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Men From The Stars

 

 

 

            Standing-Rock’s anxiety climbed with the upward thrust of the cliff.  Although his quest had brought him safely this far, the thought of going any further now filled him with dread.  The cave was located halfway up the cliff.  The unseen base of the mesa was hidden by a forest of dark, foreboding trees.  To dwell upon what was inside the cave would have stopped him cold.  It was enough just to concentrate upon the forest ahead: its gnarled trunks and the rocky ground below.

            For his tribe, who lived in the desert, the forest was a scary place to be.  It was filled with ghosts, who inhabited old trees.  Since he was a truth seeker, he saw more than the average mind.  The tangled woods were not simply filled with wild animals—bears, wolves, and cougars; they might also contain evil spirits and ghosts from the land of the dead.  Appearing in his conscious mind were all the superstitions buried in his past.  The monsters and fiends he had warned about as a child, also flooded his overwrought mind.  One by one they appeared, from both his religious training and tribal lore, mingling in various shapes and forms.  Trees, bushes, and even rocks hid them.  They lingered in shadows and appeared furtively at the corner of his eyes.  Lurking deliberately to catch the unwary, they were always just out of view.  Faintly heard but always sensed, they could imitate nature while riding the wind.

            Always creeping into his thoughts were those specters from the past.  Evil spirits and a countless array of supernatural beasts and unfriendly ghosts were just waiting to come out.  Tiptoeing in back of him or flying askance, they skirted the darkness and poured out from land of the dead. Together, combining with the sights and sounds of the night, they distracted him from his quest.  He was not even in the woods yet, and his urge to turn back was already strong.

            As he approached the forest, he felt the presence of evil as he had never felt it before.  Was it behind him, or was it in front of him?  Had it been following him across the desert ever since his quest began?  Or was it there now waiting ahead in the shadows of the woods?  Who was the presence he felt now: Night Trapper, Shadow Creeper, or Soul Catcher—the devil, himself.  Was he being taunted by evil spirits, as the elders warned him, or merely his own fears?  If the rumors and legends about this journey were true, he was in for the greatest nightmare of his life and a great test of his faith.

            There was something wrong about this trip.  He had felt it from the very beginning of is quest.  Although he tried to shed his doubts and fears, they remained fixed in his mind.  He therefore remained ready for retreat.  Almost immediately, in fact, after reaching the first gnarled trunk, the presence he had only suspected before seemed to reach out to him.  Soon, he felt beset by both a warning and a lure.  Although the forest was, as he expected, a dark and unfriendly place, it was part of a mystery he had to solve.  Each unexplained shadow in the moonlight seemed to be lurking in wait.  Each snapping twig and crunching leaf jarred his mind.  After stumbling over rocks and stepping into chuckholes awhile, he cursed himself for his cowardice. Why had become a truthseeker?  His brothers and sisters, as did most of his tribe, had ordinary lives. Why not he?  While they slept soundly tonight in their hogans, with no care for tomorrow, here he was risking his life to fulfill a vision quest—a fool’s errand to prove his worthiness to become a priest. 

Slipping and sliding finally down an unseen hill, he found himself momentarily out of control.  As his moccasins eventually found a foothold in the soft dirt, he realized he had stumbled onto the lip of a great crater that stretched for hundreds of feet into the woods.

