Excerpt for The Spirit: A Novel of the Tribe by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


HARPER L. JAMESON


THE SPIRIT

A NOVEL OF THE TRIBE


SATIN & STONE PUBLICATIONS, LLC.





Published by Satin & Stone Publications, LLC.

P.O. Box 2554

Kernersville, NC 27285


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents other than those in the public domain are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locations, or actual events is entirely coincidental.


Copyright © 2016 by Harper L. Jameson


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Satin & Stone Publications, LLC., P.O. Box 2554, Kernersville, NC 27285


First Satin & Stone Publications, LLC. Paperback edition October 2016


No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


Cover illustrations used with license from Shutterstock, Inc., and the public domain.
Cover design © 2016 by Harper L. Jameson

Book design and production by Satin & Stone Publications, LLC.

Chapter opening illustrations © 2016 Harper L. Jameson
Author photograph by Michele Justice Photography


ISBN: 978-1533313171

ISBN: 1533313172



DEDICATIONS & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



This story is for my husband, Luke, and our children, Luke and Evie. You tirelessly asked me when my book was going to be done. You didn’t roll your eyes at my dreams and you pushed­­ me to the keyboard when the words were quiet. I gave up my time and my sanity–even my confidence to put this on paper, but you three gave up so much more to help me get here. You wrote as much of this story as I did. Finally, I get my chance to make you all proud. I hope I do.


To the friends who encouraged me when I doubted myself, who told me I was an idiot for second guessing word after word. They listened to my breakdowns and talked me off of my literary cliffs. For that I am eternally grateful. Jess, Kate, David, Madalyn and Mariah, thank you. Without your encouragement I would have stopped before this story was ever told.


And lastly, every family has their legends, their great figure heads whose lineage rose from the dirt or came over the seas, putting down roots. We grew up with their stories, their pictures– in awe of the lives they lead and their place in our own. In some part, they made us who we are and showed us the kind of person we should be. This story is dedicated to one of those people. From D-Day to his last day, I heard all the tales and I remember each one as vividly as the first time they were told. His strength of will and gentle spirit made him great. Biology made him my grandfather. Though he is gone now the legend remains.






GLOSSARY OF TERMS & TRANSLATIONS



Asanwa (pr. n.) The home of The Tribe, a land created and protected by the Creator spirit, Kokumthena. It is the last refuge of their people and can only be reached through magic used to separate the winds isolating their land from ours.

Beyond the Wind (pr.n.) The doorway between the mortal world and the world of The Tribe.

Cha mok mon (n.) White man

Chaquiweshe (n.) Fox

Council House (pr.n.) The central meeting place of The Tribe. Forbidden to outsiders, it is where all laws are made and grievances are heard and reconciled.

Elder (n.) A leader–acting with the rest of the Tribal Council to mandate law and action in the best interests of The Tribe.

Eluwilussit (n.) Holy man

Eninubaki (n.) Loosely translated as "through the water". Member of The Tribe who shares a spirit with an animal, able to travel the gate between worlds without help from the gods.

Kiakiak (n.) Hawk

Kiji Manito (pr. n.) Great Spirit

Koese (n.) Old one

Kweewa (n.) Woman

Maka: (pr.n.) Father to Kokumthena, he created the known universe from nothingness. An all-powerful yet absent god, so detached that even the spirits doubt his existence.

Manito (n.) Spirit/Angel

Mi'wa (n.) Third Person Possessive form of “wife”.

M'weowa (n.) Wolf

Nenimkee (pr.n.) Literally "lightning". They are the legendary Thunderbirds, guardians of Kokumthena and the gate to her realm. They speak the language of The Tribe, backwards.

Ni'ickwe (n.) First Person Possessive form of “woman”.

Ni'kwitha (n.) First Person Possessive form of “son”.

Ni'kya (n.) First Person Possessive form of “mother”.

Ni'nekah (n.) First Person Possessive form of “friend”.

Nili nekamota (n.) A term of endearment loosely translated as “my singer”.

Ninekamo (n.) A term of endearment, loosely translated as “my song”.

Ni'wa (n.) First Person Possessive form of “wife”.

No'cumtha (n.) First Person Possessive form of “grandmother”.

Other Side of the Wind: A common way the people of The Tribe refer to our world.

The Tribe (pr.n.) An ancient race once inhabiting most of North America, they are the forebears of Native Americans as we know them today. Forced from their homes by European encroachers, they now live almost exclusively in Asanwa.

Tribal Council (pr.n.) A group of respected warriors and holy men of The Tribe responsible for passing all laws and dispersing judgments.

Wapakoli (n.) Warrior


COMMON PHRASES



Ayor Anash'ni: I love you. Also "Ni'keta kwala mala."

Gwich peh: “Thank you.”

Ki wan nicheata: “You have forgotten.”

Kweewa neppoa ini mettaweahe: “The woman’s death is nothing.”

Neeme waapa nepi ni’wa: “My beautiful, perfect wife.”

Ni angahot manatowa: “I’ll kill you, evil one.”

Nilway nota chena etowa I: A show of acquiescence and submission loosely translated as “I/We hear and obey/understand.”

Nota eh: “Hear me.”

On adanida ne namai: Loosely translated as “I will show you.”

Oushi cat tooui: Loosely translated as “be strong.”

Peawa: “Come.”

Ped ahuk lamaiki kweewa: Loosely translated as “You are within her.”

Pi ka fa ne: “Let her/him go.”

Sones paskwaki: Loosely translated as "Little Cloud". Moroc's pet name for Moshemanitoo.

