Return To Manitou Island: Part 69
In The Out Door
MUDJIKAWISS KEPT HIS distance from the rest of the odd little gang, stomping in the lead so that the ground shook with every footfall. The other four stared after him with some awe. The way back up to the mountaintops had been hard enough, but he hadn't even bothered calling one of the rock manitous to assist him back down the far slope of the other side; he walked down the entire way, like a mountain goat but not really so much nimble as able to plant his feet properly and kick anything obstructive out of the way. He didn't say a word the entire time. More than once Charmian peered back to see that a few of the bear people had followed them, at least partway down the descending slope, to watch them from behind boulders and outcroppings, but by now they were alone again, nearing the base of the mountains. The only sounds to be heard were the wind whistling overhead and the boom of Mudjikawiss's feet.
Charmian watched his back for a while, then sighed and snuggled into her shirt as much as she could. The perpetual dampness of the place made it feel dismal. Peepaukawiss slipped ahead to keep pace beside her, and she turned her head to notice Wabasso doing the same on the other side. Marten hopped and skipped a few paces ahead of them.
"How did you know he wouldn't catch on to that?" Wabasso whispered.
"You came through a door in the Sky Tree?" Puka also whispered. "If so, any manitou can find an entrance back into the Tree!"
"Even Mudji," Wabasso dared to add, albeit with a tense look on his face.
Charmian shrugged. "It was Marten who did it. Truthfully I thought you guys would find it easier to locate than he might, because you live here and he doesn't. But he did find the one in Glooskap's land...I guess he just assumed Mudji wouldn't be bright enough to catch on that he could find it, too, if he wanted."
Wabasso flinched. Puka's face split in a grin and he had to clamp his hands to his mouth to keep from guffawing aloud. "WHERE DID YOU SAY THIS DOORWAY IS?" Mudjikawiss bellowed, as if listening in on their conversation; they immediately fell silent, Marten still skipping about through the grass. Mudjikawiss gave him an evil look.
"I told you a hundred times," Marten complained. "Keep going! It's not that far, then you go up, then you go left, then you go east, then you go sideways..."
Mudjikawiss's lip curled back in a snarl and he savagely turned away again, clenching his fists and stomping even louder than before. Marten gave the three behind him his best, toothiest smile and they all had to keep themselves from laughing. He hopped up atop Puka's shoulder and settled in the feathers there, craning his neck forward and cupping a hand up to his mouth.
"Actually," he whispered loudly, "the closest one was just back there--behind that big rock. But shhhh! Don't tell him!" And he hopped down and skipped ahead again.
"That kid has a death wish," Charmian murmured. She turned to look at Puka, then at Wabasso. "So I knew there was some bad blood between all you guys, but you never told me it extended to attempted murder. Why does Mudji hate all of you so much?"
"Mudji does not hate us!" Puka insisted. "He merely..." he trailed off, thinking hard "...has a poor sense of humor, is all."
Charmian's mouth twitched. "He just threw a knife at my head, remember. And I'm not the one who put that gag in his quiver."
Puka stuck up his nose. "Like I said--a poor sense of humor. Mudji never did know how to laugh."
"Puka knew him best," Wabasso offered. "He did not visit much anymore after I was born. 'Bozho hardly met him at all, but Mudji did not much care for him either."
"But why not?"
"According to Mudji, if it does not have fur or feathers or enemy war paint on it, and if you can't shoot an arrow through it or stick a knife in it, then it is not worth one's time," Puka said disdainfully. "Dreadfully boorish, I know."
"Father taught Mudji to be proud of his parentage," Wabasso argued. "And so it stands to reason that he would take most after Father."
"He did not teach him to be proud of Mother," Puka interjected. "Did you hear what he called her--? A weakling! A wench! She did her very best with each of us, and that is how he speaks of her...absolutely horrid. If you ask me Father did not thrash him NEARLY enough!"
"Thrash...?" Charmian winced. "You guys need a family therapist."
"Mudji does not mean poorly," Wabasso sighed, rubbing at his neck. "He just...does not feel about things the same way we do, is all."
