The Pacific Northwest, 1910
51º Latitude N, 131º Longitude W
He sits on the floor of the hut, holding the hand of the old Haida woman. Next to him, his young son watches. This is the boy’s first experience of death drawing near. Her eyes are open but unseeing, staring ahead, somewhere above and beyond her. The hut is silent, save for the softly crackling fire and the steady thrum of rain on the roof, and the labored breathing of the one dying. She murmurs something in her own tongue, and the tall German leans closer, trying to hear what she is saying.
“She speaks to her ancestors, asking them to guide her to the other world,” says the native youth standing back in the shadows, her son.
The blond boy looks over to his friend, and smiles, glad that he has returned for his mother’s death.
The German releases the old woman’s hand, takes a cloth, dipping it into the wooden bucket of water, and moistens her mouth. At the touch, she licks her lips. Her eyes shift, focusing on him, and he smiles at her.
“Would you like some water, Mirabel?” he asks, speaking the words in her native language.
Silently, she nods.
His son takes the gourd, fills it with water, and hands it to his father. He gently raises the old woman’s head, holding her as she drinks. When she is finished, he lowers her back onto the cushion that serves as her pillow and wipes her mouth. The cold water seems to have revived and returned her to this world for one last time.
“You have been good to me and my people, Friedlander.”
He takes her hand once again in his. “And you have been good to me and my people.” Her hand is growing colder even as he holds it.
“I saw the end of your people,” she whispers.
He considers this before speaking. “What did you see?”
“The beast who rules the underworld—” Her breathing is labored as lungs fill with fluid. “He sends his great birds… they come in the night… and take away the children.”
The boy looks up at his father with alarm.
The father feels the same alarm but asks calmly, “How is this to happen?”
She gazes to the ceiling, as if peering through it and seeing beyond. “Four angels come from the sky. They bring a gift… But beware, Friedlander, they also bring the dark birds.”
He weighs what she has said. “Is there any way to stop the dark birds and save our children?”
“When the angels come, they must not leave the island, or…” Her breath gives out.
She continues staring at the rafters, her voice now soft. “Yes, that is the sign… That is how you will know your people’s time has come...” She can speak no more.
He nods and squeezes her hand—“Thank you, dear friend”—and sees her gaze go once again unfocused.
“Watch for the great birds coming in the night,” she whispers, and with a final, raspy sigh, her breathing ceases.
Still holding her hand, he studies the passive face and the vacant, unseeing eyes.
“She has passed into the other world,” says her son.
The tall German bows his head. “Gott sei mit Dir,” he murmurs as his son stares at the Haida youth standing in the shadows.