This tale takes place after Warriors and before Sentinel Too. Spoilers for Warriors. Rated PG-13. Warnings for violence, shamanism, and magic. The legend of Curupira does exist. Suquamish State Park doesn't. Thanks to my university library and the web for information about shamans, Amazonia, the Quechua language, forests and fishing rods. A special Big Thank You to my wonderful beta readers Carolyn, Melanie, Dana and Marlene for their eagle eyes and encouragement. Another special Big Thank You to Tonya for giving me a home at The Loft, and for her patience in waiting for me to get through more than one writer's block and finish this thing!
The Sentinel world belongs to Pet Fly, Paramount, USA/SCI-FI and UPN. Curupira belongs to no one. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has changed hands.
Feedback of all kinds is greatly desired, positive, constructive, private or public. Please write me at LSuther569@aol.com
When the first explosion rocked the rainforest, monkeys screamed, birds took flight, and small animals cowered in fear. In the Chopec village, people looked at each other, startled and dismayed. Deeper in the jungle, another creature was roused abruptly from its slumber. When a helicopter flew noisily overhead, it raised its eyes to the canopy above and bellowed in rage, and when the next explosion came, it began to shamble slowly toward the source of the noise, toward the Amazon.
Eventually, the creature reached the edge of the forest. It hid in the shadows, staring at the scene of destruction. A bulldozer was busily clearing a large space by the river, and a raw new road led away from the boat landing. A large sign proclaimed "Property of Cyclops Oil."
As night fell, the sounds of explosions, helicopters and bulldozers were replaced by raucous laughter coming from small shacks in the clearing. Curious golden eyes followed people's movements around the encampment.
The next week, one of the workers was found dead in the jungle, clawed, bitten and crushed to death. There was much nervous speculation about what kind of an animal could have killed the man that way.
Over the next few weeks, the settlement grew quickly in size, and the noise never stopped. Piles of rotting garbage grew around the shacks, and debris and oil slicks floated on the river. Animals began to disappear from that part of the forest. Another worker was found dead, covered with bites and claw marks, and with all his ribs broken. Not long after that, a man who had wandered drunkenly into the jungle emerged back at the camp in breathless terror, giving a confused account of being chased by a huge ape.
One night, five Chopec warriors made their way stealthily to the landing where a boat, the Star of Peru, was tied up. When they reached the river's edge, the Shaman Incacha turned his head and looked into the forest. He met the glowing eyes which stared out of the dark, then turned back and boarded the boat. The next morning the Star of Peru left, and the warriors with it.
"Yes, boss," one of the workers said eagerly. "I think it must be. It looks like what people have described. Jose and I set a trap in the jungle not far from here and it stepped into our noose and was caught in the net. Its headdress fell off when it was fighting the net and it seemed to lose its spirit then. See, it was wearing these feathers on its head." He held up the red feathered headdress, and the creature growled and tried to reach for it. "Oh, no you don't," he said, stepping further away from the grasping hands.
"Jesus, what a stench." The big boss moved slowly around the cage, looking curiously at the captive. It looked balefully back at him. "It's not a gorilla," he said consideringly. "It's not a man either. So what is it?"
There was a silence, and one of the workers said, "I never seen nothing like it, but I'm not from around here."
The boss smiled slyly. "I'm sending it to Cascade. Cyclops can donate it to the zoo and get some good publicity. There's a boat coming tomorrow. Get this thing on it."
"Hey, you," Paco said, giving the cage a little kick. "Wake up."
The creature stirred slightly.
"I don't think he wants to party, Enrique."
Enrique looked blearily around the room. "He needs a party hat." He picked up a red feathered headdress lying on the floor and pushed it through the bars, settling it unsteadily on the furry head.
Paco grinned, then turned pale. "I don't feel so good," he mumbled, heading for the door.
Enrique followed him, laughing. "Too many beers, pal.
In the deserted hold, the creature sat up and looked around. Pushing the headdress down firmly on its head, it flexed unused muscles, then pounded and pulled the lock on the door until it broke. No one noticed as it climbed over the side of the ship and disappeared into the black waters of the harbor.
The young hiker refastened a buckle on his pack, enjoying the quiet scene. He scanned the woods around him, knowing that dusk was the best time to see animals appear. Maybe he would be lucky today and see a rare flying squirrel launch itself from a tree. He peered into the shadows, his vision somewhat obscured by the lush undergrowth. Then he noticed a movement at the edge of a dense tangle of dead branches not far away. As he tried to make out what it was, a bat swooped by his head, and he ducked instinctively to avoid it. A second bat brushed by his ear from the opposite direction. When he looked up again, another movement caught his eye, closer now, with a flash of red. Squinting into the gloom, he made out a tall dark figure lurching toward him with an odd gait. As it drew closer, he could make out shaggy black hair and an open mouth with huge pointed fangs. It seemed to be wearing a red hat. No, they were feathers. He stared at it, disbelieving, for a few seconds, until the creature gave a fierce cry and reached out for him. He gasped and sprinted away from its grasp, not stopping until he reached the parking lot.
"You think I'm crazy, don't you, Professor Sandburg? Never mind, I'll just go." Jason's face was turning beet red. "I was hoping you might believe me," he mumbled, standing up and preparing to leave Blair's office.
Blair didn't correct him on "Professor" Sandburg. He motioned the embarrassed young freshman to sit down again. "Hold it, Jason, I never said you were crazy. I hope you did see Bigfoot, because as an anthropologist I'd love to find him. But you can't expect me to just accept a statement like that without a little more proof. I know you wouldn't lie, and I'm sure you saw something unusual out there at the park yesterday, but there may well be some other explanation. Now, sit down and let's talk about it."
Jason sat back down, slouching his lanky teenager's body uncomfortably into the hard chair, the blush slowly fading from his face. Hazel eyes looked earnestly at Blair from under a long fringe of reddish bangs.
Blair smiled back at him encouragingly and leaned back in his chair. "Have you talked to anybody else about this yet?"
"No, I came to you because you seem like somebody who would listen to me, and everybody says you're always helping people."
"I'll try, Jason. Now tell me again what it looked like."
"Well, I didn't see it for very long, since I was trying to get away, but it was big, more than six feet tall, maybe seven feet. It was covered in long black hair and it had fangs," he said. "It walked funny and kind of slow, almost like it was stumbling. It smelled bad. And I know this sounds strange, but it had red feathers on its head, like a headdress or something."
"Animals don't wear headdresses," Blair said thoughtfully, tucking a stray piece of hair behind his ear. "People do."
"But people aren't usually totally covered with long black hair, and people don't have fangs."
"True. But it was almost dark, right? You couldn't see very well. Maybe you just thought you saw hair and fangs and a headdress. Maybe it was some joker trying to scare you."
"I know what I saw," Jason said stubbornly, "and he... or it... wasn't just trying to scare me. It tried to attack me."
"In the reports I've seen, Bigfoot doesn't attack people. He's usually trying to run away."
"Well, I'm not saying it was Bigfoot," Jason reminded him.
"I think you should report it to the police."
"Oh no, please, I don't want to get involved with the police."
"But if he tried to attack you, he might attack other people out at the park. I'll go with you. It won't be so bad."
"Do I have to? They'll think I'm nuts."
"No, they won't. I think you should talk to them. Listen, I have a friend in the department. Let me give him a call first."
"Oh, all right, I guess, if you really think I should," Jason said reluctantly, squirming a little in his chair.
Blair dialed Jim and told him he was coming down to the station with a friend, then described Jason's encounter. As he listened to Jim's reply, he began to frown. "We'll be in right away," he said shortly, hanging up and turning to Jason.
"This is not good. A body was found this morning at Suquamish State Park, a hiker they think was attacked by a wild animal. He was covered with deep bites and gashes that appear to be from teeth and claws. This is just too much of a coincidence. You'd better talk to the Major Crime Division, not the Bigfoot Sighting Division. You may have seen the killer."
Jim had been engrossed in examining the evidence in the case. He stood up and shook hands with the young student, nodding curtly. "Thanks for coming. Have a seat and tell me about Bigfoot."
Jason looked a little apprehensively at the grim-looking detective with the imposing frame, and glanced at Blair for reassurance.
"Jason, meet Detective Ellison. He only looks like he bites." Blair put a comforting hand on Jason's shoulder.
Jim glared at Blair, Blair grinned back, and they all sat down.
