To free a tortured ghost, a shaman will enter enemy land in the dead of winter. What he discovers is a world of magic unimaginable...
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About the Author
KATHLEEN O'NEAL GEAR is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. Her solo novels include This Widowed Land, the western Thin Moon and Cold Mist, and the apocalyptic thriller Maze Master.
W. MICHAEL GEAR, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. His solo novels include the Western classic Long Ride Home, Big Horn Legacy and, as William Gear, This Scorched Earth.
The Gears, whose North America’s Forgotten Past series hit the international as well as USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists, are also the authors of the Anasazi Mysteries. They live in Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. With her husband, W. Michael Gear, she is the co-author of many books, including the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. She and her husband live in Thermopolis, WY.
W. Michael Gear, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. With his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, he has written the international and USA Today bestselling North America's Forgotten Past Series (including People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and Anasazi Mystery Series.
Read an Excerpt
The Dead Man's Doll
By W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All rights reserved.
Moon of Growing Sea Ice
On a low hill overlooking the ocean, the ghost of Madyrut huddled in an old chestnut tree with spectral arms wrapped around her nothingness, waiting for him.
Asson kept glancing up at the tree as he carefully made his way through the wet boulders that cluttered the shore. Sunlight, reflected from the ocean, glimmered over the chestnut, transforming its twigs into skeletal fingers that seemed to be pointing accusingly at his heart, as though Madyrut found something there gravely wanting.
"Don't be angry," he said. "I got here as quickly as I could. Ghosts don't understand that it's a nine-day canoe trip in winter."
Her branches flailed when Wind Woman gusted up the shore.
Asson stopped to take a drink from his sealskin water bladder. Once Madyrut had found him, she hadn't left Asson alone. For almost ten days, her thoughts had been his, but the reverse was not true. She didn't understand the difficulty of her request. Asson took a long drink, rearranged the Spirit pouches on his belt, and tied the bladder between them again.
The faint scent of smoke rode the breeze. He studied the heavily forested hills that lined the coast and saw no gray haze drifting above the trees that would have signaled the location of a village. Nonetheless, he kept his eyes open. The People of the Masks and the People of the Songtrail were old enemies. It would be very unpleasant for him if the Masks People found him alone in their territory.
Madyrut's sense of urgency knotted inside his heart until it hurt. "I'm coming."
He continued on his way, but carefully. Ice clung in the shadowed places between the boulders. At his age, it would not do to fall. A broken leg or hip would be a death sentence. He carefully wedged a foot and stepped down to the sand. A storm was building out at sea. Soon, he'd be wading through snow. He had to hurry, for her sake and his.
As he neared the winter-bare chestnut, he heard childish weeping. Asson did not know how Madyrut had been killed. She would not show him that, or perhaps she did not know herself. Often a person's last moments were a blur, and perhaps she'd been struck from behind. He knew only that she had been very young, and a warrior who had died in battle. Her People believed that each person had two souls. One stayed with the bones forever. The other, the afterlife soul, remained here for ten days. If the body of the dead person had been properly prepared, and Sung to the afterlife, on the tenth day she would be able to see the Star Road in the sky that led to the last bridge. At the foot of the bridge, all the animals a person had ever known stood waiting. The animals who had loved the person protected her as she crossed to the Land of the Dead on the other side. But the animals she had mistreated chased her, biting at her heels, striking her with their hooves, trying to force her to fall off the bridge into the dark abyss below.
Madyrut's body had not been prepared for the journey. It happened occasionally on battlefields. Before the family could get there to search, the beasts and birds had so ravaged the corpse it was unrecognizable, or it had been torn to bits and scattered through the forest. Sometimes, victorious warriors mutilated their enemy's body so the family could never find their loved one. It was the worst thing an enemy could do. For if a body was not prepared, the Star Road remained invisible to the afterlife soul. Condemned to remain on earth forever, it became a homeless ghost, rattling the cooking pots in the villages at night, eating the last dregs of soup. After a time, homeless ghosts retreated to old trees to sleep. It was these trees that the Masks People cut down for their defensive palisades, thereby surrounding their villages with vigilant ghost warriors.
