Let the Hunt Begin: chapter 14

The sleeping pod slid out from the wall with a low electric hum.  A gentle sunrise simulation bathed Bob in a rejuvenating light.  He lay very still behind closed eyes and tried to ignore the wakeup call.  A voice sweeter than honey said, “Time to greet the new day, Bob, and what a wonderful day it is.”  Bob had the voice modeled after Scarlett Johansson’s.  He had a thing for Scarlett.  A bad thing.  In fact, he was kind of waiting for her.  Which would explain the absence of a significant other for most of his adult life?   Bob had an ingrained storyline in his head all about the fateful day he and Scarlett would have a  chance meeting.  Their connection and intrigue would be so thick, as to eclipse the sun.   Bob never did make any attempt to set the stage for this magical moment.  He figured if it was meant to be the three Norns would make it so.  Bridget always thought it was a defense mechanism, so he never had to get close to anyone. But, on this morning, not even the smooth sounds of Scarlett could ease the thumping behind his dry, crusty eyes.   He rolled to his right side, tucked the covers up under his chin and tried to stop the cymbals from crashing in his head.  “Come on, sleepy head. The hunt awaits you.” Scarlett urged him.  Bob involuntarily stretched his legs long until they shook.  Then, the muscles retracted in both calves, cramping tight, and pointed his toes.

“No, no, no, no!” He bolted up, reached for his toes and gently pulled back while breathing deep.  He tried to make his muscles retreat to a relaxed position.  His calves held steady in protest. “Shit, shit, shit,” he mumbled to himself.  Just keep breathing, he kept reminding himself.  Slowly the muscles released their obstinance and came back to reason.  He sat hunched over with a large sigh. “Tequila,” the word dropped from his mouth on to his lap and drained down into the covers

Sanna’s pod slid open above him.  Some incomprehensible grumbles came down toward him.   “Please… keep it down.”

Hearing a soft sound, Bob turned his head to his right to see his mother sitting at the dining table.  She wore a slight grin and bright eyes that were full of satisfaction and inquiry.  Bob could read the meaning in her eyes.  She was happy to have her pups back together, and she was also wondering just how she could have raised such a couple of lightweights.

She raised her coffee cup in a morning salute. “How’s that Silver treatin’ ya?”

“Ummmmhhh,” Bob let out and closed his eyes to see if that would help. It didn’t.

“Coffee?”

“Huuummm,” Bob let out with a nod.

“Seriously…please…quiet,” Sanna mumbled.

“Did anyone see the cat that shit in my mouth?” Bob asked

“No, but there are few ounces left of the dog that bit ya.”  Bridget waved the bottle of Patron. “Shall I get a couple of fresh glasses?”

“Coffee…please,” was all Bob could get out.

“Quiet…”  Sanna rasped,  Then raised her arm and middle finger to place her drink order.

Bridget floated over with two cups of coffee, “Really, you two need to learn how to drink.  This is quite embarrassing…need anything with that?”

“Come now, mother.  You know I like my coffee like my women.”  Bridget held the cup halfway to Bob as she pondered this. “Ya know, straight up and bitter.”

“Ah,  Is that what you hope to find with you-know-who?”  Bridget asked.

“Know who? What?  Who is who?…” Sanna got out some kind of questions.

“I will fill you in later.”  Bridget winked and handed a cup to Sanna, who begrudgingly reached over the edge of the sleeping platform.

“Thanks.”

Bob did wonder how the old woman was in such a functional state.  After all she was there with them as they cried, laughed, ruminated, and professed revenge while lubricating their tongues and emotions with the clear fury.  They recounted the past years and how they had all one another, not knowing just how close in proximity they all were.  Sometimes minutes had separated their movements and one improvised left turn could have had them running square into one another.   Both Bob and Sanna remarked more than once how artfully their parents had orchestrated the dance.    Although Sanna knew of Bob’s general wereabout and his work, she didn’t have all the details.  Truthfully, no one but the Regulator knew what the Regulator was up to and when he was to do anything.  This kept all parties ignorant and thus inculpable.

Bob lay on his back, the coffee cup on his chest.  He stared blankly up at the underside of Sanna’s sleeping platform.   A few moments of quiet had held them in thought.  “Time to hunt,” the Regulator said quietly to himself.

There was some more silence.  Sanna sat up with a grimace.  “Yes, it is…but first I need some breakfast, and I know just what I want.”

“Let me guess,” Bob said. “Bacon, eggs, and cheddar, wrapped in a waffle?”

“Fuckin A, right.”

“Ok but first we meditate and do Yoga.”

Sanna slumped back on her bed with a sigh.  “Ahg.  I heard about this morning routine of yours.”

“Meditation has been a long time practice of the pagans.”

“And the yoga?”  Sanna said with a skeptic tone.

“Well, …one does need to modernize.”

Sitting cross-legged, Sanna fidgeted like a five-year-old through the 12 minutes of meditation.  She struggled to hold the yoga poses, that Bob talked her through.  He laughed at her, and she scowled at him.   Then, as he tried to adjust her in Warrior Two, she looped her arm under his,  lifted as she fell back, and threw Bob to the ground.  He rolled out of the throw stopping in a crouch, legs in a runner’s position and hands pressed firmly to the floor.  He looked like an animal ready to pounce.  Sanna popped up off her back, landing like a cat on her feet.  She took a fighter’s stance.  Hands held up high like a boxer; she bounced on her feet.   This was not an easy task, considering the thumping still holding on to her brain.  Bob, waited in a crouch, looking for a weak spot.   His eyes stopped blinking, and all traces of humanity had left his face.   Sanna circled left.    The Regulator sprung to her right tucking his right shoulder, coming around with his left leg for a sweep.  Sanna jumped over the sweeping leg.  She moved back right on her landing, thinking that The Regulator’s momentum would take him around to the left.  She was wrong.  As she moved the swift blow of The Regulator’s leg landed on the back of her knees.  She buckled and before she knew it she was wrapped up in a leg hold and her arm was being pulled up over her head.  For a split second she thought her arm would be torn from its socket, but as quickly as the hold had taken her, it was released.  She looked up to see Bob’s eyes full of a spark.  He smiled, and in a blink of an eye, he gave her a wet willy.

“Goddammit, Bob!” she squirmed away from him, wiping at her ear. “That’s gross! What are you, twelve?”

“Just making up for lost time.”

Then there was a sound they had never heard before.  It was Bridget, and she was crying.  Well, she was sort of crying and laughing at the same time.   The two siblings looked at one another in confusion and then back at Bridget.  She was hunched over, sitting on the couch.  They had never seen their mother cry.  Typically she was a stone.  She was a badass, Viking shield maiden and she did not cry.  They didn’t know what to do.  Bridget waved them off and slowly gathered her self.  “You have been apart too long.  I hope you can forgive us for what we have done.  Seeing you two fight was just too much for me to handle.  I mean, really, I couldn’t be more proud of you two, but the fact remains you have been apart too long.”

They looked at each other and started to giggle.  Then laugh.  “Well then.  She has a heart after all,”  Bob said.

“Yeah,  seems the old woman is getting soft on us, brother.”

“Oh stop it.  Under it all, I am still just your mother, but don’t you be thinking I am getting soft.”  They started laughing again. “Oh, fuck off and if you’re done screwing around with your violent yoga, why don’t you get busy making some breakfast.  I’m hungry.”

“I, for one, don’t forgive you,”  Bob said with a light tone.  “Mainly because I don’t feel there is anything to forgive.  We could have told you and dad to fuck off long ago if we wanted.”

“Yeah.  We stayed under our own volition, not because of you guys.”  Sanna sat next to her mother and shrugged.  “It was our decision, not yours.  I knew I needed to be there for Bob and to honor Odin.”

Bridget sat back on the couch, wiped her eyes and nodded. “Well then, no more about it.  Case closed.  We eat breakfast and then let the hunt begin.”

Bob cooked an amazing breakfast.   He did not consider himself much of a cook but breakfast- that was his jive.  He loved breakfast.  If there was a meal to eat out it was breakfast.  If there was a meal he wanted to cook it was breakfast.  This obsession often leads to him cooking himself breakfast then eating out for lunch at an all-day breakfast joint.  Bob often wondered how awesome it would be to have his own bed and breakfast.  He had it all planned out:

  • It would not be expensive.
  • The guest rooms would be small.
  • The common area would be large.
  • The décor would be modern yet warm.
  • The breakfast would be made to order.
  • The food would be organic and as fresh as possible.
  • All food would be decadent yet secretly healthy.
  • Pretentiousness would be strictly forbidden.
  • The use of electronics would also be strictly forbidden, and there would be no wifi.

The place would be known first and formost for the food.  What a blessing from the gods the food would be.  Bob would do all the cooking.  If the guests wanted to help and learn they would be welcome. Many times, before the killing started and he felt the sickness, he would imagine it.   Every minute detail, right down to the style and color of plates for individual dishes.

This was The Regulator’s dream, and no one knew about it, no one but Tommy.  Tommy was the sole person in this world that knew literally everything about The Regulator. He knew about every problem The Regulator ever solved.  He knew about every dream he has ever had.  The Regulator trusted Tommy because Tommy is a bartender.  But Tommy is not just a guy who stands behind a bar and serves alcohol to forgetful people.  He embodies the essence of what a bartender is.  He is a friend, psychologist, healer, spiritual leader, and authoritarian, all while keeping a professional disconnect.  A true bartender is everyone’s honest friend without the emotional baggage and judgment.  Every problem-solver needs this type of friend.  From a young age, The Regulator knew he needed it, and he knew Tommy was the one. His father knew it too, and he cultivated the relationship between Tommy and Bob.  Bob has always supported and protected Tommy.  No one was ever going to fuck with Tommy.   Not even The Regulator.  Tommy was Bob’s sanity and The Regulator’s link to reality.

Fell and Bob were also close friends.  They took to each other quickly during their training.  Their shared love for adventure and mountain sports made an easy bond between them.   They spent many hours, snowboarding, skiing, kayaking, climbing, and mountain biking together.  They pushed each other well beyond their limits and into wild journeys.

Bob, invited Tommy along and even though Tommy was far less competitive, he would always have a good time.  Bob really enjoyed their company and would often be fully entertained by Bob and Fell’s follies.  But, Tommy was a very independent sort.  He was just as happy sitting alone by a river as he was kayaking it in a group.   He never had any issue with Fell and Bob’s friendship.  This was not the same for Fell.

Fell was jealous of Bob’s relationship with Tommy.  The way they had grown up together — their understanding of each other was second nature.  Fell, wanted that type of friend and he foolishly decided that Bob was going to be that friend.  Bob was going to be his sanity friend, but Bob was The Regulator.  He was in the clan.  The Regulator was a part of the world a problem solver, like Fell,  needs to escape- an escape needed to keep a balance.  If you don’t have an outlet into the “normal” world, you become something else.  You become disconnected from all reality.  You become unbalanced and unnatural.  Fell didn’t understand that.  He was not good at making friends.  He didn’t have a mother or father and was raised by the clan.  He was a master at his craft, there was no doubt, and he was driven to adventure.  The problem was, Fell had no drive to be human.  He didn’t want to embrace the real world.  He only wanted to dwell in the simple and safe world of the clan or in an adrenaline rush.  Fell became entrenched and bit by bit, he faded out of Bob’s life.  Or at least that is how Bob saw it.  Fell saw it as being abandoned by his trusted friend.  This only fed the darkness in Fell and he retracted farther into the clan world and farther away from the Regulator.

