Published: December 2018
Twelve-year-old Wind That Knocks Down Lodges loves his little sister, Cactus Flower, and the wildness of the desert canyonland the Apache call home. But in one night of misunderstanding and mistakes, Knocks Down and Cactus Flower’s innocent world is shaken as they find themselves locked in the nearby fort with the pale face soldiers and their mother’s lifeless body. With no one to lean on but each other, Knocks Down and Cactus Flower must make their way as children of The People in the pale face world—pale faces who have now become the enemy.
After finding themselves at the mercy of the Army, far from Apache Territory and well on the trail to Colorado, Knocks Down must bring himself to trust the soldier, Pale Face Joe. But Joe disappears, and when ordered to dispose of the children or else, the other Army soldiers waste no time in depositing them at the nearest Catholic orphanage.
They manage to escape the evil orphanage along with a new pale face friend, Kid McCoy. But they are set upon by a gang of murdering claim jumpers who steal Cactus. With Kid McCoy’s help, Knocks Down goes after her. When they encounter a soldier who was responsible for their mother’s death, they realize he’s set on seeing them dead, as well. How can a boy defeat a battle-hardened soldier? Just when Knocks Down is about to give up, the biggest surprise of all changes everything…
Something isn’t right. The night animals ceased their songs in unison, and another troublesome cloud shrouded the moon. An icy shiver trickled down my backbone to the tune of silence. The happy drumming coming from the camp, telling the world of the birth of Red Lake’s firstborn son, had slowed to a stop. I froze, pulling Cactus Flower back onto her bottom. She rose from the hard-packed earth, her bottom lip puffed out and her inky eyebrows knitted together above her eyes. Before she could open her mouth to speak, a flock of beating wings sent me cowering, nose first, into the dirt beside her.
“Knocks Down, why did those birds –”
Instinctively, I slapped my hand over her mouth, taking care enough to be gentle. No sooner had she quieted, than another sound echoed through the solemn night air.
“Halt! Who goes there?”
I slipped my finger over my lips, wordlessly instructing Cactus Flower to remain silent. She nodded and I removed my hand from over her mouth.
“That voice...it’s pale face. Do you know it from your visits to the soldier fort?” I kept my own voice low, so it fairly bounced along the mesquite branches before disappearing into the canyon, no more out of place than a wren scratching on a rock.
She shook her head and wrinkled her nose. I knew she was scared. I was, too.
“I say again, halt! I have orders to shoot!”
A woman’s voice answered. “Izdzaa, yiiltse! Pa-lease, please!”
Cactus Flower and I exchanged a look. Peering through the mesquite branches, I saw my mother, our mother, her outstretched hands bathed in the moonlight as the cloud slid from over it. She was making the Apache sign for peace. Cactus flower saw her, too. Before I could raise my hand back to cover her mouth, the word tore from her lips in a shriek that echoed down through the canyon and back again. “Ma!”
“Sentry, fire!” came another voice, followed abruptly by two booms. Booms which echoed the very one that had taken the life of Silver Sky, my father, so many winters ago.
My mother’s moans filled the empty darkness. I pushed my fear deep down and jumped from our hiding place. In a moment, I was at her side.
“Mother?” My spirit ached as I took her head in my lap. “Why?”
The soldier’s boots hit the earth hard as they struggled both to find us and to make sense of what they’d done.
Stealthily as either of the mountain lion cubs we’d been watching, Cactus Flower slipped up behind us, sobs catching in her throat. “Ma, Ma?” She curled into Shining Waters’ outstretched arm, snuggling against our dying mother. “No, Ma.”
I didn’t have to look down to see the pool of my mother’s blood, I could smell it, coppery and unwelcome. Tears stung my eyes, and hatred filled my heart as the soldiers approached.
“Oh, my stars, Tom. It was a woman! We done shot a woman!” The soldier dropped to his knees and scooped up my mother’s hand. “Tom, administer first aid. We can’t let her die right here’n front of her chill’ns.”
The second soldier stood, his mouth hanging open like a dog. “She was Injun, Joe. Ain’t no matter now, we done kilt her. They said to be on th’ watch, heard tale of Injun attacks.”
Joe, the first soldier, never took his eyes from my mother’s face. “Go get supplies, Tom. We will do our best to save’er.”
Sure enough, Tom turned and trotted off in the direction of the soldier fort. I watched him go, visualizing my hand-carved arrow flying into his retreating back. My hands began to shake.
“I come…I help,” Ma sputtered in broken English.
Joe covered his mouth with his free hand. “Lord above, she speaks English.” His eyes darted about a moment before resting first on me and then on Cactus Flower, who lay whimpering at my mother’s side. “Ma’am, are you Cap’n Redding’s wife? His Indian bride?” He gulped. “Indian…Em’ly?”
A weak smile found its way onto my mother’s lips. “Me Em’ly. Me help.”
Old Joe bent down close, my mother’s hand still in his, as though he were tending his own kin. “How did you want to help, ma’am?”
“Gonna be a …” My mother coughed. “Raid. Raid on soldier fort.”
Joe’s back stiffened and he hefted his weapon from where it had fallen beside him. “They told us to watch those thievin’ Apaches.”
“Not Apache. Comanche.”
His gaze settled back on Shining Waters. I had to fight the urge not to reach out and grab his throat. I could almost feel my fingers squeezing his last breath from his body...
Comanche war whoops echoed off the rocky canyon walls.
“They’re coming,” Cactus Flower whispered. “Get up Ma, let’s go home.”
“Em’ly! Em’ly?” Captain Charlie Redding skidded on his knees, almost tumbling as he came to a stop near my mother.
Her face relaxed. “Take care of children, Charlie. Comanche raid soldier fort.”
The blood-chilling cries of the Comanche met my ears as my mother, Shining Waters, expelled her last shuddering breath.
Captain Redding grasped the sides of his head and dug his fingers into his hair. Wordlessly, he spun on his booted heel and, with one punch, sent Tom reeling backward into Joe, who had backed off to a respectable distance when Captain Redding approached. Both soldiers collapsed in a pitiful heap. “We’re under Comanche attack and you killed my wife! You fools!”
I watched through wide and surprised eyes as Captain Redding drew his sabre and marched over to his soldiers.
“Ma?” Hysterical confusion overtook Cactus Flower as she tried to help our mother up. “Get up, Ma, we have to go!”
About the author:
Sara is a mother of four, animal lover and advocate, and conservationist. Little House on the Prairie, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and Lonesome Dove are among her favorite shows/movies and books. Sara holds her B.A. in History and is the author of the historical romance series, An Everlasting Heart, from 5 Prince Publishing and recently debuted into the children's book realm with Chunky Sugars (5 Prince Kids), written for her own chunky baby.