The greatest of all American Gods was Crazy Horse, the great Lakota Chief.
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Crazy Horse is my hero, the greatest of all American Gods. I trust he will be your hero too.
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Shown below: The cover design of Crazy Horse's Vision, by Joseph Bruchac
by Judee Shipman
For those who wish to know why I wrote a book about the life of Crazy Horse, and how I found a photo of the man, I hereby embarrass myself on your behalf. The following story is literally true. Names have been changed to protect the people who wish to pretend they don't know me.
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September 19th, 2009:
“Did you know Jay Blem?” asked my friend Theo.
The question made me stop what I was doing. Phrasing it in the past tense had infused it with terrible news. My fingers lingered in the air above the keys. My eyes looked at the screen without seeing it.
“Don't tell me he died.” I stupidly suggested, as if a different set of words might alter the fact.
“Yesterday.” said Theo. “They posted a notice on the website. Says he sold chess books in Southern California. Says he was fifty-one... Friend of yours?”
“Oh! I'm sorry,” said Theo. “Did you know him very well?”
“Not too well,” I had to admit. “I used to see him at chess tournaments from time to time. I only spoke to him a few times in my whole life... but he was always a gentleman... and... “
My voice trailed off like smoke as a memory fragment took shape.
“And what?” Theo asked.
“And... I remember the last time I saw him,” I said, “at a tournament in L.A. We hung out in his hotel room on his lunch hour. I remember him telling me he had health issues. Like his dad, who died at forty-five. He told me he only had about five years to live, according to what the doctors had said. He made me promise not to tell. That was about five years ago. Maybe six…”
“He lived way down in the desert,” I continued, in response to the question I'd just asked myself about why I hadn't seen Jay in such a long time.
Jay Blem lived in Lucerne Valley. Jay was a pleasant, unassuming, socially awkward fellow. Quietly intelligent. Entirely trustworthy. Exceedingly helpful to others. Always a gentleman. How well I remembered the bittersweet honor of being trusted with so grave a secret by someone I did not know well. How plainly he had regarded me as a friend. But we had long ago fallen out of touch, and this was all I could remember about the last time I saw Jay.
Still, I had the impression that Jay was standing nearby. Just behind me, to my right. Standing by.
“Yeah, that's sad.” I lamely concluded. “Fifty-one is kinda young.”
Soon after, although not at all unhappy, I felt compelled to make inconvenient changes. For instance, I didn't hate my office job, and $2,100 in the bank was all I had. Of that, $1,500 would be needed to pay rent in a few days. I had a small monthly income from my websites, but still I was barely scraping by. Yet, I was sure I had to quit my job, move to a better apartment, and have my daughter switch to a better school in the middle of fifth grade.
I quit my job as Christmas was arriving. All the moving and school switching and holiday preparations kept me busy, not to mention broke. I had always wanted to make a living as a writer, so I scanned craigslist for writing jobs and to my complete surprise, I was soon getting regular, well paid gigs – Science fair project outlines for an educational website; Business listings for AOL; Self-help pieces for local magazines; Funny top ten lists for an online retailer. Life seemed to have improved for no reason.
I spent my down time reading, and became interested in the works of Jack London. I had been assigned to read Call of the Wild back in 3rd grade, but I couldn’t even get past the first few pages, as I cannot bear even the thought of any bad thing happening to a dog. Yet, his stories of the lepers in Hawaii were intriguing, and the story whose narrator is a “feeb” was poignant and hilarious. So I asked Theo to see what he could find by Jack London in bookstores.
But I soon came across the works for which Jack London is notorious – wicked, racist slurs against minorities, Native Americans especially. One stomach-turning tale described Alaskan natives as vile, filthy, lazy, physically repugnant, mentally challenged weaklings who lie, steal, beat their wives, and smell like rotting flesh.
Our nation's first professional writer further implied that all Indian men lust after white women (particularly), and that all Indian women are beyond flattered (or at least should be) when fancied by a white man.
