Bear in the Lodge Creek
"You could die out here and never be found."
"Louis! Don't say that."
It's true. People disappear in the badlands around Bear in the Lodge Creek. Fourteen-year old Oglala Lakota Louis Quiver knows it. Amy Poorbear, his cousin, nineteen, knows it. Everybody in their village of Wambli, South Dakota, knows it.
"It's the Mako sica," Louis says. The evil place.
"Amy, there's no way you can go down there," Frank Demuth shouts. He is Amy's twenty-year old, white, about-to-be former boyfriend, giving orders, as usual. She wishes Frank would disappear. Amy is tired of his bullying, his drinking. Good looking, sure of himself, he seemed different from the village boys, more sophisticated. But he has no respect for her family, their ways. He's giving her a bad feeling about how hard it will be to break up with him. He's going to be a scary guy about it; she can tell.
Eight miles beyond Wambli, the badlands begin at the creek's edge. There are cliffs, drops, chutes, holes a body can slide into and disappear. Years later, after spring storms, bones wash out on the flats two-hundred feet below.
Amy crosses the shallow creek. Lilly, her yellow rez dog, blunders along with her. Louis Quiver, tall but still just a kid, walks ahead, then disappears around a turn in the arroyo. She and Louis are looking for fossils she can sell up in Kadoka. Last year they found a turtle millions of years old.
Frank is in a bad temper. He comes down to the creek with a scatter of stones, splashes unnecessarily through the water, soaks his jeans and boots. Last night he was drunk. She thought he'd sleep all day, but here he is, churning across the creek, catching up to her. He sees Louis. That isn't good. He doesn't like Louis. He has opinions about the Quiver family.
"Traditionalists. They all make those damned flesh offerings. Callin' up the spirits. Stone magic. I don't know why you even talk to them." The Quivers are her family too.
The dog pants as Amy picks up the pace, trying to get away from Frank. The canyon walls rise, bands of pale grey mudstone, rust-colored sandstone The floor, barren and full of cracks, slopes steeply down, and debris piles along the sides. Up high, stunted pine trees cling to the cliff top. It's a creepy place; murders happen here. Annie Mae Aquash was found dead near here, back in the bad times. The canyon twists and turns. No snakes. Brilliant blue sky in a slice overhead. Vultures. Amy sees three prayer sticks tied together with bright red cloth, a traditionalist offering. She hopes Frank will not touch the prayer sticks. She walks quickly by, careful not to disturb anything.
"There are no damned fossils down here," Frank shouts. He sounds winded. Not too close behind either. She hasn't seen Louis for a while. He may be ahead or have turned up a canyon branch and be behind. She and the dog patter across a very shallow part of the creek filled with dead branches, small bones, and a cow skull. The dog checks the skull; Amy sees chunks of bone big as a human leg. Something odd died here. She hears Frank scuffing, cursing. He must be near the offering. She hopes he leaves it alone. Suddenly, as she turns past a dead tree, she has an intense feeling of dread, of being watched. The hair stands up on the back of her neck. She cannot see either Louis or Frank and freezes in place at the bottom of the cliff face, with its strange scattered bone fragments. She looks for snakes but sees none. She looks at the sky and sees no vultures, no raptors. Her flesh crawls. She turns to the canyon walls and just at eye level sees an eye looking out of the crumbling rock.
It's a fossil, an oreodont skull embedded in the rock where it died 35 million years ago. The whole skull is visible.
Upcanyon, she hears a cry, a racket of falling stones, a scream, then silence. She hurries back and finds Frank on the ground, Louis bending over him, as a whip of diamondbacked darkness slashes back into a hole in the canyon wall.
"Bit him in the throat, man," Louis cries, trying to sound tough, looking only about twelve-years old now. The tobacco offering is trampled in the dust. "What will we do?"
An eye looks out of a small hole in the wall. Reptilian.
About the author:
Janet Shell Anderson has recently published a piece of flash fiction, "Nothin' but the Rain" in vol. 34 of Vestal Review, and has published poetry, including work in a collection of Nebraska poets called All My Grandmothers Could Sing. She is an attorney.