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The Blood of Bones
The Blood of Bones
The Blood of Bones
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The Blood of Bones

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As friends are forced to avenge the tribe and children disappear in the night, Tesfahun begins to question his people and his beliefs, growing further from his grief stricken mother and hardened father. After his initiation into manhood, Tesfahun discovers a terrible secret about his family and himself.

Fearing for his life and the demons he tried to flee, Tesfahun crashes headlong into his blood-soaked fears and must come to terms with the violence inherent in his bones in order to find salvation.

The Blood of Bones is a mythic, coming-of-age tale that speaks to the struggles of humanity across cultural boundaries. Themes of belief vs. violence, community vs. the individual, and, above all, the quest for peace are imbued in the narrative. Based on actual, current practices among tribes in the Omo Valley, The Blood of Bones is a testament to the resilience of hope in even the most hostile circumstances.

Release dateDec 17, 2021
The Blood of Bones
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N.T. McQueen

N.T. McQueen is a writer and professor in Kona, Hawai'i. His novels include The Blood of Bones (Adelaide Books) and Between Lions and Lambs (City Hill, 2010). He earned his MA in Fiction from CSU-Sacramento and his writing has been featured in issues of the North American Review, Fiction Southeast, Entropy, The Grief Diaries, Camas: Nature of the West, Stereo Stories, and others. He has done humanitarian work in Cambodia, Haiti and Mexico and teaches writing at several colleges and universities in California. For more info and events, visit or follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

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    The Blood of Bones - N.T. McQueen


    The Blood of Bones

    The Blood of Bones

    A novel


    N.T. McQueen

    The Blood of Bones

    A novel

    By N.T. McQueen

    Copyright © by N.T. McQueen

    Cover design © 2021 Adelaide Books

    Published by Adelaide Books, New York / Lisbon



    Stevan V. Nikolic

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

    For any information, please address Adelaide Books

    at info@adelaidebooks.org

    or write to:

    Adelaide Books

    244 Fifth Ave. Suite D27

    New York, NY, 10001

    ISBN-13: 978-1-956635-68-3



    PART I

    A loose tooth will not rest till it is pulled out.


    As the wound inflames the finger, so the

    thought inflames the mind.


    It is foolish to start a fire just to see the flames.


    Life has no meaning for one without a home.

    PART I

    A loose tooth will not rest till it is pulled out.


    As far as his memory reached, the river pierced the valley.

    Formed from Wak the Creator’s tears when the tricksters stole his children. The sorrow poured for three days and ran through the valley for miles and miles, full and flowing. A once eternal vein of water fading as the dark clouds the Kings promised migrated. Perhaps the Great Spirit found them cursed. The Kings danced against drought, spoke their incantations, and watched at the riverbank but the skies remained dry as the hills.

    Talks of curses fluttered among the people’s lips as they lived their life in the village. Rumors passed from ear to ear and still echoed in his. Only days from the ceremony, Tesfahun walked through tall golden grass behind The Great Warrior, arrows perched at ready bows.

    To their right the river flowed where the Crocodile Man’s truce with the long creatures who ruled the waters failed to reach this far north. The two hunters kept watchful gaze for man and animal. Tesfahun’s grip burned. His fingers hot and moist against the bow. Kelile’s faint steps gave no sound into the morning air and he followed his movements, step for step, pause for pause. The prestigious ostrich feather atop his father’s head flickered in the breeze, a silhouette coveted by boy and men alike.

    A thicket of leafless bush concealed them. A labyrinth of organic shield, sporadic and sharp. He could not see anything but kept faith in his father’s guidance. Hunched like apes, the two slinked through dead thorns, the hunter passing unscathed while the other’s inexperience lay marked across the skin of his cheeks and torso. Despite the calls of the birds, the land was still. Kelile watched the earth, sifting between stalks. He stopped and pointed to the earth without looking at his son. Tesfahun approached in a trail of flattened grass. Dark pellets piled among the blades. He looked to his father who pointed to the mound then rubbed his fingers together.


