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Inspired by

‘Heavy Collar and the Ghost Girl’


Copyright © 2017 Jonathan Giddinge

All Rights Reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher/author.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, locations, and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is merely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Chapter One

It was late summer when my people gathered in the bowl and watched as a pyre, which held the remains of the Chief Leader, was prepared.

The year was two-hundred-fifty A.W. We started the calendar over after the Great War, mostly because the war lasted so long and destroyed so much, that it just made sense to reset everything and start over fresh. Before the great war, our ancestors left the earth and ascended to Zion. We call on our ancestors for guidance and we look to the heavens for answers. When we look to the sky, we see Zion, a cluster of bright stars that slowly circle the earth watching everything we do.

It is said that one day, our ancestors will return and bring peace and prosperity to all the camps, clans and tribes. The people of my camp were known as the ‘Valley People’. We came together after the war in a place they called “Vegas”. It was said that all the people of the world once live in that very spot. They would gather to enjoy life and relax. The fathers said that there were once great buildings that stretched to the heavens and were filled with people from every walk of life and from every nation.

My camp sat on the edge of a lake bed. It was large and surrounded by shrubs, bushes and tall grass. The plant life was very dry, only receiving rainfall a few times a year.

Many years before I was born, our land became uninhabitable and after years of searching, our Chief Leader led our people to the lake. Our people had moved many time over the years, following the game and fertile lands.

Our leader was Thabian Knight, son of Wilhelm, and he was the Chief Leader of the Valley People. He was the youngest leader of our people and the greatest since our founder, Abraham Knight. We are not one people, we are many. Scroungers, farmers, hunters, builders, and of course, fighters made up the camp.

I am Jacob Knight, the only heir of Thabian, and I am Chief Leader of the Valley People. At the age of twenty-nine I sat upon my throne and watched as my people prepared my father’s remains so that his soul could make the journey to Zion to live with and become one of the ancestors.

To my right sat my mother, Ariana, the camps Medicine Woman, and being the wife of the former Chief Leader, she was dressed all in white as a sign of mourning and purification. She wore a leather belt with a large ornate brass buckle. Carved deep into the buckle was the cluster of stars that made up Zion and tied to the leather belt were several small pouches containing herbs and other tools of her trade. Next to my mother was her student, Karline, whom I have known nearly my entire life. She was younger than me with hair darker than night that hovered just above her shoulders. Her bright green eyes seemed to glow in the moonlight, seen even through the black veil that she wore to respect the loss of her leader.

We called it, ‘The Bowl’, and it was where we held all ceremonies. At the top sat my throne and below it were five rows of seats, each raised higher than the previous. There were three gaps in the seating for entrances, east, south and west. My throne sat at the top of the north facing section.

Twelve women wearing light cloth wrapped around their chests and waists walked in, surrounded the pyre and stopped to face the crowd of nearly two-hundred that had gathered to pay tribute. An old woman walked into the ring holding a torch high above her head and walking with a slow and unsteady gate aided by a twisted cane. She wore black dyed leather and canvas from head to toe and bells hung at the end of her long, matted gray hair.

She walked to the south end of the pyre after circling it once and looked me in the eyes. I could feel the pressure of her soul looking into mine as she lowered the torch and set the pile of wood on fire.

Drums began to bang out a quick beat as the twelve women began to dance around the growing fire. The flames reached out for the ancestors and the old woman left the ring the same way she entered and the dancers continued their tribute to their former leader, circling the flames, their cloth flowing as they spun.

After what seemed like way too long, Hugh, a very old man walked into the ring holding the symbol of our Chief Leader. It was a large collar that draped over the shoulders, made of three concentric rings of brass, each held to the other with straps of leather. The top ring was polished to reflect the face of leadership, the second was covered in the symbols of many camps, tribes and clans with a bare foot in the center, the symbol of our people. This was to show the unity of all people. The third brass ring was rough and mixed with copper, silver and gold which symbolized the joining of all people with the ancestors. In the center of the third ring was a carving in the shape of Zion which looked down on us and watched every move we made.

