Excerpt from ‘Calico’ by Allison Bruning


I have recently interviewed author Allison Bruning. You can read the interview here. She has graciously provided us with a wonderful excerpt from her book, ‘Calico’

Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Calico

June 19, 1764 – Lower Chillicothe Town, Southern Ohio

Small groups of women washed clothes in the medium-sized river at the back of the village. Children ran along the large barrier wall made of thick tree trunks that flanked the sides of the village. Calico watched the boys interact with each other. She peered around the bustling village. Men relaxed on the ground while women worked, children played and elders taught the young men. A tear fell from Calico’s eyes with the recollection of her own parents.

Last season, her father had led their family across the wide Ohio River and into the secluded valley where the village lay. Shawnee trails were difficult for any white man to follow. Unlike most native tribes, the Shawnee never followed the waterways of rivers, creeks, or streams. Like a large spider web, the paths they carved were laid in order to confuse the enemy and protect their families. Only a Shawnee knew how to read the invisible walkways of the forest. Calico’s father had been no exception. François painstakingly memorized every detail of the forest. She knew her father was a great tracker, but Alexander had shocked her in his knowledge of the area.

“Calico?” a middle aged woman from her left asked. Calico turned in the woman’s direction. Quiet Turkey’s black hair shone in the sunlight. She carried a basket of clean laundry. Beautiful and mysterious, Little Owl’s mother approached her. “Calico, aren’t you supposed to be with Creek?”

“I forgot something.”

“You just arrived a few hours ago. What could you have possibly forgotten?”

“I left a basket in the cabin. Aunt Creek said Uncle Pierre wanted to fish while we did the laundry.”

“I thought Fox Claw hunted before he entered the council house.”

Calico froze at the woman’s question. “I– ugh– he– did?”

“You didn’t leave anything in Creek’s cabin, did you?”

“I have to go.” Calico ran quickly towards the large rectangular house in the upper center of the U-shaped village. “Calico,” Quiet Turkey yelled after her. Calico ignored the Kishpoko woman’s cries. She picked up pace.

Step by step, she shoved her way through the crowded palisade, thinking of the village. She loved this village the most. Summertime brought families out of the winter hunting camps. Extended families and friends gathered together, anxious to share stories, dance the ceremonial dances, and feast together. The population rose from ten to over a hundred people within a few weeks. It was the perfect situation to glean the information she sought without suspicions.

Calico stopped to see if anyone was watching. She, along with the other Shawnee children, could roam the village freely, and she was one of Chief Big Deer’s many grandchildren. But still, as a girl of eight years, she was supposed to gather wood and help Creek with other village chores. She knew Creek would soon send someone to find her. Most days, Calico wanted to play the hoop and pole game with the boys, but girls were forbidden to play with boys. The games trained the boys to be strong warriors. Calico’s heart yearned for excitement. Yet today was different. Chief Kicking Horse and Chief Big Deer had called forth the council of family elders. She saw Pierre and Alexander join the council alongside the wise shaman, Yellow Oak. She was supposed to stay with the women, so she had to remain hidden.

Calico sat near the outside, back corner of the longhouse. Her fingers removed part of the bark at the bottom so she could peek in. She turned her head to make certain she wasn’t going to get caught. Chief Kicking Horse’s rectangular cabin lay behind her. Its large size blocked her from view.

Calico lay on the ground and peered through the hole she had made. She saw the small fire circle in the middle of the ground, surrounded by the family elders, with Alexander and Pierre next to Peace Chief Big Deer and War Chief Kicking Horse. Calico scooted forward to get a better look. She listened with interest to every word, desperate to know what the elderswere saying. The British had not only killed her real family, but her Shawnee family, as well. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. They had to do something. She wanted them to strike back at the British. She gulped at the sight of Chief Big Deer’s face turned toward her. She wondered if he saw her there.

She thought about the stories the people told of her family. Before the French and Indian War, Chief Big Deer had adopted her father in order to secure the trade relations they had with the French. “A Shawnee will only trade within his own family,” her father used to say. Years later, he married Anna and introduced her to the tribe while she carried the twins.

