Stranger In A Strange Land
TITLE: Stranger In A Strange Land
GENRES: Fantasy, mythology, drama, cultural.
SUMMARY: Mainlander, Islander...what happens when we lose our way.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 3000+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: None.
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 2002 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. Here is my story of the first outsider to visit Manitou Island. In my original version of events, Stick-In-The-Dirt was going to be the first native of the Island to greet this person, but I decided to change things just a bit. Please compare this story to Part 3 of Escape From Manitou Island--apparently this sort of behavior runs in families.
THE PADDLE SLIPPED out of the water and floated above the lake for a moment or so. Its owner stared forward with mild confusion. Something...just didn't seem in place here.
He attempted to shrug the feeling off, dipping the paddle back into the water and pushing forward, alternating sides so the canoe bobbed upon the waves. The fog hung thick; perhaps he'd meandered off course, just a bit. Granted, he had canoed in fog before, and knew his way well enough by now so that he rarely went off course, and never got lost. But there could always be exceptions.
He frowned and pushed back his cap, squinting ahead until a great dark shape loomed from the mist. He let out his breath. He'd just underestimated the distance to the island. Here it was, just as it was supposed to be; what sort of silly thoughts had he been having, that an island could completely disappear? Just because of some fog?
Still, the odd feeling didn't quite go away, so he kept his eyes and ears open as he approached the shore.
That was when he discovered what it was that bothered him. Seagulls. He could hear them wheeling about and squalling overhead, and he could hear the water lapping, and the slight shushing of wind in the trees. But that was all he heard.
He squinted again and now that the fog parted to clear a path for him, he could see that the state of things, visually, was just as strange.
There should have been some houses upland from the shore.
There were not.
He pulled the paddle in now and laid it across his legs and scratched at his head. Obviously, he'd done what he'd thought was impossible, and had taken a wrong turn...but that was impossible also. He recognized the formations on the island as the same. Everything about it was the same...except that there was nobody on it.
There had been at least several families on it, before.
Strange new circumstances had never been something to deter him in the past, though...with a puzzled sigh he once more placed the oar in the water and steered the canoe forward. There had to be someone, or something, upon this Island. If there was, he would find them...or they would find him. It didn't matter which...so long as he figured out where in the world everyone had gone.
Or where in the world he now was.
He wandered up a trail and into the woods, carrying his canoe over his head and carefully navigating his way around trees so as not to stumble and hurt himself, or break the vessel. He did this with barely any effort, and still managed to keep his eyes on the trail ahead, looking from left to right in search of any signs of life. Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits in plenty bounded out of his way; once he spotted what appeared to be a porcupine; and then something larger, perhaps a deer or a small bear. But no people. He pondered whether they really could have packed up and gone. But to where, and how so quickly? And why?
He drummed his fingers against the inside of the canoe as he went, puzzling over these questions in his head. And so he almost did miss one more creature peering out of the trees at him, and came to a too-abrupt stop, much unlike himself. He saw it duck back into hiding and froze in place, waiting for it to reappear...which he knew it would. Sure enough...after a moment or two had passed, one eye appeared from behind the trunk of a tree, and stayed there. They stared at each other in silence until he broke it, by lifting the canoe higher and settling it against a tree. He crouched and tilted his head and raised his hand in a friendly manner.
A pause. Then the owner of the eye peered out even further, and then took one step out of the bushes. He smiled, and she tilted her own head in return, giving him a quizzical look.
She looked to be a native child, of about eleven or twelve years of age; her hair hung in a braid draped over her shoulder, a long feather adorning it. She wore a doeskin dress just slightly smudged, so he knew she must frequent the woods. She held her moccasins in one hand and played with the end of her braid with the other as she stared at him. He could tell already that she wasn't afraid, merely curious. He felt the same way, seeing her strange green eyes. He had never seen one of the natives with eyes like that.
Still, she didn't come any closer, so he opened and fished around in his pouch for a moment, before drawing out one of the items within. A smooth, polished Petoskey stone, its olive surface patterned with the circles and whorls distinctive to that particular rock. The girl's eyes lit up with curiosity and she came toward him immediately. He hoped she wasn't always so trusting; but perhaps they had no reason to be distrustful, wherever this was. He held the stone out and she leaned over and looked at it before taking it from his hand, turning it over in her fingers and knocking against it with her knuckles. He stood again and rubbed his head.
"You live far from here?" he asked, and she glanced up, giving him the same candid look as before.
"Not very far."
He blinked. She had spoken French perfectly, without a trace of an accent. Before he could mention this, she added, "So you speak like we do?"
That made him blink again before he offered a confused smile. "Well, no, I do not. Though I suppose you do not speak like I do, either."