Bacon, eggs, smoothies, and waffles consumed, Bob rolled out a large whiteboard.  He, Sanna, and Bridget got down to planning.  Detailed planning of the of how to take their revenge and to secure their family’s rule.   They wrote down all the problems that needed solving.  They wrote down every minute detail about these problems: Routines, habits,  acquaintances, family, addictions, work schedules,  food preferences,  hobbies, even pet names.   Sanna was entertained to know the Tax Man had a ferret.  She chuckled at this.   They detailed how they must be solved and in what order the solving should happen.  They detailed the times of day, weapons, places and above all what to do with the leftover souls.  Sanna was very concerned with this last one.  Bob kept assuring her he had that worked out.  By the time they got done writing everything out the whiteboard looked like an incomprehensible mess of different color marker, underlined words, and arrows.  They stood back took a good look, and The Regulator said, “Ah, I do love a good plan.”  The other two nodded, and a wave of satisfaction filed the Batcave.

“So, vehicles?” Bridget said with a quizzical tone. “We obviously can ‘t go strolling into town to get your Subaru and Sanna’s fancy little Jeep.”  She gave Sanna a smirk.

“Right you are, mother,” Bob said. “I had my car towed last night.  It is waiting at the impound lot.  That way Tommy wouldn’t have to deal with it.  Sorry, Sanna but I had the Girls pick up your Jeep last night and hide it, as well as take care of the few men staked out watching you two.”

“Watching us?” Sanna snapped to attention with wide eyes.

“Yes.  I noticed something very off when I pulled into town yesterday for the show.  I figured you would be coming down from the cabin to find me and so I called in the Girls before going into the Eldo.  The douche bags were following you and the Girls were following them.”

“I knew I felt something when we dropped my Jeep at Kebler pass.”  Sanna looked at her mother. “Did you feel it too?”

“Yes.  I knew something was up but didn’t want to add any more stress to the night.”  Bridget was very matter-of-fact.

The Regulator continued, ”Well, anyway, your Jeep is safe.” He turned to Bridget, “I also had them grab the bodies from the back of your truck last night.” Bridget slumped slightly, like a little girl that couldn’t have her candy. “I know, you wanted to deal with them yourself, mother, but all will be made up for in the days to come.”  He rolled his eyes.

“Fine, but what about my truck and what are you going to drive?  They will be looking for us.”  Bridget moved to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee.

A big, uncontrollable smile came across The Regulator’s face.  “I have a little surprise for you, mother, and as for me…”  He just nodded to the Firebird.  “I will be taking that.”

Sanna perked up again, “Hell yeah! Then I am coming with you, little brother!”

“Ok.” The Regulator shrugged and turned to his mother. “How about we throw the rest of that coffee in some travel mugs and then go see your surprise?  After we get our shit together and clean up this place, of course.”

“I don’t like surprises, Bob.  You know that.”

“Oh,  but you will like this one.”

They packed up their problem-solving tools, and each took a picture of the whiteboard before erasing it.  The kitchen was cleaned up, and the beds made.   The Regulator slid into the Firebird,  turned the key and fired up the Pontiac 400 V8.  The sound inside the Batcave was deafening as he revved the engine.  Sanna was all smiles.  He pressed the garage door button on the sun visor.  A large panel in the domed wall slid to one side and behind it was a rock wall.  Then the rock began to move out and to the side.  The Regulator moved the Firebird out of the Batcave against the rushing in of the midday sun.

Sanna and Bridget carried Bridget’s gear out the front airlock.  They met The Regulator outside as the cliff wall slid back into place.  The Regulator got out of the car and walked towards them.

“So what is this big surprise, son?”

“This way,”  he said, as he walked passed them.  He headed towards the stand of trees and fence where Bridget had parked the night before.

As they rounded the fence, there it was.  A brand new, midnight black, Ford Raptor truck.   Bridget stopped in her tracks and shook her head.

“No fuckin’ way am I driving that newfangled, pussy ass, town truck.”  She dropped her gear and stood with arms folded. “No, Bob.  I won’t do it.”  Her head shook.

“Ah, come on mom,” Sanna egged her on.  “This thing is sick!  Did the Girls drop it off last night, Bob?”

“Yeah.” The Regulator nodded.  “Listen, mom, you saw the whiteboard.  We need this truck, and we need you driving it.  You know it.”

She bowed her head, took a deep breath and said, “Fine.  But no pictures and I get my truck back when this is all over.   Without the bullet holes.”

“Deal.”

They loaded up the truck.  Bridget climbed in and after a bit of fumbling, she finally found the push-button start.  She fired up the Raptor.  The sound of the low exhaust made her crack a smile.  She rolled down the window, “Meet you at the rest stop, tomorrow, noon.  You’re sure about this John, character?”

“Yep.  He will be just the man for the job.”

She put the truck in reverse. “Don’t be fuckin’ late.”  She backed out from behind the trees and ripped up the gravel driveway as she sped out onto Spring Creek road.

Sanna said. ”I got ten bucks she won’t want to give that truck back.”

“I think you’re right, but I’ll take that bet.”

They stood for a second soaking up the spring sun. The Regulator looked down at the ground and smoothed over a patch of dried pine needles with his foot.  “She might not make it through all this, you know?“

Sanna pulled a pair of Oakley wrap-around shades from a pocket in her leather jacket.   She cleaned the lenses with her t-shirt then slid them on.  She looked up towards the sun.  “Keep her in the shadows, and she might have a chance.”

“Yeah.”  The word stumbled out of the Regulator.

They stood in the light for a few more moments.  “Let’s go get us a Christian healer,”  The Regulator said, and they both turned toward the Firebird waiting in the shadow of a large pine tree.

Divine Intervention: chapter 13

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading this post, but to get the full aspect of the story you might want to go to the first post “In the End” Chapter 1.   Also, I suggest reading the Background page.  -Enjoy.

“How much longer will we wait?” John asked.  His round figure stood uneasily in the open doorway to the church.  A fog had settled into the small valley below him, laying thick on the small hay meadow and binding itself to the surrounding pines.  Calls from unseen mother cows to their calves rang up into the morning. The fog seemed to boil like the top of a witch’s cauldron full of a wicked brew.  The rising sun pulled minarets of steam from the cauldron and they dissipated into the bluebird morning.   John didn’t see any of it.  He was picking on a sharp piece of skin at the edge of a crack on the end of his thumb.  He knew this was a bad idea. Leave it be; he could hear his mother’s voice. You’ll just make it worse.  You just can’t help yourself, can you? Have patience and it will heal. John damned patience. He loathed it and always had.  Why wait?  “Just get it done now” was his motto.  Don’t worry about the small stuff.  Move forward with what you have and the rest will fall into place.  But, too many small things had been left unattended.  They had grown into tender, infected issues running with puss.  John was well aware of the current circumstance and how his unintended neglect of the details had gotten them all here. No, it was time to stay calm.  This was not the time to charge in, siren wailing and lights flashing.  No, this was a time for patience, and he was annoyed with it all; the waiting and the collaboration and the yes, the patience.  It was like a scratch on his eye that dug at him with every involuntary blink.

“Patience, John,” a distracted Scottish voice echoed from deep inside the small, ancient church. “For all your doing…” there was a pause while the eyes zeroed in on a smudge, “you still have much to get done, but it all must get done in its own time and manner.  Forcing your optimistic will on the situation will not result in an effective end.  This work of yours will require you to surrender.   Surrender to other peoples and forces.”  The voice ended in a satisfied upturn, and the smudge was annihilated.

John surrendered to the inner voice of his mother and let his thumb be.  He turned from the dissipating fog and said. “I know, Father, but my instincts are telling me we have waited too long.  That the current situation has gone on too long and there could be no turning back.”

“This could be so, and if so, we will then forge on with our new reality. Not much we can do about that.”

“Yes, Accepting our new reality.  I get it.  The future is not obligated to continue as did the past. But?”  John took a few steps into the church and stared at a stain glass window brilliantly lit up in the morning sun.  Mother Teresa was standing among a thrall of children while the never-ending war of adults waged on behind her.  He thought this a curiously modern scene for such an ancient church. “I know we will do what we must, but I do not have full confidence in the heathens.  How can we trust them to hold up their side of the bargain?  They are so swayed by superstition and inconsequential signs, that if so much as one bird flies across their path in the wrong direction this whole endeavor could be thrown off course. Especially that one called the Regulator.  He seems to take great stock in the signs from the gods.  He is Thor-favored, I have heard them say.  I find it strange, their beliefs in the old gods.”

“Well, the gods of Asgard have treated him and his family well. Not all that shocking, really.”

John turned his head away from Mother Teresa and saw the priest inspecting an area of carved wood lattice.  The priest crooked his head in an attempt to eliminate the glare from the windows.  His rag held ready to pounce on an unexpecting patch of dust.

“I already cleaned that area yesterday afternoon,” John said with a bit of annoyance.

“Ah, yes.  I watched you wave your rag over it, step back and admire your handy work.  But, as you said, that was yesterday afternoon.  It is now morning.  The light has changed and with it the shadows.  Who knows what was hidden in those shadows yesterday? You never can underestimate what a closer look under a different light will expose.  The dance between light and dark must always be watched.  And, as far as the Regulator goes, Nagli has informed him of his role, just like we planned.”

“Knowing his role and playing it are two different things, Father.  Let’s face it, the heathens are a fickle bunch and prone to distraction.  Hell, I am not even convinced that they truly believe in their gods.”

The priest lowered his cloth and sighed. “Ah, for fuck’s sake man, we don’t even believe in our one true God.  And watch your mouth, this is a house of the Lord.”  His voice was showing signs of exasperation after three days of cleaning the old church alongside the agitated man and his questioning.  He took a deep breath and collected himself. “We have gone over it all, many times.  The heathens are pivotal in fixing the problems we created and when I say we, I do mean you.”  This last part bit at John’s ego.  He found his thumb again and picked at the dead skin.   The priest had gotten down on his knees to inspect the underside of the communion railing. “Now, you will be happy to know, the alpha wolves have reunited.  They are in motion to set their mortal world right and secure their family’s reign.  They are preparing to hunt.”

Johns’ eyes perked up, and he moved down through the pews.  “Well, why didn’t you say so.  This is splendid news!” But, even in a spark of hope, John could not shake his distrust. “After they have secured their family rights and vanquished their enemies, how do we know they will repair the issues in the spiritual world as well?  They have historically been motivated by personal gain.  Maybe after they get everything under control, they will forget about the long view and settle into comfort.”

“Not all motivation is wrapped up in greed and family honor.  Sometimes personal salvation can outweigh all other motivations in one’s life.”  The priest sat down on the steps to the altar with a soft moan.  He was old, very old.  Countless generations of old and he was starting to look it.  He slapped his hands on his knees, took in the view of the now clean church and let out a satisfying sigh.  “It has been a long time since this church has seen the loving hand of a human with a dust rag.”  John was standing halfway down the center aisle.  The sun poured in through the double doors behind him and the priest could only see his outline, but he could feel John’s disquieted energy. “The Regulator has unfinished business in the afterlife.  He has scores to settle beyond this world that can’t wait for his natural demise.  Say, would it make you feel better if you were close at hand with the heathens?”

“Would that mean leaving this church and getting to do something besides dust?  I would be very grateful for any opportunity to be productive and doing something, pretty much anything!”

“Well then, how about you join the heathens in their quest?  Give them a hand and in the process keep an eye on them.”  The priest knew this was a risk.  John was not one to sit by and simply watch.  He had an “I’ll do it myself” mode of operation, but, it would be better than him moping around here.  Besides, his cleaning skills were worthless at best.

John was quiet for a bit while he pondered this opportunity.  He did want to leave the old church.  He always considered himself a man of action, not waiting.  “What exactly do you mean by “Giving them a hand’? I am no wolf, no killer.  I am a man of God, and I spread the Holy Word.  I am a converter to the faith.  I don’t kill.  I spread love.  I don’t see where I could possibly be of any help to them.”  He sounded very dignified, and he was also right.  John was by no means a killer.

