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Soul Catcher, Page 2

Frank Herbert

  Everything around him revealed this truth—the sun moving across the ridges, the ranges of drifting clouds, the rank vegetation.

  White science had begun with magic and never moved far from it. Science continually failed to learn from lack of results. The ancient ways retained their potency. Despite sneers and calumny, the old ways achieved what the legends said they would.

  His grandmother had been of the Eagle Phratry. And a bee had spoken to him. He had scrubbed his body with hemlock twigs until the skin was raw. He had caught his hair in a headband of red cedar bark. He had eaten only the roots of devil’s club until the ribs poked from his flesh.

  How long had he been walking in these mountains?

  He thought back to all the distance he had covered: ground so sodden that water oozed up at each step, heavy branches overhead that shut out the sun, undergrowth so thick he could see only a few body lengths in any direction. Somewhere, he had come through a tangled salmonberry thicket to a stream flowing in a canyon, deep and silent. He had followed that stream upward to vaporous heights ... upward ... upward. The stream had become a creek, this creek below him.

  This place.

  Something real was living in him now.

  Abruptly, he sensed all of his dead ancestors lusting after this living experience. His mind lay pierced by sudden belief, by unending movement beneath the common places of life, by an alertness which never varied, night or day. He knew this bee!

  He said: “You are Kwatee, the Changer.”

  “And what are you?”

  “I am Katsuk.”

  “What are you?” The question thundered at him.

  He put down terror, thought: Thunder is not angry. What frightens animals need not frighten a man. What am I?

  The answer came to him as one of his ancestors would have known it. He said: “I am one who followed the ritual with care. I am one who did not really expect to find the spirit power.”

  “Now you know.”

  All of his thinking turned over, became as unsettled as a pool muddied by a big fish. What do I know?

  The air around him continued full of dappled sunlight and the noise and spray from the creek. The mushroom-punk smell of a rotten log filled his nostrils. A stately, swaying leaf shadow brushed purple across the bee on his hand, withdrew.

  He emptied his mind of everything except what he needed to know from the spirit poised upon his hand. He lay frozen in the-moment-of-the-bee. Bee was graceful, fat, and funny. Bee aroused a qualm of restless memories, rendered his senses abnormally acute. Bee ...

  An image of Janiktaht overcame his mind. Misery filled him right out to the skin. Janiktaht—sixty nights dead. Sixty nights since she had ended her shame and hopelessness in the sea.

  He had a vision of himself moaning besides Janiktaht’s open grave, drunk with anguish, the swaying wind of the forest all through his flesh.

  Awareness recoiled. He thought of himself as he had been once, as a boy heedlessly happy on the beach, following the tide mark. He remembered a piece of driftwood like a dead hand outspread on the sand.

  Had that been driftwood?

  He felt the peril of letting his thoughts flow. Who knew where they might go? Janiktaht’s image faded, vanished as though of its own accord. He tried to recall her face. It fled him through a blurred vision of young hemlocks ... a moss-floored stand of trees where nine drunken loggers had dragged her to ... one after another, to ...

  Something had happened to flesh which his mind no longer could contemplate without being scoured out, denuded of everything except a misshapen object that the ocean had cast up on a curve of beach where once he had played.

  He felt like an old pot, all emotion scraped out. Everything eluded him except the spirit on the back of his hand. He thought:

  We are like bees, my people—broken into many pieces, but the pieces remain dangerous.

  In that instant, he realized that this creature on his hand must be much more than Changer—far, far more than Kwatee.

  It is Soul Catcher!

  Terror and elation warred within him. This was the greatest of the spirits. It had only to sting him and he would be invaded by a terrible thing. He would become the bee of his people. He would do a terrifying thing, a dangerous thing, a deadly thing.

  Hardly daring to breathe, he waited.

  Would Bee never move? Would they remain this way for all eternity? His mind felt drawn tight, as tense as a bow pulled to its utmost breaking point. All of his emotions lay closed up in blackness without inner light or outer light—a sky of nothingness within him.

