Archive for September 2009

Speaking in Minor Keys

September 28, 2009


The small diamond in Diana’s nose reflected the lights from oncoming traffic. Her pickup moved slowly north on route 160. Hot air rushed through the truck past her damp brown arms. It was past 9 pm and still hot enough to make a rattlesnake sweat. Her long brown ponytail fluttered towards the open window as she shifted into third gear. Her leg clung to the seat as she let out the clutch.

Up the road a lonesome hitchhiker heard her shifting gears. An overture of crickets took his mind off his problems. No job, no girlfriend and nowhere to go. Tonight he threw his sleeping bag and a few clothes into a duffle and walked out to the highway. Rusty Dalrymple didn’t know where he was going; his only plan was to get away. He stuck out his thumb when the old Dodge pickup approached. The dusty old truck slowed down as it drew near.

Diana saw Rusty standing under a streetlight. His messy red hair hung past the collar of an old black cowboy shirt. His thin waist had problems holding up a pair of faded jeans, scuffed black boots seemed to grow out of the dusty street. It was the sad, lost expression that caught her attention, she always had a soft spot for stray dogs. The truck glided to a stop just past Rusty.

“Where you headed scruffy?”


“Me too, hop in.”

Rusty tossed his duffle in the truck bed and stepped up into his ride. He watched as Diana gracefully moved the column shifter through the gears. Just the sight of her gave him hope. The cutoffs and sleeveless shirt looked good on her trim figure. Large brown eyes anchored her angular face. No makeup diluted her beautiful brown skin.

He hoped it was going to be a long ride.

“Where you headed?

“Davis, just outside of Sacramento.”

“That’s a long way from Pahrump, Nevada. What’s in Davis?”

“UC Davis, I’m in my fourth year; studying veterinary medicine.”

“What about you scruffy?” Diana’s laugh filled the truck with music, while Rusty searched for an answer.

“The name is Rusty, I don’t know where I am going.”

“Pleased to meet ‘ya, Rusty I don’t know where I am going. I’m Diana.”

“Pleased to meet ‘ya, miss D.”

Rusty leaned back into the vinyl seat and tried to imagine what it would be like to know where he was going. He listened to the tires humming against the pavement. It was good to be going somewhere, but where? Maybe he could move in with Diana. She seemed like she had it together. She was also really cute.

Diana knew she needed to take charge of the situation. She liked having company for the long trip, but didn’t have time for another man with no direction. She didn’t want to carry the weight of another one-sided relationship. “I can take you as far as Davis, after that you’re on your own.”

Rusty seemed oblivious to her words. He was thinking about quiet nights snuggled next to her on a sofa after a hard days work. He imagined what it would be like to look forward to the weekend and getting a paycheck on Friday. Diana wasn’t sure if her words were registering. “Rusty, do you have any idea where you are going?”

“Yeah, ah, Davis, I’m on my own at Davis.”

“What about after that? You can’t just keep hitching without a destination.”

“I think I’ll go up to San Francisco, I have some friends up there. Maybe I can stay with them for awhile.” He was really hoping to win her over and stay in Davis with her.

Rusty stared out the open window as the old truck rumbled over the highway. Dark empty hunger gnawed at him, he hoped she couldn’t sense how desperate he was. Maybe he could go back to school and try again. This time he would study instead of spending his time getting loaded and listening to music.

He searched the dashboard for a radio.  It was going to be a long quiet ride. “I see you don’t have any music.”

“What, every loose bolt and rusty panel on this truck has a song to play. I like to keep the windows down and listen to the countryside as I pass through. It feels like I have been somewhere that way. Loud music and air conditioning makes me feel like I am passing through life without really experiencing it. You know what I mean?”

Rusty thought about his life so far. “I dunno, sometimes I want a little insulation from all the heat and dust. Right now I’d be happy sitting back in a nice cool easy chair drinking beer and letting John Prine sing to me about angels and old rodeos.” His mouth watered as he thought about the six-pack he left behind in his room. No pot, no beer, and forty-three bucks in his wallet, he put his sweaty hands in his pockets so Diana couldn’t see them shake.

Diana eased into the steering wheel as she guided the truck around a long graded curve. This was going to be a long trip with such a lost man. She made up her mind to stop and see her grandpa Duane. Maybe he could help this guy.

“I’m going to spend the night at my grandpa’s house, would you like to meet him?”

Rusty thought about one more night in his sleeping bag on someone’s floor. Maybe he could get some breakfast out of the deal. “Sure, how far to his house?”

“It’s just past the next town, we should be there soon.” Rusty wondered what her grandfather would be like. Would he throw Rusty out as soon as he saw him? It wouldn’t be the first time someone told him to hit the road at first sight.

They rolled passed a sign that welcomed them to Sin Gatos, Nevada. Diana downshifted as they drove through the small town. Two gas stations, three seedy bars, a general store, Melba’s Country Kitchen, a real estate office, a Starbucks, a small church and the Sheriff’s office.

A few miles past town Diana turned into a small road with no street sign. She slowed the truck down and switched on the high beams. Two deer ran off when the headlights hit them. The road wound uphill for several miles. Diana turned into a narrow dirt road that ran through a grove of pine trees. The old truck bounced and rattled up the dusty road for another ten minutes until they came to a small clearing in the trees. Diana stopped the truck next to an old Chevy Nova station wagon.  The old car was covered in faded blue paint that was chipped and peeling.

The silence descended on them when Diana turned off the engine. Rusty heard the sound of a small stream somewhere in the distance. The sweet scent of a pine forest filled the air.

Diana slid out of the truck and slammed the door. The sound echoed through the clearing. She headed up a small dirt trail through pine and aspen trees. “C’mon Rusty grandpa lives right up here.”

Rusty trudged up the dusty trial behind Diana. They came out of the trees on top of a small hill overlooking the town below. There was a small clapboard house with a large porch in front. A light was on behind a wooden screen door.

“Grandpa Duane, it’s Diana.” They heard a gruff bark in reply.

“Eleanor is that you?” A small bulldog pushed through the screen door. She wagged her stubby tail when she saw Diana. “Where’s grandpa Eleanor? Go get him.” Eleanor barked twice and stared at Rusty with a doleful expression, drool slid across her jowls and one tooth jutted out from her bottom jaw.

Diana rushed into the small house. “Grandpa, you home?” No one replied.

Rusty walked in to the small living room. There was one chair and a sofa. The hardwood floor was bare and dusty, split firewood was stacked neatly next to an iron stove. A broom leaned against the wall.

A Martin guitar stood in the corner. Rusty yearned to cradle the battered old guitar and make it sing. Diana looked around the room. On the wall was a framed watercolor of three people in a rowboat with the orange sun setting behind them.

“This is weird; I wonder where grandpa is.” She walked into the kitchen and Rusty followed. Flies hovered around an old Wedgewood stove. The stove and sink were worn down from years of scrubbing. A wooden table with two chairs stood against a row of windows. The table and chairs were thick with years of paint; the newest coat was taxicab yellow. Eleanor lapped water from a red plastic bowl on the floor.

