In a circular clearing among the trees a naked man danced in the dirt.

His dark hair was tied at the nape of his neck and fell to his shoulders. His arms and legs were corded with muscle. His dance was long and undulating as if diving through air, then rising to breathe. With each rising he beat himself with a scourge made of twisted thistles. Drops of blood fell into the dust.

A dry gale drove clouds across the face of a full moon and bent tall trees—hemlock, Douglas-fir, and red cedar. Broken moonlight illuminated a landscape of black mountains that rose abruptly from the sea like stone waves breaking against the shore. A thin ribbon of water threaded between the hills. A rock fall formed a narrow lake.

He circled the clearing, dancing and singing in a language remembered by only a few. The forest danced and sang around him. Among the trees the bones also danced.

Human bones—skulls, femurs, ribs, long bones and short bones threaded together and hung from tree limbs, bones yellowed like old ivory, bones clean and white. They circled the clearing and danced like the dead, disjointed.

The man stood upright and cast aside his flail. His back was wet with blood. From the shadows he retrieved a pack made with deerskin and sinew and settled it on his back without flinching. He carried the pack to the water’s edge. Small waves broke against the shore. The lake darkened with cloud shadow as he plunged into the cold water.

He surfaced, blowing water out of his mouth, breathing loudly. Wind waves broke over the pack on his back. He dove again and again, a sinuous progression around the lake, rhythmically breathing.The flap on his pack loosened with successive waves. As he rose from a dive,breaching the surface like a whale, the moon sailed clear of the clouds and awave opened the pack to reveal the face of a boy. He had died recently. Theskin was only beginning to decompose. One eye was open,staring blindly at the sky.

The water closed over his face.


In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

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