Broadcast before a live studio audience inside my head.
Anybody got any Advil?
Also, if you've never read Pet Sematary before reading this story, I might suggest you do so first.
Indians scattered on a dawn's highway bleeding
Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind.
The Doors, "Peace Frog"
After Round Flower and her tribe had finished burying her only child, she asked to stay by the grave alone for a while. Like the rest of the tribal cemetery, it lay on a high, barren mountain. The ground was almost solid rock, and thus digging was quite difficult, but with its high location, the soft sigh of the wind through the trees and around the burial cairns was almost constant. If one listened hard enough, as the tribal elders had always said, one could hear the voice of their deceased loved one calling to them. That was why they always used this challenging location to bury their dead.
Her eyes, still moist and red-rimmed, tracked across the seemingly boundless woods and rolling hills, mottled here and there with the shadows of passing late-spring clouds. This land of her people, the Micmac, still looked much as it did when she was a little girl, and as it had when her parents were her age. The sun still rose and set, the seasons still came and went, the fields still offered their crops, the bushes still bore berries, and the forests still abounded with game and the waters with fish. And yet the world around her was starting to change.
The pale people were starting to arrive in greater numbers in their strange oversized, gaudy clothing, in their huge wooden canoes supposedly from across the Great Water, with their large deer that they rode on, slovenly ways…and their terrifying "fire stick" weapons which could supposedly make part of a person's body burst. They were not wholly unfamiliar to her people, but back in her grandparents' time, so her parents had said, they had only stayed temporarily, mainly to trade with them or in a few cases tell them about their god (for some reason).
But it also seemed that wherever the pale people had been, even for a short while, sickness would cut through the tribes like wildfire. Horrible sicknesses unlike anything they had ever seen, which would cause one's body to inflame with pus-oozing rashes, with an agonizing death often following. None of the traditional herbs or even the shamans' strongest spells could save the victims. Entire cities of the Pennacook, Massachusett and Narragansett tribes to the south had been wiped out, and the pale people had supposedly almost replaced their numbers in those areas. The few remaining natives were forced to live the pale peoples' lifestyle, including wearing their floppy, uncomfortable clothing and even praying to the pale peoples' god. In fact, the pale people had actually stated that the sicknesses that had decimated the natives' numbers was the result of the pale god's punishment for not worshipping him (even though they had never known of him before).
For the moment this land still seemed to belong to the Micmac, but for how much longer? The nearest large settlement of the pale people was at Casco Bay about a two-day canoe ride away, but Round Flower's people were already starting to feel the effects. Three people had died of the mysterious sickness since spring had begun. One of them was her son.
And now, with her husband killed while serving in the sachem Metacom's uprising against the pale people, she was alone. Yes, her parents were still alive, as were several of her and her husband's relatives and her friends. The village elders and shaman said they would always be there for any further spiritual counseling or comfort. But this crushing grief… When Round Flower was told that her husband was dead, it felt like half of her heart had been torn from her body. When her son breathed his last, the second half had been ripped away.
One more horrible vision of that day flashed before her eyes; his little body covered in oozing brown hives, his sunken eyes rolling back into oblivion, his grip on her hand weakening before failing entirely. Once more Round Flower sank to her knees on the stony ground, weeping into her hands. No warrior could ever hope to be as merciless as grief, not even carrying one of those "fire sticks". If only there was some way to get at least one of them back…
Of course, she couldn't allow herself to think too strongly about that, could she? Every Micmac child had learned at their parents' or grandparents' knees about the Wendigo, the all-consuming, ever-hungry cannibal monster of the woods that was the fount of all unattainable, unspeakable desires…
I just wish I could have my son back…
At first she thought it was just the wind, or was her late son actually calling out to her? Then she heard a high, thin voice call out her name louder, and right behind her. She turned around.
There sat a strange white creature that somewhat resembled a weasel. However, it also had a fox's large, bushy tail, and what seemed to be a second pair of ears with pink frills at the bottom. But most unsettling was its face. Its mouth had the fixed "smile" of a bobcat, and above this was a pair of red eyes. They had no pupils, and seemed to stare right through her—and at the same time directly into her.
"Greetings," echoed that high voice inside her head, somewhat louder than her thoughts usually were. The creature's jaws did not move. "Do you have a wish to make?"
Round Flower scooted back against the cairn; the bitterness of grief suddenly washed from her mind. "Wh-who are you?" she gasped. "How did you know my name?"
