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Authors: Richard Wagamese

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Him Standing

BOOK: Him Standing
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Richard Wagamese

Copyright © 2013 Richard Wagamese

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Wagamese, Richard
Him standing [electronic resource] / Richard Wagamese.
(Rapid reads)

Electronic Monograph
Issued also in print format.

I. Title.  II. Series: Rapid reads (Online)

PS8595.A363H54 2013              C813'.54                 C2012-907304-0

First published in the United States, 2013

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012920187

When a Native carver agrees to produce a spirit mask for a mysterious stranger, he falls under the spell of a dangerous sorcerer from the Dream World.

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Design by Teresa Bubela
Cover image: Thunderbird Mask by Ojibway carver Mathew Esquega, courtesy of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

In Canada:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
V8R 6S4

In the United States:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA

16 15 14 13
4 3 2 1


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

About the Author

For Debra—The magic in my world.


got a trick with a knife I learned to do pretty good. It's not what you think. Despite all the crap about gangbangers and the gangbanger lifestyle, I got no part of that. No, the trick I do with a blade is that I make people. I can look at a perfect stranger for, like, maybe a minute, then turn around and carve his likeness into a hunk of wood. A perfect likeness. I've done it for lots of people. It's like I see them there. In the wood. Like they were there all the time. Like they were just waiting for me and my blade to come along and create them. It's a good trick.

Now, I ain't what you'd call established in a major way or anything. But this talent, or whatever it is, got me a regular gig on the boardwalk. Thing is, I didn't even have to get a permit like the rest of the buskers and the charcoal sketchers. No, me, I lucked out. I chose the one guy out of a thousand, that summer day, who could help me. I sat him down and did him for free. I didn't know who he was at the time. Took me half an hour. Turned out the cat was with the city licensing department. When I finished, he said he was willing to give me the license in a straight swap for the carving. I'm no stooge. I took it. I been working the boardwalk ever since.

It's a pretty good nickel. Once your name gets out, people actually come looking for you. Lucas Smoke. Imagine that? Straight shootin', regular citizens calling my name. Seeking me out. Anyway, I started turning out, like, four of these a day for fifty bucks apiece. That's a two-hundred-dollar day, and that's nothing to sniff at. Beats freakin' workin', if you know what I mean.

Don't get me wrong. I never had any
thing against sweatin' and grindin' for a dol
lar if that's what a guy's gotta do. But there had to be options. It was my grandfather who turned me on to it. He was a carver. Did all these spooky faces he called spirit masks. They were big with the tourists. And then big with the galleries and collectors. Pretty soon my grandfather was rollin' in the dough. He was the only Ojibway on
our reserve that had a house with three sto
Great big cedar-log house with floor-to-
ceiling windows, overlooking the lake.

Then he handed me a knife one day and told me to make him in wood. I laughed. I was thirteen, and I had better things to do with knives. Like skinning a moose or filleting a fish. Something that had
a purpose.

But he looked square at me the way grandfathers do and told me again to make him in wood. I don't know what happened. I know that I looked at him and I just saw him different. I saw angles and shadows and places where his face was irregular.
I saw dips and planes and hollows. I started to carve. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was like my hands had a mind of their own. He said it was amazing. It was my grandfather who taught me everything
I know about how to handle a blade. In fact, he gave me the knife. It's got a turtle-
shell handle, and it's old. Really old. That's what he said. It was a traditional carver's knife. He said using it would connect me to the old-time magic of carvers. It's the knife I still use today.

That was seven years ago. My grandfather died when I was sixteen. Then the whole family started fighting over who got what. It made me sick. I missed the old man so much I ached all over. But all they could think about was the money, the house, the art and what it was worth. All I could think about was his hands. When he worked, they were a part of him but…not. That sounds crazy, but it was like they had their own spirit. They moved elegantly. That's a word he taught me. It means “energy set free.” That's what he said. I could see that when he worked. And on a good day, I can see it in mine. Spirit moving in its own time.

So while the family squabbled, the whole thing ended up in court. And I booked it for the city. I didn't want any of my grandfather's things. I didn't want his money. I wanted him, and since I couldn't have him anymore, the reserve started to feel like some empty little backwater in the middle of nowhere. So I came to the city looking for any kind of job I could find. I was down to my last few bucks when I found the boardwalk.

Everywhere you looked, there were people doing weird and wonderful things. There were magicians, jugglers, a one-man band, contortionists and even a guy who drove nails into his head. They did it for the money and the applause. One day I sat on an empty bench and picked up a soft-looking piece of wood. I turned it over in my hands and started making a pretty woman in a hat who was looking out at the water a few yards away from me. Shavings were laid around my feet. There was a crowd gathered around me when I finished. The lady with the hat gave me thirty dollars. I did a couple more before the crowd drifted away. I came back to the rooming house where I live with almost a hundred bucks.

