A Tale of Kaya of the Red Paint People

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A Tale of Kaya of the Red Paint People


By


Tom Hanratty

The image is Native American actress Irene Bedard


(November, 1948)


The early winter zephyr swept down the rocky slopes of the saw-toothed peaks, skipped across the flat, deep desert and breezed along the empty gravel road of the Southwest Apache Reservation. A light rain had gradually turned into a frozen spray that softened the harsh outlines of the rows of clapboard houses. Over the mountains to the west, the clouds clumped dark and heavy with snow. 


Along the road leading out of town, a drab one-story house sat apart from the others. The wall- boards had once been white, but decades of wind and sand had stripped all but a few spots down to the bare wood. The shell of an old Model T Ford, wheels gone, windshield missing, sat in the front yard on four concrete blocks. From a bent pipe stack on the roof of the house, a spiral of grey smoke trailed off, flowing with the wind.


Inside the house, the old woman sat on a thick red and black blanket that covered her rocking chair. She wore a dress of purple under a gray sweater. A silver and turquoise squash blossom necklace caught the lamplight when she shifted her weight to ease the discomfort in her arthritic bones. Long earrings of silver with a turquoise stone graced her ears and accented her long white hair.


It was quiet in the house, but the wind outside had picked up and was blowing a fine mist that, to the woman, sounded like sand against the windows. 


“Put a piece of wood on the fire, Frank,” she said, as she blinked her sightless eyes. An older boy from the back of the semi-circle of children that sat before the woman rose and did as asked, clanging the lid of the wood-burning stove in the process. 


There was some squirming among the three rows of the youngsters, but most just watched their elder’s lined face.


Slowly, the woman began to rock. Her chair creaked with each tilt, and her earrings swayed. In her left hand, she held a round, flat drum made from the fleshed raw hide of a mule deer. The drum was painted with a red sun and a jagged peak pattern. 


Bang! She struck the drum with her right hand and the squirming of the youngsters stopped. 


For a short while, only the creak of the rocker was heard. The children waited.


In a voice powerful for one of her years, the elder began. “These stories I’m going to tell you are not my stories,” she said. “They belong to all the People. They were found in the wind that swirls in the desert. They were found in the singing of the black pines on the mountain slope. They were found in the chatter of the prairie dog.” Bang!


“And now, they are in the hearts and bones of the People, and they give the People strength to endure their hard lives.” Bang! 


“This story is sacred. It is a gift from the old ones, and was told to me by my grandmother who heard it from her mother. So, I place a pinch of tobacco in my pipe and I will smoke it because the Above Beings like the aroma of my pipe smoke.”


She smiled a toothless grin as she leaned forward. “They told me that.”


The rocking slowed, then stopped.  She carefully placed the drum in her lap. From a pocket in her faded sweater, the elderly woman withdrew a beaded leather pouch. She took a pinch of tobacco from the pouch and held it up in front of her. The children leaned forward to hear her soft chant, unable to make out the words but liking the rhythm. The small amount of fragrant tobacco mixture was then placed in the bowl of the little pipe the woman held. Four times, the story-teller took a pinch of tobacco and repeated the ceremony. Taking a large match from a container on a table next to her chair, the blind grandmother expertly scrapped it along a round stone that sat on the table. She puffed the pipe into life, then directed the first breath of smoke towards the ceiling. “That one’s for Usen, the Creator of all things.” 


The next breath of tobacco smoke floated over the heads of the children. “That one is for the spirit of the story.” The children sniffed and tried to recognize the various aromatic leaves from the smoldering mixture. She puffed two more times, but the children couldn’t hear what she said.


The children watched her set the pipe aside and settle back into her chair.


Then, the story-teller began.

Bang! 

“Ho-ya, Hey-ya. I tell a story..

Ho-ya, Hey-ya. My words are true.

Ho-ya, Hey-ya. Listen to this story.

Ho-ya, Hey-ya. Listen to my words.”

Bang!

Bang!

Bang!


“This is the story of a little girl who became a great woman-warrior, and a great healer of her People. Now listen, my little jumping mice, and you will learn of Bright Star, the girl who became Kaya, the most feared woman-warrior of the plains and mountains and deserts. 

“Listen to my voice, while Brother Wind pushes against the windows of this lodge, and carries the sparks up the chimney into the night sky. Listen and let my voice carry you back to a time before your grandfather and grandmother were born. To a time when the People of the Red Paint were free to roam the mountains and deserts of this land, when all enemies of the People feared the name of Kaya-te-nae, She- Who-Fights- Without-Weapons.” Bang!


“In the time before the coming of the White-eyes, a great hunter of the Red Paint People whose name was Brings-The –Thunder went into the Big Mountains to hunt the mountain sheep. Many of The People had become sick with the bleeding mouth disease, and the Hand-Trembler had talked to his sacred helpers who told him that the fleece coat of the white mountain sheep would cure them. After fasting for four days and praying in the sweat lodge, Brings-The-Thunder had traveled by foot to the Big Mountains, and now sought the tracks of the sheep. With him, he took enough dried food for four days. He searched for three days without finding so much as a sign of the ghostly sheep. 


“Among the Red Paint People, a warrior will suffer frustration and disappointment without letting it take his courage and determination. So Brings-The-Thunder kept climbing the rocks and valleys of the Big Mountains. As the sun began to sink behind the ridge on the evening of the fourth day, Brings-The-Thunder squatted on a large rock outcropping that overlooked the deep valley, wrapped now in purple shadow.


“’Usen,” he whispered. “I have come seeking the white mountain sheep so I may save my People. Yet, I have seen no tracks and no other sign of this sacred animal.’” His voice rose to a cry. “’Great Father, Creator of all things. Listen now to my voice. Have I offended You in some way, that You will send me back to my village in shame?

‘Have pity on me, your child. Send me a sign that will show me where I can find this four-legged.’


“Only the wind was heard moving among the stones and pines. Brings-The-Thunder hung his head. He turned from the rock and made camp for his final night in the mountains. He slowly chewed his last piece of dried meat.


“In the morning, the great ball of the sun shown its rays onto the sleeping face of Brings-The-Thunder. He came awake with a start, for he was always up before the sun rose. He shook his head, but could not remember any dreams, any sign from the Spirits. As he was breaking camp, he saw in the soil next to where his sleeping blanket had laid, a clear hoofprint of a mountain sheep. Joy replaced melancholy and the Red Paint man hurried to ready himself for the hunt.


“For the whole day, Brings-The- Thunder followed the prints as they went up the south slope of the mountain to a ridge set near the highest peak. The hunter wrapped his robe more closely around him as the air had turned frigid on the bare mountainside. Soon, he came upon a cut in the ridge that lead to a downward path, the hoofmarks of the mountain sheep still fresh. Even when the path was only stone, he could see the prints in the soil between the rocks.


“Brings-The-Thunder wondered at that. He saw that the sides of the tracks were cleanly cut, not even slightly rounded as they would be after even a short time in the mountain wind. No grains of earth had fallen into the tracks. No many-legged critters who scurried under rocks had made their own tracks in the hoofprint. To the hunter, this meant he was right behind the mountain sheep, should see the sheep on the trail ahead. But he saw nothing but the path and the prints on it. This puzzled Brings-The-Thunder, but still he followed.


“Just as dusk settled on the land, the hunter rounded a large rock outcropping and saw the light of a campfire in a small hollow, just below where he stood. A young woman sat behind the fire, in front of the door to a round hut made of grass and branches. She was wrapped in a white robe. Such a sense of peace came over Brings-The-Thunder that he lowered his bow and stepped down off the rocks toward the girl.


“’I am Brings-The-Thunder of the Red Paint People,’ he said as he approached. ‘You have nothing to fear from me.’


“The girl was smiling and motioned to the hunter to sit next to her at the fire. ‘I know who you are, Brings-The-Thunder. I have watched you hunt in these mountains many times. You are respectful to the animals you kill, praying for them to Usen, thanking them for the gift of their life so your People may live.’


“Brings-The-Thunder looked at the dark eyes and long black hair of the girl. He thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever met. He wondered where she came from. Who were her people?


“’I have never seen any human beings in these mountains,’ he said. ‘I have never seen even a track of a human being anywhere in these mountains.’


“The girl laughed, showing white, even teeth. ‘My People are shy and hide so we won’t be harmed. We rub out our tracks and clean our camp when we move so no one ever suspects we are here. Yet we watch everyone who comes to these mountains and we know the good men and the careless ones.’


“’What is your name?’ Brings-The-Thunder asked.


“’I am Gouyen, of the High Mountain People.’


“’Gouyen. It is a pretty name. In your language, does it mean something special?’


“’It is the name of my grandmother, my mother, and now me. That is all I know.’ She pulled her white robe closer around her shoulders as the fire danced in the wind. Brings-The-Thunder had noticed her robe was from the fleece of the mountain sheep, and shown bright white in the glow from the campfire.


“’You are seeking the hide of the white mountain sheep,’ Gouyen said, noticing his interest in her garment. ‘It is said to heal the bleeding mouth disease.’


“Brings-The-Thunder smiled. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘My People are sick with this disease and I am to bring the hide back to our Hand-Trembler. Perhaps you could tell me where you came by this robe. I have been hunting for four suns, but have only today found its tracks.’


“Gouyen stirred the fire with a stick. ‘My People have gone to the Snow Hills,’ she said. ‘I’m lonely for someone to talk to. Stay with me this night, share my food, and in the morning, I will give you my robe to take to your People.’


The story-teller leaned forward. “Do you think,” she said quietly to the children, “Brings-The-Thunder should stay or should he keep hunting?”


“Stay,” yelled a little boy in the second row. “Go,” another advised. “She may be a witch and wants to eat him.” A small girl in the front row with large brown eyes sat quietly cross-legged, her chin resting on fists that were propped up by her elbows on her knees.


“What do you say, little owlet?” The blind story-teller seemed to look directly at the little girl. “Should he stay the night and risk getting eaten, or should he run away and keep hunting the white mountain sheep?”


The little girl cocked her head. “He should listen to his heart,” she said. “It will tell him if this woman is good or evil.”


The old woman chuckled. “So much wisdom for one so young,” she said. “Well, he did just that. He listened to his heart and the next morning, the maiden gave him her robe of the white mountain sheep.”


“’Thank you for this gift,’ he said as he took the robe. ‘As your People have gone to the Snow Hills, come back to my village with me. My People will welcome you and thank you for this great gift. If you wish, you can become my wife and I will keep our lodge filled with meat. You will never be hungry or lonely again.’


“And so it was, Gouyen became the bride of Brings-The-Thunder, the great hunter, and they lived in the village of the Red Paint People. Soon, they gave the world two children. The oldest was a boy, known later to the Mexicans as El Lobo, The Wolf. The second child born was a girl. 

She was named Bright Star, for when she was born, a star that shows brighter than any other, was seen in the sky just after sunset. Later, she would be known as Kaya-te- nae, and the enemies of the People would tremble at the sound of her name.” 

Bang! 

Bang!

Bang!


The Story-Teller sat back, her eyes moist as if seeing into the past with her sightless vision.


“Go home my little jumping mice. Tomorrow, I will tell you the story of how Kaya’s Power found her. But now, I am tired and need to rest. Frank,” she called. “Put some more wood on the fire. My old bones grow cold.” She sighed as the children rose and filed out into the quiet cold of the night.

A Tale of Kaya of the Red Paint People -part 2

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Kaya and Her Power

By 

Tom Hanratty

October, 2018


“The night’s are getting colder,” the old woman said. “Soon, the cold-blower will send his breath to freeze the branches of the trees and make the water in the trough hard.” 


She rocked slowly in her chair while the children arranged themselves into three rows. As she waited for the clatter of their movement to die down, she softly sang a song her mother had given her when she was very young. To the children, the words made little sense, as few spoke the old language of the People of the Red Paint. But the rhythm of the story-teller’s voice soothed even the little boys and girls, the ones brought by their older siblings to the home of the blind grandmother. An older boy, Frank, put more wood into the firebox of the iron stove, and the children huddled together under blankets and robes. The wind blew incessantly against the windows. 


When things became quiet, the story-teller banged the drum she held in her hand. Bang! Some of the younger children jumped.


“Ho-ya. Hey-ya” she sang. As she did the night before, the old woman lit her pipe and blew fragrant smoke to the sky, the earth, the People, and the spirit of the story. 


“This is the story of how Kaya’s Power found her,” she began. “It is a story so sacred that only a few people know it. Now, after tonight, you will know it, too.


“Bright Star learned the ways of her mother and aunties. She could grind corn, dress out a deer, sew and make clothing, and cook the buffalo stews her family ate. She also learned the many plants and how each was a helper to the sick and injured. But, even when very young, she was not happy. The boys of the village rode horses and raced on foot. They learned to make bows and arrows and were taught how to shoot them straight and fast. They ran and wrestled all day.


Bright Star’s father Brings-the-Thunder taught his son, Wolf, to know the warrior skills that would keep the People safe from enemies. As Brings-The-Thunder was a renowned hunter of the tribe, he also taught his son how to track and stalk animals. Wolf learned how to creep up on a grazing deer or buffalo. Soon, the boy was participating in raiding parties to the land of the dark men, Mexico, for horses. He was too young to fight, but he went along to see how raids are carried out.


