Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
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Tin Indian

by Joel Doonan

Stamped metal effigies of Indian chiefs stood in the corners, knee high, figures which had once sported bright colors, leather fringe and real feathers. Now they were dusty and faded, waiting for the action of gears and cams to bring their rusty clockworks to life. They gazed glassy eyed at the back sides and underneath of greasy iron machinery, and all the small spider-webbed spaces behind the great steel radiators which heated this oddest of commercial establishments each winter.

I came to the Fortune Shop on a Friday noon and took my turn in line; waited to crank the handles, spin the wheels and procure my own particular fortune. I stepped up on the operator's platform to feed the requisite coins -- no small number of them -- into the slot.

"You! Thin man on the platform," shouted the shopkeeper in my direction. "Watch your knuckles. The handle on that machine is loose. Comes very close to the main gear."

I raised a hand and nodded.

The shopkeeper was a hairy, tattooed potato of a man with more wiry black hair on his neck than on his head. He gazed briefly about the shop from his high loft then turned to watch the tube show.

I grasped the handle with both hands to get it started. The crank wheel was geared directly to a large flywheel, and turn by turn its speed gradually increased. A whining sound developed, steadily rising in pitch, and the bright red pointer on the machine's RPM meter began to rise.

Individuals have differing techniques for procuring the best fortune. Some say that the higher the indicator, the more favorable the outcome; others aim for the midpoint on the gauge, claiming that a very high RPM rate foretells disaster.

I cranked till I could turn no faster, then let go of the crank wheel, waited three seconds as recommended, then pulled back on the floor lever to engage the clockworks. Seconds passed. Suddenly amid the whir and clatter of chains and gears the clockworks came to life. It set a single Indian chief dancing -- a Zuni blue warrior. His arms rose shakily up as he propelled from the corner following a slot in the floor. Arms and legs rose and fell as its head bobbed and rattled and he danced the tale of wind and rain, rushing streams and flashes of electric fire in the heavens.

Gradually the clockworks slowed as the flywheel exhausted its kinetics. On mechanical cue, the arms and legs dropped to rest, the head bowed and the Zuni chief returned along the floor slot to snap into its place in the corner. Suddenly a loud bright ping sounded and a slip of paper popped from a chrome slot just above the hand crank.

The number 335 was deeply impressed in bold, dark blue ink, still wet and glossy. I blew on it to dry. No uplifting poetry, no flattery, no new wonders in my near future. Just a random number. You never know what you will get for your money. Fortunately there was time on my lunch break for three more tries and I wanted to dance all four Indians.

The next handle was larger and heavier, more difficult to turn. After considerable effort it was spinning even faster. Gears ground and gnashed as I yanked back the floor lever. Instantly, from another corner an orange and white Navajo chief came to life. With feathered tokens raised in shaky arms and tin feet clapping against the wood floor, the Navajo chief followed a circular path. It was the dance of the snake, of spiders and scorpions, keepers of the shadows, creatures to be respected.

Gradually the dancing slowed and stopped, the bell sounded and the chief returned to its corner. A second slip of paper popped from the slot. Only the number 12 impressed in dark red. This was not my best day at the fortune shop.

The next machine set a red and white Cheyenne into somewhat awkward motion. One leg was stubbornly rusted and resisted movement. A brass rod which should have actuated its head had become dislodged. The rod moved up and down while the chief's head lay cocked to one side. The bell sounded and another fortune emerged -- this one completely blank. I looked up to the shopkeeper's loft, his head and torso visible through the side railing. I could hear the sound of the tube show -- "Only Two Hours to Live!" An X channel midday police chase drama. I deserved a refund or at least a coupon to use another day. I called and I waved my arms, but he offered no response. But there was still a little time and one more Indian to dance.

It was the green and white Comanche which danced best of all. A blessing for the ponies, for fresh spring grass, for the great herds of bison and a successful hunt. All its mechanics moved as if freshly oiled. When the dancing stopped my fortune emerged with a curious bit of prose: "If the Indian falls into your hands, you will walk together to another land. But if the Indian fails to meet your grasp, the door will close, your chance forever pass."

It was not a dazzling fortune like the one received by my coworker Brenda, another inspector of tinned squid at the seafood cannery, "Your hands will soon grasp a fabulous but slippery reward. Hold tight or it might slide away." Fortunes could come true. Only four days later Brenda won our department's lottery pool of $435.00 in discounts, cash and coupons.

