GENRES: Fantasy, drama, mythology, thriller/suspense, tragedy.
SUMMARY: A monstrous evil is first unleashed...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 4700+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Fantasy violence.
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. This is my story of how the demon Ocryx was reawakened and freed from his captivity; for how Ocryana was released, please see "Reawakening." For the background story on these two characters and how they came to be in this situation, please see "Hatred's Birth." Followup stories possibly of interest are "Alpha & Beta," "Chance Meeting," and "Return To Me."
A HARSH SUN beat down upon the browned grass all around him. Stick-In-The-Dirt slowly made his way up the hill, stopping every so often to catch his breath or wipe his brow. The summer had been hotter than usual, and the dry weather showed no signs of letting up. Even the water from the great lake all around the Island was somehow warm and acrid, unfit for drinking. If this kept up much longer, they would all be dead.
He stopped right now, panting and placing his hands on his knees, his stick leaning against his side. He hadn't touched water in days; what precious little they had left from the streams that had by now dried up, he'd insisted on giving to his wife and children instead. It was selfish of him, the medicine man of his tribe, yet they were the main reason he was out here now, seeking what he did. The youngest of his daughters was but a baby. He couldn't bear the thought of them slowly dying beneath this wretched sun.
Thinking of them made him stand up straight, wincing at the pain which shot through his back, and move on. The moment of truth was at hand, to determine whether the old stories were real or not.
They were told, usually at night, to keep children in bed. Somewhere within the interior of the Island, the story went, was once a small yet very deep lake where some sort of monster had dwelled. Once this creature, a demon, certainly, had roamed about the Island freely, until his evil actions had convinced Gitchi Manitou to imprison him beneath the lake from which he'd come. He had then dried up the waters to curb the monster's powers, and that had been the end of it. Certainly, the lake had dried up long ago, and the monster had never been seen; yet everyone on the Island agreed that some kind of bad medicine still lingered there, in the rocks and dust and trees, and so no one ever ventured near. Not one of any of the generations left had ever even seen the supposed lake, so he couldn't be certain it even existed at all. This didn't stop parents from telling their children about it at night, warning them that if they misbehaved, the monster of the lake would come and snatch them away. The lake would fill with water again, they said, and bad little children would be taken beneath the surface, never to be seen again.
By now, the story still served to frighten the smallest children, yet the younger generation was beginning to believe it was just an old tale. Year after year the children would play closer and closer to the area of the dried-up lake. The older generations, Stick-In-The-Dirt's included, knew better than to tempt fate. They would shoo the children back home, and keep away themselves.
Now was not the time to worry about old tales, however. When the streams and springs had gone dry, and the great lake had gone bitter, he knew nothing else he could do. He had to find the lakebed, see if he could get the water to spring forth somehow.
He had a few small tricks he could use. He'd tried them already on the great lake and on one of the springs, with mixed success. The great lake possessed water already, it was just unfit for drinking. Yet with a little bit of medicine he'd been able to coax a tiny flow from one of the springs, and the children of his camp had lapped it up as quickly as they could, before the sun could dry it up again. The water hadn't lasted very long, and it was with growing despair that he suddenly, for some reason, remembered the old tales about the dried-up lake. If he could coax a tiny stream from a little spring, what could he coax from a lake?
He had to find out, whatever the past history of the accursed place.
He could tell when he came near to where it was supposed to be. Despite the overbearing heat, he felt a chill, and rubbed his arms and shivered. The air seemed to grow darker, and the birdsong faded. Everything sounded muted and distant as he wandered through the trees. His eyes darted nervously from side to side yet he saw nothing, no movement to indicate he was being watched or followed. Yet he felt he was, somehow.
He came to a stand of scraggly bushes, still thriving despite the heat, and pushed them aside, scraping his arms on their burrs and branches. He stopped so abruptly that he stumbled over his own feet and had to catch himself from falling. His eyes grew now when he discovered that at least part of the old story was true.
A great indentation, a pit, lay before him, a large roundish bowl worn into the earth, giant rocks and boulders lining its cracked, parched bottom. Trees rose around it, and off to the side, a high rocky rise with a groove worn down into it where a stream or waterfall had once flowed, down to the dry bed below. The very wear of the place proved it must have been plentiful with water at one time in the distant past. The dust and heat present now, however, showed that had been a very long time ago indeed. Water hadn't dwelled here in years.
