“How am I alive? Death and I came to an understanding.”
Friday - Before Dawn
Madalyn. To put her out of my mind was next to impossible. I was not yet in the place that I needed to be to carry out my plan successfully. I had hoped that the long drive would give me time to adjust my mind-set. It had been a long four day trip, and I barely slept. I drove my truck down Tivola Street. You could live somewhere else in the world and call it home, but there was always another place that truly felt like home. I got that feeling in Santa Ynez.
I pulled in the driveway of my father’s house. My grandfather kept it vacant for storage. I turned off my truck and walked around back. The middle porch step still made a creaking sound. I lifted the solar light off of the corner post to find the key still hidden. Wasting no time, I walked to the sliding glass door and unlocked it. Everything had sheets over it still. The heavy smell of dust made it hard to breathe. I moved through the kitchen to the basement door and walked down the steps. I flipped the basement light on and walked straight to the center shelf. Pulling a chair over from the wall, I stood on it to reach my custom recurve bow. Stepping off the chair, I looked it over, and dusted it off. The wood still felt strong. I looked on the bottom shelf for the string, locating it right away. There was a special method to stringing the bow, and I never forgot how. I didn’t use much energy attaching the string from end-to-end. The drawback was still strong.
This bow would put a hole through a bear, shattering any bone it might run into along the way.
I walked toward the back wall of the basement. Hanging on the wall was my quiver, along with twelve aluminum arrows. I snatched up two dozen more that were in a box against the same wall. As I walked out of the basement, I spotted my father’s tribal head-band sitting on a shelf. I palmed it on my way out.
My body was aching with dread as I made my way north through town. I knew what I was about to put myself through, but didn’t have the slightest idea of how I would take it.
I reached Oak Hill and pulled into Oak Hill Cemetery. I slowly drove down Oak Hill Road, passing the first road to my right, then the second. When I approached the third road, my stomach twisted inside itself. My heart was lamenting over my grandfather’s words as they replayed in my head.
“They were laid to rest in Oak Hill, third road from the entrance, under a tree. They share the same headstone.”
The wind blew through my hair as I exited my truck. I could smell the moisture from a recent rain shower. I followed the beam from my flashlight as I reluctantly moved forward. The dark silhouette of the tree against the night sky was in no way inviting. The branches cast shadows from the light of the moon. I stepped through the swaying shadows and pressed forward, toward an unavoidable dread.
I dropped to my knees at the single memorial tomb. My body fell over the cold concrete that represented all that was left of the people from my former life. The pain in my chest grew with each breath I took. They were painful inhales that built up to sudden releases of emotional anguish. My body trembled in grief as I sobbed against the cold gravestone. Between each breath I could only whisper how sorry I was that I could not protect them. The grief tore at my heart relentlessly, but I knew that I needed this closure.
Falling away from the tombstone, I traced the engravings with my fingertips. I had seen many headstones in my lifetime, with the names of many inscribed on them. When the names were an inscription on your heart, the concrete shrine left an anguish that symbolized hopelessness. The agony sucked the strength completely out of me, and I could no longer fortify myself.
The dew drops that fell from the tree were heavy and painful hitting against my skin. I was dazed as I stared back at the names of my beautiful wife, Ava, and my angelic daughter, Cara.
The gravity of how fragile life was pulled at me, and the hallucination of Ava appeared before me. I closed my eyes and tried to shake the mirage away. When my eyes opened, there was Cara, hanging on to the fringe of her mother’s white dress. I knelt at their feet with the knowledge that they were not really standing before me.
“You couldn’t have known what would happen that day. Let it go, Jack,” spoke the apparition of my deceased wife, that still held her magnificent beauty.
“I should have taken us and fled sooner,” I replied sadly.
“Do not hold on to guilt, Jack. You have my blessing to move on. We live through you, and I don’t want this for us.”
“I don’t know what else to do but take revenge - it’s all I have left. I am ashamed that I was not able to save you.”
“My love, these are not your burdens. Let our deaths rest on the conscience of the men who did this. Let the shame fall on them. You now have Madalyn. She would do anything for you. I know that you will always love us. Because I love you, I want you to move on. Don’t throw away your second chance at a real life. Stop dreaming, Jack. You have to wake up now.”
