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The Calling of Paisley Coldpony


Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop is one of the most acclaimed and respected members of that highly talented generation of writers who entered SF in the 1970s. His renowned short fiction has appeared in almost all the major magazines and anthologies, and has been gathered in three collections: Blooded on Arachne, One Winter in Eden, and Close Encounters With the Deity. In 1981 he won the Nebula Award for his novelette ''The Quickening," and in 1983 he won another Nebula Award for his novel No Enemy but Time. His other novels include Transfigurations, Stolen Faces, Ancient Days, Catacomb Years, Eyes of Fire, The Secret Ascension, and Unicorn Mountain. His most recent novel is Count Geiger's Blues. Bishop and his family live in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Here he offers us a fascinating study of a young Ute Indian girl's strange search for something beyond the life we know. . . .


In the Sun Dance lodge, she found that she was one of sixteen ghostly dancers and the only female.

Was this the second or the third day? Or the fourth of one of those controversial four-day dances decreed by Alvin Powers in the late 1970s? No. She'd been a mere child then, and the year after Powers's heart attack Sun Dancing with the Wind River Shoshones in Wyoming, DeWayne Sky had a vision calling on the Southern Utes to go back to their traditional three-day ceremony.

But the young woman felt sure it wasn't the first day, for on the first day the center pole—the conduit of power from the Holy He-She—supported no buffalo head. Although the sun coming into the Thirst House struck so that she could not really focus on the totem lashed just beneath the crotch of the sacred cottonwood, she could see that something was there.

On the second day of the event, the tribal Sun Dance committee had tied it in place—an animal head now so halo-furred that she could give it no clear outline. She was praying to it, as well as to the Holy He-She, to channel water down the Tree of Life into her orphaned body so that she could do miracles. The miracle that she most wanted to do was the restoration of the health and dignity of her tribe. And of herself, too.

Which day is this? she wondered again. How much longer must I dance with these men?

In the path to the center pole next to her own path strutted Larry Cuthair. This was strange. Larry was between his junior and senior years of high school, a grade behind her.

It defied all logic that the Great Spirit had chosen Larry—in too many ways a quasi-Anglicized young man—to dance now. In fact, she would have bet that Larry was a decade or two away from such an honor, if he were going to attain to it at all, and yet he was dancing up to the Tree of Life and falling back from it in the path next to hers. She could smell not only his boyish sweat but also the chalky odor of the white paint smeared all over his belly and chest, his face, neck and arms. The ceremonial skirt he wore, his beaded waistband, and the eagle feathers that he clutched also gleamed white—in eerie contrast to the multicolored garb of the dancers at every other Sun Dance she'd attended.

This, too, was peculiar. But, then, looking around the dance floor of the Thirst House, she saw that all the other dancers—DeWayne Sky, Brevard Mestes, Timothy Willow, all of them—had powdered themselves in the same alarming way.

Their skirts, ivory. Their waistbands, like bone. Their bare feet, chalk-dusted and ghostly.

The impression that she had was of a room in an insane asylum for spendthrift bakers, men compelled to throw handfuls of flour into the air and then to frolic solemnly in the fallout. But, of course, when she looked, she saw that she (though a woman, and the sort of woman who would pester a Sun Dance chief to accept her into a ceremony once exclusively male) had followed their example. Her own body paint was white. So were her doeskin dress, her sequined apron, her eagle-bone whistle, and every bead on every necklace or bracelet adorning her person. She had joined the crazy bakers in their floury celebration, and this Sun Dance would fail because its purpose was not just to acquire power, but to appease the Old Ones already dead—to guide their spirits to rest in the ghost lands beyond the mountains. Its purpose certainly wasn't to mock the Old Ones by pretending to be an ini'putc' oneself.

"Why are we dressed like ghosts?" she cried.

Her cry went unanswered. The noise of the men drumming in the corral's arbor, the guttural chanting of the men and women around the drummers, and the shuffling and shouts of encouragement from the spectators opposite the singers—all these noises kept her from being heard. But maybe that was good. She knew that to talk too much while dancing was considered folly. It cut one off from the trance state triggered by the heat, the drumming, the chanting, the pistoning of legs, the prayerful flailing of arms.

And, she knew, it was this trance state that gave one access to God's Spine, the Tree of Life, the Sacred Rood at the heart of the lodge. For only through the center pole and the totems tied to it could one take the power that every dancer coveted for the sake of the entire Sun Dance community. Maybe it was good that no one had heard her shout. Many of her neighbors already resented DeWayne Sky for letting her—a woman only recently out of high school—dance with the men. They would take great pleasure in telling everyone that she had been guilty of sacrilege, or at least of imperfect seriousness, while dancing, and that her behavior in the corral not only disgraced her and her dead mother, Dolores Aniola, but also destroyed the value of the dance for every Southern Ute. That was the more dreadful result, for all her tribespeople would ostracize her.

But so what? she thought. Ever since Mama D'lo shot herself, I've lived without their help. I don't need them and I don't want their approval. I want the Utes to be strong—to be better than they are—but if they turn their backs on me, so what? It's only what I've been doing to them since the night Mama spray-painted our walls with her brains. So I'm dancing today—my second day? my third? my fourth?—as a kind of apology for appearing not to wish them well. I do wish them well. I just don't want them to smother me with their fretful love.

Again, she shouted, "Why have we all made ourselves look like ini'putc'?"

But the shrill piping of eagle-bone whistles and the constant thunder of drums kept everyone from hearing her. Except, she soon learned, Larry Cuthair, who strutted up and rebuked her. Did she want to screw up everything? he growled. The Old Ones would think her questions out of place, disrespectful.

"The way we look is out of place!" she countered, dancing at Larry's side. "The way we look is disrespectful!"

Larry regarded her with something like incredulity. "DeWayne Sky told us to dress and paint ourselves like this—to pretend to be our own ancestors."

"We should honor them, Larry, not mock them!"

"But he only instructed us as he did because your dreams—the ones you had in the spring—showed us dancing this way. It's all your doing, Paisley."

"Horseshit!" said Paisley Coldpony. She danced away from the center pole, angry at Larry for feeding her such garbage.

All her doing? How?

Yes, the Shoshones at Fort Hall sometimes used white body paint at their Sun Dances, one of which she had attended with D'lo three years ago, but it was idiotic to say that she had influenced Sky to tell every Southern Ute dancer to wear white dress and body paint because of her dreams.

What dreams? And why would their Sun Dance chief go along with such a major change solely on her say-so? Some people believed that three or four dancers every year lied about their dream calls, saying that they had had one when they really hadn't, and would-be dancers who went to Sky with a vision requiring novel alterations in the ceremony got looked at askance.

Besides, Paisley told herself, I had no dream like that. I had no such dream at all. But if not, what was she doing dancing with these men? They owed their tribe three days without food or water—solely in the hope of gaining the Great Manitou's curing powers, the repose of the dead, and their neighbors' respect. You couldn't dance without being dream-called, but Paisley had no memory of her summons. What was happening here?

Defiantly, she cried, "Why are we mocking our dead?"

An old man on the north side of the lodge shook a willow wand at her. Although Paisley had never known him to dance, he regarded himself as an expert on the ritual. The whites in Ignacio knew him as Herbert Barnes, the Utes as Whirling Goat. He had a face like a dry arroyo bottom and a voice like a sick magpie's.

"Do it right!" he taunted her. "Do it right or get out!"

Dancing toward the Tree of Life, half blinded by the sunlight pouring through its fork, Paisley shrieked her whistle at Whirling Goat, then gestured rudely at him. Another broken rule—but the old sot had provoked her.

"You don't know how!" he called. "You don't belong!"

"Stuff it, goat face," Larry Cuthair said, swerving out of his path toward the spectator section. Barnes retreated a step or two, pushing other onlookers aside, but halted when farther back in the crowd. From there, he croaked again for Paisley's removal—she was fouling the ceremony, turning good medicine to bad.

At that point, the gate keeper and the lodge policeman decided that Barnes was the one "fouling the ceremony" and unceremoniously removed him. Many onlookers applauded.

"Forget him," Larry whispered when next they were shoulder to shoulder on their dance paths. "He's a woman hater."

