Jump to content
New Premium Story: Strip Supa by astone2292! ×
    Libby Drew
  • Author
  • 3,697 Words
  • 1,175 Views
  • 21 Comments
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Keeper of the Rituals - 18. Chapter 18

My next statement dies in a primal rush of fear. It’s the fear of a ten-year-old boy who’s lied to his aunt, or stolen a pack of gum from the grocery store, or cheated on his math test by copying his best friend’s answers. It’s my fear, plucked out of time and memory and shoved right to the forefront of my brain and heart like it never left. I’m without words, and it takes me several seconds to realize the car has stopped.

Chase is staring straight ahead, but there’s nothing in our path, just more wind-driven rain and wet pavement. His gaze is turned inward, as I imagine mine is.

Danny is too wrapped in his own angst to sense our shock. “But then, Jesus fucking Christ, then it ran. It got down on all fours and fucking loped through the gate. Like an animal.” He turns watery eyes on me. “What does that? What fucking does that?”

 

 

CHAPTER 18

 

I have no response at the ready. Call me superstitious, but giving a name to the bogeyman feeds its power. I recall Billy’s words about Long-Ears, measure their mysticism against the reality Danny’s describing and don’t like my conclusions. Long-Ears: drawn by violence and evil intent. Well, there was certainly plenty of that the night of Sam’s murder. Yet skepticism burns at the edges of my anxiety. I’ve witnessed much power in the grove over the years and possess a certain magic of my own. Still, do I really believe a flesh and blood monster haunts the swamps?

Chase looks as uncertain as I’ve seen him since he arrived. Silent in the wake of Danny’s question, he inches forward through another washout, then up the other side onto pavement strewn with debris. “That’s enough for now,” he says finally as the car gains speed on an unflooded stretch of blacktop. Yet the break in conversation lasts barely a minute before his finger taps on my thigh again. “How much Seminole lore did you share with Sam?” he asks quietly, voice pitched low. I almost don’t hear the question over the rain.

“None,” I reply honestly. “Well, nearly none. He didn’t seem all that interested.”

“But you told him about Long-Ears.”

Chase’s brain made the leap mine didn’t. The logical one. I told Sam about Long-Ears, and he repeated it to Danny. The problem with that conclusion is the original conversation never happened.

“I never said a word about hatckotcapko. It’s forbidden wisdom, you know that.”

“You told me.”

Leave it to him to bring that up. “You were different,” I say.

Chase swerves around another downed tree limb. “Then where could he have heard it?”

Maybe from nowhere, I want to say. Maybe what he saw was real. But that’s too terrifying to contemplate, and crazy to boot, so I don’t voice it. “I don’t know.”

All Chase offers in reply is a deep, frustrated sigh. Despite the tempest swirling around us, he takes a hand off the wheel to rub his temple. Which is when, of course, a figure appears out of the gloom. “What the—” Chase exclaims as he swerves, then slams on the brakes.

From the backseat, Danny grunts in protest. “Hey!”

“Shut up,” Chase and I say in unison.

“Has the whole world gone fucking crazy today?” With a curse, Chase stabs the hazards on and gets out, plodding around the front of the SUV to the figure now standing sedately on the berm. “Billie, what the hell are you doing out here?” he yells.

I’m out of the car before I remember it may not be a good idea to leave Danny alone. Bille offers a solemn wave as I splash up and take his arm. “Hello Chase! Hello Micco! I’m on my way home.”

“The hell you are.” Chase grabs his other arm and between us, we propel Billy into the backseat.

Danny cowers to the other side as I help Billy climb in next to him. “Who the fuck is this?” he asks.

“A better person than you’ll ever be,” Chase snarls over his shoulder as he climbs back behind the wheel. “So keep your mouth shut.”

We’re all freshly soaked and dripping, but Billie’s serene smile never wavers. He removes his turban, the plaid shawl now soaked with rain, and shakes water onto the floormat. His hair is plaited neatly down his back. Even soaked through, the colors on his patchwork vest shimmer. “Hello, Danny. My name is Billie Smith. Aeepaischay.”

I snort softly. Bille would deny it if asked, but he does enjoy the occasional parlor trick.

Danny shrinks even further against the door. “How do you know my name?”

He gets a warm smile, but no explanation. “Driver,” Billie says, tapping Chase’s headrest. “You’re going the wrong way. I need to go home.”

“You’re going to the school,” Chase says through clenched teeth.

“No.” The tapping stops in favor of a sharp smack to the back of Chase’s head. “Home. Porridge is alone.” It hardly matters that Chase is now a grown man and a respected member of law enforcement. To Billie, he’ll always be a twelve-year-old biddable novitiate. “He’ll be scared.”

