Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Excerpt: The Fetish

I thought I'd give my fans a taste of what I have available that they might not know about, for the next few weeks. The Fetish is a short story set in the same universe as Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. Those who have read that book may recall that Dr. Mike Anders purchased a little lapis spaceman fetish as a necklace at a Native American trading post; The Fetish is the story of how that object came to exist. I am also proud to say that it was an EPIC Award Finalist. There's a good deal of Native American lore in it, and some might consider it a fantasy, but it is indeed science fiction. Here's an excerpt; hope you enjoy it!

-Stephanie Osborn


The Zuni youth, barely in his teens, listened carefully to his medicine man ― a lone Zuni priest, something of a rarity for the Zuni ― as he prepared to set out upon his journey.

“This is the time,” James Running Horse told his pupil. “It is midsummer, when the Twins come to the mountaintops. Yes, the Twins,” he nodded, seeing young Vernon White Owl opening his mouth to speak. “The Beloved Two. If you are to continue being my apprentice, you must have their approval first. Only then will you truly become my son and heir, and all my secrets will be given to you.”

“But how will I know them?” Vernon asked, worried.

“You will know them,” James said, firm but gentle. “They are like none you have ever seen before.”


“Look.” James swept his arm across the vertical rock wall of the canyon in which they camped. “Study these drawings. The drawings of the Ancient Ones, the Anasazi. They have faded much in just the years I have known them; they must have been beautiful, detailed things when first they were made. But if you keep them in memory, you will know the Beloved Twins when you see them.”

Vernon stared at the ancient paintings, trying to affix their details in his memory. All were tall; some had broad bodies, others narrow. All had two protrusions, like insect antennae, or fox ears, or mushrooms, on the top of the head. They all had two prominent arms, but not all appeared to have feet. Some seemed to have tails like snakes instead. In their current condition, and to Vernon's untrained eye, it was impossible to tell whether they were coming or going, although none of them were painted in profile. He returned his attention to his teacher.

“What if they don't come?” he continued his anxious train of thought.

“...They will come.” But Vernon had caught the hesitation, the uncertainty in his master's voice.

“Will they both come?” Vernon wondered. “Ahaiyuta and Matsailema?”

“Not necessarily,” James murmured, as at last the hint of a smile came to his tanned, wizened face. “They are busy, and they often follow the starry entrails of Atahsaia across the sky, the grey, ugly demon who once ate our people, to ensure that he does not somehow regenerate. They protect us still.”

“From what?”

A full smile finally cracked the dark, weathered skin. “Ah, that is what you are here to find out!” James said. “Now, you have been through the preparation, a special medicine preparation I have made sure was as complete as possible, and tomorrow is what the white men call the solstice. It is an important time ― a time of vision. You have a few hours before sundown; just sufficient to climb to the peak yonder.” He pointed at the mountaintop at the head of the canyon. “You are as ready as you will ever be, and as ready as I can make you. Go. I will await you here, however long it takes. You will know when your quest is ended.”

Vernon nodded. He stripped to his skin, leaving his clothing and shoes behind with his mentor, and set off alone toward the peak. The only thing he carried was his whittling knife, on a thong around his
* * *

That night, Vernon was exceedingly glad that it was the summer solstice, for the wind on the mountain peak was chilly even so. He found the small cave, really little more than a notch in the peak, that the vision questers of his people had used for generations, and settled in for the night, although he had his doubts that he would be able to sleep. It had been a long walk, and the last hundred yards of the climb had been arduous; he was sweating profusely, and very tired. Nevertheless, he was growing cold as the sweat on his skin chilled in the breeze. He huddled near the back of the cave and tried to stay out of the wind, knowing he was going to be even more miserable very soon.

Eventually, in the arid air of the high desert, his bare skin dried, and he felt somewhat warmer, although, he decided, that was relative. The sky was crystal clear, a deep blue so dark that it was almost, but not quite, black, and millions of diamonds twinkled across it. But he knew that beautiful, clear skies meant colder nights. He curled himself into a tight ball against the rock, thankful for the daytime heat that still radiated from its rough, sandy surface, and waited.

Sooner or later, he knew, I will sleep, or I will have a vision. Or both.

* * *
But he didn't sleep that night. He was too miserably cold, and the stone was too rough, and he was still too energetic and excited, despite the rigorous preparation Running Horse had put him through.

Long, horrid hours later, the sun rose red over the reddish-orange sandstone rocks, making the whole world around him look like it had been bathed in blood. As soon as it did, the temperatures began to rise, and Vernon spent an hour or so in relative comfort ― except for his empty belly and dry throat. But before the sun was halfway up the sky, Vernon was beginning to sweat again. Somewhere in the distance, the call of a golden eagle echoed among the standing stones and canyons, and Vernon shielded his eyes with his hand and looked for it, finally spotting it far away, near the mouth of the canyon where he had been the day before, where his mentor, Running Horse, still camped in wait.

“That is good,” he decided. “We are guarded even here. The white men cannot find me and take me back to the boarding school.”


Thus begins The Fetish. If you are interested in reading more, The Fetish can be purchased here (for Kindle) or here (other formats).

Have fun reading!

-Stephanie Osborn