Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Hope from the Eternal Damned

by Patrick Jagielski




Cheveyo was running as fast as he could; he could not let the elk get away. He sped past the trees, jumped over ferns, and bounded over streams. The elk was fast and on the verge of escaping; Cheveyo had to finish this soon or it would flee for good. Cheveyo glanced to his left and found his solution--a ledge that led uphill and dropped at a sudden cliff. The elk was running past the bottom of that cliff, and Cheveyo would have a clear shot from above.

Without delay, Cheveyo darted left and ran up to the top of the ledge. He took out his bow to prepare for his shot, but saw another man out of the corner of his eye. It was too late for the other man though--their tribe's code for hunters gave Cheveyo the kill. Cheveyo was closer, had a clear shot, and obstructed the other man's line of fire. He ignored the other man and drew his bow. The elk was running below--the time was now. He crouched down, took aim, and released his bow. The arrow soared towards the elk, properly led. Cheveyo's eyes rose, waiting for the kill….

The arrow struck prematurely at the base of a tree. Cheveyo watched the elk dash away, dispirited with yet another failed attempt. "You didn't lead it properly," the man from behind him said.

Cheveyo looked over and recognized Wemotin, a fellow hunter in his tribe. "I led it perfectly, only the tree got in the way."

"Part of properly leading your shot is making sure the arrow hits its target," Wemotin laughed. His voice was soothing, compassionate. "Next time, be sure to take an extra moment to plan your shot. The river isn't far from here, you could have had a clear shot near the river if you had waited. Come, let's retrieve your arrow, and see if the arrowhead is still intact."

"I don't need your help," Cheveyo said as he started his way down the ledge to the arrow. "You're always quick to give criticism. Why don't you just worry about yourself? Shouldn't you be concerned about bringing in more carcasses for the Potlatch? The new moon is coming soon."

The Potlatch was held every twelve new moons to celebrate the coming of the harvest by bringing in as much hunted carcasses as possible, and was truly the prime event of the Nomish tribe. The best musicians would play their drums and rattles while singers chant their songs in rhythmic trances. Dancers would dance to their most celebrated god--the Spirit of the Seahawk, called Wahkan--but only the most talented dancer symbolized Wahkan. Viewing such a performance is considered a high honor. All tribes near and far were invited to bring their best performers and participate in the celebration.

The most important part of the Potlatch was the Dustu-Makya. Just as the best crops are harvested for the Potlatch, the best hunter was selected to be trained for leadership. The best hunter is determined by whoever gathers the most carcasses, illustrating their skill in hunting. This hunter then becomes a full member of a small but elite group of hunters in the tribe called the Makya.

The leader of the Makya is called the Makya-Cha. When the Makya-Cha steps down from his position or dies, the best hunter is elected from the Makya to become Makya-Cha. Cheveyo thought of his father, who was a hunter in the Makya before he died. If only he had his father's skills in hunting, he could be chosen to become part of the Makya. However, he was considered one of the worst hunters in his tribe, hopeless to even dream of such a high honor.

"How much have you gathered so far?" Cheveyo asked.

"I've hunted enough for now. I'm looking to see if any struggling hunters need help, and it looks like you do. Let's kill that elk together, we're stronger as two than alone."

"No, I don't need your help," Cheveyo said. "I want this kill to count for myself." He bent down to retrieve his arrow and saw that the arrowhead was broken. He threw it in disgust.

"I see you didn't take the time to fix your tomahawk," Wemotin said, pointing at Cheveyo. "The binding isn't tight enough, and the stone isn't honed to the right size. You'll never kill anything with that."

"It wasn't worth the time. You know how long it takes." Cheveyo glanced down at his waist where his tomahawk hung on his leather-pelted jerkin. "It does all I need it to do."

"If I may return your original question, how many carcasses have you gotten for the Dustu-Makya so far?" Wemotin asked.

Cheveyo hesitated, ashamed of his total. "I have some foxes…. and a wolf," he added at the end. It was a lie; he didn't have a single carcass.

"The wolf is good, but the foxes won't count much toward the total. If you truly want to be chosen, you'll have to gather a lot more than that. Let me help you."

"Why are you so eager to help? Don't you want to be chosen?"

"I do," Wemotin confessed. "I want to join the Makya as much as the next hunter. But I understand the importance of gathering as much meat as possible for the other tribes. Many of the smaller tribes aren't as fortunate as us, and depend on our surplus meat for their supply. If I help our fellow hunters, we can gather more than just me alone."

