Gloria G. Esquerra
When we were little, my sister and I would play paper dolls with cutouts from catalogues or any magazine we could scrounge up or which came in the mail. Our folks could not afford to waste money on those paper doll figures sold in stores, and since the pictures in the catalogues were not printed on that thin card paper, we were always having to replenish our supply. For furniture, we’d use whatever we could find in the house and would even section out the rooms of our pretend homes with string, or small rocks from outside. I remember making couches, tables, and beds out of small boxes and covering them with some of Mama’s quilting squares. Empty thread spools were our end tables, and so on. My brother, the artist from early on, steadfastly refused to play paper dolls with us but he was often willing to make things for us, like lamps made out of sticks and cloth. We didn’t have much but we all possessed very vivid imaginations that kept us going throughout the childhood years. That and a great sense of humor from Mama and each other.
So when Christmas time rolled around, we’d be busy trying to create festive decorations with what little we had. I have warm feeling of Christmas growing up. Some of the best memories happened at church. The second week of December, the church would begin singing those wonderful Christmas hymns. Classic traditional carols that I still love to hear and sing. On Christmas Eve, the adult choir would perform, the junior choir would belt out a few songs as well, and the kids would re-enact the Christmas story–costumes and all. After the evening service, and not all the time, there would be cookies and punch (cherry Kool-Aid) and a bag of hard candy which we would guard with our lives. I still buy myself the old fashion Christmas candy to enjoy. It’s the memories that come with seeing and tasting the traditional sweets that invokes moments of happiness. Nostalgia rules at Christmas time. And I carry warm feelings of Christmas even though we didn’t receive many presents. Some years we’d have a Christmas tree, some years we didn’t. One Christmas, Mama told us that we wouldn’t be getting a tree. We didn’t have the money. I’m sure we were disappointed. We were just kids after all. But you know, we weren’t the only Indian family on the rez who went without.
However, when we found out that we would not be getting a tree, we decided a few days before Christmas that we–the twins and I–would hike into the desert to look for something that could serve as a Christmas tree. My brother grabbed Daddy hatchet and off we went. We looked at many mesquites and considered whacking off a branch, and we considered pulling out a young tree with our bare hands but in the end decided against both. As we trekked back home we noticed a bunch of tumbleweeds a wind had stacked up against a clump of desert plants. My brother joking suggested that we take the biggest one home and transform it into a Christmas tree. We shared a good laugh at first but then decided to do just that. We hadn’t had a tumbleweed Christmas tree before and we weren’t sure Mama would allow it in the house since tumbleweeds are prickly and easily fall apart. But we determined to plow through with our plans and selected the fullest one and hauled it home using mesquite branches that had long fallen to the desert floor. Mama was reluctant at first but eventually gave into our whines and allowed us to set it up in the corner of the living room where it would be out of the way. She didn’t want anyone getting stabbed by the dry prickly branches and she didn’t want to be forever sweeping sticks off the floor since tumbleweeds degrade rather quickly. I believe we used one of Mama’s smaller tubs to secure the tumbleweed. We decorated it with ribbons, tinsel and beat-up garland kept from previous years. Tumbleweeds can’t hold much weight so we had to keep everything light-weight. And we didn’t put lights on it since lights back then were not the mimi lights of today but those big bulbs. We had fun with our tumbleweed Christmas tree. We laughed and joked about it but that messy dry plant gave us some wonderful memories. It also gave us a lot of scratches on our arms and hands!
Our tumbleweed Christmas tree came down Christmas morning. Mama had had enough of sweeping up dry twigs that constantly littered the floor. So we carried our now mangled creation outside and dismantled it. Then back to the desert we returned what was left of it and humorously spoke our thanks and goodbyes. It tumbled away in the wind, leaving its memories with us.
***Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. This is my last post. At least for a while. Maybe forever. My website will go dark at the end of this month. Who knows, I may resurrect it in a year. You never know. But anyway…have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Tumbleweed Christmas trees rule!
Okay…so my dad the farmer decided that the twins and I were to be involved in 4-H when we were in grade school. It wasn’t our choice so the enthusiasm was not there to begin with. I forget what my brother’s first project was but my sister and I were signed up for Home Ec sort of things. Our first project to be entered into the fair held in town was biscuits. Biscuits made from scratch. I remember we were told to practice making biscuits for our family and anyone else who would volunteer to eat them so that we could perfect the product. We didn’t. Well, maybe just once in a while we made them for the family but since Mama’s biscuits were awesome and everyone, including ourselves, preferred them over our lame ones, practice was minimal, and we were so okay with that.
The morning we were to take our entries up to be put on display and judged, we got up early, threw flour all over the table like we were pros and proceeded to prepare our biscuits. Dad drove us to town and there we met our 4-H leader who showed us where to place our entries. All sorts of goodies filled the exhibit tables and some looked mighty delicious. We returned two days after the judging to collect the biscuits and the ribbons we scored. My sister received a red ribbon for her biscuits and I was awarded what I deem today as a participation ribbon–a white ribbon. The white ribbon meant my biscuits met only a few standards and expectations of the project. In other words, my biscuits sucked! What the heck! I guess I met the standard of using flour. My sister was always the better cook, even in adulthood, and she stayed loyal to her twin and joined him in harassing me about my “deadly” biscuits. My brother suggested that we take my biscuits up to the canal to see if we could knock some fish out with them. So we did. We did kill any fish, or knock them out, because they sank too quickly and broke up. That day my career as a possible biscuit mogul vanished.