“Well, maybe it is time you learned.  Learned the ways of death, that is.  Or a least get familiar with it.  You do realize that death is the main reason you have your job?  If all those blasphemous, non-believers didn’t die, you would have no one to convert in the afterlife. No one to show the way to true eternal peace, even if you have been doing a so-so job at it.  Maybe learning more about how all those people end up in the hells we create, could up your game.”  There was a long silence after the priest stopped talking.  He could see the gears in John’s head turning.  He could see the calculations.  He could feel the discomfort.

“You can’t be serious?  I am not a killer. I am not a hunter.  I don’t know the first thing about taking a life.  Keep an eye on them, now that I can see doing.  But…” John’s voice trailed off and he dug for more excuses.  “Besides, they would never want me along.  They would see me as a weak link, an anchor to slow them down.”  He sounded very confident now. “Yes, I should just follow them and make sure all is going well.”

“Suit yourself. I am going to start cleaning in the upper pews.  When they get here, you can explain how you just want to watch from afar.  Tell them how killing is not your game and saving souls, especially pagan souls, would be of no help to them along their quest.  I am sure the Regulator will understand.  After all, he is a man who lives with diligence and no loose ends.  He drinks every drink to the last drop then wipes out the glass, cleans it and sets it back on the shelf.  It is as if he never had a drink at all.”  The old priest made a theatrical gesture with his for forefingure and thumb on his chin.  “Come to think of it, you could stand to learn a few things from the Regulator.”  The priest smiled and let out a little giggle as he pulled himself up from the steps and walked towards John.

“Wait a minute.  When they get here?” John’s disquietedness had just ramped up to full-on astonishment.  “Here?  The heathens are coming here, for me?  What is this all about?”

The priest put his hands on John’s shoulders and looked him in the eye.  John was now very uncomfortable.  He spoke slowly and very clearly, “He wants you to join them.  He needs you to join them.”

“But, why?”

“Because you can do what they cannot.  You can send their victims’ souls to hell.  Not their icy Hel, but our inferno-y hell.  Their enemies shall not be permitted to enter into the old god’s spiritual realm.  They will not be allowed into Valhalla to drink and fight.  They will rot in our Hell, and that is our part in cleaning this mess up.  This is your part in cleaning this up.”  The priest’s eyes were now wide and intense.  There was no getting away from their meaning and John knew it.

John lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I won’t kill.  I will do all I can to send their enemies souls to Hell, but I will not kill.”

“You, my son, will do whatever it takes to make right what you have made wrong.”  The priest took his hands from John’s shoulders and started walking towards the stairs.  He put his hands together in prayer, shook them at the ceiling and looked up. “Hey, big guy! Give this one strength.  He is going to need it.  Thanks.”

John stood in silence, looked up and to himself he said, “Yeah, big guy and don’t you even think of skipping out on me, like that time in Brazil.  I know you got a big kick out of that one, but I for one didn’t think it was so funny. Voodoo doctors are one thing, but these heathens are the real deal.”

 

Close Call: chapter 12

The steps behind the Eldo dropped beneath the Regulator and Sanna’s feet, leaving them in the dimly lit alley.  To their right, the turning over of the Ford’s engine and the rumble of dual exhaust pipes broke the night air.

“Seems like mom has found her truck,” Bob said with slight amusement.

Barretta’s pulled, they felt their way through the alley and into the side parking lot.   The Regulator floated up over the tailgate lightly landing in the bed of the truck.  Sanna moved to the passenger door.  Seeing the long hard case at his feet he holstered the pistol and quickly unsnapped the latches.  Opening the case, he hefted out the assault rifle. As the truck reversed from its spot, he sat on the toolbox and scanned the dark spaces around him.

Bridget cursed herself for not backing into her spot.  She mumbled something to herself about getting old and soft.  Backing out of a parking spot was a waste of precious seconds.  Sanna lowered her window and the pistol scanned. Her finger on the trigger held by a hair.  She wanted to fire, she wanted to kill, but nothing nor anyone moved.

The Regulator smelled the air and listened to the dark.  He saw only one vision as the truck rounded the corner and into the alley.  A thin face, wide-eyed and familiar.  Lit up red and full of calm.  The Regulator locked eyes with the man, and he thought, “Just you?  Do they send only you, my old friend? You have come a long way.”  The two men nodded at one another and then the truck rounded the corner and into the alley.

Bridget worked her way through the gears, and the truck moved quickly out of the alley onto the third street, then banked left on to Elk Avenue.  The rifle lowered to his lap.  Sanna still held her pistol out the window.  The cold midnight air made its way into Bob’s clothes.  Creeping into his soul and his mind.  He closed his eyes and tried to find the memory.

The Peruvian sun loomed brutally overhead. While the air stuck to everything with an indifference. The only thing worse than the air was the mosquitos.  They seemed to be in an all-out war with each other for every square inch of exposed skin.  Bob and Fell stood above the jungle on a large moss-covered boulder.  From their perch, they observed the torrent and froth below them.  The river cascaded through a 12-foot-wide slot, then disappeared over a desperate horizon.  Beyond they could see the edge of a turquoise pool, then another horizon.  They knew the river fell five times in this section, but the first two were all they could see.  Bob looked over at Fell.  Fell looked back with wide eyes and a large grin.  He was all energy, and he almost hopped back and forth with anticipation.  He was black to the white calm of Bob.  They would be dropping in blind and have to survival-kayak the bottom half.  Neither one worried much.  For some reason, they always came out of these things alive.  Adventuring with Fell was never dull and thank the gods it was never safe.

The cold steel of the gun started to sting his fingers and he broke from his memories.  The Regulator placed the rifle back in its case.  They were heading out of town to the south, down highway 135, the only road in or out of Crested Butte this time of year.  He sniffed and took a look behind them.  Then he turned to look ahead facing the 55 mph air.  Nothing.  Bob knocked on the sliding window of the cab.  A small click and it slid open.  He wound his way into the back-seat head first.  Rolled over and came up sitting in the center of the back of the cab.

“We should have killed him,” Sanna said evenly.

“Easier said than done,” Bob replied with indifference. “Fell would have killed everyone there to get just one of us.  Coming from a long line of Berserkers, there is no turning him off once the switch is pulled.  Confronting him in the Eldo would have been very bad for business.”  Bob contemplated Fell for a second.  He figured it would be soon enough for their relationship to end.

“Fell?  That was Fell? What the fuck happened to him?”  Sanna looked straight out the windshield. “I didn’t recognize him.  He is so thin.”

“Certain life choices can leave permanent marks.  He has chosen poorly.”

Bob looked at his sister.   The dashboard lit up the highlights of her face.  The defined thin nose between high rounded cheekbones.  Straight lips and a supple jawline.  She was just the same as he remembered.  Not a day older.  He could feel her tension and the radiating energy that almost made the front seat glow. He stared at her like he was reading her thoughts. Sanna wanted to look back at Bob, but something kept her eyes forward.  It got quiet,  very quiet.

“Hiya, Sis!” Bob said with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old.

Sanna dropped her gaze, gave a little chuckle and shook her head. “Hiya, little brother.” She could not help but smile. She turned and with a sideways glance asked, “Talk to any dogs today?”

Sanna used to ask this very question to Bob almost every day when they were young.   For Bob had insisted he could talk with dogs and would expound on the discoveries of their ever-deepening wisdom.  Telling what seemed to be a never-ending collaboration of stories and insights he would learn from them.  Sanna would tease him about the self-proclaimed gift, but she always wondered to herself whether it was true.  Bob always did have at least one dog in his presence.  They seemed to all feel comfortable around him: even Dozer, the mean mutt that lived on the ranch.  While no one could get near the animal without the chance of losing a finger, Bob would wrestle and play with him freely.

Bob’s face screwed up into a thoughtful look and he said, “Why yes! In fact, I had a wonderful chat with a burly old St. Bernard, named Olaf, just yesterday.  He left me with a great little nugget of advice. ‘If you should come across your long-lost sister after some untold years of separation you should ask her one simple question.’ ”

Bob sat back with a theatrical pause as Sanna’s eyes pulled her head around to look more squarely at him. He sighed slapped his hand on his knees and asked, “What the fuck gives?”

Sanna half smiled in a bit of relief but then turned remorseful.  She dropped her eyes and said, “I’m really sorry, Bob.  I have been terribly unfair.”  Her voice was full of penance and pity.  Like she was talking to a young adolescent and not the full-grown man in the back seat. “There is no justifiable reason for my actions.  Regardless of overwhelming obligations or business, I should have never abandoned you as I did.  Letting you think I had just left or even worse that I might be dead, was plainly unfair.”  Her high energy was gone.  Her intensity was now piled up like a wet towel on the bathroom floor.  She had become fully open and vulnerable.

Bob felt her change as they reach out and lightly touched Sanna’s left arm.  This brought her gaze up. “We might have been born free, but we don’t have the luxury of free will.  The gods have bestowed upon us great and powerful gifts. For these gifts, we have obligations: obligations to family, business and the clan.  Of all the people, you don’t need to explain anything to me, sis.  You are playing your role as I am playing mine.”  His eyes left Sanna’s and shifted to his mother.  In an exaggeratedly sarcastic voice, he continued, “You on the other hand.   You have some explaining to do.  How could you have kept this from me all these years?  I mean, damn woman, you are one cold operator.”

Bridget had been preoccupied with getting them out of town safely and making sure no one was following them.  She seemed to come to life now and was ready to join the party. “Hell Bob, you know I am.  I am one cold bitch with the blood of Tyr running through my veins.  If you wanted a loving and nurturing mother, you should have chosen to have been born into the line of Freya.”  Her voice got stronger and more serious as she spoke. “Don’t mistake my cunning and coldness for having no heart.  I love you two more than anything else in this world.  Everything your father and I have done over the past decades has been for you two and don’t you forget it.”

Bob looked back at Sanna and they started to giggle like little kids.  “We know,” they both said at the same time.  Then both of their faces went slack and Bridget felt it too.

The Regulator yelled, “Duck!” A bullet shattered the front passenger window, cut through the headrest and lodged in the rear door panel.  This happened just as Bridget swerved into the left lane and mashed on the gas.  They were at the junction with Jack’s Cabin cut off,  a left-handed ninety-degree turn. The junction was flanked by the Miller ranch house and a few barns.  Bob had seen the flash come from the hayloft door of the barn across from the Jack’s Cabin road.  Bridget dropped the left wheels of the truck into the inside ditch of the turn.   Running through some willows and exploding up onto the asphalt of Jack’s Cabin road.   The back end breaking loose and sliding sideways.

The Regulator yelled, “Stop!”

Bridget hit the brakes bringing the truck to a screeching halt in the middle of the road.

The Regulator said to Sanna, “Hayloft.”  Another bullet ripped through the back window of the truck and took out the stereo.

Bridget looked at the hole in her beloved stereo and calmly said, “Nothing but death shall come of this, kids.”

