Visions Before Midnight
Oberon: Book Seven
For most people, night spreads a cloak of silence and mystery upon the natural world. If we dare to venture outside after dusk, we hear little and see less. At night, this world we think we own does not feel quite so much like home. We may sense that there is an abundance of life here, we may even feel ourselves drawn to it at times, but it is a life that is always slightly beyond our ken. We are alien to it.
With every minute we stay within the shadowed borders of the land of night, the uneasy conviction grows stronger. We are not alone. We are being watched. We are being...hunted.
To Chay Johnson, however, the night was no more mysterious or frightening than the day. And, like the day, it was filled with myriad sounds and signals. He was aware of everything around him. From the cautious scurry of a squirrel seeking its dinner amid the fallen cones at the base of the Douglas fir, to the fell swoop of the silent owl, that brought the rodent’s searching to an end.
Over the course of many years, Chay had learned how to blend into his environment. To make himself one with the forest, one with the night. To become invisible to all but the most alert. There were no other people in the woods tonight to observe him, but, if there had been, his passage would have been no more than a faint rustle on the edge of their hearing, a flicker of shadows, dark on dark, beneath the trees.
Chay was as much at home in the wilderness as he was anywhere else. And that, he thought, as he made his quiet way down from the foothills of Mt. Totawka, through the woodlands and parks that surrounded the small town of Oberon, was precisely the problem.
He was the product of too many cultures, too many traditions, too much training. He’d taken too many steps down too many paths. And spent entirely too many years on his own. He was comfortable and competent in a wide variety of environments--natural, and otherwise--but, he didn’t feel truly at home in any of them. Not even in the isolated, little woodland cabin where he kept most of his things, and where he currently spent most of his nights.
As he crossed Alder creek, and prepared to exit the park, his pace shifted automatically into the stealth walk he’d adopted many years ago for passing unseen--and unheard--within the more urban environment of the town itself; into the gait most useful for stalking humans.
Not that he was stalking anyone tonight, but old habits died hard. For years he’d walked these streets, following after his sister Chenoa and her friends, after his aunt Camille, after anyone his grandfather had designated as part of their tribe. It was an exercise that had served several purposes. First, of course, it helped insure their safety. Something his aunt, with her militant stance on any number of topics had occasionally needed even more than the girls. He’d trained himself to anticipate threats and move swiftly to neutralize them. He’d taken pride in his role as family warrior, even if it was, at times, a lonely one.
Secondly, it helped hone his skills. If he could successfully stalk those he knew, people with reason to suspect his presence, and yet remain undetected by them, he would be able to stalk anyone.
But, it was the third reason that most interested his grandfather. You can learn a lot through observation; by keeping your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open. You can gain all sorts of insight that way. And, over the course of the last ten years, there was a whole lot Chay had learned--about human nature in general, and his family in particular.
A wealth of personal information had been revealed to him. Secrets that the individual members of his tribe believed they alone were privy to, he had discovered. Some he had kept to himself, but most of what he learned he shared with his grandfather.
Not that his grandfather didn’t have his own methods of gathering information. Paco’s methods might have little to do with ordinary reality, but they were no less accurate for that. Chay had great respect for his grandfather’s ability to perceive things that existed beyond the physical realm. But, all the same, he was well aware that at least part of Paco’s reputation for uncanny perception was based on information that he had provided.
But, things had changed in the last two years. Chay had moved out on his own, and no longer ran patrols on a regular basis. And many in their tribe had moved on or moved away or, in the case of Chenoa and some of her friends, they had grown up and gotten a little more sense. Not that Chay would ever tell Chen that, of course; his little sister didn’t need to be getting a swelled head.
Perhaps the biggest change that occurred, though, was that Chay no longer shared everything he learned with his grandfather. It was partly from a desire to keep his own counsel, to make his own path, his own decisions, without being influenced by his grandfather’s opinions. And, it was partly from knowing his grandfather would not always approve the choices he made. Last but not least, it was partly the result of his work with Bobcat.
A little over a year ago, Chay had helped to reintroduce an injured bobcat to the wild. There is often more than one meaning to everything we experience, and, as Chay had long since learned to appreciate, whenever an animal appeared in his life it was significant. Bobcat had become an important totem for Chay, and over the past year it had taught him many things. Bobcat medicine has to do with mystery, with the keeping of secrets, and the search for a mate.
It was the last which had brought him downtown tonight.
He was twenty seven years old, long past the age when many people settle down, and he was alone. Again, it was partly the choices he’d made; he wasn’t altogether certain that the path he’d chosen to walk was wide enough for two. The life of a shaman was often a solitary one. He had no one to come home to, and he might never have, because, as he’d already realized earlier tonight, he might never have a real home.
That thought kept him company as he made his way through the quiet streets of Oberon. But, when he reached his destination, he let it go. What did it matter? He wasn’t looking to find his life partner tonight, anyway. The restlessness that had brought him here was of a far more transitory nature.
Maybe, if he were already a shaman, if he were already a holy man whose life was dedicated to Spirit, he would be content to wait, to conserve his energy, to sublimate his sexual impulses until the proper time and place. Until the proper woman had appeared. But, however worthy such a path might be, he couldn’t walk it. He guessed he just wasn’t that evolved yet.
Chay wasn’t looking for love everlasting tonight. He was simply looking to get laid.
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