Return To Manitou Island: Part 52
A Thief's Welcome
CHARMIAN'S EYES GOGGLED and then she screamed, letting go of the tail of the snarling wolverine--which was just as well, considering its sudden gain in weight nearly dragged her down before she could drop it. Thomas, Moon Wolf, and Manabozho, who stood behind her, all stared at it with equally wide eyes. Charmian stumbled backwards, still screaming and nearly falling over; the wolverine bared its teeth and snarled again, then turned and shuffled off quickly into the woods, Charmian's dreamcatcher hanging over its back.
As soon as she saw this Charmian's scream cut short and she blinked.
"Wolverines--" She gawked, then her face turned deep crimson. "WOLVERINES DON'T LIVE IN MICHIGAN!!"
"Charmian!" Thomas managed to get out before she started off again. "We aren't IN Michigan--!"
Charmian didn't even hear him. She bolted after the fleeing animal as fast as she could. After several strides it turned to look over its shoulder and saw her gaining on it; then with a pop it again turned into the small furry creature from before, and started sprinting as quickly as ever. Now it was gaining speed, and Charmian began despairing of ever catching up with it. She gritted her teeth and pushed herself even faster.
Something struck against her back and she felt something wrap around her, and with a yell she fell to the ground. It took her a second to realize that Thomas had tackled her--but before she had time to feel offended she spotted the furry creature disappearing far ahead into the woods, and struggled to pull herself loose.
"He's got my dreamcatcher!!" she cried. She tried even harder to pull herself loose, her eyes filling with tears as the thief vanished into the dimness. "COME BACK! IT'S MINE!"
"Charmian--" Thomas tried to say, and she nearly kicked him in the face trying to break loose. Manabozho and Moon Wolf reappeared, panting, Mani trailing after them this time. They all stared in curiosity as the two continued fighting on the ground.
"He's got my dreamcatcher!" Charmian yelled again. "I have to get it back! Let me go!!"
The others winced as her voice rose to a piercing shriek. Charmian dimly sensed that Thomas was saying something to her but she didn't care. All she could see in her mind was the tail of the creature as it disappeared, possibly for good. She flailed around and bared her teeth like some sort of trapped animal and screamed, "LET GO OF ME!!"
Thomas grabbed her upper arms so tightly that she cut herself off with a yelp of pain, and he shook her hard so her head flew back and then forward again. "Charmian!" he barked right in her face, and she blinked at him, at last really seeing him.
"You have to stop and listen!" he snapped.
"He's got my dreamcatcher," Charmian echoed herself.
"I know. And I'm sorry. But there's nothing we can do about it now." He loosened his grip on her arms but still didn't release her. "You have to let it go."
Charmian's eyes welled up again and anger flared in her chest. "My grandmother gave that to me!" she yelled. "Right before she died! It's the last thing I have of her!"
Manabozho's brow furrowed. The looks on Moon Wolf's and Mani's faces weren't much different. Thomas sighed and she felt the pressure let up on her arms so she slowly pulled them free, rubbing at the chill that lingered behind. "I know how much it means to you," he said in a quieter voice. "But if you just go running off chasing after that, what if you get lost and we never find you again? We don't know this place. Remember what Geezhigo-Quae said--we have two days to get there, and two to get back. We don't have time to go chasing after things. I know you care about your dreamcatcher, but right now the Island is a lot more important."
She stared at him in silence for a few moments.
He's right. You know he is...you would even sacrifice your own spirit stone before the Island.
Then how come this is so much harder to let go...?
Her eyes filled with tears again. She turned to look in the direction the furry creature had disappeared and chewed on her lip, the tears spilling down her face. "It's the last thing I have," she said weakly, knowing it was useless.
Thomas sighed. He moved so that he faced her again and touched his fingers to the side of her face. She flinched just a bit at how cold they felt.
"When we're done with everything," he said under his breath, "then I promise we'll come back here, and we'll find it. No matter where it is."
Charmian sucked in a breath. "You...you mean it?"
He nodded. "I promise." He pulled his hand away and leaned on his knee. "But first we have to take care of things here. You won't go running off on your own again?"
Charmian let out her breath and looked down at the ground, fiddling her fingers. "I won't," she murmured.
Both of them fell silent this time, and stayed that way for a moment or two. After a pause Manabozho stepped forward and peered into the woods, shielding his eyes as if sunlight were streaming into them.
"I'll catch him," he exclaimed, "and when I do I'll turn him into an excellent fur cap and mitts! Some welcome!"
