Posts Tagged ‘mysticism’

“A Turkish Tale”….A Short Story.

November 10, 2018

Zar Dancer

(A Zar Dancer)

The Zar is a number of things in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries.  It is a ritual, a bonding ritual and the Zar is a Djinn, or demon who possesses women.  It’s also a way for women to get the attention of their husbands (as the Zar only possesses married women…) as in “The Zar told me that I could have a new red scarf.”  A Sheikha calls out the Zar from a women possessed and gives him new marching orders.  She restores the peace amongst couples.




“Woman!” said an angry Ahmed. “We are married a year. You behave like a child! You don’t speak to my mother. I did not get married for this treatment. You are a terrible wife!”

Ahmed had a reason to be angry with Aya. She did not act the spouse he believed he deserved. He expected a paradise on earth, a wife pliable to his wishes and prepared to serve his wants. But Aya was young, only sixteen years old at the wedding. She came from across the mountain, born in a village no different from where she was now. No village in this part of the country was much different, and the mountains bred people repeating the same traditions and habits.

Aya was very naïve and ignorant of life.   She was a daughter born in the middle of ten children, not noticed by any much. Plus, she was a shy girl, and not expected to shine.

When a matchmaker came from Ahmed’s parents, everyone was shocked. Surprised she could be married off.   Both sets of parents, with the matchmaker in the middle, bargained for Aya much as her father bought sheep in the market. In due time, Aya was married and packed off to Ahmed’s parents, over the mountain and into another village and that was the last the bride’s family saw of Aya.

Aya began to droop. Deprived of the only people she knew and thrust into a family of strangers, she became even more timid and quiet. The excitement of the new marriage had passed, and living with Ahmed in a room apart from the large, noisy family was not much of a change. All brides have hope and expectations, and though she was married for a year, Aya still held hope for something different than what her life was already.

Ahmed’s mother smelled trouble. She could tell by the scowl of her favorite son that he was not happy. Peace on earth depended upon the contentment of men, and Ahmed’s mother had tradition to uphold. She knew the trouble gossip could cause, for she had been the generator of much during her life.   Soon Ahmed’s sadness would be common discussion around the well, and the family would lose face. Something had to be done and Ahmed’s mother knew it was up to her to save the family honor. But first she would talk to the raw girl.

One day Ahmed’s mother went and cornered her in the courtyard while she fed chickens.

“My daughter. Why the long face?”

She generally showed little concern for her daughter- in- law, for she did not understand her. Aya was quiet, which was proper for a good Muslim woman, but too quiet. She had grown listless and preoccupied with spending time on the roof looking over the dry and rocky countryside. Many times Ahmed’s mother caught her up there, a strange look in her eye, and seemingly deaf to her calls.   At first she had hoped for a grandchild, but Ahmed was spending more time with the men and less with his woman. Surely the girl should be able to charm her new husband. She must not be trying! Ahmed said little, just went about the house with a scowl, but all knew something was wrong.

Ahmed’s mother, whose name was Leila, could get nothing from her. The silly bride bowed her head, and cast her eyes downward, looking at her dusty feet. Well, the peace of her household was at stake, and if Ahmed was unhappy, Leila was prepared to do battle.

But not with the girl. That would be beneath her.

So in time honored tradition, Leila made a formal visit to the local Sheikha. She would know what to do. Leila would at least have the satisfaction of doing her duty by her son. If the Sheikha, named Shakira, was successful, Leila and her husband would be able at least to keep all of the bride price. To return it, or even a part, would be a terrible burden. Anyway, most of the bride price was already gone. You could not recover water upstream when it was downstream.

Sheikha Shakira told her to send the girl. She would find out the trouble between Ahmed and Aya. She would attempt to fix what was broken.

For the visit, Aya came with her mother- in- law and a very quiet Ahmed. Shakira of course knew the young bride on sight, her family name and that she was a new bride, but she had never reason to notice her.   She sometimes saw her at the village well, drawing water in her families jugs or washing clothes down by the sluggish river, or feeding the chickens outside the door of Leila’s house. But she didn’t seem remarkable to Shakira.   Just a young bride, nothing special.

