Standing-Doe squat motionless within the thick brush. The afternoon sun’s rays cascaded through the canopy over head. Bird song and the buzzing of cicadas filled the woods. To his left he could hear the rustling of some rodent. Sweat was trickling down his brow. Ahead he focused on a large buck rooting for food among the grasses. He had been at it all day. Following the instructions from his grandfather but growing frustrated at his failure.
He focused again. Filling his mind with the noises of life around him. Reaching out with his minds eye, he could see the buck ahead. Feeling its powerful muscles flex. He pushed out the mother bird feeding her children in the nest above him.
Slipping into his mind, he could sense the roots of the trees growing. Then the rush of a stream not far away pounded against his temples. The image of the buck slipped and the images of the forest rushed in to fill it’s place.
An exasperated sigh escaped the young boy as he let go of the images. They slipped away like water off the back of a duck. He opened his eyes and his world was tinged blue in the bright light.
He stomped out from his hiding place, sending the buck boudning deeper into the wood. Standing-Doe lifted his hand in reverence as it dissapeared behind a massive pine.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling, the boy turned and walked in the opposite direction. Starting deep within his chest the anxiety took hold. The air in his lungs became tight and his legs felt weak. He had failed again and didn’t know what his grandfather would say.
Rushing-Water was always hard to read. A stoic shaman. He would listen to Standing-Doe as he always did. Silent and unmoving. The boy could see the dissapointment in his grandfather’s eyes. Then he would only say, “Again,” and turn his back.
Before this last try, the shaman only waved the boy away. Distraught, Standing-Doe went out himself. Maybe this would be the time.
Lost in his own thoughts, Standing-Doe dropped down a small ravene, unaware of the black bear on the other bank. Its massive shoulders, thick with fur, shifted. Raising onto its hind legs, it towered over the unsuspecting boy.
Crossing over the small creek, the bears shadow fell over Standing-Doe. The boy raised his eyes to the towering beast before him. Weaponless, he halted in his tracks.
The black bear roared. Its yellowed teeth slick with saliva. Its pink tongue lolling over the side of its mouth.
Forgetting all of what his people had taught him in an instant, the boy turned and ran down the creek. His feet splashed the water as he ran with desperation along the river rocks.
Beneath his feet, he could feel the earth pounding from the tremendous weight of the bear giving chase. Its labored breath felt like it was on the back of his neck. Standing-Doe ran with all his might down the stream. Ahead he could make out the mouth feeding into the lake. He pressed on harder, his legs burning with exertion.
Reaching the lake, Standing-Doe leapt high into the air. He felt as though he were hovering above the clear water. Below him he could see a school of fish swimming. Standing-Doe focused on a single fish separated from the group. Closing his eyes, he focused on the clear image of the fish. Shutting out the bear behind him, his own heart racing, and the rest of the world around him he focused on his task. He felt the scales between his hands and the cool water washing over his body.
The vision took root. Solid and strong. Standing-Doe released the energy welled up inside of him and in that instant morphed from a boy flying through the air, to a fish hitting the water.
It was an incredible feeling. Never before had he been able to swim with such ease. His tail fin sliced through the water with hardly any resistance.
Underwater, a force slammed him from behind. The black bear had barreled into the lake. Standing-Doe spun around losing track of which direction he was heading. Disoriented, Standing-Doe pushed hard with his fins, hoping he was going the right way.
A massive paw swung through the water. The boy saw it coming. A clawed monster sweeping toward him. But he was unable to get out of the way. Struck by the paw, he was flung high out of the water. He spun in the open air, his gills sucking, unable to breath. The bear roared in triumph and stood up on its legs. He gave a snap of his jaws, missing Standing-Doe by inches.
Above, a hawk screeched.
Standing-Doe saw the bird, cleared his mind of the dangers he was in and felt the sun on his back and the fine feathers running across his face.
The fish’s scales burst into long feathers. Its gaping maw stretched and hardened into a razor sharp beak. Tiny fins elongated into a three foot wing span. Standing-Doe let out a shriek of his own above the bear. The beast roared in kind and swiped at the hovering bird.
The bird of prey dodged the strike, pumped its wings to fly over the bears face. With its talons open, the bird raked them across the bears eyes before ascending out of its reach. As the boy, now bird, flew away to safety he could make out the sounds of the bear thrashing in the water.
Flight. It was liberating. Standing-Doe soared above the world and let his triumph ring out with shrieks. His grandfather would be proud of him. Rushing-Water would now see him as a man worthy to become a Shaman.
The boy spent several hours reveling in his triumph before returning to his grandfather. Flying low and fast, he could see the hut before him. With ease he shifted back to his human form while still in flight, never breaking stride as he ran into the shaman’s home.
“Rushing-Water! I did it. I am a shaman! I did just as you instructed!” Standing-Doe beamed with pride.
The old man was hunched over his fire. Heavy furs were laid over him, making him appear larger than his actual size. His hair was long and hung over his face. “I am proud. And just like your father, you needed a bit of motivation.” Rushing-Water lifted his head to the boy, a fresh bandage soaked through with blood covered the old shaman’s left eye.
“But unlike him, you survived.”