The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo
Ashkewheteasu, Book 1
by Rose Anderson
Calliope’s Writing Tablet
eBook ASIN: B00AFFFESI
An immortal Native American shaman seeking to end his life, assumes the form of a wolf and gets hit by a car. Veterinarian Livie Rosalini doesn’t know the dog she’s taken into her home and grows to love is a magical being seeking to win her heart as a man.
Ten years ago, a reporter for a small-town newspaper heard word of strange dawn and dusk sightings of a wolf-like creature roaming the Wisconsin countryside. Her investigation revealed the local police officials had initially taken these calls lightly, but this had changed when calls began coming from upstanding citizens.
Authorities had determined what these eyewitnesses had actually seen was a lone wolf broken off from a pack running in the wilds of northern Wisconsin. Young male wolves seeking to start a new pack are known to strike off on their own. Leaving the vast stretches of wooded landscape, they might travel one hundred miles in a day. It seemed likely. However, the witnesses were adamant that what they’d seen had been no ordinary wolf. This wolf walked like a man.
Intrigued, the reporter collected the stories. To her surprise, other witnesses came forward telling of sightings that they’d never reported. In fact, some eyewitness accounts had occurred more than seventy years prior, the details only whispered to relatives who were sworn to secrecy lest friends and neighbors think heavy drinking was involved. These stories she also collected, for she knew hushed secrecy was not a direction fame-seekers usually take.
More curious now, the reporter deepened her investigation and uncovered another bizarre detail: the sightings were mentioned in ancient oral traditions of the Native Americans in the region. In those tales, dog men or witchy wolves looked after burial mounds in much the same way jackal-headed Anubis guarded the tombs of ancient Egypt. And even more bizarre, early French explorers knew of them too. They called these wolf-men the loup-garou.
Good lord it’s hot. Pulling her blue bandana from her back pocket, Cora mopped the sweat from her brow and mentally tallied the extras needed for the next day: Gatorade, ice, definitely more shade tarps. She’d only found out at nine o’clock the night before that this unique otter effigy mound was being plowed under — greedy bastards with friends in high places had an industrial park to build.With only a few hours’ notice, they’d thrown the dig together and as a result, were unprepared for the oppressive August heat. Worse, they had just one week to do the archeological excavation, and this heat wave was expected to last for a week or more. Surprised by the heat of the metal against her lips, Cora took a sip from her steel water bottle and frowned. The water was hot enough to steep tea in. Checking her watch, she eyed the sky through a haze of humidity. The angle of the afternoon sun would soon make conditions even more unbearable for her staff.
It was hard to miss red-faced Cherise standing by the screen tables. Heading that way, Cora’s frown deepened. The woman’s normally parchment-pale skin was mottled pink with exertion, her bright red face almost as brilliant as the flaming orange-red tendrils of hair peeking out of the wide-brimmed straw hat she wore. Weighing their safety against the time they didn’t have, Cora decided there was no choice. That’s enough, I’m calling it.
She waved, drawing the attention of her crew. “All right, pack it in for the day, people. Let’s go home. It’s too hot out here!”
Cherise called, “Just finishing up a load, boss.”
“Okay, don’t rush.” Cora unfolded the blue plastic tarps while she waited for the junior archeologist to finish sifting the soil they’d dug from the opened mound. The work would need to be covered. She glanced down, at the ancient skeleton long since disjointed. Visible legs, lower arms, and pelvic and rib bones lay partially exposed. She stood by as Cherise shook the frame. Small bone and artifacts remained on the screen while soil fell through the mesh to mound below. White flecks on the tray catching her eye, she held up a hand to halt the sifting.
Cherise stopped and mopped her brow with the back of her hand and created a muddy streak across her forehead. She helped pick the artifacts from the larger clumps. Carefully crumbling the chunks with their fingers, they found more than a dozen freshwater pearls, several pearlescent nacre disks cut from the inside of mussel shells, and a tiny white fang with a small hole drilled in it to make a bead.
