Little Wolf stood beside his father, Three Fingers, and listened as he spoke. Everyone was dressed for the ceremony that was about to begin. Every warrior had plaited eagle feathers into their hair and had painted their family colours on their high cheekbones. All carried a weapon. Some held knives, others bows, while still other had spears tipped with sharp flint heads.
“Today, my son, Little Wolf is seeing his fourteenth summer and is now ready to join the warriors. Our feast of buffalo and maize and bread is prepared, Talks To The Wind has danced the spirit dance, and the great light sinks into the earth. Tonight, Little Wolf will become Stalking Wolf.” Three Fingers raised his own spear towards the darkening sky and the warriors joined in, chanting encouragement and stomping their feet.
Talks To The Wind brought a small stool from one of the teepees and told Little Wolf to follow. Little Wolf saluted his father and the warriors and turned on trembling legs to follow the spirit leader.
They walked about 100 steps into the woods and the spirit leader placed the stool in a small clearing. He pointed, indicating that Little Wolf was to sit. The boy did as he was expected, assuming a rigid posture, staring into the trees. He swallowed hard as Talks To The Wind came behind and tied a leather band over his eyes. He could see nothing.
“Little Wolf,” Talks To The Wind said. “You must remain here through the night. You may not leave the stool at any time. If you do, you will fail and you will be shamed by the tribe. Your father will disown you and you will be banished.
“You will hear many things; feel many things but you must not give in to fear. The Great Spirit watches over you and The Spirit Wolf will be near. Be brave, Little Wolf, and tomorrow, you will be a man.”
Little Wolf nodded and struggled to swallow once again. He heard Talks To The Wind quietly walk out of the clearing and back to the village.
Little Wolf had no idea how long he had been sitting when he felt the cool skin of a snake crawl across his feet. He almost jumped but remembered the snake could strike as well in the dark as in the day. He forced his nerves to be calm. He pictured an eagle flying over their valley, its piercing scream echoing off the hills as it passed overhead. He began to relax. The snake wrapped itself around both of his legs and squeezed. Little Wolf silently called on The Spirit Wolf to kill the snake and the snake began to relax its grip on the boy’s legs. Little Wolf felt it uncoil and then heard it slither away through the dead leaves.
Time passed and Little Wolf thought he could just hear the rustle of leaves from behind him. He cocked his head trying to listen. He heard a low growl, like that of dog warning off a would-be attacker. The sound was deep, guttural, and frightening. It came closer and he felt fur brush against his bare leg. Whatever it was pressed against him and yipped.
Coyote! Little Wolf thought. Then he heard the sounds of many more coyotes entering the clearing. They yipped and yapped, creating a cacophony that was almost deafening. He felt the teeth of one on his hand and he winced. The coyote clamped down on his unprotected hand and he felt something warm and wet drip onto his leg.
Again, he called on The Great Spirit Wolf. The coyote let go of his hand and he heard the pack heading back into the thicket behind him. He endured yet another immeasurable passage of time.
Sweat was trickling down his forehead and his neck, and small beads worked their way under the leather blindfold to run into his eyes. He clamped them shut and gritted his teeth. He swiped away the sweat from his forehead with the back of his uninjured hand. And felt something crawling up his left leg. It was slow, methodical, and light. It felt like…a spider!
Now, he could feel many spiders crawling up his legs. They were large. There were hundreds and they were making their way up his body. He felt as if he was wearing a living robe and hat. Every bit of his flesh was covered with the moving mass. His body trembled with fear and every wave of the tremors sent a ripple through the mass of spiders. He was near the breaking point but he directed his thoughts toward his father. He could see Three Fingers standing before him in front of the whole tribe.
“You are banished, coward. You will never carry the name of Stalking Wolf,” his father shouted. “You will be known as Yellow Bird, the coward. GO!”
The vision snapped him back and he began to call on The Spirit Wolf. At once, the spiders crawled off of him. His breathing steadied and he sat up straighter.
“Another battle won,” he said proudly. “I am Stalking Wolf!”
Again, time passed and Little Wolf heard the snuffles and grunts of a bear. He could hear it crashing about in the brush, searching for food. Then he heard it approaching him and he tensed. The bear snuffled and came closer. Little Wolf could feel the hot breath on his face and smelled the stench of its mouth. It smelled of dead fish and rotten fruit.
He did not know if The Spirit Wolf could defeat the bear so he called on the Great Spirit.
“Oh Great Spirit, I call upon you for protection. You are the Wise and Great Spirit, maker of all things and I know you set the paths of all creation. Please allow me to defeat this bear so that I may show my father that I am ready to be a warrior.”
The bear panted in his face and he heard a voice behind him.
“Stand, one who was called Little Wolf. Stand, Stalking Wolf!” It was his father’s voice.
He stood on trembling legs and still felt the hot breath of the bear on his face. It was rising, as well. He waited for the raking claws that would disembowel him. He set his face and clenched his jaws.
Suddenly, there was a blinding light and the voices of many warriors hooted. He blinked several times, adjusting to the bright light of a new day.
Before him stood Talks To The Wind, holding a dead fish and grinning at him. He blew across the fish and Little Wolf, now Stalking Wolf, smelled the hot breath of the bear. A warrior yapped like a coyote and showed Stalking Wolf the jawbone of dog. He pressed it against the boy’s hand and grinned. Two warriors held a robe of duck feathers and drug it across his arm. It felt like many spiders. Another warrior held a rope that had a snakeskin on it. He shook it at Stalking Wolf and pulled it, snake-like, through the leaf-strewn ground.
Three Fingers came to him and handed him a newly fashioned tomahawk, decorated with eagle feathers. Stalking Wolf could not contain his grin. Today he was a man!