Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 16
Hattie came running. She saw the snakes, in their inexplicable tail-in-mouth positions around Zera’s wrists, for only a second before Ben reached down and grabbed them both, flinging them across the grass. Hattie gasped, an orange-nailed hand flying to her mouth.
Ben choked out the words, “What the hell was that?” He looked at Hattie, then at the parking lot and the park, as if expecting answers somewhere else. “Those snakes couldn’t have . . .”
Zera had not changed her tranquil expression, or her position on the grass.
“Are you okay?” Hattie squatted down, touched Zera’s shoulder. “Zera?” She raised her voice. “Zera!”
“You . . . you don’t think she’s been bitten?” Ben asked, his face pale. He grabbed Zera by both shoulders and shook her.
Zera shuddered. The calm expression disappeared. She looked up at them as if she had come out of a trance. “I, I heard them,” she said, her voice shaking. “They said they’re in danger, we’re all in danger.”
Zera blinked. She couldn’t believe her own words. Her eyes filled with tears. What is happening to me?
“They spoke?” said Hattie. She shook her head, rubbed her goose bump-covered arms. “I can’t believe what I just saw.”
Zera had stated the truth, as insane as it seemed. She did hear the snakes, and that is exactly what they had said. They didn’t move their mouths, they didn’t literally speak, but she clearly heard them. All are in danger.
“What danger?” Ben asked, looking around again. “There has to be something to this; it’s got to be some kind of a joke.” He looked at Zera as if she were a different person than the one he’d been flirting with all morning.
“You didn’t hear them?” Zera asked.
“No. This is messed up. I need a minute.” Ben set off towards the park.
A part of Zera desperately hoped that Hattie, with her impressive store of horticultural and animal knowledge, would have an answer to all this. That somehow a grownup would step in and make everything okay. Maybe she’ll say, I don’t know, sometimes snakes can coil around you . . . and speak? Her heart thumped. That’s not going to happen.
Hattie bent down and put an arm around Zera.
Zera took a deep breath, wiped her eyes on her T-shirt and tried to collect herself. Ben had seen it. Hattie had too. She took another deep breath. It’ll be okay. I’ll figure this out. She got to her feet.
“We’re going back to Ute Springs,” said Hattie. She yelled at Ben’s disappearing figure, “Ben, get back here!”
Heading down Golden Eagle pass, six miles out of Pinyon, Hattie took a turn onto a dirt road instead of continuing on to Highway 24, the road to Ute Springs.
Completely lost in her thoughts, Zera hardly noticed that Ben was sitting very close beside her, looking at her with concern, yet still completely freaked out. Zera’s mind was filled with the words. The snakes’ words. She had heard them so plainly, We’re in danger. All are in danger. She couldn’t believe that Ben hadn’t heard; the voices were so clear, so urgent. The possibility that she was losing her mind seemed the most obvious, but they’d seen the snakes too, seen them coil around her. There was something about it, something she couldn’t figure out that seemed familiar. And how did she know they were ribbon snakes, Western ribbon snakes, to be exact, not garter snakes like she’d been told? She had no knowledge of snakes, she had never studied them. Yet she even knew the name of the genus, Thamnophis. It was the same genus as garter snakes, but they were a different species, they were proximus. How could I possibly know all that? She shuddered.
“It’ll be okay, honey,” Hattie said. She patted Zera’s leg, and her silver bracelets jingled. “I’ve decided to stop by Grandma Wren’s first. She may be able to help.” She gave Zera a reassuring glance, yet Zera read worry in Hattie’s dark eyes.
As they climbed upward along the dirt road, the serpentine Falcon Pass, the scenery changed. They found themselves
surrounded by stands of ponderosa pine, aspen, and scrub oak. Then the road dipped downward, back into boulder-strewn meadows, and after two more miles they slowed to a large gate just off-road. Horses grazed among the tall grass and wildflowers behind a fence.
