By Dawn Natelle
Yippee, there is a Chapter 6 now, and there will be a Chapter 7 next week, before I go into the hospital. We may not even miss a week, if I am able to write while recuperating. Thanks again to Eric for editing this ... he found several big (and many small) gaffes in the chapter.
So far: River's parents return that evening, only to discover what happened this morning. Dale is adamant that he will kill the molester, even if it means going back to jail again. River, however, is dejected and mopish as the river continues to ignore her.
River and Wayne were silent as they drove back into the park from the town. After they crossed the little covered bridge, River sobbed twice, and then broke out into tears. Wayne quickly pulled over, and then slid along the bench seat to envelop the young girl in his strong arms. She leaned into him, but was unable to do anything but sob for several minutes.
"It is gone," she finally said amidst her sobs. "I have felt the river ever since I first rolled across that bridge, but there is nothing now. It is completely gone."
Wayne wanted to respond, but everything he could think to say seemed wrong. So instead he took the common route of the First Nations' man, and remained silent. Finally River seemed to sob herself out.
"I'm okay," she said. "No I'm not, but there isn't anything we can do about it. Drive us back to the campsite. I have to check on the boys. Edith is looking after them, along with Jerome, the wolf."
Back at the camp, they found more people than expected. Not only were Edith and the smaller wolf there, but also River's parents. Dale looked as though he was ready to go ballistic.
"Where is that bastard?" he roared as Wayne and River got out of the truck. "I'll kill that bast..."
"Now Dale," Alison said, hoping to calm down the husband she had just gotten out of one jail. "Let's listen to River."
"Thanks Mom. Dad, I know you are upset, but the river has already cured Henri, who is now Henrietta. The river changed him into a woman, and not in a good way. It also took all the evil out of her soul."
They explained what had happened, and River thanked Edith for watching the boys through the day, although she said that Jerome had done the most to calm them. The smaller wolf was now joined by Night, and now each boy was hugging a wolf. Then River stopped talking, and turned to the river.
She turned back to the others with a look of ecstatic glee on her face. "It is the river," she nearly sang, "It wants me back. It just called me. It wants me back." And with that she sped off towards the river, running at top speed.
The others all followed more slowly, and when they arrived at the river they found River in mid-river, up to nearly her neck, with a huge grin splitting her face from ear to ear.
"The river is clean now," she shouted to her family and the two First Nations members. "It couldn't speak to me when the evil from Henri was still in it. The ... stuff ... that came from him was too strong. The river balled it up into a small package, and then floated it down to the lake. But the lake wouldn't take it, and refused to take any water from the river for a while. That meant that the river flooded a bit at the marina. Before long it looked like a real mess, but the river convinced the lake to take water from the sides, and only hold back the part in the middle which let the water level drop."
With that River dropped down to the river bed, popping her head up a few minutes later with more of the story: "The river finally convinced the lake to take the yuck, and a few minutes ago the river was cleaned. The yuck has moved out into the lake, and will sink to the darkest and deepest place, where it will remain forever, locked up in the ball that the river created. And now the river is talking to me again," she said, rather redundantly.
She looked at the riverbank, and noticed the pale, blank look on her brother's face as he sat there, hugging Night. Paul looked almost as morose, feeling the pain of his best friend.
"Boys," River cried out, "come out into the river."
The two stood slowly, and were nudged by the wolves into the water. As usual, it was bitterly cold for a second, and then warmed for them, as River walked up and hugged them in waist high water. She told them to sit on their knees and let the water come up to their necks. Then she waded upstream a few dozen yards, and called her parents to come in at that point.
Alison and Dale entered the water, and waded out to River, who was again near the middle. "Just let the river cleanse you, as it is cleansing the boys. She left them, with Alison in water up to her breasts, and the taller Dale up to his stomach.
River didn't hear that comment from the river, but Edith did. "She waded into the river and waded out to River who had moved to a spot between the boys and her parents, with tears of joy streaming down her face.
"The river spoke to me," she sobbed happily. "It said that it has been long enough, and it forgives me. You are still the rivertalker, but it will speak to me. It talks to me again. I had forgotten how wonderful it feels," she said, hugging River.
