Magus

A young couple takes a hike on the Appalachian Trail that leads to the resurrection of an ancient evil. The rise of the Magus signals the return of forgotten powers to the world, and one man will rise to stem the growing tide of evil.

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6. The Best Way to Get Help...

 

Chapter 5

 

            John snapped awake to the ringing of the telephone.

            “Damn it, this is getting to be a habit,” he grumbled.  He winced as he stumbled to his feet to determine where he had left the cell phone after returning to the cabin after the adventures of the previous night.  The exertions of his flight through the forest had caused his legs to stiffen, and he limped and hobbled as he made his way to the small kitchen table in the rear of the cabin.  He had followed his nightly ritual of emptying his pockets after his exhausted and bewildered return to the cabin, so his cell phone was lying on the table with the other odds and ends from his pockets.

            John reached the table and started to answer the phone only to discover that his caller had disconnected.  He checked the display window of the cell phone and was relatively unsurprised to see Matt’s name and number showing as a missed call.  Oh well, Matt can leave a message, John thought.  Before speaking to anyone he was determined to have a hot shower and some time to absorb the events of the previous day.  He had been much too tired to consider all that had happened in the previous 24 hours when he returned from his wild flight through the forest.

            John stretched, and the movement brought a grimace to his face from the tightness in his lower body.  He had always considered himself to be fairly physically fit; however, he had not hiked or sprinted so much in years, so a bit of soreness was not too great of a shock.  He made his way to the small bathroom that occupied one corner of the cabin, kicking off his jeans as he went.  He stepped into the cramped bathroom, which was barely large enough to hold a sink, toilet, and tub.  He turned on the hot water and was pleasantly surprised to feel the flowing water become hot within a few seconds.  He adjusted the temperature to a degree that was only slightly less than scalding, switched the flow from the tub to the showerhead, and stepped into the shower.

            Fifteen minutes later John turned the shower off and realized with a rueful grin that he had forgotten to find a towel before stepping into the shower.  With no other real options, he stepped out dripping and tracked water over most of the small cabin before finding clean bath towels in a chest near his grandfather’s bed.  He dried himself off, mopped up the water around the cabin with his damp towel, and hung the towel across the back of one of the cabin’s two dining chairs to dry.  With order restored to his grandfather’s neat little cabin, John donned jeans, a tee shirt, and his work boots before sitting on the shabby couch in the “living room” section of the cabin’s single room to think.

            There were certain mysteries that needed to be dealt with and certain decisions that John needed to make.  To begin with, just exactly what had happened yesterday?  John had already faced the unpleasant prospect that certain of his views about the world would have to change.  Most noticeably he could no longer consider the things his grandfather had wanted to teach him as a load of superstitious crap.  And if he admitted that there could be more to Native American medicine than forest lore and the gullibility of superstitious people where did that leave him?  Obviously someone considered John to be a threat and several unwelcome suspicions were forming in his mind about the nature of the man he had faced and the altar he had found in the clearing in the mountains.  As impossible as it seemed John could not shake the certainty that the altar and the man were linked to his dreams.  And if so there could be serious problems, to say the least.

            In short, John knew he needed help.  But help from where?  John had studiously avoided anything that seemed to have anything to do with the supernatural since leaving Cherokee all those years ago.  Where should he start, and whom could he turn to for information?  For that matter, why did he have to do anything at all?  Why could he not simply bury his grandfather, pack his personal items in the truck, and place Cherokee squarely in his rearview mirror for the last time?

            The idea was attractive but John never seriously entertained the thought of simply walking away from the problem.  To answer his own question, there were several good reasons that he could not simply pack up and forget the whole mess.  First, John Raintree was not the sort of man that started something and left it unfinished.  Second, he owed it to his grandfather to see things through.  Third, that bastard Maraydel had tried to kill him and his pride simply would not let him walk away from something like that.

            John pondered the problem for a bit until he thought of an angle that could possibly help him find the sort of people that he needed.  He picked up his cell phone and dialed the number for Matt Running Deer.

            “Hello?”  Matt asked as he answered the phone on the second ring.

