Jnxatio, by Catfish McDaris
The grizzly stood and sniffed the air, catching the scent of human. Roaring from the thick brush where it had been foraging for berries, it tried to sink its claws into Coyotl. The bear was almost ready for winter hibernation or Coyotl wouldn’t have been fast enough to step inside the grasping bear’s reach and stab it repeatedly in the heart. His knife gleaming blood red in the sun was long and razor sharp, deflecting rib bone, fat, and muscle. He ensured that it was dead, and found two old bullet holes that could account for the hatred and lack of fear in the fierce bear. Coyotl sang over its body, praising its bravery.
Caw flew down as Coyotl began skinning the bear. The raven went in search of Black Knife and Dancing Fox. They accompanied it to the carcass of the bear, helping with the skinning and fletching. Wrapping the best cuts of meat for the tribe, they built a travois to drag behind their palominos. They watched out for their enemies, the Tlazolteot, who would sacrifice and eat them before considering the bear. They were called filth eaters and preferred human meat over animal. The Tlazolteot were said to be in league with the devil; they had traded their souls to become shaman and shape shifters.
Black Knife was Dancing Fox’s father, he was a powerful healer and he was teaching her about herbs. Dancing Fox’s skill was near surpassing her father’s. They had found Coyotl near death from full body wounds, but his head was the biggest problem. His memory of where he came from was a mystery. The elders in the village could not make sense from Coyotl’s mutterings while he was feverish. He spoke in many languages, Apcuitl, Navctl, Athabascol, and their enemy the Tlazolteot. His strength came back slowly over time, but he remained a mystery in many regards.
The maidens of the Apcuitl went out of their way to see or help Coyotl. He was a handsome man, strong, and quick with a smile or joke. The children loved him. Leaping Moon seemed the only warrior to distrust and not like him. People thought it was jealousy over how close Coyotl had become with Dancing Fox.
“The bear almost took your head off, Coyotl. Your wounds have not had time to heal; you are not ready to hunt.” Black Knife said. As they stopped to rest their horses, Dancing Fox gathered rose hips and mullein. Black Knife watched his daughter with approval.
“I can’t remain in camp forever. My memory may never return, but my strength has. The bear meat will feed the people for a week, its death was meant to happen.” Against this logic, there could be no argument.
Caw flew down from its scouting flight and perched on Coyotl’s shoulder. He seemed to speak to the bird and the bird chirped and bobbed in answer. “We mustn’t be caught out in the sandy flats. We will soon have company,” he warned.
Grabbing what he could of the meat, Coyotl cut loose the drag poles.
“There’s no time for that, let’s ride,” he exclaimed.
Riding down out of the hills of mesquite and sage, the horses picked their way through the rocks. Swirling clouds enveloped the edge of the desert, something was heading their way swiftly. Coyotl pushed Black Knife and Dancing Fox up the trail; he turned and drew a silver metal rod from his tunic. Dragging it along the ground it made a burning smell and the sand wiggled and writhed, coming alive with energy. They kept going at a tiring pace for the horses.
At least twenty Tlazolteot warriors were riding like there was no tomorrow. They were killing their horses; flecks of hot white foam soaked the poor beasts. As they hit the sand, it became alive, shadow demons and dusty monsters pulled horse and rider into early graves. The vegetation turned black and the sky into a fiery sheet of flickering hues. Hideous screams echoed through the land. Three men were all that remained of their raiding party. Enough to carry the tale back to their tribe of blood thirsty cannibals. Pig Tooth, leader of the Tlazolteot would never stop until Black Knife’s tribe the Apcuitl were wiped from the face of the earth. After he heard the story of the living quicksand, he would know he was not the only powerful magician.
Black Knife rode on ahead, leaving Coyotl and Dancing Fox as a rear guard. Knowing Coyotl would protect his daughter and his abilities were far beyond any warrior. They pulled together a brush shelter to diffuse their fire, after first caring for their horses. To be on foot in this hard country could be the difference between a long and short life. Dancing Fox put some bear meat on to cook while Coyotl gathered wood for the coming night. As the sun lowered in the sky the temperatures fell off swiftly. Dancing Fox was sore from riding a long distance at a break neck pace.
“Lie down and try to relax,” Coyotl told her after they had eaten.
Caw flew down with several owls to keep watch over the camp. Coyotl laid out several scraps of meat for all his feathered friends. He knew they would warn him of any unwanted guests. He slept sitting up facing away from the fire so it wouldn’t interfere with his night vision. Their remaining trip back to the tribe was uneventful. Black Knife’s tracks were visible on the trail. Tall green blue trees rose out of the valley mist. In the forest flowers and silence watched the butterflies dance upon the wind.
