The moon had run its circuit at ludicrous speed, conspiring with the slow-crawling sun to eke out all her moisture. Misty became scorched salt, and then her body evaporated altogether. Her spirit would return to Philadelphia for a whiff of Momma's apple pie. At intervals she would comb the knots out of Lily's hair, only to emerge from the waking dream and discover herself engaged in baby-talk with her feculent blanket. It turned out her soul had not evacuated after all, and the sensation was revealed to be nothing more than a rupturing colony of feverish blisters.

Her delirium turned darker. Demons and Old Gods drawn not from the shallow well of her own memories but from some deeper primordial pool cavorted in the sky before her sleepless eyes. The beating of her heart was replaced by the persistent sounding of a drum and her vision could not penetrate the pitch-black. She tumbled through the infinite reservoir of purgatory – where no light nor warmth may linger.


“On and on, I drifted across the cold abyss – till all at once it shat me out the other end!” Misty genuflected before Yule as he sat upon her bed. Lacking the gumption to chew, he held a mouthful of biscuit while she went on. “And I sensed flames nearby, but they did not bring me warmth nor comfort because I reckon it is common knowledge learned in Sunday School: Satan does in fact love fire. Thus it stood to reason I'd been deemed unworthy by ol' Peter and I'd been flung directly to Hades! Where Preacher said the sinner would choke on the stench of sulfur!”


It had eased her anxiety then to have her nostrils stricken instead by the pretty sting of sage and cedar. Her cheeks warmed, and upon her closed eye-lids a spider's web was filigreed by the capillaries sheathed within. She was revisited by visions of indeterminable origin. A feathered serpent swam in the sky and a pair of buffaloes waddled along after. Then the singing began.


At first a solitary voice, dry as a desert stone, recited a heathen spiritual. Then others gave themselves to the song and it graduated to a chorus. The drum thumped, and the flames were stoked. The song was not constrained by the same conventions as the White Man’s music. It was notated not upon paper but in the stars. Their only instruments were rhythmic drums and wailing tongues. Cacophonies collided but not as rivals, for their many verses overlapped, the indecipherable lyrics undulating across Misty's wholeself – drawing forth from her pores the sworling typhoid infection. Sometime during the ordeal Misty realized what was happening. A tribe of heathens had taken her from the trailside. They were slathering the song upon her same as a white doctor might prescribe balm.


“And I was singing along then, too – without even a hymnal to follow!” Reliving the memory had moved Misty to tears, but Yule didn't take them for the sorrowful sort. Hers was more joyous weeping. “Those melodies saved me, healed me – and abducted me entirely. When it finally trailed off I opened my eyes and I was returned to Earth – wrapped snug in elk-hide. Inside a wigwam, Yule! And that heathen's dwelling? I called it my home right then. Man that song were right powerful and warm. Those heathens had rescued me from the typhoid. Me! A little white thing chucked out by her own people.”


“Incredible.” Yule swallowed his biscuit. He recalled his own recent history with heathens – how Tom Savage's tomahawk wedged itself between shards of the dead boy's skull like so much dashed pottery.


“You don't believe me?” Her rouge was running amok.


“No, I absolutely do – it is simply so much to swallow. You speak of heathens who are so compassionate as to take in and rescue unwell white children!” He slid from the bedside to be beside her on the floor and said, “It is an atypical Indian. We do not call them savages on account of their kindness.”


“But I did know their hearts, and they—”


Before she could finish there came a hammering upon the chamber's door and a woman wailed:


“Time's up! Get it done in a hurry if you done got it in at all!”


“Thank ye, chaperone,” Yule answered. “But I'd rather have another go with Misty and shall compensate the Madame thusly.”


“Fair enough. I shall amend your tab at the bar, Yule.”


Misty rolled a cigarette and struck a match. She studied Yule for a quiet spell.


“I do believe you,” Yule reiterated. “It's just a lot to swallow, as I said.”


“Sure do hope you've got a limber jaw, then.” She sucked on the smoke and it was already butted down to her knuckles. She smashed it out in a tray upon her nightstand and right away took up her tobacco-press to roll another. “Or at least a limber ear.”


“I am ears and ears alone,” Yule replied, and Misty continued her tale.


She had spent a fortnight in the aboriginal tent, too weak to unravel her elk-hide cocoon. It was a conical dwelling, erected by stretching hides around and along tall, wooden skewers. On the walls she saw the feathered serpent painted alongside the buffaloes. The medicine man came, and he was the oldest man Misty had ever seen. His braids swept the floor as he sat cross-legged on the dirt.


“I, Moon Bear,” the Ancient Indian said proudly, clapping his own breast. Misty was delighted to hear English spoken, even crudely. A boy slipped in through the tipi's flap and Moon Bear gestured and said, “Him be Smiles on River.”