    Kelile cinched his lips and looked upon his boy. He to the pile repeating that same rubbing motion. Tesfahun looked at the pile, the corners of his mouth dropped and brow creased as he knelt, slowly reaching for one of the black balls. The pellet collapsed, moist against his fingertips. He grimaced then whispered, It’s fresh.

    Kelile nodded then continued onward in his customary prowl. Tesfahun threw the remnants into the grass as he followed, wiping his hand about his waist. Succumbing to curiosity, he placed his fingers to his nose but smelled nothing.

    They traveled further north. He studied the scarred lines of his father’s back, white and dotted, running both vertical and lateral. His own body, free of paints and scars, felt naked before him and he gave credence to the hope of adorning himself should their hunt prove successful.

    Clouds opaque as vapors hovered overhead, lumbering in their movements like great mammoths long dead, grazing celestial grounds. Tesfahun watched them move transfixed, marveling at the illusory speed. A black figure waning ahead made him quicken his pace, darting and ducking through the bush faster, light steps for fear of snakes. When he caught up, his father motioned a fist, his eyes unwavering from what lay ahead. He gently waved his hand and the boy stepped forward. He followed the erect finger between a thicket scant with leaf and berry. He looked but saw nothing but watched as if he did. Looking from the bottom up, he examined until the trunk of the bush quivered.

    Now he saw.

    A slender leg, bent at the knee unlike his, seemed illuminated to him now. He looked for instruction and his father handed him an arrow. Tesfahun’s fingers felt the crooked wood. His hands trembled as he slid the arrow back, resting upon his fisted hand, the other with a vice grip upon the drawn string. All creation held its breath, ever deferent of the ancient testament of survival. Be blood or take blood, a static crackling invisible, silent, through bark and blade, man and animal.

    With unsteady aim, he waited. Father and son. A boy in a man’s trade. The warmth of blood spread through his cheeks, arms tingling in their stolidity. He stepped forward, leaning. The crack of the dried stick thundered in the stillness. The animal bounded high and terrified. Tesfahun gave a wobbled aim and released. The lone arrow sailed rattling into a bush.

    A bow’s twang sounded from where his father stood. A shriek split the chaos. The noise of the fleeing animal cried through the silence, no longer bouncing but tumbling, barreling through thorns and branches. He placed both his dejected hands across his eyes. The bow fell to the ground and the pressure behind his eyes felt eminent. A bony hand rested upon his shoulder. He opened his eyes. The other hand holding his bow in beckon. He took the bow, raised his eyes to his father’s. The brow rounded, a meek tilt of his lips. An embarrassed yet comforted smile spread on Tesfahun’s face.


    They marched on, a paternal hand about Tesfahun’s shoulders. A prolonged contact often absent. They found the wayward arrow, point first into the dry earth. Nearby, the deep hoof marks of the animal’s escape could be seen, vibrant dark, blotches trailed into the brush now broken and disheveled by death’s coming.

    Did you hit it?

    Kelile smiled a white smile.

    Tesfahun’s eyes grew wide, swelling with a sense of wonderment. He beamed with vicarious pride.


    Kelile shook his head. You have much to learn.

    They followed the trail of the creature’s life-force, a crooked line of a broken path newly made. The heat arrived, hot upon their skin but with a soft breeze that cooled their bodies. Tesfahun turned every corner expectant, ready to see the motionless carcass, flies fresh to its scent.

    It ran for a while.

    The arrow pierced her belly. That is why the blood trail is so long. Longer than I thought it could run.

    It must be strong.

    He nodded. An honorable animal to be sacrificed to us.

    They emerged from the web-like foliage to a flatland of grass and a fingerful of trees casting shade straight at their roots. Kelile surveyed right to left with a hand at his brow, bow slung on his shoulder, until his head stopped. Through slit eyes, Tesfahun saw the body laying fifty meters ahead, prostrate as if at rest below a tree of umbrella leaves. His father smiled down on him and they strolled to the tree. Griffins circled like voracious undertakers and Tesfahun wondered how such things of this world could be. The land and its inhabitants designed by a force unimaginable, mysterious, vapid, yet lurking behind such routine as eating, breeding.