“Grandpa.” Diana headed towards the bedroom. The single bed was neatly made. Next to the bed was a small table with a Bible, a stained glass lamp and a picture of a dark middle-aged woman with a crown of flowers ringing her head. One wall was covered with a book filled shelf, opposite that was an old oak dresser with a few photos on top. Rusty saw one photo of a little girl in a hula skirt hitting a piñata with a broomstick.

“Grandpa.” Diana’s voice was starting to sound frantic. In the bathroom there was a large clawed tub. The sink, small cabinet and toilet all seemed worn but clean. There was a faint scent of pine cleaner.

Diana headed for the front door with Rusty and Eleanor at her heels. She stood on the porch and shouted. “Grandpa Duane, it’s Diana. Where are you?” Eleanor joined in with a volley of hoarse barks.

Diana led the way around the outside of the house to the back. She stopped behind the kitchen windows and called out again. “Grandpa Duane, where are you?” Eleanor nudged Rusty with her wet nose smearing drool on his leg.

“Hey, easy there, I like you too, but not enough to let you slobber on me.”

Diana chucked softly. “Looks like you found a new girlfriend. Hey, where you going?”

“Back to the truck to get my flashlight, maybe your grandpa is asleep or unconscious somewhere out there.”  Eleanor followed Rusty out to his truck. Something was bothering Rusty. He felt even more heavy and lost than usual. He knew something foul and dark was happening.

When he came back through the trees he saw Diana pacing on the porch. She ran her hand through her hair and stared out into the darkness. “C’mon Diana let’s take a look around.”

Eleanor growled and took off around the house. Rusty pointed the light in the direction she had gone and called her. “Eleanor, come back here.” She answered with a low bark.

“Let’s go and see what she’s up to.” Rusty lead Diana around the house, they found Eleanor sitting under the kitchen windows. As soon as she saw them she took off down the hill.

“Eleanor.” This time Diana shouted after her. “This is unlike her, she usually stays close.”

They took off downhill; Rusty blazed a trail with his flashlight. The sound of flowing water grew louder as the headed down. They heard Eleanor bark just ahead. Rusty felt more and more uneasy as they trudged toward the stream, he could hear the croak of bullfrogs, as they got closer. Eleanor barked again.

They found her standing next to a small stream that cut a path down the hill. She was sitting on a large granite rock with a flat top that jutted out over the stream. She barked again when they approached, then sniffed intently at something at her feet. Rusty pointed the light at the damp spot where Eleanor was sniffing.

He bent down and rubbed his index finger in the dampness and bought it to his nose. The smell hit him like a punch in the stomach and he fought back the urge to gag. “Let’s get out of here.” His head was swimming in a sea of bad memories.

“What do you mean get out of here? We have to find my grandpa.” Diana’s voice made it clear that she was not leaving.

“Listen to me Diana, we have to leave.”

“I’m not leaving until I find him.”

Rusty knew he had a challenge on his hands. Diana was the type of person who needed concrete answers. He would have to tell her, or she would not budge. He saw the determination in her face and posture, he wasn’t sure she would even believe what he had to say. Eleanor nudged him again. Rusty smiled at her pleading expression.  “Okay, Eleanor, I’ll do my best.”

He tried to think how he could convince this take-charge woman to follow him. He decided humility and honesty would give him the best chance. He would never win a battle of wills with Diana, but she might give him a chance if she new the truth.

“Diana, I can explain.” He knew he couldn’t tell her here. He wasn’t sure who might be listening.

“Then start explaining.” She wasn’t about to follow some directionless hitchhiker who needed a map to find himself. She needed to find her grandpa but she was frightened and confused. Where could he be? This whole thing did not make any sense.

Rusty and Eleanor were both staring at her with pleading eyes. The sight made Diana laugh. “What, you two are ganging up on me now? You’re even starting to look like each other, except Eleanor bathes more often.”

Rusty stuck out his bottom teeth, pushed his nose up with his finger and grunted.

The laughter cut the tension, Diana felt her shoulders loosen up. She let out a long slow breath. “Okay, girl, remember to breathe,” she mumbled quietly.

Rusty saw Diana unclench her jaw, and her whole posture relaxed. Eleanor barked softly. It was now or never, he had to try.

“Diana come on back to the house I want to show you something”

“Why, we know grandpa’s not there, we need to keep looking here.”

Rusty’s mind was working. How could he convince her to leave without tipping his hand here in the darkness? “C’mon Diana it will all make sense when we get there. Sometimes even scruffy drifters know what they’re doing. Can you just trust me for a little while?”

Diana studied his sweaty, anxious face. She could see he was more frightened than he was saying. She could also sense his sincerity. Something broke in Diana. She knew it was crazy to follow someone like Rusty but she also knew it was okay to not have all the answers. At that moment she knew she didn’t have to be in complete control at all times. It felt good to let go, part of here was terrified, at the same time she felt clear and calm. She wondered what had come over her. She heard a voice say “Alright, let’s go.” She was surprised that the voice was hers.

Rusty was stunned. His pleas had actually convinced her. Why would anyone want to follow him anyway? What did Diana see in him? He was beginning to have doubts about the whole situation when Eleanor took off running up the hill. He didn’t say a word but took off after her hoping Diana would follow them. Rusty didn’t turn around when he heard Diana treading through the undergrowth behind him.

When they reached the house Eleanor was waiting on the porch. He held open the screen door as Diana and Eleanor walked in.

Diana turned to Rusty. “Okay, we’re here. What do you want to show me?”

Rusty leaned close to Diana, the nearness made her uncomfortable. “We need to go out to the truck.” Rusty spoke quietly in Diana’s ear,

“What for, I thought what you wanted to show me something here?”

Rusty was still unsure if anyone was listening. He leaned close to Diana again. “I have to tell you something. But I can’t do it here. Please don’t ask any more questions right now. I promise I will answer them all in the truck.”

Diana paused and thought about his request. She leaned close and whispered “Okay, let’s go Mr. mysterious.” The whispering and air of secrecy made her giggle.

Rusty started speaking in a loud voice. “That’s it, I think your grandpa just went into town. Let’s go there and look for him.”  The sudden change startled Diana. She gave him a puzzled look but said nothing.

They left the house and headed for the truck. No one spoke as they walked through the trees. They could hear Eleanor’s labored breathing.

Rusty held the truck door open as Diana slid into the drivers’ seat. He put Eleanor in the middle and got in on the other side. “Start up the truck.”

“Hold it, I’m not going anywhere until you explain what’s going on. “

Rusty rolled up his window and whispered, “We’re not leaving, just start the truck and roll up your window.”

Diana hit the starter and the engine sprang to life. The truck vibrated and hummed. Rusty whispered again, “We are going to drive down the road like we are leaving and walk back up.”

