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Signs of Life
Hiking was so not her thing, Natalie decided, slapping away the bugs that swarmed her tall, lanky frame. It wasn’t the romantically quiet, natural experience everyone said it was. Her blond hair was lank, tendrils slapping her face as she hauled herself over yet another boulder.
“Eeerg, stupid bugs!” she cried, throwing down her bag. She rummaged through it, grabbing bug spray and holding down the valve button until it was empty. She was covered in the reddish dirt that was strewn over the ground, and it clung to her shoes and legs. She stormed around for a while, kicking rocks. This was stupid, this whole thing, she thought. Why would her foster parents send a fifteen-year-old here? Especially since this was where her dad disappeared. Stupid foster parents, stupid hiking, stupid, stupid dad for disappearing! After ranting out loud for a while, she felt better. Glancing up, she took in the scenery. A carpet of pine needles draped the springy moss that enveloped everything. Huge, towering sienna trunks supported a vast canopy of glittering, swaying waxy green leaves that glowed in the afternoon sun. Birdcalls and chittering squirrels broke the otherwise serene silence and far away a stream burbled over rocks. Natalie went to find the stream and tripped over one of the rocks she had kicked earlier. She saw that it had a star on it, and as she watched, the star twisted, until the point was down. Then Natalie passed out.
Natalie blearily awoke, sat up, and screamed. Surrounding her on all sides were people. Long dark hair and browned, tan faces, dark eyes searching her face for signs of life. As she screamed, they got tense, wary. Seeing an opening in their circle, she jumped up and ran, ignoring her spinning head. She ran until she reached the brook, then dove behind a fallen tree. She sat there, petrified and bewildered, until a boy ran in front of her. At first he didn’t see her, and she held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t notice her blue shirt among the leaves. He did. He grabbed her wrists, hard and started to drag her away from the tree. The browning pine needles on the ground poked her skin, and she cried out loud. He stopped, looking down at her, his brown liquid eyes expressionless. Without warning, he swooped her up into his arms and ran, his nimble feet avoiding logs and rocks. She screamed, and for the second time that day, passed out.
When Natalie came to, she was lying on a blanket. It was roughly hewn from animal skins or leather. Above her head, saplings arched, leaves touching the ground, to form a roof. Natalie was scared. Tears trickled down her pallid cheeks, and she bravely tried to hold them back. Looking out the door of the house thing, she saw a fire, over which was hanging a slab of some sort of red meat. The smell made Natalie’s mouth water. She glanced around and took a quick step toward it, hunger overcoming caution. Suddenly the boy leaped out in front of her, deathly quiet and grinning.
“You!” gasped Natalie, standing her ground. The boy nodded, pointing to himself, eyes deep and fathomless.
“Hi?” asked Natalie timidly, “Um… I’m Natalie…. who are you?” The boy smiled, pointed to himself, and said a long stream of syllables ending in –ray.
“Ray?’ she questioned cautiously, “Can I call you Ray?” The boy smiled.
“Ray,” he said experimentally, “Ray!” He smiled. Then he nodded and pointed to Natalie, thinking hard.
“Kimi,” he said, pointing to her, “Kimi means secret!” Natalie/Kimi smiled harder.
“Yeah!” she said, grinning.
The boy, Ray, pulled on her hand, dragging her to the fire and the food. As she got close, a man leaped out in front of her, waving his arms and yelling. Natalie/Kimi yelped. The man hollered something at Ray, gesturing angrily. Ray nodded and ran toward the house, leaving Natalie/Kimi with the man. He wore soft leather clothes that were tan and creased, as was his face. His deep - set eyes seemed to penetrate Natalie/Kimi, which made her uncomfortable.
