Return To Manitou Island: Part 8
The Mad Huron
ROUGH HANDS DRAGGED Charmian back into the shadows of the alley beside the Fur Company, and for a brief moment she couldn't see anything. The laughter that rang in her ears told her that there were at least two people, however, and suddenly, instead of feeling frightened, she felt furious. Her second day on the Island, and already somebody was after her! It was way too early in the trip for things to take this kind of turn.
Scuffing her feet against the ground, she managed to push herself to stand upright and brought her heel down as hard as she could on the foot of the person behind her. Luckily, he appeared to be wearing moccasins, and he let out a yelp of pain and immediately let her go.
Charmian stumbled forward out of his grasp, nearly falling into the dust. She whirled around and could barely make out the two who had caught her--they were both natives, one of them stocky and wearing a fur cap, the other one skinny and with what appeared to be a fake eye. The first was holding his foot and trying not to lose his balance, cringing in pain, while the second gawked at Charmian in surprise. Baring her teeth, she ran at him and brought her foot up, kicking him directly between the legs. His mouth fell open and all that came out was a squeak; he fell to his knees and crumpled in on himself.
"I took a self-defense course last semester, dumbass!" Charmian snapped. "So if you want to try that again I suggest you try something else!"
The first one who had grabbed her scowled. "Saucy brat! Is this how they bring your sort up nowadays? Didn't you learn to respect your elders?"
"Not when they're manhandling me!"
The second one dragged himself to his feet now, his hands still clamped over where Charmian had kicked him. Tears filled his eyes but he gave her a look as ugly as the first. "Maybe you should learn from us, then!" he hissed, and they both moved at her at the same time. Charmian took a step back and prepared to bolt out of the alley, but the stocky one hopped out in front of her, and the skinny one slithered out behind.
Charmian balled her fists and planted her feet against the ground as solidly as she could, though she had no clue what good it would do--the course hadn't really gone indepth on what to do if two creepy native guys were coming after you in a dark alley at once--
THUNK. The stocky man howled and grabbed at his head, and for a brief moment Charmian wondered what she could have done that would have made him do that. She gasped when something dark moved swiftly past, then the skinny native let out a choking noise, and she blinked when she saw an arm wrapped around his neck, holding him in a headlock.
Her eyes widened when she saw that the third person was the same one she'd followed into the alley in the first place.
As the skinny native's eyes bugged out, the native from the Fur Company leaned his head forward and smiled. "Now how many times do I have to tell you two? Is this any way to treat a mainlander?"
"Mainlander?" the stocky native snapped. "What makes you think she's a mainlander?"
The first native clucked his tongue. "Do I even have to explain? Take a look at her clothes and her hair. Do you really believe she's from here? With clothing like that, who knows where she's from; and with hair like that, I bet that it would be safe to say she even knows the demons, personally."
The other two looked uncertain now, and glanced at Charmian. This odd defense surprised her, but she scowled at them just the same, hoping she looked threatening.
"I know Tal Natha personally," she said. "AND I've faced down Ocryx and Ocryana!"
The two's eyes grew huge. "You--you have--?" the skinny one stammered, but the second one made a blustery noise.
"She's lying! No girl could do that unless she's part demon too or unless--"
"--unless she's that one from the MAINLAND!" the skinny one cut in. He pulled free from the first native's grasp and tugged on the stocky man's arm. "They said it was a mainlander who defeated the demon! A red-haired mainlander! A girl! What if this really is her?"
The stocky man looked uneasy now. The skinny one rushed forward and dropped at her feet before she could react. He grabbed onto her knees and she had to swing her arms to avoid falling over.
"Please, please, don't call the demons on us!!" he cried, his face screwing up almost comically. "We didn't mean any harm. It was only fun! Just a joke! We didn't mean anything, honest!"
"If you're that mainlander, how did you even get here?" the stocky one asked, eyes narrowing. "The trapper never left the Island in his canoe! He's the only way you could have gotten here. I think you're not who they say you are!"
Charmian faltered for words, but the first native moved toward her and stuck his hand in her pack. She gasped in protest when he pulled out the dreamcatcher and brandished it in the air.
"And what does this look like to you?" he challenged.
The other two frowned. "A dreamcatcher?" the skinny one said, tentatively. The first native scowled at him and waved the hoop.
"No, fool. She said already she knows the Dreamspinner, personally. So what better way to get here? The trapper doesn't travel to her time. She travels to ours. When she feels like it. I doubt either of you could claim as much, could you?"
This seemed to convince the other two; Charmian had to pull herself free from the skinny one, while the stocky one started apologizing profusely. Instead of feeling vindicated, she felt embarrassed for them now; they sounded sincere enough. The first native stuck the dreamcatcher back in her pack and started walking off toward the alley entrance, and Charmian remembered she hadn't even gotten to ask his name yet. She started sidling along the wall, waving her hands and nodding at the other two, who continued babbling the entire time she tried to get away.
