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A Simple Handshake
Alice C. Bateman & Clive S. Michie
Luke made his way through the trees, following the foot-wide path that was so easy to find in the daylight. But the day was fading fast. He started to get nervous a few feet from the safety of Bobby and their own clearing in the trees. The night noises began to set up a din, crickets so loud he couldn’t believe that so much sound could come from such a tiny creature.
A bat swooped down from a tree, seemingly right at Luke’s head. He ducked, shrieking, “Shit! I hate it out here! Why the hell would anyone want to spend time with all these freaking creatures!”
He consoled himself with the fact that Dan would have a nice big fire going, to help ward off the animals. Funny, thinking of himself feeling safe with the guy he was about to kill.
He reached the edge of the patch of forest between the two campsites, and was puzzled to see no activity. Oh well, he shrugged, maybe the guy just wasn’t back yet. Luke would wait. He’d watched Bobby build a campfire the night before, so figured he could do that all by himself, then he’d be comfy and warm while he waited. No wild animals should come near him with a fire burning.
Luke gathered some of the twigs and smaller branches that Dan had left beside the fire pit and made a small mound in the shallow, dirt-floored pit. Just as his first match flared, a flurry of white appeared, and settled down directly opposite Luke’s eye level. The great, round, unblinking eyes of the Snowy Owl stared at Luke, stopping his motions, arresting his breath for a moment, until Shadow ruffled his wings.
Shadow was the bird form being used by the Spirit that Native American Indian lore calls Old Woman. He’d chosen long ago to guard these woods, and their inhabitant, Eugene of the Cabin. That was how the spirits and creatures referred to Eugene. He was a being of strength and purity, and was protected by the children of the Earth, her creatures.
Word had been passed that the man opposite Shadow was there to harm Eugene or someone close to him, and that someone was probably the man whose traces Shadow sensed here. It was almost twelve hours since Dan had left in his canoe; his energy trails were becoming faint.
The two-legged creature seemed to pose no immediate threat, so Shadow flapped his wings and soared over the treetops, south and slightly west, to his friend’s cabin. Eugene always saved Shadow some tasty morsel for his breakfast.
The air he flew through created a soft whistling noise in his ears. Shadow could almost feel the warm heartbeats of the small creatures that were his natural prey. This owl body’s natural prey, not Shadow the Spirit’s.
The core of Shadow much preferred the tidbits Eugene saved for him. He sensed that there might be a special treat tonight.
The full moon rose slowly behind a hill to the east. Shadow silently thanked God for the sight that was always the same, yet always different. The same horizon, and yet each time the moon rose, Shadow felt more privileged to see it. He liked the dark nights when the moon did not come, too, that made the game of hunting much more challenging and exciting. He didn’t kill or eat any prey, but sometimes he couldn’t resist having fun with the body he wore.
Shadow seldom saw the sunrise. He usually had his head tucked beneath his wing, in the lightning-struck tree he inhabited. But it was only the body he preserved in the sleep-state of the daylight hours. His spirit soared and was free, unencumbered by the flesh and feathers he had to wear to appear in this dimension.
Shadow sighed inwardly. It was always so difficult to keep going back to the earth-bound state each evening, to do his duty. For many years now, that duty had been to commune with and protect Eugene of the Cabin, the tender soul with great power.
And now Eugene must have found a student, another special being, or he would not have been sent to Eugene. Or perhaps the newcomer was only for his large friend to protect. But no, as Shadow approached the familiar clearing by the lake, he scented the magic tea, the beverage to open the gates of the mind. The sacred drink. A student, another being capable of reaching a Higher Plane, another state of consciousness, or Eugene would not have prepared this tea.
Shadow swooped in to land on Eugene’s shoulder, his accustomed perch. As always, the big man pulled forward the front of his shirt pocket, where, this night, he had placed a tiny portion of magic mushrooms. Instead of being startled, Dan smiled broadly.
Ahhhhhh……. Shadow knew by this that he was to accompany the two men on their Spirit Quest. Eugene took a spoonful of the simmering tea, blew gently on the hot liquid to cool it, and offered it to Shadow.
After Shadow had partaken, Eugene wrapped a worn, folded cloth around the handle of the large metal teapot. He slowly poured equal amounts into each cup, a small amount into one, a small amount into the other, and then repeated the ritual, a few drops of the sacred liquid in each mug, until they were each half full.