“I just want food,” she said desperately, and as if on cue her stomach growled angrily. The man gave no indication he’d heard her, and Natalie/Kimi realized he probably didn’t understand her. She pointed at the fire angrily and stomped her foot, rubbing her belly. The man’s stance relaxed. He stepped out of her way, but kept an eye on her. Natalie/Kimi paid no attention, running to the flames and the spit where the meat hung. She grabbed a dish that hung near the fire on a hook, and scooped some meat onto it. She snatched up a roughly carved spoon - thing and stuffed the meat into her mouth, burning her tongue. The sweet juices running down her throat were almost enough to make her faint again, out of pure bliss. She gobbled down the rest, fully aware of the man’s dark eyes on her. Suddenly he stepped foreword.
“I am chief Hevovitastamiutsto,” he stated in short, choppy English, “This means Whirlwind. I have learned this language from a man, an…explorer, I think you say, who came here many seasons ago.”
Natalie/Kimi was thrilled. Another American here?
“Can I see him, please?” she asked eagerly.
He nodded sadly.
“Yes, you may,” he said.
Hevovitastamiutsto led Natalie/Kimi over a small hill, through a creek, and around a swamp, and finally showed her to a small stone in the ground. The rock had one word on it; Nathan.
“But..but…but he was…I mean…how long?” she stammered.
“Great Nathan had been dead many seasons, since the season of the Spotted Sickness. No other English have come here,” said Hevovitastamiutsto gravely.
“Wait…,” mused Natalie/Kimi, “ what did he call you?” Hevovitastamiutsto smiled bemusedly.
“He called us the strangest thing,” he laughed, “He called us Indians.” Natalie/Kimi reeled back in shock. Indians. Real genuine Native Americans? This was ridiculous!
“He looked like you,” Hevovitastamiutsto said gently, “Hair and skin like wheat. He was a good man, Nathan, and he missed his daughter so.”
Natalie/Kimi jumped. Missed his daughter?
“How did he get here?” she asked eagerly.
“The same way you did, through the Rock of Stars,”
“My dad!” cried Natalie/Kimi, “Nathan was my dad’s name!”
Hevovitastamiutsto looked curious, so she explained.
“When I was little, I lived with my dad, just the two of us. We were really close, until one day…he just disappeared. I got home from school and the cops were there. I went to foster care never knowing where he went, but now I do! He came here, just like I did! But he’s really gone, and I’m stuck…in the past? Which is crazy, but really the only explanation, I guess, because there are no cars or airplanes…or other people or ANYTHING!”
Hevovitastamiutsto nodded grimly.
“That is much like what your father said,” he agreed, “But there is more. When your father came, so did many men with big weapons to shoot at us, and armies to capture us, and torches to burn our homes. My village is scared this will happen again.”
But weeks passed, months, and nothing unusual happened. Kimi lived with Ray and his father Hevovitastamiutsto, as well as his mother, Yoki, his sisters, Chepi and Doli, and his brothers, Hania and Istaqa. Gradually she stopped answering to Natalie and began answering to Kimi. She cried a lot the first few weeks, but gradually she realized she enjoyed this new life. Ray taught Kimi many things and traditions that gradually replaced the things she knew. Kimi wore the leathers and beads that the other women wore, and she left Natalie in her home each morning when she woke up. She learned to hunt and cook, and she became very close to Ray, Ray of the dark eyes, the tender smiles… But it couldn’t last. On a crisp October day, a shot echoed through the trees. The village was in a state of panic and disarray. Hevovitastamiutsto darted off through the trees with Yoki, Chepi, and Istaqa at his heels.
“No!” screamed Kimi, but it was too late. Four shots bled into her ears and she heard Ray, Hania and Doli dissolve in tears. Kimi launched herself after them, and collided with a solid wall of red.
“What’s this?” laughed a voice, strong and thick with an English accent, “Ow, stop that, you little minx!”
Kimi clawed and kicked, but he grabbed her hair and lifted her.
“Let…go…of…me!” she screamed, punctuating each word with a kick. Upon hearing her voice, the man stopped. He looked at her, and for the first time noticed her blond hair and pale skin.
“This here is an Englishwoman!” he said bemusedly, “Only she’s dressed like a savage! Commander,” he called, raising his voice, “Reckon you should come see this!”
