He was dying the stone death. It had happened only to members of the Choctaw tribe for as long as anyone can remember. There are songs of it happening even as far back as the great crossing, where the land bridge rose between what is now Russia and Alaska. It was said that only the bravest of their people were chosen by the Great Spirit to become statues. This dying indian had lived long enough to know better. He had seen young braves go into battle as he had when he was young and never become stone people. He had seen old men and more squaws than braves become statues. Not all of the Choctaw people became stone people in death. Just a few did. He knew it to be a disease like the coughing death or fever. Just another way to die.
He stood with his offering in his open hand and looked into the distance. He hoped it was an eagle that would come to take his spirit to the other side. He had fought bravely. He had not taken from others of his tribe. He had fathered many young and provided well for all of them. He felt it would be only right that the Great Spirit would send an eagle to honor him on his journey.
When Artemis and Bill stumbled into the misty hollow and caught site of the tall dark indian, they nearly lost control of their bodily functions. They couldn't tell if he was alive or not. The indians eyes were open, and though the color was wrong, the old indian still seemed a formidable foe. The eagle had been long gone when the white men arrived. Whether the old indian had been standing there for a day, a week, a fortnight or a whole moon, they could not tell. They had no idea of why the indian was looking off into the distance with his hand open and the palm up.
Artemis had been in the woods to trade tobacco with the indians. He would return to open his tobacco shop in town. He decide right then and there, this old indian would be just the thing to draw people to his shop. In fact he thought to himself, he'd stick a bundle of cigars in the old fellows open hand. Through much effort on his and Bill's part they managed to get the indian back to Artemis' store. He did draw many a curious onlooker to come and see him. Since the color was wrong, and would continue to change, they painted him with normal house paint. Neither of them was too skilled an artist, so the result was a bit crude. This had worked so well for Artemis, that he was soon buried in orders for a similar indian for other tobacco stores. He made some of wood, and various other materials, but none looked quite as real as the original.
The irony did not stop there. In the midst of my medical problems, I was tested for lupus and did not have it, but I tested positive for connective tissue disorder. This is where the body's defenses start attacking the body itself. The particular pattern created by the test results, indicated a tendency towards diffuse cutaneous scleroderma. All of the medical jargon is just a medical way to say that your skin and then your internal organs calcify. To make an even greater generalization is to expand calcify into turning to stone. The disease is almost exclusive to the Choctaw indian tribe and the people of Thailand.
My grandfather was full blooded Choctaw indian. The disease is dormant in me now. I see the doctor every month to see if has becomes active. I've heard it is a terrible and slow death if it starts in the esophagus or stomach. If it hits the lungs, kidneys or heart, you go pretty quickly. I pray that I don't die this way.
Excuse me while I light another cigarette. You know that tobacco has always been of great importance to my people.