Juan Two Bears and Leaping Moon were having a heated argument about a war party. Leaping Moon wanted to gather the warriors and travel south across dangerous territory in hot pursuit of the Tlazolteot. His plan would leave the village unprotected and open to attack from other enemies. Juan Two Bears, Dancing Fox’s cousin, warned against rushing off without a council of the elders. There were some for war and some for peace; this seemed like a time for more rational thought, Black Knife and Coyotl agreed. Coyotl, not being of the tribe had no say, which Leaping Moon was quick to point out.
“Coyotl has fought along side the Apcuitl like a brother. I say we adopt him into our tribe,” Juan Two Bears said.
“We don’t know where he came from. He has the unknown powers of a shaman. He speaks the language of our enemy. I say he is a spy and we should kill him,” exclaimed Leaping Moon.
Several of Leaping Moon’s friends moved to surround Coyotl. Coyotl reached into his pouch and spread open a cloak. He wrapped himself, the cloak expanding as he did it. By the time he was covered he wasn’t there any longer. He had made himself invisible. Moving away from the camp, he had Caw watch the proceedings and report to him the outcome. He moved to a special hidden covacha cave only Dancing Fox knew about. Coyotl needed rest regardless of his powers, crawling into a bed of antelope skins he was soon sleeping without dreams.
As twilight approached, Dancing Fox was able to slip away from the tribe and make her way to the secret cave. She brought jerked elk mixed with berries and herbs. Caw had alerted Coyotl before she arrived. He felt better, rested and alert. Leaping Moon tried to sneak up the mountainside barely avoiding a trap Coyotl had put out. It wouldn’t have permanently injured anyone, but it would announce their presence. Caw flew from the cave, with a swarm of wasps to attack Leaping Moon. Dancing Fox watched in amazement as the warrior ran swatting and cursing. Her eyes gleamed with laughter as he disappeared.
“The only way for Juan Two Bears to prevail in council, is if I go away for a time,” Coyotl told her. She knew this was right, but it didn’t stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks. He captured a tear and held it to his lips.
“I will return for you and your people when the time is right, I promise,” he said. This didn’t make it any easier for Dancing Fox. She stared into his eyes and touched his face as if to memorize everything about him. Coyotl walked Dancing Fox back to the village of the Apcuitl. He knew it might be the last time he stood amongst these good people. He also knew Leaping Moon waited in ambush for him. Taking his cloak from his pouch he disappeared, rather than hurt the young warrior. Three owls screeched and brushed their claws over Leaping Moon causing him to almost void his bladder in shame.
Coyotl left his buckskin horse behind. He was still not sure of all of his powers, but his journey in search of his past, he sensed would not be easy. Climbing the steep cliffs behind the village in the dark cleared his head. Caw flew guard above watching for enemies. He climbed for hours before pulling brush over himself to block most of the wind, he fell asleep.
The autumn days were warm as the yellow sun crept above the surrounding mountains, the smell of winter was in the air. The alkali desert lay east and south and he believed he must travel in those directions. Even though he knew Pig Tooth and his son, Shadow Tloz would try and kill and eat him. Then they would come after the Apcuitl. Shadow Tloz was perhaps more cunning than his father and Coyotl felt that he was better acquainted with the black arts. He reached into his pouch and drew forth a fist sized crystal. Looking deep into the glowing gemstone he saw the Navctl and the Athabascol tribes on the hunt. They were life long friends of the Apcuitl. He must tell them of the coming war and enlist their aid. Mule deer and antelope were being smoked and seasoned with chiles and salt and pinon nuts over a mesquite and spruce fire. An elk was being roasted and the women were working on the skins. Coyotl could see this in his magic stone, as well as the enemy the Tlazolteot.
Their hideous faces were painted and they were dancing around a captured warrior of the Navctl. Shadow Tloz was preparing to cut out his heart to share with his father and to add to his stature as the evil shaman of the Tlazolteot. There was no time for Coyotl to save the brave Navctl warrior; the distance was too great for him to attempt a rescue. He bowed his head in prayer and put away his seeing stone. He vowed that he would never let magic control his life, even though he was unaware of all his powers. Everything still remained a mystery and an experiment. He must know what he was capable of before challenging Pig Tooth and Shadow Tloz.