I folded the fortunes carefully together, even the blank paper, and slipped them into my pocket to ponder later that evening. I glanced at the large wall-mounted hour piece above the side exit. There was barely enough time to make it back to the cannery, and the delinquency police would soon begin to monitor the streets for slackers. I'd have to run quickly and eat lunch while standing at my station, sneak bites of sandwich while checking lids for dents, kinks or crimps.

Immediately beneath the machinery at my position, an old gear box radiated heat while turning the conveyor's chain drive. Often it was hot enough to melt cheese or heat a pot of tea. Brenda had put my lunch sack on top to keep it warm for me.

"What do we have today?" she asked as I peeled cheese smeared foil off something that nearly resembled a sandwich. I pulled apart the two halves of a round bun. "I call it a 'cheese squid-which'. It's my own invention. It can be a bit tricky though. If you bite in at the wrong place it'll squirt you."

After an hour sitting atop a hot gearbox between slices of cheese the squid had plumped up nicely. Shiny tentacles seemed to move on their own within a small ocean of melted cheese.

"Are you sure that thing dead?" she asked. I nodded, closed the buns and looked it over for a safe place to bite in.

Excelsior Sea Delights, LLC was no ordinary seafood cannery. I was proud to be on their inspection team. Only the most exquisite creatures from the oceans of the world made it into our tins. No mackerel. No sardines. No krill. It took three years to work my way up from scrub room to inspector, and two days to wash the smell from my shirts and trousers. Inspectors had their own side entrance and we could step out for lunch breaks just like management.

My good friend Samson worked at Imperial Cheese, two blocks farther down Marlin Avenue. He worked in the underground aging room, affixing date and batch stamps to hanging bundles of fermenting curd. Not the sweet dairy variety, but the smelly brown soy kind. He had become accustomed to the scent which had long permeated his clothing and hair. Even away from the job the smell followed him like a stubborn puppy. Back when I worked the scrub room, he and I could part crowds at a lunch counter. It was now Friday evening and he joined me at my kitchen table to ponder my curious fortunes by candle light.

"So what do you make of these numbers, 335 and 12?" I asked.

"When are you going to get the power back on?" he replied, squinting at the slips of paper through smudged reading glasses. "Why don't you light another candle?"

"Today's pay gives me enough to get the electrics on again," I said as I lit a match against the underside of the table. "I'll see the landlady tomorrow." A second candle soon shone brightly.

"Don't know how you survived the last two months without refrigeration," he wondered.

"Crackers and canned meats," I replied. "Dry turnips. Dry carrots. Dented cans of seafood from work, and of course, off dated cheese, thanks to you." He nodded and we made a toast to our culinary shrewdness with cheese crackers and pickled scallops.

"I'll mis-date more sample boxes next week," he promised as he arranged the fortune slips in a column. "I'll bring you some of the good stuff next time." He picked up the blank fortune slip and moved it closer to the candle to examine. Suddenly when exposed to heat, letters began to appear. He held it closer, but moved it back and forth to keep it from scorching. "Can't read this. It's written in mirror script!" he said.

"Try looking at the other side," I suggested.

He gave me an annoyed glance as he flipped it around. "Your journey will begin at twelve o'clock when the Indian falls," he read, " If you catch the warrior it will return the favor and unlock the doorway which has been closed for three hundred and thirty five years." Samson placed it beside the fortune slip with the numbers 335 and 12, and I reread the slip with prose, "If the Indian falls into your hands, you will walk together to another land. But if the Indian fails to meet your grasp, the door will close, your chance forever pass."

Wind began to rattle the windows of my third story apartment. The weather was changing and clouds hung in the air like wet rugs on a clothesline as night closed in. I always kept an old towel on the kitchen window sill and I packed it tighter against the pane to catch leaks from the blowing rain as the first drops trickled down the outside glass. Shops along the street below were illuminated in colorful neon, as were the concessionaires for cigars and crockery, magazines and fancy undergarments. As puddles accumulated about the rutted paving every color was reflected as if the roadway were strewn with tiny mirrors. "Sometimes even concrete can be beautiful," I mused.

We scooted our chairs around to look out the window and I opened a fresh box of crackers as shoppers along the street below dashed through the rain to spend their pay.

"A slice of scallop and a bit of cheese, all on a crisp, golden brown cracker." I announced as I took a bite. We toasted our good fortunes.

