© by Gary Morton (4000 words)
Not so many years ago this
of Reddersville was Iroquois land, and when I close my eyes I can
picture two dancing medicine men smudging some of the braves. The thick
smoke of the sweetgrass curling around painted bodies, beads of sweat on
stern foreheads, in one of those common clearings where the fragrance of
decaying herbs is as strong as the bittersweet ash.
Golden grasses are
rippling as the wind races off to the autumn flame of the surrounding sugar
maples. And the fir trees are the arrowheads of angry spirits, piercing the
amber sky. Whatever visions the medicine men have of these spirits are
carried off, swirling with the leaves in a dust devil, and they spin until
the most frightening warrior stands at the clearing's edge.
Twilight is a hawk
returning, and when the birches are midnight ghosts the braves are following
the warrior and an avalanche of stars, hunting with the darkness . . .
. . . but that's when
I close my eyes. The trouble starts when I open them. Then my visions are of
an evil spirit. It has touched my life with a bloody hand. One of the
spirit's evil deeds was a strangling, and some people thought I was the
killer. The lawmen liked my profile - Owen Fairhawk, 36, half Indian, known
to drink on occasion, ill-tempered sometimes fishing guide who works on just
about any sort of temporary job, and a bachelor.
Yeah, the lawmen were
eyeing me like a coyote would eye a prize turkey, but I'm not the guy they
see. I see all things and accept them. I don't want to give people an Indian
Utopia they couldn't appreciate, but I refuse to share their burdens and
crave what their world says I need. If I can sit on a cliff, smile and spice
my dreams with memories, then kernels of gold fall from the sun and I become
as rich with feelings as the temperate forest is with its autumn coat.
I know that much of
the suffering in modern life is a product of desire, and that no happiness
is brewed in a cauldron of desire, but a person who desires nothing - not
even a sunny afternoon - is a person who has lost the dream and made nirvana
irrelevant by not desiring it above all things. Sure there's some dark lust
in my own inner nirvana, and I have my needs, but I don't let anything get a
warped grip on me. I'm in control, a far cry from the wild Indian the lawmen
think I am.
The evil spirit awoke
about a year ago, in the summertime, striking the Reddersville area with a
wave of violent deaths. Weakened by the heat wave I was working only as a
fishing guide in the breezier waters.
The day of the first
killing I was at home. I have a cottage on Beartooth Bay. It's more like
half a cottage connected to a trailer and it's an example of the kind of
all-trades work I can do. I even built a small peaked roof for the trailer.
But I don't care much for houses, I like the outdoors and I spend a lot of
time in my boats. My boat fishin' superstition is often booked up,
but on that day she was docked with my canoe and rowboat.
I was resting on the
shore in the shade of some sumac and I was at my best; though the heat had
sapped all thoughts of work from me it had also drained me of any desire for
alcohol. The waters of the bay rippled in the sun like silk and ran from a
deep blue to a milky blue out where the heat haze rose up like a Venetian
blind to hide the far shore. A row of poplars ran up to the highway on one
side of the cottage and a farmer's deadwood fence ran a zigzag course beside
my drive on the other. I was fairly isolated - a fallow field lay over the
fence and it held only dense grass and weeds. Across the field I could see
the red side of Dave Burns' barn, and a cloud of dust suspended over Highway
6 where it became visible as it curved around the bay.
descended on my eyes as the sun fattened, flared and began to set, then a
rose tint spread through the haze, giving the sky a deeper dimension. A
flock of crows flew like arrows over the field and poked holes in the dust
cloud. I thought of how crows always get active when the weather is about to
change. Reddersville is crow country though and the dust cloud had unusual
buoyancy that didn't spell humidity or rain.
I watched the sun
fling its tongue across the horizon while dust devils began to
merry-go-round by the road. My thoughts were wandering as a red station
wagon came into view, then something weird woke me. A small reddish dust
devil rode down and hit the car, exploding its back windshield and causing
the driver to make an emergency stop on the shoulder.
The dust cloud
mushroomed and darkened in a star pattern, then a huge dust devil appeared
and whirled in a wide circle around the car. The headlights came on and
illumined a screen of dust that resembled a TV test pattern. I got up and
had to shield my eyes to block a shimmering desertlike landscape in the
sunset sky. Down in the dark patch strange faces were appearing and
disappearing in the whirling dust. They were faces you would see on a totem
pole or masks, similar to some of the visions artists have of Raven, Coyote
and warrior spirits, but with strong, animate expressions of howling
wickedness and laughter.