Puka snorted lightly. "Well, you may excuse him all you want, Little Brother, but he's still a boor. A selfish, ill-mannered, ill-tempered--" THUNK. Puka cried out and clamped his hands over his head, a chunk of rotted wood falling to the ground behind him. The other three peered ahead as cautiously as they could. Mudjikawiss didn't bother looking back.
"The NEXT time," he muttered, "I will use ROCK."
Charmian's mouth twitched, and not in a hint of a smile. As if sensing her reaction, the big man turned his head to glance over his shoulder at Wabasso and herself, and gave them an unpleasant look.
"And I do not need some little RABBIT defending me! So if you two wish to gabble like a flock of giggly women, find something ELSE to gabble about!"
"Two--?" Charmian bristled. "Am I not even here?" she muttered between clenched teeth; Wabasso squeezed her arm and she did her best to bite back her anger. They came within sight of a stand of trees leading into a dark forest and began to slow, and Mudjikawiss at last turned around and grabbed Marten up before he could dash away. Marten yelped and wriggled as Mudjikawiss held him up by the tail, scowling into his face.
"And you think I am too stupid to guess you have been STALLING all this time, little wood-rat--? Either you find me one of those doors, or I will swing you around by your tail until you fly THROUGH one!"
"Y-you'd never find one that way!" Marten dared to squeak, before Mudjikawiss's tightened grip on his tail made him wriggle anew. "All right! All right already! Stop bullying me! There should be one right through these woods!"
Mudjikawiss bared his teeth but tossed the Mikumwesu to the ground, and he promptly scurried atop Puka's shoulder again. "There had BETTER be, and there had BETTER be no more delays! I will fight this piddling little monster, save that scrawny Rabbit's hide, and get back home again before the sun has set!"
The others cast their stares down at the ground. Wabasso said in a meek little voice, "The sun set about ten minutes ago..."
"I DO NOT CARE THAT IT HAS SET!!" Mudjikawiss roared, making them all jump. "POINT ME OUT TO THIS DOOR SO THAT I CAN BE DONE WITH THIS CHILD'S PLAY!!"
Marten hurled one little arm forward to point at the largest tree standing nearby. "It's right through that hole!"
"There's something I admit I'm not getting," Charmian said as Mudjikawiss stomped toward the tree. "Back in Glooskap's land you said all this stuff about the Sky Tree portal staying in about the same place until somebody goes through it...and you mentioned only one...now all of a sudden there's a bunch of them and they move around at random and stuff...?" She trailed off when she saw everyone else looking at her as if she were completely stupid, and her face went red. "What? What did I say now?"
"Well, duhhhh!" Marten exclaimed. "It works DIFFERENTLY depending on where you are! Sure there's only one where Glooskap lives, but here there's at least a few that I've seen so far, and they're moving all over the place..."
Charmian's face screwed up and she reached up to rub at her head.
"I don't see how you guys can ever keep anything straight..."
"The one you came through should still be where you came out of it!" Marten offered. "We could go find that one, though I thought it'd be funner to look for another one, just to get on his nerves..."
"No, thank you. THAT one is AGES away by now. I just want to get back home."
They fell silent when Mudjikawiss came stomping back. Charmian gave a little jump and the other brothers took a few steps back. Mudjikawiss's feathers were coated with some sticky substance and bees were flying around his head. He gave them a remarkably cross look.
"I cannot find any OPENING," he growled ominously.
Marten rolled his eyes. "That's 'cause you're not LOOKING hard enough! Dumb Bear! Everybody knows you don't just go sticking your head into trees..." he scurried toward the large tree and stuck his head inside the hollow, making Charmian grimace "...without asking permission first! Hello, Bees! You mind if I look around in here...?" He leaned so far into the tree that only his hind end stuck out, his tail flicking every which way. After a moment he pulled his head out and hopped down from the tree, holding a dripping honeycomb in one hand. The others stared at him as he came back, licking at his fingers and nibbling at the corner of it.
"Turnth out I made a mithtake! It'th over in that tree to the thide!" He pointed with one sticky finger and they all turned to look at another tree standing a few yards away. "Honetht mithtake."
