Like many young orphans, Nanabozho had a difficult time getting along with other children. He preferred to pass the time playing with his imaginary friend. Unlike other boys, he claimed the voice that spoke to him belonged to a manitou.
His grandmother looked after him. She was willing to ignore his claims as childish fancy at first, but as he neared the age for seeking a vision she grew concerned. "Stop this nonsense," she scolded one evening when he came home for dinner with new stories about his friend. "What purpose would the spirits have for visiting you? Even those destined to become great medicine men must wait for their vision. If you keep telling lies, people will not believe you even if it does come true!"
"I'm not lying," Nanabozho pouted. "Missahba says I remind him of summer and that makes him happy. Wouldn't you visit someone if they made you happy?"
Nanabozho's grandmother sighed. Missahba brought warm summer weather on the south winds. Surely he had more important things to do than talk to children. She pinched Nanabozho's ear. "Stop it. I won't hear any more."
Nanabozho tried to squirm free. "Missahba," he cried, "help!"
She sighed anew. None of her children had ever been this dramatic. Before she could punish him further a hot wind blew through the wigwam's opening, sending their clothing fluttering in every direction as it encircled them.
A voice rose from the air, deep and soothing like a cup of freshly brewed tea. Nanabozho, mind your grandmother.
Nanabozho's grandmother shrieked and ran out the door. This is how Nanabozho learned that she had never spoken with any manitous herself. He began to laugh at her, but then he felt the wind condense around his ear to give it a tug, and stopped.
From that day on everyone knew he was different. Some spoke of him in awed tones, proclaiming that he would become a powerful medicine man. Others whispered that he should be driven from the camp, for they believed he had made a pact with an evil spirit posing as Missahba.
As Nanabozho grew, nothing seemed to go right for him. When he sought his vision nothing came. When he went hunting he brought back less food than the other young men.
More time passed, and it became difficult for them to continue seeing him as a threat. He did not use Missahba's help to learn medicine or curse enemies. Instead, he seemed content to ask for nice weather so he could curl up under his favorite tree for a nap.
He may have lived the rest of his life this way if it were not for the girl who showed up at the camp one year. She came walking from the north, weary with travel and hunger, and shared her story. "Things are getting very bad up there," she said in a hollow voice. "There is a curse over the land. If someone starves during the winter and eats the flesh of another person to survive, they become a wendigo, a monster. One of these creatures attacked my camp. My mother and father, my little brothers and sisters
if I had not been away gathering firewood and heard the screams, I would not be here."
The news threw everyone into a frenzy. If the girl had made it this far, what was stopping the monster from following on her heels? The men gathered their weapons and prepared to guard the camp.
Nanabozho did not join them. The girl's story moved him so much it brought tears to his eyes. "Don't worry," he told her, "I will kill that monster. No one should ever have to go through something like that."
One of the young men stopped beside him, swinging his war club absentmindedly. "What, you?" he scoffed. "Since when have you killed anything bigger than a rabbit?"
Nanabozho glared at him. "You doubt me?"
The other man swung the club in a mock strike. Nanabozho yelped and fell on his back beside the girl, who didn't flinch. Laughter erupted from all sides.
Nanabozho sprang to his feet and ground his teeth. He pushed past the young warrior, stomped to his home, and retrieved his own unused war club. The laughter died away as he hurried along the path the girl had come from.
A warm breeze ticked his ear. Missahba's calming voice rose from it. Think this is unwise. Know how to use that?
Nanabozho pummeled a small sapling with the club. "Of course!" he said, some of the tension easing from his voice now that he was alone with his friend. "That wendigo will curse the day he met me!"
Missahba's tone took a critical edge. Stop! What tree do to you?
Nanabozho winced. He had forgotten how much the manitou liked watching the trees thrive in the pleasant weather he brought. "Sorry," he said in a small voice.
Missahba seemed satisfied with the apology. Concern replaced his reproach. You sure about this? Worried for you.
Nanabozho strode forward again, determination entering his step and his voice. "Well, you shouldn't be! It's been in front of me all along, and now I see it. I will be the greatest warrior the tribe has ever seen, and I will not stop until there is no evil left which can do such horrible things!"