"But we've never been short on meat for the other tribes. So I'd rather do my hunting on my own and get the credit for myself," Cheveyo stubbornly continued.

"Suit yourself, Cheveyo." Wemotin started to walk back and turned around to face Cheveyo. "You lack patience, my friend. Patience and compassion."

"You don't know what you speak of, Wemotin," Cheveyo said as he walked toward the river. Perhaps he could find a better tomahawk stone, or even that elk. But more importantly, he hoped to find the herbs he needed for his sister's medicine. "You cannot help me," he whispered to himself.


* * *

Cheveyo thought of his older sister, Pivari, as he went towards the river. He'd be able to find the bitterroot he needed to complete Pivari's medicine. "He knows nothing about Pivari and her fever," Cheveyo spoke to himself as he spotted the bitterroot by the flowing water. "She's been sick with fever for almost eight moons. She should have either died by now or gotten better. No one can survive that long with a fever." Cheveyo knew the medicine wasn't healing her, but he couldn't bring himself to say it. It was all that was keeping her alive, and it was all he could do for her. "I know my tomahawk is the worst in the tribe, I know I'm the worst hunter, but he doesn't know I have to take care of Pivari. Family comes first."

Cheveyo recently realized he'd been good at spotting the herbs he needs for medicine--much better than his skill in hunting. If he could, he'd stop being a hunter and gather herbs to practice medicine with the tribe. However, his sister wouldn't allow it, the only family he had. Pivari, fourteen years older than Cheveyo, raised him up. Their mother died giving birth to Cheveyo, a fact Pivari never seemed to forget or forgive. She had grown from a spiteful youth into an angry woman, and Cheveyo preferred gathering herbs alone than tending to her needs at home. She regularly accosted him for the poor hunter he was, "You're bringing shame to our family name," she'd say. "Why aren't you being selected in the Dustu-Makya like our family used to?" Cheveyo couldn't neglect her need for medical attention, and he was the only one that could give it. "I can't stop taking care of her," he assured himself. "Saving my sister is more important than the Dustu-Makya."

Cheveyo finished gathering the bitterroot and placed it in his satchel. As he rose from the ground, he saw an elk straight ahead of him drinking water from the river. Is this the same elk from before? he thought. As he drew his bow, he saw it wasn't. There was a strange glow to this elk, with dark blue vein-like webs running up its antlers, and a mist shrouding beneath it.

Suddenly, the elk's face snapped up, roared a high-pitched screech, and ran back to the forest. I can't let this one get away, Cheveyo thought as he jumped into the river, swam across to the other side, and chased after it. The elk had graceful form, and left a strange blue aura behind him as it ran. His antlers seem to glow the more it ran. Just as Cheveyo thought the elk was as good as gone, it dashed into a nearby cavern. Yes, he's trapped now. Cheveyo reached the cavern out of breath, but hopeful. As he walked further in, the cavern came to an abrupt halt, with nothing in sight. "But where did it go!?" he yelled, frustrated over his lost kill.

"I don't think you'll be too upset that you lost this one elk once you leave this cave, hunter."

"Who is that?" Cheveyo asked, pulling out his tomahawk.

The booming voice from nowhere laughed when Cheveyo pulled out his tomahawk. "You can put that piece of work back from where you got it. A primitive tool like that won't help you here."

Cheveyo hesitated, wary to trust this unseen stranger. He lowered his tomahawk, but still held it tightly. "Who are you? Show yourself! I can't see you." His voice trembled, afraid of the unknown.

"I am your answer. I can help you with-"

"Stop, you can't help me! I don't know who you are. I've had enough of people not understanding me."

"I know of your sister, Cheveyo, unlike that selfish Wemotin. Anyone can see he's still trying to help himself. I know about Pivari's fever, and I know of your pressure to join the elite hunters called the Makya when the new moon arrives."

"How do you know all that?"

"Let us just say I possess qualities that are not of your kind. In fact, I am not really your kind."

"Like Wahkan, the Seahawk god?"

The booming voice let out a long laugh, leaving Cheveyo unsettled. "Your pitiful god who feigns benevolence? No. I am not like Wahkan, whose incessant tests of worthiness cause more tribulation than altruism. I am a god, who can help you now and ask nothing in return."

"How do I know you can actually help me?" Cheveyo asked. Despite his fear of this god, he was starting to feel hopeful, his first sign of hope in years. He never told anyone about Pivari. No one cared. If he did actually know all this, perhaps he does have the power to help.