            Raising his torch forward as far as it would go, he shuddered at the thought of what had caused such a hole.  Unknown to Standing Rock was the fact that a meteorite had struck this spot many centuries ago.  There were trees growing continuously around its periphery, and yet there was nothing but barren rock and dirt evident on its concave slopes.  Standing-Rock’s natural curiosity, which rankled some members of his tribe, was momentarily aroused, as he gauged its size.  There was a legend about this spot.  He remembered hearing it around the campfire at night.  In fact, the elders believed that Spirit Dancer, the chief god, sent fire down from the sky to punish the Old Ones, who once inhabited this land.  Reflecting upon this legend, Standing Rock, realized how close it had come to Forbidden Mesa—his goal.  He could envision the great fiery orb from the sky exploding upon impact, after barely missing the mesa nearby.  If it had been just a little bit closer, it would have smashed the rock to smithereens.  There would have been no mesa to climb then, only a pile of rocks beside a great black hole.  The Old Ones would never have built their strange houses on its face.  Shines-In-The-Dark, the great sage, would not have used it for his retreat.  It would never have been chosen as a holy place by the priests, which had made this pilgrimage mandatory for truth seekers to make.  Perhaps the priests of his people would have found a less hazardous journey for the vision quest.… If only the fiery rock had landed a little lower and a little further west, he would never have had to make this dangerous quest!

            But he was a truth seeker, soon to be tested by Spirit Dancer, himself.  If he failed now, he could never become a priest.  It might seem, by its importance and the dangers involved, that his tribe was holding its collective breath, praying that there would be a vision in his quest.  More likely, he thought grimly, they were, except for a few drowsy sentries, sound asleep around the hogan fire, complacent in their expectations—most of them not caring at all. 

 

******

            While he stood on the crater’s rim, Standing-Rock contemplated upon his task, realizing that he was not even halfway done.  A warm breeze blew his way.  As if Spirit Dancer, himself, approved of his quest, it blew steadily awhile upon his check, caressing away his fears as he had done to Whispers-In-The-Wind, grandfather, and Shines-In-The-Dark, the great sage, long, long ago.

            That the crater was caused by Spirit Dancer’s anger against the people who originally inhabited this land meant nothing to most of his people.  Who these people where no one knows, but grandfather said that some of their bones are found in the mesa above.  It was seemed obvious that the cliff dwellings and the crumbling villages nearby belonged to Old Ones of legend.  Shines-In-The-Dark, himself, found some of their bones in one of the mesa’s caves.  A more important landmark for the people was the mesa, itself, which had, because of Shines-In-The-Dark, become a part of tribal tradition.  In spite of his misgivings, Standing- Rock was still proud of what it symbolized.  It was up there on top of Forbidden Mesa that Shines-In-The-Dark received his visions from Spirit Dancer about their religion.  In one of its caves the sage’s mummy is said to reside, although he has never been found.

            As Standing Rock wearily set up his camp, he wondered fleetingly if he would find anything at all on the mesa.  A rush of dread returned to him as his doubts returned.  Although the honor would give him prestige, he had no desire to find the sage’s remains.  What if some of his people were right and his discovery would bring him a curse instead of the blessing promised by the priests.  Not everyone in his tribe agreed with Shines-In-The-Dark’s vision.  It would make him perfectly happy to bring back only potsherds to prove that he was there.  He could, with a clear conscious, gather his evidence, spend the required night, make his obeisance to Spirit Dancer, and then make the treacherous journey back down. 

            But he sensed, with nagging foreboding, that something momentous was going to take place during his quest.  How he knew this was a mystery to him.  Yet the questions plaguing him now were basic: when, where, and what?  Was something going to happen tonight?  Would it be right here during his sleep?  Or was it waiting for him on the mesa as he suspected all along?  If so, was it danger or illumination he would find?  Was it an evil event or something very good?  He could not be sure, but he knew that for him it would be either extreme; there would be no moderations for his soul this time.  Spirit Dancer as well as Soul Catcher and his minions all dwelled in the desert tonight.  He was, in fact, being tested this very hour by his two halves: dark and light—the two warring sides of all the people.  He must not fail Spirit Dancer by giving way to his doubts.

