I’ve always loved this spooky holiday. On the day dedicated to things that go bump in the night, I’m offering a peek at my new soon-to-be-release novel, The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo.
Several years ago while taking a much touted artists tour, I wandered into a barn converted into an artist studio and found a new author sitting beside a stack of books. This curious book with its B-movie cover was all about the Wisconsin werewolf. At the time, I was less fascinated by werewolves than I was by anyone who’d managed to get published. In the days before email submissions, Indy publishers, and self-publishing, I was at the point where I could write a book about rejection letters!
Needless to say, I stood talking to the author. Of course after picking her brain as best I could, I bought the book. It seemed only right that I do. While my husband drove us from art studio to art studio, I read passages to him. The story was pretty farfetched but entertaining. Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a wolf walking like a man. We knew the areas mentioned in the book and some of the sightings of this weird creature had supposedly taken place over decades. Back home, I went digging for more. Apparently the Ojibwe legends in the Great Lakes region mention a magical wolf or dog that guards burials.
That caught my attention. Legends of grave guardians around the world often take the form of wolves or dogs. Then there’s that jackal-headed Anubis from ancient Egypt. Wasn’t he the Lord of the Dead? Beyond that, Wisconsin was covered in ancient Native American burial and effigy mounds. One of the stories in that book went back to the 1930’s and took place on top of a burial mound. Needing more information, we took the Great Mound Tour across Wisconsin into Iowa. I saw these effigies and burials for myself, what was left of them.
And my imagination went wild!
My cover is nearly finished and I expect my novel to launch within the next two weeks. In the spirit of Halloween, I offer this fanciful peek into an actual legend. Remember, all legends have a grain of truth in them.
Here’s my announcement card front and back.
What does an immortal Native American shaman do when the grave he’s sworn to watch over for all eternity disappears under urban development?
His purpose of guarding his wife’s burial mound is gone, Ashkewheteasu seeks to end his immortal existence. In his despair, he assumes the form of a wolf and steps in front of a moving car and into the life of Dr. Olivia “Livie” Rosalini. The veterinarian saves the animal’s life, and in the process saves the man within. Unbeknownst to Livie, the dog she’s taken into her home and grows to love is a magical being seeking to win her heart as a man. While Ash is learning a new world filled with new love, friendship, and happiness, an old menace makes plans to steal it all away; just as he had 3000 years before.
The True Beginning
Ten years ago, a reporter for a small-town newspaper heard word of strange dawn and dusk sightings of a wolf-like creature roaming the Wisconsin countryside. Her investigation revealed that local police officials had initially taken these calls lightly, but this had changed when calls began coming from upstanding citizens.
Authorities had determined what these eyewitnesses had actually seen was a lone wolf broken off from a pack running in the wilds of northern Wisconsin. Young male wolves seeking to start a new pack are known to strike off on their own. Leaving the vast stretches of wooded landscape, they might travel one hundred miles in a day. It seemed likely. But the witnesses were adamant that what they’d seen had been no ordinary wolf. This wolf walked like a man.
Intrigued, the reporter collected the stories. To her surprise, other witnesses came forward telling of sightings that they’d never reported. In fact, some eyewitness accounts had occurred more than seventy years prior, the details only whispered to relatives who were sworn to secrecy lest friends and neighbors think heavy drinking was involved. These stories she also collected, for she knew hushed secrecy was not a direction fame-seekers usually take.
More curious now, the reporter deepened her investigation and uncovered another bizarre detail: the sightings were mentioned in ancient oral traditions of the Native Americans in the region. In those tales, dog men or witchy wolves looked after burial mounds in much the same way jackal-headed Anubis guarded the tombs of ancient Egypt. And even more bizarre, early French explorers knew of them too. They called these wolf-men the loup-garou.
