Copyright Ken Brady. No reproduction without express permission from the author.
(Originally published in DAILY CABAL, 2008)
Just a few days into our walk out of Mississippi, the bok chitto still several more days away, we realized people were disappearing. At first, no one noticed anything amiss. We had been rushed from our homes in the night, buildings set alight and people shot in the street while they wailed and screamed. So many of us had already died that life itself seemed something of a dream. Stare Death in the face long enough he appears a faithful neighbor.
We Choctaw had little to go on but faith.
Barely seventeen at the time, and not strong enough to stand up against those who had taken our land, I had a mangled right eye to show for my trouble. Cowed, I hung back from my family as they plodded toward the river across which we were to relocate. A new home. Those who survived the ousting went quietly, many walking to their deaths.
Two neighboring families vanished along the trail. We thought they had stopped to rest, perhaps succumbed to fever or sadness. But then my cousin Jed’s screams told us of something darker. Something worse than the white men who had set us on this path.
Jedidiah was one who had gone quietly. As the torches lit his birth home afire, he had simply grabbed the little food he could carry and walked into the night, his family following. He hadn’t looked back.
In death, Jed did not go quietly.
The forest glade was old, thinned just enough to allow the rutted trail. As the sun faded from the sky, Jed might have simply disappeared. But his strangled cry pierced the silence, shattering through our inner pain, our private suffering. We saw him rise into the trees, hands clutched to his throat. His scream was silenced in a shower of blood.
Everyone stopped, too scared to react, yet I found myself walking to the spot, looking up for signs of Jed’s body, his attacker. Only a trail of blood across the branches.
Shilombish, my mother whispered. I nodded. But what sort of spirit was it? A spirit who demanded blood payment.
Had we angered the gods? Was this retribution for our complacency? As I pondered, the branch above me shifted, and I felt the shilombish draft past me, then stop, icy breath on my swollen eye. The pain melted away, my vision cleared, my senses awakened. I knew then that my minor injuries had not been in vain. I was saved by my refusal to yield to tyranny. Someday, I thought, there would be an opportunity to fight back, and reason enough.
No one spoke of the incident after.
Crossing the big river, I watched the spirit take others who had stood idly by into the depths. I said nothing.
When we reached the shores of our new Oklahoma home, the spirit of Mississippi followed, and we knew our people would never be alone.
When the time was right, we would awaken.