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THE CLIFFS OF ARDUOUS EMIL CRISE

THE CLIFFS OF ARDUOUS

EMIL CRISE

Prologue

Have you never set eyes on nothing?

How was I to know

My heart belongs to her

Our soul to us

It’s a curse of the heart

It’s the gift of the soul

A cruel joke that passes.



How does one find courage

When the cost is another's will

A buried heart

A fire of eternal glow

I knew it could burn



But the fire melted the freeze

Cast our souls together

High in the sky we sailed

Our wings to weak

We fell from the cliffs like rain

Destined into the divide of the river

We knew then

Our eyes had seen nothing before the gift

How was I to know?

















CHAPTER ONE



THE CLIFFS OF ARDUOUS

Emil Crise



On the table sat a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of tequila, and a small wooden gun case with the engraved initials CJ across the top. "Choices . . . Choices," Stan said aloud pondering his next move as if the world sat upon his shoulders. Reaching for the tequila his attention diverted to the whiskey. His hand passed across his unshaven chin. "Come here my old friend," he said reaching for the whiskey bottle and pouring to the brim of the glass. Lifting the glass his sights caught the caramel colored leaves outside the window that perfectly matched the whiskey marking the passage of time. 'Another season gone,' he thought to himself sensing a lost he couldn’t explain beyond an impending feeling all that existed or mattered before, had quietly slipped away into the void of the past. He sipped the whiskey then pulled the old six-shooter from the case begotten by his great grandfather who begot it to his grandfather and then father and now Stan. A family loom whose ancestry included a Cherokee chief that took under his fold a small immigrant boy from lands an ocean away, who grew to be strong and feared. A local legendary gunslinger who once dueled with Doc Holiday. As the story goes from the local archived ledger, which few have read, both men too whiskered up to hit their targets gave up, ending the night snugged up to the bar drunk and in a celebratory state with no hint or remembrance to their original feud. This boy, once under the watchful eye of a Cherokee chief who rose to be a gunslinger was Stan's great grandfather.

Stan gripped the antique gun. The wooden handle felt worn, yet strangely matched his grip, as if it had been molded for his hand alone. He held it trying to feel the energy from its past. The notches on the gun handle gave mystery to its past owner. It was the only history he knew about his family, and it gave him resolve grounding him to a past that at best was more imaginary then factual.

Regardless of the history he had a bond with it perfecting his aim shooting empty beer cans and bottles at first, later squirrels, birds and chipmunks. He had become a marksman with it. His attachment was both a therapy and muse that haunted his soul. He pointed it at a squirrel outside the window " bang... bang" he said eyeing it up, then took a bullet out of the case loaded it in the chamber and snapped it shut.

Twilling the chamber, he paused, escaped in a thought for a moment . . . then took a long swig of the whiskey downing the full glass. He raised the gun and pointed the barrel to the temple of his head. Sweat beads formed on his brow and dripped downward merging with a single tear. He squeezed the trigger... it clicked. He took a deep breath then let out a sigh. The surge of wild uncontained adrenaline raced through his body. A kundalini movement. His hands began to tremble removing the lone sacred bullet from the gun. Carefully wiping the sweat from the handle, he put the gun back in the case as if lying to rest, a soul in its casket. He held reverence for the gun although he couldn’t remember the last time he felt that way about his own life.

This game of roulette had become his ritual set off by bouts of unsettlement. A funk of hopelessness, often hidden buried by his happy go lucky persona. He had tried the circuit of spirituality to try to appease his soul, glued to every word the pulpit preacher spewed from his mouth warning of hell fires and eternal damnation. But even one poor in math would find little logic in perpetual suffering for such a short skit on earth. He next turned to the eastern philosophies of mindfulness and living in the present. That only kept him locked in the emptiness that clouded his mind. This ritual or game as he called it, a byproduct to his disillusionment for spiritual growth, the answer to all that haunted him. A game that left him refreshed, reborn, a way to atone for his sins and misdeeds. Afterwards he was happy or at least felt different. It always coincided with Saturday sometimes in the morning sometimes at night, but always Saturday. It usually accompanied bouts of drinking, but not always. He believed the alcohol lubricated his courage to partake in the adrenalin gamble with his life. At any rate, he rarely pondered long over the sanity of the game under the influence of liquor before pulling the trigger. What he did know was the overwhelming jumps start or spark of passion that reenergized in his being right before pulling the trigger. Nobody or at least a few could know the hell he put himself to fell a bond or connection to continue living. If they did that thought alone would make those think he was crazy or at least confirm it. And as bizarre and unbalanced his little game would appear to those seemingly in control of their own life Stan was convinced it was the only time he controlled his own fate. He could go weeks even months sometimes three months at a time before needing to play the game. But eventually the impulse in a slow steady methodical beat simmering deep from within would trigger an impulse far too volatile to be kept at bay from eruption.

Three and half months had already passed since he last played. Maybe he had outgrown it; put it out of his mind, if that's possible, that is until his visit to the fortuneteller. It, the reading by Madeline was supposed to be a gag gift. Her place easy to find, smack in between rows of small two and one story box homes smashed together stood a gaudy painted pink house with blue trim, peeling from a bad paint job. In the front yard a large posted sign with big red and blues letters stood in the lawn. “Fortunes by Madeline.” The long ago abandoned driveway now a deteriorating entry filled with craters camouflaged by muddy pot holes, more grass then gravel, twice his car bottomed out pulling in. After parking, he walked around his vehicle, pushed down hard on the hood and watched it slowly rise, convincing him the shocks and struts had survived. “Good lord this woman needs to fix these holes." He muttered under his breath.