Jason said earnestly, "I'm not saying it was Bigfoot. I'm not saying it was anything. I'm not crazy. But I did see something strange out there that tried to attack me. If it was the same thing that killed the hiker, well, that could have been me." He blanched at the realization.
Jim unobtrusively turned over a picture of the dead hiker, which had been lying face up on his desk. "There hasn't been a decision yet whether to treat this as a homicide or animal attack, so it came to Major Crime. It's looking like an animal attack, but we haven't gotten the results back yet from the lab. Death probably occurred last evening, but we don't have a definite time yet either. If you could tell me exactly what you saw, when, and where, it would be very helpful." He switched on a tape recorder.
Jason took a deep breath, then repeated the story he had told Blair.
As Jim listened to Jason's account, he began to tap his pen restlessly on his desktop.
Why is this making Jim nervous, Blair wondered.
"So you saw him just past the fork in the trail that leads to Bear Lake?" Jim confirmed, as Jason finished his account.
"Right, maybe thirty feet past the sign, by a big cedar."
"Thanks, Jason," Jim said, continuing to tap. "You're a good witness. We'll get this transcribed, and then you can sign your statement. What do you think it was? Man, animal, or Bigfoot?"
"I just don't know, sir. None of the above, I think," he said helplessly.
Jim shrugged, still tapping. "Maybe it's a prankster. Somebody in a bear suit, or a Bigfoot suit."
"You never know, maybe it really is Bigfoot," Blair interjected. "Wouldn't it be amazing if there really was a hominid that evolved parallel to Homo sapiens and has been existing hidden from us all this time?" He began to warm to the subject, his eyes gleaming. "There are so many similar legends, all over the world: Bigfoot, the Yeti, the West African Koolakamba. It just seems like there must be something to it. If we could contact it ... man, think of what we could learn!"
Jim gave him a bemused look. "Anthropologists," he muttered. "Whatever he saw wasn't friendly. It tried to attack him, and it may have killed someone. I don't think it wants to be studied. And I've never heard that Bigfoot wore feathers. There aren't any birds around here with bright red feathers either, by the way, unless somebody's parrot escaped. The park has been closed. I'll go out there and see if I can find some evidence of this creature. You coming, Sandburg?"
Jim nodded and turned to Jason. "One more question. This may sound odd, but did you notice any bats?"
Jason looked at him, startled. "Now that you mention it, yes, there were a number of bats flying around. That's not really unusual in the forest at night, but they almost seemed like they were following the creature, circling it. A couple of them buzzed me. What are you saying, that it's a Bigfoot vampire or something?"
"No, no, it's probably nothing. " Jim began to tap his pen again.
Blair looked over at Jim, puzzled.
They escorted Jason down the hall to get his account transcribed, and left him waiting to sign the written statement. As they rode the crowded elevator down to the parking garage, Blair prattled on about the really dreadful garage band Jason played in, but when they were in the truck Blair turned seriously to his friend.
"You have some idea what this is, don't you?" he asked, quirking his eyebrows.
Jim hesitated, and looked at Blair uncomfortably. "It reminds me of something I used to hear about in South America. But this is Cascade, not Peru, and it was just a legend."
"Tell me anyway."
"Well, all over the Amazon Basin there are stories about spirits that live in the forests. I met people who claimed to have seen them."
Blair nodded. "I know a little about that. I know they're often considered the protectors of the forest and the animals there."
"Some are harmless, like the uahti that roam the jungle at night and scare people. But there's one kind that people are very afraid of, called Curupira, or Boraru. He's man-like, but not a man, and he's covered by shaggy black hair, with big pointed fangs. His feet are twisted so his toes face backward and his heels forward, and his knees don't have joints. He has a red feathered headdress, and a terrible smell. I've heard stories about hunters meeting him and being chased or even killed. And it's said there are always bats around him at night, and butterflies in the daytime."
"This is really weird. It does sound like what Jason saw."
"I know, Chief." Jim sighed. "I hadn't thought about that legend for a long time. When I was with the Chopec, we'd sit around the fire at night and people would tell stories. The jungle was out there, full of strange creatures waiting in the darkness, but we were safe with our friends around the fire."
"Friends can keep monsters away, sometimes."
"And big fires - that helps too. But monsters are out there waiting, as soon as the fire goes out. That's one reason a village needs a Sentinel. And if the Sentinel can't keep the monster away, the Shaman can. Incacha knew rituals and spells for dealing with monsters, ghosts, evil spirits and all kinds of danger." Jim stared into space, remembering, smiling a little. "He told great stories, too."
"I'm sorry. I wish I could have known him better before he died."
"I do, too. He could have taught you so much. You know, I thought I was done with the Chopec life, until Incacha and the others showed up here a few months ago. Now if Curupira has shown up too, wouldn't that just be too much?" He laughed shortly. "But the Chopec are real. Curupira is a legend. He's not real. He may have been real in Peru, but he's not real here. He can't be."
"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in the garments green… something, something," Blair intoned.
"Didn't you ever read Longfellow's 'Evangeline,' Jim?"
"If I did I don't remember."
"I always think of that when I walk into an old forest like this. Unfortunately I can never remember anything past the 'garments green'. Did you know that this park has one of the last remaining stands of old-growth forest in Washington? A few hundred years ago the forest primeval covered the whole West Coast, and now it's almost gone. There are only little pockets left, like this one."
"I know. I always liked coming out here when I was growing up. It was so peaceful. And when I came back from Peru I'd come out here when I needed to get away from things."
"Just look up, Jim."
They stopped walking and raised their eyes to the treetops. The spike-topped crowns of massive Douglas firs and western red cedars brushed the sky two hundred feet above their heads, bending gently in the breeze.
"Some of these trees are a thousand years old. Don't they make you feel a little humble? They're like the pillars of some ancient temple."
"Yeah, Chief, I feel it too, just like I did in the jungle. This place is bigger and older than we are."
Blair looked speculatively at his partner. He'd have to get Jim out in the woods more often if it made him open up a little bit about his past.
They continued walking deeper into the forest, following the path as it wound around huge tree trunks and moss-covered logs. Shafts of light from far above illuminated the carpet of sword ferns and salal. The only sounds were the sighing of the tree branches in the wind, the call of an occasional bird, and their own breathing. Jim carefully scanned the forest and the trail, looking for anything unusual. Suddenly he stopped, and Blair almost ran into him. His focus zoomed in on footprints coming down the path and returning back up it, then disappearing off the side into the trees.
"Look at this. Whatever left these tracks was walking on two feet, but it wasn't wearing shoes. These don't look quite like any human footprints I've ever seen, and they're huge."
Blair knelt down to examine them. "They look pretty odd to me, too." He paused, considering. "Of course if it really is Curupira the prints are going in opposite directions than they appear to be." His hands dove back and forth, illustrating. "At least they're both coming and going the same way. But then maybe it's just some guy with such peculiar big feet that he can't get fitted in the shoe store."
"Well, maybe..." Jim looked down at the prints again and then looked seriously at Blair. "I hate to say this, but the indentations are heaviest on the toes. People normally come down on the heel first and hardest."
"So what are we going to do when we find this… whatever it is?"
"Let's try talking first. It might just be some deranged hermit who's wandered down from the mountains, and we don't even know for sure that he's hurt anyone. If he tries to attack us, I'll arrest him."
"And if what seems impossible somehow turns out to be true, and it really is an Amazonian forest spirit?" Blair asked.
"Well, I always heard that he couldn't be stopped with blowguns or bullets. They just irritate him like mosquito bites. If it's Curupira, run."
"Man, it's got to be bad karma to kill a forest spirit, too."
"You're right. The Chopec consider it very dangerous to kill something sacred to the forest. It would normally be up to a Shaman to control it in some other way."
"Right," Blair said, an odd note in his voice.
Jim was focused on the footprints leading into the trees. "Let's see where the track leads, then."
They rose and stepped cautiously off the trail and into the virgin forest, the Sentinel guiding them through the maze of towering trees and moss-covered logs. A hundred yards into the trees, Jim stopped and sniffed the air. He looked at Blair, grimaced, and pointed to his nose. Blair nodded. They moved forward as quietly as they could, toward a large and sun-filled clearing. Now Blair could also smell a rank odor, heavy and fetid, overwhelming the crisp smell of evergreens. Jim pointed to a rotted log on the other side of the clearing, where something red moved. A cloud of large blue butterflies suddenly ascended from the log, as a shaggy figure wearing a headdress of red feathers slowly rose from behind it. Its broad back was turned away from them as it stretched and raised its long arms to the sun. Blair stepped back without thinking and a twig cracked under his foot. The creature turned toward them with a fierce cry. It began to shamble slowly in their direction, and they could see the huge sharp teeth protruding from its open mouth.
