Once upon a time there was a village, populated by a totemistic society. People there were defined by their totem animals and objects, and their lives were mapped out by the spirit that chose them. The teacher’s totem was an owl, of course; the policeman’s a dog (a bichon frise actually, but he didn’t tell anyone that), and the accountant’s was a pocket calculator. In the whole town, there was only one man whose totem was unknown: Marvin the Terrifying. The villagers didn’t know if it was because he didn’t have one (and therefore, had no soul) or if it was because his totem was something so terrifying that he wouldn’t speak of it – either way Marvin never volunteered the information, and they were scared of him.
Despite this, Marvin the Terrifying had the most important job in the village. Every autumn, when the last of the blackberries had been eaten or rotted away, he took the children who’d just finished school into the forest to discover for themselves what their totem would be.
The forest was dark, cold, and unforgiving; there were strange noises and shapes, and unknown things watched them from the shadows. One by one the children, who had hoped for totems of wolves, lions, and space rockets, left the forest.
Usually this didn’t take very long. A couple of hours in the bleakness of the dying wood was enough for most of the children, who accepted their meek totems (usually dogs or mice) with a bit of disappointment but mostly, by that point, relief.
But one year there was a child who changed everything for Marvin; the year of his last ever totem walk…