Chapter 47: Avalon, S.C.

By the time Super Bowl Sunday finally rolled around, I was pretty much resigned to missing it.  The odds makers loved the Broncos, who had thoroughly thrashed New England in the AFC Championship.  Peyton Manning was at the top of his game, and not even the biggest homers among the sportswriters gave the Falcons much of a chance.  Particularly considering how we’d sort of backed into getting there.  Good thing I didn’t have a TV, I’d have thrown a book through the screen for sure.

I’d calculated the time down to the minute.  I even made a test run on Thursday night, starting in the Peckwoods’ parking lot and making it to the beach on Avalon in 87 minutes.  Kickoff was around 5:20, so if I left at the end of the first quarter and the forecast for good weather held, I should be on the hilltop no later than 8:00.

Yes, it was a bad compromise.  I might miss something critical on the island, and would almost certainly miss everything worth seeing as far as the game went.  But it was the best I could come up with.

Nothing definitive from Sabrina, just a post card addressed to “The Charleston Yankee, c/o Rick Whittaker,” with a hand-drawn Falcon’s logo and the two words, “Love, Sabrina.”  But I took solace in that she’d written the L word right out there where the ladies at the post office could see it, knowing full well that everybody in town would hear and be gossiping about it.  And possibly JD as well, so I kept my Taser handy.

Happily, the quarter that I got to see wasn’t bad at all.  Manning, uncharacteristically looking like he’d never been there before, threw a timely (for us, anyway) interception, causing much raucous celebration.  Ellie popped the cork on the first of what she loudly proclaimed would be many bottles of champagne and tried without success to get the crowd to do the wave.  When the quarter ended, the score was tied at 7 and the Falcons had the ball almost within field-goal range.  I started to stay for the end of the drive but stuck to the plan.

At least until I walked out the door and right into Sabrina.

“Leaving already?  I was listening on the radio on the way here and it doesn’t seem so bad.”

“God, Sabrina.  I can’t believe how horrible our timing is.  I have to go to the island.  Tonight.  Right now.  It’s the Feast of Imbolc, a fire sabbat, and I have to be there.  Even if it means missing the Falcons win the Super Bowl.”

Sabrina put her hand on my arm and was quiet for a minute before asking, “Can I come?”

I’d considered inviting Chai; fortunately, as things were turning out, I’d thought better of it.  But nothing in my wildest plans included taking Sabrina, and I had no idea how I felt about it.

“Um, sure, Sabrina.”  When in doubt, take the path of least resistance.  I had no logical reason prepared to explain why she shouldn’t go, and saying no seemed inexcusable.  Not to mention damaging to whatever future we might have.  “But you’re going to need a lot more clothes than you have here.  How quick can you change?”

“My suitcase is in my car.  Give me two minutes.”

She didn’t even go inside Peckerwoods’, just fiddled around in her trunk before disappearing into her car.  She was back out, bundled up and ready to sail, almost within the time estimate.

The only thing she said in the short drive to the ramp was, “Here’s the best part.  The way fate works, the Falcons are sure to win if two of their biggest fans aren’t there to watch.”

If I’d thought of that before, it would have made my decision a whole lot easier to stomach.

Sabrina sat right beside me on the boat seat, close enough that our sides were touching.  But that was our only communication, verbal or non-verbal.  Gave me plenty of time to think, which I guess might have been the point.  My emotions were in a total uproar, but once I sorted through all that, I discovered I was glad she was along.

As we rounded the island that blocked direct sight of Avalon, the fire was already blazing away on the distant hilltop.  I pointed it out without slowing it down, yelling over the motor, “They’ve already lit the bonfire.”  Sabrina responded by gripping my arm with both hands, holding on for the rest of the ride in.

After I’d beached the boat and held Sabrina’s hand so she could jump to shore without getting her shoes wet, she turned and whispered, “What are we expecting?”  For the first time I realized just what an act of faith her decision to come along had been.  Or maybe it was pure impulsiveness.

“I have no idea whatsoever.  Halfway between Midwinter, when I could see shapes but nothing else, and Beltane.  But since I have no idea what happens at Beltane, it’s halfway between vague shapes and infinity.”  I was whispering too, my mouth close to her ear.  I couldn’t detect a foreign fragrance of any sort; just the delicious scent of woman.

Sabrina shrugged, let out a deep sigh, and took my hand.  “Then let’s go see.”

The moon had risen but it was a tiny sliver of a thing.  The path was dark as pitch, and as sacrilegious as turning on a flashlight seemed, it would have been foolhardy not to.  So I hooded the lens with my hand best I could as we made our silent way up the hill.

Just before rounding the last corner I stopped, let go of Sabrina’s hand, and stood there with eyes closed, face slightly uplifted toward the heavens.  Clearing my mind.  Thanking whatever gods there were that I was here to experience this moment, however it turned out.  Letting go of any and all expectations, preparing for whatever revelations the universe had in store for me.  When I opened my eyes Sabrina had hers closed still, her face lifted up like mine had been.  Impossible to resist, even on such a momentous occasion.  So I brushed my lips across her cheekbone as feathery as I could, barely touching her at all.  And received a smile in exchange.

Taking her hand again, we walked the last few steps to the edge of the clearing.

There were seven robed women around the fire.  Three were working over a cauldron, the others watching or talking.  All except one who was dancing gently with her eyes closed.

I knew her eyes were closed because I could see that well.  No ghostly figures these, but real live women.  Well, real women in any case; I wasn’t sure about the live part.

Then one of the women at the cauldron stood up and turned around.  It was the golden-haired woman, of course.  No matter what else I was expecting, I knew she would be there.  In the firelight that set her hair glowing like it too was on fire, she looked exactly like her portraits.  Clearly George had not just seen her in his dreams; he had stood face to face, likely at a moment much like this one.  And painted her from the image burned into his memory.

Then the woman touched one of the others beside her and pointed at us.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up like the crowd at the Super Bowl after a long touchdown pass.  My flight-or-fight response had a quick conference, with flight losing out by a hair.  Meanwhile, Sabrina clutched my hand like she was in the ocean and I was a rope.

Then the woman turned to me and held her arms out in a clear gesture of welcome.  I shrugged and we walked over to her.

Time Passes . . .

