Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chapter 8: Seeking the Seer

After being here in Sutter three days now, I knew no purpose for lingering but I seemed strangely attached to this town. On a couple of days I  had wandered some of the streets and saw little that would normally interest me. As I walked, somewhere just beneath the surface of consciousness, a strange stirring surfaced, almost a yearning, and it frightened me. It was unlike anything else I had ever encountered, a distant voice calling.

Right now I was sprawled on the bed in the little room above the coffee shop, aimlessly paging through a magazine. It was an old magazine and my eyes barely glanced at the pages. I had slept lightly last night but the dreams had invaded my slumber none the less. Crazy disjointed dreams. In one an old woman had reached out with a bracelet that looked quiet similar to the one I had found, except that it contained three glistening red beads instead of one. Her wrinkled face was gentle and her dark eyes were wise yet while I was drawn to her out stretched hand I was also frightened.

I stretched across the bed to the night stand and picked up the bracelet. It seemed ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. I could clearly see that it was meant to contain more than one bead. Three perhaps. A shiver danced across my spine and I inhaled deeply. How was I connected to this town, to the spiraling death toll, and the old woman in the dream?

I found myself staring at the sun streaming through the window. Dust danced in the bright rays as they fell across the floor of the room. The roughness of the floor caught them in an embrace and then they slowly settled into the grooves of the coarse flooring. Suddenly I couldn't stand the confines of the room and had the urge to revisit the church where I had taken refuge that first night.

I practically burst out the door into the late morning sunshine. I paused for a moment to catch my bearings. I knew that the church was to the left but I wasn't exactly sure of the street, even though Kane had taken me there and asked me to walk through all the details of that night. It was in doing so that I remembered a detail that I had forgotten at first, or perhaps just chose to ignore.

As I had lingered, breathlessly just inside the door of the church, crouched and waiting, the air had suddenly shifted in texture, thicker, suddenly charged with electricity. With this new texture came a smell, faint and pungent at the same time. A smell that caressed the corners of my mind, teasing at memory but unidentifiable. I didn't tell Kane. It seemed so pointless and unbelievable. It wasn't really a detail that would help him find the killer. Perhaps it was simply imagination, adrenal had pumped through me and I had experienced a profound uncanny awareness of the fragile nature of life.

As I walked along the street, I thought of Kane, his rugged good looks and his gentle nature. He was consumed in his pursuit of this evil that had paid a visit to his town. It was so foreign to him yet he didn't stumble in the investigation. There was just too little to go on. I couldn't deny that I found myself attracted to him. It was a de'javu sort of feeling, like a past lover had come back into my life. The past two days I had made it a point to be in the coffee shop early in the morning when he stopped by for his morning java jolt. While he glanced my way frequently, he didn't take the opportunity to sit at my table but rather chose a stool at the counter. He sit brooding over his first cup and then ordered a second to go. He nodded to me as he left and I had felt strangely deflated as he walked out the door.

Suddenly I found myself in front of the church with no conscious memory of the streets I had taken to get there. It was an ordinary church. As I paused on the front steps, the lingering pungent smell of my first visit wafted in the air.  I shook away the imagination conjured in my head..  But still, it drifted through my mind, both strange and familiar.

The front door of the church opened and I realized my odd behavior had attracted some attention. On the top step, a priest stood, gazing down at me with a questioning look. He extended his hand as he spoke, "Can I help you? Would you like to come inside?"

I found myself wordlessly climbing toward him. We entered the quiet dim foyer and as the door clicked shut behind me, I felt terror clawing at my insides. He evidently knew me and my story, perhaps from Kane?  I found myself seated in the front pew with him as he listened to a second retelling of that first night. He smiled when I spoke of feeling that the church had saved me from something dark and evil. He frowned when I included the part about the charged air and the odd smell. I'm not sure why I told him that. I had not told Kane for fear of sounding foolish but there was something so comforting about the priest.

He tilted his head to one side and asked that I close my eyes and try to describe the air and the smell. My voice sounded strange to my ears.

"The air was heavier somehow, like it was charged with electricity, sort of like the air before a severe thunderstorm but even more so, unlike any storm I've ever know. I almost felt like I could scoop the air into my hand and hold it. The smell, the smell, I can't identify it....pungent, like burnt air?  Like the ashes from a raging fire. For some reason, a crematorium comes to mind...."

