Long before battles with white men, two young brothers named Chasing Fog and Lame Heart listened closely as their mother told them about the end of the world.
They huddled together by a small fire of amber flame. And to the boys’ delight, the mellow glow got caught in their mother's shiny black hair and danced around it while she spoke.
"Inside a hidden cave, the black dog, Shunka Sapa, watches," Mother said with wide eyes. "He watches and waits for the old woman to put down the blanket strip she's been decorating for a thousand years with porcupine quills. He knows soon the old woman will have to go gather more quills to finish her work, and when she leaves, he’ll steal some of the quills already in place. He does this, every chance he gets."
"But," Lame Heart said, "how will the old woman finish?"
His brother groaned. "Will you grow up to be nothing but a fool?” Being older, Chasing Fog had already heard the story. “It is the black dog's purpose, Lame Head."
Mother stoked the fire and waited for Lame Heart to defend himself, but he didn't, so she continued.
"One day, the old woman will finish her blanket strip because one day, the big black dog will choke and die on his stolen prizes. And when the old woman's blanket is finished, that is the day the world will end."
Lame Heart spoke quietly, afraid his question would be mocked again. "Does the dog eat porcupine quills?"
Chasing Fog listened out of curiosity.
"Sometimes," Mother said. "The quills are the spirits of human beings. If he drops them outside, the sick become well. If he swallows them, they pass through to the other side and never return from the land of the dead."
"That's Death?" asked Chasing Fog who doubled over laughing. “Passing through the bowels of a dog?"
Mother gently covered his mouth.
"It is an honor to return to the earth and be reborn in the wind and soil, but if you foul the body in such a way Earth Mother rejects it, all memory of that person's existence will be wiped out," she said.
The boys' jaws hung low in disbelief until she smiled and pushed them away to play awhile before bed.
Chasing Fog always ran after things impossible to catch; this made him strong, but cruel.
Lame Heart was always sick, so he sat around a lot, waiting for things to come to him. Not even rabbits feared him. This made him weak, but kind.
In the village, there was also a girl named Spirit Song. Since birth, her cries came in rhythm like the songs of ancestors. The elders told her father to name her Spirit Song, so everyone in the village would know she was special, and not to be harmed or frightened in any way, or else her song would be wasted on carelessness.
By the time Chasing Fog grew into a strong and brave young man with many buffalo skins to prove his skill as a hunter, the idea of taking Spirit Song as a Shaman wife consumed his mind with possibilities, so he pursued her without shame.
However, Spirit Song already set her mind on another man, but she could not get rid of her present suitor. For years, Chasing Fog haunted her every move. He even followed her when she went to the river to bathe.
Finally, she had enough of his relentless pursuit, and decided to humiliate the determination from him.
One day as she sat among friends sewing a pair of moccasins, she let out a long loud sigh.
Her friends looked at her nervously, worried she might soon break into tears.
Chasing Fog jumped on the situation in a flash.
"Spirit Song, have you hurt yourself?" he asked.
"No," she said. "But this hide is so rough, and I don't have the strength it takes to make softer suede. I'm afraid these moccasins will be very hard on my feet."
"I will make you a hide as soft as your skin," Chasing Fog boasted, "Let me touch your cheek, to know what real softness feels like."
Spirit Song's lashes fell gently over her eyes. She tilted her head and offered Chasing Fog a whisper of her flesh. All she felt was the wind as he took off in a hurry.
“He’s not so brave when it comes touching what he wants,” Spirit Song said. “I wonder if it would work under the pressure of a virgin bride.”
Everyone had a good laugh at his expense. His wild-eyed stare and trembling hand made him look like a prairie dog under coyote's paw. Spirit Song clearly halted his arrogance with her charm.
That night, Spirit Song walked across a moonlit prairie celebrating her freedom, and then she realized she still wasn’t alone.
From the depths of a coulee came a familiar tune, a healing song, but the voice was not of any medicine man she knew. She followed it to the edge of a great drop, yet found no one.
Her voice rose up to join the song, and as she did, it became obvious where to go. The song led her down the slope to a stream.
She found Lame Heart sitting on the dry bank with a bull calf resting its head on his lap while he sang. He caught her gaze, but continued singing. Only when the song finished did they dare speak.
"He's been injured by a stray arrow and the wound is hot," Lame Heart told her, "You are a sorceress. Can you heal him?"
She placed one hand over the gash, then took Lame Heart's hand and placed it over hers, and together, they sang the healing song.
