A stowaway pops up, and Manabozho's dream becomes a nightmare...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 61: All In The Head"
CHARMIAN JUMPED BACK and let out a scream when her pack spilled open, a strange round object bouncing out and hitting her on the foot. Wabasso's eyes grew. Charmian yanked her foot up into the air, grabbing hold of it and yelling as loud as she could, a line of tiny red welts throbbing over the arch. The round object struck the ground again, unrolling into a wriggling spiny hedgehog, which then poofed in a tiny puff of pinkish smoke.
Marten grabbed at his head and started wailing. "WH-WHAT'D YOU--DO THAT--F-FOR?!"
Charmian grimaced at the pricks of pain still burning in her foot but brought it down, giving the Mikumwesu the most furious glare she could muster. Her eyes filled with tears, but it didn't matter, as Marten was sobbing his own eyes out by now. She tried screaming at him but no words came; all she could do was wave her arms inarticulately.
Wabasso took a few steps forward, giving the bawling Marten a curious look. Through his tears Marten noticed his stare and pointed a finger at Charmian, rubbing at his eyes. "She--she tried to KILL me!"
This accusation brought Charmian's words roaring back and she clenched her fists, making him cringe. "The HELL I did! You STUNG my foot!!" She waved her arms again. "What are you doing here? How did you even GET here? Aren't you supposed to be back with Glooskap--?"
Marten started rubbing at his eyes with both hands now, still crying. "I thought--you m-might need--some help! So I c-came along! I tried to k-keep myself as sm-small as I could, but I can't h-help it if you throw your pack around every ch-chance you get!"
Charmian's eyes goggled. "You mean you followed me through the Sky Tree?" she cried. "You stowed away in my backpack?!"
Marten nodded, still blubbering, and sidled toward Wabasso, taking hold of his leg and pressing himself against it as he rubbed at his eyes. Charmian saw a twinge of sympathy pass across Wabasso's face and steamed. She stomped forward and grabbed Marten up by the scruff, pulling him away.
"Oh no you don't! That might work on other people but I know better! You're HARDLY a little kid anymore!"
Marten's lower lip started to stick out. "I'm older than you, which means YOU should be listening to ME!"
Charmian let him drop and he rolled across the ground. This time he jumped to his feet immediately, baring his teeth. Charmian crossed her arms.
"If you've been with me this whole time," she said, "then you heard what Geezhigo-Quae said. She said I was supposed to go through ALONE! And only NOW do I find you hanging out in my backpack? Why did you follow me through if you heard that?"
Marten clenched his tiny fists. "Maybe she's not right!"
Charmian threw up her hands. "She's a manitou, for Pete's sake!"
"So? Manitous don't know everything! Unless they're Glooskap!"
"So did Glooskap tell you to follow me?" When Marten hesitated replying she crossed her arms again and tapped her foot. "Well?"
He stuck out his tongue at her. "He didn't HAVE to! Some things I just know! I thought you might not know how to get back to the ocean, and what if you got stuck somewhere? And maybe the old woman is wrong, but it's better to be safe than sorry, and I thought--"
"You weren't thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing!" Charmian screeched, waving her arms.
Wabasso took a few steps forward to peer down at Marten curiously. "What is he?" he asked.
Marten puffed himself up. "I'm a Mikumwesu!"
Charmian gritted her teeth. "He's a Mikum-pain-in-the-ass! Geezhigo-Quae said I was supposed to come through here alone. Now we're so far away from the Sky Tree that it's not even worth heading back!"
"You see?" Marten hopped up and down. "What's the point in arguing then? I'm here and I'm staying! Geezhigo won't be too mad!"
"You spoke with Geezhigo-Quae?" Wabasso asked.
Charmian gave an exasperated nod. "She's the one who sent me through here from the Fairy Realm. I was SUPPOSED to do it alone!"
"Well..." Wabasso paused awkwardly and rubbed at his head. "Maybe he's right, and she won't mind...?"
"I know Geezhigo, and I'm pretty sure if she knew, she'd mind."
