Sunday, June 26, 2016

THE GARDEN part 2

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


THE GARDEN
Part 2
By R. Peterson

 J.J. stumbled through the service gate onto the grounds of her ten-acre Brentwood estate. She still couldn’t believe what she had seen; she still couldn’t believe what she had done. The gardener who only worked at night had kept his head covered for good reason. His was the most hideous and repulsive face she had ever seen. What had ever possessed her to pull off the hood?
            A lump formed in her throat when she saw what the man had been working on. A glistening path made of oyster shells embedded in black sand led to a dark shimmering pool surrounded by exotic burgundy lace Painted Lady ferns. The pond was skillfully constructed and positioned so that moonlight reflected her image on the glassy water like a mirror. According to People Magazine, the deep cerulean-blue eyes that stared back might be the Crown Jewels of Hollywood, but at this moment they were filled with shame.
            J.J. thought it might be tears blurring her reflection, but as she continued to gaze into the pool, the image cleared. She was a child of eleven once more just coming from the bathroom of the Cloverdale Texaco Station. Her mom and dad sat on two folding chairs in a grimy office area drinking coffee while a mechanic changed the oil in their car. She watched in horror as Lemont Hicks twisted steel tubing with a rusty pair of pliers. Brake fluid ran down one wheel as he wiped his hands on a rag and slowly lowered the car on the hoist. “All done folks … you’re good to go!” he called.
All these years J.J. had been led to believe her drunken father had driven off a cliff into Magician’s Canyon killing himself and her mother … now she realized it was murder. “Why?” she gasped. A moment later the image changed to show Hicks taking a handful of hundred-dollar bills from a dark figure. She strained to see the face of the stranger. Just then a cloud passed over the moon, obscuring the light, and the mirror reflection vanished.
The garden was momentarily plunged into darkness. The only light came from a glistening fountain on the far side of the swimming-pool, the lighted dial of her Baume and Mercier watch which had just changed to 4:20 AM, and tiny glass lights in the shape of fairies lining a winding path that led to the house.
“Your face might not be much to look at,” J.J. thought about the gardener as she staggered toward the house. The bottle of Camus Jubilee she’d drank earlier tugged on her like a lusty sailor. She tried to erase the gardener’s horrible bulging image of grotesque hanging flesh from her mind. “But you certainly did beautiful magic with your hands!” She looked once more at the amazing garden and began to cry. Would the nocturnal workman ever return? “What have I done?”
Tears blinded her as she unlocked the back door with a signal from her iPhone and stumbled into the empty house.


-------2-------



J.J. woke-up feeling like road-kill; a Leatherback sea turtle struggling across California’s Highway One suffering from severe traffic damage as she made her way downstairs. She shook two Excedrin from a bottle, cursed when they escaped by rolling onto the kitchen floor, and then reached for a prescription bottle of Vicodin instead. J.J. rarely used the heavyweight opioid except when on location or shortly after a romantic breakup. After Johnny disappeared she swore she wouldn’t become an addict. Hollywood’s Dr. Feelgood told her inflexibly this was her last bottle. She washed the pills down with orange juice. The flashing light on the telephone answering machine showed twenty-seven messages. She scanned down the list of names, deleting them as she went. Most were directors obviously wanting her to read scripts. Two were from producers looking for prom dates and the usual assortment of charities. Only one name caught her attention. It had been over a month since she had last spoken to Mike Benson, the private detective she’d hired to find out anything he could about Johnny Lang shortly before she left for Europe. The tireless man had produced dozens of John/Johnny Langs all across the U.S. ranging in age from six to seventy-five but none of them matched the photo she had given him. During their last conversation, during a shooting break in London, she’d asked him to go back a century and check out the no longer living. He’d confirmed her instructions without hesitation; perhaps he was used to dealing with eccentric Hollywood weirdoes with deep pockets.
“It’s unbelievable, but I think I’ve found a match,” Benson’s voice was all business. “John Edward Lang was born April nineteenth, 1893. He died pulling survivors from a submerged car wreck at the Cottonmouth River Bridge in Cloverdale Montana in 1920.” Mike cleared his throat as if he expected her to laugh at this point in the recording and then he went on. “I had a professional imaging service do a scan on a black and white copy of your photo and compared it with a newspaper clipping from the Vanishing River Tribune they are 92% certain it is the same person.”
J.J. wasn’t really that surprised; it was her hometown that amazed her. She quickly returned the detective’s call. “Did … does Johnny Lang have any relatives?”
“John Walker, the County Sheriff, is a great, great step-nephew,” Benson said. “There may be other relatives. Elisabeth Hughes Walker, Lang’s mother was a reformed Missouri bank-robber and a prominent socialite in western Montana. Her original homestead is preserved in pristine condition by a family trust. It still looks like something from a Goosebumps movie to me; I will send you a picture. Johnny Lang, her firstborn, appears to have been the illegitimate son of legendary lawman Thomas Lang.”
“That won’t be necessary,” J.J. told him. “I grew up in that tiny town and I remember the Walker Haunted house very well.”
J.J. had two more phone calls to make after she hung up. Airline tickets to Billings. She’d get a rental car at the airport. She had double reasons for going home: the mysterious death of her parents and Johnny Lang. She only hoped that the strange gardener would return. Her agent Jack Thomas answered on the second ring. “I’ve done something awful …” she explained about last night and pulling the hood from the hideous gardener’s head. “Tell him I’m so sorry!”
“I’ll buy him a truckload of roses and beg him to forget about what happened,” Jack assured her.
The flight to Montana didn’t leave until 7PM.
J.J. used the time to stroll through her gardens and then to look up Joseph Merrick on her computer. The famous Leicester Elephant Man, the subject of a 1980 movie starring John Hurt died in 1890 after being exhibited in countless freak shows and eventually making friends with Alexandra, Princess of Wales and other members of London society. She gasped when she saw his deformed image, a nightmare encore of last night. Could there possibly be another hideous miscreation loose in the world?”

