The three old men sat at their usual table to smoke, drink, and play poker. Every week they came to the small pub, and usually came to the same conversation. It was an interesting one, and one most regulars had overheard at one point or another. Some chalked it up to craziness, other believed it, and some thought it interesting, but didn't know what to make of it.
Bill O'Reilly dealt out the hand and chewed on his cigar. "Saw her two days ago. Clear as day."
Rick looked at his cards, six and, an eight of Clubs. "Oh? Where?"
"Just three miles north of here, in the hills. I was hunting, came over a hill and there she was." Bill lifted his cards up slightly. 2 of Hearts and a Jack of spades. "Clad in the purest white, swaying in the wind. Dancing."
Freddie chuckled, "Of course, you tripped over your own two feet trying to reach her." He shoved a small pile of chips in. "Raise two hundred."
Bill looked at him sourly. "You know I hate it when you do that." He turned over three cards from the deck. A five, nine, and Jack of clubs. "I fold."
Rick smiled. "See you and raise a hundred."
Freddie laughed. "You can't bluff worth a damn, all in."
Bill turned over two more cards, 7 and 10 of clubs. "Course I did. She disappeared, just like always."
Rick flipped over his cards. "What were you saying about me not being able to bluff?"
Freddie grunted, "Bound to be lucky once, bucko."
A man sitting at the table next to theirs listened, interested. It was his first time coming to the pub, so he had never heard the conversation before.
Bill smiled. "Oh get over it. Maybe next time you will wait until the flop to bid high." He shuffled and dealt again. "I'd look for her again, but I'm getting old."
Rick chuckled, "yet not too old to draw an audience." He pointed at the young man who was listening in.
"I don't recall seeing you here before. You new here son?"
The young man nodded. "Yes sir. First time here."
"Well, I'm Bill, the high bidder is Freddie, and the bucko is Rick."
"Sam Holtz." He shook their hands.
"Since you're new here, I'm guessing you haven't heard the story." Bill looked at Sam keenly; puffing at his cigar.
"No, sir, I haven't."
"Well, you might as well hear it from us, and get the facts, not the fiction." Bill leaned back in his chair and stumped out his cigar. "I first saw the dancing woman when I was fifteen. She was dressed in a simple white dress."
"Fifteen? But you've got to be eighty now..."
Bill held up his hand. "No interruptions, son. I'll get to that. Now, I first saw the woman in white when I was fifteen. I loved to wander around the foothills, pretending I was Davy Crocket or an Indian. The day I saw the woman was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky, sun shining brightly, and the sky a pale powder blue."
Bill paused to sip some beer and continued. "That day I was in the foothill as usual. I came up over a ridge, and there she was at the top of the next hill. God, she was beautiful. Dressed in a simple white dress, she couldn't be much older than twenty. She had raven hair and a slender figure.
"Never before had I seen a woman so beautiful. She was standing there, swaying in the breeze, arms raised and her hands clasped over her head, with a soft smile on her face. I stood there, stunned. I finally decided to go over to her, but when I got to the base of her hill, she vanished," Bill snapped his fingers, "gone, just like that."
Bill relit his cigar and clamped it in his mouth. "I only saw her twice after that."
Sam leaned forward, interested. "Have you learned anything about her?" Bill shook his head slowly. "No. All I know is that she is probably an Indian. I'd like to know more, but I'm old. I'm not going on any crazy adventures to chase after an Indian's ghost."
"Interesting story," remarked Sam, "you said you saw her again though."
Bill smiled, "aye, I did. I near had a heart attack when I did too..." He fell silent, lost in thought.
Sam leaned forward, "where did you see her exactly?"
Bill laughed loudly. "Son, I'd be forever grateful if you could figure out what the hell she is doing there. I've seen her in the foothills about ten miles northwest of here."
Sam smiled slightly. "I'll figure it out, don't worry."
Two days later, Sam set out for the foothills and the mysterious woman. He would have set out the day he heard about the woman, but it was overcast and about to rain. He figured from what the old man had said that she would only come out during a clear, sunny day.
With some forethought, he had purchased a handheld GPS unit, so he could mark exactly where the woman appeared. And it was a good idea too; there weren’t any real landmarks around. Everything looked the same.
Sam looked around him, where would he start? He shrugged and started walking in a random direction. He trudged for several miles without seeing anything besides wildlife. Disappointed, he went home, wondering if the old man had put him on.
