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It was dark and cold with the tiniest amount of sunlight streaming in. The air smelled musty and he felt a dampness creeping in through to his bones. He squinted to see, while he waited for his eyes to adjust. Where was he? He could hear water flowing and the sound of falling rocks being disturbed by the water.
Slowly, his surroundings began to come into focus. There were stone walls cracked and covered in moss on all sides of him. He was sitting on a floor of grass and dirt where a stream narrowed into a small, trickle beside him littered with rocks.
He heard more rocks shifting and falling and what sounded like a muffled cry. He looked overhead and saw her clinging to the wall, desperately trying not to lose her grip. She was slipping! He tried to move to help her, but he felt like he was stuck in quicksand. A rock slipped from beneath her bare feet and she cried out. He tried to yell to her, but when he opened his mouth nothing came out.
Alo jolted awake. He felt frantic and he was dripping with sweat. Where was she? Why couldn’t he get to her, to help her? She had been a part of his dreams for as long as he could remember. Dreams were very important to his people, especially the kind he had about her. He knew he should have gone to the elders about his dreams the first time she ever appeared, but he wasn’t ready to share her.
He still didn’t want to, but this was the third night in a row she was struggling and he couldn’t help her. He wasn’t ready to face the elders, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. He got up and stuffed a piece of dried buffalo into his mouth while he brushed his hair back, tying it with a piece of leather.
He stepped through the flap on his tipi and headed down the path toward the Great Oak to request an audience with the elders. The Great Oak was the biggest tree he had ever seen. It looked more like several trees all clumped together at the bottom that twisted into all different directions as it grew.
They sat cross-legged in a full circle, smoking beneath the Great Oak. He slowed his steps as he approached and stopped a fair distance from them waiting for them to acknowledge him.
“You’ve come to tell us of your dreams?” No one lifted their heads and Alo could not identify the speaker.
One man stood up and backed away from his place in the circle. “Come.”
Alo stepped forward and as he crossed the circle’s threshold, the man handed him his pipe and nodded that he should smoke with them.
Not sure what to do, he put the pipe to his mouth and inhaled deeply. Almost immediately he began to cough. The elders laughed and the man took his pipe back.
They waited and when his coughing finally subsided, someone asked, “What have you come to say?”
Alo hesitated. He felt ashamed he hadn’t come sooner; he felt he had betrayed them and they had known all along.
He hesitated long enough that another said, “Speak.”
He hung his head and said, “I don’t know where to begin.”
Another man said, “There is more than one dream?”
“All the same?”
“No, but all with the same girl.”
“How long? What changed that you have come now?”
He stood there for a moment thinking, not knowing what to say, but when he opened his mouth the words just fell out. He told them of the first time he saw her, he told them of all the places they had been, the things they had shared. Some of the men nodded, others grunted and scoffed at the young man’s naiveté until one man spoke over them all and asked again, "what had changed?"
He felt a chill through his body, straight to his core as he described the dark and cold places he had seen her in these past few nights. He saw dark, broken stone walls caked with mold and filthy water dripping down into a pool collecting at the bottom. There were thick vines taking over from every direction.
The first night she was sitting to the side on a rock, dirt streaked across her face. He could see a wild and desperate look in her eyes; he knew she was trapped and trying to break free. The second night he couldn’t see her but could hear her struggling somewhere. Last night, the third night, he described seeing her clinging to the wall that was breaking around her and his inability to move or speak.
The man sitting directly across from Alo nodded, “These are no ordinary dreams. This girl you speak of is your onida and she is trapped between worlds.”
Another man spoke, “Onida means the one you search for.”
The man across from Alo spoke again. “She is part of your soul. If you don’t find her and help her make her way back to you, you could both be lost forever. Her absence is the emptiness you feel deep within.”
A feeling of dread began to creep up Alo like a slow curl of smoke rising up from the ground. “How do I find her?” he whispered.
“We must prepare the circle. Go now. Your mind must be clear for your journey. You must not eat anything. Come back at dusk and we will begin.”
Alo nodded and turned to leave. His mind was spinning as he thought of the hours ahead. He had never been allowed to partake in any of the rituals. These rituals are sacred practices and only the elders, the afflicted tribesman, and a select few may attend.