I shivered as I opened my eyes and shook myself back into the present but when I looked at the Father I didn't feel reassurance, instead I sensed a horror in him. He shook his head to as if deny whatever thoughts were cascading through his mind. He looked into my eyes, wondering, and as he did so I stared back into his eyes and caught a glimpse of some unspoken fear.

"I know this might seem a bit strange but I suggest we make a visit to a woman I know. I've known her all my life and I think she may be interested to hear this tale. In fact, she may have a story to tell us that will bear upon our situation. I'll get in touch with her and set something up. Hmmm...I want Kane with us. He needs to hear this too; though he will be filled with doubt."

As I was walking back to the coffee shop I had time to ponder the priests words and felt intrigued. He appeared to have some ideas about the killer and he doubted Kane would consider them. I took a deep breath and realized that I felt a sense of calm that was surreal under the circumstances. I'd always been like that...taking action felt good, doing something after all was always better than doing nothing. I didn't believe that destiny chose us but that we chose destiny. Although I didn't know it at the time, this belief would be challenged, perhaps even discarded in the coming days.

It was late the next morning when the knock on my door startled me out of my daydream and I ran a reckless hand through my hair as I opened the door. I had paced for hours around the small room the previous afternoon, the room getting smaller by the minute and my impatience growing larger with each step. Tossing and turning I had made it through the night, waking frequently, wondering when we were going to go see Father Tamono's friend. The answer stood outside my door.

Kane practically pushed his way inside the room and his dark scowl and angry eyes raked over me.
"Exactly what did you tell Father that you some how neglected to tell me?" he snarled.

I reached out to touch his shoulder but he pulled away. I felt lost and betrayed by his moodiness. This wasn't about me after all and he was acting like a spoiled child. It was true I hadn't told him of the air and the smell but I was convinced that once I did he would look at me in disbelief, perhaps even ridicule my memory.

I sat down on the edge of the bed but he remained standing, towering over me. "I had forgotten it, " I started out hesitantly and then realized that any dishonesty would be revealed to him through some unnatural sensory perception that he seemed to possess, so I began again.

"Ok, I didn't really forget it but it seemed so foolish and I figured it was just me, my imagination, fueled by my own fear. I told Father Tamono exactly what I went over with you, except for the part about the air."

He still stood scowling above me but now he dropped onto the bed  beside me and prompted me to continue. Evidently Father Tamono hadn't told him what I said, so what had alerted him to the fact that there was a tiny sliver more?

"When I was inside the church the air seemed to change as the beast, aww man whatever he is, stood outside."

I felt the tension ease from his body as he sat there silent and waiting.

"The air was like heavy, charged with an energy that I can't explain. There was a smell, odd yet familiar, like ... ".ashes" or something just burned."

He didn't say anything. He didn't scoff, he didn't laugh, believing or not believing it, he just sat there beside me. As strange as it seemed under the circumstances I drew a strange comfort from his closeness. When he spoke, his words startled me. "Let's go, we are picking up Father Tamono at the church in 20 minutes."  Then without another word he got up and walked out the door, leaving it open behind him.

An hour later I found myself in the pick up between the two of them, bouncing along a dusty gravel road, so far from town I wasn't sure I'd be able to find my way back if I had to. I looked out at the landscape, Dirt and shrubs and red rock. It scrolled by in an endless panoramic view, each section the same and yet different. Obviously this "friend" lived "off the grid." as people say now days. As I listened to the brief exchange between the two men, I could sense their deep love of this woman and a bubble of jealousy formed inside me.

I could tell by their actions that they were well known to each other. Now that comfortable silence that exists between two people that have traveled a lot of life's path together cradled them. As I was looking out the window for the hundredth time, across the seemingly endless landscape, I spotted two ravens, a few hundred yards from the road, flying diagonally beside us as if their destination was the same as ours. I turned to say something to Kane but then decided I didn't need to sound any crazier than I already did, so I kept silent. When I turned back around I noticed Father Tamono was looking at me with his alert dark eyes. He gave no indication that he had observed the birds but something about his gaze sent a shiver up my spine.

Another full hour later we pulled off the main road, dust billowed behind as we bumped along the  narrow, rutted lane. Around a sharp corner at the end of the lane a smallish house came into view. It was rugged and simple, yet along the railing of the small front porch, carefully tended plants grew in multicolored pots, a braided rug welcomed visitors. She wasn't expecting us, Father Tamonos said she didn't have a phone. I didn't use my phone that much but I couldn't imagine being this cut off from civilization. I was puzzled as we just sat in the truck, with the windows up it quickly grew hot and sticky inside the cab.

