Supernatural Fiction posted November 21, 2015


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Shaman and Scientist Meet

The Conjurer, Part Six

by Writingfundimension

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
PREVIOUS CHAPTER ENDING:

Feeling like a classical musician struggling with the improvisational nuances of jazz, I burned to fit all the pieces together, but would have to settle for going with the flow. Puente's sunglasses were back in place and the way he lengthened his neck and held his head steady told me to back off for now.

Laying  my head back against the seat, I closed my eyes and replayed the scene. A detail begged for my attention. So, I went through the steps again and there it was! When we'd first gotten close to the truck, nothing seemed amiss. It was only after following it for some distance that the engine blew. Puente had known something was going to happen to the truck; I was sure of it. But how was that possible?

**********

Location of the story: Saltillo, Mexico

Less than twenty-four hours with these people, and I was a mess. Rousing myself from the perplexing drama that had just unfolded, I grabbed up my notebook and held it against my thumping heart. Flipping through its pages was like making my way across a frozen pond. My writing grew sloppy as fatigue and liquor took its toll. To my relief, though, I'd laid out a pretty good plan before conking out.

My extensive experience in dealing with delusional personalities would serve me well in my next meeting with the shaman. It was my belief he'd deliberately created a scenario foreign to the average American, resulting in disorientation. I had to admire the masterful way he pulled this off. But I would insist on a straight answer as to how he was able to accomplish this feat as well as his over-the-top disappearing act. Admittedly, better odds of winning the lotto.

Internally, I was caught up in the picture of how he might react to this challenge, when a dark shape pulled my attention away from the pages. It took me a minute to absorb what I was seeing through the window. That's a red-tailed hawk. It's keeping pace with the Cadillac as if we're in a race together!

It didn't appear to be hunting food--rather, I sensed it to be conjoined with our vehicle in some strange way. As an avid hiker, I'd observed hawks in the wild. Surely this behavior was at odds with the bird's instincts? I wanted to giggle like a four-year-old finding Santa's milk glass empty, but suppressed the urge by clamping my lips together. I heard a voice in my head say, "The wind brings you its first gift, Stefano."

"Did one of you just speak to me?" I demanded of the two men in the front seat.

Carlos looked around his headrest to where I huddled against the door. "We said nothing, Senor."

"But I just heard... oh, never mind," I sighed.

He stared at me for a long minute, and then turned back around.

So much for taking control of the situation.

I looked back out the window, expecting the hawk to be gone. It still kept pace with the car--its body stiff and straight, despite its undulating wings; and its eyes were fixed on a distant point. I marveled at the shimmering quality of its rich, brown body feathers and the cinnamon red of its tail. My thoughts fell away. I'd done nothing to deserve such a gift. Yet, here it was and I was its recipient, much like a sojourner looking up just as a falling star traces a line through the desert sky.

Then, quick as the spark of a firefly, the hawk disappeared. I pressed my face against the window, thinking I would see it descending to take its prey. There was no trace of it in the sky or on the ground. I grabbed my head and lowered my chin to my chest with little regard to whether I was making a scene.

Disembodied voices, hallucinations, paranoia: I'm cracking up!

A tight band across my chest signaled the beginning of a panic attack, and I knew I needed to reframe my thoughts. "Everything you've heard of this shaman indicates that he's legitimate," I reminded myself. "What motive would he have for kidnapping you? Besides, he likely expects that your colleagues back in Texas will start to wonder if you disappear." Resorting to reason helped calm me. The tightness dissipated in small increments, and I felt I'd bought myself some time.

I splayed my fingers across my cheeks and pulled fresh air into my lungs. Dropping my hands to my lap, I closed the notebook, lifted my shoulders and stared at the road ahead. Though still a bit shaky, I directed my attention to the muscles in my face and neck and mentally repeated the message, "Rest, relax and let go." This type of self-hypnosis, without fail, soothed me.

We crested a hill. Halfway down the other side, Puente swerved to the right. Blacktop gave way to a road scarred with ruts, but he seemed unconcerned by the speed with which he maneuvered the Cadillac over and around them. At one point, my notebook lifted off my lap and fell to the floor. Everything in the car rolled from side to side like rocks in a box.

A sudden fullness in my ears indicated we were climbing even higher than the five-thousand-foot altitude of Saltillo. I noticed more agave plants and tall grasses unique to this part of the Chihuahuan Desert. The dust created by our passing car was quickly swallowed up by the forbidding terrain. I couldn't help but think a lone human could suffer the same fate.

The ascent was steady, and the terrain changed to clay-colored boulders piled atop each other like dice tossed by the hands of the gods. Grama grasses and creosote bushes grew thick and provided a resting point for my eyes. I gripped the edge of Puente's headrest and was about to ask our ETA, when he announced we'd reached our destination. Since we seemed to have simply reached a summit from which I could see for many miles, I was thoroughly confused.

