French traders come across a newly made woman from fire.
|Smoke of Destiny
Smoke curls up from the crackling fire as the voyageur sat back, satisfied. Ah, he thought, another job well done. Then he glances around. And just in time too. For the darkness is closing in fast, faster than he has ever seen it. The shadows of the birch, white cedar, and pine trees seem to dance around like spirits in the distance. A lonely howl echoes through the night as the tough voyageur jumps to his feet. Another long howl follows as the man realizes it is wolf packs calling to each other in the night. A cool chill runs down the sturdy man’s spine as he wishes for his fellow voyageurs to hurry up. This place is nothing like he has ever felt before. He isn’t sure how much longer he wants to be alone in this campsite.
Just then he hears the sound of twigs snapping under heavy feet. The man looks around, suddenly deathly afraid of what could be coming through this night. He sighs with relief though as out of the protruding darkness comes his fellow avant, Aubrey. Aubrey is five feet, has brown hair in a short crew cut, brown eyes, a dark complexion from being out in the sun and strong arms, ready and always willing to paddle.
Behind him comes the rest of them, all about the same height ranging from 5 feet to 5 feet 5 inches. Christophe comes first with his blonde hair, green eyes, light complexion, and skinny body. He isn’t to be underestimated though, because he paddles just as hard as everyone else taking the long days in stride, never complaining about anything.
Louise is next with his dark hair and dark eyes that seem to see everything because they are always moving about. He is their local Native American and he knows everything there can be told about the ghosts, spirits, and other natives that inhabit each island that they stop at. He has been quite helpful, though, keeping them out of trouble, interpreting the Native American drawings and telling them where and where not to camp.
Jasper is next, lugging up his canvas bag, kind of downtrodden because of the heavy burden. Jasper is dark haired and black eyed as well, but his muscles show underneath his outfit and he steers the canoe.
Corbin and Damien are twins and they both have shoulder length brown hair. Their eyes are brown as well, and their figures are thin but firm.
Then last comes Jonah. He comes down the path huffing and puffing, just barely keeping up with the rest of them. Jonah has been forced into the work by his grandfather and father, and he is not suited, nor wants to do what he is doing. His passion is painting and any other kind of art, not paddling 18 hours a day down a crashing river where he can get killed. He is the cook. Jonah exhaustively put downs the huge trunk and then starts unloading it, methodically bringing out their meal for the evening as the others start to put up their canoe so that they can sleep comfortably tonight.
No one talks fearing to disturb the woods for even without Louise each can feel the difference in the air tonight. Also everyone can see how on edge Louise is. His eyes are flitting back and forth, searching the forest left and right, probing the darkness as though he is sure the presence will reveal itself. It feels like an unnatural presence feeling its way through the forest.
Finally the canoe is set and dinner is ready. They eat in silence, something very unusual for a voyageur, smoke a pipe, then retire, on orders by Aubrey. It’s okay though cause no one feels like sitting there any way. Edmon, the fire builder, makes sure that the fire is down to ashes and then slips into the bed as well. The men start to snore.
Smoky tendrils curl upward as pain shoots throughout my being. Explosions of pain, as I try hard to figure out what is happening to me. ‘What do I do? This is not normal’. Suddenly my vision changes and everything becomes quite clear, instead of the smoky way I’m used to seeing the world. I look down, amazed at the ability to do so, and am nearly put out. I am standing on something that looks like wood. I have two long pieces of firewood holding me up, a middle section of the best tree with two knots on either side, two somewhat smaller pieces of firewood with five little bits of starter sticks at the end of them, and this thing that I can only think of as a ball of yarned wool at the top of it all. I am standing in the ashes of the fire that I once so perfectly flowed out of.
'What has happened to me?’ I try to move; to flow out into the night’s sky but find the only thing that I can do is sink down. So I plop down in the middle of my forgotten world, staring at these small five little bits of starter sticks, confused and lonely.
