Okay, Sports Fans, time again for Twitter's Sample Sunday. Here is Chapter 2 of Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box. Claire is on the plane back to Moscow. She has just entered into the meditative state of a Shamanic Journey.
CHAPTER 2Claire was no longer aware of her physical body sitting in the plane, shuttling through the atmosphere. Her consciousness was with Spirit-Claire, who walked through a familiar cave and out into the middle of a meadow. A large, mottled jaguar, mouth slightly open to inhale Claire’s scent, slunk toward her from out of the surrounding forest. Its pace picked up and it galloped directly at her and gave a great leap. When the cat was almost upon her, Claire dropped to her knees and opened her arms. The animal elegantly dropped to her side, allowing Claire to wrap her arms around her.
Every Journey, Claire fell in love all over again with everything about Jaguar: her grace and beauty, the deep pile of her fur, her predatory instincts. From the first wonderful Journey when Jaguar came to her out of the forest, Claire knew that no other animal would have enriched and balanced her so well.
Jaguar lay to her right while Claire rested her head on Jaguar’s head and dug her hands into the solid warmth of the thick, soft fur.
“Hello,” she whispered to her spirit companion. Jaguar regally lifted her head, rubbing it against Claire’s cheek.
Claire sat back and focused on the clear sky. She asked deliberately, Why am I so restless all the time? Why can’t I just calm down? How do I find my balance again? She looked into the forest, waiting. A solution would come as a deep certainty, a telepathic response or even as a message from one of the animal spirits. She could never predetermine its form.
Sounds came into focus from the animals beyond the edge of the clearing. Claire grew sharply aware of birds flitting in the branches, squirrels skittering through the underbrush, lizards scurrying over rocks, all jittery swishings through the forest. I know, I know, She thought. That’s my question; what’s the answer?
A dark cloud swept the meadow causing a cold wind that instantly frosted the wild grasses with hoar. Claire shivered. Is this my answer? Something cold coming, something dark and frightening? Then everything went still. Jaguar crept in front of Claire, guarding an unseen threshold, snarling.
A deeper shadow passed overhead. Claire looked up to see a vulture sweeping a wide circle in a ring of light.
“Jaguar, what’s Vulture doing here?” The representative of death, rebirth, and purification had never, ever appeared in one of her Journeys. Jack’s spirit animal had always stayed firmly in Jack’s Journeys where he belonged, but now he flew toward something in the forest. Claire wondered what it was.
Jaguar left Claire's side with a bound. Claire took off after her, following her along paths and through thickets. They did their best to keep Vulture in sight.
With a rumble of thunder, the sky released a torrent of hail. To avoid getting pummeled, the pair veered into a gully that ran under a protective canopy of trees. Abruptly the hail let up, and they slowed to catch their breath.
A cylinder of grizzled fur blurred out waist-high from the embankment to their right. Claire froze in surprise. The blur solidified into a scruffy, snarling badger, flat brown eyes locked on Claire’s face.
Jaguar slunk low, hind end raised and twitching for attack as Claire backed away from the badger’s yellow teeth, slipping on the icy hailstones beneath her feet.
The ground jolted as a great ape swung down from the trees and landed with a grunt. Claire tumbled into the massive, hot, hairy body and recoiled in repulsion. He grabbed her upper arm, his nails sinking into her flesh while the other hand maintained a solid hold on the overhead branch.
Jaguar, torn between the double threats to Claire, kept her body between Badger and Ape, swiveling her attention from one to the other and back again.
Claire chopped her wedged hand into the ape’s forearm in a Tai Kwan Do blow intended to loosen the muscled grip. Ape held on like iron, dirty nails tearing the soft tissue of her upper arm. He pulled on the branch above, wrenching her shoulder as he began to lift her into the trees.
The more imminent threat was now clear. Jaguar snarled and barked: in a lion, it would have been a bellowing roar. She sprang to attack Ape.
In that same moment, Badger leapt onto Jaguar’s back and dug in with filthy claws. Jaguar flinched from the attack but didn’t check the impetus that drove her forward.
Ape jerked back, dropping Claire’s arm to avoid Jaguar’s jaws aimed at the artery in his thigh. He grabbed with his feet at the branch above and retreated through the trees.