His fists tightened a little and he swallowed, throat dry. He had to see if it would work.
Stick-In-The-Dirt walked slowly toward the dried-up lake. A hot little gust wafted crackling leaves about in a whirlwind before dying away in silence. The evil in this place was palpable; he finally knew how the tribe's children felt whenever they were told the old stories at night. Nevertheless he forced himself to stay, and knelt beside the great hollow, leaning over and peering into it as if to see his reflection below. He half hoped he would. All he saw was large jagged cracks in the earth, instead.
He leaned back on his heels and reached into his medicine pouch, digging around a bit. He pulled out the few ingredients he'd tried at the spring--some dried fish's scales, the feather of a waterfowl, sand from the beach, a few tiny shells he'd scrounged from among the rocks on the shore. All creatures of the water. He stood and as another whirlwind swept past, he tossed the odd little handful into the crater, muttering a chant under his breath. He tapped his stick against the side of the lakebed a few times, made a few gestures with his hand, mimicking the swimming motions of some water dweller. He said a few more words and prepared to steel himself for whatever success or disappointment he might achieve.
The whirlwind shattered into pieces and collapsed on itself. Instantly a cold wind arose and whipped around him and he grasped his arms, gritting his teeth. It vanished almost instantly--only to be replaced by a hot, bad wind, which swept down into the crater, tossing about the dead leaves and dust and pebbles, growing and expanding and circling ever faster. Fear rose in his breast.
He thought of the old story. A monster, long trapped beneath the lake by Gitchi Manitou. The waters, the very lifeblood of the evil creature, dried away to ensure its continued imprisonment. Even as his medicine began to take effect, water beginning to seep from the parched earth as he had hoped it would, Stick-In-The-Dirt found himself dreading his actions now, wishing they could be reversed. He wanted to get away from here, quickly.
He took a step back, only to stumble and fall when the wind whipped up into a high mad spiral, water surging from the lakebed to funnel around it, gushing and flowing and spreading out to rapidly fill the dry basin. It was a dark, black, evil water, nothing like the clear little springs all over the Island, or the great green-blue which surrounded them. The wind chopped the surface into knife-sharp waves which sliced into the shore, tearing away hunks of earth and grass, sucking them deep within like some dark beast eating away at the Island itself. Stick-In-The-Dirt panicked and scrabbled toward the bushes. Before he could reach them, he saw the great funnel of wind and water rising from the center of the new lake begin to take form, and the sight froze him in place, his eyes growing wide with terror and astonishment.
The giant funnel slowed in its howling, whistling motions, breaking apart bit by bit, until it gradually fell away, revealing the creature that dwelled within. It lifted its head and the medicine man quailed. Menacing red-and-green eyes split open and focused as if for the first time, and glinting white teeth bared in a rumbling growl. Its hands it held up at its sides, and they were the hands of a man, yet not the hands of a man, their tips crowned with great heavy claws. Gray fur covered its entire body--what Stick-In-The-Dirt could see, at least--and dull brown wings rose from its back. Great black horns spread from its forehead, and those horrid glowing eyes finally met his own, the lupine face that held them contorting in an ugly snarl. Its fingers curled into fists.
Its gaze darted once to the side. "Where am I..." it muttered, and its voice was as awful as its appearance. Stick-In-The-Dirt would have run but for the fear that paralyzed him, keeping him rooted to the ground like some small animal confronted by a beast of prey. It turned its head and looked the other way and its apparent consternation seemed to grow. "What day is this..." Its gaze traveled back and fell once more on Stick-In-The-Dirt's, and he suppressed a whimper and scrabbled back a bit. The eyes flashed and grew, and he could sense its confusion and anger, made clearer when it spoke.
"WHAT MONTH IS THIS?" it rumbled, its voice like a crack of thunder. Stick-In-The-Dirt flinched away, holding up his arm to shield his head.
"It--it's--the month of the Hot Winds Moon," he stammered, voice very nearly squeaking with terror. He had come here only in the hopes of water; now he had to face this horrid demon!
"Hot Winds Moon?" The creature seemed even more confused. It looked all about itself, fists tightening and wings flaring. "The place has changed...become different...and only one moon has passed...?"
Ah. It became clear now. The monster didn't even know how long it had been trapped beneath the lake. Stick-In-The-Dirt felt pity for it, now. He pushed himself up onto his knees and called out, his voice still quavering, hoping his explanation wouldn't anger it too greatly.