Bob rolled out the door behind Bridget while Sanna went out her door.  Both welded two Barrettas raised to the barn behind the truck and across 135, they opened fire. Releasing a hail of bullets into the large door opening.  The firing was unrelenting as clips where emptied, dropped and new ones inserted.  After each of them had emptied three clips they had moved themselves to the other side of 135.  Loading their next set, they moved through the willow by the roadside, down through the ditch and into the open of the barnyard.  They paused on either side of the open barn doors then entered into the pitch black of the barn.  The opening for the hayloft was directly above them.  Standing quietly they heard nothing: no movement, no voice.  Then a groan and a scratch like someone crawling slow. Standing six feet apart, they listened.  They smelled.  They looked at each other in the dark and nodded.  Lifted their pistols to the same spot in the wooden planks above, and they opened fire.  The bullets blasted through the planks.  Finish off their clips. Then a silence came with a cloud of gun smoke swirled around them.  A quiet cracking sound soon turned louder and then the full crash of a body fell between them.  A cloud of dust and hay rose up around them. They stood still for a few seconds.  Listening into the night.  Nothing was moving — not even the mice in the hay.  The Regulator raised his nose to the air.  Then put his pistol barrel to his lips, indicating to Sanna not move or make a sound.  He raised the pistol above his head never taking his eyes off Sanna.  One bullet left the barrel.  A voice shouted out.  Sanna lifted her pistols and let loose a volley of bullets.  Another body fell through the hole in the floor,  landing halfway across the first body.

Staring down at the bodies the Regulator shook his head and said, “Old lady Miller is not going to be happy with us, but at least we don’t have to climb up into the loft.”  He smiled, then turned and vomited. To himself, he prayed to Thor, “Take me when you can.  Let me come home.  Let me stop being, death.”

 

Sanna gave Bob a quizzical look.  She had heard about his physical aversion to killing, but she had never seen it in person.  An awkward moment had started to brew when Bridget pulled into the yard and backed up to the barn doors.  She jumped out and walked up to the bodies, kicking one.  “Serves you right, shooting out an old woman’s radio.” She spit on the bodies and then turned to The Regulator, “Let’s get these two loaded and get the fuck out of here.  I will explain to old lady Miller later.”   The moment was broken.

Secure in the back of the truck Bridget started to turn down 135, but Bob told her to go over Jack’s Cabin.  He had a little surprise for them and a way to throw anyone off their sent.  After a few miles over to Taylor Canyon, they headed up to Spring Creek Canyon.  A few miles up Bob had them turn into a drive and head up into a stand of pines at a cliff edge.  Pointing to a tall fence made of logs they could park behind.  To their left, about 30 yards away was an old fishing cabin.  Bridget asked Bob when he had got this place. Bob said he had all kinds of places like this spread out across Colorado and southern Utah.   Bridget was impressed that Bob could keep such things from her.  She took it as a sign that she had raised him well.

They bagged up the bodies and wrapped them up tight in plastic wrap.  Bridget said she would take care of them later.  Then they covered the truck with a camouflage tarp.  After grabbing their bags, the women started walking toward the cabin.  Bob stood and stared after them.  Sanna soon turned and asked why he was not coming.

“You guys can try to get in that cabin, but Gerry will be pretty pissed that you woke him up.  He is a grumpy son of a bitch when in a good mood.  I think you might want to follow me.”

He worked his way through the pines along the cliff wall for about 50 yards.  Soon they stood in front of a large slab of rock that leaned back against the wall.

“Home, sweet home,” Bob said.

Sanna just giggled as the realization of where they were popped into her head. “You didn’t?  Did you build the hideaway we always talked about?  The superhero’s secret lair.  I do love you, brother.”

Bridget was confused, but Bob motioned for them to follow as he ducked behind the large slab of stone.  A glow of light was triggered on as they entered the cave-like entrance.  Bob stood in front of a steel door set into the cliff wall.   Bob stood and looked at the door for a second.

Sanna and Bridget looked at him quite puzzled. Sanna finally spoke up, “Well, aren’t we going in?”

“I forgot the code,” Bob said with a grin.  “Maybe you can help me out.”  He gave her a wink.

Sanna stood for a second in confusion and then she looked at the keypad.  The keys were not numbers or letters but runes.  Her face changed into realization.  She stepped forward and pushed the keys for ice, stone, spear, and fire.  The door clicked open.  Bob pushed the door open and welcomed them to his “Bat Cave.”

Motion detectors turned on the lights as they entered the underground lair.   They stood in a small entry with a hallway leading into the mountain.  Dropping their belongings, Bob told them to go on in while he set up the security.  The two women walked down the short hallway and through a door into the main room.  Sanna and Bridget just stood in complete awe, as the lights came on to illuminate something amazing. They stood in a large dome-shaped room about forty feet across.  The perimeter of the room was set up in four sections.  A sleeping section with soundproof sleeping pods.  An office section with a wall of computer screens.  A living section with a midcentury couch sunk into the floor.  A kitchen section complete with a beer tap fridge.  The entire décor was fashioned after a midcentury superhero/James Bond/ bad guy secret layer.  But it was the middle of the room that took the cake.  In the center was a rotating platform and on that platform was a mint 1977 Pontiac, “Smokey and the Bandit” Firebird.  Bob walked in behind them and saw their open-mouthed astonishment.

“Let me get this straight.  You have places like this all-around Colorado and southern Utah?”  Sanna asked in seer amazement.

“Nah, this is the only superhero cave.  But, I do have lots of different hiding spots.”  Bob smiled and looked around the room about as pleased as one could be.  “Haven’t been here in a loooong time.  Sure is cool, huh?”

“Um, fuck yeah it’s cool!”  Sanna said.

Bob stood with his hands on his hips.  Smiled with pride and said, “Let’s rest up, get a plan together tomorrow and then go secure your place at the head of this family.”  He looked over at Sanna with determined eyes.  Then at Bridget with a wink.

“Fuck that!  I need a drink.  Then we need to talk some more, and then maybe I can sleep.”

Bob shrugged. “OK.”

Bridget headed toward the bar and said, “Let me guess, tequila?”

Reunion: chapter 11

The two women moved easily through the pitch black silence of the pines.  Neither talked for a bit.  They made their way down the mile-long trail.  Seeing with their memory, they traveled in the darkness.  Two figured floating among the ghosts of the new moon.  Down to the end of the jeep road, where the old Ford truck was parked next to a tricked out Jeep Rubicon.

“Mother, just how are we going to find Bob?” Sanna asked quietly. “I mean, you said yourself he has been missing for a few days.  For all we know he is in the desert on one of his vision quests.”

“Oh, I have a feeling it won’t be all that hard to locate him.”  Bridget had a bit of lightness in her voice. “You see, Bob for all his trying, is still a creature of habit.  Although a very focused hunter, he does like his distractions.  You see, The Reverend Horton Heat is playing…”

“At the Eld,” Sanna cut in, and her smile rang out in her words. “Well, isn’t that convenient and all at the same time very weird.?   The Reverend is playing an off-season show in Crested Butte.  What are the chances?”

“Exactly what I was thinking.   It seems the gods are in our favor.”

They drifted down the trail, winding between the aspens, pines, and leftover snow.   In the cold spring silence, they shared many thoughts, though neither one talked.  Just a mother and daughter sharing a moment in a familiar place.  They both had their mental preparations to make and now was as good a time as any to make them.   The following days would be hectic.  They would move and counter move until they solidified their family rule or they were dead.  Better take some time to meditate on your future actions now.  Once things were in motion, hesitation wouldn’t be an option.

They cleared the forest’s hold on their tongues, and both moved towards their vehicles.  Bridget stopped and turned to Sanna saying, “Don’t think for a second we are taking that newfangled contraption to town.”  The older woman stood tall and even in the dark, you could see her stern face.

“Really?  You want me to ride in that kidney bruising bucket of bolts you call a truck?”  Sanna almost sounded like a dejected teenager. “Not going to happen.”

They stood six feet apart, facing each other.  Two Asgardian strong women, having a moment of crushing stubbornness.   Two whole minutes passed and finally, Sanna huffed and said, “Fine.  We drive separate to Kebler pass.  Then we take your truck to town.”

Bridget shrugged.  “Sure.”

The two vehicles started the crawl down the jeep road.  The road was kept in a state of almost impassability for the final couple miles or so.  This was to ensure anyone that had ignored the many “No Trespassing” signs to not venture any further.  Sanna led the way, and Bridget rattled on behind her.

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The WRX was downshifted, and with the exhaust rapping, Bob pulled into the sleepy offseason Thursday night of Crested Butte.  Crawling onto the 15 mph empty streets he turned left on Elk Avenue.  The main drag was mostly deserted and patiently waiting for the summer crowds.  Three blocks down, Bob slid into a parking spot in front of a three-story, brown, wanna-be old western wood clad building.  A real estate office occupied the first floor.  The big windows, plastered with the overpriced resort town trophy homes, was tucked back under a second-floor deck that covered the sidewalk.  A wooden sign hung from the front of the deck.  “The ELDO: A sunny place for shady people.”  He smiled as he always did when he read that sign.

In front of him was a big fancy tour bus.  He cut the engine and let the quietness of the empty ski resort town surround him in comfort.  He sat for a bit.  Watching young mountain people, in down jackets and hoodies, park their town bikes and enter the stairwell door, beside the real estate office.  Tonight there was a big act playing and it was the slow season.  Even if you didn’t like the heavy psycho-billy punk rock sounds of The Reverend and his faithful bass player Jimbo and whoever the drummer was at the moment, you were going to the show.  It was the only thing going in town and would be for over a month.

Bob got out of the car.  Smelled the crisp cool air and stretched.  The clock moved at a different speed here, and Bob could always feel it.  Things ticked along at a slower pace and in a slightly off-kilter fashion.  He liked it and so many times wished he could just stay.  Get a job as a ski tuner with a free season pass and ride all winter long.   Maybe be a raft guide during the summer.  Be anonymous and boring.  Just another mountain sports junky, eking out a living and enjoying the great outdoors.

Stepping up on the sidewalk he looked to his left and eyed the tour bus.  He could knock on the door.  Hang out with the band.  He would be welcome.  He and the Reverend went way back.  Bob had been to so many shows that he was a permanent name on the guest list.  But, tonight Bob wanted the common tribal company of the bar.  The noise of banter, the faces of regulars and show-goers alike.  He had spent the last few days alone, wrapped up in his head.  Dreaming, tripping and talking with spiritual lions.  Right now he needed camaraderie.  Even though he had no real comrades here, the crowd itself would be enough to make him feel like he belonged.

At the top of the stairs, the familiarity of the scene made his defenses start to drop.  The young, bearded lumberjack-like bouncer looked him up and down.  The Stones ’ “Honkey Tonk Woman,” slipped out from the double doors.  Glass clinked, and chatter floated above it all.  Under everything was the smell of stale beer, marinating in the old wood floor.  Perfect. Just perfect,  Bob thought.

“ID, ticket or $25.00,” the bouncer announced with a smile behind the burly facial hair.

The Regulator gave the young man a sideways look and a crooked smile.

“Ok, then,” he said with a nod. “How about the ticket?”

Bob, thrust out his hand.  The bouncer shook it, even though he was not sure why.  He was not used to being overly friendly with the customers. “Name’s, Regulator.  Should be on the list.”  The bouncer looked down at the guest list. “How’re things going tonight?”

“Things are good.  Mellow so far.  The Reverend should change that soon.  Ah, here ya are.”

The young man looked up and found himself glued to a pair of ice blue eyes.  They told him everything was going to be great.  Everything was going to be just like it should.  This made him uneasy.  He shook away from the stare, and Bob handed him a fifty dollar bill.  “Thanks for your help.”  The Regulator’s calm voice cut through the noise as a couple opened the door to leave.

“Um, yeah.  No worries brah.”  The bouncer was not sure what to make of the feeling he felt.  A feeling, like the souls in the bar, had just become a little more important.  He felt a need to be vigilant and that he was a bit more important.

Bob walked in and felt all the warmth and welcome of a local watering whole wrap around him.  It filled him with hope, and he took a seat at the end of a long bar.  The bouncer watched him with a concerned eye.  For some reason, he knew he would be watching Bob all night.