Reaching the steps, he nearly tripped grabbing for a rusted-out rail that gave way. Catching himself he wondered why her psychic abilities didn’t foresee a potential injury to her patrons let alone a lawsuit. Knocking on her door he was greeted by a short plumb older woman with large round earrings and black dyed hair seemingly long and straight beyond her age. A colorful scarf covered the top, decorated with round bronze medallions across the front. He surveyed the rest of her outfit. She wore black yoga pants stretched beyond its make, and a tight-fitting shirt, with a shawl draping over her shoulders that showed the outline of her bra working beyond its design attempting to hold up her very noticeable large breast. Her wrist adorned with wire bracelets and charms. Her fingers with rings of gold, silver, and bronze.

"Come in, you’re the professor, right?" She said half asking. He nodded at least she knew that much he thought to himself. She led him to a sitting room adjacent to a parlor that had curtains covering its doorway. It was a small room consisting of two Victorian style chairs and a black and white framed picture that immediately caught your attention. In the picture, a tall thin woman wearing a depression era long cotton dress stood next to a man, at least a full head shorter garnishing a pipe and black trousers with white shirt and suspenders, proudly holding a large fish, half the length of the man, tied to a thick wooden stick. “Wait in here. I'm finishing a reading, it only be a couple minutes.”

Twenty minutes later, Madeline who's dress reminded Stan of a misguided gypsy, escorted a younger woman maybe thirty, possibly forty, dressed with large dangling earrings and ostentatious gravies of makeup covering her face. She nervously chumped away at her gum, giving Stan a looking over and tracing his eyes glued to the picture on the wall. "Hum" she said cringing her shoulder inward and shivering. "Gives me the wellies seeing a crooked picture." She straightened the picture giving it little attention beyond its crooked position then flashed her eyes across Stan's body once more, winked at him and exited the door.

Stan's own attention diverted back to the picture. "That’s an old picture, isn’t it?" Stan commented.

"Ah yes my grandmother and grandfather." She smiled.

"Muskie. Right?"

"Sure is, told it weighed over forty pounds" She stood still, straight as one her age could, and proud, as her face lit up admiring the picture allowing an ancient memory to surface.

"Cool photo. Where was it taken?"

"Lily Dale village, it's where I grew up. It's in New York. The lake in the background is Lake Cassadaga. Got its name after all the lilies that grew along the lake. "

"I've heard of it. A carnival of sorts for psychics? You know like a carnival groupie hangout."

She frowned in disapproval of his assumed knowledge and arrogance concerning her work. She needed to correct him. "It's a spiritual compound, started out in the late 18oo's. My grandparents some of the first spiritualist that resided there, immigrants from Hungary, course didn’t have the same reputation back then it has now. It's considered the world’s largest center for the Science, Philosophy and Religion of Spiritualism. I guess you could say it's where I got my education. Anyway... Yes, very cool picture, and as they say, a picture tells a thousand words."

Stan took a good moment to evaluate the abundant shades and contrast of color portrayed in the black and white photo. Their faces void of expression displayed a sadness, their simple dress, the hardships of their era. Yet it also spoke of conquering strength. The Muskie being no less that of the antagonist whale of Ahab. A symbol of struggle overcome. A hidden joy and pride burning within standing straight and honorable displaying their trophy. “A powerful photo I must agree it speaks volumes. A simpler time I suppose, but one that required perseverance to survive." For a moment, the gypsy woman raptly glared at Stan's face. It made him uncomfortable.

"Something wrong?"

"Not it's just you look nothing like him."

"Like who?"

She fixed her eyes back to the picture. Staring could be conceived as an obtrusion into one’s life and she knew that better than anyone. "No one, it's not important for now. It's good you understand the power of a picture. The cards, speak the same way, one captures the past and tells the story, the other, the future, yet to be written. Do you understand what I'm saying? Regardless of what the cards reveal, you can accept it, or change it before the final picture is framed."

He nodded. "I get it; in a nutshell, you're not guaranteeing your work." He joked.

"NO!" She snapped back at him. "What I'm saying is only you can guarantee my work. I provide the frame, you the picture. What you seek is seeking you. Come it's time for your reading." The gypsy woman led him beyond the door curtains into the parlor, the window shades lowered to contain the darkness, lit only by an antique light with a large round red shade and a flickering orange candle scented with sage. "Sit," she commanded offering him a seat opposite her. A deck of cards sat between them. "So, what is it you wish to know?" she asked.

Stan shrugged his shoulders as his eyes slowly adapted to the dim light. "Nothing really. I guess... I mean... I guess whatever you do in these readings, it was a gift you know, so I guess I feel... I suppose you know... obligated to well... You know what I mean."

"Ah," she nodded her smile barely turned upright forced at best. She picked up the cards and shuffled them." You don’t believe in this." He started to apologies but she “shushed” him as she started to lay out the cards one by one. Stan watched her place each card on the table with the upmost care and respect occasionally stopping, leaning back for a moment, and casting a smile or disagreeable eye to the card. What held her interests on some cards and little on others, Stan wasn’t sure, but never the less she was entertaining.

After putting a row of six cards on the table, she took a moment to assess each. At this time, it came to Stan's attention that she had a lazy eye of sorts. In a peculiar dexterity, she had the ability to focus one card with one eye, while the other seemed perfectly content scanning the end of the table and beyond. Stan followed her hand and fixated on her steady eye trying to evaluate the where and how of her focus and that to which prompted her read. After all skepticism required some logic and he was more bent on proving her wrong, then agreeing she might be right. She spooked him when she looked up catching him staring at her one eye. “Something wrong?” she asked him.

