Four Months Ago.....
The day started out just like any other day. He sat on the side of the bed, trying to open his eyes and get moving. Last night was still a haze of too much beer and fried food. He had settled in a corner booth at the Owl and tried to drink his troubles away. At 41, he was alone again and it ate at him like a hungry wolf on a moon lite night. His wife of 19 years had suffered a long and painful battle with cancer and she had been gone three years now. At times it felt like yesterday and at other times it seemed a lifetime ago. Like something that had happened to another person, in another time.
His hands, rough from work and the dry air pulled his socks on clumsily. While lacing his work boots he decided he would stop for coffee before heading to Lanceton to pick up some parts for the old truck, Jeb Janes wanted repaired. Here in South Dakota people kept everything as long as it worked or even when it didn't. You never knew when you might need a part and someone in possession of any old clunker might offer the perfect solution to the problem.
Work was the last thing on his mind today, on the anniversary of his wife's death, but what else was there to do really. Sit alone in an empty house and nurse a hang over? That appealed to him even less than work. He had loved Cheryl, his high school sweetheart, since he was 15. He had never been happier than when she had agreed to marry him. The most joyous days of his life had been with her but now that joy seemed a distant echo of another time. It vibrated inside him with the emptiness.
He wanted to cry but his dry eyes refused. Sorrow had stolen all of his tears long ago. Now his eyes just burned and itched with pain, reminding him of the spiraling descent of grief. He had often asked himself why. Why had she been called away from him? Others lived long lives, others that in his mind deserved less years than his precious Cheryl. His mind told him that it wasn't a choice man got to make but anger at the injustice still lingered. His heart was frozen and he didn't think it would ever thaw. He shook his head. Sitting here dwelling on it all would change nothing. He had done it enough times to realize it was fruitless. It didn't bring her back and it didn't erase the pain.
In the hallway outside his bedroom door, he stopped for a minute and gazed at the two photos there. Their wedding photo, eyes filled with love and hope and another, a snapshot of her in the back yard, with the wind playing through her hair. She had complained when he had snapped that photo saying she "wasn't ready" but he loved it. It resonated of her playful personality and captured the essence of her spirit. He pulled his eyes away from her lovely face and left the house.
It was still dark. He liked early mornings, with fewer people to bother him and there was just something about the wee morning hours that called to him. He sensed Cheryl's hand on his shoulder, warm and reassuring. He felt a tiny burst of renewed energy and he started his truck, pulled onto the street and headed to the coffee shop.
Once there, he sat in the truck for a few minutes looking down the dark street. The lights inside the shop glistened while darkness engulfed the rest of street. He knew he was too early. The shop wasn't open yet and so that hot coffee and a pecan cinnamon roll would just have to wait. It was as he sat silent and patient that he heard the first sound. It was tentative. He cocked his head to one side and listened. Scratching. Like a weak dog's paws against the brick side of the building.
He rolled his window down and waited. There it was again. Goosebumps appeared on his arm. He loved dogs and now he worried that one was injured or dying. Just as the thought appeared in his mind, he heard a low guttural whimper. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. The whimper softened. The sound emitted from the dark alleyway that ran along the side of the coffee shop.
He could hear the animal breathing. Short, soft gasps, spaced between the whimpers and scratching. He felt certain the animal was in the throes of death. It sounded so weak. He opened the truck door and stood on the sidewalk peering down the alley. Taking several steps in the direction of the animal and he heard it sigh softly. His mouth was suddenly dry.
He moved quietly so as not to startle the dog. Scanning the dark ground in front of him all he saw were old newspapers and a broken bottle. The pavement was rough and his feet crunched on the broken fragments under his feet. Then he saw it. The black hunched shape huddled in the corner behind the dumpster. It was a large dog and he paused before proceeding cautiously forward.
About five feet from it, he froze when it rose and charged toward him. It was then he realized his mistake. This was not dog. Sharp fingers clawed at him and he stumbled backwards. Scrambling to regain his footing he slipped again. He crawled backwards trying to put as much distance between himself and this abomination as possible. With pounding heart he realized all his effort was of little use as he looked up the creature stood over him.
