Book One in the Dream Walker Series
This Thursday and Friday, December 13th and 14th, Dreamscape will be offered free. Back in 2008, this was my first book was published as—Dream Walker. When I got the rights back, I republished it as an Indie and gave it a new title, Dreamscape. I thought you might find it interesting to some to get a glimpse into how I write. Right after Dreamscape was published, I went back to it to write a sequel. I do that quite often. I write books with a series in mind…
Take Whispers of a Legend…four installments and counting— Shadows of the Past (Free) , The Path Now Turned, Vision of Destiny and my latest Time of the Nuxvenom.
Dreamscape is no different. Dreamscape is meant to be a triology, each one connected to the other. But when I sat down to write the sequel, I kinda went backwards in Ramona’s life. I began to write a prequel, but it wasn’t really where I wanted to go with the Dream Walker series. I sat it aside. I do that…go down a road when I write and then dump the whole scene. I might not use it for a book or a scene, but I keep everything I write in a file for deleted scenes.
Today I thought you might enjoy the first few chapters I have never published-for a prequel I’ve never completed…yet. Remember this is not edited. Just something I thought you might enjoy. If you’ve read Dreamscape, it will give you a background on Dream Walkers. Enjoy!
The hot sun beamed down. The summer sky hadn’t released the much needed rain, nor did it hold promise of any forthcoming. Leonard Carver walked the arid field, sweat poured down his back. He wiped his brow with his hat in hand. He bent down and picked up the soil. In between his fingers he released the dirt, parched and arid. A cloud of dust dissipated across the field. He shook his head, wouldn’t be much to save of his crop if the rain didn’t come soon.
He rubbed his forehead. He wished the drought had been the worst of his problems. He stoically walked down the edge of the field along the canal. An overwhelming feeling of desolation surged through him. He heard screeching. He looked up. A hawk circled overhead. The bird landed in the woods across the canal banks. He walked toward the call.
A sensation gnawed within him. Leila would have called it his conscience. But he didn’t have one, or he didn’t until he met her. And he wished he didn’t now. Life had been easier when he focused on his mission. He had failed in his mission and he well understood that failure would cost him. His concentration turned toward minimizing the cost.
The beauty of the foothills, the seemly serenity of the county side had not been lost on Leonard Carver. He had lived all his thirty-three years within this splendor, but he knew well what lay under that cover, a blackness, an evil hid well intertwined within all around him. He had been born into it and taken his place at birth. He walked a path to fulfill a destiny, a dark destiny.
A world beyond one’s eyes, he lived, lead, until, until Leila. His family’s secret well hidden to humanity. A secret world one in which his father had made a pact with the devil. Within that agreement he had been born half-human, half-demon to lead the shadowy underworld to the surface, a Dark One.
His adult years had been spent inciting doubt within this region, undermining their beliefs in one authoritarian dogma. Humans he had found to be simplistic, easily manipulated. His crimes had been many. Lives he had taken, invocations that edge his victims on to bend to his will, his energies directed toward his mission, power, laying the foundation for the chosen one to come. But to the world around, he stood a pillar of the community. His family revered.
He trudged over the canal. The water level had dropped down low enough to jump across. The brush cracked under his boots. He continued on into the heart of the wooded terrain. He heard a rustling in the brushes. He turned.
“I know you are there, Micah,” he stated plainly. “Show yourself.”
For a moment the woods quieted, deadly silent. Leonard stared straight toward a clearing. Slowly emerging from a thicket a man’s form appeared. His arms bled, his feet. Shirtless, his chest scratched, ripped. His pants had been torn. He stood as tall as the man he faced. His face whitened.
“It has begun, Leo. We need you,” Micah said simply. His breathing heavy, labored. He swallowed. “It was as you stated.”
“You should have listened and hid. There is nothing I can do,” his dark eyes unfeeling stared. “You forget who you are talking to.”
“I do not forget, my brother. You are not who you once were. My sister needs you, your child,” Micah said. His eyes directed at Leo. “You cannot hide your feelings from me.”
“You fool. You have signed your death sentence by coming here. I saw you. They will not be long behind,” Leonard edged closer. Micah began to waver, collapsing against the ground.
“The change took all my energy I had to get to you. It is the only way. We have been betrayed within. If the betrayal is deep as we suspect, you are not safe. They will learn,” Micah said simply. “They will learn that you married a Mawhauga. That you let her live after you discovered the truth. You walked the path of life for her. What do you believe will happen upon the discovery of the truth? That you have hid your ability from their eyes, one that could open the portal to the Dark One and his army.”
Leonard stared at Micah. He said nothing. His senses keen to any movement, sound that would signal their appearance. “You do not know me, Micah. Do not credit me with a soul I do not have.”
Micah slowly shook his head, weakening. “I know, my brother. I know that your return was your attempt to save your family. A family that although you have seemly turned your back to, you love whether you admit it or not, a family you are trying desperately to protect. Even at cost to yourself.”
“If you know me, Micah, know this. I have no help to give,” Leonard stated emotionless. He bent down one knee. He looked back over his shoulder. “I made my choice when I returned.”
“You are wrong. You believe you have kept them from harm…Leila and Ramona. You are wrong. It is Ramona they are after, my brother. They might not realize it as of yet, but it will come. The prophecy. My son may lie within it, but it’s your child that will lead,” Micah murmured. “For the Dark One to walk freely he will take out all within the circle. I have seen.”
“You lie,” Fire burned in his eyes. “You want to trick me back into your fold. I will kill you myself.”
“You know I do not,” Micah pleaded. “You know my visions do not lie. Nathaniel’s son will also be pulled in to complete the circle. Strong, but also the evil they will face, my brother. You question because you are half-demon, but you are also half-human. You have choices, redeemed. The time has come. All is being a lined.”
“Ramona? She is a weak child. She is not threat. Shield her, Micah,” his words resonance. “Leila has no powers. I can’t believe.”
Micah reached over for Leonard’s hand. “We have been weakened, Leo. We have lost many. It is why I came. I don’t know if we can. A battle looms, one that for the ones that are left will have to make a stand.”
Leonard shook his head. “I can’t believe my child.”
Micah stopped him. “No, Leo. You knew. You know now. It is why you left to protect her and Leila. I have seen. You are afraid above all else they will discover.”
Leonard said nothing. His eyes darkened. “Who betrayed you?”
“We do not know. I was ambushed. Franklin will be left to defend himself. I have not much time left on this earth, my brother. I need your help,” he breathed deep. He held his side. The bleeding became more profuse.
“I can’t be redeemed, Micah. You again forget,” Leonard eyed him intently. In the distance he could hear. Within minutes they would make their appearance. “They are on their way. I need to send you.”
Micah nodded. “It is not too late. Heed my warning.” Micah clasped Leonard’s arm. “As long as you breathe, there is a chance for redemption. Until we met again. And we will meet again, my brother.”
Leonard drew back his hand. Micah nodded. Leonard stood tall and looked down on the unconscious wounded man. The sounds grew closer any moment breaking through the barrier. In one swift motion Leonard sent a surge of energy through his hand, Micah vanished.
Leonard gazed down at the spot where Micah had lain. Beside him emerged creatures from the dark side. Leering, poking at the ground, a winged devil cried an eerie howl. The other gawked at Leonard.
“Where is the pathfinder? I smell him. I smell death,” the short stout horned demon stuttered. “The master will not be happy.”
“Happy! Do I look happy, Cresil?” Leonard asked. The winged demon didn’t answer. Leonard’s eyes intent upon him. Cresil knew well the pain Leonard could inflict with those eyes. He shook his head.
“Ah, the Master. He wanted him captured. Oh, my lord, I don’t want to tell him,” the short stout horned demon stuttered. “He will not be happy.”
“I am not happy, Cresil,” Leonard stated once more, his anger growing. “What games are these? I too came to search. I can feel a change. Why would a Mawhauga descend upon my lands? Is there rumblings I know nothing about?”
“No, no, my lord,” Cresil protested. He shook his head violently. “I mean no disrespect. No, no, no disrespect.” He poked at the ground trying to summon up the scent once more.
“Tell, him, Cresil. You lazy trebit,” the other stood on his hind legs to his full height, towering over Leonard. He kneaded his claws together and flapped his bare skinned wings. “We don’t have time to play games, my lord. Azole requests your presence.”