The next 4-H project our dad got us involved in was livestock. Lambs. We definitely did not want to do this and we moaned and whined to Mama about it but to no avail. We were to raise lambs. One morning loud hammering and talking woke us up. Men were outside helping Dad build pens for the lambs that would soon be in our care. The lambs came the day after the pens had been finished. I think the lambs were around six months old, maybe five, and they were promptly placed in the pens. Dad told us to look them over and to select one for our project. While we listened to a lecture on responsibilities and a lengthy explanation of our duties, we stared at each other and looked to heaven for deliverance. Good times were about to begin. We were to daily clean the pens, making sure they were clean and dry, clean the water pan and feeder, always provide fresh water (which we had to haul using a bucket) and feed, tame the lamb and train it to stand still and in a certain way, and on and on. Never mind we still had to attend school. We also had to learn how to card the wool and block it since that is what we would have to do for the county fair in Yuma. In order to show the lamb and to get the highest possible price for it, the body and form of the lamb had to be near perfect. Anyway, I chose lamb in pen#1, which turned out perfect for me since it was rather docile. My sister took lamb #2. It was an ornery animal and bigger than mine. She didn’t have an easy go with her lamb and was often head-butted to the ground by it. It was kind of hilarious to watch. My brother’s lamb turned out to be an escape artist and pretty darn sneaky. Or smart. It learned how to unlatch the gate to its pen, and to squeeze between openings in the boards, until Dad changed the latch and wrapped the entire enclosure with pen fencing.
Days went by and we carried on with the 4-H lambs, not really liking it but what could we do? The lambs fattened up. My brother’s lamb became the model prisoner but my sister’s lamb, though somewhat tamed, still retained its ornery personality. And it was thinner than ours. About a week before the county fair in Yuma, we three dragged ourselves outside to check on our projects and to take care of our chores. The first thing we noticed was that my sister’s lamb was all puffed out, looking like a swollen marshmallow. My brother went and got Dad. He checked it out and moments later noticed a snake track moving away from the pens. We figured her lamb had been bitten by a rattler. Not positive about that but from that moment on we called her lamb, Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake stayed puffed up that week and entered the county fair that way. But Rattlesnake was a changed creature. She was calm and steady and let the judges walk around her, touching and prodding her without trying to ram the heck out of them. My brother and I watched in shock. Rattlesnake won a purple ribbon that year. My brother won a blue for an excellent exhibition, and I won a red ribbon–improvements could be made. Yeah, whatever.
What did I learn from 4-H? I learned that I wasn’t cut out to be a shepherdess and to this day I refuse to eat lamb or mutton.
She sits at the vintage sewing machine, the old Singer her mother acquired years ago from a vagrant, a mysterious old woman selling collected throwaways she carted around in a beat-up, paint chipped, wooden red wagon. The exchanged was a swap. The vagrant begged for bread for herself and the scrawny, faithful dog that limped behind the wagon. Her mother, a charitable woman, unselfishly shared food with the beggar and for her kindness, the old woman lifted a badly battered sewing machine out of a heap of useless junk and placed it on the front step of the home. The seamstress sings softly as she works the machine, her music strangely mimicking chants of Buddhist monks worshiping high in the Himalayas. Intermittent words of endearment interrupt her songs. She whispers to the machine and often leans forward to drop a kiss on its dark metal frame. No one, not even the niece who watches over her, is ever allowed to touch the rare machine. The behavior is strange and worrisome but the niece keeps her thoughts and fears to herself. After all, her aunt is a famous designer and creator of beautiful gowns, all created on the old Singer. The gowns are unique, never duplicated, and sold for thousands of dollars to the rich and famous around the world.
The designer is 80 but who would believe it? She looks younger than her age. Gravity has yet to show its full effect on her face and on her figure. Her face is tight, her eyes bright, but a smile is never on her lips, never found in her eyes, until she sits before the vintage Singer and begins to sew. It is only then that a smile of contentment and adoration floods her countenance and a gleam of madness dances in her dark eyes. Although she is wealthy beyond what her neighbors can imagine, her home is modest. Her main studio is the structure’s basement. She has another in the city where she meets with her well-heeled clients, but she never sews in that studio. Her sewing is done in the windowless basement of her home. Surprisingly, the basement is nearly empty. The vintage machine occupies the room’s center. Near a wall stands an over-sized square table on which sketching and cutting is done. A plethora of fabrics and spools of thread do not clutter the sewing room. She won’t allow it. She sews one gown at a time and brings into the dark sanctum only what is needed.
No one, not even the niece, is allowed into the basement studio. Ever. Like a dark, immoral sin that is never spoken of, the seamstress keeps the sewing room under lock and key. The niece no longer questions her aunt about it. She remembers the history of seamstress and the old sewing machine. Her mother told her the story when she was nearing seventeen and although many times since then she had asked her aunt for her version of the acquisition of the sewing machine, her aunt has never shared with her.
But the niece recalls her mother’s words.