            While gathering twigs and branches to build his fire, Standing Rock continued praying to himself, the words becoming a mantra—counter spells rather than actual prayer.  Glancing expectantly around the darkness, he tried concentrating upon the crackling flames.  More than any time in his life, he realized how important a fire could be.  Though lacking knowledge of the White Man’s wisdom, he understood its power, remembering the legend of Fire-Starter, the first man.  From its discovery, after a mountain spewed fire, they learned how to make it from the Old Ones from sparks and kindling, a difficult task for a truth seeker in the dark. The pitch-laced club he carried from his village would have to be relit continually. Its life-saving light and heat, now transferred to circle of sticks and dry brush, gave him great comfort.  Not only were animals afraid to approach a traveler’s camps, it gave them warmth and allowed them to cook their food.  Now, Standing Rock reflected, as he stared into the flames, it also protected him from animals, who were fearful of fire.  As he watched it rise from the dried brush and logs, sending sparks into the moonlit sky, he felt protected against the creatures of the desert.  A mountain lion or bear would not bother a man sitting by a fire.  But a man or a spirit would.

            Fingering the hilt of his knife awhile, Standing Rock also remembered that the fire was also a lure.  Men were attracted by campfires, often to the detriment of the camper.  Spirits, on the other hand, cared not whether it was dark or light or warm or cold.  These recollections caused him to begin praying to himself again, as he drew out his knife, his face set in a methodical frown.

            For several moments he just sat there by the fire, his face glowing and dark eyes blazing with inner turmoil.  The first discomforting pangs of hunger were a welcome distraction, though they reminded him that he could eat only enough raisins and beef jerky to sustain him through his quest.  As he began munching on the prescribed snacks grandmother had packed for him, he listened to the sound of the fire crackling and managed to tune out the surrounding night.  Inwardly his thoughts traveled as he stared vacantly at the fire. 

            He was, he realized, a mere mote in Spirit Dancer’s gaze.  And yet he was certain that he had a purpose in his plan.  He had been singled out at birth by a priest, who read in his tiny palm, his destiny in the tribe.  From childhood on, he had been treated with deference by his people, with an element of resentment from other young men.  According to his grandfather, his selection was both a blessing and a curse.  Always there was a duality in their lives, especially for the priests, such as dark and light, good and bad, and blessing and curse.  In their tradition, grandparents, not parents, controlled the religious life of children.  His mother and father, like most parents, weren’t happy with his selection by the elders.  It meant that he would never have a normal life. His grandparents, however, who shared his odyssey, were proud of him.  They felt special, knowing full well they shared the blessing and curse too. 

 

 

******

            Atop, around, and beyond the mesa, there was an epoch tale of a nomadic people who had been transformed into agriculturists and builders, whose ancient religion was only dimly felt by Standing Rock’s people.  According to Whispers-In-The-Wind and Shines-In-The-Dark, their ancestors, the Old Ones, built the cliff dwelling scattered in the desert.  On Forbidden Mesa, which his people considered most sacred, the pictures had been scratched into the rock, recording their magic and religion.  The Old Ones seemed too remote now.  Despite evidence found in ruins near their villages and on Forbidden Mesa, itself—pottery, jewelry, and the custom of burying the dead in a fetal position, many of the elders disagreed with the priests.  The Old Ones had been an accursed race, destroyed by Spirit Dancer.  The legend of Fire-Starter and Earth Mother, who gave birth to Spirit Dancer, whom they called Spirit Dancer, could not possibly have been marred by such an event.  Despite his own doubts, Standing Rock fondly recalled the great leaders of his tribe.  He could remember his grandfather telling him about the first great sage, Whispers-In-The-Wind, who had led his people out of the wilderness in order to escape starvation.  Against enemy tribes, including peoples, who built dwellings similar to the Old Ones, they prevailed and were able, because of Whisper-In-The-Wind and Shines-In-The-Dark efforts, to make peace with their neighbors.  And yet for a long time the peace was occasionally broken.  Northern nomads invaded their land as well and worst of all the arrival of White Settlers, who forced them to retreat to driest portion of the desert, a sector of land on which the Old Ones lived, where Forbidden Mesa loomed now.  No one knew what the future held for them, and yet, with the exception of encroaching White Man’s towns and pervasive threat of renegades from the south, Standing Rock couldn’t remember feeling threatened in is own lifetime.   The great sages and priests had held them together and made them proud of whom they were.  They were a poor people; in many ways pride was all they had left.  Before Shines-In-The-Dark, the last great sage, died, he had a dream.  In his dream Spirit Dancer told him he must travel to the top of Forbidden Mesa for a vision.  Why Spirit Dancer couldn’t have told the old man what was on his mind during the dream rankled Standing Rock now.  Perhaps there was something he wanted to show Shines-In-The-Dark too sacred for non-priests and ordinary folk or maybe it was like all of the mysterious ritual and ceremonies of his tribe whose origin had been lost in the mist of time. 

