Good Writing,— Punctuation and Grammar?
How grammar and punctuation are used is only relative to your audience. There are a number of formats preferred for writing depending on your audience and many of these have conflicting rules on punctuation and grammar; because there is no exact science on the way we convey thought, no-matter how much there are those who would like to think they can control it. But, if authors wish to reach their widest reader base possible, their work should convey meaning as clearly as can be penned so all who read the work will understand. This requires punctuation to clarify thought. When it comes to creative writing in dialogue: very few people, if any, speak in proper grammar 100% of the time; thus slang contractions and sentence fragment are used and should be used, because it’s real. But, who of us here doesn’t see the need for “quotation marks” encasing your protagonist’s dialogue. Would there be clarity of thought of what’s happening, or who’s speaking if the quotation marks are left out? Will this limit your audience if they can’t see charity in the narration? Periods and capital letters add clarity to a break in thought in sentence structure. Ask yourself: How much will my readers truly understand if I remove all punctuation and capital letters. Are you truly conveying thought that will reach your widest audience? My friends, all of us here post because we want others to read our thoughts and written works-of-art. Hopefully we are also here to learn from each other.
“To me,— Good Writing,— Lives.”
Contest by “@SaffiyaSmith, An Untitled Work Rewrite” Opening words “those rolling hills…”
The rolling hills, — green and ever-growing underneath the summer sun, — are perfect: — the place I reside, — yet — can’t help watching the world pass by as the sun fades and darkness consumes my surroundings. I lie with desire of morning dew awakening my course, — to feel the soft damp blades of dawn wrinkle under my toes and a light breeze filtering through my locks, — freeing my soul to write. My world spills forth landscapes with beautiful evenings of fiery skies, — clouds eclipsing; yet magnifying the dieing light in glory, —— truly indefinable by words as visions cry hope. Yes, — my longing :— a stylist painting wonder and imagery that tears within hearts, drawing emotion from the shell of existence because life means more. —— But, — pain is the perfect cell in-which to hide. I lie in my bed staring at my black painted ceiling and wonder, — is it possible to shed the husk of my making, — turning dreams into reality? Or in our torrid times, — is the darkness that whispers hypnotically insurmountable?
Life moves forward and so, —— I will —— too choose more.
Dizziness set in as he felt his stomach lurch.
Matty grabbed the railing at the top porch step, but lost his footing. Sickening sweet as the smell of fresh vomit after a heavy infusion of rum and pineapple juice, a pasty toxin painted his throat and waxed his tongue as he stumbled to the earth and fell — yet continued to crawl to the lake.
The call was mesmerizing from deep within his soul. The need, the overwhelming quickening to become one: The calling— ? The intoxication— ? The Nightmare? But the mental blindness thickened.
Struggling down the grassy hillside Matty neared the destination. The aurora burned at his retinas and radiated his strong cheekbones and nose as his natural sensitivities were trying to warn the brain to stop, but the young man was deaf to normal impulses.
* * *
https://theprose.com/post/259364/chapter-6-time https://theprose.com/post/259377/part-seven-the-shadow https://theprose.com/post/259393/part-8-the-voice https://theprose.com/post/259403/part-9-the-star
https://theprose.com/post/259415/pt-x-mummy-dearest https://theprose.com/post/259432/xi-prescribed-a-lullaby https://theprose.com/post/259439/part-12-no-refills https://theprose.com/post/259455/chapter-13-howling-wind-from-within https://theprose.com/post/259480/part-14-the-intake
Part 16 - Whispers
The voice seemed distant, yet commanding.
“Matty — it’s time.”
The young man raised his eyes slowly. It’s so bright. Blinded within the void, his sensations were numb. He could not see his arms, yet they were the only thing he could still feel, — crossed on his chest but lifeless.
“I need you to come with me.”
The voice sounded closer.
“Who are you?”
“I am Gabriel. —— Remember —? I’ve been here for you.”
The facial image broke through the haze: the strong masculine feature with a faint smile floating amid the void. Mathew could not place any memory.
Am I dead?
“Come with me Matty.”
Mathew heard a ruffle, — a breeze on his cheek but the muffled sound was out of place, — incoherent with the white emptiness of the void. The young man turned away from the apparition, — scanning his surroundings, “It’s so bright.”
“That will pass.”
The voice was reassuring, but anxiety surged within the young man’s chest, — choking forth fear. “I’m not ready.——Ma’ma?” His cry was broken and lost. “Ma’ma,—— please?”
The facial mirage moved closer as a shape took form to the left of the strange image. A wing?
“It’s time,” a second voice whispered from deeper within the empty.
Matty felt a tug on his arm and then again — slipped into unconsciousness.
“ Numerical superiority is of no consequence.
In battle, victory will go to the best tactician.”
George Custer (1839-1876)
* * *
Dawn came early as the troop broke camp on the slow trail to The Hollows. The winds of an early winter rustled the surrounding trees, high up on the valley’s ridge. The weather pattern was changing with the rising sun; but on the valley floor, shielded behind a blanket of early morning fog, the men were quiet as they continued their duties on empty stomachs. The camps gray surroundings looked ominous, an omen,— gloomy as the desperation the men felt packing their animals without even benefit of coffee,— their remaining meager supplies, after an accident, had dwindled out the previous day. The company’s scouts never returned from the last night’s reconnaissance, perhaps abandoning them to a fate of starvation, lost among the rocky hills of this empty wilderness.
Late for their rendezvous and without escort, the commander was determined to valiantly continue the journey, but unfamiliar with the territory and without the benefit of a guide, the Captain was in a precarious position.
The Gatling gun they were moving was awkward for the hilly terrain; a .30 caliber ten barrel design, that could shoot up to 1200 times a minute, won the approval of the Ordnance Department in 1866 as a weapon of promise,— an improvement over Dr. Richard Gatling’s 1862 model,— a .58 caliber hand crank machine gun that had only six revolving barrels and fired on average, about 400 rounds a minute. The earlier version never won acquisition by the U.S. Government because of numerous problems; but in the post war era, Richard’s later achievement was adopted officially and deemed a valuable asset in the continuingly, increasing conflicts with hostile Native Americans.
