When Petr saw the Indian his blood went cold. He froze. The Indian stood with his bow fully drawn with an arrow poised to strike, its small black point gleaming in the sun. And his eyes too bright–glittering obsidian points blazing at Petr–like he was half man, half lightning.
He barked, “Heya-hey!”
Petr jerked as if his body was operated by strings the Indian pulled. He felt his scalp rise. The knife in his hand felt foolish. This wasn’t just an Indian. He was seeing a force of nature: the supreme Warrior Being; King of the Indians–as if a bear or a mountain lion had formed into a man. Magnificent broad shoulders, the warrior was dressed in bleached white buckskins. Petr immediately thought of the big deer, the manitoo. Is it you? Did you lead me here? Just lure me to kill me?
The Indian relaxed the bowstring. He pointed the arrow at a narrow cliff. “You go there, you see?” He gestured to a ledge of rock at least twenty-five feet above the small lake. His voice very deep, “You jump–you swim down–I tell you where. You strip–shirt and shoes.”
Petr nodded and put the knife down. No question about obeying. Pretty certain disobeying meant instant death. He piled his shirt, boots, glasses–and the pretty watch.
The Warrior said, “You come up too soon, I put arrow in you,” gesturing for Petr to go up, his voice commanding, “Swim to mouth inside mountain, and go down fast as you can!”
Petr hurried to the back of the lake. At the base of the cliff where he would begin climbing was a broad slab of gray rock where Indian drawings blazed as if made by flaming fingers. Had he intruded on an Indian sacred place?
Wiggling pairs of snake lines; circles within circles and W’s like birds. Most stunning of all was a big white deer with huge antlers and a bird tangled in its horns–or flying from it.
It was the deer he had followed–the great manitoo–now falcon, now deer, now Indian? He brushed his fingers over it and felt a rising reverence.
It is their sacred place–and this warrior is going to kill me.
He moved beyond thinking as if his brain no longer told him what to do. He felt brilliant clarity had entered and a daring that bordered on insanity. He could do anything. Any thing. This Indian was somehow feeding him energy, sending him courage.
The Great Warrior watched closely, nodding encouragement, but not smiling. Petr knew what this was. Here was a test of manhood. Indians were big on bravery and manhood and showing it. Does he want me to succeed or to die?
Petr climbed smoothly up the granite face as if he had been scaling cliffs all of his life. It took only a minute to reach the high ledge above the calm water, which now looked different.
Seen from the ground the lake was a red-rimmed eye, a dead eye. Seen from here it was an icy blue eye, a turquoise mirror. His burst of fearlessness suddenly evaporated. You jump? You swim down? He couldn’t do it.
The Indian was poised like a statue, watching and waiting.
Petr called down, “What do I do now?” his voice quavery and weak.
The strong voice replied: “You gonna find out pretty soon. You jump. You swim into that hole. You gonna see. You find big place you can breathe again. You believe me or you gonna die. Now get a rock.”
The voice was so deep and powerful, Petr found he wanted to obey. He found a smooth cannonball-sized rock. Looking down, the lake now seemed the size of a small blue bucket. Leaning over the edge, he felt his stomach shrink. His vision made purple pinwheels of fire, the beginnings of a jimjam fit. He closed his eyes tight. Maybe it’s all just a jimjam dream. No, it felt very real. He spoke and his voice sounded childish.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
The warrior laughed, he said, “Indian boys jump from here long ago. They become real men, real Indians, or they die. You gonna find out now.”
Petr opened his eyes. The lake seemed very far down. “I’m afraid…I can’t…do that.”
The Warrior’s voice was deep as forest wind: “All boys afraid to die. Now you be a man. Now you do what I say, you live. You don’t do it, I kill you.”
Petr grimaced. I’m seventeen today: not a boy, not a good day to die, I refuse to die.
The Warrior nodded and his lips didn’t move, but Petr heard him anyway, only now it was inside his head and louder than before: I watch from this place for a long time–I wait for you–I know who you are. You are the one. Now hear me. I am with you when you hear me. I am in your heart when you need me. Go now and find me in your heart.
Petr didn’t understand what this meant, only that this was it. This was manitoo.
The words gave him strength. He took a step backward and raised the stone over his head. It was real. Either you’re a man or you’re not. If you’re not a man, you die. Simple as that.