Thursday, March 1, 2012

Anaasází Sunrise

I wrote another story for an open submission... sadly it was rejected... :_(

But you can read it here! Below, in its entirety, my short story: Anaasází Sunrise

"I know not if you can hear me, but I have bound your wounds. You have lost much blood, and may not live to see the sunrise."
Tepujueche poked the fire with a stick, his eyes peering into the darkness that enclosed their small camp.
"I found you on the trail from Mesa Verde. Perhaps you are of the Wetherill tribe, stirring up spirits of the ancient ones in the Cliff Palace."
The cowboy stirred with a groan, and Tepujueche turned to look at him. Propped against a tree, bandages dotted with blood, the white man did not awaken. Tepujueche sighed.
"We thought your kin were gone from the homes of the ancient ones. Wetherill and his tribe opened the ancient places in Chaco Canyon. These places were made by the ancestors. Long ago all these lands were owned by the people of the cliffs. Navajo call them the ancient enemy. They call them Anaasází."
A sudden gust of wind brought stinging dust to Tepujueche's eyes, and the fire flickered madly. Tepujueche looked again at the cowboy, vision blurred by tears of irritation and fear.
"Your tribe has awoken the ancients. You will be lucky if you die before they find us. The stories of my tribe tell that they thirsted for blood as we thirst for water. They came from a far away land where the blood of their enemies cascaded down the temple steps and the rivers ran red. They built great cities like those from which they had fled. They conquered the local tribes, sacrificing the men and taking the women. The great cities grew larger every day."
Tepujueche stared at his shaking hands, dark silhouettes against the brightness of the campfire. The story brought back memories of childhood. The elders told the old tales, while the children listened with wide eyes. Sometimes Tepujueche dreamed that the white men were the ancient ones, come back to reclaim their long lost cities.
The Ute tribesman reached for his medicine bag, and withdrew four peyote buttons. His calloused fingers felt the fuzzy skin of the cactus as he brought the first button up to his mouth. Biting into the hot, sweet flesh of the peyote provoked the memory of tobacco smoke, and faintly he heard the peyote song, distant and trembling.
"May the gods bless me, help me, and give me power and understanding... and protect our spirits from the ancient ones."
Out in the dark a coyote howled a call to the rout. Tepujueche waited for the note to rise, and for the pack to yip and yelp their assent, but the cry tapered out unanswered. Silence brought the darkness closer, so Tepujueche continued to speak to the white man. "Traders came from faraway lands, for the ancient ones were skilled weavers and builders. Many were drawn to the great power of the ancients, for they were proud warriors. Some came to participate in grand holy festivals, singing and dancing along miles of sacred roads. The ancients shaped the land, praised the gods, and made their sacrifices. But the burden of so many upon the land was great. Food became scarce, and the air became dry. The ancients spilled more and more blood offerings, but the gods were not appeased. Soon they turned upon themselves; great battles were fought for resources, slaves and sacrifice. More and more blood was spilled, but still the land grew barren. The last of the ancients, mad with power and crazed by their own actions, began to eat the flesh of their enemies, and when there were no enemies left to fight they turned on their kin. The old ones consumed themselves in an orgy of blood and violence."
Visions of blood and death wavered above the flames. The cowboy's chest slowly rose and fell and Tepujueche watched as a trickle of blood emerged from beneath the bandages binding the rancher’s head, leaving a trail of burning crimson as it picked a path over his bestubbled cheek.
Figures extruded themselves from the flame, ancient Anaasází warriors in full warrior regalia. Around the fire they danced. As each warrior passed through the cowboys outstretched legs the rancher visibly shuddered, but did not awaken. The sound of drums, the earth’s beating heart, oozed from the ground around the fire, keeping time for the capering revenants.
Two priests emerged from the flame, dragging between them a young girl. She wore a layered ceremonial smock, adorned with intricate beadwork and fans of feathers. She kicked and screamed, but the priests were unrelenting. The robed figures dragged her to a flat rock before Tepujueche and bound her to it with ropes of coiled fire.
The Ute tribesman, unable to move, watched as the priests drew glittering obsidian daggers. The fire seemed to catch on the surface of the wicked knives, sparks running along their knapped facets. The knives plunged downward, glinting madly as they slashed the girl’s ornate costume. The eyes of the dancing warriors lingered over her naked form. The tiny figures gamboled obscenely to the cadence of the spirit drums whilst thrusting their weapons fiercely into the air.
Tepujueche now saw that she was only a child. Tears of molten gold ran down her tiny face. Faster and faster beat the drum, faster and faster the dancers whirled and cavorted. The priests chanted and the warriors thrust their spears. The girl cried out and as she did, her eyes locked on the Ute tribesman.
Again the knives flashed, but quickly they were dulled by blood. The dancing warriors whooped and yelled as the priests defaced and extinguished the young girl.
The girl’s body now a bloody ruin, the priests roared at the sky, demanding that the gods return life to the withered empire of the Anaasází. The priests returned to the fire.
The warriors' dance faltered as they greedily eyed the desecrated body of the girl. As one the figures descended upon her, tearing at her flesh with their hands and teeth, gorging themselves on her raw meat.
Tepujueche wanted to scream. He wanted to swat away the vile specters, stomp them into the ground, but still he was frozen, forced to watch a horrid spectacle, the dying convulsions of an ancient empire. In their madness they had refused to relinquish power, even on the cusp of death. They had sacrificed their own people in a futile attempt to perpetuate an untenable existence.
Tepujueche felt whatever bound him slip away, and he gasped for air. Tears were running down his face, and when he looked to the unconscious rancher he saw tears there as well. Tepujueche had no doubt that the cowboy had borne witness to the same vision.
This time when he looked out into the darkness, the darkness looked back. Tepujueche didn't think there was enough fuel to keep the creatures back until sunrise. He could feel them circling the border between light and darkness. He swept the area around the fire, searching for anything that might fuel the fire, and not daring to waste what little he had to make a torch. He could hear them, their husks rustling out in the void, the snap of their teeth, and the rasping gurgles that could only be the bastard descendants of speech.
Tepujueche returned to the fire, and looked up at the stars.
"One hour until dawn."
Tepujueche ate the last of his peyote, and emptied the contents of his medicine bag into the fire. The camp was suddenly filled with the mingled aromas of tobacco and medicinal herbs.
"I'm sorry I could not do more for you cowboy. When the fire dies I will fight. If we are overwhelmed, I pray for us both that our spirits find their rest."
Tepujueche tried to coax a little more from the dying remains of the fire. The Anaasází were getting closer. The first of the pre-dawn light lent an ethereal glow to the horizon, but Tepujueche didn't think it would be enough.
The last of the flames flickered and died leaving smoldering coals. Tepujueche poked desperately at the fire. The embers stubbornly refused to reignite.
Suddenly he was slammed hard from behind. The remnants of the fire cooked the bare skin of his chest. He felt the claws and teeth of the Anaasází tearing at his arms and back. Tepujueche bellowed with fear and anger as he surged to his feet, rounding on the gurgling, snapping abominations. He drew his hunting knife from its buckskin sheath, cold white man’s steel glinting in the predawn light. Warily he eyed the creatures, waiting for them to make a move.
The first claw that extended towards him he severed at the wrist. Black ichor spilled out of the desiccated stump. The other two pushed their wounded comrade out of the way. Tepujueche thrust his blade into the heart of the second, but the monster only cackled and continued its assault. Tepujueche yanked on the knife, but its blade was wedged fast in the shriveled chest of the ancient warrior. On failing the second pull, Tepujueche released the knife, and prepared to face his unnatural attackers hand to hand.
It felt like someone had set off dynamite in his skull, the pain was incredible. He vaguely remembered having some kind of horrible dream. The last thing he could remember was riding the trail from Mesa Verde to Mancos. He opened his eyes.
Tepujueche lay on the ground, his eyes staring unblinking at the last of the morning stars. Three horrible creatures, one missing a hand, and one stuck with a Bowie knife, hunched over the fallen Indian. The gibbering figures had disemboweled him and were feasting on his steaming entrails.
Now the cowboy remembered everything; the feeling of being followed back from Cliff Palace; being knocked from his horse by shadowy figures; the half-heard stories of the Indian; the horrible dream about the poor girl.
The rancher reached for his Colt Frontier.
The one with the bowie knife stuck in its chest leered at him and cackled menacingly.
As the first rays of sunlight stretched across the top of Mesa Verde, Richard Wetherill shot himself in the head.

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