Among These Shadows

From the novel, Among These Shadows, by Elaine Olsen Thompson, recently published by Xlibris. Visit the author at to learn more about this novel as well as links for your order.

Chapter 1

It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. -Black Elk, an Ogalala Sioux priest

Each day since he came here, Sam Savage stops the cabbie on University and Main. He walks up University Drive and searches for a new place to eat breakfast. When he passes Andy's Place, like a wind blowing leaves into safe corners, he is drawn inside-again-each day. He chooses not to resist and searches for an open stool.
Andy's Place is long and narrow, squeezed between two nineteenth century buildings, one a bank and the other holding law offices. The only place to sit is at the counter.
If possible, Sam chooses the back where the dim ceiling bulbs and smells from the kitchen replace the brightness from the big front window. The waiter addresses him as Mr. Zack. Sam has told no one here-or anyplace else in this town-his real name and no one appears to remember him.
He orders coffee right away and then studies the menu. He knows already what is on it
but studies it nevertheless, alert for any changes. Then he takes a look at the other patrons and
studies them as well.The men at Andy's are mostly elderly like himself. This morning they speak about the murder of a woman on the mountain. They fidget, tell off-color jokes and watch one of the two television sets for further details. Some grind their teeth and their cheeks bloom unnaturally. Sam thinks they entertain visions of sexual perversion, not because of the murder-murders happen all the time these days-but because it took place on the mountain. But few details are known at this point because the police and the television crew have not yet arrived at the scene.
At ten Sam will leave. Until then-and after he has slowly enjoyed his breakfast-he will linger over coffee and let his observations wander. He will note the sacks under his eyes and the wattles along his jaw in the back-bar mirror and feel proud that he does not appear as old as he actually is. He will think that he looks a whole lot like Doc Mallick.
Back in Sam's student days, Doc Mallick served as a wise man for Andy's patrons-the source of any enlightenment they might heed. Even being in Mallick's presence elevated Sam's chemistry. It was all adolescent stuff, of course, but very important at the time. He imagined, in a secret way, that Doc dispensed magic. And maybe he did.
No one has taken Doc's place. Wisdom has little meaning in this new kinetic world, but Sam likes to think that he looks like Doc-tall, dark-complexioned and hunched over his coffee in that contemplative way Doc owned. Perhaps Sam has reached a momentous point in life-an ultimate maturity-but if so, he still feels unsafe about making claims for that achievement.
When young, Sam read a novel about a kid growing up in a town that scorned him. The kid disappeared for a time and then, one day, showed up a rich man. Everything changed. People admired him and humbled themselves before him. Envied his big diamond ring and the gold plated knob on his walking stick. The novel hit Sam with unusual force. Influenced him the way religion influences some people. Now he wears a big diamond ring but, unfortunately, it feels foreign. When his nerves act up, he twists it about.
After his breakfast and a time of contemplation, Sam will return to his apartment. Read a book. Be lulled by the wind.
Of all sounds, Sam likes the wind coming off East Ha A Tee Mountain, strumming through the pine beyond his balcony and escalating from an intimate whisper to the timpani-like roll of an ocean breaker. Of course, this Utah town lies far from the ocean. When flying over, one has the illusion of emptiness below until the Rocky Mountains appear with their virginal white-clad tits and then everyone should know, as Utahans like to think, they are over God's country.
Back in his university days, the town stopped short of East Ha A Tee. No trees or houses stood beyond Laboda Street where he once lived. The hills flowed under wild grasses up to where the insane asylum stood, a mediaeval-castle-like building outlined against the rising ramparts that marked the foot of East Ha A Tee and the beginning of the uninhabitable and wild world beyond.
Everyone joked about the asylum in those days, but its cloistered walls and barred windows, the way you could hear people holler as you approached the place, the scariness of an escapee when announced over the radio, fed people's nightmares-including Sam's. Whispers told the stories and embarrassment swept them away. People asked, "What happened to so-and-so?" and the answer, if any, would result in more whispers. Some people believed the asylum had a secret torture chamber where hot pokers and other implements of pain were used. When the workmen tore the place down, a private archivist found human bones buried in back-or so it was rumored.
The state abandoned the whole operation in the seventies and the developers moved in. Sam recognizes little about this town anymore except for Andy's and, of course, East Ha A Tee, a mountain he will never forget no matter how far he travels. It hovers over the town like an ancient shaman decked out in ornamental beads, bones and bits of hair, sending wind messages down into the valley and past Sam's newly occupied apartment.
