There was a universal hum from uptown San Francisco, and from the night itself, permeating the tall house on Clayton Hill. A cry resounded, prompting a man to wake and become immediately worried—the urgency in his daughter’s voice warned of another sleepless night. As Mitchell quietly entered the room, he asked, “Does the day still linger?”
“Every time I doze, I see Todd coming up behind me!”
“Hasn’t he stopped bullying you?”
“He has, only now he just lurks around, thinking about it, like I’m his prey or something. He’s crazy—and no one else can see it.”
“I’ll have another talk with the principal. Boys are not allowed to assault girls, or stalk them. I wish he would just concentrate on his own business.”
The girl whimpered. “I wish I could conquer brutal enemies, like our ancestors did. Will you tell me more about Uncle Shek-Shek?”
The caring father stretched out beside her. “All-right, if it will help you sleep.”
Mitchell closed his eyes and pictured the way he saw the Caucasus Mountains, when first he was told the stories in childhood.
“He’s my favorite ancestor. How did he fight off all those invaders? And what about when he and his brother drove the vampire dragon back into the sea? Only a huge powerful man could do such a thing.”
“Uncle Shek-Shek wasn’t huge. In fact if you compared him to me, he probably would have been much smaller. His great will however, made him the strongest man in the Oirat village. He lived through terrible strife as the Caspian Sea region was fought over, to decide whether it would become the Middle East, Western Asian, or Eastern Europe.
“But also there were times of joy and peace—and that’s what Uncle Shek-Shek tried to protect. He would have given his life for any member of his tribe, because that’s how they lived. Every person was responsible for the next. If you fell, someone would pick you up, and you were expected to do the same for others. Courtesy was a way of life. All tribal members, alive or dead, were to be honored in the highest regard. So the living paid respects to their ancestors on a daily basis.
“For the Oirats, companion spirits were a prevalent force, and they are still with us, only we’ve lost the talent to perceive them. When people wanted to go out and wage war, oftentimes a spirit battle would precede the clash between humans. That’s why shamans were so important in those days. When they detected invading spirits, the village would go on high alert. Scouts would ride out and locate the enemy and then report. So the Oirats were never taken by surprise.
“The greatest shaman was Grandfather Kasman, who could generate a ‘wave’ so to speak, to wash invaders into the Caspian Sea.”
“Like the vampire dragon!”
“That was just one horrible thing that the factional khans hurled at us. In their quest for racial purity, they tried to kill off all the western nomads.”
“Why Daddy, why would they want to do that?”
“When the Oirats found Tibet, they brought the opposite of war, a way to live where fighting was not the only thing people cared about. This movement spread quickly among many nomadic tribes. But adopting a culture of peace was a great affront to the khans, fearing the movement, and how it affected their armies in the west. More and more people adopted the new ethos: you only fight if it means defending others. And it made the eastern societies feel like they had no choice except to begin tightening their grip on us.
“As you know, Uncle Shek-Shek lived during the middle ages, after Genghis Khan died and left his empire to be divided among his greedy sons. A khanate for the region was established, from which the Oirats rebelled, wanting to be autonomous—you know, independent—and many times they repelled the khanate army using swords and bows. Since the khans could only do so much to defend their outer lands, they were forced to surrender those mountain lands to the Buddhist nomads. And yet they tried numerous times to retain control.”
Laura asked, “Do you mean the Oirats had wars with the greedy sons?”
“Yes, many battles were fought over those mountains. And their successful battles against the invaders earned them a seven year period of peace. However it ended in the summer of 1600, when Grandfather Kasman rode into the village, donning his Flekshur—a shaman’s battle coat. The wearing of this coat by the elder shaman was a call to arms, like Paul Revere warning the rebels that hell was coming to breakfast. For Kasman, the tremor of the invading force was loud enough to make him appear stricken with dementia, you know—crazy. He sang, chanted, and screamed as he alerted everyone that the khans were coming by land and sea, and that they were to be preceded by an army of undead warriors.
“Grandfather Kasman went to seek visions. When he returned, he instructed his scouts to camp in the eastern facing hills—to gain first sight of the approaching army as they appeared.
“These weren’t the vampires of modern fiction, donning fangs and white skin, although our narratives use the same word, for lack of a better one I suppose. You can’t call them zombies—zombies are mindless idiots—because these spirits had a definite purpose. They wanted to wage war on the Oirat villages.”
