by Harrison Kim
Wisikewena is the black haired daughter of Pipikwan’s war chief,
Sokapist. She’s narrow hipped, hard armed, a sixteen year old girl with
the voice of a man. She walks tall and solo, yet her family’s shelter
fire is ringed with her admirers. She will run the Ashnola Mountain
race this year, as chosen by the elders.
Eons before the Pipikwan, Ashnola Mountain lived as a sentient being,
its centre a massive snowy ring banding the summit, its heavy granite
arms spread like a sleeping cougar’s paws above the Long Lake. Every
ten thousand years, Pipikwan legend says Ashnola moves a complete
circle, riding on an inner liquid that seeps among the rocks.
Swallowing the liquid brings to the drinker the power of the mountain.
The only place to drink it is at the summit spring. Each year, chosen
Pipikwan youth, the future leaders of the tribe, race towards the peak,
to test their bodies and spirits against Ashnola’s strength and power.
The granite god can suck in your soul. Many have become absorbed,
immortally bound to the mountain’s forces after being drawn into its
illusions. The captured souls tumble infinitesimally slowly through
inner mountain stones, turning in the magnetic ooze that binds them. At
night, the Pipikwan often perceive outlines moving along the mountain’s
slopes. The elders say these shadows of Ashnola are projections of
captured souls, manifesting to work the surface, to keep the mountain
thriving and alive. During the day, the outlines absorb back into the
stone. Legend tells that thousands of lost Pipikwan labour through
eternity for the granite god.
The Ashnola race has always been a way for the Pipikwan to strengthen
the strong and weed out the weak. Wisikewena is very much looking
forward to the challenge. She trains every day, running barefoot over
the lower reaches of Ashnola, ignoring the calls of the mountain wombed
entities underneath. Stopping to look, or help, may draw a person into
the rocks, which will absorb he empathic soul. So it’s only the wind
she chooses to hear, and the creaking of trees. She keeps her eye on
the summit, her mind always focussed upwards. “The purpose of life is
not to merge with the crowd, but to claim your unique destiny,” her
father says. He stands apart, also, since Wisikewena’s mother’s
absorption into Ashnola eight years ago. Sokopist is very careful about
what he judges as real, or illusion. His daughter follows his path of
detachment. Her most intense relationship is with the mountain. She
craves to reach the summit and avenge her mother’s disappearance.
Years before, eight year old Wisikewena wandered lost in a thick fog
with her mother, Otehimin, somewhere on Ashnola. Otehimin, afraid for
her daughter, saw a hut in the side of a cliff and pulled Wisikewena
towards it for shelter. The girl knew this was a mirage. Something so
good, so sudden, could not be real. From early days, the skeptic girl
questioned everything in the uncertain world of the Pipikwan. She tried
to warn her mother about the mirage “it’s a lie to bring us into the
rocks,” she pleaded. Otehimin moved to enter the hut, consumed with a
need to protect her daughter Wisikewena forced herself from her
mother’s hand and pushed her away. Otehimin fell into the stone, and
became absorbed forever with the tumbling souls. Wisikewena wandered
back through the mist, concentrating on the warm scent of the wind to
guide her to the village. She questioned herself over and over “Did I
push her in?” In those last moments with Otehimin, she cried “Please,
let us go back,” Then she shoved her mother’s hand forward and freed
her own. “Did I do enough to save her?” she wondered. Even then,
Wisikewena knew she must drop this thought, for survival’s sake, and
focus on finding her way back to the village. That concentration and
the detachment from guilt saved her life. She’s been detached and free
from connection to anyone ever since.
There is a boy, Kitokew, a slight youth with a massive black moon of
rich dark hair rising like a halo round his narrow brown face. He sings
songs down by the lake, under the mountain’s arms. Wisikewena tells
herself it’s the singing that attracts her, not the boy. She stands in
the shallow bay, her big feet sinking in the mud, as she listens to his
voice. He has watched her hunt down feral deer, flip them onto their
sides, and break their necks with supple hands. Such power, and such
merciful, quick killing. He admires the beauty and strength in this
hunting, and in her body as she moves. He sings for her, and about her.
He knows his music is Wisikewena’s only weakness, and he knows she
During the last winter, many suffered from near starvation. Wisikewena
stayed stalwart as others weakened, despite feeling all the hunger
around her. “I wish I could be strong for the crying children like
Wisikewena,” sings Kitokew. That winter, she hunted far to find prey,
to carry it back for her hungry people. This spring, there was no
debate among the elders. They chose her unanimously as a participant in
the summer mountain race.