            Before Whispers-In-The-Wind, there had been many sages, stretching back for centuries, as they traveled south.  After him, there were many lesser men, who maintained balance in the tribe but left little imprint in oral tradition, until Shines-In-The-Dark became a sage.  His medicine was even greater than Whispers-In-The-Wind.  Though grandfather and the other elders of his tribe hadn’t seen it themselves, it was said that Shines-In-The-Dark had performed miracles and cures.  He was able to cause various objects to suspend in the air.  He could allegedly vanish and reappear like a phantom, and, with his medicine bag, brought several people back from the brink of death.  Standing Rock cared little for miracles and magic right now.  Were it not for the oath he had taken and the great expectations of his grandparents and elders of the tribe, he would exchange his destiny with the lowest member of the tribe.  It was Whispers-In-The-Wind, who first practiced the vision quest, but it had been much simpler than what Shines-In-The-Dark turned it into.  A young man was given a meager supply of water and food and sent into the wilderness to wander around until he had a vision.  Through lack of sleep, suffering hunger, and, at times, under the influence of peyote or White Man’s liquor, he would have a dream or hallucination, in which he would see an animal or other apparition and thereby, after interpretation by priests, would be given a new name.  During the last century, however, because of Shines-In-The-Dark’s influence, there was a separate quest for priests and common folk.  All other young men of the tribe simply hiked a short way into the desert with raisins and jerky and, after suffering lack of sleep with little food, hopefully had some sort of vision.  Such a trek, Standing Rock recalled, carried much less threat than his current odyssey.  Many of the initiates, he suspected, especially those who relied on drugs or alcohol, had questionable even counterfeit visions.  Names, such Laughing Ghost, Shaking Fist, Walks-On-The-Wind, and even his own name, Standing Rock, were based upon the first apparent or significant impression coming to him—his own vision being his discovery of a large stone balanced precariously on another rock. After tonight, he thought grimly, if he lived, he would, unlike most men of his tribe, carry three names: Little Toad (his birth name), Standing Rock (his vision quest name), and the name he would take after his quest tonight. 

          What was his third name be?  He wondered, as he stared into the flames.  His uncle, whose quest had taken him to Third Mesa, a much smaller mesa closer to their village, claimed to have seen Spirit Dancer in a dream as he slept.  His grandiose title after that was Spirit-Dreamer, and yet grandfather once told Standing Rock that his uncle had probably been drunk.  Spirit-Dreamer (a.k.a. Jumping Bird), in fact, had become a drunkard and very poor priest, wandering off one morning under the influence of cactus wine, never to return.  Shines-In-The-Dark, who first climbed Forbidden Mesa, had been merely called small horse before this.  His claim to have seen a ghostly cloud of glowing matter was the source of his third name.  When he returned, according to grandfather, he had turned completely gray.  The horrors he had seen—Shadow Creeper, Night Trapper, and Soul Catcher, himself—were later doubted by several elders.  Even now, many of his people believe he had been slightly mad; that he went back up to the top, based upon a dream, seemed to have proven them right.  Now here he was, Standing Rock, the latest truth seeker, doing the very same thing.

******

            As he sat by his fire scanning the darkness beyond, he saw a light in the sky.  Unlike the twinkling starlight or steady glow of the crescent moon, it was moving, not standing still.  Unlike meteorites, which his people viewed superstitiously as bad omens, it continued on a deliberate path until reaching the top of Forbidden Mesa, itself.  What more terrible omen could there be than this?  Suddenly Forbidden Mesa’s dark silhouette added a dimension of terror to Standing Rock’s mind more frightening than evil spirits and the mere dread of the unknown.

