Return To Manitou Island: Part 53
THE YELLOW EYES narrowed, glowing even more intensely. Chakenapok focused his stare on the empty space in front of him, trying as hard as he could to summon up the image of the mainlander girl...but as hard as he tried, nothing appeared. It was as if she had simply...vanished.
He knew she would never just leave the Island, not after daring to face him like that. He sensed she wasn't one to leave a job only half finished. Yet after she'd entered the Sky Tree of the old manitou...he'd lost track of her. She was nowhere to be found.
That old woman doesn't have powers nearly THAT strong...she must still be somewhere upon this Island! He narrowed his eyes even more. Where are you, little Mainlander...?
Chakenapok hated admitting he was confused. So instead, when no vision of the mainlander was forthcoming, he snarled and lashed his hand at the empty space before him, as if to cut her nonexistent image in half. She would be back, eventually.
The odd group of seven--now made eight--made their way through the great pine forest, heading east. Charmian stared upwards into the boughs of the trees a good deal of the time, trying to shrug off the distinct feeling that they were being watched. After a good while spent traveling thus, the small ball of fur bounding ahead of them, Marten, verified her suspicions.
"It's just the other Mikumwesu," he said. "They've never seen any of you before so they're getting a good look while they can!"
"So you guys are kind of like Turtle Fairies?" Charmian asked.
"Well, yes and no. I don't know much about the Michinimakinong. All I know is Glooskap said we're related. There's others he mentioned, too--the Maemaegawaese, they're practically our cousins, and the Pukwudjininees, they're not so bad either--"
"Wait--Mae-what? Puk-what?" Charmian turned to Manabozho, her face screwing up. "Are these more things the Island just never let me see?"
Manabozho shrugged. He was the only one of them, besides Moon Wolf, who was walking, and this fact seemed to irritate him. "Ask the Island if you're so curious."
Charmian turned back to Marten. "What about Nebanaubae, have you ever heard of them?"
"Oh! You mean the Sleeping Ones?" Charmian opened her mouth to protest that that wasn't what she'd meant, but he continued before she could. "Glooskap's told me about them. Some live not too far from him, but they don't like saltwater much. Most of my kind don't like them that much either, since they like to--"
"Kidnap people and turn them into themselves?" Charmian filled in.
Marten paused in his seemingly ceaseless bounding and peered up at her with a look of awe. "Yes, how did you know that?"
She shrugged. "Just something I've heard somewhere. Why do you call them the Sleeping Ones?"
Marten turned and started bounding along again. "Oh, Glooskap hasn't told me that yet. I keep asking him to tell me but he won't tell me more than one new thing a day, so he doesn't run out of things to tell me, and so I don't learn too many new things all at once, else my head will fill up too soon."
"It sounds like you know him really well. Are you related at all...?"
"Oh, well, sometimes Glooskap says we are, sometimes he says we aren't. That's the way he is."
Charmian frowned. If that's the way he is, then how am I supposed to get a straight answer out of him? "Do you know anything about Malsum--?" she said, but before the name was even completely out of her mouth, Marten was perched atop a little tree just beside her, one tiny hand clamped over her mouth.
"Don't say that name! It brings bad luck!"
Manabozho drew himself up and barked, "Malsum Malsum Malsum!" Then he yelped and rubbed at his head when a pinecone tossed from one of the trees struck him. Everyone else in the group looked up, but saw nothing. Marten stuck out his tongue, and started hopping along in the trees as they went.
"Told you they're watching!"
"So you do know about him?" Charmian continued, careful not to say the name.
Marten pursed his lips and looked uneasy. "Well, not much, since Glooskap doesn't talk about him much; but Mikumwesu can learn things on their own, and what we learned, isn't pretty. We know that when he was here, bad things happened, and a long time ago, Glooskap locked him away. Now, the bad things don't happen anymore--at least, not as much."
