The Shaman

The Shaman's Transformation

(Norman W. Wilson)

The Shaman's Transformation



Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man.

Ayn Rand


There had been an end to an earthly life. A couple of nights before his death I remember waking up. He was calling my name. I can still hear his voice saying, “Seek and you shall find.” He always said that when he didn't have an answer to my questions. I should have known then, he was cashing it in. They told me he sat up on the edge of the bed and simply said, “Now!” and died. His soul-self is finally free to go its own way.

One of his Veteran friends from the town picked me up at the airport. From there it was about an hour and a half drive to the small town in which he had spent his entire life and in which his burial is to take place. And, I’m sure, soon to be forgotten. His friend dropped me at my hotel, an old brick building, built back in the mid-1800's. Plastered over and painted a bright yellow, it stands as a beacon for all to see. I had just time enough to change from the jeans into a suit and tie appropriate for a wake.

At the funeral home, I thought it odd there weren’t more people present, especially since he had always lived here. I paid my respects to the two women seated by the casket.

The old one said, "Thank you for coming."

The younger woman nodded. Said nothing.

I took a seat in the last row of chairs set up for the mourners. There might have been twenty people present. I thought someone might step forward to speak, to talk about his life, to tell those present, he was a hero, that he had served his country well, and he had been awarded the Purple Heart. No one did.

At the church service the next morning, a few more people showed up. The church, a massive stone structure, was a miniature cathedral. Large hand carved beams arched the ceiling with their interior spaces broken up with long hanging lighted orbs. The pews were of dark wood and cushioned with plush green velvet. The sanctuary’s wall was of white marble with an inlaid gold leaf of The Christ figure. Stained glass windows telling the story of The Christ lined both sides of the nave creating kaleidoscopic patterns throughout the church. His casket draped with an American flag sat in front of a raised polished marble altar. On it was a single gold cross covered with a black veil.

As I looked around, I noticed a few mourners with the appropriate tears and the dabbing of eyes with a tissue. You know the type–doing whatever they think social custom demands and nothing more. Each relieved they were not the one in the casket. I’m sure if this funeral had taken place in certain other countries there would have been much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth and moaning, an outward pouring of grief and respect for the deceased. At graveside, only the old woman in her wheelchair cried out as she threw a handful of dirt upon his coffin. I suppose they wondered why there were no tears in my eyes.

One of the mourners came up to me and said, “Why did you come?”

He got no reply from me. I simply stared through him. What a pompous ass I thought to myself. He and his father owned one of the local stores. Unlike the man in the grave, they were not of this town. I was.

“Why did you come?” he asked again, taking hold of my arm.

With a slight pressure on his arm as I removed his hand and with a nudge of my foot he landed on his backside. Leaning toward him and in a tone as cold as the weather, I replied, “To pay my respects. Isn’t that why you are here?”

With that I walked away leaving him in a puddle of mud created by the hearse. Old resentments welled up and flooded me with bitter memories of his arrogance, memories I didn’t want.

Years ago, we had had an argument and he had paid two guys twenty bucks to beat me up. Even though I came out of it with only a black eye, I still resented the fact he didn’t have the guts to fight me himself. We must have been about twelve or thirteen years old.

As I slid into the backseat of the car that had brought me to the cemetery, I felt  sudden twinge in my rib cage. That quickly refocused my attention. After the gravesite service, there was the traditional reception at the deceased’s home. Those present toasted his memory with a glass of red wine. I didn’t raise my glass; there was nothing in it. I felt that’s how they viewed his life, empty and nothing in it, and I wasn’t buying into that. He was so much more but they— they,  never took the time to find out.

The town itself was like that—empty! At one time, it may have been different, maybe back in the 1880’s. Yet, it’s still a pretty town, surrounded by seven hills but now like so many other things here, they too are barren. The locals always liked to say, “Just like Rome” when anyone mentioned the hills. In addition to the tourist, a granary was the only other major industry. It  employed only thirty people at peak times. The rest of those who worked did so in a neighboring state. The houses were large wooden structures, some three stories high. Many had curved porches while others had the typical columns favored by Thomas Jefferson. Of course, not everyone lived in these grand houses. Once you left three of the main entrances into the town, there were smaller homes, and like any small town, it had its share of run-down old derelicts. The fourth entrance into town offered the visitor a bar of questionable reputation, a sewer treatment plant, a junkyard, a used car dealership, and the town’s electrical power plant. The entrance you used influenced your attitude about the town.