One enemy having escaped, Jaguar tried to shake off Badger’s teeth now latched high onto her back. The cat strained over her shoulder, snapping to take hold of his neck. Unable to reach where he gripped high on her back, she sank her teeth his hind leg and tore him free. She flung him against the side of the ditch where he streaked into his dark hole. Blood ran where he had bitten off a chunk of flesh.
Blood also dripped through Claire’s fingers, now clenched to her arm. She had dropped to the ground, dazed. Jaguar circled, nosing her, urging her away from the scene of the ambush. She got up, steadying herself with a hand on Jaguar’s back, amazed that the animal’s flesh was already beginning to heal.
They moved toward where Vulture now descended in ever-smaller circles, finally dropping below into the trees, out of sight. They heard strident caws and followed the sound to an area amidst several large boulders. Vulture danced around a menacing, metallic blob on the ground.
Claire moved closer trying to make out what the substance was. Jaguar crept forward with her belly close to the ground, paws under her, hackles raised. They were rebuffed by invisible vibrations coming from the stuff.
Vulture bobbed back and forth, but the blob seemed too putrid for even a scavenger pick up. He finally gave up and loped awkwardly for a few steps until he built up enough momentum to lift into the sky, soaring gracefully away.
Although Claire felt tired and frustrated. It was clear to her inner sense that the Journey was over. She held onto her arm, trying to staunch the blood still oozing through newly forming scab. She and Jaguar dragged back to the center of the meadow.
Standing in the clearing, enjoying one moment’s peace, she ran her hand through Jaguar’s think pelt and tried to decipher how the vision related to her personal quandary. Drat, she was sorry she hadn’t brought her animal symbolism books to Moscow. She’d have to figure out what the ape and the badger represented, and then she would still have to interpret what the parallel danger in Ordinary Reality was supposed to be. What was the cold, dark wind? For heavens sakes, what was coming in her life that was as awful as that? And why hadn’t there been any resolution? She sighed and gave Jaguar’s cheek one final scratch. It was time to go back.
She knelt in front of Jaguar, saying good-bye, green eyes looking into intense golden ones, whispering endearments, promising to come again. She carefully placed her spirit-self back in the tunnel, and, spiraling up it, returned to her body in the airplane seat.
Certain that her mind was completely centered on the here and now, Claire opened her eyes and turned off the iPod. Her left arm hurt. And felt wet. She slipped her navy blue cardigan off her shoulder and saw blood trickling from three long gashes just below the matching tank top strap. "Holey Moley," she whistled through pursed lips.
She leaned over to put the iPod away in her pocket book and found Misha’s round, blue eyes blinking open.
“What’s a ‘moley’?” he asked sleepily. He closed his eyes and turned over.
She felt as though the world had inverted, but remembered to keep her thoughts silent. This isn’t possible. No Journey is physical. Uck, it’s dribbling down my arm. She fumbled in her purse for the handkerchief she always carried and pressed it against the wounds to stop the bleeding. She readjusted her sweater, shaken and so inwardly focused that she startled when the beverage cart trundled to a stop next to her seat.
The stewardess asked, “Would you like something to drink?”
Claire concentrated on extracting from her wallet the five dollar bill she traded for the drink, but the golden liquid sloshed to the lip of the glass in her shaky grip. She took a big sip, then dug around for her pill case and picked out two aspirins, swallowing them with a second gulp. She took a hard look at the Scotch and selected an Ambien as well.
She had always thought of Journeying as merely a meditation technique, a way to avoid linear thinking and gain use of her subconscious, all very intellectually sound. She had never believed, as her teachers taught, that so-called Alternate Reality was a real place, a place your spirit, although not your body, actually visited during a Journey. One thing she had learned was that most people thought a concrete belief in Journeying was the crazy meanderings of delusional minds.
Crazy or not, Journeying was both meaningful and useful to her, and that was good enough. She held the handkerchief tightly to her arm and, while firmly lecturing to herself that a physical crossover between the realities couldn’t possibly exist, the Ambien crept over her, and sucked her into sleep.
