Free Shorts - Anasazi: Last Lament

This is a historical fiction piece I wrote some time ago. I like to think that the Anasazi were stronger than we are today. That any culture who faces their own destruction finds within themselves something that we have not yet had to contemplate needing, let alone had to delve for.


Anasazi: Last Lament

Hopiai paused at the very rim of the cliff and looked down into the valley below. The merciless afternoon sun beat down on his tanned shoulders, and his thick black hair was so hot it nearly burned his scalp, despite the strong, hot wind that tugged at his short braids. He'd run off without remembering his sun cover again; his mother would be furious.

Hopiai hoped she would be furious. Some days, she hadn't had enough to eat and drink to muster the energy to yell at him. He admitted to himself that maybe he'd left the hat on purpose, hoping to make her angry enough to give a good chastising.

So many of the People had left the valley; he did not understand why their family remained. When he was a toddler, he remembered hundreds of people living in the cool shelter of the great rocky overhang, the black mineral staining on its lip seeming to rain goodness down on them, in their fertile river valley.

Now, there was no more river. Grandfather Talking Rain said that when he was a young man, the river would flood in the spring rains, and the whole valley floor would be underwater. Hopiai was skeptical; during the six summers of his life, the river had never once flooded out of its narrow channel, carved through the rich soil of the valley. And this summer, right now, the riverbed was dry. He could see it, hundreds of feet below, through the dying tree limbs. Large rocks poked out of dry earth, which the wind whipped into swirls before scattering it back in just as futile a spot as it had found it to begin with.

The other tribes, known only as the Raiders during all of Hopiai's lifetime, had not come for a few months now either; Hopiai's father said that the Raiders were not raiding here for food because they knew there was none to be had. Now that the river was dried up, and no rain fell, the only thing to be gained by raiding the few People that remained in the settlement was the occasional dry root or unlucky field mouse. The crops had failed early this year, and last year's seed grains had already been consumed in desperation.

Their settlement here in the river valley was one of the last holdouts among the People; all of the other settlements on the trade routes had vanished before Hopiai was born. He had asked Grandfather Talking Rain where they had gone. Surely they had found somewhere else to live, he reasoned. But Grandfather Talking Rain had only looked out toward the vanished settlements, far across the dusty summer terrain, and said, "They have gone away, Hopiai. They have gone away."

And that was when it came to Hopiai: the People were dying. Mother Earth was turning away from their pleas.

Suddenly Hopiai realized he was not alone; his grandfather had joined him on the cliff rim. Hopiai smiled up at his grandfather, but the old man merely looked down at him with preoccupied, melancholy eyes.

"Grandfather Talking Rain, will you sing to the river again today?" Hopiai asked, troubled by the look on his grandfather's face.

"Not today, Hopiai. But I will sing."

"What will you sing?" Hopiai always enjoyed his grandfather's songs and chants; he was Speaker for the People, and Hopiai's life's dream was to be Speaker like his grandfather. At seeing his grandfather's melancholy, he wondered fearfully if there would be any People left to be Speaker for, when he grew up.

"You will need to wait until sundown to hear my song, Hopiai."

"Sundown?" A small note of alarm entered Hopiai's voice. Sundown: the time of ending, of stopping, of death. When the sun died in the western sky, songs of lament for the death of loved ones were raised to the skies. When the sun died in the western sky, songs of thankfulness for the end of a journey were raised to the skies. All things died at sundown, and were reborn the next morning with the new rising sun. But some were not reborn in the same way. Hopiai knew that the old and the sick were reborn in a new way, done with their bodies forever.

"Grandfather Talking Rain, is it my mother you will sing for?" Hopiai's chin trembled. He had not thought his mother would ever leave him.

"No, Hopiai, your mother awaits you below. I believe she is furious with you for forgetting your sun cover again." Hopiai couldn't help the chuckle that escaped his lips. "I will tell her I chastised you heavily. Do not make a liar of me."

"Yes, Grandfather Talking Rain." Hopiai caught the twinkle in his eyes and assumed a penitent pose.

They sat together and awaited the sun's descent over the edge of the horizon. The wind cooled a bit, but still blew warm and fiercely against the two small figures at the edge of the sun-soaked orange cliff.

Finally, Grandfather Talking Rain stood. He faced the sunset, its orange-red glow seeming to set him alight with otherworldly fire. The Speaker for the People began to sing, one last lament for the death of his People. One last lament for the end of their journey here in the valley.

"To be reborn into new life

The People end their journey here

The Mother's hand has strayed from us

The lives we have are only dust

The People end their journey here

A new life comes with rising dawn

The lives we have are only dust

All things must end to start again

A new life comes with rising dawn

The Mother's hand has strayed from us

All things must end to start again

To be reborn into new life.

Grandfather Talking Rain looked down at Hopiai. "Your mother has your things packed, Hopiai," he said. "It is time to climb down to our family and go."

"Go? Go where, Grandfather Talking Rain?" Hopiai asked, standing beside his grandfather, eyes wide.

"Away, Hopiai. We are going away."

Tomorrow, they too would be reborn.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story. But difficult to read with this combo of font color and background. A white background would be so much easier!