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ROGER HUMES

The Shaman's Hat

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The afternoon was warm, bathed by the yellow metal sun in a sky of the blue that reminded one of the tales of the far off sea. At the time of day when there were no shadows, the young boy picked his way carefully along the crags of the hillside. He would have rather been dozing while ignoring the heat and the flies, but it was his job to find one of the calves that had strayed.

Suddenly, he noticed ahead of him a lean wizen figure crossing the hill. His breath caught in his throat as he squatted in the grass hoping not to be seen. The man was a great shaman. He had heard many tales of him. If the shaman saw him and somehow found out his name he would be undone.

When the shaman neared the lone tree at the top of the hill a gust of wind blew his hat into the branches. However, he was so lost in thought he didn’t notice. The boy watched until the shaman disappeared over the crest of the hill before he arose.

He stared for a moment at the hat but realized it was higher in the tree than he had time for retrieving. Besides, he needed to find the calf.

As he turned to walk away he felt as if he was being watched from the tree.

The cycle of herding took the boy and his tribe away to other grazing lands. It was months before they returned. Late one afternoon when he led the last few cows over the crest of the hill, he remembered the shaman’s hat. He wondered if it was still there.

He walked to the base of the tree and looked up. He dropped his stick and ran, leaving the cows to find their way back to the rest of the herd.

In the branches he had seen the glint of two green eyes.

Strange things started to happen whenever anyone went near the tree. At first, they heard low moans. Later, the noises grew louder into howls and growls. The branches rustled as if something moved within them. Eventually, the shape of a wicked and bent creature could be seen.

One day the boy was herding near the hill. A cow started to amble to the lush grass under the tree. The boy was going to stop it, for the tree had grown to frighten him. However, a bird that suddenly took off from the brush distracted him. When he turned back to the cow it was gone.

He searched for hours but never did find it.

Other animals started to disappear near the tree. One day one of his brothers breathlessly ran into camp. He had been near the tree when he noticed a man walking by it. He was about to greet him when two hairy arms reached down and pulled the man up into the branches.

Father and the other men decided something had to be done. They lit torches, went to the hill, and surrounded the tree. But no man was brave enough to approach and set it on fire. From the branches they could hear an evil laughter directed at them.

Then behind them, they heard a voice say, “Out of my way!”

It was the old shaman. He walked past them and climbed the tree. The branches moved. The leaves rustled. There was a deep growl followed by silence. A few minutes later he came down placing his hat on his head.

As he walked by the little boy he mumbled to himself, “So that’s where I lost it!”

From that day forward there was no shape or eyes to be seen in the tree, and the only sound to be heard coming from its branches was the fingers of the wind caressing the leaves.




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