Novels by Phil Whitley

Stories of survival and adventure

Opening Paragraphs

 

The dream came again during the night.

The man, who looked like a cat, was trying to tell her something, but she didn’t understand.

Alex looked over at her parents, who were still sleeping. As she tried to recall the dream, she felt compelled to go into the deeper room of the cave where all the “Indian stuff” was stored. Keechie had shown her dad the relics of her people and told him about them. As Alex entered the room, she remembered the “Power Bundle” that had belonged to Granny Boo, Keechie’s grandmother.

The old leather bag was hanging just inside the opening. She reached out and touched it as the light from her candle reflected on its surface. Taking it down from the peg, she carried it back to her blankets beside her parents. It felt natural to hold it against her chest as she tried to decide whether to open it or not. The cave had grown cold so she lay back and pulled her blankets up around her neck. Within minutes, she was again fast asleep, and the dream returned.

The cat man was standing before her; but this time he spoke, “Do you accept your birthright, granddaughter of the Spirit Singer?” the entity asked her. “Power has assured that the bloodline of Pu-Can is unbroken to you. Ask your father to tell you of Pu-Can. Pu-Can of the Puma Clan.”

When she awoke, Alex quickly returned Granny Boo’s “Power Bundle” to the other room, just as her parents woke up. She walked quickly past them. “Good morning. I’m going to sit outside and watch the sunrise.” She felt sure that she remembered the cat man, but from where, escaped her. As soon as she was alone outside, she recalled a dream from before they had come to this cave. She tried to remember. Yes! It was after Dad had finished reading me his Keechie manuscript. Puma Man! That was what Dad had called him, she thought to herself as she turned, satisfied, and went back inside with her parents.

While her mother, Mary, was preparing breakfast, Alex asked, “Who is Pu-Can, Dad?”

“Pu-Can? I don’t know. Wait, where did you hear that name?”

“I had another dream last night, and the cat man said to ask you about Pu-Can”

So the Puma Man returns, Brian thought to himself as touched his daughter on the shoulder. “Remember Granny Boo, Alex? Her real name was Pu-Can. Keechie told me that when she was young, she called her grandmother ‘Boo-Can’, instead of Pu-Can. They thought it was funny, because there is no ‘B’ sound in their language. It kinda stuck with the family, and everyone began calling her Boo. Pu-Can is the Creek word for the Passionflower vine. You know, the one with the pretty flowers and the green fruit that we call may-pops.”

“Well, what did Keechie tell you about Granny Boo, Dad? The cat man, Puma Man said to ask you.”

“Well, she did tell me some interesting stories about her, Alex. I wrote them down since I was studying the history of her people. They are mixed in with my other journals here somewhere. After dinner tonight, I’ll get them out for you, if I can find the right box. Pu-Can was a very powerful Spirit Singer. Did the Puma Man say anything else?”

“Only something about Pu-Can’s bloodline being unbroken down to me, and he asked if I accepted my birthright.”

“But Keechie’s bloodline ended with her, Alex. However, she did predict that I would have a girl-child some day that would make a difference in the world. I always thought that she, in her own way, had adopted us into her family.”

Pu-Can at Twenty Summers - a Flashback

 

When Pu-Can was in her twentieth summer, her older brother, Apelka-Haya came running into the clearing in front of the cave.

“White men come!” he shouted. “They have already killed two of ours near the river, now they are coming this way.” He gasped for breath and drank deeply from the water gourd that Pu-Can offered. “I warned the ones who were in the cornfield. There is not much time!”

Since the Removal the cave had become the hiding place for the few remaining from the Clan and it had seemed to become invisible to outsiders.

“How many of the whites did you see, Apelka?” Hechee-Lana asked. “Who did they kill?”

“There were four of them, Grandmother, and they shot old Turtle and his son while they were fishing. They never even saw them from across the river. I was in the trees behind them, repairing my cast net. They had a boat and crossed while I watched. There was nothing I could do but run to warn the rest.” Apelka bowed his head in shame.

