There was just the slightest change in the air this morning. In Forest Walker's mind it was somehow dryer. That never made sense when he put it in words. How could air be wet? Water in the air was rain or fog. Clear air was always dry. Yet he could feel the change when he got near a moving stream. There was a sense of wetness in that air.
The change in the air today told him it wouldn't be long now before the cold spells would start. Then it would be back and forth between warm and cold every few days until Spring.
Fall and Winter weather in general were only an annoyance. He didn't like having to go about his daily routine with a deer hide wrapped around him for warmth every few days, but he put up with it like everyone else. After all, it wouldn't last. Spring would return and all the people would go back to staying comfortably naked again till late the next Fall. That's how it had always been in the land between the seas.
But with his father's poor health, this would likely be his last Winter. Winter was always hard on the elderly. The days just before and just after the Shortest Day always seemed to bring death to some family.
The thought of losing his father didn't thrill him, nor did the thought of being made chief in his place. He wasn't ready for either.
The village was not large by Jororo standards. Like any village of the Jororo, it was by the water; in this case a small stream. When his father Mossy Oak had founded it, he'd been looking for a way to hide from the Calusa, and for half of Forest Walker's life it had worked.
But eventually, a stranger had shown up in a canoe. He had been captured immediately, and most of the people wanted to kill him to keep the village a secret. Mossy Oak had forbidden it. He'd asked them what was the point of escaping the Calusa if they then became like them. In exchange for his freedom, the man had of course promised to keep quiet about the village.
Only a few months later the first raiders had shown up. No one here had actually seen the Calusa themselves, of course. They lived much too far away to make it practical for them to raid here. These raiders were from a tribe living somewhere between here and the land of the Calusa in the far South.
It was a minor distinction. They might not have been as fierce as the Calusa themselves, but they still took most of what the village had. What they didn't turn over to the Calusa as tribute, they'd keep themselves.
The one bright side was that this village was a major inconvenience to reach. They weren't raided nearly as often as other Jororo were. Mossy Oak and other men of the village had tried to find yet more secluded village sites but had finally given up.
A Jororo village would always need water. Their food and transportation depended on it, not to mention the need for drinking water. Other villages had tried locating themselves on land-locked lakes, but that didn't stop the Calusa and their vassals. A lake large enough to provide the fish and shellfishs needed by a village couldn't be hidden. The raiders simply left their canoes at the nearest river landing and came overland.
Forest Walker had long dreamed there must be another way for a village to exist. He believed there was some way to reduce their need for bodies of water. While hunting, he'd camped on hilltops that no raiding party would think about seeking out, and if they did, they'd be seen coming for miles.
But of course, it came back to the water problem. How could they fish or even drink on the hilltop. He'd had a waterskin when hunting. Living there would require continual trips for water. A raiding party need only surround them and wait. They'd have to surrender for water. Yet there had to be a way. He'd seen it. In the dreamworld.
Most of his dreams were just dreams. But the hilltop village was different. It was so detailed, and it was very consistent. His other dreams jumped around from event to event, place to place, people changed into other people, etc.
The hilltop village was a constant. Sometimes he saw more, but the things he'd seen hadn't changed over time.
It was crowded. The houses were so close together. And yet they were closed off from each other. The paths between the houses were smooth and free of sand. The main paths were black, and the paths leading to each house were white.
He knew the paths were some kind of stone because they had cracks in them. As nice as the paths were, people rarely walked on them. The paths were for the stone canoes.
The stone canoes were neither stone nor canoes, but he had to call them something. They were hard and cold to touch, but the material wasn't any kind of stone he'd seen. It was almost like the copper spear points he'd seen the traders carry, but it wasn't copper colored. The canoes had many different colors - reds, blues, greens, yellows, etc.
They moved on the paths with people inside them the way canoes moved on water. Forest Walker had touched one after the people went in their house, and found some parts of it were hot, as if a fire had burned inside.
The people in this dreamworld never seemed to see him. He'd learned this, and used that knowledge to follow people around on several occasions.
They were a strange people. No matter if the weather was hot or cool, they covered themselves with a strange material that didn't appear to be animal skin at all. It almost resembled the brown fiber mat at the base of a palmetto, except the fibers were much much finer and tighter woven. And the colors were remarkable. Like the stone canoes, the body coverings came in all colors.
He'd followed a family the first time hoping to see what they ate. What he'd seen had literally left him speechless for days.
Besides the huge size of these houses, and the walls all around, he'd expected them to be open inside like a Jororo house. Instead, he found walls inside as well. Essentially, they were houses full of smaller houses.
Most of the internal houses could have each sheltered a family, but generally each was only used by one or two people. There was even a place inside each house for people to bathe and relieve themselves!
After having toured several houses, three things stood out in his mind. First, the water seemed to be magically produced inside the houses. Second, children generally slept where their parents couldn't watch them and protect them from night-time human or animal raids, as well as their own childhood recklessness. Third, though these people obviously bathed regularly, nowhere in the village had he seen a sweat lodge.
It had taken weeks of deep thought, but he'd finally decided that there was no magic at work in the hilltop village. He had no trouble believing in magic, but in his experience magic never had practical applications. No one magically conjured up food and drink. They had to work to get them.
The detail and consistancy of the hilltop village had convinced him it was somehow real. That meant there was a secret to getting water on a hill.
Like everyone else, Forest Walker knew that water disappeared when left sitting. He'd seen springs of water coming from the ground, as well as rain falling from the clouds. He'd noticed as a child the simularity of clouds and fog. He'd talked to Ais villagers living at the mouth of a river which flowed into the Eastern Sea. They'd said the river always flows to the sea, but never runs out of fresh water.
It was all connected somehow. One day Forest Walker would understand. He'd have to. His people's future depended on it.
* * *
Jorge turned into his driveway. He felt horrible. The headcold that had been threatening to break out had hit him today like a ton of bricks. He needed to medicate and get to bed.
Heidi, the teenage babysitter from next door, greeted him when he came in. "You look awful," she said.