For two weeks, he trudged in the foothills every sunny day he could. Then, one day, he saw her. He was about to go home when he glimpsed her from the corner of his eye. He looked at her, in awe. She was beautiful, not older than twenty-five and wearing a simple white dress. He moved closer, until he was at the bottom if the hill. He could see now that the dress was white, tanned hides, and there were little yellow beads on the edges and in her dark, glossy hair.
She looked at him and smiled softly, swaying silently in the breeze. She danced, not moving very far at all, only a few steps in either direction. She turned, and looked up at the sun. She closed her eyes and smiled widely. Suddenly she turned around swiftly, her eyes filled with fear. She gave a silent gasp and disappeared out of existence.
Sam stood, stunned for several minutes. He knew why the old man had been so excited, God, she was beautiful. He marked the location on his GPS unit and went home. He had to know what was so special about this day that made her appear.
Sam sat at his computer, thinking about what to search for on Google. He figured that the woman only appeared if certain conditions were met, though what? He thought for a bit and typed in "Today's almanac". On the almanac page, the only thing that came up was that it was a blue moon. He looked out his window. Even in broad daylight, the moon was visible. To be sure he didn't miss anything; he looked up yesterday's almanac. Nothing special showed up.
So he had what he and Bill wanted to know, she only appeared on a sunny day of a blue moon. Interesting. Next, he searched "North Dakota Indian Reservations". The closest one was fifty miles to the south. He would visit the Chippewa reservation and ask about the woman on Wednesday, two days from now.
Thirsty after his hike and research, he went to get a beer from the fridge. He paused, and put it back. He would go to the bar, and tell Bill what he learned.
At the bar, he bought a glass of Coors and sat down at Bill's table, just Bill was dealing a new game. Bill raised an eyebrow at him and dealt him in. "Well kid, what did you learn?"
Sam sipped his beer and looked at his cards, purposefully mimicking Bill's storytelling style. He had an Ace and King of Hearts. He checked and looked up at Bill. "I saw her."
Those three words drew half the bar around the table. It was the first time that anyone but Bill had seen the woman. A low murmur ran through the crowd. Bill looked at Sam intently and pushed a small pile of chips to Sam. The other two had forgotten their cards and stared at Sam.
Sam smiled, "It's your turn, bucko." Bill laughed, and someone in the crowd shouted "Hang the damn cards, tell us the story!" A low murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd.
Sam smiled slightly, "I saw her this afternoon. I went out every sunny day I could since you told me your story. Today I got lucky." He took a swallow of his beer, "I also know when she appears."
"Tell us the whole story, son," commanded Bill. "I've waited a long time to learn about her and I..." Bill paused, "And I can't wait."
Sam sipped his beer again. "Alright, from the beginning." So Sam told how he had decided to get the GPS unit, and when he saw the woman. He described her beauty, her clothing, and when she appeared. The crowd listened quietly, intently. When he was done a murmur ran though the crowd again. "There is a Chippewa Reservation south of here. I'm going Wednesday, want to come, Bill?"
Bill friends looked at Bill with small, sad, knowing smiles on their faces. "Sorry son, I'm busy Wednesday. You can go without me.
Sam nodded slowly. "Alright then. I'm sorry to hear that you can't go." He stood up and left the bar, being bombarded by questions all the while.
The Chippewa Reservation had an Information Center for visitors, so Sam headed there. He tapped a woman on the shoulder, "excuse me, but can you tell me who is in charge here?"
The woman turned around and smiled softly, "of course dear, that would be Max Redfeather. His office his three doors down on the left."
"Thank you." Sam smiled and went to Redfeather's door and knocked. A few second later it opened.
Max Redfeather was about Sam's height and thin. He wore a blue T-shirt and jeans. His dark hair was held back in a pony tail. "How can I help you?"
Sam offered his hand to shake. "I'm Sam, I have a question. Well, actually it’s kind of a long story; can we sit down in your office?"
Redfeather took his hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you Sam, I'm Max Redfeather, come in and sit down." Redfeather's office had Native American artifacts hanging on the wall, surrounding a poster of Marilyn Monroe. Sam sat in a leather chair and looked at the poster.
Redfeather followed his gaze and chuckled. "Just because we are on a Reservation doesn’t mean we don't watch movies. So, you had something to ask me?"
Sam returned his attention to Redfeather. "Yes, I do. It’s about the ghost of a Native American woman. So he told his story again, beginning with Bill's account in the pub. When he described her clothing and dance, Redfeather frowned. When Sam finished, Redfeather spoke.
"You are talking about The Sundancer."
"The Sundancer?" Sam leaned forward, his interest growing even more.