The creature cocked its head slightly without changing its expression. "Call me…Qubeg. I have been watching your recent plight. I have come from the heavens to grant your wishes and fulfill your destiny."
"My…destiny?" Could this really be happening? As far as she could remember, not even the shaman in her grandparents' time had ever had a face-to-face contact with the gods. Of course, even in these trying times, no other woman in her village had lost both a child and a husband… Could the gods actually be favoring her in her situation? "And how can you fulfill my wishes?"
"I know you recently lost your son to the pale peoples' sickness," Qubeg said. "And of course your husband was killed by them during Metacom's uprising. I can see you are quite upset. But there is something you can do. Would you like to…see one of them again?"
Round Flower's eyes widened. "How can such a thing be possible?"
"Make an agreement with me to become a Magical Warrior," Qubeg replied. "You will be able to help your people in the greatest possible way; fighting the demons and Witches that are responsible for the spread of sickness and despair throughout the world—and have also led the palefaces to your country. Then I shall grant your wish."
Was it her imagination or had Qubeg moved closer to her? Its ghostly white face and those flat, emotionless eyes-like shark eyes, doll eyes- filled her vision and reached down into her soul. Yet…she wasn't scared. She was intrigued…and slightly comforted. Would she truly be able to see her son again? And could she put a stop to these palefaces encroaching upon her land, and avenge her fallen husband?
"Yes," Round Flower said. "Yes! If these Witches and demons took my son and my husband, then I shall gladly destroy them!"
"Excellent," said Qubeg. "Now, what is your wish?"
Round Flower paused for a few moments. Could this creature really resurrect the dead? It looked so small and weak…could it actually reach into the afterworld, retrieve a lost soul, and place it back into the body like an arrow into a quiver? Could it restore the body? Her husband had been dead for six years now; nothing would remain of his body but bones. But her son… When the last handful of stony dirt had been laid over his face, he still looked like he was just sleeping. Besides, at least her husband had reached his potential as a proud, strong, able man, and had given himself to a great cause. Her poor son, meanwhile, had perished before his bud could even come into full bloom. He hadn't had the time to realize his full potential. It wasn't right. It wasn't just.
And now she had the chance to become a warrior of justice.
"I wish to raise my son, Little Bear, from the dead!"
"Very well then," Qubeg said. It raised its right front paw, and all of a sudden a blinding white light surrounded them both. A strange hot, stinging pain flared in the center of her chest, and she had the sudden sensation of something leaving her body, but those feelings were quickly gone. Her body was surrounded by a strange, whirling wind, and against this and the harsh light, she shut her eyes. But after only a few more beats of her heart, the wind had died down.
Round Flower reopened her eyes. Her normal buckskin dress had been replaced by a strange black ensemble with white trim that looked more like paleface clothing—except the few times she had paleface women, when they stopped by her village to trade, she hadn't seen any dressed with the hems reaching only halfway to their knees. Even the moccasins on her feet were now replaced by black, white-trimmed footwear that looked much more like that of the palefaces than her own—and for some reason reached halfway to her knees. Then she noticed a certain weight around her neck, and glanced downward.
A glowing purple stone, encased in golden plates, hung from a beaded cord around her neck.
"W-what have you done with my clothes?" she gasped. "And what's this stone around my neck?"
Qubeg lifted its right front paw and pointed upward as a human would do. "That is your Spirit Stone. It's the source of your power as a Magical Warrior. Now, whenever you kill a Witch, you must collect a Grief Seed—the source of its power—and use it to recharge your Spirit Stone. Then you shall gain greater powers, and be able to fight more Witches and their protectors, the Demons."
Resolve once more began growing in Round Flower's mind. "And the palefaces are in league with these Witches and Demons, aren't they?"
"Yes, of course."
Her brow furrowed. "Then I am ready." Suddenly a huge, bone-white bow, studded with sparkling, colorful stones, manifested in her right hand. A quiver filled with sparkling arrows appeared over her left shoulder. But before any more thoughts of vengeance flowed into her mind, she looked behind her.
Her son's gravesite cairn still sat there, all the rocks in place. Wind continued whistling through the cracks in those rocks.
"I wished for my son to rise," she said.
"First you must destroy a Witch," Qubeg answered. "There is one at an abandoned paleface farm not far away. If you leave now, you will be able to return to your village by sunset. And then your son shall greet you."
