by Sam Leo


In Cherokee myth, Selu was the corn mother, goddess of growing crops. This is a very common myth among American Indians, the death of the corn mother ensuring crop growth to later generations.


Stopping near the entrance of her house, Selu looked at the two young men waiting inside, studying each face in turn. She did not smile; her expression was one of bemused tolerance.

"So," she said in a quiet voice. "I see. You have decided to kill me."

The young men glanced at each other. "Yes," one admitted finally. "You are our mother, but you are a witch!" He looked at her closely. "How did you know?"

Her smile broke through, the kind of smile any mother might offer her sons. "I know many things; as you have said, I am a witch!" Shaking her head, she crossed the room. "Have you thought," she asked as she put down the basket she was carrying, "about how you will eat after I am dead?" They mumbled an indeterminate response; she laughed.

"Very well, then," she went on, coming back to stand before them. "I will tell you what you must do. After you've killed me, drag my body on the ground outside, seven times around the house. Make certain the soil there is soaked with my blood. Then stay, and wait until morning. If you do as I say, you will never be hungry, and you will never have to work for your food."

"Very well," one of the boys said. "We will do as you say."

"We must kill her now, my brother," the other one put in. "We must kill her before she uses her witchcraft to stop us!"

Again Selu laughed. "My sons, if I had wished to do that you would already have waited much too long!" She shook her head. "No, I will not. If you wish to kill me, I will not stop you. But you must give me time to prepare myself." Without waiting for an answer, she turned away from them and started untying the lacing holding her buckskin dress together. While the boys watched, she stripped it off and carefully hung it on a peg on the wall. Naked, she turned to face them again. "Perhaps," she murmured, "one of your future wives can use that dress. There is no need in ruining it."

Even though she was their mother, they could not help staring at her as she crossed the room toward a pile of skins lying in the corner. She had the body of a young girl, her breasts high and firm, her waist small, her legs long and shapely. She sat down on the skins and leaned back, spreading her long black hair out around her head and propping up one knee. Her hands laid on the skins beside her.

"Now, my sons," she told them. "I am ready. You can kill me if you wish, whenever you wish. But don't forget what I've told you!"

"We will not," one of the boys said as they approached her, one on either side. Each held a war-club with a spiked tip, one shaped like a hummingbird's head, the other bearing a bladed spike emerging from a carved ball. Still smiling slightly, she turned her head to look at first one, then the other. After a prolonged pause, the one holding the hummingbird club lifted it over her head.

"No," she told him, raising a hand. "Do not strike me there. When your father returns, he will be angry. After I am dead, cut off my head and place it on the roof, so he knows what you have done."

"As you wish, our mother," the boy replied. Again he drew back the club, now aiming the long hummingbird beak at her chest. With calm eyes, she watched him. He hesitated, his hand shaking a little.

"Strike, my brother! She is a witch, she must die!" the other boy cried.

"Yes," Selu agreed. "If you have decided to kill me, there is no need to wait any longer."

The first boy glanced at his brother, then back down at her. Finally, his mouth set, he struck her with the club.

Selu's body stiffened as the beaklike spike sank into the smoothness of her breast, biting in above her nipple, on the right. Her legs drew up, her eyes closed and her mouth dropped open as her fingers clutched at the furs she was lying on. Bright red blood started spurting out, flowing rapidly across the velvety brownness of her skin.

For a few seconds neither boy moved; the spike remained, piercing Selu's breast, and her blood continued to force its way out around it. She sighed deeply; the boy's paralysis broke, and he pulled it out. Her blood flowed with a new vigor then, streaming across her chest.

After staring at it for a few more seconds, the other boy suddenly struck at her abdomen with his own club.

She grunted as the bladed spike buried itself; she moved her hands toward it, but he snatched it back, ripping her belly terribly in the process.

"Strike me again, my sons," she cried, raising her head to look down at the blood pouring from her wounds. She waved her hands over her chest. "Here, here, strike here if you would kill me. I live yet...!"

Courageous now, the boy with the hummingbird club did as she said, piercing her breast again with the spike. She moaned and squirmed as new blood welled up; he tore the club free and hit her again, driving the spike deeply into her right breast once more.

"Strike the other as well," she said weakly. "They fed you once when you were infants, and the blood must flow from them if they are to feed you after I am dead!"

The other boy nodded and slammed his club down against her left breast; the bladed spike affixed to it struck her nipple directly and sliced right through it. Once again she groaned, and blood started running freely from her mouth as well. When the hummingbird club's beak sank into her again, she hardly reacted at all.

The boys paused, looking down at her. "Are you dead, my mother?" one of them asked.

Her eyes flickered open, and she looked back at him. Her eyes were clear, calm. "No, my son," she answered, her voice very faint. "No." She took a wheezing breath; blood spouted up from her pierced breasts. Weakly, she raised her hand and cupped the left one, lifting it a little. "Strike me here," she instructed, gesturing vaguely to a spot beneath it. "Strike me here, and I shall die!"

After a slight hesitation the boy hammered the club down, driving the hummingbird beak into her lifted breast. Again her body jerked, and fresh blood welled up around this new wound. The woman frowned up at him, but she shuddered once more and laid still, her eyes closed.

The boy with the hummingbird club laid his weapon down. "And now," he said, "She is dead. We must cut off her head." The other nodded, and both drew out their knives.

They leaned down close to her, moved her long hair up behind her head, exposing her slim neck. Her face looked very peaceful. Gently, one of the boys turned her head to the side, positioned his knife just below her ear, and drove it in.

Her eyes popped open again and her body spasmed; more blood ran from this new wound.

"She is not dead!" the other boy cried.

"Thrust your knife into her!" the first answered. "Kill her!"

His brother responded immediately, stabbing her in the stomach; with one knife blade in her neck and another in her abdomen, she squirmed on the mat, her legs trembling violently. The second boy jerked his knife free and began stabbing her repeatedly, piercing her breasts and her abdomen; the first concentrated on her neck.

He pushed his knife deeper and started working it back and forth, slicing through the skin and muscle, hacking through her windpipe, and finally opening her throat. Grabbing a handful of her hair, he pulled it up hard, spreading the wound wide open. Her body was utterly rigid, her legs pushed out stiffly; she stared up at him with wide eyes as he shoved the knife back into the gaping wound, grinding it through the bone and the remaining flesh. At last her head came free. While the boy held it, both of them watched the body twitching and jerking violently, watched the blood spouting from the stump of her neck and dripping from her severed head.

One of the boys went to fetch a stick; when he returned they sharpened the end of it with their knives, not noticing that her eyes continued to follow their movements as they worked. Then, while one held Selu's head, the other pushed the stick up into her open windpipe. Yet again her features contorted; only when the thick piece of wood was driven far up into her brain did her eyes begin to glaze.