"No... just..." He started to say blushing.

"I see you’re a gambler." She said in poignant tone.

"Gambler, good lord no," he muttered careful not to stare at her fixed eye. "Strike one he thought to himself." Not at all. I work too hard for my money can't see given it away."

She was feisty in nature and gave him a hard stare trying to evaluate him as well as the cards." Honesty is important in all my readings.” The smile dropped from his face, and she dug deeper into his shield of confidence. "It's not money you gamble with." His face flushed and his little glimmer of superiority whittled away. It caught his attention. He thought about his little game. She couldn’t possibly know, could she? She put another row of cards below the first row. Her eyes widened scanning the entire row then with a narrowed sharpened focus took time to evaluate each card. She was meticulous in her trade and practiced her gift with great care. "Your and old soul... I didn’t sense that when you first walked in." Again, Stan's eyes wandered to the table and back to hers.

"Is that good or bad?"

"Depends," she said matter of fact, pausing for a moment.

"On what?" Depends on what?" He countered trying to follow her eyes.

"On the next row of cards, I lay down."

This time both his and her set of eyeballs eagerly watched as each card hit the table one that understood its meaning, another bent on gauging hers for input.

"Ah," she said straightening a card and tapping her long black painted nail finger on it as if it might help divulge a well-kept secret.

"You followed her here.... That’s why you’re here." Stan squinted at the cards trying to make sense of it.

"Followed who? Where?"

"Hush," she said laying a new row of cards over the first ones dealt. Her head cockeyed. "Oh I see.. Yes, I see. She too is an old soul. But wait this queen of hearts, followed by the spade. That is confusing. It’s telling me there are two hearts. What did I miss?” She said scanning for errors in the card placements, “One shadows the other. One shadows the other.” She repeated trying to make sense. “That is puzzling.” She laid another card down looked at it then placed a second card next to it. “Do you live near cliffs?”

“Cliffs? I live in Kent Ohio. Lucky to find a hill let alone cliffs” He said in a dry quip manner and thought strike two, wondering if this was her best attempt to fish for information.

His sarcastic comment returned a look from her crooked eyes as if she was warning him the next pitch was gonna be high and inside. She flipped another card over. Looked at him, looked back at the card, and looked at him again. “You have a lock . . . or I’m getting some sort of key that’s important to you. It contains within it, the two souls that are one. You wear it on you?” She said perceived by Stan as half telling, and half asking.

Strike three he thought to himself. Definitely fishing, and terrible at it to boot. “Nope got the wrong cowboy.” He held his hands up. “No rings on the fingers, half the time never even wear a watch.”

Madeline shook her head. Her eyes more focused. She seemed a little frustrated. “The cards don’t lie. Maybe I have missed something. . . Ah I see it. Yes, now I see it. She wears it.” She said smiling and vindicated to her misread.

Nice comeback Stan thought to himself, now almost completely skeptical of her reading.

She put another card down, her eyes went full bloom on it and her hand instinctively covered her mouth... She paused, her face twisted in a horrific look. Only a blind man would miss the horror the card created on her face. In silence, she reengaged her eyes on Stan and shook her head in disbelief then laid another card carefully next to it as if its actions in itself locked his fate. A believer or not, her theatrics caught his attention. Stan nervously smiled but she returned nothing but disdain for the pattern emerging. Her crusty old eyes again focused on the unfolding of mystery hidden by the mosaic patterns of cards of the table in a last attempt to find a positive but truthful outcome. And as any master of their trade, worth their salt knew, she knew when to fold up the cards. She started to pull the cards off the table. “I’m sorry there is too much unclarity in my reading. I’m not able to continue. I can refund your money.”

“What? Stan asked, seeing her pull the cards now fully entrenched into her perceived game. “It’s over? That’s it? “I ain’t buying that. You know you saw something. I could see it in your face. "

She hesitated, collecting the remaining cards from the table. “Oh I see. Now you believe. Surely you haven’t become one of the faithful Carnival groupies you feared earlier? I’m done the reading is over.” She reached to snatch another card from the table.

Stan gripped her hand firm, preventing her from picking the card up. That cat perched comfortably in deep sleep sprung on all four legs arching its back and wiping its tail from side to side. “What you want more money?” Is this how it works. Some parlor trick to milk me for more cash?”

Her eyes burrowed into his, he instinctively released her hand. "You’re a foolish man if you think I perform tricks for cash, like a dog for a bone. But as you wish, I’ll give you what you paid for. But know this, the apple not always as sweet as we envision, knowledge to some can be poison. Before I share this, it is only how I see your future, once I share it, my observation becomes yours, and in-turn becomes your reality.” The candle light flickered, her one good eye floated searching the room for unseen spirits as it had been trained. Locking her attention back on Stan she spoke with a stern conviction. “Your end is near. You suffer two deaths.” She paused to glance at his reaction, wounding one’s soul was not her intent. She continued. “That to me is strange. But in death, is also life for you. You haven’t much time." She gazed through Stan and he could see the flicker of the candle reflecting in her eyes. It was surreal and downright spooky.

His first reaction anger, his second to dismiss her creditability and take back the reality he knew before entering hers. Anger and denial the first stages when death looms near. “I'm no business man lady, but your reading smells of desperation. I got a newsflash for ya, telling me my days are numbered ain't gonna do much for your repeat business. All of this is just borderline creepy."

Her eyes like an owl fixed on prey, penetrated his. “I warned you knowledge can be poison for some.”

