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The Lost Tribes
By C. Taylor-Butler
Move Books LLCCopyright © 2015 C. Taylor-Butler
All rights reserved.
"When my cats aren't happy, I'm not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they're just sitting there thinking up ways to get even.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Paradise Circle, Sunnyslope, CA, USA, Thursday, October 23 – 6 p.m. PST
"Here, kitty, kitty!"
Ben tracked a shadow as it crept along the far wall of the greenhouse. Ten times larger than normal, the silhouette made it easy to pinpoint the target hiding among the plants.
Somewhere on the other side of the world, his father was on another glorious expedition, hunting for ancient artifacts. He'd flown to Nazca, Petra, and Bamiyan — wherever that was — and now a safari in Kenya. Ben had begged to tag along but the answer was always the same, "No" ... "Too dangerous" ... "When you're older" ... "When your grades are better." That last comment was as good as saying, "never."
He tightened his grip on the empty collar. The war escalated after Ben tossed the cat into the whirlpool tub — with all fifteen jets running. In return, Aris dumped dead animals on Ben's bed, each one bigger and more disgusting than the day before. A dead opossum, a squirrel, and a rat — at least Ben thought it was a rat. Today's "gift" was covered with tire tracks so Ben knew Aris had not killed it. Still, finding a raccoon with its insides hanging out was the last straw. A night leashed to a tree would teach the cat some manners.
You're toast, Aris!
Ben crouched behind a terra cotta pot. The label read, "Osmanthus Fragrans.Himalaya - BC 4030." He blinked. The date had to be a typo. The peach fragrance, however, made Ben's stomach growl. He panicked, held his breath and sank lower to the ground.
The cat's shadow paused, then continued on its way. Ben studied a wind chime hanging to the left of a mutant avocado plant — Amorphophallus Titanum, Sumatra, A.C.E. 2014. The chimes were twenty feet away but would mask his approach if he could hit them.
A few months ago he couldn't hit the side of the garage let alone the chimes. But with his father's frequent trips away, he'd been shooting hoops three hours each day hoping for a spot on the basketball team. Now he rarely missed a shot. So how hard could hitting the chimes be?
He found a rock and aimed. Ripples of sound filtered throughout the garden as the rock hit dead center. The shadow stopped, lowered to the ground, then headed toward the disturbance. Ben wondered how a cat so small could cast a shadow the size of a Volkswagen.
Ben rolled under a potting table, slipped past a mass of ferns and emerged behind his quarry, collar open and at the ready.
The shadow remained, but the cat was gone.
Startled, Ben sucked in his breath and scanned the greenhouse for movement.
Something stirred to his right.
He pounced only to find a broken pot, a puddle of muddy water and tiny paw prints. He narrowly missed a hole where Aris had left a new gift for him — one meant for a litter box.
Okay, cat! It's on!
Rustling leaves signaled the enemy's position overhead. Horrified, Ben spun around to find orange eyes glowing at him from a ledge. Then it dawned on him. While he was stalking the cat ...
... the cat was stalking him.
Aris, cat from hell, hissed, lowered his front legs and assumed an attack position.
Ben's muscles tensed.
Aris's tail twitched.
Their eyes narrowed.
Growling, Aris leapt into the air, claws extended. Suddenly, he froze mid-strike, reversed direction and escaped through a small opening in the wall. But not before whipping the collar out of Ben's hands with his tail.
Perplexed and alarmed, Ben turned to see what had spooked the cat and smiled.
* * *
"Welcome back, Dad! How was Kenya?"
"Same old, same old." Jeremiah Webster stepped through the doorway and wrapped Ben in a bear hug. "How's school?"
Ben grinned. "Same old, same old."
"Too bad. I was hoping for a miracle while I was away." His father laughed and released Ben from his grip. "Where is everyone?"
"April's at Serise's house getting her nails done." Ben grimaced for effect. "Mom's at the lab. She said she'd be home soon to start dinner."
A brief look of horror registered on his father's face. He rolled a black pouch in his hands before tossing it on the potting table.
"What's that?" Ben said, reaching for the pouch.
