Witiku by David Walks-As-Bear by David Walks-As-Bear - Read Online



"... In this read we are privileged to again see Tribal Cop Ely Stone in action as he is summoned by Amos, the true Spiritual leader of their tribe through the Spirit world they share. As the horror continues these men, with several others, from Detectives, to FBI agents, begin to join forces to fight an evil that few know how to defeat... This story is laced with Native American mysticism, weaving into the story frightening centuries-old legends and bringing them to life. The locals are so vivid, the forest, the huts, the different places they stay and interact in... Things become more complicated as Ely becomes involved with a woman who touches his heart with emotions that do not need to come forth at this time, especially when her life is on the line. What a ride!" --- MidWest Book Review
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611603491
List price: $3.99
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Witiku - David Walks-As-Bear

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Prologue: Silver Bullets

The Yellow Dog River,

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The sunset is complete now, replaced by radiating moonlight wafting down through the trees overhead. The stream gurgles softly, at this point, and the current slows near the deep hole. The moon rays are filtering through the tree branches to dollop small puddles of white light on the surface of the slow moving water. It appears as if hundreds of flashlights are shining down from above. Man, it’s nice out here. My mind recollects the memory of John Hennessey, the tribal chief, and his call to me while I was still in Hawaii. He was all het-up over a new piece of land for the Band’s acquisition. He’d asked excitedly if I would consider heading straight down to the Bahamas to check out a piece of property on one of the islands upon my return. I told him I’d consider it. Yeah, well, during nights like this, up here in the deep woods, such a notion seems ridiculous. I look around.

Here and there, mayflies dance on the water, sending a ripple over its face. And, occasionally, a trout rises up to snap one of the bugs; it breaks into the chorus of frogs croaking and crickets chirping. I move slowly...sooooo slowly...wading carefully, watching my footing as I go. Under my breath, I’m whispering a dumb song. The tune is lodged in my head, and I haven’t been able to shake it since hearing it earlier today on the radio. It’s Li’l Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, and I’ve been mumbling it over and over ever since. I do like the tune, but man, it bothers me a bit when a song lingers in my mind. I step around a branch poking up from a submerged log and ease onto a spot with a good foothold next to it. I glance down at the water swirling around the protrusion, and rest my left hip lightly against the branch. Then, I work the rod into the only clear area, barely singing the muted song:

"Hey there Little Red Riding Hood

You sure are looking good

You’re everything...a big bad wolf could want

Listen to me Little Red Riding Hood

I don’t think little big girls should

Go walking in these spooky old woods alone


My left hand lightly threads the released line as my right wrist floats the fly rod back and forth in long flowing arcs. The slice of wind as the thin rod cuts the air is barely a whisper against the quiet murmur of the water. The line stretches a little bit more with each motion, the small artificial fly lightly touching the water’s surface before leaping up again and being pulled back in behind me. With each forward motion, I’m getting the fly closer to where he lies. I’m hoping that my fly looks like an actual bug to old Brutus. Maybe this time I’ll fool the old fish.

Brutus is what I call the big brown trout lying out there. I know that he’s there because I sat on the bank and watched him for almost an hour before the sun went down. Mature old men have their own turf. I’m betting that he’ll sit tight there for the evening. As I continue to work the line out, I ponder the fish. He’s big for a stream trout, and he got that way by being cagey. He’s not dumb. I can’t sneak up on this bad boy, and that’s a fact. I’ve tried. As soon as he gets one look at me, he’s history. We have been playing this game, off and on, for several days. It’s now more of a hunt than a fishing exercise for me; this one particular fish is my quarry. Late this afternoon, I walked the bank excruciatingly slowly, looking into the refracted water for old Brutus. Then, I found him. Past experience has taught me that he’s too crafty for me to just toss a fly out there and expect him to hit it. Nah, if I’m going to catch old Brutus, then I’m going to have to be craftier than he is.

So, I’m hoping that this Brown Drake fly will look real enough to him in the darkness. That and the late hatch of mayflies darting about out there are the crux of my plan to net Brutus tonight. In my mind’s eye, I can still see him as I did earlier in the daylight, up close to the bank over there, his gills flapping gently as his fins moved easily to keep him in place. As my wrist draws the line off the water once more, I know that when I snap it back again, the fly will land right where I estimate old Brutus to be. I let my eyes dart up to see the line halt in mid-air flight behind me, small flecks of water scattering with the abrupt cessation of momentum.

The moon’s rays are sparkling off the water droplets on the thin line as it begins its forward drive again. It’s heading for the far bank now; I bite my lip as I follow-through with my arm and watch the fly floating downward. It never even touches the water. A lightning bolt of dark silver explodes from beneath the surface and savagely attacks the artificial fly in midair. I watch, momentarily stunned at the size of the fish. He falls sideways back into the river, his mouth clamped tightly on the artificial fly. Simultaneously, I drop my wrist, pushing up the rod tip and snapping my arm out to the left, tightening the line and setting the hook.

In a flash, Brutus knows what’s going on, and he races, hell-bent, for the submerged timber just downstream. I pull him away only to have him speed toward the rocks in an effort to break the line on them. I haul him away from there, too. For the next eighteen minutes, he and I fight each other for his freedom. Now he’s tiring, and I can feel it. I wade over toward the far bank, working him back toward me. I’ve continually given him enough line to let him run and exhaust himself, and now he’s about through. I’m keeping my eyes on him as I reel the line in, but he’s bushed and comes along compliantly. Holding the rod up, the line holds the fish fast to the current; I lower my left hand and slide fingers into his gill. I lift him out and feel his heft.

Old Brutus has to go five pounds, at least. He’s tuckered out and doesn’t give me any more fight. Man...is he ever beautiful. The dimpled white moonlight is slipping its way through the trees and refracting luminescent off the fish’s sparkling body. I sigh in contentment, step closer to the bank and lay the rod down. I remove the artificial fly that’s hooked in the trout’s mouth and then stretch the fish out in my hands to look at his full girth. His gills opening and closing in my hands, I whisper a prayer of thanks to the Great Good Spirit for letting me win this battle, and I thank Brutus, too, for giving himself for my sustenance. Then, grinning like an idiot, I swivel the old creel around on my hip and pop its lid open. Man—he may not fit. I’m already thinking about giving my neighbor half of the fish as I begin moving it toward the creel. My neighbor is Amos Reddeer, the tribal medicine man. Yeah, I’m thinking, he’ll like this.