I met my girl on that boardwalk. Amy One Sky. She's a drop-dead gorgeous Ojib girl who works as a model and loves my work. She didn't even mind that I had next to nothing. She said I had a gift.
She said she knew people who could get me my own show in a gallery. So I started working on pieces. Amy even got a few sold for me, and it looked like I was on the fast road to being a real artist.

Then Gareth Knight showed up on the boardwalk, and everything got weird real fast.


t was one of those picture-postcard days. The sun was blazing, and the waves were roiling in, all foamy and white against the blue. A slight breeze. People everywhere. And the smell of hot dogs and candy floss. It was a circus atmosphere. Everyone got turned on by it. You could feel the energy all along the boardwalk. I did three pieces by two o'clock. There was a ring of hangers-on around me constantly. I dug that action. By this time Amy had put me in touch with people who knew people, and my carvings were becoming known. I had orders, for Pete's sake. But I still loved the feel of the boardwalk. It was wild and outrageous. There were rock bands that plugged in and played. It put people in the mood to spend. To throw money in the hat I laid at my feet. I felt at home there.

There was this fat old guy who must have been in his seventies. He had a face built of wrinkles on top of wrinkles on top of at least three chins. He sat in the chair in front of me and asked me to do him. All I could think was that I didn't have a big enough piece of wood. But it was a fabulous face. There was so much detail to work with. His eyes sat behind globs of flesh and shone with a dark light, and his ears were clumps of meat. Fabulous. I was so captivated by it that all I could do was look at him.

“This magnificent face asks the best of you,” I heard a voice say. “You aren't thrown
off by a challenge, are you?”

I looked up from studying the fat guy's face. A man dressed all in black and leaning on a cane was looking straight at me. He had on an old-style fedora, the brim curled down over one eyebrow. A tiny sprout of beard grew just under his lower lip. His eyes were dark and glimmered in the light.

“I say you can't do it,” he said. “In fact, this here says you can't.”

He held up a roll of bills, and the crowd gasped. He smiled.

“I like a challenge,” I said. “Let's see what I can do.”

I picked up my biggest piece of pine and set it in my lap. The fat man splayed his feet apart and got comfortable in the chair. The sun cut deep shadows between his wrinkles. It would be hard. I looked up, and the man in black grinned at me and waved the roll of bills. I set to work.

Sometimes, when the work is good, I go way beyond time and space. I go somewhere else. I don't know where that place is, but I definitely lose contact with Earth. I exist in a separate world. A dream world, I guess, is the best way to describe it. Grandfather said that it is where stories are born. He said that when I carve, what I'm really doing is telling
a story in wood. So the storytelling place is
where I go when I'm really working well.

This time I was gone right away. I had no sense of time passing. I had no sense of concentration. I had no idea what people were doing around me. All I had was this fascination with my subject. The more I let myself feel that, the more I felt myself slip away and become one with it. Corny? It used to seem that way to me. But I came out of that storytelling place the first time and held a finished piece in my hand that blew me away. I don't think it's corny anymore.

I don't know how long I was gone. I do know that it felt like my hands were on fire when I put the knife down. My breathing was ragged and I felt dizzy. But the crowd applauded when I set the likeness down on the small folding table I kept at my side. The fat man beamed with pleasure, mopped his face with a hankie and handed me fifty dollars. The carving was spectacular. I had caught every detail perfectly. The wood seemed to flow with the energy of that face.

The man in black nodded. He seemed pleased too. When he stepped forward and held out the roll of bills, the crowd around us clapped again. I stood up, took the money and reached out to shake the man's hand. It was cool, dry and taut with strength. He dipped
his head and raised one hand to the brim of his hat in salute. A very gentlemanly move.

“An honor to watch you work,” he said. “Gareth Knight is my name.”

“Lucas Smoke,” I said. “Thanks for this.”

I waved the roll of bills. The one on the outside was a hundred, and I wondered if they all were.

“I know who you are,” he said. “I've been
watching the growth of your craft.”

“Always nice to meet a fan.”

“Not a fan, Mr. Smoke. More like an employer. I have a commission for you.”

“Really? What did you have in mind?”

“A spirit mask. Like your grandfather did.”

“You knew my grandfather?”

He offered a small smile.

“His work reached a great number of us.”


“A circle of like-minded associates.”

“I don't get it.”

“You will. If you accept my offer.”

“What exactly is this offer?”

“Ten times what's in your hand. Examine
it when you get home. Call the number on my card.”

He handed me a shiny black card with only his name and a telephone number on it.

“I don't do spirit masks,” I said.

He smiled, and I suddenly felt very cold.

“You will,” he said. Then he turned and disappeared into the crowd.

BOOK: Him Standing
6.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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