Whirling Goat confirmed this judgment by breaking free of his escorts at the western door, running back into the Thirst House, and yelling at her, "You foul the dance! You pollute the lodge!" He held his nose in a gesture implying that, against all law and tradition, she had entered the corral while in her cycle.

Many people jeered, but now Paisley couldn't tell if they were jeering Barnes or her. What hurt most was that she was clean, as her people still insisted on defining a woman's cleanliness. And Whirling Goat, a famous toss-pot often as fragrant as a distillery, could not've smelled even Larry's sister Melanie Doe's overpowering styling mousse without having a ball of it stuck directly under his nose. In any case, the gate keeper and the lodge policeman dragged him outside again.

Much aggrieved, Paisley told Larry, "He was lying."

"I know," Larry said. He smiled to show that he didn't mean to denigrate her entire gender, but the smugness of the remark ticked her off as much as had Whirling Goat's old-fashioned bigotry. She moved away from Larry, toward the backbone of the lodge. She tried to make the furry totem on the center pole resolve out of the sun's glare into a recognizable buffalo head.

Meanwhile, it amazed her to see that Tim Willow, a dancer, was wearing reflective sunglasses. His face appeared to consist of two miniature novas and a grimace. Surely, it couldn't be fair to Sun Dance thus disguised, thus protected. Or could it?


Hours passed. Paisley's thirst increased. Her throat felt the way Barnes's face looked—parched. That was to be expected; it was a goal of the dance to empty oneself of moisture so that the purer water of Sinawef, the Creator, could flow down the cottonwood into the lodge and finally into one's dried-out body. Thirst was natural, a door to power.

What was not natural, Paisley reflected, was the sun's refusal to climb the Colorado sky. It continued to hang where it had hung all morning, forty-five degrees over the eastern horizon, so that its fish-eyed disc blazed down at a slant obscuring the bison-head totem in the Tree of Life. And without eye contact, how could she or anyone else receive the sun power mediated by Buffalo?

As living ghosts, Paisley decided, we've frightened the sun.

In spite of the sun's motionless fear, time passed. You could tell by watching the spectator section of the lodge. People kept coming in and going out, a turnover that would have distracted her if she hadn't been concentrating on her dancing. But, of course, she couldn't concentrate on it—her worry about the whiteness of the dancers and the stuckness of the sun prevented her.

Sidelong, though, she was able to make out the faces of some of the spectators. Two of the people were whites. Although her tribe had a public relations director in Ignacio and publicly encouraged tourism, many Southern Utes had little truck with white visitors at the annual Sun Dance.

Paisley's mother had told her stories about white cultists in the 1960s, drug freaks with more interest in peyotism than the Sun Dance. They had disrupted the event by speaking gibberish at the center pole or by dancing to the point of collapse on the first day. On the first day, no Ute would presume to charge the sacred cottonwood, seize it, and fall down in the grip of "vision." But the "Bizarros"—the cultists' own name for themselves—had done such things and worse, thereby defiling the dance.

One of this morning's white spectators looked like a refugee from the 1960s. She wore blue jeans, a T-shirt with Bob Dylan's curly head undulating across her breasts, and a leather hat with a peace-symbol button on the brim. She was pretty, sort of, but Payz could tell that the woman was at least twenty years older than she was—two decades, an entire generation. How did that happen to people? Old Indians, even a sot like Whirling Goat, seemed to have been born old, but old whites—even middle-aged ones—often seemed to have decayed into that state.

Next to the woman stood a man. He was too young, surely, to be her husband and too old, Paisley felt, to be her son and too unlike her in appearance, she concluded, to be her brother. What did that leave? Friend? Colleague? Stranger? Whatever the relationship, he was thin—starvation-thin.

He made her think of what an Anglo male with anorexia nervosa would look like if Anglo males were ever to buy in to the grotesque lie that they could be attractive only if their bodies resembled those of famine victims. His eyes, which seemed too big for his head, were sunken in their sockets. Still, he had the kind of face that whites considered handsome—if only it had been less drawn, less pale.

In any case, he wasn't a hippie. His blondish hair was short, brushed back from his temples and forehead in a way that looked nostalgically hip. And he was wearing a long-sleeved sailcloth shirt—much too hot for July—with the legend Coca-Cola right across its chest.

His female companion lifted her arms, and Paisley saw that she was holding a camera—one of those kind that pop the negative out and develop it right in front of you.

Paisley nearly stopped dancing. Cameras weren't allowed in the Thirst House. People who brought them in were expelled and told not to come back. True, the Shoshones at Fort Hall and Wind River allowed cameras and recording equipment, but the Utes never had, and Paisley couldn't imagine a time when they would. Such things were products of Anglo technology. Although not bad in themselves, they had no place in the sacred corral.

A flash bulb flashed, but the flash was obscured by the sun's pinwheeling brilliance. Paisley thought she heard the camera eject the developing print, but, given the din, that wasn't likely. She saw the print, though. The woman in the floppy leather hat passed it to her pale companion, lifted her camera again, and triggered a second flash.

She's taking my picture, Paisley thought half-panicked. But why? I'm nothing to her, and besides, it isn't allowed. Now the emaciated man was holding two prints for his companion, and she was taking a third photo. Her flash exploded impotently in the sunlight.

Someone noted the flash, though. DeWayne Sky, five dancers to Paisley's right, stopped strutting and waved his arms over his head like a man trying to halt traffic on a busy street.

It took a moment, but the Ute men at the drum, seeing their Sun Dance chiefs gesture, lifted their sticks. Immediately, all the singers stopped singing.

For the first time since the ordeal had begun—whenever that may have been—Paisley could hear other voices from the camping areas and shade houses around the lodge; bread frying in skillets, children skylarking, adults playing the hand-and-stick game.

"Seize her," the ghostly-looking Sky commanded the gate keeper and the lodge policeman.

Some of the Ute onlookers near the woman grabbed her arms as if she might try to run, but she stood like a stone. "I'm sorry," she said, embarrassed by the abrupt halting of the dance. "Have I done something wrong?"

No one spoke. An Indian man, a visiting Jicarilla Apache, took her camera from her and passed it to another man and so on all the way out of the lodge—as if, Paisley thought, it were a bomb.

"Hey!" the skinny Anglo said, but the Apache who had seized the camera silenced him with a scowl.

"Not allowed," Sky said to everyone and no one. Then the woman was in the custody of the gate keeper and the policeman, who began strong-arming her toward the Thirst House door.

Her male friend, although no one had touched him or ordered his eviction, started to follow, but the woman said, "I'm the one who's broken the rules, Bo. You don't have to come with me."

"Not allowed," Sky repeated loudly. He padded across the dusty lodge to look at the man. He pointed his eagle feather-wand. "You can't stay, either," he said.

Why? Paisley wondered, suddenly sympathetic to the visitors. I know that cameras aren't permitted, but what has that poor skinny man done, Chief Sky? Do you deem him guilty because he's here with the woman?

And then she realized that the man—"Bo"—was still holding the developing prints. Ah, of course. It would be a sacrilege to let him depart with them.

Larry Cuthair ambled to the rail of the spectator section and thrust out his hand for the squares of solution-glazed cardboard. The skinny man surrendered them to Larry as if they meant nothing to him. Maybe they didn't.

"Now he can stay, can't he?" Paisley said. These words escaped her altogether unexpectedly. She was as embarrassed by them as she would have been if Whirling Goat had been right about her dancing during her period. Every pair of eyes in the Thirst House turned toward her.

"No, he may not," DeWayne Sky said imperiously. "He, too, has trespassed against the Holy He-She—he, too."

"How?" Paisley challenged him.

"It's all right," the white man said. "I'll go with Lib. Just let me by."

No one moved—not the powder-white dancers, not the drummers and singers, not the onlookers. The gate keeper and the policeman stood motionless at the gate, holding the woman who had brought the dance to a halt by taking photographs. Meanwhile, the stalled sun shone down on this tableau like a huge static flash.

"He's come here for a reason!" Paisley shouted. "He's come to us for healing!"

