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Book of Mercy  Down Dog Diary

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Osmyrrah Publishing
Apple Valley, Minnesota

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Book of Mercy by Sherry Roberts

DOWN DOG DIARY

A Novel by Sherry Roberts

 

Prologue: The Dream Ends

James Tumblethorne, known as “Tum,” was not an easy man to kill.

On a crisp December morning with the haze still embracing the hills outside Taos, he woke exhausted, tied to a wooden kitchen chair. He remembered the knock on the door and then the jolts. Lifting his head, his long gray hair in his eyes, he saw he was not alone.

The two men, rejects from the Aryan Nation with platinum blond buzz cuts and big shoulders squeezed into boxy silk suits, looked eerily alike. One flipped open a switchblade, stabbed the couch cushion, and ripped it open. The other swept cereal and canned goods from the kitchen cabinets. He dumped bags of flour, and the air filled with white powder.

Library Journal SELF-e Select TitleIn Tum’s small adobe home, there was little room for chaos—either physically or spiritually. It was just two rooms, the living area currently being demolished and the bedroom. He always kept his home tidy and calm. He had built it with his own hands, choosing large windows so the peace of nature flowed inside. But now the peace had fled.

Suit One in the living room was frustrated; he heaved Tum’s sacred drum against the wall and kicked over the coffee table, scattering stones and feathers across the Navajo rug. Suit Two in the kitchen flipped through Tum’s Killer Sudoku book on the counter then ripped it in two with a growl. Tum heard the crunch of pottery, saw it was his favorite bread-making bowl, and swore. He pulled at the plastic restraints that bound his arms behind his back.

Tum had been tasered before. There’s no forgetting the unbearable pain that hijacks the central nervous system. Fifty thousand volts passing through the human body is not pleasant—muscles lock, body slams to the floor, and afterwards, the muscles tingle, twitch, fidget like a fish on a dock. Tum had never passed out before from being stunned, so someone must have clobbered him when he was down. His head ached.

There were grown bears smaller than James Tumblethorne. He was not a helpless man. His tattooed bulk sported numerous souvenirs from sharp knives, broken bottles, splintered chairs, brass knuckles. That was before he found peace in the mountains and high deserts, before he became one with Spirit. Before he began to follow his calling to become a shaman.

Tum tugged again at the plastic handcuffs. No featherweight, he still pumped iron at the age of seventy-two; his zapped deadweight body must have been a bitch to drag up from the floor and position in a chair. The thought made him smile. He hoped the bastards got a hernia.

Suit One, the guy handy with the taser, ripped a dream catcher from the wall and tossed it aside. He leaned over Tum, shouting, “Where is it, you crazy old man? Where is it?” Tum could smell him, frustration mixed with some fancy cologne. It made him want to sneeze.

The Suit walked behind him, sucking in deep breaths, trying to calm himself. Tum sure as hell didn’t want to go out at the hands of a Suit. He always thought the end would come as he sat in his ceremonial kiva, praying to Spirit. He’d imagined his body old and tired from this journey, his spirit happy and calm. He’d imagined Great Spirit lifting him on the wings of a circling crow. He did not want to be delivered to Spirit in the claws of a vulture.

The man circled the chair and came to a stop in front of Tum. “The shaman’s book. I want it. Now.”

Crashes from the bedroom. More ripping sounds. There went his mattress. Tum sniffed the air and glanced at the oven. His sourdough bread was burning. He loved making bread, working the dough with his big hands. It was a peaceful activity. And these guys were ruining it.

The men had neglected to tie his feet, a mistake he could work with. He might just get out of this after all. When the Suit leaned into Tum’s face again, Tum kicked out, sweeping the man’s legs out from under him. The Suit tumbled to the floor. With a roar, Tum splintered the chair spindle he was tied to, powered himself to his feet, and aimed a kick at the man’s head. But the man was quicker than Tum expected. The Suit recovered, grabbed Tum’s boot, and twisted it. No hands free to catch him, Tum crashed to the floor like a falling tree. The Suit jammed the taser into his chest. Two jolts left him gasping. Weakness stole through his body. 

 The Suit sneered at him, “Think you can take me, old man?”

The Suit was on his feet now looking down at him. He aimed a kick at Tum’s ribs. Tum tried to roll away, but his body didn’t respond. The Suit called for his partner, and they hauled him up, pulled another kitchen chair into the center of the room, and wrestled him in it. Pain shot through Tum; the rib was broken, all right.

Outside, the crows were going crazy. Something was wrong in the world, and they knew it. One flew against the window making the Suit jump. He nodded toward the door and said to his partner, “Shoot those fucking birds.” No, screamed Tum in his head. Suit Two went outside. Shots rang out. Tum closed his eyes. 

He thought of the day he received the calling. He was hunkered down with his bike under a big old oak, a monster thunderstorm squatting above him. Suddenly, the monster’s lightning fingers flicked the tree, and electricity raced down the trunk, along the roots, and reached up through Tum’s thick black leather boots, flinging him like a doll. When he awoke, he was different. He felt an inner knowing. He had been searching for someone else to heal him, when the truth was inside him all along. He climbed on his bike, pointing it toward home, to Whispering Spirit Farm. What an amazing ride. He saw connections everywhere—between him and the wind and the trees by the side of the road. He saw the interconnectedness of everything, the power we all have inside us, and—for the first time—he paid attention.

The Suit poked him with the taser.

Tum opened his eyes slowly and stared at the man. Tum would never let the shaman’s book fall into the hands of this evil SOB. The book, a diary, was passed down from keeper to keeper. A healer in Mexico, on his way to meet Great Spirit, had placed the diary in Tum’s hands. Tum had added his own insights and experiences to the book, just as the shamans before him. But more importantly, the healer had whispered, it was Tum’s job now to keep it safe.

