Short Stories

The marsh

The Marsh

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The Marsh


Reflecting the glory of the sun, the crescent moon shone above the marsh. Lovingly cradling earth’s shadow in her crescent, she looked down upon the marsh, waiting and watching to see who had heard her call.
They gathered along the edge of the marsh, singly or in small groups, lining the shore of a small open stretch of water near the middle of the marsh.

Some otters, foxes, rabbits and deer. A bear poked its head through the tall grass and sat next to a tree, a badger shook himself and settled into the cool mud near the bear, a pair of rats stood on their hind legs, sniffing the air. Frogs peered from the water, their eyes shimmering in the subdued light. Turtles rose from below, their heads rippling the surface as they popped through, some clawed their way to the tops of partially submerged logs. All drawn to the marsh, beckoned by the moon. Water skippers stopped skipping, schools of minnows paused in the shallows. Dragonflies rested on stalks of grass. Red winged blackbirds perched on cattail catkins. A variety of snakes, field mice, muskrats and mink emerged from the grasses. A pair of beavers climbed from the water, to stand beside their den and gaze at the moon.
Four Crows felt the call too, the words “Come to the marsh,” startled him awake as he bobbed his head in his favorite chair. “Your presence is requested, get your things and come.” Glancing at his watch he mumbled his displeasure. “A bit late for this sort of thing. It’s the middle of the night, but I suppose I better go; I wonder what’s up.”
Gathering his medicine pouch, pipe and shoulder bag, he walked toward the door. He dropped a flashlight into his shoulder bag and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. With walking staff in hand, he headed for the marsh.
The path lead past the garden, across an open field and into the timber. Four Crows didn’t question where he was being asked to go, for he had been there often, but he did wonder why he was being asked to go at such a late hour.

The path to the marsh was not much more than an animal trail and he didn’t want to stumble and fall in the darkness. As he made his way across the open field, he was surprised that the crescent moon lit the path enough to make the flashlight unnecessary. He thought it odder yet, that even in the timber he had little trouble seeing the trail. The usual nuisance of spider webs wrapping around his face was gone, there was no need to extend his staff to clear the way. Even the mosquitoes seemed unaware of his passing.
“This ain’t right,” he thought, “plenty of light, no damn spiders, mosquitoes aren’t biting. Why I even feel different, I haven’t moved this well in years. The night is so still and silent.” Resting on his staff he stopped a moment and listened for a sound, nothing, it was as if the air itself had stopped. “Maybe I died and really I’m still at the house, dead in my chair.” He shook off the thought with a nod and a wave and continued.
Four Crow slowly worked his way through the timber, the hardwoods gave way to scrub oaks and willows, which in turn, thinned to allow room for sedge, tall grasses and weeds. The trail curved in from the southwest like a talon, a ridge of stones trailing down to a stand of four sycamore trees near the water’s edge.
Four Crows had walked this trail often, he and his mother used to come here to dig cattail roots and to gather plants. He missed her helping him make horsetail bracelets and showing him how to the choose the best plants.