Back in my hotel room, and looking out its solitary window, I watched cars going up and down Main Street. It was a narrow brick street with a wide meridian separating the two lanes. During spring and summer, the meridian had an ample supply of flowers and well-manicured grass. Winter made it barren. Down its center, lined up soldier-like and standing at attention were gas streetlights, cold, sterile, and unmoved by the continual parade of cars. At some point, I realized the same cars were going up and down the street made even narrower by other diagonally parked cars. With a herd mentality, they followed each other. It occurred to me, they represented the sum and total of the aspirations of the people behind the wheels. The hotel window began to steam up and the view outside took on a yellow surrealistic montage, a massive nondescript blur of shifting steel, glass, and plastic punctuated with splashes of red as someone applied his brakes. Putting on my topcoat, the one I bought for the funeral, I went down to the street.

The cold crisp air felt good in spite of the fumes from the parked cars whose motors idled to keep those inside warm. As I walked west, I noticed a few people in the darkened cars light their cigarettes and sometimes there would be the small red glow as someone took a drag.

Ah ‘Saturday Night Live’ in small town USA, I thought.

A door flung open and a middle aged man staggered out onto the street. Loud western music followed him until the door’s closing silenced its sound. Horns honked, the 4X4’s gunned their motors, and the bass blaring from their radios vibrated an unnatural rhythm. These were the high school jocks enjoying their shift at cruising Main Street. The next group, the 20 to 30 year-olds, would be out in their bigger trucks, SUVs, and Jeeps, radios blaring honky-tonk, announcing their serious intent to stud.

The little park at the center of town with its Civil War statues and narrow sidewalks emanating from a large fountain offered a quiet refuge from the traffic. The gaslights flooding the area with their pale yellow light helped to smother the intrusive traffic sounds. Once I got to the fountain, I sat down on a bench and began to study the figures in its center. There was no bubbling water gushing over the figures. Never is at this time of year. Too cold. The park bench reminded me of that, yet I continued to sit trying to remember a long forgotten past. How many hours had I spent sitting here with him, listening to his earthy wisdom? When had I first met him?

It really wasn’t all that long ago or was it? For a time I thought he was the one who was going to answer my myriad questions. It took me awhile to accept the fact  I was mistaken. I felt he didn’t want to share the secrets of life with me. As time separated us, I realized he could only tell me what he knew and his struggle to find examples to illustrate his points turned out to be simply an effort to illustrate the same points over and over again. I don’t fault him. If there is any fault it is mine for asking questions, he could not answer. All of this transpired before I found Esaugetuh [1] or should I say before he let me find him. Anyway, here I am freezing my ass off on a park bench in a small town in the middle of winter and still seeking answers. The hissing of snowflakes as they hit the gaslight above me brought me back from my short trip down memory’s lane. Getting up from the cold bench, I headed back to my hotel.

Once there, the night clerk told me someone was waiting for me in the hotel’s bar. The bar was a long narrow room, dimly lit, smelly from stale cigarette smoke. Empty beer bottles sat on unoccupied tables. As I walked in, its wooden floor creaked its own welcome. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the poor lighting. A single solitary figure sat at the bar, no one I recognized, and the only occupant other than the bartender. All I could detect was a mop of long dark hair.

“Buy you a drink, Adam?”


“The very same. You sure have been hard to find.” he replied. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to find you for over a year.”

“Around. What do you want with me?”

“For one thing I want to know about Esaugetuh. Where is he? What happened after you left the West Coast? I lost track of you north of Seattle.”

“Off the record?” I said, remembering he was a newspaper reporter.

“Okay, off the record.” Running-water replied, tipping his glass in salute.

“By the way, why Running-water?" I asked. “Do you have another name?”

“My mother said it was an appropriate name because as a baby I always had wet pants,” he laughed. “And I still do and it’s not because I can’t hold my water.” he continued, still laughing. “It’s Paul Dakota. After Saint Paul. My mother covered both bases that way, Native traditions and Christian beliefs.”

We sat there with quiet reigning between us. Just a quiet kind of quiet. Each giving the other time and respect.

Wonder what he really wants, I thought.

“Adam, what really happened after you and Esaugetuh left Seattle? Where did the two of you go and where is he now?” Running-water said, breaking the silence between us.

