Chapter 2: South Dakota

The buffalo charged forth in numbers so large, Anna couldn’t count. Their size and strength made the very earth tremble beneath their feet. Anna looked from atop a large red rock that dwarfed her and she felt happy as she watched the herd. Suddenly a large sandstorm rose up in the distance and moved towards the charging herd. The buffalo altered their direction to charge into the ever-growing sandstorm until the pair met. Anna’s heart felt plummeted with the sight of the buffalo being consumed in the storm and she wanted to run to their aid. Before she could respond Anna was pulled from her dream by the sound of the jeep spinning its wheels in the front yard and the youth’s screaming and howling as they rode around in the back of it. In moments the buffalo were distant memories and Anna sat up in a panic, feeling the warm vacant space in the bed beside her for Stephanie. The empty space beside her indicated that Stephanie had already decided to deal with the youths in the front yard. A concerned Anna was already moving from her bed, as the shotgun blast tore through the night, ugly in its report.

The noises from the youths ended abruptly and the sounds of the vehicle began retreating into the night. This was of little comfort to Anna as she ran from the house to look for Stephanie. She needn’t have been concerned though, as Stephanie stood calmly on their stoop with the shotgun, still smoking in her hand. “Relax, it was just rock salt.” She simply stated. “Assholes.” Anna wrapped her arms around Stephanie. Relieved more than anything else. “I wasn’t worried about them.” She kissed her on the cheek as they watched the last signs of the vehicle retreating into the night. Anna genuinely wasn’t worried for them. Stephanie had been a Marine supply sergeant in Afghanistan and over the years she had received more than her fair share of abuse and humiliation until that day her convoy had come under fire. With the gunner felled by a sniper, Stephanie had leapt to take his place and laid down covering fire whilst her squadron regrouped. They routed the attacking force and from that day onwards, no one had ever hazed Stephanie again. Drunk boys in pickup trucks were nothing in comparison. Stephanie was as tough a person as you could find and she did her time in the warzone, serving with distinction. She might have still be there if it hadn’t been for her third tour being was cut short by an IAD. Unlike so many others, Stephanie had been lucky enough to survive and she was shipped back home for treatment and rehabilitation.

It was at the hospital that Anna had met the stubborn and aggressive Stephanie. Anna was Lakota, of the Sioux people and having grown up on the Crow Creek reservation, she was no stranger to injured animals. She had seen it all before and no prickly, protective shell was going to get in the way of her helping another soldier with their rehabilitation. Anna was persistent, finding ways to move beyond Stephanie’s walls and helped her through her depression and anger. As time went on a real friendship grew, Stephanie’s mobility improved, as did their relationship. Seven months later they moved in together.

It was the first time either of them had found a real peace from their demons and for a time they were happy. After a while Anna started to become restless, something was missing for her and Stephanie could tell. Anna was disconnected from her life, from her people and the more it went on, the more it started to manifest in their relationship. This time it was Stephanie who could see something needed to be done. Stephanie knew Anna’s heritage and it was she that suggested that the pair move to the reservation. Anna was reluctant, whilst she knew her family might eventually be accepting of her lifestyle, she wasn’t certain about everyone else on the reservation. It was entirely possible that they wouldn’t want the pair around and would make their lives miserable. Stephanie was unfazed. “I was a Catholic, Lesbian, Marine in Afghanistan. No one wanted me around. And they had RPG’s. This will be a cakewalk.” Stephanie had a perspective.

The pair moved to Crow Creek Reservation a few months later, just in time to say farewell to Anna’s mother. Anna was able to reconcile with her mother before the end and her mother had accepted Stephanie with surprisingly little hesitation. As Anna had feared, other people, often the younger members of the tribe were less comfortable with their arrangement and over time, despite the open hostility that had given way to a cool aggression, they had received frequent night visits like tonight. Life in the Reservations wasn’t always easy, especially when everything suggested that the tribes that lived there were of a dying race. Once the Sioux Nation, and the other tribes were spread across the land but over time, and under the cruel boot of history, their numbers were dwindling. Almost every tribe told the same, sad story and the knowledge bred a frustration that could not easily be expressed, especially by the younger generations. Every so often the young men would get drunk and look for a way to vent their frustration. This was where Anna and Stephanie came in.

Anna could feel the tension melting away from Stephanie as the natural noises of the replaced the screams from earlier. She often wondered if things like this caused flashbacks for Stephanie but the rule had always been that Anna would never ask. Stephanie would only speak of her experiences, if and when she wanted to. She looked at the flickering fire on the other side of the road out the front of the old caravan. On the chair sleeping through the entire event was Hanska, Anna’s grandfather. There was a time that she would have suspected that he was drunk but in the last few weeks there had been some unusual changes in her grandfathers behaviour.

