Cahokia Mounds

Clay statuette excavated at Cahokia site

The last tidbit I dug out of my “previous versions vault” received such a good response I thought I’d show you some more. This was the old Chapter 2 of The Space Between Worlds. Cahokia Mounds is a pre-Columbian Native American historic site in Illinois, directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri. You can read more about it here: Cahokia Mounds. Bridget and Celena visit on a school field trip, and naturally, some teleportation occurs.

* * * * *

Bridget, Celena and the rest of their World History class filed out of the bus at the famous Native American site the next state over.

“Have you ever been here before?” Celena asked as she stepped onto the pavement.

“Once,” answered Bridget. “In fourth grade. I really don’t remember much, though.”

They followed their teacher, Mr. Blackwell, toward the information center. It was a beautiful day, exactly the kind of weather Bridget liked: cool and damp after a rain the night before, a sky covered in white, grey and black clouds and wind that smelled like wet earth and leaves. Fall was setting in and the trees were beginning to lose their green.

A tour guide named Ms. Bayless introduced herself and led them through some exhibits which she explained, then out of the building and across the flatland. They explored a reconstructed teepee and learned about the unusual flatness of the land below while they stood atop the largest mound. Altogether, there were nearly eighty mounds of various sizes, but the group couldn’t see them all and so would visit only the most notable ones.

“This is Mound 72,” the tour guide told them. “During excavation more than two hundred fifty skeletons were recovered from this site. Archeologists believe that as many as sixty-two percent of those found were sacrificial victims, including about forty men and women who we think may have been buried alive.”

Bridget shifted her weight back and forth on her feet. Skeletons and violent death were still not her topics of choice.

The students were taken by more mounds and shown “borrow pits,” which their guide explained were simply areas from which earth had been taken to be used elsewhere, in this case for the creation of the mounds.

“And why were the mounds built?” Bridget asked Ms. Bayless. She felt she had missed that at some point.

“They were primarily ceremonial,” Ms. Bayless said. “But of course, we’ll never know exactly why.”

Bridget couldn’t help but feel a bit of contempt for a people who apparently considered it “ceremony” to place living victims beneath a small mountain of earth. She would never understand why primitive societies seemed to have barbarism at the heart of their culture.

As they followed Ms. Bayless to the next site, Bridget’s mind drifted to a thought she’d had many times before. She had often heard people speak of “the good old days,” saying they wanted to return to them. There seemed to be a pervasive idea floating around that the past was far better than the present, be it the 1950’s or the long-forgotten days of the ancients. With her unique viewpoint, Bridget found that nothing could be more ridiculous or further from the truth. It seemed that no matter what time period she called to mind, from whatever frame of reference, it appeared not better but worse beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Black Plague, slavery, other chronic human rights violations of one sort or another, foul living conditions and cruel superstitions were the sordid tunes played across the ages. If there were people who said they “wanted to go back in time,” it was only because they didn’t remember. If they did remember, they would never want to go back. Any rational person would prefer drinking a latte in an air-conditioned apartment than battling an incurable disease in a 97 degree teepee and defecating outside in a shallow hole.

“Bridget,” Celena whispered. “Are you listening?”

Bridget looked up and smiled. She had been staring at the ground with her arms crossed while Ms. Bayless spoke. “No, I wasn’t,” she admitted.

The guide took them to one of the last points of interest on the tour. She indicated a large circle, about four hundred feet in diameter, made of upright, wooden posts of cedar.

“And this is Woodhenge,” said Ms. Bayless. “Woodhenge was probably built as an astronomical observatory, to mark the changing of seasons by the positions of the sun and stars.”

Celena put her hand on one of the cedar poles, while Bridget stood by, quietly listening and observing.

“This was reconstructed with new tree trunks in 1985,” their guide continued. She motioned for the class to follow her as she entered the circle. “It was originally discovered during the 1960’s when the area was going to be part of an interstate highway. Woodhenge is thought to have been built around 1000 AD. The original posts were red cedar, which was a sacred wood to the Mississippians, and the wood contained some red pigment which indicates that it may have been painted.”