When Bright Star was still a little girl, she asked her father to teach her the ways of the warrior, as he had taught his son. Brings-The-Thunder thought about it and spoke to his wife, Gouyen. They agreed that, because Bright Star had worked hard to learn the ways of the women, she could now learn the ways of the men.


At first, Wolf was not happy. ‘She’s a girl,’ he said to his father. ‘She can’t be a warrior.’ But Brings-The-Thunder kept his word. He taught both of his children the ways of the warrior..


One day, the People had moved their village to a high mountain area. 


‘Today,’ said Brings-The-Thunder, ‘the boys will take a mouthful of water and run to the top of a mountain. I have chosen the tall mountain that looks much like a man with no hair. Then the boys will race down and spit the water into the ground at the feet of their fathers. If you can do this, you will have learned the lesson of breathing through your nose, not your mouth. When running in the desert, the air will dry out your mouth and the enemy will catch you. But if you can breath through your nose, you will outrun all your enemies.’


Wolf was happy to challenge himself. He knew he could outrun any boy in the village and had often run with a mouthful of water. Bright Star had asked her father if she could also run up the mountain, and he gave his consent.


‘Because you are so young, you do not have to take a mouthful of water. Just run up the mountain as fast as you can, but don’t let sadness or envy enter your heart if all the boys, even those who are younger than you, pass you up. They will be warriors some day and need to learn this lesson.’


The story-teller could tell she had the rapt attention of the children. She could hear them breathing softly, nearly holding their breath.

Bang! She hit the drum.


“Who do you think won the race, little mice?” she asked loudly. “Who came in first, even ahead of Wolf, and spit out a mouthful of water at her father’s feet?


“Bright Star!” they cried. “Bright Star won the race!”


The grandmother smiled. “Yes, she did. And Wolf, who would have been angry if Bright Star wasn’t his only sister, congratulated her and presented her with a hawk’s wing. It was his favorite medicine token, but he wanted his sister to have it. Bright Star and Wolf loved each other.”


“Now, just as today, when a girl is ready to become a woman, she must have a Sunrise Ceremony. The entire village has a great feast, and the girl must dance for four days in front of the people of the village. Then Changing Woman comes to her and gives her a Power. For Bright Star, she received a great gift from both Changing Woman and Child of Water.”


The story-teller leaned forward. “This gift was very special. So special that Changing Woman needed Child of Water to help her bestow it.” The grandmother took a sip of water from a cup she had sitting on the table next to her. The children were starting to wiggle with anticipation. 


“This gift,” she said. “was the power to know where the enemy hide . And, not only that, Bright Star could tell how many of them there were. It was a great and powerful gift.” 


“From that day on, Bright Star rode with the men. She didn’t have a war name yet. Warriors earn special names on the war trail by doing heroic deeds. Bright Star, although she could shoot more arrows into the center of the target than any of the men in camp, went on the war trail only to warn Wolf and the other braves of the location and number of the enemy. The People of the Red Paint began to be known among the other tribes as great warriors who never got caught in an ambush, and never failed to find the enemy they sought. A Sun Hawk flew near Bright Star wherever she went, giving her messages from the helpers in the Spirit World.


But remember, Bright Star was also a healer. Bright Star’s mother, Gouyen, had taught her daughter all the skills for healing sickness and injury. Her best woman friend was Dashante, known for her skill in bringing babies into the world.


One day, a girl in the village was having a difficult time. She was greatly heavy with a baby trying to be born. As hard as the woman pushed, the baby refused to be born. Dashante asked Bright Star for help, so the two healers bathed and helped the young mother-to-be. 


Wolf wanted to go to Mexico to steal horses and he decided not to wait for Bright Star. He knew she was busy with the young woman, and knew she would be busy until the baby was born. So, with eight warriors, Wolf rode out of the camp.


He was killed and scalped by the Comanche People.


In her grief, Bright Star went into the mountains and cried for four days, returning to her people a changed woman. She hunted down the Comanche who wore her brother’s scalp on his belt, and killed him with her bare hands. Soon, she was on the war trail and carried the name Kaya- Te- Nse, ‘fights without weapons’, for her courage and daring.” 

Bang! 

Bang! 

Bang! 



Next month. Kaya is faced with a series of mysterious disappearances among her People. She must learn the twisted ways of Dark Medicine to defeat the Eater of Bones.

The Eater of Bones

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The Eater of Bones

By

Tom Hanratty

November, 2018


Chapter 1


Kaya-Te-Nse of the Red Paint Apache people gazed out at the expanse of desert spread below her. The shale outcropping beneath which she sat was just below the top of the ridge of the low Singing Mountains, and provided the things the woman warrior had sought. First, a resting place where she could watch her backtrail, and second, welcome shade from the blinding sun. With a deep inhalation, she stretched out her legs and leaned back against the wall of rock. As she slowly let the air out, she scanned the far reaches of the landscape reaching to the foot of the snow-capped Chukka mountains, two days hard ride.


The Valley of Bones was the Apache name for the boulder-strewn landscape she studied. It was here the Hero Twins, Child of Water and Killer of Enemies had fought and killed the monster, Bone Eater. Spider Woman had then covered the monster’s bones with rock so no future demon could resurrect the beast. 


Far across the span of land just beginning its early bloom, Kaya could see the outline of the Crimson River, flowing now with mountain Spring runoff, but otherwise dry much of the year. For a few brief weeks, the sweet water brought life to the cottonwoods along its bank and to the White-eyes town several miles downstream.


Her own village was hidden a day’s ride from the river banks, set near warm springs of undrinkable water. The elders had chosen the site wisely, for a small creek of fresh, cool water was near the camp. No one from her village went near the Crimson river since the town of Witches had been built near a gold mine. Although the Apache were currently at peace with the townspeople, the White-eyes carried disease in their beards, and were all crazy, so the Red Paint People avoided them. 


The dark men of Mexico were a different story, and the Apache and the Federales had been making war and raids on each other for decades. 


From her leather pouch, Kaya pulled a strip of deer jerky. Chewing slowly, she watched a faint dust spire, barely visible, near the trail she had just traveled. It wasn’t a dust-devil, she decided, for it moved in a straight line. A rider, then, coming along her backtrail. An enemy, following her from the Mescalero camp she had just visited? If this was an enemy, he would die. She levered a round into the chamber of her Henry repeater rifle, and lay on her belly to watch the oncoming horseman. 


The spot Kaya had chosen put the afternoon sun in the eyes of the man trailing her, while she was in shadow. The distance between them was great, but an Apache is used to waiting. She watched the movement of the rider until she could make out a man on a White-eyes’ horse of a brown color. As he loped closer, she could see, over her gun-sights, the man was not a White-eyes. He was Apache, with long black hair and a red cloth band tied around his head. In his right hand, he held a long rifle, and his eyes shifted to the rocks, then to the ground. Nearly below Kaya, the man pulled his horse to a halt. As he raised his eyes to search the rock slopes, Kaya could see a smile on his face.


“Yah-eeh-tay,” Kaya called as she stood up. She waved her rifle in the air as a greeting to the man she recognized as Norroso, a warrior of her own village. The man slipped to the ground and gave a brief wave as he started up the talus stone path. Within minutes, he had joined Kaya on her ledge. “Did I leave so plain a trail?” Kaya asked with a smile as she leaned her rifle against a large rock.


“No, no prints. But we have ridden together many times. I knew where you would stop for rest. From here, you can see followers.”


Kaya searched the man’s face. He would tell her why he was trailing her when he was ready. Norroso had not been at the Mescalero camp, so he must have gone there to meet with her after she had already ridden out. Norroso took a long drink from his water pouch. “Bina is missing from her lodge.” 


To this, Kaya said nothing. Bina, daughter of the warrior Laziyah, was known as the prettiest girl in camp, and had had her Sunrise Ceremony a year past. Although Kaya remembered her as an obedient daughter, she may have left secretly with a favorite young man. Why has Norroso followed me?


“There were puma tracks outside and inside her wikiup,” Norroso continued. “Yet, her mother, father, and brother sleeping near her heard no sound.

Two Crazy Dogs were on guard. They heard only coyotes in the hills.”

Still, Kaya said nothing. Since the Crazy Dogs were the best hunters and fighters in the village, they were probably already on the trail of the big cat. By this time, they had likely found the girl’s body and killed the animal. But Kaya knew there was more to come from this messenger.


“The puma tracks turned into a man’s tracks.”


A Shapeshifter, then, Kaya thought. An evil man who can become a beast took the girl. That would explain why the people lying in their lodge next to Bina did not awaken. The demon used magic. Kaya shivered. Although known for her great courage, the woman warrior had heard of the power of demons and had no desire to confront one. But she also knew she must follow the monster’s trail and track him down and kill him or he would return. Although her name translates as “Fights without Weapons,” Kaya-Te-Nse was known to the Apache as the “Shield of her People,” so she had a duty to fight whatever caused them harm. She picked up her rifle ready to return to her village.


But Norroso wasn’t finished with his message. “The tracks disappeared. He became a giant bird and carried the girl to his cave in the mountains.”

Kaya set her jaw. She said nothing, and nodded to the warrior.


“The Bone-Eater has returned,” Norroso added. “And he cannot be killed.”


Next month. Kaya is determined to find and fight the Bone-Eater.

   

Kaya and the Eater of Bones

Dashante of the Red Paint People

Chapter 2

December, 2018

  

The Eater of Bones

By

Tom Hanratty

Chapter 2

December 2018



Day was breaking over the ridges of the Dragoon Mountains, turning the purple dawn into rose . The eight men sat in a loose group outside the War Council Lodge in the stronghold of the Chiricahua Chief Cochise, watching  the sunlight slide down the vermilion wall across the valley. “The Bone Eater is as tall as a pine tree,” Kuruk said to no one in particular. He was the leader of the Crazy Dogs, a warrior group of Kaya’s village, and was called “The Bear” for his courage and strength. “It is said to have the head of a buffalo, the teeth of a great bear, and to breath fire from its nose.” 


The other men nodded, their faces grim. They had never faced an enemy like this, one from their mythical past, now returned to torment the Apache. Ten girls, all the prettiest in their camps, had been taken from villages across the land the Apache called home. From wikiups of the Jicarilla in the deserts and mountains, to the teepees of the Apache-Kiowa on the plains, the thefts were so stealthy, the people in the lodges had not awakened. Posted guards saw and heard no one, yet the girls were missing. As in Kaya’s camp, large puma tracks were found in each of the sleeping huts and they always turned into human beings’ footprints once outside the villages.


“The woman warrior Kaya-Te-Nse has been speaking with the Man-of-Knowledge of the Bluestone People for a long time,” Keesha said, as he pointed with his chin. Known for his skill in battle, the warrior chief was shorter than the other men, with long black hair that was beginning to show “wisdom hairs” of gray. “Perhaps she is learning some way to defeat this demon. Old Taklishim would know how to do it.”


The great Chiricahua chief, Cochise, just exiting his tent and walking toward the War Council Lodge set the dogs to barking and the women to trilling. Children ran behind him or skipped next to him. A red head- band encircle his brow, and a small beaded pouch hung from around his neck. Although dressed as plainly as the others, in shirt, breechcloth, and high boots, he commanded recognition as an important man.  As he approached the Lodge, his dark eyes swept the cluster of men who had now risen to their feet. Without a word, Cochise ducked his head and entered the lodge. The eight men, followed. The two women, Kaya-Te-Nse and Dashante, came next, with the Medicine Man Taklishim, with whom Kaya had been speaking, entering last.


Inside the Lodge, the men and women, except Taklishim, arranged themselves around a small central firepit. Almost as one, they lowered themselves onto buffalo hide and panther skin robes, most cross-legged. Muttering a prayer, the Medicine Man first put the campfire together, and lit it with flint and steel. He brought a long pipe from a rack in the back of the Lodge, and, with a glance at Cochise, began the ceremony to fill the pipe, light it, and ask for help from the spirits to look favorably on the gathering. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he handed the pipe to Cochise, stem first, Taklishim retired behind the others, opposite the door of the Lodge.


Known for his wisdom, Cochise had called this meeting in his stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. Against all tradition, he had asked the women to attend. Although honored, Kaya wondered what the old chief had in mind. Women, even those who rode as warriors, were not usually asked to the War Council gatherings. That fact alone showed Kaya how serious this threat was to all the people.


Keeping her face impassive as Cochise puffed on the pipe before handing it to the man on his left, Kaya looked at Dashante sitting next to her. Dashante, busy arranging her long purple skirt, did not meet her friend’s eyes. This brought a smile to Kaya’s lips. No matter the situation, Dashante always had her long black hair combed and her clothing just so. Kaya’s friend was the one fixed point in the shifting world of the Apache.


After the pipe had made four rounds, and had been placed back onto its stand, the warriors looked to the man sitting in the position of honor, opposite the door. Cochise motioned for the chief on his left to stand to speak.

Tarak of the Far Away People came to his feet. “Those old ones say the Bone Eater can rip a bull buffalo apart with its claws, and devour its hide and bones.” He stared into the red coals of the Lodge fire. “That’s why it’s called the Bone Eater.” Ten warriors of the Far Away people had come with Tarak from the country of the Lipan Apache, a full seven suns ride away. But even though Kaya didn’t trust them, having often heard their lies about the battles they fought against the Comanche, she knew pipe talk was always true.


