Race for a Spirit

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Modern-day Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

I stood in a raw wind outside Arboles, Colorado, waiting for Sean O’Brien to come out of the trailer house parked close to a Navajo Hogan. I hadn’t seen him since high school and I didn’t know if I’d recognize him. Those particular six years change people a good deal.

But I knew him the moment he stepped out, followed by a girl. His black hair had grown long and tasseled in the wind, but the way he carried his body played a chord of recognition inside me. Id’ watched this boy run countless miles, talked to him for hours in places where he’d go to hide from people, become something like an uncle and a best friend to him. But then he and his parents disappeared. Angus O’Brien took a job in St. Louis, people said. I figured I’d never hear from him again, like I did with most of my students.

His call surprised me and we talked for an hour before we realized we were less than an hour’s drive from each other. So I went to him, following directions he relayed to me from the girl.

“Is she pregnant?” I’d asked.

He hesitated on the phone and I imagined him reluctant to say anything she would hear. “I’ll talk to you when you get here,” he said and hung up.

The whole drive there, following streams out of the high mountains that joined the San Juan River to run west into the Colorado, I thought about what kind of trouble he’d gotten into making a Navajo girl pregnant. Made sense, somehow, I thought. The boy had no more “O’Brien” in his blood than I had African in mine. He could pass for Navajo. Maybe that’s where his birth parents came from. Maybe that strange ceramic disk his birth mother they found taped to her swollen belly after she died somehow led him here.

I went to shake Sean’s hand as he approached, watching his eyes to see what I could make of his thoughts, but he blew past my outstretched hand and bear-hugged me, rocking me back against my truck door. I wrapped my arms around him. Though still wiry and shorter than most, he’d filled out and his shoulders felt solid and strong.

Sean backed up and seemed to realize he’d greeted me a little too enthusiastically. His eyes squinted and reminded me again of an Eskimo in a blinding snowfield.

“Coach,” he said. “This is Kira. Kira Bai.”

I’d no idea how to spell that last name, but I didn’t need to. She had classic Navajo cheeks and nose, black hair the same length as Sean’s, and straight legs, unlike the bowed legs I’d seen, especially among the Utes and the Hopi. I detected no thickening of her waist. If she’s pregnant, it’d just happened. I shook her hand and she smiled.

“I’ve got lots to tell you,” said Sean, inviting me into the trailer. Kira made instant coffee with sugar, which I drank reluctantly. At home, nothing but real coffee passed my lips.

The talk turned quickly to running. “You look good,” said Sean. “Have you been running?”

I had indeed. A lot, for an old man. Five or six miles up Fourmile Road five or six days a week, though my knees had begun to complain, especially on the downhills. “Not bad for a sixty-seven-year-old geezer, is it?” Then I asked about him, what he runs.

“Oh, I’m not training right at all. I just run because I have to here.” He lightly thumped his lower chest with his fist, a gesture I’d never seen from him before. I wondered where he’d learned it.

“And yet you came in eleventh in the Denver marathon? Is that what you said on the phone?”

Sean nodded.

“And he could have won it,” Kira said. “But he backed off.”

“Why?” He’d told me over the phone, but I wanted to see the answer in his face.

His Eskimo eyes and cheeks scrunched into misery. He opened his hands wide and spoke to the floor. “I got … I didn’t want people looking at … I didn’t want all that attention. It’s hard to explain.”

“And yet you asked me to help you win one. Why?”

He opened his mouth, but Kira answered for him. “Because he won’t have a spirit until he does.”

I looked from her to him. “You’ll have to explain that to me. I’m too much white guy or something.”

Kira looked at Sean, almost with pity I thought, then she looked back to me. “He has no identity. He’s not Sean O’Brien, you can tell that by looking at him. He needs an identity, a spirit force that will tell him who he is. If he doesn’t get that, he’ll just be a ghost.”

He looked at me with sad almond-shaped eyes. I knew he’d always suffered with his identity, a lost brown-skinned boy in a white world. But I wondered if he could truly get one from running a race. Depended on a lot of things, I knew. But I’d worked with him before. I didn’t feel it in me to deny him.

