Query Letter Draft for Idaho Jack Novel,
TO: Agent Person
SUBJECT: Novel Submission “Idaho Jack: Pearls Before Swine”
Dear Agent Person
I am writing to seek representation for my novel IDAHO JACK: Pearls Before Swine, an own voices Indigenous Novel of about 76,000 words. I am submitting this to you because I think we would make a great team to bring my story to the world. I am currently working with two groups one interested in a comic book adaption and the other in an indie tv series adaption. I would like to make sure any future representation can assist in keeping those rights for these projects.
Idaho Jack is two stories woven together. First, is the story of Idaho Jack, a reverse Indiana Jones where an Indigenous man repatriates artifacts from museums and collectors through chicanery. Written in a parody of old pulp and noir stories, Idaho narrates his adventures in often over-the-top descriptions. Second, the story behind the artifacts Idaho liberates, in Sister’s Sacrifice it is the story of Idaho’s ancestor Sister who was first raised in the Residential Boarding School system before being sold to a human zoo where she meets her love interest Mazaa and together they seek to survive and escape.
I am currently a Casino Executive and am an enrolled member of the Village of Kotzebue Indigenous Nation. I have self-published several books and short stories with good reviews, and I am now trying to find my way into traditional publishing. Raised on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation I grew up listening to stories told over the fire, and those stories have shaped my life and my writing.
I attach the first Fifty pages as requested and can supply a synopsis upon request. Thank you for the time you have taken in reading my submission. I hope you like what you read and look forward to your response.
Subject: First Fifty Pages:
Novel: Idaho Jack: Pearls Before Swine
To: Agent Person
The Sister’s Building
The Sisters’ Building was not yet officially called the Sisters’ Building. Well not in common parlance, though it was already whispered at times. One had to wonder what the church thought of that. The bastion of male privilege that the church was, defined by these people’s fear of nuns instead of priests. How they must have hated that, but perhaps they feared the sisters as much as the people did because the name came and the name stuck.
Not that priests didn’t share a certain perception as an oppressor in the minds of the populace, but it was the nuns that held the whips and switches. It was the nuns that decided when the children ate, or more likely when they didn’t.
And so the squat edifice of wood and brick would become known as the Sisters’ Building by the children unlucky enough to go there, but lucky enough to survive their time within.
Christina, not her real name but the name the priest decided he could pronounce, found it humorous to claim that the building had been named after her, seeing as she was named “Sister” by her community. The joke was funny, that is until she got there. She had only ever seen the building from the back of her family’s wagon as they passed by and had never spoken of it aloud before. Even then eventually the dark fearful whispers everyone saved for the structure ensured she was much too frightened to allow her mouth to contain the words.
Some topics were never uttered except by the very strong and extremely brave, or more likely foolish. Topics like Christina’s real name or talk of the late-night jump dances. Somethings you just didn’t say out loud. Not anymore, not if you wanted the eyes of the priest and sisters to pass you by. Avoidance was often the best method of dealing with that which could harm you.
But the days of avoiding this particular fear were over now that the priest had spoken. Christina had been deemed old enough to be taken by the church, and her family had no choice as the soldiers bundled her and her cousins up in the back of the wagon that would deliver them. There was powerlessness in life that Christina could feel even at her young age.
The soldiers smelled of grease and liquor, and their uniforms looked to have never been washed. Christina wondered how their mothers allowed them to leave the house like that. Her mother would be mortified if Christina’s father ever represented the family so, and the entire clan took great pains to remain clean despite not always being able to harvest the proper cleansing roots and herbs due to such things being forbidden by the priest.
Christina’s mother had dressed her in her most beautiful ribbon dress and braided her hair. Christina may need to face this terrible fate, but she would do it representing the family with pride.
The soft sounds of her mother singing had soothed much of Christina’s fears. The warmth of her mother’s fingers through her hair. The process of packing what little she would take. Picking beaded hair stays and small trinkets for protection took up much of the morning. The calming purpose of the action took from her mind what was about to happen and soothed her fears.
The soldiers’ wagon was open air, and the children were freezing as they rode from house to house collecting those that had been deemed of age. The sounds of the soldiers’ quiet banter filled the air, and several children cried silently missing their families.
Christina was lucky her uncle spoke some English because of trade partnerships he had, and he had taught her what little he knew. Several of the other children had never been taught the foreign tongue that would be part of their curriculum. Christina knew that neither the priest nor the nuns would sully their mouths with the People’s language.
Christina’s thoughts slipped from her mind as the wagon’s jerky momentum slowed and stopped. Even the soldiers grew quiet.
They had arrived.
Apple tree branches reached out towards her, grasping at Christina with their autumn-bared arms like skeletal remains grasping for life. But Christina ignored the twisting wood as her mind took in the massive building behind the branches and the women dressed in black standing beneath them.
Christina scrambled out of the wagon clutching her small pack before her. Her cousins and other children gathered around her, huddling together.
A woman in black stepped forward and began yelling in what Christina could only assume was English and pointing at the earth before her. None of the words sounded like what her uncle had taught her. The children huddled tighter as the muddled words mushed together in senseless screams.
The nun screamed louder and pointed harder, but it failed to make clear what she wanted.
Finally, with a huff, she stalked over and grabbed a young Northern River Clan child and dragged him to the spot she had pointed at. The boy seemed near tears, but he stood tall as she ripped his pack from him and dumped its contents onto the ground. A pile of clothing and odds and ends fell into the dirt. The woman pulled out a few small trinkets, yelled at the boy waving them in his face before she tossed them back into the pile.
The woman grabbed him by his hair and pulled him closer.
The boy began to cry.
Quiet tears that fell into the earth, ignored.
The woman stripped him of his ribbon shirt and pants.
Next came his moccasins.
She pulled from her dress a pair of long black scissors.
She began to shear the hair from his head.
Long black locks fell to the earth, as the blades snipped.
All that he was dumped into the pile until he stood naked and shivering.
The other children huddled tighter around Christina.
There was no escape as one by one they were stripped. Hair pulled free of braids to be chopped short into ragged clumps. The sounds of a foreign tongue constantly stream around them through the cold air.
Their belongings were piled before them.
Precious treasures lay upon the earth like trash.
Christina would not cry. Not even as she watched the women light the pile of hair and belongings on fire. Not even as a younger woman in black handed her a thin wool dress while whispering in that garbled mess they called language.
The woman that had first stripped them looked at Christina with stern ugly eyes hidden among pale skin.
Christina, flinched at the little-clawed hands wrapped in the woman’s blonde hair, the little face that stared out from above the woman’s head. The creature held to the woman like a hummingbird on a goose. Christina was transfixed as the claws dug deeper, a mouth of jagged teeth smiled, and the woman in black’s smile mimicked it only moments later.
Christina looked down at her new wool dress and realized this was her new life.
She was 5 years old.
She hated them.
The crackle of fire filled the crisp autumn air, consuming all she had been.
She was 5 years old.
The lights of the city hid the stars under cold polluting orange. The cement beneath my feet crackled as my boots pushed me from shadow to shadow like a creeping wolf. The locals were much too savage and afraid of the dark to look deeply within the shadows around them. I ran my hands along the brim of my black Natani Nez hat and leaned back against the wall of stone across from a massive primitive artifice. The navy suit I had chosen had bead work along the cuffs and collar matching my hat. Graham always warned me that my vanity would get me spotted, but I knew that these people would never see anything past my dark red skin.
The smell of the place crawled in through my nose, and I wondered how any could choose to live in such squalor they called a city. I closed my eyes and tried to think of cleaner thoughts. The smell of cedar smoke in my nose, the pounding of drums in my ears, the feel of the earth against my moccasined feet. These were memories that got me through the visits to these lands.
