Nubia, southern Egypt
Two young girls, their white shawls stretched across their faces against a brutal haboob wind, climbed a rocky outcrop toward the temple of Asasi-afia. One climbed haltingly, leading with her left leg so that it did most of the work. The other girl, though obviously pregnant, clambered over boulders like the child she was. They carried sheaves of sorghum and bunches of dates tucked inside their long tunics. Offerings for Asasi-afia, called Isis by the Egyptians to the north.
The younger of the two was called Amani. Fourteen years old and six months pregnant, she had been married less than a year. Her ebony face smooth and chubby, her large brown eyes still shone with the wonder and anticipation of a little girl not yet acquainted with life’s cruelties. The second, called Teoko, was seventeen and already a widow. She and her husband had been attacked by marauders in the sorghum field they tended, her husband slashed to death by the invaders’ long knives and Teoko herself left for dead, bleeding, on a bed of broken stalks. Over time Teoko’s wounds had healed, but not her heart. It still grieved for her husband. A tendon in her right leg had been severed by an attacker’s machete so her right foot now dragged at the end of a leg becoming withered while the good leg grew stronger.
“Where is Kwame?” Amani reached the temple at the summit ahead of her handicapped sister and expected to see the temple’s caretaker. Visitors were few these days. This land was called Nubia, as it had been since antiquity, and its gods were, by and large, the gods of ancient Egypt, but with differences. The mother goddess, Isis to the Egyptians and Asasi to the Nubians, was among the most important after Osiris, her husband, and Horus, her son. Regional differences up and down the Nile from the fourth and fifth cataracts to the Delta, used different names and different versions of their creation myths, but Isis (or Asasi) loomed large among them all.
Wincing at grains of sand pelting her face, Amani saw the columns at the temple’s entrance, a large Coptic cross now carved on each. More than a century had passed since the lands along the Nile had converted to Christianity, but the Nubians still clung to their ancient gods. Now officially Christian, the land was dotted with churches but old pagan temples remained, some dating back to the Middle Kingdom, 2000 years before Christ. Too far south to be much dominated by the Coptic Christians to their north, the Nubians smoothly blended Jesus, Mary, Horus, Asasi, Hathor, and all into a unique pantheon that served their needs. Amani would have looked quizzically at anyone asking her if she was leaving her offering to Mary, or Isis, or Asasi. She was leaving it for the Mother of us all. The One who could protect her through her upcoming childbirth.
Teoko lifted herself over the lip of the plateau with her arms, assisted by her left foot, and scrambled to her feet. “Hurry! This wind hurts.”
Across the stone-paved entrance, past the crumbling stone pylon, and through rows of columns in a small hypostyle hall, now roofless and lit by the slanting rays of the morning sun, they called to Kwame the caretaker, but heard no answer. With no one to stop them or question their reasons for coming, they slipped through another doorway and into the sanctuary, the holy of holies, where in ancient times common folk, let alone women, would never have been allowed. Now, there was nothing to stop them. Teoko and Amani stood reverently before three statues: one of Horus, one of Isis, and one of Amun-ra. Bits of gold sheathing still clung to each, the majority having been snatched by thieves or blasted away by sand blown through the temple’s open passages. The statues would have been breath-taking long ago. In front of the statues stood a simple stone altar. The two girls placed their offerings on the altar and knelt. They prayed a Coptic Christian prayer and an ancient one their mother had taught them.
As they turned to leave, Amani gasped.
On the sandy stone floor lay the most beautiful object either girl had ever seen. A large pendant, worked in gold and set with lapis lazuli and carnelian, held in its center a huge, shimmering white stone like nothing they had ever seen. It seemed to glow softly with its own internal light. Roughly egg-shaped, it was too smooth to have been polished by the hand of man. The hand of God must have created it. Amani picked it up and squealed in amazement.
“No! Put it down!”
“I don’t know but I’m sure we aren’t meant to touch it. You’re probably cursed now.”
