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Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Soul Keeper Excerpt
“Kaine, this is Nestor.”
“Just wanted to let you know he’s back and mostly okay.”
“Oh God … thank God for that. How is he?”
“Well, he’s not talking much, won’t go in his house, so I’m setting him up in one of the new cabins up in the trees. Looks like he’s been living off grass since … you know ... the funeral.”
“He probably has. He’s probably been running hard, too. Don’t have to think when you’re running.”
“Yeah, his hooves are beat up so bad, he’ll have to stay in man form for awhile.”
“She’s still shaky. Hysterical a lot of the time. I’m sending her to stay in Texas till Dorian gets his feet back under him. Rumors about what happened have gotten out, and none of the other Alphas want to deal with her. I don’t know, Kaine. Don’t know how we’re gonna pull this one together. Anyhow, she wants to go through her sister’s things, I figure Blue won’t mind since he won’t go anywhere near the place. I had to go pack a suitcase for him.”
“Okay. Listen, Nestor, I’ll catch the next flight out and pick him up. Iris can stay on as long as you need her.”
“Iris has been a lifesaver with Chloe gone. I can’t tell you how distressed everyone is. Lots of grief.”
“I should imagine. Chloe was well loved.”
“Kaine, about him going with you … I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think he should stay on here at the Siskiyou Compound.”
“He’s my brother, Nestor. He’s gonna need me.”
“I know, Kaine, but frankly, if he leaves, it’s really gonna throw the compound into a tailspin. These people have been his family for a decade now. I think he needs to face this thing down here. He can’t run away from it.”
“This isn’t a suggestion, Kaine. Nor is it a request. He stays. It’s hard for him, but I’ve got the other members up here that can help him. They need to help him.”
Kaine hung up the phone without responding. He knew it was rude, but he didn’t care. He sat down at his PC and went online, purchasing tickets-- one out, two back. The hell with Nestor. He was bringing Dorian home.
He was going to reject her request.
Phaedre schooled down her frustration and took a deep breath. She mentally reviewed her arguments and rationalizations for seeking out an Equis for her extraordinary request. A specific Equis. She needed a Soul Keeper. Humbly, Phaedre folded her hands in her lap, gently resting her palms upward. Chiron Nestor’s shaggy head didn’t move as he pored over her application, but nevertheless, she was certain that his huge, liquid eyes didn’t miss the symbolic gesture. This man hadn’t single-handedly created paradise on an otherwise hostile Earth for his Equis race by being non-observant.
“This is difficult, Phaedre Goode. Very difficult.” His accent was sultry and flowing. She’d heard many accents over the years, but couldn’t place his origin. Not unusual, as he’d been born in another, earlier century.
He sifted through a stack of medical records and signed statements from Phae’s physicians and specialists, spiritual counselors and psychologists. “You have a great deal of professional support behind your request, but I still have difficulty with how and why you sought us out.” Carefully, he laid the papers in organized stacks. She’d sent copies to him two weeks prior to her visit, so Phae knew he’d already made himself familiar with her records.
Chiron Nestor carefully folded his large hands on the desk pad in front of him. His vivid blue eyes scanned Phaedre’s face, seeking deception behind her serene, Madonna-like beauty. She allowed him to hold eye contact with her for an extended period. The nostrils of his strong Roman nose flared slightly as he assessed her by scent. She’d been mentally prepared for an extensive sensory scan, but still, it made her feel slightly uneasy to know that he was seeing and smelling her in a way she’d never been examined before. She had no doubt he could also hear the rhythm of her heart and the pattern of her breathing. Phaedre was uneasy, but felt no difficulty in sharing those feelings.
He was stunning, the first Equis she’d ever met in person. This was also the public face of Chirons, as they titled themselves, after their mythic ancestor. Chiron Nestor’s face was weathered and rugged, with unusually large, bright blue eyes, and strong bone in his cheeks and jaw. He was what the horse world called a strawberry roan, which in this man, translated to multi-hued, reddish hair with a strong, white blaze running from his forehead back a couple inches. The white streak swung to the side of his face, shading his eyes when he looked down.