Leonard stared at the two without a word. The time had come. Micah’s warning would not go unheeded. “Go back to Azole. Tell him I will come in my own time. Tell him I expect an explanation, an acceptable one. I do not like being kep in the dark. Go,” he commanded. The two winged devils didn’t hesitate but returned into the shadows.
Leonard pulled his hat off and closed the door to his truck. Sounds of tires rumbling over gravel could be heard from behind him. He waved to his brother, Frank, who drove by in his Mercedes up the long driveway to the big house. Leonard stood in the driveway of the house he had grown up in.
Two huge gardenia bushes framed the rock path to the front door. A simple older brick house had been built shortly after the Depression, handed down from one generation to another. Ivy wrapped around the brick pillars of the front porch. He continued off the beaten path. He found his mother where he had no doubt she would be in her rose garden, bent over weeding the bushes. She didn’t seem to notice his appearance, her face hidden behind a floppy hat to protect her from the sun rays.
“Mother, you know you could move all this up to the big house. Father could have someone to look after it,” Leonard said. He walked to her side and offered her his hand to help her off her knees.
She smiled up at her youngest son. She took off her garden gloves. The older she got the harder it became to do the work she loved, not with this arthritis. She loved her flowers, her roses. “They wouldn’t grow up there. The soil won’t sustain them. I tried. I don’t mind, really I don’t.”
Leonard eyed his mother carefully and wondered what she had endured through the years. Her one escape had been this garden. When the big house had been built, she had steadfastly refused to let his father tear down this house. In all his life this had been the only concession he could remember his father had given her.
She dusted off her pant’s leg. She stood at her full height, a tall lanky woman with a head full of gray hair. Her eyes held her story. Staring into them Leonard could see the misery, the worry, the sadness. She sighed. “There’s so much to do. We need rain, don’t you think?”
“I’m not here to talk the weather, Mother,” Leonard said. He looked behind her. A line of giant oak trees blocked the view of the big house. “I know that something is brewing. I want to know what it is. Don’t tell me I’m imagining it, Mother. I want the truth.”
“Leo, you know better than anyone your father tells me nothing,” she turned her gaze away. She bent down to pick up her tools. “Are you staying for dinner? I hope so. I’m cooking.”
He grabbed his mother’s arm. “Mother, I’m serious. I know you know more than you let on. You are my mother. You would help them ensnare me.”
Her eyes shone her fear. Her hands trembled. She took hold of her son. “I am responsible for all of this. I wasn’t strong enough.”
“Mother, you’re not making sense. I don’t care who’s responsible. What the hell is going on?” he demanded. “Is it Father? Or beyond?”
She jerked back her arm. “What do you expect, Leo? You left. You left your father in a precarious predicament. He has only done what he had to protect his family.”
He drew back and eyed her coldly. “That is all I needed to know.”
“No, no, Leo. Don’t go,” she pleaded. “You have to know I wanted none of this.”
“Tell what you know, Mother. Now,” he insisted.
She looked over her shoulder. She bit her fingernails, hesitant. “I know nothing solid only tidbits of information. They know,” she whispered to him. “I did not tell them, Leo. They know about Leila and the child. There are whispers of a ritual to bring back the chosen one. They need you, Leo. Please do as they say. Please, Leo.”
“Why? To protect Father, Frank. Or Frank’s family?” Leonard pulled back. “What about me, Mother? What about my family?”
“If you do as they say, all will go back as before,” she pleaded.
He stared at her, not saying a word. “Don’t look at me like that, Leo,” she said. “You know well what you have been born into. They did not give me a choice, but I know what they asked. I wrestle with my conscience. I made my choice. It was my family. I choose to save them. Now you have to fulfill yours.”
“I don’t know you, Mother. I never did,” he shook his head. He started to walk away. She grabbed his arm.
“You know me and you know what you have to do.”
Leonard stood staring out the bay window of his father’s study. The full moon reflected over the massive man-made lake his father had finished last fall. He had prepared and readied. He waited only for one thing. A slight knock of the door and his brother entered.
Frank Carver stood only five-eight to his younger brother’s six-three. Older by three years, Frank had lived in his brother’s shadow. A lawyer by profession, he had married well, Rhiann Perry from Greenwood. He had met her at OleMiss. Her family had an antebellum plantation outside of Greenwood. Leonard didn’t know if she had ever graduated. He had never known her to have held a job.
Leonard didn’t care for her nor did he consider her attractive, plain brown hair and brown-eyed with no figure to speak of. Rhiann did nothing for him, especially since she had made more than one advances toward him. If his brother had not been so enamored with her, he would have taken care of the situation with a wave of his hand. He abided her, nothing more.
“You took care of what I asked?” Leonard asked his brother. His brother sighed and shut the door behind him.
“I don’t like any of this, Leo,” he asked. “I hope you know what you are doing.”
“I trust no one but you, Frank. If I don’t return, you promise to care for them,” Leonard looked intently at his brother. “Their lives depend on you.”
“I’ve done exactly what I have been told to,” he responded. “Go and rest assured, I’ve done all that I can to remedy the situation.”
“Father?” Leonard asked. He lifted the hood to his robe in readiness for his journey.
“He’ll be fine. I’ve taken every precaution you have laid out for us all,” Frank promised. He hugged his brother briefly. “Go before they begin to suspect anything.”
“I won’t forget this,” Leonard said. The next minute he had faded away.
Granite walls encompassed Leonard. He walked the trail he knew well. Torches lit the path within the cavern. Heat illuminated from the floor, surface cool, but lava flowed under the crust. He could hear cries from within, cries of terror, pain, and suffering. The sounds anguish had never reached his ears the many times before he had walked this path.
Never a second thought to the pain he inflicted. He had deceived the weaker humans, lured the unsuspecting in with a promise of a moment’s pleasure, a moment’s pleasure that would turn into an eternity of pain and suffering. His deceptions had enticed many souls by their own desires. The more he enticed, the more powerful he became. The power flowed through his veins.
The cavern opened wide to demon-filled chamber within a large pentagram stood a hooded form. Upon Leonard’s entrance the form turned, he pushed back the hood of his cowl black robe. Leonard acknowledged his brethren with a nod. He received none in return.
“Azole, you called for me,” Leonard said. He glanced over all around. Black candles lit the altar with a center focus candle carved with the signs of Leviathan. The altar prepared for a sacrifice, a ritual knife and a chalice of wine. The dagger lay beside the cup arranged to catch the blood of its victim. He recognized the ritual. “You believe you are demon enough to accomplish this.”
“It doesn’t come from me, brother. The Master has commanded it,” Azole stated as he straightened his sleeve. He motioned for Leonard to join him in the circle. Leonard didn’t move. “This can be easy or hard, my friend. It is of your own doing. You would have had to have known that the Master does not allow treachery and cowardice from his subjects.”
“I am not stupid, Azole. Do you believe I would come unprepared? The Master has need of me. You are not powerful enough to even attempt.”
A laugh emerged from Azole, an unnatural frightening cry. “Oh, Leonard. It is not you he has called to sacrifice. He has no desire to lose you, but bring you back within our circle. There is a way. This is our time. The power of good has weakened. The Dark One is being called forth. This will be a holy day. The day the dark force will return once more. We will walk freely.”
“You talk in riddles, Fool. If the master wants the portal open, I will need time to prepare,” Leonard moved along the circle’s edge, careful not to step within.
“The preparation has been taken. The sacrifice made ready.” Azole stepped outside the circle to join Leonard. His hand placed on Leonard’s shoulder. “The beauty of the assailant on the Mawhauga was they were totally taken by surprise. Betrayed. Do you know by whom, Leonard?”
“I have no knowledge of any of this. So why would I know?” Leonard responded angrily.
“By you, dear Leonard. They were betrayed by you,” Azole laughed, an eerie, echoing laugh.
“What the hell do you mean? I know nothing,” Leonard paused. From behind Azole he saw figures manifesting before him. Well over a year had passed since he had laid eyes on her…Leila. Disheveled, scared, his eyes caught hers. He saw well the fear that lay within them. Their small daughter walked beside her hand in her mother’s. Small, petite, her dark hair cut short, her eyes bulged. She clung to her mother, but caught sight of her father. She made an effort to move toward him. Leila held her back.