“You’re making that up,” Amani said, but in case her older sister was right, she dropped it back where she’d found it, then looked at it again, longingly. She wanted it ever so much.
Looking around on the timeworn stone floor for some explanation of the pendant’s presence, they snooped through two other chambers, one on each side of the one where they had left their offerings. Inside the second, they found a huge hole. Flooring slabs stood propped against the walls. Around the hole, piles of broken rock and sand lay, tossed by interlopers who hadn’t bothered to take their digging tools with them when they fled.
“What? Who did this?” Teoko said.
“What were they after? What did they find?”
“Beautiful stones and gold, I’d say. So many they didn’t even stop to pick up the beautiful piece you found.” Teoko nodded toward the floor outside this small chamber.
“Hold my hand. I’m going to climb in.” Amani knelt beside the hole, her expanding belly nearly touching her thighs.
“No! You’re carrying a baby! What . . .?”
“Hold my hand. I can do it.”
Teoko knew that when Amani decided to do something it was useless to try and stop her. She took her sister’s outstretched hands and held them tightly while, from a sitting position at the edge of the hole, Amani lowered herself, her heels gaining scant purchase on the rough wall of the hole, until Teoko had to lie flat to hold on. When she felt no more pull on her hands, she heard, “I’m on the bottom. Let me go.”
Amani explored the walls and floor of the newly excavated cavity with eyes and hands, but the space was so small, it took only a minute. She found nothing of interest but a small square block about three feet above the bottom of the hole. It looked as if it had been chiseled out, then replaced. Amani tried to loosen it, but it didn’t budge. “Nothing left. They must have taken it all.”
Teoko stuck her head over the rim of the hole and looked down. “Do you think this whole thing was filled with jewels?”
“Surely not. They probably had to dig most of the way down before they found anything.”
“But they must have known the jewels were here. Why else would they have dug the hole?”
“Pull me up.”
Teoko did so with Amani’s help. Teoko pulled while Amani used her feet and her back, pressed against opposite sides of the hole, to keep from falling back as her sister pulled. At length, Teoko slipped her hands under Amani’s armpits and yanked her up to the chamber floor.
Amani wanted to take the jeweled pendant but Teoko wouldn’t allow it. Still, she lagged behind when they turned to leave, and Teoko knew her sister was looking for a chance to grab it. When they reached the hypostyle hall, Teoko saw blood. Great drops of blood leading to a dark red smear that curved around a column and out of sight. She threw out one hand to stop her sister’s progress.
“Blood?” Amani said.
“It looks like blood. Dried. Not new.”
“Whatever was bleeding was dragged around behind the column.”
Both girls paused a minute. The most obvious source of the blood—if it was blood—would be an animal sacrifice, its throat slashed but not taken to the altar. This made no sense. An animal would have been sacrificed on the altar itself, not out here. Also, animal sacrifices had been banned since the region’s conversion to Christianity. Hearts pounding so hard their garments fluttered, they crept around behind the column.
There lay Kwame, the temple’s faithful caretaker.
Amani stepped back, gagging at the sight.
Teoko held her breath and closed her eyes, willing herself the courage to open them again.
His throat had been slashed from ear to ear. The great, gaping wound had already attracted a swarm of flies and two huge rats. The rats scurried away at the girls’ approach, one across the dead man’s chest, another between Teoko’s feet as she stood, rooted, to the spot.
“We must get help.” Teoko said.
“But we mustn’t leave him here, alone.”
“You saw! As soon as we leave, the rats will come back! Maybe vultures, too. Would you want someone to let you get eaten by rats and vultures?” Amani’s hands clasped her throat as if to prevent the same from happening to her.
They decided it should be Amani who went for help because, even pregnant, she could still run faster than Teoko. Teoko would stay back and stand guard. She pulled off her long cotton head covering and used it to cover Kwame’s body, shooing away flies as she did so. She sat and waited for what seemed days and cried a little when she thought of Kwame.
