Monday, January 27, 2014

The Ghost Slept Over Excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In The Ghost Slept Over by Marshall Thornton, failed actor Cal Parsons travels to rural New York to claim the estate of his famous and estranged ex-partner.  He discovers something he wasn’t expecting…the ghost of his ex! And, worse, his ex invites Cal to join him for all eternity. Now. As Cal attempts to rid himself of the ghost by any means he begins to fall for the attractive attorney representing the estate. Will Cal be able to begin a new relationship or will he be seduced into the ever after?
“A highly entertaining tale of the ex who wouldn’t leave, with a hilarious cast of characters you won’t soon forget.” Eden Winters, author of Diversion.
The Ghost Slept Over
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (January 31, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1494237393
ISBN-13: 978-1494237394


Chapter One
I have to admit, it wasn’t the first time I’d stood on the street brushing my teeth. Nor was it the second. This sort of thing, for some reason I could never quite grasp, happened to me a lot. That particular Friday evening, my temporary bathroom was the curb next to my truck on a quiet, residential, tree-lined street in Long Beach. I’d driven down from L.A. to do a performance. Of course, I would have gotten ready at home…if I’d had one.
Changing your clothes on the street is a skill. First, I wiggled out of the worn T-shirt that said “Actors Do It On Cue” across the chest—cheesy, I know—and slipped into a crisp white button-down shirt fresh from the cleaners. Being homeless is no reason to scrimp on the details. After taking a look around, I eased the door to the truck closer just in case some perv was watching me from a window, and dropped my blue plaid shorts. Quickly, I stepped into the peg-legged, black gabardine pants that were part of my costume. It was much too warm to put on the matching jacket. I’d wait until a few minutes before I was set to go on. Dressed, I slid across the bench seat and, using the rear-view mirror, began to goop my hair into a shiny pompadour.
I was performing my one-man show, A Rock and a Hard Place, a charming, short piece about the sex life of Rock Hudson. I’d written the show myself and did an admirable job playing the famous actor. At least that’s what reviewer Penny Dreadful said when she reviewed me for the short-lived GLBTQIA LA Times. (Honestly, I think the magazine was just too PC to survive.)
Actually, I hadn’t been able to find a whole lot of information about Rock’s sex life other than the fact that people say he slept with everyone. That little fact allowed me to take a lot of license. If two people are dead, you can’t prove they didn’t have sex, now can you? And when it comes down to it, there are a lot of dead people from that era. So, I didn’t see any reason that Rock couldn’t have slept with most of them.
I do bear a resemblance to the man. Though I’m approaching forty, I look to be in my early thirties—just as Rock did in his prime. My hair is dark brown, nearly black; my chin is square, my features even, eyes dark and lively. I’m tall, though nowhere near Hudson’s six-four, and I’m in decent shape. All in all, I manage my homage nicely, or as blogger The Pomona Pansy said, “Cal Parsons doesn’t so much impersonate the screen idol as inhabit him.”
Not bad for a homeless person.
Ready for my performance, I shut the door to my truck—a ten-year-old green Ford Ranger Extended Cab. The wisest decision I ever made was getting the extended cab, given the number of times everything I own has ended up behind the driver’s seat. Though I can’t imagine that as a selling point. “Ford Ranger voted best vehicle for the temporarily homeless!” I doubted the Ford Motor Company would want to put that in an ad.
Trying to put myself into a proper performance frame of mind, I walked around the block to the venue. Well, coffee shop. Yes, I was performing in a coffee shop. What can I say? I needed the fifty bucks.
Hot Times was Long Beach’s premiere queer coffeehouse. Mondays were open mike night, usually reserved for comedians. But, as they’d been having trouble filling the slots, not to mention finding comedians who were actually funny, a friend of a friend suggested I come down and do my show. And, since all I needed to do my show was a stool and decent lighting, I agreed.
I was just about to enter the coffee shop when Joel Gray and Liza Minnelli began to sing “Money” in my pocket. It was the ringtone for my agent. I accepted the call and found my agent’s assistant, Denise, on the line. I hadn’t spoken directly to my agent in over a year. In fact, normally the only thing they did for me was take ten percent of the sometimes surprisingly large quarterly residual checks from my three-episode arc on Star Trip: Interloper.
Cal, how are you?” Denise asked when I picked up.
“Hopefully I’m about to be very good. Shirl’s coming to my show tonight, isn’t she?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“But you got the packet I sent?”
“Yes. It was very…informative.” It was a thirty-five page proposal demonstrating how my little one-man show could make it to Broadway if I only had two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
“Is Shirl going to help me find investors?”
“That’s not what an agent does, Cal.” Her tone was very dismissive, which I felt was unfair. Shirl had at least one client I knew of who’d just spent a quarter of a million on a birthday party for his three-year-old. She could help me find the money if she wanted to.
“If she’s not coming to the show, then why are you calling?” I asked.
“Well, I have a message to pass on to you. A lawyer called you.”
“A lawyer? What did he want?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. Even after I explained that we represent you in all business dealings.” I mumbled something about them wanting to get their hands on ten percent if money was coming in and she said, “Excuse me?”
“Nothing,” I said. “So the lawyer thing, what…it’s personal?”
My stomach curled in on itself. I had the nasty feeling I was being sued. Denise gave me the lawyer’s name and a phone number with an area code I didn’t recognize. I grabbed one of the fag rags sitting in a metal rack outside Hot Times and wrote it down.
“Do you have any idea where this lawyer is?”
“No,” she said, annoyed.
“You didn’t google him?”
“I had another call.” As in there was no money in it for them, so why should she bother.
I decided to turn the conversation back to business. “So, Denise, how do I get Shirl interested in my show?”
“I don’t think you can.”
“But it’s about movie stars and sex. Everybody loves movie stars and sex.”
“Not if they’re dead. Shirl hates dead people.”
“But…it’s historical.”
“History is nothing but dead people. History doesn’t sell.” She took a deep breath and tried to be a friend. “Cal, couldn’t you do a show about the famous people you’ve slept with? I think Shirl would be very interested in that.”
“Me? People I’ve slept with? But I haven’t slept with any famous people.”
“Really? A good-looking guy like you? None?”
“Well…” I’d slept with a couple of semi-famous people, a TV director, a hair stylist who wrote a how-to book, and, of course, one particular award-winning playwright I devoted a lot of time to not thinking about, but no one worth more than a passing snide remark, and definitely no one worth even a monologue, no less a whole play. “I’ve never really liked other actors.”
“Oh, well, that was poor planning. I have to go, Shirl’s calling me—” And she hung up.
I slipped into Hot Times, which was nicely decorated and relatively large, with sofas and tables spread around. They’d moved one of the tables and put a small black riser in a corner to create a stage. It was an intimate place to perform, akin to performing in a friend’s living room. But I actually liked small spaces. They give you a real sense of the audience.
The manager of Hot Times, a cute little lesbian named Manessa, hid me in the tiny kitchen and said she’d introduce me in about fifteen minutes. That left me too much time to think. I tried not to worry about who might be suing me, but it wasn’t easy. And sue me for what? I wondered. Well, to be honest, there were possibilities. I did get into a little altercation at a country and western club in North Hollywood a few weeks back, and then, of course, I had a few exes who might not be especially happy with me. On the other hand, I could be being sued for something I didn’t do, I thought hopefully. Though I had to admit it was unlikely.
I tried to distract myself by beginning my final acting preparation, which mostly consisted of some deep breathing exercises and imagining myself three inches taller. I may not be six four but I can certainly act six four.
Of course, in addition to the looming possibility of being sued, there was still the problem of my homelessness. Matthew, my boyfriend of nine months, had thrown me out a week before Christmas — possibly to avoid the expense of a gift. It was now February. I’d spent the nearly eight weeks since couch surfing with friends, including my now-former friend Ricky. For the previous two weeks I’d been sleeping on the floor of his West Hollywood studio while he slept on the pull out. I might have been able to stay longer but Ricky met a guy. “Sorry darling, but if it’s between you and Pietro’s gorgeous cock, I’m kicking you to the curb,” he explained, and did.
I’ve been an actor for twenty years and have actually worked steadily, if not profitably. I pay dues to two unions, though I’m currently on inactive status from SAG until I find another qualifying job. One that will pay enough to catch up my back dues. My resume is three and a half pages long. And, sadly, very few people have ever heard of me. Those who have heard of me know me for one of two reasons. They’ve either seen, and possibly masturbated to, a small gay film I made called Lust/Anger/Joy in which I am naked for ninety-two of the ninety-nine minutes, or they’re a fan of McCormick Williams’ award-winning play The Bust-Up in which the character of Hal Perkins is rumored, incorrectly, to be based on me. Neither of these claims to fame has provided me with even one month’s rent. Both of which add significantly to my problems with men.
Lately, there’s been a certain type of guy who finds me devastating, and I really do need to learn to resist him. He’s usually ten to fifteen years younger than I am, placing him in his mid-to-late twenties. He’s chosen a boring but safe way to make a living: accountant, nurse, restaurant manger, banker. He’s cute, but insecure about his looks. When he meets me, he thinks being married to a working actor will be both exciting and glamorous. It usually takes six months for him to figure out that it’s not, and another six months to a year for him to break up with me. At nine months, Matthew had processed me in and out of his life quicker than most.
