Return To Manitou Island: Part 61
All In The Head
NISKIGWUN CROUCHED UP in the high branches of a tree, peering down at the ground below. His wings quivered just slightly enough to rustle a leaf before he stilled them. The figure below seemed curiously intent on the tree in front of him, looking ready to run at it and tear it up by its roots if need be. Never mind that the tree was about eight times his height.
Manabozho stood with his knees slightly bent and his arms out at his sides, glaring at the tree. He took a few deep breaths and his jaw set. "Sleep," he muttered; then, in a yell, "Sleep!" And he ran at the tree headfirst, cracking his skull against it, before tottering backwards in dizzy circles.
Niskigwun flinched and gaped.
Manabozho caught himself from falling and shook his head to clear it, putting his hands to it and yelling, "OUCH!!" He scowled at the tree, resumed his attack stance, and with another yell--"Sleep!"--ran at the tree again. CONK. Again he knocked his head against it, and again he teetered from left to right before falling over sideways. He clutched his head and rocked back and forth with a groan of pain.
Niskigwun sighed and rolled his eyes.
Manabozho repeated this gesture several times over, with much the same results, until Niskigwun could take it no more. He spread his wings and drifted down to the ground, entering the clearing. Manabozho half sat, half lay upon the ground, his head bobbing from side to side and his eyes wandering every which way. He rubbed at his bruised forehead and made a face.
"Of course I'd be wide awake...when I want to SLEEP!" He staggered up to his feet, making Niskigwun pause. He faced the tree with an ugly look. "I don't care HOW many rings you have!" he snapped at the tree. "You're GOING to help me sleep or I'll turn you into FIREWOOD!"
He yelled and went running. Niskigwun reached him just as he collapsed to the ground, his nose bleeding. He stared up at the Michinimakinong for a few moments before seeming to realize he was being watched; then he shook his head dazedly and rubbed at it with a grimace, then blinked, then gasped and shot to his feet--at least, he tried to. He nearly fell over again, grabbing onto the tree for support. He and Niskigwun glared at each other.
"What are you doing here!" he snapped.
Niskigwun's look darkened. "I came to make sure you would not make too much of a fool of yourself! Though I would guess that's too much to ask!"
Manabozho bared his teeth. "I don't have to put up with you! Go back to where you belong! Since the Island apparently isn't important enough!"
"And it would look as if your head isn't, either!" Niskigwun retorted. Manabozho looked about ready to turn into a badger so he forced himself to take a breath and let it out, speaking in a more level voice. "If you insist on going through with your foolish plan, then there are better ways of getting to sleep. You hardly need to batter yourself brainless."
"I can do whatever I want!" Manabozho exclaimed. He looked suspicious when Niskigwun pulled out a small pouch and opened it up. "What's that?"
Niskigwun pulled out a small brown pellet like the one Charmian had used. "A medicine to help one get to sleep quickly," he said.
Manabozho took a step back, shaking his head and his hands furiously. "Oh, no! I'll hardly go using any Turtle Fairy medicine!"
Niskigwun's feathers flared. "It beats ramming your head into a tree," he growled.
"I much prefer MY way! Spirits know what YOUR way will do!" Manabozho turned away stubbornly as if inviting him to leave. Niskigwun had to chew on his lip to avoid hitting him in the head himself, and it took every effort to at least not throw the bag at him. Instead he turned away as well.
"It was good enough for your mainlander friend," he said in an unconcerned voice, tying the bag shut again.
He sensed, rather than saw, Manabozho turn around. A second later he was snatching the pouch from Niskigwun's hands and pulling it open. Niskigwun stood and watched as he pulled out one of the little pellets, giving it a critical look and sniffing at it.
"And so what does it do?" he challenged.
The Michinimakinong gave him a dark look. "Exactly as I said it does. It provides a safe means of sleep, without resorting to--"
Manabozho popped a pellet in his mouth and swallowed it whole. He waited approximately one second before making a face, then tipping the pouch to his mouth and downing the rest. Niskigwun's eyes goggled in disbelief as he crunched on them briefly and then swallowed, hiccupping and rubbing at his mouth. He snorted.
"Some medicine! What did you have to do, give her a canoe full--?"
