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Frostwalker Excerpt – Dreams Of Smoke
by Brandon R Luffman
Jake was dreaming again, but at least it was something different. He knew he was dreaming because he was sitting among a large group of people around a large fire. Looking around, he saw that they were all Native Americans. Many of them wore paint on their faces and bodies, and those that didn’t were still covered with tattoos of a style he had never seen before.
Looking down, he saw that his arms were covered in tattoos as well, bearing stylized animals and stars as well as angular, bladelike swoops in tangled tribal knots. Much of the body art was covered in paint, red and white and blue being predominant.
The people around him were chanting in low voices and swaying rhythmically in unison. He found himself joining in. He didn’t know what the words meant, or how he knew them, but he chanted and swayed nonetheless.
A man walked to the fire from the darkness. As he did so, he chanted as well, his words different, forming a counterpoint to the rest of the group. He was old, elderly even, and he wore a colorful wrap about his body. It was made of soft leather and marked with symbols that Jake couldn’t describe. His eyes watered when he looked at some of them for too long.
Nearing the fire, the old man sat down on the edge of what appeared to be a large deer hide. The fur on the hide was a silver color, made orange and crimson in the firelight. The hide had also been marked with strange symbols and patterns.
The shaman, for this was certainly what the man was, swayed with the group, continuing his chant. As he did, he produced a long clay pipe from his wrap. It was painted with reds and whites and blues, and from it dangled fetishes of beads and feathers. The shaman held the pipe in his left hand, the long stem resting on his upper arm and shoulder. It was a purposeful pose, but Jake couldn’t fathom what it meant.
With his other hand, the old man reached again into his robes. This time he extracted a piece of leather wrapped into a bundle around something. With a twist, the bundle fell open, exposing what appeared to be the severed tongue of some animal. With a shout, the shaman tossed the pink tongue deep into the fire.
Bending forward, the old man carefully extracted a bit of tinder from the fire, its end a glowing coal. This he used to light the pipe, puffing with his cheeks until the bowl held a large cherry.
The shaman lifted the pipe over his head, looking up to the sky. Jake followed his gaze and saw that fat flakes of snow fell down above him, melting as they neared the fire. Behind the group, the trees and fields were smothered with a thick white blanket.
The old man returned the pipe to his mouth, holding it with both hands. He drew deeply, a long and powerful pull, puffing out his chest until his face strained, then he slowly bent forward, his wrinkled chin nearly touching the fur of the hide he sat upon. As he did so, he extended his arms forward so that the pipe was at his eye level, just above the fur.
Slowly, with a restraint that made Jake’s own throat burn with the need to cough, the old man exhaled, the smoke flowing out from his mouth in a broad fan and spreading out over the fur. The streamers of smoke continued for some time, passing through the hair of the hide and curling around like an ephemeral gray sheet, until the shaman blew empty air.
Then the old man slowly sat upright again, cradling the pipe in his lap with both hands, palms upright, staring at the smoke as it crawled across the fur.
The hair on Jake’s neck stood on end. The smoke had continued to move, but it didn’t rise, and it didn’t drift away on the breeze. The draft from the fire had no effect on it. Instead, it continued to undulate across the hide, slowly rotating like a hurricane seen from space.
The smoke formed thick patches, gathering into bands of gray and rising into tendrils and ethereal structures. Soon, a shape coalesced. Four legs and a long body appeared, topped by a head with a long snout. From the head sprouted a forest of antlers, and now a stag appeared as solid as any animal, but formed of smoke. It cavorted about the hide, dancing here and there among the bushes and trees of smoke that had risen up around it. It stopped and sniffed at the smoky ground, then lifted its head and snorted, puffs of smoke drifting from its nostrils.
The world filled with the vision transpiring on the hide. Like tunnel vision, everything seemed made of smoke until the stag turned its head and looked at him. Now it felt real. More, it didn’t bear the gaze of an animal, but a knowing look of sad wisdom and grim determination. Without warning, the stag charged at him. His body tried to recoil, tried to back away from the vision in gray.
The stag grew enormous. Its antlers could easily exceed the reach of his outstretched arms and those of another man as well. He was gripped by anxiety, but not true fear. The stag’s eyes held his own, and he perceived a message of hope and strength as it bore down on him. In a flash, it was on him.
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Born in Statesboro, Georgia in 1976, Brandon Luffman was raised in rural North Carolina. In the sixth grade he found that he loved writing fiction for the entertainment of others. Now Brandon writes supernatural horror as well as other genres. He still lives on the family farm in northwestern North Carolina with his wife and family. Taking inspiration from his homeland, he brings southern sensibilities and a modern flair to these classic genre themes. His first novel, Frostwalker, was released in May of 2013.