It’s funny how the same thing can, at times, be both comforting as a fuzzy blanket and cup of coffee and yet also be alienating and scary. The stars are like that. Memories of lying in the bed of the pick-up, her head on his arm, listening to the stories of the constellations drift through her mind. Legends, she reminds herself, the term bitter even when left unspoken. Stories are made up, legends are based in fact.

Leaning her head back against the door of the shack, she stares blankly upwards. The sky here is so black it makes the stars brighter;  they are the same stars seen in Nashville or Atlanta, the same ones seen in Paris or New York. Only the canvas differs. Maybe that’s because, out here, monsters live in the open, not in closed closets. Where people gather, they build cages to mask their demons but, out here, they let them in.

Darkness frightens people who don’t know it, so city dwellers make the sky brighter with street lamps and cars and high-risers;  the light drives away the fear.  Artificial light is a sign of life, a way to avoid the blackness, a tool invented to keep people busy longer each day so they didn’t have to face darkness. A way to live without acknowledging monsters are real.  They are real, right, because they’re in the legends, and legends are based in fact.  The stars are brighter out here, but not bright enough, and sometimes it’s easy to forget cities are even real. Sometimes the sky, the endless darkened sky, feels like a black hole, swallowing everything; how could anything escape the vast darkness?

Scuffling in the house makes her eyes close.  He curses, loudly, and then screams at the air, “You can’t take her, she’s mine, I won’t let you have her.”  Something falls, it sounds like the wooden chair that sits by the bed, then more scuffling.  “Don’t worry, Dana, I’ll get them.”  Whatever he’s pushing, the weight of it scars the floor.  It is not the rifle;  she hid that days ago, he won’t find it.

Abdominal muscles clench and her hand flutters to cover her stomach, her fingers clenching the cotton fabric of her dress. In the Southern heat, in a shack with no air conditioner, pants seem stupid, so she wears instead thin cotton dresses that flow around her ankles.  Not much breeze, but at least a hint of one touches  and cools her skin.  The cramp tightens its grip on her muscles, squeezing its nails into her flesh, until she gasps for breath and grits her teeth, chewing hard on the inside of her jaw.  Minutes later, the cramp eases enough for her shoulders to slump and an exhausted sigh expels from her lips.  One, two, three, breathe.  One, two, three, breathe. 

Pressing the back of her wrist to her forehead, she closes her eyes.  She drags her hand to the other side of her face, wiping the beaded sweat off.  Her water broke hours ago.  Like its father, the baby’s impatient;  the due date looms more than two weeks away still.  For more than a week, the false contractions gathered momentum, at first causing mild discomfort, then convincing Dana she was in active labor. Every time she mentioned going to a hospital, though, her husband became enraged. 

Hospitals are a place of death. And where there is an abundance of death, there are spirits.  Too many spirits; one of them could take possession of one’s body, of one’s mind.  Bear Moon. A medicine woman well respected by her tribes—by neighboring tribes—and regarded as one of the most truly gifted medicinal leaders ever to live lost her mind when tribal leaders took her to hospital and hooked her up to machines. Bear Moon never was the same. Hospitals are not allowed. A local Cherokee medicine woman would come, Dusty promised, and help attend the birth. It was safer that way, safer to deliver in this shack that didn’t have running water than to deliver at the hospital.

“You hungry?”  Dusty pops onto the porch, his eyes wide, his hands twitching, clear signs an episode looms.  Trying to calm him, to bring his mind to her, Dana shakes her head and tries to smile. “No.  No, I’m good.”  Then she dares, “Is Soul Star on her way?” 

Dusty frowns, looks toward the hill leading away from the shack and nods.  “She’ll be here soon.” 

An intense contraction steals Dana‘s breath, making her moan and lean forward in the chair, dropping her head between her knees. She fidgets in the chair, slumping back, then forward again, moaning and holding her swollen belly.  When breath returns, she glances toward the door, noticing her husband’s absence.

A baby, in this place.  Dana’s mind reels.  She doesn’t know the child’s gender, not for certain.  She feels it is a girl and calls her as such.  A baby girl born into this town, this time, this house, to this man. The tentacles of fear grooming her heart, distracting her from the pain.  Until the next wave.  The contraction makes her lean forward again and she falls out of the chair onto her knees on the porch.  She stretches out an arm, her fingers grasping the railing, and hauls herself to her feet.  Walking causes the pain to shoot down her thighs but she has no choice; she needs to get to the bed.  The attacks are close, very close, together. 

Dusty’s talking to the spirits again, this time begging them to be kind, the dream catcher in his hand as he paces the living room floor.  Dana’s eyes barely see him through the fog of the cramps;  it forces her to her knees.  She crawls to the bed, but doesn’t have the strength to pull herself into it. Rolling to her back, she screams, “Dusty!”

The noises from the other room stops and, a moment later, the man with the shaggy hair and the mesmerizing eyes knees by her side.  His one hand presses against her forehead, with the other, her grips her fingers.  She squeezes, closing her eyes, hating herself for the tears that burn the back of her eyes.  Dusty pulls her fingers to his mouth and kisses her knuckles.  “You got this, you’re safe, Brave Heart.”

