The Death of Annie One-Horse
by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Annie made herself comfortable in the place of her vision. She hadn’t had anything to eat in two days but she didn’t feel it much. It felt just as it had back then, when she had first been here, back when she had been young.
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After prayers and final instructions, her grandfather had left. He hadn’t looked back. It had taken a while for it to sink in but, soon, the silence, the power of the desert places had begun to affect her as well as the reality of being alone for the next four days. She had gone into the earth lodge then, pulled down the blanket door and secured it. The hole in the desert was barely large enough to lie down within, but it felt safe and comforting somehow to know her grandfather had made it with his own hands.
Soon, she had grown tired of her cowering and reseated herself in front of the entrance, facing the desert. She was filled with expectation; but that soon paled, and she was left with boredom. Eventually, she felt the press of her bladder and went to relieve herself. But once that task was done, she sat again and the long hours passed... slowly.
As the sun began to sink that evening, she felt again the rise of expectation. She expected the night to be filled with vision. It wasn’t. She was cold, and her bones ached from lying on the hard sandy floor.
Her mind was filled with thoughts, and she carefully went over all the things she would say and do when she returned to her village. She tried to calm her mind as her grandfather had taught her, but the thoughts kept coming back, wriggling like small animals in her hands, constantly escaping her grasp.
The days passed slowly, and she felt the sharp bite of hunger grow with each of them. Sparingly, she drank from her canteen and waited.
It was on the fourth night that the visions began but, by then, she wasn’t thinking of them at all. She was just enduring. She was lying in the earth lodge with her eyes closed when she began to see a soft glow. She knew she was dreaming, but she felt awake.
She found herself standing on a road, and she could feel that good things were going to happen. In front of her there was a horse, a big bay stallion, with medicine markings on its sides and rump. As she looked, he turned his head and looked at her, his eyes full of mystery and meaning. They were intelligent like the eyes of an old man.
The horse neighed then and nodded his head. Annie looked closely and saw that she and the horse were standing at the beginning of a small dirt road. She looked back at the horse and it neighed once more, again nodding its head. She put her hand on his flank and together they began to walk.
The road was straight; it was just like the one near her village, everything looked so familiar. She patted the horse, feeling its stiff, warm hair under her hand. As they climbed a small rise, she felt the muscles under its shoulder move with the slight effort.
The horse stopped and neighed again, and Annie looked around her. They stood before a fork in the road. To the left, it rose up into the sky, on the right it continued up and over a hill. Something in her made her choose the right-hand path. As she took her first tentative steps in that direction, the horse neighed again and stood back to let her go on alone. This, she knew, was right and proper, though she felt a small sorrow and a tiny bit of fear at losing his companionship.
It wasn’t a far walk, but it took a long while to get there. When she finally came to the top of the hill and could see down the other side, she stopped. She was looking into the land of the spirits. She knew this was so; no one had to tell her. There were many people there and with many lodges all around. The children were playing near a small pond, and they were happy.
As she watched the children, she saw a lone figure separate itself from the throng near the lodges and come up the path toward her. When it neared she saw it was her mother’s brother, who had died many years before. She noticed with surprise that he looked no different than he had in life. He seemed very happy. He was glad to see her and told her of his life in the spirit land. They talked a long time before he turned and, with a smile, walked back down the road.
Over the next few hours, the spirits of all of her dead relatives came and talked to her of their lives. They told her to not be sad, for they were very happy. They told her not to worry if any of her relatives or friends or neighbors became sick, for she would be taught many songs to cure them.
When the last of her relatives had finished, she sat a minute thinking of the things they had told her. Then she turned and began to make her way back along the path and down the hill. She looked for her friend the horse, but he was gone. In his place, awaiting her, was the spirit of a dead Apache.
Her grandfather had told her what they looked like, and she recognized this one at once. He was small, no bigger than a child. Annie was a little scared. The Apache grinned at her, his eyes twinkling, and he lifted his hand, indicating a path she had not noticed before. When she looked at him questioningly, he nodded and began to walk along it. She turned and accompanied him. He did not speak but walked a little way in front of her, every once in a while looking back, as if to make sure she was still there.
They walked in a strange country. It was like her home yet not like it. Everything seemed to glow with a light of its own, as if it were, in some manner unknown to her, alive. They walked a long way, and Annie was beginning to get tired when they came upon a house.
It was a big house and, from the things hung on its walls, Annie could tell it belonged to a powerful medicine man. The Apache stood aside and, with a nod of his head, he indicated she should enter.
Annie opened the door. The house was one big room. It contained nothing but a table in its center upon which lay a pile of owl feathers. As soon as Annie stopped, the door closed, and the owl feathers flew up in the air and began circling around her. And as they circled her, they sang a song. Annie listened carefully, as her grandfather had taught her, so that later she could remember it.
To the medicine man’s house they have led me,
To the medicine man’s house they have led me,
Inside the house they have brought me,
Elder Brother is there and owl feathers fly about,
The owl feathers fly in the air.
At the end of the song, the owl feathers returned once again to the table, at rest. Annie stood transfixed by the power of the song, and she hummed it a little to herself to fix the melody in her mind. Then, with a creak and a clatter, the door opened and the dead Apache came in. She looked at him and he nodded again. He grinned and rolled a cigarette and sat on the floor, motioning to Annie to do the same.