Marten started hopping up and down again. "Hold on though! What if she meant that none of your friends from the Island could come along? I'm not from the Island! I'm from Glooskap's place! I came through the Sky Tree right before you went back through it! So this place is practically the same as where I came from. That means I don't count and I could come along too!"
Charmian's face screwed up. She looked to Wabasso and was somewhat relieved to see that he seemed equally confused. She sighed and rubbed her neck.
"I really don't think that makes any difference, you know." When he started to scowl she sighed again. "But it's not like there's anything we can do about it now. I guess I'm stuck lugging you around--but if you go turning into things every five minutes--!"
A huge smile spread across Marten's face and his hopping resumed. He looked almost like a frantic lapdog. "It won't be so bad! I promise! I won't cause ANY trouble! It'll be like I'm not even here at all!"
"Except for right now," Charmian grumbled.
"I can even help you guys out, too!" Marten continued. "You said you were looking for this Peekaboo and Mooshy, right?"
"Actually, their names are Peepaukawiss and Mudji--"
"Well, I can help you find them!" He stopped hopping long enough to point both index fingers at his nose. "I have the best nose out of anybody in the WORLD!"
Charmian's eye twitched. "Even if you do have the best nose out of anybody in the WORLD, what good is that going to do! You've never even smelled Puka or Mudji before!"
"That's easy, stupid!" Marten bounded toward Wabasso and leapt atop his shoulder, making Wabasso gasp and stagger back in surprise. Charmian stormed toward them.
"What did I tell you about jumping on people's shoulders--?" she snapped.
"It's--it's all right," Wabasso said hastily. "I don't mind."
Marten glared at Charmian and stuck out his tongue. She felt her face turn a dangerous shade of red and Wabasso took a step back. Marten merely pointed at him.
"He's their brother, isn't he?" he cried. "Then all I have to do is sniff HIM!" And to illustrate his point he started sniffing. Wabasso got an odd look.
Charmian rolled her eyes, feeling like tearing her hair out. "EVERYBODY SMELLS DIFFERENT, IDIOT!"
"Relatives smell kind of the same!" Marten retorted. "All I have to do is sniff him, then go looking, and anything that smells kind of like him must be either Pookie or Munchy! It's as easy as that!" He scurried to Wabasso's other shoulder and started sniffing again. "And I say we head WEST!"
Charmian opened her mouth to yell, then blinked. "Why west? You mean you agree with me--?"
Marten puffed up. "No, because that's the direction the smell's coming from!" He squeaked and jumped from Wabasso's shoulder, going running when she came at him. She ran only a few steps before halting, and she and Wabasso watched him scurry off as fast as he could. Wabasso rubbed his head while she stormed back to retrieve her pack, pushing its contents back inside and digging within it.
"Do you think he might be right...?" he asked almost hesitantly. "West was the direction you wished to go, since Mudji went there a long time ago. But I do not know if he took this path, nor how long ago that was..."
"He's just full of himself!" Charmian groused. She pulled out the skin holding her dreamcatcher and unwrapped it, checked it over, then put it back. "He's only lucky his little furry butt protected this thing, or I'd wring his neck with it."
Wabasso looked to be at a loss for words. Charmian sighed one last time and placed her pack back over her shoulders where it belonged, and they fell into step beside each other. "So," she said, feeling a little stupid after her outburst. "I know this is all kind of sudden, and from what Noko said I know you liked to be alone, but thanks for coming with me. I think I'd go nuts if I was alone another minute."
Wabasso merely looked to the west as if he could see something already. "I have not seen Puka or Mudji in years," he said after a moment or two, and then a smile came to his face. "I'll like seeing them again."
Charmian felt her heart rise a little bit on hearing this, and her step grew a little bit lighter as they followed Marten away from the woods.