A hiker, it has been reported, found the woman's body on a trail that winds up around the back of East Ha A Tee and down into the canyon beyond. And now, like a telegraph key, clipping out a warning, a demand for quiet runs up and down the counter. Everyone turns to their respective television set where the reporter, television crew, sheriff and his deputies have now arrived at the scene. Shelves of rock show behind the announcer as he points to where the body is located. The camera pans a stand of juniper and zooms in for a shot of yellow police tape that is still in the process of being secured.
"The sheriff suspects the work of a satanic cult," the announcer says. "Please stay tuned."
A collective gasp-more felt than heard-fills the café. Men's faces glow. Attention darts about.
The mayor thumps the counter. His nose is huge and stippled with dark pores. His pale blue eyes, like some rare mineral, are rimmed with red and dark capillaries web his cheeks. He reminds Sam of Dr. Brock, the psychology department chairman in his student days-a man who gave Sam considerable grief.
"Why call it a satanic cult?" the mayor says. "Satanic cult, my backside." (He would never use the word 'ass,' Sam figures, not even at Andy's.) "All we need around here is a rumor about cults."
Some men nod in agreement. All are white. Sam once read that Utah has more English blood in it than all of England-pale people mostly, blue-eyed and blond.
And here comes Jimmy Walker, the sandy-topped newspaperman. He snuggles in between the mayor and a state legislator, no doubt seeking high-level opinions to exalt his story about the murder.
"We should all be scared of our violence, but we aren't," Ella once said or, at least, she said something to that effect. "We act like it's normal and that's the scariest thing of all." She then added. "Especially the violence we allow toward women."
And now that Sam has had time to think about it, and seen all the news coverage on the Middle East, India and so on, he believes she is right. In fact, the results of a survey are out that show the United States is more like Saudi Arabia in cultural values than like Europe. This is a new slant to Sam. Europe, in his youth, was the ultimate source of values.
But that is all statistics and stuff, what has grabbed him is Ella's image. Spectacularly and all of a sudden, her body, gold-spun hair and her smile have captured him. She might be sitting beside him and he might put his hand on her back, let it slide so as to feel the curve of her rump. Ah, what a sweet fantasy.
But a new customer walks in and the S.O.B. sits beside Sam, replacing Ella with his huge and youthful body.
Freckled and with red hair-so that he stands out like a lighted torch-he barks an order at the waiter and says to Sam, "What's new on the murder?"
Sam waits. Studies him. Does not remember seeing him before.
"Not much."
"Something about Satan?"
"Satanic cult."
"No kidding. For sure?"
"A peep show. Satanic cult is designed to stir people's interest."
Freckles cracks a smile.
The waiter places a glass, a Pepsi and a sweet roll before him. He drinks from the bottle and belches. "Did you grow up around here?" he says to Sam.
"No. I grew up in Idaho. An orphan kid adopted and brought up by white relatives. Had lots of white relatives."
"What other descent are you?"
"Mescalero. You know what that is?"
"No kidding. You're Apache?"
"Never would have guessed."
"I'm guessing you're Scotch."
"It shows?" He grins.
"Sort of."
Freckles breaks off a piece of sweet roll. Stuffs it into his mouth and then says, "You part of the gang here? The in-group?"
"I'm not part of anything. I came here to get a feel for something lost."
"Something material?"
"Old-time places like this hold secrets. If you pay attention, you can feel it."
"New places are naked. Everything revealed. But this place has history and some hidden piece of that history keeps pulling me back like I left something unresolved. Otherwise I'd be eating in one of these new, high-gloss places down the street."
"Curious. Never thought of anything like that before."
"Neither did I until I started coming here about a week ago."
"You live around here?"
"For the time being."
Freckles takes a swig of the Pepsi and chows down on the roll. "For the time being?" he says while chewing.
"Until I get a yen for moving."
"You move often?"
"Yes and no."
Sam tries to picture Ella again, focus on her instead of Freckles, but Freckles has deposited a disturbance in him and brought back that poem, or saying, or jumble of advice, or whatever it is. Been with him for days. It goes: It's the turn in the trail that matters/ where the vista opens to exhilarating brightness/canyons of ecstasy or canyons of self-destruction/ and always the hand of Death/ for the traveler neglected to read his obituary/ in time to save himself.
The words hang with him like filings on a magnet. He understands the trail part. Mountain trails are like that. And life is like that. Sometimes bad things happen. But what does neglected to read his obituary in time to save himself mean?
"I'll bet drugs were involved," Freckles says.
"Could be. What work do you do?"
"Well it's kind of on the secret side. At least for the time being."
"Homeland Security?"