Good lord it’s hot. Pulling her blue bandana from her back pocket, Cora mopped the sweat from her brow and mentally tallied the extras needed for the next day: Gatorade, ice, definitely more shade tarps. She’d only found out at nine o’clock the night before that this unique otter effigy mound was being plowed under — greedy bastards with friends in high places had an industrial park to build. With only a few hours’ notice, they’d thrown the dig together and as a result, were unprepared for the oppressive August heat. Worse, they had just one week to do the archeological excavation, and this heat wave was expected to last for a week or more. Surprised by the heat of the metal against her lips, Cora took a sip from her steel water bottle and frowned. The water was hot enough to steep tea in. Checking her watch, she eyed the sky through a haze of humidity. The angle of the afternoon sun would soon make conditions even more unbearable for her staff.
It was hard to miss red-faced Cherise standing by the screen tables. Heading that way, Cora’s frown deepened. The woman’s normally parchment-pale skin was mottled with exertion, her bright red face almost as brilliant as the flaming orange-red tendrils of hair peeking from under her wide-brimmed straw hat. Weighing their safety against the time they didn’t have, there was simply no choice. The oppressive heat was dangerous. That’s enough, I’m calling it.
Drawing the attention of her crew, she told them, “All right, pack it in for the day, people. Let’s go home. It’s too hot out here!”
Cherise said, “Just finishing up a load, boss.”
“Okay, don’t rush.”
The work would need to be covered. Cora unfolded the blue plastic tarps while she waited for the junior archeologist to finish sifting the soil they’d dug from the opened mound. She glanced down at the ancient skeleton long since disjointed. Visible legs, lower arms, pelvic and bottommost rib bones lay partially exposed. Cherise shook the frame. Small bone and artifacts remained on the screen while soil fell through the mesh to mound below. White flecks on the tray catching her eye, Cora held up a hand to halt the sifting.
Cherise stopped and mopped her brow with the back of her hand and left a muddy streak across her forehead. She helped pick the artifacts from the larger clumps. Carefully crumbling the chunks with their fingers, they found more than a dozen freshwater pearls, several pearlescent nacre disks cut from the inside of mussel shells, and a tiny white fang with a small hole drilled in it to make a bead.
Cora blew dirt off the fang to get a better look. “A fox tooth, I think. And more pearls.”
“Yep, close to fifty pearls in this load alone.” Cherise picked out three more pearls and wiped them off as best she could before turning them out of her grimy palm into Cora’s hand.
“Fifty pearls from this one load?”
“Mmm hmm.” Cherise passed over six more pearls, two nacre disks, and another fox fang bead.
“If we’re finding that many in a single sift, this was a woman of standing. Her necklace must have contained several ropes of pearls rather than a strand. I think it safe to say that the closer we get to the skull, the more we’ll find.”
It was no small feat to drill pearls and teeth and cut shell disks. Cora considered the opened burial. The delineated soil variations reinforced her earlier opinion that this was a rare intaglio mound. Not all burial or effigy mounds were done in the round like this one. The image had been cut into the ground then all the soil removed to create an exact whole-body impression of the animal effigy. The soil was then put back in and more was added until a three-dimensional mound was made. This one was otter-shaped. If it were possible to remove only the otter shape from the soil, it would be a perfect three-dimensional design. She voiced her opinion to the woman beside her.
“I think you’re right.” Cherise pointed a grubby finger. “See there? The variations are very clear at the left femur.”
Stooping to get a better look, Cora said, “Ooh yeah. There’s obvious basket mounding, and over here I see evidence of mounding below the remains too. That’s intaglio, all right.” She shook her head at the tremendous loss. It was a crime to destroy such an amazing archeological treasure. Her mind quickly composed the phone calls she’d make first thing in the morning to try to get more time to do this excavation right instead of rushing. It was someone’s grave after all. But final resting place for a woman held in high regard by her people or not, there was no hope of canceling the project all together. Money talked louder than she ever could.
Cherise hosed the trowels with water from the pump pack. “What do you think that extra work was for? I mean, dig out the shape with stone and bone tools, then fill in the shape again one basket full of dirt at a time until the shape is also above ground?”
“A little labor intensive don’t you think?”
Cherise nodded. “A little.”
“To us this seems like a lot of effort, but this is a fraction of the effort the ancient Egyptians devoted to their dead. If you care that the departed travel to the spirit realm, you do what your culture determines the best method of travel to be.”