The heavy action on the island takes place 8 times a year, on the sabbats and quarter turns of the pagan calendar.  Every 45 days or so.  That had the unintended consequence of building a time delay into the Avalon, S.C. story line that in the end caused me some writing woes.

The first 45 days were eventful.  Rick is hot on the trail of George.  New discoveries come at him–and us–pretty fast.

But after Midwinter, there’s little left to discover.  Fortunately, this provided a natural time for budding romance between Rick to . . . what, flower?  Not quite flowering yet, but we can always hope.

Writing “time passes” chapters is not easy for me.  At least we had the NFL playoffs to sustain us.  My y-chromosome-less readers choked that down with varying degrees of grace.  Wish I had Ellie among my first draft readers.

The next few chapters are going to be intense.  I’ve already edited the ones that will be posted during my vacation next week, so I’m totally into Imbolc.  Chapters 47 through 55 all happen with 5 days of Imbolc.  A lot going on.

And then?   Another 90+ days until Beltane.  Groan.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait 90 days for the intervening chapters to pass. Chapter 56 spans the remaining 82 days until Beltane.  Crisply, I hope you’ll find.  Filled with romance(-ish) and anticipation.

Go Falcons.  Come on, Beltane.

1362-Atlanta-Falcons

Chapter 46: Avalon, S.C.

The old year slid into the new year with barely a whimper.  Peckerwoods’ threw a party, but there was a certain something missing these days, so I didn’t even drop by.  In fact, it was all I could do to keep going to the playoff games, but my sense of obligation overcame my growing hermit tendencies.

Being a wildcard team meant, barring a miracle, going on the road week after week until somebody finally knocked us off.  At least first out of the gate we got the Division Champion with the worst record, the hated Dallas Cowboys.  Yeah, I’ve heard that whole America’s Team bullshit, but hey guys, that was back in the Tom Landry—Roger Staubach era.  This bunch of Yahoos isn’t anybody’s team, except for a gaggle of drunken Texans in bold blue face paint and oversized cowboy hats.  You’d have thought they were some hot shit powerhouse instead of an also-ran who squeaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record out of a surprisingly bad division.  Falcons were favored by a touchdown, but it wasn’t nearly that close.

After the game and the bottle of champagne that Ellie insisted on opening—“Once you make the playoffs, every win is something to celebrate!  Go Falcons!”—Lucas asked if I’d take a walk out to his car with him.  “Got a little something that just might solve your JD problem without offending those inflated humanitarian sensibilities of yours,” he said as he handed me a brown paper grocery bag.  Inside was a gadget that sort of looked like a pistol, except on the business end where the hole should be there was a yellow rectangular affair instead.

“What the hell is that?”

I reached into the bag but Lucas stopped me with, “Don’t pull that out here in the parking lot!  It’s a Taser,” he added, chuckling when I snatched my hand out like there was a snake in the bag.  “The perfect equalizer for the mild-mannered reporter.”

“Is it legal?”

“Actually, it is.  Besides that, the sheriff knows about it.  Better yet, this one belongs to them.  An extra that doesn’t show up on their books for some reason.  Works better than the civilian version.  I’d have bought you one but they cost several hundred bucks, so borrowing one seemed the way to go.”

Lucas gave me a short lesson on how to use it.  It’s actually pretty simple: get close enough so you can’t miss, point at the bad guy, and pull the trigger.  Avoid heavy clothing.  Run away before he recovers.

“But here’s the thing, Rick.  It won’t do you a damned bit of good if you run into JD and don’t have it.  So you need to carry it with you pretty much all the time when you’re not in a crowd.  I know that’s going to be a pain in the ass, and after awhile you’re going to get careless.  But don’t.”

I thanked him profusely and promised him I wouldn’t.

“Yeah.  You also promised that you weren’t going to get involved in the first place.”

I got a postcard from Sabrina on Saturday.  No return address.  Just a picture looking out from a mountainside through a grove of leafless trees with the message, “Wish you were here” and a smiley face in green ink.  OK, unfair.  You can’t write me if I can’t write you back.

I called her mother.  “Hello, Mrs. Parker.  This is Rick Whittaker.  I’m a friend of Sabrina’s.”

“Hello, Rick.  I know who you are.”

“Oh.”  For some reason that hadn’t occurred to me, but I overcame my surprise and plowed on.  “I got a postcard from Sabrina today but it didn’t have a return address.  I wondered if you have an address where I could write back.”

“Don’t you think if she wanted you to write, she would have put her return address on the card?”

This conversation wasn’t going anything like what I had hoped.  “Well, I suppose you’re right.”

“She went there to be alone and think things out.  Oh, I guess you could sway things temporarily in your favor by writing long, heartfelt admissions of undying love and affection.  She’s my daughter, and I’d love nothing better than for things to sway in your favor.  But when JD shows back up, then what?  I know it’s hard, but you just have to let her be for now.”

I thanked her with all the graciousness I could muster up, hung up, and went back into my cave.

The talking heads on ESPN all wondered if the Falcon’s high-powered offense could overcome the 49er’s league-best defense in front of a hostile home crowd.  Most thought no.  The odds makers agreed, putting Atlanta down as 10½-point underdogs.  They were pretty much right—3 field goals were all the high-flying Falcon offense could muster.  But two special teams plays—a blocked punt and a kickoff return—added fourteen, and an inspired defense somehow managed to hang on to a 23-21 lead with the ball on the 32 and 3 seconds left.

Ellie got down on her knees and starting praying out loud.  “Oh Lord, I know I’ve not always been the person You want me to be.  I’ve been known to drink on occasion, particularly when Thy favorite team, the Falcons, is playing.  And when wide open receivers drop balls that hit them in the chest, I sometimes take Thy name in vain.  But goddamn it all, if this field goal misses, there’s a fifty in it for you in the collection plate next Sunday.  Amen.”

Fifty must have been bribe enough, because the field goal attempt hooked around the left upright, and the Falcons were going to the Conference Championship.  “So where are you going to come up with $50, woman?” Lucas wanted to know.

“You’re going to give it to me willingly and lovingly after tonight.  Yow!”  Pop, went another cork, accompanied by her long scream.

Unfortunately, the Saints had won the day before, and were doubtless licking their chops at the prospect of playing a team they’d beaten twice during the season.

