The Turkey Hunter
The Old Women stood in a circle round the bed where the child ay. He tossed erratically and moaned softly from the fever. His mother and father waited outside.
Someone had heard the boy scream. They had found him in the grass beyond the village, lying still, blood trickling from the two punctures in his thigh.
For now they could only wait. The full moon was just peeking over the tops of the trees on the hill to the East. It glimmered its yellow light through the leaves like Wolf-eyes blinking in the firelight. Tinwa-sek, the boy's father, paced slowly, then returned to his wife's side. They stood and watched the whitening Moon clear the treetops to drift in the night sky. Together, they prayed.
"He is saying something," said the Old Woman standing closest to the boy. She shook the rattle she held in her bony hand in a circle around his head. The boy moaned softly. The Old Woman gazed intently, now holding the rattle over his chest. She shook it softly, again and again, over this spot. She began to sing.
The boy opened his eyes. He looked around him, seeing the women who stood in a circle. Smiling, he said to the Old One who sang to him, "Grandmother, I had a dream." The Grandmother smiled with her eyes. Turning to the others she said, "Tell them he has come back."
Tinwa-sek walked silently ahead, looking from side to side, then up into the trees. He stopped, motioning with his hand for the boy to stop too. He stood frozen for a moment, then slowly turned to his son. His face was illuminated by the first rays of the Sun filtering through the leaves overhead. He seemed to glow.
"Son," he said in a barely audible voice, "we sit here. When we sit you must not only make no noise, but make no movement. You must become this tree. I will call. When he comes, make your eyes small and your spirit with the tree completely."
They sat down, the Hunter facing West, away from the fast rising Sun, and the boy to the South. The boy looked out on the edge of the field where the bird might be lurking under cover of the wild Plum and Blackberry bushes. Tinwa-sek faced the open meadow.
They sat in silence for some time. The boy listened to his own breathing between the long, slow breezes that rustled the leaves of the great tree. His back pressed against the trunk. As it grew warmer, insects began to whir and buzz. It grew harder to remain still. A sound broke the silence.
The Hunter made the sound. It was the call of a hen-turkey. He paused, then repeated it. Somewhere down the line of bramble at the field's edge, a faint gobble replied to Tinwa-sek's call.
Tinwa-sek readied his bow into position and called again. Again came the reply, only this time much closer. From the direction of the sound, he knew that the bird was moving up the field within his son's line of sight. He would learn much today, thought the Hunter.
Now the great bird approached. Tinwa-sek knew his son was following his instructions because the bird was so close, and moving in. Soon he would pass the boy and walk out in front of the Hunter's position. He called, and the bird replied, moving into his view.
The great bird unfurled his head, stretching his neck to look around for this hen who was beckoning to him. Tinwa-sek breathed a silent prayer and let his arrow fly. It whirred like an insect, piercing the bird through its neck. The great bird pranced briefly in panic, then dropped with a thud. The only movement was a small black feather drifting back and forth in the morning air, rocking on the breeze to rest in the grasses.
The Hunter let out a yell and ran to the bird. Lifting it by the neck, he removed his arrow and turned back to the tree, expecting to see his son coming toward him.
But the boy still sat motionless against the tree. He was staring ahead of him, not moving. Tinwa-sek called, but his son did not move, He approached the boy and called to him, to no avail. Then he shook the boy's shoulders. His son looked at him, as if awakening from a dream.
"Did you see him?" asked Tinwasek. "See what?" the boy replied. "Did you see the bird coming?" "No," said the boy. "I saw the Wolf come over the rise, and the rain fell, and there was much food."
"What?" exclaimed his father. "There is no rise here. It is flat. And the Sun is shining. What are you talking about?" "There will be plenty of food," replied the boy.
"There will be plenty of food, That's all he would say." The Hunter was relating the events of the morning to this wife. "I tell you, there will be no meat if it's up to him. He can sit still enough, but he drifts off and hears nothing, sees nothing."
His wife spoke. "Perhaps he will not be a great Turkey Hunter like his father. Perhaps his gift lies elsewhere."
"Where, then," bellowed Tinwa-sek, "In his dreams, that's where. I tell you, the boy is queer."