Without hesitation I
ran and leapt over the fence for a better look, but as I landed in the
clover the faces faded and the dust devil broke up. Only the larger cloud
remained, a huge umbrella shading the wagon. A woman got out of the driver's
door cautiously. She had naturally windblown blond hair, tanned shoulders
and wore a light summer dress. A gust of wind revealed most of her legs as
she stood behind the car, checking the damage.
I began to walk
toward her, unconsciously avoiding patches of burs and nettles. I was a ways
into the field when I saw her shielding her eyes and looking at something
down the road. I guessed that she wouldn't see much more than glare and
shadow against the blaze of the sunset.
She had feminine
innocence that no doubt sent a lot of men stumbling to her rescue. Before I
could make a solid guess at her character her features stilted with fright.
Since I couldn't see what she was scared of I quickened my pace. Whatever it
was it caused her lean back against the car, like she was too terrified to
run. With a lot of ground to cover, I began to sprint to her aid.
Shards of fiberglass
from the windshield made jewels on the asphalt. The wind played at her
dress. I had covered half the field when I saw her attacker. It was a tall
column of dust, and in the swirl were mutilated half-human faces. They were
like evil animal gods, long and distorted with anguish.
She screamed and the
column seemed to hear her; it halted its spin long enough to leave a tall
man standing in front of her. He wore cowboy boots and torn jeans, his chest
was bare except for a mat of scar tissue. Stringy black hair and stubble
partly hid his sharp-featured face. It was hard to put a finger on his race.
I guessed that other people might call him a gypsy for lack of a better
Silence fell on the
girl like a shadow, and mesmerism glazed her eyes as he stepped up to her
and put his hands on her neck. I yelled for him to stop, but my words were
lost in a tunnel of wind. I was forced to watch him strangle her gently,
then violently break her neck. A sick form of love welled in his eyes, like
he was mad and had killed his own daughter. Blood came lightly to her lips
and he kissed her fiercely, then he eased his grip on her and let her fall
against the car. His fangs glistened with blood as she slid to the roadside,
then he just stood there and looked at his crooked hands, relishing what
He turned to face me
just as I was leaping over the ditch, and he had a faraway look and an
expression like he couldn't care less. He didn't even move to defend
himself. I gave him a flying check and he fell over the body and rolled on
the asphalt. Giving him no chance to recover I jumped on his chest with
heavy boots and then stomped at his groin, continuing to lay heels on him
until I was doing a dance on his face, wishing my feet were jackhammers so I
could break every bone in his body. Then he caught my right foot and bit it
hard, ending the good times.
My foot was bleeding.
His teeth were razor sharp. Staggering back I let out a howl of pain. Like a
spooked pheasant he flew up and felled me with a vicious jab to the throat.
Looking up from the ground I saw him flanked by a steep wall of twilight and
that grisly column of dust. He grinned, showing his fangs then he turned to
the station wagon and started booting it. He worked his way around the car,
knocking out the lights and windows. When he went to work on the doors it
sounded like a demolition derby.
punch-drunk head I got up and found him ready for me. He had his belt off
and I could see he planned on hammering me a couple with the buckle. The
buckle was glowing red, a hot branding iron, and I could see, the name DUST DEVIL
traced on it in white-hot silver. Since it was woven from
snake skins it snapped easily, as if it were a whip, and I ended up doing a
crazy dance, ducking and staggering back, trying to avoid the humiliation of
It took all of my
agility, but I managed to pull a side dodge, move in and rise with a
backfist strike to the bridge of his nose - a deadly hit that should've put
him out. It didn't, but I did manage to sweep-trip him before staggering
Dust Devil rolled up
fast and both blood and smoke were pouring from his injured nose. Fury was
in his eyes, then he dodged in so fast he was a blur and sent the buckle
straight at my cheek.
I caught it
barehanded, and it put my whole body in a fiery hell. My palms smoked and
sizzled like frying meat, and my own scream seemed to come from a distance
as I twisted wildly. I was strong enough to break away, but not strong
enough to stay up. Smoke went up my nose as I went down.
My head spinning, I
scrambled to my knees and saw a huge shadow sailing for me - it was an
approaching truck. I raised my hands in a defensive gesture that could do
little to save me from a future as a hood ornament.
