“You’re insane! But you might also be brilliant.”
Blair’s smile lasted until Jim leaned over and whispered to Dean, “My vote’s for insane.” The smile turned into a glare, and it all shone upon Jim.
The young woman who’d exclaimed reached over and took his hands. “Where did you get that?”
“It’s from my private library,” Blair smiled. “Feel free to borrow it for as long as you need it.”
“Thank you!” She hugged him tight. “Oh, I’ve been looking for this book forever! Would you believe most libraries have never even heard of ‘Applied Urban Shamanism’?”
“Well, there you go then.” Blair chuckled and released her. “I’ll bring it by tomorrow before class.”
The woman kissed his cheek and gushed, “You’re brilliantly insane! Thank you!” And she bounded out with a giggle and a skip in her step.
“What was that about?” Jim chuckled as they walked closer.
“Cindy wanted information on shamanism as it pertains to modern urban America. It’s for her Masters diss.” Blair began to gather his papers. “She’s got the bad fortune of having an airhead and a single-minded music major for roommates. Both their eyes tend to glaze over when Cindy starts to talk about her paper.”
All three chuckled, and then Dean put in, “I know what you mean. My roommates in college were a bartender and a tattoo artist; it wasn’t a good combination.”
At the pair of incredulous stares aimed at him, Dean grinned. “What? Wasn’t all bad – I ended up with a smashing cobra tattoo on my hip!”
“Well,” Blair’s speech was interrupted by a slight grunt of pain as Sandy re-emerged. As she finished loading her backpack and secured her long hair, she continued: “I’m just glad to be back here – even if it is just for one class.”
Jim nodded. “I’m glad, Sandy. You love teaching – I’m glad you can again.”
Sandy frowned at him, cocking her head. “Okay – who are you and what have you done with Jim?”
Chuckling as they left the office, Jim waved a hand. “This didn’t come out of the blue, Chief. We’ve known for nearly a month of this class and of Dr. Stoddard wanting you to teach.”
“Yeah,” Dean put in. “We’ve been by you the whole confrontations with Chancellor Bitch – excuse me, Chancellor Edwards.”
Jim allowed himself a satisfied, if feral, grin at that before he addressed Sandy again. “So I’ve had a lot of time to ‘process’ this, as you’d say. I know you aren’t gonna stop being my partner just because you’re teaching again.”
Sandy blinked at him, and then words failed her. She settled for hugging him tightly.
Smiling, Jim hugged her in return. “Come on – let’s get you something to eat!”
“Thanks,” Sandy said as she let him go. “I’m starving, I – Huh?”
Cindy was running back toward them. “Detective Ellison!” she gasped out. “Agent Masterson! I need to find Professor Sandburg!”
Sandy caught her arms. “Cindy? What’s the matter?”
Cindy’s eyes met Sandy’s. A chill coursed through Sandy’s body. She heard a roaring and felt something tugging at her.
With a shriek torn from the depths of her soul – accompanied by the double roar of jaguar and wolf and a new, serpentine hiss – Sandy’s eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed into Jim’s arms.
Blair frowned deeply as he came to himself. He was in a jungle, and everything was tinted with just the faintest tinge of blue.
“Aw, swell,” he sighed. “What next?”
The answer to that came when he stood up. He let out a despairing groan. In the real world, he was a full-body hermaphrodite: either fully male or fully female.
On the spirit plane, it seemed, he was just a hermaphrodite – male and female in the same body!
“This is one time,” he groused, “when I think I prefer the real world!”
Sighing, Blair wiped his hands on his jeans and looked around. “Okay – I find the wolf or the jaguar…. They’ll take me where I’m—“
He was cut off by a sharp hiss behind him. Whirling, he saw a king cobra, stark in the blue lighting, arch its body up and spread its hood. With a groan, he sighed, “What now? Are you real or are you a spirit animal?”
The only answer the serpent made was a slow, undulating moving closer.
Jim paced from balcony to front door over and over. He couldn’t rest – couldn’t be still. Dean had taken a very shaken Cindy home and then Jim had driven Sandy home. On his fourth or fifth circuit, he saw Dean’s car and Simon’s car pull in at the very same time.