“I’m not sure I can or even want to tell you or anyone else for that matter. It’s still so intense.” I replied.

“Share that with me and I’ll tell you something I bet you don’t know,” Running-water said as he shoved his long black hair back from his face. It was a handsome face, finely chiseled, with high cheek bones in keeping with his origins.

“I know you and your little secrets. You’re always trying to bait me with some morsel of information about Esaugetuh. So, what is it this time? Spit it out.”

“I know where he lives.” Running-water said as his dark eyes sparkled, revealing his inner delight.

Big deal! He lives in Canada. Nothing new about that.”

“I mean his house.” Running-water said.

“You’re putting me on.”

“No! After we left Mesa Verde, you headed for Seattle and I eventually went home to Albuquerque. There was a letter from Esaugetuh.”

“In this letter he told you where he lived.”

“No. The return address told me that. The letter contained another envelope with your name on it. He asked me to find you and give you the other envelope.” Running-water said as he handed me an envelope.

“This has been opened.”

“I opened it. I shouldn’t have, but no harm done, right?”

As I began removing the contents of the envelope Running-water interrupted, “He's turned everything over to you. You are one very rich man. He even gave you his house. So when do we leave?”

I stopped, turning to Running-water I said, “We’re not going anywhere. Not now, not later, not ever!”


“No buts. You’ve violated any semblance of a relationship we had by reading a private letter addressed to me, a letter placed in your trust. You broke that trust. No harm done? What a joke! There’s no way in hell that I can ever believe you have even an ounce of integrity.”

I got up from the barstool, threw a five on the counter. “I pay my own way.”

The elevator creaked and groaned as it chugalugged up to the third floor. Back in my room, I decided to leave immediately instead of waiting until tomorrow when my return flight was scheduled. I was sure Running-water would not leave me alone.

After throwing my stuff into my suitcase, I called the desk and asked them to get me a cab if the town had one. Luck was with me. There was a man who did drive people into the city or to the airport. I asked that he pick me up at a side door hoping that Running-water wouldn’t see me leaving. It wasn’t exactly a cab but the 1960’s Buick was just fine.

The road was a narrow two-lane black top with a number of sharp curves. The snow that had begun falling earlier had accumulated and patches of black ice had formed forcing the driver to slow. Fortunately, he wasn’t prone to talking and that left me to my own thoughts.

There wasn’t much heat in the back seat of the old Buick. In an effort to keep warm I pulled my coat collar up and then dug my hands deeper into my coat pockets. As I did I felt the folded letter from Esaugetuh and somehow its presence made me feel better. The physical cold, the emotional coldness of the town and the lack of any sincere emotions by most of those at the funeral had left me numb. I would wait until another time to read the contents of the letter.

“Guess you haven’t learned much.”

“Driver, what did you say?” I said, leaning forward.


“I asked what you just said.” I replied tersely.

“Nothing. Can’t talk and drive at the same time. The road’s slick.”

I was sure he had said something but I didn’t pursue it any further. Even though considerable time had lapsed, we had traveled only a few miles. The driver pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped.

“Why are we stopping?”

“Need to put chains on. Should a done it before we left.”

“Can I help?”

No. It’s best you stay in the car. You city fellas ain’t used to this.”

I remained in the car. No use aggravating him. There weren’t any other vehicles on the road. Even the big eighteen wheelers weren’t moving tonight. The old Buick suddenly lurched forward and there was a terrible scream. I jumped out of the car. He was thrashing around on the ground, holding up his bloody hand.

“You got a first aid kit in the car?” I asked.

I looked. There was none.

“Okay, lay still and do exactly as I tell you. Close your eyes.”

Kneeling by his side, I cupped his injured hand between both of mine. I felt the stickiness of his warm blood as I applied a gentle pressure to his injuries.

“My hand feels hot. Am I going to lose my hand? He whispered.

“Don’t talk. Lay perfectly still and don’t move until I say so”

We remained that way for over thirty minutes. The bleeding stopped but unfortunately, the snow had not. I placed his hand on his chest, got up, went to the car, opened my suitcase, and pulled out a clean white shirt, tore it into long strips and wrapped each around his injured hand. With his hand in bandages, he got up, climbed into the back of the car, and laid down. I covered him up with my coat.