Manabozho cut himself off and blinked, staring wide eyed off into space. Then his eyes glazed over and went crossed. "Oh," he murmured, and then toppled over backwards, landing with a dead thud.
Niskigwun stared at him for a moment or two, but he was completely out of it. The Michinimakinong let out a gusty sigh and retrieved the pouch, tucking it back into his belt.
"Now you see the reason we keep separate," he groused at the unconscious Manabozho. "Spirits know how quickly we'd die out if YOU were in charge!"
A new presence filtered in among the strong streams already whishing past. It meandered a bit, weaving back and forth in an aimless manner until it was noticed. Then the one who had noticed it focused on it like a beacon and started moving forward.
With a small indescribable sound, a new stream appeared and quickly snatched up the presence, hurling it away from the one who had noticed it. And then almost before it had even arrived, the stream itself disappeared as well, leaving not even a trail behind it.
Tal Natha gasped and his head popped up, eyes wide with surprise.
Where had that dream come from--?
Faint noises began to work their way into Manabozho's head. His consciousness groggily started to return, though it was slow, and his eyes remained closed for a long while so all he could do was listen and feel a warm breeze fanning over his shoulder. It sounded like birds singing, and water shushing...yet there had been no water nearby, when he'd...
Where was I...?
And who's calling me?
With great effort, he managed to drag his eyes open. Swaying grass stood before him, but that wasn't right; it should have been dead leaves. And there had been no water nearby that could make that sound...
That's right! The woods. And that strange medicine...
He opened his eyes further and peered around himself without lifting his head. Then the confusion became so great that he had to sit up in spite of himself, trying to rub the grogginess away as he glanced about. He sat at the edge of a small field ringed by trees, a stream bordering its edge; for some reason his eyes focused on a tree situated at the far end of the field, and he frowned, unable to place why it seemed so familiar.
He gasped and popped to his feet, looking around wildly. A soft voice kept calling his name, yet there was nobody there.
"Where...?" He blinked a few times, and then his memory started to come back. His tensed shoulders relaxed and he let out his breath.
"A dream. That's what this is! I fell asleep, and now I'm dreaming." He stood up straighter. "I knew I could get here, once I figured it out..." He frowned as he observed his surroundings a bit more. "This doesn't look like a fiery cave, though..."
He gasped and started, looking around again. Aside from the breeze there was no one there. Yet he hadn't imagined that voice--not repeatedly, at least.
He clenched his fists and glared at the sky. "All right! I know you're around here somewhere. You may as well step out now and save yourself plenty of trouble later!"
He waited. Nothing happened. Manabozho stared at the sky a bit more, then his mouth twitched.
"What's that, little Chakenapok is afraid of his big brother? Figures. You'll take on a girl, but not a man! I can't see why everyone holds you in such fear if THIS is what you're really like!"
The wind whispered around him, ruffling his feathers. Then he caught a movement from the corner of his eye, and lowered his head quickly to look at the tree which had earlier drawn his attention. Someone had appeared near it and was now walking his way. He frowned again, still unable to place why he felt like he'd been here before.
The longer he stared at the tree the more the realization dawned on him.
The tree...the Crooked Tree! This is home! But I haven't set foot on this side of the field in ages. No wonder it looks so much different!
And...that's not Noko...so who is that?
He stayed standing where he was, watching the figure's progress. Once it was halfway across the field he could tell it was a woman, though she was far too young and pretty to be Nokomis. Her step slowed and she smiled at him in a way that made him pause. The back of his neck prickled with unease, yet there was nothing frightening about her. If anything, the look she gave him was welcoming.
"Manabozho," she said, in the same voice he'd heard calling him before he'd even awakened.
He frowned, furrowing his brow in confusion. "Who are you?" he called. "What are you doing in the Crooked Tree? If Noko finds you there..."
The strange woman's smile grew, making him trail off, losing his words. "Silly Rabbit," she said. "Noko already knows I'm there."
"Noko knows...?" Manabozho trailed off again, his confusion growing.
She nodded at him as if he were being amusing. "Of course. I've lived here all my life."
