The Zica Encounter
A Whateley Academy Vignette
The Zica Encounter
Whateley Academy Quad
Monday, April 23, 2007
I was sitting in one of the little half-walled areas enjoying the warmth of the spring sun and communing with nature, while nearby, Adrian and Laurie were sitting at one of the tables communing with each other's' lips. Chief Delarose still hadn't released me from the 'escort required' restriction, so I still chafed under the need to always have someone with me. It was past getting old.
As I gazed across the quad, and happened to be looking toward Schuster, I noticed Anna Parsons sitting on the grass with a bunch of squirrels gathered around her. She was giving them something - probably left-over granola from the morning's breakfast. "Hey, guys," I called out to Laurie and Adrian as I rose to my feet, "I'm going over to talk to Anna."
"Anna?" Adrian asked between smooches.
"Aquerna," I answered. "I've got advanced martial arts afterwards, and she's in that class, so I'll just walk to Laird with her if you don't mind."
"No, go right ahead," Adrian replied without taking his eyes off Laurie. Their display of mutual affection was sometimes downright nauseating.
I chuckled to myself as I picked up my backpack and slung it over a shoulder. If _they_ saw Debra and I kissing, they'd probably have similar thoughts. Very softly, I sang a Lakota song, mostly to myself, as I strode casually across the quad toward Aquerna.
Before I got there, two of the more obnoxious boys in school, Uproar and Warfist, dashed up to Aquerna, frightening away all her squirrel friends, and they snatched the bag of food from on the ground beside her.
"Hey," Anna complained indignantly, rising to her feet, "that's mine."
"Squirrel food?" Warfist taunted. "Oh, that's right. Squirrels like you probably _like_ this kind of stuff. You probably can't control yourself around nuts!"
As Anna walked toward the boy holding the bag of food, he tossed it to Uproar. I'd seen Anna jump and leap in martial arts, and I figured she'd easily jump up and catch the bag that they were playing keep-away with, but they must have seen her in action, too, because the bag was just a little too high for her to catch.
"That's mine," Anna complained. "I need to feed my friends, because the winter was too long, and they ran out of food, and they're so hungry," she explained. "Please give it back."
"What'll you do to get it back?" Warfist taunted suggestively. There was no denying what was on his mind.
"It's mine," Aquerna stated again, "and you're not being nice. Give it back, please." She was walking toward Uproar, who currently held the bag.
"Fetch, squirrel girl," he mocked her, tossing the bag just out of her reach to his buddy.
I'd seen enough, and by that point, I was close to them. "Give it back to Anna," I said angrily.
"Or what? You'll sic your buffalo on us?" Warfist laughed. "I don't think security will like that very much!" He knew that I didn't dare manifest Tatanka. Not without good - and well-documented - provocation. I'd already had too many security incidents caused by my white furry friend.
"Give Anna the bag," I repeated, stomping toward Warfist, who was holding her squirrel food. As I expected, he tossed it to Uproar. In response, I invoked my ghost-walking spell, and suddenly, most of the people on campus - including the two boys and Anna - had a silvery shimmer around them, indicating that they were outside my spell. I was effectively invisible to them.
"Hey, where'd she go?" Uproar demanded, looking around puzzled. He'd probably have crapped his pants if I'd have cancelled the spell and appeared, given that I was mere inches from his nose. Puzzled, he quickly tossed it back to his buddy.
Warfist, who had the bag of granola, was backing away from Anna, waving the bag and taunting her as he did so. I smiled to myself and invoked a little spell I'd learned only two days earlier from Abra - and without warning, Warfist's feet slid out from under him like he was walking on ice. Or grease. He landed with a thud, and before he knew what happened, I used a third spell and pulled the bag toward me.
Uproar, who I was near, reached out to catch Anna's granola bag, thinking that Warfist had tossed it to him. He practically leaped out of his skin when I cancelled my ghost-walking spell and appeared in front of him, intercepting the flying bag. "Not yours," I said angrily.
Warfist was back on his feet; the effect of the slippery spell was only momentary. He glared at me, and then at Anna, before turning away from us. "Let's go," he snarled. "I've got better things to do than waste my time with a wimpy squirrel girl!"
I started to wind up with another spell, but Anna caught my arm. "Don't, Kayda," she said. "It's only words, and they didn't hurt me, so it's not worth maybe getting in trouble, because you know security will be here in a minute if you do anything else."
"They were insulting you!" I protested. I hated to see anyone, and especially close acquaintances, bullied or hurt.
I let my arms droop, or at least the one not holding the half-empty bag of granola. It hadn't been completely closed, and in the tossing about, nearly half had spilled. "I'm sorry I couldn't keep it from being spilled," I apologized to Anna.
"It's not really a problem," Anna said feigning a cheerful mood, "because my friends will eat it anyway, at least after all the students leave. That is if the birds don't get it before Fluffy Tail and Brighteyes can find all the pieces that were dropped. And Brighteyes might not even risk coming out to look too much because she has a litter of baby squirrels, and she has to take care of them and protect them, so she can't spend a lot of time away from her nest or something bad might find them, and then ...." She shuddered visibly at what was, to her, a horrible thought of something happening to one of her gray squirrels. "That's why I have to get enough food for Brighteyes, because she needs me!" She looked quite distraught at the thought of failing her friends.
"If there's not enough," I interrupted her rambling, "then I'll help you get more out to them after dinner."
"Oh, would you? That'd be so great, because I have to take food to about eight places around campus, because they aren't all right here around the center, and if I have to do it by myself, then it'll take a long time and I'll be late, and I might not get all my homework done, and then I'll have to stay up really late working on homework and won't have any time to visit Jerry in his lab, and I'll be tired all day tomorrow."
"I'll help so you don't have to stay up late with homework, okay?" I said, interrupting her lengthy explanation.
"That'd be really super."