Once I had the chains on, I slide behind the wheel. We were in the midst of a whiteout and we couldn’t stay where we were.

Putting the car into low gear, I eased it back onto the highway and continued to head north. The headlights were of little use. Their only value being that they showed the reflectors on the guardrails and that told me I  was at least partially on the road. Once or twice, I scraped a couple guard rails, and leaving, I am sure, some pretty deep scratches on his car.

Five hours later, we pulled into the entrance of the airport. With the help of an attendant, I got my driver into the terminal. There I removed the bandages, washed the wound, and re-bandaged it. Fortunately, they had a well-equipped first aid kit.

“Man, he sure bled a lot for such a small wound.” The attendant said looking at our blood stained clothes.

“Heavy bleeder, quick healer,” I replied. “Could you get him a double shot of brandy and put it in hot water?” I asked handing the attendant a twenty. “Keep the change for your trouble.”

“No problem,” replied the attendant as he disappeared around a corner.

Flight cancellations  lit up the board. Depending on the weather, my flight is set for late tomorrow afternoon. In a strange way, I was grateful for the storm because it closed the roads and Running-water wouldn’t be able to get out of town and follow me. At least for the time being I was safe from his intrusion.

The brandy arrived and with two gulps, the driver drained the glass. It didn't take long for it to work. While he slept, I opened the letter from Esaugetuh.

It was as Running-water said, Esaugetuh had turned his estate over to me. There was a sizable chunk of land consisting of four sections at 640 acres per section. In addition to savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit, dozens of shares of stocks in major world corporations,  there were several vehicles, office- apartment buildings, his place of residence, and a Gulfstream Jet.

That explains how he got around, I thought.

There was a safety deposit box at a Montreal bank. I looked for the key but it wasn’t there. A quick search of my coat pockets produced nothing. I hurried out to the car, but a search turned up nothing. Back into the terminal, it hit me. Running-water’s protest at my not letting him join me was not forceful enough. I should have known he was up to something. He kept the key to insure he would be going with me.

“Damn him,” I said out loud.

At that, the driver woke up. “What? What is it?”

“It’s okay. You’ve been sleeping. Let’s take a look at that hand,” I replied.

He unwrapped his bandaged hand, held it up toward the lights, opened and closed the fingers, and then slowly spread them apart. He was sucking so much air I was sure he was going to pass out.

With a near hysterical laugh he said, “There’s nothing wrong with my hand. My fingers are okay. How can that be? I know I smashed the hell out of them fingers.”

“You must have thought you smashed them worse than you did. The slight swelling will go away.”

“No! I know there was blood all over the place. My fingers were minced meat. What did you do to me? I remember feeling intense heat on my hand, real hot. Who are you?”

“Just your passenger. I bandaged your hand and that’s all there is to it. I need to go back. I left something at the hotel.”

“It’ll cost you another fifty. No, make that a hundred. I have to have something for my time.”

“I’ll double that if you forget what happened. Also, I’ll pay for the repair to your car.”

“What’s wrong with my car?”

“A few scratches. Nothing that can’t be fixed,” I replied. “Now can we get going?”

The snow had stopped and the wind died down. The plows and sanders had been out and had done a good job. The roads were passable. The driver kept looking at his hand and then would shake his head.

“Nobody would believe me anyway. Nobody,” he repeated over and over.

Once back in town I paid the driver and at the same time hired him to take me back to the airport. In the hotel lobby, Running-water was waiting for me.

“Thought you’d be back,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“Hand it over and do it now!” I said as I slammed him against the wall.

I pulled my clinched fist back to rearrange his perfect teeth. I heard it again. The same voice I heard in the car.

“You haven’t learned much, have you?”

Shame rushed over me and I let go of Running-water and dropped my fist. Esaugetuh's words popped into my head,  ‘Accept everything as having value.’

“Shit man! I thought we were friends. Here’s your damn key,” he said shaken by the force of my anger.

I took the key and started to leave. Something turned me around and I caught tears in his eyes. He turned his head to look away from me.

Again, I felt the rush of shame.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t know if Esaugetuh is alive or dead. Any thought of going into his house, of going through his things just blew me away. I’m sorry that I lost my cool."

Once more, I felt a twinge in my rib cage. Shrugging it off, I extended my hand to Running-water, “Can we start over again?”

“Sure. Can you?” he replied as he shook my hand.