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Indigo Bunting :
Two other unnamed stood beside me in the clearing. I could feel their presence through the thick blindfold I wore. Like mine, their breathing came in huffs, uneven and ragged. We’d walked blindly for three miles, stumbling over bushes, stubbing our toes on roots and rocks. Only the radioed cues from the adults back at camp kept us from falling off a cliff. But in the last few minutes, we’d received no word. Uncertain what to do next, we stood perfectly still and waited.
Nearby, I heard water babbling. Because we existed inside an Eco-sphere, all water was monitored and carefully recycled. Manufactured things were less lucky, but even so, that our journey had ended at a watering hole seemed fortuitous. I felt especially lucky since, according to my progressed chart, expansive Jupiter had moved into my first house. A good sign for undertaking a spiritual journey, Sage Martin had told me. Plus, this month, July, was Cancer’s month. Cancer was a water sign, and so was I, although I was a Pisces. My breath quickened and I could feel the forest alive around me, rustling in anticipation. Then the hiss of the comlink buried in my ear made me jump.
“Your journey has ended.” Even distorted by the link, I recognized the voice of Dream Coyote, our priest. He had guided our steps the last few miles. In keeping with tradition, every adult colonist played a part in choosing our journey. During the long winter months, the sacred holo-map passed hand-to-hand among the elders and the named ones. Each elder added a few steps or, if a trickster spirit moved them, twisted our trail. In the end, however, Dream Coyote alone knew the ending place of our journey. “Stand back-to-back,” he commanded.
“Oh boy, this is it.” A male voice said, “This is really it. God or Goddess, let me see something cool!”
“Shhhh,” I hissed. Sage Martin told me that to beg the spirits for a particular animal guide was bad luck, and even worse karma.
After much groping and blind apologies, the three of us stood with our backs pressing into each other, like a human triangle.
Harp, flute and drum music piped through our comlinks, courtesy of Dream Coyote. “So the journey begins,” he said with a shaman’s drama. “Remember what our greatest prophetess has said, ‘We are at any given moment living the totality of everything...the vibrational oscillation of nature is quickening....’ Channel your energies, and your spirit guide will appear to you. Now, remove your blindfolds!”
My hands trembled as I pulled off the sweat-filled fur and leather blinds. Despite Sage Martin’s warning, I couldn’t help but hope that a big black bear or a silver-haired wolf would be standing a safe distance from me. Last year my sister had been blessed by the vision of an Eagle Feather at her feet. Holding my eyes shut tight, I let out a deep breath. The goddess will give me what is appropriate, I told myself. I opened my eyes.
Vision blurred by hours under the mask and the sudden brightness, I saw nothing at first. My heart pounded. What if I ended up with a name like “Blurry Fox“? I carefully cupped my eyes the way Sage Martin had taught me, until my sight adjusted to the light.
I blinked twice and looked around the clearing. Then I saw it, a flash of blue. On a branch on the other side of a river perched a bright blue bird, an indigo bunting.
“Did you see something?” a boy, whom I recognized now as Mountain Lion’s Son, asked. His eyes were still screwed shut.
“Yeah,” I said, as the bunting burst into the air and disappeared from sight. “I did.”
“Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” Mountain Lion’s First Son could barely control his excitement. “Was it cool?”
How cool could an indigo bunting be? “Oh yeah,” I said, “really fucking cool, all right. Open your eyes, you bozo. You’re going to end up in the river.”
“I can’t!” He squealed, and lurched about a foot closer to the riverbank.
I looked around the clearing. The only thing he might see right now was a dragonfly. He didn’t have to worry about that, since the rules of the vision quest disregarded insects. Otherwise, we’d be a colony of people named Mosquito.
“There’s nothing to see, Mountain Lion’s First Son.” Clever Fox’s Second Daughter put her arm on his shoulder. “Open your eyes, or Twilight Wolf’s Only Daughter and I will toss you in the river, and your name will be Dancing Trout.”
“No!” he squawked. “Don’t!”
“Indigo Bunting,” I corrected.
“Sorry?” Clever Fox’s Second Daughter asked.
