A Santa Maria story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
"What do you want?" Daphne asked the garishly dressed woman who had just entered her office, Daphne's eyes clearly mirroring the contempt she felt.
"Madame Mayor, I am here to drop off a campaign contribution," Rodina answered as she took a seat in front of Mayor Nolan's desk, her southern drawl thick. "And I thought we could discuss a few things about the future. I've read the cards and we have problems, Daphne. Big problems. More than just those little specter things that the Ghost Lords are dealing with."
Daphne sighed. "Rodina, I don't have time for these little visits. You got what you wanted. You blackmailed me into running for Mayor again. I'm likely to win, though it's cost me time with Joel and Kyle." She placed her palm on her chest. "They are going through such a hard time. Joel is having terrible nightmares and I can only guess they're about losing his mother. He won't talk about them. Kyle needs someone there for him and it can't be Joel, but I'm busy with running for Mayor now and Mackenzie only has so much time to spare with the ghosts running amok. For all I know Joel and Kyle's mother is one of those specters the Ghost Lords are dealing with."
"You could know. You could know just about anything if you just used your powers, Daphne."
"I would be found in moments if I used my powers, you know that Rodina. I'm only running for Mayor so you don't expose my true nature."
"Do you honestly think He doesn't know where you are?" Rodina's look was penetrating.
"I think I have a far better understanding of Him than you ever will. I will not use my powers here. Why don't you just tell me what these big problems are, Rodina?" Daphne's impatience was evident.
"I can't say for certain. They're dark and deep, whatever they are, and you will know them by the many faces they wear and the many strings they pulls."
"Get out. Your gypsy road show crap isn't charming. 'Dark and deep,' what's that supposed to mean anyway? If you've nothing solid, just go." Daphne dismissed her with a wave of her hand.
Rodina stood. "No person in Santa Maria is an island. Things are more deeply connected than you want to know. Just don't let your personal desires to hide your nature be the downfall of everyone." She turned to leave.
"Do you know why I did this, Rodina?"
The graying redhead turned back to face Daphne. "It's not my place to ask why. I simply know what you are and that what will come to pass may need you to be involved in order for the city to survive."
"You know my true form. Even you cannot guess at the power one is able wield as such a creature, but for all that power there is one thing denied to us. We cannot be mothers. Only as a human could I become a mother. That is why I do this. That is why I must continue to hide until my children have all past."
The corners of Rodina's mouth lifted in a slight smile. "Perhaps I do understand. I'm a great grandmother myself and there is no joy like children; truly I believe that. Daphne, the choices you face will be hard ones. Perhaps as a mother you will see what must be done." Rodina turned and walked out of the office.
Daphne sighed again. "I am really beginning to hate that woman," she muttered under her breath.
Her cell phone rang. She grabbed it from the desk and flipped it open. "This is Daphne."
"Oh hi, Rod," she said once she heard the voice on the other end. "No, I'm sorry, my people haven't found anything untoward about Jackson Montgomery. Everything checks out. In fact, the most suspicious thing about him is that there is nothing suspicious about him." She waited for his reply. "I do apologize, I wish I had more. Don't you worry though; we will not let this guy take baby Helen from you and Ant. I promise. Okay, sure. No worries. I will talk to you soon." She flipped the phone closed and sighed again.
Mac approached the Shaman of the Chatu-mu who was standing under a canopy of Sequoia and Douglas Firs that surround the hidden Chatu-mu village.
"Charquín, I'm glad you have agreed to meet with me." Mac extended his hand to the dark-haired man before him. "I know things have been strained between your people and the council."
Charquín's deeply wrinkled face formed a smile. "Mackenzie Nolan, you are the Avatar. You are part of the essence of this Land, not the frustrating council who claims more rights than they ought to. You do not claim to represent the odd little government that European and Asian supernaturals utilize as a means of overseeing themselves."
Mac nodded. "All the same, I appreciate the meeting. The issue is purely personal, not a matter of concern for Santa Maria at large."
Charquín gestured with his arm. "I find walking through the redwoods soothing and allows for me to focus on solutions to problems. Shall we?" He began walking before Mackenzie could even answer, leaving the Avatar wondering why the Chatu-mu elder even asked it as a question. Mac began walking at his side.
"So, Mackenzie Nolan, tell me of your troubles," the Shaman's voice was mellow and soothing.
There was a brief pause as Mac decided where to begin. "My mother adopted two boys, older kids. They were left orphans when a stray bullet killed my mom's secretary last year in the riot. I think it's great that my mom has stepped up the way she has and I've been trying to help her out as much as I can. When I touched the eldest, I was overcome with an odd sensation; the wisdom of the Avatar helped me identify it as something Native American, but it did not know specifically beyond that. So, I thought to come to you."
"Very good, Mackenzie Nolan." After thinking a moment, the ruddy-skinned old man said, "I have a plan." He began searching through his pouch and eventually fished out a small flask. "This brew is made with the bravery of Hummingbird, the wisdom of Eagle, and the cunning of Coyote. It will help you commune with the Land. We will walk in silence after you have imbibed the brew. You should be able to feel the magic of this redwood forest; when you find the energy that feels the same, tell me. From there, we can identify the source." He offered the flask to Mac.
The tall blond man accepted the flask. "Thank you," he said as he unscrewed the cap. He took a swig. "Not the most flavorful stuff. It's bitter."