-------3-------

As soon as J.J. crossed into Comanche County she drove the rental SUV to the scenic pull-out on the side of Magician’s Canyon. She stared at the swirling Cottonmouth River as it disappeared in one deep end of the treacherous chasm. This is where her parents died (although she had miraculously survived) in what everyone thought was a horrible accident. If the mysterious image from the past that flickered in her garden pool was correct then it was no accident, but murder. Why would anyone want to pay Lemont Hicks to tamper with the brakes on her parent’s car? Her mother was a librarian and her father was a student working part time at a local doctor’s office as he finished his doctoral thesis. J.J strained to remember details of that fateful night fifteen years ago. Oddly it was the sister of Dr. Descombey, her father’s boss, who had pulled her from the submerged car. Her father had an important meeting with university officials in Missoula and the entire family was going with him. J.J. remembered Melania wrapping her in a blanket and promising that everything was going to be okay.
Before J.J. left LA she had made a few phone calls. Dr. Descombey died ten years ago but his sister was miraculously still alive. The old woman was ancient when J.J. knew her; she had to be well over a hundred-years old now. Apparently Melania was living at home under the care of a woman named Alison Weatherbee. If the old lady was still coherent, J.J. hoped to gleam as much information from her about the so called accident as possible. There was another person J.J. had to confront. Lemont Hicks had been released from Deer Lodge Penitentiary, six months previous after serving ten years for killing another man in a bar-room brawl. He was said to be living on the old family farm four miles south of where she now stood just across the river from the edge of Motha Forest.
J.J.’s mind was in such turmoil, there was something else she had to come to grips with, and it was information she was hesitant to find out about. If her Johnny Lang really died rescuing people under water in 1920 then he really was a spirit and not a living person. He would most likely be lost to her forever.
J.J. wiped her eyes on a moist towelette and then drove south on River Road. An icy chill crept down her spine as she approached the old Hick’s farm. Deep ruts in the washboard gravel road forced her to proceed at a crawl. Rusted machinery littered the barn yard next to a partially collapsed spud cellar. Waist-high weeds covered the fields and every patch of ground that wasn’t growing worn-out tires and soaked with ancient motor oil. A hunched man, badly in need of a shave, wearing filthy torn overalls and with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, banged open the broken screen door on a peeling white farmhouse as J.J. approached. He had almost limped to the edge of the road, using some kind of farm tool as a crutch, by the time J.J. rumbled into view. “By God and Jesus! You shouldn’t have come back!” he yelled waving the rusty pitchfork in the air before a dust-cloud made him vanish. “Those who won’t leave well enough alone … end up dead!”
As much as J.J. wanted to confront Hicks she knew this wasn’t the time. She bounced and careened past the farm, the Chevy Tahoe almost sliding sideways. A quarter of a mile past, she began to breathe again.

-------4-------

Alison Weatherbee led J.J. through the twenty-six room mansion to an upstairs room where Melania lay withered and barely breathing on an upholstered Italian panel bed. Rembrandt quality paintings of cats some hundreds of years old, adorned linen walls covered with tiny hand painted flowers. The old woman opened her eyes when J.J. touched her hand. “I’m sorry,” J.J. stammered. “I know you must be very ill.”
“I have that fatal disease that all people who live long enough get,” Melania whispered. “It’s called turning to dust.”
“I’m sorry,” J.J. repeated then blurted. “I shouldn’t have come.”
“I would be disappointed if you didn’t,” Melania said. “I’ve been expecting you … besides,” she smiled. “To return to dust is the first step to a new beginning. Who wants to live forever?”
J.J. told her about seeing the images in the garden pool. “My parent’s deaths were no accident were they?”
            “There are no accidents … everything happens or a purpose … be it good or bad.” Melania’s eyes glowed as if she was seeing a sunset in some far dim memory of her mind.
            “Why would someone pay Lemont Hicks to tamper with my father’s car?”
Melania closed her eyes for a long time. J.J. was afraid she might have died … then her wrinkled lips moved. “The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed almost forty-million people world-wide many of them children. Western Montana was hit especially hard. A whole generation wiped from the face of the Earth. By 1936, eighteen years later, there were no young people to till the fields and harvest the grain. There was no money, people survived by what they grew. The people came to me begging for help. I decided to create for them what they had lost.”
            “You mean you created children?” J.J. was amazed, but something told her the old woman was not lying.
            “Not children, although most started out child-like,” Melania told her. “I created an enchanted race of people from ordinary scarecrows, male and female members of a new species called the Mommet. A gentle people, they worked in the fields and harvested crops.”
            “What you are talking about is magic,” J.J. argued. “I work in Hollywood. I know that magic is not real, it’s all distraction, smoke and mirrors.”
            “Of course magic is real!” Melania’s voice was as hushed as rain falling on sand. “I’ve been teaching Alison about the balance in all things.”
            “For each thing I learn … a dozen more mysteries appear,” Allison interjected.
Melania went on. “The flu epidemic was a terrible tragedy, but where there is abundant bad … there is always great good … if you know where to look.” Melania began to cough and Alison dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief. J.J. noticed blood smeared on the embroidered silk.
“The cottonwood trees that lined the river produced a special oil on their leaves in the early thirties that when mixed with rain water sprouted life where there was none before.” Melania took a deep breath and closed her eyes before she continued. “Log portions of cabins built along the river began to grow roots and to sprout limbs filled with clusters of leaves. Wet fabrics left outdoors became lumpy and thicker as new cotton balls emerged between the stitches.”
Melania complained that her throat was dry and sent Alison to the cellar for a bottle of wine. After the apprentice left, Melania continued with her voice cracking. “I found a way to dry the oil and mix it with dust from ancient graves. I was always careful to choose only what remained of good and decent people … much of it from children … victims of the horrible sickness.”
Alison returned and helped the old woman wet her lips with the red liquid. “The Mommet were a good and kind people who became more humanlike every day,” Melania said. “But Lemont Hicks, grandfather to the Lemont living today, found out about my magic and decided to make his own creatures. The elder Hicks wasn’t fussy about where he got his grave dust, he ended up breeding a species of monsters called the Hodmedod. The creatures were dark and evil under flower-sack hoods. They rampaged the countryside committing all sorts of devilish things for their masters … including murder. Soldiers returning from World War II hunted down the Hodmedod and destroyed them with fire. The Mommet were moved deep into Motha Forest where they live to this day.”
            “But what has all this got to do with my parent’s murders?” J.J. was stunned.
            “Your father decided to do his doctorate thesis on farm labor during the great depression,” Melania told her. “He found out about the Mommet and the Hodmedod. On the night he and your mother were murdered he was on his way to Missoula with proof that someone was once again creating the Hodmedod.”
            “Lemont Hicks,” J.J. gasped.
            “Our Lemont Hicks is nothing like his grandfather,” Melania said. “Whoever paid him is the mastermind behind the resurgence of evil in Comanche County. They wanted your parents out of the way so they could continue their experiments uninterrupted.”
            “But that’s been fifteen years ago,” J.J. said. “They must have failed.
Melania shook her head. “Only good is eternal. Evil must constantly re-spawn each new generation. There have been several attempts to create the monsters often with shocking results.”
J.J. remembered her gardener’s horribly disfigured face back in LA. He could do magic with plants because he came from magic.”
            “I think I’ve met one of these creations,” J.J. said. “But he’s not evil, just terribly hard to look at.”
            “You haven’t met all the monsters,” Melania’s voice was very weak. “The wind whispers ill tides to me each evening as the night approaches.”
Melania began to cough again and Alison ushered J.J. out of the room. “Melania is very sick,” she said. “Perhaps you can finish this conversation tomorrow.”

-------5-------

            A red sun was setting by the time J.J. found the only rooms available to rent in the small town. The Jagger Hotel was as dusty as the weeded vacant lot behind it. The night clerk, a mousy man with a lisp, and wandering eyes, gave J.J. the keys to a room on the ground floor. “The elevators aren’t working and the stairs.” he pointed to the warped boards climbing to a fourth level. “They’re just not safe anymore.”
Fifteen minutes, later tucked into a small room with clean sheets but rat droppings on the floor, J.J. was just ready to walk down a long hallway to brush her teeth in a shared bathroom when the lights went out. “Damn,” J.J. cursed looking at her watch. It was nine P.M. “They should have told me about this instead of the free coffee in the morning.”
J.J. used an app to turn her iPhone into a flashlight. “Now how am I going to take a selfie to show my friends in LA how I always stay in the best hotels?” she mused sarcastically.
            She had just placed her hand on the doorknob when she heard what sounded like heavy footsteps in the hall. More than one very large man she guessed. There wasn’t time to think or even turn around. The door burst inward sending wood fragments flying like an explosion at a lumber-mill. Lemont Hicks stood glaring in the doorway … shadowed by something much larger standing behind him.