Charmian wished his information was a bit more specific, but considering that he seemed to be nothing more than a child, she supposed it was better than nothing. "I suppose you've never seen him for yourself, he was locked away so long ago?" she queried.
"Oh, no," Marten said, shaking his head vehemently. "I was way too young to ever see him. But Glooskap did show me the entrance to the place where he locked him, about fifty years ago, and..."
"Fifty years ago?" Charmian exclaimed. She brought Mani to a halt and gawked in Marten's face. "How old ARE you, anyway?"
Marten blinked innocently. "Why, I'm exactly three hundred and seventy-nine years, and three months, and five days, and twelve hours old. You mean you couldn't tell...?"
Charmian could only stare. Mani started moving again on his own, which was just as well, since she wasn't in any mind to nudge him along. "You're...three centuries old?" she said in a dazed voice.
He pursed his lips again. "I don't know what a centuries is, but if that's a hundred years, then no, I'm almost four centuries old...is that right? A hundred years?" He gave her a curious look. "How many centuries old are you?"
Charmian flushed. "I'm not ANY centuries old! I'm only fifteen!!"
"Fifteen? Years?" Marten's brow furrowed. "No wonder you were lost in the woods."
Charmian's mouth dropped open. Thomas rode up beside her and gave a too-friendly smile and waved.
"You must know, it's not polite to talk to a woman about her age. Even if...well, even if you do think she's younger than she really is."
"Oh. Glooskap told me that too," Marten said, oblivious to the steamed look on Charmian's face. He hopped back down to the ground, chattering as he trotted ahead. "But the only woman who's ever around is the old bear-woman, and if Charmian is only fifteen years old, then the bear-woman has to be LOTS of centuries old, because her face is just wrinkles upon wrinkles upon more wrinkles, so that she looks just like a piece of old bark..."
"One rather gets the feeling Glooskap has yet to teach him about tact," Thomas murmured in Charmian's ear. Charmian finally managed to shut her mouth and fumed, digging her fingers into Mani's fur.
"Yeah, well, Glooskap better get teaching him SOON or he's going to find his tail ripped off someday!"
"I had thought we were using a shortcut," Moon Wolf spoke up. Charmian had forgotten he was even there, he was so quiet, and she turned to look back at him as he stared off into the trees. "I hear no water nearby."
"I know the shortcut!" Marten insisted. "It's a secret. If I show you, you have to promise not to tell anyone about it."
"If you show us--?" Manabozho started. He managed to sprint forward and grab Marten up by the scruff before the Mikumwesu could run off, and swatted aside a few pinecones that flew at him as he did so. He scowled in Marten's face. "You said you WERE taking us to see it! Now what's with this IF?"
Marten bared his teeth. "I WAS going to show you, but if you're going to be so mean about it, YOU'RE not welcome to come!"
Manabozho looked ready to tear his head off, but Marten promptly turned into a snapping turtle and chomped onto his hand. Manabozho screamed, then with a glittery poof turned into a woodpecker and started hammering against Marten's head. The others slowed to a stop nearby and stared at them as they continued shifting shapes, trying to fight each other off. Charmian sighed, then looked to Thomas. He blinked, then turned to the two and waved his hand at them. A second later an owl and a skunk stood there, chattering and shivering with cold. Charmian frowned.
"Would you mind holding off on all this until later? A shortcut's not much of a shortcut if you lag on it all day!"
The owl and the skunk shook themselves off and a moment later Manabozho and Marten stood there again, rubbing their arms. They shot each other evil looks, but Marten bounded up into another tree at Charmian's shoulder before Manabozho could try anything else. He stuck his tongue out as hard as he could and Charmian saw Manabozho's eyes go as red as his face.
"You said you knew a shortcut," she said to Marten, hoping to dispel the tension somewhat.
Marten nodded vigorously. "That's kind of why I took the pinecone from you. You said it found magical trees, and, well, I didn't want you to find my secret hideout."