"Hello, Madyrut," Asson called as he slogged through the tan sea of old leaves that covered the ground.
The weeping stopped, and he felt a change in the air. She was staring at him.
Asson sat down beneath the spreading branches and expelled a breath. "Please remember that not even the greatest shaman can help a soul that clings to this world as if its survival depends upon it. You must allow me to help you."
Crackling erupted as the frozen branches shifted and resettled. It startled him when images flashed through the forest. He glimpsed her running through the shadows dressed in a girl's fringed dress, laughing with three friends. A chubby girl trailed far behind, panting and stumbling. Madyrut's long black hair flew up when she jumped a fallen log. The winking light that appeared and disappeared was sunlight reflecting from the shell pendant she wore.
The other girls feared Madyrut. He could see it in the glances they gave her. She was big and strong. When Madyrut was angry, she ripped their hair and lashed out with her fists. She could swing a club as well as any boy. And they all knew there was something wrong with Madyrut. Sometimes, when the winter nights were very dark and still, Madyrut rose up from her warm hides and ran outside into the icy wilderness with her bow to hunt voices that she said lived in bark and twigs. Even in the end, when she died in battle, her friends could not feel sorry for her. Though her village had searched for days trying to find her body, they hadn't found a thing. Chubby had actually laughed out loud when Madyrut's anguished mother cried, "You were always a rock-headed child! You had no business becoming a warrior! It's your own fault you're dead!" Then Madyrut's mother had kicked the dirt, sending up a gray puff, and tramped away to the longhouse.
For her laughter, Chubby had received a stern pinch from her uncle.
Asson blinked to clear his eyes. The girls were still there, but young women now, stalking through the forest without Madyrut. Asson looked around, trying to find her. Finally, he saw her soul twinkling off to the side, mostly hidden behind a tree. About the size of a clenched fist, the light pulsed as though it had a heartbeat. She watched her friends, and heard them say, I hated her, she was ugly, I'm glad she's dead. They laughed and nodded to each other.
Barely audible weeping seeped through the air, or maybe it was just the breeze whimpering through the branches.
"Why do you still let them hurt you? Why does it matter now?"
Asson shoved his black hair behind his ears, and reached down to untie one of the Spirit pouches from his belt. He placed the red pouch with green zigzagging lines before him. As he opened the laces and began to lay out the tools he would need, Wind Mother rushed through the forest, and leaves swirled upward before lightly fluttering down.
"Is that why you weep? Are you afraid of meeting the girls in the Land of the Dead? Souls change once they reach the afterlife. They will be your friends, not your tormentors."
Best to cover my eyes and leave the things I've lost in holes in the ground.
"Things locked in darkness have a way of slipping up through the cracks and coming after you with loud thumping feet. We have to dig up the lost things, all of them, turn them over in our hands, smell them and taste them, until we know them for what they are."
The soul was a thing of glimmers and whispers. Grieving, feeling lonely beyond human understanding, it could become obsessed, or even go mad. Madyrut's had gone empty from longing too hard.
"Yes, I see her. You don't have to point her out to me."
At the edge of the battlefield, the chubby girl, now a woman, was dragging a body. It was heavy, very heavy, for Madyrut had worked hard to develop her muscles so she could swing a war club and shoot a bow, both necessary to get her out of the girls' world and into the proud world of warriors, where men valued her loyalty and her fighting skills. As she valued theirs. Madyrut had been happy for a few moons. The bark and twig voices had left her alone so that she could fight to protect her people. Though she had seen only fourteen winters, Madyrut had been a good warrior. She had died swinging her club to save a friend. In the end, she hadn't been strong enough to save herself. Or ... had she tried? Had she actually defended herself?
