GENRES: Fantasy, drama, mythology, emotional.
SUMMARY: Some promises are more easily made than kept...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2004.
LENGTH: 3300+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Ocryx and his "species" are © the Haunted Theatre of Mackinac Island. Certain characters are from Ojibwa mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Ojibwa mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2004 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the Manitou Island serials listed above; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This is my "genesis" story for Red Bird. Please see "Fly Away Home" for a later-in-life sequel to this story.
THE BIRTH HAD been quick, but painful. Lost Crow had known it was coming soon but the way it came upon her, so abruptly, caught her offguard as she was in the midst of the woods gathering berries. One moment she was stooping to pick a blueberry; the next, her basket had fallen to the ground, and she had bent over, clutching at her belly and grimacing in pain. There hadn't even been any warning before that.
She knew that returning to her tribe would be pointless; already she had started building a wigwam of her own, deep in the woods, away from them, where they could not see her unless they wandered by. She had heard of what had happened with the last woman who had borne such a child, and didn't want such an incident repeated. Rather than wander the Island in search of a home, it was best to have one ready and waiting first.
The wigwam had been completed months ago. She had left before she had even begun to show. Living there had been much easier than she'd thought, as she had always been good at gathering and setting snares and traps to keep herself fed. Once in a while she would even push open her doorflap in the morning to find some larger animal--a fox, a beaver, even a young deer once--lying outside. She wondered if someone might not be watching over her, for whatever reason. She had never wanted for food and drink, at least, and the wigwam was always warm and safe.
That was the wigwam, however, and at the moment Lost Crow was nowhere near it.
She managed to push herself back upright with the help of a tree, still grasping her swollen belly and gritting her teeth. The child was not even due for at least a couple of weeks yet, but she had helped deliver children before, and knew that they were not always predictable. Which was why she started cursing herself for not having thought ahead enough to build herself a birthing hut somewhere out here, or to at least keep close to the wigwam until she was delivered.
She started slowly making her way back toward the wigwam, when another cramp shot through her middle, making her double over again. It hurt so much that she knew she wouldn't make it back there in time; best to just stay here and do as well as she could. Lost Crow thus began gathering branches, and then ferns, and in between contractions spent the rest of the afternoon piling them against an overturned tree to form a small crawlspace, just big enough for her to sit in. By the time she had nearly finished the sun was just starting to set, and sweat ran down her face, drenching her hair and clothes; she shook and winced, but managed to complete the small structure before she could lose all the light. After making certain it was stable, she turned to fetch her berry basket, hoping it still had a few left in it despite its spill; it would be good to have them nearby for when this was over and she needed her strength back.
Another spasm, this one much more painful than before, shot through her and she cried out, almost falling to the ground. She gasped when she felt the wetness against her legs, and turned back toward the crawlspace, abandoning the basket. It seemed as if this child had no intentions of waiting any longer.
She had covered the floor of the space with soft grass and fronds, and now crawled inside on hands and knees, gasping and wincing, poking at the bedding until she had cleared a space in the middle and then resting for a moment. She was able to catch her breath, but then had to crawl in all the way and crouch on the ground, pressing one hand against the side of the tree and clutching her left knee with the other. She hardly had time to take another breath before a violent pain tore through her, and she screamed and bore down at the same time, her fingernails digging into her thigh and drawing blood.
For the next half hour the woods echoed with Lost Crow's screams, until they faded into weak whimpers. Eventually these faded as well, an even tinier whimper taking their place. Another half hour passed before a disheveled shape emerged from the crawlspace, panting and shaking. Lost Crow grimaced as she dragged herself to her feet, carrying the soiled ferns and grass in her arms. She placed them under the tree and buried them, then gathered more and brought them back inside. She repeated this a few times before gathering up some more branches and ferns and disappearing into the crawlspace, holing it up behind her. Nothing emerged for the rest of the night.
Lost Crow slept only fitfully, waking up numerous times to push herself upright and peer into the little bundle lying beside her. It was surprisingly quiet, letting out a tiny mewing noise every once in a while, but nothing more. Every other child she'd helped deliver had squalled long and loud. For a while she worried that something might be wrong, but her exhaustion was such that she gave up on worrying. Still, deep sleep refused to come.
She thought repeatedly of the white elk she had dreamed about, seemingly so long ago. Women were not meant to have spirit animals, yet it had appeared to her so often that she knew it--he--must have been trying to tell her something. The dream had stayed with her as she had grown up. Then, almost a year ago, she had met a white elk in the woods. She knew from looking at its strange glowing green eyes that it was not the same one from her dream, yet its stare entranced her just the same...
For some reason she didn't regret anything that had happened, even though she knew she could no longer return home now. It mattered little. She didn't have much family to wonder about her.
The child slept mostly through the night, until awakening an hour or so before dawn and whimpering again. Lost Crow sat up, wiping a hand across her still-sweaty brow and reaching for the bundle. She unwrapped it enough to free two little arms, and a tiny face, its eyes still closed, appeared, its mouth forming a small O of protest. Lost Crow pressed her finger to one tiny hand and felt five even tinier fingers wrap around her own; the ghost of a smile flitted across her face, then she shut her eyes and shook her head and pulled her finger away. She lifted the flap of her dress instead and placed the baby to her breast, letting it feed. She tried hard not to look at it as it did so. Outside, light was finally beginning to filter through the spaces between the branches and fronds. Lost Crow focused on that instead.
She would not end up like the last one. No one even knew for certain what had become of the one known as Leaves Falling. All they knew was that the demon of the lake had come to her in a strange form...and not long after, her belly swollen with child, she had gone away into the woods, and had not come back. Stories of her had spread about the Island, and another tribe had confirmed that she had come to them seeking refuge for the child she'd given birth to--a girl. She had left the baby with the old medicine man, and then...simply disappeared. The stories grew uncertain then. Some said she had returned to the lake to be with the demon, as his mate. Others said that when she had returned, either he or one of his manitous had killed her, and even now her bones could be littering the woods. Some said she wandered the Island, dazed and mad and no longer even knowing who she was. A few hinted at even stranger things...but it wasn't Lost Crow's place to guess. She knew what she knew.
Afterward, in the woods, she remembered the white elk tipping its head forward so one long antler lightly touched the top of her head. She could hear its thoughts again, as if it still spoke to her now.
The last such made a great mistake. She gave her away. Her daughter. MY daughter. If you bear a child, and cannot or do not wish to care for it, then you will bring it to me and I will take it. Its birthright will be to stay with me. This is the payment I ask.
Still dazed and hazy, she had nodded slowly.
"I will bring it to you. It will be yours."
The white elk's nostrils had flared and its eyes had flashed, and she sensed its satisfaction with her answer. It left her then, and she had not seen it since. Not even in her dreams.
She would not make the same mistake Leaves Falling had made. What the demon asked for belonged to him. She knew that, despite her hunting and trapping skills, she could not hope to care for a child on her own. At least, she knew she would never be able to give it the life it deserved. The demon of the lake...she did not know what sort of life he promised. Yet at least he promised one.
And he had come to her when she had first called him, albeit unknowingly. She believed this was best. Better than abandoning the child with strangers, who might do anything with it, and provoking the wrath of its father.
Not that Lost Crow even thought about any of these things as she at last emerged from the makeshift shelter, carrying the bundle in her arms. Her plans had been laid so long ago that she didn't need to go over them anymore. Now the only thing that mattered was their execution. Setting the bundle in a crook at the base of a tree, she carefully dismantled the shelter and strewed the branches and fronds about as if they had fallen naturally. She then retrieved the bundle and her spilled basket and walked through the woods, stopping occasionally to rest, until she reached a small stream. Here she stopped again and once more set the bundle aside, splashing icy water on her hands and face and neck, shivering and chattering the entire time. She undid her braid, ran her wet fingers through her hair, and tied it up again as neatly as she could. She dared to step into the water, her teeth clattering, and washed off her legs and feet, then climbed out and smoothed her clothes down as best she could. She broke the basket and buried it underneath the leaves, then picked up the bundle once more and went on her way.
Halfway across the Island, it began to whimper. Lost Crow undid her shoulderflap and let the child feed as she walked. She stared at the path ahead and said nothing. Although she'd recovered some of her strength, she had not eaten in at least a few days, and merely the walk was sapping her energy. She had to stop more and more frequently the longer she went, and although the Island was small, dusk was already coming on by the time the woods grew darker than they usually were, and the sound of birds and forest life faded. The rippling sound of water took its place. Aside from that, an unnatural hush filled the air.
Lost Crow had never approached the inland lake so closely before. All throughout her childhood, the elders had warned against it. Now, she walked straight for it, although her step slowed somewhat when an eerie singsong filled the air, making her head feel light.
Just as abruptly, the singing faded, and she blinked and shook her head, feeling clearer again. On she walked. The trees thinned and then gave way to a small grassy beach leading down to a small, dark body of water, the dying sunlight glinting on its tiny wavelets. Lost Crow began to slow again. The air had been still before, but now a small cool breeze ruffled past her, making her shiver. She stared at the water and at last realized she was uncertain of what to do, now that she was here.
She stood in the grass and waited for a few moments. Nothing happened. She glanced at the trees off to both sides and saw nothing but the trees. She looked back at the lake itself and clutched the bundle to herself a little more tightly, making it whine. She started walking toward the water, resolved to simply step into the lake if need be.