There were large spaces between the cedar trunks and within moments every student was within the circle. Celena was walking around within it. She seemed bored as she kicked at grass clumps and casually looked up and down the wooden posts.

“Celena,” Bridget called, mimicking her friend’s tone from a little while ago. “Are you listening?”

Her friend stifled a laugh. “No, I’m not!” She stuck her tongue out.

“Maturity,” mused Bridget. She rolled her eyes and pretended to listen intently to Ms. Bayless.

The tour was over. They were free to explore the grounds with Mr. Blackwell as long as they wished and were thanked for coming. Donations were accepted at the information center.

Mr. Blackwell informed them that they would eat lunch before doing anything else. Bridget didn’t see Celena. She looked for her so that they could walk back to the bus together. Bridget noticed that Celena wasn’t where she had been milling about before; perhaps she had walked around to the other side of the class, so she would be in front as they left the circle.

“Celena,” Bridget called absentmindedly, then turned to follow the others. She thought Celena must be on the side of the group or maybe got behind her during the tour.

Bridget surveyed again, then looked right and left, and outside the circle to where her classmates were moving in a rather slovenly herd.

“Celena?” said Bridget. Her chest tightened as she now looked every which way. Celena wasn’t with the class or in front of it, next to her, outside the circle or within it. Celena was gone.

“Celena!” Bridget yelled. Several girls turned and looked at her. Mr. Blackwell took no notice and kept walking alongside his students. “Mr. Blackwell, we’ve lost Celena.” Bridget told him.

Mr. Blackwell stopped. “Has anyone seen Celena?” he asked, looking at the indifferent teenagers in front of him.

“Oh yeah, I think she went ahead of us,” Shawn said. He was one of the guys that Bridget didn’t know too well. “I think I saw her a second ago.”

“Oh good, thank you Shawn,” Mr. Blackwell said. “We’ll catch up to her, Bridget. Don’t worry.” Mr. Blackwell smiled calmly. Apparently, he felt that one of his students being missing only minutes after they had all been together on a guided tour was no big deal.

Bridget, however, knew that Celena would never do that. She would never just “go ahead” with no warning. Bridget hesitated, not wanting to leave Woodhenge without knowing Celena’s whereabouts, but Mr. Blackwell again tried to reassure her and told her to come. She followed reluctantly and slowly.

Then, gradually allowing more and more distance to intervene between herself, her teacher and the class, Bridget stopped. She backed up, bit by bit, making sure no one was watching, then turned and ran back to the circle of cedar trunks.

A thought that she couldn’t bring herself to accept sharply bit at her. She wondered how her nagging suspicion could possibly be true: that Celena had closed her eyes in the center of the circle for a moment and disappeared, just as they had done in Bryn Cader Faner in Wales. Was Celena wearing her necklace? Bridget had worn hers every day since the day she found it.

Bridget went to the center of Woodhenge and glanced around to see if anyone was coming. Mr. Blackwell and the class could be seen in the distance as they neared the parking lot. No one noticed that not one, but now two students were absent.

This was different than the ring cairn by the charming little farmhouse where they stayed on their vacation. Though she experienced things on the other side of the portal in Wales that were painful and terrifying, at least she knew what awaited her when she visited the otherworld there. If this was truly another portal, then it was uncharted territory in the fullest sense. Bridget had no idea what to expect.

But, Bridget knew, now I have no choice but to try. Probably nothing will happen. Maybe Celena really did go ahead and is already in the bus eating. As she told herself that, she knew it wasn’t true. Her first instinct was most likely the correct one.

With a force of will, Bridget shut her eyes tightly and held them closed. She wrapped her arms around her torso as though trying to protect her body from some impending danger. The idea of opening her eyes again scared her; she didn’t want to be surprised.

* * * * *

In a matter of seconds, Bridget heard rushing winds all around her, beating at her skin, tugging at her clothes and whipping her hair around her face. She cried out and opened her eyes only as a reflex.

