I was looking for a place in which to refresh myself—the right place—when I came upon a tribe living deep in the woods. These people welcomed me; they fed me; they treated me with diffidence and respect. I quickly settled in. As the moon went from lean to full, I conversed with them, hunted and fished with them, and, in general, took all the pleasure life offered.
Then one day, while I sat by a stream watching the water twist shadow and light, a strange warrior emerged from the trees. He had a face composed of the worst parts of nightmares. His down-turned mouth signaled unhappiness and cruelty and his eyes glinted with cool silver malice. He walked with wide, swinging strides and his tall, large-boned body radiated dusky strength. He had the rhythm of an animal. People stood stone-quiet as he passed.
The stranger went right up to a young woman hanging fish on a line to dry. "Give me those fish," he told her.
Without hesitating, she picked the fish off the line and put them in a basket for him. When the warrior left, I approached the young woman.
"Why did you give that man those fish?" I asked. "You're going to need them for your family."
"Don't you know who that is?" she said. "That is the one we all fear. Every move he makes is evil. Every breath he breathes is evil. Every muscle in his body has evil in it. He is evil, evil, evil."
"What is his name?" I asked.
"We call him ‘The One With Bad Manners’," she said.
"I see now what I must do," I said, "I must kill The One With Bad Manners. Then I will be done. Then I can leave this world."
At this point, having enjoyed a successful series of adventures, I felt pretty good about myself. Then too, the tribe's reverence for me had boosted my confidence. I thought I could do anything. I was, you might say, "full of myself".
A young warrior named Dark Eyes approached me. Storm clouds weighed heavily upon his brow. "No one dares challenge The One With Bad Manners," he said, shaking his head.
"But I will," I told him.
"You do not understand—he has a grandmother even more evil than he is. She has made a guardian for him—a bear, and not just any ordinary bear either, but a bear so massive and powerful that it can switch the course of a river with a one swipe of its paw. A bear that can blow trees into splinters with its roar. I believe that bear could siphon all the salmon from the sea and build a mountain to the clouds with their bones. Don't mess with that bear, Raven, unless you want trouble. My brother, leave The One With Bad Manners alone."
Well, I thought to myself, as long as he doesn't invade my turf on a regular basis...but no, I have already made my statement; I have set the act in motion. Now I must do the deed.
"Sorry, but you can not deter me, my brother," I told Dark Eyes, "Just bring me an arrow and a bow."
* * * *
The days grew short and the shadows became cold as I hunted over the world for the evil warrior. I did not sleep nor eat for more days than I can remember. I had a purpose beyond myself and felt secure in my mission, in my obedience to a higher will.
Finally, fortune led me to a stream where The One With Bad Manners had knelt down to drink. I dropped to the bank across from him, stared into his cool silvery eyes, and said, "I have come to kill you and do away with all the evil in the world."
The One With Bad Manners just lifted his thick upper lip and sneered at me with his green and black teeth. Then he waved his hand over his head. A dark, massive shape moved among the trees behind him. Shank and shoulder muscle rolled under thickly-furred skin.
This black mountain of a bear paused at the edge of the wood. The beast was as quiet and as still as the breath of death in winter. I waited with the patience of a thousand dripping icicles.
Time stretched out long, then abruptly it contracted: the bear sprang from the trees, rearing up on his hind legs before me. He had the height and girth of an ancient redwood. Saliva poured off his chin and pattered down on my head and stung my eyes. A roar rumbled up from the canyon of his belly and issued forth with a wind that shook the trees and ripped bark off in strips. But I stood fast; my talons anchored me to the spot.
The bear stared down upon me, squincing up his small dumb black eyes, unable to comprehend my equanimity. Then a huge paw swooped down toward me in a long rushing arc. The curved claws glinted like ice in the sun. I took a breath. I pulled back the bowstring. The fat paw halted in mid-air. My arrow had struck the beast squarely in the chest. Those tiny stupid eyes froze in wonderment. Then the bear began folding down upon itself, collapsing inward. Skin flowed over skin in layers. Soon, the bear was no more than a puddle of black fur on the ground.
The One With Bad Manners stared at the pool of hair for a moment, then turned his sharp, silver malice back to me. In a single motion—displaying both delicacy and charm—I lifted my bow and split the distance between his eyebrows with my arrow. The silvery eyes widened with confusion and disbelief, then the evil light died back into the dark wells of his pupils and the mighty warrior flopped over like a felled tree.