Aya was very young, with not much meat on her bones. She would not give much heat next to Ahmed when the winter winds blew down from the mountains and turned the air raw and bitter. Better that Ahmed’s parents had found him a bride who would fill his bed and warm his feet with her flesh.

However, after Shakira looked more closely at Aya, she could see there were bigger problems than too- thin Aya. The girl looked haunted to Shakira’s eyes.

After the obligatory cups of mint tea, Ahmed and his mother were sent home, with Leila passing a small gift of money to Shakira from the depths of her robe. Shakira nodded and turned back to the sullen girl sitting at her table.

Shakira prepared to question young Aya. She plied her with more of the sweet tea they brewed in the village and drank on all occasions. Aya was quiet, which wasn’t unusual for a young Muslim girl, but she noticed that she kept her eyes cast on the floor. This was more than a normal shyness. The girl appeared disturbed, or perhaps she was hiding a secret. This last intrigued Shakira the most.

“Come, Aya. Do not be shy. You know why you are here. Your husband has made complaints about your behavior in the marriage. Is something wrong, my daughter?”

Aya sipped at her tea and shook her head, but did not raise her eyes to Shakira’s face.

The Sheikha Shakira could tell many things by the shine of the eyes, by the carriage of the head, by the shoulders, by the sheen of the skin. Although thin, Aya did not appear sick, just unhappy.

“Aya”. Shakira thought a direct approach would get some answers. “Does Ahmed do what a husband should? Do you know what a husband does for his wife?”

Aya blushed, and her hands shook as she put her small glass down.

“Tell me,” said Shakira with an encouraging smile. “Does Ahmed put off his own pleasure for yours?” The look on Aya’s face told Shakira that Ahmed did not.

Aya’s blush increased, giving her dusky skin a bloom of beauty.

“Tell me, Aya.” Shakira’s voice was gentle and low, a conspiracy brewing between two women against all men.

“Does Ahmed touch you in your holy woman’s place? You know after you are married, it is right and good when he does? He should use his male member and his fingers and even his tongue.” Shakira sat back and looked closely at Aya. Her hands shook and she didn’t pick up her glass.

Ah, thought Shakira. Another stupid man that doesn’t know how to stroke his wife into bliss! Allah punish these stupid men who are so selfish!

Shakira thought a different approach would be fruitful. “Aya, do you touch yourself down there in your holy place? Did you know God has given you a body with all the pleasures of paradise on earth? You can touch and stroke and push your fingers in there and have lovely feelings. Perhaps you need to show Ahmed how to arouse you? You are married a year, and if your husband doesn’t understand, perhaps you need to give him a push. Do you understand, daughter?

Suddenly Aya started shaking violently and a great sob escaped from her throat.

“Aaaiiiyee! It is like a man is already in there…in my holy place, and he strokes where Ahmed puts his flute. I try to resist him, it is a demon inside of me! but I am not strong enough. Ah, Mother Shakira, help me! I have thought many times as I go to the roof of the house I would throw myself over the edge!”

This burst of words shocked Shakira.   She sat there blinking, watching the young girl sob out her shame and fear. Ah! Now she had something to work with!

A demon. In bed between an ignorant girl and an even more ignorant husband!

But! This was something most interesting, something Shakira encountered at times among women. From the narrowness of their lives, in their isolation from the cities and from the stupidity of the men, a demon popped up frequently in the lives of married women. And thank God only married women. They seemed to scorn the virgins, which was good, for if they didn’t, it would mean the murder of many young women by their fathers and brothers, thought Shakira.

These spirits were helpful to women as Shakira well knew. They could give a woman a certain liberty to sass their husbands. If a word popped out, she could blame it on the Zar, the demon. It was not her fault, and punishing her would do no good. Something just came over her and she didn’t know where it came from. It was the fault of the Zar. He needed to have his power ‘reduced’. He needed a good talking to, to be placated, given new marching orders.