About fifteen minutes later River heard giggling from the boys. When she looked at them, she saw Mark point at their parents, who were closely entwined together, kissing furiously with no concern about the others.
"Come on," River shouted, and all six waded to the shore, where Wayne and the wolves had waited.
"You didn't come in," River told him.
"Well, it didn't call me. The river tends to prefer females, and I really didn't want to take a chance that it might decide I look better in a dress." River giggled.
All six were completely dry when they left the cold water. Mark turned back to the water, and said quietly. "Thank you, river." Then he turned to his sister and said: "It doesn't hurt any more. It is still there, but it is like it happened a million years ago. I can be happy again."
River looked closely at her brother. Something was wrong. No. Different. Suddenly she realized that he was about an inch and a half taller, and maybe 15 pounds heavier. He looked more like an 11-year-old than a 10-year-old. It wasn't so noticeable because Paul had matured the same amount.
Then River looked closely at her parents, and got a huge surprise. Her Dad's beer belly was gone, and his hairline seemed lower on his forehead. He looked 10 years younger, 32 instead of 42. And Alison also was changed, now looking too young to be River's mother. She was slimmer and her breasts seemed bigger and higher on her chest. Finally, Edith was the most changed. She looked 20 years younger, now under 65.
"The river has given you all gifts," River said. "The boys are bigger, if not older. And you other three look younger."
"More than just younger," Dale said. "Not only is all the hate I was feeling gone, it has been replaced by love. Love for your Mom. It feels like when we were first dating, except without all the first-date/new romance tensions."
"Yes, River. Can you spend the night with the girls at the JR camp? Your tent is a little too close to ours," Alison said with a lecherous grin.
River caught on right away, although the boys didn't. As she walked them back to the campsite, River told them that if they heard noises from the big tent, they should ignore them, as their parents would be 'kissing'."
"You mean having sex?" Mark laughed, and darted out of the way as River took a mock swing at his head. River was just glad to hear him laughing and joking again.
The next morning River was in the water again before dawn. Was it really only one day she had missed? Less, actually, since she had been at the river yesterday morning when the predator struck. She wandered back to the campsite an hour after dawn, but still long before others were awake. She started the camp stove, and soon had bacon, eggs and toast for her parents, who crawled out of their tents with silly smiles and glowing faces.
"You made breakfast for us," Alison said. River smiled at her mom, who now looked more like an older sister. "Thanks to your river, none of my other clothes fit. Jeans too big, bra too small," she said with a smile.
"I'm sure the river would be happy to take you back to the way you were," River said, as she plated a huge meal for her svelte Dad.
"No way," Alison said, rubbing Dale's new six pack. "And you definitely are not getting this guy back into the water. I've never felt so alive and young."
"Not since the first time we were this young," Dale said. "Your river is a magical thing, honey. And it has completely reignited our love for each other. I'm now out of work, and I should feel depressed. But I have a beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter, a beautiful son, and a beautiful life."
"I'm not beautiful," Mark said as he and Paul stuck their heads out of their tent. The boys had their old jeans on, which the river had altered. But their t-shirts, which they changed daily, were far too tight for their larger bodies.
"You are beautiful to me," Alison said, noticing the ill-fitting clothes. "And it looks like a trip to the store is necessary ... or perhaps a trip to Sault and the malls. We need more than just a few things from the local store."
"Can it wait till Saturday?" River asked. "I have to work today and tomorrow. I've already lost one day this week."
"Can we help again?" Mark asked as he ate his breakfast. Paul was nodding in agreement. "It was fun cleaning the river."
"My son volunteering to work?" Dale queried with a laugh. "Will wonders never cease."
"You will have to talk to Wayne about that," River said. "He did promise you the full week, so perhaps. But he might have other things that we need to do."
It turned out that the girls and River were assigned to clear some more of the river again, and the boys helped, working a long day, but having another fun lunch hour playing with the otters. At the end of the day the boys, who were now stronger, weren't as exhausted as they had been on Tuesday, and Wayne was again impressed at how much they had gotten done.
