The Kaleetan are more significant than a mere band of people scratching out their existence on the Great Plains of North America, yet they are not sufficiently numerous to be considered a tribe or even a clan. They originate among the Oglala Sioux, largely unmolested by that tribe, but outcast, wandering the same hunting grounds as a kind of permanent punishment detail, ostensibly for religious offenses, but in practice as a way for the leaders of the Oglalas to deal with competing alpha males. There are women among them, though not nearly enough.
To the north the Kaleetan are beset by the Dakotas, who hold the entire Black Hills and much of the plains and badlands around them. The Kaleetan name them the Northern Raiders, and if the mainline Oglalas help to fend them off from time to time it is more to protect their own land than to do the outcasts any special favors.
In the richer grasslands eastward the Kaleetan have the Pawnees to contend with. To the south along the Oregon Trail they are buffeted by the Arapahoes and run the risk of bumping into fearful white settlers or the army troops who protect them. To the scrubby lands westward they have the Cheyennes to fear. The whole northwest they avoid in dread of the Crows and Blackfeet.
But here in the sliver of meager grasslands grudgingly allotted to them by the leaders of the Oglala Nation their hunters ride. Wanica, the best of the Kaleetan hunters, rides in the lead, downwind of a herd of bison drinking water at a ford in a curiously constant stream that is named Indian River by the whites, although it is more like a large creek.
When the Kaleetan hunters descend into the relatively lush ravine carved by the meandering Indian River, Wanica signals for his men to bring their horses to a halt. They dismount and tie their horses off to the roots of bleached stumps. As Wanica leads his men up along the riverbank on foot, some of the animals seem to grow nervous, though they cannot see any of the hunters yet. Wanica and his hunters creep through the brush to watch the herd. They cast no shadows, for the day is relatively dark, covered by a low overcast. It is cold, but it does not rain.
The male of the bison stops drinking and stares east and downstream, sensing danger. Judging the moment to be right, Wanica suddenly stands from behind a shrub and looses an arrow. The bolt strikes a cow in a flank, but it’s not a lethal shot. All the animals hear the cry of the cow, panic, and run.
A rapid series of shots are made by other hunters, but all of the arrows miss or make non-lethal wounds. The bison flee them, ascending a slope to the north and west and making for the cover of the low cloud bank, although they are too stupid to have planned such a move. The hunters return to their horses, then follow the herd away from the river and up the hillside, and a thick fog envelopes them.
Bows are held at the ready, turning left and right, but nothing is visible to the men in the oppressive whiteout. Still, after they toil uphill the fog clears, patches of blue sky are seen, and at last three of the bison are isolated and exposed. Arrows are loosed and strike home, dropping one of the animals.
The two surviving bison run back down off the hill into the fog, seeking the safety of numbers. Young braves are tasked by Wanica with carving up the body of the fallen animal. Meat is loaded on a skid made of wooden staves and animal skin to be dragged away. Nothing of the bison is wasted.
Satisfied with the progress of the younger men, Wanica turns away with his other companions and they ride up the slope until they can go no higher. Briefly, the summit of the high hill stands alone over a sea of clouds for a rare and beautiful moment.
WANICA (moved by the sight)
I name this place the Island in the Sky.
The herd of bison wanders back, grazing warily on the mountaintop even with the hunters close at hand. They seem to sense that the humans have done their worst and will leave the rest of them alone.
A flying machine drifts out of the sea of fog on loud jets of flame.
The bison and most of the men scatter at the noise of the machine. Only Wanica and his fearless steed remain to watch what happens. His first thought is that this is some new stunt by the whites. Wanica has heard some of them travel on burning horses made of iron.
The flying machine drops a white ball, then moves up and away from the butte to explode in the sky with an even louder noise.
As the echoes of the explosion die away the white ball bounces to a stop on the summit of the Island in the Sky. Only Wanica remains to watch the white ball change shape to become like a man. The faceless white man walks toward Wanica, then sits on the ground. He says no words.
Not a white man as in a European white man, but white as snow. And he has no eyes, no mouth, no nose nor ears.
The head of the white man opens in six petals, revealing a golden object. Wanica dismounts and draws near to look at the shiny thing. Tentatively, respectfully, he takes hold of the golden object while the limbs of the white man remain motionless at his side.
