The Dust Bowl had sprinkled the Oklahoma town with inches of light red dirt. Rain from the night caused the buildup of grime to trickle down the sills in bright red tears. 'The Dirty 30's,' people were calling it. I poured myself a cup of dark coffee in the crude mug that the little Indian  girl, Tallula, had made for me as a welcoming present. Though the lip tilted outward and tended to slosh brown liquid down my front, I enjoyed the awkwardness of it, the challenge against my calloused fingers.
'Damn mud,' I muttered, staring at the sticky, crimson residue trickling down the wall onto the hearth with a dull pat, pat, pat.
I successfully downed the brew without a spill, in spite of the restless sleep I had experienced the night before. My dreams were plagued with shadowed figures darting between large oak trees. Though these images had flitted through my mind the past few months, I had told no one. They were a strange sort of thing, forged so strongly through emotion, and they would slip through my fingertips each time I awoke.
I set the empty mug down on our worn coffee table to read the Okmulgee Daily. My column had been cut to a mere quarter page the previous week with the addition to the staff of a young journalism graduate, Henry Askuwheteau. This appointment had limited my working week to two days, and I had begun to feel alienated from the office, out of the loop with the new story leads, as tedious and uneventful as they often were. I forced the frustration from my brow, hoping to find a typographical error in his pretentious prose. My disdain for Henry dissipated at the bold headline:
Lovers Slain Near Dripping Springs Lake
'What in the hell?' I said aloud, smoothing the page flat. The town of Okmulgee had a population of 12,000, give or take, and violent crime was generally limited to bootlegging, petty burglary and domestic disputes.
Okmulgee, OK., June 20th, around 4:30 a.m. Police responded to the disturbing discovery by a farmer (who has requested anonymity) on the outskirts of Dripping Springs Park. Two bodies were recovered from the scene. Police report the victims to be that of Boone and Amadahy Walter.
Though authorities are keeping specific details private, they have stated that the late Mrs. Walter had water in her lungs. The late Mr. Walter was found with multiple blunt trauma wounds.
If any information is known on the...
The mug slipped from my hand and crashed to the floor at her voice. I cursed under my breath and began picking up Tallula’s pieces. Upset with myself at being so visibly shaken by the news, I stood upright and tried to regain my composure.
'Oh no. What has my clumsy Jackson done this time?'
Her words calmed my mind, and her tanned hand reached for the broken pottery cutting into my palm. I smelled her long dark hair against my nose, and I breathed in deeply. She enveloped me in her musky, earth scent. It was the smell of the forest after a long rain, the smell of the wild, untamed summer wind. I could not form my words when my new wife, my Isi, was so close to me.
'I’m sorry, dear. I was stuck in my own head, ya know,' I said, my hand feeling empty save a warm stickiness sliding against my fingers.
'And in your own hand, I see. Jacky, you’re bleeding.'
She touched the redness, then ushered me to the living room couch.
'Sit there, husband, and I’ll get you some bandages. What you would do without me here, I will never know,' she said with a small smile.
'I don’t either, Isi.'
She had given me new life, had taken my advances so calmly and sweetly. We had both been outsiders: she a Florida native, a full Creek beauty, and I a southern traveler, itching to see the rest of the country. Together, we made to fit in, and I almost felt a part of the Muscogee people.
'Now, here you go. It’s going to sting a bit, but I think you can take it, my strong man. Just hold your breath. Here… and wait. There, now.'
She had spread her infusion of rosemary and chamomile into the wound and bandaged it with the linen scraps in the cupboard. The sweet concoction mingled with her skin, and I sighed against the warmth of her fingers around mine. I watched as her slippered feet jingled in time to her deep, singing voice.
'Hoke-tet Hue-res. He-ched-zguh? He-chaze. Ge-thlaze. Hoke-tet hue-res.'
'Thanks, dear. I don’t know what got into me. It’s just… well, there was an article today and…'
'You’re not getting sore over Henry again, are you?' she asked, her English words breaking the soothing chant.
