Return To Manitou Island: Part 65
CHARMIAN GASPED AND cringed back when the crazy scrambled mess which had fallen from the trees flung its hand out at her--then she blinked in confusion when it...started laughing at her.
She lifted her head to peer over her arm. Marten did much the same. She was surprised to see that what had seemed like an indescribable mess of feathers and weeds and everything else just a moment before now had a shape to it, and it was pointing at her and cackling wildly. What she'd mistaken for the monster itself was in fact its--his--clothing, as his entire outfit was festooned with feathers of all colors--even more than Niskigwun wore--as well as beads and braided grass and trinkets of all shapes and sizes. His deerskin clothing itself was intricately fringed and woven with numerous designs, and he'd painted bright swatches across his face, so his whole person was a bizarre mixed-up jumble of decoration. As Charmian and Marten and Wabasso gawked at him he fell to the ground, rolling around and clutching at his sides. He pointed at Charmian again.
"POOF!" he yelled, and let out another gleeful cackle that would have put Augwak to shame. "Right in the face! 'What's in this flower--? Oh, I have to get a closer look--!' POOF! HAHAHAHAHAHA!! Like a puffball! They always fall for that one! You--look like--crow faces! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!"
Charmian blinked in disbelief. "This...this is all a joke?" she stammered, bewildered; and when he only continued laughing she felt her hands start to shake, her fingers itching to curl into fists. She dropped the stick she'd been holding and savagely swiped some of the black dust from her face, grinding her teeth, but the look she got only made him laugh all the harder until tears came to his eyes. "This is some stupid JOKE?!"
Marten puffed up again like a tiny porcupine. "I'll bite him on the nose! Then we'll see who laughs!"
He started forward but a gesture from Wabasso made him pause, and he glanced up in puzzlement. Charmian did the same when Wabasso stepped forward to look at the laughing mass of beads and feathers. He paused and his brow furrowed slightly, and when he spoke his voice sounded almost as hesitant as Charmian's had on first meeting him.
Charmian blinked again and her mouth dropped open. "That's--that's him--? That's Peepaukawiss--?"
In response the feathery mass's laughter finally started to die down, and he sat up slowly, rubbing the tears from his eyes. He blinked a few times, brow furrowing, and Charmian was surprised to notice that most of the feathers were starting to lower themselves so he didn't look quite so messy anymore. He stood and peered at Wabasso curiously.
"Do I know you?" he asked, sounding puzzled.
A smile spread across Wabasso's face. He rubbed some of the soot from himself. "It's me! Wabasso!"
The stranger's mouth slowly fell open and he craned his neck, staring at Wabasso with wide eyes. He looked him up and down for a moment; Wabasso held up his little rabbit pendant and the stranger blinked again. He sucked in a breath, and then all the feathers on his head rose into the air.
"IT IS YOU!" His eyes and mouth opened so wide that it looked as if he could have sucked Wabasso in whole, but instead he launched himself right at him. Charmian caught a brief look of panic on Wabasso's face before he was enveloped by the beads and feathers and braids, and Peepaukawiss hugged him hard enough to make his eyes bug and his breath choke.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S REALLY YOU!" he screamed. "LITTLE BROTHER! IT'S BEEN ABSOLUTELY AGES! I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN SO LONG! YOU NEVER EVEN VISIT! YOU'RE ALL GROWN UP! I'VE MISSED YOU SO MUCH! MY BABY BROTHER'S ALL GROWN UP NOW!!" And he let out a wail fit to raise the dead, feathers flaring every which way.
Wabasso started trying to pry himself free from Peepaukawiss's iron grasp, gritting his teeth and pulling on his brother's arms. Peepaukawiss continued letting out a high-pitched sobbing wail the entire time. "BABY BROTHER!" he howled. "I NEVER EVEN GOT TO SEE YOU GROW UP! YOU NEVER EVEN VISIT ME! ALL THOSE THINGS WE MISSED OUT ON TOGETHER!"
"I never even--knew where you--were!" Wabasso managed to get out, still straining against Peepaukawiss's grip.
Peepaukawiss just wailed. "YOU COULD'VE CALLED OR WRITTEN OR SOMETHING!!" He abruptly pulled back so Wabasso sucked in a giant breath, and started looking him up and down at arm's length. "Ohhh, you've grown so TALL! I bet you turn all the ladies' heads wherever you go! You MUST fill me in! Where have you been, what have you been doing all this time--?"