"All right--okay--whatever! No hard feelings! Really! I mean it!" They followed her like two lost puppies and she couldn't even tell if they'd heard a word she'd said as neither stopped talking and gesticulating and offering excuses, so even though she felt it was incredibly rude, she ended up leaving them standing there talking to themselves as she hurried to follow after the other one.
"Hey!" Charmian called as she ran. The first native was far ahead of her, up the street, heading away from the Fur Company. She hesitated, thinking of Francois, but then picked up her pace again. "HEY! I'm trying to talk to you!"
He finally stopped and glanced back over his shoulder at her, looking disinterested. Charmian slowed down to catch her breath, and he crossed his arms as if impatient.
"Yes?" he said in an annoyed voice.
Charmian forced herself to stand upright, though her chest still hurt. "I didn't get to thank you for helping me."
He stared at her for a moment before offering an odd smile, more like a sneer. "I didn't do it for your benefit," he said. "Those two are drunkards who manage to make all the rest of us look bad, and it was about time someone knocked some sense into their heads. You just happened to be their diversion of the day."
Charmian frowned. "Well, thanks anyway. You could've at least told me your name. I've been following you since the Fur Company, in case you didn't notice."
"I did. And I noticed you while walking down the street." He made a mock face now and rolled his eyes. "'Da bad trapper is so mistreating him! Noble Indian! Should I help him? Or step into the alley first? I cannot decide! I need help!'"
Charmian clenched her fists. "FINE!" she snapped. "Be like that! I didn't want to know your name, anyway!"
"Walks-On-The-Shore," the native said, "and I tell you only because when you say you don't care, I know that it's eating you up inside."
Charmian felt like gouging her feet into the earth. "NO WONDER GAUTIER TREATS YOU SO BAD! IF THIS IS WHAT YOU'RE REALLY LIKE!"
Walks-On-The-Shore smiled widely. "Actually, I am like this only part of the time. The other time, I may be as genteel as anyone you have ever met. Or I may be something else. It depends."
Charmian ground her teeth. "Jerk!" She stomped past him, up the hill. She sensed him pause before following after her, and had to fight the urge to turn around and kick him in the shin.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he called.
"YOU can tell Francois I'm going for a walk!" Charmian shouted. "If it CONCERNS you so much!"
"It doesn't, but you were the one who seemed so concerned with manners and such..."
"Like you'd care anyway!"
"Someone has to, and at the moment it's not you, so it may as well be me."
Charmian halted and pulled at her hair in frustration. "Are you ALWAYS this insane? Or am I just asking all the right questions?!"
"Actually, I am only like this part of the time; the rest of the time, I--"
"Oh for God's sake, NEVER MIND!!" She turned again and started walking even more quickly up the hill. "I'm sorry I even asked!"
He didn't say anything in response to this, though she still sensed him following behind. She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore him, but there was just something incredibly annoying about his presence that made such a thing impossible to do. She waited until they had passed most of the town buildings and had started to approach the outskirts, such as they were, before whirling on him again and clenching her fists.
"What do you WANT from me?"
"What do you want from ME?" he echoed.
"I want YOU to leave me alone!"
He grinned so his teeth showed. "I don't think that's what you really want."
"Like you'd know!"
"Like you would know?"
"STOP DOING THAT!"
"Stop doing what?"
Charmian flung her hands up and screamed so loudly it carried down the street. Several of the people turned and looked at her in puzzlement; when they spotted Walks-On-The-Shore with her, they turned away, shaking their heads. Someone muttered something that sounded like "Mad Huron," but Charmian was too flustered to bother listening too closely. She pointed a finger at him and made her face look as disgusted as possible.
"YOU stay here and leave me alone! Don't even THINK of following me! You just stick to Gautier and whoever else and I'll stick to MY side and we'll never have to talk to each other AGAIN!"
Walks-On-The-Shore gave her an innocent look. "Did I make you angry?"
Charmian snarled. "Take a wild guess!" She turned away again and stomped up the hill, making a horse shy out of the way, nearly tossing its rider. A few more people heading into the town glanced at her as she stormed past, but she didn't bother to say hello or goodbye. She hoped Francois would understand, but she was too furious to remain there any longer.
"Why do I even bother?" she groused aloud as she went, up the slope and back toward the treeline. "Every time I stick my nose in someone else's business something goes bad, so why bother anymore! This is the absolute last time." Her eyes felt hot and wet, and she bit down on the inside of her mouth, furious that she should have the urge to cry. Could this day get any more humiliating?
"I hate it here," she said, and was surprised to hear herself say such a thing, but continued anyway. "I hate how everything's changed," she clarified, as if needing to reassure herself. "Sure, it's good that X'aaru's found someone...and Francois...and Shadow Water...and even Little Dove and Justin...but what else? It looks like everything that's changed has done it for the worse! I can walk into a fur company and find HOOKERS! Hookers on Manitou Island! Yeah, they're dressed better than the ones in Detroit, but that doesn't mean they should welcome them here...isn't there anything that can just stay the same...?"
