I'HTHA


by Bob Nailor

An un-edited, first pass written for NaNoWriMo 2004.

CHAPTER 1

"I don't want to hear it, grandfather," Detective Mark Feather said in a very stoic voice. He'd learned that when speaking to his grandfather, a lack of inflection was more advantageous.

He stepped on the gas peddle and listened to the sedan's motor whine in anguish. It was an old clunker, but still had several useful miles. The reservation ways were instilled deep in his soul. The car sputtered. Jenny was right, he'd probably break down and get a new car when they got married.

"The spirit is almost dead in this one, Red Feather," the old man said. "Are you sure it will last for me to get to the meeting?"

Mark scowled at his grandfather in the rear view mirror. He didn't really hate being called Red Feather, it just brought back too many memories of the reservation that he didn't really want to remember.

"Why don't you ever sit up here?" Mark said.

"I am an old man," came the raspy reply. "I don't hide from Death but I see no reason to watch for it."

Mark shook his head at the old man's sagely words. He was sure it was a slam at his driving, but decided to ignore it.

"You must take me to the meeting, Red Feather." The old man held tightly to the courtesy handle as the young man swerved through the traffic. "I am the shaman. I need to be there. Big Elk says it is very important."

"All your meetings are important," Mark replied. "I said I'll take you after I check this out."

The old man raised a hand.

"I mean it, grandfather," Mark said defiantly while keeping his eyes forward to track the traffic. "Afterwards."

He spotted the trooper who was directing traffic. Mark flashed his badge and then drove the car off the road and onto the wash, scraping the rear bumper on the loose gravel. Ahead he could see a mob and flashing lights. Mark was always amazed at how fast the press and curious thrill-seekers could arrive at a scene.

"Today's children do not hold to the old ways," the old man mumbled then sulked while fingering his shaman beads.

He maneuvered the car near the group, got out then quickly looked back into the car.

"You stay here," he said. "I'll be back shortly." He raised a hand to stop the protest. "Then I'll take you to your meeting. I know, it's important. So is this."

"There is bad death here," the old man said and stared at his grandson with wide eyes. "Very bad medicine."

Mark nodded his head. "Yes, grandfather. Bad medicine. Now stay put."

He shut the door but could hear the old man start chanting before it slammed shut. Mark eased himself into the fray and finally worked up to the crime line. The stench assaulted him.

"My god, Bill," Mark said. "What they hell do you have here?"

"You tell us," Bill Hodson replied. "It appears to be a dead coyote and we think, a man." Bill pulled up the plastic cordon line and Mark stepped in.

Mark had assisted with a serial slasher case in LA during training, but he nonetheless was caught off-guard by the actual view when Hodson pulled back the blanket.

"Animal?" Mark queried.

"We found one set of coyote tracks, the victim's footprints, another set of possible footprints and a set of wolf tracks," Hodson replied.

"Possible?" Mark replied. "What does possible mean? Either we have two sets of human tracks or we don't. A wolf wouldn't, couldn't do this much damage." Mark peered around. "I don't think a coyote did this either."

"Damnest thing," Jack Perry said coming up to the two men. "We followed the wolf tracks about fifty yards off that way. They just disappear."

Mark turned to face Jack.

"Perhaps Injun Feather would like to give tracking a try," Jack sneared. "Afterall, I'm only a white man."

"Give it a rest," Mark said.

"Hey, I was told you injuns could track a snake through grass just by reading which way the damn grass is bent," Jack countered.

"We learn our tricks early and one of them is to know an asshole when we see one," Mark replied.

"Gentlemen," Captain Freeman said. "Both of you cool your heels before one of you say something that the other won't let go."

Jack started to talk but Freeman's hand flashed through the air. "Enough."

The wiry man eased over to the covered body, kneeled and started to pull the cloth back.

"What we got? Jesus! What is this?" Freeman quickly dropped the fabric back down. "My god; we got a very sick perp on the loose."

