Whenever a jump occurs it is truly a crapshoot; no one actually controls the forces involved or has any knowledge of what the swirling currents along the time-space continuum are capable of accomplishing. It was nighttime, of that I could be sure, and there was a definite chill in the air. Another cat-like scream shocked the stillness, sending a sliver of gooseflesh up my spine.
Every instinct in me wanted to run in its direction, but the darkness could be playing tricks with the sounds, so I took a deep breath and concentrated on ascertaining my position in the universe.
The blue-black sky was a cascade of stars. I studied them for a moment and concluded that I had landed on planet earth; and if my reading of the constellations was correct it was the continent known as North America.
Not quite my birthplace, but pretty close considering the infinitely vast distances I’d traveled. The where part of the equation was settled, but the when remained a mystery.
There it was again; another drawn out scream that slashed at the night like a razor. If the darkness could bleed I’d be drenched in blood.
Whoever it was, she was in immense pain. Was she being interrogated or tortured; did she need to be rescued?
To not immediately involve myself in whatever was happening hurt me to my core, and I was desperate to leap in but exercised restraint and kept looking for clues.
I was in a narrow pasture surrounded by towering trees, and off to the east was the soft melody of a spring or slow moving river. To the best of my ability I discerned that it was somewhere over in that area that the shrieks originated.
I took several tentative steps, my eyes constantly probing the deepest shadows until the outline of a manmade structure could be distinguished. I crept quietly forward. It was a tented lean-to, using a combination of animal hides and evergreen boughs.
Low moans were emanating from it, and I was about to rush right in when I was stopped by the presence of a man suddenly directly in front of me.
“Friend?” he asked, sweeping his right hand across his heart. I replayed the last several minutes in my mind, wanting to know how he could have gotten so close without me detecting him. He stood less than five feet away, an intense look creasing his brow. “Or foe?”
I recovered my senses, carefully considering my next move. In my line of work, making initial contact can be a dicey proposition, and what has been said about first impressions is no cliché; empires can change hands or the slow tides of history can shift based on those introductory moments.
I held my hands together in prayer-posture, bowed my head slightly and lowered my eyes. “Friend. Name’s Jedediah Jodat.”
A smile filled his eyes as he mimicked my greeting. “I am called Pucksinwah. You have come on a night blessed by the Great Spirit. My woman is suffering trouble. Come; sit with me, smoke with me.”
“What is this place?” I asked, walking alongside him.
A guttural laugh rolled off his tongue. “Land of the devil wind.”
It triggered a memory in me so I knew it meant something, but my brain was having difficulty accessing the relevant file. “You live here?”
“We were going to big tribal council at Chalahgawtha,” he gestured off toward the northwest, “when the pains came on strong.”
We settled easily on a log situated beside the lean-to. There were two women inside; one was coaxing and comforting the other, whose voice was a steady groan.
Pucksinwah’s woman was pregnant and the travail of labor was heavy on her. I had some training in birthing a baby, but instinctively surmised that an invitation to help was required in this situation.
Sometimes even an out of this world interventionist like me has enough sense to respect certain boundaries; sometimes, but not all that often.
Just then a lone coyote howled in the woods close-by. As the echo dispersed, I scrutinized my newfound friend.
Pucksinwah was a noble man. He was dressed in buckskins and a colorful bandana wreathed his head like a crown.
He unfolded his kit on his lap with reverence; he murmured a litany of sacred words, handling the long-stemmed pipe and strong-smelling tobacco with a ceremonial flourish. I was happy to be seated near him, and hoped that we could journey together for a stretch of time.
A Warrior Born
The fervency inside the lean-to was becoming increasingly urgent and agonizing. Pucksinwah appeared distracted by it. He cautiously set the smoking paraphernalia down, and then held his hands before him, palms turned upward.
His woman shouted a loud, straining grunt. At that exact moment, straight above us, an extraordinary path of fire sliced its way across the starry sky; it was clear and magnificent, lighting up the pasture like a mighty torch had been ignited in our midst.
As the fiery streak flamed itself out, a baby wailed its first cry.
Pucksinwah’s eyes enlarged into awe-filled circles. He hurried into the lean-to. When he came out, a newborn soaked with gooey slime and tiny flecks of blood, was gently cradled in his left arm. “Friend Jedediah, meet my son. Tecumseh, meaning Shooting Star.”
My memory files came into alignment. It was the mid-eighteenth century.
Irony was personified; this child born in the glory of heaven’s invocation would achieve greatness and tragedy.
He was destined to die in a meaningless battle of a long forgotten war, never knowing if God was on his side or if he was on God’s side.
Apparently, the universal lesson to be learned is that births and deaths are both messy affairs.