I tried to sound honored as I repeated. “I’m no longer Twilight Wolf’s Only Daughter. I saw an indigo bunting.”
Clever Fox’s Second Daughter and Mountain Lion’s First Son burst into laughter. Pulling his eyes open painfully, Mountain Lion’s First Son said, “You’re not serious.”
“Bummer,” Clever Fox’s Second Daughter said, “Major Bummer.”
At her blasphemy, Mountain Lion’s First Son and I made the sign of protection.
“Was it doing anything cool?” Mountain Lion’s First Son asked. “Like, darting through the air or anything? I mean, maybe you could go with Fleet Indigo Bunting?”
Clever Fox’s Second Daughter snorted. “Still sounds pretty lame.” She glanced at me. “No offense.”
I shook my head. None taken; after all, it was true. “Indigo Bunting” was nowhere as cool as my mother’s name, Twilight Wolf. She’d told me the story of her naming before I left for mine. My mother had been the last of her party of three to see any fauna. The third night out, when they’d almost returned to camp, they’d heard the howl of a wolf. She ran out in the deep of night and saw the majestic beast on a rock cliff only a few feet away. The sighting had left her breathless, and she’d been the envy of the entire spirit walk. I was just the opposite; I was the laughingstock. I could just die.
“Well,” I said, adjusting my pack, “We might as well start back. No doubt, you guys will get your names on the way.”
Mountain Lion’s First Son and Clever Fox’s Second Daughter nodded and shouldered their packs. I became the de facto leader, since I was the first to become named, even if I did get a lame name.
“So, Indigo Bunting,” Mountain Lion’s First Son smiled a mocking smile, “which way, O Great Leader?”
The spirit walk’s other test involved finding our way, without the aid of any technology, back to the camp. My mother and I had practiced in the forest for months, but looking out over the Eco-sphere’s grand vista, I began to doubt my abilities. Sage Martin, who was very old, remembered her great-grandmother speaking of a time when you could tell directions by the position of the sun. That method had been made unreliable thanks to the dome’s shifting refractive properties.
The two unnamed ones stared at me. Mountain Lion’s First Son suppressing a wicked grin.
Despite the fact that I’d just become an adult by virtue of the Naming, I still felt sixteen years old. All I really wanted to do was shove Mountain Lion’s First Son into the River and give the jerk a name like Squiggly Tadpole.
I pointed in the direction I remembered the bunting flying. “This way,” I said with as much authority I could muster.
Mountain Lion’s First Son insisted on walking much of the way with his eyes shut. Clever Fox’s Second Daughter and I took turns dragging him over the uneven ground.
“We should just leave you here,” Clever Fox’s daughter said. “You’re such a pain in the ass.”
I nodded in sympathy to her frustration, but I could understand his fear. Dream Coyote was his uncle, and his mother remained the only person to see a mountain lion since the founding of the Eco-sphere during the New Age. Until her sighting, no one had even been sure that the bio-colony contained a species as rare as mountain lions. That they had survived the generations since the founding was a strong omen. Though the colony had expert husbandry systems for the domesticated animals, the wild ones occasionally inbred themselves into extinction, especially in cases like the mountain lion when the park had such small numbers to begin with. In the days before the New Age, the national park system was more like a managed zoo, with new animals being added when inbreeding became a problem. No one had expected the domed forests to support themselves for generations.
A shout from Clever Fox’s Second Daughter broke my reverie. “Oh! Look!”
I followed her gaze to a rabbit nibbling on shepherd’s purse.
“Aw, man! This Spirit Walk is so cursed!” Mountain Lion’s First Son shouted. “Nobody’s getting anything cool. I’m doomed!”
The rabbit scurried away at his shout. I smacked him on the arm.
“Shut up!” I told him. “Try to have some respect for what she chooses.”
Clever Fox’s Second Daughter watched as the white tail bounded away and disappeared into the bracken. “Startled Hare,” she said finally. “Call me Startled Hare.”
Little about Clever Fox’s Second Daughter reminded me of a scared bunny, but then I was a fine one to talk. At least she’d gotten a mammal.