Kaya watched the next man stand to speak. Itsa-Chu, or Great Hawk of the Rushing River People, lived for war. A short, wide man with much pride, he resented the peace with the White-eyes, and was always pushing for a fight. He held a red blanket over one arm and gestured with his free hand.“This monster has returned from his death because the People have forgotten the old ways,” he said, almost shouting. “Usen has sent the Bone Eater to punish His wayward children. When did we last have a ceremony to honor the G’an? Who here has given a banquet for a son who has slain an enemy? When was our last scalp dance? We are being tormented and we will be destroyed because we have become soft and fearful of battle.” Before resuming his seat, he motioned toward Kaya and Dashante and gave a snort. “We even have women in our War Counsels. It is not the old way.” 


Kaya didn’t react to the insult hurled at her and her friend, but Dashante, her dark eyes snapping, gave such a glaring look, Cochise noted it and chuckled. He then motioned to the next chief to speak. Kaya listened while one after the other made their case for the reason the Bone Eater had been brought back from the dead. Each seemed to believe the White-eyes digging in the ground had somehow freed the beast from his imprisonment in the rocks put there by Spider Woman. Two called for a plan to band together and attack the White-eyes, burn their town, and seal up their mine. 


Taklishim, the grey-haired medicine man said nothing.


Dashante, finally stood to speak. “This person who sits next to me is the woman known as The Shield of Her People. You all know her.” She paused a moment. “When the Dark Men attacked from the South, ‘Fights-Without-Weapons’ stood at the front of the People and killed many enemies.” Another pause. “Alone, she stopped the soldiers of the White-eyes when they rode into our land and tried to take away our children.” 


Dashante looked directly at Itsa-Chu. “You say you don’t want women in the War Council, but where were you and your braves when the Comanche came into your village? You were trading with the Long Knives for kettles and beads, and drinking their trade whiskey.” She pointed to Kaya, who sat looking straight ahead. “But this woman wasn’t drinking the trade whiskey of the soldiers. She was at your village slaying the enemies and driving them from your land. I know this because I was with her. And you know this to be true, because your old men and women who were there told you.”


She again paused and let her words sink in before continuing quietly. “This woman who sits next to me is as much a warrior as any man who rides the war trail. She has washed her lance in the blood of the enemies of the People, and has earned the right to sit in the War Council.”


It was so silent in the Council Lodge after Dashante sat down, the wheezing breaths of old Taklishim could be heard. Next, it was Kaya’s turn to speak. She rose slowly. Unlike her friend, Kaya’s manner of dress was little different from the men’s. A long shirt, breech-cloth, and high desert boots with turned up toes was her simple apparel. Her shiny black hair hung straight down to her waist. The only color Kaya displayed was a yellow cloth band that encircled her head. She spoke directly to Cochise.


“This woman who sits next to me is Dashante of the Red Paint People. She knows of these battles because she fought beside me. You may know her as a Woman-of-Knowledge because of her wisdom and kindness to the People. But in battle, no one is more fierce or brave. The enemies call her ‘the wasp’ because of her sting.”She turned to the other chiefs.


“I have heard many speak of this Bone Eater as a giant who kills and cannot be killed. But I ask, Who among you has seen this beast? None. Who has seen the young girls taken by this monster? None. We hear of a giant bird, but who has seen this giant bird who can carry away girls? No one.”


Kaya looked at the circle of men. “Yet you talk of attacking the town and killing the White-eyes knowing it will bring the soldiers. Many of our lodges will be filled with the wailing of widows, and we will need to move into the mountains where the game is scarce. We have lived in peace with the White-eyes for many suns now.”


Again, the warrior woman paused and searched each face in the council. “You all know I am not afraid of the soldiers. I have fought them many times alongside many of you and your warriors. But is it not wise to first go to this digging and see for ourselves if it is the lair of the Bone Eater? See if this is where he takes our children? We need to know more of this matter before we make a war that could kill many of our People.” She looked lastly at Cochise again before she resumed her cross-legged seat.


“Old Naatann said he saw a giant bird with black wings steal one of the girls,” Keesha said, still sitting.


“Naatann drinks tiswin from morning to night. Last month he saw a buffalo riding on the shoulders of a woman when she walked by carrying a basket of rushes. His vision is not to be trusted,” another chief said.


“What this woman says is good,” Pomo of the Comes Together People agreed. “This is what we should do.”


There was a murmur of approval from other members of the Council. “Yes. It is as she says. We should find out more about this cave the White-eyes make.”


“I will lead a war party of ten braves,” Itsa-Chu said. “We will find this cave and bring the children back to their villages.”


From his corner in the lodge, Taklishim’s crackling voice was heard. “And what if the Bone Eater is there,” he said. “You know he can’t be killed. He will tear you apart and eat each of you.”


“Do we sit here then and wait until we have no more children? Does the Apache tremble in fear and weep in his lodge? I will go and kill this monster,” Itsa-Chu shouted. “I will send this beast back to his grave in the rocks.”


In the silence that reigned, Kaya-Te-Nse again rose to her feet. All eyes turned to her as she spoke. “I will go alone to this cave of the White-eyes,” she said. “Maybe one person won’t be seen and slain. I’ll leave my pony nearby and walk to the place where the White-eyes dig. They will not see or hear me.”


Dashante leaped to her feet. “If one won’t be seen or heard, neither will two. I also will go to the cave.”


Several of the chiefs began to object. Their pride as warriors was being challenged by these two women. Itsa-Chi stood and insisted on accompanying the women, either alone or with a war party, Finally, the elderly Medicine Man spoke in a clear voice.


“It is known,” he said, “that this woman, Kaya-Te-Nse, was given a great gift by White Painted Woman and Child of Water at her Sunrise Ceremony. As we know, it was Child of Water who killed the Bone Eater in the Time before Time, by using four arrows with heads made of the black glass. This woman has Child of Water within her and it is she, and she alone, who can slay this monster again. I will make for her four black glass tipped arrows for her quiver. The Spirit of the Sky says she must slay this beast when her power is at its strongest, on the night of the large moon. Any man who accompanies her will be slain and eaten by the beast. I have spoken.”


Kaya’s face remained impassive, but the face of Itsa-Chu had turned purple with rage.


Cochise nodded. “So be it. All men will stay behind. This warrior woman will go alone and fight this monster on the next round moon. This other woman can go to help with the horses and the children, if they still live.” His voice was soft, but it carried the full weight of his leadership.


“Kaya-Te-Nse must face the Bone Eater alone.”

The Eater of Bones - Chapter 3

Art work by David Nordahl

  

The Eater of Bones


By

Tom Hanratty

Chapter 3

January 2019


Yellow Horse, called Jlin-Litzoque by his Red Paint People, came out of the dry wash at a lope. Since dawn, his pony had taken him miles downriver from his village. Although he’d seen only fourteen summers, the boy could track as well as many of the warriors in his village, and he had found the tracks of the Bone Eater. 


Fearing he would be ordered to remain in camp, Jlin-Litzoque had hidden a canteen and  his single-shot rifle under a blanket near his sleeping mat, ready to be taken up as soon as an opportunity of leaving presented itself. Yesterday, his father had left for a War Council meeting, and many of the fighting men had accompanied him. The two Crazy Dog guards were not watching for a boy getting water from the creek, and the women and old men were easily avoided. Now he was a warrior, on the trail of the beast that had brought terror to the hearts of his people.


He dismounted and searched the ground. The tracks of the shapeshifter had disappeared outside of the Red Paint camp, but, by riding along the bank of the Crimson River, Jlin had found where the tracks of the beast had suddenly appeared again, as a man’s footprints. The beast had changed from a puma near the village to a human, and here were the same moccasin prints seen earlier. He must be carrying the girl, Jlin thought, and he hoped it meant she was alive. Biro was the girl, of all the others in the camp, Jlin had decided to marry, as soon as he was old enough. Already, he had started a horse herd with two ponies, but knew it would grow as he became more practiced at stealing the White-eyes’ mounts. 


After Biro had been taken, Jlin swore he would rescue her and slay the monster, no matter how big and ferocious it was. 


Now, as he walked his pony, he was seeing tracks with sharp edges and clear markings, which meant they were only moments old. Ahead was a slight rise, and beyond, a dip in the land. For sometime past, the boy had smelled campfire smoke, and his fear became anger as he imagined the monster roasting Biro over the flame.  The warrior-child scampered over the hillock ready to slay the beast. What he saw brought him to a sliding halt, his eyes wide, and his last thought before the giant took his head, was that he had failed Biro.


Artwork by David Nordahl

.

The Eater of Bones Chapter 4

image74

  

The Eater of Bones

Chapter 4

By

Tom Hanratty


February 2019


Art work "Daughters of Nature" by Alfredo Rodriquez




Almost immediately after crossing to the Northern bank of the Crimson River, Kaya and Dashante saw the tracks. A footprint made by a large moccasin was in the mud near the water, and the tracks of a pony were near it. Smaller, Apache moccasin impressions, were closeby.


“Someone from the village is tracking the Eater of Bones,” Dashante said. She knelt next to the trail and studied the stitch pattern on the sole of the smaller foot impressions. “Do you think Itsa-Chu sent one of his men?”


A glance told Kaya the tracks were of a young man, full of energy. “The Rushing River people would not send one man. Itsa-Chu is no fool.”

Kaya-Te-Nse squatted to read the fine impressions in the much larger print. “This is the Shapeshifter track Kuruk saw outside the lodge of the girl stolen by the Demon. It’s the footprint of a very large man, but not a giant. He wears moccasins unlike any I have ever seen.”


Dashante nodded. “And I know this stitching in the smaller tracks. Many times I sat with Grandmother Cumpah as she showed me this way of making footwear,” she said. She stood and walked to her pony, preparing to mount. “Yellow Horse lives with his Grandmother Cumpah. It is he who tracks the Eater of Bones.”



On their third night away from the village, Kaya and Dashante made camp behind hopseed scrubs near the river. 


“It’ll be a cold camp tonight,” Kaya said as she laid her blanket on the ground. “We’re only a day’s ride from the White-Eyes’ diggings.” She sat on her blanket and watched as Dashante carefully began to comb out her long hair. For the past day, while riding within sight of the river, Kaya noticed Dashante had been unusually quiet. Tonight, the moonlight revealed a sheen on Dashante’s face. My friend has been weeping, Kaya thought.


“Tomorrow, you should wait here,” Kaya said, straightening out a phantom wrinkle in her blanket. “I’ll call for you when I need you to come up.”


Dashante stopped her grooming in mid-stroke. She studied the face of the warrior woman. “No. I will go with you to the cave.” She resumed her combing. 


Kaya simply nodded and lay down on her side.


“Cochise was wrong,” Dashante said, softly. “We should have brought a war party.” She put down her comb and leaned toward the reclining Kaya. “We have never faced a giant, fire-breathing monster before, Sister. This beast eats girls, and drinks their blood. He’s as tall as ten men, with the strength…”


“No, my friend. He is not.”


“We saw this demon’s tracks by the river. He is huge.”


“We saw the tracks of a large man, but not a giant,” Kaya responded. “Elam of the Coming Together People is a large warrior, but he is not a giant. Those tracks were not much larger than Elam’s prints, so the demon is as big as a tall man.” The man Elam was noted for his height and strength, but also for his good heart. His name meant “Friendly” in the Apache language.


“We saw only one track. This beast must have wings.”


Kaya watched Dashante straighten our her blanket-bed. She knew her friend would follow her wherever the trail led. “The print was two days old when we saw it. There are many ways to make tracks disappear.”


“Aiee,” Dashante exclaimed. “You truly have no fear of man or demons.”


“Why should we fear? Don’t we have four arrows with black-glass tips?” Kaya smiled to ease her friend’s doubts. “What demon can stand against two women with such a weapon?” 


Morning broke with a sky clear of clouds, but the women were already on the trail. The sun was nearing the top of the sky when a familiar odor became noticeable. As warrior-healers, the women knew the scent of blood and rot.


“It’s coming from over there, behind that rise,” Dashante said. They walked their ponies to the top of the small, shrub covered hill. 

In the hollow below was the source of the smell. 


“Aiee,” said Dashante. “The beast has fed on the bones of Yellow Horse.” She slid off her horse and dropped to her knees. Kaya slowly dismounted and stood looking down at the body of the Apache boy whose arms and legs had been hacked off. 


“We will know if it’s Yellow Horse when we find his head,” Kaya said, as she held out her reins to Dashante. “These horses are jumpy. Stay here and hold them while I look for the boy’s head.”


“We can tie them to these shrubs, Sister. I will seek the head with you.” Dashante rose to her feet.


Kaya looked at her friend’s face and saw the resolve in her tightened jaw. Without speaking, the women tired their ponies to the woody plants and then descended into the hollow.


The tracks told the story. Yellow Horse had slid down the hill, and was killed immediately. Coyotes had then been at the body, and small puma tracks led from it into a bushy area. Kaya followed this trail and returned holding a mutilated head by its long black hair.


“It is the grandson of Cumpah,” she said. The name of the Apache boy would not be spoken again for fear of calling his ghost back from the Spirit Trail.


“Aiee,” Dashante whispered. “Do you still doubt we are tracking an evil demon? This boy was torn apart. No animal could do this.”


“Look at the wounds, Dashante. The White-Eyes have long knives and axes. They could do this.”


“I see no White-Eyes’ footprints. I see only the tracks of this demon.”


