Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #184: Bump in the Night

(An excerpt from my novel Galilee...)

There was no point in pursuing it with Amelia, so he didn’t. He watched the water swerve and roil through the cypress knees on the other side of creek. Up on the rise, three raccoons sauntered out of the woods and stood watching, then ambled off.

“Bandits,” he said.

“Not really,” said Tía. She looked at him in his fuddled state. He felt the heat of her gaze.

“What?” he said.

She smiled. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

“Remember what?”

“Eight years old, you practically lived down here at this creek. In, out, this side, that side, I think back now how trusting we were of you down here by yourself and I am horrified, but you were adamant that we were not to interfere with your independence,—”

“Not much changed there—”

“You had such a confidence, such a knowing about you. I looked down from the window one day and you’re down here feeding one of these ‘bandits,’ as you say, out of your hand. And not a baby, at that. Next day, there’s a family of three down there with you, seated all quiet and dignified as if you were all at some posh tea party—you were reading to them. For six months, you painted your face with black stripes and insisted on being called Wodjidjé.”


“Wodjidjé. You found the name in one of the books you read to the raccoons. Thanks to both your parents, you were always reading the strangest things. Wodjidjé came from the Winnebago or Hotcâgara people—he was the Comet-Meteor spirit, who wore the skin of a raccoon. His long tail—the comet’s tail, the meteor’s tail—further symbolized raccoon spirit. You remember none of this?”


“That was six months of black paint on your face, and a very unusual name for an eight year old boy raised out here in the sticks. You were quite insistent.”

“Believe me, Tía, it’s not the first thing I’ve lost.”

“Still, it’s strange that it’s so vivid to me.”

“What happened after the six months? I put away foolish things and turn to the usual nonsense?”

The sound of water filled the silence.


You’re asking the wrong person, said the boy inside Peter’s head. Of course, he doesn’t remember anything, he never does. Yes, he’s come a long way with Miss Stella and the baby, but he still clamps down hard on me. No way I can get out and play and have run of the place. Too scary, too scary, though all he would say is that it’s time to put all of that—all of me, he means—behind him.

Of course, I remember the raccoons. That first day down here at the creek when the first one showed up. Didn’t hear a sound, and then all of a sudden, I just felt this presence beside me, breathing, full, still. So close, so real, at first I thought it had to be a dog or a cat, even though I knew there were no cats around and the dogs were all much bigger and a different color. It just sat there looking at me, sat a good while, not the least bit bothered by me or my curiosity. I wished I had something to hand to it that day, I was so convinced it would accept whatever I offered.

And, what was so strange was that I had just been reading a book Mama had given me about the Hotcâgara—Winnebagos, as many people knew them—and a bunch of their stories about Raccoon and Wodjidjé, the Meteor Spirit, who was very connected to Raccoon, with his long hairy tail. I had always had the feeling that the world was a very magical place, but the arrival of the raccoon was when I knew for sure—it could be no accident that Raccoon appeared to me at that time.

Two days later, he returned with his family. That was the day Tía saw me down here with them. I know her first instinct was to worry, but thankfully, she stopped herself long enough to look and see that all was safe. From then on, we met out here daily, most times just starting here, and then walking off into the woods for our adventures. I began to feel like I was seeing the world through their eyes. Tricksters they were, just like the Hotcâgara said they were, but no more than any playful child might be—I felt like we were simply playing with our imaginations together, hiding things from one another, going down paths guaranteed to lose us, but always with smiles on our faces, playfulness in our hearts.

“Tía,” Peter said again, touching her hand gently. “It’s okay. I remember what happened to the raccoons. You don’t have to tell me.”

The boy inside him breathed deep relief, took Peter’s heart in his hands and warmed it with his fingers. Yes. Tell it for all of us. I knew eventually you would come around

“It was horrible,” said Amelia. “It still is—after all these years, it still is.”

Please, for me, tell it, so I don’t have to carry it around anymore, so none of us do

“I don’t remember who, though,” said Peter. “I remember that they went missing, and that they never went missing. First, they were always creekside, and then later they started coming right on up to the house to find me, practically asking for me at the back door. Then those few days gone, and then—”

“Slaughtered,” said Amelia.