In that moment a hooded man walked beside them. The hood of the man came down. Immediately he grasped he had been betrayed by the man he trusted more than life itself. His heart sank. Comprehension of betrayal ran throughout this body, his brother. Frank smiled at him. Leonard lifted his arm, a reaction for the treachery. Azole caught him.
“Not so fast, Leonard. Think,” Azole responded. A malevolent smile appeared. “We have a proposition for you. Simple, really. We need you. Perform the ceremony, the ritual. A sacrifice of a Mawhauga should open the portal during the ritual. Fulfill your destiny. Take your place beside the Dark One.”
Leonard did not respond. He had betrayed them in their eyes, and he understood the price he had to pay for his betrayal. They would not save him after he served his purpose. Azole picked up the dagger. With his other hand Azole motioned for the victims to be moved closer.
Leonard realized that his wife would be bond and gagged for a ritual, one that his Master expected him to perform. Leonard turned back to Azole, hiding all emotions. Leila stood eyes blackened. She stumbled. She had been beaten. Anger surged within him. The guard dragged her forward.
“Leonard, think before you make another move,” Azole stood back. “You are powerful, but are you a match for us all? Your daughter has not been touched, I assure you. The Master has decided he has use for her because she is yours. Save yourself and your daughter. The price is small compared to that. Open the portal to let the Dark One out with his army. The woman is nothing, a Mawhauga.”
Leonard’s eyes burned. “I will open the portal without a sacrifice.”
“You aren’t powerful enough for that, Leonard,” Azole argued.
Leonard swept his arm forth. His wife and child disappeared. He stared straight at Azole. “You do not know what I can do. Try me. I will open the portal. Leave them alone. Or my wrath will turn on you.”
The ground beneath them shook. The cavern rumbled. Darkness descended. All knees bowed, all except one. Leonard stood his ground. A swirl appeared. A deafening roar ensued. Within the circle a form appeared, a sinister shadowy figure loomed over the inhabitants.
“Who dares question his destiny?” A roar illuminated throughout. “Show your face?”
“It is I,” Leonard stated clearly. He stepped forward around all who dared not look up. Leonard stared straight at the form.
“Leonard.” The name echoed within the chamber. The being’s red eyes glared, simmered upon the defiant. “You say you can open the portal without a sacrifice. You’re confident?”
Leonard nodded. “I am.”
“How?” the form questioned. He expanded his crimson arm forward, circling it. “Tell me quickly.”
“I can from Purgatory’s plain, your Eminence,” Leonard stated simply. “I have gone before. I have seen.”
“You have withheld that from me,” he roared. Rocks broke off from the ceiling with the impact of noise upon the cavern floor. Demons scattered. The being rose up extending himself high above all.
“I have until the time I deemed,” Leonard challenged. “Why wouldn’t I? Obviously I have been marked.”
Laughter, ominous, foreboding, laughter rang out. “Then the time is now.”
Before Leonard’s eyes his wife and child reappeared behind the form. Leonard swept his hand, but to no avail. His power overshadowed by the one who stood in front of him. “Now, Leonard, now.”
Leonard caught Leila’s eyes. He vanished into the unknown.
Leonard stood in front of the stone wall. Time had evaporated. He had only now to make his decision. Panic surged through him, a sensation he had never known. A weakness of emotion and willpower overwhelmed. Only desperation in an effort to save the ones he loved. Love, an emotion he had refused to acknowledge, but had guided him. He jumped.
Purgatory, a temporary plain for the dead to take refuge until their call home, had been illuminated only by the moonlight. Neither cold nor hot, neutral field laid before Leonard of barren rocks and walls. Ahead of Leonard he caught sight where the portal to the underworld swirled, beyond it laid vanquished demons with no hope of ever returning to the outer regions, banished for an eternity without the portal being opened. The damn conscience that had formed within him gnawed at him, as if he could hear Micah.
“Stop, Leo,” the apparition spoke. “If the Dark One is unleashed, the damage he will do will go far beyond trying to save loved ones. My brother, do not open the portal. All will be doomed.”
He refused to listen to the one he had only sent to this place hours earlier. No, Leo thought, he had to save them. His heart cried, but his eyes caught sight of a protuberance. He moved in silence. The portal swelled. He could feel a ritual being performed calling forth the portal. They did not trust him. Movement raged against the portal, banging hard against the door. He could hear chanting, moaning, calling forth an evil. A crack formed, edging open.
“Leo, bring this to a halt. Seal the portal shut. Before it’s too late.
Leonard eyes strained. In the distance he could make out a translucent Micah.
“I can’t do his alone, Micah. He is going to sacrifice Leila, Ramona. I have to.”
“No, they will not be sacrifices. Look behind you. You are not alone. The Evil One was right. You do have a destiny, but not the one he foresaw. Go, fulfill your destiny, my brother.”
In that moment a roar erupted. A crack ruptured, releasing forth a dark cloud, circling above him. Cries of others to follow emerged. In that moment Leonard understood what had built within him. Love. Love for Leila and his child. Love had given him hope. His only hope was that love. There was no hope with this evil. No matter the cost he could no longer help the evil emerge. With a flash Leo swiped his hand toward the opening, a wave of energy surged against the opening. The force pushed against the wave. Then he blared both hands toward the crack. His energy drained. He thrust another wave. His body ached. He didn’t have much left to give. He fought.
Suddenly from behind him a light swept by him, a force to join his. Gradually, slowly the crack began to seal, the swelling subsided. The portal closed. A wail emerged from the dark cloud, angry, enraged. Purgatory echoed his fury. The cloud swept by Leonard angled for the sky and dissipated, free of the bonds that had held him down.
Quiet returned, stillness. Leo collapsed down upon his knees. Knowledge of his loss, his reason of walking on the edge flooded through him, pain as he had never known. Tears he had never cried welled up in his eyes. Then he felt a small hand on his shoulder.
“Daddy, are you okay? Did I do good?”
He glanced up. His daughter bent over him, her face near his. He grabbed her and hugged her tightly, not letting go. He ran his hand over her face, not believing it could be his child. Behind her stood her mother, she ran to her husband.
He took her in his arms, kissing her. Her hands caressed his face. His lips came down hard upon hers, breaking away only longer enough to kiss her again. Her hands pressed against him.
“We don’t have time, Leo. The battle had begun. Micah…,” Leila grimaced with the pain sweeping through her body. She spoke gently, but tears choked in her throat.
He nodded. “He was here. Talking to me. He came to me mortally wounded. I couldn’t let them have him. Leila, how did you and Ramona get here? What happened?”
She bent down to her daughter. “It was Ramona. She said she heard you. She answered your call. She bought me to you.”
“But no one can come here, unless,” he knelt down on one knee. He softly hugged her again. He stared into Leila’s eyes. “Unless she has inherited my ability. She would have had to break through the Master’s hold. I couldn’t even do that. Leila, Micah…”
“I know. He told me also,” Leila nodded. She put her finger against his lips. “Mother believes she is the next Dream Walker, Leo. It scares me.”
He took her hand in his. “We will protect her. We will do what we must.”
* * * *
Leonard took his stand along the side of the berated Mawhauga. Lightening flashed across the night’s sky, illuminating the darkness. The woods had had once been thick with foliage, somber green pines and solid white oak in the back hills of North Carolina lay desolate. Carnage ravaged around, acres of prime timber lay in ruins.
Franklin had been forthright in his assessment. The Mawhauga had been devastated. Their hope lay with their future that had to be protected at all cost. To protect they must make a stand at the field of death, Chakasocka. A place once before the Mawhauga fought and won, banishing Gvhnige Sagwu, the Dark One, into Hell, until now.
Thunder roared. Leo glanced over to Leila who stood beside him. A small group, a handful against the powerful Darkside, Lisa and Nathaniel lead the small force, no more than ten against an army. They glanced toward Leo. There would be no turning back.
A dark cloud enveloped the field of death. A stench of death overwhelmed the air. The mist of destruction, bodies lay where they had fallen. Stumps ripped out of the ground. Branches, limbs, logs broken across the ground, burnt rubble littered the earth. Dark forms floated over the annihilation. Demons ran and jumped ripping skin off its lifeless victims, howling in victory.
Many had fallen. Azole paused and pushed back his hood. His eyes grasping the sight before him, he searched for one. He walked over a Mawhauga, tattoo of hawk on his fore arm. He smiled, victorious in battle. The Mawhauga had been demolished. The pathfinder, the seeker dead, only the Dream Walker survived, but he had to be considerably weaker. He would find him in short order. He couldn’t hide from his eyes. He walked over one body after another coming at last to the view he had sought.
