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Devil in the Details

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Writing about a culture other than your own can provide more than a few complications. I a pure fantasy setting, the author has more control and, so long as he is consistent, can tweak things a bit and make it work. However, when we use a real culture to base our story on, and where a member of that culture may pick up and read your story, we had better get the details right. Unless…

My protagonist is half-Apache, a native american tribe that lives in the southwestern United States and into Mexico. His father was a tribal holy man and taught my protagonist the ways of spiritual medicine. During this instruction a ritual takes place to help my protagonist find a spiritual guide. The spirit guide helps an individual travel along life’s ever changing path. The spirit guide turns out to be “Snake”. This is where things get dicey.

I had written about three-quarters of the story before I found out how Snake is viewed in the Apache culture. The Apache see Snake as a very negative spirit. Often seen as evil, the Apache people will distance themselves from anything related to Snake. Whether it is the real creature, an image, a vision, or a story, Snake is Very bad medicine.

When I first made this discovery, I began to panic. Thinking I would need to rewrite whole sections to either change the spirit guide to something else, or change his tribe to something that looked favorably on the Snake. Instead of jumping off a cliff, I decided to go ahead and finish the first draft without making huge changes. I tried very hard to not let this knowledge guide the story in any way.

After the required cooling off period once the first draft was finished, I did a quick read through and a second read through where I jotted down the more glaring issues and holes. During the second time through, it hit me that the main character was still a little flat.Along with this I was leaning toward changing his tribal lineage.

Then while I was discussing a similar topic with my brother, it dawned on me that the answer to my flat character was right there. The fact that an Apache shaman has Snake as a spirit guide would add several layers of conflict for the character.

So not counting the major conflicts he faces throughout the plot line, he has to deal with being a half-breed, an Apache with Snake as a guide, and his job makes him walk the line between the normal world and those who use magic.

Now I have a character with more than a little color. Yes, I have to add a few sections to exacerbate and the situation, but it will definitely make for a more memorable character.

This turned out to be one of those details that worked out in the end. However, I am more careful about performing research on areas that I am not 100% sure of.

 
 

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And then the trouble starts! A and W Part VII

This is a scene from a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is a series of flash pieces that are the beginnings of my current WIP.. This scene happens later in the story than the previous posts though it didn’t start that way. It just made sense as I wrote it that it would be more of a turning point.  This will probably be the last installment I post of this story for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I don’t want you to see too much more of it before it starts going into revision.

A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Pentacle. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects to be a warlock.

The door rolled open a foot on well oiled tracks. Even so, it made more noise than I would have liked. I slipped through the opening and into the darkness beyond. The faint scent of burning chocolate over the smell of horses and manure, told me someone or something was using magic. There was a pale green glow coming from the stables. It provided just enough light so I could pick my way through the vehicles and equipment stored at this end of the barn.  

I passed by the tack room and as I approached the stables, I saw a horse rear up in its stall. However, I didn’t hear any sound at all coming from the stables. I stayed close to the wall on my left side. My stalking walk was all but silent under the worst of conditions so, I was not worried about being heard. The horse continued to buck and crash into the sides of the stall until one of the stable gates opened and a man stepped out into the glow. His shoulders stood above the top of the gate and from that distance he seemed tragically thin. Long dark hair partially covered an angular face as he walked toward me. The grey sweatshirt hung from his shoulders and barely reached the top of his torn jeans. His long strides brought him within a few feet before he stopped and considered me.

“Howdy,” he said with a voice that resembled Lurch from the Adams Family. “Can I help you?”

The air now smelled like I had fallen into a vat of burnt chocolate. The hair on the back of my hands and neck was at full attention. Whoever this was, he was bad news in spades. I smiled and tried to show him I was relaxed when inside, every muscle and tendon was vibrating like a guitar string. I drew power up through the orb in my right hand and prepared a proper welcome if it came to that.

“Hi, I’m looking for Ramone,” I said, not wanting to give him any real names.

“That’s me,” he said as he smiled and took a step toward me.

He began to stretch out his hand towards me when two things struck me. First, his hands were much too large for his frame. And two, his teeth looked like they had been sharpened with a file.

“I don’t think so,” I said as I took a step back. 