“I don’t want to wake up. I want to remain here with you and Cara,” I said, reaching toward my silent, angelic daughter, who hid behind Ava’s dress.
“You have to go now, Jack, my love,” Ava warned as I tried to reach for Cara.
“Why doesn’t Cara come to me?” I cried.
Ava placed her hand on the top of Cara’s head, and knelt down to her. Cara whispered in her mother’s ear.
“She doesn’t know you, Jack. Your eyes have changed. The pain in them scares her. You have to go now. Find us in the space between sleep and awake, Jack. We will be there, waiting for you anytime you need to see us.”
“Cara, sweetheart. I’m your daddy, who loves you,” I cried as they disappeared. I laid in the space between sleep and awake atop the headstone.
My sleep deprivation was taking its toll on me. I picked myself up from the ground and tried to shake off the dream. I took a long look at the headstone before I departed. It was hard to walk away. I would lose them all over again, and I wasn’t ready to let go.
Dropping to my knees once more, I held my lips to the top of the headstone and embraced it. My tears fell, beading up on top of the granite. I brushed my fingers over the engraving once more, yet it was the space between the engraved date that mattered the most to me. It was where their impact on my heart was made.
“Good-bye, my babies,” I muttered softly. “I’ll look to your stars.”
And so, with the heaviest of hearts, I turned away and drove toward Santa Barbara.
I soon was driving past the location where my life had taken its unfortunate, tragic turn.
My grandfather told me that a large group gathered near Chachuma Bay every month and threw flowers in memory of Ava, Cara, and myself.
When I was almost past the lake, I turned down the gravel path off of San Marcos Pass Road. This road brought you to a perfect view of Arrowhead Island. I could only drive a short distance on the gravel road before it ended. The rest of the way was a walking trail.
I jumped out of my truck and walked without a flashlight, not wanting to alert anyone passing by. The ten minute walk eventually brought me to the water’s edge. It wasn’t a sandy beach, but rather muddy. I dropped to my knees, submerging my hands into the black water that was almost my grave two years earlier. My eyes were shut as I brought my muddy hands over my face. When I could feel the mud covering my entire face, I washed my hands in the lake. Before the mud had completely dried, I took my index fingers and streaked them horizontally across my cheeks. A mark on each side of my face: two marks, one for Ava, and one for Cara.
The mud had dried when I made it back to the truck. I was en route again toward my destination. My adrenaline was not allowing me to feel tired. I drove with my knees as I tied my father’s Chumash head-band around my skull and through my hair.
I parked four blocks over from the main entrance of the Santa Barbara Police Department. I belted the quiver to my back and carried my bow as I quickly moved from my truck, and into the shadows. I approached the back of a garage that sat directly across from the main entrance. I watched the location for only a short while before reaching into my jacket pocket for two leather cases. Each case had the badge and names of the state police who’d tried killing me recently. The aluminum arrow would carry my finger-prints: the finger-prints of a ghost. I made sure to touch it up before taking aim. They would have no doubt who was hunting them. Although reckless, my preparations had been carefully planned, but no matter how much planning had been done, the outcome could change at any moment.
I turned my cell phone back on as I set it on the ledge of the flat garage roof. I had many missed calls from Madalyn. I closed out of the pop-up screens that alerted me of this and went to my phone application. I placed my Bluetooth headset to my ear and dialed the Santa Barbara Police. As it rang, I leaned over the edge of the front of the garage I was stationed on, and waved the arrow in front of the flood-light. This would allow for zero visibility in my general direction. It was three in the morning, and after three rings a man answered.
“Santa Barbara Police, this is Officer Tellar. How can I help you?” he responded as he picked up the call.
“Hello, I have some information about a murder,” I said in a monotone.
“Okay. Can I ask who’s speaking?” Officer Tellar questioned.
“I’d like to remain anonymous… for now,” I answered.
There was a momentary silence. “Okay sir, what information do you have for us?”
I wasted no time in my response. “Two and half years ago, a family of three was murdered by police tied to your precinct.”
I could hear movement on the other end of the phone. At this point I figured Officer Tellar was signaling whoever else was around.
“And what proof of that do you have, sir?” he asked, condescendingly.
I paused briefly.
“The man that was killed, Achak Rider… His spirit endured and he came to me in a dream.”
Between each word spoken, the sound of his mouth piece being covered was very distinct.