Just when I thought I couldn't bear the heat a second longer, the door of the house opened and an ancient woman stepped out onto the porch, shielding her eyes from the sun she gazed at us, then waved her hand in greeting. Only then did we exit and walk toward the house. It was evident that she knew Kane and Father Tamono well, but her eyes pieced me as if seeking answers to a questions yet unspoken.  

Leading us into the house, she fluffed a few pillows on the overstuffed chairs and eased herself down while extending her hand and indicating the sofa and the other chair were for us. Her hair, once was black but now it was almost completely grey, pulled back in a bun on the back of her head, which she smoothed with wrinkled hands. She was of Native American descent, that was obvious. We spent the first few minutes with pleasantries as she "caught up" with Kane and Father Tamono. Soon after that though she turned herself toward me and said,

"So she's the one?" I felt an odd tingling resonating throughout my body and I shivered dispite the hot day. I felt Kane stiffen on the coach next to me and Father Tamono leaned forward in his chair.

"Let's start at the beginning." he said. I felt like I was caught in the middle of a story that had started well before my arrival and was already reaching it's climax. But before the woman had a word to say he explained a little about the three of them and how they came to know each other.

"When Kane and I were younger,  Shappa watched over us during the long summer months when our parents worked. Sometimes in town but many weeks we spent here with her, digging in the dirt, setting traps for rabbits, and cooling off in a stream just south of here.  Shappa is a great story collector and through the years she told us many stories, handed down to her. Some still cover us like a warm blanket on a frigid night but others are lost in the dark recesses of our minds, better hidden away there because to bring them into the light is too frightening. It is for just such a tale that I brought you to hear."

Kane shifted restlessly beside me. Shappa shifted her dark alert eyes toward him, pinning him with her gaze.

"Oh yea who shrug away the sica in the legends, have come to see the ending none the less."
she said in a surprisingly gentle voice. He settled in to the sofa and I did the same. We all three waited for her to begin.

"This is a story handed down through the years. It came to me from my own mother and as I have no children I had no one to pass it to. I gave it to the boys. It is a story of the end of times, of darkness and light, of the ignorance of modern man, clinging only to logic and science, the threat to mankind is ignored and the world we know is ravaged and gutted, left empty. Kane, in his mind, does not accept there is sica, evil as you speak in your tongue, but Tamono, even though he prays to Great Spirit under a different name, he accepts evil, for without the darkness where is the light?"

No one else spoke, in fact I wasn't sure the two men were even breathing and I felt like my own breathing was suspended, waiting.  It sounded like a tale for the movies, but at the same time I was drawn to it. Expectant.

"Long ago, at a time when life was changing here. Yet a time when the old ways were still practiced, still honored and still believed. It was my grandmother who lived the story, as she played out the destiny of her vision, well my grandmother with so many "greats" before her name that I have lost count. It was very long ago.

In those days the men of our tribe were the ones who sought the vision quests, not the women, but sometimes the vision quests were the ones that did the seeking, finding just the right person to reveal their message to. My unci was a vibrant woman, and wise beyond most of what Mitakuye oyas'in, all my relatives, could comprehend. Back in those days "being different" wasn't as much of a stigma as it is now. No one thought a person crazy if they spoke of voices and visions and soaring outside their bodies during the blackest of nights. Even the waphive wichasha or what you call a medicine man respected her, perhaps feared her also.

From the beginning, in the days when her hair was dark and her skin was smooth, she had a vision of a great ozuye or war. This war would bring much destruction and the world would lay black and desolate. She also saw the Tho'ka , the enemy, the evil one, that would begin this descent. But as the years passed and nothing from the vision came into being, she begin to believe that this world she had dreamed, nay not dreamed, but walked into would not come to pass.

Then the dreams begin. It was in the dreams that she first saw the bracelet."

A sudden buzzing vibrated inside my head, like electricity flowing through a line with a short. It tingled along the synapzes of my mind and then disappeared as suddenly as it had started. I must have reacted in some small unbeknownst way because I felt Kane tense beside me and Father Tamono was looking at me with his dark brooding eyes. I shook my head, didn't say a word and leaned forward to hear the tale Shappa was weaving, as clearly as the tapestries that hung on her walls.

