Return To Manitou Island: Part 31
"YOU'RE NOT SLEEPY?!" Manabozho waved his arms as he and Charmian trudged down the trail leading away from Fort Holmes. The going was quite difficult, as the hill was so high, yet the two of them managed it almost without thinking, though Manabozho did almost slip when he waved his arms and had to grab onto a sapling to keep from falling. "Of all the times to not be sleepy, you have to pick NOW?!"
Charmian scowled and used a tree to keep her balance. "Like I can plan this sort of thing! I can't help it that I'm not tired! I've been sleeping a lot since I got here, and now I'm just not sleepy anymore!"
"And so what are you going to do?"
"Well, I asked Tal Natha if he could do something about it, but apparently dreams and sleep are two completely different things! He can't help me until I'm unconscious!"
"I just KNEW this was far too easy," Manabozho growled as they reached the bottom of the hill. "'The Dreamspinner is your friend.' Pah! Gitchi Manitou must be having a GREAT laugh right about now! DO YOU HEAR ME?!" He stopped and bellowed up at the sky, at which Charmian kicked him in the leg.
"Knock it off unless you want to draw every GeeBee in this place down on us!"
Manabozho started limping after her. "What sort of treatment is this! Where's that manitou of yours? I could use a lift off this thing, with how badly you've hurt it..."
"Oh, get over it. I told Mani he could go back to his tribe for now. It's not like I can keep hold of him twenty-four hours a day! He has a life too, you know. And I did NOT kick you that hard."
"You're not the one walking on it!" He began mumbling under his breath as they went, though he made certain that every few words were understandable. "...ingrate...no way to treat a manitou...should've just stayed home..." He lifted his head, hopping on one foot now in an exaggerated manner. "Well if you need to sleep, why don't you ask a medicine man about it? Surely one of them has something that can knock you out...?"
"As IF!" Charmian snapped. "I'm not going to take some weird medicine! With my luck it'll knock me out for GOOD! You don't know what's in that stuff!"
"Then what about that Snow Bear fellow? A wabano would know some ways to put somebody to sleep--"
"I already asked him for a favor. And the last time I saw him, he wasn't even there anymore!" When he gave her an odd look she waved at him. "Long story. No, I'm not quite trusting enough to ask a wabano for sleep help." She chewed on her finger. "There has to be some other way..."
"I hate to tell you this, but there isn't. Not unless you brought some fancy mainlander medicine along with you in that pack of yours!"
"Sorry, but I never thought to bring along some Nytol, not that my parents would let me use that stuff anyway!" Charmian sighed and picked up her pace. "This is pointless. I've gotta get to sleep soon or this place is toast."
Manabozho halted, seeing she was headed toward the town side of the Island. "Where are you going?" he yelled after her.
"Maybe Thomas knows something I can use. He's a little more modern than most of the people here."
"Oh, so you're going to go see your WENDIGO boy again!" Manabozho yelled even louder now, waving his arms again. "HE'S a lot more useful to you than I am, now!"
"At the moment, YEAH!" Charmian shot him a dirty look. "And you'd better shut up or somebody's gonna come running up and shoot you for your fur!"
"I don't HAVE any fur!"
"You will when they start coming!!"
He waved his arms one final time. "THAT'S THE STUPIDEST COMEBACK I'VE EVER HEARD!!"
Charmian made a rude gesture before leaving him behind. The path widened and grew steeper as the town finally came into view, smoke rising from the chimneys and people passing back and forth along the main street. She grimaced a little on seeing it--it still somehow seemed greatly out of place on this Island--yet picked up her pace again. She wasn't certain which house belonged to Thomas and his mother, but surely somebody down there knew him.
Her sandals began to splotch splotch splotch as she reached the muddy street, and she had to be careful to avoid both horse droppings and the horses themselves. Her nose wrinkled at the smell and she scanned the different buildings. The long, low bulk of the Fur Company loomed on the left side, and she started perusing the houses on the right, wondering if she should seek out that of Alexander Marcott, a friend of Francois's, and ask him if he knew where to find Thomas. Did he even still live here after all this time...?
"Look! It's her!"
"It is! She's back!"
Charmian blinked and her brow furrowed. The two voices sounded familiar somehow, and she turned to look over her shoulder, back at the Fur Company. Almost immediately she wished she hadn't, as it was impossible to avoid confronting the two natives running toward her now. She recognized them as those who had first accosted her in the alleyway, before Walks-On-The-Shore's explanation of who she was had left them simpering and wheedling. They stumbled up to her now, smelling of alcohol and other less pleasant things, and waved their arms and grabbed her hands, jogging her arms so much that her joints hurt.
"It's you again!" the scrawnier one with only one eye exclaimed with greet cheer. "The mainlander girl!"
"Hello!" the stocky one with the fur cap greeted. "D'you remember us? We welcomed you to the Island! Remember?"