"I figured you were on your way to martial arts, so you could walk with me."
Anna smiled. "Yeah. I like martial arts. It's a lot of fun, but I'm not too good at it, not compared to Ayla and some of the others. And Toni is a genius at martial arts, and I don't think I could touch her if I had to spar against her, but I'd like to, because, like Ayla told me, I'm only going to get better if I spar against people who are better than me."
I chuckled. "You kick my butt almost every time, though. I don't know how you can say you're not good."
Anna giggled. "You're getting really good, though, and ...."
"That's because I'm taking three classes a day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and two every Tuesday and Thursday."
"It was really neat watching you fight with your knife and tomahawk. And fighting Hank last Monday and Ayla on Friday? That looked awesome! I mean, if Ayla couldn't go heavy, you'd have cut her into ribbons. And with those furry wristbands and that paint, you look like a really fierce warrior girl, especially when you're attacking with your tomahawks. I bet most guys would crap their pants if they saw you dressed like that attacking them. I mean, it looks so _awesome_!" She shrugged. "And in that dress, you're really, really pretty," she added, blushing a bit. I _was_ wearing one of my buckskin outfits, like I'd done since returning from Spring Break. I was glad that Mom had let me buy a variety of Lakota dresses.
"You're really cute, too," I replied. Beneath her bubbly, seemingly carefree exterior, she didn't have a lot of self-confidence, and it showed.
"Naw," she denied my comment. "I'm not ..."
"Yes you are," I cut off her protest. "At least Jerry really thinks so."
Crystal Hall, dinnertime
I bumped into Anna in the serving line. "Hi," I said. "Are we still on for after dinner?"
Anna smiled. "Yeah. I need to help my friends."
"Hey, squirrel girl! I saw some of your friends running around in the trees! Why aren't you with them?" It was Warfist, come for another round of taunting Anna.
"Put a sock in it, Weasel," I snapped at him, deliberately missing his code-name.
"That's Warfist to you, Buffalo Gal!" he snarled back.
Anna tugged on my sleeve. "Kayda, don't. It's okay."
"Isn't it breeding season for squirrels?" Uproar chimed in, taking the insults to a new level of nastiness. "Shouldn't you be out somewhere looking for a male squirrel?"
My anger burning at the way these assholes were insulting my friend, I started to wind up with a spell - the hair-removing one that Wakan Tanka didn't want to teach me several weeks earlier because it would remove _all_ hair. We'd see how Uproar and Warfist liked being totally hairless for a month or so and on the receiving end of taunts and jeers. Maybe _that_ would stop their teasing.
"No, Kayda, don't," Anna pleaded, grabbing my arm again. "Let's just get our food and go sit down. It's not worth getting in trouble." I knew that she wanted to keep me out of trouble.
"I don't like the way they're insulting you," I explained, letting my anger subside a bit.
Anna shrugged, but in her eyes, I could see that the taunts stung her more than she was letting on. "That's the way it goes for us Underdogs," she said, "'cause no-one takes us seriously, because we have weak powers and wimpy spirits and stuff, so the more powerful bullies can pick on us all the time, and we can't do much about it, so it's not worth getting upset about, is it? It's not like we were the strong ones, because if I had awesome powers, I'd be nice to everybody because I wouldn't want anyone to think I was a meanie or a bully."
After getting our trays, I was about to leave her to the Underdogs and join my own friends, but I saw the hurt look in her eyes - still. "C'mon. Why don't you eat with us?"
Anna's eyes widened. "You mean, sit with you guys? I can't do that. I mean, my friends will miss me, and you guys are pretty powerful and stuff. You guys kill snake monster demons, which we can't do. Well, maybe Nate could, if he ate enough beans or chili, because he toots a lot and it's really powerful and stinky, and one time, he wilted a plastic plant, and we won't let him in our clubhouse if he's had any chili because it smells so bad, so maybe one of his farts would be able to kill a snake monster, or he could light it like a blowtorch, which he did in his combat final, which was really, really funny."
I smiled; Anna's bubbly enthusiasm and chipper attitude were rather infectious. "After dinner, we'll meet and see what we can gather up for food for your little friends, and while we're working, I'll tell you some Native American stories. There are some I think you'd find interesting."
"Okay!" Anna was excited, although I couldn't tell whether it was from the promise of help feeding squirrels or from the prospect of my Native American stories. "Some of my other friends might be interested in your stories, too," she said a little meekly, "if you'd maybe have dinner with us." Her voice trembled a bit, like she was asking an emperor for favors or something. "Of course, you don't have to. Your friends are probably waiting for you to talk about demon killing and all kinds of neat stuff like that, and ...."
"Yes, I'll have dinner with you."
"What?" Her eyes were big as saucers.
"I'd be glad to have dinner with you and tell you some of the stories." I held up a cautionary finger. "On one condition."
"What? It's not going to be something big, is it?"
I chuckled. "Nate can't have any beans, cruciferous vegetables, chili, or anything else that might set him off." Anna giggled. "I don't have a spell to clear the air of stinky farts!"
We went to the Underdogs table. It wasn't in a prime location - after all, they _were_ underdogs, but through strength of numbers, someone had probably taken pity on them and had thrown them a bone. I was surprised to see Alicia at the table.
"Everyone, Kayda is going to eat with us, if that's okay," Anna said nervously.
Around the table were probably eight or nine students, most of whom I didn't recognize. Alicia was with them, so I smiled. "Hey, Alicia."
"Hi, Kayda. Decide you want to move up in the world and join the Underdogs?" she asked with a giggle.
"Yeah. I thought I'd see if there was a better view than from our table," I chuckled in return. "Hey, good news! Mom said I can go with you guys this summer! Make sure you tell Addy if I don't see her first, okay?"
Alicia grinned from ear to ear. "Addy's going to be so happy," she said. "We're going to have a ball! And Ah can't wait to visit France, either!"
