Shadow of My Heart - By Caryn Moya-Block
Thump thump, thump thump, the tribal drumbeat echoed the rhythm of fourteen-year-old Raven Darkwood’s heart as he faced his final and most dangerous test. Would the Shadow Dimension accept him as one of her own? If she did, a mark would be burned into his chest to the left of his heart, symbolizing his entrance into manhood and acceptance as an equal at the tribal-council fire. If not, he would be exiled from the tribe to make his way in the world alone.
Raven had gone through all the rites of purification in the Inipi Purification Lodge under the guidance of his mentor, Quiet Thunder. Now, crouched before the sacred fire, he waited outside under the stars. The drumbeat drowned out the sounds of the night and Raven’s racing heart. When Quiet Thunder, shaman of the tribe, signaled for the test to begin, Raven’s stomach clenched. He wasn’t sure if he was excited or fearful.
Quiet Thunder said the ritual was painful if Shadow accepted you. But Raven knew the process would be excruciating if she did not. He stood up, his naked body covered with sweat.
Quiet Thunder wore his ceremonial robe and threw a bundle of sage onto the flames. Soon, the pungent odor filled the air. He chanted a prayer of gratitude as he put two fingers into a pottery bowl and smeared a sticky black mixture of herbal paste onto Raven’s chest. Then, with a nod he motioned Raven to return to the sweat lodge.
Raven let the smell of the burning sage in the air permeate his being to clear his aura and center his mind as he entered the sanctuary alone. He reached with his mind’s eye and peered at the shadows lurking in the lodge. On the edge of one shadow he saw a wavering, a tear where he would enter the Shadow Dimension. He put out his hand and felt along the edge until a cold breeze brushed his skin. Then, putting his palms together, he inserted them into the coldness. Gasping, as his palms disappeared, he slowly pulled them apart, creating an opening in the darkness.
The next part required a leap of faith. To trust not only that he could do this, but also that Shadow Walking was his birthright. In his mind, he pictured a world of twilight and walked into the darkness.
A blast of cold hit his naked body, still hot from the sweat lodge. He gasped, and wisps of blackness swirled around him and into his mouth and nose. More swirls of black mist wrapped around his feet and legs. The swirls grew in size and number until he was wrapped from head to toe in strips of swirling darkness that blocked his sight of the wavering landscape of Shadow.
His muscles stiffened. His breathing became shallow with each breath of black mist that entered his lungs. Was he going to die? Some tribal members never returned from their first trip into Shadow. Was that his fate as well?
To calm his mind, Raven began to silently chant a prayer of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit. If this was his end, he wanted to celebrate the life he had lived and honor his beloved ancestors. He bowed to the four directions, called the four elements to his circle, and they answered. From the east came a soft breeze that blew the black mist away from his body. From the south a flame appeared to warm the air until he could breathe normally. From the west a fine warm mist coated his body. From the north a shimmering quartz crystal appeared in the darkness. The crystal began to glow brighter and brighter until a beam of light shot out and landed on his torso, to the left of his heart. Burning cold hit his chest. Pain exploded through his body. Raven sank to his knees with a groan.
Blinking to clear his tears, he looked around. The pain ended as quickly as it had begun. The wisps of black mist still wrapped around his body but grew thinner until only a few touched him. They became light caresses of coldness. He kneeled in a world of twilight. It seemed as if someone had drawn a cloak over the sun.
He turned to look for the sweat lodge and could see it sitting there in darkness. He could see it, but a veil of wavering shadow separated him from its physical existence. He reached out but couldn’t touch the hides that covered the walls.
His body still ached from the