Chase honest-to-God growls. “Your cat will be fine.”

I ignore Danny’s snort. Give Chase a sidelong glance. “How did you know Porridge is his cat?”

“I…”

Confident, sagacious Chase has no answer? Now I’m intrigued. I turn to Billie, get a wink before he says, “Chase has been to visit me every day this week.”

“Why?” I ask, drawing out the word, swinging my attention back to the brooding man in the front seat.

“His mind needed calming,” Bille answers. “Cateh gisee. Sacred ritual. You know the one, Micco.”

I can’t help it. I grin as I swing to look at Chase. “You got to brush the cat.” Chase’s glare encapsulates his feelings on the subject. Now I laugh. “I can’t believe you fell for that.”

A wind gust shakes the SUV. Chase’s fingers curl over the steering wheel. He looks about to deny it, then throws Bille a glance in the rearview mirror. They share a look I have no hope of deciphering. “He’s right about the mind-calming part,” Chase says. “I needed it. Badly.”

I understand about mountains of memories, good blended with bad. Happy and horrible, and no way to untangle them. Rituals help sort the snarl. “All right,” is all I say.

I turn to find Billie studying Danny. “Does this young man need to be restrained?” he asks, adjusting his halistchaway across his chest.

I shake my head at the same moment that Chase barks, “Yes.”

“Chase,” Billie chides. “He’s frightened, not dangerous.”

I start to disagree, then swallow the words. Peer past my preconceptions and seek the truth, as I’ve been taught. Danny is frightened. He’s shaking with it, despite the hostility pouring off of him in waves. The trembling could be born from a variety of things, but the terror’s there, simmering below his antagonism. Every breath is a stuttering struggle, and he looks just shy of full-blown hyperventilation. Sympathy must dawn on my face because Chase curses quietly, then says, “No. No, Micco.”

“Please.” My fingers creep to his knee. “Come on, Chase.”

“Fuck,” Chase whispers. But he digs in his pocket and slams the cuff keys into my upturned palm.

Billie chortles as I turn in my seat and gesture for Danny to do the same so I can reach the cuffs. “You still have his number, Micco.”

“Can you not?” Chase barks, so exasperated that more laughter bubbles in my chest.

Danny takes the first deep breath I’ve heard from him since Chase snapped the cuffs on his wrists. “Thanks.” This is said to me, I notice. I don’t comment on the omission and neither does Chase. Danny melts against the seatback, rolling his shoulders forward and flexing his fingers. In theory, it could be a normal reaction to being released from the cuffs, but my eyes are open to him now, thanks to Billie’s influence. He’s jittery and trying to cover it. A sheen of sweat, thin but visible, appears on his forehead.

Billie squints at him, leans across the seat until Danny notices and jerks backward. “What the fuck, man? Ever heard of personal space?”

“Ever heard of hampi chatchockwaw?” Bille retorts. I shoot Chase a surprised look, which he returns.

“No,” Danny says. “What the fuck is that?”

“It’s the phenomenon that affects young people which makes them believe profanity adds depth to a conversation,” Billie says, voice grave.

Danny stares at him, then the left side of his mouth twitches ever so slightly. “Never heard of it.”

“I rather thought not.” Billie holds a gnarled finger up, then carefully untangles his soggy medicine bag from his frame and unties the flap. “I have something for you.”

“I don’t want anything you have, old man.”

“It’s something you need.”

Danny’s quivering laugh is heartbreaking. “You don’t have what I need, trust me.”

“How can I trust you, when you don’t even trust yourself?” Billie asks, peering into the depths of his bag. “Ah!”

I’m half-turned in my seat, watching, amused and trying not to show it. Mostly because I don’t want Danny to think I’m laughing at him. I’m not. The truth is much more complex. This is Seminole medicine: the original psychoanalysis, the marriage of conscious and unconscious elements of health. Billie is on the job.

We’ve reached the long straightaway that leads to the school, and the road is clear of all but the occasional small, downed branch or debris, although traffic has thickened. Chase keeps a respectable distance between the SUV and the car in front of us while he splits his attention between Billy and the road ahead.

Billie’s hand emerges from his bag, curled around something he holds with so much awe and respect that even my breath hitches in my throat. Danny, despite himself, I think, leans forward for a better look. With the drama of a master storyteller, Billie opens his fist.

He holds a rock.

Chase can’t hold his smile back but knows enough to hide it by reaching to push his hair off his forehead. Just in time, as Danny’s gaze flashes to us to see who’s going to laugh at his expense. When he clocks the answer—nobody—he turns his frown back to Billie. “A fuc— a rock?”