The tribe told stories of her mother walking the gauntlet, nine months pregnant. Chief Big Deer had never wanted her to walk the gauntlet, but their mother had insisted that her husband’s people, were her people. With compassion, the peace chief had asked War Chief Kicking Horse to order the people not to hit her stomach. He had agreed. Step by step, Anna endured the gauntlet. She had almost made it to the end when an older woman hit her hard on her stomach. Anna fell while Calico pushed out of her. Her screams lifted in the air while the other women ran to her side. François paced with regret that he had allowed Anna to walk the gauntlet and agonized over her screams.  Then, just as he couldn’t take her screams any longer, Calico’s cries replaced the sound of her mother’s torment. Anna returned to the gauntlet with Calico in her arms, finished the walk, and then collapsed with labor pains into François’ arms. Rose came into the world soon after.

Calico heard movement. She re-focused her attention to the interior of the council house.

Calico breathed sigh of relief as her uncle spoke. “Anna died from the same ailment.”

“Calico and Rose?”

“The twins show no signs of smallpox.”

“Good.”

Alexander looked into the eyes of the middle-aged Shawnee peace chief. Chief Big Deer’s light red shirt hung over his leather pants. His long, jet black hair hung down his back. Four large feathers pulled back his bangs and hung to the right. Chief Big Deer looked over at the Pierre, who was sitting to the left of Alexander. “Fox Claw, you said you found the trading party.”

Pierre answered, “Oui, Little Owl and I burned les cadavres. They…”

Calico froze. She felt the presence of someone crouched beside her. She breathed, closed her eyes, and ignored the conversation in the longhouse. Little Owl stared down and called to her in a demeaning tone, “Op-pel-loo-tha?”

Calico opened her eyes and sat with her back against the hole in the wall. She stared into Little Owl’s deep brown eyes and fought back the fear she had for him. With a stern expression, he growled at her. She gulped, and in an effort to avoid eye contact, stared at the four silver wires that hung like wheels from his elongated earlobes. She knew all the men of the Shawnee had their earlobes spliced opened and extended when they became a man.

“Don’t call me that. I have a name, and it isn’t ‘Young Child.’”

“Mot-chi-te-he-thie nie-chan,” he growled at her.

Calico translated and gasped. “I’m not an evil child! Leave me alone.”

“No.”

“I’ll scream.”

“Go ahead. I want to see the look on kieh-ki-lin-lie Big Deer and Yellow Oak’s faces when they find that their granddaughter has disobeyed.”

Calico cast her eyes towards the hole behind her, then back to Little Owl. “My parents died.”

“My the-tha died.”

“I don’t care if your older brother died. Move.”

“No. What is hiding behind your back? I can see you have done something you were not supposed to.”

“I don’t have to listen to you, child.”

“Watch your tongue, white girl. I am nineteen years.”

“You live with your parents and can’t marry.”

“Do not argue with me! Give me what you are hiding.”

“No.” Calico pushed her back against the wall. She crossed her arms in defiance.

Little Owl looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Wehpetheh!”

Calico took a deep breath. “No! I really hate you. You’re not a warrior. Ha, the son of the war chief. You probably couldn’t shoot the side of a cabin if you tried.”

Little Owl took a step toward her. He lunged at her and grabbed her around the waist. He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. Calico pounded on his back and kicked fiercely as he walked her toward a tree at the back of the longhouse. “Let go of me! Little Owl Quick as the Wind!”

Little Owl held her in the air, then dropped her to the ground. Her bottom ached. She took a deep breath, leaned on her side for relief, and looked up at Little Owl as he yelled at her. “I told you to move and you defied me. Not only defied me, but ridiculed me. You have no right to say such things to me!” He crouched over her body.

“I wanted the British to kill you.”

“And I you.”

“I hate you, Little Owl Quick as the Wind, and I hope you die without honor.”

“You know we don’t say things that hurt other people’s feelings.”

