Author’s commentary Greg Scherzinger
The notion of spirit animals is one that crosses many cultures. They are an integral part of our world and affect us in many ways. Many times as I was writing, my dog, Paco, would put his paw up on the chair arm and give me that ‘look’ that said it was time to do something. Either welcome diversion or necessary, a walk was in order. The spirit was telling me it was time to move, time to do something else.
I remember well when I found Paco, a stray dog living in the bushes near the little walled-in bungalow I had rented in the barrio of Todos Santos. He was a scruffy looking terrier, who barked and growled from his nest in the bushes as I was moving in. For a few days after, I was hardly aware of him except for his barking whenever I entered, for he’d retreat to his nest in the bushes near the wall. I was determined to make friends with him, however just so he wouldn’t raise a ruckus every time I came home.
I sat near the bushes patiently one day after one of his attempts to express his annoyance at me and was finally able to coax him out. Rather than pat him on the head when he was close enough, looking as though I might beat him at any moment, I scratched him on the chest, a more comfortable place for dogs. What I won’t forget is the look that he gave me, as though that was the first time anyone had ever done anything nice to him.
He never barked at me when I came in after that. As a matter of fact, he started following me everywhere and it was obvious that I had a friend. It wasn’t long before he had a name. He knows it and I feel he bears it proudly when he hears it still. He remains with me to this day. Certainly, that memory came into play as I wrote this scene, as well as the ‘look’ that I get when he needs to walk. And so it is that the spirit of Paco found its way into “The Henna Witch”.
This was not a planned thing as I wrote, but something that happens in the storytelling. It is one thing to have a companion for O’la and quite another to give the character something to do. Then the story took over once again, leaving the dog with key moments that change the course of events.
In this scene, O’la, the native girl, has been separated from the Henna Witch, having fallen from a wall into a strange corner within the temple-city. It is then that she meets the scruffy little terrier she would call ‘Fetch’.
* ~~ * ~~ *
Vines snarled past her as she fell from the high wall. O’la lashed out at a small one as she spun in the air. Brown and brittle with age, it snapped, spinning her back toward a thicket of shrubs. Another root threatened, sticking out like an aged knee as it rose up to meet her. She rolled in time to graze the edge and push with her feet, her fall broken slightly. A jumble of flowering green lay beneath her as she grabbed one more time for a handhold. The thin trailing vine she gripped in desperation curled out of its nest, hung for a heartbeat before breaking, dropping O’la into the jacarda bushes below. She fell through the crush of glossy green leaves, snapping twigs that slashed into her arms and legs. She hit the ground on her back, sprawled in a nest of dead leaves and spent flowers.
O’la lay stunned, the air driven from her. She had fallen like this before. From higher places in her jungle home.
‘The vines of home are more reliable,’ a singular thought as air refused to fill her lungs. She also wondered if she had ended her life with the fall, the breath of her spirit driven to the heavens. It didn’t hurt. There was sunshine peeking through and a yelping she couldn’t identify. She lay motionless, senses voided with her breath. The wrap that the witch-woman had put on her head dangled in the bush above her. Her eyes focused on it as she wondered how she had fallen through such a small gap without breaking the bush.
With a frightening gasp, her lungs filled.
She felt bruising aches, the air rushing into them one by one, her spirit returning in eager gulps. As her breath settled she felt no searing burns. The elders would declare her bones intact and chide her for her carelessness. Her panting slowed and O’la silently thanked her life air for returning to her, fearing briefly while speechless and dazed, that her soul might continue to fly.
Lying there, as the pains of the fall accumulated, driven to their marks by her returning consciousness, the yelping persisted. Agitated barks. She let her eyes drift away from the tracings of light breaking through the waxed green leaves and sought the source of the noise.
It was a dog. A smile crossed her face as she lay, deciding that she could move if she wanted to. Just not quite yet. The dog barked at her, though its eyes looked wary and unsure, not angered or dangerous. It didn’t look large enough to be dangerous at any rate. Nothing dangerous would look so scruffy she determined. Earthy gold, tan and white hair competed for space on the small creature, wisping out in ragged tufts. His bearded muzzle and shocks of brow above his brown eyes, made him look quizzical.
“And who are you?” O’la’s warble was barely above a whisper as she eased herself up onto her side.
The dog renewed its barking but with less conviction. With the language of the O’na’mo, musical, full of chirps and song-like patterns, she let her voice coax him close.
“Come to me, little one. Why, you are smaller than I am.”
She let her hand lay out and the dog gave it a tentative sniff. It edged over her wrist and she scratched at its chest with her fingers. The dog froze and looked at her as surprise crossed its wary expression.
“See? We’re friends now.”
O’la picked herself up to her elbows and the dog cowered away, though plainly eager to renew the attention. She urged him back and she returned to scratching at his underside. She could feel the gratitude roll from the scruffy, sandy-colored dog, even if she hadn’t seen it in its eyes, limp with pleasure.
“See there, I’m pleased to meet you.”
There was a definite spark of happiness in his eyes as he emitted a low growl that seemed to her more like a sigh. She looked about as she continued to caress the dog. The flowering shrubs were in a wide nook in the high wall. A lane of old broken stone was lined with meager awnings that fronted a jumble of houses and beggared shops. There were few people that she could see and they walked the lane, caked with dried mud, with bare feet and wearing the same sort of tattered, bland clothes as she had on. O’la wondered if they would throw rocks at her.
O’la shook her head. The impression was strong, along with a rash of images of scurrying away from tossed stones. The dog crooked its head as he looked at her, brown eyes showing concern.
“You too?” She scratched at the dog again. It wagged its thinly brushed pennant of a tail. “Well, I will have to avoid stones, won’t I? I have to find out where to go. I’m lost.”
‘You are here.’
O’la laughed, looking at the little mongrel terrier with wonder. She felt its thought as she did the macaw, yet she had no marks for it. Would the witch-woman find fault? She saw no harm, only the pleading brown eyes of the dog.
“Yes, I am. But my witch-woman is not and she doesn’t know where I am. I have the need to find her.”
O’la looked back at the street, then again at the dog.
“You can’t go.”
She felt hurt emanating from it.
‘Why?’ A plaintive ‘woof’ trembled along the dog’s muzzle.
“Because … ” O’la paused, searching for the reason. The journey was confusing to her even now. She felt helpless trying to explain it to the dog. “I don’t know where I’m going.”
Written by Greg Scherzinger
Author Bio ~ GJ Scherzinger
Gregory Scherzinger spent the bulk of his formative career skiing as much as possible while finding gainful work as a TV Producer and Director. He left the broadcast business to spend the next 13 years living on a 41′ yawl in NW Washington. In various adventures, he sailed the Inside Passage, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bahamas. His first novel was penned while residing in the San Juan Islands. He lived for a while in Todos Santos on the Baja, Mexico, where he continued writing and was adopted by a stray dog who is still with him. He currently lives on a small farm in the coastal hills of his native Oregon and just completed the first draft of his fifth novel, the Deck of the Numinon..