Twilight
 

GUSTAV HASFORD
 
 

    With the setting sun to guide him, Blue Star had found the home of the Black Demon; twin rails of steel curved from the beyond and disappeared into the West.
    The young warrior's heart burned with pride.  He smiled, then laughed,and rubbed Bad Face behind the ears.  The old albino mule snorted.  "Yes, ugly one," said Blue Star, "It is a good day to die."
    On a ridge nearby the Spirit Warriors waited:  Sitting Bull, Chief Gall, Red Cloud, Rain-In-The-Face, Crazy Horse.  Blue Star was reassured, knowing that their magic powers flowed through his young body.  The Sun Dance had left ugly red gashes across his chest.  The gashes were encrusted with ancient blood, and the pain only reminded him of his courage.
    Thunder.
    The Black Demon was coming!
    He spoke reverently to the wild grandeur of the plains, his eyes on the Black Hills of South Dakota, "Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery, give me strength."
    A black thing appeared on the darkening horizon.  It came from a place where the rails were on and came at a speed which made the head dizzy.
    Blue Star began a strong, joyful chant.  His smile faded.  He sang and wailed and laughed and cried the strange song of life--the song of death.  It was a dignified ritual, but not sad:
        "Nothing lives long, except the earth and mountains
        The grass feeds my brother the great buffalo
        My brother the buffalo feeds my family and me
        Now go I to feed my brother the grass.
        So has it been and shall be forever,
        That with grateful pride I sacrifice my life
        And return my borrowed body to the Gods..."
    It would be a glorious battle!
    Blue Star's smile returned as he waved to the Spirit Warriors.  They cheered him with silent war cries.  For them, war was not an enterprise, but a test of courage, a religious rite.  They cheered his victory, for there was no defeat for the man of strong heart.
    A terrible rumble.  The earth-quaking tremble of tons of steel rolling sixty miles an hour, hurtling on and on with an ominous declaration of connecting rods and pistons.  A fat cylindrical boiler and a ridiculously large smokestack and a glowing headlight like a single eye, hurtling on, hurtling on, hurtling on.  Black smoke, white steam, rods swinging up and down, round and round.  Locomotive, locomotive, locomotive; clanging, hissing, bell-ringing, whistle-screeching, clickity-clack, clickity-clack, locomotive, locomotive.  Hurtling on, eating coal, burning timber, hurtling on.  Magnificent speed.  Pure, pulsing, rhythmic unrestrained and horrifying speed, hurtling on hurtling on, the whole great ugly bulk of it black as midnight in hell, hurtling on, hurtling on and on forever....
    Blue Star notched an arrow to his rawhide bowstring, said, "You have been a good war pony, old one," and then charged.  Bad Face galloped between the rails toward the storm of smoke and steel.
    Like a rattlesnake about to swallow a field mouse, the locomotive came at full speed, emitting a shrill series of warning blasts from its whistle.
    The flint-tipped arrows broke on the Demon, but Blue Star threw his stone axe with admirable skill.  It smashed the Black Demon's single eye, and Blue Star whooped wildly for his small victory.
    Bad Face was crumpling from exhaustion, but their journey was nearly done.
    In the final moments, Blue Star pulled a beautiful black obsidian scalping knife from his belt.  Why did the white men send such monsters?  The white men are smart, he thought, but they are not wise.  They would end this day in defeat.
    The impact of locomotive and meat was a quick, sickening thud.
    For Blue Star, it happened in slow motion:  the collision, the crushing wheel rolling into his groin, rolling up his abdomen, bursting vital organs, popping arteries, crushing the pelvic bones, crumpling his rib cage, squashing his blood-spurting heart, and finally crunching his skull like an eggshell beneath a wagon wheel.
    Bad Face was a gutted carcass.
    Long ago, in the times before, White Fawn--his wife--carried his remains to a lonely cottonwood tree and buried him--high in the branches, as was the custom of the Sioux in those days...
    Now, in the final wine-red moments of twilight, Blue Star mounted Bad Face and rode into the darkness at the foot of the Black Hills.  There the Spirit Warriors told him once again:  As long as he died as he would have lived, the Sioux Nation would live on.
    Using the setting sun as his guide, he once again found the home of the Black Demon; twin rails of steel curved from the beyond and disappeared into the West.
    Thunder.
 

 
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