Authors: James D. Doss
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When they are ready, this is for
HESTER “TOADIE” TILLMAN
No; please do not ask. It would be less than charitable to explain how the unfortunate old soul got tagged with a nickname which suggests froggish features. Ninety-year-old ladies are not without vanity, and are entitled to their privacy.
But that polite designation might be misleading. In the interest of trustworthy reporting, it shall be noted that not everyone in La Plata County who has encountered Mrs. Tillman would characterize her a bona fide
. Probably not one in ten of them. Perhaps not one. Truth be told, the mean-spirited old crone is believed by more than a working quorum of duly registered voters to be a black-hearted, spell-casting witchâfor which dubious craft there is no overwhelming market in South Central Colorado. Yes, this does sound like deliberately titillating gossip, and so it may beâbut maliciously disseminated rumors, barefaced hearsay, and silly tittle-tattle are occasionally relevant to a significant current event, as is the case at this very instant, about a mile and a minute north of the Ignacio city limits on Route 172. Which is not a nice place to be if one is either trapped inside a severely damaged automobile or attempting to console the mortally injured citizen within it. Which unhappy duty has fallen upon oneÂ â¦
OFFICER DANNY BIGNIGHT
The aforementioned constable is a respected employee of the Southern Ute Police Department and a reputable (if displaced) member of the Taos Pueblo, which venerable New Mexico community boasts the largest continually occupied apartment building in the United States of America and (as far as we know) the vast entirety of the Western Hemisphere. But that advertisement is an aside for which remuneration is unlikely, so let us get right to the grisly business at handâwhich is an unforeseen and jarring encounter between Hester “Toadie” Tillman and Danny Bignight, which follows a far more jarring encounter between the sturdy motor vehicle Ms. Tillman was a passenger in and a medium-size ponderosa pine. No contest.
Even as we speak, the elderly reputed witch is about to be pried from the wrecked Dodge pickupâthe very same conveyance that her granddaughter was driving when a bald front tire (the one on the passenger side) meandered onto the shoulder to roll over a pointy chunk of gravel and pop (ka-boom!) like a pricked balloon. For the record, the driver will depart in the first of two waiting ambulances, which will (sirens screaming, emergency lights flashing) roar away speedily to Durango's Mercy Regional Medical Center. Therein, she will be expertly treated in the ER and survive with a one-inch scar to cleft her chin. This mark will serve as a lifelong memento of the accident and a reminder not to use the rearview mirror for applying shocking pink lip gloss whilst exceeding the posted speed limit.
But enough about the granddaughter; back to Hester “T” Tillman.
As a brawny state trooper applies the hydraulic Jaws of Life spreader-cutters to the crushed vehicle's roof, Officer Danny Bignight is doing his level best to comfort the old woman
whom he is deathly afraid of
. Mrs. Tillman has a few words to say to this latter-day Good Samaritan who would just as well have passed her by if underpaid SUPD cops had the same options as Bible-time priests and scribes. Happily, the attending police officer is not the immediate object of her dreadful declaration; Bignight is merely Toadie's intended messenger. The alleged brewer of sinister potions and caster of evil spells has a menacing communication for one Daisy Perika, who shall be introduced in due time. But let it be said right up front that compared to Miss Daisy P., Hester T. is a sweet, purring, furry little pussycat.
This so-called pussycat, still trapped in the crunched-up Dodge pickup, hissed at the public servant, “Now listen to me, Danny Bignightâyou pass what I've got to say on to Daisy
word for word
, or my curse'll fall on you and all of your family down at Taos Pueblo.”
“Yes, ma'am.” As the cop listened to the message for Daisy Perika, he broke into a cold sweat, his soulful eyes bulged like big brown bubbles in the white of an overfried egg, and his stomach churned sourly. As one might expect, Danny Bignight also swallowed hard.
Following her final declaration, Toadie cackled a crackly laugh, hiccuppedâand drew her last breath. Orâas old folks long ago used to say on dark nights in the flickering yellow light cast by kerosene lampsâshe
gave up the ghost.
Where a particular given-up ghost goes and what it does when it gets there remains an open questionâand one that is relevant to a forthcoming unnerving event which will create no small disturbance.
