After soaking his father with three gallons of gasoline, Olm lit a match and tossed it onto the old man’s body. With a loud WHOOSH, blinding orange heat towered towards the night sky. Olm took a few steps back, watching in fascination as clothes and hair disintegrated instantly. Soon the pop and sizzle of burning flesh out sang the chorus of nocturnal swamp life that had deafened him for the last two hours—clicks, whines, buzzes from insects too vast in species and number to count, the croaks and whomp from frogs and alligators, snakes with bodies wider than the circumference of a man’s arm. All of them raising their voices to Brother Moon, to one another.
Skin and thin layers of fat slipped away from bone, the flames licking across the scaffolding that held his father’s body, and Olm hoped the wooden beams would hold until the ritual was completed. So much work had gone into making this happen. He’d cut thick cypress branches to just the right length, soaked them in water, hoisted the weighted logs by himself into a wobbly skiff, then transported them through the dead of too many nights. Through sloughs and flats clotted with water lilies that eventually led to a u-shaped, ten-acre knoll in the farthest corner of the Atchafalaya swamp, far away from prying eyes. Although it had been difficult to lift, hammer, and construct the burial shelf without any help, Olm’s greatest challenge had been to steal his father’s body from Sasaint’s Funeral Home before it was embalmed, and to do it without getting caught. The struggle and hard work had been worth it, though, for now that everything was in place, Olms life could truly begin.
Although this wasn’t the traditional Pawnee burial his father had requested before he died, it was the fastest way for Olm to be rid of the body, which he needed to do if he was to follow through with a crucial, albeit extinct, Pawnee custom. One his father never embraced
As legend had it, in order for a son to acquire the knowledge of all the leaders in his ancestral line, he had to offer his father’s body to the elements at the time of his passing. When only bleached bones remained, the father’s spirit would then be released, and all a son had to do was call upon what was rightfully his. To Olm, acquiring that knowledge meant ultimate power. For surely in the roll call of his ancestors, there had to have been medicine men, chiefs, warriors, and mighty hunters, those whose dance offerings and sacrifices, human and animal, changed weather patterns, and produced bountiful harvests. Olm had no intention of planting anything. He figured the same wisdom that created abundance in fields and swamps throughout past generations would adapt and supply the needs of a leader in the twenty-first century. Waiting for his father’s bones to bleach might take weeks, though, even in the ruthless Louisiana heat.
He’d already spent thirty-seven years waiting for this moment, and Olm didn’t want to wait a second longer than was necessary. Since his father was only one-third Pawnee, and from the Skidi tribe, Olm didn’t think the alterations he’d made in the burial custom would make a difference. As far as he was concerned, he’d followed more than half the custom by bringing his father’s body to the swamp and building the burial shelf. How the bones were exposed shouldn’t matter.
Copyright 2008 Deborah LeBlanc