Kaya nodded. “Yes. The large man was here. His tracks are all over. But look here. Small barefoot prints on the soft sand. Biro still lives and is with this man who acts like a Shapeshifter. We must get to the White-Eyes’ diggings.”


“Should we cover the body with stones? Or wait for Itsa-Chu to catch up?” For the past day and a half, the women had been aware of being followed They knew the order of Cochise to stay away from the White-Eyes mine had only been a strong suggestion, and no one was bound by it. Circling back yesterday, they had cut the trail of the Rushing River chief and knew it was no enemy who dogged their footsteps.


“We must seek the girl, and the others taken by this man. Itsa-Chu has men with him who can quickly cover the body.”


The soft light of dusk turned the sky pink, then a darker red, as Kaya and Dashante glided silently along the bottom of an arroyo. Climbing the sides of the ravine, the women slipped over the rim, and slid to where they could watch the entrance to the mine. 


Long shadows from pinion pines crossed a dirt road that ran from the mine to a ramshackle cluster of buildings, their facades bathed in the red glow. Kaya noted only two buildings with windows lit by lamps inside, while the others were all dark. A corral near one of the lighted shacks held six large horses. Only two men, armed with rifles, were visible at the mouth of the diggings. Flickering light from inside the mine told of burning torches. The silence hung so heavy, the voices of the two guards could be clearly heard where the women lay, a stone’s throw from the entrance. The men spoke in a language strange to the Apache.


Kaya signaled to her friend, and the two returned to their horses, hobbled a mile away.


“The round moon gives us power,” Kaya said, sitting cross-legged on the ground.


“There is great evil coming from that cave, Kaya. I feel it like a strong wind.” Dashante stood and patted the neck of her pony.


“We must know what the cave holds,” Kaya said. “I will darken my skin and slip in behind the guards. You will walk the horses close, then wait for me to join you.”


Dashante knew, this time, there would be no argument with the Shield of Her People. She simply nodded. In her mind, however, she was forming her own plan. Never before had she felt such fear for the life of her friend. Dashante would not allow Kaya to face this monster alone.


At the river, Kaya washed off the band of yellow paint she had been wearing, then plastered her face with mud. She put on the dark shirt she had been carrying in her bag. Dashante made sure Kaya’s legs and feet were also dark. 


“We saw the torches inside the cave. They may not be lighted when I return so I will bring my flint.”


The two women looked at each other. “This evil has power,” Dashante said softly. “Bring the gun.”


“No, my friend. If this is a beast or a man, the arrows will kill it.” She reached and grasped her friend’s arm before turning to go. “I will return, and we will ride together again.” 


Silently, the warrior woman jogged to a rock outcropping near the mine entrance. The land she must cross to reach the cave opening was nearly as bright as daytime. But she saw that the guards would be no trouble. Wrapped in blankets, the two men slouched on the ground against a pile of broken rocks and dirt, their rifles next to them. And the torches inside the cave still burned.


Drifting like smoke past the guards, Kaya entered the mine. Flickering light revealed two large covered wagons and a small boat. 


Aiee, Kaya thought. This is like no White-Eyes’ digging I have ever seen. 

The floor had been pounded flat, and was covered with footprints. Kaya studied the tracks and saw large moccasin prints. Other barefoot prints were small, but showed no distress. The girls live, Kaya thought.


Ahead, a stone staircase lead down, but the bottom was obscured in darkness. Taking a torch from its sconce, Kaya slowly descended the stairs. They ended in a large room cut from the earth. A long table was in the center of the room, surrounded by various weapons hung from cords along the walls. Kaya recognized weapons of the White-Eyes; long knives, lances, and rifles. 


Stepping to the table, Kaya noted a bowl filled with white power, and a set of large puma paws. She was about the take a pinch of the power to smell it, when the snicker of a blade slicing through the air behind her brought her spinning around. 

Chapter 5

  

The Eater of Bones

Chapter 5

By

Tom Hanratty

March, 2019


Kaya-Te-Nse spun at the sound of a blade slicing the air, and dove to the side. A loud laugh roared through the room, ricocheting off the stone walls. 


Two things were immediately apparent to the Apache woman. First, the blade was moving with blinding speed, but not at her, and second, the wielder of the blade was the most fearsome creature she had ever encountered.


Standing before her, its legs spread, covered in a flowing gown of bright shades of shimmering colors, was a creature with the face of a demon, and the height and width of a huge man. The monster’s hands, covered in white gloves, were around the handle of the largest sword she had ever seen, and the thing before her was waving it rapidly in the air making slicing sounds. 


Seen in the flickering torch light, the face of the demon drove a spear of fear into Kaya’s heart. The head of the beast was bright blue, with gold eyes, two horns, and fangs longer than a puma’s. Its orange, black, and white gown flowed from its neck to the ground, constantly moving as if it had a life of its own. And the deafening high pitched laugh was made more horrible as it bounced off the stone walls. 


She had tracked the Eater of Bones to his lair and he was about to slay the Shield of Her People.


“You’re a just a girl,” the beast spat in a loud voice. “I expected Cochise to come. Or at least send a war party.”


Kaya came to her feet and noted the voice was not that of a demon, but of a man wearing a mask, speaking the language of the Dark People called Mexicans. Without hesitation, the warrior woman slid an arrow onto her bowstring and let fly straight at the demon’s chest. A flick of the sword’s blade caught the arrow before it arrived, sending it clattering to the floor. 


“It’s a katana,” the monster said. “Japanese. I spent eight years studying with the best swordsmen in the world in a land far from this desert you call home. This blade could take your head and arms clean off before you collapsed to the ground.” The sword continued its rapid movement. “Do you speak Spanish, Woman? It’s been many winters since I used the language of The People. I’ve forgotten much.”


Kaya made no reply, although she spoke Spanish well. All Apache did. She felt the back of her legs against the heavy wooden table as she tried to move away from the whirling steel.


“You don’t know me. I was a young man when you came into this world, but that black-hearted snake you call Cochise knows me. It was he who banished me from my People.” The monster had switched to speaking Apache. 


Digging deep in her memory, Kaya recalled the story of a young apprentice Shaman who had turned the teachings for healing into powers for evil. His name was struggling to come to her when he answered her thoughts. 


“I’m known by many names, but Mottoon was what I was called by the Apache. You know what it means. A dog with a coyote for a mother. That was me, born after a drunken White-Eyes soldier raped an Apache woman.  It is good you know who’s going to kill you.”


Mottoon, Kaya thought. Of course. He used his power to trap young girls. His heart must be black, filled with evil. She moved toward the stairs. Perhaps, she thought, I can outrun this demon. 


“Won’t work, my little desert flower,” the beast was speaking Spanish again. “The two guards who let you slip past are what the Japanese call Shinobi, the best fighters in the world.” 


As if summoned, two men clad completely in black, with black cloths covering the lower part of their faces, stepped out of the shadows at the foot of the stairs. One carried a sword and the other a small hatchet, and each also held a flaming torch. Once fully in the room, they stood without movement, watching their leader. Kaya glanced at them, but her eyes and mind were on the beast.


The monster pulled the mask from his face. “This damn thing is hot,” he said. “Do you like it? It’s a blue Oni demon mask, used in plays and ceremonies in Japan. I find it scares hell out of my enemies. Gives me just enough advantage. You should have seen the look on that Apache kid before I cut off his head. Pure panic.” He tossed the mask onto the table.


Kaya’s eyes were wide and her grip tightened on her bow. Without his mask, standing before her was just a large man with black hair turning gray. His weathered face carried a long scar running down his right cheek.


 While he talked, he moved around the room, playfully waving his sword with one hand. “I wanted to chop up that bastard Cochise and stick his head on a pole. No Apache would come near here for a hundred years when they saw what the Bone Eater had done to their chief. They would let me alone to go on about my business.”


Kaya’s second arrow, aimed at his leg, was swiftly cast aside by Mottoon’s sword. The two guards watched from the bottom of the stair case, then moved only to put their torches in notches cut into the cave wall. Without a word, they returned to their post. Kaya noticed a second opening in the cave wall, across the room from the stairs, with a door made of iron bars. 


The swordsman noted her glance and laughed. “Locked, Woman. No way out for you.”  Kaya thought the man lied, but she would not die fleeing like a rabbit. She would kill this enemy in this room, or he would kill her. She began to take deep breaths through her nose, as she did before any battle.


But the monster wanted to keep talking. “I had to take ten girls before your people came out of their lodges. I left enough sign for them the follow, if they dared.  Cochise was to lead a war party into my trap, but who did they get to fight the Bone Eater? A girl.” He waved his sword in the air, then pointed it at her.


The large man faked a charge at Kaya, waving his sword. The woman warrior ducked under the table on hands and knees, coming up with the table between them. She noted his swiftness and grace, as the long gowns he wore swung in a semi-circle around him.


His loud laugh filled the room.


“I’ll bet you want to know what my plan is,” he said, smiling with yellow teeth. Kaya sent her third arrow at his broad back as he turned to walk away, showing his contempt. Barely moving, the blade of the long sword flicked behind him, caught the arrow and deflected it. He barely missed a step. “Eyes in the back of my head,” he laughed as he turned to face Kaya again. “I’m disappointed in that old wolf. But, you could say it all turned out for the best. I can get five, maybe seven hundred dollars apiece for the girls. And that’s just for starters. It’ll give me a few dollars before I get to the next stage of my plan.”


Kaya wondered why the man kept talking, telling her his past and his plans. It must be his White blood, she decided. White-Eyes are all crazy.


“It’s good to talk to somebody even though you won’t appreciate my genius,” he said in Spanish, again answering her thoughts. “I don’t remember the Apache word for genius. But soon, this whole territory will secede from the Union, and we’ll have a second civil war. Right now, I got Confederate officers, slavers, and a new army coming together in a town near here.  And I’ll be king of a new country.” He waved his sword in the air, indicating the walls of the cave. “Then I’ll be out of here and living in a palace.”


This man has become a demon, Kaya thought. He has forgotten that his heart is the center of the Wheel of Life.


“But you don’t understand any of this, do you, Woman? You came for the girls. They will be sold to Comencheros who’ll take them in Mexico. Then they’ll be put on a boat for a long journey. The girls from your People will join others and will be in a harem in a month.” Again, a loud laugh.


Kaya had one black glass tipped arrow left, and she had three enemies to face. She took a final deep breath, pushed away her fear of demons, saw the man before her as just an enemy. And she knew how to deal with enemies. 


“I visited places you’ll never see, Woman. And I learned much of magic. Like that powder you were about to sniff. It’s made from the skin of a toad found only in the Gulag mountains of China, mixed with a toxin from the blowfish. It’ll knock you out in seconds, if I blow it at you, and you’ll wake up not knowing what happened. I blew it into the lodges in your village, and into the faces of the guards. The rest was easy.”


“The tracks,” Kaya said quietly.  An idea was forming in her mind. I must use his quickness against him, she thought. What is in this room I can use?


“What’s that, Girl? The tracks? Oh, you want to know how I made the tracks disappear? Well, as you’ll be separated from your head in a short time, I guess I can tell you. I made shoes with feathers glued to them. Down feather from geese and ducks. Too soft to leave tracks. And, sometimes, I used the boat you saw in the entrance.” Another high-pitched laugh. 


“Plant a seed of fear in your enemy, and his mind will do the rest. You seem to have lost your fear, Woman, so it’s time for you to go.” He moved closer to the table that separated him from Kaya. “That table won’t protect you. This sword will cut it in half.”


As Mottoon raised his long sword over his head with both hands, Kaya bounded onto the table top, and kicked the basket of white powder at his face. Her last arrow followed the basket, and, as the blade of Mottoon’s sword slashed the basket into two pieces, powder filled the air, and Kaya’s arrow slammed into the man’s throat. Blood sprayed around the room. With a gurgle sound, Mottoon collapsed to the ground. 


With the white powder filling the cave, Kaya tried not to breath. But, as she spun off the table, she suddenly dropped to her knees. Just before darkness descended, she saw the two black-clad guards rushing toward her, weapons drawn.

  

Chapter 6

The Eater of Bones

By 

Tom Hanratty

March, 2019


“Kaya, my sister!” Dashante’s voice came from inside a fog, calling the Woman Warrior awake. “We’ve taken you outside.”


For a moment, Kaya wondered where she was and what had happened. With a start, she remembered the two enemy guards rushing at her as she lapsed into a deep sleep. The mask of the demon/man, the flashing sword in the flickering light, came out of the fog. Quickly, she sat up and looked deeply into the face of her friend.


Dashante smiled. “I rode to Itsa-Chu’s camp and we came to watch at the cave. When the two guards went in, we followed and shot them when we saw you couldn’t fight. Itsa-Chu killed one and I shot the other.” She shook her head slowly. “Aiee. The demon’s magic made you sleep and two of Itsa-Chu’s men dropped over when they got near the Evil One. They woke up when we poured water on them.”


“My thoughts are confused,” Kaya said. “I breathed the white powder, and know nothing after that.”


“ Itsa-Chu has found the explosive sticks of the White-Eyes. He says he knows how to use them and he will destroy the Bone Eater’s lair.”


Kaya shook her head to clear it. “The girls…”


“We found them deep in the cave inside a large cage. Five of Itsa-Chu’s warriors are taking them in the wagons back to the village. We killed two more guards, but Bipin and Tarak of the Rushing River People were badly injured.”


Dashante helped Kaya stand.  “The Rushing River People killed three more White-Eyes in those buildings. We dragged their bodies into the Bone Eater’s cave. All of the buildings will be burned.”


Kaya put her hand on Dashante’s arm. Once again, her friend had saved her life. “You are a great warrior, Sister.”


Dashante shook her head. “I killed a man, but you killed a demon.”


“No, Dashante. He was a man dressed as a demon.”


“That’s not the way Itsa-Chu will tell it, Sister. Your name and this story will be sung around the winter campfires for all time. Come now, we must move further from the Bone Eater’s lair, for I wonder if Itsa-Chu really knows about the explosive sticks the White-Eyes call Dynamite.”


As if in answer, Itsa-Chu charged out of the mouth of the mine, running as fast as he could straight at the two women. Apaches scattered in all directions, either on foot or horseback. Within seconds, a thunderous blast erupted, spewing dirt and stones from the opening of the mine. A powerful shock wave knocked the two women to the ground, covering them in a fine powder. 


As she helped Dashante to her feet, Kaya heard a rumbling deep underground and, as she watched the dust cloud pour from the cave, it looked as if the entire mountain was crumbling from the inside. The entrance was now filled with rocks.


Later, after a rinse in the Crimson River, the two women mounted up and rode toward their village, three days away. Kaya knew there was much she didn’t understand about the man Mottoon, or how he had become the monster, but Cochise would tell her. 


As they made their first camp, her mind was on the old Chief. Did Cochise know the monster was just a man whose mind had become evil? Had he sent the warrior woman because he feared Itsa-Chu would start another war with the White-Eyes if he had come with a war party? 


“You’re mind is filled with thoughts, Sister,” Dashante said with a smile. “But your eyes are not filled with joy. As the slayer of the Eater of Bones, they should be.”


Kaya looked at her most beloved friend. “In this world,” she said, “the land is real, the mountains, the river, the beasts we hunt. You, my friend, are real. All else is like the smoke from the campfire, seen but not able to be grasped. I did not kill a demon, and the story Itsa-Chu tells will be untrue. Should a lie bring me joy?”


“All stories become true with the telling,” Dashante said. “You are now Kaya-Te-Nse, the woman who slayed the monster Eater of Bones. So you will become that woman, and the children of the Red Paint People will fill their hearts with joy as you walk among them.” She stirred the coals of the campfire with a stick. “Smoke is just smoke, my Sister. It is made to be seen. Stories are made to be heard. That is the way it is.”

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Master Bao and the Caged Bird

Story for September 2018

  

Master Bao and the Caged Bird

September, 2018

By

Tom Hanratty


Master Bao and his pupil Ping sat in the rock garden of the White Crane Temple in the Peng Lai district of the Empire. They had finished their morning rice and sipped their Longjing green tea, waiting the return of their host. This was the third day of their visit to the head monk, Abbot Fang Ho. Tomorrow, the two travelers would be moving on, down from the mountains to the valley of the Yong River.


The Abbot, a tall, thin man with a peaceful smile, returned from conducting an interview with an unexpected visitor. The two guests stood and bowed in greeting to the Abbot, their hands clasped inside their copious sleeves. 


“I trust your visitor brought you good news, Abbot Fang,” said Master Bao.


As the Abbot returned Master Bao’s greeting, Master Bao thought the usually placid face of the head monk held a hint of concern. “The man was a messenger from Magistrate Lee who heard of your presence in his district and asked you to call on him at noon today. I must tell you, Master Bao, the Magistrate is known as a kindly man, but a bit overbearing at times. He was most insistent and is sending a palanquin for you and your pupil.”


“It is a major tenant of our Daoist creed to always accept whatever comes one’s way. Ping and I will be honored to visit the Magistrate,” Master Bao replied. “There is little crime and no unrest among the citizens of this district which means the Magistrate is a fair and just administrator. However, we will walk to the tribunal. Being carried by other men in a litter is not in keeping with my philosophy.”


Upon the hour of noon, Master Bao and Ping presented themselves at the gate of the large tribunal building.  Master Bao explained to Ping,  “It is a rule in China that anyone with a grievance can strike the large gong in the courtyard at any time, and the Magistrate will immediately open a court hearing. Regularly scheduled sessions are held in the morning, at noon, and again in the early evening. The hearings are open to the public and are a major attraction for many citizens who wish to keep up on the happenings in the district. The guard will strike the gong three times to announce the opening of the noon session"


The gong sounded three times just as Master Bao and Ping entered the court room. The Magistrate, a large man dressed in the dark green brocade robe of his office, pushed through a curtain behind an ornate chair at the far end of the room. He sat without ceremony, hammered the desk with a wooden gavel called “the wood that frightens the hall,” and ordered the clerk to read out the cases the court was to hear. 


Ping had never been in a tribunal before and stared at the court personnel. The Magistrate, called “the mother and father of the People” sat behind a raised bench covered with a white cloth. On either side of the high dais, two clerks occupied lower tables, and were getting their ink-stones and brushes ready to take down the testimony of witnesses. Below the platform, in front of the dais, stood six constables, three on each side. They carried the torture instruments of their office, whips, chains, and wooden presses with screws to crush ankles and wrists if the suspect didn’t confess to his crime. A large constable stood to one side, slowly swinging a heavy leather whip, a scowl on his face. Student Ping had heard of the terrible consequences for anyone accused of a crime and the fearsome power of the Magistrate to mete out justice. One didn’t come to court for  minor problems, Ping thought.


Two young men approached the bench and dropped to their knees. After knocking their heads on the tiled floor three times, one of the men looked up at the judge. “This miserable person is Koo Meng, the son of the late Koo Pin, and the brother to this disgraceful man next to me. On his death bed, our father insisted we split his property evenly between the two of us brothers, but now this ungrateful cur has taken the best of the land and buildings, leaving me with only a paltry piece of worthless land and decrepit structures. Right this wrong, Your Honor, and force my brother to divide up our holdings evenly.”


The Magistrate looked from one brother to the other. Both were dressed in good quality clothing and appeared well-fed and healthy. He addressed the second brother. “What have you to say to this?”


The second brother looked up at the judge. “This worthless person is Koo Pang, the younger son of our venerated father, Koo Pin. It’s true our father was a wealthy landowner, but he didn’t leave a will. And it’s also true that on his death bed, he told us to split the property evenly. But my lying brother here has it completely wrong about the land holdings and the buildings. He received the most productive land and the out buildings in the best repair. I was left with barren slopes on rocky mountains with run-down huts, while he took the best for himself. Right this wrong, Your Honor, and force my brother to divide up the holdings evenly.”


Magistrate Lee put his chin in his hand, rubbing his short beard, he appeared deep in thought. Finally, he said loudly, “Here is my decision. You, Koo Meng, will give all of the land and buildings your father left you, to your brother Koo Pang. And you, Koo Pang, will give all of the land and holdings your father left you, to your brother Koo Meng. Since you both insist the other has gotten the better of the deal, this should satisfy you both.”


As the brothers knocked their heads on the floor again, the audience in the filled court room roared with laughter. It was a wise settlement for the greedy brothers. Master Bao smiled at the clever way the Magistrate had solved this difficult dispute.


With the resolution to the case, and as no one else came forward, the Judge rapped his gavel and closed the session.


The Magistrate, recognizing Master Bao in the audience, sent one of his assistants with instructions to bring the monk and Ping to his private chamber through the curtain behind the dais. As he was removing his black cap with stiff wings and the heavy robes of his office, Magistrate Lee had the two travelers sit at a low desk. In a few minutes, tea was served and the Magistrate made small talk for several minutes before broaching the subject that troubled him. He glanced at Ping, decided to let the student remain in the room, and addressed the monk.


“Master Bao, I am a steadfast follower of the teachings of Confucius and believe our dark-haired people are well-served by his writings. One of his most revered instructions, and one I have followed my entire life is, ‘treat others as you wish to be treated.’ But I have run into a problem when I try to apply this sacred wisdom to women.” Here, the Magistrate paused and took a deep breath. “I simply don’t understand them at all.”


“Ah,” said Master Bao. “It is usually one lady in particular that brings this confusion to a learned mind. Can you give me more details?”


The Magistrate leaned back in his chair and let his eyes drift to the ceiling. He blew out a deep breath, then looked at Master Bao before he spoke.


“Two weeks ago, I was out riding in the rural country near the river Lan that borders our neighboring district to the South. At a small village, I came upon the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. I won’t even attempt to describe her beauty and personality for it is beyond any words. Sufficient to say, I immediately approached her father, a poor farmer, and purchased the girl, called by the name of Peach Blossom, to be my concubine. As you know, she has the right to refuse, so I think the price I paid was more than her family would make in ten years. The welfare of her kin may have persuaded her to join me.  I already have four wives, which is the most a Magistrate can have, but I’m allowed as many concubines as I please. 


“You may find it strange that I would buy a peasant girl. Usually, a concubine is a courtesan trained in art, music, poetry, and pleasant conversation, a skilled consort for a man in my position of responsibility. But so taken was I by Peach Blossom’s comeliness and wit that nothing mattered but for her to live in my home as my companion.”


The Judge finished a cup of tea, then another, before resuming his tale.


“I took her to my home in a closed palanquin, gave her two personal handmaidens to dress her in the finest silk, had the most skilled musicians play the most beautiful music for her, and gave her only the most delicious morsels to eat. She never has to work another day in her life. 


"After she stayed in her room crying for the first few days, I brought her mother and father in to visit and talk to her, thinking she was homesick for her parents. But her sadness and grief did not abate.


"This beautiful girl has become pale and ill. She refuses to eat and spends time in her room, either weeping or staring out of her window at the clouds in the sky. When I approach her, she clings to me as she weeps. I treated her as I would have wished to be treated, as the August Confucius said, but I have only brought pain to this woman I love.”


Silence filled the room as Magistrate Lee, his head hanging down, finished his story. 


“I’m sure there is a solution to this problem, Your Honor,” Master Bao said. “The Daoist Zhuangzi tells a story of a Sea Bird and a king, and we may receive some insight from it. Let me speak with Peach Blossom.”


Word was sent to the Magistrate’s personal quarters located in a villa behind the tribunal. It is forbidden for any males to see the wives of a Magistrate except on certain ceremonial occasions, and the women had withdrawn into a special chamber. Concubines, on the other hand, did not have this restriction, so the three men walked to the villa and, once inside, approached an ornate door at the end of a long hall. After knocking, the Judge entered the chamber of a beautiful young woman who was introduced as Peach Blossom. Her two handmaidens were dismissed and the Magistrate left Master Bao and Ping alone with the concubine.


Tea was elegantly served and Peach Blossom smiled bravely while speaking of her life on the small farm near the river. 


“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Magistrate Lee is doing for me. In his mind, he took a young woman from a life of poverty and hard work and placed her in a palace. But I long for the music of the birds and the sound of the river gently flowing over rocks. The food I eat on the farm is from plants I have raised and nourished, prayed over, and cared for like friends. When rain comes, I run out into it to feel the power of the storm. Here, I am confined to my chamber when the weather is anything but sunny. 


“My work at home made me strong and full of energy. Here, I am expected to do nothing, not even dress myself. The women here are very nice, but they talk only of men they have lain with, or new colors of fashion. At home, I have sat with a cow all night when she was having trouble giving birth, and rejoiced when the calf came forth into this world. My joy is different from that of the women of this house. Digging my hands and feet into freshly dug soil gave me a great pleasure. But now my fingernails grow long and my feet are wrapped in cloth.” As if too heavy to hold up, Peach Blossom’s head dropped forward and tears flowed onto her silk gown.


“And yet my family was in great debt to the tax collector and we would have lost the farm if Magistrate Lee hadn’t found me attractive. So I will stay with him and do my best to please him.” She sighed as her tears coursed down her rouged cheeks.


Master Bao gave Peach Blossom some words of encouragement. He and Ping returned to the Tribunal late in the afternoon and met with Magistrate Lee after the evening session of the court.


“It is time for Zhuangzi’s story of a Sea Bird and a King,” Master Bao said to the Judge. “A beautiful Sea Bird came ashore in a small kingdom. The people all marveled at the beauty of the bird, and it even had a melodious song. Most sea birds are rather plain and have a rasping call, but this was a special bird. The king heard about this beautiful bird and sent his men to bring her to his palace, where the bird was given silk to sit on, delicious food, and beautiful music from a special group of the best musicians to surround her. But to the bird, the music was strange and disturbing, the food not something she herself had caught, and the silk was uncomfortable to a bird who had sat on rocks her entire life. Within a week, she sickened and died.”


The Magistrate hung his head. “Is this what I have brought to pass because of my love for this beautiful girl?” he asked.


“The two brothers in court today saw only their lack when compared to their brothers’  holdings,” Master Bao explained. “And you saw only the poverty and a life of labor for this beautiful girl, when compared to the rich life in your mansion. As an honorable man, you wanted to repair this injustice. But each of us has a different nature, and Peach Blossom is nourished by the freedom and connection to the Earth, rather then the riches of your world. 


“You must honor her nature, the clear spirit that resides inside her. Let the bird out of her cage sometimes. Let her return to her family’s farm every month, and she will return full of energy and strength.”


Magistrate Lee smiled for the first time in many days. He stood and clapped his hands. “I’ll do it, Master Bao. Maybe, in time, she’ll come to like it here as well and will spend even more time with me. You are truly a wise man, Master. Thank you for your counsel.”