Once the moon slipped over the horizon, the night became dark. The bull calf struggled to his feet and walked away like he'd never been injured.
"Thank you, Spirit Song.” Lame Heart said. “He will be fine now. We can go."
He got up to leave, but Spirit Song held his arm. He pulled away.
"Lame Heart, why don't you like me?" Her eyes filled with tears. "You have always touched me with your kindness. Together, we will bring magic to the people. Please take me as a wife."
"Chasing Fog is strong. I can't give you the fine things you deserve," he said. "You will be my brother's wife. I will not stand in his way."
She did not cry or protest. She walked away, quietly singing the song of healing to mend her own broken heart.
At the top of the hill, Chasing Fog sat hidden by shadow. His anger grew from his belly and settled in his throat where he kept it trapped.
Everything Chasing Fog ever wanted eventually ended up in the hands of his patient brother, and now he had Spirit Song’s love. Even if he stole her away from home, she’d always love Lame Heart.
He ran off to settle the matter with vengeance. He spent the night tracking the bull calf, and in his fury he slaughtered the beast in the ancient way. He cut the calf's jaw from its head and butchered it with its own bones.
By sunrise, Chasing Fog, bloody from scraping the calf's flesh from its hide, made his way to the river to clean and prepare the skin as an offering to his future bride.
Over the next few weeks, Lame Heart worried for his brother who'd become all but a ghost during the day, only late in the night would he hear him return home to sleep.
"Chasing Fog," he’d whisper, "where do you go?"
He never answered, and by morning, he would be gone again.
Then one day while the people gathered around the meeting spot to plan a hunting trip, Chasing Fog silently took his place next to Lame Heart and their mother.
The crowd lost its focus on the hunt. Their eyes turned to Chasing Fog who possessed a golden buffalo hide so soft and yielding it molded to the curves of his thighs.
Swift River, the head of the hunting party, grew impatient by the crowd's sway of interest.
"Chasing Fog," he called out, "You have been like a ghost for a long time, and now you return to the people with this fine skin, drawing attention. Do you have something to say?"
Chasing Fog stood and held the skin high for all to see.
"This is my gift for Spirit Song,” he said. “Perhaps now she might notice my feelings for her. I ask her to come willingly when I bring gifts for her father. Then we can make a home together."
He laid the hide in Spirit Song's lap.
She looked to Lame Heart who withdrew from her gaze. She knew his heart would not allow him to steal from his brother.
She took Chasing Fog's hand, placed it on her warm cheek, and nodded her acceptance while the crowd sang to their coupling.
All was well in his favor until Spirit Song brought the hide home and opened it.
A small imperfection was visible where the stray arrow pierced the bull calf's shoulder. She envisioned Chasing Fog watching her and Lame Heart sing over the calf, and planning this cruel revenge.
Backing out of a proposal for such a trivial game was not acceptable and would bring shame to her family, but...if she could get Chasing Fog to strike her, causing her to cry, the entire band would forbid their union.
During the night she made her own gift. Old laws dictate, gifts are never to be rejected, but they can be passed on to someone in need.
When the sun rose, the people gathered to follow the hunting party who spotted a heard of buffalo not far from the village.
Chasing Fog, energized by triumph, was eager to begin the hunt. He helped the women and children gather dogs and hook them to the travois', hoping they could move along faster.
Lame Heart rested nearby. He'd been up early to assemble the spears and horses for the hunters, but he would not join them today. His chest was thick with water from yet another illness. Still, he’d do what he could to help the women butcher the animals later.
As he tried to catch his breath, Spirit Song approached with a shirt made out of the golden hide given to her by his brother. He deliberately turned his back to her.
"Chasing Fog," Spirit Song cried out, "I made this shirt as a gift for your brother. The wind is blowing cold on the prairie this season, and Lame Heart needs to stay warm or sickness will follow him."
She could feel the storm gathering in Chasing Fog's chest. She could feel it even through the crowd of women and dogs separating them. He would strike for certain.
With the public announcement, Lame Heart had to accept her gift. He pulled the shirt over his head and ran from his brother's sight to spare him the pain of seeing him.
Chasing Fog seized his emotion, and went back to his work without a word, leaving Spirit Song to stand alone on the subject.
But after the jump his anger went into spears as he took down six wounded, but angry buffalo, each with only one jab to the heart. Once he broke all of his spears in the kills, he chased after other fallen prey and gladly finished them off.
When the hunt wore down, he went back to where the women and his young brother prepared the meat for moving. He stunned them all. In his hand he held a prized buffalo heart usually eaten on the scene by victorious hunters.