    How do they know?


    He pointed to the sky. Them. How do they know?

    Kelile looked up. That’s how they were made.

    But who made them to smell death?

    The God of Death has many messengers.

    Why would he make them smell death?

    Who am I to know the ways of the gods? I am not one of the Kings.

    How do they know?

    Kelile laughed. You ask too many questions. There are mysteries in this life that just are. The sooner you accept them, the better your life will be. It is how it has always been.

    The two walked on in silence yet Tesfahun cared little for lapse.

    I hear the elders talking around their fires about the Kangatum. They say we cannot defeat them. That we will lose our cattle.

    Kelile kept focus on the kill. The Kings have lost their minds. They speak nonsense.

    But aren’t they trading with the Sudanese?

    It is no matter. They don’t know these lands. Our people have been here for generations. Born from the very earth. My father and his. Since the gods created this place. We are the land. Besides, our people have something the Kangatum will never have.


    Kelile looked down to his son, a prideful smile upon his lips. His hand smacked the boy’s chest, flat against his heart.

    Tesfahun looked down at the massive hand and its spreading fingers. But they have guns?

    Kelile shook his head and stopped, placing his hand atop his son’s scalp. Tessie, my son. There are more things to be afraid of then guns.

    Tesfahun nodded. Kelile scanned the area and proceeded walking. Tesfahun ran light-footed to his father’s side. The body came closer as they walked.

    I saw a woman the other day crying. She was holding her baby like she would never see her again. She kept saying, ‘Why’ over and over. The next day, I went by and the windows were shut and I heard crying coming from inside.

    His father gave no response.

    The tree was close now. The griffins sat perched in the branches, hesitant at their approach, knowing their place in the natural order. The steps of his father no longer soft but noisome. Kelile’s pace quickened. Tesfahun caught up, opened his lips but said nothing as they arrived at the kill. Quickly, Kelile unsheathed his blade, crouched over the oryx carcass, slipping the blade from neck to navel, spilling innards onto the darkening dirt. Without inhibition, he began to gut, flinging the insides as the griffins and crows swooped down to collect their bounty. Tesfahun watched, standing idly by, a witness as his father abandoned instruction for efficiency. He wished to help, to learn, but became spectator once again.

    Like a butcher, Kelile hoisted the hollow animal onto his shoulders. His white paint reddening on his torso as streams of blood ran down his crescent scars raised across his chest. The hunter turned and followed the trail back south. Tesfahun followed behind for the long journey homeward. The limp head and those dead-black eyes staring at him as they marched on.

    Not until they had resumed the trail by the river did Tesfahun attempt speech again. The river invited the heat yet Kelile kept his gaze toward land, pretending as if the river did not exist. When the landscape became familiar, the boy sped to his father’s side. Stern and somber, Kelile walked with his load. All heard were footfalls in the grass.

    Will əmye be with us today?

    He adjusted the carcass on his shoulders, grunting.

    They came to the area south to the region of the Crocodile Man’s protection. The waters moved with young bodies swimming, splashing downstream. Their dotted shapes visible on the banks ahead as their mothers filled clay pots stationed in the mud. Tesfahun had many things to ask, to talk of, but his mouth stayed sealed by some subconscious rebellion. The family ahead was large, four, five children from one woman, one man. Tesfahun watched the brothers dip under and come up, hands splashing at one another. A bond beyond what Dawit could supply.

    Why don’t I have a wändəm? The thought slipped from his lips.

    A massive open palm thundered across his face. The sting flashed across his skin and he raised a startled hand to his cheek, turning from the pleasant scene at the water’s edge. Kelile’s eyes beamed down, chest rising and shoulders now bare. Tesfahun gazed through moistened eyes toward his father. A locked gaze empty of any sufficient words. The laughter from the children carried up to them and Kelile’s beaming eyes softened. He moved his mouth to speak but no words came.