The red truck pulled into a gravel driveway. By that time the sense of shock had eased. Zera watched as Ben jumped out to open the heavy steel gate. The truck rattled up a steep driveway to a shabby double-wide trailer. Its exterior was faded white and turquoise, with smeary orange rust patches along the roof. Next to it sat a tire-less 1950s Ford truck that was propped up by concrete blocks. The truck had once been red but was now bleached to a dull orange-pink.
The trio climbed the trailer’s rickety wood stairs and Hattie knocked.
To the tune of high-pitched barking, the door opened.
Grandmother Wren was tiny, under five feet. Her face, wizened with age, reminded Zera of a doll her dad had given her when he’d been researching early American music in Appalachia. It was an apple-head doll, its head made from a carved, then dried, apple that had become dark and wrinkled. Grandma Wren’s hair looked like the doll’s too, snow white, like cotton batting. Only her eyes were not doll-like; they were the black-brown of strong coffee — clear and alert — so like Hattie’s and Ben’s. A dingy white sweater covered her floral-patterned dress, and she wore cloth house slippers.
“Grandmother,” Hattie said.
“Hattie, Ben! Come in.” Grandma Wren pushed the door open wide.
Inside, Grandma Wren put her arms around Ben, and Ben hugged her tenderly. Zera thought it was sweet, and she was hopeful that maybe Ben was a little calmer by now.
“I had a dream about you three nights ago,” Grandma Wren said to Hattie. Her voice was sandpapery, yet the words were gently spoken. “And I had a dream about you, too, Zera Green,” she said.
Grandma Wren eyed Zera. Zera stared back, marveling how she’d said those words so matter-of-factly.
“We need your help, Grandmother. Something’s happened,” said Hattie.
“I know. I’ve been waiting.”
They were stunned by her comment.
The tiny living room, strewn with books and newspapers, smelled of musty dog, cooking oil, and relics of the past. A poodle, hairless except for its head, feet, and the tip of its tail, went from barking at Grandma Wren’s feet to hopping back onto the couch. Its tail wagged as it watched Zera.
Grandma Wren took Zera’s hands in her own. Under their boney, leathery surface, Zera felt warmth and strength.
The woman studied Zera’s face. “When the Creator first made the world and all the living things in it, all the plants and animals could communicate. They still do, it’s just that most people don’t hear them anymore. You do.”
Looking into Grandma Wren’s eyes, Zera felt calm for the first time since the snakes had wrapped themselves around her wrists. She had always suspected something about herself, something she felt within her very core but could not name — a sense that she could understand things about nature, about the feelings and intentions of living things, plants and animals. But she’d never had any proof that it was anything more than an overactive imagination. And, then, after her parents had died . . . Those feelings disappeared. I had almost forgotten them. She looked away, avoiding Grandma Wren’s gaze. It couldn’t be real. But her instincts told her it was. An excitement surged within her. She wasn’t insane. The snakes had spoken to her. Zera’s head swam with thoughts. What does it all mean? Why would they speak to me? How could I have this connection to Nature?
She looked into Grandma Wren’s dark eyes and blurted, “But I’m not even Ute!”
Grandma Wren cackled, revealing a strangely beautiful jack-o’-lantern smile. Still holding onto Zera’s hands she said, “My dear, knowledge and wisdom do not belong to only one group of people. They belong to all humankind. Please, sit down,” she said, still chuckling at Zera’s declaration. “Have a glass of water.”
Zera and Ben went to the couch, and the hairless poodle moved so they could sit down. Then it climbed over Zera and nestled between them.
Zera noticed the room contained an assortment of taxidermied animals: a huge beaver attached to a piece of giant driftwood on the wall above the television set, a big-mouth bass on the adjacent wall, a diamondback rattlesnake on a side table (rearing up, fangs bared), and a small gray squirrel atop a bookcase with a walnut in its paws.
