The Last Shaman
Chapter - 1 -
Are you washed in the blood?
In the soul cleansing blood of the lamb.
Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb.
The voices blended together in a rough off key sound indigenous to this area of the Appalachian Mountains with no musical accompaniment, just the voice of celebration in this region of hardship and despair. Every Sunday the inhabitants of this poor county shed their hard labor and trials for a few hours of hope, and believe me life is hard in Owsley County, Kentucky. I walked the dirt path toward the small church with its faded white paint and rough plank board walls and smiled as I noticed the church steeple standing straight and pointing upwards toward the heavens. All of this seemed surreal, more like a scene from 1911 instead of 2011 but here it stood in all its simplistic glory.
I stopped and viewed the picturesque scene and my mind flashed back to the religious upbringing, the mystery of these mountains, and the rebellious youth who rejected this way of life and pursued a different direction.
I can’t remember the reason I was here at this particular time but I felt drawn to the the church and to the people inside. I opened the front door gently so as not to disturb the preaching, which was already in full passion. The pacing back and forth across the front of the church and the rise and fall of a thunderous voice as the biblical point demanded, took me back to my childhood witnessing my own father, Edward Hayes preaching in this very church. I felt right at home with the old men in their bibbed overalls, white shirts, and worn Stetson hats and the ladies with their silver hair tied neatly in a bun on top of their head looking very dignified.
I recognized the evangelist as Brother Dale Combs and or eyes met for a moment and he smiled at my being there. It was a hot day and the old women cooled themselves with the hand fans provided by the local funeral home with their simplistic form of advertisement on the front. Brother Dale was in full biblical fury for over an hour when suddenly he stopped and pointed a finger of accusation toward me.
Why have you deserted your heritage and calling?
Who are you to deny the will of God?
Your grandfather needed you and you deserted him in his time of trial.
The whole congregation turned in their pew looking in my direction then pointed to the front of the church where lay a crude coffin. I slowly stood up, confused and humiliated wanting to run out the door but I felt compelled toward the front of the church and the open casket. I looked down and beheld my grandfather at rest and I stood motionless not able to turn my gaze away. I looked at the body of the gentle man I loved as a child and his long white beard and hair gave him the appearance of one of the old prophets. I bent forward wanting somehow to make up for the many lost years but realizing it was now too late. I ran my fingers through the fine white hair and whispered I love you grandpa.
I was about to turn and leave but glanced down for one final look. Suddenly his eyes flew open but not the piercing blue eyes I remember but black soulless eyes. He grabbed me by the arm trying to pull himself out of the coffin. I screamed in terror and tried to run but the grip was vise like and I couldn’t pull away. The body convulsed and a hideous creature stood before me cursing God and all that is Holy. Other creatures just as grotesque surrounded me and as they closed in I could see the congregation leaving the church and all were singing, are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the lamb. I screamed and kicked and punched until I fell with a thud on the floor of my apartment.
Oh my God, another nightmare, I said aloud.
I was sweating profusely and turned on every light in the house trying to drive away the horrific images in my mind. I poured myself a shot of blended whiskey and drank it down but this didn’t help as my mind searched for answers. I sat in a chair trembling for the better part of an hour and suddenly a memory of Grandpa and me walking in the mountains overwhelmed my senses becoming so real that it brought a feeling of calm and well being if only temporary. At least I was able to fall asleep for a few hours.
More than two decades had past since I left the mountains seeking a better way of life than the poverty and backwardness of the region. I remember a feeling of superiority as I drove away being one of the few that actually had the resources and the courage to leave. I decided on that day to never come back, to transform myself and blend in with the new life I'd chosen.
My new life was great for a few years but there was a price to pay. I met and married a beautiful girl named Rebecca. We married very young, sixteen I think was and it was hard on both of us. Having a baby at sixteen was a blessing but added to the strain of a young couple struggling to find a balance. I was fortunate to land a job at General Electric in Ohio and quickly rose to a supervisor position. The job demanded a lot of my time and this added to our strained relationship. We held on for six years but my wife divorced me and took my six-year-old daughter Jennifer to Pennsylvania to stay with her parents. Pride and anger kept me away from any attempt at reconciliation with my wife.
Four years later I relented and decided to spend two weeks visiting my daughter for the first time since the divorce. I showed up unannounced and my daughter was away on a trip with her grandparents. Rebecca and I talked and she said I might as well stay there instead of paying for a room in town. I don't know if it was the fact that we were alone or what but we seem to get along great. I honestly thought my wife and I would get back together. We talked and loved like nothing had happened between us and it was wonderful spending time with her but work took precedence over her again and I decided to leave without seeing my daughter. The verbal battle we exchanged before I left was bitter and thinking back, I suppose that was the last time I spoke with Rebecca. It's hard to believe we were divorced nineteen years ago.
