Long, long ago, before there were roads and cities in the great Sonora desert, before the time of the wild, wild west, before even the earliest European settler landed on Plymouth rock, there lived a medicine man and his son. The healer was one of prolific fame. His deeds and exploits were known all across the Navajo lands and beyond, and war chief and villager alike were quick to visit the learned man whenever they fell ill or injured. His son, a dashing young lad by the name of Ma'ii (Coyote in the Navajo tongue), was just as well known amongst the tribespeople. However, it was for different reasons, for the young apprentice was known across the land as the most prolific womanizer in the entire desert. While the warriors and the elders visited his father for healing, their wives and daughters visited Ma'ii for other more... pleasurable reasons. As much as the old medicine man's fame grew, so grew the infamy of his boy's exploits; the lad slept with literally every lady in the land and her mother, regardless if they were married or not, which brought the enmity of many powerful warriors and chiefs.
It pained the old man that his son would more often than not neglect his training as a healer to get in all sorts of trouble due to his relentless skirt chasing, so the medicine man set Ma'ii on a spiritual journey into the farthest reaches of the desert. This was so he could finally learn the ways of the shaman and use said enlightenment for the betterment of his life and the lives of other people who might need the assistance of a powerful healer. For four months, the boy was supposed to journey into the large sandstone cliffs of the desert in search for the juice of a mystic cactus, one that was said to open the mind and body to the spiritual plane and its influences. This would heighten the drinker's perception and awareness of the mysteries of life and death, a necessary skill for a proper Navajo healer.
Ma'ii, as it was expected, protested heavily. Unlike his wise and enlightened father, the boy didn't care about medicine, healing or the spirit world; he saw that the true and greater pleasures of life were lying right here on the mortal plane. The old man made clear that his journey wasn't optional, though, and that if he kept his lecherous and irresponsible ways for much longer he might not be able to protect him against the ire of the angry chief or warrior, who had at the past only stayed their arrows and spears from his young, pretty boy skin out of respect for the old medicine man. And so the lad departed into the great unknown, with only his weapons and his bravery, to face the trials and perils of the desert and emerge from the ordeal a new man.
For days he walked, angry at the unwanted burden of this journey that his father had laid upon him, thinking of all the sweet maidens of all the many villages he had visited, and how he missed their comforting laugh and their soft skin against his chest. Yet here, in this desolate piece of arid land, all he found was sand, rattlesnakes and tumbleweed, without a single hint of human life and habitation. He cursed his father for his ordeal, and the deeper he wandered into the long, windswept sands of the desert, the more he started to curse all the gods and spirits themselves for his accursed fate.
For months he strode through the desert, struggling every day to find food and drink, feeding on Horned Lizards and other disgusting little crawlers for sustenance and drinking the rancid water of stagnating, nearly dry creeks once his flask gone empty. More than once he fell to his knees and wished for death. He begged for deliverance of all of his pain and suffering when suddenly, after many days lost and alone, he finally found what he was looking for.
The cactus, at first, looked small and unremarkable but he recognized it nearly instantly as he gazed upon its singular pink flowers. This... this was just the peculiar plant his father had sent him on this living hell of a journey for. He wasted no time; Drawing out his bone knife he made an incision on the cactus's soft but surprisingly resistant flesh and drew from it the sacred liquid, the manna of the gods, the liquid his people called the "Divine Juice".
He made haste to swallow the green substance, and after a few minutes he was already able to feel its effects. His feet grew lighter and he felt as if he was floating thousands of kilometres up in the stratosphere. From up there, he saw his father's hut and the many villages that he visited in all his 25 years of life... It was just like the old man said, like he communed with the living essences of the earth, became one with all of the spirits of the land, and could see the world through a much wider frame.
The feeling of wonder was so great that he felt terrible to ever have doubted his old man, and from the top of his lungs he yelled, "Great spirits of the earth and of those who came before, I lend my ears to thee! Talk to me, show me your voice! For I am now your friend and confident, and we are all as one!"
Suddenly he felt a chill run down his spine and he suddenly saw himself drop all the way down from the sky and into the deep dark bottom of a cave, illuminated from above by the shining light of the gleaming full moon. Inside the cave, figures danced around and whirled, illuminated by the beams of light that shone through the open ceiling. Incorporeal entities all of them, spirits, and when they finally got around to speak with him they all erupted into hysterical cackles.
The boy was baffled by the mockery of the beings, and in his confusion, asked the entities what was the reason behind such accusatory laughter. "Great spirits!" he said. "Am I not one of you? Aren't we here as friends and associates? I've come a long way to have the privilege to talk to your holy presence, and yet, you mock me! Laugh at my words! And for what! Have I showed you anything but respect and utmost reverence?"