His father snatched the pouch out of reach. Something fell out and bounced underneath the table. "Rock samples for your mother."
"Rocks? That's it? Where's the good stuff?" Ben ran into the garage, peered through the tinted windows of the SUV. "What else did you bring back?"
"Nothing." His father winced. "You cut your hair?"
"Took you long enough to notice!" Ben pivoted so his father could see the initials he'd carved above his ear. He wasn't bald, but his hair was as close as he could get without risking banishment from the house. "What do you think?"
His father walked around him in a slow arc. "What'd your mother say? You know she has a rule about you cutting your hair."
"I know, I know. Ancient history. Samson. Losing my strength. She hasn't seen it yet. Just did it today. Think she'll go ballistic?"
"Ballistic?" his father chuckled grimly. "Try nuclear. I'd rather take my chances with a pride of hungry lions until it grows back."
Ben grinned. "Sounds like a good excuse to skip dinner. Can I go with you?"
"When your grades —"
"I know, I know. Don't say it." Ben considered telling his father about the basketball tryouts, but decided it could wait. For now, he had something better in mind like annihilating an unsuspecting opponent. "Until Mom gets home and grounds me, you up for a game of H.O.R.S.E?"
"Sure," his father said. "In Spanish. Might help you bring up that grade. Last time I looked, C did not stand for 'comprende'!"
"C is still passing and that should equal safari!"
"Nice try but the answer is still no."
"Fine. Be that way." Ben pulled a ball from the deck box. "I can spell 'caballo.' Can you spell 'defeat'? You don't have a prayer of beating me."
"I don't need a prayer. Last time we played I had to hoist you up to the basket and you still missed." His father pulled his hair into a ponytail.
"Last time we played you couldn't find the basket with a GPS and Google Maps!" Ben said.
"Let's see what you've got." His father dropped into an exaggerated bow. "Court's all yours, Sir Brags-A-Lot."
Ben aimed from the equivalent of a free-throw line. The ball swooped effortlessly through the hoop.
A look of surprise crossed his father's face. He took the ball, moved to the same position and aimed. The ball hit the roof, rolled to the gutter then dropped onto the rim of the basket where it spun like a top before falling onto the driveway.
"C! The loser gets the letter. That —" Ben said through a series of coughs, "would be you."
"Uh-oh! Someone's got an attitude. The afternoon's still young!"
"And so am I, old man. Try this. Left handed hook shot." Ben ran toward the basket, extended his arm and released the ball.
Whoosh! Nothing but net!
His father stared at the basket, mouth gaped open in shock. "Someone's been practicing."
"Obviously." Ben grinned and tossed the ball to his father, who dropped it. Pitiful. His father's arms were as long as the wings of a jumbo jet but there wasn't a single basketball-playing gene in his DNA. "Don't try so hard, Dad. Just run up to it and flick your wrist."
His father winked, lunged toward the garage and released the ball. It completed four revolutions on the inside of the rim before falling backwards in the wrong direction.
Ben tried to erase the sarcasm in his voice. "Sorry, Dad. I'm afraid that's an 'A' for you. Would you like to pick a longer word?"
His father stretched in the sunlight. "You wish you were as good as me. Know anyone else who can do tricks like that?"
"No one who'd admit it!" Ben paused. His father was favoring his left leg. "You okay? You're limping."
"Just a cat scratch." His father did a little dance to mock him. "I'm just warming up."
"Better hop in a microwave," Ben said. "It would be faster."
His father retrieved the ball from the middle of a peony bush. "Just play, will ya!"
Ben tried a shot he thought his father could handle. He swung the ball between his legs and tossed it in a slow easy arc. As planned, the ball swished through the net. He rebounded and lobbed it at his father. "Heads up, Dad."
The ball hit his father's shoulder, bounced on the driveway and rolled to a stop on the grass.
All that height going to waste.
"Dad? What's up?"
His father cocked his head to the side, brow furrowed. "Looks like a storm's brewing. Been raining much while I was away?"
"A couple of times, but it's not raining now so quit stalling! What's the matter? Scared of a challenge?"
"Challenge?" his father asked, his voice low. "Hardly."
