Western Fiction posted January 15, 2021 Chapters:  ...24 25 -26- 27... 

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Jane and Little Deer escape into a cave

A chapter in the book The Spirit of the Wind

Into the Belly of the Whale

by forestport12

Jane and her first husband homesteaded in Nebraska. She lost her first husband and then delivered her only child. She's fought to keep her land in the family despite the Indian uprising.

There was no sleeping in the tepee. The revelry and dancing around the big fire outside was deafening. I could scarcely breathe. Although Little Deer lay beside me and her husband guarded our lodge, the lure of escape made my heart pound like a heavy mallet.

It sounded as though the Indians were dancing and cutting themselves into a frenzy. It brought my mind to a scalding thought, whether it had something to do with me. But Little Deer whispered in my ear. "The whiskey makes them crazy. Pray they will be sleeping off their madness when we flee."

I prayed a silent prayer, looking up into the night sky where the smoke from the fire escapes and I see trinkets of stars. I thought of my son Josh and how he might grow up without his mother. I wondered then if Jake would remarry and what would become of the land I once was willing to die for. The land itself didn't seem all that important anymore. I imagined myself a bird soaring through the opening and over the canyon walls.

Shadows stirred about the tepee outside. I knew the women often bore the brunt of the Indian benders. But it sounded as if there'd been a small war outside until in the late dark hours and the noises subsided. I was subdued with the thought I could be dragged from the tepee. But as the next hour waned, silence hugged our thoughts. I knew then, in another moment, Little Deer and I would be a steps between life and death.

Little Deer, not knowing if her husband was passed out drunk in front of the flap, whispered in my ear. "It's time."

I took a deep breath and exhaled. I felt as if all the air the around me had been consumed. Little Deer stirred beside me. I watched her faint outline stuffing a satchel with items for our survival, including dried jerky. Then she pulled her knife from its sheath around her waist and quietly cut through the stretched wall covering of buffalo hide.

I crouched next to her, wearing one of her deerskin dresses. Inside a lined pocket, she'd given me a flintstone and an arrowhead. I also knew she had pine-tar branches for torches hidden in the brushes near the cave. She'd given me moccasins for my feet which had been bleeding and bruised. My legs tightened, as I watched her crawl out first with her satchel.

I held my breath and wiggled out through the hole like a snake in the grass. I took my first sip of free air. But little Deer motioned for me to stay close. The real danger lurked where the horses would be guarded. If a brave slept, it could mean his own death. Guarding the village was a duty for an Indian not to be taken lightly, as we darted past Indians asleep in their wigwams.

The illumined sky reflected from the canyon walls. We raced on foot skirting the outer edges of the village between bushes and tall weeds leading away from where we might spook a string of horses and a brave guarding them.

Then I heard the babbling brook and caught a glimpse of its silvery reflection. We soaked ourselves, wading through the icy stream. Slipping on the rocks in the water, I banged my knees. Little Deer lifted me across, and we tumbled to the other side.

We pushed forward through brush and uncovered the torches to light the cave. We slipped over rocks and crawled upward through a divide of boulders with eyes wide under a blanket of stars. I heard the snap of a twig behind and below us not far from the creek. I turned and caught a glimpse of the smoldering fires of the village. My mind churned on whether it was all a ruse or a trap, an excuse to kill me.

Little Deer handed me one of the torches. Crawling upward, we came to a jagged edge and slid down a boulder into the dirt. We stood, staring into a gaping hole of darkness, fighting to catch our breath.

Little Deer struck a match across the rock and lit her torch. She waved the torch in front of her, and I followed her into the mouth of the cave, a point of no return into the belly of the whale.

Little Deer is Mary, a half breed captive
Standing Bear is her Little Deer's husband
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