"I can get rid of Pivari's fever. I know how that has been consuming your life. You'll then have the time to hunt the most carcasses for the Dustu-Makya."

"Even if Pivari is cured and I can spend my days hunting, how will I have the most carcasses by the new moon? I'm not a good hunter. I haven't a single carcass, my bow skills are novice at best, and my tomahawk will fall apart any day." He paused and softly added, "I don't even know if I want to be a hunter! My sister just wants me to."

"You do want to be a hunter. It's in your blood, and so is triumph." The end of the cavern started to shine the same dark blue that elk's antlers shown. "Which hand do you favor most?"

Cheveyo nearly fell in amazement. How did the blue light emit from the rock? He tried to catch his voice, but was too startled. He merely raised his left hand and managed to stutter, "Th--this one…"

An even brighter light began to form an image of a left hand in the center of the rock at the end of the cavern. Below the hand, another brighter light began forming an outline of a tomahawk stone. Cheveyo had never seen a better shape for a tomahawk stone than this. If he could get this stone as it was outlined, it would be perfect. He'd hardly have to do anything himself except bind it on his handle with twine.

"I will remove your sister's fever," the voice boomed. "And I can give you the perfect tomahawk stone, here." The light outlining the tomahawk stone burned a bright white, blinding Cheveyo, and suddenly dimmed. A stone lightly fell at his feet, close enough for Cheveyo to confirm the perfect tomahawk stone. Still, it did not completely satisfy him.

"But what about my hunting skill?" Cheveyo asked suspiciously. "I may have the time and the best weapon, but I still need to gain the most carcasses. How will you help me there?"

"I can give you the skill if you place your hand on cavern wall. Do this and I guarantee you will be chosen at the Dustu-Makya."

This is it, this is what I need, Cheveyo thought. The tribe elder once warned the whole tribe to be wary of such easy promises from spirits. "But the elder doesn't know my problems, just like Wemotin doesn't," he yelled defiantly. "Yes!" he roared in relief, agreeing to the unknown spirit. He picked up the tomahawk stone, light as a feather but as durable as metal, and dropped it in his satchel. He dashed to the glowing blue wall and threw his left hand at the imprint.

Immediately, the light on the wall focused only on the hand imprint and shone brightly at Cheveyo, blinded again. Dark blue veins appeared on his fingertips and began crawling up to his forearm. Cheveyo could feel aggression, hate, and violence begin to overtake him. He tried to suppress those feeling, but soon gave in. The unknown spirit began to laugh, and Cheveyo realized he had been tricked. He tried franticly to remove his hand, but it was stuck to the wall as the light began to seep into him. The spirit took firm control of his mind, but not entirely. It wiped Cheveyo's impulse to eradicate the spirit, the most important thing to suppress. But it was not enough for the spirit to control Cheveyo's intentions.

Not yet at least.


* * *

Cheveyo walked out of the cavern and shielded his eyes from the sun as they adjusted to the daylight. As soon as he could see, he noticed his hand pulsing with dark blue veins that started in his fingertips and ran all the way up to his forearm. I'll need to cover this up when I get back to the tribe, he thought. If these scars are the only price I have to pay, I'll be forever thankful.

As he was making his way back to his sister, Cheveyo suddenly heard a branch snap. He glanced to his left, and made eye contact with a startled elk with its foot on a broken branch. Cheveyo wondered if this was the elk that got away, but it didn't matter, he desperately needed a successful hunt. His mind focused on killing the elk, unknowingly allowing the spirit within to act on this intention to kill.

In an instant, his mind slipped as if someone was working through him. He knew he wouldn't have enough time to draw his bow and kill the elk--it would run out of reach before he even notched the arrow. Instead, his hand, out of his control, reached to his tomahawk with its new stone. As he subconsciously raised the tomahawk above his head, he could feel how flawlessly the weight was distributed. He flexed his arm and threw it, releasing his hand at the precise moment. Cheveyo watched as the tomahawk made two rotations in the air and landed the sharpened stone directly between the elk's eyes.

"Ha!" Cheveyo yelled, running towards the fallen elk. "Perfect hit!" As he struggled to rip out his tomahawk deep within the elk's head, he was stunned at the sheer perfection of his tomahawk throw. There was no wobble or falter on its lethal flight toward the elk, only straight and true. He had never seen a tomahawk drive so deeply into a target before, not even by the Makya-Cha. Never in his life did he dream of being such a lethal force. He glanced at his flexed hand trying vainly to remove the tomahawk and concluded the spirit indeed told the truth. When he let his mind slip, he let the spirit take over his actions.