Jim pulled out his gun and aimed at the advancing figure. "Stop!" he shouted. "Cascade PD!"
The creature continued to move forward.
Jim fired a warning shot off to the side. "I said, stop!"
It lurched toward them, heedless of the words.
Jim fired at its arm. The creature swatted at it with irritation but continued forward. It was almost upon them.
Jim felt the heavy stench of its breath and looked into its fathomless eyes as it reached out for him. "Run!" he yelled, quickly kicking at the creature's legs. It howled and fell awkwardly.
As it struggled to rise on twisted feet and jointless knees, Jim and Blair fled.
"Jim, that wasn't anybody in a Bigfoot suit."
"I know, Chief."
"How can an Amazonian forest monster get into a nice little park here in Washington?"
"I don't know, Chief."
"Could it have come with the Chopec somehow?"
"But it didn't go home with them."
"Jim, slow down."
"Yes, Chief." Jim lifted his foot off the gas pedal and unclenched his hands around the steering wheel. He took a deep breath. "Guess I'm still a little hyped up."
"Well I'm not totally calm at the moment either." He wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Did you see the size of those fangs?"
"And those claws could rip your lungs out."
"It didn't want to chat."
"It wanted to kill us."
Jim was silent, his jaw working, and Blair stared numbly out the window, all the way home.
Finally Jim spoke. "Sandburg, I looked into its eyes, and it looked into mine. It wasn't human." He took a long draught of beer.
"It's Curupira." Blair took a deep breath, then let it out.
"Doesn't seem possible, does it?" Jim asked, shaking his head. "This is a modern city. No monsters, ghosts or goblins here. No forest spirits here. But yes, it's Curupira. I didn't want to believe it, but I have to now - I've seen it."
"I saw it too, and I know what it isn't. It isn't a man, or an ape, or Bigfoot. It's something else. Something totally outside my experience. And if you recognize it as Curupira, I believe you."
For a minute Jim was transported back to the jungle, and the sounds and smells of the rainforest filled his senses. Once again, he was sitting around the smoky campfire with his friends, listening to stories of things seen and unseen. Then it faded, and he was back in the loft.
Blair was looking at him curiously. "I was afraid you were starting to zone out there," he said.
Jim spoke slowly. "I was just remembering." He stared out at the darkening bay. "Reality is different in Peru. I'd almost forgotten. After I'd lived with the Chopec a long time, I started to see the world differently, the way they do. I saw glimpses of another world, a spirit world, under the surface of everyday things. It was just as real to the Chopec as the everyday ordinary world. Supernatural creatures and the spirits of the dead were never far away. Magic worked. I have seen it work. But when I came back to Cascade, the world shifted, and I didn't believe any more. What seemed real there wasn't real here. I forgot how it used to be."
"It's called compartmentalizing, Jim."
"You did it in order to cope. It's understandable."
"I thought that part of my life was over. I just wanted to be a regular guy. But I can't just be a regular guy, can I? The whole senses thing came back, and now this."
"I know it's hard. It's hard for me to accept this too. It's one thing to understand it intellectually, but it's a whole other thing to see a monster in front of your eyes." Blair looked over at Jim with a wry smile. "Maybe he'll decide to go home to South America. Catch the next boat."
"There's always that possibility."
"But more likely, he'll stay here and continue to attack people until he's stopped."
They were both silent for a moment, the unspoken implications hanging heavily in the air between them.
Finally Blair spoke. "Incacha would know what to do, but he died, Jim. He died."
"He passed his power to you."
"The Shaman of the Great City, huh?"
"Yes," Jim said softly, looking over at his partner.
Blair stared down at his feet. "No, I'm not, and I don't have any magic or any power. Incacha was mistaken."
Jim could hear his friend's heart beating like a cornered deer. "Blair, he wasn't mistaken," he said gently.
"But I don't know what to do," he said helplessly, looking up at Jim with wide, frightened blue eyes. "I can't be a Shaman. I don't know how to be a Shaman. I have no idea how to stop a monster. I'm just an anthropology student."
"You underestimate yourself. Incacha wasn't able to pass on any of his knowledge to you before he died, but he chose you because he saw the power in you. I don't think anyone has been the Shaman of a big city before, and there are no Chopec tribes around here, so there are no teachers. I'm afraid you're going to have to make it up as you go along."
"I didn't ask for this."
"I didn't ask to be a Sentinel either. We were both given a choice to accept the power and responsibility of this gift, or to reject it. I've accepted my lot, but you know it hasn't been easy. It won't be easy for you either, but I'll give you all the help I can. The choice is yours." He put his hand lightly on Blair's shoulder, trying to calm the racing heart, as night fell.
"Hello, little Shaman."
Blair looked toward the voice.
The Chopec was sitting on the branch of a nearby tree, about ten feet off the ground, smiling at him. He was dressed as he had been in Cascade, in his warrior breechcloth, his face and body painted with red and black patterns. "It's good to see you again. I'm sorry we could not spend more time together before."
"I am, too. Where are we, Incacha?"
"In the spirit world. This is my home now."
"Am I dead, then?"
"No, of course not. You're dreaming."
"How can I understand you?"
"We speak the same language in this world."
"Did you bring me here?"
"Yes. I need to talk to you."
Incacha leaped easily down from the branch and put his hand gently on Blair's arm. Blair felt a whispery light touch, and he shivered, remembering the terrible time in the loft when the dying Incacha had clutched at his arm, anointing him Shaman.
"There is danger to your city that you have the power to stop. But you must accept your calling and become what you must become."
"Yes. I did not choose you carelessly, you know. I saw the light within you. You have the calling. My people say a Shaman can be recognized by the shining of his soul. It can not be disguised. I saw that in you." He placed his hand over Blair's heart. "You have the power, and your city needs you. Your Sentinel needs you."
"I don't have any power."
Incacha sighed. "Oh, but you do. You are just untrained, and there was no time to teach you. The proper training of a Shaman takes many years. I'll do my best from here, although it will be hard. But always remember that you have the Sentinel to help you, too. He knows many of our ways. He thinks he has forgotten, but he has not."
"I don't know what to do."
"I will help you. Let us sit here together and I will begin."
As they sat side by side on a log, Incacha told Blair about the spirits of the forest, the rivers, and the mountains, and the spirits of the dead. He described seeing Curupira at the Cyclops encampment, and how he thought the forest spirit had come here, and he told Blair how he could be stopped. And finally, Incacha told him that none of this would be of any use until Blair accepted his role as Shaman. Without acceptance, this dream would just be a dream.
"Enter!" Simon waved him in.
Jim folded his arms. "I'm just filling Simon in on what we saw out at the park yesterday."
"Frankly, I find it a little hard to believe," Simon interjected, taking a long drag on his cigar.
"Well you didn't see it, Simon," Jim countered. "If you did, you'd believe it."
"That thing was huge and hairy and ready to rip us apart, and it had the fangs and claws to do it, too," Blair added.
Simon rolled his eyes. "You're going all weird on me. Gotta save the city from Bigfoot. Sure, right."
"No, no, it's an Amazonian forest spirit, not Bigfoot," Blair tried earnestly to explain. "This is completely different."
Simon blew a huge smoke ring. "More like King Kong, you mean?"
"I know how it sounds, but there really is a monster loose in Cascade," Jim said.
"You're damn right this is hard to believe. Are you sure it wasn't some weirdo in a costume?"
"No, sir, it's a forest spirit from Peru. And no, don't ask me how he got here," Jim added.
Simon sighed. "This is all pretty iffy, guys. The only things we know for sure are that a hiker is dead, and that you two and another hiker saw something odd out there at the park. These facts may not even be connected. You've provided no proof yet that this poor guy was killed by an Amazonian forest spirit, let alone that such a creature even exists."
"It's called Curupira. That's its name. Or maybe I should say 'his' name. I do seem to find myself calling it 'him'. I guess you could call it species confusion." Blair looked through the haze of smoke at Simon. "And stop rolling your eyes."