'Naw,' I assured her, though her intuition when it came to my moods had always been spot on, even after knowing me a few short months. 'Just, just read this,' I said, not able to get the words out.
Her large doe eyes scanned the paper, her lips pursed and hard. She emitted an air of acceptance, of resolved finality. I could see this in her expression. One could often have a conversation with Isi without a word.
'Well?' I prodded.
'This is terrible. Is there any more information? Anything on who could have done this?'
'I don’t know. I was gonna go round town today and see if I could-'
'Go to the office, Jacky. It is where you should be, after a thing like this.'
'I’m not scheduled to go in today.'
'I think,' she said with an understanding smile, 'that they won’t mind you there.'
She knew as well as I that I had been avoiding the Daily lately. My punctured ego no longer felt comfort in the expensive typewriter sitting pristine and polished at my desk or the thrill of twirling the telephone dials in anticipation of an interview or information scouting.
It had been a week since my last column, and I wondered whether my place would remain at all when I returned. I walked through the summer heat with a bandana around my face. The dust flew thick and made it difficult to breathe. When I got to the whitewashed building, I untied the cloth and tentatively walked in.
'Hey, old Jackson. Haven’t seen you around here since my first day.'
The back of my neck prickled at the irritatingly baritone voice. Although Henry Askuwheteau was the last person I wanted to see, he had been the one reporting on the double homicide. If I wanted answers I knew I had to swallow my pride and play nice.
'Hey, Henry. So, I heard ya got the first lead on that new case. Good job.'
My voice sounded strained and foreign to me, and I tried to clear it to make my praise seem heartfelt.
'Well, yeah, it was a bit of luck, actually. My older brothers are both on the night watch down at the station, so as soon as they put the paperwork in they knocked on my door to let me know. Nearly scared me out of my wits, but I’d take a little bit of yellow belly for the information they gave me.'
I fought rolling my eyes at his false self-deprecation.
'That’s what I kinda wanted to talk to you ‘bout, if ya don’t mind,' I replied, keeping my voice as level as possible.
'For the record, the station wants to keep everything under wraps, so to speak. But seeing as we’re on the same column, pretty much partners, I can definitely fill you in. Just promise not to tell anyone, or it’ll be my hide.'
'Sure. Course,' I said hastily, salivating for news.
I had not been involved in a real piece of journalism since I had left my home in Georgia. In a perverse way this devastating crime piqued my interest not as a concerned citizen but as someone becoming reacquainted with his lost passion.
Henry took over three hours, two handfuls of deer jerky, a perk of coffee, and a multitude of roll-ups to finish. As he talked I became increasingly impressed with his reporting skills, as his article had been succinct and short in relation to his retelling. Amadahy had been stripped of her clothes and drowned in the lake. Her husband had been bludgeoned by some sort of animal hoof. Henry said both he and his police contacts speculated that a jealous Muscogee was most likely responsible for the crime.
The thought of catching the killer, of splashing the horrifically morbid photos on the center page along with my name at the bottom, awoke a beast in me. Perhaps the Oklahoma State papers would pick me up, or - my most fanciful fits of wishful thinking - my name could be recognized nationally. After picking Henry clean, I sprinted home to begin my own investigation of the matter.
'Did you leave the window open, Jacky?' Isi asked me when I returned to our small house after visiting the Walter relatives and walking along Dripping Springs Lake.
'Naw. I thought you’d’ve opened it,' I said vacantly, my mind spinning with possible motives for the murders and why Boone had been killed with such an odd object.
'I don’t think I did. It got dust all over the floor, and the walls are a mess.'
'Dear, d’ya know of any folktales that involve an animal with a cloven hoof?'
She stared up at me from where she was crouched cleaning the red dirt trails from the window. Her large brown eyes looked at me in surprise. The expression flitted there for only a moment, before she blinked and began to scrub once more.
'Why, that’s an unexpected question. What brought that up?'
'Oh, just some stuff Henry was sayin’ at the office. I stopped and saw the Walter family, too, but they weren’t really in a talkin’ mood. I get it, but I’d like to help ‘em, if I could.'
