(My thanks again go to Muddy for her editing. In fiction and for Mitch's benefit, this tribe exists. In fact this tribe bares no resemblance to any Native Indian tribe either in America or Canada.)
If you look on any map you will never find Summer Canyon. Its name has been passed down from generation to generation, and even when map makers came they looked and called it something else then went away. Those that live in the area have never called it by any other name than Summer Canyon.
If you talked to the elders of the tribes perched on the very edge of the Canyon they would tell you many stories of the place. The Canyon is steeped in so much history and for me a true blessing because I fell in love with the Canyon and much more.
It all started ten years ago with my roommate, a Native American Indian and one of the meanest SOB's you would ever wish to meet. His real name was Charles Edward Jones. An interesting name for a Native American Indian and I was just grateful to get the heads up before I met him. It turned out he was adopted by a Christian couple living between town and one of the tribes. Chukka, the name Charles always went by, lost his real mother in a car accident and the couple went to the council of elders as well as the adoption agency to adopt him.
The council of elders agreed with only one provision that Chukka would still learn the ways of the tribe. The couple readily agreed and the rest as they say is history. It was a rocky start for us both. I always had the impression that Chukka had one heck of a chip on his shoulder; but just watching him play football always seemed to hold me in awe of his abilities. There was so much talent in him he played like a man possessed. Football may be a team sport, but Chukka always seemed to take it personal whenever they would lose.
For the first few months of being roomies Chukka would try pulling the macho stuff, it slid off me since I knew some of the stunts he had pulled on campus so far. The campus authorities were keeping a close eye on him and even into the beginning of term they had already warned him he was getting close to getting his ass kicked out of college so early into the term. He knew he couldn't push his luck with me, so an uneasy truce seemed to have developed between us.
We were civil with each other and on a few occasions I gave him space when he said he needed it without even moaning about it. I didn't mind I always had a backup plan and extra time at the library cushioned the blow of listening to his latest escapades against the 'Stiff Necks' as Chukka called the campus authorities. Chukka always thanked me on my return and like I said this uneasy peace continued and probably would have continued if it hadn't been for that one night.
To this day I never knew what made me wake up that night. It might have just been that nagging feeling that I needed to wake. As my senses woke with me I smelt the vomit. Instantly now awake I looked into the gloom to see Chukka on his back and judging by the sounds coming from his bed. He was struggling to breathe. I dashed out of bed putting the light on and shook him, trying desperately to wake him. My first instinct was to phone for an ambulance but Chukka was in so much trouble with the Campus authorities at the moment I knew this would get him sent home for sure.
Pulling the big lug onto his side, I grabbed some towels and cleaned him up as best I could and knew, if he did get worse I would call an ambulance and take the heat for it.
His breathing slowly returned to normal so I made the decision to stay awake to make sure he got through the night. He eventually stirred and then woke around eight.
"What the fuck's going on, why are you sitting there watching me?"
"You're on cleaning duties. You were sick in the night and nearly chocked on your own vomit. Hell of a way to die buddy."
With that I pulled my jacket off the chair and went looking for some breakfast. I was tired and simply wasn't in the mood to talk to him. Chukka had been leaning on his own self-destruct button ever since I had known him and no amount of talking to him brought him to his senses. The only reason I went back to my room was to pick up my books for class, the window was wide open, Chukka's bed was stripped and the smell of vomit now gone, I had to do a double take. I knew the man standing there yet there seemed something strange about Chukka as he stood in the middle of the room watching me.
That morning was a turning point for both of us. It was almost like I had a big brother from that day on. It felt like in Chukka's eyes, I was accepted. A high honor indeed and one I did enjoy. Not to mention a roomie that had turned over a new leaf. There was still a distance about Chukka, yet I felt that I was maybe the only one he actually called, friend. For my part I helped him with his course work and over the next two very interesting years his grades improved and the college authorities eased up on him.