Redfeather nodded. "Yes, perhaps...Perhaps I should tell you about her and what she does. The Sundance is our most sacred ceremony, or was actually. Times have passed, and what once was will never be again. The Sundance will never be performed again. Long ago the Sundance was our most sacred ceremony. It has been performed only five times in our known history. A woman, a virgin, would offer her soul and virginity to the Sun Spirit. When the Sundance is completed, she would not take a husband, or be with a man.
"When she died, rites would be performed over her body, and her spirit would be one with the Sun Spirit. The last Sundance performed was with the woman you mentioned. Halfway through the dance, a group of US Calvary surprised us, and killed the woman and many of our tribe. A few Chippewa escaped, and returned some days later and buried the woman on the hill. Now you come here and say you have seen her ghost, continuing the ceremony to the point she was killed...You are a very interesting person." Redfeather looked at Sam with an odd expression on his face.
"Would there be a way to complete the ceremony?" Sam hoped the answer was yes.
Redfeather looked thoughtful and typed something into his computer and read for a bit. "Possibly, the next blue moon is in November; however, a Sundance can be only performed in the summer, so we are looking at...July seventh. Of course, the weather conditions might not fit."
"But we can try though, right?"
Redfeather smiled. "Yes, we can certainly try."
When Sam walked into the bar the next day, everyone looked at him. He sat down at Bill’s table, but Bill wasn’t there. He looked at Rick and Freddie, “where’s Bill?”
The two looked at each other and back at Sam. “Bill stayed home, he didn’t feel good. He should be back tomorrow though.”
“Oh, well I hope he gets better. I learned more about the woman.” He looked up at the crowd gathered around him. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Nope, you don’t have to wait,” Bill sat down heavily and let out a small sigh, “I’m not supposed to be here, but to hell with that.” His face was pale and drawn, but there was a determined glint in his eyes.
Sam looked at Bill, concerned, “you ok?”
Bill nodded and waved his hand dismissively, “I’m fine, now, tell us what you know.
“She’s called the Sundancer, a Chippewa woman who performed a sacred ceremony devoting herself to the Sun Spirit. The Sundance.” Sam repeated the story that Redfeather had told him. When he finished, he took a sip of beer that the bartender had brought over. Sam handed him a five but the bartender refused.
“Nope, your money is no good here; you paid with that story, kid.”
Bill chuckled, “interesting tale, son. And I want to be there for the ceremony.” He leaned back in his chair with a wry grin. “Guess I’ll have to quit smoking and drinking. Damn doctors always seem to be right.”
Sam looked at Bill, “what do you mean?”
Bill looked at Sam a bit impatiently, “never mind. Go home now, son. All that’s left to do is wait.”
Sam shrugged and decided to heed Bill’s words. There was a whole year before the next Sundance could be performed, and weather conditions might not even be favorable. What else was there to do?
Sam still went to the bar occasionally, and noticed that Bill had indeed stopped smoking and drinking. When he asked Bill about it, he laughed. “Like I said, I’m following my doctor’s advice, and I feel great! They’re always right…” Though Bill refused to talk about where he went on Wednesdays, Sam managed to glean from the gossip that Bill went to the hospital for some unknown reason.
A year passed, and a week before July Seventh, Sam drove down to the Chippewa reservation to pay Redfeather a visit and see what was being done about the Sundancer. He knocked lightly on Max’s door. It opened quickly and Redfeather smiled brightly at Sam. “Come in! Come in! I’ve got some people here I want you to meet.” Redfeather ushered Sam into the only available chair, the other two were already taken. Sam smiled as he saw the poster of Marilyn Monroe was still up on the wall.
“Sam, this is Charles Lightfoot and Jim Hawkeye. They help me run things around here. Charles, Jim, this is the man I was talking about.”
Sam smiled and shook their hands, “nice to meet you two.”
Charles chuckled, “believe me, the pleasure is all ours. You’ve no idea the excitement you caused when Redfeather told us that you had found the Sundancer.”
Sam shrugged sheepishly, “well, to be honest, I wasn’t the first to find her. I just looked out of my own curiosity.”
Jim nodded, “yes, Redfeather told us about how you found her. Will this Bill be attending the ceremony?”
“He wants to very much.”
Redfeather grinned widely, “good. We have had a very large stroke of luck, clear and sunny all next week. July seventh will be a perfect day to perform. Preparations are being made, and the reservation can’t wait.” They talked for an hour about what would happen during the ceremony and they were all a bit disappointed to see Sam leave.
