Sword of the Shining Path
by Melvin Litton

Sorry we Sold Out of Geminga

Free Sample Chapter

Chapter 1


     "You killed my cat!" cried Rodger as he stood eyeing
the two accused.  The raven remained perched on the
mike-stand, while the snake continued licking the smoke
drifting up from the cigar held between the index and
middle fingers of Rodger's right hand.  He unwittingly
shook the snake-cuffed hand in the raven's face.
     "You sicked this snake on my cat, you raven bastard!
You black feathered little fiend, you...KILLED AHAB!"
     The snake--luminous-green, a thumb's thickness, and
over a forearm in length--hissed, quickly uncoiled from
the cigar, and intently poised its undulating head on the
man's jugular vein. Rodger froze.  The snake's bright
fuchsia eyes gleamed atop its enlarged arrow-shaped head;
behind the eyes grew a conspicuously tumorous lump.
     "Colorful alliteration," the raven coolly observed,
unruffled by the man's menacing stance and amused by the
fact that the presumed assassin was presently affixed to
the arm of righteous indignation.  "I must caution you,
however, to remain calm.  This theatrical display over
the loss of your cat could get you killed.  These
histrionics must cease.  Jimmy, like the Indian Krait, is
unusually shy and non-aggressive and, as I have said,
accustomed to being handled, but one more threatening
word or gesture from you and he may strike.
Furthermore," stretching high on its perch, turning its
dilated eye directly on the man, "I may feel compelled to
command the attack."  The raven spoke with mechanical
precision--unhurried, cold, alien.
     And had the snake possessed the raven's uncanny
faculty of human speech, it would have freely
confessed...'yesss, I killed the cat, but it was no
routine hit.  The cat was sunning itself on the deck as
I slithered up the post through a gap in the boards.
Always careful to crawl with the grain of the wood--for
to go against the grain risks getting splinters between
my scales and redwood slivers are very painful, well I
know--I silently approached the cat's carrion-scented
mass.  Its mammoth violence in repose.  And the stench.
Were its body heat not one cat's whisker warmer than its
surroundings, I'd have found the cat from its stench
alone.  Suddenly, the great tail tossed; I waited and
scenting no alarm, crawled on past the giant paws
stretched out at its side.  It's head was wholely
extended, exposing its neck to the rays of the afternoon
sun.  Sensing my moment, I struck, sinking my fangs into
the delicious heat of its purring throat.  But before I
had coiled my length securely about the awakened
monster's neck, one of its terrible claws caught my tail,
tearing a deep gash through the cavity where my left
hemi-penis resides (luckily, I am blessed with two).
With the deepest pleasure I ejaculated my venom; the
searing poison raced to my victim's heart and lungs.  A
brief struggle, one violent spasm, and the cat lapsed
into a coma.  I uncoiled and flicked my tongue at its
nearly lifeless eye then crawled away.  No routine hit.
No, hiss at the thought; I will carry the scar from that
wound through all the eons of my existence.'
     Rodger carefully exhaled and said, "So...why did you
kill Ahab?"
     "We have our requirements," was the perfunctory
     "Requirements?" Rodger mocked incredulously.  "You
make it sound as if..."--again painfully aware of the
snake's head inching closer to his throat, he steadied
and finished in a guarded monotone: "Like bicycles
require paved roads, you and this snake require a clear
path to my door."
     "Listen," the raven snapped, "I am aware that the
cat was your pet.  You were fond of this Ahab.  No doubt
you even named him.  All this I understand.  But he was
not your friend; nor a requirement of your life.  You are
not imperiled without him."
     "That could be argued," Rodger warily countered.
     "Nevertheless," continued the raven, "beyond this
fact of ironic hindsight, the cat was for you no more
than a diversion, an entertainment; at most, a small
comfort.  While you," it sneered, "were never more than
a convenience to the cat."