    Shifting his eyes from his son’s, The Great Warrior stooped quickly and swung the oryx over his shoulder again and continued walking, head down, while his lone offspring watched his blurry figure disappear in the shadow of the river.


    Outside, Dawit’s mother sat on a wooden stool, her hands powdered white with flour. She scraped deep into the carved stone bowl, grinding rock with rock over and over in rhythm. She had a round face despite her body and cool amber eyes that seemed to lift at the corners when she spoke. Her mellifluous tone soothing, comforting, maternal. Tesfahun approached her and lifted a hand in greeting that she did not see. After a moment, he spoke.

    What are you making, Bale?

    Her head came up, a momentary wide-eyed look that faded with recognition, before those smiling eyes beckoned welcome.

    Oh, Tesfahun, you frightened me.

    I’m sorry.

    No matter, no matter, she dismissed. She raised the bowl to her face, looking at the boy and smiled, Maize cream.

    He leaned, examined the bowl’s contents and gave a meek smile of disgust.

    She laughed through her lips. It tastes better than it looks.

    He sat down next to her. Though her age was that of his mother, her skin held fast to youth, untouched by the sorrow that etched into Wagaye like river on rock. He watched her with relaxed shoulders, his fist on his chin.

    I hear your father took you hunting today. Any luck?

    He shifted. He killed an oryx.

    Oh, she said, eyebrows high. Good for him. You know, your father is a skilled hunter. Has he told you of his scars across his stomach?

    He shook his head.

    He hasn’t? Those are from the lion that hangs in your doorway.

    Tesfahun straightened. He killed it?

    She nodded, a tribal pride gleaming in her features. Her hands went to work mashing.

    Just after his ceremony, he had gone alone to hunt far down the river. When he didn’t return that night, we all wondered if maybe he had been killed by Kangatum or maybe the river had taken him. The next morning some of the other warriors were talking of going to search for him. But, as they spoke, we saw him walking toward us, wearing the lion skin like a robe.

    Tesfahun imagined the sight of his father, clothed in the lion skin, the mane frilled about his shoulders and those deep scars bleeding down his legs. He wondered if the same bitter expression rested on his face.

    I never knew that, he said.

    Bale gave a closed lip smile and continued to mash the corn and grains. Even before he could speak, he remembered Bale’s Akara stories.

    How is your mother?

    Tesfahun shrugged, watching her hands as if they were something in his line of sight rather than his mind. His silence piqued her interest and her hands slowed at his discontent. She let it rest until Tesfahun said, I know what the others say about her.

    And what do they say?

    He turned his head to the blue sky. That she has a sickness. He tapped his temple with a regretful finger.

    She stopped, crouched with the bowl in her white hands. They are fools. You understand?

    The flash of insistence in her eyes struck him and he nodded.

    She continued mixing the cream. Her bracelets tinkered about her wrists with the motion, loud in the silences between words as they harmonized with the rock. A hag-like cough came from the hut, gurgled and prolonged before ending.

    Bale stopped, satisfied, and held the bowl to Tesfahun. Would you take this in for me? My arms feel just as that corn is.

    He stood, taking the bowl and eyeing the cream with abhorrence. She stood and wiped her hands across her covering. The collection of beads hung between her breasts and swayed as she walked toward the hut. He followed her in.

    Dawit should be inside unless he’s out with Dunga.

    The hut had no skin but frail shafts of straw hung from the doorframe. Beside two cots on wobbling frames and primitive cookery, the hut held nothing. Dawit’s grandmother lay on her back. Her face like a dried plum with two white, veiled orbs just visible. Skin sagged from her bones and her white hair long and unkempt. The hut smelled of her dereliction but the boy kept his thoughts behind his teeth. Bale took the bowl from Tesfahun and brought it to the old woman and labored her to a seated position. The old woman mumbled nonsense from her naked mouth before shouting, Bale, is that you?