How do I know that? she wondered. Nevertheless, she did. She had simply intuited that this skinny Anglo had presented himself at the Sun Dance in humility and hope. He was a white, granted, but he was also a sincere candidate for shamanization at the hands of Sky or one of the other newly empowered dancers. So this must be the last day of the three-day ceremony. He had come on the third day to keep from having to endure the whole ordeal, an ordeal for which he lacked the strength; meanwhile, the woman, his friend, had accompanied him to provide moral support. It was just too bad that her curiosity—not malice or greed—had led her to carry in the prohibited camera.

"His reasons mean nothing," Sky said. "His crime is bringing moisture into the Thirst House."

"Moisture?" Paisley said. "His hands are empty."

"There," said Sky, pointing the tip of his eagle feather at the man's shirt. "Right there."

Paisley gaped. Sky meant the advertising legend on the young man's jersey—that inescapable soft drink. Even the name of the product, because the product was a beverage, was forbidden in the Thirst House. Paisley recalled that once she had seen a fellow Ute expelled because he was wearing a T-shirt advertising a well-known beer. On that occasion, though, the expulsion had seemed okay, for the man had known better. Later, wearing an unmarked shirt, he had returned to a fanfare of catcalls. But this man was a visitor, and his embarrassment would keep him from coming back.

"That's stupid," she said. "Anyone with spit in their mouths would have to leave."

"It's okay," the Anglo said. "I'm going."

DeWayne Sky glared at Paisley. "Spit is a part of who we are. That—" he gestured to the brand name on his jersey—"is no part of our bodies. It is no part of who we are."

You forget, Paisley mused, that there are soft-drink machines at the Ute Piño Nuche restaurant and motel in Ignacio. And you forget that right here on our camp grounds, there are motor homes with refrigerators full of canned drinks.

"What are you sick with?" Paisley asked Bo.

He hesitated a moment before saying, but when he said, everyone looked at him with new eyes—fear-filled eyes. People moved away from him, parting like that sea in the Bible.

"You can't catch it just by standing next to him," the woman in the floppy hat said. "That's not the way it works."

"Take him out," Sky commanded.

Neither the gate keeper nor the lodge policeman moved.

"I can take myself out," the Anglo said. "Too bad, though—I've been kicked out of places a lot less interesting."

He walked the gauntlet of appalled and fascinated Indians. But as soon as he and the woman had left the Thirst House, ranks closed again. Sky waved for the drummers and singers to resume. Paisley watched the other dancers, including a subdued Larry Cuthair, begin to strut back and forth in their well-trampled paths to the center pole. So she began to jog-dance again, too. The sun still hadn't made any progress in its noonward ascent, and its fiery disk still blurred the animal head tied to the pole.

After a while, Larry strutted up beside Paisley and handed her two developed prints from the white woman's camera. Paisley held them at arm's length, squinting at them as she danced. The images on the slick squares would not resolve any better than would the totem on the center pole. But a fearful uneasiness welled in her—not because the skinny man had a fatal disease—but because Sky had not let him stay. It seemed to her that even though Bo was white, and whites had done little for her people but lash them more tightly to the follies of the past forty years, he owed it to this white man to try to heal him.

To Larry's surprise and dismay, Paisley tore up the photographs he had given her. The pieces fluttered to the floor of the Thirst House, where they were quickly ground into the dust by rhythmically shuffling feet.

After that, Paisley lost all consciousness of onlookers—they faded totally from sight. She was a spirit, a powder-white spirit, dancing with other such spirits, and she had the disturbing feeling that she was seeing the event not through her own eyes, but instead through those of the emaciated, dying Anglo.

At last, the sun began to climb. As it did, Paisley, knowing herself on the brink of vision, approached the Tree of Life with more vigor. The other dancers recognized how close she was, and Tim Willow began to compete with her, strutting, flailing his arms, making his mirrored lenses pinwheel dizzyingly.

Paisley ignored him. She was dancing faster, driving harder at the pole, urging herself to attack and touch. Only if she touched the sacred tree would the waters of the Holy Manitou flow into her, empowering her in ways that might one day benefit them all.

For her final run, she retreated to the backbone of the Thirst House. She lifted her eyes to the glittering eyes of the totem on the center pole. The sun had ceased to blind her, and what she saw hanging where a buffalo head should hang was not Buffalo but . . . something else. Paisley refused to flee. She screamed—not like a frightened woman, but like a warrior—then rushed the pole with such uncompromising fury that all the other ghostly dancers stopped to watch, shrilling their eagle bones.

"Mother!" she cried. "Mother!"

God's Spine staggered her with a jolt of power. She collapsed at its base.

The vacuum left in heaven by this discharge of power sucked her spirit up after it. High above Ignacio, Colorado, she eventually regained consciousness. Her cold body, however, lay far below, a small white effigy in the Thirst House.

How strange, she mused, seeing herself and being seen, dreaming herself and being dreamt.


Paisley could sense someone kneeling over her cold body, a hand on her brow. It seemed to be the skinny Anglo whom Sky had run out of the Thirst House for wearing a Coca-Cola shirt, just as he had banished that hippie woman for taking pictures.

But when Paisley opened her eyes, reflexively grabbing at this ghost, she found that she was lying on her pallet in her house five miles outside of Ignacio. It wasn't early July, the week of the Sun Dance, but April, and her wood-framed house was cold, just as it had been every night since her mother's suicide.

You've dreamed again, the young woman told herself. Your dream is a call. No one will want you to dance, least of all an old fart like Whirling Goat, and only a bit more a stiff traditionalist like DeWayne Sky, but you've got to face down their opposition. Mama D'lo's an Old One now—it's she who's calling you to dance.

Paisley didn't know the hour, only that it was the middle of a cold weekday night, near Easter. She had school tomorrow, but she couldn't wait until tomorrow to settle this matter. In the empty house, a shell of walls and doors, she dressed as warmly as she could and set off toward Ignacio. The nearby houses of the Willows and the Cuthairs, as ramshackle as chicken coops, brooded by the roadway in the windy dark.

As she walked, carrying her school books so that she would not have to return for them, she pulled her poncho tight and thought about her dream. This was the seventh time she'd had it, or a variation of it, since her mother's suicide. She couldn't ignore the fact that the Old Ones—or, at least, the Old One that D'lo had become—wanted her to dance this July.

That troubled her, for she had planned to leave the reservation the day after her high-school graduation to search for her father. A delay of a month—thirteen years after her parents' divorce—ought not to weigh so heavily on her, but just waiting until the end of school was proving harder than she'd thought. Another month or so would seem an eternity.

Coming into the commercial section of town owned by Anglo and Chicano business people, she strolled along Main Street past the drugstore, a cafe, the laundromat. The sidewalk was mostly dark and deserted, but as she neared the dim foyer of a bar, two boys—young men, if she wanted to be generous—fell out of the place, staggered toward her grinning, and spread their arms to make it hard for her to get around them without stepping into the street. She knew them as former classmates, moderately well-heeled dropouts with damn little to do.

"Hey, Payz, how 'bout taking a ride with Howell and me?"

"How 'bout givin' us a little ride?"

The dreariness of the confrontation, the stupidness of it, made Paisley's dander rise, but she replied only, "Let me by."

"No, missy. Can't do that," Howell said.

"You know us," Frank said. "We're not exactly strangers."

"You're too drunk to drive or ride, either one, Frank."

Frank cursed her roundly, but without viciousness, surprising her by staggering past as if she weren't worth another minute of their valuable time. Tall and burly, he was supporting the gangly, lean Howell in a way that reminded her of a bear trying to push a potted sapling along.

Grateful for their short attention spans, Paisley strolled on toward Pine River, the Piño Nuche motel-restaurant, and the diffuse Ute enclave north of town where DeWayne Sky lived.

But, a moment later, some sort of pointy-nosed sports car with flames pin-striped on its flank pulled up beside her, Frank at the wheel. Howell, meanwhile, was lolling at the shotgun seat like a manikin stolen from a tall-and-thin men's shop. Frank paced her up Main Street at ten miles per hour, his head half out the window and his mouth slurring a variety of one- or two-syllable activities that he seemed to think she would enjoy sharing with him.

Paisley wasn't amused. She had business in Ignacio. And she was tired of hearing Anglos throw around words like papoose, squaw, and wampum as if they were something other than clichés or insults, especially the way Frank was deploying them. She told him to fuck off and declined to speak to him again. At the next cross street, though, Frank blew his horn, turned directly across her path, and dialed up the volume of a song on his tape player whose lyrics were nothing but orgasmic grunts. The pulsing bass of this song put the empty street a-tremble. Even the besotted Howell came around long enough to open his mouth and pop his eardrums.

"Get out of my way!" Paisley shouted. "Move it!"

Frank replied with an elaborate pantomime involving his fingers and tongue. All that she could think to do to show her outrage and contempt was to grab up an official city trash container at the end of the sidewalk and hurl it with all her might at Frank's car. It was a feat that, even as she performed it, astonished her—mostly because the four-sided receptacle, featuring a detachable metal top with a swinging door, had not been emptied recently and weighed at least fifty pounds. When it hit the car, it clattered, rebounded, and scattered debris, some of which spilled through Frank's window along with the dormered lid.

Frank shouted, Howell woke up again, and Paisley recovered the main body of the trash container for another assault. This time, though, she carried it, dripping vile liquids and moist pasteboard, to the front of Frank's car, where she wielded it after the fashion of a battering ram, repeatedly slamming one corner into the nearest headlamp. It took three whacks to shatter the glass, by which time Frank had managed to jettison the trash-can lid. Now he tried to halt her vandalism by running her down. Paisley skipped aside, one-handedly bashing the container into his car again and knocking his rearview mirror off its mount.

A siren began to keen, and they all looked around to see Deputy Marshal Blake Seals come barreling into the intersection in one of Ignacio's two patrol cars.


Seals introduced her into the middle cell of five in the block at the rear of the marshal's office, and she was relieved to find that none of the others held prisoners. The drunk tank at the end of the damp hall looked exactly like a cave or the entrance to a mine shaft—a concrete grotto. For a time, Seals stood outside her cell, his pock-marked face like a big albino strawberry and his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his windbreaker so that it bellied out in front like a sail. He wasn't a cruel Anglo, just a pompous and partisan one.

"Sorry there's nobody in tonight for you to talk to."

"Couldn't you find any other Indians to arrest?"

"You were making a public disturbance, Miss Coldpony."

"I was the victim of a public disturbance. Those turkeys were drunk. Frank tried to run over me."

"The kid was just trying to depart the scene before you turned his Trans Am into scrap metal."

It was a temptation to renew their street argument, but they'd hashed out the details three dozen times already, in the middle of Ignacio, and Seals had sent the "kids"—friends of his—home to bed, promising Frank that the "perpetrator" would spend the rest of this chilly night "incarcerated."

Well, here she was, incarcerated. She would have cursed Seals for the fact that the jail stank of disinfectant if not for the linked fact that it would've reeked of something far less bearable if he hadn't earlier bothered to "sanitize" everything. That was one of the questionable bonuses of being deputy of Ignacio—you also got to be custodian.

"Sorry there's only that—" gesturing at the urinal—"if your bladder gets heavy. We don't have many female guests."

"Leave me alone, Deputy."

"I could bring you a bucket."

"Stick your head in it."

He grinned, mysteriously delighted by her retort. "Put my foot in that one, didn't I?" He returned to the office. Paisley sat down on her grungy mattress, which lay askew on what looked like a pig-iron frame. She wouldn't be in for long, though. Her phone call had gone to DeWayne Sky, who, although not overjoyed to be roused at four in the morning, had told her to hang on, he would vouch for her, put up her bail, or whatever.

She was welcome to stay the rest of the night with LannaSue and him.

In the drunk tank down the hall, somebody or something coughed, a painfully congested hacking.

"Deputy," Paisley called, "I'm not alone back here."

"That's only Barnes," Seals shouted from the office. "I forgot about him."

Barnes. Herbert Barnes. Whirling Goat. Seals had shoved him into the cave and forgotten about him. The old man careened out of its bleak dampness, slumped against the bars with his arms hanging through. He was wall-eyed with cheap liquor or bread-filtered hair tonic, and his white hair tufted out from his temples in a way that made him resemble a great horned owl. Usually, reservation police took care of him, but tonight—last night—he had fallen to the efficient ministrations of Blake Seals.

"Hello, Alma." He sounded more weary than drunk. Maybe a nap had rubbed the nap off the velvet of his nightly stupor.

"Paisley," Paisley said. "My name is Paisley."

"Your mother called you Alma," the drunk lessoned her. " 'Soul' in Spanish."

"I know what it means. But my father named me Paisley, Paisley Coldpony, and that's the name on my birth certificate."

"You lived with your mother longer than your daddy. Your name is Alma Arriola." He pulled some string out of the pocket of his dirty suede coat and, with his hands outside the bars, began making cat's cradles with it. He was remarkably dexterous for so old and alcohol-steeped a brave. Paisley found her irritation with his comments about her name softened a little by the web-weaving of his stubby fingers.

"Jackrabbit," he said, rotating the string figure so that she could see this two-dimensional creature loping across the blackness of the drunk tank.

"Arriola's Spanish name, too," he added pedantically, hacking her off again. Then he dismantled the airy jackrabbit and began a second latticework figure.

"And Barnes is an Anglo name, Whirling Goat."

Paisley knew that some of her hostility to the old guy was left over from her dream. She resented what he'd said to her in it and was sorry to find him—dare she even think the word?—polluting the cell block. (If, given the disinfectant fumes stinging her eyes, further pollution were even possible).

"And this is a goat," he said, holding up the second figure and whirling it for her benefit. "When I was eight, I rode a goat for three minutes that none of my friends could even catch. My name—it comes from that."

"Which one of your friends had the stopwatch, Herbert?"

But neither this sarcasm nor her rude familiarity would provoke him. He ceased to whirl, and handily collapsed, the goat, only to follow it with several successive string compositions, all of which he was magically weaving for his own amusement. His equanimity put her off. She wanted to puncture it.

"I'm going to dance in the Sun Dance. I've been dream-called."

"What do you think of this one?" he said, holding up a figure that initially made no sense to her. Standing at the bars of her cell, she peered at the crisscrossing strings with real annoyance. Her world-shaking declaration of intent had slipped past him like a coyote squeezing untouched through a hole in a henhouse.

"What is it?" she grudgingly asked.

He coughed, but his preoccupied hands were unable to cover his mouth. "Kar'tajan," he managed.

"What?" The word summoned no resonances for her.

"Kar'tajan," he repeated. "But only the head, Alma—only the head and the horn."

Now Paisley recognized it. It was the head—the head and the horn—of a unicorn. She could not imagine how he had produced it with a single piece of looped string, but he had, and the awkward way that he held his hands to sustain the figure was justified by its fragile elegance. She'd never known that Barnes, aka Whirling Goat, had such a talent—or any talent, for that matter, beyond making a year-round nuisance of himself and sourly kibitzing every performer at every important Ute ceremony. But, so soon after the seventh repetition of her dream, the sight of the string figure—this string figure—gave her a decided pang. For it, too, seemed part and parcel of her summons.

"Why do you call it a kar'tajan?"

"Because that's it name. That's the name our Holy He-She gave it—before history turned the world inside-out."

"It's a unicorn, Whirling Goat. There's no such animal."

"It's a kar'tajan, Alma. I've seen one."

From the office, Seals shouted, "He saw it drinking over by the Pine with this humongous herd of pink elephants!"

The deputy's words, and then his guffaws, dismantled the mood of balanced wonder and unease that Paisley had been experiencing—in much the way that Barnes's hands collapsed the string figure of the kar'tajan or unicorn. He stuffed the looped string back into his coat pocket and slumped more heavily against the bars.

"Can't you do a buffalo?" Paisley felt strangely tender toward him. She hoped that he wouldn't relapse into the stupor that had probably occasioned his arrest.

"Ain't nothing I can't do with string."

"Do me a buffalo, then."

Barnes coughed, more or less negatively.

Damn you, Blake Seals, Paisley thought. And then, as unbidden as lightning from a high azure sky, a memory bolt illuminating the headless corpse of her mother struck her. She was seeing again the clay-colored feet on the lounger's footrest, the dropped.12-gauge, and the Jackson Pollock brain painting on the walls behind the old chair. She'd just come home from a debate with the kids at Cortez, a debate that her team had won, and there was Mama D'lo, waiting to share the victory with her, messily at ease in the lounger, forever free of motherly obligation. Although maybe not.

