by Aidan Fritz
Willowleaf cursed the gray sky overhead. What self-respecting hawk spirit would be out on a day like this? The broad Beech leaves slapped against his cheeks as he ascended the broken trail. Too many boys never came back.
A caw echoed through the canyons and Willowleaf ran to the overlook to search for something, a shadow, anything, but the horizon was empty, except for the flat clouds and a scent of rain, only a precursor to the darker gray of raindrops. Today was the last day for Willowleaf to become a man, and here had been his best chance to find the hawk spirit. But wait, down against the slate of the rock he saw a ghost image.
He ran through the forest stepping where his moccasins wouldn't rustle sticks and dead leaves. He used his downhill momentum to jump the creek at the bottom where the bubbling water hid the sound of his feet. Overhead loomed the raw cliff like a wound on the side of the hill.
Willowleaf balanced across the stones to return to the trail when a feather floated on the creek. He stumbled off the rock--barely noticing the cold water--and sprinted upstream.
The hawk watched him and Willowleaf held out an arm for the spirit who flew to him. He was a man now. But, as he looked into the golden eyes, he discovered it would be years before he came home again. But, not because he had failed.