A couple of girls gawked at Alicia. "You're traveling to France this summer ... with Kayda?" one that was later introduced as Lucille asked.
"Yeah. It's goin' t' be a blast!"
Anna quickly made a round of introductions, and I was glad my memory was improved with my exemplar trait; there was Will, Barry, Sue, and Teddy on one side of the table, while Darlene, Mindy, Lucille, Rhiannon, and Nate occupied the other side. If I hadn't known, I would have correctly guessed which one was Nate, both from the distance he was separated from the others and from the enthusiasm with which he was digging into a very large bowl of chili.
"Nate, if you're going to poot, you have to go somewhere else," Anna chided him. "Or Kayda'll turn you into a toad or something."
I thought a second, and then a wicked smile crept over my face. "I've got a 'bloodhound' spell I'm dying to try that makes a person's nose really, really sensitive to smells, and if I make the air spirit circle around Nate, he'll have to sit in his own gas _and_ smell it."
The look on Nate's face was priceless - he looked absolutely horrified that I might do something like that to him. No doubt, he didn't smell his own flatulence but he knew, from the effects on others, that it was very powerful. The prospect of smelling his own farts while the air spirit kept the farts only around him wasn't pleasant. The others around the table were laughing uproariously at the thought.
After staring at me, fearful and wondering if I really _would_ do something like that, Nate stood and picked up his tray, shuffling away from the table.
"That was kind of mean," Anna chided me gently, "but since he never thinks about us when he's eating chili, I guess he kind of had that coming. It wasn't like you actually _did_ the magic, after all, and ...."
I chuckled, shaking my head. "I don't know any spell like that," I admitted sheepishly. "I was teasing him."
"Is it true that you're a warrior princess like everyone says?" Barry finally got up the nerve to ask.
"Well, not a princess," I admitted, "but I _am_ a Lakota warrior."
"Is that why you wear your makeup like that?"
"It's not makeup," I said with a slight smile. "It's war paint." I saw eyes bugging out around me. "It marks me as being an In'oka warrior, a member of the badger society of warriors in my tribe."
"Wow!" Rhiannon said, eyes wide. "Does that mean you've got a badger spirit in you?"
"No," I laughed. "It means I fight like a badger - avoiding a fight when it's not necessary, but fighting fiercely and without quarter when I have to."
"That'd be so cool to have a neat spirit like that," Will said, his eyes on Anna, "instead of a squirrel spirit."
"What's wrong with the squirrel spirit?" I asked bluntly. Everyone glanced at Anna, and then locked their gazes on me. "To the Lakota, Tasnaheka and Zica are very important animal guides. They have lessons that help the People live. Without them, the People couldn't survive the long, hard winters." I smiled. "All the animal spirits teach the People something, but Tasnaheka and Zica, the ground squirrel and the red squirrel, teach us how to balance our lives and how to be prepared."
Barry chuckled. "So being in the Squirrel Patrol in Boy Scouts wasn't a _bad_ thing?" We all got a good laugh out of his comment.
Whateley Quadrangle, evening
"You have really neat stories," Anna said as we walked toward a small stand of trees where she'd been trying to feed her friends earlier. "You'll have to wait here," she cautioned. "Because they won't come down if other people are around. They don't trust anyone but me, because some of the boys are mean and throw rocks at them and stuff, and it makes me mad when I see that happening, but I can't really do much about it."
"I'll wait. But I think your friends will accept me." I sat down while Anna walked to the base of the tree.
She made a chittering noise, like squirrels, and a squirrel's head peeked up from a nest high up in the crook of a tree. The squirrel chittered back, which got a reply from Anna. Slowly, its eyes fixed on me, the squirrel came down the tree and then scampered to Anna, where it crawled in her lap. She fed it from her hand like one would feed a puppy or kitten.
"Tatanka," I called out as I entered my dream world for a moment.
"Yes, Wihakayda?" the shaggy white beast answered, having tried to sneak up from behind me.
"Will it frighten the squirrel if I walk to it?"
"No, Wihakayda. You talk to the spirits in your dream world. The animals should know you and not fear you."
I rose and slowly, cautiously walked toward Anna. I saw the squirrel perk up alertly, watching me, but it cocked its head back and forth a couple of times, and then chittered at Anna, who replied.
"What did he say?" I asked as I continued to walk slowly.
"She asked if I trusted you, and if you were _her_?" Anna replied, "but I don't know what she meant by that last bit."
"Is this one Brighteyes?" I asked as I slowly knelt beside Anna. I reached out toward the squirrel slowly, allowing it to look at me and smell me. Then it chittered at Anna before it jumped into my lap.
"What did she say?" I asked as I picked up a handful of granola from a bag Anna had been carrying and fed the squirrel from my hand.
"She said 'Good spirit. Trust her.'"
I smiled and chuckled softly. "It means that she can sense my spirit," I replied, "and she knows my spirit means her no harm." I took another small handful of granola and handed it to Brighteyes.
"Would you like to hear some Lakota legends of squirrels while we feed them?" I asked.
Anna's eyes brightened. "Yes. That sounds really cool. Are there really legends about squirrels?"
I chuckled, alarming Brighteyes a bit. "You wouldn't believe it, but even mice have important spirit lessons for the People, too. To the People, there is no such thing as a worthless animal. If the Great Spirit put an animal on the earth, then there was a reason, and there's something the People can learn from that animal."
"That sounds like a really neat way to think about things," Anna said with a grin. She held out her hand and Brighteyes jumped back to her.
As we made the rounds, feeding the squirrels, I told Anna several legends, and she got really excited to see the role squirrels played in Native American lore.
As we walked back toward her cottage, Anna was gushing with thanks. "It was fun to listen to your stories about squirrels and Native Americans and stuff."