At last she heard voices. Amani’s husband and three other men came running in followed shortly by Amani herself and the girls’ mother, now nearly forty years old but still spry. The mother produced a long linen shroud and the men wrapped the body in it, then carried it out and down the hill. It would be properly prepared for burial in the little village where they all lived.
The three women stayed behind and used rainwater from what had once been a purification pool to clean up the blood as best they could, then they trekked home.
No one was left to notice that the beautiful pendant with the pearl from the far-off Mediterranean Sea was no longer lying on the temple floor.
Inola Raven stood on a hill a few yards from her log cabin home and counted the rows of Smoky Mountains she could see. On a clear morning like this one she could see five or more layers, fading from a foreground of spruce green to indigo to sapphire to cornflower blue to powder blue. A soft fog, destined to lose its battle with the rising sun, blanketed the valleys. Below, not a half-mile from where she stood, the chilly water of Watauga Lake lapped at stones and roots that, until seven years ago lay more than a mile from the Watauga River. When the gates of the new TVA dam closed, mountain water had flooded more than ten square miles of land, including the entire town of Butler.
Inola remembered Butler. It had been her home.
Her father called to her. He stood by his 1946 Dodge coupe with keys in hand. “Let’s go! Do you want to drive?”
Inola stepped lightly across the slippery rock in her black leather pumps, careful not to fall and ruin her dress. She knew John Raven wanted to drive to the outskirts of Knoxville, then stop and let her take over. Driving was a man’s job but Inola knew Knoxville. Traffic in the state’s largest city east of Nashville frightened John a bit but he’d never admit it to Inola, and Inola would never expect him to. After four years at the University of Tennessee, Inola knew Knoxville well. This was her graduation day.
She hopped in on the passenger side and checked to make sure her cap and gown lay, neatly sheathed in an old dry cleaner bag, across the back seat. John Raven pressed the starter button with his thumb. The motor sputtered to life, chugged a bit, then settled down. He backed up as far as the woodpile, turned, and headed down the mountain. Inola’s mother, Tsula Raven—also called Little Fox—had elected not to go with them, ostensibly because she needed to stay home with Inola’s younger brother, but in reality because she was still opposed to the whole idea of her daughter getting an education at the white man’s college. This had never been done in their family and Tsula considered it a betrayal of their heritage. The Cherokee family was a matrilineal unit and Tsula saw it as another betrayal that the whole family now carried John Raven’s name, lived in his house, and by his rules. In the old days, John Raven would have been a passing canoe—a warrior who came, stayed a while, and disappeared—leaving her and her extended family to raise the child he had fathered. This was the way of their tribe.
John Raven was a modern man. With one-and-three quarter’s feet in the white man’s world, he still worked on behalf of his kinsmen but he did it from behind a desk in downtown Elizabethton, the closest town to their mountain cabin. He paused at the intersection of their nameless mountain road and Highway 321e before turning left.
“Will I have trouble getting in, you think?” John Raven asked.
“You did bring the invitation I gave you, right? You have to have that to get in.”
John Raven nodded, and then merged onto Highway 321e.
Inola knew her father would not have forgotten to bring the invitation. He’d been keeping it on the top shelf in the bookcase, looking at it daily, since she had given it to him. His question came from the darkest part of his soul. The part that was forever engraved with the No Indians signs he’d grown up with in Oklahoma, at the western end of the Cherokee nation’s “Trail of Tears.” At seventeen, John had hitchhiked east, determined to rejoin his brothers who had avoided the U.S. government’s forced removal from land east of the Mississippi by agreeing to assimilate. Play by the white man’s rules. John Raven played by the rules but deep in his heart he was still an outsider with dirty moccasins.
“Anthropology?” He kept his eyes on the road ahead. “What good is a degree in Anthropology? What can you do with it?”
“I’m going to dig. And teach, probably. There’s hundreds of Indian sites that’ll be wiped out in a few years unless someone documents them before it’s too late.”
“What does a teacher make? Not enough to live on.”
