His function in the tribe for more than a decade had been only this: to provide them with the closest thing to a real shaman that they could find. He never even knew how he did it himself, but for some reason, every time that someone in the tribe fell sick, all that He Who Sleeps had to do was lay his hands on their belly, mutter a few words of prayer, burn some fragrant herbs in the air, wave them around a little bit, that kind of thing. Then whatever had befallen the individual, whether it be a case of food poisoning, a snakebite, or even worse, a case of the yellow fever for example, that person would be healed after their visit with He Who Sleeps. This is why he was famous across many tribes. The sleeper of days, and the last true healer of the modern age. He was a legend.
He Who Sleeps All Day
On his naming day they called him He Who Sleeps All Day, for he never wanted to wake up. He was in fact the laziest boy that the tribe had ever known. The People were never lazy. They worked hard, and fought valiantly; but not he. By the time he was going through the changes, and his voice was getting deeper, he had lost almost all of the respect that he had earned as a boy. For when he was young, although he had been lazy, he had also ran and hunted with the rest of the boys. He had wrestled and fought with the expected passion of youth. But no longer. Now he had begun smoking the mind altering herbs with the warriors and chasing the girls with them as well. He never worked, and he had no friends. Then one day, during his fifteenth summer, all of that changed.
He had been riding along on a hunt, just as an observer of course, having no skill with a bow. His father had been riding by his side, a man of forty five summers and a respected member of the tribal council. They had been ambushed by a tribe of Apaches, who were feared by the rest of the People. Most of the warriors had been killed. He and his father, a man named Stands With One Foot Funny, because of a previous injury, had managed to escape. They had hidden in a creek bed, underneath an otter’s damn. They had slapped their horses into a gallop back toward the village, in order to put the Apaches off of their trail. It had worked, but upon returning to the village, they had found their tepees burned and their women and children either raped, beaten, or missing. Stands’ wife and his young daughter, Sleeps’ only sibling, lay bleeding from their skulls in the dirt. Both of them were barely alive. She had been raped. She begged for her husband to take her life, rather than be forced to look at her in such a state of disgrace. Being a noble man, Stands had been ready to do this for her, but being a young man of heart over everything else, Sleeps rose into a screaming fit, declaring his father a murderer in front of the remaining survivors of the camp, if he were to do as she asked.
“How dare you speak to me like this! I brought you into this world, and you disgrace me. I hereby name you no longer my son.” Stands With One Foot said, and then he spit in his son’s face. As Sleeps stood there shaking with tears streaming down his face, he watched his father pull out his hatchet from his buckskin belt, and proceed to hack his mother’s face apart, with a kind of detached calm. It was at that point that Sleeps had developed both his new outlook on the world, and his unique ability.
Soon after the disaster, everyone had gone into hiding in the hills, to escape from future Apache threats. A few weeks after that, everyone in the tribe had come down with the yellow fever. That is, everyone except for Sleeps. He had sat idly by, traumatized and unfeeling after seeing his mother being killed, watching the twenty or so remaining people of the tribe as they passed into the spirit world one by one. Then when it came time to watch his father die, Sleeps chose to turn his back on him. He spent those hours crying to himself down by the river, fighting the urge to run back to the man who had been his closest friend for most of his life, and beg him not to die and leave him all alone. His hatred for what his father had done ultimately triumphed over his love for him. He fell asleep on the bank of the river. When he returned to the camp the next morning, he found his father lying lifeless on the floor of their makeshift tent.
The coals of the fire had burned down low, and Sleeps had almost forgotten about his eight winter old sister, She Who Walks With Beavers, who lay breathing softly, very sick, in a pile of furs in the corner of the tent. It was at that point that all of Sleeps’ suppressed sadness that had been building up inside of him since the day of the attack, came pouring forth, brought on by the sight of his sister, whom he felt like he had never fully appreciated until that moment, lying there about to die. He went to her and knelt over her, pressing his face against her stomach. His tears began to flow in violent, wrenching sobs, and he wondered idly if she was aware enough to sense that he was aching so badly for her. He cried himself to sleep with his head on her belly.