Billie could have said, ‘Not a rock, a jewel.’ Or, ‘Yes, but a very special rock.’ Anything to diffuse Danny’s anger. He doesn’t. He simply nods.

“Why would I want that?” Danny asks.

“I didn’t say you wanted it. I said you needed it.” He extends his hand, palm up, to Danny.

“I don’t need your rock,” Danny said, though this last is muttered in a desperate whisper, as though he could wish away the stone and bring his true desire to life.

“To you, this is a rock. To me, this is focus.” Billie leans forward. “It’s a reason, Daniel.”

“A reason for what?”

“For living.”

Forlorn, Danny stares at the gray, unremarkable stone. “I don’t want to die, man.”

“Ah.” Bille reaches for Danny’s hand and empties the stone into his pale, cold palm. “But neither do you want to live. A befuddling riddle. Now…hold the rock. Cradle it. And breathe.”

Danny’s answer is measured. Slow and said with, if not respect, then civility. “I am breathing.”

“No, child. You’re gasping. Don’t be self-conscious. We'll breathe together. A dose of calm rumination is always practical. Chepawne,” he says, kicking Chase’s seat. “Breathe.”

“Yes, uiyik imijosi ,” we say in unison.

I obey as I did when I was ten. When Billie was a giant in my mind, my saving grace, and I would have done anything to please him. I watch him closely, matching my inhalations to his. It’s second nature to expel the poison—the fear, the uncertainty, the disappointment—as I exhale. Beside me, Chase has aligned his respirations with mine, and as I watch, tension bleeds from his shoulders. Yes, he remembers his Seminole medicine.

I sense Danny struggle, then give in. He does as Billie instructs and even allows the touches on his shoulders and chest that encourage him to inhale all the way to his stomach, to fill his body with clean air, before exhaling fully.

“That is very good,” Billie says a few minutes later as we finally reach our destination and pull up alongside the main entrance to the school. “Better?” he asks Danny.

Chase and I are both unbuckling and gathering ourselves, so Danny may believe we don’t hear him when he answers, thoughtful, “Yes. Thank you.” Chase’s eyebrows arch, but he refrains from comment. I squeeze his hand in thanks before we each turn to get out. The simple touch shouldn’t affect me the way it does. Not with the murder, the accusations, the storm, and the danger. But it does. Chase’s cool, slick skin under my fingers is live wire electricity, and it shoots to the tips of my toes, among other places.

If I ever needed proof that I never moved on, here it is.

The squeeze I get in return promises much, but I can’t pin my hopes on anything at the moment. Too much can go wrong, and I have a terrifying premonition that it will. I pray the foreboding is mere uncertainty and not the spirits warning me of something worse. Doesn’t the universe owe me some good karma?

Chase helps Billie down onto the sidewalk, steadying him against the gale. The wind is gusting enough to knock small children off their feet, and while the rest of us lean and sway in the air currents, Billie seems unaffected. Thankfully, the rain chooses that moment to slow, then stop. Another band will sweep through soon, but in the meantime, we can linger outside without being drenched. As the last few raindrops fall, Billie looks to the sky, then at me, and winks.

Hands on hips, I say, “You didn’t. You can’t.”

He shrugs. “I like to leave you wondering over certain things.”

Over many things, actually. Chase inspects the low, pregnant clouds, before ducking to whisper something in Billie’s ear. Billie laughs. “Soukscha.”

We approach the school, Billy and me first, Chase and Danny behind. At first, there doesn’t seem any pattern to the chaos, but I soon discern an organized flow of people through both doors, families with small children in one line, single adults in the other. Able-bodied volunteers are nailing plywood sheets to the windows fronting the building.

A tall, thin woman, long hair loose from its normal braids, rushes over. “Oh Michael, thank God you found him. I promised Matthew I wouldn’t let him out of my sight, and I swear I only turned my back for a second.” She shakes her finger at Billie. “You’re worse than a toddler, Billie Smith.”

“Hi Lucy. We found him about a mile up the road. Where’s Burke hiding?” I ask, craning my neck to peruse the sizable crowd. We need someone to watch Danny, and Burke is the perfect person for the job. Although taking the time to catch him up on things isn’t a task I’ll relish. None of the newest revelations are particularly encouraging for my innocence. Danny’s recollections alone would probably bury me with any semi-objective jury.

“Oh, he— Chase? Is that you?”

I whip around, fifteen years slipping away like they never happened, and watch my childhood rival for Chase’s affection bound into his arms. “Chase Becker!” Lucy latches on like a leech and kisses his cheek. “You probably don’t remember me.”