“I don’t need much to live on.”
“Who’s going to pay you to dig? Last I heard, if you’re going to go out digging, you have to find someone to pay you to dig. Like a foundation or whatever.” John Raven turned his owlish face with its beaky nose to his daughter.” It makes no sense to me.”
“UT has grant money. They’re already working a few sites. The TVA has government money. There are ways.” Inola was referring to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s government funds allotted for documenting sites destined to be flooded by the dams it was building all over the southeast.
“And you’re going to—what? Walk in somewhere and say, ‘I want to dig. Give me some money.’ Is that how it’s done?” John Raven glanced again at his daughter, his lip curling slightly as if the words tasted bitter in his mouth.
Inola knew he felt strongly about this and that he was struggling to keep a civil tone. His entire life savings had gone into Inola’s college education. It had originally been intended for Aaron, Inola’s older brother and the pride of the family, who had been killed at Guadalcanal in 1942. Aaron’s death had nearly killed John as well, but rather than let the money go to waste he’d given the entire five thousand dollars to Inola and she’d done him proud with straight A’s almost all the way through her four years at the University of Tennessee. She was graduating magna cum laude.
“Doctor Ailshie says he wants to talk to me before I leave town today.”
Dr Herbert Ailshie was Inola’s anthropology professor and the closest thing she had to a mentor. She looked at her father’s chiseled profile, hoping for some sign he was pleased. Hopeful? Doubtful? Skeptical? She couldn’t tell.
He pulled over at a Pure Oil station inside Knoxville’s city limits and told Inola to take the wheel. She drove through the heart of Knoxville and onto the campus where she found a parking spot in a sweltering lot between the Alumni Memorial Building and Neyland Stadium. Classmates in caps and gowns were already lining up in the street beside the Alumni Building.
“You need to go to the front of that building, show your invitation, and go on in,” Inola told her father. “I don’t know when I’ll be finished because they’re having a party in the biology building after Commencement and I really have to be there.”
John Raven looked uneasy.
“When this is over,” she said, “you can get something to eat or drink anywhere down Cumberland Avenue and take off your coat and tie! I’ll meet you back here at, say, one?”
Ceremonies over, Inola pulled her long black hair into a ponytail as soon as she threw her cap and gown into the huge pile designated for returns. Securing it with a rubber band, she stepped out into fresh air and fanned her neck with her new diploma. She welcomed the tepid breeze and began the climb up the hill to the biology building. Once inside, she trudged down to the archaeology lab where she found the fellow graduates she knew best. At the commencement itself, she hadn’t known anyone seated near her. Finding her father in the audience had been impossible and the auditorium was hot. She was glad it was over. A record player on a worktable where they normally cleaned pottery finds cranked out “Rock Around the Clock” and crepe paper strips in orange and white stretched across the room. The atmosphere here was festive. A punch bowl and cookies, probably made by the faculty wives, covered another table.
Dr. Herbert Ailshie raised his glass of punch and shushed the group. Inola, punch glass now in hand, leaned back against one of the wooden tables and kicked off her shoes. Her classmate Dan Barfield looked at her nylon stockinged feet and grinned as if he understood.
Dr. Ailshie began: “I know we will never be together in the same room again, and it makes me sad. But you are all going on to bigger and better things. You won’t forget Ye Old Prof, will you?” That’s the way Dr. Ailshie always referred to himself. “Ye Old Prof.” Inola made a mental note to send him cards now and again. “Some of you will be going on to graduate work, some to do field work, and some—to parts unknown—Egypt.”
Inola looked around, checking for surprised faces. What was he talking about? The University sponsored nothing in Egypt. They had years of important work to do right here in Tennessee. Inola had no interest in Egypt but she listened, curious.
“The priceless antiquities in upper Egypt are in jeopardy,” Dr. Ailshie said. “More than jeopardy, they are doomed. The United States government has offered to help Egypt pay for a gigantic high dam at the first cataract on the Nile. In Aswan. If this does come to pass, and it will, the entire Nile Valley, from Aswan south to the Sudan border, will be flooded. Permanently. How many temples, tombs, and statues will disappear? No one knows. They’ve never been surveyed. Some have never even been discovered in modern times.”