"I'm glad I could help. And besides, you looked like you could use the help, and maybe someone to just talk to, because you seemed kind of tense," I observed.
Anna gulped and nodded. "I had a really bad day today," she admitted softly. "I didn't get to see Jerry, because he's doing some real important work on something new he's making, and if it isn't just right, it might be dangerous, and he's afraid that if I stop in to see him, it might distract him and that would be real bad 'cause I might accidentally make something blow up, and then they might blame Jerry, or they'd never let me back in the labs to see him, which would be really bad because sometimes, he works in his lab all day long, and I wouldn't get to see him on those days. And except for Advanced Aikido, my classes were really hard today, and we had a test in Chemistry that I don't think I did very good on, and if I flunk Chemistry, then I'll have to take it over, and Jerry might think I'm not very smart, because he's a genius in Chemistry, and I'm trying to learn more about it because I want to show him that I'm interested in what he does, but I don't understand any of it right now because I don't know anything about Chemistry so ...."
I stopped and swept her into a hug. Yes, it was girly, and yes, I was feeling more and more girly as time passed. "You won't flunk Chemistry, Anna," I assured her. "And if you have a bad day, you've got a lot of friends you can talk to." I had an interesting thought. "Would you like to meet the squirrel spirit?"
She frowned. "But I _have_ a squirrel spirit in me!" she protested.
I nodded. "Yes, you have a squirrel spirit. But not every animal spirit is in an avatar, and there are more than one spirit for any type of animals. Each herd or cluster or flock of animals usually has a spirit looking out for them."
"Oh. So there's more than one squirrel spirit?" she asked, sounding disappointed that perhaps her spirit wasn't as unique as she might have thought.
"Yes. Anyway, what I mean is, do you want to meet Tasnaheca and Zica, the squirrel spirits that are the animal guide spirits for the Lakota people?"
"Uh, yeah," she replied uncertainly. "Um, how ... how do I do that? How would I even find, them, and if I did, it'd be pretty rude of me to just walk up to them. I mean, I can't just walk up to a spirit and say 'hi', I'm Anna, and I want to talk to you. That'd be kind of rude, because I'm sure spirits are busy doing whatever they do, and they probably don't have a lot of time for people to bother them with a bunch of trivial stuff."
"In the Lakota dream world, yes, you can just walk up to them and meet them," I said with a smile.
"But ... I'm not Native American, and I don't know anything about a dream world, and besides, it sounds kind of mystical and scary and not a good place to be if you don't know what you're doing, and I don't, so ...."
I put my hand on her arm to calm her. "Anna, it's pretty easy if you have a shaman as a dream guide."
"A shaman is like a medicine man, right?" She shook her head. "I don't know any of them, and if I did, I wouldn't feel right ..."
"Yes, you do," I said with a grin. "You _do_ know a shaman."
Her eyes widened, making her look all the more innocent and sweet. "You're a shaman?"
"Well, not as good as Mr. Lodgeman, or my grandmother," I admitted with a sheepish grin, "but I'm learning to be a shaman, and I _do_ know how to be a dream guide. And yes, I'll introduce you to them. Well, me and my own buffalo spirit will."
"That'd be pretty cool, but I'm not sure, because it sounds kind of spooky, and everyone talks about bad spirits possessing avatars and making them bad, and I don't want that to happen, because I want to be nice and not mean, and a mean spirit would make me mean and nobody would like me anymore, and that'd make me really sad."
"Anna," I interrupted again, "it's very safe. It's a tradition that Lakota and other Native Americans have been doing for thousands of years. Do you think they'd keep doing dream-walking if it was scary or dangerous?"
"Okay, maybe," she said hesitantly. "But what if I don't dream about squirrels and Indians and stuff? What if I dream about space, and there aren't any squirrels in space, so I couldn't meet them, and then I'd be sad that I messed up my dream."
"Anna, that's why people on dream-quests have a dream-guide, someone who can guide them to the right dream."
"But if you want to do this, I have to have your permission."
"You can't just jump in to help my dreams?"
"I could," I answered, quickly adding, "but it's very rude, and considered by the People to be kind of a crime, and besides, the Psychic Arts department would get very angry at me if I did. They might even expel me if I dream-walked with someone without their permission." I flinched inwardly when I realized that I'd run on my sentence in an excited, rambling fashion like Anna usually did. And the other members of Wondercute. Eep!
"Um," Anna stammered nervously, "it sounds like it would be okay, and I don't want you to think I don't trust you, but I'm kind of nervous."
"It'll be okay. I've dream walked with several people, including friends from back home, and my parents." I neglected to mention that my dream-walking with Debra was very personal and intimate.
"Oh. Well," she hesitated a bit, "okay. Yeah. Let's do it!"
I took her hand, surprising her. Upon seeing the startled look in her eye, I smiled. "I need to hold your hand for a moment so I can 'feel' your psychic imprint. That way, I can find you in the dream world."
Anna fidgeted a bit more than usual as she pulled on her nightie, enough that her roommate, Elaine - Skids - noticed. "Are you okay, Anna?" Anna had been bullied enough that Skids worried about her. She was usually pretty reserved and hid her feelings, so if something was making her fidget, it had to be big.
"Yeah," Anna answered, "I ... I'm okay."
"What's got you so nervous?" Skids asked, having learned to bluntly confront Anna with questions, because her roommate had low enough self-confidence that she was hesitant to tell anyone about her problems, thinking that they had problems of their own that were more important. Anna needed a big shot of self-confidence. "Spill it."
"Um," Anna sat down on the edge of her bed, "I'm ... I'm going to do something called dream-walking tonight, and I'm nervous about it."
"Dream walking? Is that like sleep-walking?"
"Um, no," Anna said. She hated keeping secrets from her friends, because if she kept secrets from them, and they found out, they might keep secrets from her, like if one of them found out that Jerry really wanted her to ask him on a date but she didn't because she didn't know, and that made him mad and he'd break up with her, and that'd make her just want to die because she hadn't known because someone didn't want to share a secret with her.