"I've been dream-called," Paisley said. Defiantly, she looked at Barnes. "To dance in the Sun Dance."

"Good. Good for you." He hacked into his forearm.

Paisley stared at him. "Didn't you hear me? I've been granted a vision. I'm to dance with the men."

"It's what your mama wants." Barnes shifted against the bars. "She told me. That being so, you should do it."

"Told you? Why would she tell you, old man? When?"

"Tonight. A little time past." He indicated the impenetrable blackness behind him. "Pretty funny talk we had."

Seals lumbered into the upper end of the cell block. "Every talk you have while you're swackered is funny, Barnes. Chats with old Chief Ignacio. Arguments with John Wayne. Even a midnight powwow with Jesus."

"Get your butt out of here, Deputy," Paisley said. "Who asked you to horn in?"

Smirking, Seals raised his big hands as if to ward off physical blows. "Simmer down. I'm going. Just forgot for a minute we was running a hotel here." He backed out, closing the cell-block door behind him.

"You saw her tonight, Mr. Barnes? Tonight?"

"Yes. In here. I was on that pissy mattress—" pointing his chin toward it, a shadow in the dark— "and D'lo showed up, maybe from the San Juan Mountains. She stood over me, signing."


"You know, hand-talk."

"But why? To keep Seals from hearing?"

"That didn't matter. He was patrolling." Barnes hunched his shoulders. "Alma, that was her only way to talk. You see?"

Paisley understood. She had seen her mother's ini'putc in the Cuthairs' station wagon on the day of her funeral, and the revenant, like the corpse, had had no head. But then the ghost had vanished, leaving Paisley to doubt what she had witnessed.

"What did she say? What did her hand talk mean?"

"Just what you say, Alma. That you must dance this year. That she desires it. That no one should hinder you, girl or no girl."

"It's 'no girl,' Mr. Barnes. It's 'woman.' " She told him as a matter of information, not to scold—for she was ready to forgive the old fart for his bad behavior in her dream.

A moment later, Paisley said, "But why did she visit you? Why did she come here to give you that message?"

"I have a reputation," Whirling Goat said proudly.

As a sot, Paisley silently chastised him, but she knew that he meant as an expert on certain ceremonial matters and so refrained from disillusioning him. Let Barnes claim for himself the dubious glory of an ini'putc' visitation.

"Also," he said, "Dolores must have foreknown."

"Foreknown what?"

"That you'd be arrested tonight. That it would be good for me to give you my blessing."

"I have your blessing?"

"Of course. I gave it to you already. How many children do I show my string creatures?" He hacked again, magpie croaks.

"Not many," Paisley hazarded.

"Damned straight. Now, though, you're among them."

Talk lapsed. Paisley wondered if her run-in with Frank Winston and Howell Payne had been providential. Yes, it probably had. But she had no time to mull the matter further, for Blake Seals entered the cell block again, this time leading a haggard-appearing De Wayne Sky and announcing loudly that she was "free to go." Her esteemed tribal councilman was vouching for her character.

"What about Mr. Barnes?" Paisley said.

"What about him?" Seals echoed her.

"He's slept it off. He isn't drunk any longer. You should let him out, too."

"It's an hour or two till dawn," Seals protested. "He can get a snootful in five minutes, a sloshing bellyfull in ten."

"Let Mr. Barnes out, too," DeWayne Sky said. He was wearing khaki trousers with a turquoise belt buckle so large that it made Paisley think of a chunk of the Colorado firmament for which the councilman's family seemed to've been named.

Not liking it much, Seals released the old drunk along with the unrepentant Trans Am basher. In the jail's front office, he called them over to a metal desk to reclaim their belongings. All Paisley had was her school books, but Barnes had a small clutch of items—his wallet, his house key, a few salted peanuts, and some sort of foil-wrapped coin that Sky picked up and turned in the glare of the light bulb as if it were an extraordinary find.

"What the hell are you doing with this, Barnes?"

"He's a Boy Scout," Seals said. "His motto is 'Be Prepared.' "

Sky threw the coin back down on the desk. "Hell, man, you're eighty-something. And nine tenths of the time you're so stinking drunk, your carrot'd have to have chronic droop, anyway."

A rubber? Paisley speculated. Is Barnes, our oldest bachelor, actually carrying a rubber around with him?

"There's the other one tenth," the old man said, neither shamed nor amused by Sky's attack. He stuffed the battered coin into his pocket along with his other pocket fillers and moved to the door as vigorously as he paraded around the camp grounds at the Bear Dance in May and the Sun Dance in July. Those were two weeks out of the year—maybe the only two—that he scrupulously laid off wine, whiskey, beer, hair tonic, everything but the old bucks charged with organizing and running the dances. Paisley was proud of him for getting through the door upright, his dignity intact and that silly antique rubber in his pocket.

"What do you want to do?" DeWayne Sky asked her. "Stand here till Marshal Breault comes on duty?"

She didn't and so they left.


The Skys lived in a wood-frame house that, several years ago, they had remodeled in an unusual way. Around it, entirely around it, Sky had had built a conical frame whose summit rose better than forty feet above the original roof. Sky's workmen had stuccoed the frame, windowing it at various places with huge rectangular sheets of Plexiglas to let in the sun. At night, spotlights lit the cone so that you could see it from several blocks away, a garish white tepee rising among the scattered tract houses like an advertisement for a Wild West amusement park.

The cone's huge stucco flap opened to the east, as prescribed for tepees by sacred tradition, but the door to the house inside the frame faced south. Thus, Paisley and her rescuer—once he'd parked his Ford Bronco in the driveway—had to walk an enclosed track between the house and the inside tepee wall to reach the real entrance to his living quarters.

Paisley felt decidedly weird following DeWayne Sky around this bizarre corridor, but she remembered that he had erected the fake tepee not just to pretend that he was still living in one, as most whites mockingly accused, but to avail himself of the power to call spirits that round houses—and only round houses—could impart to those living in them. A house with corners, a house with none of the circularity of earth and sky about it, preached De Wayne Sky, cut one off from the spirits and thus robbed one of power.

Although Paisley feared that merely masking a boxy house with a big stucco tepee was not the best way of persuading the gods that you were back in touch with both the earth and the Old Ones, she knew that in the years since erecting his cone, De Wayne Sky's power and influence among the Southern Utes had grown enormously. He'd spent a lot of money on his "folly," but he'd got all of that back, and a great deal more, representing his people at Indian caucuses around the country, presiding as the grand marshal in Frontier Day parades in various towns, and taking part in all five Shoshone-Ute Dances, just like a true shaman. Now, he was chairman of the tribal council and chief of the Sun Dance committee, and who'd have the sand to tell him that his big stucco tepee hadn't gotten him in good with the Great Manitou?

Not me, Paisley thought. Not on a dare.

LannaSue Sky handed her a cup of hot tea, sweetened with honey, and pointed her to a couch covered with a scratchy Navajo blanket. On the knee of her jeans, the tea cup warmed a circle that Paisley couldn't help regarding as a tiny replica of the base of the tepee surrounding them.

When LannaSue returned to bed, Sky paced in front of Paisley in his boots, a stocky man with two tight braids hanging to his waist and a paunch decorated by that sky-blue belt buckle.

"What's the word, Alma? What's going on?"

"The word's Paisley," she corrected him.

He waved off the correction with angry impatience. "Tell me stuff I don't know. Tell me important stuff."

"Names are important. Names let us—"

"Okay. If I call you Paisley, you call me Papa Tuqú-payá, got it?" Tuqú-payá was the Ute word for sky, one of only a few dozen in her people's tongue that Paisley knew. "Understand?"

"Sure, Papa Tuqú-payá."

"Talk to me, Paisley. But only important stuff."

So she related her Sun Dance dream. Parts, however, she kept to herself, the parts that still frightened or unnerved her.