'You mean you want to catch the killer,' she said, her dark hair skimming the floor as she scoured the whitewashed walls, not bothering to look at me.
'Alright, then,' I chuckled, 'you got me. Why don’t ya let me take up the work while ya spin me a few pretty Indian tales.'
'You’re mad if you think I trust you to clean up anything. I would tell you stories, Jacky, but just which creature do you want a story about? Cattle? Goats? Sheep?'
'And deer,' I added, thinking back to the photos of Boone and the fist-sized bruises in small patterns covering his entire body.
'Naw, I mean deer, as in the animal.'
'Oh yes,' she replied, standing up to return the rag to the kitchen. 'Well, our people have so many stories involving the deer. She’s a sacred creature to us. Of course, she can have her wild ways, but she’s often considered an animal of the people.'
'An animal of the people,' I repeated, a spark setting off in my mind.
The use of the elements, the nature, and the fauna all pointed towards an Indian culprit. A Muscogee woman choosing to be with a white man was not rare in the area, but tempers often rose when a tribal member felt he had been insulted.
'Listen here, now,' I said, 'we’re gonna brace the front door with a two-by-four, and we’re gonna make sure all the windows can lock up good and tight. I don’t want you out of this house after sundown any more, at least not ‘til we have this madman in our hands.'
'Whatever you wish, Jacky. If it makes you feel better, we can do that. Are you scared?'
She was so utterly still and calm, her hands unwavering as they folded the bleached pieces of fabric from the wash. The open window had caused more dust to invade the rooms, and I pushed the soiled curtains aside to shut the pane firmly.
'I’m not scared. I’m worried. Worried for you. I just want us both to be careful and stay well put. You give me the other key to the door, will ya? I’ll lock us in tonight and keep both by me so we’ll be safe.'
'I’m not sure that’s completely necessary!'
'I’m takin’ no chances with you. You’re too precious for me to gamble with.'
'Alright, Jackson, if that gives you peace,' she said, her body speaking exasperation, as she wiped the crimson clumps from the kitchen sink.
We went to bed that night, our skin sticking together with perspiration from the humid house. Isi drifted off quickly, while I was distracted by each squeak of a board and every moan of the wind. I had meant it when I said that I was not scared. There was another drive, a sort of anxious excitement, keeping my mind running. I found myself hoping the perpetrator would try to break in so that I could apprehend him. The scenes of triumph flicking through my imagination blurred with the images of dreams.
The wood was abandoned, pressing in on me from all sides with the harsh smell of greenery dying off from the heat. The sky glowed with glistening constellations, just bright enough for me to see the wisps of shadows gliding through the flora.
'Hey, you! Wait!' I screamed into the night.
The unrelenting shadows multiplied and slipped through tree boughs and cat-o’-nines. They whispered to me as they passed, odd murmurings I could not comprehend. The sound, the very pronunciation, of the words etched themselves into my memory.
'Omuthanaze em pulecheda', they hissed, harmonizing with the wailing winds.
I followed the cattails through damp, tall grass that separated to reveal the edge of a lake. Water rippled and locusts buzzed, and the shadows surrounded the fog above the water. They warped and waned, diving into the large, beveled liquid ripples.
'Omuthanaze em pulecheda.'
I stared in horror as the lake water bubbled, frothing green and mossy. I was afraid of the emerging shapes, the pale flesh grasping for the land my bare feet clung to. A dark haired head crowning a face of decay and death followed the hand, and it sputtered before it howled, blending in with the cicadas’ tumultuous buzz.
'Hechedzguh? Hechaze. Gethlaze.'
I awoke with a start, the bed sheets drenched in sweat and my cheeks, embarrassingly, wet with tears. I wiped them away before Isi could see, but she was no longer in the bed.
'Isi?' I called into the adjoining room. 'Isi!'
I ran like a madman into the living room to find my bride safe and serene, staring at me with eyebrows arched.
