Runs Like Deer was one of the tribe’s younger warriors. He had been among the first to encounter the white men from the colony that was being built not far from where his people hunted.
The white men were a strange lot indeed.
The white man had stumbled upon a hidden snake in the brush and got bitten in reward for his ignorance of the world around him. Runs like Deer had emerged from the trees to attempt to help him.
The way Runs like Deer understood things, there were two groups of white men, the English, which this man belonged to, and the French. There was, if not a war, much distrust between them. The French were moving in and taking by force everything this man’s people were working hard to create.
Runs like Deer felt bad for this man though he couldn’t say why. The bite from the diamondback was lethal.
Moving cautiously, Runs like Deer crept through the trees and approached the white man. The man was delirious from the venom flowing through his veins. He was too heavy for Runs like Deer to carry on his own. There was no hope of getting him back to his people or even to the tribe in order to get him real help. The man babbled in a language Runs like Deer recognized as English, confirming that man was not one of the French. He stayed with the Englishman, watching him, until death claimed the man and his flesh had become cold.
Runs like Deer sat a long while staring at the white man’s corpse before he found the courage to rifle through the man’s belongings. He picked up the man’s weapon. It might prove useful later and the tribe had very few of them. Runs like Deer continued his search for items of value he could take since the Englishman no longer had any need of his possessions.
Inside the pack the man carried upon his back, however, Runs like Deer found a brightly colored book. He had heard of such things from others in the tribe and even seen a copy of the Bible once. The white man told stories with words on paper. This book was thin and unlike anything he had ever seen. A slick, clear cover protected the book. Two sticky strips of another type of clear substance affixed the folded over flap of the book’s covering held the book inside it. He gently tore the sticky strips open, and the book slid out into his hands. It was clear that the book had meant a great deal to the man who had carried it. Upon on its cover was the depiction of a man dressed in red. He wore a symbol that could only represent lightning, brightly emblazoned on the skintight red armor that covered him head to toe. Smaller lightning bolts were affixed to the sides of the mask that left only his eyes and the area of his nose and mouth exposed.
Being unable to read the words the book contained did not stop Runs like Deer from going through the book page by page, examining it carefully. The story within it seemed to be told by drawings as much as by the words in the white circles and boxes that broke up the pictures. It was clear the man—if he was a man—in red was a great warrior among his people. There was one drawing where the man in red was confronted by half a dozen other white men in odd clothing. The others all had the loud weapons of the white men pointed at him. In the next drawing, they fired at the man in red but he moved so fast that death could not catch him. Swerving among their shots, he raced toward them. As the story continued, he took their weapons, throwing them aside. The man in red swept in to defeat the others with only his speed and bare hands.
Runs like Deer felt a connection to the man in red. He was the fastest member of his tribe, but even he couldn’t move like this red demon the book told of. Runs like Deer was well aware of the power of totems. He placed the book carefully back inside its protective wrapping and carried it with him as the shadows grew longer and the sun began to sink from the sky.
He showed the book to no one and guarded it closely as he entered the camp of his people. That night, Runs like Deer tossed restlessly as he slept, dreaming of the speed of the man in red. With speed like the man in the book he would be more than the fastest member of his tribe, quite possibly the fastest man who had ever lived.
Runs like Deer awoke from his troubled sleep early. The warriors of the tribe were preparing for the day’s hunt but instead of joining them, he crept away into the woods with plans for a hunt of his own. He went in search of yellow flowers. At last, he found some that suited his needs. He crunched them up into pulp and painted upon the skin of his chest the symbol of the flashes of light that came with the stormy sky. It was hard to get the image just right on his skin, but he did the best he could. When it was done, he ventured to a nearby stream he knew of and drank in his reflection in the water along its bank. The lightning marked him as the fastest there was. He felt like the man in red from the book. To test the power of the image, he sprinted across the open field that lay between him and the area he planned to hunt in. His legs pumped beneath him as he controlled his breath, pushing himself harder and faster than ever before. When he reached the tree line, he turned back to look at the distance he had covered in so short a time with pride that threatened to cause his heart to burst. He was sure now that the man in red from the book was not a man at all but a great spirit whose power he had called upon as his own.
Runs Like Deer glanced up as a deer came into view. It was an adult male with long antlers that protruded from its head. The deer froze as it saw him. For a moment, the two of them watched the other. Runs Like Deer had not brought his bow or quiver with him. He had imagined that he would not need them anymore if his plan to tap into the magic of the spirit in red had worked . . . and it had.
The deer must have sensed his thoughts as it turned and ran. Runs like Deer moved after it with a yell that echoed through the woods. The deer zagged dashing one way as he zigged cutting another, hoping to get ahead of the animal.
He knew this stretch of woods well. He overtook the deer as it changed direction, passing under a small bank among the trees.
Runs Like Deer leaped into the air, landing on the deer with his knife drawn. The deer moved its head to strike at him with its antlers but Runs Like Deer twisted, avoiding its attack, as his weight took them both to the ground.
In a blur, his knife drew blood, opening the deer’s throat. It bucked wildly, trying to free itself of his hold, in its death throes. Runs Like Deer felt the warmth of its life flowing over him as he wrestled with the dying animal. Then it was over.
The deer lay still on the ground. Runs Like Deer released his grip on the animal. His own blood trickled down the lengths of his arms from where its antlers had gashed his flesh in the animal’s last few moments of struggling, but he felt no pain. He had outraced the deer and claimed it.
With a prayer of thanks to the deer for giving its life so that his people might have what they needed, he dropped to his knees and said a second prayer to the spirit of speed that had given him the power to catch it and bring it down. He promised himself that from this day forward others would call him Fast as Lightning in the Sky. As he looked down at the bolt painted on his chest, he allowed himself a smile.