          He cried out hoarsely now, “Oh, Spirit Dancer, I can’t do this.  It’s a sign—very bad, very bad in deed.  Death waits for me on that mesa.  I’m not meant to be a priest!”  Recoiling immediately at his foolishness, he looked around self-consciously at the darkness, regretting his outburst yet convinced of its truth.   Once more, filled with misgivings, he cursed himself for agreeing to such a quest.  Something inexplicable had come out of the sky, . . . something that had nothing to do with his mission tonight.

 

******

            Fire had come out of the sky.  Drawn to this specter but afraid to leave the security of his own fire, Standing Rock rose slowly from the ground and remained frozen on his feet.  Blinking steadily a moment, the strange light lifted off the mesa, and, with obvious purpose, zoomed straight out into space and then descended gradually to the desert floor below.  Standing Rock wanted to believe that it was Spirit Dancer and not an evil spirit, such as Shadow Creeper or Night Trapper—especially not the archfiend Soul Catcher, himself, and yet he was filled with doubts.  As a prickling at the back of his neck was a foreboding about the light, which was unrelated to the normal superstitions of his people.  His mission and quest were to scale Forbidden Mesa in the morning and then return with a special vision, as had Shines-In-The-Dark.  The vision, if that’s what it was, wasn’t supposed to come to him, and yet here it was coming closer and closer—a shape resembling a threshing basket or plate.

          Once again, Standing Rock began to pray, this time in total panic, as he scrambled to relight his torch and flee.  Where could he hide against such a force?  Where would he go?  There was darkness all around him.  He was a long way from his village and, if the apparition was heading his way, would overtake him no matter which direction he turned.  As before his plea to Spirit Dancer degenerated into rambling magical words to ward off evil.  He gripped his knife tightly with one hand, while reaching into the medicine pouch his grandfather had given him to find the sacred articles: a clay pipe that once belonged to Shines-In-The-Dark, a bag of magical herbs from grandmother’s garden, and various bones, shells, and polished stones, which a priest had blessed.  Right now, as far as Standing Rock was concerned, they were useless against the advancing force.  The knife he clutched and the bow and quiver in his pack were likewise useless if it wanted to do him harm. 

          “Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-yo,” he chanted, shutting his eyes tightly to blot out the light.

The age-old formula sounded foolish as he tossed out a pinch of herbs.  As he had as a small child to prevent Night Stalker from entering his dreams, he kept his eyes shut so as to avoid his hideous face.  But it wasn’t Night Stalker, Shadow Creeper, Soul Catcher or any of the evil spirits sent by Hoteh, Spirit Dancer’s wicked twin.  Unable to contain his suspense, his eyes popped wide as it approached.  Closer and closer the specter came, as he remained frozen beside the fire.  Around the rim of the saucer, small radiant points of light twinkled continually.  A faint hum came from the vessel as it set down on the desert.  As it hovered over the ground, only a short distance away, a beam of light shot out suddenly, causing Standing Rock’s to almost stumble into the fire.  Regaining his balance to prevent falling into the flames, he screamed hoarsely, dropped his knife and pouch and shielded his face from the blinding light.

  Behind the beam, the twinkling lights snapped off simultaneously.  As a backdrop to the radiance, the black silhouette of the vessel was barely discernable against the night.  As a hatch slowly opened, a ladder dropped onto the sand, and a dark silhouette stood framed momentarily in the exit.  Petrified, numb with fear, and mumbling incoherently to himself, Standing Rock, wanted to call out to the advancing specter, “Who are you?  What do you want?”, but all he could do was hold out his arms beseechingly and continue a mute, intelligible chant.