“Come again? I am not sure what you mean,” he replied, playing along.
“Yes you do, Officer Tellar,” I replied coldly. “This spirit is powerful. He killed two of your officers on Sunday. Salvatore Rivieri and John Ramirez. Their badges have been placed near a car in your parking lot. Just listen for the sirens.”
I released an arrow aimed at a Mercedes-Benz. The alarm immediately chirped as the driver and passenger side windows shattered. I quickly tossed the ID badges from the roof as hard as I could, so they reached the parking lot. They landed only a few feet from the Mercedes.
“Five of your squad cars were busy robbing and killing about thirteen people that day when they were spotted. The family was chased down and forced over a cliff, into Lake Chachuma. The three-year-old girl was thrown from the car but still strapped in her child safety seat. She drowned in the lake. The mother… well, she was unrecognizable. The man, however, his heart was so angry that death could not contain him. He is now the Chumash Legend that has been hunting you for over two years. The day of reckoning is upon all of you.”
I was well aware that he could hear the car alarm through our phone call. Officer Tellar didn’t do a good job this time in covering the phone’s mouth-piece completely.
“He’s here!” I heard him growl. “Call in the cavalry, and I want no radio chatter. I want this son of a bitch in a body bag tonight. This has gone on for two years too long.”
“Officer Tellar. Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes,” I mocked.
He then turned from professional, to spiteful.
“I know this is you, Jack.”
“You need a medal for being California’s best detective.”
“You are stupid for coming here. Tonight is going to be your last. Do you hear me?”
“I don’t fear death, so your threats are empty words. I’ve lived through death many times. In my experience there are more terrible things… and tonight you are going to know that I can do all of them.”
I ended the call and shut off my phone.
By now they would have called whoever else was involved in their illegitimate police work, to warn them. I packed up quickly and scaled down the side of the garage. I ran back to my truck, keeping to the shadows. I would have been foolish to remain in that spot. There were search lights roving the street in front of the precinct. I had done enough for now; they were all starting to squirm, if not think about running scared. I knew a few who would come after me, and I was counting on that.
I drove away and headed for Santa Ynez, and my grandfather’s house. It was time I brought him up to speed.
It was easy to tell when my grandfather was awake. The light in his office would be on. I could see this from the road. As I approached my turn into his driveway, I stopped and turned my lights off when I saw three unmarked police cars standing out against the moonlight. That was fast, but stupid. They were becoming desperate. To respond at the speed they did, they had to have been in the area already.
I parked my truck sideways at the end of the lane to block anyone from entering, or leaving. I held four arrows in my left hand, along with the bow, and strapped the full quiver of arrows to my back.
One thing was for sure, they weren’t hiding. The lights were being turned on in every room. I walked around the house slowly, keeping a low profile, and staying on the edge of the tree line.
I crept closer to the house, trying to listen to any kind of distinguishable conversations. I noticed one of the police car doors was still open, and the car was running. My grandfather’s car was not in the usual parking spot. He wasn’t here. They must have stormed the place looking for me.
I kept to the shadows and ran with the early morning breeze. This was going to be easy. When I reached the open door of the police car, I ripped the keys out of the ignition. As I ran past the other two cars, I dropped to the ground on the passenger side and stabbed the tires with an arrow.
The shadows held me like a security blanket in the tree line on the east end of the house. I waited for their move. I stood ready with my arrow resting at the back of my bow-string.
There wasn’t much movement inside the house. Maybe they were waiting for him to come home. At that thought, I reached in my pocket and decided it was worth the risk to turn my phone on again. Once it was back on, I cycled through the missed calls. One from Maddy was very recent. Within the past ten minutes. She was relentless.
I closed out of the missed calls and dialed my grandfather’s cell phone. He didn’t answer. Perhaps he was at the casino. I dialed his office phone, and he answered almost immediately.
“Jack,” he answered.
“Grandpa, listen,” I whispered.
“Jack, what’s wrong?” he interrupted, picking up on my low tone and the distress in my voice.
“Listen, listen. I followed through on the plan just like we discussed. Everything is set in motion, and I have them squirming. They’re already getting desperate. The problem now is, I came to your house to tell you, and there are three police cars here. They are in your house,” I stressed back to him.
