I looked on with eyes widened by mad confirmation. My hands dropped to my sides as I beheld the only event I could honestly call spectacle. Instantly my mind leapt into a phase of heightened perception, and I understood this supernatural appreciation was the result of seeing what I stared upon. The act of beholding such imparted a mystic trance, and a subconscious exchange of information took place.
Still, I saw them, but they did not see me.
I slouched into the sand embankment, and using the partial cover of a monolith, crept forward for a better look.
They were all dressed in splashes of light the color of newborn suns. Some had scales of molten gold, some had wings of glass. At the core of metal and fire were forms like men. Crystal skins and their brazen augmentation of chrome and flame made them seem more like beasts in the care of dreaming gods.
I attempted to focus on faces but found only glistening masks.
“Kaaaa-“ it cried out like a Raven in a flutter of dust and dry desert tricks. It had a skull like an abstract bird, of that strange and flaming alloy.
“Chiiiiiii-“ continued another metallic dancer. This one warbled in the way of Coyote, a howl almost human at a moon resoundingly not.
“Naaaa-“ rattled the silver man of bones from the far edge of this comforting fire. He was, I saw, not a skeleton but one who wore an armour of bone. The shade he was, the death blanket. He coughed his syllable from a helm hammered to resemble a snarling skull.
Kachina? Was that what these odd godlings found to chant? I searched amongst my still accessible memories for a reference to this foreign word. Even as I examined it, that thought blossomed into an answer of experience:
I stood at the foot of a massive adobe wall, somewhere that I felt was near in space yet far in time. The wall contained strange handmade grooves, a code like Braille to an otherwise blind eye. This unspoken text proved to be just enough fingerhold for a slow and near drunken ascent. One hand after the other I managed to maneuver the cracks that had surfaced on that dried plane.
Others about me, who I knew as Folk and never feared, were all up and about in what looked like the outside of a vast system of buildings. They went along those trails of dents as if raised to grip the slightest surfaces, and when the angle proved too obtuse they crossed on ladders of gypsum and quartz.
As the moon crossed the sun in an eclipse not matched in ages, a lone child ran through the tiers of the clay fortification. “The kachinas are coming!” she proclaimed. Tears of shone mercy spread across her tanned cheeks. “The kachinas are coming!”
As I watched them dance their rings, singing in a hum of dulled, dreaming rumble, my fingers clenched miniature canyons from handfuls of sand. They became buried in the particular sea.
After a while, the shapes and forms were no longer separate from the sound of their drumming. They formed a single cadence beaten of the thin skin of the world. I held fast against the lengthening pull of their spell, pushing with great effort against that oddening thunder.
One of those sparkling shapes broke away and approached, still moving in time to the deep rhythm. As it drew near, unaware of where I lay, every step made a sound of thin brass chimes, like feathers of precious metals. At the apex of it’s glide, I managed to focus on it’s eyes. They shone like blackened hematite, hard and smart beneath fierce, metallic features.
The fire sent sparkling coronas spinning from the glistening, golden mask. It’s features were oddly asymmetrical, the design reflecting lines of a bird in flight. It seemed to be assembled from engineered, moving parts; a migration of fluid forms flowed across the blur of bird.
I saw in that tangle of spark the fury of a flaming hawk, whiling it’s dance in the way of the airborne. An echo of name surfaced from the deepest well of memory. “Horus?” that ancient whisper rasped, uncertain. “Katar?”
I snapped back to the grip of a reality based on an insect poison in my veins. For a moment the rattle of Silverbones thundered like the drums proceeding an army. All stopped. Calm and warm was everything I knew.
Then a crackle like black fire and bad light spilled into the dream. Something resembling the thunder of guns struck me straight in the chest. I fell back, or thought I fell back, forced into the sand by the blow of a bad cannon. What had gone wrong? All had been so pure a moment before. I could have run through forests until sundown, or even past that into the glass of night.
Around me raged a ghost-war, a battle in the brutal past, where men came after these brilliant godlings with weapons made to shed blood. Cannons were moved into place and fired. The violent crack that followed shook down those ancient walls.
People were lost.
A heave at my chest where the cavity of that chamber had struck left me breathless. The first tinge of cordite hit the air. It smelled of burning blood.
This race of Godlings I somehow had managed to oversee, apparently known as the “Kachinas”, had not perished in that black gunpowder age of whites and colonies and war. They had in fact remained in the same streams, lofted on the similar winds, and crept the rocks of long ago like fossils which glow only in the dark.
