Headed back to my own vehicle, I noticed my shadow. Red light illuminated the grass in front of me. I spun around. The Blackfoot were backing down the hill to the inside of the fence. Atop the cairn, the meteorite now glowed a pulsating crimson which transformed to blinding white. On the back on my neck, I could feel hairs standing erect. As I put on my sunglasses, I found my hands trembling. The drummers, locked in their trance, remained in place. As I continued to stare, the drumming and singing became intense. The cadence of the drumming had not changed, but the white radiance of the stone pulsated in time with the beat of the drums. With each beat the glare intensified.
From the general shouts among the whites, I picked out one comment, “What the hell is that thing?” It seemed like a fair summary of what was being shouted elsewhere.
The rock rose from the kame. Three metres above the cairn it paused in a rigid hover. Still keeping time with the drumbeat, the crescendo of light overwhelmed my sunglasses, forcing me to avert my eyes. Nearby, a Global cameraman cursed and fumbled for a filter. Farther away, an announcer harangued the woman operating the CTV camera. “Hurry, we gotta get this!”
While the rock continued to hover over the cairn, the drumbeat became more complicated. The radiance, visible through my now closed eyelids, somehow still fluctuated in step with the drums. It took a moment for me to recognize the pattern. Morse code! A short message ran in a repeating loop: “…again. Too many people. Will try to contact you again. Too many…”
Someone shouted, “It’s leaving!”
I looked up to see the rock now 200 metres above the medicine wheel, gathering speed. Its path tilted to the south. A white streak crossed the sky. A sonic boom stifled the shouting. The drumming stopped. As though a switch had been thrown, the night was dark. In the distance, one of my cows mooed.
Back at my ranch house, I flipped through TV channels. CBC, CTV, and Global had all failed to catch the Morse message. The rock’s departure was covered by interviews with witnesses--none of whom seemed to know Morse code. Apparently I’d received a private message.
For months to come, my TV screen was filled with talking heads pontificating over the idea that “We are not alone!” The heads seemed to think that everything had changed. I couldn’t see anything to suggest they were right. The Middle East was still in turmoil; our politicians were still pointing accusing fingers at each other; I still had a mortgage at the bank.
Two months after the meteorite, one of the talking heads made a comment that riveted my attention. “In SETI we have always assumed that any contact with aliens would be by radio. Is this not anthropocentric? Just because we use radio, why should we assume aliens would do the same? This incident suggests that Aboriginal peoples might hold the key to another mode of communication. The aliens came to a medicine wheel, not to a radio station.”
At Onoka-Katzi, there was now a permanent guard of four Blackfoot men. This was in response to the sudden fame of the medicine wheel. New Age nuts, UFO enthusiasts, and general tourists were beating a path to the kame. All were turned away. On two occasions, rifles had to be unwrapped from tarps before the visitors got the message. The sacred site was off limits.
One exception was allowed. The Blackfoot elders gave permission for a small group of scientists, closely supervised, to scan the site with Geiger counters, magnetic sensors, ground penetrating radar, and infrared cameras. They found nothing of interest.
The following summer, Hassun invited me to a sweat lodge ceremony on the Blood Reserve. At the end of the ceremony, the chief of the Bloods appeared. He awarded me a Blackfoot name, Lone Buffalo or Ni’tokaayi. I left the ceremony feeling connected to Granddad. I was more Blackfoot than I’d thought. The old man would’ve been proud.
I took Hassun aside and told him about the Morse message. He surprised me with an imperious pronouncement. “Both your grandfather and Chogan were told in their visions what was to come. The spirits spoke to them of the sacred stone. Your message says the spirits will speak again. Perhaps they will have more to tell us. Since they chose to speak only to you, you have a duty. Go on a vision quest!”
So it is that I’m sitting on the south slope of Onoka-Katzi. Hassun has moved the Blackfoot guards out to the road. Even though I’m reluctant to accept Hassun’s spiritual explanation, I remember the talking head from SETI. Perhaps the aliens will speak to me as they did to my grandfather.
It’s night. I’ve had nothing to eat or drink for three days. I’m beginning to hallucinate. Is that a white buffalo?