“The soil you see is not ordinary soil — it is the dust of the blood, the flesh and bones of our ancestors…. You will have to dig down through the surface before you can find nature’s earth…. The land as it is, is my blood and my dead; it is consecrated….”
Bryce lightly tapped Greg’s arm when one of their favorite songs came on as they were driving their delivery route. Greg was at the wheel, he turned the volume up with his right hand and nodded and they both danced in their seats singing along when mid-way through the song it abruptly changed to Local Natives - “Wide Eyes”. “Oh some evil spirit. Oh some evil this way comes. They told me how to fear it. Now they’re placing it on their tongues…Oh to see it with my own eyes…Oh to…”
“Whaaa? Bryce began playing with his iTunes playlist. “Dude…weird I don’t even own this song.”
Greg was toying with the radio knob when he suddenly hit a large bump which knocked some of the boxes loose. He glanced at the rearview mirror to make sure all of the deliveries were still intact. One of the boxes gave him the creeps. It was lying on its side marked “Human Remains.” Loading it had made him really nervous and they had marked it first for delivery. He glanced back at the road and then back into the mirror and saw a ghostly figure in a full head dress and face paint snap a whip towards him. He veered off the path and slammed the brakes pulling the vehicle to an abrupt stop causing the boxes to tumble even more.
“What the hell brother?! You better not have busted anything!” Bryce shouted at him.
“You didn’t see that?” said Greg.
“See what?” Bryce looked totally confused.
Greg was completely freaked out. “Bro I swear I just saw someone in the back he was uh ummm uh wearing a costume.”
Bryce got out of the truck and opened up the back. “Just boxes bro. It’s just your eyes playing tricks on you. I think you’ve been driving too much. Scoot over I’ll drive.” Greg got into the passenger side. Bryce didn’t let on that the box in the back spooked him too and he could not deliver it fast enough.
Bryce pulled up to the once abandoned farm house that was now seeing much more action than it had in the last few years. He parked next to the moving truck and watched as the movers begrudgingly picked up an oversized couch and carried it over the threshold. A woman and a young boy were chatting about which room would be his and he was desperately trying to convince his mom why he should have the master bedroom.
“You see,” he said I won’t bother you when I’m playing video games and I have a lot of toys that take up a lot of space.”
The woman laughed. “Oh is that right?”
“Totally mom!” Said the boy.
Bryce hopped out of the truck while Greg refused to budge. The song was still playing on the radio even louder now. They couldn’t seem to get it to turn off. “This place is totally haunted,” said Greg. “I am not going near it.”
“Wuss,” said Bryce as he walked around the truck to the back once again this time he grabbed the package marked, “Wes Walker Human Remains ℅: Harper Walker. Please handle with care.” He frowned and casually walked up to Harper who was still laughing at all the many ways her son Atticus was trying to convince her why his room should be bigger. She heard the vague sound of music and then footsteps approaching, she looked up from her son to see a young man coming towards her with a box. She stopped laughing as she already knew the contents.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Bryce said as he handed her the box.
“Thank you,” replied Harper accepting the package and then grasping it tightly.
Bryce quickly walked back to the truck, hopped in and started the engine. Greg looked around and said, “at least it’s a lot less scary during the day.”
Bryce shrugged and banged on the radio the song stopped. “Finally! Damn thing must be busted.”
“Let’s just get out of here,” said Greg.
“On it!” Bryce said and adjusted the mirrors and began driving towards their next destination.
Harper stood there holding the cardboard package. Normally excited to receive mail, she loathed this one. This was not an Amazon delivery…this was not a gift. Her late father once a stoic bear of a man was now reduced to a box of ashes. A few years prior she and her father had an argument about his funeral and burial. He wished to be cremated. She had told him that is not the proper way of his people. He was full blooded Hopi. He stated if his people had been reduced to ash and bone so shall he be. She told him he needed to stop punishing himself. But he insisted. “What about mother? Don’t you want to rest next to her?” she questioned. “There’s no rest for the wicked,” he had replied. “This is serious,” Harper said and stomped her foot. “Hush Taawa,” he said. Taawa was a term of endearment. It means Sun. Her father had told her on the day she was born his world became brighter. “Aww silly man you are the opposite of wicked. And you love her and she loved you. You said yourself not even death will keep you two apart.” While all of Harper’s friends were getting divorced her parents seemed to be renewing their vows at least once a month. “Eck…you two are so gross,” she’d constantly joke at the stealing of kisses, waist grabs and hugs. She’d never seen two people more in love than her parents. Witnessing a tragedy together had definitely brought them closer. Her mother was not Native American, but she did practice a lot of the culture and she was buried on their land close enough that he could visit her and leave flowers on her grave as often as he was able. “I hate that we’re even having this conversation,” Harper had cried. Now she held his remains in her hands. She hugged the package.
Her father had been in a care facility for the last few years and over that time she’d visited him often. Upon his passing he had willed her his unkempt farmhouse which he had built for he and her mother after a tragic event where he’d lost his entire family and tribe. Harper’s mother Emma was a young aspiring journalist. She had been visiting her father’s tribe to conduct interviews as she was writing one of her first articles for a highly prestigious magazine. Her father was a dashing young man learning the ways of his father, the Chief with hopes that he would eventually become Chief himself. Father recalled that when he and his mother met, the gods cheered and sent a large gust of wind covering them in dandelions which he referred to as thousands of tiny wishes. The two hit it off right away. Father had gathered up some of the wares his tribe had crafted and escorted Emma to town while the rest of the tribe remained behind preparing for a celebration that was to be held the following day. There was a hut of artifacts belonging to their ancestors which they had intended on laying out for the Gods as offerings next to a fire pit which had been filled with logs. Harper’s mother and father had been enjoying each others company so much that they hadn’t realized it had been getting dark.
