A tickling softness brushed Yazhi’s fingertips as her mother’s blanket slid out of her hands. Her mother folded it in a quick fashion before picking up another one. The frenzied actions were being repeated all over the village. An ochre glow rimmed the village. The entire land seemed to have captured the sun in its mouth and burped up flames. As the fire crawled across the mesa, it chewed up everything in its path. Bold and brave, it fought back the cold darkness. The forces jumped onto the edge of their lands and crept ever closer.
The smoke rose into the sky and thickened with each passing moment. Wails, hurried voices, and the sharp tones of the villagers echoed amongst the ash-thick air. They had to push on, for Black God had erupted here, in this place—their place. It meant nothing for him to escape the confines of their hogan, and began to ravage the land, turning the tumbleweeds, cacti, and man into its food. Terror shook Yazhi, for she’d never seen anything like this before.
This was her first contact with Black God. The son of a comet and fire, Black God was lord of kq’, fire. Tales told by her grandfather, a powerful medicine man, spoke of Black God’s cowardice and transformative powers.
How could they believe Black God was helpless when he chewed the landscape and ravished all in his path? With eyes wide, Yazhi clutched her mother’s dress with mounting fear. The soft fur of her mother’s blanket offered small comfort. It hung from her shoulders as she bent down to retrieve a fallen basket.
Yazhi shut her eyes and turned her face into the fur.
“What ails her?” her father demanded, his voice rough from the smoke.
“Black God’s power is displayed this night. It is Yazhi’s first time in his presence.” Her mother coughed. “It comes closer.”
Her father growled. When Yazhi looked at him, she saw him shake his head in mounting disappointment, but whether that was for the situation or her actions, she didn’t know.
“Here. Take these.”
Her mother gave Yazhi a small smile, and pressed the items into her hands. Bits of pottery filled with grain, oil, and turquoise. She followed her mother’s glance to the semi-circle of fire, kq’, that leapt up and vanished into the billowing sky. At the same time, kq’ managed to remain on the ground. As if angered, it crackled and popped in its efforts to speak to them, even as it consumed all in its path. Her people had to leave before they too became food for the kq’s belly.
She had never before seen the fire so wild and untamed.
Yazhi spoke soft against the thick air. “What do you want?”
The maize lay collected in hand-woven baskets, ready for the journey to the neighboring village. As the elders told of the first people, First Woman and First Man were joined forever by this world to those that had come before them. The different types of maize represented the various people who eventually became the Dine. The flickering called to Yazhi to come, to touch, and to feel its power.
Entranced, she headed toward it.
Black God’s kq’. It moved across the mesa, old and slow like the god himself, but then fast and furious. She pictured herself standing tall in its orange-yellow glow as First Woman once did in the yellow world, when she first met Black God.
Like Yazhi tonight.
Somehow she’d walked closer to the kq’ than to her home. Mesmerized, she watched it dance for her and she reached out her hand to join in its joy. Now that she had come closer, it did not seem so bad.
“Ow!” She yelped as flames bit her. She rubbed the angry spot on her hand.
Her mother stuck her head out of the hogan’s entrance. “Yazhi?”
Yazhi waved. “Here!”
Her mother’s face became alarmed. “Yazhi! Get away from that fire!”
“Now! Come closer to me, beside the house.” She waited until Yazhi had started back toward the hogan, but the clatter and clang from inside the dwelling drew her attention away.
All around the family hogan, people trekked back and forth between their homes, mules, and horses. Yazhi’s mother continued to bring out items and tie them onto the family’s own pack animals.
Once her mother had disappeared back into the hogan, Yazhi turned back to the fire. She couldn’t take her eyes away from its newfound display of magic. The growing kq’ battled back the gloom, a fierce and greedy warrior. She found herself back at the edge of the blaze, within arm’s reach once more.
Moving closer to her village, the kq’ gobbled everything in its path. Its power grew as it fed. When it appeared to be winning the eternal fight, it reached higher to the dark sky as if summoning its lord.
Yazhi stumbled backward. Her items spilled to the earth. The heat licked at her as if finding her delicious. She searched behind for her mother or someone, but there was only the constant motion of people on the move.
These weren’t the only movements in the night.