To be continued …

Sunday, June 19, 2016

THE GARDEN

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


THE GARDEN
By R. Peterson


Jean Janette Robison, the highest paid entertainer in the world, singing, dancing and acting under the pseudonym Robyn Janette, exited the oyster-pearl Lincoln MKT. She watched as the limousine traveled to the end of the three-hundred yard circular cobble-stone driveway and the cast-iron Hyde Park gates closed and locked electronically on her ten-acre Brentwood, L.A. home.
The private flight from London with a stop in New York had consumed one night and most of a day. Still it was a time to relax. Filming for the sci-fi movie The Planet of Gold had taken nine months, her longest acting project to date.
            She gasped and then cursed her agent for renting her estate to a Grammy Award winning rapper while she’d been working abroad as she stomped down the broken Nero Marquina marble pathway to the house. The Asian Pears and Cerise Lotus were all scorched, smelled of urine and were dying from thirst. Several broken branches hung from her miniature ice-cream banana tree and two empty J├Ągermeister bottles reflected beams of sickly green light as they fornicated in a scattering of trampled Japanese Frost Ferns.
J.J. couldn’t punch-in her agent Jack Thomas’ speed-dial number fast enough. “What the hell happened?” J.J. screamed into her iPhone. “I thought you were renting my house to humans not pork producers breeding livestock. Is there really that much money in bacon? I’m not even in the house and your twenty-five-thousand-a-month tenants have already destroyed fifty-thousand dollars’ worth of landscaping.”
“We have a solid contract. I’ve been in touch with Hump Dog’s people and they promised he will pay for all damages,” Jack assured her. “H. D. likes to throw parties … and sometimes his guests get out of control.”
“You at least got his name right,” J.J. cursed. “If I ever get my hands on that foul-mouthed pig He’s Dead!”

At least the inside of the mansion was presentable. A Beverly Hills cleaning service had worked for three days before her arrival. Several wall decorations as well as a Rene Lalique sculpture were missing and J.J. suspected they had been broken and discarded. Fresh stucco on one wall showed where a gaping hole had been repaired.

The three-acre back-yard looked like the set of a horror movie. Underwear, male and female, and empty Corona beer bottles littered the ground. Tire tracks led across a bed of tortured Moth Orchids and through an artistically-sculptured hedge. A thirty-five thousand dollar Harley-Davidson Triglide lay submerged in the deep end of a leaking Olympic-sized swimming pool. A fistful of hundred-dollar bills floated on the dark oily surface. SORRY was spray-painted in giant red letters across the world’s most expensive decking stone.
J.J. was too tired to cry as she climbed the curving stairs to her bedroom. She hadn’t been back in the fabulous house since her raison de vivre, Johnny Lang, had vanished from her life. She had agreed to do the overseas picture as an escape and as a way to forget. It didn’t work. She suspected nothing would ever erase his memory.
Soft Damaris silk gently caressed her arms as she fell onto the Michael Amini canopy bed. Her iPhone played the theme to her first successful movie Escape the Night before she could close her eyes. Jack Thomas sounded triumphant. “I’ve located a gardener who can restore your beautiful landscaping,” he said. “The only caveat … he absolutely only works at night.”
“How is that possible?” J.J. was feeling frustrated.
“Lights on his hat, I guess.”
“Is he any good?”
“My sources tell me he’s the best.”
“He better be!” J.J. threatened. “This house is my only escape from the wonderful experience all you people call fame and fortune and I will not expose myself to Hollywood and its legions of zombies without a place to hide.”
Jack assured her the new-landscaper would be at work as soon as possible.

The phone rang before she could turn it off. The assistant production manager for The Planet of Gold’s, cheerful voice sounded fake even for Hollywood. “Remember tomorrow you have two quick re-shoots at Warner Brothers … make-up is at 5AM.” There was a slight pause. J.J. imagined him looking at the scheduling book super-glued to his hand.  “The limo driver will pick you up at exactly four-thirty seven.”
J.J. sighed as she switched off the phone. Everything in Hollywood was rented by the hour except stars and studios. The production company’s two quick re-shoots would run into at least a week of sixteen-hour days.

J.J. kicked off her shoes and buried her face in a hand-beaded Neiman Marcus pillow. She thought she could still smell Johnny’s scent in the woven cashmere. Sometimes she wished she also could just up and disappear. “I can’t stop loving you. Why did you leave me?” she sobbed as a single tear rolled down her cheek. The only sound in the house was the ticking of a French boulle Mantel Clock and the sound of heavy traffic on Corral Vista Avenue, and then finally at 9PM … her soft snoring.


-------2-------


            She was with him, walking through the swirling mists of memory. “When I wake up this this will all have been a dream won’t it?”
            “I don’t know what’s real. Who is and who isn’t,” Johnny told her. “I only know that love is and I want to spend every second I can with you.” He pulled her close.
            J.J. could still feel Johnny’s lingering kiss on her lips when she opened her eyes. The digital clock next to her bed read 4:19AM. Soft moonlight glowed from French doors leading to a west facing veranda. A tiny beacon of light flickered from the grounds below. A prowler! J.J. reached for the phone before she remembered Jack telling her the new gardener only worked at night. She quietly opened one door and slipped onto the balcony. A dark figure below inched through the lush foliage on hands and knees, clutching a spade and with what looked like a tiny miner’s light attached to his square-looking head. “He certainly wasted no time,” she muttered and stumbled back into bed again.
J.J. yawned just as the alarm next to her bed buzzed. She filled and turned on an espresso machine next to a sunken tub in her bathroom. Ten minutes later she exited a hot shower and dressed quickly. She walked onto the veranda holding a steaming cup. A cool night breeze made her damp skin tingle. She thought of Johnny’s touch and wanted to cry. The still black sky was just beginning to lighten over the Pacific Ocean to the east. The first Inca Dove of the morning made his no hope sound from a branch of a Thuja tree … the gardener was gone.


-------3-------

A Stetson wearing Tony Drake, one of The Planet of Gold’s production assistants, was yelling into a phone when J.J. entered Warner Brothers sound stage four. One of the Alexa XT digital video cameras rented for the shoot was not working properly. “If a replacement isn’t here within an hour you’ll eat the full fifteen-hundred day rate for one camera.” J.J. had heard a rumor that the young assistant had a father with two thousand acres in Wyoming and mob connections.
Sergio Mantz, the film’s director, was talking to a mousey-haired intern when J.J. walked past heading toward makeup. She kept her eyes averted; the film’s director had asked her out several times in London, she had always refused. At least half the production crew was made up of U.C.L.A. film students working for industry experience and a few credit hours. J.J. had watched Sergio dump a truckload of scripts and books on this same graduate student the year before with the task of reading and finding something fantastic that hasn’t been done before.
“I love it,” the girl said pushing wire-rim glasses back on her nose and handing the director a book. “It’s about the Titanic disaster. A young man from the future is falling in love with a passenger on the ill-fated cruise through his dreams.”
An image of James Cameron’s fifteen-million dollar replica sitting unused in a huge saltwater tank in Baha, Mexico obviously filled Segio’s head as he handed back the novel. “You know the drill, send the author one dollar to option the exclusive film rights for one year, renewable for two more, and then ask one of the intern writers to work up a script on spec. If we get a nibble from the studio, we’ll have a staff writer rework the entire story.”
“The author is British, London I believe,” the girl said. “Writers in the U.K. are not as easily exploited as their American counterparts.”
“Make it two pounds then,” Sergio snickered. “But it had better be good.”