His hand flashed up toward my throat. Somehow he had gotten much closer to me than I remember him being. My orb pulsed and my left hand caught his wrist a few inches short of his target. The speed and strength the orb provided was barely enough to keep him away. His eyes flashed red as he glanced down at our interlocked hands. His fingers straightened and instantly grew into foot long talons that tore through my shirt and plunged deep into my shoulder. The orb fell from my hand as all feeling drained from my right hand. I pushed with my left hand which still held his wrist and twisted away. The talons shredded the front of my shirt and tore lines across the flesh or my chest.

He chuckled as I looked down at my ruined shoulder. My orb lay on the floor between us. The talons were gone and he motioned for me to come to him. I took the opportunity and drew my knife. Made from meteor metal and enchanted by the kachinas, it was the other gift my father gave me the day before mother murdered him. With my right arm all but useless, I held the knife in my left hand with the blade forward to give me a little more reach. 

“Come mageling,” he said, looking at the orb. “Was it you who called me?”

“Who are you and why are you here?” I asked, trying to by some time.

He smiled and circled to my right. “I told you. I’m Ramone and someone called to me.”

He moved so fast, I barely had time to bring the knife around. His left hand with talons extended, tore into my right thigh. My knife caught his arm as he went past me and sliced a gash from his wrist to his elbow. Unfortunately, the knife blade caught on a bone and was ripped from my hand. His unnatural roar shook the beams of the barn. He spun and back-handed me across the forehead. The force of his blow snapped my head to the side and stars exploded before my eyes. I felt myself hit the ground. Pain flashed down my arm as I rolled over several times trying to get some distance from my attacker. I looked up through foggy eyes to see walking toward me. He seemed bigger from this angle and talons had replaced both of his hands. He flexed his left arm and dark liquid flowed from the wicked gash my knife had made.

“Time to die, mageling,” He said, as he raised his right hand to strike. 

I squirmed to get my left arm out from underneath me and bring it up in a feeble attempt to block the oncoming blow. My hand came free from beneath me and bumped into my orb. I grabbed it and looked up again expecting the talons to rip my head from my neck. 

When you are in a struggle for your life, time slows down. Maybe it’s adrenaline. Maybe it’s heighten senses. Either way, It is amazing to experience.

The muzzle blast from a large-bore rifle fired in an enclosed space is painful. The sound of the blast hit my ears as the chest of the man standing over me exploded over my head. Before he could react, a second explosion tore away a portion of his right shoulder. The force of the second round spun the man away from me. I looked at the direction of the barn door and saw Ben levering another round into a Winchester lever-action rifle. The taloned man looked down at his wounds and screamed with rage as a third bullet hit his thigh. He turned as if nothing was wrong and charged toward me. Ben’s Winchester roared again but the bullet missed its mark. That was okay because he had given me the time I needed.

My orb pulsed in my hand. The sound from the rifle’s muzzle blast was created by waves of energy moving outward from the gun. I redirected that energy through the orb, condensed it, shaped it into the form of a bighorn ram’s head and sent it into Mr. Talon’s chest just as he was about to eviscerate me. At that range, I could hardly miss. The full force of the spell hit him. All of the air and most of the blood in his lungs exploded out of his mouth and sprayed me with ichor. The force of the spell propelled him up and slammed his back into the steel I-beam that supported the barn’s roof twenty feet above the floor. The ominous crack of vertebrae shattering gave me a moment’s hope as the crumple body dropped back to the floor. 

I rolled to my knees in time to see Ben fire another shot that missed. Looking back at where the body had landed, I was dumbfounded as the man slowly stood up. I heard more cracking, as if bones were grating across each other. I began to gather energy in preparation for another spell. He made it into a crouch and glared at me. He hissed and ran toward Ben and the door out. I sent a burst of energy to create and barrier across the barn to trap him but I misjudged his speed and wall went up behind him as he raced toward Ben. 

I watched in helpless horror as the man barely slowed down as he went past Ben, talon raking across Ben’s neck. Ben was scrambling to reload the Winchester and didn’t see blow that separated his head from his neck. He probably didn’t feel it. His head fell forward and his body slowly toppled to the side. I slumped to my side. My shoulder and leg burned. My head throbbed. I closed my eyes.

If you are interested in reading the previous scenes, check them out at, Actress and the Warlock Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI. .

 
 

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Actress and the Warlock Part VI

This is continuation of a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is coming in flashes, both literally and figuratively.

One story note: During a clean-up and initial revision of the first five parts, I decided to change the governing body that Derek reports to. Instead of the rather cliché “Wizard King” I’m going with “The Pentacle”. The nature of this entity will be revealed at a later date.