Brave Heart.

Panting for air, Dana’s eyes focus on her husband’s, her heart bursting with every quickened beat. 

“Dusty’s not my real name, it’s just my English one.” The summer day was bright and warm as they lay on the grass after swimming in the creek.  Dana rolled her head to the side, water still glistening on her eyelashes and lips.  “Just your English name?”  She repeated and then laughed, the sound chasing away a nearby bluebird.  Leaning up on one elbow to stare down at him, she tried to look angry.  “Wait a minute, you mean I married a man whose name I don’t even know yesterday?”  Making a tssking sound with her lips, she popped down again, “Seriously, how rude.” 

Dusty grinned, but then grew somber.  “Your can’t tell just anyone your real name.  Revealing your real name tells people too much about who you really are; gives them too much to hurt you with.”

Dana lifted slim fingers and brushed his cheek. “I won’t hurt you.”

“I know your real name,” his voice sent warmth spiraling through her.  She smiled and arched her thin brows as she clapped happily. “Oh I have a name!  Does this mean I can be a real Cherokee?” 

Dusty shrugged, looking upward to the pale blue sky. “Well, we are married.”

A bud of warmth washed through her and she moved to lay her head on his arm. “So what’s my name?”

“Well, I was thinking about this, about who you are. You left home, came all the way out here. When you got here, you went for a ride with a stranger—“


“A stranger.  You’d never ridden a bike, but you did so without any fuss. You never flinched about living in the trailer.  So..” he shrugged his loose shoulder.  “I think Brave Heart fits you. You are brave, and you out so much heart into everything you do.” 

Since then, when he was tender, when he was the man she married, he called her Brave Heart.  She squeezes his hand but, before she can speak, before she can tell him she really does love him, still, even after everything, an incredibly strong need to bear down, to push, overcomes her and she cries out.  The agony makes the world narrow;  her vision shrinks to a tunnel as her fingers bite into Dusty’s palm. Dusty removes his hand from hers and moves to the end of the bed. He doesn’t know how to do this, but the medicine woman isn’t here. When he looks inside, he sees tiny feet, not a head. 

Panic screams in his brain, the spirits are back and dark. The child will take Dana.  Ten-year-old Dusty watched in a dark room as the medicine woman reached her hands into his mother’s secret place, her womb, saying “We’ll turn her around, we’ll have to turn her around.”   His sister lived, his mother did not.  He asked the medicine woman later if she hadn’t turned his sister around, what would have happened and she told him they both would have died.  Now, in Dana’s secret place, he sees tiny little feet. Before he can stop himself, he reaches his palm up into Dana.  She howls, grips the mattress and sweats profusely, but he can feel the baby. He turns the child around, removes his hands and whispers.

“It won’t work.”  He swings his head around to stare at Black Owl, who stands behind him.  Black Owl’s a mountain;  so tall he has to tilt his head to keep from hitting the ceiling.  He wears a rabbit foot around his neck and no shirt.  Black Owl follows him everywhere.  Dana says he’s not there, he’s not real, but he’s very real, Dusty sees him clearly.  Black Owl knows things;  but he only comes when death is near.

Dusty bares his teeth at Black Owl. “Get out, get out of here!” 

Dana’s eyes close as she growls, pushing down hard. She feels the baby moving down, she knows the end is near.  “Catch her.  Dusty, catch her!”  Dana’s voice doesn’t sound like her, and it pulls Dusty’s mind back to her. He reaches and grabs the baby’s shoulder, holds them as she slips out and into the world.

Dusty blinks, staring at the newborn baby.  The newborn baby who isn’t crying.   He turns her over, pats her bottom, takes his finger and swipes it inside her mouth.  Then he hears it, the first tiny cry.  The sound makes Dana cry and she reaches her arms out.  Wordlessly, Dusty wraps the baby in a blanket and gives it to Dana.

“You’ll have to cut the cord.”  Dana says, her voice still weak and exhausted. She looks at the baby, using one finger to stroke her cheek. “Are you a girl?  You are, I know it, but let’s make sure.”  Gently, she moves the blanket and smiles. “I knew it.  My own little princess.”  She bends her head to kiss the baby. 

The sound of Dusty’s howl jerks her head up just in time to see him hurl a glass at the window.  “Black Owl, you will get out!” 

The baby squeals again, howling at the noise.  Dana hugs her close, chills racing over body. Dusty, caught in the grip of an episode, turns and stares with angry eyes at the baby. “Give her to me, Dana, she’ll take us, she wants your life. Black Owl only comes when there is death near.” He reaches down but Dana squeezes the baby to her and howls. “Get away from me!  You will not take her!” 

Dusty stops, confused, because both baby and Dana are alive.  He turns and watches Black Owl nod. Wordlessly, Black Owl turns and walks through the door. Dusty follows, but he doesn’t see the spirit anymore. 

For now, they are safe.