About the Author

Adam Garnet Jones

Adam Garnet Jones is a Cree/Métis filmmaker whose work includes over twenty short films that have been broadcast on television and the big screen. He is best known for telling compelling personal stories that come from the Aboriginal and Queer communities. Fire Song is an adaptation of Adam’s award-winning feature film debut.

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Fire Song

Chapter 1

Shane is awake, wishing he wasn’t. The alarm clock makes a soft warning click before flooding the room with staticky Top 40. Too loud. Shane reaches an arm out from under the covers and hits snooze for the third time. It feels better in bed. Not good, but better. As long as his door is closed, no one wants anything from him. No one is asking if he’s okay, as if he’d tell them the truth anyways. He’ll have to make a move eventually, but if he can coax himself into a Drift, he can delay a little longer.

Sometimes when he’s upset, the Drift comes in and takes him out like a rogue wave. Whooooosh—he’s somewhere else. Other days, if he can get his mind to stop spinning and if he breathes in the right way, he can call the Drift in. Shane takes a long sip of air, praying for it to fill every unseen part of him. When his chest starts to burn, he lets out the breath in a gentle, focused stream. The Drift begins as a tingle. It starts in his fingertips, then creeps up his arms and over the tender flesh of his neck until it blooms over his eyelids and bursts into a constellation of squirming silver pinpricks thatfill his field of vision. Warmth pulses through his center and guides him out of his body. If only his whole life could have the rush of sweetness that comes during a Drift, when the weight of his limbs drops away and the purest part of him rises high up through the dripping ceiling and out over the top of his house.

He floats above the tree line and passes into that magic halfway-place between the earth and the sky. Even on his worst days, the snaking line of the creek and the tree-furred shores of the silver water can stop his heart. It's the home of his ancestors. The place of prophecy, where food grows upon the water. A place where, if you can fly away from the level of the earth and see it all with the eyes of a crow, there will always be balance. No matter how much struggle is skewing the edges of the circle down below. Maybe that’s what his sister was looking for—the eyes of a crow at the end of a rope. Stop thinking of her,Shane tells himself. He shifts his attention to the breeze blowing over his face and lets it rinse the thought clean away.

Shane floats out over the houses; first the little old ones like his that have been here the longest, and then on to the crisp siding and double-glazed windows of the bigger places built by people with money. The edge of the reserve is dotted with trailers. People on TV talk about trailers like they are the crap, but Tara’s is bigger than Shane’s house. And if you want to you can pick them up and move them anywhere you want. Not that he’s ever seen one move once it got put down. People are that way too, unless you have your eyes on school. Most people think that if you’re smart, you won’t stick around long. And if you graduate and don’t take off to the city then you probably don’t have much to offer the band anyway. One time Roberta, the school counselor, told Shane that education is like the golden ticket Charlie found in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Shane mentioned it to Tara later and she said that a kid who licks wallpaper and ends up living with a crazy old man in a purple velvet suit isn’t such a great role model. She may be right.

The wind changes and Shane Drifts over the dirt road that leads to the sun-bleached wooden benches of the powwow grounds, where the air meets the water at the edge of the lake. People from all over gather here at the height of summer to catch up with faraway family, to show off new babies and new regalia, to sing and dance and laugh and eat, and snag. But even when there’s no one there, the powwow grounds have the shine of the people lighting it up from the inside. It’s like the room of a dying man or the ground where a midwife stands, reaching into the edge of the spirit world. Sacred, you know? His sister, Destiny, was almost crowned powwow princess here last year. She would have been, too, if she had taken the time to braid her hair and finish the details on her regalia the way the other girls did. The judges probably thought she didn’t care enough. But she did care. Not about pulling her hair back or finishing the hemline of her regalia. She just wanted to dance. And she had more grace—more of the healing power of that jingle dress dance—in her than anyone he's ever seen. Shane loved watching her feet move like a whisper over the ground, impossibly soft and quick, almost floating in her moccasins. She was so …

And just like that he’s back in his bed again, eyes bulging, and gasping for air like a pickerel flipped onshore. There’s nothing like the half-awake peace of forgetting for a few minutes that your little sister is dead, before reality busts in and pisses all over everything. Shane had felt sad and angry when people in his family and community passed on to the spirit world, but nothing could have prepared him for the sick heat that has been twisting in his guts since the night Destiny did it. No one tells you how much you can hurt and still look normal on the outside.

Shane takes deep breath after deep breath, trying to get into another Drift, but it’s no use. He’s not going anywhere. A drop of gray water hangs from the ceiling. It gathers moisture from the soggy drywall, growing and drooping until it splashes into an overflowing bucket. Ripples race out to touch the edges of the bucket, and then disappear. Shane watches the drops grow heavy and fall, each transforming into the energy of tiny waves that dissipate into nothingness. David would see those ripples and say that everything is alive. Shane’s science teacher would say that energy never dies. The idea is the same, but nothing explains what happens when those ripples crash against the wall and the water goes flat.

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