A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Pentacle. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects to be a warlock.

“By what name should I call you?” I asked knowing that the sprite would not give me its real name. Real names hold power. Especially in the paranormal community.

“Gypster is a name I am known by.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Gypster. I’m Derek.”

“I know who you are,” Gypster said as he stood up. “You’re an enforcer for the Pentacle.”

“Marshall,” I corrected. “I help to keep the magical community in line so the Norms don’t panic. You wouldn’t want a bunch of children running around with butterfly nets looking for the sprites that they used to think were Fairy Tales?”

Gypster flinched and took a step back. His face scrunched up and shook his head. The fey despised the term fairy tales.

I squatted down so Gypster didn’t have to crane his neck so much to speak with me.

“Am I correct to assume you are aware of the evil that is active in this area of late?” I asked.

The sprite shuddered before answering which told me more than any answer he would give.

“You are correct. It first appeared about twenty suns ago. At first it just wandered about, not doing much of anything. Then, it became interested in the woman at the ranch.”

“And how long ago was that?”

“Um, about twelve suns ago I think.”

That fit with the time that Amy and her staff had said the first of the carcasses had shown up.

“Do you know who this evil is?”

Gypster shook his head. “No. I don’t know its name. I don’t want to know its name. I don’t even want to see it.”

Gypster started to pace. He gnawed on a fingernail.

“Its dark…really dark.” The sprite said. “You know what I mean?”

I watched him fidget. He seemed to grow more agitated as we talked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I know dark.”

You did not become a marshal for the Pentacle without having faced down and defeated some very dark critters. That was the nature of the job, to track down and dispose of dark threats to the Norms. In general, humans don’t even believe in things that go bump in the night. The vampires and werewolves currently popular with film makers and writers of fiction are very real. However, those nasties are on the lower few rungs of the threat ladder that calls this plane their playground. At least vamps and wolves can be killed. I’d run into a few summoned creatures that the best I could hope for was to banish them back to their home plane. The fact that Gypster was using the pronoun it and not he or she did not escape me.

“Do you know how it came here?”

“No,” Gypster replied.

The sprite cocked his head as if he heard a sound and stared off into the darkness. I noticed that Lola, as well, was looking out toward the arroyo to the south. I didn’t hear anything but both Gypster and Lola have radar-like hearing. No doubt something was moving out there.

“No, I don’t,” Gypster repeated after a moment.

He seemed a distracted so I maybe I could get a straight answer to my next question. “What are you doing out here on this dark night?”

Gypster replied quickly. “I delivered an invitation to the brownies who care for this house.”

My mouth must have fallen open because Gypster looked up at me and seeing my expression, stomped his foot and muttered something under his breath.

I closed my mouth studied the sprite for a moment. He was looking everywhere but at me.

“Are you saying that Amy Hatcher has house brownies?”

“Ah, no. I’m not saying that.”

“Really? Let me rephrase my question.” I chose my words carefully. “Did you say that you delivered an invitation to brownies who are caring for the house that Amy Hatcher lives in?”

Gypster looked up and tipped his head from side to side. Finally, he looked at me with sheepish eyes and said, “Speaking literally I’d say yes. That is what I said.”

“Interesting.” I filed that away. Someone was holding out on me. Either Amy or one of her staff had to not only believe in, but actively nurture a relationship with the fey for house brownies to stick around.

“Who was the invitation from?’ I asked.

“That I am not at liberty to say.” Gypster punctuated his answer by crossing his arms.

I suspected that the invite had come from a member of the Seelie Court that ruled over the light side of the fey community. It didn’t matter at this point so I let it drop. Lola must have become bored so she leapt from the fence post and with a few slow flaps of her wings vanished silently into the night.

“Are you aware of any fey or other immortal who would have a reason to scare or injure Ms. Hatcher?”

This time Gypster thought before he spoke. “I am not aware of anyone of the long-lived, who would have reason to do her harm.”

I nodded at Gypster. that was about all I could expect him to answer that might be of help. I knew better than to thank him as he would take that as a sign that I now owed him a favor. It was never wise to owe a fey for anything.

“You have done your Queen and your people proud today,” I said. “You have fulfilled our agreement. Be well, Gypster.”

The sprite stood up straight and puffed out his chest at my comment. “And you as well, Marshal. May your days be light and lively.”