I could hear those drums now, thrumming in my past, pulling me into my future. The steady rhythm of base hammering again and again through me as my legs moved me and beat their accompaniment to the drums. The weight of my regalia bounced and turned in sync with my body. The piercing scream of the drummers as they began their honor song. Memories drove me onward.
This is why I was here, in this forsaken land. Here to honor my family, my people, to make good on a promise so long ago made. My purpose had come to me as a young man, and it promised to make my people whole. The purpose was to save as much as I could of what the people had lost, and if I did this perhaps I would make sure my people were brought home as well. For that was the dream that our grandmothers and grandfathers would one day be brought home to us. That the things that were stolen could be repatriated.
The sound of drums thrummed in my ears as I stood within the shadows. The ugly square edifice across the street was built to hulk over the populous. A monument to remind all those that had been conquered and betrayed, that what was theirs could and had been stolen. As is common in the less advanced civilizations they had created a vault filled with the spoils of their war criminals. A temple to supremacy. I tilted my hat brim down as locals walked past in the night. Once their footsteps ceased to echo I looked back up, the ugliness of stone and brick still stood, still held its stolen trophies, still prison camps for those spirited away in the night.
I slipped on the wet sidewalk and crashed down onto the cold cement. The pain of it echoed along my body, and my elbow ached. I climbed to my feet and ambled across the street brushing off my suit as I went. Even the most agile of deer, trip at times, and I thought nothing of it. My knees and elbow not being what they once were ached from the fall, but I pushed through, as great warriors always do.
I began my circle of the building. There were no alleyways to hide my entrance to the structure, but all buildings have walls less seen than others, and I had planned my approach carefully.
The blueprints for the building were safely stored in the steel trap of my mind. I had planned in detail on the plane ride over. The map had been old and wrinkled with parts missing, and to be fair I had only seen it for a few minutes, but it had been enough. I had given all the time between in-flight movies to this endeavor. One cannot have too much detail in planning.
Grandmother’s voice echoed in my head, like a nagging raven. She would not be happy if I failed in this most important of missions. I had promised her two things, and this would be the first I was able to accomplish.
After decades, my purpose had made good, finally, and it was about time for it. I had spent a lifetime doing this work, work I loved, work that was needed, but still, I had started for a reason, a reason today would start me on the journey of accomplishing. We had made a trade, and the world had no right to complain.
The building was well lit around the front, but those lights quickly dimmed as I circled back to the employee entrances and past to the broken-down parking lot behind. Trash was piled in the lot in clumps of cans and paper. I could taste the neglect in my mouth and felt amazed that even here at their sacred temple these people refused to show the proper respect due.
I had found it common that in some people’s yearning for a culture they never bothered to do a full job in creating one. Like they wanted to appear cultured, but just could not fully embrace the work it took to fully commit. They made a mask for the front of the building and cold ugly cement for the back, both were ugly, but at least the front tried.
This was a metaphor for what I had found through their society of social media activism and performative religion. They were all about representing traditions without ever actually embracing them in their daily lives. Everything was claimed, nothing was earned. Everything was for show, everything was for the consumption of others. When everything was about showing their faith, nothing became sacred to the bone.
I pushed in near the wall I wanted and looked above me towards the windows I knew would be my way in. The windows reflected the ever-present light pollution of the city at me, giving just enough light to see where I would climb up. I coughed out the smell of pigeon and rat crap that emanated stronger here closer to the building.
I released my lasso from its belt holster and snapped it at the overhang. The rough warm rope cupped in my hand a reassurance that I was ready, a reminder of why I was here. The fibers cracked in the air and fell back towards my face. My eyes narrowed as I gauged another attempt.
I snaked the rope around behind me for another attempt and noticed the stone and cement cracks in the wall before me. I wrapped the lasso back into its holster and tested the crack. Just wide enough for my fingers and cowboy boot tips, and just strong enough to hold me. I began to climb with my bear-like strength.
I clambered heavily onto the darkened windowsill looking into the room beyond. I took a few moments to catch my breath after the half-story climb. The cold stone pressed into my back as I leaned against the smooth glass breathing hard, and looked within.
The room beyond the window was white marble and shiny, filled with pedestals. On each pedestal lay artifacts for a display to the savage peoples of this land. Each piece was stolen in the dead of night from the rightful civilized owners around the world. The room was sterile and unlived. A place devoid of the daily joys a well-lived room would hold, not even a single blanket in sight, not even on the walls. I leaned against the side of the window and pointed my championship belt buckle at the glass.
The buckle was a large circle of silver covered in chevron designs and highlighted with turquoise and beadwork. Some might call it garish or even gaudy, but they just did not understand the meaning of true beauty.
The buckle, a gift from Graham, was specially made using the most modern technology and could handle most tasks I set it. The buckle worked by converting the kinetic energy of my hand waving before it into both power and commands.
I waved my hand in a complex pattern of wind and symbolism until a short laser of blue beamed from one of the stones. The glass-etched and flared with the blue light. The laser struck the glass and cut a smooth circle just above the inner catch.
The laser flipped off as I waved my hand again. The circle of glass eased out in my smooth spider-like fingers with a master’s grace, only to slip and fall crashing to the ground below. The window’s catch gave easily as I reached through the newly cut hole. I inched the window up slowly, ensuring no noise arose until it was just wide enough for me to slip through. My cowboy boots slipped upon the floor as I crouched down in the interior. My arms waved and I floundered for just a moment trying to silently stay upright.
It took only a few moments to find my cougar-like balance. I had made it in rather easily. I smiled at how simple these temples were to enter. Such a primitive culture, and yet capable of so much damage to the world. They had spread across the globe and brought pain and suffering everywhere they went, and rather than be ashamed like any right-thinking people, they had built these monuments to their history as slavers and killers.
I pulled the window closed behind me. No reason to leave one of the temple guards a clue that they had been infiltrated. The marble floor made barely a squeak as I moved through the room with the stealth of a hunting eagle. I slipped easily through the pedestals, and towards the exit.
I moved in a low crouch towards the nearest door and peered out into the darkened hallway. I listened for the sounds of temple guards but heard nothing. Lazy and resting was my guess, that was just the ways of some people. Likely so assured at the rightness of their cause they did not consider anyone would dare come to rescue their prisoners. A foolish thought in their culture of thieves.
I waved my hand before my belt buckle and a small screen of light popped up giving me info on the building’s security. I waved my hand a few more times signaling the device to connect to the many traps and surveillance systems. Making myself invisible to the cameras and lasers. Their security systems were easily bested by my technology. I smiled and set off, watching the screen for alerts indicating pressure plates and other potential alarms.
The building was massive, and my time was limited. I knew what I had come for. I knew the room it was in. But I had a distance to travel past guards and through doors before I could rescue them. I was here though, and I was not leaving without what I had come for. I followed my internal mapping into the darkness. It was time to hunt the treasures I had come for.
Somehow Sister Margaretta knew.
Christina had been at the Sisters’ Building for a year, and Sister Margaretta was the first thing the children had learned to fear. The children already here had whispered to the new prisoners everything they needed to know.
Speak never, but when you did; always speak English. Those who could not learn the foreign language must remain silent and hope they could pass. There would be no English lessons, beyond the beatings when one did not understand. So, learn, or pretend that you had.
Give no indication that you remembered the People’s ways but only the priest’s mass and prayers. To remember the true ways was to be classed a ‘heathen’ and heathens did not eat. Those that prayed to the priest’s savior might find food in their bellies if they were lucky. Those that did not, did not have even that slim hope.