Cora blew dirt off the fang to get a better look. “A fox tooth, I think. And more pearls.”
“Yep, close to fifty pearls in this load alone.” Cherise picked out three more pearls and wiped them off as best she could before turning them out of her grimy palm into Cora’s hand.
“Fifty pearls from this one load?”
“Mmm hmm.” Cherise passed over six more pearls, two nacre disks, and another fox fang bead.
“If we’re finding that many in a single sift, her necklace must have contained several ropes of pearls rather than a strand. This was a woman of standing. I think it safe to say that the closer we get to the skull, the more we’ll find.”
It was no small feat to drill pearls and teeth and cut shell disks. Cora considered the opened burial. The delineated soil variations reinforced her earlier opinion that this was a rare intaglio mound. Not all burial or effigy mounds were done in the round like this one. The image had been cut into the ground then all the soil removed to create an exact whole-body impression of the animal. The soil was then put back in and more was added until a three-dimensional mound was made. This one was otter-shaped. If it were possible to remove only the otter shape from the soil, it would be a perfect three-dimensional design. She voiced her opinion to the woman beside her.
“I think you’re right.” Cherise pointed a grubby finger. “See there? The variations are very clear at the left femur.”
Stooping to get a better look, Cora said, “Ooh yeah. There’s obvious basket mounding, and here I see evidence of mounding below the remains too. That’s intaglio, all right.” She shook her head at the tremendous loss. It was a crime to destroy such an amazing archeological treasure. Her mind quickly composed the phone calls she’d make the following day to try to get more time to do this excavation right instead of rushing. It was someone’s grave after all. But final resting place for a woman held in high regard by her people or not, there was no hope of canceling the project all together. Money talked louder than she ever could.
Cherise hosed the trowels with water from the pump pack. “What do you think that extra work was for? I mean, dig out the shape with stone and bone tools, then fill in the shape again one basket full of dirt at a time….”
Cora finished, “And keep filling until the shape is also above ground?”
“Yeah. A little labor intensive don’t you think?”
Cora nodded. “To us this seems like a lot of effort, but this is a fraction of the effort the ancient Egyptians devoted to theirdead. If you care that the departed travel to the spirit realm, you do what your culture determines the best method of travel to be.”
The flow of the hose was weakening. Cherise pumped more air pressure into the water pump.
It was obvious the young woman’s energy was waning. Placing a hand on the handle, Cora cautioned her red-faced associate, “Stop now, you look exhausted and you’re as red as a beet with that sunburn.”
The younger woman looked her arms. “Ooh. That’s gonna hurt. I must have sweated off the sunscreen. Great, more freckles on top of a burn.” She murmured the last under her breath.
Doubting the junior archeologist had been drinking enough, Cora picked up Cherise’s water bottle and handed it over. “Here, drink. Freckles will be the least of your problems if you get heat stroke.”
Cherise took a swig and wrinkled her nose. “Jesus, that’s hot.”
Cora covered the sifting screen with a blue tarp. “Take a cool shower when you get home. Drink for God’s sake, and get some rest.”
“Yeah, I could use a cold beer right about now.”
“So could I, but I was referring to water.”
“Sureyou were, boss.” Cherise chuckled and handed over the bungee cords that would secure the plastic cover. “You know it’s going to be near one hundred again tomorrow. High humidity like today too. We should start earlier, huh?”
Cora let her breath out slowly, deciding what to do. Coming in early was the last thing she wanted because John was taking her out on their bimonthly rain-or-shine date tonight. Good judgment won the internal debate. “Okay. We’ll come in early and finish this pile before the heat of the day. She jerked her thumb to the small stand of oaks. “We’ll bag and catalog under the fly in the shade over there. I’ll finish up here. Go home and cool off.”