Harper’s father was carrying the remainder of unsold items in one hand and Harper’s mothers hand in the other when they saw flames miles high and plumes of smoke. They both began to run towards the reservation. Sirens sounded and lights swirled past them. When they’d finally arrived back at the reservation there was nothing but smoke, ash and remnants. The entire reservation including her father’s people had burned to the ground. The artifacts had been stolen from the hut that guarded them. Her father’s people including his mother and father who had been asleep in their beds perished in the fire. There were particles of what appeared to be the makings of a Molotov cocktail lying scorched on a pile of burnt wood. The cocktail had landed directly on a pile of dry wood that acted as a fuel load and ignited its surroundings in an instant. Nothing could be salvaged. It was obvious to him the intention of the crime was to steal and distract. Harper’s father was the sole survivor and would carry that guilt with him for the rest of his life. He took the basket containing the wares that he intended to sell and held a Kachina in fist he knelt down clenching the Kachina and cursed those who had done this. He yelled with tears in his eyes, “the deity Wapumo can see what you’ve done, he will find you wherever you go and he will destroy you.” The first responders were all saddened and looked upon him with heavy hearts. Harper's mom had done her best to comfort him in this difficult time. One of her father’s dear friends Officer Charlie Perth who had been off duty at the time, but still carried his radio rushed to the scene. He patted Harper’s father on the back reassuring him that they’d find whoever had done this. “No! Wapumo will find them and they will pay for what they have done here, blood for blood, a murder will avenge a murder.” He called once again upon the powerful ancestral spirit Wapumo for vengeance.
Harper recalled all of the stories she had been told by her father as a child about folklore and that fateful day and how challenging it had been for him. He never really did move on. She’d constantly catch him lost in his thoughts with tears in his eyes.
“Mom, mom, mom…mom….Earth to mom! MOM, what’s in the box? Mooommm! Hello!” Atty poked her arm.
Harper returned to reality. “Aww, At…it’s your grandfather.”
“Oh,” said At disappointedly. “They fit grandpa in that box?” He kicked at the ground sending some pebbles fleeing and some dust soaring.
“They did,” said Harper squeezing her son.
“Mom can I go inside now?”
“Yes, just be careful, it’s covered in grime and dust, there is a lot of cleaning to do.”
“K,” said At and ran inside.
She looked out onto the field that contained her ancestors, her father’s people and she was overcome with fear, tiny goosebumps covered her arms and she shook. Shake it off, shake it off she told herself. It is going to be fine. Her father had broken a few rules in Hopi tradition. When the government had denied his request for his people to be moved and receive a proper burial he decided that he would not leave them. He deemed the grounds sacred and built a farmhouse next to it. He would not leave his family. Shortly thereafter he married Harper’s mother and they would live in that house until Harper’s mother's untimely passing. Her mother being her father’s keeper left him helpless to care for himself and he’d go to live in a nearby facility where they could ensure his quality of life. This was the first time Harper had been back since. Still looking out at the land she acknowledged her late family with a prayer.
“Do not stand at my grave. I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint in the snow. I am the sunlight on the ripened grain. I am the Autumn’s gentle rain. When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush. Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die.”
Still box in hand she whispered, “I love you father.”
The movers were grabbing the last few items and one of the men wiping some sweat from his brow and clutching a clipboard shouted, “eh, a almost done here! I’ll just need you to sign this.”
She walked over and signed the paperwork and just then her husband pulled up and rolled down the window.
“Marky Mark took you long enough.”
“Sorry babes the last stretch of the highway was brutal; something must’ve happened. The police cars were doing their weavy thing to slow traffic.”
“Oh no. Well I’m just happy you weren’t involved. Movers are just finishing up here.”
“Perfect. I’m just in time then,” he chuckled. He rolled the window back up, shut off the engine, grabbed his briefcase from the passenger seat and exchanged his sunnies for some seeing glasses. He got out of the car and walked over to Harper. “What you got there,” he said as he walked over and kissed her cheek taking the box from her hands. “Aww…I’m so sorry sweetheart” and let out a sigh.
“Yep, pretty crazy how they just tape it up like it’s a regular package and ship it to you.”
“I know,” Mark said endearingly hugging his wife. “I’ll help you open it.”
“Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad!” Atty yelled running out the front door and squeezed his dads legs. “Mom said I can have the master bedroom.”
“Is that right cheese puff?” Mark said and rubbed his son’s curly red head.
Atty giggled “Cheese doodle daddy!”
“I did not say that. Nice try there bub!” Harper laughed. The three of them entered the house and went to the kitchen. Mark sat the box down on the counter. He grabbed a box cutter that was sitting on top of the moving boxes. They could hear the moving van zoom away from the drive.
“Movers must’ve left it.” Mark said and opened the package being careful not to disturb its fragile contents. He pulled out the ceramic vase containing the ashes and gave it a loving pat. Then he pulled out some family pictures, a couple of small clay pots, some arrowheads and lastly, Wapumo.
“They must have sent his things he had with him at the facility,” said Harper.
“Why does grandpa have a doll?” said At curiously.
“It’s not a doll,” Harper chuckled. “It is a Kachina.”
“Ka-Chi-na,” Atty mimicked.
“It symbolizes a spirit. This is Wapumo. He punishes those who misbehave.” She told him and tickled his tummy. He scrunched up and giggled.
“That is terrifying,” said Mark.
“Nah, just old superstitions. Father was really into his tall tales.”
“Are you okay?” Mark asked.
Harper forcefully nodded her head yes.
“Oh a tentative head nod, ha ha, that’s reassuring,” said Mark.
Harper tapped the counter lightly with her fist. “Cleaners and unpackers should be here soon. There’s so much work to do on this place.” She gathered up her father’s things and walked over to a bookcase in the hall and made a little shrine to her dad. She kissed her fingers and then touched a picture of herself with her parents at her college graduation. They had both been so proud they cried which caused her to cry and is reflected in their puffy red-eyed, smiling faces. Her dad is kissing her head while her mom is squeezing her waist. It was a happy day filled with lots of great memories. She’d follow in her mom’s footsteps being a journalist for the same publication, but the evolution of technology afforded her to be able to write from home with minimal travel. Mark taught for Teach for America and even though he opted for his placement to be no where near the small town in which they had both separately but together grew up in, he was placed at the high school on the nearby Hopi Reservation. No matter how many requests for a transfer he made they were always rejected. This place didn’t seem to want him to leave. Trapped in the town where he was raised he felt it must be his calling to shape these young Native American minds and he was fascinated by the culture.
Although, both Harper and Mark grew up in the same area they didn’t meet until after college. Harper had gone to the high school to gather some information and interviews for an article she was writing on Indigenous Education. After several dates and persuasion from Mark they were married a year later and they’d been together ever since. After Harper’s father had passed Mark agreed to trade their home that was just a couple miles away for the quaint little farmhouse. “We can get sheep, and alpaccccas and save the drama for your llamas,” he joked. Although, Mark felt uneasy there he never said a word. Since they wanted to get the house live-in ready, they hired a cleaning crew as well as some unpackers who were there now working away while Atty constantly pestered them.
“Have you gotten to my boxes? Where is the TV? Have you found my games? Can I have my Playstation?”
“Ugh At, that’s enough…stop bothering the nice people.” Harper lightly scorned.
A round jovial woman laughed, “it’s quite alright Mrs.” and handed At a handheld game she’d found in one of the boxes. “That should keep him busy.”
“It’s dead…hmph,” At pouted and sat on the floor legs crossed.
“You’ll probably need this young man,” the woman said waving the charger.
At snatched it from her hands, “thanks,” he said and plugged it in.
“Thank goodness the electricity was turned on already. Whew!” Harper laughed. Harper grasped the woman’s hand.
“I’m Betsy” the woman said shaking Harper’s hand.
“You’re a lifesaver Betsy!” Betsy gave her a sweet smile and continued working.
By the time they’d finished it was night. Harper found At curled up with his game asleep on a pile of packing blankets. At 7 he was too big for her to carry so she woke him and he rubbed his eyes.
“Let’s go to your new room,” she said and walked him to bed. All of his things were nice and neat and exactly how he liked them. He even had his own bathroom. “I know it’s not the master bedroom but…”
At cut her off and hugged her waist. “I love it mommy.” He said as he grabbed a Transformer.
“I’m glad…this used to be mommy’s room and now it’s all yours. Mommy spent a lot of time in this room.”
“It’s mine and mommy’s room.” Atty smiled.
“That’s right! Now it’s time for you and Megalatron to go to bed.”
“Megatron mommy,” he giggled “and it’s not Megalatron or Megatron it’s Optimus Prime.” He hopped into the bed and she tucked him in giving both he and Optimus kisses on the forehead, then dimming the bedroom light. She checked the windows to make sure they were locked and noticed what looked like black goo above the right corner of the ceiling. Hmm…we’ll need to take care of that she thought. This place needs a lot of layers of new paint. She turned and walked out of the room leaving the door slightly ajar. Her husband was sitting in the study and she peeped in on him. “Nice having other people set up in here isn’t it. All we have to do is some re-modeling.”
“Yeah, nice not to unpack - that is the worst. Thanks for doing such a great job labeling Harpsichord. Looks like everything is in order.”
“You’re welcome Sir Marks-a-lot.”
They both chuckled and he reached for her giving her a kiss on the hand and a bow. “My lady,” he laughed. There was a knock on the door. “Expecting someone?” asked Mark.
“It might be Uncle Charlie I told him we’d be moving in today.” Uncle Charlie was the endearing name she had coined as a child for her father’s best friend Officer Perth. He was now retired, but as always still carried a walkie and a badge…just in case. Harp walked out of the study and opened the front door. “I knew it was you Uncle Charlie” and gave him a huge hug. He squeezed her arm.
“How you holding up little lady?” He asked.
“Oh I’ve had better days. I miss him you know.”
“I know little lady I miss him too. Great man your father…great man!”
“Come in…come in! I’m afraid all I can offer you at the moment is a pb & j and a juice box. I’m heading to the market in the morning.”
“I’m fine little lady. I just came to check on you.”
She led him into living room and went to grab Mark from the study.
“It’s Uncle Charlie, come say hi.”
“Okay, be right there,” said Mark.
Charlie was pacing looking around when Harp returned. He pointed at the Kachina. “Wapumo,” he said and pointed, whips those who misbehave.”
“Father had him in his things.”
Mmm…grunted Charlie. “I don’t know if your father ever told you. Ya know. We caught those good old boys that killed his family. Well, I don’t think caught is the appropriate word rather one of them turned himself in after all his buddies had committed suicide one by one all in different ways. Just a few years ago right after your dad went to the care facility. They had no kin left. None ever married so they left nothing behind except dead bodies. One killed himself in the garage leaving his car exhaust on asphyxiating himself, one shot himself point blank in the noggin’ and one jumped off a mountain. Only days apart. All 3 of them were found with raised welts on their skin like self-flagellation. Well the one that was left came running into the station after the last body had been found and demanded we lock him up in exchange for a full confession. He was scared to death. Turns out the boys being between 14 and 15 at the time decided to pilfer your father’s tribe’s artifacts because one of em’ got their hands on an article saying that they were high in value. They didn’t intend to kill anyone so he said. Their little homemade incendiary device was meant as a distraction. When they saw the destruction they’d caused they took the relics and ran. Well one of em’ as he was runnin,’ mean ol’ son of a bitch Jet, humph—I knew his father said, ‘stupid engines’ amongst some other slurs and the rest of em’ questioned if it was in fact an accident. Anyways, this boy Patrick was his name said, ‘he didn’t mean any of it and that we had to protect him.’ He kept rubbing his arms running his fingers over his raised skin. We figured that they all felt guilty about what they had done and inflicted pain on themselves and made a death pact, but this one maybe didn’t want to fully commit to the plan. I put him in a cell myself. Told him we’d keep him there overnight until we can get a full investigation. Middle of the night one of the guards heard a whip crack. He went in to check on the man and he was hung from his cell by a whip. He must’ve brought it in with him. I’m guessing all of the talk of the Wupamo curse and remorse over what them boys had done finally got to them and they just cracked like a whip. Your father until the day he died was adamant that Wapumo visited them and whipped them until they broke causing them to take their own lives and then sent them straight to their hell. Your father was certainly superstitious. Regardless of the why, at least he got some closure before he passed away. That is the important part. And he could indeed rest in peace…bless his soul.”
Harp didn’t stir. She sat still—taking in every word Charlie said like she was a book—full of blank pages gradually being filled in by his words.
Charlie paused for a moment, took a breath and continued. “So’s I came over to give my condolences and wrap up some loose ends with ya. I thought you should know. I want you to feel secure knowing them boys are long gone and seen’ how’s they don’t have any heirs, I thought you’d feel better knowin’ there’s none of their little racist genes runnin’ around. We might be a small town, but we don’t have small minds here. They were a breed all they own. I'm sure happy to have you back in this little farmhouse you can put some life back in it. When your daddy lost your momma he kinda let it all go. You are what kept him going. He was like a remote ya know filled up with 3 triple A batteries. The first one with his tribe, second one with your momma, you kept him charged but he was barely hangin’ on. All he had left was pictures playin’ in his head. I’d go visit him now and again and he loved to tell me stories about his culture, you and your momma. He’d be so proud knowin’ you kept the place and are fixin’ it up. Anyhoo, I’m ramblin’ sorry I haven’t let you get a word. My condolences little lady.”
Harper stood up and walked over to Charlie and hugged him tightly.
“You ramble all you want Uncle Charlie.” She kissed his cheek. “I really don’t know what to say. I didn’t know any of this. Father never told me that the culprits were caught so to speak.”
“I’m guessin’ he didn’t want to worry you or the boy to know it’s some pretty morbid stuff. Not easy to recite. 4 suicides in the span of a few days doesn’t sit easy on the mind. I’m only telling you now because I feel like with your daddy passing and you being back in the house you should have some closure yourself. I might suggest a little palo santo, some sage, and quartz crystals —this house could definitely use some cleansing,” he cringed.
“I thought you weren’t superstitious,” she chuckled as she poked his arm .
“One can never be too cautious especially with a friend like your pop!” He laughed.
Mark came into the room carrying a pile of books. “‘Bout time you made an appearance,” said Charlie.
“Didn’t want to forget these. They’re for class tomorrow. Sorry Charlie,” he said with a smile and walked up to Charlie and shook his hand firmly.”
“No harm no foul,” replied Charlie and lightly punched Mark on the arm. “I reckon you both have big days tomorrow lots to do still. I’ll get outta your hair.”
“You can be in our hair anytime like a bat,” Harper chuckled.
“That’s a myth,” said Mark “bats do not care about flying into your hair they use echolocation and that stops them from landing on you.” Charlie and Harper looked at each other and laughed. “So literal sweetheart,” said Harper. Mark shrugged. Just then Charlie’s walkie started making white noise and they heard muffled voices mumbling, “Chief Red Cloud” that could barely be understood, then a static-filled song: “Oh some evil spirit, Oh some evil this way comes. They told me how they fear it. Now they’re placing it on their tongues, Oh to see it with my own eyes…” and the lights flickered and as abruptly as it had started the sounds stopped. “Thats odd,” said Charlie “thought my walkie was off. I didn’t want it disturbing us. I guess I must of left it on…hmmph,” he said scratching his head.
“It sounded like the voices were mumbling, ‘Chief Red Cloud,’ said Mark.
“That's ridiculous nonsense! Your mind’s just playin’ tricks.”
“My father stopped being Chief Red Cloud the second he started. With his father and entire tribe dying in the fire he had nothing and no one to be Chief of,” Harper said angrily. She continued. “I’ve heard that song before tho,’ those moving men that were here earlier must’ve been jamming out. That song was playing when they delivered my father’s remains.”
“Ahhh….radio must’ve been picking up their channel somehow. Explains it! They must really love that song,” he laughed, “listening to it all day.” He tipped his cowboy hat and said, “At that little lady and gentleman I bid you a-due. Good night you two! Get some rest,” and he exited through the front door. Mark and Harper waved him off and watched as he drove away into the darkness.
“What’d I miss,” asked Mark.
“Oh nothin’ much Uncle Charlie was just paying his condolences.” She didn’t feel the need to inform him of their talk or want to re-live it again. She picked up an office box marked “do not touch.” It wasn’t filled with top secret government files, tales of espionage, or antiquities it only held research for an upcoming book she had procrastinated working on but she didn’t want anyone to purloin her brilliant ideas. “Put this in the study when you go back in would you?”
"Sho’ thing honey bunch,” replied Mark.
“I am exhausted,” she yawned and when her husband didn’t return a yawn in exchange she called him a “Serial Killer,” stuck out her tongue, and quietly chuckled.
“Bodies piling up in the basement as we speak.”
“Oh good I can scratch odor and decay candles off of my shopping list then.” She smirked.
“Don’t stay up too late. Early morning!”
“I won’t,” he replied and kissed her forehead.
Harper was grateful that the house was mostly livable. Practically in the same condition she remembered as a child just a little wear and tear. Nothing they couldn’t manage with a little TLC. Now tucked between the covers on the cushy Tempur-Pedic she and her husband shared — her mind filled with memories of growing up with her mother and father. They’d lovingly refer to the house as their humble abode. Although, it seemed much bigger when she was a child than as a grown woman the quaintness didn’t bother her. She remembered the laughter that seemed to emanate from the rafters through the fireplace and settle in her toes. Her father’s tragic life had not affected the love he had for his family and he never went a day without telling them how much he loved them which to Harp had seemed like at least once an hour. She looked around the room where her parents had talked, planned their time and slept. She stared up at the popcorn ceiling. We’re going to scrape and re-paint that. While the government refused to help her father with the removal and burial of his people due to the mass of human remains they did offer him a settlement for half of the cost. He refused it stating he didn’t want their blood money only a proper place for his people to rest and so they remained. Her father made money by selling sheepskins and hand-crafted trinkets. Her mother and father made an earnest living with enough to send her to a private school in the nearby city. They wanted her to have a better education and they did not want her cavorting with the local children and her father couldn’t bear to send her to the Hopi High School for fear it would be a constant reminder of what he lost. He thought it best to teach her about his tribe and their culture directly from him. Her uppity private school classmates would never come over as her home was referred to as “the graveyard” and they had given her the displeasing nickname “Spooky.” Needless to say she didn’t have a lot of friends, but she had books and those were the only good buddies she needed.
It took her father a bit to warm up when local boy Mark started coming around. He eventually wore him down and did the gentlemanly thing asking him for his permission for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “What is this 1892” her father had laughed at the archaic notion of permission and told him, “she’s grown it’s her decision if she wants to marry you or not,” and then he gave him a soft punch in the gut and a glass of whiskey. Her mind hopped from one memory to another like changing channels trying to decide what show to watch and the realization struck her that her father was gone and she began to quietly sob until she fell asleep.
She awoke in the morning to find her husband curled up next to her with his arm around her waist softly snoring. She lifted his arm gently and placed it on the bed. She lightly kissed his cheek. He didn’t stir. She got up slowly and went to check on Atty. Atty was sitting up on his bed fully dressed shoes and all reading Shel Siverstein “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
“Good morning sweet boy,” she said as she walked over and kissed him on the forehead.
“Look what I found mommy.”
“Oh you found my books I see.”
“Yes, mommy!” He handed the open book to Harper.
“Ooo Magic, I like this one”
“Read it mommy, read it please.”
Harper read aloud:
“Sandra’s seen a leprechaun, Eddies touched a troll, Laurie danced with witches once, Charlie found some goblin’s gold, Donald heard a mermaid sing, Susy spied an Elf, But all the magic I have known I’ve had to make myself.”
Atty clapped and bounced on his bed landing cross legged. “You like that one?! I see.”
“Yes, mommy,” At smiled.
“Alright munchkin-town let’s get you some breakfast. Mommy still needs to go to the store so you get cereal today.”
Atty clapped again, “Honey O’s!”
“You got it bud!" Harper couldn’t have wished for a better little man. She had been lucky she didn’t have the same experience as most moms she’d met. Atty was an easy baby, he slept a lot and even as an infant managed to keep himself entertained in his crib, and now he was a happy kid and exceptionally smart. He was her mini-me and she adored him. She never knew she could love a little being so much. “Alright Ats, go serve yourself.” He zoomed out the door running his little legs to the kitchen. I wish I had that energy she thought. As she was walking to meet him she noticed her father’s shrine was disheveled. The Kachina was now facing an early family portrait pre- Atty which included her parents and she and her husband with his whip leaning against Mark. She looked around confused and then placed the Kachina back where she had him and readjusted her father’s things. She walked into the kitchen. “Hey At did you move the Kachina?” Knowing he wasn’t tall enough to reach it but maybe by some happenstance.
“The doll? No mommy. That thing scares me,” said At big eyed and shuddering.
“It is kinda scary looking isn’t it?!” Harper laughed, “Okay kiddo. You eat your O’s I’m going to go wake up daddy.”
At airplaned a bite and stuck it in his mouth. “K,” he said mashing cereal between his teeth.
Harper went into the bedroom and laid her 125 pound body on top of her husband’s back. “Hmmph,” Mark sleepily groaned and rolled over throwing Harper onto her side of the bed than grabbed her tickling her sides. “No noooo nooo,” she giggled and tried to escape. He kissed the back of her neck and let go. “Time to get up tickle monster,” she joked.
“Meh,” he groaned.
“Oh by the way did you move any of my dad’s things? His little shrine was all discombobulated. It was weird. The Kachina was facing you with his whip. Have you been misbehaving?” She quipped. He nervously giggled and looked out the window towards the cemetery but didn’t show Harper his sorrow.
“Weird. Nope didn’t touch it.”
“Odd…maybe we had a smallish earthquake.” She shrugged. “What the frack?”
“Maybe,” he shrugged and went to go get ready to teach the day away.
She went into Atty’s room to make up his bed and noticed the black goo had spread. “Ewww,” she said aloud. She walked out of the room and yelled into the bathroom where Mark was taking a shower. “I think we have mold!” she shouted.
“Mold!” He repeated back. “There is fungus among us!” He laughed at his own joke.
“Not funny brah,” said Harper. “This is serious. Black mold. It could be dangerous if we breathe the spores. I’ll call Uncle Charlie and ask him to come take a look. I’m going to run to the market with At first, we need some essentials like food. Between my father and the busyness of yesterday I barely ate. If you’re hungry we have pb & j, fruit snacks, cold pizza and cereal,” she laughed.
Mark turned the shower off and grabbed a towel. “I’ll just grab a coffee and a bagel on my way to school,” he replied.
“Okie dokes.” Harp threw on some camo leggings, a black bulky sweater, some Vans slip-ons and tucked her brown layered bob under a baseball cap. “Comfy!” She smiled and looked in the mirror admiring the beaten bill and Rolling Stones classic tongue logo. She made the okay symbol with her fingers and flicked the cap sticking her tongue out copying the emblem.
“Sexy!” said Mark now standing behind her in the mirror. “My father got this hat at a Stones concert, the tickets were a surprise for my mom—she was obsessed with them.”
“Ha…your dad at a Stones concert. I cannnnot picture that.”
“He loved my mom a lot,” she smiled. “I’m outtie,” she wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck and planted a big kiss on his lips then turned and yelled “Attttt! Come say bye to Dad.” At dropped the Silverstein on the counter he’d carried to the kitchen with him and ran to the Master bedroom. Mark now fully dressed and looking dapper in his casual suit picked At up and swung him around. “Make sure mom behaves today,” he said and winked at her.
“I will daddy!” Mark kissed At on the top of his curly head, then twirled a few strands in his finger, and sat him down. At stuck his little fist out and Mark bumped it with his. Boom! Atty made explosion sounds as Harper made her way to the living room to grab her keys and wallet.
“Wait mommy.” He ran to his room and grabbed Optimus and ran back out.
“Aww bud why don’t you leave Mr. Prime here today. We won’t be out long.”
“Awww man,” At lowered his head in a small pout and set Optimus down on the coffee table.
“Watch the place Mr. Prime,” said Harper and they left for the market.
On the drive Harper asked At what station he wanted. “Radio Disney!!” he yelled.
“Radio Disney it is.”
“YAY!!” At excitedly threw his fists into the air. Harper and Atty were about half-way to the market and three songs in when suddenly the lyrics: “Oh some evil spirit, Oh some evil this way comes…” filled the car with sound.
Atty was confused, “Mommy, what is this song?” he asked puzzled.
“We must have caught someone else’s signal. Weird…this song keeps playing.” She turned off the radio. At looked out the window.
“Almost there,” said Harper.
At kicked at the back of her seat. “Don’t do that bud.” He stopped. At sat thinking for a few minutes then he said, “I know what evil is…evil is bad. Is something bad going to happen Mommy?” He looked very distraught. Harper looked at him in the rear view mirror concerned.
“Aww, nothing bad is going to happen to you. I’ll always be here to protect you.” At thought again for a moment and decided he was mostly content with that answer although he still felt a little uneasy.
When they reached the store At unbuckled his seat and hopped out of the car.
“Can I get a treat mommy?”
Harper kneeled in front of him and said, “I’m really proud of you Atty. I want to thank you for being so well behaved. You’ve been such a trooper going along with all the new changes.”
“Wait…I get to stay in the same school right?” At asked in a worried tone.
“Of course and you’ll get to play with all your same friends. I mean the move and stuff.”
“Oh okay,” said At relieved and he rubbed his little temple which is what he thought you were supposed to do after feeling relieved because adults were always doing it. “About that treat?” He grinned.
“You got it bud!” She hugged him.
After they’d finished their shopping, Harp belted At into his carseat and sat the grocery bags next to him. He dug around in them like he was searching for a prize at the bottom of a cereal box.
“Hey, easy there bub,” said Harper. “We need those groceries to make it home.”
“Eurrreuka!” At exclaimed holding up his treasure. A plastic container filled with neon gummy bears. This store was his favorite because they had a more colorful selection and tropical fruit flavors. He much preferred them over the boring primary colors and insisted that they tasted better. He opened the container and bit the head off of one of the bears then shoveled a handful into his mouth.
“Don’t eat too many you’ll get a tummy ache.” Harper warned.
“Okay,” mumbled At mouth filled with a rainbow of candy.
Once they reached the house Harper asked At to help her carry the groceries. He gathered up a couple of big brown bags in his arms and stumbled to the door and set them on the stoop.
“Can I go explore mommy?” He asked.
“Yes, but don’t be long and stay right near the house,” she demanded.
“I will!” At assured her. He held up his little arm toward her and pointed to his dinosaur covered digital wrist watch.
“What time does it say?” Asked Harper.
“12:00” he replied confidently.
“Okay, come in at 12:20.”
“K,” said At and went chasing after a prairie dog that had bobbed its head out of one of the many holes in their front yard.
Harper opened the door to carry the groceries inside. She noticed more black goo on the corners of the walls as she entered. “Oh no it’s spreading,” she gasped. She quickly carried the groceries into the kitchen and found homes for the items in cabinets, pantries and the fridge then she walked back to the living room and pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket and sat down on the couch. Just as she was about to dial she saw the Kachina sitting on the table where Optimus had been and she glanced at the bookcase and Optimus was standing in his place. “Freaky,” she said to herself and laid the Kachina face down on the table. She dialed Uncle Charlie and he answered right away.
“Hey Unc, you busy?”
“If doing crosswords and drinking coffee counts as busy, yes very.”
“Retired life aye,” said Harper chuckling.
“Exactamundo!” Charlie chuckled back.
“Shouldn’t you be golfing or taking up badminton or something?”
“Meh, I’ve never been much into sports. What’s up kiddo?”
“We have some black stuff that’s spreading on the walls. I’m worried it might be black mold can you come check it out?”
“Sure thang sweetie. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
“Excellent, Thank you!” Harper hung up the phone and was happy that she had Uncle Charlie so close. She glanced up from the couch and saw that the Kachina was standing straight up.
“Wait didn’t I put you…what the heck?” She picked up the Kachina. “Sorry dad,” she said into the empty room, “this thing is seriously wigging me out.” She picked it up, walked outside and threw it in the trash bin. Then she walked back inside and grabbed Optimus and put him back on the coffee table so At wouldn’t see he’d been disturbed.
Just then Atty came running in the door. “Uncle Charlie is here,” and he grabbed his mom’s hand leading her back outside and began to jump up and down. The car stopped and At went running.
“Uncle Charlie!” He kicked up dirt and snarled his teeth and then charged at him. “Hey there you little monster,” he laughed as he picked At up and squeezed him before setting him back down. “Ugh, I might be too old for that. I think you got bigger overnight!” He joked and winked at Atty. “I grue-some.” At growled laughing hysterical at their joke. It was customary for the two to greet each other this way and At thought they were hysterical. Atty looked at Harper. “Grewww-some mom he roared — get it?”
“I get it goof ball,” she chuckled and rubbed his head. At grabbed Charlie’s hand leading him inside. Harper followed them in. At picked up Optimus from the table and handed him to Charlie.
“You like them Transformers aye kid,” and he handed it back. At began to change him into a Freightliner and made vroom vroom and truck noises and zoomed off.
“A lot of energy that kid.” Charlie lightly chuckled.
“Yuppp!I wish I could bottle and sell it.” Harper laughed.
“Alright, what you got going on here?” She showed Charlie the black goo that had been encroaching on their space. “Eh, I don’t think that is black mold honey. I’ve seen a lot of mold in my day. I brought some gloves and a specimen bag. I have a friend from when I used to be on the force…more of an acquaintance really. He’s a Mycologist a sort of fungus expert, he should be able to confirm what this is. He owes me a favor and crime has been real low lately so I should be able to get the results to you fairly quickly. Later today even! I’ll go drop this off to him.”
“Thank you Charlie. I appreciate you doing this so quickly.” Harper walked him out. As Charlie was driving away, Mark pulled up and quickly made his way out of the car and into the house.
“What are you doing home so early? Not that I’m complaining.” Mark was extremely distraught. He fumbled his briefcase and sat down on the couch.
“The kids were on a nutrition break and I was preparing their tests, sitting booklets on their desks and when I turned around the dry erase board was covered in this; he showed her a photo he’d taken on his camera phone. In sloppy black writing, ‘Wupamo punishes those who misbehave’ was written over and over again. I got a sense to come home even though its probably just some of the kids pranking me. They think it is funny to mess with their teachers. So I got another teacher to sub for me. Before I left I opened the top drawer of my desk and found this.” He held up Wupamo and then sat him on the coffee table.
“What? That’s not possible,” Harper shook her head. She walked outside and lifted the lid on the trash bin. No Wupamo. She stormed back in the house. “Are you messing with me Mark?”
Mark looked at her confused. "What do you mean?” He asked.
"I threw that creepy thing out earlier and now you have it.”
“Did you get it out of the bin?”
“No, how would I even have known you put there?”
She relaxed her tense shoulders. “That’s true,” she replied. “You couldn’t have known.” She plopped onto the couch head in her hands. “What is going on? Everyone that father cursed is already dead, no heirs or family. And that is just father being superstitious right? There’s no such thing as hexes or spells or curses.”
Mark sat down next to her and rubbed her back and then grabbed her hands and held them in his. “There is something I need to tell you Harp.” His eyes began to water and she got very concerned.
“What? What is it? You can tell me anything.” She rubbed tightened her grip on his hands.
Mark’s lips quivered and his hands began to shake in hers. “I was there. I was slightly younger than At is now; only 6 years old. I was there Harper.”
“You were where Mark?” Harper saw the agony in Mark’s face and she frowned.
“I was there when the fire happened. The fire here on your father’s reservation that killed his family. I wanted to play with my cousin and the other older boys. They were always doing stuff without me. My cousin shoved me and told me to go home and that I couldn’t come, but I followed them anyway keeping my distance. I always thought they were doing all the fun stuff without me. I was jealous because I didn’t ever get to go. I was just about to catch up to them and tell them I was a big kid and ask to play when it all happened so fast. I saw them running out of a straw tent, I think it was and the oldest boy, Jet threw a lit bottle and it sputtered into the air. I didn’t quite understand what was happening. I hid in the bushes. The boys ran right past me yelling, “go go go go!” clutching things in their hands and pushing at each other to run faster…they didn’t see me. The whole place caught fire and I heard screaming and covered my ears. I was so scared. I hid in the bushes watching and waiting until everyone left. No one ever knew I was there. But ‘Wupamo knows.’ I never told anyone. You’re the only other human that knows.”