"You...I...believe you are mistaken, great one...not one moon has passed...many moons have passed. You...you have been beneath the lake for as long as I remember. For as long as anyone remembers."
"What?" The word shot out almost violently, and the creature's head whipped around to glare at him. Stick-In-The-Dirt flinched away again. Perhaps it would have been better had he not told the demon the truth; yet he'd felt it his obligation. Perhaps the truth would calm it down, somewhat...yet it didn't seem to work that way.
The creature's eyes blazed like swamp fires and its fists tightened so much that Stick-In-The-Dirt was almost certain he saw blood drip from its claws. Its wings flared when it seemed to remember something, and its head lifted. "Her," it whispered, then, in a boom, "HER!" It looked about itself wildly, over the water, the dried-up spring, the woods. Its sights fell on the medicine man and it snarled.
"WHERE IS SHE?"
"I--I do not know--!" Stick-In-The-Dirt stammered, bewildered and terrified.
The creature raised its fists to the heavens and threw back its head with a shattering bellow. "I WILL HUNT HER DOWN AND FLAY HER ALIVE!" With this, it shot out of the remains of the swirling funnel, the tower of water collapsing in on itself with a great splash, and Stick-In-The-Dirt could see now its curved, furry hind legs, its long whipping snake tail. Its wings flapped so harshly that the surface of the lake snapped and cracked against the shore, spraying the medicine man; he sputtered and covered his head. The demon soared into the sky, whirled, and disappeared over the treetops, its wingbeats making the branches dance and flail.
Stick-In-The-Dirt let out his breath with a whimper. At least the creature had left him unharmed, when he'd expected to be torn limb from limb and his bones used as toothpicks. He wouldn't have to deal with that thing again until he got back to his... An alarm went off in his head and his eyes opened wide. His tribe. The creature had been headed in the direction of his tribe--and the tribes of many others. He didn't know why, but the monster had made it very clear it was intent upon revenge--but upon who? A female, a woman, was all he could tell--but who was it? What woman? Someone else from the old story? He racked his brain, trying to think of another figure from the legend, yet came up empty and frustrated.
What if the demon came up the same way? What if this "her" did not exist anymore--then who would it take out its anger upon?
Stick-In-The-Dirt quailed inside. My tribe! MY FAMILY!
He scurried to his feet and slashed his way through the bushes, running madly back for his camp. He didn't know what he had unleashed upon his Island...but he had to stop it before it was too late.
Though he ran now rather than trudged, his feet barely even touching the dead leaves that crackled upon the ground, the way back to his camp seemed to take agonizingly longer in Stick-In-The-Dirt's mind. His lungs burned from the hot dry air but it was his heart that hurt more. All he had wished to do was help them. A little bit of water from a dried-up lake...it hadn't seemed so very dangerous when he'd set out earlier that day. Now the sun was high in the sky and his people were most likely out and busily tending to their daily duties, unaware of what he'd released. He'd realized his mistake far too late. There was a reason the lake had to be dry, why Gitchi Manitou had removed all the water. The water was the beast's power. The medicine man's success was the creature's freedom.
"Rain-On-The-Leaves!" he shouted as he descended the slope not far from where his tribe camped. "White Deer? Lily Flower? Little Dove!" The names of his wife and daughters. He'd last spoken them that morning when he'd first set out in the hopes of bringing his family good news, later on. Now all he had to bring was bad news. He hoped there was still time to stop that thing before its--his--rampage grew worse. He'd spotted a trail of blood through the woods, and couldn't bear to think of what or who had caused it. He needed to speak with his chief, or his wife, and then he would think of what to do. She always had ideas, when he did not.
"Rain-On-The-Leaves...!" he shouted again, and then his voice died abruptly in his throat and he stumbled to a stop at the base of the hill, staring into his camp.
What he'd left early that morning...the bark huts of their houses, the women carrying their baskets, the men heading off to hunt, the children running about playing and laughing...none of that existed anymore. The huts were splintered and smashed to pieces, scattered along the ground, great hunks of earth torn loose in wicked gouges. One of the women he'd seen that morning lay upon her stomach with her basket upended beside her; red stained the ground beneath her. She wasn't moving. Not too far away, a pair of braves that he knew; off to the side, a small child. Everywhere else within the camp, more of them, people he'd said farewell to just that morning, had expected to meet again within moments, smiling at him and saying greetings in return. None of them spoke. They were in no state to. In the whole camp he was the only thing that moved, besides the wind in the grass.
