Migisi loved how the wind tickled Kimi’s hair. The ends of her shoulder-length black tresses flicked in an imperceptible breeze.
“What are you staring at, silly?” Kimi said. “Kick it!”
Migisi dug his toe under the rag ball and kicked it high over her head. She spun, catching it neatly on her knee while balanced on one foot.
“My father should name you Stork Girl,” Migisi said. “You are skinny and have a big nose.”
“Ha.” Kimi kicked the ball back to Migisi. “He will not name me. I am leaving the tribe and will keep my name.”
Migisi ignored the rag ball. It plopped in the dirt beside him.
“No future here,” Kimi said. “My fortune lies in the East. Or the West.”
“Where the whites live,” Migisi spat.
Kimi darted forward, hooked her arm in Migisi’s elbow and favored him with a sly grin.
“Don’t be cross, Migi. If you won’t be cross, I’ll share a secret.”
Migisi waited, one eyebrow perched in question. But Kimi didn’t answer. Her attention was drawn to a commotion behind them.
The setting sun backlit the tribe’s tipis making them appear like a distant range of sharp mountains. One by one the tipis collapsed. Urgent shouts carried over the plains.
“The tribe is moving,” Migisi said.
“But it is so late.”
Chief Hunting Fox entered Healer Woman’s tipi. The scent of dried herbs, smoke, dung and sunburnt leather made his head swim. Not an unpleasant sensation, but thoughts became fuzzy inside the closed space.
Healer Woman squatted near a cooking pot gazing at a stone in her palm.
“The Wendigo comes. The people are not safe,” she said. “I have seen this.”
Hunting Fox sighed. The Moons of Change were nearly past and the tribe had found a good place to settle for the Cold and Dark Moons. He did not want to move, but Healer Woman’s prophesy would cause unease. She had been correct too often for her words to be ignored.
“Where should we go?” he asked.
“It may be too late, but the top of Grizzly Bear Lodge might be safe.”
The towering butte was at least six days away even at a brisk pace. Hunting Fox frowned. Even if they made it, many of the old people could not climb its steep sides.
“Can you not hide us some way?”
“I do not have magic to hide us all. I have this though.” Healer Woman produced a silver flute about the length of her forefinger with four holes along the top.
“A white horseman traded this to me for my help,” she said. “He said it had magic. Of course, most whites are liars.”
“Why did you take it?”
“It was pretty.” Healer Woman handed him the horseman’s flute.
“Give it to your son. It may save him at least.”
They listened to the meeting at an open fold in the Chief’s tipi. The tribe’s vanguard riders hadn’t returned since yesterday. The scouts were overdue. Grizzly Bear Lodge was still two days away.
Kimi tugged at Migisi’s jacket and gestured for him to follow.
“I want to hear what—”
“The tribe moves too slow,” Kimi said. “They must leave the sick and the old. It will slow the Wendigo, but not enough. It is time to leave. You can come with me if you want.”
“I’m not leaving the tribe,” Migisi said. “And you won’t survive alone.”
“I am clever and fast.” Kimi winked at him. “And you know my secret.”
“That you are friends with the East Wind?” Migisi’s sneered and made a dismissive gesture. “A breeze? Your wind spirit cannot help the tribe.”
A dust devil whirled to life at Migisi’s feet, spitting grit and dirt against his shins.
“Don’t be mean, Migisi! East Wind is stronger than you know. It will blow my scent from the Wendigo.” Kimi’s lips pinched together then she continued. “But my path lies in the West. East Wind cannot follow, though it can help you.”
She smiled and fingered the silver flute hanging from Migisi’s neck.
“East Wind likes you. It likes the songs you make and would make them too if you allow.”
A gust brushed past Migisi’s neck and the flute made a series of notes. He stared at the flute as the notes evolved into a melancholy tune while the East Wind swirled around him. When he looked up, Kimi was gone.
Agonized shrieks of the dying propelled Migisi urgently up the sheer face of Grizzly Bear Lodge. Risking a glance below he met the intense gaze of the Wendigo. Bigger than a buffalo, two of the creature’s teeth curved down like spear tips from its mouth. Yellow eyes burned with an ancient fury. Snarling, it sprang to the base of the butte, clawing its way upward.
Migisi reached the top first. He chucked handfuls of stones at the Wendigo, but the rapidly ascending monster only shook its head and hunched forward another body length. Its paws reached the top and it heaved its bulk up over the edge.
The flat top of the butte offered nothing larger than a scrub brush as a weapon or hiding place. Migisi ran faster than he’d ever run in his life, but the Wendigo sprang after him and each leap devoured the distance between the two.
The opposite edge of the butte loomed ahead. Migisi’s last prayer before plunging over the side was that he would see his father soon.
He squinted against the rushing wind. But rather than plummeting downward he felt himself slow and begin to drift. The silver whistle around his neck played a teasing melody. He opened his eyes saw the Wendigo standing at the distant edge of the butte, hissing and clawing the earth in frustration.
Below him, his tribe laid scattered and torn. Though his body remained aloft, Migisi’s heart fell.
“There is nothing more for me here,” he said to the wind. “Take me East.”
J.C. Towler feels it is silly to write bios in the 3rd person unless one is British Royalty, which he is not.