The Elders sat around a small fire inside the lodge. A man stood, holding the Stick in his hand. It was decorated with Mockingbird feathers, and designated who would speak.
"I think we have seen enough. He is as much like a girl as a boy. He won't hunt or fight, but the songs come to him freely. We must help him to feel useful." The man sat down.
Another man took up the Stick. "What good is a man who won't hunt, or who won't fight to protect his people? To me, such a man is useless. And yet he must eat and be clothed. I say he is a burden."
This man put down the Stick. For a moment, there was only the sound of the fire crackling. Then, the oldest of the Old Women stood up. Her long, white hair fell in braids over her shoulders. She was wrapped in a red blanket. Her dark eyes, though sunken in her ancient, thin face, reflected the firelight. She took the Stick and stood erect.
"I have watched him from his birth. He has always been apart from the others, yet always connected to them. He is related to all the Life around him, and so he did not fear the Rattlesnake. The Snake gave him a dream, from the Other Side."
Muffled grunts and snickers arose from the others. The Old Woman held the Stick out before her, her thin arm wiry and taut. Her eyes flashed as she looked around.
"I heard his dream that night. He told it to me. Four times I heard it." She paused, her eyes growing kind once more. "And since then he has spoken to me of other dreams. His father, Tinwa-sek, has killed many birds and fed the people. But the boy saw the rains, and there was food from the Earth. He has seen the time of no rain, when there was little. The Plant People give away to him and he brings Medicine. He is useful to us in this way. If each of us were the same, only one way, we would fall upon each other and perish. Tinwa-sek rejects his son. This will kill his spirit in time. I say he must go away."
Sounds of agreement arose from the Elders. The Old Woman said, "It is our loss." There was only the sound of the fire hissing.
The boy was afraid. He had been walking since first light, heading West toward the purple hills. The Sun was now overhead, and the heat grew overbearing. He had stopped to drink at every stream, saving what water he carried. He had only some dried meat and berries to sustain him, and what clothing he wore. He carried a bow slung over his shoulder, and seven arrows that the Old Woman had given him. They were special, she had said, made by her father and fletched with the feathers of the Blue Jay. He wore a stone knife on his belt.
His mother had wept when he left. Tinwa-sek was nowhere to be found, and did not say goodbye. Before he left, the Old Woman that he called Grandmother had given him a stone to put in his Medicine bundle. Now he stopped in the shade of a great tree, took out the stone and looked at it closely. it was white, like the color of the Moon when she is high up, and tapered gracefully at one end. It resembled something, he thought. An indentation on either side suggested eyes; the tapered end, a snout or a nose. His eyes misted over with tears, blurring his vision. He put the stone back in his bag and walked on.
He was grateful to see the reddening Sun sinking toward the distant rolling hills. For hours now, he had walked over the endless grasslands, leaving the cool glades behind him. The only sounds were the whiffing of insects and the endless wind that set the sea of grass into motion before him. Like dancing arms it had beckoned him forward beneath the cloudless, blue sky. He ignored hunger and thirst, following the distant scream of the hawk that pierced the wind's song, pushing fear and loneliness away.
His head had begun to ache from the heat, the pain pounding like a drumbeat. Now the Sun melted like red ice over the rim of the Earth and the coolness washed over him. Exhausted, he fell in the tall grass and slept.
A chill woke him, He had dreamt. The red Sun had indeed turned to ice and melted into a sea of blood. It was still dark, but the waning Moon sat low before him. In the distance, a Wolf bayed sadly, and he rose as if pulled by an invisible chord to follow the sound. He walked steadily up a gentle rise. When he reached the top and looked down, he saw the glint of water in the lightening dawn. As he focused, he thought he saw the white drifting of smoke wafting gently.
There was a river winding through the bottom below. And there were the charred remains of dwellings. He heard a rustling then, and movement caught his eye. From the rubble, a Wolf loped across the shallow river and over the rise on the other side. With a sickening feeling rising up in him, the boy descended the hill down to the smoking ruins. What he saw made him wretch. Bodies lay where they had been killed, mostly in or near their lodges. Men, women, children had been attacked as they slept. Blood was everywhere.