There was no rolling moorland, no little stone cottages or a great hill fort. In every direction there was only a greyness and roaring wind. She looked beneath her, and it seemed that the very ground was made out of the greyness as well. Bridget knelt and pressed her hand against it. It felt like stone – slate, to be precise, the type of stone from which the ring cairn was made. She rose again and tried to steady herself against the pummeling gusts. This place appeared to have no boundaries. There was no horizon or line of treetops, no markings by which to gauge one’s position. Bridget looked for the sun and found none. She couldn’t see any light source. Maybe that was why she found nothing living. All was the greyish-white rushing of air current. It was almost like being enveloped in fog, though not as tangible. It was more ethereal; dreamlike.

Bridget didn’t feel safe in this new, confusing place of wind and rock. She thought that if she only closed her eyes and said the year of her own time, she would probably be returned to Cahokia Mounds and all would be well, but she still needed to find Celena. At this new turn of events she felt there could be no question that this is where her friend must have gone.

She walked slowly and carefully against the wind and called for Celena, over and over again. After she had been moving for only a very short time, she realized her error: since there were no trees, earth or landmarks, there was nothing to mark the place where she entered. Bridget wondered if she would need to return to that spot again if she wanted to leave.

After a few more paces, Bridget saw it – the menhir she had seen before in the otherworld, in their life in ancient Wales. She stopped short and stared at it. It looked identical in every way to the stone marker in prehistoric days. Among other things, she and Celena had learned that the stone had the quality of being able to exist outside its own time.

Leaning a bit, she studied its side, and there was the Ogham writing she remembered. It was weathered, but clear enough. They had translated it into English on vacation and Bridget would never forget what it said. It read “Gethen Eynon, 5th Day of April, the Year of Our Lord, Six Hundred and Nine.” Gethen Eynon was presumably the name of the inscriber.

It had to be the same standing stone. Though she knew it could exist in another time, she didn’t understand how it could be in two places at once as well, both here in America and in Wales. That didn’t make any sense.

She wondered if Celena had seen the stone and touched it, but then discarded that idea. Certainly, her friend wouldn’t be that naïve; if she saw the menhir after accidentally stepping into this place – whatever it was – she would have known that it wasn’t safe here and would’ve returned at once.

Unless she couldn’t return – what if she thought the stone was the way out? What if the stone is the way out?

Stepping up to the familiar standing stone, Bridget placed her hand upon its top. She didn’t know what to say. What might have Celena said? Just her own name, the date and the current year, with reference to the modern calendar.

“Bridget Holland, 14th of October, the Year of Our Lord …” she began. Her stomach turned. It hadn’t flipped so much since they returned from their trip in June.

Three times she said the line, and nothing happened. Her only other idea was to add in the name of her location, so she added “Woodhenge, Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, United States” to the end of the sentence. Again, nothing changed. Bridget wondered if she needed to be more specific or if it was just that she was now faced with a new property of the menhir she knew nothing about. She hoped that wasn’t it and simply added “Collinsville,” the city where the historical site was located, after “Cahokia Mounds.” She recited three times with this addition.

* * * * *

The sound of the rushing wind clipped suddenly, and Bridget was standing in the middle of Woodhenge. It was early fall; the air was clean and smelled like rain. There was little wind and after being where she was it seemed incredibly quiet and serene. Looking toward the parking lot in the distance, she could see most of her class clustered around the outside of the school bus.

Oh yes, and one other thing, Bridget reflected wryly. No Celena.

It was true, Celena wasn’t there to meet her as she had hoped. Bridget closed her eyes again and returned to the land of all-encompassing greyness and wind.

* * * * *

Bridget pushed back the hair that had blown into her face and walked over to the menhir. It was partially shrouded in the swirling fog. She would have to come up with a plan.

Something else occurred to her: if the stone needed the name of a place to be spoken in order for it to work, would that mean that one could say the name of any city and it would take one there? Bridget couldn’t imagine that Celena would purposely say the name of another city – unless, of course, she simply said the name of the city in which she lived, their home town. Could that be it? Bridget placed her hand on the menhir again and began speaking the line she thought would achieve this, then halted. If it really worked and she was transported to St. Louis, there would be no way to get back here to the field trip. Last time she checked there weren’t any portals in her bedroom or by Celena’s house. Explaining how she was at the field trip one moment and in her living room the next would be quite something to get past her mom and teacher.