Excited with his newfound ability, he grabbed the elk and brought it over his shoulder, the brute strength coming from the spirit. "Pivari will be pleased with this kill. I'll skin and salt the elk after I give her the medicine--and perhaps the spirit will have cured her fever."

Cheveyo approached his tribe's village minutes later, still carrying the elk. Many of his fellow tribesman and hunters glared, pointed, and whispered of the clean cut on the elk's head and Cheveyo's sudden strength to carry an entire elk himself. Cheveyo noticed their whispers, and was glad for it. Let them spread the word of my strength, it will help me even more in being chosen in the Dustu-Makya.

At last he saw the longhouse and entered through the leather tarp door. Their tribe, and their neighboring tribes, lived in longhouses instead of the teepees of the Eastern tribes. The cedar trees in their region were long, sturdy, and plentiful--perfect for cedar planks used to build their shelter. Cheveyo lived in the community longhouse, which housed most of the tribe's population. Only the most esteemed families in the tribe were granted their own longhouse, and had to be appointed by the Chief himself. Cheveyo walked down the center aisle, nearly one hundred feet long, and arrived at his and Pivari's meager segment of the longhouse.

Their section was surrounded by leather tarps his father had hunted for years ago. In the center was the fire pit, issuing more smoke than heat, directly under a hole in the ceiling to allow the smoke to escape. In the corner were two straw mattresses. Pivari lay on one of them facing away from him. "Is that you?" Pivari demanded upon hearing Cheveyo enter. She turned over to look at him.

"Yes, it's me, sister" he said as he proudly dropped down the dead elk. "Look what I hunted today. Are you proud? I've finally--"

"Give me my medicine first," she interrupted as she sat up. The sparse light from the fire dimly lit her face so that Cheveyo could see. She had once been very pretty. You look just like your mother, the other tribesmen would say, but as the years wore on, Pivari had grown bitter. Her dimples and high cheekbones turned to a sullen dough face with botches and boils. Because she hardly left the longhouse, she had grown larger, her clothes now too tight to wear. She had also once been a marvel of a storyteller, captivating the longhouse neighbors around their fire, but she had lost that charm for stories as well. Her tales of glory, life-long lessons, and spirits turned to bitter japes and insults directed at Cheveyo.

"Yes, sister. You must be in pain." He removed his satchel, dropped to his knees, and began grinding the bitterroot in his wooden mortar and pestle. As he was making her medicine, his mind drifted to the Dustu-Makya. As much as Cheveyo loved his sister, he started feeling the urgency to hunt so he could be chosen to join the Makya. He wouldn't be able to both skin the dead animals and hunt enough in time for the next full moon. He hoped the bitterroot he was grinding would be the last, fulfilling the promise of the spirit within him just as it already enhanced his hunting. When he finished grinding the bitterroot, he poured the powder into a clay cup of water, hoping for her fever to end. "Here, drink this."

She took the cup and drank greedily, giving a shudder once it was all down. "Too bitter, your medicine doesn't work--I still have my fevers."

"If you didn't take it, you wouldn't be alive," he said instantly. Pivari stared at Cheveyo, who never talked back to his sister. "Trust me this time, I think it'll work. I'm trying something new, just give it some time."

After a pause of ignoring her brother, Pivari looked down at the dead elk by the dying fire. "When are you going to skin and salt your elk?"

"I was hoping that you could, sister. I have much more to hunt if I want to be chosen at the Dustu-Makya. The new moon will be upon us soon, and I have little time to catch up to the other hunters seeking to be chosen. Especially if I'm to continue getting your medicine to hold your fever back."

"Nonsense. My place isn't to take care of your kills. A true hunter will clean his own carcasses, not his dying sister!" she said. "And I thought this medicine was supposed to cure me this time," she added vindictively.

Cheveyo knew he would be put down by his sister, but he could never prepare himself to feel the guilt each time she accused him of wrongdoing or shortcomings. "But all the other hunters eligible for the Dustu-Makya have their family helping them after their hunts. Please, sister, I won't be able to be chosen without your help." He looked at her pleadingly, wanting her to finally be proud of what he accomplished and work together in his achievement.

"No. They aren't real hunters like our family. Your father didn't have his women clean his carcasses, and he was a true and skilled hunter. The man in our family has one duty only--to provide. You'll never be good enough to provide."

