Blood in the Saddle by Dietmar Trommeshauser [M]

(for Heidi, Uwe, Bodo, and Bernd)

The Ojibwa Shaman slit the white man's throat, releasing his last breath as a jet of bright red mist into the cold winter air. Pressing one knee into his victim's back, he grabbed a massive fistfull of the man's long black hair, yanked back the head and ran his blade across the tight forehead. With a sudden, hard wrench, he ripped off the entire scalp as if it were the pelt of a rabbit. Steam rose from the man's naked, blood-slick skull, making it look like it was on fire.

The Shaman tied his grizzly prize onto his magik lance, and turned toward his horse which stood belly-deep in a snowbank further down the valley. Occupied with relacing his snowshoes, the Shaman failed to see the corpse rise up behind him. The white man almost seven feet tall, surveyed his surroundings with a ruby-eyed gaze, finally settling on the Sorcerer's back. He grinned, and it was a truly frightening grin. The blood poured down his face, running into his eyes and mouth and dripping from his chin like red rain onto the snow. Scalped, he looked like a newborn with the placenta still a cowl over his head. The gash in his throat yawned wide open, like an extra mouth with ragged lips that appeared to breath a pinkish mist blowing silent kisses in and out. Carefully placing his feet into already packed snow, he silently crept up behind the Indian Sorcerer. His smile grew larger with each step, till it loomed impossibly huge, lined with row upon row of long nicotine-stained fangs.

Caught completely by surprise, the Shaman found himself dangling in midair, the demon's claws embedded into his neck. Seconds later his throat was torn out by the slavering jaws and his near decapitated body dumped unceremoniously onto the crimson snow. The Demon, named Blood, gathered up his hat and rifle and whistled. A flame-red horse appeared from behind a hazelnut bush and Blood leapt effortlessly into the saddle. Already his wounds were starting to heal. His slashed throat closed itself up until only a long white scar remained, the skin tight and shiny like ice on a lake. His scalp too, was slowly returning, thick sprouts of black hair grew from his head like coarse wildgrass on a blood-red desert. Grabbing the reins, he turned the horse toward the west and headed off the mountain, back to his tribe, his subjects. Behind him, three large grey timber wolves loped out of the forest. They paused to sniff at the body, and then followed.

 

 

* * *

 

What was left of the old Shaman's body was found a week later and taken back for a ceremonial burial. After a day and night of fasting, as was the custom, the Ojibwa elected a new Shaman.

Born into the Bear Clan, Burning Rabbit, at twenty-five, was the youngest Shaman to ever enter the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. He had proven his shamanistic powers at a very early age. His face, however, did not reflect his youth. Four years ago it had been horribly scarred in a fire during an Iroquois raid in which his wigwam had caught fire. His pregnant wife, Little Dove, was trapped inside. He had stepped through the flames, gathered up her unconscious form and managed to leap out just before the entire structure collapsed. He had lost most of his hair and the skin on his face resembled a frozen lake whose glistening surface was marred by the melting cracks created by the Spring sun. His wife barely survived, and he had spent three days and nights drumming and singing in the sacred Singing Tent to summon the power of his spirit helpers. On the third night, Little Dove gave birth to his son, healthy and unharmed by the fire. Though Burning Rabbit had foreseen the coming of the raid, the Elders on the Midewiwin had ignored his warning due to his youth and becasue none of them had had any visions concerning the Iroquois.

Of greatest impact on his selection as Shaman had been his vision of the coming of the Windigo, a supernatural giant with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. That had been three years ago, and at first the Elders again refused to listen, claiming it was just a bad dream. But the visions had continued and soon bodies were also discovered, completely bloodless, with their throats torn out. At first this was said to be the work of animals, wolves perhaps, but more bodies turned up and most had a freshly taken scalp tied onto their lances. The strange thing about it was that these scalps were all identical. At the moment, three of them hung from the center post of Burning Rabbit's own wigwam; the third just recovered from his own dead father's magik lance. Later, rumours had begun to spread among the clans of a tall dark- haired demon with a white face seen riding a flaming-red horse and leading a band of Iroquois in raids. All these things fit in perfectly with his visions. The Elders then realised that Burning Rabbit was a powerful shaman, perhaps even one of the eighth level. The first four called earth grades, the second four called sky grades. Few ever progressed beyond the lower levels due to the great personal costs and fear of sorcery involved in the higher levels.

Burning Rabbit, who, according to Ojibwa custom, was named after the first animal he killed upon reaching manhood, knelt on a deer skin rug and watched from his corner of the birchbark lodge as his wife wove and hung the Dream catcher over their four year old son. The Dream Catcher consisted of willow hoops and cordage made from plants. In honour of their origin, the number of points where the web connected to the hoop numbered 7 for the Seven Prophecies or 8 for Spider Woman's eight legs. The web and the sleeper were placed in a spot accessible to the morning sun's rays. Bad dreams or nightmares would get caught in the web and the morning rays would dissolve them. The good dreams however, knowing the way, would slide to the centre and down a feather to the sleeping dreamer below.

Lately though, Burning Rabbit felt the price of his power. Each night he awakened with horrible dreams of the Windigo, its huge scarred face, not too dissimilar from his own, leered at him with huge, dripping fangs. Three of his tribe's previous Shaman, each one from the warrior caste, had ridden out in search of this demon and none had returned alive. Burning Rabbit knew that very soon it would be his turn to hunt the creature; the Elders were already giving him strange looks.

