Monday, January 7, 2013

Frank Herbert, from Soul Catcher

It had begun when his name was Charles Hobuhet, a good Indian name for a Good Indian.

The bee had alighted, after all, on the back of Charles Hobuhet’s left hand. There had been no one named Katsuk then. He had been reaching up to grasp a vine maple limb, climbing from a creek bottom in the stillness of midday.

The bee was black and gold, a bee from the forest, a bumblebee of the family Apidae. Its name fled buzzing through his mind, a memory from days in the white school.

Somewhere above him, a ridge came down toward the Pacific out of the Olympic Mountains like the gnarled root of an ancient spruce clutching the earth for support.

The sun would be warm up there, but winter’s chill in the creek bottom slid its icy way down the watercourse from the mountains to these spring-burgeoning foothills.

Cold came with the bee, too. It was a special cold that put ice in the soul.

Still Charles Hobuhet’s soul then.

But he had performed the ancient ritual with twigs and string and bits of bone. The ice from the bee told him he must take a name. Unless he took a name immediately, he stood in peril of losing both souls, the soul in his body and the soul that went high or low with his true being.

The stillness of the bee on his hand made this obvious. He sensed urgent ghosts: people, animals, birds, all with him in this bee.

He whispered: “Alkuntam, help me.”

The supreme god of his people made no reply.

Shiny green of the vine maple trunk directly in front of him dominated his eyes. Ferns beneath it splayed out fronds. Condensation fell like rain on the damp earth. He forced himself to turn away, stared across the creek at a stand of alders bleached white against heavy green of cedar and fir on the stream’s far slope.

A quaking aspen, its leaves adither among the alders, dazzled his awareness, pulled his mind. He felt abruptly that he had found another self which must be reasoned with, influenced, and understood. He lost clarity of mind and sensed both selves straining toward some pure essence. All sense of self slipped from his body, searched outward into the dazzling aspen.

He thought: I am in the center of the universe!

Bee spoke to him then: “I am Tamanawis speaking to you. . . .”

The words boomed in his awareness, telling him his name. He spoke it aloud:

“Katsuk! I am Katsuk.”


It was a seminal name, one with potency.

Now, being Katsuk, he knew all its meanings. He was Ka-, the prefix for everything human. He was –tsuk, the bird of myth. A human bird! He possessed roots in many meanings: bone, the color blue, a serving dish, smoke… brother and soul.

Once more, he said it: “I am Katsuk.”

Both selves flowed home to the body.

He stared at the miraculous bee on his hand. A bee had been the farthest thing from his expectations. He had been climbing, just climbing.

If there were thoughts in his mind, they were thoughts of his ordeal. It was the ordeal he had set for himself out of grief, out of the intellectual delight in walking through ancient ideas, out of the fear that he had lost his way in the white world. But a spirit had spoken to him.

A true and ancient spirit.

Deep within his innermost being he knew that intellect and education, even the white education, had been his first guides on this ordeal.

He thought now, as Charles Hobuhet, he had begun this thing. He had waited for the full moon and cleansed his intestines by drinking seawater. He had found a land otter and cut out its tongue.

Kuschtaliute—the symbol tongue!

His grandfather had explained the way of it long ago, describing the ancient lore. Grandfather had said: “The shaman becomes the spirit-animal-man. God won’t let animals make the mistakes men make.”

That was the way of it.

He had carried Kuschtaliute in a deer scrotum pouch around his neck. He had come into these mountains. He had followed an old elk trail grown over with alder and fir and cottonwood. The setting sun had been at his back when he had buried Kuschtaliute beneath a rotten log. He had buried Kuschtaliute in a place he never again could find, there to become the spirit tongue.

All of this in anguish of spirit.

He thought: It began because of the rape and pointless death of my sister. The death of Janiktaht… little Jan.

He shook his head, confused by an onslaught of memories. Somewhere a gang of drunken loggers had found Janiktaht walking alone, her teen-aged body full of spring happiness, and they raped her and changed her and she had killed herself.

And her brother had become a walker-in-the-mountains.

The other self within him, the one which must be reasoned with and understood, sneered at him and said: “Rape and suicide are as old as mankind. Besides, that was Charles Hobuhet’s sister. You are Katsuk.”

He thought then as Katsuk: Lucretius was a liar! Science doesn’t liberate man from the terror of the gods!

Everything around him revealed this truth—the sun moving across the ridges, the ranges of drifing glouds, the rank vegetation.

White science had begun with magic and never moved far from it. Science continually failed to learn from lack of results. The ancient ways retained their potency. Despite sneers and calumny, the old ways achieved what the legends said they would.

His grandmother had been of the Eagle Phratry. And a bee had spoken to him. He had scrubbed his body with hemlock twigs until the skin was raw. He had caught his hair in a headband of red cedar bark. He had eaten only the roots of devil’s club until the ribs poked from his flesh.

How long had he been walking in these mountains?

He thought back to all the distance he had covered: ground so sodden that water oozed up at each step, heavy branches overhead that shut out the sun, undergrowth so thick he could see only a few body lengths in any direction. Somewhere, he had come through a tangled salmonberry thicket to a stream flowing in a canyon, deep and silent. He had followed that stream upward to vaporous heights… upward… upward. The stream had become a creek, this creek below him.

This place.

Something real was living in him now.

Abruptly, he sensed all of his dead ancestors lusting after this living experience. His mind lay pierced by the sudden belief, by unending movement beneath the common places of life, by an alertness which never varied, night or day. He knew this bee!