Diana put the truck in reverse, turned it around and headed down the dirt road. Rusty was trying to figure out where to start. He decided to just jump right in.

“How well do you know your grandpa?”

“Real good, where is this going?” Diana sounded defensive.

“Has he ever been involved in the Occult?”

“What are you talking about? My grandpa was a pastor in San Francisco for twenty-two years. He had to work as a bus driver by day to support his family.  He would never be involved in something like the Occult.”

“Are you sure? What about before that?”

“Listen, my grandfather lived a rough life. He spent fifteen years in prison for accidentally killing a man in a barroom fight. After that he gave up drinking and devoted his life to helping others. What he did when he was younger doesn’t matter. Where are you going with this?”

They had reached the road, Rusty told Diana to head towards town.  She turned the truck towards Sin Gatos but wasn’t sure why. “I thought we weren’t leaving?”

“Don’t worry we’ll be back. Drive a couple of miles towards town and then turn around. Shut the headlights off on the way back.”

“Okay, Sherlock I’m heading to town but I really need to know what’s going on. Please tell me in plain simple English, without anymore strange questions.”

“Alright here it is. It’s about that damp spot we found next to the stream. I know what it is.”

“Damp spot? What does that have to do with anything?” Diana turned to Rusty and Eleanor growled.

“Hold on Diana, just let me explain. It will be a lot easier if you don’t interrupt me. That goes for you too Eleanor.”

Diana frowned at Rusty, “Okay, I’ll be a good girl, go ahead.”

Rusty put his arm around Eleanor and started his story.

“That damp spot was made of blood and urine.” Diana opened her mouth to speak but remained silent.

“It’s part of a satanic ritual. The leader of the ritual has a pentagram carved on his or her back with a special knife. The participants put blood in the cup from the leaders’ wound. The leader then urinates in the cup and drinks from it. That is what was on that rock, I would know that smell anywhere.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I know because my parents were Satanists.


Speaking In Minor Keys 2

September 27, 2009


Rusty never talked to anyone about his parents. That part of life was too painful to even think about. He had done his best to muzzle those memories but they were always shouting for his attention. He was afraid if he told Diana, she would think he was some kind of mental case.

Diana held her breath and kept her eyes on the highway. She wondered why she was listening to this down and out hitchhiker, her grandpa could be out on the hill dying, She wanted to turn around and fly back up the road but something inside of her needed to hear what Rusty had to say.

She could see his chest expand as he sucked in a deep breath then exhale slowly and stare out the window. Rusty wanted to jump out of the truck and disappear but now that he had started his story there was nothing else to do but get it over with. He kept his eyes straight ahead and started talking.

“I didn’t think my parents were unusual, in fact, I didn’t think much at all about my parents, because I almost never saw them. When I did see my mom she would just glare at me and tell me to get out of her sight before something bad happened. When I saw my dad he would stare right through me, I always wanted to turn around to see what he was looking at. I guess I thought all parents were like that. But my sister was different.”

“She was the one who always took care of me. I loved Rachel like she was my mom even though she was only 12 years older than me. I remember how her long wavy red hair would fall around my face when she held me in her lap and read stories to me. I can still hear her sweet melodic voice and the sound of her laugh filling my bedroom. It’s funny, but every time I think of her voice I can smell a sweet bouquet of flowers”

Rusty pulled a blue pack of Bugler out of his pocket and started rolling a cigarette. Tobacco spilled out of the thin white paper onto the seat. He kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead.

“ My favorite book was about this kid named Homer and a machine that made doughnuts. The stories were great and pictures were even better. I can still see Homer standing next to that machine eating a doughnut. I asked her to read it over and over again, she never got tired of reading it to me.”

“I wished she would stay with me forever but she never did.  Rachel would leave the house and lock me in my bedroom. I was left to stare at the walls and wish she was there, the stories were dull and depressing without her.”

Rusty stared out straight ahead as he rolled up the cigarette between his thumbs and two fingers.

“One day after she locked the door I heard her arguing with mom out in the hall. Mom was screaming at her ‘You just keep that little maggot out of my way, or I’ll put him through the fire and take care of you and your big mouth.’ I heard a loud smack and then Rachel started crying. The next time I saw her she had a black eye and a swollen lip. When I asked her about it she just held her finger to her lips and hugged me.”

“On the weekends we would sneak out of the house like a couple of ghosts. I felt a weight lift off my chest as we burst into the bright sunlight and jumped into her GTO. I loved the way that engine roared to life. We would tear down Pacific Coast Highway with the top  down and the ocean breeze washing us clean.”

“I could feel the that engine throb right through my chest causing my heart pound in its’ sacred rhythm. I wanted to push that car to the limit and leave our world behind, howling with joy as we ripped up the highway. I coaxed her to go faster and faster because I knew nothing could touch us as when that shiny black four wheeled rocket was in flight.”

“I never worried about where we were going or how we would get there. I knew that Rachel was flying that machine and we would get wherever we needed to go, I didn’t matter anyway as long as we were moving.

Diana pulled the truck off the road and killed the headlights. Rusty closed his eyes and continued his story.

“Those were the best times, but they never lasted long. I always ended up locked down in that dreary room.”

“Sometimes I had nightmares.  I would dream that I was falling into a huge burning furnace, the smoke would choke me and I could feel the flames singeing my body. Strange voices murmured things I couldn’t understand as clawed hands snatched at me from the darkness. Down and down I would drop; the claws ripping my clothes and tearing into my skin as the flames got hotter and hotter. I would retch at the smell of my burning flesh as I tumbled helplessly towards the waiting flames. The nightmare always ended with me waking up in the middle of a scream.  Rachel must have heard my cries because she was always there to hold me and wipe my tears until I stopped crying. She would coo softly and tell me everything was all right until I drifted back to sleep”

“At night my parents would hold some kind of meetings in our den. Rachel would put me to bed when everyone started arriving. One night I could hear everyone murmuring expectantly in the hall. I could feel the tension and subdued excitement.”

“Rachel came into my room and hugged me tighter and longer than usual. There were tears in her eyes as she smiled at me. ‘Be a good boy tonight. I have to go to the meeting with the grownups’. She hugged me again and just smiled at me for a long time. ‘ I love your Rusty’. She let me go and slowly headed for the door. She turned and smiled one more time as she shut out the light and closed the door.”

Rusty paused to lick the thin paper and roll the cigarette between his fingers.

“I knew something was wrong. I lay in the darkness for a long time, unable to sleep. I had to know what was going on downstairs. I tried the door; Rachel had forgotten to lock it.”

“I snuck downstairs to the den where they were having their meeting. It was dark, the room was filled with glowing, smoky candles and I could smell the burning wax. Everyone was standing in a circle around a low stone table, their faces hidden in the darkness. Someone was laying face down on the table and everyone else was chanting, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it sounded like the voices in my nightmares. I was terrified and wanted to find Rachel, but was too scared to say anything. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there.