Hatred burned in the young Shaman's heart, and he looked forward to meeting the monster who had eaten his father's spirit. He fingered his medicine pouch, inside of which rested the herbal remedies used in curing and the migis, the powder made from a a rare white mollusk shell which was sniffed by the Shamans at special ceremonies to infuse themselves with spirit powers.

Each morning and evening he sang and prayed to the Kitchi Manitou to help his people find and destroy the Windigo. So far he had received no sign and this deeply troubled him. Always before, he had the ears of the Great Spirit, why now was The Great One so silent?

Burning Rabbit watched quietly as his wife boiled fish in the red clay pot, adding maple sugar and blue berries to sweeten the broth. He studied the smoke rising up through the hole in the centre of the roof. It was getting colder outside, winter loomed just over the horizon, but the sheets of birchbark covering the outside of the shelter and the rush matted floor kept his lodge comfortable. His heavy moosehide coat, decorated with spirit symbols made with dye and porcupine embroidery helped keep him warm, but Little Dove seemed comfortable enough just wearing her moccasins and deerhide dress. Even though the terrible fire had also ravaged her body, miraculously her head had been spared and she was still very beautiful. Her long black hair braided and shiny with bear grease reflected the dancing light of the cooking fire.

Their four year old son lay sleeping peacefully under the Dream Catcher. Oh, Spiderwoman, he thought, if only you could help us. But even the Dream Catcher had been unable to stop his nightmares. He could hear a storm approaching outside, the sounds of the Thunderbirds who controlled the weather and lived in nests of stones on high mountain tops constantly shrouded in clouds. Lightning flashed from their eyes and thunder from their wings. He knew their enemies, the Great Serpent and Mishipisu were in hiding, but he doubted the Windigo felt threatened.

Soon, Burning Rabbit thought, soon he would have to act. Not only his tribe's, but his nation's continued existence depended on it. Once again he prayed to Kitchi Manitou for guidance, and this time, with the thunder rolling closer, he was answered.

 

 

* * *

 

The sounds of the storm did not disturb the Demon as he sat astride his red horse on a high ridge overlooking a river. Below, in the moonlight, the river wound its way between two low hills. Huddled along its near bank stood a small Indian camp. Blood counted nine wigwams, smoke rising from their tops. The camp appeared deserted, but Blood guessed the people were all just tucked safely and soundly in their tents. Well, soundly anyway, Blood grinned, his teeth flashing in the night. He had left his band of Iroquois and his wolves behind, for he desired to hunt alone this night.

Slowly, he slid off his horse and tied the reins to a tree. The storm winds caused the trees to bend and sway, their branches striking out at Blood with a hundred wooden fingers. He paid them no mind, and ignored a sudden downpour of icy rain as well. It ran down the coattails of his long, black overcoat and dripped from the rim of his Stetson. Blood parted some bushes and carefully made his way down the ridge. He ran his tongue greedily over his lower razor-like teeth. I hope there are some young ones, he thought, sliding down the muddy slope. He especially loved the young ones; they were so tender and full of life.

He had kllled and eaten countless victims during his time on Earth. He could remember as far back as Roman times and when he rode beside his beloved father, Attila, as they sacked city after city. Their bloodlust was a scream heard throughout that ancient world. His father's huge double bladed axe flashing, the fires, the severed heads rolling beneath their armoured horse's hooves, the women and children screaming. Oh, but to return to such times.

He could make it happen, he thought, scrambling silently around a large granite boulder. Though he had been forced to leave the Old Country, he now had a whole new world to conquer; a whole new race to subjugate. He'd first done it to a tribe of Iroquois. They now thought of him as a God and would follow him to the bowels of Hell if so commanded.

It had gotten far too uncomfortable and dangerous for him in Europe. Too many scientific discoveries and too few places to hide. They were starting to catch onto his existence and he couldn't have that, so he'd stowed away on the earliest ship for the New World and found himself on the shores of Newfoundland.

From there he slowly headed westward, all the while discovering these beautiful people who lived so close to nature. He truly loved these people, especially this nation, the Ojibwa, with their waring tribes, their wild, bloody raids against each other and their enemies. When they fought, they too spared neither man, woman nor child. They served as a reminder of his youth and his much missed savage world. Their blood was hot and he liked its taste. Soon, after a bit more terrorization, they, like the Iroquois, would also be his.

He paused and took a deep breath to taste the night air. The first wigwam lay only feet away. He approached on soundless footsteps, lifted the hide flap which covered the entryway, and peered inside. On the floor, snuggled under soft, deerskin blankets, lay four sleeping figures barely outlined in the stormy moonlight. Two adults and two infants. He decided to save the young ones for last, after the melee his presence would undoubtably cause had died down. He would then enjoy them at his leisure. A gust of wind rushed through the open entrance and one of the adult figures bolted upright, instinctively reaching for his knobbed wooden battleclub. Blood's grin grew as wide as the moon; he so loved these savages, and with that thought, he leaped into the wigwam.

Burning Rabbit was in a deep trance, oblivious to the sounds of the storm outside. He was in a blizzard and could hear his child crying from very far away. Snow pelted him from every direction, his world had been reduced to a blinding maelstrom of white and ice. He knew he should be freezing but instead, found himself quite comfortable and could keep his eyes open, even with the driven ice chips stinging his face like a thousand hornets.