He said: “You are Kwatee, the Changer.”

“And what are you?”

“I am Katsuk.”

What are you?” The question thundered at him.

He put down terror, thought: Thunder is not angry. What frightens animals need not frighten a man. What am I?

The answer came to him as one of his ancestors would have known it. He said: “I am one who followed the ritual with care. I am one who did not really expect to find the spirit power.”

“Now you know.”

All of this thinking turned over, became as unsettled as a pool muddied by a big fish. What do I know?

The air around him continued full of dappled sunlight and the noise and spray from the creek. The mushroom-punk smell of a rotten log filled his nostrils. A stately, swaying leaf shadow brushed purple across the bee on his hand, withdrew.

He emptied his mind of everything except what he needed to know from the spirit poised upon his hand. He lay frozen in the-moment-of-the-bee. Bee was graceful, fat, and funny. Bee aroused a qualm of restless memories, rendered his senses abnormally acute. Bee. . . .

And image of Janiktaht overcame his mind. Misery filled him right out to the the skin. Janiktaht—sixty nights dead. Sixty nights since she had ended her shame and hopelessness in the sea.

He had a vision of himself moaning beside Janiktaht’s open grave, drunk with anguish, the swaying wind of the forest all through his flesh.

Awareness recoiled. He thought of himself as the had been once, as a boy heedlessly happy on the beach, following the tide mark. He remembered a piece of driftwood like a dead hand outspread on the sand.

Had that been driftwood?

He felt the peril of letting his thoughts flow. Who knew where they might go? Janiktaht’s image faded, vanished as thought of its own accord. He tried to recall her face. It fled him through a blurred vision of young hemlock… a moss-floored stand of trees where nine drunken loggers had dragged her to… one after another, to. . . .

Something had happened to flesh which his mind no longer could contemplate without being scoured out, denuded of everything except a misshapen object that the ocean had cast up on a curve of beach where once he had played.

He felt like an old pot, all emotion scraped out. Everything eluded him except the spirit on the back of his hand. He thought:

We are like bees, my people—broken into many pieces, but the pieces remain dangerous.

In that instant, he realized that this creature on his hand must be much more than Changer—far, far more than Kwatee.

It is Soul Catcher!

Terror and elation warred with him. This was the greatest of the spirits. It had only to sting him and he would be invaded by a terrible thing. He would become the bee of his people. He would do a terrifying thing, a dangerous thing, a deadly thing. Hardly daring to breathe, he waited.

Would Bee never move? Would they remain in this way for all eternity? His mind felt drawn tight, as tense as a bow pulled to its utmost breaking point. All of his emotions lay closed up in blackness without inner light or outer light—a sky of nothingness within him.

He thought: How strange for a creature so tiny to exist as such spirit power, to be such spirit power—Soul Catcher!

One moment there had been no bee on his flesh. Now, it stood there as though flung into creation by a spray of sunlight, brushed by leaf shadow, the shape of it across a vein, darkness of the spirit against dark skin.

A shadow across his being.

He saw Bee with intense clarity: the swollen abdomen, the stretched gossamer of wings, the pollen dust on the legs, the barbed arrow of the stinger.

The message of this moment floated through his awareness, a clear flute sound. If the spirit went away peacefully, that would signal reprieve. He could return to the university. Another year, in the week of his twenty-sixth birthday, he would take his doctorate in anthropology. He would shake off this terrifying wildness which had invaded him at Janiktaht’s death. He would become the imitation white man, lost to these mountains and the needs of his people.

This thought saddened him. If the spirit left him, it would take both of his souls. Without souls, he would die. He could not outlast the sorrows which engulfed him.

Slowly, with ancient deliberation, Bee turned short of his knuckles. It was the movement of an orator gauging his audience. Faceted eyes included the human in their focus. Bee’s thorax arched, abdomen tipped, and he knew a surge of terror in the realization that he had been chosen.

The stinger slipped casually into his nerves, drawing his thoughts, inward, inward. . . .

He heard the message of Tamanawis, the greatest of spirits, as a drumbeat matching the beat of his heart: “You must find a white. You must find a total innocent. You must kill an innocent of the whites. Let your deed fall upon this world. Let your deed be a single, heavy hand which clutches the heart. The whites must feel it. They must hear it. An innocent for all of our innocents.

Having told him what he must do, Bee took flight.

His gaze followed the flight, lost it in the leafery of the vine maple copse far upslope. He sensed then a procession of ancestral ghosts insatiate in their demands. All of those who had gone before him remained an unchanging field locked immovably into his past, a field against which he could see himself change.

Kill an innocent!

Sorrow and confusion dried his mouth. He felt parched in his innermost being, withered.

The sun crossing over the high ridge to keep its appointment with the leaves in the canyon touched his shoulders, his eyes. He knew he had been tempted and had gone through a locked door into a region of terrifying power. To hold this power he would have to come to terms with that other self inside him. He could be only one person—Katsuk.

He said: “I am Katsuk.”

The words brought calm. Spirits of air and earth were with him as they had been for his ancestors. He resumed climbing the slope. His movements aroused a flying squirrel. It glided from a high limb to a low one far below. He felt the life all around him then: brown movements hidden in greenery, life caught suddenly in stop-motion by his presence.

He thought: Remember me, creatures of this forest. Remember Katsuk as the whole world will remember him. I am Katsuk. Ten thousand nights from now, ten thousand seasons from now, this world still will remember Katsuk and his meaning.

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