Leonard’s body wracked with open wounds held fast a spear that pierced the heart of the beast. Azole’s beast lay beside Leonard. His claws had swiped through Leonard’s chest. His gigantic beast would have stood well over twelve feet tall. The beast twisted mouth frozen open, blood dried upon his teeth. The beast would have towered over Leonard. Azole wondered if Leonard felt fear upon his death. He hoped so. Under Leonard lay the woman.
“The Master will be happy. There will be no escape for Leonard now,” Azole roared with satisfaction. “His soul to be tortured for an eternity.”
“You are a fool, Azole,” a sinister voice called from behind Azole. Azole turned. He bowed down on his knees.
“I meant no disrespect, my Lord,” Azole said desperately trying to find words to please the tall one. The man ambled up to the demon. Tall, his long dark hair flowed behind him. His eyes as dark as night stared at Azole penetrating into his soul. “The Master has to be overjoyed upon your return. It is what we have been planning, my Lord.”
“It is not the time for celebration. My army is still confined and you have destroyed my only way to resurrect them,” the Dark One stated angry. “We needed the Dark Priest alive. What good is he now?”
“My Lord, he betrayed us. We could not trust him,” Azole beseeched the Dark One. “We tried. I thought we had him, my Lord. His magic saved his family from us and that is when he sealed the portal. I could not have known his power would be more powerful.”
Azole immediately regretted his statement. The Dark One’s eyes raged, flames within fired. “You are right, my Lord. I underestimated. But the Master now can enact his revenge.”
“Imbecile, do you not know your enemies? His soul will not be my Father’s now,” the Dark One attention turned as the bodies of the Mawhauga began to fade, including Leonard’s. “The weak ones believe in forgiveness. He is ours no longer.”
The Dark One’s rage exploded. Winds began to swirl, gust through the field. Lightening flashed, thunder burst. Fire began to burn over the ground, burning the bodies of the demon warriors. Rain pounded down upon the field.
“My Lord, he had a daughter,” Azole said in almost a whisper. “We could take her, sacrifice her. It might reopen the portal at the appointed time.”
The winds began to die down. Rain seized. The Dark One stood motionless. He turned back to Azole. “Yes, that might work. Not the way you think,” he smiled a wicked, evil smile. “The daughter might be the key for the revenge we seek and the success to our ultimate goal.”
* * * *
Special Agent Samuel Caldwell parked his car in front of the small white framed house in the middle of nowhere in reality a tiny community of Rocklun in the northern section of Florida. Caldwell hadn’t even realized it had existed before his partner, Special Agent Lawrence Dunn had directed him to the location.
“I promised the girl if anything happened,” Larry explained. “I shouldn’t have to explain anything to you, Sam. You were there. After all she did for us, the least we can do is make sure her child taken care of, safe.”
“You don’t even know if anything happened to her,” Caldwell shook his head. “How do know the kid’s even here?”
“I know,” Agent Dunn said. The only explanation Caldwell received. Caldwell shrugged. The informant had linked three killings for them, lead them to the culprit. The killings occurred every full moon for three straight months. Granted the suspect died before being apprehended, but the killings stopped, vicious satanic killings.
Their informant had appeared out of nowhere at one of the scenes. A tiny waif of a thing, pretty girl, African-American by birth carried a tattoo on her forearm of a hawk. Caldwell assumed a symbol of some sort. She talked an implausible story, one that included demons, supernatural intervention.
Caldwell had been skeptical. Larry bought the story hook, line and sinker. He hung on every word the girl said, which had led them here in the middle of nowhere. Caldwell had to admit he had a curiosity about how she had known so much. The investigator in him had the pull to find out what really happened.
“Better be right about this, Larry,” Caldwell said his hand on the handle of his car. “I gave up a date with Melody tonight for this.”
“Trust me,” Larry replied and exited the car. He walked up the wooden steps and knocked on the door. Caldwell beside him, the door opened wide. A petite elderly woman opened wide the door. Her hair pulled back in an old fashion bun, her dress plain, but clean. She extended her hand for the two to enter.
“We have been expecting you,” she said simply. Her face worn, eyes reddened. A sadness enveloped her. “Come, come on in. Franklin is waiting as well as Chief Landato. They will explain. I’m sorry I can’t.”
Caldwell followed his partner. He turned around. The old woman had disappeared. His attention had been drawn back to the two men sitting in the middle of the quaint living room. A short small older man stood. His hair had a flash of gray streaked through it. He stood no more than five-three, five-four at the most. His eyes met Caldwell’s.
“You doubt, do you not, Agent Caldwell?” the man stated as a fact. “I do not blame you. There is much you do not know, but you are here. That is good.”
“You are Franklin?” Larry walked over in front of the man. “Lisa sent me for her son, Jakob. She asked me to take care of him is anything happened to her. My wife and I are prepared to do just that.”
“You do not know, so you can’t be prepared,” the aged man sitting on the couch. He didn’t stand. He stared at the strangers. His gray hair pulled back in a long pony tail. His age could be seen in his wrinkled sun-aged face, his skin like dry paper over bone on the back of his hands that held firm to his cane. He sat tall, proud. “We have lost too much.”
“Chief Landato, all that is all that is left is the aged and the young,” Franklin said calmly. “We have discussed this. There are no other options we have. If we keep them, they will be found, discovered under their cloak. The sacrifices their parents made, the Mawhauga made will have been in vain.”
“I may not understand it all, but I understand that Lisa died to protect her son,” Larry said catching Caldwell by surprise. “I will be leaving the FBI. I will set up a law practice at home. I will be there for him. I promise.”
Franklin grasped Larry’s shoulder. “Thank you. Thank you for having faith. Faith that is so desperately needed at this time. I know that Lisa chose wisely.”
“You know, I don’t want to put a damper on this anymore than it is already,” Caldwell broke in. “I don’t understand any of this. I feel I’ve woken up in the Twilight Zone here. You’ve all gone off the deep end.”
Franklin turned back to Agent Caldwell. “You question now, but in time you too will believe. I asked Larry to bring you. I will have need of you and you of me now that I have lost Micah.”
In that moment the quiet of the meeting had been disturbed by the running feet of a toddler. He ran in the room, giggling. No more than three, his little face red from his escape from the woman who had opened the door. He grabbed hold of Larry’s legs, hiding around him, waiting for the woman to try to capture him.
Larry reached down and picked up the boy. His coloring seemed the same as his mother, but his eyes. His eyes were blue, shining brightly. The gloom that had gripped the room dissipated upon his appearance. He smiled at Larry.
“Are you Jakob?” Larry asked. The little one laughed. He leaned his head against Larry and hugged him.
“It is as it should be, Chief Landato,” Franklin said. He turned back to the agents. “Sit, please, Agent Dunn and Agent Caldwell. We will explain to the best of our ability. We have much to talk of.”
“Give it time, Mamie,” Franklin watched the car disappear down the dirt road. His arm wrapped around the shoulder of his sister. “I have checked out Lisa’s choice. Agent Larry Dunn is a fine man, strong family values. His wife is willing to accept Jakob, lovingly. He will give him another name as not to call attention to himself, no matter how slim the chance is to be detected. He will be protected until the time comes. We will watch.”
“I don’t know, Franklin,” Tears flowed down her cheek. “My son, Micah. My daughter, Leila. I feel my heart has been ripped from me.”
“I know, Mamie. I know,” Franklin comforted her. “We can’t lose hope now. We have to be strong.”
“Strong?” Chief Landato said from behind the two. “We need more than that. We have all the young Mawhauga scattered like ashes in the wind. They will grow up not knowing our ways.”
“We have to have faith they will find it along their life’s path,” Franklin responded. “Your grandson, Chief Landato, will grow up brave and courageous. He has already demonstrated his skills. Joseph O’Donnell has given his word. He is an honest man.”
Chief Landato sadly nodded his head. “I believe he will. He is not the one I worry with. It is the girl. You have made a grave error in judgment, Franklin. Letting her go live within those walls.”
“We had no choice, old man,” Franklin stated, irritation plainly within his tone. “Do you not believe if there was another way? If we hid her, they would search knowing we hid her for a reason. We can give them no reason to suspect. The cloak will protect her from their eyes whether she is far away or living right under their noses. When the time is right, we will make our move.”