"I am," he replied. "But I'll live. Judy will be here in a few minutes. The kids'll be fine."
"Allright, later!" she said as she left.
"I'll be in bed, guys," he told his kids as he left the room.
* * *
Jorge awoke to answer 'Nature's Call'. Now that he was awake, he realized the cold medicine had dried his mouth and throat, leaving him thirsty and with a sore throat. He tottered toward the kitchen.
It was clearly late. The house was very quiet. Judy had obviously put the kids to bed long ago.
The dim light from the hall lit up the kitchen just enough to see something wasn't right. He should be able to see the sink, but something was blocking his view. If he didn't know better, he'd say someone was standing there. He turned on the light, dreading the brightness on his dark-adapted eyes.
Someone was standing there. As the light came on, a naked man straightened up from having been leaning over the sink. The man glanced at Jorge, then went back to studying the sink.
Jorge didn't know what to think. Seeing someone there at all was startling. Seeing him naked was doubly startling. Seeing the man ignore him was over the top.
He grabbed a neaby cookpot and threw it at the man as hard as he could. The pot went right through the man and clattered into the sink.
That startled the man, who spun around to face Jorge.
"Can I HELP you?" Jorge said loudly, grabbing a broom.
The intruder pointed to himself and stepped from one side to the other with a puzzled look on his face.
"Yes, you! Who do you think?" Jorge belatedly realized that the cookpot had passed through the man. Now he was beginning to realize he could see the kitchen sink through the man's body. Without warning, he swung the broom through the man.
"Jorge, what are you doing?" asked Judy's voice behind him. She startled him so much he dropped the broom.
"Don't sneak up like that!" he said.
"I didn't. What was the noise in here, and why are you swinging that broom like a baseball bat?"
"Are you blind, girl?" he asked, pointing at the naked stranger in the kitchen.
"Uh, no. Are you alright?"
"Honey, you don't see him?"
"See what? We got roaches or something?"
Both puzzled and emboldened by her response, Jorge walked to the man and passed his hand back and forth through his body. "You don't see a naked man standing here?"
"Do you see me calling 911? Honey, it's probably the cold medicine. How much did you take?"
"Well I wanted to make sure it would work," he confessed sheepishly.
"Do I need to call 911 for you"? she asked.
He shrugged. "Other than feeling a little woozy and seeing naked ghosts watching our conversation, I'm fine."
"Well, one anyway. He's bent back over the sink now ignoring us. That's what he was doing when I came in for a drink."
"Okay, big boy. Let's get you to bed."
* * *
Forest Walker considered following the couple. This had never happened. No one had ever seen or interacted with him before. Apparently, he wasn't vulnerable to physical harm here. That was good to know.
Yet things had seemed very real. If the roles were reversed, he wouldn't want a stranger watching him and his wife sleeping. He decided against following them.
* * *
The kids' cartoons had awakened Jorge. He lay there hungry for a while, not relishing the idea of getting up. He felt more clear-headed, but knew as soon as he stood the congestion would reassert itself.
As a relatively new diabetic, he knew better than to neglect his blood sugar, especially on the low side. He rolled out of bed and into the bathroom. After relieving his bladder and testing his sugar, he staggered toward the kitchen for breakfast.
Judy was up of course, reading the paper at the kitchen table. Joseph was still nursing a bowl of cereal. Jorge had had to step over Alice in the family room on his way to the kitchen.
As he started toward the pantry for his cereal, he caught sight of the unclad stranger sitting on the counter top. The first thought that ran through his mind was that the counter top would need to be wiped down with bleach. He pretended not to see the man.
The next thought was that he'd taken the excess cold medicine the previous afternoon. It was late morning now. He didn't think he should still be hallucinating.
When he sat with his cereal bowl, his son leaned over and whispered "Who's that man, daddy?"
Shocked, Jorge tried to calmy whisper back. "It's okay. He's not really there."
Joseph seemed to consider that, then asked "If he's not there, how come we see him?"
"It's kind of like TV," Jorge whispered back.
"Oh," Joseph said, going back to his cereal.
"What are you two whispering about?" Judy asked over her paper.
"Just secret spy stuff, honey," Jorge assured her as he winked at Joseph.
He ate in silent awkwardness, trying not to sneak peeks at the stranger. It was like trying to not think about an elephant in the kitchen.
It dawned on him the man was American Indian in appearance. He was undeniably there, assurances to Joseph notwithstanding. Jorge began entertaining the notion he was somehow in fact seeing a ghost of an indian.
It made sense, sort of. The man was insubstantial, didn't seem to understand English, and seemed puzzled at something as mundane as plumbing. Jorge remembered reading that the Florida Indians of the Pre- and early Spanish colonial period had not worn clothing.
And yet it didn't make sense. He'd never given much credence to ghost stories, but they generally seem to agree that ghost 'hauntings' tended to be location oriented.
Yet, when Jorge had first moved to Florida, he had noticed how sandy the soil was. With no rocks to speak of, it was easy to dig. As an amateur geologist and archeologist, he had been intrigued with the idea of digging for artifacts, so he'd researched the local Indian tribes.
He'd been surprised to find that the Seminoles weren't native to Florida. They had arrived after most of the natives had died out under Spanish occupation. The people native to Northeastern Polk County Florida were the Jororo.
About all he'd found about the Jororo was that they spoke the same language as the Mayaca who'd lived in the Orlando area, and that they had ALWAYS lived on bodies of water large enough to support fishing and shellfish gathering. (Even the later Seminole had lived by the water.)
Which meant no Indians had ever lived on the site of Jorge's subdivision, making the 'haunting' idea less attractive.
Jorge looked up from his cereal bowl just in time to see Joseph wave at the visitor, and the visitor wave back tentatively.
He got up and took the empty bowl to the sink. The man was right there before Jorge could turn on the faucet to rinse the bowl. Jorge was about to say something like 'back off', but remembered Judy. He didn't want her thinking he was crazy.
Jorge wondered why the guy was so fascinated with water. He meticulously turned on the faucet and rinsed his bowl. Then, on impulse, motioned for the man to put his hand in the water coming out. The man did so.