He stood up, his face ashen. He took a few steps away from the body then breathed deeply.

"First things first," he said. "Let's get rid of the circus. Lock this scene down. NOW!"

There was a hustle and bustle and the crowd was broken up. Some dispersed, others lingered.

"What's Forensics up to?" Freeman asked and then moved off toward the investigators with Hobson in tow.

An ambulance siren cut the air and Mark looked up from his staring at the ground. He had been deep in thought. Something wasn't right about this being a slasher killing. The ambulance crunched the ground as it approached. It was then Mark heard the low chanting.

"Hey," Jack yelled. "We got us a medicine man." He laughed loudly and pointed at Mark's grandfather who was moving about the victim. "You can't help him, old man," Jack added. "Actually, there ain't enough there to even start."

"Leave him alone," Mark said and stomped over to his grandfather. The ambulance attendants ambled by with a gurney bouncing all around.

"I told you to stay in the car," Mark hissed. "Why did you come?"

"Ohmygawd," the one attendant muttered. "Jesus!"

Mark turned to see them putting the remains in the body bag, then turned back to his grandfather.

The old man was ashen and his eyes wide.

"I'htha," he whispered and stepped back. His eyes never left the body bag. "Not dead. I'htha. Bad death."

"Go back to the car," Mark urged and pushed his grandfather away from the scene.

"I'htha," the old man said. "I must go to the meeting now."

"Captain!" Mark yelled. "I got to leave for a bit. Okay?"

The captain gave a silent hand gesture and Mark recognized it as a ‘get out of here' signal. He followed the old man listening to him quietly chant. Memories flooded him as the words lilted to his ears. How many years had he sat at his grandfather's feet and listened to him chant. The tribe assumed that he would follow in those footsteps and become a shaman. He hadn't. The words came to him but were unfamiliar yet he thought he knew all the chants.

"You are silent," the old man said.

"Just thinking about the case," Mark replied.

"You take me to the meeting now?"

"Yes," Mark sighed. "I'll take you to your meeting, then I'll need to come back here."

"This is bad death, Mark."

Mark stopped and stared at his grandfather. He couldn't remember the last time he heard the elder call him by his Christian name.

The old Indian placed an arm about Mark's shoulder. "Be careful, Little Feather," he said. "I don't want to lose you, too."

Mark smiled at his grandfather and knowingly nodded his head.

"I plan to be around for some time, grandfather," Mark replied. "Julene wants to get married and wants to have kids, too." He winked at the old man.

"Julene is too good for you."

"I know," Mark said. "She tells me that, too. Now, get in the car."

Mark eased the car carefully back onto the highway and headed for the reservation, his thoughts twisted between the incident he was leaving and his grandfather's uncharacteristic manner.

"Will you attend the ceremony?"

"Ceremony?" Mark said and watched his grandfather in the rear mirror. "You said it was a meeting. What kind of ceremony?"

"You are right, Red Feather," the old man replied. "It will be a meeting."

Mark kept peeking in the mirror at his grandfather, watching him fumble with a pouch and shake its contents out. The road to the reservation was quiet and didn't need his full concentration. Suddenly the chanting started again and Mark listened to the words, syllables that seemed familiar but strangely pronounced. Then he heard the word, I'htha, and a shiver crawled up his spine.

"What is I'htha?"

The chanting never waivered and Mark could see that his grandfather was in a low state of trance. It would be useless to attempt any conversation so he just listened to the mumblings of his elder.

© 2002 Robert Nailor -- All Rights Reserved

Conquistador

NOW, if you're really curious -- the legend this story (I'htha) is based on can be found in an anthology ebook ("13 Nights of Blood") at www.23house.com or at Amazon.com. The short story is entitled "Conquistador" and I have uploaded a partial of that short story I offer you a hint of the story, but again, only a teaser read. Yes, I created the legend — and the story "won" a place into the anthology for it's originality.