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Hawk's Flight: An American Fable

Awake early, he had crept sleepily up the gully to relieve himself. He was not yet old enough to stand guard, and on mornings like this he was grateful to be sleeping inside beneath warm robes. There had been no one visible when he started up the gully, so he hadn't walked as far from home as usual. Still he walked too far. Savages leapt upon him before he could shout a warning and, in the instant before he was beaten unconscious, he realized fully it was the attack they had for so long dreaded.

        He vaguely perceived that morning, yet through haze he heard shouts and screams from his village, frenzied yips of savages, pops and cracks of rifles. A child flashed up the gully past him with a mounted savage behind her. In a moment there was a scream, then the horseman rode back down the gully breathing hard. Painfully turning his head, he saw where the girl lay, her crushed head in a pool of blood, her tiny features stunned and askew.

        Struggling to rise, he glimpsed, before collapsing, men trying to defend their families, his own father perhaps, and he caught the hot leer of one savage's eye. He knew he was done, that everyone was done, as he slipped back into the void.

        How many hours or days or weeks they dragged him, leather thong round his neck, he could not say. He had stumbled and staggered barefoot over rocky ground for endless miles. When he fell, they jerked him until he was unconscious from choking, but always stopped to revive him just in time to deny him merciful death. Yet he was dead, he had died with his family back at the village.

        They dragged him finally into their compound where villagers beat and spat upon him. Children threw rocks at him, shouting in their incom- prehensible tongue. He did not have to know their words to understand what they said. He was taken before theii chief, a small, decorated man. There was a good deal of loud talk, again incomprehensible, then he was forced into a small wooden hut.

        He needed water; he needed food; he needed rest. Lying painfully on a grass-covered corner of the hut, sleep came to him finally in the heat of the day. And he lived again in his dreams: Hawk flew wind away from the savages toward the hills where his people lay; his mother and father and sisters and brothers waved to him as he flew beyond them toward Sacred Spring.

        Before the Spring, he knelt and asked what his people had done that their homeland should be invaded by savages. But Sacred Spring did not answer. Are we to submit? he asked, incredulous. Are we to not fight back? The Spring gurgled, then belched forth red: blood flowed from wounded Earth. But I am only one, he said, and not even a warrior. Become a warrior, ordered Sacred Spring. I have no weapons, he said. Then it came to him: he was Hawk and he had the wind.

        He awoke to find a cup of water and a metal plate with a few pieces of dried meat and hard bread on it. He wanted to bolt the food, but Hawk's battered face made chewing difficult, so he broke both meat and bread into tiny pieces which he softened in his mouth, then swallowed. Just as he finished his meal, he heard voices outside the hut, and gruff laughter. There was one small, low window in the dark hovel and suddenly a stream of urine sprayed through it. The laughter grew louder, some words were shouted, then the voices grew faint. Hawk peered out the window and saw three of the savage warriors striding away, their blue uniforms dark as death over the bright earth of the compound.

        It was nearly night when several blue warriors threw open the door of his hut and pulled him out. Prodded to their chief again, Hawk felt strengthened from the food and able to breathe and draw life from the air. This time there were other human beings present, though they were of a rival clan. As the pale chief spoke, one of the human beings said to Hawk: "Now listen to this. I will tell you what their chief says." The man spoke poorly, but at least he could be understood. "The white chief says you and your clan have hurt many of his warriors. He says you are dangerous vermin. He says you must be an example. He says they will pull your neck with a rope until you are dead. He says their god will protect you." The human being who was not of his clan could not resist a comment of his own: "You and yours are lice," he added.

        Hawk turned to face the other human being. "At least we have not become savages," he spat, and the other human being was ashamed and angry. He knew that Hawk, a boy not yet a warrior, had bested him. He said something to a savage in the strange tongue, and the blue warrior struck Hawk hard across the face. The other human being was even more ashamed when Hawk did not flinch.

        Back in the wooden hovel, the boy again curled on the grass to sleep. His face hurt badly where the savage had struck him. He could neither open nor close his mouth. His head pulsed with pain each time his heart beat. He could not sleep and was sitting up when a very pale young savage visited him, accompanied by blue warriors. The savage held two pieces of wood tied together to represent the four sacred directions. The direction stick told Hawk that the savage was a shaman. So Hawk listened respectfully to words he could not understand while the pale shaman gestured and babbled. When the savage finally quieted, Hawk mumbled no, only that. The pale savage seemed to understand, and departed. He had been a weak shaman with no real power.

        Hawk found himself feeling a strange kind of pity for these hopeless creatures who possessed no magic at all, no union with Earth or Sky, only the ability to hurt and kill. He could not even hate such creatures for they were beneath hate. They were sad and dangerous like a broken rattlesnake thrashing around wildly to kill whatever neared it because it could not save itself. They had great skill at destruction, but he could sense no life force in them.

        Hawk flew wind again that night, flew high to the zenith where Old Man of the Ancients resided; Old Man was growing impatient with the savages. Hawk flew to the nadir and Earth Mother wept angrily over her torn land and dead children. It was a bad dream because the savages killed everything and everyone. And, in the instant before he awoke, the shat- tered, bleeding face of the little girl he had seen in the gully flooded him. It was a very bad dream, for he knew he must kill a savage.

        They came for him early next morning, a mass of blue-shirted savages who bound his arms with leather straps, then led him around a building into a square where it seemed all the pale villagers were gathered around a wooden platform. As he was thrust up the steps, he saw a rope -- the rope for pulling his neck -- draped over a crossbeam. Hawk was placed beneath the rope and the savages' chief stood at the front of the platform and spoke loudly to his people. At the same time, the wan shaman stood directly before Hawk, muttering tensely and senselessly into his face, holding his sticks in one hand. Another savage knelt behind Hawk and began to bind his legs. Hawk knew it was time, and he repeated to himself a warrior's song he had been learning as part of his training:

Let us see, is this real,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living
You Powers who dwell everywhere,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living

        He leaned forward and bit the shaman's pallid white nose, at the same time kicking the man who sought to bind his legs. Then Hawk darted across the platform and kicked the startled chief behind a knee and the enemy leader collapsed directly in front of him. One more kick with all his leg behind it and Hawk felt the pale chief's head crumple. He had killed the savages' leader.

        From all around him, blue savages fired their weapons, yet Hawk stood straight and tall, making no attempt to flee or dodge. Bullets smashed into his body, but they were too slow, for Hawk flew wind once more, high over the frantic scene and away, over plains and deserts, over brooding hills, over bleeding Sacred Spring. And Sacred Spring called to him as he soared: "Ho Warrior!"


Hawk's Flight originally appeared in That Constant Coyote: California Stories [1990], which is still available from University of Nevada Press [Click Here!].

That Constant Coyote: California Stories was the winner in 1990 of the Josephine Miles National Literary Award from PEN Oakland.

Hawk's Flight was also the first story to be featured online by the Native American Cultural Center website [Click Here!].

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