Shakira thought about the demon. She knew she could never can purge a Zar, these troubling spirits, she would have to cajole, puzzle, confuse and ultimately, calm them. But! She would restore them with their powers reduced.   No one wants a Zar wandering around scaring the children and chickens. It was bad enough they sat under the trees in the woods on the mountains and woe to anyone who cast their eyes on a bodiless Zar! Shakira knew that to be immediate possession. The Zar needed a human body.   That was where Zars lived comfortably. A goat would not do.

Ah! An excuse for a Zar ritual!   Shakira rubbed her hands in glee. The price of the feast and the sacrifice was less important than the chance to get the women together for some fun. And Zars were fun in a life that was black- clad, dusty and under the thumb of Allah and the men.

On the day of the Zar ritual, Shakira placed a tray of nuts and fruit on an altar in the middle of the room. The drummers came in earlier and were sitting together talking, laughing and drinking tea. The ney player, a young man, was sitting apart from the drummers, all women now. Incense was heavy, and the smell of it was hypnotic even before the drummers started beating their rhythm.

Shakira spent some time with Aya, talking to her, helping her ease herself into the ritual soon to take place. Aya had suffered some nerves, thrown up, and then seemed resigned to her fate. She remained pale.

More women straggled into the room, waddling like black crows in a field.   They sat in a rough circle, breathing in the heady perfume wafting from the burning incense. Some were praying to themselves, others began chants, and the combined sounds were like a hive of bees in the sunshine, dipping into the honey. Shakira was trying not to slip into her own trance, but the warm weather and the sunshine conspired to lull her senses. She looked over at Aya sitting with her mother and mother-in-law. She was dressed in a white cotton gown, her hair loose down her back. The hair was the last place that Aya’s demon would hold on to as she tossed her head around and around, throwing him into the arms of Shakira. She wondered what this demon would be like. Would he be a hard one to cajole? Would he demand a price for his obedience? Would she be strong enough, without rallying her own demons, to take him on?

None of this could she know in advance. Allah Provide, she prayed.

Then the drummers started their different rhythms. Each part of the body was capable of possession and a different rhythm beat out on the stretched goat skin drums would find them out. The rhythm would call out to the soul of the demon, and he would have to answer. It was heartbeat to heartbeat.

The first rhythm was the ayoub, ‘dum-tec-a dum-tec-a’, the heartbeat of humanity, becoming more and more intense. Shakira could not help begin her own trance. It was a necessary part of the Zar ritual. She would catch the demon when he was tossed from Aya’s hair, wrestle him in her own arms and give him a good talking to!

Aya had risen, fear distorting her pale face as she walked around the room, her eyes like big dark moons. A blind man could see how frightened she was!   Then, allowing herself to feel the rhythm seeping into the blood of all there, she started to nod her head, back and forth, little nods at first, as if she were tentatively allowing the heartbeat of the drums to enter her body. Her eyes glazed and she started to change the gait of her walking, as if she was swaying to some internal rhythm set up as a counterpoint to what was heard by all others. Her hips started to jerk and her head rolled on her neck in little circles, hair flying in gentle waves around her. The ney player picked up the tempo, the drums followed. Aya’s movements around the circle increased in speed. She started to whirl around as she walked, her face upwards to the ceiling, now her hair flying out like Dervish’s skirts. Faster and faster Aya twirled and jerked around the room, throwing her arms outward and upward. She uttered little shrieks, unheard with the general chanting and drumming and the shrill music of the ney.

Shakira knew if there was a demon inside of Aya, he would soon appear. She swayed back and forth in her own trance, standing with her arms outward towards the spinning girl.

There! Something hit Shakira in her chest! Something solid and hard enough to almost knock the wind from her. Aya sank down in a heap, shuddering with spasms. Women moved to chant over her, and ever the drums and ney player increased their frenzied rhythms.

Shakira slipped into full trance and talked to the Demon standing there, hovering with a scowl, a male Demon of course! His aura was powerful, and he shimmered before her with a golden glimmer. Shakira saw him clearly in her mind’s eye, and saw how beautiful and arrogant this demon was.

“In the name of Allah, the One God! Demon. Tell me your name!”

Shakira spoke in the tongue of the tranced, unintelligible to the women around the room.

He scowled at her, but bidden he was commanded to answer.

“My name is Ali”, and his voice was sweet and seductive, in spite of the grimace.

