Kindred souls become intertwined with each other for lifetimes, and past life memories often are revealed through dreams. Plagued by reoccurring dreams since childhood, Cat and Duke are given a chance to find out what their haunting visions mean, by journeying back into the era of the Civil War.
A small café in Tennessee contains a mystic avenue of an extraordinary magic, mystique and spiritualism. With the help of the owner Cherokee Charlie and other unique mysterious people, they endeavor to find the meaning of their existence. However there are unforeseen dangers not only from enemy soldiers, renegade Indians and mountain men, there is also an entity the Cherokee call a Shadow Walker. This shadowy shape shifter wants what it has not of its own…their souls!
Chapter Prefix & 5.
“This earthly world is a place of spiritual training for the soul, and therefore spiritual development is the purpose and meaning of life,” so I’ve been told. Supposedly God, the Great Spirit, or whatever created the universe, proceeded with the objectives of progress and harmony, and instituted the guidelines for the evolution of the human soul. An old acquaintance of mine once related that the system of reincarnation between this world and the spirit world exists, so that we can cultivate infinite experience, gain enlightenment and ascend to the highest spiritual level. He also said that the core of the spiritual body through spiritual sight when the mind is in its original state, is located at the center of the soul. This philosophy is shared by Christians, Native Americans, Buddhists, Hindu, and probably most all religions. Different areas of the mind define emotion, intellect and reason. The mind is the center of the soul and it possesses the same qualities as the spirit. It contains attributes such as love, compassion and the internal quest to understand the true nature and essence our eternal existence.
Well I don’t know if there is a divine essence that develops spirituality and enlightenment, however I believe something is out there in the vast space we call the great beyond, and that this higher intelligence designs and possibly designates our lives here on Earth. But think about it. What if this superior intelligence likes to play with us by throwing a few rocks into the primordial soup of human existence, just as a lark? A lark besides being a song bird, means a brief but daring departure from routine, a flight of fancy, a bit of fun, or a cosmic joke. The generally provincial tone of this definition fits well within the enigma of The Red Lark Café.
An anomaly is referred to as a deviation from the common rule or arrangement. It’s an abnormality or a peculiarity of sorts…a glitch, a fault in the time-line, or a mysterious intervention. Yeah I buy it because it happened to me, occurring through some phenomenal or spiritual interaction.
I am going to tell you my story and what transpired inside a remote café in a little town in East Tennessee. You can believe me, think I’m crazy, or regard it as a practical joke. Because you see my friends, it not only happened to me, but to others at different times and in different places, according to my acquaintance, the friend I mentioned earlier, Cherokee Charlie. This is what he presupposed.
“The Red Lark Café contains a portal, a passage, or an Oracle of some kind. It is a mystical, spiritual venue into another dimension, a time travel turnstile, or a dimensional gateway. It allows movement between certain points in time analogous to movement between different points in space.”
Now before you commit yourself to reading any further, I want you to consider this adage. A song is a lark, and life is a lark. In the beginning of both a song and a life there is creation. At the end there is confirmation. However it’s in the middle where perception and conception takes place.
Larks are known for singing in flight. According to Shakespeare’s Sonnet, “The lark at break of day arising, from sullen Earth, sings hymns at Heaven’s gate.” Okay maybe, but I know initially that they are indeed mystical guides, conductors of souls through the unfathomable dimensions of time and space!
5 MYSTERIOUS PEOPLE
“All of them are mysterious people.”
We had just fallen into an exhausted sleep in the early pre-dawn hours. The events of the previous night had taken their toll on our minds and bodies. Sleep deprived physically as well as mentally drained, we huddled together in our tent while the misty fog of the Smokey Mountains surrounded and obscured everything from our sight.
Duke held me tightly in his arms, hoping to stop my teeth from chattering and my body from shaking. It was not cold outside. I was shivering in fear and distraught apprehension.
If either one of us had witnessed the night’s visions by ourselves, we would have passed it off as a dream, a nightmare, an illusion or a delusion. But we had both seen it, I mean…seen them!
They came first in the form of glowing lights, softly flowing down the mountain terrain towards our camp. Some were tiny almost like the flame of a gas lantern, while others seemed as large and bright as a stadium light.