* * * *

The week drug on and on, as if the hours were dipped in molasses.  I burned up all the piñon pine I had, sitting and thinking out by the chiminea, made a trip for more, and burned half of that too.  Two empty gin bottles were lined up on the counter, with another well on its way to joining them.  I gave in and called the TV satellite company, then canceled again before they came out.  I wore a path out walking the wheel, and when that hadn’t been enough, attempted three trips out to the island despite a week-long spell of foul weather.  Made it twice; on the third trip a hard wind out of the north whipped up a nasty line of three-foot swells that drove me back to shelter.

By now I was easily able to walk either wheel while holding the golden-haired woman in my thoughts.  Sometimes I asked for advice; about half the time she gave me some.  But after awhile, I realized that she was only telling me things that I already knew.  So either she was just another personification of my own twisted imagination, or I pretty much already knew the answers to what I was asking.  But you know, it didn’t matter.  We did what we did, and time plodded along, as time is wont to do.

The one thing I didn’t do is call Chai.  That’s why you’re such a mess, Mr. Lust scolded.  But fortunately, we’ve been saving that goodbye fuck for an emergency.  I’d say this qualifies.

No.

I allowed myself the hope that Sabrina would make it home for the Conference Championship.  After all, she would’ve been gone three weeks by then.  I didn’t have any idea how much time she would be able to be absent, but three weeks seemed like a really long time to be away from your job and kids.  Wanda wasn’t concerned, however.  “That new girl June is doing OK.  We’ve really needed somebody else for a while, so when Sabrina gets home it’ll all be good.  Until then, we’re all just praying for her.  You too, I hope.”

I assured her I was.  Didn’t seem like a fib; what I was doing definitely qualified as prayer, if you happened to be a pagan.

My daily trip to the mailbox was a low point, between dreading that I’d get a letter from Sabrina and the news would be bad and dreading that I wouldn’t get any news at all.  On the Friday before the game, a real live letter was sitting there in the box.

Dear Rick,

I built a wheel out here at the cabin, just like the one in your back yard.  I can’t tell you how much it has helped.  The only problem is, instead of thinking about myself while I’m walking it, I find that I’m often thinking about you instead.  Can’t tell if that’s good or not (just kidding).

Haven’t really gotten the resolution that I’d hoped for, but at least I have some degree of peace.  I guess that’s better than nothing.

I pick up a paper every week when I go into town for groceries.  See that the Peckerwoods’ gang has managed to keep the Falcons in it.  Can’t hardly stand it that you’re partying without me, but maybe I’ll be home for the Superbowl.

Love, Sabrina

ps: Hope you didn’t get rid of your voodoo lady prematurely.

Folded inside the letter was a picture of Sabrina standing inside a sacred wheel that looked like a twin of mine.  She was bundled up, and the snapshot quality wasn’t good enough that I could tell anything about her expression.

Love, Sabrina.  A serious escalation from “fondly, Rick.”  Wonder how long it took her to decide to write those words?  The better part of three weeks, I supposed.

* * * *

Most of all, I dreaded the game.  Well, probably not most of all, but most immediate of all.  I started to call Lucas and see if I could just stay home on Sunday.  But I already knew the answer.  80% of the work I’d done toward not being an outsider would be lost, and I’d have to start over again with a more skeptical citizenry.

I didn’t dread in vain; it was as bad as I’d feared.  What is it about those guys that turns the Falcons into such pigeons?   We were down by 17 at halftime, and only a questionable holding call with the Saints on our three yard, second and goal, kept it from being even worse.  June was working our table, and nice as she was, her cheery “Can I get y’all anything else?” got more irritating every time she stopped by.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I ordered desert for everyone—it worked last time, I was desperate enough to try it again—before muttering to Lucas and Ellie, “I’ve got to get out of here for awhile.  You guys cover for me.”

I slipped out and walked down to where Sabrina and I had kissed, sat up against an oak tree, and meditated.  Fortunately the drizzle had stopped, and after awhile I didn’t notice the cold anymore.

Some time later—when you’re doing it right, you have no idea how much time has passed—the golden-haired woman made an appearance.

“So what is it that you want, Rick?”

“I have no fucking idea.  Sabrina to realize what an asshole JD is, fall out of love, and come home.  Drew Brees to break his throwing hand.  George to come walking through the door wondering if anybody has missed him.  Peace in the Middle East.  Something to change.  Anything.  I feel like I’m stuck and going nowhere, and this unending waiting around is frustrating the shit out of me.”

“My, such language.  If you don’t know what you want, how do you expect to get it?”

“That’s the trouble.  I want a lot of things, and I don’t know how to get any of them.”

“Perhaps your trouble is that you don’t fully understand what it is that you’re asking.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Nimue.  I’m not in the mood for it.”

She laughed so cruelly that for a moment I thought I had to be imagining it.  Well, duh.  Of course I was imagining it.  My subconscious was preparing me for an ugly surprise.

I just didn’t know how ugly.  Dessert had once again worked its magic.  I walked back into Peckerwood’s just as Matty Ice completed a 17-yard TD pass as time expired to cap an amazing comeback and put the Falcons in the Superbowl.  Which was going to be played . . . on Imbolc.

 

Crow Medicine

For me, this chapter drives the story much further from the normalcy of everyday predictability into the realm of magic.  And the power for that change is the crow.

After two minutes of blissful silence, Mr. Lust interjected, Can’t we at least . . .

Caw!

And that was that.  Meditation is no trick whatsoever when you have your own black-feathered enforcer.

The intervention of the crow’s voice to prevent Mr. Lust from interrupting is special.  An animal sitting on a branch, despite how it came to be there, is within the realm of reason.  Responding to Rick’s subconscious simply isn’t.

I got goose bumps when I wrote these lines.  For me, goose bumps are some of the greatest moments of the entire writing experience.

crowMy father believed crows to be extremely intelligent. He claimed a crow could tell if you were holding a rifle or merely a stick.  I never managed to verify that for myself (although I did spend several hours as a boy trying), but here is some research that goes even further, published by Robert Winkler in National Geographic News in 2002.

New Caledonian crows living in the wild create hooked probes from twigs, but a captive crow named Betty did something very different.

Betty’s toolmaking abilities came to light by accident during an experiment in which she and Abel (her captive male crow companion) had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire for retrieving small pieces of pig heart, their favorite food. When Abel made off with the hooked wire, Betty bent the straight wire into a hook and used the tool to lift a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe. This experiment was the first time the crows had been presented with wire.