He rose and pointed his finger at Pivari. "But I am providing," he insisted.

Pivari finally got up from her straw mattress and slapped Cheveyo's face. "I am the oldest in our family. What evil spirit has possessed you to speak to me that way?"

Cheveyo's mind began to be drawn back, the hunter's spirit taking form. He grew more aware of their small section of the longhouse, like a mist rising and revealing what was truly there for the first time. Half-woven baskets were on the dirty rugs that hadn't been tightened in months, the dying fire hadn't been properly tended since Cheveyo had done it yesterday, almost no water in the clay water jugs, leather jerkins and cloth that was meant to be washed in the river many moons ago. "Is this the first time you got up today?" Cheveyo heard himself say.

"You dare, brother? I am sick with fever. You come in here and expect your dying sister to tend to all these tasks and do your own skinning?" Pivari squinted her eyes and muttered, "You're a shame to our family. Bring me what water we have left, I have a thirst."

"You've been dying for more moons than I can count on my hands. You spend more time shaming me than helping me." Cheveyo looked around further and noticed that not a single thing had changed since he left that morning. "I'm right, aren't I? You've been laying down all day, just like you have all these moons." You don't need her anymore, the new voice inside him said.

"Are you calling me weak? I've survived all these moons. I'm the one who brought you up after you killed our mother. I've made you who you are."

"You've made me into nothing, just like the nothing you are." Without her, you can hunt all you will need to be chosen this year at the Dustu-Makya.

"If you want to go and hunt more, go do it. All you are is a killer, Cheveyo. You were a killer when you first entered this world, and you're a killer now."

Cheveyo was stricken, his heart wounded. Those words struck him because they couldn't be truer. He was a killer at birth, and despite his struggles as a hunter in the past, he knew that's all he was now. Kill her, the hunter within whispered. She's right, embrace who you are. You can be the best killer in this tribe, but only if she is gone. Any resistance to the spirit within him snapped, unable to control the hunter within. He accepted who he was, and let the killer take over.

"Are you going to cry, little brother? Like you used to every night? Praying to the spirits to bring your mother back? That doesn't solve your problems, brother. It never did!" Pivari said as Cheveyo silently reached for a leather blanket. "What are you doing? What's wrong with your arm? Why is it pulsing blue?"

Cheveyo grabbed the blanket, rapidly wrapped it around Pivari's face, and pulled tight--not a sound was made. "You're right, sister," Cheveyo whispered behind her ear as he kept pulling the blanket tight, suffocating her. "I am a killer, just like you raised me to be."

Pivari's response was muffled and unintelligible, nobody could hear her struggle. She tried to reach up to remove the blanket, but Cheveyo wrapped his legs around her arms, inhibiting any movement or retaliation.

"I've found somebody who could do something about it, and he promised I'll be chosen at the Dustu-Makya at the new moon," he continued to whisper. "No one will think twice of your death. With no evidence of a struggle and nobody to hear me kill you, they'll all think you finally died of your fever, like you should have moons ago."

As Cheveyo continued to pull on the blanket behind her, Pivari started jerking. On the brink of his sister's death, Cheveyo's conscious barely reemerged and questioned the spirit in a whisper, "Pivari is family, and surely there's another way." Not if you want to hunt enough for the Dustu-Makya, the spirit responded. She's held you back for years. She's as good as dead with her fever. Let me kill her, and I promise you'll be chosen. Thinking of the Dustu-Makya, he succumbed to the spirit once again.

When Pivari jerked her last, Cheveyo checked her pulse and felt nothing. He laid the dead body on the mattress, Wait until morning to announce her death, say she died in the middle of the night.

Cheveyo finished the day skinning his dead elk and preserving the meat with salt. He felt no regret toward his actions, the spirit starting to grasp a tighter hold of him. He went to sleep at peace knowing he'd have enough time to hunt all he needed for the Dustu-Makya.


* * *

The day of the new moon had come. Every person in the tribe had his or her task--preparing the bonfire, setting the stage for the dancers and storytellers, and cooking the vast quantity of food to feed thousands. The neighboring tribes had traveled from miles away for the festival, setting up their temporary camps nearby.

Cheveyo was just returning from one last hunt when he came across Sootan, his tribe's Shaman leader. "So there's word that you're favored to be chosen at the Dustu-Makya this year, Cheveyo. Are these whispers true? Do you think you have hunted the most? They say you hunt like a possessed man," he laughed as he put his arm around Cheveyo's shoulder.

