September 1779, Kanadasga (Geneva, New York)
Seneca Lake’s basin shifts, spewing Tekakwitha’s roaring rage from its liquid mouth. She wakes from her watery grave to relive a death she’d died one warm September morn when Sullivan’s Expedition torched and destroyed everything her family owned and loved. Thunderous hooves sound with her waking, repeating past injustices against an unsuspecting sleeping village.
Inside Teka’s smoke-filled longhouse, she relives the chaos of a frightened family of 50 woken by whooping soldiers and a blazing fire. Unable to escape through the smoldering back door, her sisters, brothers, and elders crowd through a single egress and scatter into the dark, dense woodlands with nothing but the clothes they’d slept.
She watches her husband, Pilan, brave and determined to save as many as he can, racing about, waking the sleeping, pulling the feeble through the door before the fiery roof crumbles around them, and flames consume timber walls. When he pushes her toward the exit, his wrathful brown eyes hold hers as if for the last time. “It can’t be!”
“Teka, get to our tree. Wait for me there,” he says, gasping for air and rushing back inside for others.
Into the murky dawn, Teka flees for the thousandth time, away from the devil’s steed, through a thicket of trees where she’d gathered kindling, picked berries and dug up roots, and shoots many times. Beyond the great wahda’, she and her sisters tapped sap every sugar moon. Toward the big water, their men trapped trout for many years. Her people wade barefoot into the ganyodae’ shallow stream, pile into canoes, and escape upstream or by foot through the deep woods. She waits under the sugar maple, a tree where Pilan carved a sacred eagle, a sacrosanct place immortals guard, the place they first kissed.
“I won’t… I can’t leave without him.”
Hidden, she watches the fiery backdrop blacken the village. Rampant flames, stoked by autumn winds, incinerate 30 longhouses, spread across scorched grounds, blaze through fences, devouring Deohako the “three sisters” – maize, beans, and squash – and the abundant fruit orchards beyond. Charred wood, burnt corn, berries, apples, stored venison and trout mingle, scenting the air, overwhelming the scorched terrain. Oak, maple, and birch trees crackle under raging fire. Stags, wolves, and owls retreat from brilliant orange skies, howling danger. Enraged clansmen yell alarm, securing their women and children away from deafening hooves as soldiers savage and torch everything they love.
Teka foresaw this day in a dream. She should have spoken of it to her elders, warned them to leave the encampment sooner. Now she shivers and weeps with remorse at devastation the soldiers unleash against her people. When tribes abandoned nearby Queanettquaga and Chequaga, her people made plans to escape further north to Niagara, away from their cherished home on the hill beside the lake. They should have left days ago when rumors spread of Sullivan’s men’s attack against British loyalists and the Iroquois tribe who sided with them. Now it’s too late.
Through the trees, she searches the fiery scene for her family, praying they’ve escaped, but fear feeble elders met with a fiery fate. No matter what, she’ll wait for Pilan until the soldiers depart or day breaks.
When thistle crackles nearby, she hides behind the tree, fearing soldiers have discovered her when movement rustles a few feet away. Then she hears Pilan whisper, “Teka.”
“Pilan,” she calls, stepping from behind the tree, noticing a soldier he’s bludgeoned at his feet and a tomahawk dangling from his hand. A bullet splits dawn, hitting her husband, piercing and ripping through his chest. “No! Pilan!” A second bullet misses Teka as she drops beside Pilan, bleeding on the ground. “Pilan, get up. Please, please, we can make it to the lake. You can’t leave me. Please, get up!”
His fingers clutch the choker around her neck, a gift she’d worn at their wedding just three moons ago. Spluttering blood and choking on his words, he whispers, “I’ll see you again, my Teka. Now, desë:had:t, run, go, leave me,” he says with his final breath.
“Dëjihnyadade: gë’… I’ll see you again, my love.”
Jerking her head around with the sound of approaching men, the choker catches and unravels in Pilan’s lifeless fingers, slipping into his limp palm as she rises and races toward the water’s edge.
A gunshot echoes in the air. The instant immobilizing pain drops her to her knees. Her eyes linger on the harvest moon descending west and September’s Indian sun rising east over verdant mountaintops. Images of her homeland that she’ll never view again with corporeal eyes. Death is near, but she welcomes it, knowing she’ll join Pilan in the afterlife. The lake roars in sync with her last ragged breath. The earth shakes as she sinks into a watery grave.
Now, her unearthly eyes see what human sight cannot. An unnatural force forever imbues the land her people lived, claiming and trapping aggrieved souls in this place of recurrent deaths. An ending she’ll relive a thousand times. When Seneca Lake roars at dawn, and the earth trembles, she’ll wake, and watch Sullivan’s men destroy her people’s land. And, once more, without end, she’ll wait for her beloved Pilan and for her people to reclaim their land.