NOVEL OF THE TRIBE
& STONE PUBLICATIONS, LLC.
by Satin & Stone Publications, LLC.
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.
© 2016 by Harper L. Jameson
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
Satin & Stone Publications, LLC. Paperback edition October 2016
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.
illustrations used with license from Shutterstock, Inc., and the
Cover design © 2016 by Harper L. Jameson
design and production by Satin & Stone Publications, LLC.
opening illustrations © 2016 Harper L. Jameson
by Michele Justice Photography
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
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
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.
OF TERMS & TRANSLATIONS
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.
the Wind (pr.n.)
doorway between the mortal world and the world of The Tribe.
(pr.n.) The central meeting place of The Tribe. Forbidden to
outsiders, it is where all laws are made and grievances are heard and
(n.) A leader–acting with the rest of the Tribal Council to mandate
law and action in the best interests of The Tribe.
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.
(pr. n.) Great Spirit
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.
Third Person Possessive form of “wife”.
(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.
(n.) First Person Possessive form of “woman”.
(n.) First Person Possessive form of “son”.
(n.) First Person Possessive form of “mother”.
First Person Possessive form of “friend”.
(n.) A term of endearment loosely translated as “my singer”.
A term of endearment, loosely translated as “my song”.
(n.) First Person Possessive form of “wife”.
First Person Possessive form of “grandmother”.
Side of the Wind:
A common way the people of The Tribe refer to our world.
(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.
(pr.n.) A group of respected warriors and holy men of The Tribe
responsible for passing all laws and dispersing judgments.
you. Also "Ni'keta
“You have forgotten.”
neppoa ini mettaweahe:
“The woman’s death is nothing.”
waapa nepi ni’wa:
“My beautiful, perfect wife.”
“I’ll kill you, evil one.”
nota chena etowa
show of acquiescence
and submission loosely
translated as “I/We hear and obey/understand.”
adanida ne namai:
Loosely translated as “I will show you.”
Loosely translated as “be strong.”
ahuk lamaiki kweewa: Loosely
translated as “You are within her.”
ka fa ne:
“Let her/him go.”
Loosely translated as "Little Cloud". Moroc's pet name for
Loosely translated as “Little Animal” Moroc’s pet name for
“No.” Also Naga
ahuk tei wuski kilswa:
Loosely translated as “This is the beginning.”
unfailing love is never without sacrifice.
in that sacrifice can we truly become whole.
river had washed all kinds of things down the mountain this year.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
now you’re in a hurry,” Shep huffed from behind her, pulling
Annie from her musing and she smiled impishly over her shoulder at
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
wind didn’t feel like wind to the witch of Wright’s Holler. The
wind felt like a warning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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...”
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.
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.
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.
and over, she repeated, a breathy intonation of syllables that locked
her in a single moment in time with the eyes beyond the snow.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ain’t got nowhere to go, even if we did leave!”
about the children?”
whole life in this holler–“
stay and I’ll die in this holler!”
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.
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...
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”