"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Inspiration for Firelight

The Story:

From the moment half-breed beauty Phoenix Shappell sees the fiery red stallion on the cliffs overlooking Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, she knows it’s the supernatural Fire Horse of her dreams – her guardian spirit. But while the wild and spirited Navajo woman sets out to capture the elusive stallion, she is thwarted by headstrong rancher Rafe Cutrell, who believes the horse is a killer and wants only to destroy it.

The powerful attraction between Rafe and Phoenix is held in check by divided heritage and an inexplicable distrust of each other. Their meeting sets into motion a journey to find the red stallion, as well as answers to what appears to be a previous life they shared that ended tragically. While enemies plot to kill them, Phoenix and Rafe must search their hearts–and their souls–as they follow the mysterious stallion across the mesas, and across time, to their new destiny. Set in the late 1800s.

Behind the Story:

It all started with a huge box of Frontier Times magazines given to me by a friend of my husband. He knew I wrote westerns and thought I might find something of value in the old magazines. Indeed I did. I found two separate articles, one from a 1967 issue about a chindi (an evil spirit), and the other from a 1973 issue about a chindi that rode a “spirit horse.”

In the first article, a Navajo family in 1825 had hired a powerful but blind medicine man to perform a three-day sing on a member of the family, whom they believed was tormented by the spirit of a dead enemy. They were supposed to pay the medicine man with five butchered sheep, but because they didn’t want to part with their sheep, they decided to give him the meat of five antelope, believing he would never notice the difference.

Within weeks, however, members of the family began to die, and it came to light that the medicine man had indeed noticed the difference and had put a curse on the family. They went to him to make amends, and he agreed he would remove the chindi for a price, but he wanted some time to think about what that price would be. The family members returned in ten days to find, to their horror, that he had died without removing the curse.

The immediate family, as well as the extended family, saw their members growing sick, wasting away, and dying mysteriously. When white man’s medicine arrived in the Navajo country, they sought aid, but these doctors could find no disease, inherited or otherwise, that could be attributed to the family’s troubles.

People knowledgeable in the Navajo religion believed that the chindi would follow the family until every last member died. There were a hundred members in the extended family in 1825 when the curse was placed, and by 1928 only one member remained, a young girl being cared for by friends. This family tried desperately to keep her alive, fleeing every time they believed the chindi had found them. But it was no use. On a cold, snowy night, the young girl met the same fate as those family members who had gone before.

In the second article dated 1973, the Navajo people in one region believed that a chindi rode the back of a wild palomino stallion. Any time he and his wild band were near, the people huddled in fear, believing that the devil rode the back of the “spirit horse” and that someone would die before morning. And someone usually did.

But the Navajo people had not always lived in fear of the magnificent animal. When the stallion first escaped its owner and fled into the wild, many tried to catch him. But their attempts to tame him were futile. He turned savage. When the rope settled over him, he screamed, bucked, kicked, and broke through barriers until he was free again. Efforts continued until someone did indeed capture him and manage to get on his back. But the stallion immediately threw him to the ground, then, enraged it turned on the man and crushed his body with his forefeet. This time no one went after the horse. There was no doubt that he was possessed by an evil spirit.

As the superstition around the stallion grew, he continued to roam the region, stealing mares and making runs through villages. No Navajo dared shoot him because they were afraid the chindi would retaliate. They tried to get white men to kill him. They even tried to kill the man whose mare had foaled the devil horse. People were so afraid that when they heard the horse “running with the wind” in the night, they loaded their belongings and fled before the chindi could catch them.

They finally convinced a white man to kill the horse. But when the stallion came into his gun sights, the man could not bring himself to pull the trigger on such a magnificent creature. He fired several times, but purposefully missed.

The horse disappeared after that, and the Navajo in the area thought the white man’s bullets had surely killed the stallion. But the white man knew better. He believed the horse was bound to surface again, so he went looking for him. He was relieved to find the stallion grazing on a distant range. Then, a month later, the horse’s body was found by a rancher. Someone had hung the dry carcass on a fence where everyone could see it. The white man believed the horse must have died from a disease, or perhaps poison, and no one else came forward taking credit for the horse’s death.

There’s nothing more alluring than a wild stallion, roaming free with his mares. Such a sight has always stirred the blood and the imagination, and in the case of these stories, clearly the fear and superstition of some. As my reincarnation story came together, I decided that my stallion would not be a killer or an evil spirit; he would be a guardian spirit whose purpose was to reunite two people whose previous lives together had ended in tragedy. His purpose would be to give them another chance at love. And so was born Firelight.