“You did the right thing, Grandson. Here come the others. Help us to move everything inside the cave that could give us away,” the old medicine woman said.

She began giving orders to everyone within the sound of her voice. Soon all the people were gathered inside the cave, its entrance concealed with fresh branches so that it looked as natural as the rest of the scenery.

Apelka-Haya and two of the younger men climbed the rocks above the cave to stand watch. They had only their bows and arrows against the white man’s guns, but with their knowledge of the terrain and their expertise, it could be enough. It would have to be enough.

The most important thing was, if they killed a white man, more were sure to come. Sooner or later, they would find the rest of the Clan and kill them all.

It was only a hand of time before the people in the cave heard the pre-arranged signal that warned of approaching danger. A pebble was thrown from the rocks above, rattling as it bounced down the boulders, landing in front of the cave. The women silenced the children and everyone waited, helpless except for going into the deeper recesses of the cave.

The Puma Man had protected them in the past in times just like this.

Blind their eyes again, Kowakatcu, Protect us as you have protected our people since time began. We honor you, Hechee-Lana prayed silently.

Only two of the white men came into the clearing in front of the cave, as far as Apelka could see. He was straight above the cave entrance—less than a bowshot away. He nocked an arrow, but remained hidden from sight behind the brush and rock above their heads.

The two men were obviously drunk, and were still passing a flask between them.

“Where they’s one Injun, they’s always mo’. I saw that `un run this-a-way, but he be long gone by now,” one of them said.

“You right, Elmer, but I sho wanna get me one. I ain’t never kilt me an Injun befo’,” the other answered.

“Hey, look at this!” The man picked up the water gourd from which Apelka had recently sipped.

Somehow, it was overlooked when the people hurriedly cleared the area.

“Hit’s still got water in it. They’s close, man. I can smell `em!”

The men began looking closely at the ground in front of the cave.

“Looky hyer, Slim, here’s some tracks a’goin’ right up to those rocks—and this branch hyer’s been cut!” he said as he pulled it away from the opening.

“Looks like we got us a cave hyer,” Slim said, backing away as he brought his rifle up to bear on the entrance.

Apelka, seeing the man bring his rifle up to his shoulder, wasted no time. He drew his bow and released the arrow. The man died where he stood. The arrow, coming from above him, entered his throat at a downward angle, penetrated his lungs and severed his spinal cord. He fell backward without a sound.

Elmer saw his companion fall and brought his rifle up and turned wildly, looking for the one who had loosed the arrow. Then he saw Apelka standing on the rock above him.

“Gotcha, you bastid,” he said as he brought his weapon up and aimed.

Two arrows almost simultaneously struck him in the chest.

Apelka waved to his two companions on the opposite side of the cliff wall. He motioned for them to be silent and remain where they were. He climbed down to the clearing and went into the cave.

“Is everyone safe in here?” he asked Pu-Can, who was guarding the entrance with a spear that was longer than her height. Apelka recognized the spear as the ceremonial one that had belonged to their ancestor, old Bull Killer, but said nothing.

“Yes, my brother, we are safe, but you said there were more of the white men. These two,” she said, indicating the two dead men with contempt “need to be hidden until we can decide what to do with them.”

Apelka-Haya thought for a minute and said, “We will hide them for now, but the others will be looking for them. Now they must all die, or we will be hunted down like animals.”

He saw Pu-Can’s eyes widen as she looked over his shoulder. Just as he turned to see what she was looking at, she charged past him, bringing the spear down until it was pointed straight ahead of her.

One of the two remaining men had wandered into the clearing. When he saw his companions lying dead on the ground he brought his rifle up and took aim at Apelka’s back just as Pu-Can ran him through with the ancient spear. His rifle discharged into the ground and he fell forward onto the shaft of the spear that was protruding from his belly.

Looking up at his companions, Apelka gave a signal for them to remain vigilant for the fourth man. They signed back in understanding.

Turning to Pu-Can he said, “Thank you, Sister. You saved my life. Now send some of the men out here. We must hide these bodies until we find the other man. There were only four of them. He must not escape.”