"In these dreams she watched her old withered hands weave a bracelet, a bracelet of strong, rough threads. she knew from her wrinkled hands that this was yet to come. She knew not when or how she would weave this bracelet but she felt a power vibrate through the dream world that she found herself in and a great sense of calm settled over her.

The dreams did not come often but as she grew in years they became more frequent until they were happening almost every night. Also as the years passed she was visited often by the ravens, so often in fact, that people started calling her, "kagi taka huku", Raven Mother. Her body grew frail and she suddenly felt quite anxious to complete this task set out before her.  She had taken the threads from a warriors clothing but she knew not where to find the three beads"

Again the buzzing shot through me and I jerked forward slightly like a marionette on wobbly strings.
My mouth was dry and I struggled to swallow but still I remained silent.

"Then one day she noticed some braves paradeing a white man dressed in black along the creek and into the hot morning sun. She felt drawn to follow them and as they stood on the mesa she noticed his clenched fist. Without knowing why she raised her hand to stop the braves taunts and she walked quietly forward, extending her hand to this man dressed in the colors of the night. Without a word he dropped three perfect glistening ruby red beads into her outstretched palm."

I gasped as I felt the tingling, like a kalediscope exploding inside my head. Kane jumped up and brought me water and Father Tamono put his hand on my back, eyes wary but also filled with concern. Both of the men looked at me with questioning eyes, but Shappa simply glanced my way, unperturbed by my outburst.

"So she had the beads and she had the thread for the twine. It only took her a short while to weave the bracelet and hide it beneath some rough rocks in the red dust of the land. That night she floated away with the Great Spirit. When she made footprints on this earth it was unclear what meaning the bracelet had in the vision. The role of the bracelet was hidden from her, visible only in the misty memories of her dreams. She only knew that it was needed or the world would cease to be"

She fell silent and we all just sit in silence. I was confused. How did this tale help us find the murderer. Why did the men think my story of the beast that chased me led to this old woman?  A mismatched puzzle with pieces from different scenes assaulted my thinking but no matter how much I tried to squeeze the pieces together they just didn't fit.

"Shappa you left out some." Kane chastened her. "Is your memory failing you?" He teased.

She rocked in her chair, quiet and reflective, then she spoke. "Oh yes, that brings us to the reason for your visit today." She turned to me, "Tell me about the night the Evil One chased you into the church."

And so again I found myself reliving the night and it soon became clear that with each retelling my senses were more alert, more "in tune" with the events that unfolded .  When I came to the part about the thickness of the air and the cloying smell of burnt flesh, it shocked me that I described it as such. Yet it didn't seem to shock Shappa. She simply nodded and sat back in her chair.

"It is as it was foretold." she said and closed her eyes. We sat in silence for a long time then Father Tamono took up the tale.

"You see we think it was my great great great, or maybe like Shappa said, too many greats to count, uncle that is the priest in the tale. I did some ancestory research and confimed that I did have an uncle who was a priest, coming to minster in the rugged west territories before eventually disappearing. So as strange as it seems, all these years later, Shappa and I are linked in this vision." 

He said this in almost an apologetic tone, as if even he could scarcely believe that he so easily slipped into believing this far fetched ancient story. I sat silent. Then Kane spoke,

"Shappa forgot to speak of the air and the smell. As the story goes, the Evil One charges the air somehow, maybe at times, subtly, in such miscoscopic ways as to not even be perceived consciously. There's a smell spoke of too, a smell of brunt flesh."

It was beginning to make a bit more sense, not that I believed any of it. As I've said before, I'm open to many things others scoff at but this tale was stretching even my tolerance for the strange and disturbing. Yet on another level I felt a tiny drop of dread, forming like a bubble inside me. If you don't believe, there's nothing to dread, so why was that bubble lodged inside me?

No one else spoke, they just waited for me. It was so quiet I could hear the distant cawing of some ravens, the wind brushing the walls and the incessant ticking of an old mantle clock. Remembered moments swirled in and out of my mind, jerky, images in an ancient slide show. I reached into my pocket with a clenched hand. When I brought it out, I extended my arm toward Shappa, opening my fist. Nestled on the surface of my palm was a woven twine bracelet, not three red beads, only one. The cawing of the ravens grew distant as we all just stared at it.

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