Brandon Hobson on Recovering Cherokee Myths from His Grandfather’s Notebook

"This notebook has become my passion. Discovering it has changed my life."

The second guard never responded. I wasn’t sure if he was frightened or annoyed, but he walked away from the wagon and left the first guard alone. It was at this point I decided to move in closer and see whether he noticed me. He took a drink of a jug and wiped his face with a rag. For a moment he looked around to see whether anyone was watching him. Though I wanted to attack him, I knew it was not the right time; still, I moved in his direction out of the darkness until he turned and looked at me. I saw his face and knew he saw me, though he did not look frightened. I wondered if he thought I was one of our people coming to talk to him.

“Your plan is to harm us,” I said to him. I heard my own voice this time, not a growl.

He stared at me, confused. He took a step to the side and gripped his rag as if trying to gather what he wanted to say.

“Say that again?” he said.

“I said your plan is to hurt us,” I told him again, taking another step forward.

Vengeance is a word not to be used lightly. Vengeance is not death. It is not evil. It is not to be taken for granted or ignored. Vengeance, mixed with anger and fury, can be more harmful than good. You should understand everything about vengeance and its importance for justice, for order and harmony. This is the way we believe, the way our ancestors believed. This is our way.

The question as to whether I should confront the soldiers and kill the ones who executed my son and me occurred to me over and over as I neared the stockade.

The soldier shook his head, confused. It was clear he didn’t understand what I was saying even though I could clearly hear my voice. As if by some curse, I felt compelled to attack and tear into his body with my hands and teeth and kill him instantly. I felt a burst of rage at the sight of him looking back at me, yet I did nothing. I did nothing because I thought of my wife, my daughter, and my son. The soldier couldn’t touch me, just as my daughter was unable to touch me even though I could feel her. I was safe because I had no body, no flesh, only spirit. My plan, therefore, changed as this guard looked at me through narrow eyes, and I could tell the longer he looked at me, the more afraid he became.

“Do you understand what you’re doing to these people?” I asked him. “Do you see what’s happening? Look around you, soldier.”

He stepped back and spoke the name of his god. He now looked terrified as I moved closer. He saw my spirit as an anger manifested into human form. He saw my fury.

I made a noise, a moan, but he turned and fled. I knew I had frightened him, and this satisfied me. It excited me as much as the thought of killing him. The night filled with the smell of meat cooking and I thought of the many times I snared and skinned rabbits for stew, though I did not hunger, even with the strong smell. I remembered chopping wood near this place in the middle of winter when my wife was nursing my daughter. I thought of our triumphs and struggles, the pain we endured throughout cold winters. My mind filled with angry, evil thoughts about the migration, and again I considered the question What was my reason for becoming a spirit? To kill or seek justice? Or to protect you, all of you, for years to come?

My beloved: I yearned for vengeance for my son, my family, our people—and yet I turned into an ageless hawk, strong and adept, and flew westward into the night sky.


From Conjunctions, Issue 71: A Cabinet of CuriosityCopyright © 2018 by Brandon Hobson.

Brandon Hobson
Brandon Hobson
Brandon Hobson is the author of the novel Where the Dead Sit Talking, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction, and other books. He has won a Pushcart Prize, and his work has appeared in magazines such as The Believer, The Paris Review Daily, Conjunctions, NOON, Post Road, and in many other places. He is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR.

More Story
The Lit Hub Questionnaire for 2018's Under-the-Radar Writers The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month...