“We need not play the fool, Franklin,” Chief Landato shot back. “They wanted her for a reason themselves. Whether they believe she has powers as her father or far worse than our imagination can wonder, she lives in danger at all times. She is young. If she trips up, they see.”
“She will always have a connection to us. If she is ever in danger, she will have a way of escape,” Franklin adamantly responded. “Mamie will teach her. We will give her time and I will connect to her. Mamie will show her our way.”
“What else can we do, Chief?” Mamie dried her eyes. “What can we do?”
“We pray, Mamie,” Chief Landato responded. “Pray that the sacrifice the brave ones made will be enough to protect the young ones during this Season of Darkness. The Winter of Despair has descended upon us. As the prophesy foresaw, hollow and harsh the days will become with false illusions. Pray for the one great hope, one great vision and for those to follow it as a hawk follows its prey.”
The hot August sun shone down upon the Mississippi lands, cooled only by the lone cloud covering the sun, but the moment would last only briefly. Ramona wiped the sweat off her brow. From the look of the sun, lunch wouldn’t be long in coming. She pulled another piece of crabgrass away from her grandmother’s roses. The garden didn’t need much attention this morning. She had worked diligently over the last week.
Her grandmother had chosen the punishment. The eleven year old had exchanged looks with her grandmother, hoping her grandfather hadn’t caught the exchange. Ramona worked along side of her grandmother in her flowers most days during the summer months. She hadn’t minded, except she couldn’t go out of her room when she wasn’t working.
“Pssst,” a noise from behind the old brick watershed. She smiled, but ignored the jester. A few minutes later a rock landed by her foot. She bent over and picked up the rather large rock.
“Gees, Patton, I don’t need ya to break my toe,” she threw it back over against the shed, landing with a plop chipping the brick wall. A rather large pudgy kid slowly eased out from behind his hiding spot cautiously looking over his shoulder.
“You can come on out,” she said. She eased up, stretching out her legs. “Grandfather isn’t here. He’s gone to Tupelo to pick up some important guests from Chicago.”
“Are ya still grounded?” he asked unsure if he wanted to come out in full view. It had taken him a week to build up the courage to come looking for his friend. “I thought for sure your grandfather would show up and tell Pa.”
She shrugged. “Didn’t tell him. Neither did Johnny.”
“Johnny didn’t?” he grinned. “Well, I’ll be. Thought for sure he’d be the first one to squeal.”
“Too busy fussing over his hair. Not like you guys can’t just get a buzz cut,” she shook her head. “You should have seen the scene Aunt Rhiann performed. Like she’s never seen a little hair singed before.”
“Mona, Johnny’s hair was on fire,” Patton muffled a laugh. “Didn’t think the little pip squeak could run that fast. Good thing he tripped over that tree root and you doused him with our bucket of water.”
“Told him not to blow on those sparks while I was trying to start the fire. Everything so dry this time of year. Now I don’t know when we’ll be able to get back,” she said. Her mouth twisted to the side while she thought. “That is unless…”
Ramona saw Patton eye her carefully. He knew her well, being her only friend. Not that Patton had many friends either. Only other friends he could claim were the Walter boys. She caught his eye. He noticed the whelps on her legs. Not like he hadn’t seen them before, probably expected it after their adventure. Her grandfather never spared the rod as he put it. Wasn’t the first time he got his belt out. She never complained. She would never. How many times had Patton cautioned her, but for whatever reason she couldn’t help she would she land herself in trouble?
He didn’t say nothin’. Instead he moved over to the shed and took a seat in the shade. Ramona didn’t blame him. Even if her grandfather had gone for the morning didn’t want to take a chance about being seen. He asked, “What ya got planned now?”
Ramona glanced carefully over her shoulder and followed.
“We have to complete our mission, Patton. We have to go back. Got no choice,” she said matter of fact. “Walking Turtle had been adamant, but this time instead of going at dusk, we’re going to have go in the middle of the night. Grandpa won’t let me out of the house. Besides can’t take Johnny. He’d just mess everything up again.”
“Walking Turtle? Couldn’t you come up with a better name like Bear Claw,” his voice trailed off. She shot him a look. He knew better to ask. Mona came up with the best games. “You’re weird, you know, Mona.”
She ignored the comment. “We’ll have to go late,” she said life renewed in her eyes. “Probably around midnight to be safe. Grandpa goes to bed early. He’ll be good and asleep.”
“Midnight? Mona? Are you crazy?”
“You ain’t scared are you, Patton Eugene?” she challenged him, knowing full well he would never let a girl get the better of him.
“Problem is that you ain’t scared of nothin’,” he sighed. He sat silent. “Guess I could tell Pa I wanted to go coon hunting. He’s got a new hunting dog he’s training. I could take Old Sid out for him, I reckon.”
Ramona jumped up, excited. “Bring your four wheeler. I’ll meet you down by the bridge at eleven. I got to get back to the big house for lunch. I’d invite you, but I’m not supposed to be talking with anyone. See you at eleven.”
Patton nodded. She left him no choice. She watched with satisfaction while he disappeared down the road confident she’d see him at eleven.
Ramona walked down the winding dirt road. Young sibling trees lined the long driveway along a railed wooden fence toward the big house. The house had been built shortly before she had been born. A beautiful house, a large replica of a Regency Victorian home, nostalgic of an earlier period sat at the end of the driveway. The front view had a large wrap-a-around porch with turrets on each side. The back held a view of the manmade lake her grandfather had expanded out of an old pond. Pretty, she supposed, brightly painted yellow with white trim, but she preferred the old house, like her grandmother.
Her grandmother had never been in the best of health since Ramona could remember. Congestive heart failure had been the diagnosis the doctor had come up with, along with her debilitating arthritis. Her grandfather couldn’t abide weakness. Ramona could feel her grandmother’s need for escape as well as her own. The smaller house had warmth within.
The old house needed work. No one had paid much attention to the brick house in years. Ivy had grown all the columns in the front of the house. There was a large leak in the roof and the foundation swayed a bit, but it had electricity. The old TV had only an aged antenna instead of the satellite; no dishwasher, no microwave, no central air, none of the amenities that the big house held, but for her grandmother it held memories she held tight to. Calmness descended upon her grandmother down at the old house. Ramona had become her nursemaid at a young age.
Ramona had taken care of her grandmother’s needs, her medicine, cleaned, and cooked. At the age of eleven she had become a decent cook. In essence the two lived in the old house during the summer months. Grandmother used her health to escape to her sanctuary. Her grandfather had turned a blind eye to her escape as along as Sunday morning they sat front and center at Marian’s BaptistChurch.
That had been until last week. Their escape had been cruelly wrenched away from the both of them. Ramona had only herself to blame.
“Ramona, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong,” her grandmother had pleaded time and time again. “Just say you’re sorry. And don’t look at him with that look of yours. Better yet. Say nothing. Please.”
Ramona couldn’t help it. She couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself. She couldn’t bit her tongue, making her punishment that much worse. She would never let him see the fear she felt when he would send her for his belt. She would never let him see the tears she cried in the pain he would instill. She would never beg for mercy, but if her grandmother hadn’t last week, she wasn’t sure if he would have stopped. His anger at her exploded.
She could never have admitted to Patton that Johnny hadn’t squealed because he had become frightened for his cousin. His worry about his hair had been short lived as his grandfather had lost control.
She couldn’t remember a lot of what happened. Bits and pieces came back to her. She remembered Johnny crying for his grandfather to stop. She remembered her grandfather screaming at her. Her grandfather hadn’t been blessed with height, but to Ramona that night he seemed as a giant, an ogre.
“Ungrateful. Devil’s child,” he exclaimed as he raised the belt high above his head. “I have turned a blind eye to your discretions. Your discipline lacking. I have made excuses for your behavior for the last time. That will be remedied.”
“I didn’t do anything,” she had tried to explain. “Johnny bent down. I told him not too. He didn’t listen. I put it out.”
“You have a blatant disregard for me, your family. You could have killed your cousin,” Anger building with every word out of her mouth, he continued. “You’re worse than your father.”
“I’m glad to be like my father. At least I’m not like you,” she retorted immediately regretting the outburst for the next blow knocked her down against the floor. The next moments had become a blur.