The flow of the hose was weakening. Cherise pumped more air pressure into the water pump.
It was obvious the young woman’s energy was waning. Placing a hand on the handle, Cora cautioned her red-faced associate, “Stop now, you look exhausted and you’re as red as a beet with that sunburn.”
The younger woman looked her arms. “Ooh. That’s gonna hurt. I must have sweated off the sunscreen. Great, more freckles.” She murmured the last under her breath.
Doubting the junior archeologist had been drinking enough, Cora picked up Cherise’s water bottle and handed it over. “Here, drink. Freckles will be the least of your problems if you get heat stroke.”
Cherise took a swig and wrinkled her nose. “Jesus, that’s hot.”
Cora covered the sifting screen with a blue tarp. “Take a cool shower when you get home. Drink for God’s sake, and get some rest.”
“Yeah, I could use a cold beer right about now.”
“So could I, but I was referring to water.”
“Sure you were, boss.” Cherise chuckled and handed over the bungee cords that would secure the plastic cover to the table. “You know it’s going to be near one hundred again tomorrow. High humidity like today too. We should start earlier, huh?”
Cora let her breath out slowly, deciding what to do. Coming in early was the last thing she wanted because John was taking her out on their bimonthly rain-or-shine date tonight. Good judgment won the internal debate. “Okay. We’ll come in early and finish this pile before the heat of the day. She jerked her thumb to the small stand of oaks. “We’ll bag and catalog under the fly in the shade over there. Go home and cool off. I’ll finish up here.”
Cora waved to the others, “See you in the morning guys. We’re starting at six to beat the heat. Don’t forget to drink water tonight to rehydrate, and eat a pretzel or something like that. You’ll need the salt.” Her words were met with nods and good byes.
Alone now, Cora crouched beside the opened mound and carefully unrolled the last sheet of plastic canvas. Before she turned to walk away, she spoke softly, as if the bones could hear. “I’m so sorry we’re disturbing your peace. I wish I could have stopped all this, but I’m powerless.” That said, she followed the others.
A large curious field mouse scurried over the top of the burial mound. He watched the people, his gaze pulling time and again first to the fire-haired young woman leaving with the others, then to the slightly older woman who’d stayed behind to spread a cloth over the soil with obvious care.
Sensing the people were gone, the mouse drew a deep breath. Suddenly his form changed from mouse to rabbit, from rabbit to fox, and then from fox into a wolf with unusual black markings on its face. This higher vantage allowed him to check the area before continuing. Confident he was alone, his legs lengthened as he slowly shifted from wolf on four legs to a wolf on two. His muzzle shortened, as did his ears. A moment later he stood as a man.
His throat tightened as he walked amongst the tables and pails. A small bone caught his eye and he bent to pick it up. He stared a long while, seeing but not seeing the hand it belonged to so long ago. It was his task to watch over this resting place, and his task alone. Coming here later than usual today, there was nothing he could do to stop the white man’s destruction. His eyes filled with tears as his fist closed around the finger bone. Slumping to the ground, he sobbed in anguished sorrow.
🙂 Not too shabby a Halloween story, eh?
The mounds were the result of skilled planning, knowledge of soils and organization of numerous laborers over the period of many years. The ceremonial plaza was a large flat area, constructed and leveled for this purpose, where ritual games and gatherings took place. The area around the mounds and plaza had several areas of heavy village habitation with individual residences, where artisans and workers lived. There were also communal agricultural fields in the surrounding countryside, where the people cultivated maize in the rich local soil, the major reason such a dense population and large site were possible.
That’s interesting info about the work force of the city mound culture. On the tour I followed, I’d say the largest wasn’t longer than 20 feet long… no where near the size and scope of Aztalan in central Wisconsin or Cahokia in Illinois where as you say ritual
gatherings etc took place, and much much smaller than the Great Serpent mound in
Ohio. My story begins with the much smaller woodland mounds that most likely held
very few bodies or no bodies at all and perhaps simply delineated clan affiliations. While they were large for what they were, a family group could knock one out in a day or two. It is a fascinating study. Again, thanks for stopping by. 🙂