“No, run! Getaway. Run!” Sing-to-Stars chest tightens, making it hard to breathe. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead. She thrashed on her basketweave bed then bolted to a sitting position. Her eyes reflected the flames from a campfire just outside her wooden hut’s door and her pupils dilated in terror. She threw off her blanket, put on her shawl, and ran barefooted into the night.
Three Indian men of Central Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in the year 1910 spoke in hush tones while they sat around the campfire. Dressed in white cotton shirts and trousers with a wool blanket called a serape draped over their shoulders, they each drank swigs of a milk-colored liquor called pulque. The girl hurried by, surprising them. One taunt face young man pointed at her and tried to wave her back, but no one could stop her. They saw only her running feet and her ponytail swishing across her shoulders.
She raced by other huts and adobe houses. From one of these houses, a pair of eyes watch the frightened girl head out of the village. Sing-to-Stars took long strides onto a graveled trail that led toward the nearby mountain walls. After several minutes of a hard climb, she stopped and turned. Looking down at her village, she gasped for mouthfuls of air, bend over, and then spit on the ground. She held her sides with both hands, and after catching her breath, she could see her peaceful village in the night. “A dream. A frightful dream.” The flooded village. I saw it. It seemed so real. She trotted on to her favorite place of solitude.
Sitting cross-legged on a mountain ledge, the Indian girl of the Otomi people tilted her face toward a myriad of jeweled stars, painted across a black velvet sky and from each star, a life force radiated a song of a beloved ancestor. She felt a dry wind blow across her face calming her anguish, her dread. Her black hair floated in front of her eyes, tickled her nose, causing her to sneeze. In the distance, a coyote howled, its call mournful, its call of sorrow. The scent of mesquite wood waif into her nostrils from her village’s campfires nestled below, between the Mountain Lord’s feet, and Mother River’s arms. Sing-to-Stars, for this, is the name her mother gave her when she first raised her chubby arms as an infant and cooed at the night sky, felt the Mountain Lord rumble deep in the earth, pulsating through her body. The ancestors then joined in as a chorus, leaving her to sing the melody. She sang in her native tongue by lifting her alto voice, which pierced the heavens, the joy of a child, communing with the Great Spirit.
Mother calls to me
Father calls to me
My heart longs to be
In your arms, close to me
Bring me home
Bring me home
In your arms, close to me
Behind her, she hears the crunching of gravel, then the sound of climbing feet. Sing-to-Stars turns and sees a shadowy figure move toward her. The nape of her neck tightens.
“Who is there?” Sing-to-Stars breathed rapidly and readied herself to leap off the ledge.
A relief came over her as she relaxes. Searching the shadows, she said, “Come.”
Ant Flower moved forward. Sing-to-Stars could see an outline and then her friend’s face. A faint flicker of reddish light from the campfires below dance across it.
“May I join you?” said Ant Flower.
“I heard you singing. Your voice is so pretty.” Ant Flower pulled her cotton dress tight against her thighs and sat on a small blanket that she laid on the rock. She then slipped off her sandals and covered herself with a shawl around her shoulders. “What song was that?”
“The Song of the Ancestors.” “I sing to Mother Earth and Father Sky,” said Sing-to-Stars. “Look.” She pointed toward the sky. “Can you see those three stars in a row? That is the crown of the Virgin Mary. She looks down on all of us. Protect us.”
“I see them.” Ant Flower shifted her gaze from the stellar crown to her friend’s uplifted face. “Why did you come here by yourself and sing to the stars?” I saw you running past my house. Did you have another dream?”
Sing-to-Stars raised her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, then laid her head on her knees. She searched Ant Flower's face for understanding, and for comfort. “Yes. The dream terrified me. It felt like a warning.”
Ant Flower nodded. “Your dreams have come true before. Tell me about your dream.”
“I can’t. No one will believe me that it is a warning.”
Ant Flower turned her head toward the village then back to Sing-to-Stars. “I believe you. I will always believe.”
Sing-to-Stars sighed, took a deep breath, then said, “Promise me that what I am about to tell you, you must never speak of to anyone. Promise?”
Ant Flower cast her eyes downward. After several moments, she flicked them upward and nodded. “I promise.”
Sing-to-Stars remained quiet as she recollected her memories then said, “I heard a great rumble moving from the north. It sounded like thunder, at first faint then louder and louder until I had to cover my ears. Around the bend of the river, I saw a wall of water pushing everything in front of it. The torrent swept away our village. I saw bodies, and cattle, and houses rushing by. It’s too terrible to think about it.”
Ant Flower’s eyes grew wide, her mouth opened, and her body shook. She did not say anything at first and then blurted out her words. “You have to tell the Elders. You have to warn them. A terrible flood is going to happen. You must tell them.”