The first sign was the alcohol that she had witnessed him throwing into a fire. He always had a bottle or two stashed around the place but that first afternoon he had been methodical going about their property collecting every stash and throwing it into the fire. Anna was surprised to find a few of the bottles had even been about her own house. Hanska also started foraging for herbs and the elders, the very old elders, had also started visiting him with a greater frequency. After that first week there was a smile on his face and a spring in his step that Anna had never seen before. As though a great burden had been lifted. He had become a changed man but still he never spoke of why. Even when they invited him for dinner he politely refused and continued to purify himself. Clearly whatever had been happening for him had been quite profound, but tonight, tonight he was as she had often seen him before. Passed out in front of the fire. Stephanie could feel where Anna’s gaze had settled and she shifted her weight. “Let me grab my foot and we’ll move him into his trailer.”

Anna let go of Stephanie. Having lost her right leg below the knee had been a blow to her independence and much as Anna wanted to help her into the house, she had learned that treating Stephanie as an invalid hurt her more than the injury. Anna went to put on her dressing gown. The sound of Stephanie’s hydraulic leg accepting the pressure of her weight signaled she was ready to go. Anna had wanted to get her one with the electrical servers but Stephanie gruffly declined. “All the damn dust up here would just stop it working.” Besides, Stephanie knew enough about hydraulics to make her own adjustments when need be and that was preferable to having to go through the VA. “They have enough real issues to deal with.” Anna smiled to herself. Only Stephanie would consider having one leg to be a minor inconvenience.

The pair walked over to Hanska, still lying back quietly in his chair. Surprisingly he didn’t smell of alcohol but rather but rather a combination of burnt herbs and there was a thin paste that had been rubbed just beneath his nose. She didn’t recognize it. Whatever it was, it was probably responsible for his current state. They lifted him and guided him from the fire back into his caravan. Unhooking the door, they lifted Hanska into his darkened trailer. Anna groped around for the light switch as Stephanie held Hanska. When she finally managed to flick the switch, a surprising sight greeted her.

It had been a while since she had been inside Hanska’s caravan and it appeared that he had been busy. The place was less cluttered but at the same time, he had apparently been busy collecting herbs and such from the area. Most of it she knew from growing up on the reservation, and she knew many of their uses but others she hadn’t seen before. Clearly Hanska had returned to the old ways. On the one hand Anna felt relieved that the change in his behaviour was positive but at the same time she was a little concerned by this sudden change. Maybe it was because he was getting older, and just sign of his mortality? Perhaps Hanska was just getting his affairs in order? Stephanie, less acquainted with Anna’s grandfather’s habits simply moved him over towards his bed. “He’s not drunk is he?” She had seen her share of drunk people and Hanska wasn’t that. Anna picked up a dusty medicine bag she did not recall seeing before. “I think he’s travelling.”

As she pulled back the sheets she found lots of drawings all scattered on the bed. They were all striking similar in design too. She carefully moved them aside as they placed him on the bed. Anna removed his shoes and placing them where he could easily find them when he awoke. Stephanie looked at the drawings, a quiet bemusement on her face whilst Anna tucked her grandfather in and placed a kiss on his forehead. Stephanie was turning the loose pages around, hoping that a different angle might reveal an answer. “He’s a little obsessed isn’t he?”

Anna studied one of the pictures and it felt familiar. “I’ve seen this place.”

Stephanie put the pages down respectfully on Hanska’s table. “Around here?”

Anna had a guilty smile. “I’ve seen it in my dreams a lot lately.”

Stephanie returned her smile. “But not in the real world?”

“Not that I remember.”

Stephanie shrugged. She didn’t question Anna in matters such as these. If Anna had seen it in her dreams, she had, and that was enough for Stephanie. Though she had always been pretty practical, time on the reservation had started to open her mind to lots of things she had previously not considered. For the most part she seemed fine was fine with it, but she knew that Anna was still sometimes censoring herself. They left Hanska to his traveling and slipped out of his trailer.

The pair walked from his caravan past the glowing fire towards the house. Stephanie looked over at the flames and stopped. Anna finding herself not out of step stopped and looked at the fire where Stephanie was gazing. “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”

“Australia.” was Stephanie’s reply.

Now it was time for Anna to be confused. “What about Australia?”

“That’s what Hanska is drawing. It’s some place in Australia. I remember seeing it on a bunch of post cards. It’s a big red rock in the middle of the desert, but it’s famous.”

Anna looked to the flames, trying to see what Stephanie had seen.

“Maybe he saw it on a commercial or something, but that’s definitely what Hanska is drawing.” Pleased with herself for unravelling the mystery, Stephanie turned back to Anna who was now lost in the red embers.

Anna pulled her gaze from the coals. “I wonder why?”

Stephanie leaned over and kissed her, breaking her reverie. “You can ask him when he comes back to earth, but in the meantime, let’s go inside. I’m getting a chill and I want some sleep in case those idiots decide to come back.” The pair resumed their walk but Anna’s mind was still clearly lost in the burning red embers of her dream.

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