Charquín smiled again. "You think that bravery and wisdom should taste sweet?"
Both men chuckled.
"It's mostly the dandelion and sorrel that make it bitter," the Chatu-mu shaman said with a large smile. "Now finish it up, Mackenzie Nolan."
Mac followed Charquín's orders and the two walked through the grand sequoias, douglas firs, and peeling manzanita for hours. Mackenzie walked slowly, as if he was experiencing a forest for the first time.
"Charquín, this experience has been ecstatic, but none of the energies of the forest made me feel as I did when I came in contact with Joel. I am sorry to have wasted your time."
The shaman smiled. "It was not a waste, Mackenzie Nolan. We now understand what it is not, so the possibilities are much more limited. It is best that you arrange to bring the boy to meet with me. There are very few things it could be now. I should have little trouble identifying the source of the boy's energies."
Mac's eyes lit with hope. "Thank you so much. I will bring Joel here within the next week."
Jackson Montgomery descended from the stepstool and took a step back to admire his work. He had just hung a small decorative black mirror suspended in the center of the room from a chain made from silver and carved chicken bones; the obsidian mirror hung at a 45 degree angle, the top leaning forward. Jackson was dressed in a long grey robe and a decorative silver pendant hung from his neck on a slight silver chain.
After a minute had passed he reached into his duffel bag, retrieved a gray pillar candle, and placed it on a small table just below the hanging mirror. He then fished out several glass bottles filled with various and sundry oils. Selecting two, he returned the others to the bag, dabbed some liquid from each bottle on his index finger, and used it to paint symbols on the candle. The oils stained the candle dark lavender and blue. He then produced a Zippo lighter from his pocket and lit the candle.
Jackson returned the lighter to his pocket. He then went to his knees, resting on his heels, and began to pray. After 20 minutes of chanting in a forbidden tongue, he reached for the pendant he wore with both hands. The top of it easily pulled free, revealing a tiny dagger.
Jackson Montgomery pricked the tip of his left index finger with the dagger and let his blood drip into the liquid wax that was pooled around the wick of the candle. After five drops had fallen, he resumed his chanting.
After another 20 minutes, a low thrumming sound could be heard for a short time. Jackson could feel a powerful presence fill the room.
"Thank you, my Lord Master. Things progress well. Bree Montgomery's child will soon be yours." Jackson leaned back, his lips quicker in pleasure. It was clear his Lord Master was pleased.
"I have also discovered a useful tool in this city. A shape-shifter hides among them. I can influence this creature and have summoned it come to me when the time is right and then I can wield this shifter like a surgical knife, striking with precision."
Another burst of odd low sound.
"No, that is all, my Lord Master. It is a pleasure to serve you."
Ant thanked the Ghostlords before him for their help and said his goodbyes. As he was preparing to skip back to his lover Rodrigo, Calliope, the Ghost Lord apprentice, called out to him.
"Ant, would you mind giving a message to Brady for me?" She stood waiting expectantly, tugging on her gray robe in nervousness.
"Of course," the unnaturally red redhead answered.
"Just let him know we got another restless spirit and that I say hello."
Ant smiled. "Of course. Take care, Calliope!" He waved and the familiar rush of nothing enveloped him as he skipped. Suddenly, his mind was jarred by the very unfamiliar experience of something brushing against him very briefly. Then he found himself standing in front of Rodrigo.
"Ant, what's wrong? You look terrified." Rod's face showed obvious concern.
"I am terrified. That's never happened. Something... came into contact with me as I skipped. That shouldn't happen." Ant's brow furrowed. "That can't happen."
"Are you sure?" Rod asked gently. "You have been under a lot of stress lately, working with the Ghost Lords."
"Rod, I've been skipping since the 80s. This is a very wrong, very bad thing. From what I understand, it can't even happen. I am going to have to see if the Chroniclers have any information on the phenomenon. I'll also contact the heads of the Gamen in other cites, especially other places of power."
Rod nodded in support. "Okay, we can do that, but right this second, I want to cuddle with you in bed before Helen wakes up crying. Can we do that?"
"Yes, we certainly can," Ant says with a grin. He kisses his partner. "Let's go cuddle."
Daphne walked quietly up the stairs of her home, her heeled shoes in hand. Just as quietly, she walked down the hall and opened the door to Kyle and Joel's room. Kyle was sound asleep, but Joel was not in his bed.
She checked the bathrooms of the house, then went and searched the kitchen, living room, and garage. She called out his name and began frantically looking in each room of the large house and the backyard.
Feeling the beginnings of panic, Daphne ran back upstairs and returned to the boys' room. She kneeled next to Kyle's bed.
"Kyle," she said quietly but firmly. "I need you to wake up, sweetheart."
The young boy's eyes fluttered open. Something in her tone brought him quickly to full awareness.
"What's wrong, Mom?"
"Kyle, sweetie, do you know where Joel is?" she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
Kyle looked at her quizzically. "He's in bed." He nodded with his towards his older brother's bed.
"No, he's not." She stood up. "Kyle, you stay right there. Please." She ran back downstairs and went to her purse. She grabbed for her cell phone, flipped it open, and speed-dialed the first name in her book.
"Mackenzie, I know it's late, but I need your help. Joel is missing!"
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2009
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2009