Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter 1: Into the Night

Somewhere on the road....

That first day the miles rushed by, powered by my euphoria and the feel of the open road. The road hummed under the car. Kansas City isn't my favorite place to drive but then neither is St Louis. When I hit Kansas City I had to make a decision. Do I continue west through the flat countryside of Kansas heading toward Colorado or do I head north or perhaps veer south? Suddenly I find my little car trapped by a semi and a van so the decision is made for me. Being in the wrong lane forced me to merge onto I-435 north toward Des Moines. Even I rolled my eyes. Des Moines? Then I saw I-29 North and I thought why not veer a little more west. South Dakota sounded a lot more promising than Iowa. I-29 it was but even so it was going to be a few hours before I crossed into South Dakota. I turned up the music till it shook the car, sang along to Dark Lady, and smiled to myself.  For the first time since I had hit I-70 that morning, I felt like maybe everything was going to be ok.

Even with a few stops for gas, drinks, and bathroom breaks the miles melted under my tires. I liked the music and the solitude. It kept that queasy feeling from creeping back inside me. I glanced into the back seat where my gaze fell on the stuffed duffle bag carelessly slung on top of the suitcases. Inside it were dozens of oracle card decks, playing cards, and one or two tarot decks for good measure.

People are always curious about my enthusiasm for card readings. The fascination goes way back to my mother who read with a regular deck of playing cards, weaving in some tarot meanings, as well as, the old gypsy methods. It bothered me some that I can't recall all the gypsy meanings for the cards and now with the internet the web is overflowing with experts. Most beg, borrow, or steal the card meanings and if you read all that's out there your head with be filled with more nonsense then knowledge.

My mother was most likely a psychic in a time before being psychic was vogue and it was just thought of as  plain "weird." It amazed me how her instincts seemed to be sound and reliable. The principles she lived by were strong and simple. For example, Ouija boards were a definite no. Now all the supposed "experts" on such things are "warning" against their use. My mother had warned me, all of us really, about them before the main stream media got in on the popularity of the paranormal.

That one principle alone has saved me some grief but even though I didn't know it at this point, Ouija boards aren't the only doorways into this world.  Mother had a strong belief in God and so do I. Reading the cards doesn't mean I don't. In my mind the one does not exclude the other. The cards are about reflecting, gaining insights into the self and developing intuition. Do they "predict" the future?  I don't know. Perhaps they're just a conduit to our own power. We all have intuition, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

I had thrown the cards in to entertain myself and as a possible source of money if my savings didn't last as long as I hoped. In all honestly, I wasn't even sure how long I'd be a gypsy, traveling here and there.  I read for people sometimes and a good reading can generate enough cash for a meal. I'd discovered over the years though that people really don't want a honest reading. In truth, they only want the "good parts.".  I'd learned to "mine" the reading for helpful, positive tidbits, even when the seven of spades  or the nine of spades showed up. No one really wants to know that the seven means"trouble, trouble, and more trouble" or in the case of the nine that whatever it is you are wishing for is going to be denied. Those are real deal breakers. Yeah, I suppose it's a tad dishonest.  It's not something I'm particularly proud of which is why I seldom read for others.

Lost in my thoughts about the cards, I almost missed the exit off  I-29 where I hoped to stop and spend the night in a Super Eight. It was at that moment  I noticed the ravens. Like dark messengers, two of them were flying diagonally across the sky headed straight for me. It almost seemed intentional. In the fading light I was surprised I could see them so clearly.

Ravens don't scare me the way they do some people. The raven is quite famously, known as an omen of death but since they are carrion feeders, people watching them would naturally began to associate them with death.  As messengers of death they are supposed to have predicted the deaths of Plato and Tiberius. The raven is also a bird of prophecy and protector of seers.

I tend to lean toward Native American beliefs which see the raven as symbolic of metamorphosis, the bearer of magic and the bringer of messages from the universe. This keeper of secrets can bring us answers to things we are unwilling to face as they expose us to the truth. Nestled in the midnight wings of the raven these messages only come to those worthy of them.

It's what made me pause and wonder, somewhat startled, when the larger of the two dropped a small object directly onto my windshield. I pulled to the side of the exit ramp and scooped it into my hand. I looked at it closely. It was woven of twine with a single red glass bead attached to it. Thinking it was probably one of those woven bracelets that had broken and found its way into the raven's beak, I stuffed it into my pocket, anxious to get checked in, eat, and crash for the night.