Cora called to the others, “See you in the morning guys. We’re starting at six to beat the heat. Don’t forget to drink water tonight to rehydrate, and eat a pretzel or something like that. You’ll need the salt.” Her words were met with nods and good byes. Alone now, Cora crouched beside the opened mound and carefully unrolled the last sheet of plastic canvas. Before she turned and walked away she spoke softly, as if the bones could hear. “I’m so sorry we’re disturbing your peace. I wish I could have stopped all this, but I’m powerless.” With that, she left.
A large curious field mouse scurried over the top of the burial mound. He watched the people, his gaze pulling time and again first to the fire-haired young woman leaving with the others, then to the slightly older woman who’d stayed behind to spread a blue covering over the soil with obvious care.
Sensing the people were gone, the mouse drew a deep breath. Suddenly his form changed from mouse to rabbit, from rabbit to fox, and then from fox into a wolf with unusual black markings on its face. This higher vantage allowed him to check the area before continuing. Confident he was alone, his legs lengthened as he slowly shifted from wolf on four legs to a wolf on two. His muzzle shortened, as did his ears. A moment later he stood as a man.
His throat tightened as he walked amongst the tables and pails. A small bone caught his eye and he bent to pick it up. He stared a long while, seeing but not seeing the hand it belonged to so long ago. It was his task to watch over this resting place, and his task alone. Coming here later than usual today, there was nothing he could do to stop the white man’s destruction. His eyes filled with tears as his fist closed around the finger bone. Slumping to the ground, he sobbed in anguished sorrow.
There was no sense to this. What kind of people disturb the dead? Couldn’t they see this was sacred ground, a resting place? Composing himself, he wiped the tears from his eyes before reverently setting the small bone back in the opened mound.
Twilight fast approaching, he faced the setting sun, his palms held up to the sky. He hadn’t spoken for a very long time and doing so now, his voice sounded dry and strange to his ears. “Sky Father I have failed, I beg your forgiveness!”
Kneeling, he pressed his hands to the ground. “Earth Mother, I beg forgiveness. I have failed in my task…”
Rising, he turned his back to the sun and held his arms out wide. “Wind Spirits of the East, I beg forgiveness for this failure.” Turning, he croaked, “Wind Spirits of the South, I beg…”
He rasped his plea to the remaining directions and the spirits who dwelled there, and then addressed the mound and the body that lay within, “Aiyanna my love, my heart. I have watched over you through time but I can watch no longer. Please forgive me, I have failed you….” His throat choked close. Swallowing hard, he whispered to the earth that half-covered his wife, “Again.”
Kneeling beside the dirt-encrusted bones, he pulled the cover away to expose them fully. The small bones of the baby he knew laid with its mother had dissolved in the acids of the soil. Gently digging through the loam between the exposed rib bones, his fingers found the bird stone, its cord long since returned to the earth. Holding it now, he remembered…
Aiyanna dabbed the freshly-sutured skin on his back with a wash of nettle juice followed by freshly-dug blue mud from the riverbank, a treatment her river people always used to heal deep wounds. “These are worse than the last, Ash. Your muscle is torn this time.”
The sting momentarily stole his breath but Aiyanna’s skillful application of cool mud quickly eased the discomfort. This poultice she covered with a dressing of soft rabbit skin then secured all with leather strips that went under Ash’s arms and around his chest.
Soothed under her loving touch, he stifled a weary yawn. After three days without sleep, under the dark of a moonless sky, Eluwilussit, his teacher in ways of the Midewin spirit path, had prepared Ash by piercing the flesh above his shoulder blades with sharpened bone. The skewers were secured to a rope of braided moose hair attached to a bent and supple sapling. He’d hung there with warm blood running down the backs of his legs, his mind enveloped in a haze of pain.
His hand went to the smooth stone he wore on a cord around his neck. He knew Eluwilussit’s extreme method was not needed to take him to the White World. Carved by the esteemed elder’s own hand, this gift from old Nawkaw could fly his mind there. Beside instructions for its use, Nawkaw had made it very clear that Eluwilussit must never know how to use the stone. The reason for secrecy was not revealed nor had there been time to ask; for the very next day Nawkaw had died in his sleep. Sadness took Ash’s mind. He missed his dear old teacher.