* * * * *
A motley group had gathered at Sugar Loaf Rock as evening drew on. Old Mother Manitou stood roasting a fullsize deer on a spit at a fire built a little distance away from the rock, X'aaru and Pakwa sitting nearby and watching. Thomas, Mani, and Cloud rested in the shade of the trees edging the woods, while Moon Wolf sat a little further away. After some time spent watching the deer cook X'aaru grew bored and yawned, moving toward the woods, while Pakwa edged closer, only to have his hand smacked away when he reached toward the meat. He put his stinging fingers in his mouth and sucked on them.
"Go on and shoo!" Old Mother Manitou snapped. "I'll hardly have some GeeBee tainting my venison! You can get food anywhere you want, any time you want! I don't care if you're Augwak himself, you'll wait until this is done before getting a bite!"
Mani's ear flicked as he dozed. Thomas carved a small piece of wood to keep his mind preoccupied, but nearly lost hold of it when X'aaru flopped down right beside him. The demon yawned widely, all of his teeth showing; Thomas made certain he had a good hold of his knife so he wouldn't stab himself in the leg when X'aaru let out a big sigh.
"Cooking always takes such a long time!" the demon grumbled. "Wake me up when it's done."
Thomas held the little piece of wood in one hand and his knife in the other, and looked at X'aaru, slumped against his left side, then at Mani, curled up against his right. He chewed on his lip and cast a glance toward the old woman tending to the fire. "Is it always like this here?"
"Pretty much," Old Mother Manitou muttered, turning the deer with one hand. "'Cept it's usually not those two, but the pup and his girlfriend, not that one can call them pups since they take up half the room by now..." Rustling noises came from the opposite side of the woods and she turned the deer again. "Ah, look at that, right on time. There'll hardly be a bite of this stuff left for a poor old woman once everyone else is through with it."
Two shapes emerged from the woods a distance away, and Khiieta came trotting into the clearing, Shadow Water walking behind her more slowly. Thomas noticed how Moon Wolf lifted his head to look at them, blinked, then quickly turned away, huddling in on himself as if trying to turn invisible; he frowned, but nobody else noticed. Khiieta trotted up to X'aaru and they happily touched noses, and Shadow Water smiled at Old Mother Manitou.
"Good evening, Grandmother. I hope you don't mind but Khiieta wished to stop by."
"Eh, good evening, child. She's welcome here just so long as she doesn't make off with the entire roast."
Khiieta walked away, and X'aaru stood up, stretching again. Thomas glanced at Moon Wolf quickly before raising his hand to try to get X'aaru's attention before he wandered away. "Ah...you...demon-thingie." X'aaru turned to look over his shoulder, one ear pricking. Thomas rubbed at the back of his neck. "I forgot your name," he admitted.
"Oh." X'aaru turned around. "It's X'aaru. Well, actually, it's Xrr'grra'nghraghu, but nobody can seem to pronounce that, so Charmian called me X'aaru."
Thomas blinked. He sat silently for a moment, then nodded. "Got you." He peered at Moon Wolf again. "I was wondering if any of you might know, since I wasn't here...but does that fellow have some past business with Charmian? She told me a little about him, but not very much..."
"Huh?" X'aaru glanced straight at Moon Wolf and Thomas cringed a bit, hoping their attention wouldn't be noticed. "Oh! You mean Moon Wolf?" Thomas nodded and gestured at him to lower his voice a bit and the demon obliged. "Yes, he taught Charmian the last time she was here. He's a medicine man; he used to live in Cave of the Woods. He taught a lot of people a little bit, but he taught Charmian a lot. That's how she learned how to fight. I think she spent the whole winter with him, and--"
"X'aaru!" Khiieta called. He glanced back at her and she flicked her tail from side to side. "Are you coming?"
"Do you know if there was any sort of trouble between them?" Thomas asked, forcing X'aaru to turn his attention back. The Ocryx cocked an ear and looked thoughtful for a moment before shrugging.
