Black Jack and Coal Dust

Aug 15th, 2008 | By | Category: Student 2008

By Kenneth M. Taylor

Chapter 1 ─ The Mission

It’s springtime and the early morning sunlight bathes a sleek raven as he glides over the treetops and under the golden arches of McDonald’s.  Blackjack’s mouth begins to water. Tilting his wings, he skillfully maneuvers his tail and wing feathers.

Blackjack and his family hold this place almost in reverence. It’s their favorite place to eat.  Blackjack settles at the base of one of the two dumpsters; the rest of his family ─ mother, father and sister ─ drop directly on top of the other dumpster.  Casually, Blackjack walks a few feet, checking things out.  He stops and looks toward the sky expectantly.  From out of nowhere, Coal Dust, Blackjack’s best friend, glides in next to him.

“Boo!” he says.

Blackjack hops off the ground and flicks his wings. “Damn! I wish you wouldn’t do that.  It’s downright spooky.”

“Sorry.  Am I in time for breakfast?”

“You’re always on time for breakfast!” scoffs Blackjack.  “Lunch, dinner and snack time too.”

He and Blackjack have been like brothers most of their lives and their families are also close.  They visit with each other and often eat together. Coal Dust can’t recall a better friend.  He’d trust his life to Blackjack.

Almost effortlessly and in unison, they both fly up into the dumpster.  The smell of good food fills their nostrils as they poke and scratch in the mound of stuffed plastic bags ─ shrink-wrapped dinners waiting for their beaks.

“Let’s chow down!” Coal Dust yells.  He turns to Blackjack, “Such delicacies these humans leave as offerings to us.”  With beaks and talons they begin ripping open the plastic bags, gorging themselves.

Gullets full, Blackjack and Coal Dust run along the ground. With great effort they lift off and fly, skimming the tall weeds until they land on an island of flat bare earth in a mostly weed-choked vacant lot next to McDonald’s.  A large lone cottonwood tree stands at its center.  Blackjack and Coal Dust begin swiping their beaks along a small log. Suddenly everything is unnaturally still ─ no air movement, no noise.  They stop cleaning their beaks.  Nervously they look around, slightly crouched, their wings twitching, ready to take flight. The rest of the family seems unaware of the strange happenings. A massive cloud suddenly rolls in.  An ominous deep rumble reverberates in the cloud’s inky depths.   The rumble crescendos into a deafening clatter of thunder.  Then, in a sweeping instant, Blackjack finds himself flat on the ground, half dazed.

When he finally opens his eyes, he has no idea how much time has passed. He lifts his groggy head.  He tries to focus on his surroundings. Dead silence. Nothing seems to have changed.  Everything looks the same – everything, that is, except him.  He sees Coal Dust a short distance away trying to take off.  Blackjack wants to follow but is too dizzy to stand.  He tries to call out, but his voice won’t respond. Attempting to stand, he glances at his feet ─ there are toes where his talons should be, where his wings were, arms. His beautiful feathered body is fleshy.   When he tries to yell, he lets out a horrendous human scream. He looks back to Coal Dust and sees him not in flight but lying on the ground a short distance away.  Coal Dust is motionless.

“Coal Dust!” Blackjack cries. He rushes over to him.  On his knees, he bends over his friend who lies limp and lifeless.  Blackjack begins to sob.

Out of nowhere, the shadowy figure of an old man appears under the cottonwood.  The sight startles Blackjack.  His eyes widen and his mouth drops open.

The old man speaks in a calm and reassuring voice. “Not to fear, my grandson.  Everything is as it should be.”

Blackjack turns towards the old man. “Did you do this?” he demands.

“Yes…” the old man begins.

Blackjack leaps to his feet and rushes him, fists flailing. “You murderer!  You murderer!” he shouts. “You killed my friend!”  At a full run, he passes straight through the old man, slamming hard into the tree behind him.  He crashes to the ground in a dazed stupor, breath knocked out of him. Shaken, Blackjack looks at the old man who is standing in the same place, a slight smirk spreading across his face.  Head still ringing, Blackjack sees that the old man is untouched.

The old man, with skin a reddish brown as dogwood bark, stands tall and straight.  A large black feather tied with sinew to his long glimmering salt-and-pepper hair dangles to one side.  He wears lightly tanned leather pants, moccasins, and a shirt with an eagle’s head beaded on the back.  Four-inch wide leg straps hang down the outside of his pants, decorated with three wavy black and white bead designs spanning from top to bottom.  A shimmering circle of golden light arcs from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Reaching into the leather bag that hangs from his right shoulder, the old man pulls out a bundle of clothing and a rolled up deer hide.  Without warning he tosses the bundle toward Blackjack. It flies through the air in slow motion.  When the bundle lands in front of Blackjack, it spills out a flint knife, a water gourd, dried meats and edible roots, along with a small leather bag containing some cedar shavings.

“Who are you?” a bewildered Blackjack demands.

“I am known by many names, but you may call me what your people have always called me.”

“Ronald McDonald?”

When Kenneth M. Taylor (Kiowa) writes a story, he always adds Hazipta (the BIA spells it Hawzipta) to his name in honor of his great-grandfather. Taylor, a Creative Writing major at the Institute of American Indian Arts,“loves to paint with words in story form.”

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