Thomas stood and helped Charmian to her feet. Moon Wolf and Mani stepped forward and she wiped at her eyes. "I'm okay," she mumbled, turning away from the trail so they all headed back toward the camp. She couldn't believe how foolish she felt for bolting off into a strange forest like that; but at the same time, the thought that her dreamcatcher could be miles away by now was almost more than she could bear. She had to force herself to try not to think about it, with only slight success. Mani whistled and bumped her with his antler as she rubbed at her eyes and sniffled. They arrived back in the clearing and fanned out toward their beds. Cloud remained where he'd been sleeping before, and Pakwa was still perched snoring in his tree. Moon Wolf went to tend to the fire while Manabozho walked around the base of the tree he'd been sleeping in and nudged at it with his foot, giving it a critical look.
"I'm sorry I woke everyone up," Charmian said miserably.
"It looks as if dawn approaches," Moon Wolf said.
"I take it no one's much in the mind to go back to sleep?" Thomas inquired, glancing around. Pakwa yawned and opened his eyes but that was about it. "If not, we could get an early start and save some time later on."
"I don't like sleeping in these trees anyway," Manabozho muttered, stepping away from the one he'd been inspecting. "They aren't nearly as comfortable as Island trees are."
"I don't notice any sort of difference," Thomas said, stooping and gathering Cloud's saddle and saddlebags.
Manabozho walked past him. "You wouldn't," he said simply, earning a perplexed frown from Thomas.
Charmian folded up the blankets she and Mani had used and handed them to Thomas to put into the saddlebags, still feeling rather stupid. She picked up what other items had been pulled out of her pack by the small creature and made sure it was strapped tightly shut before slinging it over her shoulders, staring at the ground as she waited for the others to clean up the rest of the camp and completely extinguish the fire. Aside from the small burnt patch of ground and a bit of trampled grass they left the area much as they'd found it and started heading eastward again, in the same direction the furry creature had gone. Charmian sighed as she tried not to think about it; they weren't here to look for her dreamcatcher, they were here to find Glooskap.
As if reading her thoughts, Thomas queried, "So where does this Glooskap live, exactly?"
"Geezhigo-Quae said he lived near the ocean," Charmian said.
"I get this, but how near it, exactly? Right on its shore, or in a house or something? And the coast itself goes on for miles either way--how far north or south will we find him?"
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth. "She wasn't exactly specific..." She glanced back at the others with an anxious look. "What if he lives in the ocean?" Her brow furrowed and she looked away as if lost in thought. "I've swum in lakes before, but never in the ocean...I don't think it would be like swimming in a lake..."
"Perhaps Mani would be able to seek him out?" Moon Wolf suggested.
Mani whistled. Could try, but not sure. Do not know big water well--strange manitous.
"I suppose this whole place is full of strange manitous," Thomas murmured, peering up at the trees looming over them. They all froze in place when something far overhead briefly blotted out the growing light, and glanced up to see a massive shape gliding over the trees. It flapped its wings a few times before vanishing silently from sight, though it was a good three minutes or more before they dared to start walking again, still casting furtive looks upwards.
"Like that one," Thomas added.
"I've never even seen the ocean," Charmian admitted. "At least, not the Atlantic...and I've never really walked down to one, either..."
"It can't be any greater than Gitchi-Gami," Manabozho said, sometimes striding, sometimes skipping ahead of them.
Charmian readjusted her pack. "I hate to break it to you but it's a WHOLE lot greater than Gitchi-Gami. You could fit Gitchi-Gami in there a hundred times and more."
He gave her a scoffing look. "Please! I'm not that naive!"
She shrugged. "You'll see. And the water tastes like salt."
He made a face. "What sort of weird devil-lake is this you're talking about? Big enough to swallow Gitchi-Gami and tasting of salt? Either some bad manitou created that, or you've lost your mind." He skipped off ahead again, muttering as he went. "Salt...what, do they want to cure venison in it or something...?"
Charmian chewed on her lip a little bit, then fished around in her pocket and pulled out the carved pinecone Nokomis had given her. "Maybe he lives in a tree...? Are there trees near the ocean?"
Thomas frowned. "I'm not certain; somehow a tree doesn't seem fitting, for somebody who lives near the ocean."
"Geezhigo lives in a tree, and she's the manitou of the sky. So what's so weird about a tree for the manitou of the ocean? Maybe, the Ocean Tree or something?"
"But trees point upwards, whereas the ocean sort of..." Thomas looked confused "...spreads out, and goes down."
Charmian shrugged. "So do tree roots."
He looked thoughtful now. "I suppose..."
Charmian opened her mouth, then slowed to a stop. The others continued on a few steps before noticing she wasn't with them and then turning back to look at her. She stared at her hand.
