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    Libby Drew
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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 - 4. Chapter 4

TROPICAL STORM ARLENE: NOAA SPECIAL DISCUSSION 400 AM SAT JUN 17 2023

RADAR AND SATELLITE DATA INDICATE THAT ARLENE HAS BECOME BETTER DEFINED. AN EYE FEATURE HAS BEEN NOTED IN RADAR DATA AND SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES THAT CLOUD TOPS HAVE COOLED SIGNIFICANTLY. THE UPPER-LEVEL OUTFLOW PATTERN REMAINS IMPRESSIVE AND ADDITIONAL CONVECTIVE BANDING FEATURES HAVE DEVELOPED IN ALL QUADRANTS.

BASED ON THE MUCH IMPROVED STRUCTURE OF ARLENE THE INTENSITY FORECAST HAS BEEN ADJUSTED UPWARD. THERE IS AT LEAST A MODERATE LIKELIHOOD THAT ARLENE COULD BECOME A MAJOR HURRICANE.

~*~

“Nero,” I call as I step through the first gate, latch it behind me and crouch in front of the second door. All enclosures at Brother Wolf are double-gated. Secure the first before opening the second is the rule we live by.

Our fence height, strength, the ground barriers and gates are all built to a strict code. Buried concrete with reinforced mesh extends two feet deep into the ground. Some enclosures are even double fenced, so that animals who might climb or jump one can't get enough momentum to jump the other. I’ve known a few who have tried. Wolves are escape artists.

“Come here, handsome,” I croon as I prepare Nero’s supplement. Glucosamine, vitamin C and fish oil, packed in a hearty scoop of raw ground beef. “Come get your treat.” Nero peers at me from behind his shelter but doesn’t approach. He’s still spooked. Banshee couldn’t care less that we haven’t entered her pen in two days. She considers us pack, but grudgingly. Nero is young, eager for our caresses, and my two-day absence has made him reticent. His black fur ripples as I hold out the ground beef. He whines.

The air is already hot and heavy, and my head pounds from thirst and lack of sleep. Nero is my last stop on the vitamin train. The thought of the dim, cool quiet waiting for me back at the museum stirs my impatience. “Nero,” I repeat. “Hompetskv?” He settles onto his haunches, then stretches onto his stomach and rests his chin between his paws. I take it as a “no.”

I tilt my head against the fence and close my eyes. “Please, Nero.”

My exhaustion is like a sweltering blanket I can’t kick off. Sleep had been difficult the night before, and when I had succumbed, at uneven intervals, I slipped into dreams that were mostly memories. Chase, my mother, Kane—tumbled together like balls in a bingo cage. Over and over, I heard the crack of a gunshot. A high-pitched scream. The cry of a lonely wolf.

The rough tongue on my cheek shocks my eyes open, but I don’t jump. For my courage, Nero rewards me with another sloppy kiss through the fence. “Good boy,” I whisper. Nero lowers his head, sniffs at the beef, and I open the small trap door, then toss it into his waiting mouth.

I stand on stiff and unsteady legs. It’s been twenty-four hours since Chase turned my world upside down. I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll see him again, or how either possibility makes me feel. Despite the shock of being labeled a person of interest in Sam’s death, I’m confident an explanation will come to light. Or Chase and Calhoun will find a different direction for their suspicions. I’ve done nothing wrong, and, maybe naively, I believe that fact shields me.

A nearby spigot provides welcome cool water for my hands and face. I scrub the meat juice from my fingers, then pack the vitamin bottles into their plastic bags.

It’s as I’m rising to my feet, case in hand, that I’m bowled over by the overlapping waves of anger, hate and hunger. They send me stumbling, and I steady myself on the fence of Nero’s enclosure. He, too, senses the foreign wave of energy. I hear paws scraping on packed dirt as he skitters away, then a forlorn whimper from deep inside his domed shelter.

Of the three impulses, hunger pulses the strongest, but I can’t reconcile the ravenousness with any of my wolves, who should be full and content from their raw turkey breakfast with watermelon chaser. Hunger is physical, the need to nourish is instinctive, so despite the depth of craving I sense, I don’t dwell on it. It’s natural. But the vivid hate... Wolves rarely hate. Typically they fear, which is hate’s precursor. It’s uncommon for animals to make the jump from one to the other.