"Of course, you did. Stop thinking like that." Asson stared at the chestnut with kind eyes. He could not see her in there, and that was probably part of her reason for clinging to the old tree.
Her People had given up. They no longer spoke her name aloud, lest they draw her angry soul back to the village. They chased from their minds all memories of her silken waist-length hair and pug nose, her blue, porcupine-quill war shirt and feet that were way too big. When her blood seeped into the earth, her skin shrank over her skull and made her staring eyes huge. She had watched for them. She had waited. After a few days, they'd stopped looking for her. No one cared now that she would never make it to the blessed afterlife.
The smell of steeping water lily assaulted Asson's nostrils. He sneezed. Scratched. Found it hard to breathe. Tuberous water lily was a ghost medicine. It prevented the illnesses caused by ghosts.
"I am prepared for today. You don't have to protect me. If that's what you're doing."
She's coming, and she's powerful.
"Don't concern yourself with her. For today, just think about yourself, Madyrut. This is the tenth day. You are almost out of time."
Have you seen her coming?
"Yes, of course."
When the slant of sunlight changed, the bare ground at the base of the old chestnut flashed and sparkled. There were so many. The tears of the dead turned to quartz crystals. Where the shafts of sunlight touched them, they shot glimmers into the twigs and bark of the tree. The echoes of those tears would remain until long after humans had passed from the earth. Tears turned to bark and twig voices.
"He?" The word jarred Asson. For nine days, she'd been talking about a she coming.
From Asson's left, he saw movement. Lost things slipping from holes in the ground?
A boy appeared. He may have seen five or six winters. He had a dirty face and soot-coated shirt that hung to his knees. His faded red leather leggings had worn thin in spots, as though they'd been handed down many times. He ran a grimy hand beneath his beaked nose.
"You'd better leave," the boy said in a dire voice.
"Dead people make you sick. They come in the afternoon and at night. If you're drinking Spirit plant broths to get well, they spoil it by putting a finger in it. They want to make others sick, so they will die and join them. She'll get you."
"She hasn't gotten you, has she?"
The boy cocked his head, then shook it. "You're not very smart for an elder."
Asson's mouth quirked. An odd gleam lit the child's black eyes.
The boy pointed to the chestnut. "There's a ghost underneath that tree. Nobody loves her anymore. You'd better leave before she sees you."
Asson stared at him. "How do you know there's a ghost there?"
"She told me she's dead."
Asson paused to think about that. "Which means that when you first heard her voice you thought she was alive. So she talks to you?"
No answer. The boy just drew designs in the leaves with one foot. His shoulder-length black hair was knotted and filled with old leaves and twigs, as though he'd been lying in the forest looking up through the canopy at the drifting clouds.
"Are you afraid of her?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," he announced, puffing out his chest. "But my friends would be. They'd never come here."
Asson grunted as he carefully scooped aside the leaves so he could arrange his fire-hardened digging stick and chert scrapers on the damp ground. The brittle scent of old leaves filled his nose. "That means you are the braver than they are."
"I'm the bravest boy in the village," he said, but glanced a little fearfully at the tree.
"Well, that's fine. Then perhaps you will help me."
"What are you ..."
Madyrut smothered a sob, and the boy's eyes went wide and focused on the ground at the base of the tree. Sunlight falling through the branches created a wavering yellow mosaic.
Asson's eyes narrowed. Yes, indeed. This was no ordinary boy. "Do you know why she weeps?"
"All of her beloved companions, lovers, and friends have abandoned her. She is alone. Condemned to wander the earth forever ... unless we help her. Try to imagine what it would be like to live in an old tree, staring at the sky every night, and never able to see the Star Road that leads to freedom."
The boy swallowed hard. He took two steps forward. Genuinely concerned, he said, "But I'm here. I talk to her. So do you. She's not alone."
Asson gave him a small smile. "Well, she barely knows you and me. It's not the same. What's your name, boy?"
"Gausep the Brave. That's a good name."
