Manitou Island: Part 20
CHARMIAN'S EYES SHOT open. She jumped to her feet and spun around in one motion, glance rising upward. From the bough just above her head a GeeBee hung from his feet like the bat would, arms folded and yellow owl eyes staring at her intently. She couldn't tell if he smiled at her or was merely amused.
Without thinking, she plunged her hand into one of her vest pockets, digging around for...anything...that she could use as a possible weapon. She pulled out a candy bar and, panicked, hurled it at his head, hoping it would at least hit him in the eye so she could blind him and then start running.
The GeeBee reached out and caught the candy bar before it could strike him, bony fingers wrapping around the little package. He held it to his nose and sniffed it, then carefully tore it open. Charmian could only stare as he started eating it.
Well, at least he was preoccupied. She seized her chance and started running down one of the trails, knowing it was a bad idea, she could only get lost even further, yet not wanting to end up as dinner for that hideous creature. How long had he been there, watching her? He could have swooped down and dragged her off without her knowledge! Why did he bother speaking up? Was it some kind of game?
That's it. It's some kind of sick GeeBee game. Playing with your food!
She glanced back over her shoulder to see how far she had made it from the tree, making sure it was out of sight, then turning down another trail--
She tried to stop and only managed to stub all her toes and fall forward, nearly onto her face, breath knocked out of her. The GeeBee hovered over the trail ahead, feet several inches above the ground, arms still crossed. He'd finished eating the candy bar and now he just stared at her as he had before with that strange look, as if waiting to see what she would do next. She should have known she wouldn't be able to outrun a wind elemental.
She tried again anyway, darting down the sidetrail. Useless--as soon as she tripped (her earlier coordination appeared to be completely gone), there he was again, waiting for her.
She pushed herself to her knees, panting and scraped. There wasn't anything else she could do.
Seeing she wasn't going anywhere, the GeeBee cocked his head. "Lost?" he said again, voice mild.
"What's it to you?" Charmian shot back.
The GeeBee blinked. "Rude."
"Yeah, well, I don't take very well to your kind. Go back to Devil's Kitchen, why don't you."
The GeeBee's chest rose, and though she couldn't hear it, she sensed he let out a sigh. "Far from home?"
"Miles," Charmian snapped. "I can find my own way back, thanks. I don't need your help. What's the matter, your stewpot empty tonight?"
"Why do you care!"
"From which direction do you come, fleshling?"
"Sugar Loaf!!" Charmian felt ready to lose it. The creature's calm questioning was driving her nuts. "If you try anything with me Old Mother Manitou will kick your scrawny ass!!"
The GeeBee cocked his head the other way. "You don't wish to return there?"
Charmian ground her teeth and clenched her fists. "WHY DON'T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE!!"
In response the GeeBee leapt up into the air, graceful as a cat; before Charmian could move he had descended and his hands reached out to grasp her upper arms, pulling her up with him. She screamed, more with anger than with fear, and started kicking her legs, but soon had to stop that as they rose further and further up into the air. She sucked in her breath and watched the trees grow smaller below her, remembering how it had been when she'd first been seized by the GeeBees--only then, there had been Tal Natha and X to save her. She'd even had Drake along for the ride so she wasn't alone. Now they were all gone. What was she going to do when he dropped her off at Devil's Kitchen?
She sensed she would have to hold true to her word to Augwak, and go out fighting, though she suspected that wouldn't help very much...
Instead of thinking about it she shut her eyes tight against the stinging wind and waited for the end to come.
It came a lot sooner than she thought it would, considering how far away the lakeshore was. She felt the wind slow and the grip on her arms loosen as the GeeBee descended, and her feet gently touched the ground--he let go of her and she stumbled forward, falling on all fours. She barely heard him land behind her before scrambling to her feet and putting up her arms in a defensive gesture, getting ready to fight off however many other GeeBees she had to--
--only to find she was in the middle of a field, at the edge of the woods instead of at Devil's Kitchen, and instead of a horde of GeeBees a young man with a gun leaning against his shoulder stood before her instead. He gaped and blinked several times, and from the looks of it, he was just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.
"Hello, fleshling," the GeeBee, standing behind Charmian, said.
Charmian gasped and ran away from him, toward the man with the gun. She ducked behind him, grabbing onto his arm and glaring out at the GeeBee.
"I said back off!" she shouted. "Or--he'll--shoot you! If he has to!"
The man looked down at her as if she were crazy.
Charmian pointed at the GeeBee wildly. "Shoot him! Shoot the GeeBee!!"
"Pardon?" the man asked, obviously confused.
Charmian felt like pulling out her hair. "AAGGHHH!! Don't you see him? He's right there! Shoot him and maybe he'll go away!"
The man's look softened and now he just looked as if he felt Charmian were a little child who needed to be corrected. "Ma chère, one doesn't go shooting at GeeBees. It's pointless. Like shooting at air, really."
"SO? Maybe it'll scare him off! Go on, do it! He's pestering me!!"