Cheveyo's improved hunting skills were no secret. At all hours of the day, the tribe would see Cheveyo hauling in dead bear, elk, deer, even a baby whale all by himself! "I certainly hope so, I have not heard of anyone hunting more than I have."

"You must be saddened about your sister passing, unable to see your recent achievement."

It hadn't even crossed Cheveyo's mind, he had almost forgotten about Pivari's burial unless Sootan had reminded him. Nearly all the tribe had forgotten too, with the upcoming Potlatch. "Yes I am deeply saddened," he responded, feigning a rehearsed sigh of mourning. I pray to our spirits every night asking her to see me tonight."

"She will be, Cheveyo. The dead do not cease living. Rather, their spirits become one with our surroundings. And those spirits surely have blessed you as of late--I hear that you hunted an infant whale all by yourself. I've never heard of a single man to do that himself."

"Call it a stroke of luck that I happened to chance upon." They reached their tribe's camp, "I must go, Sootan. I have much to prepare for tonight. May the spirits bless you."

"And you, Cheveyo."

As the sun reached its precipice and began to lower as the day went on, the Potlatch festival began. Children ran around playing games, chasing each other. Girls played with their homemade dolls while trading homemade clothes to fit their dolls. Boys fought with wooden sticks, trying to impress the girls nearby to no avail. The adults went to all corners of the camp going to different vendors eating new foods and trading baskets, painted pottery, art, precious stones, animal hides, and whale oil to light lanterns. The food vendors gave out roasted elk, fish, breads, corn, and even bear, all using spices unique to each tribe. Everyone in attendance commented on each tribe's unique signature spice while the merchants made trade arrangements for them. In the streets, performers beat their drums, played their horned flutes, sang their chants, danced in rhythm of the music, and storytellers told their tales of marvel and virtue. Each of the tribes' elders met under covered tarps, smoking tobacco and herbs from all over, sharing stories and wisdoms only the most experienced in life can share.

The Potlatch festival of the new moon was a festival of prosperity and sharing with their fellow man. Not only does it symbolize prosperity, it was also a revered time of peace. Wars hadn't been fought among these tribes for generations, and none have been as prosperous as they are now.

Cheveyo sat next to the central ceremonial fire, now an orderly pile of firewood waiting to be lit when the sun sets and the new moon rises. The fire was the centerpiece of the Potlatch festival--the music and dancing which paid homage to their god: the Seahawk spirit, called Wahkan. The most important event took place at the central ceremonial fire, and since the Dustu-Makya is the most anticipated, it is the last event of the festival. "Pathetic, all of them," Cheveyo spoke to himself of the visiting tribes. "They come here, taking our goods, and what do we get in return? Nothing. We'd be stronger if we just kept to ourselves." The blue veins on his forearm pulsed more than ever. He wasn't sure if this was his own thought or the thought of the spirit within him.

Cheveyo remained sitting near the ceremonial fire, waiting patiently as the sun began to set. He knew he would be chosen during the Dustu-Makya and join the coveted Makya huntsmen, there was no way he could lose. He had brought in more carcasses than any other champion before. He trusted the hunter spirit inside him, and let him take over more often than not lately. As Cheveyo pondered this, the low drums started beating and the shrill blaring of the horns blew, signifying the beginning of the main events. When everyone had gathered around the unlit fire, the horns and drums ceased. All conversations ceased immediately as the Chief of Cheveyo's tribe rose up to spoke, standing next to the fire. It was tradition that the Nomish Chief would begin the ceremony, welcoming each tribe and telling the story of the Nomish origins for those who were new to the Potlatch. The full moon's light shined down on the Chief, showing his elaborate headdress of feathers and face paint. He was holding a lit torch.

"As Chief of the Nomish tribe, I thank you all for attending our Potlatch. For more moons than I have lived through, our tribes have been at peace. This peace has enabled our tribes to work together and make each other stronger, wiser, and well fed. Our festival this year is no different. I am proud to lead the Nomish tribe, and I am proud to live among you all." The Chief glanced to his left, and the audience glanced in turn. "That totem over there by the sea, that totem is of our tribe's god: The Seahawk whom we call Wahkan. The totem represents the story of our tribe's origin. When our tribe first settled in the very land we are sitting now, they were struck with the curse of famine. No matter what could be done, our most skilled hunters or gatherers could not bring home meat or herbs for sustenance. Just as the tribe was going to starve, a flock of sea hawks flew out to meet our famished ancestors. The largest of the hawks landed next to our Chief and asked 'Why do you all starve this way and not search for food?' And our Chief responded, 'Our tribe has been cursed with famine. We struck a deal with an evil spirit, he was too tempting. Our old land was destroyed in war and the spirit told us of the land out west by the sea. The sea hawk then went on to say, 'Evil spirits will offer the needy and distressed a solution to their problems, but at a great cost. They feed off of chaos and despair. I do not have such wicked, selfish intentions- I'm not a malevolent spirit, but rather can offer you abundant food as long as you give me something in return. I will give you an abundance of food as long as you never hunt a single sea hawk and always give your excess food to the neighboring tribes just as I gave you food in your time of need.'

