Shoshee settled her back against the smooth stone at the base of the tall rock-thing. She sat in its shadow, cross-legged on the smooth hard-white-rock that ran along the base of it. Her left hand lay in her lap, palm up, open to the sky. The fingers of her right hand rested on the weathered cranium of the broken skull that lay beside her. The rest of the bones were scattered nearby, intermingled with the broken fragments of a stone that must have fallen from somewhere high up on the face of the rock-thing.
Shoshee drew a long breath and let it out slowly. She closed her eyes, settling her mind, and softly spoke the Opening Words. It was a warm-bright morning in the Time of Shortening Days. Somewhere an insect buzzed. The only other sound was the breeze as it whispered softly around the edges of the rock-thing overhead. As she sat and breathed, and thought the Words, the sounds faded. When the spirit spoke, she listened.
“Grandmother! Are you asleep?”
Shoshee sighed and opened her eyes to squint at Chachee, standing on the soft-black-rock in the sun just beyond the shadow’s edge with his bow in his hand and his quiver slung on a strap across his bare chest. She smiled proudly. He was lean and lithe and brown-skinned. So fine and strong. So young.
“No, Cha. I wasn’t asleep.” She lifted her hand from the skull just as he stepped forward into the shade of the rock-thing.
Her movement drew his eye. “Wah!” he exclaimed, stopping in his tracks. “You were listening to bones again! Why do you do that, Grandmother?”
“Because their stories are important.” Shoshee shifted, stretched herself, and stood up stiffly. “How would you like it if you were dead, and your spirit couldn’t go the Quiet Place because there was no one to listen to your story?” She beckoned. “Come. Help me gather the bones together and cover them with some of these stones.”
Chachee rolled his eyes. “You gather the bones. I’ll do the stones.” He circled, to sit as far from the bones as he could while staying in the shadow of the rock-thing.
Shoshee shrugged and began carefully picking up the scattered bones and placing them together.
“Is it another from the time of the Fire-fall?” Chachee asked.
“Yes,” Shoshee paused to look up at the towering side of the rock-thing. “He came from up there.”
“On top of the rock-thing?” Chachee was incredulous. “How did he get up there?”
“He climbed.” Shoshee stood with her eyes closed, remembering the spirit’s words. “It’s called a build-ing.” She smiled a little. The spirit had used many strange words, but that one she could understand. “I suppose because people built it. It has steps inside to climb. And rooms. He did his work in a build-ing like this one.”
“And then the fire fell from the sky, and he fell from the rock-thing and died?”
Shoshee frowned. “He fell and died, yes,” she said. “But he lived for a time before that, after the fire fell. Everyone else left, but he stayed. There had been power, you see, in the wy-erz. And power in the air. But the power died when the fire fell. He thought the power would come back, but it didn’t. There was a place called a store, full of food. But when the food was gone, this way was quicker than starving to death.”
“But why didn’t he hunt for food, Grandmother?” Chachee waved his hands. “There are lots of good plant-things to eat. And animals to hunt.”
“He didn’t know about those things. There were some who did, but he was not one of them.”
“How did he live then?”
Shoshee sighed. “He made numbers dance. On a thing called a skreen. He was very good at it, and there was…power…in it. He could have lived very well all his life, making numbers dance. If only the fire hadn’t fallen from the sky and made the power in the wy-erz go away.”
Chachee frowned. “He should have made a bow and arrows. It isn’t hard.”
“Not hard for you, Cha. You know how.”
“He should have figured it out!”
“You had people to teach you, Cha. He didn’t.”
Chachee scowled. “If he was so smart that he could make numbers dance, he should have figured it out.”
Shoshee looked at him sideways. “Could you figure out how to make numbers dance?”
“Maybe. If I had a skreen… and wy-erz…”
Shoshee sighed. Chachee was so young and so sure of himself. Someday perhaps he would be wise. “Maybe there were people who knew about bows, Chachee, but he didn’t know those people.”
“Are you finished with the bones, Grandmother?” Chachee was suddenly impatient.
“Yes. It’s time to move the stones.”
Chachee stood up with a grunt and began to pick up pieces of broken stone and pile them on top of the gathered bones. Shoshee helped with some of the smaller pieces. When they were finished, Chachee picked up his bow and turned to go. Shoshee, however, stood still beside the cairn and closed her eyes. “Go, Spirit,” she murmured. “Go to the Quiet Place. Maybe there are numbers there that will dance for you.”
“Please can we go, Grandmother?” Chachee was more than impatient now. “I want to go down to the Place of the Big Circle. There aren’t enough animals here to shoot. They don’t like it. Too much of the hard-white-rock and the soft-black-rock where the plants don’t grow.”
They went, crossing the canyon-space between the rock-things, feeling the warmth of the sun on their shoulders and being careful not to step on an oak seedling that was pushing up through a crack in the soft-black-rock.
“What did they call this place, Grandmother? Did the spirit tell you?”
Shoshee looked back at the pile of stones at the base of the rock-thing—the build-ing. “Yes,” she said. “They called it…Pa-sa-dee-na.”
Carol Louise Wilde began writing fiction in 2002 and is nearing completion of a sweeping romantic-fantasy-adventure saga, The Nagaro Chronicle. She is pondering the merits of shopping this 7-book series through traditional channels versus taking it directly to readers via self-publication. Carol uses her maiden name for her fiction and her married name, Carol Wuenschell, for everything else, including Conversational Wordsmith, her blog about any-and-all things to do with writing and language.
7 thoughts on “The Numbers Danced by Carol Louise Wilde”
Oh, Pasadena! So it’s come to this!
Carol, a fine job of predicting our future (and seeing a bit of what the past looked like around here as well)!
Oh, my. This is wonderful!
Thanks, Margaret, Petrea, Stacey. I hope I’m not predicting any near-term future.
You create a mystical, exciting atmosphere really well. If this was a novel I’d imagine it would be a page-turner.
Oh music to my ears! Thank you. It was quite a challenge to try to create the sense of a different world in such a short space. I hoped I had succeeded.
Love the concept of numbers dancing. What an eerie, but beautiful story.