So grabbing me in a back alley really is their way of saying welcome? Charmian shook her head to clear it, then nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I remember...um...you, and...you..."
"Oh!" The one with the fake eye put his hand to his breast and offered a quick bow. "You can--er--may call me Pierre--"
"One-Eyed Pierre!" the stocky one bellowed, and started guffawing. The scrawny one gave him a push that sent him stumbling, then offered Charmian a too-sweet smile.
"And he they call Chief, though spirits only know why, he is hardly deserving of the title..."
"As if your name is really Pierre?" Chief exclaimed, regaining his balance and clenching his fists. One-Eyed Pierre followed suit and they started staring each other down.
"And as if you are really a chief?"
"At least I remember MY name!"
"Oh, really? Ever stop to think WHY they all call you Chief?"
Chief opened his mouth wide, looking ready to fling out another pathetic insult; Charmian waved her arms as wildly as she dared, hoping to draw their attention.
"As much as I liked meeting you two again, I'm afraid I have to get going--I have something really important to do! Sorry!"
The two stopped yelling at each other and blinked at her. "Important?" Chief echoed, and One-Eyed Pierre gasped and grabbed his arm.
"I bet she's saving the Island again!" he whispered, as if she couldn't hear. "That's what she does best, isn't it?"
Chief's eyes widened and he nodded. "I bet that's it! Has to be!" He grabbed One-Eyed Pierre's arm in return. "Do you think she'll be fighting that demon again...?"
"No, stupid, she already BEAT her! It has to be something else..."
"What else is there? Oh! I know! I bet it's those Wolves...!"
Charmian started trying to sidle away from them now as they babbled at each other, but ended up gasping when One-Eyed Pierre grabbed her sleeve. He pulled her back around and offered a huge open-mouthed grin.
"Oh! Mainlander! It would be a great honor for us if you'd join us for a drink before you head off into the clutches of evil!"
Chief nodded vigorously. "Those clutches are mighty evil!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "I'm only fifteen! You have to be twenty-one to drink!"
The two natives blinked and their brows furrowed. They shared an uncertain glance, then looked back at her.
"Where do you come from, again...?" One-Eyed Pierre questioned.
"It's never too early to start!" Chief said cheerfully. "Twenty-one? That's..." he started counting on his fingers, then gave up "...AGES from now! Fifteen sounds just about right!"
"What happens if you do drink before then?" One-Eyed Pierre questioned. "Do your limbs shrivel off, or something...?"
"I tell you, your limbs will shrivel off if you don't get some drink in you before then!" Chief continued. "Twenty-one is like, seventeen years from now! There's no way you can wait that long, surely!"
Charmian put her hands to her head. "I can't even DRIVE yet!!"
That only made them look more confused. "Drive what?" they both asked, and she whirled around.
"I REALLY have to get going..."
"Oh, please?" One-Eyed Pierre wheedled, grabbing the strap on her pack and pulling. She yelped and turned again and they started a tug-of-war in the middle of the street, Chief and everyone who passed looking on. "Just one little drink? Me and Chief know the BEST place to get some whiskey here, and nothing says you're ready to head off into the clutches of evil like a good shot of whiskey..."
"You hardly know the best place!" Chief retorted. "That piss YOU drink is only fit to knock you on your ass for a day!"
One-Eyed Pierre let go of Charmian's pack so abruptly that she yelped and fell down into the mud. He rounded on his companion and they started arguing again.
"I don't know the best place? YOU are the one who can't even hold your drink decently! Who did I have to practically scrape off the Fur Company stoop the last time he got all plastered...?"
"That was HARDLY my fault! Remember who it was who paid for that swill in the first place. You WANTED me to pass out so you could rifle through my pockets, you dungpile!"
One-Eyed Pierre threw his arms in the air as Charmian pushed herself to her feet, grimacing and swiping mud from her clothes. "HOW DARE YOU!! I called you 'Brother'--you've OFFENDED MY HONOR!!"
Charmian could only stand by, futilely attempting to clean herself, as the two launched themselves at each other and fell down into the mud themselves, rolling around and choking one another. She only succeeded in smearing the mud even more before she had to give up in frustration, trying to pick her way back toward what counted as a sidewalk without getting splattered even worse by the fight that was going on. When she stepped up onto dryer land she rubbed at the mud a little more, wishing she'd brought a change of clothes.
Of all the things I didn't bring, sleeping pills and fresh clothes aren't among them! How prepared was I? She glanced at the two still struggling in the street, a horse pulling a carriage rearing up as it tried to avoid them, and sighed.
At least I'm not as poorly off as THEY are, yet...God knows how many drinks it takes to end up like that...
Her hands slowed and then fell still, mud drying on her fingertips. She frowned, then peered at them again. She had to consider and reconsider for a good long while before sighing once more.
