The red, the teeth, the snarls, the biting…
His brother’s screams…
Gasping, Beehive awoke. Soft grass cooled his ankles, absorbing the sweat dripping off him. The glow of fire caught his eye. Nearby sat Chief Black Bear inhaling his pipe silently, the trail of smoke from the fire and his herbs weaving up into the stars.
“Beehive,” he called, his voice rough and cold, like the earth. “Come. I know you’re awake.”
A small shiver ran up from Beehive’s feet to the top of his head. He stood up, and walked to the Chief.
No matter how many times he’d sat in front of the Chief, Beehive couldn’t believe how many scars were across his face—how many times death had kissed him, promising to come back for more. Two on his right cheek, one across his forehead, another along the bridge of his nose—a necessary scar for initiation.
The same one along Beehive’s.
“Bobcat told me you didn’t want to go hunting today,” the Chief said. “I’d like to know why.”
Beehive swallowed, fighting back tears. “I still see him… in my dreams. I can still see that bear… my brother…”
The Chief nodded.
Beehive gazed into the fire, gathering his knees. A few tears slipped from his eyes. “I don’t want to die, Chief Black Bear. I don’t… I don’t want to end up like Arrowhead. But I’m scared. And if I’m scared, then I’m not a man. I’m a coward.”
“Cowards let fear dictate their choices. Men do not.” The Chief lowered his pipe to his lap. “No man knows what comes after death, or when their death comes. Not even me, Beehive. What happened to your brother was unfortunate, but you must accept death as a part of life. Then you will no longer feel afraid.”
“But I want to be prepared for when I die. If I’m near a bear or a wolf—”
“Then you must live every day as if it were your last.”
“But that’s it? That’s all I can do? Just accept it?”
Chief Black Bear nodded.
Beehive watched fire dim. “Then… in that case…” The frown left his face, softening into a tentative line. “I can’t stay here.”
“I want to live up to the name I chose—how I’m full of restless bees that want to visit every flower in the world and bring it back home. I’ve always wanted to see the world. If I stay here and think too much of Arrow’s death, I can’t move on.”
“Then I will not stop you.”
The young boy blinked. “You… You won’t?”
Chief Black Bear shook his head. “I won’t. So long as you remember that one day, you will die.”
Beehive’s chest tightened. The embers of the fire between them dying, he placed a nearby stone over it to let it rest.
“I will,” the young man said.
This post was inspired by Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Thanks for reading!