As I left that scene, I strode through the forest with great assurance. I felt that I, I alone, commanded these woods. Within the grip of my talons, I held the entire earth.
According to destiny's design, my path led me straight to a cabin. I knew quite well who dwelt within. It had to be the mother. So I knocked on the door and yelled, "Come out, old woman! I have killed your son as well as his guardian bear and now I must kill you, because you created them, you created their evil."
"Oh, so you're Raven, huh?" the old woman croaked from behind her door, "Well, I won't come out. Not for you. Not unless I want to, and I don't."
"Give up, old woman," I said. "You are too evil to resist a good fight."
"You talk brave now," she said. "But if you took off your Raven mask and your Raven wings and that Raven skin and those Raven feet, you wouldn't be so sure of yourself anymore."
"You're talking crazy," I said. "I am what I am and I am Raven."
"If you took off your Raven mask and your Raven wings and skin and feet, you wouldn't be Raven anymore, you would be a man, just an ordinary man," she said. "And as a man, you would be helpless against me."
"Nothing can change what I am. I am Raven, not man."
"Take off your Raven mask, then you will see what you really are."
What could I say? What I could do? She had issued a threat and I had failed to answer it.
Well, just to shut the old hag up, I decided to attempt the impossible. I sat down on the ground, grabbed my beak and gently tugged. Lo and behold, a feathered helmet lifted from my head.
I then pulled the wings from my arms. Then I stood up and kicked off my Raven feet and let the Raven skin slip from my body. I now touched my human nose, felt my human chest and ran my tongue over my human teeth. This new circumstance was strange indeed, but I had no time to consider its implications.
"Okay, old woman," I said, "I am a man now. Come on out and defend yourself. I am ready to kill you."
I stepped back four paces.
The cabin shuddered with the force of the old woman's indignation. Suddenly, the door burst from its hinges and flew through the air. Piece by gigantic piece, the moldy wretch then exited the house. First came feet that resembled rough boulders. Then her bulging purple knees. The agitated tenacles of her crotch hair groped the air. Her pleated breasts drooped with sickening boredom. She had a face that matched the hacked and craggy features of a weather-eaten cliff. Smoke leaked from enlarged nostrils. Her enormous head blocked the clouds.
"Poor, poor Raven!" she cried with her wind-scratched voice. "When you had your Raven clothes, you had no fear. But now that you're a man all that has changed."
I then became aware of a weak, pink feeling down deep in my bowels. My insides felt all sloshy; my intestines had begun to swirl around—slowly at first, then gaining momentum—creating a vacuum that drew the functions of my brain down into a bottomless black pit. The earth shook beneath me as if preparing to burst asunder. A blaze of lightening cleaved the night and shaved away all pretense from my soul.
Dark clouds now massed around the old woman's body, blocking her from my view. Then another lightening ball ripped through and cleared the clouds away. Where the hag once had stood, I now found a monstrous tattooed snake, its long body standing erect. It had the sky balanced on its head.
In order to maintain my equilibrium, I had to claw deep down inside myself, flinging aside all chaos, until I reached a far dark corner. There I found a tiny speck of stillness. I clutched that minute sphere in my craw, then raised my bow and aimed my arrow.
But the arrow merely drifted through the air and dinged off the iron-plated skin without causing a fraction of harm.
The jaws of the beast now swung open and the plushy crimson maw began to descend over me. Its golden teeth were so sharp it hurt my eyes to look at them.
"See, I told you—you have no power without your Raven clothes," the old woman-snake hissed at me. "As a man you now know fear."
I wilted into my skin. My bones liquefied. I gave up my sight so I wouldn't have to face my humiliation. Then I dove down inside myself. But there in the darkness, I could sense another force,
an undeniable power, and this force leaked into me and became my will. Working against all my fearful objections, it made my limbs strong again; it made me open my eyes.
Again I stood before the snake. Though I still quavered with fear, I again lifted my bow, I again aimed my arrow. This time, the arrow leapt eagerly into the flaring red maw. This time, it slipped between two long fangs, entered the roof of the mouth, then exited, neatly, between the eyes.
With a "pop" and a whistle, the snake instantly deflated. The empty hide slapped the ground and soon faded to a rumpled shadow.
"Yes, old woman," I said to the shadow, "as a man I knew fear, but not until I knew this fear could I experience courage. Not until I—"
"Oh shut up," the old woman croaked.
And with that, her shadow disappeared into the earth.
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