The longhouse is bustling with activity as everyone passes food around, baskets of vegetables, leathers filled with steaming meats. Smoke drifts around the ceiling. Even from outside the chatter of voices is clear, and one outside could hold conversation with the entire village if not for the walls in between. The chief sits in the very back, red, orange, and green lines criss-crossing the tan robe wrapped around him, laughing with one of the hunters.
“Nahiossi, if I have to hear one more tale of you almost shooting one of your men, I swear by the Great Mystery I’m going to take your bow away from you and snap it in half!”
“Good, I need a new one! This one must be warped, it shoots arrows sideways down, right at their asses!” He holds his arms up, drawing one back as if shooting an arrow.
“Almost shooting? He actually hit me! Look, the arrow’s still in there!” A man to the right of the chief stands up and bends over, hitting the chief in the face with the arrow sticking out his rear. The chief sputters as the feathers brush him. He and the hunter look over at the man with the stuck bottom, mouths open and foreheads wrinkled.
“Who are you and how did you get in here?” The chief says, leaning forward in his seat, palms on the table in front of him, and peering around to look at the man’s face. Pulling the arrow out, the man straightens and stands up. He turns to face the two, long black hair falling over his shoulders, sleek and straight, with the occasional dark grey strand mixed in. His chest and abdomen are bare, showing off the sharply-defined muscles. He brushes some of the hair away from his face, revealing a wide grin, a few stray whiskers on his upper lip at each corner. The fire in the middle of the longhouse flickers in his yellow irides.
“Why, I’m one of Nahiossi’s hunters! Do you not recognize me?” He looks as though he’s holding back a laugh.
“You’re no hunter of mine. I would not be mistaken if I fired an arrow at you,” Nahiossi says, standing up as well, and a few others around him notice that something aside from the usual dinner is now going on.
“I recommend against that.” The stranger is still smiling but not quite as wide as before, and the fire sinks a little lower, shadows growing longer on his face and body. He leans forward a bit, though the only close enough to notice is the chief.
“How about this instead?” And Nahiossi pulls his tomahawk free from his belt and moves closer to the man. “Unless of course you can explain how you got in here without any of us noticing. An explanation of your intent would be nice as well.” Others from the village join him, walking to the back of the house. They move in between him and the chief, and the women and children stand near the entrance.
“So suspicious! And me just joking around. But I don’t begrudge it of you, especially in light of recent events. But can you not spare some food for a hungry stranger?” He raises an eyebrow, turning his palms out towards the menacing group.
“Perhaps if we knew what you’re doing here. Hurry up! The day is almost over and we’ve no time for playing around.” Nahiossi points his tomahawk at the man as he says this. The man’s ears twitch at the word ‘play,’ and the hunters start at the sudden movement. The tips of each ear are pointed.
“Play? Well, I am a little hungry to play right now, but I never turn down some fun!”
“What–” but Nahiossi’s statement is cut off as the man tackles him, knocking the tomahawk out of his hand with a quick sideways strike of his right arm. Then, placing one foot in Nahiossi’s stomach he springs over the heads of the others, doing a front flip through the air. Once on the other side, he sweeps his leg into those of the men behind him, tumbling them into a flailing pile of tomahawks and fists. Standing up and spinning around, he pulls a huge axe from behind his back, though there did not seem to be anything hanging there before. The handle is four feet of dark wood with an obsidian blade of a foot and a half. He holds it, unmoving and blade down, over them.
“Fun time, but I think I won. For my prize, a meal please.” The nine men on the ground lie frozen, arms at their sides, and the chief’s mouth is hanging open. One young woman dashes up from behind and kicks up between his legs, but he reaches his other hand down and catches her ankle just before impact.
“Awooo, I like you!” he says, looking back over his shoulder at her. Her face reddens and she yanks her foot away, backing towards the others once again.
“Well, Ahtunowhiho, how about giving an old dog some scraps?” The chief narrows his eyes at the man, mouth still open.
“Wait a minute… Coyote? But it’s been so many years…” Coyote walks up to Ahtunowhiho and puts a hand on his shoulder. The men on the ground get up and join the rest of the people.
“Yes, and you were just a boy last I saw you. To think you’re chief now! What a hoot.” He pats Ahtunowhiho’s shoulder, smiling again. The villagers glance at one another, and a few whisper, faces quizzical.
“Your flippant nature is one thing that never changes. You shall have your meal and be on your way tomorrow, I presume? As far as I can tell, you have no business here.” He folds his arms and stares at Coyote, who looks to the right, smile narrowing.