Jim said, "Sir, I'd like to request that Sandburg and I be allowed to continue our investigation into the sighting at the park and its possible connection to the death there. It's still our best lead - hell, it's our only lead - and whether or not what we saw has killed someone, it attacked us as well as Blair's student, and it's got to be stopped."
"Maybe we should just call in the Fish and Wildlife Department. Animal attacks aren't handled by Major Crime."
"But we don't know yet that it is an animal."
Simon sighed again and took another long pull on his cigar.
"Give us forty-eight hours," Jim pleaded. "If it's Curupira, it's going to need special handling, and Sandburg and I are uniquely qualified to deal with it. I know how it sounds, but you know I'm not crazy."
"Do we have the lab reports from the hiker's death back yet?" Simon asked.
"Not yet. I just asked," Blair said, opening the manila folder he'd been holding. "But listen to this. I discovered that there have been two other sightings in Suquamish State Park in the last month. In the first report, a hiker said he'd been spooked because a 'shaggy hermit' shadowed him for miles. In the second report, two hikers said Bigfoot attacked them, but they got away." He looked up. "Forty-eight hours. Please, Simon."
"Okay. Forty-eight hours. Now tell me just how you're uniquely qualified to deal with a forest spirit."
There was a hurried knock at the door, and Rafe came in. "There's been another possible animal attack, just this side of Suquamish State Park in that new subdivision they're starting, Cedarview Crest. The body of a workman was just found, pretty cut up. He'd been working alone early this morning clearing land."
"He's moving outside the park, and he's moving toward Cascade," Jim said grimly. "Let's go."
Jim put on latex gloves and carefully examined the victim. He inspected the wounds and the torn clothing, then focused his vision more finely. The man's upper body was covered with long coarse black hairs, as if he'd been embraced by a large animal. Jim placed a number of them in a plastic evidence bag. Then he noticed a small red feather lying next to the man, and a few tiny bits of feathers near it. They went into another evidence bag. He leaned down and smelled the body, and recognized the familiar stench. He rose and walked over to Blair as the Forensics Team took over. Blair was staring at the line of tall trees where the new subdivision met the edge of Suquamish State Park.
"It was Curupira," Jim said, holding up the two evidence bags. "I found hair, red feathers, and there were traces of his scent on the man."
Blair looked at the bags, then looked at Jim. "Surprise," he said. His gaze slid back to the trees.
"This is making me remember something." He looked back at Jim. "When I woke up this morning I knew I'd dreamed about Incacha, but it was pretty hazy. I couldn't remember much of anything." He gestured at the cleared land around them. "But all this brutal clearcutting reminds me of something he told me in the dream. When the warriors left their village for Cascade, Incacha saw Curupira in the forest by the Cyclops camp, watching the people and the bulldozers. Incacha said Curupira was very angry to see his forest being destroyed. He doesn't know how he got here, but they didn't bring him."
Jim looked at the destruction around them. "And he gets here and it's just the same."
"Yeah. You know, I think I'm on Curupira's side on this one. Do we really have to cut down this forest for another subdivision? Sure, they stop at the park boundary, but this was a pretty nice forest too, and now it's gone. The animals' territory keeps getting smaller, and then they're surprised when a bear shows up on their doorstep."
"Curupira is only protecting his territory. There must be some way to control him somehow, like they would in Peru, without killing him. We just need to keep him from harming people in our territory."
"Now you're talking like a Shaman. 'Our territory'. Do you remember anything else from your dream?"
"Not much. Incacha and I were in a forest, and he was telling me things." He closed his eyes. "It felt more real than a dream. He said we were in the spirit world."
"I believe you were."
"I can't remember. It's just out of reach." He sighed. "Drop me off at the Rainier Library when we go back. Maybe I can find something out about Curupira that will help us."
Blair smiled lopsidedly. "Shaman saves city armed with library book."
"Whatever works, Chief."
"Hmm?" Blair slowly raised his head, his blue eyes a little glazed. He sighed and pushed up his glasses." Well, most of what's in the books are people's accounts of meetings with Curupira in the forest. There are some pretty horrific stories about what the creature might do to a person. He might make him fall sick. He might bite him with his fangs or claw him. He might crush him. In one version, he's said to crush people so hard that their flesh is turned into pulp. Then he sucks it out through a hole in their head, and blows up the skin so they can walk home looking sort of normal. Then they die. I don't like this, Jim. I don't want to be sucked out like an Easter egg."
"We'll figure something out. I won't let that happen to you."
"Thank you, Blessed Protector," Blair said seriously, but with a little smile. He looked down at the book on his lap. "Some of these stories are pretty hard to believe. Here's one where a man finds Curupira's bones under some leaves, hits the jawbone with a stick to get the teeth as a charm, and wakes the skeleton up. Curupira is so happy to be revived that he gives the man a stick rattle to plant in the ground whenever he wants meat." He turned the page. "And here's a strange story about a man and his wife going into Curupira's empty 'house' in the forest and cooking a fish. When he comes back home, they all have dinner, and then Curupira eats the wife too. Come on, having a fish dinner with a forest spirit, followed by a pretty casual devouring of the wife? These stories sound an awful lot like fairy tales to me. This author calls them cultural projections."
"Well, some of the stories I heard in Peru happened to the friend of a friend, and some were probably made up for entertainment, but I've heard more than one of these accounts directly from people who claimed that it happened to them personally. And those people were truly terrified."
"So, if any of it is true, how do I separate fact from fiction? Now someplace here it says that a lot of his power is in his red headdress, and that if you can take away the headdress, you can take away his strength. But somewhere else it says he carries a wooden hoe, and you have to get that to take his power. I didn't see a hoe, did you?"
"No." Jim rubbed a nonexistent spot on the kitchen counter with his finger, trying not to communicate his worry to his partner. He knew it was going to be hard for Blair to take on Shaman responsibilities without being part of the Shaman culture, and without going through the usual apprenticeship under the guidance of another Shaman. He suspected the kid had the calling, but he was so young and untested. Controlling a monster was not the easiest way to start.
Blair continued, "The books aren't really clear about whether Curupira is real or supernatural, or something in between. He leaves footprints, and he can kill people by biting or clawing them or by crushing them with his embrace. He's very strong. A Shaman can control him with spells and rituals, just like you said, although unfortunately I haven't found any actual spells so far. They meet him in another world, the one they go to by taking drugs. According to tradition, I should take some ayahuasca and go into a trance. Then I could visit him in his lair and put a spell on him without actually going there." He looked appraisingly at Jim. "Of course, you know that ayahuasca is illegal in this country."
"I know, I know. I don't want you to take ayahuasca. I absolutely forbid your taking illegal hallucinogenic drugs. If you're going to be a Shaman, you're going to have to be a new kind of Shaman, and only use what works here. That does not include drugs, and especially not around a police detective sworn to uphold the law. The rituals are important, but the power is more important. I think Incacha is trying to help you from the spirit world. Rely on him, on the power, on your instincts, even on your books. And rely on me."
Blair got up and walked over to Jim. He put his hand on his arm and looked gravely into his eyes. "I do rely on you, but I just don't know if I can do this. It's an awful lot to accept. I'm really trying to get my mind around the idea of being a Shaman, but it's so hard."
"I mean, I've read about Shamans, and I've seen them in my travels. I have respect for their role in societies. But an anthropologist is an observer, not a participant. I'm not supposed to go native and actually become a Shaman. Not to mention that an anthropologist is supposed to be a rational scientist, not a magician. I just don't see how I can be both at once." He looked at Jim with a troubled expression. "You know, some anthropologists use very scary words to talk about traditional Shamans: words like ecstasy, hysteria, sorcery, near-death experiences."
"That's because they don't understand it, and it doesn't fit into their worldview."
"Yeah, but it's still scary. The ecstasy part might be okay, but am I going to have to have a near-death experience? I'd really rather not. " Blair smiled at him wryly. "Then there's the school of thought that argues that Shamans have psychotic personalities."
"Priests, doctors and psychoanalysts are psychotic?" Jim asked. "That's my experience of Shamans. Incacha was one of the sanest men I've ever known."
"Ah, but anthropology has had a hard time coming to terms with Shamanism. That's starting to change, but until recently the standard view was that it was an 'archaic magico-religious phenomenon,' not something to be taken seriously or believed."
"So, do you believe it?"