By the time the state trooper and an EMT had pulled the aged woman's warm corpse from the totaled pickup and loaded it into the second ambulance, which was perhaps six minutes after Toadie's final hiccup, Danny Bignight had retreated into the sanctuary of his SUPD unit and locked the door. As he wiped perspiration from his forehead, the Southern Ute police officer knew what Job One was:
I'll go see Aunt Daisy right away!
No, Daisy Perika is not Danny Bignight's aunt. As it happens, every Southern Ute on the res and most of the Hispanics and Anglos who reside in and around Ignacio apply the title Aunt to the crotchety tribal elder, who is more or less infamous in her little corner of the world, and mighty proud of it. If you were to ask Daisy, she'd tell you that if those do-nothing bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., were really on the ball, that honorary first name (Aunt) would be printed in U.S.government ink onto her ragged old Social Security card, but they are not (on the ball) and it is not (printed there).
Pleaseâdon't get Aunt Daisy started on the subject of government. Wild-eyed anarchists everywhere tremble at her heartfelt threats against all shapes and forms of authorityâand her stated intent to “â¦ push on the pillars till I bring the temple down on all those #%$*! parasites.” (Including those wild-eyed anarchists, whoâseen through Daisy's gimlet eyesâare merely hopeful bureaucrats in disguise.)
THE UTE ELDER'S WILDERNESS HIDEAWAY
Imagine yourself miles from the nearest human settlement, hiking along a dusty trail. All cares forgotten, you are whiling away a balmy autumn day in a wilderness which is both picturesque and forbidding. To the north, a slight blue haze shimmers over round-shouldered mountains. From those ancient peaks, miles-long brown mesas stretch out like a fallen giant's fingers, clutching at crumbling earth. Between the steep sandstone cliffs of those flattened heights, the patient forces of nature have worked for hundreds of millennia to shape the landscape that you see today. Gurgling little springtime streams, gray winter rains freezing in sandstone cracks, and howling grit-laden windsâall those relentless forces have combined to carve out deep canyons, wherein are multitudes of secluded, shady glades where direct sunlight has never beamed an incandescent ray on lichen, moss, or fern, nor shall it ever. Away to the south, beyond the mesa's grasping fingertips, the sun-drenched topography is gradually transformed into a jumble of rugged hills, isolated buttes, rolling arid prairie, and huge patches of nasty badlands that provide suitable habitat for those scaly, slithering serpents who will (when they are of a mind to) hiss, rattleâand then fang you.
But let us not be overly concerned about where we are stepping. (That coiled object half concealed in the dead grass is probably a discarded hank of manila rope. Or so we hope.)
This image is etched indelibly on your consciousness? Good.
While distracted by the panoramic Big Picture, you have passed right by the most important feature of this remote landscape. We refer to the well-known residence of that notable citizen whoâexcepting a few fleshless exceptions to be described in a momentâis the only human soul who has a settled homestead within the vast neighborhood already described, which comprises approximately forty-four square miles of the Southern Ute reservation.
But do not fault yourself for this understandable oversight. But just so you'll know where to look should you ever pass this way again, Aunt Daisy's home is situated
right over there
. Yes, on the sunny side of that low ridge and near (very nearly
) the yawning mouth of
CaÃ±Ã³n del EspÃritu
, wherein (so the tribal elder assures us) dozens of ghostly presences lurk. (We refer to the aforementioned “few fleshless exceptions.”) Not only do these spirits
they also (so Daisy claims) often appear to her in a more or less bodily form. Why are they drawn to the cantankerous old woman? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. As each year of our lives is recalled by unique events and distinguishable seasons, so the spirits have their various and sundry reasons for rubbing elbows with Daisy. But, that said, the lonely souls of the long dead reveal themselves to the Ute shaman primarily for the purpose of conversing with a warm-blooded human being. And the oftentimes cold-blooded Daisy Perika is, in a somewhat twisted sense, what a roving poker player might call “the only game in town.” Way out here at the mouth of Spirit Canyon, the Southern Ute tribal elder is simply the only person around.
Except when she has company.
Which Daisy does at the moment. Which fortuitous circumstance enables us to focus our attention on three more of the four primary participants in the forthcoming adventureâwhich has already begun (only they don't know it). NamelyÂ â¦