He kept her gaze. For the first time, he saw her wandering bad eye glazed over and covered in cataracts. Part of him felt sorry for her, another maybe repulsed. He wanted to believe she was nothing more than a broken down old lady who got her jollies reading horoscopes. And in her case a sadistic one. Another part of him sensed an overwhelming conviction and honesty to her craft. He was a little flustered. This was the last thing he expected. Most folks visiting fortune-tellers got an ear full on pending love and money, not death. Stan softened his tone. He needed to know more. “Okay.... Let's just say for amusement sake, I'll play along with this little skit. When you say my time is running out, how is it running out? Are we talking today... tomorrow... next week … a year from now? "

"Why does it matter you don’t believe in this anyway. I'm done. There's nothing I can do for you."

She was wrong. Deadly wrong. Stan's attention went to the cards on the table carefully gauging their placement and design. He sought to break the code himself, get back what he came with. Prove the reading was just an orchestrated act for handouts. Then whether she would admit it or not, he would leave with nothing more, but pity for the misguided gypsy woman.

His tenacious behavior amused her, his reaction normal. Give'm good news and they could care less about the cards or their placement. Give'm bad news and they look for misreads in something they fear. Most soothsayers weary to confrontation tempered the bad news, repackaged it and sent their soon to be lost customer on their way with good tidings. But Madeline was different, she believed in her gift and as much as Stan wanted to believe it was only an act, deceit was not part of her makeup. "Do you think I would make a good professor at the university, you know teaching what you do?"

He shrugged his shoulders giving her a polite half smile. "I don’t know, I guess it would depend on your experience." He looked around the room. "I don’t mean to come off as standoffish but I'm assuming your education at Lily Dale didn’t include a doctorate in literature. “

"Exactly, I would be no more suited to teach at the university then you to determine what lies in front of you on this table. And tell me if a student who sought your teachings became frustrated, rejected all you stood for, because he couldn’t understand it or it wasn’t what he wanted to believe. How would you handle that? Would you concede and say he's frustration is proof he's right and your wrong?"

Her rational was dead on and Stan knew it. It was her game to play out, he had sought her. He either believed it or not, no harm in listening. He wanted to hear more. He needed to hear more. "I'm sorry. That was rude on my part, you didn’t deserve that. I came here for a reading so please, continue."

She patted the cat on his back, stroking it until it curled up again in a comfortable position on the table. Maybe to set the stage maybe to soothe herself. She cast a glance towards Stan. Telling someone their going to die, maybe as painful as hearing it. She envied those who found suitable means to survival hitting a time clock making widgets in life. “Readings by Madeline,” or a name thereof had plagued her family for generations dating as far back as her heritage went in Central Europe where her people were known as ‘Tent Dwelling Gypsies’ roaming the countryside of Hungary, with a traceable bloodline to the ‘pharos people’. “Why I keep doing this, I don’t know, even the court jester finds peace in retirement.” She reshuffled the cards putting a new row on the table, running her hands over the cards her eyebrows furrowed inward collapsing the rest of her face in sadness. Whatever she was sensing could only be construed as bad. Suddenly her persona changed, took on a stoic look void of any emotion. Almost as if some unknown spirit possessed her. Her hand rose to her neck and what seemed like an imaginary knife, slashed across her it. Stan shook her . . . twice. The second time she snapped out of the trance.

"Are you okay?"

She blinked a couple of times scanned the room to get her bearing back and refocused on the cards. "Yes," she took a deep inhale, letting it slowly out. "But I'm afraid the cards have revealed the same. Your time is limited. Now I am certain."

"How? When?" he asked his tone a mix of uncertainty as well as disbelief.

"I can't say. A short time is all I sense." She started to collect the cards again and a card caught her attention. She closed her eyes and placed her hand over the king of diamonds card with a reaper in the background. Her face again void of emotion. "Ah yes how foolish," she said as if she were having a conversation with another unforeseen entity in the room. "Death and rebirth, rebellion. Of course, I see the harvest moon, interesting yes, yes, I see that now.... it follows another. "She opened her eyes as if she never closed them, and started collecting the cards. Stan could only stare in wonderment to her revelation he said nothing until she started to pick the cards again off the table.

"Well?"

She looked up him. "Well what?"

"Are you going to share it? I mean twice now you’ve acted as if someone else was in the room. Something possessed you. A trance of sorts."

She gazed down at the cards placed on the table; there arrangement appeared to change as she remembered them. She had a twinkle in her eye. "Oh, you devilish spirits what have you revealed to me. Yes, now it is clear." She looked up at Stan, her face solemn. “I do not know how to put this other than your death proceeds another... the number thirty-five seems to keep coming up.” She paused looking down at the cards again. “In an aircraft. That is how it ends."

“Thirty-five days? Are you sure? Plane crash?"

"I didn’t say plane crash, but it could be. The cards only reflect your death is not on ground, or water. Perhaps you grow wings like an angel.” She said with almost a sadistic smile, then seeing its effect written on his face realized her poor timing of humor. Her dispositioned lightened, her approach more sympathetic. “I shouldn’t joke about such serious matters. I'm sorry,... this was not an easy reading for me.”

Stan eyes burned on the woman. "For you?" How about me? I came here thinking worst case scenario my girlfriends ready to leave me.” He shook his head from side to side. “But no! Mine ain’t that simple. You got the grim reaper camping out in my backyard with a parking pass that expires in thirty days."

"Thirty-five, I said thirty-five, not thirty. But I'm not sure if that is the days left, just a strong marker, a number that has significance to you."

Looking down he run his hands thru his hair then popped his head up. "You said I followed her here. Who are you talking about?"

"Yes... that is why you are here, I mean not here with me, but in this lifetime."

"Her? who my girlfriend."