J.J. shook her head as she walked past. Writers were always the first causalities of the creative war whenever any film was made. They would endure the monetary rape and pillage and think themselves fortunate. The dreams they put into words were often stolen for a pittance and exchanged for the ever elusive promise of success in a film industry rank with greed and power.


-------4-------

It was 7:38 PM. J.J. had just finished twenty three takes of one long chase scene where she was pursued by alien plant life forms. The forty-four second sequence required eight sets, painstakingly built to match the ones in London, each with an elaborate array of Venuese flowers and other dangerous plants in front of giant green screens. Cameras mounted to roller-coaster like tracks recorded Leika’s orgasmic expressions as she dashed and wove through the jungle half naked on the back of a giant dragonfly. While one sequence was being filmed, the next set was being prepared. Sergio was not satisfied when the digital shots were edited together. He insisted on viewing a high definition blowup of each frame. “There!” he screamed pointing to a detail that no audience member would ever see. “In the first sequence a tiny drop of perspiration rolls down Leika’s cheek and catches on her chin. It disappears on the next two shots and then re-appears on the fourth.”
Sergio threw his hands in the air and stomped off the set followed by a protesting executive producer from Twentieth Century Fox, the company putting up forty-million, half the film’s shooting budget, for advertising and distribution. The executive producer insisted the drop of water could be inserted digitally and Sergio was demanding a larger stage so the shots could be filmed authentically in one continuous take.
Ten minutes later, it was announced that shooting would be suspended for the day and would resume when the company acquired a larger production facility.
“Why do the producers put up with Sergio’s impossible rants?” J.J. asked Tony as he walked her to a waiting limo.
“It’s the logic of balance sheets by the Jews putting up the money,” Tony said. “The studio figures Sergio is an overly critical bastard and a nightmare to work with … therefore he must be a genius.”


-------5-------

J.J. stared in amazement as the limousine entered the long circular drive at 419 Corral Vista Avenue. It had been months since she had seen her home in daylight. The garbage scattered about the landscaping had been removed and a thick layer of black mulch surrounded each flower bed. It was as if she had just walked from a hot sauna into a cool breeze as she stepped from the car. Exotic, almost forgotten fragrances tickled her nose and made her smile and close her eyes even though she was exhausted from work. She felt like dancing as she walked through the house.
The three-acre backyard was even more enchanting. A truck with a crane was just pulling the Harley Davidson from the pool. The hedge had been re-sculpted to portray a group of giggling children peering through a broken fence. A bed of red and white fantastically entwined roses climbed six feet in the air and depicted a man and woman kissing beside a three-tiered fountain spraying glistening drops of colored water like falling diamonds.
It was starting to get dark when J.J. finally went back in the house. She’d found herself actually singing as she wandered through the exotic gardens. It had been months, almost a year since …


-------6-------

When J.J. opened her eyes, the digital clock next to her bed read 4:19AM. The flickering beams of light once again showed from the garden below. She slipped on a silk dressing gown as she rushed toward the French doors leading onto the balcony. The same dark figure was bent over the Japanese Orchids. A car went past on Coral Vista Avenue with its headlights on high-beam, casting stray light like fishing lines. Was that a hood the gardener was wearing?
J.J. rushed downstairs and into the backyard. She wanted the gardener to know how much she loved his work, maybe ask him in for a cup of coffee. He was just disappearing through a service gate. Moments later she heard an engine start and saw an old battered station wagon make its way down the long drive. Something about the car reminded her of Johnny. The cast- iron Hyde Park entrance opened and closed automatically and the strange man with the green hands was gone.


-------7-------


            This time the sound stage was enormous. An eighth mile long track rose dipped and twisted through an exotic alien landscape put together over night by an army of mostly unpaid film students.  “Si guarda meglio di ieri,” Abrianna Viscotti whispered as she applied J.J.’s exotic make-up “I only have to use half as much powder under your eyes.” J.J. smiled, she did feel good. The landscaping around her home was coming along beautifully. She felt younger, fresher and with more energy … could exotic plants have a drug-like effect on the people who nurtured them? There was no more time to ponder … filming began again and it was exhausting.

            It was after eleven PM when Sergio was finally satisfied. J.J. agreed to meet Tony Drake and three other production people including Abrianna at Chateau Marmont for a late dinner / early breakfast end-of-filming celebration. Sunset Boulevard was busy for near midnight, but film people have to spend their money sometime.
            J.J. ordered Strip Steak Burguignonne along with a salad. Tony insisted on wine. The waiter brought two bottles of Camus Jubilee.
The bill came to a little over six-hundred dollars. J.J. was astonished when Tony pulled out the cash at checkout. “That drawer behind the register is full of Rolex and David Yurman watches!” Tony laughed. “Even big name directors have had Visa Gold-Cards rejected when they get the bill in this place. You get ten percent off when you pay cash.”
            They were all walking on sea-legs when they left the building. J.J. pulled out her phone to call for limo service. “Don’t be a fool,” Tony said clicking off her phone as she tried to dial the number. “The price doubles between one AM and five. I’m parked right over there. I’ll have you home while they’re still looking for a driver.” J.J. was a little drunk or she wouldn’t have agreed.
            Tony had a Dodge Viper and he drove like a liquored-up cattle-man. By the time they reached 419 Corral Vista Avenue her head was swimming, and J.J. realized she had a problem: Without the limo service she always used, the electronic gates would not open. “No problem!” Tony gushed. “He took off his hat, leaned over and kissed her passionately. His hand brushed across her chest. “You wanted to spend the night with me anyway!”
            J.J. was stunned as Tony started the Dodge. She reached over and snatched his keys from the ignition. “Sorry, but I don’t do sleep overs.”
            “You bitch!” Tony grabbed for the keys and she dropped them on the floor just as she opened her door. J.J. ran toward the service entrance. She could hear Tony yelling loud enough to wake the neighbors. “Six hundred bucks I spent on you baby … the least you could do was let me ride your horse.” The car roared away burning rubber down the street.