Hugh held the collar toward the heavens for the ancestors to see as he walked around the ring, the dancers gave him room as he passed with a proud stride. After two trips around the quickly growing fire, he stopped in front of where I was seated.

My father was only seventeen when he witnessed this ceremony from the same throne. He took on the task of leading our people at such an early age, but was truly the greatest leader the Valley People ever had. He broke convention when he took a medicine woman as his wife and killed his own brother for siding with raiders and attacking other camps. He made new laws and took his people into a land of plenty. Now, that land is dying and I will have to be great like him, or greater to save my people.

I stood and waited for the old man to make his way to me. I was not kingly looking at all, slightly overweight with short and messy brown hair and beard to match. I dressed comfortably, not to occasion, and I always wore a belt with holstered revolver. It was a gun that I had found when I was a young boy, just a frame with rusty bits, but I spend months cleaning it and scavenging parts from like revolvers. I carved new grips and wrapped them in leather, and I used pitch to hold the leather tight to the grips. I cleaned out the barrel and oiled the cylinder. I found a scope and mount, but it was too big, so I wrapped a leather strap around the barrel and it fit perfectly. I don’t always have the scope on, but it stays close to me, just in case I need it. Once I found a replacement trigger, it was ready to use, however, no matter how much work I put into it, I could not get it to fire smoothly. My mother took it to her workshop and when she brought it back, it worked perfectly. I hit everything I aimed at; powerful magic made the rounds go where I wanted every time. I don’t claim to know what magic she used on my gun, but when I pull the trigger, it does the job at any distance with little recoil.

My mother always said that a man’s appearance says everything about him. She always tried to get me to dress nice, at least when in public, but I would never have it. I wanted to be comfortable, able to move if needed. We live with the threat of other camps, raider and nomads who want to take what we had, so I need to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. There were also the numerous wild creatures running about looking for a quick meal so I kept the gun at my side at all times. My mother also called me over protective and paranoid, but I was okay with that. All the magic in her veins could never change me, but I know she loved me for who I was, no matter how much she wanted me to change.

As Hugh made his way to my throne, the old man was walking with the stride of a man half his age, a strength given to him by the power that flowed through the collar. Suddenly, the fire caught my eye and I stared deep into the flames, perhaps through the dancing flames that were feeding on the cloth that covered my father’s body. As I stared I saw the soul of my father rise and turn to me.

“Follow me, my son,” his spirit moaned in an echoing and morose tone.

He stared at me with a look that was somehow both joyful and sorrowful at the same time. His white hair danced in the flames as he continued to speak for only me to hear.

“Lead our people, Jacob. Lead them to a new land of plenty and make peace with the land and all its people.”

Tears flowed freely from my eyes as Hugh held the collar skyward once again. He was standing just a foot away from me; I stood.

“This collar signifies the weight that a leader must bear every day,” he began with a raspy voice. “It signifies the power that is passed from one Chief Leader to another.”

He turned away from me and spoke loudly to address the crowd, “One leader lies before you ready to make his way to Zion to live with the ancestors, while another stands before you ready to take his place among the great leaders of our people.”

He turned back to me and held the collar above his head one last time. He struggled to hold it up as he mumbled something to me. I didn’t understand all his words, but I knew what I had to do. So, I knelt on one knee and held my head high.

Hugh place the collar over my head and rested it on my shoulders. The weight of the thing was more than I was expecting, but I stayed still, not letting the people see me struggle. Once the collar was resting fully on my shoulders, I truly felt the weight of the camp, the weight of my new position. The weight of every soul in camp, and even those that might join us later. At that very moment, I knew what it meant to carry the woes of the world on my shoulders. I would need to lead the people to food and even a fresh land, if it should come to that.

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