“I appreciate the meal, but unfortunately I have not come here solely for frivolity. Strange things have been going on lately. Tales of monsters populating the land once again, creatures not seen since the time before Wakan Tanka came down and took care of the lot.” One of Nahiossi’s hunters gasps at this, and Coyote looks at him. “I see that even here there is something going on. Truly it is unnatural for so many to appear all at once. What have you seen, young hunter?” The man looks at Nahiossi, who nods at him.
“Speak up, Meturato, tell Coyote what you saw.” Meturato steps forward, arms at his sides, and gulps.
“Just the other day while we were hunting, I looked through the trees and instead of the dear that we were tracking, I saw a spirit walking amid the boughs.”
“We thought he was just imagining things, but if you’re of the opinion that there is an insurgence of such happenings, I would not doubt it,” Nahiossi speaks to Coyote and then turns to Meturato. “And Meturato, my apologies for doubting you. You’re not known for mistruth-fulness, I should have taken your claim more seriously.”
“I probably would not have believed me either, Nahiossi. I do not blame you.” He turns back to face the chief and Coyote. “The spirit did not look like one of the Cheyenne. It almost didn’t look human, though it had arms and legs. It was white all over and so tall and thin, from the side it almost looked like white smoke, though it was completely opaque. When it turned to walk away, and I thank the Great Mystery that it did, I saw that its limbs were thick and rounded everywhere but at the joints where they were connected to its body, which seemed to be clothed in a white cloak which reached where its knees would be, tied with a belt at its waist. In one hand it held a staff and in the other… I’m not sure what it was holding, a thin tomahawk perhaps? Its head was one of the most bizarre things about it, flaring out where ears would be and rising into a sharp peak, like a mountain surrounded by a forest. It did not move its legs when it moved, simply drifting of its own accord, for there was no wind that day.”
“You remember a lot about it, you should consider being this village’s chronicler.” Coyote stands, hands on his hips. “As it stands, there is some sort of spirit on the loose around here. I’d advise all of you to avoid contact with it, and if you do see it, alert me to where you saw it that I might go there and ascertain its true nature – perhaps it is not hostile as many of the creatures have been, and is a guardian of your people. Either way, I shall figure out this mystery. Come on now, lets get back to eating!”
The sun rises over the village and people begin to emerge from their tents. Neighbors greet each other as they prepare for the day. Then, Coyote bursts from one of the larger tents, holding his pants up and dashing towards the forest. An older man comes out of the tent, chasing him with a hatchet held high and a scowl on his face.
“Da’alzhin! My daughter, you, I… I’ll chop it off!” Coyote cackles as he runs away, long hair streaming behind him, and the young girl who tried to kick him before emerges from the tent, wrapped in a blanket, her bare shoulders showing above the folds of the cloth. She runs after her father.
“Wait father! Don’t hurt him, I love him!”
“Well he doesn’t love you!” He shouts back at her.
“Listen to your father!” Coyote laughs as he runs into the forest, pulling his pants the rest of the way up as he jumps in between the trees. Yards behind, the panting man comes to a stop, hands on his knees. In the center of the village, Ahtunowhiho can be seen shaking his head, arms folded.
“Truly, he never changes.”
Coyote strides through the trees, avoiding the shadows and following the patches of sunlight that break through the treetops. He walks, jumping a bit, and when passing under a lower hanging branch, jumps up and swings from it. He continues like this for some time, finally swing up into a tree and climbing to the top. Once there, he surveys the surrounding forest, holding onto the trunk with one hand and the other hand shielding his squinting eyes from the sun. As he scans the horizon, he points to his right, and mouths ‘there you are.’ Springing into the air, he leaps from the treetop, falling ten feet towards the tree next to him, landing on one of its branches and then bounding to the next. Traveling in this way, he overtakes Nahiossi and his band of hunters a mile and a half away. As he falls into the clearing where they’re walking, they cry out and level their spears at him.
“Hi, all! Seen anything strange today?”
“Iquq, Coyote! Must you appear so suddenly? You’re lucky we didn’t all run you through.” Nahiossi holds a hand to his chest, raising his spear up again. “We have seen naught but wild animals today, though Meturato has said that we were a bit deeper into the forest when he initially saw the spirit.”
“Indeed, I am very lucky. You’re headed in that direction, yes?”
“Then I shall go ahead.” And with that he runs ahead of them, vanishing between the tree trunks in seconds.
“Wish I were that fast,” one of the hunters says.
“Ha! The man is truly unnatural. I wouldn’t want to be that spirit right now,” says another. Nahiossi turns and looks at them.
“Veeho and him raced one time, and though Veeho was ahead, Coyote tackled him from behind and beat him up. Man, he was angry. I wonder which would have won if he hadn’t done that.”
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )