The Natives worship the ground upon which their forefathers walked. They revere dirt. The Natives have been known to dig up red clay and consume it like bread. They depict their origins by smearing mud onto cave walls. Legend has it, catastrophe on the Earth's surface forced their ancestors to flee underground. There the tribe remained for a thousand years, waiting for the day when it would be safe to reemerge. During that subterranean time they were affected by the same forces as the mountain: massive heat and pressure, magma, and the old groaning of the restless underground.
Across that eon the Native Sons watched as the world was shaped around them and they right along with it. The magma cooled to become the cragged Rockies; a skeletal reptile with a basalt spine, scrawling the continent's whole length. Inside the great lizard's belly there was constant churning. Many Natives were crushed. Their bones became quartz. Their blood seeped out and became the Color. The Earth emptied their veins to fill its own. But the ancestors persevered.
Misty reckoned it was gonna take a good long while for the dust to settle. Pale and pulverized, flakes of earth floated toward the sky like an upside-down blizzard.
The fog wasn't entirely avalanche powder. Some of that dust was factually ash, wafting uphill from the bonfire of the shamblers down yonder in what little remained of Red Junction.
“Ain't ought to breathe in too much of that soot,” she said to the babe. She shielded its face with her good hand, cuffing her stumpier mitt against her own mouth and nose.
Up yonder in the thicker cloud the dog was excited and let it be heard.
She called into the white-out, “Yule?”
The mountain was still groaning and pissing out pebbly after-slides – but Yule didn't answer. Dude was still causing a ruckus somewhere inside the blizzard. She followed his voice.
When she found Yule he was praying from his knees. He was breathlessly still and white-washed all over. She touched his shoulder to certify he was not a limestone statue. It was tough to suss. He was cold as a stone and did not respond to her caress. Dude nosed his master and whined.
“Yule?” Misty whispered. Echoes from Red Junction answered: burning ghouls, screaming bloody murder. She knelt beside Yule and asked, “Are you hurt?”
He turned to her and smiled. He was pale as the moon, all except where his tears had cut through the dust and the blood which had dried on his cheeks was made visible again. Yule looked to be a stone bust weeping rivulets of deep-red.
But when he kissed her, his lips were warm. And when he held her and the babe between them, he was warmer still.
“Yule, you scared me almost till I pissed.”
“Do please forgive.”
He kissed her cheeks. He stroked the child's fine hair. He smiled.
A long spell they embraced there under the dust and ashes.
“What do we do now?” Misty asked.
“I think we should ride for Buena Vista as soon as we are able,” Yule replied.
“To warn them,” Yule began. “This foul creek empties itself into the Arkansas River just a few miles down.”
“Oh no, you don’t think?”
“I sorely do.”
Then the mountain itself started coming to life around them. The dirt rustled and fists punched their way out. Moccasin-clad feet kicked loose from under a thin blanket of sediment. The Natives were reemerging.
Folks in the High Country came to fear this as one of the heathens' worst tricks. It was their way of ambush. Whole war-parties would bury themselves and lie in wait. When the timing was just perfect, they'd shake off their shallow graves and come out with their knives slashing.
But not this time. This time they came out of the Earth whooping and singing. They came out from everywhere. Some had drums and pounded them joyously. Suddenly a festival had commenced. Ignoring the white people, they danced down the mountainside.
“Have you ever?” Misty wondered. But hadn’t she?
“Nope,” Yule said. “Never.”
A rider was approaching from just uphill. The hooves could be heard well before he could be seen through the pale. Tom Savage was riding Rex Westman's pitch-black stallion.
“That Tom Savage,” Misty whispered to Yule, “he's my old friend, Smiles on River. I learned it last night.”
They watched the heathen parade go by.
“They knew just the spot to dig,” Yule observed.
“What are they up to?” She asked – but she wondered if maybe she knew. Hadn’t the tarot already told her last night in the bordello? Wasn’t Tom Savage the Hanged Man, meant to have the World? She recalled the last time she’d seen him, after he and Rex had fled from the balcony. He had gone running right out of town while Rex retreated to his compound, as if he somehow knew the palisades would fail.
“Yule,” she said. “I think we’d better ride for Buena Vista.”
“It’s most likely already too late.”
The babe woke up and crowed.
“Don’t talk like that.”
Misty had but one hand which was not mangled. She placed it upon his heart.