That’s when the shinkakee begins dribbling over me like hot fudge poured atop an ice cream sundae. This premonition has saved my bacon many a time, and I always heed it. Sometimes it’s nothing, but other times...it foretells of impending doom. So, I pay attention to it whenever it arrives.

I freeze all motion. The stream’s current is passing and pulling against my legs inside the soaked Levi jeans. I’m holding the big trout and feel my eyebrow arching as I slowly swivel and look about curiously. The crickets have all stopped chirping and the frogs have gone still. Hmm. All right. I chew my lip because that kinda sucks, eh. It could denote an ass kicking I’m about to get or some other event that I won’t like. I squint through the woods and into the spooky shadows being cast by the moonlight all around and I hear it. It’s a low, primal growl. The sound makes the hair on my neck snap to attention. It has an evil resonance...feral...it is a sound that means business. I wait; I need it to come again so I can pinpoint a direction. Bear, maybe? No, no. It’s probably a wolf. My mind takes all of this in, and quickly tabulates my SITREP—an old military acronym for ‘Situation Representation.’ It ain’t looking too good for little old me. I have no gun—only my old Coast Guard Aviator’s survival knife. Still, there’s consolation there. Over the years, I’ve killed animals with this old blade—both four and two-legged. I’m pretty good with it. As I search the wooded locale, I try to control my breath and emotions. Fear is a natural emotion, and I’ve always prided myself on being a natural kind’ve a guy. In a deal like this, a little fear is a good thing, if kept in check. It keeps you from getting too haughty. But it’s the worst thing in the world if given free rein. My heart begins beating like a deranged tom-tom as I search the woods, looking intensely into the moonlit shadows, willing my ears to hear over the gurgle of the river.

What the hell is it? Jeeze man, it’s easier to say what it ain’t...rather than what it is. Thought processes have clued me in to some things. I know now that it isn’t a bear. It’s not a big cat, either. That growl wasn’t ursus, and it wasn’t feline. It had to be canine—wolf or coyote...maybe a wild weshe...a dog. I’m standing here, stock still, frozen in place with a fish in my hands when the growl comes once more. My head swivels every which way, trying to nail it down. The growl’s lower in octave this time, and closer. And somehow I get the feeling that it’s old...older than time...I’d swear it is. Shivers ripple down my spine as that realization sinks home. Now it’s gone. The growl is no more and I still don’t know where it was emanating from. Crap! Then...Heaven help me...I know where it is.

Whatever it is...it’s high on the bank and right behind me. Confusion rushes my psyche, and, along with it, a new wave of terror. I feel and hear canine breath panting wet and hot against my neck and ear from directly behind. It’s close, leaning over the bank to get near my jugular. Ohhh man! How can that be? Fear fights for dominance because, sonavabitch, it’s too damn close! The steamy smell of dog breath, layered thickly with a bloody meat scent, wafts to my nostrils. I swing into motion, dropping the big trout into the river with a splash, my right hand jerking the knife from its sideways-mounted sheath, my left arm ratcheting out in a blocking swing. I spin, ducking about to face my attacker, splashing everywhere in a frenzy. The water is still cascading and spattering into the stream from my quick-turn, but...there’s nothing there to meet me. And, as if this isn’t already tons of fun...the damn moon disappears. Ah, crap!

The moon moves behind clouds, casting darkness about evenly as I stand there quaking in fear, my head and eyes bopping all over the place. On the bank is an old black-trunked maple tree, its knurled bark twisting aloft. I lean way over and touch it for support with my left hand as I look past and into the woods beyond. Something’s caught my attention. There, deep in the recesses, where the thickest branches begin to diverge, I think...I think I see a large human-sized shadow. It’s as if it’s on its hands and knees...or maybe on all fours. My head shakes of its own accord. I can’t understand what I’m seeing. I quickly blink my eyes and concentrate harder, squinting into the gloom. It’s way too big for a wolf. How the hell did it move that fast? It was right behind me.

I angle my head, squinting at the object in the distance. It’s too far away for me to see anything definitive, but then the cloud passes and moonlight sprays all over, drenching everything again. I feel my throat close up and constrict as a better picture of the object becomes clear. Owooo, shit. Suddenly, a pair of yellow canine eyes swivels my way and locks onto me. The orbs shine luminously, looking directly at me from the deep, moonlight-drenched woods. I feel goose bumps pop up on my flesh as I look into those eyes. Their owner stares at me for a moment more, and then the eyes snap away and the thing bounds into the heavy timber and is gone.

I stand tensely there in the River, squeezing the old survival knife’s handle tighter, taking ragged breaths as my eyes bat constantly. Did I just see what I think I just saw? I swallow and it barely goes down as realization hits home. I’m in a daze as I nod to no one. Uh-huh. Yep. I do indeed think I saw...what I think I just saw. But, that can’t be...can it? I let my eyes drop to the bank and see two huge dog prints, deep in the mud, as if a large canine had been standing on its hind legs right behind me. Yeeeeeah, hell. Time for this li’l Injun to get his red butt outta here.

Keeping an eye ‘spinning’ out, I slowly turn sideways. I doubt that it would do any good, but I have no intention—whatsoever—of sliding the knife back into its sheath. Any weapon’s better than nothing right now. I shakily ease down and pick up the fly rod. I’m going through the motions in a daze of fear. Subconsciously, my whole being on alert, I hook the fly into an eye and reel the line in tight, locking it. During this process, my eyes dart quickly back past where the big maple stands. The rod and line secure, I look down to where Brutus was dropped into the water and know that he’s safely back in his realm. Well, that’s okay. I mean, it’s a fair trade. He didn’t get eaten, and neither did I. Well...not yet, anyway.

