This comedic bit of flash fiction is better than a cup of java to give you a boost over this hump day!
Your mission: Tell us how the native youth Water Nose got his name & why he has such difficulty crawling through the tall grass.
The Quest West
Act I by Burton Voss
Act II by Kim Pattillo & Laurie Voss Barthlow
Act III by Roy Voss
Water Nose was courageous. No one denied it. It was just that the prairie gods hated him. They could stop him from becoming a man of The People if that’s what they chose. Who could fight them?
To become a man of The People, fledgling warriors had to count coup on a buffalo: creep up and touch it. The task was an undeniable display of bravery coupled with skill in stalking.
Water Nose was willing to kiss a buffalo if that’s what it took. He could picture himself swinging astride one and using it as a warhorse. The trouble was the odious prairie gods. Whenever Water Nose crawled through the grass, the hateful deities sent unseen spirit ants, spiders, and scorpions to bite and sting him. Red, itchy blotches appeared all over his body, his nose and eyes watered, and he sneezed.
Water Nose was scared. For the last three sleeps he had stayed in a prayer lodge fasting and honoring the prairie gods in hopes they would let him touch a buffalo without sending their plagues to torment him. Now it was time to call on old Woman Who Sees Tomorrow to find out if the gods had been appeased.
“No,” she said. “You will never crawl through their grass and touch a buffalo. You will bring shame to your father if you try and fail.”
“What can I do, then?”
“Go to the tall country of the setting sun. Maybe you’ll live. Some people there are friendly, some are not.”
“If I go before testing day it will look like I’m afraid.”
“But not of a buffalo.”
“No. Not of a buffalo.”
Four days before testing day when the sky was still speckled with campfires of The Old People Gone Before, old Woman Who Sees Tomorrow smiled at the hubbub growing in camp. Knowing what she’d see, she went out to look anyway.
A mid-sized buffalo, a fresh offering with only one skillfully placed arrow piercing its hide, rested outside the tepee of Water Nose’s father.
Water Nose could not be found.
It was pretty obvious to all, that Water Nose had taken off to find his buffalo. The people wished him well and continued on with their daily lives.
Meanwhile, Water Nose was looking high and low for a buffalo to count coup on. He traveled the Great Plains in search of the buffalo herds. They were nowhere to be found. He kept heading West.
Water Nose encountered many tribes along the way. He stayed with the Sioux for a period of time. Chief Kills In Water wanted him to marry his eldest daughter. He left in the middle of the night to avoid this entanglement.
His travels took him south to the land of the Dine’ or Navajo as they are called by the Anglos. He stayed with them for a time. He also encountered the Hopi who treated him as a god because he was left handed, a rarity among the tribes. He was adopted into the Kachina society and participated in their ceremonial dances as the Left Hand Kachina. He stayed among the Hopi and Navajo for several months. He finally decided to leave after determining that they too had not seen the buffalo in two generations.
Water Nose took off and headed west again. Here he encountered the Mohave. They were huge people and who were very superstitious and warlike. They thought he was cursed because he was left handed. He was held captive, tattooed and treated as a slave.
After escaping the Mohave, he continued on his path. He came to a great hole in the ground known to the people as the West End. It belonged to the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes. Again, he asked about the buffalo. No one had seen buffalo, but they had a very stubborn animal that they offered to let him count coup on called a burro.
“What a strange animal. Where did it come from, Mud-on-the-Face?” Water Nose wanted to know. It was like nothing he had ever seen.
The scarred Hualapai warrior answered. “Men with white faces brought them. At first, we thought these strange people were a two-headed creature with four legs, but it was that they rode an animal larger than this burro and with shorter ears. This creature they call horse. It could carry them all day and run very fast with a heavy load.”
Water Nose looked skeptical.
“There is more,” Mud-on-the Face said. “They have a stick that can shoot fire and kill at a great distance.”
“I may be from the plains, but I think I know when one pours sand in my broth.”
“It is real. You can see for yourself. Some remain in the south. Go there and you will see.”
Water Nose continued his quest but now more out of curiosity than a desire to count coup. After many days, he came to the land of the Pima. They were friendly and welcomed him. Their language was far different from any he had heard, and communication was difficult, but their sign language was similar to his. He quickly picked up enough to speak with them and ask them to take him to the people with the horses.
After more than a year, Water Nose returned to The People. A cry of panic ran through his village when he reined the chestnut gelding up on the hill above the camp. Women and children fled. The warriors formed a defensive line—bows and lances at the ready. Water Nose stood still as a statue. The horse finally pawed the ground, and the warriors cringed.
“I am Water Nose,” he shouted. “I come to claim my place as a man of The People.”
He watched as the warriors became uncertain and restless.
“Hear me,” he yelled. “I have great power. I can run faster than the buffalo and kill at a far distance. He let out a warrior’s whoop and spurred the gelding into a gallop. After twice around the camp, he reined to a halt in front of the chief.
“I have returned to The People to stay.”
“You are not a man. You cannot stay among us,” shouted Antelope Horn. “I brought meat to your father, our chief, when you could not. I am the warrior chief now. I say you go.”
“And I say that you still pee in your moccasins,” Water Nose countered.
The enraged Antelope Horn raised his bow and fired an arrow. It hit Water Nose in the chest. Center of mass. Heart and lungs like they all were taught. But the flint point shattered against the Spanish armor beneath Water Nose’s shirt and the arrow bounced harmlessly away. He raised his strange weapon and pulled the trigger. Fire, smoke, and shot belched out, and the buzzard that had perched on the limb of a cottonwood tree fell dead. Brave warriors dropped to the ground in fright.
“From this day on, I will be called Buzzard Killer,” Water Nose announced. “I know many ways of the white man now. I will teach you.”
The stretch body Cadillac Escalade pulled into the lot at the Baskin-Robins. Ed Water unbuckled his seat belt and turned around. He looked over the heads of his two wide-eyed grandsons still strapped into their booster seats and smiled at the packed parking lot across the street at the Lone Horse Casino where he was CEO.
Then he turned his smile to the boys. “And that, kids, is how I became the greatest war chief our tribe has ever known. Now, who wants ice cream?”
Kim Pattillo studied Native American Culture at NAU
Roy Voss is the author of Payback and many other novels and short stories and is also a regular contributor to Little Cab Press!