His training in ways of spirit abruptly ended that day. Eluwilussit assumed Nawkaw’s place as their clan’s Manidoowadizi and inexplicably denied further training to Ash. Driven to learn all that was necessary to heal and minister to his people, he traveled first to the Goose clan and then to the Otter clan to learn from their medicine men. Returning home three years later, he was surprised to find Eluwilussit eager to resume the training that had been left unfinished with old Nawkaw’s unexpected passing. It made sense at the time to accept Eluwilussit’s offer for the man was fully trained by Nawkaw.
And nearly a full year later, this was a bargain Ash regretted. Having given his word to Eluwilussit to take the training without question, Ash endured torture. Pain, according to his new teacher, opened the mind to the Great Mystery and though it divine messages would come. This teaching was beyond Ash’s comprehension because gentle old Nawkaw would never have used such methods nor would the Goose and Otter clans’ Manidoowadizii.
Aiyanna’s grandfather Wynono was the Medicine Man of the Otter clan. The elder had been good friends with Nawkaw and more than once he’d voiced his disapproval of Eluwilussit’s harsh method of teaching spirit ways. But one man did not tell another how to teach, especially one Medicine Man to another of a different clan. That was for the Sky Father to determine. The most Wynono could do was teach Ash the Otter clan way to spirit.
The gentle path to spirit was not enough for Eluwilussit. The man was driven to push Ash to the White World through abstention from food, water, and sleep. Twice now the lessons involved intense pain. This time, like the last, the Medicine Man thrust sharpened bone pins through his skin. And sure enough the Manitou spoke to his pain-altered mind and told Ash that as long as he walked the truest path, no request would be denied. He had asked for the wisdom to do his best for his people and his wife. The embodiment of God said, “Ashkewheteasu, why do you ask nothing for yourself?”
Ash replied, “Because, Sky Father, caring for them is enough.”
The Manitou spoke again. “The way is not always clear nor is it free of pain, but time brings understanding of all things.” Then silence.
The message received, Ash’s legs buckled under his exhausted and weakened body. Consciousness left him as he collapsed to the ground, tearing the pins from his flesh as he did.
Aiyanna kissed his neck. “There, the river’s blue clay will help you heal. Is this necessary, my love? My uncle set the pins too deep this time.”
They were deep and extremely painful. Though her tender care brought slight ease to the pain, he felt the throbbing ache of his wounds all the way to his fingertips. He said, “Your uncle is Manidoowadizi now and I have given my word to take the training as he decides. I do not know if this path is necessary, but my word holds me to it. As it was, the pain brought me before the Sky Father again.”
As though he lurked outside and overheard the conversation, Eluwilussit entered the wigwam uninvited, asking with no little surprise, “What is this you say? You were before the Manitou and He spoke to you? And what do you mean … again?”
“Indeed. My mind was opened in my pain, this time as the last.” Eluwilussit didn’t meet Ash’s eyes; his gaze remained on the bird stone. There was something in the way the man stared at the stone that brought disquiet to Ash’s mind and the words of old Nawkaw returned sharply. “Never let Eluwilussit know that you understand how the bird stone is used.” For the first time, he wondered if the man knew its secret magic.
Eluwilussit pressed, “You did not mention this to me. What did Sky Father tell you?”
Ash looked at the shaman. Eluwilussit’s odd red birthmark just below his eye appeared even more spider-like in the partial light streaming through the wigwam’s bark walls. “Such a conversation is private, is it not?”
Eluwilussit smiled. “It might be, yes. But I am your teacher. We have agreed that I should know these things.”
Eluwilussit’s training felt wrong to his mind from the very beginning. Harsh from the onset, the man’s lessons became brutal after Ash visited the Otter clan last summer and brought Aiyanna home as his wife. He was about to tell him his conversation with the Manitou when a thought suddenly entered his mind: Tell no one the Sky Father’s exact words. Old Nawkaw had told him such an inspired thought always came from the Sky Father himself and must be heeded. So amending what he was about to say, Ash told him instead, “Sky Father said, ‘No request would be denied.’”