“I stared at the person lying on the table and recognized my sisters’ long red hair, it was draped over the top of her head and hung down to the floor. She was wearing a smooth brown cotton robe that was pulled down over her shoulders to reveal her back. Blood was dripping down on to the table and I could see a circle and star carved into her skin.”

“I recognized my mom; she was holding a small cup and a bloody curved knife with a fancy silver handle. Her eyes were locked straight ahead in a cold, blank expression.”

“I saw my dad sit my sister up and mom put the cup in her hand. Rachel held the cup under her robe for a little while then lifted it up and took a sip. When my mom raised the knife I screamed and ran into the circle. I knocked the cup out of my sister’s hand and it spilled all over me. My face was covered with blood and urine, I’ll never forget the smell.”

“There was a lot of confusion and everyone started shouting. I called to Rachel but she didn’t answer, she didn’t even turn her head or acknowledge me in any way. I called her again and again but she didn’t respond. I ended up just standing there crying. ”

Rusty turned and looked right at Diana.

“That was the last time I saw my sister, I was six years old.”

“After that my mom started yelling at me. She called me a stupid worthless little brat. ‘You’ll pay for this you little puke,’ she told me. Her face was twisted up into a vicious snarl.”

Then she started yelling at my dad. ‘I should have aborted him when I wanted to. But no, you had to have your precious son. Well, there’s your little prize, I hope you’re proud of him.’ I didn’t know what she was talking about at the time, but I knew she didn’t want me around. She told my dad to take me upstairs and whip me while everyone else placed a curse on me.”

“My dad picked me up without a word and carried me upstairs. He took off his belt and spanked me. I barely felt the spanking; all I could think of was Rachel. I was really confused and hurt. I was crushed that she didn’t seem to care what happened to me. I wanted her to pick me up and tell me everything was all right. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t answer me.”

“My dad left and didn’t say a word. I can still see his back as he left me alone in my bedroom and locked the door. I knew that my mom was right, I was worthless and stupid, and nobody wanted me around. I stopped crying and haven’t cried since.”

“The next morning the police came and took me to juvenile hall. They said my parents were gone. I asked about Rachel and they said she was gone too.”

Rusty’s hands were shaking as he put the cigarette in his mouth and flicked his lighter open with a loud metallic clink. Diana spoke up quickly. “What do you think you are doing? You are not going to stink up my truck with that nasty thing.”

Rusty sighed slowly “Okay, I’ll take it outside, C’mon Eleanor.” He picked up the little bulldog and stepped out of the truck. He put her down gently, lit his smoke and took a long slow drag. He would have preferred a joint, but a cigarette would have to do. Eleanor sat at his feet and watched him closely.

Diana stepped out of the truck and stood next to him. Her heart went out to the rejected, frightened little boy locked up in his bedroom.  She waved the smoke away with her hand. “I’m really sorry about your sister; I can’t imagine what that must have been like.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Do you have to smoke? I really hate the smell.”

Rusty took another slow drag on his cigarette and looked up at the sky. The bright full moon wasn’t able to extinguish the endless stars. Rusty thought each star seemed to have a life of its own, he wondered just how many there could be.  He momentarily forgot about his problems as his mind stretched out across the universe. It was one of those nights that made him feel really small.

Diana’s voice brought him back down to earth. “What happened after that? Did you ever see your parents again?”

Rusty took a long drag on his cigarette and stared down at Eleanor. The little dog gave him a sad look. She seemed to know all the anguish he was going through. Rusty reached down and she softly licked his hand. “No, I was placed in a foster home and stayed there until I ran away at 16. No one spoke about my parents.”

Rusty took a last drag, ground the cigarette out under his boot and exhaled the last of the smoke.

“I found out the rest after I ran away.”

“Found out what?”

Rusty picked up Eleanor and got back in the truck. He shut the door, unwrapped a stick of gum and stared out at the highway. He wanted to run from his memories and anything that brought them back. Instead he was heading right for them.

“Let’s go, we’ve got to get back to your grandpa.”

Diana needed to know more, but knew this was not the time. She swallowed her questions, slid back into the seat and started the truck.

“Turn the truck around and turn off the headlights.”

“Okay boss.” Diana made a u-turn and drove slowly up the highway. She kept thinking about the sad friendless little boy, locked in his room.

The task at hand took her mind off of the story. She was worried about driving without headlights and anxious to get back to her grandpa. She came to the narrow road without a sign and turned in. Rusty stuck his head out the window and used the moonlight to follow the winding road.

He soon found what he was looking for. “Stop here.” He jumped out of the truck and helped Diana pull into a small clearing. He opened the door and Diana slipped out. He picked up Eleanor and quietly closed the door. He didn’t feel like talking. He had to get started up the hill before he lost his nerve.

“C’mon Eleanor, let’s go, it’s a long walk.” He put her down and headed up the road. The night was finally cooling down as they trudged wordlessly up the hill. Eleanor’s grunts and panting broke the silence. Rusty heard cracking and rustling as she waddled through the leaves and pine needles. An occasional mosquito would buzz by.

Rusty stopped suddenly. “Listen, there’s a car coming down the hill. Get off the road it might be trouble.”

They rushed off the road and listened as the car rumbled toward them. Rusty squatted down and scratched Eleanor between her ears; she tilted her head up closed her eyes and licked her nose. He heard Diana slapping mosquitoes from behind another tree.

She gasped when Rusty pulled a nasty looking hunting knife out of his pocket and locked the blade in place.

“What’s with the knife Dundee? Do you really know how to use that thing?”

“I never have before, but there is always a first time.”

The knife made Diana nervous. “Put that away before you hurt yourself.”

Rusty gripped the knife, blew a bubble with his gum and stared up the road.

An old station wagon came into sight as it eased around a curve. Diana recognized the car. “It’s grandpa’s Chevy,” she whispered.

Eleanor ran out on the road and stood barking at the car. Brake shoes squealed as the old Chevy came to a halt. “Eleanor, is that you?” The voice was deep and worn, like an old leather chair. Eleanor barked once more and ran to the car.

“It’s him.” Diana burst onto the road. “Grandpa, are you all right?”

The car door opened and her grandfather stepped out. Diana ran into his open arms as they closed around her. “Grandpa, where were you? We were really worried.”

Her grandpa chuckled quietly. “Hi Diana, it’s good to see you too.”

Rusty put his knife away and stepped timidly into the glare of the headlights. The old man grinned over Diana’s shoulder at Rusty. “Who’s this Diana?”

She stepped towards Rusty for the introduction and held up her hand like she was displaying the grand prize in a game show. “Grandpa this is Rusty. I picked him up hitchhiking back in Pahrump. He was scared you were involved in some sort of cult.”

Duane studied Rusty with an appraising stare; the close scrutiny was accompanied by a friendly, comforting face. Rusty could see where Diana got her large brown eyes.