A lamp in the living room relieved a little of the predawn gloom, but when she looked out its picture window, she saw only the interior wall of the fake tepee. A melancholy claustrophobia rose in her. Nevertheless, she kept talking, and when she was finished, she repeated that tonight's dream had been her seventh in the past five weeks. Therefore her visit to town.

"Women don't dance," Sky declared.

"Women have danced, Papa Tuqú-payá. At Fort Hall, they do it all the time. They've done it here, too."

"Twelve years ago, child. Two months later, one of them who'd danced, Theresa Eagle, took sick. The white doctors had no idea with what, but she saw the sacred water bird in the tube connected to her IV bottle and soon thereafter died."

"Mama told me that four other women danced. Nothing like that happened to them."

"No. It happened to other people. Our last Sun Dance chief, the one who let the woman dance—his wife died of a heart attack that year. The aunt of the tribal council's last chairman—she died, too. I could make a list."

"None of that matters, Papa Sky. I'm being dream-called. If I'm not, why am I having this dream again and again?"

LannaSue Sky trundled back into the living room in her robe and sat down by Paisley. "Of course you're being called." She looked at her husband. "Who can sleep with this darling here?"

Sky tossed his braids over his shoulders—apparently, in this context, a gesture of disgust.

"Are you afraid to let Paisley dance? Afraid that, two months later, your beloved wife might die?'' LannaSue briefly smothered a laugh, then gave up and released it. "Beloved wife, my ass. What he's afraid might die is his beloved workhorse."


"Okay. I'll shut my silly mouth." She patted Paisley's knee, the one without the tea cup. "For a while, anyhow."

The Sun Dance chief started pacing again, trying to recoup some of his pilfered authority. "If I let you dance, your dream says we must all paint ourselves like ini'putc'—ghosts."

"I don't know. Is that what it means?"

"I hope not. If we did that, Paisley, it would be like saying the Mauche—we Southern Utes—are dead. Dead people can't ask the Creator to give them power."

"They can ask to be resurrected," LannaSue said.

Sky ignored this. "Forget that, for now. Why are there Anglos in your dream—the floppy-hatted woman, the sick man?"

Paisley shrugged. Even now, she could see them clearly—but she was fairly sure she had never met them in life.

"You haven't told me everything," Sky said. "Your dream scared you. It scared you so bad you're afraid to tell it all."

His keenness in this startled Paisley. Some of the Muache said that DeWayne Sky was a fraud—but he had never knowingly violated any ceremonial tradition, and his knowledge of her reaction to her own dream seemed to her a good sign.

"Tell me," he commanded her. "Tell me even what you're afraid to tell."

"Otherwise," LannaSue said, taking the empty tea cup for her, "he won't be able to accept you into the dance."

Grimacing, Sky made a curt be quiet gesture.

"I don't even know that I want to dance," Paisley admitted, her mind confusingly aboil again.

"Not your decision," Sky said. "My decision. Tell me so I can decide. If you don't tell me, the decision's out of my hands, and it's simple: 'No way, gal. No way.' "

Great, Paisley thought. That would keep me from dancing. And if I don't have to dance, I can leave that much sooner to look for my father. But then it struck her that if she didn't fully divulge the contents of her dream, the dream would continue to recur, and to vary with each recurrence, until it had driven her as crazy as Moonshine Coyote, a woman whose husband and three sons were all in prison and who often sat in a wheelbarrow near Highway 172 drinking cherry Kool-Aid and spitting mouthfuls at passing motorists.

"Come on," Sky said. "You're wasting my time."

"Yeah, you could be sawing logs," LannaSue tweaked him.

"There's three or four things," Paisley said. "The first is those pictures the woman took." Both Skys waited expectantly for her to go on. So she told them that when her dream self had looked at the developed prints handed her by Larry Cuthair, she found that they showed only the interior of the Thirst House—no dancers, no singers, no drummers, no spectators at all. The people taking part in the event as pseudo-ghosts had become real ghosts when processed by Anglo picture-taking technology.

Which was just another variation, Paisley now realized, on that old cultural-anthropological chestnut about the camera's ability to steal a shy African bushman's, or an innocent Amazonian cannibal's, soul. From what Paisley knew of anthropologists, though, it seemed more likely that it was the people on the taking—not the being taken—end of the camera who forfeited their souls.

"That frightened you even in your dream," Sky said. "You tore the pictures up. You scattered the pieces."


"What else?"

She told him about the trouble she'd had focusing on the totem on the sacred cottonwood. The brightness of the sun, and the angle at which it shone down, had been the main culprits, but it was also likely that she hadn't wanted to see what was in the tree's crotch, knowing that it wasn't Buffalo but . . . something else.

"What?" Sky asked. "What was it?"

LannaSue gripped Paisley's knee, reassuringly squeezed it.

At last, Paisley told them, "My mother's face."

Having confessed this, she could see her mother's face again—not blown to smithereens as on the night of the suicide, but as it had been before that. Beaten-looking and imploring. Except that, in the dream, her face had been as large as a bison's head.

"Mama D'lo wants her to dance," LannaSue said. "D'lo's spirit is restless."

"Don't jump to conclusions, woman!"

"She has no son to dance her to rest, DeWayne. If it's to be done, Alma—Paisley here—will have to do it."

Well, that was exactly what Whirling Goat had told her in the jail. It made sense. Mama D'lo's ini'putc' had visited Barnes in the drunk tank to ask him to assure her that she was doing exactly right in going to Sky with her seventh dream.

Sky, however, stomped out of the living room into another part of the house. Paisley was perplexed. Maybe LannaSue had so badly provoked him that he was washing his hands of both of them. Women weren't supposed to organize or dance in the Sun Dance, although they could support the men by singing or by bringing willow bundles to them during rest periods—and yet here were two women, his own wife and a teen-age girl, one telling him how to interpret a dream and the other presenting herself to him as a would-be dancer. No wonder the poor old buck was pissed.

But a minute later, Sky was back, holding a red-cedar flute, an instrument that—he said gruffly, sitting down on an ottoman in the middle of the room—he had made himself. Its song would help Paisley make sense of the two shredded photographs.


"Shut your eyes. Hear my song. When it stops and I say you're doing something, do it.—LannaSue, turn out that lamp."

LannaSue obeyed, and the room, an hour before dawn, was so dark that Paisley felt better closing her eyes than sitting in it trying to find enough light to see by. Sky began to play. The melody was thin, broken, and not terribly pretty. But it altogether took her, snaking in and out of her mind as if seeking a hole to go into and hide. In fact, when the melody stopped, Paisley half believed that it had found this hole.

"A woman dancer in the Thirst House," Sky intoned, "bends down and picks up the pieces of two torn photographs."

That's me, Paisley thought. That's me he's talking about, me he's telling me what to do. And in the darkness of her skull, inside the darkness of a boxy house inside the darkness of a stucco tepee, she saw herself clad all in white, powdered like a ghost, kneeling in the dust to gather up the scraps of treated pasteboard. As she did, Sky began to play again—the same harsh and monotonous, but compelling, tune. He kept playing until the white-clad avatar of Paisley Coldpony kneeling in the Sun Dance lodge of her own mind had picked up every single fragment of paper.

Said Sky then, "The woman carries these pieces to the drum and spreads them out on top of it."

The red-cedar flute crooned again, and Paisley performed in her head what Sky had just attributed to the neurological automaton—the day-dream simulation—he called "the woman." To Paisley, it felt a lot like moving a computer figure through a two-dimensional labyrinth on one of the Apple monitors that they had at school now; the sense of being two places at once was just that strong, as was her awareness that she could back out—albeit with a pang of real loss—at nearly any moment she wanted.

"The woman fits the pieces together—into two pictures. She takes all the time she needs."

Paisley took all the time she needed.

The flute ceased to croon.

Said Sky, "The woman speaks aloud. She tells everyone at the Sun Dance what the pictures show."

The obedient self-projection in Paisley's mind stared down at the puzzle-fit photos on the drumhead. In reassembling them, she had paid their images little heed, but now she was shocked to find that one was a picture of Samuel Taylor Coldpony—her father—standing next to the leather hatted woman who had supposedly taken the pictures They stood side by side in the corral.

The other photo, meanwhile, was of an emaciated unicorn—or kar'tajan, as Barnes would call it—rearing at the Tree of Life in the Sun Dance lodge, its front hooves flashing like knives at the totem affixed to it.

