Dawn broke slowly, like a flame gaining strength behind a dusty glass shade. The sky brightened: dull earth to pewter to pearl. Immense trees emerged gradually as sky became fog and fog shredded to mist. Left to tangle on lichen and moss hung branches, mist drifted slowly downward and slipped sideways between the linked arms and braced legs of a double row of muddy protesters stretched across a rough gravel logging road near Tofino BC.
Muddy boot to muddy boot they stood, defiantly, over other protesters lying peacefully on the road as if to taunt the heavy machinery in front of them. An unequal mix of First Nations, Hippies, Grandparents and well-dressed young white college students, their common ground was their determination and fear. In the haze, blue and red lights flickered, still a long distance away on the rough winding road.
Engines revved and threatened. Men in bright hard hats and safety vests milled and gestured; then scattered only to mill again. From somewhere a rock sailed upward into the protesters. Blood bloomed and ran down the side of a young native man's face. He buckled a moment before his linemates shored him up.
On a moss covered hill of tumbled boulders, five Nuu-Chah-Nulth Elders, 3 men and 2 women, stood looking down in silence. Some trick of the mist seemed to overlay their worn jackets and ball caps in ancient cedar robes and woven conical hats. The Eldest was wrapped in a bear skin, the thick, black hide pulled up against his white hair like a hood. Below them the argument heated.
A tall, muscle bound blond man swung lazily out of a bulldozer and sauntered over to one of the protesters lying in the mud. She was small: a pretty native woman with flashing, defiant eyes. He stared downward a long moment, the muscles in his face bunching, teeth clenched. An audible intake of breath could be heard from the protesters above and around the woman. The Blond only snorted in amusement and half turned towards his companions, raising his arms and laughing as if to share some intimate joke. He moved to step away.
The wind whispered. A raven call echoed like gunshot.
The Blond blinked and snarled. He spun back: fists clenched, to kick and stomp at the woman as if his sanity had blown away with the wind. The dull impact of steel toed boots against fragile bone echoed clearly in the stunned silence.
The old man in the bearskin closed his eyes.
Below, three men in vests jumped on the Blond, trying to wrestle him away from the protesters, who knelt around the woman in the mud, shielding her with their bodies. Faces white, they locked themselves together, nervous and sickened. Blood mixed with the mud and gravel. Men with radios ran towards them.
"Enough" A tired voice rasped, breaking the silence on the hill."This must stop."
Grey heads nodded, voices muttering softly in agreement. The old man in the bearskin considered the others solemnly. Water droplets gathered and fell from the weathered brims of their hats. The same moisture traveled the furrows of their old faces, the seams of their hands. He respected their years and knew they respected his wisdom.
"This is not a good decision," he said, raising his face to the sky then meeting their resolute gazes."You don't know what you will bring."
The woman beside him placed her hand on his shoulder, dark eyes searching his face. She pointed at the scene below them."Joseph, can't you see? It is already here!"
He closed his eyes again. The elders were right of course. Something was out of place in the spirit world and had been for months now. He sighed. If only he was younger. He twitched back the folds of the bear skin with reluctance to reveal an ancient wooden drum.
It was old; far older than any of the stories handed down in any of their memories. Only the legends and fears regarding it remained. He stared at it. Such a small thing, yet so heavy it dragged at his hand until he placed it on the rock at his feet. Carved from a single plank of wood, it had been bent and steamed into a square until it resembled an open ended box. It was black with age, completely unadorned. Almost ugly: except for the distinct aura of power resonating from it. It had never been sounded within his lifetime. It should not be sounded, for half of it was here is this world, the rest resided in the Spirit Realm.
He felt his mouth dry until he wished for rain that day instead of mist. He raised the mallet.
The woman beside him caught his arm."We all do this thing," she said looking at the others around her. They nodded and stepped forward.
"No," he said gently holding up his hand to them."The responsibility is mine."
For a brief second the world stood still. Nothing breathed. No bird called. Then the mallet descended.
Thunder rolled from the box: one pure shock of celestial hammer on anvil that shook the ground beneath their feet and reverberated off the faces of the denuded hillsides around them. Trees swayed behind the protesters who fought for balance. Birds shrieked and fled for the skies as a hot wind picked up debris along the dirty valley floor and threw it in everyone's faces. The putrid stench of carrion wafted in behind it.
On the logging road, the young woman lying in the mud choked on a gasp of air around searing pain at the sound of the drum and her eyes flew wide in terror."Oh Grandfather what have you done?"
* * *
On the edge of the crowd of loggers, no one noticed the thin, native man in the dirty army surplus coat whose head lifted as if to scent the air. He paced out from behind the machinery, dodging running loggers like an eel, until he had a clear view of the hill where the elders stood. His gaze found the drum and his eyes lit with avarice. Flickering red lights reflected in the sweat running down his face as the RCMP vehicles arrived. He sidestepped quickly as three loggers dragged a beaten and bloody someone towards an emerging officer. When he looked again, the elders were gone. Damn. He needed that drum. All the shouting was making his head hurt. But somewhere nearby there was blood. He could smell it. And with that blood was power he could use. All he had to do was find it.
Ambulance attendants rushed a gurney by him. He followed it towards a knot of people gathered around a woman on the ground, her head pillowed on a girls white jacket. Bright red blood covered most of it, and foamed at the edges of her mouth as she struggled to breathe. He felt his mouth water at the sight.
"Please Tiana," the girl sobbed,"don't try to talk."
The young woman – Tiana – that was her name; opened her eyes and slowly, slowly, they focused on him. He saw her go completely white. Her lips moved and he smiled a feral smile. She fainted.
"What? What did she say?" the ambulance attendant bending down to look at her cut off his view, but it didn't matter. From the looks of things she wasn't going to make it anyway. What a shame. She had so much power.
"She said Matlose," the girl whispered. Some of the nearby native protesters shifted uneasily, looking around them.
"What's Matlose?" the attendant asked gently pushing the girl away and taking Tiana's head.
"Imagine your worst nightmare," The girl said backing away. Then she noticed the blood covering her hands.
He smiled and slipped closer then stopped. This girl was all wrong despite the blood. His head lifted, scenting power. No, the Blond in the police cruiser. He would start with him.
*"Prologue" is an excerpt from Heather Hood's recent novel Spirit to Spirit.