"I can't believe I'm even thinking this." She stepped to the edge of the street and waved her hands. "Hey--guys! GUYS!"
Chief and One-Eyed Pierre abruptly halted their fighting, the bigger native still holding the smaller one in a headlock. One-Eyed Pierre held Chief's fur cap in his hands, squinting one eye shut. They both looked up at her.
"Yeah?" One-Eyed Pierre queried.
"You offered me a drink," Charmian said. She put on her best smile. "Does that mean one of you gentlemen would be willing to pay for it, too?"
They both stared as if uncertain if she was even the same person they'd been talking to earlier. Then they gradually let go of each other and stood up straight, brushing themselves down. Chief opened his mouth and pulled out One-Eyed Pierre's glass eye, passing it back to him as One-Eyed Pierre handed back his cap. They accepted their belongings in silence, one putting his cap on his head, the other popping his eye back into its socket.
"You changed your mind?" Chief said.
Charmian had to gather her resolve before nodding. "A drink before heading off to...battle..." she nearly gagged on the word, but it seemed to perk the other two up "...sounds like a generous offer." She held up a hand. "There's one condition, though."
They frowned now as if expecting a trick. "What?" One-Eyed Pierre questioned, squinting so his fake eye turned sideways of its own accord, staring out at the street as if interested in the people passing by.
Charmian crossed her muddy arms. "You have to take me to the place that serves the strongest drinks. I mean so strong, they knock you flat on your ass drinks. So strong, they make it feel like your head is filled with cotton drinks. So strong, you wake up and think, where am I? drinks."
The two natives stared at her a good long while before blinking. Then their faces lit up and their mouths cracked into huge grins, revealing rows of crooked and partially missing teeth.
"You want a STRONG drink? We know just the place!"
"You won't wake up for a WEEK!"
"TWO weeks, if you're lucky!"
Charmian grimaced. "Actually, just a day would be good...but I guess I'll take what you can get."
Chief waved, and One-Eyed Pierre stepped up to the walk to take her hand. "Come on! Best place is this way!" they cried. "Strongest drinks on all the Island!"
"You'll be glad you didn't wait till you're twenty-one!" Chief crowed.
"Your head will feel so full of cotton, you'll have to hire slaves to pluck it all out!" One-Eyed Pierre exclaimed.
"You'll be so disorient--disorienta--disor--so mixed up, you'll need a second compass just to tell you your FIRST compass is right!" Chief shouted. Charmian stepped down from the sidewalk and they put her between them, taking her arms and leading her back up the street as they waved their free arms and yelled as many thinly clever things as they could. Charmian bit her tongue and endured it, although barely.
Well, if THIS is the only way I can get to sleep...I guess I can handle it...though I have no idea how I'm going to explain it to Mom if I come back reeking of alcohol...
She soon found herself in one of the seedier-looking taverns that fronted the street, seated at a table between the other two as they yelled for drinks to be brought. She hunched down as much as she could but still felt as if everyone were staring at her, though when she looked around she saw hardly anyone else was paying any attention. Though once a couple of women with very tight corsets and very obvious bosoms smiled and waved her way. She scrunched down even more; if she went any further, she'd end up under the table. If this was how busy this place was now, she hated to think what it would be like at night.
Fortunately the drinks were brought soon enough, and Charmian hesitantly accepted the shot glass One-Eyed Pierre handed her. When she lifted it up he clinked his own against it and he and Chief drank their own shots so fast that she had to swallow. She made a face at the smell of the stuff.
"You wanted the strongest drink this Island has to offer?" One-Eyed Pierre exclaimed. "Short of something brewed up by a medicine man, this is it!"
"Though this is probably much safer!" Chief added, and they clinked glasses.
Charmian's face scrunched up in distaste. She put the glass to her mouth and downed it as quickly as she could, immediately dissolving into a series of hacking, spitting coughs.
She tried to say this aloud, but her burning throat wouldn't let her. Her two companions crowed and slapped her on the back so she felt like throwing up. She had to wipe her mouth, sticking out her tongue and making gagging sounds.
"You'll get used to it!" One-Eyed Pierre promised. "The first few drinks are a little much, sure..."
"But hang out here as much as we do and you'll get the hang of it."
Charmian shook her head violently to try to dispel the horrid aftertaste, and reached for one of the other shot glasses. She downed it as quickly as she had the first, and though it still tasted awful, at least she didn't cough as much this time.
"So...how much...of this stuff...do you need to...pass out?" she gasped, setting down the glass with a clink and reaching for a third.
"How much whiskey have you drunk before?" One-Eyed Pierre asked.
"None. This is my first time ever." Charmian downed the third glass and made a face, coughing and rubbing her throat.
