Monday, July 16, 2018

Chap. 21: Second Thoughts

Minutes ticked by, curled in a ball, eyes wide open, overcome with the urge to bolt. My skin felt stretched tight like a rubber band over my bones, feet aching, having difficulty breathing I bolted from the bed, flipping on every light in the small room, I started tossing all my belongings back into duffle bags. Whatever all this was, it wasn't me. I'm not brave. I don't fight monsters.

Throwing some cash on the nightstand to cover any room rent I might still owe, I headed out the door. I didn't have any idea where I was going. Anywhere. Just not Sutter, South Dakota. I made a lot of noise on the stairs as my bags thumped down the steps but it didn't matter. No one was at the coffee shop in the middle of this dark night.

I slipped into my car, without hesitating I turned the key and heard the engine grumble to life. I peeled out of the parking space like a high school student in their first vehicle. Looking in the rearview mirror, I shook my head. "Don't look back," I told myself. "They don't need you."

I headed east out of town with my head pounding, tears threatening to spill down my cheeks, I wanted no part of the battle that lay ahead. It wasn't my battle. Then an image of Kane and Father Tamono, covered in sweat, drinking icy cold water, flashed through my mind. It wasn't their battle either. Suddenly hot tears splashed down my cheeks, blurring my vision. Sobbing, I pulled over into the dusty gravel at the side of the highway. My headlights picked up the city limit sign for Sutter and I sobbed harder, banging on the steering wheel with my fists. I shouted into the night.

"This is not me."

"It's not, it's not, it's not," I repeated over and over again but my words fell on the deaf ears of the night. In the vast darkness, they evaporated, whispers against the roaring in my ears. At that moment I thought of my mother, her intuition, the gift that she feared and failed to develop.  I envied her. Somehow she had shielded herself from all of this. Now, too late, I realized that maybe I should have ignored the nudges the universe sent my way. But I hadn't. Instead, I had embraced them, valued them, cultivated them. So here I sat at the edge of a little town that few knew existed and struggled to understand my purpose in this story.

I thought again of the haunted farm, my childhood, the creature on the other side of the bushes as I walked along the lane. The creature I thought stalked me.  Over the years I had attributed it to my imagination. Now I wondered. Were there other things hidden, traveling across the countryside? Things imagined and unimaginable? If so where did they come from?  Was it even possible that these entities, these creatures hidden in the shadows existed outside of human awareness? Feeding on sorrow and souls, lost dreams and forgotten gifts. A few weeks ago, I would have talked myself out of this notion, this belief in another world that existed alongside our own. Now I let the idea free fall through me, creating memory sparks and tingling inside my brain.

Out of the corner of my vision, I caught movement next to the passenger door and my heart lurched. Transfixed by fear, I could barely make out the two dark figures fluttering in the small tree next to the road, the ravens. Not for the first time I wondered about them. The larger one tilted his head and looked directly at me. In the light from my headlights, I swore I could see a shimmering tear nestled in the feathers under his eye. Muttering under my breath, I turned the car around and headed back into Sutter.

Once I was in my room, I stripped off my clothes, stood under a hot shower, and bandaged my feet. I prepared for the day. It was early but I wasn't going to be able to sleep anyway so I sat at the small table and pulled out my journal. I wrote for hours, detailing my days in Sutter and the things the five of us had learned. Writing calmed me and helped me focus, so I wrote page after page. Somewhere in all my writing, I was hoping I'd discover that fleeting thought that had nagged me for days. When I was about eight pages in I gave up hoping for any sudden recognition and instead concentrated on preserving this story in much the same way the old leather journal told the tale of Four Corners.

In the darkness of the night, across town the creature stirred, pulling himself out of the dark lair of the hollowed out tree. He stretched his arms upward toward the starless sky. He had sensed her leaving, had rejoiced in the distance she was putting between them, an odd sense of relief washed through him and power surged inside him from her leaving. The sensations were confusing, unlike any he had experienced before. It made him wonder again about her scent. Where had he smelled it before?

When she stopped at the city limits he roared in frustration. He had fought other battles through the years. There were many that had hunted him. Some were from this world and some from the domain of the dark but his primal instincts were telling him that she was different. Her scent was vaguely familiar, he searched his memory for it but was unable to connect it. His long claws dug into the bark of the tree as she turned and traveled back into the heart of the town. She would be a worthy opponent and her soul would be the sweetest morsel. Her courage, her talents would flow through his blood, elevating him to a level he had yearned after for so long. Not tonight but soon. He grunted and returned to his hole. 

I was startled by the knock on the door, suddenly realizing that it was almost noon. So engrossed in writing I had ignored my phone and missed several frantic texts from Kane. It was no wonder that he burst into the room, brushing me aside in his haste.

"Why the hell aren't you answering your phone?" he practically shouted at me. Then seeing my packed bags, he stopped, his eyes searching my face. I could feel the questions in his stare but I ignored them, choosing instead to move into his arms. His strong arms wrapped around me and he caressed my back.

Late in the afternoon, still drowsy from my nap, curled in Kane's arms, I confessed my late night flight. Just listening, Kane tightened his grip on me, leaning in he kissed my temple then he spoke.

"None of us want this burden. But do we have a real choice? If not us then who?"

Sighing, I relaxed with my back against his chest. I had come to the same conclusion while writing in my journal. It wasn't what I wanted but I felt compelled to see it through to the end. Once again the little gnat of a connection flitted across my mind but no matter how I tried to capture it, it alluded me.

I must have slept again, warm and safe in the crook of his arm because the room was darkening when I awoke. He was sitting at the table looking out the window at the impending darkness. I studied his profile in the dim light, noting his strong jaw.

Rolling out of bed I started dressing, knowing that Kane would soon want to patrol the streets again, searching in the night for the evil killer that stalked his hometown. I peeled the bandages off my feet and replaced them with thick hiking socks and boots. The cushioning from the socks made it less painful when I walked. In a matter of minutes, we were out the door, in the truck, and on the hunt.

We pulled through the drive-thru of Wendys and ordered burgers, fries, and large sodas. I sprinkled extra salt on my fries, sliding several into my mouth at once, enjoying their hot greasiness. Kane ate with zest too suddenly making me realize that we had only had coffee today. I had been pondering something as we drove. Why were we driving aimlessly about town when we needed the creature in the alley we had prepared?

"What are we doing?  If we find the creature what will we do?  Aren't we supposed to be luring him to the alley?"  My voice shook a bit when I spoke.

Kane frowned, rubbed his forehead, and looked at me in the dim light from the dashboard. His eyes, so dark and foreboding that I almost regretted speaking. Those eyes, they were haunted.

"You're right," he said "I've been trying to figure out his habits but it's next to impossible. We can't even spot him. How do we get him to the alley?"

I could tell he was frustrated, not only by our lack of plan but also at the beast's disappearance. I had the uncanny sensation that we were running out of time. A giant clocked ticked away minutes, a deadline loomed. There had been no more murders, which of course was a good thing but at the same time, we were looking for an invisible enemy. This creature that stalked the night seemed to have either holed up somewhere and was biding his time or he had moved on to another place.

"What do you think attracts it to its victims?  How does it hunt its prey?"

Both of us sat contemplating this for several minutes. Searching my mind, for the night by the church, looking for clues. Really I was alone, vulnerable, but was it only that?  Was I simply a victim of circumstance. In the right place at the right time?  What of the others? Kane must have been sensing my thoughts because he spoke.

"The others were alone, vulnerable, weak perhaps?  A child, an old man and a girl stranded on a lonely road."

When he finished I frowned. I didn't think of myself as weak but perhaps that was why I managed to make it to the safety of the church. That and a bit of crazy luck with the church being near the spot of the attack. Yet the creature had been hunting in the dark, happened upon me, stalking me as I walked down the empty street. Stalking?

"Do you think he needs to see the person or can he track by scent?" I asked

"Most likely both plus who knows what other senses he possesses. This isn't your average bear or mountain lion. He's cunning and dangerous."

"Stop the truck," I ordered.

He looked over at me confused but he did as I asked. I hopped out of the truck, hefted myself over the side and into the bed of the vehicle. He reached across the back seat and slide the rear window open so we could still talk easily. I settled down on an old tire as he pulled away from the curb again.

"I want to get my scent out into the night. Maybe he will pick it up, recognize it from the night at the church." Explaining even though he seemed to understand the purpose. I stood up and lifted my arms upward, twisting, almost lost my footing as the truck hit a pothole.

"Sit down," Kane ordered and I sheepishly complied.

In an alley about three blocks away, he lifted his head sniffing the night. He had sensed her movements about town for the last few hours, steadfastly he had ignored her, moving on to other possibilities. His stomach rumbled, he loped to the mouth of the alley, tilting his head and gulping in the scent of her. He watched as the truck rolled past, stepping out of the dark shadows of the alley, his red eyes followed her. He knew the time was near. He would need to take her or move on to another place. This limbo could not continue. He was starving. 

For some reason, my stomach lurched. I felt nauseated and shaky but my eyes continued to search the sidewalks.

"No cats out tonight" I exclaimed and Kane just shook his head in reply

His eyes were scanning the alleys as we passed. Something captured my attention.   Looking back I could make out a massive shape on the sidewalk near Kasey Street. Was it him?  I banged on the top of the cab and told Kane to turn around. I wanted a better look. By the time, we circled around and passed Kasey Street again there was nothing to see. I felt certain it was him and I told Kane just that.

He pulled the truck into the alleyway, shining his brights down the littered street, but it illuminated only a large dumpster and several broken beer bottles. I felt vulnerable in the open bed of the truck, shifting to look behind me and to both sides. I felt the red bead on my wrist heat up, looking down it glowed a bright red.  I stuck it through the back window and shouted at Kane. He quickly reversed the truck, spinning us into the open street.  The street lights here were sparse, the one in the middle of the street was burnt out but it still offered better visibility than the alley. Kane frantically motioned for me to get back in the cab.

Instead of jumping down I slithered through the open rear window and into the back seat, scraping my arms and stomach in the process. We just sat in the middle of the street, looking in all directions, sniffing the air we picked up the dim scent of rotting flesh and smoke. It wafted to us even in the still night.