I googled Jack London. Turns out he was a greedy, self-absorbed, White Supremacist dirt bag with a drinking problem. For some reason, having liked some of his stories left me feeling vaguely ashamed and mildly depressed.
Suddenly, and for the fifth time in two days, I was prodded by the notion that my blue ceramic kitchen tiles needed grout. I never get around to remodeling. I just think about doing it, then ignore it for three months, then think about doing it some more. But lately I had a strange sense of urgency. I kept getting these prodding sensations.
I'd be pondering a thought (like Jack London's racism, for instance), and I'd get this weird feeling like I was being urged, or prodded, to do something entirely unrelated (like grouting the kitchen counter tiles, for instance). It was a gentle-yet-persistent prodding that only abated when I followed its lead, whether or not I understood why. It struck me that there was someone nearby, offering these suggestions. It was the same prodding that caused me to quit my job and move to a new apartment. I didn't know what was causing it, but going along with it hadn't seemed to do me any harm so far. So I grouted the kitchen counter top.
It took most of a day to fill each space with the grainy white mixture, and most of another day to let it nearly dry so I could sand it. My arm ached after awhile, but I had to finish sanding before the grout went dry. It struck me that I was being prepared for something, sort of like The Karate Kid, who exhausted himself washing cars before advancing to some higher state of awareness.
I was breathless and my arm was getting numb as I sanded and sanded the perpendicular spaces between the tiles, hypnotically lost in the repetitive shushing sound the sandpaper made as my arm moved swiftly back and forth, to and fro.
A few minutes later, Theo walked in. He carried, as usual, an armload of books.
“How's it going?” Theo asked, with characteristic cheer.
“Fine,” I replied. “I'm sanding the grout with Jay... I mean, I'm sanding the grout.”
“With Jay?” Theo inquired with an eyebrow aloft.
“Yeah. I mean, it was like we were sanding the grout together. It's like he was admiring my work or something. I even... kind of... almost think I... might have heard his voice.”
“Okay,” said Theo in a condescending tone that I'm sure was unintended, like the gentle way you speak to someone standing on a ledge. “Was there something going on between the two of you?”
“No. I never got to know him very well. We used to run into each other now and then.”
“Hmm. I wonder why you think of him so much,” said Theo.
“I wonder the same thing myself,” I admitted. “We were just friends, but I think we both kinda knew we were fond of each other… and I remember the last time I saw him… I tried to invite myself to his house for a visit, but he wouldn't let me come over.”
“Why wouldn't he let you come over?” Theo asked.
“He said his house was trashed,” I explained, as another memory segment revealed itself. “I kept offering to come over and help him fix it up, but I think he was embarrassed by it. So maybe it's like we're doing that now. Fixing up this place together... you know, instead.”
At this point, Theo either lost interest or thought it best to change the subject. Just as well, since I was starting to feel ridiculous.
“Look!” Theo said, holding a pair of hardcover volumes aloft with a satisfied smile. “I got you two Jack London books.”
“Jack London makes me sick.”
“Oh!” said Theo. “What changed your mind?”
I told Theo of the sickening story I'd read. It ended with an Indian killing his own brother so he could follow the more righteous path of the Great White Man and his Great White Wife. My bone marrow froze like it does in frigid weather, but I was standing in my California kitchen on a mild, sunny day.
“Theo,” I said, “I'm a bit disturbed lately. I think I need to hear an Indian talking. You know, like an antidote to Jack London. Do you have any books by Indians?”
“I think I may have a copy of 'Black Elk Speaks'.” Theo said.
“Black Elk Speaks?” I repeated.
“Yes,” said Theo. “It's a well known classic of Native American literature.”
Black Elk... Speaks. I had never heard of it. But it sounded like an Indian... talking.
“Okay! I'll read that.” I announced.
It shames me now to admit that at the time, everything I knew about Native American history and Indian culture could be written on the back of a lady's pinky fingernail, bitten to the quick, with still enough room left to sign my name. I cringe at the totality of my ignorance.
