Sep 21

Celia Cruz, Afro-Cuban Star!

I’ve always liked Cuban, Mexican and Latin American music. There’s something about the beat and melody that I connect to.

One night, years ago, in Grant Park in Chicago, I heard Celia Cruz sing. It was Labor Day Weekend and the Latin Music Festival went from Sunday, September 5, through Labor Day on Monday, September 6, 1993.

Celia sang on Monday night with the very popular Afro-Cuban band, La Sonora Mantancera. The night was hot and there was a warm breeze coming in from Lake Michigan.

Celia was 68 by that time and her looks had started to fade. But once she began to sing, time stood still. It was magical for me to hear her voice floating out over the crowd.

A few months ago I started watching the telenovela “Celia” on Netflix. It was produced in 2015 by Fox Telecolumbia for RNC Television and Telemundo. The actors spoke in Spanish. There were English subtitles so it was easy to follow.

My main reason for watching the series was to hear Celia sing. I was thrilled at all the times the director dubbed in recordings of the real Celia’s voice when the actress who played Celia began to sing. It was wonderful. And, even better, in almost every episode “Celia” sang my favorite pieces: “Como Fue”, “La Negra Tiene Tumbao”, “Guantanamera” and many more of her greatest hits.

There was a downside to this series. “Celia” is a telenovela after all. In some episodes, there were tears and more tears. Sometimes there were hysterics. And there was Celia’s sister, Noris. She was so evil… I don’t think she had a kind bone in her body. Neither did Simon, her father, who appeared to be as flawed a character as you could find. And, to make things more crazy, there was Lola and all her problems as well as Mario and Raquel.

To top it off, when I went on Wikipedia to check things out, I found that many of these characters didn’t exist in real life. Or, if they did, were actually very nice people. But that didn’t stop the writers from writing Celia’s story their way.

So, if you like Afro-Cuban music and a tear-jerker of a story, “Celia” is the series for you–all 80 episodes!!!

Sep 10

Heaven Fated

Voices. Millions of voices, chaotic noise, buzzed in her head. She couldn’t focus. She was scared. Pain infected everything.

“Paddles! We’re losing her!”

Darkness.

She slowly became aware. The edge of a storm, a line that blends the white and blue horizon into gray, abstract parts seen coming. It’s as if thin fingers rake through the soupy sky, the storm speeding closer, drawing the moisture down. From far away it’s like a calm mist that’s being pulled toward the ground in slow motion. But it isn’t. It’s a brew of thick moisture and tumultuous wind and molecules that come together forming a moving, breathing entity that can’t be controlled.

Whirling air drives people to seek shelter, heart rates gallop at what seem to be unstoppable speeds. Fear is a permanent lattice across the skin, hairs on arms dancing to greet what’s coming. Lightening slices the thick and heavy blackening atmosphere in abstract patterns, the wildness bringing hail, causing debris to rip apart the landscape. It touches lives with a menace only the devil would deliver with glee.

But she hadn’t seen the storm coming, didn’t see what held her now in its grip. She was floating. A stillness that was all wrong. She was all wrong. Something was gone. Missing. What had she forgotten.

Hello? Her lips didn’t move.

The woman tried to wiggle her toes. Still she remained suspended, motionless, trapped in what felt like nothingness. Oh, but she felt fear. Her mind in the soupy thickness of its tendrils. A fear that held her like barbed wire synching ever closer, cutting and slicing. It was the storm just outside her skin and if she moved the barrier holding it back would break and tear her apart.

What had happened before this existence?

Racing panic creeped into her consciousness and she tried to breathe through it but when she went to open her mouth for air nothing happened. Not even her jaw moved. She needed to breathe. Oh, God! This made the storm dance macabre across her skin as if it were laughing at her.

You have to go back,” a voice jarring her said, its echo all around, inside and outside of her, like a pitch fork vibrating through her whole being.

What do you mean?” she said inside her head. Her jaw, her voice still not working. Did she want to go back? She wanted to go forward. Something was ahead of her. The woman was sure of it. Whatever it was, it was where she needed to be. A great sadness swelled inside her, pushing and pulling like the tide sluicing over her like she was sand and she would erode more over time finally disappearing into the nothingness that held her.

Flashes snapped in her mind as sadness turned into fear.

Fire. Metal. Hands pulling, voices screaming. No, no, no! She screamed. And then the blackness enfolded her again while the storm still raged. Silence.

You have to go back,” the voice said again. Her mind opened, an aperture letting in the calming voice. She was glad. She didn’t like the storm. Or the dark. She didn’t want to see the awful images in her head. She wanted to forget. Forget the loss, the emptiness that pitted in her belly.

