Clarity?

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading with 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.

Why is it so dark?  Always so god damn dark.  Would it kill the old sage to get some electricity up here?  It’s only 2010 for Thor’s sake.   His feet on the stone floor and creaking of the bed reverberated through the empty chamber.  He had not paid much attention when he entered the room, how many hours ago.  He knew was there was a bed and his brain was very slow, very tired.  Bob had basically fallen on top of the soft blankets, clothing and all.  No time for taking off what he had no time to put back on.  Bob’s mind started ruminating over his long sleep.   Well, at least he assumed he had slept a while.  A while longer than the sleep he has been getting.  Now, if he could just figure out how to get to some kind of light.   Ah yes, my phone he thought.  Just need to….Bob was feeling around for his phone but someone had removed all the pockets from his clothes.  Or better yet someone had changed his closes, entirely.  Even in the absolute dark, he could tell his attire was not the same.  The jeans, t-shirt and hoody had been replaced with some sort of loose-fitting long sleeve shirt and baggy linen pants.  I must be losing my edge he thought.  Someone changed my clothes without me even knowing it?  The Regulator wakes if a mouse is breathing too hard.  Something clicked in his mind and his senses automatically took over.  He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing.   The Regulator tasted the air and took in the smells.  He listed more closely to the sounds about him.  Sitting perfectly still he got nothing.   He did not like this.  Everything and everywhere has something.  An energy, a smell, a sound or a taste.  Where ever this was and it was not the place he lay down in.  It was nothing.  Not even a vibe or an energy and there was for sure no light.  The darkness didn’t bother him but it did do its best to contribute to the nothingness.

Feeling about a bit he confirmed he was not sitting on the bed he so willingly fell into.  The regulator took a deep breath and started to go through the list of what he did know.  He sat on a bench with a soft fabric cushion.  The simple modern bench at the Clifford Stills Art Museum in Denver came to mind.  His bare feet could feel a cool stone floor. The shuffle of his feet on the floor echoed off what he could imagine was bare stone walls.  The Regulator built the image of the room in his mind.  About ten feet square and very tall.  So tall that even with a light, one would not be able to see the ceiling.  Just a long tall square stone container.  This was what he imagined and he was sitting in the middle.  The door would be at his right.  Why?  He did not know, but never the less that would be its placement.   In reality, he had no idea where he was but having a mental image of his surroundings made him feel comfortable.   It also conjured up a smell.   Real or not the room was musty and old smelling.  There were cobwebs in the corners and the floor needed a bit of sweeping.

Time to move.  The first step, standing.  Sounds easy enough but in a completely dark room, your senses are all kinds of distorted.   There are no visual cues to let you know when you’re upright.  You have to pull yourself inside and feel your way to straight.   He closed his eyes taking three deep breaths to get centered.   After successfully standing up he slowly shuffled back up to square the back of his legs against the bench.  Now he could determine where right was.  Right, being the obvious direction of the door.   He would try this first.   Being in the middle of the room and having a two and one-half foot stride he figured the wall would be approximately two steps away.  All these calculations were based on a ton of imaginary information but never the less all he had to go on.  The Regulator turned keeping his right leg slightly touching the bench for a landmark.  Hands up he took two standard steps forward.    Remarkably there indeed was a wall.  A smooth stone wall.   The feel of polished marble or possibly travertine.  Cool to the touch and slightly moist.

Well then, one for one.  Size of room determined.  At least the distance from the bench to the wall was established.  Now to find the door.  Again he imagined this to be to his right.  Moving along the wall he counted his steps.  Left hand on the wall.  Body perpendicular to the smooth stone.  Two steps and there it was.  The edge of the door frame.  This was all going way too easy.  The Regulator took a second to rest.  Even though he had only traveled approximately 10 feet total the concentration needed to get to this point was mentally exhausting.  Assuming he could get the door open this would be the next step.  Whatever he encountered on the other side he wanted to have full strength and all his whit’s about him.   His hands searched the door for a handle.  It was a rough handmade door with iron straps.  His left hand found a handle and latch.  His right hand found the hinges. This meant the door opened into the room to his right.   He slid back to the left side of the door.  Pressed his back against the wall and reached across his body to grab the handle with his right hand.  Depressing the thumb latch and he took a moment.  Pulling hard The door swung open.

A heavy light flooded into the room as if he had opened a hatch at the bottom of the ocean.  Bursts of energy exploded in his mind as his eyes darted about behind their lids.  Suddenly he had an ominous feeling like the room was closing in and closing fast.   He needed to get out before being crushed inside the small stone room.  Eyes still closed he crouched turned and sidestepped through the doorway to stand with his back up against the wall of where ever he was going into to.  This was not optimal and the Regulator knew it.  He was exposed and the Regulator was not one to leave himself exposed.  He felt for a wall to set his back against but there was nothing.  There was only an undeniable sense of open space.  Slowly he blinked his eyes open and the bright light he was sure would sting his retina was not there, either.   The door in the wall he came through was not there.   Nothing was there.   Well, Nothing that should have been there was there.

The sky was deeper than any blue he could recall.  The temperature was perfect and accompanied by a soft breeze.  A breeze that cleansed him.  Brushing away all the worry, and stress.  Filling his ears and his mind with the sounds of calm.  He turned around taking in the view.  Pothole Arch, he said quietly and questioningly to himself.  Not far from Moab Utah on the Amasa Back formation.  He had mountain biked to this place many times.   The Regulator stood on the edge of a cliffside mound of tan slick rock.  The mighty Colorado river slowly making the cliff taller moved 1500 feet below.  360 degrees of desert sandstone stretched out around him.  The Regulator closed his eyes, spread his arms wide, tilled his head to the sky and drank in the desert sun.  This was his pondering place.  How he got here he did not know but nor did he care.  For him, this was home.  This was a sanctuary.

“Regulator Bob,” a voice deep as the ocean called his name.

Bob knew the voice and turned to see a long forgotten face. “I never thought I would hear you call my name again.”  He bowed and a multitude of emotions flowed over him.  Reverence, love, compassion and fear all hit him at once.

“Yes, it has been a very long time hasn’t it and look how you have changed. How the world has sculpted you.”  The beast’s eyes took in the light round Bob.   It sniffed the air and read Bob’s mind.  “You are here for answers?”

Bob looked at the massive lion standing before him.  His lion.  His spirit animal.  The lion that guided him through his first spirit quest.   The lion that called his name on this very mound of rock many years ago.  A lifetime ago the Regulator thought. “Yes, answers.  It has always been about the answers for me.  Hasn’t it Lejon?”

“Oh, the questions upon questions you would ask.”  Lejon shook his head and turned to look out over the river. “A relentless piece of curiosity you have been but it has served you well and I believe it will serve you again, very soon.”

“How do you know how it has served me?  I have not seen you in 20 years.”

“Do you really think I have not been keeping an eye on you?  That I just ignored you since our last meeting?  I am always with you Regulator Bob.  We are connected forever.  In this life and in all the ones to come.”

Bob cocked his head in thought. “How many lives do I have left?”  he asked with a bit of a sarcastic tone.

“Another conversation for another time, perhaps.” Lejon dropped his hind end and then lay down as any lion would.  Head held high with his great main blowing in the wind.

The Regulator took the queue and sat down cross-legged on a stone shelf.  Just a man and his lion enjoying an afternoon in the warm desert sun.   Hovering thirty feet above them a buzzard rode the thermals that were lifting up from the cliff edge.  Seemingly trying to scope out the river valley below.

In a slightly annoyed grumble, Lejon looked up and said, “Really, Narz.  There is nothing to learn here and I am not dying anytime soon.  Take yourself away and scavenge upon someone else’s problems.”

The buzzard cocked his head, lifted the front of his wings and dove into the river valley below.

“Silly gossiping creatures.  Be glad you were not saddled up with one of them as your spirit animal.  Your life would be full of other peoples problems and you would have nothing to do but prey on them.”

The Regulator looked up and took a cleansing breath. “So, who do I kill first?”

“Really?  I haven’t seen you in twenty years and this is your first question.  Nothing about, how I have been? or you’re looking good these days, Lejon?”

“Well I was not going to bring it up but you do look a bit older.  Is that a bit of grey behind the ears?.”

“Mirrors Bob.  Remember the mirrors.  I am you and you are me.  Remember this?”

“Touche, Old Friend.”  Bob smiled and gave the lion his best – I don’t have time- look.

“Fine, fine.  It is not so much who you kill first as to who you kill last.  The final blood spilled on this journey will seal many fates.   I would caution you to make sure it is not your own.  Although you will bleed, Regulator, and not all bleeding is bloody.”