Captain Jenkins was a man of moderate temperament and a stiff manner of control that held an unnerving power over the men under his command. He was under strict orders to move into the Northwestern region with his small contingent and support the failing efforts of the cavalry to suppress the escalating skirmishes.
The Gatling was the pride of his company, but after a week of pulling the weapon over the rocky terrain, limiting their advancement to a mere 20 miles a day, the men longed to dump the wagon wheeled monstrosity,— wishing they had dropped it over the narrow gorge where they lost the chuck wagon the previous week.
Captain Jenkins was of a different mindset and ordered the riggings set for another day when a call went out, and a panic erupted throughout the camp. Two men on horses thundered into the site yelling, “They’re dead,— they got um... they’re dead.”
At first, because of the fog, it could not even be determined where the riders were coming from. Men scrambled to their horses not sure if the enemy was advancing, when Captain Jenkins’ strong voice of authority resounded over the chaos, assembling the men in a large circle: a man about every ten yards apart, each with his animal by his side. A crew of four men wheeled the Gatling to the center on the higher ground, and prepared the magazine.
The riders broke the line, turning the heads of the nearby linemen and dismounted by the captain; their horses agitated and lathered, pulling at the reins wanting to continue their flight. With a quick salute, both men spoke at the same time in a panic, struggling to control their mounts.
“Gentlemen! One at a time,” exclaimed Jenkins. “One at a time.”
Corporal Sandgum, a small mouse of a man looked at his companion and nodded, quelling his excitement as best he could and reported: “Sir... we found the scouts on our recognizance this morning not a mile from here.” Sandgum took a deep breath and expelled it quickly. “Someone skinned them,— Sir.”
“What!” the commander barked in disbelief.
“Kettle and Oggal are hanging in a tree just over the next set of ridges dressed out like a shot deer,” squeaked the man, pointing in the direction they had just come from.
“Was it hostiles?”
“Sir,— I’m not a tracker. We found them fellers and broke it fer here.”
Suddenly, all the horses in the configuration spooked. Their charges, distracted by the confusion, broke formation when a crack like thunder erupted; and one of the men at the Gatling slumped over the axle.
“Corporal, man the gun!” The Captain directed, while placing his left hand on his saber. Turning his attention to his command, he paced the top of the ridge and yelled, “Mount up.”
A second crack dropped a horse soldier.
“Watch the left flank,” Jenkins barked in a manner of full control while drawing his sword.
Sandgum and his crew spun the weapon preparing for a charge.
“Blanket that pocket Corporal!”
The Gatling exploded into operation, showering lead over the left bank as an almost white flame whistled from the opposite side dropping another warrior.
“We’re surrounded men,— fire at will!”
Carbines spit and popped, but the fog limited even the simplest sighting of their attackers.
Two more soldiers were cut down by streaks of white lightning when the silhouette of a giant slammed through the lines and a private’s head spun to the ground at the commander’s feet. The ghostly form faded in and out with wisps of fog, rendering death in its wake.
The captain tried to understand the nature of the attack. In disbelief, he watched as a second phantom breached his left flank amid the hand-cranked, rapid fire of his company’s pride.
The outlined form that appeared without substance danced along the borders of the cavalry’s resistance,— then disappeared completely, only to spring back into view as the heavy moisture of the lowland cloud seemed to condensate about the specter’s features. The captain drew his pistol and fired instantaneously at the seemingly substance-less form which sprung lightly away, only to reappear behind Corporal Sandgum. The little man never knew what hit him as he slumped over the revolving barrels and was thrown into the spokes of the wooden wheels of the weapon. Horses bolted from their dead charges as the Gatling went quiet.
The captain called for his men to regroup, but an eerie silence dispelled any hope as the commander walked along the top ridge of his last stand. An unknown enemy had leveled his forces in mere seconds; and now he stood alone amid an invisible death that appeared to haunt this wilderness like a ghostly pack of ravenousness demons, bent on war with flesh-and-blood. Could these wraiths even be killed?
“Show yourselves you bastards!” The captain screamed as he stumbled over his fallen. “Cowards,— show yourselves!”
Jenkins spun as a glimmer of movement raked his right field of vision. He raised his sword and parried a savage blow. The clashing of metal resounded over the lonely hill; but the man could see no physical form, only the empty shadow of an outlined embodiment. Strange that a ghost could exert such force against a steel blade.
The captain raised his pistol — shooting center of the shape and the specter lurched backward with the impact of the bullet; but immediately sprang to its feet apparently unharmed. The silhouette crackled, as a blue web of netted light, etched around its giant frame and in a twinkling of an eye the monster appeared,— dressed in what the officer guessed was battle armor. Bulging eyes with a deep red glow, burned behind the stone features of the insect shaped head. Curved horns pointed at the officer like Lucifer himself selecting a soul for special torment.
“What manner of demon are you?” screamed the captain taking a savage swing with his saber.
The beast jumped to the side and deflected the blow against a stout gauntlet with multiple blades that extended, forming hooks down its entire forearm. As it spun, it twisted sideways, backhanding as it moved.
The punch went wide as the officer ducked the sweeping swing, and locating a gap in the armor of his enemy lifted his colt and shot.
His opponent reeled under the impact, as a purple phosphorous fluid splattered from the wound and the creature howled in pain.
Captain Jenkins stabbed at the beast with his sword, but his antagonist easily rolled away and sprang back to its feet.
Two more of the creatures appeared as spectators around the life and death match, standing like chiseled forms of stone.
The commander was startled by their appearance and staggered backward to brace himself for a charge, but the enemy just looked on. The captain raised his pistol when his wounded enemy’s forehead lit up with a small red light and the horns on the creature’s head sprang to life spitting a streak of white flame that struck the commander’s left hand taking it off at the wrist; his pistol dropping to the ground a few yards away.
In shock, the captain stared at his injury when the beast unexpectedly charged, swinging a brutal blow with its strange bladed arm. Jenkins, with the grace of a skilled swordsmen, parried the strike which deflected off to his right, dropped to one knee and plunged his saber into the soft tissue of the creature’s left thigh, just behind its armor. Howling his enemy spun and swung again, but the captain stepped back as he pulled his sword free and easily dodged the mindless attack, again stabbing his enemy in a gap of its armor at its right side.
Bewildered, the creature paused with some distance between his opponent — seeming to examine its wounds as its pasty phosphorous blood flowed over its battle garb.