“When did that ever stop you? You hurt my feelings all the time, just like you did a few moments ago.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. Calico held her breath. Her heart beat faster. The silence between them intensified her guilt. Calico raised her gaze into his. He leaned closer to her with a snarl. “I hate you, but I must respect you. Do not think I do not want to kill you. Give me what you hide.”

“Hmph.” Calico rose from the ground and felt his sharp gaze through the back of her head. She crossed her arms over her chest and showed Little Owl the mouse-sized hole.

Little Owl shook his head and stood. “You put a hole in the council house to spy on the elder’s meeting.” Calico lowered her head. He lifted her chin and saw her eyes full of tears. “Look at me with your face held high and take the accusations placed against you like a sawano and not like a pathetic white girl.” Calico sniffed and wiped away her tears. His words had cut her deep in her heart. He had always taunted her, but her parents had shielded his attacks. He let go of her chin and stared down at her. “Now tell me the truth.”

“I just wanted to know what they plan to do to the British for killing the Shawnee and my parents.”

“It’s none of your concern what they decide to do about it. Go and help Creek skin the elk Fox Claw brought. She sent me to find you.”

“How did you find me?”

“My mother told me where to look. If you want to remain hidden, perhaps you shouldn’t stop to talk to her. Go help Creek and Rose with the meat.”

“Little Owl, please, I just want to know. The British killed my parents.Your father can lead an attack on the British for killing his eldest son and the rest of the Shawnee.”

“Calico, it doesn’t work like that. Come with me.” He placed his hand around her back and guided her.

“I don’t want to go with you. You will hurt me.”

“I may despise your very existence, but I honor my kieh-ki-lin-lie and his wisdom. You must learn a lesson about life.”

Calico nodded and turned with him towards the village. They walked a few feet away from the council house.

He knelt beside her. “What do you see?”

She stared at the camp. Women picked berries, sewed moccasins, fixed lunch and performed other common chores while men busied themselves making tools, talking with one another or teaching the children. The spirits of the dead walked in the camp among their loved ones. She knew they would stay for at least a week until they went to the other side.

“I see them.”

“You see life returning to normal. When the council ends, the elders will help the people to mourn. The needs of the people must be met.”

“You don’t understand, Little Owl. I see them.” She stressed the last part, knowing she couldn’t say the names of the dead, otherwise they would not have rest in the afterlife.

Little Owl nodded his head. “Them as in…”

“Yes.”

He rose quickly, took her hand, and led her through the busy village. She knew he understood exactly what she had meant. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“To Hunting Bear. He did not attend the council of elders with his noo-tha.”

“But, Yellow Oak said–”

“Yellow Oak attends the council. He left Hunting Bear to prepare for the ceremony tonight. You need to speak to him.”

Calico let go of his hand and stood still. A sharp coldness surrounded her. She turned her head. Her mother’s spirit appeared before her. Calico’s heart jumped.

“Come with me, daughter,” Anna whispered, with a deep stare. Calico then broke the gaze, closed her eyes and felt her mother’s spirit interlock with her own.

“Calico!” Little Owl yelled, as he grabbed the little girl’s falling body. Little Owl gently laid her unconscious body on the ground. He looked up in fear. His eyes scanned the busy crowd until he spotted his younger brother, Blue Lark, attending to the lessons their father’s brother, Fox Fire, taught. “Noo-tha!” Little Owl shouted to his uncle. Fox Fire and Blue Lark looked up. “Help!”

They ran towards Little Owl and Calico. “What did you do to her?” Fox Fire yelled.

“Nothing.”

“Little Owl, tell me the truth.”

“I didn’t touch her.”

Fox Fire nodded, crouched beside Calico, and listened for a heartbeat. He raised his head to Blue Lark. “She’s alive. Tell Creek what has happened, then send for Hunting Bear.”

“Yes, father,” Blue Lark replied, then ran towards the back of the village. Fox Fire turned towards Little Owl. “Go home.”

“Noo-tha?”

“Your father is sending Hawk Song to hunt for the feast tonight. Go help your brother with the hunt. Blue Lark and I will tend to her.”  Little Owl obeyed.

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