Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An Apsaalooke's Tale - 4

The vision faded, and it grew cold.  A grim shiver rent my spine as I opened my eyes again.  The hunt was over and I was surrounded by snow.  Ahead of me I could make out a small fire surrounded by a few ragged tepees.  The mother skins flapped flimsily in the howling wind.  Our cousin bit me through to the bone.  I had no covering, I needed to reach the fire.  It was strange.  I had lived through a couple harsh winters, but I had never felt a cold like this.  Panicking, I started to run for the fire, but a bleaker scene greeted my eyes as I approached.  Crouched and huddled around the flames were mere shadows of human beings.  Their skins bore hair no more, they were ripped and broken from age, and through the cracks-
And lots of them.  I squatted near the fire, but they took no notice of me.  Instead they stared, hollow-eyed, deep into the depths of the sputtering, struggling fire.  The silence was suffocating.  The howl of my cousin seemed dull and faraway, his bite much closer.  The landscape around me was muted by the white tundra.  The snow was higher than I had ever seen it.  The people couldn’t stay here, I could feel their spirits yearning to return to Old Man Coyote.
Desperation took over me as I threw my eyes around like a frantic spider trying to get away from the hollow rays of the sun.  Far off in the distance I saw the silhouette of a mountain I felt I had seen before.  It was far away in the distance, but I felt like it was my brother.  Suddenly I realized where I was.  We were near the cave.  I ran forward shaking those around me and pointed like a Wildman at the mountain in the distance.  I beckoned them to shelter the fire, to take their skins off the tepees, and to follow me.
At first they looked at me with wonder.  Who was this apparition?  No one spoke.  Perhaps they believed they had already gone to Old Man Coyote?  I do not know, but finally one stirred.  He stood up; his old bent ribs seemed to creak like the pine tree bent from years of struggle with the wind.  But he stood up straight and proud and gave me the most penetrating look I have ever seen.  Those hollow, gaunt eyes bore deep into my being.  Like a hungry wolf ascertaining if what it was looking at-
Was food.
Young as I was, I felt like I had been sent by the Old Man.  I stared defiantly back.  And we talked with our eyes that day.  My look said follow me or you’ll die.  Food you can find later.  Stay here and cousin wind will bury you with your brothers.  He stared at me for a long time.  It seemed as if he was deciding whether the chance of life was worth it.  Death had been his only option, why change it?  Why live on?  Why not just give up now?  What’s the use of fighting anymore?
I replied, life!  Fight to live!  Fight to exist!  Fight or we disappear into oblivion!  Who will dance the dance of the eagle if you give up?  Who will hunt with brother bear?  Who will laugh with Young Man Coyote?  Who will play with cousin stream?  Who will care for brother tree?  And who will love with Old Man Coyote?
Something stirred in him, but just a flicker in his eyes.  Fight?  Why fight the earth?  The way of the world is peace, and soon I will be at peace.
At peace?  Soon you will be nothing.  And if you are nothing, then I never was.  You fight because that is the way of man.  Man is not made for peace but for war.  Man is born in the midst of chaos, when all was yet unmade.  And it is in chaos where he must live or all will be undone.  The mighty warrior is mighty because he fought the elements.  He crawled through peril and struggled with grace.
But even the mighty hunter returns with hands empty.
Empty but strong.  Even now you struggle.  You fight yourself.  Stop your struggle, lay down in that icy grave, and give in to the terms of peace-
For if we don’t fight, we’re dead already.
He blinked.  The wind howled, lifting the long white wisps of his hair high in the air.  His gaunt cheeks twitched and his eyes he threw downward.  Suddenly they flickered here and there as if just perceiving where he was.  His eyes jolted back at me and then to the people by the dying flame.  He spoke.  It rolled across the wasteland like a deep rumbling drum.  He nodded at me as the people stood up, moved like rocks on a hillside as a boulder crashes down.
I beckoned and started to run, they followed swiftly.  We crashed through the snow in desperation, my feet floated here, fell there.  At one point I fell forward and the snow went past my coat the ice grinded my face.  I lost feeling.  A strong withered hand grabbed my coat and lifted me upwards.  I looked back to see the old man once again nodding.  I bolted forward, the cave was near.  Through the drifting and howling of my cousin I saw it.  We ran forward.  The opening was small.  The snow high.  We ducked under the wall, and slid downward.  Our cousin was gone, only darkness remained.  I looked for the chief, but my vision began to fade.  Suddenly I saw him - two steady lights

With the flicker of a flame returned.

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