"I think it's moving," she said, then opened her fingers. The little pinecone was trembling just slightly. Charmian lifted her head and smiled.
"Maybe I was right! This thing can sense magical trees...maybe Glooskap does live in a tree!"
Moon Wolf was the one to look skeptical this time as they approached her and peered down at it. "We're over a day's travel away yet...would it be so powerful as to sense it all the way from here?"
"I don't know...but it's always possible. At least it would point us in the right direction." She took a few steps forward and then tossed the pinecone into the air, watching it spiral and hit the ground, bouncing once or twice before landing in a bed of pine needles. They all stared at it as it twitched and quivered.
Thomas bent close to it and put his hands on his knees. "So, what does it do exactly, act like a compass--?"
As if on cue, the little pinecone whirled around, its tip pointing east. Charmian's face lit up and the cone bounced off into the woods. She waved at the others, jogging after it. "Come on!"
The others followed, all as curious as she was. She didn't like the thought of jogging for two days; maybe she would be able to catch the cone and tuck it away until later? She was having thoughts of tying it to a string and carrying it on a little leash, like a tiny guide dog, when something fell down from one of the boughs above her and plopped onto the trail, scooping the cone up and then darting back toward the trees.
Charmian's eyes goggled as she saw a flash of fur scampering upwards. "It's--IT'S THAT DAMN SQUIRREL AGAIN!!" she screamed in disbelief. She saw Thomas open his mouth and managed to yell, "I won't go running off--BUT I'M GOING TO WRING HIS NECK!!"--before bolting up the tree herself, climbing faster than she'd ever thought possible. One swift glance downward showed her everyone else gathering below to watch. Then she was focused on her prey again, just able to see the tip of its tail disappearing among the needles overhead.
"ONE thing was bad enough!" she shouted up at it. "Now you're going WAY too far!"
The furry creature responded by turning to look over its shoulder--and it stuck its tongue out at her! Then it was gone from sight, and a second later she saw it scampering out onto one of the branches.
"Oh no you don't!"
She clambered up onto the branch, her hands all sticky with pine sap. The furry creature dashed toward the end of the branch. Charmian climbed onto it as far as she could before stopping and shaking the end in her hands. Instead of falling, the creature leapt into the next tree, and scuttled upward.
Charmian's jaw dropped. "He's a flying squirrel?!" She ground her teeth in rage and flung her hand forward. "TREE!"
The furry creature paused, but nothing happened. It stuck its tongue out again and vanished.
"I don't have any powers here!" Charmian groaned and considered simply falling from the tree and getting it over with.
She lifted her head to see the furry thing scuttle down the trunk of the nearby tree and jump into a smaller pine standing nearby--when two boughs of the little pine sprung upwards and sent the creature flying into the air with a squeal of surprise. Charmian gawked, not quite understanding what she was seeing until she noticed how the leader of the tree stuck up and out like two feathers, and then clenched her fist.
She started scrambling back in the other direction just as the little creature struck one of the opposite branches with a thunk. Charmian grabbed it by its tail and it squealed again, but she was already on her way down from the tree before it could even think of responding. The others crowded around the base and she fell the last several feet, letting them catch her before she hit the ground. They parted to give her room and all of them, Manabozho joining them, looked at the small furry thing she held wriggling in her hand.
"You've got something of mine!" Charmian snapped, shaking the furry thing. It yelped and struggled and she turned it upright, then frowned when she got her first really good look at it. The others crowded around again, brows furrowing in confusion.
"What is it?" Manabozho asked, puzzled.
"Some kind of rodent?" Thomas suggested.
Charmian looked the creature over, equally perplexed. It bore a long bushy tail and pointed ears, yet...the ears were set wide at both sides of the head, like a human's...and despite its tiny, almost pointy nose, and large dark eyes, its face was more human than anything. Its hind feet looked like those of some sort of animal, but its front feet were more like...hands. And it wore a tiny suit of deerskin clothing with a beaded sash, and a small red cap upon its head. It kicked and flailed and bared its tiny pointed teeth.
"Put me down this instant!" it snapped in a squeaky, childlike voice, and all of them jumped.
Charmian regained her senses enough to scowl at it. "Or what? You'll turn into a wolverine again?"
It gritted its teeth and looked ready to start transforming. Charmian quickly grabbed the red cap from its head and then let the creature drop to the ground. Manabozho promptly scooped it up, but it didn't struggle quite so hard to escape from him. Instead its eyes went wide looking at its missing cap, and it stretched out its arms toward it with a stricken look.