“How can they fight off such a force Daddy?”
“It was like nothing they had ever faced before. They ordered everyone to scatter into the hills and remain alert, while Kasman and Shek-Shek remained in the village, keeping the lanterns and fires burning, to make it seem like people were present.
“Before the sound of vampire feet became physically audible, Kasman saw the scattered beacons of their angry spirits. Already the small Buddhist hamlets were being woken and shaken beyond fear at the presence of the passing army. The whole siege came in a time before everyone could be warned. So the enlightenment seekers were awakened by a terrifying sight as thousands of magical creatures made their way through their streets and yards. Stories of these encounters came with imageries of monks remaining in their meditative postures, regardless of what horror they faced.”
Laura laughed at the image, seeing the stuttering vampires as they were gazed upon by meditating monks. Mitchell smiled approvingly. The stories were supposed to inspire laughter. He remembered hearing them as a child, in his traditional Oirat tongue, lamenting the fact that he could not tell his girl in the same way.
“They only allowed themselves fifty arrows between them, knowing the ultimate battle would be won by the blade. Between two fortress boulders, they waited on the high ground before the likely passageway of approach, both praying with their weapons between them. Eventually they detected scouts, a few of which they heard howling to their brothers. At first there were only shadows, and then eventually both men could see the burning hearts of the devilish legion. It was beyond either of their expectations. The spirits had given life to the armored corpses they garnered, all at various stages of decomposition.”
“Okay, I won’t go into those details.” He thought about where he could pick up again and then continued. “When the first scouts of the ghoul army were within bow range, the Prangsa brothers began their ruthless campaign. They fired their arrows at a speed and accuracy that devastated the first wave. They moved in the quick fashion of the ancient wisdom, mysteries only unsolved through years of training. Also, their bows were equipped with a lost innovation: a fast arrow loading quiver. They could shoot an arrow per second using it.
“Within ten minutes of near simultaneous arrow and sword combat, they drove back the initial assault, causing the attackers to hold back and reform their approach. As the brothers expected, the vampires fanned out and surrounded their position. However, waiting was something the undead soldiers could not afford. When the sun was up, they would become less effective at battle, and would most likely be forced to hide out until dusk. Their intention was not to stop at this village. They intended to continue on fighting, until they reached the settlements of those who defeated them.
“So this is why it was so crucial to stop them in their tracks. But as the tide of water is unimpeded by a solitary stone, the ghoul army overran the narrow barrier, only to find the village completely empty. Their commanders received word about the ruse and promptly gave orders for the vampire army to dissipate. This was a great relief to the brothers. At sunrise they saw three hundred defeated invaders lying on the ground, which was certainly not enough to claim victory.”
“So they weren’t defeated yet Daddy?”
“Not by a long shot. And tomorrow night I’ll tell you what happened afterward.”
It was a good place to leave off. He kissed her on the forehead and walked out of the room, shutting the light on the way out. Half expecting her to cry for his return, he turned back and was relieved to hear her familiar quickened exhale, followed by the sucking sound that she usually made when falling asleep.
The next morning Laura seemed a bit disheartened. Mitchell immediately worried that the story might have frightened her. When her mother was alive, she would have scolded him for telling her such ghoulish tales. But then his mood turned upside down when he was reminded of the bully at school. “I don’t want to see Todd today.”
Mitchell wasn’t sure how to respond. He thought about it for a few seconds and then said, “I’ll walk you in and speak with your homeroom teacher.”
“You won’t have time,” she replied. “You always drop me off when the class is just starting.”
“We’ll leave early today. Let’s get you fed and ready to hit the road.”
That evening they came home later than usual. Mitchell’s job required him to leave his daughter at daycare for three hours every workday. This was just one drawback of being a single parent he faced. He didn’t have time to be with his daughter. So he began to feel like it was time for a vacation. As he walked with her in the park, he made a mental note to tell his boss that he needed a four day weekend over Columbus Day. It wasn’t going to score him any points at the studio, however in his life there was much more at stake than the designs of a building.
“Finish the story you were telling last night,” Laura insisted. She wasn’t interested in the playground. None of her friends were around; only some tough twelve year olds, too big for Mitchell’s comfort zone. The way they ran, he worried about her getting hurt. “I can finish it tonight,” he said. “We have to get dinner.”