They grew in intensity as they neared. Duke and I sat very still as the phenomenon continued to advance. They would come close and then glide through the night as though studying us cautiously. Tiny figures began to appear through the mist, lighting the way for the mystical elements that began to manifest right in front of us.
One transformed into the figure of a man wearing the full head-dress of a chief, medicine man or Shaman. Others gathered around and soon the night glowed with an eerie light. A strange quintessence lay over the area. Duke stood in front of me in a protective stance. The spirits or whatever they were, came close enough so we could almost feel their chilly ethereal essence. Neither of us had ever encountered an apparition of any kind, except in dreams or visions. Now they encircled us and there was not a clear space in which we could escape, even if we were not rooted to the ground in fright.
The Indian spirit commenced, and Duke moved in front of it as a barricade between it and me. He held up his hand to keep it from getting too close and demanded to know what it wanted of us.
For a moment everything went silent as though Earth and its nature were caught in some sort of sound void. Then with a voice as euphuistic as the wind, the spirit spoke to us in an ancient native language. Somehow through magic or mystique, we were able to understand every word.
“I am of the Nunnehi, the travelers of time. We are the watchers and guides of the souls of man. The Universe is an expression of the spirit and life is the connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. The Great Spirit is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient within both worlds. We have been waiting for you, for there is danger lurking in the form of a deceiver. This dark force seems benevolent, yet it will hinder your search for the truth of your existence and your destiny!”
It pointed towards me. In its hand it held a necklace of beads, offering it as a token. For a moment neither one of us moved. We were frozen, suspended in time.
It held its hand outstretched for it seemed like an eternity. The other figures were silent and still. Only the pulsating glow of their magical essence confirmed their existence. I sensed they were waiting for me to make a decision.
I took a step towards the entity even though Duke warned me to stay back. I guess he thought he could defend me against the multitude of spirits and apparitions that had enveloped us. I stood before the specter, drawing back slightly as it reached out a cold empyreal finger to touch my face. Then it spoke to me.
“Child you are young in nature, yet old in spirit. Listen to my direction, for the Shadow Walker is close by. It sometimes appears as a black humanoid shape or as a shadowy figure, but it also has the ability to shapeshift to deceive. No one is certain just what it is. It may be the disembodied spirit of some entity who became trapped in a time slip or a soul taker. It is hard to determine its true form, for it may appear just outside your peripheral vision. Light will not pass through it, for it is known as a negative entity with no connection to the one true Spirit…”
I could not detect any source of danger or malevolence from this being. I accepted the necklace and the spirit placed over my head. The ornament materialized as in slide down my neck and rested on my chest. The Nunnehi continued to speak, giving us guidance and blessings.
“The Shadow Walker wears different masks. It offers help and assistance, support, and loving kindness. It is the perfect good will ambassador with ideals, great concern for the welfare of mankind and a deep belief in the brotherhood of all people. You will feel that you can trust it, but it is not real. It wears a mask that has nothing to do with the reality of what it is. The Shadow Walker will take all your confidences and use them against you. It will steal your thoughts, words and feelings, taking advantage of everything it has learned about you. The Shadow Walker is dangerous and has stolen many lives and souls. At some point, it has learned to lie and manipulate by absorbing the heart, spirit and essence of which it can never have or be. Nothing is beyond or sacred to this being. The only way to deal with a Shadow Walker is to distance yourself and walk away. Be strong, for your soul must continue its course through time into eternity.”
The entity vanished in a blink of the eye. The others followed instantly and we were plunged into an inky blackness as the light from the esoteric flames rapidly diminished. We were unable to see our own hands in front of our faces. Duke called out and I answered, taking a step forward and falling into him. We clutched each other in abject fear and confusion. What had happened to the natural light shining from the stars and moon, we wondered.
Then a mystic glow rose from the talisman that the Indian spirit had placed around my neck. The darkness seemed to evaporate along with the foreboding sense of impending evil. The light from the stars and moon once again enhanced the evening sky. The campfire crackled with a rising intensity and we stood clutching each other for comfort and solidarity. We sat down on an old fallen log beside the fire. For a moment we just stared at each other, arms entwined and heads close together. Duke reached over to touch the necklace that the spirit had given to me. It was still casting a faint glow and felt warm to his touch.