Samson and I often traded food. I swapped dented tins of sea cucumber, squid and octopus for mislabeled blocks of cheese. It had been a difficult and frugal past few years for both of us. His roommate had been promoted to accounting and could finally afford his own living space, leaving Samson to cover the entire rent. As for me, I had lost my love.

Alena and I used to cook dinner together and often explored the shops along the street below. She was also an excellent seamstress. From clothing to curtains. She even upholstered chairs from time to time. Self employed, she was licensed to work at home.

I remember how she would gaze out the kitchen window and watch evening clouds gradually fade from gold to burgundy while I rubbed sea oils on her calloused hands and feet. Then stars would begin to sparkle between darkened clouds and the neon lights from shops would begin to flicker on, and she'd notice our own reflections in the glass and say "every mirror has two sides, you know, the awake side and the dream side. Each one is a reflection of the other." I never understood exactly what she meant, but I always agreed.

It was on a Friday evening that I returned home to an empty apartment. Not empty of furnishings -- everything was exactly as it was before, but Alena was missing. I was awake all night checking with her friends and customers. No one had seen her. Police offered no help. We weren't important people. She was simply gone and I never knew to where or why.

So Samson and I began each living on single incomes, and while he suggested moving in with me to save us both money, I wanted the space and held hope that Alena would someday return.

Sam put on his jacket. "See you next week," he said. His pockets bulged with canned seafood. "Good luck with your fortunes, and give my best to Brenda and the others at the cannery." I waved farewell and a breeze blew in as he journeyed into the damp night.

I looked at the slips of paper. "How and where to catch a falling Indian," I wondered.

Far down the street, the bright signs of the packers market and the bottling agency lured customers in from the rain. Long ago, the bottling agency had been known as Comanche Brewing and a life sized, flat metal effigy of an Indian chief was still mounted high above the main entrance. It was no longer maintained in good condition nor illuminated, just a faded relic from an earlier time. The rain began to diminish and the Indian effigy caught my eye, just barely visible in the reflections from the rain slick street.

Wind began to blow in gusts as a prelude to another storm and I noticed the Indian figure shudder and lean to the side. It had never moved like that before, but decades of wind and weather must have slowly corroded and fatigued its anchors. I suddenly knew what I needed to do. According to the wall clock it was 11:46. With a jacket under one arm I dashed from my apartment, down the stairs to the color puddled street. Rain was in my eyes as I pulled on the jacket and raced toward the Bottling Agency.

There was a Time Shop beside the bottling plant with all manner of clocks and time pieces, large and small, in the windows to entice shoppers. A great many hands pointed to precisely the same time, 11:59. By now I stood directly beneath the Indian, gazing up.

After so much time and weather, the electric cables which used to power the figure's illuminating lights were frayed and loose and moved like braids of hair. Then just as several clocks chimed 12, a sudden gust of wind bent the Indian forward. Its anchors snapped and with brittle electric cables trailing behind, it plummeted groundward.

I suddenly recalled that this particular Indian chief, as it fell head first, was a Comanche, and correct to history, was crowned not with a facsimile of a feathered headdress, but instead with a pair of bison horns. The horns seemed to grow disproportionately larger as they fell point first toward me. How heavy was this thing? Perhaps this was not a good idea. Alena, wherever you are, I might be coming to see you.

The old electric cables suddenly snagged on the building's brick work and snapped taught, the Indian's metal horns barely three feet above my head as it came to an abrupt halt. Then with a final crack the cables snapped completely and the figure fell into my arms.

It was not too heavy, manageable, but every bit life sized. No one seemed to notice or care as I moved it away from the light and into the shadows between shops. I examined the metal figure. You've been up there a long time, I thought. Now you are finally free. I'll call you Big Chief. You can come home with me, and someday I'll show you more of the city.

The wind and rain calmed, and with the figure in my arms I walked through the shadowy spaces between shops in order to attract less attention.

Rats feasted on spoiled turnips that had spilled from the dumpster behind Sorbo's Vegetable Grill. Two dogs quarreled over a fleshy sheep bone as I passed the kitchen entrance of Bonnie's Dine & Dash. I waved to Benny, the half-wit dish washer as he took a smoke break behind The Soup Bowl. He stared blankly through his exhaled smoke as Big Chief and I passed, as if experiencing an hallucination.

A near full, pale moon beamed between parting clouds as we reached my apartment building's lower landing. Step by step I carried Big Chief up. A pair of suspicious eyes peered through a thin gap between window shades as we passed the landlady's flat. Ever watchful of the goings on, and believing that she could not be seen as she observed in the darkness, she had unfortunately on this night forgotten to switch off a dim light somewhere behind her.