He looked down at his feet as he walked down the dirt path back to his tipi. By the time he stepped inside he was trembling. He couldn’t stop thinking about what the elders had said. Is this empty feeling truly a missing piece to his soul? A piece that could somehow be found? He dared not hope, but knew he must try to find his onida. How could he have lost her to begin with?
He dropped himself down onto his mat and closed his eyes.
He looked down and saw small pebbles dancing around his feet as the floor began to shake in a quake. The room was dark, but he could make out that there were several levels. The walls were littered with books from floor to ceiling and there were sporadic paintings of odd looking people.
“I can’t find it!” she cried as she furiously sifted through books and then tossed them aside. “Where is it?!”
Another pile of books fell to the floor as it began to shake again, splitting open as the shaking grew stronger. Alo watched in awe as a tree sprouted up from the floor, further splitting it open. It grew quickly until it burst through the ceiling, allowing a few sun rays to stream through. The branches were covered in tiny buds that were soon beautiful golden leaves glittering in the sunlight.
“No!” she shrieked as she tried to catch a few books before they hit the floor. She leaned back against the tree looking defeated. “I need to find it!”
She sat so near to him that Alo tried to reach out to her. But when he extended his arm through the barrier of darkness into the sunlight his arm seemed to fade. Starting at his fingertips and growing gradually up his arm he felt a slight tingling. Frightened he pulled his arm back and saw that it was still intact and the tingling subsided. He felt frustrated and sick with fear.
He woke to the sound of the ritual drums that signaled to the tribe it was time to begin. He rose to his feet. Determined to find her now more than ever.
The Great Oak was glowing with the fire burning beyond it. No one was allowed passed the Great Oak’s branches, thick with leaves, except those allowed to partake in the rituals.
An elder waited for him just in front of the Great Oak and silently led him through the leaves into a tunnel of twisted trees that lead into the sacred circle. The circle had been created by a wall of smaller trees that had been twisted and tied together to form large dreamcatchers. Their webs were made of branches and strips of leather decorated with feathers and beads. A fire blazed at each of the four points of the circle.
There were eight men in addition to the four elders waiting for him. Three stood at each of the four points. All wore feather headdresses and markings painted on their chest and face. Alo was led to the center of the circle where another man stepped forward and began painting markings on his face.
“Our ancestors tell us that in the beginning of time our souls were created in a balanced harmony. The gods meant for us to have many lives in which they wanted to bestow lessons upon us. These lessons they believed were necessary for the enlightenment of the soul. But this harmony proved too great and our souls were unable to appreciate some of these lessons without a certain level of suffering. And so it was decided that the gods would divide our souls into halves. Each of these halves would have to experience specific lessons before rejoining and only after the gods felt the souls understood their lessons would they be able to join in harmony again.
Alo, your dreams tell us that you have suffered long enough. It is time to find your onida. She, too, must have suffered enough because your souls are calling out to each other through your dreams. But she appears to be lost and confused about what she is looking for. It will be up to you to reunite your souls. Tonight your brothers have come to help guide you toward your path.”
A man stepped forward and handed him a cup. “Drink and begin your journey. Your brothers will help to catch the bad dreams in our webs. You must have courage. Trust the vibrations and you will find your way.”
Alo emptied the cup in one swallow. The man took it from his hand and backed away, leaving Alo alone in the center. He stared into the flames as his brothers began to chant and dance around him. He started to feel uneasy in his stomach and was glad he had been denied any food. A wave of dizziness washed over him and his feet felt heavy.
The flames were dancing, mesmerizing and consuming him until all he could see were golden waves of color. Gold swirls chasing themselves. Black night sky sprinkled with stars. Both were wavy, twisting and turning until he began to see them in the shape of a dark, star studded man and a brilliant golden woman intertwined in a lovers embrace.
He felt himself falling. He heard a splash and felt the weight of water consuming him as he sunk deeper and deeper. The vivid blues diminished into the abyss until he felt a weight lifted and then there was nothing.
