TIME: September 1990
PLACE: Blackridge, South Dakota Sioux Reservation
It began with a kidnapping in a little house on a desolate corner of the reservation that no one would ever learn about. The home sat almost at the foot of the summer ranges where the tribe's herd of cattle grazed apart from the rest of the stock. Here Jon Morningeagle, the tribe's chief wrangler spent much of his time. It was the same rambling structure where Jon's father, even more immersed in the "old ways," had raised him; the same house where Jon's father, during a drunken fit of rage, had fallen off the front porch and broken his neck. It was a teenage Jon that had found him the next morning on the way to do his chores.
"You leave that child sleep." Miriam Morningeagle said to Jon in a sharp whisper. She wore a rough cotton shift she had made herself and her long raven hair was gathered into a single braid hanging fully to her waist. Her sensitive eyes never smiled anymore but held a distant look. Even her sharp words had been thrown at the air, not directly at her husband of three years.
Jon still wore a stained T-shirt and faded Levis dirty from the range. He paused at the closed door to little James' room that adjoined their bedroom. He whispered his reply fiercely without looking back at his wife. "You don't ever tell me what I can't do with my boy, woman." He turned his head to glare at her for a second and eased the door inward.
Jon had painted Little James' room light green with symbols from old Sioux myths decorating the walls and the crib. Jon's father had been shield maker for the tribe and although few still wanted them, Jon served that function on enough occasions to paint the figures well. Over the crib a painted white buffalo head in a medicine shield halo looked down at the sleeping boy with benevolent eyes.
Morningeagle eased the door closed with out-of-character gentleness, but when he turned, the granite lines of his face showed his true demeanor. "I'll do what I please, woman; this is my house."
"Your father's house," she said in a distant tone.
"I keep it up," he insisted. He removed his boots, shirt and jeans and moved into the bathroom.
"I keep it up," Miriam said, her voice a hollow imitation of Jon's. Her fingers idly toyed with her braid as she stared at the door to the child's room. She hummed a tuneless song.
"Have you started that again?" Jon thrust his head from the doorway, his face twisted with annoyance. "You know I can't stand your constant whining."
"Constant whining--" she murmured, then giggled, swaying back and forth. She continued to play idly with her hair.
"If only you'd take us away from this place," she whispered.
"Let it be woman! This is my home now, our home. Now come to bed!" Anger flared in Morningeagle's eyes and he pushed from the doorway and crossed the room, his bare feet slapping noisily on the irregular wooden floor. He climbed into the bed with an air of finality. He wedged himself beneath the covers. She stood in the center of the room, her head tilted to one side, listening to the sounds of the house.
"Miriam?" he said in a softer voice that roused her from her lethargy to slowly move to the bed and climb in. He grunted his satisfaction and turned his back to her as she clicked off the night light.
In short order, her husband snored deeply, but even with the weight of a long day upon her, Miriam could not find rest. She listened to the chirping of crickets and the sound of eaves slapping against one another in the gentle breeze for along time.
At last she slipped from under the sheets and padded slowly and soundlessly to the child's door. Little James slept with noisy coos amid rumpled nightclothes. She thought he was dreaming perhaps of plains filled with mighty buffalo and a stout horse painted bright blue with rockers all of wood.
Their strong son had his father's chiseled features showing beneath the baby fat and the same deep coal black eyes as his mother. His name was James, but Jon had said, "When he's old enough my boy's gunna take the spirit journey and choose his own name, in the old ways." And everyone who knew Jon Morningeagle was sure that it would be just so.
Miriam held one hand through the open door so that light from the window swam about it. Chiaroscuro in the light it had swollen knuckles and rawhide skin that should belong to a woman twenty years her senior. She snatched her hand from the light as if the moon's touch burned the flesh.
Her vision of the room smudged with teardrops.
Slowly she eased the door closed and leaned her forehead on the jamb, letting all her unrealized dreams filter through her lips with one whispered sentence to her son. "You're all we ever had," she said, "all I got left."
She moved with little purpose to the bed and let exhaustion save her from her thoughts.
A long silence settled over the sleeping Morningeagle family, filling the house with the calm of a glassy sea just before a storm.
In the middle of the child's room, toys scattered the floor awaiting his future pleasures, and a dot of light blinked into existence without an apparent light source. No beam shone in the window or reflected off any shiny toy or surface. The point of light coalesced in the center of the room about four feet off the floor, and grew into a vertical line of coherent luminosity that touched the floor. Without a sound, it burst into the image of what might well have been a Gnome of European legend.
The little man-thing was thin and gray with two huge eyes and a bulb head that throbbed with a myriad of green-gray veins. It had no mouth.
Clutched tightly in the withered arms was a tiny bundle of flesh --a baby.
The child was young and unmoving, curiously lifeless. It was a perfect image of James Morningeagle.
The silent invader took two steps to the crib, bent over the railing and gently slid the strange twin under the covers. Six-digit hands lifted the real Morningeagle child and carried him to the center of the room. In less than ten heartbeats the two figures collapsed into a vertical line of light, and were gone.
In the morning when the dead child was discovered, the inner turmoil of the parents turned to anger and accusation. When the doctors could find no reason why the tiny heart of the image of Jon Morningeagle had stopped beating, the anger turned to unreasoning hate.
The following day Jon mounted his best horse and headed off into the mountains moving north. It was the last anyone in the tribe saw of him.
Miriam refused to leave the house, never shed a tear after the first morning, and two weeks after Jon vanished she tried to kill herself with one of her husband's antique guns.
After a stay in the hospital Miriam went to stay with her parents and it was said that for years she sobbed in her sleep but when awake she never spoke of either her husband or her son.
The house became tribal property after a time, but no one would enter the place. Eventually it rotted away.