Published on Thursday, August 29, 2013
The Weight of Memory
By Kenneth Mark Hoover
Little Brother, I must tell you that our people came from a deep hole inside the earth.
When we climbed to the surface we saw the blue sky for the first time and felt the sun on our upturned faces. Then the Everywhere Spirit, the Father of our Fathers, noticed our presence and gave us power.
Little Brother, you must listen because my time here is short. Our people walked on the surface of the earth and learned how to survive. But one night they fell asleep in their village. When they awoke each man and woman had received their own individual Power.
Some men discovered they could hunt with the wind behind their backs. Some had the power to track rabbits across bare rock. Others knew how to heal the sick, or plant good things that grow.
My power is the weight of memory.
I believe the Everywhere Spirit gave me this power because I have a mark on my face. It is a sign of the medicine I need to carry the memory.
Not every man can lift the burden of a deep memory. When I sleep, the Everywhere Spirit lets me steal his eyes and that is how I have visions. When I awake, I remember what I saw.
All of it. Everything.
I see places where I lived before I came to be one with the People. I spoke many languages and fought in lands which no longer exist. I did this, because one time the Everywhere Spirit brought me to a great lodge with stars for a roof. He told me I must stand against that which must be faced.
If I did not do this, he warned, that which must be could not become. The People themselves would not be. His words frightened me. That is why I left the only home I knew and began to stand alone with my Name throughout all the time of the world.
That is how I see.
Sometimes, though, when I sleep I get the eyes of the Everywhere Spirit turned around. Then I have visions of what will pass after the People disappear from the earth. But this happens with less frequency than I would like.
Like most men I am given to walk the path that laid before me. Of course, I would like to see more of this hidden future. I am only a man, and as a man I will always want more.
I am not perfect.
What I tell you is true, Little Brother. With the power I have it was not long before I could shift the weight of my memory in my mind and make it into something other than it was.
The first time this happened was when I was with Wounded Hand, a friend from childhood, walking in a crouch across river ice. It was a hard winter and very cold. We were hunting snow rabbits and not having much luck.
The ice cracked beneath his feet. Wounded Hand fell through and drowned because I was too far away to help him. This really happened.
But later I had a vision in which Wounded Hand did not drown. In my vision I cut a Willow branch and held it out to him. He grabbed it and pulled himself back onto the ice. I made a fire on the bank of the river and he warmed himself back to life.
When we returned to our village one of the old men told Wounded Hand, "It is lucky Crooked Bear was there to help you."
"I will make him a bow," Wounded Hand said, "to show him my appreciation."
There was no more of that vision dream, and my heart felt empty when it ended because it made me remember my friend and how he had died and how deep the hole in my heart was.
Yes, when I awoke, I found Wounded Hand sitting outside my lodge. He was stringing a bow. He was not the boy I remembered who had died, but a full-grown warrior.
"Wounded Hand," I cried, "I saw you drown many years ago."
"No," said he, "I have always been here."
"You are not dead?"
"I have never been dead," he said with some irritation. He handed me the bow. "I forgot to give you this. I hope you will forgive me."
I held the bow in my hands. It was a good weapon. Wounded Hand always made good, strong bows, I remembered.
Before I could speak Wounded Hand rose to his feet and caught a pony. He and several warriors went to hunt buffalo and were gone for many days. Everyone in the village remembered Wounded Hand being in the village their entire lives. Only I remembered him dying under the river ice.
One time, after I became chief, there was very little rain and game was scarce. Our village had to walk a long way to find water. Many of our horses and our babies died from famine. We had to bury the babies while the women wept. They wanted to stay with their babies but we forced the women to walk so we could find water to live.
That night, I dreamed it rained on the prairie and no baby in our village had to die. When I awoke the women were sitting around the morning cook fires, their children safe in their arms.
"We are happy," they said. "The day is good and we have our babies."
I noticed the village ponies grazing on the good grass. "We also have our horses," I told them.
They laughed, rocking on their haunches.
"Crooked Bear, you like to joke," they said. "Where else would the horses be? If you are hungry we will cook for you. There is plenty to eat."
Another time, my wife, Pretty Crow, told me she could not find her moccasins. I told her she had lost them under her blanket.
Pretty Crow lifted the edge of her buffalo robe and found her moccasins.
"How did you know?" she asked me.
"I saw it in a dream many years ago."
"We have been married but a short time," she said.
What she said was true. "When I was small," I told her, "I dreamed I would have a wife named Pretty Crow and she would lose her moccasins. But she would find them under her buffalo robe."
There were many such incidents as this.
One afternoon Pretty Crow sat down beside me. Her face was filled with worry.
"You have not eaten for many days," she said. "We have not coupled in a long time. The nights are cold without you. We should be together."
"I have had another vision."
"What have I lost this time?" she asked.
"This vision was different," I explained. "The Everywhere Spirit let me turn his eyes around. I saw many white men walking into our country. They are more numerous than the stars in the sky. They command an iron serpent. It will destroy the plains and eat the buffalo until only bones remain and then the white man will walk across the prairie and pick up those bones and grind them into dust. Forever."
"What can we do?" my wife asked.
"I'm afraid there is nothing we can do. We will fall before them like grass before the sickle."
"We must go away and hide," she said.
I shook my head. "This is our home. We will fight for it as long as we can and then we will all die."p> When this happened as I had foretold, over the long years, the people came to believe they had lost their individual power. They sat outside my lodge and wailed.
"The Everywhere Spirit speaks to you," they cried. "That is why we made you our chief. You must ask him to return our lost power."
"What would you have me do?" I asked.
"Too many of our people are dying. We are losing this bad war. The white man makes everyone around him invisible. He only sees what is in his heart. We do not want to be invisible."