He was awakened by a sound which he thought he would never hear again, and he found himself wondering if he was indeed awake or still dreaming. It was the sound of his sister’s voice, as clear and beautiful as it had sounded the day before the attack. From that day on, although he was not to learn of his powers and speculate on their origins until far later, Sleeps did not once doubt that with the return to life of his beloved sister, he had been given a new lease on his own life, and that he would never again take that life for granted.
The odd thing was that while most people, under these types of circumstances, choose to live their lives to the fullest, working hard to ensure that their days are no longer a waste, Sleeps adopted another philosophy entirely.
“I no longer care.” He told Beaver as she stood beside him bathing in the river. She was still young, and not listening, but there was no one else to talk to, so he babbled on to her about his newfound freedom of spirit.
“I feel like a great weight has been lifted from me, sister. It is a blessing unlike anything I have ever felt … just to simply … not care!” He grinned and danced through the water, splashing her playfully with water from his cupped hands. The sun shone down gloriously on them that day, as they traveled together, surviving off the land until the day that they would become accepted into the first of many wandering tribes.
Sleeps grunted as he crawled out of his sleeping furs. He stepped through the door of his tepee into the afternoon sun and began walking towards the river to shit and wash his ass.
He had now been in the same tribe for over nine summers. His sister had taken a husband several years back, and had gone her separate way. Sleeps had developed quite a reputation in the tribe because of his abilities. People came to him from near and far, and traded nice things just to have him touch them and cure them. Redskins, whites, and even blacks. He earned a generous amount in trade, so he had all that he needed. His tepee was always in tip top shape, and he had all the sleeping furs he would ever need. His pipe was always packed, and he had many women who he shared his bed with.
Yet something was missing. He had many friends now, yet he was close to no one. That suited him quite well for he had no one to ask him of his past, but it also made him feel terribly alone. Somewhere deep in his heart, he suspected that the reason why he was not happy was because of the state of disconnect that he had been in since his father had died.
Just then he heard a rustle in the high grass, and his heart skipped a beat. He stopped to peer over the hilly rise just to the west of the river bank. He saw something flashing above the tall reeds, and he thought he heard voices. He began to feel adrenalin rushing through his veins. It had been long since he had been in any kind of danger. He crouched down low and listened.
“You sure he went this way?!” One of them yelled, in a language he did not understand.
“Yeah, dang’ it! I saw ’em just a second ‘go!” Another hollered. Their voices sounded odd. He realized they were whites, like the ones at the trading post. What were they doing here, and not in the village?
Just as it dawned on him that these men were here for him, Sleeps heard a splashing sound from behind him in the river. He turned suddenly and saw a white man staring straight at him. He had been trying to sneak up on him, and doing a terrible job of it. He carried a large white thing in his hands that looked like a collapsed tepee with many holes in it.
Sleeps instantly ran on instinct. He headed downriver, in the same direction as the running water. He knew the man in the river would be slow, so he looked to his left. He was not surprised to see the heads of two men ducking and bobbing as they ran after him along the top of the bank.
He had almost outrun them when he felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder. It felt as if one of the women from the village had stabbed him with one of the shiny silver weaving needles that they had purchased from the white men. He wondered what was happening. Then he began to feel light headed. The next second, he felt the sand of the river bank slip out from underneath his feet. He was barely aware of his body rolling down into the water of the river. Then he was unconscious.
It was inevitable that in that lawless age, Sleeps’ gift would be his undoing. The identity of the man who kidnapped him is unimportant. He was just another lost soul who had been unloved since childhood, and so in turn lacked the ability to love. What was important is how Sleeps chose to handle his situation. For it is not what befalls an individual that matters, but how they choose to react to it.
Although the time Sleeps All Day spent as a slave of the white man was in many ways traumatizing for him, it was also the greatest thing that ever happened to him. When he had awoken with his hands bound, and had subsequently felt the first blow to his face from the fists of one of the stinky white men, he had instantly learned what honor felt like.