After several seconds, Jorge switched to the hot water valve. A few seconds after that, a look of astonishment came to the stranger's face. He'd felt the temperature change!
Jorge didn't know what to make of that. The fellow was fascinated by water. Why? He motioned for the man to follow him outside.
* * *
Forest Walker followed the man. His wife had called him 'Horhay'. Forest Walker would do the same, he decided.
Horhay stopped at the stone pond behind the house. Forest Walker had seen many of these on the hilltop, and had lost interest when he saw one being filled. As remarkable as clear ponds made of stone were, they weren't a source of water.
When Horhay finally seemed to realize Forest Walker's lack of interest, he walked over and picked up a long flexible green tube. Forest Walker had seen these before, often spewing water out over the grass. He'd already learned they were only carriers of water, not sources.
He'd heard Horhay's people speak enough to know he couldn't understand them, but maybe somehow they could understand him. For the first time, he spoke in the dreamworld. "Can you show me where the water comes from?" he asked.
Horhay's face showed surprise, but not comprehension. He responded with a long string of gibberish. Except the last word. He'd pointed to himself and said 'Horhay'.
Well, that much he already knew. But the way Horhay had done that made him think. Maybe he could teach Horhay the proper names for things. Then they could understand each other!
Only, there were so many strange things here. He didn't know the names of any of the manmade things around him. He could teach Horhay the names of grass, trees, sky, etc., but that was about it. Horhay would know those things. He would have to learn Horhay's words. Of course, he could start with water.
He walked to the stone pond and put his hand in. "Water," he said.
* * *
The stranger seemed to understand Jorge's idea of naming things. "Water," Jorge told him.
"Water," the stranger repeated awkwardly.
Jorge began naming everything in site for the stranger.
* * *
"Daddy, what are you doing back here?" Joseph asked.
"Teaching Casper here to speak English," Jorge answered.
The boy cocked his head, looking at the visitor. "That doesn't look like Casper in my DVD," he observed skeptically.
"Well, I call him Casper because he seems like a friendly ghost. I can't pronounce his real name."
"Oh." Joseph replied, satisfied. "Hi Casper," he said.
"Hi Joseph," the visitor replied with an odd accent.
"How come you don't wear clothes, Casper?" Joseph asked, wrinkling up his nose.
"He doesn't understand English that well yet. Casper's people didn't need clothes. They lived around here before Columbus showed up."
"In Nineteen hundred and forty two," Joseph put in.
"Well, more like fourteen hundred ninety two."
Joseph laughed. "That would be funny with no one wearing clothes!"
"Well, I guess the Spanish people didn't like it. They kept wearing theirs, even when they saw the Jororo didn't."
"Did the Ro-ros have to stay in the bathroom when the Spanish people were around?"
"What!?" Jorge asked, totally lost.
Did they have to stay in the bathroom so the Spanish people wouldn't see them nekkid," Joseph explained patiently.
When Jorge was able to stop laughing, he said, "I don't think they cared if the Spanish saw them naked. Casper doesn't seem to care if we see him. He probably wonders why we have all these clothes on."
"Maybe he thinks we're Spanish."
Jorge considered reminding Joseph of his Hispanic heritage, but decided that would just confuse the issue here.
"Can I go swimming at Timmie's?" Joseph asked.
"Did you ask mama?"
"She said ask you."
"Okay with me. But only if you promise to have fun."
"I promise," Joseph called, running back in the house.
"Kids," Jorge said.
* * *
Forest Walker had learned a lot. It could take a lifetime to understand it all. Out of all of it, the one thing he now knew - the hill people got their water from a well, which was a deep hole in the the ground.
The information was not something his people could use. The water was too deep on a hill. There was no easy way to dig down there with tools the Jororo possessed.
Horhay seemed to have sensed Forest Walker's disappointment. He seemed to think there were other, simpler ways of getting water on a hill.
But the dream had dissolved too soon. He really had no idea what those ways were.
* * *
It occurred to Forest Walker to go on a Vision Quest. Dreams were too random. He didn't want to wait for the next dream visit to the hilltop settlement.
As their next chief, he wanted to bring his people somewhere they could live without fear of the Calusa, but where they could still live in comfort.
No one would question his decision to undertake a Quest. Everyone knew Mossy Oak had named him as the next chief. They would just consider it part of his preparation. As would he.
* * *
The Vision Quest was simple enough in principle. He would go to a secluded place with nothing but his buckskin blanket. He would be alone with Creator for four days.
In practice, it was a very demanding experience. The hunger, thirst, and boredom would all make the experience very challenging indeed. And there was no guarantee that he would learn what he was seeking.
Because he wanted to know about hilltop living, he would go to the hillside hunting camp he'd used before.
Other than a session of prayer in the sweat lodge, he had little actual preparation to do.
* * *
On his way up the hill, he noticed how similar the terrain was to the terrain around the hilltop settlement of his dreams. As if somehow they were the same place.
It was a novel thought, but clearly the dreamworld and this real location had to be different places.
Once he reached the hilltop, he wasted no time setting up the circle where he'd spend his Vision Quest.
* * *
Jorge was still feeling pretty lousy. He'd taken the recommended dosage of cold medicine today, and it didn't really seem to be working. In the past he'd learned that lying in the sun often seemed to help get the cold over with. He layed out a blanket on the back lawn and readied himself for a nap in the sun.
As he began to doze, it sounded like the neighbor's portable radio was playing a chipmonks song. Not only were the voices sped up, but they sounded like they were backwards as well.
He sat up quickly. A bird had just flown over. It seemed unnaturally fast, but what really got Jorge's attention was that it was flying backwards.
As he watched, clouds moved over in time-lapse fashion, growing smaller as they moved. He lay back down, unsure if his dizziness was from the weird motion overhead, or from the medication. He made a mental note not to use that brand of cold medicine again.
He watched the sun visibly moving across the sky, accelerating as it went, till it set in the East. "Hmm," Jorge said aloud.