Mudjikawiss's face started to go crimson. Puka was the first to dash over to the tree, only to reach it and start hopping in desperate circles around it. "Where's the door? Where's the door? I CAN'T SEE IT! How is this supposed to work--?!"
Marten rolled his eyes. "Who'th part manitou, again?" he said, but crammed the remains of the honeycomb into his mouth, chewing and swallowing before licking off his fingers and scampering toward the tree. He flung up his arms and a glowing cabochon appeared in the bark. Puka clapped his own hands together and cheered as the others came forward.
Charmian halted and stared at the glowing gem with a frown. The one that led me through here was light green, she thought; yet this one was dark blue. Marten waved his hands again and it opened up a door into the tree.
Mudjikawiss scowled. "I can hardly fit through that puny thing!"
Marten stuck out his tongue at him. "Just try, stupid Bear! It fits anyone, even bigheads like you!" He yelped and zipped through the doorway before Mudjikawiss could catch him, and one by one the others started climbing through. Still Charmian hesitated, a bad feeling creeping up inside her.
Geezhigo herself said the door would stay in the same place until we went through it again! So what's this about another door--? Shouldn't we go back and find the FIRST one--?
I can't remember--where did the blue doorway lead to, anyway--?
"Come on, Charmian!" Puka exclaimed as he started through the doorway. He reached back to grab hold of her hand, pulling her forward. Charmian stumbled over the roots of the tree and gasped when she plunged through the doorway after him, his hand leaving hers so she surged forward alone. It was only when she felt something cold press against her face that she finally remembered, and had to stop herself from gasping again.
That's right! The blue doorway--!
Bubbles spouted out of her nose. Instead of falling, she immediately felt herself start to float, a weird suspended feeling as coldness pressed in on all sides. She was so startled to be so suddenly surrounded by water that she exclaimed aloud, only it came out as another surge of bubbles, and she clamped her hands over her mouth as if that would help her hold her breath. She glanced around herself wildly and saw nothing but endless blue.
The blue doorway! The Nebanaubae realm!
She nearly started to panic, only to feel something grasp her wrist. Without thinking she began struggling against it, all the earlier warnings about the Nebanaubae coming back to mind. I don't want to be a fish! I don't want to be a fish!! she cried in her head, and managed to twist herself around and kick out at her assailant. She heard a muffled sound, and at last opened her eyes. She blinked them in surprise to notice that she'd just kicked Wabasso in the chest.
A few more bubbles escaped her mouth and she clamped her hand over it again. Wabasso recovered himself and, still holding her arm, pulled her forward along with him. After a moment the hazy shapes of the other three grew clearer, and she noticed they were paddling their arms and legs, trying to stay in place. They bore the same borderline panicked looks on their own faces; Marten wriggled and kept his little hands pressed over his mouth. Charmian was just about to give up and suck in a breath--even if it was water--just to stop the burning in her lungs when the coldness pressing against her vanished, and all of them fell with a collective yelp, landing with a large squishy sound. Charmian felt her fingers dig into something wet and slippery and let out a cry, jerking back from it. Her feet sank into something similar and she screamed this time.
Wabasso winced. "It's only water! It's the only thing I could think of. We should be safe, at least until we can think of a way out of here!"
Charmian cringed in on herself and they all looked around them. The water had somehow receded from them, to form an odd air pocket in which they now sat, its sides formed by the water itself. Charmian would have thought it was a bubble, if it had only had the smooth sides and elasticity of one; yet the walls of this were wet and squishy and they constantly shifted, and she found that if she pressed her hand through one with enough force, it would start to break through. She drew her hand back and made a face.
"Damn this is weird!!"
Mudjikawiss scowled. "If we had come out in the midst of FIRE, I can clearly imagine what I should like to do with it..."
"So what went wrong?" Puka asked, peering above them as a large fish swam by. "I thought we were supposed to end up in the Sky Tree!"