We discussed the events that had transpired. Had we really witnessed something paranormal or supernatural, we wondered. Duke and I talked for hours and then decided we should try to get some sleep. We did not want to break camp and try going down the rough mountain road in the dark, so we decided to wait until the morning. The fire burned low and I went into the tent before Duke extinguished the light from the flames with a bucket of water.
I saw something dark and ominous looking dart behind the trees, catching the movement from of the corner of my eye. Duke let out an involuntary gasp. Apparently he had seen it too.
“What the hell was that,” he asked. I couldn’t seem to utter a sound. My throat had closed and my mouth could or would not form words. Duke grabbed a flashlight and started off into the dark, but I clung to his arm and begged him not to leave me alone. We knew there were wild animals in this region, bears, elk and coyotes, but they usually avoided people. I was certain that it was not just a curious animal, predator or not. I clutched Duke’s arm as he shined the flashlight over the trees. Nothing moved, so whatever it was might have been frightened off or perhaps had been just a shadow that manifested in our enervated state of mind. I glanced at my illuminated watch. It was 3:45 and we only had a couple of hours to rest before dawn.
“Let’s pack up our stuff. We can leave at first light and get a motel room,” I said. Duke agreed. We turned on the battery operated lanterns and started pulling our things together. That’s when a frightening dark silhouette brushed up against the outside of our tent.
We froze in fear. The shadow lingered for a few seconds and then vanished. We held each other, scarcely able to breathe let alone talk. We must have fallen asleep from pure exhaustion, for the next thing we knew it was light outside, and someone…or something was calling to us.
“Hey anyone in there? Are y’all folks alright?” The unknown voice was accompanied by a huge hand hitting the canvas door of the tent. Duke bolted upright and drew a knife from his pant’s pocket. If I hadn’t been so scared I would have laughed at the sight of the small six inch blade.
“Who is it,” Duke demanded. “There are three guys in here and we are all armed.” This was accompanied by a large guffaw of laughter.
“Well one of you fellas left a pretty little hair-tie out here. It’s blue with yella flowers on it.” There were a few more chuckles and then he hollered back.
“My name’s Jackson, Rawley Jackson. I’m the ranger in these parts and I lived here on the mountain all my life. C’mon out and say hello. We don’t usually get campers this far up.”
Duke put a finger to his lips, a signal for me to keep quiet. He opened the tent just enough to slip out without giving a view to the inside. I heard him tell the man his name, and that he and his friends were just camped for the night. He said we would be gone within half an hour and that people were expecting us in Charleston. I winced. Charleston is in South Carolina, isn’t it, I thought. That man out there would never buy it. I just hoped he wasn’t one of those creepy mountain men we heard stories about. Ones like in the movie “Deliverance,” who took whatever they wanted, even a life. I didn’t have time to let my imagination run wild because Duke threw back the tent flap and told me to come out and meet a real Appalachian Mountain man. I pulled a sweatshirt over my tee and came through the doorway half expecting to see some crazy wild man holding a nine inch hunting blade across Duke’s neck.
Rawley Jackson looked exactly like the lumberjack on the Brawny paper towel commercial. He had the physique of a bodybuilder and the sweet and jolly face of St. Nicholas. Only he sported a red beard and hair instead of white. Neatly trimmed on all accounts, the only thing slovenly about him where his boots, worn and caked with red clay. He bowed before me and then winked.
“Nice to meet sir. I’m guessing this here ribbon belongs to y’all. I glanced at Duke and he nodded smiling. I took my scarf and thanked the man giving him my name as an introduction.
“Name’s Rawley, but I guess y’all heard that. My wife claims my voice is louder than thunder over the Smokies, but I reckon I need it, being a search and rescuer in these high hills. My ole booming voice has helped people locate me when we couldn’t hear them a calling to us,” he laughed. “Say, to bad y’all going on down to Charleston. My wife cooks a huge breakfast every morning in case I bring home some lost tourists. They don’t have much down in Charleston anyways, just a couple of fast food places and a diner. Is that were your friends are waiting?” Duke grinned and said yes, but then stated he wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee first. We had already packed everything up. He didn’t catch the exasperated look I threw his way.
