It’s easy to die on the rez, a million ways. Two of her friends are dead. Her Dad just died. Her grief for him is like ice, inside her, day and night. But now, suddenly, in the dark, in the ponderosa forest, her own dying seems real. Something that could happen to her. Right now.
She climbs the steep sides of Craven Creek. In the pines she can’t see stars or moon. She hears something behind her coming up the path. She’s Oglala. She has to be courageous. She clenches her teeth; her heart pounds. Whatever is behind her has passed the place where the offering is, has crossed the shallow stream.
On top, beyond the ravine, she runs hard, nearly hits the barbed wire fence. Horses loom out of the darkness; surrounded by sky, stars, wicked sickle moon, the horses glimmer in the half light like creatures of legends. She reaches for the barbed wire, tries not to panic or move too fast, gets part of the wire down, holds it with a booted foot, climbs through. The paint horse nearest shies, huffs, backs up. But she knows the animal, grabs its mane, pulls it to her, swings up. She slams her heels into its side, and they burst west across the pasture.
Was it a man? Was it something else? What was in the canyon bottom? Was she doing something wrong? She meant to honor her dead father.
The Milky Way lifts over the pasture. Do the dead really go there? Do they go to the Episcopal heaven her mother believes in? Do malevolent ones stay in the world, show up in the dark? What does happen?
Her mother despises soul keeping, traditional ritual grieving, maybe still despises her father. Her mother acts as if she knows everything. The horse slows, and Francine slips off. Her mother does not know Francine is out, does not know about the ritual, the grief. Francine runs back toward the circle of houses up by Crazy Horse School. Her mother is asleep, oblivious, as Francine slips in the door.
The knowing dark slides into place outside the village as a hungry cougar, up from the White River Valley, frustrated, continues hunting.