Soon I held a copy of Black Elk Speaks, bookmarked with a self-made promise to read it sometime. But I had to work on my paid writing gigs first. It was midday and I was alone, relishing the unbroken quite time. I sat at my desk and began dreaming up science fair project ideas, along with fun titles to go with them:
Stopless Dancer (Build a perpetual motion machine, then explain why it doesn't work).
Know Your Asians (Can nationality be determined by facial features?).
Cockroaches, Termites, My Sister, and Other Pests (A study of creatures that bug us). …
For the first time, I was consciously aware of Jay near me. It's the feeling you get on realizing that a dear friend has entered the room. I'd had impressions like these before, as many people do. At least, I hope they do.
For some weeks after Abby was born, I sensed my grandmother just behind my right shoulder going, “Well! Isn't she just darling!!!,” in the pinched, high strung effusiveness that marked my grandmother's voice. But I was raised by the type of conservative academics who dismiss such incidents as mere illusions, and who think there is something bloody well wrong with you for having them.
These “illusions” (or whatever it pleases you to call them) are usually fleeting, but Jay had persisted in my peripheral vision for weeks, no matter what else I was doing.
“Jay???” I said again, this time aloud.
Again I could have sworn I heard his voice, faint and distant, like the voice of a man standing twenty feet downwind and facing the other way. Visually, he was leaning toward me with a rush of excited energy, and a smile that revealed faint dimples on a healthy complexion of some perfect Universal hue – sort of a backlit, pinkish-reddish-golden-yellow-bronze. I fancied it the color of blended humanity, as if all races were mixed like paint and applied to just one face.
His hair was silver, the hairline no longer receding. His chin was slightly cleft. He wore eyeglasses with thin wire rims, as he always had. His eyes were kind and serene. I noted the shape of his upturned nose, and a prominent lower lip some might call pouty. He wore a very short white beard that shimmered. In life, Jay was always clean shaven, but the short, shimmering beard he now wore looked good on him.
This image of Jay persisted for as long as I cared to look. If I turned my head, the image moved accordingly, so I could always only see it off to the side on my right. Just my imagination, perhaps.
But why was I seeing him so vividly? I'd only met him a few times, hadn't seen him in years, and never had a photo of him. Why, now, could I detect every feature on the face of Jay Blem, with the detailed, visual persistence of someone who is “real?”
Suddenly, a chest-heavy sadness overtook me and brought misty tears to my eyes.
“Oh, Jay, I am so sorry!” I said. “You were so young. I wish we'd had more time to hang out.”
I was sure I could feel his “arm” around my shoulder, conveying “All is well.”
We interacted, me and Jay, for a while. We engaged in conversations about what might have been, though I wasn't sure why. For instance, I had once asked him to take me for a ride on his motorbike. Now all of a sudden it seemed a shame we never did that. Me and Jay on a dry, windy ride through the exotic desert scenery of Southern California, with flowering cactuses and roadrunners and sand whizzing by and the jagged, purple-gray mountains approaching against the ever-changing colors of a warm evening sky.
How cool it would have been to do that.
A week later, I was certain Jay was with me on the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz. I was there with Abby and Theo. When I wandered off alone, Jay walked with me on the beach. I couldn't discern what exactly he said, but it seemed he was encouraging me. He seemed to think things were going well. I had no idea what things he was referring to, but I was glad he thought well of them. He seemed to think I should read more. For some reason, I hadn't the slightest doubt that his spirit was actually there.
Later, we savored sweet, crunchy candy apples and roasted corn on the cob. Just the four of us.
Wait. Four of us?
Noticing I'd bought four ears of corn instead of three, it occurred to me that I was dating a dead guy. I had to laugh.
I didn't know what to make of this, so I looked up Jay's name online and found an obituary posted by his sister Sheri on a chess website. I stared indecisively at Sheri's phone number on the screen. Five months had gone since Jay's passing. Oddly, I remembered Jay once telling me that his sister was nice and I'd like her. But Sheri was a stranger to me.
“Am I to call your sister?”