Seconds later, the Sun rose in the West, raced across the sky, then disappeared again in the East. The cycle repeated itself, faster each time, until day and night were just bright and dark flashes.
All around him, he began seeing houses being deconstructed, until they eventually all disappeared.
"Hmm," he repeated aloud.
* * *
As Forest Walker watched, the shadows moved. He looked up and saw the Sun moving visibly toward the West, accelerating as it moved. In a couple of heartbeats, it was dark. Another heartbeat, and it was day again. Soon day and night were like flickers of lightning.
A few more heartbeats, and the flickers were replaced with a steady half-light. The path of the Sun was marked from horizon to horizon by a yellow streak of light. Seasonal changes happened in eyeblinks.
Forest Walker began noticing changes in the landscape itself. Suddenly, sections of forest would become blackened as if by fire. As suddenly, new growth would begin growing in. Lakes dried up, refilled, and dried up again.
Forest Walker realized this was a vision. He would have starved early on if it hadn't been. He didn't understand what he would learn from watching the world speed up though. He kept alert to everything.
So when the Sun abruptly halted, and full daylight reappeared, Forest Walker flinched visibly.
* * *
The Sun abruptly halted, and full dayght reappeared. Immediately to Jorge's right, Casper stood, looking around. "Odd weather, isn't it?" he asked him.
Forest Walker jumped as if he'd been physically struck. When he saw it was Jorge, he grabbed him by the shoulders, excited to see him.
Jorge couldn't help but notice Casper's hands seemed solid. "Your place?" he asked, pointing around.
Forest Walker looked around again and pointed to himself, shaking his head.
"Yeah, I kinda figured. Best I can tell, it's a hundred years or two ago, and that's not far enough back for your people. So let's see why we're here, Casper."
They looked at the landscape surrounding the hill. Things were much more wooded than in Jorge's time, but he was surprised to also see the amount of open marsh and savannah.
He was also surprised to hear the unmistakable sound of hammering in the distance. If Jorge was right about this being the hill he lived on, then the sound was coming from the direction of the Crescent Valley.
Crescent Valley was located on the side of the Florida Highland Ridge.(He'd laughed when he'd first read about 'The Ridge'. Florida was flat. Its highest 'peaks' were just over 300 feet above sea level. Yet, the Highland Ridge showed up clearly in satellite photos, appearing as sort of a backbone going right down the peninsula.)
The ridge was basically sand over top of clay. The crescent valley was a depression in this sand on the eastern slope of the ridge. Because the sand was very water permeable, and the clay underneath wasn't, water from uphill flowed through the sand, accumulating in the valley. The clay below kept it from seeping any deeper.
As a result, the valley was unusually wet for a sandy hillside. In some places, there was actual swamp in the valley, and a small stream carried out excess water, ultimately draining it into the Kissimmee River. In Jorge's time, Horse Creek was very shallow and prone to disappearing completely during Central Florida's frequent dry spells.
Crescent Valley in Jorge's time was densely wooded. He imagined it could only be more so in this time. Yet someone seemed to be building something in or near there. He motioned for Forest Walker to follow him in search of the mystery 'hammerer'.
* * *
Moving in a vision was definitely much easier than real life, Forest Walker mused. Some of this terrain was rough with thick sand and brambles, yet he and Horhay were moving through it with ease. The pounding sound they'd been hearing was getting closer in a hurry.
They'd crested the highest hill in the area and were headed down the East side. Before long, they encountered thick woods. Forest Walker was surprised such a thick forest could grow on a sandy hillside. In fact, he recognized maples, sweetgum, and other trees that only grew by lakes and streams where water was plentiful.
It occurred to him that he'd seen these woods before from farther in the East, but never close enough to identify the individual trees. He felt foolish for never having been to this area, as close to home as it was.
Now he was intrigued by the mystery of how these water-loving trees could grow on a sandy hillside.
* * *
The hammering was close enough now to hear the distinct ring of metal on metal with each blow. Jorge's first instinct was to approach with stealth. He decided it probably wasn't necessary, since he and Casper would most likely be invisible the way Casper had been back home.
Of course, back home he'd seen Casper, as had Joseph - but no one else had. He figured the odds were 'Mr. Hammer' wouldn't see them, but in case he did, Jorge didn't want the man thinking they were sneaking up on him.
They found the man in a clearing, nailing sheets of metal roofing to an otherwise basic log cabin. The metal roofing meant this couldn't be too far back in time. Jorge guessed late 1800's to early 1900's. He was surprised that despite the heat and humidity, the man was wearing heavy trousers and a long sleeve shirt! The shirt sleeves were rolled back to the elbow, but the man was obviously uncomfortable as evidenced by his copious sweating. Jorge wondered why he didn't just work without a shirt.
The man had a tendency to talk to himself, often breaking out in cursing. Frequently he helped himself to a swig from an unstoppered jug which sat on a nearby stump.
Either the man had others helping, or he moved to the next task without first completing the previous one. Evidence of other uncompleted projects lay about the clearing.
Jorge was thrilled to see that one of the unattended projects appeared to be a well. He motioned Forest Walker over to see.
The hole had been lined with a barrel. Jorge knew from experience that sand didn't make good shaft walls. Wet or dry, the sand tended to collapse inward, filling the hole. The barrel prevented that. The man had it buried with its brim flush with the ground.
Jorge was surprised how near the surface the water came. It was less than a foot below ground level. The spaces between the barrel slats allowed the water to seep in along with very little sand.
Forest Walker seemed to understand the implications. He looked around the clearing with a keen interest.
* * *
"Daddy, Ally won't give me back my crayons!" Joseph cried, startling Jorge rudely back to reality. From the angle of the sun he could see he'd slept for hours. He got up to deal with the mini-crisis.
* * *
Forest Walker was abruptly back in his circle. He had his answer. He got up immediately and headed toward the Crescent Valley. It was much slower going in the real world.
* * *
He'd given it a lot of thought, and spoken to his father the chief in private about it. They'd decided he shouldn't try to explain it. He would take four young men to the valley and clear a village site. They would find out about the water themselves.