The captain took advantage of the break and looked at his own injury. It was strange to him. The initial impact felt like a hammer had smashed his hand, but now there was no pain or blood. In fact the captain wasn’t even sure if the events happening were real because it still seemed like the appendage was there,— just invisible and he was controlling and moving his fingers at will.
Noise interrupted the commander’s inspection as he raised his eyes back to his assailant. The creature was lifting off its headpiece, amid hissing gas, and dropped the mask unceremoniously to the ground. The giant was the ugliest thing the captain had ever seen. Wiry locks of stiff black rope that looked like a tangled weave of disjointed black widow legs. The matted and twisted jumble draped the contours of the small head exaggerating the appearance of the limited forehead. Its eyes were unusually large under the deep brow of a steep ridge that conveyed the thought of evil to the mind of Jenkins. But the most unnerving thing about the creature’s appearance was the tusks that lanced downward from the beast’s mouth. Like a saber tooth tiger’s fangs, the dagger like appendages, dripping with foam, — seemed to salivated like a disembodied soul hungry for blood.
“What manner of demon are you?” Jenkins spat with disgust.
“What manner of demon are you?” echoed back from the creature’s position, mimicking exactly the captain’s voice, followed by an eerie clicking and chirping.
Jenkins snarled and readied himself for attack. “Let’s finish this!”
The monster raised its left hand as the second gauntlet’s set of blades engaged with the grating sound of metal on metal. Then the creature paused crossing his weapon bearing arms over his chest and then dropped them to his side.
“Let’s finish this!” Repeated the captain’s words from the creature’s position and the demon charged.
The captain backed up gracefully dodging and parrying every blow even catching his enemy twice more with stabs in the right arm and left abdomen, but the creature seemed unaffected by the injuries and kept up its onslaught of blows in a mastery of a controlled attack. The commander was quickly learning his opponent’s moves, gauging his strikes and understanding his defenses when he tripped over the body of one of his fallen men. The blunder was disastrous. The creature jumped in for a final strike. The captain was able to jab his saber into the back of his enemies left ankle severing its large tendon, but as the demon fell it pinned the commander’s sword arm to the ground and plunged its right forearm into the man’s chest.
Captain Jenkins lurched foreword staring at his conqueror for but a moment,— spit in the demon’s face,— then fell back weakened and gasping for air.
The giant then peeled the vanquished’s flesh under the agonizing screams of the torture. The fiendish mouth seemed to revel in the atrocity. The demon’s fangs dripped of froth, as if salivating in the helpless terror of the dying man’s eyes.
The Golden City
A Lost Son
The young man staggered, inhaling wildly. Stumbling over an exposed root,— he fell,— catching himself on a low branch but dropped his spear. Blood flowed from a gaping wound,— laid open across the side of his abdomen to his backbone:— painting his lower extremities, and staining the heavy woven-wool garment belted to his waist.
Panicking, the man looked over his shoulder. The top, left side of his face was laid open from above the eye and across his hairline to below the ear. The skin hung,— torn free of the skull;— the bone standing out in stark contrast to the dirty flap of loose hide on the man’s cheek. His unfractured cranium almost glowed in the soft light filtering through the upper terraces of the forest. With each racing pulse of the man’s heart, his life’s fluid dribbled from his still attached scalp and streaked down the white expanse, mixing with sweat and grease, draining into his eyes. He dropped to his knees blindly feeling for his javelin,— hurriedly raking the soil with both hands until his right made contact with the smooth shaft. Clutching it to his chest he used the blunt end as a crutch and staggered to his feet.
A heavy thud hit the ground behind and the man turned presenting his spear in defense. Void of pursuit he scanned the trail. Madly he tried to wipe the excessive moisture from his blurred vision,— then froze. A massive form stepped from behind the large conifer, lifting a broad bladed war axe.
* * *
Tawque stepped in close behind Haiwi, wrapping his right arm around her small waist and placing his left on her hip, turning her body slightly. Nudging her ankle with his foot he whispered softly, “Spread your legs about shoulder width apart.”
She stepped out lightly with his touch and raised her left arm.— While firmly holding the center grip,— she extended it full as she drew the bowstring back with her right hand.
“Draw the arrow complete to the first painted ring, resting the knuckle of your thumb just under your eye.”
The wood creaked as its shapely contours bent under the strain of tension exerted on the sinew cable. The fletching brushed by Haiwi’s lashes as she positioned for sight.
“Look down the shaft, but do not focus on the tip. Rather, focus on one specific point on the target. With time you will know right where the arrow will strike.”
Haiwi’s field of vision tunneled down the feathered rod to a distant mound of piled dirt. Spent arrows riddled the area, half a dozen holding a nice pattern in the small hill.
“Your whole body is the instrument and you must repeat the exact same form each time you draw. If you must turn,— your whole upper body must pivot. No change to the extension in your arm, no difference to the point where you extend the bow.”
Haiwi felt his warm breath caressing her cheek,— the soft restraint of his hand and gentle touch.
“Focus,——allow nothing to distract you. Take a deep breath.——And as you exhale slowly;—when you feel the target,—— release.”
Like a feathered missile, the flint tipped point cut the air, striking the pile center of the grouping.
“Very good,” Tawque said as he stepped back from Haiwi.
She looked over her shoulder and smiled at her instructor.
“Gather the arrows that are close together in your quiver. The rest we bundle. Those that went right give to Bobby. Those that flew left give to the others.”
Haiwi almost skipped down to the hill grabbing the shafts holding the pattern and placed them in her quiver. Turning around she noticed Tawque had stopped short of following her and was examining the ground. “What is the matter? I don’t think one landed over there.”
Tawque was silent and kneeled, touching the earth.
Haiwi approached, leaving the excess arrows that were scattered about. “What is it?” she asked, more emphatically.
“It’s a blood trail.” Tawque stood, totally focused on the area before him.
“Perhaps an animal was hurt.”
Tawque shook his head, “This was left by a man and he’s cut up pretty bad.”
“There is no one here. Could one of our people been hurt?” Haiwi paused, spotting an elephant leaf, heavily covered in blood.
“The moccasin isn’t right.” His expression was one of deep concern as he met Haiwi’s eyes. “We have company.”
