Tawa is a white-hot yellow dot beating the desert with a fury akin to hate. His existence is effort. His every day is another attempt to cook the great desert to a crisp. Maybe today he will succeed. His achievement is waves of heat that bake the valley’s loose grey rock.
The desert does not care anymore what Tawa does. It long ago has given up. Winning this war, or even fighting has proved futile.
Brown scrub brush grows in the noon shadows, never reaching beyond the tops of the rocks. They are short and scraggly and live only by miracle.
Jackrabbits scurry in the distance, either too far to hunt without traps or by four legs or by wing or maybe they are simply a figment of the imagination, nothing but dirt blowing in the wind, a mirage conjured by a hungry mind.
The howl of a coyote counting his kin echoes against the faraway mountains.
No cry is returned.
A golden eagle forms lazy circles in the sky. The great bird rides currents of wind only he can find. He screeches and the sky ripples around him.
A lone man sits with his heels on his knees in the sun. Under him is a thick woven blanket. On it are the tools of his trade, bones and trinkets. His trade is manipulation and maligned intent. His trade is evil.
His skin is brown and wrinkled. His hair is long and white. His hands rest open and palm up on a lap covered in intricate multicolored beads worked into a loincloth lined with many rattlesnake tails.
The rattlesnake is his spirit animal.
A long belt stretches around his waist attached to a medicine pouch decorated with fifty open fang skulls.
Seventy-five snakes slither in the ink-black cave behind him, announcing their presence with a buzz that vibrates the air.
Content until stepped on.
Old Tahquitz is like that. He has gone by many names but the tribes of the Great Peoples know him only as that, and what he does and that it is best to leave him alone.
But they don’t. They can’t. Every year when it is time to do his sacrifice, they try and stop him, even though it too late, and even when they recognize they can’t do anything to help or stop what happens, they try, they send their warriors and their warriors die.
They are merely people and he is more.
The child of a Star.
He hopes they never learn their lesson.
That would defeat the whole purpose for his being here.
Below him, he can hear this year’s band of warriors climb the mountain. One day, there will be many. An army. A war. A bloodbath.
But not today.
Today there are but a few. The tribes honor the spirits by warring with him. They send warriors to touch their tomahawks to him so that the spirit lands can make their babies great leaders, send many buffalo and make the winters less harsh.
They don’t see the irony in the sacrifice.
No tomahawks ever touch him.
But still, it is better he be confronted. His crimes are great. Corruption would spread if he were left to do as he wished.
Tahquitz’s face is worked into a painful scowl. His mouth twitches endlessly as he works his curses.
His milky white eyes burn with fever and hate. They are half lidded and flutter. Under the white lashes, they flash complete contempt for the tiny beings of The Tribe.
The first youth finally pulls himself free of the cliff. He huffs, pulling a labored breath of hot air into his lungs. He leans on his spear, eyeing the old man, distrustful.
“How many of you are there?” The old man speaks in a hoarse bored whisper. He speaks through a throat, not used to speaking in the old accent from many generations ago. From a people long dead, wiped out by the old ones from the South who have been killed eons ago. Whose ancestors are called something else now. Who only exist as parts of stories. Who will one day disappear altogether. He opens his blind eyes towards the crunch of more feet on the gravelly ground. “Four or five,” he answers himself.
“There are four, grandfather.” It is Akando, the biggest and bravest warrior of the Great Peoples, the best of them who answers the old man’s question with the honorific. The old man is no one’s grandfather. He is a sorcerer who has lived in a cave on the mountain longer than anyone alive can remember.
He is a monster in human clothes.
He beckons children in the middle of the night.
“So few again this year.” His voice reminds Akando of his own grandfather, old and always under a thick wool blanket. Akando’s grandfather will soon join the ancestors.
How can this one be such a threat?
A soft breeze blows through the sorcerer’s long white hair. It whips about his brown, lined face. He is shirtless under the bright blue sky. The noon sun beats down hard, but the air shimmers around him in defiance and he looks cool as if summer weren’t at its peak and Tawa weren’t beating the ground with all of his hatred.
Akando does not know what to expect from the twisted figure in from of him. If he suddenly rose up and attacked, this would make him happy, then he would have something to do, but instead he stands there with a useless spear in his hands, unsure, with the hot breeze whipping his black hair off his bronze shoulders if he could just throw it and get this over with. Instead he takes in his surroundings. Hanging from white sandstone cliffs are three small human skeletons. The bones clank in the breeze.
As if sensing the seasoned warriors gaze, “From years ago, warrior. The fresh one is still inside. Shall I introduce her?”