They, my exes, simply cannot deal with the day-to-day reality of an actor’s life. The lack of cash flow, the rehearsals five nights a weeks, the unexpected auditions, the lack of cash flow, the fat, ugly directors who must be flirted with, the survival jobs that suddenly evaporate, and the resulting lack of cash flow. One or two of my boyfriends have tried to step in and manage my life for me; one even suggested that I turn my fame from Lust/Anger/Joy into a side career as an escort. I rejected that idea, so he dumped me. I have to say I wasn’t too upset about that one.
Finally, Manessa came back to the kitchen and told me it was show time, then scurried out to introduce me. I tried to hand her an introduction I’d written which included some nice quotes from the reviews I’ve gotten—including another I liked from the Pomona Pansy “Parsons is simply luminous as the iconic star”—but she ignored me and went out and said simply, far too simply for my taste, “Here’s Cal Parsons in A Rock and a Hard Place.”
I entered to anemic applause.
As requested, there was a simple wooden stool in front of a microphone. I sat down and began my show. I’ve been doing the show on and off for three years, up and down the California coast in postage stamp theaters, libraries, bars, coffeehouses, and gay pride festivals in Fresno and Russian River. I’ve probably done two hundred performances and know the play well enough to ponder Einstein’s theory of relativity while delivering my lines. So, it was easy to search the audience of approximately twenty—well, fifteen—for a possible place to stay that night. After recounting the story of young Roy Fitzgerald losing his virginity to the captain of the New Trier High School football team, I saw my future host/bedmate at a table to my right. He sat on the edge of his seat, lapping up every word I said. Though I suspected I could have said just about anything and he’d look just as excited. I turned slightly and began delivering half my lines directly to him. A smile spread across his face like a rash.
Twenty-two or twenty-three, he was younger than my usual type, but in such a small audience I could hardly be choosey. Yes, I could probably wander around until I found a gay bar and find someone more age-appropriate to provide me with a place to sleep, but I do have an ego. And occasionally it needs to be fed.
Sixty-seven minutes later, I finished the deeply moving story of Rock Hudson’s (mostly made up) sex life, and gloried in the minimalistic applause. I made my dramatic exit back to the tiny kitchen, then immediately turned around to come back and mingle with my fans. When I got back out into the coffee shop, a middle-aged couple came over and asked for autographs.
“How long have you been together?” I asked politely.
“Twenty-five years,” said the taller of the two. One had nearly white hair, the other black (though it may have come from a bottle). As a set, they reminded me of salt and pepper shakers.
“We loved you in Lust/Anger/Joy,” said the shorter, giving me a dirty smile. It never ceased to amaze me how many gay men mention that film to me. Since everyone’s obviously seen it, you’d think I’d have gotten at least one residual check. I mean, have the same ten copies of the DVD been passed around the gay community over and over again?
As I chatted with them about what projects I had coming up and whether I’d be clothed in them or not, I glanced around looking for the young man I hoped would provide me a place to stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him anywhere. I was beginning to wonder if Salt and Pepper might have a comfy couch I could crash on, hopefully unmolested, when a fancy coffee drink floated in front of me. I turned to see my young friend holding it.
“Mocha latte?” he asked.
I smiled and accepted the drink. The mocha latte was in a very large cup, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. While I was flattered that he thought I had the kind of metabolism that could tolerate a seven hundred and fifty calorie coffee drink, I promised myself only a few sips. Otherwise, I’d have to skip breakfast. For days.
His name was Todd something-or-other and he launched into a little speech about who he was and what his life was like. It’s amazing how many people think a conversation is little more than reading their resume aloud. He was a graduate student studying accounting, which made me nervous since I’d had at least three previous boyfriends who made their money pumping numbers into computers and analyzing the results. He already had a job working for a big firm. And, he’d bought himself a repossessed one-bedroom condo just a few blocks away. The last was most interesting because I was getting sleepy, despite my sips of mocha latte, and wasn’t looking forward to curling up in the front seat of my truck.
Salt and Pepper had graciously drifted off, with a wink and a leer, during Todd’s monologue, leaving the young man and I alone.
“Do you have a roommate, Todd?” I asked.
“Well, I thought about it. It would certainly cut down expenses, but in a one-bedroom it’s just not practical. I could have gotten a two bedroom but it would have cost more. Yes, the cost would have been offset by a roommate but they don’t let you put ‘I’m going to get a roommate’ on a mortgage application.”
“Aren’t they cruel?” I said, sipping the mocha latte.
He giggled. “Someday I’ll get a two bedroom. After I’ve saved up another down payment. Especially if prices stay where they are. I plan on keeping this condo, though, and renting it out. Eventually, I’ll buy a house and rent out the second condo. I’m thinking of getting a real estate license. Did you know you can use your commission as part of your down payment?”
“No, surprisingly, I did not.”
“That’s why I’d get the license. I don’t actually want to be a real-estate agent. But if I buy three or four properties in the next five or six years putting the time in to get my license will pay off handsomely.”
Given the way he stared at me, and the way he lost focus when I licked some whipped cream off my upper lip, I was sure he was trying to pick me up. He was just doing it in the most roundabout, un-seductive way. To end the suspense I said, “You know, I’ve never actually seen a repossessed condominium.”
“Well, they look just like—Oh! Um, yes, would you like to come over and see it?” He blushed a pretty pink.
“That would be lovely. Yes.”
“Would you like another mocha latte for the road?” he asked, politely. I could tell he didn’t really want to pay for another four-dollar coffee. I suspected he had his budget planned out to the tenth of a cent.
“Oh no, I’ve barely touched—” But when I looked down I realized I’d finished the drink entirely. “No, that’s fine. Thank you.”
Todd’s apartment added up nicely. It was built in the seventies and was basically a white box divided equally into two rooms. He’d carefully furnished it from a catalogue, presumably with pieces that had been sufficiently marked down. On the walk over, he had stopped talking about himself and begun to ask questions, many of which weren’t exactly about me.
“So, how old are you?” he asked. All right, that one was about me.
“Thirty-seven.” Ish.
When we got into his apartment, he said, “You’ve been an actor a long time.” Which was not especially flattering. “You must know who’s gay and who’s not.”
“Well, it’s not as though I’ve been doing a field study.” Actually, since I avoided sex with artistic people whenever possible, I didn’t have much of what you’d call “first-hand” knowledge of who was gay and who was not. Most of my information I got off the Internet.
Without even offering me a glass of wine, Todd began naming actors and asking if I’d slept with them. I wondered for a moment if he was actually a plant sent by my agent. Would they really pay me to do a play about people I slept with? Should I consider stringing together an hour’s worth of lies?
To shut Todd up, I leaned over and kissed him. He was fast with his hands and he quickly had Rock Hudson’s pants around my ankles and my dick in his hand. I broke away for a moment and asked, “Should we go into the bedroom?”
He just smiled at me and led me out of the living room. Well, first I untangled myself from my costume, folded it and set it on the sofa. I had a performance in Reseda the following week and really couldn’t afford for anything to happen to Rock’s suit. Without needing to check, I knew that a trip to the cleaner’s was not in my budget. Wearing just the white oxford shirt, I followed Todd into the bedroom. As we stood next to the bed, Todd did just about the worst thing anyone can do when it comes to my sex life. He handed me a pillow.
In Lust/Anger/Joy the “climactic” scene for many comes about thirty minutes into the film. It’s a scene in which my character is fucked face down on a bed. In the throws of passion I very nearly eat the pillow. Of course, while filming we simulated the scene—something no one seems to believe which may be why, in real life, I’ve been asked to re-enact it many times. In the first flush of fame after the film came out I didn’t mind so much. Occasionally, it was a lot of fun. After a while, it became a sticking to speak.
I stared at the pillow for a moment, then said to Todd, “This doesn’t feel like it’s about me.”
He looked confused. “Does it need to be?”
“Yeah, it does,” I said, handing him back the pillow. “When you hit forty you’ll understand.”
“I thought you said you were thirty-seven.”
“I was never good at math.”
He held the pillow out again and said “Please?” in that twenty-something way that tends to get young men exactly what they want. This time it didn’t. I walked into the living room and began to put my Rock Hudson costume back on.
“We could do something else,” Todd suggested, a bit of horny desperation in his voice.
“Well, that might work,” I said. The boy was awfully cute, and his bed looked very com—
“There’s this other scene were you give that guy a blow job in the kitchen,” he said in a rush.
Really, there’s much more talking in the film than you’d think. And the characters are actually multi-faceted. It just sounds like softcore porn.
“That’s sweet,” I said. “”
“Oh. I wanted to tell my friends I had sex with the guy from Lust/Anger/Joy.”
“No dear, you wanted to tell them you re-enacted the film with me. There’s a difference.”
I exited the apartment with a flourish, and slept in my truck.

