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Return To Manitou Island: Part 2
THE CAR PICKED Charmian up at school, and instead of sitting through the final hour of art class, she found herself being driven to the hospital instead.
It was gray outside now, which suited her feelings. She had felt this way for weeks now, but hadn't mentioned it to her mother and father. She'd only felt comfortable mentioning it to one person so far, and that person was the reason she was now leaving school early. Her mom didn't speak as she drove, and Charmian didn't offer any conversation herself. Instead she stared out the window at the gray sky, at leaves which were green but today were not vibrant. In her hand she held a crumpled note that had been handed to her by a fellow student who'd been sent from the principal's office to let her know she was wanted elsewhere. She'd forgotten it was even there.
Charmian's mom says she'll pick her up. Say goodbye to grandma
They reached the hospital parking lot and pulled in. Even after they had gotten out and were walking down a cool aseptic hallway, the floor entirely too shiny for its own good, Charmian didn't speak. They came to the all-too-familiar room with its glass window overlooking the hall, and Charmian felt her mom touch her shoulder just briefly, before she opened the door with one cold hand and let herself in, alone. She shut it behind her, and turned to face the bed that lay within. She fiddled her fingers as if nervous. The lamp was on, as the gray sky did little to lighten the room.
The old woman sitting up in the bed smiled and patted the seat beside her. "Charmian. I was hoping you would come today!"
Charmian made herself smile before going to sit down on the stool that had been offered, drawing it up close to the bed. She clasped her hands in her lap and stared at them for so long that the old woman finally tilted her head, looking puzzled.
"Charmian? What is it?"
"Mom said..." Charmian's voice trailed off, then she tried again, still not lifting her head. "Mom said I should come here to say goodbye to you."
The old woman stared at her for a moment before offering a gentle smile. She reached out and took one of Charmian's hands in her own.
"Your mother tells you the truth."
"But..." Charmian finally lifted her head, her eyes glistening. "But I don't want to say goodbye. You're the only one who ever really understood me."
Her grandmother tilted her head with a puzzled expression. "What about your friends?"
"I don't have any." She dropped her gaze again, her voice coming out almost muffled. "They all went off and did their own thing."
"Well, what about that boy who liked you so much? What was his name...Drake?"
"He has his own friends." Not making eye contact.
"And you're not included?" Her grandmother sounded surprised. Charmian sighed and lifted her head.
"Not really. Everybody's got their own things to do now. They don't really care about me anymore. You were the only one who even listened to my story."
The old woman's eyes softened. "Your Island...I remember." She sighed and folded her hands. "Sometimes I believe you think about that place entirely too much..."
"It was the only time I was ever really happy," Charmian retorted, a bit too adamantly. "It was the only time I ever really fit in. And you were the only person who took me seriously."
"Charmian," her grandmother said sympathetically, and clasped her hand. Charmian looked at the floor again, and she offered another sigh. "The one thing I've never been able to understand about you is how you don't make friends. People don't seem to realize what they're missing."
"I'm too weird." Charmian pulled her hand away.
"You are not weird. You merely have an imagination."
"And it's weird."
The old woman gave a quiet laugh. "You don't have to worry with me gone, Charmian...you have fire in you. I know you'll be fine, someday."
"But I don't want you to go." Charmian's eyes welled up and though she hated it, the tears spilled freely down her face. Her grandmother was one of the few people she felt comfortable crying in front of, and the old woman reached up a gnarled hand to wipe the tears away. "I won't have anyone left to talk to. Nobody else understands me. What am I going to do without you anymore?"
"The same as you always do," the old woman replied softly. "Keep going. And keep dreaming."
Charmian shut her eyes and wiped at them, sniffling miserably. Her grandmother tapped her fingers against the blanket and glanced to the side.
"That's right...that reminds me. I got you something...before they put me in here...it's in the top drawer there, will you get it out for me?"
Charmian stopped wiping her eyes and did as she was asked. She pulled open the top drawer of the tiny dresser and pulled out what lay within, a package wrapped in white tissue paper. Her grandmother took it and opened it carefully.
"I saw this...a little while back...and I thought of you."
She pulled an object out of the wrapping and handed it to Charmian. Charmian took it, not quite certain what to think. It was a hoop of some sort, with feathers hanging from it, and a spider's-web pattern laced across the middle, interrupted occasionally by colored beads. She turned it about a few times.
"It's called a dreamcatcher," her grandmother explained, and Charmian's eyes darted up.
The old woman nodded. She fingered the edge of the hoop as Charmian examined it. "The Ojibwa Indians used them. They would hang them above the cradleboard...and good dreams would slip through the hole in the middle to reach the dreamer...while bad dreams were entangled in the web. This way, it kept away nightmares."
"Dreamcatcher," Charmian murmured, again.
"I saw it and I thought of that story you told me." She smiled gently and touched Charmian's hand. "Maybe now you can dream about it again."