These men were not like the People. They acted poorly, and treated each other almost as badly as they treated their women. They disrespected them. Instead of the women being in control of initiating intercourse, the men were. They also hit them, and they smoked pipes of something that smelled different than anything the People smoked.
Sleeps was tortured mercilessly in between healings. He knew without a doubt that the only reason he was kept alive was because of his ability. As his body became thinner, and his face more broken and scarred, his honor rose higher and higher. He enjoyed watching the scenery of the lands he visited and smelling the scents of the air when his nose was not broken to the point where he could not use it. He gained a deep appreciation of everything. He relished every bite of food he was given; every drop of water.
The looks in the eyes of the families whose children he healed broke his heart like they never had before. He realized over time that the whites were just like the People. There were good ones, and there were bad ones. He lost all care for his physical pains. They paled in comparison to how much he wished that he had not decided to take his life for granted so long ago. He remembered the look in his fathers eyes as he had spit on him, and then killed his mother. He realized one night, as he lay there in the darkness, that he had finally forgiven his father. The realization caused him to break down in remorseful sobs. He wished beyond life itself that he could somehow go back in time, and trade his life for the life of Stands With One Foot Funny.
That man had brought him into this world, and he deserved more than what Sleeps had given him. If only he had known then that he could have saved him. He could be here now. But Sleeps could not dwell on that, he knew. He had a greater obligation to the People. He was the life giver. The one who sleeps, and the one who heals. So he traveled, and he healed.
One day, about four or five years into Sleeps’ imprisonment, the man who had owned him was shot and killed by his son.
It was a cold night, and a storm was coming on. The two men had been arguing loudly in the front yard all evening. It was no surprise that Sleeps watched the younger man running frantically toward the road a second later. He was opening the gate. Then he turned around and looked straight at Sleeps where he sat chained to a tree. Sleeps’ heart began hammering out of control as the man left the gate and trudged toward him through the mud.
He stared, not knowing whether the reckless young man would murder him in his angst. To his overwhelming relief, Sleeps was helped to stand on his own, and then released from his bonds.
“I’m sorry for what my daddy done to you.” The haggard youth managed through choking sobs. Then he carried off his powerful yet bulky form in a series of strange, ominous lurches, toward his horse. Then he was gone.
Tonight blackberry bushes, tomorrow the world, thought Sleeps. He entered the house to retrieve what he needed quickly before anyone else arrived. After urinating in the porcelain toilet, something that felt very good for some strange reason, he went into the guest bedroom and stole some clothes. Then he went into the kitchen and grabbed a loaf of bread. He was eating mouthfuls of it as he hobbled down the muddy dirt road, in a pair of boots that miraculously had been his size.
He stumbled. He had to stop and tie the laces, and finish buckling his belt. Just as he was seeing to it, he heard the sound of horses coming from around the bend in the road up ahead. He dropped the bread and ran as fast as he could into trees on the side of the road. Looking back, he saw them enter the gate of his former residence. He kept running.
He was taking a break when he heard dogs. They had been set after him, he could feel it. He made it to a river. It was deadly cold, but he still managed to smear mud from the river bottom all over himself.
His eyes peeked out above the surface of the water, as the dogs swam to the other side without smelling him. A short while later, he took off running like a ghost through the hills. He was covered in mud, and he felt like an evil spirit come to life. He also felt very exhausted, because of his malnourished state. He eventually collapsed under some bushes and fell fast asleep.
Sleeps woke up shivering in the morning sunlight that slanted through the low hanging trees. Everything came back to him in a rush, as he stood up, spitting out the bugs that had crawled in between his lips while he slept, and brushing off the twigs and mud from his skin. He was covered in dried mud, but that was the least of his concerns. He was free for the first time in what felt like ages. He had escaped capture for the time being, but now he was here, a redskin in the heart of this white world. He instantly realized he needed to figure out a plan.