'Jacky, are you alright?' she asked, hurrying over to me and enveloping me in her aura as she often did.
She stroked the nape of my neck with her long, warm fingers and rested her chin on my shoulder.
'Jacky, I think you are getting too involved in everything that’s happened. Why don’t you give it a rest for a bit, yeah? Take a day out and go fishing with some of the men. It will calm your mind.'
I sighed as the knot dislodged itself from my throat at the melodic song of her voice.
'Maybe I’ll do that. I need to see the kiddos and ask little Tallula to make me another coffee mug, anyhow.'
'I’m sure she would be delighted to.'
'Did I wake you up, dear? I must’ve been hollerin’ like a right lunatic.'
'Oh no. I felt a bit of a breeze so I got up to shut the window.'
'I shut the window before we went to bed.'
'I figured you had re-opened it. Maybe you did it in your sleep?'
I strode to the window and inspected the lock. It swiveled from the inside, and I had already checked to make sure there was no possibility of dislodging the hinge from the outside of the house. There were no marks on the glass pane itself, but trickles of the red dirt once more sullied the frame.
'Maybe so,' I said, not sure what I was capable of doing in my deranged sleep state.
'Come. Let’s go back to bed,' she said, beckoning me with her soft smile.
'The sun’s already up. I think I’ll just wash up and make my way over to the res.'
I watched Isi’s dark head retreat into the bedroom before I made my way determinedly out of the house. I was putting the key in the lock when someone shouted my name.
I turned around, not at all in the mood to deal with Henry this early in the morning.
'Hi Henry,' I said begrudgingly.
'It’s happened again. Just got back from the lake. The Ashbys and the Pleckers.'
His eyes were wild and full of adrenaline. He strode up to me, his messenger bag slapping against his leg. Though I should have been concerned about his statement, the only thought swimming around my mind was how in God’s name did he find this out so quickly? I asked him to explain.
'You know, my friends in the department again. This is just getting ridiculous. Six murders in two days. Obviously the same perp. The sheriff’s thinking about phoning it in nationally, ya know, to get some help.'
'Sure,' I said slowly.
I took inventory of Henry, the way his hair was disheveled where it usually lay slicked back on his head. His hands were shaking and dirty, and he kept fidgeting with his bag’s shoulder strap. Suspicion grew; I could feel it taking root. It branched out and thoughts fused as I surveyed the nervous man in front of me. Henry had speculated that a jealous Muscogee was most likely responsible for the crime. He had been there each time a murder had occurred. And there were Isi’s words about the Muskogee deer myths, that deer were animals 'of the people'. Men had been bludgeoned by a cloven hoof. He was an Indian, someone 'of the people', and could be inclined to have a deer hoof in the smoke house, as most of the people on the res did... and Henry had never, to my knowledge, had any luck with Muskogee women. If anyone fit the profile of the killer, it was the man standing in front of me.
'Should we go up to the office and lay this to paper?' he asked, shaking me from my cognition.
'We?' I asked.
'Well, yeah, I thought you could be on this, too. You’re pretty well known in the res, and you’ve been writing for the Daily a hell of a lot longer than me.'
He was trying to cover his tracks. If another writer was on the story it would seem as if he were distancing himself from the case. I did not think his arrogance would allow someone else to share credit with him, not unless he were to gain by it.
'I think I’m gonna stay home today. You know, mull over some things. This’s been right troubling.'
'You don’t wanna investigate it?' Henry asked, his expression widened with surprise, and - was it disappointment?
'Naw, I think I’ll just stay in today. But you go on ahead. I’ll be at the office later on.'
'Alright, then. Suit yourself, and keep an eye out.'
I rolled a cigarette and watched his loping figure walk down the road towards the center of town. I had the circumstantial evidence, and a motive. Now all I needed was the privacy to write up my piece. What a shock it would be for the chief when he read what I had concluded. His bright young star, a serial murderer. I flicked the butt into the tin can by the porch, unlocked the door, and reentered the house to use my old typewriter.
