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Tommy Cheis

A Visit from the Four Great Ones


Drumming. Singing. Great Ones whispering. Tooahyaysay. There are four Rounds. First is Giant.

Dah guh teh, Tooahyaysay, says One Once Called Mangas. I knew your family.

They said you were our greatest strategist and diplomat, but you were too trusting.

There is balance in everything. You’re learning to strike it. Put this blue stone in your mouth. You’ll be visited by four ancestors. Listen to what each has to say. Each will present a bundle. Learn the lessons he teaches. You’ll need them today. As the eldest, I come first, and from the east. Take this Black Bundle. Open it.

A huge man forty feet tall brandishing an obsidian knife with a pine handle appears. Giant squares off with me on a barren rock slab under a blazing sun. Buzzards circle. You have something I’m going to eat, he says. Your land and the metal in it. Even if I have to kill you first.

“You can’t eat our land. It’s who we are. It’s where our people lived, died, and are buried.”

Try to stop me.

A knife appears in my hand. “With this, I will.”

Be ready he says, then slashes from the east.

Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. His blade goes over my head.

Then he cuts from the south.

  Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. His blade misses before me.

Then he stabs from the west.

Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. His blade flashes to my left.

Then he strikes from the north.

Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. His blade slips by my right side.

Unscathed, I remove my loin cloth. “My turn.”

My first cut, a slash from the east, opens Giant’s abdomen. My second, a sweep from the south, slits Giant’s throat. My third, a hack from the west, slices away Giant’s genitals. My fourth cut, a poke from the north, punctures Giant’s heart.

Giant falls into four pieces and disappears, leaving only crimson splotches on hot rock.

Mangas relieves me of the bloody knife. You have done me a great favor. Now you know what your ancestors know. You act like a man. Today, you will win great battles. But you still have the three worst to kill.

Tell me how to win, One Once Called Mangas.

You’ll figure it out. He heads south and disappears.

Round Two. Drumbeats. Blood scent. Heat. Tooahyaysay, the Second Round is Eagle.

One Once Called Cochise arrives from the south. Ha honda, Tooahyaysay. You’re an Oak, alright. And I’m the toughest Chiricahua who ever lived.

Everyone knows that.

No more. You’ve supplanted me. You’re blood but I summoned you as you’re a great leader. Between Willow and Pine after you kill Giant—they’ll jump you from three directions. Cloak yourself. Open this Blue Bundle.

I’m slumped on a bed of pine needles, wrapped in a dead foe’s intestines, covered in blood, feigning death. Female Rain falls, warm and gentle. Then Male Rain, cold, hard, and angry.

Eagle soars over the Mesa, hunting me. I see you, Will. Now you’re going to die.

I say nothing. Eagle flies in closer. Hot breath burns my cheek. His wings block the rain.

I see you, Will. Now you’re going to die.

I say nothing. Eagle flies in to peck at the intestines, cutting me with his beak.

I see you, Will. But you’re dead.

In a rush, before Eagle consumes me, I raise my war club. I, Tooahyaysay, see you, Eagle. Now you’re going to die. I bring the club down hard on Eagle’s head. Eagle’s beak crushes. His eyes pop out.

Eagle falls from the sky, dead.

I pluck four of his feathers and offer them to the four directions.

One Once Named Cochise reappears. Tooahyaysay, I’ve never been prouder of anyone. But you still have the two worst to kill. Nan dus selth. He heads west and disappears.

Rumbling. Rattling. Snorting. Tooahyaysay, Third Round is Natzili—Buffalo Bull.

One Once Called Victorio comes from the west. Ha honda, shikisn. So you’re the great leader.

I pale beside you.

Speaking lies is not the Chiricahua way. Once it was my turn. Now it’s yours. You’re doing things properly.

So I made the right choice?

If you would keep the covenant with Yusen, there is no choice. Put everything away except your Power. But before you can use your Power, you must give something up. What did you relinquish?

All hope of a better past.

One Once Called Victorio holds out a Yellow Bundle. Open it.

An enormous Bull appears. I see you, Will, he huffs. And now it’s time to die. He runs from the west, horns aimed at my heart, eyes afire. The ground thunders at his approach.

“You’re too slow, Bull,” I razz him, then run zigzag patterns to confuse him, then at the last minute lay flat and cover myself with dirt. He flashes over me but inflicts no damage.

You duped me, he bellows, then turns and runs from the north.

“You’re too weak, Bull.” I run in waves to disorient him. It’s as if mountains are tumbling. At the last second I lay flat and cover myself with spider webs. He misses on my left side.

You tricked me, he says. This time, you’re mine. He turns and runs from the east.

“You’re too old, Bull.” I run a maze pattern to confound him, then at the last minute lay flat and cover myself with pine needles.  It’s as if the sky is falling.