Sones wasian: Loosely translated as “Little Animal” Moroc’s pet name for Weshemoneto.

Tcho: “No.” Also Naga

Yama ahuk tei wuski kilswa: Loosely translated as “This is the beginning.”


















Real, unfailing love is never without sacrifice.

Only in that sacrifice can we truly become whole.














The river had washed all kinds of things down the mountain this year.

Annie stared down at where her feet were beginning to sink in the mud, watching the glittering pool of calm formed where a rock slide had spliced Nocturne River at the edge of her land. “Huh,” she mused, her toe prodding a cluster of feathers that floated by her foot. They didn’t look like any hawk’s she’d ever seen. Nor any owl and she gathered her skirt up to lean over and pluck the plumes from the water, fanning the spines and studying their glittering hue in wonder. Strange. Not an eagle feather either, though the size would be right. Even eagle feathers wouldn’t shimmer like that and as she turned them in her fingers, an odd, humming power vibrated up her fingertips, causing the pads of her fingers to glow faintly gold and the faded souls hovering nearby to burn brighter as they gathered to her.

“Anna Madeline Wright!” Annie winced as Shep’s bellow cut through the trees and right up her spine, her shoulders bunching as she scowled toward the source of the god awful caterwauling. The feathers were momentarily forgotten as she tied them in her apron strings to dry for later use and Annie turned to greet him as the spirits floated back into the shadows of the trees with hushed whispers of discontent. She puzzled at their strange behavior for a moment before setting her irritation on the giant tramping his way through her backyard.

“You keep yellin’ like that, Shepherd Leonidas Ansley, and I ain’t even gonna try and stop anything that decides to come down on you. Besides, shouldn’t you be minding your congregation?” Annie arched a delicate brow at her friend, fists balled on her hips in a scold he would see for exactly what it was.

Without malice, the little woman’s warning was a good-natured reminder that while the Lord might be on Shep’s side, they both knew well there were places that even angels feared to tread–not that angels ever had anything to do with Wright’s Holler.

Shep snorted, his chin lifted up in defiance, but his step was more careful, hazel eyes more watchful of the trees and the shadows they cast as he reached into his coat and curled a large hand around the worn Bible he kept in the fraying inner pocket. “Maybe if you’d listen when I called, I wouldn’t have to yell so loud. My congregation is why I came huntin’ you anyway, you little brat.” His irritation was no more sincere than hers was, his heart too full of concern for the woman he’d looked after since they were children together, playing in these hidden alcoves of forest to ever be convincing.

“Don’t worry, they’re all away doin’ whatever it is the spirits do when they ain’t bothered at me callin’ ‘em.” Annie chuckled and waved him off, smiling at the flitting shimmers of souls that lingered around her, drawn back to her energy and whispering to be heard.

Shep didn’t need to hear they were always there, even if he knew it already and she resisted the urge to make him squirm just a little. It was harder than it should have been. Shep was a brute of a man, over six and a half feet of muscle topped with an unruly crop of blond curls that gave him a boyish appearance, belying the hard masculinity of his face. He’d had women swooning for him right up until he’d taken his vows but Annie had known him better than that and to her, the young pastor was a brother, a kindred soul that had stayed by her side through the years. His taking to the pulpit did stop some of the more shameless women of McAllen from trying to get his attention, though.

Even if he did change his mind and take a wife, she had no worry that anything would change between them. Shep had been there all her life just like the ghosts had.

Annie remembered them from the time she could talk, calling out to the spirits of the native people who gathered at her cradle and babbling happily at them when they came close enough to tickle her with their power.

Her mother hadn’t been bothered as long as the tainted ghosts stayed away, something old Rachel had guaranteed with her charms and the grisly tradition of keeping an owl nailed to the front door. Annie grew up surrounded by the dead and they were as much part of the holler as she was, souls linked to the mountain in their time on the earth and loathe to leave the place that had been their home for so long.

“I knew it was time, anyhow.” She brushed her hands off on her apron and pushed the unbound cascade of her raven hair behind her shoulders, straightening herself from where she’d been studying the river pool in a brief distraction from hanging her wash on the line strung between two trees at the rear of her cabin. There wasn’t much–a few dresses and a heavy coat that had seen more than one generation of Wright women and a good deal of better days, but every piece was maintained carefully, mindful of the scarcity of such minor things as fabric and leather in the Appalachian valley.

Shep came up short at the clothesline, a calloused hand lifting one threadbare sleeve. “You need a new coat, Annie,” he frowned, worried once more in the endearing, old-fashioned manner he had of disapproving of her solitude. It was tiring and annoying and she adored him for it, the way you were supposed to adore a violently overprotective sibling.

She snorted, blue eyes bright and glittering as she crinkled her nose at him and smacked the sleeve from his hand. “Ain’t this the part where you tell me the Lord will provide, Shep?”

“The Lord would provide if you’d take up one of these offers these young fellas made you. Get you a man around this land to tend the property and turn a profit ‘fore you starve to death out here.” Even saying that rankled him, and Annie could tell from having seen it a million times before. Shep might want her to have a man to take care of her in theory, but he didn’t like the idea in practice at all and the miners that worked these rugged hills weren’t the type to gently break any woman into the ways of a marriage. She tended to agree.

Annie was more than capable of looking after herself, after all. She’d been doing it these last three years since her brothers had left to homestead further west. At any rate, she had no time for a man and all the foolishness that came with keeping one. From all the tears she’d helped dry for the women of her holler, there wasn’t a man out there half as loyal as a good dog, anyhow.