Haiwi fidgeted and pulling an arrow from her quiver she stood ready scanning the jungle, “We must leave now! All,— are enemies to us.” She notched the arrow to the sinew and flexed it slightly and eased off, reading the weapon in front of her. “Even my people are a danger to us.” Her eyes turned pleading, “Let’s warn the others and break camp. We can push west.”
Tawque whispered, placing one finger over his mouth for her to lower her voice, “One does not run blindly from an enemy. You might walk right into his camp.” He moved silently to a new point on the trail.
Haiwi stepped up beside him,— weapon ready, “What should we do?”
“We follow the trail.”
“Could we walk right into a trap? Would it not be better just to leave?”
“We need to know if there are more.” And placing his hand into a new print, he carefully examined the instep, “Where their camp is. If they pose a threat.” He made eye contact with Haiwi, “This track was made by a different man.”
“There’s more than one?”
Tawque spent a few minutes studying the trail and surrounding area while Haiwi nervously kept watch. After a thorough search, he came back, “There’s at least three. They’re injured and ran that way,” pointing.
“Well,— let’s go that way,” Haiwi motioned the opposite direction with her right thumb.
“Just because they went that way doesn’t mean they won’t circle back.” Tawque’s attention was suddenly focused a short distance away. He spotted an anomaly about thirty feet from the trail on the break of a small ridge and left the path.
“What is it?”
“Our men are being followed,” and ducking low he worked his way over to a couple skid marks. The displaced pine needles revealed a scar of bare earth. Something had stepped on the loose debris, lost its footing and slid down the short incline. Tawque moved quietly to the ravine below the scuffs with Haiwi at his heels. At the landing point he found in the damp soil of the wash several footprints. They looked human, but huge. By the trunk of a tree next to the ravine he found more. Wedged in the bark of a branch, he pulled free a tuft of hair: stiff and coarse, about 3 inches long and quite pungent.
“Is it cats?” Haiwi asked, putting a hand on Tawque’s back, trying to look around him.
“No, it’s something worse.”
Haiwi stepped around and saw the print. It looked human, but it was massive. She saw the dark fur in Tawque’s hand and shrunk back at the revelation. “Nephraceetan! We must go. Death is walking in this forest.”
“A few men we can handle,” Tawque replied with a grim smile, “even if they are big.”
“Not the Nephraceetan,—— no man has ever survived an encounter,— and no woman would want to survive if caught. They’re devils.— Children of the gods and they usually hunt in packs.”
“That would explain the blood on the trail, but we still need to follow. I don’t want to be wandering around this forest and not know where my enemy is. Following their trail gives us the advantage. Besides, if a whole tribe has moved in, we’re in trouble.”
“Please, I really want to leave.”
Tawque placed a hand gently on Haiwi’s cheek and spoke soothingly, “Trust me, I would never let anything happen to you, but we must do this.” His hand slipped down to her shoulder as he turned, looking up the ravine. “Better to face a few than a whole tribe,” and with a nod of the head started up the trail.
Haiwi followed cautiously ever alert. An arrow resting notched and ready. Her muscles tense.
Tawque picked up speed. How swift and silent he can move, she thought to herself as she slipped behind. She knew if she tried to keep up the enemy would hear them both approaching. Better for the Hand-of-the-Great-One to come upon them with surprise.
Within minutes Tawque disappeared in a denser mass of the tangled forest, leaving Haiwi in the shallow ravine far behind.
In a small clearing Tawque came upon two dead men,— one headless. Dressed in woven wool skirts and an array of arm bands and chokers,— jewelry of ivory and gold; their bodies were brutalized and bloody from numerous mortal wounds from battle. Tawque’s careful eye was scanning every detail to determine the weapons used, when a war-cry echoed over a narrow ridge ahead. The clashing of wood and grunts of battle carried through the woven maze of trees and brush.
Stealth and speed are the gifts granted the hunter. To the Blackfoot they were necessary attributes in life. Tawque was raised in a world fraught with danger. Tactics and warfare were taught from infancy. This day the gifts served him well. Within seconds he hit the top of the next ridge as silently as a shadow. From the cover of a large pine he watched the drama below.
Another man dressed in a woven wool skirt was battling with a massive figure. The hairy brute was accompanied by two other muscular foes. No taller than the man, but their hulk cast them as giants. The spectators, virtual colossi, seemed intent on just watching their comrade toy with his victim.
“Nephraceetan,” Tawque whispered as he thought of Haiwi’s words. Were these huge creatures of myth,— or men?
The engaged monster was hefting a double bladed war axe which the smaller man was fending off with only a spear. The weapon of the giant denoted intelligence, but the devilish ghoul looked more animal. Friend or foe to Tawque, the smaller man was going to die if the Blackfoot did nothing. According to Haiwi, the huge adversary was an enemy held in common. As swift as a·ah·rah,— lightning itself,— Tawque fitted a shaft and let it fly. The feathered missile struck deep, buried to the fletching, through the heart. The giant stiffened and turned when the smaller man drove his spear into the creature’s throat.
The man-beast backhanded the warrior, wrenching the lance from its neck as the gold and ivory clad soldier fell backwards, almost unconscious.
Tawque unleashed a second messenger of death as the flint punched through the base of the skull,— as the once spectators charged the Blackfoot’s position.
For the first time in Tawque’s life doubt and disbelief gripped him. He had pumped two arrows into one of the beasts and a war lance had severed part of the creature’s throat and still it turned with a fierce battle cry ready to attack. Two other demons were almost on him, but he stood his ground. With unflinching precision he buried another feathered shaft in the forehead of a new attacker. The wound slowed the beast but a moment. Then, from his right Tawque saw an arrow strike the other in the chest. He turned to see Haiwi fitting another in her bow. “Run!” he screamed, but Haiwi let a second flint point fly.
The creature turned on Haiwi as Tawque’s own assailant regained its footing. Without pause, Tawque, ignoring the danger to himself, unleashed a fletched missile at Haiwi’s antagonist, striking it in the groin.
The beast went down.
The arc of a double bladed war-axe grazed Tawque’s scalp as the warrior ducked the blow and turned, shifting his bow in his grip. With a mighty swing, Tawque severed the Nephraceetan’s leg just above the calf. Purple blood spewed forth as the creature fell, catching itself with its left hand; but the demon still tried to bury the axe in Tawque’s side.
