After the meeting in the library, I collapsed on the bed in my room, with Kane sitting on the edge of it. I could feel the warmth of his hand covering mine but it felt like a connection far away over fuzzy telephone lines rather than real human contact. I shivered and he got up to cover me with another blanket. No matter how many he piled on me I just couldn't get warm. He finally crawled into the bed with me to lend me some of his body heat. Normally I'm not one to cling but my mind kept spinning in circles and I clung to him, taking in the warmth of his lean body next to mine. I'm not sure how long I lay there in the darkness, clinging to a man I barely knew but felt a strong, unnatural connection to but eventually both mind and body exhausted I drifted into a deep dream filled slumber. There in the twilight of my dark dreams I met Winya Nupa. And as horrifying as that was, the tale he told of the Evil Minded One was even more so.
In my dreams, I walked in the dark woods along the river. The air felt heavy, filled with a misty fog. The place here by the river was tangled with vegetation, whereas the rest of the land was dry and almost barren. I lost my footing several times, sliding on the dark earthy carpet of sludge. Several times I almost landed on my face in the murky mud covering the ground beneath my feet. The moon was high in the sky but it was not a full moon so it offered little in the way of light. The night caressed my skin and sent shivers through me. It beckoned me to look, to explore the silky blackness around me. Something called my name, far away, an echo of a forgotten time perhaps.
Then I stopped at the edge of the woods, looking across the stone banks of a dark and swirling river. I noticed him, a strange creature, hunched over, human like but oddly something resonated from him that made me pause and look closer. His long arms dangled near the waters edge and he brought the cool life giving force of the liquid to his lips. He smacked and turned his head at an odd angle to look at me. His gaze penetrated my being like an arrow shot through the night air.
I stood, statue like, unmoving, barely breathing as his beady eyes pierced into my soul. He chuckled a guttural sound and rocked back on his heels. I knew he saw me there at the edge of the woods and still thinking him human, I waited for him to speak. He finally grunted and stood. It was then I noticed that he had a curved back and his arms were disportunately long compared to his height. He turned to peer at me in the darkness and shifted his weight, stumbling briefly on the rocky edge of the river.
He spoke first, "You visit Winya Nupa in your dreams. Yet remember that dreams are not always safe even while you slumber in your bed, your soul slips into the darkness and seeks me. Why?"
I tried to swallow and my head pounded. I felt myself slipping away from this reality, unable to control it. Finally I managed to gasp. I trembled, faint and disoriented.
He laughed a deep rusty sound. "You are weak."
He staggered toward me and as he did the hair shifted and I thought I glimpsed a blinking eye among the tangled growth, glistening red, round, and sinister. I backed further into the vines and shifted in case I needed to run.
He chuckled again and spoke, "It is not I, Winya Nupa that you need to fear. For though, I murder and mutilate, I stay within my realm. There is one with you that is not of your world. One who seeks to bring war and pestilence, one who plants the seeds of darkness among the crops you sow, one who feeds upon souls. Beware that he does not ensnare yours."
I open my mouth to speak, to ask, but even before I can utter a word, he is answering me. As if the very thoughts in my mind are laid bare for him to read. His words create tiny shivers that race through my very being. They tingle along the nerve endings and burrow into my heart. I am mesmerized by his words.
"You wonder how to stop him? It has been written, it has been foretold. A seeker will come forth, the bearer of the beads, three times, three times and then no more. How will it end? Light or dark? It means nothing to the great Winya Nupa."
I shiver at his message, closing my eyes and drawing in the deep heavy air of the night. When I open my eyes, he is but a foot before me and in terror I look about. He reaches out his scrawny finger and runs it across my throat. Deep guttural sounds hum upon the air and he speaks almost in a sexual way, his voice husky with desire, tinged with regret.
"If only you were here, instead of just this whisper of your soul, I'd devour you, sucking the essence of you with your last breath." He licked his lips and seemed to shudder with deep regret, then turning he trudged into the dark night without a backwards look.
I sucked in the night air, tasting the scent of him in it. Suffocating I drew more and more of the cool air into my lungs, choking on his stench but gaining a calmness in doing so.
The Next Morning
I awoke the next morning, nestled next to Kane and tangled in the sheets. I was startled to see he was already awake but had made no move to disengage himself. He looked at me, without even the common decency to blush, and I wanted to push him away but I didn't. Instead I gazed into his eyes searching for answers, and finding none, I looked away. Only then did he tug back the sheets and drape his legs over the edge of the bed, running his hand through his hair, ruffling it more rather than smoothing it.
The sun was still low in the morning sky so we hadn't slept the morning away. I felt compelled to tell him about the strange dream, to see if together we might make some sense of it but I wasn't ready to talk yet so I put my hand in the warm spot left by his body and sighed. He glanced casually at me but didn't speak. In his eyes, was something I couldn't quite identify and it frightened me, not in the ways that the legends did but in a similarly primitive way.
While he went down to the shop for coffee, I showered and slipped into some clean clothes. Looking around the tiny room with clothes thrown everywhere I still felt unnerved by the dream. A dream is just a dream, right? I shook my head without even thinking, my life on the farm had taught me otherwise. Sometimes within our mind are memories that hid from the light of day, perhaps for fear or maybe just because they are so obscure that "real" life can't mingle with them. In doing so the world we live in might tumble into chaos. I knew what I needed to do before telling Kane the dream.
I grabbed my laptop and typed in Winya Nupa. Was it just a forgotten name from the library excursion? I misspelled it twice before seeing a rolling page of references before my eyes.
