The sounds echoed in the canyon. A vulture, startled, took flight, in return frightening the lizards on the canyon wall. They skirted inside the dark holes on the red rock. The vulture’s shadow passed over, first clinging to the wall, and then plunging to the dry, crusted ground below. Soon, it took a tremendous leap upwards and briefly shielded a human on an isolated pillar standing a few feet from the southern wall. He danced lightly on the column in a circle that brought him dangerously close to the edge. His name, Leaping Coyote, signified by the carving under his left eye, he had chosen when he became an adult, which to his tribe is when one is married. This was old tradition in his tribe, and it was always the spouse who engraved the animal with a knife into his cheek, a sign of trust (though women never had an engraving, because it was believed they were gifts from the gods).
The sun glared at him, and his skin cowered and burnt. Nevertheless, he continued the ceremonial ritual without hesitation. Never once did he wince from the burning ground or his skin’s tenderness. In fact, he had been doing so for seven hours straight, since the break of dawn, without any water or food, as required, or else it may not be accepted by the gods if he showed such weakness and disrespect to them, and all would be for nothing.
What he circled on the pillar was the empty body of his half-soul, or what “civilized” people of the cities called wife. She had died two days earlier in an accident. He knew, or assumed, what instigated the “accident”: a year before she had met a snake-catcher from a nearby city, and actually tried talking to him, which was forbidden. Consequentially, the gods of their tribe were infuriated, and as she had gone walking on that fateful day, a rattlesnake bit her—twice.
When she had returned, she was practically already a walking corpse.
He had taken her body here today attempting to bring her back, and may the gods’ wrath shake him, he cared not. What Leaping Coyote didn’t know was the dead were better off staying dead.
Six hours later, exhausted, hungry, in desperate need of water, it was complete. The golden sun was hanging low in the western horizon, outlining the silhouette of a strange rock formation unique to the desert. Wiping beady sweat from his forehead, and swatting away tiny stinging insects attracted to the salty liquid, he leaped from the pillar, landed easily onto the other ground, and staggered from exhaustion back to his tribal encampment.
Upon arrival, his father greeted him; “Son, where have you been? You have missed the Dance Festival! Have you not been looking forward for your first Firedance? There is but only one every year!”
“I have already danced plenty today throughout alone, Father, yet you needn’t become concerned over my personal activities. You, after all, declared me prepared for the tribulations of adulthood.”
“Yes, Son, I have declared so,” he halted briefly, thinking his words over, “however I worry nonetheless. I have been bereaved of a half-blood, your half-soul, and recently your activities have been…strange, suspicious, possibly disturbingly contrasting those previous to the accident. Never before have you disappeared entirely for a day and return with the darkness.”
“Father, you needn’t worry,” he almost growled before departed furiously, with his Father’s deeply concerned eyes following.
In the isolation and darkness of his stone-carved room, he wondered aloud, “Need I worry?” His actions of performing the ritual were strictly forbidden to all except the doctor, only after allowance by the chief who has spoken to the gods, a tradition almost possessing the power of tribal law.
That night, sleep evaded him, and when it came, it fleeted quickly at any outside disturbance. Many times he awakened in cold sweat, and once he found blood on his palm where his own fingernails had punctured his skin.
The last time he woke, he felt something lightly brushing across his cheek, tracing his scar.
His eyes flittered open. Bloodshot eyes stared back. Crazed bloodshot eyes. “Who—who are you?” he asked the woman whose bony knees pressed into his chest.
“Who am I?” she cackled. “Who am I?” A dark smile curved her lips, though not touching those eyes; “Why, I’m your wife!”
Suddenly her hands darted towards his neck, fingernails ripping open his throat.
By the time he realized his mistake he was practically already dead.
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