The air around him grew colder, and Missahba's voice took on a strange tone he had never heard before. Please, go back. Wendigo is Tainted One. We avoid him. He will kill you.
Nanabozho stopped and scratched his head. "Are you afraid, Missahba? How can you be afraid of anything?"
The wind appeared to shudder against his skin. Tainted One is cursed manitou. Maybe curse can spread. Do not know. Best to avoid.
The news sent a chill down Nanabozho's spine. A cannibal possessed by a cursed manitou? What could that possibly be like? His imagination offered up suggestions, each more horrible looking than the last. He tried to hide the quiver that crept into his voice. "Well, someone has to do something about it! With you by my side, how can I lose?"
Will not go north, Missahba insisted. You may, if you must. Will give gift to help. Ask when needed, never before. Is Essence of Summer.
Before Nanabozho could open his mouth he felt Missahba's presence leave him, returning to whatever place it was that manitous called home. He scowled at the general direction the spirit had vanished in. "Fine," he grumbled. "I don't need your help."
Nanabozho set off again. He walked for days with little rest, driven by his determination to right the injustice. Weariness did not enter his thoughts any more than did a plan on just what he was supposed to do when he found the monster.
He walked until he came across the remains of a camp. The wigwams were wrecked as if a giant had swatted them aside, leaving exposed fires dwindling away in cooling heaps of ash. He was at once heartbroken and relieved that the girl had not found the camp and stopped there.
Something stirred within a collapsed section of wigwam. An old man crawled out from beneath the mess of sticks and bark and tilted his head at Nanabozho. His long white hair was dirty, his clothing was mere rags, and his eyes were pale like those of the blind. Bones jutted against skin and Nanabozho could almost hear the creak of ancient joints.
Nanabozho gasped, heart aching with pity for the poor survivor. He rushed to the old man's side. "Grandfather," he said, speaking loudly in case the old man was hard of hearing as well as blind, "you must come with me. It is not safe for you here."
The old man leaned forward and stuck his nose in Nanabozho's face, as if trying to smell him. Nanabozho had heard of people with a lost sense compensating for it by strengthening their other senses, but somehow he hadn't thought of smell being included among them. He spoke even louder, now worrying that the old man was truly deaf. "Grandfather, were you here when the monster attacked your camp? Did you see which way it went?"
"Yes," the old man said, and he smiled. His lips pulled back further than Nanabozho thought possible and revealed, in addition to a mouthful of worn and stained teeth, a gleaming set of four white fangs. The old man grabbed hold of his shirt and Nanabozho noticed too late the yellow claws sprouting from his fingers. With the ease of a man a fraction of his age, the old man lifted him off his feet.
Nanabozho screamed and swung his club. The old man caught it before it struck, ripped it from his hand, and slammed it into the ground. The handle snapped in the middle and the old man handed the stump of wood back to him. Nanabozho shrieked and hit him in the forehead with it, leaving a small scratch.
The old man dropped him so that he landed on his backside, leaned over him, and laughed. "Silly human! None can stop Wendigo. Camp tasted good. You will too!"
Nanabozho stared up for moment of stupefied silence as realization sank in. Then he scrambled to his feet and ran faster than he had ever run before back the way he came.
Something struck him between the shoulders and he fell forward, sliding on his face. Weight pressed down on his back for a moment and then was gone. He pushed himself up on his elbows and spat out a mouthful of dirt. Wendigo stood before him, crouched low, clawed feet shifting anxiously and a wide grin on his face. A thread of drool wobbled from his chin.
Nanabozho left a spray of dirt behind him. A shadow raced over his head and Wendigo landed in his path. He shrieked and skidded to a halt, waving his arms to keep from losing his balance when he changed direction. A few seconds of sprinting brought him into Wendigo's path once more.
He spun until he grew dizzy. Wendigo waited in every direction he took, grinning silently. Finally growing tired of this, he stood his ground and met the monster's pale eyes. "Listen you," he said, wobbling and brandishing the club handle, "why don't you stop playing games like a child and fight me like a man?"
Wendigo readied himself for another pounce. "No! Being human is fun. Play first, then eat."
Nanabozho put his hands on his hips and bared his teeth. "What?" he snarled. "Are you afraid of a fair fight?"