Sadly Chukka's head long rush through life proved to be his undoing. I was at the game watching the cheerleaders and looking forward to a few wet dreams later when Coach Lennox and the opposition team coach walked onto the field. This raised a few eyebrows, the game wasn't due to start for another twenty minutes.
Coach Lennox stood in front of the band leader and the whole band came to a stop. One of the tech boys came running on and handed Coach Lennox a mike. By now the whole crowds attention was drawn to the field.
"Can I have your attention please?"
A soft whine came from the mike and Coach Lennox glared at the techie who instantly said something into his own headset, a few seconds later he nodded to Coach Lennox and the tech guy tried desperately to merge into the growing crowd on the field.
"On my way onto the field I have tried to think of the best way to tell you folks this, but there simply isn't one."
By now members of both teams were walking onto the field and starting to gather around both coaches. The whole crowds attention was glued to Coach Lennox, you could have heard a pin drop in the stadium that evening.
"Folks I received a phone call from the state troopers, Chukka was involved in a car accident on his way back to college."
Coach Lennox's voice, already full of emotion seemed to crack then and he took the mike away from his mouth, Danny Summers our quarter back moved away from the rest of the team and said a few words to Coach Lennox, even holding his hand out inviting Coach Lennox to hand him the mike. Coach shook his head, patted Danny on the shoulder and again raised the mike to his lips.
"Its with a heavy heart that I have to tell you folks that Chukka died at the scene."
Grown men and women started to cry. Chukka was their hero and he was my friend, yet all I could do was stand there open mouthed thinking that this was all a dream and sometime real soon I will wake up and hear that big lug snoring on his side of the room.
"Coach Adams has offered to defer the game and replay it another time."
Coach now took a step back and turned to face Coach Adams.
"Coach Adams I thank you for you offer, but there isn't one person on this field or in that crowd that hasn't been touched by Chukka in some way. Tonight we all intend to honor him in a way he would respect. This game goes on."
Silence lay heavy on the crowd, inwardly I smiled Coach Lennox understood Chukka better than most. To Chukka it was all about the game, he loved it and would have gladly died for it, I raised my hands and started to clap, after a moments pause the woman next to me joined in and her husband followed, soon the whole stadium was drowned in noise, whistles, cheers and calling of Coach Lennox and Chukka's name.
What happened next will stick in the memories of everyone that was at the game and talked about for months afterwards. Chukka was given the greatest of honors that evening. The opposition were no push-over but our guys gave as good as they got, every time our team seemed to falter Chukka's name rang out from the crowd and seemed to push our team on to new heights.
It was when I returned to our room, sat on the edge of my bed and looked across the room that it finally hit me. That evening also marked a turning point in my life I never expected. My friend was dead, emptiness had now filled his place in my heart and I cried.
Being summoned to the Campus welfare councilor was a whole new deal for me. I was more than happy to fly under his radar for the duration. Sadly with Chukka's death and us two being roomies I was put squarely in the frame on this and there was no way out. Mr. (call me Rick) Thomson was mid forties, gray hair and a stare that would unnerve the Lincoln Monument. It was with a heavy heart I knocked, heard him call for me to come in, looked around once more hoping to find some pretext not to enter, found none sighed and entered.
The conversation we had was the most bizarre I have ever had with anyone. He told me that Chukka had come to him two months ago and asked for me to be his power of attorney in the event of his death. That was it, time for me to freak. Standing and heading for the door telling 'Rick' I was too young to be power of attorney for anyone.
"Mitch. You will sit down and let me finish."
Like a spanked child. I sat back down, still taking every opportunity to eye up the door ready to run if this got any weirder.
"I have consulted with Mr Jones's parents and they are aware of his wishes and stand by them. They have told me that Mr. Jones had his reasons and had talked to them both extensively on his wishes and they support you in what Mr. Jones has asked of you."
"But I don't understand I was his roomie nothing else."
It was then Rick slid an envelope across the table.