About six, the sun woke me up. When you sleep in a truck, you tend to get up with the sun. I went back to Hot Times, which had just opened, and bought myself a large cup of black coffee. I asked the barista with the blue and orange Mohawk for a pen and, after a little bit of sass, he grudgingly gave me one. Finding a table, I grabbed a copy of the L.A. Times and began to make myself a to-do list over an article about global-warming. I might have read the article; I certainly had enough time. But when you’re homeless the eventual homelessness of the entire human race pales by comparison.
On my to-do list I wrote the basics. Find a place to live. Get some money. You’ll note that I didn’t write get a job. I had a job. I was an actor. An actor who’d made fifty dollars that week and would likely make fifty dollars the next week from the Reseda gig. That reminded me. I needed to put forty dollars of this week’s earning into the truck’s gas tank so I could get to Reseda. I also needed to call that lawyer back. Given my financial situation, if I were being sued I’d at least get a good laugh out of it.
I pulled out my smart phone, which I’d smartly charged with the little cigarette lighter attachment Matthew had purchased for me as a lovely parting gift. I dialed the lawyer’s number and waited. Not knowing where the area code actually was, I half expected to get voicemail. Instead a deep, masculine voice answered the phone. That was when I realized I’d taken the number but not the lawyer’s name.
“This is Cal Parsons. I believe you’re trying to reach me?”
“Yes, yes, I am. I’m Dewitt Morgan.”
“Hi, Dewitt, it’s nice to meet you. I think.”
“I sent you a certified letter. You didn’t get it, did you?”
“No. I’m no longer at that address.”
“Which address?”
“Whichever one you sent it to.”
“I see, well,” he sighed heavily. “I represent McCormack Williams.”
Oh shit, I thought. I am being sued. It would be just like Mac to try to ruin my life even though we hadn’t seen each other in—
“I’m afraid he’s, well, passed away.”
“Oh. Oh really?” Instantly, I was suspicious. Mac was too evil to die. I wondered if I was being punked. Given that there was a strong possibility Mac was on an extension I asked, “Did someone finally shoot him?”
“What? Why would you—No, I’m afraid he overdosed on prescription medication. It may have been accidental.”
“Of course it was accidental. Mac would never commit suicide. He’s too competitive.” But then I remembered Hemingway had killed himself, so had Virginia Woolf. And Sylvia Plath. Could killing himself have been a bid for immortality? Or worse, a marketing ploy? “When did it happen?”
“Three days ago. I’m sorry. It’s been difficult to find you.”
“Oh. Are you a musician?”
“No, I’m an actor.”
“I see.”
Why did people always sound so disappointed when I said I was an actor? I wondered for the briefest moment. And then wondered aloud, “Wait a minute. Why did you need to find me? I haven’t spoken to Mac in at least a decade and a half.”
“Really? How strange.”
“You didn’t actually know Mac, did you?”
“No, I knew him quite well. I’ve been his attorney for several years.”
We were silent, having established that he was in the McCormack Williams’ fan club and I was not. “Well, thank you for calling to let me know.”
“Hold on, please. I’m calling to tell you that I’m the trustee of Mac’s estate.”
I couldn’t see why that would matter to me. “Do you want a gold star?”
“You’re the beneficiary of the trust.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“And the will, of course.”
“Wait, which— Are we talking about a will or a trust?”
“Both. The trust holds the assets while the will—”
“I’m confused.”
“McCormack Williams left you his estate.”
After a moment of shock, I asked, “Exactly how much money does there have to be before you’re allowed to use the word ‘estate’?”
“Um...well, none, from a legal standpoint. I mean, even if you’ve only got a couple dollars it’s still called an estate.”
“Ah, let me guess. He went bankrupt right before he died. And this is his idea of a joke.”
“You know, I’m not sure dying is such a great punch line.”
“Well, I can’t imagine Mac actually leaving me money.”
“No, he did. In fact, the estate is quite…robust.”
“Okay, robust is a very non-specific word. Exactly what does the robust estate consist of?”
“Well, there’s his home here in Marlboro Township, several additional properties, the copyright to his plays, residuals from the films he wrote, various retirement accounts, a well diversified stock portfolio, bonds, of course, mutual funds, several annuities. You know we really should discuss this when you get here.”
“Uh-huh, all together that’s how much money?”
“Roughly three million give or take.”
And that’s when I hooted loud enough to scare myself.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fighting for Survival excerpt by Serena Yates

In Serena Yates Fighting for Survival, Dr. Alastair Burrows decides to take a stand after years of escalating abuse by his husband, Cedric Perkins, who stops Alastair from visiting his brother Grayson after a serious car accident. A few weeks later, Alastair finally escapes his guards, sues for divorce, and begins to openly question Cedric and the pharmaceutical company he runs. As a medical researcher working for Biomedical Inc., Alastair witnessed plenty of dubious practices but had no say. Now he takes a new job with EDT, a company fighting for ethical drug testing, planning to expose Biomedical.

Reinaldo Valverde, intent on stopping drug trafficking, suspects Biomedical is in league with Colombian drug lords. Unable to infiltrate Biomedical, he goes undercover at EDT, hoping to find some leads in their database. Reinaldo meets Alastair and discovers the handsome doctor is also after Biomedical. Reinaldo keeps quiet about his mission, but as Alastair gets closer to the truth, Reinaldo gets closer to Alastair. When they discover Biomedical’s illegal research labs, EDT sends both men on a recognizance mission to Colombia and Brazil.

Lies are revealed, disaster strikes, and they are stranded in the Amazon jungle, facing a fight for survival they cannot afford to lose.

Fighting for Survival (Modern Battles 3)
Publisher: Dreamspinner (January 17, 2014)
ISBN: ebook 978-1-62798-387-7
paperback 978-1-62798-388-4


Is that the phone? Really?” Dr. Alastair Burrows rubbed his eyes and glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Just after seven on a Sunday morning, the thing had no business making such an infuriatingly insistent noise. It had been a very late night at yet another of those hateful business dinners his husband insisted he accompany him to, and Alastair deserved his sleep-in.

“You get it.” Cedric’s voice sounded rough and not in the least amused. The tone of command was undeniable, and a sign Alastair’s husband was in one of his moods. They’d gotten more frequent over the past year, and Alastair had become hyperaware of them after one incident when Cedric had hit him because he thought Alastair was interested in another man. Cedric had apologized profusely and professed his love, begging Alastair for another chance. Alastair had agreed, but their relationship had never been the same; he wasn’t even sure he loved Cedric anymore. The man was no longer the loving, caring guy he’d met ten years ago.

“’Kay.” Alastair picked up the receiver, not wanting to aggravate Cedric any further. As usual, he had no idea what had set his husband off, but he wasn’t willing to make things worse despite the fact the call was most likely for Cedric. “Hello? Alastair speaking.”

“Oh, thank God it’s you. I’m really sorry for calling you this early. I know it’s barely morning in Boston, but I couldn’t wait any longer.” Danny McBrae sounded close to hyperventilating.