He stared into the deep yellow eyes, feeling as helpless as he had felt beside his wife's death bed. His finger tips stung from clawing at the road, his breathing accelerated and he felt his heart lurching inside his chest. Mucous hung from the creatures open mouth and salvia dropped like rain. The teeth, pointed spikes, glistened in crazy whiteness against the dark sky. The long tongue slithered from its gaping mouth and darted about, snake like, tasting the air.
He wanted to scream yet his dry mouth uttered nothing. Just as the creature started to bend toward him, he glanced over it's shoulder and there in the darkness a faint light flickered, he thought of Cheryl and her warm embrace. The distant light grew stronger and he felt a sudden peace drift over him. It was at that moment that his heart stopped beating and the creature roared in frustration at the lost soul. Ezra's essence was gone, slipping from this world to the next without warning.
The Evil Minded One tore at his skin, slobbering in frustration. He towered over the body that had contained Ezra's soul and knew that it was lost. He looked over his shoulder, curious, if that's possible in a creature of his age, as old as time itself. What had the man been staring at over his shoulder? He saw nothing of significance. Just the black sky with a few strands of the dawn caressing the blackness.
Over the years, he had lost the essence of some. Souls that fled his reach before he placed the tiny black bead inside their empty vessel. But none as swiftly and easily as this one had. It confused him. He was growing weak and this was a much needed boost, which he was now denied. He growled deep in his throat. It angered him.
His eyes searched the darkness of the alley for any morsel, although rat or mouse would do little to sate his appetite, it mattered not as there were none. Dawn was coloring the sky a rosy pink now and primal instinct told him to move. Get away from the shell of the man that others called Ezra. He loped out the other end of the alley and into the shrubs that lined the back street.
Inside the coffee shop Trish looked at the front window and saw Ezra's truck, with dread she glanced at the calendar and realized what day it was. This played out every year, a love story with a sad ending. She felt sorry for him. Many a men with wandering eye, tormented their wives for a lifetime but a man with a loyal true heart lost his love so early. Knowing he would be nursing a hangover this morning, she made another pot of coffee, extra strong and placed it on the back warmer.
It hadn't taken long for someone to spot Ezra's body, feet sticking out behind the dumpster. The police, the ambulance and then the coroner all visited the alley. Each dismissed the slightly musky smell that invaded their nostrils as they worked over the body. It was pungent and unlike other death scene smells. They couldn't have identified it even if they had taken a moment to note it.
As they worked their thoughts were on Ezra and his wife. All remembered the harrowing days of the cancer, each knew the heartbreaking ending. Now it seemed the story was complete and Ezra at last was reunited with his precious Cheryl. A few in town shed tears for what might have been but overall they all believed it was in some ways for the best. Ezra had been incomplete. restless, and distraught feeling little joy in this life. Perhaps he had found his peace at last.
In the meantime, the beast, with empty belly, rested under the dense shrubs, anger and loss resonating inside it. In the days to come after the lost soul; he would play out the moment in his mind, puzzled by the unknown, something of which he seldom encountered. What had the man been looking at over his shoulder and how had he slipped so effortlessly from this world to the unknown? Most kicked, thrashed about and fought vigorously to stay here in this mundane world of light. How had the soul drifted away so easily? He had existed always and knew much, mostly of darkness, and of need, but this was something new to him and it made him feel slightly weaker.
There was a strange feeling in the pit of his belly, knotted and hard. He remembered the days before his birthing into this world. The heated anger, the desire for revenge, the misplaced blame. This new feeling reminded him of the time he spent hiding in the crevices of the under world. Yet he wasn't in hiding now. He ruled this world, although few knew it. He didn't need validation but he did need to feed.
He waited, in the darkness of the shrubs and knew that he would need to wait some days before another hunt. He had discovered over the years that too many kills in a short period of time brought about scrutnity. People "looking" into the darkness, people wanting to discover him. Prying eyes. Yet as he rested, with empty belly, he plotted his next hunt. He had a trick. He had used it before and he would use it again. It always worked. On the dark deserted roads of the countryside he would find easy prey.
On the morning of Ezra's death, Kane Jasper had woken up in a sweat, heart pounding. He ran a hand through his hair and looked at the clock. The time glowed in the eerily luminous green, 4:52. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed he sat there, trying to capture whatever had woken him so early. He searched his mind for the dream. Had there been one? Wearily he rubbed his face and thought about Ezra at the Owl last night. He had wanted to speak to him but as he walked toward him there was a strange buzzing sensation, like a TV that had went off channel and whined with static. No one else had seemed to notice as he looked around puzzled. By the time he turned back toward Ezra, he had slipped out the side door and was gone.