Corrina Morta. There never was a time Corrina hadn’t dreamed of being a model or a designer. But by the time Corrina had reached the teenage years, she had to face the reality of never being a runway model. She was slim but not enough, short and likely never to gain another inch or two. Neither was she photogenic. She wasn’t unattractive, she just had a face the camera did not love. So she put all her energy into creating beautiful designs. Her drawings were kept in notebooks which she began carting around to various studios and shops when she was eighteen and just out of high school. She was eager and proud of her designs but those in the profession were not impressed. Their rejection was blunt and hurtful, except for one woman who owned a dress shop in a small trendy mall where she sold her own designs. After flipping through Corrina’s portfolio, the shop owner said she would consider her work but only after Corrina brought in an actual creation for her to view and judge. So Corrina stitched up a gown and brought it to the woman who rejected it. She offered words of encouragement and advise to Corrina. “You have promise, Corrina. Go out there, explore the world of fashion. Be different. Create your own unique style. Return in a few months and we shall talk again.”
And for the first part of a year, Corrina heeded the shop owner’s advice. With her mother’s blessing, she traveled. She sketched. She created. But her fashions never reached that elusive level of greatness. They remained beautifully ordinary. Until the day a pitiful, old vagrant crossed paths with her mother and begged for something to eat. In return for the food and the kindness shown, the vagrant handed over the sewing machine, adding words of caution. “Take not lightly the spirit of this machine. It can and will overcome you.” Those were the only words the old woman uttered before disappearing down the street, leaving Corrina’s mother baffled.
The antique Singer’s condition was in a serious state of disrepair. Seeing this, and witnessing her daughter profound distress at failing to achieve her dreams, Corrina’s mother had the machine restored as best as it could be restored. When she gifted it to Corrina, she relayed the old woman’s words of caution. Neither woman understood the meaning behind the warning, so they shrugged it off. But Corrina was enraptured with her gift and immediately began to design and sew. Beautiful clothes with a unique style all her own seemed to spring out of Corrina’s mind and hands and all too soon the fashion world began to take notice and money poured in. It was around the beginning of her success that Corrina began hearing a wooing voice coming from the old sewing machine and it is then that her bizarre behavior began to manifest itself. Terrified as she watched her daughter descend into what she believed was madness, Corrina’s mother confronted her. But her daughter only grew angry and threw her mother out onto the street where she eventually died. Corrina’s fame continued to grow, as did her odd behavior. The niece knew her aunt was being possessed but by what, that she did not know. The atmosphere in the home had become sinister, and heavy, and so for her own sanity, the niece departed. As for Corrina Morta? Her popularity has grown exponentially, the demands for her gowns skyrocketed. She will satisfy her customers, for the Singer calls and together they will sew and create.
***Illness has a way of screwing things up, doesn’t it?
Mission Preparatory is a school for the elite. The complex is posh and sprawling. Its lofty steeple roofs and huge latticed windows have the look of Old World castles. Except for the blacktop pushing its way to the gated entrance, towering trees completely ring the complex, providing equal amounts of beauty and darkness to the immense campus. A dark wild forest moves in all directions away from the preparatory school, providing a natural barrier of protection from the eyes of the curious. The forest is stopped by distant housing developments and the town of Wayword.
Mission indeed screams affluence, an enticing wonderland for the overindulged offspring of the rich and famous. But that is an illusion. Mission Prep is in fact a dumping ground for the neglected and unwanted youth of the well-heeled.
I am one of the unwanted. My crime was being born. I wasn’t planned, and clearly, I wasn’t wanted. Because my progenitors have always considered me irrelevant, my first fifteen years were spent in the local public school system, but after continuous scrapes with the law, the fed up WPD and the town judge summoned my douchebag parents back to Wayword. I was promptly plucked out of the Juvenile Detention Center and summarily dumped at Mission and left here to rot. That was over a year ago.
So here I am, seventeen, still boarding at the exclusive school. Here, residence halls are called manors, not dorms, which is misleading because even though the rambling structures have the look of a manor, they still house students. The single occupant rooms are quite spacious and have their own private bathrooms. So I’m comfortable and have no complaints. There aren’t any rules here. At least none posted or spoken, and yet we have a crime free campus, which is very weird because the student body is truly a collection of rebellious rejects. Every kind of mischief occurred at Wayword High, but here? Nothing. We’re like drugged-up zombies lurching our way through our high school years. The only thing, though, is I don’t believe we’re being drugged. It’s something else. I can’t explain it, let alone prove it, but lately a growing feeling in my gut is warning me of the presence of an unseen, sinister entity. What it is, I don’t know. I’m only sensing a presence.
Unexplainable things happen here. Like how is it that every student attending Mission maintains a high GPA? How? Listen, I walk the halls and grounds with more than a few kids who have the IQ of a banana peel. So I know that cannot possibly be true. Strange though, I’ve seen several of these walking banana peels on exam days and they are different. They are sharp and alert. I haven’t witnessed cheating, yet it has got to be happening. No one has ever been caught even attempting to steal a test prior to taking an exam, and there is no evidence of passing cheat notes in class. Nor is there evidence of instructors engaging in academic improprieties–i.e. fixing grades. CCTV cameras are mounted everywhere. Privacy is not a right at this exclusive institution. It’s all so very strange. But stranger still is how our Division I football team remains undefeated when half of our players are on the wimpy side. Seriously, how can a tricycle demolish a tank on the football field. It doesn’t happen. Except for here.