Don’t be sad, its actually quite fun being human, comse the indignant cry. Discovering that this ball can actually move, I look around for the source of noise.
It’s not noise it’s words, and you can understand them now, before you couldn’t, comes the exasperated explanation; again resounding in what for some reason I now know is a head.
Now angry more than curious, I reply, “Who are you!” and stop, startled. When had I learned the words of those beings that had started me?
A beautiful black bird, with a white head and yellow beak flies down and lands next to me on the ground.
Your guide of course, he explains. You didn’t think that you’d have to travel this journey on your own did you?
“But you’re a…” I trail off, searching for a word in this massive vocabulary that seemed to have been just delivered into my head, “bald eagle. How can you help me?”
I’m a messenger for the Great Spirit my dear, the one you have to thank for your transformation, he tells me.
"Why?” I ask, for I know the Great Spirit is the one to thank for my creation. Exercise patience, when the time comes you’ll know. Till then I will be here to offer you assistance, he instructs me.
“I want to know now!” I exclaim, but all I can get from him is a disgusted look. Finally I have to look down unable to maintain eye contain. Staring down I realize something. I am naked.
“What am I to do about clothes?” I ask him, extremely embarrassed even though he’s only a bald eagle and also extremely mad that I am embarrassed.
He made a noise that almost sounded like chuckling, and states: Now you are starting to sound like a human. There are some clothes over there, he nods toward the spot, put those on. They will be enough for you. I glance over to the log that the voyageurs had been sitting on before. There sits a pair of white trousers that should be tied with a red sash, a calico shirt, lots of bandages and a pair of Native American moccasins.
“What are the bandages for? I’m not hurt am I?” I exclaim, all of a sudden frantic that the change had affected me in some way that I hadn’t noticed.
Calm down, he shushes me, it’s to cover up. You’ll be traveling with men; you can’t be seen as a woman. And with that final note he flies off.
“Wait,” I call, “what do I call you? And how do I reach you?”
Tiwa, is the last thing I hear before he is out of sight.
Tiwa. Just then I hear rustling in the tent, so I quickly donn the clothes, tightly wrapping my chest till it is flat and no one could tell I am female. Then I sit down, gently blow on the ashes, and it bursts into flame.
The noise of the crackling fire wakes up Edmon who, once he realizes what it is, jumps up, crawls carefully over the other seven sleeping bodies, and races towards the flame. And stopped short when he saw him. A five-foot boy, sitting there on the ground by the fire, gently blowing and feeding the flame with branches of the dead wood that had been placed there earlier. He has flame-black hair, which is halfway down his neck, and is decked out in the entire outfit issued by the North Star Company that this particular crew works for.
Edmon creeps back to get Aubrey. Aubrey lay in his bag on his back, asleep. Edmon hates to do it, but he leans over and shakes Aubrey.
“Aubrey, wake up,” he says quietly. Aubrey just swats at him, rolls over, and goes back to sleep. “Aubrey, you have to wake up!” Edmon says louder, risking waking up the rest of the crew and getting their wrath as well.
“What’s wrong?” Aubrey says sleepily, “and this better be good. I’m risking the Sleep of the Undead for this.”
“There’s someone outside at the fire,” Edmon admonishes.
Aubrey gave Edmon this look and says, “Oh come on, I’m not in the mood for jokes Edmon. Besides superstitions is Louise’s area.”
“I’m serious,” Edmon says. “Just come see.”
“Fine, but if I can’t fall asleep again you are getting a pay dock,” Aubrey consents reluctantly.
I sit there watching the fire, when I hear steps coming toward me; two men are approaching me from behind. I wait for them to speak.
“Uh, hello, young man, can we help you?” comes a strong masculine voice that sends chills up my spine. This is the leader that talked before, telling them all something before they drifted off. Before I was ‘born’. I look up as they join me beside the fire.