I drained my instant coffee and nodded. “Worth a try, I guess.” Sean smiled and looked at Kira, who seemed pleased with herself.

# # #

I wrote this before National Novel Writing Month began, so I should be about half-finished with the fast novel by now (I’m actually at about 60,000 words; I’ve been on fire). I welcome any thoughts you may have.


Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Chaco Canyon, Chimney Rock, NaNoWriMo, Pagosa Springs

18 responses to “Race for a Spirit

  1. Raymond

    I can really see and feel these characters and the setting. Sounds like a hero story. I wonder will he find his spirit from without or within?

  2. soesposito

    “Those particular six years change people a good deal.” Wow, that is about the truest thing I’ve heard. Love these characters already, the boy’s quest for his identity; the girlfriend who wants to help him so much that she talks for him; the coach who loves him enough to believe in anything just to give him some hope. I feel the depth of these people in just the short bit you’ve given us here, I know this story is going to rock.
    Write on, storyteller.

  3. Great story, and congrats on already finishing your NaNo! You paint your characters so well in so few strokes, and I definitely want to see where the rest of the book leads you and them.


  4. Jeff, There was so much about this story that drew me in. Everything that is not said makes it all the more compelling. I’m sure you flesh in out in the novel, but it works really well here, as it is. I loved how enthusiastic and affectionate Sean was to see his old coach. I fell in love with him a little bit at that point, and also saw the boy in him because of his actions.

    This line brought me to tears and made me root for Sean immediately.

    “He has no identity. He’s not Sean O’Brien, you can tell that by looking at him. He needs an identity, a spirit force that will tell him who he is.”

    That’s such a heart-breakinging theme. Without an identity there’s little chance for connection and Sean needs/wants connection.

    A couple of minor asides: Something is amiss in the sentence about the ceramic disk on his mother’s swollen belly. The sentence where the coach asks if she’s pregnant seems presumptuous.

    I can’t wait for the novel … does he do it? Does he do it???

    If you need a reader, consider me volunteered. Your writing is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it.

    What are you up to 200K words, or something like that?

    Olivia (Liv)

  5. Excellent characterization here. I enjoyed this and look forward to seeing more.

  6. I too want to read this novel when you finish it, please!
    I’m already attached to the boy and the coach – haven’t quite seen enough of Kira yet, but I suspect I will like her too

  7. Nice work on the characterization here, and the tone is spot on. This one has me interested in the primary work.

  8. I agree with Marisa, this was my favorite line of all:

    He is not Sean O’Brien. But if he doesn’t find an identity, he will always be a ghost.

    But the whole thing works very well. This should turn out to be one terrific novel.

  9. That’s a really nice read, but like Cascade Lily I’m not clear on the ‘ceramic disk’ sentence.

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  11. Yeah, I found the sentence confusing too, but I am definitely wanting more. The story sounds great!

    Congrats on your Nanowrimo too!

  12. Deanna Schrayer

    Jeff, I cannot wait until this book is published. I am so hooked, after only two little parts, parts that are little by no means. You have packed a whollup in here!
    I wondered about the same sentence Lily mentions.
    I hope you’ll post another installment next week!

  13. Really liked this, as I do all your stories!

    He is not Sean O’Brien. But if he doesn’t find an identity, he will always be a ghost.

    Loved that!

    Well done.

    And hey, applause to you for your NaNo!

    Well done, there, too!

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  15. I really liked it. It left me wanting more, as all of your stories do.
    I have one question and maybe it’s already addressed in the larger work, but why did he ask if she was pregnant on the phone? You explained the ramifications later, but not why he’d ask a question like that out of the blue.

  16. Will most definetly be reading your book when you finish.

  17. This is a universal theme in a post colonial world. And I think well handled. Leaves me wanting to know much more about his birth mother. Loved some of the visuals here – especially the trailer home and being rocked back against the truck door.

    I think there’s a syntax problem with this sentence: “Maybe that strange ceramic disk his birth mother they found taped to her swollen belly after she died somehow led him here.”

    This is a key sentence for this story – really leaves me wanting a lot more 🙂

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