-------8--------

J.J was almost to the service gate when she saw the strange gardener lurching toward his car. He was wearing a hood, a bag with tiny slits that completely covered his head! “I want to talk to you!” she yelled. “The man began to run with a shambling tormented movement like something was wrong with his legs. Even though she was drunk she caught up with him easily. “I’m not angry,’ she blurted. “I’m in love with your wonderful work!”
            “Thank you,” he mumbled as he unlocked his door. “Coming from you that means a lot. If you want to talk … call me tomorrow.”
She couldn’t see his face … but his voice was smiling.
J.J. pushed against the door with her hip to keep it from opening. “I understand the light,” she said pointing at his head. “But why the dark hood?”
            “I have my reasons,” the man mumbled as he gently moved her out of the way.
            “You afraid to have people look at you?”
            “Something like that.”
            “Nonsense!” J.J. laughed “They call me one of the most beautiful people in the world and look at me … a gorgeous Saturday night with nowhere to go.”

Camus Jubilee sells for two-hundred dollars and is highly potent. J.J. had almost consumed one bottle by herself. She didn’t know why she pulled the hood from his head as he started to climb in the old station wagon. When he turned around grabbing for the sack, she froze in horror. Two bulges like over-ripe melons protruded from a forehead covered in warts and gigantic skin tags. One enlarged, lidless eye drooped below another almost grown over with sagging melted flesh and bristling hair. Jagged teeth protruded in all directions from both sides of a crooked mouth- opening the size of a teaspoon.

            J.J. screamed. Moments later she heard the engine on the old car start, but couldn’t comprehend what was happening. There was a faint sound of sobbing. She screamed again as the car rattled and banged onto the highway and then disappeared into the night.

To be continued …


I’ll meet you here next week, dear reader … meantime, why not treat yourself to
“Cloverdale Tales of Terror” – a collection of short stories to read on your kindle, available exclusively from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/CLOVERDALE-Tales-Terror-Randall-Peterson-ebook/dp/B00IC4URYK?ie=UTF8&btkr=1&ref_=dp-kindle-redirect



Sunday, June 12, 2016

FAMILY TREE "To Kill for Fire" part 2

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



FAMILY TREE
Part 4 … “To Kill for Fire” … continued

By R. Peterson

Pangaea …around three-hundred and eighty-million, six-hundred and thirty-two thousand, four-hundred and thirteen sunrises ago …
Bright Eyes staggered away from the cave in a daze. The sorrow and the memories would not go away. He wandered next to the frozen stream where Bo had taught him and the other hunters how to spear fish with sharpened sticks. The family patriarch had taught patience. Do not chase the fish Bo had instructed with grunts and gestures … make them believe you are a source of food rather than a hungry hunter. Bo had dug into the stream bank and gathered tiny wiggling creatures from the soft soil. Facing the sun, so no shadow would be cast on the water, the worms were scattered on the surface of a deep pool. Bo had stood motionless as a tree trunk with the sharpened stick raised over his head. You must be quiet and still enough to feel the beating of your own heart he had told them. Notice how fast the fish swims and where it goes. When you see the eyes of the fish, jab at the place where it will be on your next heartbeat or you will miss.
Bright Eyes remembered the racks of drying fish at the back of the cave, now all gone. Bo had been a great leader.

 Twisted willow-frames lay next to the stream, their drying hides missing. Broken sticks and scraps of leather were all that remained in the area where the clan females spent so much of their time. Bright Eyes remembered sitting next to Keisha as she scraped fat from the skins with a chunk of jagged flint. He often begged her to tell him stories about the legendary Mawka. The old woman had seen the spirit of all things moving on the surface of water when Bright Eyes had not been much older than a baby. She had insisted that whenever the family moved to a new location that they remain motionless with their eyes closed next to the water until she obtained approval from the Gods. Who would gather herbs and be the clan healer now that the family leaders had gone to join the spirits? Bright Eyes knew that Keisha had been teaching Light on Water all that she knew, but he didn’t know if the young female was experienced enough to take on such an awesome responsibility. He shook his head and moaned. It didn’t really matter. Without weapons, food and fire the family could not survive more than a few days.
When Bright Eyes returned to the cave he found all the younger hunters picking up rocks from under the snow and preparing to attack Krug’s lodge. “They have taken our food and our fire,” Moab signed. “This means war!”
“We must have a supply of food before we go into battle,” Bright Eyes told them. “If we are injured in a fight we will never survive!”
“When we go to hunt meat, they will steal all of our wood again!” Moab grunted.
“Two of us will go on the hunt, the others will stay here and gather a large supply of rocks,” Bright Eyes signed. “If Krug or any of his lodge approaches the cave, fight them off.”
Noting that Moab was the last to drop his rocks, Bright Eyes picked him for the hunt. The young male might have agitated the others to attack without preparation. “We will return with meat in the morning,” Bright Eyes told the members of his cave. “Huddle together under the skins we used to carry the wood and you shall keep warm. We will have food and fire … this is my promise.”
The snow was falling even faster as Bright Eyes and Moab left the cave armed only with a sharpened stick and a club.

-------2-------

            Game was very hard to find. Bright Eyes startled a rabbit from a snow covered thicket, after they had traveled for over an hour, but it was too fast and Moab missed it with his spear. A cold wind came from the north and blew the freezing snow into their faces and quickly covered their tracks. Bright Eyes decided to follow the river bank. If they were successful and obtained meat, all would be for nothing if they couldn’t find their way back to the cave.
            The wind was now howling like an angry animal. The snow was blowing past them so ferociously even if an Ibex stood right before them they wouldn’t be able to see it. “We must find a place to wait out the storm,” Bright Eyes signed to Moab.
            A long hour later, during a lull in the wind, Moab spied a clump of shaggy brown fur vanishing into the stream bank. The opening, although long, was only large enough to crawl into and Moab screamed when they came to a much larger chamber and a ground sloth lunged at his face. Only a hint of light entered the cave and Bright Eyes missed several times, hitting Moab more than once, before his flailing club and the young hunter’s thrusting spear, finally brought the biting and tearing monster down.
Bright Eyes and Moab collapsed trying to catch their breath; their own blood mixing with the sloth’s on the floor of the den.
            “The first time your club struck me I thought perhaps you wanted to eat me,” Moab whispered to Bright Eyes with a grin that was missing a tooth. “The second time, I was almost sure.”
Bright Eyes smiled. They were both happy as they cut the fresh meat into tiny pieces and felt the still-warm blood sting their frozen lips. They were tired but they ate … then they ate again.
            “There is not enough here to feed everyone, but we will return with what we can,” Bright Eyes said as he wrapped what was left of the meat in the skin and placed it outside the burrow.
They huddled together in silence as the storm thickened and finally the last light vanished. Only the howling of the endless wind outside kept them company … and then it too was still. Time is but the movement of light and in darkness it does not exist. They must have slept … for when they woke-up the world had changed.

-------3-------

Water dripped from the roof of the den and ran across Bright Eyes’ nose; he sat- up and sniffed. The air felt warm. Only a faint glow of light showed where the buried entrance to the burrow was. He shook Moab to wake him and they slowly dug their way out.
The frigid wind that had blasted from the north before their long sleep now gusted from the south cautious and warming. The center of the fast moving stream had thawed in spots and Bright Eyes noticed the pointy heads of hungry fish as they broke the surface in a small hole and sought food. He dug through the snow and found the package of meat wrapped in the sloth’s own skin. Bright Eyes broke the flesh into tiny pieces and scattered them across the hole in the ice as Moab held his spear ready.
            The scattered meat caused a feeding frenzy. Each thrust of Moab’s spear brought up one fish, sometimes two. By nightfall the stream bank was littered with fish. Bright Eyes stripped the twig ends from a supple willow branch and threaded it through several dozen gills. It was all they could do to drag the load as they headed back to the cave by the light of the moon.