Duane put his hand on Rusty’s shoulder. “I can see there is more to you than meets the eye Rusty.” Then turned and looked at Diana.  “If it is a cult, they didn’t invite me to their meetings. I’m not sure what’s going on but somebody is up to something really ugly up there. I have to get to the Sheriff’s office right now.  Get in, I’ll tell you on the way. And maybe Rusty can fill in the blanks.”

Diana slid into the front seat next to her grandpa and Rusty got in the back with Eleanor.

The old man turned around and held out his hand to Rusty. You could see most of his dark brown scalp through the thin wispy hair that covered his head. Bushy grey eyebrows matched his sideburns. The wide smile seemed at home between the dimples on his face. Huge hands protruded from sleeves that were too short to cover his long arms. His handshake was gentle but accompanied by a firm warm grip. He placed his left hand on Rusty’s shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze. “The name’s Duane Gonzales, I’m glad to meet you sir.”

Duane shifted his gaze to Eleanor. “And who’s this mangy mutt sitting next to you?” Eleanor barked softly as Duane laughed and affectionately rubbed her head. “If Eleanor likes you, then you must be a good man, she’s the best judge of character I know.” Rusty could hear her short tail thumping against the seat.

Duane smiled warmly at Rusty, turned around and started driving down the road. Rusty was relieved that Duane wasn’t shooing him away from his granddaughter; the friendly old guy actually seemed to like him. There was something about him that made Rusty feel warm and accepted, he hoped Duane wouldn’t change his mind and tell him to get lost.

