Title: Call of the Forbidden Way
Author: Robert Owings
Pub. Date: August 26th, 2016
Publisher: Cosmic Egg Books
When Carson Reynolds gets hired to produce a documentary film at a gathering of Native American medicine men, he never suspects it will be a portal into a world that will radically change his life. Despite his resistance to the Call, he is ineluctably drawn into a realm of shamans, priestesses, deities, and plant-medicine work, where he becomes engaged in a searing struggle with extra-dimensional forces that threaten the future of humanity as we know it.
Call Of The Forbidden Way Chapter 1
Carson Reynolds surveyed the landscape through the bug-splattered windshield, wondering why the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota had been chosen for this event. The bland prairie lacked the dramatic setting of the Southwest that he would have preferred. The July sun beat down with little mercy on the litter-strewn parking lot of Big Bats store and filling station, their appointed rendezvous.
He felt somehow different being on this Lakota land. A strange, vaguely disturbing sensation stirred within; or was it just the climate change from California?
Lucas, his longtime soundman, sat beside him in the front of their rented van, reading an article on mountaineering in China while snacking on trail mix and downing gulps of Snapple. A sun-bleached metal sign proclaiming Permits Sold Inside flapped in the wind.
Once again, Carson questioned whether he should be here. He had promised himself and others, especially Allison, that he would stop accepting documentary projects that were financially marginal. After all, his career was at a stage where he was supposed to be making respectable money and not just collecting awards for artistic achievement. He was hard pressed to justify taking on another documentary that paid little.
A dust-coated Chevy pickup pulled up next to Carson’s van, once again disturbing the paper litter that occupied the parking lot. Out stepped Jimmy White Stone.
“Carson, you scoundrel, you made it,” Jimmy called out, adjusting the heavy-framed eyeglasses resting on his nose. “I was starting to get a little worried.”
“Sir James, keeper of the mighty pen of righteousness, good to see you, my man,” Carson replied, climbing out of the van.
The two men embraced. Carson pulled back to better take in his old college friend.
“Damn, how long has it been since we last saw each other?”
“About four years, I believe,” Jimmy answered. “That night we had dinner together in San Francisco. That Vietnamese place on Valencia?”
Carson slapped his leg. “Mind like a steel trap. Never forgets the details.”
Jimmy, a tall man with a lean build, dressed in a weathered corduroy sports jacket and faded jeans, looked all the part of the bohemian professor. Now well into his forties, he wore a braided ponytail streaked with gray. His expression conveyed his usual pensive mood, one that had become familiar over the years and that signaled a certain intellectual proclivity of Jimmy’s that both attracted and annoyed Carson.
“Well, you must be doing all right,” Carson said. “Every time I pick up a magazine, it seems your name is under the title of some article. Right? Read you in Time, the Smithsonian, Rolling Stone.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose being a journalist has worked. Or maybe it’s just having an Indian slant on things that allows me to get in print. Hard to say.”
“Don’t be so fucking modest, you know you’re damn good.” Carson laughed, slapping Jimmy on the back while directing his attention to the young man emerging from the van. “Now, Jimmy, I know he doesn’t look like much, but this is my dear associate and trusted soundman, Lucas.”
“Welcome,” Jimmy said.
“Thank you. Good to be here,” Lucas replied, stepping forward, a crown of dreadlocks, gathered in a loose bundle, cascaded from a faded, backwards-facing baseball cap. “Hope we’re not real late. We got kind of delayed at the airport getting all our gear through baggage claim, and then there’s getting here. Damn, this place is out there, dude.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t start shooting until tomorrow, if then,” Jimmy said casually as he studied the young man. “Besides, time moves at a different pace here than in the rest of the world. I only requested that you get here today so you could settle in. But let’s go over to where we’ll be filming, check out the generator we rented for your lighting. We can do some of the preliminary setup and planning. It’s in sort of an isolated part of the rez, a special power spot.”
“This project is so awesome,” Lucas said, adjusting his baggy cargo shorts up to his waist. A down vest, cotton sweatshirt, and work boots completed his film crewmember look.
“Awesome?” Jimmy paused, surveying the rolling prairie. “Well, that’s to be determined.”
“From what you’ve told me, I still can’t believe you talked your elders into letting us film this thing,” Carson said.