Johnny ran out of the room. She could hear her dog barking wildly outside. Johnny must have run out the door. The next thing she remember her dog, her mutt of a dog, attacked her grandfather. Chaos ensued. Her uncle tried to pull her dog off her grandfather. She heard someone yelling for a gun.
She panicked and scrambled to her feet. The whole of her small frame throbbing, she called her dog. She grabbed hold of his collar and ran. The two moved quickly through the house knocking over the entrance table as they bounded out the door. She stumbled over the gravel. Her dog never left her side.
Her feet found footing again. Footsteps ran behind her. She didn’t stop. She didn’t dare. Without warning a gunshot rang out. She heard a yelp. She looked back in horror as her companion, her defender, lay where he had been shot. She ran back, grabbing hold of her dying dog.
“Damn dog,” a voice echoed in the darkness.
Tears flowed. She could feel someone roughly grab at her, trying to pull her from the bleeding dog. She wouldn’t let go. Her grandmother came between them.
“Leave her alone,” her grandmother commanded. “For God’s Sake!”
Ramona cried and pulled her beloved dog into her arms. His blood gushed out over her. She closed her eyes. She couldn’t lose one of her only friends. A moment later all had gone still. She opened her eyes slowly. Everyone had vanished. She didn’t know where she was, her surroundings strange. She felt a pull. She followed the pull.
She didn’t know if she dreamt all. She awoke the next morning in the bed she used in the big house. Her body ached. She couldn’t move easily only with an effort. She could feel eyes upon her. She looked down at the foot of the bed. Johnny sat smiling at her.
“Are you okay? I’m supposed to let them know when you wake up, you know. Thought you were a goner yesterday for sure,” he rambled. “One day, Mona Ann, you’re going to learn to keep that mouth of yours shut. At least that what Momma says. Wasn’t for sure who Grandfather aimed at when he shot. You made him so mad.”
“Dog,” she sprung up in her bed ignoring her pain. “My dog?”
“You don’t remember?” he looked at her questionably. She slowly shook her head.
“I’m not supposed to talk about it ever,” he said. He lowered his voice, tilting his head toward her. “You disappeared, Mona Ann. Grandpa, Dad and Grandma just stared. Didn’t say a word. Scared, if you ask me. Than Dad picked up that dog of yours, limp. Deader than a door nail. Big hole in his side.” He demonstrated with his hands.
Ramona stared at her cousin. “He’s dead?” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“You don’t remember, do ya?” he gave a forced laugh. “Thought he was, but the next minute, he’s wiggling in Dad’s arms. You should have seen the look on Dad’s face. The hole vanished like magic. Dog’s running around the area you disappeared and than you just pop back in. You didn’t look so good. Dad had to lift you and bring you to bed.”
“I wouldn’t mention it, but I heard Dad tell Grandpa he’s putting him up in the pen we put the bitches in when they’re in heat. Saw him this morning. Never know anything happened to him. Neither would I, except I think I saw it. How’d you do it, cousin?”
“I don’t,” she stuttered. Her head pounded. “I don’t know, Johnny.”
“It’s okay,” his hand patted hers. “I don’t think you’re the devil’s spawn.”
He hopped off the bed. “I can’t stay too long. Momma’s taking me to get a haircut and all.”
Johnny scooted out the door. He thought it a game, an adventure, but her behavior had cost her beloved grandmother her house. Her grandfather had already made arrangements for a bulldozer to demolish the whole of the house by the end of the week. Her grandmother hadn’t complained.
“It’s time to stop living in the past, I suppose,” she had said. In a role reverse her grandmother nursed her back. “John believes you need to be supervised. I don’t believe he thinks I’m the right one. I talked him into you working my rose garden for your punishment, my dear. That shouldn’t be too bad.”
“What about Dog?” Ramona pushed. “Grandfather isn’t going to do anything to my dog, is he, Grandmother? He can’t.”
“Don’t think about it. Right now he may not be happy caged up, but he’s safe,” her grandmother offered. “Now we have to getca’ cleaned up. Your grandfather wants you to start work this afternoon.”
She kicked a rock in the road. She tried not to think of it and in her manner pushed the incident to the back of her mind. Names her grandfather had called her, she had tried to pay no attention to, but she had began to wonder if something bad wasn’t wrong with her.
Ramona finished the last bit of her ham sandwich. She sat across from her grandmother in the immaculate whitewashed kitchen, brightly lit with windows allowing the sun’s rays to lighten the room. Evoking Victorian style with a tin ceiling, a chandelier hung from that ceiling over the stove top. Ramona’s favorite feature had to be the dumbwaiter that had become one of the games that Johnny and she had played, one of their favorite hiding places.
Her grandfather hadn’t been around for lunch. Her grandmother had hardly touched her lunch. Usually Ramona would prepare a hot meal, fresh veggies and his cornbread. He had to have his hot cornbread. And you couldn’t forget to have his vanilla ice cream with his pineapple juice. She didn’t have to worry with it this afternoon.
She glanced up at her grandmother. She didn’t look good; her eyes strained, her shoulders hunched over. Ramona wondered if she was fixin’ to have another one of her attacks.
“Finish up, my dear. Your grandfather will be back shortly. He wants you to be presentable when he returns,” her grandmother said. She took a sip of her tea.
“What do you mean presentable? I have to take a bath?” Ramona stared at her grandmother. Baths were saved for the night before she went to bed.
Her grandmother nodded. Her eyes looked down at her meal avoiding Ramona’s. “He wants you to meet his friends he’s bringing over.”
“What?” Ramona cried. “He never wants me to be around. What? Is he going to give me away? Grandmother, you won’t let him.”
“What in heaven’s name are you talking about, child?” her grandmother pushed her chair away from the table. She took the chair by Ramona.
“We always get the horses cleaned up before we sell them. You remember Nugget how much we got for him?” Ramona rambled catching her grandmother’s eyes.
“No, no,” her grandmother shook her head. She hesitated. “He wants you to talk to these men about what happened the other night. He wants to help you.”
“Doctors? He thinks I’m crazy, doesn’t he, Grandmother? He’s trying to send me away to the loony bin. I heard Eva Jo’s mother got sent to one. Do you know what they…?”
“Calm down, Ramona Ann. Nothing of the sort is happening here. We’re family. We’re not going to send you to a loony bin. We have to take care of you, though, child,” she took Ramona in her arms, hugging her tightly.
Ramona broke away from her embrace. She stared up at her grandmother. “Do you think I’m crazy? Weird?”
“No, my child,” she collected herself. “Don’t put too much thought in this. Tell them what happen and then they’ll leave. I promise. The quicker they know, the quicker they’ll leave.”
Ramona thought taking a bath in the middle of the day the stupidest thing she had ever heard of. What difference would it make if she had been a little dirty to meet an old doctor anyway? And to put on a dress, insult to injury.
She towel dried her long hair. Her grandmother more than once threatened to cut it because Ramona never kept it combed. Today she pulled it back in a pony tail. She sighed as she slipped her sundress over her shoulders. Her back still ached. She chose to pay it no heed.
Before she bent down to put her sandals on, howling ensued. Ramona jumped. Her dog, something had happened to her dog. She ran, barefoot and all, down the stairs onto the porch. She turned the corner on the porch and ran right into a body. She stumbled back.
“I’m sorry,” a deep voice said. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
Ramona glanced up. A tall young man stood in her way. Dog’s barking grew louder. She gazed at the man momentarily, thinking how to get around him to her dog. He was tall with long dark hair pulled back in a pony tail down his back, his eyes as dark as his clothes. He had dressed in black, unusual for the middle of summer in Mississippi.
“I’m sorry,” she responded. Her head turned toward her dog’s howling. “I shouldn’t have been running.”
“It’s your dog that’s howling I take it,” he spoke softly. He shrugged. “I’m afraid he doesn’t care for my friend. Come let’s see what we can do.”
He offered her his hand. She hesitated not sure whether to trust the stranger or not. He didn’t look like a doctor. He smiled. “My name is Damien. You must be Ramona. I’m here to help you. Didn’t your grandparents tell you I would be coming?”
“Just visitors from Chicago,” she answered him. She hesitated as she stared at his hand, but as if understanding her hesitation, he nodded slightly and placed his hand on her shoulder. She shivered even in the heat of the day. She glanced back up at him. He looked too young to be a doctor, at least not one that her grandfather would use. “Why are ya here?” her voice faded with her waning confidence.