Speaking in Minor Keys 3

September 26, 2009

Rusty leaned back into the dusty seat and listened to the rumble of the engine as it echoed off the surrounding hills. A pair of raccoons scampered out of the way as the car rolled down the narrow road. Duane eased down on the brakes and Diana reached for the dashboard to brace against a sudden stop that never came. Duane knew he had to start talking fast before his inquisitive granddaughter hit him with a barrage of questions.
He glanced back at Rusty and Eleanor in the mirror. The shy youngster had his arm around the bulldog as she drooled on his legs. He liked Rusty, but could see the fear of rejection that gripped the thin, pale drifter. How had such a young man been beaten down so much? He knew Rusty would need lots of love patience and prayer. He prayed silently ”Lord show me how to love Rusty like you do,”
Rusty noticed Duane’s glance in the mirror and wondered what the grizzled old preacher was thinking about him. He scratched Eleanor’s wide skull, closed his eyes and drank in a long slow breath. The cool breeze felt good as it streamed through the window and filled his lungs. Rusty smiled at a sudden memory. He was riding with his sister down by the beach on a bright summer day. He remembered feeling the cool ocean breeze as it caressed his skin. A car full of teenage boys pulled up next to them at a stoplight and they all stared at the two fair-skinned redheads in the convertible. One of the boys pointed at Rusty and said something to the others. They all stared at Rusty and started laughing. Rusty remembered feeling like his body was trying to turn itself inside out. He felt small and weird as if he was strange and everyone else was normal. His sister smiled and gently brushed back his hair. “Don’t worry about them, Rusty. If you don’t care what they think about you they can’t hurt you. Besides, if you don’t stop worrying I am just going to tickle you until you stop.” Rachel grabbed him and started tickling his ribcage. The traffic light turned green and she right on kept tickling. Rusty remembered the horns honking behind them as he gasped for air, he was laughing so hard he couldn’t even talk. Finally, Rachel stopped tickling long enough for him to catch his breath and tell her he didn’t care what anyone thought, as long as they were together.
The sound of Diana’s voice jerked him back to the present. “Grandpa, would you please tell us where you were.”
Duane stopped the car looked both ways and turned left onto the main highway. “Okay Diana, just hold your questions and I’ll tell you the whole story. Just let me go back about three weeks to when this whole crazy thing began, that’s when I started seeing dead squirrels and raccoons on my morning walks with Eleanor. They looked like someone had purposely tortured them. I will spare you the gruesome details, just believe me that out there somewhere is a very sadistic and cruel person. Once or twice a week I would come across some new atrocity.”
“Last week the victims started getting larger. First, I found the remains of a fawn, several days later it was a young colt. There was a lot of blood spilled around the bodies, almost like it had been spilled there on purpose. I also noticed the heart had been cut out of each animal.”
The engine revved as Duane pushed in the clutch and moved the column shifter to second gear. “I dragged the two bodies together, intending to bury them when I could get back with a shovel. But both bodies were gone when I returned.”
Diana stated to ask a question but Rusty interrupted her. “Did you find the bodies on that large granite rock that juts out over the stream?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I did. Does that mean something to you?”
Rusty brushed his hair back with his hand and popped his gum. “Yes, it does. Did you notice anything carved into the skin of the animals?”
“Yeah, I did. Both the fawn and the colt had a pentagram carved into the left side of their bodies. Rusty, you want to tell me what’s going on?”
Duane shifted to third gear and the old station wagon roared up the highway. Rusty spit his gum out of the car and leaned forward. “It looks like someone is doing ritualistic sacrifices down by the stream. The animals are getting larger, that means whoever is doing this wants more power. The fact that they are killing young animals, tells us even more about them. Slaughtering the young seems repulsive to most people, but that only makes it more desirable for them. They hold in contempt anything we believe about mercy or goodness.” Duane gazed through the rear view mirror at the back seat. Rusty’s face was flushed and damp, he held on to Eleanor and stared out into the darkness as he spoke.
Duane had a pretty good idea what the pentagrams meant, but guessed Rusty was an expert on the matter.
“You know what those pentagrams mean don’t you Rusty?”
Rusty frowned and stared at his boots. “Yeah, I know. They mean trouble. Whoever is doing this is getting more and more hungry, no telling where they will stop. If I was you I would keep Eleanor close at all times.” He gave Eleanor a gentle squeeze and she licked his face.
Rusty wiped his face off with his sleeve and wagged his finger at Eleanor. “Hey you, what did I tell you about slobbering? From now on keep your drool and your tongue to yourself.”
Eleanor responded with a friendly bark and licked his outstretched finger. Duane and Diana smiled at each other and tried to keep from laughing. They both failed.
Duane passed a bottle of water to Rusty without looking back. “You might as well give up on that, Rusty. Licking and slobbering is her way of showing affection and that that dog just loves you.”
Diana was getting impatient. “You still haven’t told us where you were tonight grandpa.”
“Lady, can you restrain yourself for just one minute?” Duane glanced at Rusty and nodded his head toward Diana. “Sheesh, The girl has less patience than a camel at a drinking fountain.” Rusty didn’t know what to say, so he just shook his head and grinned. He opened the bottle of water and drained half of it in one long noisy swallow.
“Grandpa, are you going to tell us or not?”
Duane smiled affectionately at Diana. She reminded him so much of his wife Mavis. She was so smart, so full of questions, so beautiful and always racing to her next conclusion. “Okay Diana I’m getting to it, just hold on.”
Duane slowed the old station wagon down as he approached Sin Gatos city limits “Just for you I’ll jump right to that part.” He paused and scratched the thin white stubble on his chin.
“That would bring us to this afternoon when I decided to find out what was going on down by the creek. I waited for the sun to start setting, made Eleanor stay in the house and crept down to the creek. I found a nice spot where I could see everything and settled in. About eight o’clock two people showed up dressed in brown robes with hoods. There was a tall one and a short one. They looked like some sort of monks.”
“The tall one started chanting something I couldn’t understand.” Duane stopped the car when he heard Rusty gasp. He pulled over and turned to the back seat. “Are you okay Rusty?”
Rusty waved off his questions and told him to continue but Diana couldn’t hold back anymore. “Wait a minute, we were down at the stream and we didn’t see any mysterious hooded figures.”
Duane held his hand up like a traffic cop at a busy intersection. “Hold on Diana, I’ll tell you the whole thing. Just give me a chance to finish.”
Duane sighed dramatically and continued. “Anyway, let’s see where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?” Duane glared at Diana then broke into a grin. Diana responded with a mock glare of her own.
“Oh yeah, then the taller monk lights this large candle inside of some sort of lantern. The faint light allowed me to see a little better. The other shorter monk laid down on the rock and pulled down her brown robe until I could see a pale slim back. I could tell that the shorter monk was definitely a woman, her pale white skin seemed almost translucent.”
“Then, the tall monk pulls out this nasty looking curved knife and squats down next to her on the rock. I had to hold back when the tall monk started carving on her slim back, she grunted and jerked but the other monk just kept carving and chanting. After a few minutes, the tall monk pulls out a small metallic cup and starts collecting blood from her back. You won’t believe what happened next.”
Diana seized the chance to impress her grandpa. “I’ll bet the pale female monk peed in the cup.”
Duane turned to Rusty who just shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, that’s right. Then, she starts drinking out of the cup. Next thing I know the tall monk is raising the curved knife over her bloody back.”
Duane paused and turned to Diana. “That was all I could stand. I jumped up and started yelling”
“Right away, the female monk gets up and tears off into the woods. Then the tall monk blows out the candle and disappears too.”
“I took off after them as fast as I could using the light of the full moon to search through the woods. I had just enough light to see where I was going, but there was no trace of them anywhere. Of course they would have been easy to lose in the dark woods. I was afraid of getting lost myself.”
“I must have searched a good two miles into those woods, it seemed like a lot further as I crept through the shadows. I half expected the tall monk to jump out at me with that wicked knife at any second. When you are by yourself at night in the woods your senses can play tricks on you. If you strain your ears too much you start hearing things off in the darkness that aren’t there. Several times I whirled around just knowing that monk and his knife were right behind me. Of course, there was no one there but that didn’t slow down my pounding heart.”