“I’m not sure, sir,” I reply, in as much of a boyish voice as I can muster. The two men look at each other, exchanging looks, unsure of what to do.
"Well, can you explain to us what you are doing here?” the man in charge asks, slightly changing the question. However there’s an underlying tone that makes it seem as though he’s making fun of me. Try a new course, comes the words inside my head. Hmm…
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s just that I don’t remember anything from the time that I woke up this morning. I’ve been wandering the island, looking for people, trying to figure out what happened,” I say, and then I look out into the forest for a moment, skimming the trees for something to help with my story. I don’t know what I am looking for but I have an instinct that something out there will help. That’s when I spot it, about five feet from the fire, a broken paddle lying in the dirt. “The only thing I had with me, were these clothes, and this paddle,” I explain as I bring it over to show to them. The two men exchange worried and sad glances, and then look at me pityingly.
“Son, my name is Aubrey, I’m the avant, head canoeist for our group of voyageurs. It sounds like you were part of a similar group, and your group capsized in the storm that was here a couple of days ago, and you washed up on shore. You must have hit your head and don’t remember anything,” the leader explains.
I look at him, and make myself nod slowly to show I am taking it all in. Then keeping with my story, I ask him an important question, “What will I do sir? Now that I have no one to go on with?”
The men again exchange worried glances. ‘Adding a crewmember is a big decision, Aubrey thought, it has its costs, there is always the chance that the men won’t get along with the new member of the group. Still there is always room for another paddler and this young man wouldn’t carry more than 120 pounds of extra weight. Also in this situation a lot of the men will have a hard time leaving the kid on the island alone. One other thing as well is that this kid has done the voyageur life before, so even if he doesn’t remember mentally his body will remember physically the hours and be able to do it again easily without much problem’.
“You’ll come with us,” says a voice behind Aubrey, from a young man who has blonde hair and green eyes. Startled I look behind the two men, and there are the other six men, standing there. They have been listening to most of the conversation and have already decided for themselves whether or not I am worth the extra weight. Aubrey grins at his crew and nods his confirmation.
I smile shyly to show my gratitude and also to show my loss, and say, “Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it,” all the while wondering if I will be the one to regret it.
“By the way, son, for now we’ll call you Bren.”
The day dawns bright and cool, it’s a perfect day for traveling. I wake up to the sound of Christophe, the young man who had spoken up for me last night, calling my ‘name’ in my ear. I had slept outside, under the stars, gathering curious looks from each of the men, but they let it go, considering it to be one of the stresses of losing my memory.
Standing up, I sway a little, catching myself, still unused to these new legs that I have. Then I look around. Everyone is in motion. Edmon, the man who had built the fire from where I’d come, is scattering the logs and branches while the rest of the men were quickly deconstructing their makeshift tent. I head over to help. Soon I find myself lost in the motions, as though I have been doing this all my life, carefully following each man’s instructions. They are taking their job of trying to restore my memory seriously, and seem to have great pride in their work. Soon the camp is obsolete, and we are ready to leave.
I’m positioned on one side of the canoe, at the end, with Christophe across from me. The other men are strategically in their places and we carry the canoe down to the water. Once we reach the beach and I see waves that look to me to be rolling way too high, I nearly blanche and drop my side of the canoe. I want to run away, back to the fire, to the trees, to the bald eagle, to be anywhere but where I am.
Suddenly I realize we have stopped moving and all the men are looking at me. Each is studying me with a critical look. It won’t do for them to know that I’m afraid of water. So I start walking again towards that awful water, feeling fainter with each step. What each voyageur would call the most beautiful sight in the world chills me to the bone. Finally we reach the shore’s edge. Rocky as it is, I see that I will have to walk into the water and stop again, wondering if I can do it.
Courage is the first step, come the words into my head and I look up to see Tiwa flying overhead, a beautiful sight to my frightened eyes. He provides the reason for my stop as the rest of the voyageurs stare in amazement at the sight. The stand still comes to an end, however, when Aubrey yells, “Load her in.”