We nodded to each other and he simply disappeared.

I stood and continued on my way following the fence around Amy’s property. It was nearly midnight when I approached the main compound from the east. The closer I get to the compound the more I felt that natures balance was way off. When I reached the cars my hackles were at attention and my eyes were glued on the barn doors. I reached into my shirt pocket and withdrew the Apache Tear.

The size of a racket ball the stone was my power orb. All wizards used some form of orb to help channel the energies that they utilized. There was a slight glow coming from the center of the stone. As I approached the barn door, the glow became more intense. I held the orb behind my back and opened the door to the barn.

Check out the previous scenes at, Actress and the Warlock Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, Part V.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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Actress and the Warlock Part V

This is continuation of a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is coming in flashes, both literally and figuratively.

Note: I deliberately skipped ahead one scene here. The skipped scene involves mostly dialogue which is difficult for me to write in a flash. Since it will be so critical to the end of the story, I thought it best to separate it out and spend some extra time on it. I hope you understand and are not too angry with me. So with that in mind, I move on to the next “island”.

A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Wizard King. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects of being a warlock.

The sun set before Amy and her staff had finished telling their stories. Amy dismissed them for the evening which left the two of us sitting alone in the living room. I stared into the fire, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amy was looking at me. We sat that way for several minutes before Amy spoke.

“Are you really a wizard?” she asked. “I mean, can you perform real magic?”

I smiled without taking my eyes off the yellow flames that danced above red coals. For an instant I thought about waving my hand and extinguishing the fire or creating a glowing ball of light in my hand. However, magic uses energy and wasting it on needless displays is never an intelligent move so, I turned to meet her gaze. My smile faded as I saw the worry on her face. This was no place for a smartass comment.

I simply said, “Yes.”

Large brown eyes continued to look at me, urging me to go on and explain. I did not. Amy squinted for an instant as if making a decision. Then she sighed heavily and looked to the fire.

“The sheriff said there wasn’t anything he could do until a crime was committed. Deputy Torres was the one who recommended I talk to Puma.” Amy’s shoulders slumped as she continued. “The old man came out and hung those skulls on the fence and gate but the animals kept appearing.”

Amy covered her face in the hands and shook her head. “Those poor animals.” She looked up at me and worry was etched in her face. “And now they’re showing up near the house. If you can’t stop this, I don’t know what I’ll do if anyone who works for me gets hurt.”

“I won’t let that happen,” I said. I hate making promises I’m not sure I can keep. But, right now she needed some hope, something to hang on to. “I’ll find who’s responsible and put an end to it.”

She looked back to the fire nodding her head, “Thank you Derek. I’m glad you’re here.”

I looked out the large windows. Dark was rapidly approaching. The cloud cover would make any light from the last quarter moon non-existent. I needed to get a lay of the land and determine what I was actually dealing with. No time like the present.

“Amy,” I said drawing her attention away from the flames. “Try and get some rest. I’m going to have a look around. make sure your staff stays inside until I get back.”

“Okay,” she said as we left the chairs. “Please be careful.”

“Absolutely,” I said as I headed back to my room.

I pulled on moccasins to replace my boots. They were quiet and comfortable. More important tonight, they did not disturb the flow of energy between the earth and my feet. My grey wool shirt went on over my flannel one. Layers worked best to keep the desert night chill at bay. The revolver went into my dufflebag and was replaced on my hip by a six-inch fighting knife. No self-respecting warrior would be caught dead without his knife and my father had trained me basic knife-fighting before I learned to read and write. Lastly, I grabbed the large Apache Tear stone, that was my power orb and headed out into the night.

The last few streaks of light disappeared behind the San Juan Mountains to the west. The remaining clouds  covered the stars and the coming new moon was not going to add much light to the landscape. It was going to be a dark night.Only the security light on the six-car garage and the lamps at the drive-way gate broke up the blackness that tried to envelope the countryside. I slid into the shadows and headed out along the south fence line.

Amy’s ranch kept the natural landscape instead of trying to grow high maintenance grass everywhere. The smoked buffalo hide moccasins provided good protection for my feet against the sharp rocks and thorns of the prickly pears. Toe-heel steps allowed me to keep my eyes on the fence. As my feet felt for obstacles that might make noise or trip me, I reached out with my senses, reading the magical energies that flow through all things.