It was pitch black; Alo couldn’t even see his own hand as he waved it in front of his face. The silence was deafening. What had they said? Follow the vibrations? Alo closed his eyes and just let go. He forgot his physical body, no longer trying to feel his feet on solid ground. He stopped straining for a sound to identify his surroundings.
Alo opened his eyes and the world around him was alive with hues of color like he had never seen. There were pinks of every shade swirling together that felt warm on his face like the sun. He laughed to see the pinks dancing and playing with the twinkles of the stars. The blues were beautiful and grew cold with jealousy. They invaded the pinks turning them to a deep purple that slowed Alo’s heart and filled him with sadness.
The sadness crept in and Alo felt himself sinking. He struggled to look away from them. In the distance, he saw a brilliant green that beckoned him to it. Slowly he felt the sadness lift as he made his way toward the green, but as he got closer he began to feel fuzzy. He felt a twitching that made him anxious. He turned away just in time to see a golden streak go by.
“Onida!” he called, but the gold continued; urging him to take chase. He moved toward the gold as quickly as he could, feeling exhilarated and desperate to catch her. “Onida!” the gold streak suddenly vanished and he felt a rumbling beneath him. He stopped and watched as a bright golden star pushed its way toward him growing bigger and bigger until he was consumed by it. He felt its golden rays shine right through him into the depths of his soul. It was so bright he was forced to shield his eyes and it was then that he saw her. She was smiling at him; a reflection in his own eyes.
He closed his eyes and found himself waist deep in an endless field of golden wheat. He dragged his hands in waves across the tops of the wheat stalks as they swayed in the wind. He smiled as he felt her come up behind him and wrap her arms around him. She kissed his neck and then rested her head on his back. He reached his hand across and held both her small hands against his chest. For a moment he felt at peace.
She squeezed him and then giggled as she let go and started running through the field. He laughed and began chasing her. He delighted in watching her long skirt and flaxen hair flowing behind her. She ducked behind a tree and was peeking around the trunk when he snuck up behind her. She let out a squeal as they fell onto the ground in each other’s arms. The sun was so bright, he blinked before he looked up to see her beautiful face, but she was gone.
He bolted upright. “Onida!” he called.
The wind was his only reply. He fell back against the ground in anguish. Suddenly, the air around him grew cold and the wheat stalks were dry and brittle, breaking in the wind. The sun began to fade and Alo felt numb with fear.
He closed his eyes, forcing himself to focus on breathing slowly and letting the vibrations come to him. The wind whispered words he strained to understand. He felt a waviness within himself that made him dizzy and a bit nauseated. He leaned back on his hands to steady himself. The ground felt cold and hard beneath him.
He opened his eyes to find himself sitting on a large rock in the middle of a river. It had grown dark, but the sky was aglow with stars as far as he could see. He dangled his feet over the edge into the cool water. It illuminated in a bright blue around his ankles that scattered when he moved his feet.
Despair was creeping in as Alo watched the clouds shifting across the night sky. He needed to find her, but how? He had no idea where to look or how to begin. What if he couldn’t find her? Would they both be lost here in between their dreams and their wake? He felt fuzzy. His skin felt twitchy beneath the surface.
He threw his head back. “Onida!” he cried out as loud as he could.
An owl replied, “Who?” Very faintly, he thought he could hear crickets in the distance.
He looked down at the water lapping against his feet and the blue ripples it made. As the moon emerged from behind the clouds, its light caught on something green in the riverbed. Alo watched as it stretched across the riverbed until the river was aglow with the moonlight. The green twinkled drawing his attention back to it. It seemed to soothe his twitching and he felt drawn to it.
Carefully, he slipped into the water until his head was beneath the surface. He sunk to the riverbed, scavenging for the source of the green glow. Buried in the river’s mud he found a beautifully translucent green stone. He clutched the stone in his hand and swam toward the shore.
The beach was very small and made of thousands of smooth river stones. He stood just close enough for the water to wash over his feet and opened his hand toward the moonlight. The stone was large, about half the size of his palm. One side had been worn smooth by the water’s current. The other side looked like part may have broken off leaving a white jagged streak across it.