For a moment he said nothing. He frowned as he looked at her back, but his expression changed as he met her eyes again. He gave her a small smile. He made a gesture for her to have a seat on the front porch steps. She nervously obeyed. He sat by her.
“My job is difficult to explain, Ramona. How can I say this so you can understand?” he explained as his gaze fell upon the fields in front of them. “I suppose you could say I deal with special people. Do you feel special, Ramona?”
Ramona’s eyes widened betraying her surprise. “No,” she answered honestly. Then the thought hit her. What did he mean special? “Do you think there’s something wrong with me?” her voice quivered. “Is that why grandmother home schools me? Johnny and Sharon get to go school.”
“Does it bother you? Does it make you mad?”
She turned to him and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I mean I want to. I keep thinking if I’m better and don’t upset Grandfather I could.”
“It would have to upset you. You don’t get the least bit angry?” he pressed her, leaning close down to her. “Have you never done anything to get back at someone…maybe your cousin with his hair?”
Ramona recoiled back. “I would never hurt anyone. I told him not to lean over. I had already lit the pile of leaves with my match…”
“Match?” he nodded. “Of course, you wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.” He reached over and took her hand. He held it firm, not letting her withdraw it as was her first reaction. “Tell me what happened the night your dog was shot. I have to have the truth, Ramona. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me exactly what happened.”
“Why?” she whispered.
Maybe because I can help you understand what is happening to you. I myself have dealt with situations similar to yours. You can’t believe you are alone. I want to help you, Ramona.”
Tears fell silently from her eyes. With his other hand, he wiped them away. “Tell me, Ramona. Your dog lay dead on the ground. You ran to him… tell me.”
“I felt a pull,” she uttered under her breath. “I only wanted my dog back. He’s the best friend I have. I couldn’t lose him. I held him and then suddenly I wasn’t on the road anymore…”
His eyes stared into hers, deep into hers. “You’re in a different place. What did it look like? What did you do?”
“I…I don’t know…it was dark,” she stuttered. “I think…all I knew is that I wanted Dog back. I called for him. And in the distance I heard him. I could make him out. I ran to him and picked him up…it was cold and damp…I didn’t stop…couldn’t stop. The path was crooked. There were…I was scared, but I had Dog. I pushed through. I told Dog to jump…”
She broke her gaze and turned away. “I don’t know.”
“No, no, you did fine. Just fine,” he assured her. He patted her hand. “Has it happened before?”
“No,” she said simply. She wanted nothing more than to jump up and leave, but she was afraid to.
He nodded again. “What if I told you, Ramona, that I believe we are going to be good friends? I think I can help you, but you will have to trust me. There is no rush. No rush at all.” He stood and helped her back to her feet. “Why don’t you go and introduce me to this friend of yours?”
She silently walked beside him down to the kennels. The barking grew louder, not only her dog, but all the others. She hadn’t been allowed to go near her dog since the incident. He ran up to the wired fence that held him in. His tail wagged for a moment until he saw the man. He growled showing his teeth.
“Dog, down,” she commanded, nervous that her grandfather would do something to her dog again. She looked back. Her grandfather frowned, but the other man. He made her immediately uncomfortable.
His face scarred, pitted, he was bald, but it was his eyes that unnerved her. His eyes stared at her with a hatred she had never felt before. She stared back, not knowing why, but she refused to give ground.
Damien laughed. “I don’t believe our little friend cares for you, Anthony. Miss Ramona Carver, this is my associate, Anthony Bowling.”
Damien turned back to Ramona. His face softened. “Why don’t you wait until we go in the house and release your dog? You haven’t seen him since the incident. He looks as if he wants to see you.”
Her face lit up with a huge smile. Disappearing quickly as she looked toward her grandfather. To her surprise he nodded. She couldn’t contain her excitement as the men walked toward the house. The minute the back door closed, her dog knocked her over when she unhooked the gate. She didn’t care. She had her friend.
Damien stood at the window, staring blankly out into space. He pressed his lips together tightly. Yes, this had been a good sign. He turned back to the others in the room.
“Nothing else except for this one incident?” the bald headed man asked. He sat down in a chair opposite John Carver, irritated.
Damien raised his eyebrow toward his companion. “Azole, you think it’s nothing?”
John William Carver sat in his leather bound chair. He rubbed his tired eyes. “I don’t know why you want us to have her. Would it not be better suited at another place to handle her? If she is indeed gifted, doesn’t she run the risk of being discovered?”
Damien shot him a look. “You raised another with more open powers than the one she has exhibited. Not that you accomplished what you promised. Don’t you remember your promise, old man?”
“It was that damn woman. She changed him,” John Carver defended himself. The three men held their conference in his study with carved imported European woodwork, leaded stain glass above the door. The fireplace mantel had grey tiled imported from Italy, with a Fleur-de-lis emblem embossed within. He had spared no expense upon his room.
“Does not matter what happened, Carver,” Azole said. “He betrayed us, kept from us the ability to have already formed the army that Damien needs. There is a price that has to be paid.”
“Enough, Azole!” Damien commanded. “I believe Carver understands our position. You do understand, Carver, that the only reason you are alive is this child. I will have my revenge, one way or another, Old Man. I will have my revenge.”
“Of course,” Carver trembled. He didn’t want to have the wrath of the chosen one bear down upon him. “I have done as you have commanded. Did I not inform you as soon as she showed signs of powers?”
“Pretty hard to ignore a dead dog coming back alive?” Azole fumed. “She disappeared before everyone.”
“Which means she has no control of the power, fool,” Damien said. He walked away from the window. “After talking with her, I don’t believe she has more of his powers, but if it is this one, our plans have changed.”
“How so, my Lord?” Azole asked. He stood and walked around the chair. “When the Time of the Quito occurs, we will have our chance to sacrifice to open the portal. The girl should be a sufficient to be the sacrifice, my Lord, especially if she has powers that can be directed toward the portal. Our revenge upon Leonard for his betrayal.”
“And you’re a fool! You would destroy what could be ours, Azole?” Damien shook his head. “What better vengeance than to turn his only daughter to our side? Think what we could accomplish with that power. No one could stop us. My army could be brought forth. The possibilities are endless.”
Damien turned back to Carver. “Can you be trusted to raise her until that time?”
Carver exchanged looks with Azole. “Would it not be better to take her now?”
“I will take the young one, my Lord. I will teach her,” Azole offered.
Damien laughed. “I don’t trust you with her, Azole. And I don’t have the time to baby-sit a child. Carver, your home has been shielded for years, which has held. We will fortify it well. She has no knowledge of her mother or her family. At all cost she has to be kept from them. The safest place is here.”
“I will do as you command, my Lord,” Carver reluctantly agreed. “Tell me what you want and I will do it.”
“I have no trouble with most you have done. It is important to keep her isolated as you have done so far to satisfaction. You don’t have to pamper her, which I can see you haven’t done,” Damien responded, turning to look squarely in Carver’s eyes. “But this I tell you. No harm is to befall her. I saw her back. I need her. If you lose control again, you will answer to me.”
Carver squirmed. His body racked with a surge of pain, a fire flowed through his veins. Damien kept his hold another moment before releasing him. Carver fell to the floor. Damien walked over him.
“I will be back to oversee that all is as it should be,” Damien said. “And you better pray it is as I want.” With a wave of his arm Azole disappeared with Damien.
* * * *
A full moon lit her way as Ramona made it down the path toward the bridge with her dog by her side. She had not been this happy since Earl well off the log into the creek during their race last month. He always liked to brag. She really didn’t stand a chance, but she couldn’t stand him boasting so much. She took him up on his challenge and won. She liked to win. She smiled when she caught sight of Patton waiting patiently on the four-wheeler.
She hopped on and they took off with the two dogs following. No more than twenty minutes later, Patton slowed down. Ramona pointed to a spot. He stopped and turned off the ignition.
“Did you bring everything like before?” Ramona asked. She jumped off with her back pack over her shoulder.
“I brought a flashlight. Didn’t think a fire would be the best thing to try tonight,” Patton offered. “Hope you know I’m the one probably going to be in trouble tonight. Pa told me no. Said I was too young to go out coon hunting at night by myself. I snuck out.”
