Hopa and The Dead Man - Part I
by Jessica Elbert
When Hopa awoke to the fierce white light of the sun in his eyes, he
knew that pieces of him were still afloat in the Dream.
So thin, but he could still feel the low rumbling and the anger of the
trees. The Dream had been of Shadow, a warning. He was fully awake now;
he lay still and waited for the day to lift him out of the night. But
the Dream was powerful, more powerful than anything Hopa had ever touched,
though his father was teaching him well in the Ways. The light of the
morning was too meek to chase the pockets of shadow from his heart.
The night remained.
Outside, the Village was rustling like a bear waking in the leaves.
Hopa’s father was called The Dead Man. Though his feet walked
on the dirt, his spirit was not fascinated into the snare of this world.
This world was called The Forgetting, and Hopa’s father had begun
teaching his son before he was given voice. Hopa was still only a boy,
but he was not afraid. Many people’s faces became fear when The
Dead Man approached, and Hopa could see reflected in their eyes the
terrible power that was his father.
As Hopa crossed the field of dry yellow grass, his robe scuffed the
earth and captured many small leaves and twigs. He watched them with
reverence and sympathy, as they were helplessly trapped like all spirits
are bound to the world.
The Dead Man was beneath a great and gnarled tree that stood alone as
though other trees feared to grow too near its mighty trunk. His eyes
were wide open, but he could not see Hopa draw near. He was in a place
that Hopa did not know, though he could sometimes catch the scent of
the place and it smelled like the Dream. Hopa waited in silence for
his father to speak to him.
Suddenly, his father smiled. His arms reached out and enclosed his son
in a mighty embrace. He drew Hopa away from him to arm’s length,
keeping his hands on his son’s shoulders. He looked with a calm
intensity into his eyes, and Hopa felt unfolded. “Tell me of your
Dream,” said The Dead Man.
When Hopa finished speaking, his father was silent for a long time.
The Dead Man’s eyes were the sky, clouds rushing by in swirling
drifts. When Hopa saw this, he knew it meant the coming of a great storm.
He could feel the warm sunlight on his black hair and on his dark skin,
but the light seemed to come from very far away.
“A Curse will fall upon us.” Thousands of small, prickly
ants walked on Hopa’s skin and across his heart as his father
spoke. “But your place is not to stop this; for it is the Way
and it is blessed. Your spirit must not drink from this well. While
the earth shakes the stars and the cold places, you must remain.”
The Dead Man’s voice grew soft, and the clouds were swept from
his eyes, leaving only tenderness and a beautiful sorrow. “Hopa,
be not afraid. You will be true.”
Hopa did not speak to his father then, for he was afraid to send his
voice out alone. The roaring tongue of the river called to him, and
his feet began to move him towards that place. The Dead Man did not
speak or follow, for he knew where his son must go.
The river was not a kind god, but she listened to Hopa’s prayers
and sent her own prayers back to him. Hopa knew that whatever he set
upon her waters would return to him once again. She was cold; she was
fierce; she was always a stranger and ever the same. This day Hopa came
to her not to speak, only to listen. Here the river ran beneath three
long, flat slabs of stone. Between them there were dark crevices that
sang the song of the water. Hopa lay on his back, with his feet pointed
towards the North Way. He closed his eyes and felt the cold gray rocks
dissolve away beneath him until he was weightless. He was carried by
the river and he could feel the water rushing, rushing into his head.
The back of his skull opened up and his spirit rushed out, carried by
the rushing water.
hum thrum dash into air
the hive high tree trunk alive
with crawl with hover
buzzing wings strain and flutter helpless fury and
tiny feet trapped by sticky swarming mass sink swiftly
a delirious drone and then only
serpent glides, coils and golden shiny skin
slithers through reeds long, long she curls and turns
a spiral spins like whirlpool sucks things out of this world
mouth over tail she slinks and glints and hiss
piercing hiss echoes everywhere and then only
spider dances cross delicate webs
gentle waves swing her up and under
legs nimble spin silver thin rings and bed
woven then tangle anger woven dread
scream like silk shakes the light and the darkness
and then there was only
Hopa’s heart was a bee, his spirit a serpent, and his sorrow a
spider. The rocks beneath him were cold and gray. He opened his eyes
in the roaring stillness; the river released him and he stood alone
upon her rocks as she rushed always onward and under and without pity.
Hopa knew then that his Dream would be born into this world; it would
slip terrible and wet from its mother Shadow and into the light.