"Good evening, Ms Kilmer," I said loudly, "I've got money for the electrics. I'll see you tomorrow." I waved with my free hand but she gave no response, instead remained still and silent behind her curtain; eyes glinting through the gap as we continued up.

Chief looked quite at home propped up in the kitchen corner. There was not enough light from my candles to give him a proper inspection and cleaning, so I bade him good night.

Sunlight beamed in my kitchen window the following morning, and after a hearty powdered egg omelet, cheese toast and a hot cup of greenberry tea I began to clean up the tin figure. Big Chief cooperated by remaining quite still as I removed the last strands of old wiring and three unusable lamp sockets. With a damp towel I cleaned off decades of dust and oily grime until the factory enamel showed close to its original brilliance.

The figure was made of sturdy sheet steel with its edges rolled and crimped. A manufacturer's mark along the edge read "Metal Character Mfg. Co. Inc. Mt. Ida #335-12." Amber colored beads and blue feathers were painted in the Indian's long braided hair. His fringed leather jacket and pants were adorned with colorful patterns of bead work. The face portrayed a strong, determined character, with just a hint of kindness, not that one could actually deduce character from the facial expressions of a flat metal character, but it was easy to imagine. Now Big Chief and I were ready for a day about town, but first, I needed to deal with the electrics.

"You'd be surprised at all the strange things that go on around here late at night," whispered Ms Kilmer as if the walls were listening. She moved closer, cupped a hand to my ear. "I've seen Indians about. Saw them with my own eyes. You should lock your doors and windows. They'll sneak in, steal your food, take your scalp!"

"I will lock my door from now on, Ms Kilmer," I said. I handed her an envelope with cash for the electrics. "And I've brought you some squid." I withdrew two shiny cans from my pockets. "Smoked, with green chilies." She beamed. It was her favorite.

"Your electrics will certainly be back on today," she assured me as she set the cans neatly on her kitchen counter beside a small vase of yellow zinnias. "Now I want to tell you about the three clowns I saw on the roof..."

After ten minutes I finally managed to angle away from Ms Kilmer and her stories of clandestine nighttime observation. It was a beautiful Saturday Morning and a perfect day to show Big Chief the neighborhood.

After a twenty minute walk, the shops and streets parted before us and a newly renovated public space beckoned. There were walkways, fountains, and numerous tall hedges which created, with maze-like complexity, many semiprivate areas. It and a community garden had been restored with private donations and neighborhood volunteers during the last eight months.

An elder game master and teenage boy played chess at a small stone table. Head high boxwood bushes nearly surrounded the space creating a quiet retreat from the city sounds, and after I leaned Chief up against a hedge I sat on the bench beside him to enjoy the sunshine and watch the game.

After a few minutes the boy looked our way, then mumbled something to the elder, who responded in a louder tone, "What's creepy about it?"

The boy motioned toward Chief and I. "It's the eyes on that Indian," he whispered loudly to the old man. "They keep staring at me."

The elder straightened his glasses. "Of course it's staring. It's a damn tin figure! Can't help but stare." The elder addressed me. "Perhaps you could turn that thing around?" he requested.

Instead I rose, grabbed Big Chief and departed to find a friendlier area of the park.

A splashing fountain graced the center of a large granite paved courtyard, encircled by benches and statuary. It was a place frequented by doves who often gathered around the rim of the fountain to cool in the soft spray or to catch sun on the warm granite pave stones.

I wedged Chief snugly between a bench and table and took a seat beside. Birds began to gather. One settled on Chief's head.

A slim elder gentleman in coat and hat began sprinkling birdseed that he pulled from a pocket. He looked our way. "It's electromagnetism," he remarked. "That's why the birds like your Indian."

It was then that I noticed thin strands of copper wire mixed in with the man's hair, protruding from under his hat. There were also strands of wire showing at the ends of his shirt sleeves and even the bottom of his pant legs. More wire wrapped around the ends of his shoes -- shoes which also sported tiny dial indicators, the type which might have been salvaged from antique radios.

"Metals draw the birds in," he said.

"Are you sure it's not the bird seed?" I replied. "Chief and I think it's the bird seed."

"Nope," he said. "It's electricity and magnetism. Except for lightning. They hate lightning. We must always be on the lookout for it. Kill you dead. Need to be well grounded at all times." he spread another handful of seed and more birds came gliding in. "So, who's your Indian?" he asked.