I’m still in a state of shock as I begin wading—hurriedly—back across the stream. I desperately want to be in my cabin—right now! As I slip through the water, my gaze constantly switches over to look past that old maple...toward where the apparition disappeared. As I wallow out of the Yellow Dog River, climb the bank, and start quietly but swiftly through the trees, I nod again at my thought processes. Each furious heartbeat is adding a new surge of adrenalin as I make tracks for home. Ordinarily, in a situation like this, I’d desperately want to have my gun near me. The security of my little Glock .40-caliber is right back there at my cabin. I can have the weapon in my hot little hand in a just few more minutes. But a shiver moves down my spine as I truck on. My head tips sideways as I move swiftly forward. That’s because...whatever that thing is...I seriously doubt that the gun would do any good against it. I snap another quick look behind me, and then look back ahead and frown. I mean, crap...I don’t have any silver bullets for the pistol.

Chapter 1: You think I’m stupid, or what? Okay...don’t answer that one.

The Huron-Manistee National Forest

Michigan’s North Central Lower Peninsula

Dusk was falling, and the weighty timber was casting ominous shadows which were now cascading over the couple reclining on the blanket at the desolate lake’s edge. Their car sat almost a mile away, parked alone, at the Recreation Area lot. The couple had walked, hand in hand, to this unoccupied spot at the shallow, reed-covered little lake. It had followed at a distance, staying in the dense brush, out of sight, very, very stealthily. The thing no longer tried to understand any of its bizarre desires. It only knew that it had to, and this drive had forced it to follow the prey. Once it had smelled her...it knew—it knew! And she might get away, or worse...be spoiled tonight. The creature in hiding didn’t know anything about her—where she lived, where she was from—anything. It only knew that it had to have her—it had to...now! It had to have her before she was lost. The creature looked up at the slowly rising moon. The white orb activated the salvia that now began to excrete in long threads from its razor teeth. It looked back at the couple. It wasn’t equipped here for what it would do, but it had hastily improvised. And now, it couldn’t stop...even if it wanted to. And, it did not want to.

The frogs croaked a cadent chorus and a lone Whip-poor-will sang, far off in the distance. The couple had eaten their picnic meal, chatting and laughing, sipping on bottles of wine coolers. The sun had fully dipped when the newly engaged couple, who were young, black, and very much in love, began kissing. The young man was a dark, strapping, twenty-three-year-old, six-foot-three, two hundred and twenty-pound college football player. Like his date, he was attending Ferris State University in Big Rapids. The thing watching detested the young man with a hate so active that it inflamed its whole being with vitriol. The girl was also twenty-three years old. She was light-skinned, attractive, tall, lithe, and, a rarity at her age...a virgin. The two planned to marry when they graduated next summer. Now, they had been involved in fondling each other for almost fifteen minutes; their passionate wrestling getting more and more intense by the moment. This, in turn, had excited the one watching them.

Thirty yards away, hidden in the impenetrable briers of wild roses, heavy ferns, and leaves...it watched...lusting. Saliva dripped from its jagged mouth and drooled downward into heavy pools on the leaves below its hairy torso. Its breath came in tremulous pants as it anxiously clawed the branches away to see...champing at its self-applied bit. It hastily dropped a clawed paw to a plastic bottle, tied to its waist with a heavy narrow length of rope. Satisfied that the bottle would not come loose, it returned red, inhuman eyes to the quest of its desire, feverishly moving its hips and grunting lowly, as it wildly followed the couple’s motions. It had scented her early that morning, and had been following ever since. She was one. And she was ripe. It could smell her—she was ready. Its tongue hung disproportionately out of its elongated mouth, as it panted and lapped over the sharp canine teeth. Its red eyes lusted in the thick brush. A song was playing rhythmically in its head:

"I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes...

I have to turn my head until my darkness goes..."

Then, suddenly, the girl broke free, pushing off her lover. Okay, okay—hold it! She panted as she got shakily to her knees.

The young man was startled and sat up quickly. What’s...what’s wrong? I thought you said...

She nodded while assuring him in a soft voice, thick with arousal. Yeah, yeah—I know, and I will. I just have to...Just let me go to the bathroom real quick, okay. You better put on some protection—okay? I’ll be right back. She gently brushed a hand over his face. Okay? I’ll hurry.

His flushed face acknowledged understanding, and he leaned back on an elbow, digging in his wallet for the packet of rubbers. She stood, hastily straightening clothes, and, with purse in hand, she walked off. In the bushes it watched her go, and waited until she entered the US Forest Service pit-toilet, some seventy-five yards off. Then it burst from the brambles and brush and charged at the young man, eating up the distance in giant leaps, taking only microseconds. The man on the blanket looked up, but he only had time to yelp once before it slashed into his throat and bowled the strapping young man over. Then, it flung him about, as if he were a child’s rag doll, teeth and claws swiftly gnashing, spilling his intestines onto the ground. The severe loss of blood and body parts stopped any further noise from the football player; it tore him apart in quick motion, its ruptured growls muffled in the now still darkness. Then, it dropped the limp body of the football player into a heavy clump onto the ground. But...it didn’t eat. There would be time for that later.

Now, it fumbled with the plastic bottle swinging from its waist as it raced across the wooded trail toward the toilet. It bumped into the door in its hurried rush to stop, and it swung the bottle up. Quickly, it slobbered its massive mouth over the whole upper half of the container and bit down, ripping off the top half of the bottle in one swift motion, spitting it away, and dumping the liquid liberally over its right claw. The woman’s voice came from inside, simultaneously.

Isaac? She laughed. I said I’d be right back. She opened the door, chuckling, and the creature followed the swinging gate as she stepped beyond it. From the rear, it swung a massive, mangy, long-haired, left forearm around her upper body, pulling her tightly to itself, while clamping its right paw over her face. Careful, it said to itself, as she gurgled and struggled uselessly, you can break them—you know that—be careful! She was kicking backwards, trying to reach his scrotum with her foot, so the ogre jerked her head back harder. Something snapped, but in its lust, this slight nuance escaped attention. It only noticed that she went limp and melted into collapse. It was consumed with such an ache for her, the blood pounded loudly in its ears. It noticed nothing else as it let her slide to the ground.