Mountain Lion’s First Son, however, remained inconsolable. He sat down in the prairie grass and put his head in his hands. “Doomed,” he moaned.
Clever Fox’s Daughter, now called Startled Hare, sat down beside Mountain Lion’s First Son. She surprised us both by saying, “You could just lie, you know.”
“What?” Mountain Lion’s First Son asked.
“You could go to sleep right now and dream of a buffalo or a bear or whatever you want. Who would contest your claim? After all,” she said with a cruel, humorless smile, “that worked for your uncle.”
Mountain Lion’s First Son’s fist flashed up and connected with a smack to Startled Hare’s nose. She stared at him incredulously for only a moment before returning the favor.
“Take it back,” Mountain Lion’s Son shouted.
“You know it’s true,” retorted Startled Hare.
I stood perfectly still and watched them roll in the tall prairie grass. I was stunned by Startled Hare’s accusation. It had never occurred to me that Dream Coyote might have invented his nocturnal fauna.
“But Dream Coyote is special,” I said mostly to myself since the two of them tussled noisily in the grass. “He’s a shaman.”
Truthfully, I’d had a crush on Dream Coyote for years. Everything he said was so beautiful and powerful. I’d expressed a desire to study with him, after my naming. He’d sat me down and explained that being a shaman was more than just books. You had to walk between the worlds. When I’d asked him what that meant he told me, “I’m gay.”
Startled Hare and Mountain’s First Son stopped to look at me.
When I realized I’d said that out loud, I covered by repeating, “He’s gay. He is, you know.”
Startled Hare smiled around a purpling bruise on her nose. “How would you know that?”
My ears burned as a blush crept up my face.
“Well, I . . .” How could I explain that I found Dream Coyote’s expressive personality captivating? He was so lithe and graceful, like a swan, and yet so lonely. I’d hung around his cabin enough to know he shared it with no one permanently. Sure, once he told me about his preference, I noticed men and boys slipping off to visit him occasionally, but no one stayed. I’d thought that maybe I could make a difference - as a friend or a lover.
“You thought he was cute!” Startled Hare shrieked with delight. “You had a crush on Dream Coyote!”
“Aw, man, I thought everybody knew about Dream Coyote’s...” Mountain Lion’s First Son struggled to find the right word, “...er, ‘special calling.’ Sheesh!”
“ ‘Special calling’? You make it sound like he’s got some kind of condition or a disease,” I said, the growl in my voice surprising even me.
“Well, he’s not exactly normal,” Mountain Lion’s First Son said with a shrug.
“Not normal?” I said, my face feeling hotter than before. “My mother said it was perfectly acceptable. There’s nothing wrong with being that way. Our culture is open to diversity.”
Startled Hare laughed dryly. “That’s what people say, Indigo Bunting. What about his duty?”
Our community was small enough that a person had to have a damn good reason to voluntarily step out of the gene pool.
“Maybe you were hoping to perform that rite with him, eh?” Startled Hare teased wickedly. Mountain Lion’s First Son’s eyebrows rose at the image, then he started giggling.
Once again the others had a laugh at my expense, but at least they weren’t fighting any more.
When we crested the ridge and I couldn’t see the thermal generator over Old Faithful, I began to think we might be hopelessly lost. While I nervously scanned the valley below for something recognizable, Mountain Lion’s First Son looked up at the sky. Earlier, we’d heard an eagle’s screech in the distance. He’d kept his eyes closed when we’d scared a flock of house sparrows out of the underbrush. Squirrels darted past him, unseen. Startled Hare had taken over the job of leading him, and I’d concentrated on finding our way back to camp. Looking at the bruises on Mountain Lion’s Son’s shins, it was obvious that neither of us was doing a particularly good job.
Movement flashed in my peripheral vision. Turning my head, I saw it again, the indigo bunting. It twittered in a great oak, as if beckoning me to follow. This was one of those moments that Dream Coyote always talked about; it was a sign. With renewed hope, I said, “Come on.”
We followed that bird for miles, down into a deep valley. The mountains cast deep shadows in the forest.