Later that day, Sam found himself playing poker with Bill and his friends. He was winning as well. “Wednesday is a go, are you going to be able to make it, Bill?”
Bill nodded, “yep, I’ve been a bit under the weather, but I’m not missing this for the world.”
“We’re lucky, normally outsiders wouldn’t be allowed to witness the Sundance, and however, because we found her, they are willing to make an exception.” Sam sipped the rest of his beer and set the empty glass down with a content sigh. “Well, all we have to do is wait. Again.”
On July fourth, Sam held a cook-out for whoever wanted to come from the bar, which was everyone, judging from the turnout. Burgers, brats and hotdogs were disappearing faster than he could get them on the grill.
“You know,” said Bill between mouthfuls of potato salad, “you’re a pretty good cook. This potato salad is excellent.”
“Thanks,” said Sam as he flipped a burger and flames licked up at the juices dripping down on the charcoal. “Burger, hotdog or bratwurst?”
“I’ll take a burger. Nothing beats one off a charcoal grill.”
Sam chuckled, “I don’t get propane grills. It’s like cooking on your stove outside. Charcoal grills are well, they are a…” Sam bit his lip, unable to find the right word.
“It’s an art form,” finished Bill.”
Sam smiled. “Exactly. An art form.”
The morning of July seventh saw Sam and Bill driving to the reservation in a dusty blue Ford pickup of Bill’s. They would have taken Sam’s sedan if Bill hadn’t suggested that they might help out bringing whatever the Chippewa needed to the foothills. “Better to have an empty space than not enough space,” Bill had said. Sam, seeing the sensibility of Bill’s words, had agreed.
As they pulled into the Visitor Center’s parking lot, several men pulled away from a couple trucks that were in the process of being loaded with drums, wood and people. Sam and Bill stepped out of the truck and shook hands with Redfeather. “We brought you some extra room if you needed it.”
Redfeather grinned, “We could use some extra room. I’m guessing this is Bill?”
Bill smiled and shook Redfeather’s hand. “Bill Sutherland, glad to meet you.”
The honor is all mine, we are in your debt for discovering the Sundancer. Now if you will take that big drum over there and load it up into your truck, we can be on our way.”
They did so, and the truck pulled out of the reservation. They headed north with Sam in the lead. Half an hour later and with the help of Sam’s GPS unit, they arrived at the hill. The Chippewa stepped out of their trucks and looked up at the hill reverently. “All right, start setting up. Sam, Bill, go take the drum up to the top, and then help bring up firewood.”
The drum was surprisingly light, if not big. Sam got up behind the drum and slid it to Bill. He then hopped down and took the other end. As they carried it up the hill, Sam studied the paintings on the drum skin. Buffalo, deer, horses and other creatures emblazoned and circled the edge, and a large sun was shown in the middle, with a slender woman posed in an ethereal dance inside the sun. A Chippewa woman directed them to where the drum was to be set and gave it an experimental slap with her hand. A deep, sad note sounded and she nodded. “Perfect, she is as sound as the day she was built. I should have no problems with this beauty.”
Sam looked down at the drum and then at her, “I wasn’t aware that women took part in ceremonies, I thought it was all men.”
She smiled at him, amusement sparkling in her dark eyes. “For the most part, we don’t. But the mother of the woman would play the drum. Since I have no children and the woman no mother, I was selected to play.”
Sam looked at the woman again. She had flawless tanned skin, and glossy black hair. Her eyes were filled with a playful sparkle that captured his heart. She was beautiful. “I’m Sam,” he stuck out his hand for her to shake.
She took his hand with a small smile and shook it gently. “Everyone knows your name. I’m Red Venus, but most people call me Mona.”
“Venus was the Roman goddess of love.” Sam really wondered why he had said that, of all things he could say.
Bill clapped Sam on the shoulder. “Come on, we need to help with the firewood.” He steered Sam down the hill. “I take it you don’t have much experience with women.”
Sam blushed, “no, not really.”
Bill chuckled kindly. “It’s ok, here, you take the bigger logs and I’ll take the kindling.”