"It could be... but that I don’t know with certainty. Whoever it is her soul your soul depends on getting it right this time. You must protect her."

"From what?"

Madaline pulled each card carefully from the table before engaging her eyes with Stan, she had conviction in her voice. "From you. You can't make the same mistake with her in this passage of time as you did in the others.”

Stan's hands went outward, open, confused. "Who? What do you mean me, this time?”

"She is the love of your soul, not a soulmate, much more powerful, a twin soul. She had work to do, you shouldn’t have followed her. She wasn’t ready for you. Now it's too late. You've forced this on her... on you. I'm afraid it's your last shot left. But it won't be easy. She has scars from your past, and her pain is creating pain in your soul neither is making it easy for each other. You shouldn’t have followed her."

"Making what hard the last meeting? And struggle what you mean by that how do I struggle."

She hesitated for a moment carefully searching his eyes for sincerity before responding. "That I can't answer I can only feel the pain. As for your struggles . . . it's that foolish game you play with yourself, cease immediately. It's not a game you win, its manifested baggage from your previous life it serves you no purpose."

"Game?" he asked more shamed then shocked. "I don’t know what you mean."

"Please, don’t insult me." She made a mock gesture holding an imaginary pistol to her head and pulling the trigger. "Your gambling problem."

Stan got goose bumps. He stood up wanting to leave. He felt lightheaded as the blood rushed from his head. He steadied himself on the corner of the table his skin flushed and white.

Her reading from the gypsy woman had been a gift for getting tenure as a professor at the university meant for amusement. A professor that had walked in the door as a young man and a future. And why would one see it as anything else then amusement. She dressed accordingly in rings and colorful pageantry. A true thespian to her trade. But telling one his time is near can't be good for business not by a long shot. Before he left her parlor, he turned to her. “You said she was the love of my soul and you think we shared a previous life? How do I know how, let alone who am supposed to help.”

She was careful how she answered, even she couldn’t be sure. “I can't tell you how to help her, but I don’t think you’re alone." She said fixating her eyes periodically on random spots across the room much like the cat in an indifferent manner had done all during the reading. "I see spirits around you, good ones, I think their trying to help you." Stan traced her eyes turning and staring in the same direction. She smiled her eyebrows raising. "None of this comes as a shock to you. You see them too, don’t you? That’s why you came here, your frightened by all of it." Stan nodded no, but his eyes reflected a different truth. "Very well, you have your reasons to disagree. As for knowing her." The gypsy smiled. For such a smartly educated man you don't know where to find the essence of yourself? How do you ever tell were you soul lives in another, her eyes... in her eyes you well know. "



CHAPTER TWO



Pulling to the curb of the airport, the driver, Butch reached over a gave her a kiss on the check. "You got you ticket and passport?" She rummaged through her purse in a hurry.

"Ticket Yes, where's my passport? "she panicked digging deeper into her purse. "Okay got it.” She said with a relief.

"You be careful over there.” He warned her.

From her car window, she stared at the people making their way into the airport, some hurrying, some dressed in two- piece business suits, others, shorts and flip flops. Her eyes caught the added security of machine gun armed guards, she was hesitant, her own face reflected as much. She looked to Butch for solace. Butch, the driver, had that crazy look in his eye, wolf eyes, blue and piercing that cut thru you. Maybe the look that first attracted her to him, he had bad boy written all over him, shaved head tattoos, but that’s where it ended. His subterfuge all a farce for his years as an undercover cop, before that, special ops in the service. Now at least rumored to be semi-retired. She at his side complimentary, tall blond with almond shaped eyes, and a body in her younger years found work in a strip club outside of Orlando. She turned heads no matter where she went. "I got a bad feeling about this Butch, I'm not sure I can go through with it."

"Racheal, we've went over this a hundred times already, it's the only way. You’ve got to do it."

Her look reflected nothing less than her fears. "If Marco finds out he'll kill us both."

Butch rolled down the window, and spit after coughing a few times. "Let me worry about Marco, he's stepped way out line on this. I don’t care what organization backs him, there’s rules to everything. And it’s my job to enforce it."

She opened the door, grapping her luggage then popped her head back in the car. "I guess if all goes well I'll see you in a few days."

"Just do as I say, it all go well." She nodded in compliance, felt her chest to make sure she had her lucky charm locket then hurried to the gate.

By the time, Racheal got through security she hustled to the gate, hearing the gate agent announce last call for emirates flight 820 to Dubai.

The agent about to close the door and walk her paper work to the captain stopped hearing Racheal call out. "You still boarding."

The agent turned and gave her a look of annoyance. "You on the Dubai flight?" she nodded yes. The agent shook her head, rebooted the computer, and in an almost cold scolding tone let her know she had inconvenienced her. "Give me your ticket.” She coldly demanded You're lucky you caught me.

"I'm sorry," Racheal, said handing the agent her ticket.

"Miss Moore?" Oh, she responded in a kinder and more accommodating voice seeing the gold member seated in business class.

"Is there a problem?"

"No mam, just take a second. I’m upgrading you from business to first class."

"Thank you,” Racheal said as she took the ticket and headed down the jet bridge. Settling in, the pursuer helped Racheal load her luggage in the luggage bin and within minutes greeted her with a glass of Champaign. Adjusting her seat to a reclined sitting position, she put on the headset, and took a moment to text Butch. “Made it.”

"Smiley face, good luck." He texted back as the 380-airbus lifted of the ground to Dubai.