Vaguely he began to make out a shape, slowly moving toward him in the snow. At last it stood before him, a gigantic white bear. Burning Rabbit was of the Bear Clan so this was no surprise, however, this was a bear unlike any he'd ever seen, in vision or reality. It towered above him so far that he was but the height of one of its paws, and that wasn't all--its fur was of the purest, cleanest white. He'd heard rumours from other tribes of a great white bear that dwelt in the northern lands of ice and snow, but he'd never actually seen one. The Bear raised one enormous paw heavenward and, as sudden as it came, the blizzard vanished. The huge animal lowered its head and Burning Rabbit found himself reflected in one of its gigantic blue eyes.

"Drive him North, my child." The bear spoke, its warm breath washing over Burning Rabbit like a stream. "Drive him North by fire." With that, the vision vanished and Burning Rabbit found himself back in the corner of his lodge, aware now of the storm raging outside. It was time, he decided, time to tell the Elders and to gather together the Midewiwin. Without a word to Little Dove, he strolled out of the tipi and into the stormy night.

 

 

* * *

 

The next night, the Midewiwin council, numbering eight, listened carefully to Burning Rabbit's story as they huddled in their furs around the camp's huge bonfire. They listened intently to the young Shaman while the wood crackled and the fire sent sparks sailing skyward. When Burning Rabbit finished recounting his vision, there was a lengthy silence before the oldest Mede , Wounded Elk, cleared his throat and began to speak.

"This is indeed, a powerful vision." he said, his voice clear even with the night wind howling around their shoulders. "Your spirit guide is the all powerful White Bear. His appearance is very rare and, in truth I cannot recall anyone relating a vision of him in my lifetime." Here the old man paused, his long silver mane, decorated with eagle feathers, billowed majestically around his shoulders. His face was a granite wall marked with fissures, crevasses and weatherworn cracks. " This means that the vision is very important and should be dealt with immediately." The others nodded.

"What you say is true, Wounded Elk, but I'm not sure I understand it's message." said Burning Rabbit.

"You can only follow your spirit guide." Wounded Elk replied. "It is clear your spirit demands you search for the Windigo and drive him north into the land of endless snow and ice."

Burning Rabbit nodded and bowed his head, he didn't want the council to see the eagerness this interpretation had instilled in him. Yet at the same time, fear chilled his heart.

"You will take seven others of our Nation with you." Wounded Elk continued. "The most powerful shaman from the Heron, Elk, Moose, Beaver, Owl, Deer, and Wolf Clans. I will send messengers to their Tribe's War Captains."

This news helped comfort Burning Rabbit, but he wondered if even Wounded Elk was capable of uniting the tribes against the Windigo. Each tribe was fiercely independent. There was no one chief for the whole Nation, and the leader of each individual tribe was generally, but not always, a hot-blooded war captain.

"Go now and rest." said Wounded Elk. "You start your journey in seven moons."

As it turned out however, the journey would begin far sooner. Burning Rabbit rose, bowed to the council, and headed back to the shelter of his lodge where he dreamed of his father. His father whose gentle hands had taught him how to hold the hunting bow, how to cast the net to catch the salmon and how to prepare the wild herbs for healing. His sleep was so deep, he didn't notice the tears streaming down his cheeks.

Two days later, Burning Rabbit was awakened early in the morning by excited cries. He scrambled from beneath his blankets and ran out to see what all the commotion was about. Little Dove followed.

Outside, most of the tribe had gathered around Hissing Snake, so he and Little Dove joined them.

"The Beaver River Tribe is dead." Hissing Snake said, sliding off his Pinto and handing Wounded Elk his reins. "The entire tribe was slaughtered. It looks like the Windigo's work."

Wounded Elk handed the horse over to a younger brave, then placed his right hand on Burning Rabbit's shoulder. "It appears your journey must begin early, my friend." he said. "I will send riders to the other six tribes today. They will meet you at the Beaver camp. You must go now, before all signs of the demon disappear."

"I will miss the Festival of the Dead?" It was an annual autumn gathering in which they celebrated the souls of their departed. It had been scheduled for tomorrow. His son was to have been given his name.

"We will delay the festival until your successful return." Wounded Elk said. "Now you must hurry, before the spirits of the dead depart their camp."

Back in their shelter, Burning Rabbit gathered together his supplies for his journey. When everything was ready, Burning Rabbit turned and kissed his wife goodbye. He prayed to Nanibush, the great trickster and secret patron of the Grand Medicine Lodge, to help protect his family during his absence.

"Be careful," said Little Dove, she had never been so afraid in herlife, not even during the fire.

"I will." he said. "Pray for me."

 

 

* * *

 

Burning Rabbit stood in the middle of the Beaver River camp and surveyed the carnage. It was horrible, of the tipis there remained only burnt out husks from which the blackened bones of his relatives protruded. His own tribe had been on friendly terms with this one, engaging in numerous trade and hunting expeditions, as well as marriages.

Though himself a fierce and vicious warrior, and hardened against sights of war, Burning Rabbit shuddered at the slaughter. Unlike the Montagnais or the Micmac, the Ojibwa never tortured their enemies and regarded the Iroquois with special loathing because of their inhuman conduct toward any who fell into their hands. But this was worse, much worse.

Burning Rabbit stood over the two bodies of partially eaten warriors. They lay one on top of the other, their ragged, open chest cavities allowing the spilled intestines to mingle like a small mound of twisted snakes. What made this scene even worse, was the strange lack of blood. There was the occasional splash upon the snow, but it was nothing compared to what should have been a bloody abatoir. Walking through the camp, Burning Rabbit spotted other disemboweled bodies similarly discarded.