A second, third, and fourth visitor emerged behind the oncoming specter.  In the glow of the campfire, the first alien, a tall, willowy, bipedal form, in a tight-fitting shimmering suit paused briefly, as the others caught up.  Inside the specter’s helmet, Standing Rock could see an earless, noseless head, with cat-like eyes and a mere slash for a mouth—features far too alien for his untutored mind.  Mentally, he managed a prayer to Spirit Dancer and the Shades of the Underworld to either save him or give him passage to the land of the dead.  Gently yet firmly, as the first alien’s mouth moved excitedly spouting gibberish, two of his cohorts took each of Standing Rock’s arms and began leading him toward their ship.  The first alien touched his forehead, as if to calm him, while one in back, gave him a nudge, as if to say, “All right, let’s get going!”

“Oh no you don’t!” Standing Rock managed to shout. “I’ve led a good life.  I walked the right path, avoiding evil.  Soul Catcher, Shadow Trapper, Night Stalker—what do you want with me?”

An eerie voice, speaking his tongue, echoed in his mind: “Calm down. We aren’t spirits or ghosts.  You won’t understand, but we come from the stars.  This won’t take long.  We’ve searched the universe for centuries to find intelligent life. You’re the first.  We’ll do you no harm!”

That they could speak his language, let alone inside his head, seemed impossible to Standing Rock, and yet, in a matter of moments, the stranger was chatting away in his own inexplicable language to his friend in what sounded like cricket chirps, as he was drawn quickly and helplessly into a place that, like its inhabitants, had no word in their language.  Obviously, the first alien was their leader and was giving instructions to them.  The interior of the vessel, which had no reference point or counterpart in their religion or tradition, was a bizarre maze of strange equipment and peculiar objects that made little sense to Standing Rock, until they reached a standing slab that triggered an alarm in his mind.  Recalling the table, which the elders had created for sacrifice in the olden days, he shrieked and thrashed feebly as the aliens strapped him to the table then stood around him, mere shadows against the cascading light.

Convinced that he would be sacrificed, like a deer or goat in the old way, he wept bitterly now.  As they went about studying their specimen, he cursed them impotently, expecting any moment to be stabbed an eviscerated to placate Hoteh, their god.  Half convinced at this point that they were the evil twin’s minions, he began chanting the death-chant, but the thrust of the knife never came.   Instead of a quick, ghastly end, he felt the prick of a needle, much like a nettle or porky pine quill.   Swiftly, reminiscent of the time he was knocked unconscious after slamming into an overhanging limb, he tumbled down a long, dark corridor in which time didn’t exist.  Though he would remember what came before and after his examination, what transpired in the eerie room would forever be lost in his mind.  When he awakened, it was morning—the first breath of dawn, lying by a smoldering campfire.  His head hammered like a shaman’s drum.  Several parts of his anatomy—his arms, stomach, and legs, stung and ached as if they had been prickled and poked, though he couldn’t fathom why.  In fact, he could scarcely recall anything tangible for those moments as the sun brimmed the horizon and he regained his wits.  Then, after he rose shakily to his legs, and he studied the dying embers and meager backpack and pouch laying on the ground it came back to him in one startling burst…. He had been on a special vision quest as a truth seeker…Last night something came out of the night sky—a strange light that landed on Forbidden Mesa, then came like a phantom toward him…Several creatures, who walked like men but had cat-like eyes and almost no human features, abducted him and taken him into a place shaped like a threshing basket or plate…. From there, though, he drew a blank. Try as he may, as he sat by the embers, nothing came.  Hunger and thirst overcame his trance.  After chewing a mouthful of the raisin and jerky mix grandmother gave him, he brought up the skin filled with water, took a long drink, then remained motionless awhile, staring at the rising sun.  How long he sat there trying to make sense out of his experience, he didn’t know.  When the temperature rose, and the sun sat a significant distance above the horizon, he was awakened from his muddled thoughts.