-------4-------

            The cave was too quiet. Bright Eyes could only think about when they returned with the wood and found Bo and Keisha both dead. They had only been gone for a few days … or had they? Surely the clan would still be alive! The wood that they had collected was still piled by the cave entrance and Bright Eyes noticed the strange rock he had brought back still hidden in the pile.
            Moab came from the cave a moment later. “Empty,” he signed. “Everyone has left!”
Bright Eyes did not understand. “Where could they have gone?”
Moab pointed to movement on the far side of the wide frozen stream. Krug’s camp had doubled in size. Bright Eyes thought he could see New Leaf and Under Rocks among the females breaking and carrying firewood.
With a roar of rage Moab started across the frozen ice. Bright Eyes chased after and caught up with him at almost the center. “There is no sign of struggle in the cave. Our people chose to join with Krug,” he signed. “Maybe we should join the Krug clan too.”
            “To be slaves?” Moab pushed Bright Eyes away and gestured to the familiar family members now doing all the hard work while Krug’s people sat by the fire and ate. “Some things are worse than death.”
Bright Eyes could not stop him. He threw his arms in the air and called after him. “There are too many … come back!”
Moab was across the ice when Krug and two other males approached with their hands raised in greeting. Moab ignored their welcome pushing past as he moved toward the lodge. Bright Eyes heard him call out to New Leaf as he climbed the bank. They had always been friends. Bright Eyes looked but could see none of the young males from his camp.
            Suddenly Krug and the two others rushed Moab from behind. He turned and fought the three larger males with a strength far beyond his size but when his spear became tangled in four grasping arms; Krug thrust his own spear into the young hunter’s side.
Bright Eyes saw New Leaf scream and drop the load of sticks she was carrying just as a bloodied Moab crumpled to the ground. Krug and the two males hurtled stones at the writhing male until he stopped moving. The members of Krug’s camp were crying in terror and confusion until he held his spear high in the air and silenced them.
Krug swaggered to the edge of the ice and called in a loud voice while staring directly at Bright Eyes. “You are welcome to join our clan!” He held his spear high in victory and laughed. “You will receive the same welcome as your young hunters.” Krug gestured to a pile of bloody human bones being fed-on by carrion.

-------5-------

Bright Eyes was gripped by a fear and loneliness so great his legs refused to support him. How could the Gods of his fore-fathers have let everything turn out so badly? He heard the ice crack as he fell to his knees. The spirit that Mawka had seen floating on the surface of the water must be far below, trapped by the solid ice. There would be no glimmer of help from the Gods. A memory of Bo jumping from a tree to challenge Buel the Alpha Male of Mawka’s family with a broken tree branch stuck to his hand made Bright Eyes smile even as the end approached. If this was to be his last day before he entered the spirit world he would make Bo and the other spirits proud. He slowly rose to his feet and issued a challenge making his voice loud enough for Krug’s entire lodge to hear.
Krug and the two males laughed as they danced on the bank. Krug’s entire clan came to the frozen river to watch. “Come and receive your welcome!” Krug called in a loud voice waving his spear in the air.
            Bright Eyes slammed his club onto the ice. “I challenge you Krug!” he yelled. “I challenge you to fight me alone!”
Krug was at least twice the size of Bright Eyes, but still he hesitated, some instinct warned him of danger. “Drop your club and cross the river and we will allow you to work for food scraps!”
Bright Eyes beat his club on the ice again. “I will not die a slave,” he said. “Does Krug fear to fight me alone?”
Krug’s entire clan, including the females from Bright Eyes’ cave, began to murmur as they looked at their leader. A challenge to an alpha male was instinctively passed down for thousands of generations … time could not easily put it aside. Krug started across the ice and then paused … he turned and gestured toward the two males from his camp. They joined him with whoops and yells as they advanced across the ice with their sharpened points aimed directly at Bright Eyes.
Krug’s spears were twice as long as Bright Eyes’ reach with his club. There would be no contest. Krug and the two others stayed in a tight group; there would be no way to fight them one at a time.
Bright Eyes beat the ice with his club again. If this was to be the end, let it be a fight that would be talked about around the fire for generations. Krug and the hunters were almost to the center of the frozen river. Bright Eyes could see the gleam of their teeth as they smiled.
            Bright Eyes was not afraid. He was only sorry that he could not witness the glimmer of the spirit God as it moved on the face of the water. Mawka had said that it was what guided and gave purpose to all living things.
Krug and the others were near. They appeared much larger than Bright Eyes remembered as they crossed the ice. Krug began to thrust his spear forward with every step he took. The others did the same. Bright eyes took a step back and then another. Krug and his hunters laughed cruelly and quickened their pace to a run as their feet pounded on the ice.
            Suddenly Bright Eyes stopped. Bo’s voice seemed to echo up from under the ice into his mind. It was the last thing the clan leader had ever said to him. I will look after my people … and also feed the fire.
            “I trust you!” Bright Eyes said as he raised his club for the last time. “If only I could free your spirit from the cold!” He struck the ice with all the force he could muster. A group of blackbirds roosting in the trees took flight and their wings beating the warming air mixed with the sounds of the breaking ice.
            With a crash like lightning striking a tree, a crack spread across the frozen river and then forked as it went around Krug and his charging hunters. One moment death was just ten steps away from Bright Eyes and then it vanished, replaced by an enormous plume of water and shattered ice.
            Bright Eyes stared as the water slowly settled and became calm. The sun appeared from behind a cloud as the females went wide around the hole in the ice and approached him. New Leaf and Under Rocks bowed low on the ice as did all the female members of Krug’s clan. It was a sign of respect for their new leader.

-------6-------

            The cave was large enough to hold all the members of the new family, but it was decided that this cave would be used for sacred purposes only . Bright Eyes helped to transfer the fire across the river at a shallow spot a half mile upstream. Once the main fire pit was burning brightly, Bright Eyes ventured into the back of the cave to the special place where Bo had painted designs on the cave walls. Bo’s last drawing was a dark human figure holding a round object toward the stars.
A crack on one side of a small chamber and a recessed hollow in the rock made an ideal spot for fire and a place for smoke to escape. It was a sacred spot spoken of always in hushed and reverent tones. Bo had created fire here many times and had always offered wood and flesh to the flames after a hunt and while he painted his symbols. The offering must turn to ash and the dust given to the wind. Bright Eyes knew he must offer a sacrifice for the safe return of his clan. This time meat and wood did not seem good enough. He considered offering spears and other weapons but that too did not seem enough.
            New Leaf approached carrying the strange rock that had been found at the end of the gouged out place in the earth. “I thought you might want to keep this safe,” she said as she placed it at his feet. “We found it in the pile. A light that falls from the sky must be very special.”
Bright Eyes picked up the shiny rock. It was even heavier than he remembered. He closed his eyes and waited patiently for a sign. He was sure that the spirits would direct him.
Light on Water spoke as she dropped a load of wood at Bright Eyes’ feet. “The fire must be very hot and burn for many days to turn that offering into ash,” she said pointing at the rock.
Bright Eyes nodded as he stood up walked across the chamber and placed the rock onto the recess in the stone into the Mouth of God.