“Ain’t a man in McAllen wants a witch as a wife, Shep,” she countered, though that wasn’t exactly the case. The witch didn’t want a husband, plain and simple and Shepherd well knew it though–bless his heart–it didn’t stop him from trying every time he opened his stubborn mouth.

“You ain’t never given any of ‘em a chance, Annie,” he grumbled back, but dutifully turned away as she started to pull her few underthings off the line to drape them over her arm. Annie didn’t miss the way his cheeks pinked with his embarrassment, rolling her eyes good-naturedly and sneaking behind him to slip one of her shifts over his shoulder.

“Oh, cut it out, Shep! You’ve seen my things before.” She elbowed his ribs as she passed him, heading back toward the house to deposit her meager wardrobe in her room before they had to leave. Her mending would have to come after the town meeting, just like everything else would.

“Don’t mean it’s proper to have your…They shouldn’t be hangin’ out for anybody to see.” Shep stumbled over his words and snatched the shift off his arm, holding it between two fingers like he’d be judged just for touching her unmentionables. He complained the whole way, but obediently followed her inside. At least as obedient as Shepherd ever was, muttering under his breath with every step they took back toward her little cabin. “We shoulda’ been there an hour ago, you know. Can’t nobody get to work until they know the winter’s through with us.”

McAllen and the holler east of it was built on the backs of miners who’d found rich veins of steel and coal in this part of the Appalachians. It was backbreaking work, fraught with danger but with families to feed the men never balked, their town surviving by sheer force of their will. Unfortunately, they weren’t immune to the will of nature. Prolonged cold meant the black powder kegs could become unusable and a heavy snowfall could spell disaster for any caught in the mine when it came.

Annie took the three crumbling steps up onto her porch, slowing just long enough to scratch the hound napping on the cracking floorboards and slipped through the open door with Shep on her heels, just like he always was. He was a looming shadow in her life, forever there when she needed him. She’d done the same for him, defending him from the other boys who’d mercilessly taunted him when he’d grown by leaps and bounds beyond them, labeling him the giant of McAllen. He’d defended himself against their jibes the only way he knew how–with the fists and temper of a boy who lacked the maturity to restrain either.

When the fighting had become too much, when the pain in his soft heart rivaled the pain of his battered knuckles Annie had tended him, seeing him for exactly what he was–a bear, staked and taunted until he’d had no choice but to lash out. The pair of them had been inseparable since, the girl looking after the boy who didn’t know his own strength and the boy looking after the young witch who didn’t yet know her own power.

Annie dropped her bundle onto her faded quilt and made a half-hearted attempt at putting herself to rights, running slender fingers through her hair and pulling at the ribbon of her apron to untie the cords that held her shift as she started to change her dress. The feathers peeked out from the top of her apron pocket, shimmering in a play of light that drew her attention until she pulled them free to lay them out on her bedside table and went back to the tedious task of making herself presentable. Not that she knew why she bothered. To the people of McAllen, how she looked didn’t matter. It was her words they came for. Her visions, her charms...potions and tinctures to ease whatever ailed them here in the mountains so far away from the big cities springing up in the east.

“Lord sakes, Annie! You gotta warn me when you’re gonna go and do that!” Shep was halfway into her bedroom when he caught sight of her bare back and spun on his heel, his massive shoulders blocking the doorway as if forming a barrier against anyone else who might try to see her.

“Oh, come off it. You’ve seen me naked as a jay before,” she huffed over her shoulder at him, her dress dropping to the floor at her feet in a muffled thump of rough cotton that she quickly kicked aside, reaching for the cleaner of her two wardrobe options.

Shep rolled his eyes and snorted an incredulous sound, lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Not since we were four and it doesn’t count, you know that damned well.” He also knew that if he wasn’t a man of God now, he’d be up to his elbows in blood protecting her from that damned independent streak that had her dropping her dress to swim, or hunting the holler, or re-shingling her roof or a hundred other things she shouldn’t be doing alone. Her incessant, infernal compulsion to get through her life with no help but the spirits and the land had him saying more than one prayer for restraint at his Sunday service.

“I don’t understand what has your drawers in such an uproar, Shep. We’ve done this a million times. Same prediction we do every season and there ain’t been any surprises yet, ‘cept that drought back in ’28.” It was just that kind of possibility that had her friend tense, she was sure. The poor rainfall that year had come just as she’d predicted and it was a sorry answer to give the miners on the mountain for her very first vision. Still the omen hadn’t been wrong and despite being only 14, they’d listened, trusting the power that came with her family name. The mountain folk were able to hoard water for the weeks prior to the dry spell, keeping their few animals and family gardens in relative comfort for the month of hellish heat and their losses had been minimal, praise the Lord and thank the spirits.

Annie wriggled into her dress and fastened the buttons at the front, stepping into her worn leather boots and combing out the tangles in her hair with her mother’s brush. She caught her shawl up from the foot of the bed to wrap her shoulders as she quietly stepped up behind Shep and tapped him on one thick shoulder. “You can look now, Reverend. You’re purity is safe with me,” she teased, but despite their loving jabs and soft-hearted taunting she was proud of him for taking up the Bible when so many with his troubles would have turned to the bottle, just like his daddy had and his granddaddy before him.

“Ain’t my purity I worry about,” Shep grumbled, turning to face her with a half-hearted scold. “I know I promised to look after you, Annie, but do you have to make it so damned hard all the time?” Looking her over, he sighed heavily and stepped aside to let her pass. Shepherd was still blocking the door, a tower of solid muscle all stuffed into a preacher’s coat and if you’d never seen him behind a pulpit, you’d think him more comfortable swinging a pick. The truth was that most of the time he was.