Coyotl would never abandon his adopted people the Apcuitl. Dancing Fox was everything he wanted in a lady. At the moment he needed to know where he came from and why, and how he came so close to death. Who had attacked him? Was there anyone waiting for him? He didn’t fear death. Anyone could die, living was more difficult.
Shadow Tloz plunged his blade into the throat of his captive; blood squirted high covering his face and upper torso. He howled and banshee screamed, his voice reverberating off the walls of stone near their encampment. The warriors were weaving and staggering from fermented xtabentin. Pig Tooth sat back watching his son whip the warriors, deviously into a maddening frenzy. Tomorrow with sore heads they would take the war to the Apcuitl. They would then discover the powers of the new sorcerer. The one that had the power to make sand swallow seventeen of his finest men. Pig Tooth hoped to squeeze the blood from his still beating heart, while looking him in the eyes.
The Navctl was brave, but no man could endure the savagery of the Tlazolteot. Shadow Tloz stabbed and hacked the young captive. The heart and entrails were flung on a large crimson stained boulder encrusted with years of dried blood. The intestines and organs were cut into pieces and meted out to the dancing men. Penis and testicles were tossed to the women. They pretended to have sex with them, screaming in insane laughter. The head was kicked into the camp square where the now entirely naked tribe sucked out the eyeballs and brains, racing the swarms of flies before the squirming maggots took over. The sexual orgy was in wild abandonment, several of the men had sex with dogs and horses.
Pig Tooth and Shadow Tloz retired to their shelter taking the cleanest women for their bidding. At daybreak the warpath awaited. Shadow Tloz vowed that when it was over and they had finally conquered the Apcuitl for all time, he would overthrow his father. Pig Tooth was getting fat and juicy.
The night was a beautiful dream, the stars, pearl milky moon, wispy clouds, and fireflies swimming through oceans of darkness. The wind whispered and sang and snaked over the grasses into the valley below. Thunderbolts of annihilation shook Coyotl into the red fiendish grotesque maw of the lewd Tlazolteot. He felt himself being pulled into the gaping mouth of a hideous nightmare. It was a phantasmagoria of death everywhere. Only with extreme cunning would he be able to conquer the demon cannibals. In his mind’s eye he could see the Tlazolteot using magic and shape shifting into gigantic black gray timber wolves tearing and rending enemies beyond decimation. They had suet where their heart should be located.
Before the Tlazolteot could wait in ambush or take the attack to another tribe, Coyotl knew what he had to do. He sent Caw with many feathered friends aloft to scout for Pig Tooth and his men. Eagles and hawks soared high overhead riding the air, out of sight to the naked human eye.
Coyotl pointed his metal rod at a big odd shaped stone. A mist of fog rolled around and a man appeared. He walked toward him smiling with open arms. Coyotl felt like he knew him, but he wasn’t sure.
“What a reception,” scoffed the man. “I would expect something more cheerful from my own little brother.” He pulled Coyotl into a hug. Coyotl was taken aback and not entirely trusting. Too much magic and things he didn’t understand were happening to him at the moment.
“You say you are my brother? What is your name and where did you come from? No one lives inside a stone.”
“My name is Ingeniso. I am not sure of the extent of your injuries or if your memory will ever come back entirely. The people that cared for you have done a superb job and we owe them great thanks. I am sorry that I was not able to contact you sooner, but other business detained me. I do not live in the stone, but I could think of worse places. When the time is right I will tell you where we come from and what our mission is.” This was all said outright, but it still didn’t detract from the mysterious message lying underneath.
“I used the stone to travel, but that can be explained better with time. Now from what I can tell, you are about to become involved in a dangerous undertaking. I will not try to talk you out of it. You have always been rather headstrong.” Ingeniso said with a smile. “But first a quick bite to eat, before we begin.” He pulled out a handful of fire from the air and two pots. One contained, a liquid, that Coyotl was unfamiliar with, the other smelled like jackrabbit with sage.
“How did you find me?” Coyotl asked his brother as they ate, the drink had a strengthening effect.
“I’ve always known where you were. I have a seeing stone, like yours. I was on the other side of world and could not get to you until now. I knew you were in good hands and I could always protect you, even from afar. Our methods of travel can be quite fast. That’s something else you will learn in time.”
“Do we have any other people nearby?” asked Coyotl.
“Not at the moment,” Ingeniso explained mysteriously.
Coyotl didn’t much care for all the secrecy from his supposed brother. He could not accept at face value this man even was his brother. There was just too much happening at the moment, to throw in another variable.