Later that day, as Master Bao and Ping again reposed in the rock garden of the White Crane Temple, Ping raised his clasped hands above his head and bowed deeply to Master Bao. “Please explain to this ignorant pupil how Magistrate Lee caused such pain to Peach Blossom, even though he was following the virtuous rule of treating others as you would wish to be treated?”


“Ah,” replied Master Bao, “but he imposed his will on the young lady. That was something he wouldn’t have wanted done to him. When dealing with other people, Student Ping, one must assess what is best for their personal nature, not what we would desire. That is the lesson of Zhuangzi’s story.”


Chinese Wisdom: It is the beautiful bird that is caged.

   

Thanks to Zhuangzi (4th  century BCE)  for the idea and Sea Bird story.

Art work by Fan Zeng (1938 - ) of Beijing, China

Art work by Fan Zeng (1938 - ) of Beijing, China

Rex Granite Takes a Case

Interactive short story

  

Rex Granite Takes a Case 

By

Tom Hanratty


Rex Granite, Private Eye, sat behind his wooden desk and stared at the back of his office door. It was a good door for a Shamus, frosted upper with his name and trade in black lettering, backwards from where he was sitting. That door hadn’t admitted any new clients today and that was just fine with him. Too many unhappy people had been bothering him with meaningless, boring cases, most of which he refused. Someday a good, mind-bending mystery would walk in, rather than these people with their petty troubles cluttering up his office. 


He had plenty of dough from his last case, an interesting matter of a dame setting him up for a murder rap. But he had turned the tables on the little minx and collected a fat fee. The lady, if you could call the homicidal floozy a lady, was now doing twenty to life in the Big House for Dames.


With a sigh, Granite opened his laptop and booted up Number 31465 on a FreeCell website. For two days, he had been unsuccessful in winning this game, no matter what combinations he tried. But now, he was going to change his tactics completely, and just as he was making headway, a shadowy silhouette darkened the glass upper of his door, and the brass handle turned.


Granite immediately disliked the man who entered.  Everything about the guy spelled trouble. From the way he strolled into the room, scanning the office like he was going to buy it, to the way the sunlight from the window behind the desk bounced off the copper sharkskin suit the man wore. 


Shorter than Granite by a half foot and built like a beer keg, the prospective client finally met Granite’s eye. 


“You Granite?” the man said with an upward jerk of his head.


Granite had risen to greet the man, but didn’t offer his hand. “Just like on the door,” he replied as he sat down. His last case had involved just this kind of slugger, mob torpedoes working for some syndicate. Same greased hair, same dark eyes, same three day beard. And no neck.


“My wife is cheating on me.”


“I don’t do divorce cases.”


“She stole ten grand from my safe.”


“I don’t do petty thefts.”


The man paused, then nodded. “Ten grand is petty theft, huh?” He plopped down in one of the two client’s chairs, took off his flat hat and crossed one leg over the other. “You know who I am?” He began to jiggle his foot.


“No. You haven’t introduced yourself yet.” 


“I think the broad is dead.” Still no introduction.


“I don’t do homicides. That gets me in trouble with the cops.”


The man nodded again. He dropped both feet to the floor and leaned across the desk, rising slightly from his chair. “I’m August Pentipelli. I do real estate. Hell, I own half this city.” He looked around the office again. “Matter of fact, I think I own this building, It’s the kind of dump I specialize in.”


Granite said nothing.


“Look, I did some digging on you. Your real name ain’t Granite. You’re Eugene Potsum, and you’ve never been a cop or military. You got some lavender degree from a lefty school. I’m here because some friends of mine say you can figure things out.”


Granite remained silent.


“So, Gumshoe, what the Hell do you do?”


“I solve mysteries, that’s what I do.”


Pentipelli again nodded. “Yeah, well. I got one of them, too. She took my dog. She hates my dog, but she took him when she split. That’s a mystery, eh?”


“What kind of dog is it?”


“What the ? You give a rat’s ass what kind of dog? My wife is probably laying somewhere with her throat cut, and you’re asking what kind of dog? What are you, some kind of nut?”


“Poodle, Shih Tzu, what?”


The man just stared at Granite. Finally, “It’s a Rottweiler.” Granite noted Pentipelli hung his head, maybe showing some emotion for the first time. “Names Conon. Dog weighs more than the old lady.”


Granite shoved a printed paper across the desk. “This is my fee schedule. Plus daily expenses. I’ll find your dog.”


TO THE READER;


This is the start of a story for you to finish. Devise a mystery for Granite to solve based on what has already transpired. 

Remember, kids read these stories so no explicit sex or profanity.

Post it in the comment section on the Home page of the website (www.thomashanratty.com) and I’ll put up a separate page with the mystery you devise. Sorry, no prizes or rewards, other then seeing your story in print. 


Go get ‘em.


Tom

   



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Master Bao and the Intelligent Ghost

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by

Tom Hanratty

  

Master Bao and the Intelligent Ghost

By

Tom Hanratty

August, 2018


Master Bao and Ping sat on the balcony of the Kingfisher Restaurant overlooking Lake Hulang in the Northwestern empire of Tong. Piles of purple and pink clouds floated through the darkened sky, reflected in the smooth surface of the quiet pool. Dusk was coming on, and the two men, having finished their evening rice, were contemplating the peaceful scene.


“Master,” Ping began. “I see the flow of the Dao in the quiet water and the movement of the clouds. The water is now in its Yin state, quiet and yielding, and the clouds, with their movement, are in their Yang state of being. Is this correct?”


“Yes, Ping. The way of the Dao is change and flow, and when we follow the patterns of the ten thousand things of nature, we avoid misfortune that seems to plague some men.”


Just then, a clamor on the wooden stairs heralded the arrival of a man dressed as a wealthy guildmaster. His hat was askew on his head, his gown too large for his thin frame, and his pale face was lined with worry.  He dropped to his knees before Master Bao and knocked his forehead on the floor three times.


“Master Bao,” the man whined in a strained voice. “You must help me. I’m going mad.”


“Pour this man a cup of tea, Ping,” Master Bao said to his student. Then, to the mad man, “Please, Sir, have a seat at the table here and tell us your story.”


Slowly, the man climbed into a chair and gulped a cup of tea.  “You’ll think me mad also, but I must end this curse that has fallen on me. I have not slept for days, and barely eat enough to keep me alive, so distraught have I been.”


He quickly drank a second cup of tea. “I am Lo Chien, the proud owner of the largest jade shop in Tong,” the man began. “Many years ago, when I was quite young, I fell in love with a beautiful woman and, after an appropriate time, we married. My wife was not only beautiful, she was a brilliant businesswoman. But had kept her talent hidden, for women are kept out of sight and not allowed in business in our village. I was a jade craftsman and we prospered greatly from the first day due to my wife’s business sense. For many years we lived happily, making large amounts of money and enjoying each other’s company. The only regret we had was we were unable to conceive  a child, and so I had no sons to bring into the business. But it caused no rift in our happiness.” At this point, Lo Chien began to weep and placed his head in his hands.


“Order some rice for our friend here, Ping” Master Bao said. “And have the waiter bring another pot of tea, for I believe we have only begun this story.”


Lo Chien thanked Master Bao and gobbled up his bowl of rice when it arrived. After another two cups of tea, he resumed his tale.

“After many years of happiness, my wife became sick. I brought in several doctors, all well respected for their knowledge, but they all said my wife was going to die. There was no cure for her ailment. Within weeks, she became so weak she could no longer rise from her bed, so I sat with her and bathed her forehead. On the last day of her life, she motioned for me to draw close and, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear, she said, ‘I love you and don’t want to leave you. You must promise me you’ll always be faithful to me, and won’t love or marry another woman even after I’m dead. If you break your promise, I will come back as a ghost and make your life miserable.’ With that, she died.”

Lo Chien shook his bowed head slowly .


“I was wonderfully faithful for many months, “ he resumed. “Then, I met a beautiful woman who seemed as smart as my wife. Soon, although I resisted as much as I could, I fell in love with this woman, and she with me. It has been two years since my first wife died, and I have become engaged to marry this lady. A  week ago, when we gathered some friends to announce our betrothal, my first wife appeared before me in my bedchamber as I was dressing for the party. ‘You have not kept your promise,’ she said. ‘I know all about you and this woman.’ Then, she repeated everything I had said, word for word, from that day. Every word that had passed between me and the woman I am to marry was thrown in my face.”


Gulping another cup of tea, Lo Chien uttered a great sigh. “Each night since, she has appeared to me and told each word that passed between my love and I. She also told me where we had gone, who we had met, and even how much money I had made that day. She knows everything. Nothing can be kept from her.”


Master Bao looked at the thin, pale face of Lo Chien. “What time does she appear each night?” 


Lo Chien gazed at the sun as it sunk behind the shore of Lake Hulang. “Just about this time. No matter where I am. If you wait for a few moments, you will see her yourself. What can I do to throw off this curse, Master Bao?”


Master Bao called the waiter over and asked him to bring a small bag of uncooked rice to the table. When he had it in hand, he leaned close and whispered to Lo Chien. “Your wife was very intelligent in life, and now she is a very intelligent ghost. When she comes tonight, hand her this bag of rice and ask her how many grains are in the bag.”


Within minutes, a mist formed on the balcony and slowly materialized into the ghost of a beautiful woman. “I know all about you and what you have been saying,” she said. “I know everything.” 


At this point, Lo Chien held out the bag of rice. “If you know everything, tell me how many grains of rice are in this bag.”

The ghost turned blue, then red, then green, finally disappearing in a cloud of mist.


“I think you have seen the last of your wife’s ghost,” Master Bao said. “Once she realized she didn’t know everything, she simply went back to the place where ghosts go.”


After profusely thanking Master Bao and Ping, Lo Chien clomped down the stairs singing with joy.


Ping folded his arms in his copious sleeves as he bowed deeply to Master Bao. “Please Master. Where does one go after one dies?”


“Now, Ping,” the old man said. “How would I know that?”


Ping bowed even deeper. “Because you are a Master.”


“Yes, Ping,” the monk replied, “but not a dead Master.”


Thanks to John Suler for the idea, Zen Stories to Tell your Neighbors, True Center Publishing, PA.

The Track and the Boy

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The Track and the Boy

By

Tom Hanratty

July, 2018


Ohtoh of the Piegan band of the Blackfoot People knew the track was there. 


It was across the shorter grass of the beginning prairie, near the buffalo trail that skirted the woods. Yesterday, when hunting rabbits, the boy had spotted the track, but had no time to read its message. So today he rose before dawn and crept out of the sleeping camp to the trail.


Now he waited for Creator Sun to send him the knowledge of the animal that made the track. The impatience of youth was something he had learned to push aside, not unusual for a Blackfoot boy of ten summers of age. He pulled his elk robe closer around him to keep out the early Spring chill of the great grassland, and thought about what was to come, how his patience and vigilance would be rewarded.


It was the Moon When the Ice Breaks Up, and soon Stands-in-Thunder, the main chief, would decide the day for the small band to leave their winter camp in the trees along the river, and move out onto the plains, joining other bands for a great buffalo hunt. Ohtoh was still too young to hunt the huge shaggy beast, but his grandfather often took him to hunt smaller game, and he had proven he could be quiet on the trail, and read the wisdom of the tracks. Studying this print, and reporting his findings to his mentor grandfather, would show he practiced the knowledge of the tracker/ hunter.


The boy watched while the sky shed its stars, sending them to follow the Night Light Moon over the tall mountains to the West. Then, the tall buffalo grass, higher than a man sitting on horse, was now seen black against a pale gray smudge of light in the East. The hollows of the prairie were still filled with darkness, but the higher undulations slowly appeared first gray, then blue. A light breeze brought the scent of the wild prairie sage, and the rustle of the grass with blue stems, as the silence deepened, and the world of the prairie awaited daybreak


Now, the boy saw the track on the trail before him, visible as a dark spot on the Earth, where the animal had left part of its spirit for the boy to marvel at. And as the light became the color of the skin of the spotted fish called salmon, the birds began their welcoming chorus, and the track began to fill with meaningful shadows. Cracks and ridges told of the animal’s passage, when it walked through this place, and a score of other pieces of knowledge Creator Sun now gave to the boy. The World is a track, the old man had told him. But only those who pay attention can know its mysteries. 


The track of the great mountain cat, Omakatyo, lay before him, where the heaven softly touched the Earth. The chirp of the blue feathered jay sounded once at his back in the dark forest of tall cottonwood high over thick underbrush that stretched to the Swift-Running River. In front of him, the endless grassland, and behind him, the eternal forest and mountains.


The boy shifted his gaze to a spot a near the print of the cat. Here was a different track, a footprint that sent a quick jolt of fear through him. He breathed softly though his mouth, and his hearing became sharp enough to note the scampering of a rodent several feet away. He studied the new track, that of a moccasin print. He knew the Blackfoot People had footwear with parfleche soles, the dried hide of the buffalo carefully stitched onto the moccasins by the women of the tribe. But this was a soft soled print, the wearer’s toes slightly visible. 


When the Piegan warriors raided enemy camps, they returned with moccasins from each of the tribes. Ohtoh’s grandfather would make tracks wearing the foes’ footwear so Ohtoh could learn the difference between the sign of many of the enemies on the plains. And the boy knew this was the rounded, wide footprint of the hated Cree. And it was fresh. 