            “Hey Matt, this is John.  How’s it going?”

            “Good.  I’m glad to hear from you.  I tried to call you a little while ago.”

            “Yeah, I’m sorry I missed you.  I was in the shower.”

            “Don’t worry about it.  I was just calling to see if you wanted to grab a late breakfast.  I know your grandfather was your only real connection here, and I thought you might want some company.”

            “Yeah, that sounds okay.  There’s something I wanted to talk to you about anyway.  Where did you want to meet?”

            “Well Hardee’s came to town shortly after Harrah’s.  It’s not exactly gourmet food, but they make a pretty good biscuit.  Sound okay to you?”

            “Sure.  See you there in a half hour?”  John asked.

            “Sounds good.”

            After saying goodbye, John disconnected the call.  He grabbed his keys and wallet, and after a brief internal debate, also took along his gym bag with the pistol and tobacco inside.  He stepped out the front door and locked it behind him before tossing the gym bag in his truck and heading for the Hardee’s in downtown Cherokee.

 

            Matt was sitting in the parking lot waiting when John arrived.  The two men shook hands in front of John’s truck, exchanged greetings, and stepped inside the restaurant.  They had arrived just before breakfast ended, so John ordered a sausage, egg, and cheese combo while Matt had the bacon, egg, and cheese.  Over Matt’s protests John paid for both meals and they collected their food and moved to a booth near the front door of the restaurant.  After a few silent moments spent enjoying the tasty (but terribly unhealthy) food, Matt broke the silence.  “Hey, did you hear about the fire up near the Trail?”

            “Huh?  What fire?” John asked while carefully maintaining a calm expression to hide the nasty shock he felt when asked about the fire on the Appalachian Trail.

            “Oh you didn’t hear?  You must not have turned on the TV this morning.  It’s on all the networks.  The firemen seem to think some campers got careless with their campfire since there were no thunderstorms last night.  Anyway, there’s one hell of a forest fire burning up near the Appalachian Trail.  It’s burnt over 100 acres already.”

            “Damn!  Is it under control?”

            “They think they’ll have it out in a couple of days.  Must have been touch and go for a while though.”

            “Well it’s good that they’ve got it under control anyway.”  John devoted his attention to his biscuit for a moment before asking, “Hey, you said my grandfather was a little odd yesterday, remember?  What was odd about him?”

            Matt looked uncomfortable for a few seconds, but finally he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, everybody knew that Charlie believed in the old ways.  Some people, mostly the elderly, preferred going to see your grandfather instead of a doctor.  Everyone said he was able to cure or help most minor illnesses.  He was good with almost anything from asthma to arthritis, to cuts, breaks, and sprains.  And every so often he’d disappear into the woods for days at a time.  Nobody would see him for a few days and then, sooner or later, he’d turn up in town, looking a little more skinny than usual and wearing that same friendly grin that everyone loved.  He’d buy some tobacco and other supplies before heading home and opening his house again to a steady stream of the ill and ailing.  Like I said, he was odd…but very well-liked,” Matt finished apologetically.

            John nodded.  “Well, that’s about what I expected.  Thanks.”  He hesitated briefly before plunging ahead with the question he had wanted to ask as soon as he met Matt in the parking lot.  “Uh, this may sound like an odd question but, well, are there any other…medicine men…around here?”

            Matt’s eyebrows arched in surprise.  “I thought you didn’t believe in that sort of thing.  The people I’ve talked to that remember you said you and your grandfather used to fight about it before you left.”

            John tried for an expression that fell somewhere between casual and embarrassed.  He thought he mostly made it.  “You’ve been checking up on me?”  He hurried on before Matt could reply.  “Well, nothing wrong with that I guess.  Anyway, I was asking because I haven’t believed in that stuff since I was a kid, but my grandfather did and it only seems fair to him for me to find out what he believed about burying the dead and that sort of thing.”  He finished speaking with a sheepish grin on his face.

            Matt thought for a moment.  “I can understand that I guess.  Tell you what, I’ll ask around and see what I can find out.  I know there are some groups that meet in these mountains and up in Virginia too.  I’ll let you know, okay?”

