Of Lines and String

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Lines gridded their world. The perpetual line of the North Star and the seasonal lines of the north-south limit of sunrises and sunsets sliced their plane of existence into six cardinal directions. These lines rationalized the known into sections that counterbalanced the chaotic natural forces that perpetually threatened to starve them into extinction.

Grandfather thought about and noticed these things more than most men. His father and grandfather before him watched and recorded and interpreted the movements of everything they could see in the sky, and Grandfather continued their work with a persistence that defined him.

As a child, he’d searched for every location where the first and last light of the sun shone through V-shaped notches, making dots and blades on cliff faces where he chipped marks to follow the movement of the light over time. At night, he sat with his father and grandfather as they plotted the less regular, more complex movements of the wandering stars, the slow north-south progression of the moon, eclipses of the sun and moon, and the eerie and rare appearances of the long-haired stars.

As a small child, he remembered his grandfather holding him close and pointing to a long-haired star that stretched across the sky. “I did not see this when it came the last time because I was not yet born,” the old man whispered. “But my father did, and the string records show us that it comes every seventy-six years. If you live for a very, very long time, you will see it again.”

The string record kept the information alive across generations. Grandfather didn’t know who had devised the system, and each line of skywatchers had their variations, but the jar with the string record became the most guarded possession of not only the skywatcher who kept it, but the entire village that supported the skywatchers like priests or monks.

When the albino woman, Nuva, came to care for Grandfather’s infant grandson, she began to learn how to keep the strings.

“This,” Grandfather explained to her, fingering the cotton strings that resembled tatting, “is where the long-haired star appeared when I was a child.” He pulled a long section from the jar. “This is seventy-six years earlier when it appeared before that.” He removed the rest of the string, the entirety of the record. “And this is where it appeared seventy-six years before that.”

He stretched out and hung the entire string from the walls of his pit house with Nuva’s help, its knotted side strings hanging like bangs from the central string. It wrapped around the room nearly two times. Grandfather showed her how to tie the knots for full moons and how much distance to leave between the wandering stars and how to mark eclipses and the regular annual limits of the sunrises and sunsets.

“With the circle of stones that mark direction,” he said, “and this string record, which marks time, we can predict almost everything about what the spirits of the sky are going to do next.”

“What if something happened to this string? If somebody lost it or it burned up?” Nuva asked.

“Then it would be like a whole line of skywatchers had never lived.”

With that, Nuva gently removed the long string from the wall and coiled it into the jar and replaced the lid.

Grandfather smiled at her reverence, then they both smiled at the infant, Tuwa, who gurgled and blew spit bubbles, the latest in the long string of skywatchers.

# # #

Question for readers: Is the front section before you get into the “story” too long?

Note: While there is no evidence to my knowledge that the Anasazi used such strings, their contemporaries in Central and South America certainly did so. See the book Narrative Threads for more information (it’s worth following the link just to see the photograph on the cover). It’s also worth noting that early Spanish-Catholic missionaries burned enormous piles of these strings, making it as if a long line of these ancient people had never lived. –JP

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39 Comments

Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Ancient Americans, Chaco Canyon, Chimney Rock, Historial Fiction

39 responses to “Of Lines and String

  1. Rhoda

    Jeff,
    I think it flows well. The intro is my favorite part. Gives me a sharp, brittle, delicate visual. Ties in well with the delicate, tenuous nature of the string.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Rhoda. I love your words of “brittle” and “delicate” and “tenuous.” I think those are all true of the Anasazi, but they’re matched by “relentless” and “tough” and “brutal.” Kind of like regular people, in other words.

  2. CJ

    The string seems like such a fragile way of keeping such an important record. Direction in stone, time in string… I feel like there’s a deeper message there, a metaphor hiding …
    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, CJ. A string is indeed a fragile way of keeping such an important record, I agree. But le’ts think a minute. Paper is rather fragile. And electronic ones and zeroes seem even more fleeting. Are we keeping the important records of our own society in ways that are even more fragile than the ancient ones? Kind of thought-provoking, isn’t it?