He missed his father too. He had taught him how to hunt and how to set bank lines. He smiled remembering his father imitating a cat, showing him how to silently get to the water’s edge so he could sneak up on the frogs. He had taught his sons to do the same and wondered if the reason his dad had taught him was really to catch frogs or if it was just for the humor of watching children try to sneak through the tall grass.
Clearing the last of the oaks and a thicket of elderberries he looked toward the marsh. In daylight one could begin to see its open waters from this part of the path. This night the waters seemed luminated, he looked up toward the moon seeing her reflected image rippling on the waters. Somehow, he suddenly knew that it was her that had sent out the call, he didn’t know why or even how that could be, but there was no denying it was her call. It was usually Grandfather Sky or Grandmother Earth that summoned him. The thick silence filled all, it seemed even thicker the closer he got to the marsh.
Reaching the opening near the stand of sycamores, he stared into their spreading branches. Birds of all kinds, roosting together, each sitting next to another. Their black silhouettes looking even darker on the ghostly white branches. Buzzards, hawks, a pair of herons standing by their nest. Crows, bmBlackbirds, and countless smaller birds, all perched, still, quietly waiting.
Four Crows lowered his head to scan the marsh, softly illuminated by some unnatural light. He lowered his head again in reverence to the force that filled the air, goose bumps danced within, he felt his whole body quickened. Never had he seen such a sight, so many animals. The banks lined with wildlife, packed together like blades of grass. Animals standing beside sworn enemies, foxes and mice, a mountain lion surrounded by quail, turkey, coyotes and rabbits. Beneath the trees, a deer next to a seated bear, beside the bear, a fat opossum.
Startled to see Four Crows, the deer eyes darted from him to the bear. Four Crows heard the deer speak to bear, “There’s Four Crows, didn’t expect to see him here. I’m surprised to see a human.”
“Oh, he’s all right,” growled the bear, “he only takes what he needs, shares what he has, and always is grateful for what he gets. He’s different than most. He’s more like us, he’s one with spirit too.”
“You better stay away from his chickens and the garden, or you’ll be one with his stewing pot.” Piped in the opossum.
Bear turned his head toward opossum, “You know that’s just the way it is, don’t get yourself all stirred up.” The bear laughed and gently nudged opossum with the back of his paw, “don’t let yourself get all stirred up, stewing pot. Get it?”
Four Crows watching the three, laughed at bear’s joke and then froze, “I’m understanding the animals!” he thought, “by God I am dead. I was right all along. I didn’t expect to end up with the animals though.”
The animals watched as Four Crows carefully set down his staff and shoulder pack and slowly spread his blanket out over the grass. He took his pipe and medicine pouch and set them in front of the blanket. He tried to be a quiet as possible not wanting to disturb the sacred silence. Picking up his staff for balance and trying not to grunt too loud, he slowly lowered himself onto the blanket and crossed his legs. Setting his staff to one side he looked up to the moon and breathed in the essence of the thick silence that surrounded him. “So, this is dead.”
Owl broke the silence, spinning her head towards the moon she hooted a pray of gratitude. She thanked the moon for calling them all together and for faithfully watching over them. She asked the suns reflection to thank the sun for warming the earth, for bringing the seasons and for sharing its light to brighten the night. She thanked the earth for feeding them and housing them. She thanked the spirits of the waters, for without them they all would die. She thanked the waters of the marsh for offering them a home and for relief from heat and thirst. She thanked the spirits of plants for their continual self-sacrifices, for always giving of themselves and for sacrificing their young for the good of all. Lastly, she thanked the Great Spirit that had created all there was, and all there ever will be and for creating the rules that maintained the balance. Four Crows heard himself agree in unisons with all the animals as owl fell silent.
He felt his spirit stir and swell, a warmth flowed through him, like nothing he had ever felt before. The animals around him felt it too, warmed within, their spirits aflame. A light glowed within their chest, it expanded, creating an orb of light around each. The light continued, spreading up and out and suddenly like a locust shedding its shell, their spirits stepped into the night.
With that, a darkness flashed and surrounded Four Crows with black. He blinked and peered into the instant night. Around the marsh he saw a thousand lights. The night filled with shimmering sparks, like stars on a moonless night. It was the animal’s spirits, loose and free, he saw they were nothing but light. He could still recognize them as they were, more by essence than by shape and the spirit of each was as individualized and separate as snowflakes. Not every rabbit was the same, nor were all the minnow spirits now swimming above the waters. From the ducks to the dragonflies, to the water skippers and sparrows, even the many mosquitos, each were slightly different. It was part of Grandfather’s Sky’s intelligent touch, the magic of guaranteed survival.
He knew too that he was light, the flash of black was his soul being loosed from its earthly bonds. No pain, no aches, no burdens, no fears.
“I am dead.” He thought, “Why was I ever afraid?”
He heard the bear laugh from everywhere at once, “You’re not dead, you old fool, you’re just more alive than your use to.”
His legs were gone, he had no arms, no body, no physical parts, yet without his eyes, he remained alive and he could see it all. He looked around and then looked down. He saw himself as he was, an elderly man, with eyes closed, seated beside a staff. Around him the shore was lined with the empty shells of the animals, all still as stone and above their empty husks, their spirits rose and shone.
“I almost got you yesterday.” Said a coyote to a nearby rabbit spirit.
“Oh, you’re too slow, plus I heard you coming, and besides, you smell so bad you couldn’t sneak up on a skunk.” The rabbit laughed back its reply. The night was filled with light and joy, the animals laughed and joked. They teased each other with good natured jabs and laughed about narrow escapes.
