Sunday, March 25, 2012


Off the Wall

My wife and I traveled to a place called Hidden Valley, a name lost on me because the location was on a hill and in plain sight, to view an antique chest of drawers. As we closed the deal with the lady who had the piece for sale, a kitten bounded sideways into the room, went into full “scardy-cat” mode at the sight of us, and tore off into another part of the house. The young cat was in and out of the area so fast, all I really noticed about it was most of its tail was missing. I mentioned that fact to the chest of drawers lady.
            “Oh, her,” she said. “She’s a bobcat. My ol’ man found her out in the woods when she wuz just a tiny little thing. If’n ya’ll wont her, take her with ya. We’re movin’. I wuz just gonna dump her out by the crick.” She collected the kitten and thrust her into my arms.
            We looked at the cat, its tawny, mottled coat, the beginning of white cheek ruffs around her face, guard hairs already tipping her ears. Would we take her? You bet! While the kitten dozed on my wife’s lap as we drove home, Laura dubbed her Jessica. We had a new family member.
            During the journey, I began to have doubts. We were now responsible for a Bobcat. I had never been so selfish as to want to keep a wild animal. I believed then, as I believe now, that the vast majority of people who do attempt to keep cougars, ocelots, wolves and the like, are fools, far more concerned with their small grandeur than with the animal’s welfare. There was no doubt in my mind, however, that if the chest of drawers lady had dumped the young cat “out by the crick,” the kitten would have surely died. We’d accepted the cat, for better or worse, and by the time we arrived home we were both worried. We already had housecats, Miss Spock and Leroy, and we feared the coming confrontation.
            The kitten was placed on the living room floor, and Spock and Leroy began their inspection of the intruder. Spock bumped noses with her…hissed…and delivered an overhand right worthy of Ali. The kitten easily slipped the punch, as well as the two that followed, and Spock stomped off in frustration. Leroy watched the proceedings and reclined on the arm of the couch, declining to make a fool of himself. The kitten jumped on him and a battle ensued, minus teeth or claws. Jessica was home.
            Cats, unless it has been bred out of them, are superb natural athletes. Jessica was amazing. By the time she was three months old, we’d carpeted two of our living room walls to give her a place to run. Run she did, streaking up a wall, darting sideways, the ripping sound of her oversize claws audible throughout the house. She would bound up to one of us, ears back, bouncing sideways…her way of asking to be picked up and literally thrown at the wall. We’d oblige, tossing her fifteen feet across the room, and she’d stick like Velcro for a moment, five or six feet above the floor, then blast off horizontally at bobcat velocity. She stalked the other cats, and would attack by sailing over them in airborne frenzy, reaching down to tag the freaked-out victim as she soared away. In the years she spent with us, to my knowledge, she never bit or clawed a family member, feline or human. That courtesy, however, was not extended to interlopers.
            While still just a young cat, she nearly killed a tomcat twice her size who was threatening Miss Spock in the front yard one evening. The fight (punishment?) was over in just a few seconds, leaving the area littered with bloody bits of fur. The intruder squalled his way down the block as Jessica sat quietly on the porch, picking his hair from between her toes.
            She loved hugs, gave as good as she got, and grew into an adult bobcat of intimidating appearance and marvelous temperament: as gentle as a collie pup, and as social a cat as I have ever known. She was sweet, caring, loveable, and funny, and the day we had to have her euthanized because of a brain tumor was one of the saddest of my life.
            Years later, while at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, I purchased my wife a magnificent cased bobcat skin of remarkable size and quality. As I was walking back to Stubtoe Lane to present it to her, a lady began to verbally abuse me. Who did I think I was? How dare I carry the skin of one of nature’s creatures thrown over my shoulder as some sort of adornment? I was an unfeeling barbarian! A bloodthirsty heathen, a vicious slayer of innocent creatures, a rat bastard of monumental proportions!
            I have little patience with fanatics. When the lady stopped screaming at me long enough to draw breath, I told her to go away. Whether it was the force of my dynamic personality, or the fact that I was in tights and carrying a large Chinese executioner’s sword, she scuttled off, calling me names in her retreat.
            I do not agree with the wholesale slaughter of wild animals just to satisfy somebody’s superior sense of fashion, but I could not have made that point with the woman. She was not in the mood to discuss, just blindingly accuse. Nor would she have understood the import that skin had, and has, as it resides with other heartfelt personal remembrances on our altar…an honored symbol and reminder of a wonderful animal and beloved friend saved from being dumped “out by the crick” in a place called Hidden Valley.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Because of some of my extra-curricular activities, occasionally someone asks that I interpret a dream for them. I try not to. There are certain generalities that apply to dreams and what they mean, and different cultures interpret dreams differently. To the plains Indians, for instance, animals in dreams have great meaning. A horse often calls for the dreamer to be strong, a mouse encourages one to view the whole and not get caught up in details, a lynx advises the dreamer that secrets are afoot, a snake counsels learning and wisdom, and so on. I believe most dreams are little more than mental masturbation, a way for the mind to remain occupied so the sleeper does not awaken. There are, however, some exceptions. There are dreams, and there are dreams.