As if in a dream, he moved silently through the village. As the day brightened the extent of the carnage grew more visible. He did not know what to do. As he stood dumbfounded, he noticed a shield still standing on its tripod before the smoldering shell of a lodge. He walked toward it. Outside the lodge, a heap of skins lay motionless. He stood before the shield.
As he gazed at the image upon it, his peripheral vision blurred and the black Bird painted upon it moved, its wings slowly beating up and down. Suddenly, it flew off the shield. In its talons was a mouse. It flew off to the North carrying its tiny prey and was gone.
As his vision cleared, the boy heard a low groan. It came from the heap of skins lying by the side of the smoldering lodge. He approached it carefully and slowly rolled it over. It was a man, small and very old, but still alive. His eyes opened. He looked up at the boy and said, "So, you have come."
"Are you well enough to walk?" the boy asked the old man. "We will see," the man replied. It had been four days since the boy had found him. He had cleaned his wounds and fed him a broth of boiled bones and what herbs he could find along the water's edge.
As they prepared to leave, the boy asked the old man which way they should go. "Why, North, of course. Follow the Bird. "The boy looked at him curiously, then thought to ask him, "What is your name?" The old man smiled and replied, "I am called White Mouse."
They walked until the Moon had grown full again. They walked North over an endless sea of grass.
"There," said White Mouse, pointing toward a row of dark hills rising gently out of the distance. "There is a village. We go there."
In two days time, they approached the hills which invited them with the promise of cool shade from the pines growing on their slopes. They entered the deep, green woods and the Old Man picked his way along a trail, singing softly to himself.
Above their heads, from the top of a pine tree, a Crow called a warning. He flew out and down the slope of the hill. White Mouse followed the Bird's path, singing a little louder.
They came out into a gentle, grassy meadow between the hills and headed west, following a gurgling, clear stream. Small birds sang from the bushes as they walked. Ahead, along the banks of the widening stream, women and girls knelt working at the water's edge.
A voice called out to White Mouse, and some boys ran toward him. They took White Mouse by the hands and arms, excitedly leading him toward the women and paying no mind to the boy.
Soon there was a crowd around the Old Man, laughing and hugging him. The boy stood back, still unnoticed. He saw that White Mouse was crying.
Tinwa-sek sat crouching, invisible and motionless. The bird stood, beard swinging, only forty yards away, moving under cover slowly towards him.
It was the biggest bird the hunter had ever seen. The bird's age had given him wisdom. He would not vie the hunter a clear shot at him. Curiously, Tinwa-sek thought, it's as if he knows I'm here, yet he still approaches.
Soon the bird would clear the brush and come out in the open, giving the hunter an unobstructed shot. He dared not breathe.
As the bird walked out into the clearing, not twenty yards off, Tinwa-sek made ready to let his arrow fly. The wind dropped and the forest grew still. Suddenly, to his right, the hunter heard the sound of a rattle. It pierced the silence like a knife. The bird walked slowly toward him. The rattle came again. Moving his eyes to his right, Tinwa-sek could see the coiled form of the snake, ready to strike.
Any motion would mean death, so the hunter could only remain silent and still with his weapon poised. He watched helplessly, sweat dripping down his face, as the great bird walked steadily toward him. The snake rattled again. The bird was within ten feet. Tinwa-sek closed his eyes and prayed.
There was a great flurry and a rustle of leaves. The hunter opened his eyes to see the bird flying off in the direction he had come from, the snake dangling from his talons. Tinwa-sek collapsed against the tree.
The boy had been made welcome in the village. In the warm months, he had seen in his dreams that men would come, Blue men with death sticks. White Mouse said these were the very ones who had killed his people.
The Elders of the village had learned to respect the boy's dreams, and they moved the Camp. But these events had taken their toll on White Mouse. One day he came to the boy and said that he would take a walk.
"Goodbye, my Grandson," he said pointing to the Northern sky. "I'll see you over there."
The boy did not weep, for he knew the old man's words to be always true.
