CHAPTER 16

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Kiowa shivers. "This night is the longest and coldest night of my life, Moon Beam." He pets the silver fox's head. "Something has been taken from me. There is an empty space inside me that will never be full. And it makes me so sad it hurts."

Moon Beam whimpers in short heaves.

The stars shine so brilliantly, Kiowa believes that maybe his father can see him through the portals of heaven. It gives him hope to be patient and suffer through his discomfort. He dozes off and falls asleep on the cool grass. Late into the night, his chattering teeth and uncontrollable shivering should have woken him up, but it is the rustling of the grass that disturbs him. He lies motionless, wondering what he should do.

He hears a distinct birdcall and then the familiar sound of his mother's voice. "Kiowa?"

He returns her call. "I'm over here."

Grass Woman squints and searches the darkness. "Ah, there you are."

She comes over and wraps a buffalo hide around his shaking body, then hugs him.

"I thought you might need this."

"It is late, Mother. Why are you awake?"

"Oh, I was thinking of you," she says, sitting beside him. A sprinkling of gray hair shines like Moon Beam's in the moonlight. She pats him on the back and moves her hand around in circles.

"Tell me a story," Kiowa says with a yawn that makes her yawn.

"Oh, I am not good at those," she says, pulling her son close to her side.

"Uncle tells wonderful stories."

Grass Woman begins to hum a soft song and sway back and forth. She looks up at the sky and searches for her husband's spirit. "I sometimes hear his stories. They make me happy mostly. But sometimes they make me sad."

Kiowa doses off.

When the sun rises, Kiowa feels its warm rays on his face. He opens his eyes and looks for his mother, but she is gone. Her trail leads back to the village. Beside her trail, there was another trail.

"NO!" He panics. Leaping to his feet, he shakes the warm buffalo blanket off and grabs his bow. To his complete surprise, fresh deer droppings are all around him. He missed his opportunity, and even though he doesn't want to, he quickly reports it to his uncle.

"Uncle, I remained still like the snake, but I slept like dogs and they went right past me."

"Thank you for your honesty. What have you learned?"

Kiowa is shocked that his uncle receives the news well. He makes a simple adjustment by saying, "They come and go as they please. But when the sun is up, they are nowhere to be found."

When Paw nods, he feels pleased with this experience. "But there is still a problem. I have not really done anything."

"So, what are you going to do?" Paw asks, leaning down so he's eye level with the boy.

Kiowa hesitates. He doesn't want to say, Try again, because last night was colder than he expected. And besides, all the other boys slept inside the comfort of their tepees, with their families, and they had all learned just as much.

"If we don't succeed, we try again," Paw whispers, patting him on the back.

"I guess..." Kiowa humphs.

"Are you thirsty while you stalk?"

"Yes, but I dare not get up and go drink water. It will startle my friends."

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