Manabozho continued staring at her, all the color draining from his face. He opened his mouth to speak, yet no sound came out, and when he tried to swallow his throat was dry. He had to do so several times before he could even manage a whisper.
The strange woman smiled wider and held out her arms. "Sweet 'Bozho...my Little Rabbit. I hoped you would come."
Manabozho hitched a breath. He took a hesitant step forward, then another, then started to walk, then trot, then race across the field toward her. He'd never seen his mother before, but somehow...he knew this was her. She just seemed right. Her eyes, her face, her voice...they were everything he'd always imagined she would be like, if he could only see her. Tears started spilling from his eyes and flying out behind him, yet he didn't care. The smile she gave was the only thing that mattered. He had almost reached her when something twinged in his mind, and he slowed his step, staggering to an awkward halt just several yards away, panting.
Her smile faltered and she lowered her arms a bit. "Manabozho...?"
"You're..." He had to pause to catch his breath. "You're...dead. You died...a long time ago."
She almost frowned, then her smile turned slightly wistful. "I know," she said softly.
He stood up straight again, as he'd been leaning on his knee until his breath could slow. "So how are you here?" he demanded, suspicion twinging again. "This is just a dream. Even if you are here, you're not real. My mind just made you up."
"'Bozho." She kept her smile, still holding out her arms. "You yourself know that the line between the dream world and the Spirit Land is thin. You may not be able to see me while you are awake, yet now you can. I am every bit as real as any other spirit you can see when asleep or awake."
The explanation seemed to make sense. Manabozho stood with a conflicted look. He anxiously fingered one of his necklaces, twisting the cord around his fingers, something he hadn't done since he was a child.
"Then...how come I've never seen you before now? With how much I've wished for it...why do you only show up now? I used to ask for dreams about you, all the time, but when I never had a one, I just thought..."
"Asking for a dream is not enough," she said. "That medicine you took--you took a lot of it. You could have died, taking that much. The sleep you are in is a very deep one, close to death." Understanding started to dawn on his face. "You've never been in such a sleep before, and so I could never quite reach you. Though I've always been there, 'Bozho. You could just never see me before."
"You've always been nearby...?" His voice held a hint of hope.
She nodded, still smiling. "I could never stop watching over any of you, little 'Bozho. Though I've watched you the closest. I could not be there for you when I was alive...but I'm here for you now."
Manabozho's face lit up and his eyes filled with tears. He took the few remaining steps toward her before he started sniffling and had to rub at his eyes. Her face softened and she held out her arms again; he hesitantly moved closer, as if shy of doing so, but once she put her arms around him he didn't ever want her to let go. He dissolved into tears as if he were a little boy again and she ran her hand over his head.
"Poor little 'Bozho," she murmured as he wept. "I am sorry I left you alone. No one should ever be alone."
Chakenapok's face split in an awful smile and he threw back his head and crowed with laughter.
"'I am sorry I left you alone'!" he cackled. "One friendly face and he starts bawling like a baby. This was almost too easy!"
He stared at the flickering image before him, of the grassy field and the Crooked Tree and Manabozho holding onto Wenonah as if afraid she would disappear at any moment; then he waved his hand and the image rippled and changed. Instead of the grassy field, there was now the leaf-littered floor of the woods; instead of the Crooked Tree, the area was surrounded by regular pines and maples and birch; and instead of Wenonah, it was a Michinimakinong, who was dragging Manabozho to the protected side of a fallen tree and placing him beside it. Manabozho looked to be dead. When the Turtle Fairy let go of him he lay limp and unmoving, his face lifeless except for an occasional twitch of his eyes which proved he was dreaming. Chakenapok started chuckling to himself.
"And they say death is such a horrible thing," he smirked. "At least that one part was true--dreams are close to the Spirit Land--but not that part of the Spirit Land he thinks is so close by." He lifted his hand and the dream image near the Crooked Tree returned. "I wonder how much he would cry if I burned that Tree down...with old Noko in it...or if I had some sort of wild beast come charging through and carry poor Mother away...leaving a trail of her blood for him to follow. Nightmares have always been so much more amusing than dreams. And I would so love to see how hard he can cry." He moved his hand as if to sweep the image away and replace it with yet another one, then paused. He stared at the wavering dream image for a moment before changing his mind and merely flicking his fingers so it vanished entirely. His mouth twitched.