He comes up short in the near distance, breathing hard. You fooled me. This time, you’re mine.  He bellows and changes directions. On his fourth run he comes from the south.

“You’re too stupid, Bull.” I run out the constellations to deceive him. It’s as if hell’s broken loose. At the last instant, I hold out my hand.

He stops. You conned me. You win. Bull sighes as his heart explodes, then slowly vanishes.

One Once Named Victorio reappears. Well done, son of Ben son of Great Oak son of warriors back to Child-of-Water. But you still have the worst to kill. Put on this white flint necklace. I’ll see you when you walk on.

He heads north and disappears.

Rat-a-tat-tat. Tooahyaysay, Round Four is Antelope.

I’m in a wide-open prairie. One Once Known as Geronimo rides in from the north on a painted pony. I know your family, he says. Naiche was a shadow of his father. Are you a shadow of Ben Oak?

That’s not for me to say.

You won’t answer me. Nzhoo. Let your deeds speak instead of your words and numbers.

One Once Known as Geronimo, do you have regrets?

Only that I turned myself in. I should have fought the White Eyes to the last drop of my blood. Never surrender, Tooahyaysay. Take this White Bundle. Open it for what it’s worth. There isn’t much time. 

Rain. Lightning. Thunder. Antelope barrels from the north. Hot beams shoot from his eyes, igniting grama grass and junipers. Wherever Antelope creates fire, there’s smoke. Antelope runs to the white cloud and digs around, finding nothing.

When I catch you, Will, I’ll tie you to a tree and burn you alive as a witch.

“You’ll never catch me, Antelope. You’re too lazy.” I shoot an arrow to the north. Where it lands, it shifts to white smoke. I run west while Antelope gallops to the snowy fumes and digs his horns in the ground, rending it in all four directions, finding nada.

When I catch you, son of Ben, I’ll roast your brains over a fire. He gallops toward me from the east.

“You’ll never catch me, Antelope. You’re too headstrong.” I shoot an arrow to the east. Where it lands, it’s black smoke. I run north while Antelope bounds to the ink-dark fumes. There, he digs with his hooves, gouging the ground in all four directions, finding zilch.

When I catch you, blood of Cochise, I’ll bake your guts like mescal and feed them to Javelina. Then he pivots and trots at me from the south.

“You’ll never catch me, Antelope. You’re too undisciplined.” I shoot an arrow to the south. Where it lands, it turns to blue smoke. I run east while Antelope leaps to the cerulean haze. There, he furrows the ground with his nose in all four directions, finding zero.

When I catch you, Tooahyaysay, I’ll hang you by the neck from an oak and light your hair on fire. Then he whirls around and walks toward me from the west.

“You’ll never catch me, Antelope. You’re too fatigued.” I shoot an arrow to the west. Where it lands, it becomes yellow smoke. I run south while Antelope crawls to the vermillion puff.

Antelope licks a cross on the ground and dies. I grab his horns, wrench off his head, and turn it. His eyes see his beheaded body. When it bursts into flames, I toss his head atop the pyre.

One Once Known as Geronimo reappears. So you had your say in things. Killed all four, hey. No one has since Child-of-Water. Shit, I’d ride with you in battle, shikisn. From what I seen, you’ll win yours today.

Thanks to you and the others.

We taught nothing. We only restored your connection to Power.

Will anyone survive today?

You can’t go into battle thinking about that. War to the knife, people die. You try to keep your soldiers from harm, you wind up killing em faster and losin the battle, hey. Anything else?

I don’t even know what questions to ask you.

You’re humble. Arrogance undid me. Let me ask the fuckin questions. What’re you scared of now?

Failing. I pray I’ll be brave enough to die unquestioning and uncomplaining.

You will. What do you want more than anythin and shit like that?


That’s a lie. You could’ve rescued her but didn’t. Somethin else is your highest value.

Justice, goddamnit. I want justice if it kills me!

Then fight for it. Long as one of us is alive, the Chiricahua have a future. Men will hunt. Women will gather plants. One last piece of advice. Never surrender. Travel in time and space. Fire. Beasts. Water.


One Once Known as Geronimo spurs his pony east and disappears without a tracer.

Dizzy. Dark. Cold. Numb.

Baylor. Helo. Armor. Laser.

Silent. Dead. Reborn. Power.

Awake. Heart racing. A failure. Horror.


About the Author: Tommy Cheis is a Chiricahua Apache (Native American) writer originally from the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona. He is a descendant of Cochise and Naiche. After traveling extensively through distant lands and meeting interesting people, and picking up degrees along the way, he now resides in southeastern Arizona with his wife, dog and horses. His first novel, RARE EARTH, is under submission.



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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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