Why is it so dark? Always so god damn dark. Would it kill the old sage to get some electricity up here? It’s only 2010 for Thor’s sake. His feet on the stone floor and creaking of the bed reverberated through the empty chamber. He had not paid much attention when he entered the room, how many hours ago. He knew was there was a bed and his brain was very slow, very tired. Bob had basically fallen on top of the soft blankets, clothing and all. No time for taking off what he had no time to put back on. Bob’s mind started ruminating over his long sleep. Well, at least he assumed he had slept a while. A while longer than the sleep he has been getting. Now, if he could just figure out how to get to some kind of light. Ah yes, my phone he thought. Just need to….Bob was feeling around for his phone but someone had removed all the pockets from his clothes. Or better yet someone had changed his closes, entirely. Even in the absolute dark, he could tell his attire was not the same. The jeans, t-shirt and hoody had been replaced with some sort of loose-fitting long sleeve shirt and baggy linen pants. I must be losing my edge he thought. Someone changed my clothes without me even knowing it? The Regulator wakes if a mouse is breathing too hard. Something clicked in his mind and his senses automatically took over. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. The Regulator tasted the air and took in the smells. He listed more closely to the sounds about him. Sitting perfectly still he got nothing. He did not like this. Everything and everywhere has something. An energy, a smell, a sound or a taste. Where ever this was and it was not the place he lay down in. It was nothing. Not even a vibe or an energy and there was for sure no light. The darkness didn’t bother him but it did do its best to contribute to the nothingness.
Feeling about a bit he confirmed he was not sitting on the bed he so willingly fell into. The regulator took a deep breath and started to go through the list of what he did know. He sat on a bench with a soft fabric cushion. The simple modern bench at the Clifford Stills Art Museum in Denver came to mind. His bare feet could feel a cool stone floor. The shuffle of his feet on the floor echoed off what he could imagine was bare stone walls. The Regulator built the image of the room in his mind. About ten feet square and very tall. So tall that even with a light, one would not be able to see the ceiling. Just a long tall square stone container. This was what he imagined and he was sitting in the middle. The door would be at his right. Why? He did not know, but never the less that would be its placement. In reality, he had no idea where he was but having a mental image of his surroundings made him feel comfortable. It also conjured up a smell. Real or not the room was musty and old smelling. There were cobwebs in the corners and the floor needed a bit of sweeping.
Time to move. The first step, standing. Sounds easy enough but in a completely dark room, your senses are all kinds of distorted. There are no visual cues to let you know when you’re upright. You have to pull yourself inside and feel your way to straight. He closed his eyes taking three deep breaths to get centered. After successfully standing up he slowly shuffled back up to square the back of his legs against the bench. Now he could determine where right was. Right, being the obvious direction of the door. He would try this first. Being in the middle of the room and having a two and one-half foot stride he figured the wall would be approximately two steps away. All these calculations were based on a ton of imaginary information but never the less all he had to go on. The Regulator turned keeping his right leg slightly touching the bench for a landmark. Hands up he took two standard steps forward. Remarkably there indeed was a wall. A smooth stone wall. The feel of polished marble or possibly travertine. Cool to the touch and slightly moist.
Well then, one for one. Size of room determined. At least the distance from the bench to the wall was established. Now to find the door. Again he imagined this to be to his right. Moving along the wall he counted his steps. Left hand on the wall. Body perpendicular to the smooth stone. Two steps and there it was. The edge of the door frame. This was all going way too easy. The Regulator took a second to rest. Even though he had only traveled approximately 10 feet total the concentration needed to get to this point was mentally exhausting. Assuming he could get the door open this would be the next step. Whatever he encountered on the other side he wanted to have full strength and all his whit’s about him. His hands searched the door for a handle. It was a rough handmade door with iron straps. His left hand found a handle and latch. His right hand found the hinges. This meant the door opened into the room to his right. He slid back to the left side of the door. Pressed his back against the wall and reached across his body to grab the handle with his right hand. Depressing the thumb latch and he took a moment. Pulling hard The door swung open.