Another thought came to her. Although she hated to let herself think it, there was always the worst-case scenario to consider. It was too awful and unconfrontable. What if Celena went back there – back to Wales, back to Llyn Caerwych where Paul waited, or back even further to ancient times, to the terror and death that had once been theirs?

Well, she decided, if it takes me to Caerwych I can always come back here right away, now that I know how.

Yet, it wasn’t quite that simple, she knew. If her reasoning was correct by what she found to be true so far, to come back to America from Wales she would have to enter Bryn Cader Faner and use the menhir in the otherworld, since there wasn’t one visible in the present day. That made things a bit more interesting, but at least the stone wasn’t very far from the ring cairn.

Bridget put her hand on the stone. She took a deep breath and began reciting. Even after everything she had experienced, it was still unbelievable at times that such abilities were hers for the taking.

“Bridget Holland, 14th of October, the Year of Our Lord …” she started again. She needed to come out by the ring cairn so made sure to include it. “Bryn Cader Faner, Caerwych, Gwynedd, North Wales, United Kingdom.”

“Bridget!” Celena yelled.

Bridget stopped in mid-sentence on her second line. “Celena! Oh, thank God! Where are you?” She looked in all directions but didn’t see her yet.

“Here I am,” her friend said. Celena stepped out of the fog wearing a look of profound relief.

Bridget sighed. “I thought you might have gone back to Caerwych! I was about to try to go there myself.”

“No,” Celena said. “I’ve been here. There’s nothing here – nothing that I can see, except for the menhir. How can it be here? And what is this place?”

“I don’t know. I asked myself the same thing. How far out did you go?” asked Bridget.

“You mean how far did I walk from the standing stone? I don’t know. Definitely out a way. It looks like it just goes on and on like this, but I was scared to go too far. And I don’t know how to get out of here.”

“I already figured out how,” Bridget told her. “I used the menhir, just like we did in Wales except I didn’t change myself into Enid. I just told it the location and time.”

“Oh good!” said Celena. “But don’t you want to look around a little more, since we’re here?”

Bridget nodded. Of course, she did. “Yeah, but just a little. Then we have to get back. And I don’t want to get lost in here.”

“Okay,” Celena agreed.

They walked out in a straight line from the menhir until they could just barely see it when they turned around, then they looked in all directions. It was all the same, just rushing wind, greyish, swirling fog and the stone floor. There was nothing. Then they went back to the menhir and walked away from another side of it and did the same thing. After four times of this they decided they had seen all the nothingness they wanted to see.

“So that’s it then. Congrats to us,” Bridget said sarcastically. “We have discovered ‘The Place of Nothingness’ at Cahokia Mounds.”

“Yeah,” said Celena. “Weird. It’s interesting but seems kind of useless.”

“It does.”

Bridget placed her hand back on the standing stone and slowly and carefully recited her lines so that Celena could hear her clearly. She wondered if they would ever come back to this place and explore it more, though she couldn’t imagine why they’d want to.

* * * * *

A few moments later they both stood once again in the center of the circle of cedar boles. The cool air felt soft and comforting after the rushing winds. The grass looked unusually green and lush, and in the overcast sky Bridget noticed shades of blue and green amongst the clouds. She was amazed at the quiet of everything.

“Look,” Bridget said. “Our class is still by the bus!”

It was true. She could see the students and their teacher walking around it in the parking lot. Some of their classmates were coming down the steps of the bus and stepping onto the blacktop. A few were pointing in their general direction.

Artist’s conception of midwinter sunrise over Mound 60

The girls took off toward them, running as hard as they could until they came right up to Mr. Blackwell. He looked shocked.

“I found her,” Bridget said, with a quick glance at Shawn. “She didn’t go ahead after all.”

The other students were barely finished eating lunch. Not much time had passed at all. Only fifteen minutes had elapsed since Bridget had gone to look for Celena.