About the Author
James D. Doss is the author of the Charlie Moon mysteries, including A Dead Man's Tale and The Widow's Revenge. Two of the Moon books were named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. Originally from Kentucky, he divides his time between Los Alamos and Taos, New Mexico.
Read an Excerpt
Cañon Del Espiritu,
Southern Ute Reservation
Yesterday the ute woman had only felt the creature's approach, the same way she divined the threat of a thunderstorm long before it danced across the mesas on spider legs of lightning. Today, she could smell the musky odors of his lean body. As she watched the sun fall toward its nightly repose in the bosom of the blue mists, the shaman could distinctly hear the beast's panting breaths, the soft padding of his paws.
Darkness was the preferred companion of the beast, and darkness already wrapped its arms around the pleated skirt of Three Sisters Mesa. The unrelenting creature moved ever closer. Yogovuch trotted up the dusty arroyo at the base of the sprawling mesa, then through the fragrant thickets of sage and into the forest of gnarled piñon. The woman hadn't actually seen the dwarfs messenger, but his presence was palpable. The limber beast, with scarlet tongue draped over black lips, was approaching her trailer house in brazen fashion, and she was offended by this display of arrogance. Daisy Perika steeled herself and pulled the worn cotton blanket around her stooped shoulders. She stood on the unpainted porch and gripped the pine railing. Daisy waited expectantly for Coyote, servant of pitukupf, to speak to her of his elfin master's business. When it came, the eerie sound startled the woman.
"Yiiiooouuuwww ... aaaooouuu . . . iiieeooo" the beast yodeled to the shaman. The somber summons fell on cars that refused to listen.
Daisy clapped her hands together, the sound pierced the twilight like muffled pistol shots. "Leave me in peace, Yogovuch," she shouted to the intruder,who covered himself with shadows. "I am hill of years and my bones hurt. Know this"-–she boldly shook her finger in his direction to emphasize her determination--"I will no longer hear the drum or travel to Lowetworld." It was, she thought, high time for the dwarf to find a younger woman to take over this arduous work. She went inside and threw the bolt on the flimsy door.
She waited somewhat uneasily for Coyote's reply. All she could hear was the rhythmic chirping of the fat black crickets. "That is good," she muttered, "the mangy servant of pitukupf has turned tail. Tonight I will sleep without dreams.... My spirit will stay in my body. " Even as she was consoled by this naïve hope, a puffing gust of wind shook her frail home, rattling the kitchen windows. She shuddered; was this Coyote's answer? "I hope," she whispered, "ticks big as plums suck out all your blood!"
Determined to push the encounter from her mind, Daisy eased her frame into a cane-bottom chair and squinted at the snowy picture on her television screen. Millions of black and white dots attempted to coalesce into figures of human beings and helicopters with pods of rockets. She could not get a good picture when the rain fell between the distant city and her home at the mouth of Cañon del Espiritu. "Aunt Daisy," her nephew had cajoled, "you're too far away from your family; you ought to move into one of those new tribal houses at Ignacio. They got cable TV, running water, everything. You live like a hermit out there, and," he added ominously, you could have a stroke and die and we wouldn't know until they smelled your body all the way down at the Piedra."
"When I die," she had responded with a poker face, You're gonna know right away. I make you a promise." The young man had been at a loss for words as he imagined Aunt Daisy's spirit visiting his bedside on some still night. He considered asking her to keep her ghost away from his home, but thought it prudent to drop the subject.
Daisy was considering whether to start supper when her ears picked up the distinctive sound of chugging engine and creaking frame as a vehicle left the gravel road and heaved its weight over the rutted surface of her dirt lane. The identity of the Pickup truck became unmistakable when the driver shifted to low gear. The Old Dodge had a bad muffler and the shepherd had never learned to use a clutch properly. Daisy got to her feet and pushed the aluminum door open. She shaded her eyes from the setting sun as she watched Nahum Yaciiti climb down from the pickup, his bowed legs challenged by the operation. He was leaning heavily on his shepherd's staff as he shuffled toward the porch.
"You're too little for that big Dodge, Nahum," she teased. "You should buy one of them little Jap trucks." She knew Nahum could afford a new truck; the old sheepherder had a reputation for being uncommonly thrifty. There were delicious rumors, whispered in Ignacio bars, that Nahum buried rolls of greenbacks in wax-sealed canning jars under his grape arbor. Holes made by hopeful treasure hunters sometimes appeared under the arbor when Nahum was away from his home for more than a few days
When he did not reply, she was tenacious in pressing her point. "You,re going to fall out of that big truck someday and break your hip, and then who'll look after you?" Nahum's wife, who had been two decades younger than her husband, had been taken by influenza during last February's cold rains. Now, the old man lived alone in an adobe house north of Bondad on the rocky banks of the Animas. Only a few sheep remained from his large flock; Nahum treated them more like pets than livestock.
The shepherd smiled, displaying an uneven set of pegged teeth. He leaned his oak staff in the comer, hung his hat on it, and dropped his heavy coat on the floor before he sat down at the kitchen table with a deep sigh. Nahum looked hopefully toward the coffeepot and the woman took the hint.