"Excuse me?" Charmian tried to cut in.
Peepaukawiss beamed and hugged Wabasso again; only Charmian and Marten saw the grimace on Wabasso's face when he nearly got a mouthful of feathers. "OHHHHHH! Baby Brother must've been SOOOO busy! I bet you've been getting into all sorts of WONDERFUL trouble without me! And now you come visit me out of the blue! Now we can talk just like old times! You can play your drum and your flute and I can DANCE! And I can make the most WONDERFUL costumes for you--!"
"EXCUSE me!" Charmian yelled.
Peepaukawiss finally pulled back and turned to look at her, puzzled. Wabasso started gasping for breath; his brother let him go when he saw Charmian fuming at him, and his face lit up as he came toward her. Charmian's mind went completely blank before a small voice said, simply, Run. Peepaukawiss was holding her arm before she could even move.
"Who's this?" he exclaimed. "This lovely young lady? Is she with you?" He turned to Wabasso and gave him a sly look. "Wabasso? You dog. I knew the pretty women would flock to you!" He paused and looked Charmian over again, seeming slightly uncertain this time. "Though she's kind of young..." He looked at Wabasso again, whose face went red. "I never would've figured you as the type, Baby Brother."
Charmian's jaw dropped. She yanked her arm away from him and her own face went bright scarlet. "EXCUSE me?!" she shrieked. "I didn't FLOCK to him! I brought him here looking for YOU!"
Peepaukawiss clapped his hands with delight. "So you're flocking to ME--?"
Charmian opened her mouth, but all her words fled her. She could only stand there shaking and boiling, and Wabasso quickly jumped in between them before she could explode.
"No, Brother--this isn't what she meant. What she meant is--"
Marten hopped atop Wabasso's shoulder and hissed. Peepaukawiss threw up his hands and let out a high-pitched shriek, then snatched the Mikumwesu from his brother and promptly mashed him to his chest.
"OH IT'S ADORABLE! I LOVE IT SOOOOOO MUCH! I COULD JUST KEEP IT FOREVER!" He held Marten up above him like a parent holding up their baby and beamed at him. "Aren't you just the CUTEST little thing in this WHOLE WORLD! Yes you ARE! Yes you ARE! You're jusht SHUSH a lil' cutie! Yesh you are! Yesh you are! I want one JUST LIKE YOU! I could love you FOREVER!!"
Charmian's mouth twitched and she sidled toward Wabasso, who could only watch on helplessly as his brother mauled Marten. "Let me guess," she murmured. "He's the drama queen of the family."
Wabasso made a pained face. He stepped forward and held up his hand, but Peepaukawiss completely ignored him, still hugging Marten as hard as he could and then bouncing him in the air like a furry ball. Charmian expected the Mikumwesu to be beside himself with either rage or terror, but the big grin he had told her he was very much enjoying the attention. She ran her hands down her face, feeling like clawing out her own eyes.
"Awwwwwww!" Peepaukawiss exclaimed, smooshing Marten's cheek against his own and swaying back and forth. "I can tell you're smart because you're wearing the most WONDERFUL little outfit--!"
"Puka," Wabasso said, still holding up his hand. "We came here for an important reason..."
"Ohhh! I know you must have!" Peepaukawiss grinned widely, showing all of his perfect teeth. "You come and you bring FRIENDS! Now I HAVE to put on my very best outfit and DANCE just for all of you!"
Charmian clenched her fists. "There isn't any time for dancing!" she snapped.
That at least seemed to dampen his enthusiasm, as he gasped and drew back in horror, nearly dropping Marten. "There's ALWAYS time to dance!" he cried.
"Brother," Wabasso cut in. "As much as I hate to say it, we did not come merely to visit with you, or any such thing."
Peepaukawiss's feathers started to lower a bit. "You...didn't come to visit...?" he asked in a much more subdued voice, and Charmian abruptly felt a pang of guilt at the sudden change in his demeanor; had he really been that excited to see his brother again? Peepaukawiss's lower lip trembled and he looked almost ready to start crying. "But...I had the most perfect drumming song written up, and everything...just for whenever one of you showed up again! It gets so dreadfully lonely without any one of you around..."
"I understand this, Brother," Wabasso said. "And I'm every bit as glad to see you! But there's a much more important reason why we came..." He glanced at Charmian, and she blinked when Peepaukawiss looked at her as well. She shook her head abruptly to clear it and spoke up.
