I was born 22 years ago in a small Colorado town an hour’s drive from both Farmington and Durango, just below Mesa Verde and a few miles from Ute Mountain. This was where I spent the first five years of my life before moving to Oklahoma. We still go back every year around summer for about a week or so to see family.
Now, the town being where it was, there was a heavy Native American population there and a reservation about ten miles away. Mostly Ute but a fair amount of Navajo as well. The culture was and still is very entwined into the town’s architecture and local art.
Now, as for the skinwalkers. As a child, I never learned the word or what it meant. Years later I came to learn that my mother (a white woman who had grown up well away from Native American culture and legend) always shuddered at the mention and hated the topic. She’s one of the ones who doesn’t necessarily believe in such things but she can’t be certain they aren’t real. I myself am a little more certain.
When I was younger (and even now, I think, because of these events) I had a crippling fear of the dark. The vulnerability of being in a place where you cannot see things that can see you just fine. The unknown.
One night, when I was about nine, I was over at another young boy’s house having a sleepover. The game room we fell asleep in had a large sliding glass door that faced out into an empty lot of dirt and scrub. It wasn’t uncommon to see a prairie dog town in full bustle there. But at night, the lot was a bleak and terrifying place. I had fallen asleep on the floor facing the window.
At some point I woke up to go to the bathroom, walking down the hall and doing so. On my way back to the small pallet I had on the floor, I looked out the door into the lot. Why I did, I don’t know, given my fear of the dark. From the faint moonlight I could make out a small form darting about from scrub brush to scrub brush, maybe a hundred feet away. Most likely a prairie dog or a rabbit. Dropping from out of the sky a hawk swooped down and pinned it just out of sight behind a patch of yucca. I was quite shocked by the sudden appearance of the bird, but not as much as I was by the man who crawled out from behind the patch on his hands and knees and stood up. In his hand was a small form dangling from its back leg.
Now, this man wasn’t dressed normally, as you may guess. From where I was I could make out that he was shirtless, wearing ratty looking pants and he didn’t appear to be wearing shoes. But most striking was his choice of headwear. On his head and going halfway down his back was what I could only imagine to be a full pelt of a coyote or a fox, with feathers tied to and dangling from the paws and tail.
He dropped the prairie dog/rabbit into a pouch on his waist and stood there for a few moments, looking around. He took a few steps away before stopping and turning to look at the house. At me. I don’t know for sure if he saw me standing there in the shadows of the room, but I know he looked directly at that glass door. He turned back the way he was walking, dropped to all fours and ran off, far more smoothly than most people would in such a manner.
I was frozen there for what seemed like hours but was more likely a few minutes. I heard my friend say my name behind me, him having woken up to pee and seeing me just standing there, staring out the door. He asked me what I was doing and I promptly told him it was nothing and laid back down. I didn’t sleep at all again that night. I could hear coyotes howling and yipping in the distance all the way to morning.
In the morning my friend and I went out into the lot, him to see prairie dogs and me to see what the hell happened last night. As I approached the yucca I noticed that there was blood on the ground and the leaves. Not much, but enough to notice at a glance. There was also fur and what looked to be a bird skull down at the base of one of the plants. But the thing I hoped I wouldn’t find was right there in front of me. In the dirt, there were very clear hand and foot prints leading out from the bush and away into the scrub, off toward Ute Mountain.
I never told anyone of this experience, and I never spent the night at that friend’s house again. Whenever we go back to visit family, we drive by that friend’s house on the way in. And every time, I shudder just a little bit when I think of that night.
I don’t know what I saw that night, but from everything I learned since then I think I saw what the Navajo call a Yee Naaldlooshii.