Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 12, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2007
Hopa and The Dead Man - Part II
by Jessica Elbert
The Dead Man stood in the darkness, his ancient staff of white oak gnarled in his hands. His eyes stared into this night, but his heart was treading the path of a night long ago when he was only a boy, young and shiny, his eyes full of wonder and fire. He lay in his bed long, but his sleep refused to come. Without a sound, he crept from his hut and into the silence of the village. Not a single twig or leaf betrayed him; his every step was true. The moon was a scythe above him, and poured a cold draught of troubled light into his eyes, and into his spirit. His hands shook, as if the light had slithered into his blood and he was afraid.
The old and ever-watchful oak held its kind arms out above him, and his hands stilled their shuddering. A single owl flew from the white branches that reached into the sky. His feet carried him forward; they carried him in Dream, and for now he knew not if he was waking or asleep. The village lay behind him in the south, and he found himself in what the people called the North Way. The river lay to the west, and he could hear her roaring tongue in the night. A flat, empty land was the North Way; he could see far into the distance until it dissolved into darkness. Many oaks and willows held their arms in supplication to the river, their roots drinking from her endless mouth.
His foot kicked something soft in the wet grass.
When he looked down, his heart became a fierce mountain lion, ripping at the cage of his chest. He could feel her claws tearing his spirit as the scythe moon tore the sky. The crumpled body of a child lay at his feet, her dark hair flung over the sopping grasses and her throat cut. He knelt over her and his tears fell silently into her hair, dark as the deepest well. The trees only watched in silence, but their awful ring echoed soundlessly into the night. His hand grasped her head so gently, and he kissed her cold forehead. “May your spirit find its way, child. May your home ever call to you through the darkness, and you shall know its voice.” The voice that spoke this blessing passed through his lips as a stranger, deep and grave. It was familiar, yet eluded him like a wisp of smoke grasped in the hand just before disappearing. Calmly, the man stood up.
The North Way had become a Valley of Bones. A parched, cracked floor of sand lay beneath his feet and nothing grew there. A bottomless chasm of darkness roared in the west, its deep yawning hollows reflected the sky, which was only a vast and lonely emptiness. Beneath the frozen light of the sharpened moon, the chasm slithered like a dark vein across the dead body of the earth. Bones jutted from the dry ground like skeletons of great monsters; they lined the chasm, casting terrible shadows.
The man firmly closed his eyes.
Still so still.
His prayer ended and a vicious snarl bit through his stillness. A monstrous dog rose on powerful legs before him; black lips curled back and cruel teeth jutted from its mouth as jagged pieces of white bone. The man’s hand did not shake as he raised it above the creature. Voice sounded from his lips, and it spoke in a language strange but soothing. The monster sat back onto its enormous haunches, its tongue lolling mutely from its cavernous mouth. The man could see the oaks and the willows, and the skeletons of great beasts beneath. The clumps of thick grass, and the parched desert beneath. The moon in the night sky, and the yawning vast beneath. The glint of the rushing river, and the endless chasm beneath.
And he knew that these were not two worlds, but one. The Valley of the Bones was the depths, and this light world the surface. The world of light and growing things was not an illusion; the Valley of the Bones was underneath it. The light world he could see through, as though it were water, sometimes reflecting and opaque, sometimes transparent and deep. He knew that those who lived in the Village could not see the Valley of the Bones because their spirits sought only the light and did not know Shadow, and he walked in light and in shadow forever after.
The Dead Man returned to the Village, the body of the lost child cold in his arms.
Since that sad day, the North Way became a place of sorrow, of losses; nothing grew from that sad sand, sands becombe each other, and stand. Alone losing leaves stood willows and oaks hurt in the chokes of river throats and leaves.
Ektva was digging a well deep in the North Way on this night; the Dead Man could hear his scattering shovel. Cursed, the place where he hoped to draw water of fear from the earth to poison the people. Cursed, he hated the Dead Man and his terrible power. Cursed, he wanted the terrible power for himself. Cursed, he flicked the sands with his shovel, digging deep. Scattered sands, the people would see the Dead Man did not protect them. Ektva smiled at the hollow place now filling with black water. Filling and pooling like the blood from the girl’s throat cut so long ago in this place, when he stole her power. Fear was a poison of much power, and the people would drink, they would drink well. Fear’s only friend is forgetting, and the people would forget; they would cast the Dead Man to his last death.
Ektva would tell the people the curse was wrought by the Dead Man.