The warrior pivoted, dodging the steel and spinning, took off the demon’s hand at the wrist. The big blade dropped to the forest floor as Tawque jumped and turned with a powerful swing. The ghoul’s head flopped forward, then rolled free as the body dropped, shaking uncontrollably, prone on the earth.
With a quick glance Tawque saw Haiwi, dancing around the injured devil, pummeling its body with arrows. The groin shot had apparently disabled the swifter movements of the thing, but the beast was still waving his axe in an attempt to kill its tormenter. Tawque approached, burying two more arrows into the creature’s back, through its heart. The Nephraceetan turned and Tawque took its head with a swing of his bow.
Looking down from the ridge, the man clad in gold and ivory was standing over the inert body of the last Nephraceetan. Haiwi saw the injured man and ran to Tawque, “We must go.”
“He’s hurt bad, he’s no threat. Do you know where he’s from?”
“He’s a free clansman of my city,— a hunter and trader. He mustn’t see me.” Haiwi tugged at Tawque’s arm. “Let us run from here, NOW!”
“If he’s from your city, isn’t he a friend?” Tawque watched the man collapse. Pulling his arm free he stared, distressed and disappointed at Haiwi, “In a dangerous place friends are hard to come by. This man will be a friend now.”
Haiwi bowed her head, “You are right,” she mumbled. Lifting her head, almost pleading, she looked deep into Tawque’s eyes, “But he poses great danger to us.”
* * *
The Golden City
Two men sat whispering by the glowing embers of the chamber fire. One on a beautiful crafted chair laced with animal skins and gracefully contoured ivory armrests carved with scenes of men on the march and animals running from the hunt.
The other man was older, resting a hand on his knee while holding a beautifully carved, ivory medicine staff; its butt planted firmly against the ground. The older leaned in on his perch,— a stool that matched the throne in splendor but not stature.
The flickering light danced across their countenances’,— revealing the comforting counsel from the kind face of the one sitting on the footrest and the anxiety written on the other’s.
“My Lord,” replied the older, trusted advisor, “Your fears are unfounded. Your daughter lives.”
“A·Qutue, how can you be so sure? She has been gone for over a moon and I have heard nothing but rumors.” The grief stricken man sighed as he fell back into the deep cushions of the large seat; cradling his head on his posted right hand as if only by the support could the weight of his thoughts be held aloft. Tears welled in the father’s eyes. “The eastern kingdom celebrated a great sacrifice with a woman of our land as the gift.” His head dropped into both his hands as he shook. “I have heard the talk of the servants.”
“My King,” A·Qu·tue placed his palm on the king’s knee. “I have heard those rumors too; but the eastern heathens’ ritual was thwarted and the woman was said to have escaped. Besides, I dreamed last night. Your daughter is under the protection of a mystic warrior. The gods themselves are watching over Haiwi for her safe return.”
“I truly hope you are right my friend, but I fear for her as I fear for our kingdom.”
“She will return. I have seen it.”
The monarch leaned in close to his most trusted advisor, his features pleading yet clothed in sorrow, “Please my friend,— if you have dreamed such comforting thoughts,— talk with the Great-One now and share with me the truth of this confidence.”
A·Qu·tue stood and pushed a lone coal back into the pit with the butt of his staff. Reaching for a pouch at his side, he pulled the leather bag from his hip and sprinkled some of its contents over the flames. A green smoke sputtered up from the fire and a strong aroma filled the chamber. The older man closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then hummed as he fell into the trance. Dark clouds hid the details of his thoughts as haunting forms drifted in an endless void amid the odor of the burning incense. The seer could hear voices, but the words were garbled. The image of a young woman reached out of the mist to A·Qu·tue — smiling, but the form wavered then disappeared as another,—a man floated by prone, with a flint blade in his ribs. A little pale-skinned stranger cried out. Then A·Qu·tue was standing before the temple. The beautiful ivory throne of his king fell from the sky and at the very sanctuary; it burst upon the ground and crumbled into dust. A·Qu·tue took the powder into his hand slowly letting it sift as the wind blew the particles into a whirlwind. A small child cooed and a young woman giggled. The mystic warrior of his previous visions appeared suddenly taking the priests wrist and blew the remaining dust of the throne from the seer’s hand. The powder turned to smoke and the awful fanged features of a Nephraceetan came out of the cloud, purging A·Qu·tue from the trance.
The king watched in earnest what was but a moment as A·Qu·tue awoke, frowning and fell back onto his stool, exhausted.
“She will come back soon? Tell me.— What do the spirits say?”
“She will come, but…” The old man drifted off.
“But, but,—but what.”
“She comes,” but tragedy marks her return. How can I tell you of the danger?
“Yes,—yes, Haiwi will return soon, then will she marry Ca·roo·a·too as I have promised and they will have a son?”
A·Qu·tue shook his head, “I believe Ca·roo·a·too is the reason why the princess is missing.”
“Nonsense,— he would have nothing to gain by harming her,” but a wrinkled brow and a hand rubbing the face and brushing the graying hair from the weathered forehead belied the king’s confidence.
“You are possibly right; but perhaps her disappearance wasn’t by his hand, but because of his hand.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You know how she expressed her displeasure at your choice for Ca·roo·a·too as a husband.”
“Yes, but he would make a good husband and ruler.”
“But I fear, my King, that his longing for power reveals a darker side that Haiwi herself brought to my attention.”
The king smiled a sly crooked grin, “You and my daughter are conspiring together against me,—— my old friend?”
The old priest became blustered, waving his hands in dismay, “Never,—my Lord. I would never betray you or the kingdom, but your daughter has confided with me often. She is wise for her years and even she sees the truth.”
“Why would you say such a thing?”
“Have you not seen his grandiose ploys before the people and…”
“Stop this now. You are my most trusted friend, but you are wrong. Ca·roo·a·too has been like a son to me, especially since the disappearance of my daughter. And did he not lead the search party through the perilous Dark Forest in search of her? How many men did he lose in that endeavor? Fifteen? — And even now he is training an army to avenge us against the Yak·a·taw·wee·kee·tuo.”
“Yes my Lord. He is a brave man, but he can also be ruthless.”