Then, Forest Walker would explain his plan to move the village there. Rather than one crazy man trying to convince the village to move, it would be the testimony of several reliable witnesses they would be listening to.
Odd thing was, Mossy Oak hadn't seemed at all surprised at Forest Walker's story. He explained it had been his life's dream, but there seemed to be something he was withholding.
When Forest Walker expressed that, Mossy Oak answered, "I followed you."
At Forest Walker's uncomprehending look, he laughed. The laughter turned to coughing, and between coughs he said, "Not in this body. I was a butterfly."
Forest Walker wondered if this was a joke. His father's dry sense of humor was well known. But Forest Walker doubted he would joke about his life's dream of protecting his village from the raiders.
His father continued. "I went with you and Horhay. I saw the place."
Chills went up Forest Walker's arms and the back of his neck. He had told no one about Horhay!
Noting Forest Walker's goosebumps, Mossy Oak said, "I see you understand. You should take Black Bear, Red Hawk, Bucksnort, and Toad."
Ill as he was, the old man was shrewd as ever. He had named the two men Forest Walker knew would be hardest to convince, as well as Forest Walker's two closest friends. Forest Walker doubted he would have picked that particular group, but saw the wisdom in it.
"Go as soon as you can. I would like to see my people there before I die," the old man said.
* * *
Forest Walker was glad he'd made the preliminary trails before bringing the scouting party. He would have hated to have to convince them to hack through such dense growth before even arriving at the village site.
They had all been stunned to find water when Forest Walker dug the hole. They were equally surprised when Forest Walker showed them the shallow stream with the mussels and snails, only a short walk away. It was way too shallow for canoes, and close enough to the village for food gathering.
They'd seen signs of game immediately, as well as the smilax and grape vines and the blackberry patches. Within a few days, they had found everything they needed in easy reach of their camp.
They didn't understand why Forest Walker wanted such a large clearing. He waited until it was finished before he explained the plan to them.
As he expected, Toad and Black Bear immediately pointed out the nearest stream wasn't large enough for canoe travel, and that a village had to be next to such water.
He patiently pointed out that the Calusa and their subjects depended on those very bodies of water to perform their raids. This location had everything a village needed to live.
Except trade, Black Bear had pointed out.
It took a while, but Forest Walker got the point across that if all their needs were met, they didn't actually need trade.
Once that point had been made, both Black Bear and Toad warmed up to the idea. They even began talking about when the village moved here, rather than if. Forest Walker felt positively hopeful.
* * *
He hadn't counted on human nature. The last raid had been two years before. Some villagers actually suggested that there wouldn't be any more raids. The old men shook their heads. They knew better. Yet their position was that they had always survived the raiders before, so they would continue to survive.
Forest Walker pointed out not everyone survived. He asked, "How many of you had children starve in lean years when the raiders took too much? How many have had children taken by the raiders? How many have had wives taken?"
"You bring up good points," one man had said. "Now tell me where we will get wives when we are so isolated no one can find us. Our ancestors learned long ago that when we are marrying only our cousins or sisters, our children will suffer. In a small village like ours, we are all related."
Forest Walker had not thought of this. It caught him off guard.
Apparently Toad had thought about it. He spoke right up. "We don't all have to stay home all the time. We can send small parties out to trade for wives. We can return home in a round-about way so no one knows where we are from."
* * *
In the end it had been Mossy Oak's input that made the difference. "If I had learned what Forest Walker has learned about water and where it comes from, I would have settled this village away from water. I thought like most of you that a Jororo village couldn't survive away from lakes or rivers.
"Forest Walker learned about water in the ground in a Vision. I have had my own vision he doesn't know about. If we are to survive beyond a generation, we must hide ourselves.
"Strangers are coming who are much worse than the Calusa. They bring strange weapons more powerful than ours, but more importantly they actually bring sickness. If we ever meet these strangers, we will die. It is that simple.
"These strangers will come by land from the North. If they can't find us, we may live. This place Forest Walker has found will protect us from water attacks, and it will be difficult to find from land as well."
While some seemed to have their own opinions, no one countered the old man. The village was going to move.
* * *
The smell of cooking awakened Jorge. Even before his eyes were open, he realized he wasn't in his bedroom. The sounds of morning birds and leaves rustling in the breeze told him he was outside.
He sat up quickly. He'd been laying on the ground in the middle of a cluster of open buildings. He recognized them as chickees - palm frond roofs, with raised wood platform floors and no walls.
He realized he must be seeing a Jororo village. As he got to his feet, he realized he was only wearing boxers - it was what he'd worn to bed the night before, so that made sense, he guessed.
As people began to move about the village, it became clear no one saw him. Still, he felt awkward. It was like his old highschool dreams showing up at school in his underwear.
It didn't help that everyone else was naked. It really seemed unnatural at first to see men, women, and children of all ages naked together and not trying to cover themselves in any way.
However, within only a few minutes, after the initial surprise, natural was actually the best word for it. Jorge began to realize that this was how God had intended people to live together.
He'd never remotely considered himself a nudist, but now he could understand the attraction. (He would have thought the sight of mixed-gender nudity would have been erotically stimulating, or at the least erotically distracting. Instead, he found that with nothing to 'tease' the imagination, there was nothing erotic about it.) He actually felt out of place with his boxers on!
But of course that was irrelevant since no one could see him. It was as if he was the 'ghost' visiting Casper's time. Of course, he realized, he had seen Casper, even if no one else had. Well, there was Joseph, he corrected himself, as he turned around and accidentally walked right through a woman. Flinching back when he realized what had just happened, he nearly bumped into Casper himself.
"Horhay?" Casper asked, surprised. He was staring at the boxers.
Now Jorge was really embarrassed, just like in the dreams. He started to remove the shorts, then remembered this had to be some kind of dream/vision/whatever. He wasn't even here physically, so his illusory mode of dress was exceptionally irrelevant.
"You here?" Casper asked in his crude English.
Jorge hoped no one saw Casper talking to thin air. He didn't want to cause trouble for him.