Sing-to-Stars brought her close and rested Ant Flower’s head on her shoulder. “They will not believe me. The last time I warn the village, I was blamed for bringing calamity to our people…remember?” Sing-to-Stars could still see Father Eduardo trying to convince the Council of Elders that only God controls nature when she warned them of a coming earthquake. His intercession spared her from banishment or worse.
Ant Flower said, “This is different. This is a vision from the Great Father. The Great Father is warning you, He is warning us. Had my parents listened to you they will still be alive.”
“You promise me you will not say anything.”
“I know I did. That is why you must tell the Elders. They have to know. At least they might interpret it.”
Sing-to-Stars thought, they will not believe. They will say I am a witch. She then said. “Only a man may approach the Elders. A woman may not speak with the council. You know that.”
“I know. Maybe you can tell your father, and he could tell them?”
Sing-to-Stars said, “Why should I?” It will only bring me pain. If I tell him the dream and he believes me that does not mean he will tell the council.”
Ant Flower cupped her hand under Sing-to-Stars chin, turned her head toward her, and said, “Our people deserve to live. What you have seen will happen. Our people need you.”
Sing-to-Stars pulled away, crossed her arms over her knees, and stared straight ahead. She pictured the houses and huts, the running feet, the cries of terror. After a while, she turned to Ant Flower and said, “I will tell my father. If he believes me, fine. If he does not believe me, fine. Whether or not he tells the Elders, fine. At least I gave the warning. What he does with it is no longer my problem.”
“We must warn others,” said Ant Flower.
Sing-to-Stars looked back to the stars and felt the rhythms of the Mountain Lord flowing through her body. “Tomorrow after I tell him, we will gather anyone else who listens and go to the Mountain Lord’s shrine and pray.”
The next morning a rooster’s crow awoke Sing-to-Stars. She opened her half slit eyes and tried to brush away the grogginess from her mind. Where was she? Was it real? She felt her face with her hands then moved them along her familiar bedding. Did the village drown? Maybe… maybe… of course the mountain ledge and Ant, it all came back to her. The reassuring sounds of village life sounded outside her shack’s walls. She rose out of bed and let her feet touch the cold dirt floor. The wooden walls and thatched roof let chilled wind leak through its cracks. She dressed this time, slipped on her sandals, and went outside into the four o'clock in the morning darkness, and felt the cold mountain air sting her cheeks and arms.
Later that morning the men and older boys of the village strolled back from their morning work in the fields for breakfast. They spoke amongst themselves in their Otomi tongue because very few of them spoke Spanish, the language of their conquerors. Kills Many walked among them and called out to his daughter. “Sing, come over here.” He waved his hand at her.
Sing-to-Stars saw her father, a medium-size man with his long black hair streaked with silver and tied back into a ponytail. His clothes were different from the traditional people of Mexico. He wore canvas trousers, leather moccasin boots, a white shirt, and a dark vest. His red headband and turquoise necklace revealed a warrior’s spirit that burned within him. When he worked in the fields, Kills Many wore a Mexican hat called a sombrero to keep his head shaded from the sun of the high altitude plateaus. Sing-to-Stars left the serving table where the men had gathered for breakfast and hurried over to her father. “Yes, Papa.”
“You were seen running out of the village last night, headed for the mountain. Is this true?” Kills Many spoke in a broken Otomi dialect for it was not the tongue of his birth.
“Who said I did?”
“Come on Sing, is it true?”
“If you heard it from Barking Dog...”
Sing-to-Stars caught herself. She had used her made-up name of Barking Dog to described Brave Wolf, that taunt faced young man that liked to spread rumors and gossip about people, especially rumors about her.
“Err… I mean Brave Wolf… he and his friends were drinking last night. Their laughter woke me up. I went for a run in the cool air so that I might sleep better.”
“I told not to go up the mountains at night alone. It’s dangerous. Why you go up there again?”
Sing-to-Stars steeled herself from the coming criticism and pondered. Should I unleash my vision? Ant Flower's pleads came to her mind, “Our people deserve to live.”
“Papa, what I have to say is important. I have to warn the village. Something terrible is going to happen.”
“What are you talking about? What terrible thing?”
“I had a vision last night. A warning. That’s why I went to the mountain so that I can pray.”
“Oh no, not again. Sing, what have I told you about dreams. I told you to keep mouth shut. Do you want to get us banished?”
“Papa, listen. A flood is going to destroy the village. You have to listen to me.”
Kills Many felt his daughter’s anxiety. “All right, tell me.”
Sing-to-Stars' body trembled, her speech stumbled as she stuttered her words, and her eyes moisten when she then described the details of her vision, how the wall of water swept away the village causing the death of many people.