Another weird thing occurred a few days ago. I don’t have many friends here but I count Margret Remming as one. Margret was born with a hip deformity which left her with a noticeable limp. She’s also a bit on the slow side of the intelligence meter and for those two reasons, she was cast aside and dumped here. Well, Margret took ill the day before an important chemistry test. I was with Margret when the nurse came in to check on her. Because her temperature was so high, Margret was immediately moved to the campus clinic, which is more like a mini hospital than a clinic. I check on her later that day but was told she was not allowed visitors and that she most likely would be spending a night or two at the clinic. So, imagine my shock when I walked into chemistry the next morning only to find Margret looking healthy and acting all chipper. We spoke after class, but only briefly. Margret appeared nervous and anxious to get away from me, but before she shoved past me, I noticed that her light blue eyes were strangely speckled, like fine sand particles had somehow gotten lodged in them. I also noticed that her limp was gone. A feeling of apprehension came over as I watched Margret hurry down the hallway.
“She’s inhabited, you know that, right?” A male voice startled me.
I whipped around to face a dark-haired boy standing just behind me. “What does that mean?”
“It means that’s not really Margret. Something has taken over her body. It’s not your friend.”
I felt the apprehension ballooning. “You’re insane. What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know yet, do you?” The boy began to stroll away. “Look out your window tonight. Look toward the forest.”
“What will I see?”
He threw a look back at me. “The inhabitors. Keep the lights off. You don’t want to be seen.”
Half past midnight they came into view, four figures ambling across the immense lawn. They soon disappeared into the trees. The figures appeared gangly and grayish in the moonlight, and they moved in a hunched over sort of way. I had no clue as to what they could be but I knew with a certainty that evil lived in the surrounding forest and that there was no escaping this place. Is survival possible? I don’t know. What I do know is that from here on my life at Mission will be lived in utter terror.
She emerged out of the dark void, a wounded soul, her face gaunt, her figure so terribly thin. The fall had been voluntary for it was safe in the darkness. Safe from the pain, safe from destructive and humiliating thoughts, safe from the barrage of guilt which constantly bombarded her mind with the harsh reality of her utter naiveté and lack of strength. She remembered occasionally seeing blue skies, but they had been fleeting, lasting only for moments. She remembered echoing voices calling to her and she remembered a legend that ran in a never-ending loop, a legend of an old lady living with a white wolf in a cave in the Badlands of South Dakota. Who told her this legend? Where had she heard it? She could not recall but she remembered that the old woman sewed beads made from porcupine quills in intricate designs on a soft buffalo-skin robe. The white wolf visited frequently to encourage her. He told her, “If the old woman completes the design on the robe, your life will cease to exist. But it will not be completed. You will return to your loved ones until your time has come. Do not be dismayed. The battle is yours to win. The manipulator will not go unpunished.”
He hadn’t legally raped her, but yet he had. It began with whispered words and feigned, accidental caresses that grew bolder in time. She fought against his seduction and yet he overcame her barriers. This wasn’t the way she was raised and she inherently knew it was wrong. Yet he persevered. She wished for a transfer. He objected. It was not part of his agenda. He lied and cajoled until she gave in. His manipulation was persuasive, polished, and she was ensnared before she understood what was happening. It was their secret, he said. She could not tell a single person. And she did not, not until the shattering truth of his deception became known to her.
His playground was not the playground where children played. His playground was the classroom. His prey the teachers, the female staff members, not the children. The narcissist knew how to read them. He targeted the vulnerable ones, the trusting, the gullible looking for love. Confident women were not left out of his warped game. Quite the contrary, he viewed them as a greater challenge and he knew that with the greater challenge came the possibility of sweeter gratification. His high was the chase, the win, the exploitation, and the tossing aside when his conquest was complete and his desires fulfilled. But he couldn’t just let them go. He was the epitome of egotistical. At first, he dangled the hope of love coming at a later time. He made excuses when his calls and texts grew dim. He would always care for them, he cherished their friendship, he just needed time, he had a daughter to consider. With words like that, he neutralized their doubts. But the master manipulator’s words were false. When a new challenge became his obsession, the narcissist could not completely relinquish his hold on those he was already discarding. He reveled in the power he held over them. It fed his arrogance, and for a while, the superior feeling allowed him to set aside his own lifelong insecurities and inadequacies. He never considered his own daughter when engaged in his despicable escapades. Will karma pay her a visit because of him? Will a man disrespect her, like the way her father disrespected and shattered the lives of the women he used for his own gratification?
His cold, toxic history is not an isolated truth. The ugly playgrounds are fluid, the ugly playgrounds are widespread. The self-absorbed behavior is unchanging, as is the psychological damage many victims–women and men– endure in their struggle to overcome the abuse and demoralization inflicted upon them. Do some victims end up choosing death over the long, gut-wrenching psychological battle?
We always had a menagerie of animals on the farm. Mostly dogs, dogs that idiots dumped in the desert and since we lived way out in no man’s land, it was inevitable that they would find their way to us, which was okay since we loved dogs. Stubby stands out because he was fearless when it came to snakes. Stubby was a terrier-mix with a stubby tail, hence his name. Then there was Sweet Nothing, a small dog also left in the desert because her people were morons. My sister named the little dog after Brenda Lee’s hit song Sweet Nothing. Sweet Nothin’ kept the farmyard in order. Bossy little thing but also a fearless dog. There were many other animals that watched us grow up. A few ewes and heifers (not the human ones), always a horse or two.
