The Memoir of Ongwe Ias as dictated to Leon Bourgeois, Friend of the Hand
I am in a strange place with you. The houses are tall not long. The houses are stone and are lit without fire. The people wear the pelts of strange animals in unnatural colors. I see the People of the Flame in dark places between the houses, lingering by the strange lines that are strung through the town, hungry. Crow is here but his brother Raven has gone north. I am in the home of my two spirits1, sitting on a soft bed. I see my two spirits stir beneath the blanket. I know my own name and I remember.
I remember when in my hunger and in my rage I stalked an old woman tanning buckskin by the lake shore. She was of two spirits and so knew me, called me husband. The rage was ablated and I was taken by confusion. Her words were soothing and her disposition was friendly. I was beckoned into the longhouse and was given food, given name, given family. She was my First Wife.
Summer went on his way and Winter made himself known. When his children blanketed the ground and drove the trees to slumber the hunt became hard.
One of the family said, "Drive him out for he is not your husband true."
My First Wife did not bow for she was of two spirits and retorted, "I have chosen my husband as my husband has chosen me."
But the family did not heed and drove me out. I lost food and name and family. Blinded by hunger I caught and ate one of the family while he searched for caribou that were not there. Sated, I resumed my wandering, forgetting my First Wife until she had long since departed.
I remember many hungers, many families, many names. I remember the two spirits who knew me and made me whole. The two spirits who loved me and called me brother, husband, lover and father. Some would bid me stay in the longhouse and others would wander by my side.
I remember being grandfather in a village of many two spirits for many passings of Summer and Winter. The village was my family and they all knew my name. We harvested corn from the fields and salmon from the river. The Men of the Flint2 could not harm us for the two spirits had named me and made me family. I protect my family.
I remember the day when death came. I remember the pale, pustules, the sores, the death3. The two spirits had no answer. Before the last of the two spirits died, before the last of the family died, they bade me to set the village aflame. The sores, the death must not spread. I did. I lost my name, my family and the hunger returned.
I remember the Others4. Those who came in the wake of the death. They had among them two spirits but they did not love them. The two spirits were hidden, unawakened and did not know me.
I have been unnamed for a long time. I have hungered, and wandered and encountered no two spirits. Mindlessly I starved and stalked finding nothing. With nothing to consume I stopped hunting and remained in one place, starving, solitary, snowbound.
I do not remember much from that time. Hunger. Cold. Weakness.
A woman with an aurora in her hair and a cloud of songbirds found me. She was not of two spirits but she knew me. She approached me. Starvation held me fast, unable to bite.
"Child of mine wayward and alone." She placed her hand upon my brow and I saw the stars in her eyes5. "I have been neglectful and need to make amends." She braced her left hand upon a fallen tree; her right gripped a tomahawk. One stroke cleaved her small finger.
"Eat and take my strength. Rise and take my axe. Walk and find your name."
I did eat. When I stood she placed the tomahawk between my claws and gently pushed me away.
I did. I followed trails left by clouds through in the woods. I followed the shadow of the sun. I walked farther than I had ever walked. I passed the threads of Koyangwuti6 and returned to Pempotowwuthut-Muhhcanneuw7, to the land of Moskim8. I dove into the Muhhekunnetuk9 and began to swim but the river was hungry. A punkwudgie10 on the shore laughed at my struggle; his short body danced with mirth.
"If you help me," I called, "I will grant you a boon."
"What boon do you have to grant, drowning hunter?" It grinned through crooked teeth.
I raised the tomahawk. The trickster grinned and nodded. The waves subsided and I threw the tomahawk. He went to catch it but I was vengeful. It landed between his wicked eyes. The pallor of death bleached his gray skin. His blood mixed with the river and Glitsog the Horned Serpent11 claimed him. I dragged myself out on the far shore. A psychopomp12, a skeleton who smelled of tobacco, stopped me when I crawled out of the Muhhekunnetuk.
"You're off the res now Tonto." Its voice rattled as it spoke. "Don't go doing anything against our rules."
"Where is Manitow13?" I replied.
"Gone. Like the rest of your kind," It replied before a thunderclap broke the evening sounds. "I gotta go. Work, you know how it is." It walked into the town of tall houses.
I followed a ways but soon became lost. There were many Others but they did not know me. I took to hunger and stalked one through the streets. He spun about and stared me down. He was of two spirits.
"Do I know you?" he asked.
In his tall house, in this strange place I remembered my name.