“Danny, slow down. Take a deep breath.” Alastair paused to get some extra air himself in an attempt to reduce his suddenly spiking heartbeat. What the hell was his brother Grayson’s best friend doing calling him from Oxford, England at such an ungodly hour? It cannot be good news.

“Oh, Alastair, I am so sorry. I don’t even know what to say or do.” Danny sounded close to tears. It wasn’t like him to sound so desperate. “I wish I could tell you in person.”

“What?” Alastair was ready to jump through the phone. He needed to know now.

“It’s Grayson.” Danny sniffled.

“What about Grayson? For heaven’s sake, just tell me.” Alastair went cold with dread. Grayson was his elder brother and meant everything to him. Grayson had practically raised him and their youngest brother, Tom, after their mother died when Alastair was only eight. Grayson was only ten at the time, but he’d been the nurturing influence they needed and weren’t getting from their emotionally cold father, damn him. Their father had never been warm and fuzzy or the father the three boys needed, but after his wife died, he buried himself in his medical research even more and became practically nonexistent for the brothers.

“It’s…. He… he had an accident. In the car as he was driving down to London for the long weekend, to see Tom.” Danny took the breath he should have taken a while ago. “It’s pretty bad.”

“Oh my God.” Alastair sank back into bed, his hands shaking as he held onto the receiver and his head hitting the pillow as he closed his eyes. “Please, no.”

“What the hell is going on?” Cedric’s voice intruded into Alastair’s attempt not to panic completely.

Alastair looked at him briefly, noticed the angry frown as his husband rose from their bed, but shook his head and looked away. He had no time to deal with whatever Cedric’s problem was. With a fleeting thought, he wished Cedric were more understanding, but that just wasn’t in him. Alastair should know this after almost seven years of marriage to the guy. Still, he couldn’t help but wish things were different.

“How did it happen?” Not that knowing would change anything, but Alastair had a sudden need for information. Any information. It would give him time to deal with the real issue: whether Grayson was going to be okay.

“As far as I know, based on what the police officers were able to get from witnesses, the car in front of him braked unexpectedly. Grayson did the same but must have realized he wouldn’t make it. He moved into the faster lane, but a Jeep was moving in on him and hit his car as he was trying to evade it.” Danny sighed. “It was a pretty bad mess, mostly damaged cars, and Grayson was the only one seriously hurt. He’s got heavy bruising on both arms and his right leg and was briefly conscious after they pried him out of the mangled car, but he slipped into a coma last night.”

“Traumatic Brain Injury?” Alastair knew that’s what it must be; he may specialize in pharmaceutical research, but he’d been trained as a doctor. And focusing on the medical side distracted him from the fear welling up inside him. He needed to focus on the facts first; then he’d deal with the rest.

“Yeah. James, his sort-of-boyfriend, you remember him, right?” Danny sounded hopeful.

“Yes, Grayson told me about him.” Alastair hadn’t been impressed with some of the things James, a famous oncologist who moved from Boston to Oxford recently, had done to oppose Grayson’s proposal for a Children’s Hospital. But Grayson had seemed enamored with him on a personal level, so the man couldn’t be all bad.

“James explained it all to us. He’s not a neurologist, but he understands the basics much better than I do. Apparently, they’ve done the proper tests: measuring vital signs and reflexes and completing an initial neurological examination. They took skull and neck X-rays to check for bone fractures and found none.” Danny cleared his throat. “They don’t know why he slipped into the coma, but it isn’t uncommon—or so they say—and they said to hold on and hope for the best for now. He’s expected to wake up on his own.”

“Did they apply the Glasgow Coma Scale?” Alastair held his breath. The scale was a way to assess the depth of someone’s coma using a combination of scores in three areas: eye opening, verbal responses, and motor responses, then combined the results into a single score.

“James said he was a nine, which is a moderate coma.” Danny huffed. “I don’t care what they say though, he looks pale, and I’m scared.”

“I assume they did a CT scan and MRIs?” Alastair trusted Oxford Hospital to do the right thing, but still. They were talking about his brother here, and he felt totally helpless. Living on another continent had helped him deal with his past and build a life removed from the location of his traumatic childhood, but at times like this, when his brothers needed him, it was hard to live so far away from them.

“They completed the scans and have scheduled MRIs for later this morning.” Danny sighed. “All we can do now is wait and hope for the best, but I wanted you to know what’s going on.”

“Thanks, Danny.” Alastair took a deep breath. He knew there was probably nothing he could add to what the treating physicians had already done. But one thing was very clear. His brothers needed him and he wanted to be there for Grayson, so he had only one choice. “I’ll be on the next plane to London.”

Cedric sputtered a protest, but Alastair ignored him. One problem at a time.

“Really? Are you sure?” Danny sounded excited.

“Of course I’m sure. I’ll call you when I’ve made the arrangements.” Alastair rubbed his temple with his free hand. There was a flight to book and a ton of work-related stuff to set in motion so his team knew what they were doing in his absence, but he’d deal with that once he’d had his first cup of coffee.

“Thanks so much. I could do with some more support. Talk to you soon.” Danny ended the call.

Alastair put down the receiver and sighed. Man, what a way to start a Sunday. He looked up to see Cedric completely dressed in navy pants, a light-blue shirt, and a salmon tie. The man never relaxed, never dressed down, and had even brought Alastair to the point where he didn’t wear his favorite pair of jeans and a comfortable shirt. As for sneakers? They were banned in this house and in Alastair’s wardrobe, due to Cedric’s aversion to anything that didn’t look elegant. Cedric’s medium-length blond hair with artfully applied ash tints had been combed back for now. A meticulous grooming was sure to follow.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Cedric’s pale-blue eyes sparked with anger.

“What do you mean what am I doing?” Alastair sat up and leaned against the headboard. He had a feeling he’d need support for the coming discussion.

“That….” Cedric lifted his hand and waved at the landline phone on the nightstand. “What you said on the phone right now.”

“Did you even hear what I’ve been talking about? I know you only heard half of it, but you must have gotten that Grayson is in hospital, in a coma.” Alastair’s voice threatened to falter. “I need to be with him.”

“There’s nothing you can do, you said that yourself.” Cedric fisted his hands. “Grayson is in good hands. That boyfriend of his is a doctor—how much better can it get? You know how much you hate feeling helpless, right?”

Alastair just nodded. He’d been useless long enough when he grew up and left all the worrying to Grayson. But he’d done it. He had taken control of his life when he got a scholarship to Stanford, got his medical degree in record time, then met Cedric while he was working on his PhD. The job offer at Biomedical Inc., Cedric’s company, had been a surprise, but they needed all the research support they could get.

“I don’t think it’ll be good for you to fly to England only to sit at Grayson’s bedside feeling superfluous and unable to help. They’re taking good care of him, I’m sure. There’s nothing you can do.” Cedric narrowed his eyes. “Now, you also know how important next week’s meetings and dinners are. We’re about to take over Tevalex, and I need you here. You’re an essential part of the acquisitions team. Without your brilliance in developing research strategy, I very much doubt they’ll take our offer seriously. So you see, it’s crucial you stay here.”

“I know all that.” Alastair tilted his head, pretending to consider what Cedric was saying. He had only one goal: get on a plane and see his brother. But opposing Cedric openly was a stupid idea. The man had developed into a control freak since they got married, and Alastair knew any opinion different to his would not be welcome. He’d been too immersed in his work to care, but he had noticed how Cedric had taken over his life, managing everything from their money to determining the best spots for vacations. Alastair had welcomed it since it gave him more time with his projects. But ever since last year and the hitting incident, he’d begun to doubt their marriage was salvageable. And now, as he tried to resist one of Cedric’s opinions for the first time, the opposition was formidable.

“Well?” Cedric stepped closer. Patience was not one of his strengths.

“You’re right.” Alastair needed a plan. He had to figure out how to get his passport from the safe, where to find money, and how to book a flight without Cedric noticing. Shit, this is bad.

“Of course I am.” Cedric smiled, showing perfect white teeth. He held out a hand. “Now that we’re agreed, let’s get ready to meet the Milfords for brunch.”

Alastair nodded, only holding back a groan with a major effort. He hated the stuffy older couple, but they were important social influences, and Cedric was nothing if not status-conscious. Having brunch with them would ensure another appearance in the society column and feed Cedric’s need to be seen as a major mover and shaker.

Meanwhile, all Alastair wanted to do, now that he’d truly awoken to the reality of his life and accepted it, was run as fast and as far as possible.