"I don't know! But I do know I'm having a hard time fitting what we saw out there in the forest into what I thought I knew of the world. The world has been shifting under my feet ever since Incacha "anointed" me. Why did he choose me? It was all so confusing. I didn't know what was expected of me, or if I even wanted any part of it. I've tried to ignore the whole thing. But Curupira won't let me ignore him, and now Incacha is talking to me too."
The phone rang, and Jim answered it. "Ellison," he said shortly. "Yes, Simon." He listened, his expression darkening. "Damn. We'll be there." He hung up and met Blair's questioning gaze. "I'm afraid you're right that Curupira won't let you ignore him. He's just been spotted in Bayside Park. That's assuming there aren't two six-foot tall hairy beasts with headdresses roaming around."
"Bayside Park! But that's practically downtown!"
Jim frowned and reached for his jacket. "Well, not quite, but certainly closer. Too close, and there should be a lot of people out at that park on such a nice evening. Come on, we'd better hurry." He stopped and cocked his head at Blair. "That is, if you're still with me on this."
Blair sighed and picked up his own jacket from the back of the couch. "I'm with you. But what are we going to do when we meet him? I still don't have any idea what to do."
"Me neither. But we have to do something, and now." He headed for the door.
Blair followed, moaning, "I am so not ready for this, man."
"It was ten feet tall! I swear!"
Jim showed his badge. "Detective Ellison. Quick summary, please?"
The jogger was eager to tell him. "Never saw anything like it. I was out for a run and this huge, hairy thing suddenly stepped out from behind a tree and tried to block my path. I swerved and ran faster and managed to avoid it. It didn't come after me, but it let out the most godawful scream. Damn, that was close."
"Where did this happen?" Jim asked.
The man pointed down a trail that led into the trees. "Turn right when you hit Bayside Trail. It was just past the first picnic table."
Jim ran off down the trail, and Blair raced after him.
"Thanks!" Blair yelled over his shoulder.
The path led into a broad swath of trees bordering the bay, dark and shadowed in the setting sun. At this time of day most people were down by the water enjoying the sunset, or patronizing the little amusement park. The lights had not yet come on, and only a few people were jogging or strolling on the darkening trails.
Just past the first picnic table, Jim stopped and dialed up hearing, sight and smell. When a panting Blair appeared at his side, he quickly put a hand over his partner's mouth. Blair tried valiantly to muffle himself, blowing warmly into Jim's palm.
Curupira was here. Jim could smell him, and he could hear something large shuffling through the underbrush in the distance. As he turned toward the sound, he caught a glimpse of him moving toward a figure sitting sprawled at the foot of a tree.
"Oh, no." He released his hand from Blair's mouth, and began to run, but they were too far away.
A desperate cry rang out from the dusky gloom ahead, echoed by the triumphant shriek of something finding its prey.
When Jim and Blair reached the crumpled form lying under a maple tree in the semi-darkness, Curupira was gone. Jim knelt and felt for a pulse, but there was none. The reek of alcohol and dirty clothes assaulted his nose. He picked up a small red feather from the ground next to the dead man and scanned the woods around them. "I don't see him now, but I smell him. I'm going to follow the stench and try to stop him. Stay with the body and call in a report." Jim ran off through the trees.
Blair dutifully got out his cellphone. "Oh great, stuck in the dark with a dead body," he muttered, stealing a glance at the pitiful figure at his feet, moving a little away from it.
Jim followed the malodorous trail through the park at a jog, focused on the smell, with sight and hearing dialed just high enough to detect his quarry. He heard screams straight ahead, followed by pounding feet running toward him. A minute later, two boys panting with fright almost barreled into him. "Slow down, now," he cautioned.
"Mister," one of them gasped, wide-eyed, "there's ...there's a ...a....monster back there! It tried to attack us!"
The other boy cut in, "It had horrible big fangs! And glowing eyes!"
"Just get out of the park. Fast."
Jim ran on. He could see the lights of the little amusement area ahead, with an antique carousel and a hotdog stand, and he could hear organ music and the murmur of the crowd enjoying the warm evening. Jim didn't know whether Curupira would be attracted or repelled by the lights and people, but he was afraid for these unsuspecting folk just out for a little fun. He raced to the middle of the crowd, pulled out his badge and held it up, then shouted as loudly as he could, "Attention! Cascade PD! Please stay calm, but you must all leave the park immediately!" He gestured toward the front exit leading to the parking lot. "Please leave this way!"
Some people started to leave, and some grumbled and turned away. Jim hurried over to the carousel and touched the man in charge on the shoulder. "Stop the ride, sir." The gaily painted animals slowed down, the music stopped, and the children climbed unhappily off their mounts. In the sudden silence, Jim displayed his badge again and shouted, "Cascade PD! Leave the park!" He saw movement in the grove of trees outside the circle of light. "Now!" he yelled.
Curupira moved into the light.
One of the small children climbing off the carousel pointed to the shaggy figure standing at the edge of the wood. "Mama," she cried in a piercing voice, "look at the funny man with the red hat!"
Several people looked where the child was pointing. Curupira opened his mouth and emitted an unearthly shriek, displaying his pointed fangs. He advanced toward the crowd, as people screamed and scattered. One skinny adolescent boy with a Terminator t-shirt stood his ground a few feet in front of the creature and struck a karate pose. "I'm not afraid," he yelled. "Make my day, you stinking freak!"
"Get back!" Jim shouted.
A bat swooped by the boy's head and he flinched, dropped the karate stance and waved his arms at it. As Curupira moved in on him, Jim rushed forward, pushed the kid aside, and made a flying tackle on his attacker, knocking them all to the ground. The monster bellowed and struck out at Jim in rage, landing a glancing blow to his head. Jim lay where he fell, unmoving.
Curupira struggled to get up on his twisted legs, then grunted angrily as something hard hit him in the arm, then the leg.
Blair threw another rock and looked around frantically for more. "Please, Jim, wake up now. Please, Jim," he panted, picking up a few more rocks and pelting the rising figure with his best baseball pitch. Curupira howled in displeasure and retreated from the irritating blows. Jim didn't move. The kid had scooted out of range and sat looking on in fear. Blair kept up the fusillade, following at a distance, and wishing desperately for help, for a net, for a spell, for something. Curupira gave his assailant one last baleful look and turned toward the bay. He walked into the water and quickly disappeared under the surface.
Blair heard Jim start to stir, and ran back to him. Crouching down beside him, he gently touched his cheek. "Jim, are you okay?"
Jim opened his eyes. Blair was looking at him with a worried expression and was breathing hard. "What?"
"Are you okay?"
"I guess," he said groggily. "What happened?" He tried to move, then put his fingers on his aching head. "Ouch."
"He hit you pretty hard. Maybe you should rest a minute."
Blair put a hand lightly on his shoulder, willing him to stay down. "Curupira's gone. He dove into the bay. I'm sorry he got away but I couldn't think what to do. I was afraid he was going to kill you, so I just focused on trying to get him away from you." He grinned down at Jim. "That pitching arm comes in useful sometimes. I hit him with rocks until he decided it wasn't worth the aggravation."
Sirens announced the arrival of the police in the parking lot, and several officers ran into the amusement park and came over to them.
"I'm afraid it's all over for now," Blair told them. "He got away."
Jim looked up at the circle of faces. A new one suddenly appeared next to Blair.
"Hey, it's the karate kid," Jim groaned. "What did you think you were doing, anyway? That was pretty stupid."
The face looked contritely down at him. "I'm sorry. I know I was stupid. Um, thanks for saving my life."
Jim frowned, "Somebody had to do it."
"I'm sorry. Really. I learned my lesson."
"Okay." Jim softened a little. "Just think first next time. Self-preservation is a good thing."
"Yeah, I promise." He brightened. "Wow, your friend was awesome. Everybody else ran away and then he came running up and saved us. Boy, I bet that monster guy isn't used to anybody fighting back. Was that Bigfoot, or what?"
"No, kid, not Bigfoot. Give a statement to these policemen and then you can go home."
"Now, help me up, Chief."
With some difficulty, he pulled him to his feet. Jim stood for a minute, swaying.
"I think we need to check you out," Blair said worriedly. "The paramedics came with the police. They're just out in the parking lot.
"Nope, come on. Put your arm around me or you're going to fall over."
"I'm fine," he said, wobbling.
"Come on, tough guy, lean on me for once."
Jim put his arm around Blair's shoulder and they walked slowly together to the waiting ambulance.
When the paramedics pronounced Jim more or less okay and able to go home, Blair got the truck and helped Jim in the passenger side. Jim leaned back in the seat, looking a little pale.