After about twenty minutes, I turned north at the fence corner. My internal alarm went off and I froze. An instant later talons brushed the top of my head as the owl sailed over. Even then, I never heard it. That’s why owls are the supreme nocturnal hunters. If I had been a mouse, my death would have come swiftly, without warning. As it reached the third post, it swerved and flared its wings as if attacking something in the air. Something squealed as the owl then plunged to the ground. Its wings spread and its head was down in a typical mantling posture over whatever it had taken.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch. Those things are sharp,” said a high-pitched voice as I approached.

The owl’s meter-wide wingspan blocked my view of its prey. But, I could clearly hear a voice that sounded like a child’s after taking a hit from a helium balloon.

“Aw, c’mon. You don’t wanna eat me. I don’t have much meat on me.” The voice squeaked again as the owl shifted its weight. “Ow. You’d only need to puke up my bones later.”

I stepped around the owl’s wingtip and couldn’t help but smile. Firmly pinned to the ground by the owl’s talons was a very rumpled sprite. Though larger than the owl’s normal prey, the sprite was still outweighed by several ounces. That and the fact that one of the owl’s talons was poised over its throat kept the sprite from struggling.

“Well, well,” I said as I squatted down next to the owl. “What is it that you have there, Lola?”

The owl turned its head towards me and then turned back down towards the sprite.

“Yeah, it must be ready slow for you to catch it in mid-air.”

The sprite looked up at me with a serious frown.

“Can you get this bird off of me?” the sprite asked.

“No.”

The sprite’s eyes went wide. “But…but…you know her.”

“She is a creature with free will. She is hungry and you were too slow to escape her,” I said, my smile now gone. “It is her right to decide what to do with you.”

The sprite looked up at the owl and then back to me, clearly unhappy with the situation.

“Help me…please?”

It looked so pitiful trapped underneath Lola, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. But, laughing at a fey can have repercussions as they have very long lives and they hold grudges.

“On three conditions.”

Somehow the sprite forgot about the owl and put on its game face. Negotiating a deal was very serious business to a fey.

“What conditions?”

“First, once Lola releases you, you will not disappear or fly away until the remaining conditions have been met. Second, you will answer my questions relating to the evil that is affecting the inhabitants of this place.”

I paused to see what reaction I would get. The sprite simply raised its eyebrow.

“And…?” the sprite asked.

“Lastly, you will hold neither Lola nor myself responsible for your current situation and take no action nor cause action to be taken by another,  that might bring harm or mischief to either Lola or myself.”

The sprite winced at the last condition. Clearly, it was already plotting its revenge.

Just then, Lola shifted her weight again and a talon dug into the sprite’s side.

“Ow. Okay, okay, I agree to your conditions. Now get this beast off me.”

I reached out and stroked Lola’s head once. She looked at me and then hopped off the sprite and flew up to roost on the fence post. Her long ears came up and her head turned around as if checking to make sure the coast was clear.

The sprite sat up and straighten its wings.

“Okay, what’s your questions?”

Check out the previous scenes at, Actress and the Warlock Part IPart IIPart III, Part IV.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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Actress and the Warlock Part IV

This is continuation of a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is coming in flashes, both literally and figuratively.

A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Wizard King. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects of being a warlock.

For those of you who skipped the last part due to graphic descriptions of an animal carcass, here are the Cliff Notes. Derek and Amy went to see what Ben, a ranch hand, had discovered and found an animal carcass with a warning note attached to it. The note read, “Soon I will come for you.” Also written on the note were several symbols which Derek could not read but looked like sand paintings of some kind.

Fire is a universal cleaner. The problem is, it tends to destroy the article you are trying to clean. However, if applied correctly, it kills disease germs and parasites, it can neutralize some poisons, and can eradicate the remains of many magical spells. It was the later that concerned me. So, I carried the javelina carcass well away from the house and other outbuildings, drenched it in gasoline and burned it. I began to dig a hole in the red clay and sent Hector, the boy who brought me the shovel and gasoline, to my jeep to retrieve the grey wool shoulder bag behind the driver’s seat.

I had finished filing in the shallow grave by the time he returned. I opened the bag and removed a small leather pouch. I took a large pinch of the tobacco within and held it up to each of the four directions beginning in the west and turning clockwise. I touched it to the earth and held the offering to the sky.

“Grandfather, have mercy upon me. I am a pitiful man. I ask that you receive my brother’s spirit as I ask him to forgive my taking his life. I only wished to end his suffering. I ask this not only for myself, but so that the People might live. Ho. Mitake oyasin.”