"He's gone," I said with a certainty borne from deep inside. Kane nodded in agreement. Driving slowly along the street, we kept our windows down, letting the putrid smell lead us. At no point did it get stronger, in fact, it just faded away into nothingness. After several minutes, Kane cleared his throat.

"We're close. Tomorrow night we will try luring him closer to the alley. If he takes the bait."

Frowning I asked, "the bait?"


My eyes grew wide but I knew he was right.

He had slipped down the street, hiding in the shadows well before Kane had turned the truck around to search for him. He was restless. He didn't really feel so it couldn't be said that he was afraid or even nervous. Yet perhaps that was something that had changed, as many things had changed here in the world of hot blinding light. Perhaps now emotion had slithered its way inside him. He had felt something the night before when he had thought she was leaving. It was a strange powerful sensation that blossomed inside him, filling him with power. Tonight, however, was different. He felt, yes damn it felt.... restless. He paused to consider this. How might this new wrinkle play out? He had always thought humans were weakened by emotions. Would he be the same? He roared in frustration, throwing his head back against the night sky.  He wondered about this female whose scent was somehow familiar to him and he searched the deep crevices of his mind, looking for a time when he might have encountered her before. 

The faintest flicker sparked in his deep memory that stretched all the way back to the Beginning, at the Beginning he had been so powerful. Thinking of it took his breath away. Look at him now, sniveling in the night in some misplaced town at the edge of the world. He hungered to devour her, sure that in some way she would fill this void inside of him and restore him to glory. 

He loped across the ditch and into the old trees, gnarled, inky black in the ebony night. He had harvested some animal souls, nothing that stilled the pains inside his gut but at least a snack on an otherwise fruitless night. The humans here, in this place, were growing wise and he questioned again the wisdom of staying even one more night. Yet he lusted for her soul. As he folded himself inside the trunk of the enormous oak tree he decided to give it one, maybe two more nights and if she evaded him still then he must leave, move on to another unnamed, unimportant town. The thought created a deep ache at his core.

Kane walked me up to my room, nuzzling his head into my hair while holding me in his arm. For some reason, I felt cold, unfeeling, devoid of emotion. My heart encased in ice, still and frozen. It was confusing to feel such emotion one moment and absolutely none the next. Weird. Relationships complicate things and the last thing we needed right now was more complications. We needed clear heads for the challenge ahead. Plus I had to admit, Kane calling me "bait", so casually, had dowsed any passion I might have felt earlier in the night.

Whether he sensed my mood or recognized my fatigue he let me go and headed downstairs. I unlocked my door and stepped inside, more confused in this instant then I had been ever before. Every nerve in me was pulled taut and his presence played me like a violin, with the potential for beautiful music or a jarring cacophony.

Stripping down to my panties and tee shirt I crawled into bed. I remembered my dream from last night, shivered, terrified to close my eyes. I'm not sure how long I managed to resist sleep before my eyes fluttered shut and I drifted into slumber but as I did the last thought on my mind was the beast, his love for the dark made him a perfect villain for the realm of dreams.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Chap 20: Baiting the Trap

I woke up the next morning with Kane's arm thrown over me. My small room felt suffocating making it hard for me to breath. I carefully extracted myself from his clutches, worming my way to the end of the bed I quietly made my escape to the bathroom. From the doorway, I looked back at his sleeping form as a smile caressed my lips.

The hot water from the shower sluiced over me, it could cleanse my body but not my soul. I couldn't shake this premonition. This dread that I carried a larger part of the weight for this plan than the others. No one had said anything that made me feel this way but never the less it was nestled inside me like an anchor holding a ship in the bay.

I smoothed the White Tea and Ginger body wash over my body, breathing in the aroma deeply. It was a simple but comforting ritual. I closed my eyes enjoying the soothing hot water on my skin. Suddenly I felt myself swirling through time and space, no longer in the comforting shower steam. I was afraid to open my eyes. When I did I wished that I hadn't.

I stood atop a cliff looking down on a town, a city perhaps as it went on for miles. Rather than your typical apartments, stores, and houses, the city lay in ruins. Blackened and burnt the buildings were indistinguishable. Remanents of cars, melted and congealed into massive boulders of blackened metal lined the streets. Tendrils of gray smoke drifted up from deep fissures.  I was shocked more by the lack of color than from anything else. Everything in the landscape was varying shades of black or gray, devoid of color.

I shivered and a tiny drop of water rolled from my arm and dropped to the scorched earth at my feet. I looked down, the moisture leaving the tiniest of damp spots on the dusty ground.  I stepped back quickly as the tiny spot pulsated, splitting the dirt, and quivering for a minute before a tiny green sprout erupted from the parched earth and grew upward encircling my ankle. I wanted to jerk away from it. Instead, I waited. Before my eyes a bud formed, then a tiny flower blossomed, a bright red against the pale skin of my leg. The wind picked up, blowing stinging sand against my skin. I felt goosebumps forming on my arms. Something here in this bleak landscape did not like my intrusion. Then I felt something else stinging my body and I realized I was back in the shower and the water was cold and unpleasant against my skin.

When I came out of the shower Kane was nowhere to be seen.  I felt both saddened and relieved at the same time. Wrapped in double towels I sat on the edge of the bed drying my hair. I thought about Kane's hands tangled in my hair. Then I shook my head. I didn't want my mind crowded with such ideas. We had a lot of work to do, materials to gather, things to set in place, for tonight we hunted.

I pulled on jean capris and a yellow tee shirt. I started to slip my feet into some skimpy sandals then thinking better of it, put on socks with tennis shoes. If I had to run I wanted to be ready. I felt calmer. Sitting at the small table by the window I pulled the deck of cards from my purse and shuffled them absentmindedly.  Occasionally I'd feel the now familiar electrical shock shoot up my arm. I put the deck down and peeled off the top two cards.

Flipping them over I was not surprised at all to see the creature and the lady in white. Somehow there was a connection between these two. I let the images vibrate through my mind but I couldn't quite figure it out. How could the lady in white surrounded by light be connected in any way to the dark lurking creature with the oh so sharp claws? It made no sense but once again I had the nagging sensation that I should know the answer. Sighing I slipped the cards back into the box. I'd save my energy as Shappa suggested. Seeking answers can be exhausting and fatigue would only put me at risk.

My phone vibrated on the nightstand. Retrieving it, I smiled seeing the text was from Kane. He was asking me to meet him in the alley. Evidently, while I had showered and sought answers from the cards, he and Father Tamono had been gathering supplies. My heart quickened at the thought of the battle we had ahead of us. We had a plan but was it enough?

I grabbed a large coffee from the shop below my room even though the sun was high in the sky. Pulling out of the parking spot I headed toward the alley. I frowned a bit realizing I wasn't quite sure I could get there again as I hadn't been paying a lot of attention the morning Kane had driven us there.

After a couple false turns, I pulled my car in behind Kane's pickup and headed into the alley. I stopped as soon as I entered.  Kane was up on a tall ladder leaning against the building to the right. He was using a hammer and thick nails to pound crosses onto the bricks. Father Tamono was at the bottom with a large box filled with crosses of all sizes. After Kane finished the one he was working on, Father Tamono handed him another.  They worked together quickly and efficiently, old friends with no need for words between them.

Kane was almost near the end of the row he was creating and when he reached it he climbed down. Coming toward me he pulled a list out of his pockets. At the top, he had written the addresses of three stores in the town and below each a list of supplies, extension cords, heavy duty lights, bulbs and power strips. He handed the list to me and said,

"These places are gathering the supplies as we speak. Can you drive my truck and pick up the equipment?"

"Of course, but are they wondering what in the world you are doing?" I said thinking of all the crosses Father Tamono had managed to gather. Did everyone else in the world just move on while we existed in this twilight world between reality and folklore?

He handed me his keys before replying.

"Actually no. That surprised me but I think perhaps they sense something is very wrong. They want it stopped but they seem leery to really know any details."

In some odd way, this made perfect sense to me. Perhaps the mere act of acknowledging something gave it power. We didn't want this creature gathering any more power than he already had. Grabbing the keys I headed toward his truck. When I climbed into the driver's seat I noticed he had hung a smallish silver cross from the rearview mirror and my hand went automatically to the cross around my own neck. It was still there.  I checked again that the bracelet with the red bead was secure on my wrist and then I pulled out of the parking space.

The men at the stores were helpful, anxious to help a "pretty little lady" that knew Kane. They had already gathered all the materials and they loaded them in the truck without comment. I was surprised that no one seemed to wonder what Kane was planning with this particular collection of materials. Did they lack curiosity or were they simply that trusting that Kane knew what he was doing? I got the impression that he was well known and well respected.

After running my errands, I stood at the opening of the alley, eyes wide. I tried to steady my breathing and my nerves at the sight before me. Ominous. The brick buildings on both sides of the alleyway were lined with crosses. Metal crosses. wooden crosses, plastic crosses, and rosary beads, of every size, were suspended from the bricks. It felt eerily like a clip from an old horror movie.

At the opposite end of the short alley, I could see Father Tamono and Kane hard at work on what looked like a hastily designed privacy fence. They were hammering in the last boards when I approached, looking nervously behind me. I swallowed, my throat dry. It struck me that as we were endeavoring to trap the beast we were also closing off our own way out. My heart tightened in my chest and I had to push back my fight or flight instinct which was blaring a warning at this moment.

Now both men, with red sweaty faces, leaned against the buildings and chugged water from ice cold bottles pulled from a red and white cooler. Kane offered me a bottle and I took it, letting the icy liquid cascade down my parched throat. I was wondering how we would keep curious gawkers from checking out this alley full of crosses when Kane picked up some yellow plastic and started pulling it across the now sole entry to the alley. He also grabbed some orange cones from the back of his truck and lined them along the sidewalk blocking the entrance.

I looked up and down the street. Fortunately, this was a desolate place during the day with the only real "life" during the evening and night hours when the two bars across the street came to life. I didn't know how we would lure the beast but this was as about as perfect place as we could hope for.