Bob cocked his head.  He thought he knew what the Lejon was saying but something told him he was not comprehending the whole of it.  Either way, he figured he would find out soon enough.  “So I guess I should reframe my question then.  Who do I kill last?”

“We’ll get to that.  First, we need to discuss some other people, like the sons of Jane.”

“My stepmother’s kids, Jason and Todd?”

“Do not underestimate the power of wanting power.   Their mother has enabled them.  convinced them of there right to things they have not earned.  They are not aware of their mother’s treachery against your father but they wouldn’t be shocked either.”

“So, Jane did have something to do with all this.”  Not a question but a confirmation.

“Yes she did and she has played her part well.  Very well.”  Lejon shook his head in disgust. He spoke almost to himself.  “The poor soul has put so much energy into such divisive actions.  Playing the long game and manipulating with much cunning.”

“Ever since I was young and my father first started dating her I felt something off.  An insincerity, a sense that she was trying way too hard.  She prided on showing herself as the model wife and mother.  But it was a show.   All the niceties, big smiles, and undying loyalty.  Under it all, I felt a sadness and a self-loathing.  Like she felt she deserved something more.”

“You felt her self-righteousness.  Her deep belief that a terrible injustice had befallen her and her boys.”

“What injustice?  She was a widow of a very successful wealthy lawyer.  From all, I was told she came from a good family and had her own successes.”

“They never did tell you the true story, young Bob.  Yes, she was from a good family but not all good families have good management.  By the time her husband passed there was nothing but debt and when I say debt it was not just of the monetary kind.  Favors where owed.  Favors that were set up to fail and never be fulfilled.  Her husband had tricked himself into thinking he was not just smart, but smarter than others.  Let’s just say his death was not from natural causes.”

“The heart attack was a cover?”

“Come now Regulator, does this come as a surprise to a man such as yourself?”

“Well, many people have heart attacks every day and for a large percentage, I am not to blame.  Besides, I was just a kid back then.  Why I would question something such as that?”

“Ah yes,  with all your questioning in life I forgot that you have a proclivity to looking forward and not to the past.  The relevance of the past on your today is greater than you give it credit.  Many forces have brought us here today, Bob.  Knowing them, feeling them, seeing them will bring you great clarity in the days to come.  Your intuition about the past will be critical.  Just like your intuition about Jane brought you to keep her at arm’s length and not accept her as a true parental figure.   You saw her for what she is without truly seeing,  but let’s not loose site here of the task at hand.  The son’s of Jane.”

“Yes, they are first.” His focus was

“But you must know the reasons why.  Axel.”

“Axel? My father’s childhood friend and confidante.  What does he have to do with those two?”  An uneasy feeling rose in his stomach.

“Friends is one way you could look at the relationship between Axel and your father.  Nemesis could be a better one.  What you know of Axel is yet another piece of your past that has been clouded.   Reynor and Axel have been more like friendly combatants throughout there lives.  Most of the competition was created by Axel but your father was never one to be left out of a good fight.”

The Regulator stared at the ground lost in a memory and smile, “Funny how my father rarely competed openly, but somehow always commanded the fight.  Fighting from the shadows, from his own strategic vantage point.  He would always stress the need to attack from an obtuse angle.  Never straight on.  He had a way of commanding without directly commanding.”

“Now you are started to see what you have to see.  Nothing about this situation is obvious.  The raw uneasy feeling you have in your gut at this very moment is understanding.  It is the beginning of feeling and knowing something new.  The truth of all the years behind you will set that uneasy feeling free.  All the knowledge is inside you.  Putting together all the small bits and pieces is what we must do now, but we don’t have a lot of time.  So focus my young friend.”

“But….” The Regulator had no time to get the question out.  The lion was now standing in front of Him.  His massive head just inches from his face.   The beast took in a deep breath and let out a firey wind blowing the Regulator into a billion little pieces and suspended him in a cloud of stars.  Floating above the earth  “well, this is new.” Bob thought.  Tranquility and settled.  All the troubles of late seemed to momentarily dismiss themselves.  The contentment was short-lived  He felt a contraction.  He swirled into a spiral pulling all the surrounding stars in with him and was moving towards earth.  Slowly at first then picking up speed.   He imaged this is was what a comet feels like.  Being sucked into the gravitational field of the earth.  Faster he fell toward the earth.  As he got closer things started to come into focus.   the Pacific ocean.  The West coast of America.  Breaking through clouds the desert of the southwest.    Racing just above the ground he made his way up through southern Colorado.  Through the San Luis Valley.  The smell of farmers dragging there fields filled the air.  North up through the La Garita mountains still deep with winters snow and a late day chill.   Down into the Arkansas River valley where the waters were starting to rise.   The sun was edging its way behind the Collegiate Peaks to the west.   Up over the south side of the Mosquito range.  He raced down the steep eastern slope of Sheep Mountian and landed on top of a large flat boulder.  Lejon standing beside him.  The scene below was all too recent and familiar.

The mourners where thickly gathered on the wide, flat, long shelf of the mountainside.  Torches and fires reflected dancing yellow light of the faces of many generations.  All with three blue strips down the left side from forehead to jaw.  They hung from trees.  They sat on boulders and cliffside ledges.  They played music.  They danced.  They just about all drank their fill.  Their breath hung in the early spring air.   Patches of snow reflected the light of a full moon among the shadows.   The crowd was boisterous and loud.   They wanted the heavens to take notice.  For, they were here to honor and pay their respects.  To send a beloved leader to the gods in flame, embers and smoke.  Bob had not noticed the energy and mass of the crowd just a few days ago.  He was not aware of the immensity surrounding the sending off of his father.  At the time, he was in a world of fixation and contemplation.  Physically he had been present yet he was wearing mentally blinders.  Living inside his inquisitiveness and pondering.  Now he was witnessing it all from the outside as an invisible observer.  Just a celestial being among mear mortals.  The Regulator had to admit he liked it but he was not sure why he was here.

The Regulator stood tall on the boulder above the crowd. “Why bring me back here Lejon?  There is nothing here but ceremony.”

“Ah but that is what it was.  Now you can see it for what it should have been.  Wait.  Watch.  See and understand.”  The Lion sat, eyes wide with anticipation.

There was an eagerness to the lion.  Almost like he was hunting.  The Regulator scanned the crowd as did the beast.

“Pay attention to the family Bob.  To the people closest to you.”

Up from the valley path below came the litter of freshly lashed logs.  Six pallbearers carried the litter with Reynor rested on top.  Adorned in his warrior’s armor.   The armor thing was odd to Bob.   All the men and women of the clan got fitted for leather armor when they turned 30.  The armor just sat in a storage closet to be used on your death pyre.   Just another tradition that he figured might have run its course.  Was it really necessary in these modern times to be dressed like a Danish warrior from centuries past?  But, then again most of the traditions he questioned had kept a sense of order and stability to the clans for many years.   The crowd quieted as they worked their way to the large platform made of intricately stacked timbers.  Ten feet high and standing in the center of the shelf.

Bob watched the litter pass from about 20 feet away.  He was on the front right.  the opposite side from which he watched now.  Behind him was his uncle the sheriff.  Then Axel.   The left side had his stepbrothers Todd and Jason at one and two.  Then came Oscar, the Taxman.  Oscar was the family accountant.  His family and Bobs had gone back many generations.  Oscar was one of his dads oldest confidants.

“Watch their faces Regulator.  See their thoughts.” Lejon said quietly as if whispering in his ear.

The boys had stern looks on their faces but not the relaxed sullen looks of remorse.  They were expressions of duty.  Faces that were completely disinterested and going through the motions.  Oscar, on the other hand, looked downright ashamed.    Remorseful, but in a way that made him shy his eyes away from any onlookers.  As if he didn’t belong there.  He seemed to want to be anywhere else.

Once the litter was placed upon the pyre platform the Regulator could see the faces of all the bearers.   The Sherif looked like he might pass out.  This was more exertion than the portly man had performed in decades.   Axel had the look of a true mourner.  Reverent, with calm wanting eyes.  Eyes that almost asked, no pleaded, for the dead man to awaken.   Axel looked down at the body then up to Bob.  All The Regulator saw in those eyes was wanting but for what he did not know.  The Boys faces had now changed.  Taking a quick glance at Axel they too both put on faces of wanting but their expressions fell short.  They were too young to pull off sincerity.  Bob realized he had noticed something the night of the pyre but he it was washed away with commitments.  Watching now, he did remember a feeling he had at that moment.  A quick feeling of being a hen in the den of foxes.  A feeling that he should not turn his back or lower his gaze.  Oscar turned on a dime and left the platform before anyone could catch his attention.  He made a line for the trees and stood behind a large pine, facing the darkness and breathing hard.