Chickens were always with us. They provided us with eggs. We had a variety of them. All kinds, mainly hens. I remember a particular Sunday dinner that involved chicken. We wondered about the roasted chicken and asked Mama because we hadn’t seen a bunch of feathers floating around the place. Mama kept her answers vague and tried to steer the conversation away from the main course. Well, we eventually found out that the delicious chicken happened to be my brother’s hen. But that’s reality for a poor farming family. She wasn’t laying eggs anymore and we needed the food, so Mama roasted her and it was delicious. My brother called us cannibals and left the table but only after he had enjoyed a drumstick.
And then there was Airplane and his tribe of honking bullies. Geese. Five in total. Quite honestly, I don’t recall if Airplane was a goose or gander but since Airplane was a terror, I’m pretty sure he was a gander since ganders are the more aggressive and boy, Airplane personified aggression. The entire gaggle was ferocious and not to be messed with. When visitors came they would wait in their vehicles if the geese were nearby, or they would honk for an escort. Truth. So why was Airplane so named? Because Airplane’s left wing was deformed. It did not fold all the way back and so when Airplane came running in attack mode at you, he resembled an airplane taking off.
Geese are mean. Very protective and ours were territorial as well. When evening was nearing, we’d often see a coyote or two loping around in the desert across the road, waiting for darkness to fall so they could snap up one of our small dogs or a cat, maybe even a hen. One summer evening we (the twins and I) were sitting outside trying to cool off. The day had been blazing hot and Mama’s cooking had tripled the heat inside the already hot house. The gaggle of bullies were seen floating contentedly in the little ditch. Dad was irrigating so the ditch was full of water and the geese were in heaven. But, apparently, they were not oblivious to what was going on in the yard. A mother cat and her two kittens were sauntering across the yard, just minding their own business, when a coyote began slowly making its way out of the desert and approaching the road that separated the old homestead from the desert. We were watching it pretty closely and intending on intervening but we didn’t even need to leave our rickety church rejected metal folding chairs. No, when the coyote–which had to be desperate–crossed the road and entered our yard, out came the geese with Airplane leading the pack and you just knew they meant business. Hissing and vociferously honking up a storm, and scaring the heck out of the mama cat and her kittens, Airplane and the geese gang went flying to overtake the coyote. The coyote didn’t even take a second to think about running. It just did. Airplane and the gang chased it across the road then stopped to stare it down until it disappeared into the mesquite and cactus. Then they came marching back all proud like, still loudly communicating their outrage. We thought then that they were bragging about being the tough kids on the block. Well, farm. After they returned to the little ditch and water, we three looked at each other and busted out laughing. It’s one of the funniest childhood memories I have. Good old Airplane!
The photo is not of Airplane. I doubt anyone on the reservation owned a camera back then.
As I near the end of my life, two random events keep popping into my thoughts. I know there is relevance here but I can’t quite grasp what it is. Medications cloud my thinking process. Perhaps if I didn’t need to take the medication, if I could stop, focus would return and I could at least hazard a guess as to what they could be signifying. I’m resting in bed at the moment, looking out a big window at the magnificent red landscape that is Sedona, Arizona. Mystical red spires reach skyward, like ancient beings encased in stone and time worshiping an unseen entity. Gazing at them, I’m reminded of how brief life truly is and how fragile. I’m hooked up to a medical contraption that drips morphine into my veins to help ease the pain that ravages my forty year old body. Cancer. I’ve tried everything out looking for a cure but it is not to be and I have come to accept that. I am at peace with what is before me. I don’t fear death anymore. Not since dreams of a beautiful trail came to comfort me. The dreams reach out with a promise that pain does not contaminate the pathway. Its magnificence offers only love. I am eager to take the trail.
The flashbacks are intensifying and I questioning why? The first event involves my very first plane ride. Aunt Cassie died. Her death was sudden and devastating to my mother who was her only sibling. Cassie was Mama’s dearly loved older sister, so we were definitely attending the funeral. Work prevented Daddy from going so only Mama and I would make the trip. I was six then. We flew from Dallas, Texas to Phoenix, Arizona, and there pick up a rental and drove the few hours to Aunt Cassie’s home in Sedona. My aunt was an artist, an oil painter. Her realm was the mystical Red Rock Country. The towering pinnacles inspired her, the sparkling babbling Oak Creek soothed her, the glorious sunrises and sunsets filled her imagination and gave her life purpose. She never returned to Texas. The red canyons and stately pinnacles became her forever home.
We left a week after the funeral, taking a night flight back to Dallas. Aunt Cassie left a will bequeathing everything to Mama. There were two stipulations in the will: Uncle Fred, her husband, must be allowed to live in the house until his death and the land and house must never be sold. It had to stay in Mama’s family line. That is how I ended up living in Sedona. But what I remember most about the trip was the night flight home and the lights of cities way below us that sparkled in the inky night as the plane flew over them. I found comfort and security seeing those lights. If you ask me why, I would tell you that I don’t have an answer. Air travel and being off the ground frightened me so much that I almost stayed home with Dad. But now, when I close my eyes for a moment to allow the pain to roll over and through me, or if my eyes close in sleep, I might find those glittering lights reaching out to comfort me once again.