            It was early morning. I opened my eyes to a lightly overcast sky above towering lodgepole pines. I was warm and comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I struggled a bit to remain awake. As I lay there feeling the cool damp breeze on my face, I became aware of a weight on my chest, inside the bag. The weight moved. I froze. A snake! It had to be. I’d read stories of how snakes would sometimes crawl into a camper’s sleeping bag to take advantage of the sleeper’s warmth. Oh, Damn. I hate snakes.
            There were two possible safe resolutions to the problem. One was to lie still until sunlight struck the bag and heated it to a point the reptile became too warm and crawled away, but I lay in tree shadow, and it would be hours before the sun reached me. The second option was to open the bag and expose the animal to the cold, so it would leave in search of a more protected location. My pulse was pounding from fear. Ever so slowly, I eased the zipper down to waist level, and carefully lifted the top portion of the bag off my chest. Lying over my heart, looking me directly in the face, was a rattlesnake. He flicked his tongue at me and, as the cold air struck him, crawled between the buttons of my shirt and settled himself inside my clothes.
            This was a radical departure from normal snake behavior, and a portion of my fear turned to curiosity. I was surprised that he wasn’t slimy, but felt quite dry and cool. He seemed comfortable and content. God knows I wasn’t going to try to grab him and wrestle him out of my clothes. I didn’t want to get bit. Carefully I sat up and got to my feet. He coiled himself lightly about my waist, and stuck his head out between the bottom buttons of my shirt. I didn’t know what to do. I needed help, and set off up the trail in search of some.
            As I walked the path between the trees, the snake would shift position from time to time, his head appearing above the collar of my shirt to look around, or protruding out of my sleeve against my wrist. As time went on, I realized that as long as I did not challenge the animal everything would be fine. But he was still a rattlesnake, inside my clothes. He might not mind, but I did. We walked a mile or two, and on low rise beside the trail I saw a small, white, block building. A sign above the door read “Department of Herpetology”. Aha! Somebody in there would know what to do about a snake in my shirt. I opened the door and went inside.
            I found myself in a small anteroom, bounded by heavy wire, looking into a laboratory of some type. Seated twenty feet away was a white-coated man, his back to me, peering into a microscope. I spoke to him, but he ignored me. I shouted. Nothing. I complained of a snake in my clothes. No reaction. He continued to work as if I did not exist. Department of Herpetology, my butt! This guy could care less that I had a poisonous snake crawling around in my shirt! I turned to leave, and the door swung open to admit several small children. The snake stuck about a foot of his length out of my collar to see what was going on. I felt his rattle drumming against the small of my back. His body squirmed against me as he became agitated at the activity of the kids. I cautioned them to stay back, to keep away from both me and the snake, but one small girl would not be denied, and pressed forward to see him. She was less than a foot from me when the snake struck. I felt his body tense for the strike, and threw up my hand to protect her. His fangs punctured my left palm. The pain was terrific, like fire, and it immediately began to creep up my arm. I looked at the wounds, and as I did, they began to close. The pain left, strength returned to my knees, my head cleared, and I was fine. The children and the snake were gone. I turned to the man in the lab coat and berated him for not offering any assistance through the ordeal. Still facing away from me, he replied.
            “You didn’t need me. You needed trust and faith, not microscopes and medicine.” He then swiveled his chair to face me and I saw him clearly. I was looking at myself.
            The shock was brittle and I lurched to a sitting position in my bed and peered at the clock. 7:12am. Woof! I was drenched in sweat, shaking and weak.  I even inspected my hand for bite marks. Damn, it was so real! I threw on a robe and staggered into the kitchen to make coffee, the remnants of the dream clinging to me like cobwebs, and heard a knock on my back door. Who the hell would be here at this hour? I opened the door and was surprised to see my friend John, a full-blood American Indian, grinning at me. The last time I had seen him was at a pipe ceremony nearly two years before.
            “Here,” he said, extending a closed fist at me, knuckles up. “This belonged to my grandfather. It’s very old. It’s yours now.”
            I held out my palm. Into it, he dropped a rattlesnake rattle on a small loop of copper wire. A chill took me as I looked at it. When I raised my eyes, John was fifty feet away, walking to his car. He never looked back but offered me a casual over-the-shoulder wave. We’d talk later.
There are dreams, and there are dreams.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