"Big Chief," I said. "He's a Comanche warrior. He used to sell beer. Now he helps out in my kitchen and keeps me company."

"Good to have friends," he said, "especially metal ones. Never know when lightning may strike. I used to be an electrician. Maybe he'll save you from lightning some day, or protect you from a hail storm. Maybe take a bullet for you in a home invasion. Good thing to have metal friends."

"I wouldn't want Big Chief to get shot," I replied.

"He won't mind," he said, "He can't bleed. And you can patch him up."

"I caught this Indian myself," I said, "Saved him from a fall."

"Then he owes you," said the retired electrician. "I'm sure he'd love to take a bullet for you. I can see it in his eyes. The eyes never lie." He turned his attention back to the birds who were increasing in number, and began calling them by name as he continued to sprinkle seed.

A food vendor wheeled his handcart into our area and the aroma of warm sausages and sweet buns were carried with the midmorning breeze. But at that moment I began to feel strangely, a queer foreboding, perhaps more like anticipation. I waited expectantly with Chief and watched doves dodge in and out of the shadows cast from statuary.

Suddenly Samson entered the plaza. His bike's handlebar basket carried a four pack of Sioux Country Malt and a box of assorted cheeses. "Lunch time!" he said, "Had a feeling I'd find you here." He parked his bike beside Big Chief.

My contribution was a half dozen spicy sausages from the street vendor (with the low price it was probably rodent -- and that's probably why it's spicy -- but that's not something to think about) and raspberry buns.

"So who's your new friend?" he asked.

Sam folded back the waxy wrap on a plum sized, ragona cheese ball as I told the story of how I had caught the Indian just as the fortunes foretold. Sam held up a bottle of Sioux Country Malt with its prominent Indian chief on the label. "Little Chief, meet Big Chief." he toasted the life sized, tin figure.

"Don't know what to make of the rest of the fortune," I said, "like the part about opening a door which had been closed for a long time, but so far it has come true. It would be nice, though, to have a change of living space or something. Move somewhere new. Maybe a more exciting job. Perhaps a nice long stay in the country for some fresh air." Samson nodded as he slowly peeled the label from a malt bottle. He held the clear glass up to his eyes and moved it slowly around as he looked through it at the Indian. "I can animate him," he said, "create a smile, a smirk, a wink, a nod, just by moving the bottle a little."

I tried the bottle trick as well.

"The things we do with an idle afternoon," Sam commented.

Elsewhere about the park there were wagers being placed on chihuahua races, tomato grilling at the community gardens area, and a rather aggressive croquet game. We saw it all, and by day's end Big Chief had acquired two flower necklaces, one proposal for marriage, and a ball cap sporting the campaign slogan "Better prepared without need, then need without preparation" from Senator Waggle's failed bid for reelection. At day's end, Sam began his bike journey back to his apartment in Lower Town, as I carried Chief back to my place.

We arrived home as the sun dropped below the skyline, but unfortunately my apartment's power was still not turned on. Ms Kilmer did have a short memory. Perhaps tomorrow. I propped Big Chief in the kitchen corner opposite the window while I fixed a little dinner. The fading lights of the day gave an orange cast to the black, browns and blues of the tin figure's enameling. Big Chief's expression seemed to change with the fading light. Brighter, less serious. Evening sky faded to stars and a full moon rose, beaming through the kitchen window. Tired of the smoke and smell of burning candles, I dined in a flood of moonlight, then decided to go to bed early.

I carried Big Chief down the moonlit hall till I came to what had been Alena's large oval dressing mirror. Every morning she used to pretty herself in front of the mirror, and I'd often put my arms around her waist and she'd laugh and say "stop it," although she really didn't mean it, as I kissed her neck ; but now there was something new on the mirror, something I had not noticed before. I leaned Chief against the wall behind me.

There was a small yellow note taped to the glass. I pulled it free. The moonlight was bright enough to read by. "Always remember," the note read, "every mirror has two sides, the awake side and the dream side. See you soon, Alena." I held the note and looked at my reflection in the mirror and I could see the reflection of Big Chief against the wall behind me. On this evening, the full moon was at just the right angle and elevation to let a flood of light down the hallway. Chief's eyes began to glisten, almost alive. "Must be the moonlight," I thought.

