The fog on the north ridge seemed much thicker than it had been when I walked out of the village with my berry bag. The afternoon had faded and now the quick dusk of the spring night was falling, my shawl was pulled tight around my shoulders as the warmth of the day slowly subsided. I could hear crickets in the bush rubbing their legs together their chirps slowing with the fog and wind.
There would be a campfire tonight, and hopefully it would keep my mother busy enough not to notice my absence. They were going to read the scroll of the Ut’laak to the village tonight, reminding themselves of the great danger of long ago. Uncle Pey’t would scowl at the ring of young faces around the campfire; they would stare back at him; half scared – half fascinated as he told the tales of the enemy that came from Below.
It was here, that the last great battle in that war against the Utlaak, the under dwellers, had been fought. Here, where -when the tribe had lost its final warrior- that Surta, the Lord of the Waki’tani, the sky people who flew between the earth and the Sky-Lord’s Road, had appeared to drive the Utlaak back under the earth.
The Waki’tani knew this Village’s Road, Uncle Peyt would growl, there were even rumours that at times they walked here cloaked as warriors.
I was so tired of that story. I had heard it every spring camp since I was old enough to sit at the campfire. They came, we beat them, they came again.. we beat them again. Why did it have to be more than that. The old legends weren’t really necessary, I fumed, why is it important to keep retelling the same dusty story just to feed the imagination of the children and comfort the dreams of the rambling old men.
It was steeper now. The black boles of the aspen twisted and gnarled in the deepening twilight. I rubbed my arms as a chill breeze blew between the black birch and looked back down the valley at the camp below. I don’t remember coming so high or walking so far.
My eyes ached from squinting at the darkness at the top of the ridge, something didn’t seem to quite fit with the night. The fog carried the mouldy smell of the forest floor mixed in with the nose pinching smell from the sweetgrass in bloom. Grabbing onto a thick aspen trunk I pulled myself over the loose gravel scree on the hillside.
Pebbles skittered down the hill as I scrambled up the sandstone ridge, the sound much louder in the silent dark. I froze; hugging the grey mottled bark of a twisted aspen until the sound faded and the faint noises of the forest could be heard again. Hesitantly I looked up the ridge, yes..right there, between that boulder and the ridgeline. There was something that didn’t move, or should move, or something. It was just the wrong shape for a shadow.
The fog should have been thinner up here, I swallowed thickly, my feet feeling heavy and noticeably less willing to move. I continued to climb; the fog climbed with me. I don’t believe in legends I reminded myself, that’s why I’m here, I don’t believe that the Ut’laak wait in the dark or the Sky people steal you if you leave camp at night.
I finally reached the ridgeline, and lay down shivering in the early spring moss. The damp vegetation soaked through my thick hide robe and chilled whatever courage I had left. What was I doing up here! The fog flowed steadily toward the boulder where the black something hovered unmoving against the horizon. It wrapped around boulders, and over my shoulders like a clammy stream; not still and airy the way fog should be, but always moving towards its ocean.
A scratching noise disturbed the forest silence. The shadow seemed to detach itself from the rock, extend itself to twice the height of one of the People and great yellow eyes that seemed to come from about half-way up its body opened suddenly to swivel backwards and forwards across the gravel ridge. The fog was clammy, I was clammier, my face covered in sweat that stung my eyes as the creature carefully scanned my side of the ridge.
Breathing slowly just to keep from moving I tried to see a form in the darkness. The rocks and soil under my fingernails felt hard and wet from the fog as my hands dug in trying to find an anchor into the mulch; desperate for the reality of the cold frozen earth. Apparently unable to see anyone the fierce eyes turned upwards for a moment giving me time for a full careful breath. A breath that I lost abruptly as the amorphous shape seemed to split itself in two. Where the eyes had been was now obviously a head and ravens wings stretched out to each side .
The Wakatani, aren’t real, I boggled, this isnt real! I’ve hit my head on a rock or a tree stump and I’m really just lying in the dirt. Carefully pulling one arm to my side I ran it over my wet braids checking for blood or bumps on my head, then putting the hand on my own racing heart I looked again.
The raven creature stood looking down at the village, wings spread in the darkness, blocking out the stars that were twinkling everywhere else in the frosty sky. Overhead the Sky Road appeared, a million points of light showing the way to the elder stars, surrounded by curtains of green and gold like fireflies dancing in a summer dusk.
The Wakitani turned its head, I swallowed in fear as the great beak snapped at a passing thought and with a last look at the village, and a noise that seemed somewhere between a human sigh and a ravens caw, it soared into the sky. For a few seconds I could only watch as the creature soared away into the distance, then, noticing that that fog seemed to be evaporate when the creature departed; scramble from the ridge line into the cover of the lower bushes.
Clinging to the bole of a knotty pine tree I tried to rebuild the world. It was suddenly a much larger, much scarier place than it had seemed when I left camp a few hours ago. . It was real, how can I tell them it’s all real!