"Lame Heart, my brother," he said standing above him, "You will help me prepare for my new life with Spirit Song. We will leave the village tonight. This is for you. It will make you strong for the journey."
Chasing Fog tossed the still warm organ to his brother who smiled freely even though its blood sprayed across his new shirt.
At sunset, the brothers set out south on horses.
Chasing Fog told Lame Heart they were going to find rare hard cooking stones far away near the boiling pools of the high country.
After a night and day of moving, they rested near a low burning fire.
They passed a short time recalling stories of their youth. They shared some good laughs at their old antics and became quiet with the memories of lost friends and loved ones over the years.
"Do you remember mother's story about the end of the world?" Chasing Fog asked.
"I remember.” Lame Heart tossed some sticks to the fire. “You said I would grow up to be a fool,"
"Don't worry little brother, give it time."
They burst out laughing.
Chasing Fog got serious again, "How do you think somebody could foul a body so bad the earth would reject it and wipe out that person's existence?"
Lame Heart knew. He thought about such things while he sat around catching his breath.
"You die with hate in your heart,” he said. “No one wants to remember hate. If you die with it, the earth will reject your spirit, and you will be quickly forgotten by the people."
"That's what I thought, brother." Chasing Fog lay back on the ground. “Let’s rest now. If you want, tomorrow I will show you the Mourning Cave. It spits smoke and moans."
"I would like to see it," Lame Heart said. He fell asleep, glad for the peace between them on this journey.
By noon the next day, they reached their destination.
Chasing fog was right. The cave spit smoke. And from deep in its throat came a low pitched but loud moan.
Lame Heart never traveled to the place of boiling pools. The blue and green colors were more brilliant than anything he's ever seen, they entranced him, and now... a wailing cave.
He perched himself on a cliff above the cave. He could almost see the edges of the cave’s entry behind the hot mist below, a deep pool of boiling blue water created steam, warming his tired feet.
"Thank you brother, I will always carry this memory, but I would not like to remember the stink of this place. What is..."A rumbling under the ground interrupted him. The surprise almost tossed him into the boiling pool.
Lame heart, who had been far away in thought, looked over his brother.
"The ground moves here,” he said. “This is a place of powerful magic.”
Chasing Fog offered his brother a hand up and the two stood face to face. They were so close they could feel each other's breath.
Lame Heart felt a burning behind his brother's stare, and asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Spirit Song will always want for you Lame Heart. But it will be me going to her each night. It will be me who fathers her children. You will be forgotten."
At first Lame Heart was stunned, but then for the first time in his life, he felt anger. He'd done all he could do to honor his brother. For years, he pushed Spirit Song away and kept his feelings hidden to show his loyalty, and now ... he turned to leave.
“Brother!” Chasing Fog shouted. "Are you so weak you can't even fight with words?"
He spat at Lame Heart's feet.
Blind with rage, Lame Heart freed his knife from its belt and went after Chasing Fog.
As he ran toward him, Chasing Fog stepped aside, exposing a stone in his path. Lame Heart hit it and became airborne. He landed in the pool of boiling water.
The cave spat a cloud of smoke and moaned.
Chasing Fog could not bring himself to look at his screaming brother, but he couldn’t help hear his throat fill with hot water, drowning his cries and cooking his flesh.
Within minutes, Lame Heart and his calf hide shirt were no more. It was time to return to the village, and find out if he was truly gone for good.
Chasing Fog rode home on his horse with an empty mount trailing behind. The first man he encountered was Swift River.
"Why would you take two fine ponies on your journey?" Swift River said angrily, "You only needed one."
"I hoped to catch Spirit Song's father a brown bear from the high country," he answered.
Swift River waved him off without asking about Lame Heart.
When he got to his mother's tepee, he found her outside making pemmican with some of the dried buffalo meat.
"My son!" she said. "You can take this with you when you go to get Spirit Song. She likes my recipe. I made it nice and sweet."
"Yes mother, thank you," he replied, taking hold of his mother’s arm. “Has Lame Heart returned?”
“Who?” Mother returned to her work.
Chasing Fog smiled, and headed out to find Spirit Song. At last, she would be his woman completely because he succeeded in wiping out the memory of his brother with ancient magic.
Spirit Song splashed and played in the river with friends, taking advantage of the days before she became a wife, but then she saw Chasing Fog she had a vision.
She heard the wavering cries of Lame Heart as he struggled to breathe. She saw his fear and painfully contorted face as death pulled him under the water to claim his life.