“Did I see the skins, or did I just hear about them? It’s not clear to me.”

“You found them. Three skins strung from the Cassety fence, about a mile south of here. You brought them back, carrying them as if you were carrying your babies. I saw you out the back window, trying to cross the creek with them.”

“Who would have done it—who would have done such a thing?”

“We know exactly who did it. Old Man Cassety—meanest son of a bitch up here in these hills. He’d had the land south of us for years, and was always looking for some way to gouge us for money. Hateful man, all the more hateful because none of his schemes ever worked. He saw you down at the creek one day with the raccoons, acted all concerned for your safety, said he’d been seeing three raccoons skulking around his chickens. Bald-faced lie—the man despised poultry, except to kill it himself. He said we might take your safety lightly, but he would do whatever necessary to protect what was his. I prayed they would stay clear of him, but I’m sure he trapped them, lured them on in. It was short work after that.”

“He denied it all, I’m sure,” said Peter.

“Boone lit out after him. He was waiting up on his porch; you could tell he’d been relishing the prospect of a visit. Sitting in a straight-backed chair, leaning up against the wall of his cabin, all smarmy with oozy hospitality. Carving a wooden raccoon with his big hunting knife, he said: ‘You know what they say, Boone, about coons and niggers. Only good ones—’

“‘That’s enough,’ said Boone.

“‘Ain’t had me a good nigger for years now, but I sure as hell had me some honest coons—”

“Boone again: ‘That’s enough, Old Man.’

“‘Leastwise, now that boy’ll be safe—’

“It took all of Miguel and Cesar to keep Boone off the old man. Of course, Cassety would have loved a juicy piece of litigation or a thick blade in Boone’s side, either one. Thank God, Miguel refused to let him go alone.”

“What became of the old man?” said Peter.

“Not three weeks later, one of his estranged kids found him dropped dead on that front porch, drowned in his own vomit. Apparently choked on a piece of meat.”

“And the raccoons?”

You don’t need to ask

“You mean the skins?” said Amelia.

I told you, you don’t need to

“Up at the big black walnut tree, right?” he said, easing the boy’s panic.

Thank you

“With everything else you wanted trucked up there through the years,” said Amelia, smiling ruefully. “Of course, you had to sleep with them for a good week, first.” She followed his eye on up the creek bank; the crown of the old walnut was just visible at the edge of the woods south of the house.

He stood slowly, to let the creak out of his bones.

“You go on over and say hello,” she said.

She watched him climb the bank and amble over towards the tree. Halfway there, Beast loped on over, banging his tail against Peter’s good leg.

Peter watched his daughter toddle from the house, Stella not far behind. His back was up against the hardwood walnut spine, his vision dappled by low slung branches. He was content to let the boy sit and feel the spirits of the old raccoons deep in the ground beneath him.


He felt thick black stripes painted on his cheeks, a curious nose pressed into his side. He knew enough not to look down, but to keep his eyes on the babe toddling his way.


Raw musky smell, almost rank, though the boy resisted the description.


“Daddy!” Darcy toddled in under the branches; for a moment he feared for the creature, its surprise. The nose did not pull away.


“Hey, baby,” he said, gathering his daughter in on his left side. Still, the animal did not pull away.

Darcy looked up into his father’s face, and looked on up through the dappled green leaves.

“You look younger, Daddy,” she said.




Blogger Teresa said...

Wow! And it even has the Trickster... I love this, Murat. It is sooo cool, but it kind of leaves me speechless in a good way.

11:41 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Good morning, Teresa. It was good to put something up here: the pile of papers at school is ever-growing: it truly feels like they're encroaching on my writing time. My seniors just turned in an awesome round of longer "desolation" poems in response to "Beowulf." I was blown away by how much they had absorbed the spirit of the poem. After I read them all aloud yesterday, one student asked, "And where's yours?" A gentle reminder - and acknowledgment - that I need to be writing, too.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

I like to sneak in to work early - quiet time when I might get something done. stopped here as a Friday treat - so glad I did and so glad your students are reminding you to write. I love the placement of beauty and ugliness here. The old man killing Peter's childhood and then Peter seeing his own child and the return of the raccoon spirits. The boy embracing diverse relationships, finding the beauty. The old man dividing everything into two piles, one that should live and one that shouldn't. This is a keeper. I wanted to be sitting off a ways, arms wrapped around knees, quietly watching, blessed to see.