Charmian tilted her head. "You have a secret hideout?" For some reason the phrase conjured images of a pirates' lair with gold and skeletons, and she had to shake her head to clear it.
Marten nodded again with a big smile. "Nobody knows about it but me, too! Well, and the other people I tell about it. But that's not many. You have to promise not to tell anyone about it, all right?"
"Do you mean it?"
Charmian held up her hand, pinky finger crooked. "Do this, and hook your finger around mine."
Marten looked puzzled but did as he was told. "That means I mean it, and that you'll show me the hideout now," Charmian said, and he smiled again and jumped down from the sapling.
"Follow me! It's right over this way!"
"He said that hours ago," Manabozho groaned, but the rest of them followed in silence. Charmian felt the little pinecone in her pocket twitching harder now and her spirits picked up somewhat. It had been twitching all along, but now it was practically jumping; perhaps a magical tree could point out the way to where they needed to go, if Marten's hideout ended up as a bust.
Several moments later she and the others found themselves in a tiny clearing, staring upwards at the massive root system of a partially uprooted tree. The root system itself stretched up as high as eight or ten feet or more, and then spread out left and right even wider than that. Some roots still dug into the ground. The tree itself leaned at an impossible angle, its needles still green, and other trees had even grown up around it, holding it aloft. A small tunnel had been burrowed into the root system, and bits of pottery and colored rocks and animal bones hung suspended from the roots by pieces of twine, swaying in the breeze and making a tinkling sound. The entire thing looked big enough to encompass a couple of SUVs, if not an entire schoolbus.
Marten stood proudly atop one of the higher roots. "What do you think?"
The group just stared at it a while longer. "It's a bit more impressive than I thought it would be," Charmian said at last, and the others nodded slightly.
Marten skittered down toward the tunnel. "I decorated it all myself! These here are bluejay feathers, and they warn people to keep away. These here are opossum bones, and they warn people to REALLY keep away. And this over here is an owl pellet, and it..."
"Um..." Charmian climbed down from Mani's back and ventured forward, looking the tree up and down. "How exactly...do you keep this place 'secret' for a long time? I mean...it just kind of stands out a little bit..."
Marten cocked his head as if puzzled. "Hm? Nobody's found it yet except anybody I tell! It's well hidden! You can't see it until you're practically on TOP of it!"
"I saw it from the end of the trail," Manabozho whispered to Moon Wolf.
Charmian decided it was best not to argue, and shrugged instead. "Well, you must be doing a really good job, then. Where exactly does this lead to?"
Marten dropped down beside the tunnel hole and pointed inside. "I dug a tunnel and it leads RIGHT to Glooskap's sea cave!"
"Sea cave--?" Charmian frowned. "But those are underwater!"
Marten cocked his head again. "Yes, they are." He pointed into the tunnel once more. "But we can go right through there, and get there a WHOLE lot easier, and you won't even get wet! Well--not much."
"What do you mean, not much--?" Manabozho interrupted, stomping forward. Marten leapt up in front of the hole and spread his arms out, scowling.
"YOU can't go through! You don't know the secret password!"
"PASSWORD?!" Manabozho roared. He clenched his fists. "You haven't even GIVEN anybody a password!"
Marten pointed at Charmian. "I'll give it to HER, because she's nice! She gave me two necklaces and everything!"
Manabozho tore at his feathers. "ONE OF THEM WAS MINE!!"
"But SHE gave it to me!" Marten stuck out his tongue.
Sparks started flying from Manabozho's hands and everyone backed away from him. Charmian's eyes widened and she edged closer to the tree, shaking Marten's shoulder.
"Um--I think I'd like that password now, please!"
Marten tugged on her arm and she leaned toward him. He stood on tiptoe and cupped his hand to his mouth to whisper in her ear.
"The password is potatoes!"
"Potatoes...?" Charmian's face screwed up. "Did Indians even grow potatoes...?"