“Ow!” Mountain Lion’s First Son yelped, stumbling over a rock. Despite the deep gash on his knee, his eyes stayed shut. I frowned at Startled Hare. What she’d implied earlier still bothered me.
“Do you really believe Dream Coyote made up his name?” I asked her.
“No way!” Mountain Lion’s First Son said in defense of his uncle.
“Ha!” She said, sticking out her tongue at him, even though he couldn’t see it. “For that matter, who else has seen a Mountain Lion?”
“Oh, come on now,” I said, even though doubt gnawed at my heart instantly. “The other three on the journey saw it, too. His mom just saw it first.”
“Maybe.” Startled Hare said. “But, there are a ton more gray squirrels then there are mountain lions. Why aren’t more of us named Scolding Squirrel?”
My frown deepened. We passed through tall grass, and crickets hopped in waves, always one step ahead of us.
“We’re chosen people.” Mountain Lion’s First Son said after a long silence. “That’s why we have powerful names.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, after all the contortions he’d gone through not to see what he considered lower beasts.
Startled Hare nodded at me. “Indigo Bunting is right. People have powerful names because people want power.”
“I didn’t say that,” I protested. Yet, secretly I had to admit the truth. Names were very important. Status in the elder circle followed animal hierarchy, based on the food chain - starting with predators on the top and on down to herbivores.
“Yeah, well what about Clever Fox?” Mountain Lion’s First Son said. “Are you saying your own mother made up her name?”
I could see Startled Hare considering letting go of Mountain Lion’s First Son’s hand, and if she did that he would surely stumble. I dropped back beside him and took his free hand. I didn’t want them fighting again, even if Mountain Lion’s First Son did deserve a stumble or swat now and again. The two of them were already pretty bruised, and we had a long way to go.
“I’m sure she’s not saying that,” I said. “But, she does have a point. I mean, look how important the naming is to you.”
“The naming means everything,” he said with a sigh. “After this journey we’re full adults. We can choose a career. We can have sex.” He leered at me with his eyes closed, and I was glad he couldn’t see my blush. Sex confused me. Dream Coyote was the only man I’d ever really been attracted to, and he had turned out gay.
Startled Hare said, “I think someone has a crush on Mountain Lion’s First Son.”
He opened his eyes to gape at me. I dropped his hand as if it were a hot coal. “I do not.”
I stalked ahead of their laughter.
Mountain Lion’s First Son was annoying, but also undeniably cute. He had long, dark eyelashes and curly brown hair. Undoubtedly in a few years, he would become a handsome man. But it wasn’t his attention and respect I wanted the most. It wasn’t his words that burned into my heart like hot coals, twisting and turning my emotions until they were completely unfathomable.
Clearly, Startled Hare had the same power over someone else, for behind me I heard Mountain Lion’s First Son ask: “If everyone makes up their names, what’s the point of the spirit walk?”
“To test our mettle.” I said, biting my fingernails at the thought. It had been miles, and I still recognized none of the landscape.
“And what are you made of, Indigo Bunting?” Startled Hare asked.
At her words, hairs rose at the nape of my neck. Could Startled Hare know that I felt hopelessly lost? Did she somehow psychically sense that I felt like a terrible leader, and that I was following the random meandering of a bird? Maybe Startled Hare was channeling the Trickster Spirit to test me. I shook my head to ward off my growing dread.
“You’re a Scorpio, aren’t you?” I asked Startled Hare.
“No,” she sneered, “A Libra.”
Liar, I thought silently. Libras were concerned with harmony, which Startled Hare clearly was not. Scorpios, on the other hand, were gadflies by nature and notoriously disruptive. As much as I wanted to call her on her lie, I kept my mouth shut, and continued walking ahead of the others.
