Down on the wide sage encrusted valley floor, Bob felt like he was sinking into the land. Like he would drive right through the dry soil, the wild grass, and the rock. Straight down into the underworld. Down to the roots of the world. To where the three Norns are spinning their story of Regulator Bob. He wanted to know their secret plan for him. If there ever was one. His mother’s words rang in his head like church bells that would not stop tolling a warning. The talk of running the family. About the need to help his father in the afterworld. While being out here in the real world. In this solid place, he was so sure he lived in. Was this the real world? Was all around him good old fashion truth? He wondered. He ran through his options over and over in his head and this seemed to help him simplify things. All in all, it turned out to be pretty straightforward.
- Dad died and Bob was the first in line to take over the family business.
- Before that could happen some things needed to be tightened up.
- His father’s place in the afterlife needed to be secured in good standing.
- The person behind this power move needed to be solved.
Before all that though, the Regulator wanted some insight. Some spiritual backing. So, south he traveled. Winding his way through the ranches. Ducking around on back roads and up into the hills that bordered the wide valley. Up to the Altar. To the place where dreams are had. Dreams that can tell of your future and all that it holds. Or at least that’s what they say. Bob was always skeptical. What if the dreams were just that? Dreams. Drug-induced, food deprived, dehydrated dreams. The dreams didn’t help his father see what was coming. The barging in. The hail of bullets. The hundred or so bloody holes in his soul. Shit, there was barely anything left to burn. Had he had some warning, he would have been holding more than a 9 mm, that is for sure. Probably would have had a few more clothes on, too. Either way, before the end of the day Bob figured he would be having some dreams himself. Why not? Let’s see what the sage can do. What deep corner of fate can he bring to the light? The Regulator could use an upper hand in all of this. Let’s just go see, he figured.
The road to the Altar looked like any mountain property access. A simple timber-framed entry arch welcomed the visitors. A wooden sign swung from the cross log on a couple of rusted chains. Carved into the wood was the word Altanen. The single lane dirt road made its way up a tight evergreen canyon. A steep, timber-filled creek rumbled down on the right, just beginning to fill up with the early spring runoff. The cliff wall to the left drove you towards the creek with overhangs and rock outcroppings. Ater about a mile up the canyon, the cliff wall settled back into the mountains. The trees gave way to a long open meadow. A meadow full of tall wavy grass and hemmed in by snowy 12,000 ft peaks. The creek was pooled up in a calm meander through the center of the meadow. A backdrop straight out of Hollywood. The Regulator always figured this idyllic valley just needed a herd of wild horses running through it. That would really top it off nicely.
The Regulator felt it first as he emerged from the canyon. Like something crawling up his spine. Then he saw it. Was it the late afternoon sun or the gusting wind? Something smelled wrong too. The air tasted sour and looked dense. Distorting the light like heatwaves off the desert sands, but this was different because the whole sky was thick. A wavy amber tint. All was distorted. It made the distant mountains shimmer and the trees look flat. Bob stopped the car and pulled his Glock from the holster. He popped the door and stood up, taking in the vision before him. The deep pine forest to his back seemed to be full of activity. Yet nothing could be seen among the trunks or heavy boughs. The Regulator felt them there. Felt them and all their agitation and outrage. It was like he was being talked to but not with words, rather with emotions. No words just feelings and sentiment. He slowly scanned the valley from left to right. He had been here a hundred times. Nothing was out of place and yet, everything was. His eyes landed slightly below his position on the Altar. A timber-framed Danish hall about half a mile up along the creek, on the opposite side of the valley. It seemed to levitate in the thick sour air. Slow he told himself. He did not feel threatened. Not like the familiar feeling of having the enemy close. But, he did feel agitation in the air and the smell of discourse that came along with it.
He drove easy down the left side of the valley in the shade of Halfmoon Ridge. Soon the road would turn into the open of the meadow and across a bridge over the creek. He cautiously rolled past a couple old ranch cabins and dropped toward the creek. The sun was still shining on the other side of the meadow and the Altar. The air in front of him became crystal clear as he dropped farther toward the creek. The air above him remained thick and amber. There were no other vehicles outside the Altar. A good sign he figured. The thick air seemed to be funneling down to the massive stone chimney in the center of the great hall roof. Bob got out of the car. Pistol still in hand checking the surroundings. Diligently studying the Alter’s surroundings. Making sure nothing was out of place. Making sure all smelled right and sounded normal. Satisfied, he looked up at the chimney. Was the air coming or going? He could not tell. One thing was for sure- all was obviously not right and he had a strange feeling it was all about him. The emotions from the woods were still talking to him. Under his breath, he muttered to himself, “What the fuck?” More out of annoyance than of intrigue. He shook his head and thought – Hasn’t enough crazy shit happened this week?
Approaching the large hand-carved double doors of the hall he started to disarm. No weapons allowed inside the Altar. He unloaded the two Glocks, three knives, choking cord and small ankle pistol into a small cabinet by the door. Taking a last look at the meadow and the oddity above, he pushed open the door. Well, at least he tried to. It was as if someone or somebodies were on the other side and standing in the way. A resistance like opening a door against a strong wind. He leaned in and tried again. The door slowly moved open just enough for him to sneak inside.