Marten started hopping up and down. "You have to say the password or I can't let you through," he insisted.
"Oh." Charmian rubbed at her neck, suddenly feeling very stupid about this entire situation. She opened her mouth to speak, but the look he gave her made her lean down and cup her hand to her mouth. "Um...potatoes."
Marten grinned and stepped aside. Charmian stooped down to peer into the tunnel hole. It was only about twice as big around as she was, and her frown grew on looking at it. How far back did this thing go...?
"I hope I don't sound rude or anything, but...how's Mani going to fit through this thing?" she asked aloud, sticking her head inside.
Marten's smile drooped. "You're the one with the password! No one else!"
Charmian pulled her head back out. "But--they're my friends. They're okay, they won't tell anybody."
"They didn't give me anything." Marten stuck his lip out at Manabozho in particular. "And he's just plain mean!"
Charmian chewed on her lip and glanced back at the others. They looked rather lost, staring at her like that. Even Pakwa, perched atop Mani's antler, stared at her like an abandoned puppy dog, except with bland eyes.
All she could do was shrug her shoulders slightly, feeling stupid again. "Sorry."
"You're really going through there on your own?" Thomas asked, looking troubled.
She shrugged again. "You...don't know the password." She felt like sticking her head in the ground at the odd look he gave her next, and had to turn back toward the tunnel. "This shouldn't take too long, I promise. All I have to do is tell him the situation and get him to come back with us."
Marten popped into the tunnel and she stuck her head in to follow, only to feel something tug on the back of her shirt. She had to pull her head out again. Mani had climbed up after her and held onto the edge of her shirt with his teeth.
His eyes flashed and he whistled. Not wandering off again!
Charmian's brow furrowed. "I'm just following Marten."
Not on own! Get hurt, not even get help, just like last time. Not falling for that again.
"I can't possibly get hurt this time! I'm just going to see Glooskap--and you don't have the password, and you can't even fit through here--"
Mani's ears flared. When Marten stuck his head back out and hissed at him he let go of Charmian's shirt and his eyes flashed blue and he bared his teeth, letting out a growl. Both Charmian's and Marten's eyes widened at the sound, and the Mikumwesu swallowed.
Red Land One and Mani, Mani said to him. SAME spirit!
Marten's ears twitched nervously. "Well," he said in a tiny voice, "I guess that means you know the password, too." He turned and vanished into the hole with a small puff of dust, and Charmian rubbed at her neck again.
"But how are you going to fit in..."
She looked up to see Mani shimmer, and then slowly turn transparent. He then appeared to melt, slithering into the tunnel as a little stream of water. Charmian watched the stream disappear before climbing in herself, waving one last time at the others who still stood outside, looking perplexed. She hated leaving them behind after so much trouble, but anything seemed better than arguing with a testy Mikumwesu. Especially one that could turn into a wolverine at any moment.
She had to crawl on hands and knees after him for a while, up and down, as the tunnel reared up and then dropped off unevenly every so often. She hit her head a few times on rocks protruding from the ceiling and the little stream of water that slithered along let out a plinking noise every time she did so, until she learned to watch more carefully. Marten clambered along as easily as ever.
"How long is this shortcut?" she panted after a while.
"Not so far now! It gets bigger, I promise!"
Charmian had to suppress a grumble. Marten had been promising so many things lately that she was beginning to wonder if any of them would come true. Fortunately for him, the tunnel did begin to widen, until she was able to push herself up onto her knees, then stand bent halfway over, and eventually walk this way, keeping her knees bent and looking out for outcrops. It took her some time to realize that they should be far underground, yet she could still see somewhat.
She looked around her, remembering the glowing crystals that had illuminated the tunnel down into the Gemfields, deep within Crack-in-the-Island where Nathalit dwelled. But there didn't seem to be any crystals here. "Where's that light coming from?"