Ohtoh’s heart beat fast. If the enemy who made this track was scouting out the Piegan camp, he may be nearby watching. Slowly, the boy rose from his crouch, turned, and started to  walk back towards the trees. Thoughts of an arrow in the back made him want to run like an antelope, but if the Cree scout thought the boy hadn’t seen the track, he may let him go. Nearing the cottonwood forest, however, Ohtoh’s resolve failed him and the boy burst into a sprint, trampling the long grasses, racing into the camp, past the barking dogs to his grandfather’s lodge. 


That night, as the stars called the seven buffalo slowly moved toward their mountain resting place, Ohtoh sat with his grandfather in the shadow of their lodge. Early that morning, a counsel of the Crazy Dogs Warrior Society was called to discuss plans to deal with the Cree. Several warriors had gone to find the Cree scout after Ohtoh breathlessly told his grandfather of his discovery of the footprint, but no enemies were found. No one doubted the word of the boy, and the track was studied by the best trackers in the village. It was decided that the footprint had been made sometime near dawn. The boy had come close to losing his life, but the scout had since departed. An attack was most likely, as the scout had not noticed the boy reading the track. This was the conclusion of all the warriors.


“We will move the horses into the trees, and our warriors will hide and wait for the Cree to come into the forest. Then we will strike.”

And so it was. When the Cree war party slipped into the woods, they were met by the Crazy Dog men, and soundly defeated. It was a great victory for the Piegan people.


It was two days later that Ohtoh’s grandfather called the boy into the center of the camp. Lone Coyote, the leader of the Crazy Dog warriors, rose in front of the entire village to make a speech.


“Many winters ago,” he began, “before the time of our grandfather’s grandfathers, a great tracker lived among the People. It is said he could follow the trail of a spider across bare rock, track the birds in the sky, and see a footprint of an enemy before it was made. This man was named Looks-at-the-Ground.


“Today, we have a young man who shows the same gifts from the Sky People. Our Man-of-Knowledge, the Shaman Dancing Bear, has said the one blue eye of our little brother makes him a great tracker, one who sees the footprint of the enemy. 


“It is said the eagle sees far and the jumping mouse sees up close. But the hawk looks far and near, so the hawk is called “The Bird Who Looks at the Ground.” We honor our little brother Ohtoh with this feather from the wing of a Sun Hawk, and give him the name “Looks-at-the-Ground.” Although young in years, he will grow into this sacred name and bring honor to his People.”


Ohtoh stood tall when Lone Coyote fixed the hawk feather into his hair. He knew great knowledge was a gift from Creator Sun not for the boy or man, but for the well being of all the People. And it would take many years of hard work to earn the gift. Looks-at-the-Ground, as he faced the smiling people of his Piegan Blackfoot village, was ready to begin.


Behind the boy, his grandfather felt pride, but also sadness. He knew, as sure as the thunder rolls in the mountains and the wind sweeps the tall prairie grasses, that change was coming. Already the vast buffalo herds were smaller, and the number of lodges fewer each year at the Summer Sundance. But for now, Looks-at-the-Ground has earned the right to dance his joy, and let the old men fret about the coming storm clouds. The Piegans would be here, the grandfather thought, as long as the grass grows and the waters flow. And Looks-at-the-Ground would be a Blackfoot forever.

Master Bao and the Golden Peach

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Master Bao and the Golden Peach

By

Tom Hanratty

June, 2018


“Ping,” Master Bao said to his apprentice, “we will stay the night at the Hostel of Blissful Repose in the town of Linsang. Tomorrow, we will visit the famous Monastery of Immortals, where the sacred Golden Peach of the ancients is kept.”


“I look forward to seeing this most sacred relic, Master,” Ping said as he walked next to his mentor who was riding a water buffalo. “I understand the peach is solid gold and holds the secret to immortality.”


Master Bao smiled. “Yes,” he replied, “I have heard that also.”


Purple evening was coming on when the travelers reached the Hostel. After putting Master Bao’s ox in the stable, the two entered the lobby of the inn and approached its front desk. The clerk, a heavy man with a large paunch and a ring beard chewed on a toothpick as he leaned his elbows on the rough surface of the counter. Just off the lobby was a dining room abuzz with men huddled around several tables talking in undertones. Suspicious glances were cast at Master Bao and Ping.


“There’s one now,” a thin man expounded loudly. He sat at a nearby table and was surrounded by five men whose dress showed them to be craftsmen. All eyes turned to stare at the Monk and Ping.“Maybe he can tell us who stole the Golden Peach and robbed our town of its income. What do you say, Monk? People come from all over the Empire to see the sacred peach, and the people of this town earn a living from the silver the travelers spend. Maybe one of your followers took it.”


“A true follower of the Way would not steal even a rice cake,” Master Bao said. “But if you give me more information, I may be able to help find the thief and return your relic.”


“Perhaps I can enlighten you, Master, on the details of the crime.” A tall man wearing the leather vest of the town warden came in from a room behind the desk. He bowed deeply to Master Bao, his hands folded respectfully in front of him. “I’m Warden Ma and I would greatly appreciate your assistance in this most distressing matter.”


“Of course, Warden Ma,” the Monk said, bowing his head in greeting. “My student and I would welcome the opportunity to serve the people of Linsang.”


The warden led the way to a small private dining room on the opposite side of the lobby from the public eating hall. A dish of fresh vegetables and fruit was quickly placed on the table in front of the men. 


“The Golden Peach is thought to be thousands of years old, given to a famous monk by the Jade Emperor of the Mystical Cloud Heaven. When the monk left this world and became pure spirit in the Dao, the orb was passed down from one immortal to another. Each keeper of the relic, after living one hundred and fifty years on this earth, disappeared into pure spirit, leaving only their sandals behind. Finally, the last monk had no followers worthy of immortality so he had the monastery built and donated the Golden Peach to be kept until a worthy monk should appear.”


“This is a famous story,” said Ping excitedly. “It is said whoever possesses the Golden Peach will live a long life on this earth, then join the immortals in the Jade Emperor’s Empire in the Heavens. But surely a thief would not be worthy of such a reward.”


“Perhaps not,” the warden said, shaking his head. “A group of five Enlightened Monks keep the Golden Peach in a strong safe at night, then bring it into the viewing room in the morning. In front of all five, it is placed on a red silken cloth on a silver stand behind a chain. Visitors may view it, but no one, other than the five monks can touch or handle it. But now the Golden Peach is gone, and we have only three men who could have taken it. None of them are monks.”


“When was it taken, Warden?” Master Bao inquired.


“This morning,” the warden replied. “After the relic was placed on the stand, three visitors begged permission to view it. Each was taken, separately, into the viewing room, where they sat or knelt alone to meditate before the relic. The monk remained outside the room, also in a state of meditation. Each visitor is then escorted from the room and the next person is admitted.”


“Were these three men the only ones near the relic today, other than the Enlightened Monks?”


“Yes. When the five monks entered to move the relic back to the safe this evening, they noticed the Golden Peach was not the one they had placed in the viewing room this morning. This was a lead ball coated with gold paint. No one but these Enlightened Monks would have noticed the difference, but to them, who had handled this sacred item, it was obvious. They reported the loss immediately and I quickly arrested the three visitors.”


Master Bao thought for a long moment. “When we entered the lobby, I heard the song of a nightingale. Does the innkeeper keep such a bird?” Master Bao asked.


“Yes. It sings nearly constantly,”  Warden Ma responded, looking a bit confused.


“Please have the innkeeper bring the birdcage with the nightingale into this room. Have him bring another platter of fresh fruit and vegetables. And I’ll need a flask of wine and three rice cakes. Then, when I signal, bring in the three men. You can wait in the next room where you will hear all that transpires.”


The perplexed warden did as asked. 

Within minutes, the innkeeper brought a large birdcage with a loudly singing nightingale into the private dining room. A tray containing fresh fruit and cooked vegetables followed. A flask of wine and several cups was next, and finally, a plate full of dry rice cakes was placed on the table. Master Bao put the plate of rice cakes on a low stool behind him. When all was set, the monk motioned for the warden to bring in the three men.


The first man bowed respectfully and said his name was Yang. He was an elderly  apothecary from the capitol city. The second man was named Fong, a middle-aged boss of the silver-workers guild in a distant town. The third man was Li, also middle-aged and the head clerk in a government office in a large city.


Master Bao put the men at ease with a glass of wine and some fruit and cooked vegetables. The men told of their adventures on the road, and their ideas of life in general. After a short time, Master Bao asked each to see if they could sing as well as the nightingale that was trilling away. All three men puckered up and whistled loudly, if not harmoniously. When they had finished, Master Bao spoke about the theft of the Golden Peach. He then produced the plate of dry rice cakes and had each place a cake in his mouth, chew, and swallow it. Then the monk told them to whistle. Only two of the men could produce any whistle at all. Fong, the silver-workers guild boss, couldn’t make a sound, although he blew as hard as he could.


“This is your man, Warden Ma,” Master Bao said. “His mouth is dry because of the guilt he feels.”


Fong dropped to his knees and knocked his forehead on the floor three times. “You are right, Master,” he exclaimed in a strained voice. “I have a fatal disease and am afraid of death, I heard about the Golden Peach of Immortality and decided to steal it and leave a substitute in its place. I didn’t think the theft would be noticed. I hid the relic in a secret compartment in the clothes trunk in my room.”


After the warden led Fong away, Student Ping approached the monk, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Please Master,” he began. “Enlighten this ignorant pupil. Are the stories of the Golden Peach true? Can you obtain long life and immortality by possessing this relic?”


“Sit here and share this food, Ping.  Have you not heard the story of the monkey who stole the Golden Orb? Or the tale of the novice Hsi who tried to produce the Golden Pill of Immortality with roots, herbs and precious stones? These are tales told to instruct the young who hope to follow the Way. 


“All the tales end the same way. An Immortal whose eyes are bright lights speaks to the novice and tells him to do the Qigong exercises, learn acupuncture and meditate for hours each day. These are the ingredients of the Golden Peach, and they lie in your head, just above your eyebrows. After years of learning to move within the Dao, the completed Golden Peach of Immortality will be deep inside you, behind your navel. Living a life of stillness, completely in accordance with the Dao, will allow you to enter the Shadowy Portal (Hsilan Men) to pass beyond this world of dust into the realm of the Immortals.


“But you must leave your sandals behind to let others know not to look for your body.”

Master Bao and the Three Riddles

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Master Bao and the Three Riddles

By

Tom Hanratty

May, 2018


     I was a cold evening in the small country of Xen (Chen) in the Northern part of China. Master Bao and Ping were approaching the town of Pang Lo, when the wind began to howl from between the mountains, and the snow began to fall in great swirls.

     “We will stay at the inn in the next street,” Master Bao said over the sound of the wind. “Cheer up, Student Ping. We will soon be warm and well fed.”

     The sign on the wooden flap over the door was blowing in the strong wind, but Ping could read the characters for “Inn of Happy Travelers.” He pulled his cape closer around him and hurried forward behind Master Bao’s great ox.

     The ox was put into the stable, and the stable lad said he would rub down the beast and feed it. Master Bao and Ping then entered the foyer of the “Inn of Happy Travelers” and walked up to the counter. A jovial-looking man, of stout build, with a ring beard, smiled at the two men. 

     “And you’d like a room for yourself and your companion, Master?” the man said, “But we are all filled up.” He paused. “Except for our most expensive room at the top of the stairs. And I doubt if a poor traveling monk could afford such luxuries.”

     “Perhaps,” Master Bao replied, “we could sleep in the straw in the stable, for a small fee?”

     The man rubbed his chin, then smiled widely. “Seeing as how you are a traveling monk and therefore a wise-man, I’ll make a bargain with you. If you can answer a riddle I propose, I may find a soft bed for you and a second bed for your companion.”

     Ping almost jumped for joy. “Master, there is no riddle too difficult for you. Perhaps I can answer the puzzle myself.”

     “We’ll see, “ said Master Bao. “Good Sir, what’s the riddle?”

    The Proprietor smiled. “You see that master potter in the corner of the restaurant. He is amazing, and can make five small pots in an hour. If he can make five pots in one hour, how long would it take 100 potters, equally skillful, to make 500 pots?”

    Ping tugged at his Master’s sleeve. “Please, Master. Let me answer this question. It is so easy, just simple numbers.” Ping could barely stand still with his excitement.

   “One moment, please Landlord. Let me speak to my student in private.” Master Bao took Ping to one side and spoke softly for several minutes. Then, with Ping shuffling behind, Master Bao approached the Landlord.

    “One hour,” the Monk said.

    “You are right. Your student probably would have said 100 hours. The room at the top of the stairs is yours for the night. Your companion can sleep in a room downstairs. Both of you can enjoy a great meal, compliments of the Inn of Happy Travelers.”

     The next morning, after the Monk and his Student had their morning rice, Ping approached Master Bao.

     “Please, Master” Ping said, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Enlighten this ignorant student. How did I get the wrong answer to so simple a riddle?”

      “The answer, Student Ping, lies in listening carefully to the words of the riddle, for it is in the details of the puzzle that the answer is revealed.”

    

     Two months later, the Master and his student arrived in the town on Kang Ming, in the small country of Gong. The town was located in the Southern part of China, and was noted for its heat and vast swamplands. They approached a large inn beside the road.

     “We have gone far today, Student Ping,” Master Bao said. “Perhaps we can find a room at this inn.”

