New Restaurant a Kitschy Culinary Catastrophe
Spider leaned against the back wall of Iktomi’s Eatery and tossed the newspaper into the wind. Pages tumbled and flapped away like flattened birds. Spider stared at the gray, late winter sky, and composed himself. Now was not the time to look as weary as he felt in mind and body. He smiled into the wind. “A gift for you, Leotie,” he said. “Does Elder Sister enjoy playing games?”
A gust of wind swirled the scattered papers together into a crumpled ball. It fell from the sky into Spider’s outstretched hand. A blustery, muted female voice answered, Yes.
Spider threw the ball into a dumpster and began folding a single fresh piece of paper. The first crease ran through the word Kitschy. “I am glad to hear that,” he said. “I just knew it must be true, since you are so smart. You did a lovely job with the weather today, and yet you still have time for a little Animal Spirit like me. I am most humbled.”
He tossed the finished paper airplane into the wind.
The invisible weather spirit caught it and spun it over his head with graceful loops and twirls. It dove, brushed the ground, and climbed back into the sky.
Spider applauded. “Wonderful job!” he said.
Leotie played with the airplane until it fell apart, and then dropped it into Spider’s hand. That was good, she said. Reminded me of Creative Spirit. We played Chase-the-Leaves together.
Spider put the rest of the newspaper in the dumpster. “What a lovely memory,” he said. “I’m sure he will enjoy playing Chase-the-Leaves again when he returns. It’s a shame I can’t play it properly with you in this body. The happier we make each other by helping each other, the happier we make the Creative Spirit. Do you need any help with your job?”
Gentle gusts of wind swirled around him. He could almost see a set of curious eyes forming in them.
You are a strange one, she said. Can you bring the snow? Control a tornado? Tell the cicadas to wake? Turn leaves yellow and brown?
Spider frowned. “No,” he said. “You were right to remind me. Your power far exceeds my own. With power comes responsibility. You have always done such a good job taking care of the weather and making the Creative Spirit happy. My duty of teaching the humans has only gotten harder as they change. He should not be disappointed like this.”
The wind grew warmer, comforting. Can I help? Leotie said.
“Would you?” Spider said, offering a hopeful smile. “You do not have to if you do not want to, but I would be very grateful.”
The Creative Spirit likes you, Leotie said. I like you. What can I do?
Spider closed his eyes and bowed his head in a gesture of respect. “Thank you for your generosity, Elder Sister,” he said. “Ever since the pale humans arrived I have lost my position as teacher among them all. Almost no one wants to visit or study under a Medicine Man anymore. I would like to rekindle their belief, but it must be done with great care. Revealing my powers on a grand scale would cause a panic. I need to start small and reach them slowly and with patience.”
I understand, said Leotie.
“Good,” Spider said. “I would like to start with a particular human who has recently made things difficult for me.”
Spider swept a hand over the restaurant. The sound of light evening traffic from the street on the other side reminded him of his bittersweet success; the building was beautiful, but he would have preferred a more active location. “My restaurant is central to my new vision for practicing Medicine,” he said. “Many healing potion ingredients are becoming difficult to find. Buying them from humans improves the speed of new discoveries. The restaurant pays for it. It also allows me to share my Food Medicine with humans who would otherwise never seek out my teachings. It is an exhausting and precarious job, and I have only just started figuring out how to make it work. This human has threatened it, and so I must defend myself for the sake of the humans the Creative Spirit wants me to teach.”
What happened? Leotie said.
“Humans communicate with each other using those pieces of paper we were playing with,” Spider said. “A human named Michael Snoots wrote a story called a ‘review’ about how he visited my restaurant and thought it was bad. He said that the beautiful paintings Raven made for me that I have decorating the walls are ugly. He told the other humans that they should think I was disgusting for trying to get them to rediscover foods they have forgotten, like fresh buffalo testicles. If I can get this human to apologize and retell his story, I will have an easier time teaching and make the Creative Spirit happier.”
I understand, said Leotie.
Spider closed his eyes and rested his chin on his chest. “Elder Sister,” he said, voice falling low and slow, “Grant me your powers over the winter winds so that I may do the Creative Spirit’s will.”
Until his will is done, Leotie said. No longer. I will be watching you.
Icy pinpricks crept across his skin. They sank into his bones and settled in the marrow. He felt like he had become a living corpse. Spider shuddered and bit his lip, urging himself to stay calm. “Thank you Elder Sister,” he said.
Spider stumbled inside and went into the restroom to change from his chef’s uniform to a set of everyday clothing. On his way out the front he nearly ran into an employee sweeping the floors in preparation for closing.
The man dropped the broom and grabbed Spider’s shoulder, offering his weight for support. “Mr. Iktomi!” he said. “Are you OK?”
Spider brushed him aside a little harder than he intended to. “I’m fine, Tyler,” he said. “Just a bit tired.”