Why?” She asked.

You’ll see. Go back. Go back.” The voice said fading gently, it like hands soothing with a touch. “Go.”

The woman tried to define the voice in her mind. The inflection seemed small and innocent, not touched by the world, the temptation, the agony it could cause. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. She needed to move forward. But the voice said to go back. Should she? What had she forgotten? She couldn’t remember and it made her heart hurt as if a weight kept pressing down on her chest. The weight was growing so heavy that it was crushing her.

I have to go back.

You’ll see.” The voice was a whisper so small she almost didn’t hear it. “It’s important.

What?” The weight pressing down on her was forgotten.

Im…portant.”

The resonating voice suddenly went silent. “Nooooo! Come back. You have to come back and tell me what to do.

Her mind went blank.

With unexpected speed, the weight returned on her chest like anvil after anvil was being dropped on her heart. If she was breathing she would have passed out. But the weight kept getting heavier and heavier. What did she do? What could she do? What was she forgetting? What had happened? Why was she here? She was scared to go back. Pain awaited her if she went back. She knew it. Felt the truth of it in her mind. But the voice said she should go back. But peace lie forward.

Silence enveloped her as her mind whirled and the storm outside of her skin cinched closer and closer. That barrier shrinking into her pores until it burst.

Chaos swirled around her in beeps and whirs, metal against metal. Silver flashes. Silver. A rush of sound overwhelmed her as her eyes opened to bright light, watering as she tried to focus. Voices gave clipped orders and the body she was in screamed through the silent maw of her mouth.

“Miss, can you tell me your name?”

“My baby!” An inhuman keening echoed, bouncing off the walls. Was that her?

“Your name?”

She blinked and tried to concentrate on the face asking the question.

What was her name?

Someone yelled in the bright room. Her breathing was becoming ragged. She couldn’t remember her name. Her head began to turn side to side, her panic increasing. She needed to do something. The people leaning over her began to blur.

“Miss, you have to calm down.” The man over her was holding her shoulders as her mind screamed for her to get off the table, to find the face that matched the voice in her head. The more they pressed the more she panicked. Her body started to shake and spasm. Her arm radiated with pain and hung useless at her side, her legs seemed to be on fire and pain ricocheted tearing through her skin, her bones and her heart.

“Have to go back,” she gurgled nonsense.

“What?” the man said.

She tried again. “Back.” She needed to go back. Back to the voice. Back to the nothingness. Peace.

“What’s your name?”

Her head began to shake back and forth again.

“I need 5mg of Diazepam IV push STAT!”

She saw the doctor take something from someone and he hovered over her. Her eyes widened. She stared at him and his eyes seemed to soften and hers began to close, get heavy.

“You’ll be alright. Everything will be fine.” He reached out and touched her cheek as if time seemed to stop with the motion. “You’ll see.” The man shook his head and blinked.

You’ll see. You’ll see. You’ll see. The words repeated over and over in her head. Where had she heard those words before? Limbs heavy, eyelids drooping she continued to hold the doctor’s concerned gaze as his hands moved over her. There was a burn along with the darkness that was gradually pulling her lids closed. The last words she heard over all the chaos were, “You’ll see.”

*****

Karo, which wasn’t her real name, woke for what seemed to be the hundredth time in the hospital. Her mind identified the noises she’d catalogued over the days she’d remained in the bed with white sterile sheets and cloying smells and noises that were just as unpleasant. The incessant squeak of rubber soled shoes. The knocking wheel of the food cart and the beeps and alarms that were the music dancing along the corridors of the hospital kept her awake too often. And don’t forget the formidably atrocious scent of Pine Sol and urine.

“Karo!” The nurse named Nurse Ratchet clapped. “You’re awake.” Karo smiled. For all the pain, she’d suffered so far, Betty Ratchet was the highlight of her days. One, Nurse Betty was not the Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which for some reason she could remember watching, but not where and with whom. Two, she was as sweet as spun sugar and cared deeply for her patients. Whenever she’d come into Karo’s room it brightened like the sun had stepped into the room.

“You ready for physical therapy today, cookie?” Karo laughed and pouted. Betty had started calling her cookie soon after she’d chosen the name Karo.

She leaned over the wheelchair and whispered in Karo’s ear. “I snuck in some sugar cookies from my friend Angel’s bakery.”