Inola tried to picture in her mind a map of Egypt. Aswan, she thought, was south of Cairo and Luxor. That would be Upper Egypt because the Nile flowed northward so directions were reversed from the usual map orientation.
“I’m happy to announce,” Ailshie said, “that Terry Casteel and Dan Barfield have signed on to join a rescue team that will attack the gargantuan task of documenting, exploring, and photographing everything they can. Many of the antiquities we’re talking about date back to the Old Kingdom and even to the Predynastic period. Four thousand B.C. and possibly earlier.”
Inola glanced at Dan Barfield, now nodding at Dr. Ailshie’s recognition, and looked for the blond, handsome, Terry Casteel. She spotted him on the far side of the room. She wondered what his pale skin would look like after a month or so in the Egyptian sun.
Dr. Ailshie talked a bit more about the importance of this project and others more local, funded mostly by the federal government. He ended with, “And I’d like to see Inola Raven in my office.”
Inola felt her throat constrict. She had no idea what this was about, but Dr. Ailshie couldn’t take her diploma away now. She tightened her grip on the sheepskin document and slipped her shoes back on. Ailshie had told her last week that he wanted to see her after Commencement so this wasn’t a complete surprise. She hoped she’d paid all her library fines. Threading her way through the throng, the corner of her eye glimpsed the open palm of one former student patting his open mouth—a parody of the Indian war cry. She ignored it. She had lived with the stereotype all her life but she still felt that barrier. She was accepted as a student but not as a friend. Midnight talks in the girls’ dorm went awkwardly silent when she walked in. Boys asked her out on dates, but never to places where futures might be affected. Frat parties, yes. Law School faculty receptions, no.
Dr. Ailshie’s tiny office had one window, open, and an electric fan perched on the sill. Inola took a seat downwind of the fan, but Dr. Ailshie immediately walked to the window and turned the fan off. Why? She wondered.
He strode to the file cabinet, slid open the top drawer, and carefully lifted a sheet of glass. He carried it to his big wooden desk and set it down. Inola stood and moved forward for a better look. It was actually two sheets of glass, about ten inches square, with a ragged, brown sheet of papyrus sandwiched between them. She figured Dr. Ailshie had turned off the fan to avoid any possibility of ruffling the papyrus. The writing was in old Greek and the papyrus was full of holes. Inola began trying to read it. She knew enough Greek to do so, but it would take time and a Greek/English dictionary to do a good job of it.
“This is from Oxyrhynchus,” Dr. Ailshie said. “It came to Oxford when I was there, in a batch of material they’ve found in the old dump.”
Inola knew that a huge trash dump near the ancient Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus was yielding thousands of bits of papyrus, and that it had been keeping Egyptologists busy since its discovery at the turn of the century. How had Dr. Ailshie come to possess this one? Inola didn’t ask, lest she disrupt his chain of thought. The papyrus was full of holes and places where the fibers had cracked and chunks had fallen out. Termites and time had done their work.
Dr. Ailshie slid a crooked finger across the glass, reading:
“ ‘In the cave’—or it could be dwelling or well or hole—‘of Ken something,’ I can’t read the next word. ‘Eratosthenes’s disciple’—or maybe follower or student—‘stole and buried for safekeeping—gold—sun—well—still remains to this day.’ Something, something, ‘Syene. Lest the enemies of . . .’ ”
“There’s an entire line you skipped after the word disciple.”
“I know. I can’t tell what it says through the termite damage. Can you read it?”
