A?N: I'm sorry this took such a long time. Life has been a little hectic and throw in a load of writer's block. Enjoy
Kate couldn't decide whether to be relieved or terrified that a dog was currently bathing her clammy face with its warm, wet tongue. Perhaps…She thought. She raised her hand and cautiously patted the collie on the head and then moved down to its neck. She felt around for the cool metal of a license, but felt only the scratchy material of the leash.
The dog yipped and she winced as the noise reverberated off of the cavernous walls. It turned and bounded off into the darkness. "Wait!" shouted Kate scrambling up and diving into dark oblivion. She crouched low, her hands outstretched, feeling for the comforting hair of the collie. She heard a quite whine next to her right hand. Reaching forward, her hand collided with a moist nose and she felt the slimy, warmth as the dog rolled his tongue along the back of her hand. She felt for the collar and took hold of the leash. This dog was her lifeline; otherwise she would be lost, blind in this eternal gloom.
The dog, as if sensing that she now held the leash, started forward, slowly enough to allow Kate to follow cautiously behind, creeping blindly after the dog's snorting as it she hoped, sniffed its way out of the cave.
The darkness became an eternity. It seemed to Kate that all of her existence began in this cave. She was born here and she would die here alone in a world without light or warmth. As she stumbled blindly forward, her left hand trailing against smooth, moist rock, she saw, or perhaps thought she saw a pinprick of light cut through the darkness as if someone was pointing a laser beam onto a black screen.
She scrambled forward, brushing up against the heels of the dog. Ever so slowly the small circle of light widened until with a sob of joy, Kate felt a breeze of fresh hair lick across her face.
She climbed out the cave squinting in the blinding light. The searing pain as the light seared through her pupils was the most wonderful feeling in the world and Kate welcomed it after what seemed to be years of darkness.
As her eyes slowly adjusted she noticed a pair of dusty brass colored feet and looked up into the earthy face of a Ute Indian. She dropped the leash she had forgotten she was clutching and the dog bounded over to the man barking happily.
His eyes were dark and his face weathered and cracked from years in the desert sun. He was hard as if carved out of the very earth itself and stuck together with clay and water, yet to Kate, he did not seem to be a threat and when he spoke, his words were warm and comforting.
She shook her head not understanding the soft, guttural language. He paused then offered his hand. She took it without a word and he hauled her up. After crawling around in the cave, Kate felt like her legs were as limp and numb as a dead fish. He draped a skin blanket around her and gestured for her to follow. Clutching the blanket to her shivering body, Kate followed.
She soon saw the comforting whitewashed walls of her home and the small gathering of tents lingering on the border. She started toward her house, but the man caught her hand and pulled her toward the tents. "But, my parents must be completely freaking out…." said Kate, but the man shook his head and said something pointing to a tent from which small eddies of smoke drifted out of small opening at the top of the tent.
"All right, fine," said Kate giving up and allowing the man to lead her to the tent; like I want any more mystery.
The inside of the tent was stuffy and hazy from the smoke. The air smelled rank with foul smelling spices and what Kate vaguely associated with rotting meat. Sitting in a corner was an old man wrapped in a woven blanket. His hair what pure white and hung past his shoulders in stringy tangles. His face was so lined that he looked like a sunken, gnarly branch of an old tree. He smiled and beckoned Kate and the man forward.
"Tsugupe," said the man pointing, and then something about "tso'apehnee" and "gizhaande."
"What he means to say is," said the old man in clear English is, "I am an old man, a wise man and that evil spirits haunt your land."
"Who are you?" said Kate taken aback, "Why am I here? What's happening, How…"
The man raised his hand. "You ask too many questions. Let me explain and then perhaps you will understand. Please sit." He gestured politely toward a worn blanket lying in the dust. "But my parents…" started Kate, "will just as relieved if you show up a little later," finished the man. "Please….sit." Kate sank onto the blanket fidgeting with both worry and curiosity.
The man shifted heavily in the blanket and said, "I am what the white people translate as a medicine man or in some cases a witch doctor. I evoke the spirits of nature to aid me in curing those bound by evil spirits."
"Evil spirits, like you mean…ghosts?" asked Kate.
"I guess you could think of it that way," consented the man, "but these…ghosts are angry with your family. You have trespassed on their land and they will not stop until you and your family is, how can I say it…eliminated."
"You mean like killed?!" asked Kate, fear raising his voice several octaves.
The man shifted and pulled out a skin pouch. "My people and I want to help you; we are tired of these spirits sowing evil in our lands. We will do everything in our power to stop them, but we do not dare curse ourselves by trespassing on their haunted ground. We will stay on the border and pray for the spirits of the earth to take pity and drive out these foul beings. This is my promise to you."
"What exactly are these spirits?" asked Kate thinking back to that dreadful night where the glowing demon eyes had tried to get into her room, "what are they?"
"They are skin walkers, part man and part beast, evil men who have murdered one of their kin. They practice black magic and sow hatred and pain," said the man, his eyes hard and serious. "They will never stop."
"But how…" stuttered Kate trembling, "how can I stop them from getting to my family?"
"Take this," said the man handing her the pouch, "and pour it along every entrance to your house. This is sacred sand from holy ground. They do not dare cross."
Kate took the pouch and looked at it skeptically. Sand? How can a bag of sand keep whatever these monster things out of my house? Kate though doubtfully. It didn't seem like all that bright an idea, but then again, she had never really believed in demons and ghosts until…Kate shivered as the crimson eyes floated to the front of her mind. It might work, she consented and clutched it closely to her chest. "Thank you," she whispered. The old man smiled. "It is the best you can do for the time being. You may return to your home and warn your family as best you can."
Kate suppressed a snort. Somehow walking in and telling her parents that beings part man, part beast were going to break into the house and kill them all sound ludicrous to her ears. Perhaps she could tweak it a bit.
"I will," she said. The younger man materialized out of no where and she followed him outside into the cooling air. It was almost dusk, the sun, a fiery disk low on the horizon. A full moon hovered high in the darkening sky. Despite the calm of the evening, Kate felt a growing sense of foreboding unfurl in the pit of stomach. A soft breeze brushed by and Kate smelt or thought she smelt a cloyingly sweet odor like something had been freshly slaughtered and it's blood allowed to coagulate into thick cottage cheese-like clumps. Kate looked down at the cracked skin pouch and squeezed it gently. "just in case," she murmured.