Then he began to speak. He told her he was the spirit of an Apache that her grandfather had killed and that he had been waiting a long time to talk to her. “Do not be sad,” he said. “This happens to everyone sooner or later.” Then he lit the cigarette and they smoked it together while he sang this song:
It was a sad thing he did,
It was a sad thing he did,
But now we smoke together,
The smoke will pile up inside us.
Annie sang the song silently inside herself three times. The Apache seemed to know what she was doing and waited calmly without speaking. When she was done, he smiled and got to his feet. They went outside. The Apache nodded, indicating that Annie should look and that she would see something good, then he slowly disappeared.
Annie looked around her and saw that the land was alive and that the stone outcroppings had many faces in them. They all seemed to be smiling at her. From the small trees and plants she heard many songs, though she could not make out the words.
At her feet, the path wound on and, after a bit, she followed it. She walked for a long time, and the land became more and more desolate. She was just beginning to become sad and uncertain when, coming over the edge of an arroyo, she saw Ithoi, Elder Brother, waiting there. He was leaning against a big rock, smiling. He greeted her and when he saw he had her attention, he sang this song:
Going alone to the earth end,
Going alone to the earth corner,
Elder Brother comes from the opposite direction,
We meet, and my heart is bounding within me.
He sang the song three times and, by the third time, Annie knew it well enough to sing along with him. When he was done, he nodded at Annie and then slowly melted into the rock. She looked around. She did not know where she was, but the path went on ahead of her and she followed it.
She walked so long she thought her legs were going to drop off, but then she saw something in the distance that looked familiar. Her heart began to beat faster and she began to feel happy. She hurried. That was when the ground began to shake.
The rocks were waving like trees, and the ground began to split open, and it got very dark. Out of the rocks came demons. Annie cried out. Their faces were terrible to behold, and Annie covered her eyes. They began to roar, and she covered her ears. They surrounded her in a circle and, though she tried, she could not escape them. They came close and began ripping at her with their claws. She cried out.
They began stripping off her skin. When she was nothing but bones, the demons pulled her apart and ate the bones and, with each bite, she cried in pain. It was worse than anything she had ever felt. When they finished, they sat a minute and talked, laughing about this human being who had been so tasty.
Then they took the shreds of her skin and put them into a pot. Each demon leaned over the pot and threw up the digested bones he had eaten. Then the demons began to cook the pot. The fire hurt even more than the claws and teeth. Annie cried out louder. The demons began to sing. Even in her pain, Annie listened and learned the song.
Your bones we are eating,
Your bones we are eating,
With our claws and teeth we eat your bones,
Many diseases you will cure.
Then, in the cooking, something wonderful began to happen. Annie’s body began to come back together. When it was whole, the demons dumped her out on the ground. They began laughing at their huge joke. Then the earth began to shake again and, when she looked up, they were gone.
Annie felt funny, as if she were different somehow. Light began to come. Brighter and brighter it became, until she could see for a long way. She noticed then what it was that had looked so familiar to her. It was the crossroads, and waiting there for her was that horse. She was glad to see him.
With a glad shout she ran down to meet him and, when she threw her arms round his neck, he gave a neigh as if he, too, were glad to see her. They began to walk down the path, and soon she was back at the lodge. Everything faded from her vision then and she sat up, stiff, sore, and cold.
It was her vision; the one she had come to find. She was excited. Now she could go back to her people unashamed. She rubbed her arms and legs to get the cold and stiffness out, and then she sang the songs she had learned, to make sure she remembered them.
When her grandfather came back later that day, he looked at her and said, “Ummm hmmm, ummm hmmm.” Annie knew enough to not talk of her visions yet. In silence, they packed the blanket and got the water jug. She was so tired that it took two days to walk back to the village. On the way, they said nothing, but every once in a while her grandfather would say, “Ummm hmmm, ummm hmmm.”
After they reached the village there was such a celebration. There was food, and songs, and all her relatives coming up and patting her on the back. She ate and drank, but not much would fit in her stomach, it was so small. It was shrunken tiny like a current, Annie thought. Then later, after everyone had left, her grandfather had taken her to his house and she had told him her visions and sung for him the songs she had learned.
“This is good, granddaughter,” he said. “You will be a great healer for your people. You will be able to heal Komotan, the Apache sickness, and help others who are made ill by the spirits of the dead.
“The demons that ate your bones are the different diseases which you will be able to heal. When you act as a siatikum, a diagnostician, you must look to see which disease is hurting the person. You must look with your spirit mind, and you will be able to see that demon sitting there inside the person, making them ill.
“If it is one of the demons that ate your bones, you must drive him out by singing the song you learned and by brushing the person’s body with owl feathers.
“If it is the Apache sickness, you will see that little Apache sitting there inside that person. Then you must sing the song he taught you. But if you do not recognize the demon, it belongs to another to work the cure. Never try to cure a disease over which you have no power.”
They talked long into the night. Annie asking questions, her grandfather teaching her. Suddenly she was tired and her grandfather, sensing this, sent her to bed. Over the next months he would teach her how to use her power and, in time, many of her people would come to her for help.
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Copyright © 2017 by Stephen Harrod Buhner