When the man behind the murders is the man reporting on them: reasons as to Henry Askuwheteau’s guilt in the Dripping Springs Lake murders.
I smiled at the stamped ink on the page. Seeing the words in physical form calmed me and increased my resolve to prove Henry’s guilt. The way he snuck about with those careful expressions of naivety made sense now. I wondered how long he had been planning this; how meticulous his actions must have been. As a rather wiry man, I guessed he must have sedated his victims and used some sort of gurney to move them. I made a mental note to check the local clinic’s records for missing ether and other drugs.
'Jacky, what are you doing?'
It was now mid-afternoon, and I had typed over ten pages of evidence. The pages flowed over the table, and though they seemed to be in disarray, I knew where each word lay.
'I’m working on an article. The murderer struck again. Got Odahingum, Waitilanni, and their white husbands, the same way they got the Walters. I think I’m on a lead to the son of a bitch who’s responsible.'
'Jacky. Jackson, calm yourself down, now. I’ve never heard you talk this way.'
'It’s because I’m completely full. I’ve got my spark back, Isi, and it feels amazing.'
'People, our people, have died. I would think you could be a bit more sensitive.'
'I… oh, come on, dear. Course I’m upset about it. That’s why I’m doing this. We catch the person doing this, and the community’s gonna be safe again.'
'Is that really the reason for all of this? Why you are smiling at your work like a mother to a newborn babe?'
'Isi, it’s not like that.'
'Just spend the rest of the day with me, Jacky. Leave this alone and let’s just be together.'
I made eye contact with her. Her look was tortured and worried, and I saw a numbness seep into her face. My heart sank to see her like that, and I pulled my hands from the keys of the writer.
'Alright, dear, alright.'
We spent the afternoon scouring the window sill. Once more it had become gummy and stained with red. We worked together, laughing and joking as we had when we first met. We snacked on dried venison and fruit, and I marveled at the way I was still enthralled with the way Isi ate, the way she pressed the red berries to her lips. I focused on her and tried to push thoughts of Henry from my mind. With pruned fingers and sweaty brows, we slipped into bed. That evening, with her body on mine and her brown skin melting into me, I forgot all notions of Henry Askuwheteau. She was mine, and I was hers, and for the moment, that was the only thing that mattered.
'Omuthanaze em pulecheda,' Isi whispered into my ear.
'Hmmm?' I mumbled.
'Just paying you back, my love.'
I stroked her hair as she rested her head on my chest, and we fell asleep breathing in tandem.
I was watching through the overgrown trees, the willows and oaks swaying and obstructing my view. I stared with bated breath, waiting… waiting. The shadows whipped around me, shushing me with their voices. My hand clung to the bark of a nearby oak, and I watched as the cattails parted. Isi broke through the brush, white as a cloud. Her face was terrified, and she ran alongside the lake. The barking of dogs broke through the whispering winds, howling and menacing.
She screamed at me, stumbling and scrambling over the brush.
I tried to speak, tried to say something, anything. My feet were stuck to the ground, and my tongue rested limp and paralyzed in my mouth.
Isi looked behind her as the shadows swooped about us. I tried to close my eyes, a feeling of imminent destruction building up inside of me. My eyelids would not shut. Dog-like figures swarmed around her trembling body and enveloped her. Her head lolled under the pressure of the shadows which gripped and tore at her dress. I saw her crumple to the ground as the shadows devoured her.
I woke myself up from shouting. Disoriented and wet-skinned, I sat up and blinked furiously. I was not in my bedroom. The dewy grass crunched under my fingers, and the stars in the sky swarmed above me like a colony of angry bees of light. I knew this place well. I was on the edge of Dripping Springs. How I got there I didn’t have time to consider, for once my eyes had adjusted to the night I saw a figure in the distance, reaching into the water. I could not make out anything but a solid body, but I knew who I had found.
'Henry, you bastard, stop right there!'
My voice cracked and, whilst I tried to make my body stand and to move towards the lake, the world collapsed as I took in the scene before me.