It dropped the bottle, taken hastily from a vehicle’s emergency first-aid kit, and looked at her wantonly, lying there in the moonlight in front of the outhouse. Hungrily, it shredded her clothes away, leaving a deep scratch across her bare breast in its hurried lust, and scratching her thighs as it finally sliced away and flung all of her undergarments off. It dropped down then, consumed with carnal want, and began ladling its massive tongue over her nude body, from toe to head, focusing on her private parts. Yes, it had been right. She was ripe—ready for seed. It hurriedly spread her legs and took her, fresh blood pounding in its brain and more blood—from her boyfriend—dripping in splatters onto her body as it pounded into her.

When it was finished, and satiated, it pulled out of her and stood on quavering legs. As it glared down, dizzily, it realized that something...was amiss. Quizzically, it dropped down and sniffed her. Then, it reared back on its haunches, threw back its ugly head, and let out a horrible, immortal howl of anguish. As the unearthly echo reverberated through the black forest, it made the closest leaves on the trees tremble and quake. Finally, it looked back down at the naked woman. It shakily retrieved the chewed-up bottle and ripped-off top to the chloroform. It had accidentally killed her. It glanced mournfully, once more, at the lifeless form of the young woman, lying, nude and bloody, in the moon’s slanted rays. It would take some of her, but it had all been for nothing...all...for nothing. It had been stupid to do this, but it hadn’t been able to stop itself. It ambled wearily back over to where the mangled body of the boyfriend lay. It was famished, now, and it had to feed.

* * * *

Headquarters, U.S. Army 114th AAD

(Agricultural Affairs Detachment)

Baghdad, Iraq.

Major Ray Hines sat looking out the heavily tinted, one-way window while he ate his toast. The window was well above pedestrian traffic and granted a nice view of the surrounding city. From this location, at the corner of Cairo and Haifa streets, he could just make out the ‘Abbasid Palace in the distance. He let his eyes wander to the Ashudad Bridge while he chewed. Heat waves were rippling off the structure in long, wavering streams, making the overpass across the Tigress River look as if it were melting in the blazing sun. Man, he thought, it was going to be a hot one out there today. It almost looked as if that damn bridge might actually melt.

He was situated in a building of a former Iraqi military engineering H.Q. It had been hit hard in the bombing back in 2003, but the US Navy Seabees had cleaned the place up nicely. The 114th AAD and other branches of military civil affairs units from the Army, Navy, and Air Force were housed here. The 114th was separate from them because it dealt specifically with agricultural renewal and not government or civil restart. All of their procedures were different, as was their staffing—heavy on brass—and no one knew much about what they did. With that many officers, few enlisted personnel ventured near them. Another thing that set them apart was that the 114th occupied the least desired locale within the building. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all shared the underground parking garage, but, the 114th had a small, isolated, walled-off back corner that had previously been an Iraqi supply room. It, therefore, had a separate vehicle loading entrance off the side alley, and that was how the 114th accessed their digs. Their vehicles were HUMVEES, sporting the standard M-60 machine gun mount and, also, non-standard extra armor and heavily tinted, bullet-proof windows.

The 114th’s offices had been cobbled out of the building’s massive main utility room, right above their parking spot below. They walked up a flight of stairs from their vehicles; this entrance was inaccessible to others. It opened into where the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning units were housed for the whole building. It even had a separate, outside main entrance, due to the service needs of the equipment stored there. Strange as it seemed, this unappealing locale had been the first pick of the commanding officer of the 114th; he chose this place for his unit’s H.Q. Then, unbeknownst to most, during the remodeling the loud, heat-generating mechanical units had all been reconfigured and a lead-lined false wall was fabricated along with one large, lead-lined room behind it. The lead walls stopped any kind of covert eavesdropping and were sheathed in a nice birch paneling. Major Hines sat in this room now. The mechanical stuff was on the other side of the wall, facing the unoccupied but occasionally inhabited office. There were five desks with assorted office paraphernalia adorning them in the false office. The outward façade of narrow office space was excruciatingly loud and unbearably hot, but it was all part of the camouflage of the outer offices; no personnel of the 114th really ever used the place.

Outsiders figured that the only saving grace for the 114th was that the personnel were out of the office most of the time. All doors on U.S. military occupied buildings within hostile areas are kept locked because it’s too easy for somebody to open the door and toss in an explosive device. So it was that the 114th’s area was so loud that a bell had to be installed at the door to notify anyone inside of visitors. Right now, on that outside door there was a sign saying: CLOSED –PERSONNEL IN THE FIELD; it was a sign that hung there most of the time.

But the people attached to the 114th didn’t mind any of this because their real office—the large operations room—was behind the heavily insulated false wall. It was quiet and comfortably cool back there. Maps decorated the walls, and there were various computers, radios, satellite phones and coding machines on the desks and tables. But none of this was ever seen by outsiders. Most of the 114th’s personnel were hardly ever there to receive guests, either. As far as anyone knew, they were always ‘out in the field,’ teaching Iraqi farmers how to grow crops. Few visitors had business with them, even fewer bothered coming around and ringing the bell on the door. Instead, they called, and if they didn’t get a live body, they left a message, which was always returned by the staff of the 114th. That was just the way it was because the members of the 114th seemed to be attuned to growing plants—not fighting the war. For instance, on Major Hines’ digital camouflage uniform blouse, he wore only the 114th unit patch on his left shoulder and the service branch and his last name on his chest. That was because that’s all you would expect a Major in the AAD to wear.

So, for all outward appearances, the 114th AAD was just what it purported itself to be—a specialized Agricultural Affairs Detachment of the U.S. Army. In reality, it wasn’t into farming very much at all. What planting they did was done with combat knives. They only plowed furrows with high density explosives. And, although they did know a little agriculture that they could teach to rural people, what they really knew well about fields...had to do with fire.

