Flash fiction about the ancient Anasazi, part of the ongoing exploration of Anasazi imaginings by Jeff Posey.
People knew him as Ozzie, though when his relatives and friends uttered his name, the sound had only a hint of “Oz.” It sounded more like “Oss-EE.”
The spring after his sixteenth winter erupted in him like the seeds of rain-soaked weeds and he needed to wander. His parents didn’t like that, though they argued the point obliquely.
“I’ve not finished your new summer shoes and clothes yet, Ozzie,” said his mother. “You can’t go.”
His father looked him not in the eye, but in the chest and spoke after a long silence. “There is no wisdom out there in the world that cannot be learned by the planting of corn.”
Only after they both spoke could he respond. “Thank you, mother. The clothes and shoes I have will serve me well. Thank you, father. It is not wisdom I seek, but the joy of moving over the land.” Like a yearling elk or buffalo kicks and whirls in the warming air, he wanted to say, but it seemed damaging to his case to compare himself to something so young.
By rites, he qualified as an adult. That meant he could stay or go with or without their consent. After he showed them the strength of his intent by not backing down, Ozzie strung a sleeping mat, a few arrows with a small bow, too many pouches of parched corn, bean meal, dried squash, and herb-dried elk meat, he left home.
The white-topped mountains attracted him. They held winter longer, kept a store of water in the snow, and stood watch over the land like indifferent giants.
The first day, he encountered deep snow in a shaded mountain pass. He waded through, sinking to his thighs, soaking himself to the waist. That night his feet and legs felt frozen. Needles of pain prickled him when he continued the next morning.
The second day, a bear chased him. One of the big brown ones. Ozzie shinnied up a tree, skinning his arms and inner thighs, even his face. But he managed to climb out of reach of the bear and hung on, his arms shaking while the bear roared and ate all his food. He wedged himself into branches and surprised himself by falling asleep. The next morning he decided to continue, in spite of his wounds, his lack of food, and his fear of encountering another bear.
On the third day he found a naked woman tied to four stakes in a meadow of trampled grass. He fit an arrow into his bow and circled the meadow, looking and listening. Nothing. He crept to the woman for a better look. He had never seen a dead naked woman before. Her skin had a pallid frost to it and her wrists and ankles were tied to spread her body wide. How sad. Her eyelids were closed, dooming her to wander the after-life blind. And so beautiful. Not a mark on her. A goddess staked to the earth.
When her eyes fluttered open, he jumped away in fright. Fell onto his backside. An evil spirit must have entered her body! But then it occurred to him that she might not yet be dead. He cut the cords and touched her arm. As cold as stone. A gasp escaped her lips and he squatted, thinking. Build a fire. Give her his clothes. Hunt something to cook and eat. Make her drink water. That’s how you kept someone alive.
A strong odor entered his nostrils. He looked at the naked woman, but decided it did not come from her. The breeze stirred from the west. He stood on a rock and looked upwind. A billow of steam rose not far away. Hot spring.
He lifted the woman into his arms and carried her. Sat her into a clear, shallow pond of steaming water. With his clothes on, he lay beside her, held her head to keep her face out of the water. He had never been so close to a woman so beautiful and naked. He hoped she lived.
After her head lolled a few times, making Ozzie think she died, her eyes opened and rolled in their sockets. She blinked. Looked at Ozzie.
“Are you a god?” she croaked.
Ozzie smiled. She had the most wonderful eyes. “Yes,” he said without thinking.
“They sacrificed me to you.”
“So you will bless them.”
“I will,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, then relaxed into something not quite like sleep.
On the fourth day, wearing only his loincloth, he carried her on his back toward the house of his mother, which they blessed with many children, the offspring of a god and a sacrificial goddess.
For more Anasazi Stories, see the Less Than Nothing: a novel of Anasazi strife and The Witchery of Flutes: forty-seven short dramas of Anasazi daily life.