The second event has to do with the unwrapping of a gift sent posthumously by Aunt Cassie. In a note explaining the late delivery, Uncle Fred said that this painting was being taken to the post office the day Aunt Cassie had died. In his grief, he had placed that boxed painting in her studio and had simply forgotten about it. A few months passed before he had the heart and will to again enter the studio. It was only then that he remembered the painting still resting against a wall. It is a gorgeous painting of Cathedral Rock and Oak Creek in Sedona. When I first opened the package I could have sworn that an enchanting rainbow crowned the formation, but it was not so. Mama swears my imagination went into overdrive that day. Aunt Cassie had not painted a rainbow in the painting. Still, throughout my forty years on this earth, the enchanting rainbow that never was bothered me. The vision returned periodically in flashes, as if something was trying to convince me that what I saw that day was correct. It makes no sense, I know.
Periodically… until recently. Like the memory of the glittering city lights that sparkled comfort in a scary dark night, the memory of the rainbow intensifies. Are these two childhood events an announcement of imminent death? And why do dreams of the beautiful trail now consistently follow these flashbacks? I do not fear the dreams. I welcome them. The stately trees of the forest, the lovely bright wildflowers that border the winding trail, and the glorious sunlight that warms the land all promise a loving welcome. What is there to fear?
My beloved husband stands next to my bed, his hand gently caresses my gaunt, weary face. “Do you see the pinnacles in your dreams? Is the landscape red and magical, like in Aunt Cassie’s painting? I love you, you know. I always will.”
It is and it is not. The landscape of the trail is ethereal and of all colors. But I only nod and smile up at him.
I have a strange tale to tell you, a true story that to this day remains unexplainable. It bothers me still, even haunts me. First, let me share a little bit about my cousin, Madalyn, and myself and how we came to be involved in this story. We live in a small, rural town, a farming community, actually, where everyone knows each other, and, unfortunately, it’s a place where goodness and cruelty struggle to co-exist. The Fate River cuts through an oak and pine forest that spread away from the river’s banks a little over a mile and ends where agriculture fields take over. The Fate is wide and mostly shallow except for in its center where it deepens and a strong current hides.
Maddy lives on the large farm adjacent to our small plot of land. Her daddy owns over two hundred acres of land. My dad owns one field of forty acres. We are the same age and of the same mind, so we’ve been best friends all of our twenty-five years now. Aunt Ella is my mother’s sister. She’s a nurse. Maddy’s father is a true farmer, a local born and raised here. My daddy was a big city lawyer who gave up the money and insanity for some peace and quiet. Mama retired from teaching when I came along. Maddy and I have no siblings, just each other. We do have relatives living in the area. Some of them are the salt of the earth kind of people but there are a few that are as heartless as anyone can be. This tale begins with their cruelty.
School was out for the summer. The heat was stifling, so Maddy and I took off for the river to cool our feet. Being only eleven then, we were not allowed to swim in the river without the presence of a parent and we obeyed that rule faithfully. As we approached the bridge that connects the land, we heard voices nearing the bridge from the opposite side. We slowed our steps and moved into the trees to see who else would be at the river. Some people you learn early to avoid. From behind the trees we waited and watched until the voices became people. The two girls in the group were our cousins; the three others were boys from town. Maddy immediately became frightened and wanted to leave for the group that showed up were known to be a pack of mean bullies. They were older than us by three years. Claire, our budding psycho cousin, was carrying a squirming sack which she was violently swinging back and forth, causing the other to laugh and cheer her on. I knew that what was in the sack was alive and about to be thrown into the river to die a horrible death. It happened minutes later. The bunch watched from the bridge until the sack sunk beneath the water and then they left, whooping with glee and giving each other high fives. I can still hear our cousin Kim’s twisted laughter reverberating through the forest. Once they were out of sight, I tore out of the trees and down to the bank and began searching for the sack. It bobbed up several feet down the river. I race to rescue whatever was in the sack. As I pushed through the shallows, I could heard my mother warning me not to go into the deeper waters but that’s where the sack was and I needed to get it. I could also hear Maddy’s pleading voice begging me not to go in but I could not bear to see any animal being so cruelly treated. Once I reached and took hold of the heavy, waterlogged sack, I turned to paddle back to the bank but the current clamped onto my legs and pulled me under. I could feel my body scraping the river’s bottom and though I fought to get loose, I knew I was losing the battle. Then something happened, something I still can’t explain. It was like two strong hand took hold of my waist and forced me upwards and over to a sandbar. I still had the sack grasped in my hand. Maddy wadded out to me. I told her to get the sack out of the water and onto dry land. She did and after grabbing some air into my lungs, I hauled myself onto the bank. I didn’t think to ask who had saved me until much later. When I did ask Maddy about it, she stared back at me with a queer look on her face and said no one else had been in the water. Just me.
We quickly yanked the knot loose and found four black and white sodden kittens, along with the mother cat, in the bag. Two kittens were already dead, the mother cat and the other two were barely hanging on. Maddy showed me how to breathe into their little mouths to help them survive. When their breathing evened out, we helped the mother cat. She survived, and as soon as she could manage, she went to her two dead babies and licked them, like she was kissing them goodbye. Maddy and I cried.