Wendigo began hopping in place, shifting his feet. He looked like a child who needed to go behind the bushes. "You are being boring," he whined. "Run away again!"
Nanabozho sneered. "Just because you say so, that's exactly what I'm not going to do!"
The words had barely left his mouth when he found himself flying through the air. He fell on his back hard enough to knock the breath from his lungs. Wendigo landed on his chest. Nanabozho was certain he was going to die now. He covered his face with one arm, his throat with the other, and sobbed.
Wendigo jumped up and down, crushing him with far more strength than something with a withered old man's body ought to have. He laughed and growled and spoke something that may have been an attempt at a song. "Squishy, squishy, squishy, squishy!"
When he grew tired of this he crouched beside Nanabozho and waited for him to run away again. Nanabozho did not move. He reached out and poked at a closed eyelid.
Nanabozho groaned. He felt flatter than a strip of birch bark, but at least he was alive. He sat up and looked into Wendigo's eyes, tears of pain and frustration wetting his cheeks. "Just let me go!" he pleaded. "I'll never bother you again if you let me go."
Wendigo wrapped his arms around his chest and laughed. "You are funny. Tell another joke!"
Somewhere in the depths of Nanabozho's rattled head a memory stirred. He flashed a triumphant smile and yelled, "Essence of Summer!"
Wendigo tilted his head at an angle that suggested he was part owl. "That was not funny."
Flames erupted from Nanabozho's fingertips. He gave a high-pitched scream and leapt back, waving his arms. Fireballs shot from his hands and exploded against anything they touched. The fire danced harmlessly up his arms, but he was too panicked to notice the lack of pain or the way it left his clothing untouched.
Wendigo bared his fangs with a raspy hiss. He turned to run, but a fireball landed at his feet and sent him scurrying back. Every direction he took was met with a new explosion as Nanabozho flailed his arms in a vain attempt to put them out. Wendigo turned to him and held his hands up. "Fine! Will not eat you! Get away from me!"
A fireball smacked him between the eyes and he collapsed, rolling in pain. A howl erupted from his throat, furious at first but then descending into agonized moans.
The eerie, inhuman sounds drew Nanabozho out of his frenzy and reminded him that there was more to worry about than the fire. He finally realized that it wasn't hurting him, and felt rather silly for forgetting it was a gift from his best friend. He forced himself to remain still, and saw that the fire rested with him, flames rising lazily from his arms with only the slightest feeling of additional heat. He waved an arm and a fireball shot from it. Now that he was calm, he understood what to do.
Wendigo writhed on the ground, clawing at his face. He did not seem to notice Nanabozho standing over him. Nanabozho raised both arms over his head. "This is for that girl's family," he yelled, "and for her camp, and for this camp!"
Wendigo lay still and tilted his head up, burnt eyes swollen shut. He trembled and whimpered. Nanabozho felt a pang of guilt but pushed it aside, reminding himself that he was dealing with an evil spirit and an equally wicked old man. He swung his arms down in an arch that brought two continuous streams of fire, and held his position until there was nothing left of the monster but a pile of ashes.
He danced and whooped in triumph. The flames on his arms died down, and to his surprise the fire left by the explosions disappeared with them. Trees that had been hit bore no scorch marks. Even the grass was left untouched. Nanabozho smiled, thinking of how Missahba was as much a friend to the plants as him. He almost felt he could forgive him for not warning about what Essence of Summer meant.
Nanabozho's return trip was long, hungry, and sore, but he still greeted Missahba outside his camp with a grin. "I did it!" he told his friend. "Wendigo has been obliterated. We are safe now."
Missahba bore the patient tone of a parent speaking to an overly excited child. No, Nanabozho. Man Wendigo took is dead. Manitou cannot be killed. Will come back. Will remember you. Next time will be harder.
Nanabozho's jaw dropped. "Next time? He ate two whole camps and chased me around and stepped on me like a bug! You mean I'm going to have to go through all that again?"
"Oooh," he groaned, and slumped against a tree. "What do I tell the others?"
Share what you learned, Missahba advised. How to avoid curse. How to fight.
Nanabozho returned and shared his knowledge with his tribe. Though they lacked Missahba's gift, they learned from him how to deal with the growing threat of the curse. He took in anyone who was willing and they became the first of the anwe, the wendigo hunters.