Thursday, November 8, 2018

Don Travis: Mountain Augury, Part 2 of 3 Parts

Don Travis: Mountain Augury, Part 2 of 3 Parts: dontravis.com blog post #310 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Time to pick up the pace a little. You’ll remember that Teo Oxley has b...

Mountain Augury, Part 2 of 3 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #310

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Time to pick up the pace a little. You’ll remember that Teo Oxley has been hired to restore two frescoes in a mountain mission. The first night he’s there, he sees something that isn’t and has his dreams invaded by a mysterious specter. He hopes the arrival of the young Indian caretaker named Rodrigo will set things straight.

We’ll see.
*****
MOUNTAIN AUGURY

AUGURY: (o’gye re) n. – The art or practice of divination from omens or signs (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)

It took almost an hour, but we tore down and reassembled the scaffold so that it was much more secure. It would serve my purposes nicely. The youth hovered at my side on the scaffold as I set about examining the mural in detail.
“This is going to take a little time, Rodrigo. It’s slow, painstaking work. Actually, it’s four jobs. First you diagnose the situation. Find out what the problems are, like what caused those cracks, for instance. Do they radiate? What materials were used to create the work? The paint was ground from natural ingredients and then applied right onto the wet plaster. That’s the difference between a mural and a fresco. Anyway, I have to determine things like that.”
I took a breath and continued to scan the Saint’s face up close. “Then there’s the job of cleaning. Removing centuries of accumulated dirt and smoke can be tricky. This painting should have been cleaned every generation or so. That means St Peter should have taken twenty baths since he was created. Probably hasn’t had one.
“The third step is to repair the mural. Correct any damage, fill the holes, mend the cracks without losing any more of the original work than necessary. And then comes the biggie...the retouching. That’s what takes the longest. We’ll actually recreate the fresco using paints and colors as close to the original as possible.” I glanced at the young man at my side. “Do you know anything about painting, Rodrigo?”
He shrugged. “I do some pictures. You know, draw them. Paint them.”
“You ever painted old St. Peter?” I made it a jocular question, but he took it seriously.
 “Once or twice. But I’m not a real painter like you are. They say you painted for the Holy Father in Rome.”
“I helped restore St Francis of Assisi and did some work on the Zucarri frescoes at the Duomo in Florence.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he was impressed before he turned stolid again.
***
The threat of rain hung over the mountains that night as I nervously prepared to go to bed. Would my specter return tonight to disturb my rest with that curious mixture of fear and excitement? Had I met him today in the church? The mysterious shade in the gloom of the sanctuary? But I slept alone that night.
Rodrigo proved to be a great deal of help in the coming days. But frankly, his mere presence was comforting. The gloomy old mission church spooked me. Countless sightings of shadows that should not be. A presence in remote corners. Occasional assaults on my olfactory senses even though there was no discernible odor. The impression of being observed. A few times, even the placid Rodrigo exhibited an uneasiness.
Assured by my assistant that the leak in the ceiling over the fresco in the narthex had been repaired, I set up floodlights to dry the damp plaster. Sensing Rodrigo behind me, I turned to explain I had to be careful not to dry the spot too quickly, as that would cause the plaster to flake and peel.
There was no one there!
Yet there was. I sensed him in the far corner. A darkness too deep to be natural stirred as I grew aware of it. The hair on my neck and arms rose. My flesh pimpled like a goose’s. Fear dried up my throat.
“Who are you?” I croaked.
My answer was a sigh.
My voice took on timbre, strength. “What do you want?”
The shadow undulated, as though in agitation. Angered by my interference or my mere presence in his church?
“I won’t be here long. I’m just repairing the ravages of time. Then I’ll be gone, okay?”
A gust whipped through the closed narthex. My nose itched fearfully. My body chilled before heating feverishly. What was happening?
Even as I reacted, the presence retreated. The shadow weakened, but before it faded away completely, I glimpsed a handsome face twisted in anguished frustration.
Giving way to my own fear, I scrambled down the scaffold and rushed out the heavy, carved doors into a weak sunlight, crashing into Rodrigo on the steps.
“What’s the matter?” he cried.
“I’m…I’m going to the house for a few minutes,” I gasped, pulling from his grasp and staggering across the muddy distance to the little adobe.
***
As August passed into September, the monsoon season weakened, bringing only intermittent thundershowers. My diagnosis completed, I undertook cleaning the main fresco. Rodrigo worked at my side, an unknowing bulwark against my unreasonable and unreasoning fears.
Other than checking on the drying plaster, I ignored the fresco in the narthex. I first wanted to finish the restoration of the major work in the nave. Normally, I tackle the minor piece first to learn the peculiarities of a job, but for some reason I was reluctant to take on that one. Perhaps it was because it was in greater disrepair. The large one in the nave was less of a challenge.
The cleaning went surprisingly well. Rodrigo set me to chuckling with his astonishment at kneading the plaster with sourdough bread to clean it. “It’s the best way, believe me. But we have to be sure to remove all of the bread or we’ll attract insects.
Rodrigo’s plodding patience paid off in spades. The tedious care demanded by the work did not bother the youth as much as it did me. But the presence, as I came to regard him, still lurked at a distance, remaining in the shadows as labor on the main fresco progressed quickly. I had lost my fear of him now, although on occasion his appearance would raise the hair on my neck. It was apparent he wanted something from me, not to harm me. But he was unable to communicate what that was.
Upon completion of the work on the fresco in the nave, the mural looked much as it had when the unknown painter first applied pigments to the fresh plaster almost four hundred years ago. I contemplated that long-departed artist for a few minutes, trying to see St. Peter through his eyes. A high, keening sigh filled the sanctuary and caused me to whirl around… to find no apparent source.