Alo felt a powerful current flowing from the stone through his hand as he held it. He watched it light up as it captured the moon’s rays. They danced in a green haze, drifting higher and higher from the stone up into the night sky. The moon was full and seemed to be moving closer to him as the green haze continued to twist and twirl around itself.
Slowly, it started to take shape. He could make out a body and four legs. There were wispy ends beginning to look like a tail and a head. He could feel the moon’s rays strengthening as the stone began warming up in his hand. The moon grew brighter and Alo heard a wolf howl nearby. The green haze began to break apart and trickle down, surrounding him. He felt a strength growing within as the green haze consumed him. The wolf howled again and Alo understood that the howl had come from him.
He tilted his head back and gazed toward the moon. He realized for the first time that it was alive. He could see its rays lifting and dancing around it. There were more stars then he had ever seen and they, too, were alive with movement. Alo walked from the river bank to the grass and dropped to the ground. He felt drained with exhaustion like he had never felt.
He lay there watching the sky, still gripping the green stone in his hand. The stars were moving in synchronized patterns, lighting up different parts of the sky simultaneously. One group seemed to be moving more quickly with each pattern until suddenly it shot across the sky, directly over Alo’s head and into the trees behind him.
Alo turned toward the trees to see a burning trail leading into the forest. Fear seized him and he began running, faster and more swiftly than ever before. Gradually, the fire trail began to diminish and Alo slowed his pace to a walk just as he was coming to a fork in the path. He knew he must choose wisely, but how? Both directions looked the same. He shifted his gaze from left to right looking for a sign of what he should do.
Alo crouched down lowering his face to the ground sniffing each path carefully. He closed his eyes and let his sense of smell guide him around rocks and the base of a few trees. Suddenly a familiar sweet scent tantalized his nose. He opened his eyes to find little yellow daisies springing up from under the leaves, leading him down the path to his left.
More and more daisies popped up as they led him down the path until they vanished as quickly as they appeared. Alo paused in his tracks and listened to the sounds of the forest around him. In the distance he heard chanting and the faint sound of the drums. He followed the chanting, growing louder and louder until he saw the wall of dreamcatchers.
The elders stopped dancing as Alo approached the circle. “You have returned.”
“I have,” Alo answered. “But I have failed.”
“You have found your totem. You embraced your spirit animal.”
Alo felt confused as he tightened his grip around the stone. “My totem was not my purpose. You said I had to find my onida or we would both be lost.”
The elder nodded, “You need your totem to find her.”
Anger replaced his confusion. He stormed through the circle and back to his tipi. He knew there were totem rituals, rites of passage, but that’s not what the elders told him he was doing. How would this totem help him find her and stop the dreams? Alo’s mind was spinning and he felt dizzy. He dropped to his mat and closed his eyes.
He found a stream and bent his head to take a drink. As he lapped up the cool water a rainbow trout jumped from the stream and dove back in right in front of his nose. Alo watched as it swam into the current and decided he would follow it along the side of the stream.
He hadn’t been walking long when the water started moving more rapidly. He looked ahead and could see it was spilling over a cliff just ahead. He looked back to his side and the trout was gone. Just then he heard her cry out. He turned his head just in time to see her caught in the current about to fall over the edge. He began racing toward her, but he was too late.
He closed his eyes and took a leap of faith. He spread his arms and felt the wind catch in the feathers as his wings expanded. He soared high into the air looking to the falls for her.
Alo bolted upright. She’s out there somewhere, struggling. He knew his dreams would continue to torment him until he found her. His need to help her was as strong as his desire to break free from the dreams.
He put some dried buffalo meat, his water pouch, and the green stone totem into his satchel, grabbed his bow and quiver full of arrows and he stepped out of his tipi into the cool morning air. The sun was just beginning to rise and the trees were lost in a dense fog so thick he couldn’t see his feet. He didn’t think about where he was going. He just turned away from the village and started walking.
The forest had never been so quiet and still. The fog was gradually rising up from the ground and the sun struggled to break through the trees. There were no birds singing, he hadn’t seen any small animals scurrying about, not even the trees whispered with the wind. Time seemed to stand still.