"It's something that shamans do, like Kayda - she's a shaman, or an apprentice shaman or whatever they call them - and she said she'd help me dream-walk so I could meet some of her spirit guide animals like the squirrels, and I really want to, so she's going to help me dream walk tonight and she's going to meet me in a dream thing."
Skids frowned. "That doesn't sound safe, Anna," she said. "How do you know what kind of spirits you're going to meet, or if they're friendly, or if they might hurt you?" She sat down beside Anna. "I think we should go talk to Mrs. Nelson before you do anything."
"But ... Kayda might get upset if I don't meet her, and she might not want to do this again, so I might never get to meet the squirrel spirits she knows, and ...." Anna sniffled, fighting tears.
"Kayda should understand that you want to be a little cautious. If she doesn't ...."
"I don't want to make her mad at me," Anna pouted, "and I really want to meet her two squirrel spirit guides, but ...."
Skids settled the argument by picking up the phone and dialing. "Mrs. Nelson, I'm sorry to disturb you this late, but could you please come up to Anna's and my room?"
Anna fretted and worried until a knock sounded on the door and the housemother came in. "What's up?" She closed the door quietly and gracefully behind her; everything she did was with style and grace to set an example for _her_ girls. It took about ten milliseconds for her to read the worry wrinkles on Anna's brow. "Anna?"
Anna glanced nervous at Skids, and then began to explain. "Kayda helped me feed my friends and told me a lot of stories about Native American legends about squirrels because she knew I'd had a bad day and she wanted to cheer me up. And she has some kind of special thing with animal spirits because Brighteyes let Kayda hold her and feed her, so I know she's okay because she was so nice to Brigheyes and so helpful, like she likes animals as much as I like my squirrel friends. And then she said that she could let me meet her squirrel animal spirits and talk to them because she thought it would cheer me up."
Mrs. Nelson held up her hand to slow down the nervous girl. "How would she introduce you to her animal spirits?"
"She's learning to be a shaman, and shamans help people with dreams, so she said she'd take me dream-walking and introduce me to the spirits," Anna explained, glancing back and forth between Mrs. Nelson and her roommate. "But Elaine said she thinks it's dangerous and I shouldn't do it, but I'm afraid that Kayda will get mad at me and won't ever help me like this again, and then I wouldn't ever get to meet the squirrel spirits, and ...." she sniffled, fighting unsuccessfully to control her emotions.
Mrs. Nelson sat down beside Anna, taking her hand and patting it reassuringly. "If Kayda is a friend, she'll understand that you want to be careful," she said.
"But she said that it's really common, and that all shamans do it, like Mr. Lodgeman, and her grandmother, and ...."
"Mr. Lodgeman?" Mrs. Nelson asked. "Of course! He's a shaman, isn't he?" She patted Anna's hand again. "It's not _too_ late, so why don't we try calling Mr. Lodgeman and see what he thinks."
"Do we have to?" Anna worried.
"I really don't want to let one of my girls do something like this unless I know it's safe," Mrs. Nelson said, her voice full of motherly concern. When Anna nodded a tiny bit, Mrs. Nelson took out her cell phone and dialed a number. She pushed a button so it was on speakerphone.
After the third ring, the phone picked up. "Charlie Lodgeman."
"Mr. Lodgeman? Mrs. Nelson in Dickinson Cottage."
"Ah, Mrs. Nelson. How are you this evening?" Mr. Lodgeman said.
"I'm sorry to call you at this hour, but I have a question about something called dream ...?" She looked at Anna, puzzled.
"Dream walking," Anna said toward Mrs. Nelson's phone, her voice cracking from her extreme case of nerves. "Kayda said she'd take me dream-walking so I could meet the squirrel spirit animals."
"Ah, I should have known it would involve Kayda if someone called this late." He half-chuckled, half-sighed. "And you want to know if it's safe, right?"
"Yes," Mrs. Nelson answered for both of them.
"Kayda is a very accomplished dream-walker, considering her age. And she's made some very powerful ... protections ... around her dream world, so she's as safe as she can be." He laughed aloud. "She's still a little rash, but most of our students are, aren't they?"
"So you think it'd be okay for Anna to dream-walk with Kayda?" Mrs. Nelson asked bluntly.
"Given the protections around Whateley, and around Kayda's own dream-world, I don't see how it could be dangerous at all," Mr. Lodgeman answered.
Anna started to smile, but Mrs. Nelson cut that short. "Let me put it another way, Mr. Lodgeman. If you were houseparent, and it was one of your charges, would _you_ be comfortable letting him or her dream-walk with Kayda?"
"Yes," Mr. Lodgeman answered after a very brief pause. "Yes, I would."
"Thank you, Mr. Lodgeman," Mrs. Nelson said, sounding more comfortable with the idea. "Again, I apologize for disturbing you this late."
"It's no problem," Mr. Lodgeman replied with a light laugh. "To be honest, I was preparing some tea in preparation for a little meditation, after which I'll visit some spirits in _my_ dream world."
Mrs. Nelson hung up her phone, and then turned to Anna. The girl's face was wrinkled with worry that Mrs. Nelson would still tell her no. Unspoken was her request for permission from her substitute mother. Mrs. Nelson looked a bit concerned. "I've only got one more thing to say," she said, drawing a seriously worried look from Anna. Mrs. Nelson patted her hand and smiled. "Sweet dreams, dear."
Anna's eyes were wide, and then she felt like she was going to faint when Mrs. Nelson told her it was okay. "Thank you, Mrs. Nelson," she said, her voice trembling.
The housemother rose and walked gracefully to the door to let herself out, pausing to look back at Anna. "I hope you'll tell me what the experience is like, dear."