Eat when you found the chance, the sisters supplied some mush for the children, but often long periods without food would pass. Those that worked in the kitchen often could sneak some food, but such a thing was dangerous and could lead to severe beatings and the cellar. Still, the temptation of the priest and nuns’ usual hearty meals was often too much to not take the risk. But still, the older children whispered it was best to take what was offered as soon as it was offered and no more. No matter how bad the mush might be, one must eat when they could or starve.
Most importantly stay out of the way of Sister Margaretta. All the nuns were scary and violent, but Sister Margaretta was the worst. She kept her switch hanging from her belt, and the slightest hint the children were falling back into ‘heathen’ ways was an excuse to use it before throwing them into the cellar for a night of contemplation.
Christina had been careful even before the warnings. She had seen the small creature crawling through the nun’s hair, and that had been the only indication she needed that the woman was to be feared.
Since the first day she had seen the creature, she named it a nimerigar after her grandmother’s stories. Her grandmother had come from across the mountains to the east and enjoyed filling quiet nights with tales of the diminutive inhuman flesh eaters and other scary tales.
From her first night, she had seen many nimerigar around the Sisters’ building. They were always near the nuns, and always one clung to Sister Margaretta, climbing constantly through her blonde hair. They scurried this way and that, and nobody else seemed to see them. But Christina saw them, and she shivered at the thought of their claws upon her skin.
The nimerigar was not her problem right now. Her problem was that Sister Margaretta knew. Christina had been careful, but her cousin, Red Hawk, would not stop coughing, and the husk root had been right there near the well.
She was not out looking for the root it was rare that it would grow outside of the mountains. She was merely coming to fill her bucket, and there it had been. Small white flowers, blooming as if just for her, and she had thought about her worry for Red Hawk’s cough.
A single hummingbird danced in the air around it as if to highlight it, as if the steady vibrating of its wings were a call from her ancestors whispering here, here. Christina had sat down her bucket full of water and just stared at the flower in fear and hope.
A nimerigar had hissed at her as she approached the kouskous husk flower, and its claws had clicked on the stone of the well as she slipped her hands into the dirt. Its hiss filled the air, as the blossoms swung, giving off their scent. The nimerigar jerked back as the blossom struck the stone of the well, and it scurried farther up to the well’s lip as if burned.
Christina’s fear choked her, but she dug deep and pulled the wormy root up before running away, whispering her thanks to the plant for its gift, asking forgiveness for not replanting what had been left.
Washing and peeling had to be done in secret, for the use of traditional medicines were listed under ‘heathen’ works. Christina was so careful, telling no one of her actions. Her only thought was that without treatment Red Hawk may die of her cough, and nobody else seemed concerned with caring for her.
When ready she gave pieces of the root to Red Hawk to chew on. Handing it over slowly and telling no one, not even Red Hawk. Christina had merely slipped it to the coughing girl while they scrubbed the floor near each other. Red Hawk’s eyes had widened as soon as the root passed her lips. She smiled slightly before looking down and away. The rest of the husk Christina hid within her dress, pressed tightly to her breast, a memory of her mother’s teachings.
Nobody could know.
Nobody had seen.
But Sister Margaretta knew.
The sister had walked right into the long dormitory the girls all shared and grasped Christina and Red Hawk by the ears dragging them silently out into the night. The other girls looked on with big fearful eyes, as the nuns switched this one and that upon the wrists and hands for dawdling.
Special thanks were given by the children that the sisters had not taken their straps off their belts. The straps were long thick razor straps the sisters had hammered to wooden handles long enough for them to be wielded with two hands. Not a single leather strap was not stained in old blood and new.
The sounds of nightly prayers whispered through the darkness.
But the nightly routine was inconsequential to Christina as the nun’s iron fingers pulled her along. Red Hawk’s weeping slipped through the darkness around her, and Christina knew that Sister Margaretta knew.
Christina hunched back bare against the desk as Sister Margaretta circled, Rew Hawk was pressed against a wall behind her, Christina could hear the weeping. She tried not to tense it was worse when she was tense. She tried to be brave, it was worse if she was afraid. She promised herself she would not cry out, she would scream. Sister Margaretta stopped behind her, and Christina could imagine her preparing. She promised herself she would not give her the satisfaction of crying.
The first strike was like a flame upon her back, and her promise was broken. She tried to breathe. The second strike and her body convulsed, her legs gave out, and she crashed to the floor. Her body would not obey her, her head would not rise, her back was aflame. She turned to stare at the nun’s boots before the third strike darkened her world, and she slipped into unconsciousness.
The cellar was dark, and Christina’s body ached when next she opened her eyes. Her face was bloody and when she felt at her mouth she found a tooth missing. Sister Margaretta had whipped them like they were a blanket in need of a good cleaning, and Christina’s body could still feel every smack even if her mind told it not to. She could not remember its end or even who had dragged her down here to the cellar, but she knew the cellar, lived in fear of it. Her body was covered in painful welts.
Christina thought she should be used to such beatings by now, but she was not. She could hear Red Hawk’s silent weeping in the darkness to her left, and she scooted towards Red Hawk to feel the comfort of family.
The cellar was where Sister Margaretta locked those children that just would not listen. The Sisters’ Building had been built upon a cave system, that soldiers had dug out further to create a larder for the building.
Deep within the earth, it stayed cold and dark enough that food could be kept there to remain fresh. Fresh as long as the many snakes and rats that roamed the freezing room did not get into it.
Children sent here for a night were often never the same, as they whispered about things crawling upon their legs and arms in the cold darkness. And those tales came only from the children that survived to emerge unbitten and unfrozen from the nightmare. Their bodies were intact if not always their minds. Not all the children were so lucky to cling to even this imitation of survival as the back garden filled with children’s bodies could attest.
The earthen floor was gritty and it scratched at Christina’s legs as she scooted through the dark until she felt Red Hawk’s warmth. Red Hawk jerked and cried out at Christina’s touch and pulled away.
“Your fault,” Red Hawk said through tears.
“T’i’ cheł chkhuyenis,” Christina whispered to Red Hawk.
“No, it’s your fault,” Red Hawk cried.
“Red Hawk please,” she begged.
“No, I am Sara. I do not understand you,” the girl whimpered afraid, even here in the darkness, of the nuns.
“Hoy ch’uł’enis,” Christina begged before adding, “please Sp’arq’walqs, we must. Sti’m khwe ‘i’ytspu’sminm”
“Hoy!!” Red Hawk finally screamed and Christina slipped away from her as if slapped.
The darkness was absolute as Christina pushed herself away from her cousin. There was nothing she could do. She had never felt so alone, she wanted to cry. But in that dark, eyes opened and stared at her. First, just a pair, but soon joined by more. The eyes of the nimerigar opened along the walls and from the sickening glow that lit within them the room became pale dusk.
Christina could feel their hatred seep into her skin. She pushed farther back over the gritty earth only to feel her dress catch and she could push no more.
It did not matter because the eyes were all around her in the darkness, and in their dim light she could see their teeth jagged and snapping. She wrapped her arms around her knees to slow her shivers.
The creatures moved slowly but surely away from the walls and circled the two girls. Red Hawk made no noise, and Christina assumed that even here the other girl could not see them.
But Christina could, and the nimerigar circled in towards them, eyes unblinking. Long thick claws clacked along the earthen floor. Christina was frozen in place. Jagged teeth seemed to smile at her. In their yellowed gleam, she was paralyzed.
They reached Red Hawk first, and Christina flinched as a nimerigar caressed her prone cousin. It ran its fingers along her foot.
Red Hawk jerked away and began to cry louder. The nimerigar hissed and gashed Red Hawk’s leg with its dirty claws. Red Hawk cried out louder and without thinking, Christina dived at her cousin knocking the creature back.
Red Hawk frozen in fear now did not push Christina away but huddled under her protection. Christina punched at a nimerigar only to have its long claws rake against her skin.