Charmian's eyes watered again. "I don't know if I remember how."
"You'll remember, if you need to." She squeezed Charmian's hand. "Now. What do you say when you receive a gift?"
"Thank you, Grandma." Charmian leaned over the bed and they hugged each other. She squeezed her eyes shut and her tears fell to her grandmother's shoulder, but she bit her lip so she wouldn't make a sound. They parted and she stood, the old woman still holding her hand. She looked up into Charmian's eyes, and Charmian tried to hold the stare. She couldn't do it for long.
"Now I have to speak with your mother. There are a few things we need to settle. You'll be all right?"
Charmian nodded, though her eyes welled up once more. Her grandmother noticed, tilted her head with sadness in her own eyes, then held out her arms. They hugged each other again and this time Charmian didn't bite back the sounds that escaped her. She sniffled and choked and felt her eyes running as her body shook.
"I love you, Grandma," she said, her voice cracking.
Her grandmother's voice was muffled against her shoulder. "I love you too, Charmian."
A hand touched Charmian's other shoulder, and she lifted her head. Once more they parted and she stood up, wiping at her eyes. Her mother stood next to her in silence; Charmian took the dreamcatcher and wrapped it back in its tissue paper, tucking it under her arm. Her grandmother touched her hand before she could turn away and smiled at her.
"I hope you find your place again."
Charmian bit her lip. She nodded and turned away. Every step she took toward the door felt as if iron chains hung from her feet, but neither could she turn to look back into the room. She put up a wall around herself, and vowed not to take it down until she got home.
She sat on a chair in the hallway. A short time later her mother returned, and they left the hospital together. She said nothing on the way home, and didn't stop by the kitchen to eat anything when they reached the house. She went up to her room and sat on her bed and though she could hear her parents talking at the bottom of the stairway, she couldn't make out what they were saying. It was probably for the best. She didn't think she wanted to know.
She pulled the tissue-wrapped ring out from under her arm and unwrapped it again, staring at it. She had seen pictures of dreamcatchers before but had never paid much attention to them. She'd never paid much attention to anything that even remotely had anything to do with the native culture, unless it pertained to homework. That had changed a little under a year ago.
Back then, she'd had a dream. And she'd ended up traveling through a fog to an island. Manitou Island. It had taken a while to even believe the place was real, but it was. A shadow of Mackinac Island, it had yet to be greatly touched by the people from the mainland, and the natives still mostly inhabited the place. Along with wolf demons, sandlings, Wendigoes, manitous, and who knew what other sorts of creatures. Unbelievably enough, she'd been called upon to help protect the place from an evil power...and she'd succeeded. The evil power had been locked away and the Island saved...and she'd returned home. Back to the normal world, where everything was so ordinary and mundane. Yet she hadn't forgotten that Island.
Once back at school--though she'd spent almost a year on the Island, in real-world time she'd been gone only an afternoon--she'd delved into all the local history books she could find, which was admittedly few. She read up everything she could on the natives who had lived in the region hundreds of years ago, the Ojibwa and Ottawa, the French voyageurs, the British Redcoats. When that resource had run dry she'd gone online to find out even more, and had learned about the Wendigoes and the manitous and the character known as Manabozho...she had even met him, in person, and he was very little like what she read. She paid particular attention to the early American history section of her classwork, asking more questions than the teacher could answer. She checked out as many books as she could from the library.
She also looked up everything she could on Mackinac Island, the place that Manitou Island shadowed. She learned of its land formations, though they were by now very familiar to her. She looked at pictures, scoured history websites, browsed online groups dedicated to the place. She visited it in autumn, before the cold could set in...and then she visited it in late spring just as the ferries were starting to run again. She walked every path she could in the short time alotted, and though it all seemed so familiar, it also seemed so wrong and...empty. Fort Mackinac up on the bluff overlooking the town had never seemed so...out of place before. Even though it had been there for over a century.
And when she'd exhausted all of those resources, she looked up everything she could on dreams. Sleeping, sleep disorders, lucid dreaming, nightmares...she tried to find anything she could that would help her return to that place. Because try as hard as she might...she never returned to the Island once, not even in her dreams.
Tal Natha...the Dreamspinner, he who had allowed her passage to the Island in the first place...when she had asked him if she could return, he had said yes. She knew in her heart that all she had to do was dream of the Island, and she would be there.
Why then couldn't she dream of it anymore?
This realization--that the Island wasn't coming back to her, not even in her dreams--led to a sense of desperation. She had thought even of talking to Drake, her travel companion, about it...but by then he had gotten more involved with and interested in the sports groups at the school, and she hated to bother him. She didn't even know if he remembered the trip or not. He hadn't seemed to, on their return.