Anna nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, Mrs. Nelson. I'll tell you all about it."
Kayda's Dream World
"Quit fretting," Wakan Tanka chided me as I paced back and forth. "You'll feel her presence when she starts dreaming."
"I ... I'm not fretting," I said defensively.
"Stop and reach out to see if you can feel her presence," my mentor said as she paused over the cups of tea.
I stopped pacing nervously and reached out with my senses. "She's ... asleep," I said hesitantly.
"Good. Go to meet her."
I walked from the camp, and it faded into mist behind me as the scene changed to mountainous terrain. I followed the feeling and emerged into a meadow, where Anna stood, wearing a buckskin dress and looking around herself in awe.
"This is ... really neat," she gushed. "There isn't anything like this in Zanesville, where I grew up, and they don't really want us to go hiking in the mountains around school, so I really didn't know what it looked like, but it's really pretty, and ..." She stopped abruptly, staring at me, her eyes wide. "Wow! That's a really pretty outfit! You look really nice! Is that what Indians really wore, because I don't really know, and I figured that the way they show it in movies was all wrong, and ...." She gawked a bit. "Please don't ever wear that around Jerry, because he'll notice you and won't pay attention to me, because he's a regular boy and they can't help looking at pretty girls, even if they're trying to pretend not to, and you're so much prettier than I am and I don't want Jerry to look at you instead of me, and ...."
I chuckled, having forgotten that my dream-world outfit was a lot more daring. Usually, it was for Debra's eyes only. "I won't," I interrupted Anna - again. "I ... I don't want boys looking at me like that." I couldn't hide the trembling in my voice.
"It's because those boys beat you up - back home, isn't it?" she half-stated, half-asked. "But someday you'll be better, and then maybe you'll have a boyfriend, and ..." She halted suddenly, seeing that I was shaking. "Kayda?" she asked, concerned. "Kayda?" I felt her steadying hands on my shoulders, and then was wrapped in an embrace. "I'm sorry," she said over and over. "I didn't mean to upset you, but I thought that ..."
"They not only tried to beat me to death, but they raped me, too." I hung my head in shame, feeling for a moment like I was dirty and broken. After a second, I swallowed hard. "Promise you won't tell anyone? Not a soul?"
"I'm sorry I said anything," Anna began to apologize. "I promise I won't tell anyone, and I didn't mean to make you sad or upset or anything, but I didn't know, and I figured ..."
"Let's not talk about this, okay?" I said quickly, cutting off her protests. "You came here to meet the squirrel spirits, so let's go meet them." I smiled at something that occurred to me. "By the way, did you notice what _you're_ wearing?"
Anna frowned, and then she looked down. A squeal of delight burst from her lips. "Wow! This is so pretty! I hadn't even noticed that I'm dressed like you. Well, kind of like you, because this is more like what I'd wear to class if I were Indian, but I'd never have the nerve to wear something like you're wearing. Not in public, anyway, because I'm not as pretty as you are, and even in my room, I'd feel naughty and ..."
"Anna, you look very nice. Pretty. If Jerry saw you in that, he probably couldn't take his eyes off of you."
She squealed with delight at that thought. "But wait a second. Why am I wearing this? Is it a thing in your dream space that it's for Indians only, and I have to dress like one so I fit in and no-one gets upset at me? Because I wouldn't want anyone to get upset because I'm wearing the wrong clothes."
"My ... mentor knows that the animal spirits are very comfortable talking to Native Americans, but not so much talking to ... non-Native Americans. Most white people don't have time for animal spirits, or even believe in them. Most of them certainly don't have respect for the animal spirits the way the People do. So this will help the spirits feel more comfortable." I saw her frown. "I don't mean that as a racial thing," I added quickly. "And besides, you look very pretty in that dress."
There was a faint rustling, which, surprisingly, Anna heard. She practically leaped behind me to hide from the shaggy white bison plodding noisily out of the trees. "You're ambling about like a great noisy cow again," I greeted my other spirit.
"I didn't want to frighten your friend," Tatanka said. He looked at Anna, who was peeking out from behind me. "She bears a spirit of Tasnaheca!" he pronounced.
"Yes, and I want to introduce her to Tasnaheca and Zica."
He nodded and led us into the pine forest of the Black Hills, where he stopped at the base of a deciduous tree. "Zica!" he called.
A squirrel popped his head from behind a branch, and then his eyes widened. He scampered down the tree, headfirst like only squirrels can, his eyes fixed on Anna, and then he leaped onto her shoulder, chittering away the whole time excitedly, while Anna, her eyes shining with delight, chittered back at him.
"Slow down, Zica," I cautioned him in Lakota. "I don't know if she understands you."
Anna turned excitedly to me. "I understand him. He was telling me that it's good to see a cousin spirit because he hasn't seen one in many moons, and was asking how I am, so I was telling him all about my friends back at school, and how they help me and I help them, and ...."
"Can we all speak something other than squirrel?" I asked plaintively.
"If you desire it, Ptesanwi," Zica said in perfect Lakota.
This time, Anna's eyes glazed over. I chided myself, and then quickly incanted a spell and touched her forehead. "That should do it."
"Do what?" Anna asked, puzzled. "Oh, my gosh! You're not speaking English, but I understand you! What did you do? This is soooo neat!".
"Ptesanwi has given you the gift of the People's language," Zica said, "so that we can all speak a common language."
"Can you do this for other languages, because I'm supposed to take Spanish next fall, and I don't know _anything_ about Spanish, and my teachers say I'm not even good in English, and they must be right because I'm not getting good grades, but if you could use that little spell, then I wouldn't have to worry, and I would have more time to see my little friends, and hang out with Jerry in his lab ..." Anna said, eyes wide and bubbling with her usual enthusiasm. Somehow, though, she seemed more talkative and chatty than happy.
"Even your little friends notice that you are unhappy," Zica said. "Why is this?"
