A Walk at Dusk, “The Search for the Unclean,” part 5

David stared into the fire. “I dreamt about her. So did my brother. He dreamt about her for a long time, I think. I didn’t think it was real until I talked to Michael – that’s my older brother.”

“A guardian’s name,” White Owl said.

David laughed aloud.

White Owl looked at him. “I didn’t mean to make a joke.”

David shrugged. “If you knew Michael, I think you’d laugh to.”

“I would hope so,” White Owl said, and smiled. “So you dreamt about her? Anything more? What were the dreams like?”

“Scary, but…” David stared into the fire again. White Owl set aside the pot to cool on a rock, then pulled a long pipe from his coat. He put a twig in the fire and used it to light the pipe, which was presumably already packed with tobacco.

“Inviting, perhaps?” White Owl said.

“Yeah,” David said. “In it, it’s like I’m a different person. I’m walking home. To her.”

White Owl nodded.

“Michael got some coffin water from a voodoo woman,” David said. “A drop is supposed to stop the dreams. Do you know anything about it?”

“I know nothing of coffin water,” White Owl said. “But I do know if you want the apparitions to stop, you must stop them at the source.”

“Are you with the other men? Daniel and Fred?”

“I know nothing of them either. Why do you bring them up?”

“I think they’re looking for the witch. Earlier today I found them trying to dig up her grave.”

White Owl started. “Someone has disturbed the body?”

“No,” David said. “There were digging tunnels under the big rock. Have been for a while now, I think. I went in the tunnels, but I didn’t find anything. They nearly caught me in there. I got this cut getting out.”

White Owl poured the contents of the hot pot into a tin cup and handed it to David. “It does seem that nothing happens by chance.”

A rustling in the bushes caused David to startle and spill some of the hot drink on himself. He quickly put the cup down and awkwardly tried to shoulder his musket.

“It is just my son returning,” White Owl said, holding up a hand.

A young man walked into the clearing. His head was bare save for a sweat-soaked bandana, and he had long black hair. His dark face shared many of the features of White Owl. He was a tall man, and walked with a broad gate, carrying on a line two catfish and a long trout.

“This is David, Dark Pine,” White Owl said, gesturing to David.

Dark Pine nodded, then turned to his father. “How do you know this boy?”

“He was walking along the road,” White Owl said. “And he needed medicine.”

“And that is enough to sit with him?” Dark Pine said. “Forgive my tone, father, but there is nobody else to counsel you.”

“There is no transgression to forgive,” White Owl said. “I was the same with my father, and luckily I am like him in enough ways to be able to love my son for his own qualities. Besides, it is proper for the young to search for reason, and it is proper for the old to act with reason in mind.” He looked to David. “It is my place to give help to those that need it, especially simple things. Drink that tea I made for you. It will ease both the pain and the drowsiness.”

David obeyed and drank the tea, which was mild and fragrant, reminding him of honeysuckle and thyme, but with a slight bitter under-taste. White Owl and his son cut and cleaned the fish (burying the entrails beside one of the trees), then threw them into a cast iron pan on the fire with some salt. The smell reminded David of how little he had managed to eat that day.

“There is nothing quite as good like fish fresh from the water,” Dark Pine said. “Do you agree, David?”

David nodded. “For the trout, yes.”

“Is something wrong with catfish?” Dark Pine said.

“Well, around here, at least, most of the catfish taste like mud. When you fish them out you need to run them through some water at the top of a fast stream, or clean them and wash the meat. Maybe it’s different where you are from.”

“I’m not going turn my nose up at what God provides,” Dark Pine said.

A few minutes later the fish were fried up nicely, and to David’s delight White Owl gave him the trout on a simple tin plate.

“This doesn’t taste like mud to me,” Dark Pine said. “Maybe your tongue is made of different stuff than ours.”

“Maybe,” David said. “Maybe you got a good catfish. I just know they usually taste like mud.”

“Then you are complimenting my fishing skill,” Dark Pine said.

“You caught tree fish,” David said. “I can spend an afternoon and catch nothing, and think I’m still probably doing alright.”

“You don’t think it’s a waste of time?” Dark Pine said. “Most white men I meet are always trying to entertain themselves.”

“Well, I guess I read a lot when I fish,” David said. “So that entertains me.”

Dark Pine laughed, and White Owl chuckled, but neither of them explained what was funny. While they ate, White Owl repeated to his son what David had told him regarding the witch, and David described again his dream along with everything that happened to him. He left out the books of spells and on witchcraft, and felt a slight surge of anxiety as he did so. If White Owl noticed it, he did not acknowledge it and made no reaction.

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