“A ruler must be able to execute justice,— on his enemies, or — he’s not much fit for the position.— Ca·roo·a·too is of noble birth and has been raised as such.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Are you alright?”
The older man’s head dropped and his eyes closed as he ran his hand over his face. “Yes,—but the vision,— it took a lot out of me.” He leaned hard on his staff. “I need to retire.”
“Yes, my good friend. You retire and maybe your dreams will reveal more and better news.”
A·Qu·tue stumbled from the chamber, deep in thought. This vision was new. He needed to ascertain its meaning, but the quest had drained him more than normal.—— And the darkness he felt — troubled him.
* * *
Seeds of Change
A New Day
Dawn was cresting the eastern range with the soft grey hues of early light. The horizon: a strange contrast of dark shadowed mountains, painted against the silver-blue backdrop of atmosphere, suddenly ripped in-two by the tattered glow of the sun breaking the jagged peaks of the Sierras. Fall here — is an almost unnoticed shift in the seasons as the first rays of morn cascaded down the slopes, highlighting the dark green leaves of the aging scrub-oaks and the scattered pines blanketing the golden sun-scorched grass that seem to clash with the word home — and a heart’s desire for peace.
Back in the Midwest, October is marked by a shift in colors that spark hope and anticipation but here in California,—— the subtle difference creeps in — only noticed as the days grow shorter and cooler and hope seems lost in the dashed dreams of failure and ruin when winter finally takes hold. Escape ——— cries out as a refuge on the lonely game trail weaving through the brush but a shotgun and an overpriced hunting license is just the façade of freedom in a system stealing the “Pursuit of Happiness,” like the talons of an eagle plucking a wild trout from the river to guarantee its survival,— of course, at the cost of another’s soul: after all,— it’s only prey. One-by-one we gather like schools of trout only to fall helpless to the clutches of those with oversight, whom trust in our complacency — as we simply hold against the current, waiting for our next tidbit to float by.
The clicks and chirps ahead mark the game as near. Hunted becoming the hunter? Is taking up arms to shoot dinner a feeble grasp, — reaching for power; or more simply the dire attempt at self-mediation to temporarily hide indentured servitude to a government as foreign to freedom as the cage holding back a tiger at the zoo?
Here,— in the solitude of nature, the mind should clear and thoughts should focus on the task-at-hand; but the reality is our distant relatives, whom foraged to guarantee their very existence is but a lost truth, hidden in deleted memories of sacrifice, which truly teach the meaning of life.
The quail flush but I am so lost to thought: — the burst of escape does little to stir purpose within me,— the shotgun lifts to the shoulder mechanically; but too late, to click off the safety as the quail disappear in the thickly matted woodland.
“Why am I here?” as my barrel drops to a rest, the muzzle pointing to the ground, “…To dust you will return.”
The quail chose life.— And I wonder, where do I stand? …
How do you explain to your most significant other the misunderstandings when doubt supersedes faith?
My life was turned upside down five years ago with two FBI agents and a knock at the door. Kathryn was coming down the stairs with her bright morning smile as I returned the same glance over my shoulder, while unlocking the deadbolt and turning the knob and slightly opened the door a crack to peek out.
Mr. Bere? Asked two agents flashing identification. “My name is Special Agent Grant of the FBI,” stated a man in the cheap, dark-blue polyester sports jacket and a no nonsense smirk; then with a head tilt to his partner he added. “And this is Agent Lee. We’ve been sent to escort you downtown for questioning.”
“What is this in regards to agent?”
“It’s best if you just come with us.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Are you unwilling to cooperate, Mr. Bere?” the woman in matching attire asked as both agents put their identification away.
Kathryn’s hand covered mine, pulling open the door. “I demand to know what this is about before my husband goes anywhere with you.”
My wife could be a real bulldog when pushed, but these agents meant business.
Shock and awe, — meant to intimidate and humiliate, — yanked me from the threshold of my home. Agent Grant's vice-grip-pull on my wrist with a twist, forced my leg to post for balance on the porch as his right hand locked onto the back of my neck and his right knee took out my posted leg, dropping me to my knees with a painful thud. I was helpless and cuffed.
“Mr. Bere, you are under arrest for known ties to a terrorist cell and under the provision of the …”
Terrorist? At that point, it was a total blur. How quickly a happy life can be turned upside down. I glanced back at my wife and what I saw was fear. But with her hand covering her mouth and her silence, I knew that fear was doubt...
The ax has fallen
the lance is free
The enemy has awakened
There is no rest
for that of the wicked
A messiah has risen
coming forth is the call
Take Your Possession
In The Shadow’s Rising
Thirty enraged Indian braves and one blond mountain man hid in the trees watching the hated enemy approach the river. The cavalry’s numbers had increased by about twenty-five; probably joined by the patrol from The Forks that had chased the Sioux most of the previous day. Why the US cavalry had declared war on Isaac’s tribe no longer mattered to the warriors ready to ambush the soldiers coming to water their horses. What did matter was that the Sioux were thirsty for blood. Vengeance had fused this small, once peaceful branch of the Sioux tribe — reluctant for war, into a dangerous bond of merciless killers bent on the destruction of anyone associated with the US government. Death would come swiftly to the fools riding into a firestorm of men Isaac had positioned to take the best advantage of the natural cover afforded by the trees and tall ridges that guarded the seemingly safest course to the river. The green commander of the troop was oblivious to the danger, probably feeling safe in their numbers and training: armed with carbines and sabers, still toting the memories of their recent victory against the helpless victims of yesterday’s offensive: the elderly too old to fight and the wives and children of Isaac and Reuben’s adopted tribe.
Isaac’s plan was simple: lined along the ridges on either side, — wait until the enemy columns had made their way into the small valley, don’t fire until they’re so close no one would miss. In the first wave they would catch the soldiers by surprise and the numbers should swing closer to the tribe’s favor. Resist the first impulse to charge, but reload and shoot again from the cover of tree, hill, or natural rock bulwark. The startled soldiers will then call a retreat to regroup; but as they try and run, a rear guard, — that let them pass at first, — would make as much noise as possible and open fire in an effort to turn them back to the river. Undoubtedly by that time the Sioux would have the advantage and any survivors of the cavalry would feel the wrath of men outraged by the unthinkable and forged into a force with one purpose in life — to avenge.