Kills Many has heard all these stories before. “When will it happen Sing? Do you know who or what or how all this going to take place?”
“Ah, no…but the vision was vivid and clear, I saw everything, it seemed so real. I just know it is from the Great Father. There is no mistaking its urgency.”
Kills Many crossed his arms and thought back about when she warned about the earthquake, which did come true, but everyone knows that earthquakes are common in these mountains. The problem is when will it happen? People laughed at her and thought she was crazy. There were a few people that believed her, like Ant Flower, who stayed safe by remaining outside their homes. The next day the earthquake hit. Kills Many would not have stayed outside except that his wife Bird Mountain forced him to believe and save the family. Nevertheless, what about the rest of Sing’s dreams? She has one every other month. Which one can he believe and which one can he ignore? Most of her dreams never come true. She says that they just haven’t come true yet, but it is unnerving folks. People don’t want to know the future. It’s just bad luck.
Sing-to-Stars tilted her head and tried to read her father’s face for any sign of cooperation. The vision must get through to him. She said, “You have to tell the Elders. They have to know so that our village can prepare.”
“Tell them what?” Kills Many took off his hat a slapped it on his thigh. “That my daughter saw a flood come to our village and everybody dies. She doesn’t know when, she don't tell us who, or what, or how all this going to happen.”
“Just tell the Elders Papa, please.” Sing-to-Stars closed her fist and repeatedly smacked it into her leg. “Let them decide if what I say is true.”
“Sing, enough. I told you. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t tell anyone or they will lock us up.”
Sing-to-Stars felt the depth of desperation and resentment and anger toward her father for not believing in her and because of that, innocent people will drown. Her words exploded. “Fine! Don’t tell them. I told you the vision, now our people’s blood is on your hands, not mine. Just remember the earthquake. Do what you want.” Sing-to-Stars then threw up her hand, and with a flick of her wrist dismissed him.
Slap! Kills Many struck his daughter’s face with the palm of his hand. “Watch your mouth.” He grabbed Sing’s wrist and said, “I teach you. Come with me.”
Sing-to-Stars grabbed her father’s thumb with her free hand and twisted it back, breaking his grip. “Let go. You just don’t know. I hate you.” She turned and fled, and wiped her tears from her stung face with the edge of her shawl. She sprinted down the road toward Ant Flower’s house and in her ears were the cursing of her father’s oaths.
* * *
Ant Flower peered out the window of her home and beheld a rumpled sight of Sing-to-Stars with sweat dripping off her forehead. “What happen to you?”
Sing-to-Stars flung her back against Ant Flower’s door then sank to her haunches trying to catch her breath. “It's my father…my father is after me.”
Ant Flower opened the door and let Sing-to-Stars slide inside her house. Sing fixed her eyes on the mountain’s peak and her breathing labored. “Your vision? You told him?’
“I told you he wouldn’t believe me. Now he wants to kill me.”
“Well, maybe not kill me. I hope. Let’s just say he wants to use his belt in ways other than holding up his pants.”
“He’ll spank you?
“No worse. He’s acting crazy.”
Ant kneeled and dried Sing's forehead with a cloth then went outside to the water pump and filled a clay cup and gave it to her. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know your father would be so violent.”
Sing-to-Stars drank deeply from the cup. After she had her fill, she said, “Hey, his name is Kills Many. What did you expect?”
“What will we do now?”
Sing-to-Stars thought of her friend Cat Meadow, the daughter of the Chief, who could spread news quickly when she got hold of it. “Find Cat. Tell her to pass the word to all our friends that tomorrow a flood will come down the river and destroy the village. Those who want to, will go with us to the Mountain Lord’s shrine and pray.”
The next day many of the people of the village went to higher ground and watched for the coming flood. Sing-to-Stars' mother, Bird Mountain, demanded that Kills Many believe her daughter. Cat Meadow convinced her father the Chief to evacuate the village and the people either prayed or busied themselves in moving their household goods. They did not have long to wait. Dark clouds brought torrents of rain on the Sierra Madre mountain range, causing a flood to race along the Moctezuma River, and just as Sing-to-Stars predicted it swept away their village.
That night Sing-to-Stars and Ant Flower sat on their mountain ledge. They wrapped an arm around each other’s waists, rested their heads against one another, and gazed at the stars in silence. A shooting star streaked across the heavens and burned out near the horizon. Lightning flashes lit the distant mountains. After a long while, Sing-to-Stars said to Ant Flower, “You are my sister now. You believed in me and convinced me to tell the people. Because of that, we all survived.”
Ant Flower said, “We are sisters? I like that, but you can keep your Dad.”