In a village cut into the edge of a mountain, the sound of pounding feet and howling beasts dredges a boy up from the tidepool of sleep. Men in masks, their bodies streaked with paint, haul him from his bed and carry him away while his mother and sisters shriek from the porch. Somewhere in the distant hills, the men burn him with charred spears and chant in the dark, handing him a machete hammered with glyphs he has yet to learn to decipher. He makes his first kill many months later, but that night, he becomes a killer. The sky, slung low across the blood-red veins of the manzanita, shrouds the transformation. The men pour a fiery brew in a circle around his prone body before making him drink, but even they cannot see the rearrangement of his component parts. When he walks back into his village two mornings later, he does not recognize his mother, despite her teary prostration at his scarred feet.
I wait naked in my bed for the ululating horde of women to arrive and bind my wrists and ankles. A barebacked Palomino follows them to the steps of my front door. They lift me, writhing and protesting, down the stairs, past the china cabinet and the baying dog. Out into the suburban street, they throw me over the damp spine of the mare. Belly down and ass exposed to Orion’s sword, I can see nothing but the familiar blacktop as it gives way to alien terrain. The ragtag caravan ferries me to the place I have known exists but had never been able to find. Behind the roar of the waterfall, a swath of Eden. All about, the implements of alchemy: the crucible and its white-hot fire, the crushed roots of blue cohosh, the skewers and spears, the jewels and the pelts of slain whitetail deer. The drums, of course. The hole dug deep into the throat of the earth where my body lands as the gruff whispers begin.
I wake in the morning, still naked in warm sheets. The dog snuffles around at the base of the stairs, waiting for her walk. The damp winter grass, bleached and flat, shows no evidence of hoof prints, no signs of a scuffle.
If a woman falls open in the night and no one is around to hear her crack, did she change at all?
Maybe I could take the blade and run it across my own skin, sprinkle the ash in, and let the wound scream and seal.
In the absence of rites, how are we to mark passage? If we were once carried over a threshold, by what choreography do we uncross it? How do we make sacred the soil to bury the blessed stone? Fall on your knees, the women whisper. Learn the names of the insects that unfurl on your flesh. Tunnel in and follow the stink of sulfur to the hidden spring.
It is morning on the last day of the hardest year. No one is knocking. Even so, behind the haze of December sun, the stars studding the belt of our galaxy flash and blaze. Cassiopeia rises from her extended recline, stretches out those stiff joints and drinks deep from the deep, cool well of space. She goes to work unchaining Andromeda from the rock. By tonight, they will be ready to cross the distance to my bedroom door. I tuck myself deep into the musty sheets and ignore the faint echo of their preparations. For a few moments longer, I can pretend that I belong locked in the safe in the cell of my parents’ home. I can pretend nothing is on its way to pull me over onto the other side, that the sun will keep the dark at bay and that the silence of this last morning is the only company I need.