“It wasn’t easy,” Jimmy said, narrowing his eyes craftily. “An intertribal medicine circle of this caliber is a major event. But it’s imperative to capture this on film, a way to preserve what remains of the old ways.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do,” Carson responded. Despite the questionable monetary rewards, he felt honored to have been asked to make the documentary by a committee of Lakota elders. Jimmy, who had collaborated with him on films when they were both undergraduates at UCLA, had helped negotiate the commission. Carson was looking forward to working with his old friend once more.
As they rode through the reservation, Carson couldn’t help but notice that conditions were far from romantic. Nearly every house or trailer beckoned for repair—cardboard patches over broken windows, blue plastic tarps wrapped over roofs, sagging foundations, and practically no evidence of anything having been recently painted. Carcasses of abandoned automobiles and trucks dotted the prairie. Many people suffered poor health, too, Jimmy explained—diabetes, tuberculosis, and alcoholism fed upon the community with little restraint.
Despite the apparent hardships, however, some young people strolled about with iPods and cheap new hip-hop-inspired attire. Expensive, late-model pickups sat in front of a number of homes, often alongside satellite dishes standing like great metallic mushrooms. To Carson the reservation presented a ragtag community caught in poverty and consumerism.
Early the next day, they drove out to the filming location, a flattened plateau at the end of a box canyon, surrounded on three sides by sandstone mesas. A band of rich green shrubs and cottonwoods ran around the plateau’s perimeter.
Even though they had Jimmy’s four-wheel-drive truck to haul the equipment, everything had to be carried up a footpath the last hundred yards. To power the lighting they strung large electrical cables along this path from a trailer-mounted generator stationed below.
While Lucas busied himself with the audio equipment, Carson took Jimmy through a refresher on running the second camera and the two-way radios.
“You don’t need to worry about the battery pack; you’ll get a warning readout in the eyepiece if it’s getting too low,” Carson explained. “Nearly everything is digital now. Not like the old days.”
“Got it,” Jimmy acknowledged. “Say, Carson, I again want to thank you for holding the crew to an absolute minimum. I realize having me on the second camera isn’t how you’d prefer to work, but this is such a sensitive ceremony. We really need to be as unobtrusive as possible.”
“No problem,” Carson replied, giving Jimmy a pat on the back.
Later in the morning, the medicine men began to arrive amid great excitement from the growing audience of Lakota people who stood along the edges of the site. Jimmy had explained that hosting this medicine circle had charged the reservation with pride. Carson wondered if it was also a rekindling of old hope.
“What are they doing now?” he asked, watching the medicine men sprinkle water over each other and apply copious billows of smoke over one another’s bodies from bundles of smoldering sage.
“Purification,” Jimmy answered.
“Oh, fire and water, that’s cool,” Carson said, his eye locked on the camera’s eyepiece as he filmed the scene.
Whenever he could free himself from the technical preparations, Carson took the opportunity to scan the gathering’s array of faces. Many of the participants wore some form of traditional jewelry, moccasins, or headgear composed of beading, feathers, silver, and leather. They casually blended these items with everyday contemporary clothing: blue jeans, t-shirts with silk-screen prints of eagles or medicine wheels, fleece pullovers, and cowboy boots. But his eye was drawn to the quiet intensity of their faces, sculpted by age and a form of wisdom not acknowledged by modern Western culture.
In contrast to these medicine men, Carson’s own appearance reflected mainstream America: khaki shorts and shirt, a safari vest. He looked as though he had stepped off the pages of a Territory Ahead catalogue. He found himself feeling self-conscious, hoping he wouldn’t stick out too badly among these purpose-driven people of grit.
He edged over to Jimmy. “Colorful group you’ve got here, Mr. White Stone,” he said.
“Thank you.” Jimmy laughed. “We had some Hollywood costume people come in and create these outfits just for your film. Glad you like them.”
“No seriously, this is going to look good,” Carson replied, sweeping his arm in front of the gathering of medicine men.
Jimmy turned to face him. “Well, that might be, but the film shouldn’t be driven by just the visuals. These people aren’t simply caricatures.”
“I know, I know,” Carson apologized without meeting Jimmy’s eyes. “Just speaking as a filmmaker, that’s all.”
“These men have come from across the country, including a few from Canada, and that guy over there is from Mexico.” Jimmy pointed. “There are about 140 of them. The majority of them are elders.”
“So who are those young guys I see?”