Ah! Thought Shakira. What a lovely demon to possess a woman! His hair was black and lay in curls over his brow. His lips were full, the color of pomegranate seeds. His nose was like an arrow, straight and elegant. His eyes were two black and shimmering pools, his cheeks like halves of apples. Ah! Shakira was shaken by his beauty. She cleared her throat and her thoughts before speaking to him again.

“Demon. Listen to me. You disrupt the marriage of Ahmed and Aya. You must stop your demonic ways and let Ahmed have back his wife.”

“Ahmed is a fool and doesn’t know what to do with Aya. She is afraid of him, he plays his flute for himself, and ignores his wife.” Demon Ali’s voice was a low, honeyed growl, seeded with contempt.

“True, true enough, Demon. But you could help here. You could teach Aya things to please Ahmed and perhaps dense Ahmed will become a proper husband.”

“Why should I help Ahmed? What is Ahmed to me?” Demon Ali spat on the ground, a golden stream of honey.

“Ah Demon! You are too young or stupid yourself if you don’t think here. You could teach Aya where to place her hands on herself and Ahmed. You could take your own pleasure between them. How much more it would be if you brought them together as man and wife! You could tickle Aya’s womb and love chamber and she would toss her hips like a proper wife at Ahmed. You could stick your tongue on Aya’s button and make her think of love. You could torment both and what Demon isn’t happiest when he is tormenting two instead of one?”

The Demon Ali pulsated and quivered with her suggestions. Shakira could see he was considering her words.

(Demon Ali thought it over and could see her point of argument.   If nothing else, he could torment Ahmed in some particularly pleasing way to demons. Perhaps he could be an irritant in more ways than one. Perhaps he could make Ahmed’s cock fall off–)

“I hear your thoughts, Demon. Consider the case. Either Aya acts the proper wife to Ahmed, or Ahmed sends her back to her parents. She will disgrace her family, they will suffer needlessly because of a silly and selfish devil.”

Shakira could tell that Ali the Demon was considering his choices. He glimmered and glowed and vibrated and fairly danced in the air. Shakira noticed too that his male member was vibrating along with the rest of him. An impressive piece of anatomy for any man or demon. Ah! Ali the Demon was wasted on that little fool Aya!

Shakira, a wise woman with quite a number of years of experience with Djinns, decided she would have compassion for this pretty demon standing before her in all his stiffening glory. Perhaps this alluring devil could entertain her, Shakira, and leave Aya alone. She had an eye for a good looking male, and knowing the nature of demons, she could take some pleasure for herself under her chador at times. Perhaps something mutually pleasing to both could be arranged. It was worth a thought.

“So, Demon…what will it be? Will you help Aya become a wife and be a good demon, or do I have to call forth stronger Spirits to make you reconsider your behavior? It is your choice.”

Ali the Demon sighed, and it was like a sweet wind blowing from the east up Shakira’s skirts. Her eyes widened, in spite of her trance, and a smile came over her face. The Demon slyly looked at Shakira from under the fringe of his black lashes. A smile exchanged between them…

A bargain was struck!

Ahmed and Aya became a happy couple. Yes, Ali the Demon still tickled Aya in her love passage, and sat smoking his hooka crosslegged up by her womb. Ahmed was pleased with Aya now as his wife, and eternally grateful to the Sheikha.

And as for Shakira, she and Ali the Demon enjoyed many hours under Shakira’s chador. He tickled Sharika around the ears, and she spread her legs when she was busy at her kitchen fire, preparing food or just standing at the window, watching her neighbors outside. Peace reigned in both households.

Blessings on the head of Sheikha Shakira!



Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009-2018


The inners of “The Zar Tales”

October 21, 2009
A Zar ritual, photo by nicolas nilsson, in northern Africa

A Zar ritual, photo by nicolas nilsson, in northern Africa

Someone wrote and said it was rude not to talk a little about what was in “The Zar Tales”.  I guess I just was so tired when I posted the cover that I couldn’t think of what came next.  I’ve been pulling long hours on this book  because I wanted it to get it ready for Bill Penrose.  He is doing the real formatting and he is also publishing his own book right now…”Anne the Healer”.