“We’ll save the rest for a tequila mash that we’ll use tomorrow night, Dan.” Eugene paused, and raised his mug to shoulder height, elbow crooked. He was wearing a deerskin poncho now; the night was cooling quickly. An image of the third eye, produced in the Egyptian manner, was painted on the front of the knee-length garment. The image was centered over Eugene’s heart. The fire’s dance began to highlight different aspects of the eye as the night grew darker, and the flicker of the firelight took over from the light of the sun.
“We must give thanks for this as for all things. Would you like the honor of saying a small prayer, Dan?”
“Yes I would, thank you.” Dan bowed his head and said, “Dear Heavenly Father and Earth Mother, we thank you for your generosity, your tolerance, and your patience. If we could, we would change this world to suit Your needs. I give thanks as I ask also, for the strength and the wisdom to follow a clear path, and to help others.”
Dan was mildly surprised at what he said. He didn’t think the words, they just came out when he opened his mouth to speak. But when he heard them out loud, Dan knew he meant every one.
“Amen!” Eugene exclaimed heartily. “Well done! Couldn’t have said it better myself, son!”
Eugene lifted one steaming mug, and gave the other to Dan. Dan inhaled the aroma, something he’d never smelled before, earthy and musty, but with a certain tinge of scent that made it a pleasure to consider drinking.
As he looked down into the liquid, Dan saw his own reflection, perfectly clear, as if he were looking into a mirror. He was already more altered by the magic mushrooms, so didn’t see this as unusual. Lifting the mug to his lips, he blew gently, rippling his reflection.
After taking the first small sip, Dan asked, “What did you say this was again, Eugene? Besides peyote?”
“Quebenzas. It’s a fungus that grows on a certain type of dead tree in Mexico. Dried of course. Difficult to obtain, Dan, and for good reason. This little mug of tea will break down all the barriers in your mind and soul, lift you completely out of yourself, show you worlds you’ve never dreamed of,” Eugene explained. “You’ll appear to be right here, but you won’t return to your body for twenty-four hours.”
Dan raised his eyebrows and glanced around at the now-dark wilderness surrounding them.
“Don’t worry about wild animals or anything, Dan. We have Phantom to guard our physical selves. He’s never let me down.” As he talked, Eugene stroked the head of the black wolf lying on the ground beside him, within easy reach of his left hand.
By this time, Dan had grown completely accustomed to the wolf. In fact, after his initial shock at seeing him lying in the cabin doorway, Dan had accepted Phantom without question, much as he’d accepted Eugene himself, and now Shadow.
Dan felt euphoric, at peace within himself, at peace with the present company and surroundings. For the first time, he mentioned Shadow. “Are you going to introduce me to your white friend, Eugene?”
“Of course! How rude of me to overlook such a thing! Been a long time since I’ve been around another person, Dan. I tend to overlook the social graces.” Eugene replied. “Shadow here comes to visit me every night at dusk, don’t you Shadow?”
As Dan watched, he could have sworn that the owl’s expression changed into something resembling a smile, but of course he knew that wasn’t possible. He put it down to the few sips of tea he’d already taken, and the increasing effects of the mushrooms.
“Shadow, this is my new friend Dan.” As Eugene said this, the owl turned his head from Eugene, and gazed at Dan, keeping Dan fixed in his stare. After a minute, the bird seemed to nod in satisfaction. He touched Eugene with his beak on the cheek, as if saying thanks for the snack, and took flight to scout the area. He wanted to make sure there was no threat to the two men he was watching over.
‘Yes, two men now,’ Shadow thought. ‘This Dan is like Eugene, but a little unlike him as well. He smells of concrete, of the city. Eugene lost that odor when he’d been here a year or two; it will wear off of Dan in time too, if he stays.’
The noxious odor of the city almost hurt Shadow’s delicate senses, but he didn’t hold it against Dan. Beneath the smell, Dan’s spirit was bright and clean, unsullied. A pure heart that held a lot of pain. The pain would ease if Dan remained in this paradise, but Shadow had not been shown the complete plan for Dan as yet, so did not know if he would be allowed to stay in the woods.
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