To the west, fluffy white clouds punctuated a sunlit sky. But something about their movement struck Ben as odd. The clouds elongated into tentacles of mist. Ben swiveled his head in the opposite direction. An enormous black cloud approached rapidly from the east, light flashing from inside.
Ben dribbled while he counted; one Mississippi, two Mississippi ... He reached twelve before he heard a distant crack of thunder. There was still time to get into the house before the storm arrived.
A fierce gust of wind blew chairs off the deck. The temperature grew uncomfortably hot and yet goosebumps erupted on Ben's arms as if the storm was an omen. All the while, his father stared at the sky.
Searching for what?
The clouds flowed east as if the storm was sucking them in. That didn't make sense. The clouds should have been moving in the same direction as the storm. Ben's eyes followed a flock of birds fleeing to the west.
"Dad? What's wrong?"
His father tensed and scanned the yard as if he expected someone or something to appear out of thin air. His eyes narrowed into tight slits as his prayer beads swayed and clicked in the wind. He glanced at the beads, then blew out a lungful of air. "Cumulonimbus, Jeremiah. Just a thunderhead."
Now Ben was confused. His father was the ultimate Zen master. Not much bothered him. He braced against the wind and tapped his father on the shoulder. "Dad? We should go in before the storm gets here. We can play later."
His father frowned. "Go get your sister. Your uncle's going to be joining us for dinner."
Ben groaned. The incoming storm was an omen. His father was home, but he'd brought trouble home with him.
The Nature of Things to Come
"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."
H. G. Wells
"Theory of Evolution? Natural selection?" Uncle Henry's booming voice filled every square inch of the dining room and he wasn't even yelling — yet. He snared a piece of steak and eyed it as if it were prey.
Ben grimaced. Smooth move, Webster, bringing up Darwin in front of a world-class archeologist with a galaxy-class ego. When he asked about your school project, you could have said crystal growth or recycling. Heck, you should have just said you were making weapons of mass destruction. Ben tried to explain the class assignment, but his uncle kept on barking.
"Centuries of contributions and we're not even a footnote! I suspect it would suit the world if we disappeared off the face of the planet." Uncle Henry stabbed his steak as if trying to kill the animal one more time.
Ben tuned out. His uncle's rants were as predictable as a morning sunrise. Next up on Henry Webster's greatest hits:
1. Know your ancestors — easy, all dead.
2. Know where you came from — the shady side of Sunnyslope.
3. Cradle of life — covered. Ben wondered if he should tell his uncle he'd caught up on the "Cradle" by watching Tomb Raider at a classmate's house. Nope. That would be suicide.
4. Never settle for second place — Ben was still working on that one.
"Well?" asked Uncle Henry.
Ben blinked and wondered how much of the lecture he'd missed. "Huh?"
"You were explaining what passes for a seventh grade education these days. By all means, continue to enlighten me with your evolutionary theories."
"Pick a new tune, Henry." Ben's father frowned then shoved raw spinach in his mouth.
Massive as a redwood, Henry Webster rested the elbows of his silk shirt on the table and looked incredulous. Ben's father stared back, his slender frame dwarfed by an oversized blue sweatshirt that read, "Sunnyslope University". Ben found it hard to believe they were brothers. Ben's mother called them "Yin" and "Yang." Polar opposites — but a perfect balance.
"Wait until you hear the best part!" April blurted out. "Ben's teacher said humans evolved from some people called Cro-Magnons!"
"April," Ben's father spoke gently, but his narrowed eyes meant business. "Drop it!"
"Well I think it's a stupid theory," she continued.
"Oh? And why is that?" asked Uncle Henry, one eyebrow raised beyond the normal limits of facial expression.
"Because Ben's a mutant alien." April shot a sly smile at Ben.
Ben fumed and fantasized whether his sister would fit through a basketball net.
"Wouldn't that make you a mutant as well?" asked Uncle Henry.
Ben's mother shot an ice-cold glare across the table, clutched her amulet and thrust her right hand forward. "Henry, it appears you have neglected daily meditation. May I be of assistance?"
She smiled the kind of half-smile that always warned Ben he should seek asylum in a foreign country.