“I am feeling something I don’t want to feel, Lejon.  I am starting to feel, see and taste something.  All of it is not straightforward, though.  Deception, that is clear.  But there is a hint of confusion as well.  like when you acheive a certain outcome but not in the manner you had expected.”

“Keep your eyes open.  Take in all that you can.  The faces in the crowd will tell you much.”

The Regulator scanned all he could.  He ignored his own motions on the pyre.  The taking of the coins.   The pouring of the oils.  He watched the pallbearers and all those around them.    Axel went and stood behind Jane on the family platform.  The boys sat, one on either side of her.  The unit they made was not odd but just that, a unit.   Then the Regulator saw it.  The fake look of remorse from Jane.  He had seen it many times growing up.  The face that made others seem like she cared and she was not the only one dawning the look.  The other three mirrored her almost to a T.  It was only Axel that seemed to have a glimmer of true remorse.

The sheriff was standing off to one side of the platform next to Axels number one man.  He was slightly smiling as the flames of the pyre burst upon the mountainside.  Of course, this was no surprise to the Regulator.  Thus the reason the Sheriff is feeding a happy pack of coyotes at this very moment.  Possibly the same pack that filled the dark cold background with howls and barks.

The thirty-foot flames now lit up every face on the mountain.  The Regulator took the opportunity to scan the crowd.   Looking into the eyes of every person he could.  Trying to read into their reactions.  Trying to understand their feelings.  Trying to make out their alliance.   As he watched he noticed they were all staring at him as he stood on a large stone before the flames.  He could now see that a shift was already forming in the ranks.  They were now without a leader.  Who would they turn to?

In a moment of clarity, he said, in a low thoughtful tone, “All eyes are on me.  Watching.  They are judging me.  Not all are on my side.  Not all are convinced of my assumed place.  My rule is not readily accepted. Is it?”

Lejon nodded his big head slowly. “They want you to be what they want in a leader but they also know your time has possibly come too soon.  The timing of your father’s death was no accident.  The players knew their window of time was coming to an end.  Reynor would have start training you this year.   Once you got some experience under your belt and the other clan member got to work with you in that capacity, your rule would be undisputed.”

“But, haven’t I worked with them all for many years?  Haven’t I proven my worth and my dedication?  Haven’t they seen my ability to manage the hard situations?”

“Look at it from their side of things.  Although they may revere you and respect your place they fear you all the same.  You’re a lone operator.  You’re a ghost.  You’re synonymous with death. You have eliminated, or as you say solved,  many people they could very well have been close to.   No doubt you do your job well,  Better than anyone before you, but do you really think that brings comfort to most people.”

Bob hung his head for a second.   He didn’t choose to be good at death.  That was a talent the Gods bestowed upon him.  It was a rare ability.  One he struggled to come to communion with.   He only knew of one other person that had the stealth and communion with death that he had.

“I can do the job you know?  I know I would have made the old man proud.   He did teach me many things before all this.   Just being around him one could not help but learn.”

“Not everyone learns as you do.  You have that ability to observe and pick up details when you’re turned on.  When you’re focused.  In the coming days, you must be focused.  You must observe beyond any observation you can imagine.  All the answers and pathways will be set out before you if you choose to open your mind and see them.”  Lejon nodded his head to the scene before them.

With the full intent to deeply understand the Regulator probed.  His eyes darted over the forest, the rocks and the cliff above.  It was then that he was struck by a face that froze him in time.  All the noise,  all the music, and the revelry went mute.   She stood alone on a high cliff shelf.  The light from the flames though long shadows on her face but it was her.  It had been some time but there was no mistaking her for anyone else.   A light force when he was younger.  A self-aware figure sculpted from pure fortitude.  The one person to whom he could count on.  It had been many years since he saw that face but it was as fresh as ever in his mind.  She stood tall, unwavering and with an expression of stone.  The wind blew a wisp of blond hair out from under her hood.   Bob was transfixed.  He felt a warmth inside.  His adrenaline was kicking up and the hair on his neck stood straight up.  Then she turned her head ever so slightly and with piercing green eyes she stared directly at him.  Not the Bob at the funeral but the Bob in a vision quest.  He never felt so exposed.  She knew he was here.  Spying.

Without opening her month she spoke to him.  Soft as the last words she said to him when she left. “I am here baby brother.  You will not endure this alone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

not sure yet

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading with 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.

 

Down on the wide sage encrusted valley floor, Bob felt like he was sinking into the land. Like he would drive right through the dry soil, the wild grass, and the rock.  Straight down into the underworld.  Down to the roots of the world.  To where the three Norns are spinning their story of Regulator Bob.  He wanted to know their secret plan for him.  If there ever was one.   His mother’s words rang in his head like church bells that would not stop tolling a warning.   The talk of running the family.  About the need to help his father in the afterworld.  While being out here in the real world.  In this solid place, he was so sure he lived in.  Was this the real world?  Was all around him good old fashion truth?  He wondered.  He ran through his options over and over in his head and this seemed to help him simplify things.  All in all, it turned out to be pretty straightforward.

  • Dad died and Bob was the first in line to take over the family business.
  • Before that could happen some things needed to be tightened up.
  • His father’s place in the afterlife needed to be secured in good standing.
  • The person behind this power move needed to be solved.

Before all that though, the Regulator wanted some insight.   Some spiritual backing.  So, south he traveled.  Winding his way through the ranches.  Ducking around on back roads and up into the hills that bordered the wide valley.  Up to the Altar.  To the place where dreams are had.  Dreams that can tell of your future and all that it holds.  Or at least that’s what they say.  Bob was always skeptical.  What if the dreams were just that? Dreams.  Drug-induced, food deprived, dehydrated dreams.   The dreams didn’t help his father see what was coming. The barging in.  The hail of bullets.  The hundred or so bloody holes in his soul.  Shit, there was barely anything left to burn.  Had he had some warning, he would have been holding more than a 9 mm, that is for sure.  Probably would have had a few more clothes on, too.   Either way, before the end of the day Bob figured he would be having some dreams himself.  Why not?  Let’s see what the sage can do.  What deep corner of fate can he bring to the light?  The Regulator could use an upper hand in all of this.  Let’s just go see, he figured.

The road to the Altar looked like any mountain property access.  A simple timber-framed entry arch welcomed the visitors.  A wooden sign swung from the cross log on a couple of rusted chains.  Carved into the wood was the word Altanen.   The single lane dirt road made its way up a tight evergreen canyon.   A steep, timber-filled creek rumbled down on the right, just beginning to fill up with the early spring runoff.  The cliff wall to the left drove you towards the creek with overhangs and rock outcroppings.  Ater about a mile up the canyon, the cliff wall settled back into the mountains.  The trees gave way to a long open meadow.  A meadow full of tall wavy grass and hemmed in by snowy 12,000 ft peaks.  The creek was pooled up in a calm meander through the center of the meadow.  A backdrop straight out of Hollywood.   The Regulator always figured this idyllic valley just needed a herd of wild horses running through it.  That would really top it off nicely.

The Regulator felt it first as he emerged from the canyon.  Like something crawling up his spine.  Then he saw it.  Was it the late afternoon sun or the gusting wind?  Something smelled wrong too.  The air tasted sour and looked dense.   Distorting the light like heatwaves off the desert sands, but this was different because the whole sky was thick.  A wavy amber tint.  All was distorted.  It made the distant mountains shimmer and the trees look flat.  Bob stopped the car and pulled his Glock from the holster.  He popped the door and stood up, taking in the vision before him.  The deep pine forest to his back seemed to be full of activity.  Yet nothing could be seen among the trunks or heavy boughs.  The Regulator felt them there.  Felt them and all their agitation and outrage.  It was like he was being talked to but not with words, rather with emotions.  No words just feelings and sentiment.   He slowly scanned the valley from left to right.  He had been here a hundred times.  Nothing was out of place and yet, everything was.  His eyes landed slightly below his position on the Altar.  A timber-framed Danish hall about half a mile up along the creek, on the opposite side of the valley.  It seemed to levitate in the thick sour air.  Slow he told himself.  He did not feel threatened.  Not like the familiar feeling of having the enemy close.  But, he did feel agitation in the air and the smell of discourse that came along with it.