Bill writes BIG books….real books.  Novels with complex plots and characters.  Next week, I think, I am doing more of an interview with Bill and his writing muse.  And more explanation on his newest book.

“The Zar Tales” is actually a collection of stories, two short stories, a few poems and a very short story, actually a ‘flasher’.  And a small novella.  The book all wraps up with an essay on Hyperarousal Trance.

They all are of one continuous theme: this issue of a Zar, or The Zar and the havoc a Zar wrecks on mortal life.

I explain this in the book….but a Zar is a couple of things.  First, it’s a ritual, a very old tradition in Africa, North Africa, Egypt and parts of the Middle East.  It’s NOT an exorcism, not in the way we in the West understand exorcism.  A Zar in these countries is a gathering of people who support and encourage and add to the proceedings of the ritual in various ways.  They can be drummers, chanters, participants, and other musicians.  They can lead and prepare the animal sacrifice, usually a goat or chicken.

In the functioning of a Zar ritual, a leader (called Sheikha in many countries….a wise woman) will ‘call out’ the Zar….who also just happens to be a demon…or djinn.  This Zar possesses married women (mostly) and actually has an important function in a repressive society.  A woman can not be held accountable for her behavior when she is under possession of a Zar.  In other words, she can sass her husband and blame it on the Zar.  As in: “The Zar made me say that.”

She can also ‘get things’ through the Zar.  “The Zar wants me to have that red shawl”…(The Zar demands it)

But beyond this, the Zar ritual is a very important mental health issue in these countries.  A woman dances out her possession in wild and wilder steps, movements in the ritual to the frenetic beat of drums and the wailing of neys (flutes) and the general singing and chanting and she collapses in exhaustion, and at this time it is thought the Zar leaves her body.  She has tossed her hair around and around and the Zar is hanging on to dear life there and POP! He flies off into the arms of the Sheikha, who herself is also in a trance.

The Sheikha ‘communicates’ with the Zar, negoiates new orders for the peace of the possessed….and the Zar (Spirit) is rejoined with the flesh of the possessed.

Everyone is happy.

One does not want a stray and homeless Zar scaring the children and the chickens.  And a goat will not do.

The Zar ritual can last up to 7 days, but usually it’s done in a day or overnight. In Cairo, there are “Zar houses” where rich Cairo matrons pay for a ritual, even though it is usually repressed by the government and the religious authorities.  Anyone, even tourists, can stop in a observe a Zar in progress, but you have to have connections to do so.

As to the mental health side of it, it is logical.  A woman, perhaps a young, married woman, is ‘possessed’.  She is away from her family, living within the household of her husband’s family, and she is a stranger.  Her status could be low.  But during the Zar ritual, all attention and care is taken that she and her fears are attended to.  Perhaps for the first time in her life she is the center of attention, and this seems to be enough to ‘heal’ what is hurting.

The Zar ritual is under attack in many countries because it harkens back to pagan rituals and goes against the present religious  beliefs.

My short novella, “The Zar Tale” speaks directly to this issue.  This tale is set in southeastern Turkey in the early 1980’s.  There a wise woman, a Sheikha, Shakira Arsan, is hauled in by the religious authorities and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  But the local Zars are long dead Berber warriors, and some how they have floated from Morocco and Algeria to Turkey and have taken up camp in these mountains…the Taurus mountains I think is where they reside.  Most of them are poets, and one, Emir is an especially bad poet but he keeps trying to rewrite the same 6 line verse for a 1000 years without much progress.  It’s not exactly ‘writer’s block’ that stops him…it’s the hashish that they all indulge in.

They become Zar-fruits and are pretty funny fellows…to a point.  They are also fierce warriors and out to revenge their ancient Gods and Goddesses.  In this case, Ammon and Isis.

Goes against the grain of the Mullahs, though.  I will have to put a warning somewhere because human cannibalism makes a bow here.  And bad Persian poetry.

There are seven pieces in this book….and most of them short ones. They all are of the main theme.

I had a lot of fun writing “The Zar Tale”  and the essay “Hyperarousal Trance and Creativity” explains some of the…..connections.