The researchers then devised a new experiment to test Betty’s startling behavior systematically. They placed one piece of straight garden wire on top of the tube and waited for either crow to try retrieving the food. In her ten successful retrievals, Betty bent the wire into a hook nine times. Abel retrieved the food once, without bending the wire.

Betty almost always tried to get the food with the straight wire first. She then made hooks of varying shapes by wedging one end of the wire into taped-up sections of the tube apparatus and tray, or by holding it in her feet, while pulling the other end with her bill.

The researchers say that Betty’s creation of hooks cannot be attributed to the shaping or reinforcement of randomly generated behavior. And since she had no other crows to model, no training with pliant objects, and very limited prior experience with wire, they see her actions as novel and purposeful.  “To solve a new problem, she did something she had never done before,” said Kacelnik. “Naturally, she must have exploited abilities she acquired doing other tasks in the past, but she showed the capacity to solve a new problem in a creative way by reorganizing her experience.”

Behavior beyond even my father’s respectful beliefs.

Here is the story of Crow and her shadow, from Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson.

crow medicine cardThere is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with her own shadow.  She kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until her shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate her. Crow is Dead Crow now.

Dead Crow is the Left-Handed Guarding. If you look deeply into Crow’s eye, you will have found the gateway to the supernatural. Crow knows the unknowable mysteries of creation and is the keeper of all sacred law.

Human law is not the same as Sacred Law. More so than any other medicine, Crow sees that the physical world and even the spiritual world, as humanity interprets them, are an illusion.

I didn’t key on that last paragraph until today.  The physical world as humanity interprets it is an illusion.  Sounds like its speaks directly of Avalon, S.C.

Crows have a complex language. They have a remarkable voice range, but they actually do not sing. They can caw in many different ways, each with its own meaning. Learning to understand the language of crows is something humans have done.

If we could understand each other easily, I wonder what they would say about a flock of crows being called a “murder?”

Members of the crow family live on all temperate continents except for South America.  There’s probably a legend explaining why that is–the Mayan version of St. Patrick–but I’ve never heard of it.

When my kids were growing up, they pulled an animal card each morning.  And for a while, we used to choose an animal totem for the year.   But I never spent a year under crow’s guidance.  Now I’m sorry I didn’t.

feathers1

Chapter 45: Avalon, S.C.

Mr. Lust didn’t give in easily.

She told us to have fun with our voodoo lady.  It was practically an order.  Like getting your salad dressing on the side.  Hey, good one.  We’ll be getting our Chai on the side.  Besides, it’s just until Sabrina gets back.

No.

Don’t be an idiot.  Nobody gets hurt; everybody wins. 

No.

Well, can we have one for the road when we tell her goodbye?

No.

I was out on the island, walking the wheel—the one in the back yard hadn’t done the trick.  I was trying to clear my mind so I could focus on . . . well, not sure exactly if I was supposed to focus on Sabrina or Chai.  They were both hanging around, which I could probably have dealt with if Mr. Lust would just shut up.

Jacking off is so junior high.

I didn’t even dignify that one with a reply.

Then a funny thing happened.  One of the striking features of Avalon, S.C. is that there’s no wildlife there.  Oh, I’m sure there are beetles and worms and shit.  Maybe even an entire menagerie out in the forest, Bambi and Thumper and Flower and the whole gang, all watching me wide-eyed and bushy-tailed (well, except for Thumper of course).  But it was always deathly quiet when I was there, at least as far as fauna was concerned.

So when a crow flew down to perch on a nearby oak and shattered the stillness with his cry, it purely shocked the shit out of me.  Mr. Lust too, if his silence was any indicator.

One caw, screamed but not repeated.

In the silence that followed, I found the golden-haired woman had shooed both Sabrina and Chai away and was there lounging around in my cerebral cortex.  I didn’t need to hold her there, I just needed to pay attention.

So I started to walk again.

After two minutes of blissful silence, Mr. Lust interjected, Can’t we at least . . .

Caw!

And that was that.  Meditation is no trick whatsoever when you have your own black-feathered enforcer.

I made my way all the way around to the west, then stopped and stared out at the water visible through the trees.  “So, Nimue,” I spoke out loud, as if she were right there listening to me.  And not feeling even the slightest bit foolish about doing so.  “What should I do?”

“Why do you seek guidance from me, when you already know the answer?  Just do it.”  She didn’t speak out loud, but the way the answer resonated back and forth inside my skull, she might as well have.

I didn’t even finish the cycle; I just headed back.

It was an hour before Chai would be home from work, so I made up a mixer of martinis, then went looking for info on crows.  George didn’t have any bird watching handbooks or biology texts, but I did find a book on Native American Animal Medicine.  Here’s what it had to say about crow.

Crow is the custodian of the gateway between the physical world as we know it and the supernatural world that we long to know.  Crow is the fanatical guardian of this knowledge, and never gives up his secrets willingly.  And so this precious and sacred knowledge remains closed to us.  However, crow the trickster can himself be tricked into giving up bits of that knowledge, in the same way that he dropped pebbles into the water pitcher in that archetypical fable by Aesop, which is also a common story among Native American peoples.

There was also a story about crow being eaten by his shadow, which explains why he’s sandwiched between the living and the dead.  As well as why he’s black.

I finished the second martini waiting for Chai, then paced for a few minutes before dialing her up.

“Ah, Rick Whittaker.  Up until this afternoon, I was sure I wouldn’t hear from you until Saturday.  You’ve never struck me as the get-it-done-early type.”

I was confused by her word choice.  “Um, so what happened this afternoon that made you change your mind?”

“At 3:17 this afternoon you decided in favor of the little waitress.”

That pronouncement struck me totally speechless.  Like Paul on the road to Damascus, except it was my voice and not my sight that I lost.  OK, not a brilliant metaphor.  But I was standing there holding the phone, staring out into space, my mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out.

“Um, hello.  Anybody there?”

I sucked whatever liquid I could scavenge out of my martini glass before blurting out, “How the hell did you know that?”

“Would you believe I felt it, all the way to Beaufort?”

“At this point, I’d believe anything you tell me.  So, you felt it how?”

“It was like being slapped right across the Ajna.  That’s the brow chakra to you Normans.  And I knew the answer already, but I did a quick reading to make sure that the answer was no.”