Anna winced. She hadn't expected that Zica would know what her squirrel friends were saying about her. "It's just sometimes I feel like my squirrel spirit isn't very important, or powerful, or anything. People tell me how cool it is, but a lot of the other kids tease me and laugh at me and call me squirrel-girl, and sometimes it makes me hurt inside because no-one thinks the squirrel spirit is very important, and I don't know what to say except sometimes it makes me cry and feel really bad inside, like Im not worth anything because I don't have cool powers like most of the other kids do."
"And that's why we came to see you, Zica," I continued. "Anna needs to learn the importance of the squirrel, and the lessons you teach the People so she can be feel better about herself."
"_Who_ is unhappy with a squirrel spirit?" cried a small voice from near the base of the tree. We looked down and saw Tasnaheca, the ground squirrel, staring up at Anna and me. "How could anyone be unhappy with a squirrel spirit?"
"Sit," Zica said, and we all sat down, except Tatanka who wandered back into the meadow to graze. "Cousin, this girl bears the spirit of our kind, but she doesn't feel that it's important, and that makes her unhappy," he said to Tasnaheca.
"How could you be unhappy?" the ground squirrel asked looking straight at Anna. "Tell me, cousin, are _we_ unhappy?"
"No," Anna said hesitantly. "I don't _think_ so."
"And your little friends - are they unhappy?"
Anna thought a moment. "Sometimes, like when the mowers are driving around and making a lot of noise, or when the boys throw rocks at them, and sometimes if something happens to their young, they get upset."
"Do they stay unhappy or upset for long?" Zica continued.
"Nnnoooo," Anna answered slowly. "They don't."
"Because they don't think about what made them unhappy. They think about what's important. And do you know what's important?"
"Getting food? And hibernating in the winter?"
"Exactly. So we have to prepare, and that's a lesson we teach."
"But ... bears hibernate, too!" Anna countered.
Tasnaheca snorted, and Zica rolled his eyes. "Mato lumbers about in a grumpy mood all the time," he said. "He is always serious, always eating or sleeping. He does not know fun."
"We conserve our food and plan so we can last through the winter," Zica continued. "We use our time wisely, and don't waste it on things that aren't important. That leaves us time to play."
"Play?" Anna asked, sounding a bit astonished.
"Yes, play," I said with a smile. "Like Ptan, who balances her life with play and serious matters. Surely you've seen your little friends on campus play!"
"You _are_ learning something, Wihakayda!" Tatanka grunted from nearby. I turned and shot him a glare.
"When you are with our kind, do they mope and grump around like Mato? Or are they mostly happy and playful?" Tasnaheca asked bluntly.
"But ... you're little! And there are so many bigger animals that are more important!" Anna grumbled. "Like the eagle is so ... pretty and it flies so gracefully. And the bear is big and majestic and kind of frightening a little. And the elk and deer - they run so gracefully. And ...."
Tasnaheca snorted. "We get it. There are a lot of animals that are bigger than us. But size doesn't make one important. Strength doesn't make one important. Fierce looks do not make one important."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "Is Sensei Ito the biggest, strongest instructor in martial arts?"
"Uh, no," Anna replied hesitantly. "But he's skilled and he sometimes seems mean and intimidating, and all the kids want to do exactly what he says because they're scared of him - even Ayla is intimidated by him!"
"His talents and role are what is important, not his size," Zica said. "Just as our talents and role are important, not our size. We help the forests and grasslands grow by hiding seeds and acorns in the ground, and some sprout before we can retrieve them to feed. It is an important part of renewing the earth."
Zica scrambled out of Anna's lap and began to lope off toward the meadow. "Come," he ordered.
As we exited the grove of trees, the landscape shifted, and we were on the edge of a native tepee village near a river. Anna was confused as we walked into the village; around us were many of the People - old, young, men, women, children. We weren't invisible; the People greeted us, or the kids dodged around us as they ran and played, but they didn't seem to really notice us.
"Look at the People," Zica said to her.
Anna and I looked around; it was new to her, but I'd dream-walked in Lakota villages before as part of my 'training'. Some women were sewing garments, and laughing amongst themselves, while others here and there were cooking food or drying jerky. Children were playing - the boys at stalking, hunting, and raiding games, with a few girls joining them, while others played some native games - and most were chuckling and joking amongst themselves.
We walked further, observing men sitting around as they worked on tanning a buffalo hide. Nearby, some of the braves were practicing with their lances, and having a good time competing with each other. As we watched, several men returned from a successful hunt, bearing a mule deer they'd killed, and even they were enjoying light-hearted banter. Eventually, we left the camp and walked back into the trees.
"What were the People doing?" Zica asked. He didn't wait for either of us to answer. "You saw the women making pemmican and drying jerky. You saw men hunting, even though their stomachs and food pouches are full. You observed the People tanning buffalo hides for warm robes and blankets, to protect them from the cold."
"The People are following the lessons of Tasnaheca and Zica," I expounded on the theme. "If not for the lesson of our friends here, the People would not prepare as well, and the winter would be very hard. Without emulating the squirrel spirits, the village couldn't survive through the snows of winter. Like Tasnaheca and his cousin Zica, the People conserve and save."
"In the winter, the herds are hard to hunt, and food isn't plentiful," Tasnaheca added. "So they have to prepare, to store up provisions - like we do."
"And even though they were working, the People made time to play," Zica added. "They had balance in their lives - neither working too hard so that they were unhappy, nor playing too much that they were unprepared - like we do."
Anna nodded, wide-eyed at what the squirrel spirits were telling her. I knew, though, that there was something that she wasn't quite convinced of. "Tasnaheca," I said, "some of the people in our school make fun of Anna for having a squirrel spirit." Anna shot a disapproving glance at me for telling the spirits, but the look in her eyes betrayed her true feelings - that the teasing and taunting _were_ taking their toll emotionally.