Evidently this creature goes by many names, Anuk-Ite, Hestoca'ehe, Winya Nupa. As I scrolled my finger down the list reading as quickly as possible, my mind raced. Only when I came to the descriptor of "two-faced" did I pause for a moment and let my mind slowly slip back to the dream memory. The glistening red eye I thought I had glimpsed through the hair. The next entry included a rough pencil sketch resembling the creature from my dream. I heard Kane at the door and turned to meet his gaze with eyes round, filled with dread.
Sipping coffee, I told him about the dream, what the creature had said and I showed him the entries on the internet. Most people would have doubted me, he did not. Instead he asked me to repeat again what the creature had said about the beads. As I repeated them, I stretched across the bed and picked up the woven bracelet from the night stand. The one bead glistened in the morning light. Whether we wanted to accept it or not, all the things we had read, had heard, had dreamed, had lived, tumbled into place with this moment. One bead left, one chance left. Our eyes met and we sat for a long time gazing into the depths of each others souls.
In the darkness of the drain pipe:
The dripping water inside the pipe played like a lullaby and in his slumber he drifted back to the Old World, where once respected and revered, he had walked unchallenged by anyone. Until the lies, blame placed on him that was deserved by another. At first he had expected to be exonerated but now he wondered why he had ever thought that. Justice does not prevail in the land of darkness only in the land of light.
He rolled over, startled awake by something he did not understand. Not something he heard or smelled but rather by something he sensed. This was a new sensation for him. It crawled along his spine like a fat black spider and when he tried to brush it aside, it clung to him and would not be swept away. Something had shifted in this world and he did not know what. Somehow he felt less.
He dug his talons into the mire lodged on the bottom of the pipe. Bringing them up to his nose he sniffed and the primal smells of decay and filth eased the feeling that rippled through him. Perhaps he had simply stayed too long in this place, perhaps moving on would bring him new feasts and ease this odd feeling that coursed through his being. The darkness soothed him, caressing his skin and overwhelming his senses. He missed the Old World, filled with darkness and devoid of the blazing ball of light that appeared regularly in the sky of this world. He moved further back in the pipe and crouched down to rest once more. He was weaker than usual and would need to feed soon.
At the library:
Kane and I had sat for a long time, doing nothing, then he had reached out his hand and caressed my cheek. At just that moment both our phones beeped with messages. The same message.
"Meet at the library 1:00."
The three of us, Dottie, Kane and I, sat in the back office on dusty chairs, silent. We didn't want to spend time discussing things we'd only have to repeat after Father Tamono returned with Shappa. My head was fuzzy and I felt less confident in our united power than I might normally. Even with my background, this seemed far beyond the realm of anything I might be able to handle. My hands trembled and as if on cue, Kane reached out and engulfed my hand in his. I sighed but other than that the room was silent. Then we heard the door rattling and Dottie went to let in the other two.
Shappa shuffled into the room and it made me feel ashamed that I was feeling weak while this older woman radiated a calm and courageous aura. She was tired from the long drive, something she had given up long ago, preferring to stay at her home, rather than travel into a town that seemed foreign and disconnected from the world she knew. Dottie made her a cup of herbal tea as Kane piled pillows around her on the old overstuffed chair. She smiled and patted his hand. His tenderness tugged at my heart.
Father Tamonos started with a prayer and with bowed heads we reached out to the source of all that is good and right. The keeper of the light, God, the great I am, so many names. During the prayer my hands ceased trembling and the fogginess that had overpowered my thinking gradually evaporated. I felt renewed. Father Tamonos had brought Holy Water and he used it to bless us in a ceremony similar to a baptism. It was nice, this quiet reflective, hopeful worship-like gathering but then far too soon it was time to strategize. Like shooting arrows into the darkness we sent out ideas of how we might address this very frightening and very real threat.
The connections of this group, strangers brought together in this place and at this time could no longer be denied. We each played a role that perhaps connected us to a time long ago. A time none of us really remembers or had thought much about before. Shappa and her history with the weaver of the beads, Father Tomonos and his connection to a priest long ago very near this place we now gathered. I still didn't see my self as "the seeker" but I couldn't deny that the ravens had dropped a single red bead right into my life. A bead, a chance. I shivered although the room was warm. Suddenly I thought of the farm and wondered if all of that was ordained to prepare me, to at least open me up to the possibility before us. Yet cascading around inside my head was the odd sensation of a missing piece. Like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. I shook my head to try and dislodge whatever it was that lurked just inside my conscious memories but it still alluded me.
Shappa and Dottie had been talking but I was so engrained in my thoughts that I had missed the gist of their conversation. Now they both turned wide eyes toward me.
"What?" I asked but my voice was barely a whisper.
"You are the seeker." they both said at the exact same time, sounding filled with awe and dread at the same time.
"Are we sure?" I asked including the entire group in the consideration of this announcement.
Father Tomonos shook his head, leaned forward and said,
"The bead will be delivered to the seeker. You have it. How did you come upon it?"
With that I folded my legs up under me and told the story of the bead and how it had quite literally fallen into my life. Shappa's eyes widened at the mention of the ravens but I noticed Kane frowned. He appeared to be remembering something of his own but he quickly focused on my words again, giving me his full attention.
When I was finally finished with the tale, Shappa covered my hand with hers, saying, "It is you."
I just sat there looking from one to another and the first trickle of fear eased its way up my spine. I wasn't sure I was brave enough or strong enough to carry this burden. Nobody spoke and then suddenly Kane asked the question on all our minds. "How will we lure him to her?"
It was at that moment that it clicked. I was going to be bait. Bait for some weird inhuman creature that was sucking the life not only from individual people but from this world also. I closed my eyes and in that instance I saw the shadowy figure of Winya Nupa, realizing that the world we lived in was far more complex than I had ever imagined.
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