  He thought: How strange for a creature so tiny to exist as such spirit power, to be such spirit power—Soul Catcher!

  One moment there had been no bee on his flesh. Now, it stood there as though flung into creation by a spray of sunlight, brushed by leaf shadow, the shape of it across a vein, darkness of the spirit against dark skin.

  A shadow across his being.

  He saw Bee with intense clarity: the swollen abdomen, the stretched gossamer of wings, the pollen dust on the legs, the barbed arrow of the stinger.

  The message of this moment floated through his awareness, a clear flute sound. If the spirit went away peacefully, that would signal reprieve. He could return to the university. Another year, in the week of his twenty-sixth birthday, he would take his doctorate in anthropology. He would shake off this terrifying wildness which had invaded him at Janiktaht’s death. He would become the imitation white man, lost to these mountains and the needs of his people.

  This thought saddened him. If the spirit left him, it would take both of his souls. Without souls, he would die. He could not outlast the sorrows which engulfed him.

  Slowly, with ancient deliberation, Bee turned short of his knuckles. It was the movement of an orator gauging his audience. Faceted eyes included the human in their focus. Bee’s thorax arched, abdomen tipped, and he knew a surge of terror in the realization that he had been chosen ...

  The stinger slipped casually into his nerves, drawing his thoughts, inward, inward ...

  He heard the message of Tamanawis, the greatest of spirits, as a drumbeat matching the beat of his heart: “You must find a white. You must find a total innocent. You must kill an innocent of the whites. Let your deed fall upon this world. Let your deed be a single, heavy hand which clutches the heart. The whites must feel it. They must hear it. An innocent for all of our innocents.”

  Having told him what he must do, Bee took flight.

  His gaze followed the flight, lost it in the leafery of the vine maple copse far upslope. He sensed then a procession of ancestral ghosts insatiate in their demands. All of those who had gone before him remained an unchanging field locked immovably into his past, a field against which he could see himself change.

  Kill an innocent!

  Sorrow and confusion dried his mouth. He felt parched in his innermost being, withered.

  The sun crossing over the high ridge to keep its appointment with the leaves in the canyon touched his shoulders, his eyes. He knew he had been tempted and had gone through a locked door into a region of terrifying power. To hold this power he would have to come to terms with that other self inside him. He could be only one person—Katsuk.

  He said: “I am Katsuk.”

  The words brought calm. Spirits of air and earth were with him as they had been for his ancestors. He resumed climbing the slope. His movements aroused a flying squirrel. It glided from a high limb to a low one far below. He felt the life all around him then: brown movements hidden in greenery, life caught suddenly in stop-motion by his presence.

  He thought: Remember me, creatures of this forest. Remember Katsuk as the whole world will remember him. I am Katsuk. Ten thousand nights from now, ten thousand seasons from now, this world still will remember Katsuk and his meaning.


  From a wire story, Seattle dateline:

  The mother of the kidnap victim arrived at Six Rivers Camp about 3:30 P.M. yesterday. She was bro
ught in by one of the four executive helicopters released for the search by lumber and plywood corporations of the northwest. There were tearstains on her cheeks as she stepped from the helicopter to be greeted by her husband.

  She said: “Any mother can understand how I feel. Please, let me be alone with my husband.”


  An irritant whine edged his mother’s voice as David sat down across from her in the sunny breakfast room that overlooked their back lawn and private stream. The scowl which accompanied the whine drew sharp lines down her forehead toward her nose. A vein on her left hand had taken on the hue of rusty iron. She wore something pink and lacy, her yellow hair fluffed up. Her lavender perfume enveloped the table.

  She said: “I wish you wouldn’t take that awful knife to camp, Davey. What in heaven’s name will you do with such a thing? I think your father was quite mad to give you such a dangerous instrument.”

  Her left hand jingled the little bell to summon the cook with David’s cereal.