FIVE DAYS later Alastair was absolutely frantic. Grayson was still in a coma, Cedric had hidden the passports somewhere other than the safe, and the man never left his side unless they were at work. Security was strict, and Alastair had the distinct impression the security staff were watching him too. The stress was getting to him, and he knew he was about to lose it big time. This madness had to stop. Unless Cedric respected Alastair’s wishes and let him go, their marriage was over. The only reason Alastair still hesitated was the fear of Cedric hurting him. His husband was half a foot taller than Alastair’s own measly five ten, and a lot more muscular.

Alastair sat at his desk in the office and brooded. Maybe it was safer to confront Cedric here? At least there were other people around, and Cedric wouldn’t do anything really bad. He hoped. Then he sighed as he shut off the computer. He’d been staring at the screen for the last half-hour, trying to understand the reports coming in from their experimental lab in Brazil. Nothing made sense.

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his tired muscles back into life. The fact that he needed to take Cedric becoming violent into consideration confirmed that it was over. He wasn’t ready to become a battered spouse any more than he had already. All that mattered was him getting away without being hurt physically. Emotionally, he was already a mess.

Slowly he rose, got his briefcase, and left. On the way to Cedric’s office, he encountered several of his colleagues on their way into the weekend, as well as the ubiquitous security guards who seemed to be following him everywhere. Finally he arrived at Cedric’s door and knocked since the secretary had already left. It was after six and high time for everyone else to head for home as well.

“Come in.” Cedric’s voice sounded muffled through the thick wooden door.

Alastair opened the door and walked inside. Cedric sat behind his oversized oak desk like a king. A stack of paperwork sat in his outbox, the computer was still on, and the flat-screen TV on the wall had some sort of business news scroll across the bottom of the screen while a muted news anchor talked about whatever the economy was up to now.

“Hey.” Cedric smiled.

“We need to talk.” Alastair sat on the couch in the visitor area and put his briefcase next to him on the floor. He refused to sit in the chair opposite Cedric’s desk and feel like a little boy called into the principal’s office.

“We do? What, all the way over there?” Cedric raised both eyebrows.

Alastair nodded, focusing on suppressing the nervous shivers racing up and down his spine. He clasped his hands in his lap so the shaking wouldn’t show.

Cedric got up, walked around the desk, and sat next to Alastair. He pursed his lips as if he’d bitten into something sour, clearly unhappy the discussion wasn’t taking place where he’d wanted it. The longer Alastair observed him with a little more detachment than he’d had in the years of their marriage, the clearer it became. Cedric was a territorial, controlling jerk.

“I’ll come right to the point.” Alastair sat up straight, took a deep breath, and went for it. “You may not have asked how Grayson is doing, but I’ve spoken to Danny and Tom a few times, and he’s not doing well. It’s been almost a week, and the doctors say he could wake up any time. I want to be there when that happens.”

“And if he doesn’t wake up while you’re there?” Cedric smirked. “You’ll have wasted all that time on a trip that’s completely pointless. Your place is here, at my side, and I resent the fact that I have to repeat myself. We’ve had this discussion, and I believe I made myself clear.”

“What we had was not a discussion. You told me your wishes and expected me to fall into step with you.” Alastair’s frustration rose by the second.

“Of course. I know what’s best for you, and the past ten years should have shown it to you. Everything I did to support your career was done with you in mind.” Cedric shook his head. “Why can’t you see that?”

“I can’t see it because it isn’t true.” Alastair shook with anger. “What you have done was mostly in your interest. Yes, my career did well, but on the whole, the only real beneficiary is Biomedical. Your company.”

“Why, you ungrateful….” Cedric jumped up and lifted his arm to point at Alastair. “You’ll take that back.”

“No.” Alastair forced himself not to cringe. “I want to see Grayson. I don’t care what else is happening or whether you need me or not. Those business meetings can be rescheduled. Grayson’s life is in danger, and he’s my family. That is far more important than anything going on here.”

“No.” Cedric shook his head and remained standing, probably trying to intimidate Alastair with his size. “I can’t let you leave.”

“Is that why you hid the passports?” Alastair frowned.

“I didn’t hide them; I made sure they’re safe.” Cedric grinned.

“They were perfectly fine in the safe.” Alastair shrugged. “Not that it matters. I want my passport, and I will fly to England.”

“No, you won’t.” Cedric stepped closer and bent down. “I am your husband and I have a say in what you do.”

“What?” Alastair remained right where he was, refusing to show fear. This was the last straw. Cedric was trying to run his life, which was all fine as long as they’d agreed on what they wanted. Now that Alastair was asserting himself, Cedric’s true colors showed. No way could Alastair allow the man to run his life. He was his own man, and as much as he’d once loved Cedric, those feelings had dribbled away and were no longer relevant. “You leave me no choice then. I want a divorce.”

“Never!” Cedric’s face turned into a mask of fury. “I’ll give you a divorce over my dead body!”

Alastair blinked. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a fist coming at him. It hit him before he could so much as raise a finger. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Traveling Light excerpts by Lloyd Meeker

This double excerpt from Traveling Light by Lloyd A Meeker is a shamanic initiation adventure, a love story that bridges the worlds, a mystical quest for growth, and a mystery.

An eye for an eye...

Ian McCandless is a hospice nurse, training to become a shaman. When his mentor orders him to make peace with his estranged family, Ian reluctantly agrees, anticipating just another conflict-filled visit. On their way from the airport Ian's older brother Will interrupts a convenience store robbery and is shot, dying in Ian's arms and calling to him for vengeance.

Ian uses his shamanic abilities to track down the killer, but his quest soon turns into a hunt for revenge---forbidden to any shaman. Ian's pursuit jeopardizes his relationship with the spirit world, endangers the lives of those he loves and threatens to banish him from the only path that gives his life meaning.

Traveling Light
MLR Press (March 2011)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-317-8 (print)
978-1-60820-318-5 (ebook)

Excerpt: Ta-Kuat, an Anasazi shaman living in 1250 AD, journeys on his mentor’s orders to modern Vancouver to perform a walk-in, a temporary joining of two souls in one body, in order to search for the Door-Stone, a talisman of great power. He calls into the ether to see whose soul might respond to his request…