"I came here looking for all of you guys," she said. "It's because Manabozho--"
Peepaukawiss gasped and dropped Marten, flinging up his arms. "'BOZHO?!" he screamed. "'BOZHO IS HERE TOO?!" He started whirling around, glancing left and right and then spinning in circles like a chicken with its head cut off. "'BOZHO! 'BOZHO! BABY BROTHER!! I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN AGES! WHERE ARE YOU, LITTLE 'BOZHO--?!"
Charmian stood with her mouth still hanging open, watching him whirl around maniacally, shrieking his brother's name. Her face started flushing again, dangerously hot, and she sensed rather than saw Wabasso and Marten slowly inching away from her. Her fingers dug into her palms so much that it hurt. Finally she flung her arms downward and yelled as loudly as her lungs would let her.
"HEY, STUPID! HE'S NOT HERE! WOULD YOU SHUT UP AND LISTEN FOR A MINUTE?!"
Peepaukawiss immediately stopped whirling and blinked at her repeatedly, his mouth open and his face aghast. His feathers started quivering and he looked ready to cry again but she didn't give him the chance.
"LOOK," she fumed. "The reason I came here was to find YOU guys! I found Wabasso first, now you, and hopefully Mudjikawiss next! I'm looking for you guys because Manabozho needs your help, back on the Island! He's NOT here, he's not going to BE here, and you're not going to MEET him here! You guys are coming back to the ISLAND to meet him!"
Peepaukawiss's brow furrowed. "Island...?"
Charmian put her hand to her head. "Please tell me you remember Manitou Island? The Crooked Tree? The place where you were born?"
He smiled widely and clapped his hands together. "OH! Well why didn't you tell me! I remember that place! Dreadfully dull, but still quite pretty! I haven't been there in ages--perhaps it's grown a tad more interesting--?" He looked at Wabasso as if expecting an answer.
"We're not going THERE to sightsee or dance, either!" Charmian snapped. "We're going back because there's a really big problem, and Manabozho needs you guys' help to sort it out!"
Peepaukawiss clapped his hands together again. "Ohhh, that little 'Bozho! Always getting himself in trouble! He's always been that way, you know--though I'd be remiss if I didn't take credit for quite a few of those times myself!" He cackled and then gave Charmian an eager look. "So what's he done this time? Huh? Huh?"
Charmian could almost feel herself swallowing her own tongue. Marten hopped up beside her and clenched his tiny fists.
"He hasn't done ANYTHING! It's that OTHER guy causing all the trouble--that Chakenapok guy!"
Peepaukawiss's face grew puzzled and one of his head feathers tilted. He put a finger to his chin. "Chaken-what?" he mused aloud. "Am I supposed to know this name...?"
Charmian blinked and all of her anger defused. "You mean--you don't know him?" she stammered in surprise. "You've never heard of him--?"
Peepaukawiss shrugged. "Am I supposed to have--?"
Charmian opened her mouth just as Wabasso stepped forward. "This is because he was gone long before he was born," he said to her, and she closed her mouth. Both she and Peepaukawiss frowned as Wabasso turned to face him.
"There was something that happened at the Crooked Tree long after you left," he said quietly. "When Manabozho was born."
Peepaukawiss paused, then smiled again. "Oh, yes! I came just to see him for myself! He was so adorable--I could have played with him forever!" He turned to Charmian. "He had rather large ears when he was born, you see, and I had this lovely pair of acorns--"
"Right now he needs our help against this one named Chakenapok," Wabasso said, drawing his attention back. "He has threatened the Island, and 'Bozho cannot fight him alone."
Peepaukawiss pursed his lips. "Yes, well, I hardly see why anyone would think that I would associate myself with someone of this stripe. You must know me better, Little Brother!"
"You could not have known him anyway," Wabasso replied. "He was dead long before you returned. He died not long after Mother gave birth to him."
Peepaukawiss blinked, then all traces of the smile left his face. Charmian could have sworn he paled, even, and the feathers on his head sank all at odd angles so he looked like some half-drowned bird.
"Mother...?" he echoed faintly.
Wabasso nodded. "Chakenapok is our baby brother," he said. "He was born alongside Manabozho...it was he whom Mother died giving birth to."
