This novel was two years in the creation – the longest time I’ve ever spent on a project. It is by no means my longest at less than 80,000 words. 100,000 + is my norm.
The time was taken by deep research and a desire to refine and reduce this complex story to a poetic fine point.
Chepi will be known to anyone who has read The Prairie Companions, the Daniel Series or the previous two in the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. In those novels, she was an important but secondary character.
I always felt she was deserving of her own story and so here it is. I am unashamed to say I feel it the best work I’ve done… so far. I have included a few extracts here as a taster.
(From Chapter 1)
The grey wolf ran darting and diving through the thick forest, the wet mist parting before him and trailing in eddies behind. Above him a hawk swerved and swooped, easily following. The hawk squealed and the grey wolf stopped and raised his head in cry, howling twice. He sniffed the air and howled once more. The hawk landed above and chirped his high squeal in answer. The grey wolf said, “The little fairy has no sex. The little fairy is not boy or girl and is both.” The hawk swooped and flew into a mist swirling above the canopy. Its call echoed and grew distant until it was a whisper. Sooleawa called in the mist, “Manito, tell me what grey wolf spoke to you.” The hawk hovered above her and spoke its music high and piping and its words entered Sooleawa in her mind but not her ears. She smiled and nodded and gave thanks to her manito.
(From Chapter 12)
It was almost black dark when she reached the river. She stopped and stilled. Breathing slower, she closed her eyes and looked with ears and nose. The river misted the air with chill freshness and old wood and leaves added their musk tone. A pine amber scent spoke of evergreens near. A mushroom pungency rose somewhere close. Little scampering scuttling things rustled in the leaf litter but no large animals gave up their presence to Chepi’s searching senses. She opened her eyes and the darkness was gone, replaced by slants of silver moon and starlight. Dark flashes of movement drew her eyes, as bats cruised the river picking moths foolishly lingering in the moonlight beams.
An area of low scrub on a rise of the riverbank was trampled flat as Chepi set up her small tent, tying it to branches around rather than using easily lost tent pegs. She unrolled her ex-army sleeping bag and found her bag of pemmican, cornbread and water bottle. She did not feel like disturbing the night with a fire so washed down her supper with plain water. She popped a rock of golden sugar under her tongue as a sweet treat and settled cross-legged by the tent entrance. She lit a pipe and whispered: “Sorry, forest things, if tobacco smoke intrudes upon you, but we humans are part of you and we bring far off things with us.”
Chepi sat late into the night in a state of peaceful stupor, her mind as blank and directionless as in sleep but… but she was hyper-awake – attuned to the nightlife of the forest. Lost in its palpable throb and pulse. She would from time to time have to bring her focused attention to a presence near. A bear came to the stream as morning was beginning to fanlight through the leaf lace. Chepi watched it drink and then snuffle and dig in the soft river banks, breakfasting on snails, worms and crunching beetles and the crawfish it nosed and clawed from their unsafe pools. After a time, the bear lifted its head and sniffed the air, slowly turning to the human scent Chepi wafted to it. It grunted its displeasure and plunged away into the forest, noisy and frustrated by the disturbance of the danger-laden human scent.
Chepi hung her rucksack high in a tree, then climbed into her sleeping bag, sighed, put her head down and instantly found a dream-free sleep. It was perhaps ten when she woke and crawled from her tent. She toileted, then plunged naked and squealing into the river to bathe. While there she spotted little trout hiding in a small pool nearby. She lay on a rock and fished for them with her hands. She was beginning to shiver with cold when she threw the second onto the bank. She lit a fire and put two stout sticks through the centre of the trout, pushing their spine and most of the small bones out as she pulled off the tails, spine bones and all. The fish cooked as she dressed and fetched water in her billy to boil for coffee.
When the coffee was blown cool enough to drink, she sat with her back on a tree and savoured the sugar tucked in her cheek, the heat of the coffee and the growing warmth of the day. Maybe I stay here longer. It is a good place here and I feel lazy and unwilling to walk. My feet and legs are pained still. Yes, another day and night here and then I climb high and look at the plains. I am at peace already – it was good to come here. I must keep thought and remembrance from me.
(From Chapter 15)
Only when she had made that eye contact with everyone present, did Chepi speak: “Gentlemen, ladies, I am Chepi Morningstar and I am Nehiawak or Cree in English. Beside me is Bonny-Ann Beckett an officer of the Canadian Security Service. Forgive me for this deviation but I must say why she is here. I call her Numees Bonny-Ann or simply Numees. This means sister or spirit-sister and this is what she is to me. If she had not been with me here, I would be dead. This morning three men tried to kill me outside our hotel. Numees stopped them, they’re all dead.”
Chepi paused as a murmur arose in the room. She waited for everyone to still and look back at her before she continued: “Numees, my sister, came to me when she was a girl of fourteen. We knew we would meet and we saw each other when we did. Saw we were sisters. I do not intend to explain the mystic element of this bond, it is not relevant to this place. I mention it to show you that all human kinship and human bonds know no boundaries of race or colour or background. Numees came with me because she knew I was in danger. She knew there are those who do not see these bonds, who do not believe in the commonality of humanity. Indeed, they are threatened by relationships such as ours because it undermines their dreadful certainties. This certainty is what drove those three men to try to kill me this morning and their dreadful certainty is encouraged and enabled by the various acts the Canadian government has in place to forcefully assimilate First Nation peoples. I will use that term rather than ‘aboriginal’ because Numees warns me ‘aboriginal’ is often a pejorative term.
I have seen dreadful certainty of this kind once before. It was in Germany and Poland in the 1930’s. There too, a government sought to de-humanise people. They made them separate – other – sub-human and then they tried to exterminate them. Yes, dreadful certainty is not a new thing. Genocide is not a new thing. My government has not resorted to death camps and I do not mean to compare them. But they have enacted laws that forcefully remove children from their parents and subject them to so called industrial schools and fostering. They seek to remove the cultural identity of those children and force a new culture upon them.”