I decided it couldn't hurt to call Sheri, just to offer my condolences, and maybe a few fond words about Jay. I got her on the phone and I was getting all teary again telling her what a nice kind man her brother was, when Jay interrupted.
“Is,” said Jay. “Not was. Is”
… and I told her how I adored his understated humor and his unassuming personal style.
“Did you guys have something going on?” Sheri asked with palpable surprise.
“No,” I said. “We were just friends. I just wanted to say what a sweet, dear, and decent man he was.”
“Is,” said Jay.
“Is,” I obediently repeated, as a tear slid down the right side of my face. “Jay was – I mean, is - a very nice man.”
“Oh, how sweet!” said this fine, likable lady. “You know, he was my little brother, just a year younger than me. He was so dear to me. I always felt so protective of him. I loved him with all my heart. I was always inviting him over to my house, but Jay was such a loner. I could never seem to pin him down for a visit.”
“Me neither,” I offered weakly to the bereaved, adoring sister of a man I hardly knew.
I mentioned whatever I remembered about Jay. But it didn't take long to detail all my interactions with him through the years. There just wasn't very much to say about our earthly acquaintance.
“Well, thanks for calling, Judee,” Sheri said. “It's been very nice talking to you.”
“Wait,” came the word from my lips, uninvited.
“For what?” Sheri asked.
“There is... one more thing,” I said.
I was reminded of Lieutenant Columbo on TV back in the seventies. Near the end of each episode, Columbo would turn back around as he was leaving and say, “Oh, one more thing, Mr. Pennington.” Somehow, that one more thing always made the killer confess.
“Tell me,” said Sheri.
“I don't know how,” I replied.
“How to what?” asked Sheri.
“How to tell you,” I replied.
“Tell me what?” asked Sheri
“Well... I don't want to say anything to upset you.”
“Why would you upset me?”
“Well... I don't know if you believe... or how it might affect you if... The real reason I called....”
“What is the real reason you called?”
“Sheri,” I began, “I do not abuse hard substances and I am not mentally unstable. I am also not religious. And I don't make up stories. I can provide character references if you like.”
“Did you see his ghost or something?” Sheri asked.
Bingo! We had a winner. I was so grateful when Sheri said it first.
“YES!!!” I heave-hoed with gigantic relief, but then went back to being tongue tied again, because I have no idea what comes after yes, I've seen your brother's ghost.
I explained the situation as briefly as possible. Sheri kindly told me she was open-minded about such things.
“Sheri,” I said, “It's not that I mind, but why is he here? Wouldn't he have better things to do?”
“Yes, I imagine he would,” she agreed.
“He's just... so very patient,” I explained. “Waiting for me to... um… Waiting for me... to... “
“Waiting for you to WHAT?” Sheri urged.
“I don't know,” I admitted. “I can't finish the sentence.”
“Well, keep listening until he lets you know,” she said. “You said you spent an hour in his room. You must have talked about something besides him dying and you guys not dating.”
Sheri had an excellent point. I hadn't thought of it that way.
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Later I was back at the keyboard, outlining more science fair project ideas:
Eyes That Follow (Experiments in holography).
Make a Wish (How many spots does a ladybug have?).
Here's Looking at You (Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched? Can anyone really tell?).
But I was distracted by a persistent prodding to look up Jay's house on Google Earth. So I double-clicked the icon on my desktop. The blue-green ball spun forth as I typed Jay's address in the search bar.
The view orbited the earth a bit, then swooped down like an eagle on Lucerne Valley, and paused roughly fifty feet above Jay's house. About five seconds later, the view plummeted to near ground level, veered sharply to the right, and landed with a soft bounce right in the middle of the street. Suddenly, the view accelerated forward super fast down the exact center of Old Woman Springs Road.
On raced the view through the desert. Jagged, purple-gray mountains made their slow approach. A panoramic violet sky yawned overhead. Sands flew by on both sides of the road. It was just like the view from a motorcycle. I looked down at my hands. They were not touching the keyboard. When I looked back at the screen, the view reached the base of a mountain and slowed to a gentle stop.