"Huh?" Marten paused and looked around. "Oh, you mean that. I don't know! It kind of appeared one day! I don't mind it any!"
"It kind of appeared...?" Charmian murmured with unease. She sighed and had to squeeze through a particularly narrow passage. "You really mean to tell me you dug all this by yourself?" she asked dubiously.
Marten nodded, his head bobbing rapidly. "I dug it all myself!" Then his voice grew slightly subdued. "Well, what I had to dig, that is. Some of it was already here."
"Already here--? You mean, you just widened it or something...?"
"No, I started digging a tunnel through my hideout, and then bam, here was the rest of the tunnel already! It was kind of crumbled and stuff, but I fixed it up. Now it's good as new! I use it to go back and forth from Glooskap's cave, just like that. It saves a lot of time!"
Charmian had yet to experience any time saved, though she didn't say so aloud. She cringed and batted away a cloud of cobwebs that fluttered in her face. "You mean there was a tunnel already here--?"
"Kind of. Not all the way up to my tree, but there was enough of it."
"And you just ran into it?"
Another nod. Marten beamed. "Isn't that great luck?"
Charmian just looked at the tunnel spreading around her. "You said you fixed it, but you didn't widen it..."
"Nope, I didn't have to. It was just like this, only a little crumbled. Whatever was in here before must've moved out a long time ago!"
I HOPE that's what happened... Charmian finally slowed to a stop, her fingers entangled in some stray strands of cobweb that she'd been trying to comb from her hair. She frowned and rubbed at the strands and noticed now how they dimly glowed against her fingers. When she examined the tunnel walls, she at last saw how the rest of the cobwebs glowed faintly as well. So that was what accounted for the light.
Marten paused, sensing she was no longer following, and trotted back to find her. "Come on! You said you wanted to get there sooner, right?"
"Were these cobwebs always here, too?"
"Huh?" Marten stood on tiptoe to look. "Oh, yes. LOTS of them! I had to clean some out, but I thought they were pretty, so I left some behind."
"And you never even noticed that they're glowing?"
"Huh?" She held them down to him and he squinted at the shimmering webs, then his face lit up. "Oh, wow! You're right! I'm glad I didn't throw them all away after all!"
Charmian rolled her eyes. Apparently he isn't the most observant fellow in the world. She dusted her hands off on her shorts and then an idea struck her. She knelt down on the ground and pulled off her pack and started digging in it, Marten peering inside as she pulled out the skin covering her dreamcatcher.
"What're you going to do with that down here?" he inquired.
"Just a hunch of mine." She unwrapped the dreamcatcher and held it up, turning it this way and that, then set it upon her knees and cupped her hands to the sides of her face, peering down at it that way. Marten frowned and fidgeted. After a moment Charmian lifted her head, a curious look on her face.
"It's glowing, too. See?" Marten put his face to the dreamcatcher and cupped his hands to look at it as well. Charmian stared up at the webs still fluttering from the tunnel ceiling. "This must be Weaver medicine," she murmured.
"Weaver medicine?" Marten looked up as well as she put the dreamcatcher away.
"That's what Geezhigo-Quae called it. She said something about the Weavers living underground on the Island. Maybe some of them, or something like them, used to live around here, too. This must have been one of their old tunnels you ran into when you were digging." She finished fastening her pack and slipped it back over her shoulders, pushing herself up. "She said that's what allows people to move from one place to another without having to do all the walking. This must be a Weaver tunnel leading to Glooskap's cave."
Marten's face lit up. "I'll have to ask him about that! He's never mentioned Weavers before!" He turned and started bouncing down the trail again. "Come on, it's this way! It gets REALLY BIG and then there's his cave!"
Well, he was right about one thing, even if he didn't exactly know why; maybe he's right about this, too! "Wait up," Charmian called, and jogged after him as best as she could.
Eventually the tunnel did widen into a vast cavern well lit by the cobwebs, and she noticed that what had before been sandy soil had now turned to weathered rock. "Remember how I said you wouldn't get wet?" Marten said as they walked through the big cave, Mani's little stream of water accompanying them.
