Like a few of my other stories, this one clawed and scratched at the inside of my skull, getting in the way of other stories until I acquiesced to let it out. I’ve configured it as a Weird Pulp style for brevity’s sake. There is no graphic sex here. It just wouldn’t fit. Special thanks to Sbrooks for the editing and Crkcppr for Beta reading it for me. Any remaining errors are entirely mine -- probably added after their assistance.
The Song of Farwalker and Deadgirl: The Long Night of the Anasazi.
Just before 1300 CE, the Long Dark Night fell on an Ancient Pueblo culture commonly referred to as the Anasazi - the name the rival Navajo People bestowed on it, sometimes translated as “Ancient Enemy”. The magnificent pueblos of Chaco Canyon and other cliff dwellings were abandoned over time. Some blame a series of droughts, some blame religious upheaval. Some blame war. There is little certainty about what happened, but there is evidence of migration, of violence, of a horrific breakdown in the social fabric, and of cannibalism. In no way do I claim any historical validity for my story, but in my tale, the droughts gives rise to a singularly unpleasant death cult. A symptom of the collapse maybe, more than the cause...
Strides-to-Distant-Lands-and-Sees – Farwalker - stood on the rim of canyon at sunrise.
His long journey to the Dwelling Place had been in vain.
He knew from the smell. The sweet odor of burnt flesh.
He closed his eyes for a second, sending out a silent prayer.
The long handled axe seemed to shift in his hand and he breathed slowly out, feeling the weight of the massive ground stone head pulling. Feeling its anger and hunger.
Farwalker opened his eyes and looked out over the valley to watch the thin traces of smoke reaching feebly upward.
Souls escaping to the blue dome of the sky.
The odds had never been good, but he’d hoped for a chance, at least a bare chance, to convince the last few to follow, to head South, risk crossing the territory of the Braided People to escape the drought.
Escape the starvation.
Escape the Ravenous Ones.
He’d hoped to arrive before the death-cult with their ghoulish rites. Clearly they’d arrived first. Squinting, he could see scattered figures below starting to stir, the odd topknots of the death cultists clearly visible, even from this distance. Unlike Farwalker’s people, all the men and women alike wore the same simple breechclouts, and most carried weapons. Mostly short, wicked, spears; mostly used, he knew, on the helpless.
Soft crunching sounds behind him. Sandaled feet on loose rock. At least four men. Farwalker smiled, a grim carnivorous smile.
Without haste, he began to turn, feeling the axe come alive in his hands. Alive and rapacious, starving for this.
“It’d have been better for you, eaters-of-men, to have slept in.”
Leader-of-Death-on-the-North-Path cuffed Sea-of-Bitterness contemptuously away, watching her sprawl naked near the smoldering firepit with its pile of blackened, jaggedly split bones. “You bore me, wife.”
Bitter came to rest against The Basket, and she rolled hastily away from the venomous snake-filled container and shivered, hastily snatching up her breechclout. She dropped her eyes, terrified. Horror swept over her; she’d failed to please him.
She’d heard the words before, those exact words. With the same amused mockery.
She’d heard them when she’d been “chosen” to be his wife. When Northpath had ordered his previous wife killed and eaten in the degrading and agonizing Ritual of Pain.
She’d taken three horrible days to die.
Bitter heard his laugh, a low grinding chuckle, ugly and hateful. Just as he laughed before every “meal”. Nausea and terror washed over her as she waited for the words. Her eyes flickered around, seeking any escape; finding only the helpless stares of the heads of the tainted dead in return. She looked everywhere but at him – anything to avoid seeing the leering cruel smile she knew he would have.
He drew in his breath to speak the order that would spell out her cruel death.
Harsh yells broke out from the entrance of the defiled kiva that Northpath had chosen as his “home”.
Northpath cast her an ugly glare then pulled himself up and stepped angrily toward the door past his confused men.
An odd ululating call echoed from the canyon rim. Between Northpath and the doorway, Bitter could see a tall, lean warrior easily holding a struggling top-knotted figure above his head. Pausing, waiting for the cultists to look up, to see him highlighted by gold-red rays of the rising sun.