She couldn't talk to her parents about it, nor to anyone at school; not only would none of them believe her, but they'd think she was crazy. In class, in every subject but history, she'd sat staring at her notebook doodling moose and rabbits and bats and wolves in the margins of the page, and when not doing that, she'd stared out the window at the trees through the passage of the year, thinking of the GeeBees whenever the wind blew, thinking of the Windwalkers when the snow fell. Every rabbit that crossed the school lawn made her wonder if it was truly a half-manitou in disguise. She would actually sit and wait for them to stand up and wink at her before hopping along on their way. But of course, none ever did.
She went to the local museums and historical societies, and considered talking with the people she met there, but knew none of them would ever believe her. In the afternoons she would go out and stand overlooking Little Traverse Bay and wonder about what she'd read in the legends of the area. Supposedly a mitchi manitou, a bad spirit, dwelled there. She waited to see it but never did.
And every night, she waited for a dream to come, but the right one never appeared.
That voyage had been almost a year ago. Now the summer was finally coming on. With every passing day her hopes of ever returning faded a little bit more until they were few indeed. She sat on her bed and stared at the dreamcatcher. A full backpack sat beside her bed. She'd first packed it on her return from the Island, in the hopes she would get to return...she would be ready this time, with everything she needed. She'd kept it ready ever since...but had never had any use for it. It looked as if she never would.
She'd finally told one person. Just one. And that only because she'd been desperate to let her story be known. And...her grandmother hadn't judged her at all. She hadn't looked at her funny, hadn't told her to stop making up stories, hadn't laughed it off or rolled her eyes or shaken her head with regret. Instead, she'd smiled...and started asking questions.
"How did you get there, again? This Dreamspinner, what was his name? What was that you did with the GeeBee's spirit stone? You say you were trained by both Moon Wolf AND Manabozho? This Chepi lady was certainly a saucy one, wasn't she? I suppose you felt very relieved once that demon was locked away for good!"
Charmian had sat gaping at her for a moment, in disbelief, before stammeringly answering the first few of her questions, and then more, and then more. The story of the Island poured out like a gush of water from the Devil's Kitchen, until she would spend literally hours regaling her grandmother with stories of everything that had happened while she was there. And for some reason it didn't matter whether her grandmother really believed her or not. She seemed to believe. That was close enough.
And now...the one person who had sat and listened to everything she'd said...would be gone soon. She would no longer be there. And again Charmian would be alone, just as she'd been before the Island. Only now, it would hurt so much more.
Because now, she didn't have even the Island.
She couldn't see it anymore in her mind. It never came in her dreams.
It was gone.
If it had ever existed.
As she sat and stared at the dreamcatcher slowly her eyes watered up again, but her face hardened. "Dreamcatcher," she murmured, and then a hard note entered her voice. "Yeah, right." She stood up, still staring at it. It looked like a spiderweb, immortalized on a wooden frame. "I already tried doing that myself. I read books, I drank milk, I even took a sleeping pill. And I had dreams all right, but none that I was looking for. A lot of good that all did me. Like a little bit of wood and feathers is going to make any difference now. Nothing even matters anymore if I don't have Grandma, and if I can't see the Island."
Tears now freely streaming down her face, but more from anger than sadness, she took the ring and looped its ribbon over the bedpost nearest the window, to the left of her pillow. It dangled in the air and she stared at it with a scowl.
"The Dreamspinner himself said I could make it back if I wanted to. I guess even he's bound to lie to me eventually, too." She pushed the dreamcatcher and it swung crazily to the side, its feathers fluttering. She turned away and pulled at her bedcovers.
"Not like it's any big surprise," she continued, sitting on the bed and pulling off her shoes, then her socks and her top and her shorts. "People are all alike in the real world. Why should anyone from the Island be any different? I guess they never wanted me back. It's only fitting that the one place I feel at home is the place that doesn't want me anymore."
She tossed her clothes aside and slipped into her nightclothes, though it was still the middle of the afternoon. She couldn't bear the thought of going back downstairs, facing her parents, hearing what they had to say about her grandmother. Instead she pulled open the blinds behind her headboard and climbed into the bed, pulling up the covers although it was nearly summer. She didn't feel hot. She buried herself in them and pulled them up to her chin, again squeezing her eyes shut. Her pillow quickly grew damp, and she had to turn her head to avoid getting wet. Her eyes opened and she looked backwards and up.
The dreamcatcher still hung there, slowly swaying, the slanting vestiges of sunlight glinting off its web. Charmian glared at it.
"See what a lot of good you can do." She shut her eyes and snuggled down into the bed, chest hitching. "Nothing can help me get back there anymore..."
Her voice faded before she drifted off into sleep. The sun slowly sank in the west, the light dying on the walls before fading away completely, giving way to a dim gray. After a while the moon arrived, glinting palely into the room. Its silver beams replaced the golden daytime ones, shimmering off the strands of the dangling dreamcatcher, making it look every inch the spider's web it was modeled after. A slight breeze blew in the window, making it swing from side to side, casting its own shadow on the wall.
And...the dreamcatcher's shadow grew...and then began to change.