Kane was jangling some keys in his hand, tossing them from one hand to the other, keys to the two vacant buildings on either side of the alley. How he managed to get them I wasn't sure but I didn't waste much time worrying about it. He looked at me and I wondered at the emotions that played across his face. I smiled tentatively but also less encouragingly than he might have wanted. My emotions were raw, a jumbled mess of desire and fear. Not a good combination to bring into this situation. I preferred my life to be a hell of a lot less complicated than it was right now.

I think desire helps men cope, calms them down, provides shelter in an emotional storm. In some ways allowing them to avoid more complicated emotions.  For women, I think perhaps it does the opposite, touching on primitive fears of abandonment, insecurities and lost dreams.

"Break's over," he said.

The two men headed to a side door into the building on the left. I decided I'd tag along. Once inside the building, I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice. Only a little light seeped in through the boarded up windows, leaving the interior dark and ominous. Stacks of boards, rusted machines, and folding chairs were covered in dust and grime. I jumped when something scurried across the floor behind me. Mouse or rat?

Kane found the stairs and they creaked and sagged under our weight as we climbed up to the second floor. There were two windows with glass intact and he used a rag to wipe away the layers of dirt coating their surfaces. When we looked out the windows we had a perfect view of the alley.

"There are electrical outlets. We can test them out when we come back with the cords." Father Tamono commented and Kane just nodded his head. He was stacking boards next to each window. I spluttered as a cobweb floated into my mouth. The air was thick with dust and my nasal passages were quickly objecting.

It took the rest of the afternoon to set up this room with the floodlights, test them and then repeat the same process on the opposite building. I helped lug up cords, lights, switches, and tools. My legs ached from so many trips up the stairs. I was tired but when I looked at Kane and Father Tamono I knew they had to be even more exhausted than I was. I could see it in their eyes as they wiped their faces with dampened handkerchiefs.

It was growing dark when we left the alleyway. We all piled into Kane's pickup to ride around a bit, surveying the surrounding streets and searching for the evil one. Some part of my mind realized that finding him now, at this point in time, with us hungry and exhausted, would not be the best optics. Yet I could also sense that Kane was hungry to take action,. Finally, he had something to do. A way to fight this and he was anxious to deal with it.

At some point in our driving, something caught Kane's eye and he slowed the truck to a crawl. Stopping the truck in the road, he reversed until he was directly across from what appeared to be an empty street. Paper skipped along the gutter like a stone tossed on a pond. Rustling in the breeze it made me notice for the first time that the evening was exceptionally quiet. Then I saw what had captured Kane's attention. Several cats slinked along the sidewalk, bodies close to the building, eyes searching the night around them. Like actors in a silent movie, they traveled the street, up and down, constantly repeating their same path.

None of us spoke but we sympathized silently with the cats. Trapped and confronting something they did not understand and had little chance of defeating. They simply kept moving, as close to the wall as possible, gliding back and forth with wild eyes darting in all directions. They kept moving and so we did too.

We drove around aimlessly for a couple of hours but nothing else caught our attention. I could barely keep my eyes open, yawning I rubbed my eyes. We had picked up some hamburgers and drinks at a McDonalds earlier so at least my stomach wasn't growling. I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes because suddenly we were pulling up beside the building where my room was. Kane helped me out of the car and walked upstairs with me. At the door, he planted a kiss on my forehead.

"Get some sleep." he said and then he disappeared back down the stairs.

 From the window I watched him climb into the truck with Father Tamono, figuring they were going to cruise a few more hours. I wanted to be with them but my body was telling me I needed sleep. I slipped off my tennis shoes and capris and crawled into bed without even brushing my teeth. My head wasn't even on the pillow yet and I was falling into a deep sound sleep.

There was nothing but the darkness of a deep sleep until I heard the growl and noticed the foggy mist gathering around my feet. "My feet?" I knew I was asleep but in my mind's eye, I was walking along a barren path by a creek running with black inky water. Withered ferns grew by the water's edge and where there should have been buzzing night insects and other creatures there was only silence. Reminded of the silent woods from my childhood, I looked about, frightened and uneasy.

The trees were almost as black as the night air, rough burnt bark crumbled under my hand when I reached out to steady my shaking self. I heard the low guttural growl again and I whipped around. It seemed to come from behind me but nothing was there. To the right, the ferns parted briefly and I caught a glimpse of a dark hulking shape with red eyes glowing in the bleak landscape.

I hesitated, uncertain whether to run and be chased or to try a slower escape. I opted for the second and moved along the path, my feet bare and unprotected on the hardened soil. Step by step, my eyes darted to the right watching the swaying movement of the ferns as the creature stalked me. I came to a slight fork in the path. One to the right that would lead me deeper into the tangled brush of the forest and one to the left into a meadow.

I turned toward the meadow, suddenly finding myself running, the grass tearing at my feet and legs. Behind me, a horrific roar sounded and with it the echoing footsteps of the beast. I gasped, breathing in the dark night air and with it the stench of the beast. Ignoring the pain in my feet, I ran until my lungs felt like they would collapse from trying to suck in more oxygen. When I stopped I felt his hot moist breath on my neck and he reached out grasping my arm. I tried to scream but no words escaped me.

My mouth was open, silently screaming when I came awake in my bed. My heavy breathing felt as if I had run here, in this world, not only in my dream. With a dry mouth, I climbed out of bed to get a drink of water and felt piercing pain in my feet  Looking down I saw they were bloodied with scrapes and scratches. Hobbling into the bathroom I ran warm water over them in the bathtub while sipping icy water. Tears stung the back of my eyes. I was frightened to discover that dream worlds and the real world can collide. From now on I would feel far less safe in my bed. Unprotected and vulnerable to forces that I neither knew not understood.

Eventually, I gingerly crept back to my bed leaving droplets of pink water on the floor. Curling into a ball, I tried to sleep but sleep alluded me.  Fearing it would whirl me back into the bleak landscape of my dream I couldn't even close my eyes. My mind churned and I wanted only to escape.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Chap 19: Curses, Weapons, and Evil

In sharp contrast to the icy cold lemonade, Shappa put steaming mugs of hot tea in our hands, squeezing a dollop of honey into each one. It was hot and sweet, the first sip burning my tongue. Even on this hot day, the warmth of the mug felt good in my hands. I felt comforted by the tradition and honored by the nurturing Shappa put into making it.

The charts hung on the walls, empty. Kane nodded towards them and said,


 I wasn't sure where he was going with this. I'm the kind of person who always likes to know what I'm up against. I think that's why I had been struggling with this for days. I didn't understand what the creature was, what the beads were and how this had all started. I found myself speaking without really intending to.

"Maybe one should be what we think the creature is? What are we dealing with." As the words came out I realized that while I was speaking I was also shaking my head no. I stopped and frown, puzzled and uncertain. Confused, I noticed Shappa's bird-like eyes on me then she spoke

"Aww, even as the words come from your mouth, your spirit is telling you something else. What?"

I stared at her but my eyes lost focus as I concentrated on whatever was flitting through my mind. It was like a sliver of truth that I couldn't quite touch. I closed my eyes, reaching deep inside yet whatever was nagging at me, slithered away into the deepest corner of my mind. Sighing I opened my eyes and looked blankly at her. She nodded and spoke,

"Long ago, in the beginning, there was light and dark, equal, balanced, one no more powerful than the other. But somewhere, at some point, it shifted, perhaps the earth shifted or perhaps man shifted but the balance between light and dark was altered forever. It was no longer simply light and dark but good and evil. Evil is called by many names. Look at the writings of all people and you will see evil, called differently perhaps but still the same. This is no different. We do not need to name it to overcome it. Naming it is a trick played by the evil one, he knows that we will waste time and energy on it, rather than on defeating him."

My cheeks burned red, feeling like a school girl corrected by the teacher. Shappa waved her hand at me, smiling, letting me know that her comments were not a rebuff but simply something that needed to be said.

"How to Defeat It" my voice came out loud and clear and Kane started a heading on one of the sheets of chart paper. Father Tamono shifted in his seat, clearing his throat he started to speak.

"I want to share again the story Shappa and I told already once here in this very house, not your typical Catholic story but an old old story, handed down through my family. I don't have a lot of details because honestly it seemed a myth to me and mostly I did not listen well to the retelling." He shrugged, frowning. The story goes like this....

"Very long ago in a church somewhere in the northwest, there was a priest known as the Guardian of the Beads. It was so long ago that everyone has lost track of the years. Some in my family say he is part of our genealogy, some say he was just a family friend, the truth obscured by time."

He paused to sip his hot tea bringing the mug to his lips with shaking hands. I could sense that telling this story troubled him. Perhaps because it wandered astray from his faith, Everything about our current situation pulled at the threads of each of our faiths, unraveling what we believed about almost everything. I pondered this but then he was talking again.

"No one knows how the beads came to be in the holy water nor who put them there. They simply lay nestled in water for many years. No one touched them, no one removed them, no one even questioned them. You see they were there for many, many priests and it's unknown if each predecessor told the story of the beads to his successor or not.

Some say the beads were purple, the color of royalty for Christ the King. Some say the beads were red, representing Christ's blood. Through the years the story changed and shifted so I'm not sure of the original version. But that brings us to the Guardian of the Beads, because it is during his time at the church that the beads vanished. Vanished! After centuries of soaking in the holy water.

No one knows what happened to them. Well, I suppose someone knows. The only remnant of the story that ever surfaced is that the beads had been given to a Sioux women, a healer, old and wise. Of course there was much speculation of how and why and who but as far as I know none of the answers ever came to light."

When he finished speaking Shappa nodded and continued

"From my family, I heard the other part of the story, the woman weaving the beads into a bracelet to "save the earth". It is an old story of our people, one that foretold the end of life, and the impending darkness."

Each of us sat for a moment pondering how two different groups could carry a story that collided into one that still played out today. Then Kane wrote on the chart and when he stepped away I noticed he had added more than one thing to the list,


1. The red bead
2. Light
3. The cross

I sat staring at the words he had written for a long time. Thoughts swirled in my head, thinking about the folklore handed down through the years by ancestors of some of the very people in this room.
I closed my eyes trying to think straight but my thoughts were like electrical sparks, firing randomly in my brain. Pieces of a puzzle, clues, and questions all swirled like the colors of a kaleidoscope, shifting and resorting themselves into new designs.