"Nah. Nothing like that. Survey work. Assessing attitudes. I came here on a contract." He smiles.
"What kind of attitudes?"
Freckles pushes the last of the Danish into his mouth. "You'd be shocked."
"Nah. Can't shock me."
"How do you like the extent of oral sex being practiced by teenaged girls?"
"Yeah. The on your knees kind. It's a fad. Young girls."
"I am shocked." A frown of puzzlement controls Sam's face. He shakes his head.
"Most folks don't think it's a problem here in Utah. But certain officials want to find out. If it's here, they want it stopped."
"Can you believe what the kids say?"
"I have a partner. A gal. She's good. We'll find out."
"I still can't believe it. Why would gals do that? There's no mileage."
"The kids don't consider it sex, or so they say. They use it as a contest. Train stuff. They do it on near strangers."
"I was born too soon."
"So was I. Many of 'em are only thirteen and fourteen years old."
"We live in interesting times."
"Yeah, always interesting." Freckles drinks from his Pepsi.
A new commotion gathers Sam's attention.
The mayor leaves his stool, waves at some of his constituents.
Freckles says, "Gotta go. Nice meetin' you." He leaves a buck for the waiter and rushes after the mayor.
It seems that many people have a yen to be associated with the mayor. Several men, including Freckles, now crowd the door to join him, and he, overweight and magisterial, ambles along among his admirers like the deserving prince of a nearby kingdom.
With a reduction in customers, the waiter clears away dishes and collects glasses, three or four at a time, dipping his fingers into them and sweeping them from the counter with the dexterity of a juggler. He is Sam's incarnation, doing what Sam used to do. Exactly. Except he is Anglo.
Sam does not know what happened to his Indian mother. Did she die? Run away? Or did his white relatives buy her off?
A private detective discovered him down in Texas at age four and his white relatives came and took him away while his mother worked at a nearby restaurant.
Uncle Theodore Savage and Aunt Bonnie adopted him and Aunt Bonnie told him he must forget his Indian Mother. They made their home in Idaho where Theodore ran one of the Savage Brothers stores.
"You look like your father," he used to tell Sam, but Sam's father had died when Sam was two and does not exist in his mind except as a character in one or another story that he has heard over the years.
"Spittin' image," Theodore would say. "Talk like him, too. Shows skin-color doesn't matter. You can do anything, son."
Theodore meant anything a white man might do. He did not so much as admit that Sam was part Indian and being Indian meant more than skin color, something his white adoptive father, however well intentioned, did not understand.
"You say you grew up in Idaho?" the man on his right says-an old-timer with shaking hands and a tongue that licks his lips often.
"There's Mormons all over up there, huh?"
"Yeah. Lots of Mormons in Idaho."
"A good Mormon town is a civilized town. It's the immigrants what cause the problems."
Sam does not know why he has been thus informed. How does the man define immigrants? Is he blind to Sam's brown skin? Is his message an insult? Or is he simply repeating the local values, some of which include hating immigrants of color.
"Yes, they do," Sam says to his neighbor, showing his good manners (he hopes), while remembering Columbus and the May Flower.
Right now, Sam sees the pre-Christian Mescalero riding on raids down into Old Mexico. For a moment he rides with them. Feels the wind on his face, the exhilaration such freedom must cause the body. But reality grabs him more easily these days. He is again on a stool in Andy's where he once worked. And he is much like the white men around him-exhibitionistic and thing-grabbing. A few are also guilt-ridden but not many. They will do damned near anything for a buck and think little of it. They have church dues to pay and large families to feed. Sam twists the ring on his finger.
The waiter wipes glasses and places them in rows to be reflected in the mirror. The television announcer, at the scene on the mountain, faces the camera.
"It is now confirmed," he says.
"The victim is an unidentified woman in her twenties. She is strung up like a deer and her body slit open."
Strung up like a deer. Body slit open.
These words are like bullets. They push into Sam's torso. Knock him back. Heat rises into his throat and on into his head and he can see it-see it as well as if he stood on the back of East Ha A Tee Mountain and all mankind from all ages passed through him, looking at the girl strung up like a deer, her body slit. He knew, again and suddenly, what man can do, has done and will always do.
He glances at the remaining men, deer hunters all. Few of them speak right now. But sooner or later at least one of them will say that she deserved it.
Suddenly, he feels older. His shoulders sag. He gazes into his coffee; picks up a spoon and stirs in sugar, watching the reflection of the overhead light make white ripples. And then words from that damnable poem return: . . . for the traveler neglected to read his obituary in time to save himself.