“Apprentices who are especially gifted in medicine work,” Jimmy answered. “You know, traditional healers. The guys who engage with spirit forces and such.”
Lucas walked over and joined them, changing a set of couplings on the end of a cable while he listened.
“Care to explain anything else we should know about, like what to watch for as this thing gets going?” Carson pressed.
“Well, obviously nothing about this gathering is scripted,” Jimmy said. “At least nothing has been revealed to me by my elders. I’m not sure they even know themselves exactly what’s going to happen. Our charge is simply to film what unfolds here as best we can.”
Jimmy pulled the thickly framed eyeglasses from his face, cleaning the lenses with a handkerchief in a concentrated manner. “Some of the language used in the singing might be of a special kind, perhaps known only to that individual medicine worker, a language given by the spirit world,” he said cryptically.
“Well, we don’t know Lakota from Latin, so it’ll all be the same for us,” Carson said, nudging Lucas’ arm sportingly. “Right, my man?”
Lucas laughed. “Hey, whatever they say, I’ll record it. No worries.”
Jimmy paused, choosing his words. “I should let you know that there’s much more going on here than just this documentary. There’re certain . . .” Jimmy stopped. “Oh, never mind. Anyway, you are fortunate that most of the discussions will be in English. After all, it’s the common language for Indians, too. So no worries, as Lucas so aptly puts it.”
Around midday, with no discernable protocol as far as Carson could tell, men began to seat themselves on the ground, forming a large circle. An audience of three to four hundred Indians gathered behind, surrounding the medicine men. Carson, Lucas, and Jimmy positioned themselves between these two human circles, poised to move about as needed.
Carson was too busy panning to notice exactly how the ceremony began. But before long, someone was singing, and a large accompaniment of native drums and a host of supporting singers joined in.
To Carson, the songs felt haunting, a mixture of simple melody and indefinable melancholy, blended into a chant paced by primal rhythm. He focused his camera on the long-stemmed, leather-covered pipes that began to be passed around the circle. The sacred smoke of tobacco melded with the scent of sage, leather, and sweat.
As the ceremonies progressed into the afternoon, the drumming intensified, penetrating into everything that composed the physical surroundings—people, cameras, rocks, sky. The trance-inducing rhythm pulled at the confines of Carson’s consciousness, teasing him to forget the demands of his camera. Various medicine men took turns leading the ceremonies with songs or dances, weaving their tribal tongues into an exotic spell over the plateau. While he could not understand the languages of the various ceremonial songs, Carson felt shaken to his core, as though his soul was loosening from its mooring. He had to truly concentrate to even stay focused on his job.
The ceremonies ran late into the night, resuming the next morning. Carson spent some of those early hours filming various medicine men in interviews with Jimmy, and meeting many of the honored guests. With little time for sleep, he began to run on adrenaline, fully aware that he was documenting something extraordinary. But by the third and final day, exhaustion was over taking him.
“Everything about this gathering has been going very well so far,” Jimmy said before they started that morning. “And there have been serious concerns that it might be quite the opposite. It even appears the spirits are well pleased by our filming or otherwise they would have caused trouble.”
“That’s cool.” Lucas laughed. “Don’t want any of those dudes pissed off.”
Jimmy took off his glasses again, wiping them nervously. “Well, sometimes you can only know that for sure if you make it home safely.”
Shortly before dusk, the drumming suddenly stopped. With little said, those in the audience gathered themselves and silently walked away, vacating not only the plateau but also the surrounding area. Meanwhile, the medicine men gathered in small groups for prayers and once again smudged themselves with sage smoke. There was little sound other than the distant rumbling of departing cars and trucks.
“What’s up with those people leaving?” Carson asked Jimmy through the two-way radio.
“The medicine men will do something special tonight,” he answered, “a closed session, no audience.”
“Oh, okay,” Carson said, preoccupied with preparing for the night’s work. He had little more than an hour before dark to make lighting changes, swap battery packs, load new video, do sound checks, and inspect cables. He longed to sleep but readied himself for this last push.
The special, closed ceremony began shortly after dark. Carson could discern little difference between this one and all the others—there was drumming and singing, only no dancing. But after about a half hour, the drums fell silent and the medicine men sat in quiet meditation.
Carson took the opportunity to check his equipment. Everything appeared to be functioning properly. He spoke softly into the two-way radios, checking in with Jimmy and Lucas. All was in order.