“Glad ta have ya,” Jackson brayed. “My Mary sure admires company now and again. She’s bout the only female besides my ma that could put up with me and what she calls our ole pioneer lifestyle. She’s sweet and a real beauty too, but some people are a little fraid of her. Ya see Mary is half Cherokee and also a descendant from the Africans back in a time when people kept em as slaves. Her folks scaped to the mountains where they is stayed ever since. Some of them still believe in both Cherokee and African mysticism. Some folks round here say my Mary is a witch. She ain’t. She just has a special knowing bout some things. But c’mon long and see for yourselves. I think I can smell the coffee brewing from here.”
My fears about mountain people disappeared as soon as we came in sight of the neat little cabin nestled in a tiny alcove about half a mile from where we had camped. A very pretty dark skinned lady came out to the porch to greet us, followed by a boy around eight and a little girl just barely starting to walk. Rawley ran up and swooped the two children up in his massive arms. He leaned over Mary and she rose up on her toes to receive his kiss.
“Brought y’all some company,” he exclaimed. The woman smiled graciously. The little girl hid her face on her daddy’s shoulder, but the boy smiled at us as his father set him down.
“Welcome y’all,” Mary stated and waved for us to come up and in. “I’m Mary and this here young’un is Matthew only we call him Matty. Our baby girl here is Ruthie. I hope y’all are good and hungry, cause I got a mess of deer meat, biscuits wid grav, and bout a gallon or two of hot coffee.”
The deer meat did not sound very appealing to me but after one hesitant taste, I devoured two biscuits covered with gravy and four pieces of the deliciously prepared venison. During the meal Rawley and Mary talked of their mountain ancestry and heritage. Matthew had insisted on sitting next to Duke and Ruthie had crawled up onto my lap. They were a real sweet family and I felt the tension of the night’s strange events leaving my body and mind.
“Following the Civil War and throughout reconstruction, our fore folk lived off the mountain. They produced their own food, sold their goods, all without help from the outside world,” Rawley allotted. “The land around the Smokies was owned by farmers, loggers and other small merchants and businesses. Even though the area was settled and logging was going on, there were a few who owned acres of land and used it for hunting, fishing, and mountain climbing. Folks knew that if we had a National Forest status, it would keep the logging companies and other businesses safe and would be the best concern for all the people still living here. Becoming a national park saved everything from the trees, streams and wildlife, to the mountain folk still living here.”
“Wow that’s quite a story,” Duke responded. “So both of your family’s ancestors have lived in the mountains for generations?” He turned to Mary who was pouring more rich coffee into our cups. “I would like to know more about your family’s history too.” Mary’s smiled faded slightly. She glanced at Rawley under the lashes of her big beautiful dark brown eyes and he nodded at her. She produced a slight smile.
“African descendants have a part in the culture of the Appalachian mountain folk too,” she began. “Back a time ago, Cherokee exchanged slaves and prisoners of war for goods. The southerners accepted the human trade because it helped their expansion, economy and work force. The Cherokee did not treat slaves unjustly like the white people did. Captives and black slaves would be freed or adopted after a year of service to the village. Some Cherokee held slaves and then allowed then to become members of the tribe if they wanted to, marrying and mixing genealogies. My heritage contains African, Cherokee, and European lineage,” she concluded.
I looked down at the beautiful little girl sitting on my lap. She was absolutely gorgeous with her coppery colored skin, large dark brown eyes and long brown hair with glints of red throughout it. Matthew was going to be tall like his father, and he would certainly set many young girl’s hearts ablaze when he was older too!
I looked up in time to see Rawley give Mary a discerning look. Duke noticed too and raised his eyebrows quizzically.
“Hey we didn’t mean to intrude on your privacy,” he stated glancing at Mary and then Rawley. “It’s just that…” Rawley interrupted.
“It’s just that maybe y’all saw something last night, or didn’t see something is why, right?” Mary looked dismayed and told her husband “shushin.” Then she looked at me.
“Y’all want to know what they were, huh? Well we saw the mountain lights and the shrouded moon, and knew the spirits was about.” She smiled nervously. “I can’t interfere none with their intentions, even though I might know something what it was tended for. Ya see the Appalachian Trail passes through certain otherworldly places. Cherokee legend has it that Blood Mountain is the home of the Nunnehi. They are the Spirit People who lived in the highlands of the old Cherokee Country. They are good spirits, helping to guide lost people back home. It is said that they are the mystical mountain lights. Is this what y’all saw?” Duke seemed to be at a loss for words, so I initiated the next statement.