Carefully we lift her over the rocks, and the men all climb around the rocks and into the water. I pause for a brief moment, look across and see Christophe looking at me with a strange look in his eyes. I have not yet become real good at interpreting human emotions.
Taking a deep breath I step into the water, expecting to hear a sizzling noise and then to cease to exist. It doesn’t happen, however, and I get out of the water, wet and somewhat chilly, but still in existence.
We then load the canoe, which is very methodical, and each man is assigned his own seat. I am given a spot right beside Christophe, who ‘reminds’ me of the right way to hold a paddle. The paddle I get is small, with a rectangular shaped blade and a short handle. It also has a red tip, which seems to be the symbol of the North Star Company that these men work for. I guess I now work for them too.
Finally we are underway. I have not lost my fear of the water, and paddle so as not to get a lot of it on me. Still, we make good headway, at least that is what Aubrey says. We stop every hour or so for the men to take power naps. It’s at one of these times that I learn that one of the voyageurs is on to me.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” came the young man’s soft voice. I turned to look over at Christophe.
“Scared? Of what?” I ask, in as confident a voice as I can muster. Meanwhile, I’m panicking inside. ‘Does he know what really happened?‘
“Of the water,” he says matter-of-factly, nodding at the water that surrounds us, “because of the storm you were in.”
Looking guilty, I say, “No I’m not.”
Well, he saw right through that one. “It’s okay. I won’t tell the others,” he says kindly.
Looking at him, I try to figure out if he is sincere, when a voice rings in my head, trust is necessary. Just then an eagle call sounds in the distance, and I nod.
That is the end of our conversation because it is time to get moving again. The whole day is long and tiresome and by the end I can barely move my arms, but it is a good kind of tired. We camp on an island somewhat like the one I had been ‘found’ on.
As the days fly by, I learn more about each of the voyageurs and more about my own duties to the group. I learn that only Christophe knows how to swim out of all the men and he and I are becoming fast friends. He goes out of his way to help me and to point out where we are and where we are heading.
One day we reach a river, and the morning of, Christophe stops me before we leave.
“Bren, I thought I would warn you before we got on the water, we’re going to be going through some rapids today,” Christophe says, with a lot of worry in his voice, for he had learned just how deep my fear of water really is.
“Rapids,” I say faintly, feeling distanced from the world as this feeling forms in the pit of my stomach. I stand there for a few moments dumbstruck, and then I walk blindly towards the forest surrounding us. Christophe watches me go, unsure of what to do.
As soon as I am sure no one can hear me, I start calling, “Tiwa! Tiwa! I know you’re nearby. I need to talk to you now! Tiwa!”
Stop yelling, I’m right here, comes an indignant tone intruding into my head. I turn around and there he is.
“Tiwa, who’s going to die?” I ask him. I need to know.
Now you know I can’t answer that question for you, I’m your guardian, not theirs as well, he preached.
“Tiwa, is it Christophe? Is he going to die?” I ask him, frantic. I finally make a friend, and I can’t stand the thought of losing him.
I told you I am not his guardian, Tiwa states impatiently. I am here to guide you. Be careful and do your job out there today. Stay true to your course. With that he flew away.
Just then Christophe comes crashing through the woods. “Where are you, Bren?” he calls as he goes. “We have to load up, now! The wind is really starting to pick up.”
“It is?” I ask, as I appear from behind a tree. Startled, he looks at me curiously. Then he simply replies, “Yes it is. Come on, better to get through it now then later.” Wordlessly we both turn back to face the day’s trials.
