In the Golden Times, the times of Timbok’s father’s father’s father, before the Burning Rains came, the Manzanita grew thick in the Valley of Fantasy. Small rodents hid beneath the Manzanita’s gnarly thickets. Birds nested safely in their bounty of crooks and crutches. Generations upon generations of Whitetail scrubbed budding antlers against their tough and slaking trunks, antlers that would grow as mighty monuments to the Manzanita that had once rubbed them raw.
The most venerable buck did not remember the men who were responsible. Many low suns had passed since their thunder-powered projectiles had ceased to claim lives unseen. The grasses, the mosses, the forests had long ago eaten the men’s light-emanating stone mountains, their black, hoof-chafing paths, and their monsters that roared to life without birth; reduced them to elements, to soil, to Balance. The sagest buck knew no explanation for the curse the men left behind. But curses come with or without explanation and the Burning Rains had begun to fall.
Timbock had knocked the last old trunk down when the nubs on his head once again persisted their insatiable itch. He stood over the Manzanita’s dark fallen hulk in denial, snorting his disapproval, his rejection of his role in Fate. He looked about the Valley of Fantasy. Two tiny saplings were all that remained of the once proud race of trees, too tiny to offer any salvation for his raging instinct. Their infant leaves, considered sacred by the Whitetail, had fallen in the Burning Rains and their tiny barren skeletons seemed as lifeless and desolate as their fallen ancestor.
Whitetail do no know sadness. That curse, like the Burning Rains, was one that belonged to men. But Timbock knew burden. And so it was burden that he felt when he heard the old tree whisper. He turned to study it again, prone among the sagebrush. He couldn’t be sure. The mists that floated in the Valley of Fantasy since the Burning Rains came were the reason for its name. They tricked the eyes, the ears, the nose, with sights and sounds and smells that were not there. But the voice of the last great Manzanita seemed real, and Timbock carried its weight.
Take my two.
There was much more in that whisper than those words themselves. Timbock understood as his breath danced among the rotting roots he’d felled: neither age, nor soil had caused them to release their clasp on life. It was the burning; the burning in the rains. He turned again to the young saplings, his terrible itch crawling madly in his head as the old tree whispered.
Take my two.
He walked to where the young saplings stood and ever so gently, he nudged them. He nudged them with care. He nudged them with burden, not at their trunks, but at their poor burning roots.
Two tiny saplings clung to Timbock’s head, and at once his terrible itch was gone. He stood and held his head high as he felt their roots soothe his skull, soothe the very nature of him. Timbock shook his head and he bellowed to the Valley of Fantasy with all his might. He was the only Whitetail with antlers that day. He was proud. But those antlers carried a burden. He cast one last glance at the fallen tree, at the valley that had been the home of his forefathers since the Golden Times. He cast one last glance at Fate. Then he turned his head to the east, where it was said the Burning Rains did not fall.
© 2014 Anne Schilde