He picks up the small eagle bone whistle from the blanket under him and blows a soft tune on it. From inside the cave, a young girl appears. She is maybe fourteen but a walking nightmare with the eyes gone from her skull. Her lids cut off. The skin flayed from her left arm. With another tweet on the whistle, she lifts her left arm and begins working on the right with a sharp bone knife before turning and disappearing back into the pitch black cave.
With revulsion and horror, he lifts his spear to engage the monster but is halted from behind by the voice of his leader.
“Tahquitz, your crimes are many.” the Little Rose bellows, breathless as steps up over the edge of the steep hillside. She faces him with righteous rage. Akando is happy to see her. She had taken point on this foursome, but had fallen behind to help a slower member up the hill. “We are here to have you answer for your horrors.”
She is joined by the last two warriors, Mantotohpa and Elu.
Mantotohpa hyperventilates and leans heavily on his spear while his loin cloth slips down his fleshy and bulbous middle.
Elu stands as if bored behind him, maybe wishing the youth had just refused the elders’ wishes and stayed home.
“Guilty, beautiful one. I am guilty.” The craggy old man lifts his hands slowly to his lips and the war party stiffens, raising their weapons, unsure what horrible magic is about to befall them.
They can do no more but watch as sorcerer blows a soft sweet note into an eagle bone.
Instantly Mantotohpa screams in agony. Akandu and Little Rose turn and find a spear head jutting through Mantotohpa’s chest, thrust there by the capable steady hand of the forty-two summer old warrior behind him.
The middle aged warrior’s eyes are black with hate and murderous rage.
He is no longer an ally of the Great Peoples.
Mantotohpa’s spear falls to the ground and with shaking hands, he grips the weapon that has destroyed his innards. A puce stain runs through his armor. In moments, he is down on his knees. His body weight pulls free the weapon that doomed him. His face slowly drains of life and shock and he is gone.
The shock of this almost bought Akando his final moments on Earth also, but only earned him a deep cut along his shoulder as Elu attacks him.
He defends quickly and stabs out, catching Elu by surprise, managing to get his spear near enough to the the warrior’s thigh to give the older warrior a nasty gash and limp.
They square off again, eyeing each other, looking for an opening to attack, spear in one hand tomahawk in the other.
Little Rose realizes with a jolt of painful fear that the Sorcerer is at her back. She turns just as he removes one of the snake skulls from his belt and flings it towards her. She watches it twist and turn in the air, elongate, turning from simple snake skull to writhing snake. A fully grown, angry seven-foot rattler.
She stabs out with her spear, piercing it through the mouth.
She feels the pride in her defense ebb though when Tahquitz launches three more skulls her way.
The skulls also morph into huge rattlesnakes. She does not have enough time even to shake the first from her spear as they come at her. Nor does she have time to ready herself for the afterlife.
In a brave, useless moment, she drops her spear and unsheathes her tomahawk and steps toward Tahquitz, preparing to sprint towards the old man, but the first rattlesnake strikes her. At first, it feels like a fist-sized sharp rock hitting her in the calf, knocking her off her stride. Then the second gets her on the inner thigh and her left leg seizes up. The third one decides to do something else or she did not feel it bite her.
She hits the ground hard.
The venom works quickly. She feels it coursing through her body. It burns as it ebbs toward her heart and brain. Like fire, it eats at her insides.
She looks into the smiling face of Tahquitz refusing to let the screeching pain show on her face as he melts away into the rocky ground. His cackling, fades quickly into nothing, replaced by the most beautiful sound she has ever heard.
It’s not a song. It’s not music. It’s something more, a warm vibration that was always there but she just never paid any attention to it.
She falls to the ground. It is warm and feels good under her.
The cave yawns open.
It opens wide like a mouth reaching for food. All the snakes slither away as if freed and the girl appears. She sticks her hand in the pocket of her dress and pulls out her eyes. She puts them back in her skull and smiles at Little Rose and gives her a wave before looking up into the sky. She kicks off the ground as if she were no longer stuck to the Earth and flies away.
Little Rose rolls over and follows the girl’s progress. And with it, the blue sky melts away into a starscape. A vast universe. A vista of suns sparkling white, blue and red. Seas and seas of them on a fabric of the deepest, most endless black Little Rose ever thought possible.
Little Rose feels so happy for the girl, for herself, for chubby Mantotohpa, for her ancestors, for all the people to have ever lived and who will ever live. The pain and uncertainty of life leads to peace after all.