The boy licked his lips and gave the sky a scared glance. As the afternoon waned, shadows engulfed the depths of the forests, turning them obsidian black. The fragrance of moldering leaves, tinged with smoke, scented the cold air.
"Does your mother know you're here? It's getting late. Maybe you should start home."
Gausep didn't seem to hear him. Emptiness filled his eyes, as though he was seeing something far away and not quite of this world. "Have you ever seen her chamber in the longhouse?"
Asson blinked. The statement made no sense. Madyrut had been dead for days. "Madyrut has a chamber in a longhouse?"
"Did," the boy clarified. "Her mother went mad and said if the dead girl had to be a ghost that she needed a place to stay warm. She made a wooden figurine and hung the girl's dresses on it; then she stuffed the girl's moccasins with cornhusks and wore them around her neck. My mother told me she'd go mad, too, if I died."
"Did you know Madyrut's mother? Are you of her People?"
The boy shivered and rubbed his arms, but Asson did not think the shiver came from being cold. "I don't ever want to know her mother or her People."
Asson slowly exhaled while he contemplated the strange child. "Where are you from, Gausep? How close is your village?"
Gausep aimed an arm vaguely south, then turned away. Pale light streamed down through the chestnut's branches to dapple his dirty face as he danced through the dead leaves, kicking them high into the air, all thoughts of ghosts apparently gone. His laughter was sweet and high, as melodious as the call of a finch in spring.
"I suspect your mother is frightened and wondering where you are. You should go home. You shouldn't worry her this way."
As though the words surprised him, the boy stopped playing and trotted forward to drop to his knees beside Asson. When Asson looked down into Gausep's eyes, they appeared to be bottomless wells, ethereal and shiny.
Gausep gestured. "Is that a hickory digging stick?"
"Hickory is a good hard wood. What are you going to dig up?"
"Well, lost souls tend to hover close to their bodies, so I'm looking for lost things. Things locked in darkness. Or maybe just the stepping stones that ghosts use to start the Star Road."
Gausep's jaw dropped. "The stepping stones? You're looking for the flashes of light that lead to the Land of the Dead? Do you want to die?"
"Is that what your people believe? The soul follows flashes of light to the afterworld? My people believe we follow a Songtrail. But death isn't a bad thing, Gausep. It's just a link between worlds. At some point, we are each called, not to do something, but to be somewhere. Masks People believe that the soul runs through the sunset, called by animal friends, then trots on through the night. Finally, at dawn, the dead person runs straight onto the bridge. Memories come, come fast upon him, and he sees all things as if from above. He understands, at last—"
"But ..." The boy paused to wet his lips. He looked troubled. "What's on the other side? Do you know?"
"Oh, there's a big camp. It's a beautiful sunny day. The children are playing, splashing and swimming in the river, running races with barking dogs. As soon as the People see the dead person walking toward them, they call to him, begging him to join them. 'Come down, brother, aunt, father,' whatever relation he is. He knows everyone in the camp, and loves them all. He runs toward them in joy."
Gausep wiped his hands on his red leather leggings, as though his palms had started to sweat in the winter cold. "He follows footprints to get there. Ghosts leave footprints."
Excerpted from The Dead Man's Doll by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 2015 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Moon of Growing Sea Ice,
Nine Days Ago,
November 24, A.D. 1002,
Tor and Forge titles by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Dead Man's Doll by Kathleen O'Neal Gear What a beautiful look into the mythology of the People of the Songtrail and the People of the Masks. The Character introduction of Asson how his abilities were used to help a young woman Madryut find the bridge to the land of the Dead. With the descriptions of the opposing tribes beliefs in what happens to spirits after death. Asson finds that Gausep is the reason Madryut is caught in this world. His adventure is supplemented with the events of the exile of Vethrid. Her exile shows us William a slave of the norsemen and some of the events following St. Brice Day massacre of the Danelaw, ordered by King Aethelred.
Not one of their best but a nice short story.
If you enjoy the Gears novel's you will enjoy this short story.