Four Crows, mesmerized, drank it in. He realized, that when all the animals are freed from this world, they know each other as friends and when they return, they are allowed to come back as whomever or whatever they want to be. Each of them knows what is needed to maintain the balance and make it better for the rest. The bear who laughed with opossum might give being an opossum a whirl and the butterfly who loved nectar may return as a honeybee. The snake learns the way of the mouse, the mouse learns the ways of the snake. The fox returns as a smarter rabbit, smarter than the ones he ate. Information freely shared to help them all survive. The changes are recorded within their essence and is passed onto their new physical form. A better animal will always evolve and their cooperation with each other is why.
He looked up and above him he saw a giant flame and beneath him he saw another. Two mirrored burning fires, with his soul untouched between. He was separated from the flames by an orb of protective light. The animals also changed and the flames lite up the night.
He watched as the lower flame began to rise, climbing up the outside of the orb. The higher flame began to move too, it started sliding down the other side. They paused when they both were even at his sides and together, they rose along the orb until they were standing above him side by side. He felt his spirit quickened anew, he felt it began to divide. It flowed up into the flames above him, the light intensified. Then as it dimmed, he saw his body had taken on a translucent human shape and before him he saw a Goddess, a more beautiful women could not exist. He knew if he were still human, he would cry.
She reached out her hand and as he extended his, she spoke and looked into his eyes. “I am you and you are me, together we will always be. There is no other way, it can never change. We have always lived as one. We are she and he and we take our turns at human form. It is what we’ve always done. Before we return, to live again, we decide which one of us will be the one. We’ve done it many times. We always know which part of us we need to express. We choose so we can help our loved ones and ourselves evolve the best. It takes us both to be complete, neither of us can exist alone. We are a paired compliment of our soul. We are sexual twins. This world requires balance, we cannot be one without each other.
She smiled and asked, “Do you wish to dance?” As both their hands touched, they swirled upwards in a swish of light. Spinning together they soared into the night. Four Crows, giddy, screamed his delight, laughing uncontrollably he looked into the eyes of his mirrored counterpart. Her eyes laughed back.
Then like swallows of light they separated, to dive and spin and rise and fall, chasing each other through the night. Around the marsh they flew, fully alive, completely renewed. Shooting high into the air they turned, stopped and through the blur of hundreds of different coloured lights, they shot down through all the other dancing spirts. They skimmed the water’s surface and passed through the essence of the cattails lining the shore. They shot back up into the night until they saw the moon pass beneath them. The world shrank and faded away as they sailed beyond the realm of the physical plain. Passing through the portals of time and space to the point where the dimension of duality ends, to the point where the Beyond the Beyond begins.
Smiling at each other they simultaneously thought, “It feels so good to be home.” Laughing, they spun and turned back again, diving back through time and space. Traveling at the speed of thought, they arrived in an instant, faster than the speed of light. They paused to float above the marsh and to bask in the moons magical light. Below them the animals still danced above their ancestral home. No longer encumbered by their earthly shells the animals celebrated their shared freedom. A shimmering field of a thousand lights, dancing as one, each dancing with its twin.
Four Crows spoke again, “I’ve always known you, or at least I knew you in part, but I never knew how real you truly are or how equal are our parts. I realize now how much knowledge is hidden; how much is blocked from us when we are born. It seems the world would be such a better place if this truth were known.
How long they floated, basked and danced, no one seemed to care. Four Crows realized that time was stopped so they all could have a chance to share. He felt himself slowing down and his spirit slowly begin to descend. His equal twin began to fade, she winked, smiled and softly flowed back in. He floated down until he was hovering above his seated frame and took one last look around. He watched the other animal’s spirits quickly slid back into their home.
“I’ll catch you tomorrow. You just wait and see.” The coyote yelled over to the rabbit.
“I ain’t waiting for nothing, that’s why you’ll never be as fast as me. Tell ya what coyote, next time I’ll be the coyote and you can be me and I’ll show you how a real coyote gets it done.”
Their voices trailed off as their spirits disappeared inside of them, they shuddered and opened their eyes. Both looking startled and they silently backed into the tall grass and darkness. All the animals began to cautiously slip away.
“This has been a night to remember.” Four Crows mused as he felt the pull and he slowly slid back in.
The sound of birds leaving the sycamore to find shelter, woke him. He shuddered as he opened his eyes. The sound of frogs singing their mating songs replaced the sacred silence and all the animals were gone. He swatted at a mosquito buzzing at his ear. Looking up into the sycamore he saw that the owl was still perched on the upper limb. Her silhouette framed by the light of the moon. She looked down at him, bowed her head and gave a hoot goodbye. Spreading her wings, she leaped into the air and disappeared into the night.
Four Crows started to jump up but stopped, he had forgotten how old was. He softly chuckled and grabbed his staff. Planting it in the soft earth, he painfully scaled its length. He stretched his legs, back and neck, the cool earth had crept in. Picking up his pouch and his pipe, he filled the bowl with tobacco. Speaking words of gratitude, he lit his pipe and offered a song of thanksgiving to the four directions, to Grandmother Earth and Grandfather Sky. Lastly, he sang a new song to the crescent moon and thanked her for inviting him to this dance of shared existence. He vowed to see humanity with more love and respect and to be ever mindful that we are always both female and male, no matter whichever part happens to be expressed. He vowed to pass on this knowledge with his family and friends and share all he had learned this night.
Feeling chilled he wrapped his blanket around himself and shouldered his pack. “I’ve never spent a better night.” He thought to himself and he too disappeared into the night.

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