All the chosen are focussed on the summit, the ultimate goal. No race
participants have made it there for generations, but legend says that’s
where the mountain’s liquid power may be transferred. The race is not
to win, it is to experience. It is about knowing limits, of going as
far as you can. Those who push past their own capabilities are
swallowed up by the mountain. For the Pipikwan, courage is not useful
when it becomes hubris. The race is a test of intelligence and
character, as well as physical strength. Survival is itself a badge of
Wisikiwena’s wants to conquer this mountain ever since her mother
vanished. She yearns to reach the waters at the peak, to bathe in them
and absorb Ashnola’s power for herself. Since she was eight and pushed
free of Otehimin’s hand, she’s connected only with with Ashnola. She
senses the mountain could be as aware of her as she is of it.
Wisikiwena’s aggression seems almost sacrilegious to some. Her father
Sokopist tells her that the mountain spirit may twist anger back in
unexpected ways. “Take care during this race,” he says. “Reaching the
summit waters is not the only goal.” Wisikiwena, though, wants to take
the power from the mountain, and draw it into herself. She wants to
have at least a tiny part of her mother inside her again. She wants to
tell the mountain god that it cannot take everything, that she will
dominate its reach and see through its mirages. She will remain free.
Sokapist blesses his daughter and commences the race with the eagle
prayer. This blesses the ten chosen participants in the spirit of the
predator bird that soars over Ashnola Mountain. Sokapist wishes
everyone the unfettered vision of the eagle.
Wisikiwena does not sprint, she’s one of the last to leave. Endurance
is key, and she saves her strength by working her way gradually to the
lower slopes of Ashnola, letting all weak rumination about her mother,
and the dangers of the race flow behind her. Such long and powerful
dark legs, leaping over streams, where below her other eyes shimmer
from flat stones, the trapped souls whispering “join us, join us in
this beautiful place.” Wisikiwena does not waver. She hears only the
sound of water over rocks. Kitokew’s songs run through her
consciousness. She focusses on those, and on the summit ahead.
After several hours, she hikes carefully up steep slopes. Her thighs
ache now, and her back feels like its twisted by a heavy load, though
she carries nothing but her body and soul. The weight of being
detached, of concentrating only on reality and the moment wears her
down. She looks away from the jack pines ahead, which bend and form
near human arms with their branches, and beseech her to come closer,
“it’s restful, so peaceful here,” the spirit voices call. In her mind,
Wsiikewena changes the chanting from the trees into the sound of the
wind. She hears the wind blow hard, and moves sideways, not against it,
but along its edges. She sweats and struggles to rise above the
timberline, her legs scratched and bleeding from running through the
heather. All her compatriots have turned back by now, or been fooled by
mirages and soul absorbed. She sees no one else this far up.
A long lost voice sounds form one side. Wisikewena perceives the
outline of her beloved mother in between two enormous boulders. The
long black hair, the easily startled eyes. “Be with me again,” says the
phantom. “You and I forever, my little one.” Wisikewina turns in
Otehimin’s direction. She knows the outline is coming from her mother’s
trapped soul. Her mother is pleading for her. She could be there in a
second, with the one who only wanted to shelter her. Tumbling with
Mother in the safe fastness of mountain rock. No more hunger or
loneliness. Wisikewena stops for a moment. She’s trained years to
resist the mirages, yet her mother appears so real, so beautiful. If
she lets go and continues the race she will abandon Otehimin again.
Waves of guilt and sorrow move through her mind. Otehimin’s shadow
begins to chant “my daughter, my precious daughter come to me,” and for
a moment Wisikewena wavers. Then cooling rain begins to fall upon her
face. Every drop falls like a note from Kitokew’s voice. His music
merges with Otehimin’s pleas, then supersedes them. It rains harder.
Wisikewena lets herself absorb the music in each splash of wetness,
turns and rushes towards the clouds, higher and higher, leaving her
mother’s shadow behind, between the grey rocks.
Now, up into the snow, she hears the roar of an angry bear, Wisikewena
lets the echo pass up into the sky ahead of her. Slits in the ground
open up, steam pours from them, then molten lava. Wisikewena knows the
mountain now wants to kill her. She’s getting too close to the source
of its power. It’s hard to step now, when the entire surface of the
ground appears to shift and sway. Even the earthquake is part phantom,
for the mountain will shake, but not destroy itself for one soul. “You
are my worst enemy, and best friend,” she calls to Ashnola, as she
steps warily through the snow. A ghost avalanche falls away from her
feet. She whispers to the mountain “Your illusions tone my mind, and
your slopes strengthen my body.” She knows the cougar uses its supple
and fluid body to attain what it needs, the eagle its eyes and wings,
and the mountain its illusions. Wisikewena has used her mind to combat
the foe, and she wonders “what more do I need to have victory?”