     "And now I am the entertainment, the dangling
plaything of a raven and a snake.  Captive to your
convenience.  You hold all the cards, Raven.  You require
that my life be at your mercy"--glaring as he growled:
"That's your goddamned requirement."
     "A clear analysis of your situation," crowed the
raven, "thorough and succinct.  I could not have said it
better.  Your life does hang by a thread.  Indeed, you
are in danger.  But you are threatened due solely to your
own stubbornness.  Understand this..."--the raven
directed its beak like a lector's staff: "Irrespective of
our Master and the missions we performed at his behest,
Jimmy and I live in the state of nature.  Not, like
yourself, in a state of law where all conduct and
interaction is governed to guard against the aggressions
and excesses of the few over the well-being and life of
the many, and ultimately, you would hope, to the
happiness of each.  No, ours is an unending battle with
no judicious buffer between the weak and the strong.
     "In the state of nature, mind, a bird and a snake
are the threatened victims of a predation so constant and
pervasive, a predation which to a man would be of
unmitigable horror and madness.  We are small, fragile
creatures subject to whims of violence at every turn.
Before advancing to the next branch, I must check to see
if a falcon is targeting me from afar, or is that an owl
in the shadow there, and perhaps the dangling vine is one
of Jimmy's cousins, a mamba or a bushmaster, planning to
make a meal of me; or of Jimmy--for snakes eat snakes.
An unending vigil in which each breath is cagily drawn:
not only the hundreds of other species to fear and
respect, there are the propellers and jet intakes on the
thousands of aircraft that fly daily, shredding us in the
blazing whirl of their engines as they deliver their
frightful payloads of silent, unseen death--the many
chemical poisons of agriculture and warfare; shotgun
blasts from intoxicated hunters, little boys with BB
guns, zinging arrows and hurled rocks, savage clubs,
exposed utility wires, and your domestic servant...the
     "The cat is a formidable predator; uncanny.  No
doubt you have witnessed, with unabashed absorption and
pride, your cat stalking its prey and the ensuing
slaughter.  Wanton and senseless, unless you would call
'the joy of killing' a requirement.  Murder purely for
the pleasure: something only a man could admire.  You fed
that cat routinely and well, true?"
     "Yes," Rodger conceded, nodding ever so slightly,
mindful of the snake's diminished yet lethal poise.
     "Jimmy and I could never have made this visit
without, in your phrase, having a clear path to your
door.  Your cat's death was a requirement, not of
convenience or pleasure, but of survival; no creature,
save man, risks its life needlessly.  A requirement, I
might add, which achieves two ends: first, it negates a
threat to Jimmy and myself, and, secondly, it removes a
moral dilemma--you never had to choose between the
companionship of your cat and our meeting.  You may hate
me for making this choice for you but not for clearing a
path to your door."
     "I see," Rodger answered faintly.
     "Good," said the raven, relaxing; the stern black
pupils shrank within its warm amber eyes as it assumed
the benign aspect of a familiar, almost a friend.  "Now,
as an act of good faith, Jimmy and I will release our
     "How?" asked Rodger, anxiously moving his eyes to
the snake that manacled his right hand.  "You can't flap
your wings, and--'puff'--make him disappear.  I can't
even move.  Hell, I hardly dare breathe or blink."
     "True.  But trust me and do exactly as I say,"
advised the raven.  "Jimmy, though no longer highly
alarmed, remains wary and prone to attack."
     "So...what do I do?"
     "The cigar has smoldered and nearly died.  Rekindle
it; the smoke will tranquilize Jimmy.  Now, this is most
important"--the raven stressed--"Lock eyes with Jimmy and
do not blink.  When you move the cigar towards your
mouth, Jimmy's head and upper length will start to sway.
Move your head in precise rhythm with his.  Do not avert
your eyes, do not blink.  Under no condition may you
blink.  If you feel your eyes burning from their sockets,
do not blink.  Remember, this pain is only a fraction of
the thousand fires you will know should Jimmy decide to
strike.  Are you ready?"