“Yes but it wasn’t the only thing we saw out there last night. Do you know anything about something called a Shadow Walker,” I inquired. A soft little moan involuntarily escaped from Mary’s lips and Rawley drew in a sharp breath. He stood abruptly and snatched the little girl from my arms. Without another word he grabbed his son by the arm and hauled both children away into another room. The door closed with a bang, however soon the booming voice of Rawley singing and the raucous laughter of the children prevented their hearing the discussion we were about to have.
Mary sat down visibly shaken. For a long moment she was silent and then she pulled a necklace identical to the one the Nunnehi had given to me from inside of her shirt. I still wore it around my neck because for some inexplicable reason, it gave me solace and comfort. Mary sighed deeply.
“The African-Cherokee call them the Sunnayi Edahi…the Night Shadows. They come in the darkness to try to hasten death because if a person dies faster, they will not use up any of their life span so the Night Shadows can add it to their own. The most dreaded of these creatures is known as the Raven Mocker…Kâ’lanû Ahkyeli’skï, the one that robs of life. There is no sure way to know one, because they obscure their true form in the shadows. It comes at night and keeps to the darkness to remain undetected until it is too late. Only one who has spiritual magic can provide protection from this evil.” She fingered her necklace and pointed at mine nodding in empathy.
“Shadow Walkers rob the life-source of people, namely their souls,” she continued. “They seek the old ones, people who have lived many lives before, for their souls are filled with a magnitude of wisdom and experience.” A faint glow began to pulsate from our necklaces. Mary held hers between her palms, almost as if it was a rosary. “The Travelers help us by giving their protection and guidance. The Shadow Walker knows of you already and now you must be on your guard at all times. Beware of false faces, for the Walker wears many in an effort to befriend and confuse you. It is a shapeshifter, able to deceive and delude you to get what it wants. In the end it is not you friendship or love it seeks, it is your life essence, your very soul!” I shuddered in abject fear. Mary came over and put her arm around me.
“Don’t be afraid. Y’all have the magic of the Nunnehi and the power of the one Great Spirit…God. I believe there may be something that you must accomplish on this Earth before you become one in eternity. You must continue your journey for your destiny lies herein.” Duke had remained silent through it all. I knew he was contemplating the possibility of our being old souls and living past lives. He cleared his throat gaining our attention.
“Is Cat is the only one who has lived a past life before, therefore the only one in need of protection” he stated inquisitively. Mary turned to him and placed one hand on his shoulder and the other on mine.
“No Do, I mean Duke. A karmic past life connection and the shared history is an unbreakable bound between two souls. What protects her, also protects you. That is why y’all were able to see the Nunnehi and the Shadow Walker last night. Rawley is my kindred and karmic soul connection. Together we have eluded the Shadow Walker not only in this lifetime…but in the past!”
We were not sure if we believed all of this karmic past-life, shadow walker, and traveling mountain spirit folklore. Maybe Duke had gotten hold of some weed mixed with some sort of hallucinatory drug or something that we smoked last night.
We thanked the Jacksons for their hospitality and made our way back to the campsite. We loaded the car and I couldn’t help needling Duke about the mistake of telling Rawley that we were meeting people in Charleston.
“Really Duke, Charleston South Carolina is what…about a six hour trip from here,” I goaded.
Duke dug through his knapsack and produced a road map and pointed to a little mark right along the mountain highway. I could barely make out the small letters printed that read Charleston. It was a little town about nine miles south from where we were.
“Okay, so I didn’t know there was a Charleston in Tennessee,” I admitted satirically. “I’ve never heard of it before.” Duke smiled.
“It’s not exactly a large place,” he declared. “The Charleston-Calhoun vicinity only has a population of about six hundred and fifty. It was the site of the last Cherokee agency named Fort Cass, the headquarters of the Cherokee Removal in 1838. I thought the heritage center located there, might be interesting as it examines details of the Cherokee Nation and the effects of the Civil War on the community.”
I agreed to go although my mind was still trying to figure out everything and everybody we had come across on the mountain trail. It seemed everyone including people, spirits and entities were mysterious, very mysterious indeed.