The motel set about a mile from the highway. Isolated, the lone building anywhere in sight. The brick fa├žade was faded and the door screeched when I opened it. The lady at the front counter turned toward me with sorrowful eyes and a wrinkled mouth pulled down in a perpetual frown. Her face was weathered, the skin dry and leathery.

"What cha need?" she sputtered over her lite cigarette.

"A nonsmoking room" I thought but I just nodded hello and asked for a single.

After taking my cash and handing me the keys she turned back to the magazine open on the counter. I noticed it was a National Enquirer. Rolling my eyes, I headed out to room 145. If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have been a little less quick to judge. From what I know now most of those crazy stories in the Enquirer might be true.

As I glanced around at the "nothingness"  surrounding the motel, I asked myself again just what in the hell I was doing here. Have you ever watched Close Encounters?  You know the movie where all the people end up getting drawn to some random place and then finding out it's a spaceship calling them. It was sort of like that, but not quite. A little less concrete, a little less obvious, but something was pulling me west. Where exactly, I still wasn't sure.

The room smelled of cigarettes and beer. I striped the bedspread off and staying on top of the sheets I propped myself up on the pillow. The curtains were threadbare, faded yellow daisies danced across the surface, but there wasn't much sun left to keep out. I'd drove until dusk and my legs were stiff from being cramped up for so long. I reminded myself that there wasn't a hurry to get to wherever it was I was going. Tomorrow I'd stop a little sooner.

My stomach growled reminding me that the bag of chips and water I'd picked up about two o'clock wasn't going to last forever. I didn't remember seeing any food places so I made do with a couple of bags of chips and a candy bar from the rusted vending machine outside my room.

Hours later I woke up, sweating, with my heart pounding. My parched throat hurt. I guess I'd been dreaming but what ever was chasing me in my dreams was shadowy and illusive. It reminded me of my childhood and the lane, and whatever lurked just on the other side of the bushes that lined the edges of the driveway.  Trying to exorcise the childhood demons I had written about it once.....

Gravel roads and days that stretched endlessly before me, filled with boredom and empty hours. Oh there was always plenty of work to do but the young don't seek work....they seek adventure. They crave to grow up and it makes me smile to think that growing up is an adventure in itself.

The empty days of summer were both a blessing and a curse. For in the dead of night, in the summer, when the body is not exhausted from a day of school, the goblins come out to play. Many might be tempted to dismiss my memories as nothing more than childhood foolishness but the truth is you didn't have to be a child to experience it.

The short lane that twisted into our front yard jutted off a longer, lonely gravel road but over time the lane came to be just a little creepier. During the longer summer evenings it was easy to wander off for a walk but suddenly with heart pounding realize that the sky was darkening much quicker than expected. Hurrying down the lane on trembling legs I caught my breath as behind the bushes to the right of the lane I could sense, almost feel something. Some unknown entity lurking just a few feet away but invisible behind the shield of briar bushes.

I paused, just briefly, turning eyes into the dimness surrounding the bushes. I took a step and felt the creature on the other side take a step also. It matched me step for step down the lane that only a few hours ago felt short. Now the rough gravel and puddles presented a challenge to my stumbling feet. I tried to pretend nothing was there but I walked faster. I looked ahead with dread because about a hundred yards before the end of the lane spilled into my yard the bushes ended.

Head down I rushed into the coming dusk. Quite unexpectedly my brother started up the lane on his bike. I wanted to shout a warning but my mouth was dry and the trapped words couldn't escape me. We met, my brother and I, just at the end of the bushes and as I turned to look into the field behind those bushes, the wind picked up and blew the tall weeds and grass, gusting as if a storm approached. Yet nothing lurked there that the human eye could see. The sense of a presence evaporated as dew in the morning sun.

Imagination? I fear not, for those bushes came to represent a gauntlet of sorts. As in "running the gauntlet". Not a form of military punishment but a challenge, an endurance test, a symbol of our ability to brave the odd and often present entities that lurked about the fields and woods surrounding the haunted farm.

Now years later I lay in bed with that same sense of dread. Fear that paralyzes, taking away my voice. I search the deep recesses of my mind looking for what it is about the dream that has brought back this lingering childhood fright. Flittering across my mind, a tantalizing clue, but I can't seem to grasp hold of it for longer than a second and it drifts away before I can really form it into a thought. I turn in the bed so I face the door, another childhood habit and try to drift back to sleep.