That was weird.
Next day, I was up in the attic smoking and sipping my coffee. Jay was still near, so I tried retracing our steps:
He had left an assistant in charge of the books.
I had walked him to his hotel room.
We sat across from each other at a table.
I made various suggestions about visiting, bike riding, remodeling.
My suggestions were met with a dismissive sigh.
Sadness filled the air.
I wished Jay didn't have such a negative attitude, not that I could blame him. I only wished he could enjoy the time he had left. But all he kept saying was “I haven't saved any money,” “I never had any kids,” “I haven't done anything important with my life,” and other verbal expressions of regret.
As I thought of that moment, a tingling ran across my neck and shoulders, left-to-right.
“You Are Here.” something said.
“Say it, Jay,” I lightly demanded.
Whooosh!, went the tingling again, right-to-left, as the memory of the moment engulfed me like a flame.
My chin dropped to my chest.
The cup fell from my hand.
Warm coffee bled its way across the plywood floor.
I felt like Helen Keller at the well!
The entire conversation had come back to me all at once, and this is just about exactly how it went:
“Judee, please stop asking! You can't come over. There's nothing I could ever do or be for you, or anyone. I really wish there were, but there isn't!”
In the dreary pause that followed, I wondered if Jay could give me what I had always wanted.
“Actually, Jay, there IS something you could do for me. It's something I've always wanted. If you could do this, it would be the best thing anyone has ever done for me. No gift could ever be greater. I could never want anything more.”
Jay's eyes flickered with something still wanting to live. Something resembling hope.
“What is it?” Jay asked, with genuine curiosity. “If it's anything I can do, I will, but don't get your hopes up.”
“Don't worry,” I assured him. “I won't. But okay. Here it is. If you should have to... go...”
“You mean… die?”
“Yes. If you should have to... do… that...” (At the time, I couldn't say 'die') “I want you to reach me and prove you still exist. If you're still here, then so is everyone else. If something is true, there must be some way of knowing it. But it wouldn't be enough to just show yourself to me, because that might be just my imagination. You'd have to help me find something lost, some special treasure, something I couldn't have known about. Something I could show people and say, Look! Here's the proof! ”
“Oh! I see what you're saying!” said Jay, nodding with the satisfaction a fresh idea can bring to an open mind. “Yes. If I can, I will. Not that I'm in any hurry to honor your request.”
“Oh, Jay! Do you PROMISE?” I pleaded, like a wide-eyed little girl whose daddy might someday build her a castle.
“Yes,” said Jay. “I do promise. Maybe that's something we'll do together someday. But if you can’t want anything more after that, what exactly will you do with the rest of your life?”
That was a good question. I had to think on it a moment.
“Things that are important to other people, I guess,” was the only reply I could muster.
“Good answer,” said Jay.
Even as these words were exchanged, I was fairly convinced that no such thing could ever actually happen, which is probably why I had forgotten all about it. I was just glad to have lifted Jay's spirit, even if only for a little while. I had made that same request to some small number of people before, but Jay was the only one who ever took me seriously.
The memory now paid in full, my head and my heart pounded with the overwhelming sensation of something too good to be true, yet true!
I stood up in that attic and said out loud,
“JAY!!! Is THAT what you're... DOING???”
“YES!!” came his emphatic-yet-soundless reply. People behind him were cheering.
“Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you, Jay!!!” I said without words, but every single cell of my being screamed it from the rooftops. “I love you much! I will always be your friend! Meet me when I get there! Guide me through the New World!”
After that, Jay began receding from my vision, but never disappeared altogether.
I hadn't any proof, but I believed it really was Jay, just in case it really was Jay. I was not about to look the mother of all gift horses in the mouth!
Still, at some point I began to second-guess myself. I wondered if I might be “pulling a Marki.” It's a term I coined to describe the notion that my subconscious mind remembered the conversation all along, and the mystical experiences were just my brain's unique way of reminding me.