Mysticism inside and out.

Lady Nyo

“ANCESTORS OF STAR”, a new novel by William Gaius

September 20, 2009
Canyon de Chelly in NE Arizona, but looks just like Ancestors Canyon

Canyon de Chelly in NE Arizona, but looks just like Ancestors Canyon

Bill Gaius is  a good friend and a great writer.  For the last three years we’ve exchanged manuscripts of our novels and to say his influence on my  writing made me a better  writer is to understate this.  His gentle mentoring got me out of many holes.

I was fortunate to be there when Bill started “Ancestors” and saw the amount of passion and research he put into this novel.  Bill is one of the most polished and careful writers I know.  This book presents an exciting mix of cross cultural events and strong characters with a description  of a physical landscape that broadens the imagination and a mystical element that is believable.

Bill knows and writes from the heart of the matter and it shows.

Lady Nyo

Introduction to Chapter 15 of ‘The Ancestors of Star’.

Tim Hyatt is a college athlete and Big Man on Campus, but his plans are very serious: a career as a medical doctor, and a prosperous life with his fiancee, Natalie. Hoping to win one of the scarce Government scholarships for medical students, he takes a year from college to gain clinical experience on the tiny Lagalero reservation in New Mexico. Once on the job, he learns that his new boss, the older Elaine Yellow Star, hires a young man every year and expects more from him than cleaning bedpans.

Star soon seduces Tim, as she has all the young men before him, and uses him for her own gratification, while ignoring the lust she’s sparked in him. After an initial infatuation with her vibrant sexuality, Tim rebels in a fury and distances himself from her. But she insinuates herself into his thoughts and he cannot escape his addiction to her. He begins seeking answers, first from the last living shaman of the tribe, and later, by going directly to the sacred canyon, the home of the ancestor spirits of the Lagalero.

The full novel, ‘Ancestors of Star’ is available from
as a trade paperback ($14.95) or as an unlocked PDF download ($4.95).