-------7-------

            Bright Eyes broke the dry wood into small pieces and fed the flames for two days. The surrounding stone walls became so hot he had to place a large stone in front of the fire to keep the heat from scorching his arms. A brisk wind rose from the river and swept across the cliff top outside and sucked air through the tiny openings and made the fire roar. There was plenty of wood. Bright Eyes was determined that the Gods would be placated as he fed small sticks through the cracks to the flames.
Each morning and each evening Bright Eyes moved the blistering hot stone cover and checked the rock that New Leaf had said came from the sky. He did not eat, only drinking small amounts of water … as he fed the flames and watched. On the fourth sunrise the rock began to glow dull orange. The next morning it glowed red … and in the evening … white.       
Bright Eyes woke from a deep sleep; his ears still heard the dream sounds. Mawka was speaking to the spirits … thanking them for a gift. How long he had been in a slumber? He rushed to examine the fire. How could he have allowed the flames to go hungry? The last embers were almost gone, but so was the strange rock.  A pool of silver colored liquid had ran from the Mouth of the Gods and cooled into a thin flat puddle on the sandy floor of the cave.
            Bright Eyes poked the strange liquid with a stick but it seemed solid like ice … but not cold … and even harder than stone. Bright Eyes stared in awe. The God of Fire had accepted the rock from the sky and had given this strange substance in return. He lifted the flat piece of iron in his hand. It was still warm and new to the world … like a baby.

THE END ???



Sunday, June 5, 2016

FAMILY TREE "To Kill for FIRE"

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


FAMILY TREE

Part 4 … “To Kill for Fire”


By R. Peterson

Pangaea …around three-hundred and eighty-million, six-hundred and thirty-two thousand, four-hundred and nineteen sunrises ago …
Bright Eyes sat in a darkened corner of the family’s cave and watched as New Leaf, Under Rocks and five other young females dragged three dead aspen trees through the opening in the granite cliff. The wind was blowing from the north and already the frozen white flowers had fallen from the sky. Food for the sacred pit was becoming harder to find. He broke several branches from one tree and sniffed them as the females paid their respects to Keisha, the oldest female in the troupe. The wood must be dry without any trace of moisture or the Fire God would be angry and leave them.
Under Rocks fed Keisha fruit from a rabbit-skin bag tied around her neck with woven-grass fibers. Keisha raised her twisted fingers and shook her head as Under Rocks thrust another dried berry toward her mouth. She pointed to Bo the eldest male lying under a pile of firs next to several wooden racks holding drying fish. He had been sick for days and would need the black fruit now that most of his teeth were missing.
Bright Eyes broke several twigs from one branch and slowly placed them on the tiny flames. You were gone for many nights, he signed to New Leaf holding up five fingers. He had been planning to ask if they might mate.
Krug’s females have gathered every piece of dry wood within two days fast walking New Leaf told him and the others with grunts and motions. We saw a pile almost as large as a mountain beside their lodge.
Bright Eyes could not understand why some families took so much of everything. There was plenty of wood, fish and berries for all if only they did not take more than they needed.
Light on Water placed a bundle of long tapered leaves tied with a leather string at Keisha’s feet. The aging Spirit Talker had been showing the young female how to find various herbs and the correct way to crush and use them for healing. Keisha smiled and made the sign for good, patting her stomach. Light on Water bounced back to her place by the fire with her eyes twinkling.
            Bo sat up in the pile of skins and allowed Under Rocks to feed him seven of the berries before he motioned no more. The six full moons of cold was beginning early, the family unit would need all the food they could store to survive until the warm weather came again.
The cave filled with excited sounds and signing as Moab and four other hunters returned carrying two Bouquetin lashed to poles. Every part of the large mountain goats would be used: the hide for clothing, the meat for food and the bones and horns for tools. The hunters placed the animals before Bo, seeking his approval. “How did you kill creatures so large?” Bo asked them with grunts and gestures. He knew the young males hunted mostly tiny animals with rocks, and sharpened sticks. It took at least four grown males to bring down something this big.
            “The spirits shook the mountain and these were injured by falling rocks,” Moab gestured. “We were spearing fish nearby and heard their cries.”
Bo smiled at their good fortune as the females began to skin one of the animals with flint knives and cut the meat into strips for drying. He motioned to Bright Eyes. “Take this other goat to the lodge of Krug as a gift and ask if they will share their wood.”
Bright Eyes was skeptical, he had always found Krug and his clan selfish in all their dealings, but he had great respect for Bo and would do as the leader asked. He motioned to two young hunters, Adak and Moab, after he placed more twigs on the fire. “Help me to carry this. If we hurry we can be back before dark.”
            Bo rose from his furs and crawled across to the fire. He would tend to the flames while they were gone. He absently fingered the two iron-pyrite rich stones hanging from a thong around his neck. The rocks were his most valuable possession. The fire must not be allowed to become hungry. If it did, the deity might leave the family and an elaborate ritual of striking the stones would have to be made to get the spirit to return.

-------2-------

            The Krug family lodge was on the opposite side of the water-cut ravine, a low-ceiling area under several huge slabs of fallen stone. A mountain of firewood had been piled to block wind from the south and west sides. Krug and three males appeared with sharpened sticks when Bright Eyes and the two young hunters waded across the stream packing the goat carcass.
            “The clan of Bo offers this animal and two rabbits each moon in exchange for enough of your fire food to last through the winter,” Bright Eyes signed. He gestured toward the mountainous piles of wood. “There is enough wood in your pile to support both families through the coming cold.”
            “Bo offers what is not his!’ Krug stomped his feet on the ground and showed his teeth. “The goats, the rabbits and the fish all belong to us. You are not wanted here!”
The three males with Krug licked their lips as they gazed at the goat’s carcass. There was enough meat on the animal, when dried, to feed the family for ten days, and the horns and bones would make dozens of tools and weapons. Krug could see the other males patting their stomachs the sign that they wanted the animal. They began to spread out trying to surround the enemies.
Adak and Moab dropped the carcass and picked up river rocks. Bright Eyes removed the heavy branch the animal had been lashed to and held it in one muscled arm above his head.
Krug motioned for his males to stop when Bright Eyes and the two males refused to retreat. He could feel the young eyes on him and he knew the heavy branch and the rocks could do great damage. Even a small injury could make surviving the winter very difficult. After a moment, he gestured toward the goat and then toward the piled wood. “Yes,” he signed. “The Clan of Krug will always share with its neighbors.”
Bright Eyes, Adak and Moab were relieved that there would be no fight. They left the animal for Krug and the others and filled their arms with the precious wood. New Leaf and the other female members of the clan would return tomorrow to get the rest.
There was much feasting and telling stories in the Cave of Bo that night. There was almost enough dried meat and fish to get the family through the winter and a supply of firewood had been secured. Bo, even though sick, told the story about how Mawka had saved the family from a lion many seasons before. Bright Eyes went to sleep very late and contented. He had seen the look of admiration in New Leaf’s eyes for securing the wood supply. Before one more winter Bo would give leadership of the family to him … and then he would choose his mate.