She shook her head. She didn't seem surprised. She reached up and poked at his hand, which seemed to interest her even more than their oddly shared language.
"Your skin is pink. It looks like a newborn rabbit."
That almost set him to laughing. He bit it back and simply smiled again instead. "Yes, we all look like this, where I come from." He stood straight again as she tucked the Petoskey stone away. "Will you tell me your name?"
She frowned at this request, as if uncertain whether she should divulge this information; then she appeared to settle the matter, and met his eyes again.
"Silver Eagle Feather. What is your name?"
"Francois LaCroix." He gave a little bow that amused her, but not as much as his name. Her face screwed up.
"That's a funny name."
Francois's smile grew. "Where I come from, I am afraid we all have funny names. I came from the mainland. I had hoped you might know where it is that I am."
Silver Eagle Feather blinked. "The mainland?" she said, with some awe. "I've never been there. Grandfather knows about it, though." She frowned. "You don't know where you are?"
"I had thought I was upon Michilimackinac Island...but it appears I have gone the wrong way. Still, some things seem familiar...do you believe your grandfather would be willing to point me out in the right direction?"
Again the uncertain look; Francois settled the internal debate this time by pointing at her feather.
"I see you wear an eagle's feather. You must be quite brave. If we meet with any sort of trouble along the way, I'm certain you can dispel it."
A huge smile came to the girl's face. She turned and ran off down the trail, yelling, "Grandfather!" Francois lifted his canoe over his head again and picked up his pace to follow her before she could disappear from sight.
It was not long before the camp came into view, and by the time he reached it, the girl had already vanished into one of the wigwams. Francois slowed his step as he emerged from the trees. The other natives walking about tending to their business had stopped to watch the girl as she raced through, so their curiosity had already been piqued. As soon as someone noticed him near the woods, all faces turned to stare at him. He could tell from their wide eyes that they had never seen one like himself before. Keeping the canoe aloft, he set foot inside the settlement and walked slowly past.
Their reactions to this were varied. Some simply stood where they were, gaping. A few backed away or returned to their homes as if afraid. A few more whispered to each other, perhaps sharing different ideas as to who or what he might be. When he stopped and set down his canoe in the middle of the camp, near a communal firepit, several of them came tentatively forward, walking in circles around him and cocking their heads in puzzlement. He met their eyes, but didn't stare in return. They grew bolder and came even closer, gingerly touching his clothing or poking at him and then stepping back. They murmured to each other under their breath. When he didn't strike them down one of them took his cap and looked it over, and another dug in his pouch to see what was within. Perhaps, if he had been anyone else, their behavior would have annoyed him, at the least.
"Come on now, make room, make some room! I will knock some of you down if I have to."
A voice arose from the far side of the clearing, and those gathered around him quickly dispersed. Francois looked up to see the girl, Silver Eagle Feather, trotting toward him with an old man in tow, wearing an owl figure about his neck. He stopped when he saw Francois and his eyes grew. Silver Eagle Feather pointed.
"This is him, Grandfather. I told you he came from the mainland."
On hearing this, the others' murmurs grew even louder. The old man waved his hand to shush the girl and approached. He leaned on a stick and stooped slightly as he walked, and he peered up at Francois uncertainly.
"Are you a manitou?" he asked, after a moment.
Francois cocked an eyebrow, then shook his head. "No, I am not. I am just as you."
The old man's shoulders relaxed. "And so you know our tongue, too?"
"I was about to ask you if you knew mine, as it is what I am speaking right now."
The old man frowned with some confusion. "I speak only my own...and some of our sister tongues...how can this be?"
Silver Eagle Feather tugged on his sleeve. "Grandfather, ask him about the mainland."
"Shush, shush, girl!" The old man waved at her with some annoyance; she frowned and stuck out her lower lip. He ignored her and rubbed his chin. "And so...you are not a manitou...yet we understand each other somehow...and you come from the mainland," he added, when the girl started tugging insistently on his sleeve again. "Very well, hold on! You can be so impatient sometimes! And so is what my granddaughter tells me true? Are you...are you truly from the mainland?"
Francois nodded. "Oui," he said, and now the old man blinked, not understanding. "Yes," he said again; and even though he still spoke in his own tongue, the old man seemed to get the meaning of the word. He nodded in return, looking thoughtful.
"I suppose I will believe it, then...you must forgive me for being suspicious...but mainlanders have not come among us, to our Island, in many years. And when last they did, they looked as we do, not as you do." He looked Francois up and down. "Where...exactly are you from? She does not mean to stare," he said, and cuffed the girl's ear so she grimaced and rubbed at it. "I must confess as to the same curiosity; we've never seen one who looks quite like you before..."
