawah heard stories of how the settlers had hanged and burned the suspected heretics and witches of their colonies. So when an arrow from a neighboring tribe struck the heart of the chief’s son, the test of Falling Deer’s gift was upon her and when she refused, a plot was set.
The Kiawah feared that Falling Deer possessed the animal spirit of her guide itself, and they did not dare cause her to anger. The colonists, instead, were invited to witness her gift, and in secret, the Kiawah people sent her near a cliff and pushed her from it. Of course, she rose unharmed from below. There could be no doubt among the colonists that this power to cheat death belonged only to a witch. Soon, the chief and many others sat to witness as Falling Deer was tied to a stake and burned.
Annie sat forward with her chin on her knees, hands tucked underneath her legs and stared into the fire.
Many cried in the darkness of the shadows. Some of the younger ones owed their very lives to Falling Deer. And there were many who said it was not the last they ever saw of her. The Kiawah are a mere shadow of their ancestry now, and the legend they tell is but a shadow as well. But they say that once a year, along these beaches, Falling Deer’s spirit is led to the cliff and pushed by those who were her friends. Once a year, she waits there among the rocks below for someone who can see the strength in their weakness, someone with the compassion to let her die. When she finds that person, the Kiawah say she will take their soul, the way a falling deer once took hers.
Jeff’s guitar stopped.
Jessi, still sitting close, hit Annie’s shoulder with hers. “Well, we rescued our deer, didn’t we?” she said.
“Jeff rescued the deer,” Annie corrected quietly. “I wasn’t finished.”
The legend of the Kiawah says that her soul still lives within the fire where she was burned. Those who cried in the shadows claimed they saw what the others in the burning light of their crime did not see. They say Falling Dear cast herself into smoke against the flame before she died. She fell with the smoke as it rose and they say if you stare into a campfire on one of these beaches today, you can still see her pleading for her life. But listen well!
If you were one of the few chosen by the fallen deer, and you did not help it…
Annie paused and looked around the camp, and then at her empty cup, which she tossed to the sand next to Billy.
If you saw the fallen deer and then see her face in the fire, it is not her life she is pleading for… it’s YOURS!
Annie stood up suddenly, and as she did, the campfire shot a burst of flames up into the sky in front of her. Missy screamed. Jessi screamed because Missy screamed. Annie took a step toward the fire. Billy jumped from his spot and tackled her across the flames and out into the cold sand next to where Jeff sat with his guitar held as far away from the fray as he could possibly reach.
“You’re a freak, Billy!” Annie laughed. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I thought you were going to step into the fire,” Billy said.
Annie held up the empty nail polish bottle she’d uncapped again while it was hidden beneath her legs. She tossed it into the fire. “I was just going to get some more driftwood while you refilled my drink, Drughead.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde