Jean McKinney

Strange Stories for Strange Times

Author: JMAdmin (page 1 of 4)

Solstice 2016

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It’s NaNoWriMo Time: Are You Writing?

Yessiree kiddies, it’s that time of the year again.

Yesterday was November 1, which kicked off the annual National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it’s known. (There really ought to be a better acronym – that sounds like an ugly creature from a bad fantasy novel.)

Just about every writing-type site and magazine is talking about the event – how to do it, why to do it, and even why not to do it. There are classes and groups and advice galore on how to take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month.

So here’s my tuppence worth on the topic.

If you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, then I salute you. It’s a tough thing to step up for writing fiction every day, bad or good, and just keep going till you hit the finish line, especially if you haven’t done that kind of writing before.

If you aren’t, you have your reasons, and I salute them too. There’s something to be said for quality over quantity, honoring your own creative timeline and all that. Or maybe you have a demanding job and two small kids and a new puppy or other things to do. Don’t feel guilty or worry about missing out on something grand.

The thing is, there’s just no one way to produce these mysterious, wondrous things called stories. While you can’t wait for the muse to strike, you also can’t force yourself into someone else’s framework for doing creative stuff. Maybe your month to write a novel is May. Or it’s six months, not one.

Creative types tend to worry a lot about that thing called The Work. And there’s no shortage of well-meaning writing advice that fuels those worries while claiming to help alleviate them. And when “everybody’s doing it” (writing a novel this November) it’s easy to feel that you’re failing in your creative calling if you aren’t.

Please don’t. If you’re working toward that story, even if it’s just a few scribbled notes or a notion in your head, then you aren’t failing. If you’re the only one of your writer friends not doing NNWM (see, that’s easier!) but you know you’ll write that novel one day, you aren’t failing.

Am I doing NNWM? Don’t think so. I’m not comfy with artificial constraints like that – and I have a lot of freelance work right now, writing about things like cerebral bypass surgery and the Internet of Things and what’s happening in the Oort Cloud.

But I am working on the backstory of A Patch of Cool, a Moon Road adventure about Luka the Bone Angel, saboteur and assassin extraordinaire, whose exile in Soledad City makes him the one person who can save the City from the Shadow War.

Coming soon – character sketches for everybody in this novel and its prequel short story, The Bone Angel.

Write a novel in a month, write a story in a day, or a year – but see, there are only three things to do that really matter.

Write it.
Clean it up.
Send it into the world.

Those things are non-negotiable. Especially that last one.

How you get there is up to you.

Making Sense of This Whole Writing Thing

OK, I’m gonna do it.

I said I wouldn’t. There’s so much advice and information out there for writers of every kind.  Everyone’s got a course, a blog,  or a resource list that’s going to help you overcome your fears, deal with procrastination, find clients,  publish your work!

Does the writing world really need one more?

I never thought that it did.  But maybe I was wrong.  As a  working denizen of this online writing world and a longtime observer and participant of the writing biz, I see a lot of advice about “making it” as a writer (in all the many ways that “making it” can be) that means well but can end up discouraging and disempowering the very people it purports to help.

And I also realize that every one of us who is fortunate enough to move in this wild and woolly world of digital creativity has a duty to talk about that experience and share what we know.

This is  a time when personal stories rule.  In order to be “real,” they say, your origin story needs to be a part of your public persona.  But I suspect that the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” can also apply to the obsession with sharing the often boring details of everybody’s life.

So I focus this site on creating cool worlds I hope readers will enjoy visiting, rather than writing about my dogs or my love of webcomics or the rattlesnake on my carport the other night.

However . . .  a running commentary on the good, the bad and the really ugly of the writing advice that’s out there just might be the thing someone, somewhere needs to hear in order to take that next step toward creating something awesome.

And that’s where I’ll put my stories. About my years of teaching people to find their writing voice and the strength to share it.  About really stupid mistakes that tarnish a writer’s credibility.  About my often rocky journey toward becoming a full time writer and publisher.

Maybe it’ll be more useful for writers than the story about the snake.

There’s a new category on this site now, called “On Writing” that gathers these articles together and keeps them separate from the fiction.  It’s going to tackle some popular stances and bust a few myths and make a lot of people mad.

But hey, isn’t that part of the job?

Stay tuned.