During the day Gina and Gail learned about the proposed shopping trip to Sault on Saturday, and begged to go with them. Alison and Dale were in agreement, and the girls phoned their parents for permission that evening from the office, getting the okay to spend the weekend at the camp, and at the mall. Saturday would be a busy day, with a four-plus hour drive each way to get to the shopping center.
Harold Redbear, Edith Freedove and Wayne came to the Waters' campsite that evening to speak to River. Apparently there were seven members of the tribe who had not come to the ceremony on Monday. They were in chronic geriatric care in the local hospital, and had been unable to get released for the dawn ceremony. After some discussion, it was decided that tomorrow morning River would get some water in several birchbark canteens to take to the hospital. They would do a ceremonial washing of the patients, and feed them some of the river waters.
The next morning the river told River that her idea of taking its waters to the ill band members was a good one, and infused its healing powers into the water that River gathered. The girls and boys started working without River, who went with Wayne and the elders to the small 40-bed hospital in town. The little hospital had a very liberal visiting hours policy: pretty much all day long. The place didn't have much of an operating theatre. The main activities were births, chronic care, and emergency treatment, with serious patients taken by ambulance in Sault once they were stabilized locally.
The four went immediately to the eight-bed ward where the First Nations elders were housed. Edith had mentioned that four of the seven spoke Ojibwe and three did not, so when River entered the room she said "Welcome honoured elders" in Ojibwe and then English, with a big smile on her face. Six of the elders brightened immediately at having visitors, including young people. One old woman maintained a grumpy, sour looking face.
Harold did not do a sweetgrass cleansing of the ward ... the hospital had banned the practice. However River went from bed to bed to greet and speak for a minute with each of the patients, telling them that, if they liked, they would be bathed with waters from the river, and allowed to drink river water. Most smiled at that and agreed, but the sourpuss, who was the fifth one River spoke to ... in English, seemed less than enthused.
"Who are you to do this," she said grumpily. "Your hair, your skin, you are not one of the people. No outsider can cure us. No more than the quack-quacks here at this place."
"The river accepted me, and speaks to me," River said cheerily. "I hope that you might as well."
The old woman looked at her for a minute, and then the smallest smile crept across her face. "I guess it can't hurt, can it," she said, and her face wrinkled into a bit more of a smile. "Thank you for coming. Our family members told us of the beautiful maiden who had performed the ceremony on Monday. We are glad we have not been forgotten."
The bathing in the river water was not a full sponge bath, but the faces, arms and legs of the elders were each bathed in turn by River, and the elders shivered a bit as the water was applied. Somehow it had stayed ice cold even five hours later. After River finished with the last of the baths, Wayne poured river water into seven glasses, and handed them to the elders as River sang in Ojibwe.
Her song was one of the olden times, in the days of furs and plentiful hunting, when the people lived in lodges made of cedar and ruled the land, as well as tending it. The Ojibwe speakers recognized the words, but even the other three were entranced by the sounds ... the song was a common one that mothers sang to their children in their infancy and while the words were not known to those three, the sound took them back to their youth and they all smiled deeply at the sounds.
Just then a little man of about 60 burst into the room, wearing medical white clothes. He was small, balding and with a significant pot belly. "Who is making such a racket in my hospital," he shouted. Harold shouted "Drink up," and all the elders drank their glass of river water.
"What are they drinking?" the man shouted, nearly apoplexic. "This is a hospital. You can't just feed my patients your medicine man potions."
"It is pure water from the river of the people," River said, having finished her song. "It will cure them."
"River water? Filthy river water?" The man pointed at her in rage: "I'll have you charged with practising medicine without a license. Get these filthy Indians out of my hospital."
At that slur, River's face darkened. "We will leave peacefully. We are a peaceful people. But we do not accept those who mistreat us, in action or in word. You may find that all our people leave your hospital sooner than you think."
With that Harold ushered her, and the rest, out of the hospital. The four stood on the sidewalk outside.
"The river can cure them better than that old hospital," River said. "What if we were to take them back to the reserve? Are there people there that would take them in?"
"Those are the oldest of the elders," Edith explained. "All of them have sons and daughters and grandchildren who would look after them. But would they want to come?"