“Thanks Betty,” Karo said and grabbed the woman’s hand and held on tight. Try as she might she still couldn’t hold back the tears that escaped. She quickly let go and wiped the unwanted tears away. She’d cried enough. Things were going to change again and she wouldn’t see Betty every day. The woman was her touchstone and kept her grounded. Karo feared letting go. Afraid that she would spiral down again in to a depressive abyss and not be able to get out.

She shook the pain and fear out of her mind. Karo would be positive, consider the future, and try and forget what she couldn’t remember. Instead she recalled the first day she met Betty.

The staff had called her Jane when she couldn’t remember her real name. It made her sad to think she would be called Jane Doe. Not knowing her name, she wanted to pick one to make a new place in her uncharted reality. The police hadn’t found any information in her car. Not a purse, or a registration. The car they had pulled her out of had burned through and through.

The memory of that day burst forward in her mind. A morning in physical therapy, when the pain was so great she could have screamed until her voice was shredded.

“I don’t want to be called Jane,” she’d said to the nurse in floral scrubs. She had white blond hair and a thin but muscled stature. Betty had grabbed Karo’s wheelchair and rolled her out from the first day of physical therapy taking over her case while Karo tried to catch her breath through the lingering pain and depression.

“What do you want to be called, sweetie?”

“Karo.”

When Betty helped her back into bed she’d looked at Karo with a tilt of her head, bright eyes and with arms crossed, she nodded once. “Alright cookie,” she’d said with a laugh. Karo couldn’t help but smile because Karo knew why she’d picked it even if Betty didn’t get it, she seemed to understand.

Karo thought of it now. Cookies. She had been making cookies in the memory. And she was happy. Really happy.

Karo saw herself pouring and measuring. Her hands were smaller, softer, younger, as she held the red and bronze labeled curvy bottle of syrup in her hand. Batter blended together as she stirred over and over folding in the thick syrup. Wrinkled hands, not hers she noted as she looked down at her own, were framed in the snapshot but when she tried to look up to see into the face a pain would slice through her forehead and make her grab the sides of her head. Something was blocking her from the wonderful view.

She hadn’t told anyone about the memory. It was private and hers. No. She wouldn’t share.

As Betty rolled her out of her room for one of the last times Betty spoke about the small town where she grew up. “You’re going to love it, Karo. Angel’s bakery sells the most delicious cakes and cookies and pastries.”

When Karo heard the word angel images of her floating in the storm flooded her mind. Angel. She put away the thought for later. She didn’t have time to think about it right now when she was going in to be stretched like a rubber-band. One that she hoped would find its shape again.

“Even the recipes we concocted when were out of control twenty-somethings Angel still uses on occasion,” Betty continued not sensing Karo’s distress. And then the woman laughed like she was remembering how much trouble she got into and Karo looked at her over her shoulder to see, yes, a wicked smile from the remembering. Karo laughed.

“What kind of trouble did you get into, Betty? You seem pretty uptight and straight-laced to me.” Karo pressed her lips together trying not to laugh herself.

“Oh, you! I’m definitely not all starch young lady.” She whopped her on the head gently.

Before she knew it, they were at the entrance to the TP room.

“Hi Trevor,” Karo said. “I’m ready for your idea of a walk in the park.” Trevor looked up at Betty as she stopped her in front of the padded vinyl covered table.

“Alright miss, let’s see what you got today.” He nodded to Betty as she locked Karo’s ride and Karo gripped the chair handles. Trevor tipped up the foot rests. He was there to support her if she needed it, but didn’t touch her until she stood. Karo gritted her teeth as her skin grafts, not so freshly pink, pulled and stretched unnaturally with the effort.

Trevor helped her up onto the table for the first big push of the morning and then they got down to business.

She looked down at her legs, the burns not as bad as when the emergency bay was the first thing she remembered. Her rescuers had gotten her out in time.

Karo pulled in a slow breath that she released just as slowly so she wouldn’t remember what else they’d told her not soon after she woke up. She touched her stomach, her fingers shaking as Trevor pushed her leg up to give it a good stretch.

His lips pinched a bit when he saw where her hand lay. He looked quickly back down. It was a sadness they shared. He’d lost a child too, but his memory wasn’t faulty. She couldn’t even remember being pregnant. Was the baby’s father important? Did she need to find the man? Did she love this person? She wouldn’t know. She couldn’t remember a damn thing. Her anger she used and pushed it through her limbs too hard. A grunt alerted Trevor to the discomfort and he pulled her back from the edge. Sweat gathered all over her skin and soaked her clothes that Betty had bought her. She kept working the routine as hard as Trevor demanded. Maybe if she could fix her body, her memories would return too.

She shook her head.