Through the bushes tromped a man. He wore a powdered white wig, a smart red jacket, and immaculately polished black boots. His beaky nose was twisted and his eyes rolled in their sockets. He was the scariest man Kimi, or, for that matter, Natalie, had ever seen…and he carried a gun.
“Well, well, well, he said in a nasal voice, “what’ve we got here, sir?”
The big man holding Kimi shrugged.
“Darned if I know, Commander,”
Kimi was angry. They absolutely could NOT talk about her like she was a thing and not a person. She put on a calm, gentle face and spoke in her nicest tone,
“Hello, gentleman, I’m Na…Kimi, and I would appreciate it if you would put…me…down!” She slammed her feet into the Commander’s neck. He yelled and went down. Moments later, he popped up, wig askew, face red.
“Right,” he said angrily, veins popping in his forehead, “Shall I tell you why we’re here? You see, we were on our way to Bunker hill, and poof, quicker than you can say Bob’s your uncle, here we are. Now, I have decided that this place is much better than those silly colonies, so I’m going to kill you all and take your land, with the help of my unlikely allies. May I present…Aristo?”
A tall, thin man in Greek battle gear slipped silently through the underbrush.
“He’s the leader of the Spartan army, you see, on his way to a war with Athens when he appeared here too! The bloke’s a nasty general, though, ruthless….wouldn’t want to be on his bad side, would you? Oh wait…you already are! But, not to get off topic, I should present my final ally, the infamous pirate captain, Captain Black Jack!”
A short, stocky man with a wild dark beard swaggered out of the woods, his long coat and tri-corner hat tattered, his peg leg wrapped in vines, pistols in his belt and a bottle in his hand.
“Arrrr, almost forgot me, didn’ ‘cha, Commander, yer worship,” he slurred, waving his bottle, “But who might this little girlie be?”
The commander coughed.
“Captain, this little girl is a rare specimen, an actual English savage, said her name was Kimi.”
The captain grinned menacingly and bowed, taking his hat off to her.
“Pleasure to be makin’ yer acquaintance, little girlie,”
Kimi spat at him. The commander looked at her in disbelief.
“A fighter, eh?” he growled, and pointed to the big guy, “Drop her. We’ll be back tomorrow, Kimi, and you will regret that.” He turned on his heel and marched away, followed closely by Big Guy and Aristo. The pirate winked at Kimi.
“Be See’in ya!” he chuckled, leering, and stumbled away, dropping the bottle.
As soon as they were gone, Kimi turned to the rest of the village. Most of them were crying. Ray was sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth, harsh sobs coming from his throat. Kimi hugged him, long and hard, then stood up, feeling stronger.
“They come back tomorrow!” she said loudly, “what will we do?”
The next day, dawn saw them awake and ready. The villagers had painted their faces and decorated their clothes in feathers. Kimi finished painting her face and turned to Ray. Ray looked deadly and beautiful, painted red and blue, dark eyes smiling at her. He held up a reflective surface and she looked at herself. She gasped. She looked like some ancient goddess. Her leather tunic and leggings were covered in ceremonial beading, and her long hair was braided and feathered with hawk feathers. Her face was painted in yellow and orange, sun colors, and her eyes were outlined in red. Her feet were bare and around her thin neck hung beads of yellow and green. She was ready. Linking her hand with Ray’s, she stepped out into the light. She looked at the villagers and sent up a cry.
“They will not win!” she screamed, and the warriors let out a war cry.
Through the bushes, noises came. Kimi sent out the scouts, one of whom was Ray’s sister Doli, to call them when the army arrived. After minutes that felt like hours, a call sounded. They were coming! Kimi unsheathed her bow and nodded at the villagers. Ray’s older brother Hania, or spirit warrior, the new chief, held up his spear and charged, leading on the village. Quick, silent feet pounded the grass as the small, lithe group charged. Kimi kissed Ray quick on the cheek and then threw herself after the village. The wooden bow in her hand felt light, but it was the most deadly thing she had ever held. Her beads slapped her neck, so she snapped them off, the beads falling like little yellow raindrops. As she ran, a stick cracked behind her. She stiffened, spun. There behind her was the big guy who had held her before. Without a thought, Kimi shot her deadly little arrows right to him…into his heart. He fell backwards, a mass of red. Red hair, red coat…red blood. Natalie felt dizzy. She ran to him, pulled out the arrow, tried to stop his bleeding. Her hands were red with his blood and there was salt in her mouth from the tears.