The spirits burst into laughter again, this time even harder than before, but now, they gave the young Ma'ii a response, as if to clarify the reason of their reactions. "You, one of us? How rich! A few days ago you cursed us for your miserable fate, mortal! You disrespected us and your elderly father, who wanted nothing but the best for us and you dare to call yourself our 'friend'? Our 'equal'? Hah! Not in a thousand lifetimes! You're a spoiled little boy who never knew a single day of hardship in his life until your father set you on this voyage! A reckless, lecherous, irresponsible, ungrateful little piece of worm-infested bobcat litter that only cares about himself and disregards all the needs of other people! How could we accept you as our shaman, our voice in the mortal realm and our link to those that live!? Be gone! You aren't worthy of even being in our presence!"
The spirits continued their humiliating cackle as the boy tried his best to reason with the entities, whom at this point barely had any care for what he had to say. "Great spirits! Hear me! I know the wrongness of my ways, and I apologize for any problems I might've caused for my father or anyone else that might've been hurt by my wrongdoings! Please, accept my sincere apologies and let me be one with you! O, spirits of the Earth, Wind and Sky! Haven't I proved myself worthy after all of this ordeal? Isn't there any way for me to earn your respect once again?"
It was as if he hadn't said a word, for the spirits simply continued to mock and deride him, taking immense pride on seeing his cockiness and pride shattered into pieces as they continued their otherworldly roasting of his ego. "Earn our respect again, mortal? Ha ha! You've never ever had our respect to begin with! For we, we are the eternal! We see all that was and everything that will be, and from the day you first drew your breath in the mortal world we knew you were a worthless, despicable, arrogant whelp! You caused nothing but pain to all of those you knew, for even your mother's life you took in your birth! It was your father's mistake sending one as unworthy as you to converse with us! For what he did, he did out of love, not of reason, and we all know that nearly all of mankind's foolish decisions come from this crazy little thing called love! Leave now, and let us be!"
Ma'ii felt all of his will sweep from his body as the powers that be laughed at his suffering and pain, and scorned any of his efforts of redemption. It was then that, suddenly, he heard a voice, but not a grave and celestial voice, like those emanating from the many spirits who whirled playfully around the moonlight. No... This was a soft, and inviting voice, the voice of a female, and he felt her words caress his ears as if every phrase was a passionate kiss. "Pay them no mind, my dear," said the female voice. "These spirits are old and bitter. They've spent way too many aeons drifting around the fade without a single distraction to relieve them of their everlasting boredom, and now, they found on you a convenient vessel for their petty frustrations. As for me... I'm different from them, and baby, I'm all ears."
The female voice was soothing, calming, and almost instantly brushed off all of Ma'ii's frustration from his face. It was almost as he could see the woman whom this voice belonged to. In his mind he imagined her as the most gorgeous lady a man could ever hope to behold, leagues ahead any chieftain's daughter or dancing festival maiden he ever knew, and right now, he felt like he had her undivided attention on him.
"Noble spirit..." he spoke, "I came to honour my father's wish and become a medicine man. I want to heal the sick and tend to the wounded, to take care of my people and all of those that might need my talents..."
The enticing female spirit laughed, yet her laugh was different from that of her fellow higher beings. It had no scorn on its tone and felt so warm and happy that Ma'ii suddenly realized he was laughing as well. "Tell me the truth, dear, is this all you want in your life?" whispered the spirit into his ear as he felt the warm draft of air enter his auditory tube and brush softly against his ear drum.
He opened his mouth to answer but suddenly felt a ghostly finger lay in his mouth. "Shush, dear..." said the spirit. "Wouldn't want this rabble to hear us speaking, right? C'mon, lay your head on the ground, wake up from your trance... Let the two of us speak... Privately..." Ma'ii felt two hands gently caress his upper body as they drew him closer to the unseen entity, and he gently closed his eyes as he felt his head rest upon the spirit's invisible lap.
You see, Ma'ii didn't pay much attention to his father's teachings, for if he did, he'd have known to decline the offer of that alluring voice, as, while there were noble and righteous spirits, there were also those whose favourite pastime is causing all sorts of mischief, and what our young apprentice ran into in the middle of that peyote-fueled trance was none other than the most dangerous of them.