The pain was unbearable and she jerked her hand back against her chest. It struck a piece of hard root, and she recalled how the nimerigar earlier had jumped away from the husk flower.
She pulled the leftover root from her dress and waved it before her. The scent of kouskous husk filled the room, stronger than such a small piece should be capable of. The nimerigar hissed around her, and she waved her hand before her driving them back.
Christina could feel the power of traditional medicine, but she knew it alone was not enough. She knew she needed more, and from around her, she could feel her ancestors telling her what she needed to do. She stood and stepped towards the nimerigar and as they hissed she spoke.
“A chn Christina,“ She shook her head and started again with more force, “A chn Stbembm.”
The sounds of her language echoed along the walls of the cellar, and she spoke again louder, “A chn Stbembm.”
The nimerigar hissed and jerked back at the words. They hid their heads from the echoes that reverberated within the caves. The smell of husk grew stronger. A whisper from her ancestors entwined around her through the air, and Stbembm leaned back into the embrace of those that had come before her.
Stbembm, for that, was her name the priest could not pronounce, stood over her shivering and crying cousin. With the nimerigar leaving the darkness seeped back in. But Stbembm was not afraid. She knew now how to survive this prison made to destroy her will.
She would resist.
No matter what these colonizers did she would resist.
She was 6 years old.
She hated them.
Cold air ached against her bloody back, but she had hope in her heart.
She was 6 years old.
Red Hawk’s Rescue Part 2
It took longer than expected to reach the room the treasure I sought would be found in. With my academic-like studies, I was unsure why it took so long, but perhaps the building was more complex than I had anticipated. The endless hallways, nooks, rooms, and display cases were a maze of freshly gleaming marble and whitewashed stone. After several backtracks and false starts, all while hiding from guards, I finally found the door marked “stockage d’artefacts nord-américains.” My buckle made short work of the lock, and the door creaked open.
The room beyond was lit by dim bulbs along the walls, that barely illuminated the area around them. I gave silent thanks for my raccoon-like night sight. Shelves of wood and metal crawled along each wall, and the smell of dust floated in the air around me. The middle of the room was likewise filled with row after row of shelves that climbed up into the darkness above.
Each shelf was covered in brown cloth bags piled high. Each one was a silent testament to forgotten hordes stolen in war. Row after row of dusty brown cloth bulging from within as they sat unopened in decades upon shelves covered in small grimy labels of faded writing.
Surely this could not be the room dedicated to the priceless treasure I sought. I moved slowly and quietly through the room reading the many labels fading upon the shelf faces. Neglect had not been kind as age had steadily crept ahead since they had been labeled. I stopped cold as I spotted the name I had come to look for.
It was written upon a faded label in dark nearly illegible black, by some hand long since dead. I took a breath and lifted the bag above the label and a deeply unsettled feeling filled my heart. Surely this room could not be what I thought it was. I opened the bag slowly and looked within.
My heart stopped as the shame of this moment settled upon me. This room. This place. These people. They represented great evil. I stood and looked around again, taking in the entirety of the room. The size of it. The multitude of shelves. All these bags, most not even legibly labeled. Never to be identified again, never to have their homes found. Never to be returned to their families.
I looked again within the bag, and the skull of Red Hawk, my great-grandmother, stared back at me. Grandmother’s mother, an ancestor lost along with her sister the same night Grandmother was delivered to her family’s home. I closed the bag tightly and slipped it as carefully as I could into my carrier bag slung along my back. I took great care in sitting her comfortably and asked her forgiveness for the bumpy ride ahead. I could only hope she agreed a bit of a jostle would be outweighed by liberation. I adjusted the bag to ensure the safety of my ancestor before I turned to go. I made it to the door before I turned again and looked at the room, taking in the sight of all these ancestors stolen from their families.
The power of that sight drove me to the wall and I slipped down it curling upon myself as tears threatened to overtake me. I needed to do something. I needed to rescue them all.
My brain tried to work through the fog of sorrow, but it failed. Overtaken by the pain of the atrocity before me I wept. Only for a moment. I had to think if I was to find a way to empty such a large room. Weeping could come later. I needed to rescue these ancestors.
My body shook as much in rage as in sorrow. This was evil, pure, and simple.
My weeping was broken by a yell from the doorway. I looked up into the face of a temple guard standing tall in his white shirt and black tie. He yelled in the city’s native language, and I lunged to the left as he drew his gun. My lasso cracked like a serpent’s tail without thought encircling his gun hand and yanking the gun into the air. He yelled out in pain.
I yelled out an apology as I jumped forward, back onto my feet, and barreled past him like a charging buffalo. The sound of his gun going off as it struck the ground rang behind me and the yells of other guards followed me through the hallways and rooms as I sprinted forward.
The guards screamed threats in their native language, but I ignored them as I mourned those I left behind. I promised them quietly that I would return for them, I would not leave them here to rot. I would find a way, and I would return.
The window came faster than I had remembered, and I had only a second to wish I had left it open before I crashed headlong through it, holding my felt hat down to protect my face as glass rained around me in little-broken mirrors of my regret. I tumbled through the night like a soaring owl.
The hard cement of the industrialized world hammered into my boots as I landed on the walk outside and I took only a second to register my knees were not as young as they once were and still ached from the earlier fall. The stench of the city’s rot filled my nose, and I coughed it up and shook my head in disgust at people who lived so, the people who would hold ransom the dead of others. No not ransom, but as trophies to be shown to the world before closeted away to be covered in dust and darkness.
I was up and running through the night as the screams of the guards rang out through the night and sirens began to scream into the air. The city’s warriors would not be happy that I had freed one of their trophies.
I ran alongside the temple to war crimes and back into the street. The noise of my pursuers filled the air as I slipped into shadow. I would find my way home, I would escape this city of hell and rot.
It was not long before I slipped in beside the deep waters of a river looking for my ride home. I had moved through the shadows of the city to give the screaming sirens the slip but had been slowly pushed here, trapped between my pursuers and the water’s edge. Luckily it was the path I had mapped out.
The sound of footfalls filled the night, and I tiptoed silently down an unlightened wooden dock like a fox through the forests, hoping the darkness would hide me as my pursuers passed by. I made it to the end of the dock and began to crouch as the sound of boots on wood echoed behind me. The night should have hidden my escape, but it seemed my pursuers had tracked me successfully. Running water lapped against the dock around me.
I looked in frustration for my ride out, but there was nothing but dark waters around the dock. A throat cleared behind me, as a gun chambered a round. Realizing that I had been found, and a clean escape was no longer possible I stood tall and turned to put the river at my back. I was unsurprised by what I found before me.
The dreaded Belgian stood halfway down the dock, his gun pointed at my heart, his smile pointed at my failure. The man wore a tan shirt and dark brown jeans. His leather jacket looked worn yet professional and matched his dark brown sable fedora if not his pale skin. The Belgian had repeatedly failed to stop me from rescuing many ancestors, though he had tried.
Each time I went into the field he was there protecting the colonizers that had stolen the world’s dead. He believed the ancestors of others belonged in the temples he called museums that they had been hidden within. A protector of the colonizers’ loot. He had hunted me across the world, using the local warriors of each city to try and stop me. Always to no avail.
True to form the warriors of this city stood around him. They each wore identical costumes of blue and brass, all with guns, likewise pointed at my heart. It is the sign of the primitive that they put so much faith in weapons of steel and powder even though the spirit would always triumph over them. I turned sideways and ran my fingers along the beaded brim of my black hat and smiled, like the coyote I was.
The Belgian began to speak in his sarcastic drawl, “Idaho Jack, I told you I would have you one day, and today is that day. You have nowhere to go, nothing but water around you.”
