An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
The boys hustled out of the village and climbed the short cliff to the broken ground above.
“We saw three sunning themselves up there, remember?” The oldest boy led them and did the talking. The middle boy nodded.
The smallest boy said, “I don’t remember anybody sunning themself.”
“You were sick then, I think,” said the oldest.
When they came to the rock with the black hole yawning beneath it, they slowed and stepped more carefully, except for the youngest, who skipped from rock to rock. “How are we going to catch it?” he asked.
“The priest said no blemishes,” said the middle boy. “What are ‘blemishes’?”
“It means we can’t pierce its skin or cut it or anything,” said the older boy.
“Why not?” asked the youngest.
“I don’t know,” said the oldest. “To keep its spirit from leaking out or something.”
The boys saw it at the same instant and froze. “Wow,” said the older boy. “That’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen.”
“It must be the grandfather,” said the middle boy.
“The great-grandfather,” said the youngest.
The snake turned its head as if it saw them and raised its rattle but didn’t make it buzz. The boys squatted and watched. After a while, the snake settled and lowered its tail.
“How do we get it?” whispered the youngest.
“Run up and grab its tail,” said the oldest.
The eyes of the youngest grew large. “I’m not doing that. It’s bigger than I am.”
“It’s bigger than all of us put together,” said the middle boy.
“We’ll wait until it crawls away and I’ll grab its tail,” said the oldest. The two younger boys looked at him as if they’d never truly seen him before.
After the day warmed, the snake slid off the big rock and began winding its way through smaller stones. The oldest boy surged ahead, wrapped both hands around the tail above the rattle and pulled. The thick snake coiled, its head anchored in the rocks, and pulled the boy forward. “Help!” he called. The middle boy came and pulled the older boy’s waist. Together, they straightened out the coil, the snake’s head still firmly among the rocks. The youngest boy jumped around behind them, waving his arms.
A stone broke loose and the boys fell back as the snake coiled its head back toward them.
“No!” yelled the youngest. He lunged forward and kicked the snake’s head just as it began a strike toward the oldest boy’s thigh. The boys scrabbled away on all fours, the oldest still holding the tail, and he dragged the snake behind him. The middle boy helped, and they ran toward the village, the body of the snake bouncing behind, its head coiling toward its tail but not able to reach the boys. The youngest ran behind flapping his arms, shouting, “We got it! We got it!”
When they ran into the village, women screamed and ran up ladders to the rooftops and the men formed a circle around the boys and laughed and shouted instructions. The snake had become more lethargic, but still tried to arrange itself into a tight coil. The younger boy danced around the head flapping his arms as if the snake had cast a bird spell on him. The boys continued to drag the snake in circles to prevent it from coiling back on them.
A man threw a stick near them and the younger boy got it behind the head and stood on it while the other two boys pulled it out as straight as they could. The snake’s muscles bulged and turned beneath its shiny skin.
While the boys huffed and puffed, the priest and village chief inspected the snake from head to tail.
“This is the biggest, most impressive rattling snake we have ever had,” said the priest. The chief wrapped twine around the snake’s jaws and other men helped the boys stuff it into a large clay pot with a lid.
That night around the fire, the boys told the story over and over, the men laughing and the women squealing at the appropriate places.
Then the priest stood and quieted everyone and called for the boys to stand before him. He smudged their foreheads with cedar ashes and in a solemn, chanting voice gave them new temporary names until they reached puberty:
Suqlanga, Snake Tail Puller, for the oldest.
Suqaya, Snake Helper, for the middle boy.
Suqtava, Snake Head Kicker, for the youngest.
Decades later when migration time had come, the three once again caught a big, unblemished snake, brought it back to the village, cut off its head, and arranged its still-writhing body on the floor of their childhood kiva. The entire village watching, they set the roof beams on fire, which were hard to ignite. They stood around the flames that night until the roof caved in after first light.
Then they turned and walked away without looking back.
# # #
Is the ending too abrupt? Note that many (perhaps most) Anasazi villages look like the people just suddenly walked away after burning their kivas. In one ruin near the Four Corners area, the skeleton of a rattlesnake appears to be ceremonially laid out on the floor of the kiva before the roof was burned. This incomplete snippet of a story is part of my grand attempt to grapple with what it looked and felt like to live in a society that migrated so much and, apparently, so easily.