Thus, while Major Hines and all of the others in the 114th wore a regulation Kevlar helmet here in Iraq, back in the world...they wore a Green Beret. And, although you might never know it, Major Hines was entitled to wear many designations of his military accomplishments: such as the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge with Clusters), Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, Jungle Warfare, Combat Jump and HALO wings and many other assorted and distinguished medals, badges and patches. He didn’t wear those devices in Iraq because the 114th AAD was actually a covert little military intelligence unit, part of an outfit codenamed, Gray Fox. And, in addition to being a member of the U.S. Special Forces, Hines was aide to a two-star general. The phone on Hines’ desk rang as he was taking a swallow of coffee. He set the cup down and picked up the phone.

One fourteenth AAD, General Sanchez’s Office, Major Hines speaking. May I help you, sir?

Ray, it’s Maria Sanchez. I need to speak with him, right now, please! Is he there?

The Major immediately recognized the woman’s voice and the urgency in her inflection. He snapped his eyes across the room to where the general sat at his desk, reading from his laptop. He spoke into the phone as he watched the general rise up and turn around. The general placed his hands on his hips and looked up at the huge map of Iraq that covered the whole back wall. Hines answered right away.

Yes, ma’am. He’s right here. Please stand-by. He quickly punched a hold button and looked over. Sir, it’s your wife, on two. Sounds important, General.

Major General Juan Sanchez turned around and looked at Hines, his brows furrowing as he switched from one train of thought to another. He bent down, picked up the phone and punched a button. Maria? What’s up, honey?

Hines shot a glance at Captain Wayne Russell, who was looking up from a report that he’d been reading. Then, Hines looked toward Captain Brian Shamanski, who was inserting pushpins on another large wall map. All three men watched the general, and they knew that something was not good. A dark look crossed their boss’s face. They saw the color drain from the flag officer’s complexion, and they watched as the man sat down heavily in his chair. Hines took to his feet and stood close to the desk at the ready. As he listened to the one-sided conversation, he couldn’t make out much of it. But something back home was very definitely wrong.

His commander listened; his face took on a pained expression. He heard the general say, Ohhh. But what...? Okay, okay, now, baby. Take it easy. I know, I know. The officer listened and then asked, Who is he to her? The general snatched a piece of paper. Okay—say it again. Yeah. Spelling? He scribbled while he talked. He looked at what he wrote. Pukaskwa? Hey...I think that’s Ely Sto...What? Uh, never mind—not important right now. I’ll tell you later. Listen, I’m come’n home. We’ll find her—we will—okay? You have to settle down, honey—okay?

Hines watched the general’s features crease, shades of worry crossing his face as he finished his call, placating his wife with many assurances. Sanchez hung up the phone and sat looking down at the floor for a few seconds. When he looked up, he looked right at Hines. The fear he felt was plainly evident to all three staff officers in the room and that disturbed them to no end. General Sanchez said, I have trouble at home. I’m head’n stateside.

The general stood quickly and spoke to Hines in staccato orders. Get me the old man at SOCOM, and the general at CENTCOM—quick, and in that order. His mind racing, he rubbed a hand over his jaw and stared at the floor again for a second, thinking. Hines was already patching through a call on a secure satellite phone link when, his face set, the general looked up sharply at Captain Russell. Wayne, find Colonel Tenker—tell’em to get in here, ASAP. Let him know that I’m leavin’, right away, on emergency leave. He’ll have command and I need to pass stuff on and brief him PD-assed-Q.

He watched as the captain immediately paged his second-in-command, but he wasn’t really paying attention—he was putting more things together in his head. Damn! He remembered that he didn’t have his little book of contact numbers today. He’d left them back in his room because he’d only planned on being in the office for a short while. He now looked at Captain Shamanski.

Brian, I need a fast ride back to the world. Get me on board the next one headed that way, I don’t care if it’s only cargo space in a C-130, just get me on it, as soon as possible. Uh...yeah, I need transport to my home in Virginia, then I’ll need immediate transport for both my wife and me to...uh, he glanced at his notes, somewhere called Manistee, in Michigan. He nodded for emphasis. I also need the contact number for a guy—retired Coast Guard—livin’ somewhere in Michigan—I think...the upper part. Name’s Stone—Ely Stone. He was pointing a finger with his right hand while accepting the phone from Hines with his left. I need Stone’s contact info—yesterday—Copy?

The captain was nodding and already picking up his phone to start the search as he stated soundly, Affirmative, sir.

The general put the receiver to his ear and spoke, trying to control his voice as he said, Sir, it’s Juan Sanchez. Yeah, good, sir. General, I need emergency leave—pronto. I...uh...I have a family situation, back home, that mandates my presence.

He listened while the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida asked him what was going on. His mind was racing with images that he didn’t want to see. He squeezed his brow together with his free hand, trying to rid himself of the pictures. He was too scared to get his words out properly and they flooded forth in fear-choked cadence. My daughter’s missing, sir. He answered, No word now. No, sir. They’re saying it looks like a kidnapping. So, I gotta go. He answered another of his boss’s questions, No—unknown at present, sir. I’ll have a better idea once I’m there. He listened and then responded, It’s possible that she may’ve—we just don’t know. I need to be there, on the ground, with my wife. Sanchez bit his lip, his eyes moist. I need to rotate home, sir...ASAP.

The three other officers in the room looked at each other with concern. They’d worked with the general a long time and the one thing they had never, ever witnessed in the man...was fear. The general was scared. They snapped their eyes back to him as he spoke again.

Sanchez nodded as he cupped the receiver to his ear. Yes, sir. Colonel Tenker’s on his way in. Yes, sir—I will. He nodded. Right. As soon as I learn anything, I will advise, sir. Thanks. He nodded again. I will, sir, and you, too. Goodbye. He hung up the phone while accepting a sheet of scratch paper from Captain Shamanski.