He picked up the Windigo's tracks, leading from lodge to lodge. They were easy to discern from the others because they were almost twice the size. He followed them to the top of the ridge where the demon had remounted, the hoof prints headed west, following the river.

Burning Rabbit walked back to camp. He decided to dig graves for his fellow Ojibwa, until the other six shaman arrived. He would place as many tools, weapons or personal items he could find untarnished by fire, in their graves to help this tribe in their journey in the spirit world. He hoped the Windigo hadn't eaten their souls as well.

He worked deep into the night, and when finished with his grisly task, began chanting and banging on his medicine drum. Just before dawn, the dead spoke to him.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood closed his eyes. Though he needed no sleep, after a feast he often rewarded himself with dreams of the past. His was a lonely life; in all his years and during all his travels, he had never met another creature like himself, though in his heart he believed they existed.

He remembered his birth quite clearly. It had followed shortly after the fall of Rome. From atop their horses, he and his father had watched the city burn. He could picture himself, draped in a wolf's pelt, its furry head forming his helmet, He was only seventeen but towered over many of his fellow Hun. Already a seasoned warrior, his favourite weapon was a huge double-edged sword that could, and often did, easily cut a man in two. He carried it in a sheath on his back. His arms were encircled with bands of crudely polished iron and under the wolf pelt, his chest was covered with thick layers of leather. His warhorse too was armoured in leather and iron, and from its headplate protruded a long iron spike which the horse was trained to use to impale the enemy during battle.

His father, Attila, was similarly attired but instead of wolf fur, he wore a bear's. He was a giant of a man with a mane and beard of jet black hair. He sat in his saddle, battle ax across his knees, and surveyed his handiwork. Behind him and below him, his army of barbarians drove their prisoners into small, manageable herds. They looted, pillaged and raped, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction.

Later, at a small village to the north of Rome, they gathered together the town council and Blood listened as his father interrogated them.

"Where have you hidden your valuables?" Attila thundered, clenching his axe in an angry fist.

Of the four men on the council, all but one trembled and fell pleading, to their knees. The oldest remained standing. "It is hidden in a place even you would not dare enter." he said.

His father walked up to the kneeling men. "No such place exists." he said, and with a move so swift the eye almost missed it, he loped off a head. It rolled to the feet of another of the kneeling councilmen who, screaming in horror, fell over and scrambled backwards in the dirt. Attila followed him and placing the grisly blade under the man's chin, raised him to his feet. "Now where is it?"

"It's in the cemetery," the councilman blubbered. "Inside the central tomb." He fell back to his knees.

Attila laughed. "I have danced on numerous graves," he said. "So what makes this one so special?"

"It is the tomb of an ancient sorcerer," the man replied. "An evil man who was burned for his witchcraft. It is said his spirit still resides there."

Attila nodded. The fierce and brave, his people were a superstitious lot, with nightfall only minutes away he decided to wait until morning. "When the sun rises, my men will destroy this tomb and take what is ours." That said, Blood watched as his father strode down the line, beheading every councilman save the eldest. The man stood his ground unflinching. "You are a brave man," Attila said, facing the prisoner, "but I will teach you obedience." He turned to one of his soldiers. "Take him away and prepare him as my own personal slave."

Later that night, laying under his fur blanket, Blood decided he would be the first to enter the tomb. He imagined the pleasure and pride his father would show when he and his men opened the tomb's door and found him already inside. He tossed his blankets aside and snuck out into the night.

He found the tomb easily in the moonlight. Tthe cemetery was in a shambles. During the battle, tombstones had been uprooted and now lay scattered throughout. The sorcerer's tomb however, stood unscathed. It was a tall marble columned structure gleaming ghost-white under the full moon. Its single entranceway was choked with spider webs and on its door hung a large iron lock. Blood struck it with his sword and the lock shattered, the door swung open on its own. Brushing away the cobwebs, Blood stepped over the threshold.

Inside, the dim light of Blood's fire torch revealed piles of bones scattered across the floor. Must be over a hundred, he thought, gripping his sword a little tighter. They were strewn haphazardly throughout the room: skulls, thighbones, hipbones, rib cages, and thousands of tiny, knobby finger bones. Blood surveyed the room. At the far end was a vault, below it a small, locked door. He walked over to it and noticed that this time he needed a key, there was nothing for his sword to strike.

Instead, he grabbed the handle of the vault and pulled. It slid open smoothly, revealing a stone casket with mysterious symbols engraved on its lid. Using his sword, Blood pried open the lid. Inside were the skeletal remains of the sorcerer, his bony arms lay crossed upon his dry, cobwebbed ribcage, his skull stared blindly at Blood. Between the gaping jaws, Blood could see a small, jewelled key glinting. This must be the key leading to the treasure, he thought, nervously.

"For my father," he whispered into the silence, and with his right arm, reached for the key.

No sooner had his hand passed between the jaws than, suddenly, they snapped shut. The two canine teeth clamped onto his wrist, breaking through the skin into his artery. Blood screamed, yanking his arm up and away, tearing the skull free from the crumbling spine. He smashed the skull against the marbled wall and it disintegrated into pieces. Sinking to the floor he looked at his bleeding and painful arm.