Round Flower stood up, clutching her new bow. A strange, hot energy coursed through her body. Any of those little voices expressing fear of her possible demise in battle were quickly silenced. Was this how her husband had felt when he went off to fight?
She addressed her husband. "Great Bear, this is for you."
Round Flower was somewhat daunted at first by the sight of her first foe. This was not some mere human sorceress, but a spirit-monster. Its lair was the burned-out remains of a paleface longhouse, which may have been the one some braves of her village said they had destroyed sometime last fall. Its appearance flickered and morphed back and forth between that of a feathery native headdress and one of those wide-brimmed, buckled hats the paleface menfolk often wore, and she felt somewhat nauseous just looking at it. It constantly uttered piercing cries which she could only vaguely describe as somewhere between a wildcat's howl and a human scream.
But while it initially fired a few volleys of fire-sticks at her (not the death-stones that shot out of the fire-sticks, but the actual sticks themselves), the Witch did not seem to have much fight in it. Round Flower quickly dodged a fire-stick coming her way, placed an arrow in her bow, and fired. A hollow roar like distant thunder came as she made a direct hit. The shrieking gave way to a pathetic gurgling as the Witch's form seemed to collapse in on itself.
"That was for my husband, my child, and my people, Witch!" Round Flower shouted. "I am a warrior of justice! I will remove all of you from our land!"
A strong breeze suddenly began flowing through the abandoned paleface farm. It seemed to form words in Round Flower's ears, in the Micmac language despite the Witch's half-paleface appearance.
"Gloat now, little Native Puella. But as I am now, so shall you be, soon enough." And then, with the snap of a pinecone exploding in a fire, the Witch finally imploded, and a small object flew through the air to land at her feet. It was a black stone, also encased in golden plating.
Round Flower frowned. She had actually been hoping for a fierce battle to the death. But in this case, it reminded her of fending off an elderly or injured bear or moose, and giving the killing blow to a formerly dangerous beast with no more fight left in it. Something that wanted to die.
But she didn't want to dwell on that. She had her first Grief Seed. And daylight was starting to fade. Her son would soon return.
The scattered clouds had turned a dark pink against a deepening mauve sky when Round Flower returned to her village. She could smell a deer roasting on the cooking fire and smiled at the thought of a reward for perhaps the most difficult day of her life. The village looked exactly the same as it had throughout her life, with some people sitting in front of their wigwams carving arrowheads, some just chatting, and some of the children gamboling about. And yet…something felt different.
A village dog sitting next to a man carving an arrowhead glanced up toward her and then suddenly backed away whining, its tail between its legs. The man's gaze followed the dog's, and his face recoiled.
"Wh-who are you?" he sputtered.
"I'm Round Flower," answered the young woman. "D-don't you recog…" Then her eyes trailed down to her rather strange clothing. Of course. It still seemed strange to her; what would her people think?
"B-but your clothing… When we last saw you, you were still at the burial ground grieving. When did you change into those clothes? They look…almost like paleface clothes!"
"And what is that glowing stone around your neck?" It was her father.
All of a sudden all the eyes of the village were upon Round Flower. "Please, let me explain!" she began. "I know it seems odd, but…" She took a deep breath. "A strange creature appeared before me at the burial ground. It gave me these clothes and this stone, and told me I am now a Magical Warrior." A nervous smile grew on her face. "I will now fight the Witches and Demons that are spreading despair and sickness among us, and that are leading the palefaces into our land! I can help save our people! And the creature also said he would raise my son from the dead!"
Her father flinched. "My daughter…what have you done? Do you know what kind of things you've become involved with? Such matters are strictly the domain of the gods! Not even a shaman can raise the dead…"
His lecture and the nervous chattering of the rest of the tribe were silenced by a smell drifting into the village, a stench. The reek of exposed tidal flats, of rotting flesh.
A seven-year-old boy was shambling his way into the village. His dark hair, ears and even nostrils were filled with dark earth which slid down from his head and onto his dirt-matted buckskin clothes and the ground with minute clicking sounds. But despite his youth, he walked like a very old man or a drunk, placing one leg far in front of his body, then dragging the rest of himself along as though he were partially paralyzed. With each step, he swayed almost to the ground.
His face was still pocked with the lingering scars and rash of the fatal sickness, despite the fact that his skin was deathly pale. As pale as a corpse…or that creature back at the burial ground. But that was far from the worst thing about his face. His eyes still seemed to have their youthful keenness, but they darted to and fro, never seeming to focus on a single object…as if there were something else behind them. But the worst part was the smile. It reached nearly from ear to ear, but it wasn't a human smile.
