When Billy Proudfoot and Terry Blackbird return to the reservation for the funeral of a beloved friend, they are shocked to find themselves alone at the funeral home. When their friend rises from his casket, they make tracks to the only man they know who can help them, Odd Whitefeather. The old man explains that a Windigo is on the loose and that the two of them must defeat it, or die trying.
Have you ever picked up a newspaper for no particular reason and found yourself going straight to the obituary section? Have you ever gotten some really, really bad news while doing that? That happened to me not all that long ago and I will never forget the experience. I usually avoid the daily paper and all of the bad news printed there; if anything, I’ll give the sports section a quick look. I seldom go further than that, but for some reason that obituary was screaming at me to read it. I know that now to be true.
My name is Billy Proudfoot and I was late for work, again. Before hitting the time-clock, I needed to drop my lunch in the refrigerator inside the break-room. People were waiting for me, no doubt checking their watches and complaining about me once again. I knew that, but I still stopped to pick up that damn paper. The sections lay scattered on one of the long tables and I reached down and flipped the pages of the Local section and scanned the obituaries. Why?
There were two full pages of them and I found his, printed with a nice photo, near the bottom of the second page. I hadn’t seen Doug Warner in over ten years, but I recognized that photograph the instant I laid my eyes on it. For, it was me who took that particular shot. Doug and I had been best friends from childhood until the day I moved to Minneapolis. My knees buckled as the terrible news hit me like a city bus. I sat down and read the awful piece that chronicled his life. My vision blurred and the first fat teardrop fell on Doug’s picture. I shook my head, picked up my lunch and returned to my car.
The funeral was in Carlton, one hundred and some miles to the north and it began in less than two hours. I was on Interstate 35 heading north at eighty MPH not five minutes after reading the news. Doug was that type of friend, and if you don’t understand that you’re hanging out with the wrong type of people. The tears fell in great waves and I cried like a lost six year-old child. I didn’t care what the people in the other cars thought, but to be honest; I couldn’t have prevented my emotional outburst, even if I had wanted to.
The day was tailor-made for a funeral. It was March; it was overcast and it was cold and breezy. I had one hundred bucks in my checking account and not one ounce of plastic. I’d gone bankrupt the year before, but that’s not important. The wheel shook on my Saturn at any speed above eighty, ten MPH above the posted limit and I was moving right along with traffic. Twenty minutes later the shock had diminished; just enough for me to do some reflecting that produced a few choked sobs. Death does that to you; let’s you think the worst is over before sinking its claws into your heart and refreshing the agony.
I had moved away from the Fond Du Lac Indian Reservation in 1998, after spending the first thirty-five years of my life there. I am half Ojibwe on my mother’s side, half dirty, rotten Traveling Salesman on my dad’s. I had moved for love, or, at least I had told myself so. Mom had died the previous year, which had caused me to lose the center of my universe. Sasha Linder and I started dating six months after that. We were married and she decided that we pack up and move to Minneapolis. Foolishly, I followed her.
Upon arrival, she began to spin a web inside our life together, a web that prevented me from ever going back to the reservation for a visit. She never said as much, but that web was as real as the lock on a bank vault and just as hard to break open. She consumed ten years of my life before becoming addicted to the poker machines at a local casino. At the time of our divorce we were nearly three hundred thousand dollars in debt. She couldn’t stop herself; my guess is that she’s sitting at a slot machine this very minute.
That had been two years ago. I’d lost my job, my home, my wife, and most of the self-respect that I’d left the reservation with. I now lived in the basement of a friend’s house, trying to eek out a living at the birdseed factory on minimum wage.
For twelve long years I had lived my life by the foolish concept of never looking back. I shook my head, how had I let that happen? Sasha had promised that we’d head back for a visit, sometime. That sometime was now, minus Five-of-a-Kind Sasha, which was what I had taken to calling her. Hitting five-of-a-kinds was all she ever mentioned about her casino experiences.
Doug Warner lived off of the reservation with his family in Carlton. Or, that’s where I had left him in 1998. He’d been married and they’d had three kids by the time I’d left. Doug was the type to put down deep roots, always involved in the community at some level. He was the man I aspired to become, but I’d fallen dreadfully short and now he was gone.