Jesse Birdsong stripped and stepped into the frigid mountain stream running through the center of the lush green valley. He scrubbed his body with fine stream sand, climbed out, and dressed in the old Apache way.
He was young with long black hair that touched his broad shoulders. He had a smooth hard stomach, strong arms and legs, and the frame of an athlete.
Finished dressing, he reached down and lifted up a large backpack made of skins and wood. It was filled with food; the jerky of deer, bear, rabbit, and cow all dried, prepared, prayed over, and sent to keep the Ancient One alive through another winter.
Jesse struggled into the straps and started off across the ancient El Malpais lava flow covering one corner of the valley. There was no trail through the sharp edged lava rocks, but Jesse had crossed once before as a small boy walking with his medicine man father on the sacred delivery.
He arrived finally at a cave opening hidden in the valley wall. Carefully, he slid the pack off and stepped through the opening holding it as an offering.
Inside, the cave opened into a huge domed room. In the exact center sitting cross-legged was the Ancient One. Next to him, jutting from a round kiva hole in the floor was a wooden ladder dark with age.
"Grandfather," Jesse began, “I've brought the offering."
"Sit," a voice commanded.
Jesse started across and stopped, eyes wide, his mouth falling open in awe. The walls glowed with paintings. Their radiance filled the dark cavern with light and story. Jesse read the history of his people in one wall of pictures.
"Sit," the Ancient One said again softly.
Jesse set the pack down and sat on the sand across from the old man.
For as long as stories have been handed down it had been the responsibility of a medicine man to visit and feed the Ancient One. He was the keeper of the records, the storyteller who would record the unbroken story of his people.
"You tell now!" The honored one said.
Jesse began telling the story of the events that happened to his people in the past year. The old one sat with his eyes closed listening, recording.
When he finished, the Ancient One appeared asleep. Jesse stood to examine more of the glowing pictures. He stopped stunned in front a series of twelve paintings that appeared nearly alive.
"Honored one," Jesse began softly. “These are not the story of our tribe. These are…”
The Ancient One held up his hand. “You are wrong, my son. Those pictures, the story they tell, are for all mankind, all tribes, everyone.”
"Now, I also need to tell you that I must go. You are my chosen replacement.” He pointed to the walls. “There is the book of life. You are now the record keeper." He hurried over to the ladder and started down.
"It's a new age, my son.” the Ancient One said pausing. “Our people, the Indian nations, will be gone one day absorbed and blended together in all mankind. There will be no separate races. All colors will become one in blood. The time and need for the separation is past. You can see signs of that now. We will become one tribe and accountable for each other. It is the way. Study the pictures. They speak of the dying and being born again. Three days of death and the spirit world opens again to you. You will see. You must die the second death and be born again. Then you will know."
"Wait! Please!" Jesse begged. "I'm afraid to be alone."
"You will never be alone. The tribe will provide you earthly nourishment and He will always be with you. Goodbye, my son."
"Father," Jesse pleaded. "Who is He?"
His final words whispered to the new Keeper of the Records. “Study the pictures. You will know who He is.”
Jesse turned to the pictures.
A man was nailed to a cross. Clouds boiled in a dark sky and bright red blood flowed down the black wood and puddled on the earth below. Silver lightning tore the sky apart and silhouetted a small white dove high in the heavens above.
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