“After about two hours and enough false alarms to send me into cardiac arrest, I finally gave up and decided to call it a night. When I got back to the house and couldn’t find Eleanor I got really worried, she is not one to wander off by herself. When I tell her to stay she always stays put.” Duane smiled, reached over and rubbed Eleanor’s head. “Isn’t that right Eleanor?” The little dog shifted in the seat and nudged Duane’s hand with her nose.
Duane turned to his granddaughter. “That’s when I decided to head to town for the Sheriff’s office.”
Rusty finished his water with another long swallow and Duane paused to consider his next step. He listened to the distant howl of a semi as it thundered up the highway. Diana broke into his thoughts. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
Duane started the car, looked in his mirror and headed into town. He drove past a small white clapboard church with a tall pointy steeple. A worn path of dull red bricks wound through an overgrown brown lawn to a faded brick porch. A heavy wooden door stood between two small windows.
The Chevy rolled past a dirty looking brown brick building. A dull streetlight cast shadows on the seamy façade. An old neon sign flashed ‘rank saloon’ over the front door. Rusty noticed the sign originally had spelled out ‘Franks Saloon’ before the letters “F” and “s” had burned out. Dim light from the flickering sign reflected off two dirty windows. Green paint rose half way up the windows to hide after-work husbands from angry wives. A faded green door swung open and a happy customer stumbled onto the cracked sidewalk.
He slurred through an off-key rendition of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as he ambled by a splintered stairway that ascended into shadows. The two upstairs windows were bare and dark.
A bright streetlight stood next to the old saloon shining down on the only parking lot in town. The small lot was newly paved with clean white lines contrasting the pristine blacktop. One space was taken by a white police car; the other three spots were vacant. A white metal sign read “Parking for Sherriff’s Office only, all others will be towed.”
Rusty picked up Eleanor and set her down in the lot. She sniffed around for the right spot then relieved herself on the black pavement. Rusty could hear her jowls flapping as she shook her head, drool flew in all directions.
Duane reached into the back of the car and pulled out a plastic green saucer. For a second Rusty thought Duane was going to throw the saucer so Eleanor could catch it. Instead he turned the saucer upside down, filled it with water and set it on the black pavement. He called his dog and she waddled over and started lapping water from the makeshift bowl. Eleanor drank her fill then strolled over to a neat flower garden facing the street. A large white sign was planted among even rows of Primrose and Petunias. A picture of a badge rested in the center of the sign between the words Sherriff’s Department in bold blue letters. An empty white flagpole stood next to the sign.
Duane called Eleanor before she started digging up flowers and they all headed towards the Sheriff’s Office.
The small building was covered in rough plaster that looked like cottage cheese. It had two aluminum framed windows and a fresh coat of nondescript beige paint. A clean cement walkway led to the front door. Sherriff’s Office was spelled out in black letters on a large glass door with polished aluminum handle running across the middle.
Duane held the door open as Diana, Rusty and Eleanor walked in. The cool conditioned air carried the smell of fresh paint. Glaring light gleamed down from neon ceiling lamps onto industrial brown carpet. The ceiling looked like it was made from the same lumpy cottage cheese as the outside walls. The whole room was painted the same non-descript beige as the outside of the building. Two steel doors with small barred windows flanked the back of the room. A door on the right side of the room was marked Sheriff in thick black letters. On the left side of the room was a bathroom, a water cooler, a brand new coffee maker and a cheap white cabinet. A cabinet door hung open to reveal brown packets of coffee, a jar of creamer, red plastic stir sticks, artificial sweetener and foam cups.
Next to the cabinet was a glass fronted display case with even rows of wanted posters. An ugly, surly faced glared out from one poster that read “Wanted by the FBI, Terrence Massaroni, aka “The Crusher” for bank robbery.
Everyone headed towards a young woman sitting at a large grey desk in the middle of the room. She stared at a large monitor as she shouted into a small cell phone. A well-tailored tan uniform clung to her trim body; her nappy hair was picked out into a neat afro. She looked up to see who was interrupting her phone call and broke into a wide smile.
“I’ll call you back.” She snapped the cell phone shut and put it in her pocket. “Diana, it’s so good to see you. How have you been?” Bright red lips contrasted smooth brown skin and her eyes were delicately highlighted. Rusty wondered how much time she spent in front of a mirror each day. When she stood up he noticed how tall she was. She had to stoop down to embrace Diana.
Diana reached up for a friendly hug. “Hi Anita, it’s great to see you too. How’s Sherriff Howell been treating you?
“Sherriff Howell? Didn’t your grandpa tell you? He disappeared three months ago. Bill Williams saw him head out for a hike in the woods and that’s the last we saw of him. We found his car parked out by your grandpa’s house.” She nodded at Duane and continued.
“We got a new Sherriff now. Came here from Texas. His name is Barney Taylor.”
Rusty burst out laughing “You gotta’ be kidding me, Barney Taylor? Why not Andy Fife or Opie Gomer?”
Anita eyed Rusty suspiciously. “Who’s this Diana? He looks like a drug addict and he’s got some kind of slime all over his pants. What is that anyway? On second thought, never mind, I do not want to know.”
Diana moved to stand between Rusty and Anita. “C’mon Anita, you can drop the cop act with me. This is Rusty and he is a good friend. So lighten up.”
Anita frowned at Diana. “Yeah, I know you and your friends. Is this what goes to school with you up there in Davis, or did you drag him out of some crack house?”
Rusty put on the special face he kept for cops. He didn’t smile or frown but slid into a blank expression. He looked Anita in the eyes, and turned away, he didn’t want to challenge her by staring too long.
Anita returned his stare. “Sheriff Taylor doesn’t take it lightly when people make fun of his name. If I was you I would avoid the subject.”
She turned to Duane for help. “You let your granddaughter associate with this kind of trash? Looks like somebody needs to shorten this girls’ leash.”
“Don’t worry about it Anita, I’ll vouch for him. Have I ever bought a problem into our town?”
Anita frowned at the suggestion. “Yes, as a matter of fact you have. I’m thinking about the kid from Long Beach you tried to help last year. The fool got caught tippin’ cows out at the Jenison farm. What was his name, Alan something or other? I thought old man Jenison was going to run him through with that pitchfork. ”
Duane chuckled quietly and grinned at Anita. “Alright, so Alan got into a little trouble, it hardly destroyed the quality of life in Sin Gatos. Besides it gave people something new to talk about for weeks. Don’t you ever get tired of the same old gossip?”
Anita was not convinced. “Mr. Gonzales you can vouch all you want, but I’m keeping my eye on this one.”
Duane realized it was pointless to continue the conversation. “You do that Anita. But you know I did come here for a reason besides bringing in such a hardened criminal. There’s something funny going on up by Aspen Creek.”
Duane spent the next twenty minutes telling Anita about the strange events up by his house. He intentionally left out Rusty’s expertise in the matter.
Anita listened quietly and scribbled a few notes on a small pad. When Duane was finished she studied her notes and looked over at Rusty.
“And where were you when all this was going on?”
Rusty pointed towards Diana and avoided eye contact with Anita. “Diana picked me up in Pahrump at about 9pm tonight. We have been together since then.”
Anita made a quick entry to her notes. “Do you live in Pahrump?”
“Yeah, for the last six months.”
Diana had heard enough. “What is the matter with you Anita? Do you just have something against redheads or what? I’m telling you Rusty had nothing to do with this.”
“I’ll be the one deciding that Diana. You just keep out of the way and let me do my job.”
“Then why don’t you do it and stop harassing Rusty.”
Rusty saw this situation could turn ugly in a heartbeat. The last thing he wanted was to cause trouble for Diana. He decided to act quickly before the fur started flying. He pulled out his driver’s license and stepped forward.
“Here is my license deputy go ahead and check me out.”
Anita took the license from Rusty’s trembling hand. She held it carefully between two well manicured fingers, got a tissue from her desk and wiped it off.
“Um-hmm I think I’ll just do that.”
She sat down at her desk and started keying in his information. It didn’t take long before his picture appeared on the screen.
“Thought so, this fine citizen has more records than an Elvis convention. Let’s see, possession of cocaine, possession, possession, grand theft auto, vagrancy. How do they let people like you on the street cowboy?”
Anita continued scrolling through Rusty’s records. “Uh oh, what’s this? This is bad, real bad. Looks like I just got me a prisoner for my new jail.”
Anita stood up and announced in a stiff formal manner. “Russell Dalrymple you are under arrest.”
Rusty’s whole body seemed to slump, his eyes glazed over as he hung his head and mumbled, “Okay I give up, you win again. Go ahead deputy and do your job.”