Leaping Moon’s followers met at the stream under the cover of darkness. They refused to wait for Black Knife and the elder’s decision on seeking out the Tlazolteot. Since Coyotl had appeared, the tribe remained divided between peace and war. Even Juan Two Bears, one of the fiercest fighters and warriors had voted for peace.
Winter was also the enemy, driving them from the high country. Safety was to be had in the mountains. Their horses required grazing in the green valleys fed by melting snow. With Leaping Moon and almost half the warriors on the warpath, there would be fewer mouths to feed, but the hunters would have to make every shot count.
Juan Two Bears knew that Leaping Moon was making a huge mistake, dividing the fighting men of the tribe. There was always danger lurking and he’d never felt fear, but he felt responsible for the people he loved. Now was a time for peace. If war could be avoided, it should be at all costs. Deep in his heart he knew Coyotl would be watching over Leaping Moon and his men. Dancing Fox was smitten with this stranger and his uncle, Black Knife approved. Juan Two Bears had never known him to have bad judgment, especially about his daughter.
The Apcuitl left the mountains, joking and laughing on the trail. They felt like they were human turtles, their shells were their traveling homes. Dancing Fox kept a distant eye out for Coyotl. Her father watched her; an almost silent prayer escaped his whispering lips. Juan Two Bears was everywhere at once, working like four men. The sooner they were settled into their camp, the faster the hunters could get food ready for winter.
Ibex, mule deer, elk, bear, ducks, geese, rabbits and smaller animals made up most of their diet. A few buffalo were to be found on the plains and scouts and hunting parties were sent after them. Trout, catfish, gar, carp, and sturgeon were caught by a variety of methods. Small nets made with woven strips of willow, poles, spears, and the most fun way by hand. Flour was made with acorns, beaten cattail and yucca roots, mixed with rose hips and berries, this was made into bread and traveling food. Meat was hung from trees and smoked for days and salted and cured, when time allowed. Salt was traded for from tribes that lived near the land of the great salt water.
Black Knife gave the order to make camp in a place just large enough for the people and animals. Everyone was exhausted from the trail. The evening stars soon greeted the smoke of their campfires.
Suddenly scream after scream broke through the camp. The remaining warriors searched for attackers to no avail. Women and children were being strangled and decapitated by an invisible force. Death rode on a black whirlwind, sweeping up their heads and carrying them into the sky. Soon all the Apcuitl were silent. Hordes of rats and scavengers descended from the woods to feast on their blood and bones.
Pig Tooth smiled at this evil revenge. Until their enemies were decimated they would never rest. The Tlazolteot had an ambush waiting for the remaining warriors.
Leaping Moon never stood a chance against the powerful magic ambush set in place for him. Shadow Tloz had planned the extermination of all the Apcuitl. The first part of his plan had worked perfectly. Screaming bloody heads rained down on Leaping Moon and his warriors. The men recognized their wives’ and children and they became transfixed. Gleams of a million lights sprang from the eyes of the decapitated heads, blinding the warriors. Supernatural monstrous mountain lions roared and stripped the flesh from the confused men. They all died and were soon eaten, the lion’s stomachs growing tight as drums.
The head of Dancing Fox was deposited by a gust of wind at the feet of Coyotl. He knew he’d been distracted by the sorcerer, Shadow Tloz. The man wasn’t his brother or friend. He had nothing left, but revenge, but he must recover first. Coyotl took his true love’s head to give it a proper burial.
Shadow Tloz had no need for the deception of Ingeniso’s body, it melted and he stepped out of the smoldering pile of steaming smoking muck. Speaking in an evil sounding language of guttural glots, hicks, and humphs; known only by Pig Tooth and the devil minions they worshiped, he summoned the demon wrath. The stone he had deceivingly appeared from shot lightening bolts into Coyotl. The electricity seemed to feed and drain his energy. With his last remaining strength, Coyotl drew forth his magic rod; the earth vanished momentarily in a blinding explosion. He escaped with the remains of Dancing Fox.
Waking up in strange surroundings with an echoing noise he had never heard before. Coyotl felt bizarre. He was in a bowling alley in New Mexico with a head that looked like Sarah Palin’s in a bowling bag.
Catfish McDaris has been getting published widely for 20 years. He’s a journeyman bricklayer and retired postal worker. His best selling chapbook is Prying, with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. His 20th chapbook: Making Love To The Rain is now available. Catfish McDaris can also be found at CatfishGringoRiver.blogspot.com.
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Tags: catfish mcdaris, death, memories, relationships, revenge