"Not really that I know of, although he did die fighting off Ocryana--she's one of my kind, only she's trapped beneath the Island now--and Charmian took that pretty hard. But he's back, so she must be happy now, right?" Khiieta called again and he turned and trotted away this time before Thomas could think of anything else to ask. The two demons touched noses again and wandered off toward the woods. Shadow Water stayed to talk with Old Mother Manitou for a bit; after a while Moon Wolf slid down from the tree root he was sitting upon and disappeared in the opposite direction. Thomas looked at the spot he'd just vacated and frowned, absently picking up his carving.
"I guess that means the wound is pretty fresh then," he murmured to himself, and as if to illustrate, as soon as he attempted carving again the knife slid over the wood and nicked his finger. He flinched and put it to his mouth to stop the bleeding and continued staring into the woods with tense eyes.
* * * * *
Manabozho and Wenonah sat side by side beneath the Crooked Tree, staring out across the field that lay behind it. The breeze rustled through the tall grass and through Manabozho's feathers, and he looked up at the clouds scudding overhead.
"And so this is the Spirit Land?" he murmured. "It looks just like home?"
She brushed her hair back from her face. "Yes and no; remember, this is what your dream makes of it. The Spirit Land is much more beautiful, believe me."
Manabozho sighed and looked across the field again. "I always thought home was most beautiful," he said almost to himself. She tilted her head as if puzzled, then offered a slight smile.
"That's because this is all you know. When your time comes to return to me, then you'll see."
"I'd like to stay here now."
Wenonah's smile faded a little. "'Bozho, you know you can't do that. You still live, and the Spirit Land is only for the dead."
He pushed himself away from the Tree to sit upright. "Then I'll die! What does it matter?"
His mother's smile vanished entirely. "'Bozho! How can you speak like this? You have so much waiting for you!"
"Nothing that truly matters!" Manabozho insisted. "I'm getting tired of the Island anyway. It comes with too many responsibilities! I'd rather just stay here, with you! I never--" He cut himself off and flushed. When she stared at him he had to avert his eyes before he could continue. "I never...even got to know you. This is the first time I've even seen you. I can't leave, just like that. There must have been some reason why I can meet you now, and not just because of those pellets."
"But you have enemies to fend off," Wenonah said. "And the girl, the one from the mainland, is waiting for you there."
Manabozho shrugged with irritation. "She can fight them off on her own! She's done it before, she can do it again."
"You're really so sure...? You do remember what was said..."
"She thought one of my brothers could do a better job than me!" Manabozho stood up. "Let her try to find them then! They all got to know you. I never even had that chance. Let me stay here, at least for a while. The Island will be fine without me. It always is."
Wenonah stood up to face him. "You would rather stay here than return?" she pressed. "Knowing you are expected? Could you truly do this?"
Manabozho nodded without thinking. "If it means I could stay here!" He at last faltered a bit, his brow furrowing. "Are you...do you not want me to stay here...?"
There was a slight pause, then a smile came to Wenonah's face. She took his hands in her own and looked up into his eyes.
"Of course I do. I would love so greatly for you to stay here with me! I simply thought that your feelings for the Island, and this girl, were much stronger than anything you ever felt for me..."
"Of...of course not!" Manabozho stammered. "Of course I care about you more! I just...I couldn't ever tell you before, because..." He trailed off when she put her arms around him, and he flushed a little bit but returned her embrace. "I didn't have any way to tell you before now," he murmured, his eyes stinging. "That's why I feel like I was meant to be here, for some reason...I can't just leave, now that I'm finally here."
"Sweet little 'Bozho," Wenonah said into his shoulder. "I knew that someday you'd come around, and see how little that Island really means to you."
Manabozho blinked and one of his feathers tilted. "I...I wouldn't say that it..."
"You do know that I would have come to you sooner, if only you had not been so preoccupied with that place? Day and night your thoughts dwell on it! This is the real reason I could never get through. It and that girl always kept your mind so preoccupied, you could not even hear me calling to you all these years."
"But..." Manabozho's brow furrowed in confusion. "But...I've been trying to hear you...how could the Island keep me from doing that? And Charmian, she...she wasn't even there until..."
