Gold Mountain
Chapter 11

Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd

Tough Spirits

“I hate to say it, Graydon, but you were helpless. You let the pain and shock overwhelm you. If I hadn’t been there to pull you out of it, Purdy might have died,” Mike said.

Graydon hung his head; his face burned with shame. How did I lose control like that? he murmured. What will happen the next time? Will I be just as useless?

“Don’t indulge yourself in self-pity!” Mike said. “It won’t help and you have no reason to be ashamed. You were caught unprepared, that’s all. You don’t yet have the shields, the safeguards, to protect against what happened. We’ve got to fix that. All right?”

Graydon lifted his gaze from the floor to stare back at Mike.

“But, the pain, it hit so fast. The shock! One minute I’m in the room with everybody and the next moment I’m falling away into the pain. I wasn’t there any more. I was pulled away, losing control. It seemed hopeless...”

“It seems hopeless, perhaps. You’ve grown close to Purdy. He’s been a good neighbor, a good friend to you and your family. I think there’s something else, too. A sort of affinity, a natural bond between you two. I know he feels it; that explains his actions, laying his trust and obligations on you. I know that you feel a similar affinity to him. That accounts for your response to his near-fatal wounding. I expect that if you’d allow yourself to sense his present state, you’d feel his condition. I don’t suggest you do that just now. It won’t help either of you.”

“No, I don’t want that again. It scares me to lose control like that,” Graydon murmured.

“Eat nothing for the rest of today and tonight. Drink only a little water to sustain yourself. Go to your room. Meditate. Calm yourself. Ask for self-assurance and certitude that you walk a sure path. Continue fasting tomorrow. Come mid-day and meet me at the cabin. Come alone, on foot.”

Pungent, billowing clouds of steam boiled between himself and his mentor. Brief glints of light reflected from the sweat beads rolling down Mike’s bare chest. Graydon sat erect, his head thrown back, his eyes closed. He inhaled the hot, moist air through flared nostrils. He forced his chest to swell in shuddering expansions, over-filling his lungs. Time is beads of steam and sweat running down his body, many into his open palms held upward on crossed legs. They cleanse and drain away, soaking into a mat of cedar boughs.

Mike ladled a shower of herb-laden water onto the heap of hot stones. A swirling cloud of steam erupts, filling the lodge.

He resumed his seat, facing Graydon. He held two flat, round stones, one for each palm. He tapped them together in a staccato rhythm, a syncopated accompaniment to his shaman’s chant. Graydon lost his sense of presence somewhere in the mists, his eyelids closed. Mike tapped with his rhythmic song, singing words ancient and intimate in the embrace of the teaching ceremony.

I have been here, Graydon thought. He stood on the bank of the raging creek, its foaming water throwing a chilling spray high behind him. He felt the cold wet on his neck and ears. The strange man in beaded buckskins stood silent there, in memory, his black and white banded hair cascading down his back, over his shoulders, streaming free beyond the beaded leather headband circled tight around his forehead.

His eyes! Graydon felt himself drawn into those eyes, willing him to yield...

NO! He resisted. A whistling sound called to him. He glanced up and saw a fluttering bird. It whistled a gentle insistent call. Graydon watched the bird as it rose, folding its wings and rising again with another wingbeat, circling away. He remembered its fading call.

He was free. He struggled to clear his mind.

Pain! Shattering pain! His leg, crushed; pinned, trapped, a mass of tumbled boulders and broken trees pressing him into the earth, his blood filling his eyes, his silent scream that he would die here undiscovered and trapped in the wilderness.

He jerked awake from his campsite sleep, overwhelmed by dread. He fought the waves of panic. He gathered himself and his gear and followed the call. The impatient deer, stamping its delicate hoof on the rock-strewn trail. He followed the deer to the tumbled boulders and broken trees. He obeyed the fluttering bird that swooped down to his face, beating its wings and diving down the slope and back again, crying alarm.

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