“Oh, god. Jack. Your girl is at my place. She got here three days ago. I’m sorry, I should have told you.”
His words sounded through my head, traveling to my heart, nearly stopping it.
“Standby, you’re about to have a mess at your house.”
I dropped the phone into my pocket without ending the call. Every inclination I had at that moment was founded on fear. I felt such fear. Madalyn was in terrible danger. She could lose her life. This was my nightmare.
My proceeding movements were swift, and dangerous. I prepared myself with every step to act in any way necessary.
I saw nothing through the downstairs windows of the log cabin. Once I entered the back sliding door, with little sound, I overheard voices that echoed from upstairs. One was the sound of Madalyn’s whimpering cries. Along with these voices came the sounds of blunt force. I was afraid for her when her coughing and breathing could be heard through the house.
“I don’t think she speaks English, Tellar,” one of the voices said.
Tellar. Officer Tellar. He was here already?
The string on my bow could have broken because of my adrenaline at this point. As I approached the steps, I was in clear view of the balcony, and one of the police.
“Why are you protecting this guy? He’s murdered several police officers. You think he stands a chance against that?” One of them spoke.
“If you don’t tell us where he is by the time Gramps gets back here, things are going to get really ugly for you, and for him,” the same voice threatened.
As I moved to the left I could see the other two officers. One had Madalyn by the face, pinning her against the door to the guest room. Her face bore a few gashes, and her hands were bound to a hook at the top of the door. She was in her bra and underwear. Seeing this put things into my mind of what might have happened to her. My rage almost blinded me, and I took a quick breath, holding it in.
Just as the officer Tellar struck her across the face, I let loose the arrow. A second was against my bow string before the first officer fell. The first arrow had not stopped at Tellar’s chest, but at the closet door frame, in the guest room. He landed at Madalyn’s feet as my next arrow glided through the ribs of the second officer and buried itself in the wall behind him. The third man drew his gun - I had my third arrow already in place.
“Drop that gun, or die,” I commanded.
“Jack!” she screamed.
With that, the man spun his handgun upward and threw it to the ground as he raised his hands. I moved over to Madalyn with swiftness.
“Maddy, are you hurt?” I asked.
“Jack, help me,” she replied, frantically crying and jerking her body against the door. “I can’t feel my hands.”
“Please, I have a family,” the officer said, as he held up his shaking hands.
“So did I.”
“I’m still on probation. These are my senior officers. Please, I have no idea what they were into,” he replied.
“Maddy, did he hit you?” I asked.
“No, but he stood and watched,” she replied, crying.
“Well, you have poor judgment and will make a terrible Police Officer,” I said as I released the arrow into his knee.
I drew a second arrow and shot it into his right wrist. He screamed in pain.
“Now I’ve ensured that you can go home to your family, but you will never be a police officer again,” I replied in response to his screaming.
I leaped across the room, driving my foot into the side of his head to shut him up. I moved back over to Madalyn, cutting her down with an arrow, and catching her before her knees hit the floor. Her body was dead-weight, but I was not going to let her down.
“Maddy? Why did you come here?” I cried.
“I thought I’d never see you again, Jack,” she replied, hysterically. “Jack, they hit my stomach… and they… Jack.”
Her words were lost within the hysteria. I lowered us to the floor and began rubbing her hands. They were ice cold, from no blood circulation.
“Hold your hands down, let the blood flow to them,” I instructed, as I rubbed them.
Her crying turned into small whimpers that were followed by sudden inhales of upset. I looked over her face - she had been hit several times. There was definite swelling on her cheek-bones, just under her eyes. Bastards.
“Sweetheart, what else did they do? Was it all hitting?” I asked.
“…yes. They threatened to kill me. He hit me in the stomach… and said…Jack, my stomach hurts.” she broke down again completely.
I petted her hair as I brought her against me.
“It’s alright. I’m here now. And look at them. They can’t hurt you anymore,” I told her as I cupped her hands.
She kissed every inch of my face as she cried.
“It was foolish to come here, and dangerous. I can’t lose you, Maddy. Dammit. If I had not been here. What if I hadn’t gotten to you in time?”
“I know, I’m stupid. I’m a stupid girl, but you saved me again. I knew you would. I believed you would save me,” she said through heavy cries.