Just as she raised her foot above the surface of the water, prepared to plunge within, the lake started churning violently, bubbles and foam roiling right before her. Lost Crow took a step back, clutching the bundle again. Which was a good thing, as the water erupted just then, a great fountain of it spraying into the air almost as high as a tree. She had to shield her face, expecting to be drenched, but somehow none of the spray splashed over her. When she managed to peer out over her arm again she saw that the fount of water was not the only thing that had appeared. A great dark shape hovered in the middle as if standing upon the water itself, large wings unfolding from its back, wide horns spreading from its head. The dying sunlight silhouetted it against the glare of the water, but even still, its eyes glowed a menacing green and red, and it flexed its fingers, heavy claws tipping each one. A giant snake's tail whipped through the mist to come to a rest beside its furry leg.
Lost Crow stood upright now and with just slightly trembling arms held the bundle out toward the creature.
"You asked," she said, keeping her voice level. "I've brought it to you."
One green eye narrowed slightly. The demon's voice filled her head, making her start, even though it was not as if she had never heard him before.
You cannot care for it? Or do not wish to?
"I do not feel I could provide for it properly in my state. It should not languish for attention because of me."
The area around them was silent again for a moment or two, but for the continued splashing of the water. Then the creature tipped his head forward.
I will care for it then. It will want for nothing, with me.
Lost Crow felt the tiniest twinge of relief on hearing this, and was a little surprised; she hadn't even realized she'd been so anxious about its fate until now. She tilted her own head forward to acknowledge his comment, and took another step back.
Where will you go? the demon asked. His voice was oddly quiet now, and she halted in midstep, hearing it.
"I will make a place for myself," she said after a slight pause. It had been her plan from the beginning--she could not return to her tribe, not after this--yet saying it out loud, giving it actual form, was more difficult than merely thinking it.
He tilted his head to the side. You are well?
"I will be."
She kept her place, waiting to see if he would ask any more questions. After a while he nodded and held out his hands. Lost Crow held out the bundle again--she'd completely forgotten she was still holding it, and had been ready to walk away with it still in her arms! She kept her head low, hoping he would not see the flush that rose in her cheeks as she placed the bundle in his hands. It whimpered as he drew it away, and for the first time she felt a stab of pain in her heart. She said nothing, only stepped back again, keeping her head low but peeking upward to see him carefully cradle the tiny bundle in one massive arm, lifting the flap covering its head with one great claw. He seemed curious. He peered into the opening in the cloth and the bundle wriggled slightly, letting out a murmur. One tiny hand emerged and gripped his claw, which could have easily sliced it wide open, from throat to belly.
Lost Crow swallowed and turned away. She sensed rather than heard the demon address her again, and paused once more.
What is its sex? Is it male, or female?
"I..." Lost Crow swallowed again, feeling her ears grow warm. "I do not know." When she sensed the creature's puzzlement she added, "I did not wish to grow too close...and so I did not look. It is yours now."
The puzzlement resolved into understanding, though she still sensed she was not meant to leave, and stayed where she was. She heard the cloth shift a bit and heard it murmur again...she could almost envision it waving its arms at the cool air...before she shut this image out of her head. The sound of the cloth being wrapped back around the bundle came now, and she held her breath.
A daughter, the demon said quietly. Lost Crow let out her breath, and before she could convince herself otherwise, she started walking away from the lake.
A final thought made its way into her head as she went. Have you a name for her? When he must have sensed her negative response, he added, It is fitting for a mother to name her child. Otherwise, she will have a demon name.
For some reason this thought made her stop abruptly. Even though she hadn't known the child's sex until just now, still, the thought of it--her--bearing a demon name was almost more than she could take. Yet she had not even considered one name. Aside from the brief glimpses she'd gotten of the top of the child's head while feeding her, she knew nothing whatsoever about her own daughter. Not her face, not her eyes, not her smile, if she even had one. She had not allowed herself to imagine what the child might grow to be like someday.
All she had really seen was the odd, slight fluff of reddish-colored hair atop its--her--head as she fed. That was all.
The demon was waiting. Lost Crow clenched and unclenched her hands at her sides, struggling to keep herself level. This had been relatively easy, until now. As long as she hadn't had a name, she had not been quite a part of her. She had been merely a body. Giving her a name...that would give her a face, and a spirit. Lost Crow wasn't certain if she could give something like that away.
But she had made a promise, and the demon was waiting.
She let out her breath and unclenched her fists again. "Red Bird," she said, spitting the name out as if to get it out of her as quickly as she could; and then she started walking again, more hurriedly than before. The demon's thoughts withdrew from hers, leaving her alone, and she did not turn back as she heard the splashing of the water as he descended within the lake with the little bundle, though when it--she--let out a cry before disappearing, Lost Crow had to fight herself as hard as she could not to turn back.
As she walked into the darkening woods, she briefly thought of her abrupt choice of a name for the daughter she would never see again.
Red. That is all I know of her. A bird. I could hold her within my hands for but a moment, before I had to let her go.
This was the only thought Lost Crow allowed herself. Once it was gone, she shoved all other thoughts of the child from her mind, and disappeared into the deep woods.