A very small sound worked its way up into his throat, most of it not escaping. What had been here such a short time ago, what he'd expected to always be here on his return, wasn't here anymore. He couldn't convince himself this was so.
His heart squeezed up into his chest. His wife. He'd left her at his own house. He started forward past the littered, broken bodies, forcing himself to stare at the remains of his home. Unlike most of the others, it had survived mostly intact, so he dared to hope that what was within had survived as well...
His step slowed as he reached the building, its roof caved in on one side and its door hanging open. Now that he was here he could barely stand to look inside...if his hopes were not true, if his fears were. "Rain-On-The-Leaves...?" he said so softly that it came out almost as a whisper. He stepped inside the hut, ducking his head to avoid the splinters of wood and bark, and glanced around. The beds of his children were empty. As was that of his wife and himself. Perhaps she'd made it--perhaps she'd run away. She could have made the run to the Creek Tribe, not far down another slope within the woods, where her sisters lived. He would go and find her there with his daughters and they would stay with her family until he could figure out what to do about his mistake.
He looked down and to the side and saw her now, her eyes meeting his, yet staring through him blankly. A thin line of blood trailed from her mouth to the floor. A large section of the roof, caved in under the weight of a fallen, uprooted tree, lay across her middle, her ribs crushed beneath its weight. Her arm was out, as if she were reaching out to him.
Stick-In-The-Dirt's eyes went blurry. His breath hitched and he felt his muscles tighten yet he couldn't move, seeing his wife staring at him like that. He wished to take her hand and pull her free, pull her to him, yet he knew already that she was gone; the blood drying upon her face proved that. A broken whimper rose in his throat and he slowly backed away, out of the hut, into the bright and obscene sunlight. The birds were singing and the trail of destruction continued down into the woods, in the direction of the Creek Tribe. He knew it would be pointless to go there after all, no matter what Rain-On-The-Leaves's fate.
He stepped on something soft and yielding and instantly the revulsion surged up inside him. With a cry he jumped away and toward the trees, biting his own hand.
"Papa...?" a tiny voice called, faintly.
Stick-In-The-Dirt gasped and his head whirled around. The voice had come from the direction of the woods, at the other side of the camp. He hadn't thought of looking there, yet now he could see that the trees in that direction were for the most part intact, aside from the one that had fallen upon his house. The voice...he prayed to Gitchi Manitou that it was who it sounded like. Hands trembling, he crept slowly across the shattered clearing, craning his neck, all nerves alert for signs of danger.
He stepped over the body of his chief, ignoring it now, desperate to find the owner of the small voice. "White Deer?" he called, louder, ready to panic now. The little cry had sounded so much like his eldest daughter that he searched about frantically for her. He could do nothing for his wife. If his daughters, one of them, all of them, had somehow escaped this, he had to find them before he lost his mind.
"White Deer--? Where are you!"
"Papa?" the voice came again, closer this time. Stick-In-The-Dirt searched about before finding a faint trail trampled through the undergrowth, leading down into a nearby hollow where he knew his children liked to play. A hollow tree stood there, and they would often hide within its trunk while he pretended to be some manitou or other hunting for them. He hurried down toward it now, praying to every manitou whose name he knew that they would be there now.
A scurrying, shifting noise from the hollow brought him to a stop. A small form in pale doeskin crawled out from under the leaves and dead moss, and then another one, carrying yet a third. His heart rose up again, threatening to burst from its confines. All of them. All three of his daughters. They rushed up the slope toward him, Lily Flower, the second oldest and barely more than a toddler, holding out her arms with tears streaming down her face, the oldest, White Deer, carrying the baby, Little Dove. He dropped to his knees as they reached him and scooped them all up into his arms. He'd never been exceedingly strong, like some of the other braves; yet at this moment he easily lifted all three of them from the ground and crushed them to him tight.
"My daughters," he whispered, and showered them with kisses.
"A bad thing," White Deer murmured, barely able to speak, her face pressed to his shoulder. "A bad thing came down from the sky. It broke the houses. Mama told us to run and hide."
"Where is she?" Lily Flower asked, sniffling. "Where's Mama?"