"I'll let you have a moment in private, Brother. I'm not all that bad." The twitch turned into a grin and his eyes flared yellow. "It's the least I can do to give you one more happy moment before you live out your worst nightmares."
Charmian felt her eyes start to slowly drag open from a dreamless sleep. She practically had to force them to obey, which was doubly difficult as her brain was still foggy from...what? She found herself looking at grass and roots sideways. She felt something rough against her arm and tilted her head to see that a grass mat had been placed atop her, matching the one she'd fallen asleep on.
A fluting noise she'd barely even noticed until now stopped, and something dropped out of the branches overhead. She saw a pair of moccasins walking toward her, then a face leaned down to look into hers.
Wabasso smiled. "Awake?"
Charmian blinked at him a few times, yawned, then pushed herself up, rubbing at her eyes. "Yeah...I think," she mumbled, and had to yawn again. "I must've been more tired than I thought..."
"Actually, I believe it was my fault." Wabasso held up his flute. "I thought it might help you sleep better, being in a strange place and all. I couldn't sleep, the first few nights I was out on my own."
Charmian pushed off the grass mat and stood, stretching and wincing. She rubbed a crick out of her neck. "Where is this place, exactly? Since you seem to know it so well."
Wabasso shrugged. "I do not know the name of it, either. I came here several days ago."
"You mean, you're lost--?"
Wabasso's smile grew. "I would only be lost if I had someplace definite to go."
Charmian frowned. "So you mean you just...wander around?" She sighed and picked up her pack. "I guess that fits what Noko said..."
"You believed we should head west? I have to tell you, neither Puka nor I knew exactly where Mudji wandered off to. He's the only one who has ever set out to find Father."
"You weren't interested in seeing him, then?" Charmian asked as she slipped her pack over her shoulders.
Wabasso shook his head. "This is not it. We simply know he was not very interested in seeing us. Father came to see Puka a few times only, and me only once." He paused. "He never came to see Manabozho."
Charmian lowered her hands from the straps. "Not even once?" When he shook his head her gaze drifted toward the ground, her brow furrowing. "What kind of father does that...?"
Wabasso started picking up his own belongings, which seemed to be limited to his flute, a small drum, and a bow and arrows which he slipped over his own shoulder. He went to the remains of the fire and stamped out the last few embers. "Puka and I are not angry with him. We know he favors Mudjikawiss the most, as they are the most alike. We did not turn out as he did and so of course he would not be much interested in looking after us."
"You say you and Puka. What about Manabozho?"
"He did not take it as well, when he was told. 'Bozho has always been like this. He feels things more than most people do."
So you mean all that bluster is just an act? "I know he's offended easily, but he never struck me as being very sensitive," Charmian said aloud.
Wabasso smiled slightly. "Well, he's always been good at hiding his hurt. Whenever he and Puka were together he could scream and roar loud enough to fell a tree, but I know he actually would have preferred crying to yelling. Don't tell him this though. He has his image to maintain."
Charmian stood where she was and thought this over. Manabozho's rage not that long ago still didn't make much sense, but for some reason it now seemed a little more understandable. She just wished she knew why. Wabasso held out his hand and sprinkled water over the firepit before covering it with soil and she tilted her head and walked forward. "Hey, you have powers, too?" When he gave her a curious look she held out her hand, then flushed. "Mine don't work here. They do on the Island though."
"Each of us has powers we inherited from our family, as well as one other," Wabasso said. "We each have mild earth and wind medicine from Mother and Father, but 'Bozho and Puka have more as those are their medicines. Mudji was given fire, and I was given water." He gestured and they both started walking toward the edge of the woods. "You never did explain to me why exactly you wish us to meet with 'Bozho again. For some reason I received the impression it's important."
Charmian fiddled with her cowrie necklace a little, not meeting his stare. "Well..." she faltered. "It's kind of complicated...but I was hoping that you and your brothers could help him. He needs some assistance."
Wabasso frowned slightly. "Assistance with...?"
"There's something that's come up on the Island. Somebody's trying to hurt others, and Manabozho--and you guys--are the only ones who can fight him off."