A good chunk of his wrist was missing, still attached to the shattered teeth. Blood was about to plunge his arm into the flame of his torch to cauterize the wound when, suddenly, a strange feeling flooded his body. It was as if he were being filled with light, a strange ruby light. Miraculously, he found his night vision vastly improved. True, he now saw everything through a reddish haze, but it was all so clear, so new. His wound too, no longer hurt, and he watched in fascination as it mended itself, leaving nothing but a scar. With a feeling of dread, he wondered what had happened to him.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood opened his eyes when his horse nudged him.

"What is it, old friend?" he asked, climbing to his feet and brushing off the snow. The storm had increased during his dream and visibility was poor. Not for me though, Blood grinned, reaching into his saddlebags for some grain. He fed it to his horse and climbed back into the saddle. He checked the valley for any sign of his wolves. They had been told to hunt for another Indian camp. Morning was coming and Blood wanted a hearty breakfast.

In the morning, Burning Rabbit awoke to the sound of horses. The six had arrived. Burning Rabbit recognised them all: Stumbling Moose, Wounded Sparrow, Silent Wolf, Crippled Eagle, Black Hawk and Claw. It was the presence of the last one--Claw, that surprised him the most. Though he was the oldest, Claw was legendary among his people. He was of the eighth level, at the highest sky grade. A powerful Sorcerer, he had paid a grisly price for his magic; his left hand was missing all its digits save for his thumb and forefinger, the rest was a gnarled knot of scar tissue. Also missing was his right ear and eye. His face, like Burning Rabbit's, was a nest of scar tissue.

Claw had whittled his fingers off one by one, sacrificing them to Nanibush, the rest he lost during a sacrifice to Kitchi Manitou. It was said he climbed high up onto a rocky crag and placed his head into an eagle's nest where he cracked and drank the eggs, then waited for the mother's return, with his face turned skyward toward the sun. He had killed the bird using nothing more than his teeth, but the cost had been great.

Led by Claw, they all dismounted. Burning Rabbit pulled out his pipe and offered them smoke. Once taken, they were all bound to take part in the hunt for the Windigo. Each accepted the pipe. Claw gripped Burning Rabbit's forearm in greeting.

"It is good to see you again, my friend." he said, his eyehole glaring blackly. Claw refused to cover it up, it was effective in drawing out the cowardice in any Brave foolish enough to try and hide it from him.

Burning Rabbit met his gaze with an iron one of his own.

Silent Wolf drew his fur robe tighter against the cold wind. He too was a seasoned shaman who had spent the last two weeks fasting trying to summon up a vision of his spirit animal, the mighty timberwolf. This left him a little weak, but he was determined to be a part of this, knowing that many stories would be told of their bravery, the tales passed on to their descendants.

"We have all heard of your powerful vision. " he said, his voice surprisingly deep and loud for one so small and thin.

"Yes," said Claw, now smiling at Burning Rabbit, "but tell us, have you learned anything new?"

"It was definitely the Windigo," Rabbit replied, pointing down at a large footprint, then up at the outcropping ridge. "He gathered his horse up there and headed west."

Claw nodded. "We must follow quickly, before the storm covers his tracks."

They remounted, headed up the ridge and followed Blood's hoofprints down the valley.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood knew someone was following him; he could smell them. Pulling up his horse after cresting a large hill, he turned in his saddle to look back the way he'd come. He could make out seven figures on horseback at the other end of the valley. If he stopped here, it would take them a full day to reach him. This is going to be very amusing, Blood thought, and he turned his horse around to head back towards the seven riders. The three wolves followed their master.

 

 

* * *

 

The shaman set up their camp beneath a canopy of pine branches where the ground was dry and clear of snow. Stumbling Moose started a campfire. He was well-named, for he was the largest of the group and, by using bear grease, had formed his hair so that it was peaked and tufted on each side of his head to resemble antlers.

Black Hawk was another shaman with a formidable record. It was said he could ourun the wind. During the annual Festival of the Dead, he would always win the footrace. His body was scarred as well, especially his chest. Each Spring, as part of the Awakening Festival, he would hold a wolverine over his heart so that the enraged animals claws could slash at his chest in order to symbolically release the replenishing energies of Spring's new life. He was tall, dark and lean and as his name bespoke, his large nose was hooked and tapered to a point like a beak.

Wounded Sparrow, the youngest next to Grey Rabbit, was responsible for the food. Known for his prowess with a bow, it didn't take too long before he downed three quail and had them roasting over the fire. Claw was given the choice of first piece as a sign of respect for his age and station. Grey Rabbit tore off a leg and chewed the crispy meat slowly, savouring the taste as the juices dribbled down his chin.

The storm had died down which was good because if much more snow had fallen, the demon's tracks , almost filled with snow now, would have been totally obscured. Crippled Eagle placed his single hand in one of the hoof prints left by the demon's horse, then raised his fingers to his nose and sniffed. He repeated this three times, each time his face growing more and more concerned.

"He is coming to us." he said pointing his other arm toward the valley. Crippled Eagle's left arm ended at the wrist, the hand having been struck off during a raid on the Iroquois. It was said he killed six warriors while the stump sprayed his blood throughout the enemy camp. Now, tied to the wrist stump with leather thongs, there was a carved wooden rake with five eagle claws fixed onto its fingers. It made a formidable weapon.

"He will be here before the dawn."