     Rodger, realizing that his only possible avenue of
escape was his probable execution, briefly considered;
"Ready," he whispered.  Then locking eyes with the snake,
he began, what seemed like an eternity, the journey of
the cigar to his mouth.  Entranced, he swayed in rhythm
with the snake; its tongue flicked forth scene after
scene, and he saw every scant, minor event from his
thirty-odd years of life passing between them.  Finally,
with the snake flicking its tongue at the bridge of his
nose, the cigar butt reached his lips.  His eyes burning,
he began to puff.  Never had he exerted such will.
Burning, the cigar came alive, the smoke billowing up and
burning...burning needles in his eyes for all the lies
he'd ever told or imagined; his will repeating like a
distress signal: do not blink-do not blink-do not blink;
his one requirement--to live.
     At last, the snake averted its gaze and coiled again
about the cigar.  The hand, cigar, and snake drifted
slowly  away with the smoke from Rodger's face, revealing
two haunted red eyes staring in wide-open amazement.
     "The danger has passed," said the raven; "You may
blink if you like."  From Rodger's blinking eyes streamed
soothing tears of gratitude and relief.  "You have done
well.  And I have chosen well.  Congratulations.  Not
many men would have survived this little test."  The
raven, obviously pleased, concluded: "If you will simply
place the cigar in that bowl there, I believe Jimmy will
uncoil from your hand and remain with the cigar."
     Accordingly, Rodger was soon free; stepping back
from his captors, he looked from one to the other with a
long deep sigh.
     Meanwhile, the raven sidled to the near end of the
mike-stand, dipped its head and torso his way, and said:
"Well?  We are at your mercy, Jimmy and I.  At your
convenience you could kill us with most any object in
this room; a bird and snake are no match for a man.  What
is your requirement, Rodger?  Do we live, or do we die?"
     "What the hell," Rodger gave a weary shrug.  "I'm
tired.  Sleep is my requirement.  You.and   Jimmy can
stay the night."  He felt strangely compelled to use the
snake's name; perhaps the hostage had begun to sympathize
with the terrorist.  What the hell.  Sitting down, he
sank slowly back in the big stuffed chair and rolled his
eyes to the ceiling.
     "Ack!" the raven exclaimed; "You are a lucky man,
Rodger, to meet up with Jimmy and I.  You will see. A
very lucky man."
     A lucky man?--thought Rodger as he fell
worst enemy should be so lucky.
     The morning light stung his eyes; Rodger jumped
awake.  Squinting, he glanced from the empty mike-stand
back to the bowl which now contained only the cigar butt
and some scattered ashes.  No raven; no snake.
     Except for the pain in his lower back, he felt
remarkably refreshed for having slept the night in a
chair.  Rolling the cigar between his thumb and
forefinger, he considered it fortunate that he hadn't
been smoking anything stronger; otherwise, he would have
attributed the events of the previous evening to the
effects of hallucination, or worse, of madness.  But he
hadn't been stoned in years, and, though he wasn't
exactly 'normal' anymore, he was sane enough; like the
Great Wallenda he'd walk the mental high wire until the
final plunge, of that he was certain.
     What was the date?  He guessed the Eighth of
January; he checked the calendar; it jived.  The
anniversary of Old Hickory's victory over the British at
the Battle of New Orleans and a quasi-anniversary for
Rodger as well: twenty months since he'd jumped that
wagon and gone cold turkey, declaring independence from
alcohol's pernicious soul-tax like a true patriot on the
Fourth of July, left Kansas for California, and had
remained stone sober ever since.  Now what should appear
but a talking raven to pass the evening in cordial
conversation, terrorize him at mid-night with a hissing
viper, then, come morning, disappear.  Damn!  Time for
coffee and lots of it.