Startled, Paisley opened her eyes on the dark.

"She tells them," reiterated Sky, "what the pictures show."

Reluctantly, staring at nothing, Paisley told the Skys what her dream self had just seen.

Laying the flute aside, her mentor said, "To find your father, Paisley, you must only find that woman."

"What of the sick unicorn?" she blurted. That Barnes had shown her a string-figure unicorn in the jail seemed not so much a happy, as a monstrous, coincidence.

"The unicorn and the sick Anglo in your dream," Sky said, "are different sides of the same coin."

Like the "coin" that Barnes always carries? she wondered. But there was no way to ask Sky such a strange question, and she didn't yet know how a young man with AIDS and a kar'tajan with protruding ribs could mirror anything in each other but illness.

No matter. Sky had an explanation: "The parents of the sick young man have turned him away, just as you think your folks have done, Sam by never coming to see you and Mama D'lo by . . ."

LannaSue said, "She knows, DeWayne."

"That's why you saw D'lo's face on the Tree of Life. And why his unicorn is trying to cut up the totem with its hooves."

Suddenly, Paisley could stand no more. "You sound like one of those goddamn BIA psychologists! Like Chief Sigmund Sky of the Muache Shrinks' Association!"

She reached across LannaSue and turned on the lamp. The sudden light made everyone in the room—eyes narrowed, mouths pursed—look constipated.

The Sun Dance chief picked up his red-cedar flute, rose from the ottoman, and stomped off toward his tiny study. At the door, he turned and gave Paisley a bitter look.

"Maybe I do and maybe I don't," he said. "LannaSue, find her something to eat."


She ate scrambled eggs, to which LannaSue had added diced green pepper and jalapeno cheese. Her hunger surprised her. Ten minutes ago, eating had been the least of her concerns.

LannaSue was nursing a cigarette and a cup of coffee. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The question surprised her even more than did the extent of her hunger. "I am grown up, LannaSue."

"Okay. What do you want to do?"

"Finish school. Dance in the Sun Dance. Find my father." She couldn't think what else to add.

"You want to be a po'rat," LannaSue told her.

LannaSue Sky's absolute certainty on this score was yet another surprise, and Paisley halted her fork in mid-ascent. "How do you know that? Hell, I don't know that."

The Southern Utes had passed a quarter of a century without a bona fide po'rat, or shaman. They had had leaders aplenty, chiefs and organizers and tribal councilmen, but persons with powa'a—supernatural authority from the One-Above—well, the Muache had had to import such persons from the Navajos, the Jicarilla Apaches, or even the Shoshones, whose Sun Dance procedures were so lax that they let dancers suck wet towels in the Thirst House and had no ban on photography so long as the picture-takers were Indian.

Not even DeWayne Sky, tepee or no tepee, qualified as a po'rat, although he had striven mightily to help maintain the integrity of the Bear Dance and the Sun Dance. On the other hand, not being a bonafide shaman, he hadn't tried to resurrect the mawo'gwipani, or the Round Dance, at which everyone danced to hold white diseases—smallpox, clap, polio—in check. Nor the old wedding rite in which a couple sat together in a smoke-filled tepee to prove their compatibility and faithfulness, nor the ritual of laying a baby's birth cord on an anthill to bless the child with strength and good fortune. Sky's curing powers were beyond the average, but far from impressive in the old way.

For dynamic medicine, a true po'rat—a genuine shaman—was required, and Paisley's people not only had no one qualified, they had no candidates. Why LannaSue would suppose that she might make a candidate, much less a full-fledged medicine woman, Paisley was unable to guess. No matter how often she claimed to be grown, she knew in her heart that she was still a school girl, whose daddy had never visited her in all the years since his leavetaking and whose Mama D'lo had . . . done what she'd done. And here she was putting away scrambled eggs as if she hadn't eaten at school yesterday and gulping them down like a starved dog.

How can I be a po'rat? Paisley wondered. How can this kindly lady see me even as a would-be medicine woman?

"DeWayne!" LannaSue called, holding a smoked-down cigarette in front of her. "DeWayne, stop sulking and come here!"

A moment later, Sky propped himself against the doorjamb. "You should've married a poodle, not a man."

"De Wayne, Paisley's dream—it's calling her to be a po'rat, a medicine woman, a healer, not only a dancer."

"You've got piñon nuts for brains, LannaSue. If you open your mouth again, they'll rattle onto the floor."

"The sick man in her dream," said LannaSue, undeterred by this warning. Speculatively, she added, "The kar'tajan in the photo she pieced back together to your flute's song."

"What about them?" Sky said.

Paisley was confused again. LannaSue had just said kar'tajan, the very word that Barnes had used earlier this morning. Moreover, Sky—despite his put-on disgruntlement—was clearly heeding his wife's words, trying to follow her reasoning.

' 'The Sun Dance is for earning power to heal with, and the Anglo with the deadly illness in her dream requires healing. So does the kar'tajan in her dream photo—it's angry and sick, too."

Sky was noncommittal. "So?"

"Paisley calls for the man's healing. She wants to help him. But you say he's broken the rules, and you throw him out."

"He has broken the rules," Sky retorted, astonishing Paisley by talking about her dream as if it were an event of which he and his wife shared a real memory. "He brought in moisture."

"Only a name on a shirt."

"He brought in moisture, he brought in Anglo advertising, and he brought them with the picture-taking woman."

I only dreamed those things, Paisley thought, looking back and forth between the arguing husband and wife. And it was my dream. How can they argue about my dream?

But another part of her mind declared, Paisley, you dreamed it seven times. It's got to be seriously considered, and DeWayne and LannaSue are doing that.

"Fetch the god sheet, De Wayne."

"Christ, woman, that's only to come out at the end of the Sun Dance. Next you'll be asking me to piss on the sacred fire."

"After asking for the healing of the man you threw out, Paisley had a vision. I think it means she's to become a po'rat. Fetch the god sheet. We'll see."

It looked for a minute that Sky might stomp off again, outraged and truculent. Paisley would not've blamed him. The god sheet, if that somewhat awkward term signified what she thought it did, was a piece of linen that the Sun Dance chief brought forth during the closing ceremonies to impress the Shoshones, Arapahos, Apaches, and Navajos who had come to take part, for only the Muache had anything so impressive to display at dance's end. That LannaSue was asking Sky to get it now, months ahead of time, for no other purpose but to determine her suitability for shamanhood—well, it staggered Paisley. She finished eating, drank the last of her coffee, stared embarrassedly at her hands.

"He's getting it," LannaSue said. "Come on."

They found Sky peeking around his study door into the living room, holding something—the god sheet, Paisley figured—behind it out of sight. "Not a word of this to anyone," he said, "Not a word of this from either of you pathetically shy females to anybody outside this house. Got me?"

"Come on. Bring it out. I'll throw the rug back. You can lay it down right here." LannaSue tapped the floor with her foot.

"Blindfold her," Sky said.

"What? There's nobody here but us, DeWayne."

"Do it. In this, I'll have my way. She has to be blindfolded for the test to work. And turn that damn lamp out again."

Blindfolded? The lamp out? Was she going to get to see the god sheet or not? All the hocus-pocus—which she couldn't relate to the time-honored rituals of either the Bear or the Sun Dance—frightened Paisley. Hell, LannaSue's notion that she had po'rat potential frightened her. Before she could say anything, though, LannaSue had tied a clean dish towel around her eyes and further insured her sightlessness by pressing a pair of Sky's sunglasses into place over the towel. Blind man's bluff.

She could still feel, however, and when Sky billowed the sheet out and let it drift down like a provisional carpet, she felt the stirred air slap her like something wet. Moisture, when you were dry, was power, but she wasn't dry, and this whole business—now that she had told her dream and eaten—seemed peculiar. Still, she trusted the Skys, and if they thought this was the way to test her, well, it must be okay.

LannaSue sat her down, helped her remove her shoes and socks. Then she was standing behind Paisley, her large hands gripping her shoulders. Sky retreated and returned. When his red-cedar flute began to play again (the same painful melody), LannaSue pushed her gently forward, telling her to step lightly on the god sheet.