The tall grasses rustled as we strolled through them, but otherwise the Eco-sphere was quiet. I wished that I really had inherited the powers of my spirit animal. Then, I could fly high up into the dome and spy our camp. I rubbed the amethyst crystal Sage Martin had given me. She’d inherited the silver chain and the carved stone from her grandmother, who’d gotten it from her grandmother and so on. The first woman acquired it at something call a shoppe during the before time when people lived outside of the dome, and when only a few understood that a New Age was coming. Amethyst, according to Sage Martin, granted serenity and psychic powers. I rubbed the stone until my fingers hurt, but I still didn’t know which way to go. I looked for a flash of blue wings, but there was nothing. My feet were almost as sore as my heart. I glanced at the image of the sun through the dome. The light hung low on the horizon, so I said. “Time to set up camp.”
“You’re going to have to open your eyes now, Mountain Lion wannabe,” Startled Hare called behind her shoulder. “Setup time!”
We unfolded our tents and inflated them. Careful of the patch my mother had applied, I puffed slowly. The tent, like all our equipment, had been saved from the days of the New Age when our people first camped out in the National Forest to protest the impending war.
I looked at my wrist, then remembered I’d had to leave my watch at home. If I remembered correctly, tomorrow it was scheduled to rain. Just in case, I sprayed the tent with waterproofing. I’d just finished the backside when I heard Mountain Lion’s First Son whining again.
“What if there are prairie dogs or gophers?”
Startled Hare gave him an exasperated sigh. “You have to open your eyes to set up your tent, boy. I’m not doing that for you.”
“I could sleep in your tent...” He suggested. He looked silly with his eyes screwed shut and what was probably supposed to be a seductive expression on his face.
Startled Hare laughed one of her dry chuckles that I was beginning to hate. “Even if I wanted you to, you can’t. You’re unnamed, and I’m an adult now. It’s forbidden.”
Mountain Lion’s First Son looked crushed. I felt strangely pleased.
“You’ll just have to sleep on the ground,” Startled Hare said with a bit too much pleasure. Seeing me, she gave me a wink. “Maybe wet grass will be conducive to powerful dreams.”
Possibly Startled Hare had a touch of the shaman in her because that night I dreamed of flying. My body carried me higher into the atmosphere than an indigo bunting could possibly go. I soared so high that I saw raptors darting among the spidery silver beams of the weather grid. The air felt thin and cold. Part of my mind knew that even the eagles shouldn’t be this high, but dreams being what they are, I continued to rise. Finally, I bumped against the walls of the great machine. My heart pounded; it was forbidden to go within three miles of the dome’s walls. In the first few years of the New Age, many had journeyed to the edges to stare wistfully out at the scorched wasteland. Some became so despondent that they killed themselves. After that, the area near the wall was declared a bummer zone, which none entered. Suddenly my wings stuck to the metallic walls. I tried to pull away, but I couldn’t move without tearing my pinfeathers. After a ripping sound, I saw blood. Then I started to fall.
When I woke up, I still heard the terrible rending sound. Through the flap in my tent, the moonlight illuminated a huge black bear tearing into our packs. Exhausted after building a fire and setting up camp, we’d been lazy with the containers of food. We should have hung them in a tree, but now it was too late.
I crawled to the edge of my tent furthest from the great bear and cowered. As long as we were quiet, I was certain it would go away. Then, I remembered that Mountain Lion’s First Son was sleeping on the grass, unprotected.
I pulled my shivering muscles out of the fetal position, and crept toward the flap. Slowly, carefully, I dragged myself through the door. The bear seemed not to notice me. I tried to think silent thoughts as I slunk over to Startled Hare’s tent. My eyes stayed riveted to the bear, and I could see its saliva-covered teeth glinting in the pale light.
I felt behind me for Startled Hare’s door flap. Finding it, I scurried inside. “Bear!” I whispered breathlessly. “There’s a bear. We have to get Mountain—”
The rest of my warning died on my lips. Mountain Lion’s First Son yawned and rolled onto his back exposing his and Startled Hare’s naked bodies.
“Did you say a bear!” Mountain Lion’s First Son jumped up and crawled toward the tent flap. “Where? Where?”
Startled Hare gave me a guilty smile and pulled the covers over her rosy-tipped breast. I looked at the floor and my ears burned. Jealousy stabbed me deep in the heart. “He’s underage,” I whispered.
“Not any more.” She purred.
“Damn it,” Mountain Lion’s First Son said. “It’s gone.”