“Gotta give you somethin’ to preach about on Sundays, don’t I?” Brushing his arm fondly as she passed, Annie turned the oil lantern on her mantle low and stepped out onto her front porch, her steps hurrying through the woods toward the church and the people who would be waiting at the platform outside the sanctuary. She could hear Shep behind her and cursed that he’d actually been right as the sun began to sink below the tree line, telling her the hour was later than she’d believed and that she’d spent far too long staring into the treasures the river had carried down the mountain to her land.

Her thoughts came back to the strange feathers, copper and glinting where the predator birds of the mountains all wore the same mottled brown coat and even the owls were only a lighter shade, blending in easily with the bark of the local trees until you heard their call.

“So now you’re in a hurry,” Shep huffed from behind her, pulling Annie from her musing and she smiled impishly over her shoulder at him.

“Ain’t a lady got a right to change her mind, Shep?,” she called back as her boots stepped off of soft grass and came down on hard packed dirt, kicking up dust on the wagon-wheel cutouts that made the town roads and turning east toward the center of McAllen.

“Show me a lady and I’ll ask her,” he shot back, panting with the effort of keeping up with her. It wasn’t easy to get someone his size up to speed, but once he did it was best not to be in his way until he was able to slow down again. Shep’s momentum was akin to that of a train on a downhill grade at full steam until it hit the end of its track, but he finally caught up when the terrain turned smoother and the longer stride that came with his height let him gain ground until he was at her side again.

The change in the pair of them was almost instantaneous as the church steeple came into view, dropping playful, easy banter for the solemn demeanor their place in the community needed of them. Shep adjusted his coat and collar, his spine erect and shoulders straight, settling into the formal appearance of the town’s religious leader. He was there for their births and deaths, baptisms and weddings, seeing them all through the changes and stages of time that made the cycle of their spiritual lives here in the holler.

Annie was there for them, too, and though it wasn’t with God on her side, she surely prayed He was. Where Shep saw them when they lost faith, she saw them when they’d lost hope. She saw them through physical suffering and hardships when life on the mountain inevitably took its toll. Survival in the Appalachians wasn’t for the faint-hearted; their living earned with the sweat of their brows and the blood of their own cracked hands, eking an existence from the forest below those ominous peaks. Annie’s help was in easing their tribulations while the Lord eased their souls and between the two of them, McAllen had become more than just a cluster of ramshackle settlements, spread along the mountain. The residents of the holler had become their people. Their family. And there was nothing that they wouldn’t do for family.

Walking sure-footed and straight-backed, Annie and Shep came to the crowd gathered at the platform, the weathered planks having seen more than their creaking could ever speak, from the stairs that folks walked to take their seats at committee meetings to the single gallows where the godless were condemned to swing for the wrongs they’d done. Not many had walked those steps and they both well knew why. The residents of the town bore out their punishment with the same pride they lived with here in McAllen, taking their sentence and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness before they found their way to the noose. Strangers who dared bring their sins into the holler simply went into the forest and never came out again. Annie knew the truth of it and more than one spirit living in the shadow of her power wore the dandy hat of a carpetbagger or government man.

They took those stairs together and stood at the center of the platform, the one leader gathering nerve from the other, their faces calm, sure and serene to give the onlookers no reason to worry until they knew there was something to worry about.

Annie took a breath, her attention faltering only for a moment at the shriek of a bird nearby and she glanced over, seeing only a flash of silver light and then glittering copper taking flight. Huh. There was a presence there. Old and benevolent, just on the edge of what she could see and Annie started after it, but her curiosity was swept aside as the townspeople crowded the platform; waiting.

“You okay, Annie?” Shep eyed her curiously, his voice a low bass thrum under the murmurs of the amassed as he reached to pull her back to his side. He followed her eyes, seeing nothing but the wind rocking a low pine branch and the faint glow of light that was almost certainly moonbeams reflecting off of the glossy needles.

“It ain’t nothin’, I guess. Just thought I saw somethin’.” Or felt something, but often those two senses were intermingled. There was nothing now but a couple of wayward spirits milling near a low branch that tremored though there was no wind, like something had been there and left in a hurry. Annie she brushed it off, offering her friend a reassuring smile though something had her hackles up, the senses beyond her senses pricked and cautious. “I’m ready,” she promised, her hand resting on his shoulder as it always did when she needed to find her balance. Whatever had been in the trees had unnerved her and that was something not easily done when ghosts came as regularly as the rising sun.

Shep’s arms spread wide, his voice a booming call to order that they obeyed in a synchronized silence, their muttering stopped and they turned toward the platform. “Y’all quiet down now. Now winter’s passed, y’all came here with questions and worries. We’ll hear you all and if the Bible can’t help, Miss Annie might can. Patience is a virtue of the Lord and I promise, we’ll hear all of you. We always do.”

The gathered jockeyed for position to have their concerns heard and Annie steeled herself, squeezing Shep’s shoulder for calm. She wasn’t nervous for their questions, her only fear that there would be some she couldn’t help and she called on her mother’s strength and that of the other Wright witches that she might hear the plight of her people and ease their fears with the promise of mild weather to raise their small herds and their children in. If the spirits weren’t willing and the Lord saw fit to send them trials, she prayed to the powers on high and in the mountain to let her soothe their suffering if she could.