    Yes, yes, mother. I have some food for you.

    Where is your father? He’s late.

    He’s dead, Bale said, scooping a fingerful of cream and placing it in her mouth. Her pink tongue flickering about as it dropped in, down her chin.

    Typical, she remarked with smacking gums.

    Tesfahun turned from the sight and, seeing Dawit gone, backed toward the exit.

    Thank you, he said, indicating his departure.

    Bale looked to him, dropping another glob of cream into her mother’s mouth. Tell Dawit he better be home for supper. And Dunga too. Just because he has a dowry doesn’t mean he is not still my son. We will see you at the fire tonight.

    Yes, auntie.

    He turned, eager to breathe fresh air, but paused when Bale called after him. He turned and her eyes stared straight into him.

    She loves you, Little Warrior.

    A subtle smile upturned dark lips, and he walked on.


    They held their battles outside the village, a grassless area tilled to dirt like some gladiatorial arena, stained with remnants of black puddles from battles of their fathers and grandfathers. He could hear the clack of the sticks and imagine the welts rising on their skins as he approached. Four or five men, some boys who had no had their ceremony, were in practice, dancing about with sticks raised high. Cuts and raised skin lined their arms and thighs. These marks were the marks of practice. Ogbay had once been a stick fighter, known only by a missing tooth and moot pinky, limp save for the bone that gave it form. Ogbay had confessed this to his nephew after another drunken night.

    Brother instructed brother, the older striking fast and agile while the novice younger squeaked at the sting. Dawit and Dunga circled. Dunga’s reach that of an eagle, moving lateral on timber-like limbs above his brother, small and helpless in Tesfahun’s eyes. He watched them from the circle, a fraternal bond undeniable. Dawit bore the brunt of the effects. Dunga struck and connected but quick to instruct, demonstrating moves after he performed them.

    Tesfahun watched as they ended, Dunga wrapping his lank arm around Dawit’s shoulders and both laughing in some state of dejection at some remark his brother had made. Tesfahun kept silent. His thoughts drifted to a fantasy of brotherhood he had never known until Dunga poked Tesfahun’s chest. He staggered awake, rubbing his sternum. Dunga’s white smile greeted him back.

    What brings you here? Dunga asked. His stick leaned on his shoulder like a knapsackless vagabond.

    Dawit held his shorter stick like a staff before him as if he were called to lead his people from bondage. They appeared two of one cloth.

    Bale told me to find Dawit.

    Ahh, well, now you’ve found him. A little swollen but still a tough fighter, Dunga remarked with a rustle atop Dawit’s hair. Dawit squirmed away, endeared but defiant against his brother’s playful gesture.

    At least I can beat the Great Warrior’s son, Dawit teased, rubbing a welt across his chest with a smile.

    Bahhh, Tesfahun responded, waving a hand. He looked at Dunga. When do you fight again?

    It is hard to find anyone willing these days.

    What about the Kangatum?

    Dunga shifted his stance, spinning his stick in place upon his shoulder. Those cowards would never fight me. They choose to shoot from the bushes. Jackals with no honor.

    They have guns.

    What are guns to the Akara? We are the true warriors. Look. See this? he pointed vehemently toward his chest to an elongated series of scars raised on his skin. That was a leopard. And here, a Kangatum warrior who had killed Jima.

    He stood proud, sucking a deep breath through his nostrils to extend his chest. No Kangatum will wear my scar.

    Dawit chimed, He is the one all the girls talk about.

    Dunga feigned modesty with a dismissive wave. Not all the girls.

    Tesfahun pondered his claim, so bold, intrepid of the future, yet knowing not what lay ahead. He thought of how Bale had called him Little Warrior and the emptiness behind such a name.

    Your mother wants you home for dinner.

    You better run along, Dawit. Go and heal.

    She said you too.

    Dunga pursed his lips on his tight jaw. He looked to them both then left, stomping child-like homeward, swiping his stick across the border grass. The

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