  David stared down at the table while cook’s pink hand put a bowl there. The cream in the bowl was almost the same yellow as the tablecloth. The bowl gave off the odor of the fresh strawberries sliced into the cereal. David adjusted his napkin.

  His mother said: “Well?” Sometimes her questions were not meant to be answered, but “Well?” signaled pressure. He sighed. “Mother, everyone at camp has a knife.”


  “To cut things, carve wood, stuff like that.” He began eating. One hour. That could be endured. “To cut your fingers off!” she said. “I simply refuse to let you take such a dangerous thing.”

  He swallowed a mouthful of cereal while he studied her the way he had seen his father do it, letting his mind sort out the possible countermoves. A breeze shook the trees bordering the lawn behind her.

  “Well?” she insisted.

  “What do I do?” he asked. “Every time I need a knife I’ll have to borrow one from one of the other guys.”

  He took another mouthful of cereal, savoring the acid of the strawberries while he waited for her to assess the impossibility of keeping him knifeless at camp. David knew how her mind worked. She had been Prosper Morgenstern before she had married Dad. The Morgensterns always had the best. If he was going to have a knife anyway ...

  She put flame to a cigarette, her hand jerking. The smoke emerged from her mouth in spurts.

  David went on eating. She put the cigarette aside, said: “Oh, very well. But you must be extremely careful.”

  “Just like Dad showed me,” he said.

  She stared at him, a finger of her left hand tapping a soft drumbeat on the table. The movement set the diamonds on her wristwatch clasp aflame. She said: “I don’t know what I’ll do with both of my men gone.”

  “Dad’ll be halfway to Washington by now.”

  “And you in that awful camp.”

  “It’s the best camp there is.”

  “I guess so. You know, Davey, we all may have to move to the East.” David nodded. His father had moved them to the Carmel Valley and gone back into private practice after the last election. He commuted up the Peninsula to the city three days a week. Sometimes Prosper joined him there for a weekend. They kept an apartment in the city and a maid-caretaker.

  But yesterday his father had received a telephone call from someone important in the government. There had been other calls and a sense of excitement in the house. Howard Marshall had been offered an important position in the State Department.

  David said: “It’s funny, y’know?”

  “What is, dear?”

  “Dad’s going to Washington and so am I.”

  She smiled. “Different Washingtons.”

  “Both named for the same man.”

  “Indeed they were.”

  Mrs. Parma glided into the breakfast room, said: “Excuse me, madam. I have had Peter put the young sir’s equipage into the car. Will there be anything else?”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Parma. That will be all.”

  David waited until Mrs. Parma had gone, said: “That book about the camp said they have some Indian counselors. Will they look like Mrs. Parma?”

  “Davey! Don’t they teach you anything in that school?”

  “I know they’re different Indians. I just wondered if they, you know, looked like her, if that’s why we called our Indians ...”

  “What a strange idea.” She shook her head, arose. “There are times when you remind me of your grandfather Morgenstern. He used to insist the Indians were the lost tribe of Israel.” She hesitated, one hand lingering on the table, her gaze focused on the knife at David’s waist. “You will be careful with that awful knife?”

  “I’ll do just like Dad said. Don’t worry.”


  Special Agent Norman Hosbig, Seattle Office, FBI:

  Yes, in answer to that, I believe I can say that we do have some indications that the Indian may be mentally deranged. Let me emphasize that this is only a possibility which we are not excluding in our assessment of the problem. There’s the equal possibility that he’s pretending insanity.


  Hands clasped behind his head, Katsuk had stretched out in the darkness of his bunk in Cedar Cabin. Water dripped in the washbasin of the toilet across the hall. The sound filled him with a sense of rhythmic drifting. He closed his eyes tightly and saw a purple glow behind his eyelids. It was the spirit flame, the sign of his determination. This room, the cabin with its sleeping boys, the camp all around—everything went out from the center, which was the spirit flame of Katsuk.

  He drew in the shallow breaths of expectation, thought of his charges asleep in the long barracks room down the hall outside his closed door: eight sleeping boys. Only one of the boys concerned Katsuk. The spirits had sent him another sign: the perfect victim, the Innocent.