Stepping up, a grizzled old man pushed his coal-dust covered hat back on his head, dirt filling the crease in his furrowed brow as he fought to form his question. Annie was patient, waiting with a soft smile for him to get his tongue untied, but that feeling came again, carried on a shift of air that brought humming power on a frigid gust that whipped her skirts around her legs and drew her attention back to the platform.

The wind didn’t feel like wind to the witch of Wright’s Holler. The wind felt like a warning.

















The town meeting had yielded two babies with whooping cough, a grandfather who’d come down with a stiffness in his bones and three missing calves. There was also one expectant mother whose labor pains were coming far too early and a good run of bad luck for a family who had lost most of their home in a fire from a wood stove that had gone untended. Annie could help, mentally making a list of herbs and barks that she would need, oils that would have to be burned and bits of hair and clothes to add to the healing fetishes she used where medicine was so hard to come by and too often ineffective. The most important question had been asked a dozen times over...the forecast for the planting season after such a harsh winter when the men could go back into the mines, though many already had, braving the icy cold to cut their pay from the mountain.

Shepherd had already returned to the sanctuary with those who wanted him to pray over them, promising to meet her back at the platform when the moon rose the following night and leaving her to find her way back to her cabin to begin amassing the supplies she needed to help her people get through their tribulations. She would never let their pleas go unanswered.

Annie trekked back through the woods into the holler, humming under her breath when the crackling presence returned and she shivered at the way her pulse was reined to its strange throbbing beat. Searching the trees yielded no source and she called out, getting no response outside the shriek of night birds stirring to predatory wakefulness as the moon glowed over the tree tops. Her skin tingled, a humming warmth that wasn’t entirely unpleasant fanning around her and she had the oddest notion that whatever it was simply wanted to watch over her, unrealizing that she was more than able to watch over herself. “I’ll be just fine, you can run along now,” she insisted, speaking out loud to her invisible watcher.

Reaching her property line, Annie stooped in the mud at the river bend to collect what she needed from the current’s offerings, gathering smooth stones from the icy water and bundling them in her apron along with the rest of her treasures. Slippery elm bark and dragonflies she had dried in the late autumn chill made the rest of her bounty, along with some more of the strange feathers she’d found at the odd pool in the river. They hummed in her hand just like the others had, making her pulse race and her fingertips crackle energy until she’d finally wrapped them up to break whatever current their power had caused. The feeling wasn’t unlike the thing watching her. The hypnotic coloring of the plumes had her curiosity piqued, but that was going to have to wait until she’d completed the tasks already set on her. The holler folk came first.

Getting to her feet, she pushed the wild black mane of her hair back behind her shoulders and balled the apron in her fists, its contents as precious to her as gold and equally valuable in the face of some of the sickness running wild in McAllen. It would only get worse as talk of the railroad building eastward reached them. The town had more than its share of hardship at a time that should have seen the outsiders busting into their little corner of the Appalachians after the rich coal and iron veins buried in the mountains. Not that they were wanted. The residents here had gotten on just fine without the railroad but Annie wasn’t stupid, knowing full well that one day they’d have no safe place left to hide from the industrial boom in the east once the bounty of the mountains was made public. Progress was coming whether they liked it or not, and with it would come the end of their way of life. Even towns weren’t immune to the cycle, death and rebirth would come to McAllen one day. The end of the hill people hadn’t come yet and Annie still had a job to do. Her mother had seen to that.

Annie had been born right here in this holler, in the year of the Lord eighteen hundred and fourteen. At least she was pretty sure that had been the year. The records here weren’t exactly accurate and to her best recollection, her momma had told her she’d been born in the spring, just weeks after Shepherd’s own mother had pushed him into the world and a full month before his father had gone to the Throne when the northern line of the mine collapsed with a heavy rain.

The year and the season weren’t the important part of her arrival. It was the way she’d arrived that marked her. Like her own mother and her mother’s mother before her, Annie had arrived in this world under a veil, her face covered by a caul that her mother had carefully removed and sealed in a specially carved box still kept under her bed. “The veil means power, girl,” her mother had said, pulling the gauzy film from the box to show Annie. “It means you been chosen, same as I was. You been given a gift, child. Could mean salvation for the people round here but just like the good Lord paid for our sins in His own blood, salvation has a price. You gotta be ready to pay it,” Rachel had once told her. Her mother had always paid it, with her own blood when necessary. Annie knew well the cost of the power she’d been given and knew its worth to the mountain people. It was a price she’d pay a hundred times over to see them safe.

Her bare feet glided over the earth, her steps soft as not to leave an imprint, the way she’d been taught. Not a track, not a snapped twig or turned rock marking the path she took from Nocturne River, carefully guarding her family’s gathering place for the ingredients that made up their talismans and poultices. It was old magic, born of faith and earth and it had been passed to her down through the generations, so deeply rooted in her blood that she could feel the pulse of the woods in her veins. This land was alive with power, the spirit of each animal threaded through in a weave of energy that made the mountain a breathing thing, as temperamental as a storm and as bull-headed as a man and she loved it, her own spirit as tightly wound with the woods as the other creatures that made this place home.

Power thrummed around her again, something very like the charge coming from the feathers, a vibrant awareness that had her scanning the woods for whatever was calling her attention. There was the shriek of a mountain lion nearby. Annie paid no mind, unafraid of the big cats that prowled these woods. The people were few, but the deer were plenty. In the ones she’d run into on her visits had been only watchful and curious, drawn to her the same way she was drawn to them and in the end, they’d always gone their separate ways. The cat she heard wasn’t the source of the stare. At least, not this time.