-------3-------

            Bo was shaking him awake. “It is late,” Bo signed. “Something is wrong!”
Bright Eyes looked around the cave. All the females, including New Leaf, were missing. “Keisha went with them to gather the traded-for wood. Perhaps her injured leg makes them slow?”
            Bo shook his head and pointed outside the cave entrance to the clouded sun high in the sky. It was snowing. “They should have returned many times with the fire food.”
It took Bo much shaking to awaken the young males. They were all tired and they had eaten much. “Half of our family is missing,” he told them. “They must be in trouble.”
Bright Eyes, Moab, Adak and two younger males were all ready to leave when the females appeared at the cave entrance. New Leaf and Under Rocks dragged an unconscious Keisha. All of them were bleeding. “When we tried to take the fire food they threw stones,” Under Rocks signed. “One of the females jabbed Keisha with a stick when she stumbled.”
            “Krug agreed to the trade,” Bright Eyes marveled. “How could this have happened?”
            “The Clan of Krug asked that we join them,” New Leaf said. “Krug already has two mates, but he wants more. He says that we will all die without his fire!”
Moab stomped the ground and began to pick up rocks. “We gave the goat for the wood!” he growled.
Bo stopped him and the others before they could leave the cave. “They are more than us and we still do not have food for the fire,” he said. “We must deal with Krug at another time.” He pointed to where the snow was beginning to fall even faster. “Everyone, even the males must travel to where the wood is and bring back all they can.”
Bright Eyes looked at the falling snow and he knew they were desperate. “Who will look after you?” he signed.
            “Keisha will when she awakens from her sleep as she always has,” Bo explained. “Until then, I will look after her … and also feed the fire.”
Bright Eyes looked at the meager supply of wood, with only two to keep warm it would last for several days and there was plenty of food. “We will be back on the fourth sunrise!” He showed all the fingers on one hand. “This is my promise.”

-------4-------

            An inch of snow lay on the ground with large flakes still falling. The entire family assembled for the journey including children. Two very young males not over five years in age struggled to be first in line. Loos, the son of New Leaf shoved Under Rocks’ son Gom and he knocked over a stiffening Ibex skin drying on a wooden frame. Gom held on tightly and cried out as the rack with him on it slid down a small hill.
Moab was angry with the two boys and threatened to make them stay behind, but Bright Eyes had a better idea. “Have each boy carry a bison hide and as many leather cords as they can manage. “But how will they return with food for the fire?” Moab grumbled.
            “You will see,” Bright Eyes told him.
The snow was two inches deep as they found shelter under a large fallen tree the first night; all the smaller branches had been stripped away by Krug’s family. All that remained were a few twigs. Bright Eyes would have liked a fire, but the magic stones for making the flames appear were still around Bo’s neck. Besides, it sometimes took days to make a tiny flame appear. When he became leader of the clan he would make acquiring more of the precious rocks a top priority. They draped the skins the boys had brought around two sides of the fallen tree and made a crude shelter to keep out the wind. They huddled together for warmth.
            “Tell us the story of Mawka and the lion,” Adak begged.
Bright Eyes moaned and pretended to be asleep until all of the voices under the furs were pleading and poking him. The wind was suddenly calm and large snowflakes drifting toward the ground seemed to be waiting for his voice. Bright Eyes tried to hide his smile.
“The lion was huge and ferocious with teeth as long as a man’s arm … its name was Cruzime …” Bright Eyes began.

-------5-------

 Bo’s family moved out at first light. By mid-morning, the sky was clear and bright. Sunlight on the fresh snow made the entire family squint and rub their eyes. They were going blind. Bright Eyes stopped  and asked New Leaf and Under Rocks to cut long strips from the dark parts of the Ibex hides with a horizontal cut in the center of each. He helped each family member fasten them to their faces so that only the tiny slit crossed the center of the eyes … and they continued their journey.
It was almost dark when they reached the place where the wood had not been gathered. Ancient tree limbs lay twisted and scattered across the ground next to a long deep ravine that looked as of a mountain sized stone had been hurtled from the sky by an angry God and gouged out a trench.
Bright Eyes had the boys spread the Ibex hides out on the snow and directed the females to sew them together with leather strips. He secured two limbless branches on each side making a crude travois. “Pile the wood pieces on the skins,’ he signed to the family. He struggled to make the others understand his flash of inspiration. “We will travel at night and in the early morning when the frozen ground should make the heavy load slide easily.”
By the end of the second day they had an enormous amount of wood on the skins, more than their group could have carried in three trips. Moab looked at the huge pile and shook his head. “Too much,” he grunted.
It took all the family members pushing and pulling on the poles to get the load to budge. Once it began to move it slid across the snow easily. They were near the end of the long trench when they stopped to rest. It was New Leaf who spotted the glittering rock reflecting the last rays of daylight. “A light has fallen from the sky,’ she signed. Bright eyes left the others and went to investigate.
            Something about the rock reminded Bright Eyes of Bo’s magic stones but the shiny parts  glimmered in a different way. It was also very heavy … misleading for its size. It was almost as large as his head. He found an empty place in the wood piled on the skins and placed the strange object there.
The family members complained that they were tired and wanted to rest for the night. An unknown anxiety kept Bright Eyes moving. It wasn’t until long after the sun rose and the frozen ground began to get soft, making the pulling slow, that they stopped.
            Bright Eyes walked over to look at the strange rock several times while the others slept. Something about the object made him want to return to the cave as soon as possible. Bo would want to see what he had found. As soon as the sun set low on the horizon and it began to get cold again they moved out.

-------6-------

            The family began to make happy sounds as they neared the cave. Adak and Gom made chattering noises like squirrels. Something was wrong. The faint trail of smoke that escaped from the top of the cave was missing. Surely Bo had not let the Fire God go away hungry! The stones around the fire pit were in disarray. Cold black ashes rested where the flames had once burned. New leaf and Under Rocks shrieked when they found Keisha buried under the snow just outside the cave entrance. Dried blood covered the outside of her frozen skull.
            Bright Eyes searched a low ceiling passage at the back of the cave before he found Bo. Chunks of ochre, carbon and calcite littered the ground where the family patriarch had been drawing magic symbols on the walls. At first Bright Eyes thought Bo must have lay down on a large chunk of the red mineral, crushing it as he went to sleep. When he looked closer he discovered it was blood. The oldest member of the family was as cold as the ground below him.
            Moab approached with angry grunts. The racks of dried fish and other meat were all gone. Everything in the cave that had any value, including the spears and firs were all missing. Bright Eyes looked at Bo’s too pale chest. Red marks still showed where the magic fire stones had been torn from around his throat.
Bright Eyes staggered in a kind of sleepy daze as Moab led him to the cave entrance. The entire family was screaming in fear and despair. No group of people could survive the harsh winter without food and fire. What kind of animals could do such a thing?
            “This was not animals!” Moab showed Bright Eyes a large group of human prints partially buried under the snow along with tiny scraps of dried fish. Bo and Keisha’s killers had feasted as they traveled with their pilfered treasure. The tracks led across the frozen river to the lodge of Krug.

To be continued ..;.