We carried the cats home in our shirts and told our mothers what had happened. I got a scolding from Mama but it wasn’t too harsh. Mama, like me, could never accept cruelty of any kind. Aunt Ella, Mama, Maddy and I buried the dead kittens at the north end of our field, placing little crosses made of sticks and tied together with twine on the tiny graves. We kept the kittens and the mama cat in our garage since Maddy’s family was leaving on vacation the next morning.
The mother cat we name Indigo because of her blue-black fur. We named the kittens Gray and Tay. Tay belonged to me. Indigo stayed close to me, rubbing up against my legs and curling up on my lap when her babies slept. I got the feeling she was thanking me for saving her and her babies. Two weeks after the rescue took place, Indigo began disappearing at night. We weren’t concerned. That’s the nature of adult felines. But once she started prowling, strange stories began circulating in town. The first piece of gossip concerned my cousin Claire. Mother heard talk at the beauty parlor that Claire was being stalked and that she had reported it to the police. She claimed to have pictures of her stalker, a dark figure who watched her house at night from across the road, but when the police asked to see the photos, Claire could not produce them. Claire swore up and down and on the Bible that she was telling the truth but due to her bad reputation not too many folks believed her. Weeks later, Claire was found dead near the river. Some maniac had ripped her throat apart. She bled out. Two weeks later one of the boys who had been with Claire the day they threw the cats into the water was found dead behind the Quik Stop. He too had been talking about about a dark creatures who seemed to be everywhere he went. His throat had been ripped to shreds and his eyes horrifically gouged out. Then Kim was killed, suddenly and viciously. The police believed we had a violent serial killer stalking the town. His prey appeared to be the young folks.There was no evidence of sexual assault, just the mangling of the throat and face. The other two boys who were with the group that day were also found murdered near the Fate River. The community became paralyzed with fear.
But the killing stopped that night, the night the last of the group was found dead, and Indigo suddenly ceased her nightly disappearing. It all still baffles and frightens me because I cannot shake the belief that it was Indigo out there taking revenge for the cruel murder of her two babies. I know it sounds insane. House cats can not kill people, right?
Dreams of recent events, images of the past, haunt me, invading my mind like a marauding swarm. Sometimes the dreams and images roll in like a cruel wind that scrapes the soul raw. Bewildering nightmares awaken me, chilling me so that I tremble almost uncontrollably. And yet, baffling as it may seem, there are times when beauty and serenity and sunlight flood my emotions, and I am happy. But I want it all to stop. It has to stop! I can’t survive this emotional roller coaster that at once condemns me, then woos me with delightful promises. I don’t want to succumb to the wooing, so I fight it with every ounce of determination I possess. It is a continuous battle. It weakens me and I feel like I can’t go on. Yet I feel compelled to seek it out. I must see these dreams, these images, with my own eyes, to determine if it is reality or just my imagination spiraling out of control. Is it truly a magnificent place or are my instincts correctly sensing a darkness living just behind the sunlight? Insanity laces the edges of my conscience, yet I know I am not crazy. I am not delusional.
Unbidden thoughts drag up faces I’ve not considered in ages. Like the face of a wife whose husband I took because I could. He was a handsome man, proclaiming to be dedicated to his family, and he was, until he asked me to dance. I didn’t pursue him, but I did take his wealth and then I discarded him. Not once did I tell him that I loved him, so I felt no guilt when I heard he put a .45 to his temple and blew his brains out. Weak, foolish man. I’ve been condemned but I suffer no guilt. Why should I? He thought to use me but I won the game. He fell, I did not. Beauty and intelligence, enhanced with confidence, is not a crime. I did not place the semi-automatic to his head and pull the trigger, now did I? Nor did I encourage him to do so. My only crime was that I grew bored with the relationship and I walked away. Like he did with his children and wife.
Charles Welton. Now why is my mind dragging up his image? I don’t care if he is rotting away in jail. He scammed a bunch of senior citizens and I turned the cops in his direction. Anonymously, of course. He never knew what hit him when the police arrested him. I took the money he scammed and left town. But I must give credit to poor easy-to-manipulate Charles. He remains steadfastly loyal to his one true love–me. He believes his scorned girlfriend turned him in. She doesn’t know about me, and I made sure she had another female to hate, and Charles, well he thinks I’ll be waiting for him when he gets out of prison. I won’t. I promised that I would but I can scam as well as he. He doesn’t even know my true identity. So do I fear retaliation from him? Nah. Plastic surgery today is marvelous and five hundred thousand goes a long way. And the old coots who lost their life savings? It’s their own fault for trusting a felon and besides they have Social Security and old people homes to go to. No worries there.
Like products moving on a conveyor belt so do faces move in and out of my mind twenty-four seven. Long forgotten faces just remembered. But why? I feel hunted, confused. Where is this coming from? I don’t do drugs and I’m not suffering from a guilty conscious. I don’t feel bad for anything I’ve ever done. Like, do I feel bad for stealing a puppy from an impoverished blind girl a few years back? No, I laughed. Know why? Because I knew there would be another charity willing to get her another puppy, and if that didn’t happen, there’d be plenty of saps eager to fork up dough to a GoFundMe for her. Hell, I’ve done the GoFundMe scam for myself and lived high on the hog for a year. Who cares about hurt feelings? We all have to look out for ourselves, don’t we? But I’m thinking that these plaguing dreams and unwanted images are associated with this trail I can’t seem to shed. I don’t know. It’s a trail that alternates between beautiful and evil, sunlight and darkness. The trail persistently whispers to me. It won’t let me go, so I’m going to go there this weekend to put a stop to this bothersome problem. I need to figure this out, and if I can’t, I’ll burn the damn forest down.