"Yes, even I found this odd. When Mr. Jones came to see me two months ago to discuss all this. I even talked to his parents with him present. After I reluctantly agreed he handed me this to give to you in the event of his death."
What was I getting myself into? This whole situation was spiraling out of my control. Inwardly I laughed, what control? Sighing and leaning across the desk, I picked up the envelope and read its contents.
"Mitch, please believe me when I tell you, none of us can outrun our destiny. I tried my friend and failed. I need you to take my body back home. The details of this wish are already being taken care of. I need you to go home for me. Talk to the elders, you will need a guide for this. That also has been arranged, just follow the itinerary and you will be fine."
My stomach knotted and I wanted so desperately to be sick, but as confused about all this as I was, something kept telling me it was time to take Chukka home. Although his parents had already sent his body on, I was to meet my guide at the hotel we were to collect the casket from the funeral directors in town and take him on to the elders, there was nothing in the itinerary from then on and that concerned me.
The Hotel was comfortable and sleep although a slow to capture me, finally came. As did the morning phone call I was dreading, the front desk told me that a woman had called and left a message that I was going to be picked up in an hour. When I asked why the call wasn't put through to my room, the clerk's reply was that they tried to but the woman refused, opting to leave a message.
Walking down the last few steps to the foyer, I spotted my guide and for a brief moment held my breath. She was the most stunning woman I had ever met, even from across the foyer I noticed she was tall and when I stood in front of her we were close in height. Her hair was a silken black that hung down to the small of her back. High cheek bones and eyes that held me, they were so dark. There was warmth in her features, but her eyes stayed almost emotionless. I'm sure I blinked first.
"My name is Chia, I've been told to be your guide. You will follow me, please."
Well that statement said it all; the journey in her car just confirmed it, silence. When Chia pulled up alongside a building set aside from the rest, I followed her in getting out. We both walked to the end of a corridor and stopped, she told me to wait, then knocked and entered, moments later she came back and ushered me in.
Sat along the far wall were six men, as for age, difficult to tell in the half light that enveloped the room but not one of them looked under fifty, my stomach was in knots, Chukka had told me about the council of elders and the statues they held within his tribe; here I was face to face with all six of them. Chia pulled a chair forward and I sat on it, she stood next to me. One of the elders spoke in his native tongue and as my lips parted to say something Chia translated for me. I closed my mouth and kept my own council.
Chia told me the ceremony would take place that evening and I would be one of the guests of honor. A few other details were talked about by the elders, with Chia translating some but not all of the conversation. One of the elders stood and I quickly did the same, he walked up to me and shook my hand. Chia and I left. She took me back to the hotel in the same manor she took me to see the elders, silence.
As she pulled up outside the hotel I offered to buy some lunch for us both to get better acquainted. Those dark eyes of hers held me for a moment before her lips finished me off with one word. "No."
I spent the rest of the day exploring the town, eating on my own when I found the diner and seeing for myself the places that Chukka told me about when we talked. As the day drew to an end and the beginning of evening seemed to be invading every corner of town, my attention was again focused on why I was here. Out of respect for Chukka and the elders I was ready at the appointed time and Chia, already in ceremonial dress was waiting in the foyer as I walked down the stairs, and again the car journey was taken in silence.
The ceremony was beautiful, the whole tribe and guests where there to see Chukka off. The press tried to be there to record his final parting, the local sheriff saw to it that they never made it. I met Chukka's parents for the first time and had a few moments with them before they both went off to talk to the elders. Many folks talked to me about him and his life growing up, Chia just stood in the background. It was only when one of the elders came back without Chukka's parents that she moved forward to again act as a translator.
After a brief few words where I felt I may as well have not been there, the three of us went back into the room I first met the elders, and for a few minutes the elders explained through Chia that as part of the ceremony Chukka's ashes where to be scattered in the Canyon. All this was new to me so I took it on the chin, mentally trying to figure out which shop in town would sell hiking boots and some outdoor clothes.