Men excel at it, of course.

Before I can work up the courage to grasp the vestiges of the onslaught, try to find its source, it dissipates. Despite the heat, goosebumps cover my arms. Back pressed to Nero’s enclosure, I scan the area, searching for danger. Nothing. We’re alone. The other wolves are quiet, unbothered. Whatever dark shadow was cast a few moments ago, it’s lifted. “It’s all right, Nero.” I turn, whistle the command to come. “It’s okay.”

His plaintive whimpers have ceased, but he won’t obey.

“Problems with Nero?”

Martina steps up next to me. I don’t question her sudden presence, as she often walks the sanctuary and knows as many secret ways through the underbrush and between the enclosures as I do. She’s popped out from around a corner and scared the hell out of me too many times to count. I shake my head. “No, he’s fine.” Martina and I are friends, close ones, but I’ve never hinted to her about my ability. She suspects something. I suppose she would have to after all this time. I’ve run out of believable excuses over the years explaining how I know things I shouldn’t. We don’t speak of it, and I suspect her husband, a respected elder of the tribe, coached her on how to accept the ancient practices of peace, unity and understanding. To trust what you cannot see.

Paradoxically, it’s a lesson I struggled with as a boy, while Chase’s faith had no limits. Billie would tousle his hair, never darker than stalks of winter wheat, and assure him that not all things in life come so easily.

Martina hums a noncommittal sound and gazes toward Nero’s shelter, but her gaze is focused inward, and her pursed lips suggest troubled thoughts. I may not be the wise advisor Billie is, but I can listen. “Are you okay?”

Martina’s lips curl into a wry smile. “I should be asking you that.”

“But I asked you first.” Scooping up the vitamin box, I incline my head toward a path that branches off to the west. It’s a roundabout way back and will give us extra time to speak privately. She takes my arm and we set off.

“How are you holding up, Michael?”

Certainly I’ve been better. “Okay.” That seems neutral enough.

“Do you miss Sam?”

I consider my response. Yes, of course. But it’s an emotion tangled with many others at the moment. Before I can craft a socially acceptable answer, Martina says, “With what went down between you two, I wasn’t sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“I heard about your fight.”

“What?”

Martina mistakes my confusion for something else altogether. “Oh, please don’t be mad. I know people shouldn’t gossip, hon, but I’ve never heard you raise your voice in anger, let alone get physical with someone. It’s very unlike you. Although not so unlike Sam, I’m afraid. I’m with you on one point: I don’t like that Danny kid.”

I’m adrift, unable to get my bearings. To my knowledge, Sam has never brought Danny around to the refuge. Not that I know everything. Nor am I here all the time. “Have you met Danny?”

“Only in passing. But you had some pretty damning things to say about him.”

“I…did?”

Martina shoots me a puzzled glance. “Yeah.”

“Martina, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“But—” Our stride remains unhurried, casual, but I sense a change in her posture, a sudden tightening. She shoots me a sidelong smile. It’s strained. “Michael, Frank and Rory tell me you’ve been… there’ve been a few times when…” She shakes her head. “Not the time. Forget I mentioned it.”

Now that’s a nefarious statement. I smile back and drop the subject as requested, but its implications spin through my head. I strain my memory for a fight with Sam. Find nothing. Only once have I struck a person in anger. It’s not something I would do lightly or forget. And her implication that my behavior has been strange, it frightens me. Because there’s history there, even if it is ancient.

Martina’s correct. I rely on tranquility for many things. Connection, understanding, insight, to name a few. But it’s also a wall that holds a legion of past evil at bay. Dread sneaks around the edges of that wall now. What have I forgotten, and why?


~*~


“Seriously, you forgot?” Chase asked me on the morning of my thirteenth birthday.

“What’s the big deal?”

“Um, it’s your birthday.” He tackled me to the narrow mattress and pressed his hand against my forehead. “Are you sick?”

I batted his hand away but didn’t try to squirm free. I never did. Even as a young teen I understood I craved physical contact with him more than I should. “It’s just a date on the calendar, Chase. Nothing special happens on the anniversary of our birth. Our spirit is always growing, not just on one day a year.”

Chase tugged on my braid. “Oh, okay, Uiyik imi-josi. Thanks for the words of wisdom. Are your aunt and uncle seriously not doing anything for your big day?”

They’d probably forgotten about it as well. My aunt, who in reality had merely been a close friend of my mother, had five kids of her own and another on the way. Her fostering, while never leaving me hungry or cold, covered necessities. Birthday celebrations fell under non-necessities. If I wanted to stay, not be shipped back to Oklahoma, where I’d be adopted by strangers, I must never be a burden. I excelled at this task. After three years, I still slept on the floor of my cousin’s room and lived out of a suitcase. But Chase was here, and Billie, and that was everything.

“It’s no big deal,” I repeated.

Chase’s playfulness fell away. “Yes, it is. Today should be special.”

I gulped, shifted under him, and he rolled to the side, but his arm remained cradled under my head. Above us, the air-conditioning rattled. Cool air rolled down the wall. The house was quiet, the door to the bedroom closed. We might have been the only two people in the world then.

“It is special,” I said. “I don’t need some pointless party.”

“Yeah, who needs stupid presents on their birthday?” Chase added, laughing.

“Or double chocolate cake with ice cream. No, thanks.”

Chase’s unusually pale blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “Yeah, but you can’t make a wish if you don’t have birthday candles.”

I closed my eyes before they betrayed me. “Don’t need a wish. I already have everything I want.”

~*~

I can’t shake the conversation with Martina, and sharing the building with both her and Rory makes the mystery worse somehow. What I need, what Billie would suggest, is confrontation. Gather facts, and if I’ve truly lost time and memory, accept it. But my usual inscrutable drive to seek peace and truth abandoned me the moment Chase walked through the door. My thoughts are sluggish, and I have to fight the urge to just lie down and sleep until all my issues solve themselves. I definitely don’t have the courage to ask Martina about this alleged argument, despite the fact she’s been shooting anxious glances at me all day.

Instead, I volunteer to do the afternoon walk-through. With the heat and humidity at its worst, it’s the least desirable daily chore, and nobody fights me for it. On the way out the door, I decide to flush all the water troughs at the same time. It will double the time it takes to finish the walk-through, which suits me.

Most of my wolf siblings sleep through the day’s heat, and today is no different. Only Dagger and Saffron are on the move, pacing in and out of the shade as they walk the fence together. Saffron purrs a greeting as she passes. Bumps her head against the fence. It draws a smile from deep inside me. Some of my tension eases.

A small trickle of water drips continuously into one side of the panthers’ trough, then out the other. Wild creatures, most animals, are instinctively repulsed by standing water and prefer it cool and fresh instead. The small amount of movement our system provides prevents stagnation, but a full flush always draws the wolves from their shaded enclosures to splash and lap. Selfishly, I want their companionship today, so I accept the extra work without complaint. I can complete the entire procedure from outside the fence. I would prefer to be inside, but Martina’s moratorium on direct contact is in effect until further notice. I can’t fault her for it.

I’m wary of opening my mind after the incident that morning, but the wolves’ joy and playfulness at the fresh water is irresistible. I drink in their delight and even spray a few of them with the hose when they ask.

Perhaps it is this lightness of spirit that grants me the courage to visit Kane’s empty enclosure. Someone, Martina I’m guessing, has hung his collar on the peg outside his gate. I finger the wide band of nylon webbing, breathe deeply, and use the clarity my time with the wolves has provided to draw happy memories to the surface. Kane as a small pup. His high-pitched yips. The way his back legs would outrun his front when he got up too much speed. He grained gracefulness in adolescence, as well as a striking slash of white fur across his chest, but never lost his puppy playfulness. I tighten my fist around the collar and force the lump back down my throat.

And Sam. Oh God, Sam.

I’ll mourn them both properly when I can. With a night of fire and chanting.

A wispy warning reaches me, from Luna, I think, then Chase steps out of the overgrown, shaded path into the patch of sunlight a few feet away. No suit coat today, a nod to the heat, though his tie is snug and perfectly straight. I release Kane’s collar and face him.