“Please stop testing your theory. I’ll do anything for you. You have to know how much I love you, Madalyn.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this would happen,” she answered.
“It’s not your fault. I’m so sorry I left you. It was my fault this happened. We need to get out of here,” I told her.
I took her hand, helping her to her feet. She walked into the guest room and grabbed her clothes. The shirt she pulled over her head looked like one of the many that my grandmother had made. She stepped out of the room with her boots, and jeans. I helped her step into her jeans, and she groaned in pain.
“My stomach hurts,” she said, hunching over. I held her so that she wouldn’t fall. “He hit me hard,” she said, crying again.
I left her pants and boots at the top of the stairs as I led us down. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket, and I quickly answered it just as we reached the bottom.
“Grandpa,” I answered.
“Jack, you are going to have company. We were on our way when we were passed by two police cars and a mob of other vehicles following them.”
“Okay. We’re on our way out. Where is Tommy?”
“I don’t know. He was at the casino earlier when I arrived, but now I can’t get a hold of him. The police channels are silent, so they are looking to finish what they started, Jack,” he replied.
Before I could respond, there was a popping sound, and I felt a burning in my left shoulder.
Then I saw her, a fourth police officer, standing in the hallway.
She shot me. I had a feeling someone else did the shooting for her when she graduated from the academy. She missed when the second shot went off, so she fired another. I waited for the pain to set in, but it didn’t come.
What happened was more painful than the wound in my shoulder. I heard the thud of Madalyn’s body hitting the floor. She began to whimper in pain as blood came from the wound in her left leg. I thought that I heard the police officer tell us not to move, but her words were lost when I careened across the room, stopping at the stone support beam under the balcony. I heard four shots go off in those short seconds, but felt nothing. I drew an arrow, and faded right, so she would shoot at me in that direction. The move worked, and she took the bait. As soon as she fired, I turned around the left side of the pillar, letting go of the bow string. The arrow didn’t stop at her head, but shattered at the end of the hallway. She ran about five steps, and then fell forward.
I flew back to Madalyn, ripping my shirt off. Her wound was in the middle of her thigh, but there was no exit wound. Using a strip of cloth from my shirt, I wrapped her wound and tied it tightly. She screamed as the pressure was applied.
“It’s alright, sweetheart. Hang in there,” I consoled her.
I brought her to her feet, leaning her against me as I picked my phone up.
“Grandpa, there was another one in the house. I’m shot, and so is Maddy. We are okay… for now, but they will slow us down,” I told him.
“Christ, Jack. You have to get out of there now!” he yelled.
“We’re going,” I told him. I picked up Madalyn and dropped my phone into my pocket.
“Where are we going to go, Jack? These people will hunt us forever.”
“Then I’ll hide forever… with you… Forever.”
I swung the front door open with my foot. As I began toward my truck, I saw headlights coming toward us. We had no time, they were at the end of the driveway. My truck had easily been pushed aside by a large SUV. This made way for about ten other cars. We faded back into the house, and I ran us to the boiler room. My first instinct was to kill the power to the house, so no lights could give us away. I set Madalyn down and flipped every breaker in the breaker box.
“Achak Rider, you have thirty seconds to come out with your hands up. You are surrounded.”
Going out was not an option. I knew the second I was in view, they would kill me. The bullet wound in my shoulder was beginning to throb with pain. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket. My grandfather was still on the line.
“Jack, help is coming,” he cried through the phone.
“Okay. Grandpa, listen… listen. We are surrounded, and I only saw two squad cars. The rest of them aren’t police,” I told him, and then paused as I found Madalyn’s eyes in the darkness. “They aren’t here to arrest me.”
“You listen to me now,” he demanded, with an emotional severity behind his words.
“Achak, the Spirit Warrior is a legend. Legends never die. Make them afraid of you until we get there. Four minutes, maybe less,” he yelled, trying to psych me up. “You have to hold it together until we arrive. That girl with you is special, just like your Ava was…” he stopped, choking back his words. “She’s special just like my Cara was.”
“I know it, Grandpa. I know it. I would do anything for her,” I reassured him, all the while staring into Madalyn’s violet eyes, that shone, even in the dark. They glistened from the tears that formed as she stared back at me, looking for hope. I gazed right back as I listened to my grandfather.
“Does she know that, Jack?”
“She’s about to.”