"You even call her by name!" Wenonah pulled back a bit and gave him a reproachful look. "You see what sort of hold she had over you, now, don't you? Your mind is clear of her now that she's gone, isn't it?"
"Gone...?" All he could do was stare at her and stammer. "But...my head was always clear...I only taught her...she never..."
"You yourself said she thought more of your brothers than of you," Wenonah added.
Manabozho's feathers flared. "I didn't mean it that way! That isn't what--"
"Oh." And his mother stepped back and let go of his arms so a space formed between them. Her eyes grew flinty and he paused with a feeling of unease. "I see. Perhaps the mainlander is right, after all."
"Mainlander--?" The word only sparked his unease, making it grow. It didn't sound like a word his mother would use--not as if he knew, but...
Wenonah crossed her arms. Manabozho started when he noticed that the clouds overhead had grown thicker, and the sky had grown darker. "Perhaps I should give her a bit more credit," his mother said, drawing his attention again. "After all, if she sees your brothers as better than you...this is only what your father believed, himself. This is why he came to see them, every last one of them, but for you. You were not good enough to warrant even one visit."
Manabozho sucked in a breath, shocked. "This--so--so he did not visit me! I know how he treated you, and Noko, and Puka and--"
"He treated ALL of us fine enough," Wenonah countered. "YOU are the one he chose not to visit! You are the one who drove him away from me, in fact! If you had not been born as you are he would have still come to see me. But you had to be you, quaking little 'Bozho--do you know now why I called you Rabbit? It is the way you run and hide away from everything when it becomes too difficult. You can thump your feet and put on as much of a show as you want, but in the end we all know what becomes of quaking little rabbits."
Manabozho took a step back, then another. His hands crept up to his head, covering his ears, but he could still hear her as she stalked toward him, her eyes flashing. Thunder boomed in the sky and he gasped and jumped, whirling around in a panic, but the Crooked Tree was just a black, twisted skeleton, and the field was barren and parched, as if a fire had roared through...
"Noko--?" he cried.
"She is dead," Wenonah said, and at this he stared at her with terrified eyes. "She died when the Island died," she continued. "When YOU did not return to help it. This is what you get, for putting your trust in little girls!" Lightning flashed and another boom of thunder came, and he covered his head, cringing. "Do you know why all your family but the old woman left?" Wenonah continued, drawing closer. "Mudji saw the same in you as your father did. He left you out of disgust. Puka? You were atrocious toward him when for whatever reason he tried to befriend you. He left you out of anger and hurt. And Wabasso--everywhere you trailed after him, like a poor lame little rabbit, until he could stand having you around no more--he left you because he hated you! You drove them away--every last one of them!"
"Nooooo!" Manabozho moaned, dropping to his knees and squeezing his arms over his head in a futile attempt to shut her out. "It's not true! NOT TRUE! Mudji--he only wanted to be with Father--and Puka--Puka needed to be free--and W-Wabasso--he--he--"
"They are all gone because of YOU!" Wenonah shouted directly down at him, her fists clenched at her sides. "Oh...what is this?" she said, and her voice dropped almost to a murmur again. Despite his fear, Manabozho pulled his arms back slightly to peer up at her, shaking hard, his eyes welling up. His mother put a finger to her chin with a thoughtful look.
"What is this?" she said again. "That's right...I've forgotten someone." She looked down at him again and her face twisted into an ugly smile, nothing at all like the one she'd offered before. Just staring at her filled him with terror.
"Your little brother," she said to him. "The one who died, so you could live--the one I had not even the chance to name, because you had to be born first. That's right," she said, and lightning cracked, and in the brief shadow cast after its retreat he saw her smile split into a sharp-toothed grin, her eyes flashing yellow. "You killed Chakenapok, too!"
"NOOOOOOOO!!" Manabozho screamed, and dropped to the ground again, covering his head, tears squeezing out of his eyes. In his head his voice wailed, It's a dream! It's a dream! It's a dream--!--but the hideous laughter broke out and went on and on above him, and for some reason, he could not wake up.
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