Charmian nodded, giving him a suspicious look. "Yeah."
"Well, it gets just a little bit wet, right ahead."
"What do you mean by a 'little bit'?"
"Just a bit. That's all." They left the cave and entered a darkened tunnel where the walls flickered. "It's hardly even a puddle," Marten added, right before Charmian screamed and fell facefirst into what seemed to be a lake.
She splashed to the surface, sputtering; Marten and Mani, now back in his manitou form, stood on a rocky ledge just above, staring down at her. "See?" Marten said in a small voice. "Hardly even a puddle."
Charmian gritted her teeth and swam toward the ledge, grabbing hold of Mani's antler when he offered it. "You COULD'VE warned me," she growled at both of them.
Mani could only shrug. Marten rubbed his tiny hands together.
"I told you it got a little bit wet just ahead."
"You didn't say I'd go walking right into a frigging LAKE!" Charmian yelled. She looked back at the pool of water still swirling behind her. It seemed to be lit from below. She rubbed the water from her face and then tasted her lips. "It's salty," she said with surprise.
Marten's mouth twitched. "Well, of course. It's the ocean." He perked up and dashed around the ledge to the other side. "Come on! It's right this way, I promise!"
"There aren't any more PUDDLES, are there?" Charmian groused as she carefully picked her way toward him.
Marten gave her a sulky look. "No, no more PUDDLES. I can't help it if you don't know how to listen! It's just a little bit of water!" He disappeared into a tunnel and she let out a gusty sigh.
"I wonder if he'd think it's such a little puddle if HE were the one nearly drowning in it!" she muttered, keeping hold of Mani's antler as they edged along and then entered the tunnel after him.
"Glooskap! Glooskap!" she could hear Marten's voice echoing off the walls ahead. "I brought somebody to see you! It's important! Glooskap...!"
"Does he have to announce us like that...?" Charmian sighed, trying to shove away her feeling of mild embarrassment. From what Geezhigo-Quae had said, Glooskap sounded almost like the Gitchi Manitou of this place, or if not quite that powerful, then as powerful as Geezhigo-Quae herself was. She hated the thought of not being prepared to speak with him. She looked down at herself, sighing at the dripping, soiled state of her clothing and wishing there were a changing room somewhere nearby. She glanced back at Mani to see that his antlers were crowned with cobwebs, and grimaced.
"At least I won't be the only one looking like I just crawled through a rathole."
Mani tilted his head and gave a questioning whistle. Charmian sighed once more and tried to dust herself off a little.
"Well, I hope at least he isn't quite as forbidding as Geezhigo is...I don't think I could stand that right now..."
A gigantic BOOM from ahead made both of them jump and whirl around. The cave they had entered through the darkened tunnel was dark as well but for the distant glimmering of water, so she couldn't even make out their exact surroundings. Yet the BOOM came again, and again, and it was getting closer. After a moment she could see some sort of void obscuring the glimmering across the cave, and when she squinted she could tell that it was getting bigger...and bigger...and bigger.
Finally the series of BOOMs came to a halt, and the entire cavern began to shimmer as if suddenly cloaked in the glowing cobwebs. Charmian blinked a few times at the strange treelike shape which appeared in front of her before realizing it was a leg. Her eyes grew and she lifted her head, looking up, up, and up some more, following the huge leg to see a wide chest, and a broad neck, and at last a gigantic head crowned by massive antlers which spread entirely from one side of the cave to the other. Her own eyes fixed on the two blue ones glaring down at her from high above, each of them the size of a large beachball. They flared and an echoing SNORT filled the cavern, the blast nearly knocking her off her feet.
"I AM THE GUARDIAN OF THIS CAVE," the gigantic manitou bellowed. "NAME YOUR PURPOSE HERE OR PERISH!"