Taking a good look around, all was perfectly normal. Fires burned brightly in the braziers. The benches were arranged around the raised stone altar in their usual form. Nagli the sage was sitting in his black walnut and deerskin throne. Bob always liked the odd way the small, spectacle-wearing man looked in his oversized chair. The Regulator felt as if the no-nonsense, quick-witted and humble man sat in it as an ironic jester. Nagli knew it didn’t fit him but it is the chair of the sage. The sage of the Altar. So, he sat in it, just the same. All was very normal indeed. All, but the inhabitants of the hall. The first thing he noticed about them was their sheer number. Packed in like sardines they were. The second was their mood. All very excited and out of sorts. They seemed to all be talking at once and all very loudly and all with great concern. The sound was deafening. Why had I not heard this outside The Regulator wondered? But, this was not the true wonder of what lay before the Regulator. The hall was not full of people. Well, at least not live ones. The Hall was full of ghosts or maybe spirits. This was hard to tell. Bob knew he should know the difference but that specific training had been a long time ago. Soon Bob determined these were definitely spirits and they were not happy. Not happy at all.
Their bodies and faces moved in and out of focus and clarity. If he was to look directly at someone they would come more into focus but look away and they would fade to a translucent amber figure. Bob stood with his back against the door taking in the scene and trying to adjust his eyes. From what he could gather there were spirits from all times of history in the hall and it seemed they were all looking for answers from Nagli. At the moment Nagli was patiently listing to the complaints of a very large man in a bearskin wrap. He had long, braided hair, a scruffy beard, and massive arms. He was hefting a sizable battle ax as easy as a golf club. Plentiful gold and silver bracelets wrapped his forearms. The Regulator figured him to be a powerful ancient warrior. One that had lead many men and concord many lands. As this ancient warrior was shaking the ax over his head in exclamation, Nagli spied the Regulator. He broke a little smile and winked. 40 feet separated them but through the noisy, spirit crowded room Nagli, said, “Welcome, Bob.” His voice sounded upon Bob’s ears as if they were all alone in the hall and standing just feet apart.
Bob realized if he concentrated his vision on the sage the room went silent. As if putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones at a hardcore show. The energy went on around him but the overwhelming noise bled away. As soon as he lost his concentration on Nagli the noise would start to rise again. He suddenly realized that the large bear-covered Dane warrior was now looking and pointing his ax at him. For a moment, The Regulator wished he had not disarmed at the door. Then he thought about how silly that thought was. What was he going to do, stab the dead Viking to death? The man bellowed, “He has arrived!” All the spirits stopped, quieted down and looked in Bob’s direction. The closest ones shuffled back to give him some room. Seeming somewhat surprised they hadn’t noticed him standing there behind them.
Nagli, leaning on the left arm of his chair, looked over the top of his spectacles and said, “You are correct, Viggo. The son has come to seek his path. Now,” He paused and took a look around, “Maybe you can all give me some time with the Man? He has come a long way and had a terribly difficult week.” There was a shuffling and a low murmur among the crowd as they all looked at one another. “Alone, perhaps?” The old sage suggested as he leaned back in his oversized chair.
Viggo looked back at Nagli and straightened himself up. “He’s not the only one who has had a tough week.” There was a resounding agreement about the room. “You will make sure his dreams come true, old man? So we may go back to our rightful realms?”
“This I promise, Viggo, or you may come take me before time has its own right to me.”
Viggo nodded. Lifting his arms and turning about he yelled, “Well, you heard the man let’s get ourselves out of here! These two have a lot of work to do.”
The crowd slowly shuffled toward the great fireplace in the center of the back of the hall. Slowly they disappeared up through the flames and up the chimney. One spirit dressed in a seventies style leisure suit looked back at Bob and said, “You best put a fix to all this boy. If we all have to hang around in this realm forever there is going to be a heavy price to pay.” Bob had amassed a sizable volume of questions by this point and just as he was to open his mouth to ask one, the spirit said,” You’ll find out soon enough and to tell ya the truth I don’t envy you, my man. But, from what I hear, a man such as you has more than a fair chance at beating the odds on all this mess. Or, at least coming out of it with most of your wits about ya. Good luck.” He nodded and blew up the chimney.
Once the room had cleared Bob eased his way to a bench opposite Nagli. He silently nodded toward the bench in a pleading manner. Nagli gestured with an open hand as to say, “Please sit.” Bob sat down slowly. He looked up at the old sage and said with tired eyes. “Got a cot or something around here so a guy can get a bit of shut-eye?” He raised a hand, “I know, I know, but I am too tired right now to deal with what I just saw. I figure you will have a perfectly reasonable and oh-so-logical explanation when I wake up.”
The sage looked down at him form the raised Altar. With an inquisitive brow, he pointed to his left. “Over that way.”