He woke up later that night, as if only a few minutes had passed since he met the spirits on the cave during his dream session, something he, or everyone would've thought impossible. Looking at him from above, gently stroking his long, raven black hair was the most beautiful maiden that he had ever had the hope to see, even more beautiful than the woman he imagined during the dream. He rose from her lap to meet her seductive gaze, her eyes like two stones of amber gazing right into the fires of his soul.
Mesmerized by the gorgeous apparition in front of him, Ma'ii stuttered, "Wha... Wha... What's your name, m... Mmm... My lady?"
The lady ran her hands down his cheek and smiled. "Naatsedlózii." It was an odd name, as Naatsedlózii means "the Roadrunner bird" in the Navajo language, but again, he was called "Coyote", so who was he to argue on strange names.
Even though confused, and absolutely hexed by her beauty, Ma'ii regained some of his composure and found the courage within himself to ask, "Where... Where am I?" He looked at his surroundings for a very brief moment for he couldn't bear to take his eyes from this fabulous stranger.
"You called me," answered the woman, "so I brought you to my sacred grove."
He looked again at his surroundings and realized he was inside a deep grove of tall saguaro cacti, and sat with this otherworldly beautiful woman in the middle of a clearing adorned with offerings, carvings and symbols.
It was then that reality hit him right in the head. "You... you're a spirit?" he asked, to which she answered, again flaring at him an inviting smile. "They call me the granter of forbidden wishes, and the holder of forbidden knowledge. For many aeons, people of all sorts have come to my grove looking for whatever it is their heart desires, or whatever it is their minds strive to learn. Tell me, dear, what is it that you want most? What is it that you desire, deep, deep inside your heart?"
Ma'ii felt so entranced by the apparition that he almost said, "I only want you," but on an uncharacteristic bout of wisdom, restrained from saying that. He reminded himself that what lay in front of him was a spirit, not an actual woman, and the minds and thoughts of spirits are too alien for humans to even think about understanding.
"I want all the knowledge to be a healer, to be able to cure myself and everyone in need, to gather all the knowledge that was passed by the spirits to my father and use it for the greater good. Can you grant me that wish, my most venerable spirit?"
The lady lay her arms around his shoulders and smiled, edging her face closer and closer to his as if she were about to kiss him and said, "Darling, I could do even more than that. Should you wish, I could make it so no force, be it material or spiritual, could ever hurt you; I'd make you able to cure and cause any sort of disease, as well as bestow upon you the gift of eternal life, beauty and youth, so that you may have the pleasure of having all the women you meet falling right down at your feet. Would you want me to do that? I could do that and more."
He smiled as wide as his mouth would let him; after all that pain he would finally both accomplish the task set before him by his father, and earn the knowledge and the healing gifts of the spirit world. "More? What more?" he asked enthusiastically.
"You'll be able to change your form to that of your totem animal, and hear the voices of nature like the wild animals do, forever linked with the spirit world as an interloper and ambassador. Tell me, darling, do you want me to do this for you?"
He didn't even hesitate in answering. "Yes... Yes! My dear and noble spirit! I accept the gift of your knowledge and power! Let me be the champion that I, and everyone, wants me to be!" he exclaimed without hesitation.
The truth is, even though he tried his hardest to sound selfless, Ma'ii just wanted all that limitless power for himself. The idea of living forever to his fullest, courting every maiden he came across, was his one and foremost desire, and the mischievous spirit knew that all too well.
"Well..." asked the spirit, "if I am to bestow you this gift, then we have to become one, as you might've already have guessed."
The lad, a little confused, tried to ask what the mysterious being meant by that. "But how?" he asked. "Aren't we already one?"
The spirit engaged on joyful laughter and answered, "Not quite. You see, you already brought me into your world for conversation, but for us to truly be one, you must accept my power within you which, on our particular case means..." She giggled as she came closer and shared with him a passionate kiss, all the while wrapping her legs around his abdomen. "I think you'll enjoy this, yes?" She smiled as he showed no resistance to her advances, and soon enough they were already tangled in the heated embrace of loving coitus, beneath the gleam of the shining full moon.
All went in a blur after that night of mystery and torrid lovemaking, and Ma'ii woke up the next day, confused as he wondered if the events of last night were all but a dream or a figment of his imagination. He was promptly reminded otherwise as he found himself naked inside a clearing on a large grove of saguaro. He dressed himself and all of a sudden he realized he was no longer stricken by famine or thirst, and all of his wounds and scars had suddenly disappeared.