Chapter 29
Gerard Beauvais watched himself brushing his teeth. Simple little motions, he thought. How much longer before I can’t even brush my teeth? Not that it mattered. He would never let himself become that helpless. He spat out, rinsed his face and pulled his lips back to reveal a perfect set of teeth. Perfect. Like the rest of him.
Generations of assimilation into English-speaking Canada had not softened his dark, Gallic good looks. When he went to Montreal, people just assumed and started speaking to him in French. How could anyone with such a nose, such cheekbones, full lips and midnight hair not speak French? So many ironies in my life, little and big, he thought.
He stepped back from the mirror and flexed. His Gallic genes had given him this perfectly proportioned frame, too. He liked his body, and what it had brought him. He’d become accustomed to the unabashed admiration of both women and men in his classes at the gym, or the personal training sessions he offered at Fitness World. He’d had plenty of pleasure with both, too— whenever he’d wanted it.
He turned from the mirror, mildly embarrassed. Yes, he was physically beautiful, and he had done little to earn his beauty except to work out. Most of it had been the gift of genetics. He grimaced at the thought. A gift, as it turned out, with a little time bomb planted just above the medulla oblongata.
The occasional dizziness, blurred vision and headaches had sent him weeks ago to his doctor, who had sent him for exhaustive tests. The results had warranted an MRI at the Cancer Institute up on 10th Avenue. There, Dr. Parma had been very kind in his directness. The tumor was located where chemo wouldn’t help, large doses of radiation would be lethal, and surgery was not advisable because of the risk. Terminal, unless he chose the surgery, during which he could die or, worse, survive the operation as a vegetable. That wasn’t Dr. Parma’s term, but that was his unmistakable meaning.
Gerard sprawled on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He’d decided immediately that he wouldn’t do the surgery. He couldn’t bear to think of himself as a carved-up lump of flesh unable to talk or wipe his ass. Was that just vanity? Maybe. He didn’t care. As soon as Dr. Parma had told him modern medicine held no answer for him, he had begun hoarding the Seconal his family doctor had prescribed. When the symptoms became too severe, Gerard would have a little bottle full of answers all his own.
But he had changed inside since he’d learned he was going to die. At first he had laughed at himself when he began taking an interest in strange stuff like Reiki and meditation, prolifically advertised on the bulletin board at the gym. He’d ignored all of those business cards posted there when he was going to live forever. Another of life’s little ironies. To his surprise, he enjoyed the meditation class enormously, and he’d become fairly regular in meditating in the morning and before bed. Not tonight, though. Too tired. No need even for one of the over-the-counter pills he often took.
Gerard didn’t recognize this place. What was it? Oh. It didn’t matter—he was dreaming. A small clearing in the midst of strange trees spread luxuriantly before him. He turned to look behind him, but he couldn’t see where he had come from. He faced the clearing again and moved softly forward in the deep, fragrant grass. Ahead he saw a stream and, intrigued, decided to follow its course.
Nearing the opposite side of the clearing, he saw a man sitting cross-legged beside the stream. The man seemed to be chanting as he watched Gerard approach. He was lean and beautiful, with long, black hair held in braids that framed his face. First Nations. His voice was beautiful, too, and the chant pleasantly compelling. Gerard stood quietly across the stream from the singer, waiting. Waiting, he supposed, for him to finish. He was in no hurry. This was nice.
After a while, the man stopped and smiled at Gerard.
“Welcome,” he said. “I am Ta-Kuat.”
“My name is Gerard. Gerard Beauvais. Hello.”
“Thank you for coming.”
“For coming? But this is my dream, and you are in it.”
“That is true. You dreamed to come here, but I came a different way, seeking someone’s help. You answered my request.”
“How do you know I answered your request?”
“Because you are here.”
Gerard thought about this for a while, knowing it was true without being able to arrive at an explanation. “What kind of help are you looking for?”
“I wish to walk with you in your world for a little while.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just as you cannot live in this place that you have dreamed, so I cannot live in your world without help.”
“But how would I help you?”
“I would join you in your body, living with you for half a moon or less. No more.”
Gerard laughed. “Like demonic possession? I don’t think so.” Ta-Kuat shook his head gently, very serious. “I am no demon.”
“But you would possess me?”
“No. No possession. I would guide your body for a while, but you would always be able to say no. I would never make you do something that was against your will.”
Gerard studied the stranger, fascinated. “How do I know that you wouldn’t?”
“I would be as vulnerable to you as you are to me. We could help or harm each other with equal ease.”
 “Why would I want to take the risk?”
“In your belly you already know. You answered my call because your spirit knows that this may also help you, as you help me.”
“It would help me? How?”
“I do not know yet. But your spirit does, and brought you here.” Ta-Kuat stood. “Perhaps you need to retrieve something lost by your ancestors in order to live well.”
He was dreaming, Gerard knew, but something real, wordless and strange was happening. It felt clean and good, like sweet music. Something lost by his ancestors. What the hell? He had nothing to lose—he would be dead within a few months, anyway.
“What will happen if we do this?”
“We will become as one man for a while. I will ask you to help me search for something. You will know my thoughts, and I will know yours, nothing hidden between us. We will speak to each other in clear thought. I will travel with you, and you will travel with me. We will make each other stronger.” Ta-Kuat paused. “Do you love with men?”
Surprise made Gerard look at Ta-Kuat again, more carefully. Yeah, he would definitely be a candidate. Definitely. “More often with women, but sometimes.”
“Then it may be we will also share that pleasure. It would be very powerful.”
Gerard smiled and winked. “So how do we do this?”
“You must invite me to cross this stream. Then we will walk together back to your body. By the time we reach it, we will be one.”
A sweet contentment settled upon Gerard, and a feeling of adventure he couldn’t remember having felt for a long time, perhaps ever. “Then cross the stream and join me, Ta-Kuat. We’ll do as you say. I’ll hold you to your word that you will be good to me.”
Ta-Kuat stood, smiling. “For my own sake as well as yours, I will keep my word.” He floated across the stream and stood facing Gerard. “I do not know how yet, but I will make sure that you are blessed by our joining.” They strolled side by side in the direction from which Gerard had come, across the clearing and into the forest, which opened to them in cool, verdant welcome.
Gerard woke, his body tingling. He felt deliciously warm, heavy—as if he’d been dozing on a tropical beach. Greetings, Gerard Beauvais, came a gentle murmur. Something stirred inside him that reached to every part of his body—strange, intimate, vaguely erotic. Thank you for inviting me to be with you. The dream came back to Gerard with dazzling clarity, and he gasped. “That really happened?” he asked aloud.
Yes. I am Ta-Kuat. We are together for a time. It is a pleasure for me to walk with you. Think your words only, and I will understand them. It is better if you do not speak aloud to me. We will be clearer with each other. Try it.
Like this? Gerard asked silently.
Yes, just so. That is good.
Gerard stretched, enjoying the feeling of such intimate companionship, sharing his body in this new way—rich, sensuous. He felt quiet laughter inside him, not his.
You find good pleasure in this, do you not?
I do. Gerard found himself grinning like a kid with a new bike. This is very nice.
It is strong pleasure for me, too, came the response. Then a wave of voluptuous energy flooded through Gerard, making him stiffen.
Whoa! Are you showing me what you feel?
Yes, that is how I feel, being with you like this. Strong pleasure.
We’d better be careful about where and when we exchange that kind of feeling, Ta-Kuat! I could get in trouble if that were to happen while I’m working with someone at the gym.
Think of this gym, so I know. The thought pictures are not familiar to me.
Gerard lay back and thought of Fitness World, the sterile air, house music thumping, people lost in their exercise routines while their earphones held the world at bay. He thought of the lockers and the showers, the office cubes and the telephones. He imagined standing behind a client, holding her elbows while she worked with the dumbbells. Her streaked ponytail, sticking out through the back of her pink baseball cap, brushed against his face, tickling his nose and lips as he bent forward.
This is new to me. Thank you for letting me understand this gym. That woman desired you.
Yes, she’s made that pretty clear. She’s used to getting what she wants, but I’m not interested. I don’t think she’s going to buy more sessions when she’s used up the ones she has.
There was silence for a moment, then Gerard, I may have found how I can benefit you for letting me walk in you. I know you expect to die soon, and I—
How do you know that?
I told you there would be nothing hidden between us. Your death is in many of your thoughts. You plan to take pieces of poison to end your life.
Pieces of poison? Yeah. I do. When the time comes. How come I don’t know your secrets?
You can, if you want to learn them. Open yourself to them, and you will know instantly. In a very short time we will know everything about each other’s life that we want to know.
Show me one of your secrets. A big one.
I do not keep it a secret, but in my time-place I may die soon, also.
Letting his mind be filled with his misgivings about Chiyuskanek, Ta-Kuat held the vision that Ian had described to him, and Gerard cried out when the knife first struck.
Why are you here, then, if you expect this to happen?
I have told you. I seek a powerful talisman needed to save our village, the thing the old man in the vision covered with my blood.
You’re looking for the talisman that you will be killed for? That makes no sense!
I am a shaman. I travel between life and death all the time. One world is very much like the other to me. If I can save the people of my village with my death, I will. If I do that I will not die, but live on in my people.
I don’t understand that at all.
Open yourself to me. Ta-Kuat summoned the essence, the life of his village—the intimacy, the interdependent weave of obligation and belonging, the dedication to the welfare of a collective, of being that whole. He let the contentment and security, the calm, undying procession of generations—imbuing each succeeding individual life with greater meaning and relationship—flood through him, possessing and honoring his personal identity and role. The rich presence of all his ancestors and the warm wisdom of the living earth itself held his mind, his heart, his hopes, in a vibrant balance with animals, weather, with living beings everywhere.
In Gerard’s heart the threads of numberless generations wove triumphantly into the Great Web of All-That-Is, filling him with awe. He belonged—for the first time in his life, he belonged, and his life had purpose, purpose found only in the perfect wholeness of life everywhere, and especially in the life of his people. He understood, and wept at the beauty. I have never felt anything like that before, Ta-Kuat. Your way is so beautiful. Thank you. A wave of sadness engulfed Gerard. No, not sadness. Mourning. Your way is not possible here. In my world there are so many different ways of belonging that it is hard to belong deeply to anything at all, to be held like you are, and that is very sad to me.
You are right, the way of my people is not possible here. But even in the world you know, a great wholeness is possible. The man you will meet, and that we may love together, Ian, works toward that. He still seeks his own path to its center, but when he finds it he will be a powerful force for wholeness in your world.
Gerard sat up, savoring the rich denseness of being joined completely with another being. I will learn so much from you, Ta- Kuat. May you find what you seek here in my world. But please don’t change me more than I can bear. He could feel Ta-Kuat smiling inside him.