“Tell it while we eat at the restaurant.”
As they sat down to plates of pasta, bread, and salad, Mitchell began with the scattered remains of the vampire army. “They threatened to achieve what the khanate army would have considered auspicious, meaning they would have been happy to know that the Oirats could not prevail. The vampires waited for night to fall before attacking the warriors where they could find them. In all, maybe a dozen of our ancestors were killed in the fighting. And the actual invaders had not even arrived yet. The vampires even swam out to the nearby islands, reeking havoc everywhere they went. They had run amok and there was nothing Kasman and Shek-Shek could do to stop it from happening. Between them they had destroyed hundreds of vampires, which would have been a huge detriment to the enemy, only there were thousands more, all unwilling to face the brothers headlong.”
“Would you guys like anything else?”
The woman’s voice pleased Mitchell. He had a liking for her, her jovial eyes so much like rays of sunshine—her name could have been Sunny, and he would have thought it quite fitting. “I’d like some more coffee,” he said.
“Another Coke would be great,” Laura said.
“I’ll get it right away. I’m sorry I interrupted.”
“No problem. Thanks.”
“So the Oirats were in disarray, and when the scouts returned, they had bad news of another approaching army, this one fully human. Five thousand Chinese and khanate warriors came on horseback. And trailing behind were many more infantry. It seemed that the khanate army meant to take over the mountainous area once and for all. A great urgency came to pass when the messengers were dispatched to alert the scattered warriors. With the call to battle at hand, daybreak gave them only one chance to neutralize the vampire legion, before they were to face the much stronger mortal armies. Luckily for them, when the sun is up, a Caspian Sea vampire is weak as a cat.”
Laura laughed, covering her mouth. “Could I beat one up Daddy?”
“I’m sure you could. Only in the daytime though.”
“So they went on a daylong hunt for hiding pockets of vampires, who hid in trees, under roots, in caves, and sometimes in empty houses they had plundered. Teams were sent out in every direction, and among five hundred searchers, they destroyed the undead army. But like any army, there was a leader who did the motivating, and this powerful specter struck back with a vengeance.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean by that. Did the leader come to find the brothers?”
“I was getting to that.”
“What did he look like . . . the leader?”
“All I’ll tell you is that he was larger and more powerful than his minions. This creature never slept. He was the ghost of a jilted warlord, who lost a battle that was to be his silver age victory. His name was Kudloc. The land of the Caspian Sea was once his prize. And it was our cunning and dexterity with simple weapons that robbed him of that. They say Kudloc had possessed the body of a bear, because it was the only thing that could house such power. And with the mighty spirit inside, the animal began to walk upright, as if it were the true embodiment of how the leader saw himself—more powerful than any man on earth.
“As the Oirat ranks flowed into their high ground battle positions, ready to face their foe, Uncle Shek-Shek came upon Kudloc. The eyes of this creature stared into his, and he knew it was the man he had seen broken on the battlefield seven years earlier. Many attacks came in response to his death. The khanate army was in mourning, and they vowed never to stop fighting to avenge Kudloc. Now it seemed it was time for the Oirats to pay for their seven year period of peace.
“Uncle Shek-Shek was alone when he faced the creature. It brandished a huge sword. And when Kudloc swung it, trees fell, rocks crumbled, and everything got destroyed. He ran, dumbfounded by this possessed animal, who wielded the giant sword, pursuing Uncle Shek-Shek on its hind legs. Finally as the sun went down, the creature became stronger. He knew he could only survive by turning to face it. Each blow from the great blade dug into the ground. When he tried to thrust his own blade, the bear would pull back, followed by a defensive swing that could hardly be avoided. He tried his best to protect himself. But at one crucial moment, when he tried to slice at the bear, a quick counter blow knocked him down onto his back.”
Laura said, “Oh my God!”
“It looked like the end for him,” Mitchell agreed.
“Oh, Daddy no!” she replied.
“And luckily for him, his brother came to his aid.”
“And his brother didn’t come alone. He brought along a dozen warriors and shamans. They carried the ancient canes of the Caucasus Mountains, exorcist weapons that were used to drive out demons from living creatures. It wouldn’t have worked with the vampires, who were infused with the flesh of the dead. But for the dead king it came as a terrible surprise.