"We must be ready." Claw said, untying his medicine bag. From it, he withdrew seven stones which he placed in a circle around them. "Your spirit guide commanded you to drive him north by fire." he said to Grey Rabbit, "and so shall we all. These are firestones and will aid us. There is one for each of us and we must strike them all together to create a fire strong enough to defeat the Windigo."

Although they were all familiar with flint and how it was used, they gave rapt attention as Claw continued. "First we each must make an offering to the Gods and anoint our stones."

He withdrew his ceremonial knife, raised his already deformed hand over the fire stone and then slowly began whittling the skin off his thumb. His blood droplets sank into the stone to sanctify the flint. The others followed suit.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood watched them from behind a large cedar stump. He counted seven... seven old men. He had expected young warriors who wanted to prove themselves, and was very disappointed. This would be over far too quickly. Perhaps I'll play with them awhile.

Stepping away from the stump, Blood headed for their fire, his long coat's tail fluttering up behind him in the wind like two dark wings. His low, gutteral growl reached the ears of the oldest Shaman.

Claw looked up at the approaching demon. "It is time," he said, gathering up his unlit torch. He waited until the other's had theirs and, as one, they struck the seven flints together. The shower of sparks set each torch aflame, and with their backs to the pine tree, they awaited the arrival of the Windigo. Each was afraid, but each kept his mind clear as a still pond. The torches danced their shadows across the snow.

Blood stepped into the light. He watched as the oldest stepped towards him, the others following.

"Come, my children," he grinned, his mouth widened with teeth. "Come to me."

Grey Rabbit stepped in front of Claw and thrust his torch at the demon. Blood swiped it out of his hand and it fell, sputtering to the snow. You should have brought your war lance, Blood thought as he grabbed Grey Rabbit by the throat. Claw and the others quickly thrust their torches at Blood and his long coat flared into flames. Enraged, Blood threw Grey Rabbit into the air and against a large pine, where he crumpled, unconscious. Blood tried to remove his coat but it had already melted to his skin. The flames licked at his hair and face and black, sooty smoke barrelled up into the night. Blood screamed. He had never felt such pain, not for thousands of years. The shaman continued to poke their torches at him. Howling in fear and frustration, Blood fled back into the darkness and rolled himself over and over in the snow until the fire was out. Silently and in great agony, he sent his wolves a message and crept deeper into the forest to wait.

When Grey Rabbit awoke with a splitting headache, he was surprised to see the others gathered around him. Fearfully, he searched for signs of the Windigo.

"Are you all right?" Claw asked, helping him to his feet.

Grey Rabbit nodded. "I think so." The Windigo had been even more frightening and hideous than in his nightmares. No one had ever seen a white man before and this added to the horror.

"Where is he?"

They pointed northward into the darkness of the deep forest.

"We have hurt the Windigo," Claw said, "but we need to continue. He must not escape us."

Claw was on his way to their horses when suddenly, seemingly from thin air, a large wolf hurtled out of the night and struck Silent Wolf square in the chest, bowling him over. Before he could recover, the wolf tore out his throat.

From nowhere three more wolves appeared. One jumped on Wounded Sparrow and tore open his stomach then ran off into the night, with the dead Shaman's intestines trailing like sausages from his jaws. The two others jumped on Stumbling Moose, and he fell to his knees, one wolf attached to his face, the other to his groin. Using his clawed hand, Crippled Eagle pounded the one on Moose's face, but he was too late. Stumbling Moose folded into the snow face first. Enraged, Cripple Eagle lifted up the wolf and snapped its back over his knee. Burning Rabbit had his hands full with the other. One of his hands gripped the top of the wolf's snout, while the other grabbed his lower jaw. Grey Rabbit used all his strength to pry them apart. Desperate, the wolf whipped his head from side to side, it's hind legs churning in the snow, its front claws tearing at Grey Rabbit's tunic. He gave a wrench and was rewarded with a loud snap, as the jaw broke. He tossed the wolf aside and it ran off, howling in pain. Black Hawk gave chase, but returned minutes later, empty-handed and shaking his head.

Grey Rabbit stood up and surveyed the carnage. Three bodies lay twisted and bloody in the snow. He realised they were now down to almost half strength. Together they sang the traditional death songs and chants of the Ojibwa while they waited for the dawn to bury their friends. The only good thing about the death of his friends, Grey Rabbit thought, was that at least they now knew the Windigo was not invulnerable and could be hurt.

 

 

* * *

 

A few miles away, Blood rested on his horse and nursed his right arm, which had suffered the worst in the fire. He had expected the pain to diminish and the healing to begin but, in horror, he realised this was not happening. His arm remained charred and withered, it hung uselessly from his body like a rotting cabbage. The same was true of his other wounds. They were not healing. Blood was puzzled, as this had never happened before. For the first time fear crept into his cold heart and he almost jumped out of the saddle when one of his wolves suddenly appeared from behind the trees. He clutched his reins in an angry fist and turned his horse northward away from the Ojibwas. Beaten by seven old men, he ground his teeth in anger, his face flushed with shame. He didn't know what had gone wrong, but until he figured it out, he wanted no part of them. He decided to put as many miles between them as possible. Kicking his horse and hoping he'd lose them, he headed for the tundra.

A week of hard, steady riding brought the remaining four shaman to the icy shores of the Hudson Bay. They had carefully circumvented any signs of other native camps; the Windigo was not their only enemy. Though the weather was colder the further north they travelled, the storm had abated and the sky, surprisingly, was a clear blue. They pulled up to camp in the late afternoon. The icy wind had picked up a bit and so they dug a clearing and built a wall with packed snow to act as a wind barrier. The Bay's cold, grey water stretched far into the horizon, its icy waves beat the frozen shore in an endless ritual.