Blair climbed in the other side. "You know," he said, starting the truck and looking over at his partner, "this afternoon when I was reading about Curupira's headdress being the source of his power, I had the feeling that I'd heard it before. I think Incacha told me in the dream that I needed to take the headdress."
"Do you think that will work? Tell me the truth. It's not a rational solution. It's magic."
Blair was silent for a minute. Then he said slowly, "Maybe magic is the rational solution here. Brute force won't work. I think we proved that."
"I proved it with my head."
"At least you still have that head. When I saw him attacking you, all I could think about was him sucking your brains out. Not a pretty sight."
"Thanks for saving my life."
"But he's still out there, and now we know for sure that he has killed. One person for sure, and probably three."
"We've got to stop him, Jim. I've run out of time to think about this, to decide whether or not I'm going to accept the responsibility that I was given. If I don't accept it, more people will die."
"But you've got to accept it in your heart, not just out of expediency. That's not true acceptance."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
When they reached the loft, Blair parked, got out and went over to the passenger side, ready to offer assistance. Jim got out under his own power.
"Stop hovering, Sandburg. Get me some peas and let me lie down for a while and I'll be fine."
"I'm not hovering!" Blair was indignant.
As soon as they were in the loft, Blair retrieved a bag of peas from the freezer and handed it to his partner.
Jim pressed it to his head and smiled at his friend. "Thanks, Nurse," he said, and lay down heavily on the couch, closing his eyes.
Blair cleared his throat. "Jim?
"Will it bother you if I meditate? I really need to get centered. Maybe ... maybe it's a way back to Incacha, too. I need him."
"Are you going to burn sage?"
"Okay, I'll just lie here then. Go ahead."
Blair sat cross-legged on the rug, closed his eyes, and began to breathe deeply. He focused on the air coming in and going out, coming in and going out, and gradually felt his muscles relax. The loft faded away and then he was back in the wood where he had met Incacha. He looked around, searching the indigo shadows for the Chopec.
Incacha stepped out from behind a tree and smiled warmly at him. "Hello again. I am happy that you have returned to see me."
"Incacha, please help me. Curupira is killing people and I don't know how to stop him."
"You do know. You just aren't seeing it. You've remembered some of the things we talked about."
"You have entered the path. The rest is there in your head, but you must look with a Shaman's eyes."
"I don't understand."
"You must open your mind to the unknown and accept what you see."
"If you accept yourself as a Shaman you will remember."
"But I feel so inadequate."
"There is no shame in not knowing. A Shaman is always in the process of learning. The path is long and the journey takes a lifetime."
"The people in my tribe don't see the world like you do. Most people don't believe in spirits or in a spirit world that living people can travel to. They don't believe that spells have power. They laugh at the idea of magic."
"Then I feel sorry for your people. You are only seeing part of the world, and you have no power over what you do not see." He looked at Blair with pity. "A tribe without a Shaman has no one to talk to the spirits for them and to restore order when the world's balance is disturbed. A forest spirit is a strong being, but there are ways to control him, if you will see them."
"Incacha, some people in my tribe have been told things about Curupira by people in Peru. Some of the stories are very hard for me to believe, like Curupira reviving from a skeleton, or cooking a fish dinner in a house."
Incacha laughed. "Do you think we always tell foreigners the truth? They want stories, so we make them up sometimes. But some of them are true."
"I don't know what's true and what's not, though. I was told that Curupira's power was in his headdress, but then I heard it was in a hoe."
"The Shipibo people have seen him with a hoe, but I have never seen him like that."
"You told me that his power was in his headdress, didn't you? Oh, and I remember now, you said he lived underground in a clearing in the forest, and you taught me a spell."
"See, you do know. You must learn to trust yourself, and you will see the truth. Some things seem impossible, but they are true. Do you not believe in the reality of the Sentinel?"
"Yes, of course I do."
Incacha nodded." Then you can believe in the reality of Curupira. I would like to help your tribe. You are a good person, and Enqueri is a good person. I will help you if you will let me."
Blair was overwhelmed by a great longing - to explore this strange new world, to know what Incacha knew. How could he turn his back on such a wonderful gift?" I want to learn, Incacha. I want to be a Shaman," he whispered, surprised at himself. And suddenly he remembered everything.
Incacha and the forest faded away and he was back in the loft. Jim was snoring gently on the couch. It was so familiar, and yet everything was different now. He got up quietly, trying not to wake Jim.
"Yeah." So much for letting sleeping Sentinels lie, he thought.
"Did the meditation help?"
"You could say that. I saw Incacha, I committed to being a Shaman, and I now know what we have to do to control Curupira. Oh...and I feel much more centered, too."
Jim looked over at his friend, startled.
Blair grinned at him and bounced a little on the balls of his feet.
"I knew Incacha had chosen the right man for the job. It just took you a while to see it."
"Well, I'm still a beginner, and I'm a little nervous. You know, this whole thing feels kind of surreal right now, but I think I can do it, with your help. You're going to have to watch my back for once." Blair walked over to the couch and looked seriously down at Jim. "We need to find Curupira's home in the forest. It's underground, in the clearing where we first saw him sunning himself. When we find him, we can weaken him by taking his headdress, but the only way to control him permanently is the Shaman's spell that Incacha gave me. I have to order him to face the wall of his home, sit quietly and fall asleep. Once he's asleep, he'll stay sitting with his face to the wall forever."
"And you honestly believe that a spell will work? You're ready to believe in magic?"
"Yes. Are you?"
"Yes. I told you I've seen magic work before, in Peru. I just had to accept that it works here. I do believe it can work, and I believe you can do it."
Blair treated him to a luminous smile. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that."
Jim got up slowly from the couch, wincing a little. "Okay, then, let's get going. It's time to pay a visit to Mr. Curupira before he does any more damage, and we've already used up about twelve of the forty-eight hours Simon gave us. Better call and tell him we're heading out to Suquamish Park."
Simon answered on the first ring. "Banks," he said curtly.
"About time you checked in. I'm getting reports of rampaging monsters and homicidal mountain men at Bayside Park. Are you going to be able to deal with this soon or is it time to call Animal Control?"
"We can deal with it. We're going out to Suquamish Park right now. Please don't ask me to explain, but we've figured out what to do, and we're pretty sure we're the only people around that can do it." He looked over at Jim, who was listening in.
"I just hope nobody who was at the amusement park tonight talks to the media. The Chief of Police is not going to like this."
"If we can stop Curupira now, you won't have to tell the Chief of Police anything. No one will see him again and there will be no more killings. If you have to say something, obfuscate."
"I will definitely have to obfuscate on this one, Sandburg. I don't even understand it."
"Well, I think I do, and I'll tell you all about it later. But right now we've got an appointment with a forest spirit."
"I'm not sure you should be doing this, Blair. I've reminded you before that you're not a cop, you're an observer. You shouldn't be getting in the middle of dangerous police business. That forest spirit, if that's what he is, has killed several people."
Jim took the phone from him. "Simon, I need Sandburg for this, in fact I can't do it without him. We'll be careful."
Simon was swayed. "Okay, gentlemen, go ahead, but keep in touch. I'm sending backup out to the park. They'll be there if you need them."
"Just tell them to stay in the parking lot unless we call. We don't want to scare him off. Thanks." He hung up and looked hard at Blair.
"Last chance. Simon's right - this will be dangerous. You're sure you want to go through with it?"
"I can do it." Blair smiled radiantly, confidently. "I know you can hear my heart, because I can hear it too. Yes, I'm nervous, but I can do it, and besides it's not like there are any other Shamans around here to take my place."
"Maybe there are other ways."
"What other ways would that be? Shoot him? You know that won't work. Burn down the forest? I don't think so. Capture him in a net and mail him back to Peru? He could come right back. No, this is the most foolproof way, and you know it."
"Yes, Chief, I do know it. Let's go, then."
The Sentinel and Shaman of the Great City of Cascade had been hunkered down for hours behind a massive cedar log at the edge of the forest clearing where they'd first seen Curupira. Jim had extended his senses when they arrived and hadn't been able to detect his presence. Now it was dawn and Curupira still hadn't returned.
Blair shivered a little and rubbed his hands together. "Man, I hate stakeouts. I'm cold, I'm tired, and bugs keep crawling inside my clothes. Shit, there's another one." He did a quick little shimmy and grabbed at his collar.