Spider pushed onward and discovered that driving under the influence of Wind Medicine was an unsettling experience. He couldn’t shake the sensation of flying over the road ahead, detached from his physical form and all the worries that went with it. Honks from irritated human drivers helped snap him back into focus. All the while he felt Leotie’s presence hanging over him, watching, judging.
Spider arrived at his destination with a swelling sense of pride. He could not rightly call himself the world’s greatest Medicine Man if he could not overcome the distraction of his gifting for long enough to operate a silly human machine. He stopped his car on the side of the neighborhood street well out of sight from his target, got out, and changed.
He was no Coyote, but the human form he wore was malleable enough for a set of disguises. Spider blanched the color from his short black hair and threw a patchwork of wrinkles over his face. His back stooped and his gait stiffened. He now looked as old and tired as he felt with the Wind Medicine chilling his core.
There was a sleek red car in Mr. Snoots’ driveway. Spider didn’t know enough about cars to identify what kind it was, but it looked expensive and that pleased him. He held his hand over the hood and grew a hooked, dark brown claw from the nail of the index finger. It made a satisfying scraping sound while he drew a simple spider web pattern on the paint.
When he was finished he tucked his thumb into his palm and waved four fingers at the man’s house. A blast of wind shattered a window set in the front door. Within moments a thin, flustered man who looked to be somewhere in his forties threw the door open and stormed across the lawn.
“Hey! What are you doing to my car, you old nutcase?” said Mr. Snoots.
Old Man Spider flashed a genial grin. “Greetings, Michael Snoots,” he said. “I am an emissary sent by the spirits. You have angered them. You said hurtful things to the people whose hard work you review. If you retract your statements and replace them with kind words, no harm will come to you.”
The human’s face was as red as a white man’s could get. “Ha!” he said. “You think this is the first time I’ve been threatened? You don’t scare me. Just you wait until the cops get here.”
He turned and headed back for the house. A timid female face framed by short brown curls peered through the open door. “Linda!” he said, voice rising to a growl. “Get me a phone!”
Spider tucked his thumb into his palm and raised his hand over his head. “Michael Snoots,” he said. His voice rumbled like thunder in his chest, and he thought for sure the human could feel it too. “Turn around and meet your punishment face on.”
The man obeyed. Spider thrust his hand down, level with his eyes, and held it there. The tips of his fingers went numb with cold. The wind hit the man in the back and threw him to the ground. He caught himself with his hands, knelt for a few moments, and then collapsed in a fetal position. His eyes clenched shut and he shivered. The woman in the doorway screamed.
Spider watched the man tremble. Ice formed on his eyelashes and on the blades of grass around him. Spider released him and raised both hands, thumbs tucked and fingers spread, over his head. He swept them in downward arcs, crossing his arms over his chest. An infant tornado of a storm poured over the house, breaking tree limbs and pelting it with debris. A quiet voice prodded from the back of his mind, asking if, just possibly, this was a tad excessive. Spider told it to shut up and come back when he wasn’t busy having fun.
When he was satisfied he uncrossed his arms and let the air be still. The Wind Medicine drained away and warmth crept back into his bones. He lurched like a drunk back to the car.
He felt worse on the drive home than he could remember feeling for a long time. At least the Wind Medicine offered a sense of power. The aftereffects of using such strong Medicine left his senses dull and his thoughts muddled. He drove as slow as the old man he resembled a few minutes ago probably would have driven.
Spider opened the car door, set foot on his own driveway, and felt the tickle of wind on his cheek. “Hello, Elder Sister,” he said.
The human is very cold, Leotie said. Her voice was high with curiosity. Her presence followed him inside. A white car took him. Other humans fussing over him. You almost killed him. Why?
Spider summoned a tired smile and sank into the nearest chair. “Because I am a teacher, dear Elder Sister,” he said. “I had to correct him and open his eyes to the power of the spirits.”
Cannot correct him if dead, Leotie said. You good with Manitou Medicine. Very powerful. Maybe, though, not good enough. Man saved by his mate. Dead otherwise. Were you afraid for him?
“Of course not, Elder Sister,” Spider said. “I would never want him be hurt like that. An important being such as yourself does not need to deal with humans on the personal level Animal Spirits do. Sometimes we must be very firm with them, and your Medicine is an excellent tool for accomplishing this. Your feedback is most welcome. I do not want to have more power than I can handle, but I would be even more afraid of refusing to take risks. We are placed in this world to change it. We cannot live without changing it, nor without power, nor without responsibility, nor without guilt. Thus while it is wise to fear power, it is foolish to cower from it. To refuse to use it when it is called for is to turn away from life itself. I do not fear my power.”
I understand, said Leotie.
Her presence left the house with a gentle slither of wind that swirled dust on the hardwood floor. Spider made a mental note to find time to vacuum, and then passed out.
He awoke somewhere around lunchtime and called in sick. His disappointment with himself for missing work was dulled by the ache in his head. There was no potion for treating a Medicine hangover. He improvised by prescribing a few bottles of cold beer. He fetched the newspaper and sat at the kitchen table with them. After glancing over a few pages one headline leapt at him.
Famous Food Critic Announces Early Retirement