Kitokew cried when she began the race. He wondered “will I ever see you
again?” Wisikewena asked him only to create a victory song for her, and
to sing it upon her return. She wonders if his feelings for her are
illusion, if he’s constructed a phantom to praise, from his own hope
Her feelings for him are somewhere in a far away compartment of her
mind, she suspects they are leaking out, as she approaches the summit.
What is life without purpose, or love? And what will her purpose
become, now that she’s so close to her goal?
She tops a rise and sees the hot springs pool. There is only steam
between her and the mountain’s liquid essence. No one she knows or has
ever heard of has reached this point. Sokopist talked of it only from
legend. Wisikewena pushes herself up to the pool, one long black leg
stretching in front of the other, but these legs are bone sore and
aching. Her head throbs from all the calculations of movement and mind
to avoid danger. She reaches the edge of the pool, slips in, and all
her pains disappear. The mountain water absorbs into her. She feels
Ashnola’s heat. She knows that she’s absorbing particles of soul. The
strength of others creates the power in the liquid. Her skin shines
brilliant like there’s a passing of gold over obsidian, as sunlight
finds its way through the steam.
Going down the mountain is a peaceful dream. There are no forces
against her, now that she has taken in their power. She’s allied with
Ashnola, a deep soul connection. What’s part of the mountain is now
part of her, but unbound and separate. She runs much faster, leaping
all the way down in a few hours, back to Pipikwan.
She sees that Sokopist and the surviving competitors are out to greet
her, she sees them as if they’re appearing at the end of a long tunnel.
She approaches slowly, warily. She feels a great hunger as they call
her. She hasn’t eaten all day, but this craving comes from an emptiness
she’s never felt before. She’s reached her goal, and has the power, but
what’s left? She feels an urge to become taller, wider, all
encompassing. She wants to connect with everyone and everything, to
take it all in, to understand. “Did you make it to the springs,
Wisikewena?” says one of the approaching men. Wisikewena breaks into a
trot and runs forward towards Kitokew, who calls out “I will sing your
victory song.” He looks very surprised because she wants to hug him.
She’s never been this friendly before, never had any inclination to
touch anybody. Kitokew hesitates, then reaches out to her and falls
right into her arms. Then he continues, dropping right through them and
into her body. He disappears right inside her. Wisikewena feels his
strength, his musical power merging with her own essence. The other
Pipikwan leap away, the smarter ones run. Sokopist stands still despite
the commotion around him. “You are an illusion!” he states. “You are
not the real Wisikewena! You have become Ashnola!” She tries to hug
him, too, but he steps quickly to one side, holding his hands up to
protect himself. “I made it right to the summit!” She shouts. “I’m
still the same. I am your daughter!” Sokopist turns, so she cannot see
his face. He runs away towards the village.
Wisikiwena lopes up the side of the lake, her feet splashing through
the shallow muddy water. She stops at a creek mouth, leans over a small
pool and gazes down. Her face shimmers in the ripples. She sees
Kitokew’s mouth opening up at one side of her own. The mouth does not
form words, it chants. She reaches up to touch this new opening, but
there’s nothing there. She looks back into the water, and there’s the
illusion again. The singer is part of her now, inside. In the outer
world, his outline manifests only as reflection. Wisikewena trembles,
her heart pounds. For her, fear is a rare emotion. Adding to this is
her dreaming for souls. She imagines swallowing a shaman, possessing a
magician. She wants to consume Pipikwan itself. She finds herself
shivering as she thinks of this as her purpose. She crouches there
beside the pool for a long time. Finally, she pulls herself up. “I
understand the reason for Ashnola’s hunger,” she says to herself. There
is only one more being who means anything human to Wisikewena. Otehimin.
She turns and lopes towards Ashnola. Kitokew’s voice talks in her head,
he says he always wanted to be part of her. He’s laughing. “Take me
with you always,” his voice sings. Wisikewena hears that voice and
turns it towards the sound of far away thunder now roiling over the
mountaintop. She detaches yet again from connection.