As a cycle of eons passed, that formation of heroic focus, never truly dispersed, had surfaced again on the curvatures of Earth.
For the night, I would dwell in their world.
Tomorrow, they would be in mine.
Awash in hypnotic glow, a sensation of motion overwhelmed me. I considered my surroundings and found them both strange and familiar, as in a recurring dream. I had the certain awareness that I was no longer caught in a vision, but had arrived at an actual, physical place.
My temples held an odd expansion, as if a great lake was draining inside. I watched at it went, revealing inch by inch the secrets of it’s former depths. I focused on this interior scene and the distant familiarity increased. I had seen this lake before, watched as it died through the ages.
My arrival in the American Southwest was but a faded, year-old dream. I was not there anymore, of that fact my rattled senses were certain. I was in some other realm, some neighbor dimension. In a kind of synesthesia, I could perceive the age of this place. Beyond antiquity, the years stacked high atop me, pushing my breath out like a stone. Down into the ages I sank.
This was the Old World, a land that lay beneath creation like fossils trapped in the bed of a fathomless sea. Wind like undertow drug me down. Small cyclones of silt spun around my ankles. The wind rose to a roar, pushing me to my knees as it raced overhead. It was alive, and angry, tearing at dirt and stone and flinging it at me.
I choked against the dust. The air had taken on substance, it’s thick snakes knotting against the empty blackness of night. Beyond the translucent coils, an obsidian sky was littered with stars that shone in unfamiliar shapes. As the wind shifted and slunk off elsewhere, I was given a clearer view of the night.
The constellations I had come to know were gone, either removed or hidden in the profusion of specks overhead. The evening skies of Earth were no stranger to me; in my travels I had seen starscapes from almost every angle. I was aware that within the inky night, billions of stars lay distant and unseen. Even my most fanciful guesses at their true number was shown to be sorry and short by the profusion of clusters now above.
The brightest ones stood out clearly, so large or near that I could discern solar flares reaching out from their edges. Other were dimmer and more numerous, forming constellations of immense complexity and size. Smaller still, those most distant formed thin and vaporous clouds that stretched through space. These had a shifting luminosity like internal heat lightning bursting in soft thunderstorms. Those most distant and vague resembled blurry photographs of grainy, unrecognizable images.
As I stood starstruck, the thundering drums had slowly faded unnoticed into the desert quiet. Only the ingrained rhythm thumped on in my mind, losing cadence gradually with the speed of dying coals. Also silenced was the bright spangle of golden feathers, the rustle and metallic splash of dancers. All that remained was a slight breeze and the sound of my own heart, which slowed as my excitement and fear abated.
The silence made me aware of my exhaustion, whispered hopelessness and hunger to my weak and worried mind. Staring up at unfamiliar stars, wondering where I was, I sank into something like sleep.
Later (much later if my bones spoke true), I awoke to stiff and cramping limbs under the burning stare of day. My skin was dry and hot with fever. A rash had developed under my left arm and itched. My breathing was heavy and thick sand crusted my lips.
How long had passed while I was asleep? Delirious or not, I felt that a great length of time had passed, likely a full day, maybe more.
I desperately tried to summon tears to flush the grit from my eyes, but each blink only sliced painful scratches into the otherwise dry sockets. It was at least an hour before my disused tear ducts began to produce. From deep inside a rapidly evaporating wellspring, I drew out the moisture to cry. I made hardly a sound as I gave in to confused loss, weeping softly and watching the playa drink each tear as it fell.
Aware of a throb at the base of my skull and a tinfoil tang in my throat, I sat slowly up, my crying long since finished and dried. Cramps screamed in my forearms, and my eyes were sore and scratchy. Squinting, I looked around.
There was no trace of the event I had witnessed the night before. I stood in a slight basin, about a mile across, with staggering redrock cliffs and tan sandstone fingers surrounding the lowland flat. The desert beneath me alternated from loose sand to hardpack, with patches that were glassy and hard, as if the sand had been fused by enormous heat. Other spots were splotched in white where receding pools had left chalky, alkaline crusts. The looser dirt would have readily accepted footprints, but there were none visible in the dying, chemical dust. No trace remained of the howling dance. No fire ring stood cooling in the sun, no odd tracks of inhuman feet spotted the land. No feathers or fur stirred in the slight wind.
THE FOLD continues tomorrow with Part 6