The two squirrels frowned deeply. "They are fools," Zica spat. "_You_ have the lessons of the squirrel. They have no such lessons, and will thus make foolish mistakes that you will avoid."
"You must be as proud of having a squirrel spirit as would be a person with the spirit of Mato the bear or Wabli the eagle," Tasnaheca added.
"But ... it's hard when they're making fun of me," Anna sniffled. "Compared to most of the other kids, my powers are kind of insignificant."
"You cannot compare yourself to others," Tasnaheca added. "If I compared myself to Hehaka, the elk, I would feel bad for being small and not having his majestic antlers. If I compared myself to Cetan, the hawk, I would be sad that I am stuck to the ground, while he soars through the sky. If I compared myself to Hoka, the badger, I would be ashamed that I lack his sharp claws and teeth for fighting."
Anna nodded slowly, thinking about what she'd seen. It was obvious that she wanted to say something, but wasn't sure how to say it aloud. But the squirrel spirits wanted to play, and so she played follow-the-leader with Zica through the trees, jumping and climbing in ways I didn't think a person could. She played tag with Tasnaheca, and though she lost because he could scamper through tiny places, she was beaming by the time we walked back to Wakan Tanka's camp.
Debra and Wakan Tanka were sitting by the fire waiting patiently. Debra leaped to her feet and gave me a big hug. I wanted to kiss her soft, sensuous lips, but with Anna there, I dared not. Instead, we all sat around the fire circle, where I made some tea and we chatted about the spirits she'd met, and Wakan Tanka served us some soup in gourd bowls. Anna looked much happier, and more relaxed, than she had the previous day in the real world.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Crystal Hall, breakfast
I had just sat down with my friends at our usual table when Anna practically ran to me. "Hi, Kayda," she gushed. "Thank you for taking me dream-walking last night! I had a lot of fun, and it was neat to see how important the squirrel spirits are to your People, and it was sooo cooool to meet them and play games with them, and talk to them, and they treated me like I was really important and stuff, and ..." She paused to take a breath, fighting an ear-to-ear grin.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," I answered with a smile.
"It was _great_! I hope you won't think I'm being a pest or anything, but maybe sometime we can do that again? The place we were in the mountains was so pretty, and the spirits were so much fun, and I really liked it when we went into the village and saw all the people so I could see how the squirrel spirit's lessons were so important to them!"
I chuckled at her bubbly enthusiasm, which was at least an order of magnitude greater than it had been the previous day. "Yeah, we can do it again sometime. But not all the time, because my dream-space is where I get tutoring from my own spirit," I cautioned her, "and sometimes I like to dream-walk with my family."
"Okay," Anna agreed immediately. "Will you let me know when I can do that again? And would it be possible to dream-walk with others, like maybe my friend Rhiannon, or maybe even Jerry, so they could see how cool it is and meet the squirrel spirits and stuff?"
I smiled. "We'll see. But it's like ice cream - you don't want to eat it every day because you'd get tired of it."
"That makes sense, even if I want to do it again."
"With some practice and training," I added, "you _might_ someday learn to dream-walk on your own ...."
"That'd be so neat!" Anna gushed.
"Not everyone can learn how to dream-walk," I cautioned her. "So you can't count on being able to dream-walk by yourself, but you can always find a dream guide to help you."
"Will you help me try to learn?"
"I'll talk to my spirit about how to teach you, but yeah, I'll see if I can teach you."
"That'd be so awesome!" Anna said excitedly.
"But you don't have to just dream-walk to spend time with your friends - or with Jerry," I added with a mischievous grin.
Anna goggled for a moment, thinking about what I'd said, and then she blushed. "Anyway, I should let you eat, but I wanted so say thank you," Anna said again. Beaming with happiness, she went to the serving line so she could get her own breakfast.
"What was that about?" Laurie and Evvie asked as Anna left.
I put down the forkful of scrambled eggs I'd started to scoop up. "Anna was feeling kind of down yesterday because she was being teased about her squirrel spirit, so last night, I took her dream-walking to meet the Lakota squirrel spirits."
"That was a nice thing to do for her," Laurie said. "She's a very sweet girl, but sometimes, she doesn't have a lot of self-confidence."
"Yeah, she's really nice," I agreed, and then returned to my scrambled eggs. I'd gotten no more than two bites when I noticed someone else approaching the table.
"Morning, Kayda," Ayla said as I quickly swallowed the half-chewed mouthful of eggs.
"Morning." I read the look on Ayla's face. "What can I do for you?"
Ayla laughed lightly. "Can't I just come by to visit?"
"Yes," I replied with a smile, "but usually, you have a reason. And since you bought a couple of jars of mom's jelly, I know _that's_ not it."
"Okay, so I _do_ have an ulterior motive," Ayla admitted. I'd hoped to get a blush or some other kind of emotional reaction, but Ayla was very experienced in not showing any emotion. "I wanted to stop by and thank you for what you did for Anna. She's a very good friend, and I was getting a little worried about her because she seemed to be getting depressed, especially with all the teasing. Taking her dream-walking really made her practically giddy with happiness."
I smiled. "I'm glad I could help her out. I like Anna. It's hard to be in a bad mood around her."
"You know," Ayla speculated, "there's probably a decent demand for dream-guides, and you could probably turn that into a decent cash-flow if you had the right manager."
My mouth dropped open, and I goggled at her, struggling to find a way to respond to Ayla's outrageous proposal. "But ... but ... I _can't_ charge people ...."
Ayla smiled. "I'm pulling your leg, of course! I'd never seriously suggest making a business out of your - or anyone else's - religion."
Around me, my friends laughed, while I blushed at having been pranked by Ayla. Taking a friend dream-walking, getting pranked about making a business out of being a dream-guide - it was another interesting start to what promised to be another typical day at Whateley.