  3. The string is certainly a power object. It is remarkable that your writing can make us care about a length of knotted string. That you do so is entirely down to your ability to make us understand and, more importantly, care for your characters and the things that matter to them. I reckon the earlier comment about losing the second paragraph is spot on. The third paragraph shows us what you tells us in the second.

    Great work again.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Dan. You make me smile from your comment about this story making you care about a length of knotted string. I thank you for that. And for your agreement on losing the second paragraph. That’s exactly right.

  4. KjM

    I love this albino woman, Nuva, you’ve created. The couple of times I’ve encountered her now suggest a deep and complex character.

    Her comprehension of the importance of the string histories in very much in tune with the aspects of her we’ve been shown before.

    Thank you for yet another aspect of this multi-facetted story you are telling.

    And, to answer your question, no. The introduction did not detract from the story – in fact, it helped set the scene.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Yes, poor Nuva is perhaps the most complex character to come out of this world, and she’s not even the protagonist or antagonist. I think a lot about her and the concept of being an outcast in your own society, which is what she is — although she’s been brought back in by Grandfather. Thanks for your appreciation of her.

  5. If you’re concerned about length, you could lose the second paragraph without hurting the narrative, but I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

    I really enjoy the sense of history and culture that inform your stories. Great title, too.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      By golly, you are exactly right. The third paragraph shows how he’s persistent more than most. Brilliant comment. Now, how can I train myself to see this stuff while I’m doing my trim edits? I have a rule of thumb: trim everything by a third. Man, that hurts. I don’t always succeed. But for some reason, I got this one down by a third and left that paragraph still in there. Thanks for pointing that out, Trev.

  6. I found the opening to be intriguing.

    I found the whole thing fascinating. I knew about the string calendars of South America and find it completely plausible that the same method was used by the Anasazi.

    “the eerie and rare appearances of the long-haired stars.” I loved this description.

    “Then it would be like a whole line of skywatchers had never lived.”

    This line is so thoroughly chilling. Which, of course, makes the comment in your afterword all the more powerful.
    ~jon

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Jon: That’s because it is chilling. These people lived and created an incredibly complex society and all we have left are piles of stones and bones. Time and other societies have conspired to eliminate most other evidence.

      Thank you for your comments, as always. And thanks especially for the work you do as captain of #FridayFlash. Without you, it wouldn’t exist.

  7. this has an earthy, real, homespun feel and no, there is not a wasted word. like a fable, it has the kind of emotion that generates and lesson learned feel. well done.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your comment, though I think there are always wasted words. Getting rid of them is like getting rid of weeds from the garden. They’re ALWAYS there. But all we can do is keep weeding. Until our string burns up or something.

  8. Beautiful, with an undercurrent of sadness that is quite subtle and very well done. I’m not liking the “burning of the string” comment because it hints at future heartbreak — oooooh, I don’t want to know! This is a compliment — in this short flash, you made me care both about the people and their fate.

    Well done, indeed.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Ah, well, maybe not burning of the string. Maybe kidnapping of the string, holding it ransom. Maybe holding it out of the window by its legs. It’s a power object, so you’ve got to threaten it somehow. I mean, as writers, would any of us have the discipline to not do that? Oh no. I’m certain. Something’s going to happen to the string. It must.

  9. soesposito

    Oh no, why do I feel foreshadowing in the question “what if someone lost it or burned it up?” Now I’m afraid for the string! What a wonderful, peaceful scene you created with the hanging of the string. As for your question, I had to go back and read the beginning because it didn’t bother me. But, I also have learned to read your prose as pieces of a longer story, so I like the backstory of the characters I’m getting to know.
    Lovely writing, once again!

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thank you for dropping by and making a comment. I love that you’re afraid for the string! Not that I want to cause you fear, but it is a value object, and we all know what people tend to do with value object. Yep. Drama. Can’t escape it.