In spite of what you may have heard, I am not a genius. Nor have I ever claimed to be (at least not since I was seventeen and some young winner of the Nordic Combined was batting her eyelashes at me). I am not a physicist, I know nearly nothing of quantum mechanics, string theory, or Star Trek’s Warp Drive. Some time ago, as I contemplated a premise for a novel that could possibly involve scientific fact and theory so far past my meager knowledge as to fade into the far distance, a friend suggested I look into the massive, multi-billion-dollar Large Hadron Collider that lurks below the surface of the earth across the border of Switzerland and France. It has been built in the hopes of answering some really big questions. I looked into it. It frightens me.

Some questions are simply not meant to be answered. Is Lady Ga-Ga her real name? How much money does Charlie Sheen have? Is Al Gore really Gepetto’s illegitimate son? These and many others should remain mysteries. So should the big one. How was our universe born? And/or, how did we get here? Answers for that last question can be based on faith, indifference, religion, or science. At least one of those could prove to be dangerous.

If you are a person of faith, your answer could be one of many things, depending upon what your faith is based. If you are a Kahahari Bushman or a Beaver Creek socialite, your replies would probably be widely divergent, but who should care? It is your faith. It’s your business. If you are an atheist, indifference might dictate your reply, unless, of course, you were under fire in a foxhole at the time. Extreme stress can induce all kinds of leaps, even a leap of faith. If you are religious, you already know how you got here. If you are a scientist you are still looking for that answer, and not just for yourself, but also for the rest of us, so that someday you or others of your ilk might become missionaries for quantum mechanics and carry the good news to the cannibals. As for me, I don’t care how I got here. I am here. To argue and fuss about it makes no more sense to me than the Darwin/Deity battle that still continues to rage, a battle that is not based on science or religion, but upon ego and fear. The plain truth is, we cannot prove God exists. Therefore, we cannot prove God doesn’t exist.

If proof for the existence of God could be found, it would be a disaster. We’d all have to love one another. Professional football, NASCAR, TMZ, and the U.S. Congress would disappear. Who in their right mind could possibly want that?

If it could be proved that God did not exist, organized religion would have to admit that its clusters of worshipers were just social organizations and you could dispense with guilt and go to church simply because you wanted to. Scary, huh?