I opened my eyes, no one had spoken. I pulled the black onyx stone from my pocket and started to speak, drawing on my knowledge of crystals and their healing properties.

"I've been thinking. There are lots of black stones, What do you think the black bead the creature uses is?"

I twirled the black onyx between my thumb and forefinger, rubbing its ebony smoothness.

"There's the stone called Apache Tears which is black obsidian. Legend says that braves were surrounded by the cavalry and rather than be captured they dove off a cliff to their deaths. The women cried such dark tears of grief that they fell to the earth and formed stones. These stones are said to help with grief, grounding, and protection."

I stopped and picked up my tea with my free hand, sipping the strong honey laced liquid while looking at the group. They simply waited for me to go on.

"Black tourmaline is an interesting one. Ancient magicians used it to protect themselves from earth demons. Its a grounding stone forming a link between earth and the human spirit. It's said to be a psychic shield deflecting and dispelling negative energies and entities."

I stopped for a minute and looked at the black onyx in my hand. Now I wondered if the black bead was onyx or tourmaline. The connection between earth and spirit peaked my interest. Remembering Shappa's words, I had to be ok with not knowing, shrugging I continued,

" Black onyx....this," I said holding up the stone

"There are many stories of the origins of black onyx and one suggests that it was formed with a demon trapped inside and it troubles those who wear it. This is a contradictory tale as today black onyx is used to protect from negativity and black magic......" I stopped, frowning, something tugging at my memory. Sighing I sat for a minute, trying to clear the fog of my thoughts. Then Shappa spoke

"Perhaps you are on the right path but asking the wrong questions. The black stone has been warped, spelled or used in a manner that is contrary to its initial purpose. We most likely will never know. But what of the red beads?"

Her dark eyes peered at me. Everyone held their breath expecting some profound answer from me. I trembled with the weight of their expectations. Then I opened my mouth and what I said next surprised even me.

"Pigeon blood ruby. The ruby is a stone of passion, protection, and prosperity. It symbolizes the sun and its glowing red is said to be an inextinguishable flame....." I stopped and looked at the chart thinking about how the sun has to be the brightest light ever.

"So we can use the ruby in some way like the light? But how?" Kane asked, looking at each of us in turn for our thoughts. No one spoke so he continued

"The black beads were found inside the victims' mouths..." Dottie gasped. Stunned we all looked at him, our eyes wide and round. My mouth was suddenly so dry I picked up my tea and sipped it. Father Tamono cleared his throat, shifting in his chair, most likely uncomfortable with all the folklore and legends.

"I think we use the red bead in the same way. Insert it into the creature's mouth," he said.

Dottie started to cry, Kane rubbed his hand through his already unruly hair and I dropped the black onyx on the floor, startling all of us. Then I remembered the cards. I had shoved them in my purse this morning, not knowing how or if they played into this saga. Getting my purse from the table by the door, I rummaged around in it and pulled out the deck. Seeing the deck, Dottie cried even harder.

I slid the deck out of the box, holding the deck in my hand I started telling the story of my Seattle trip and the little shop with the old woman. I felt shivers cascade down my back as I told the others about the deck. I had never told anyone else about the deck. It had laid forgotten in my collection so telling the story now seemed like a faraway memory dredged up from the dark corners of my mind. As I told the story I passed one card at a time around the circle.

As each examined the dark images on the cards I could tell from their puzzled expressions that they were struggling to link the cards to our current situation. I started to doubt myself. I had no idea why I assumed the cards were part of this but even now seeing their doubt I still felt it. As I dealt the last card, a sharp electrical shock shot up my arm. I jerked my arm back and turned the card over. It was the card with the dark creature hiding behind the tree. I quickly passed it to Father Tamono and as it made its way around the group I noticed a difference in their expressions. I could tell the image changed everything.

When all the cards had made their way back to me I got up and pulled a small end table over so it was directly in front of me. After clearing it of a few items, I shuffled the cards and laid the deck in the upper right-hand corner. I tapped the deck three times and picked up four cards. Holding them in my hand I looked at each person. Something nudged me and I collected one more card off the pile. Five people, five cards.

"It's just an experiment. A way to brainstorm. Let's see if anything comes to us as we look at the cards."

I took the five cards and placed them in a circle formation with one card representing each person, starting with Shappa. My eyes locked with Shappa's and she reached out and flipped over the card in front of her. She picked the card up looking at it intently. It was the old woman weaving something. She shook her head and waved her hand toward Kane so he leaned over and flipped his card.

He didn't pick it up. It was the red card with the sketch of a man, dressed in slacks and a long-sleeved shirt. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. Dottie's hand trembled as she reached for her card.

The card she flipped was one I didn't remember. It was an old book, brown leather stained with age. The title was darker brown but it was blurred and even though she peered at it through her glasses, tilting her head from side to side, she still couldn't make out the words. It was Father Tamono's turn.

He stopped, looking at me briefly before he turned over the card. It was the man in black against the red background. A priest. I was surprised as I thought perhaps it would be the other sketched figure I had looked at when I examined the deck earlier. A priest made sense of course but for some reason, it was not the card I had expected.

Flipping my card, the lady dressed in white, faced me, surrounded by golden light with an outstretched hand. Her wrist still showed a slim outline that I imagined being a bracelet. Looking at her filled me with hope.

"Thoughts?" I asked, not really expecting much since no one had been forthcoming when they flipped their cards. So it surprised me when Shappa spoke,

"Perhaps this is the weaver of the bracelet. The woman I spoke of earlier, the one who foresaw the destruction of earth as we know it."

We nodded as we processed her words. Wondering at the same time what it meant. Why was this woman depicted in this deck, many years from when she lived. How was this deck meant to help us or did it simply tell a story?

"I do not know this man. Perhaps it is me, perhaps it is someone I should know" Kane said, his voice weary. He simply looked at me with eyes clouded in doubt. He was pale, beads of sweat dotted his forehead and he looked older, drained.

"The book makes sense for me...because of the library...." Dottie's voice quivered as she spoke.

"This is not me. Perhaps this is the man from the story, the priest at Four Corners. Look at his clothes, it is not the garb of a priest in today's world." Father Tamono spoke with authority, his voice strong and clear.

"I think this is me and yet....not me." I said of my card. No one disagreed.

I reached for the next card in the deck and flipped it over in the center of the table. Staring back at us was the creature lurking behind the tree and my eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the thick claws gripping the tree in the darkness. Those would be a problem if we were to insert the red bead into the mouth of the creature.

No one had many ideas other than perhaps the cards represented us in some way. They did little to provide guidance for us in our quest to overcome the beast. Kane wrote things on the chart, more I think to keep busy than to really come up with a plan. In the end, the only real information we had were the ways to fight the creature: the cross, the light and the red bead. Kane stopped scribbling notes aimlessly on the charts and turned toward us, Shappa had made sandwiches which we nibbled as we waited for Kane to formulate his plan.

"We need a contained place to lure him to. We need to set up lighting, everywhere, so...." he paused thinking..."We need to keep it dark but have the ability to flood the area with light. Whoever is present will need crosses. We need to have the red bead ready."

I swallowed hard thinking of the claws, the slobbering mouth filled with sharp teeth, the enormous arms. When I spoke my voice was stronger than I felt.

"We meet him in his hunting grounds. The alleys ....maybe the one where we found the black bead?"  As I spoke I was visualizing the alley. It was small and fairly contained. Could we block off one end perhaps or have something ready to roll into place to close off the entrance? We would need electric for the lights.

Kane nodded his head as if reading my mind he said,

"I'll check the buildings on either side for windows and electricity."

Father Tamono, frowned and it caught Kane's attention. Kane stopped speaking and waited. Father Tamono seemed unsure.  He hesitated and then spoke,

"What if we not only wear crosses...what if somehow we line the alley with crosses, not visible in the dark but they would be when we light up the place." Father Tamono moved his eyes as he spoke still working through the idea. Kane and I both noticed the use of the word "we". Father Tamono would stand with us when we confronted the creature.

"That's a good idea. We will need to drain his power as much as possible, weaken him if we have any hope of getting the bead in his mouth." Kane said.

With each idea, he seemed to gather strength and confidence. Our work was paying off. It might not be perfect, There was plenty that we still didn't know. We were guessing on a lot of it. At this point though it felt good to actually be doing something. None of us knew how much time we had....before the creature attacked again or before he moved on to some other town leaving us unable to track him.

By the time we left Shappas later that night we had formulated a rough plan.

Click HERE to read Chapter 20.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Chap. 18: The Gathering

We hadn't allowed ourselves to enjoy the hot coffee for long, my mouth still watered remember the aroma wafting from the mug.  Now here in the truck with Kane by my side, the world felt right, although it was anything but right at the moment.  The sun was warm through the windshield, caressing my skin with its rays. Being with Kane felt comfortable with a certain awkwardness threaded through it. We didn't speak, the silence heavy between us, unspoken thoughts heavy with emotion.

We were headed to pick up Father Tamono. Evidently, last night while I dozed fitfully on the sofa they had decided it was time to visit Shappa again and tell her about the black bead. I didn't disagree. I was still having trouble unraveling all the threads in this saga and welcomed new ideas to consider. Honestly, I was spooked. The dream last night, although diluted by our lovemaking still haunted me.

The pickup bounced, slamming my head against the side window. Glancing over Kane slowed the truck a little so the potholes were slightly less jarring. Pulling up to the front steps of the church, we noticed a small figure huddled next to Father Tamono, seeking shelter in his shadow. A large canvass tote bag sat on the sidewalk next to her and as we rolled to a stop, Father reached down and hefted the bag onto the jump seat. It was then I realized it was Dottie, her shoulders covered in a brightly woven shaw even though the day was bordering on hot. Like an eccentric peacock, she twisted her neck and peered through the window at me. I blushed fearing she could somehow envision scenes from last night, that she somehow knew. Then shaking my head I waved hello.