"You here!" Casper exclaimed, attempting to embrace him. As with the cookpot back home, Casper's arms passed right through him. Obviously surprised, Casper pulled back.
"Guess I'm the friendly ghost here," Jorge said. "Maybe I should learn to pronounce your real name."
Forest Walker had not followed that, so Jorge figured it didn't matter. He really didn't want to learn how to pronounce Casper's real Jororo name.
"I'm here now. Show me your new village," he said.
* * *
Jorge was amazed at how he could see, hear, and smell everything in such detail, while his hand passed through anything he tried to touch.
Forest Walker showed him literally everything in the village. Unavoidably, people saw him speaking to someone they couldn't see. Jorge was amazed at how well they seemed to take it in stride. In his day, people avoided someone they saw talking to empty space.
Jorge stopped to watch one girl Forest Walker had only nodded at in passing. If she'd had clothing, she could have blended right in at the local shopping mall back home. He could picture her with three or four friends picking out cheap jewelry. Here, she was expertly skinning a rabbit.
She made it look effortless, and clearly was not at all squeamish about the task. Jorge doubted he'd be able to do nearly as good a job with the bone knife she was using.
As he watched, he suddenly realized she seemed oblivious to the substantial number of mosquitoes that were biting her. He thought of malaria, then remembered that malaria had been brought to Florida by the Europeans from Africa along with slaves. Apparently that hadn't happened yet, since everyone here was as oblivious to the mosquitoes as this girl was.
He suddenly realized that he'd not seen any of the little red bumps that mosquitoes left on his own skin. He wondered if his susceptibility was due to being relatively new to Florida. Maybe after living among the mosquitoes long enough, these people aquired a relative immunity to their bites.
He also noticed that though the biting flies were numerous, no one was shooing them away. These people seemed to ignore the flies entirely until they landed. Then, after a second's pause, they would swat the fly, often without even looking. It seemed second nature to them. They rarely missed, yet seemed to do it without consciously being aware of it.
After being shown around the new village, Jorge now realized they were approaching the one chickee he had not yet visited. He could see an older man seated there watching Casper approach.
It occurred to Jorge that the Jororo must have had a very different notion of privacy than he was used to. The universal lack of clothing obviously rendered some forms of privacy uneccessary, such as enclosed spaces for changing clothes or bathing.
But openness obviously went farther than that for these people. If you were sitting in your home in the daytime, your neighbors could see everything you did. (Presumably nighttime darkness allowed for 'couple time'.)
At the same time, the lack of walls would certainly keep 'lively discussions' much more civil, with each party knowing that the neighbors could hear everything. (But then, he surmised, much the same condition must have occurred in all villages and towns worldwide before air conditioning became common and windows were closed at night.)
The older man, seated in the chickee with his back against a post, intently watched Jorge's approach. When he and Forest Walker arrived, the man spoke to Forest Walker. Not surprisingly, Jorge didn't understand what the man said, but Forest Walker turned and left. Jorge realized the old man was now staring at him intently. Jorge maintained eye contact, and tried to appear calm and friendly.
After the man had studied Jorge for several seconds, a look of sadness came to his face. Unexpectedly, Jorge 'heard' the man's thoughts. There were no actual words, but Jorge understood perfectly.
"We are much alike. You are a spirit, and my spirit is only loosely attached. Soon I will leave this body."
Jorge had no idea how to respond to that.
The man continued. "My people did not survive. You watch the people as if you have never seen how we live. This tells me there are no Jororo in your time."
How did he figure I'm from the future? Jorge wondered.
The man smiled, but there was no joy. "I followed Forest Walker in many of his visions. He does not understand that you live in tomorrow. He believes you come from a different world. Do you know when my people disappear?"
Jorge had no idea how to project his thoughts, so he responded verbally in English. "In my time, the Jororo are nearly forgotten. We know they were here, but we know almost nothing about them." He stopped, to see if the man understood at all.
Apparently, he did. "Then please learn all you can about us," the man responded. "I do not want our lives to be for nothing." He continued to stare intently into Jorge's eyes a minute, then motioned Forest Walker to approach.
"Please do not tell my son that our people will vanish. Perhaps this village will extend our time an extra generation or two."
Forest Walker was there, and the old man spoke to him. Jorge didn't understand a word.
* * *
Apparently, Forest Walker had been told to teach Jorge all he could. Jorge found everything about the village life fascinating.
He was able to observe night and day. Not being in a physical body meant among other things he didn't need sleep. Fact was, he was afraid if he did sleep, he'd wake up in his own time. He wasn't ready for that yet, so when the villagers went to sleep, he wandered around on his own, always observing.
This was problematic the first couple of nights. Apparently the village dogs could see him, and barked at him as he walked around. Eventually, they got used to him though. In fact, a couple of them took to accompanying him on his 'rounds'.
One of the things he'd noticed early on was the way the people stored dried foods and other things in the rafters of the chickees. At first he'd assumed it was to keep things out from under foot, which rafter storage undoubtedly accomplished, but during one of his nocturnal wanderings, he'd noticed a racoon roaming one of the chickee platforms between sleeping bodies, looking for food. A determined 'coon could certainly have gotten the food in the rafters, but out-of-sight, out-of-mind seemed to go a long way.
One unusually cool night, he was amazed to watch a skunk wander onto a chickee, then curl up on a man's chest for warmth like a housecat. The change in the man's breathing told Jorge that the skunk had wakened him, but he never flinched a bit as the animal walked on him. Granted, it was exactly the right thing to do - startling the skunk would have been disastrous - but Jorge didn't know how the man could have kept his composure. This was just such a different world from 21st century America.
A very different world. These people lived so closely with nature that they were inseperable from it. They depended on every plant and animal in their surroundings. They wasted nothing. All their food, tools, shelters, and blankets for cool weather came directly from the natural world around them.
When squirrels or mice ate some the dried food stored in their rafters, they didn't take it as an intrusion. They expected some loss. Just as they depended on animals for food, they were part of the web, providing food for other animals.