“Slapped across the Ajna.  That describes my experience perfectly.”  I told her about walking the wheel on the island and the crow and the visitation from the golden-haired woman.

“Ah.  The same fellow witch who would have sacrificed me on her altar if only I’d been a dimension closer.  I’m starting not to like her very much.  Incidentally, her card came up in the reading.   The high priestess.”

A shiver ran down my spine, like my grandmother used to describe as somebody walking across your grave.  Only graver.

“Chai, do you think I’m in danger?”

“Possibly.  But it appears more likely that everybody else is in danger except you.  After your vision today, I wouldn’t dare venture out to the island without you.”

“What do you think could happen?”

“Don’t know, exactly.  But if your golden-haired woman is as powerful as she seems, she could reach across a weak boundary and draw my essence into wherever she is.  That would stop my heart and trap me between realms, neither dead nor alive.  No thanks.”

I had so many things to ask, it seemed like a simple goodbye conversation—if any goodbye conversation could ever be accurately labeled simple—had turned into something far more complex.

“Do you think that’s what happened to George?”
“I definitely think it’s possible.  But in that case, she would have to be evil.  Do you get any sense of evil from her emanations?”

I thought about it for a solid minute before answering, “I have never sensed anything that I would call evil.”

“There you go.  If you’re right, then no.  Of course, if you’re a typical Norman who couldn’t detect an evil emanation if one kicked you in your sacral chakra, then there’s a pretty fair chance that’s exactly what happened.”

“And does your typical Norman have visions?  Not to mention visits from animal emissaries?”

“Touché.  I concede that you no longer qualify as a Norman.  I’ll mail you a certificate.”

I thought carefully before uttering these next words, which seemed a lot more dangerous than Nimue or the island.  “Chai, is there any chance you’d be willing to stay on as my advisor in this matter?  On a strictly professional basis?”

“Do you mean, on a strictly platonic basis?  Or more bluntly, can I keep my hands off you?  Hmm.  Maybe we should meet for dinner to talk about it.  I could even bring your certificate with me, save a stamp.”

“OK.  I don’t have a lot going on between now and Imbolc, so I’m pretty free.”

“Any chance of getting a goodbye fuck out of this?  You’d not only get laid, you wouldn’t have to drive the road from hell after dark.”

Just like she’d been reading Mr. Lust’s mind.  When Chai and Mr. Lust are on the same wavelength, trouble is brewing.

 

Chapter 44: Avalon, S.C.

I was packed up, checked out, and sitting in a wheelchair at the front door when Lucas got there to pick me up.  Not that there was all that much to pack up—just the two books, razor, and toothbrush Sabrina had brought over the previous afternoon.  I’d never been in a hospital before; it struck me as totally ridiculous that they insisted on rolling me out to the car in a wheelchair.  I mean, when I got out on the other end there wasn’t going to be a wheelchair.  Not even crutches—not that I needed crutches, there being nothing wrong with my lower extremities.  But hospital rules to the nurses are like the Bible to the fundamentalist—once you decided it was OK to break one, you were already on that slippery slope where you might be expected to decide for yourself whether the earth was 4.5 billion or a mere 6,400 years old.

“So, any word on JD?” was my first question, once I was safely buckled in and on the road to White Sands.

“Not a trace.  The sheriff is sure he had to see somebody about his hand, but they’ve supposedly checked all the places within fifty miles and turned up nada.  There’s a warrant out with the highway patrol, but those are pretty hit or miss in a low-interest case like this.”

“Great.  So now I get to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder until he shows back up.  Think there’s any chance he won’t?”

“Nope.  Going away for good would be the smart thing to do.  As far as I know, JD’s never done the smart thing before.”

“Guess I’ll have to think more seriously about that gun.”

“Like you said, a gun can end up doing more harm than good if you’re not going to use it.  So if you’re not clear in your mind, I’d say you’ve made the right choice.”

“I’ve been reading George’s collection of books about King Arthur.  Think I should switch over to action thrillers where the good guys shoot the bad guys?  Maybe I should buy a sword instead.”

Lucas snorted but didn’t answer further.

I thought he was taking me home, but he turned the opposite way at the end of the road and pulled into Peckerwoods’ parking lot.  I was pretty proud that I managed to walk up the steps and through the door without wincing.

“Welcome Home, Rick” a big banner on the wall proclaimed.  Someone yelled, “He’s here!” and then everybody stood up and clapped and hooted and whistled.

Somebody had left a pair of boxing mitts on my table, along with a trophy.  The plaque had been taped over with masking tape, and written on the new label was, “Lightweight Division, 2nd Place.”

I hadn’t felt this loved in years.

Sabrina came out from the back in time to see Lucas pour me a beer, and started in on him.  “Good Grief, Lucas.  Don’t you know you’re not supposed to mix booze and pain medicine?  Here, let me get you some fresh squeezed lemonade.”

“You’re not supposed to mix booze and pain meds if you’re going to drive, operate heavy machinery, or sign any legal papers.”  Lucas was a nice guy, but he wasn’t taking shit from a woman not names Ellie.  “Doesn’t say anything about watching the Falcons.  In fact, it’s recommended.”

“Well . . .”  Sabrina obviously wasn’t convinced.  “If you’re sure it’s OK.  But you’re right.  You’re absolutely right.  If it makes him goofy, who’s gonna notice?”

Ellie reached in the cooler and pulled out a bottle of champagne.  “But if we’re going to celebrate Rick’s homecoming and make him all goofy besides, I think we should go with something more festive than beer.”

“Champagne?  That’s really thoughtful, Ellie.  But why don’t we save it for the victory celebration when the Falcons clinch the division, a first round bye, and home field for at least one game.”

We needn’t have bothered.  Falcons went up by three with 47 seconds left in the game and I thought, “Uh, oh.  That’s too much time, guys.”  Sure enough.  In further confirmation that Drew Brees has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for being a magician on the gridiron, the Saints drove down for the tying field goal, won the toss in overtime, and polished us off in less time than it took to finish a last beer.

“Dag nab it.  Piss on Drew Brees, anyway.”  As a long-suffering Falcons fan, Ellie wasn’t crushed by losing; otherwise, she’d be flat as a pancake after all the years of frustration.  “Oh, well.  That just means we get to party next weekend.  Yee-haw!”  She gave the champagne bottle a little shake and popped the cork, with champagne exploding all over the table and surrounding areas, shrieking in delight all out of proportion to the consolation prize of just being in the playoffs.  “We’ll see you again in the Conference Championship, you bums.”