Uncle Henry abruptly moved his hands into his lap. "Fine. Have it your way. What new tofu recipe did you synthesize this time, Medie? I'd swear this was steak."
"It's real, Henry. One hundred percent, open-range, grass-fed beef from Argentina. Compliments of Frank Lopez."
"Frank Lopez? Did you check it for arsenic?" Uncle Henry poked at a chunk and inspected every inch before popping it into his mouth. Eyes closed, he shuddered in delight as juices dripped down his fork and formed a red puddle on his plate.
For Ben, the revelation was a welcome relief. His mother's vegetarian cooking could be considered a lethal weapon in most of the fifty states — especially her bioorganic tofu steaks. The next-door neighbors, on the other hand, were the world's biggest carnivores. Real steak. Ben snagged a small filet and took a bite. Seasoned with garlic, onions and spices, the meat melted on his tongue.
His mother frowned and snatched the remaining portions out of his reach. Ben groaned, popped soybeans out of a pod and sloshed them in meat juice to make them more edible.
"Henry, it would be appropriate to say a prayer of thanks to the animal that was sacrificed for this meal," his mother said.
"If the circumstances were reversed, do you think it would pray over us?" Uncle Henry asked.
Ben stifled a laugh. But his mother leaned forward as if she were searching for weaknesses in his uncle's defenses. Ben's father glanced back and forth between them as if watching the ball in a tennis match.
Uncle Henry finally growled and bowed his head. "Thank you, anonymous steer, whose spirit now nourishes the cosmos and whose flesh will now nourish me." He shoved a super-sized chunk of beef in his mouth.
April giggled but Ben and his father ducked as if World War III were about to break out.
Instead, Ben's mother offered a withering glare. "Now, change the subject. No more philosophy, no more anthropology, no more doom and gloom. Don't utter another word unless it's something happy. Do I make myself clear?"
Uncle Henry pursed his lips. "I know something that would make me happy. Why don't you let Ben come along on the next expedition?"
Ben nearly choked on a piece of tofu. "Dad says I have to wait until I'm older."
"Indeed? And why is that, Jeremiah?" his uncle asked, sarcasm dripping from the words.
Excerpted from The Lost Tribes by C. Taylor-Butler. Copyright © 2015 C. Taylor-Butler. Excerpted by permission of Move Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I * The Challenge,
TWO: The Nature of Things to Come,
THREE: Secrets and Lies,
FOUR: A Game's Afoot,
FIVE: Morning Rituals,
SIX: Amazing Grace,
SEVEN: The Legend,
EIGHT: The Guardian,
NINE: Ode to Joy,
TEN: Queen of the Universe,
ELEVEN: The Hologram,
TWELVE: Rapa Nui,
THIRTEEN: Pop Goes the Weasel,
FOURTEEN: The Vision Quest,
FIFTEEN: Facing the East Wind,
SIXTEEN: Searching for Superman,
SEVENTEEN: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,
EIGHTEEN: Son of Casmir,
TWENTY: The Den,
TWENTY-ONE: Now You See It, Now You Don't,
TWENTY-THREE: Islas Ballestas,
TWENTY-SIX: The Hogon,
TWENTY-SEVEN: Getting Warmer,
TWENTY-EIGHT: The Bay of Whales,
PART II * * On the Run,
THIRTY-ONE: "The Museum",
THIRTY-TWO: Just Visiting,
THIRTY-THREE: The Conundrum,
THIRTY-FOUR: Through the Rabbit Hole,
THIRTY-FIVE: Lost and Found,
THIRTY-SIX: When In Rome,
THIRTY-SEVEN: The Abyss,
THIRTY-EIGHT: The Gateway,
PART III * * * Answers,
FORTY-THREE: Safe Harbor,
FORTY-SIX: Key of the Future,
FORTY-EIGHT: Course Correction,
FIFTY: The Discovery,
FIFTY-ONE: United We Stand,
FIFTY-TWO: The Plan,
FIFTY-THREE: Game On!,
FIFTY-FIVE: Out of Hiding,
EPILOGUE And So It Begins,