Eluwilussit’s eyes grew bright. “There will be further knowledge for us! You must experience another ordeal, tomorrow night.”
Laying a hand on Ash’s upper arm, Aiyanna shook her head at the elder. “His wounds are not healed, Uncle. Surely this can wait for the next dark of the moon.”
Eluwilussit’s eyes challenged his pupil, but his gentle words were directed at his niece by marriage, “But my dear omiimii, who knows best? A woman or an initiate of the Midewin?”
Covering his wife’s hand with his own, Ash said, “I have given my word to take your uncle’s training my love. I must do this.”
Eluwilussit reached forward and rubbed her arm in a gesture of affection. “See, omiimii? Ashkewheteasu is a man who knows what must be done.”
Feeling his wife’s discomfort through the hand he held, Ash sought to speed the man on his way. He assured his teacher, “I will be ready.”
Eluwilussit gave a satisfied nod and winked at Aiyanna before leaving them.
Leading her to stand before him, Ash met her frown.
She shook her head. “I do not believe he cares what Sky Father has to say to you. To me it appears he is interested in a clear path to the White World.”
While Aiyanna’s insightful words rang true, the truth in them made no sense. Ash couldn’t imagine what Eluwilussit was looking for. Was it possible the man forgot his training? “It appears so, yes. But a clear path already exists to him. As Manidoowadizi he only needs to open his mind to travel to the White World, and once there, the ancestors will answer any question he asks.”
“He asks too much…”
He met his wife’s lovely brown eyes. “Eluwilussit is Manidoowadizi of the Bear clan now. I wish it were otherwise but it is not. Yes, I too believe he asks too much but I have given my word to learn all he can teach me without question.”
“But, I have much to learn if I am to look after our people as my heart says I must.”
She absently rubbed her arm where the other man had touched her. “I know this, my love, but there is jealousy in his eyes when he looks at you. Others have seen it as well and this brings me worry.”
He considered her words. Ash knew his people quietly speculated on the reason Aiyanna’s aunt Bemidii had left Eluwilussit, her husband. Many noticed his outward attraction to his niece. This was obvious. Ash saw it clearly today when the man’s eyes and hand caressed her. He heard it in his voice when Eluwilussit called her his dear little dove. When this training ended, he would take his wife to live with her Otter clan. Until then, his life was in Eluwilussit’s hands and he would take part in the training as it was given, no matter what was asked. Pushing the thought of her uncle aside, Ash undid Aiyanna’s laces and gently pulled the leather garment from her shoulders. Splaying his fingers over the rounded bump of her belly, he leaned his forehead against her. Her fingers combed through his hair.
He kissed his unborn child nestled safe and warm within her, and whispered softly, “Sky Father smiled the day you were born, and smiles on me every day since my eyes first touched upon you.”
Lifting his head with both hands, she kissed him before murmuring at his lips, “Ah, you love me then?”
He smiled. She always asked just like that and he always answered the same, “More than love you.” Kissing her lips and cheeks and chin, his hands stroked her belly. “I will love you forever.”
Aiyanna smiled against his lips. “Forever is a very long time, my love.”
Ash squeezed his eyes closed. He rarely allowed himself to remember that old life, and this fading memory sat like a burning coal in his heart. Yanking a dried nettle stem from the ground, he pulled the fibers apart and deftly made a length of cordage. Testing it for strength, he strung the carved bird stone and tied it around his neck.
Kneeling beside the skeletal remains, Ash dusted his hands in the soil around the bones and rubbed the precious dirt over his face and chest in renewed mourning. Tears of grief leaving muddy streaks down his face, he took a deep breath and focused his mind. Fur and claws appeared as his body reduced in size and once more the wolf stood where a man had been but a moment ago.