Speaking In Minor Keys Chapter 4

September 25, 2009


The initial shock passed and Duane found his voice. “Just a minute Anita, what are the charges against Rusty?”
Anita nodded at her prisoner “When the court sends you to a treatment program instead of prison, you are supposed to stay and finish the program. Our boy here walked.”
Rusty turned around and stared at the floor. His face was flushed and a drop of sweat ran off the end of his nose. Anita knew something wasn’t right. “Duane could you call my dad, I want him to take a look at Dalrymple.”
Diana glared at Anita. “His name is Rusty, you talk about him like is some sort of statistic. He’s a human being you know.”
Anita ignored Diana and turned to Rusty. “Are you alright Dalrymple? You don’t look so good.”
Rusty looked up gave her a weak smile. Her words circled through his consciousness and slowly formed a thought; he finally realized she was asking him a question. His mind refused to focus, if he could just close his eyes and get some rest.
Duane recognized the symptoms. “Listen to me Anita; I don’t need to talk to your dad. He may be a doctor but I’ve seen this thing plenty. I know you think Rusty has been using drugs, but it looks to me like his current problem is alcohol withdrawals. He’s probably a maintenance drinker. He needs to have a steady supply of alcohol otherwise he gets really sick. He probably won’t be able to sleep or eat for the next three days, he will need lots of liquids probably won’t be able to hold down food. Ever hear of a grand mal seizure?”
Anita gave him a blank look. “A what?”
“A grand mal seizure, it happened to me once. I was coming down off of a three day run. I was out of money and out of booze, standing in my kitchen shaking like a wet Chihuahua and wondering how I could get something to drink. I needed it desperately. The next thing I know I’m coming to on the floor with a big knot on my head from where I fell. I had a seizure and my heart momentarily stopped beating. At the time I didn’t even know what had happened. That’s how it is with most people; they regain consciousness somewhere and don’t know how they got there. But sometimes their heart doesn’t start again and that’s how people die.”
Anita swallowed her fear and locked eyes with Duane. “Ain’t nobody dying around here. We’ll just give Rusty a nice cell with a bed to sleep it off.
Anita pulled a large manila envelope from her desk and looked down at her slumping prisoner. She nudged Rusty forward. “Let’s go Dalrymple.”
Rusty slowly shuffled across the room as Anita recited his rights. The stale cold air filled him with an icy chill. His head throbbed and every joint in his body ached.
He heard Anita’s voice off in the distance as she guided him forward. He saw his feet moving far below as the office flowed around him. A tinny voice was saying something about attorneys and rights.
Anita followed Rusty to the back of the room and set the envelope on a small metal table next to the cell door. “Okay Dalrymple, put your hands against the wall and spread your legs. Can you hear me Dalrymple? I said raise your hands and spread your legs.”
Rusty felt someone raise his hands over his head and place them against the wall. He slumped forward glad to have something to lean against. A sound like the surf pounding against the shore roared through his head. He felt hands frisking him and pulling things out of his pockets, words ricocheted through his skull like a cherry bomb in a tunnel.
Anita felt something suspicious in Rusty’s shirt pocket. “What’s this Dalrymple?” She looked disappointed as she pulled out his pack of tobacco and lighter. She opened it and sniffed just to make sure. She put the tobacco and lighter in the large envelope and kept on frisking. She stopped again at his back pocket and pulled out a large hunting knife. She frowned and tossed it towards a garbage can near her desk.
“Dalrymple somebody must be praying for you. I don’t know why, but I’m going to forget I found a concealed weapon in your pocket.” She finished her search and deposited everything in the manila envelope. “One wallet with forty-three dollars, a driver’s license and an old photo. Three sticks of gum and a quarter. Okay, you can lower your arms and turn around.”
Rusty heard the words “knife”, “concealed weapon” and “praying for you.” The words drifted away like a bird flying over the horizon.
His arms were pulled away from the wall and a door open in front of him. He saw a narrow bed towering up from the floor. He plopped down onto the bed as beige walls closed in around him. When shut his eyes the bed started to sway like it was floating on a sea of waves. It started turning and dropped into a slow moving whirlpool. He heard the air conditioner pumping but couldn’t pinpoint where it was. His body pulsed with the rhythmic hum of the machine. The constant throb became his only existence. It pulsed and pounded in a familiar rhythm. He squeezed his head between his hands, as the sound possessed him. But on and on it went.
Anita was starting to worry about Rusty. She saw him slap his hands over his ears and his mouth opened in a silent scream. He seemed barely coherent and the bed was already damp from his sweat. “Rusty, Rusty, can you hear me?”
Rusty heard a distant voice calling his name but it was soon lost in the rhythmic vibrations that filled his existence. The sound started forming into a familiar chant that filled him with dread. He could hear the chanting voices rise and fall in an eerie cadence. He was back in the dark scorching tunnel of his nightmares. His scream sounded faint against the droning voices as he fell towards the fierce inferno at the bottom of the tunnel.
He squirmed and wiggled as clawed hands shot out from the darkness-trying grab him and rip him into pieces. The claws tore into his flesh. Putrid black smoke rose up the tunnel scorching his lungs, and burning his eyes. The smell made him cough and gag as it crept through his nose and mouth. It was joined by the odor of burnt flesh as his skin began to blister and peel.
All the voices coalesced into one. He could hear the hatred as the sound pierced him like a fiery dart. It was the venomous voice of his mom cursing and deriding him as a worthless little puke. He could feel her malignant pleasure as she promised to make him pay for everything he had done. She was standing before him with a bloody knife poised above her head. The blood dripped down on to front of her robe forming a hideous scarlet stain. “ I should have aborted you when I had the chance you useless little piece of crap.” She tried to slit his throat but Rusty dropped like a wounded bird into the fiery chasm and the knife flashed over his head. His mom let out a wretched shriek. “Come back here you little bastard. See what mommy has for you.”
Rusty screamed and fell out of the narrow bead, he started thrashing around on the concrete floor. Anita put her hands on his shoulders and Eleanor let out a series of plaintiff barks. “Duane, he’s having a seizure.”
Rusty began to slowly spin down the tunnel. He spun faster, building more and more speed until he felt completely out of control. Everything was a blur as it sped past his eyes. He heard the wind whistle as it rushed around him and blew his damp hair into his face. His cries of despair whirled around his head. He was gripped with overwhelming dread as he shot down the long dark tunnel. His stomach tried to force it’s way out of his mouth and he began to retch and vomit. He could see his sister Rachel standing with her back to him. Blood was gushing out of the pentagram carved into her back. He called to her but she didn’t respond. When he reached out and shook her shoulder her head rolled off onto the floor and stopped at his feet. Her eyes opened and she began to curse and swear. “You little creep, I told you to stay in your room. Now look what you’ve done to me. Why don’t you get out of my life? I never liked you and I don’t need some little pest always hanging around.” Rusty wailed in agony and clamped his eyes shut.
He was walking between two cops as they led him out of his house. His voice sounded small and weak as he called out for his sister. “Rachel, where are you?” The cops said nothing and a large hand shoved him into the black and white car. He forced himself not to cry and closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see as his home and his sister slipped away into the distance.
He tried to open his eyes when he heard a new sound. Barking! It was a warm and friendly voice that seemed to be calling to him.
He knew that bark, if only he could remember. It took all he had to focus on the hoarse barking. The loathsome chanting returned with a new intensity but couldn’t overpower the familiar sound. He smiled when he finally recognized the voice. It was Eleanor and she was trying to tell him something. As he listened her barks formed into a pattern. She was sending him a message of hope, pleading with him to look up and reach out for help.
Rusty felt a cool breeze coming from over his head. The pure air drove away the dark noxious haze and filled him with the sweet smell of a high mountain forest. It cooled his lungs and soothed his skin.
He looked up and gasped in surprise. A magnificent eagle hovered directly above him glowing with a grey translucence. White feathers crowned its’ great head giving the eagle a look of authority. Huge iridescent wings looked more like strong muscular arms that ended in finger-like feathers. Elegant patterns in hues of gray and black covered the eagles’ chest.
The great bird cried out with a voice that he would never forget. Rusty reached up with both arms as high as they would go. The eagle swooped down and gently gripped Rusty in his enormous talons. The eagle hid Rusty amongst the thick feathers covering his chest to protect him from the surging flames. Rusty could see feathers burning as the eagle rushed upward.
Anita held onto Rusty so he wouldn’t fall off of the bed again. He screamed and thrashed like a man on fire. Suddenly he stopped and lay perfectly still. Anita froze, and Eleanor growled and barked. “Help us Lord, don’t let him die.” She put her ear against his chest and waited for a heartbeat that never came. “Duane, call the paramedics. His heart stopped.” Anita pinched his nose, covered his mouth with hers, filled his lungs with her breath and repeated the whole procedure again. She ripped open his shirt and pumped his chest with both hands while counting each pump out loud.” One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten…” When she reached thirty the grabbed his wrist and felt for a pulse. “C’mon Rusty don’t die on me.” She bent down and breathed into his mouth two more times then started her pump. Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she counted off the pumps. When she reached a count of twelve Rusty started coughing.
“He’s awake”. Duane and Diana rushed into the room. Anita stepped back. Rusty sat groggily up and groaned. The room slowly came into a hazy focus around him. “What happened? I feel terrible.