Brakes squealed, the
truck stopped inches from me and a last beam from the setting sun
spotlighted the area. I turned and glanced back, expecting to see Dust Devil
jump me, but he wasn't there. The dust was gone
Dave Burns, the
farmer next door, had seen me dashing across the field to the rescue, and
the tourist driving the Blazer had seen a shadowy figure throw me out front
of him and disappear on the forested side of the highway. If it had been
otherwise patrol officer Jim Orland would've charged me with murder. After I
told about the supernatural occurrence and being painfully on fire without
being burned, Jim cocked a cynical gray eye, pulled on his whisker shadow
and said that I wasn't a sober witness. Since Reddersville can't afford a
police force the murder case was shared by the provincial police and
Orland's Mounties - the upshot of this being that it made it certain I would
eventually be charged. I decided to go on a bender while I still had some
There's an abandoned
Starlight Inn on the Sand Hill Road near the outskirts of town, and I sleep
there when I'm drinking around Reddersville. I'm a menace on the road even
when I'm sober, so I left my wheels at home. It was 3 a.m. when the need
sent me wandering down the roadside. I had a small pack and the pockets of
my hunter's pants stuffed with supplies for my motel room. The moon had
strong arms of wind that were sweeping the treetops, and they rustled vastly
and sent the odd gust down to tear at me. The shadows went on forever, dream
scenery in my mind, and for some reason it came to me that all men are
ghosts, bound to the few roads they will wander. Most men don't die, they
slowly wink out. I believed myself to be stronger, like a spirit taking new
faces from the earth. It is true that few men interested me then and few men
interest me now. I like women, but men I've always seen as rivals that I
tolerate. To me Dust Devil was more interesting than the heroes we're taught
A week went by,
and it was as empty as the roaring in a sea shell. Sort of a blur. I
remember smoke in my eyes and the Silver Mule Saloon's dancers, punctuated
by the riverbed taste of hangovers and a harsh sun. What finally killed my
thirst was some news about more murders.
A Dwight Yaokum tune
that I thought was great was playing on the jukebox and a stripper was
dancing Egyptian-style for a fathead sitting in a cloud of cigar smoke at
the table next to me. I thought about hitting him with a chair, then I
ignored him and looked around for some of my regular pals. Georgie was over
by the door swallowing a taco. He wiped his chops with a napkin and
accidentally on purpose dropped it in some tourist's draft. On spotting me
he walked over, and that's when I got the news.
"It was a very
gruesome massacre," he said, shaking his braids and folding his hands with a
drunk's reverence. "Up by Weller Creek, yesterday. Four fishing buddies and
a French gal. She was strangled, her blood drained. They were beaten to
death, heads cracked open like clams. Orland says it's the work of your Dust
Devil. Guess it puts you in the clear now, the case is too complex to hang
on an Indian."
I smiled so broadly
one of the girls came to the table thinking I was signaling her for a dance.
Feeling good about being in the clear I got up and went out. Streaks of
yellow fire rained from the sun and washed away the grime and sleaze of the
hotel. I had a sort of gone feeling where I was aware of my surroundings but
everything seemed shot through with numbness, like I was a root stuck in
cold earth. I rested on a bench by the river, and the arc of hills
surrounding the village rose and fell as I drifted towards sobriety.
about vivid dreams that caused me to shiver in the heat, then a bizarre
language of feelings filled me and I seemed to know Dust Devil's history. It
almost bubbled in my mind. Dust Devil had been the only real witch during
the Inquisition and he'd used his powers to lead the men of the church to
the chalices of innocent blood that damned them. As the Reformation came
about Lucifer was bounced from the holy altars and Dust Devil became a
wandering false prophet. He came through the Enlightenment in Europe with
the seeds of a new racist doctrine that granted men the right to murder in
the name of superiority. It filled the world with the flames of war and the
smoke of death camps. As a nihilist author he revealed that our universe was
created by a beautiful act of divine suicide, God in flames. In his heart he
wished for a return of ancient days when he'd taught the art of human
sacrifice. Blood had been so plentiful then.
A limestone shelf
leans into the water near the abandoned motel and it's one of my favorite
fishing spots. I headed up the Sand Hill Road figuring I'd gather my few
things, sit by the water until dusk and then return home. Things didn't work
out though, the sky unexpectedly began to dim to slate and I was suddenly
sure that something was wrong. An ill, dusty wind began rattling through the
woods, but the feeling was more than weather, it was dryness inside too.
I could feel the wind
sapping my strength as I went around the bend, and I sure didn't like it. In
Ontario the winds are nearly all energetic and exhilarating. The idea of a
bad wind was something I hated. Bad winds belonged in Europe, where Dust
The motel stood out
like the last long house, its shingles warped to bark, struggling to remain
intact against a background of wind-kicked forest, cold light and
boulder-shaped clouds. A Mustang was angled off the drive with one front
tire half up the trunk of a fallen poplar. No one was in the car or near it
and there was the sense of everything being wrong, but maybe right for an
A zigzag formation of
dust devils skated down from the treetops, whirligiged like tops, and made
angry insects out of the litter carpeting the front of the hotel. I felt my
scalp lift, then a scream rose from the bottom of an invisible canyon. Wood
burst to splinters and a body crashed through one of the boarded-up windows.