“Let’s just hope somebody else knocks them off,” Lucas offered quietly.  They’ve beaten us twice already; I’d rather try somebody new than hope for revenge.”

The Carters began packing up their stuff, ready to take me back to my humble abode.  I confess, I was ready, this being the longest I’d been out of bed since my encounter with JD.

“I’ll run him home.” Sabrina interrupted my progress toward my recliner.  “Guess that’s the least I can do, having gotten him into this fine mess to start with.”

My aches and pains faded as my head spun with possibilities.  Although I knew it wasn’t going to be like that.  But what, I couldn’t guess.

Turns out, none of my guesses would have been close anyway.

Sabrina pulled into my driveway, turned the car off, and took my hands in hers.  “Rick, I’m going away for a little while.”

“Wh—where are you going?”  Not the question I wanted to ask, but the first one out of my mouth.

“I’ve got an old girlfriend in Sumter who owns a little cabin up in the mountains.  She’s offered it to me as long as I want to use it, since they don’t hardly ever go up there during the winter.  Mama’s already agreed to keep the kids however long I need, and I’ve got vacation coming from Peckerwoods’.”

“Um, that’s great, Sabrina.  I’m glad you get the chance to do that.”

“No you’re not.  You’ve got disappointment written all over your face.  Guess I’m just destined to disappoint you.”  She took a deep breath and when she let it out, it was half sigh, half sob.  “But the truth is, I’ve got to get this all straight in my head.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be any good anyway.”

“I don’t really understand.  But I’ll support you any way I can.”  Sounded lame, even to me.  I put on my best grin.  “And I’m NOT letting you out of the engagement, so you can just forget about it.”

She smiled and tousled my hair before taking my hands again.  “Honestly, I don’t really understand it either.  But if JD walked through my door, I don’t know if I’d tell him to get the hell out of my life or not.  And that’s totally messed up, I know.  Totally fucked up.  And I’m totally fucked up, too.”

Tears welled up in her eyes.  “What I’d really like most of anything in the world is to be rid of the sorry bastard.  In here.”  She patted her heart.  “But it’s like cancer.  Might be in remission for a while, but it always comes back.”

“Come on, I’ve got something that’ll help.  Guaranteed.”

I took her hand as we walked around the house and down the path to the wheel.  I hadn’t told her about it when I’d described my search for George; hadn’t seemed like a relevant detail.  But she listened patiently while I explained how it worked.

“It’s really just a meditation tool, but it’s pretty powerful.  You clear your mind of everything as best you can.  Then you concentrate on just one thing while you walk the wheel.  Surprising how often the answer you’re looking for is right there in your own head, if only you stop and listen.”

“Sounds pretty far-fetched.  I guess I’m not all that big on new-fangled ideas.”  She laughed, an honest laugh.  “But none of the old-fangled stuff has seemed to work.  What the heck.  Let’s give it a try.”

And so we did.  I held Sabrina breaking free of JD in my mind to give her some extra energy, not that I believed in all that, but I did it anyway.  Not sure what she held in hers but she walked slowly and deliberately, finishing long after I had.

When she got to where I was waiting, tears were streaming down her face big-time.  I hadn’t thought of Sabrina as a crier, but every time we were alone together, it seems like that was the outcome.  But it didn’t bother me, although I don’t have a lot of patience with people who cry over every little thing—this didn’t seem like every little thing.

I started to say something but she shook her head.  So we walked back in silence, not touching this time.

At her car she stared into my eyes, then put her arms around me and her head on my shoulder.   We stood like that for a long time, gently rocking.  It was fine with me; I’d miraculously gotten over my tiredness.

Finally she stepped back and did the staring thing again.  “Will you kiss me goodbye, Rick?  That’ll give me something nice to hold in my mind when I need the lift.”

Our kiss this time had more desperation than promise in it.  But that just made it all that much more poignant.

She started up her car, then rolled down the window.  Adeline had done that very thing right on this same spot not all that long ago to thank me for not taking advantage of her; I wondered, irreverently and totally inappropriately, if Sabrina was going to do the same.

“You have fun with your voodoo lady while I’m gone.  Maybe when I get back, I’ll finally be ready to run her ass off.”

Oh great.  Permission to keep up my relationship with Chai.  Exactly what I needed.  I held up one hand in a subdued wave that felt way too final until Sabrina turned out of my driveway and was gone.

Distractions

In the big picture, I’ve accomplished squat the last 3 weeks.  A chapter a week if I’m lucky.  Simply have not been able to get any traction around the distractions of construction, physical displacement, and a big event that I’m chairing this weekend (not to mention the normal distractions of life).

A novel begins to gain momentum about this time for me.  The first few chapters I’m getting to know the characters, learning their voices, habits, peccadillos.  But by know I know them well.  The plot begins to unfold.  The chaos of fictional stardust begins to coalesce into stars instead of black holes.

I’m totally into Sir Kay.  He’s my kind of hero.  Someone recently described my genre as “Beta Male Fiction.”  I like that a lot.  The plot is beginning to unfold right on schedule.  The words should be jumping onto the page.

Sigh.

Coming soon, to a PC near you.

distractions2

Chapter 43: Avalon, S.C.

I not only didn’t have any books, I didn’t have anything.  My own razor, for one.  My cell phone for another.

What I did have was some good drugs.  The pills took the edge off the pain and made me a tad goofy.  But the stuff that they injected through my IV, when the throbbing in my face got too bad or if I did something dumb like laugh with cracked ribs, knocked me on my ass.  And gave me extraordinary dreams.

I would have thought that with all that had gone on in the last 36 hours, my dreams would be haunted by JD and/or Sabrina.  Silly me, to think that my subconscious might work in such an ordinary, expected way.  No, it was the Golden-haired Woman who I now thought of as Nimue who continued to plague in my drug-induced reveries.

The sacrifice dream occurred most often.  Variants of the one I had maybe a month ago where Nimue and George were arguing whether to cut Lacey’s heart out or not.  Pretty much everybody I know took their turn on the altar: Sabrina, Chai, Adeline, even George.  In the case of George, I was the one arguing for his life.  Curious.  It would have been a lot more pleasant if JD had made it up there at least once, but no.