"We need to take them to the river," River said. "After it heals them as best it can, they can decide if they want to come back, or to take their earned place of honour with their families."
With that, the four headed back to the reserve, with Harold driving, and River sitting on Wayne's lap.
Inside the hospital, the doctor was still raging. He had taken one of the birchbark canteens and drained a bit of the water out of it to send to the lab in the Sault for analysis. It looked clean, but no doubt was full of toxins.
A younger man, about 30, came in and asked what was happening. The doctor started to explain, and the younger man pulled him out into the hallway and away from the patients. The doctor explained, and the younger man became worried.
"Fred, please calm down," Desmond Kraud said. He was the administrator of the hospital, and in the third year of what he hoped was a five-year stay in the north, before starting to apply for more senior positions in larger hospitals in southern Ontario. Working in a leadership role in a northern hospital rather than as a flunky at a bigger place down south was part of his plan to advance his career. Working with the cantankerous old doctor Mitchell was one of the harder parts of his job.
"Fred, we have to treat these folk well," Desmond said. "They represent nearly 20% of the occupancy at the hospital. Those 2500 bed days over a year is what makes this a class D hospital. Without them we could be dropped down to class E, or even closed." He didn't mention that his own salary would be reduced by over $15,000 a year if the hospital rating dropped.
"I don't like it," the crotchety old man said. "When I started here we just treated the Indians at the back door of Emergency. They didn't even come in for maternity, back then. Now they think they have all the rights of a white person."
Desmond was shocked at the prejudice he was hearing from the medical man, but didn't say anything to set him off more. Instead they walked back to his small administrator office and opened a bottle of scotch he had in a file cabinet. The two men helped themselves to a drink, and then another, as they tried to calm themselves down.
After an hour and a half, Desmond put the bottle away, much lighter than it had been. A receptionist burst into the office. "We are having a meeting," Desmond barked. "No interruptions."
"I think you need to come," the girl said. "There are a lot of Indians coming in. And they have wolves."
"Wolves?" the doctor shouted, riled up as badly as before. He tore off to the "Indian Ward", with Desmond right behind.
The two men could not get into the ward at all. There had to be 40 of the people there, with as many more milling about on the street. Dr. Mitchell tried to push his way into the ward, only to be stopped by a menacing growl of a large black wolf. He stepped back, but still maintained his anger.
"You can't bring wild animals into a hospital," he shouted, adding "Dirty Indians" under his breath.
"We will have the 'dirty Indians' out of here shortly," Rod said, as he had heard the slur. "Just sit back and watch us."
"No, no, no," Desmond argued. "You can't just take them away. They have to be discharged, and the doctor has to sign them out.
"And the doctor won't do that, will he?" River said, moving towards the non-natives.
"Not without a full examination, and to see that they are healthy enough to leave," Desmond said. "Maybe in a day or two, one or two of them will be fit to leave."
"Our people do not stay where they are not wanted, when there are places where they are wanted. And these elders look fitter now than they were two hours ago when we came in. All of them are with members of their families, who are taking them away from here," River explained.
"You can't do that," the doctor squealed. "That is kidnapping. I'll have the police after you. And you are the ringleader, girlie." A drop of spittle leaked out of his mouth.
Desmond had now finally gotten his head into the ward. The doctor was still held back by Night's growls and bared teeth. He could see that all his patients were with family members, and several of them had wolves that the patients were kneeling to pet. Where had tame wolves come from, he wondered? Then he looked at Night, and wondered just how tame they were. The patients were a surprise though. All were walking, and all looked better than they had at any time since they had arrived at the hospital ... four years ago in one case. They certainly didn't look like geriatric patients waiting to die. They were hugging and celebrating with their loved ones.
One at the time they walked out of the hospital and were bundled into pickups parked in front. The people waiting on the sidewalk let out a cheer for each of them as they emerged, as if they had just been freed from a long incarceration. Eventually they were all out, and River, Wayne, Harold and Edith emerged last, with Dr. Mitchell nearly frothing at the mouth in anger, and planning to call the Ontario Provincial Police from Terrace Bay.
The convoy of pickups headed back to the park, with First Nations peoples packed into the backs, singing Ojibwe victory songs.
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