Let’s examine the situation from a different angle. You’re 25, out in the dating world, searching for that perfect someone and, all of a sudden, that person is there. Bright, funny, loving, caring, attractive, sexy, shares your interests, your desires, your hopes, and your dreams. The only thing out of place in this magical, one-time-only relationship is that your soulmate doesn’t want to talk about the past. Is it worth threatening the relationship to find out if great Aunt Effie had eleven toes? Is it wise to insist they tell you about Great Uncle Albert deserting the army in Korea? Are you prepared to screw the whole thing up because you won’t allow the person of your dreams to have a few secrets?

The scientific goal is to expose secrets and find out stuff. I remember the first time I actually realized that when I salted my mashed potatoes, I was really dispensing two poisons onto my food. And yet, I lived. Wow! Scientists yearn to explain stuff, but not too clearly, lest they be proved mortal. (Doctors and lawyers also fall into this group.) Spin that bucket of water around at arms-length fast enough and the water won’t fall out. That’s sorta why the earth doesn’t plunge into the sun, or something like that. Wow again. Water is made up of two gasses? Really? Far out! Another thing science likes to do is to screw around with stuff that might be dangerous, without taking the danger as seriously as it could and often ignoring the law of unintended consequences. Not to mention Murphy. Here we are. Back to the large Hadron Collider.

It’s up and running you know. Particle Physicists all over the world are bumping knuckles and slapping butts. The whole purpose of the thing is to spin particles called hadrons that used to be parts of atoms up to nearly the speed of light through an immense circular tunnel cooled to near absolute zero and then smash them together, just to see what will happen. That can create difficulties.

            “Hey, Mary. Junior’s been walking for a couple of days now. Stand him up on the kitchen table and turn him loose. I wanna see what will happen.”

The goal is to test out the most important theories in physics…the “Big Bang”, the Higgs boson or “God particle,” and dark matter. Those very intentions brought forth an unsuccessful lawsuit to get them good ol’ boys an’ their big ol’ tunnel to cease and desist before they induced a global disaster.

Into this equation come two words that, when you put them together, have a tendency to freak me out a little bit. Black and Hole. That’s right. Black Hole. Black holes eat stuff. Even light. Have these people never seen a sci-fi movie? Have they never heard of Gene Roddenberry? The Collider, by the admission of many scientists, has the potential of creating black holes. Very tiny black holes. Astoundingly small black holes. But black holes. If one of them is even big enough to get its mouth around a little-bitty piece of matter, France could disappear. And while that might not be a particularly bad thing, if the reaction was only slightly larger, so could Cleveland, and South Dakota, and the solar system, and me.

            “Hey Mary. As long as you’ve got Junior up on the table, hand him a butcher knife. This could get interesting.”

Think how interesting things could get if they gave the kid a shotgun.
Will it happen? Probably not. Could it happen? Could it?

If it did, it could sure screw up that whole God question.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


“I’ll tell you who we are, little human Moira. We are the thing that goes bump in the night. We are the tickle on the back of your neck when there is no breeze. We are the gurgle at the bottom of a well, the new creak in an old house, the bare branches scraping against the bedroom window at night. We are the unexplained disappearance, the empty bed, the shadow in the corner of your eye, the empty chair that rocks.”

He paused long enough to smile at her. Moira’s head spun.

     “We are what makes the lonely dog bark and what makes the alley cat hiss. We are the snapping twig in the dark. We are what roams outside the circle of firelight. We live in the closet, we lurk under the bed. We are the werewolf, the shape shifter, the zombie, the evil spirit, the moan in the woods and the cry on the wind. We are your worst nightmare and we may just be your salvation. We are the wolves to your buffalo! Be goddammed careful you don’t come up lame!”