When she’d seen him on television, he’d always worn a suit, his hair neatly combed off his face, usually in a neat, business-like cut. Today, it was loose and riotous, dropping well past his collar in deep waves. He was dressed like a rancher, in denims, a tee shirt and dusty, scuffed boots. Her eyes dropped to the top of the desk. His hands were long and strong, the nails unusually thick compared to hers. She knew he was over one hundred years old, but nobody really knew how long the Equis lived, or how often they reproduced. He’d managed to bring them to the public eye, securing their safety and freedom, while at the same time ensuring his species of privacy and self-determination.
Twenty years ago, the first known Equis had been captured in the rugged landscape of the Rocky Mountains. He’d been tending a herd of wild Mustangs, and had fought back when some enterprising rustlers rounded them up. Chiron Kaine had been tormented and exploited by his captors, who maintained that the shape-changer was not human, thus, entitled to no rights under US law. He’d been purchased by a government lab, and held for extensive testing and research.
That Equis had been sequestered from the public eye, abused and unmonitored, until some of the grad students assigned to him rebelled and took matters into their own hands. They leaked photos and documents exposing the abuse that he suffered. Those students had been arrested, accused of espionage, and expelled from their respective institutions. Their personal sacrifices had not been futile. Shortly after that exposure Nestor stepped forward, lawyers and activists at his side, fighting the good fight for his people, for the captive and for the students who fought for this helpless Equis.
Since that time, small pockets of Equis had emerged around the world, eventually migrating to the properties that Nestor and the other leaders had obtained as Sanctuary for their people. The Equis attained sovereignty within their respective countries. They were self-governing, extremely private, and amazingly industrious.
The little community of Mt. Shasta City was eclectic in nature, and had gladly embraced the concept of centaurs in their midst, along with Big Foot, the Lemurians and miscellaneous religious organizations. While the Equis rarely ventured out in public in their natural half-form, the friendly locals rarely batted an eye if they encountered one in town, casually reading a paper or checking out a community bulletin board. With its clean air and endless forests, the Siskiyous were the perfect haven for the Equis.
Phaedre couldn’t see out the large window behind her, but she knew it offered a gorgeous panorama of Mt. Shasta to the west, with casually landscaped grounds rolling away from the office. The area of the compound she had been allowed into reminded her of an upper-crust campground, complete with a large lake and a flagpole. An American flag took its position at the top of the pole, followed by the California Grizzly, and a third flag with the silhouette of a rearing horse against a rising sun. That flag flew over every Equis Sanctuary and compound around the world.
Phaedre endured Nestor’s scrutiny in calm silence, even allowing herself to meet his steady gaze.
“You are remarkably calm, young woman.” She nodded, no answer seemed to be necessary. “Would you tell me the how and why, please?” His slight accent was a bit stronger than she’d heard on the television interviews, but very pleasant to the ear.
“How and why?” Phaedre collected her thoughts. “My husband passed away about two years ago. I became aware that his soul came into the keeping of one of your people. I suppose you wish to know how I became aware of this?” He nodded, hiding his concern.
Phaedre realized that the existence of the Soul Keeper was a closely guarded secret, known to only a few in the world outside of the Equis. Their existence would create an even wider gulf between human and Equis.
“If I am correct, when a person dies, their soul leaves their body, and migrates to wherever they are supposed to go. In some instances, that soul cannot accept that it is time to move on, so they stay here in a limbo state.” He nodded again, neither confirming nor denying her suppositions. “My husband died unexpectedly. We were just married and planning our future when his life was taken in an accident. We’d been at the doctor that day and had discovered that I was pregnant. The accident happened on the way home. I wasn’t badly injured, but nevertheless, went into shock. I lost the baby and my husband within twenty minutes of getting the positive test.” Phaedre paused, aware of how choppy and stiff she sounded. She cleared her throat, trying to return to her normal tone. She breathed deeply, willing her composure to hold.
“After recovery, my life never got back on track. Grieving is to be expected, but I began to have disturbing dreams as well. Steven was calling me. Sometimes, I saw him … or thought I saw him. I’d see him reflected in a window, or on a street. Once even in my home. It was like being haunted. After a month, the sightings stopped, but the dreams continued. Initially, they were grief-stricken, frightened. But eventually, they changed. I began to dream of a place, a people. Sometimes, I caught the sight of horses running, but they weren’t always horses.”