The Captain said, I think that’s the contact info you want, sir. Coast Guard HQ in D.C. says they have this guy, Stone, as a retired Warrant, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And about the flight—I’m not sure, but there was an Air Force Lear Jet running priority mail to London—flying out around noon. If we get you on that then you can probably catch a quick ride home out’ve Heathrow. I’ll work on it.

Sanchez nodded his head. Okay, thanks. See to it. He looked at the paper he’d been handed. It had a name, address, and several phone numbers on it. Then, looking at his watch, the general saw that it was late at night back there. This couldn’t wait. He picked up the phone again, and punched in a 906 area code and the numbers following it. It rang several times and then was picked up.

Sanchez recognized the voice that answered; he shivered and sighed with gratitude. Ghost?...It’s Sanchez. Juan Sanchez. His words cracked with emotion as he gripped the phone with a force that turned his knuckles white. Sonavabitch! Man...I’m glad that you’re there. I need help and it’s in your AO. His voice choked again. Somebody’s taken Angelina, Ghost. Angelina is missing and it looks like somebody abducted her...from somewhere near you, in Michigan. There’s...uh...been a string of murders there...some kinda serial killer thing—I don’t know what the fuck ta think. Motherfucker, Ghost! Some bastard’s taken my baby and this shit doesn’t sound good, man. It doesn’t sound good.

* * * *

The Stone Cabin

I hang up the phone, left-handed, and stare at the log wall across the room. I’m still fingering the little Glock in my other hand. Fuck, here it comes again. I feel the shinkakee rolling over me anew, just like The Blob covered people in that old Steve McQueen horror movie. Still, nothing had eaten me on the way back from the river or after I’d gotten inside. Well, not yet, anyway. I think I’m going to be okay. Um-hmm, that’s what I get for thinking. I raise my free hand and finger the little leather pouch around my neck. It’s my maskiki piwaka—or medicine pouch.

After seeing old Rover and dropping Brutus, the trout, I’d hustled back home. I mean, I like dogs, but I like them much better on a leash—know what I mean? I entered my old cabin like a bullet and went straight to the cubbyhole I have next to my bed and withdrew the little pistol. Then, I sat there, in the kitchen, for hours, watching the door and windows, allowing river water and shinkakee to drip all over the floor. Once again I figured that without silver-tipped ammunition for the gun, I probably couldn’t kill the thing if he did come. And yet...loud noises scare some canines—don’t they? The Glock is a .40 caliber and it makes a lot of noise when one is squeezed off. So maybe...? Yeah, sure. You bet. Fear is a patient animal and mine had been more than happy to sit there with me, all night if need be. When nothing had come scratching at the door, the shinkakee had dissipated, and common sense made my pet fear go lay down. So, I’d gotten up and changed out of my wet pants. I drank a beer, letting the memories flood through my mind. The shinkakee had gone, but now...it was back again. Oh, how wonderful. But, the really curious question was...why, why was it back?

When I’d been talking with Juan, I couldn’t tell him what was going on here, in my little piece of the world, and in my little mind. The last thing he needed was to hear that a shooter he has in-place is some kinda nut. That poor guy has enough anguish as it is. He sure doesn’t need to hear that I’m having psychotic episodes of imaginary little doggies. My mind immediately flashes on images from earlier—the hot, carnivorous breath, the big, four-legged man-dog thing...looking at me with glowing eyes...I shiver and utter out loud—Fuck! I shake my head to clear the pictures and return to Juan’s problem.

Sanchez knows—as I do—that I’ll help him find his daughter and that I won’t quit until she’s found—no matter what. Everything—including that dumb-assed dog apparition—goes to the back burner—everything. But, man...this thing has spooked me, and I’m having a heck of a time shaking it. Why? It sure ain’t like it’s any weirder than...Oh, who am I trying to kid? Hell yeah, it is. Damn! My thoughts take in the situation that Juan’s relayed to me, and, while I didn’t say as much to him—he’s right. It doesn’t sound good—not even a little bit. Time, in any crime, is critical, and in a kidnapping, it’s even more so. I didn’t tell the general about the apparition and, I hiccup a laugh because, hell, who could I tell, anyway? My mind flashes on an old man’s face and I think...well...maybe one person. My mind decides that I must’ve imagined it—that must be the case, right? It’s just too stupid to be anything else. It was just the dark and shadows, playing tricks on me. Yep, that had been my deduction...right up until the phone rang and it’s old Lt. Colonel Sanchez. Keeeee...ripe!

I shake my head a little. It ain’t colonel anymore, is it? Nope, he was Colonel Sanchez when we’d last worked together, on the Trojan Team. He was our last C.O. before we disbanded; he’d taken over the black DIA team from old Colonel Halloran. I know that Juan made brigadier general, and shoot, with the war in Iraq, he might even be a two-star today—a major general. I haven’t talked with him for quite a while. The first time I ever met him, it was on a nasty, wet beach in Viet Nam. The Chinese had invaded the country that we’d spent over a decade fighting and dying in. Sanchez was a butterbar second-lieutenant back then, just out of Green Beanie School (Army Special Forces training). He was sent in to monitor the Reds in their hostile take-over of ‘Nam. A team of navy SEALs and I had been sent ashore to pick him and another Green Beret up. That’s where I got the nickname of Ghost—on that nasty-assed, Vietnamese beach, on that dark, rainy night. And now, all these years later, the youngest of his five kids had disappeared or been kidnapped.

My mind steps sideways and I remember that the last time I saw Angelina had been a little over four years ago, at her high school graduation party. That had been in Virginia, at Juan and Maria’s house. Now, she’s a college graduate, with a job at the Ottawa Casino downstate in the town of Manistee. That pretty little thing is in trouble...missing or worse. The other killings in the area, that’s scary. I know Juan, and that boy’s going out of his mind. He’s flying home to get his wife and then he’ll fly into Manistee. I’ll be heading that way, too. But, I have to put some stuff in motion here, first, to get the wheels turning—yeah...I do. My mind strays back to memories of earlier. I know that it’s something, but...what? It has to be connected, doesn’t it?