     In the kitchen Rodger put the water on to boil, then
gazed out the window at the base of the tall eucalyptus
where he'd buried his cat the previous afternoon and,
looking up, had first seen the raven perched on a high
overhanging limb.  No, the raven was wrong, Ahab had been
his friend.  Like the Ahab of Melville who growled--"Talk
not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it
insulted me..."--the kitten once slapped Rodger's bare
leg as he stepped from the shower, and, admiring its
irreverence and pluck (for Rodger had cursed and kicked
back, missing, while the kitten scored again), he named
it Ahab.  The kitten grew into a large black tom; its
character more in the mold of a faithful dog than any cat
Rodger had ever known.
     Ahab had been his friend and, what's more, his last
physical link with home.  His old friend, Heath (wild man
of wold and  prairie, protector of fauna and flora, and
cultivator of the  'weed'), had insisted that Rodger take
the kitten--pick of the litter!  And though hesitant, his
life-long antipathy toward cats gave way; for Heath was
in high spirits quite certain there were good vibes
flowing between man and kitten.  All karma aside, Rodger
never regretted accepting the gift.
     He wondered what Heath would make of the raven.
Both were anomalous creatures, sharing a subtle blend of
characteristics.  Heath's hair waved jet-black and grayed
at the temples; his piercing brown eyes were searching
and wary; his aquiline nose descended to the narrow line
of his mouth set in a broad jutting jaw anchoring the
profile above his powerfully built torso and legs--a
portrait more suited to a Roman captain serving in the
Gallic Wars, or a Cossack cavalryman of the Eighteenth
Century, than to the small town Kansas boy who grew into
a football warrior and eventually evolved into something
of a rural mystic priest.  Grandson of an old-world
Slavic doctor who played the Gypsy fiddle and emigrated
to western Kansas in the 1890's for what and why God only
knows; Heath.
     And they should strike him a medal, thought Rodger,
if for no other reason than the night he freed all the
animals from the local embarrassment of a zoo and,
reassuring each that he meant it no harm, herded them
into the safety of the woods along the river.
     Heath even liked snakes.  Rodger had stood by
dumbfounded one day while he gingerly lifted a large
rattler off a highway, carried it across the ditch, and
released it into the pasture.
     What would the raven make of Heath?  That is if it
braved the gauntlet of a dozen tough country cats, four
large dogs, three goats, and one very wild palomino
quarter horse; not to mention the twenty-to-thirty-odd
setting hens clawing and scratching throughout the
perimeter of the yard, ever eager to feast on a tiny
green reptile.  Furthermore, the countryside for miles
around and every road leading into Heath's hideaway was
patrolled by red-tailed hawks soaring through the air or
standing sentinel atop cottonwoods and telephone poles.
Still, should the raven ever chance to meet with his
friend, Rodger could imagine the scene.  Heath would
cordially invite the raven onto his porch, light up a
'joint', and commence describing silhouettes of dinosaurs
as shaped by moon-shadowed trees set in motion by the
eternal, restless wind.  "Regard, my feathered friend,"
Heath would point, "shadows such as these will one day be
our legacy.  Some epochal eons hence when the far
descendants of alien colonizers..."--for Heath would
surely mention the UFO they'd observed while coming out
of a hemp-patch late one August night.  With staccato
movement the luminous dot danced from the east like a
water spider skipping across the sky, sweeping instantly
from one quarter to the next, stopping on a dime; it
alternately brightened to the size of three Jupiters then
dimmed, staying always at some indeterminate distance,
which could have been either 3, 30, or 300 miles.  And
they, Rodger and Heath, usually curious beyond caution,
were grateful it came no closer; they felt like lower
life-forms in the presence of something they could never
challenge, let alone understand.  They watched its
otherworldly acrobatics till dawn, when it disappeared in
the sunrise--"...and them inter-galactic sojourners'll
gaze into the night and see in similar trees the
phantasmagorical silhouettes of a bipedal mammal
conversing with a bipedal reptile: you and me, raven ol'
boy, you and me."