“If you ain’t gonna show yourself, you can at least offer some help.” Irritated with the presence and its unfamiliar nature, Annie wheeled around, eyes narrowed and glimpsing nothing but a shimmer of silver and gold without form, like fairy lights that wouldn’t quite settle in one place. Not malevolent. Just...there. Beyond where she could see. And it was starting to get her riled.

“Fine. But don’t go thinking I don’t know you’re there. I can feel you.” A buzz of energy slid up her arms and her brows drew. “You know I can, don’t you?”

That time, there was an answer. A hawk lighted on a branch above her head, soundless and watching with a display of shimmering copper feathers and a stare that followed her as she turned to face it. “Ain’t polite to follow folk, you know.” Stepping closer to the bird, Annie’s head cocked, trying to recognize the breed, but there was nothing at all about the bird that was like any she’d ever seen in these woods. It was too big, its feathers gleaming like sunset and its eyes too old somehow....like something else was looking out through the bird’s amber gaze.

Annie nodded respectfully and the bird seemed to drop its head a fraction in return before she went on her way. “We’re gonna have to talk about this later, friend. I got work to do.”

It squawked for her attention, hopping on the branch in irritation, but she paid no mind. If it didn’t want to talk, she had no reason to entertain its silent questions when she had her own to answer and none of them involved playing hostess to the damnably silent bird.

The moon was high over the mountain when her feet touched the steps of her family’s cabin, now empty except for herself and the old hound that seemed never to move unless a meal appeared in front of it. Her mother had gone on to the great unknown the spring after her father had died, leaving Annie and her brothers to tend the farm until the boys left to have families of their own. That was the way of it for as long as there had been Wrights in the holler, the men going on to carry on the name while the women stayed behind, protecting the mountain with the power granted them by the peculiarity of their birth.

When her youngest brother Joseph took a wife and had a daughter of his own, the last of the Wright sons born in the holler left to greener pastures. Annie had always suspected there was more to Eliza’s birth than Joseph had ever let on. She never got the chance to ask before the child was spirited away but she’d return one day, if Annie’s suspicions proved true. None went so far that they couldn’t find their way back to the mountain that had borne them. The Wright blood line, just like the rest of the people of McAllen, always found its way home.

The owl nailed to her front door shuddered lifelessly when she closed it and bolted the latch, its sacrifice honored with an offering of burnt herbs and incantations, but in these times, it was a necessity and hers wasn’t the only door adorned in such a way. The birds had given up their lives to keep evil from their threshold and for such protection; the people gave thanks in prayer and offering that Annie delivered to the ghosts herself.

She knew them by name and face, each of the spirits that dwelled in these shadowed places. They floated on the mountain winds and rode the breeze through the treetops, misty shades of the people they’d used to be still unwilling to leave the forest where they’d lived and died. Annie had no doubt that one day she would be one of them. The mountain running in her veins as surely as the Nocturne River ran through the forest and her draw to this land was every bit as powerful, her bond every inch as deep. The spirits’ attachment to her was oddly comforting, like family keeping close watch on the one still doing her work here on earth.

Though bad folks had settled their souls here right along with the good, it wasn’t evil she sought tonight, carefully opening her apron to pour its contents onto the old farm table, her slender fingers sorting feather and bone. Some were put in satchels and tucked away for later use as a remedy or charm but a few pieces remained on the aged oak, and those she rearranged into a geometric design, four corners marking the four seasons and the inner ring showing the turn of the world.

The miners were nervous. Their few cows were refusing to give milk and their horses were sweating despite the cold: signs of trouble to come. They’d come to the town meeting with their worries, offering the pick of their small gardens, coal for her stove and the little money they’d saved from taking their meager crops to market. Annie had no need of money and any they gave went right into Shep’s church, the little they gathered used to mend crumbling gravestones and carve new pews as the population grew slowly, but surely. Here, there were no oracles to consult for the weather, no doctors to heal the sick. In the east, where the man-made towers were beginning to rise and blacken out the sun, they sought physicians and men of science when their bodies failed and their fortunes dwindled. Here in the mountains, the stricken sought Annie, the witch of Wright’s Holler.

Murmuring softly under her breath, she placed a single candle in the center of the design and struck a match, her eyes trained on the flicker of light dancing before her. Her hand curled around the little bottle hung at her neck, the herbs inside promising protection and guidance and she needed both now as she watched the flames for answers. Every twitch was significant, and she watched intently, pinching from her hoard of ground leaves and bone, nimble fingers gently sprinkling the powdered concoction over the flame. Her breath caught; her heart stopping as the blinking orange of the flame froze its movement, its honey glow turning a brilliant, chilling blue. “Merciful Lord...”

Cold. Like she’d never seen before. Cold was coming, and the moon in her vision was nearly full, giving her just a day, two at most to warn the people to safety. There was a wall of ice where the mountain had been. It was a waterfall of white, covering everything, swallowing home and animal and man, farmlands covered in hills of gleaming ice and cattle left to pasture were frozen like statues in their fields. Annie saw it all through eyes brimming with tears and the horror of it rose in her throat and forced her to swallow to keep it down until the final scene. The mountain collapsed under a blanket of white, the rumble of falling rock pierced through by the miners’ screams.

Then something else took her attention, something just on the edge of her view until she shifted her focus, pinpointing on a power source within the flame. She was being watched. Amber eyes glowed beyond the snow, as tuned to her as she was to them, blazing light that was unwavering and she realized she had its attention. Someone was there, seeing the end of the mountain as she was and with it, the presence saw her. Annie ran cold and then hot, her nerves shaken and her resolve strengthening in the wake of the devastation she’d witnessed inside the flame. Those eyes held power, wisdom. And maybe they had answers.