Kane had jumped out to grab some items from the back seat, throwing them into the bed of the pickup. I guess he hadn't realized Dottie was coming with us. Both she and Father Tamono squeezed into the back seat, Dottie still clinging to her colorful shawl. Father settled quickly and clearing his throat he explained.

"I asked Dottie to accompany us and bring along some old diaries and histories that might be worth looking at again."

Dottie fidgeted in the seat, ill at ease, spooked by whatever Father had told her to bring along. I thought of the ancient tomes in the back corner of the library, tales of folklore and superstition, but now I wondered if there were truth in some of the stories. The bracelet was tied firmly on my wrist and the bronze cross hung around my neck, only this time it was on top of my shirt, not inside. There was something else in my pocket, reaching in, rubbing my fingertips across the cool smoothness, waiting for the right time to ask the others their thoughts.

"Where is the black bead?"  So lost in thought I jumped when Father spoke.

"We left it at my house. In the can under a lamp." Kane explained

I noticed how he had slipped easily into using the word "we". I noticed and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. There was a warmth in the pit of my stomach but there was a queasiness too.  "Were we a we?"  I didn't think so. Confusing comfort and desire with a real relationship seemed foolish. I had done that once before and it had ended, leaving me empty and disillusioned. Sighing I shook the thoughts away. This wasn't the time nor the place for pondering such things.

The ride was long, dusty and increasingly warm as the sun climbed higher into the sky. Driving along the road I lost myself in the desolate landscape, red rocks, and tumbleweeds. I tried to picture Father Tamono and Kane as boys, running along paths, covered in the red dust, trapping rabbits. Their early lives had played out here in the open solitary landscape of South Dakota. Turning slightly in my seat I spoke to Dottie.

"Are you from this area also Dottie?"

She shook her head, I waited, hearing no other explanation forthcoming I turned back to face the front just as she spoke.

"I grew up in Four Corners." her voice was barely a whisper.

"That's like what eight or nine hundred miles from here, right?" I asked.

This time she nodded but didn't speak again. Frowning I turned back around, exhausted from trying to make small talk, I closed my eyes and drifted into a fitful slumber. I hadn't slept for long when we bounced to a stop in front of Shappas house and Kane was shaking my shoulder, waking me. I had this tingling at the base of my skull, a nagging thought, some small forgotten memory, threatening to surface but opening my eyes to the blinding sunlight, it melted away. My neck hurt, aching from trying to sleep in a bumpy truck traveling along a rough road.

Rubbing my eyes I climbed out. Looking around I saw two ravens circling in the sky, descending and then ascending as they flew. Had they been jets they would have left overlapping exhaust trails against the blue sky. I observed again the small house, the rocker on the front porch, and then the door opened. Shappa had been expecting us. The four of us stood awkwardly beside the truck but she waved for us to come forward and waited to greet us on the porch.

Kane's eyes misted as she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him, her arms strong like a bear, protective and tender. We waited as she similarly greeted Father Tamono. He lifted her off her feet, calling her "pokni" (grandmother) and swinging her in a big circle. She protested.

"Put me down right now, chaske" affectionately calling him grandson although no blood linkage existed between the two.

He did as she requested, patting his cheek, she led us into her home and we soon found ourselves seated, sipping icy cold lemonade and chatting about everything other than what brought us to her.
The cool liquid against my parched throat felt exquisite. I closed my eyes, enjoying the sensation. When I opened them I saw Shappa was looking from Kane to me and then back again. I blushed. Kane did not.

We indulged in a few more minutes of chit-chat before Kane brought up the black bead. Shappa sat quietly listening to the story of the bead, while Dottie's eyes grew wide and fearful. It struck me that neither challenged our story, as unbelievable as it was. I was sitting next to Dottie and I could feel her trembling.

Father Tamono had taken out a small notebook, seemingly taking notes. Shappa looked only at Kane as he told the story but when he was finished she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. She simply looked heavenly and said nothing. After several minutes she turned and looked at each of us in turn. I had just given up trying to read her thoughts when she spoke.

"Kane has told us a piece of this but there are many pieces, like the giant puzzle of life. Pieces we know and pieces that we do not recognize as such. The Great Spirit waits. The darkness is great, the time is short."

After she finished speaking, she stood and walked to the corner to the room and took a large wooden box from a shelf. It was rough and carved with many symbols, heavy in her hands. Kane rose to help her but she waved him away. Slowly she made her way back to her seat. Carefully she opened the box. It was deeper than I had thought. I couldn't really see what was nestled inside but I could see there were many items. She pulled out a brightly woven cloth, filled with symbols. I looked closer and thought perhaps they were Navaho.

We all waited. silently, while she unfolded the cloth. Nestled inside was a silver cross, tarnished with time but as she rubbed it with the cloth it glinted in the sunlight. It wasn't a large cross nor ornate. In fact, it was a fairly simple rendition of the Christian symbol. She rose again from her chair with the cross in hand. Placing it in my lap she lifted the bronze cross from around my neck and turned to Kane with it. She slipped it around his neck and returned her attention to me. I could feel the weight of the silver cross in my lap and oddly it felt more comforting than the bronze cross ever had. It was then I looked at Dottie and her eyes were even rounder than before if that was even possible.

No one spoke. After Shappa had settled back into her chair she told the story of how she had come into possession of the old silver cross wrapped in a Navajo cloth.

"It was many moons ago, many snows, so long ago I have forgotten how long. I was much younger than, traveling with others to marketplaces and ceremonies. Remembering the ways of our ancestors, learning and sharing as is our native tradition. A group of us traveled to Four Corners, and there I met Ooljee, her name means moon. It is the moon you know which keeps the darkness at bay. We think of it as the sun but really is the moon. "

She paused for a moment. deep in thought. I glanced at Dottie to find her mesmerized by what Shappa was saying, her trembling had stopped. After a few minutes, Shappa spoke again.

The cross was heavy around my neck and I thought how it felt different than the bronze cross I had bought in the shop in Sutton. Yet I had no clue what it meant or how it had worked its way through the years and across the miles to be hanging around my neck. I noticed Dottie was bending down searching in her bag.

"Ooljee was quite old, older than even I am now. She could no longer walk but they carried her to the festival and she sat in an old rocker peering at those on the dusty path in front of her. I felt her dark eyes piercing me as I stood at a booth across the way from her chair, drawn to her, I stooped down to speak with her. Her gnarled hands stroked my hair.

"Old mother what is it that you want with me?"  I asked her

She patted my hand and that is when I noticed the cloth bundle in her lap. As she unwrapped it she spoke.

"I am the last of my clan that lives here. Others have left the old ways and no longer believe. I have lost track of them as they wander here and there just as their ancestors did. Navajos at heart always. I am very old, fearing I do not have much time left I want to pass this on to someone deserving of it."

She unfolded the last bit of cloth and the silver cross lay inside. I felt dizzy, closing my eyes as dread crept into me, huddling in my soul but none the less I accepted the gift. I told her I would wait and watch, cherishing and protecting it until the time came. I don't know why I said those words. I didn't know what I referred to. I looked for her the next day to ask her more but I was told she had passed, carried to the Great Spirit during the night."

When Shappa stopped speaking, I noticed that Dottie was bent down digging in her bag again, this time frantically. When she sat up she was holding an old leather book, so old that some of the pages appeared to be loose and simply stuck back inside. When she opened it I could see words in faded ink trailing across the pages.

She coughed slightly and we all turned our attention to Dottie who was perched birdlike on the edge of her chair. She ran her hand lovingly across the old leather book. Tilting her head to the side she spoke.

"This book came to the library from a very old, well-preserved collection of Navajo writings. I can't place its date as there are few details that exist to really place it in a time frame. All I know is that it is old."

None of us spoke. We waited for her to take a sip of lemonade before she continued.

"This book is unique in that it is a diary by a woman. Not many Navajo wrote back then, especially women, preferring the oral tradition instead. It is written in a mix of both English and Navajo. I will try to translate the Navajo as I read it. This book was not written during the time of the events described in it but later. It is a collection of family stories handed down through the years.  There is a story contained within the pages that I think will be of interest to us."

I looked around the group and realized we were all captivated by Dottie's revelation. I leaned forward eager to hear the story she was about to read. Her voice was strong and firm as she began to read. There was no hesitation, no quivering like when she spoke in conversation. Reading was her forte.

"It is the story of Yiska that I will write next. Yiska means night has passed.  His mother led by the Great Spirit at his birth to name him such. A fitting name because in the long hot summer of Yiska's youth things happened during a time that felt like an endless night, filled with fear and foreboding.

Before that time a strange white man came to live near us. He wore the color of the ravens even during the hot dry days of summer. Around his neck, he wore a heavy silver cross, the talisman of his Great Spirit. Yet even though he was strange, he was good. His kindness to the children, his acceptance and respect of the Navajo ways, and his calm during the time of darkness, made him welcome in the Navajo community."

Dottie stopped to sip her lemonade again. I clutched the silver cross that now hung heavy around my neck. I looked up to find Kane and the others watching me. I shook my head slightly and turned my attention back to Dottie as she continued reading.

"A few full moons after the white man came to us, the deaths started. A stench settled over the land, making the air thick with some unknown scent that no one recognized. First, it was a young boy, harmlessly playing in the cool night air, then it was the white man, attacked on the road as darkness fell. Yet the white man blessed the children before his death. Many believe it was his blessing that saved them and his gift that led to his own death. It was how Yiska came to have the silver cross.

After the first death when the children were heavy with grief and fear, the man made crosses from twigs and twine, tying them around each child's neck but he ran out before getting to Yiska. He had somehow miscounted. Without pause, he took his own silver cross and placed it around Yiska's neck. That night as he walked alone on the road back to his home, whatever it was that lurked in the night attacked and killed him. The Navajo mourned. But none more than Yiska."

Dottie stopped reading and no one spoke. A sadness hung in the room as we mourned for a man we had never known and we puzzled over how the cross might help us now. As I looked at Kane, Shappa and Father Tamono I felt a strong vibration start in the center of my body. It spread through my nerve endings until it felt like my whole body hummed. No one else appeared to be experiencing it and after a few moments, it passed, leaving my skin tingling.