"The old Chief knew he was unwise to accept the evil spirit's offer, and learned true prosperity would come when doing the long, hard way with this benevolent sea hawk spirit. 'Yes, we vow to never hunt a single sea hawk and to give generously to our neighbors.' For four seasons, sea hawks would grab fish from the sea and drop them at our ancestor's feet. During that time, they learned to hunt and farm the land properly. Ever since that day, our tribe vowed to never let our neighbors grow hungry or weak, and it has made us all prosperous."

The Chief looked down and then glanced at Cheveyo. After a short pause, he threw the torch into the firewood, and a blaze instantly fired up, spreading its light around the festival. "Let the Potlatch begin!"

The cheering roared as the Chief walked away from the fire and the dancers moved in. Cheveyo watched as the drums and horns began their incessant rhythmic tunes and the dancers danced in unison. Each performance told its own story, and each tribe performed at least once. He thought they were all pathetic, all these tribes depend on the Nomish and they mention their tribes' prosperity as their own. If I were Chief, I'd end it.

Pipes from each tribe were passed around, each featuring the tribe's special herb, and ended at the Nomish Chief. When Cheveyo saw the last pipe end with his Chief, he saw him rise again signaling the night's last event: the Dustu-Makya.

"Thank you for your wonderful performances today, neighbors," the Chief began to say. "Of all the Potlatches I've seen through my many years, each one is more entertaining than the last." After a brief pause and a nod at the Makya-Cha, the leader of the Nomish hunters, the Chief exclaimed, "Now begins the most important event of the evening. The Dustu-Makya!" All roared in approval, slapping the logs they sat on or clanking their rattles. "As you all know, we choose the hunter who has brought in the most meat by the new moon. That man will then be a part of the Makya, our esteemed group of select hunters training for leadership in our tribe. Each of our hunting leaders is selected from this group when the previous leader either dies or steps down. It is the Nomish tribe's greatest honor. And this year couldn't be any more exciting, as we've broken many records."

Cheveyo's spirits soared in satisfaction, his forearm pulsing blue. This is it, his name will be chosen at any second. No lone man could beat his weight of thirty-nine stone worth of meat. It broke the previous record by six full stone!

"Without further delay," the Chief continued "we are proud to announce that our selection this year is a man who has overcome much in recent days. When things seemed at the ultimate low for him, he put his head down, trusted in the spirits, and hunted his heart out!"

Cheveyo's heart was beating fast, hardly able to contain the anticipation.

The Chief paused with a smile on his face and exclaimed, "This man brought in a record thirty-nine stone worth of meat, and is none other than our tribesman, Cheveyo!" The audience erupted in cheer, the drums beat, and everyone around Cheveyo pat his back in congratulations. Cheveyo rose, his spirits elated. He had done it. We have done it, the spirit inside his said. Cheveyo walked up to his Chief and linked his left arm with his Chief's, the tribe's way of salutation. The Chief smiled at Cheveyo, proud of his record haul. But when he saw Cheveyo's left forearm, he saw the unmistakable blue pulsing veins. His smile instantly dropped and whispered to Cheveyo as they unwound their left arms, "May you one day return back to the light, child."

Cheveyo was so immediately shocked he couldn't bring himself to respond, or rather was forced not to respond. As more of the audience surrounded Cheveyo when his Chief left, he saw the weary man walk over to the Makya-Cha and whisper in his ear, grabbing his left forearm and making lines with his fingers. They both nodded and the Chief returned to the fire.

The Chief stood next to the fire and blew a screeching whistle, abruptly halting the audience's cheers. The Chief's whistle brought immense dread to Cheveyo, and could feel it lumped in his throat. "I said before," the Chief said and paused, "I said before that we had broken records. We in fact broke more than just the thirty-nine stone. We have another member of our tribe's hunters that brought in forty-two stone." The audience "ooohed" in surprise. Cheveyo was shocked. How was this possible? Who could possibly have brought in more than me, than my hunter spirit inside me?