He drove easy down the left side of the valley in the shade of Halfmoon Ridge.  Soon the road would turn into the open of the meadow and across a bridge over the creek.  He cautiously rolled past a couple old ranch cabins and dropped toward the creek.  The sun was still shining on the other side of the meadow and the Altar.   The air in front of him became crystal clear as he dropped farther toward the creek.  The air above him remained thick and amber.  There were no other vehicles outside the Altar.   A good sign he figured.  The thick air seemed to be funneling down to the massive stone chimney in the center of the great hall roof.  Bob got out of the car.  Pistol still in hand checking the surroundings.  Diligently studying the Alter’s surroundings.  Making sure nothing was out of place.  Making sure all smelled right and sounded normal.  Satisfied, he looked up at the chimney.  Was the air coming or going? He could not tell.  One thing was for sure- all was obviously not right and he had a strange feeling it was all about him.  The emotions from the woods were still talking to him.  Under his breath, he muttered to himself, “What the fuck?”  More out of annoyance than of intrigue.  He shook his head and thought – Hasn’t enough crazy shit happened this week?

Approaching the large hand-carved double doors of the hall he started to disarm.  No weapons allowed inside the Altar.   He unloaded the two Glocks, three knives, choking cord and small ankle pistol into a small cabinet by the door.  Taking a last look at the meadow and the oddity above, he pushed open the door.  Well, at least he tried to.  It was as if someone or somebodies were on the other side and standing in the way. A resistance like opening a door against a strong wind.  He leaned in and tried again.  The door slowly moved open just enough for him to sneak inside.

Taking a good look around, all was perfectly normal.   Fires burned brightly in the braziers.  The benches were arranged around the raised stone altar in their usual form.  Nagli the sage was sitting in his black walnut and deerskin throne.   Bob always liked the odd way the small, spectacle-wearing man looked in his oversized chair.   The Regulator felt as if the no-nonsense, quick-witted and humble man sat in it as an ironic jester.  Nagli knew it didn’t fit him but it is the chair of the sage.  The sage of the Altar.  So, he sat in it, just the same.  All was very normal indeed. All, but the inhabitants of the hall.  The first thing he noticed about them was their sheer number.  Packed in like sardines they were.  The second was their mood.  All very excited and out of sorts.  They seemed to all be talking at once and all very loudly and all with great concern.  The sound was deafening.  Why had I not heard this outside The Regulator wondered?  But, this was not the true wonder of what lay before the Regulator.  The hall was not full of people.  Well, at least not live ones.  The Hall was full of ghosts or maybe spirits. This was hard to tell.  Bob knew he should know the difference but that specific training had been a long time ago.   Soon Bob determined these were definitely spirits and they were not happy.  Not happy at all.

Their bodies and faces moved in and out of focus and clarity.  If he was to look directly at someone they would come more into focus but look away and they would fade to a translucent amber figure.  Bob stood with his back against the door taking in the scene and trying to adjust his eyes.  From what he could gather there were spirits from all times of history in the hall and it seemed they were all looking for answers from Nagli.  At the moment Nagli was patiently listing to the complaints of a very large man in a bearskin wrap.  He had long, braided hair, a scruffy beard, and massive arms.  He was hefting a sizable battle ax as easy as a golf club.   Plentiful gold and silver bracelets wrapped his forearms.  The Regulator figured him to be a powerful ancient warrior.  One that had lead many men and concord many lands.   As this ancient warrior was shaking the ax over his head in exclamation, Nagli spied the Regulator.  He broke a little smile and winked.  40 feet separated them but through the noisy, spirit crowded room Nagli, said, “Welcome, Bob.”  His voice sounded upon Bob’s ears as if they were all alone in the hall and standing just feet apart.

Bob realized if he concentrated his vision on the sage the room went silent.  As if putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones at a hardcore show.  The energy went on around him but the overwhelming noise bled away.  As soon as he lost his concentration on Nagli the noise would start to rise again.   He suddenly realized that the large bear-covered Dane warrior was now looking and pointing his ax at him.  For a moment, The Regulator wished he had not disarmed at the door.  Then he thought about how silly that thought was.  What was he going to do, stab the dead Viking to death?   The man bellowed, “He has arrived!”  All the spirits stopped, quieted down and looked in Bob’s direction.  The closest ones shuffled back to give him some room.  Seeming somewhat surprised they hadn’t noticed him standing there behind them.

Nagli, leaning on the left arm of his chair, looked over the top of his spectacles and said, “You are correct, Viggo.  The son has come to seek his path.  Now,” He paused and took a look around, “Maybe you can all give me some time with the Man?  He has come a long way and had a terribly difficult week.”  There was a shuffling and a low murmur among the crowd as they all looked at one another.  “Alone, perhaps?” The old sage suggested as he leaned back in his oversized chair.

Viggo looked back at Nagli and straightened himself up. “He’s not the only one who has had a tough week.”  There was a resounding agreement about the room. “You will make sure his dreams come true, old man?  So we may go back to our rightful realms?”

“This I promise, Viggo, or you may come take me before time has its own right to me.”

Viggo nodded.  Lifting his arms and turning about he yelled, “Well, you heard the man let’s get ourselves out of here!  These two have a lot of work to do.”

The crowd slowly shuffled toward the great fireplace in the center of the back of the hall.  Slowly they disappeared up through the flames and up the chimney.  One spirit dressed in a seventies style leisure suit looked back at Bob and said, “You best put a fix to all this boy.  If we all have to hang around in this realm forever there is going to be a heavy price to pay.” Bob had amassed a sizable volume of questions by this point and just as he was to open his mouth to ask one, the spirit said,” You’ll find out soon enough and to tell ya the truth I don’t envy you, my man.  But, from what I hear, a man such as you has more than a fair chance at beating the odds on all this mess.  Or, at least coming out of it with most of your wits about ya.  Good luck.”  He nodded and blew up the chimney.

Once the room had cleared Bob eased his way to a bench opposite Nagli.  He silently nodded toward the bench in a pleading manner.  Nagli gestured with an open hand as to say, “Please sit.”  Bob sat down slowly.   He looked up at the old sage and said with tired eyes. “Got a cot or something around here so a guy can get a bit of shut-eye?”  He raised a hand, “I know, I know, but I am too tired right now to deal with what I just saw.  I figure you will have a perfectly reasonable and oh-so-logical explanation when I wake up.”

The sage looked down at him form the raised Altar.  With an inquisitive brow, he pointed to his left. “Over that way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom

Regulator Bob moved south down 285 into the heart of the great wide expanse called South Park.  South Park is a high mountain plain stretching north to south just east of the Continental Divide,  70 miles in length and some 40 miles wide.  South Park in truth is a high mountain desert that has been irrigated to accommodate a large ranching industry.   It’s not all that much to look at when compared to the interior mountains of Colorado, but it has its own beauty.   Sweeping barren plains surrounded by high peaks that can hold snow year round.  Another beauty is that few people find it a serious destination.  Mainly it’s a pass through.  An expanse to blast across on the way to something better.  That little fact made it perfect for the Johnson family and others like them.  Lots of space and not many people.  For the most part, people who live in the Park like their elbow room and aloneness.  Leaving each other be is an unwritten law around there.

About 15 miles south of Fairplay, Bob’s blood pressure started to rise as the intersection with Johnson road approached.  Johnson road intersected at a slight angle to 285 and at 75 mph he drifted across the oncoming lane and dropped from the asphalt to dirt.  Testing the resolve of the car’s suspension, he pushed fast into the nothingness of flat ranch land.  The road had no special markings. No gate.  Just a rusted out “No Trespassing” sign.  Bob loved that turn.  It felt as comfortable and predictable as rolling over in bed.  Just as secure, too.   This was where the fun began.  The dirt ranch road continued on straight for about 3 miles heading south-east.  Slightly undulating and with few potholes.    Being late spring there were still small banks of rotted out snow but the road was clear and the dirt well-packed.  He could open up the WRX and trust the tires’ grip.  85 MPH was just about right for a bit of air on the cattle guard ramps.  At about 3 miles there was a split.  One road headed northeast up across 9 and up to Mexican Ridge.  The other due east also across 9 and into the family ranch surrounding Bald Hill.