"But..." Peepaukawiss's brow furrowed in confusion. "But Noko always said she died bearing 'Bozho! How can we have had another baby brother...?"
"She did not want you or Mudji to know. She told me only because I was at the Crooked Tree at the time, and she needed help..." He trailed off, peering from one of them to the other, including at Marten, and Charmian saw shame flicker in his eyes. He finally averted them to some spot on the ground between them and said, "She needed help...seeking a place of burial for him, after he had died."
"He died...?" Peepaukawiss's feathers started sinking even lower. Charmian couldn't believe he'd feel such grief over a brother he'd just heard about twenty seconds ago, yet that looked like exactly what he was feeling. She looked to Wabasso to continue, yet he said nothing else; she sucked in a breath of disbelief.
He isn't finishing the story!
Peepaukawiss slowly sank to the ground in a feathery heap. "The poor little thing..." he murmured, his eyes troubled and confused. "If Noko had told me, I wouldn't have faulted her...why wouldn't Noko tell me...?"
Charmian stepped forward and opened her mouth, ignoring the look of protest on Wabasso's face. "This is because Noko's the one who killed him," she said, and Peepaukawiss's head jerked up and he stared at her with wide eyes. "She saw from his eyes that he was evil from the moment he was born, and she killed him. That's why he wants revenge, and that's why I need to get you guys back to the Island." She glared at Wabasso over her shoulder to punctuate her point.
Peepaukawiss looked stricken. "She--she killed him--?" he stammered. "She killed Baby Brother--?" He shut his eyes and shook his head abruptly. "Noko would NEVER kill anyone! This must be some kind of lie!"
Charmian started feeling a slight twinge of regret at having told the rest of the story so suddenly, and began to understand why Wabasso had held off on doing so; the hurt angry look Peepaukawiss gave her almost made her wilt and back away. She swallowed the lump in her throat and managed to continue regardless, even though she decided to choose her words more carefully from now on.
"Chakenapok is what led to Wenonah's death," she explained. "He's the reason your mother died. That was proof enough for Noko, but she also got a good look at his face--he had yellow eyes and pointed teeth, and claws--and he didn't even cry, but he laughed. She had to choose between him or Manabozho. She knew if she let him live, they would all end up dying just like Wenonah did. So she felt she had to kill him, to protect all of you." She paused, then filled in what else she'd since learned. "So she told only Wabasso, to help her bury him properly. But some more powerful spirit's gotten control of him now. And since Noko chose Manabozho over him, Manabozho's the one he's interested in. That's why I need you three. He needs all the help he can get to fight Chakenapok off."
Peepaukawiss just sat in a forlorn heap, not looking up at them. Even the color of his feathers seemed to have dimmed somehow, and Charmian looked at Wabasso again, this time pleading for help. Wabasso sighed and stepped toward him, crouching down to look in his face.
"You yourself said Noko would never harm something unless she had to," he said.
Peepaukawiss turned his head to look away. "This is what I thought, at least..."
"I know fully that she did it only to protect all of us. And now, 'Bozho is trying to protect everyone too. He doesn't plan to kill this Chakenapok again...does he?" And he glanced up at Charmian.
Charmian hastily shook her head. "He's already dead!" When that just made Peepaukawiss look even more miserable she added, "Uh--but no, Manabozho doesn't want to kill him. In fact, we want to try to get him back--free him from this other spirit. I know there's some good in there somewhere!"
Wabasso looked back at his brother. "You hear this?"
Peepaukawiss huddled in on himself. "But what could I do to help? I've never been very good at fighting...Father tried to get me interested a few times, but I ended up shooting myself in the foot, and that isn't good if one wishes to dance, and when I told him this he cuffed me in the head and called me a..."
"You might not have to fight," Charmian said, trying to think of a way to cheer him up; he'd seemed cheery enough before. "Just being there might be more than enough. It's just that Manabozho can't face him alone. He needs all of you guys."
Peepaukawiss lifted his head a little. "It's been ages since I saw him," he mused aloud. "The last time I saw him he was screaming, 'Good riddance!'...but that was so long ago and so much must have changed since then..." His face had been lighting up more and more with each word, and now he sat up, feathers springing up as well. "I would so LOVE to see him again! It's been positively AGES since I've played a decent joke on little 'Bozho!"
Charmian smiled at him in return though the thought of practical jokes made her want to wince. "Well--we can talk about that later," she said. "First we can concentrate on getting all you guys back together! All we need to do now is find Mudjikawiss!"