And the stench roiled off his body like smoke.
Nevertheless, Round Flower knelt to the ground and opened her arms. There might be some…imperfections (whoever thought raising the dead would be easy?) but he was still her Little Bear, her only son. Her wish had been fulfilled.
The boy didn't come to her. "Good evening, my people," he said in a slightly cracked version of his actual voice. "You're all gonna die. You'll never be able to stop the palefaces. They're going to come here, their sicknesses will spread, and those of you who aren't dead will become their slaves. And not just your people. The Penobscot, the Kennebec, the Pennacook, the Massachusett, the Iroquois, the Cherokee, the Shoshone, the Chumash…all gone! I can see them now…shivering and dying of smallpox, crammed into stockades, hunted down as vermin, forever dispossessed of their land and their identity. I've seen it all." The thing that had been Little Bear widened his horrific grin even further, and he slowly raised his right arm and twisted his fingers with audible pops and groans to point at Round Flower. "And there's nothing you can do about it. What do you think of that, everyone? What do you think of that? Ahhhh-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa!"
"Silence, demon!" shouted the man carving the arrowheads. Bellowing a war whoop, he seized a finished arrowhead, rushed toward the chortling boy-thing, and plunged it into his throat. Muddy reddish blood with the consistency of tree sap poured through his clenched fingers.
It was all Round Flower could do to keep herself from vomiting, and she heard someone behind her do just that.
The boy-thing gibbered and keened briefly as he clawed at the man's arm, but soon fell silent as the man removed the arrowhead from the slash in his throat, and collapsed to the ground again. The man then turned toward Round Flower with a bitter scowl. "This is your doing. This…demon was summoned by you."
"I…I…" Round Flower stammered. "I didn't know it would turn out like this. I just wanted my son back… B-but I'm fighting evil now! I can make a difference for our people!"
"How so?" replied her father. "That was not Little Bear; that was a demon you summoned that assumed his form! And it called for our downfall at the hands of the palefaces!
"She's in league with the palefaces!" shouted someone. "She's wearing their clothes!"
"No," said the Chief, striding through the crowd to stand before Round Flower. "You have been touched by the Wendigo. Your recent losses have been quite tragic, but you let yourself give into unspeakable desire. Now I fear you may bring his curse upon the rest of us."
"What can I do now?"
"I'm sorry to say that you shall have to leave our village and never return. You have brought the Wendigo's curse upon yourself; you shall not bring it upon us."
Somewhere back in the woods where she felt she could do no more damage, the young woman finally could run no more, and just lay there weeping after her legs gave out.
"How could this happen?" she sobbed. "Why did this happen? I wanted my son back, not a…demon…"
"Like your father reminded you," a certain high, thin voice echoed in her head, "Matters of death are the domain of the gods." Round Flower glanced upward to see the strange, ghostly white creature materialize on a nearby log. "With anyone else attempting such things, the results will always be…less than perfect. And I am not a god, I should tell you now. I can remove the soul from the body, but I'm afraid I can't put it back."
Round Flower's jaw dropped. That ghostly white coat. Its soft, high voice, seducing her and awakening unspeakable desires in her. And those piercing, depthless red eyes. How could she not have suspected? "I should have known," she breathed, reaching for her bow. "You're the Wendigo! You're an enemy of my people, not an ally!" But before she could even reach for an arrow, Qubeg had vanished in a white flash. It then appeared directly before her.
"As I understand your people's legends, I can see how you might believe that. But this 'Wendigo' you speak of is often not so much born…as created. Allow me to demonstrate." It then quickly darted up Round Flower's stomach like a squirrel up a tree and pressed a forepaw on her Spirit Stone—which she suddenly noticed had lost its bright purple sheen and was starting to turn black.
It felt like a spear was being thrust through her chest. She didn't want to show any signs of weakness before this little white demon, but at the moment, she could do nothing but scream, fall to the forest floor, and arch her back.
When the pain had mercifully dissipated, she opened her eyes to see Qubeg still sitting there atop her now prone form. "When you agreed to become a Magical Warrior, I removed your spirit from your body and placed it into this stone. I…and the rest of my people, found it a more convenient way for you to avoid death during your battles and to heal yourselves and use other magic. Some would say you are no longer human."
Round Flower wanted to break into a good, healthy piercing scream, but, still on her back reeling from that bolt of horrific pain through her body, all she could do was tremble and utter a choked groan.