Claire was jarred awake by a bumpy landing. She cursed her hangover and struggled with her computer case as Misha went ahead of her, exhorting her to call him. Yeah, like that’s going to happen, she thought. She jerked her case free, and her coat tumbled on her head. She stumbled after the stampeding herd to Moscow’s notoriously slow Passport Control lines, unrepentantly elbowing a large woman who pushed past her.
She was at the back of a line that was slow even by Russian standards, and it was forty-five minutes before she pushed her passport – checking three times to ensure she still had the loose migration card enfolded in its pages -- through the window to a surly guard, stiff in her navy blue uniform, who studied Claire’s papers with detailed care.
The official looked up at Claire and down at her computer. Up again and down. If Claire weren’t so tired, it would have made her nervous. Her passport photo wasn’t a bad one; it matched her green eyes and sharp chin. It didn’t show her slender length, but that hadn’t changed either.
“Claire Milton,” the guard stated flatly. “This is Chamber of Commerce Visa. You work in Moscow?”
“No, I’m here with my husband, Jack Boden. Er, I mean John Boden.”
“Husband is Jack or is John?” The guard peered back at the line.
“John. John,” she repeated, “Jack is a nick-name. He’s not here in line. He’s in-country already.”
The guard looked her passport again. “Your name is not Boden,” she challenged.
“I didn’t change my last name when we got married, so he’s Boden, and I’m Milton. Er, that’s my last name. I’m Claire Milton.”
“Your husband is already in Russia? In Moscow?”
“Yes. He’s waiting for me in the airport. I’ve been in the U.S. on a visit.”
“What work does husband do?”
“He works with the American Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense, uh, the MOD. Well, with the 12th Gumo within the MOD. But his company is GoCo. They send a car when we come in to pick us up from the airport. He’s here with the driver. Or, he’s out there,” she gestured beyond Passport Control. Exhaustion had her babbling. She sounded like a blithering idiot.
She took a breath and drew upon Jaguar’s hunter-patience, serenely able to wait without frustration, intuitively able to navigate the unfamiliar. Jaguar was poised; Claire was poised.
“Wait,” the guard commanded. She stepped out of her booth, carefully locking it behind her and strode off to a side room.
So much for poise. At least she didn’t pull me out of line. Not yet, anyway. Claire waited, shifting from foot to foot, finally resting her forehead against the doubtless germ-laden glass front of the booth. She eyed her passport, lying so close on the counter beyond the clear divider. Even if she could have reached it, it wasn’t stamped yet. Maybe if I fainted dead away, they’d wave me through just to get me out of the way. Then I could sleep. More likely, they’d put me in a locked room and forget about me. Then I could still sleep. Or worse yet, they’d send me to a local hospital. I wouldn’t sleep so well there.
The guard returned, unlocked the door and reseated herself. She picked up Claire’s passport and thoroughly checked it against her computer once again. Without a word of explanation or apology, she stamped it and the migration card, and brusquely gestured Claire to pass through to the luggage retrieval area. She probably just had to go to the restroom; tormenting me was a bonus.
When Claire finally stepped through to baggage claims, her suitcases were the only ones left on the conveyor belt, just drifting into the opening in the wall. When they came around again, she tugged them off. They were much too heavy. Sometimes she thought all she did was haul vitamins, books and packaged food into Russia and Gzhel china, Russian crystal and pretty lacquer boxes back out again, and while the lacquer boxes were the lightest of the commodities, what they lacked in weight, she made up for in quantity. She never made these trips without her two enormous suitcases. She towed them down the long hall, one in each hand, her computer case sliding off her shoulder. On behalf of the universe, I thank the person who put wheels on suitcases.
She had learned to simply walk past the customs inspection stations. If they wanted to paw through her things, examine her vitamins and rifle through her books, they would call out to her to stop.
As she walked by the second station, she saw that they had stopped Misha Shomkin. He was waving his arms and yelling at the customs officials as they pulled vodka bottles out of his bags. She smiled to herself, Good. He deserves it, the jerk.
Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box by Ann Simon Is a fast-paced thriller with an overlay of the spiritual: Shamanic spirit animals aid the heroine with her deadly challenges. It is available at the Amazon Kindle store for Kindles, i-pads and other i-products, computers, and Windows 7 phones. The Kindle app is currently free. http://amzn.to/hUuFdS