"We have to go," Stick-In-The-Dirt whispered, unable to answer the question. White Deer appeared to understand and her eyes filled with tears yet she didn't cry. She had always been the responsible one. He set her down on the ground, making certain she carried Little Dove safely to her; the baby slept as if she'd never even awoken. He kept Lily Flower on his arm; she was the most pragmatic, even at three years old, yet he knew something such as this could break even the most pragmatic of children. He took White Deer's hand and hurried them away from the camp, partway down the great slash through the woods, turning away from the path to the Creek Tribe only once they were halfway there and heading in a different direction. He didn't know where he would take them; all his family, and his wife's, had been within those two camps. He didn't know anyone else.
"Where are we going?" Lily Flower asked, noticing the change of direction. White Deer looked up at him with wide damp eyes but said nothing. He continued hurrying along. If he went quickly enough he would have to run into some camp sooner or later...he only hoped it was before that beast reached them first. The air was completely still but for the songs of birds and the rustle of the wind in the leaves; he caught a faint trace of the smell of blood from his camp, and urged the girls along faster, praying now that they would find someone, anyone, else who had survived this.
"Papa...? Where are we going...?"
"We're going to be safe. Don't worry."
He could tell White Deer knew he did not tell the truth. Still, she didn't argue. Little Dove murmured in her sleep and fell silent again.
The Red Leaf Tribe found him and his children in the woods, after he had collapsed upon the trail, too weakened to continue; the two older girls kept watch over him until they arrived, carrying all four back to their camp. They dwelled near a spring that, miraculously, still flowed just enough to sustain them, and tended to his thirst and hunger, caring for his daughters until he could regain his strength. They had been spared somehow from the demon's rampage; when he recovered he learned that most upon the Island had heard of the incident, yet not all knew exactly what had happened. From what they could tell, some great beast had torn its way across the Island, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake, and had vanished almost as abruptly; those tribes that did not lie within its path had escaped unharmed. None of them knew where the creature had come from, nor where it had gone back to. Stick-In-The-Dirt didn't tell them.
He did tell them what had become of his own camp, his family, his friends. That he and his daughters were the only ones to escape. This puzzled the people of the Red Leaf Tribe. They murmured to each other for a moment or two before someone brought up the fact that out of the rest of the destroyed tribes, no one from any of them had survived--man, woman, child, or beast. All had been slaughtered where they stood, even those who ran into the woods to hide. The creature, whatever had done this, had had some ability to tell where they had gone, and had hunted them down, every last one.
"Why did it not kill your entire family?" someone questioned, and a few eyes narrowed with suspicion. "You, you were absent as you say...yet why did it let your daughters live, if it could have killed them easily? There is some reason this beast chose to spare them--for you...?"
One of the more sensible braves then waved them away, muttering at them to leave him alone, he still needed his rest. He had escaped a horrid tragedy with barely his life intact, and had lost his wife; such questions were best kept to oneself. The suspicious parties wandered away, still with narrowed eyes, and Stick-In-The-Dirt let out a breath. It could have been relief he felt. It felt closer to guilt. He knew there must be some truth in what they'd observed.
That...monster...had spared his family, but for Rain-On-The-Leaves. Had he killed her in haste, on accident, something...? Had he seen the three small girls cowering, terrified, in the woods, and let them go? Why would a monster do such a thing as this? Why would he...why would he show such a weakness? For what purpose? For what reason?
He had no answers. He preferred not to question too deeply lest he find out it had been a mistake, and that thing would return shortly to remedy it. He had his children, at least; that was what mattered now. He would raise them on his own, among this new tribe.
And so they stayed there from that day on, taking up the new tribe's ways, becoming accustomed to the strangers around them, he serving as their medicine man. In time the others no longer questioned him about what had happened, those who suspected anything at all. He felt they didn't care to know as much as he didn't care to know. It was best that way. As long as that beast no longer reared his head, he could pretend it was only one time, one brief rampage of fury, and hopefully it was all over...until he could think of a way to send him back where he belonged...
In the mornings when he would leave his daughters in the care of one of the elder women in the camp, he was never present then to see Little Dove, now old enough and able to toddle about on two feet, wander away to the edge of the woods and stop with a friendly giggle. She never went off on her own very far. Yet she always smiled and held out one chubby hand toward the large gray wolf with the strangely glowing eyes, which would sniff harmlessly at her fingers as she laughed. He came to visit her every day, as if to see how she was.
She liked him, and in her own childlike way, she knew that he liked her.