Nestor watched her carefully, listening to her improbable story.
“I felt Steve in the dreams, but he was confused at where he was and what he saw. He wasn’t frightened, but confused. Eventually, he grew content and peaceful. Last month, he showed me the mountain, and I realized he was here, with one of yours. He’s ready to move on, so I want to be part of that.”
“Were you able to see who his Keeper is? Do you have a name? We have many Soul Keepers among us.” It wasn’t quite a lie. There were several known Soul Keepers, but only one in Mt. Shasta. Nestor watched as the woman in front of him bit her lip and shook her head. Apparently, she didn’t even think it odd that he accepted her story without skepticism.
“I never caught an identity. Just color, blue and white. But not blue like the sky, blue that is so dark that it’s almost black. Sadness. Depression. That’s why I waited so long to come. I didn’t want to impose on this person.”
Dorian. Chiron Dorian. Of course she sensed pain, he’d lost his wife shortly before he’d taken this man’s soul into his keeping. Like humans, Equis were not strictly monogamous. However, unlike humans, when a Chiron joined with their life partner, the bond was for life, and their lives could be very long. Dorian and Chloe had married almost a century ago. They had never been gifted with offspring. Dorian had been walking a path of despair for years now. Chloe had been the other half of his existence.
Nestor tented his fingers and rested them softly in front of his mouth. It was an odd habit, but Phaedre liked it. He looked prayerful, meditative.
“Phaedre Goode, I know who you speak of. Your request may not be possible, but there may be a compromise. I will speak to the Chiron and return to you later.”
He rose, giving her little else to go on. “Do you have a hotel in town?” She nodded. It was late season at the ski resort, so she’d managed to rent a little cabin at a secluded motel. “Please return tomorrow at this time. I will speak to you again.”
She’d been dismissed. Just like that. Nestor escorted Phaedre to the little hybrid car she’d recently purchased. She’d done without a vehicle after Steven’s death, it wasn’t really that important to have a car in the Bay Area. She’d purchased this thinking that she’d use it to travel the country a bit. She’d never really played tourist in her own state. Well, she could start with the rest of this day. Go see if she could find herself a Lemurian.
Heavy with disappointment, Phaedre buckled up and pulled away, driving out of the compound. It had been too much to ask, really. Chiron Nestor wouldn’t be interested in helping her with her little science experiment. Hell, if someone had asked her the same thing, she’d have slapped their face. But her baby had died. Her tiny son or daughter hadn’t had the chance to enter the world, and she owed it that chance. She owed Steve. Hell, she owed herself some happiness.
* * * *
The Equis owned hundreds of acres here, and it backed onto wild BLM land. They had endless ground to roam, to indulge their need for privacy. Driving through the compound, Phaedre spotted a small herd of horses running into the hills. The Equis bred some of the best purebred horses in the country. She’d seen a small group of appaloosa near the front office, while this herd looked like quarter horses. Phaedre wondered if those she saw now were real horses, or Equis in full horse form.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a lone stallion angle away toward the road and break into a canter. For a moment, she thought she saw a man form above the horse, but it was gone by the time she looked. The piebald was reverse from the norm, an inky black body with white splashed markings. The black was so rich that it was almost blue in the sun. He tossed his white-striped mane, flicked his tail and bucked slightly, bringing a smile to her face. Phaedre slowed the little car to pace him for a few moments, and then he was gone, fading into the tree line.
That was when the tears hit. She fought them back, dug for a tissue and pulled the car to a stop right in the middle of the road. “Oh God ...oh Steve .…” She sobbed hard, confused at the sudden surge of loss. Surrendering to the sensation, she let it roll over, then through her heart. As suddenly as it came, the emotional storm passed. Phae blew her nose, wiped her eyes and put the car into gear. She didn’t see the Equis standing in the shadows of the tree line, head bowed, front hoof pawing at the soft ground, tears streaming down his all too human face.
You can purchase Soul Keeper at Here: http://www.newconceptspublishing.com/soulkeeper.htm
It's also available at Fictionwise