The Eldo is a long narrow establishment.  The bar runs along the front left side.  The bathrooms and a passageway take up the middle.  The dance floor and stage reside in the rear.  The walls are finished with rough barn wood in a multitude of patterns, and the furniture is vintage seventies steakhouse.   In true mountain bar fashion, the bathrooms are a fucking mess.  The bar back is traditional Old West, oak and mirror set up.  The bar is a dented copper with oak trim.  Basically, it’s wood tone set upon a backdrop of wood tones.  And Bob, could not have been more at home.  The bartender strolled down the line.  Tucked a towel in his back pocket and just nodded his head.

“Patron, silver, on the rocks with a lime.”  Bob handed the bartender a $100 bill and said, “This should cover the night.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit.  You know your money is not good in here.”  The bartender crossed his arms and looked straight at the Regulator.  This stance caught the eye of the young girl on the stool next to Bob. “If I buy your silver for the night, can you promise me all patrons leave in the same state that they arrived?”

Bob pulled his Quicksilver hoodie over his head and swept a hand through his blonde hair.  The top was getting long.  Four or five inches.  The sides buzzed up with a number two guard.  He set his trucker hat back on his head and pulled it down tight on his brow.  He had to tilt his head up a bit to look at the bartender.  About half the bar had now noticed the standoff and some wore inside grins. “If you set everyone at this bar up with one round of silver, I will spare their worthless mountain troll souls.  But, if any one of them gets in my way on the dance floor,”  he paused for dramatic effect, “I will cut down the lot and send them to the mead halls of Valhalla.”  His eyes scanned the bar and landed on the girl next to him.  She started crying.

Then the bartender shrugged his shoulders and said in a loud voice as he turned. “ So he has promised. The Regulator has spoken, and you will all be spared tonight! Silver for all!  Compliments of the house!”  There was a large cheer and half the people sitting at the bar started laughing while the others looked on in confusion.

Bob looked at the girl next to him and smiled.  She found her legs and walked away.  He spied the bouncer watching him from across the bar, keeping his smile he gave him a wink.  Just a little reassurance that all was fine.  The bartender moved back his way and filled two shot glasses.  “Where did your little girlfriend go?”  He poured the tequila.  “Heard about your father.  Not cool.  So, how the fuck are ya, Bob?”

“Thanks, Tommy.  It’s Pretty much been a bag full of suck lately, but tonight I just want to be another, regular old person.”  The first shot went down, and the glass was refilled.  Tommy walked around the bar and hugged Bob.  Not many people could hug the Regulator, but Tommy was different.  He was Bob’s oldest friend and the only person outside the family who knew what Bob was.  Bob accepted the condolences and drank another shot.  “What’s up with the new bouncer?  Can he handle this crowd?”

“I agree, he might not look like much, but his antenna for trouble is good, and he’s quick.  Real quick.  So watch yourself, Bob.”  Tommy smiled and walked back down the bar. Over his shoulder, he said, “Oh, and by the way, there is nothing regular about you.”

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The dust rolled up from behind and washed over their trucks as they stopped at the intersection at Kebler Pass.  It circled and swirled in the headlights as the old truck idled and the Jeep was parked.  Sanna grabbed a long, hard case and a backpack.  She crossed in front of the headlights and dropped the bags in the bed of the truck, first checking for pig shit.  You never know with the old woman, she thought.  Climbing into the cab, she was reintroduced to a familiar smell.

“Wanna hit?”  Bridget offered over a blunt the size of a zucchini, to Sanna.

She just shook her head and smiled.  Sanna, thanked her lucky stars for marijuana.  Without it, her mother would be an overbearing mess of intensity.   Bridget could put off some big vibes and make people feel on edge.  She could do this from simply walking into a room.  The pot took off the edge and left everyone at ease.  Bridget turned up the Hank Williams on the three hundred watt stereo system, and they sashayed their way toward Crested Butte.  The truck’s barreling exhaust trying to outdo the subwoofer.  Although she loved her old trucks, she loved a good stereo system even better.  With Bridget singing along and puffin’ on the blunt, Sanna felt like her mother was possibly tickled pink for the task ahead of them.  She seemed to be relishing this.  And why not?  She had been hiding out in the mountains for decades.  Hiding and watching from afar.  Hiding and training her daughter.   Sanna had a lot to learn if she was to take over the family business.  She would have to learn even more than most because when and if she took the helm, she would be an unknown.  She would be coming cold and she would have to prove her competence, fast. Bridget didn’t just teach her about the family.  She taught Sanna the finer things about the shadow world.  Bridget was a ghost in her own right.  A warrior in the old world sense of the word.  She was a master at intimidation and the art of overpowering your opponent.   She was not all power though. She knew how to bait an enemy in and use misdirection to gain the advantage.  Bridget had made Sanna the woman she is today through patience and tenacity.  Sanna was grateful and she was ready.

Sanna watched her mother driving and singing.  She felt good.  She felt the gods had brought her here and that the Norns were spinning a good life for her.  Bridget turned to her, “Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you….” Sanna smiled and before she knew it was singing along.  “You’ll cry and cry, and try to sleep….”  In the back of her mind, she wondered what would happen when they found Bob.  When they, she, was face to face with him.  She knew that Bob, knew, she was alive.  Sanna was sure he had seen her in the spirit dream, but she left him so long ago.  So many years he was left to fend for himself.  Yes, he seemed to be handling it all ok, but what will he think of her?  Sanna was feeling something odd for the first time in a long time.  She was feeling nervous.  Nervous what her little brother would think of her.  Would he still like her? Would he be on her side?  Would he want to take over the family himself?  So, many things she didn’t know and within the hour she would have her answers.

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Jimbo’s stout fingers rapped fast and steady up his flame-painted, stand-up bass, strings.  He slapped in perfect time with the drummer’s punk rock speed.  Their thumping rhythm chocking the air in the lower half of the room and filled all their groins with lusty bass.  Above it all wailed the clean, hollow-body, frett-damaging, relentless serenade of the Reverend Horton Heat. Dressed in a fine western wear suit that would make Hank Williams jealous, he sang, smiled and musically hypnotized the audience into a swing dance mosh pit frenzy.   Bob stood stage right and watched the Reverend perform his voodoo.  A few shots of tequila mixed around in his head and the music vibrated through his bones.  He was in the moment at last.  Not thinking of the past, nor the future, but marveling at the synchronized beauty of the three masters blasting away in perfect synchronicity and power.  He was here, and this was now.

After playing for an hour, the Reverend gave Bob a sideways smile as he took a sip of his bourbon.  They had just finished up a three-song set of classic Reverend surf punk and he mouthed to Bob, “here we go,” before ripping into, “The Devil’s Chasing Me.”  By far Bob’s favorite song and the Reverend knew it.

“Sunset lights the sky, and there’s a shadow over me…..”  The high lonesome guitar rang in over the driving western swing beat.  Bob watched in anticipation.

“But when the Devil comes collecting, your gonna payin’ for eternity… The devil’s chasin’ me….”

Jimbo lays his bass upon its side. The drums are lowered to a background drone and a steady ride cymbal jazz triplet.  The Reverend climbs up on Jimbo’s bass and starts in on his magical solo ride.  Bob loves this part.  He closes his eyes and waits for the build dancing notes.

Then the nerves in the base of the Regulator’s spine light up a wave of energy that spikes through his skull.  Something has shifted.  Something has disturbed the air and made it taste of darkness.  Yet, his stomach senses something familiar.  He needs to move.  Floating to his left he never took his eyes off the stage. Tucking himself in behind the speaker column.  Back into the side shadows.  He is no longer part of the space.

———————————————-

The rumbling of the Ford takes up two spots in the parking area to the rear of the Eldo building.  The two women give each other short glances as if to check each other’s resolve.   As unsure as Sanna is about how Bob will react to seeing her, Bridget might be even more unsure.   She has been helping the Regulator dispose of his problems.  Never once has she let on that she knew where his beloved big sister was.  Much less that they had been working for years towards this very moment.  It was soul crushing for Bridget to keep this secret.  Bob loved and honored his sister.  He never talked about her, but a mother knows her children and Bob was hurt.  Hurt that Sanna could just up and leave.  He knew she was not dead.  How he knew this, Bridget had no idea, but he knew.  Tonight could get very interesting.  Bridget had to bring her children together and she had to be successful.  This was paramount to bring together all the years of planning.

The two got out of the truck and started toward Elk Avenue and the entrance to the bar.  They could hear the muted sound of loud rock and roll.  Sanna stole a glance to the second-floor windows.  She could see figures silhouetted in the red, blue and green lights.  Some of their heads nodding along with the beat.  He’s right there.  Right inside those windows.   She looked over to her mother.  Bridget slowed, knocked her head and smelled.

“Everything ok?” Sanna asked and then she felt it too.

Bridget nodded, shrugged and said, “Yep,  just thought I smelled vermin.  I think it’s just the dog shit freeing itself from the melting snow piles.”

Sanna wasn’t sold, but she went along with it.   They rounded the corner, past Bob’s car and opened the stairway door.  The bouncer was checking some IDs when he took a glance at the two women.   He got that uneasy feeling again like the one when he talked to that Regulator guy.  He didn’t ask for IDs and quickly made up an excuse that since the band had been playing for over an hour, he would just let them in for free.  Something about a fifty dollar bill flashed in his head.  The women entered the bar, took an unnoticeable look around and headed for the band room.  They moved their way to the back of the dancing crowd.

Bridget leaned into Sanna and half yelled in her ear, “Why the fuck do you kids like the music so loud?  I am surprised anyone under 30 can hear.”

Sanna, replied with a smile, “It’s to drown out the negative voices in our heads.”

“Well, I know for sure he is here. Do you see him?”

“No, but I do feel him and I know where he is.”  She sounded a little baffled as she looked toward the back corner of the room. “Let me go alone.”  Sanna looked into Bridget’s eyes and the old woman knew not to argue.

“Ok, but be cautious.”

Sanna knew she was not referring to her encounter with Bob.  She felt it too.  Something odd.  Something sick.

—————————————–

Bob stood still and breathed a silent breath.  He stared out among the dancing, moshing and watching crowd.  Scanning the faces for a sign.  Then a voice came from just behind him.  “Why so shy, little brother?  You know you’re not the only one in this family that can sneak around in the shadows.”  There was a bit of playfulness in her voice along with a hesitancy.

The Regulator was not alarmed and his eyes never left the room.  He spoke in a whisper and Sanna heard him clear as day.  She also heard the warning in his voice. “No, I am not, big sis.  Just as we are not the only ones that can play in here, either.”  Just then he lifted his chin as to point out in the crowd.

Her eyes landed on a tall man with an angular face.  He was pretending to enjoy the music while he casually searched the faces and sensed the room.

“I can smell him,” Sanna said, “and I don’t like it.”  Her voice was raw and filled with venom.

Bob could feel her presences growing.  “Keep your shit under control.  If you can’t keep a lid on your emotions a bunch of people in here are going to die, and I promised Tommy that would not happen.  Not tonight at least.”

Sanna closed her eyes and took a few slow, steady breaths.   She was more of a straightforward specialist when it came to conflict.  Patience and timing were not her strong suit. “So, what is your plan, brother?” she whispered back.  Neither of them took their eyes off the tall man.

“In thirty seconds the bouncer will open the backstage door, five steps to our left.  If all goes right, we walk right out.”

“Um, Bob, there is nothing but stage lights and open air that direction.”

“Yep. That is why we have to wait for the end of the song.  The lights will go off for a second.  It happens at the end of every Reverend show….ever.”