“Settle down, Karo.” He sighed, as she brought her leg down for the last time that day.

She wiped some of the sweat and swallowed almost a full bottle of water Trevor handed her.

“I’ll miss you, kiddo.” He sat next to her on the bench. One foot on the floor the other bent and on the table. “I’m glad you’re getting out of here. I hope you’ll find some peace.”

He helped her sit up, her arm sore but okay now. It had only been dislocated.

“You know what you’re doing, where you’re going?”

Karo nodded. “Yeah. Betty’s set me up to work with her friend Angel. One of her employees is going back to school. Angel’s also got a vacant room above the bakery.”

“That’s good. You’ll be happy working with all that goo and sugar.”

Karo laughed.

“Just remember it’s not good to eat too much of what you love. You still need to get into tip top shape to keep up with the healing process. You’re doing great but you’ve still got a lot of therapy in front of you.” He tapped her head and her heart and her knees.

“I’m quite aware of how far I still need to go. At least I have some place to go.” She scrubbed her face with a towel with tired shaking hands. “The police came to visit me again. Officer Clomb was really nice about telling me they never were able to find any information about where I’m from. I wouldn’t have anywhere to go if Betty hadn’t suggested it.”

“You be fine. You’ll see.” She had been looking at her hands lying in her lap when her head snapped up at his words.

“What?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” she answered shaking her head to clear it just as Betty walked in.

“All finished?” she asked and smiled with a sparkle in her eyes at Trevor. Karo was sure there was something between them. It was the only time Trevor seemed to smile a genuine smile.

“Yep,” Karo replied. She looked up at Trevor his hairs grayed at the tips, and the smile wrinkles ingrained around his eyes. “Thank you, Trevor.”

He didn’t say anything just came over and kneeled to give her a long hug once settled in the wheel chair. He touched her cheek and held it as his stare started to sink into hers as if he wanted to tell her something but couldn’t get the words out, just the emotion. Then he gave her a short peck on the cheek, stood up and took a quick step back. They’d adopted her it seemed and become like her little family. She wiped a tear from her cheek. He smiled, nodded, and went to his desk in the corner and started to write something down.

As Betty rolled her out of the room Karo’s head was down, not paying attention. Her thoughts stuck on a list she was making in her head of the things she would have to do when she moved to the small-town Betty had grown up in. It was only a few miles and minutes away. It would be a fresh start she told herself. She was nervous. Excited. Scared. And then none of that mattered because Betty’s running monologue about things to know about the small town was abruptly cut short. There was a loud crash as they turned a corner. Karo screamed and moaned as her leg met silver metal. Silver. Silver. Silver. Her heart started racing and her mind was struck by a streak of white light reflected off a small silver object moving too fast to get out of the way. Memory twisted with reality as past crashed with present. She whimpered. What was real? She tried to shift away from what was falling toward her but Betty was locking the chair and coming around to her. Karo couldn’t move. Images that blurred one after the other took hold of her as Betty’s voice tried to creep in.

The images fled, metal crashed to the floor along with the man who was carrying it. Crutches met the linoleum and a hand came down on the wheelchair right next to hers. Betty was on the other side. She was asking if Karo was okay and put a hand on the man too also trying to get his attention. Harsh breaths came out of his mouth burrowing heat across her compression bandaged legs. All Karo could see though was the man at her feet bent over her legs holding the wheel chair with white knuckles.

Her voice shook. “Are you okay?”

Dark hair was spread across her lap as people raced from down the hall to help. His breathing was heavy and she noticed his hands again. They gripped the chair as if once he let go he would keep on falling.

She reached out and touched the man’s head. “Hey?” She said and couldn’t help but stroke his hair. It was thick and long with iridescent strands of black scattered with dark browns. It was beautiful and lush.

“I’m sorry,” his words whispered across her skin. Karo shivered she didn’t know if it was from the unexpected pain or the man’s touch.

He looked up and their eyes met. And something inside her settled with inexplicable peace. But it didn’t last long. His gaze bored into hers. It was so dark she thought she was looking into lost caverns deep in the oceans floor, they were that deep of a blue. There was pain there and she wanted to make it to go away.

“Able Prescott, you know you’re not supposed to leave your room!” A nurse was sprinting down the hall alongside another woman.

“Dammit Jacklyn! I can’t stay in that room another second.” When he spoke, his head jerked around and he almost fell in Karo’s lap.

She squeaked when he landed on her again. The pressure uncomfortable because she still wasn’t fully healed.