            “I appreciate it.  How long do you think it’ll take?”  Realizing that may sound a bit anxious, John added, “I can’t wait forever before getting back to work, you know?”

            “Yeah, I know.  I’ll try to let you know something by this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest.”

            “Okay, thanks again.”

            Matt and John spent the remainder of the meal talking about the changes on the reservation since John left.  Harrah’s had brought an influx of much needed money to the local economy, and the tourist trade had also grown as the people of North Carolina flocked to the sole oasis of legalized gambling in a desert of Bible Belt morality.

            After a bit more discussion, the two men finished their late breakfast, shook hands, and parted ways.

            John stopped at the first gas station he found and topped off the tank on his pickup.  As usual, the fuel bill for the large truck caused him to give some passing consideration to buying a fuel-efficient import car of some kind, but he simply could not picture himself behind the wheel of a car.  He decided that he was just a truck kind of guy before turning his attention back to more pressing concerns.

            John located the phone booth outside of the service station and was relieved to find that the current interest in stealing the directories from pay phones that was so irritating in the Charlotte area had apparently not yet reached Cherokee.  The phone book was hanging there in its hard plastic cover from a thin steel cable.  Most of the pages seemed to be present as well, in both the white and yellow sections of the book.

            John briefly considered several categories before discarding them.  He finally settled on Religious Organizations as a starting point; however those listings were not very helpful.  From the list it was evident that the southeastern portion of the United

States was a great place to be religious…as long as you were Christian and not partial to the Pope in Rome.  There were listing for Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and a Church of God, but nowhere did he see a listing for a shaman or medicine man.  Not really surprised, he broadened his search, trying more oblique angles at every turn.

            Finally under the Spiritual Consultants category, he found what he hoped was a step in the right direction.  With serious doubts but lacking any other ideas, he dialed the number for “Madame Serena-Spiritual Advisor.”

            The phone rang repeatedly, and John was about to disconnect and head for his truck when a female voice answered, “Madame Serena’s.  How can I help you?”  The voice on the phone sounded groggy, and John belatedly realized that it was only 11:00 on a Sunday morning, a day when the less God-fearing members of the population (himself included) would often sleep late.

            “Uh, yeah.  I’m calling about a spiritual reading,” John answered in something less than his usual authoritative voice.  He still felt more than a little foolish about this whole idea.

            “I see.”  The lady sounded a bit more alert now, and John could hear papers rustling across the connection.  “How does a week from Thursday at 8:00pm sound?  I’m booked solid until then.”

            John winced.  “I was hoping for something a little sooner.”  Like yesterday, he thought but did not say.  “Is there any way you could work me in for this afternoon?”

            “I’m sorry.  That’s completely out of the question.  But if you’d like, I’ll put you down for 7:00 Thursday after next.”  Impatience was clearly beginning to show in the lady’s voice.

            John thought quickly.  “Well, what’s the cost for a reading?” he asked.

            “A standard reading costs $50.  As a special introductory offer, Madame Serena gives an initial reading at a discount rate of $40.  Now do you want me to schedule the appointment or not?”

            Fifty dollars!  Jesus!  Did he really want to spend that much money on the chance that the whole idea would not be a complete waste of time?  With a sigh, John realized that he was willing to spend considerably more than $50 to get some answers, so he made a counteroffer.  “Look, if you’ll work me in by 1:00 I’ll make it $150.”

            Suddenly the lady sounded much more pleasant, as well as a bit surprised.  “Well…um…let’s see.  You know, I do believe I can work you in.  Of course I’ll have to reschedule some appointments, but it sounds like you have urgent needs that must be met, and who am I to keep the spirits waiting?”

            “Somehow I just knew you’d change your mind,” John replied dryly.

            “What was your name again, sir?”

            “John Raintree, but this is the first time you’ve asked.”

            “Excuse me.”

            “You said, ‘What was your name again…?’  I said this was the first time you’ve asked, so it’s not as if you’re asking again.”  John was irritated about the mercenary way in which he had been treated thus far and did little to hide his irritation.