- BLOODTRAIL by David R Lewis


 Screams in the night 

            I’d known about Jack Stucky all my life, but I’d never seen him. I’d hunted pheasants on land bordering Jack’s many times. My grandfather respected other people’s property rights and never hunted land without permission, but he was not above boosting me over a fence to retrieve a bird that had fallen onto land posted “no trespassing” if the situation called for it. The time it happened on Jack Stucky’s place, however, we left the bird where it lay and walked on.
            “Don’t go onto Jack’s land, Boy. He’s not right. I ain’t seen him since before you was born, but I don’t speck he’s no better’n he ever was.”
            Jack was a hermit, and that fascinated us kids. He lived in the woods, forty acres thick with trees, vines, and creepers, on an oiled road a few miles outside my hometown. He owned six-hundred-forty acres, a square mile, the vast majority of which was in fallow, overgrown farmland. But Jack didn’t farm. Nobody was really sure what Jack did, except just stay out there in his shack, sunk back in the deep dense tangle of vines, creepers and overgrowth that covered the forty acre piece he lived on, completely out of sight but never out of mind. All of us wanted to know what was in there but, as curious as we were, we kept out.
            We’d heard the screams.
            I was about nine the first time I heard them, camping on the riverbank for a little night catfishing with a buddy, about a half-mile from Jack’s place. We were fireside, pounding down some Pork n’ Beans a couple of hours after dark, when a desolate shriek came wafting on the wind. It continued for some time before tailing off, a long drawn-out howl that made the hair on my arms stand up. It was no bobcat, and it scared the warmth right out of us. We huddled, big-eyed by the fire, throwing on more wood and turning up the lantern. The aftermath of the scream thickened the darkness, making the night close in around us. The blackness towered overhead, pressing on us with its massive weight, pushing us lower into the earth. We were bone cold from that scream, frightened to the core. Several times through the long night it came again, a soulless wail shattering the stillness, devastating in its despair. I have never greeted a more welcome dawn.
            At home later that morning I asked my grandfather about the screams. According to him Jack had a sister.
“She was a real educated woman, Boy. Taught school out in one a them big colleges in New York or someplace like that. Back afore the war she lost her mind and ol’ Jack went out there and brung her home. She lives in that shack with him. I ain’t never seen her, he keeps her inside. Used to be she yelled an’ hollered quite a bit…but not so much anymore, ‘cept after dark.”
            A year or two later I was riding my bike past Jack’s place when it threw the chain and I crashed in the ditch. I was sitting in the dirt, contemplating my crippled bicycle, when a voice cut into my thoughts.
            “It won’t roll lak thet.”
            I jumped to my feet and whirled around. There, standing behind me on the other side of the fence, was Jack Stucky. He was tall and stick thin in filthy bib overalls and a tattered shirt, leaning on a shovel. Bloodshot eyes regarded me from under the brim of an old slouch hat.
            “Whose kin be ye?” he asked.  His voice was raspy and gurgled like the sound you don’t want to hear coming from the bottom of a well.
            “Frank White is my grandpa,” I stammered.
            “Ain’t seen ol’ Hanky fer a spell.  Tell him he kin hunt that south field this yar if’n he wonts to. Lotsa birds.” He set some pliers on a fencepost. “Yer gonner need these hyar,  if’n yer gonner git thet thang ta roll. Put ‘em back on the post whan yer done. I gotter git back to ma diggin’.”  He limped away, using his shovel for a staff.
            I related the incident to my grandfather, who was surprised Jack was going to let us hunt his land.
“He ain’t let nobody hunt since his sister come on the place. Come pheasant season, Boy, we are gonna have a time! That land ain’t been hunted in twenty years. We can leave the guns at home and take the minnow net.”
It was nearly the truth. The field was so birdy that fall that our dog just didn’t know what to do. Within thirty minutes we each had our limit of surprised pheasants who’d suddenly lost a lifetime of security. We were in an overgrown pasture behind Jack’s shack, walking back to the road, when the dog ambled over to the fence and wouldn’t come when we called him. We went over to where he stood, tail wagging, his head through the woven wire. There, on the other side of the fence, was a low mound of black dirt with a crude wooden cross at one end. Cut into the crossbar at the head of that grave was one word….SISTER. The screams had finally stopped.
            I don’t know what ever became of Jack Stucky. He was still living out in those woods when I left the community. But I wonder sometimes, after all those years he cared for that poor troubled soul who was once his sister, if the screams ever stopped for him.