He moaned and the hand that didn’t have a white-knuckled grip on the chair went to his head and their fingers touched. She sucked in a breath as an energy tingled through the contact. He turned back to her and their eyes met again and held. Her heartbeat tripped up and she asked herself, who was this man. Why did his glance put her at ease?

And within seconds the connection was broken. People moved all around them to get him back to where he had escaped from, she guessed. Her fingers dragged across his jaw, the rough hairs making her tingle again, as he was helped up. Then the woman who had yelled at him was at his side.

“Able! You know I don’t like it when you call me that.” She said in almost a chihuahua growl. Karo looked between the two.

“Step-mother, quit coddling me. I feel like I’m suffocating in this God-awful place.” And as people got him into a chair like hers he really did growl, but more like an alpha wolf. It made her shiver. “Dammit. I can walk.” His head turned slowly back to hers but he turned away when the woman started chirping words at him. He grabbed his head again.

“Obviously you can’t since you were practically laid out in that woman’s lap.”

As their words drifted down the hallway Karo was struck by the feelings that had enveloped her when their fingers touched. She felt less indifferent to her fate. It gave her hope that she would feel something. Less empty. She touched her belly again. She wanted to feel full. And maybe once she started her new life in Buckington doing what she remembered things would be okay. She’d see.

You’ll see.

 

Sep 06

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2017 Part 1

Creative energy filled the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2017 held in New York City

from Thursday, August 17 through Sunday, August 20. I attended the conference hoping to receive lessons and helpful hints that could facilitate my writing.  The conference fulfilled my expectations. During the registration, I selected buttons that represented the genres in which I’ve focused my creative efforts.

I was delighted to meet Brian Klems, published author of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl, and the online editor of WritersDigest.com, after he presented the orientation for the conference. During his talk, Klems encouraged attendees to talk to other participants to make meaningful connections. The genre buttons helped us begin conversations.

The first session I attended on Friday was “Perfecting Page One” by Hank Phillippi Ryan. She dissected and analyzed “acclaimed first lines and opening paragraphs” of published authors to “reveal the writing secrets” in those examples. “It’s never a good thing when the stewardess is crying,” is an excellent opening sentence. That beginning peaked my interest immediately.

Hallie Ephron, who writes stand-alone mysteries, presented the next session titled “Writing a Mystery Novel: A Crash Course.” Mysteries deal with “the whodunit, whydunit, and the howdunit.” She noted that mystery genre conventions include a puzzle, bad things happening, a sleuth who has a reason to investigate, rising stakes, a ticking clock, and credible unexpected plot twists. She said that we should write the backstory out of our system. Then put it aside and weave it into the novel when we need to do so. Ephron suggested that if you want to write action, read books by Lee Child.

Jennifer Probst presented “Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance and Navigating the path to Success.” She suggested using real life experiences to sketch out fully developed characters, give characters quirks or weaknesses, push them hard, and make sure the protagonist has a solid growth arc. Probst noted that sex scenes could go anywhere from stolen glances to the pornographic.

“The Thin Line Between Historical Fact & Fiction” by Crystal King, and Anjali Mitter Duva revealed the difference between history books and historical fiction. An historian can’t know the “why” of someone’s motivation for doing something. However, writers of historical fiction can explore the” why” and distort the truth, but the author must have a compelling reason for doing so. Authors must still hold true to the rules and customs of the culture.

Next month, I’ll be writing more about the well-attended conference and noting some common themes of the speakers.

Sep 05

Life is Strange:  A Retrospective Review

Warning:  There are spoilers in this article.

I believe I first became familiar with the 2015 video game, Life is Strange, when I saw a trailer several months before its release.  Though I tend to gravitate more toward third-person shooters, survival horror, or general action games, there was something about the story-driven time-travel mystery game that drew me in.  I was enchanted by Life is Strange right from the start.  From its haunting dream sequence opening, where a tornado is set to destroy the town of Arcadia Bay, to its engaging characters, it felt like I was watching a coming-of-age film that I controlled.

I liked the idea of assuming the role of a teenage photography student named Max who discovers she can rewind time.  She uses this ability to save the life of her childhood friend, Chloe – an act that ultimately has far-reaching and unforeseen consequences.  But more on that later.

One of the first mysteries introduced in the game revolves around the disappearance of high school student Rachel Amber.  This was a plot point that got me invested in the game and gave my imagination a workout on where the story would go.  Most of all, I was excited over the possibility of Max using her time-rewind powers to go back to the day Rachel vanished to discover the truth.

Life is Strange was released as an episodic game, where each chapter was made available throughout the calendar year.  The first installment did such a good job drawing me in that I anxiously awaited the subsequent chapters.  I was introduced to quite a few intriguing characters right off the bat.  This included bullying victim Kate, projectile-magnet Alyssa, and troubled rich kid Nathan.