Like that Twilight Zone episode where a lady comes home from work to find an odd, staring little girl named Marki perched on the stairs just outside the door of her apartment. So she invites the girl in for a snack, because all creepy strangers on TV are immediately invited to come in, by all defenseless women who live alone.
Long story short, Marki is a figment of the lady’s imagination. Her appearance is the lady’s way of remembering that horrible night in her childhood when she witnessed the murder of both her parents. The killer tried to get her too, but the police broke in and saved her. The lady didn't at first remember that her nickname had been Marki at the time.
Whatever was the case, I needed to get back to my science fair ideas. The deadline was fast approaching. Yet, I couldn't seem to get myself started. They were prodding me again... to read Black Elk Speaks.
So I read Black Elk Speaks, and soon realized that my thoughts were not my own. Nicholas Black Elk had appeared in the corner of my right eye, surrounded by a group of men and women unknown to me. I supposed Nicholas Black Elk visits readers of his book.
“Thanks for stopping by,” I said in silence, respectfully acknowledging what I thought might be his presence.
The people were engaged in an animated discussion. Something about a reservation. Some kind of building. Maybe a church? Or a place of learning. They spoke of many wonderful gifts for the grandchildren. And the many good things people need. And the surprise! They discussed if or not I should bring it.
Who? Me? Bring what? Where?
I could neither hear them with my ears, nor see them with my eyes. It was more like a whole idea whose details are unnecessary. Like a TV on, with the sound turned off, seen from the corner of your eye.
Or imagine a beautiful movie in hi definition 3D, but without the screen, theater, or 3D glasses – just free flowing forms made of light, against a backdrop of velvety darkness.
Then they all paused and look in my direction.
“With all due respect, sir,” I thought to Nicholas Black Elk, “why are you telling ME this? I'm just a white lady from the west coast. I don't have enough money to matter to anyone. What gift would I bring? And where would I bring it? I don't even think I know any Indians.”
“Just go see.” said Mr. Black Elk.
“Go see what?” I inquired politely.
“Just go see,” Mr. Black Elk repeated.
“Go see what?” I repeated, too.
“Just go see,” he said again.
“But... where? How? With what money? What would I do? Who would I speak to? What will I say? Where do I sleep?”
“Just go see,” he replied once more.
Jay was standing near. So I googled the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where Nicholas Black Elk once lived, and found a number for the Wakpamni Bed & Breakfast in Batesland.
Above image credit: ilsapere.org
“Hello?” said the lady named Betty who answered the phone.
“Um... Hi,” said I, then paused as if expecting her to recognize my voice and say she'd been awaiting my call.
“Can I help you?” said Betty, after a moment.
“Um, uh, yes…,” I stammered. “I’d like to make a... um... an… um… appointment... to stay there,” I said, careful to voice the word “appointment,” as if the word “reservation” might offend someone.
“When will you be in town?” Betty asked.
“May is nice,” I dreamily responded, having no plan of action whatsoever.
“If you don't mind my asking, why are you coming here?” asked Betty.
“Would you believe I don't know?” came my eery reply.
“Yes,” said Betty.
Later, I canceled the plan because I couldn't really afford the trip. Still, I continued calling Betty at the Pine Ridge Reservation for more than a week, never really knowing what to say, but trying my best to explain.
“Maybe I'm just losing my mind,” I finally offered.
“Maybe you should meet Joe Whiting,” she said.
Meanwhile, the “talking” continued, with Nicholas Black Elk among them. I'd just finished reading a mesmerizing book by Nicholas Black Elk's grandson, Wallace. Now I really needed to get back to earning a living:
Aiming True (Design the Perfect Arrow)
Indian Winter (Do early snows foretell harsh winters?)
All That Glitters (Analyze the Properties of Gold)
Still, how nice it was to see Wallace now standing to his grandfather's left. His alert, intelligent eyes danced and sparkled like sunlight on crashing waves. I wondered who that third man was, standing in front of them.
There was something extraordinary about him! Something I could not define, but it made my heart leap skyward to behold him. I adored him without knowing why, or even who he was. I only knew that I adored him.
