“I don’t think you’re a so-called moron. Though you should have told someone where you were going. But I was watching you, the whole time, until you disappeared from the mesa. I know now I don’t have to tell you that these hills aren’t as pretty as they look. There’s a lot more things out here than snakes, worse things. I know you won’t be doing that again.”

I shook my head, looking at the ground, feeling like a child.

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“And your arm isn’t as bad as you think.”

He licked his finger and brought it down against it. The dirt lifted clean off showing the skin beneath had only superficial scratches.

“We’ll get you cleaned up. Come on, would you like me to carry you?”

I smiled anxiously. “No, I’m good. Really. Lead the way.”

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He walked down through the trees, through the makeshift path I saw earlier, offering his hand every few steps. I stubbornly refused in the nicest way possible.

We walked through the forest for about five minutes. I felt the elevation dropping and the air growing warmer, even underneath the fragrant shade.

“So,” I said. “I noticed someone had been there before.”

“Sure,” he replied and kept walking forward.

“There was a fire, a shovel, footprints. Looked like people were digging for something.”

“It happens all the time here.”

“Is it Miguel or Shan?”

Bird laughed and skirted around an outcrop that stuck out into the trees. “No, not them. New Mexico is a lot different from Oregon. We don’t have a lot of property laws. People generally come and go on your land as they please.”

“But digging up stuff, I mean whatever it is, isn’t it yours?”

“It depends. If they are looking for Navajo objects, it’s probably everyone’s. Everyone Navajo that is. To be honest with you, if a fellow brother finds something Navajo on the Lancaster’s property, it’s better off in their hands anyway. Will and Sarah wouldn’t care, they don’t follow that way anymore.”

Interesting. I almost detected a hint of animosity in Bird’s gentle voice.

“Is it a big problem when people give up their…way?” I asked.

“It can be. It usually is for their families. But, you know, people in town, we’ve all become a lot more tolerant. It’s a shame but you can’t blame them in this day and age. It wasn’t working for them, maybe. Maybe being a Christian has been more rewarding.”

I stifled a laugh.

“You can’t tell me they feel more rewarded,” I said. “For someone as blatantly Christian as Sarah…” I shook my head. “That woman is not rewarded. She’s a hypocrite.”

Bird stopped and I almost ran into his back. I was suddenly afraid I had angered him. There I was shooting my mouth off again.

He turned and looked at me, eyebrow cocked. “You think Sarah is a liar?”

“No. Not at all, I just don’t get how she can be all Christian and religious and stuff and then act like the complete opposite. Maybe it’s just me though. Maybe she just rubs me the wrong way.”

He nodded, musing it over. He looked up at the trees and the sunlight filtering through the needles. Bird always seemed so poised.

“You have to understand…she wasn’t always like this. Even years ago, when she was still blind, she was a lot better. I don’t know what happened. Especially lately. But Will and Sarah are not an easy pair to figure out and I can only say that forsaking the Navajo way can’t have been easy, ever. Growing pains. Besides, all religions are full of hypocrites.”

“True.” I nodded.

“What do you believe in?” he asked gently.

“I believe in God. Or some great power beyond what we can imagine. But I think religion is a manmade prison,” I answered honestly. Try telling that to my father, though, I thought.

“You’re a smart woman, Perry. There’s a lot more to you than some people give you credit for. I know you feel that.”

I smiled shyly. “I guess.”

“Don’t sell yourself short. I think you’re going to need every ounce of confidence while you’re here.”

His last words had a bit of an edge to them. I didn’t like that.

“What do you mean?”

“I think you know. Will explained to me what happened last night. And look what happened just now. You…being here…is not going to be easy.”

“I can handle it,” I said bluntly. He was starting to sound like Miguel.

He chuckled but his lips quickly turned down. “That’s the spirit. I believe you can. But…what I’m trying to say is that you, you are causing this.”

I stiffened.

“And it’s going to follow you, wherever you go.”

I felt currents of electricity spark at the base of my skull and travel down my nerves in waves.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I’m not the wisest man. I’m not the most powerful. I am just a man amongst others just like me. But I do know I have more connection, more…heart,” he reached over and tapped my upper chest with his hand, “to people, to the earth, to the spirits. I listen closely and I hear things. I open my eyes wider and I see things. You’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of power in your little form, and there are some things in this world, and in other worlds, evil things, that are going to want to take that from you.”

My first thought was that I was living Poltergeist and I was the little girl and Bird was that creepy midget psychic woman. My second thought was a sick sort of relief. I wasn’t sure if I believed it entirely but what Bird said confirmed a few thoughts I had of my own. Yes, I had always felt I was different. Only to think that there was something special about me was rather egotistical, so I avoided it.

“I don’t think I’m all that special,” I said.

He smiled. “I know you don’t. And that’s part of your ‘charm.’ But the sooner that you own it, the sooner you’ll be in control over what happens to you. You must prepare for anything now and you must, must realize that whatever happens to you, it’s not going to be easy.”

“My life has never been easy,” I mumbled.

“No one’s is, even the lives we think are effortless. Some people take a longer time to open their eyes to it though. But you’re open. And that’s irresistible to some things…and some people. Like Dex.”

My heart skipped.

“He sees it too.”

I nodded and felt my cheeks growing hot. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“So what do I do? Should I leave? I mean, I don’t want to bring this stuff here to you guys.”

“Will and Sarah are being tormented by something terrible,” he answered gravely. “It would happen whether you were here or not. But now that you are here, these things are going to come after you and they are going to do whatever they can to destroy you. The good news is, that in the end, that very power they want is the very power you have to defeat them.”

“Uh, this is really starting to sound like some epic superhero movie.”

He laughed. “It’s not. This is just what happens. And it happens a lot here. The Navajo deal with the spirits, or what you call the supernatural, very often. It’s not supernatural to us, it’s just…natural.”

“So you’ve dealt with stuff like this before?”

He nodded.

“Well, what are we dealing with?”

He eyed the trees, not quite worried but still with the barest hint of trepidation.

“I’d rather not discuss it yet, not till I’m sure. This isn’t the time. We better get moving.”

I glanced around me at the forest, feeling the shadows reaching out from the depths. This whole conversation made my paranoia level amp up to eleven.

We continued walking, a bit quicker now, as the ground became level and the trees thinned out. Soon we were out of the forest and making our way across the craggy desert, coming towards the house and barn from the far left. It was closer to noon now and the sun was at its grandest. My shadow stuck as close to me as possible, as if it was afraid to stray.

In the distance I could see the Jeep. Dex was back. Suddenly I didn’t want to go any further.

Sensing this, Bird stopped and looked at me.

“Want to rest your foot here?”

I nodded.

He gave me a gentle smile. “You’re worried what your husband’s going to think?”

I tried not to flinch at that term.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

“He’s an interesting fellow,” Bird said with no hint of irony. “I can see how you guys found each other. You’re very similar.”

I tried to hide the annoyance that must have splashed across my face but Bird caught it and only smiled. “I can back you up in any way you need me to.”

That came as such a sweet relief to me. It was so nice to know Bird was on my side. Maximus was right about that. I could trust him.

“Thank you Bird,” I said sincerely, hoping he really knew how thankful I was. “That means a lot. But I mean, what can I say? I was an idiot. You saved me. That’s kind of the story of my life.”

“It’ll get better,” Bird said and patted me affectionately on the shoulder. “Just remember what I told you.”

That I was the target of whatever the fuck was happening? How could I forget?

“Let’s get you fixed up.”

I was about fifty feet away when the front door was flung open. Dex came out, followed by Maximus and Will.

I half expected Dex to hang in the background, but the moment he got a better look at me he came running over. He looked livid.

“What the fuck happened to you?” he yelled at me, hands in the air. I looked at Bird. Suddenly, I wanted Bird to explain everything.

“She took a little tumble, she’s fine.”

“She’s not fine,” Dex spat out angrily. He looked at my arm, then at my face. I couldn’t really tell if he was just pissed off or extremely concerned.

“I’ll go find the first aid kit,” Bird said quickly and walked off to the house, leaving me with Dex. Maximus and Will were still hanging out around the porch, trying not to watch us.

I avoided Dex’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said sheepishly. “It’s no big deal.”

He rubbed his chin quickly.

“What happened?”

“I went for a walk–”

“God damn it, Perry!” he exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, I just thought I would go up to that ridge there.” I turned and pointed at the ridge but he grabbed my arm and pulled me towards him rather roughly. My fists clenched in surprise.

“Ow!” I cried. I opened up my palm. The holes from the crow’s talons stung and looked nasty. He loosened his grip on my wrist but didn’t let go and peered down at my hands.

“Ah, jeez. You’re a fucking mess.”

“You can let go now.”

He shook his head. “I’m going to need to leash you to me from now on.”

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