Lathan Byrd took a deep breath as he neared the clearing and looked up at the silver glow. The night sky had been drawing him forth for days. He was far from the elders, all of his kin and the village that lay beyond the grove.
The young man smiled.
It had been a while since Lathan had gone under .
Sometimes he was a bull. Other times he a crow; flapping his black wings and cawing across the clouds. Tonight, he wanted to find out about the spirit who had pulled him into the muddy river.
Lathan was ready for the journey. He was almost a man and didn’t have to listen to the old grandmother tales that had kept him from his fulfilling his destiny.
And going under was the only way.
The first time he had crossed the realms he felt his body sinking through layers of moist dirt, plump worms and thick roots grasping at him; burying him beyond the plates of the earth. When he woke, emerging from his trance, he felt a bit disoriented and didn’t remember much about where he had been or what he had endured.
As he had blinked his eyes, he realized that he was craving the juice of the cacti fruit and fried bread.
Lathan lay the Mexican blanket over the dirt and scanned the area once more.
No one had followed him and it was just as well.
Lathan did not want to draw blood.
Journeying across realms required a sacrifice: the blood of a pure heart. If he had fought those who might have tried to stop him, right before crossing over to the other side, it would have been forbidden and deemed bad form--a taboo.
Lathan was desperate for answers from the ancestors.
Answers he had been denied all his life by men who didn’t understand him. Men who waited for days or weeks for the right signs: for the wind to blow from the West, for the rain to beat down after a ceremonial dance, for gratitude to be given to the spirits helping them cross the realms. And the one journeying--he was to spend a few days in the sweat lodges, battling his demons and repenting for all his questionable past deeds.
Tobacco and hand-weavings from the women who had labored for weeks in the huts…would be blessed and brought to him for the official ceremony.
The elders would chant, drum, and call to the spirits.
Then it would be done.
Lathan was gifted, and, perhaps cursed; for he had crossed the realms easier than most. He was the only one able to do it without much help from the elders. He knew it was dangerous but he didn’t have time for all the preparations.
Before the next full moon the day of his birth was to be celebrated. He was no longer a child and would be pulled into duty: marriage and then working in the fields, an apprentice to learn the ways of earth medicine or the harsh training he would endure for the way of the warrior.
Lathan knew what he was to become.
His father and grandfather had the blood of warriors-and that fate would be fallen on him as well.
He had to go under.
The elders called it Ka-Peh-Tah-Oneh-the journey to the realm beyond.
He wanted to feel himself being pulled away, dancing like the restless shadows of the night, shape-shifting from one land to the next...to find the answers he had long sought after.
Lathan collected branches and began to set up camp. He looked into the spits and sparks of the flames: the spirits of the fire seemed content as he warmed up his hands.
It eased his trepidation
He had been fasting all week long: eating berries, juice and filtered water; hoping it would help with the visions.
Lathan had brought the drum and the elements: red-orange leaves from an ancient tree for earth, the warmth of what he had built for fire, his grandfather’s old bow and arrows for air and a small buffalo-pouch filled with water from the well.
He placed the elements in the four directions and looked up at the sky again. He closed his eyes and tuned into the sounds of the forest.
An owl began his night song and a swift breeze swept by him: blessing him perhaps.
The spirits had arrived and he asked them for a safe journey home.
Sometimes they were playful, and on one occasion he had gone so deep that he was under water...gasping for air. When he woke up he could hardly breathe.
I want to know...he thought.
He was part African, Native American and had the blood of another ancient tribe-one that had been kept secret from him…since he was a little boy. He was told that it was for his own good.
Lathan needed to know what was beyond the flesh; beyond what he couldn’t see.
He had been raised by his grandparents but there had been a hole. The line of the ancestors had been tethered.
“What happened?” Lathan had asked the medicine men when he had crossed realms the first time.
“A spirit from the other side...was restless tonight...”
“I’m not afraid of the dead...I want to go under again,” Lathan placed his hand on top of his grandfather’s.
Teno just stared at the boy with his stoic black eyes.
One of elders began to hum and chant as he shook the red and brown rattle. Soon the earthly rhythm began to calm their nerves.
“Why isn’t it at peace?” Lathan asked.
His grandfather remained melancholic and silent. He bowed his head and stared at the kerosene lantern as if the answers were hidden deep in the golden orb that lit their adobe home.
“Please...I’m not afraid. Send me back....”
“The boy has a right to know,” his grandmother’s eyes were the color of turquoise. In them Lathan heard the sweet ancient songs gathered by campfires, and saw the many dreams that had been caught in dreamcatchers.
“There is no reason to open that door,” his grandfather’s black eyes were like small coals- and Lathan didn’t dare defy him.
Built for hunting and keeping secrets.
Lathan left them all and stepped outside.
I will find out on my own...