Their children knew the habits of all the animals. They had no TV or video games. Their 'homework' was studying the world around them. He never heard a Jororo child complain of being bored.
These people knew every nuance of the weather, because they lived in it. Their chickees kept rain and sun off their heads, but they felt every passing breeze. They didn't just live here, they were part of Central Florida.
In Jorge's time, very few people had a clue what it was to really live in Florida. They desperately hid away in their airconditioned homes, cars and offices. They considered their furtive runs between buildings and their cars to be barely tolerable. If their airconditioning broke down they were in dire circumstances.
For that matter, so many modern-day 'Floridians' were so ill-adapted to the real Florida that merely being dropped off in a place like these Crescent Valley woods would literally be life-threatening. Jorge resolved to spend more time outdoors when he got home.
While not having to eat or sleep here had its advantages, Jorge would have loved to be able to sample some of the food. Some of the smells were fantastic.
Through frequent conversations with Forest Walker, Jorge was picking up quite a smattering of the Language. He doubted he'd ever be fluent, since he didn't think the vision could last the months or years that mastery would take, but he was getting by. Which was a good thing now that other villagers were starting to talk to him.
At first it was just greetings. When people saw Forest Walker, they began to greet 'Horhay' as well , since it became common knowledge that Forest Walker had an invisible visitor hanging around him.
Later, they began including him in their conversations, with Forest Walker translating for him. Jorge found himself giving the villagers nicknames so he could keep track of them easier.
While they endeavored to be polite to him, he could tell by their unfocused and often misdirected gazes that these other villagers couldn't see him like Forest Walker and his father.
One young girl Jorge had named 'Skeeter', since she had an annoying habit of hovering around people and chatting incessantly. He'd been amused to learn later that the girl's name was in fact Mosquito.
Skeeter seemed to have the rather unnerving habit of staring at Jorge when Jorge was looking elsewhere. More often than not, when Jorge would abruptly turn his gaze toward Skeeter, Skeeter would as quickly shift her gaze away from Jorge.
* * *
The first couple of times Forest Walker went into the village Sweat Lodge, Jorge stayed outside. He remembered reading about how various tribes were very protective of their ceremonies, and he had not formally been invited inside.
This turned out to be a mutual misunderstanding. Forest Walker assumed Jorge was choosing to forego the Sweat Lodge for reasons of his own, and Forest Walker didn't want to pry.
And Jorge did have a minor reason to abstain. Since he was non corporeal, he wouldn't sweat, even if he felt the heat. It would be like watching a Sweat Lodge ceremony rather than participating. He'd love to see it anyway, but not without an invitation.
It took Mossy Oak's direct command to get around this obstacle. One day when Jorge stopped to talk, the older man interrupted him and told him point-blank, "You are going in the Sweat Lodge today." Jorge was thrilled, but tried to look outwardly serious.
One of the accounts he'd read about in his research was written by a Catholic priest who was decrying the Florida natives' practice of frequent bathing. The priest was having great difficulty convincing them that bathing was unhealthy!
The priest had also mentioned the Sweat Lodge and the horrible abominations that must go on inside. From his language, the man clearly never actually went in a Sweat Lodge. Apparently, Spanish priests had difficulty imagining men, women, and children together in an enclosed space without an orgy or something similar taking place.
Jorge knew enough about the Sweat Lodge ceremony to know that it represented a symbolic return to the womb, and a symbolic rebirth. These obvious symbols of innocence and purity would were totally inconsistent with the idea of an orgy.
So Jorge looked forward to the ceremonial 'fleshing-out' of this renewal theme. He was actually a little disappointed at the actual experience.
There was definitely a serious attitude among the participants, as well as formal prayer and singing, but the ceremony itself wasn't very ceremonial. People went in, sweated in the dark, came out, and washed off.
When he questioned Forest Walker about it afterward, Forest Walker seemed surprised, once he understood that Jorge had expected something more complicated. According to Forest Walker, the experience spoke for itself, and any additional embellishing would only distract from its purpose.
In retrospect, Jorge realized it made sense. The Jororo were a practical, 'no frills' people.
* * *
One morning when a small group of villagers were asking Jorge about his family through Forest Walker, Skeeter walked up. Taking advantage of a pause in the conversation, Skeeter pointed at Jorge's waistline and asked "Where did the blue thing go?"
Even after Forest Walker's tranlatiion, Jorge was confused by the question. He also couldn't help but notice Skeeter was making eye contact with him.
Forest Walker told Jorge that he'd wondered where the covering had gone, but didn't think it was important enough to bother asking him about it.
That didn't help Jorge's confusion any more than Skeeter's question had. It finally hit him that his boxers had been blue. This triggered a new wave of confusion. At what point had his boxers disappeared?
Granted, they never could have really been there in the first place (he hated to think of the ramifications of underwear having souls!). When he'd first (dreamed?) himself here, he'd had them on because he'd gone to bed that way. It was part of how he'd pictured himself. After living among these people for so long, had the boxers faded away, or at some point had he suddenly 'gone native' without being aware of it?
During the few seconds all this went through his mind, Skeeter patiently awaited his answer, unnervingly maintaining eye contact. Jorge couldn't begin to formulate a coherent, 'real' answer. Well, there was always dismissive humor.
"I used it to make a fish trap," Jorge replied.
"Oh." Right over the girl's head. She'd caught no hint of humor.
Apparently, neither had Forest Walker. Not surprisingly, the rest of the villagers just seemed lost with the whole exchange.
"Why have you never talked to me before?" Jorge asked, curious about the girl's prior evasive behavior.
"My parents don't like me talking to spirits," Mosquito answered. "But everyone knows about you now."
That made enough sense. Jorge didn't know what else to say.
Mosquito did. "What do you do with the fish?" she asked.
"The fish?" Jorge echoed, puzzled. Then he remembered his previous answer. "I sent them home for my family," he improvised.
The girl started to ask another question, but Forest Walker interrupted and sent her off on some errand.
"Thank you," Jorge said.