"This man certainly did not take the easy path," the Chief continued, "but he did take the right path. While he had no intentions to be selected in this year's Dustu-Makya, he had the honest intention for the welfare of our hunters, our tribe, and your tribes. He had the patience to train each of our tribe's hunters, thus making the entire group more productive in the meat they come home with. Not only is he patient and an effective teacher, but he had the compassion to act selflessly. These are the traits of a true leader, and a hero. We should all be inspired by his actions." The audience took well to this introduction, giving a louder applause in anticipation of who it is, but Cheveyo knew who it was, and the anger brewed deep inside him, the veins in his arm pulsing darker.

After a short pause, the Chief roared, "For the first and only time in history, I am more than proud to name Wemotin as the Dustu-Makya's second selection! Through his patience to teach and his compassion for us all, he embodies the true symbol of our tribe, of the great Sea Hawk spirit we owe our prosperous culture to, and of the perfect leader. Effective immediately, he is not only an official member of the Makya, but the sole front-runner to become our next hunting leader, the Makya-Cha!"

The audience roared again, louder than before. They ran to Wemotin and hoisted him up in the air making circles around the fire and chanting his name. Cheveyo, meanwhile, walked away from the fire. Forgotten, alone. He stomped over towards the sea and said to the spirit hunter within, "You lied! I didn't get selected!"

We did win, but somebody else won with you. I did as I told you, the spirit said to Cheveyo.

"It should have been only me! They've already forgotten me, they're only cheering for Wemotin! That's not fair, where's my celebration? I should be the next Makya-Cha! I can hunt better than him." He continued to rage until he came across the Sea Hawk totem.

"Damn all you spirits! You give us false hope and give us nothing!" he roared. He looked up at the great Sea Hawk his tribe worshipped and he felt the hate flow through him, starting from his pulsing forearm. He grabbed his tomahawk, lifted his hand in the air, let his mind release as he'd done hundreds of times in the past week, and threw his tomahawk at the totem. The tomahawk struck perfectly in the totem pole's wood in-between the Sea Hawk's eyes.

Cheveyo collapsed to the ground, leaning on the totem and cried out in frustration. He began to doubt letting the hunter spirit in him. What did it gain him? He was chosen to join the Makya and had proven to have the best hunting ability, but futile now that Wemotin was primed to be Makya-Cha. "And meaningless after I killed Pivari and betrayed my family."

It was not all in vain, the spirit said inside Cheveyo's head. I can still make you leader of the hunters. I can make you Makya-Cha.

"No!" Cheveyo instantly roared back. "I've had enough dealings with your kind. Leave me at once."

It's not quite that simple, friend. You're stuck with me, you let me in. At that moment, Cheveyo's pulsing hand involuntarily grabbed his throat and squeezed so hard he couldn't breathe. Cheveyo was powerless to stop this spirit from choking him. The spirit was starting to be able to control his actions due to Cheveyo submitting so frequently.

"Do you mean to kill me?" Cheveyo was able to squeeze out.

No, friend. I don't mean to kill you. I mean to shut you up so you can listen to me. Just because Wemotin is chosen as the front-runner for leadership, doesn't mean he will be the next Makya-Cha.

"What do you mean?"

Much can happen between now and then. With enough people on your side, you can become Makya-Cha instead. Or with enough people dead. A leader cannot lead when he is dead, and killing is exactly what we're good at. Just ask all those animals you killed. Just ask your sister.

Cheveyo hated this spirit for that, but he hated Wemotin more. He hated his fake selflessness, he hated his false sense of omniscience, and he hated how he beat him. "Yes, he couldn't be leader when he is dead."

Let me help you kill him and any who stand in your way. With me, I will make you Makya-Cha. When you're Makya-Cha, you'll end all promises to that false Sea Hawk and cease any charity to the neighboring tribes. With them out of your way, you'll bring more prosperity to your tribe than any before you.

"Yes, yes I want that."

Good, but I will need complete control of your mind and body. Grant it to me, and you will have those things.

Cheveyo, with nothing left to live for, let go.


THE END


2014 Patrick Jagielski

Bio: Mr. Jagielski currently lives in New York City and works in advertising. An avid runner, he races for the New York Harriers and ran in college for Clemson University. If you don't see him running all around New York, he's the guy you see reading on the benches at Riverside Park.

E-mail: Patrick Jagielski

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