With a scornful, effortless, toss, the golden man sent the cult warrior plummeting, with an odd, almost featherlike laziness, to valley floor.
Northpath roared with fury, snatching his spear up and stormed from the kiva, his First Men following him.
The heavy, bear-like man bellowed, calling for the Followers to avenge the affront as they boiled out of the corrupted, stolen, dwellings in response.
Bitter cringed next to the firepit until he was gone, thankfully forgotten in the chaos.
One heartbeat. Two. Three.
She crept to the entrance and peered out to see the furious mob slowing as they picked their way up the steep paths of the valley wall. Nobody was looking.
Sparing a glance at The Basket, Bitter seized a water gourd and the only clean food she could find, a large bag of blue corn flour and squash seeds.
She paused, checking for stragglers at the cliff side, then looked around for a weapon, any weapon.
A small antler-handled knife with a glassy black stone blade went into her hair and she picked up the broken-tip, broken-haft spear that had been used to move food on the fire – the other spears had disappeared, no doubt taken by the First Men when Northpath had called on them.
She stopped and grabbed Northpath’s sleeping mat, tossing it out in front of the entrance to the kiva. The sign of a woman rejecting her husband. She’d never chosen the “marriage”, in fact, she’d never even been asked. But she knew the laws of her People before she’d been taken. He’d declared her his wife - a complete reversal of custom from her People. But whether she’d chosen it or not, to dissolve the union was simple; place the husband’s property outside the door. He’d have killed her if she had tried it before, and the dishonor would likely enrage him, but that hardly mattered now.
She slipped out the door, clinging as best she could to deep shadows on the western wall of the valley. The golden warrior had headed east, with the Followers in pursuit.
She would head South.
Probably to die of thirst or hunger. But even that was far, far better than dying in the Ritual of Pain that Northpath had planned for her. At least she could die with some dignity.
Farwalker began to jog slowly. The four Ravenous Ones he’d killed had been shocked as he smashed through their spears with his heavy axe. Despite their fanaticism, they’d stood no chance at all. He was easily the best fighter of his People, having even slain one of the giant brown bears of the mountain with his axe in single combat. Still, for all that, he recognized the insanity of trying to stand against the horde making its way up the valley wall toward him. He chided himself for his brazen challenge to them. Eventually he would be surrounded if he stood, there were simply too many of them. It would be a good death, a worthwhile death. But one he could not seek.
He chided himself, unsure if it was anger or hubris that had driven him to creating the spectacle. Either way, he knew, the Elders had reposed trust in him that he had not yet discharged. He had to return to them with the news of the fall of the Dwelling Place.
As he came down into a wide rock-covered arroyo he turned South and began to increase his speed. It would be best to open the distance as much as he could, just to be on the safe side.
She’d thought she was safe.
Three days. Bitter had walked and run for three days. Almost to exhaustion. She looked back from her perch on the butte and watched the tiny figures wending their way along the maze of rocks. They’d broken off their pursuit of the golden man to chase after her.
On reflection, maybe casting Northpath’s possessions out had been a step too far. She could almost feel his rage driving the Followers forward and now they looked to be only a day behind her.
She scrambled down the side of the butte until she reached the valley floor and began to trudge forward, hoping to find some way to evade them. She’d hoped to be further ahead of them, but she kept losing time; she didn’t know the way and kept finding blind turns and dead ends as she pushed South. Constantly having to backtrack and search out a new path. With over a hundred of his followers seeking her, Northpath wasn’t having the same problem.
She found herself turning back again. Another seemingly clear path turned into a sheer cliff face.
Then, a sound. Small rock shifting under a sandal from around the next turn. She tensed, readying her pathetic, broken spear.
A voice, low and firm, in a tone she hadn’t heard since she’d been taken.
“Come, dead man, I would hear your last song.”
No Follower would ever use those words.
She stepped around the turn.
The “golden man” from the cliff. He stared at her laconically. He gripped an axe whose length was over half her height.
She squared herself. “Dead girl, not dead man. I want no fight, I just seek to flee.”
.... There is more of this story ...