Sanna was not good with control.  Her emotions were growing as the seconds ticked by, and the song came closer to an end. The tall man sniffed the air, and his eyes got wide. Sanna’s presence grew.  The band raced toward the final note. The last cymbal crash crashed.  The room went dark.  Two shadows floated through the door.  The bouncer felt uneasy.  The lights came back up.  The Reverend and the band headed towards the back door.  A tall, angular man stood in the mid of the dance floor, and a knife was embedded in the wall where Bob and Sanna had stood.

Warnings: chapter 10

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading this post, but to get the full aspect of the story you might want to go to the first post “In the End.”   Also, I suggest reading the Background page.  -Enjoy.

Sometimes, the night is placid, covered in cloudy vales, and unnoticeable.   Sometimes, it is full of restless ideas, uncommon sounds, and ominous sensations.  There are nights when the stars race to outshine the moon while it is recovering from its long cycle.  Nights where the deepest parts of the universe come into view.  Reminding us of the long past, the small present and the distant future.   Open your eyes and your heart on a night like this and gods just might let you see the things you shouldn’t see.   Glimpses into the true terrors or happinesses that makes your reality.  Words from the past reminding you that the future can change, but not from your will alone.  Sometimes, the gods’ messages come with warnings.  Sometimes, they come in a cryptic sequence of events.  Sometimes, they come as clear and eternal as the big dipper.

Jane felt like something was filling the empty spaces in the air tonight.  She felt a weight.  Not a weight like the past few weeks of decision-making and planning.  She had worked very hard to make sure their plans would be flawless.  Making sure all the right lies were told at the right time, with the right emotion, at precisely the right time.  Many times over the past ten years, she had worked things over and over in her mind.  Jane had waited long enough.  It was time, to have her time.   But, tonight the weight was something else.  There was something about the weight that was not tangible or rational.   The weight seemed to exist for existing’s sake.

The night was warm for early spring.  The French doors to the bedroom were open.  The crisp breeze caught the white linen curtains.  Like ghosts, they swayed and billowed into the room.  That was what she was feeling-ghosts.  Leaving Axel to sleep, she walked out on to the porch and let the air chill her naked body.  Sage and new grass filled her nose.  She looked up; the clear new moon sky pressed down.   The Milky Way expanded overhead, and Orion slashed his way over the eastern horizon.

Maybe this being in charge business is not all it seems, she thought to her self.   She wondered if her ambitions had robbed her of her sight.  Robbed her of her ability to objectively look at her life and what she wanted.   Was she not able to see the immense pressure of obtaining the status she desired?  Surely she could not have misjudged the job.  She had been around the clan her whole life.  Granted, she came into the main family later in life when she married Reynor.   True, it was not a marriage of absolute love.  More a marriage of convenience but always rooted in respect.  She had lost her husband to stupidity, and he needed a competent woman to manage the home and kids.   A woman that understood the business he was involved in.  Jane and her family were never in the inner circle of the clan workings, but she did grow up around it.  Hell, her grandfather set up Gunnar Johnson with all his Asian contacts after World War Two.   Contacts that led to a sizable fortune during the rebuilding of Japan and China.  Sure it was Reynor that had her husband killed, but that was her husband’s fault.   Had he not played the family for fools, he would have been just fine and the Regulator wouldn’t have been needed.

From an early age, Jane had an overwhelming interest in the clan business.  She made no effort to hide this from Reynor.  He, in turn, let her inside.  Not fully inside but pretty close.  She was never in charge of anything, but she did befriend many in the middle and upper ranks.  Through these relationships, she developed a good working education of how the clan’s systems work.   The funny thing was that the closer she got the more confused she was about her husband’s role.  Frankly,  it didn’t seem like he did all that much.  Nor did he make a whole lot of important decisions.  He seemed to be very lackadaisical about, well, everything.  Never directly involved in any operations.  Never checking in to see how things were going.  He seemed just to let everyone do as they pleased.  She began to thank the gods for the lower ranking people they had.  They were the ones making it all happen.  They were the ones that got the work done and made the clan a force.

Axel constantly reminded her to pay close attention.  Reminding her that Reynor was doing more than he let on.  Reminder her to read between the lines.  He would say, “Listen and look.  You have a front row seat to the big show.”   She tried, but after a while, she directed her attention back to the lower ranks.   Reynor’s life was boring.  He spent most of the day having pointless meetings with people of no substance.  And the meditation.  Don’t get her started on the hours of sitting quietly and meditating.  No, in the lower ranks, this is where things were happening.  She figured this was giving her the best way to learn.

She saw his easy-going demeanor and lack of oversight to be his ultimate downfall.  Not seeing the assassination coming.  Three armed men easily stroll into his house, and he doesn’t get off one shot.  Jane had convinced herself long ago that she had a better handle on the family business and as soon as Axel and the Hansen family made their bid for a takeover, she would be running the show.   This she was sure of.  Hell, the fact that the ten-generation pact was coming to an end never even came up.  Reynor seemed to be oblivious to the ramifications of this.  They were going to lose a major partner that is the Hansen family.  For generations, the Hansens have wanted to break off and/or take over the clan.  But, he never once mentioned his plans to deal with it.  In fact, the one time it came up he just shrugged and said, “All will fall in place, as it should.”

“Really,” she thought.  “Just like that.”

Jane always knew Reynor had a heavy belief in the gods and all the mythology, but this was ridiculous.   But then again Reynor’s ways had always confused her.  He never seemed to stress out about anything.  Not even the disappearance of his daughter.  Jane had, for the most part, raised Sanna.   She was stunned when she ran off.  Reynor took the incident surprisingly well.  Saying that Sanna never belonged, to this world and that wherever she was and whatever she was doing it was on her terms.  That was good enough for him.

He was always a caring father, but for Jane’s taste, he let his kids run wild far too much.  Not like her boys.  She kept them under strict command, and they knew their places.  She made sure they grew up right and ready.  Ready to take over when they had their time.  She didn’t let them in on the whole assassination thing.  Or the bid to support Axel and the Hansens.  But, with Sanna gone and Bob being, well, Bob, she figured her sons would soon be in control no matter what.

Bob, she thought.   Just what was that wingnut up to,  she thought.  He always had a knack for disappearing at just the wrong time.  Very unpredictable he is.  She thought about the time when he was 12, and he talked a bunch of his friends in to leave school at lunch.  They took a bus up to Idaho Springs, just up I-70 into the mountains.  There they stopped at a convenience store, bought a bunch of junk food and headed off into the mountains.  Apparently, just before dark, they had found a cave and Bob thought it would be a fabulous idea to spend the night.  The other boys were not so keen on the idea, but Bob had made up his mind.  He was staying, and so, the other kids did too.  No sleeping bags, no water and a little bit of food.  Bob started a fire with a flint rock.  The other boys marveled at his skill in this.  He found a couple of tin cans and boiled some water from a nearby stream.   This too, the boys thought was pretty ingenious.  Heat, water, and food being secured, Bob figured all was perfect. Two boys started to cry when the sun went down.  This was odd to Bob.  Bob started to wonder aloud if they were in a bear’s cave.  This sent the scared boys over the edge.  They said they were going to walk out in the dark.  Bob convinced them they were safer in the cave next to the fire.  Later,  Bob said that besides the other boys being total wusses, it was a great adventure.

The next morning, they came down off the mountain and walked right into town.  Right up to a large group of Search and Rescue volunteers that had gathered in a parking lot by the trailhead.  Bob asked a guy what all the fuss was about.  The volunteer was checking over his pack and without looking at Bob just mentioned something about five boys being lost up in the mountains.  They were all getting ready to find them.    Then the guy looked up, saw the dirty, exhausted boys, knocked his head and asked, “You’re the kids, aren’t you?”

Bob just shrugged and said, “That all depends.”

The volunteer stood up and said,” Depends on what?”

“How much trouble those kids are in.”

But, before they could get away one of the crying boy’s mothers started screaming and running towards them.  The jig was up.  Needless to say, Bob was not allowed back at the school.

The strange part of it all was that Bob was never scared.  He didn’t make up any stories about what they did or why.  He told the story exactly how it all went down.  He admitted being the instigator and at the same time reveled in how much fun they had.  Well, he had.  Jane always found Bob a bit off, but this sealed the deal.  No normal kid is that honest and confident in his actions.   Her sons for sure were not this way.  They lied and schemed about everything.  She always had to keep an eye on them.  Bob was his own little island.  Other kids loved him and even looked up to him, but in some way, they all feared him too.  No one has ever gotten super- close to Bob.  That was the way of his upbringing and that is how he lives today.

Reynor thought the whole adventure was awesome.  He never let the other parents know that, but in private he laughed and told Bob sarcastically to stop fooling around.  Reynor knew Bob wanted to be off in the wild.  He loved the ranch in South Park.  So, he sent him up to live with the ranch hands.  He went to “school” in Fairplay and ran feral through the mountains.  He learned to survive for days on his own.  Hunting small game and fishing.  He would leave on Thursday afternoon with his backpack and return as late as the next Friday.   Carrying the bare essentials and a sleeping bag.  He would always talk about the great conversations he had with the deer, the squirrels, and the bears.  He was at home and he was training to be the Regulator.  Whether he knew it or not.

No, Reynor’s kids were not Jane’s, but they always treated her with respect.  This she loved and she even felt like they loved her back.   One thing that Jane could never figure out was why Reynor didn’t teach Bob the ways of managing the family.  Bob was always privy to the goings on and the details of things.  But, Reynor didn’t teach him the details of management.  He was the Regulator and that seemed to be where he was to remain.  She once asked when he would start training Bob.

Reynor replied in his whimsical way, “Bob will be just fine.  He knows all he needs to know.  When the time comes, the gods will favor him, and he will be a great clan leader.  Time is on his side.”

The wind blew with an extra bite.  Waking Jane from her thoughts and sending a shiver through her naked body.  A presence now filled the air.  A familiar feeling came over her, and an uneasiness worked its way through her bones. She knew what was in her midst, but she was not about to turn when she heard the shuffling behind her.  She was not going to look upon whatever it was that smelled of death.  She stood straight and stared up at the darkness between the stars.

A voice came,  slow and painful. “Is it all you wanted, Jane?  Is it the fulfillment you so desired?”

She still did not look upon the figure.  A presence she had hoped would never come. “I guess that all depends.”  She tried to hide the truths inside her, but her voice betrayed her.  She sounded weak.

The figure shuffled forward a few more steps. “You have done well my love, but your lack of imagination won’t let you see why.  Your mind stumbles in your aspiration.  Your sight sees only what your greed allows it to.  You can’t even see the reality of what you have made of me.”

Jane gripped the railing.  Something was being forced into her mind.  A notion was being heaped upon her.  “No!” she said in determination.  “This is not real.  It is just a dream, a nightmare.”  Her head began to pound. She lashed out, “You don’t belong here, Reynor.  You failed.  Your family is done because you failed to prepare your precious Bob.”

She was finding a bit of arrogance now.  She was feeling righteous.  Her voice rose a bit. “He will never take over this clan.  He is overwhelmed and as far as I can tell he has run away.  Just like his big sister.  They have abandoned you Reynor, just like you abandoned them.” She was breathing hard now. Taking in the cold night air and allowing herself a small victory.

A few more shuffles and she could hear the labored breath.  Her perfume would have filled his nose if he could have smelled.   Low and steady but somehow playful he said, “Yes, just like his sister.  The Regulator will do exactly what he was raised to do.  The gods are playing their game, and Bob is one of their favorite pieces.  He has his purpose.  Just like I had mine, you have yours, and the rest have theirs.  You can’t escape it, Jane.  It will all happen just the way it should.”  His voice told the story she didn’t want to hear.

Jane’s hands were turning white from gripping the railing.  She locked out her knees, and it was all she could do to stay standing. Tears rolled down her face.  She breathed in the rotting smell.  She screamed up into the night, “I am in control now!”