 

“It Could Happen To You”- A Fantasy Free Read

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU

Sun’s a fingernail in the fog when he gets on. Night man on a downtown bus full of day people: glass-faced Westsiders curled in Armani shells pinch their ears and nostrils shut when he fills up three seats behind the driver.

Extravagant in filth and fatness, enthroned on bulging garbage bags,  he scratches the hole in the crotch of his greasy sweatpants, rubs his gritty stomach and throws the story at them:

How the Hare Krishnas got him. Just sneaked up when he was asleep in the doorway of a dead pawn shop down by the Post Office on Main Street. And they poured their juice, that Hare Krishna juice, right over him.

Well it was sticky and purple and it smelled bad too, so he begged enough change for the laundry at 4 am.  Had to beg some more for a pint or two just to get past the shock.

Got to watch out for those Krishnas.  They got plots in those little naked heads. They’ll get you every time.  And that juice of theirs? Well they’d just love to splash those slick leather shoes or drown some thousand dollar suit.

You know

It could happen to you.

“It Could Happen To You” was inspired – no, dictated – by an encounter I observed on one of my many foggy, early morning bus rides when I was teaching in Los Angeles.  Taking the Pico-Rimpau route at dawn has inspired a lot of my weirder flash bits.)

Dark Star Review: New Home, New Look

Dark Star Review has moved! After trying out a lot of web tools to find the right one to create a slick, easily updatable roundup of news, commentary and other stuff from the many worlds of speculative fiction, I found Flipboard. This handy dandy search engine pulls the latest from any web sources you choose into a lovely, easy to read magazine format. It’s easily edited, too, with the option to create commentary after each story.

And the best thing about Flipboard magazines is that they can live anywhere. So I’ve brought Dark Star Review right here to the JM site – no links, no downloads, no nothin’ required. Just click to read.

You can find out when new issues come out (monthly) by subscribing to the Newsletter – and you’ll also get other freebies for doing that. As always, Dark Star Review is free to read and share (please!) and welcomes your ideas, contributions or suggestions.

Enjoy. Issue 2 comes your way October 1.

Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction or What?

Ah, the genres.  I’m  preparing a batch of new stories and the long planned Moon Road novel, “A Patch of Cool” for e-publication, and that brings up the issue of keywords, search terms, niches, genres and the like – all designed to help readers find what they’re looking for.

Figuring out just where your book fits in the catalog can be a bit of a challenge when it crosses genres, or mashes them up in a new way.  And as I expand the backstory of that odd living highway that connects worlds and dimensions, I’m coming to realise that the Moon Road’s original niche of urban fantasy no longer really applies.   So I’m looking for another way to describe these books, so that readers can find them.

Speculative Fiction: The Big Umbrella

If you’re writing about anything that runs counter to absolute physical reality of the kind we live every day, your work would broadly be called “speculative fiction” – a term coined, some say, by science fiction author Robert Heinlein to describe fiction that has some element that’s counter to reality as we know it.  That might be a bit of magic, or a spacecraft, or even a technology that doesn’t exist now – but could.  Alternate histories fit here, and so do historical fictions that feature magic or supernatural elements.

Many “mainstream” fiction authors play with reality enough that at least some of their works could fit in this umbrella category.  It overlaps – sort of – with another genre, “magical realism,” made popular by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers, as well as others as diverse as  Salman Rushdie and Alice  Hoffman.

Huddling under the Spec-Fic umbrella are a host of other subgenres, including not just the usual fantasy, science fiction and horror, but also niches sliced as thinly as “western werewolf gay romance” and “fat chicks space opera.”  The list of variations is long, and it’s getting longer all the time. Each has its own mythos and themes, and readers expect to see them every time they pick up a book.

Science Fantasy: Mix and Match

Science Fantasy is a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction.  There can be elements of hard science, space travel and the usual icons of “hard” science fiction alongside  themes and elements from horror, fantasy of various kinds, steampunk and historical fiction too.  This kind of fiction sidesteps the rigors of true science fiction, which is often but not always an extrapolation of existing science in some way.  But it also avoids the tropes of true fantasy,  with its emphasis on creatures and themes from myth and legend, whatever time period they might inhabit.  Like crows gathering collections of random pretty things, science fantasy authors  steal shamelessly from whatever genre has the stuff they need to tell the story.

As more and more works with elements of both science fiction and fantasy hit bookshelves both virtual and “real,” the label Science Fantasy seems to be gaining traction.   It’s a place where you can have vampires and space travel, magic and machines in the Civil War (the Office of Extraordinary Phenomena is grateful) and – a space faring road that makes pit stops at  places of power on earth and other worlds.

Making of the Moon Road

So since the Moon Road universe is evolving determinedly in the direction of the ages old Shadow War and the  Runners who are trying to stop the Shadows from seizing the Road and all the worlds it touches, I’ve been reworking the flash fictions and the longer works to accommodate a few  more sci fi aspects of the Moon Road world.

That side of the Moon Road universe showed up most clearly in “Claudia’s Law,” which introduced you to the Runners, the War and Claudia’s cohorts led by the mysterious Major Flesher.  But on our Earth, Soledad City where the Moon Road runs is still the place where Mama Silva, Nettie Chubai and their kind keep the power humming along.   But the Shadows are no strangers to this old Earth, and upcoming books and stories will do more to explore the way those characters and agendas cross and collide.

As I build the larger mythos that drives the Moon Road stories, I’ll be mixing up all these elements even more. New stories are popping up and old characters are getting ready to take a turn in the spotlight too.  And who knows, there’s probably a western werewolf gay romance in there too.  Yeah, I know there is.**

Stay tuned.  And I’d love to hear any story ideas from you, dear readers!

 

**  “Bridie’s Song” and its forthcoming sequel “Longman’s Ride”

 

“Where Angels Tread” – Fantasy Free Read

All right, boys and girls! It’s Monday, so that means a new fantasy free read. This one is “Where Angels Tread,” a bittersweet little story from the historical fantasy worlds of Sorrows Hill.

When the Reverend Henry Chilton sees the angel, he drops to his knees sobbing with joy. The half-scribbled sheets of tomorrow’s sermon fly from his desk, floating down on a summer-scented breeze from the open window, and his teacup, caught by an unwary elbow, shatters into porcelain shards on the floor.

He was writing the sermon when a sound like the rustling of pigeons in the rafters made him look up. And there was the messenger of God, settling demurely onto the top of his bookcase, dangling bare white feet over his head.

The angel’s translucent skin is luminous and perfect.   Fair hair tumbles over the bones of its classic face. And the wings — God, the wings! Think of the blinding white of swans, the sweet softness of doves.   Those wings are muscular and functional, and they drape the angel’s shoulders like a velvet cloak. Chilton’s mouth is an O of fascinated delight.

Kneeling among the fragments, trousers soaking in cold tea, the Reverend Chilton raises his eyes skyward and gives thanks. Finally, finally: so long he’s prayed, so long he’s waited!

Tears slip from the reverend’s eyes. Ever since he was a child he’s wanted to see an angel. When he got to seminary he prayed till his throat was raw, begging God’s favor for just a glimpse of one of those celestial heralds.   And now, after all these years, all these tedious postings to backwater towns and Sunday after Sunday of earnest sermons to indifferent flocks, success! A visible mark of God’s own grace.

“Reverend? Reverend, you’ve got a visitor.” A sharp rap on the door rips Chilton’s attention from the angel.

“Who is it, Mrs. Reedie? I’m busy with the sermon just now.”

“A young man, Reverend. He says he’s come all the way from Richmond to see you.” Mrs. Reedie’s voice drops. “Quite well turned out, he is. Shall I have him wait?”

Chilton glances at his other visitor. The angel cocks its head like a listening dog.

“I said, I’m busy, Mrs. Reedie. Tell him to come back after supper.”

The housekeeper’s sniff is audible through the door. Ignoring the staccato tap of her heels down the hall, Chilton turns back to the angel.

“So sorry, holy one. As I was saying — what have you to tell me? How am I so blessed on this day?”

The angel regards him blandly and preens a wing. Chilton draws a breath and tries again. “How may I serve you? Only speak –”

“Reverend Chilton?” The doorknob rattles.

“For the last time, Mrs. Reedie! I am busy!” snarls Chilton.

Scuffle of footsteps; gasp of outrage. The door flies open on Mrs. Reedie’s furious face, and a young man shoves past her, closing the door neatly behind him.

“Don’t you remember me, Reverend?” he asks.

Chilton swallows. Something in this gorgeous young man’s lean face and long narrow nose , the curl of dark hair on an expensive white collar, tickles his memory.

As the silence stretches, the young man’s mouth twists.

“Laurence Shandy, Reverend. I’m Laurence. It’s been twelve years.”

The silence turns leaden. Chilton forces a smile.

“Laurence, yes, of course! You’ve grown up. Doing well, by the look of you. I wondered what had become of you.”

“Did you?” asks the young man silkily. His hand slips free of his pocket. Sunlight gleams along the barrel of a tiny pistol. “Couldn’t you guess?”

“Put that down.” Chilton backs a step or two. “Laurence, put that gun away . . . you moved to Richmond, didn’t you? That’s what it was, your father took up a new post at the hospital in Richmond. Isn’t that right?”

“No.” The gun trembles in Laurence Shandy’s fingers. “Twelve years, Reverend Chilton . Twelve years in that hospital. Locked ward. I tried to kill myself. Tried to escape to kill you. I prayed, I wept . . . I remembered every moment of what you did to me. And what you said about me, after.”

God, yes, Laurence Shandy. Big mouth boy with a rich, angry father. The only way Chilton had got out of that one had been to assert, again and again and again, how the lad was crazy, possessed maybe, misconstruing his pastoral ministrations like that.

“But, “ Shandy continues, “You always said, if you pray hard enough for long enough, God hears. And so it is.”

“What — ” whispers Chilton, eyes on the dancing barrel of Shandy’s weapon, “what did you pray for, Laurence?”

“I prayed for justice.” Shandy’s finger tenses on the trigger. “And an angel to guide me.”

The shot sounds a little like a cork popping.    Blood flowers on the front of Chilton’s good shirt as he topples to the floor. On a rustle of heavenly wings, the angel rests its fabulous head on Laurence Shandy’s shoulder.

 

 

 

“Three Feathers” Concludes

Here’s the last installment of our story.   See the archives for Parts One, Two and Three.

Down at the place on South Dorado Street, tired rockabilly blares from the jukebox in the corner and clubhoppers dance the cat dance of attraction late into the night. Henry Joe just sits at the bar, watching them all and nursing another Red Eye all alone.

Sam Bass bought the first round and then he vanished to the pool room with a chica in tight white pants, leaving Henry Joe on his own. Never mind his faithless Jadie. Never mind the business about the late check for the stockyard job. Now all Henry Joe wants to forget is ten minutes in the candlelit back room of Mama Silva’s shop.

Tea, amber in a white china cup; the rich dark colors of the altar to the Black Virgin and the tapestry on the wall; the sad eyes of the Son of God, meeting Henry’s own as he listened to Mama Silva’s voice: Henry Joe’s stomach twists just thinking of it.

“So here you are,” Mama Silva had said. “What is your name?”

Henry Joe sipped tea, though he usually hated it; thought it tasted like dirty water. But Mama Silva’s tea left a taste of cinnamon and honey on his tongue and warmth in his veins. “Henry Joe Rubio. Ma’am.”

Mama Silva smiled, and Henry Joe thought of snakes in the sun. “Not that name. The one that came with the feathers, the night that you were born. Do you still have the feathers?”

Henry Joe blinked. Yes, he did, one of the few things his mama made him swear to keep. She’d tied a red thread around the quill of that black one. Reading the answer in his eyes, Mama Silva leaned across the table.

“The wind said, he is coming. The rainbow said, tonight. When that name comes, you will know it.  And you must answer to it, whenever Raven calls.”

Her lips, dry and cool, brushed his cheek. ”Welcome to the true world, brujo mio.”

Brujo: witch, magician, sorcerer.  Him? Oh no no no.   The tea rose bitter in the back of Henry Joe’s mouth and a chill washed down his spine. And to his burning shame, he’d flung himself out of that room and into the refuge of Bobby’s truck without another word.

Coming out a minute later, Sam had nothing to say. He’d looked hard at Henry Joe, eyes full of awe and something like sadness, and slammed the door.

“God damn, man,” he said.  Henry Joe’s stomach clenched tight and he gunned that pickup down Spring Street, barreling through the traffic just as if he could outrun Mama Silva’s voice in his head.

Later:

On the bar the dancers sway, bare breasts defying gravity. Henry Joe drains his glass and beckons for another. A woman stalks past, glitter and ice in pale pink satin. She trails a hand across his shoulder. Henry Joe squints. Behind her bronze blushed cheeks and indigo eyes hangs, ghostly in the flickering light, the face of an owl. She smiles, and the owl face vanishes.

He glances around. Down at the end of the bar, a tall thin man stands talking; his face, turned half away, is the face of a rabbit. Clutching his glass like a lifeline, Henry Joe scans the room.   Horse, Hawk, Snake . . . the spirit faces shimmer, drifting in and out over the faces of the people dancing, talking, drinking all around him.

A short man in a checkered Mexican shirt ,muscling past, bumps his shoulder, and he glances down into the eyes of Coyote. The man grins a toothy grin and nods: You got me, son.   Henry Joe sets down the glass and launches himself toward the door, booze and corn nuts rising in his belly.

                      Outside:

 The parking lot is blacktop and ashes. The moon, riding high on the last of the clouds, leaches away all color from the brick walls and gleaming asphalt. Deep in the shadows by the alley mouth, Henry Joe folds up sourmouthed and dizzy, wondering where the hell Sam is. Where the truck is. Where his brains are.

“How about it, babe?’

“Not here.”

“Come on, come on … nobody gonna see.”

Henry Joe raises his head. The voices are real. Down at the end of the wall, where the alley meets the mouth of Dorado Street, stand a man and a woman.

Moonlight gleams on plastic: the barrel of a syringe, the edge of a baggie.

“He will,” says the woman, and Henry Joe knows she’s looking at him.

“Goddamn Injuns.” The man’s voice is hard with contempt. “Always drunk. Can’t see his own shoes much less us.”

Henry Joe lets the voices wash over him.   His head droops to his chest and he drifts away on a tide of tequila and beer.

“No! Leave me –” The woman’s voice, rising to a full-bore scream, slices through his fog. There’s a thump and a scuffle, muttered curses.

“Fuckin whore –” Glint of a knife at the alley mouth: the black bulk of the man’s body presses the woman into the wall. Moonlight catches the rhinestone glitter of one high heeled shoe; gleams on the blood that runs down one white arm.

Henry Joe’s stomach seizes up; he presses his arms tight against it to hold the contents down and curls himself into the shadows by the wall.

Something jabs his eyelid. He squints at a gleaming curve of beak inches from his face. All around him, black wings stretch as wide as this city sky.

“It’s time,” says Raven. “Tell me now. What’s your name?”

Henry Joe’s stomach heaves up again. He leans his cheek against the cool gray brick and realizes he’s not drunk enough yet.

“Henry.”

Raven’s jet eyes burn in the flickering lights of Dorado Street.   “No. The real one.”

Henry Joe thinks of feathers in a cloth bag under his bed. Thinks of triple rainbows and Mama Silva’s lips on his cheek. Thinks of another name, carried hidden all his life in the deepest corner of his mind. He moans.

“The one I gave you,” says Raven. “The one I’ve been calling all fucking evening.”

The name tickles on the edges of Henry Joe’s brain, but it doesn’t come. Henry Joe curls up against the wall, the concrete gritty against his forehead. A hand seizes his hair, jerks his head around. He stares into the cold black eye of a tall sharp faced man in a black T shirt, leaning over inches from his face.

“Did I make a mistake? Better hope I did not. My choice is my choice. Claim it. Walk out a witch and a warrior,” hisses Raven, jerking his head at the struggling figures in the alleyway. “Or die here in your own puke with no name at all.”

Blackness falls around Henry Joe, the spreading of wings wider than the world, and then he’s all alone under the chinaberry trees, gaping at the moon.

Time starts running again. The name, the one Raven gave him before he was ever born, flares in his mind like a beacon, driving away fear and rage and drowned dreams. He hauls himself up and stumbles toward the alley mouth.

The man with the knife–skinny, Anglo, drug-eyed –swings around, flinging the woman to the pavement.

“You want it? Come on, Tonto.” He closes on Henry Joe, aiming a kick at his knees.

  Henry Joe’s spent his whole life wrangling cattle and shoeing horses.   With Raven’s words hot in his mind, he rolls and grabs, and the man goes down, the knife arcing from his hand. The Anglo grapples, slamming Henry Joe face down on the pavement.

Henry Joe tastes oil and ashes; he scrambles for the knife, fingers closing on it as the other man pounces on his back. But Henry Joe slips sideways and swings up the blade. Blood like hot rain spatters his face. On a sobbing breath, the other man lurches to his feet. Running footsteps clatter down the alley.

The world narrows down to darkness and the pounding in Henry Joe’s head.   Hauling himself to his knees, he looks up.

By the alley wall the woman stands sobbing. He picks himself up and eases an arm around her thin shoulders. She’s a little thing, wispy blond barely up to his shoulder, and a bruise is blooming on one sharp cheekbone. She clutches her arm; blood oozes through her fingers.

“It’s OK,” says Henry Joe. “It’s OK.”

She glances at Henry Joe, glances into the silent blackness of the alley.

“Holy shit,” she says.

Down the front street, sirens start to wail. The woman’s eyes flick back to Henry Joe. Red and blue lights flash, bouncing off the wall behind the Hotel Marley.

“Lemme help you –“ Henry Joe begins. “ You oughta get that cut looked at –“

She shakes her head. “No. I got to go. But hey –“ she pops up on tiptoe and kisses the corner of his mouth, light as the touch of a mothwing.

“Thanks. What’s your name, man?”

Henry Joe, he starts to say. But his head fills up with stars and the beating of great black wings. Beyond the neon, beyond the black towers of the downtown banks, the sky is full of moonlight. A long dark feather drifts across its face and spirals down, brushing his face. The woman glances at him, at the flashing lights, at the alley mouth, and takes off running around the corner as fast as her sequined heels will go.

Henry Joe  plucks the feather from the pavement. His name, the name that Raven’s been calling all evening, falls easy into his mind. His head is full of thunder, and lightning dances all along his nerves. He starts to laugh.    Welcome to the true world.                       

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Three Feathers,” Part Three

 Part Three of ‘Three Feathers.”  Read Part  One and Part Two first.

Henry Joe squints through the smoke at the little white storefront. Who hasn’t heard of Mama Silva? Catty corner from the boarded up liquor store, Mama Silva’s open all the time, working fearsome magics in her back room behind a curtain made of beads . Crack heads and knife fights and sirens in the night: Mama Silva just goes on. She’s older than the mountains and wiser than the moon, and she plays with people’s lives like they’re puppets on strings wet with blood.

Henry Joe keeps as far away from magic as he can. Before she died of drinking, his mother told him how the night that he was born, the wind cried till the dawn came, and when the sun came up, there were three feathers on the windowsill: one black, one barred, and one grey like a dove’s. She carried her newborn boy to the window, she said, and when he saw those feathers his tiny little hand reached out sure and strong, and picked up that black feather by its quill.

She spent her life convinced her fifth-born one had been touched by the Spirits, and Henry Joe’s spent his whole  life running from the thought.

If that’s possible, Mama Silva scares him more than Nettie Chubai.   So he and Sam sit staring at each other, at Mama Silva’s front door, at anything but that damn sack. They could be here all night while Sam screws up the nerve to pick it up, and Henry Joe can’t stand that crawling dread any longer.

“Ah shit,” he says, and swinging open the door, he grabs the thing from the seat. The sudden weight of it, far more than its size should allow, drags his arm to the ground. Sam’s eyes roll; he flings open the door and starts down the sidewalk, never looking back. Henry Joe hauls the sack up into both arms, ignoring the squishy shifting of the contents, and follows Sam to Mama Silva’s door.

Sam Bass eases open the carved front door and they step into a little room full of golden lamplight and the smell of incense. Shelves along the wall hold votives and little pots labeled in Spanish. Crucifixes and statues of the Virgin fill a glass display case in the front. By the window two old women dressed in black and silver whisper, heads together, over a box filled with bundles of dried herbs.

Beads rattle like mesquite beans. Henry Joe glances up, mouth suddenly dry. Lamplight fractures like tiny rainbows on the crystals hanging from the doorway of another room in back. They part, and a small woman in black steps through.

She has silver hair piled high with combs and the hard proud face of a Mayan queen, and with a smile she holds out her hand to Sam Bass.

“Welcome, mijo. And how is your tia keeping?”

Sam casts a wild eye at Henry Joe. His voice creaks. “She’s, well, she says, uh, hello. She sends this.”

Cued, Henry Joe leans around from behind him. The contents of the bag sag moistly against his chest. His arms ache from the weight. “Where do you want it?” he hears himself say.

“Give Nettie my thanks,” says Mama Silva, and reaching up, she plucks the sack neatly from Henry Joe’s grasp. Lifting it in one hand like a grocery bag full of feathers, she gestures the two of them into the curtained room.

The two old women by the window glance up from their herbs. Smiling, Mama Silva tells them something in rapid-fire Spanish; they beam at Sam and Henry Joe.

That smile sends a worm of fear across the back of Henry Joe’s neck. He clears his throat. Mama Silva turns her black-ice eyes upon him.

“Come in, querido, and have some tea. I knew your mother, once.”

“Three Feathers” Part Two

Here’s “Three Feathers,” part two.  You can read part one here.

Henry Joe leans his elbow out the cab window.   Against a sky gray as velvet, a rainbow stretches from one corner of the horizon to the other. Underneath it like a ghost stretches a second rainbow, and beneath that, another, fainter yet.

A chill dances up Henry Joe’s spine, because the triple rainbow means Sam Bass is right. Raven’s walking in the world tonight, looking for his chosen one. But because his heart feels full of stones, and he’s already got the loan of Bobby’s truck, he forces a laugh.

“Old men got to talk about somethin. Don’t tell me you buy that old time bullshit.” Henry Joe lifts his face to the western sky. “Don’t care if Raven is scoutin for a medicine man tonight. It ain’t goin to be you. And it sure as hell ain’t goin to be me. We’ll be too drunk for him to care about us.”

Sam Bass shrugs. “Nothin we can do about it anyhow I guess.” He swings open the passenger door of Bobby’s truck. One foot on the floorboard, he looks at Henry Joe. “But I got to make a stop first, all right?”

Henry Joe raises an eyebrow. “I already got us some beer for the road.”

Sam Bass doesn’t laugh. “No. I got to go by my auntie’s. I promised her, next time I go up to Soledad –”

A tightness begins in Henry Joe’s stomach. “You’ll be back before she ever knows you’re gone.”

Sam slams the door harder than he needs to. “No. She’ll know.”

Sam Bass’ auntie Nettie Chubai is a witch and a healer, and she scares the living piss out of Henry Joe. That eye of hers, the one that doesn’t look straight, always seems to follow you like a knife in your back.

As long as Henry Joe can remember, people have whispered and muttered about Nettie and the magics she works in that little house at the end of the Horn Pipe Road. How she said a word one night and all of Jackie Juan’s cows turned up their heels and died, just because he’d called her a witch to her face. How she woke the sleeping saguaros and made them warriors once again, to save the soul of her own granddaughter.

Nettie Chubai is both crazy and mean, and she has more magic in her little finger than most folks gather up in a lifetime or two. So Henry Joe hunkers down in the cab of Bobby’s truck with his hat pulled low over his face, and waits for Sam Bass to come out of the house.

Five minutes and done: Sam clatters down the porch steps and dives into the truck, dumping a bulging paper sack onto the seat next to Henry. Behind him, Nettie Chubai stands watchful on her porch, toadish in her pink flowered muumuu and plastic thongs.

“Let’s go!” blurts Sam. Henry hits the gas.

And so they mount up: new warriors of the People in their good jeans and bolas and diamondback boots with no horse shit under the heels. Sam Bass has a feather in his hatband, and Henry Joe’s hair is tied back with a braided leather thong.

The bag rests, too heavy for its size, on the seat between them. Ignoring it as hard as they can, they roll their way down the Interstate toward Soledad City. Henry Joe eases them off the snakes’ nest of interchanges, aiming for the neon alleys back behind the River Walk, when Sam Bass speaks.

“Turn off at Spring Street.”

Henry Joe opens his mouth, closes it again, glances at the bag with sudden understanding. Wordlessly he shifts lanes.

South of downtown, where all the signs are in Spanish, Sam Bass points at a white cube of a building on the corner. The windows are barred with wrought iron in the shapes of flowers, and painted roses curl around the arching letters above the door: La Curanderia, the healer’s shop.

“Won’t be but a minute,” says Sam Bass. “OK, Henry Joe?”

Sam’s face is sheened with sweat, and his eyes flicker between Henry Joe and the Curanderia. Henry Joe’s heart jumps a beat or two, but he pulls over to the curb. Sam reaches for the bag,, but his fingers curl and a queasy look passes over his face.

“You come too,” says Sam.

Henry Joe lights up a smoke and shakes his head. “I’m just the driver. You’re the messenger boy.”

Sam Bass touches Henry Joe’s sleeve. “Maybe Raven don’t care who we are. Maybe he does. But my auntie sends a gift to Mama Silva. And she’s sure as shit goin to care if it sits out here gettin – ah, gettin . . .. ”

Stale?  Cold?  Hot?

Sam’s hand hovers over the bag, trembling.   “Come on, Henry Joe.   You got to help me.”

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