A Tishomingo teacher turned a painful experience into his first published storybook.
Trey Hays, a music teacher at Tishomingo Elementary School, started working on Little Loksi when he was in college. The Chickasaw Nation’s publishing company, White Dog Press, helped him turn the tale into a fable about teamwork that teaches Chickasaw vocabulary words.
“16 years ago, in college, I had an assignment to write a story,” Hays said. “I started it with four characters from the book. I thought through all the ways a turtle could get turned back over.”
Throughout the book, different animals find Loksi and attempt to help him. A spider uses her silk to pull him, a skunk uses his stink to protect him from predators, and eventually, he’s rescued.
The story was loosely inspired by a serious car accident Hays survived in 1993.
“The car was on its back, like a little turtle,” Hays said. “I was found outside the car on my back.”
His kidney and liver were severely damaged. Years later, he would have surgery to address the damage, and this year, he eventually had the kidney removed.
“There was so much scar tissue,” Hays said. “I spent 27 days in the hospital.”
Three years ago, he revisited the story. His son Jax, who was six at the time, helped him come up with the characters that would eventually help Loksi in the book.
“We were camping and my wife and older son were asleep,” Hays said. “We sat at a picnic table and thought about what animals and naming them.”
 Eli Corbin, a lifelong friend of Hays, showed the story to his mother, who pointed out that it sounded very much like a Chickasaw fable.
He attended a book publishing camp held by White Dog Publishing, which eventually picked up the story to publish last year.
“It requires a lot, but I got it,” Hays said. “It came out, almost exactly a year later.”
The story changed in adaptation. An owl was replaced with a wolf, as owls are considered bad omens. Porcupines are not native to southern Oklahoma, but one appears in the story, so the Chickasaw Nation created an official word for the animal, haknip hishi’ haloppa, so he could be included.
One character, Chukfi, is a trickster rabbit who appears in Choctaw stories. In this story, he helps Loksi in his own way, keeping him calm and reminding him of his family and friends. Hays said he added the character to reflect the people in his own life who supported him after the car accident.
“He comes along, and he’s just got words, he’s a trickster,” Hays said. “The others have all the mechanical means to help with teamwork, but he tricks his mind with poetry. In this book, he tricks him into listening and not worrying. He’s a storyteller.”