THE PATH Part 20

“Maker-of-Ghosts roams far,” Tobazhi had said, an hour before they came upon the monster in its lair. “And leaves bloody tracks everywhere he goes.”

Pa’haana did not reply. He felt no need to do so. They had followed the beast’s trail for one day and half of the next, and indeed it had been a path of carnage. Animals torn apart but not devoured. Maker-of-Ghost’s belly would still be full; it killed now for no other reason but the sake of killing. Even the trees had not been spared its wrath. The brute’s huge paws had snapped the trunks of young pines and maples, torn the bark from the larger, leaving them to bleed sap and wither as the insects got to them.

They had stopped before the remains of an elk, its bones picked almost clean by the carrion feeders. Jagged, broken ribs pointing at the sky, spine snapped, head twisted around in an awkward manner. The first swipe of the beast’s paw had crushed the elk’s skull, snapped off the lower jaw. Its great antlers, which in life would have reached from tip to tip farther than two men stood tall, must have offered no defense against the slayer. One had snapped off near the skull and lay broken in pieces on the ground, the other reared up in the empty air like a great arm, a hand reaching for Wakanti in a silent plea for mercy. The eyeless sockets stared at Pa’haana; the skull grinned at him.

You are next, boy. In Pa’haana’s mind, the elk spoke to him with the voice of T’cho. Your bones also will rot on the forest floor. Your flesh will taste sweet and good to Maker-of-Ghosts.

“The wind whispers to me,” Tobazhi said.

“So what does it say?” Pa’haana asked.

“Run,” Tobazhi answered.

The elk lay in a small clearing, in green grass that grew up to Pa’haana’s knees. All around them, the forest ringed them in. Here the trees were very old and grew tall. They had come to the deep woods, the realm of the great beasts. Brother Lion, Brother Bear, Brother Wolf. And Maker-of-Ghosts, the greatest of all.

“You should listen to the wind,” Pa’haana said. He leaned on his spear. “Go climb a tree and wait. Maybe after he has killed me, Maker-of-Ghosts will go away.”

“No,” Tobazhi said. “I will stay. I will help you find Maker-of-Ghosts.”

“And what will happen then?” Pa’haana asked. “Have you seen it in a dream?”

Tobazhi shook his head. “The dreams are inconclusive. Twice I have dreamt that we die, once that we live, and once that I live but you die.”

Pa’haana sneered. “Figures.” He stared off over the treetops. “I have thought of fleeing,” he said. “My chances for survival would be greater as an outcast than as a fool stalking Maker-of-Ghosts alone.”

“But I am with you,” Tobazhi said.

“I might as well be alone!” Pa’haana snapped. He sighed. “Yes, I have thought much about running away.”

“So why don’t you?” Tobazhi asked. “You have no wife or children among the True People, and your Aunt is very old.”

“Nor do I have any friends,” Pa’haana said. “Save for one fool, it seems, who is W’tah and yet fancies himself a great hunter.”

Tobazhi smiled. “So why not run away?”

“Maker-of-Ghosts would find me sooner or later,” Pa’haana said. “Or a lion, or a sickness. There are a thousand deaths for an outcast. If I am to die, I might as well get it over with.”

Categorized as darkness

By The Evil Cheezman

Purveyor of sacred truths and purloined letters; literary acrobat; spiritual godson of Edgar Allan Poe, P.T. Barnum, and Ed Wood; WAYNE MILLER is the head architect of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, serving up the finest in entertainment and edification for the stage, the page, and the twain screens, silver and computer. He is the axe-murderer who once met Andy Griffith.

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