His accent rasped upon the wind. The sound of all villains, the twisted sounds of colonization, the beat of letters breathed out imperiously.
I slipped my lasso from its belt loop and let it snake along the ground in my right hand. I kept my left free encase I needed my long knife or to work my buckle. My carrier bag slung low, and I shifted my body so the bag stayed along my back, only protecting my ancestor mattered. I firmed my stance and puffed out my chest before I responded.
“Come now Belgian, do you think I will go so easy.”
I slapped my chest in anger and challenge. Sometimes one must speak the language of the savage colonizers to keep their attention and make a point. One must not make a habit of it, for the ways of settlers are not the ways a decent person should live, but always we must be ready to speak their language of bravado and violence to survive within their lands.
The Belgian yelled out as if greed had taken hold of him at the thought of finally grasping his prey in his hand, “it is time for justice for all your thefts Idaho.”
I laughed, how could I not. He said his villain’s monologue with such a straight face. I heard the whispered words of his warriors behind him. They were not happy a civilized person had dared laugh at their savage prince.
“How can returning ancestors to their families be theft?” I asked sadly, hoping that this time, this place, he would finally understand, but I held no true hope that it would be so, and he did not disappoint.
“It belongs in a museum, Idaho.”
I seethed, and hissed back, “she belongs with her people asshole.”
My words were cut short as he tightened his grip upon his gun. As I said, it is common for a primitive man to rely on such violent tools. He squinted through the darkness, and the sound of wood dipping into water slipped from the air behind me. It was almost time. I would be glad to be done with this rotten city one way or another.
“Drop the bag, things will go easier if you return the item.”
The word “item” irritated me, I carried my ancestor at my back, not some bauble to be exchanged for better treatment. Not that I believed he would go easy on me. His kind had one punishment, the savage chains that would keep me from the freedom all humans had a right to. His people had perfected the human rights violation known as the prison industrial complex, and there was no way I would escape it if he got his hands upon me. No, he had no plans to go easy on me.
I tilted my head and pointed both my lips and my lasso at him.
“You should have shot me in the back.”
While he was distracted with bravado I moved my left hand to wave it before my buckle. The light that cascaded out was blinding in the darkness. I closed my eyes just as it flared before me. I leaped like a springing deer backward towards the waiting water. Gunfire filled the night, the wind of bullets fired high and wide slipped past me, and the dock cracked and shattered under the impact of those fired low.
I thanked my ancestors for their protection as my boots found air and my arms waved uncontrollably like the wings of a falcon. One might think as an outside observer that I looked unsteady or even clumsy in the air flapping my arms, but I could only worry about my perfectly held balance as I slipped through the air towards the cold water below.
The steady thrum of wood pulling through water suddenly grew stronger as the sturgeon nose canoe I landed in picked up speed. The sound of good solid wood reverberated as my feet struck the canoe’s rails. I found my balance with a few wavering attempts at standing. My compadre rowed for his life as I stood upon the canoe and watched the Belgian and his warriors become swallowed by the night. I knew they saw a magnificent warrior standing tall and proud as I made my escape.
“Get down before you tip us over you idiot,” Came the growl of my trusted sidekick and ally, Sunday. I cursed at his need to ruin my amazing standing exit before finding my seat and grabbing an oar to help pull through the water. The trek home would be long and arduous, but I would not be coming home alone.
Red Hawk’s Rescue Part 1
Life had taken on a painful routine among the nuns and the priest. Years traveled by as snow turned to rain, the rain turned to the beating sun, the beating sun turned to fallen leaves, and finally, the fallen leaves were covered in snow again. The cycle turned and turned, and with each turning, the children found their hardships become normal until they could not remember what life was like before. A few held on to their past, to the teaching of the People, and Christina was at the forefront of those that whispered in secret of the teachings of the true People.
She gave up trying to squirrel away what items of tradition she could by the time she was ten. The nuns always found her caches, and she could not bear to watch more destroyed than was necessary. Instead, she made a place for them in her heart, a place she hid them away from both the nuns and the nimerigar. She would study the stickwork crawling over each piece, the designs that had danced from loving fingers and for this short while were clasped in hers, the materials used for every basket, every, glove, every item that she studied and loved and held within her heart. Within herself she kept them safe, she kept them hidden, and one day she would bring them out and remake them bodies to inhabit.
She learned that within the Sister’s Building everything had a place, everything had a system, a way in which it was done that did not as often lead to beatings, did not lead to the cellar. She learned to not flinch at the cold water of the showers and to ignore the nuns that stood and leered as they watched her scrub clean. She learned not to argue when they told her she had done something incorrectly, even when she knew she had done it exactly how they had asked.
She learned the semblance of submission, while inside she kept the fires of resistance burning. She knew that she would not be here forever, the girls that were not sold to be married off to white husbands would be allowed back to the People. All she had to do was survive in her body and her mind.
Christina knew that she did not fool Sister Margaretta’s careful gaze, nor the nimerigar that scurried around the school bringing pain wherever they went. Their watchful eyes left a feeling of taint whenever they touched Christina. Their broken teeth yellowed and snapped at the air as they hissed at this or that. It remained true that only Christina seemed to see them, and she never let on, keeping that secret as dear to her heart as the artifacts she studied and then buried within her.
Life within the Sister’s Building was cold and repetitive until the day it wasn’t. Christina was tasked with keeping the fire, and she sat in the shadows of the kitchen staring into the coals, knowing that if she was spotted with the cast iron door open she would get a beating, but she just could not bear to sit in the darkness.
Her sixteenth birthday as recorded and created by the priest was coming up and as it grew closer she grew more and more willful. She found it harder to look down when the nuns passed, or swallow her pride when they scolded her for how the towels were folded. She struggled to remain quiet as the day of her freedom approached, and so the stove’s door was open and she sat staring into the coals, watching worlds form and crumble in the reddish glow of the dancing flame. And so that is how Sister Margaretta found her.
Christina jumped from the stone floor and stood to stare at the nun with defiance in her eyes she had not let shine in years, and the nun stopped midstride, matching stare for stare. The nimerigar that always clung close to her hissed from the nun’s hair, and Christina stopped herself from flinching away, matching stare for stare.
“Not as beat down as you would wish us to believe hey,” the nun said quietly, and this time Christina did flinch back and look away. That tone was the sound of a beating to come, “no matter, get towels and the pail of water and follow me.”
Christina sucked in her surprise at her resistance being so roundly dismissed, and she closed the stove’s door and began to gather towels. With several under one arm, she lifted the closest water pail and followed the nun out of the kitchen.
The first thing that hit her was Red Hawk unconscious upon the bed, the second was the child crying on the floor. Blood covered both, and Christina felt a moment’s fear that Red Hawk was dead. The moment passed and Christina realized the girl was breathing shallowly.
The child lay crying in the cold, its screams ripping through the night, and Christina was pulled towards it, reaching out.
“Touch it not,” the nun whispered, and Christina stopped, “it is merely another mistake that must be dealt with.”
Christina could not help herself as she begged, “my family will take in Red Hawk Sister, no one need to know of the baby’s heritage.”
The look Sister Margaretta gave her made Christina fear she had said too much, went too far. The priest’s visits to the children were not spoken of, no more than the nuns’. Some things were just known to be off-limits, unspoken, hidden, except they were not. Her gaze settled on Christina with a calculating eye.
“You do not like it here?” The nun said more a statement than a question. Christina remained silent, knowing any answer, whether lie or truth, would get her slapped. “You do not hide it so well as you think. Your obstinance, your heathenness, your refusal to find God’s Path.” Again Christina merely stared at the woman, allowing perhaps a minute tightening of her eyes, “you want this child to live? This girl who you call your sister in your heathen way, you want her and her child to live.”