A heavy light flooded into the room as if he had opened a hatch at the bottom of the ocean. Bursts of energy exploded in his mind as his eyes darted about behind their lids. Suddenly he had an ominous feeling like the room was closing in and closing fast. He needed to get out before being crushed inside the small stone room. Eyes still closed he crouched turned and sidestepped through the doorway to stand with his back up against the wall of where ever he was going into to. This was not optimal and the Regulator knew it. He was exposed and the Regulator was not one to leave himself exposed. He felt for a wall to set his back against but there was nothing. There was only an undeniable sense of open space. Slowly he blinked his eyes open and the bright light he was sure would sting his retina was not there, either. The door in the wall he came through was not there. Nothing was there. Well, Nothing that should have been there was there.
The sky was deeper than any blue he could recall. The temperature was perfect and accompanied by a soft breeze. A breeze that cleansed him. Brushing away all the worry, and stress. Filling his ears and his mind with the sounds of calm. He turned around taking in the view. Pothole Arch, he said quietly and questioningly to himself. Not far from Moab Utah on the Amasa Back formation. He had mountain biked to this place many times. The Regulator stood on the edge of a cliffside mound of tan slick rock. The mighty Colorado river slowly making the cliff taller moved 1500 feet below. 360 degrees of desert sandstone stretched out around him. The Regulator closed his eyes, spread his arms wide, tilled his head to the sky and drank in the desert sun. This was his pondering place. How he got here he did not know but nor did he care. For him, this was home. This was a sanctuary.
“Regulator Bob,” a voice deep as the ocean called his name.
Bob knew the voice and turned to see a long forgotten face. “I never thought I would hear you call my name again.” He bowed and a multitude of emotions flowed over him. Reverence, love, compassion and fear all hit him at once.
“Yes, it has been a very long time hasn’t it and look how you have changed. How the world has sculpted you.” The beast’s eyes took in the light round Bob. It sniffed the air and read Bob’s mind. “You are here for answers?”
Bob looked at the massive lion standing before him. His lion. His spirit animal. The lion that guided him through his first spirit quest. The lion that called his name on this very mound of rock many years ago. A lifetime ago the Regulator thought. “Yes, answers. It has always been about the answers for me. Hasn’t it Lejon?”
“Oh, the questions upon questions you would ask.” Lejon shook his head and turned to look out over the river. “A relentless piece of curiosity you have been but it has served you well and I believe it will serve you again, very soon.”
“How do you know how it has served me? I have not seen you in 20 years.”
“Do you really think I have not been keeping an eye on you? That I just ignored you since our last meeting? I am always with you Regulator Bob. We are connected forever. In this life and in all the ones to come.”
Bob cocked his head in thought. “How many lives do I have left?” he asked with a bit of a sarcastic tone.
“Another conversation for another time, perhaps.” Lejon dropped his hind end and then lay down as any lion would. Head held high with his great main blowing in the wind.
The Regulator took the queue and sat down cross-legged on a stone shelf. Just a man and his lion enjoying an afternoon in the warm desert sun. Hovering thirty feet above them a buzzard rode the thermals that were lifting up from the cliff edge. Seemingly trying to scope out the river valley below.
In a slightly annoyed grumble, Lejon looked up and said, “Really, Narz. There is nothing to learn here and I am not dying anytime soon. Take yourself away and scavenge upon someone else’s problems.”
The buzzard cocked his head, lifted the front of his wings and dove into the river valley below.
“Silly gossiping creatures. Be glad you were not saddled up with one of them as your spirit animal. Your life would be full of other peoples problems and you would have nothing to do but prey on them.”
The Regulator looked up and took a cleansing breath. “So, who do I kill first?”
“Really? I haven’t seen you in twenty years and this is your first question. Nothing about, how I have been? or you’re looking good these days, Lejon?”
“Well I was not going to bring it up but you do look a bit older. Is that a bit of grey behind the ears?.”
“Mirrors Bob. Remember the mirrors. I am you and you are me. Remember this?”
“Touche, Old Friend.” Bob smiled and gave the lion his best – I don’t have time- look.
“Fine, fine. It is not so much who you kill first as to who you kill last. The final blood spilled on this journey will seal many fates. I would caution you to make sure it is not your own. Although you will bleed, Regulator, and not all bleeding is bloody.”