Pu-Can had never killed a man before. She had never even thought about what it meant to kill another human being. She stood transfixed by what had just occurred—a look of horror etched on her face.

 

Alex's Dreamquest

(Alexis goes to the top of the mountain on her dreamquest. Her father, Brian, watches over her in secret)

Brian took a longer, more indirect path to the top of the mountain where he could see the road that ran close to the Rock. He picked a spot where he could also see Alex’s fire after it became dark. He didn’t want her to know that he was anywhere near her, and he wanted her to have this experience—but the danger of her being discovered by unscrupulous humans was just too great for any father to risk.

He would be far enough away for Alex to have her privacy, yet close enough that he could respond quickly if she were in danger. She would never know that he was there.

He sat and waited for sundown … and her fire. He would not have one of his own. It was going to be a long night with the mosquitoes.

 

Alex explored the area around the Rock, looking for plants that she didn’t know. She made a few journal entries and looked through the field guide. Her stomach had stopped demanding food, but she took a few sips of water from her canteen. She went to where the truck was concealed and checked her pouch for the key. Assuring herself that it was there, she began gathering deadwood for her fire. Finding a small clearing on the rock itself, she arranged a circle of stones to contain her fire and made a bed of pine straw for her blankets. Then she sat and waited for sunset. What does one do on a vision quest? Last night when Dad and I saw the Puma Man, and we sang the Song together—words that neither of us knew—isn’t that the same? What if I just spend a lonely night up here and nothing happens?

She reached for the medicine bag around her neck and pressed it tightly to her chest, finding comfort in the act. The valley below her was already dark with the mountain shadowing the last few rays of the sun. Behind her, to the west, there was still daylight enough to see the entire horizon, which was beginning to display the purples and magentas of a beautiful sunset.

She took the firedrill out of her pack, along with the bag of tinder, and began the process of making fire. Chanting the words to the Song that she could remember, she drew the bow back and forth on the drill. A wisp of smoke appeared. Adding tinder and continuing to draw the bow, she blew gently into the bed of tinder and a flame sprang to life. Soon she had a small fire going, and she sprinkled a pinch of corn pollen into it. She removed her small pot from her pack and poured a small amount of water into it. When it began steaming, she added some of the special mint and lemongrass tea that she and her mom had prepared. She heard an approaching car on the highway and quickly grabbed a blanket and held it in front of her fire, blocking its light so that it wasn’t visible from the road. The car went on by, and the sound of its engine died away in the darkness. She was far enough away from the road that it probably wouldn’t have been seen anyway, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

 

Brian had heard the car too, and listened closely until he could no longer hear it. He had smelled the smoke from her fire before he actually saw it, and was watching the flame when he heard the car. He saw the fire disappear at the same time, and then re-appear when the car had passed. Smart girl, he told himself with pride. He heard the hoot of a nearby owl and the ever-present tree frogs’ shrill calls. A rush of wings and the dying squeak of a mouse told him that the owl was successful in its hunt.

Then came the mosquitoes. He applied repellant to his face and arms, hoping that Alex wouldn’t smell the familiar odor; but the wind was blowing toward him from her direction. He settled in for a long sleepless night.

 

Shielding the fire from the passing car had given Alex an idea. She hung a blanket from two overhanging tree limbs between her fire and the road. Now, if she went to sleep and missed hearing an approaching vehicle, the fire would not be seen from the highway.

She heard the owl and remembered the one she had in her pouch and the story of Stands Alone—when Owl had come to him in a vision. It had caused him to take his people eastward, and eventually settle in this very same valley that stretched out below her. She felt the gathering of Power and as she did, she took out the drum and rattle. Clearing her mind of distractions and sending her positive intentions to the spirit world, she began softly beating the drum with the gourd rattle.

 

Brian heard the drum and the sizzle of the rattle, smiling as he thought, Yes, I can hear the drums, Keechie. In his mind he saw Keechie as she stood on that small hill in the center of the small Oklahoma town, beating the small drum they bought at the local gift shop. That was the first time he had actually seen the Puma Man materialize in the clouds above them.