Unlikely. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t. Mostly because Lucy has been infatuated with Chase since we were all twelve. I spent years dreading the moment when he noticed it.

Chase smiles indulgently when she clings. “Of course I do, Lucy. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m—” She shakes her head. “Never mind. It isn’t the time.” She lets go and steps back, and I release the breath I’ve been holding. Unclench my fists.

“No, it’s not.” Chase puts a hand on her shoulder, exerting just enough pressure to diffuse her elation and sharpen her focus. “We’re looking for Burke. Or for an F.B.I. agent that may be with him. Special Agent—”

“Calhoun,” Lucy finishes. “Yes, they were here.”

Were here.” I throw a glance over my shoulder to check our reluctant companions. Still present and accounted for. Danny, strangely, stands in front of Billie, arms crossed, while people swarm around them. “Where are they now?”

“I don’t know.” She reaches out to separate two brawling preschoolers, then scoops a teary-eyed girl into her arms, shushing her and patting her back. “They didn’t say. But Agent Calhoun got a call. Whatever it was definitely didn’t make him happy. They spoke, and right after that, Matthew came to me and made me promise to keep an eye on Billie. Then they left.”

“Together?” Chase asks, plunging his hand into his suit pocket. He’s barely pulled his cell phone out when Lucy shakes her head.

“Don’t bother,” she says loudly over the rising howl of the wind. “Service has been out for nearly half an hour.”

Chase is either too thorough or too untrusting because he tries to put a call through anyway. Like the sheep I am, I reach for my phone at the same time, double checking his efforts. I stare at the words “call connecting” under Burke’s name, willing them to disappear and for my friend to answer. They continue to blink in time with the emergency exit light at the school’s main entrance. It’s the kind of symbolism I could have done without, honestly.

I shake my head when Chase looks to me, question in his gaze. “I got nothing,” I say.

Lucy shrugs, a blatant ‘told you so’, then waves at someone behind us. “I’m sorry. I have to go. This damn storm. We weren’t ready.”

“Nobody was,” I assure her. “It’s okay. You’ll be safe here. That’s the most important thing.”

She squeezes my arm with one hand while she tries to capture the bulk of her blowing hair in the other, then jogs away toward the line of cars still rolling in. A fat raindrop splashes off my nose, another off the back of my hand. I see fresh drops appear on the pavement around me, like a growing rash. “Chase,” I say. “We have to go.”

Chase’s irresolution is brief, but then his decision-making skills always were lightning fast. He usually got us out of trouble as quickly as I landed us in it. He strides to Billie, drops a heavy hand on his shoulder. “You. Stay. Here. Are we clear?” Time and age have given him several inches and twenty pounds on the other man, but there’s no menace in his voice. It’s a plea, if I’m hearing it right, delivered with just enough authority to have Danny, who hovers a few feet away, standing straighter. “Bille,” Chase says, and that’s all. Just his name. I bite my tongue as their gazes lock, then Billie nods once, chin dipping low to nearly touch his chest before rising again. I breathe out in relief.

“What about me?” Danny squints at the sky, then curses when a raindrop lands in his eye. I take Billie’s arm in one hand, Danny’s in the other, and lead them toward the school’s doors. Chase doesn’t follow. “I want you to stay here with Billie.”

Billie grins, shooting Danny a wink as he adjusts his medicine bag against his chest. Danny’s expression is pure turmoil. Confusion, pleasure, and apprehension. He bites his lip, says in a soft voice I know Billie hears, “You want me to stay with Mr. Miyagi?” The words, meant to convey sarcasm, carry something else altogether. The smile that pulls at my lips isn’t forced.

“Yes. Please.” I don’t force guilt into the conversation. Or suggest he owes me in any way. Danny’s a big boy, and not stupid. He made a selfless decision when he came to my house today. Maybe his first ever. Maybe not. I can’t claim to know him well. But I trust my instincts to understand he’s still trying to make things right.

He shrugs. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Don’t let him wander off. He’s worried about his cat.”

“Yeah. Okay. I got it.” With an exaggerated eye roll, bent against the wind, he takes Billie’s arm. The rain picks up, turns from occasional blowing spray to steady downpour, and suddenly, I need to know his opinion. After all, he was the one who saw what happened.

“It must have been Frank, right? Who killed Sam,” I blurt before he turns fully away. “I mean, who else could it have been?” It’s not as though this drama has an endless cast of characters.

Chase answers from where he’s walked up behind me. “Maybe,” he hedges, “We’ll know soon enough. Regardless, it’s partly on Sam for putting this ridiculous plan into motion in the first place.”