The years ticked by and every good intention to spend time with Jenifer was quickly replaced by a pressing issue at work and my daughter basically became a stranger. Jennifer called me several times with her grandma's help and left messages but work was number one in my life and none of the calls were ever returned. She finally stopped calling all together and in my self absorbed state of mind, I convinced myself this was for the best.
I hadn’t seen my wife and daughter or my grandfather in years, the loneliness overwhelmed me and about five years ago my wife succumbed to a long illness and two weeks after that my grandfather died. I loved my grandfather deeply and he was the only pull to the mountains still alive in my soul. I didn't attend either of the funerals and grief quickly set in and though I've always felt emotionally stronger than most, I fell into the dark void of depression. I go about my daily routine with no emotion or purpose and my well-meaning friends pat me on the back and tell me time will heal the pain. I smile and agree but these normal happy people have no clue about the frightening world I live in.
Sleep has always been my way of dealing with traumatic situations because the body will overcome if allowed to rest but I find no refuge even with this old friend. The night brings with it ghastly dreams intertwined with vivid imagery of my grandfather and the day brings exhaustion and the inability to cope without knowing why. As odd as it sounds, the only stable thing in my life is the guarantee of another nightmare when I lay down to sleep. I’ve accepted this behavior and learned to deal with it the best I could over the last five years but this erratic lifestyle has taken its toll on my mental stability and overall health. I finally sought help from a psychoanalyst and his prognoses made some sense to me.
You must return to the mountains and identify your demons, he said. While under hypnosis your repetitive quote of “save the innocent and protect faith” gave me the clue I needed to help you. I believe something traumatic occurred in your early childhood and this memory is stuck in your subconscious. Whatever occurred in the past wasn’t your fault and your mind is telling you to save yourself, you are the innocent. You alone command the authority to exorcise this fear but it involves going back to your childhood home and doing things you did as a child or a simpler explanation, you have to relive your childhood. Go to the places you traveled as a child, visit the people from your childhood, and hopefully this will jog your memory and bring to light the trauma you suffered as a child. Once on the surface, we can walk you back to a normal life.
Although I told him nothing happened to me as a child I finally agreed to go because I felt if I didn’t do something soon, I would wind up in a mental hospital. I left his office with a tiny glimmer of hope and last nights horrific nightmare has convinced me, I can’t stand this any more, I’m going home, I’m going home tomorrow.
The next day I phoned my boss, David Franklin, and told him where I was going in case they needed to contact me.
We need you to stay in town Ray because of the Boeing contract; you are the only man that can handle it.
I’ve been on medical leave for six months David, someone else can handle it.
Look Ray, you make what, $300,000 a year? I’ll give you a flat $400,000 a year but you have to stay in town.
David, you don’t understand, if I don’t get away from here and find some answers, I’ll go nuts.
You’ve put me in a difficult situation Ray, he said. You can be on extended leave for the next two years and I’ll pay you $400,000 a year with a contract to that effect but if you leave town when I need you the most, I’ll terminate your job effective immediately, no severance, no insurance, nothing.
Let me get this straight I said. You’ll pay me top dollar to sit on my ass and do nothing here but you’ll fire me if I go away sit on my ass and do nothing there.
Why are you doing this David, I’m sick and I need to take some time away from here, that’s all, and I’ll have my cell phone with me so all you have to do is call?
I’ve told you your options Ray take it or leave it.
I have no choice David, it’s a matter of survival for me and I’m leaving today, so do what you have to do.
You’re an idiot, he said and slammed the phone down.
This stunned me because David had always been my mentor and he alone was responsible for the many promotions and the six-figure income I enjoyed. I am the proud recipient of a high school GED certificate and I could never have received the position I had in the company without his help. I worked hard and David always placed me in the most visible spot or project going to boast about my accomplishments to the Board of Directors. I owe him a lot but my only concern now has to be my health.
I planned on staying a week with my uncle so I packed light for the trip. I left late in the afternoon knowing I couldn’t make it to Owsley County before dark. I guess it was my way of dragging my feet against my decision to go back. I checked into a motel near Lexington for the night instead of driving straight through. The desk clerk was one of those extremely happy people, you know, the kind you want to choke. In spite of her giddiness, she was a beautiful woman with blonde hair and green eyes and I couldn’t help but notice her. We talked a little and she was a widower also and I had the feeling I knew her from somewhere but shrugged it off as wishful thinking.
I picked up my bag and started to my room when she said, I normally never do this but would you like to have dinner with me tonight?
I was surprised by the invitation and thought why would this beauty want to spend an evening with me, I’m not very handsome and conversation with me would be better served if she talked to her self?
Well she said, how about it?
I’d love to, I replied.
Great, Ill pick you up in an hour, she said.
