In Ojibwe cosmology there are thirteen moons, and in these pages are thirteen offerings from Ghost Lake, an interrelated cast of characters and their brushes with the mysterious. Issa lives in fear of having her secret discovered, Aanzheyaawin haunts the roads seeking vengeance, Zaude searches for clues to her brother's death, Fanon struggles against an unexpected winter storm, Eadie and Mushkeg share a magical night, Tyner faces brutal violence, and Tyler, Clay, and Dare must make amends to the spirits before it's too late. Here the precolonial past is not so distant, and nothing is ever truly lost or destroyed because the land remembers. Ghost Lake is a companion volume to Adler's Indigenous horror novel, Wrist (2016, Kegedonce Press). It was the winner of the 2021 Indigenous Voices Award in Published English Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Eric Hoffer da Vinci Eye Award in Book Design.
About the author
Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler is the author of Wrist (Kegedonce Press), and co-editor of Bawaajigan ~ Stories of Power, a dream-themed anthology of Indigenous writers (Exile Editions). He is an artist and filmmaker who works in a variety of mediums including audio & video, and drawing & painting. Nathan is first-place winner of an Aboriginal Writing Challenge, and recipient of a Hnatyshyn Reveal award for literature, he has an MFA in Creative Writing (UBC), BFA in Integrated Media (OCAD), and BA in English Literature & Native Studies (Trent). His writing is published in various magazines, blogs, and anthologies. He is two-spirit, Jewish, Anishinaabe, and member of Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation. Originally from Ontario, he currently resides in Vancouver.
- Winner, Indigenous Voices Award in Published English Fiction
- Short-listed, First Nations Communities READ
- Short-listed, Eric Hoffer da Vinci Eye Award
Excerpt: Ghost Lake (by (author) Nathan Adler)
Under the Ice
Zacchaeus went under the ice last winter.
I try to identify the exact spot on the rippling waters where my brother fell through, but I can't find it. Even when I fix my eyes in one place, they go cross-eyed and un-focus. I don't even know if these are the right coordinates. I know the general area where it happened, but the exact spot where he stood when the ice gave way? That's as unclear as my sliding vision.
"Come on Zaude. Let's check out Marsh's beach." My cousin Zeke, trying to distract me. Almost as if he knows what I'm thinking. Maybe he does. It wouldn't be that hard to guess. I continue staring at the water, searching for the right spot on the shifting surface.
I have a flash of sensation, like a psychic vision, though it's probably only my over-active imagination, teasing out the unknowns, filling in the gaps where there are gaps in knowledge. How it feels to die like that.
Water, land, sky, trees. Choking darkness. I can't breathe! I can't breathe! Panic-thoughts of near-death survival. Then I'm back in the here and now. Bobbing rhythm of the lake, gentle waters, white fluffy clouds. My mind fills in cracks in the mortar: driving wind and the ice-cold shock as frigid waters soak through layers of clothes he'd worn that day.
I know his first thought before he plunges through the ice is probably not for himself----it is for his camera. His stupid fucking camera. A vintage 35mm single-lens reflex with some fancy viewfinder. All the bells and whistles. Telephoto lens. High shutter speed. And he dropped it.
I imagine the way it happened like this:Zach takes off his gloves to get a better shot, his numb fingers quickly lose feeling. They'd been aching from the cold even before he removed the protective insulation--but he is an artist, artists must suffer for their calling. The lanyard that should have affixed the camera to his neck is torn. It is a school camera, and even though it is well maintained, students are rough on equipment. He borrowed it from the A/V room and had to sign a waiver.
Now he watches it skitter across the ice. He knows that he shouldn't take one step further out onto the ice--he's gone as far as it is safe. Actually, it isn't safe to be out on the ice at all, there's been a recent freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw--it hasn't been consistently cold enough, for long enough, for it to be truly safe. All snowmobilers know this--they watch the weather network as religiously as his great-auntie's sudden Alzheimer church-going.
"Zhangweshi came to me in a dream." Ziibiiwenh stares up at the ceiling, her face puckered with wrinkles. "She said I should be more spiritual."
It is a subject of interpretation. "Maybe Zhangweshi meant sweat lodge?" Aunty Zelda's face breaks in laughter. She has a fondness for purple.
"Do you ever wonder how it all started?" Zeke again, breaking through the cobweb of my thoughts. He's paddling lightly now, hasn't bothered to drop the outboard motor. Wearing his usual basketball shorts and jersey. Almost thirteen years old now. It's too nice to disturb the quiet of the day with engine noise.
"How what started?" I frown. He's got me.
"You know, the zed-naming."
On Ghost Lake our family is known as 'the Zed's' (or alternatively, as 'the Zee's' depending on the level of Americanization). This is based on our tradition of naming children only by names that start with the letter Z. "I doubt there's any Z-names left," Zacchaeus once said, "We've used them all up already!"
No one knows how the tradition began. I think it's rooted in the Ojibwe language, with the Z-names of our great-aunt's, Ziibiiwenh and Zhangweshi: Little River and Walks From The South. Great-grandmother's name, Zilpah is a corruption of Ziibaa'a'ii-Zegaanakwad--Under Stormy Skies.
"I think it's a fluke." I look up at the blue sky, puffy white clouds, the ribs of an extinct species. "Some ancestor decided to name all their kids with zeds. There you go. Tradition."
"There must be something more too it. You know? A reason." Zeke is paddling with more energy, we're making headway. I track our progress by a distant point of land as we pass Drinker's point. No one wants to risk deviating from the practice of Z-naming--just in case. If nothing else, it does provide a sense of kinship.
"I think Zilpah knows, but she's not talking." Anyone with a Z-name in Ghost Lake is bound to face the inevitable question: are you one of those zeds? We have the real estate cornered on Z-names, and most folks take this into account when naming their kids.
Zeke paddles. I lapse back into morbid thoughts.
Zach scrambles forward, reaching for the stupid digital camera. Crab-walking, distributing his weight, reaching, reaching.
The first responders hand my mother the camera. A silent answer to her unspoken question. I flip through the images, trying to be calm, the ache in my chest as tight as the pain he must have felt, the hypothermia clutching a fist around my heart. I feel nothing, I tell myself as I flip through the pictures. My heart is as cold as the ice and snow. My heart is as unfeeling as the water that clogged his throat. Forcing its way into his lungs with undeterrable pressure.
"We love these stories! Interconnected horror stories based on traditional Anishinaabeg stories all set on an eerie reserve aptly named Ghost Lake? Yes please. Every story surprises. An absolute page-turner, deeply engaging horror stories that leave you breathless. The sheer breadth and range of what Adler has accomplished here is impressive." Jurors' citation, 2021 Indigenous Voices Awards