     The painted wooden sign over the door hung by two brass hinges, and Ping could read the characters for the “Inn of Heavenly Peace.” After seeing to the ox, the two travelers entered the foyer and stepped up to the long, polished counter. A thin, cadaverous man behind the desk dressed in a simple robe of good quality gave them a sidelong look. He studied the patched robe of the Monk and the barefeet of the student.

      “We have only one room available,” he snarled. “And it costs a silver piece for one night.”

     “Perhaps we could make our beds in the straw in the stable,” Master Bao said, “for a small fee.”

     A tall man dressed in fine clothes was standing near the desk, leaning on a pillar, idly watching the guests in the adjoining restaurant. He was solidly-built, with a full beard and side whiskers. He turned and stared at the Monk.

     “Wait, Innkeeper. This is a traveling monk and known for his wisdom. I’m stuck here in this hot town and bored. If this monk can answer a riddle correctly, I’ll put him and his student up in your available room.”

     “Oh yes, Dr. Mozi,” the innkeeper said, bowing solicitously. “A riddle, of course. Whatever you say, Sir.”

     “Come outside, Monk, and bring your companion. I’ll compose a riddle as we go, so I know it won’t be one you’ve heard. It won’t be easy, as I’m a lecturer in complicated numbers at the School for Enlightenment.”

     The three men went onto the long porch and looked out across the road at a pond that lay among the weeds. 

     “Here’s one for you. See that pond with the patch of lily pads? Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire pond, how long would it take the patch to cover half the pond?”

     Ping was beside himself with excitement, and he tugged at his master’s sleeve. “Please, Master, let me answer this question. It is so easy, just some simple number calculations.”

     “One moment, Dr. Mozi. Let me speak to my pupil is private.” 

Master Bao took Ping over to one side and conversed quietly for a few moments. Then, with Ping shuffling along behind, Master Bao approached Dr. Mozi.

     “47 days,” the Monk said.

     “Exactly right,” Dr. Mozi said with a large grin. Your student would have said 24 days. I’ll have the Innkeeper put you both in good rooms, and I’ll buy you both a fine supper,”. “And, if you’ll be so kind, I’ll enjoy a long conversation with you to pass the time.”

     The next morning, after the Monk and his Student had their morning rice, Ping approached Master Bao.

     “Please, Master” Ping said, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “Enlighten this ignorant student. How did I get the wrong answer to so simple a riddle?”

      “The answer, Student Ping, lies in listening carefully to the words of the riddle, for it is in the details of the puzzle that the answer is revealed.”


     Two months later, Master Bao and Ping were approaching the village of Lang, in the small country of LiFan. It was a thriving village near the Silk Road and noted for its vibrant business in trade.

     “We’ve had a long journey, Student Ping. Perhaps we can find a room at the inn just up ahead,” Master Bao said. The painted wooden sign above the door swung in the gentle breeze, but Ping could make out the characters for “Inn of Restful Repose.” After seeing to the ox, the two travelers entered the inn and stepped up to the polished counter. A short bald man behind the counter was calculating on his abacus, but put it aside and scurried around from behind the desk when he recognized Master Bao.

     “This poor inn is greatly honored by your esteemed presence, Master Bao,” said the innkeeper as he deeply bowed, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves. “You and your companion are welcome to stay as long as you wish, at no cost to you.” 

     “Thank you for your generosity, Innkeeper, but we insist on paying our way,” the Monk responded.

     The Innkeeper looked crestfallen. Then, he brightened and smiled widely. “I have it, Master. We have a riddle on the sign on the wall behind the counter. As you see, it says whoever solves the riddle, stays overnight at no cost. That would apply to your companion as well.”

Master Bao read the riddle.

     As I was going to Li Ives,

    I met a man with seven wives.

    Each wife had seven sacks,

    And each sack had seven cats.

    Each cat had seven kits.

    Kits, cats, sacks, wives,

    How many were going to Li Ives?

     Ping was beside himself with excitement, and he tugged at his master’s sleeve. “Please, Master, let me answer this question. It is so easy, for I have read it carefully.”

     “One moment, Innkeeper. Let me speak to my pupil is private.” 

     Master Bao took Ping over to one side and conversed quietly for a few moments. Then, with Ping walking respectfully behind the Monk, Master Bao approached the innkeeper.

     “My student Ping has solved the riddle. You may give the answer now, Ping.”

     Ping smiled widely. “One,” he said. “Only one was going to Liang Ives. The rest were returning.”

     “Correct,” the Innkeeper said. “Now you both can stay for no cost, and a large dinner is part of the package.”

     Later, after a delicious meal of cooked vegetables and fresh fruit, Student Ping approached Master Bao, his hands folded inside his copious sleeves.  “Esteemed Master,” he began holding his clasped hands above his downcast eyes. “This ignorant student now listens carefully, but suspects a deeper lesson is yet to be learned. Please enlighten him.”

     Master Bao thought for a long moment before he spoke. “When presented with a problem, be it a riddle or some difficulty in our daily lives, most often we jump to a solution before we have considered the entire problem from many angles. The initial answers are the most appealing, quick and simple, especially if the problem seems simple. But if one studies even the most innocent appearing problem from other angles, and listens or reads the problem carefully, the true answer will make itself known. Just as Master Lao Tzu instructs us, the Superior person will reflect on a situation before rushing to a conclusion, leaving ambition, anger, frustration, and greed far behind. 

“You have learned a valuable lesson, Student Ping, to be mindful of the problem presented and not to jump to a simple solution because it appears easiest and quickest.”

  


 Sherlock Holmes and

The Case of the Two Revolvers

Tom Hanratty, 

April,  2018


“No, Watson. It is the small details at a crime scene that are often the critical pieces of the solution to the crime.”


“But surely, Holmes, it is the eyewitness that is paramount in bringing the culprit to justice. After all, that is the most damning evidence of all.”


“Witnesses lie, Watson. Memories are fallible. We see what we expect to see, through a veil of our past experiences and personal prejudices. The physical evidence that is the hallmark of each crime is a more reliable witness, if it can be made to speak. Mark my words, my good fellow, it is the bloodstain that is not where it should be, the footprint going in the wrong direction, the smell of cigar smoke when no one on the premises smoked cigars. The successful detective will find the answers to all the inexplicable conundrums to bring the case to closure.”


It was a cold evening in the early spring, and we sat after dinner on either side of a cheery fire in our rooms in Baker Street. Our gas was lit and cast long shadows on the walls. I put a match to my postprandial pipe and relaxed into our companionable discussion. 


Just as Holmes was about to elaborate on his thesis, we became aware of the jangling of the doorbell. Within minutes, the soft tread of Mrs. Hudson’s slippers on the stair presaged the good woman’s gentle knock.


“A message, Sir,” she said as she handed a folded piece of paper to Holmes. “Brought by a constable. He said he’ll await your reply and has a carriage waiting.”


Holmes glanced at the writing, then passed the slip to me. “Tell the policeman we’ll join him in a moment, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you.”


We have an open and shut case against Lady Townsend,” the letter read.
but there are points that may be of interest to the amateur. We are at the Crofts, just off Baywater Close, if you care to join us.” It was signed by Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard.


“You’ll go then,” I said. 


“Gregson is the pick of the lot at Scotland Yard. He has brought me in on several cases, one or two of which you have canonized in your meretricious stories. His cases are always of some interest. Get your hat, Watson, I’d be lost without my Boswell.”


The Crofts was a rambling pile of the Georgian period, served by a curved gravel driveway set between rows of Plane trees, in the wealthy district of Baywater. Lights shown from all  the windows on the ground floor, and we noted the moving lights from the bulls-eye lanterns of four or five constables searching the shrubbery and front lawn. A black police wagon was pulled up to the door, the breath of the dabbled horse visible in the cold air. 


Gregson, who I had previously met, was tall with flaxen hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion. He greeted us with enthusiasm, shaking our hands in order.

“We have left everything untouched, Mr. Holmes. Lady Townsend has been sedated and is resting upstairs, but her guilt is all but certain.”


“She has confessed, then?” Holmes asked as we entered the foyer.


“Not as such, no,” Gregson admitted. “But she was found with the revolver in her hand in a room with no other entrance or exit. No one, other than the deceased, was present. And she has not denied her involvement.”


“Well, well. Who is the victim of this shooting, Inspector?”


“Her husband, the MP himself, Lord Phynotias Townsend. The body is in the library. This way, Sir.”


We were shown into a room lined on three walls with glass doored cabinets of books of all descriptions. On the fourth wall, with the oaken door half way along it, hung several colorful paintings of rural scenes of fox hunts and turkey shoots. The furniture was all of a heavy wooden nature, various chairs and a table or two, a fainting couch and a large fireplace framed by more books. The carpet was a thick Winston square, of a royal hue.


All this I noted later, for my attention was drawn to the body of an elderly man, fully dressed in brown suit and vest, laying on his back near the center of the room. He had a small wound in the center of his forehead, and blood which must have come from the exit wound, had soaked into the carpet.


“Dr. Tillson, who lives just across the common, came over and pronounced him dead. The doctor said Lord Townsend had died instantly, less than a half hour before Tillson made his examination,” Gregson said. “He’s barely stiff, even now. The shot was heard by several members of the household staff.”


“What are the particulars of the event, Inspector. And pray be precise as to details.”


Gregson opened his notebook and began his tale. “According to Jameson, the butler, the table in the dinning hall, just across the passage, had been set for dinner and the staff had assembled to wait on the couple. Such a row was heard coming from the library that Jameson hesitated to announce the meal, as he felt it importune to interrupt the altercation. The Master was heard to shout and call his wife a “slut”, and she returned the compliment with some invectives of her own. 


Suddenly, a single shot rang out and the entire downstairs staff rushed to the door of the library, but found it locked from within. Jameson attempted to look through the keyhole, and found the key in the lock on the inside. Abruptly, the key was turned and Lady Townsend stood in the doorway holding a revolver. The body of the MP could be seen sprawled out on the floor.”


“Call the doctor,” was all  Lady Townsend said. Jameson took the gun from the limp hand of his Mistress and sent the stable boy running for the physician. Dr. Tillson arrived within minutes and pronounced the squire dead. He then administered a bromide to Lady Townsend who retired to her bedroom.”


Holmes had walked around the room, seemingly randomly examining the bookcases, fireplace, and the carpet. He did a through examination of the body, checking the pockets of the suit coat, pants and vest, before moving to the table where the revolver lay.


“Is this the revolver the butler took from Lady Townsend?” he asked as he put it to his nose and sniffed the barrel.


“Yes. The pistol with which she shot her husband.”


Holmes smiled. “Lady Townsend may have indeed shot her husband, but not with this gun. It hasn’t been fired, probably in years. Sniff the barrel, Gregson, and check these loads. The weapon is loaded, but none of the cartridges have been discharged, although the slight smell of cordite is obvious in the room.”


“What?” Gregson exclaimed. He took the gun and smelled the barrel, then checked the loads. “By all the Saints, you’re right! I knew this case was quirky. That’s why I sent for you. It looked too pat. Lady Townsend is covering up for a paramour, and is innocent of the murder.”


“Steady, Inspector,” Holmes said with a chuckle. “If you propose a paramour as the shooter, you must also explain how he exited the crime scene through the only door, into a crowd of staff members. No, Gregson, no one was in the room except the dead gentleman and his wife.”


“We examined the room for secret passages and found none,” the Inspector added while slowly shaking his head. “And we’ve been over the room high and low and found no other gun. I even brought in the matron from the jail and searched the Lady before she went to her room. It’s true we weren’t looking for a revolver, but we found nothing of a suspicious nature. “


“And yet,” Holmes stated, “a second revolver is indeed missing.”


“No one exited this room after the body was discovered. No one,” Gregson said.


"One man did, Inspector, and only one man could have without anyone being the wiser.”


Gregson grew red in the face. “I resent your implications, Mr. Holmes. I did not purloin the murder weapon.” I noticed his highland brogue came out a bit more when he was upset.


Holmes again chuckled. “Not you, Inspector. I suggest you take a couple of men and search Dr. Tillson and his surgery. And it would be well to investigate the link between Lady Townsend and the good doctor. You may find there is more than a doctor/patient relationship.”


“Then it was a crime of passion,” the policeman said. 


“No. It was a planned, cold blooded murder,” Holmes responded. “She used one gun for a ruse to delay the search, and the other to commit the deed, knowing Tillson would be sent for. After she fired the shot, she put the gun under the body, picked up the dummy weapon, and unlocked the door. Tillson, while examining the body, slipped the murder weapon into his medical bag and departed, no one the wiser.”


“She almost got away with it. If the prosecution had introduced the first revolver into evidence, her barrister would have proven the gun hadn’t been fired and the case would have been thrown out,” Gregson said.


“Yes, but I suggest you hurry to Tillson' s, for if he disposes of that revolver, you’ll have a  difficult time proving your case,” Sherlock Holmes warned.


Later, Holmes and I again sat near the fireplace in Baker Street, pipes in hand. 

“The revolver that hadn’t been fired made this a difficult case, Holmes,” I said.


“On the contrary, Watson. As I said earlier, it’s the details that are out of place that give a case a way in, once the puzzle of their presence is solved.”


“Nevertheless,” I said. “It was brilliant how you reasoned the existence of a second revolver.”


“Elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes said. “Elementary.”

         

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