7:45 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: I don't know if it's raining up your way, but it's pouring here, wonderful grey rain and sky right outside our two big windows. The middle school munchkins are all at their computers, writing to the pulse of the contemplative weather. It's quite lovely and quiet and magical.

This afternoon, Tina and Walden and I are driving out to Alpine for a wedding. I'm looking forward to the solace of those mountains, the sense of being 4000 more feet closer to the sun.

Thanks for your eyes and ears on this piece. Glad it could be a part of your early Friday morning.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Well, I know how that goes. I have tons of work for money and work for grades that I have to get through. I'm glad you found some time to write. This was a truly magnificent piece. I could see the movie as I read it.

Have a great trip to the mountains. I will be thinking of you as I am under my pile of books and papers. But I am loving every minute of it. All kinds of new ideas and knowledge. I'm like a kid in a toy store that has a candy counter and an ice cream shop at the back. Yesterday the history department held a round table on Marriage & Concubinage in Medieval Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Japan and China. My History of Asian Women professor hosted it during our class. It was truly fascinating. Each of the professors outlined her individual topic for 5 minutes, then we had an hour for question and answer. They even supplied donuts and bagels to keep our strength up so we could ask them the questions at the end! No wonder California has a budget crisis...

10:38 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: I can definitely see the "kid in the candy store" aspect for you: it's great that all of this is coming your way: New Life, New Mind, New Heart.

Definitely looking forward to the mountains. On the drive out, Tina and I are planning a class we'll be facilitating at church on the Feminine Divine.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Teresa said...

I will be interested to hear about that class, read outlines or other things. In my "free" time, I'm reading The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels for my next library book club group. This month's topic is Religious/Inspirational.

Have you read the Winnebago legends of the Trickster? He is one freaky dude with the ladies. I liked your raccoon version of him a little bit better.

11:40 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: I don't think I went too far beyond Wodjidjé, when looking for some raccoon totems about a year and a half ago (when I wrote this part of the novel). He cuddles up to the Hotcâgara Trickster, maybe a subcontractor, but not the big boss.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

Enjoy the mountains :) It rained here most of the day and when the rain left it got cold. Tonight is homecoming for two schools in the area and they will have an uncomfortable evening, I think. We are spending tomorrow in Commerce with my daughter - a birthday dinner and a football game.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Aah, that explains it. A baby trickster. Well, it takes all kinds, and Trickster has tons of children with many different chiefs' daughters. He seems to always get and keep the girl despite his tricks.

5:59 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: Had a great drive out here: beautiful sunset, and then silhouettes of all the mountains. Good night's sleep, and now we're off to Marfa. The last stretch last night, from Fort Stockton to Alpine, we listened to an awesome radio station out of Marfa - very old school - music (old Lyle Lovett, Steve Forbert, Jerry Lee Lewis...) and no talk, except at the top of the hour, when they DID NOT announce what they had just played over the previous 60 minutes, leaving it to the presumed intelligence of their listeners. Felt like we were traveling through a portal, which I'm sure we were...

10:24 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: One would assume that of all the tricksters, no?

10:25 AM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I am left speechless! Wonderful write!


8:16 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you, GT.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous missalister said...

I really enjoyed the idea of the boy hanging out with the tricksters “playing with our imaginations together, hiding things from one another, going down paths guaranteed to lose us, but always with smiles on our faces…” I loved the picture that paragraph gave me, this magical-hilarious mix of fat-bottomed raccoons waddling, youngster raccoons spry and devilish, the little boy all very serious about this fun business, and all of them tricking and hiding and smiling.

And so I all the more hated old man Cassety who was “all the more hateful because none of his schemes ever worked.” Foul man, fair death.

I liked standing from squatting by the creek “to let the creak out of his bones.”

And I loved all the Wodjidjes lighting the path out. I was left reflective, both blue and kelly green.

9:05 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

DOM: I'm glad you wuz left all blue and green by the boy and his merry band. Cassety was one mean son of a bitch: I'm glad to have never met someone of his ilk up close and personal.

3:44 AM  

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