"Missing something?" Charmian taunted, dangling the cap. "You took something of mine, so I get to take something of yours!"
"I need that back! That's mine!" the little furry creature yelled.
Charmian put the cap on her head, resulting in a panicked look from the creature. "I think it looks better on me anyway."
The creature renewed its efforts now, and Manabozho had to hold it away from him so it couldn't bite. "THAT'S MINE! Give it back! You don't need it!"
Charmian stuck out her tongue. "You get it back if you give MINE back!"
The little creature scowled but pulled the parcel that contained Charmian's dreamcatcher out from his sash and held it outwards. "I don't like it anyway!"
Charmian grabbed the parcel and yanked it away from him with a venomous look. "That's only ONE thing," she growled, and he stuck out his lower lip.
"You've still got my cap!"
"You've still got my cone!"
"You shouldn't have that cone!"
"Somebody GAVE it to me! So give it back, then you get your cap!"
"I bet you stole it! Just like you stole my cap!"
Charmian's eyes goggled. "Why you LITTLE--!!" She reached out her hands to throttle the small creature, but Thomas and Moon Wolf pulled her back. "You little LIAR!" Charmian fumed. "YOU stole MY stuff first! And you call ME the thief?!"
The creature stuck up his nose. "Such powerful medicine doesn't belong in the hands of people like you! You thought I couldn't hear all your talking as you passed through? I heard everything! If you don't let me go right now, Lord Glooskap will be VERY unhappy!"
"Glooskap--?" Charmian blinked and sucked in a breath. "You know Glooskap--?"
The furry creature made a face at her. "EVERYONE knows Glooskap!"
"That's not what I meant! You know where he lives? You could take us there--?"
He turned his head and crossed his arms as if to spite her. "Not with the horrible way I've been treated! As if I didn't hear all that talk! You're clearly all on your way to kill him! I certainly won't help you any!" He looked back at Charmian and she could swear his eyes glinted blue. "You'd better head back or you'll be sorry!"
"I suppose you're going to turn into a WOLF this time?" Charmian challenged, then thought better of it. The furry creature bared his teeth and hissed and she started stepping away from him, when Manabozho shook him so abruptly that he yelped, his head flying back and forth almost comically.
"He can't transform!" Manabozho exclaimed, and a grin spread across his face. "That's why he's so panicked! That cap of his. That's his medicine and you just took it away!"
"Th--that's not true!" the little creature squeaked, flailing. Charmian pulled off the cap and stared at it, frowning.
"You mean...he can't change without this?"
"Apparently not, else he would've done so by now. Right?" He started shaking the creature again as if he were a ragdoll. Thomas, Moon Wolf, Mani, and Pakwa watched in open curiosity.
"I have greater powers than you can EVER imagine!" the little creature squeaked as he was yanked back and forth. Charmian continued staring at the cap, turning it around in her hands a few times and biting her lip. She lifted her head as Manabozho started turning the creature around and around in his hands.
"Let him go."
Manabozho halted and blinked at her. "Huh...?"
"Let him go," Charmian echoed.
Manabozho gave her a confused look, but his grip loosened enough for the little creature to drop to the ground. He landed on his feet and frantically brushed himself off before scowling at everyone around him, Charmian in particular. She stepped toward him and held out the cap. Everyone stared at her as if she were nuts.
The little furry creature looked at his cap, then up at Charmian, and frowned in suspicion.
"You said it's yours," Charmian said, bobbing her hand a bit. The creature continued frowning at her, then quickly snatched it from her hand and placed it back on his head, patting it into place and giving her the same dark look.
"Can I have my cone back, please?" Charmian asked.
The furry creature blinked, then looked confused. What are you doing? Manabozho said in her head, but she ignored him. When the creature didn't respond she added, "Somebody very powerful gave that to me back where I came from, and I'd really like it back."
The creature frowned again. "You didn't steal it...?"
Manabozho's feathers bristled and he took a step forward; Moon Wolf's arm shot out and stopped him.
"I swear I didn't steal it," Charmian replied. "Can I please have it back?"
The creature stuck out his lip a bit, but at last started digging reluctantly in a little pouch at his side. He pulled out the pinecone, looked at it, then held it up toward her.
"Only the most powerful manitous are supposed to have such medicine," he said as she took it.
"A manitou's the one who gave it to me. Another manitou was the one who told us to come here and look for Glooskap. You said you know him?"
The little creature puffed himself up to his full height, which must have been all of a foot and a half tall. "I am a very close personal friend of his!" he said importantly.
Charmian had to force herself not to smile at his passing resemblance to Chepi, at least in attitude. "Then could you take us to him?"