“Oh my god, oh my god, you were there you son of a bitch!!! You knew who I was. You knew my father and what he went through and you never said anything. What is wrong with you?!” She began punching him in the chest and clipped his
He shielded himself from her throws. “I know…I’m sorry. I was so young. I didn’t know what to do. I was little. Picture Atty. When I met you I didn’t know who you were until you brought me here to meet your dad. I loved you too much to hurt you and what good would’ve it done. I can’t bring anyone back. Your father’s family, my cousin, the boys they’re all dead.” He cried. Harper sighed and Mark touched her arm tenderly. “I love you Harper. I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you at the school engaging with everyone, taking notes, and the way you made me laugh. You’re an incredible mother and a beautiful soul. I'm so sorry about what happened to your family.”
Harper now had tears streaming down her face. She hugged Mark. “I know you were just a child and that was an awful thing to witness. You should have told someone.”
“I know,” said Mark. “I’m sorry. It almost felt like a terrible nightmare. I wasn’t even sure it really happened until the suicides and then coming here and remembering and…”
“Wait” she cut him off. “Why is Wupamo taunting you. He only goes after those who possessed artifacts. Do you have an artifact Mark? Did you take something?”
“No, I didn’t take anything” Mark said quietly. “Wupamo found me.” He held up the Kachina. “It was in your father’s things which he had sent to us when he passed. The most important of all of the items…the root of the curse. He sees me Harper. He knows I was there and he’s coming for me. Wupamo is the artifact. I am unfinished business. The song we keep hearing; it's a warning. It was playing over the speaker at school before the announcements this morning, but this time only I could hear it. The kids looked at me with concern. ‘What song sir?’ they had asked and looked at me like I was crazy.”
Mark stood up his hands on his head as he paced mumbling to himself. Harper was processing what she had just been told when her phone rang. She answered. “Uncle Charlie?” She said her voice shaky as she walked into the kitchen.
“You okay Harp?" asked Charlie concerned.
“Well I’m afraid it’s going to get worse. I have some bad news. That stuff on your walls is not black mold. It’s Curare.”
“It’s cu-what?” Harper was baffled.
“Curare it’s a substance found in South American plants it paralyzes the motor nerves and its used by Native Americans in poison arrows. Whatever you do; do not touch it. It’s fatal.”
“WHATTTT?! Harper yelled. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Indeed it doesn’t” concurred Uncle Charlie.
“How the hell did poison from a plant from South America get in our walls?” Harper now overly upset frantically paced the kitchen scowling.
“I have no idea. Do you have somewhere to stay until I can get the EPA to send out some of their agents to gather the hazardous waste?”
All of the sudden there was screaming coming from Atty’s room. Mark ran into the room as quickly as he could. Harper was startled by the scream and dropped her phone and also ran to Atty’s room. You could hear Charlie's voice still speaking out of the receiver “Harp? Harp what’s happening what’s happening. Harp?”
Harper entered Atty’s room to see a large figure standing in front of him. The figure turned casting a shadow on the wall and holding a whip, it now faced Mark and Harper. Atty continued to scream. “Mommy!”
“Run to me baby!” Atty ran to her and hugged her tightly. “Mark…Mark come on” she yelled “Mark!” Mark paralyzed stared at the large Kachina. The walls began to leak poison spelling out ‘Wupamo punishes those who misbehave’ over and over again. Wupamo cracked his whip against the wall sending even more poison oozing and struck Mark over and over sending poison seeping from his wounds. Painful screams poured out of his mouth like thunder cracks. He turned to Harper who was shielding Atty’s crying eyes from the torment of his father.
“Daddy, daddy!!” Atty cried into her leg.
“Run!! RUN!!” Mark yelled with the intensity gradually getting louder and louder “RUNNNN!”
Harper grabbed Atty by the hand and pulled him down the hall grabbing the vase of her father’s ashes as they ran knowing they would never again return. Not after this.
They made it out the front door of the house, but she knew in her heart it wasn’t over yet. Running on adrenaline, she had picked up Atty like he was 5 pounds and told him to cover his eyes. She put him into the backseat and told him to lie down. He did as he was told. Harper walked to the driver’s side door holding her father’s ashes. She looked out towards the graveyard and saw that her ancestors all stood there watching her; ghostly bodies standing in a sea of mist. Her grandfather pointed at the vase that contained the ashes of her father. She walked over to the large field which once contained acres of an entire alive tribe and poured the ashes onto the dirt. The ashes filled the air and swirled into the sky. Harper’s mother walked through the crowd of ancient family members and as she walked a shadowy presence formed into a man she knew and loved— the man who had cared for her, protected her and loved her. It was Harper's father. Both her mother and father smiled at her and he blew her a kiss before turning to grab his beloved’s hand and join his family. They began walking into the mist and she now saw that one of her ancestors was dragging her husband’s spectral body behind him and then as quickly as they came they disappeared into the haze. Harper with tears streaming down her face climbed into the car and raced away from the house she had grown up in and whispered “goodbye.” As she made her way down the dirt road onto the main street leading to the highway. She was thankful to have made it out with her precious cargo. She looked in the rearview mirror to check on Atty who was sound asleep when she saw a light haze of fog and sitting right next to him on the passenger side with glowing eyes —Wupamo. She gasped and swallowed hard as the radio began to play on its own: “Oh some evil spirit. Oh some evil this way comes. They told me how to fear it. Now they’re placing it on their tongues…Oh to see it with my own eyes.”
Song: "Wide Eyes" - Local Natives