It was then all hell broke loose. Chia stopped translating full stop and her comments were directed towards the elders, the exchange started to get heated with one or more of the elders raising their voices. Chia held her ground in the argument stakes by raising her voice to match, even stepping closer to the elders as she talked. She had backbone that was for sure. Finally one of the elders snapped at something Chia had said, stood up and walked towards her.
She quickly realized she had overstepped herself and sank to her knees her eyes looking at the floor. The elder stood over her holding one heck of a one sided animated conversation with her. Even in the dull light of the room and the brown-ness of her skin, Chia went bright red and for several minutes the elder stood over her doing all the talking.
The car journey back to the hotel saw a completely different Chia, she chatted about Chukka, the tribes history and Summer Canyon, even keeping up a commentary of the town and local history. When we pulled up outside the hotel she even asked if she could come in and finish her chat.
I looked at her and said. "No."
Putting an early wakeup call in at reception, I was out of the hotel before breakfast. Needing to find the store the receptionist gave me the name of. Now armed with new walking boots and clothes I returned to the hotel. Chia was sat outside waiting for me.
"Why didn't you have breakfast, I would have taken you to the store to get what you required for tomorrow?"
"That wouldn't have been necessary I know what I need thank you."
"Look I know we got off on the wrong foot but, I would like to start again."
Well that was big of her I smiled and told her I wouldn't need her today I still had some exploring of my own to do later. Chia wasn't moving, even when I went around the back of the hotel and took the walking boots out of the box she had followed me. The staff at the hotel where really nice folks and even found a spade for me to use and while they looked questioning at me, they didn't ask what I was going to use it for. They left it leaning against the wall of the hotel around the back.
I spent the next twenty minutes hitting the boots with the spade, then the next hour polishing them again. Chia had sat against one of the walls in the shade as I set about the boots with the spade, the look on her face telling me she believed I had totally lost my mind. It was only when I sat down to polish them again did she ask what I was doing.
"There isn't enough time to break the boots in, so I have to do it artificially."
"Are you going to do the same with the clothes?"
Smiling I tell her I will suffer in silence on that one, and when satisfied with my labors quickly dropped my shoes off in my room put my boots on and went for another walk. This time Chia accompanied me.
"You're not going to let me off the hook with my behavior yesterday are you?"
"You have your reasons for doing things it's not for me to judge. I came here because my friend wanted me to, I plan to do all that has been asked of me, I will miss him but he asked so I will do what I can for my friend."
Chia colored a little but held it together and just nodded. The rest of the day she stuck to me like glue, I even had to stare her down when we were at the clothing store and went into the changing room to check if the shirt I wanted to buy fitted me. Throughout all this still keeping up her animated history of the tribe and its history with Summer Canyon. By the evening she had worn me down to the point I asked her if she wanted to have dinner with me.
She smiled and agreed, adding that she wanted to go home and change first. An hour later the room phone rang to tell me my guest for diner was in the foyer. Chia stood in the center of the foyer wearing a cocktail dress, her unblemished brown skin enhancing the black dress and the dress in return highlighted all of her natural curves and as I looked at her mesmerized by the vision before me. She smiled walked up to me and kissed me on the cheek, my cheek burned as her delicate lips touched them.
"You can close your mouth now. I'm worried you will drool over my dress."
Stammering an apology, and taking her warm slender shoulders in my hands returning her kiss and still feeling rather flustered we both went to dinner. That dinner seemed to mark a change for both of us. We talked about the trip tomorrow and for a moment noticing Chia's neck go ever so slightly red when she told me that it was up to her to perform part of the final ceremony. Usually this part was done alone but it was Chukka's wish that I be present.
Chia noticed my confusion and held my hand telling me that it was ok she would guide me through it all. With dinner over I asked her if she would like a nightcap, inwardly I smiled when I noticed the look on her face. Chia was worried I meant in my room, eventually she nodded her approval and we moved to the lounge and I'm sure much to her relief.