Above all, it was Chloe that really intrigued me.  Though she initially comes across as a rough-around-the-edges punk with criminal tendencies, she is the character who I gradually grew to love the most.   The more I learned about the hardships she’d been through – from the loss of her father to her deep attachment to the absent Rachel to her antagonistic relationship with her step-father – the more I sympathized with her.

Life is Strange is a very layered video game, which is one of the things I like most about it.  It would seem that Max would have no sweat ensuring that everyone around her has a happy ending, but it gradually becomes apparent that she’s not able to save everyone.  It’s unclear why the universe grants her the ability to change the course of history.  But a good deal of evidence is presented over the course of the game that Max’s frequent use of her powers is upsetting the balance of nature.  Hence, the tornado that’s big enough to wipe out the town and potentially kill everyone in its path.

The final choice of Life is Strange is nothing short of heart-wrenching:  Let Arcadia Bay be destroyed or go back in time and let Chloe die the way she was initially meant to.  As attached as I’d gotten to Chloe by the time the end rolled around, I put myself in Max’s shoes and decided I couldn’t in good conscience sacrifice hundreds of people just for one girl I’d grown fond of.

In all honesty, this is the only video game I’ve played thus far that had me bawling like a baby at the end.  And I’ve played a lot of games in my lifetime.

My main disappointment was that the mystery of what happened to Rachel Amber felt like it was overshadowed by all the other dramas taking place within the game.  Given the extent that the plot revolves around her, I would have liked to see her in the flesh at some point in the story.  The revelation that she’d been killed sometime prior to the beginning of Life is Strange was even more of a letdown.

You might ask what inspired me to write this game review after so long.  News of a prequel game is what did it.  Hearing of a title called Life is Strange: Before the Storm that would go back in time and explore the friendship between Chloe and Rachel Amber definitely got me interested.

I look forward to seeing if the prequel game – set to be released August 31 — matches the emotional resonance of its predecessor.  It will be interesting to see how the story plays out without Max around to manipulate the time stream.  I strongly hope that the game lives up to its promise.

Time will tell – no pun intended.

Aug 23

The Man with Seven Sons

Crow story, part five.

After Fred and I rescue the fawn from the swamp, we take the dogs back to the lake for a second bath, and it’s nearly eight o’clock by the time I get home.

I put Joker and Gracie in the backyard then strip naked in the laundry room. I load my soiled, stinky clothes into the washing machine and head for the shower in my birthday suit.

My wife is reading in bed with the television on mute when I walk in the bedroom. She looks me up and down. I put my phone and the baggie with its Jeremy charm on the dresser. She smiles and starts to say something, but then curls her nose, points to the bathroom and says, ‘How bad are the dogs?’

‘I got most of it off them in the lake, but neither one is getting in this bed until Friday!’

‘What happened?’

I tell her how all four dogs bolted for the woods and how Taco chased out the first fawn. ‘It was like watching a mouse chase a lion!’

But when I get to the part about our dogs and the second-fawn, her frown folds and she interrupts me with, ‘And they killed it – That’s two days in a row they’ve killed something! Damn it!’ I start to explain but she raises her voice and declares, ‘You’re turning them into killers!’

‘I’m turning them into killers!’ … She’s not giving me a chance. They didn’t kill the fawn; Sadie led Fred to it. Damn thing was stuck in the swamp. It even tried to bite me as we pulled it out, but she’s not letting me get a word in edgewise…

‘What if the next time it’s the neighbor’s cat – The last thing we need is a lawsuit from them!’

That does it.

Our four-foot, chain-link fence is enough to keep Gracie and Joker in our yard but not enough to keep out their fat, old, senile cat. We’ve had words with our neighbor – the dog’s cowbells are a direct result of her first such threat.

I growl back, ‘If he gets in our yard again – as far as the law is concerned – he’s fair game!’

Instantly, I realize that was the wrong thing to say when I see her face turn red. But here I stand naked and slimed, accused and innocent on all counts! Telling her about the rescue now is pointless; the argument has moved on from there.

I say, ‘Sorry to disappoint you, dear, but your hypothesizing – once again – is wrong! They didn’t kill it!’ I close the bathroom door and turn on the vent fan to drown out any response, and say to myself, And I’m not the one turning them into killers! I still haven’t told her about my first encounter with Jeremy back in April, when he got our dogs to kill a squirrel in our back yard – after first telling me to Leave It for his murder to feast on.

