People still hear shrieks in the mountains, like the cackling of the notorious one who,
once upon a time, could appear in any shape she wished.
Spearfinger was her name, and she was a master of disguise. She could look like your
friend, like a fish or a bird or a mouse, or like the kindest person you had ever known.
But beneath those many disguises, she was a monster whom no one could harm. Arrows, knives
and rocks bounced off her body, for it was made of stone.
Parents warned their children. "Stay in the lodge," they said. "Utlunta" -- for that is
what they called her -- "is on the trails looking for children like you." But children do
not always listen.
She was most dangerous in the autumn, for those were the days when she could walk out of
the mountains hidden in smoke from the brushfires and bonfires. One day, late in October,
out of that smoke she appeared, disguised as an old woman.
"Please help, I need rest," she said to a group of children sitting around a smoky fire,
and no one knew that beneath her blowing cape, she hid her dangerous stone finger.
The children saw only a withered old woman, and naturally they offered her a seat. And
then she smiled at a little girl. "Sit on my lap, and I will brush your hair," she said.
The innocent girl sat upon her lap and then, with her special stone finger, Spearfinger
stabbed the child's side. The girl never felt a thing.
Later the girl walked home, and that night she grew very sick. Then the villagers knew.
Spearfinger had struck again.
The next day a little boy fell, and a kindly old woman swooped in and said, "Come to me,
and I'll kiss away your pain." The little boy ran into the woman's arms, never suspecting
that this was Spearfinger.
Sometimes after she had attacked a child, she took on that child's appearance. She skipped
home, and there in the lodge she stayed until dark, when she could attack other children
before she disappeared back into the mountains.
When one village was warned, Spearfinger hurled boulders onto other boulders and created
bridges from one mountain to the next. She traveled across the land this way, striking
villages when they did not expect her.
Now and then a hunter spotted her up in the mountain peaks, eagles her only companions,
soaring overhead, but no one could stop her. Month after month, year after year, she struck
at the children.
At long last the people called a grand council. "We must stop her," they agreed, and the
medicine men spoke.
"She comes in disguise, and she is drawn to smoke, and she sings, and her flesh is stone.
There is only one way to catch her. We will dig a pit, and we will cover it with brush,
and we will chase her until she falls into our trap."
"And then what?" the people asked. "Somehow we will find a way to rid ourselves of her
forever," the medicine men answered.
And so they made a huge bonfire, and sure enough, when Spearfinger saw the smoke, she
cackled and came down into the village, leaving a trail of stones and shattered brush in
When the medicine men saw her coming, they cried to the young men. "Run! She must chase you."
"But that isn't her," one young man said. "That's only an old woman." Some said they
recognized her, and they were confused. "She looks helpless," they protested, standing still.
One of the medicine men threw his spear, and when it hit her stone body, it shattered.
Then the young men understood this was no human being.
Spearfinger shrieked and wagged her stone finger at them. Then she rushed forward. The
young men ran, and Spearfinger chased them. Just as the medicine men had planned, she
did not see the pit, and so she fell, howling as she slid to the bottom.
She was trapped in the pit, and everyone shot arrows at her, but nothing could pierce her
flesh. "I'll get you, all of you," she screamed as she collected all the spears and arrows
and began to climb out of the pit.
"What will we do?" the people wailed.
That's when the birds came -- only two, the titmouse and the chickadee. They flew through
the smoke, and the people called out, "How do we kill her?"
The titmouse sang, "Un, un, un, un," and the villagers thought it was singing "heart," so
they aimed at the place they thought her heart must be.
Spearfinger laughed as arrows bounced off her chest.
"Liar!" the warriors cried at the titmouse, and struck at it. The titmouse flew away and
vanished forever, but the chickadee flew to the witch's hand, and there it sang.
So the people aimed at that hand, and true enough, that was where Spearfinger's heart was.
One more howl, and the people watched as Spearfinger sank to the ground, dead at last.
Way up in the mountains, another creature made of stone, Stoneskin, heard Spearfinger's
shriek echoing off every peak, and later, when he saw her hand impaled upon a post, he knew
what had happened. And he also understood that he, too, had been warned. But he only shrugged.
Today the Cherokee honor the chickadee, calling it "tsi kilili," or truth-teller. But sometimes,
on a chilly, misty night in October, if you listen closely, you will hear a shriek coming from
the mountains, and you must wonder if the sound comes from Stoneskin, and if he will strike again,