I know that what I thought I saw...I couldn’t’ve seen. But now, the shinkakee has me enveloped; goose bumps rise in millions of little pimples all over my body. I pay attention to shinkakee because it often sends notice of something headed my way—and whatever it turns out to be—it’s usually not such a good thing, eh. That mean-assed dog tonight, well I’m thinking that he could be classified as ‘not such a good thing.’ I’m seated in the living room, next to the phone, on a chair that’s tucked tightly into the corner. I’m covered up with an old quilt, which leaves the hand holding the Glock free and clear. Unless that thing can chew through the logs behind me, then it can only come at me from dead-on, straight. And yeah, I know that this is stupid—sure I do. But you have to appease stupid sometimes or else it’ll go away and what would I do without it? This is nutty. I get up and grab another beer from the icebox and retake my seat in the corner again, to watch the doors and windows.

Tomorrow, I’ll pack up and head south to see what I can do to help find Angelina. I’ve been to Manistee a couple of times, back when I was stationed at the Frankfort Coast Guard Station, but that had been years ago. When daylight arrives, I’ll go out and check the stream where I saw that thing. Then, I’ll call on Amos Reddeer and pick his brain about this. Amos is our tribal medicine man and, boy, he knows stuff. He’s sometimes spookier than hell...all by himself. But, if anybody can explain this, he can. And heaven help me, but I’ve got a bad feeling that Juan’s missing kid and that crummy dog may somehow be connected. The phone rings again; I get few calls and I pick it up left-handed, figuring that it’s Juan Sanchez again. I’m ready for whatever he has to say. Instead, Amos Reddeer’s aged and wizened voice cracks over the receiver. And there’s something wary in his tone—something that maybe indicates trepidation. I don’t like that.

Raining Wolf...I fell asleep on the couch tonight, eh. Raining Wolf is my Pukaskwa name and he always calls me by that. But there’s sure something in his voice that’s troubling for me. He goes on, his voice intimating some kind of dread, which in turn...only enhances my little dilemma.

I’ve...I’ve had a dream, eh. I am too tired to talk about it tonight, he says. But, you need to know this now, before you begin. You are right. It is connected.

Dead silence now exists on the line and I say nothing...being way too busy going crazy and all. Then Amos asks, Did you hear me, Raining Wolf?

I’ve been silent—too scared to speak—so, I mumble out a semblance of the word, ‘yes.’

Uh. He grunts. Good. Then we will talk of this tomorrow, okay?

My hand is hurting, but then...I’m subconsciously trying the crack the receiver by squeezing it, too. I order my hand to lessen its grip as my mind whirls away. Well, there you go. Just what I needed. Regular shinkakee isn’t good enough, I guess—nope. I needed something to get my heart racing just a little bit faster. Sure, I did. My mind is going: spitter-spatter—here—and spitter-spatter—there, in abject craziness. ‘Connected?’ How does he...? I don’t know what to think as I stutter out, Uhm...yeah. That’s...uh...probably a good idea, Amos. I clear my throat, trying to get some kind of grip on what’s going on—just to keep some sort of reason—shit! Any reason. I wanted to talk to you, too.

He’s quiet for a beat, then, Yes, I know. It is not good...what is coming, Ely. It is not good, eh. But, now you must sleep. I am afraid that you will have long nights ahead. Then he chuckles, like there’s anything funny about this crap. Oh, he says, you don’t have to stay on guard, either. It will not come again tonight. So, you get out of that chair and go to bed, eh. I will talk to you in the morning. Goodnight.

I’m shivering a little as I choke out a faded good night. Then, I take the phone away from my ear and stare at it bug-eyed. After a bit, I hang it up and look at the gun in my other hand. My heart is slowing some, as I feel my eyebrows peak. I figure, heck, I might as well hit the sack because, shoot, Amos says...that I won’t get eaten tonight. My head falls to my shoulder, and I think, that’s nice. I twist my eyes back to the phone. Amos lives in a cabin, just like mine, on his forty acres of Reservation Tract Land, about a mile from my place. The distance between us is choked with think timber and scrub, denser than all get-out, and only divided by a small feeder stream that empties into the Yellow Dog River. He doesn’t own a cell phone and was calling me from his living room. No freaking way! There’s no way that he could’ve seen me in this chair, much less known what I was thinking so...? I feel my eyes glaze as I mentally mumble, ah, what’s the use—never mind.

I pull the quilt off and stand, staring at my reflection in the window across the room. I point at that guy and say, my voice jittery in the log-walled room, "See, that’s what I mean. That guy’s spooky as hell...all by himself. Now, what the fuck does he mean that it’s connected? Is he saying that...it...is that mutt I saw out there and that it...is real? Is that it, or what? And if it is...then what the hell is it...connected to? I follow up with, Angelina?"

The face in the glass looks just as confused as me. Shit, I frown. That silly ass in the window doesn’t know the answer—any more than I do. I count off my fingers, one at a time, as I continue this reflective discourse. "Okay, one. I see little Fido out there and he damn near rips my neck off. Two, my old teammate calls me and says that his little girl is missing, and, three...old Amos calls, and tells me that...it’s all connected and that it...won’t eat me tonight. I nod vigorously at my friend who is agreeing just as adamantly with me. I spit out, Yeah, well...Bullshit! Whatever’s going on—it sure as hell ain’t good—that much I know! I turn mean, addled eyes on my friend in the glass. Shit, man—hell yeah, it’s connected. I know that. You think I’m stupid, or what? I stare at the image, which, suddenly, looks like a crazy man to me. Then I drop my voice. Okay...don’t answer that one.

Chapter 2: It won’t even get to bark, much less bite.

Same Place—Later Time,

The Stone Cabin

It’s still early morning as I stand in the kitchen, munching on breakfast, and waiting on Amos Reddeer’s arrival. There is an unusually warm summer breeze wafting through the screen. My prayers had been jumbled this morning—twisting from thought to thought in rapid succession because of my little psychotic episode. I got through them, eventually, fingering the maskiki piwaka around my neck and almost worrying the thing to pieces. Man, if ever I needed the little bag’s medicine—it was now. This abnormal fear is paralyzing for me; I ain’t used to it, but I can’t seem to set it aside.