CHAPTER THREE



Before leaving his house, he X's out another day on the calendar since his gypsy reading. "Thirty-four days" he said to himself "a measly thirty-four days." His walk to work, took him down the same path every day. Down thru old town. It was an eastbound walk and like most mornings the sun peaked its eye above the horizon slowly burning off the morning dew of freshly cut late summer grass. Today a soft wind blowing over the field of lilacs enhanced the morning greeting. It was a small-town neighborhood, one of old money, framed in with old red clay brick streets and manicured clipped green lawns, occasional doused with a yellow fever of dandelions.

Large colossal two and three story painted colonial houses dominated the streets decorated in high cables and crown molding trimmed in an array of light, blues, greens pinks, reds, orange, and even yellow colors. Immaculate landscapes of red juniper, and miniature forest evergreens, red maples trees’, low lying ornamental greens, and blossomed flowers of all size and colors, buzzing with busy bees collecting their nectar gave way to covered porches anchored by large solid white columns and a neighbor or two leisurely sipping a morning coffee from their wicker swing. Scattered amongst them proud Victorians. Some pastoral in colors, other blue, and yellow with long rounded windows and louvered Shutters. If Mayberry did exist, perhaps this was a cornerstone for it.

The path took him over the arched stone bridge spanning across the water falls. It was a small college town, and Stan had grown to love its simple life and the prestige his tenor as professor had provided him. Today after the reading he had less enthusiasm in his step yet one that seemed appreciative of each step.

He took a long hard look crossing the bridge over the grass near the river walk. His intrigue heightened watching the assembly of yogis performing their poses down below the arch stone bridge base in the grass next to the roaring river. It contained a mix of age. Some days no more than five attended, other days maybe fifty with a blend of imported students and locals tightly woven together in the small meadowland. But what pulled his interest did not lie in the numbers, but instead her smile that captivated her audience and eyes that possessed an untold mystery. It was a lure that he longed to bridge the distance, and learn her hidden secrets.

She usually stood at the front. Her energy drew you towards her. She could capture your attention. A grace hard to ignore. Seeing her would often put and extra step of pep in his movement. He had gotten to know her schedule and found himself walking the bridge hoping to see her. Today, she was nowhere to be seen, disappointed another younger man took her place at the helm.

In the back, he noticed a student Beth. She waved with a smile and he waved back. He felt the eyes of the teacher trace his attention. Only for a brief moment, a curious glance nothing more.

Reaching the campus, he glanced at his watch. He was early as was his custom. He had just recently got tenure as a professor teaching English literature. A craft he had hoped would propel his latest ambitions, writing. The writing was therapy for him. An escape from the boredom, a divergence to his life he found little joy in anymore. Regardless of having anything worthy to write, he had the drinking and melancholy of the greats, down to a T.



Sitting at his desk he noticed the ‘Readings By Madaline’ flyer tucked inside a card. It was a colorful insert and reminder of the gypsy woman s encounter. A reminder although not as intense as the day he met her, she was still haunting him and had her full attention. Booby cock he tried to reason. Pure horseshit, after all his life couldn’t be at a better place. His hard work had finally appeared to pay off. And for his little game, will that was all behind him, merely a phase, a dangerous one, but a game he was sure he was done with. Even his recent roller coaster relationship with his Partner Maria, seemed to hit level ground as she concluded her residence at the local hospital. Sure, they had acquired some debt remodeling the old home and combined with medical school cost it had put them a little tight but the reconstruction was in its last throes and stood out as his trophy of success. And her current position of residence at the hospital made everything seem on track. The nest, void of yearlings had all the makings of arriving.

Everything seemed perfect or as perfect as you could expect, at least on the surface the only place perfection could be expected to exist. But It was hard to deny something dormant had awakened by the gypsy. He sat down at his chair next to the window and watched students bustle about some with intent others more leisure in stride through the courtyard of the campus. He flipped his computer on, cracked his knuckles and in a half-hearted joke meant only for himself, he vowed for the sake of the gypsy woman to get to business finishing his novel before his time ran out.

He typed a few words hoping to gear up into the flow. "Her eyes ablaze with sonnets of light." he stopped stared reread his words then pounded his thumb on the delete key. He started retyping. "She held a muse deep within her eyes." He paused reread his words, shook his head, and then put his thumb back to work striking the delete button. He got up and poured himself a coffee while taking in the view outside the window again. His focus outside was without intent as his internal theme energized back on his writing, forcing him to sit again for round two like a fighter reengaging in the fight.

He stared at the screen, nothing came. The frustration grew, he was not used to writers block with this story. He muttered some choice words glancing over at the wall of framed accolades that covered it. Bachelor of arts in English from Hiram, Masters of Art in literary philosophy and P.HD. English Literature Dartmouth. On his book shelves rows of great literature After all he had a voracious desire to read as if it were a gift, he never possessed before. Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Crise, on and on the great books and authors continued… Ones which he had read and reread losing count, and if count provided a propensity towards anything he had a countless stack of fresh ungraded papers of uncorrupted minds neither swayed or molded in any direction waiting for his seal of approval or pounding of the anvil hammer against the raw iron of words, redefining the hot metal, drawn from his fire into a practical collection of words and stories. He the professor did this through critique, correcting, suggesting, and encouragement to students trying to master the trade for which he was the teacher and as his writing seemed to indicate a false prophet.

He pushed himself again; “Words keep em rolling. Write, it’s all about word count. Write and fix write and fix write and fix.” He started typing struggling thru a few more paragraphs. "Hum 150 words not even close to a thousand... let alone 150 bad words'. Fuck it.” He googled yoga Kent Ohio. Let's see, Amanda Margret, Mary Beth there that's her picture, Racheal!”

"So, let's see who you are Racheal." He typed the name in and like an eight-ball baring his future it spit out its search. One an older lady in Seattle another Facebook account for a Jamaican woman.

