Thursday, June 07, 2007

Crow River, Part 2: Beginnings

Part 1 Here

My grandfather's farm was two miles south of town. The second time he died it was in the same bedroom he had been born in almost ninty years earlier. His grandfather was one of the original settlers of this place and from him the truth of the Crow River has been passed down through the generations.

Now I mentioned that even though the land was good the Native Americans avoided this place. When the first white men, trappers by trade, were mapping this area the nearest tribe gave the river's name as "Marauder of Newly Turned Earth". Not understanding the true meaning, the trappers labelled it "Crow River" assuming the Indians were talking about the big, black birds raiding freshly planted crops. The trappers made a note on the map that the river and the land around it was good land. It was fertile and settlers would not have to displace the natives to take it. This map eventually made it back East and triggered the migration of several German, Dutch, and Danish families.

They arrived and set to work building the new town. The land was as good and fertile as the map had said. The first summer was hot, but plentiful rains led to a grand harvest. The small town gathered that Thankgiving to praise the Lord for this heaven on Earth. The loss of four settlers, strangely all due to drownings, was the only source of sadness.

But the next year it was eight drownings and the year after that, eight more. That third year the river was low enough to walk across yet an entire family was lost to it. Their dismembered remains scattered the river banks for miles downstream. The travellng priest who serviced this community declared the river cursed and performed an exorcism. Standing knee deep in the water he tried to cast out the evil spirit. Halfway through the prayer he screamed and fell backwards, smashing his head open on a rock. According to records of the event, the bloody stumps of his legs thrashed above the surface of the water, then he sank out of sight.

Two days later his right hand was found. The fingers were missing except for the one bearing the signet ring of his holy order. Nothing else of him was ever found.

The church blamed death on coyotes and sent a new priest out on the circuit. It was winter by the time he arrived. At least that's when he was scheduled to arrive. As he crossed the frozen river a crack opened up beneath him. The arm on which he had wrapped his rosary was found sticking up through the ice a few days later. Only the arm, nothing else.

After that few priests went near the river.

The grandfather of my grandfather made a decision. If his God couldn't handle the river then maybe earlier gods could. My family's history says that he broached the subject after Christmas mass and by the end of the day everyone for miles hated him a as a blasphemer.

He was strong and stubborn though, and knew something had to be done. That winter's night he left his family and headed North. His goal was the Indian reservation along the shore of Lake Milaca, one hundred and fifty miles away.

Nothing is known of his trip other than on the last day of January he stumbled, emanciated and feverish, into the lodge of a Medicine Man on the frozen shore of Lake Milaca. The Medicine Man's wife screamed "Wendigo" and fled in terror from the lodge. My ancestor collapsed.

He babbled for three days and ate every morsal set before him, including the bones of squirrels and rabbits. On the fourth day the fever broke. He was lucky as the chief, fearing that this white skeleton really was a Wendigo, had ordered him killed at sundown.

Regaining his senses, my grandfather's grandfather explained his mission to the Indians (yes, I know that word offends some, but I'm telling this history as it was told to me). Halfway through the tale the Medicine Man stopped my ancestor. The holy Indian explained he knew of the river and what was bound in it.

The Medicine Man spoke.
In the long darks when wolves grow thin and snow covers all, no creatures are born except the bear cub in it's lair. But the bear is our brother and his spirit is fierce but good. Only one other thing enters the land during the cold nights and it spirit is also fierce, but it is not good even though it may be our brother.

When the food is gone but the winter still holds, a person may change. They crave food, they crave meat. Their empty belly drives them mad, tortures them beyond reason. In their madness the
Wendigo is born and suffering follows. The Wendigo's hunger can not be satiated, even as it feasts on the bodies of it brothers. With this act the transformation is complete. The man is lost and a monster comes. It becomes a giant of frost and snow. It's fingers are knives and its teeth are as spikes. The more it eats the larger it gets. To see a Wendigo is die in its maw.

The Medicine Man talked all night long and he told what happened in the river of the marauder of newly turned earth.
Long ago a tribe lived on the banks of that river. They were prosperous under the guidance of a wise Medicine Man but their chief was known to be greedy. One year winter fell early and lasted too long. The tribe's stockpile of food began disappearing and soon it became obvious that unless something happened many of the tribe would starve before Spring came. At first the chief alone seemed immune to the starvation that chewed on the others. But as the Spring stayed away even he began to grow thin. The food that he had stolen earlier was gone and hunger burned his belly. In the dark of night he slipped away from camp to where a lone brave sat fishing through the river's ice. The chief sprung upon the brave and tore out his throat, then began feasting on the body. As morning approached the chief's madness subsided and, realizing what he had done, forced the remains of the brave through the hole in the ice and fled back to the village. There he told his tribe that their brother had been killed by wolves. No one had the strength left to check this out and the chief's words were believed.

Spring broke soon after and the food, so long denied to the tribe, seemed to appear as if by magic. The tribe became fat on the wild harvests, but none as fat as the chief. His appetite seemed to grow larger than his body no matter how fat he became. Worse, he found himself craving more than just the berries, fish and deer. He craved the taste of human flesh.

For two years he hid this obscene hunger. But that didn't mean he went without human meat. This tribe's custom when a member died was to bury the body in plot of ground along the river bank. The first to be buried there after that hard winter was a young girl who died from the bite of a water moccasin. She was placed in her grave and the soil was piled on top of her.

She laid dead in the ground but the chief could here her calling him. She teased him with glimpses of her delicious body, made plump by the wonderful bounty of Spring. For two days the chief hid in his lodge, sweating as the girl danced before him. On the night of the second day he sneaked down to the grave and fell upon it in a frenzy. He tore through the soil to the body. By now it had begun to fester and bloat but he saw it as a feast, and he ravaged it. That morning others found the sundered grave and were distressed. Running back to the tribe they spread the news. As braves gathered to return to the site a mighty storm broke upon them. It rained for a week and the river flooded, washing away all sign of the chief's crime.

This continued for two years. Every time someone was buried the grave would be desecrated. When the tribe sent out to hunt the beast some storm or sickness would appear, forcing them to stop.

The chief took this as a sign that he was blessed by the gods. That his cravings were not wrong. He began to set his braves to war against other tribes in hopes the hopes of bodies. His battle plans seemed divinely guided and his braves slaughtered many. With each battle his dementia grew, his hunger grew. At last, several tribes joined against the tribe by the river and in this bloody battle the chief made the final change.

The chief, covered in blood and gore, slayed a brave then instead of turning to his next enemy, the chief began feasting. Before startled eyes the chief's skin began to stretch and split. After finishing one corpse the chief-thing moved to a next. With each bite he grew bigger and bigger. His skin tore away as he stood and faced the four tribes worth of warriors before him.

To be continued...


Jim Nettleton said...

This is great Blast!

Now I suppose I have to wait another week for the next installment :(

Man, this is as bad as waiting for the weekly Captain America serial when I was a kid.

-Noctivagusum Aviusa: one who wanders alone in dark places.

Merriwether the Adventurer said...

You might even have to wait two weeks. Next weekend I'll be paddling down the San Jacinto river and will be writing about that instead of my childhood.



Anonymous said...

The waiting is killing me!

Anonymous said...

Excellent storytelling!