“Oh, no, no, no!” she choked out, “I’m so sorry!”
He looked at her and said one word.
He never spoke again. Kimi was really dizzy now, her thought melding together. Bloodbloodbloodohnonoyesnohe’sdeadIkilledhimnooooo!
She sat and cried until her tears were gone. Then she got up, meaning to walk away. She couldn’t. Running back, she pulled up handfuls of wildflowers, draped them onto his body, and put her bow next to his head. She would kill no more. She sniffed once and then ran to find Ray.
“Where were you?” He asked in improving English.
“I…had to do something,” she said evasively, parrying blows to her with her hands. She discovered she was rather good at hand-to-hand combat.
“Well, while you were doing something, we got rid of the Spartans!” cried Ray eagerly. Kimi was about to explain that she didn’t kill anymore when a hand covered her mouth. Spinning and kicking, she saw it was a small, round man with an eye patch and a pistol.
“Ha, found yer, I did! Me, I founded yer!” raising his voice, he called, “Founded her, Captain! Me, Lucky, I founded her!”
He cackled and held the gun to her while the pirate captain crashed thorough the woods to her her.
“Ah HAH! Well done, Lucky!” he roared. Lucky smiled nervously, revealing missing teeth.
“But we do gots us a little dillemer, Lucky,” he mused, “What do we do with ‘em?”
Lucky smiled again.
“Oooh, captain, ooh! Can I blow of their sorry little ‘eads?” he asked, like a student who has the right answer.
“No,” said the captain decisively, “Shoot the boy, but give the girlie to me!” He leered at Kimi. Lucky pointed the gun at Ray and the captain grabbed Kimi’s hands and pulled her close.
“How ‘bout a smooch?” he asked drunkenly.
Kimi smiled and leaned up close to him.
“Not on your life,” she hissed, and slammed him on the head. Lucky fell down next to him, and Ray and Kimi ran together to find Hania, bringing down the pirates on their way, since most of them were drunk from that ship-launching party last night anyway. Now all they had to do was get the commander and his Redcoats. They had reached the village, and were causing mayhem with torches and guns. Kimi was furious, and a rage took her over. She brought down more people than Ray and Hania combined, but there were too many of them.
“Hania!” she cried, fighting her way to him, “When they were here last time, how did my dad stop them?”
Hania’s eyes widened.
“Follow me!” he ordered, and Kimi and Ray ran. They followed him to a small clearing.
“Hey, this is where I found Kimi!” realized Ray. Hania led them to a rock. On the rock was a star, point down. Kimi realized it was the rock she had kicked, back when she was Natalie.
“The star should be point down,” explained Hania, “Your father said the only way to turn it back and put them back where they belong is to sacrifice what you love best. He sacrificed going back to you, Kimi.”
Kimi’s eyes were teary.
“But…what I love best is this village,” she said, “So to turn it…I need to let them destroy it?”
Ray nodded tearfully.
“It is the only way.” he said.
Hania and Ray went to get Doli, and together the four of them listened to the sounds of the village being destroyed. Several people came to find them…but not everyone. No one was alone in the loss of a family member.
Kimi turned to the rock. The star was still point down.
“No!” she cried, “This isn’t possible! You…go…BACK!”
The last word was a roar in her mind, loud like all the voiced of the villagers were there with her. The star turned, slowly and where the rock had been there was a shimmering lake. All the living pirates, and redcoats, as well as the Spartans, all walked calmly in and disappeared. Kimi turned away, but it was like she was being pulled to it.
“Ray!” she cried. He ran to her and grabbed her hand, but it was like agony, like being pulled in two directions. Hania and Doli, her family, grabbed her other hand, and they held on until the pond disappeared, and she was safe in their arms.
Where she always wanted to be.