The dancing rock fire cast a large shadow behind the man as he stood up and put another oak log on it. “The venom of the serpent shows us a great many things,” the man said. “Your medicine man, Hania, told you demons would visit you and not to fear. What many do not recognize is that the only demons and fear they meet are the ones they brought up the mountainwith them. They are already inside. Here,” the man pointed to his forehead, “and here.” His fingers rested over his heart. Reaching up into his golden headband, he pulled out one of his eagle feathers and twirled it in his fingers. He moved over and knelt down at Eddie’s side.
“You have faced your demon with bravery. You are worthy, and now you must decide.”
He rolled Eddie’s head upright and placed the feather across his forehead. “You must decide if you can exist with your demon, or if you cannot. Your demon will always be with you on the earth. If you decide, you may stay here with it and become a brave of the Apache.” The man clapped his hands hard and rubbed them together. He placed one hand over the feather on Eddie’s forehead and one hand over the serpent bite. His touch was hot, burning like a glowing iron over the bite, but the hand on his forehead over the feather was cool and calming. Eddie, still immobile, inhaled a sharp breath and screamed out.
“I met your father here many seasons ago,” the man said, “He carried great fear within him. In his vision, he foresaw his own death, but that his sacrifice would save a life. That sacrifice would come out of great fear. Not your fear, but his. I shared in his vision just as I have shared in yours. Even then, the coyote terrified your father. That was his demon. When the time came for him to choose, he stayed to live with his demon, comforted that he would face his fear to save a life—your life—even though he was destined lose his own. He resides with the Great Spirit now, and has great pride in you, young Sahale. Now rise.”
The man removed his hands from the bite and Eddie’s forehead. All of the emotion and pain from reliving his nightmare came rushing through Eddie’s body like a raging river. Though groggy and painfully difficult, he could move again, but only just. The man helped Eddie to his feet and steadied him. The room was still spinning faster than his head could keep up with.
“I have slowed the venom enough for you to decide. Should you choose to stay, take your rope and begin your descent. If you choose to leave, I will carry you to meet the Great Spirit. I await you outside, Sahale of the Apache peoples. Think on this and make your choice.”
The man leaned Eddie against the wall and walked out, leaving him to think about his decision. This was nothing like he thought it would be. Neither his grandfather nor Hania prepared him for anything that he just experienced. The weight of emotion at remembering the death of his father crushed him like an avalanche. Eddie fell to his knees and sobbed. He tried to bury his feelings of guilt and remorse over his father’s death. Grandfather told everyone it was an accident, but that wasn’t true at all. It wasn’t an accident that killed his father. Eddie never believed it, and he didn’t think anyone else did either. But was it? Was it truly an accident?
It was Eddie’s cowardice.
His fear killed his father.
The realization of this truth hit him hard. All this time, Eddie carried the guilt in his heart. It weighed him down like a stone tethered to his soul. He ached every time he saw his mother cry over the only photo they had of him. Grandfather would say his time with the Great Spirit was needed, and that is why he was gone. They both told Eddie it wasn’t his fault. He never believed them. But in facing his guilt, there was doubt. He accepted that maybe it was all an accident. Some terrible, awful accident. Now he must decide is he can live with his fear and guilt, or succumb to it.
Eddie couldn’t remember how long he sat there before finally gathering the strength to get up again. The venom,though diminished, continued coursing through him. It slowed his movements and clouded his vision. He wondered how long he would feel this way. When he emerged from the cave, the man with the golden head band stood at the edge of the overhang waiting for him. A cold white wind dusted up a light snow around them. The biting icy air made Eddie pull the buffalo hide tighter to his shoulders, but the shirtless man seemed unaffected by it. He staggered up face to face with the man. They stood there for several minutes before he spoke.
“Have you made your decision, Sahale?”
“I… I have.”
“And what have you chosen?” Eddie held open the buffalo hide and extended out his arms. In one hand, he held the coil of rope, and clutched tightly in the other was the eagle feather. The man looked down at his hands and spoke again. “You cannot hold both. Whichever you release decides your fate. Choose.”
Eddie looked down at his hands, first at the feather. “I hold the line; the line of strength that pulls me through the fear. My fear is that I am the cause of my father’s death.” He then looked at the rope. “I hold the line; the line of life that anchors me to the world I know and the people I love. Tell me, Yellow Eagle, if you were me, what would you choose?”
“I, like you, faced the same trials. My demons were many. I, like you, also came before the Great Spirit with a rope and feather in hand, asking the same question.” The wind and snow flurries danced around them. Flecks of white clung to Yellow Eagle’s dark hair. He reached up and placed his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I could not live with my demons and chose to go with the Great Spirit. Unlike you, I was not brave enough to make peace with them.”
Eddie smiled. “You speak as if you know already know what I have decided.”
Yellow Eagle smiled back. “I have always known what you would decide.” He extended his hand out. Eddie looked down at it and handed him back his feather. Yellow Eagle smiled wide. “Live well, Sahale, of the higher places, brave warrior of the Apache. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again.” He affixed the feather back in his headband and walked to the cliff’s edge, extending his hand in a farewell wave. Then, he turned and gracefully dove off the edge into the flurry of white. Eddie ran to the edge when suddenly a great Golden Eagle soared up past him, crying out to the wind and declaring that Sahale, brave of the Apache, was returning home.