The Raven Tells Coyote, “Run To The Mountain To Be a Man.”
TURQUOISE AND SILVERY as the dying sky, a rubbery lizard skittered across the ground to mount a rock still holding heat from the mid-day sun. From the rim of the Gila Mountains, copper light poured onto the desert glinting on creosote bushes, throwing long purple shadows lacey and cool. Cicada’s raspy reverberations rode on invisible heat-waves. Sand swirled and trickled along the ground. It smelled like rain. However, it was the deceiving scent of creosote bushes in their full heat-soaked flowering.
Naked, filthy, and blackened as dark as a raven, a child scampered on all fours for shade and the promise of water. His pulse raced. His chest tightened. Like an overwrought pup, he whimpered when no water was found. The skin on his hands and feet, blistered and scraped raw from the sand no longer plagued him as much as the flies that teemed and swarmed the scabbed over corners of his eyes and mouth.
Just then, a raven swooped down and landed beside him. Golden light flashed off its feathers. It strutted. It humped up and fluffed out. Fanning out its tail feathers it shook off the heat.
Squinting, the child angled away from the suspect bird. Not having the strength to run, the sweltered child cocked his head to the side. He turned his gummy-lidded eyes to the bird. In a strained voice, he spoke to it in a garble. Not Apache, something else.
“You said there was water here.”
Full of bluster, the raven twitched its head and blinked its beady black eyes and then it said, “Can you not smell the water, Shik’isn Ba’ ts’ose?”
The child sat back on his haunches. Closing his eyes, he drew hot air and the tricking smell of the creosote bush in through his nose.
“Trickster,” he huffed, and then he rubbed his cracked lips with the back of his hand.
“No more than you,” said the raven, bitingly. “But look there. I have brought you to food.” With that, the raven fluffed out its feathers, humped up again and then flew away with goading squawks and raucous laughter that echoed in the spicy air.
Reaching out, the child grabbed for a grasshopper perched on a sticky leaf. It snapped away. A leg broke off in his fingers. But then the doomed insect bounced off a yellow flower in its attempt to make for freedom, and the boy caught it. Crunching it, he chewed with his hand covering his mouth. And then he gorged on the crickets that gathered around the base of the bush.
Soon, the raven returned. The child’s stomach quivered.
“Remember my kindness to you,” said the raven. “Yonder come White Eyes flush with water.”
Having never seen White Eyes, he bared his teeth and raised his head and strained his vision. His thirst narrowed his throat and squeezed his chest. It heaved with each tortuous breath. He saw no one, a mirage—yellow-green—wavered in the low light. And then he heard the rattle of chains and the groan of a wagon and the blowing of struggling animals.
“It’s time for you to change into a boy, Shik’sin Ba’ts’ose,” said the raven.
The child held out a fat, red-eyed cicada pinched between his raw fingers. “I know you hoped to eat my eyes instead, but here.”
“I will have them soon enough.” Taking the whirring cicada in its beak and before the raven flew away, it said, “Never forget who you are, Shik’sin Ba’ts’ose, never forget…”