I didn’t sleep much, and, as usual, dreams had pervaded what sleep was there. Last night was a mixture of old scenes intermixed with new scenes of my strange doggie friend. For some reason, my brief stint in Panama was the prevailing theme. Images from back then were interspersed with that big black canine in the oddest places. Oh well. I take a swallow of coffee, take another bite of meat, and switch mental gears. The heat of the breeze has already whisked away any dew outside. The day is going to be warm. Amos had called before dawn, saying that he would be here early today. He sounded troubled, and well...that’s troubling for me. Yep, if ole Amos is troubled, then what kind of problem does that mean for li’l ole me, I wonder?

I finish chewing and swallow, mentally shaking it off, shifting gears to my ‘to-do’ list. I’ve made a few calls, setting things up that I’ll need, and my old flight bag is packed and sits on the porch. I stare out the window while I sip my coffee, my mind going there again...the place I don’t need it to go. What I’m looking at is the trail that I’d skittered back on last night—the trace that leads to the river. The deep greens of the tightly intertwined foliage cast cool shadows into the dense woods. The greens almost cover the entrance of the trail. It’s already warm, and the small path, nestled as it is in shady environs, looks inviting. The scene leads me to believe that nothing sinister could possibly be beyond the entrance. Um-hmm, but, man, my experience sure leads me to feel differently—boy...does it ever. I shake off a slight shiver.

I’ve only been back in Michigan for about a week. I’ve avoided almost everyone that I possibly could, except two people—Amos and a girl. I’ve been in Hawaii, on the Big Island, recuperating and trying very hard to put things into some kind of perspective. Last winter, I went there to check on a piece of property that the Band had acquired on the Island. Once there, I’d gotten all tangled up with terrorists and US Treasury agents, and all kinds of scary-assed stuff concerning that assignment. But, mostly I’d been ‘Visiting with the Grandfathers,’ and boy...was that ever a mind-altering trip. Once the little case closed, I spent the winter soaking up sun and sanity in those inviting environs. I utter a small curse that, when I do come back home, I have this nonsense happening to me. Geeze, man, I hate to complain, but come on...why can’t I catch a break? My eyes are still on the trail outside the window as my thoughts meander back to it, and I chew again. First thing this morning I checked all around the cabin and found no doggy tracks. That made me feel good, but then...they say that the mentally unstable are often happy—don’t they?

I look at the batter-fried squirrel leg in my hand and bite off the last of the meat. Then, I drop the bone on the plate—these are the remnants of the meal I fixed yesterday afternoon before heading out to fish. I step over to the sink, rinse off my hands and swallow coffee to wash it down. I quickly wash the plate and set it on the counter to dry. Then, I fire up a hand-rolled. I stand and smoke for a while, lost in troubled thoughts. Finally, I pull up the cigarette and draw the last of the smoke, inhaling deeply. I called Nettie—the girl that I’m in an on-again, off-again relationship with—to tell her that I am going down-state. I explained about my old military buddy’s missing daughter, and that I would be gone for a while. While she understands, she doesn’t like me leaving, because she thinks that we have ‘issues’ to work out. Um-hmm. Whenever I hear the politically correct word ‘issue,’ in reference to some situation, I always want to say, Gesundheit! So, I don’t know.

All I can say is that I sometimes get kinks in my neck or in a heater hose on the car; those have to be straightened, but that doesn’t go for relationships. We are who we are, and, although I’m satisfied with whom she is...I guess she can’t say the same about me. She’s a really good person, and I care for her, but she buys into a lot of what the world says. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned at this point, it’s that the two-leggeds of the world are seldom right about anything. But, I’m here, and, like the old shrapnel I carry around with me, she’s under my skin. I arch my eyebrows because the doc’s have managed to remove some of that steel from me. I reckon that that means that a situation doesn’t have to remain the same.

Adding kindling to this fire is the fact that I didn’t come back from Hawaii until now. On the Big Island, after that episode closed, she found me lying on the beach with the waves breaking a few feet away. She came after another of our little spats, and we talked until sunset that day. Then, we made love, for the first time, in the still-warm black sands of isolated Punalu’u. I told her I was staying for a while; she returned, and she hasn’t been able to understand my absence. She feels that I should’ve returned to Michigan a lot sooner because well...she was here and not there. But she hadn’t gone through what I had, either. After the bizarre trials in Hawaii, my head had more jelly in it than a Smucker’s jar. And, in truth, she wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain it to her now. How do you tell someone that you’ve been viewing life through your great-grandfather’s eye? So, that makes it even tougher—maybe impossible—I don’t know. Add to this flame another piece of fuel. She’s been seeing Alan Morse, the Tribal cop chief, and man, that makes the fire catch nicely. She says that they’ve only been out to eat a few times, and that it’s nothing serious. Uh-huh, so...I just don’t know. As far as leaving goes, she understands that I need to help a friend, and she accepts the absolute necessity of it. But, like I said, I really don’t know anymore.

After that chat, this morning, I made a bunch of other calls, setting gears in motion to find Angelina. I work as a kind of special investigator, of sorts, for the Black River Band of Pukaskwa. I took the job a few years back, primarily because the Creator was telling me that I’d sat on my butt long enough and that it was time to start existing with real two-leggeds again. I really didn’t want the job, and truth be told—I still don’t. But, when I’m given an order—especially from HIM—I follow it. That was the overriding factor. The job is independent in nature, and I get to work alone, much the same as I did in the military. That’s probably the only reason that I made it through a career in the Coast Guard, and it’s just as likely that a job like this in the civilian sector is about all I could do, as well. I don’t play well with others, will not stay on my rug at nap time, have a bad tendency to color outside the lines and never have anything for ‘show & tell’. But, oh well.

The first call I made, though, had been to my old computer geek buddy Gangues the Conqueror, aka Mark Kersman. Gangues is an old teammate from my time on the Trojan Team. Trojan was a black ops team, unknown and under wraps, run by the Defense Intelligence Agency. It was made up from