In the Arms of Stone Angels - By Jordan Dane


I sleep with the dead.

I don’t remember the first time I did it and I try not to think about why. It’s just something I do. My fascination with the dead has become part of me, like the way my middle toes jut out. They make my feet look like they’re shooting the finger 24/7. My “screw you” toes are my best feature, but that doesn’t mean I brag about them. Those babies are kept under wraps—just for my entertainment—the same way I keep my habit of sleeping in cemeteries a secret from anyone. Not even my mother knows I sneak out at night to curl up with the headstones…and the stillness. Some things are best left unsaid.

In the arms of stone angels, I’m not afraid.

I wish I had remembered the part about not telling secrets when I came across my friend White Bird under the bridge at Cry Baby Creek. A woman’s spirit cries for her dead baby and haunts that old rusted steel-and-wood plank footbridge. I’d seen her plenty of times, I swear to God. She never talked to me. The dead never do. She only cried and clutched the limp body of her baby to her chest.

Back then I didn’t fully understand how fragile the barrier was between my world and another existence where the dead grieved over their babies forever. And I had no idea that a change was coming. Someone would alter how I saw the thin veil between my reality and the vast world beyond it.

And that someone was my friend, White Bird.

When I saw him crying in the shadows of that dry creek bed, just like the ghost of that woman, the sight of him sent chills over my skin. I should have paid attention to what my body was telling me back then—to stay away and leave him alone—but I didn’t.

He was rocking in the shadows and muttering words I didn’t understand. When I got closer, I saw he wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t see the girl’s face. And tears were running down his cheeks. They glistened in the gray of morning, at the razor’s edge of dawn. I wish I had stayed where I was that day—hiding in the dark—but my curiosity grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Like an omen, the buzz of flies should have warned me. And thinking back, I wish that I had paid more attention to the sound. Even now, a single housefly can trigger that dark memory. And on nights when the dead can’t comfort me to sleep, I still hear the unending noise of those flies and I think of him. Our paths had crossed that day for a reason, as if it was always meant to be, and both of us were powerless to stop it.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday and I can’t get him out of my head.

White Bird was the first boy I ever loved. He was a half-breed, part Euchee Indian and part whatever. He was an outcast like me, only I couldn’t claim anything cool like being Indian. Because he was half-breed and without parents, the Euchee didn’t officially claim him, but that didn’t matter to White Bird. In his heart he belonged to the Dala, the bear clan of the tribe, because the bear represented the power of Mother Earth. And the strong animal was a totem sign of the healer. The way I saw it, he had picked his clan well.

In school, the teachers called him by his white name, Isaac Henry. But when it was just the two of us, he preferred I call him by his Indian name and that made me feel real special. He was different from the other boys. I was convinced he had an ancient soul. He was quiet and didn’t speak much, even to me. But when he did open his mouth, the other kids listened and so did I.

Some people were scared of him because he was taller and bigger than most of the boys and he kept to himself. Sometimes he would get into fights. But after he got his tribal band tattoos, the fights stopped and everyone left him alone, including his teachers. His tattoos made him look like a man. And that was fine by me.

He wore his dark hair long to his shoulders and his eye color had flecks of gold and green that reminded me of a field of wheat blowing easy in the Oklahoma wind. And his skin made me think of