Excerpt 2: Ian McCandless, an apprentice shaman in modern Vancouver, embarks on a sacred plant journey under the guidance of his mentor, Ang. Ian is sent on this life-threatening journey to harmonize the forces of good and evil warring in him.

Chapter 30

The dark of the moon arrived, and along with it, Ian’s appointment with Ang. At dusk Ian took the few steps down from the lobby to Ang’s garden level, feeling awkward as a first- time visitor. The stale cooking smells in the hall made him queasy. He felt mild surprise at noticing the black scuffs low on the wall where a bicycle wheel had rubbed, weeks ago, probably, and the ripples in the hall carpet, too large to be obscured by its garish pattern.
He paused in front of Ang’s door. Several chips in the noncommittal tan paint on the door molding exposed an earlier coat of pale blue. Unable to banish the anxious tightness that made his breath shallow and erratic, Ian did as Ang had instructed. He didn’t knock, but turned the knob and walked in.
The air was thick and hot, heavy with the pungent smoke of sweetgrass and sage—something else, too. It engulfed him, making his eyes and nose burn. Ian struggled to stay focused as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. In the light of a single candle, Ian could make out Ang seated on the floor, motionless, eyes closed. He sat bare-chested, and his bony torso and face were painted—white around the eyes, mouth and down the nose, black and white cheeks, forehead and neck. His chest was smeared black with thick, white lines running along his arms, ribcage and shoulders like painted bones. Ian had never seen him like this, or felt this afraid in his presence. Something final was about to happen. Although he knew it wasn’t true, he felt as though everything he had done up to now had been child’s play. Whatever this was, it was very, very different.
“So.” Ang did not open his eyes.
“Yes, Ang, I—”
“No talk!” Ang cut him off sharply, eyes still shut. “Just answer when I ask.” He sat silent with his head tilted slightly, as if he were listening for something. “I send you on a journey to meet your twin, your shadow brother. He is the sire of your wild wisdom, including vengeance. You find him in your own underworld. Uncivilized. Frightening. You return, bring him back inside you, or you do not come back. Are you willing to make this journey?”
Ian swallowed against a tightening throat. “Yes.”
“So. Take off your clothes.”
Ian undressed carefully, folding his clothes on an armchair, and stood naked, shivering in the hot darkness. He waited.
After what seemed a long time, Ang spoke again. “You have all your affairs set in order? Your will, legal matters? People?”
“You understand you maybe don’t come back from this journey? This will be the most dangerous you have ever made.”
“I understand.”
“What do you want me to do with your body if you die?”
Ang’s voice was remote, as was the prospect of death. “Put it in Burrard Inlet when the tide is going out.”
“So. One more time.” Ang opened his eyes and stared at Ian—impassive, detached. “This will change you. If you live. No more only good nurse Ian, doing noble and kind things all day. Also you become someone else—dark, WildIan, knowing dark things a shaman needs to know, to be at peace with your darkness. Do you choose to go?”

“Once you step into this circle, there is no turning back.”
“I understand.”