In South Dakota

Detective Kane Jasper, rubs his face with his hand. He is bleary eyed, hungry, and just plain tired. He pushes the folders in front of him to the side, sighs, and gets up to stretch. Deciding to grab a Coke from the machine, he only allows himself a minute before returning to his desk. He's been a detective for about three years and never in those three years had he encountered anything like what he just reviewed in the files. In fact, he'd only been involved in one homicide investigation, and that was an open and shut case of some drunk out on highway 44 using his shotgun to settle a road rage incident. It didn't take long for him to know that this case wouldn't be so simple.

Kane is just two years shy of 40 and maybe that fact coupled with this case made him painfully aware of his mortality. Forty wasn't old by any means but ole man Stark dropped over dead from an anereysum just two months back and his own father had died at fifty one from a heart attack. He shakes his head trying to brush away the random thoughts that aren't going to help him solve this case.

It is puzzling. Three deaths, three different causes of death and two of them could be attributed to an accident or natural causes. Could be, that is, if it weren't for the small glass black bead found under the tongue of each one. When Ezra died the coroner had simply dismissed the bead as an irony; finding it located as a nitroglecrin tablet might be found in the mouth of a coronary victim. Next came Emma and the torn throat was no accident. Again the same small black bead. Kane remembers the call.

"Kane this is Doc Butler. You got a minute?"  Without waiting for an answer he summoned him to his office. That's when the puzzle really began and what it all meant he had no idea.

Tonight it's late. He's alone in the office area, the dispatcher in a different room, ready, in the off chance a call comes in to route an officer to some God forsaken location. It doesn't happen often but the last three has everyone on high alert. Gulping down some Coke he opens the top folder.

Ezra Jacobs, 41, deceased. Cause of death: Unknown. Well technically the cause of death was that his heart simply stopped beating but without a previous history of heart disease, his file had been added to the pile. Linking it to the other two was the single black bead found under his tongue.

Sighing he opens the second file. Emma Hope, 23, deceased. Cause of death: Exsanguination  There were multiple tears in the area of her throat. Both jugular veins and carotid arteries were severed. He sits staring at the picture. She is so pretty and vibrant in this predeath photo, with sparkling green eyes and blond hair cut short in a bob. In the death scene photos her hair is so coated with blood that it appears almost black.

As he opens the third file he prepares himself mentally. His breath catches and he feels himself spiraling into some darkness that threatens to suffocate him. Grief? Despair? Evil? He leans back in his chair for a moment and looks up at the ceiling. Finally he looks at the file again. Staring up at him is the sweetest little girl you could ever imagine. With ebony hair in curls around her face and dark eyes, she smiles at the camera. In the crime scene photos her eyes are vacant, staring. Ester Renee Smith, age 10, deceased. Cause of death: Blunt force trauma to the head.

He stops and does something, he hasn't done in a long time. He prays.

In the darkness....

Night has fallen again, wrapping it's silky arms around him. Cradling his head and calming him, brushing his skin tenderly like a mother to an infant. His belly is full, sated and it eases the growing feeling inside him that he should take flight. To be gone from this place where he has lingered for too long already. His primal instincts urge him to leave but something, some unknown challenge beckons him to stay.

He has grown tired of the alley ways, with their smells of unwashed people, greasy food and garbage. He is tucked inside a drain pipe just outside the city park. The stillness of the night embraces him and his breathing is steady and deep. The night does his bidding but tonight he lingers in the pipe. He cocks his head to one side, listening. All he can hear is his own breathing. It is, as if, there is something out there, just outside the realm of his reach, hurtling toward him with unknown consequences. In all his years, and there are many, he has not had quite this same sensation. He wonders about it but not too much because wonder isn't really something he wastes time on. To exist is all that really matters to him, over the years, he has come to know that simply his presence here on this earth is an achievement, worthy of recognition, but he seldom receives such.

He crawls to the end of the pipe and looks at his hands in the moonlight. The gnarled fingers with sharp talons, ripple with muscles. They serve him well. They are also one of his features that prevent him from venturing out in the daylight. Any efforts to explain them away as a deformity would be met with raised eyebrows. The nails have darkened with blood and appear almost black.  He doesn't feel regret at being exiled to the night. Darkness suits him better anyway.

He pauses, not sure whether to venture out into the ebony world of the night or to stay cocooned in the pipe, resting, waiting, rejuvenating in preparation. He tilts his head to one side. Where had that come from?  He doesn't "prepare" for anything. He just is and always has been. He exists and that is enough. Or is it? He feels quite odd, something stirring inside him that he doesn't quite understand. He growls softly to himself, unsettled. Then he crawls back inside the pipe and rolls into a ball, sinking into dark oblivion.

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