Bob came into the fork fast.  Blasting down through the gears and using the breaks to turn. The car heaved and went into a drift as he maneuvered left.  Dropping the front left wheel into the roll off on the edge of the road. He felt it hook in.  Foot off the break and on to the throttle.  The WRX whipped forward straightening out and bolting to the northeast.  She would be waiting at Mexican Ridge.  The Regulator slid into the small turnoff at the top of the ridge. A cloud of dust followed.  Man, I love that road he thought to himself.   A stern looking woman stood tall next to an old jacked up Ford truck.  A double-barreled shotgun slung over her right shoulder.  A 44 caliber revolver at her waist.  Cowboy hat pulled down tight to her squinting eyes.   She had the crows’ feet of a woman set to long sunny days in the mountains, but that couldn’t hide her stunning beauty.  A tall, slender woman holding brutal strength and generations of honor.   Bob sat for a second staring at her; she stared back.

Bob pulled himself out of the car and stood, arms folded, leaning on the top of the door.  He half smiled then nodded to the bed of the truck. “I forget which it is.  Does the dog think he is a pig or does the pig think he is a dog?”

Just then Loki, a big blood hound started baying, obviously happy to see Bob.   The pig then started in with a round of snorts.  Lifting his head to imitate his unlikely partner.  The two made an odd and remarkable sight.

“Well I guess that answers that,” said Bob.  Now fully smiling.  He closed the door and moved cautiously toward the stoic woman.  The dog and the pig started up again but with a quick glance from the old woman they quieted down.  As she turned back to Bob her face was now soft and framing her piercing pale blue eyes.  Eyes filled with the understanding of a thousand years.  Bob felt himself begin to soften.  The tension of the morning, the past few days releasing from his muscles, bones, and nerves.  He stopped a few steps from her, eyes on eyes they talked without words.  After a long moment, she nodded and set her shotgun on the hood of the truck.

She opened her arms and Bob moved forward to embrace his mother.   Her infinite smell of lavender and freshly tilled soil filled his nose as he took one deep breath and then another.  She said, “Hello son.”   The crushing severity of the past seventy-two hours rushed over him like an ocean wave.  Drenched in all the doing, posturing, treachery and massive loss, he broke.  He sobbed and buried his head in the old woman’s shoulder.  It all needed to come out finally.  It was imperative for him to feel like just another young man.  Just another poor son, who had just lost his father.  To fully surrender to the loss, the emptiness and the fear.  To let that one emotion, the one he could not afford, to set in for just a second.  In these arms, on this land, was the only safe place he could be, vulnerable.

After a few minutes, she spoke. “He was the most amazingly misguided saint to ever walk in this world.”

Then as quickly as the emotions had come the calm of the Regulator returned.  He pulled back and through slightly blurry eyes looked once more upon the strongest person he knew.  “Yes, in this world and the next,” he said.

Mom, as most knew her, is Bob’s mother.  She is, from an odd angle, the overseeing matriarch of the family.  Her real name is Bridget- Bridget Malcolm Johnson.  Although she was technically dead, her influence was always close.  She realized long ago; she was not cut out to simply stand by her husband’s side when the family was trusted to his keep.  Both vicious and cunning she did all she could to secure her husband’s hold on his Colorado family business.  When all the posturing was done and the problems solved she had become a dominating soul to deal with.  Most looked to her as a better candidate to run the family, rather than Bob’s father, Reynor.  She soon came to see this sentiment her self and knew that for Reynor to rule she would have to go, or at least be hidden from the picture.  The problem is people don’t simply leave situations like these.  You don’t just walk away.  The history is too long, the web is too deep, and the secrets are too many.  The whole of all that matters is held together by these things.   Having a knowledgeable soul outside of the family’s control is much too dangerous.  No matter how loyal that soul may be.   So, with help from her husband she was “killed”.   A fake death that was even faked upon her own children, 3 and 5 at the time.    This death did not fully free her from the family, though.

The South Park lands were what the family called their second home and had always been neutral.  A place where no family or clan business could take place.  This was a code established many years ago and it stands true today.  Her death was staged somewhere in the late seventies.  At that time the South Park area of Colorado was sparsely populated where one could ostensibly disappear.   Many Colorado Mountain towns became easy hide outs for fugitives.  Drug smugglers, bank robbers and the like. Some stayed for decades.  There are actually a few, becoming so comfortable in their longtime anonymity, that they served on town councils.  Mom would become the overseer of the Johnson land. Living and working from the shadows of the hills.  A bit of plastic surgery helped along in her disguise.  A life of seclusion in the hills suited the woman.  Raised in the high mountain town of Crested Butte, she thrived in the wilderness.  She was not much of a city girl and that is just where she would have lived with Reynor.  This land was safe and perfectly suited for Mom.    Still, to leave behind her family for the sake of her family took a strength not many possess.  A strength, some say, reserved only for the gods.  She watched over her children from afar until the time they could be brought back together again.

“I saw the funeral pyre from across the valley.  A proper send-off it seemed,” said Mom.

“Yeah, it was a good fire. One the gods were sure to see, but he will not have an easy go on the other side.”  Her eyes widened.  Bob stared a hole in the ground, “He will be barefoot and without silver.  At least he died with a gun in his hand, but I am not sure what good that will do on the high deserted plains.”

“Better than nothing but far short of a good sword,” mom mused in cold regard.

Bob always tussled with the strong mythological beliefs of the family and the clans.   On the one hand, he understood the history and the governance it brought to the organization, but the belief part was where he struggled.  Raised on the myths and fables of the old gods, the true gods.  Raised to understand that our fates aren’t our own and that the wistfulness of the gods and the three Norns are what truly control our futures.  Bob wants to believe this all, but he has his boundaries.  As a family warrior one was always comforted knowing that if they died, they would spend eternity drinking and battling in the halls of Valhalla.   They also believed that you take with you the weapons you hold upon your death.  A sword or knife would be much more prized and practical than a 9 mm with a few clips.   Belief in these kinds of myths can help dismiss the inherent dangers of their organized crime life.  The problem lies in the fact that Bob and his generation grew up in a starkly different modern world than just the generation before them.   The access to so much information made fairy tales less palpable to the mind.  Mixed with his naturally curious and questioning nature, Bob had a hard time fully buying into it all.  This was probably why he pondered so deeply the details of death.  This questioning and mistrust also left him with a healthy fear of death.  Something that most in his line of work don’t have.  Most likely why he has lived so long, performing such a perilous job, with very few scares to show for it.

Growing up, his father would go on about the gods and their favor for Bob.  Their favor on the family and what that favor meant to their success.  The shamans would roll out their stones and bones and sticks.  They would watch the birds fly and the winds blow.  Then make predictions of the prosperity or trouble to befall the family.   Reynor always had Bob in tow, quietly explaining all the rituals’ meanings.  Reynor would also warn of the despair that would befall them if they fell out of favor.   This part was seldom talked of out of superstition.  Best not to anger the gods or give them any bad ideas.  “The shamans have seen the signs,” Reynor would say.  “You are to be powerful and respected,” he would say.  “You are favored by Thor,” young Bob.  Kind of a weird way to raise a child, Bob thinks.  Telling him, he is favored by the god Thor.  The God of thunder and fertility.  A mighty and fearless warrior.   Bob often wondered exactly just what this meant.  Would Thor hang out with him in Valhalla when he died?  Was Thor watching him right now? No, Bob would grow up and eventually find his own peace with Thor.  A peace he would need in order to handle his ultimate role.  As for Reynor, the Family, and the Clan- they knew just what to do with such a foreseen power.

Bob was stern now. “It was a dishonorable death.  The only reason the gun was in his hand was that he sleeps with it under his pillow.  He slept with one hand on it.  Didn’t do him much good, did it?  Four of them stormed in with full automatic sixteens. ”  His voice trailed off and he stared at the dirt, even harder.  Resolve built in him. “It was all so brutal and blunt and had no originality.  No finesse! At least take some time to come up with something memorable for the old man’s final battle.  Fuckin, no respect, piss-ant amateurs.”

“And now it is time for you to set it all right my son.  You do realize the fate of your father’s afterlife depends on you?”  Her voice was low and vicious now. “I know you don’t like it, but that is the way it is.  This is your burden.”

“Yeah, I know.  I know they are forcing my hand into properly avenging his death.”  Bob knew without his acts of revenge his father would never reach the halls of Valhalla.  Wandering the deserted valley forever.  Bob looked up at the cool spring sun.  “That is why I took dad’s shoes and silver eyes before he was burned.  Figured I might as well let the shit heads know, “the games have begun.” Regulator raised his head and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. The first step in solving this mess is in my rocket box.”

Mom nodded in approval. “The sheriff?” a bit of vengefulness in her voice, a rare show of emotion.  Bob could feel the power of this tall, strong warrior mountain woman.  Strength and pure hate were radiating off of her now.  Loki and Noresh started to uncomfortably stir in the bed of the truck.   Seldom would she show emotion but often it emanated from her.  She would have stood in a shield wall to do battle in another time.

