Seventeen-year-old Alexis Forsyth is hardly looking forward to moving from her home in California to Kent, Washington, to live with her older cousin, Liam. She never would have dreamed that she would uncover a secret over a hundred years old. But when she meets the skinwalker and begins to learn about the dangers of his world, she wonders if she could ever bring herself to go back to a life without him. For a forbidden friendship–and maybe something more–Alexis Forsyth and Cougar “Coug” MountainScreamer (named for the animal spirit which possesses him) must run and fight against those that would rather see them dead than together.
Ben looked back and forth between Cougar and Dante, Caleb watching quietly on the sidelines. Slowly, Ben’s eyes closed, and he lifted one arm toward the sky, reaching as if the stars would fall into his palm.
“Caged,” Ben said, his voice growing cold, serious; ritualistic, almost. A fire sparked in his eyes, the awkwardness of moments before was suddenly forgotten. The gray burned in his eyes, and the happy old man slowly faded into a wild dog.
“The story begins—a story within another—in the year of eighteen-ninety. The proud Lakota, the strength of the prairies, were worn and weak from an overwhelming force—the ghost-faced people who had come with welcome, and stayed with hostility. The Lakota were said to be the final force—the last to go. Even with such great numbers, even with such a strong history among the tribes and during the wars, the Lakota Nation too was caged, confined to a reservation. Until a new prophecy had come into play, from a man named Wovoka. Wovoka prophesized the land would heal. All the terrible scars upon the land would be covered with the youth it once had. A wave of new health, new life, new soil, would cover the land, burying all the damage that the world had seen. And the Lakota, along with every other tribe, would live the way they chose to. No more cages, and no more reservations.” Ben’s eyes blazed with a passion I couldn’t understand, but my eyes were locked to his as he spoke. “Three days ago was the anniversary of the day Spotted Elk’s band of Lakota were intercepted. It was the anniversary of the day they were escorted to Wounded Knee Creek by the Calvary, and made camp.” Ben looked down, sighing. “Two days ago was the anniversary of the massacre. The regimen of the seventh cavalry surrounded the camp, and went in to disarm the Lakota.
“A deaf man—Black Coyote—hesitated on an order to surrender his rifle. Black Coyote was surrounded as men tried to pry his rifle from him, and his rifle sounded into the air. Black Coyote’s gun shot the first bullet. The second bullet—fired by a soldier—went straight through his heart.” I stared wide-eyed as the boys sat in silence around me, each staring solemnly down at the sand.
“The Lakota fell with over one-hundred-and-fifty dead. The tribe was massacred and told it was fair. Several warriors escaped into the prairies, and all but one froze or bled to death. One warrior cried out, alone, for the family he had lost. Silent as he was, his mind never left the massacre, only able to think of the blood and death of every friend he had.
“No man would hear, and no man would listen. His family was dead or caged, and words no longer meant anything to him. And still, his story played through his mind over and over again, and he would cry to—mourn with—anyone that would listen.
“It was the animals who heard his story. It was the animals that cared. The animals near him kept him safe, and the animals far away kept him in their thoughts. They knew his story, and felt his pain. The animals made a promise solemn as the night that they would remember. They promised they would always remember the crimes the white race had committed, and that the animals would always stay with him. That they would stay with what remained of his people, and they would stay with the other tribes as well.
“The animals stayed by the people. They guided them…or controlled them. Each animal became the guide and instinct of a person, and each person was in possession—or was a possession of—their animal’s spirit, their animal’s energy. Those who were guided by the totems, who remembered—the totems who held that grudge—were stronger than anybody could possibly imagine.
“But people had no way of containing and controlling so much pure life energy. The spirits of the animals would escape. And the animals still remembered. The animals would always remember, and always hold a grudge. The animals’ energy escaped from the bodies of the skinwalker each possessed, and created the fifth stage of the skinwalker’s body. The Animal Totems rampaged through towns and cities, destroying every white face they saw.”
The fifth stage? Cougar had mentioned the first stage, the second stage. If Cougar can do all that in stage one…what happens when he gets to stage five? I glanced anxiously at Cougar, only half-understanding Ben’s story.
“And the Lakota warrior, seeing what he had done, watched as innocent lives were taken. He watched as innocent people were killed for their heritage. The Animal Totems rampaged over the land taken by the foreign settlers. Even with the pain he felt, the man who had made the promise with the animals at Wounded Knee did not want his memories repeated. Innocent people should not die. Trying to fix his wrongs, the warrior gave his own life to stop the destruction. He made necklaces woven of dreamcatchers, and upon his death, the necklaces were given to the Skinwalkers. The webbing captured the corresponding animal within the body of the Skinwalker, and suppressed the Fifth Stage. And now, our animals do not have full control over us.”
I looked from Cougar to Dante to Caleb to Ben. What were they?
“But the animals stayed with the people to make sure we never forgot. And we don’t forget,” Ben said, pulling his necklace out from beneath his torn-up old shirt. “The Ghost Dance was not ours. The Ghost Dance was what we were born from. But the intentions of the Ghost Dance live in us. The grudge—the truth—lives in us. And when the time comes, we will live in the truth.”