The weekend has come and I find myself at the trail’s head, a trail strangely named Trail of Disappearing. What is that name implying, I wonder. It is magnificent here, truly magnificent, so I’m thinking folks come here to disappear from the ugliness of the real world if only for a few hours. Tall trees dapple the sunlight that falls upon the ground and bright beautiful wild flowers border the trail that leads to a gentle bend. I’m seduced by its beauty, its offer of serenity, but I’m hesitant. My gut warns me to run away but the attraction overrides my instincts. I want to go, so I am. I check the backpack I carried with me for my cell phone, water, and snacks. I’m good to go.
The Marlow Register. Steel magnate, Stephen Marlow, is offering a million dollar reward for information leading to the recovery of his beloved daughter, Somi Holdbrook Marlow, who went missing last Saturday in the Judgement National Forest. She left word with a neighbor that she was going hiking in the National Forest. Ms. Marlow did not reside in the Marlow mansion but traveled the world and country like the free spirit she was. She was last seen standing at the mouth of a rarely used trail by several persons also out hiking.
Okay…I’m pretty sure this happened during some holiday vacation from school and I’m positive it was during one of the cooler months and not during the blazing hot summer. Otherwise I’d remember getting my bottom scorched from sitting on one of the tractor’s big metal fenders. And this incident happened on a day we were home and Dad was off on one of his many trips, which we kinda loved because Mama would let us sleep late and play the day away. Best times ever! Anyway, we–the five younger kids–were alone with Mama. We used to have to haul drinking water in these huge stainless steel canisters because we didn’t have a well yet. We had moved down to the eighty acres months prior to this incident but the thing was, we had to wait until we could afford all the equipment and stuff required to sink a well. Dad had built a platform from wood planks that could be fixed to the back of the Ferguson tractor where one large container could be secured. We’d go to a neighbor’s house, ask permission to get water, fill up the container, tie down the lid, and return home. We never had problems getting water from our neighbors, except for one family where the wife had the attitude of an uppity country club member. Yeah, like a third world reservation should even have uppity folks. We were all sailing the river called Life, in a boat called Dead Broke, so the attitude was unwarranted.
Mama sent the twins and me on a mission to get fresh water. Since our machines always seemed to be running low on gasoline–most often they were plain out of gas–the fuel tank had to be checked. The gas gauge had long ceased to work. My brother found a skinny stick, clean it off, and stuck it into the tank. He figured the tractor had at least half a tank of fuel in it. So with my brother at the wheel, my sister and I riding the fenders, we headed out. We were enjoying ourselves as we rode along, traveling at such a slow speed that if someone on a bike came upon us, they could have easily passed us by. Anyway, we travel over a mile to the first house but my brother refused to stop there since a girl in his class lived there. I don’t know if he liked her or not but he said it’d be too embarrassing to go asking for water. So on we went for a few more miles before my brother decided to stop……at the home of a boy who was in my grade and liked me. I begged him to keep going but with his twin egging him on, my humiliation was sealed. The boy came out to help and visit and there I was perched on the fender in raggedy cut-offs and a tumbleweed hairdo. I remember thinking it was taking forever for that canister to fill up that day. My brother secured the lid with rope, we gave our thanks, and began the slow journey home.
After yelling at the twins for embarrassing me, we traveled on, loudly singing church songs and discussing the latest gossip, which mostly involved our relatives. As we neared home, the talk switched to fast cars. Well, my brother talked about these cars like he knew all about them, which he did not. We were elementary school kids growing up on an Indian reservation where farm equipment was always breaking down and staying broken down for days, even weeks, and beat-up pickup trucks and second-hand automobiles had to negotiate neglected roads. Anyway, by the time we arrived at our yard, my brother had gotten himself all worked up about fast cars and decided he was going to gun the Ferguson and take the turn as fast as the old tractor could go. My sister and I did not object. It seemed like a fun idea at the time. The Ferguson picked up a little speed, not much, but when time came to make the turn, the steering wheel refused to budge and we continued on a straight course. Seconds after we pass the turn-off, the world went very, very lopsided. My sister was suddenly screaming and sitting very close to the ground and hanging on for dear life. I was sitting high up and also hanging on for dear life, as was my brother. The big back left wheel had come off and sailed ahead of us. Stunned, we watched it roll onward, until it wobbled a bit and then plopped to the ground. After we came out of our shock, we jump off the dead tractor and took to surveying the scene. Somewhere along the way something had gone wrong. We didn’t know what but we were pretty darn sure that if we had taken that turn the tractor would have turned over and we would have been badly hurt. Like I’ve said before, we survived our childhood by the Grace of God. As it was, we ended up all excited that we had escaped death, and yes, we truly believed we had cheated death. My sister was drenched. Our precious liquid cargo had poured out and all over her. I thought of it as revenge. But now we had no transportation and a new mission, a mission that required walking to get help from neighbors. Mama couldn’t pick up the monster wheel and we were too puny to help her. So over the cotton and alfalfa fields and the canal we went seeking help. Several farmers came the next day and put the wheel back on the Ferguson, and all too soon, we were once again rolling down the road on another water mission. The old Fergie stayed intact this time and took us on many more water missions.