Kane nodded his head toward the window. Perched on the rough window ledge were two ravens, silent and watchful. Even when we moved it did not startle them from their perch. Time ticked by silently. We sat so long that we thought Dottie was finished with the story but then she continued.

"The children wore the crosses for many moons. Several killings followed the death of the man but none were children. Many came to fear the dark and soon everyone stopped leaving their homes during the night. After many days had passed, the air seemed to clear, the overpowering stench seemed to lessen, finally disappearing altogether. Whatever had lurked under the dark night sky had moved on. Many children stopped wearing the crosses, forgot the time of the killings and played as children again. Yiska did not. He wore the cross for the rest of his life here on earth, perhaps bearing the sorrow of the man's death in the heavy cross."

She closed the book but left it laying in her lap. I rubbed the silver cross that hung around my neck and thought of the man of long ago. A priest? Then Kane stood up and did something that seemed odd in the small rustic house in the middle of nowhere. He unrolled some large sheets of paper and started taping them to the walls. When he noticed me watching him, he shrugged and said

"We need to start putting the puzzle together."

That comment brought forth more action as Dottie got out markers, Shappa put on the tea kettle and Father Tamono started writing something in his small notebook.

To read the next chapter click HERE

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Chap. 17: Duality: Light and Dark

Long ago

In the beginning, there was darkness and then there was the light, duality. The dark was not less, it was equal, two sides of the complexity of creation, of existence. No one could pinpoint exactly when or how that changed. Perhaps it had to do with some using the cloak of darkness to carry out acts that were not in accordance with the will of the one who had always existed. Regardless of how it started, it escalated into an ongoing power struggle, a challenge, a calling to those who fought for truth and righteousness. The darkness was not less, it was strong and lured those who hungered for power, ensnarling them, engulfing them, until the darkness reigned supreme in their lives.

Over the years, in different places, the Light and the Dark were called other things. Good and Evil, Love and Hate, The Becoming and the Unbecoming. Also along the way, magic bastardized the dark, transforming it into a power, warped and ruthless, difficult to control. Simple things of beauty, taken from the natural earth, that which existed for pleasure, were transformed into receptacles for power, transformed into amulets, used in ways contrary to their creation.

Sutter, South Dakota 

Without speaking I climbed into the car. I was annoyed. The black bead represented, hmmm, I didn't know what it meant but it was associated with death and I really didn't want to cruise around town with it sitting in a can on the seat next to me. Practically clinging to the door, I refused to look at Kane or speak, childish perhaps but I really questioned his thinking at this point. This bead wasn't just some evidence collected in a case, it appeared to be a living breathing thing, reacting to the environment and capable of what?

We only drove a short distance when I started to wonder exactly where we were going and what he had in mind for the black bead. I had to admit I was a bit curious about the bead, it looked to me to be simple black onyx, not much of a danger that I knew of. I pulled out my phone to connect to the internet. The connection symbol swirled and swirled but I couldn't manage to get online. This town in the middle of nowhere had some of the worst connectivity that I had experienced, spotty at best and nonexistent at worst.

Kane glanced over at me, he let out a big sigh.

"What did you expect me to do with it? Leave it there on the dusty ground for some unsuspecting person to pick up?"

I could detect a hint of annoyance in his voice and that only made me madder. Gritting my teeth I remained silent. We hit a pothole and the tin can bounced on the seat, threatening to spill its contents into the floorboard, grabbing it in frustration, I asked,

"Where are we going?"

He glanced at me cautiously then spoke

"To my house. we need to call Father Tamono. I want to discuss some things with him and let him look closer at the bead, maybe he will recognize it or have some ideas."

"I think it's black onyx," I said reluctantly, still hesitant to let go of my anger. Or fear, maybe that's what coated my body and made me want to be as far away from this bead as possible.

"That's pretty common, right?" he asked frowning. I noticed when he frowned that his eyebrows also squished up making him look a bit like Oscar the Grouch, from Sesame Street. It made me smile even though I was still determined to be annoyed.

He didn't see the slight smile though because he was already calling Father Tamono, asking him to meet us at his house. After a couple of oks he closed his phone and glanced at me.

"He said it would be a couple hours but he promised to come."

A lump was forming in my chest, solid, making it hard to breathe and difficult to swallow. So I just nodded at him and looked out the windows at the passing buildings. We were headed out of town but we didn't travel far before pulling into a short gravel driveway and alongside a neat white and black two-story farmhouse.

Helping me out of the truck, he carefully carried the can in his left hand while guiding me along the sidewalk up to the wrap around front porch. He didn't stop to unlock the front door, he didn't have to, the door was unlocked, and glancing at me he shrugged,

"I figure if someone wants in they will just break the window," he said nodding toward the frosted glass.

The door opened into a spacious living room, sturdy shining hardwood floors reached from one side to the other. There was a brick fireplace along the east wall and a cozy seating arrangement faced it. He walked to the corner hutch to the right of the massive fireplace and turning on the lights that illuminated the shelves he placed the can carefully on the middle shelf.

He saw me watching him and shrugged. I guessed he was thinking that the light might somehow contain the black bead. It warmed me a bit to realize that he was being cautious. He waved his hand toward the overstuffed sofa and disappeared through a doorway. Soon I could hear the banging of pots and pans and after a few minutes, a tea kettle started to whistle.

Sinking into the sofa, I squirmed in comfort, I felt my eyes growing droopy, not wanting to doze off, I sat up straighter and shook my head. Movement caught my attention and he appeared in the doorway, carrying a massive tray. He placed the tray on the coffee table and claimed the overstuffed chair to the right. On the tray were two dainty china teacups and a floral teapot, steam wafting from the spout. Two white bowls filled with thick vegetable soup and a plate of crusty bread were also included. It was simple but hunger made it seem like a feast, mouth-watering, my stomach growled.

We both reached for the bowls of soup at the same time but then he hesitated, choosing instead to pour us each a cup of steaming tea, as he poured I could smell the peppermint scent and my mouth watered again.  We ate for several minutes in silence.

"Its good?" he asked hesitantly and I realized feeding me was his way of apologizing for our earlier disagreement.

"It's delicious. I didn't realize I was so hungry" I said, offering him a tiny smile that said, "we're ok now."

Stomachs full, the warm soup worked its magic and we both dozed off and on for the next couple of hours. Neither of us had slept much the night before, stress from the day only compounded our exhaustion. Snuggling into the plush pillows on the sofa, thinking I had never felt such comfort in my life, I felt almost serene.

I must have drifted into a deeper sleep because I was suddenly jarred awake by the doorbell. When I struggled groggily up from the sofa I saw Kane was already letting Father Tamono in. I dashed into the bathroom and splashed some water on my face while running my hands through my hair trying to calm the unruly mess.

By the time I returned to the living room they were both standing over by the corner hutch. Kane was holding the can in his hand and Father Tamono was peering into it. He was shaking his head no and then he turned to look at me in much the same way he had looked at the black bead, curiosity creasing his face.

Kane sat the can on the small round dining table and we each pulled out a chair. I noticed Kane had placed a large baking sheet, with upturned edges in the middle of the table. Glancing nervously at each of us, he dumped the bead onto the sheet. It rolled harmlessly around the pan before settling into a spot closest to Kane. He poked it with a pencil. It just sat there like a harmless bead.

He handed the pencil to Father Tamono saying, "Here you try."

Father took the pencil but just sat there, staring at the bead, he didn't speak or move.  It was so quiet I could hear his rhythmic breathing, seemingly transfixed on the bead, oblivious to us. I was just about to speak, fearing he was somehow being "controlled" by the bead, when he moved the pencil toward the bead, causing it to roll across the pan harmlessly.

"Are you sure it's related to the killer?" Father Tamono asked, leaning closer to Kane whispering.

"Why is he whispering" I wondered.

Kane merely nodded, Father handed the pencil to me and I hesitated. I didn't even want to touch the bead with the pencil. I felt a cold chill creeping up my back and my hand shook slightly. I closed my eyes briefly, sighing and then I stretched out my hand towards the bead. I didn't even touch it with the pencil and it shot across the pan, clinking against the metal edges. Then it started spinning. I jerked back my hand and all three of us waited until whatever energy had forced the movement of the bead lessened and finally the bead rested in the center of the pan again.

I put the pencil down, placing my open hand about six inches above the bead, palm down, I waited. This time the bead didn't shrink away but after a few moments it quivered and the black surface glowed with an inky blackness, like dark water in a deep pool. As I moved my hand higher the bead returned to normal. When I moved closer to the bead it responded.

I felt a tingling behind my eyes, closing them for a moment, I swirled into a different world, a different time. I was facing a pile of black stones almost as tall as myself. To the left was a tiny man, ancient and weathered, he was chipping at a black stone then using a rough material to sand it. I looked around puzzled, the walls, massive rocks, outcroppings here and there contained bottles and baskets, filled with feathers, herbs, roots and even fur.

I gasped as someone grabbed my shoulder but then I was swirling back into Kane's living room and his hand was warm on my shoulder. Both he and Father Tamono were staring at me, concerned, the bead was floating in the air about halfway between my hand and the pan. I heard the slight ping of the metal as I pulled my hand back and it fell to the surface.

I just shrugged, embarrassed a bit by whatever had just happened. It was at that moment that I felt the warmth of the red bead in my pocket, calling to me. I pulled the bracelet out and all three of us were transfixed. The red bead was glowing but it also seemed larger, its size expanded maybe double. The surface of the bead was bright, fire like, gazing at it made me feel like I was looking at a blazing sun on a hot summer day. Tiny beads of moisture formed on its surface.

We were so caught up in the red bead that at first, we didn't note the black beads response. The black bead rolled across the pan to the furthest corner and stopped by the edge of the pan, it lay there quivering. Nodding at the pan we all watched as the black bead shrank in size until it was almost invisible to the naked eye.

I pulled the red bead away, stood and walked to the kitchen then I called out,

"How is it now?"

"Back to normal"  Father Tamono called back and he didn't whisper this time.