Though it was not a question Christina finally felt compelled to answer, “Please Sister.”
“You are sixteen now are you not?”
The sister’s smile was a thing of poison, “So close to going home if that is your wish, which I assume it is as you did not find a Christian husband when you turned fourteen to take you away. What if I told you that I will make a trade, your people love to trade do they not. If the girl promises to never speak of the child’s father, I will make a trade with you.”
“Anything Sister Margaretta, anything.”
Sister Margaretta’s smile deepened into a grimace, “there are those that would like to learn of your heathen ways. Experience your people as the savages they are. Would you like that Christina? To show them what you are?”
Christina looked once at Red Hawk unconscious on the bed and then the baby crying. There were no choices in this life that she had been given and yet she asked as if she had any, “they will be sent to live with my family?”
The nun’s victory smile was matched by the nimerigar on her shoulder, “I will see to it tonight.”
She was 15 years old.
She hated them.
She dreamed of seeing them all dead, but today she would trade her freedom for her sister’s, they would add her to the Runaway List, the list of those dead or sold.
She was 15 years old.
The Story Ends, the Hunt Begins
“And that students, was how I returned Red Hawk to her people and became the only person to lay eyes upon the Great Vault of France. The broken-down edifice to colonialism and war crimes some would call a museum.
“Also the story of Stbembm, Sister, and Red Hawk some of the many missing. We will cover them more when we go over the occupation’s continued abduction of children and its historical patterns.”
I looked out upon the young brown faces around me, so much like my own. Some eyes were large with entertainment, while others were slitted in disbelief. Most had heard the story before. It was a common one I liked to tell. The great breach, the rescue that had helped make me a legend, the endurance of my ancestors in the face of great suffering. Red Hawk was my grandmother’s mother, and Sister had been technically a cousin, but they had grown close and so were sisters.
One hand raised tentatively, and I smiled, “Yes Annie?”
“How did Red Hawk end up in a museum though?” the small child whispered, her face crinkled up with a need to hear the tale.
I smiled at her, “That my dear child is a story for another day.”
The bell rang and whether they believed my tale or not they were up and out the door before I could say class dismissed. Bags were thrown over shoulders, and sneakers squeaked along the floor as they all ran for the outdoors. I sighed at the exuberance of youth. Aww to be so young again.
My office was just a few doors down from the classroom. Some tribal schools are large, others are not, this one was not. I took a minute to smooth the peeling “Dr. William Jack” emblazoned on the glass before opening the door.
To my surprise behind my desk sat my mentor and friend, Graham. The man that had raised me, along with my grandmother. A friend so close he was a brother. Graham’s hair was white, and his skin was dark wrinkled ochre, but his smile was as bright and shining as a teenager’s upon his dark brown features. I hesitated as I spotted a dark middle-aged African American woman sitting upon the broken-down old couch I had shoved under the window. She looked stern and unhappy with the seat. She was familiar to me, but I had no time to register her before Graham yelled at me.
“Pack your bags Idaho, retirement is over and the Society shall keep its final promise, we found her. We finally found a lead on Sister.”
I stood in shock, the holy grail of holy grails, my reason for getting into the business of rescuing the dead and missing that had been stolen over the years. I stilled and felt my body freeze.
“Tell me everything.”
Graham looked sheepishly at the woman next to him, before jumping in with a child’s glee, “this Aida she’s from Ethiopia, and here she has a story to tell.”
Brave in a New World
Sister could feel the spray of the water against her face. The cold steel of the railing clung to her bare hands as dew dripped along its surface. She stared down into the waves lapping against the hull wondering how cold it might be, how quickly it would slip over her head and drag her down into its depths. Would she jump? Could she if she would? Was robbing Father Tensed of his prize enough of an incentive. The song of her ancestors danced through the wind, “We are coming,” and she knew that she was not alone. She stared down into the sea and its cold embrace, “please wait for us.” She sighed and turned her face towards the wind, accepting that it was not yet time.
The whole world was cold since they had boarded the ship. From freezing nights to overcast days, her world of green pines had turned grey and wet. It was always wet aboard the ship, from the steam that poured from the stacks to the dripping mists that clung to the hull. She had as hard a time getting used to the damp as she did the smell. The stench of unwashed humanity had clung to the air since she had gotten on the train and followed her through the towns and onto the ship. How they could stand it she did not know, but these people lived within it, and she supposed that she would need to find a way to.
Face up into the ocean breeze was a small reprieve for her to the smell, even if it opened her more to the cold. Sister had not seen the ocean before reaching the coast with Father Tensed. At first, she had been unimpressed with the lapping water and heavy fog. Surely, she had thought, it could not be as big as they say. The train ride had been more impressive than this grey-blue water lapping against the shore. Surely the coastal peoples exaggerated the magnitude of it. It was just another mist-covered lake, only this one salty.
She sighed again at the memory of the fog lifting, lifting for just a few moments it cleared and her breath had caught in her throat. Waves crashed as far as the eye could see. Flatter than the land of the Lakota they had passed through by train, and just as unimaginably unending, only instead of grass and rolling hills, there was water and cresting waves. Rolling hills of grey-blue as far as the eye could see.
She closed her eyes and remembered that first sight, the yearning it filled her with to be out among the water, free to bob upon the waves eternally free of all the people because since leaving the land of her family she had yet to find a place to be free of people.
People dressed in cotton and wool, light-skinned and dark, though light-skinned predominated. She had never seen so much light skin in her life, filling the air with the constant jabbering of English like gulls fighting over fish guts. The scent of them was musty and clinging like a wet wool blanket gone to mold.
First, they had been on the train, cramped and crammed like berries in a cedar basket, rolling against each other in danger of smashing, but somehow finding space to be alone even as they brushed against each other. So alien a people. Had it been Sister’s clan, or even the girls at the Sister’s Building, they would have clung to each other without touching. They would have commingled and become one group, laughing or crying together, matching eyes and nodding heads. But somehow these people had stood pressed together and yet broken apart in bubbles of their own making.
Sister had not been able to find the knack of it and so even among the crowd standing behind Father Tensed being jostled by this person or that she had felt sheared from humanity. They touched her hair, her body, her clothing, her very being, and yet they did not connect. There was no shared self among them that would open the door for comfort.
Father Tensed was a stern man and Sister had disliked him from the moment Sister Margaretta had introduced them. He was smarmy and held himself with the same self-assured arrogance and complete disregard for anyone else as a human that Sister had come to expect from priests. His remaining white hair clung to his head as if afraid to be stolen away by whatever had run off with the majority of it. It was hard to tell whose baring was more severe between himself and Sister Margaretta. Both gave off a sense of predatory hunger, but who was the greater threat Sister could not tell.
He had stared at her with a wave of anger she did not understand as he haggled her value with Sister Margaretta. Was her skin red enough to be obviously Native? Was she dark enough to be exotic yet not too dark? Beautiful enough to sell tickets and inflame desire without being so beautiful she’d detract from civilized women?
On and on it went and with each point of negotiation Sister grew angrier and angrier. Without the decade of living among the nuns, she would have spit right there, but she had long since learned that at times it was best to look them in the eye and say nothing. She chaffed though as they bickered over what made her “Indian enough” and how that increased or decreased her worth. They were fools, and a fire burned in her chest to tell them just that, but she was not free to let that righteous anger loose.
Finally, with an old man’s huff, Father Tensed had stood back with a final, “She is sixteen, a bit old for our purposes, too old to draw the discerning eye one might say.”
Sister Margaretta smiled at him and Sister shivered as a bony hand scratched along her back, “Ah but that is the age, and none will see it, give whatever age sells your wares.”