Isaac‘s pistol rested on a rock ledge by his side within easy reach as he stood poised with grim determination; his muzzleloader trained on the captain near the head of the column. His shot would signal the attack as Reuben sat ready to then take out the lieutenant. Any other men of rank would be their next targets as the two marksmen would try and eliminate the command structure.
The blond mountain man took two deep deliberate breaths; exhaling them slowly as he calmed his nerves and steadied his muscles. With the ball at the muzzle end of his rifle resting smooth in the forked cradle of his sight he followed the captain’s head effortlessly as the unsuspecting target moved closer. Suddenly the officer reined his mount to a stop raising his arm to halt his command. The silent order spoke of trouble and although the enemy was farther away then Isaac had hoped he squeezed his trigger smoothly. The report of the weapon echoed over the small valley as a cloud billowed forth momentarily blocking the mountain man’s view, but the impact struck the intended man in the forehead, taking out half of the back of his skull as the ball exited, spinning the captain off the rear of his horse.
Within milliseconds Reuben shot the lieutenant in the chest. The man slumped forward in the saddle and then slid from his mount, his left foot still stuck in the stirrup as the horse bolted. The Sioux war cries and multiple rifle fire told the battle was in full swing within moments as Isaac and Reuben mechanically reloaded. The blond shot a sergeant yelling commands as he tried to organize the chaos and Reuben dropped the bugler amidst a hail of lead aimed at his position. Both men ducked the onslaught and reloaded as the cavalry un-expectantly charged the ridges, taking the offensive to the enemy.
Isaac popped up over his natural rock battlement to shoot again and met a mounted soldier with pistol drawn and aimed at him. The horse reared, startled at the sudden appearance of the blond and Isaac stumbled backwards to avoid the hooves and fell back to his left hip. Swinging the muzzle of his rifle upward toward his antagonist, he instantaneously pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the soldier in the chest causing him to jerk back and drop his Colt. The horse’s hooves hit the dirt to Isaac’s left as the blond rolled away from the danger and picked up his enemy’s fallen pistol and shot two more soldiers in quick succession from his prone position on the ground.
The charge quickly lost focus as some of the cavalry broke rank and bolted for the river. Reuben dropped the one leading the retreat and spun to the brush behind to recover his horse for pursuit.
Isaac scrambled to retrieve his own pistol from the rock ledge by his initial perch while the horse of the man he had shot with his rifle was still pounding the earth and striking the air with its front legs as the mortally wounded rider was fighting desperately to stay on. Isaac grabbed the reins to the rearing horse and swung into the saddle pulling the rider from his perch, then spurred the animal into a charge of the retreating enemy making a break for the river. The acquired cavalry pistol in his left hand clicked on an empty chamber as Isaac tried to fire the weapon so he threw it aside and pulled his revolver which he had tucked in his belt and shot into the fleeing soldiers.
Behind, his victorious brethren were also gathering up their horses to take up pursuit as ten yelling riders led by Reuben joined Isaac in his attack. About fifteen surviving soldiers regrouped at the river edge and turned to charge,— to the Indians surprise.
The blond mountain man noticing one of the men, with four crusted red marks down his left cheek, was flanking his companions nearer the river’s edge. Sashtee had, had skin and blood under her right fingernails and Isaac had assumed she had clawed the flesh of an assailant during her fight for her life. Now the blond felt sure he had found the very man that had assaulted his wife and left her and his unborn child to die. His rage surged as he thought of his beautiful Sashtee slipping away in his arms. Gut-shot was a slow unbearable way to die in itself, but this animal in his merciless assault had put a bullet in her stomach and left her to lie naked and alone on an icy snow bank in agony for hours before death had finally claimed her. Isaac’s soul screamed for revenge; to feel this man’s life drain under his hand sucked all reason as he dashed his mount in a direct line of attack on the man to the right of the regrouped offensive. Pounding down the ridge on a course undeterred by the shower of lead Isaac saw nothing but the single target of his revenge.
Isaac emptied his pistol in the direction of the advancing enemy then tossed the useless weapon aside and pulled his Bowie knife from its sheath. The soldiers drew saber to meet the onslaught of Indians as Isaac drove his animal into the charging scar-faced soldier’s mount. Both horses stumbled at the collision, but Isaac sprang over his saddle at impact, hitting the soldier in the chest, forcing the enemy from the saddle and causing the soldier to land with a thud on his back. The blond mountain man came up grabbing the solder’s throat with his left hand and stuck his blade into the man’s abdomen while spitting in the man’s face. Leaning down over the defeated, Isaac whispered in the helpless man‘s ear, “After I kill your comrades, I’ll be back to peel you slow.” Then he twisted the blade as the man screamed out in agony. Grabbing the man’s topknot he cut to the bone tugging with his left hand as he drove his right knee into the man’s shoulder, shoving the limp body to the earth. The scalp snapped free with a pop. With the Sioux war cry on his lips the enraged blond rose off his vanquished and pounded his chest in fury. Spotting the soldier’s sword in the grass by the bank, Isaac lunged after the weapon and picking up the fallen saber with his left hand — ran to meet the next enemy.
Clashing sword, knife, war-axe and lance echoed over the rivers surface as the battle pushed into the swift water,— when in the distance a bugle sounded announcing the near approach of support coming to the cavalry’s aid.
Reuben flew off his horse and landed behind the saddle of a fighting soldier. Wrapping his left arm around the man’s neck he plunged his knife into the soldier’s kidney and pulled the man from his mount when the bugle’s call caught his attention. A large force was pressing their way from the opposite side of the river. The young looking Crow brave scanned the battle spotting his uncle pushing waist deep into the river after a soldier who had fallen from his mount. The chase through the splashing barrier would lead the two into the path of the advancing support as panic melted over Reuben’s features. “Uncle we must fall back!” He screamed, but Isaac was blinded by revenge and oblivious to the danger’s swift approach.
Reuben seized the reins of his acquired mount and turned, charging his ride into the river after Isaac as a hail of bullets whistled over the banks of the channel. The first volley had little effect other than warn the Sioux of the advancing reserves and the sudden reversal of their victory, but the warriors refused to yield and continued to press on over the vanquished to the other side of the water misinterpreting Reuben’s course as a continuing offensive.