She slumped over the railing and Axel shot up in bed.   He saw Jane’s body slide off the railing to the deck.  Through the sheer curtains, he saw another figure, but it was starting to fade away.  Through the breeze came a whisper, “Look into the shadows and you will see.”

The figure disappeared into a fine mist that smelled like rot.  Axel ran to Jane.  She was trembling with sweat and mumbling something about finding Bob.  He asked her what she was talking about as he rocked her.

Jane stared blankly at the floor, “We have to find Bob before he finds us.  He knows, Axel. He knows.” Her voice trailed off.

Axel rocked her and held her close.  “He was just seen in South Park.  Heading south towards Monarch Pass.  I was going to tell you in the morning.”

She sat trembling in Alex’s arms as her mind raced.  Why had Reynor come to her?  Why had he given her this warning? Then another thing came to her. “Alex?”

“Yes, Jane.” His voice was smooth and calm.

“Why is Bob heading West?  Why is he heading away from Denver, away from the problems at hand?”

“I don’t know Jane.  Why does Bob do half the things he does?”  The man is an enigma.

“Do you have anyone you can trust, to take care of Bob?”  Jane’s voice was serious, but there was a hint of embarrassment in it.  The embarrassment of asking a question she full well knew the answer.

“Trust yes.  Capable, well, that is a whole other thing.  Are you asking if I know someone that can kill a ghost?  I will have to think on that one.”

“Well think fast and hard, because we need just such a person.”

The Grey: chapter 9

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading this post, but to get the full aspect of the story you might want to go to the first post “In the End.”   Also, I suggest reading the Background page.  -Enjoy.

Say you’re a very powerful, wealthy and eccentric Yakuza crime boss.  You have spent a lifetime working your way up through the mayhem of a Japanese organized crime ring, and somehow you have stayed alive.   You run a tight ship and profitable business.  Life has become somewhat stable.  Well, as stable as one can be in your line of work.  You figure. It’s about time for a little self-gratification, so you build a house.  Not just any run-of-the-mill Japanese cramped traditional box.  It’s the house you always wanted.  Perched on, a steep, wooded hillside, overlooking the port city of Nagasaki and your empire.   The house is not overly expansive, but it’s large for Japan.  You have spent five years overseeing every detail.  You make sure the local officials have plenty of payoffs to leave you alone and bend a few zoning rules.   The foundation even comes reinforced with a few enemies.  Making sure every space has its signature style.   In the end, they come together to create a modern home that thoughtfully nods to tradition.

Your crowning detail is a perfectly placed alcove in the main hallway.  This alcove houses a ten-foot-tall by six-foot-wide megalith from the ruins of Gobekli Tepe.  Well, not an authentic stone from Gobekli Tepe, but an incredibly accurate hand-carved replica.  The stone is even sequestered from a quarry nearby the actual ruins.  The stone sculpture sits directly across from a floor-to-ceiling plate glass wall that is perfectly aligned to catch the rising sun of the winter solstice.   It is a stunning display, and its raw beauty leaves all visitors taken aback in awe.  Unfortunately, there is one person that is not in awe, and that person is you.  The person that has to look at it every day.  The person that designed and fretted over every small detail.  Why are you not in awe?  Because, in the end, it is just a silly replica set in a modern Japanese home.  You know this, and it eats away at you.  You want it all to be real.  You want it all to have a commanding aura of reverence and ancient power.  You want to fear it and you just don’t.  Day after day it mocks you with it’s “I’m just a fake” impartiality.  So, what are you to do?  Well, you hire the best people in the world at acquiring things that should not be acquired.  You hire Vikings.  What you do is, you contract out the Johnson Clan.

The Johnson Clan is a family business.  A business that deals in items no one else can or wants to.  Developed over many generations, they are a detailed web of operations and logistics.  An intricate network of people and systems that is simultaneously invisible and massively influential.  They can foxily pull strings from the shadows or stand right in the daylight barking out orders like a German Shepherd.

Separated into four major factions; the solvers, the carriers, the collectors, and the influencers.  These four factions worked in a synchronized concert to provide anyone with enough money, just about anything.  Pre Columbian-Jaguar Statue from Honduras? No problem.  List of active CIA agents in Croatia?  Give us a few days.  Or, a thirteen thousand-year-old, three-ton megalith from Turkey.  Although based in Colorado, they operate globally and across all levels of society.

For the better part of two years and a multitude of choreography, not to mention a boatload of money, the factions worked to secure the Yakuza Boss’s ancient artifact.  After being installed, it measured up to everything he hoped it would and even more.  He revered it.  He feared it.  He loved it.   But, there are consequences to displacing an ancient spiritual artifact.  You see, when you put something somewhere it doesn’t belong its spirit can get a bit annoyed.  We don’t know what these pieces represent or the powers they possess.  Within a year of the stone entering the house, things went terribly wrong for the Yakuza Boss and his family.  His wife had a miserable battle with ovarian cancer and died a horribly drawn out death.  Then his two daughters got run over by a bus.  His son had a motorcycle racing accident and became a quadriplegic.  The Boss soon succumbed to depression, tried to take his life the old-fashioned way, with a short sword to the belly.  That didn’t even go right.  He didn’t manage to hit the proper organs and suffered for many hours before his henchman found him in a pool of blood.  The man took pity on his boss and a shot him dead.  The Johnsons have seen their fair share of bad juju moving taboo articles.  That is why they adhere to the teachings of the old gods of Asgard and doing all they can to stay in their good graces.  This way they figure they have some back-up in the spiritual world.

How is it that the Johnsons became the world’s foremost experts in acquiring rare items?  Well, that should not be such a surprise; they are Vikings after all.  Their ancestors plundered and collected from all over the world.  From as far back as 600 AD, the Johnson Clan raided and plundered throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.  They were one of the first to invade the British Isles and beyond.  Columbus was a latecomer.  Some of the Clan made it to North America in the 810’s.   The problem was, there was way more land than riches at that time in northern Canada.  Getting land was not an issue back in the old country, but new sources of gold and silver were scarce.  Compared to their Norse brethren, the Johnson’s had a unique way of conquering.  They were apt to assimilate the new cultures they found and set up trade routes.   As a matter of fact the current spelling of thier name, “Johnson”, is a Scottish adaptation of the Danish “Jansen”.  Adopted to assimilate better into the Scottish culture.  Their end goal was not to just remove the wealth from a people but to use those people to generate steady gains.  Controlling the acquisition and flow of goods, including people, was far better than having to go looking for new stuff constantly. And, they knew that to work with a people was far better than just killing them all.  But, don’t think there wasn’t a lot of that, too.  A civil and righteous bunch, they were not. They did and always have conducted business with a brutal hand when needed.  From this heritage of conquering and trading grew an established structure of operation.  A structure that has slowly been woven right into the fabric of modern society as they moved from the British Isles to the new world and eventually the last frontier of the wild west.

All that historical structure and systems had Sanna pacing.  Mulling over all the moving parts and how they worked together.  Although it was all very robust, it was all super delicate as well.   Walking the covered porch, her boot heels thudded on the wooden deck.   She moved in a steady rhythm.  Consistent, regimented, and meditative.  Moving along the three sides of the mountain cabin.  From the view of the river to the lake to the West Elk range.  Sanna would pause, then turn and return in her path.  West Elks, lake, river.  River, lake, West Elks.  Her breath steady in time with her heels.  365 days a year, the only thing changing was her clothing with the seasons.  She walked to organize her overflowing mind.  She trained to empty it.  Using this lonely, secluded place to instill all the lessons in family, business, and war.

She needed to know the systems, the hierarchy, and the ways and means, inside out.   The deck and the walking were her way of methodically going over all the information.  Back and forth she walked and talked and cataloged.   Names, places, events, strategies, customers, allies and, of course, enemies.  No apparent shortage of enemies in this business.   Sometimes the amount of information was staggering and she often wondered just how her father kept it all together.  He did not seem to be the most diligent man.  Fact is, he came across as downright flighty and free-spirited.  From the outside you might take him for a fool, but this, Sanna came to know, was never the case.  Reynor knew and saw everything.  He was quick-witted and had a sixth sense about things and people.

Once, she observed him bait a cocky young Korean man into sharing way too much information.  This was done much to the man’s demise.  Reynor eased the man with pleasant compliments.  Subliminally dropping praise for the man’s business acumen in such an unassuming way it was like he never said it at all.   Stroking his ego and making him more comfortable than he should have been.  Sanna felt sorry for the man and the way he was being played.  It truely was like watching an artist.  Every word was spoken with perfect intent like the brush strokes of a famous painter.   Working from an abstract blank canvas and pulling out a masterpiece of scenic beauty. By the end of the conversation Reynor knew all the details of how the man’s uncle would be trying to double-cross him.   No shouting, no threats, no tough guy family machismo.  Just the subtle deception of a snake enticing a mouse out of its hole.  The poor man’s mind never had a chance nor did his head, literally.

Not Sanna.  She has the subtleness of a rhino.  More like Bridget, her mother.  Strong, earthbound and stubborn.  She could be persuasive, but usually, it came from sheer terror and intimidation.  She emits a hora of absolute force.  From her eyes to her walk and voice she projects pure power.  While her brother Bob can manipulate the shadows, Sanna is the shadows.   She lives in a tangible world of black and white.  She is upfront and sometimes very brutal.  Her father could navigate in a world of greys and weird angles.  Somehow, he saw clearly, even in the fog of confusion that often surrounded him.  He really was the perfect person to run this Clan.

Sanna’s boot heels came to a sudden stop.  The last thuds echoed off the cabin and melted into the pines.  Hood over her bowed head.  Hands tucked deep in the pocket of her sweatshirt. Sanna stood and watched her breath trail out in to the spring evening air. “The grey,” she thought to herself.

“I must find the grey,” she said out loud to no one.  Then she felt it.  A presence.

“Yes, that is exactly what you need to do,” said a familiar voice to her right and out by the lake edge.

Sanna turned to see the outline of a figure standing on a flat rock about thirty feet away.   A woman cloaked in a long duster coat.  A white well-worn cowgirl hat pulled tight to her eyes.  Sanna knew the voice and knew whom it belonged.  The figure was facing the lake.  Well, truthfully it is sort of a pond.  For some reason, the word pond didn’t seem to make it to Colorado.  Thus, every body of water bigger than a puddle is called a lake.  Sanna felt a calming inside, like Odin himself, had stopped by to banish all worry from the land.  Her body wanted to run off the porch to the woman, but her mind moved her slow and measured.  She could sense something heavy coming off the woman.   `With a mixed feeling of wanting and trepidation she approached the woman.  These conflicting feelings puzzled her.  It was her mother after all, and it was not completely out of the ordinary for her to visit her here.  But, something was telling her to give her mother space.  It was not an ominous feeling but a respectful one.

They stood in their spots for a few minutes, then Bridget said, “We used to stand here, right on this very rock.  Your father and I.  Stand right here watching the alpenglow as it is now.  We would talk of the gods and what they had in store for us.   Of the life, we would share and the adventures to be had.  He loved deeper than any man I ever knew or could hope to know.   He could love much better than me.  He was not afraid of love or connection.  He…we did everything we had to do to make sure you and Bob had the future you deserved.  It all came from a good place.  You do know that don’t you, Sanna?  Please tell me you understand the decisions we made.  On the other hand, who am I to say what you should or could feel or understand.  After all the deception and maneuvering.  I can’t blame you if you don’t.  Understand, that is.  We were young and we had family pride and honor weighing in our minds.   Maybe we didn’t do all right things, but we did it the best we knew how.  We did everything we did for what we hoped would make life better for the two of you.”

There was a silence like the silence before silence had a name.  A slight breeze rippled the lake and rattled the dry spring grass.  Bridget let her force field down.