"I'd blame HIM if I were you!" Charmian snapped, glaring at Marten; the Mikumwesu blushed and inched back behind Wabasso. "Geezhigo told me herself! We have to go back through the same doorway--the MATCHING doorway! The one with the light green stone! Otherwise who knows where we'll end up!"
"It was an honest mistake," Marten said in a small voice, only his tail visible behind Wabasso's back.
Charmian clenched her fists. "Next time I lead the way!"
Mudjikawiss managed to get to his feet, but his head hit the surface of the enclosure before he could stand at his full height, and he stooped forward, shaking the water from his feathers with disgust. "And so NOW what?" he snarled. "We sit floating like some stupid loons until our air gives out--?"
Charmian made an odd face. "Loons don't float underwater..."
Wabasso struggled to his feet, moccasins sinking into the bottom of the enclosure, and peered around them. Indistinct shapes were forming in the distance, and Charmian had the eerie feeling of being watched. "So there should be another doorway which matches the one into the Sky Tree?" he asked. "One in every land the different doors lead to?"
Charmian shrugged. "I'm not sure. I thought the doors only appeared and disappeared when people went through them, but it looks like they stick around--they just move in between visits. In any case there was a blue door in the Tree, and there was a blue door in Mudji's land too--so maybe that means there's a green door somewhere in this land?"
"But will it lead back to the Tree?"
Charmian sighed and rubbed her eyes. "I really have no clue. This made sense when Geezhigo explained it...but now I don't know what's going on."
"Well," Wabasso said, taking a tentative step forward and letting out a squishing noise, "if there was a blue door in both places, the chances are good there is a green door here, as well. And if the blue door led to the same place both times, then the green door should also."
"I guess, at least unless somebody ELSE should go through it. Then it might change! She said the doors stay the same until everyone who came through them goes back out. We didn't come in the green door here. So somebody else might use it before us. Then who knows what might happen!"
"We can look for it, then, and hope nobody else uses it."
"But according to this reasoning, wouldn't the green door lead us back to Mudji's land, and not the Tree?" Puka asked. "If it leads to the same place from everywhere..."
"But we came from the Sky Tree through the green door. So we should end up there."
"Maybe all we have to do is take the blue door back!" Marten exclaimed. "Since that opened into the Sky Tree too, didn't it?"
"If we took the blue door I think we'd kind of stay right where we are!"
"That's not possible...because remember, you came through the green door, and then you needed to go back through it, and you wouldn't have ended up in Mudji's land again, you'd have ended up at the Tree..."
"Maybe there's some kind of double standard thing going on here--?"
Mudjikawiss suddenly raised his arms so his fists punched through the roof of the enclosure, and everyone jumped when he let out a hideous yell which made the walls quiver. "I AM SICK OF THIS! IF YOU DO NOT FIND THE DAMNED DOORWAY I WILL DIG ONE OUT OF THE ROCK MYSELF!!"
Puka's brow furrowed. "But there's no ro--"
Mudjikawiss grabbed him by the throat and started throttling him so his head flew back and forth, feathers flying every which way. Wabasso turned and pointed behind him.
"I think I sense a doorway in that direction. Maybe, if we are in luck, it's the green one. Whether it leads us to Mudji's land or the Sky Tree, either way, it's better than being stuck here."
Charmian let out her breath and nodded. "Agreed. Then if we don't end up in the Tree, we'll find the RIGHT door this time!" She glared at Marten again. "Agreed?"
Marten stuck out his lip. "I can't help it that you don't like water!"
They all turned and stared in the direction Wabasso had pointed. After a moment or two they started peering at each other oddly. Mudjikawiss's face grew dark and Charmian started to shrink in on herself a little.
"Um...how do we get to the door?" she asked in a meek voice.
Wabasso looked stricken. He glanced around himself at the water. "Well...I suppose I could keep doing this, though I do not really know how to move it anywhere..."
"I should simply BURN all the water up," Mudjikawiss growled.
"Wait a minute!" Charmian tugged at Puka's sleeve. "You're a wind manitou, aren't you?"
Puka frowned slightly. "Yes...so? What does wind have to do with anything--?"