I left the bracelet on the kitchen island, walking back into the living room to see Kane unplugging a lamp that sat on the end table next to the overstuffed chair. He carried it over to the table and plugged it into an outlet near us.  Next, he held the light over the tray on the table and switched it one. The response was immediate.

The bead raced around the tray looking for a place to hide then it flew off the tray and rolled under the sofa, enveloped in the darkness there. We all just sat quietly, thinking until Father Tamono broke the silence.

"Ok it doesn't like the light and it doesn't like the red bead," he stated matter of factly like he was talking about some common everyday occurrence rather than a weird bead flying around the living room.

Kane tilted his head to one side and said one word, "Weapons"

My throat was dry and I tried to swallow but instead just managed to make my throat tighten more. I looked between the two of them and said, "It responded to me also."

They both turned to me at the same time, frowning but not denying what I had just said. Then Kane said something that made my skin crawl.

"These might be used as weapons against the bead but what about the creature?  Will he react the same?"

It was a good question. We weren't fighting the bead. We were trying to stop a monster.

After a bit, Kane scooped the bead back into the tin can, returning it to the corner hutch, we moved to the sofa and overstuffed chair. I snuggled down into the cushy pillows, soon Kane and Father Tamono's voices became a distant hum as I drifted in and out. Sleep must have won the battle because the next thing I knew I heard the front door shutting.

Groggily I pulled myself upright, staggering a bit from exhaustion, my mind a hazy blur. Kane took one look at me and ordered me to the guest room. I hesitated about staying but at the same time the black bead had me spooked and I didnt relish the thought of heading back to my room in the dark.

He didn't tuck me in but he stayed long enought to show me the guest bath and give me a couple extra pillows. Now I stood under the hot water, letting it wash away the tension in my back and neck. It slide down my body like a gentle caress from a lover.  My mind drifted and I blushed thinking that my thoughts led me directly to Kane.

Emerging from the bath, wrapped in a fluffy sea foam green towel, I noticed a tee shirt draped across the foot of the bed. It made me smile, thinking that he had returned offering me a night gown. I slipped it over my still damp body and curled into the comfort of the bed. It took me a few minutes to let the day's events fade from my mind and drift off to sleep.

In my dream world the beads talked and they called to me. The red one shouted warnings while the black one whispered, mesomorizing me, using its magic to lure me toward the darkness. Suddenly I found myself on an ancient path, walking beside a vaguely familiar creek. I was barefoot, wearing only the black tee shirt. A figure stepped out from behind a tangled bush, directly in front of me, blocking my path.

He tilted his head and spoke, "I see you are stronger now." He snarled at me and he was so close I could feel his spit on my face. He did not like what he said, as if insulted by the change.

"What brings you to seek Winya Nupa?" he grunted and then answered his own question.

"Ahhh, it is time for the third and final battle. You seek knowledge? You need an advantage?  It is not up to Winya Nupa to take sides."

He hesitated, peering at me as mist drifted between us. The mist clouded my dream world and he started to fade but before he was gone, he spoke again.

"This I will tell you. He will come for you. He must. He has no choice. You must pick the battle ground and you must be prepared. Do not be caught unaware."

The mist was a dense fog now, choking on it I struggled to breath. It wrapped around me, a shawl pulled too tight, struggling against it, the world shifted, instead of fog I was surrounded with an inky blackness, thick and suffocating. Unable to see, I stood rooted to the spot but I felt something. A long claw scratched at the base of my neck, searing my skin and I started to scream, deep and vibrating the screams echoed through the woods.

At the point where I struggled not to lose my mind, fearing I'd cross over into the murky world of insanity, I felt warm arms wrapped around me and I heard my name called in the distance. Was it the damn beads again, calling to me?  I struggled, grabbing defensively at the arms holding me, but gradually I surfaced from the black dream landscape and awoke, finding myself wrapped in Kane's strong arms while he called out my name.

I started to cry and he whispered to me and stroked my hair, running his hand through the silky mess left soft and unmanageable from the steamy shower. I buried my face in his chest and sobbed. He caressed my cheek and waited. Eventually the sobs diminshed, then stopped all together. He tilted my face toward him, looking deeply into my eyes. Quiet and strong. I almost lost it again but instead I edged my face closer, kissing him and drawing warmth from the contact.  He kissed me back tentatively at first, then deeper, running his hand down my back and pulling me closer.

I snuggled into the wamth of his body against mine, suddenly the darkness, the beads, the unknown, disappeared, losing myself in his touch, I sighed. My skin, cold from the black night of the dream, sizzled with heat, warming my core, my desire for him evident and his for me.

The next morning, I awoke tangled in the still damp sheets. I searched among them for the tee shirt, hastily discarded the night before, spying it on the floor about a foot from the bed, I stretched out my arm, losing my balance and tumbling to the floor. A chuckle vibrated across the room, turning I saw the source. Kane was standing in the doorway, leaning against the door frame with two steaming cups of coffee, watching me rub my elbow. I blushed, not from my clumsiness but from my nakedness and grabbed the sheet off the bed to cover up.

"A little late for that isn't it?" he quipped.

I threw my shoe at him, missing.

Amused he handed me a cup of coffee, sitting on the edge of the bed in silence, we sipped the hot black coffee. I sighed thinking if only we could stay lost in this moment, forgetting everything else. Then Winya Nupa's words vibrated through my thoughts, "He will come for you."

Read Chapter 18 HERE.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April Writer's Notes: The Story Inside

As you've probably noticed, I'm hard at work (ok maybe that's an exaggeration) on finishing The Birthing Tree. Some have despaired that the end will never be reached and now it is a mere 8 chapters away! I've even wondered a bit myself although the story still lived inside me. Writing is not as easy of a venture as some may believe. The story unfolds inside my imagination but putting the words down can be a complicated and frustrating experience. Time, the robber of dreams, always plays a part.

Writing a novel on a blog has been an interesting experience. Most of the story that unfolds here on Turn the Page is a "first draft". Yes, I do some minor editing before posting but the story can definitely be improved with more diligent editing. The challenge for me is that part of the novel plays out in first person and some in third. Both the viewpoint of the heroine and the villain are displayed at times in dreams and memories. I suck at dialogue and as such, I feel that I haven't included as much as perhaps I should have. Live and learn!

When I get to the epilogue, it won't be perfect but it will be the story with all its rough edges that I wanted to tell. A mixture of folklore, places, and childhood memories of unexplained events. A classic tale of good and evil, light and darkness, love and hate.

I'm so near the end that my mind has taken to leaping ahead and trying to decide what to write next. I keep reminding myself to focus on the next chapter, not some future project but my mind is restless and the imagination cannot always be tamed. I started Casting Shadows a while back as an entry in a contest so there's a part of me that would like to leave Annie behind for a while and focus on a totally different character and storyline. Yet another part of me wants to follow her immediately to New Orleans and see what unfolds there. In my mind, I have a rough storyline playing out that seems more developed and distinct than the novel Casting Shadows, so perhaps that is the direction I should go. But I get ahead of myself, I have time to decide after the epilogue of The Birthing Tree goes live on Turn the Page.

Chap. 16: The Second Bead

 In the past
The ravens protected the bracelet, pecked from the woman's pocket after the first fight for the world. For many years it lay tucked into different nests, lined with downy feathers, warmed by eggs and at times baby birds. Passed down through the generations it traveled far from the old woman's home to a place near Four Corners, a region made up of the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona and the northwestern corner of New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation makes up most of the Four Corners region. The ravens liked this area and dwelled here for many years. They soared in the open skies, looking down on Monument Valley, admiring the massive red rocks.   Only the Navajo lived here, with the nearest towns being Durango Colorado or Farmington New Mexico. It was peaceful and they had all but forgotten their mission, the bracelet. It was older now, with only two red beads but in recent days the beads had taken to glowing. They didn't glow constantly, instead flickered on at odd moments, shining at times brightly, other times only a dim tint caressed the beads.

It was around the time of the first glowing that the ravens noticed a strange man in the area. The sun beat down on the dusty ground, strong and hot but this man always wore black. The ravens, being black themselves, enjoyed his choice of clothing but were puzzled because this garb had to be suffocating in the overwhelming heat. True, the nights were cooler here, when the darkness wrapped the landscape in a silky blackness but they never saw the man at night, only during the day.
He would walk along the dusty road, stopping in at a Navajo house to talk for a short time and would often make his way to the small market, stopping to buy a bite here and there, perhaps a piece of dried meat or fry bread. Sometimes in the marketplace one of the vendors would chat with him, offering him a glass of cool water. They would nod and smile as if old friends.

The children, in particular, liked the man, reaching into his pocket he would pull out all manner of goodies, gum and candy, or perhaps even a balloon which the children would snatch with relish and caper off to blow up and play for as long as possible before a sharp rock or cactus popped it and ended their fun. He would watch their excitement and smile before moving along the path through the market.

The ravens were puzzled by the arrival of the man, he seemed different, he didn't belong to the Navajo but they treated him with respect, as an elder of the clan. They wondered if he was the seeker, whom they had waited for through many generations. They had no knowledge of a seeker, many years had passed and neither of these ravens had lived in the time of the first bead, knowing only the stories that had been handed down. It was because of this that they only watched and did not act. That would soon change and later they would come to regret not acting faster. The deaths would start and that would change everything in this forlorn, isolated place.

They had been watching the man daily over about a span of two months. One night as darkness crept across the land they settled into their nest in a pinon.  Was he this seeker they were to watch for?  They had just ruffled their feathers and allowed their heads to droop in slumber when they were startled, the thumping of feet on the rough ground carried for miles, so they strained, twisting their heads from side to side, trying to determine what direction the sound came from. As suddenly as the sound came to them it was gone, probably boys playing in the dark, under the moonless sky. 

When the first red light streaked the morning sky they were again startled by a sound. This one more ominous then thundering feet. This was a wailing, a high pitched screeching carrying to them across a mile or more. They took flight, allowing the mourning wails to guide them. It only took a couple minutes for them to find the source of the agony. Below them on the ground was a smallish figure, unmoving and silent, a young Navajo boy, his head cradled in his mother's lap as she sobbed over his body. In the distance, several village men were running toward the pair. 