Sanna didn’t move, but simply said, “Yeah, I know, mom.” She still didn’t move.

Bridget lowered her head and inspected the water lapping at the rocky shore. “I love that sound.  The small waves washing on the rocks.”

“It’s what I fall asleep to every night.  Well, that and the coyotes. Active bunch they are.”

Mother turned to face Sanna.  Their eyes met for a few seconds.  There were more words spoken in that moment than all the years that had come before.  They were just mother and daughter for those few seconds.  Seeing each other and understanding each other.

“You ready?”  Bridget asked.  “Are you truly, ready?”

“If I am not ready by now then may Thor strike me where I stand.”

Bridget covered the distance in what seemed like one fluid motion and embraced Sanna.  She whispered in her ear. “Time to find Bob.  Time to find death and bring it to the traders.  I have faith in you, darling.”

The words sank down Sanna’s spine and warmed her stomach like a late-night cup of tea.  With a frigid voice she whispered back to her mother, “Yes, it is time to find The Regulator.”  To herself, she thought, time to release the shadows and set our souls free.  She smiled and embraced her mother, tighter.

Ghosts: chapter 8

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading this post, but to get the full aspect of the story you might want to go to the first post “In the End.”   Also, I suggest reading the Background page.  -Enjoy.

The Alter’s large wooden doors opened and the Regulator stepped free of the heavy air of the hall. He squinted his eyes against the afternoon sun as he put on his Oakleys.   He tilted his head back and spread his arms out wide to embrace the warmth of the sun-soaked spring afternoon.  He lowered his arms and thought “Toward the sun, the days and weeks ahead will lead me toward the sun.”  A small cloud passed overhead, blocking the warm rays for a minute and set a chill upon him. A reminder of the shadows that still lurk inside and all around him.  Shadows he will need to embrace, navigate and manipulate.  The shadows that will get him to the ends he seeks.  Satiated by his time with Nagli he now saw the present and the past for what he needed.  He could now set the future in motion.

The Regulator had grand plans in mind.  Grand plans indeed.  Plans that set him in a completely different place than he’d imagined possible.  Funny how the world can hand you opportunities that you yourself had no idea existed.   Emerging from the eather of life and the cosmos.  Opportunities are funny things.  Some pop up all obvious and easy like.  Some need to strangle you to near death to be noticed.  He was now breathing in the opportunities before him in long deep sustaining breaths.  Hope and light filled his thoughts.

He could smell the difference in the air.   The valley was free of its amber air distorted with the ghosts from the past.  Good forward thinking work was crawling in his mind.   Bob now realized he had been looking at his family from the wrong point of view.  Looking at it as something to be protected, honored and managed.  Bob now look at his family as a ticket to freeing his mind.  Freeing him from the discomfort of being himself.  His family will be his new source of freedom, rather than an oppressive obligation.  Bob loved his family, his clan, but his role had taken its toll on him.  He now understood a way to make all the worlds of Asgard align in his favor and he was going to will it into being. He just needed to locate a few people and hopefully have a few people locate him.  First off, it was time to find his sister, Sanna. Time to set things straight with her and get her on board.

“Thank you, Nagli,”  The Regulator said without looking at the sage.

“For what, exactly?”  The old man cleaned his glasses and looked down at the ground.  He had an air of disappointment about him. He said, “I have imparted on you the worst possible news and information one could have given.”

“Not the way I see it, old friend.”  The Regulator was stone-faced. “I see this all as an opportunity to be reborn.  True, it might kill me in the process but, better that, than living in the quagmire I call the present.”

“Well then, don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out.” Nagli was suddenly very chipper.  He slapped Bob on the shoulder. “It is sad but all too true, that I hope I never talk to you again, Regulator Bob. At least not on this plane of consciousness.”

“Love you too, Nagli.”  The Regulator grabbed his weapons, stepped off the front porch and headed for the Subaru.  He turned to look over his shoulder and said, “Now don’t forget to tell those displaced spirits to get their asses back to Valhalla and take care of their side of this.”

Nagli shifted. “Ah yes, um, will do.” He smiled unconvincingly.

Bob knew he would never see this place again.  Or at least he hoped he wouldn’t.  The Alter was a piece of his past and if everything went right, it would stay that way.   He took a long look around before ducking into the car.  The shadow from the western ridge was creeping across the valley.  He fired up the engine.  Stabbing the gas pedal.  Whipped the car around on the gravel driveway.  Dust piled up from around the spinning tires into the clean air of the valley.  Letting up and counter turning, the Regulator straightened out the WRX and raced across the creek bridge, plunging directly towards the setting sun and the oncoming shadow.

Bob took one last look in the rearview mirror as he dropped down the gravel road.  Strange enough, the Alter was not visible where it should have sat in the meadow.  There was just an old dilapidated horse barn.  If you were a landscape photographer, it would be a perfectly iconic visual to represent a long-gone way of life.

The Regulator moved down the road pondering on the illusion of the Alter.   He thought hard about the days to come and the tasks at hand. Then he noticed it start.  It began as a slight tightening of his gut.  Then it would soon grow to a warm, comfortable easing of his spin. Eventually, the back of his head would tingle, like the feeling, you get when your standing in a dark basement and you feel you’re not all alone.   He called this “The Mood.”  It often came to him when he had to chain out the world and deepen his resolve.  When emotions needed to be set aside and details needed sorting out.  He could never quite explain what happened during The Mood.  He would become part of another place.  Well, not really a place- more like a state of being.  Another level of consciousness.    No words could paint the pictures that would splatter across his mind.  Taking place in the back of his mind as he rambled through the operations of life.  One side of his brain operating in the real world and the other caught up in his unfiltered self.

His closest friends could recognize the signs and they knew to back away.  They would leave him to his thoughts.  Nothing bad would come of his mood, but no one who knew him well enough wanted to be around and accidentally poke the hornet’s nest.   Best he was left alone to work out the demons that demanded his attention. The Regulator knew this as well and would typically excuse himself from whatever it was he was engaged with.  Or better yet he would avoid contact with people during stressful times.  Especially when a problem was to be solved.

Avoiding people, in general, was more the Regulator’s way.  Not that he didn’t like people.  On the contrary, he could be a very social person.  He enjoyed the company of other people.  He even had some very close friends.  None of them knew exactly what he did but neither did they want to.  They just went along with the programmer story and let it all be what it was.  The problem with socializing with most people lay in common ground.  Mainly in the fact that there wasn’t any.  Common ground that is.     After basic pleasantries, an impasse would form.   Really, how does one get chummy when most of your life is a secret?  He couldn’t very well  be honest about what he had been up to all day.

“So, how was your day?  Anything interesting happen?”

“Well, I strangled a man due to his poor debt management skills.  I hope his business partner has better luck. And oh yes! There was that unfortunate fellow who “fell” off the footbridge downtown into the Platte River.   Or should I say the rocks next to the river?  These things do happen I guess.   How about you?  Anything fun today in your world?”

No, it was best he stayed to himself.  Not a lot of people that could understand all this business.  Bob thought of his self-appointed seclusion for a minute.  Yes, he thought, best to keep most at a distance.  Especially right now.   But, there was that John, the preacher fellow.   That man had been at the back of his mind for the past few days. He seemed to gain The Regulator’s confidence right off the bat.  He was not altogether sure why that was.  Just that there was something more to the man.  More than simply another traveling preacher doing the Good Lord’s work.  John had a past.  A long and crooked past.  This Bob knew for sure and the Regulator wanted to know more about it.

The tingle at the back of his head had set in.  The timber gate at the end of the access road to the Alter was not in his rearview mirror.  The road ahead became a fog.

John would have to wait because the mood was strengthening.  The illusion of the valley, the meadow and the Alter sitting in his mind’s eye.   “Things are changing,” he muttered to himself and then he went deep.  Deep into his raw self.   The thoughts came like a sucking wind.

Reality has a way of folding itself to meet the minds eyes, doesn’t it?  Beyond the solid form of the planet is a never-ending sea of human tangibility.  A defective space, all exhausted with misperception and unseeable truths.  This hoodie, that coffee cup, my watch. They are all made-up things.  Man-made objects of illusion and self-made comfort.

Take time for instance.  Even that is man-made.  Before we constructed time how did we know when to do things?  How did we know when to be where?

I mean, if you told a friend “meet me by the large Oak tree later this morning,” how would he know when that was, exactly? Later this morning. You couldn’t very well say meet me around 10:15 AM.  10:15 AM hadn’t been invented yet! Maybe you could say, “Meet me when the sun is three fingers over the ridge.” But, is that measured by my skinny three fingers or his fat three fingers?  Or, is it three fingers by my arm’s length or his arm length? I have some long ass arms.  Well, for one thing, I am glad we now have time.  Much easier to gauge my life but it is an illusion.

I guess it’s all how we each see it and from what angle we stand.  “Reality” is just that.  An individual perception.  Made up by man.  Just like time.  But, I control my reality.  I control the illusion.  I can see beyond the illusion that makes others obey the laws of reality.

I am not a slave to the perceptions of others.  I will not see the world in their distorted and commonplace way. No! I create the world I want, and I control the rules of the game.  That is what they taught me.  The spirits.  Lejon and the sages.  They showed me how to play with the angles of things.  How to change them to my will.  That is why I am a ghost.  A shadow walker, a half-bread.  It’s because I view reality from an alternate dimension.  I make passageways out of solid walls.  I make innocence into a menace.  I can make the shadows into the light, and the light into dark.  I can make the dark even darker still.  Heavy as pitch.  Blinding, disorienting and wretched with death.  I can do this because I can see it and because I can see it I can navigate it.  Manipulate it. I can move through it in the middle of the day, right in front of your eyes.  Your reality-tinted mind could never imagine me there.  In the dark, during the day, right before your face. You will never know I am there because your eyes and your mind can’t imagine it so. 

You will never feel me, either.  Well, not unless I want you to.  Unless I need you to.  Then I can make you feel me. Make you feel like you need to move.  You won’t know why you want to stand by the window in the laundry room or sit in the corner chair, but you will do it.  Then you will feel me.  The true unmistakable reality of me.  The bullet, the knife, the melting dart of poison.  Those things will be a real, and no imagination or hope, or prayer can save you from that moment.  For a split second, I will be all you know, and I will know everything about you.  I will be the shepherd and you will be the lamb.  I create that reality and I will bring it upon you.

But, what happens next, after you cross.  Well, that belongs to you.  That is a place I cannot go.  That is a place no one sees and then returns.  Your reality has now altered to a new dimension.  This crossing will not take long.  After all, this is now my reality and I have limited time.  So, take solace in the fact that you will not know the Regulator for long.

I can see and sense the ones that have the shadow power.  There are not many and when you meet one you can see the broken light around them.  The skipping of the sun as they move like a prism.  Breaking the clean lines of reality and putting them back together at their will.  John can occupy the shadows.  I know this.  He is very good at hiding it, but I could see.  Or maybe he let me see.  Time will tell.

The sound of a honking horn brought Bob back from the mood.  He was driving down 285 towards Denver, weeping.   A car in front of him was honking at a land yacht whose driver figure 45-mph in a 65-mph zone would be more than ample to slow down the rest of the world to his retired, sightseeing speed.  He spun the car onto a dirt pull off, opened the door and puked.  The darkness had not taken him like that in a long time.  Every cell in his body was pulsing.  Reality would be watching him.  Play in the shadows as he sought out his next steps.

Charged with the calculated lust of revenge.   He would have to push hard on his ego.   Push it down to manage his resolve.  Now, was time for patience and deliberate thought.  He must not let the shadows overtake him.   Lead him charging into a battle best won by perfectly timed tactics. He must play all of them to his will.