Little Rose begins to feel free herself, more free than she has ever felt in life, more free than sprinting across the prairie on horseback or scaling cliffs or coming home victorious in a war party with slaves and treasure. She feels so free, her own body begins to lighten like she can fly.
Just as she feels the ground beneath her fade away, a giant golden eagle lands on her chest, crushing her back down to the warm, rocky ground and knocking the wind out of her lungs.
The eagle digs its bright orange talons into the bone armor lining Little Rose’s chest and leans down to stare into her face with a great big yellow eye. It leans closer and closer until the iris disappears and the pupil is all that remains, sparkling like a winter night sky, surrounding her, enveloping her. The sound of the embrace disappears and she hears the battle between Mantotohpa and Akando and the cackling hideous laughter of Tahquitz fade.
Eventually she is surrounded by nothing, not blackness, not space, nothing.
Little Rose never loses self and this is all that’s needed to go from nothing to being, and in being she makes everything. Making everything is one massive event that shoots forward the universe.
Over millions of years, she sees the birth of physics, that birth gravity, that birth stars, that birth planets.
Little Rose marvels at the chaos. How fast things work. How stars form consciousness. Declaring themselves Gods. Forgetting they were made also. They were beings with knowledge and access to planets. How planets had ecosystems that could change. So many galaxies came and went. So many suns and planets and eventually, she saw Tawa form. She saw him as a whiff of gas, as a nothing then an explosion of fission. She saw him attract so much waste he was an artist. He made so many planets, but the third one was special.
Little Rose watched as her home was born. Hot red lava. Then cool steam. Then rain and a primordial soup from cell to many and more cells and something more. Competition, so much competition, all for sugars and calories. Legs and arms and deaths, teeth. The great killers.
Little Rose watches for millions of years as the great lizards roamed her home world.
She watched for millions of years as the planets of other Gods attempted to perform their own artistry, but Tawa was special. He had a knack for this. Where others failed, he succeeded.
With jealousy a star sent a big chunk of ice and rock mixed with metals.
Their ship of space garbage breaks up in the atmosphere. One piece lands in the great land mass to the north.
He would call himself many things; he would be a great pantheon of confusion and grind millions under his heel.
The second would land in the great land mass in the middle; he also would have many names but the Assyrians will know him as Assur the blood letter, the war pursuer and he would claim to know a God like no other, be the voice of God, know God’s will and intention.
Then the third, the quiet sorcerer sitting on his hill. Killing for pleasure. Killing out of boredom.
His chunk of comet landed near where the Great People would call home, a skinny chunk of land near a blue sparkling sea.
Gravity did them no favor. Together they would have wiped out all life on Tawa’s world. One day together they might still do.
These brothers strike the planet individually at the front of tails of black smoke. Their impact fills the sky with a brown stinking haze.
Away from Tawa’s light, his beautiful green world suffocates. Plants wither. The giant lizards die.
Tawa’s great work is ruined.
With patience Little Rose watches herself be born, grow into a warrior and die on Tahquitz’s hill many times. Countless times. Over and over. When she falls as a baby, she wants to reach out and nudge her chubby little self upright again, but never does. When she goes out on a raiding party, she fights the urge to squash each enemy warrior into the dirt in front of herself, not just because there is some kind of moral to it all, but because she does not yet realize she can.
When billions of years ago she started the universe, she did so unaware that there was anything that she did or could have done to nudge her creation into being anything other than what it was.
Watching her final moment again, she absentmindedly noticed that she had been nudging the spear that killed the first snake. How long had she been doing this? All along?
She began to think about time. She thought of killing all the snakes, but instead she backed up time to the comet that changed everything. Time was meaningless to her. If she changed things, would she go from being watcher to participant?
The comet was a speck of light compared to what she considered herself to be, everything. Making it change course and burn up in the sun was easy compared to creating everything in the known universe.
So she flicks it and watches it go.
It burns up in the great heat sent up from Tawa and the great star sighs as if finally relieved.
Little Rose feels the soft hand of her husband.
“Do you hunt today?”
The People’s Chief rubs her swollen stomach. Not for the first time this moon, she wishes this child would hurry and come. Hunting is the last thing she wants to do. She would much rather go back to sleep, but the seasons will change soon and extra stores never hurt when the snows come. She grunts and rolls over.
Mantotohpa smiles down at her, his chubby cheeks dimple as he holds open the thick buffalo fur blanket and she snuggles into it, happy for its warmth. Already the air feels like it wants to change for the season.
“Akando thinks the herd is heading south.”
“We could use leather, but I would prefer buffalo over lizard, did he say which herd?”
“He did not, but I had a dream about thunder last night.”