Marten sprang up onto a low tree branch, nose wiggling. "I say we still go west! It smells more like him than EVER!"
Wabasso helped Peepaukawiss to his feet. "We still have no idea how far though," he murmured half to himself. Charmian turned to look west as Marten was doing.
"Well, true, but if we keep going in the right direction we can't help but run into him eventually...right?"
Peepaukawiss started flapping his hands. "Oh! Oh! Oh!" The other three turned to look at him in puzzlement and he started hopping up and down, jangling and rustling. "That reminds me! I remember! The last time I spoke with Mudji--I pulled the most wonderful prank on him, though he was quite furious, and hit me upside the head a few times, though it was SO worth it just to see the look on his face--"
"Puka...?" Wabasso prompted, looking pained again.
Peepaukawiss blinked and stopped jumping. "Oh--yes. Well, anyway, he was so cross with me that he did not even notice...a little something I slipped in his quiver..." He started snickering and held his hands up to his mouth belatedly. "...It was quite tiny, but quite effective I hope, should I find just the right time to spring it on him..."
"Puka?" Wabasso and Charmian both prompted him now.
Peepaukawiss coughed, flushing a little. "Oh--right. Well anyway. Big Brother was so cross with me that he said he did not ever want to hear from me again--though I know he did not really mean that--but I knew it might be a while until we met again, so I put a little something in his quiver--just a tiny little joke, though when I finally spring it on him I hope it is QUITE amusing!"
Charmian's brow furrowed in irritation. "What's this have to do with anything?" she asked. "Why do we need to hear about some dumb joke?"
Peepaukawiss drew in a gasp and gave her an offended look. "It is NOT just some dumb joke!" he retorted. "I worked on it for MONTHS to get it just right! It's as big as an acorn, and looks much like one too, but if it works properly it will be the BIGGEST joke in all this land!" His lips started to draw back and his eyes squinted more and more until they were shut, a huge grin spreading across his face. "All on poor Mudji! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!"
"But..." Wabasso had to wait for his brother's cackling to abate somewhat. "What does this have to do with finding Mudji?"
"That's the best part!" Peepaukawiss gasped. "It's a long-distance joke! I can set it off myself, right from where I am. Right here! Or in the next woods, wherever I want! And it STILL gets him, wherever he is! I made it so that once I set it off, it will send me a signal--then I can seek him out and see the look on his face!" He started laughing again. "Granted, I had planned to wait a while...and to seek him out myself first, so I could be there right at that moment, to see it go off...but from afar would do just as well...I would know if my signal works...and knowing Mudji he will STILL have that same look on his face once we reach him!" He slapped his knee and wiped at his streaming eyes. "I can hardly wait to see Big Brother Mudji again!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!"
Charmian turned to Wabasso, her eye twitching. "Is he always like this?" she murmured.
Wabasso gave a miserable sigh. "I am afraid so."
They turned west, waiting for him to collect himself. He dusted himself off and quickly straightened out his feathers before waving his hand.
"I have just a FEW small things I need to pick up along the way! I don't want to be caught unprepared--spirits know when my next chance to groom myself might be!"
Charmian had to tell herself to stop gritting her teeth. "Fine, just as long as you don't make any of us carry it. We're trying to save the Island, not going to a powwow."
"But one can NEVER be too prepared for a POWWOW!"
Charmian turned and started walking. Wabasso took a few steps, then glanced back. "Marten...?"
Marten hopped down from the branch to land on Peepaukawiss's shoulder. "I want to ride on HIS shoulder now!" he exclaimed. "He's NICE!"
Charmian turned to look as Peepaukawiss's eyes nearly disappeared into his face again and he held up his hands, fingers all spread, his mouth opening almost wide enough to swallow the tree itself. "OooooOOOOOHHHHH ISN'T HE PRECIOUS?! I COULD JUST EAT HIM UP!!" He grasped the Mikumwesu in his hands and squeezed him so hard that it was a wonder his eyes didn't pop out. "When I get the chance I'm going to make you the most GORGEOUS little outfit to go with that GORGEOUS little sash and cap of yours...!!"
Charmian turned back to the path, walking again. "I wish he would shoot me in the foot," she said in a blank voice. "Or preferably in the head."
That earned her a sympathetic look from Wabasso, at the very least.