*****
Are we there yet? No, not quite. Teo is still frightened but not terrified. He seems to be coming to terms with his anxiety. At least he’s glad to have the placid Rodrigo working with him on the scaffold. Next week, we’ll finish the story. Then you can email me and tell me what you think.

Please get a copy of my latest book, The Lovely Pines, and provide feedback on the novel. If you do read the book, please post a review on Amazon. Each one helps.

As previously noted, The Bisti Business was named as a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in two categories: Best Mystery and Best Gay Book. Winners will be named in November.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it.

If you would like to drop me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to the Lovely Pines, which (as noted) was released on August 28:



Abaddon’s Locusts is scheduled for release on January 22, 2019, and the first draft of The Voxlightner Scandal is about 90 percent completed.

See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Don Travis: Mountain Augury, Part 1 of 3 Parts

Don Travis: Mountain Augury, Part 1 of 3 Parts: dontravis.com blog post #309     Courtesy of Wikimedia. Common Things have stabilized this week. The friend I mentioned last wee...

Mountain Augury, Part 1 of 3 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #309
  
Courtesy of Wikimedia. Common
Things have stabilized this week. The friend I mentioned last week was apparently the victim of a small silent stroke. It will take time, but he will recover.

This week, I would like to post the start of s short story. Unfortunately, it’s not a short, short, so it will take a series of segments. Sorry, but it’s one I really want to present to my readers. The readings are longer than usual but bear with me. I hope the payoff will be worth the effort.

*****
MOUNTAIN AUGURY

AUGURY: (o’gye re) n. – The art or practice of divination from omens or signs (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)