White Mouse died that Winter. One day as the snow fell on the camp, the boy heard a voice within him say that it was time to go. This was not his wish, but the voice was insistent.
As he made his way, alone again, he wondered which way to go. Then he saw a strange thing. There in the snow was the track of a large snake. He thought this could not be, for the Snake People slept in the Winter. But the voice within him came again saying, "follow, follow." And so he did.
The boy wandered for many years, and as he did, became a man, a man hardened by the long road and softened by great loneliness. He came to many camps and was made welcome. The people had begun to hear of his Dreaming and of his healing. It seemed to him that the more pain he endured, the more compassion he felt toward others.
For the People suffered greatly. The Blue men chased them from their old places. They grew tired and hungry, and their hearts grew heavy for the many loved ones lost to these bad times.
The young man learned that as he shared this pain and grief with the two-legged and the four-legged, the ones that fly and the ones that crawl, who were all being pressed by this Blue cloud of darkness, the more he became connected to them all as Brothers.
The Old Woman sat before her house, feeling the warm breeze on her face. She could smell the perfume of the Apple blossoms on the wind. Though her sight had left her, she could hear and smell like a deer.
Now in the distance she heard dogs barking. Someone was approaching. She heard the dogs scampering, approaching nearer. And the eyes of her heart told her who it was.
She sat erect, waiting. Footsteps approached her and came to a standstill at her feet.
"Grandson, welcome home," she said, rising. She reached out a bony hand and ran it up the young man's arm to his shoulder. She felt his neck and then raised her other hand to cup his face. It was wet with tears.
"You have grown strong and tall," she said. "Come, we will tell the others."
That night a fire burned brightly in the Great Lodge. The people had made a feast and brought gifts to the young man. He told them what he had seen and heard in the many years he had been gone.
The Elders told him that the village was made poor because many young men had gone away to fight in the Blue men's war, and there were few left to hunt. But news had come that the young man had been among the People and had helped them.
The young man was pleased by the many gifts that were given to him, and yet his heart was heavy. His Mother sat by him proudly, but his Father was not there. The young man had not seen him since he returned.
His Mother said, "When news came of your return, your Father went to hunt."
The fire burned low and it was time to sleep. His Mother led him to a Lodge in the center of the village and said, "This will be your home. You are a man now and you have done good things for the People. You have earned it."
Many days passed, and Tinwa-sek did not return. The young man, although now treated by everyone with respect, longed for only one thing. To see his Father. But he did not come.
The warm days grew hot. The young man gathered plants in the woods for Medicine and
counseled the People to take heart and be strong. He returned to them the ways and ceremonies they had abandoned when the Blue men came to disrupt them. His days were full, but inside him was an empty place. He honored it and let it be.
The crickets chirped loudly outside the Lodge. The young man sat working, carving on the bow. It was done at last. The smooth wood reflecting the colors of the earth in the firelight. He carefully strung it, using all his strength to pull it taut. Finally he wrapped it carefully in a hide and tied it with rawhide, placing it aside.
As he prepared to sleep, there were footsteps outside. A voice called, "May I come in?" It was a man's voice.
"Yes, come," replied the young man. Tinwa-sek entered the Lodge, his head bowed, looking at the ground.
"Father," the young man exclaimed. Tinwa-sek raised his hand for the young man not to approach. He was holding a bundle and still looking down.
"Grandfather," he said slowly, "I am Tinwa-sek the Hunter. I come to you in a humble way, to offer you this gift."
He looked up, into his son's eyes, and placed the bundle in his arms. The young man took it and slowly unwrapped it. Inside was the perfect skin of a large Rattlesnake. Its colors glistened in the firelight, reflecting the colors of the earth.
The young man placed the skin gently on the altar by his sleeping place. Then he reached for the hide bundle he had made and placed it in his Father's hands.
Tinwa-sek unwrapped the bow. His eyes filled with tears as he touched it lovingly. He turned and walked out into the night. The young man followed him. The Hunter held the bow up over his head to the night sky.
"May I hunt with you tomorrow, Father?" the young man asked.
Tinwa-sek nodded yes.
"I have much to learn from you," the young man said.
"And I from you," his father replied.