"I remember 'Bozho had a way of making enemies," Wabasso said with a wistful look. "Usually on accident, or because of his mouth...but he was just as good at running away from them." He smiled, then paused. "What sort of enemy is he facing now? I hope not another water lynx; he was always offending those...and I heard he upset the Turtle Spirits a long time back, too..."
Charmian fiddled with the necklace a bit more. "This time it's somebody named Chakenapok."
Wabasso stopped walking. She slowed to a stop as well to see that he was looking at her with some confusion. When she didn't explain he turned around, brow furrowing.
"Chakenapok...?" His perplexed look grew. "How do you know this?"
Charmian gestured at her eyes. "He has yellow eyes, and pointed teeth, and fire tattooed all over his face--he lives in this burning cave and watches over everybody. And he's really pissed off with Manabozho, and likes playing games. And he's dead, too."
Wabasso's eyes grew distant and troubled. "Noko..." He moved his bow and sat down on a boulder. After a moment's silence he lifted his head. "Noko told me about him," he said at last. "After 'Bozho was born. She said he had yellow eyes and sharp teeth, just like a wolf." He saw the way Charmian started chewing on her lip and his look softened. "Yes, she told me what she did...I did not know whether to believe her at the time...yet she's never given me any reason to think she does not tell the truth. Noko would never kill something unless she absolutely had to. She would rather eat apples even than hunt and skin anything bigger than a squirrel."
"Well, he's back. Kind of," Charmian said. "Only it's both him, and not him. It's hard to explain," she said in response to his puzzled look. "But I've heard that he's playing his game according to things that've already happened in the past, which means that Manabozho is the only one who can face him. And you guys. If all of you face him, then maybe you can stop him in time. That's why I'm trying to find Puka and Mudjikawiss. I thought if you all went against him together, you might stand a better chance."
"But he was only a baby," Wabasso protested.
Charmian shook her head. "Not anymore...not now that he's dead. He's got really strong powers, and he doesn't care about anyone but himself. There's another spirit that's giving him strength, and the only way to defeat that spirit is if Manabozho and you guys defeat him first."
Wabasso stared at her for a moment or two, then sighed and started walking again. She followed. "Sometimes I wonder if there is any use in trying to change things at all," he murmured; Charmian frowned slightly, but didn't ask him to elaborate. He stepped aside to let her pass over a large twisting root first, holding her hand to help her keep her balance as she went. "And so you believe our best bet would be to seek out Mudji first...and have him help us find Puka?" When she nodded he said, "I should warn you, Mudji didn't care much for Puka, the last time I saw him...so I'm not sure how helpful he'll be with..."
He trailed off, tilting his head. Charmian glanced over her shoulder at him as she set foot back on the ground. He answered her questioning look by pointing at her backpack.
"What?" Charmian asked.
"What do you carry in there?"
"There--? Well...my dreamcatcher, a thermos, some candy bars, a flashlight, a few little things to trade...I would've put in a first-aid kit if I'd remembered, not that it would do very well against bears and wolves or anything..."
"You brought no sort of pet with you?"
"Huh--? God, no!" Charmian made a face. "I wouldn't do something like that! Why, are there bugs crawling on me--?"
Wabasso shut his mouth and shook his head. "Oh...no." Another pause. "I believe it's bigger than a bug."
"What?" Charmian pulled on her right strap, craning her neck to look over her shoulder. When she saw the way the top flap of the pack squirmed and moved her eyes grew huge and she let out a piercing scream, yanking the pack off and hurling it ahead of her as hard as she could.
Wabasso jumped back as if afraid of getting hit. Only when the pack was way up in the air did Charmian bother to think, MY DREAMCATCHER! and gasped, sprinting after it as fast as her legs would move.
Apparently her arms were in better shape than her legs, for the pack struck the ground long before she could reach it. She started to stumble to a stop in despair--there was no way the dreamcatcher could have survived that--only to see the top of the pack pull open from the force of the landing, its contents spilling out onto the ground. Among them rolled out something Charmian had not put in there, and it bounced across the ground and struck her foot. And Charmian jumped back and let out a scream even louder than the first.