Bob cocked his head. He thought he knew what the Lejon was saying but something told him he was not comprehending the whole of it. Either way, he figured he would find out soon enough. “So I guess I should reframe my question then. Who do I kill last?”
“We’ll get to that. First, we need to discuss some other people, like the sons of Jane.”
“My stepmother’s kids, Jason and Todd?”
“Do not underestimate the power of wanting power. Their mother has enabled them. convinced them of there right to things they have not earned. They are not aware of their mother’s treachery against your father but they wouldn’t be shocked either.”
“So, Jane did have something to do with all this.” Not a question but a confirmation.
“Yes she did and she has played her part well. Very well.” Lejon shook his head in disgust. He spoke almost to himself. “The poor soul has put so much energy into such divisive actions. Playing the long game and manipulating with much cunning.”
“Ever since I was young and my father first started dating her I felt something off. An insincerity, a sense that she was trying way too hard. She prided on showing herself as the model wife and mother. But it was a show. All the niceties, big smiles, and undying loyalty. Under it all, I felt a sadness and a self-loathing. Like she felt she deserved something more.”
“You felt her self-righteousness. Her deep belief that a terrible injustice had befallen her and her boys.”
“What injustice? She was a widow of a very successful wealthy lawyer. From all, I was told she came from a good family and had her own successes.”
“They never did tell you the true story, young Bob. Yes, she was from a good family but not all good families have good management. By the time her husband passed there was nothing but debt and when I say debt it was not just of the monetary kind. Favors where owed. Favors that were set up to fail and never be fulfilled. Her husband had tricked himself into thinking he was not just smart, but smarter than others. Let’s just say his death was not from natural causes.”
“The heart attack was a cover?”
“Come now Regulator, does this come as a surprise to a man such as yourself?”
“Well, many people have heart attacks every day and for a large percentage, I am not to blame. Besides, I was just a kid back then. Why I would question something such as that?”
“Ah yes, with all your questioning in life I forgot that you have a proclivity to looking forward and not to the past. The relevance of the past on your today is greater than you give it credit. Many forces have brought us here today, Bob. Knowing them, feeling them, seeing them will bring you great clarity in the days to come. Your intuition about the past will be critical. Just like your intuition about Jane brought you to keep her at arm’s length and not accept her as a true parental figure. You saw her for what she is without truly seeing, but let’s not loose site here of the task at hand. The son’s of Jane.”
“Yes, they are first.” His focus was back.
“But you must know the reasons why. Axel.”
“Axel? My father’s childhood friend and confidante. What does he have to do with those two?” An uneasy feeling rose in his stomach.
“Friends is one way you could look at the relationship between Axel and your father. Nemesis could be a better one. What you know of Axel is yet another piece of your past that has been clouded. Reynor and Axel have been more like friendly combatants throughout there lives. Most of the competition was created by Axel but your father was never one to be left out of a good fight.”
The Regulator stared at the ground lost in a memory and smile, “Funny how my father rarely competed openly, but somehow always commanded the fight. Fighting from the shadows, from his own strategic vantage point. He would always stress the need to attack from an obtuse angle. Never straight on. He had a way of commanding without directly commanding.”
“Now you are started to see what you have to see. Nothing about this situation is obvious. The raw uneasy feeling you have in your gut at this very moment is understanding. It is the beginning of feeling and knowing something new. The truth of all the years behind you will set that uneasy feeling free. All the knowledge is inside you. Putting together all the small bits and pieces is what we must do now, but we don’t have a lot of time. So focus my young friend.”
“But….” The Regulator had no time to get the question out. The lion was now standing in front of Him. His massive head just inches from his face. The beast took in a deep breath and let out a firey wind blowing the Regulator into a billion little pieces and suspended him in a cloud of stars. Floating above the earth “well, this is new.” Bob thought. Tranquility and settled. All the troubles of late seemed to momentarily dismiss themselves. The contentment was short-lived He felt a contraction. He swirled into a spiral pulling all the surrounding stars in with him and was moving towards earth. Slowly at first then picking up speed. He imaged this is was what a comet feels like. Being sucked into the gravitational field of the earth. Faster he fell toward the earth. As he got closer things started to come into focus. the Pacific ocean. The West coast of America. Breaking through clouds the desert of the southwest. Racing just above the ground he made his way up through southern Colorado. Through the San Luis Valley. The smell of farmers dragging there fields filled the air. North up through the La Garita mountains still deep with winters snow and a late day chill. Down into the Arkansas River valley where the waters were starting to rise. The sun was edging its way behind the Collegiate Peaks to the west. Up over the south side of the Mosquito range. He raced down the steep eastern slope of Sheep Mountian and landed on top of a large flat boulder. Lejon standing beside him. The scene below was all too recent and familiar.