Under the shower, I realize my wife is right; you can’t let dogs kill – anything. As amazing as this bird seems, I can’t let it rule the roost. Not my roost, anyway. Not with an angry hen in the house.

When I get out of the shower, I can hear my ringtone. I open the door to see my wife is no longer in bed, but the little woman who lives inside my phone tells me Fred is calling. I let it go to voicemail and towel off. I notice the charm is on top of the baggie now. My wife must have taken it out.

Dressed in grubs, I find a note downstairs. Taking mom to late mass then shopping… home about 3:00… grill tonight? You need beer?

My wife rarely apologizes for anything directly and I detect a reconciliatory tone in her note. I’m still pissed at her jumping to conclusions. And then, to use a hypothetical to reinforce an assumption before I can even… Well…

Both Gracie and Joker still need proper baths and scrubbing them clean gives me plenty of time to decide what to tell my wife, or just drop it as she appears ready to do.

It’s an hour before I call Fred back.

I put my phone, iPad, and the Jeremy charm on the table and sit under the umbrella on the back deck.

‘Crow Stalker,’ Fred says when I get him on the line. ‘Cousin Tom says he died long ago. His show name was Crow Stalker. Real name was Herman Blackclaw.’

Red continues. ‘He was Ojibwe, from around Fond du Lac. Did sideshows with crows. Called em down from a wire, one at a time. They had names. He’d feed em out of his hand then get em to walk into a dark wigwam an wait until he’d call em out. One at a time.’

I don’t say anything, and he continues, ‘He had seven sons, an one of em, number Seven – he didn’t name his kids just numbered em – number Seven claims to be a Crow Catcher too. He wrote a book about masterin crows.’

‘A book, huh?’ I’m trying to recall the last time Fred jawed this much about anything. ‘What else did your cousin tell you?’

‘Tom just said he died, an that Seven Blackclaw had a website. All the rest’s from the website.’

He tells me the web address, then says, ‘Except you spell the last part s-U-n, not s-O-n.’

‘Thanks!’

The umbrella I’m under was once green but is now sun-bleached and thread-worn. As I punch up the Seven Suns website on my iPad, the sun peeks through a thin mesh area and a beam of light sparkles off the charm inside the baggie. I smile, thinking, maybe I’m on to something.

The website doesn’t come up. Not exactly. I get the home page in the background with an overriding message that says, ALERT! THIS WEBSITE CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID! CONTENT CANNOT BE DEEMED SAFE. There are two option buttons; Proceed anyway, and Get me out of here!

I’ve never seen a message like this before. My WiFi automatically sniffs out the strongest signal, but from my back deck, that could be mine or any of three others I can see in my connection app. I use a third option and just kill the page. My office computer has a landline and I head inside mumbling the web address, leaving everything outside including my phone.

The Seven Suns website is massive. Everything Fred told me I can find on the home page, but there is much more. History, maps, and the native dress for all eleven Minnesota tribes. Seven Suns’ online bookstore features Crow Stalker, the Master of Crows. Written by Sons Four and Seven Blackclaw, the blurb promises insight to the life of crows and their true meaning. I order the book and pay additional for rush delivery.

Then I mouse around the website from section to section, printing what I want to read later until I’m finally exhausted from quick reading. I grab a cold beer and head back to the deck, but stop short of opening the door. I can see my neighbor’s cat tucked in the shadow of the umbrella, staring at the birdfeeder. Gracie and Joker are upstairs. I slide open the deck door in a loud rush and the cat leaps off the table. The familiar sound of the door also wakes up my dogs, but the cat wiggles its fat ass over the fence before my girls can get downstairs. ‘And stay out of here!’ I shout at it.

My iPad is under the umbrella where I left it, only now there is a plop of dirty-blueish bird shit on its touchscreen! It’s all caked and crusted. Pissed, I say under my breath, ‘How the hell did that happen?’ I take it to the kitchen sink to sponge off.

As I’m cleaning the iPad, a thought comes to me: This is Mr. Jeremy’s doing. He’s not pleased with me and Fred interfering with his deadly plans. I theorize, Crows are not strong enough to open a deer’s hide, even a fawn’s. They need the buzzard’s longer talons and stronger beaks for that. When my dogs won’t do.

Once clean, I swipe across the screen, only to see a low battery warning. I charge my iPad and go back out to get my phone. That’s when I notice the charm next to it.

It is sitting on top of the baggie.

How the hell? It was inside. I look at the Ziploc bag for scratch or bite marks. None. I say to myself, cat was on the table, but… the bird. This is crazy.