"Writing again." A voiced with an Asian accent inquired peeking into the room. The voice broke his concentration and he fumbled for his mouse closing his browser and simultaneously pulling the screen partial down. He shuffled through his student’s papers.

"Hey Sharia, I didn't see you standing there."

In the doorway stood a tall dark woman, thin. A runner’s body for which her and Stan had bonded competing in marathons. She kept her self-plain, in clothes and style, but had an intrinsic hidden beauty that occasionally sparkled from her eyes. Her Staff ID read assistant professor psychology department. They were intellectual rivals and often played a chess game of philosophical dogma. In her hand a foreign crafted object, with a webbed spun center.

"What are working on your book?" she asked.

"Was,” he picked the stack of papers up. “Now just trying to get through this stack of grading papers before my next class. What’s that in your hand?”

It’s a Viking dreamcatcher, made in Greenland. A replica from the Eric the Red era. Cool isn’t it?” She asked holding it up.

He turned his head sideways to get a better perspective. “I guess. Don’t you have enough Viking stuff from Greenland in your office?”

She kept admiring her latest buy, then chuckled. “I do have a rather strange fetish for this stuff.”

“Yeah, that and freaking WW 2 memorabilia. If I see one more Rosie the Riveter picture go up in your office. I’m gonna personally approach President Miller for some of his quote “painting budget” to bring his designer in from New York. “ They both laughed. Hey, you ever do any yoga?"

"Yoga?“

"Ya, yoga, you know stretching sweating the kind of stuff they do down by the river."

Sharia smiled. "No never done yoga. My father's big on it. Why you giving up running?"

"Maybe," Stan smiled back. "Just curious that’s all." Aren't you from Indie? Hari Krishna stuff. Don’t they teach you that before you learn to walk?"

She rolled her eyes. "India, my father's family escaped to Pakistan, or what would eventually be Pakistan, then America. Well France I guess before America. The Third Reich movement forced our last move to the good old USA. You can't put us all in boxes Stan. I know it makes you world so much more predictable. And Hari Krishna really? I was brought up as a Muslim, but left that a long time ago. By the way how's your book coming?"

"It's coming I guess."

"What's it about anyway?" she asked bending closer to his desk to catch a peek at his screen.

He glanced at the computer as if it were part of a conspiracy, cautious to share its mysteries. "Not sure started out as action adventure. Some down on his luck guy goes off to Alaska, finds these mystical stones... shit canned that story, then I switched over and started writing about some psycho serial killer Reverend .... scrapped that idea after a couple of months of work. Only thing now that seems to keep filling my head is strangely enough a western theme, you know cowboys. Set in like the late 1800’s. Guess you have to wait for the book signing for more details."

"Westerns? Nobody reads that stuff anymore. Do they?"

“You do.” He shot back.

She cracked a smile. “Yeah but I’m weird like that. My papa always says I’m too westernized. Says I got the spirit of an ancient cowgirl in me. Of course, he’s from the old country, every things a bit to westernized for him. I’m sure it well all turn out.”

"I hope. Thank God I still got my day job. Anyway, it was that, or a Christmas story and I ain't no Dickerson. Keep trying to bury it, but I can't get this story out of my head it's like, like I keep going back to it."

She gave Stan a compassionate smile. "You'll get it. you were destined for great things. Just remember us small folks when you reach the top of the mountain."

"Yeah, I'll scream out when I reach the first summit. Speaking of which maybe I can get you to help edit my first draft. That will be your punishment for asking. You can help carry me to my greatness."

"Good! Think positive. Always there to help ya. Just cut me in on the royalties."

“Hey, if I could sell some books at this stage of my life I’d be like getting a carnival ride right before the storm. You run today?” Christian asked seeing her in her running shoes.

Sharia smiled. "Five miles,” she pumped her arms to mimic running. “Missed you. Oh by the way how was the reading?"

"The reading?"

"Ya, you said Friday you were gonna see the gypsy lady. How'd it go? Or didn’t you go?"

Stan rolled his eyes upwards then gestured with his fingers, "looney tunes, nothing but looney tunes."

"Looney tunes! Really? I heard a lot of folks say good things about her. Maybe she had an off day, not sure if you noticed but you get two readings. And speaking of looney tunes, you seen Billy, my new program keeps crashing.

"No last time I seen, him he was at the gym waxing the floor, talking to coach Sembach about his latest conspiracy theory. You try the IT department?"

She paused in thought, nobody went to the IT department if Billie was around. Man was pure genius with computers. "No, I guess I'll go over there and round em up. Shame he dropped out of college. The man runs circles around everyone here including the Dean. "

"Agreed. But I think he was asked to leave. Seems the defense department didn’t care for his campus prank disarming some nuke silos.”

“You’re kidding me. I never knew that.”

“OH yeah,” Stan chuckled. “He was only fifteen at the time. A prodigy. He swears the secret government been tracking him ever since. Crazy, here we sit and teach the kids, and we got our Einstein pushing a broom. Well beware if your track him down, his latest conspiracies are dingers."

She tapped her chin with her index finger, pondering whether she had been blessed with Billie's latest revelations "Which ones? I’ve heard the government collusion with the internet monitoring every key stroke, and using algorithm to build profile’s on us. And I also heard the one about contracting foreign governments to get around privacy laws and spy on us thru smart phones and TV's."

"Naw them old ones. Newest is foreign governments hacking into our elections. And the super virus to bring the world systems down.

Billie’s latest concerns brought a smile to her face. “Oh speaking of Billie, he says prez Millers doing a surprise sit in in your class today.”