“Have I ever brought you anything but,” Sister Margaretta stammered, hands thrown out, burning anger filling her eyes as she lied.
“Fine, fine, the money will be sent to the school as requested.” Father Tensed waved his hand as if swishing Sister Margaretta away, his eyes glued to Sister.
“And the other?”
“What,” Father Tensed looked up in irritation, “oh yes of course, of course.”
There was a moment where Father Tensed seemed poised to open his mouth to ask another question but with a look at Sister, Sister Margareta shook her head and he grew silent.
And as easy as that Sister had found herself on a train puffing away to this ship she now stood upon the ledge of, debating on how cold the water below would be, and how quickly it could take her.
The wind slammed into Sister and she felt the slight tightening of fabric as her whole body pulled back away from the rail, she kept her chin tilted up and basked in the cold wind as it passed through her, dragging with it all that she was, all that she feared, all that she was holding on to, letting the wind siphon it away from her. She was emptied of all that she was. For this moment she was free.
In that emptiness she thought of the windows of the train, so streaked with dirt and grime, and yet she could not deny the wonders she had seen from them. First, the mountains with long rock tunnels gouged from the earth. Miles of darkness, followed by the high peaks of her grandmother’s people, now empty of civilized humans and filled with patches of Europeans. A tear had dropped from her eye at the sight of it, at the sight of lack, the lack of the beautiful people that once called the mountains home. She knew they had been forced north, but she had not seen it, and so had assumed the stories exaggerated. The signs of the generations of care and stewardship were still visible, but quickly disappearing under the neglect and townships of the colonizers. They simply did not seem to know how to do the most basic of care for the land.
Second, had come the flattening of the land, the move from mountains to plains. A land with rolling hills barely high enough to be called hills, and wide slow-moving rivers as meandering as the lands themselves. They had a charm Sister could see, nothing she would want to live amongst, but a beauty she could see even if she did not wish to call it home.
The sky went on forever, near to what it was like to stand upon a mountain peak, and yet she was upon flat earth. The grass danced and spun forever and ever along rolling hills hugging the banks of wide flat rivers that traveled ever farther south. Once many canoes would have dotted those rivers as people traveled south for trade.
The people who rightfully owned these lands were nowhere to be seen, and Sister wept for it. She had heard stories of their strength and wished to witness it. Had they been present would they save her? She daydreamed of it, strong brown bodies astride large horses. War whoops and arrows filled the air as they stopped the train. In her fantasy, they spoke her language, though she knew that would not be the case. They would save her. They would kill everyone on the train and save her.
The dream would circle back and back to her rescue. The strong horses lathered with the strain of catching the train, covered in as much paint as the humans astride them. Working as one they would overtake the metal behemoth and force it to stop, force all these people around her on the ground covered in arrows and wounds as they bled out at Sister’s feet.
Sister would not stand idly by to be rescued, but she would work from within. Driving her fists and teeth if need be into those around her. Straining and struggling until everyone lay at her feet, all dying except Father Tensed.
She would stand and Father Tensed would kneel as a hand as dark as hers handed her a hatchet. Oh, he would beg, and she would smile; smile and hack the blade into his skull. Those strong brown arms would take her then, and hold her, and tell her everything was going to be ok, and she would laugh and tell them of her people, of the nuns, of the Sister’s Building. She would talk until her voice was hoarse and her tears were gone, and they would be so moved that they would ride to her people, ride their aid, to their suffering, and they would cleanse her lands of the priests and nuns and soldiers that choked the life from their lands.
She would ride at their head a liberator. The children of the Sister’s Building would cheer her and whoop as she charged in with her hatchet. Her mother would sing for her victories, her uncle would smile in pride as soldiers scattered before her and her warriors from the plains. She would laugh again, smile with a joy she had lost long ago among the nuns. She would trill and whoop as her horse reared up and together they danced for their freedom.
This was Sister’s dream as she looked out over those hills and plains. She had strained to see a telltale sign within the grass, some sign of hiding warriors ready to liberate her. She wept when the grasslands passed. She wept at the sight of the cities. She wept to be swept up on the ship and her fantasy had to change.
The cities of the east were filled with people just like the train. Bonnets and top hats bobbed along the streets as horns from horseless cars honked at horse-drawn carts. The smell of unwashed humanity grew so strong she gagged to taste it, and Father Tensed blew out in disgust at her weak stomach. His thin white hair danced in the wind.
He dragged her from train to train. This one was smaller and more crowded. The people were better dressed and yet more filthy. The murmuring of humanity became a roar as voices raised in discussion filled the air. Sister did not weep then, she understood that Father Tensed found some perverse joy in it, and so she stood tall and stared him in the eyes until he looked away. She knew how priests and nuns could be when she excited them with her suffering, and she would not risk it so far from home.
The train rattled more than the first one and felt older, more rickety, less cared for. She clung to the wall as her body shook with the vibrations. It was a skill she thought as she saw the others around her sway with the jolts and jerks of the machine.
Once it stopped she breathed a sigh of relief. She knew they still had a way to walk, but on foot, her hands were free to cover her mouth from the smell, and her eyes could stare down at Father Tensed’s feet as he stormed through the crowds. He did not stop for her, he did not ask if she was ok to keep up, he just stormed off and she followed. She momentarily considered running into the crowd, but the angry faces that stared back at her put an end to such a dream. They would give her back to him, they would catch her, they would stop her, they were his people and not her own. The nuns had taught her to run was to risk death. These people had no compassion within their hate for her, and she knew in her gut that she would never be safe among that crowd, and so she bent her body forward and followed in the wake of the stamping priest.
They had found the ship by midday, and after a curt argument between the priest and a sailor they had climbed aboard. To Sister’s surprise, a pile of trunks sat within a small cabin where the priest had a bed. He pointed at the floor where she would sleep and then lay down upon his bed. Sister had stared at him for as long as she dared before escaping to the deck to lean upon the rail and stare into the ocean come to claim her.
No longer did Sister dream of caving in Father Tensed’s skull, now she dreamed of floating away upon the waves, freed into the world of unimaginably vast waters. An escape through oblivion instead of liberation. The only thing that stopped her was that she had made a deal. Red Hawk’s freedom for her cooperation. Sister Margaretta would not honor that agreement if Sister died before the end. She had a responsibility, and she would fulfill it, for Red Hawk, for the baby.
Even as the ship took her beyond the reach of even the fantasy of rescue she stood tall and knew in her heart she would one day be free. She would be brave in this new world, and one day she would make it back home.
“It is true that volunteers from all over the world were here for scientific research,” the man smiled his furtive smile and I forcibly loosened my fists and shoulders and smiled back. I was as smooth as Coyote looking for plums. When the man leaned back I lowered my smile, knowing that perhaps I had shown too many teeth.
He was a shaky little man in his threadbare brown wool jacket and a wrinkled yellow shirt. I could smell the sweat of him even from a few feet away, but I smiled through it. I smiled as he glossed over truths with lies in his garbled English covered in as much spit as air. His pink smile was uncomfortable, untrustworthy, and he kept frowning down at my hat that I had thrown down on his desk. It was a snapshot of black and color among the brown, yellow, and white of his desk. The blue, red, and yellow beads along the brim shone brightly against the drabness of the desk. The man did not look happy to have his space of bland invaded by color.
I opened my mouth to argue when Aida’s words came back to me and it was enough to calm my inner badger ready to bite. Her voice had been smooth and calm. A way of being she always seemed to have, a baring of serenity. She was almost as smooth as I was, one that moved with grace and purpose in every step. I dreamed of the day she might stab me, but I knew that day was unlikely to come, and so I pushed forward into the world I knew was real, the world where my mission was finally bearing fruit. She brought to us a letter, a letter written by her ancestor, a letter that with the work of Sunday, Graham, and Graham’s nephew Allen we had used to track to this place and evidence that would take us hopefully to the next step.