As he was walking along, he noticed movement from some bushes along his trail. He paused for a moment and the movement stopped. He called out, but there was no reply. He turned back toward the trail. Stepping over moss-covered rocks, he continued on, still hearing leaves rustling and an occasional branch cracking. Whatever it was, it was keeping pace with him.
The sun was nearly over his head before Alo noted the rumbling in his stomach. He knew he had the dried buffalo, but he really wanted something of a little more substance. Thus far he had seen no sign of wildlife, but perhaps if he could find a small rabbit or squirrel. Alo slowed his pace and readied his bow and arrow.
He veered off the path into the bushes to lay in wait. He heard some leaves rustling and turned to face the direction it came from. There was a tree with a large trunk surrounded by several bushes bursting with red and gold leaves. Alo crouched down, drew an arrow from his quiver and loaded it onto his bow. Holding his breath, he focused on the leaves he began to see a face taking shape behind them. Slowly, he lowered his bow and reached into his satchel for a piece of dried buffalo.
He held the buffalo out in front of himself as an offering. When neither made a move, Alo tossed the buffalo closer to the bushes. Gradually, the leaves opened and the most magnificent wolf Alo had ever seen started to come forward. He had a thick grey coat and piercing blue-grey eyes. Gingerly, he leaned down and sniffed the buffalo before eating it.
Carefully, Alo pulled some more buffalo from his satchel and held it out in front of him. The wolf hesitated and then stepped closer. He reached out slowly, barely exposing his teeth to take the buffalo from Alo’s hand. Gently, he took the buffalo and ate it without taking his eyes off of Alo.
He couldn’t believe how beautiful the wolf was. He sat on the ground and the wolf sat, too. Alo laughed to himself as they sat there looking across at each other. Alo tilted his head. The wolf tilted his head. Alo held his hand out, palm up. Without touching Alo, the wolf held his paw out.
Alo decided since he was already stopped, he would rest for a while. He stretched out tucking his satchel against his side and used a fallen log covered in moss a pillow. The wolf laid down quietly next to him.
He was just starting to doze off when he thought he felt a tug on his satchel. He reached down and moved it behind his head. He could see the pinks and greens beginning to dance across his eyelids, feeling their warmth on his face. He was drifting into their energy when he felt himself falling.
Alo opened his eyes to see the wolf running into the trees with his satchel in his mouth. He jumped up and started running. “Wait! Come back!”
The wolf’s ears tweaked as if he were listening, but he kept running with Alo close on his tail. “Stop, wolf!” They were running away from the trail, darting through trees. The branches were scratching Alo’s skin and he felt a twinge in his side. Alo slowed his pace and the wolf slowed, too.
“What are you playing at?” Alo asked, leaning against a tree to catch his breath.
The wolf stopped and tilted his head in reply, ready to pounce if Alo came near him.
“You are playing.” Alo said, reaching out his hand. “Let me have it and I’ll give you the buffalo.”
The wolf stared at him and then suddenly turned his head as if he heard his name called. They both stood quietly, staring in the direction behind the wolf.
Alo thought he heard trickling water but it was so faint. The wolf strained his ears and then began running. Now intrigued more than interested in his satchel, Alo ran after him. The wolf stayed just ahead, but no longer seeming to be playing with Alo.
The wolf slowed his pace as the trees started opening to a clearing. Alo gasped in awe looking to the other side. The trees looked different. He had grown used to seeing trees with fat trunks and bark so dark it was nearly black, leaves with different shades of red and gold. These trees were tall and thin with white bark and bright yellow leaves. They were approaching a stream that divided the trees when Alo thought he heard a woman’s voice. He stepped behind a tree watching as the wolf dropped his satchel on the ground and lowered his head.
“There you are! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you all day.”
Alo froze as he watched her come into view. She had milky white skin and flaxen hair.
He didn’t realize he was shaking until a branch snapped beneath his feet. Alo felt himself trembling as she turned toward him. Not wanting to frighten her, he stepped out from behind the tree so she could see him. Her eyes were as green as his totem and he felt like she could see right through him.
“I’ve seen you in my dreams,” she whispered. The wolf stepped closer to her and sat beside her, nudging her hand with his head.
It was her. He felt his breath caught in his chest and all he could do was utter a single word, “Onida.”