Soon the fires were blazing and the Chippewa surrounded the hilltop in a circle. Redfeather stood between Sam and Bill. Sam could see Red Venus across the circle from him, her hands resting on the drum. Sam looked around but didn’t see the Sundancer anywhere. Sam wondered if the conditions weren’t right, or maybe it was too late in the day. He licked his lips nervously and looked at Redfeather. “Shouldn’t she show up soon? The ceremony is ready to start…”
Redfeather glanced at him, “she should show up soon. Don’t worry, the ceremony will…” He stopped in midsentence and a murmur ran through the circle. Sam turned his head away from Redfeather and gasped softly. The Sundancer stood before him. She smiled softly and gently brushed her hand across his face. If anything, she was even more beautiful than when he had first seen her. She walked over to Bill and touched his cheek gently, then went to the center of the hill and raised her hands to the sky.
The Chippewa whooped loudly and the drum began to beat slowly and softly. The rhythm increased and grew louder with the Sundancer’s speed. Sam had never seen such a dance before. She whirled and twisted, spun and stamped, swayed and bent. All in a graceful combination that would have captivated anyone. After what seemed like an hour, but was really only about ten minutes, the drum beat halted and the dance stopped. She smiled at Sam and Bill softly, sadly.
Sam knew this was the last time he would see the Sundancer, and he raised a hand in a sad farewell, blinking back tears. She raised her hands to the sky once more and faded from sight. He sighed softly and looked at Redfeather, who was also fighting back tears. “What now?”
“A short ceremony will be held and then it’s finished.”
The ceremony was indeed short. Redfeather threw dirt over the spot where she disappeared, said a few words in the Chippewa tongue and laid burning branches from the fire on her grave. The drum beat three times and fell silent. “It is done,” said Redfeather simply.
The Chippewa cheered and hugged each other. Bill went over to Sam and spoke softly. “Well, we’re heroes among the Chippewa now.”
Sam nodded sadly, “aye…”
Bill chuckled. “Don’t be sad, kid. You did a good thing.” Bill paused, “Sam. Look behind the woman with the drum.”
Sam did so and gasped slightly, “Holy hell, is that what I think it is?” He walked past Red Venus and stood staring. “What are you doing here?”
The U.S Cavalryman looked at Sam with sorrow in his eyes. He pointed at the hilltop and shook his head sadly. He pointed at his pistol, and then the hill, shaking his head sadly again.
“You shot the Sundancer?”
He nodded and looked down at the ground.
“And you feel bad. Well, you can leave. The ceremony is done. Go.” Sam spoke curtly, not liking the ghost.
The cavalryman looked at Sam pleadingly. He mouthed some words silently, but Sam knew what he was trying to say. He was sorry.
“You’re sorry and you want forgiveness? Well, I’ll tell you what. The ceremony is done, and the Sundancer can rest now. You’ve probably been here just as long, so I think that was a fitting punishment. You’re forgiven.”
The cavalryman mouthed a silent “thank you” before fading away.
“I’m proud of you. That took compassion and empathy. Good job.”
Sam turned and saw Red Venus watching him. He shrugged, “well, it wasn’t that hard of a decision.”
She laughed, “You crack me up.”
“What? What did I do?”
She smiled, “come on. Help clean up, there’s going to be a celebration.”
And what a celebration it was. The Chippewa’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious. There was an entire deer roasting over an open pit fire. Children ran around it, chasing each other with wild yells while the parents kept a close eye on them. There was dancing too, an odd combination of what Sam guess at of a traditional and modern dances. Bill was offered a long pipe, which he took with a guilty grin. “If my doctor saw me now, he’d have my head,” he chuckled.
Sam noticed Red Venus and Redfeather watching him. They smiled and walked over to him. “That was a very honorable thing he did back there, don’t you think Red Venus?”
Red Venus grinned, flashing brilliantly white teeth, “aye, He Who Walks The Hills is quite the man.”
“He Who Walks The Hills?” Sam asked, puzzled.
Redfeather laughed. “That is your Chippewa name, Sam. We decided if the ceremony worked, we’d give you a name. It is a very high honor.”
Sam was stunned. He didn’t know how high an honor, but he suspected it was something that didn’t happen every day. “Thank you…” he stammered, at a loss for words.
Bill clapped Sam on the back with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Good job kid, now that you aren’t much of an outsider anymore…”
Sam was confused, “what do you mean?”
Bill chuckled and walked away to talk to the men cooking the deer.
A week later found Sam walking back to the Sundancer’s hill. He didn’t know why he came, he was just curious. At the crest, he looked down at the spot where the Sundancer had finished her last dance. With a small, sad sigh, he turned to head back, but another person had joined him. He smiled softly. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“I thought I’d find you here. Come with me, let’s walk back together.”
Sam smiled and took the offered hand and walked down the hill, admiring Red Venus’s looks. She smiled at him and they began a slow walk back, the sun shining brightly on them.