Black Hawk built a fire with the bit of dry wood he'd found. Forests were becoming thinner and thinner the farther north they travelled. The landscape now consisted mainly of vast, empty stretches of snow covered hills and occasional copses of trees.

Their supplies were running low and they had not spotted very much game in this country. Grey Rabbit prepared a meagre meal of dried moose meat and breaded cornmeal. They chewed slowly, relishing the warmth of the fire. When he was finished, Crippled Eagle once again placed his good hand into one of the tracks they were following.

"He is a half day's ride from us." he said. "If we rest our horses overnight, we should be able to catch him tomorrow some time after sunset."

"Then we shall rest." said Claw drawing his robes tightly around him.

Grey Rabbit covered up as well. He didn't relish the idea of another encounter with the Windigo, especially during the night, but he knew it was out of their hands and in that of the spirits. Hopefully, his father's was watching out for them.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood's horse staggered in the snowbank, barely staying on its feet. The exhausted animal's sides were heaving, nostrils sucking for air. Blood had driven it relentlessly onward through marshlands and snow, never pausing for more than an hour at a time. Blood was definitely worried, he knew now how it felt to be hunted. He could not shake those damn Indians. He tried sending back his remaining wolf, but the damn creature wouldn't obey. He would have to wait and hope he would encounter more of its kind. He kicked the horse viciously, forcing it onward.

Finally, the poor animal stumbled and fell, the sound of its front leg snapping echoed into the hills. Blood was thrown head first into a snolw bank. Snarling in rage, he stood up and brushed the clumps of snow from his hair and coat. He walked over to his horse and, cursing, kicked it between the eyes. The horse struggled weakly to stand but was unsuccessful. Its brown eyes widened in terror as the wolf approached, sniffing. The wolf lifted up its large grey head and looked at Blood.

"Take it." he said, turning to look back at the way he'd come. He walked over to a small cope of Maple, and sat beneath the canopy provided by their branches.

"Come then," he said, placing his hands on his knees, the burnt arm still throbbing with pain. "If you must, then come." Behind him, he could hear the wolf gorging itself, and he in turn grew hungry.

 

 

* * *

 

The night had been quiet and peaceful for the four Shamans, and in the morning, with their mounts refreshed and eager, they headed north. At the start, Crippled Eagle took the lead, his eyes never leaving the tracks. It was slow going, the snow so deep in places, the horses sank up to their bellies. Still, with their nostrils steaming like hot springs, the horses kept onward. Each rider took a turn in front, breaking the trial for the others. In this way, no horse was over-used.

Grey Rabbit thought he was going blind. Everything was painted in white. The snow glared and sparkled under the sun. His eyes were tired from the constant squinting and his face was hot and burning. The icy wind added to the needle-like pain. He knew before long his face would blister, but if the others could endure it quietly, then so would he. He stared out at the seemingly endless, white horizon and wished he was back home with Little Dove and his son. He wondered what the first animal his son killed would be, and how his son would be named. At four years old, Grey Rabbit doubted his son was ready for the naming ritual.

Black Hawk, now in front, spotted a group of Maple trees in the distance crowning a small snow-covered hill. There was something dark lying in the banks beside the trees, but Black Hawk couldn't make it out clearly. With a war cry, he kicked his horse and raced wildly toward the hill. The others tried in vain to call him back, but the wind carried away their words. Hurrying, they whipped their reins and followed.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood watched, smiling, as one of the Indians broke from the group and headed his way. He got up and climbed one of the trees, hiding himself behind one of its thick centre branches and waited. He spoke silently to the wolf.

Black Hawk came to an abrupt halt when he saw that the carcass in the snow was a horse. His eyes were searching the area for any sign of its rider when the wolf leapt out from behind a tree. It hurtled itself at Black Hawk and knocked him off his horse. Before he regained his feet, Blood had reached him. The demon embedded the claws of his good arm in the Shaman's skull. With a single, savage wretch, Blood ripped the man's head off and then drank greedily from the jetting stump of the neck. Blood was soon slick from the fountain, a thin sheen of blood freezing almost immediately in his hair. He dropped the body after nuzzling the bloody stump one last time, then ran back to hide in the tree.

 

 

* * *

 

Hurrying, they watched in helpless horror as the Windigo ended Black Hawk's life. Crippled Eagle wanted to race ahead but Claw held him back.

"We must relight our weapons, " Claw said, dismounting.

They followed, struck their firestones together and relit their torches. Slowly they advanced up the hill. They had seen the Windigo leap back into the tree so they searched the branches.

"There he is!" shouted Crippled Eagle, pointing with his wooden claw.

They gathered together some kindling and set the tree on fire. Soon, flames were licking throughout its branches. Blood leapt to another tree. They watched his flight in frustration, then lit that tree as well. Blood flew to another. This went on well into the night, when suddenly, the shaman realised they were in danger too. The fire had spread unnoticed and now encircled them as well. Claw, less agile than the younger two, tripped on a root and fell to the ground. Overhead, a flaming branch broke off and landed on his back. His bear-greased hair and fur robe caught fire instantly. He rolled himself over and over trying to put it out.