But I could not change anything for the better. Yes, I still had my power. The weight of my memory pressed me down into the earth and lay coiled in my mind like a rope. I continued to carry my Name. But I could do nothing as I watched our People become invisible to the white man.
They massed outside my lodge one morning. The sky in the east dripped blood and made their faces like Death.
"If you do not make us visible to the white man," they said, "we will choose another chief."
"I will see what I can do."
But each time I approached the Everywhere Spirit in my vision he denied me the use of his eyes. I asked him why and he said, "You must stand against that which must be faced. That is why I sent you to this time."
Another year passed. More of the people were rendered invisible to the white culture. There was very little for us to eat.
"We are being punished," they said. "That is why the Everywhere Spirit, the Father of all our Fathers, has abandoned us."
"We are not being punished," I said. "We are being tested. We must stand with our names against that which threatens our existence."
"We cannot stand against our enemy when we are invisible."
Sometimes my people got so angry they painted themselves and rode to their deaths against the whites. When they did this the whites saw them again, but only for a little while. As long as it took to kill them. Yet, even as they died, it seemed my people were made more invisible than ever before, even though they were seen by the white man for a little while.
No matter how many white men they killed, or how many trains they derailed, our people kept disappearing from the plains.
"One day," my wife said while she was grinding corn, "only the sun and wind will remain. Is this what you want, Crooked Bear?"
"I will try and seek a new vision," I told her.
That night I saddled a pony and rode onto the plains. I rode many days and nights. Within a week I was in a place I had never seen before. I did not recognize the sky or the stars. I did not understand why there were three moons in the evening sky. I saw animals that were like, and yet unlike, those I had hunted all my life.
I rode through this strange world and I came to a land filled with black stones. I found a place where the stones were placed in spirit circles. I did not cross over them but rode around them.
Eventually, I found a great hole that reached deep into the earth. The opening was wide and dark and rimmed with many black stones. The Everywhere Spirit waited for me on the rock rim.
"You have decided to return to your beginning, Crooked Bear?" he asked.
"I have come to seek help for my people."
The Everywhere Spirit took his eyes out of his head and gave them to me. "Now you will see farther than ever before."
I spread a blanket on the ground and sat. I took my old eyes out and buried them beside me. I put the new eyes of the Everywhere Spirit to my face and this is what I saw:
There was a town where white men lived. In that town many people came and went. In the center of the town was Another who protected them. He also stood against that which must be faced.
The town had a name of deep mystery and violence. It was called Haxan.
The man also had a Name, one very old. More ancient than the plains on which I, or any of our people, was born. He was older, perhaps, than the stars themselves.
He was a man and his face was filled with cold light.
The Everywhere Spirit said, "You see, Crooked Bear, there will come Another who must be called. He, too, will have a Name. He will stand against that which must be faced, as you have done all your life."
I spread a hand about me. "What land is this?"
"It is your world, and all the other worlds that are of your world, like the spreading branches of a tree."
"I do not understand."
"All you see, Crooked Bear, and everything around you, are like the plains upon which you and your people live. There are hollows and hills and golden rivers that flow into the sun. Man can see but only a part of the world around him."
"I am listening."
"Throughout this land," the Everywhere Spirit said, "in places that might never be or can't become until something is set right, there are people destined to travel. Forever. They meet, and it is this war, the conflict itself, that makes the living world a reality.
"You are one of those chosen people, Crooked Bear. This man is another. Like you, he will carry his name before him like a shield. He will protect that which he was called to serve. Then, one day, he will die, and there must then come yet Another."
"My people are dying now," I said.
"The war is eternal. We do not always win."
My heart felt heavy and sick. I had seen too much. I gave the Everywhere Spirit back his eyes.
"I am finished," I told him. "I wish to see no more."
"I will return you to your village," he said.
When I awoke from my vision I stepped out of my lodge and found my wife sitting beside a cooking fire. Her hair was cut short and her left hand swathed in bandages.
"Pretty Crow, I have returned," I said to her. "I have not eaten in many days and I am hungry."
She gave water to one of the dogs around the camp. Her face was pulled down with grief.
I looked at her again. Her hair was cut short and her hand was swathed in bandages.
"Pretty Crow, I am not dead."
She did not hear me speak. I went and talked to the other people in my village. They did not hear me, either.
Like them, I had become invisible.
I mounted a pony and rode away from the camp. No one noticed. I rode over the arid plains. When the pony was tired I found the crest of a hill and spread my dreaming blanket. I lay down, with my weapons beside me, and the buffalo skull shield upon my breast.
I let the sky come down and cover my mind.
Now, even as we speak, all the weight of my memory lifts from my body. For the first time in my life I am not heavy. I watch my memory break away and disappear, like cold river water cutting into a dirt bank until the soil becomes part of the Great Water.
All the names I have ever had rise from my head like wood smoke and drift away on the hot, dry winds.
My names are leaving me, Little Brother. But before they are entirely gone so have I come to you, while I yet remain in some sense a part of this earth.
I have come to warn you I am returning to the great hole in the earth from whence our people came.
But I will await you, and all the other tribes of all the nations of people who ever were, and ever will be.
You see, one day, you will be forced to gather your horses and your weapons and disappear inside the earth.
But when the time is right, we will make the earth open up once more. Our people will emerge from the dark with all their power restored.
We will hunt and fish and we will love again.
And we will make war.
I have dreamed it.
KENNETH MARK HOOVER is a professional writer currently living in Dallas. He has sold over sixty short stories. He is at present working on a dark western series set in the mythical town of Haxan, New Mexico, circa 1874. His newest novel, HAXAN, was accepted by ChiZine Publications and will be released in 2014. You can read more about his work at his website Kennethmarkhoover.com, or follow his blog at Kennethmarkhoover.me.