            “Oh, I’m sorry sir.  I didn’t mean to be rude.”  The woman’s conciliatory tone only increased his agitation.  What a greedy bitch, he thought.

            Keeping a tight rein on his temper, he said, “Look, can you give me directions or what?”

            “Oh, certainly sir.”  After receiving the directions, John grudgingly thanked the woman and disconnected.  He went back inside the service station and bought a street map of the reservation.  He returned to his truck and pulled away from the pumps to an empty space in the lot.  He unfolded the map and spent a few minutes getting oriented before he located “Madame Serena’s” street.  It was soon obvious that he had some time to kill since his destination was probably only twenty minutes away.  There was no use in returning to the cabin; he would no sooner arrive before needing to turn around and leave again.  He considered briefly how best to spend his spare time before returning to the service station a third time to ask the clerk a question and buy another cold Sun Drop to combat the heat of the day.

            With an answer to his question and his purchase made, John returned to his truck and left the service station.

 

            John parked the big Ram in a parking space in front of a small bookstore in downtown Cherokee.  He grabbed the tobacco from his gym bag, stuffed it in his back pocket, and walked into the store.

            An elderly man, obviously of Native American descent, sat on a stool behind the store counter, smoking a Marlboro.  John approached the old man with a friendly smile on his face.  The old man gave John an inquisitive look but said nothing.

            “Excuse me, sir.  I was wondering if you could tell me where I can find some information about legends and folklore of the Cherokee.  About other Native Americans, too, for that matter,” John inquired politely.

            “Sure.  We have a few books about that,” the old man answered slowly.  “Some of them even get sort of close to the truth.  What did you want to know?”

            “Well…” John hesitated briefly before deciding that the simple truth may serve him best.  “I need to know about anything relating to Cherokee medicine men, especially in regards to legends from before the white men came to America.”

            “Why do you want to know?”  The old man sounded a little guarded now.

            Again John hesitated, considering fabricating some story to tell the old man.  He had no idea of whom to trust and he certainly did not want to sound like a nutcase, but he had to find out certain things and his intuition was warning him strongly not to lie to the old man.  After a brief internal debate, he decided to risk telling the pure, unedited truth.  “Because I think something very old and very evil is loose, I think I’m supposed to stop it, and I don’t have any idea of how to do that,” John said bluntly, a hint of desperation unintentionally creeping into his voice.

            The old man studied John intently for several long moments.  John fought the urge to fidget under that intense scrutiny, forcing himself to remain calm and meet the old man’s eyes.  Finally the old man sighed and said, “You’re an honest man, and I like that.”  The old man stood up, then reached under the counter and retrieved an item that he placed on the smooth wood of the counter between them.  “You are in danger, and the knowledge you need can’t be found in a book.  Wear this,” he said, placing the item in John’s hand before continuing, “and come back here after running your next errand.  I will try to help you, or at least teach you to begin helping yourself.”

            John studied the item in his hand.  A thin leather strap formed a necklace.  This necklace passed through a loop on a medallion fashioned in the shape of a silver wolf.  Small chips of turquoise formed polished eyes for the wolf, and two thin bands of gold crossed the wolf’s torso and clasped a shark’s tooth to the back of the medallion.

            John dropped the leather necklace around his neck and tucked the medallion inside his shirt.  He looked at the old man and asked, “What’s this for?  And how do you know so much?”

            “The wolf is very old and he will help hide you and protect you until you can protect yourself.  And I’ve lived a long time and learned a little of how to see things that most people can’t see.  In fact, I learned most of what I know from your grandfather.  I don’t know much, but I think I can start you on your path until you can find your own way.  Now go on to your next appointment.  I don’t know exactly why, but you need to go.  I’ll tell you what little I know when you come back.”  With that said the old man sat on the stool and lit another cigarette.

            John hesitated, burning with the desire to ask more questions, but he sensed that the old man would say no more.  He turned to leave when a sudden impulse caused him to pause.  He turned back to hand the old man the tobacco from his back pocket.  The old man nodded and smiled approvingly as he took the tobacco.  Without another word, John left the store.

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