The golden object fits neatly in Wanica’s hand like the hilt of a knife.
Wanica squeezes the Golden Gift to produce a hissing opaque black beam. Sweeping it around, the beam carves trenches in the stony ground of the hilltop entirely without effort. When Wanica no longer actively squeezes the Golden Gift, the black beam retracts into it and disappears.
The petals of the head of the white man close once more, betraying no seams. The white man changes his shape to become an inert white dome on the mountain summit. After Wanica witnesses all these things, he conceals the Golden Gift in the pack tied to his horse.
The curiosity of Wanica’s companions overcomes their fear. They slowly return to the summit, together with some of the bison. There, the hunters see the white dome on the very summit of the Island in the Sky, and they also see Wanica standing next to it, alone.
Wanica lifts a stone and sets it near the white dome. The companions of Wanica join him, stacking stones around the dome as though they were building an igloo out of rock. The men finish their work and stand back to look. The white dome is concealed by a cairn.
None of the Kaleetan hunters understand what they have seen, but they agree it was no mere vision of the Sky Father, for all of them have shared the same experience. It is fitting, they deem, to have built a hallowed lodge for the Sky Father after his manifestation to them, which they take to be his blessing for the hunt. The small mountain Wanica named the Island in the Sky has become forever sacred to them. And Wanica still has the Golden Gift, which he keeps secret.
The Kaleetan People are feasting on the bison killed on the Island in the Sky. The animal’s horns have been fastened to leather thongs. One of fat Chief Tatanka’s women fasten the two horns to his garment at his shoulder, as though he had actually gotten out of the tent where he ever roils in womanflesh and killed the animal himself. While this is being done Tatanka and Wanica eye each other with no mutual respect whatsoever.
There are five stories how this animal was taken, but none are the same.
Wanica allows his gaze to drift away from the chief and he blows a puff of smoke.
About the kill then. What say you, Squaw Who Hunts?
Wanica’s gaze returns to the Chief sharply, as though he has been slapped. But he buries his rage and answers.
We followed the herd up the grassy mountain, and there was a cloud. I could not even see the other hunters. Each man ascended alone. On the top of the mountain the cloud was no more, and there we took the animal.
And the Sky Father himself appeared out of the cloud to bless our hunt!
You have taught your hunters to lie so easily, Squaw Who Hunts. I should give you another name.
Wanica is annoyed by the intrusion of Plenty Lice, but he continues to speak.
The Sky Father was white as snow. He sat on the top of the mountain and his arms and legs shrank until became like an egg. The others saw this egg.
The hunters who had been with him nod their assent and grunt. They had seen the egg.
And what did you do when you saw this egg, liar?
We built a lodge of stones for the Sky Father, to honor him for his blessing.
TATANKA (pulling out his knife in an sudden rage) Lies! You dare to tell such lies to my face?
WANICA (facing the Chief with empty hands)
What I have just told you, that is what Plenty Lice and Ohanko and myself and all of us saw and did on the hunt.
Tatanka flicks the tip of his blade at Wanica’s face, and draws blood.
I know what I will call you now, young liar. Hole In Cheek!
Wanica puts his hand to his cheek and runs out of the range of the fire’s light. Chief Tatanka sits down and laughs, but nobody else does. Wanica’s simple wife Yuha leaves the circle of light as well and follows her man to their tipi.
While Wanica is being bandaged up his son Shy Bear watches his mother dress the wound.
Father, did you truly see the Sky Spirit, or did you just want to annoy Bad Heart Bull?
Wanica shifts his eyes to his son, much as he had done when the Chief called him a woman, but he does not answer until Yuha is finished stanching the cut. At length, when his wife is done, Wanica appraises his son for a long moment.
Yuha, what we spoke about before, now it is time.
Yuha nods, and retrieves a leather pouch containing pigments and implements to apply them. For his part Wanica retrieves a ceremonial dress made of bison skins and feathers and many beads.
Stand and be still, son.
Wanica lays the ceremonial dress on Shy Bear as his wife begins to paints the boy’s face.
I will not give you an answer to your question about the Sky Father.
Yuha continues to paint. Wanica puts the boy’s own bow in his hands.
WANICA I will not give you food.