“Go ahead and call yourself Thieving Bear.” I said to him bitterly. “See if I care.”
I gave Startled Hare what I hoped was a withering glance and crawled out of the tent.
By midmorning, the weather matched my mood. Climate control had brewed up a vicious storm. Mud speckled my shoes as I surveyed the bear’s damage. My pack was a useless tangle of thread and material. Empty food containers lay strewn all over the campground, and, worst of all, our radio attachments for the com-links were missing.
I’d managed to find a collapsible shovel and had buried the remains of the containers by the time Startled Hare and Thieving Bear roused themselves.
“Hey,” said Thieving Bear, trying to smile into my face.
I turned away and feigned interest in my work.
“I told you she was jealous,” Startled Hare said.
I fumed and tore at the dirt with my shovel. “What the hell would you know about it? Anyway, it’s not like that.”
“I could sleep with you tonight,” Thieving Bear offered.
“Yeah,” Startled Hare said with a smile so genuine it hurt me to look at it. “That would be okay with me. We’re not ready for monogamy, anyway.”
I pushed the shovel into the ground so hard that the hinges snapped. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
Thieving Bear took a step away from me. “Whoa. Okay.”
I shook my head. “Forget about last night, okay? What’s important is that we’ve lost all our food, our com-link connections - everything, thanks to your thieving bear.”
“You’re not going to tell on us are you?” Startled Hare asked, with a hint of her guilty conscience in her smile.
“What?” I frowned at them, knowing exactly what she meant. I was tempted to make trouble for them back at the colony, but I didn’t really wish them ill. What they did was normal. Sage Martin told me these things often happened on Spirit Walks. It was just that I had hoped things would happen for me, this time. It’s not that I wanted Thieving Bear, I wanted— “No,” I said finally. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell.
“Cool,” Thieving Bear said.
Startled Hare ran up and hugged me, pressing her body against mine. I felt her smooth cheek against my own. My arms went around her waist easily to rest against her hips. Then, she pecked me on the cheek and pulled away.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Um,” wasn’t what I intended to say, but that’s all I could manage.
“Bonus,” Thieving Bear said happily, “we’ve still got two tents.”
“Sure.” I pulled my eyes away from the way the wetness clung to Startled Hare’s tunic, pointed to the pile I’d made by last night’s fire pit, and ticked off my list. “A shovel, now broken; three sleeping furs; plastic cups and dishes; some soaking wet matches; and a solar flashlight.”
“That’s all?” Startled Hare asked, her face growing wet and pale.
“That’s all I could find.”
“How far are we from home?” Thieving Bear asked.
I shut my eyes and let the rain wash over my face. “I don’t know.”
“But only a day, right?” He asked again, not understanding what I meant. “I mean, we’ve already been traveling two days. Most people are only gone three days. The camp has got to be close.”
“Right,” I said with a flat voice. “It’s got to be.”
I opened my eyes to see Startled Hare staring at me. Her eyes were wide. I turned away from her, and divvied up the things to carry.
As the day wore on, I looked for the indigo bunting, but I never saw it. Thunder rattled overhead, fraying my nerves. I dropped my tent six times as we struggled up the slippery mountain slope. The dome was so dark I lost all sense of time. My feet were covered in mud all the way to my shins. I was exhausted.
I was also scared. Nothing looked familiar. Maybe Thieving Bear was right; maybe this Spirit Walk was cursed. I gestured for the group to stop and rest in a thick grove of pines. We sat with our backs against the sturdy trunks to catch our breath. Our feet nestled in the warm, aromatic needles that covered the forest floor.
The rain made Startled Hare’s hair into an enchanting tumble of auburn curls that hung over her eyes. Just when I thought about pulling her hair away from her face for her, Thieving Bear reached over to smooth her locks behind her ears. His touch was so tender that I blushed. I stared at my feet and felt my butt growing wet through the seat of my pants. What would sex be like? When I imagined sex, I thought of women’s secret places - the smell, the soft, downy hairs. An image of Startled Hare’s naked breast came suddenly and unbidden into my mind.