I take the charm to my desk and tuck it into a dark corner for safekeeping, and double-check to be sure the baggie is sealed.

I knock back the rest of my beer and go to the kitchen for another, and try to think of something else.

There are two missed calls and three text messages on my phone. All from my wife. I read her text messages. The first says, Steaks or burgers? Beer or not? The second says, I’m not mad at YOU, and the third, sent about an hour after that, says, two texts and two CALLS… sorry to be such a bother!

I don’t need to listen to the calls now.

Early evening, while preparing steaks on the back deck, and after my wife has had a couple of glasses of wine, she asks me, ‘Well? What did happen at the park this morning?’

But before I can say anything, her phone rings. She sees who’s calling and crosses her fingers, and says, ‘It’s Susan!’ Susan is our daughter-in-law, and I know what crossed fingers means in this case; Let’s hope she’s pregnant. I relay my love to Susan and Martin, then add, ‘Stakes will be ready in fifteen minutes.’ She takes her phone inside to talk.

Martin, our oldest, moved to Colorado after his company offered him the Northwest Region to manage. Only twenty-six and he’s already the Regional Logistics Manager for Canagra Feed and Seed. His star started to rise when he met Susan in their final year of college. They were married last summer, right before they moved away.

After the call, my wife finds me and says, ‘Well, not yet. Or, if so, she’s not saying.’

My wife answers questions not yet asked. Two can play this game. I say, ‘They both need to pay off their college loans first, dear.’

‘I suppose.’ Then she tells me, ‘Martin has a meeting in Chicago on the Monday before July Fourth, so he and Susan are coming in Thursday night and staying the weekend.’

‘Great! I can’t wait to see the old boy.’ I say behind a wide smile. I’ve only seen my son twice since their wedding and move.

‘Well?’ she says, as she pours herself another glass of wine. ‘What happened with the dogs this morning?’

I jump right to the chase and tell her how the second fawn got stuck in the swamp. ‘The dogs didn’t kill the fawn, dear. They led Fred and me to it and we saved it. That is what I was going to say but you wouldn’t let me. That’s why I got so mad. I’m sorry.’ All of which is true.

She’s mellow, and just gives me that all’s-forgiven look of hers.

But that’s not enough. I want a full-blown apology this time. I’ve had a few hours to think what to say, and a few beers to think about how to embellish it a little.

I leave out the part about the weed and the how the dogs swamped the fawn in the first place, but tell her how much Fred laughed at my Honey Buns boxers she bought me for Valentine’s Day. That uncorks a smile. Then I add, ‘I even got a boo-boo,’ and pat my ass. ‘I slipped on the boat launch carrying Joker into the lake and she was fighting with me all the way. But I had to be sure the dogs didn’t stink before letting them in the van. In case you needed the bigger car for church today.’ I snort. ‘But it was all worth it when we saw the little fawn reunite with its mommy.’

She’s wearing her long face now. I knew that would get her. Only, that last part’s not true; with the dogs leashed, the fawn bolted as soon as it was freed. Momma deer was nowhere in sight. But between my beers and her wines I make it sound heroic. I choke up for added effect, ‘Just the sight of that baby deer running up to its mommy! And, and its… its mommy licking it clean!’ Snort. ‘That’s what I wanted to say.’

She’s almost in tears and says, ‘I’m sorry’ – twice! – and promises to let me finish my own sentences from now on. I smile and tell her again that I’m sorry, too, and ask her if she’d like more wine.

Over dinner, she even apologizes to Gracie and Joker and gives each a thick chunk of steak right from her plate. Later that night, Honey Buns gets an apology, too.

***

 

I don’t use my iPad again until I get home from the park the next morning. I wanted to talk to Fred, but he wasn’t there. I wanted to see if there was any bird shit on his truck, too.

What comes up first on my iPad is usually whatever I was doing last. Not this time. The page that I’m staring at is one of the Seven Suns website’s interior pages that I visited yesterday – But that was on my office computer! My heart starts to race and my palms get sweaty as I now distinctly remember the warning that came up and blocked this website. How the hell did it get to an interior page? I catch my breath. And that warning! I suddenly recall not getting that same warning on my office computer. And the charm! I didn’t do that, either.

I look at the corner of my desk. The charm is right where I left it, only – again – it is sitting on top of the baggie! I fall into my chair and try to slow my heart and understand… What the hell is going on?

I look closer at my iPad. It’s one of the stories I printed yesterday to read today; Legend of Sun Breast. It’s about a crow that possesses a young Brave’s spirit. A spirit that cannot be bound.

 

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