Yuha completes painting her son’s face and stands apart from him.
You are called Shy Bear because I lent you that name, but now you are nameless.
Wanica flips open the flap-door to the tipi.
Go now, into the night, nameless one. Kill your own food, if you can. And if you cannot? Perhaps in your hunger the Sky Father will give you a vision. I will pray that he does so, for I will not give a nameless boy such as you one more thing.
YUHA (kissing her son)
If you come back to us, you will not be a boy. You will be a man, and you will have a new name that you will have given yourself.
The astonishment on Shy Bear’s face at all these proceedings fades, and he nods. Obeying his father, he steps out of the tent into the night. In the dark, Shy Bear walks on the plain with the fires of the People far behind. In the pre-dawn light, Shy Bear toils up the slopes of the Island in the Sky. The sun rises as Shy Bear nears the top of the mountain. In the light of full dawn, Shy Bear stands on the summit of the hill, and his own shadow falls upon his father’s stone cairn.
But when it is mid-day, Shy Bear has still not had a vision from the Sky Father. The stone cairn built by his father remains silent. So Shy Bear gathers woody brush growing on the summit, cutting it with his knife. He builds a fire in a small fire-pit made of stones.
Shy Bear begins to remove stones away from one side of the cairn to create a door. He creates a makeshift torch and lights it from his little campfire. Then he crawls inside the stone igloo, with his torch lighting the way.
Inside, Shy Bear sees a white dome, exactly as his father described to Bad Heart Bull. Shy Bear stretches his hand toward the dome slowly. The white dome projects a needle from its surface that pierces Shy Bear’s finger. The boy jerks his hand away in pain. He can see that the needle remains standing on the surface of the dome. Then Shy Bear emerges from the cairn, raising the arm with the hand that was pierced. He staggers around, and drops the torch. The flame of the torch kindles dry grass on the ground to catch fire as well, as Shy Bear falls to the ground in a dead faint.
A bubble forms around Shy Bear before the flames reach him. He recedes as though it were a tunnel. The bubble disappears. Shy Bear is gone.
Flames reach the place where Shy Bear had fallen. The fire grows until the summit is entirely engulfed. The fire becomes a ring that circles the entire bulk of the Island in the Sky. Bison and rabbit flee downslope as the fire races toward them. The top third of the Island in the Sky is charred as the fiery ring continues to move down. Far from the mountain, a herd of bison instinctively turn south to move away from the danger.
Wanica and Yuha emerge from their tipi and look south towards the horizon. They can see the Island in the Sky is entirely engulfed in flame and smoke.
Shy Bear stands together with Yeshua and hez servants, marveling at the view of the afterlife.
This is the lodge of my parent Chokhmah, the one you know as the Sky Father. I am Chief Yeshua.
You speak strange words, yet I know what they mean. How can this be?
When you were pierced by the white artifact, your body and mind were changed. Now you can speak and understand the tongue of the Whites.
I did not ask to be changed in these ways, Chief Yeshua.
It is a consequence of touching the Artifact. Those changes are not a matter of your choice. Yet you are free to choose to return to your People and teach them the language that you now know.
They will be afraid, and flog me, or try to put me to death, thinking I am Coyote come in a human shape.
Do not be afraid. Your father Wanica will protect you. He will soon be Chief of the People.
All of these things, the changes to me, what is the purpose? Is there a purpose?
A group of White settlers will encounter the People in three years. I want them to live among you. Chokhmah wants these Whites and your People to live together in peace.
You spoke of a choice. What will become of me if I do not return to the People?
You may stay here for the rest of your life, but your parents and your people will never see you again.
Shy Bear looks at the new world once more. There is no sky. The land curves behind a small sun. Hy longs to stay and experience even more wonders, but hyz longing to see hyz father Wanica and mother Yuha again proves the greater.
I will return and teach the People the tongue of the Whites.
I am very pleased. No more are you to be called Shy Bear. Here you will be called Jashen, and one day you shall return to this place again. But in the meantime you must decide on a name for yourself that you can use among the People when you go back to live among them.
Jashen tarries in the Land We Know for ten days, as measured by the slowly pulsating sun, during which time he learns exactly what Yeshua meant by his body being changed as well as his mind. Jashen is transformed from a young human male into a yang of the nephilim.