She passed the treeline now and felt a bit of relief to be in the woods, away from the bustle of the town, but a heaviness settled in her heart instead. "I was stupid to think I could just go back and get away from my problems," she continued out loud. "No place ever stays the same. Not even here. I should've known it would change, and it wouldn't get any better. Maybe if I'd left Ocryana alone these other people wouldn't have come along...but then the Island wouldn't be here either...maybe that would've been the best thing...?"
I can't REALLY believe that! Of course I love the Island! It's everything that's changed that I don't like--I wanted someplace familiar to go to. Where can I go when nothing is the same anymore?
The tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill now. As if to outrace them, Charmian started jogging, then running, then sprinting up the trail. Her lungs burned again but she didn't care.
I have to find something that's the same. Just one little thing. Then I'll be happy. Just one little thing out of all of this that hasn't changed. Just one tree, one rock, one something. Just one--
She lifted her head just in time to--"OOF--!"--run smack into something, and fall down flat on her back, sprawled out on the ground like roadkill. She sat up quickly, shaking her head to try to ward off a wave of dizziness that threatened to overtake her; she glanced up, ready to berate whatever tree she'd run into, only to see it was a person, a tall elderly native man with long white hair and a long crooked stick. He frowned at her over his nose and she noticed she'd made him drop several small packages he'd been carrying. She flushed and hastened to retrieve them for him, scrabbling about on the ground.
"Sorry!" she apologized, her ears going warm. She picked up two of the packages, then reached for the third and piled them atop each other, holding them in place with her chin and standing up shakily. She hoped whatever was in them wasn't too fragile, else it would be in a hundred pieces by now. She handed these to the old man, who received them in silence. He didn't stop frowning, though, and she noticed she'd missed one of the packages, and stooped to retrieve it as well. "Sorry," she said again, and placed it atop the others; then, "Really sorry!" she added, just in case, and dashed past him, up the trail and over a rise. She looked back just long enough to see him staring at her disapprovingly before going on his own way. She let out her breath, then sucked it in again, and forced herself to slow down now that she was alone again.
I never thought I'd say it, but this place is starting to get to me.
She walked slowly up the trail, winding through the woods, and turned away from the direction of Silver Eagle Feather's tribe. She didn't feel like facing them at the moment, not in her state. She hung her head and studied the patterns made by the sunlight upon the ground before a slight breeze made her lift it again, and she looked around herself. All the woods looked the same, at least to one who'd never been here before...but continuing to look up the trail, she thought of something.
Something that's still the same.
She turned her head a bit further to look down another trail, branching off to the side. She knew this led to the far side of the Island, not too far from where she had imprisoned Ocryana beneath the ground...and not too far from somewhere else, as well...
Something can't change much if there's no one there to change it.
Charmian turned on her heel and followed this trail instead. She kept her pace somewhere between brisk and casual, as at least she knew where she was going, now. She couldn't think too closely about it, though, as she knew it would bring back too many sad memories, so she focused instead on the sunlight, the leaves, the sound of the wind, and anything else that could distract her from her thoughts.
She supposed she was lucky, then, that she wanted so much to distract herself, as she was then able to hear a soft rustling noise from not too far away, which wasn't the wind. It was too consistent...as if it were following her path. She wouldn't have heard it if she'd been going over her thoughts for the day.
She gradually stopped and listened, her ears practically cocking. The rustling stopped as well, and now her anxiety returned.
Wind doesn't follow you like that unless it's a Wendigo. And I don't think this is a Wendigo.
She frowned and listened harder, but nothing came. When she started walking again, the noise didn't resume, though her nerves stayed on edge. She began to chew on her lower lip.
If I come across any Wolves, will I even be able to fight them off? I don't have anybody here to help me...
Of course I can fight one off. I'm not a wimp. But just one...what if there's two, or more...?
She started to walk once more, faster now, even though the rustling no longer followed her. The thought of facing those two Shadow Wolves again, on her own, way out in the middle of nowhere where rescue wasn't a certainty...what had she been thinking when she'd decided to come out here on her own? Even the thought of Ocryana wasn't as unnerving.
She walked thus for a good long while, considering she had practically half the Island to cross to reach her destination. The scenery had begun to take on a familiar tinge as she found herself on a trail that she remembered. It led to another, longer, trail, and eventually to the place she wanted to reach...it was so silent out here, even the birdsong seeming far away, that she began to forget her earlier fears of the Shadow Wolves...
Almost...when another soft rustling noise caught her attention, and made her jerk her head upwards to see what could be causing it, and if she could defend herself...
But instead of a Shadow Wolf, or even two Shadow Wolves, she saw a human shape--but it was moving so quickly she couldn't be certain what it was. She caught only a lightning flash of its leaping movement, the glint of a white
animal skull and the whistling noise of something long swinging through the air, before a burst of pain blossomed in the right side of her head, sending her flying. She tumbled and landed painfully on one twisted leg, but the agony of the pulled muscle didn't even bother her as by then she had already slipped into blackest unconsciousness.