“Soon the bear was left writhing in pain as the evil spirit was beaten out of it. The strikes from the ancient canes stung like whips to the spirit, and were like pangs of relief for the innocent animal. You see, Kasman knew it was better to leave the animal alive, for it would not allow the spirit back inside once it was freed. As the frightened bear ran off into the mountains, the shamans pursued the rogue spirit far away, striking it and shouting the magic words—shoo shoo! shoo!—until it seemed like it would not return.”
“That’s incredible,” the waitress said. She clapped and then came over to bring them their drinks. Mitchell laughed and Laura joined him. They had no clue that the waitress was paying attention. “You really should tell those stories in a theater downtown. I could picture everything you were saying. What was it, a story about the Or-ats? Who were they?”
“You’re looking at them,” Laura proudly replied. “I was having trouble at school and this story is making everything better. My Uncle Shek-Shek will protect me.”
“Is that a tradition that your father is passing down to you?”
“I hope so.”
And they all laughed in glee.
“What about the khanate army, and the Chinese?” Laura asked.
Mitchell took a bite of Italian bread, followed by a healthy swig of red wine. The waitress stood by eagerly as he spoke. “Like with so much of what occurs in our world, it happens in the world of spirits, a reflection so to speak, that goes both ways. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Laura asked, “So by defeating the vampires, and the bear king, the Oirats also defeated the approaching khanate army?”
“Not so easily done.”
“When the brothers and the additional party members went back to join the defensive lines, they were joyous to find that many allies had come to their aid. Mountain Turks had geared up for a standoff with the approaching invaders. And even the Cassocks came, riding their Arabian horses. They all had interest in preserving the great hunting grounds, lands for farming and trade, that which the khans and eastern societies continually sought. An overwhelming force took positions on the mountain range. And when the khanate army showed their faces, brandishing new weapons of destruction, they were halted by wave after wave of arrows. And as the enemy charged into the ranks of Turk and Oirat fighters, the Cassock horsemen would assault their flanks, biting off piece after piece of their infantry, while the mountain swordsmen acted as teeth to their collective dragon.
“The khanate had expected to have the element of surprise on their side. Now after the first wave was annihilated, they had no choice except to fall back. For weeks, both sides stared each other down. All that waiting drove the mountain people crazy, so they eventually pushed forward, inciting skirmishes, and losing several warriors in the process. However, these tactics proved to be very effective. The terror caused by these sudden campaigns brought them closer to their victory.”
“So was it won? Where was Uncle Shek-Shek in all this?”
“He was in the midst of the battle. The story describes him dashing back and forth on an Arabian horse, striking down soldiers with the blade and bow. He could direct and motivate his troops with fearless urgency. Like he always taught, each and every one of his men would die for the other; although they would rather kill the enemy and live on.
“Unfortunately, the war continued into the autumn months, and the following spring. But the fighting never went beyond the Caucasus Mountains, and the lands of the Oirats were preserved. And they still reside there to this day.”
“So there are Oirats living in the Caucasus Mountains?” the waitress asked.
“Not so much anymore. They did a pretty good job of spreading themselves out. Nomads forever, they still seem to move.”
“Totally,” she said. “Aren’t we all though? My name is Sunny. Here’s my number in case you want to make a reservation or something.” She placed her card on the table along with the check booklet.
His eyes lit up with the utterance of her name, how he had guessed it earlier in his thoughts. Something about her eyes told of an ancient familiarity. Laura seemed to see it as well. “I like her,” she said as Mitchell paid the check, leaving a twenty for the tip.
“Yeah, she’s nice.”
“Take care you two,” Sunny said as the father and daughter went out into the mellow street, humming with transcendence. And the daughter seemed to have been uplifted. Her footsteps had an extra lift in them as she ambled with her dad, proud to be what she was, and ready to face the school day ahead.
is a resident of Boulder, Colorado USA. He lives pressed up against the mountains with his Border Collie and his two daughters. Currently he works at Colorado University in the field of aerospace project accounting. When he is not traipsing the world with his daughters, enjoying the scintillating nightlife of a romantic city, or hiking the wilderness in search of macro and microcosmic beauty, he busies himself studying literary form, and practicing the use of it. From 2000 to 2008, he studied creative writing at a local Buddhist inspired university.
His first published novel Emissaries of Archeote is due to be released in the summer of 2010 through a Canadian publisher, Lachesis Publishing/LBF Books.