Chapter 15

Next day, I woke slowly, but the more consciousness grew, the more a heartsickness crept over me. A great, gaping pit opened up in my chest. I sniffed the air, but instead of the sweet tang of Star’s body, there was only the odor of the detergent I’d used to launder my bedding.
I looked at the clock, and it read 5:15. An hour before I would go to get her breakfast.
What had she meant by a ‘hormone storm’? After three days, I’d gained a little perspective. Before the night in the Super 8, I’d been thoroughly pussy whipped, as compliant as a pet dog. Like an idiot, I let her take the lead and give the orders. This had been utterly out of character for me. Evidently, she believed this was due to the ritual she’d performed in Ancestor Canyon. She’d gone on to deprive me of sexual release for a month, and it plainly excited her to do so. She must have had at least thirty or forty orgasms during that time. And somehow, according to her, I should be grateful. I certainly had no right to be upset!
What was a ‘hormone storm’ to her was a return to proper manhood for me. I didn’t need her. I could go ahead and do my job, and give her no excuse to get rid of me. I could serve my time, and walk out of here with recommendations from Waters and Murphy, at least. I could cultivate some other important locals and get more recommendations.
Or I could leave. But I didn’t treat that as a serious option anymore. I could take anything she could dish out, and I’d already learned to tolerate the spartan reservation life.
But my mind and body were at odds. The more I tried to hate her, the more she invaded my thoughts, waking and sleeping. Cursing her capriciousness didn’t help. I dreamed of her, naked and stretched on her back in the ancient ruin, or smiling on the sofa in her room, or driving in her Jeep with her black hair blowing out behind.
The alarm shrilled, and I showered, dressed, and crossed to the cafeteria. I returned with Star’s tray, and tapped on her door.
“Who is it?” The muffled voice was as soft and musical as ever.
“Your breakfast,” I said.
“Leave it by the door,” she said, in a less musical voice.
Shit! I put down the tray and stomped back to my own room. In the clinic, I slammed the bedpans about, and banged and punched through my other tasks. Before lunch, I checked the schedule to see who needed a ride to the clinic today, but there were no names listed.
No one to drive to the clinic! But who else knew this, or paid attention to the list? I could finally ditch this place for a few hours.
I stuffed a sandwich, two cokes, and a quart of water into my backpack and walked out to the van. I drove out of town, out into the desert, without destination or purpose. In an hour, I found myself between the sheer walls of Ancestor Canyon, following the rutted road until the van would go no farther. The mysterious structure in the canyon wall drew me onward, from rock to rock, into the great crack in the cliff face, and up the sloping sandstone to the ledge.
Recalling Star’s tale about the ancestral spirits, and how they defended their ancient home, I spent several minutes gathering the nerve to walk the narrow ledge. I ventured slowly onto it, trying not to look into the void, and sweating in spite of the cool breeze. The ledge was much narrower than I remembered, barely wide enough to move one foot beside another.
In spite of my caution, a golf ball-sized rock found its way under my shoe. My leg buckled, but fortunately, I stumbled toward the rockface, rather than out into the abyss. I clung to the sandstone for a few minutes until my heart slowed and my legs regained their strength. After that, I touched one hand to the wall for balance as I crept along, until I staggered onto the wide platform where the ancient structure stood. I fell to my knees before the massive ruin, breathing hard and terrified by the prospect of going back.
I slipped into the little door, following the chain of connected rooms, and emerged in the room where the mesquite tree sheltered the little altar. It was time to think about exactly why I’d come here, because at that moment, I had no idea. I’d ditched my responsibilities at the clinic and ventured onto this haunted platform, but why?
In front of the little altar where Star had burned the pinon wood, I sat crosslegged. What was I expected to do? I thought I might meditate, but I’d never done it before. I’d heard you were supposed to just sit still and let all thoughts drain away. I tried this for a few minutes, but every time I tried to empty my mind, images of Star flowed in to fill up the space.
A hawk circled in the canyon, barely using its wings. It swooped by, a hundred feet away, on the downwind half of its spiral.
A foot shifted on loose rock behind me. I twisted around, but there was no one. I stood up on aching knees and looked into the adjacent rooms, and up at the overhanging cliff. Surely, the noise had been something dropped by a bird, or a stone dislodged by the wind. Perhaps a small animal moving to escape the gaze of the hawk.
As I resumed sitting in front of the altar, the breeze loosened my hat. I removed it and tucked the brim under my butt so it wouldn’t blow around the room. In another few minutes, the sun would go behind the cliff and the hat wouldn’t matter.
Wind rushed through the ancient structure. Its soughing was like the shuffling of ancient feet. Every so often, the murmur of voices would reach my ears, a trick of the wind in the rooms and crevices of this sacred structure.
Whatever my reason in coming here, it wasn’t working. The light was beginning to dim and it was time to leave while I could still find my way down to the van. I stood up and walked in a circle to limber up my legs before heading through the connected rooms. Once out of the structure and in the full force of the wind, I pulled my hat down close over my ears and stepped toward the narrow ledge.
And stopped.
The muscles girdling my waist and crotch crawled and tingled with apprehension. Someone’s coming the other way. I neither saw nor heard anything, but I knew someone was there, just as I knew when someone stared at me in a crowd or through a window. I waited, and waited, but no one appeared.