Regulator stood up a bit taller and his eyes narrowed against the sun. “Yep.”  It was a short answer but said like the first word in the writing of a long-awaited story.

“This is a good start my son, a good death.”

“Not too soon?”

“Nah, it was expected.”

Mom was fully boiling inside.  A good death if there ever was one she just kept saying to herself.   She was reintroduced back into Bob’s life in his early twenties.    This became a necessity once he graduated college and started working his destiny with the family.  See, Mom had a special knack for dealing with the remnants of solved problems.   Bob was producing a large number of remnants.   As the shaman had predicted he was very proficient at his job.  Mom was called on to help.  She typically went about her duties in a studious manner.  This time would be different.

The Sheriff was Reynor’s younger brother and was never one to be trusted.  Never loved by Mom.  He was given the nickname, Sheriff, as a child.  He could always be found wearing a cowboy hat and a badge.  A six-shooter cap gun pistol at his side.  This was just the dress up part though.  The Sheriff really did think of himself as a crusader of justice.  In reality, he was just a snitch.  Always telling on the other kids, mainly to save his own skin.  The only justice he was trying to serve was for himself.  Despite his constant defiance of his older brother, Reynor still loved him and kept him close.  Maybe too close, Mom always thought.  Reynor figured he was better kept where he could keep an eye on him.  It was an odd relationship, but it worked for quite some time.   The Sheriff ran small parts of the business but never anything too complicated.  He definitely never ran anything that gave him access to high-level operational information.   That is, until recently.   He had been given a job to help secure the transport of some historical  priceless items.  To do this he would have access to almost every detail of the shipment and its benefactors.  The benefactors having asked Reynor personally to help them transport the goods.  This was a gamble for Reynor, but he figured after 30 years of seemingly faithful service his brother could now take on something bigger.  It also kept fewer people in the family out of the loop.  Reynor figured this would be a good thing.

The Sheriff resented his brother’s rise to power.  Thinking Reynor was too sensitive.  Too much of a free spirit.  True, Reynor was a spiritual and emotional man, but he knew his job and went about it stealthily.   After all, Reynor’s father knew he would be better at the job than his self-centered brother.  Meaning he was let in on the inner working of the family at a young age.  Reynor was favored by the god Loki.  The trickster god.  Reynor was more apt to outsmart someone than run him over with force.   The Sheriff was never fully happy with his role, but he silently bided his time.   Always believing Reynor was bound to miscalculate someday and he would be there to step in.  Now that time had come.  The Sheriff was now in a place of leverage and he had information.  Information that if attained by conflicting powers could put his brother in a compromising position.  Information that made the sheriff drunk with grand ideas of himself in a higher place.  So, the information flowed from him like the water from a mountain stream.   It was information that would find his brother dead and as he saw it, him as the natural successor to the family head.   He would have the support of the Hansen’s.  Now being the beneficiaries of the lost shipment, wouldn’t they back his ascension?  But, the Sheriff was not a smart man and could not see farther than his reach.  Delusion had set his mind wrong.  The excitement to further his own lusts forced him into some miscalculations.  One major miscalculation was the Regulator.   The Regulator was not a man to seek power but was altogether pure power, pure will.   He was a ghost.  Thor favored  him with the seeming ability to move from the real world to the shadow world at whim.  He was protected by the gods if not actually being one of them.   A power they said he got from his mother.  How else could you explain his ability to avoid death even when it was swarming all around him?  In the wraths of battle and conflict, he came to life,  despite his calm exterior. One would say he thrived in the presence of death.  Welcoming it.  Death was comfortable around Bob and soon death came to find his uncle.

“Killing family is not an easy task, my son.”  Mom had a quizzical eye on him.” Was this your hand?”

“Nope,” Bob said in a dismissive tone. “The Girls.  They were in position so it made sense.  I had too many things to put together for the funeral pyre to waste time on him.  It sure didn’t take much convincing.  They seemed all too happy to help.”

“Oh, I’m sure the Girls had no issue killing that man.  The Sheriff always had a terrible way with women.”  Mom, now showing a bit of surprise, continued. “Those were prudent management skills, son.  You might be able to run this family after all.”

Bob smiled a bit, feeling a weird sense of pride knowing his Mother thought he had acted prudently.  A small jest from the old woman but it held significance.  Bob, although a steadfast killer, was not considered a manager of people.  Too much of a loner.  Too much in his head with other interests outside the family business.  His preoccupation with action sports, music, literature, and spiritual enlightenment were all seen as unnecessary distractions.  The clan elders wanted loyalty and as far as they were concerned, extracurricular activities just got in the way.  They opened the rocket box and pulled out the body wrapped in plastic wrap and duct tape.   It thudded to the hard half-frozen ground and threw up a small puff of dust.

The old lady leaned over the body.  “The gods will not see your fire, Uren.  You will not go to the afterlife with your arms or your eyes.  This I promise.”

They loaded the body into the back of the truck, said their goodbyes and drove off the mountain in opposite directions.

Problems

Problems

 

“So, my snowbound preacher friend, what awaits you in Fairplay?” asked Bob.

“A soul.  One to pray for that is,” John replied as he leaned forward in a way to almost will the car faster to their destination.  “An unfortunate young man, with more than a few broken bones. He had an accident on the job site you see, and he needs some holy comfort from the church. Oh, and I am no preacher. Just a soul with a need.”

As John told of the day laborer’s plight and his own mission to help the poor man along with recovery, you could feel the exuberance emanating from him.  He sat in the passenger seat, excited as a child on his way to Disneyland and going on about the church and its long-standing part in the spiritual community. Bob could not help but smile and let the touched man blabber on, but there were still a few questions he needed answered.

Upon a rare pause, Bob inserted, “About this church of yours.  Where exactly is it and where do you hail from?”

“Ah yes, the accent.  Throws off the lot of you Americans.  Not quite limey, not really Kiwi, eh?”  He looked at Bob with a tilt of his head and raised eyebrows, but he could see that Bob was in no mood for guessing games. “Yes, right, I’m from the other Down Under.  South Africa, mate!”

Bob nodded in genuine surprise.  Admitting to himself that as Americans we probably do overlook  South Africa. With all that Apartheid stuff and such. Maybe it all paralleled an earlier time in our own history a bit too closely? “And, the church?”

“Yes, the chapel of St. Martins.  Wonderful little place.”

“St. Martins, like the one in Kent, Scotland?”

John turned to Bob with a one raised eyebrow. “Just the same.”

“The oldest church in the English-speaking world?”  Bob was up on these things.  Although not a religious man, his heritage and family position required he was knowledgeable in the details around the church and other spiritual affairs.

“Precisely, mate!” John leaned forward even more to emphasize his approval. “I am impressed.”

“Funny,  I know this land quite well.  Might say it’s part of my blood. Never knew of or have seen a church in those parts.”

“Well, let’s just say this one here is somewhat of a franchise.  A smaller, less obvious version of the flagship store or chapel as it may be. You Americans like your franchises.  McDonald’s and all that.”  John seemed very satisfied with his explanation and sat back in his seat with his arms crossed.  Like an overconfident poker player after laying down his full house.  His mind seemed to be concentrating on something in the not-so distant, time or space or otherwise. Bob could almost feel the energy emanating from the man as he kept his eyes on the snow-covered road. Then there was a slightly squinting from John that Bob never saw.

Bob was just about to challenge the franchise metaphor when from his left a sizable buck lumbered from the roadside trees.  Thick like flies, the deer are in these parts, so this came as no real surprise to Bob.  He was fast yet smooth to the brakes and the shifters.  The car slowed quick enough to lock in the seat belts as they were filled up with their weight.  The buck stopped in the oncoming lane in a very uncertain fashion.

Here is the part that always gets sticky.  Is the buck going to spook across the road, or back to the trees, or just stand still?  These three options determine the next set of actions and all in a critical second.  Then the weight hit the front tires, and the back end started to come around to the right.  Throttle! Bob thought.  Lightening up on the brakes and bringing it down one more gear Bob eased into the gas just enough to start veering right.  Straightening out the back end and propelling them forward. Bob was betting on the buck standing still.  Not so much out of choice but the lack of distance between the beast and the car.   Bob stared at the buck.  The buck stared back at Bob.  Or was it, John?

“Staaayyyy,” Bob said calmly as if talking to a dog waiting for its treat.  They slid just passed the regal beast with six inches to spare.  Jumped back on the gas, worked his way up through the gears to cruising speed.  Bob’s shoulders released the tense moment back into the leather seats.