Isaac caught his prey and drove the saber into the man’s back then looked up to face the oncoming onslaught. With only a knife in his belt and sword in his hand he cursed. Taking no heed of his tribe’s following him into death’s jaws; he continued his path to the opposite bank. Resigning his mortality he would surrender his soul with grim determination as he faced the well-armed reinforcements as the survivors of his band came up behind.
The cavalry was almost upon them when a Sioux war cry echoed from the sparse trees around the approaching fresh soldiers and gunfire erupted from the hidden crags and brush of an almost barren landscape. As if from nowhere a party of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors intercepted the enemy catching them off guard. The battle immediately turned in the Indians favor as The Seer’s band, armed with repeating rifles, laid waste to the unsuspecting enemy and Isaac‘s tribe charged into the fray with sword, lance and powder.
“Uncle!” Reuben called out as his mount splashed out of the river on the opposite bank beside Isaac and extended his hand to his blond brother. The mountain man grasped the offer and swung easily into the saddle behind the Crow warrior. Together, with war cries on their lips they attacked. Isaac again pulled his knife, tucked into his belt, as Reuben shot an acquired colt pistol at an enemy hitting his target square in the chest.
The blond mountain man simultaneously launched himself from the back of the horse striking two soldiers off balance and taking one out of the saddle as he plunged his blade deep into the vanquished’s side. The other soldier struck by the blond’s jump, regained his saddle and leveled his pistol at Isaac; but Reuben fired twice, the third trigger pull falling on an empty chamber; but the two bullets were sufficient as the enemy slumped over his horse’s neck. The animal reared spinning the dead man backwards as two other soldiers, now horseless charged Isaac. The mountain man grabbed the sword from the dying man under him and stood in time to parry the saber blow of his first assailant and blocked the second’s jab with his long knife. Clashing metal echoed over the river valley as the two assailants pressed their advantage driving the mountain man back to the water’s edge.
Reuben, under attack by another rider dropped the pistol and pulled his war axe and charged. The steeds collided as saber and tomahawk missed their intended targets, but the close quarter limited the sword’s usefulness and the Crow brave caught the enemy with his next effort under the chin as the warrior’s horse regained its footing. The soldier’s busted jaw stunned his attack as Reuben then swung a savage backhanded blow, driving the blunt end of the ax into the man’s temple knocking the man cold.
Isaac, tied into close conflict with one of the assailants as the other had tripped, kicked the enemy in his manhood then plunged his blade into the man’s abdomen. With a cough the man spit up blood dropping to his knees as Isaac deflected another blow from the second man, intended to decapitate the blond. The mountain man ducked and spun, kicking at the soldier’s knee with his left foot. The strike landed against the joint as a thunderous crack sounded and the man’s leg buckled backward. The pain caused the saber to drop as the blond plunged his sword into the fallen’s chest. As the mountain man pulled his weapon free he scanned the battlefield. As the last soldier fell, the victorious Indians began whooping and cheering their triumph.
Isaac fell back against a rock catching his breath and scanned the devastation rent on the cavalry. An unknown tribe had come to their aid saving the day. How they got there the blond had no idea, but as the mountain man caught his breath he took notice of a short warrior walking toward him with purpose. With steely eyes locked on the small Cheyenne, Isaac took a deep breath and stood up, not sure of the man’s intentions. Others of the short warrior’s tribe began to gather around, but the blond remained undaunted at the unnerving assembly. Isaac, the only white man still standing on the battlefield and perhaps viewed as an enemy by this new group of Indians at war with the whites, felt alone among this new throng.
Silence fell over the once chanting victor’s as the apparent leader of the Cheyenne and Sioux war party stopped in front of the blond. The men from Isaac’s tribe began to gather to their adopted brother’s side not sure either of this leader’s intentions. The two men studied each other with a long pause then the eyes of The Seer dropped to the bear claw adornment around the blond’s neck. The mummified finger of The War God’s hand rested center on the mountain man’s chest and an expression of wonderment melted over the stone features of The Seer. The leader slowly reached out and touched the digit, taking it between his thumb and index finger and began to gently rub the token just as Isaac often did out of habit then let go and stepped back. Turning to his men he cried out in the Cheyenne language, “Behold! The one who is to come!” The medicine man looked skyward then back to his tribe. “The Great Spirit has heard the cry of his children and sent us a brother not of our flesh. A warrior forged by his battle with the gods. It marks the time of our end. A time of change... The gods have demanded sacrifice.” The warrior paused for a long moment — then shouted, “The time of the calling has arrived.”
The gathered men began to mutter. Questioning looks passed among the warriors — one to the other. The braves of Isaac’s tribe were bewildered as they watched in confusion the events unfolding. With the skill of a practiced orator the medicine man had the full attention of all as the throng stared in amazement at the blond mountain man standing like a statue before the gestures of The Seer. The preacher’s voice dropped to almost a whisper as he looked back to Isaac. “We must join under The War God’s lead.” Pounding his chest, his words then lifted in tempo to a rhythm of poetry. “We must kill the hated enemy.” And in a crescendo he cried, “We must finish the task the heavens have loosened on our land.”
The Seer turned back to Isaac with his last word and pulled a knife from his belt. The mountain man stood unwavering as the small man came near. Was he the sacrifice the gods were calling for? What prophecy was this medicine man referring to? Isaac met the steely gaze of The Seer. Any fear the blond had of death had washed away with the passing of his wife, but Isaac felt he had more to do. For what purpose did this little man speak of?
The short warrior unflinchingly dragged the edge of his blade across his own palm while his gaze never faltered from the mountain man’s. “You are the warrior who is young, but old,— a brother, yet not. To the death I pledge my life to you.” The Seer handed the knife to Isaac. “May our mingled blood seal my loyalty.”
The blond took...
My First Crush
I must have been about ten. There I was in the isle, staring at her shapely figure. Marveling as the overhead-lighting glistened off her smooth contours accentuating her beautiful form, but she was cold as ice to me. I grabbed the handle separating us and pulled her free, popping her top in the process. I pressed my lips over her mouth and the fresh carbonated orange liquid washed my thirst away with each swallow. They made perfection with the invention of the Orange Crush soft drink.