Stan’s cheerful day suddenly took a turn for the worst. His face reflected disgust. “Are you serious? I think those guys are out to fire me.”

“That’s crazy why would he want to do that?”

“I don’t know. I thought we used to get along fine, then one day you could tell something changed. Besides have you ever had three sit in’s in one quarter?” She nodded no. “And the Dean, I think he’s going through my desk. Shits always missing. I swear they got these rooms bugged.” His eyes scanned the ceilings. “Remember what happened to Sinchek?”

She smiled again. “Come on he was selling pot out of the class. Your starting to sound like Billie with his conspiracies.”

“Well I still don’t like Miller or the Dean nosing around in my business. How’s Billie find out these things before I do?”

“Ah . . . hacking. Come on he’s been doing it for years just for the entertainment.”

“Why am I even asking? Figures, mans too smart for his own good. But don’t hold your breath on me cashing the second psychic reading in anytime soon. Only thing missing was Rod Sterling from the twilight zone. I mean come on you don’t believe in any of that. Do you?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I got admit I had a reading done, and it was a pretty good experience. She seemed dead on.”

His eyes lit up as his mind dwelt on her choice of words. “Dead on and good reading would seem oxymoron in nature. I mean get real, she’s good at reading people. And either very persuasive or just down right lucky on her guess.”

Stan’s question seemed innocent enough but the seriousness of his voice made Sharia wonder if he had broached the subject matter with actual concern. Beliefs in the supernatural and clairvoyance dwelt more on emotion, then logic, and she usually always guarded her emotions around Stan, but the temptation of intellectual debate proved far too much a lure not to go down the rabbit hole. “I don’t know a lot of it goes beyond coincidence. Maybe somehow these fortunetellers zone in on our energies. get a peek into the possible outcomes in life. Kinda like the freaky science where energy waves are waiting to be magically transformed by our brains into particles of matter all entangled in a holistic world that you and I create. Of course, others would say no such thing. Self and free will is an illusion, we're really just programed biological carbon machines."

Stan put his grading pen down and looked up at Sharia. "I think Freud would be disappointed in that statement. Are you watching too much Oprah?"

"Can't help going there. Minored in physics, you know it's an Asian thing. We're required to have some background in it."

"Sounds like your boxing your pedigree up a bit, I'm glad you said it and not me." His attention went back to grading. "Hum, talk about coincidence here's a student's paper I think relates.”

"The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its un-chastened desires. Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own furtive of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit; bad thought, bad fruit." Stan savored the thought for a moment, then assigned it an F and circled it.

Sharia’s cast her eyes down trying to hide the carnal nature melting away her body as the word’s impaled her soul. Words she felt, but for now best buried. She swallowed hard and barely uttered, "impressive, quite a student," In a meek voice. His unperceptive nature allowed him to see none of it.

"Not really, unless he's James Allen reincarnated, I'd say clear cut case of plagiarism. The rest of the paper, he copied and pasted from one of my dissertations word for word I wrote on the poet. I wonder if he thinks I don’t even look at these papers when I grade em. "

"Ugh, I hate when students do that, not good." She said composed and back to full shield.

He scribbled out the 'F' and wrote 'see me on it!' "I got ride this one out and see what in this kids mind, crazy as it sounds, he kind of reminds me of myself as a kid. Anyway, in response to your philosophical outlook, I like your theory on being pre-programmed, it washes my hands of any responsibility. Because if this is the one I created...god lord what was I thinking?”

Sharia smiled. "Come on your life isn’t that bad. But isn't that the irony in life, we don’t seem to realize the power we have until we put ourselves in a log jam that seems impossible to get out of."

He reflected on her statement for a moment and nodded. "By the way I meant to ask you how's Mike doing?"

Her face preceded her answer, "Not good his blood counts still been off, he's going in for his first chemo this weekend."

Sorry to hear that. Let me know if there's anything I can do." He glanced at his watch. "Oh, shit I better go or I'll be late for class." Stan gathered up his class notes and scurried out the office.

His lecture gathered little emotions except for the announcement of a quiz the following class. The president along with the dean sat in, saying nothing and taking notes with stoic faces. Afterwards he made a quick stop at the gym, put a few miles on the treadmill then did a few basic weightlifting exercises careful to stay out of the way of the muscle heads, that had a secret protocol and ownership of their sacred iron barbell territory. Before long, he hit lunch then a second class, sophomore level, and Stan was again retracing his steps over the arch bridge covering the river.

He stopped for a moment rested his arms on the railing and watched mesmerized as the white water foraged its path down the river in a perpetual roar of strength. A constant flow like time itself. It, the river was every bit alive and nothing could hold back the beauty of its course. A strange epiphany of sorts, triggered by the gypsy woman, awakened him. The end was pursuing him, and the pursuit brought an unnatural vibrancy to him, it made him feel more alive. For now, it seemed clear to him that the end only represented an undefined segment, one point in time in the river, a river that never ended.



CHAPTER FOUR



The eleven-hour ride seemed like no time at all, an inflight cocktail lounge took the edge off of the long flight, and gave those in first class a chance to mingle. A drink after all at 39000 feet took the edge and good company made it even more appealing. A middle aged distinguished looking man with short cut grey hair sat alone at the bar. Racheal sat down next to him, he smiled and she returned the smile.

"I've seen you before, on a flight to Paris, two weeks ago."

"He turned his seat to her, spreading his legs as if to claim his territory. That’s a hell of memory."

"It's hard to forget an attractive man." She said stealing a glance. “

He blushed and gave her a return looking over. "Thank you, I.. I only wished I still had the same memory. So, I take it you travel quite often like myself. What line of business are you in?"


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