“Nice work, my man.” John had not moved a stitch from his cocky poker player positioning. Bob was somewhat impressed and somewhat not sure about the timing of these events.  Either way, the church had fallen from his questioning mind and a renewed concentration on the road took over.

The snow was thinning as they left the Front Range and got deeper into the Platte River Mountains.  Must have been an upslope storm, Bob thought.  There won’t be any snow by Kenosha Pass, and sure enough, this was true.  Moving along at a quick pace Bob kept it all to 10 miles over the speed limit.  Although the local police have a good working relationship with the Johnson Clan, the staties are always changing.  A new young recruit would enjoy nothing less than harassing an action-seeking Denverite heading to the hills for some fun.  No time to haggle my way out of a ticket today, thought Bob.

Then as sudden as ever, John was leaning forward again in anticipation. “Nothing like a bit of a dance with danger, eh my man? The buck and all.  Reminds me of how I found my calling. My special ordained gift. My power!”

I was just a young lad of about 12 or so, on our family farm down in South Africa. My father was warning me of the dangers once the animals would come.  ‘Come to take over’ he would say. They will come with a vengeance, like a lioness after the hyena, for the killing of a cub. The family and farm will be in terrible danger my father would say.  They will take our land, and they will make us pay.  This will be our penance for the social order we have created.   It was the correct order, my father would say.  The only one to keep us all in our proper stations.   The only way we can all get along.”

Bob was getting a bit uncomfortable with the undertones of bigotry in this story or diatribe or whatever it was. John was telling it so matter-of-fact that Bob possibly thought this god-fearing Christian was just another unabashed hypocrite.  Using the Lord’s good book as a shield to excuse his profound transgressions against select parts of society.  He had seen this done plenty in his own world with rune stones, sticks, and bones.  His own family looking to the gods to give them some divine mortal reason to be less than human.  Then John got downright fervent and took his story a direction Bob would never have seen coming.

Old man Calvin showed up one day to cut down some large, dying trees for my father.  The kind of trees with limbs, when set free from life, have a tendency to kill roofs, fences and so much more.  Well, Old man Calvin was just that, old.  He was an accomplished arborist but time had taken away his ability to shimmy up a tree.  So, this day I was to be his assistant.  I was eager and ready to please, as well as show off for the old man.  I took to climbing the first big old tree and cutting off the smaller limbs.  I threw all safety to the side, swinging about with a small chainsaw from the upper branches.  I pruned the first tree down to the main trunk and some sizable limbs.  What was left stood 25 or 30 feet tall.

The old man went to work on the base with his long blade chainsaw. Pounding in wedges as needed to keep the blade free from pinching.  I was mesmerized by the saw and skill of this 70-year-old powerhouse of a man.  By now a crowd of workers had gathered to watch the falling of the old monster.  Another inch of cutting and the remaining fibers would start to crack and splinter away.

The tree started to topple slowly.  I moved my eyes from the top of the tree to the surroundings and the landing zone.  This was when things slowed down.  At least for me, they did.  At this moment I realized everything was not right.  This tree was not falling where we thought it should and where it was going was not good.  Just to the right of the landing zone was a chicken coop yard.  In the yard was a young girl.  I say young, but she was just about my same age.  She was not watching the spectacle but doing her job and feeding the chickens.

Run to her, I heard in my head!   Don’t worry, I will protect you, Run! The voice said again.  So, I did!   I ran to her.  Without a sound, I ran.  The tree fell faster and faster.  The silence of its fall was full of violence. The speed of my feet was full of God!  My head was full of God.  I was a messenger of God! This I knew.

By now, John was downright regal as he sat up even straighter and his head cocked back.  Bob was quite entertained but not as an astonished believer.  His inner 12-year-old was snickering at the theatrics and pure Baptist voice of the pale round man.

I bounded over the fence and dove at the girl. I Tackled her to the ground as the tree released itself from its silence and crashed against the ground.  The ground wasn’t the only casualty of the old beast.  The girl and I were pinned beneath a crook of the primary limb.  She screamed and tried to move beneath me.  The tree answered back with a moan and a creak and a little more pressure as it settled on us.

I will not let you be harmed the voice filled my head.  With this voice, I gained my senses.  The voice was right, I was unhurt and so was the servant girl. True, the tree had us pinned, but we were all fine. They pried the tree off of us and that was that. So, danger, I quite like it.  Especially knowing who has my back.

John sat back folded his arms as if he just set down a royal flush.  “Ya see mate, I’m touched and that is my power.”

All of this was way too much for Bob.  The voices, the racial undertones, the theatrical sale of the story.  He wanted to ask somewhere around a million questions, but he didn’t know where to start. Was the voice real? Was God always with him or was it just periodically?  I mean, was it like all of a sudden God shows up and says, “Ok, I finally finished up with the Pope. Now John, what kind of trouble can we get you in today?”  Was God talking to him right now?  These are not far off from the same questions Bob always wanted to ask his father’s shamans.   Well, I guess there my shaman now, he thought, and a darkness crept over him.

“So, my savior, maybe I should know your name.  Just so I know what to call you and all,  ‘My Savior’, would be a bit odd, don’t ya think?” said John with another wide smile. “And, if ya don’t mind sharing, what is your special power?”

Bob shook off the growing cloud. “Well, that is very rude of me. 25 minutes down and one fantastically entertaining story from yourself and I have still not properly introduced myself.”

“Yes, well I tend to take over on the conversation front.”

“’Regulator’ is what my associates call me.”  this came out in an awkward formal tone that fit him like an adult tie on a five-year-old.  John’s face was expressionless.  Not easy for a man touched by God but for the first time since they had met John was speechless.

“Regulator,” John finally said flatly and turned to look out the side window.  It was not said questioningly but more in a manner to try it out.  He said it a few times to himself as he stared out the window.  He said it as if he was re-discovering a lost memory or experience.  Then seeming satisfied with it, he turned back. “Right, and what special power does a man with the name Regulator have?”

Bob was hoping the name thing would distract John from the whole special power thing but no such luck.  Bob was not very open about himself.  Occupational hazard as it was.  Bob was also not very good at hiding himself.   Another occupational hazard.  Typically people would ask what Bob does for work or activity.   A simple answer of “I’m in technology” usually satisfied the not so curious. For the curious, he would pull out “Programmer.”  The majority of people in the world have no idea what that means, so they leave it at that.  Yet, John was not typical.  That was for sure and for some reason, he was comfortable around this odd man.  Comfortable enough to let John in, just a bit.

“Well, I am in the family business, and we have a large, well-rounded portfolio.    Let’s face it- in any business, problems will arise.  Sometimes there is a need to protect our interest and the interest of our partners.  Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Now, these problems need to be solved.  Sometimes you might say they just need to go away.  That is where I come in.  I am the regulator of problems.”

“Ah yes, every successful business is run on critical thinking. Or so I am told,” said John.

“Yes, well you could call it that.  Let’s just say I’m very good at making problems disappear.” Bob was starting to fade into himself as he cryptically explained his special power.  A multitude of family memories washed through his head in a matter of seconds. Memories drenched with the generations who constructed the reality he lives in today.   “In fact, every problem I have set off to solving has never been an issue again.  Ever.”

This last word was spoken with a dead and truthful tone. It hung in the air in the car like something very satisfying, but in the end, very bad for you.

John was quiet.  John was contemplating the words.  John was staring straight ahead. What John was not, was surprised. After a few moments, he said flatly, “Your father must be very proud of you.  Being so good at your job in the family business and all.  Must give the whole family a good sense of security.”

This was not what Bob expected to hear.  In fact, he was not expecting John to say anything else the rest of the way to Fairplay.  John was not what he seemed, and this made Bob a bit nervous.  Too many wrong things had been happening lately.  Too many things not to plan and John was becoming an extension of that.  In Bob’s world, everything was calculated and ordained.  This was the only truth Bob knew.  Well, at least until lately.  You might say the master plan was not going as scheduled. John was not on Bob’s schedule, and Bob needed to get back on schedule.

“10 miles to Fairplay” said the sign. After nine silent minutes, the odd couple had arrived.  Easing to the side of the road at the main intersection of 285 and 9 Bob looked over at the full face of John the “touched.”  He saw an old soul with what seemed like more knowledge than time.  He thought he even saw a touch of fire in John’s eyes.  As in actual flames.  He still had a ton of questions for the man but time was not on their side today.

“Hope the worker heals well, but I have a feeling your presence will secure that.  Have a good day, Sir John.”