I watched my reflection, gazed into my own eyes and began to feel as though I were looking at a different person. I continued to stare and just as my eyes began to show fatigue I noticed that in the reflection, my hair was longer and my complexion, darker. The image was changing and now there were shells and beads around my neck. Suddenly in the mirror, Big Chief raised an arm and placed a hand on my shoulder. I felt no hand upon my actual shoulder but glanced around briefly to be sure. The tin Indian was unchanged. Then I heard a faint voice from the mirror, like wind through tall grass and in the reflection I saw Chief's lips move. "Look to the other side of the mirror" he said, "to the dream side."

Now I began to actually feel that my hair had become much longer, just as in the reflection, and I began to feel the shells and beads around my neck. Then I felt Chief's hand on my shoulder. The glass of the mirror seemed to move closer, and without actually touching me seemed to pass through me. Suddenly Chief placed both hands on my shoulders and yanked me toward him. I lost balance and fell.

All was dark for a moment, but as my eyes cleared, I was no longer in my hallway. It was on a moonlit hillside, with the same, low angle full moon. I sat up and found myself beside a small glassy pond. I could clearly see my reflection in its surface. An elder Indian stood behind me.

"You have been on your gaze a long time," he said. "It is time to end."

I stood slowly up on shaky limbs. Soft deerskin pants covered my legs and my feet were warm inside snug fitting leather boots.

"Alena was up here earlier to see you. You were still gazing, so she spoke words into a yellow aspen leaf and let it float in the pond to help guide you back."

"I remember a yellow message," I replied.

Just then a young runner came racing up a trail toward us, short of breath. He addressed the elder. "The great herd has been found," he said. "We should begin the hunt tomorrow."

The elder nodded. "Paint the horses and build the fires," he said, "tonight we dance for a good, safe hunt."

The runner swiftly departed.

Then the elder Indian and I followed the same trail side by side, down from the high forest meadow. His hair was in long braids and wrapped with leather and feathers and even by moonlight I could clearly see his beautifully crafted and beaded coat.

"You like my new jacket," he stated. "A gift from Alena. My daughter's leather work and beading is the best in the village. Soon she will be making things for you and I'll have little to wear but my old, stiff buckskins!" He smacked my back lightly.

We came to the edge of an escarpment overlooking an expansive plain. Far below at the hill's base, a swift shallow river reflected the moonlight like a silver pathway.

I felt as though I knew the elder Indian, but my memories were like clouds, moving, changing, confused, unsettled.

"A gazing pond is a powerful thing," he continued. "If you look too long your soul will fall into it. There is a story from long before my time about a young girl who fell completely through the pond and into the dream side. She remained there for many years. Then on an early spring day as the snow began to melt and the pond thawed till the surface became clear again, she suddenly reappeared. She told many strange stories each evening around the fires for the rest of her days.

"I remember a very big village like nothing we have here," I told him, "I remember things like canedsquid, and tinindian, and fortuneshop. A friend named Sam's Son. But it all slips away so fast."

"Give yourself time," he said. "You will remember more as days pass. Perhaps you will also have stories to tell by the fires for many years."

As we rounded a bend in the trail, below I could see the village lodges with rising curls of smoke from many small fires.

"Ours is a special gazing pond," said the elder. "Long ago, a powerful medicine man stayed up many nights to watch fire stones fall from the sky. He searched each day for them and gradually gathered up a great many. Then he used these sky rocks to line the edges of our gazing pond and as each stone was placed he spoke a prayer and the pond became more powerful. Many of our people have had great visions there, but you must always remember: every gazing pond has two sides, the awake side and the dream side. Everything that exists on one side, has a reflection in the other. It is a powerful thing, and one must always be careful not to fall in too deeply."

At the base of the hill we could hear the sounds of drumming and children's laughter. We came to a place along the shallow river where flat stones made an easy pathway to cross. Along the opposite shore lay racks made from poles and branches to cure meat, and in the glow of campfires village women sang and chatted as they wove baskets and beaded leathers. A breeze from the water carried an autumn chill along with the smell of horses and fresh tanned hides.

A slim woman with long dark hair stood up from a fire circle as we began to cross the river and ran toward us.

"Alena!" I shouted as I splashed through the shallows. We met in the middle of the river atop a broad flat stone.


© 2011 Joel Doonan

Bio: Joel Doonan resides in the central Texas hill country, operates a small signs and graphics business, collects rain water, grows a few vegetables, puts up pickles and sauerkraut, and dabbles with creative writing. A number of his stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Jesus of the West (December 2010))

E-mail: Joel Doonan

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