"I was raised in the northlands, far from here, but I have long traveled between there and the mainland. I've considered both my home. I have also lived upon the island that I had set out for today. I arrived here instead." Francois glanced around the camp, at the growing crowd gathering around to see him. He didn't feel threatened by them, as might have been the case among those upon the other island. "This is where I am afraid my explanation must end, as I have no more idea why I am here than you do."
"The fog! I knew it, that there was something odd to it!"
A babble arose and people started moving out of the way as another man came forward, this one younger than the first; Francois could tell from his garb and the accessories he wore that he also was a medicine man, though it was apparent he was only secondary to the first. "The fog," he panted when he reached the old man's side. "A few of our own have vanished within it, and have never returned. In the past, it was said that those who came to the Island came through the fog! I told you before, and you called me stupid. I have every right to call you ignorant just now!"
"Oh, be quiet! You blame something for everything!" The old man reached out and snatched Francois's cap from its holder, handing it back to the Frenchman. He slapped away another who was still poking at his pouch. All of this he did without even looking at them. "Still...there was a heavy fog this morning...and the old manitou woman said the same, that it was always through a fog that..."
"Grandfather, why does his skin look like a newborn rabbit?" Silver Eagle Feather asked, in all sincerity.
"SHUSH, girl! Have you no brain? Fetter your tongue and let me speak! The rudeness of you sometimes!"
Francois smiled. "Am I to assume that you lead the people here?" he said, and when the man looked puzzled, added, "That you are the leader, the chief, then?"
"Oh." The old man blinked. "No, you are mistaken. I am Two Owls...just the medicine man. Though I suppose at the moment, I am also the chief. Which means you will STOP doing that!" he snapped, and again slapped away someone's questing hand. "A visitor offers you something, and then you take it! You do not simply take! No wonder you have no luck on the hunt, the manitous must despise you!"
Francois tried not to laugh, lest he bother the old man even more. Those around him were starting to grumble and walk away, though a few remained to look him over, especially the women. He pretended not to see them or to hear their giggles as he put his cap back on. "Well then, I do not know if she has told you, but I am Francois LaCroix. I am a trapper and a trader; that is why I had come here...to the other island...originally."
"OH!" Two Owls didn't let him finish. "And so you hunt. You are seeking a better hunting ground? Well...we do have plenty to hunt here, within reason. You are welcome to our Island, if you will not take our food away from our mouths."
"I have no intention of doing so. Thank you, Monsieur. If I might also ask, what do you call this Island? Has it no name?"
"Name?" Two Owls gave him a blank look. "It is the Spirit Island, nothing more. Will you come back to our lodge for food? We would be honored to have you among us, the first of the mainlanders."
Francois nodded. It would have been a slight not to accept. "Of course. I thank you again." Two Owls waved and a couple of the men took Francois's canoe and moved it away from the center of the camp; he turned away and nudged aside the younger medicine man, who made a face at him before departing. Silver Eagle Feather trotted along beside the Frenchman and watched as he dug in his pouch and pulled out a small leatherbound book and a piece of charcoal. He opened the book, flipped a few pages, and started jotting something in it.
She cocked her head, little feet pattering against the ground. "What is that?"
"A sketchbook. I use it to keep notes--little thoughts that I have during the day, little drawings of things that I see."
"It doesn't look like birchbark."
Francois stopped and knelt down on one knee, turning to a blank page. He made a tiny mark in the corner, and then handed the piece of charcoal to the girl. She took it and looked it over.
"Go on, see how it works. See if you can make a picture on it."
Silver Eagle Feather glanced up at him, then back down at the waiting book. She leaned over, placing one hand on his knee as she started to carefully scrawl a curving line upon the page. When the charcoal left a dark black mark her eyes lit up and she completed the oval she had been drawing, adding a head, legs, tail, and shell pattern. When she pulled her hand back a stylized turtle rested upon the page, and she smiled. Francois tore the page out and gave it to her, the rest of the pages flipping back into place.
"There you go. The first Islander to write within the book of a mainlander."
Silver Eagle Feather's eyes lit up even more--they almost seemed to glow, in Francois's opinion--and she held the page up before her proudly. Before she could run off to show it to her grandfather, she noticed the scribble of Francois's own writing upon the page that now showed, and pointed it out.
"What does that say?"
"This? It is simply the name of your Island. Come, your grandfather will likely grow impatient with us before long!"
The girl nodded and smiled, then raced off, yelling after her older relative. Francois smiled again as well. He dropped the charcoal into his pouch as he stood and headed for Two Owls's wigwam, and just before he shut the book and tucked it away his eye managed to briefly catch the quick scrawl he'd left upon the page.