“Thanks for the lift and the stirring conversation, my man!”  John extended a portly hand and Bob met it with a firm grip and quick shake. “Until we meet again.”  This, Bob figured, was not in the cards.

As John un-wedged himself from the low riding car, he bent and turned back in to face Bob. “Mr. Regulator, would you by chance be willing to make a small donation to the Chapel of St. Martin’s?”

Bob looked at John and with a slight smile and earnest eyes “Now John, I figured the ride would be donation enough.  You don’t want to become a problem now do ya?”  Bob pointed a finger up and said, “I already have a cargo box full of problems.  I really don’t have the time right now for anymore.  Problems that is.”

John pursed his lips and nodded his head. “Right then! Have a wonderful day.”

Regulator Bob watched the door close, checked the mirrors and pulled on to 285.  Next stop, mother.

 

IN THE END

In the end, we are not going to survive the rest of our lives.  Sooner or later we will understand the fates that have befallen the ones before us.  How will it all feel?  What is that final thought before one passes on?  Is it filled with euphoria or regret or a longing for more?  Does an angel come down to lift you from this earth and transport you to a heavenly world of ever-knowing bliss?  Or is it just done? A big awkward piece of nothingness. Maybe it’s something beyond nothing?  A void so deep you wonder how many universes could occupy that space?  So many questions run through Bob’s mind about the end.  Especially that part, right before the end.  In all fairness, would one not wonder why Bob wouldn’t ponder these things?  After all, he has been there, in the end, with so many people.  Been there to shepherd them along to their voids or bliss.  Sometimes they are ready and willing to go, with what seems like a calm acceptance.  An acceptance that this has been a long time coming.  Sometimes it’s a kicking, screaming, drawn-out ordeal.  One last fleeting moment to belong more to this world than the next.  Sometimes they are oblivious to the events that will soon unfold.  Ignorance is usually the best for them but the worst for Bob.  There is just a slight dissatisfaction for him when he is not more intimately involved.  Is it different for each one, the end?  Does it matter how they go?  In a blaze of glory with guns blasting or in their sleep after the toxins complete their appointed task and they just drift away?

Where does it all go?  The laughs, the voice, the tears, the sweat, the electrical charges? This was the specific question Bob was asking himself as he looked at the Sheriff.  Such a familiar man but evidently, he held a great secret.  He thought about where it all goes after every one of them had moved on.  Will I remember what it’s like when I am at the end? He asked himself.  Will I carry it with me? A small explainable fear in my next life as a dog or a bird or a banker?  This will occupy Bob for a short bit, but the sun is coming up, and the fresh snow will be turning to slush.  The drive will be slower than usual and the day is already so full of appointments and other problems to solve.  His younger self-reminds him of how the old woman is not fond of tardiness.  Again, life has gotten in the way of answering all these questions.  After all, the day is young, and there just might be another opportunity to ponder these thoughts later today.

Spring on the front range of Colorado can be a very fickle time of year.  Warm summer-like days can give way to sudden snowstorms in a matter of hours.  Storms can drop 6 to 12 inches of snow on the afternoon commuters, alone.   This type of storm just so happened to hit the Denver area the previous night.  The morning’s bluebird sky was allowing the sun to come up early and it was all too happy to expose the poor driving skills of the average 9-to-5er.  The windy commuter road heading west out of the city through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is now littered with abandon vehicles.  Some are set purposefully in a neatly parked manner as if to suggest someone just needed to go on a little hike.  They would soon be returning after their short adventure.  Some cars didn’t have such diligent foresight.   They seemed to be matchbox cars placed by a young child while playing crash up.

Bob was always fascinated how every Spring this happened,  often more than once.  His turbocharged black Subaru wagon with rally suspension, aftermarket muffler and tinted windows moved smoothly up 285 towards the town of Fairplay.   His car, complete with a large Tule cargo box and bike racks screamed mid-thirties, Colorado, urban dwelling X Games wannabe.  He was very comfortable with this connotation, and it was exactly what he wanted everyone to think.  Plus, the all-wheel-drive made it very practical for the mountains and uncertain conditions of Colorado.  With the sun steadily pushing he moved up into the mountains as the commuters slowly made their way back down to Denver or their misplaced vehicles.

The roads were starting to get a bit slushy and with it a bit slicker.  There is a short space between the set up cold packed snow from the night and the melted wetness of the mid-morning.  This space is held for inconsistency.  An east-facing stretch might be sloppy but grippy just before you dive into a shady corner.  These areas contain all the surprising fun of black ice, packed snow, a slow-moving delivery truck, or in this case, a well-dressed stocky man in loafers trying to thumb down a ride.   Now, people trying to get a ride in Colorado is familiar enough.  The state is somewhat known for being hitchhiker-friendly.  What was odd was the specific location, which would be as close to nowhere as one could get, and his attire.  Dressed for a day at the office rather than a snowy morning is what got Bob’s attention.   No winter jacket, gloves, or hat.  He figured the man was most likely stranded from the night before and needed a ride to a service station or such.   Bob found himself pulling over despite the fact he had business to get to and not a whole lot of time.  A small voice reminded him,  the old woman will not be happy if you are late, young man.

The man came gingerly through the softening snow in his not-so-sensible shoes.  Opening the passenger door and upon seeing the cleanliness of the car, he started to take off his shoes before getting in.  Bob was a bit amused by this but also found the gesture quite endearing.  This seemingly stranded man was so respectful that he would remove his shoes, not to get Bob’s insanely clean car the least bit dirty.   He found this amusing because where exactly, would the man then put the shoes?  On his lap? This image made Bob grin, and he was suddenly pleased he had picked up this odd situation.

“Never mind that,” said Bob “Just hop on in.”

“Ok then, mate.” said the man in an accent that was not British yet not from Down Under either.

Bob noticed that the suit and such was not nearly as nice as it had seemed, as he was cruising by at 55 MPH.  It had the air of a man trying to appear more important than he was, without much success.  The man introduced himself as John.  He was a round, heavyset fellow with an ashen, round face.  He had nicely combed over ginger hair and an earnest broad smile.  He didn’t fit in the narrow, bucket seats so well, so he sat at a slight angle towards Bob.

“Did you get stranded out in the storm?” Bob asked. “I can drop you at the next gas station.”  Bob pulled back out on to the road and the aftermarket exhaust brapped as he paddle shifted through the gears.

“Not quite, my man.  I was dropped off back there around six this morning and have been trying to wave down a ride ever since.”   He said this in a very matter of fact tone as if being dropped off on a random bit of mountain road, early on a cold, snowy morning, was very much a typical day for him.

Bob could not help but bite. “So, why exactly were you dropped off in that spot?”

“Ah, yes. That is where my church is and my first ride on this day’s pilgrimage was from the beautiful pastor, Joshua.”

Church?  Bob was now getting a bit skeptical because this is his road.  285 has been as constant in his life as the seasons themselves.  Between Denver and South Park is his family’s territory.  It is their land, his land.  Generations of it.  There is no church along that stretch of road, not that Bob has ever been aware of, but now something was coming to him.  A white cross on an old tree stump.  It could not have been more than three feet high.  He now sees in his mind’s eye that beside that cross is a draw up between the rocky walls and pines.  That is but a small trail at best and leading up to nothing but steep mountainsides and rocky cliffs.   What exactly was this man, John, getting on about?  Here we go again with the questions he thinks, always questions.  Since he was a child, he drove his father crazy with questions.  This thought took Bob to an unsure moment.

“You OK there, my man?” asked John. “You suddenly got a bit sullen.”

Bob ignored the attentiveness of his passenger. “Church, huh? never knew of a church in those parts,” said more as a statement than as an inquiry.  Starting to feel a bit restless he asked exactly where the day’s “pilgrimage” was taking him.

“Today, it’s Fairplay.” After a slight pause, John turned to Bob and asked, “Just how far is that from here anyway?”

Now Bob was all in.  This guy, from a foreign country, is hitchhiking to an unknown location, in a dime store suit, on a cold, snowy late March morning.  After the events of the past few days, this was just what he needed.  Someone with a life that could very well be just as whacked out as Bob’s is right now.  What was Bob saying?  As if his life has ever been normal.  Oh yeah, straight out of a Norman Rockwell, it’s all been.

Chuckling a bit, Bob said, “About an hour from here and you are in luck I am heading right through there.”

“Splendid!  The receivers of the Lord’s prayers will be mightily comforted this day.”

Bob just shook his head, grinned to himself and downshifted. With a backfire the Subaru blasted forward.