The man turned to the GeeBee and addressed it. "Monsieur. Do you pester the young lady?"
The owlish eyes blinked slowly, almost like a cat's. "I ask her where she comes from, where she wishes to go. She claims to come from Sugar Loaf yet doesn't wish to return. She is mainlander. She refuses to answer questions. So I bring her to you."
The man turned back to Charmian. "He offers you assistance and you turn him down? What sort of gratitude is that?"
"AAGGHHH!!" Charmian wailed again, letting go of his arm. "You're ALL crazy!!"
The young man's smile grew and he touched his fingers to his forehead, bowing a bit. "Actually, I'm Justin Dupries, of the Dupries family. Most pleased to meet you, even if you're not."
This time it was Charmian who blinked. "Huh? Dupries?" That name again! Her tensed muscles relaxed. "So...you're one of the people who live here...?"
"Of course. My father and mother have been here for some time. We consider it home now. Though we come from the mainland, same as you--if what the gentleman here says is true."
"Gentleman! In case you didn't notice that--THING--is a GeeBee!"
"I have noticed that...however he doesn't appear to be interested in devouring you, at least not at the moment, so I think you could show him a bit more gratitude."
Charmian's mouth fell open. She gaped at the GeeBee next, and he spoke up, saying, "She gave me a sweet. I owed some payment."
"There, you see?" Justin said, spreading his arms. "You entered into a contract with him, and then you treat him like this when he fulfills his duty? What sort of person are you?"
What!! Charmian's blood, frozen before, now felt as if it were boiling. She clenched her fists again. "The sort that doesn't like cannibals, that's what sort!"
Justin stared at her a moment, then threw back his head and started laughing.
"WHAT'S SO FUNNY!!" Charmian screamed, flailing her arms madly. "This is a matter of LIFE OR DEATH!!"
The man managed to stop laughing, though he had to catch his breath. "Ma chère, please, you worry too much. If you expect to be eaten you're passing time with the wrong GeeBee. Poor Pakwa left Chief Augwak's kind behind long ago."
"What?" Charmian stopped flailing but glared at him nonetheless.
"Truly, Miss. I think you'd have more chance of being devoured by a cocker spaniel than by Pakwa here."
Charmian glanced back at the GeeBee. He still stood much as he had before, arms crossed, staring at her through half-closed eyes. The strangely neutral expression on his face seemed so out of place--she was used to seeing GeeBees sneering.
"You mean he's not a cannibal?" she asked.
"That's just what I mean, Miss." Justin cocked his head this time. "You must be a mainlander, else you'd know...I apologize for assuming you did and for laughing at you like that, it was most rude of me."
"Yeah, well, that's true," Charmian muttered. Her ears were burning. She felt stupid. How come Tal Natha or Silver Eagle Feather had never told her about any of this? What would she come across next, evil bloodsucking Uroona? She could hear Tal Natha's voice in her head now: "Oops, we forgot to mention that one. Sorry!"
"In any case," Justin said, catching her attention, "you look rather out of sorts here; would you like to come back, with me? My home is not too far from here. You could get yourself cleaned up, and get something to eat."
"Oh." Charmian turned back to him. "That's nice of you...but actually I was looking for someone. Someone I know is in trouble and I was trying to find help."
"Help?" He peered at her. "What sort of trouble? Who are you looking for?"
"It's..." She trailed off. What if this person didn't know much about the Ocryxes, or worse yet, was an enemy of theirs? Best not to take any chances. "...just a friend of mine. He was wounded and I think it might be infected. A couple of friends of mine went off to get help for him, but he was getting worse, and they hadn't returned yet, so I went off into the woods to look for them..."
"You say you came from Sugar Loaf?"
"Yeah...it's kind of hard to explain. I thought I might find Old Mother Manitou but I don't know where she went."
"I'll tell you what, then. Come back with me and get yourself cleaned up, and then I'll go back to Sugar Loaf with you and see if I can't help out in any way, is that good?"
Charmian flushed a little. "Well...okay. I guess. If you have any way to get there. I mean, I didn't exactly walk here..."
"No worries. I'm certain Pakwa would oblige you." Charmian cringed. The GeeBee just stared at his foot. "As for me, I'll see if I can't summon one of those manitous..."
"Oh." It came out before Charmian could stop it, his comment had surprised her so much. He'd started to turn for the woods, but heard her and turned back, look inquiring. "You...you know how to talk to them? The manitous?"
He smiled slightly. "Of course. My father taught me. They all speak the same language, it's just a matter of getting them to respond." He held out his hand. "You'll come with me?"
"Okay." She glanced at Pakwa. "Um...does he come, too?"
"Pakwa may go where he wishes. I'm certain he'll be along when we need him." He waved at her. "Come along, follow. It's not that far."
"Okay." Charmian tramped through the grass toward him and followed him off through the trees. She heard the sound of Pakwa leaping into the air and vanishing in a current of wind that went breezing over their heads, stirring the leaves on the trees.
She shivered as she walked, despite the warmth of the air. And she wondered how X was doing.