"He wasn't on the Earth plane with us, but he warmed himself by our campfire; perhaps his fire burned with ours."
Luther Riley was repeating his father's words as he rehashed the mysterious events of that spring night, fifteen years ago, with his younger brother Earl. They lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, in Louisville, Kentucky, and both, now in their thirties, had returned at the beginning of another springtime to Beargrass Creek. They needed the therapy of the wilderness, a few days away from their hurried lives in the metropolis with its deafening traffic and endless crowds of ever-walkers on its numerous streets. The lively currents of the Creek flowing behind them and the soothing flame of the campfire had already begun to alter their stream of thought, relieving their mental exhaustion.
"Yeah, maybe it did," Earl said, sitting on a tree stump, throwing withered leaves at a swarm of lustrous green fireflies gliding and capering nearby in the dusk like stoked embers. "A lot of them this evening. Earl leaned closer to the fire, then as if prompted, he looked back over the Creek toward the Light of hundreds more of them, airborne also, flitting in the distance.
"They're brighter and larger than usual, more like dragonflies." Luther was relaxed on his blanket, his hands behind his head.
"Aaahh! What was that?" Earl yelled, jerking back his left hand from his knee.
"Bitten by a mosquito?" Luther teased.
"Not with that mouth!" Earl rubbed the tip of his index finger.
Suddenly Luther slapped his left ear and rolled off the comfort of his blanket to the bare ground; on his stomach, he propped his body upon on his elbows and covered both ears with his hands. "This is getting eerie!"
Earl cackled. "Bitten my a mosquito?"
Luther ignored his brother's taunt; with his hands still covering his ears he turned over clumsily and sat up, then tried to stand up without the use of his hands, but failed. Earl laughed wildly at the spectacle until Luther, startled by heavy splashing, stopped clowning around and jumped up, aware that it wasn't the mallards whose presence they'd enjoyed earlier in the day, plopping and bobbing in the water. They weren't that noisy!
A big man wearing buckskin clothing was fording the Creek on horseback. When he dismounted, Til danced slightly, then shook his head and snorted and moved away. The brothers noticed the wooden spear the man carried, the blazing green feathers dangling from the spearhead. Nass walked over and sat between Luther and Earl in the fellowship of the fire. The swarm of nearby fireflies darted-as did those I the distance-into the overwhelming presence of Nass who paid no attention to the Rileys.
*Do you think he sees us?" Earl asked, now standing over the tree stump, his voice a gravelly whisper. He looked down upon dark hair, long and smooth, radiant like a clear night sky dappled with stars.
"How could he miss us?" Luther pointed his rigid thumbs at himself, "We're right here!"
"But if he'd seen us, he wouldn't have just walked in here and settled into our camp!" Earl reasoned.
"I don't understand this either! Luther shrieked. "I can see right through him." He moved a few feet toward Earl who was farther away from the fire. "Just give me a minute; I'll try to talk to him," Luther whispered. When they were boys, he always tried to comfort Earl in disturbing circumstances, even in his dreams.
"Just where is he?" Earl was baffled.
"He's right there, Earl!"
"He's not right there, Luther!" Earl's voice bit at his brother who was throwing twigs into the fire, fueling it for courage.
Luther stared at Nass.
"Well, go ahead, talk to him," Earl pressed.
"You have met the Shipes," Nass said, interrupting their wavering plan for enlightenment.
"Shipes?" Luther didn't know the word.
"They are here."
"No one has been here, but you," Luther assured him, glad his voice wasn't quivering. He glanced at Earl, sitting motionless, his eyes also fixed on Nass.
"The Shipes are here, with us, Nass said. "A young one taps anyone who crosses the Beargrass.
"Tapping? If that's like biting and stinging, there's definitely some tapping going on here!" Earl raised his nipped finger and flexed it.
"You saw them. " Nass finally turned his eyes from the fire to the brothers.
"If you mean those large fireflies, yes, we saw them," Earl said, raising his finger again, arching it.
"Put your finger away," Luthered ordered, frowning in the firelight.
"They are Shipes. The largest fireflies on your Earth are smaller than any Shipe."
"But those fireflies, uh, Shipes, didn't get close enough to bite."
"That's right," Luther added. "They weren't close enough to do any...tapping."
"The young Shipe is not visible until after it taps. This, it does only when someone crosses the Creek into my camp," Nass explained. Then it joins a swarm and glows for the first time."
"Your camp?" Earl piped, then looked at Luther.
"My brother means that this is our campsite; we built this fire earlier." Luther was anxious for Nass' apparent confusion to pass.
"Like others who have crossed the Creek, you think this camp is yours."
"What makes it yours and not ours?" Earl wanted to know.
"You have entered my camp in my world," Nass said. "I have no need for someone else's fire, and wherever Til is, I am." His companion stood under the canopy of sawtooth oaks nearby,
and only then did the Rileys behold the trees, wherein a grand patch of bright green Light shone. Below, six other horses stood, their heads up, as if listening. Their riders slept soundly.
"Not only were we here first, we've been here before," Earl said, all of it lacking substance, he felt, as he spoke.
"I have never left," Nass told him.
"We must have crossed some other-world threshold," Luther told his brother.
Luther shrugged, unable to explain their seemingly ingress into a higher realm of consciousness. There was silence until Earl voiced the next question galloping through his mind. "What do you mean you never left?"
"This world is where I have always lived. I am with Tall Wolf and the others," he said looking back toward the sawtooths. We are here to call the buffalos. They came through before sunrise of your second day here, long ago."
"I missed them," Earl said, definitely aware of the time Nass was speaking of.
"Me, too!" Luther said, "but I remember hearing what I thought was thunder."
"It was not thunder," Nass corrected him, without contention.
"We left that same day. Dad told us that we had to get back home before the storm. Did you speak with our father?"
"No, he became fearful when I crossed the Creek."
"Well, that explains why he hauled us out of here two days early," Luther chuckled. "I'm glad we left , though; I wouldn't want to be trampled by buffalos in any world!"
Nass detected a great curiosity, a marveling wonder that Luther's humor couldn't conceal.
"They will be coming soon; we will draw them to our village."
"Aren't those days over?" Luther asked. "Aren't buffalos nearly extinct?"
"In your world."
"How will you get them to your village--from their winter homes?"
"When they reach the plains, they will follow the Flame of Shipes."
"I will rest now. There is much work to be done tomorrow," Nass said. A beautiful Flame of Light slipped over Beargreass Creek, across the grasslands and low escalations of rolling hills of his world. Nass fueled his campfire with hands full of tinder, and before it went out he was asleep.
Submitted by: Naimah on 07/22/2016
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