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Spirit Voices
Written by Paul Landis Delaune

Gray clouds blanket the sky and a biting chill rides the wind. Black wisps of my hair are tossed about as the frigid air swirls in therocky crevasse in which I lie.  Soon it will be dark and the snow will fall.  Already I have felt a lone flake of ice touch my face, quickly melting from my body’s warmth.  All is quiet.  Nothing stirs.  The animals are huddling in their burrows as night approaches.  Tomorrow a white cloak of icy velvet will cover the land.  And before the next morn I will have joined my ancestors.

     The back of my head tires of resting upon the jagged rock beneath me and, as I shift my head slightly, a sharp pain quickly shoots through my neck.  A groan stirs within my throat, then is gone.  Once more I try to move my arms, my legs, my fingers.  Nothing.  Except for my head and neck, all sensation has fled my body.  It’s as if my body has died, been cut off, and my head is all that remains.  For a moment I wonder if some evil spirit has bewitched me, or I am asleep and this is a bad dream. But, no, I am not dreaming or under a spell.

     I was on the hunt for meat to feed my people.  The spirits said a long cold was coming and much snow would cover the land.  Though we had prepared and stored for the winter, the spirits said it was not enough and many in our tribe would not live to see spring’s warmth smile brightly once more overhead.  The other hunters listened to the words of our shaman, masks of respect upon their faces, but in their hearts they scoffed at his warnings.  Our cache of dried meat, nuts, pemmican is more than we should need.

     I am not a man who understands the spirits.  My head, my heart yearn for what I can touch and feel, see and hear.  I am a man of the forests, the plains, and the mountains.  My feet follow trails, old and new, and wander where there are no trails.  I contemplate the movements of the deer, the wolf, the buffalo, the eagle, and use my knowledge of their ways in the hunt.  I am no warrior, no chief, no wise spirit-leader.  I am a simple man with simple desires and needs.  And I am a hunter.  I provide meat for my people.

     Today I chose the path of the few creatures I believed would be foraging for food.  I took the path alone.  My brothers remained behind by warm fires with their families, shrugging off the words of our spirit-leader.  But I chose to heed his words even if I did not understand why the spirits spoke as they did.  The game trail I followed showed sign of fresh tracks, so I chose a different direction through a rocky gorge to where my intuition told me would be meat.  But my feet, which never before failed me, slipped on a patch of ice and I tumbled onto the boulders below.

     How long I have lain here I do not know.  With snow coming, my people will not venture far from the warmth of the fireside.  I cannot expect them to find me, to save my life.  I would die anyway.  This is better, for I will die knowing their memory of me will be of my strength, my hunting skill, my peaceful nature.  No sadness fills my heart.  Death is a reflection of life, a vague image of new trails, as that of a young child gazing into a pool of rippling water.  These words
of our spirit-leader come to me now.

     Soon the snow will fill this crack in the rock.  I will freeze as the night’s cold fingers of ice steal my body’s warmth.  This will be my grave.  Maybe my people will discover my dead remains next spring.  None will come this way before then.  But it is more likely the wolves will find my frozen flesh before winter has passed.  By morning everyone in my village will know I have not returned.  They will hope I still live, as they glance at the path I took alone.  But by the next nightfall they will sing of my disappearance.  How long will they remember me?  Will my
name be spoken in the tales to be told in the years to come?

     Suddenly, my thoughts turn to my woman and yearning fills my heart.  I think of the sway of her hips as she walks a deserted lake shore, unashamed of her naked figure, a smile upon her face, desire in her eyes.  I remember the warmth and affection of her embrace as we lay
in the darkness together, sharing, mingling the fires burning within our souls.  By the light of the full moon, we walked together, speaking in whispers, delighting in the secrets of the night.

     My woman is a witch woman and other men are suspicious of her ways.  She chose me for her own and with her charms, her potions, she broke my will to resist her and together we plunged into passion’s welcoming flames.  Yet storm clouds often erupted between us and my
words of haste would bring tears to her eyes.  But then she would touch me and my soul would burn to cling to her again, losing myself in her embrace.

     Now a sudden sadness overcomes me as I realize she will never hear the words dawning within my heart.  The love we shared formed an invisible, enduring bond between us.  She is part of me and, as I approach death, I will take part of her with me.  Though we never
married, we are one flesh, one spirit, one heart.  Would she understand these words?  Would she accept this truth?  Or would she scoff at me, just as I often spoke foolishly of her love.  I regret the angry words we shared before I left upon this trail of hunger and death.  She urged
me to stay, but I would not listen.  Now she will never know—

     A savage snarl interrupts my musing, my head jerking to spy a wolf crouching above me, hot agony stabbing through my neck into my head.  As a muffled cry of pain escapes my lips, the hungry beast leaps for me; my eyes flinching shut at the sudden expectation to feel sharp teeth
tearing my throat.  Just as quickly a deep, loud voice booms from the sky, bouncing off the craggy sides of the gorge, and my eyes open to see the startled creature barely passing over me, into the rocks beyond.

     As the wolf disappears, I seek to recall the sound that has delivered me from a violent death.  Though I cannot identify the sound, the voice, it seems vaguely familiar. The more I contemplate its origin and meaning, the more bewildered I become.  Expecting the wolf to return, panic seizes my mind.  However, the beast is nowhere to be seen and the tension slowly ebbs from my
mind.  The wolf has vanished as if it never existed.  Was it a ghost, a thing of my imagination?  Or has madness overcome my thoughts?  No, the beast was real, I am sure of it.  But where did it go?

     Suddenly, I realize the Great Spirit has spoken, and feelings of peace and warmth are kindled within my heart.  My song of death has been spoken.  As the snow starts to fall, my head becomes light, and I seem to float into the cold air.  Death has come.  My spirit, freed from the
bonds of flesh, drifts upward into the gray sky and all at once my mind is overwhelmed by complete understanding.