  10. Beautiful poetry here. First time I’ve read your stuff, and I’ll be back.

    Your question: for a flash, yes, too much set-up. For a longer piece, which this could be, absolutely not. Enjoyed… Peace, Linda

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thank you so much, Linda. Especially your comment about this having too much set-up for a flash piece. You’re exactly right. Flash has to dive right into the story. In fact, even long-form should dive right into the story. I know that. Sheesh. It helps to have it pointed out. So, please, keep pointing.

  11. Hi Jeff, Not too long of an intro at all. I tend to do this myself to set the scene. Once set you have a limited time to tell the story and you did a great job.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Susan. I continue to toy with voice, especially with points of view that rise above the close-up to give larger context. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

  12. Jeff, in addition to your storytelling skill, you are very good at prompting us with questions each week, making it easy for us to comment for you. This week, I also admired how you anticipated the first question which came to mind for me – is this something the Anasazi really do?

    Your intro was not long at all for me, and I loved your first sentence “Lines gridded their world” for I quickly related this world view embrace to my own Hawaiian culture. We have a word which encourages a similar mapping of our sense of place, aouli, which means “the skies are the blue vault of heaven” —that vast expanse above us holds so much if only we look for it, and appreciate it.

    You wove so much into this short piece for me with the generational reverence of history you conveyed. There was a perfect balance of dialogue and contextual story.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Rosa: I love your in-depth comments. I especially love learning “aouli” and “the skies are the blue vault of heaven.” They are, aren’t they? And “aouli” is so much more simple to say and write.

      Your response helps me hone my work, which is what I’m always hoping to do, so again, thank you very much.

      –Jeff Posey

  13. Back story is always a balancing act with flash fiction. In this case readers need to understand why the string is important. I think you would be getting a different response if you had not given us the reference to the comet. It pulled the back story into the present and gave us what we needed so we could understand it. Grandfather’s line: “Then it would be like a whole line of skywatchers had never lived.”, made us care about the string too.

    As always you amaze me with your storytelling abilities. I hope you remember us when you’re famous.
    ~Chris

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Chris: You always leave such wonderful comments. Thank you for that. And I agree, the balance between backstory or context is one that I’m experimenting with mightily right now. I tend to write close-in, small stories, with the backstory or larger context only implied. That’s my natural storytelling style. But my best beta readers and my writers’ critique group are encouraging me to open up a little bit, enter the world of the limited omniscient where I’ve spent very little writing time, and broaden the context. Hence, my practice here. I greatly appreciate your comment.

      –Jeff

  14. It didn’t feel to long to me, Jeff. The story flowed well enough that the reader doesn’t notice. Nice reference to Halley’s Comet, though to the Anasazi it was only a long-haired star by which to understand the Spirits. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I had to go back to notice what you were referring to, since it flowed so well I wasn’t aware of an intro. Another great story. I love the long-haired star reference.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Laura: Ah, I tricked you with my question! I didn’t mean to do that, actually. But just the fact that you didn’t know what the heck I was asking about means it worked as a scene-setter. My beta readers on my novel have been telling me, in so many words, that I write “too close in.” Were I making movies, I’d have way too many close-ups and not enough wide-pan setup shots to give context to the scene. So I practice with you, my wonderful #FridayFlash readers.

      –Jeff

  16. Not too long at all; it flowed very well. As usual, your writing is just wonderful imagery, wonderful words, wonderful story!

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Marisa. I’m experimenting with some “pan out” on my scene introductions. Your comments help.

      –Jeff

  17. Not too long – necessary to give the setting, IMO
    I liked this a lot, some great imagery formed while I was reading it

  18. I don’t thin kit is too long, but I did think it was wonderfully written.

  19. To answer your question–No. I have a short attention span, hence my love affair with Flash Fiction. This was good. Really good. I believe in it.

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