Bets and Lilly had their first cheerleading practice on Saturday, and Ollie had to go to his grandparents’ wedding anniversary party. That left Charlie and me with nothing to do. We decided to go to the clearing and do some much-needed repairs on the tepees. We left Charlie’s house in the morning and rode Duke and Gus out to the clearing. After a while, we stopped working on the repairs, had lunch, and settled down eating huckleberries, lying on our backs in the clearing, identifying shapes in the clouds.
Charlie turned and stared at me. “Do you ever think of me as more than a friend?” he asked. My heart jumped and my face turned red.
“Mostly at night,” I answered honestly. “I lie awake and dream that you are in love with me.”
Charlie sat up and stared down at me. “Really? Do you want me to be in love with you?”
Charlie seemed surprised. I smiled. “Of course I do. Since that day at school when we first met, it is all I have thought about.”
Charlie laughed. “We were what, nine years old? Em, you were so skinny and tall.”
“And you were huge like a bear.” I laughed. I knew he was thinking about that day because I was thinking about it.
“Do you think that we were destined to be together?” Charlie asked.
I nodded. “Yes. You can’t deny what happened when we first saw each other.” I rolled over and put my arm under my head.“You know lately, I think about you every day in a different way,” Charlie confessed. “I used to think of you like a sister, someone I needed to protect, but now when I’m with you I just want to kiss you.”
I stared into his eyes. “Then do it.” I sat up and stared at my hands in my lap. Charlie leaned toward me. I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to taste his lips on mine and feel him hold me close. He leaned forward and softly kissed me on the lips. His mouth was warm and tender and tasted sweetly of huckleberries. He ran his hands through my hair and I put my arms around his neck. I felt a shock of electricity go through me. I felt weak and dizzy, but alive, all at the same time.
As we were kissing, I felt his neck stiffen. He pushed me away and fell backward to the ground with his right arm flopping uselessly and his body contorted. I dropped to my knees and touched his face, telling him he would be okay. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his chin on his knees.
“What happened?” I asked gingerly. “It is time to begin,” he said. My heart raced and I felt sick. “Is it time for me to die?” I asked. Charlie nodded “It is getting closer,” he said, and I felt a wave of sadness. I always dreamed I would have a family with Charlie. What would my parents do without me? What would happen to Ben? What would happen to my friends? How could I be strong enough to die with dignity and did it matter?
I threw myself in Charlie’s arms. “I don’t want to die,” I said.
He kissed me hungrily, but I felt his resistance. “We have some time, Emme, I promise you that,” he whispered.
We saddled back up and in silence rode back. Even Gus was subdued. When we got in cell phone range, we texted the others and told them we needed to meet in Bets’s parents’ basement tonight. Charlie said we must tell them now. We would need them for the battle.
Bets’s parents had redone their basement for us to use in the winter when it was too cold to go to the clearing. They felt bad that we spent so much time at Ollie’s and wanted to shoulder some of the “teenager time” with Ollie’s parents. When we were younger, Ollie’s parents had hired my Aunt Laura, who was in junior college at that time, to take Ollie to school and pick him up. After school in the winter, we would all hang out at his house and play video games. Aunt Laura taught us to play poker and made us chocolate chip cookies.
We all felt like one of the family at Bets’s house, and we had keys to the basement and were welcome to come and go. The basement had two old plaid sofas with sagging cushions, a scratched coffee table and a TV. There was a tiny bathroom with a shower, and a small cabinet with a microwave and tiny refrigerator. We had snacks and drinks there.
Bets was making microwave popcorn and the others were crashed out on the sofa watching TV and drinking hot chocolate. Lilly was lying with her thin legs draped over Ollie’s legs on one of the sofas. When we walked in, the others knew right away that something had happened. Lilly figured it out first. Sweet Lilly, always the first to sense when things weren’t right, and always wanting to try and fix them.
We told them the whole story and included the kiss. They smiled at each other when we told that part, and at the same time said they weren’t surprised. I guess we didn’t hide our feelings as well as we thought. Ollie joked that he wouldn’t want to kiss me if it caused seizures. We sat in a circle on the plaid braided rug, eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate as Charlie told us the story of the ancestor’s curse.
“Many years ago,” Charlie began, “a machayiwiw or evil spirit was thrust into the spirit world. Up to that point, the spirit world was made up of honorable warriors who had died
bravely. This evil spirit was once a powerful medicine man. He was a vengeful man and he had a score to settle with another tribe. He had wanted to take the daughter of the chief of this tribe in order to possess her power and beauty, but he was first driven out and then humiliated by the chief. The chief’s daughter’s name was Golden Flower, and she was light skinned with light hair. Her mother had been captured during a wagon raid and was a white, blue-eyed woman.”