She tried, squinted at the ragged line of ancient Greek letters trying to spell them out, but couldn’t. “It sounds like Eratosthenes’s disciple buried something—gold perhaps—in Syene lest the enemies of somebody or other get hold of it. Gold was buried in the well where the sun does something.” Inola paused a moment. “Oh, good Lord!” Her heart leaped. This document was talking about Eratosthenes, the Greek mathematician from Alexandria, Egypt who accurately calculated the size of the Earth—in the third century before Christ. He had used the sun’s rays and a well in Syene on the summer solstice to do it.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“Do you have any idea when this was written?” she asked.
“There’s a lab in Chicago that’s doing the new carbon-fourteen dating. I don’t know how accurate it is and it’s expensive to get a test run, but I scrounged up the money and got it done. The lab tells me the papyrus dates to about one hundred a.d., give or take.”
“That’s three hundred years after Eratosthenes’s time.”
“A disciple doesn’t necessarily have to live at the same time as his master.” Ailshie plumped heavily into his rolling office chair and allowed Inola to pick up the glass-sandwiched document. “Disciple may simply mean that he read Eratosthenes’s work. His Geographica or his works on geometry. And the disciple himself may not have written this. It sounds more like the writer knew of the disciple. The writer may have written this long after the disciple buried the gold or whatever.” Ye Old Prof added, “Syene was the ancient name for Aswan which is near the first cataract in the Nile.”
“Which is where Dan and Terry are going.”
Ailshie nodded. “And you . . . I hope.”
Inola was speechless. He wanted her to go on this Egyptian expedition. Did they allow women to do archaeology work in Egypt? What would her mother say? Her mother would explode. She wouldn’t hear of it. What would her father say? He’d be firmly against it, but for entirely different reasons. She could hear the family fight now. Travel all the way to Egypt? Inola had never considered even leaving the United States. How would they go? By ship? She saw herself, her long hair blowing in the wind, on the bow of a passenger ship. The idea excited her. Exotic images of pharaohs and hieroglyphs on tomb walls floated past her mind’s eye.
“I’m flattered that you would consider me, sir, but I can’t go.”
“You haven’t even thought about it yet.”
“But I know. I can’t do it. My work is here.” Inola paused, hoping to phrase her refusal in terms Dr. Ailshie would understand. He was offering her a rare opportunity and she was turning it down. “My heritage, my Cherokee history, is lost. I have promised myself I will find it. I know that, sometime in the past, my people built mounds, built cities, and traded with people from far away. All we have are the pitiful scraps of a people who were once great and wonderful. Every new road, every new dam, and every new shopping mall wipes out or floods a part of our story.” She deliberately kept her voice soft and non-threatening, avoiding the implication that she was blaming Europeans for this state of affairs. As if to seal her decision, she leaned forward and placed the glass-covered papyrus back on Dr. Ailshie’s desk.
“You don’t see a connection here?” Dr. Ailshie peered at her over the top of his glasses.
“Floods. Floods wipe out history.”
Something buzzed through the open window and flew into Inola’s hair, its saw-tooth legs tickling her scalp. She swatted at it. Dr. Ailshie’s hand flew out, grabbed the insect, and without killing it, he held it between his cupped hands. He palmed it into a drinking glass, inverted the glass and slid both glass and insect onto the surface of his desk.
“A June-bug,” Inola said.
“A Scarab,” Dr. Ailshie said.
On the drive home, Inola looked out the passenger side window to discourage her father talking to her. She thought about Dr. Ailshie’s offer. Why had he made it to her? There were other graduates who could do the work as well as she, and to have chosen a man would have made more sense than choosing a woman. The cultural biases—perhaps even the laws—in a Muslim country would make it tough for a woman. She had asked Dr. Ailshie why he had chosen her.
“I want you to go because you have the knack for finding things,” he had said. “Some call it serendipity. It’s probably just keen eyesight, but you’ve astounded me on several occasions. Field-walking, for instance. You find artifacts where no one else sees a thing.”
“Old Cherokee secret,” Inola had told him with a grin. “Look for straight lines. Nature uses curves. Only man makes things with straight lines.”