I cast the tobacco across the place we buried the animal and closed the tobacco pouch.

“Let’s go back to the house,” I said to Hector as I replaced the pouch in the shoulder bag.

I saw tears in his eyes as he nodded to me. I picked up the bag and put my hand on his shoulder as we walked. On the way, Hector turned to me with a questioning look.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Ms Hatcher told us you were Apache.”

“Half.”

“That wasn’t an Apache ritual was it?”

“No. Lakota.”

Hector still looked confused.

“The Great Spirit is not concerned with where your blood comes from,” I said, guessing what was bothering him. “The Great Spirit is concerned with intent.”

Hector nodded slightly so I continued.

“Man’s belief systems carry as many names as there are people. Each has tools and rituals to help the individual focus and connect with the Source of their beliefs whether its God, Buddha, Allah, the Green Man, or within themselves. The problem is that most individuals get so focused on the tool or ritual, that they forget the intent is what’s important. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I think.”

“The key is to use the tool that works best for you as an individual. The tool only helps to make it easier for you to connect with the Great Spirit. It is not required. I have had many teachers.” I raised the shoulder bag and showed him the stone that was my power orb. “I choose to use the tools that work for me.”

“I understand. It’s kinda like Ben says, ‘The job is easier if you pick the right tool for the job’.”

“Exactly.”

I looked up and saw Amy watching us from the patio door.

“Let’s get inside,” I said. “I need to hear what’s been going on around here.”

We walked around the pool and Amy ushered us inside.

Check out the previous scenes at, Actress and the Warlock Part IPart II, Part III.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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Actress and the Warlock, Part 2

In a previous post, My Scene, a story line began as a writing exercise. I thought the character was interesting and mixing urban fantasy with a western novel flair made me curious to write more of the story. So, I’m writing it a in series of flashes and I plan on this being a short story when completed.

The next few scenes introduce the protagonist with his client and gives a little more information on the conflict he has to overcome.

I turned the jeep off the highway onto a county road and followed it for about a half mile. The road snaked through several rock outcroppings. The ever-present sagebrush dotted the rocks and gave off a wonderful wet aroma that permeated the air. The earlier shower had knocked down any dust so I opened the windows on the jeep to let the fragrance in. As I came around a sharp turn, I hit the brakes. At first, it looked like a tree branch had fallen in the road. Then the branch began to slither across the warm pavement. I watched as the four-foot long rattlesnake made its way to the safety of the shoulder. 

“You certainly are a big one,” I said to it as I continued past.

A few hundred feet further, the road dead-ended in a turn around. Off to the right, set into two large adobe pillars, was an iron gate across a paved driveway. This matched the description I was given of the gate to Ms. Hatcher’s ranch. A seven-strand fence ran off from each pillar and continued out of sight in either direction. I pulled up to the gate and saw a smaller pillar housed a call box and a camera. Hanging on center of the gate was a deer skull. Half of it was painted blue, the other half white. A black lightning bolt separated the two colors. There seemed to be other symbols painted on the skull, but I couldn’t make them out without closer inspection. Feathers, beads, and stones hung from leather thongs tied to the skull and antlers. The effect was both beautiful and sinister.

It took me a moment to realize that the hair on my arms and the back of my neck were standing out straight. I could feel conflicting energies at work. I recognized the skull as Puma’s work. It was part of his protection wards. There would be three other skulls with similar decoration attached to the fence surrounding the property at the cardinal compass points. I also heard a low hum coming from the fence and quickly located the insulators that indicated the fence was electrified. 

There was something else. A feeling of dread. Nature is about balance and I could feel when things were out of balance. My father and Puma had taught me to be sensitive to Nature’s balance during my training as a shaman. That sensitivity had been refined by my stepfather as he taught me to draw upon and use Nature’s energies to cast spells. Something was definitely out of balance here and not toward the positive side of the scale.

I reached out and pushed the button on the call box. A few seconds went by before a man’s voice came through the speaker.

“Yes,” the voice said.

I leaned closer to the speaker and looked directly in the camera.

“I’m here to see Amy Hatcher. I’m Derek Nantan.”

The voice hesitated for a moment then asked, “You the U.S. Marshal?”

I smiled at that. My area of responsibility for the Wizard King was primarily in the United States, but I did not answer to the U.S. Government. Trying to explain it to someone over a speaker would only confuse them and most likely, not get me through the gate.