He had no idea where he was. The only things he recalled from his peeking through the slats in his wooden cage, were the same dirt roads, the same low hanging trees, the same heat in the summer, the same biting cold in the winter, and the same people: angry, hurtful whites and the depressingly demure black skinned workers, who he felt both sorry for and repulsed by at the same time. Yes, something was wrong with this particular part of the world. He missed the open prairies and good kind hearts of his home. He realized now that if he ever reached that place again, he would never take it for granted.
A deep, gnawing hunger twisted in his gut. He needed food. He walked back to the road, and then followed it from a distance in the direction of town. It was very nice to be in the forest. He wished that he could just enjoy himself. It was April, and it was cold, but the sunlight heated him through the trees, and the morning was bearable.
The first sign of the town was a wagon coming down the road. He hid behind a bush and watched it pass. Then he came upon the first house. Ahead in a clearing was a small orchard, and above the trees could be seen the shingled roof of the house. Everything was quiet, aside from the distant sound of the wagon that had passed on the road. There was no smoke rising from the chimney of the house. He cautiously made his way around toward the back door. He tried the doorknob. It turned.
Every moment was drawn out, and adrenalin filled his veins. He slowly opened the door, pausing at every squeak. Then he shut it behind him, to keep out the chirping of the birds and the cool morning breeze. He felt an intruder, and an imposter.
He tried to step quietly. He cursed the old wooden floorboards for their creaking as he made his way towards the kitchen. He heard nothing, and hoped desperately that no one was home. He saw the checkered flooring and the counters of the kitchen, and he smelled the life giving aroma of freshly baked bread. He was salivating as he walked into the kitchen, which was on the corner of the house and had large windows facing out onto the orchard.
He went to the breadbox, and slowly lifted the lid. His eyes widened as he saw several fresh loaves of bread inside. He grabbed the largest of them and lifted it to his mouth. He slowly bit into it. It was soft and perfectly textured. Whoever this man was, his wife or daughter or house slave was an incredible cook. He relished every morsel of the soft, filling, salty bread as his taste buds exploded with its flavor and his teeth delighted in the chewing of it, and his stomach relished the comfort of its sudden presence. He lost himself for just a few ecstatic moments of time.
Those few moments were all it took.
He Who Sleeps All Day heard a familiar click, and his hairs stood on end, and his heart started pounding. He jumped instinctively and almost choked on the bread. The loaf fell from his hands. He could feel the presence of the man standing behind him. He could see in his mind’s eye the long barrel of the shotgun that he held.
He relived his whole life in one beautiful moment of time. His whole body was shaking as he forced himself to turn around. He took in the man as he did so.
Nothing could have prepared him for the fear that he saw in the man’s eyes. A hundred things flashed through his mind in that moment. The longing to tell the man, who looked like a good hearted person, that he should not do this. That Sleeps was a good person too, that he was a healer, that he had never hurt anyone. But all that he could do was move his mouth wordlessly. It was the fear and kindness in the man’s eyes that made him feel that way. He knew in that instant, that regardless of whether he could find the right words to say to him, there was no changing what he saw there.
As the large, hard-working frame of the man, that looked as if it had been built over a lifetime of heavy labor, lunged forward toward Sleeps, all that he could do was forgive him for doing what he was about to do. Everything came clear to him then, as he was grabbed roughly by the throat, and carried sobbing into the orchard behind the house. People were not evil by nature, they were just afraid of what they did not understand. He forgave the bearded man then, as he stepped back five or six feet from Sleeps with nervous, heavy footsteps, and then held the gun firmly pointed at him.
Sleeps’ tears were ones of gratitude for the beauty of the world. The morning sunlight suddenly shone through a gap in the gently swaying leaves, and warmed his face and arms, and his chest through his shirt. He had enough time to enjoy that feeling, and the wonderful taste of the bread that he had eaten, and the warm tears that fell down his cheeks, and the lovely talking of the birds in the trees, and the wind as it blew through the branches, as he closed his eyes for the last time.