Type of Short Story: Flash Fiction
There were only three left: Two Feathers, Hungry Bear, and Bending Tree. All other men had been chosen, had walked the path at dusk, had returned with a deeper look in their eyes. The wind that called had been silent for a full turn of the moon, and yet the three remained. Although they were fierce warriors, and brought back as much meat as their brothers, the tribe couldn't help but think of them as lesser. Not that anyone would ever speak of these thoughts, but neither did they need to.
Those that the wind had called could not speak of their journey. Their face tensed and their eyes narrowed when they thought back to it, but they could not give voice to the experience. It was as if the wind would not allow it. This, more than anything else, caused Bending Tree to suffer.
He never saw himself as a proud man. Always trusted in the spirits that guided his people, and was quick to read the signs and quicker to hold their truest meaning. His vigilance brought many gifts. He was the first to lay eyes on the white buffalo. The first to feel the great storm. The first to see the difference in Little Bluff, who was the first to be called. And yet, the wind did not call his name.
The three that remained took different paths in their seclusion. Two Feathers sought visions. Hungry Bear danced for the moon. Bending Tree did nothing. He believed any change in his actions would be a concession to the wind, an agreement on his state of lacking. Not that he saw himself as perfect, but his life was spent in service to his people. To concede to the wind was to say his service was for naught.
When the second turn of the moon passed, the three that remained began to forget the wind. It seemed those that were called did not profit from their journey. Their arrows did not fly truer, nor did their battle cry ring with more power. All that remained was the furrow on their brow when a breeze caressed their skin.
Sensing the coming chill, the tribe began preparations for the separation. Each family was to head to their ancestral respite and await the sun’s return. A great feast marked their last night together, and the fire was as large as it had ever been. As the fathers taught their children how to dance respect for the snow and the mothers sang of warm beds and hot meals, the wind crept in from the east.
At first, Bending Tree thought it was the storm, the same threat he felt before, but as the wind curled around him and reached up into his eyes, the thought of the storm and the image of the fire faded from his mind.
His feet pulled him forward and his arms stretched out in a greeting to the zenith. His head tilted back, and though his mind was void of reflection, he began to drink in the sky with breaths as deep as the earth itself. Their attention full on the feast, his exit from the camp was unseen by his brothers, nor was his absence noticed for the separation. Since Bending Tree had yet to choose a wife, there was no definite place for him to be.
The sharp bite of the cold air briefly pulled Bending Tree from his trance. At once he was consumed with joy and anger and relief and despair. He had finally been called, but only after he had fully given up. He could only see this as pity. The wind dove back into his eyes and his mind was once again washed clean.
The body of Bending Tree wandered into an open plain. The grass at his feet grew still, and remained so until the various sounds of life that normally pierced the night fell silent. The wind, which had gathered itself at Bending Tree’s feet shot up to the sky, and the empty frame it left behind crumbled to the ground.
When the tribe gathered back at the first sign of spring, a night of mourning was held for their missing brother, who they could only assume had succumbed to the winter chill. The wind had moved on to another tribe, and crept among its people. It had survived the winter, but another one always came.
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