Chief and One-Eyed Pierre just stared at her. As she was still trying to get the burning feeling to dissipate, One-Eyed Pierre finally answered, "Well, if you're new, then one drink should probably be about enough."
Charmian wasn't certain if she heard the answer or not. Her head started bobbing and her eyes went blurry and then she fell forward with a heavy thunk, already snoring.
The black haze that had started surrounding her head in the tavern began fading away. Charmian coughed reflexively, but the burning taste of the whiskey was already gone. She made another face just the same; how could anyone stand drinking that stuff? She made a mental note never to take up drinking should she return to the mainland. It wasn't at all worth it.
She gasped and lifted her head, blinking. The voice had come from somewhere all around her, yet when she looked around she saw no one. In fact all that was visible was a grayish mist as far as she could see. She wondered about its meaning for a moment, then remembered what she'd gone to the tavern to accomplish in the first place.
I have been attempting to reach you for a while now. She stood--if in fact one could stand in a place without form--and stared up into the mist, although nothing else was visible. I could not sense you properly to tell when you had fallen asleep or not. And so I have been spinning in the hope that I would eventually reach you.
"I'm asleep now?"
Yes. You could not be here otherwise.
"So...I'm dreaming? This is it?"
Yes. The vague presence she had started to sense now began to withdraw, and she rubbed her arms as if cold. I cannot help you now, Tal Natha said, and she nodded to show she understood.
"I know. And it's okay...thanks, Tal Natha."
Be careful... the voice said, and then the presence faded away, leaving her alone.
She shivered again at the sudden emptiness of the place. She stared at the grayish mist for a moment before attempting to gather her thoughts.
All right...now that I'm here, what do I do? Where do I look?
Where I last saw him. That's where to look. Where was he...?
A cave...with fire! I saw him in a cave...that's where he'll be...
She shut her eyes and concentrated. Even with her eyes closed she could sense the mist around her evaporating, or else taking form, and something solidifying around her. The hollow empty sound of the place changed, so now she sensed she was surrounded by something; opening her eyes again, she saw the same reddish cave walls of her first odd dream, and her face lit up.
This is it! This is where I saw him! She started peering around herself, but all she could see was the same reddish stone, some unseen source of light flickering all over the walls. Her brow furrowed as she thought.
"Now where is he...?"
Very bad, a strange--yet not strange--voice suddenly said, making her gasp and jump. She whirled around and started turning in circles, scouring the walls, but they were all that was visible. Yet still the voice came, from all around her just as Tal Natha's had, and she searched in vain to find its source.
Very bad, it said again. Seeking outside help like that...I wouldn't have thought somebody with your pristine reputation would resort to cheating.
"Are you here...?" Charmian murmured tentatively, still looking up at the walls.
Of course I am. She sensed amusement in the voice, and the feeling reminded her of her first dream here. The voice was male, and whoever he was, he spoke in an unconcerned manner that she would have called charming, if he hadn't invaded her head earlier on. You wouldn't have bothered coming here, if I were not, would you?
"With the way you jumped in my head earlier I'd've thought you'd at least have the guts to show yourself," Charmian challenged.
The voice laughed softly. Faking a bravery you do not actually feel...yes, this sounds like you. She started turning in circles again; the voice came from all around. The courageous mainlander, come to slay the demons...only you do not slay them, do you...for this would hurt the Island, wouldn't it? And if something is hurting the Island, of course you'll be there...
"You've been watching me?" Charmian yelled.
As if you did not sense this? She felt a jolt. I felt you knew I was there, yet could not be certain until now...quite interesting. Usually none can sense my presence. The fact that you can is an intriguing one. She sensed a shifting now, as if whatever was watching her were leaning on one elbow in curiosity. Yes, you are an amusing diversion...
"Diversion?" The word sparked a flare of indignation in Charmian and she drew herself up as tall as she could, fists clenching. "I came here, so spill! Why were you prying in my head earlier? Why are you after the Shadow Wolves? What do you want with the Island?"
This is a lot of big questions for one little mainlander.
"At least I came HERE and asked them! You're so chicken you can't even show your face!"
Something warm, like fire, flared, making her gasp and rub her arms again although she was nowhere near cold. She wondered if this was some sort of angry reaction, yet when the voice came again it was as calm as ever.
Very well. I suppose I could at least present myself for the brave mainlander. The only one to come all this way, just for me.
Charmian opened her mouth to retort in disgust--she had come here for the Island, not for this thing--when the flare came again, only this time a light came with it, flashing in her eyes and making her cover them abruptly to avoid going blind. She lowered her fingers just enough to see what appeared to be a mass of swirling flame before her, yet it was fading already, from white to yellow to orange and then red, and as she watched it swirled and flung itself off as if it were the merest garments being discarded instead of the deadly fire it actually was. Little tendrils of it vanished into smoke and Charmian at last stood face to face with the smirking, yellow-eyed shadow of her dream.