“See I knew you had it in ya,” she countered. She lightly patted his shoulder. He didn’t seem confident in his decision. “Although smoke is suppose to ward off evil spirits.”
“Will it ward off my dad when he finds out I’m not at home?”
“Funny,” she started down a path into the dark woods not waiting for him. Patton grabbed the flashlight and ran behind her. The two dogs came running by, enjoying the night jaunt.
Ramona kept walking. Patton had trouble keeping up through the underbrush and the briars. “Gees, Ramona, I’m going to have chiggers bits all over me.”
“Stop being such a baby,” she said, looking back at him. “It’s just a little further.”
After climbing a small mound she stopped. The dogs ran around her, barking loudly, excited. Patton caught up to her panting louder than the dogs.
“So what do we do now?”
“Dig, Patton. We dig.”
“It might have helped if we brought shovels, Mona,” Patton complained. “Who ever heard of using rocks to dig.”
She looked up from her spot and pushed back the hair that had fallen in her face, leaving a dirt streak on her forehead. “It can’t be that much further down.”
“Maybe you should tell me what we’re looking for so I’ll know if I find it,” Patton said. He grabbed a couple of rocks. “Hey, look, Mona. Arrowheads. Good one’s too. They have the points and everything.”
“What did you expect to find in an Indian mound?” she asked as she got back to her digging. “I’ve got you a pile right here. They’re all yours.”
“Oh, that’s awesome,” he exclaimed and went back to his project. “I still don’t know what I’m looking for. Do you hear something, Mona?”
“I think I’ve found it,” she jumped up. “I think it’s what I’ve been looking for.”
The trees whistled as a wind began to blow. The ground trembled. Ramona staggered to regain her footing. A rustling in the bushes made her turn quickly. Her heart beat rapidly. She covered her eyes with her hands as a bright light shone.
A figure began to emerge; he carried his bronze body tall and proud. His hair cut in a style Ramona wasn’t accustom to, shaved on the sides with hair cut to stand straight up in the middle. He had a large feather, mostly white with a black tip, stuck in his hair. Bare chest, he had arm bands, wrist bands with a shoulder bag slung over his shoulder. Tan leather pants, he wore unusual boots bounded over his pants tied at his knees. He wore a necklace, but no pendant hung from it.
She inched backwards. Her legs felt like jelly. She froze. Her eyes fixated upon his. She had seen him before in a dream, felt him beckon her on, but that had been a dream, an adventure, not a reality in the middle of the woods in the dead of night. Her breathing became rapid. She tried to contain herself.
“You are the one they call Ramona,” he said as a fact. Not looking for a response, Ramona only nodded. “It is good that you come. We do not have long. Evil spirits have cloaked your calling, your destiny. I can see within your eyes, you do not understand.”
She could only shake her head.
“But you came,” he spoke. He walked around her. “You are scrawny. You are a girl. Are you afraid?”
“No,” she exclaimed even though her legs shook. His manner irritated her. “I am strong. I am here.”
He stared at her in silence. “Listen carefully, girl. Take the plants that grow around this mound. They are called Angelica. Plant them on the four corners on the home you lay down at night. They all have to grow to release the cloak. Take care of them and they will take care of you. Take the leaves, crush them put them where you lay your head at night. Do you understand?”
She looked around the ground. He picked up by its roots. Not much to look at, a simple green plant. He handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she said simply. She expanded her hand exposing the smooth shiny rock she had uncovered. The rock shaped in the form of a bird in flight, not elaborate, plain with a small hole in the back of the bird.
A slight smile appeared on his face. “My Birdstone. That is good. Keep it, young one. Keep it close to your heart. It will remind you of all you need to remember. It will give you the strength to find your powers within yourself.”
“You have been kept in the dark. You have much to learn. You are a Mawhauga and as such have a destiny to fulfill. They are calling for you.”
“Your people. The evil ones have kept their existence from you.” Suddenly, the warrior stilled as if he could hear something. He glanced toward the black woods. “The evil ones are here. You will need to go.”
“Who’s here, Walking Turtle?”
“The hounds of Hell, young one,” he pointed within the darkness. “When the heavens opened up, so did the gates of hell. They guard the entrance. When they are released they sweep through searching for souls to capture and take back to hell. Do not let them catch you. Once you make the boundary of the dead, they cannot harm you.”
“Harm me,” she winced, confused. “Plants and run?”
“Are you afraid now, little one?” he eyed her carefully. He didn’t let her answer. “While you sit among the Angelica you are safe, but the longer you stay the greater chance of being found, young one. Your companion will be in danger also. You have a lot to learn, little one, but now you will have the chance. Good luck, young one.”
He faded into the darkness. Time frozen for his appearance began once more. Patton sat up. “How did ya get over there?”
“Doesn’t matter. We have to hurry, Patton. Don’t ask questions. See these plants. Dig up as many as you can, quick,” she ordered and scrambled to do the same. She opened up her back pack and pushed as many of the small plants as it could hold. She squeezed the Birdstone in her front pocket.
A sound in the distance startled her. She turned to Patton. “Run, now. Don’t look back.”
She threw the flashlight to her frighten friend. He could hear the howling of creatures in the dark, terrifying unknown beasts. He lost his footing and fell down the embankment. Ramona caught his arm to help him up. He looked up at her, but a movement from behind her caught his eyes. His eyes grew large. She hit his shoulder.
“Go, run,” she cried.
The path covered with undergrowth hit the kids as they fled. Patton screamed as a creature pounced in front of the two. Huge, four legged horned monster in a form of a malformed hairless dog but as tall as a horse. He growled showing his fangs dripping with saliva. He walked slowly toward them. From behind they heard another growl. Turning quickly, another one emerged from the darkness.
“I can’t move, Ramona,” Patton gripped her arm. He whispered to her. “What are these things? What are we going to do?”
Ramona eyes rapidly raced around her surroundings. She could hear their dogs, but they sounded in the distance. She could make out their forms, but it seemed they couldn’t make it to their companions in need. As if they still sat in a different plain, dimension from the rest of the world. They had been caught up in the boundary of the dead.
Her pocket burned. She touched her side, the Birdstone. What had Walking Turtle said about finding her powers? She didn’t have time to think as the front creature howled. He pounced toward the two.
“No,” she screamed. Her two hands flung forward. A bright light thrust ahead sending the creature reeling. She turned to the other. With another wave the creature was hurled against the other.
One sat crying, whimpering. The other stood angry. He breathed heavy and smoke escaped out his nose. He inched closer, fumes exhaling. His eyes stared straight at Ramona. Without hesitation she flung her hand at him once more. With this force the creature screamed in pain and exploded. She looked over the other had disappeared.
She bent down to where Patton had fallen. “It’s okay. They’re gone.”
He was shaking uncontrollably. “What were they, Mona? What did you do?”
“I don’t know,” she said soothingly. “But I know we need to leave before anything emerges, now.”
She helped Patton to his feet and ran out of the forest.
Ramona wasn’t certain what had happened. What was a Mawhauga? But within her was a nagging sensation that someone wanted her, desperately, needed her. She told no one, not even Patton, of the plants’ purpose. Slowly as not to call attention to herself, she planted the Angelica, each day a different corner and each night her dreams became more vivid. She could see images, hear words. She saw in the distance a tiny dark hair elderly woman crying out to her. The woman’s hair was pulled back in an old fashion bun. Her dress was plain. She sat wringing her hands. The next night a short small boned man joined her. His hair had a flash of gray streaked through it. Ramona could hear him talking.
“She is coming.”
The next night an old Indian sat with the other two. His long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail. His age could be seen in his wrinkled sun-aged face. He stared in her direction. She could see his images, flashes of scenes…lightening flashed across the night’s sky, illuminating the darkness. The woods had had once been thick with foliage, somber green pines and solid white oak lay desolate. Carnage ravaged around, acres of prime timber lay in ruins as a battle had been raged. She heard words- Mawhauga. Seeker. Pathfinder. Hope lay with the future. Ramona…Ramona. Dream Walker.
The last night she crushed the remaining plants and placed them within a plastic baggy. Afraid that they might be found, she placed them under her mattress and she dreamed. The scene sat as it had the previous nights. She could see the people, hear them and she walked toward them.
A moment later all eyes turned toward her. A wide smile emerged on the old woman, “Ramona. You have come home. Our Dream Walker has returned.”