By the time he reached the front door, he could hear Dean and Simon on the stairs. He opened the door as Simon raised his hand to knock.
It was a measure of how freaked-out Simon was that he didn’t say one word about Jim’s opening the door before he knocked. Instead, his first words as he walked in were, “How is he?”
“She,” Jim and Dean chorused.
Simon tilted his head. “She? You mean he collapsed as Sandy?”
“I told you as much,” Dean said, jerking his head toward the downstairs bedroom. “Is she--?”
Jim nodded. “Go on.” Dean vanished into the bedroom and Simon heaved a large sigh. “So how is she?”
With an echoing sigh, Jim ran his hands down his face. “Unconscious. And I don’t know what happened and I don’t know how to fix this!”
Simon caught his hand. “You’re bleeding!”
“It’s nothing – it’s just where I hit the wall.”
“You hit the – Never mind, I do not want to know!” He pulled Jim into the bathroom and took time to clean Jim’s hand.
When they emerged, it was to see Dean walk out of the bedroom. He shook his head at their unspoken question.
With twin sighs, Jim and Simon sank into chairs and Dean sank onto the sofa. The waiting game went on.
Blair watched the cobra glide slowly to him. “Eep?” was the only sound Blair could make.
Closer, the serpent glided; closer and closer…. Suddenly it threw itself up and began to ripple – and change.
Before Blair’s startled eyes, a ghostly representation of Dean stood before him.
“Oh my stars….”
Dean’s form stared impassively at Blair. Blair stared back at him for all of a minute, and then he asked softly, “What do you want?”
Spirit-Dean’s head tilted. Jaguar and wolf bounded out and flanked him. A ripple of sound and light, and Blair and Jim’s own spirit forms flanked him.
Blair gulped. Every time Jim had come here, disaster had followed. The one time Blair had come with him, shock had followed. But now he was alone. What was going to happen?
“Uh…hello?” he ventured. “Wh-What can I help you with?”
“Ch-Choose? Choose what?”
Your destiny. Shaman. Warrior. Teacher. Develop some gifts, neglect others. No more. Choose your path.
He stretched forth his hand. “…Wh-what if I develop them all?”
The spirit beings looked at each other. Silence stretched out, and Blair had to bite his lip to keep himself from demanding an answer.
The answer came softly. You have neglected the way of the Shaman. Your specific Shamanistic gift, you must discover.
Blair nodded. “I will. I promise.”
Spirit-Jim held up a hand. BUT! No longer must you neglect your body. Too busy is no longer an excuse.
Spirit-Dean nodded. Madness is no reward for your gifts. Any of them.
Blair sighed. “Wonderful – a Spirit-World kick in the ass.”
And don’t you forget it, Spirit-Blair shot. *Now – about your protégée….*
Blair blinked, startled. ”Ex…excuse me? My what?”
Your protégée. The shaman-seeker. An image of Cindy flared into Blair’s mind. Superimposed over it was a husky pup.
“…my what?” he whispered.
Spirit-Blair smiled at him. Don’t fret so, young wolfling. You will learn together.
And we will guide you, Spirit-Jim said. The Guide will be guided.
Spirit-Dean nodded. Go now. You have chosen. You will learn.
There was a chorus of animal sounds, and then they were once more the jaguar, the wolf, and the cobra.
With a sharp gasp, Sandy jerked awake, sitting up in bed. With a small groan, she shifted to Blair.
Cindy frowned as she arrived at the Loft. “Professor Sandburg? Y-You wanted to see me?”
Blair nodded and motioned for her to sit. When she was, he asked, “Will you be researching shamanism further after your paper?”
“That – that was what I was coming to talk to you about in such a rush. I was worried that book wouldn’t be enough and wondered if you had any others for further study?”
Blair smiled. “I, too, am learning the way of the shaman. Perhaps we could learn together?”
The glow on her face and the giddy smile was answer enough.
Watching from the kitchen, Jim and Dean smiled at each other. Jim’s head tilted as he heard the scream of a panther and the howl of a wolf – joined by the hiss of a serpent and the yip of a small dog.
Return to The Realm