Charlie went on to explain that he was a seer. During his seizures, he could see where the evil spirit was and where he was headed, so the Spirit Warriors could finally find him and destroy him. That was where we five came into the picture.
What Charlie could see was that the machayiwiw was coming after me. He couldn’t see whose body or animal shape he was in. He saw me in the car under the water, and he saw that it would take all the rest of them to vanquish the machayiwiw.
Charlie also knew that we would not be able to win the fight in the bodies we had; we would have to take animal forms. Charlie had the knowledge of how to get our spirits in these animals, but did not know how to move the ancient Spirit Warriors into human bodies as other medicine men in the past did. He and Archie thought it was possible that each seer had unique abilities. If so, Charlie might only be able to move us into animal forms, and as such, we would have to fight the machayiwiw.
Ollie, Bets, and Lilly looked incredulously at Charlie. Bets said, “Come again?” Charlie started to repeat the story. Bets held up her hand. “No, I heard what you said. I just don’t believe you. There is no physical way to move anyone’s spirit. When a spirit is moved out of a body, it is called death.” Bets looked at Charlie with her left eyebrow lifted and a sarcastic look on her face.
Lilly glanced at Charlie and then at Bets. “I believe you. What do we need to do?”
Bets looked at Lilly. “Why do you always believe Charlie? Can’t you ever have a thought in your head that Charlie didn’t think of first?”
Lilly looked at Bets. “Because I know that Charlie is doing what he needs to do to save Emme, and I will do whatever it takes to save her. She’s our best friend, Bets. You have to help us.”
Bets stared back at Lilly and Charlie. “Count me out. I have listened to Archie tell your ancestors’ stories my entire life. They were garbage then and they are garbage now.”
Charlie flinched. He grabbed Bets’s hand. “Bets, look at me. Have I ever lied to you? Have I ever told you anything that wasn’t the truth or that didn’t happen?” Bets shook her head no. Charlie went on, “We need you, Bets. We need all of us. Trust me.”
Bets looked at their hands. “I just can’t.”
Charlie breathed in deeply. “Think of one thing that has happened in your life, Bets, that no one in this room could possibly know. Think of your deepest, darkest secret. Have you thought of it?” Bets nodded. Charlie sat still for several moments with his eyes closed and his back straight. He opened his eyes and whispered in Bets’s ear.
Bets’s face turned white and then red. She turned to Charlie and hugged him. Charlie held her as she buried her face in his chest. She turned around and looked at the rest of us. “He knew. There was no possible way he could have known it. Charlie’s legit.”
I smiled, “I already knew he was legit.” Lilly chimed in, “Me too.” Ollie looked around at us. “I didn’t know he was legit, but I would give anything to be a tiger, or a bear!” Ollie jumped up and started chasing us around, crawling on all fours and growling like a bear.
Charlie stopped us. “I want all of you to know that this is not without risk. It’s not like a video game where you get killed and get a million more chances to come back and win. We will probably just have one good chance to kill the machayiwiw, and it will take all of us to do it.”
Ollie asked if I would live, and I held my breath as Charlie said he didn’t know. “So we could do all of this and Emme could still die?” Bets asked. Charlie nodded and lowered his head. “We could do all this and all of us could die,” he said.
It was silent as we looked around at each other. Lilly spoke first. “I am not afraid to die,” she said. “This life hasn’t been so great anyway.”
“I can’t ask you to do this, Lilly,” I said. But she wasn’t listening to me; none of them were. They were looking at Charlie, and he was having another seizure.
When Charlie roused after the seizure, he looked tired and unfocused. It seemed like the more often he had these visions, the weaker he became. It took over an hour before he could talk coherently, and then his speech sounded like his tongue was too big in his mouth. “We must meet tomorrow and spend Sunday and Monday at the tepees,” he said. “The change will happen then and we need time to practice.” Luckily, we had Monday and Tuesday off for teacher conferences.
Ollie helped Charlie to his pickup and drove him down the gravel road to Archie’s house. It hurt me to see Charlie like that. I was used to his strength and stability. If this could happen to him, what would happen to the rest of us?
Lilly and I headed back to my house, and Bets went upstairs to her room to go to bed. That night Lilly cried out, and when I reached for her she asked me if I was afraid to die. I knew the answer and it came so easily.
“Yes, Lilly, I am scared.” “I’m not,” she whispered. “I think death would be a relief for me.” “Oh, Lilly,” I said. I climbed under the covers with her and stroked her hair until she fell asleep.