I stood up suddenly, startling everyone - especially myself. I didn’t look at the lovers when I said, “We should get going.”
“Can’t we rest a bit longer?”
I shook my head anxiously. I’d die if I had to sit here next to them much longer. “I’m hungry,” I said quickly. “I want to get back as soon as possible.”
It was an argument no one could find fault with, so we clumsily grabbed our meager belongings and started up the hill again.
After a few miles, I wasn’t sure what was driving me most crazy: the constant dripping of the rain down my neck or the two lovers’ continual displays of affection. Every few steps they paused to kiss or grasp hands. Every other step, water ran down the collar of my tunic to pool near the base of my spine. I oscillated between shivering and trembling with rage.
My stomach was tied in knots from hunger, fear, and something more disturbing that I couldn’t quite articulate, but it twisted every time Startled Hare softened her glance at Thieving Bear. When I thought of her naked, which happened more often than I was comfortable with, I stomped ahead of them, too confused to do anything else.
After the most recent stomping episode, Startled Hare ran to catch up to me. The rain pitter-pattered off the broad oak leaves. The ground smelled rich and fertile. She fell into step beside me, which wasn’t easy, as I was taking long, purposeful strides.
“Something’s wrong,” she said.
I shook my head violently. I couldn’t tell her how strangely I felt towards her, how the two of them were driving me crazy, or how I wanted to be the only one touching her.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” It was more of a statement than a question. “You haven’t been leading us anywhere at all. You don’t know where we are any more than I do.”
“We’re in the dome,” I said with more anger than I intended. “We’ll eventually find our way back.”
“Yellowstone is huge,” she said. “Without our food we could starve to death. You should let Thieving Bear lead us.”
“What?” I stopped so suddenly that my boots slipped a bit in the mud. “Why?”
She blinked at me, as if I had asked why we lived in a dome. “Because he’s a man now.”
“Are you kidding?” I screamed. “He’s only a man because I heard the bear stealing our food, and, anyway, he didn’t even see the stupid animal, I did.”
“Yeah, well, you got us lost,” she spat back. Her fists rested accusingly on her narrow hips. “And if you had been a better leader, you would have remembered to take care of the food last night, and kept our packs safely guarded, and—”
I didn’t hear the rest of her words as I walked away. “If you think I’m such a terrible leader then find your own way back.” I said over my shoulder.
I fumed the whole time I set up my tent. The poles kept slipping under my clumsy ministering, and I scraped my knuckles trying to push the posts into the ground without a hammer. Finally, I unrolled my damp furs, laid my clothes out to dry, and crawled into bed. My feet had blisters. I’d kept walking well after dark, until I was too tired to continue moving. I grumbled all sorts of I-should-have-saids during the long march.
Only now that I’d stopped did my stomach start protesting. I curled up into a tight ball, and cried myself to sleep.
I slept surprisingly well. The night air had been cool, and the last of the rain had gently sung me to sleep with its rhythmical tapping on the tarp. The sun shown brightly through the tent flap, and birds chirped merrily in the breeze. Wet grass smelled sweet, almost tasty. At that thought, my stomach growled. Surely there were things in the forest I could find to eat. The colony planted most of its food, but we did quite a bit of gathering. I could identify most edible plants. The next few days might be a struggle, but I wouldn’t starve.
My clothes were still a bit damp as I pulled them on, but my heart was filled with renewed hope. Pushing open the tent flap, I stepped outside and gasped. There were no trees near my camp, only shrubs. The curvature of the dome was more prominent in the sky, and I could see where it touched the earth only a few miles away. The “sky” above me was too low to contain any of the clouds generated by climate control, but I could see pale shapes beyond the dome.
It appeared that my nocturnal ramblings had taken me within yards of the bummer zone.
“Incredible,” I breathed. Abandoning my gear, I headed into the zone.
After only a couple hundred feet, someone started talking to me. “Please return to the colony,” a strange voice insisted. The speaker sounded deaf, and the cadence she used was too even and measured. I concluded it must be mechanical. “You have breached the zone.”