Wisikewena hikes up Ashnola’s slopes, halts at the two rocks where the
outline of her mother appeared. She sits and waits until nightfall. In
the dusk, soul outlines seep out to do their work on the mountain.
Wisikewena and Kitokew watch them rise, both gazing through one pair of
eyes. Wisikewena tries to separate in thought from the singer. Her
observations need to be clear and undistracted. She sees Otehimin’s
outline appear from the rocks and begin floating towards the jack
pines. “It’s not just the evening fog?” she hears Kitokew say. “Some
may perceive this as mist,” Wisikewena answers, “but I know what is
She’s completely immune now from the mountain’s illusions, for she
carries the essence of that illusion within herself. She calls to her
mother. The outline turns. “Come join me,” the phantom says.
“No. You must join us,” answers Wisikewena, coming closer. “It is your daughter, I have come to bring you home to Pipikwan.”
Wisikewena can see the soul cord that joins the outline with its spirit far inside the rocks.
“I like it here,”daughter,” says Otehimin. “I tumble through the soothing liquid with so many others. I am never alone.”
“You’ll be with us, with me and Father again,” Wisikewena tells her.
“You have famines, families fight and exile their own kind. You have
wars.” Otehimin says. “You did not push me into the rocks, little
Wisikewena, I came here of my own free will. I wanted you to go inside
that shelter also, so you would not suffer.”
“But you’re a slave to the mountain!” Wisikewena protests. “I can
absorb you now, within my own flesh. I have the mountain’s power now.
Don’t you want to be free?”
Otehimin smiles sadly, Wisikewena can barely see her face, it fades in and out between the rocks.
“You living bodies contract sickness,” she says. “There is jealousy and
anger. Bad comes forth as much as good. Within the mountain, I am safe.
I never have to leave its womb. Will you join me, Wisikewena? Sometimes
I am so lonely.”
Her daughter shakes her head. “You can always be with me,” she pleads,
but the ghost fades back into the rocks, as Otehimin’s soul pulls the
outline down to merge with it beneath the earth.
“Ashnola protects her,” says Kitokew.
“She is its slave,” Wisikewena responds.
“As I am yours,” Kitokew sings.
Wisikewena feels his presence as a weight inside her. Sorrow outweighs
desire now. She no longer wants to possess anyone. She pushes her body
further up the mountain. As she hikes and jogs, the singer continues to
chant and make songs about their journey. Wisikewena passes the
timberline and the snow ringing the summit. All the way she hears
Kitokew’s poetry, the images of Ashnola cast into human words.
Ahead, the summit springs appear, Wisikewena is she is ready to absorb
more of the mountain’s essence, for herself, and for Kitokew. As she
slips into the water, she hears him sigh. She gasps as the warmth flows
in to their bones. The essence bursts through, and their strength
returns. Wisikewena feels Kitokew pushing within her, forced into his
own power by the spirit of the mountain. She feels her own power too,
pushing Kitokew out. A rush begins in her belly and snakes up her back
and out the middle of her forehead, the third eye. Kitokew’s essence
cascades from that eye in a shimmering gold light. His body begins to
manifest itself in physical form before Wisikewena. All the energy
within her strains and shoves him along and he becomes himself once
again, lying there beside her in the waters. A man transformed by the
liquid, set free by the mountain’s power.
At Ashnola’s summit, Wisikewena and Kitokew lie in each other’s arms,
bathed in magnetic essence. Each soul exists within its own living
shell, the two bodies touch each other skin to skin. The souls rest
now, physically separate, joined by the commonality of the water.
“I will sing to you forever,” says Kitokew, running his hand along Wisikewena’s long shining thigh.
She responds in her low voice “You will be the high, I will be the deep.”
The mountain continues to turn imperceptibly slowly. In ten thousand
years it will complete another round. Meanwhile, the immortal souls
carry out their tasks, and stay protected within the rocks. Kitokew and
Wisikewena create harmony with each other, their soul passions writhing
and rising within a different circle, the future seeded from their
merging, and from their independent love.
This story is what Pipikwan legends call the meaning of Wisikewena.
© 2019 Harrison Kim
Bio: Harrison Kim lives in Victoria, Canada with his wife and
editor Sera T. His short stories have been published or are upcoming in
magazines such as "Liquid Imagination," "Hobart Pulp," "Literally
"Piker Press" "Bewildering Stories" and others. He grew up on a
mysterious mountain sacred to the local indigenous people. That's where
the idea of "Wisikewena" came from.
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.