Yazhi watched as the moon overhead folded in to the gathering dark, and stepped down onto the ground in front of her. Obediently the fire withdrew, but only from the place of darkness, where he stood. It was Black God! She couldn’t mistake him. His mouth was a full moon, and a crescent moon had been etched into his forehead. Elderly and mysterious, his smile frightened her.
The kq’ leapt around excitedly, like children did when their parents came home.
“Come into my embrace, little one,” Black God encouraged.
“Why?” Yazhi wanted to run, but she couldn’t get her feet to obey. Her mouth struggled to form words. The fact that she’d managed to ask the one question surprised her.
“Because I demand it.” He did not smile now. His face was hidden in shadow. Coward.
The whims of gods had become legendary. Yazhi looked around, but no one else seemed to notice Black God towering into the heavens. She swallowed her fear and tried to look up into his face. Where did he want to take her? She didn’t want to leave her family. It had been his doing that her people had to leave this settlement. Yazhi knew her family, like other Dine’, had grown tired of being uprooted, first by the white men, and now this.
So, she steeled her strength and pooled her courage. First Woman did not shy away from this lazy god, who let his offspring do his work for him. Neither would she. He could demand whatever he wanted, but she had some demands of her own.
“No.” Yazhi tossed her plaits over her shoulder. With her hands on her narrow hips she glared at him, but only a moment before looking away.
“No?” He rumbled when he spoke and the sky shook.
For a god of kq’, he made her very cold.
Someone cried out and she looked across to the many people streaming across the horizon. Sheep, mules, and people displaced by Black God’s appetite—or whim.
Yazhi turned back to Black God. “I will come with you, but you must stop destroying the village.”
“I will destroy this valley, the mesa, and your village and you will come with me.” He waved his hand and the raging ochre grew higher.
“I am the granddaughter of Chief Manuelito! You will not threaten me or my people!”
She stamped her foot. Inside, a magic warmth spread through her, filling her with light that poured from her fingertips. Her heart thundered in her chest as she pointed into the eyes of Black God, who screamed in agony.
He could burn her to ash where she stood! That knowledge terrified her. But all the pent- up disappointment, rage, and confidence of youth ignited her own inner kq’.
Besides, Yazhi reasoned, Black God had already devoured much of the land surrounding her village, if not the homes themselves.
“Yazhi?” Her mother poked her head out of the hogan’s doorway. Her dark hair blew on the breeze, but it failed to hide the fear on her face. “Come!”
When Yazhi turned back to look at Black God, he had vanished. His chuckling echoed on the wind. The moon hung in its full glory in the heavens above, and all appeared as it had been before.
Yazhi checked her hands. They seemed ordinary. No light. No scars. Nothing.
“We are leaving!” her father called as he climbed on the horse. He waved his family to him, and Yazhi raced to join them. He sounded tired, but strength showed in his movements. He would endure. Their people would endure, as they have forever, for the Dine’.
The air tasted like ash, smoke, and dirt. Yazhi too smelled of smoke, and her moccasins were covered in soot. She glanced once more at the village, then back to the kq’. She’d done what she could to save her village, but the flames continued to advance.
Her efforts had been in vain.
“Look! The fires are changing!” Her mother pointed to the orange glow that winked out near the first set of hogans. It looked as if stronger kq’ had taken hold on the western edge of the lands, closer to the canyons—away from their village.
Black God was turning his glowing offspring. Like a starving sheep, the kq’ demonstrated its powerful appetite, consuming everything in its path. But as it continued its dance with the wind, it moved away from the village.
Her mother hugged Yazhi to her as her father joined them. They watched the darkness and the illumination of the kq’ engaged in battle.
Yazhi rested her head on her mother’s shoulder. “Do we still have to leave?”
“No, little one. We do not.” Her mother kissed her forehead. “We do have to bring everything back into our home.”
Yazhi groaned, and both her parents laughed.
“Watch the kq’, Yazhi, as it continues its dance with its partner, the wind,” her mother encouraged.
Yazhi looked out to the destroyed lands. She’d never seen anything so beautiful, and so harsh before.
She hoped she never would again.
This story was first published in 2015, in Lost Trails: Tales from the Forgotten Weird West.