The mourners where thickly gathered on the wide, flat, long shelf of the mountainside. Torches and fires reflected dancing yellow light of the faces of many generations. All with three blue strips down the left side from forehead to jaw. They hung from trees. They sat on boulders and cliffside ledges. They played music. They danced. They just about all drank their fill. Their breath hung in the early spring air. Patches of snow reflected the light of a full moon among the shadows. The crowd was boisterous and loud. They wanted the heavens to take notice. For, they were here to honor and pay their respects. To send a beloved leader to the gods in flame, embers and smoke. Bob had not noticed the energy and mass of the crowd just a few days ago. He was not aware of the immensity surrounding the sending off of his father. At the time, he was in a world of fixation and contemplation. Physically he had been present yet he was wearing mentally blinders. Living inside his inquisitiveness and pondering. Now he was witnessing it all from the outside as an invisible observer. Just a celestial being among mear mortals. The Regulator had to admit he liked it but he was not sure why he was here.
The Regulator stood tall on the boulder above the crowd. “Why bring me back here Lejon? There is nothing here but ceremony.”
“Ah but that is what it was. Now you can see it for what it should have been. Wait. Watch. See and understand.” The Lion sat, eyes wide with anticipation.
There was an eagerness to the lion. Almost like he was hunting. The Regulator scanned the crowd as did the beast.
“Pay attention to the family Bob. To the people closest to you.”
Up from the valley path below came the litter of freshly lashed logs. Six pallbearers carried the litter with Reynor rested on top. Adorned in his warrior’s armor. The armor thing was odd to Bob. All the men and women of the clan got fitted for leather armor when they turned 30. The armor just sat in a storage closet to be used on your death pyre. Just another tradition that he figured might have run its course. Was it really necessary in these modern times to be dressed like a Danish warrior from centuries past? But, then again most of the traditions he questioned had kept a sense of order and stability to the clans for many years. The crowd quieted as they worked their way to the large platform made of intricately stacked timbers. Ten feet high and standing in the center of the shelf.
Bob watched the litter pass from about 20 feet away. He was on the front right. the opposite side from which he watched now. Behind him was his uncle the sheriff. Then Axel. The left side had his stepbrothers Todd and Jason at one and two. Then came Oscar, the Taxman. Oscar was the family accountant. His family and Bobs had gone back many generations. Oscar was one of his dads oldest confidants.
“Watch their faces Regulator. See their thoughts.” Lejon said quietly as if whispering in his ear.
The boys had stern looks on their faces but not the relaxed sullen looks of remorse. They were expressions of duty. Faces that were completely disinterested and going through the motions. Oscar, on the other hand, looked downright ashamed. Remorseful, but in a way that made him shy his eyes away from any onlookers. As if he didn’t belong there. He seemed to want to be anywhere else.
Once the litter was placed upon the pyre platform the Regulator could see the faces of all the bearers. The Sherif looked like he might pass out. This was more exertion than the portly man had performed in decades. Axel had the look of a true mourner. Reverent, with calm wanting eyes. Eyes that almost asked, no pleaded, for the dead man to awaken. Axel looked down at the body then up to Bob. All The Regulator saw in those eyes was wanting but for what he did not know. The Boys faces had now changed. Taking a quick glance at Axel they too both put on faces of wanting but their expressions fell short. They were too young to pull off sincerity. Bob realized he had noticed something the night of the pyre but, it was washed away with commitments. Watching now, he did remember a feeling he had at that moment. A quick feeling of being a hen in the den of foxes. A feeling that he should not turn his back or lower his gaze. Oscar turned on a dime and left the platform before anyone could catch his attention. He made a line for the trees and stood behind a large pine, facing the darkness and breathing hard.