Suddenly there was movement; a handful of medicine men began moving around the circle, passing out small leather pouches, amulets, and feathers to the other attendees. They spoke softly among themselves, apparently exchanging some form of blessing.
The medicine men returned to their meditation.
Carson briefly moved out of filming range. “I hope they do something with a little action soon,” he whispered over the radio. “This sitting in silence stuff is about as riveting as watching snow melt.”
“Yeah,” Lucas replied. “Jimmy, how much longer will they do this?”
“Until it’s no longer time to do it,” Jimmy whispered back.
Carson resumed filming.
Charlie Singing Wolf, a Blackfoot from Saskatchewan, finally broke the silence. “Brothers, we have made the prayers and sung the songs. We have shared much of our ways here; the medicine has been strong. Now it is time to speak of the great struggle.”
His words took on an ominous edge. “The battle for the Great Mother is soon to come. More and more of those who wish to do harm are gathering; some even now walk upon Her bosom’s surface. Others are hiding in Her belly while the rest continue to gather, hovering above. She is calling Her children to come together and defend Her life. It is by Her breath and blood that life flows to all Her creatures, to all plants and trees, to the rocks and mountains, to the rivers and oceans. She is in great danger. Those who wish to abduct Her are powerful beings. We must join with Her allies in this great battle. Is it not so?”
The hairs on the back of Carson’s neck stood up. Without really understanding what Charlie Singing Wolf meant, he intuitively sensed the graveness of the man’s prophecy. His hands began to tremble, causing the handheld camera to shake. He had to force himself to keep steady.
Charlie went on. “As you all must know, it is for this purpose that we have gathered here. Many of us have been receiving messages that speak of such things. And it is not just Indian people. We have heard it is the same for others from many parts of the world. Those of you who have met with the traveling ones from Tibet, those they call lamas, have privately spoken of these things. My own granddaughter has recently returned from a conference in Nepal. She tells me that there the Hindu medicine women, the yoginis, are preparing for this time. And my friend Ralph Wetspoon, a university professor from Vancouver, a member of the Gitksan tribe who went to Siberia last summer, tells me that even there the Tungus people, our old relatives, are talking this way.”
The elder nodded, indicating he was finished.
An old Crow medicine man Carson had learned was from Montana began to speak. “I, too, have heard these things, Charlie Singing Wolf,” he said. “This past fall, I was invited to go with some of the Christian people from my tribe to a gathering outside New York City. It was one of those events they call an ecumenical council, which is supposed to welcome many other ways of knowing spirit. You all know about those gatherings?”
Snickers emanated from the circle.
“One evening, after the regular program, I spoke with a woman from Haiti who practices the voodoo medicine, and also with a medicine man from the west coast of Africa. Our conversation turned to this matter. They, too, prepare for this crisis; they know of it in those lands. Of course, I only spoke of this among such medicine people, not with any of the others attending, and certainly not with those Christians from my own tribe.”
“But there are some Christian whites who know of these things,” interrupted the young Zuni, Luther Redbone, whom Jimmy had interviewed the day before. “I know a couple; they are Episcopal missionaries who work in South America. They visit my pueblo on occasion, and on their last visit they spoke with me about these things. They are the ones who told me that the curanderos in the Amazon are doing medicine work to defend our world from this danger.”
“Enough, we agree that this threat is real,” said Owl Eyes, the old Nez Percé medicine man with the commanding presence whom Jimmy had introduced Carson to that morning. Carson had somehow suspected it was Owl Eyes who had been silently in charge of the proceedings throughout the entire three days. While filming, Carson had observed the other medicine men watching this man, as if getting instructions from him. And on the breaks, Owl Eyes had been often sought after by other medicine men, always appearing to be in deep conversation with his peers. Carson clearly sensed that whoever the man was, he was a person of high authority among the group.
Owl Eyes reached into his medicine bag and tossed something that resembled sand toward the center of the circle. “The words of Charlie Singing Wolf and the others are true. I know it is so because in a dream I had this winter I was visited by Wounded Paw, who told me of this danger.”
A murmur spread among them. Carson wondered who or what Wounded Paw could be.