 

The sudden, very loud shriek of a large cat cut through the night, freezing his blood. All other animal sounds ceased—even the tree frogs. He had heard that sound only a few times in his entire life. When he was a boy living in the valley, he had heard the cry of bobcats. They could sound like a woman’s scream or a baby crying—but this was no bobcat. This was a much larger cat, probably what they locally called a mountain lion, also known as a cougar. Or a puma, he thought.

Judging by the sound, it was close enough to be concerned for their safety, but he knew that they only hunted at dawn and dusk—not at night.

Alex had paused briefly in her playing, but had now resumed. He knew that it must have frightened her as much as it had him, but the night sounds began again as if nothing had happened.

 

Alex had indeed been startled. She had never heard that sound before, except on nature programs on television, but she recognized it and accepted it as a sign that her request had been heard. She resumed her drumming and began to chant the words that she remembered.

A sudden gust of wind blew sparks from her fire and swirled up in a spiral, growing wider as it rose above her. As she watched the rising spiral of sparks, clouds drifted across the moon and the sky darkened, until it seemed that she was inside a small cocoon of firelight. Everything outside the cocoon was blackness and void. It seemed to her that even her voice was contained within that small space, and that time itself had stopped.

Lightning flashed across the sky, and thunder boomed, echoing between the two mountains that enclosed the valley. Chilled air swept down from above as Alex raised her arms above her head, still beating the drum above her head. The words that came from her were unknown, but she thrilled in their meaning and felt their Power.

She looked up and saw the image forming above her, filling the cloud-darkened sky. The Puma Man had come. She stopped drumming and looked into his eyes, which seemed to bore into her soul. Then he opened his mouth wide, and before she could react, lunged toward her, engulfing her in his huge, gaping mouth. In the next instant, she was on his back, soaring high above the mountain, above the clouds, and looking down on the world below.

This is a dream, or the vision I was seeking. Either way, this cannot be real, she told herself as she clutched the silky fur on the Puma Man’s neck. Keechie had done this too. She saw the lights of cities that she had never seen from high above. I am not afraid. I am not afraid.

And why would Kowa-Tikose be afraid?” The Puma Man asked in a voice as real as any she had ever heard. “Did you not call me this night? Did you not hear me when I answered? Are you not Spirit Singer?”

“Yes … no … I don’t know. Keechie … Kachina told my dad that I was to receive the Gift as her granddaughter, but I am not sure that I am of her bloodline.”

“Power recognizes neither race nor bloodline, Spirit Singer. You are of the bloodline, but it is the intention in your heart and your acceptance of the path that caused you to be chosen. Now look … look down upon your world as it is now.”

Alex looked down, and saw cities in flames, and, as they swooped lower, she could see mobs of people running wildly in the streets, with no apparent purpose except that of destruction and devastation. He carried her higher and higher, toward the west, where the sun was just setting below the horizon.

“This is where your present path takes you, Spirit Singer. It is but one of the many destinations you could choose, and it is not the easiest one. The choice is yours to make, just as your ancestor, the Spirit Singer, Kachina had to choose.”

She looked down on a desolate town square where two people stood alone on a hill. One of them was a small Indian woman playing a drum and singing, and the other was a young, blond-headed white man that looked like someone she had seen before in her family’s old photo album. It was her father. He was singing along with the woman in the Old Language. “That is the place where my dad took Keechie. She found some of her people there. My dad worked there with the children before I was born.” Alex cried out as she remembered the story, “They brought them the corn!”

“And even now, in their poverty and seemingly hopeless conditions, notice that their city is not burning. It is because they can hear the drums, Kowa-Tikose. Because of you, they can still hear the drums … still hear the drums, Kowa-Tikose. They can still hear the drums…”

She awoke with rain spattering on her face. She was sitting at her fire with the voice of the Puma Man still echoing in her head. She could still feel his fur in her clenched fists as she tried to bring herself back to reality. Or was what she had just experienced reality, and this the dream?