Charmian scowled. "Hello. Wind? Air? If Wabasso can do this with water, then you've got to be able to make an air bubble!"
Puka blinked. Then his eyes grew and he put a finger to his chin thoughtfully.
"Ohhhh...I never thought of that before!"
Mudjikawiss's face started turning deep red. Wabasso pulled the others to the opposite side of the water enclosure and waved at the wall. "Go ahead and try it here--the door is in that direction. We should be able to guide the bubble toward it."
"All right!" Puka held his hands up and out to his sides, got a look as if he were concentrating, then flung his arms up and let out a weird yelling noise. Charmian rubbed at her eyes when he started dancing around and whooping as if attending a war dance. After a moment of this Mudjikawiss grabbed him by the nape and shook him like a dog shaking a rat.
"MAKE THE DAMNED BUBBLE ALREADY!!"
"All RIGHT!" Puka cried, and his older brother dumped him on the floor, where he landed with a squish. He shot the big man a resentful look before pointing his hands toward the space of wall beside Wabasso, and it opened up and outward, a curved wall forming beyond it. Charmian, Wabasso, and Marten crowded around it to peer inside, then started climbing into it.
"Come on!" Charmian called. "We don't even know how long this thing will hold!"
"Hey, I do not do things halfway!" Puka exclaimed. "This bubble is guaranteed to withstand any sort of pressure! After all, I made it myself!" He stepped in last and the bubble closed around them; Charmian and Marten pressed their faces against its walls, peering out at the water beyond. Puka glanced around him and then clasped his hands together with delight.
"EEEEEEEEEE!! ISN'T IT THE MOST WONDERFULLY PERFECT THING YOU'VE EVER SEEN?!"
Wabasso tugged on Charmian's arm. "The doorway is in this direction. I do not think it could be too far away."
Mudjikawiss at last narrowed his eyes. "Hey...how is this that you seem to know where this doorway is, when the little RAT is the only one who could sense it before...?"
Charmian readied herself for Marten's retort, but there wasn't one. Instead she felt another tug, and looked down to see Marten with his face still pressed to the wall of the bubble. He peered up at her anxiously.
"I don't like the look of that!"
Charmian frowned, then turned to look outside the bubble as well. The dark indistinct shapes from before had become more distinct by now, and they were slowly drifting around the bubble, above and below and off to the sides. As she watched she saw how they moved, undulating like fish, and felt her heart skip a beat. She whirled around.
"Puka! You'd better get this thing moving now! We're practically surrounded!"
"Huh--?" He glanced over toward her, saw the advancing shadows, then all his feathers bristled. He waved his hands and the bubble lurched forward and began to drift through the water.
"Can't this stupid thing go any faster than that--?" Mudjikawiss scowled.
Puka stuck out his tongue. "I'm bubbling as fast as I can here!"
"The doorway is around that shelf of rock," Wabasso directed, pointing to what looked to be a sea cave ahead.
Marten hopped atop Charmian's shoulder and scurried around to unlatch and bury himself in her pack. "I don't like those things! Glooskap says they're DANGEROUS!"
"For once I think Glooskap was right," Charmian murmured, pushing herself up and moving to stand closer to Wabasso. "I can't think of why they'd be so curious about us, unless they had something in mind. And I've been told already what the Nebanaubae always have in mind!"
"NEBANAUBAE--?!" Puka's head whirled around and he gawked at her, jaw hanging. "THOSE ARE NEBANAUBAE--?!"
Charmian's brow furrowed. "What did you think they were--?" she got out, before something popped through the bottom of the bubble and wrapped around her ankle. All she felt was the pressure of something cold and wet, then her foot was pulled through and she fell backwards, the bubble quivering around her. She let out a shriek and tried to claw at its surface but it was too slippery. The others all stared at her in surprise as she started disappearing through the bottom of the bubble. "HELP ME!!" she screamed as her legs went through. "I DON'T WANNA BE A FISH--!!"
"Charmian--!" Puka and Wabasso both cried, but she didn't hear anything else they might have said, for then her head slipped out through the bubble, and water surrounded her again.