Annie leaned close to the flame, absently wiping the tears from her cheeks as her lips parted with the intent to demand the being’s identity and its business in intruding on her conjury. What came out wasn’t a question. They were words she didn’t know, had never heard, but they were on her tongue now and they whispered out on a breath that barely moved her lips as she watched those golden eyes, transfixed.

Natamawi.”

Over and over, she repeated, a breathy intonation of syllables that locked her in a single moment in time with the eyes beyond the snow. “Natamawi. Nota eh chena natamawi.” A chill rushed up her spine, a harbinger of the omen she’d just received and Annie shoved back from the table, the break in connection ripping in her chest like a fist had caught her heart and was squeezing. Still fighting to catch her breath, she backed away, her eyes frantically searching the cabin for something she might have missed...something that would tell her that she could be wrong. The herbs were old. The powdered bone impure somehow. Only she knew none of that was true. Annie bolted from the table, just making it to the porch before her dinner made its reappearance on the dusty floorboards.

Grasping for an answer, she caught herself on a wooden beam as her stomach lurched, panic gripping her insides until nothing more would come. Annie panted, the back of her hand covering her mouth as she righted herself, wracking her memory for any spell, any charm that would hold off the coming ruination. Until the thrill of awareness prickled on the back of her neck again. Forcing herself straight, her chest tightened with her frantic pacing and she looked off the corner of her porch steps, drawn by a hum of energy to the source. It told her that the watcher had returned and this time, it was too strong a pull to deny its power.

Sharp citrine eyes peered through a web of evergreen branches, framed by mottled feathers that she now recognized. The hawk was staring, its presence overflowing with magic that she could feel now that it was so close. The air around its feathered shoulders rippled with an aura like heat rising from a hearth and shimmered around it. It watched her, its eyes holding a knowledge it couldn’t speak and boring its gaze into her like it could give her its message without words. Those eyes... they were the same golden gaze of the one beyond the snow.

She could feel its agitation, the indecision and turmoil in its spirit churned the air around the cabin into a wind that stormed through her front door to batter the fire in the hearth and sent her hair flying around her in a chaos that whipped at her shoulders. Annie paid attention to none of it, challenging the hawk with a fierce determination setting her shoulders, fists balled into her apron and glowing with the surge of her own magic rising with her fear.

“How?!” she demanded, her heart galloping in her chest as full terror began to set in. “What do I have to do? Tell me!” The bird was silent, its gaze somehow demanding of her when, for the first time in her life, Annie felt completely powerless. The hawk let out a piercing cry and she flinched, padding closer to the trees like it had called her. Stooping to meet its eyes from the raised height of her porch steps, she felt a wash of calm, her sense of being had somehow realigned and snapping her back to her place. She wasn’t just a woman. She didn’t have to accept fate when she was raised on the knowledge that fate could be changed with the right words or the right ceremony. Annie was no simple girl to run in fear, she was the wise woman of these woods and her people had to be told the answer to the question they’d asked, whether they liked it or not.

“I ain’t letting this happen. ‘Fore God, I ain’t,” she promised the hawk, snatching her shawl off the porch railing and slinging it over her shoulders as she headed back out into the night, storming past the bird and slowing only as she breached the bubble of power surrounding the cabin on her way down the stairs. The clash of energy startled her, but it didn’t stop her and Annie shook off the thrill of the collision as she marched into the woods, fully aware of the hawk’s screech and the heat of its stare at her back.

The air was cool, thick with a rain that had yet to fall and now she knew it wouldn’t. The rains weren’t coming and as she hurried through the footpaths that marked her trail to town, the animals nearby watched, chattering nervously from their place in brambles and hollowed trunks. Her anxiety had become their own and some ran to shelter as others followed her steps as far as they dared into woods that thinned to brush and finally the rocky fields that bordered McAllen.

Her mind churned through every spell she’d ever learned as her feet raced toward the center of town, along the river until it broke to wagon-wheel cut-outs that made the roads of the little hamlet. Following them into the cluster of buildings that made the whole of the town’s trade center, Annie ignored the wild lash of her hair across her face, angrily swatting it from her eyes as she wove through the dirt thoroughfares to the courthouse at the town square.

The crowd that gathered there to wait for her answer took up a series of shouts that alerted those in the church to her return and it thickened with those who’d fallen into step behind her during her race into town. One hundred and twenty work-and-weather hardened faces swelled to near two hundred and their murmuring grew with their numbers, anxious speculation cut off with the occasional infant’s wail or crack of feminine scolding.

Taking the steps to the hanging platform, Annie was soon flanked by Shep as he followed his parishioners to the scaffold, the preacher’s face grim at the sight of her and clutching his Bible as if somehow, between the good Lord’s grace and Annie’s mountain conjury, they could bear whatever news she’d brought. Their understanding needed no words. They needed only each other, right to their bones and it forged a friendship that had lasted the test of time, and Annie knew without a doubt, it would last through this life and all the lives yet to come.

Renewed by the tenuous calm of his strength at her side, she exhaled, her hand resting on his shoulder in a soothing familiarity. She could feel the unease in the bunch of his muscles, but Shep never faltered and she offered him a tight smile. This was as composed as Shep ever got, and Annie straightened her shoulders, her chin tipped up in a confidence that the young pastor reinforced. She looked at every face, every weathered pair of eyes and every child’s dirt smudged cheek, every person that looked to she and the preacher when the answers were out of their grasp. Those faces were burned into her memory, their fear hers to bear and her heart was heavy with the words she was going to have to speak.

