Departure of the Cliff Dwellers
Departure of the Cliff Dwellers
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This is a forested green mesa in southwest Colorado, and the year 1298, a time of great stress for these Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi). In this beautiful setting, young kids, Uco and Ela, are involved in the struggle of staying or leaving their ancestral home. By accident they obtain amulets of mystery leading to adventure filled efforts in helping The People as they are uprooted and seeking a new home.
A harsh ear-splitting cry, "Raiders, Raiders," echoed across a peaceful cliff-dwelling village. That warning stabbed Uco with terror as he raced with his sister, Ela, to pull up the heavy rough wooden ladder, the only exit and entry from their second-story stone home to the next level of houses below. Uco and Ela each grabbed a side of the ladder and hand over hand pulled it up as their father had taught them. But the ladder suddenly stopped. Peering over the edge, they saw a huge feathered man with a twisted, white-and-green painted face holding a stone axe in one hand and the end of their ladder with the other. "Pull, Ela!" cried Uco. "We can't let him up here." Uco knew the man spelled death or slavery for them both, and he pulled with all his might. But, two children could not match the raider's strength. Slowly he overpowered them and lowered the ladder although he had to drop his axe and use both hands to do it. "Ela, grab the metate and strike him when he starts up!" yelled Uco as he released the ladder and sought the mano stone. Ela's metate grinding stone struck the man's shoulder and caused him to lurch to one side of the ladder. Yet he hung on, though he screamed, apparently for help. Then Uco hurled the smaller mano stone downward with all his might. It struck the man above his right ear knocking him from the crude ladder onto the stone floor below. "Get the ladder up!" Uco yelled. They began to raise the ladder again while the man sprawled still on the ground below. When the ladder was over half way up, another raider suddenly appeared and grabbed for it, but missed. He jumped and touched it but couldn't hold on. Though he screamed and shook a bloody war club at them, they pulled the ladder over the edge and dropped it on their balcony. The face of the man below was half black and half red; he was naked from the waist up except for a quiver of arrows and a bow slung across his back. Ela saw black and yellow stripes painted across his legs and body. He had two feathers in his black greasy hair and blood on one hand. He was now bent over the other man. He jumped to a stiff upright position releasing a blood-chilling yell louder than any other coming from across the noisy village. He strung his bow quickly and notched an arrow. Uco and Ela scuttled back from the balcony edge before he could release the stone-tipped shaft. "Into the house," ordered Uco wishing his parents weren't away this day. "What will we do if they try to get in?" "If they try, I'll crouch on the ledge above the door and strike them with the wood cutting axe. It's what Father always said to do. You stay behind the large water pots, watch, and raise your hand high if one enters." Uco watched Ela nod and hide in the darkened corner behind three moist water storage pots. He knew his lame little sister could see the small lighted rectangular door framed by rocks, and juniper trees across the deep valley. He was sick to his stomach as he crouched above the door on a tiny ledge holding the family's long handled stone axe. It was nearly half his height. Its tapered head was always kept sharp by their father's chipping and flaking its black face. "I'm so afraid Uco. Will they kill us?" "If they get past me, they might. That's why you must give me the hand signal if they start to enter, so I can stop them." Uco heard the fright in her voice. She was usually calm, never allowing anything to rattle her. Uco began to tremble as the shouts increased below the house. These enemies were of course after both slaves and corn. Where they came from he didn't know, but they had raided nearby villages twice in the past year. He wondered how they had entered their village since it was difficult coming over the steep walls, made to prevent anyone from entering once the ladders were pulled up. The small door opening into their houses was only large enough for one person to squeeze through while bending over. He waited. He worried, knowing the men would try to capture them. He asked the spirits to protect Ela as he held tightly to the axe. Uco watched his sister for any hand signal. He was deathly afraid as he leaned against the cold stone wall, feeling helpless even though he had a good axe in his hands. Could he actually strike a man? Would he miss the mark? Trembling started in his knees and rapidly entered his hands. Even his chin shook. He fought against the fear that was making him feel weak all over. Ela spoke softly in a shaky voice, "I see a ladder being pushed up." Uco's heart seemed to sink, "Only give the hand signal if one is actually entering, and you keep hidden: I must have your help." He knew that sometimes Ela was slow about doing things he asked. Uco used all the power of his mind in again asking the spirits to help them live. He had never used such determination in his asking before. He was afraid it might be in vain, wondering if they were still in the spirits' favor. Ela nodded as she watched several huge painted men come up the ladder. One bent over, shaded his eyes, and tried to peer into the darkness of their home. Then he talked with the others and waved his hands. Apparently they were wary of coming through the tiny low door. An arrow thudded into the thick willow-sleeping mat to the left of Ela. Another stuck into a pile of cedar wood to the right and vibrated. A third glanced off the water pot in front of her. Ela remained hidden, silent, and motionless. Suddenly the entryway was nearly blocked by a man bending over and coming inside. Ela shot her right hand skyward and screamed.
Paul W. Richard, lives and writes in Greeley, Colorado.


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