So deep in thought was he that it took him a few minutes to hear the tapping sound. Alert, he cocked his head to one side and listened. The tapping was soft but soon became louder, insistent and close. He reached for his pistol on the nightstand and slipped the clip in. Standing barefoot, with only pajama bottoms on, listening, he moved toward the window, It was covered with heavy dark curtains to keep out the hot sun, but it was 4:52 with ebony blackness on the other side. Tentatively he reached for the curtain and slowly pulled it back. Startled he let it fall and jumped back. He almost fired before his mind sorted out what he had saw on the other side of the glass. Laughter bubbled inside him but something else too. Fear? Curiosity? It was a strange and eery sight. Two ravens perched on his window sill pecking at the glass. It was still dark for heaven sakes, strange behavior for birds and even stranger in the predawn hours. As he turned to get dressed, he wondered if it was what had woken him.
South Dakota Long Ago
She couldn't believe she now possessed the beads. The day had started out as any other with a trip to the river. She had watched as the warriors jumped the man that walked there. They had climbed the mesa with the old man and she wondered why he was dressed all in black. The color of darkness, not necessarily the color of evil...blackness is nothing but the night and the night is blessed rest from the blazing sun. She had watched, it was hot and she did not want to follow but she had. Standing in the blazing sun something had forced her forward.
She was not afraid. She spoke to the braves. She knew them and they knew her. She knew this was a man's world, or so they thought, she smiled now remembering. There were so many things that the young did not understand. But she was old, and as tradition dictated they would listen.
Her eye sight was not as keen as it used to be but she could tell he clenched something in his fist. Instinctively, she put her had out and he had dropped the beads gently into her out stretched palm. She knew then that he was important. This man from another world than hers; one of land ownership and guns. Who could own the land? Mother Earth was not a pair of moccasins. They had given him water, taken him back along the river and set him free. Although his role here in this story had come to an end, she did not want this man, this man in particular to have his life ended at the hands of the Lakota braves.
Now she set on the dusty rug inside her home and rolled the beads between her fingers. She thought it odd as they felt both cool and hot at the same time. She was glad she had waited for the beads and not "forced" the bracelet into existence with some other beads. These were the right beads, of this she was certain. As she rolled them between her fingers she could feel the energy. She knew they would be strong against that which many could not see.
She had dreamed last night of the world to come. A world where people forgot the old ways and ignored the signs sent to them. Living each day oblivious to what went on around them. Explaining away things, ignoring others and simply living like the prairie dogs, in their burrows, startling at any small sound of possible danger yet at the same time laughing away the notion of danger. Creeping back out of their dens into the blazing light and forgetting, forgetting that danger does exist, that evil does exist and that it always has since the beginning of time.
It made her sad but at the same time she knew it all served a purpose. It protected those that cannot see from knowing the truth. For the truth was not an easy thing to accept. She knew some who saw the truth in their visions and went quite mad from it. She avoided the madness because she knew her role and she planned to play it well. Then she would rest.
Even now at night her soul escaped her worn out, fragile body and floating across the land. Seeing many things. When it had first happened she had been frightened. She was not prepared to die. She felt attached to this life. She loved the feel of the sun, the rough dirt under her feet, laughter and the smiles of the children. Then as it happened again and again, she started to look forward to the freedom, as if she was escaping, soaring high above this world she loved and seeing, but even more so, knowing, so many more things than she ever had before. All of the puzzle pieces slipped easily into place without the cumbersome hold of her body.
She was ready now. Once the bracelet was completed, she would hide it among the rocks under the brilliant sun of South Dakota. She sensed that soon after that task was completed she would leave her body for the final time. She wasn't sure what would happen next but she didn't fear it. She was however, curious. Would she float forever as a guardian over the earth? Where would she be when she no longer returned to her body each dawn?
Shaking away her questions, she sat on the dusty rug and let her heart fill with love, touching the blanket next to her that her grandmother had woven long ago. She rolled the beads over and over and over again as she chanted protection chants and asked the Great Spirit to immerse himself in her creation, to bless this task she had been sent to do. She felt no doubt but instead a calm resolve settled over her. She picked up the bracelet and started to weave the beads firmly in place.
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