It was a man and he landed and rolled between two dust devils. He rose to
his hands and knees, and his face was like a smashed strawberry. One of his
eyes hung from the socket and the other was swollen shut. He moaned in a
sort of hopeless agony then he took a pistol from his belt, put it to the
side of his throat and squeezed the trigger. A gust of wind sprinkled the
nearby trees with blood drops and he collapsed on his side. Dust whirled
into him, his burial had already begun.
I took off over a
patch of spongy earth, the idea of getting the gun fueling me. A teenage
girl had dashed out the open front door. Her jeans were torn and one side of
her head was shaved, but she'd likely done that for fashion. Blood was thick
on a jagged incision at the top of her forehead; someone had almost scalped
her. She ran, flailing her arms and screaming into the cruel wind. Since she
was so thin she looked weird running, like baggy clothes blowing on a line.
Her hysteria didn't take her far before Dust Devil stepped out of the motel
and used some power of his to slow her to a stop.
He didn't appear to
see me at first, and I felt confident with the gun, which I had picked up.
It was a Ruger pistol and as I lifted it Dust Devil caught the motion in the
corner of his eye. He turned, his concentration broke and the girl began
running again as I took aim.
Dust Devil's thin
lips showed white with rage through his shadow of whiskers, and his eyes
were chunks of backlit red glass. Smoky dust streamed from his windblown
hair. "You," he said in a whisper that was carried to me on the wind. "The
He took a
gunslinger's step toward me. I didn't feel like screwing around with him so
I pulled the trigger, placing a bullet right between his eyes. His head
exploded, a geyser of flaming magma, and he took another step toward me,
My jaw went slack and
my scalp lifted as a dust devil arced out of the woods and landed on his
shoulders. Slowly it compacted to form another head above the gore and lava
running on his shirt.
His neck was a mass
of scar tissue, but his features were unchanged and he was now smiling
cruelly. He pulled a hunting knife from his belt and ran his finger along
the blade, taking his time as a way of making my blood run cold. I fired
again and this time his skull shattered like china and shards of brilliant
glass flew. A third slug winged his knife and it flew like a dart into the
trunk of a tree.
A howling rose on the
wind. Headless, he held his arms up to the sky. A column of smoke shot up
from his neck. I covered my face to block the stinging dust, then the wind
whooped and knocked me over with a big hand.
The blow calmed as
quickly as it had rose, and I sprang up. Dust Devil was still smoking, a
fork of lightning struck him and a new head glowed on his shoulders. This
time I tossed the gun away, mainly because his new head was a twin of mine
and I was afraid voodoo would happen if I put a bullet in it.
He ran for me like a
hungry animal and I side-dodged him and clapped his back to send him
face-first to the ground. When he sprang up I got him with my best punch in
the nose, only to find that his head was like hard rubber.
A series of moves
followed and in some ways he was a clumsy fighter. He didn't know the weak
points like I did. I went for the solar plexus, the balls, the calf, the
temple and neck while he used mainly brute force. Things degenerated to a
flurry of bad punches and I busted his teeth and ripped my knuckles raw,
then my legs were taken out from under me and we rolled and pounded on one
another like screwball robots. After about an eternity of it I broke free,
somersaulted to my feet, laid a few boots to his face, then jumped back
before he could chomp on my foot again.
He leapt up and a
thousand masks fell from his face to the dust like skins from a snake. We
stared each other down like predators, and a million years fell out of his
angry eyes and roared through me with the fury of fire and wind. Ancient
memories returned. I knew why he hadn't slaughtered me like the rest; I was
as old as him, a loco reincarnation and a coyote just like he said. The
delusions he'd helped give this age weren't in me for him to claim me as
his; I would forever be a renegade Indian and beyond his grasp.
I said before that I
see all things and accept them. I accepted Dust Devil then, just like I
would've accepted any other beast. He saw that I knew and backed off a step.
Then I grinned through split lips, slapped the grit off my thighs and walked
away into the dusk, knowing he wouldn't follow. With death over my shoulder
and another wheel of time ahead I saw a vision . . . and it went from ashes
to ashes and rose from the dust again.
------ The End -------