"Where's the house?" 

Puente pointed to a path some yards from the car. "Follow that for a half-mile or so. You can't miss the place." He removed his glasses and rolled his eyes in the direction of the path. "We've been instructed to leave you at the gate."

"Gate! There is no fucking gate. There's a dirt path leading to God knows where. Is this a joke?"

Puente's cold smile accentuated the scar marring the symmetry of his right cheek. "I assure you, Senor, our teacher does not indulge in meaningless gestures. His actions are impeccable, as you will discover for yourself." He reached out with his right hand and tapped Carlos' forearm. "Help Doctor Morales gather his things. Get him oriented to the path's direction and return to the car. I'll be waiting."

                                                                     *****

At least I'd had the good sense to wear hiking boots. As I followed the path in the direction Carlos indicated, I felt eyes on me as the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention. I turned around twice but saw nothing. I stepped with care because I was certain something I did not want to piss off was lurking in the slight shade of the bushes lining the path. The midday temperature was bearable due to the high altitude. Though this was good news for a hiker, it also meant predators would be on the move.

The thin air caused me to hyperventilate, and I grew dizzy. Stopping to catch my breath, I heard a rustling sound nearby. Scanning the area, I spied the movement of a sinuous, black shape winding itself around the base of a creosote bush not six feet away. A sudden wind rose up and, to my horror, the object lifted off the ground and flew directly into my face.

I gagged on a scream. I'm going to die!

My survival instinct surged to the forefront, and I grasped my attacker. Touching it, I realized it did not have scales. In fact, it was smooth as newborn skin. Furthermore, it smelled quite wonderful. In my hands lay a scarf--a woman's scarf. It smelled of rose and spice--a scent I'd come to associate with the shaman's female protege.

I hadn't heard him coming, but between two blinks of an eye, there stood Senor Pasquale. He wore a multi-color serape and a hat providing more than adequate shade. The shock must have shown on my face because he hurried forward to stand next to me. He grabbed my shoulder and said, "My poor Doctor Morales. I fear you've had a most difficult day." Heat spread outward from where he touched me, and I felt all the gathered tension drain through the soles of my feet.

I searched Pasquale's features, finding no trace of artifice. His skin was remarkably smooth for a man reputed to be in his eighth decade, and his eyes were soft and inviting. To my horror, I blurted out, "I don't understand what's happening. I'm not usually so... so emotional."

He tipped back the brim of his hat and looked up at the cloudless sky. "I was once like you, Doctor Morales." Bending, he stared at the ground--staying motionless for some seconds--while I wondered how he could imagine that he and I were anything alike.

His shoulders slumped, and he mumbled at the ground. "Yes, it's true."

Then he lifted his head and tightened the grip on my shoulder. He fixed me with a cold, black stare, and my sense of well-being took a nose dive.

"You are wondering how a profesor de la Universidad and a viejo loco like me could possibly have anything in common."

Shit, that is what I'm thinking. Is he reading my mind?

"I'm not reading your mind, Doctor. I'm remembering my own encounter with Spirit. I was like you--a man who felt in control of his life. I fought my destiny, just as you are doing now."

I threw off his hand and stuck my chest out like a pugilistic cock. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I came here for one reason alone: to interview you for my book." I was heaving with anger.

Senor Pasquale laid a finger alongside his nose and nodded. His features evened out. His eyes, once again, sparkled with humor. "Well, perhaps I've misjudged the situation." He gestured toward a distant point. "I'm sure you're thirsty and hungry. Come, join me for lunch, and perhaps afterward, you can take a short nap. Then we'll talk."

"That doesn't fit with my plans," I complained. "I was planning to leave for Texas in the morning."

"I'm afraid that's not going to be possible, Doctor Morales." He turned to continue along the path at an astonishing speed for a man of his age. I jogged in order to catch up. 

"You'll be my guest for the time being," he said as I drew close. "In fact, Puente has returned to the hotel to collect your belongings and settle your account. No need to thank me, though." He swung an arm backward with the palm open and facing upward. "Stick close! A jaguar and its mate share my property."

~~~ TO BE CONTINUED~~~
 


Recognized


Characters:

Carlos: Protege of the shaman, don Pasquale, and Puente's American cousin.
Stefano Morales, PhD: American neuropsychologist.
don Pasquale: Mexican shaman
Puente: Mexican protege of the shaman, don Pasquale.

Terms:

Profesor de la Universidad: University professor
Serape: A long blanket shawl, often bright colored and fringed at the ends. Saltillo, Mexico is renowed for its production of traditional Mexican serapes.
Shaman: A practitioner of the healing arts.
Viejo Loco: Crazy old man.

Thanks to hevenlymom for use of the fantastic artwork!
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