There were others equally bizarre.  In one I was standing naked in front of the altar while Nimue made me catalog my sins in excruciating detail and beg penance for each.  In another, Sabrina and I were paddling a canoe through the mists to the rocky shore where Nimue waited to receive us, hands outstretched.

I don’t believe for a moment that dreams come from an outside agent, even an agent such as Nimue who I now believed actually existed somewhere or some when.  They came from my own head, which meant I was trying to tell myself something.  So every time I woke up—and so far, I always had; maybe if I had the dream where I was the one on the altar I wouldn’t—I tried to figure out what.

The ones where I was cataloging and paddling, I lumped together as mere self doubts about my own worthiness.  Worthiness for what, exactly?  Worthy of Sabrina?  Surely not that simple.  Worthy to be the one chosen to receive the revelation of this great mystery?  Maybe.  I mean, why was I drawn to the island while Lucas and Adeline were pushed away?  Why me?

I never did come up with a hypothesis for the sacrifice one.   Couldn’t be people sacrificing themselves for me—maybe Chai, maybe even Sabrina if you pushed the definition a little, but I didn’t see how it fit Adeline except she was spending her money on me.  And definitely not George.

I risked skipping my pain pill on Saturday morning.  Lying there after breakfast, head reasonably clear, thoroughly disgusted with daytime television but without a book of any sort to turn to, I reviewed the whole investigation into the disappearance of George.  Helped crystallize what I believed.

I believed that the island of Avalon, S.C. was somehow linked to some other place and/or time.  That the boundaries between there and here weakened at the pagan feast days, most strongly at Samhain and Beltane, less so on the solstices and equinoxes.  That meant Imbolc, which fell somewhere between Midwinter and Beltane in power, might add a critical piece to the puzzle.  Imbolc was little more than a month away now, and I intended to be on Avalon.

I believed the golden-haired woman was somebody powerful and important in that other place and time.

I believed George was there.  ‘Alive,’ if that meant anything in the other place and time.  Although Chai had called it the Otherworld, which is often associated with Hades, so possibly alive wasn’t the right concept.

I believed the Falcons would let me down yet once again, winning a playoff game or two, maybe actually getting to the Superbowl, destined never to win the big one.

I believed that . . .

“Oh my, is that Rick Whittaker under all those bandages and bruises?  Somebody tried to cover up all that boyish charm and good looks.”

“Um, hello Chai.  Yes, it’s me.  Or at least what’s left of me.  But boy, you should see the other guy.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“Thanks for coming.  How did you know I was here?”

“Well, I called to confirm our date for today but it kept going to your voicemail.  So I decided to drive down and find out why you were ignoring me.  Then when your house was locked up and nobody answered the door but your car was there, I stopped by that old store to see if anybody knew where you were.  Only to find the whole town abuzz over the news.”

“Sorry I didn’t call.  I don’t have my cell phone, plus I’ve been pretty out of it with all the painkillers they’re giving me.”

“No problem, Rick.  Only cost me two trips down the road from hell, same as if you’d been there.  Here I’ve brought you two things to speed your recovery.”

She handed me a small gift bag that contained a tube of Cream of Isis.  ‘Herbal infused for rapid deep tissue healing.’  I squeezed out a dollop of something a medium shade of purple that smelled of musty lavender and dutifully rubbed it around my swollen eye.  “Hey, I can feel it working already.  Cleansing my eye chakras and all.  Thanks.”

I waited for the other gift but when it wasn’t forthcoming, I squeezed the bag surreptitiously to see if there was something else in it.  “Did I zone out on pain meds or did you say you’d brought two things?”

Chai winked, then reached under the covers and gave my crotch a little squeeze.  “And what is the one thing guaranteed to make a man feel better faster than anything else?  A nice blow job, of course.  Special delivery.”  She trailed her tongue over her lips and gave me another squeeze.

“Uh, I’m going to have to take a rain check on that, Chai.”  I realized how lame that sounded, but it would have only made it worse to add, “But I really appreciate the offer.”  The piece of my brain that wasn’t being embarrassed noted that I hadn’t sprung to attention at either the verbal or tactile suggestion.

“Hmm.”  Chai withdrew her hand.  “So is that because the pain meds have rendered you temporarily impotent, or that you’re a prude at heart and embarrassed that somebody might catch us in the act?”  She put two fingers on her cheek as if deep in thought.  “Or could this be about the little waitress who’s used the curious technique of winning you by having her boyfriend beat you up?”

I reached for her hand, which she extended after a little hesitation.  “Chai, I don’t know what it is.  I just know it wouldn’t be right.  A lot has happened during the last few days, and I’ve been too drugged up to process it all.  I keep zonking out and dreaming about the golden-haired woman.  She even had you stretched out on the altar and was going to sacrifice you with a big, wicked-looking bronze dagger.”

“Wow.  Sounds like a pretty clear message to me.  Although your little waitress doesn’t have golden hair, so maybe there’s another explanation.  But I have to confess: I liked it better when it was you that had me stretched out in front of the altar.”  She winked again, albeit with only a hint of her usual wickedness.  “And daggers are awfully phallic.”

I turned down the offer to keep it light.  “If you have to go, I’ll understand.  But I’d appreciate it if you’ll give me a few days to process it all.  I promise I won’t string you out.”

Chai laughed.  “Just having you promise not to string me out makes the wait OK.  Not sure I believe you.  But what the hell.  We weren’t exactly Romeo and Juliet before.”

Comments

Bloggers get up in the morning, gulp down a cup of coffee, and set about the task of creating something exciting for you to read.  Something to entertain you, inspire you, start your day off with a bang.  They (we) do it whether we feel inspired or not, whether we feel like getting out of bed or now, whether we even drink coffee of not (although personally I have no sympathy for anyone who doesn’t drink coffee.  That’s a self-inflicted wound).

So . . . what do we get in return?

We get the joy and satisfaction of knowing that we’ve brought a little entertainment/inspiration/bang to your day.

And we know that . . . how?

Well, up to a point, you know it because you believe in yourself as a writer.  By this point in your writing career, you’ve developed a sense of what’s good, and when you’re good.  If it’s not good, sometimes you post it out of desperation, but usually you just delete it and start over.

And that belief in yourself is upheld and augmented by . . . your readers’ comments.