Danny scowls and pulls away from Billie to face us both. “You can’t put the blame on Sam,” he says, petulant.

“What?” I exclaim. I can blame him. I can throw buckets of blame at him, but Danny’s insinuation drowns this instinctive rebuttal. “What do you mean?”

Chase steps forward, placing himself in front of me as though Danny’s next words might be actual bullets.

“It wasn’t his plan,” Danny says. “He just agreed to it.” Then he adds, reluctantly and more quietly, “I wasn’t supposed to know that. Nobody was. But he told me.” He seems perversely pleased with this breach of trust on his behalf, which is pathetic, but I’m too wrapped up in the newest twist to this dizzying mystery to call him on it.

Chase vibrates with tension. “If it wasn’t Sam’s, then whose was it?”

The renewed rain drives the crowd to converge on the doors and Danny and Billie are born away in a sea of bodies. Danny yells the answer as he and Billie disappear. “The wolf lady’s. Martina.”

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
  • Like 8
  • Love 18
  • Wow 18
I hope you enjoyed the chapter. 
Thanks for reading!
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
You are not currently following this author. Be sure to follow to keep up to date with new stories they post.

Recommended Comments

Chapter Comments

  • Site Moderator
6 hours ago, Summerabbacat said:

I was very disappointed in Chase’s dismissal of Billie’s concern for Porridge. 

Agreed. It makes zero sense to be concerned for the animals at the refuge and not for Billie's beloved cat.

  • Like 3
  • Love 2
Link to comment
24 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Agreed. It makes zero sense to be concerned for the animals at the refuge and not for Billie's beloved cat.

I was surprised Billie did not kick up more of a fuss, although he may still manage to "escape" the shelter for a while to rescue Porridge. 

  • Like 2
  • Love 2
Link to comment

Porridge is in the safety of Billie's house whereas the animals in the refuge are essentially in the open.  I would imagine this is the thought behind not going to get the cat.  However, as an animal lover, I would still be quite worried until I had my pet with me! 

As for the murderer...I like to be surprised by twists in the plot, so I am lazily waiting until all is revealed, lol.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
4 hours ago, Summerabbacat said:

From what I have read of hurricanes in the south of the USA, houses can become like missiles when ripped from their moorings

A safe shelter is hard to find even if it is purpose built to withstand hurricanes in Northern Hemisphere, or cyclones and typhoons in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Virtually everything built on concrete, cement or 'raft' slab foundation, without a true basement to be lag-bolted down to, is highly susceptible to be ripped away. Whether 'stick built' on site, 'factory built' modular buildings and especially RV's or caravans, (becoming missiles they resemble), all are at risk depending on storm category and how long the storm stays in place (or moves 'out to sea' only to regain strength and return).

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ627Y41rqppl8L6eTyaud

Hopefully the refuge animals find safety. As for Micco, Chase, (Calhoun? M'eh), Billie, Danny and the rest? ✌️ 🙏.

Edited by Anton_Cloche
  • Like 1
  • Love 4
Link to comment
  • Site Moderator
drpaladin

Posted (edited)

23 minutes ago, Anton_Cloche said:

A safe shelter is hard to find even if it is purpose built to withstand hurricanes in Northern Hemisphere, or cyclones and typhoons in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Virtually everything built on concrete, cement or 'raft' slab foundation, without a true basement to be lag-bolted down to, is highly susceptible to be ripped away. Whether 'stick built' on site, 'factory built' modular buildings and especially RV's or caravans, (becoming missiles they resemble), all are at risk depending on storm category and how long the storm stays in place (or moves 'out to sea' only to regain strength and return).

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ627Y41rqppl8L6eTyaud

Hopefully the refuge animals find safety. As for Micco, Chase, (Calhoun? M'eh), Billie, Danny and the rest? ✌️ 🙏.

As devastating as the high winds can be, the most damage and loss of life comes from water in the forms of storm surge and inland flooding.

 

***

Newer construction in Florida has to meet strict building standards where all elements of a structure are tied in together to resist strong winds and glass and doors are rated as hurricane resistant. It's expensive, but effective.

Edited by drpaladin
  • Like 2
  • Love 2
Link to comment

More storms are brewing and most Arnt the storm! A brilliant chapter so well written and with crossed fingers I read no. Is long ears out there somewhere?:yes:

Link to comment
View Guidelines

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Newsletter

    Sign Up and get an occasional Newsletter.  Fill out your profile with favorite genres and say yes to genre news to get the monthly update for your favorite genres.

    Sign Up
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..