Owl Eyes lifted his hand, signaling silence. “This time we must not fail as we did when the whites came to this land. These powers that threaten us are far more dangerous. And even the white people will have to learn their forgotten ways of spirit if they wish to survive. With our people and allies, we must combine our powers in this struggle. We must unite these powers, weaving a giant blanket to cover the Great Mother. This is how it must be. Tomorrow we return to our homes. If the spirits allow and we have the courage, we will meet again.”
The drums began once more.
The Indians’ prophetic words caused Carson’s stomach to tighten with an indefinable fear. But the sensation didn’t last; his rational mind regained control and began putting his thoughts back in order. “Whatever these Indians mean, they’re only speaking metaphorically,” Carson told himself. “And your job, Mr. Filmmaker, is just to document this stuff, not interpret it.”
He immediately felt better, reassuring himself that he had his role in the world and the Indians had theirs. Redirecting his attention back to the job, he checked his camera.
“Goddamn it,” Carson sputtered in disbelief. The camera wasn’t running.
“What’s the matter?” Jimmy White Stone whispered, appearing beside him.
“I can’t believe it—I don’t think I got any of their talk. Somehow the camera stopped. Thank God you were filming.”
“Nope,” Jimmy said flatly.
“What?” Carson hissed.
“No way, my friend; that stuff wasn’t for the cameras. I turned mine off. I guess the spirits stopped yours. Believe me, it’s better for you this way. I would’ve been very worried for you if you’d left here with that footage.”
Lucas ran over. “Carson, man, you aren’t gonna believe this, but somehow my equipment wouldn’t record any of that stuff.”
Fear once again pulled at Carson.
“Evidently, it wasn’t supposed to,” he replied, shaking his head in resignation.
Jimmy White Stone nodded and returned to his camera.
Rain clouds gathered on the fourth morning, erecting dark walls in the western sky. Carson and Lucas hurriedly packed, throwing their gear into the rented van for the return drive to the airport. Carson was looking forward to getting home, to his own bed—to where he belonged. He felt more than weary, and a strange dream from the previous night still churned unresolved in his mind.
“So, Carson, about ready to get out of here?” Jimmy White Stone called as he strolled toward them, adjusting the thick eyeglasses on his nose.
Jimmy had been busy all morning helping the various visiting medicine men with their homeward departures. Many had left before dawn. When Carson learned of this, he half wondered if they had done so because they thought they needed to slip away unseen by evil spirits.
“Well, Jimmy, quite an interesting soirée you girls throw,” Carson said, attempting to be more lighthearted than he felt. “There’s going to be some brilliant footage to work through.”
“I knew you two would do a good job for us,” Jimmy said, handing them each a small leather pouch decorated with beading and fringe. “My brothers want me to thank you and Lucas for keeping the space sacred for their work.”
“What’s this?” Lucas asked.
“These are medicine bags for you to take with you, to keep you safe on your journey home, as well as to keep in your home for protection. It’s one of the ways we wish to thank you. But don’t open them until you’re home, and keep the contents in the pouch.”
Carson nodded in appreciation. “It was an honor to be asked here. Thanks for these gifts.”
The three of them stood together in a moment of silence as a brisk wind swept through, signaling a change in the weather.
“So when do you want to fly out to California and start adding the audio? And who’s going to do the narration?” Carson asked.
“Oh, I’ve got several people I’d like to use,” Jimmy said confidently. “I’ll let you know in plenty of time. But first I have to write an article about this gathering for Tribal College. After that, I’ll get started on the audio material for you.”
“I still wish we could have gotten that footage from last night’s little powwow,” Carson grumbled, heaving the last duffel bag of cables into the back of the van.
“White folk.” Jimmy laughed.
After a round of good-byes, the filmmakers drove off the reservation, joining the two-lane highway that would guide them back to a more familiar world. Carson eased back in his seat, glad to have Lucas at the wheel.
An hour later and miles away from the Lakota nation, a violent thunderstorm beat down upon the highway, whipping sheets of angry rain against the windshield. Carson, overcome by fatigue, fell into a restless sleep. The troubling dream from the previous night presented itself once more.
The large beast called to him, beckoning him to come, come inside a hidden place, there among the remains of so many who had lived long before, there, surrounded by knowledge that was forbidden and dangerous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Owings is an explorer of consciousness and the author of the novel Call of the Forbidden Way, the first book in a forth-coming trilogy published by Cosmic Egg. Learn more, receive the first chapter for free, or order the book at http://www.robertowings.com.