* * *
From the frequent cold spells, Jorge knew it was Winter. He found it interesting that he could feel the cold, yet he felt no discomfort. Back home, he'd always been cold-natured. He was always the first to bundle up when the weather cooled down. It was one of the reasons he'd moved to Florida.
One cold night, he felt drawn to Mossy Oak's chickee. The old man was sitting up, his back against one of the support posts. He was wrapped in his bear hide blanket, but didn't appear cold at all. He acknowledged Jorge's arrival, but sat in silence for a few minutes.
Finally, he spoke. "I am enjoying my last look around. This is a good place. Its spirit is strong. My people will do well." He paused again. Jorge started to say something, but the man spoke first. "I leave this body tonight. I would like to see your home before I leave the World."
Jorge had no idea how to answer that. Eventually he said, "I have no idea how to take you there. I don't understand how I got here. I am willing to show you, but I don't know how."
The old man smiled. "If you had to understand it, you wouldn't be here," he said.
He had a point, Jorge realized.
The man continued. "I think your willingness is enough. The Creator brought you here. I am on my way to be with him. Are you ready to go back home?"
Jorge didn't need long to think about that. Though he'd never needed to eat, drink, or sleep in the months he'd been here, he was mentally exhausted. Or was he spiritually exhausted? Was the mind and the spirit the same thing, or did the spirit have a mind, or did body and spirit share a mind?
He really didn't know. What he knew was that he was tired. He missed his family. He missed being able to stop thinking for a while in the unconsciousness of sleep.
"I am ready," he answered.
The old man nodded.
"What do we do?" Jorge asked.
"I must let go. Then we must trust the Creator."
Mossy Oak closed his eyes. His head slowly dropped forward, then he was motionless, his body still propped against the post.
"This is better," a voice said from behind Jorge.
He turned to see a much younger Mossy Oak standing there. He had expected to see something rising out of the body. "Huh," he said.
"Yes," Mossy Oak replied. He looked up and started to say something, but before he could speak, the two men were standing in broad daylight in Jorge's front yard.
Mossy Oak looked around at the area visible from the hilltop. "It has changed, but I know this hill," he said.
"This is my home," Jorge said. "Come meet my family."
* * *
It didn't surprise Jorge to find himself absent. It would have been really strange introducing himself to Mossy Oak. Where his current self was, was a matter of conern though. He introduced Judy and Alice to his visitor, and saw that Joseph was absent as well. Had he taken Joseph out somewhere? Both cars were there, but he hadn't checked the bikes.
He showed Mossy Oak the kitchen (since Forest Walker had been fascinated with it), and they watched TV for a few minutes with Judy and Alice. Jorge had expected excited amazement on the older man's part, and when he asked him about it, Mossy Oak answered he'd seen people watching the box before in his visions. He said it was like stories around the campfire, but without the imagination. Jorge was impressed with the observation.
Joseph bounded in without warning, and started to say "Dad.."
Jorge quickly shushed him with a finger over his lips.
"He's still asleep," Judy said. "Don't wake him up."
The boy looked back and forth between Judy and Jorge, looking confused, but said nothing. Jorge walked toward the kitchen, and motioned for Joseph and Mossy Oak to follow.
Once there, Jorge said, "I'm not all the way back yet. This is Casper's father, and this is my son Joseph," he added for Mossy Oak's sake.
"Alice said Casper isn't real," Joseph said. "And mama said you were sleeping."
"I think maybe I am. I have been visiting Casper's people, the Jororo."
"I bet that's why you're nekkid," Joseph said, grinning.
Again, as in the village, Jorge was caught off guard by his own appearance. Joseph was obviously unfazed about it, and he didn't want his son to think people should be ashamed of their bodies, so he didn't try to cover up or anything.
Joseph looked at Mossy Oak. "Did you meet the Spanish People yet?" he asked.
Mossy Oak looked at him blankly.
"No, not yet," Jorge answered.
"Do the Ro-ros.." Joseph started to ask.
Jorge cut him off. "Excuse me Joseph. Mossy Oak doesn't have a lot of time here. He's just visiting on his way to Heaven. I want to show him where his village used to be."
"Oh," Joseph said. "Well, tell God I said hi, and thanks for everything." He left the room.
Mossy Oak smiled at Jorge, his eyes twinkling. "This is what's important," he said pointing after Joseph.
* * *
Jorge had wondered how they would find the village site after so much had changed. It became a moot point when he and Mossy Oak suddenly found themselves standing in the woods.
The clearing was of course gone, as were all traces of habitation, but Jorge recognized the feel of the place. He'd have been hard pressed to describe the feeling in words, but he recognized it immediately.
As did Mossy Oak, judging from his expression. He looked sad, yet contented. After a few moments, he said, "It was a good home." He looked to the sky and said "Thank You. I am ready." Then he was gone.
Jorge looked up. "I guess I am too," he said.
* * *
Jorge stumbled into the family room.
"Boy, when you sleep off a cold, you don't mess around, do you?" Judy asked.
"Too tired to mess around," Jorge quipped.
"You know what I mean," she said with a mock scowl.
"How long was I out?"
"Oh, try about 26 hours."
"26 hours! Weren't you worried?"
"I checked your sugar a few times, and roused you enough to eat a couple of yogurts."
"You did?" Jorge was genuinely surprised. "I don't remember any of that."
"I'm not surprised. You were pretty out of it. That's why I let you sleep," Judy said.
"It seemed longer than 26 hours. Had some way-out dreams, too. I could write a book."
"More way-out than throwing pots at ghosts in the kitchen?"
Jorge looked at her, startled. "I didn't dream that?"
"That was two days before your sleep-marathon," she replied.
"Wow," he said, staring at the floor.
"So why don't you?" she asked.
"Why don't I what?"
"Write a book. You could. I've seen your writing."
Jorge considered. "Nobody'd likely read this one, except maybe a few archeology geeks."
"I'll read it. Heck, I'll proofread it."
Jorge remembered Mossy Oak's concern that his people not have lived 'for nothing'. "Why not?" he grinned.