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay. Drive up to the house and someone will meet you.”

“Thank you,” I said to the now silent box.

The gate swung open and I pulled forward. I felt the power of Puma’s wards part as I passed through them. Had I not been granted access and tried to force my way in, I would have most likely been burned to a cinder. The driveway curved around a boulder the size of a small house and then started down into a little valley. I got my first glimpse of the house. A sprawling Spanish-styled hacienda, the main house was large, but used typical construction for the area, white adobe with a red tile roof. The landscaping used local plants and was immaculately maintained. The pavement changed from asphalt to blue flagstone as I pulled the jeep into the main parking area. So far, Ms. Hatcher’s ranch looked exactly as the article I read in a celebrity gossip magazine had described it.

I parked the Jeep next to a burgundy Escalade. I stepped out and started for the front door. Before I took five steps, the Marlboro Man came out and waved at me.

“Howdy. You must be Mr. Nantan,” he drawled. “Ms. Hatcher sent me to fetch you back to the garden.”

“Yes I am,” I said. “Please call me Derek.”

“Fine, Derek,” he said. “Bill Hanna’s the name. Pleased to meetcha.”

He took my hand in a strong handshake. Heavy calloused hands confirmed he not only looked like a cowboy but he was probably the real deal. Puma said that this was a working ranch and that Ms. Hatcher had a large staff.

“I’ll show ya the way,” Bill said as he turned and headed back toward the main entrance. “I sure hope you can figure out what’s going on around here. Ms. Hatcher’s plenty scared. She sent most of the staff away on account of all the carcasses showing up. County sheriff says there’s nothing he can do. The animals are all varmints and there’s no law against killin’ em.”

Bill shook his head and opened the huge double oak doors that lead to the house. He waved me through and checked to secure the door.

“It just ain’t right. Sheriff also said until there’s an actual threat against someone’s life, he’s pretty much hog-tied. He seems to think it’s just some kids messin’ around and they’ll get tired of it and quit on their own.”

Bill led the way through a large entry way and into a courtyard.

“What do you think it is?” I asked. “You don’t seem to agree with the sheriff’s take on it.”

Bill stopped and looked me in the eye. “Mister, I’ve seen a lot in my sixty-two years.” Bill’s voice matched his hard stare. “But I’ve never seen a bunch of kids mutilate animals that way. It looks to me like whoever is doin’ it, enjoys it. Some of the notes been left are just plain evil sounding. No kid’s gonna say those things.”

Before I could ask him to explain, we came to a raised adobe garden. A woman was bent over pulling some weeds from the flowerbed.

“Ms. Hatcher, this here is Derek Nantan,” Bill announced. “He’s the marshal been sent to help out with the goin’s on.”

The woman stood up and turned toward me. She wore jeans and a loose denim shirt over a white tee shirt. The denim shirt was embroidered with flowering cacti. Long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail showing simple stud earrings in her ears. Large brown eyes looked red and her oval face showed lines of worry around her eyes and mouth. I recognized the thirty-three year old actress, but just barely. This was not the red carpet at the Academy Awards and Amy Hatcher wasn’t wearing makeup. She looked dead tired. She wiped her hands on her jeans reached out to shake my hand.

“Mr. Nantan, thank you for coming.”

I shook her hand. Her grip was firm and she too had callouses. Apparently, she worked the ranch and didn’t just own it. That was good to know. My father used to say, “A little hard work never hurt anyone. If they love it enough to work it, then they must be attached to it.”

“Ms. Hatcher, it’s my pleasure and, please call me Derek,” I said as I let go of her hand.

“Derek, call me Amy,” she began. “We’re not in Hollywood out here.”

“That’s a fact,” I replied. “You have a gorgeous property.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I hope you can help keep it that way.” She turned to Bill and said, “Bill, would you please check with Maria and see if lunch is ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the ranch foreman. Bill turned and left the courtyard through a side entrance.

“Ms. Hatcher, I will do everything I can make your problem go away.”

“Call me Amy, please”

“I’m sorry, of course. Maybe you should start by telling me what’s been going on.”

I’d heard Puma’s story, but sometimes the victim can give you insight no one else can. Just as Amy began to speak, an Indian boy, maybe thirteen years old ran into the courtyard.

“Ms. Hatcher. Come quick,” he said panting as he turned back the way he had come. “Ben found another one.”

