Indian Mound Road
Teens sneak out at night and find...
A soft whirring hummed through the four in the morning silence. Two bicycles, lights extinguished, rolled through the inky Virginia neighborhood.
The fat, smiling moon – a waxing gibbous for those who care about such things - had abandoned the June sky hours earlier. Off to the east, light pollution from the DC suburbs bleached the horizon. Porchlights hinted at oversized houses on ten-acre lots. Sycamores sprouted from shadowy dells, remnants from the days when Holsteins polka-dotted the land.
A few muscular pumps at the pedals brought Sam’s bicycle atop a rise. On the downslope, captured air ballooned his jacket. Malik wheeled in his wake, skinny legs pushing the bike furiously forward. Malik’s pulse dropped a few beats with each wheel rotation as he became more confident of his escape from home.
“Looks like we did it, Malik,” Sam said, coasting, with a backward peek. Neither wanted their parents to kibosh this clandestine adventure, especially Malik. His parents believed Sam to be a bad influence. At least, that’s what his mother said. His dad just gave him The Look, potent with unspoken and ominous power.
But Sam made Malik laugh. Sam took the world like a Rubik cube and twisted it around, changing Malik’s perspective. Malik knew Sam. His parents didn’t.
Minutes later, the bikes broke free of the subdivision. Darkness from hovering trees forced them to slow and flip on their lights. Paving gave way to gravel. A downhill trajectory emerged. Even gravel grew scarce. Rocks the size of Malik’s fist coupled with long rut-like potholes to threaten the bike tires.
“Almost there, Malik.”
“Yeah. Oh, there’s the shack up ahead.”
They rolled their bikes behind the outbuilding, away from the eyes of anyone else foolish enough to be on Indian Mound Road in the dead of night.
“I can smell the Potomac, can’t you, Sam?” Malik pulled an army blanket and water bottle from his bike’s panniers.
“Yeah. You bring your flashlight?”
“It’s right here. All set. Left my phone at home like you said.”
“Thanks. Don’t want a text alert spoiling the vibe. If I’m right, this’ll be proof those hills are Native American burial mounds,” said Sam.
“I’m a doubter, but if they line up with the sunrise today, you win. What’d we bet again, Sam?”
“Tickets to a Baltimore game.” Sam shone his flashlight around the clearing.
“Sounds good. What was it you call today – some weird name?”
Sam gave a soft punch to his friend’s shoulder.
“Summer solstice…longest day of the year. Com’on, let’s go. Can’t miss sunrise.”
Sam led off toward a footpath. Days earlier, they walked the trail in rehearsal for tonight’s excursion.
“Sam, this is different from before.”
“Having second thoughts, Malik?”
Sam’s flashlight jumped at a soft noise.
“It’s creepy at night.”
“Just a fox, Sam.” Malik felt almost brave.
Darkness thinned as the boys broke through onto a cleared bluff. Two hillocks perched on its lip above the gleaming Potomac River. Deeper gray on the far side hinted at Maryland’s farmland.
They spread their blanket behind a slight rise. Stretched out on their bellies, their view directly aligned with the hillocks, the smaller one in front.
“’Xactly right, Malik.” Sam pulled a camera out. “Need to record this. Has a date and time stamp. In case there’s any dispute.”
A rustle whispered from the clearing’s edge.
“Nothing to worry about. Right, Sam?”
Sam pulled out two candy bars.
“Want one? Nougat, your favorite?”
Malik couldn’t remember ever getting up this early. He pulled up the neck of his sweater. The ground under him lost its chill and he dozed off.
He roused, mumbling. Someone was simultaneously shaking his shoulder and hushing him.
A pearly gray lightness backlit the top of the mounds. Sam’s smile gleamed.
“Get ready, buddy. It’s...”
The air split with the rumble of hooves, cracking branches, and the crash of bodies pushing through undergrowth. Like weathervanes, the boys’ heads swiveled westward. White-tailed deer burst from the woods. Does, bucks, and yearlings flowed into the clearing. Behind the eight-point leading stag strode an elegant doe with twin spindly-legged spotted fawns.
Malik turned, round-eyed.
“Don’t ask,” whispered Sam. “Better be quiet.”
Clustering around the mounds, the deer blew, grunted, and sneezed in a cacophony of crowd noises. Every so often, a fawn bleated. Malik thought they resembled a theater audience awaiting the curtain’s rise.
The horizon lightened. The lead buck moved majestically to the top of the larger mound and faced east. A black smudge, silhouetted against the silver Potomac, grew larger, and became flapping wings and pumping talons.
Sam and Malik stared, slack-jawed.
The white-headed eagle circled the deer. Eastward, light grew brighter. The background hum of the deer evolved into the sound of people whispering.
Like a thunderclap, the eagle alit beside the stag. In the blinding light of the rising sun, centered precisely in the midline of the mounds, the two became human as did the crowd of deer. Drums beat. Clothed in hides, Native Americans chanted and danced, their skin a rich mahogany in the dawn light. From the mound, the shaman – his headdress of eagle feathers punctuating every move – yodeled a prayer as the chief, in his antlered headdress, offered a sacrifice of food. Though they no longer lived in these lands, the spirits remembered. They marked the cycles of the sun and moon with yardsticks of earthen mounds and honored them.
With a staccato riff of drumming, the spirits evaporated into thousands of glittering motes of dust.
Drumming, loud drumming, thudding, thudding, beating on his bedroom door.
“Malik, it’s noon. C’mon, son, get going. You gonna sleep your life away? Today’s the longest day of the year. Don’t waste it.”
“OK, Dad, OK. I’m up.” Malik sat on the edge of his bed, clearing the fog of sleep.
Snatches of chanting, an eagle on the wing, Sam on his bike.
He’d have to ask Sam about the mounds. Maybe. Or maybe not. Probably just a dream.
About the Creator
Diane Helentjaris uncovers the overlooked. Her latest book Diaspora is a poetry chapbook of the aftermath of immigration. www.dianehelentjaris.com
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