I personally have no complaints.  My readers are pretty generous with their comments.  Besides, my self-esteem is pretty big (those of you who know me personally are nodding your heads here).

But . . .

When I send you to somebody else’s blog, I’d like you to be extra generous with your comments.  Make them glad that they’ve invited me to blog, interviewed me, etc.  Because I’ve brought over a pack of dedicated readers who let them know.

TODAY:  There’s a really cool interview in The Examiner.  I started to reblog it here, and then I thought, No way.  My readers will be delighted to go there, read the interview, be entertained/inspired/banged.  And now that they’ve got the etiquette down, they’ll comment.  See, I believe in you.

ONCE YOU’VE ENJOYED THAT, HERE’S YOUR NEXT ASSIGNMENT.  Go back to Melissa’s blog from Saturday and MAKE A COMMENT.  Show her some love.  She’s invited me back next month, but she might change her mind without a few pithy comments to pump up her self-esteem a little.

Thanks.  Don’t make me unleash the dog.

comments3

 

Chapter 42: Avalon, S.C.

The diagnosis was a hell of a lot better than it could have been.  Thankfully my jaw wasn’t broken, so I didn’t have my jaws wired together and wasn’t facing a liquid diet for six to eight weeks (although gin is a liquid).  Plus I had all my teeth.  On the other hand, my face looked like somebody had used it for a punching bag, which in retrospect I guess somebody had.  Left eye black and swollen shut, but my right one was OK except it was hard to see around all the tape on my badly broken nose.

Further down: two cracked ribs, some kidney damage resulting in both bloody urine and a stabbing ache that never quite went away.  That and the concussion were what kept me in the hospital for “observation.”

But hey, JD apparently hadn’t gotten away unscathed.  I’d deflected a punch with the gin bottle, almost certainly breaking his right hand.  Which is undoubtedly why the facial damage was as mild as it was.

I learned this tidbit from Sheriff Tate when he asked me if there was any reason I didn’t want to press charges for aggravated assault.  A deputy had been in White Sands and had responded pretty quickly to my 911 call.  He’d used his siren, causing JD to flee without Sabrina.  “So we didn’t catch him, but in the end I guess it was a good thing.  Another few minutes of kicking you, there might have been a lot more permanent damage.”

The idea of JD out there somewhere, nursing a broken hand and a grudge against me gave me the willies, but Sheriff Tate wasn’t all that worried.  “There’s an APB out on him.  Plus we sent somebody out to his hunting cabin, but nobody was there.  So I suspect he’s unassed the area.  Once he sobers up and realizes there’s nothing but trouble for him here, I doubt we’ll lay eyes on him again.”

“His girlfriend is still here.”

“Yeah, well.  I had somebody take her home, by the way.  She didn’t have anything broken, but she’s going to have a hell of a shiner to go along with a fat lip.  Nothing that ice, time, and Advil won’t cure.  If she’s finally rid of his sorry ass, it’ll be a hell of a bargain.”

“Yeah, well.  And hell yes, I absolutely want to press charges.”

My first unofficial visitor Friday morning was Lucas.  He took one look at me and shook his head sadly.

“Talk about a waste of good advice.”

“Very good advice but utterly wasted.  My last conscious thought was how much better a pistol would have been instead of a gin bottle.”

“And as it turns out, it didn’t even need to be untraceable.  He came in your house with the intent of doing you bodily harm.  You could have plugged him the moment he stepped over the threshold and the law would have been on your side.  By the way, I’ve got a spare shotgun you can keep around your house if you think he might come back.”

“Truthfully, Lucas, I’m not really the shoot first and ask questions later sort of guy.  If I’d had a gun, I’d have ended up waving it around while I ran my mouth off and probably gotten myself shot instead.  But there’s sure as hell going to be a baseball bat standing up behind the door until he gets apprehended.”

“Miss Sabrina was at work this morning, just like everything was normal.  ‘Course her face wasn’t normal, and she didn’t try very hard to hide it with make-up and what not.  Place was like a tomb, with everybody not talking about it.”

“I suppose she was her normal cheerful self, too.”

“Well, no.  She had her game face on, but it was pretty clear she’s pretty messed up inside.”

“Probably pissed off at me because I pressed charges.”

“Not your job to be an enabler, son.  She can do that all by herself if she’s still got a mind to.”

I wore myself out tottering around the hall after lunch and nodded off over some stupid game show where contestants exhibited glee all out of proportion to either their accomplishment or their winnings when they made a lucky guess.  When I woke up, she was sitting there watching me.

“I suppose this means the engagement’s off,” were the first words out of her mouth.

“It’s only off if you throw the ring at me and walk out the door.  Oh wait, I didn’t get you a ring yet.  Damn.  What can you throw at me to let me know you don’t want to marry me anymore?  How about some of this left-over cherry Jell-o?  I’d get the message for sure.”

She laughed through eyes that might have been tearing up.  “You’re really something, you know?  I’d kiss you if I just saw a place that didn’t look like it would hurt.”

I patted the good side of my face, ended up poking around my lips with a forefinger.  “Hmm.  This place right here seems to be OK.”

Turned out it was.

Afterward she sat there holding my hand and talking.   About inconsequential things, I think; I’d taken a dose of some heavy duty pain meds with lunch, so I wasn’t tracking all that well.

Except once, when I realized through the haze something that I should say before I got any loopier and forgot about it.  “Guess you need to know that when Sheriff Tate asked me if I was pressing charges, I said yes.”

She squeezed my hand and tightened her lips.  “Thought you would.  Not that it had any bearing on my decision.  But when he asked me that same question, I said yes, too.”

That surprised me and delighted me at the same time.  “Think he’ll be back?”

She didn’t answer for a long time, just sat there with my hand between hers and looking at me.  I might have started to drift off again when she finally spoke.

“Let’s don’t talk about JD for awhile.  Or us, either.  Give me some time to get it straight in my head.  There’ll be plenty of chances later.”

With that pronouncement she stood up.  “I gotta go; kids’ll be home soon.  See you tomorrow.  You need anything?”

“Books.  The one I’m reading should be near my chair, and maybe one more.  I’m not sure when they’re letting me out.  But one more day of television and I’ll have a relapse for sure.  Probably won’t ever get out of here.”

After she left I realized I hadn’t told her about the gifts for her kids yet.  But tomorrow would be soon enough.  In the big scheme of things, it didn’t seem all that important.