The Suit tapped the taser against his palm. The tattoo on the back of the man’s left hand—a skull chomping down on a flaming heart—moved in rhythm. A waste of good ink. 

Tum refused to talk to this piece of shit. He knew silence could be unnerving, maddening—a trick he’d used after biker brawls in countless police interrogation rooms. These men were not bound by laws and department regulations. Over and over, the Suit with the tattoo sent the taser charges ripping through Tum’s body leaving him gulping for air, more exhausted by each stun. Yet he would not speak. He would not speak of the secrets of the diary, of the lawyer’s office where it was locked in a safe, of his Maya Skye.

When he’d left the wild life, Tum needed to be near innocence and sun and light. At the Whispering Spirit Farm, which still stood not many miles from here as the crow flies over the mountain, he’d been reborn. At first, he’d done whatever back-breaking job they set before him, in the garden, in the kitchen, in the barn. He was good with children, and more and more, he pulled the nanny assignment. He’d been a part of Whispering Spirit for two years when Great Spirit called on that day under the oak. His will was specific about where all his worldly possessions would go, and Nico, his lawyer, knew what to do. They’d shared the road many years, brothers of the leather. Nico would deliver the diary to its new keeper, his unlucky heir.

Tum looked up and saw the Suit had a gun now. It was aimed at Tum’s forehead.

“You’re not going to say a word, are you?” the man snarled. “Well, you big bastard, think on this: I’ll get to your friends, your neighbors, your relatives. I’ll find them.”

Tum closed his eyes and sent one final prayer: Spirit, protect her.

And then James Tumblethorne heard the last words he would ever hear on this earth: “Have it your way, you old fucker. Peace out!”

 

Chapter 1. Corpse Pose

In the quiet of my kitchen, I slid the letter from its envelope. Sadness still rose in my throat, even though I’d read it many times. The letter began, “If you’re reading this, kid, I’m wiggling up the cosmic stream like some fat old tattooed salmon. Sorry to leave you with a mess . . .”

That was the way my old nanny, Tum, said good-bye.

James Tumblethorne roared into my life when I was four, a bigger-than-life man on a huge, noisy machine. He had barely booted the kickstand of his motorcycle into place before he swept me into the air and asked me my name. Our connection had been that instant—he knew it was right to snap me up and I knew it was right to trust this stranger with my heart. And now he had left me, the daughter he never had, the one he’d guided and loved so many years.

The hole in my life was big enough to drive his Harley through.

Sniffing, not bothering to wipe the tears from my cheeks, I smoothed the paper Tum had touched, my fingers tracing its amazingly lovely penmanship. Where had a man who was more likely to use his hands to break a jaw than push a pen learned such graceful loops and elegant swishes? I loved the way he made the “y” with a flourish, as if my name deserved special care.

I am Maya Skye. I am named for a civilization that tracked celestial bodies without computers and built crazy complex architecture. But they also cut out the still-beating hearts of young girls to appease the spirits and decapitated the losing team in sporting events. In some ways, I am very much like the Mayas: blood thirsty.

This is a problem for one dedicated to enlightenment. Whenever I’d been fighting with some other kid in the commune, filling Whispering Spirit Farm with all manner of violent vibes, I’d flee my mother’s disappointed eyes and seek out Tum. He would lift me onto his massive shoulders and warn in a gruff voice eroded by years of cigarettes and bar smoke: “Kicking ass will catch up with you, kid.” He was right.

Tum’s letter had been tucked in a book that, frankly, scared the dickens out of me. I knew this book. It was the journal of James Tumblethorne, the shaman’s diary.

I remember the diary being bigger—and more mysterious. Of course, the last time I’d seen it I was only nine. That was twenty-six years ago. The book, and I, had been through a lot since then, and, to be honest, I had come through the years in better shape. 

The diary was the repository not only of Tum’s wisdom and prayers, but the wisdom and prayers of all those who came before him, people who had followed the shaman’s path. Pages were falling out of the well-traveled journal, which was held together with a rubber band. Some entries were written in languages I could not decipher. Words were stained with dirt and what appeared to be blood. The ink ran on pages rippled by raindrops (or were they tears?). The black leather cover was soft with age and worn in spots, and one corner looked as if someone had tried to burn it.

I brought the diary to my nose, gently riffled the pages, and sniffed. I expected the moldy smell of old paper. Instead, a floral scent filled the air. Then, the aroma changed—to the fresh smell of mint crushed between one’s fingertips, to pine forest, to wet dog. I frowned. I flipped the edges of the diary with my thumb again. More sweet scents lifted from the pages but also the smells of rotten things: dumps and puke and death. 

A boxelder bug strolled across the kitchen table, crept up the side of the book, and started the trek across one of the first entries, made in 1892. I gently swept the bug into my cupped palm, took it outside, and dropped it in the snowy bush beside the door. Boxelders are hearty, up to the chill of even a February day in Minnesota.

I returned to Tum’s journal, closed my eyes, and opened the book to a random page. The smell of axle grease greeted me. I opened my eyes and immediately recognized Tum’s looping handwriting. It made me smile, like an old friend welcoming me.

“I have traveled many roads. They are all inside me, sometimes tangling with each other, sometimes living in peace, sometimes just ignoring each other. They are me, but I am not them. With the twist of a thought, I turn them into strings of yarn . . .” I felt a surge of power snaking up through my fingers. It flashed up my arm.

I slammed the book shut.

It was said the shaman’s diary held secrets not meant for ordinary men and women. And now they were sitting on my kitchen table. ...

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