"Some might say that it's you who are now the 'Wendigo'. You were consumed by grief—not an unusual thing, really—but also by a desire you should have realized was simply unattainable."
"But you raised Little Bear, not me…"
"Only by your wish. You could have simply said 'no'," Qubeg replied, that same unchanging, stupid yet smart bobcat smile upon its face. "And now you shall have plenty of allies in your fight, originating from the burial ground…" It quickly glanced at her darkening Spirit Stone. "The palefaces call them 'Familiars'. Your people might call them demons. But to my people, they're all part of our business."
Round Flower tried to reach out and grab the creature, but she could only raise her arm a few inches before it collapsed back to the dirt. "You…you told me the Witches and demons are in league with the palefaces…"
"Some are, but they aren't controlled by them as a whole. They aren't 'evil' really; most of them just want to live a normal life as your people do. They grow food, trade goods, raise families, and try to instill the best values of their cultures as much as your people and others like them do. And occasionally they also fight wars over territory and treasure. However, their countries are much more crowded than this land. Some of their cities literally have populations approaching a million people. Food and even clean water are often hard to come by, and sickness is rampant there—the very same sicknesses that are now ravaging your people and others like them." Qubeg stared up at the darkening sky. "Some of them have come to this land to worship their god—or their interpretation of their god—in their own way. Some have come for less noble purposes, but possibly more honest ones—simply to make money. And some simply wanted to escape. They think they have found an unspoiled new world where want and sickness won't follow them. Unfortunately for them, with their growing numbers in this land, they will soon enough find that one cannot merely run from their old demons, but turn and fight them…as I'm sure you well know. Their demons—metaphorical ones in this case-have already followed them here…and already I and my associates have made agreements with several of them." Qubeg turned back toward Round Flower. "I can see your time is running short. I can't say I'm not somewhat disappointed in that you were only able to slay one Witch—and a weak one at that—and you couldn't slay your first Demon. But I do know you were rather weakened by your grief. But you can take one final comfort in knowing that you won't die without serving a very important purpose."
Its gaze returned to the sky again. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to in the land of the rising sun. Farewell, Puella Wendigo." And with that, Qubeg's form faded into nothing.
Tears spilled from Round Flower's eyes as her face crumpled for one last time. "I…I'm such a fool…" she said.
As the last rays of twilight faded over the central Maine woods, a harsh, unearthly scream smashed through the gloaming air, soon melting away into something between a sob and a cackle. It interrupted a business deal between an Englishman recently arrived from Massachusetts (it was getting too crowded down there) and a French fur trader who had spent several years in this region. He thought he knew these lovely, dark and deep woods somewhat well by this time, but every once in a while he was reminded that this was a new, strange world indeed.
"Alors!" gasped the Englishman in the fur trader's language. "What on earth was that noise?"
"That…that was just the loons to the south," the trader answered. "Sometimes the wind can carry the sound. It is strange."
After the two had completed their trade, and the Englishman had gone his separate way, the trader visibly shuddered and crossed himself.
A/N: Gen "Urobutcher" Urobochi recently claimed Stephen King was one of his main influences, and he (King) certainly is for me. Pet Sematary was the first King novel I read, and since I saw a few parallels between it and PMMM, I thought it might be interesting to combine the two.
I didn't go all out, but I did do some homework for this story. Metacom was a real-life sachem of the Narragansett tribe who led an Indian uprising in New England from 1675 to 1678. He was nicknamed "King Philip" by the English. Also, the reason Round Flower didn't compare "Qubeg" to a housecat was because Native Americans didn't keep domestic cats. They did obviously know about cougars, bobcats, lynxes, etc.
I know some of you are likely thinking that I should've put this in the crossover section but, heh, call me an egomaniac, but obviously that section doesn't get nearly the amount of traffic that the main pages do. As for the King section, I thought that probably more Madoka fans have read Pet Sematary than vice versa, especially outside Japan. In short, I thought my story would get more attention here than there.
But anyway, I'd like to give thanks to Danny Barefoot for his A History of Magic (especially the chapter on Sacagawea, of course; I owe the term "Spirit Stone" to this), as well as ncfan for her beautifully poignant Those Rainy Nights which honestly helped plant the seed for this venture, especially the scene of grief at the beginning (seed…grief…oh dear).
More to come; stay tuned. Don't know how soon it'll be though; this chapter was gut-wrenching for me to write.