Trespassers: Short Fiction
Indian Burial Mound
When I was growing up in rural, northcentral Indiana, I don't remember hearing much about the native Americans who had lived there long before we did. Even so, the native tribes left their mark on our maps. Here are just a few of the place names from my area. Salamonie Reservoir, Mississenewa (reservoir, river, and school), Maconaqua (county and school), Miami (County).
Francis Slocum was a little girl who lived with her family in Pennsylvania. She was kidnapped by the Miami Indians who raised her as their own. She eventually was accepted as a member of the tribe, and she remained with them for most of her life. Her journey from Pennsylvania to Indiana is known as the Francis Slocum Trail. Her grave is just a few miles from where I grew up. You can read a historical fiction version of her story in the book, Red Heart, by James Alexander Thom.
The trespasser’s skin showed the leathery, wrinkled effects of sun and wind and the natural features of a native American. He was walking across the field where Carl was preparing to plant corn.
“Can I help you?” Carl’s question felt wrong. It didn’t matter who he was or what he wanted, the Indian was trespassing.
His hair hung down in two braids over a red flannel shirt. He turned and raised his arm until his finger pointed at a small woods in the middle of the field. “I come to ask you to allow the people to remain undisturbed where they have rested for many generations.”
“I’d appreciate it if you would identify yourself.” Carl ignored the man’s strange request and reached for his cell phone. “I’m going to have to call the sheriff.”
“I am Topeah.”
“Topeah, what business do you have on my land?”
“Yes, it is your land. Before that, it belonged to another, and before him, another, until it belonged to no man, but to all.” The Indian was still looking at the woods in the field. He turned to Carl. “The bulldozer will destroy everything. Then where will they go?”
Grinding Stone and Bowl
Carl felt dizzy. His knees weakened. Recently, he had been thinking about cutting down the trees and leveling the hill hidden in the woods, but he hadn’t told anyone. The project would add five acres to the field and be cheaper than buying more land if he did the work himself. But how had this man known he was even considering it? Carl dialed the sheriff’s department and explained the situation to Sheriff Dalrymple.
When the call ended, the Indian was gone. The toe of Carl’s boot bumped something, and he looked down. A stone shaped like a cow’s horn lay by his right foot. The granite surface was smooth against his skin, and it fit comfortably into his palm.
Carl had a collection of stone artifacts he had found on his property that included projectile points, a hammer, and an ax. What he held in his hand probably was used to grind grain, seeds, and nuts. It seemed odd that it lay on the ground precisely where Topeah had been standing.
A car horn broke the silence. Sheriff Dalrymple waved as he got out of the cruiser. The two men shook hands.
“The Indian disappeared, and I mean that literally.” Carl motioned toward the trees. “Would you like to take a look?”
“I suppose that would be a good place to start,” said the sheriff. “The man had to go somewhere.”
Large, ancient, virgin oaks populated the entire area. The two men carefully made their way into the interior while Carl explained that he had thought about clearing the area and incorporating it into the field. The trees were leafless in the early spring, and they could see the hill easily. But there was no sign of Topeah.
“I don’t know why I’ve never noticed these magnificent trees. And how could I not have recognized this hill for what it is?” Carl took his hat off and wiped his brow. “It’s an Indian burial mound, isn’t it?”
“We both grew up here, Carl. We know the Miami built mounds and before them, other native races practiced the same rituals.” Sheriff Dalrymple strode to the mound. Was the Indian trying to tell you not to destroy it?”
“I think so. I’d like to talk to him again. If we confirm this is a burial mound, of course, I won't destroy it.”
“The magic that protects us here grows thin.”
The voice startled the two white men. The sheriff’s hand instinctively reached for his sidearm.
“Follow me.” Topeah moved quietly through the trees and led them to the opposite side of the mound. “Do not be afraid,” he said without turning. Then the Indian walked through the side of the mound as though it were nothing more than a mist.
Carl expected to pass through a camouflaged entrance that he had somehow failed to see before. His vision was obscured by the grass growing on the side of the mound in soil that had accumulated over the passing years and by the layers of clay that comprised the original structure.
When Carl’s vision cleared, he and Sheriff Dalrymple were standing in the middle of a hardwood forest. The mound was nowhere in sight.
Not far away, sunlight poured into a clearing where oval structures stood that were made of reeds draped over wooden frames. Indian women moved in and out of the dwellings from which smoke rose through a hole in the top. A dozen feet from Carl, a woman sat cross-legged on the ground using the stone grinding tool he had found in his field that day.
What was this place? Carl spun around, looking for Sheriff Dalrymple. The two men faced each other, their eyes wide with wonder. An Indian child tugged on Carl’s pants and held upward what appeared to be some kind of flatbread with a piece missing where he had taken a bite.
Carl knelt to the child’s level and took the offering. He tore off a piece and handed the remainder back to the boy. Carl put the bread into his mouth. While he chewed, he looked over at the woman who was grinding with the grinding stone. Next to her was a pile of corn. It was a different kind from what he grew, but it was corn.
Neither the boy nor the woman seemed afraid of them. No one in the village showed any sign of uneasiness with their presence. Carl decided it was because Topeah had brought them to the village.
The bread melted on his tongue. He smiled at the child and swallowed. The small naked boy stood up and ran off giggling through the village where dozens of people were busy at their everyday tasks. One woman worked an obsidian scraper across the inside surface of a deer hide.
A commotion brought Carl to his feet. The Sheriff pulled his sidearm. Half naked men charged into the village gathering the women and children as they ran. They ignored Carl and the sheriff. The sounds of guns firing and men shouting shattered the serenity of the forest. White men with rifles rode horses through the trees, chasing the people out of their village.
Carl and the sheriff retreated to the shadows, confused, as the white men swept through the village, killing until no one was left alive. The attackers gathered all the baskets of grain they could carry along with dried meat and freshly made cornbread. Then they set fire to the dwellings.
After the last of the invaders had gone, Carl and Dalrymple came out from the trees. They stooped over the body of Topeah. He too was dead.
“I couldn’t shoot.” Sheriff Dalrymple was still holding his handgun. “I didn’t even know if it was real.”
An instant later, they were standing in the field near the small woods. Carl understood. He was being asked to pay respect to the burial places of those who had died in the massacre.
High Point Community Garden, Seattle
The following spring, Carl stood in the same field. There was a bustle of activity around him as families tended their gardens. Sheriff Dalrymple, with his wife and children, watered the plants in their own plot.
Topeah wanted to convince him not to tear down the mounds, but Carl looked deeper. The lives of the Indians had consisted of producing enough food to survive on this very land. In keeping with that tradition, he had made the field available to the people of the nearby town as a place where they could plant, tend, and harvest their own gardens.
The toe of Carl’s boot touched something. He bent down and discovered the grinding stone he had found in the field the year before along with a piece of cornbread that was still warm. He stood and looked across the field to the trees where the mound was safely hidden. As long as he lived, this field would belong to no man, but to all.
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© 2019 Chris Mills