Hattie, who was about to sit down in a chair next to them, whispered, “It was Benjamin’s late great-uncle Clyde’s hobby. We all think they’re weird, but Grandma Wren feels that they serve as reminders of what we should not do to nature.”
“Oh.” Yeah, pretty creepy.
“That’s Cookie,” said Grandma Wren, nodding at the dog from her rocking chair. “I don’t know why she lost her hair, but she’s been like that for months. I keep a sweater on her when it gets cold.”
As Zera petted the dog’s cool, oddly naked flesh, Cookie wagged her tail, and then rested her head on Zera’s leg. She needs sunshine, thought Zera. The information came to her as if it was simply common sense, even though she was as ignorant of dog skin conditions as she was of snakes. “Does she get outside much?”
Grandma Wren’s face crinkled. “She hasn’t been outside, not for any long period, since her pen was damaged last fall. I don’t like her out there, because of the cougars. I just haven’t been able to keep up with things . . .” Her eyes brightened.
“That’s what is wrong with her!”
Hattie cut in. “You know about the snakes, Grandmother? How could you? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. It was like the old stories, but I saw it happen.”
Hattie told the story of the snakes while Grandma Wren sat there, rocking gently. Ben wore an expression of disbelief and something that looked like just-under-the-surface anger. He fidgeted and avoided eye contact with Zera. I’m having a hard enough time, thought Zera. I can’t even imagine what he thinks about it all.
When Hattie finished, Grandma Wren said, “Zera, I am ninety years old. I grew up here in the mountains, listening to my grandmother tell the stories about the Ute. Our stories. That was long ago, before our storytelling tradition was nearly abandoned. I remembered them all, though, and passed them on to whoever would listen. Hattie’s heard them.”
Grandma Wren continued. “Three nights ago the guardian visited me in a dream. In it, the world was turned upside down. Plants no longer knew who they were; people no longer knew who they were. Too many no longer see that they are a part of the natural world. Man and woman, for so long, have forgotten their first roles as protectors.” She looked up at Hattie. “The guardian told me you would bring Zera. She is going to help change things.”
Zera’s stomach lurched. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ben shake his head.
“Who, or what’s, the guardian?” asked Hattie.
“The guardian is the link from the spirit world to our world.” Grandma Wren leaned forward in her chair. “He takes many forms. Last night he appeared as Dancing Crow, a medicine man my family knew when I was a child. I’d forgotten about him, he’s been gone for over eighty years.”
Zera spoke up. “What were the snakes doing, Grandma Wren?”
“They told you about the danger. But they were also telling you about life.” Her thin, leathery arm gestured toward the pitcher on the coffee table. “Please, have some water.”
Hattie poured herself and Zera a glass. Zera, surprised at her incredible thirst, downed half the water in one long drink, took a breath, and then finished the rest.
“The snake’s bodies made the ancient sign,” Grandma Wren said. “The sign of the Great Round. Are the snakes, having tail in mouth, consuming themselves or are they creating themselves?” Her brown-black eyes bored into Zera’s as she answered her own question. “It is both. They were showing you the cycle, the continuity.” Her gnarled hands slowly formed a circle in the air before her. “The relationship of eternity to time. Consumption and creation. Snakes, because they shed their skin and become new again, are also the sign of rebirth, renewal. The guardian did not show me what you are called upon to do. What danger is upon us. For this we have to go to Tava.”
“Tava?” asked Zera.
“Our people called it Tava, which means Sun. That was its name for 10,000 years. When the white settlers came, they named it after the explorer Zebulon Pike. Our people still go there to find answers. It is a sacred place for vision quests.”
Zera had loved Pikes Peak of all her life. It was the highest mountain near them, towering gigantic and majestic, snowcapped through most of the year. Zera had hiked to its 14,000 foot summit several times with her parents; the last time had been the summer they died.
“We must go to the mountain,” said Grandma Wren. “Tonight, as the sun sets.”
* * *
To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.
Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.