I smoothed my face and let my words drip like honey, “we have files that the Church sold Christina Jack here to the organization in question.”
The little man coughed into his hand before raising it before him, finger up, “sold is a bit inaccurate I am sure. The scientific centers were, as I have said, purely voluntary.”
“Sir, they were sold, it does not matter what you say, do you have the contracts?”
“Jack is such an odd name for a native woman.”
I could feel my hackles rise as I knew he was saying it without capitalizing the N, “The first priest to come to the tribe named the trader he dealt with ‘Jack’ because he couldn’t pronounce his actual name. When the schools asked for an English family name it was the closest, they had, so it was the name they wrote down. Now, do you have the records of the people sold?”
“We did not sell people here, Mr. Jack, we were free of all colonial actions, unlike the many other European Nations.”
The little man droned on, but I toned him out, nothing he said mattered, and he was only making me angry. I could lecture him on Brussels’ history in the Congo and the horrors they gave birth to into the world, but Aida would not be pleased if I messed this up with my anger, no matter how righteous. She was very focused and did not seem to appreciate my nonsense. At least not on the outside, but I knew with time I would wear on her.
I leaned back in my chair and slide my hand across my suit’s lapel, the beadwork was beautiful. As the chair creaked under my weight I sighed, my niece had beaded my suit, and my hat that sat on the desk, and she was not charging enough. As an artist, she really needed to accept the value of her work. Unlike my Red Bird wallet, which I had paid little for and it showed with its washed-out colors, kept more for the sentimentality of the children that kept it alive and functioning. My niece, though, was an artist, and Native artists needed to really up their prices. I blamed colonialism when douche canoes like the one sitting before me would pay top dollar to another museum or white private collector that had stolen or grave robbed the pieces but undercut living breathing artists it created a perception of only the old being of value.
I looked around the showroom. Artifacts stood in glass cases, on display for the few patrons that grazed throughout the room. I was the sparrow sitting on my perch watching it all as I ignored the words that rolled over me from the little man. From our vantage point in the back of the room on a raised dais, I had an unobstructed view. I counted more guards and staff than visitors. I had not been to Brussels before, but it did not appear any different from any other European area I had visited. I wondered at how it must be to sit above all these people looking down as I gazed out day after day at the war crime displays and those who had come to see them.
“You have the contract of sale then?” I asked turning my attention back on the man.
He coughed and nodded his head protectively sitting his hand on a pile of old papers, “we may have been able to find evidence of both the volunteer you requested and the scientific endeavor, but you must understand.”
I cleared my throat and leaned forward, the chair still tipped back, “I see, yes, if those are them, please set them aside as I begin the proper paperwork.”
The man’s eyes grew beadier as he looked away, “sir it is most unregular, that this kind of information would be shared outside of…”
The chair cracked against the ground as I let the front legs drop down and leaned farther forward. The man’s head snapped back at the loud noise, and the showroom grew quiet. I flipped my hat up by the brim and spun it on the tip of my finger as I stood towering over the desk.
I smiled as I heard the sharp crash of a body hitting the floor. My cowboy boots spun along the ground smooth as bear grease as I twirled back to the showroom and let my hat settle on my head. A guard screamed out as Aida flipped him into the air. Patrons were running as chaos erupted, smoke billowing from the corners of the room. I stopped mid-twirl to stare out as Aida moved like a dancer among the displays. She stepped past the guard she had flipped as they hit the ground and she moved into striking range of the next. Her dark hair with just the touch of a white strand here and there danced around her head. Her hands lashed out, in perfect boxer form, bap, bap, right into his solar plexus, before her strong right hook slammed into his chin dropping him.
I began to whistle as I watched Aida work the room and I spun back to the desk and the little man who was staring out in shock at the mayhem in what I can only assume is usually a rather serene room. I reached across the desk and snapped my fingers in his face.
“Sir,” it never does not pay to be polite they say.
The man’s eyes tear from the chaos below up to mine, “Wh… what?”
“Yes, sir, are these all the documents I requested?”
“I…” he staggered back as I slapped him across the face and slide over the desk grabbing him by his collar lifting hard to slam him against the wall with my moose-like strength. The man’s shirt pulled tight against my fingers, but his feet stayed on the ground, in frustration I slammed him harder back than I need to.
“Listen, little man, I have no interest in prolonging my time here, or returning once I leave, so are these all the documents I requested?”
The man’s head began to shake, I slammed him again and held up the papers as he looked into my eyes and began to blubber. I lifted the papers in front of his face.
“These are people, real people, and their families deserve to know the truth of what happened, do you hear me? We. Deserve. To. Know. The. Truth.”
I shoved him roughly back against the wall and more heard than watched him slide to the floor. I turned walking around the desk and jumped down to the showroom floor. Aida was kneeling on the floor next to the last guard she had knocked prone. Smoke billowed around the room from the small smoke bombs we had dropped coming in, and the hot scent of cedar filled the room. Graham had a sense of humor about these things he created, but also a deadly serious need to smudge every room we threw them into. I wished for a moment I had been able to watch more of Aida’s fight, but I had my task and she had hers.
She moved up from her crouch into the security guard charging towards her and up under his guard. She drove her hand into his face and he staggered back before she kicked into his knee and he dropped down and she slammed her fist into his falling face and he folded to the floor.
“Do you have what we came for?” she said turning back to me.
“We do,” I said through a smile.
“Then what are you doing just standing there?” she sounded exasperated.
“Oh, you know just watching a beautiful woman work,” I said with all seriousness.
She blew air from her mouth and shook her head, “beauty is for the young to hold on to.”
I tilted my head and gave her my best coyote smile, “Oh dear someone has lied to you, your beauty is not despite your age, it is because of it.”
Aida flicked her eyes and grumbled as she turned away from me surveilling the room, looking for someone else to hit. I waved the papers at her back before slipping them into the inside of my jacket and strolled out past her. Without a word, Aida formed up behind me as we walked past the guards she had dropped and the guests and staff unsure where to flee. I knew we looked good walking out, slow and steady, smoother than a midnight cowboy.
I stared at the files that Aida handed me after she had looked them over. Thick, rough papers covered in ink scratched over and over by several different printers and a flowery hand. The papers lay open on the hotel desk and were covered in timelines and notes marking out an investigation that mostly went nowhere. It started in Spain with links to a letter in a language I could not read, but I could still touch with my fingers. The letter was handwritten by a hand long since passed. The translation next to it was in Aida’s writing, the same flowery script as the rest. It was a letter of sorrow, promise, frustration, and most of all hope. It had started this path I found myself on, and I treasured every line of it.
The letter had been sent from Spain to Ethiopia but the extensive notes on Spain were currently a dead end, one that even my eagle eyes could not see through. So instead, I looked at the most recent pages. Those had brought us here. Aida was meticulous she had tracked the “scientific center” to this spot at a time when the records would have been kept, and though we did not find where they had gone, we had the name of my ancestor clear upon the page, Christina Jack. Scratched upon the contract in black ink her name and along with the exchange, items listed and described that had sold with her.
The papers we had liberated from the Brussel’s Museum were a mess of small letters blotched over time. The thick yellowed paper held the lines I wanted, the information I needed it. They were dry recitations of things bought and things sold from a market here long ago, and among them was a contract between a Father Tensed and someone simply named Miss. The ‘scientific center’ was listed though, Miss’s Zoo of Primitive World Sisters. And from that I knew there would be a trail, it might be a long trail, it might be hard, but after all these years it was a trail.
The sounds of powwow drums rang across the room and I reached over to grab my phone, “hello.”
“We need you to come home.”