As luck would have it, Smiles on River had found Misty near-death during one of his routine foraging expeditions. He carried her upon his back. Evil spirits had been purged from her flesh by song and fire but she was still decimated and would need time to recuperate. Smiles on River brought her water and fed her venison and berries with his fingers. She spent that first fortnight cooped up in the tipi, but then came the day when she could lift herself to her feet.


“The Indian showed me all about their camp then. Firstly, there weren’t any pyre roasting the impaled corpses of white-men like Preacher had warned, nor were there scowling red-faces salivating over my tender meat. I saw no garlands stitched of severed scalps flung across the camp nor did I witness any other barbarism. No, rather I saw women weaving baskets and rugs and even using a loom to do so! Little Indians played in the village square the way my own siblings and I would in the lot beside our old home in Philadelphia. Braves tended to a stable of magnificent horses painted like nothin' else I ever seen. They smiled and laughed to one another and paid me little attention – less than a heathen child in our own midst ought attract, reckon most surely. Smiles on River dragged me from one end o' the camp to the other making introductions, though I understood not a fucking word, but I could at least fasten to the sentiment – and it were a welcoming one at that, Yule.”


There was a feast each night, and Misty would sit with the heathens in a vast ring around an arrangement of campfires. They offered her venison and even bread. Men adorned themselves with the hides of bears and buffaloes and performed a dance choreographed by the moon. Moon Bear featured prominently in the dance and upon its conclusion he lit his long pipe with embers from the fire and passed it among the elders and youths alike. Earthen bowls teeming with steaming meat and vessels filled with bitter-tasting water were circulated by the tribeswomen. After a while, Misty began making rounds with the communal supper-bowls alongside the other women.


“You were among them a long time then?” Yule interrupted.


“A long time,” she confirmed.


She saw winter bring to that corner of the continent heavy rains for weeks-on-end, and only the occasional short-lived dusting of snow. Days were spent traipsing after Smiles on River as he undertook pilgrimages across the forest. They gathered berries, tubers and mosses – the Indian's apothecary. Moon Bear prepared pastes for stomach bugs and sent Misty and Smiles on River to administer treatment amongst the tribe. She delivered bundles of sage at his behest, and helped cure wet lungs with song-and-dance – just as they'd done for her.


“Them were the warmest weeks of mine life,” she told Yule. “That winter when I returned the care they'd shown unto me.”


Come spring, though, Smiles on River's mother became suddenly and terrifically unwell. She experienced visions without the aid of Moon Bear's serums and spoke freely to the specters – even in the presence of her frightened papooses. Rumors of possession rendered the old woman a pariah, but Misty still visited and brought along fish, roots, and song. Other squaws became afflicted with the fever, and they put down their weaving to pursue madness instead. Finally, Moon Bear concluded that the Fathers were angry. Many offerings were burned in the fire. During their nightly feast Moon Bear announced that the Apocalypse may be upon them, but more correspondence with the spirits was required before he could be totally certain.


“It was some ominous declaration,” Misty elaborated. “And even before supper was all et I did feel the accumulation of dread in mine bowels like an impatient shit.”


The next morning the treatment plan had been altered, and Moon Bear dispatched not medicine but torches. The camp was a loudly erupted boil. Misty peered out through the flap of her tipi and witnessed a boy she had come to call Goes at Night committing arson from horseback. He doubled back on his mount to trample a squaw dead when she came crawling out, and she raked at the horse's hooves even as she was crushed beneath them. Misty shut the flap and tried to breathe, but all those burning Indians bore a black cloud and it crept inside after her. She coughed and choked, suffocating on the ashes of her beloved savages.


Birthing herself out through the tipi's flap, she fell unto the massacre. The worst of heathen dirt-worship was exemplified in the glee of their end-times. The drumming and singing; the contempt shown for flesh while they galloped about, whooping and wild-eyed, breaking squaws apart with their tomahawks like old furniture and piling the limbs and torsos and heads together before setting them on fire. The rank clouds seeped inside her nostrils and she realized that burnt flesh had a scent not unlike fermented plums. The tipis ablaze became inverted vortexes of hellfire and babies screamed naked in the dirt for their dismembered mothers. Down along the way Misty saw one of those ruddy orphans scooped up by a gray-haired crone and before she could look away the old woman bowed her head and thrashed at the infant's throat the way a wolf ought.


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About the author


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Bio: I'm Kile and I'm excited to be sharing weird stories on the internet. I'm a dad and a husband who gets up very, very early every morning to get some writing in before everyone else wakes up. Thanks for finding my story and hope you enjoy!

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