The ravens circled, until the men carried the boy away, carrying him on a makeshift stretcher, the mother trailing behind, slowed by her grief. They followed the caravan back to the woman's hogan, perching in a small pinon tree, watching, the man in black arrived quickly and embraced the woman, wrapping her in his big arms and covering her with his black garment. He sat by her, in the old rocker on the tiny front porch, holding her hand and murmuring something.  

It was late in the day when the man left, with the sun already dipping onto the horizon. By that time many families had gathered at the hogan, sisters, and cousins taking over the comfort of the woman. Sober, he trudged along the rocky road, alone, lost in thought, saddened by the woman's loss. The boy had been one of those that joyously greeted him in the marketplace, smiling and laughing, full of life. No more. Now he lay cold and stiff, awaiting the burial rites 

The man kept his eyes on the road, at his feet, discouraged. It was as he walked along a shrub dense part of the road, he felt a tingling sensation creep up his back, turning quickly he peered into the brush. The gentle breeze picked up as day prepared to become night. He saw nothing but he picked up his pace just the same. He never ventured out at night. Unbeknownst to him the ravens still circled high above him watching. They too had sensed something lurking in the increasing dark countryside. Suddenly they knew the time was upon them. This man was indeed, the seeker, the one they had waited through the years for, the claimer of the bracelet, the chosen to battle in the second fight for the world. 

Dark Travels

He had traveled many miles, through dark and desolate places that reminded him of the world he had left behind. Hiding in caves and crevices in the large red boulders when the blazing light had rolled into the sky, he simply existed, not questioning his direction, although feeding was next to impossible in this barren land.

A few days back he had started to notice buildings scattered across the land, here and there like rocks thrown at random. Rotting wood, broken, dusty windows, empty, abandoned in the search for something better, or perhaps something closer to water. As he traveled the hogans became more frequent and a day hence he had come upon one with windows filled with light. He had crept closer, quivering with hunger, settling next to a large boulder, watching with gleaming red eyes. Waiting while his stomach rumbled.

He had trembled in anticipation of a feeding, daring to creep closer, hungry, he failed to notice the two large dogs chained near the front until they lunged at him growling, bare teeth dangerously close to him. Their massive paws, spewing dirt and dust, creating a thick dusty coating on the front porch. They reminded him of hellhounds with their gnashing teeth, slobbering wet on their jaws.

He paused, turned his massive head and retreated. It was not in his nature to retreat so he was filled with rage at being denied. He moved on knowing that he must feed soon. When he had been birthed into this world, he had returned to the old ways, the forbidden practices, the magic that the elders had abandoned because of the wars that threatened to overwhelm them.

There was comfort in the old ways and he thought the elders had been mistaken to give them up. They hadn't realized the potential. It had done little good either, the betrayals and violence continued, creating the labor pains of his birth into this shallow and empty world of light.

He had happened upon the boy by chance, there in the ebony world of the Navajo night. He was startled as much by the unexpected encounter as the boy, but what a delicious morsel his soul was. His only regret was that he had gulped it so hungrily that he hadn't savored the tastiness of it. A meal consumed quickly does not satisfy. He had waited in the area for some time, hoping to find another unsuspecting soul wandering in the night, thinking themselves safe only to realize too late how wrong they were. When the first pink streaks of light caressed the horizon, he loped off toward a grouping of large boulders to hide from the coming light.

He had only started to doze off, still annoyed that he was less than sated by the feeding when he heard the first high pitched screams and the wailing. He considered emerging from hiding to take the woman also but reconsidered when he heard calls off in the distance. Others were coming.  Having just arrived in this area, he still realized it would be tricky hunting here in the open, the eye could see for miles save a few scrawny trees and outcroppings of rock.

His mouth filled with saliva as the smells of the others drifted toward him, what a feast of souls they would make, he let his mind play over this, filling himself with a tingling. He would feed again when the ball of fire sunk beneath the horizon. This area, although desolate and filled with dusty rocks and sand, was inhabited. He drifted into a restless slumber, filled with dreams of appetizers and entrees. Perhaps even a luscious bit of dessert.

He awoke as the final rays of light painted the horizon. He cautiously moved closer to a path, watching for others in the distance. After traveling in the open a bit he started to tingle, a warning perhaps? He looked around, turning in a circle but seeing nothing he continued. His refined senses made him wary, finding a small row of shrubs he squatted behind them. In the deepening darkness he heard a sound, tilting his head from side to side, he could make out voices in the distance. He was close to a dwelling.

A smell came to him, an aroma that made his mouth water but also caused his stomach to recoil. He waited, listening and sensing the approach. Peering from his hiding spot, he saw the man coming in the distance. His clothing the color of the night, his gait slow and weary, head down, he walked faster as he drew near. The creature pulled back away when the man stopped momentarily and gazed directly at the bush he lurked behind. The beast felt the urge to lunge forward, to pounce, but something held him in place and he moved not a hair.

The man continued on his way. The moment had passed. he could still charge out and overtake him but for some reason, he remained in the darkness, out of sight. He tilted his head and thought about this man, both a stranger and oddly familiar. He barely noticed the circling ravens in the dark sky. They always seemed to follow him and thus he had ceased even having conscious thought of them.

He waited for hours behind the shrubs, hoping for another chance, but the voices he heard in the distance never ventured in his direction. He swatted at bugs and occasionally caught one, scooping it into his mouth, crunching it between his massive teeth. Now he was regretting the man, the missed opportunity, yet his instincts washed over him, guiding him, even when he did not understand the purpose. He was not a great thinker. He did not ponder things. What was, was. He still existed

The next morning the ravens flew in circles high above the house of the man. Occasionally they rested in the small scrawly tree in the front yard, only to grow restless and soar once more into the blue sky. It was growing late into the morning and they grew restless in their waiting. Choosing this time to land on the rough and cracked window ledge to peer inside at the dimly lit interior.

Inside the man knelt on a rug, with a small table in front of him. Open on the table was a large book, surrounding him scattered across the floor were twigs and twine. As they watched he lifted his bowed head and stood. Taking a bag from the table he started toward the door, only stopping to pick up his cross from the table next to the front door. He lifted it and pulled it over his head, tucking it inside his shirt.

As he walked down the dusty road, the ravens followed. He stopped once to wipe the sweat from his face with a white handkerchief and it was at this point that the ravens landed in the dusty road in front of him, quite close, only an arm's length away. They cocked their shiny heads to one side and looked at him. One held a piece of twine in its beak.  As the man stood, puzzled by their bold behavior, the raven dropped the twine in the middle of the road. He could see something red shining in the morning sunlight. He reached for it and the ravens backed up but did not take flight.

He picked up the object, smiling, a trinket, a bracelet with two red beads that the birds had somehow managed to snatch from an unsuspecting soul. The beads felt warm in his hand, tingling against his skin, shimmering in the light. He frowned, thinking of the story of the three beads that his grandfather had shared. Folklore from long ago about his great-great uncle and the beads bathed in holy water. He shook his head, reminding himself that he didn't have time for ancient tales; he had gifts to deliver, important ones. Swinging the bag in his hand, he slipped the bracelet into his pocket and started forward again, startling the ravens into flight.

When he grew close to the boy's home, the children in the yard shouted and ran down the dusty road toward him. Some with red eyes, swollen from crying greeted him, tugging at his arms and welcoming him. With great effort he smiled, walking in the group of them until they arrived on the rickety porch, where they urged him to sit. As he rocked in the old chair, he opened the bag and began handing out the wooden crosses he had spent the night making, simple crosses made from whittled twigs, wrapped with twine. Placing them around each child's neck, blessing them, he told of faith and protection. Wide-eyed the children listened, promising never to go out without one.

As he gave out the last one he stared into the disappointed face of a young boy, about seven, eyes locked on the man's face, waiting, trusting.  Horrified, the man realized he was short one cross, so solemnly he removed his own silver cross and placed the chain around the boy's neck. Beaming with pleasure the boy bounded away to join the others in play.

The man felt strangely vulnerable without the silver cross, having worn it daily for years, heavy around his neck it had offered comfort in times of despair and joy in times of celebration. He knew it was his duty to comfort on this day of mourning,  sighing, he arose from the chair, opened the door and joined the family inside.

The day passed quickly and he was startled to discover it had already grown quite dark outside. Saying his goodbyes hastily, uneasy with the darkness, he started home. Weary, he pulled the beads from his pocket and caressed them between his thumb and forefinger, thinking of his rosary. He wished he had brought it today of all days but exhausted from the late night he had left it on his bedside table.

Deep in thought, he was surprised to hear a low growl behind the shrubs to his left and even more surprised when the red beads of the bracelet started glowing red in the darkness. Surely he was imagining this but none the less he picked up his pace. He had just broken into a run when the creature burst through the shrubs, pouncing on him, tearing at his shirt. Shocked by the size of the animal, barely comprehending that it stood on two legs, he clutched at his neck for his cross, only to remember his gift to the boy.

He struggled with the beast, it clawed his face and pried his mouth open. The man felt his heart lurch in his chest and a searing pain ripped through him, sweat poured from him. Before the black bead was thrust into his mouth, his heart burst inside his chest and his soul slipped calmly past the grasp of the Evil One. No soul would be claimed tonight but as he collapsed one of the red beads broke loose from the twine and rolled off to be buried in the dust. Roaring in frustration the creature raged but there was nothing he could do, it was too late.

In the early morning light, the ravens discovered the man's body, circling it and cawing in agony. One of them dipped down, retrieving the bracelet with only one red shimmering bead left. The second bead was gone, the enemy engaged but the battle lost.  It had happened too quickly, the seeker had not been prepared. They mourned for they knew many more lives would be lost in the coming years, maybe not here, perhaps not in this location, but elsewhere.

They stayed, guarding him until some men happened upon him there in the road and using their shirts they carried his body away. The children cried but they remembered the crosses and even in old age did not leave their homes without them. The ravens, carrying the bracelet away knew it would be many years before a new seeker arrived, they would be long gone, bones in the dust before the third and final fight would transpire.

Click HERE to read the next chapter.