"Hold on, Chief." Jim examined the afflicted area and delicately withdrew a small wiggling caterpillar that was trying to crawl into Blair's shirt. He held it up for inspection. "Well, this is an interesting one."
"Kind of a pretty color."
"And this whole place just reeks with his very special smell. It's really starting to get to me."
"I dialed it down."
"Yeah, well, I can't do that, can I?"
"Sorry. This is the forest primeval, remember?"
"I like it better in the sunshine."
"Getting a little cranky, aren't we?" Jim grinned at him in the faint morning light.
"Yes, we are. We would like to be home and warm. We are starting to go crazy from the anticipation. We would just like to get this over with."
"How's your head?" Blair fretted. "You really should be home resting."
"It's not too bad. I've dialed the headache down as much as I can."
Both men had worn their fishing vests, pockets filled with flashlights, Swiss army knives, fishhooks, fishing line, trowels, cell phones with silent alerts, and other useful things. Blair had on his lucky blue plaid flannel shirt. Jim had fastened a length of rope to his belt, as well as a small collapsible fishing rod he had bought through a late night TV ad.
Blair took off the bicycle helmet he had insisted they both wear to protect their brains from getting sucked out, and unfastened the tie holding his ponytail back. He probed his hair carefully with long fingers. "Do you see any wildlife in there? It's feeling kind of itchy."
Jim took a good look into the tangled curls. "Nope."
Blair pulled his hair back tightly into the tie again and put the bicycle helmet back on.
"Shh, I hear something." Jim focused his hearing on a small sound in the distance, the sound of something walking heavily over the ground. His eye honed in on a spot of red moving toward them, and he motioned for Blair to get down and be quiet.
Curupira shambled slowly into the clearing. Jim kept his head down, but he was able to track the creature's position by listening carefully. He closed his eyes to help himself focus. The now-familiar stench grew stronger. Heavy footsteps crushed small plants and twigs, crossed the clearing and stopped. As Curupira noisily entered his underground lair, deep breaths and small growls grew gradually more distant. Finally, Jim motioned to Blair to follow him.
On the other side of the small clearing, the roots of an enormous hemlock splayed out where it had grown over a fallen tree long ago. When the tree underneath had finally decayed, divisions remained at the base of the hemlock's trunk where the nurse-log had been. Curupira had disappeared into one of these holes under the tree.
Jim examined each cavity carefully, until he found a large one with signs of recent disturbance. He lay on the edge of the hole and looked down into the darkness, opening his senses. A tunnel dropped down at a gentle slant and appeared to end in a larger cavern. He could hear Curupira moving around in the distance. Cautiously, he lowered himself into the hole and began to crawl toward the cavern. Blair followed behind him closely, almost blind in the near-darkness.
After about twenty feet, the passage opened out into a larger space, and they were able to stand up. A little light filtered through the open roots above, dimly illuminating the cave. Barely breathing, Jim continued to keep all his senses as open as possible, trying to anticipate Curupira's moves. He heard the creature shuffling around in one of the side tunnels. He heard small creatures burrowing in the earth. He heard the tiny movements of a million insects underground. And he was lost in the cacophony.
Blair didn't see that his Sentinel had been overwhelmed with sound. He could hardly see anything. He got out his flashlight. There was a small movement off to his right, and then he was embraced by powerful arms. He tried to call out for Jim, but the air was being squeezed from his chest, and he had no voice. He fought frantically, gasping for air, but the arms just crushed him tighter, and their struggles pushed the flashlight from his hand and the bicycle helmet from his head. The foul breath of the creature engulfed him. Bright spots formed behind his eyes and he felt himself falling into an abyss. Just before he descended into the dark pit he managed to choke out one word, "Jim!"
Amazingly, Jim heard it. The voice of his guide penetrated his frozen senses, and he struggled to respond. Desperately, he focused on dialing down the chaos in his head, until finally the buzzing and rustling of life under the forest floor receded to a low background hum. Recovering, he turned around to see Curupira disappear into one of the side tunnels, dragging Blair's limp body by one arm.
Jim followed them slowly into the passage, noticing Blair's flashlight and helmet lying abandoned in the dirt. He kept well behind, and tried not to agitate the creature. But Curupira kept looking back at him, staring challengingly with fierce golden eyes. Blair began to come to, with a gasp, and he struggled and twisted, vainly trying to free himself from the strong grip pulling him along. The shaggy beast bellowed and swiped at him angrily, the long claws slashing through his shirt and ripping open his arm. Blair cried out and tried to pull away.
"Don't fight him," Jim called, hoping he was aware enough to hear him. "You're just making him angrier. I'm right behind you."
Blair stopped struggling then, and let himself be dragged slowly through the tunnel. "Jim?" he called back softly.
Jim could hear the fear and pain in that one word. "I'm here, Chief."
"He got me."
Jim felt his heart constrict with the knowledge that it was his fault for zoning out, but he pushed the guilt away for now. He had to concentrate on the task at hand. "We're not done yet, Chief," he said.
As they traveled further from the main cavern, the light grew fainter, and Jim dialed up his vision to capture it. The narrow tunnel got still narrower, the ceiling lower. He was forced to drop to his knees and crawl along behind them, continuing to call softly to Blair to let him know he was still there. Feral glowing eyes looked back at him several times, making contact, then looking ahead again. Curupira was mostly silent now, emitting an occasional growl. At last the tunnel opened into a large cavern, feebly illuminated by the morning light filtering down through exposed roots above. The creature entered it, pulling Blair behind him, and Jim followed as quickly as he could. But when Jim stood up, his quarry was already standing on the other side of the chamber, facing him, holding Blair in a crushing embrace. As Jim began to move slowly toward them, Curupira glared at him, squeezed his captive even more tightly and bellowed in rage. Blair moaned and Jim stopped.
"Okay, okay, I get the message," he murmured. The smell in this chamber, the forest spirit's lair, was almost overpowering, and Jim quickly dialed it down. He looked worriedly at his friend.
Blair stared back at him, struggling for breath, looking small and vulnerable surrounded by the powerful shaggy arms of the massive creature. But his eyes were alert. He mouthed the word "now" at Jim, and kicked hard at the legs behind him. When Curupira stumbled on his backward legs and loosened his grip, Blair struggled to wrench himself free. He almost made it. But those long arms reached for him, seized him and threw him forcefully against the wall of the cave. His head and shoulder hit the packed earth and rock with jarring impact and he slid to the ground, stunned. Curupira looked back at Jim, ready for more.
The Sentinel reached for the collapsible fishing pole on his belt and began to pull out the telescoping parts. If he could just snag the headdress, which Incacha had said was the key to his power, they'd have a better chance. Of course that assumed Blair was in good enough shape to use the spell.
Then Blair made a little sound, and Curupira looked down at him, displaying his sharp fangs and extending his claws menacingly.
"Hey, over here!" Jim called, moving a few steps forward and trying to distract him. He hurriedly attached a fishhook to the line. Curupira watched him closely, and it seemed to Jim that he looked puzzled. "Got your attention, pal?" he muttered, struggling to keep the flimsy rod together. Suddenly the telescoping parts collapsed in on themselves, pinching his fingers, and he dropped the whole thing. The creature lurched closer, too close, and Jim desperately kicked out at the jointless knees. As Curupira staggered and tried to recover his balance, Jim snatched the rod back up and quickly moved back. He managed to reassemble it and stepped to the side to get a little more casting space behind him. He cast low to avoid the ceiling, with a tight backstroke and a careful forward flip of the wrist, visualizing trout in a cool mountain stream. The hook sailed straight at the red headdress and snagged on it, and Jim reeled it in. Curupira seemed to look at him in surprise, touched a shaggy paw to his head, and then sat down with a confused expression.
Jim just stood there for a minute, eyeing the creature tensely. But when the forest spirit tried to rise to his feet, he seemed suddenly enervated. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Jim dropped the fishing rod, crammed the headdress inside his vest and knelt down beside his partner.
Blair lay crumpled on his side, unconscious. Jim felt his pulse, and was relieved to find it strong. He carefully moved him onto his back and examined his head and neck with sensitive fingers. Then he moved down to the shoulder and chest, finding extensive bruising and a couple of ribs that were probably cracked. The arm of his shirt was shredded and soaked with blood where he had been clawed. He pressed the fabric firmly against the wound to stop the bleeding.
