Another excerpt from The Pictograph Murders

Why? Because it fits.

When she woke at sunrise, she squirmed out of her sleeping bag, stood up, opened her car door, and draped the bag over it to dry off millions of pinprick dewdrops that had bloomed on it during the night.  When she turned to face the dune at the canyon rim, her attention snagged on a weird image.

Standing on the dune’s crest, back-lit by the sun so that all features receded into shadow, was a squat figure.  The specter maintained absolute stillness on two short, thick legs that rose into a torso dominated by a barrel chest.  On its shoulders balanced a heavy black head adorned by a headdress from which protruded two curving horns.

The apparition snatched away her breath.  She swept her understanding for an explanation of the thing.  Stuttering thoughts retrieved only ancient names—genius loci, numen, Kokopelli, the chief one being shaman.  She seized on this last.  Shaman.

She stared harder.  The form possessed the shape she imagined a shaman dwarf would have, distorted and eidolonic.  She wondered if she were hallucinating, but she couldn’t think of a reason the image facing her across the distance would not be real.  The prominent horns moved slightly.  She squinted, trying to make out features, but the face she knew must be there remained hidden in shadow.

She froze in an idea that this shaman had come to speak to her, to reveal something of the highest importance.  She trembled, considering her worthiness.  Was all right with her?  Then she remembered why she had come, and she knew all is not right.  She panicked at the thought that the thing on the dune knew this, knew of her trouble over that man.  She was troubled and dark.  Surely the shaman would know this.  The thought that the visitor would judge her unworthy and leave without delivering its message provoked stabbing desperation.

Don’t go, she thought.  She whispered it: “Don’t go!”  Suddenly her rational side kicked in.  There couldn’t really be a holy man on the hill, calling her to attention across the ringing silence.

And yet … the electricity crackling between her and the figure on the dune was real.  If it was imagination, it was imagination’s highest flight, an arrow spring from a wild bow, piercing years of experience.  Whatever Alex thought she knew trembled for its existence.

Where was Kit?  Did she see the thing?  Alex turned slowly to look.  From the corner of her eye, she could just make her out in the brush beyond the car, sniffing bushed.  Kit hadn’t seen.

Alex’s slight movement stirred the figure on the dune to action.  Suddenly it shape-shifted, doubling in size as another form broke from the shadow chrysalis standing before her.  Two legs multiplied to four.  A horizontal spine writhed out of the vertical dwarfen one, then out stretched a broad flank, catching the sun across its surface, glowing golden.  Polished black tines and a long-muzzled face with widely set black eyes and black facial markings re-formed from the headdress-crowned head.  When the transformation was complete, a pronghorn buck stood broadside, staring.   He bounded twice, then stopped and looked over his shoulder to see if she would follow.

This all happened so quickly that Alex’s mind hadn’t been able to keep up.  The buck looked at her for several seconds, nose, eyes, and ears taking her in.  He bounded two times again, paused, and when Alex made no move to pursue him, walked at a leisurely pace up along the ridge of the dune and disappeared over its crest.

This had been by far the best trick light and perspective had ever played on her.  Alex stood there astonished, playing the scene over in her mind and feeling a slow burn of wonder spread head to toe.  Once more, in a meeting with Other, her being had been shaken up and her bare psychological bones rolled out across the sand in one of the desert’s games.  Although she felt bested, she also felt better for it.  In concert with the metamorphosis of the figure on the dune, she too had broken through.  In the immediate wake of the experience, her wings remained wet and crumpled and she felt vulnerable and exposed.  Nevertheless, she thought as she made motions of preparing breakfast, nevertheless, life with its sudden gifts of creation and uncreation, is good.

(Based on an actual experience.)

One thought on “Another excerpt from The Pictograph Murders”

  1. What is and what isn’t? We mortals can hardly tell sometimes. This is a great passage.
    We have a wall of trees out back: the ground slopes up and it is very tricky judging distance when everything is so green and the perspective rises all on its own. There is lots of wildlife to glimpse among the trees. One day I spotted a brown leg and saw the skin jumping on it, so I knew there was at least one deer in the woods. I watched, judging the bit of leg I saw and imagining I knew where the rest of the deer was. I waited to see it because it would eventually move into a clearer place and I could see it way up there in the trees. Well, it moved and suddenly that little bit of leg wasn’t on a deer far away up in the rising treeline, it was much closer and right inside the edge of the woods. What I thought was one part of a distant leg was a different part of a closer leg, if that makes sense. It looked gigantic! I had to shake my head and rearrange my expectations. That patch of woods plays those kinds of tricks all the time. The colors are very different in rain or in fall, and the animals play their Bev Doolittle games in new ways whenever I am patient enough to play along.

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