I herded the Toyota Rav4 up a narrow mountain track as quickly as the weather and road conditions permitted in order to arrive at the Misíon del San Pedro de las Lomas before darkness fell. The little church called St. Peter of the Hills sat isolated in a small valley smack dab in the middle of mountains. The rain that had pestered me virtually all the way, ceased as I entered the glen. My first view of the mission containing two frescoes I’d been hired to restore came through a wispy fog in rapidly failing light.
Although this House of God was small, reminding me of a Penitente morada, it loomed large above the Toyota as I sloshed to a halt nearby. The color of mother earth with two stubby campaniles that had never seen bells, the building could have been a monolithic, cross-crowned boulder hurled from a long-forgotten volcano.
The only other structure in the dell was a small adobe shack just west of the church, my home for the next few months. Ignoring the damp chill of the rain-soaked mountains, I set to work making my quarters habitable. Firing up the gasoline generator left for me to provide heat and power, I quelled the urge to enter the mission and swept and dusted the shack, instead. When I finally went to the Toyota for my personal luggage, I froze with the car door half open. The rain started again, gently plastering my hair against my skull. My flesh puckered. A chill swept my back.
My eyes frantically roved back and forth. Someone, something was there. There by the church. In the deep recess sheltering dark, crudely-carved doors. A shadow.
“Who’s there?” My shout echoed hollowly through the sodden twilight. “I’m Teo Oxley. I’m here to do the restoration,” I called, my voice falling away at the end.
The thing stood mute. Motionless. Could it be a shadow? Grabbing a flashlight out of the glove box, I started forward. Fifty yards from the church, my nerve failed. I stood in the rain, water rolling off my shoulders, trembling from cold and fear. As I watched, the shadow edged out of the recessed doorway and slipped around the corner of the building. Its flight released me from my paralysis.
            I knew before reaching the corner he would be gone. I was right. There was nothing there. No one and no thing. Spinning awkwardly in the mud, I splashed back to the adobe, my soaked back tingling with an apprehension that refused to leave even after I closed the thick wooden door to the shack behind me.
            I lost the desire to visit the mission church that night, telling myself it would be better to wait until morning when there would be natural light. What a load of baloney. The building had small clerestory windows that admitted little sunlight. The interior would be dark and gloomy, no matter the time of day or night. I fixed something to eat and retired.
***
            Stealing in on the night, the specter crossed unknown dimensions to advantage my slumber and claim my unconscious. The Stygian presence roiled the swirling mists of my dream. Cold, prickling fear drew me halfway out of sleep, but my tormentor remained… subliminal, insubstantial, permitting only swift, fragmentary glimpses of himself. Dark, sharply planed features. Midnight hair leaking from a rough, brown cowl. Eyes as dark as the pit. I cowed before him, my nose stinging with the hint of something in the air. My ethereal visitor took on substance as he sought to commune, but the dream Theodore Oxley lay uncomprehending. The shadow that was not a shadow threw back the cowl covering his head, revealing shimmering features that steadied and took on form, drawing my breath from me. As he faded from the dream, his disappearance rekindled a vague sense of fear. He had failed to make known the reason for his presence. He would return.
            Sunlight filtering through thick, fast-moving clouds dispelled little of the old mission’s mysterious atmosphere. The damp morning virtually cried out for an Alba, that sweet, haunting Spanish paean to the Virgin raised by chanting voices of padres and Indian neophytes. But the hulking church remained silent, its adobe exterior slightly out of true, walls sloping inward as they rose. The only adornments were a simple cross at its apex and a rude cinquefoil above the flat, segmented arch of the entryway. The rude door carvings portrayed events in the life of the Saint. The world was totally silent when I turned the key in the old lock, but as I moved into the narthex, a nearby squirrel set up a noisy chatter.
            The first fresco, a busy one, spanned the wall above the entry to the nave. Faded colors I had expected, but a leak in the ceiling allowed water to stain the plaster and bleed the paint. Even in the gloom, I spotted a crack running diagonally across the piece.
            Passing through the narthex, I entered the sanctuary, a large, open chamber bare of pews or furnishings of any sort. Low-ceilinged aisles on either side held the Twelve Stations of the Cross in carved sandstone. The large mural behind the altar above the open chancel was arresting even in the dim, musty light despite its state of decay. Catholicism’s first Pope surveyed his New World converts through the large, liquid eyes of an Indian. This was not Italian Renaissance, but the flat style we now term Primitive, an art that relies on the clever use of color to bring the painting to life. Zia sun rays haloed the Sainted One, who was surrounded by the cloud and rain and rainbow symbols of his Native faithful. Even faded and in need of help, the fresco was awesome.
            I examined the disassembled, stacked scaffolding left for my benefit and built a skeleton framework before the main fresco. As I teetered at ceiling height to take the last in a series of photographs, a noise below startled me, almost causing me to fall. Clutching an unsteady upright for support, I glanced down upon a child gazing up at me.
            “Hi!” I said as brightly as my lurching heart would permit. “I’m finished with my picture taking. Be right down.” Why explain this to a boy? Nervousness, probably. When I reached the stone floor, I discovered no child, but rather a young Indian man standing there. I held out a hand. “You must be Rodrigo, the caretaker they told me about.” I said. “I’m Teo Oxley, the restorer.”
            The youth extended a slender, muscled arm and accepted my hand, allowing me to do all the gripping. “Meet you,” he whispered in a throaty voice. I gathered there had been a “Glad to” in there somewhere.
            “I’m told you’ll help me from time to time?” It came out as a question more than a statement.
            The dark head bobbed, and he dropped his brown eyes before my curious examination. Had he haunted my dream last night? No, my impression of the mysterious watcher was of a taller, more mature man. Rodrigo must have been around twenty, yet he radiated the aura of a charming adolescent.
            “Would you like to learn a little about frescoes?” I asked to break the silence.
            The youth’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I would like to be able to take care of El Señor.”  It surprised me that he spoke of the Saint as he would the Lord Jesus.
            “Well, you can start by helping me take down this scaffold and reassemble it. I don’t think I did it right the first time. Too rickety.”
 *****
Are you spooked? I am, and so is Teo Oxley. Maybe Rodrigo can steady him a bit. More next week. Maybe we’ll find out who the specter is and what he wants.

Please get a copy of my latest book, The Lovely Pines, and provide feedback on the novel. If you do read the book, please post a review on Amazon. Each one helps.

As noted last week, The Bisti Business was named as a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in two categories: Best Mystery and Best Gay Book. Winners will be named in November.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it.

If you would like to drop me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to the Lovely Pines, which (as noted) was released on August 28:



Abaddon’s Locusts is scheduled for release on January 22, 2019, and the first draft of The Voxlightner Scandal is about 90 percent completed.

See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


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