"Try to make a crossing," she said.

A crossing? Paisley thought. I can make a crossing with my eyes closed—which was a joke almost good enough to laugh aloud at. But when LannaSue released her, all her fragile bravado fell part and she hesitated.

Legend had it that the god sheet—the sacred linen—was an authentic Muache relic. At some point over the past half century, a Ute visionary who had just successfully completed the Sun Dance went walking in the hills near the dance grounds and happened upon the footprints of a stranger. This Indian was wrapped in the sheet that he'd worn into and out of the Thirst House over the three days of the dance, and it occurred to him that these footprints—they were narrow and bare—were Jesus's. The Mormons claimed that the Indians were a lost tribe of Israel, after all, and that, once upon a time, Jesus had appeared in the New World. In any case, the Ute visionary laid his cloaklike sheet atop the strange footprints, and the sheet, according to legend, absorbed them into its fabric so thoroughly that no amount of scrubbing or detergent could lift them out again.

Now, the Sun Dance chief was the keeper of this holy relic, and Paisley stood at its edge, unable to see it, knowing that she might cross it to inherit to . . . well, an apprenticeship that might one day confer upon her divine power.

"Walk, darling," LannaSue Sky encouraged her. "Walk."

Paisley took a step. Sky's flute continued its balky crooning, and the young woman heard the music in the same way that she felt the god sheet—as a spiritual warmth. In fact, although the pine floor was cold and the sheet itself frigid, as she navigated the musty smelling relic, Paisley noticed that the soles of her feet—step by careful step—seemed to absorb more and more warmth, more and more tingly energy, and it was tempting just to dash from one side of the linen to the other.

"The woman in the Thirst House goes slow," Sky said. "She goes slow and watches what there is to watch."

The flute resumed playing. Paisley overcame the urge to dash. Soon, she found herself observing again her own ghostly automaton in the Sun Dance corral of her mind.

There before her self-projection's eyes, hanging from the holy cottonwood like Jesus on his Roman cross, was the skinny Anglo in the Coca-Cola shirt. He had been crucified on the center pole, his arms stretched out into unsupportive air and his feet nailed to the Tree of Life with splinters of antelope bone. The gaunt Anglo was saying something, mumbling aloud, but all that Paisley's dream self could make out was the end of his mumble—". . . forsaken me"—a phrase with the rising intonation of a question.

Whereupon the Anglo faded from her dream self's sight, vanished into the white air of the imaginary Sun Dance lodge, to be replaced on the center pole by another totem altogether—the head not of a buffalo or of her own dead mother, but of a taxidermically prepared specimen of a mythological beast that Paisley knew as a unicorn but Whirling Goat and the Skys as a kar'tajan, as if they all had some ancient knowledge to which she was not yet privy and on which she might never gain a steady grip. All the other dancers rushed this totem. Leaping, then falling entranced, all had visions, while Paisley's dream self watched from her own Sun Dance path, buoyed by the activity but confused by it, too.

Then she saw that the gaunt Anglo, clad now only in an Indian breechclout, stood beyond the Thirst House entrance. He looked at her peculiarly for a moment, then motioned her to forsake the lodge and follow him. Paisley could feel the soles of her feet—her real feet—growing warmer and warmer as she struggled to obey the mysterious Anglo's summons. It was pity that drew her, not quite conviction, and she knew that once she had seen what he required of her, she would return to the Thirst House to appraise herself of the contents of all her fellow dancers' visions.

Suddenly, the pine floor was cold under her feet again.

"You're across!" a woman's voice cried.

Paisley hoped that LannaSue would remove her sunglasses, untie her blindfold, and give her a look at the god sheet, but Sky, she could tell, was gathering up the sheet, hurriedly folding it, and returning it to its hiding place in his study. Only when he had come back from this task did LannaSue turn on the lamp, remove the blindfold, and hug her. Both she and Sky were beaming at her—as if she had just climbed Mount Everest or swum the English Channel. Paisley blinked at them, more confused than ever, her mind a jumble of images—some distilled from dreams and some from all that had happened to her since coming to town.

"I'm taking you as a Sun Dancer," Sky told her.

LannaSue said, "And for training as the new Muache po'rat."

Toying with one of his braids, Sky nodded.

"But why?" Paisley asked them. "What did I do?"

"You walked where the Walking Man walked," LannaSue said. "On the sheet where his footprints lie, you put your feet."

Paisley looked at her mentor and her mentor's wife. She felt gratitude for their approval of her and what she had reputedly accomplished, but also skepticism. All she had for evidence that she had done anything very significant was that odd warmth—which still just perceptibly lingered—on the soles of her bare feet. And, of course, the Skys' word that she had walked exactly atop the Walking Man's or Jesus', footprints. It seemed simultaneously a remarkable achievement and a con.

"Great responsibility comes with this honor," Sky said.

Paisley knew. Already, the responsibility had begun to weigh on her. Taking part in the Sun Dance would keep her from leaving to find her father until July, and her apprenticeship as a shaman would require not only her early return but a long sojourn on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico so that a true Navajo shaman could adopt and train her. Life seemed even more complicated than it had after Mama D'lo's suicide.

"It's wonderful," LannaSue said, chucking her under the chin as if she were a baby. "You'll bring us hope again—hope and pride and power."

Paisley slumped to the sofa. She looked through the picture window. The inside of the fake tepee was pinkly agleam, dawnlight filtering through the hard plastic windows set high in its stucco cone. Was it possible that her dreams had led her to such a pass? Her private, impalpable dreams?

LannaSue hunkered in front of her, gripping her knees with her vise-like hands. For a moment, she simply hunkered there—Paisley thought that squatting so must be hard for her, she was by no means a petite woman—but abruptly said, "Some folks think that dreams aren't real, darling. Some folks think they're nothing but nonsense."

Sky grunted a derisive assent. The derision in it was for the people his wife was talking about, not for his wife. They were in harmony again. Paisley's walk had restored them to it.

"But dreams are of God, and dreams cause real things to happen, and you, a dreamer, are greatly blessed, darling."

"I—" Paisley began.

"Greatly," LannaSue said. She struggled out of her squat and looked at her husband. "When it's time," she said authoritatively, "DeWayne will drive you to school."


After school, Paisley mooched a ride from Larry Cuthair on his motorcycle. They didn't go home immediately, though, because Larry wanted to buy some notebook paper in Ignacio.

They rode into town together, Larry entered the drugstore, and Paisley sat at the curb on his bike waiting for him to come back. While she was waiting, she looked halfway down the block and caught sight of a man staggering out of the laundromat. It was Herbert Barnes, who'd probably spent most of the day in the washateria with a bottle of cheap booze. He careened along, as if about to fall from the sidewalk into the street. Paisley ran to him and grabbed him by the elbow.

"Whirling Goat, are you okay?"

He cocked a bloodshot eye at her. "Course I am," he croaked, patting the pocket of his coat. "Got me some spirits right here—some dandy Old Crow for a randy old Ute."

"Chief Sky says I'm accepted for the Sun Dance," she said. "He and LannaSue believe I've been dream-called."

"You're pretty?" he said doubtfully.

"Thank you," Paisley said, equally doubtfully.

"You're very pretty?"

"I don't know."

Barnes shifted his weight from one wobbly leg to the other. A look of obscene slyness came into the one eye that he was managing to keep open. "Your mama D'lo told me you oughta take me home with you," he said. "You know, to watch over you."

"Yeah. In hand talk."

"I . . . s-swuh-swear," Barnes half hissed, half coughed.

Up the street, Larry shouted, "Paisley, come on!"

Paisley slipped the five-dollar bill that LannaSue had forced on her that morning into the old fart's coat. He'd only spend it on drink, but there was no way she could reform him in the next ten minutes nor was she about to take him home with her. The money was guilt money, but it was also . . . well, a token of esteem for what he had once been. He believed that he had seen a kar'tajan, and he carried in his pocket a foil-wrapped lucky coin—a talisman, both absurd and poignant, of hope.

"Paisley!" Larry Cuthair yelled again.

She kissed the smelly old sot on the cheek and ran back up the sidewalk to climb aboard Larry's motorcycle.

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