Clearly, he was leading them, yet they did all the talking. He was shorter than they were. In his left hand, he held an object resembling a staff, which appeared to be made of light. I think it was called a “finder,” but I don’t know what it was supposed to find. The beautiful man wore a long white robe, also made of light. His soft brown hair hung loosely below his shoulders. His face was a featureless blur.
“Who is it?” I whispered.
No answer came. Just reverent silence.
Behind them stood Jay, seemingly busting a gut in trying to contain his excitement. He was shifting his weight from foot to foot with both hands over his mouth. I had never seen Jay excited before.
The tension mounted with each passing moment. Finally, I put my pen down, turned slightly to my right, and addressed Mr. Nicholas Black Elk as follows:
“I am honored by your visit, Mr. Elk. You are a fine and decent man. If I had anything of value, I would gladly bring it over there myself, just for you! But what would I bring? And where would I bring it? And why would anyone over there want to hear from ME?”
“Look up Crazy Horse on ebay.”
He said it without words, but I could not have ascertained the words more precisely if you tattooed them onto my flesh and screamed them into my ear.
“Uh... I really should be getting back to work,” I offered.
“Look up Crazy Horse on ebay,” said Nicholas and Wallace Black Elk, together that time.
“Okay, this is getting silly,” I stated out loud, to snap myself back to reality. “I have work to do. Things to to write. A living to earn. Why would I look up Crazy Horse on-”
“LOOK. UP. CRAZY. HORSE. ON. EBAY.” said Nicholas, Wallace, and Jay in persistent, prodding unison, their soundless voices overruling the very words I spoke.
I supposed it couldn't hurt to look up Crazy Horse on ebay.
I typed “Crazy Horse” in the search bar. Many thousand results appeared. Advertisers use his name to sell everything from gadgets and apparel to liquor and porn. But somehow I quickly found a set of four original 19th-century photos. One was General Custer. Two were Indian men whose images were too faded or too underexposed to recognize. The last one had a name at the bottom - CRAZY HORSE.
I thought I remembered reading somewhere that no picture of this man was known to exist, and due to the poor quality of the digital image, his face was a featureless blur. All I could detect was a man of slight build with a distinctly downturned mouth. In his left hand, he held a gun.
Jay and the Black Elks surrounded me, along with that other, shorter man. It occurred to me then that the shorter man, the one I so adored, was none other than the Great Chief Crazy Horse!
The tightness of their presence was like a giant held breath.
No answer. Just deafening, reverent silence.
A disturbing feeling opened in my gut. Clearly, I recalled the recent chain of events. Hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I held my breath and clicked the Buy-It-Now button.
I spent the next five days with my heart in my throat, beside myself with paranoid apprehension. What have I done? Why did I do that? What if it isn't him? What if his features aren't visible? What if the seller doesn't send it? What if the photos get lost in the mail? How do I tell Theo I just spent nearly two thousand dollars on old photos and I now need to borrow rent money?
Several nights later, I found myself lying in bed, wondering if I might ever sleep again. Did he send it yet? Was it on the way? I wanted to call the seller, but what if that caused him to reexamine the photo and come to his senses?
Suddenly, I was blessed by a vision: A US mail truck speeding down a highway, carrying a cargo load of toilet paper rolls. Flying in the air above the truck was a long-haired, half naked man on a horse.
I took this to mean that if the spirit of Crazy Horse meant for me to have the photo, then the spirit of Crazy Horse would guide it to me safely. I fell asleep trying to figure out the toilet paper rolls.
Two days later I finally called the seller.
“Did you send my item yet? You know, the Custer photo? And those Indians... or whatever?”
“Sure did!” said the seller, “Should be there soon.”
“Great!” I replied, trying not to shout. “What kind of plastic cases are the photos in?”
“Didn't put 'em in plastic cases.”
“I mean, what kind of glass frames are the photos in?”
“Don't have any glass frames.”
“But...” (gulp) “Won't they get damaged?”