I tried one more step toward the ledge, and I began to shake, worse than before. There was someone there!
A bony hand gripped my shoulder and froze me in place. My cry echoed across the canyon, a cry in my own voice, though I had no recall of screaming. Now I knew for certain that the spirits were going to hurl me over the edge, and take revenge for the way I had treated their daughter.
I cautiously reached for the hand that held fast to my shoulder. But it was only a twig blown from a mesquite somewhere up on the cliff. I brushed it off, and it blew onto the haunted ledge, bounced once, twice, and vanished over the precipice, down to the place where the spirits planned to send me. Except I wouldn’t float gently down, like that twig. I’d hit like a bag of soup, spattering guts and brains and blood over the jagged stones.
My legs were jelly as I staggered back to the altar room. I sat in front of the altar and felt safer again. Evaporating sweat chilled my face and the small of my back. I busied myself collecting unburned fragments of wood and making a tiny structure, as Star had. When I had finished, however, I had no way to set it afire. I ran my fingers through the ashes and debris under the altar niche, and turned up two unused wooden matches.
I knew now why I’d come here. I had to beg forgiveness of Star’s ancestors. They had bound me to her, but I had not obeyed.
I picked up one of the matches, and the wind instantly died. In the deathly quiet, leather-shod feet scuffed as the spirits gathered behind me, watching. I leaped from my knees to my feet in one motion and screamed, “Leave me alone!”
Of course, there was no one there. Only my own echo, dying away, “…alone …alone …alone…”
The match had gone astray, but I didn’t care. I lay on my side, curled into a fetal position, and thought of my mother, and father, and Star, and Natalie, and my college friends. My family would be devastated by my disappearance. My corpse, dried and mummified by the wind and sun, would eventually be found in this ruin. If I tried to leave, I would rot unseen at the base of the cliff, feeding the coyotes and eagles. Sooner or later, searchers would find the van. They might even find some bones, if the animals left them in place when they finished with me.
I looked at my watch, but the numbers seemed written in a foreign script. The hands pointed in directions that I couldn’t interpret. But I could guess at the time by the sky. The shadows were climbing the canyon wall with unnatural speed.
The narrow ledge, my only escape to the bottom of the cliff, and from there to Lag City, and the clinic, and Star, and life itself, had become very dark. It was too late to leave, even if the spirits refrained from hurling me to the canyon floor. I found the last wooden match and put it in my pocket, and curled up again, huddled in a fetal ball as the air grew chillier.
After a time, I propped myself up long enough to reach into my little backpack. I drank a soda and ate the sandwich. I kept the wrapper as possible fuel or kindling. The food banked my fear a little, but it was not going to help me get down from here in the darkness. I was going to spend the night, at least.
It was going to be cold tonight, exposed on this cliffside. The ancient dwelling would give me some protection from the wind, but temperatures might get down into the 40s or even lower. In my tee shirt and jeans, I might as well be naked.
As the sky darkened, the temperature plummeted, and I succumbed to fits of shivering. I searched my brain for my most comforting memories, something to hang onto in the depths of the night. I thought of Natalie and the nights with her in her dorm room at NIU. But my mind compulsively drifted back to Star. I thought of my mother. When I was a child frightened by lightning, I’d run into her room and she’d cuddle me under the covers. But I was a grown man now, and my greatest comfort was when Star slept on my shoulder and her breath whistled in my ear.
The stars came out, one by one, but there was no sign of a moon. I shivered violently and continuously, and fumbled in my pack for my flashlight. The batteries were fresh, but it wouldn’t light. With shaking fingers, I disassembled it to look for the problem. The bulb dropped out and bounced to where it couldn’t be found in the dusky light.
I found the last match in my pocket and resumed my place in front of the altar. The light was so weak I could barely see it. The match struck on the fifth try, and I ignited the little tower of wood. Soon I had a flame going, about as big as my hand. Once more, I felt the presences watching me, and the night breeze carried their voices.
This time, I was not afraid of them. I expected to soon be among them.
“Fathers and Mothers of Elaine Yellow Star,” I said. I hoped they understood my meaning, even if they didn’t understand English. “Show me where I’ve gone wrong. I need to be with her, I want to belong to her – ”
I stopped. I hadn’t voiced it aloud before. I needed Star! Everything else in my life, including my pride, was a trivial afterthought to that single fact.
“Help me get through this night,” I asked the spirits, “and I will treat your daughter the way she deserves to be treated. I swear this on my God and on yours.”
The voices grew in volume and number. A single pure note thrummed in my ears as the wind whistled through the ancient dwelling. The cold night wind blew on me. But even as I shivered and dreaded the night ahead, the spirits blew their warm breath in my face. Their hands touched my cheek and stroked my hair. My shivering stopped and I sighed in relief.
They urged me to lie back. The floor of the altar room was as soft as it had been when I made love to Star on this very spot. The ghosts sang their hypnotic songs in my ear, and I drifted off to sleep, dreaming that I was swaddled with Star’s warm body in a heavy featherbed.

[end ch. 15]

The full novel, ‘Ancestors of Star’ is available from
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