He notices my pain. He always could, and he says, out of some old habit, most likely, “I’m sor—”

Wikvs!”

He startles at my outburst. I suppose I do a bit as well, but I don’t want his platitudes.

“Very well,” he answers, voice pitched lower. More guarded. “I’d like you to come with me, Michael. Agent Calhoun and I have some additional questions for you.”

The joy drains away, washed away by a churning surge of anxiety. “Right now? I think Rory is using Martina’s office.”

“We’d like you to come into Clewiston, actually.”

Not the tribal police station a few miles away. Clewiston. Thirty miles further. The world shifts under my feet. I curl my fingers through the chain link until it steadies. “Am I under arrest?”

“No.”

“Am I being officially detained?” My friendship with Burke has resulted in more than a passing knowledge of how these things work. I don’t have to agree to go. I can say no. I can walk away. And if it had been anyone else asking, I would’ve by now.

“No,” Chase says. “We just want to talk. Clear a few things up.”

If I go, there’s a good chance I’ll end up in handcuffs. But a small, fiery part of me insists it’s the right thing to do. For Sam and for Kane. An even smaller, childlike voice tells me to trust Chase, and I’m helpless against it. “Okay.”

A rattle of stones catches my attention. Rory. Standing at the head of one of the other paths. Chase glances over, nods in greeting. She startles, then turns and flees. I wonder if she knows about this alleged argument and if she’s told him about it. Probably. I wouldn’t blame her.

I motion for him to start back, but he waits, and the realization hits. He doesn’t want me walking behind him. For tribe, this means a vital breach of trust has occurred between us. I’ve disappointed him, something I could never bear to do in the past, and it’s no easier now. Loss and sadness are twin weights on my feet as I begin the trek back to the museum, the sound of Chase’s footsteps behind me a clear indication the dynamic has shifted. I had been a suspect, innocent until proven guilty. Now I am prey.


 

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 
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On 9/22/2023 at 4:02 PM, 84Mags said:

Another option is that there was no fight. Frank and Rory told Martina about the alleged fight. Martina also alluded to them saying Michael had episodes of being forgetful or perhaps losing time/memory. Martina didn’t witness the fight or any of the behaviors she was told about. What if none of it happened? What if he is being set up? It’s hard to believe in yourself if you have ‘trustworthy’ friends/co-workers saying something about you. With Michael’s past he is even more likely to doubt himself. I agree, Michael is unfortunately ticking all the prime suspect boxes. 
One other thought: the wave of energy that Michael felt of anger, hate and hunger sounds like an addict needing a fix. We later learn that Rory was somewhere nearby. Coincidence? 
 

Rory wasn't the only one who was close by after that wave of hatred.  I found it quite a coincidence that Martina came out of the back path almost as soon as the wave of hatred dissipated.  I’m not as concerned about Rory.  There was enough time that she could have simply happened upon Micca and Chase, maybe looking for Micca for some reason.

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It would be nearly impossible to answer any of these theories without giving something away, in some comment, somehow. LOL

So... a heartfelt thank you to everyone. I LOVE all the theories and guesses! 

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On 9/22/2023 at 7:49 PM, Anton_Cloche said:

The moment when Chase instructs Micco to "sit in the back seat" is the very second Micco has to refuse LOUDLY enough for Martina and Rory to hear and demand to speak to an attorney. Martina has control of $8 Million of Sam's Grandmothers estate and can afford to get Micco a good attorney. IF she refuses, then Micco needs to get help.

Also, Sam coming from a wealthy family, and knowing what he stood to inherit from his grandmother, probably has a Will (even at a young age) and may have left something to Micco. Something that Chase likely knows about. 'Fibbies' are not infallible and historically proven not to be (a) the sharpest tool in the shed (b) beyond reproach, (c) honest. Douchebag, that's also on the top 10 list. (And I had acquaintances at 'The Bureau').

Forget the dogs. Let the big cats out! (They will protect Micco).

  200.gif

 

Martina may have control of the money, but only under the auspices of the refuge. I can't see paying for criminal legal defense for a volunteer being a valid expense if I were a trustee. Only if the refuge was legally at risk would it be possible.

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