My dear, my beauty, my life sat at the lake’s edge. She held something in her arms, had it coddled like a newborn. I realized, with horror, that the lifeless form in my wife’s arms was tiny Tallula.
'What… what have you done?' I whispered, crouching down to her and taking her chin in my hand.
'Hechedzguh? Hechaze. Gethlaze.'
Her voice was quiet and still, and she rocked Tallula back and forth, shrugging her face from my grip.
'Speak to me, Isi. Let me understand.'
The hot tears welled up, and her figure swam in front of me. Hazy and blurred, I could only make out the tawny color of her skin. I rubbed my eyes, closing them and willing myself to awake.
'Omuthanaze em pulecheda. You, Jackson, and your people. Your people, who take and do not give. Your people, who rape and steal all that they could ever want. Your people, who covet the Innocent People. I shall send my women to the great Earth Mother, and you shall perish.'
She lay Tallula’s body on the cool grass as a mother would lay her child. Tallula’s eyes stared blank and dark into the abyss of the heavens. I grew nauseated, cold sweat prickling the back of my neck and my forehead.
'I don’t… I don’t… understand,' I sputtered, and I relieved my stomach onto the ground.
She looked at me with disgust, with hatred. She stood up and moved towards me, and time slowed, creeping by with each shaking breath I took.
'Chuhpohez! Omuthanaze em pulecheda,' she repeated, smiling triumphantly and creeping ever closer.
'Isi,' I cried.
The photographs of the slain flesh flashed in my mind: the bloated back of Amadahy, and the battered and bloody corpse of Boone. I stared down at Tallula, her small fingers unmoving and dead. Tiny Tallula lying at the moccasins of the woman I loved.
'Stop right there!'
A familiar voice broke the silence and halted her. Footsteps ran nearer, crashing through the brush and low branches. I looked for the source of the voice, and saw Henry’s tall stature ambling through the cattails. I turned back, still crouched on the ground. My wife had disappeared. I looked to the edge of the lake, scanning for her figure. A white-tailed deer stared back at me, stomping its hooves.
'Jackson?' Henry asked.
The deer stared at me with her liquid brown eyes, she stared and then turned, bounding into the distance and disappearing in the shadows.
'Jackson! What the hell? And… Tallula?'
'Henry,' I said, my words jumbled and slurring, 'Henry, it was my wife. My wife. My Isi. My wife.'
Henry stared at me, his face mimicking the same disgust that had shone strong and true on Isi’s face.
'You,' he said to me, cold and fearful, 'don’t have a wife.'
This work was inspired, in part, by both Native American mythology and the American government's treatment of Native Americans during the period known as the “Trail of Tears”. For more information on this time in U.S. history, please consult http://www.ushistory.org/us/24f.asp. This brief overview encapsulates the conflict between the government and Native American tribes. The surnames of the victims (the Walters, the Ashbys, and the Pleckers) are taken from Walter Ashby Plecker and his deplorable works on eugenics and his anti-Native American tendencies. More facts can be found at http://encyclopediavirginia.org/Plecker_Walter_Ashby_1861-1947.
The character, Isi, was created from the Native American myth of the Deer Woman, a mysterious creature who lures men in, only to reveal her deer-like cloven hooves to stomp them to death. Isi embodies the characteristics of this goddess. Two versions of the folktale can be found at http://thedemoniacal.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/deer-woman.html, and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deer_Woman. Though menacing, the Deer Woman has been wronged in her past lives, and is therefore making even a score against future generations of those related to the original men that committed the crimes.
The translations of the Native American Names are as follows:
Askuwheteau: Algonquin for “he keeps watch”)
Odahingum: Chippewa for “rippling water"
Waitilanni: Laguna for “wonder water”
Amadahy: Cherokee for “forest water"
Tallula: Chocktaw for “leaping water"
Isi: Chocktaw for "deer"
 A common name for Native American or First Nation peoples in 1930.
 Muskogee: Do you see it? I see. I know.
 Muskogee: I am about to even a score.
 Muskogee: He hears me!