“Nah! They’ll be fine.” said the seller. “I wrapped 'em all up in a great big batch of toilet paper.”
That night, I thought of Nicholas Black Elk, and instantly he appeared, not as a man, but as a light. Two small lightning bolts – one red and one yellow. It was the brightest light I'd ever seen, yet it didn't hurt my eyes to see it. The bolts sped by in rapid alternation, like a double bobbin on a souped up sewing machine. I recognized this light as Nicholas Black Elk, as clearly as if it were a picture of the man.
Then I thought about Jay, and Jay appeared, not as a man, but as a light. Jay's light was a smooth white orb, tinted near the bottom in pale green, and ever so equally bright. Jay's light rotated slowly around, observing the cosmic landscape like a sentinel. I recognized this light as Jay, as clearly as if it were a picture of the man.
It occurred to me that each spirit has its own individual light, just as people are recognizable by the uniqueness of their faces. Then the notion struck me that spirit energy exists in four dimensions: form, color, brightness, and motion.
Then I snapped out of the trance.
Disappointment overtook me for a while. I wanted to see other people's lights.
above image: Stephen K, fineartamerica.com
One fine afternoon some days down the road, the package arrived. I held it on my lap for an hour before carefully tearing it open. Hidden within the folds of an unruly wad of toilet paper were four original antique photos. The first three I looked at. The fourth one, I saw.
My hand shook when I held it. I couldn't catch my breath. The muscles in my face relaxed involuntarily as tears spilled from my eyes like two large glasses of warm water, soaking to my knees the clothes I wore.
The card was badly damaged, but the image was completely unharmed - A wiry, light skinned, 19th-century Lakota man with eyes of laser-like intensity. A scar clearly visible on the left side of his face.
By this time I had examined practically every 19th century Lakota photo ever published. That’s how I knew this man was one not seen before. And the image I held in my quivering hand fit every reliable description of Crazy Horse ever given.
Later that evening, with wincing uncertainty, I called a phone number I now knew by heart. I don't remember what I told Betty at the B&B that time, but I'm sure it was incoherent.
American gods American gods American gods American gods American gods
American gods American gods American gods American gods American gods
I fancied it my civic duty to learn all I could about Crazy Horse, reading everything I could find that mentioned his name. His brave and selfless deeds filled me with empathy and awe. It became my deepest wish to try to be like him, try to follow his example, as short as I would ever fall in trying.
He still appears to me from time to time. I know when he is near. The sweetness of his presence makes me cry.
To honor this great man, I wrote what I hope is a truthful, accurate, detailed account of his life. It offers fresh, new, meticulously researched facts, some of them never before revealed, along with the only image of Crazy Horse known to exist.
This book is a work of creative nonfiction. In other words, all of the events in this story (including this introduction) are true, and the man in the photo really is Crazy Horse. But the dialogue and some of the small details had to be inferred, and so I did my best to make them plausible.
This book is my attempt to detail the life of an amazing man with physical talents to this day unmatched, and extraordinary spiritual wealth. He lived not far from where you live, and not too very long ago.
Since finding the image of Crazy Horse, I've made many journeys to the Pine Ridge Reservation. My first Lakota friends (who I could swear I met by accident) are directly descended from Spotted Elk, also known as Bigfoot, the man who died at Wounded Knee with most of his family and followers. Spotted Elk was a first blood cousin to Crazy Horse, which means, in the Lakota Way, that my friends are Crazy Horse's grandchildren.
But that is a whole other story.
This is the story of Crazy Horse.
above image: worldgathering.net
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 1
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 2
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 3
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 4
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 5
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 6
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 7
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 8
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 9
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Chapter 10
American Gods: Crazy Horse Appearing - Appendixes
above image: myhero.com
Here are some Classic Short Stories from the public domain:
Told in the Drooling Ward, by Jack London
The Ransom of Red Chief, by O. Henry
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
Go here for selected Moral Stories.
See this page for Aesop's Fables, other short stories, printable poems, and more.
Click this link to learn Why Reading Is Important.