Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 13, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2007

Hopa and The Dead Man - Part III

by Jessica Elbert


The morning broke on a silent waiting that clutched tight to the North Way. Ektva’s hands were bloodied with dirt and menace. Deep was the well before him, dark fell his shadow on the grass.

The village stirred and woken, small families wandered and groped to see what was here. Their eyes roved and lingered on the well, a vast plummet of darkness that swept under the earth. Slowly they crept, closer and closer, a dismal chain of frightened, wary faces. Ektva stood alone beside the cursed well. His face was a cavernous wasteland of scars and black lies. He smiled at the villagers, welcoming them with deceitful cheer. “Here”, he said. “Hear.”

“Listen people, listen well, for all the years you have to tell. The North Way has long been a place of silence, of death. You came here to mourn, to grieve of the lost, as this place is the curse where nothing may grow and live. You bear gifts to the gods here, you call for the voices of the abandoned, and what do you get in return? Why do you bow and bring flowers here? Has the Dead Man ever showed you thanks? ” The crowd was growing, more faces, curious, asking. Leaning, peering faces, eyes waiting to reflect.

“I have dug a well”, said Ektva, “that sips the mighty spring of the North Way. All these years you have cowered and cried from that cursed place, hoping the Dead Man would protect you. He says he brings gifts to the gods so they might shelter you from the evil that hides there; but who carried the dead child into our village all those years ago?”

The people murmured and wrung their hands. The Dead Man was whispered like flies among them. “The Dead Man carried this curse unto us, as he carried the dead child unto us. Was it not the Dead Man who slit her throat?” There were faces watching, peering into other faces, hunting for an answer. Fear runs fast and snatches the first answer near. Fear pinched the faces, goading them, leading them. “The Dead Man! It was he!”

Swelled the crowd round the well, as Ektva wove his lies.

“Drink, here, here is the water of the brave. Be not afraid of the Dead Man’s old cold eyes, Here, here is the water, nothing to fear. Drink deep and away, away, with the cowering and trembling like deer. Nothing to fear. Here, here.”

Hopa felt the rumbling sing in his blood with the swells of the mob in the morning, he could hear the shrill whine of their fearful laughter. “The Dead Man’s Curse, the crime, the crime.” Fearful the slit that creates it. He burst into the village, alive in rhythmic time with the people gathered, circled, staggered. Around the well, dancing men and women went splashing, splashing into spasms circling. The North Way was stark but the black black well kept giving, gurgling black spasms of bucketed water.

The village was wild, and Hopa saw the people as bees, spiders, serpents all entranced by the black water from Ektva’s well. They laughed with teeth gleaming and wet, saying, “Free, we are free from the curse,” drinking black water from the cursed well. Hopa saw the spirits inside the people dwindling, while their bodies roared and laughed on, escaping, escaping like smoke from a fire. The people thought that they were being filled with the water, but the people were being emptied. The poisonous nothing of forgetting water filled their bodies and became them.

He ran frantic, kicking and spilling water black on the earth from buckets. Hopa called them and they went on dancing, laughing, singing all the while forgetting, forgetting. Sorrow roared in Hopa’s throat; he could do nothing to stop them. It was not his place and they would be lost.

As he stumbled into the circle around the well, Hopa could see Ektva behind the Dead Man, as a shadow. The Dead Man’s voice glided into Hopa’s fear, quieting it. “It is the Way and it is blessed. While the earth shakes the stars and the cold places, you must remain.” The Dead Man’s laughter spilled over everything.

And then Hopa knew that he was in the Dream.

The Dead Man stood alone by the well. He saw the people laughing, singing and underneath them he saw the people choking, dying. He looked into the well and he saw himself, reflected back from the black water watching himself. The Dead Man laughed and laughed.

Ektva grasped him by the neck. “Here”, said Ektva. “Here, “ he called in a voice so deep with darkness that all the people heard him in their bodies, singing like black water in their veins. “Here is your Dead Man.”

The knife so like a scythe glinted a silver grin and blood gushed from the Dead Man’s throat. Blood dripped deep into the well and Hopa was filled with the deafening echo of the sound. Like a thousand bells echoing in the North Way. Drip, drop.

The Dead Man fell.

As his body crumpled to the earth, emptying of blood, there came a low rumbling. The people started from their raving, eyes wide in terror at the fearsome sound. Still as statues, they stared.

Hopa’s feet carried him to the well; Ektva’s hands shook with the violence of his excitement and his eyes strayed in all directions at once. When they met with Hopa, Ektva’s mouth grew into a cavernous smile. “The Dead Man,” his voice mocked.

Hopa did not hear him. The low rumbling was approaching; the trees rang so sharply they cracked Hopa’s heart. Words floated from his throat and blew like seeds softly to the ground. Words sprang out of his mouth and wound tethers of sound around everything. Ektva’s arms dashed before his eyes and mouth, too late. Words crawled into his eyes and mouth, choking him. The voice was soaking him, broke him. He screamed, but his scream was strangled as it rose to the sky.

Hopa did not hear him. Voice soared from him and wove the Dream. He knew what he must do because he had done it. The rumbling exploded and there was a crack like thunder; the earth trembled and danced furiously. World was a symphony of voice, of earth, of trees and of Dream. The ground rose under Ektva with a rhythmic pounding, and Ektva was cast into the well. Only stillness remained.

When the people returned to their morning, they would remember only a dim dream. They were lost in their forgetting, and he loved them with reverence and with sorrow. Without waking, they would never learn to be in Dream.

The river rushed before him and for a moment he stood in silence, waiting. The crumpled body of his father lay at his feet, his dark hair flung over the sopping grasses and his throat cut. He knelt down and his tears fell silently into his father’s hair, dark as the deepest well. The trees only watched in silence, but their awful ring echoed soundlessly. With his hand, he stroked his father’s cold face. He kissed his father’s forehead gently. “May your spirit find its way, father. May your home ever call to you through the darkness, and you shall know its voice.”

Calmly, the Dead Man stood up. His father’s body drifted further, further down the river.

the dead man and hopa become Dead Men because they see the world underneath this world, they can see the Valley of the Bones when their spirit walks in shadow.

They will sing it, they will conjure it themselves and they will be swept up in their own song, carried away and know not that it is happening. like the scene with dandelo, they will believe they are laughing while they are choking, they will believe they are living while they are dying. they will cast and be caught in their own spell and they will not remember that they have cast it. the world will seem a strange and unfamiliar thing and they will look all about for the god who made it. they will forget themselves and forget that they forgot anything. hopa will stand alone when this happens, the spell will not have the power to enchant him because.....

and he will look at them with love and with sympathy and with reverence and wish wish and wish for them to awaken from their spell.

what is his duty?

ektva to the well
the dead man to the river
same place in the end