The Land of the Dead
A great hunter brought home a wife. They loved each other and were very happy. But the man’s mother hated the young wife, and one day when the husband was out hunting, she put a sharp, pointed object in the wife’s seat, and the woman sat down upon it and was killed.
The people immediately brought brush and piled it up. They put her body on it and burned it, and by the time her husband returned that night her body was consumed.
She was leading him in the direction of the rock past which all dead people go. If they have lived bad lives, the rock falls on them and crushes them. When they came to it, she spoke to her husband. “We are going to the place of dead people,” she told him. “I will take you on my back so hat you will not be seen and recognized as one of the living.”
Thus they traveled on until they came to the river that the dead have to ford. This was very dangerous for the man because he was not dead, but the woman keep him on her back, and they came through safely. The woman went directly to her people, to her parents and brothers and sisters who had died before. They were glad to see her, but the did not like the man, for he was not dead. The woman pleaded for him, however, and they let him stay. Special food always had to be cooked for him, because he could not eat what dead people live on. And in the daytime he could see nothing, it was as if he were alone all day long; only in the night did he see his wife and the other people.
When the dead were going hunting, they took him along and stationed him on the trail the deer would take. Presently he heard them shouting, “The deer, the deer!” and he knew they were shouting to him that the deer were coming in his direction. But he could see nothing. Then he looked again and spotted two little black beetles, which he knocked over. When the people had come up, they praised him for his hunting.
After that the dead did not complain about his presence, but they did feel sorry for him. “It’s not time for him to die yet,” they said. “He has a hard time here. The woman ought to go back with him.” So they arranged for both of them to return, and they instructed the man and the woman to have nothing to do with each other for three nights after they were back on earth.
Three nights for the dead, however, mean three years for the living. Not aware of this, the husband and wife returned to earth and remained continent for three nights. The following evening they embraced, and when the husband woke on the morning of the fourth day, he was alone.
–From a story reported by Ruth Benedict in 1926