Grey Rabbit and Crippled Eagle stood still in momentary shock. The smoke and fire disorientated them. Blood saw his chance, jumped from his perch in a tree, grabbed Claw by the hair and effortlessly dragged him out of the copse into a clearing. In seconds he tore out the old man's throat and left him in the snow with his head tilted upwards, one unseeing eye glaring at the moon and the other empty socket slowly filling with blood. Then, Blood crested another hilltop and disappeared down its far slope.

 

 

* * *

 

Coughing and using their robes to beat back the flames, Grey Rabbit and Crippled Eagle cleared a way out of the trees. Together they found Claw and stood over his body. He's taken our strongest, Grey Rabbit thought, now what chance do we have? He glanced at Crippled Eagle who was busy looking at the Windigo's tracks which led down and over the next hill. Suddenly, a terrible scream pierced the night.

"Come on, " Cripple Eagle commanded, racing down the hill. Burning Rabbit followed.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood tripped in the snow and tumbled down the rest of the hill. At the bottom. he rose shakily to his feet, spit out a mouthful of snow and frantically looked back up the hill behind him. So far he couldn't see them, perhaps the fire claimed them. If so, Blood would dance on their ashy bones. This thought was interrupted when he heard movement to his right. Quickly, he spun around, then horrified at what he saw, screamed.

 

 

* * *

 

Grey Rabbit tried to keep up with Crippled Eagle but his shorter legs wouldn't allow it and he found himself struggling waist deep in snow. He tried crying out when the wolf attacked again. This time it came in fast and low and took a chunk out of the back of Grey Rabbit's neck. He cried out in shock more than in pain and scrambled wildly at his belt searching for his knife. In front of him the wolf circled, its head lowered, fangs barred and dripping. With a snarl, it leaped just as Grey Rabbit's fist found the knife's bone handle. He managed to get it out before the wolf struck, tearing the left side of his face so that his skin was left hanging in a great bloody flap that drooped onto his neck. He grabbed the wolf's head with one hand and with the other drove the knife into the soft chin and up all the way into its brain. Its tongue lolled out and it dropped into the snow, stone-dead.

Grey Rabbit caught his breath and tried to put the bleeding flap back where it belonged but failed. During the fight with the wolf, his torch had gone out but he spotted Cripple Eagle on a hilltop, silhouetted against the sky and looking down at something on the other side. Struggling through the snow, he joined him and looked down as well.

 

 

* * *

 

Blood found himself surrounded by three gigantic white bears. Slowly, they stood up on hind legs. They towered over even him, each three tons of white furred flesh, fang and claw. He had never seen anything like them, their small bullet shaped heads, the blue glinting eyes that shone with wicked intelligence. When they roared, Blood fell babbling, to his knees. When the first one struck, its claw took out Blood's left side from his shoulder to his hip. It snatched the meat up with enormous jaws and began to eat. Blood tried dragging himself away from the others. Strangely, he felt no pain, the whole thing seemed so unreal. He held a handful of his intestines and tried shoving the purple coils back into his body. They burst like rotted fruit in his fingers. This isn't happening to me, he thought, just before the other two tore him to shreds and devoured him. When the beasts finished there was nothing left, not even one bone. Sniffing the night air, they spotted the two Indians on the hilltop. Licking the blood from their beautiful moonlit fur, they advanced up the hill.

 

 

* * *

 

In amazement, Grey Rabbit and Crippled Eagle watched the bears destroy the Windigo. The were so stunned they almost failed to see the danger they were in. Grey Rabbit noticed it first.

"Come on!" he shouted, grabbing his friends shoulder and spinning him around. Together they raced down the hill, away from the white bears, with Crippled Eagle once again in the lead. They could hear the beasts snorting and roaring behind them. Grey Rabbit tripped, falling heavily. He immediately curled himself up into a ball. He hoped the end would be quick, but was surprised when the bears charged past him, their snouts spraying him with snot and saliva. They paid him no mind, instead they bulldozed over Crippled Eagle, tearing him to bloody shreds before he could even cry out. Again, they left nothing but blood-stained snow. Grey Rabbit watched them trudge away, finally disappearing over a hill. They completely ignored him.

Before returning to his tribe, Grey Rabbit buried the remains of his friends and sang the proper death songs. Then, taking his horse and those of his fallen friends, he began the long, lonely ride home.

A week after having returned to his lodge, Grey Rabbit had another vision of the Great White Bear. This time Grey Rabbit's father rode upon the creature's enormous shoulder. In it the beast replayed the death of Crippled Eagle. When Grey Rabbit asked why he had been spared and his friend had not, his father replied, "The Gods do nothing without collecting a sacrifice, my son." Since then, Grey Rabbit had many more adventures and visions, but it was the last he'd ever see or hear of the white bears.

Three months later, the flap on his face healed and was just another scar among many. Grey Rabbit watched as his son, Slow Turtle, played with the rawhide fringes of Little Dove's dress. It's not exactly a warrior's name, he thought, smiling, but he had a feeling his son would grow up to be a wise, strong brave. He lifted his wife's braids and softly kissed the back of her neck.

 

 

* * *

 

The legend of the shamans' battle with the Windigo spread through song and dance. It grew in size and scope through word of mouth over many campfires, finally passing into myth. And the stories always began: Of all the bear creatures in the World, only the great and mighty Polar bear, who is possessed by the evil Windigo, the demon that lives forever, hunts man.

 

© 1995 by Dietmar Trommeshauser

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?