She stumbled through the water, sat on the muddy bank, and cried.
Her cries traveled across the village and past the elders who remembered the few times they heard her ancestral song. The breeze carried her voice to the morning cave where the big black dog's ears perked.
The old woman was off gathering quills. This was his moment, but the song distracted him. He sat and listened intently to the melodic cry while a single quill dropped from his mouth to the floor.
When the dog's woman returned, he sat and wagged his tail, sending the quill far into the shadows of the cave where it would remain until the end of the world.
Outside the cave, smoke belched, waters churned, and in one great leap from the cauldron jumped a large bull buffalo, all sleek, white, and stone.
It bore the scar of a wound once healed by compassion. The massive animal shook, freeing the sprays of blood tarnishing its stone coat. Behind him, a human hand reached over the edge of the cliff, and up climbed Lame Heart.
He too was transformed by his journey from death's doorway. The struggle to return from the land of spirits changed his once thin and weak body, into a stone clad figure, as firm and handsome as any fine warrior.
But his heavy stone heart sealed his hate, and now, he was compelled to seek retribution.
He climbed the buffalo's back and rode fast to the north.
Chasing Fog heard the stone buffalo's thundering stride from far across the prairie. Spirit Song told him what was coming. Still, he waited patiently in his newly set up tepee.
No man hides from the dead. He had to face this enemy now or run forever.
From the edge of the village, there were shrieks of terror from both women and men as they fled from the spirit rider. But when the stone buffalo slowed to a walk, the screaming stopped, and the people withdrew into their tepees.
No one would dare to look at the supernatural beings. It was apparent their spirits were not there to destroy the village. They were looking for someone.
The stone buffalo took a few shuffling strides and came to halt in front of Chasing Fog's tepee.
Lame Heart slid from his mount, and when his feet hit the ground, the earth shook.
Chasing Fog sat solid and brave by the fire, wrapped in a buffalo robe. He watched as a stone hand pulled the door flap aside.
In walked the hardened spirit who was once his brother.
"Brother!" Lame Heart said. "As you can see, I am reborn. I am now Stone Buffalo Man. You did not succeed in wiping me out."
"I see," Chasing Fog replied with a smile, "Have you come here to kill me?"
Stone Buffalo Man laid his hand over his heart and aired his grievance. "Because of you, my hate is sealed forever. I have nothing to lose by killing you."
"Spirit Song," Chasing Fog called, "Come from the shadows, and see what my brother has become."
She stepped into the light. Neither her magic, nor tears could help Stone Buffalo Man. Yet, tears rolled over her cheeks. She went forward and grasped Stone Buffalo Man's ridged hands.
"Do not kill Chasing Fog,” she said. “He will be punished."
Stone Buffalo Man's cold colorless eyes glared back at her.
"Please!" she pleaded, "Chasing Fog and I are the only two people who remember you. If you kill him, his memory of you will die with him, and I will forget because I don't want to remember you with such hate. Then you will be wiped out forever."
Stone Buffalo Man's heart was not strong enough to seal out Spirit Song's sorrow. Even though his heart of stone was damaged by hate, he could still leave the tepee with Spirit Song's love unbroken.
This time Stone Buffalo Man did not allow hate to rule him. He walked away.
Spirit Song followed, "You belong to the mourning cave. We will go there together."
Stone Buffalo Man did not protest this time. He climbed up his mount, and lifted Spirit Song behind him. Together, they rode on to begin a new life in the middle world.
Spirit Song's prediction came true. The people shunned Chasing Fog for bringing an angry spirit to the village. Eventually, he moved to the place of boiling pools and dug a shelter in a hill near the mourning cave.
Now, he watches and waits for the smoke clear in front of the cave. It's when the old woman comes out to collect spirits carried on the wind in the form of porcupine quills.
With the smoke gone, he can see inside the cave to catch treasured glimpses of Spirit Song who has joined the old woman in working quills into the legendary blanket strip.
In the background, Stone Buffalo Man teaches their children the old ways. At times, he leaves the cave to guide people through hardship. It is his purpose to help the people endure their many trials before the world ends.
But such matters don't concern Chasing Fog. To this day, he still sits, watching, and waiting. He doesn't notice time passing.
He's been sitting there everyday for more than five hundred years. And he will be doing that for a very long time, because Spirit Song refuses to work his spirit into the blanket strip. Long ago, she braided his quill into her hair.
When he gives up the chase, she will finally set him free.