“I saw ice in the fire. Cold enough to turn the flame blue.” Her voice was clear, ringing out over the gathered and the announcement was answered with muffled cries and shocked curses as the crowd closed tighter together. The farmers’ faces somehow got tighter yet, like the lines around their eyes were cut with a blade instead of decades of squinting against the sun and the wind in their fields. “Snow’s comin’,” she continued, “Enough to collapse the mine and block us all in here. And ain’t no man in this holler gonna’ survive it.”

“How long we got?” There was the nervous shuffle through the gathered as they looked to one another; mother’s clutching children tighter and husbands gathering their women to their sides. They were bracing for the hardship to come, not comprehending that there was no bracing for the hand of God Himself.

“Two days at most. Maybe three if the wind’s kind,” Annie answered, matter-of-factly. There was silence as it sank in, understanding dawning on nearly two hundred faces with a series of shock, disbelief and anger that she could actually see happen as it hit each of them.

“Christ, Annie,” Shep muttered under his breath, but his next words were raised for them all, his deep bass timbre echoing over the town square. “Heavenly Father, be merciful on your flock! Spare us your wrath and keep your faithful tight to your bosom.” There was a chorus of ‘Amen’ from below the platform and Annie echoed it, her eyes closed in a plea for help from the Lord, hoping He would hear and give her a solution to save them all.

“You sure about this, girl?,” he asked, keenly attuned to the flush of her cheeks and the fear in her eyes, something he’d never seen in his friend and didn’t want to see now when he had no idea what to do for her.

“Ain’t never been wrong, Shep. Not once since I started seein’.” Lord knew she wanted to be wrong now, would give anything to not know what she knew. To not have seen what she’d seen.

“What’re we gonna’ do, Annie? Ain’t no way we can just pack up and go.” John Statler jostled his son in his arms, the boy curled into the crook of his father’s neck and blinking bleary-eyed confusion at the rising voices surrounding him.

“We ain’t got nowhere to go, even if we did leave!”

“What about the children?”

“–my whole life in this holler–“

“I’ll stay and I’ll die in this holler!”

Their voices were the voice of all of them, generations born in this place, who'd cut a life in the mountain’s base through years of sweat and tears, their families rooted in the stony ground. It was all they knew... all they wanted to know.

Annie listened to the growing fear and looked to Shep but a sudden wind caught her skirts, blowing the layers around her bare feet in a rush of power she recognized. She felt the call, sourcing its direction and her eyes traveled over her friend's shoulder to the knotted branch of a towering elm to find the hawk surveying the crowd from his perch. A feathered king on his throne. Come, kweewa. Follow and I will show you a way...

She startled at the imprint of words to her head and they weren’t so much heard as felt, echoing in her mind in a shout and she stepped toward it before angry yelling broke her trance. Annie spun back toward the crowd that was quickly spiraling into a frightened mob. Some were already fleeing, hauling their children into their arms and heading for their homes in the hopes of getting ahead of the storm. She knew the truth of it. These people belonged in this holler. These woods were in their blood and without it, they would die, no matter where they ran.

Come, kweewa...

“I’ll find a way!” she suddenly shouted, cutting through the panicked chaos and stopping the lot of them in their tracks. “I’ll find a way to stop the storm,” she repeated, her resolve strengthening with every word from her lips. “Ain’t none of us gonna leave the holler. You look to me for answers, just like you looked to my momma and my granny before. I’ll get your answer. I swear to you, I will find a way to keep this from happenin’, but come fires of Hell or walls of ice, I ain’t leavin’ McAllen. I was born here and I plan to die here. Now you all go on and get ready for the cold as much as you can.”

Annie and Shep watched them disperse, given purpose in the task of preparing for the ice that was coming to kill them all. Some went racing, some like they were in a funeral procession and more than a few faces turned back fearfully, gathering their families closer. Lucas Coalton stopped with his boys in front of the little church house to pray and given what she’d seen, Annie offered a few words skyward herself. They’d had time to prepare for the drought but this storm was vicious–a living thing coming to hunt them down and their prayers might well be as precious as the little time they were given to get out of the way. Resting her delicate hand on Shep’s shoulder with a small nod, she kept her voice low. “You’d best gather the rest of your flock to the church when they’re done, Shep. Prayin’ ain’t never hurt anything and we’re gonna’ need all the help we can get.”

His face was stern, as white as his knuckles were on his Bible and she admired him for that, the man solid in his faith and steadfast in his loyalty to the people of this mountain. They made a good pair, watching over the town together and she relied on him now to keep the residents calm while she searched for their salvation. This time, there was an edge to their partnership, an unspoken understanding. If Annie couldn’t save their lives here on earth, it was gonna be up to him to save their souls for the hereafter.

Shep nodded, though his muscles bunched beneath his coat in the instinct to go with her on whatever fool’s errand she had in her head. Never alone. That was a promise he’d made to himself and he needed to keep it. Something wasn’t right, buzzing in the air like bees in spring and he couldn’t pinpoint it. He trusted her, with his life if it came to that, but Annie was feeling something he couldn’t see and he was loathe to let her go, finally relenting to the insistence in her eyes. “Don’t you do nothin’ foolish, you hear? I’ll come find you if you ain’t back by mornin’.” He didn’t wait for an answer, his vow not needing one as his arms spread wide in welcome and he descended the platform stairs and began gathering those who’d stayed toward his church. “I’ll take ‘em, Annie. And Lord willin’, we’ll either find our end there together or we will praise Him for His mercy, glory be to God.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-26 show above.)