“I am feeling something I don’t want to feel, Lejon. I am starting to feel, see and taste something. All of it is not straightforward, though. Deception, that is clear. But there is a hint of confusion as well. like when you achieve a certain outcome but not in the manner you had expected.”
“Keep your eyes open. Take in all that you can. The faces in the crowd will tell you much.”
The Regulator scanned all he could. He ignored his own motions on the pyre. The taking of the coins. The pouring of the oils. He watched the pallbearers and all those around them. Axel went and stood behind Jane on the family platform. The boys sat, one on either side of her. The unit they made was not odd but just that, a unit. Then the Regulator saw it. The fake look of remorse from Jane. He had seen it many times growing up. The face that made others seem like she cared and she was not the only one dawning the look. The other three mirrored her almost to a T. It was only Axel that seemed to have a glimmer of true remorse.
The sheriff was standing off to one side of the platform next to Axels number one man. He was slightly smiling as the flames of the pyre burst upon the mountainside. Of course, this was no surprise to the Regulator. Thus the reason the Sheriff is feeding a happy pack of coyotes at this very moment. Possibly the same pack that filled the dark cold background with howls and barks.
The thirty-foot flames now lit up every face on the mountain. The Regulator took the opportunity to scan the crowd. Looking into the eyes of every person he could. Trying to read into their reactions. Trying to understand their feelings. Trying to make out their alliance. As he watched he noticed they were all staring at him as he stood on a large stone before the flames. He could now see that a shift was already forming in the ranks. They were now without a leader. Who would they turn to?
In a moment of clarity, he said, in a low thoughtful tone, “All eyes are on me. Watching. They are judging me. Not all are on my side. Not all are convinced of my assumed place. My rule is not readily accepted. Is it?”
Lejon nodded his big head slowly. “They want you to be what they want in a leader but they also know your time has possibly come too soon. The timing of your father’s death was no accident. The players knew their window of time was coming to an end. Reynor would have start training you this year. Once you got some experience under your belt and the other clan member got to work with you in that capacity, your rule would be undisputed.”
“But, haven’t I worked with them all for many years? Haven’t I proven my worth and my dedication? Haven’t they seen my ability to manage the hard situations?”
“Look at it from their side of things. Although they may revere you and respect your place they fear you all the same. You’re a lone operator. You’re a ghost. You’re synonymous with death. You have eliminated, or as you say solved, many people they could very well have been close to. No doubt you do your job well, Better than anyone before you, but do you really think that brings comfort to most people.”
Bob hung his head for a second. He didn’t choose to be good at death. That was a talent the Gods bestowed upon him. It was a rare ability. One he struggled to come to communion with. He only knew of one other person that had the stealth and communion with death that he had.
“I can do the job you know? I know I would have made the old man proud. He did teach me many things before all this. Just being around him one could not help but learn.”
“Not everyone learns as you do. You have that ability to observe and pick up details when you’re turned on. When you’re focused. In the coming days, you must be focused. You must observe beyond any observation you can imagine. All the answers and pathways will be set out before you if you choose to open your mind and see them.” Lejon nodded his head to the scene before them.
With the full intent to deeply understand the Regulator probed. His eyes darted over the forest, the rocks and the cliff above. It was then that he was struck by a face that froze him in time. All the noise, all the music, and the revelry went mute. She stood alone on a high cliff shelf. The light from the flames though long shadows on her face but it was her. It had been some time but there was no mistaking her for anyone else. A light force when he was younger. A self-aware figure sculpted from pure fortitude. The one person to whom he could count on. It had been many years since he saw that face but it was as fresh as ever in his mind. She stood tall, unwavering and with an expression of stone. The wind blew a wisp of blond hair out from under her hood. Bob was transfixed. He felt a warmth inside. His adrenaline was kicking up and the hair on his neck stood straight up. Then she turned her head ever so slightly and with piercing green eyes she stared directly at him. Not the Bob at the funeral but the Bob in a vision quest. He never felt so exposed. She knew he was here. Spying.
Without opening her month she spoke to him. Soft as the last words she said to him when she left. “I am here baby brother. You will not endure this alone.”