Waves crash against the side of the canoe, splashing and hitting the canoe on my side, literally falling into the canoe and filling it with water. The panic rises in my chest as I watch the canoe fill with water. Christophe glances over every once and a while; I can feel his gaze on my face. He’s been looking at me funny all day long, but we haven’t had time to talk about anything. There will be no breaks today. The river is rushing, pushing us ever faster down even the safest parts of the river. There are a lot of stone paintings, but we are going too fast to see them. Suddenly the call comes forth, “Rapids! 100 feet!” My heart starts to beat fast. ‘Which one will overturn us?‘
Soon we are paddling faster than ever, constantly changing directions to avoid the rocks. One wrong move and we will crash, shattering the canoe and issuing a death warrant for us all. Shouts of “Left” “Right” “Hard Left” fill the air. All of us are bent on one thing. Survival.
I look up; the waves are white, gushing around rocks littering the high walls of a narrow indentation. There is only one way to go, which is through a maze of rocks, worse than any we’d been through before. My poor heart beats even faster and I look over at Christophe who is also looking at the obstacle ahead. And that’s when I know. This is it.
We shove our way through the rapids, but founder the boat on the second rock. Most of the men manage to grab a pack, and use that as a floatation device. Christophe instantly starts getting them ashore on this narrow beach, where the canoe has already managed to wash up. Six of them are there when he starts looking around for me.
I am thrown over the opposite side, and as I am washed downstream, struggling to fight down the panic, I see Christophe’s heroic deeds, and will him to stay there. I don’t matter to the group. However, I know that he will not. He will come for me.
I gasp for each breath as I am dragged underneath again and again. Water is gushing in and out of my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Each time I fight my way to the surface I see him, swimming hard after me. I am losing strength fast in the cold water and soon feel as though I can barely move. I am drowning in the water’s world, my eyes are closing, and I cannot take another breath. Suddenly I feel someone tugging me to the surface. There he is, dragging me to shore and lying me down on the sand. Then he is off again, in the water, after something unseen by me.
I lay there, so cold, and I feel my eyes closing when words come into my head. Don’t give up. Tiwa is there, sitting next to me, and next to him are two very thick blankets.
Christophe stumbles back up onshore, sees the blankets and the bald eagle, thanks the Great Spirit, strips off my soaking wet clothes and does the same to himself.
I am too weak to protest and expect to get a great rise out of him, but all he does is wrap the blankets around us. He’s moving his arms up and down my own, trying hard to get me to shiver. He sees that I’m falling asleep and starts to talk to me.
“Bren, come on, got to keep awake. That’s it; it’s not time for you to die. Life is just beginning. Come on, that’s it. Good girl,” he says. His talking is so slurred that it’s hard to tell what he says, but at that last part I make an effort to ask a question.
“H-How d-did you k-know?” I ask, my teeth chattering so hard, because feeling is starting to return to my body.
“This morning, you were acting so strange. Besides I suspected for a long time. You never slept in the tent with the guys, and you were always talking to the Great Spirit’s guardians,” he pushed out, forcing his blue mouth to work. He is half-dead.
“You were spying on me,” I accuse him.
He gives me a weak smile. “Y-you will be taking my place now,” he states.
My smile fades. “No, you have to make it,” I say all the while knowing it’s impossible. He’s barely alive as it is. The only reason he’s still alive is because he cared about me and wanted to save me. Realization comes over my face.
“Now you are understanding it. I knew you would understand, eventually. This is my purpose. To save you. You will go on to do great things. I know this. You see they have talked to me too,” Christophe says so much with so little words, now talking only in spirit, his body is in all purposes dead. He nods toward Tiwa, who is observing all this in the tree a few feet away. Tears start to fall down my face, when he says, “Don’t cry, I’ll always be with you.”
That’s the last thing I ever heard from Christophe. He dies there in my arms. Tiwa flies down and lands next to me.
“Are you going to leave me too?” I ask angrily.
No, I’m always going to be here to help guide your course, Tiwa answers as gently as he can. He left you something.
I look over and there on the ground is a Native American necklace, with a little paddle pendant on the end. I quickly pick it up and slip it on. Then I dress and shoulder the heavy wet pack. Time to find the rest of my fellows.