I turned to walk away and it dawned on me I didn’t even know her name.
This is embarrassing, I said, but what’s your name?
It’s Gail, Gail Johnson she replied with a smile.
I’m Ray Hayes and I’ll see you in an hour Gail.
I went to my room amazed at what just happened. I would normally reject any invitation to go out as I’ve grown accustom to my solitude and misery. I can’t put a finger on it but something about her pushed its way through my defenses and made it feel right to say OK. I showered and an hour later to the minute she was knocking on my door.
Are you ready to go Ray?
Yes but where are we going Gail?
I’m going to take you to my place and fix you my specialty, hamburgers and chips.
I laughed and said, you read my mind.
We spent the evening together sharing stories of life and love and she told me she owned that motel and several more in Lexington. It was two in the morning when I stood up to leave but she asked, what would you like for breakfast, I can’t serve you breakfast in bed if I don’t know?
I hadn’t made love to a woman in five years and excitement raced through my body as I gladly accepted her invitation. We shared our passion through the night and I woke the next morning to the sound of Gail bringing me breakfast in bed. I felt happy, no depression and most importantly, no nightmares. She kissed me passionately and begged me to stay in town for a while.
You’re a very special man Ray Hayes and I don’t want to lose you.
It had been a long time since I had feelings for anyone so I squeezed her tight and promised to stay a few days. The few days turned into three weeks and the time with her has been amazing. She is the perfect woman for me and we seem to fit like a glove except for the fact that she hates animals for some reason.
I decided to forget about my trip to Owsley County and told Gail I wanted to find employment in Lexington and stay with her permanently. She was totally overjoyed and insisted I move into her home immediately, which I did.
The next month was nothing but laughter and enjoyment with the feeling my life was about to take a turn for the better. The only drawback to my paradise, the nightmares came again but worse than before. Grandfather was calling me to come home and Gail somehow found a spot in this psychotic place except she wasn’t my beautiful soul mate but some kind of monster. After two weeks of these dreams I told Gail I had to go to Owsley County and try to put an end to the nightmares. She erupted in anger and though I tried to understand her reaction, it seemed bizarre.
If you go there you can forget about me she said.
Why are you acting this way Gail, I asked?
Why are you acting this way Gail, I asked?
Screw you she yelled, if you try and leave I swear I’ll tell the police you raped me.
Are you crazy, I love you and I’ll be back in one week, one week Gail?
You don’t love me or you’d stay here with me instead of going to that hillbilly pigpen you call home.
This remark enraged me and I threw my bag together and headed out the door. I fired up the car and drove down the driveway to the main road glad to rid myself of this situation. I was about to turn onto the main highway when a violent rear impact jarred me hard and killed the engine. I looked out the back window and Gail had rear-ended me with her car. This is it I thought as I threw open the door to my car. I ran back and jerked her out of her car and yelled, are you crazy, what’s wrong with you?
She spun around in her seat and grabbed a tire iron hitting me right above the eyes. The impact knocked me senseless for a moment and I fell to the ground. Gail was screaming, you wouldn’t listen would you Shaman, we didn’t want to kill you but you leave me no choice. She raised the tire iron again and I couldn’t defend myself because I couldn’t see through the blood on my face. She’s going to kill me I thought but the sound of her screams stopped everything.
I rolled away from her and wiped the blood from my eyes. Gail had an expression of sheer terror as she started running back to the house. What the heck, I thought as I looked around. Nothing here to scare someone that bad, maybe she’s crazier than I am. Maybe she came to her senses realizing what she did to me but whatever the reason, thank God it’s over. I viewed the damage to my car and it’s not that bad so I’m outta here and away from that crazy woman.
I wiped the blood from my face and the cut wasn’t severe, just a deep scratch. I started to get in my car but felt something rubbing against my leg. Where did you come from fella I said as I picked up an old street cat? He looked worse than I did so I drove to the nearest convenience store and bought a package of band-aids and a few cans of cat food that he devoured with gusto. I set him out and started to leave and thought, why not, I could use some company. I opened the car door and called for him but he walked over, thanked me with a rub against my hand and bolted away down an alley. Guess he likes his freedom I thought as I pulled the car onto the highway.
Thinking about the scene with Gail, I wondered why she tried to kill me and she called me Shaman. I hadn’t heard that word since my grandpa told me ghost stories as a child? I finally concluded she called me Raymond and I misunderstood her. I was just thankful to be alive and away from her although deep in my heart I knew I would miss her.
I drove for an hour and as soon as I caught my first glimpse of the mountains, take me home country roads boomed from the radio. It was too weird but I shrugged it off as coincidence and continued my drive toward the small town of Beattyville, Kentucky. I was born in this impoverished region and now I come back to face an unknown, my nightmares.