“Enter the circle. Say nothing.”
Ian stepped over the coarse rope marking an area just big enough for him to sit in. He stood, looking down at the hair and small bones that had been knotted into its rough weave. His pale body looked soft, weak, in the candlelight.
“Sit.” Ian obeyed. Ang began to chant quietly and picked up a bowl next to him. Into it he poured a dark liquid. After a time he paused from his singing. He handed the bowl to Ian.
“Drink. All of it.” Again, Ian obeyed. The liquid was thick, bitter. “So. Now you let the plant take you, Ian. Journey well. I will sit vigil. Maybe you need my voice to find your way back to this world when you are ready.”
Ian nodded and closed his eyes, seeking a deep breathing rhythm. Soon he felt his consciousness being taken by what he had drunk. He wanted to call out for a guide, but he knew that none would answer. This journey was his only. And then he fell softly, tumbling into the voluptuous darkness that folded itself about him.
He sat on a muddy riverbank in the fading light of a sullen sun. Ian studied the wet clay and coarse grass underneath him, then turned to look over his shoulder. Behind him a parched landscape stretched—barren, marked with what looked like dead trees. Maybe one of them was a gallows, he wasn’t sure. He faced the river.
Vines thick as a man’s wrist spiraled up out of the water, reaching up to him. They wrapped around his feet, legs, torso, arms, neck and pulled him, sliding, down the bank into the river. He knew he should not resist, so he didn’t. The water was cold, thick, and tasted of mud as it filled his mouth, nostrils and throat. As his lungs filled, he sank but did not die. The vines let go, and the sluggish current took him, rolling him slowly, heavily along the slimy bottom.
The water became warmer, the mud thicker. Eventually he bumped against something hard and large. Although he couldn’t see, he felt as far as he could reach—tree roots, maybe. Ian grabbed hold and pulled himself upward until he broke the surface. He could breathe again, but he hadn’t really missed breathing. He wiped the mud from his eyes and face and could see he was in a swamp. Wisps of fog drifted above the slick water’s surface. The stench of decay was everywhere. He pulled himself up onto the gnarled roots above water, crouching in the dim jungle heat, surveying where he was.
Thunder rolled—distant, dull. There was a badly weathered boat tied to the trunk but it had no oars, and black water rippled in the bilge. Ian climbed in and sat—running his hands along the rotting wood, the remnants of paint on the gunwales, celebrating the textures with a rush of affection. He realized he was supposed to cast off, so he did. Drifting in the torpid water, the boat pushed silently through the mist. The thunder sounded again, closer, and there were sudden scrabbling noises and a single sharp squawk somewhere in the canopy overhead.
Ian could see he was approaching an inlet with a discernable shore—ahead of him a stony bank rose out of the water and merged into thick undergrowth. He could see the outline of trees against the sky in the dim light. On its own direction, the boat pushed farther into the inlet until the shore opened onto a meadow. A short distance from the shore a bonfire blazed, swirling its racing sparks and smoke up into the dark. The boat swung toward the clearing and nudged into the bank.
Just as Ian stepped onto land, a naked male figure approached the fire, threw his armload of wood onto it and began a shuffling dance around the flames, arms waving as if to music Ian couldn’t hear. He stood motionless for a while, watching the dancing man, who even in the uncertain light seemed familiar. A part of the clouded sky flickered, then thunder sounded—harsher, closer. Uneasily, Ian walked toward the fire and stopped at the edge of its light. The man’s ragged matted hair and thick red beard couldn’t obscure his identity. It was himself. Wild Ian.
On the far side of the bonfire WildIan stopped his dance and turned to stare at Ian through the twisting sparks and smoke. “So,” he growled. “You finally made it. Ian plays noble St. George, come to slay his dragon.” The man spat into the fire in disgust. “Stupid St. George, who knows nothing!”
“I’m not here to slay a dragon. I came to find you—and I have.”
WildIan guffawed. “Find me, you idiot? I was here all the time!” He shook his head. “I made a fucking bonfire for you to get here! So stupid.”
Ian stepped farther into the fire’s circle. “Thank you for your help.” Alert as a deer, WildIan watched, still, ready. “Now that I’ve found you, will you return with me?”
WildIan’s eyes widened in surprise, then he whooped with laughter so hard he had to bend over to lean on his thighs. “That’s it? Is that really how it works in the world where you live?” He cackled again in amazement. “Unbelievable. You think I am your tame little pet, follow you when you call? You are even more stupid than I thought.” WildIan sneered. “No. That is not how it works here. You haven’t found me—you just know where I am. Big difference. Maybe not to you, but big difference to me.” Without taking his eyes off Ian, he reached to his head, then drew a long hank of hair into his mouth, chewing softly. A knife blade flashed in the firelight as he cut the wet hair and threw it onto the fire. “This fire is mine. I take it with me.” WildIan turned and strode into the darkness. Behind him, the fire crumbled to cold dead ash.
Stunned, Ian stood frozen, staring in the direction of WildIan’s departure as his eyes adapted to the absence of firelight. It looked like there might be a path across from where the fire had been, leading into the darkness, and he decided to follow it. It was all he could think of to do. He struck out across the burn, which was already filling in with thick, rough grass.
It must have been nearing morning, for it seemed lighter to Ian. He could see farther, more clearly. A sharp turn in the path brought him to the edge of a wide ravine with steep, rocky sides. He followed it down to a sandy floor, which smelled deliciously of fresh water and sagebrush.
He was desperately thirsty, hadn’t had anything to drink for far too long. He ran his tongue over his lips and winced as it hit cracks and sores. Dizziness made him stumble. With uneven footsteps he followed first the scent and soon the sound of sweet water somewhere in the deepest part of the ravine, doubling back against the direction he had come down the trail. There, set at the base of converging rock faces, spread a large pool fed by a rivulet springing from a crack high up the layered wall. He had to drink, or die. Ian fought his dizziness, leaning against the warm rock, gathering himself for one last push to the water. He stumbled forward and knelt at the spring’s edge, jubilantly, reverently splashing it on his parched lips, sipping it gratefully. He could feel every drop filling him with strength—no, more. Power.
“No!” A scream of rage came from directly behind him. Before he could turn, WildIan tackled him and began dragging him away from the spring’s edge. “My water!” He roared in Ian’s ear, twisting him into submission beneath him. “My water!”
Ian’s head was pinned into the sand by a rough knee. He tried to keep the sand out of his mouth but couldn’t. He opened the eye that was not buried and saw the glinting curve of a dagger blade hovering just above it, point first—so close it took effort to focus on it. “You drank my water without my permission.” WildIan’s voice was flat, deadly. “Now I don’t return with you— instead, you stay here with me. Maybe I let you drink sometimes, maybe not. Sit up. Slowly!”
Ian sat up warily as WildIan waggled the dagger in his face. “I mark you,” he murmured softly, gazing into Ian’s eyes. “So you don’t run away.” Slowly, WildIan drew the knife away from Ian’s face, and without breaking eye contact drove the dagger through Ian’s right instep, all the way to the hilt, and then yanked it out. Ian screamed in surprise as well as the pain burning through his foot. He looked down, astonished and afraid at being maimed, fascinated by the trickle of blood escaping from the wound. There ought to be more blood than this, he thought. He screamed again as WildIan plunged the knife through his other foot. Cooing tenderly, WildIan patted Ian’s knees. “You are mine now. Like the fire and the water. You stay here.” WildIan got up and trotted away, disappearing into a cleft in the rock.
Ian laughed, desperate, hysterical yelps. He should do something. The pain was distant, and sweat dripped from him everywhere. Shock, he thought. He had to escape before WildIan returned. He began crawling toward the trail he had descended.
Crawling up the incline was easier than across the ravine floor, somehow, even though the rocks on the trail dug into his knees every time he pushed forward, into his elbows every time he pulled. How much farther? Didn’t matter. Had to keep going. Ian lifted his head to scan the trail ahead and saw a little boy sitting cross-legged on a boulder above the path, just a few yards ahead. Maybe he was four or five years old, no more. The boy smiled and waved, but otherwise remained motionless, watching Ian struggle toward him.
“You come back here!” screamed a voice below him. WildIan dashed across the sand to the base of the trail. “I told you to stay! You belong to me now!”
Frantic, Ian scrabbled forward up the path, managing to come even with the little boy sitting above him. He pulled hard at a rock sticking out of the path, but halted at a searing new pain in his right calf. He looked back to see that WildIan had stabbed his leg as if his knife had been a piton, and was pulling himself up by it to tackle Ian at the knees. Immobilized, Ian turned again to call to the boy above them for help. But the boy jumped up and disappeared. The boulder he had been sitting on shifted, rolling slowly, then falling onto the two men exactly where their limbs were entangled, crushing Ian’s legs from the knees down and WildIan’s hands and forearms. Ian looked down at where his legs disappeared under the stone, as if from a great distance, so far away that he felt no pain at all. Strange. He had felt the pain of the knife, but none now.
“Damn you!” WildIan screamed from the other side of the rock. “Damn, damn, damn you! Now the animals will come and eat us both.”
Ian laughed. “Or not. Maybe there is another way.” He couldn’t think. “Or not.” He looked up the trail.
The boy had returned, and a swarm of iridescent insects hovered beside him. He smiled and waved. “Would you like my help?”
Giddy, desperate, Ian shouted back, “Please!”
The boy made his way down the path, stepping over Ian’s shoulder to wedge himself between the trail wall and the boulder. He shoved, and the boulder rolled off the two men, over the lip of the trail and down into the ravine below. Ian looked at the mess that had been under the rock. Their limbs were indistinguishable, just pieces of tissue and bone in a red and pink pulp. The dagger’s shards lay scattered in the crush.
The boy gestured to the insects and they swarmed down to cover the stumps of the men’s limbs, nibbling, crawling, their iridescent wings shimmering in the soft light. Ian looked again and saw that they were binding WildIan’s arm stumps to his own amputated legs, knitting them together with some kind of silky thread they secreted. Soon he and WildIan were a single grotesque creature—two, except where arms of one grew into the legs of the other.
WildIan twisted and pulled against the bond, screaming over and over. “No! I will not! No!” His screams became a strident chant as he wrenched his shoulders back and forth in an effort to break free. Then, with a rolling pull, one arm tore out of Ian’s leg socket, and with the sudden momentum WildIan rolled off the trail over its edge, hanging by his single link to Ian’s knee. Tearing pain shot up Ian’s leg stump and spread, burning through his entire body. Ian tried to concentrate on holding himself on the trail, but could feel himself gradually slipping. He pulled toward the edge of the cliff as WildIan twisted and swung back and forth in an attempt to throw a leg back onto the ledge.
“Stop! You’ll kill us both!” Ian shouted.
WildIan grunted frantically but didn’t answer, continuing to swing at the trail and pull Ian closer to its edge.
“Reach farther into my leg with your arm,” Ian yelled, scratching on the rocky trail for some anchor. “Reach farther into my leg!” There was a wrenching jolt, and then stillness. Not even pain. Just stillness. It seemed like a long time before he could open his eyes. Ian looked over the edge. No WildIan. He looked behind him down the trail. No WildIan. Then he noticed he had legs again—very hairy legs. WildIan’s legs.
Unsure, Ian sat up, and a heavy, rough presence shifted inside him. He felt whole again. Strong. Amazement flooded through him. He wept with wracking sobs—relief, gratitude, and some kind of strange peace poured out of him in his tears. He felt a hand on his arm and looked up to see the little boy standing in front of him on the trail looking very solemn. Then the boy smiled, radiant, satisfied, and leaned forward to kiss the top of Ian’s head. “I have loved you both,” he said. “This way is better. Hold my hand. I can always take you home.”
Ian opened his eyes, watched bright dots of light swim through his vision. He couldn’t move, nor did he want to. Sitting was enough. He had always belonged here—now, to himself, to this flesh, to this heart. To this wholeness. He took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.
“So,” Ang’s voice brushed softly against him. “Good traveling, Ian. Welcome back.”
Ian smiled, feeling exhausted, powerful, grounded. “Feels good.”
“Yes, good,” Ang nodded, handing him a small glass of water. “Drink slowly, just sips. Blanket? Are you cold?” Ian shook his head, and Ang continued. “Now you have everything you need to complete your initiation—all inside you.”
Ian struggled to give words to thought. “Should I tell you what happened now, or later?”
“No. No report. This journey, its wisdom, belongs to you only. A gift from All-That-Is. Not my business. Same for all your traveling now. Time for reporting is over.”
Ian didn’t understand, but it felt right. He closed his eyes and followed his breathing, riding the pulse of blood coursing through his body on the chant of his heart. Below it thrummed WildIan’s raw and subtle power. He sat for a long time, deeply content, contained in himself. Then he looked at Ang. “What comes next?”
“I don’t know. Stay alert. The rest of your initiation, its events, they come to you now, demand your choices. By full moon All- That-Is accepts you as shaman, or not. Between now and then maybe I give some advice, if you ask. And maybe not. All up to you now.” Ang removed the rope that had encircled Ian and pushed the armchair up so Ian could lean back against it.
“How will I know if I’m accepted?”
Ang snorted. “You will know. No mistaking that answer, I promise you.”
Ian nodded, unable to speak. He closed his eyes and leaned back, letting the echoes of his experience resonate inside him. No mistaking the answer. That was good. He wasn’t eager for ambiguity.

For another excerpt from Traveling Light, see 4/18/2011.
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