Though the warning continued at regular intervals, I was too fascinated to be afraid. The dome’s edge descended closer and closer to me, until I felt like I could jump up and touch the sky. Soon the shrubs disappeared, to be replaced by grasses, plantains, pineapple weed, creeping charlie and other ground-hugging plants. A strange humming noise filled the air, which grew louder as I ventured further into the zone.
I began to see shapes beyond the dome. I knew what to expect: twisted, broken shapes, burnt land, and nuclear winter. Sage Martin told me that a terrible war had laid waste to the land outside the dome. Our people were descended from protesters who had occupied the National Parks. They were a people who understood the coming of the New Age. Outside everything died, but inside, by Fate or the Goddesses’ will, we lived.
Even the weeds vanished beneath my feet. I stood now on something smooth and hard, unlike any rock I’d ever encountered before. The voice told me, “You have breached the wall proximity alarms.”
A clanging started, and I was tempted to turn and run, but I could see a long mechanical wall in front of me. The sheer energy bubble that was the dome came to rest on top of the wall. The wall, just under my height, extended around the entire circumference of the Eco-sphere.
The sky was so low that I had to duck my head to get closer. Movement was awkward, and I bumped up against the dome. I braced myself for an electrical shock, but none came. Tentatively, I reached up to touch it. The energy bubble buzzed beneath my skin, vibrating almost pleasantly. The surface of the dome was tinted a darker blue than I expected, but where my fingers touched the surface, fluorescent colors swirled like an oil slick.
What lay beyond the dome became visible. Something white covered every surface. A wasteland, surely, but here and there I could see black needles of evergreen trees. Everything looked quiet and still.
“Nuclear winter,” I whispered, remembering what Sage Martin told me about the New Age. I was about to turn away, feeling myself overcome by the melancholy that so many others had suffered, when my eyes caught movement. Turning back, I peered out into the wasteland. In the branches of the tree nearest the dome, a flash of something. Wings?
There, through the distortion of the energy field I saw it again: the wings of a small blue bird.
Concentrating, I could see more movement beyond the dome. A squirrel darted across a snow-covered branch, sending an avalanche of white onto the ground below. A small flock of sparrows burst into the air, into a sky that knew no limits.
The outside was not desolate, after all. The Earth had healed herself, or, like me, was beginning to. What powerful news I could bring back to the colony.
I ran my hands along the great mechanical wall as I walked. I foraged weeds to eat, but I knew that I could find my way home now. Words on the wall written by the suicide victims led me toward the camp. One message made me stop and re-read it over and over.
“Bonnie doesn’t love me - Sharon.” Though the names were very strange, I recognized that they were both women. There was a strange symbol next to the message that looked like two Venus glyphs joined. I didn’t understand why this had been shown to me, but I knew it meant something I was just beginning to understand.
It took me five hours to reach the camp. By then, a search party had discovered the lovers. Dream Coyote pinpointed their whereabouts by using the dome’s weather camera location system. They had been returned to the colony in shame, stripped of their spirit walk names and were grounded for a year.
Dream Coyote could not locate me using the same method since I followed the great wall to familiar ground, and there were no cameras in the bummer zone.
My mother ran to me with open arms, and I collapsed into them gratefully.
“We were so worried,” she whispered into my ear. “We thought you were dead.”
“I’m okay, mom.” I said, my voice firm. “I’m going to be okay.”
Startled Hare, or rather, Clever Fox’s Second Daughter gave me a bitter glance. I smiled at her. My chapped lips split with the effort, but what I felt was genuine.
Behind her, I could see Dream Coyote staring at me. He wore a long, loose robe, and I realized for the first time how unconsciously feminine his movements were as he approached me.
“You’re the only one to make it back without our aid,” he said. “For you, the spirit walk is complete.”
I nodded. He gave me a measuring glance. Somehow he saw past my sunburn, scrapes, and exhaustion to see something else. He knew, as I did, that I had been transformed. Perhaps he recognized in me a kindred spirit, a shaman who would lead her people into a renewing world we had long ago abandoned.
“What is your name?” Dream Coyote asked.
Pulling away from my mother gently, I said, “Call me Indigo Bunting.”