"Blair, I need you to wake up, buddy," he said, touching his friend's dirt-streaked forehead. "Blair," he said more loudly. He patted his cheek gently. Blair roused a little. He slapped his cheek lightly, and Blair grimaced and tried to turn away. "I'm sorry, but it's time for you to do that spell now. Come on, pal," he coaxed. He glanced over at Curupira, who was still trying to rise.
Blair stirred a little. "Spell?" He repeated the word weakly, not opening his eyes. "Spell?" He frowned.
"Yeah, remember? Please tell me you remember the spell. I need you to be a Shaman now, and use the spell Incacha taught you. I can't do this for you."
Blair opened his eyes. He seemed dazed. "Jim?"
"Right here, Chief."
"You remember where we are?"
Bleary blue eyes slowly focused on him. "We're... uh..." He looked vaguely around and then recognized the bulky shape beyond Jim. He started and tried to rise. "Oh. In the cave. Curupira."
"Take it slow. He slammed you up against the wall pretty hard."
"Oh, man, I guess." He put a hand to his head. "Great, now we've got matching concussions."
"I got his headdress, and he seems very weak without it. Too bad you missed my best flyfishing moment. I just pretended I was snagging a large and hairy brook trout."
"That gadget actually worked?" Blair asked groggily.
"Well, more or less. Let's just say it did the job. How are you feeling? Can you remember the spell?" He looked over at Curupira, who was almost on his feet. "We really need to finish this now."
"I hope so. My brain feels a little scrambled, though. Help me up."
"Why don't you just sit up. You can speak as well from the floor."
Jim put an arm behind his back and helped him to a sitting position. Blair winced as his ribs protested the movement, and he clutched at Jim's shirt for support.
Curupira was on his feet. He turned around and looked at them.
"Show time," Jim said.
Blair took a painful breath, then spoke in a soft but commanding voice. "Curupira. Tiaykuy kayneqpe kaypi."
The creature turned around, then sat down again, facing the wall.
Blair looked a little surprised. "He obeyed me."
"Of course he did. Keep going."
"I'm trying, but I'm feeling kind of muddled. The words are all spinning around in my head."
"You can do it. Just give yourself a minute to focus. He doesn't look like he's going to move."
"Who's the guide now?" Blair smiled up at him, then closed his eyes and took a few shallow but steadying breaths. After a short silence, he began to speak, in the measured tones of the incantation, slowly at first, then with gathering strength. Jim listened with some amazement to the long string of Quechua words rolling out of his friend's mouth, describing the invisible walls he was building around the forest spirit, telling him that he must remain here in his home, that he must sit quietly, that he must fall asleep. When he said the word "asleep", it seemed to resonate off the walls, and the shaggy head fell forward. Now there could be no doubt. Blair was a Shaman.
"Kunan, paqarin, winaypaq." Blair sealed the command by telling him to stay asleep now, tomorrow, and forever. They sat in silence for a minute, making sure that he wouldn't suddenly revive like horror-movie monsters always seemed to, but Curupira didn't move.
"You did it," Jim said, tightening the embrace of his supporting arm, while trying not to touch the bruised areas.
"No, we did it," Blair corrected.
Jim looked away, took a deep breath and forced the guilty words out, "But it's my fault he got you. I zoned out back there. I had my hearing dialed up high and the sounds of all the life underground overwhelmed me. I'm sorry. I should have been able to avoid that. I could have gotten you killed."
"You zoned on the sounds of life underground? Man, that's a new one. I think we need to do some testing." He tightened his grip on Jim's shirt and looked up at him seriously. "I don't see how you could have predicted that. It's not like you spend a lot of time underground, you know. If anyone was at fault, it's me, since I should have been watching your back more carefully. But it was so dark I couldn't tell what was happening."
Jim smiled down at him, touched by his friend's generosity of spirit and thankful that it was this particular man who was now bound to him in so many ways. "Let's call it a draw."
Blair closed his eyes, starting to fade. "Can we go home now? It really stinks in here."
"We're going to have to go back out the way we came in. Can you make it?"
Blair took a last look at Curupira, slumped over on the other side of the dimly lit, claustrophobic, chamber, and at the floor littered with the bones of small creatures, feathers, animal droppings and other detritus. "I can do whatever it takes to get out of here."
Together, they crawled back through the dark tunnel. Blair followed behind his Sentinel, keeping a hand on his leg for guidance. Jim moved slowly through the earth, listening carefully to his companion's progress and monitoring his heart rate and breathing. He knew that their forced expedition was hard on Blair but he saw no other alternative. Finally they pulled themselves with relief into the main cavern, and Jim helped Blair to his feet. The new Shaman was pale and panting and clutching his ribs, but he smiled when he saw the brilliant morning light streaming down through the cavern entrance.
"Almost there. Just a little bit more," Jim encouraged him. He led the way into the shaft, a gentle slope leading upwards, and Blair crawled slowly into it behind him. At last they reached the forest floor. Jim helped Blair out, and they sat and rested in the clearing for a moment.
"Oh, man, that sunshine feels so good," Blair wheezed. "I don't think I'm going to want to take up spelunking any time soon." He put an arm protectively around his ribcage and winced a little.
"How you doing, Chief? Let me take a look at that arm." Jim gently peeled back the shredded and bloody pieces of the flannel shirt. The bleeding had stopped, but the gashes left by Curupira's claws were deep and painful-looking.
Blair looked down at his arm. "My lucky shirt," he moaned. "It's ruined. It was vintage, too. I'll never find another one like it."
Jim stifled a laugh. "I think you're going to be okay if you can worry about a shirt. But you're going to need a tetanus shot, and have someone check you out. We'd better get you to the emergency room as soon as possible."
"And just what kind of animal am I going to say attacked me?"
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
"So, do I have to get up now?"
"Well, I could call an ambulance and they could come in with a stretcher, or maybe we should do that basket thing and take you out with a helicopter."
"Oh, no, not the helicopter. Anything but the helicopter. I'll get up. I'm fine, just fine. Bursting with energy."
Jim pulled him gently to his feet, and he stood there unsteadily, getting his balance. Blair looked up at the distant treetops. The light poured down into the clearing, dazzling him for a minute. "Whoa, dizzy," he said, swaying a little.
"Well, don't look at the sun, genius." Jim put his arm around his shoulder, supporting him.
"Hey, Jim, the rest of that verse in 'Evangeline' came back to me. You know, the one about the forest primeval?"
"Want to hear it?"
Blair recited, in a rather singsong voice, "This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in garments green..." He paused. "This is where I always lose it. But I remember now. 'Indistinct in the twilight..., stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms."
Jim snorted. "Beards on their bosoms?"
"Yeah, man. Druids in drag with beards on their bosoms," Blair said a little giddily.
"That does it. Let's go."
Blair smiled muzzily up at his friend. "You know what? I feel really good. I mean, I feel really bad, but good too, you know? I didn't let you down. I didn't let Incacha down. And I feel incredibly powerful and excited because of all the new things I'm going to learn."
"You did good. You're going to make an amazing Shaman."
"You really think so?"
"Absolutely. I knew it from the first moment Incacha chose you. Now, let's get you to the hospital, and let Simon know we've solved his monster problem." He kept his arm around Blair, supporting his unsteady steps as they left the clearing. Behind them, a cloud of blue butterflies rose from the forest floor and disappeared into the sky.
"Are you up to some pancakes?" Jim asked, handing him a cup of coffee.
"If you'll put some boysenberries in them. Freezer, top right."
"You got it."
Then he noticed Curupira's feathered red headdress lying on the table. It looked innocent now, separated from its owner, merely a curiosity from a land far away. Yet, innocent or not, he really didn't want it around. He'd donate it to the Anthropology Museum, with the stipulation that they keep it locked up, preferably in a dark room in the basement. Jim came up beside him and fingered the silky feathers.
"So, Chief, now that you've vanquished Curupira, think you'll be ready to take on Caipora, when he takes a vacation in Cascade?"
"Let's see, which Amazonian forest monster was that? The little naked guy with the blowgun?"
"No, that's a Saarope. Caipora's ten feet tall and always rides a wild boar, so he should be easy to spot."
"Sure, Jim, no problem, only from now on I'd like to do my monster-vanquishing through the spirit world. We're going to have a long conversation about the benefits of drugs. You know, ayahuasca is totally natural." He ducked as Jim swatted at his head.
Somewhere, under a twilight sky, Incacha sat in a tree and smiled.
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