Had it been a dream?  What had happened last night?  How could he explain this to his people, especially those prying priests?  He had not intention of climbing up the mesa now.  What could possibly top this?  For the first time on his path as a truth seeker, Standing Rock must tell a lie.  His body was weak.  The men from the stars had done something to him, and he hadn’t the energy to make the prescribed trek.  Whatever Shines-In-The-Dark had left on the mesa for him to find—a holy relic, sacred bundle, or his own moldy bones—would have to wait for another truth seeker.  It occurred to him, as he walked away, that Shines-In-The-Dark, with his strange name, might even be one of them.  He had been, grandfather once told him, a strange, eccentric man.  His very name, Shines-In-The-Dark, was suspect.   After walking wearily over to his original destination and climbing up its side a short way, so that he could tell them back at the village that he had climbed the mesa, Standing Rock began the day long trip back to his people.

 

******

When he arrived late in the afternoon, the priests, elders, his family, and friends rushed up to him eagerly and excitedly, muttering with awe.  According to Deer Rider, the village sage, he had the same look Shines-In-The-Dark carried when he returned from this third quest.  Now, after being picked clean by vultures and bugs, his bones lie scattered on top of the mesa.  I am alive, thought Standing Rock.  I will have a wife, sons and daughters, raise corn, and die an old man before the final sleep. 

“Are you all right, my son?” his mother asked, taking his arm.

“Yes, Standing Rock,” his father said, bracing his other side, “you don’t look well.  What happened out there?

“Tell us, Little Toad,” grandmother called out his childhood name, “what did you see?”

Grandfather shouted in the distance, “There’s our new priest!” and his cousin, Looking Fox, exclaimed, “he’s been touched by Spirit Dancer.  Look at his face!”  But only his parents showed genuine concern.

Many more voices erupted—a curse to his aching head, but all he could think of was a bowel of his mother’s corn gruel and her warm bread.  Collapsing inside his parent’s hogan, as his mother shooed them all away, he stared at the family hearth, watching the smoke trail up through a hole in the ceiling, recalling the moment he first saw that light in the sky.  The strange two-legged man-like beings with frightening faces and eerie speech, were so alien to his mind, he still found them difficult to comprehend.  That one of them spoke his own tongue in his mind made it all the more unbelievable.  Breaking into his reverie was the voice of grandfather, who asked bluntly, “Well, Standing Rock, the priests are waiting what did you find on the mesa.  What did you see?”

“…I saw men come out of the sky—from the stars,” he answered dreamily. “They told me secrets in a speech I couldn’t understand…. It’s all a blur after they took me into that place.  They did something to me in there; I no not what.  Perhaps, in a dream, I will learn their secret…. That’s all I know.”

“It’s enough for now, my son,” his mother said, handing him a bowel of gruel.  “Let him rest and gather his strength.”

“Yes grandfather.” His sister appeared by his side. “I’ve never seen my brother so tired.”

“Very well, we’ll go to the priests tomorrow.” The old man sighed and rose up in a crotchety manner to his feet. “They will interpret your dream,” he called over his shoulder, “and give you a new name.”

“It wasn’t a dream,” said Standing Rock, stifling a yawn, “the Star men came to me in the flesh, and, like Shines-In-The-Dark, I will choose my name.”

Grandfather looked back, as he stood in the entrance, replying thoughtfully, “Yes, of course.  What will you new name be?”

          “It’s seems so obvious.” Standing Rock spoke with illumination. “Those men came from the stars.  They were not from our world, and yet they were not spirits… Whatever the call me now, must be special.”

          “Little Toad, Little Toad,” his sister asked playfully, “tell us.  Don’t be so secretive.  What shall we call you now that you’re a priest?”

          “Star Dancer,” his father suggested, “and Star Climber has a good ring.”

          “How about ‘He-Who-Touched-The-Stars,’” his mother offered, handing him more bread. “Shines-In-The-Dark and Whispers-In-The-Wind had fancy names.

          “No,” Standing Rock said, shaking his head, “nothing fancy or too long.  Those strange men came from the stars…Star Man shall be my name!”