An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
“Why did you kill my grandfather?” I asked.
The atsata root tea had made Pok drowsy and he lay on his back without moving, his fidgety nature finally subdued. But the tea would make him talk and tell the truth. He couldn’t resist the root.
“Because he represented something we couldn’t tolerate. He proved that logic and observation ruled the world while we were saying it was the spirits led by Masaw that makes everything happen.” He spoke with inflection, but not passion. His eyes were closed and his face relaxed as if he were sleeping.
“His astronomy threatened you? Why didn’t that give you power? You could say Masaw ruled the stars.”
“Yes, but only if we could say it, not him. Too many people listened to him, and he never said that Masaw rules the sky. But he was never wrong, either. If he said there would be a blackout of the moon, there would be a blackout of the moon. People would look at us to see if we agreed, and we would have to say that Masaw would make it happen and that we knew it all along. You can see how weak that was for us. We were always playing catch-up to your grandfather. But then he made a mistake. He didn’t predict the new day star that faded. Suddenly, he was no longer the one to trust, and we had to prove the superior power of Masaw by eliminating the most influential man who attributed nothing to Masaw.”
“It had nothing to do with the fact that he was your wife’s father?” And your wife, I wanted to say, was my mother, who you killed. And then you threw me into the trash pile. Never had I wanted to kill a man more than Pok. And maybe I still would. But first, I wanted him to speak the truth, forced out of him by the atsata root tea.
“He was an arrogant man and his daughter, your mother, had his arrogance. They were smug as if only they knew what was right and what was wrong. As if the religion that kept us safe and made us prosperous is false, not worthy of them. Worse, every skywatcher to the north of the canyon followed Grandfather more than Masaw.”
“Who do you mean when you say ‘we’ and ‘us’?”
“Me and the High Priest and his council, except for that fortuneteller and the albino woman. I didn’t realize who they were until it was too late.”
“The High Priest could have squashed you like a centipede. Why didn’t he?”
“Ah, but he couldn’t. I was in charge of the warriors. Who would squash me? The Owl Men? His tattered corps of Plumed Serpent runners? Ha! No. There was nothing he could do to me.”
“So why didn’t you squash him?”
“Because you came along. I had a plan. The next time the High Priest missed predicting anything of significance in the sky, I was going to do to him what I did to your grandfather, and what I tried to do to you by tossing you into the trash pile when you were born.”
I clenched my teeth, then realized what I was doing and relaxed my jaw. “Then you would become both the High Priest and the Chief Warrior.”
“Of course. And no one could challenge me, ever.”
“Until I came back.”
“You ruined everything.”
I’d heard enough for now. I made sure his hands were still bound and he had no tools or weapons within reach, and then I stood over him, thinking how satisfying it would be to smash his face.
His eyes flickered open, then closed. “You hesitate and you lose. I was right when you were born. You are less than nothing.”
I smiled when I realized calm, rather than anger, flowed through me. I could hurt him far more by not hurting him at all. “Then you have been defeated by less than nothing,” I said.
“Not yet,” he said. He began to say more, but I walked out, through the long, dark passages and into the bright daylight where the people waited.