  The son of an important man slept out there, a person to command the widest attention.

  No one would escape Katsuk’s message.

  To prepare for this time, he had clothed himself in a loincloth woven of white dog hair and mountain goat wool. A belt of red cedar bark bound the waist. The belt held a soft deerhide pouch which contained the few things he needed: a sacred twig and bone bound with cedar string, an ancient stone arrowhead from the beach at Ozette, raven feathers to fletch a consecrated arrow, a bowstring of twisted walrus gut, elkhide thongs to bind the victim, a leaf packet of spruce gum ... down from sea ducks ... a flute ...

  A great aunt had made the fabric of his loincloth many years ago, squatting at a flat loom in the smoky shadows of her house at the river mouth. The pouch and the bit of down had been blessed by a shaman of his people before the coming of the whites.

  Elkhide moccasins covered his feet. They were decorated with beads and porcupine quills. Janiktaht had made them for him two summers ago.

  A lifetime past.

  He could feel slow tension spreading upward from those moccasins. Janiktaht was here with him in this room, her hands reaching out from the elk leather she had shaped. Her voice filled the darkness with the final screech of her anguish.

  Katsuk took a deep, calming breath. It was not yet time.

  There had been fog in the evening, but it had cleared at nightfall on a wind blowing strongly from the southwest. The wind sang to Katsuk in the voice of his grandfather’s flute, the flute in the pouch. Katsuk thought of his grand-father: a beaten man, thick of face, who would have been a shaman in another time. A beaten man, without congregation or mystery, a shadow shaman because he remembered all the old ways.

  Katsuk whispered: “I do this for you, grandfather.”

  Each thing in its own time. The cycle had come around once more to restore the old balance.

  His grandfather had built a medicine fire once. As the blaze leaped, the old man had played a low, thin tune on his flute. The song of his grandfather’s flute wove in and out of Katsuk’s mind. He thought of the boy sleeping out there in the cabin—David Marshall.

  You wi
ll be snared in the song of this flute, white innocent. I have the root of your tree in my power. Your people will know destruction!

  He opened his eyes to moonlight. The light came through the room’s one window, drew a gnarled tree shadow on the wall to his left. He watched the undulant shadow, swaying darkness, a visual echo of wind in trees.

  The water continued its drip-drip-drip across the hall. Unpleasant odors drifted on the room’s air. Antiseptic place! Poisonous! The cabin had been scoured out with strong soap by the advance work crew.

  I am Katsuk.

  The odors in the room exhausted him. Everything of the whites did that. They weakened him, removed him from contact with his past and the powers that were his by right of inheritance.

  I am Katsuk.

  He quested outward in his mind, sensed the camp and its surroundings. A trail curved through a thick stand of fir beyond the cabin’s south porch. Five hundred and twenty-eight paces it went, over the roots and boggy places to the ancient elk trace which climbed into the park.

  He thought: That is my land! My land! These white thieves stole my land. These hoquat! Their park it my land!

  Hoquat! Hoquat!

  He mouthed the word without sound. His ancestors had applied that name to the first whites arriving off these shores in their tall ships. Hoquat—something that floated far out on the water, something unfamiliar and mysterious.

  The hoquat had been like the green waves of winter that grew and grew and grew until they smashed upon the land.

  Bruce Clark, director of Six Rivers Camp, had taken photographs that day—the publicity pictures he took every year to help lure the children of the rich. It had amused Katsuk to obey in the guise of Charles Hobuhet.

  Eyes open wide, body sweating with anticipation, Katsuk had obeyed Clark’s directions.

  “Move a little farther left, Chief.”


  “That’s good. Now, shield your eyes with your hand as though you were staring out at the forest. No, the right hand.”

  Katsuk had obeyed.

  The photographs pleased him. Nothing could steal a soul which Soul Catcher already possessed. The photographs were a spirit omen. The charges of Cedar Cabin had clustered around him, their faces toward the camera.