Pat Murphy is the Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy award-winning author of fiction, including The Falling Woman; Points of Departure; The City, Not Long After; Wild Girls; and The Shadow Hunter. She has taught writing and science fiction at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and at the Clarion Speculative Fiction Workshop. Murphy is currently an editor at Klutz, a publisher whose motto is “Create wonderful things, be good, have fun.” She is a black belt in Kenpo Karate and her favorite color is ultraviolet.
Praise for The City, Not Long After
“Murphy infuses this tale with a type of surrealism often associated with Latin novelists like Garcia Marquez. . . . A major work.”
“The author of The Falling Woman, a Nebula Award winner, evokes a haunting vision of life after society’s collapse, as art becomes magic and combines with the power of love to defeat the engines of war. Highly recommended.”
Praise for There and Back Again
“Murphy’s prose sparkles throughout. Her tone ranges from the dazzlingly descriptive (as in her portrait of the heart of the galaxy) to the crisply active to a fairy-tale tone that brings to mind the soothing voice of Maurice Evans, making There and Back Again a choice novel to cozy up with on a rainy day.”
Visit the Pat Murphy website.
The shaman of my tribe, a man of power, straddles the shoulder of the fallen bison, one leg slung on either shaggy side. The hair on the shaman's legs is a dark and coarse as the hair on the bison's side.
I stand in the circle of hunters that surrounds the fallen beast. I am young; I have only ten winters. I stand between my mother and my uncle.
Today is a good day. The tribe found a a few bison grazing in a small meadow tucked between two hills. The snow has melted here and the grass is green. At one end, the meadow flows into a large valley; at the other, it drops off abruptly in a cliff. With should and spears and thrown stones, the tribe frightened the animals into stampeding and drove this old bull over the edge. The bison broke a leg in its fall, and my uncle and the shaman finished it off with spears.
Now the shaman raises his knife. The stone blade glitters in the sun. With a steady hand, the shaman plunges the knife into the throat of the bison. The blood that spills over the shaman's hands steams in the cold air and the shaman calls out in a voice of power. He says that the hunt was food, that the tribe will waste nothing of the bison's body and bone. He calls out to the spirit of the beast.
The mist that rises from the flowing blood swirls in a cloud above the shaman' s head. The cloud darkens and forms a shape--a shadowy bison stands in the bloody grass.
The gray shadow of a bison raises his head and stamps his shadow feet and becomes more real, more solid. He glares at the shaman with eyes that glitter like the stone of the blade. The bison tosses his head and steps forward, threatening the hunters who surround him. My mother puts a hand on my shoulder, a reassuring touch.
The shaman reaches out to the spirit, laying a hand on the beast's shadowy back. The shaman speaks in the Old Tongue, the language used to talk to the spirits. "You are a good spirit, " he says, "You will be one with my people. You will nourish us and make us strong. We must have your spirit, your strength."
Does the shaman grow larger in the afternoon sun? Does he grow as the spirit dwindles? I cannot say. The misty spirit changes and flows as the shaman speaks. "You will make us strong, " the shaman says, and the wind puffs through the misty body of the bison, tattering it. The Spirit is gone.
So it always is, after a hunt. The spirit of the hunted beast makes the people strong.
My people butcher the bison, carefully skinning the beast, cutting up the meat. The sun is setting by the time we are done, and we make camp by the edge of the meadow. My mother starts the fire--she is the best in the tribe at using the fire drill to start an ember burning. My sister and my young cousins and I search among the bushes and trees at the foot of the cliff to find wood to burn.
Tomorrow, we will carry the rest of the meat back to the cave where we take shelter in the winter. We have traveled far from the cave this day, searching for game to hunt. It has been a long, cold winter and our stores of food are exhausted.
It is dangerous to travel at night--hungry beasts are hunting. But it is also dangerous to spend the night in the open. We will need fire to protect us. Tonight, the shaman and my uncle and my oldest cousin will keep the fire burning, using the flames to chase back hyenas and the other beasts who try to take our kill.
We cook the flesh of the bison over the fire and eat well, huddled around the flames. When the moon rises over the meadow, I sleep at my mother's side. In the moonlight, I dream.
In my dream, a shaggy, gray-muzzled she-bear leans over me. Her great head blocks out the moon. She speaks to me in the Old Tongue. "Follow me, " she says. Her mouth is open and I can see her teeth. Her breath smells of earth; she has been tearing apart a rotten log to get at the grubs in the decaying wood.
She sits back on her haunches and I see the mighty paws that can smash a log with an easy blow. "Follow me, " she says again. "You are no more than a bite, bit I have need of you."
I am frightened. In my dream, I shake my head. "No, " I say to the bear. "You do not need me. The Shaman is the one who speaks to the spirits. Not Me."
Her dark eyes shine int he moonlight. "You are the one I need, " she says.
I wake in the moonlight, startled to see that the bear is not there. My mother's arm is around my shoulders. She is watching me, awakened by my movements.
“What did you dream?” she asks me. “What spirit came to speak with you?”
I tell my mother of the she-bear and what the spirit said. Then I lie down at her side and I sleep, wondering what the bear could want of me.
In the morning, my mother tells the shaman of my dream. The Shaman studies me with his dark eyes. The shaman is an old man by the counting of my people. He is nearly forty winters old and few live through forty winters. He is a wise man with much power. He asks me to tell him of my dream and I do.
“You could feel her breath on your face,” he says.
I nodded, remembering the smell of earth, remembering the gleam of the moonlight on the bear’s teeth.
“A true dream,” the shaman says. “A good dream.” He studies my face. “You are afraid of the bear,” he says.
I nod. My mother sits beside me, listening to what the shaman has to say. I see my mother frown when I nod, but I know I must tell the shaman the truth.
“The bears is a powerful spirit,” the shaman says. “It is good luck that she has come to you. The tribe needs her help.”
He leans back and looks out into the meadow where my sister and my younger cousins are playing. My aunt has spread the bison’s hide on the grass and she is scraping it with a stone scraper. My eldest cousins are working with my uncle to bundle the meat into packages that we can carry to the cave.
“The great bear connects the world of the people and the world of the animals. She runs on all fours like a beast and she stands on her hind legs like a person. She asks the Master of the Animals to send animals for us to hunt.”
I nod. I know all this. In the cave on the long cold, winter nights, the shaman tells stories. I remember the story of how the tribe came to hunt beasts for our food.
Long ago, there were no beasts to hunt and the tribe lived on roots and berries gathered from the forest. The people were always hungry. One day, when the shaman was gathering berries, he met a bear. The bear asked the shaman why he was gathering berries and the shaman told the bear that his people were starving. The bear told the shaman to kill her and take her spirit.
The shaman killed the bear, took her spirit, and made a robe from her skin. With help from the spirit of the bear, the shaman journeyed to visit the Master of the Animals and asked the Master to let the beasts run free in the world so that the people could hunt them.
And so it happened. The Master of the Animals told the shaman how to hunt and how to treat the animals with respect. The people became hunters and the tribe grew strong.
“The bear came to you because we must speak to the Master of Animals,” the shaman says. “The tribe is hungry again.”
Yes, we are hungry. We ate well last night, but hunting has been bad. I have heard my uncle and the shaman talking about the Others, the people who are not like us. The shaman told my uncle that the Others do not take the spirit when they kill a beast. The shaman says that the Animal Master is angry and that is why the hunting is bad.
Now the shaman is looking up at the mountain. The slopes are still white with snow. “It is time to hunt the near,” he says.