“Shit,” said Amy as she started after the boy.

I broke into a run to catch up.

“This one was by the pool,” the boy said over his shoulder.

Amy stopped in her tracks. I almost ran into her as I tried to dodge to the right.

Amy’s face went grey and she looked up at me.

“This is the first one inside the main compound.” Her voice cracked.

I touched her shoulder and together we ran off after the boy.

Check out the previous scene at, Actress and the Warlock.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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Actress and the Warlock

Since September 21 was the start of the next year of my life, I took some time to reflect and evaluate the past year. I have posted about most of the trials and tribulations of family and friends with medical issues. Also, I have posted about the lake cabin purchase and the positive effect that has been. All of these goings on have taken their toll on writing time.

Overall, I feel I am in a better place than I have been in a long time. My priorities are becoming clearer and writing is bubbling up to take on an important role going forward. In light of this revelation, I have decided to get back to the original purpose of this blog. My intention is to post more of my writing. Though I am still nervous about posting excerpts from my novel-in-progress, I have decided to share a few scenes from the MS as well as other “ideas in the works”. The plan is to post these every other week while trading off with writing tips, thoughts or concerns. Please, let me know if anything piques your interest.

The first one will be a continuation of a previous post, My Scene, a story line that began as a writing exercise. I thought the character was interesting and mixing urban fantasy with a western novel flair made me curious to write more of the story. I’m planning on this being a short story to see if the character and premise works. This short introduction sets up the initial meeting of the protagonist with his client and provides a little background.

    The rain started before I left Grandfather Puma’s hogan in Tres Piedres. Grandfather Puma was a shaman who lived up in the hills a mile from the black top. The fine dust that filled the tire ruts he called a driveway turned to red clay soup. I needed the Jeep Cherokee’s four-wheel drive to get back to the pavement that led east to Taos. The rain stopped before I reached the Rio Grande Gorge so, it was little help in washing off the Jeep before I got to the turn off to Amy Hatcher’s ranch. Since it wouldn’t make much of a first impression on an Oscar-winning actress if the Wizard King’s Marshall left a pile of red mud on her blue flagstone driveway, I headed into Taos to find a car wash.

     I came to a stop in the car wash stall and heard several plops, as the accumulation of New Mexico’ clay began to fall from the wheel wells. I stepped out of the Jeep and deposited the required two dollars into the machine. The power wash wand jumped as I pulled the trigger. Soon the Jeep bled red clay from every surface and every door crack. As I worked, I thought about my conversation with the shaman. 

     Puma was old even for a shaman. With age, comes wisdom and power. Puma was the top-tier of his profession. That made it doubly disturbing when I got the message that he needed my help because something was stalking a famous actress.

     After a sweat lodge, Puma told me that whatever was stalking Ms. Hatcher, was not a skin walker. That piece of information let me breathe a little easier as skin walkers are evil and vile creatures in Native American culture. I once saw my mother shy away from open conflict with one and she is one of the nastiest wizards in North America.

    Puma said that whatever the stalker was, it did use magic like a skin walker. It terrorized its victim and then fed on the victim’s fear. So far, there was no physical harm to Ms. Hatcher or her staff. However, the local animal population was dwindling and even Puma’s protection wards had not stopped carcasses from being left around Ms. Hatcher’s property. The mutilated remains were getting progressively closer to the main house and the messages attached to the carcasses carried greater threats. That’s when Puma sent word to me asking for my help. Puma was leaving the following morning to travel to Window Rock to perform spring ceremonies on the reservation. Therefore, I would be on my own until he returned in four days. That’s fine as I am used to working alone. It sounded to me like I was dealing with a black witch or a warlock. However, Puma said no normal warlock had ever broken his wards before. This did not make me happy. Before I left Puma’s, I took a few items out of an old canvas backpack I keep in the Jeep. I slipped my prayer stick and my power orb into the left pocket of my coat. A bracelet, made of silver wire twisted around seven bloodstones, went on my left wrist. I checked to ensure the stainless steel .357 magnum was loaded then, slid the worn leather holster onto my right hip. Maybe I was overdoing it a bit but, I would rather be paranoid, prepared, and alive than any of the alternatives that ended with me being dead.

Twenty minutes after I pulled into the car wash, my forest green Jeep pulled onto Highway 68 and headed north towards Ms. Hatcher’s ranch.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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