He grew suspicious again. "How do I know you won't try to kill him? Lots of people have, in the past. Why should I think you're any different?"
"Because we didn't come here to kill him. We just want to talk. Geezhigo-Quae's the one who sent us."
The furry creature pricked one ear as if curious. "Geezhigo-Quae...?"
Charmian nodded. "She's a powerful manitou...she rules over the Michinimakinong, and--"
"The Michinimakinong?" She cut herself off when the furry creature started bouncing up and down excitedly. "I've heard of them! They're distant cousins of my kind!"
"Your kind...?" Charmian frowned in puzzlement, looking him over. "You don't look anything like the Turtle Fairies...for one thing, they're a lot taller, and they have wings..." She trailed off when two little butterfly wings suddenly popped from the furry creature's back and fluttered, and all of them stared at him in silence.
"Well," she said at last, "I guess maybe you do look a little bit like them..." Her brow furrowed. "What are you, exactly?"
The furry creature drew himself up again, wings quivering. "I'm a Mikumwesu. My name is Abistanooch!"
"Abis..." Charmian tried sounding out the odd name. It seemed far too long and complex for such a little creature to bear.
"You can call me Martin," the creature said, as if reading her thoughts.
That just made her face screw up even more. "Martin...?" she echoed, not quite convinced. "That doesn't sound quite right..."
Thomas stepped forward and touched her arm. "Charmian," he murmured close to her ear, "I don't think he means Martin the name; I think he means Marten, like a fur-bearing animal."
"Oh!" Charmian looked at him again and tilted her head. "That makes sense. I thought maybe you were supposed to be a squirrel."
Marten scowled. "Everybody keeps thinking that! I don't look anything like a squirrel!"
"You look like a squirrel to me," Manabozho groused.
Marten stuck out his tongue. "And you look like an ass!"
Manabozho flared and started toward him so Moon Wolf had to grab him again. "You little--!"
Charmian crouched down in front of Marten, drawing his attention again; he put his little hands on his cap and took a few wary steps away from her but didn't flee. "Since you're such a close friend of Glooskap's, do you think you could take us to him?" she asked. "Geezhigo-Quae sent us here, but she didn't tell us exactly where to find him. It'll take us two days to get there, but after that we're not sure where to look. But if you know where he lives, I'd really appreciate your help."
"Two days?" Marten exclaimed. "You have some seriously outdated information! I could get you there in under one day..." He turned away and folded his arms, sticking up his nose. "...If I wanted to."
Charmian's mouth twitched in amusement. She pulled off her pack and started digging around in it.
"I can't let you have my dreamcatcher or my pinecone, but I can let you have this."
Marten turned his head to look. Charmian held a rhinestone necklace in her hand. She'd brought along a few such items in case she had to bargain with Ocryx, who had a fondness for shiny things, and it seemed only natural that someone else might be interested in them as well. Just as she'd expected, Marten's eyes grew and he ventured forward to look the necklace over. He seemed rather torn.
To her surprise, he asked, "Do you have anything with beads on it?"
Charmian blinked. She frowned a bit, then turned to look back at the others. Both Moon Wolf and Manabozho bore beaded necklaces, but she fixed her stare on Manabozho. He started sputtering in disbelief and clutched at his necklaces.
"You--you think I'd give up one of these for THAT thing?! I won't let him touch a single one of my belongings!"
"Moon Wolf probably earned his necklaces," Charmian said. "I'm hardly going to ask him to give one up! You can always get more."
"It's the PRINCIPLE I can't stand!!" Manabozho fumed. She continued staring at him so long however that he fidgeted and squirmed and finally yanked one from around his neck, hurling it at her as if it were a poisonous snake. "FINE! I guess MY deeds are of no importance to ANYONE!"
"Like you earned yours," Charmian retorted, picking up the necklace and holding it out to Marten. The Mikumwesu made a face.
"I don't want to touch anything HE was wearing!"
Manabozho threw his hands up and screamed. This time both Moon Wolf and Thomas had to hold him back. Charmian brought out the rhinestone necklace again.
"You can have both of them, if you want."
Marten peered at the necklaces again, then accepted them. He tied Manabozho's around his waist with his beaded sash, and doubled the rhinestone necklace around his head as if it were a tiara, its pendant dangling over his forehead. His face lit up then and he turned and bounded into the woods.
"Follow me! I know a shortcut!"
Charmian stood up and waved at the others, climbing atop Mani's back as they joined her. "You heard the little guy," she said, nudging Mani's sides so he started trotting off after the small creature. "This should save us some time. And with luck, at least we won't be sleeping on pine needles tonight!"