"Could it be?" he asked himself. A few seconds later he'd have the confirmation, for when he continued his way through the grove, he carelessly stepped on an angry rattlesnake, who was quick to strike back at his thigh. He gasped in awe as the venom dripped out of the bite and the wound magically healed itself; all the while he felt absolutely no pain. He was awestruck and promptly went on to test all of his newfound abilities. He proceeded to shoot and wound a mule deer with an arrow only to heal it instantly as he drew closer and touched the beast. He closed his eyes for a moment and through sheer willpower was able to turn into his spiritual animal form, that of a large coyote, just as his name implied.
He was overjoyed with the overwhelming sensation of power running through him, yet somehow, he also felt... empty... as if something inside of him was missing.
He tried paying it no mind and rushed back to his father's hut, which he could do now in a matter of days. His new self never got tired, and he could travel with twice the speed on his four limbs while on his animal form. He looked for his father, but was soon greeted by a multitude of men, warriors it seemed, as they all held spears and war clubs.
The men told him that the medicine man was dead, that they were there to take the body and give the holy man a proper funeral, and that it was the work of the wicked and treacherous spirit they called Naatsedlózii or "The Roadrunner", who tore the poor shaman apart limb from limb and whisked away his soul.
Ma'ii tried to argue that they were wrong, that the roadrunner was a benevolent spirit, and that he met her as he communed with the ethereal forces of the spirit realm. He explained to the warriors all of his ordeals, but saw no comprehension from the warriors' expression. Instead, he only saw horror and disgust.
"You fool!" said one of them. "You were supposed to be an apprentice! And yet you let yourself be fooled by the most vile trickster amongst the spirits! Haven't you learned anything from your old man? Don't you know that the roadrunner always takes the soul of a loved one to seal a deal? You're to blame for your father's untimely death, and now you are accursed! Bewitched! Denied the right to join the good spirits, for you will not know the sweet release of death, but only the eternal suffering of everlasting life! You've sold your soul to wicked powers beyond anything you can even comprehend and now and forever, you shall be exiled! Murderer! Beast! Skinwalker!"
He fled in shock as the warriors started lunging at him, throwing spears, arrows and javelins in a fruitless attempt to hurt him, but it was hopeless, for he was now no longer human; he was a Skinwalker, a soulless being fated to walk the earth forever without ever being allowed to join the spirit realm, all the while changing shapes between human and animal.
Betrayed and desperate he fled to the desert in his coyote form, until he was miles away from the lands of his people. He wept for an entire day, mourning the loss of his good old father who gave him nothing but love and respect, and for his people, who now hated him as the monster he had become. It was then, amidst relentless tears and sobs, that he heard it, an overbearing, maniacal cackle coming from everywhere across the desert, and when he finally raised himself to look around, he saw her again — The Trickster, The Wicked Spirit, The Roadrunner.
All of his sorrow turned to anger as he saw her face again. This time, however, instead of the soothing and lovely face he saw that other night, instead he saw a diabolical grin, too wide to be natural, stamped on her face like a badge of victory, as she laughed her lungs out at his misery.
"You... you foul fiend! What have you done to me!" His eyes flowed with tears as he screamed at the wicked apparition from the top of his lungs, full of anger and indescribable disgust.
"What have I done to you? Silly boy... I gave you everything you wanted! Everything you personally asked for! Why do you complain, poor thing...?"
"You killed my father, demon!" he yelled at the fiend who just kept laughing and laughing at his suffering.
"Ohh, I killed your father? You must be mistaken, my dear. That wasn't me, that was you! You knew what it takes to seal a deal with me, and if you didn't..." She paused for a cackle. "Well, you should have known. After all, you're the son of a shaman, aren't you? Hahahaha!" The spirit kept cackling while the lad, now growling in anger, turned once again to his animal form, speaking with the irate, guttural voice of a wild dog, a coyote, just like his name.
"I didn't know it, but you did! Didn't you, demon? You were the one who tricked me into offering the old man for sacrifice! My own father!"
The Roadrunner's laughter got louder and louder, and hunching her shoulders she answered, "Well, tough being you! Hahahahaha...".
As she said that on her hysterical laughing tone, her entire body started to grotesquely morph into that of a bird, a roadrunner, and she darted through the desert like no tomorrow. Ma'ii promised himself he wouldn't let her get away with this, and he pursued her relentlessly for days, weeks, years, decades, centuries, and still today it is said that the endless chase keeps going on, and forever and ever the coyote chases the roadrunner through the desert...
Most of you must be asking why am I telling you this old tale? Well, this old, forgotten story of the Navajo folklore was passed on through generations of shamans and apprentices, till one day an old medicine man told this tale to a white guy from Spokane, Washington. A white guy by the name of Chuck Jones...
Written by Leonardo F. Oliveira