Inola had an artifact collection at home with the treasures she’d been finding all her life. Arrowheads, grinding stones, spear points, and pottery. Her collection had outgrown the box she used to keep under her bed. Now she kept her new discoveries on a bench in the smokehouse.
Egypt. Floods. A new dam. Inola knew what it felt like to have the access to your past forever denied by a man-made lake.
In the next two weeks Inola worked in her mother’s garden, hoeing and weeding corn, tomatoes and squash. She cleaned all her dirty college clothes, her father’s car, and the corner of the cabin she called her bedroom. She put on her yellow shirtwaist dress, black pumps, white gloves and pillbox hat, and endured two job interviews.
The first was one her father had set up for her and it involved working with the county conservation office. If hired she would be responsible for determining which local farmers were complying with federal land use regulations and which ones were not. She snagged the second interview herself and this job sounded much more to her liking. The TVA was looking for an archaeological survey analyst for all of eastern Tennessee. What she learned in the interview was that they needed someone with a college degree to write summaries of fieldwork and proposals for projects that had already been proposed. Inola didn’t understand but she pretended she did.
Both interviews resulted in job offers.
In both cases, she would work at a desk with an Underwood typewriter and a ten-year supply of carbon paper. Both jobs paid enough to give her a measure of independence from her parents, about as much as a first year teacher would make. The TVA job did offer the possibility of eventually working into actual fieldwork, but she would have no control over where she was assigned. She might find herself screen-sifting topsoil at a nineteenth century barn. She accepted both jobs, pending approval of the offers by her parents.
Her parents and her grandmother, Annie Two Shoes, had a family powwow around the old hand-hewn wooden table where they ate their meals. Inola’s younger brother sat on the floor with his toys, ignoring the grown-ups. John Raven was inclined to let Inola accept either offer. He slightly favored the job at the county conservation office because he knew people there. Tsula Little Crow, Inola’s mother, was dead set against both. It would suck Inola, like her father, into the white man’s world. She would marry a white man, have tow-headed babies, and forget the language of her people. Annie Two Shoes told them a story.
The Journey to the Sunrise:
Some men wanted to find out where the sun rose, so they started on a journey
to the east. They traveled through unknown villages with strange customs, such
as burying a wife alive in the grave with her dead husband. They went on until
they came to the place where the vault of the skies meets the earth. The great sky wall
opened up once a day to let in the sun. One of the men waited until the next
opening and ran through before it closed. The sky wall fell and crushed him to death.
John Raven tapped his pencil on the table. Tsula Raven nodded. Inola knew that neither of them would question what Annie’s story had to do with the current discussion. Inola waited politely until the other three had had their say, and excused herself to go outside for a walk.
She walked through the woods avoiding the natural tendency to veer downhill, because that would take her to the lake. She avoided the lake. Under the lake lay the town of Butler, the house where she was born, the gas station, the post office, the ball field, the tire swing in her back yard. The maple tree the swing hung from. But not the twenty-three arrowheads she’d found in her childhood roaming. She had those, safe and sound in the smokehouse. But how many others still lay there, now covered with silt, because she had not found them?
She studied the forest floor where she stood. It was no good for hunting artifacts unless you found a cave or something. The woodlands accumulated so much organic litter and so quickly, you’d have to dig deep to find something from ten years ago. She climbed out to Bear Knob (or Bare Knob, Inola never knew which it was) and looked out across the mountains striped with the greens of conifers and hardwoods. She forced her eyes down to the dark waters of Watauga Lake. A motorboat sped across pulling a skier through the bumpy v-slot of its wake. Inola imagined she saw her old tire swing on the valley floor beneath the boat. It probably still hung from the maple branch, now draped with the slimy goop your feet slid on when you tried to stand up in the shallow water near the edge.
Inola decided. She knew what she had to do.
She drove the Dodge to a telephone booth in Elizabethton, called Dr. Ailshie at his office and asked, “Is it too late to take you up on your offer?”
Her father told her to take a bus to Knoxville because he was too busy to drive her. Her mother refused to help her pack.