Posts Tagged ‘novels’

“Tin Hinan”, Book II, Chapter 5. “Sandstorm”

September 21, 2012

Most writers work on a number of projects. I do. I don’t really have any thought out reasons, but I have since I began writing. “Tin Hinan” is an unfinished (but almost finished….) novel I have posted chapters from time to time. I see by my stats that there are consistant readers of those chapters I have posted, and I would think these readers are coming from Morocco, Algeria, the Sudan, and other parts of the Middle East. I have heard from a few readers who are Berbers, and that is very gratifying. When one attempts to write about another culture, it is good to have readers who stand as critics and help with these important cultural details. Thank you all who have written in with suggestions and your own cultural knowledge that stems from your origin.

This chapter is a work in progress, and needs rewrite. But! Bill Penrose, the man who stands as my publisher on these issues, and especially is awaiting my meandering completion of this novel, will be glad that I am back on the camel.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Book II, Chapter 5

We could see the Amour, the Ksour mountains. They were blue-gray blurs in the far distance. These were lower ranges, but would be arduous enough. I had never travelled this route, even with the few months Takama, Niefa and I plodded to the mountain range where Immel and his men found us. We were still in the desert, where our small party traveled from oasis to oasis. We had traversed the wadis, the Chelif and Tonil riverbeds, long stretches of oasis. The grass grew along the riverbeds when there was water enough to cultivate the foliage and where the palms and dates could dig deep into the sandy soil. Our scouts proceeded us a day out. We needed to be careful of the other caravans along the way. They also made sure we were headed in the direction of oasis, for water was our greatest concern. Ours was so small, less a caravan more a raiding party. We were not, but we still could draw suspicion. Immel said the majority of caravans had a thousand camels, but some of the Arab caravans had up to twelve thousand camels! What a sight that must be, stretching out as far on the horizon. Surely these caravans would carry the wealth of nations. From what Immel and his tribemen said around the fire at night, this wealth was made up of many things. Gold, salt, slaves, cotton and silks. Watermelons, spices, fruit, the kola nut and cotton seeds for planting.

Ah! Cotton was essential. There was no other cloth to use in the desert. It protected from heat of the sun, and the bite of sand. I learned to spin thread and weave cloth on small looms only two feet wide, but there were bigger looms in some tribes. We stitched the lengths of cloth together and dyed it with indigo for the rich, dark blue that our men wore around their heads and across their faces. We also dyed the cloth with different flowers and herbs and fixed the color with camel urine. But mostly we left it white and let it bleach out in lengths in the sun. It looked like strips of snow in the sunlight!

Several times we watched long caravans from a distance. They were hidden by dunes, or distance. We did not get not close because we didn’t want to attract attention. Our little party of twenty some camels and pack animals would be of little interest to these big outfits. But we were careful, only approaching the smaller caravans. Of course, we knew the Berbers were the guides even in these big Arab caravans. They were well paid crossing the deserts from far flung towns with produce or booty. Large slabs of salt, to be cut into smaller portions sold in the markets to the east and west had been brought from Mali in the south. All this would make their way to foreign cities. This salt was so necessary for daily life. It was the basis of preservation of food.

It was a miracle that Takama and I didn’t succumb in the desert during our first crossing to the mountain where Immel found us. Our navigation was from oasis to oasis, but we were more guided by luck and the scent of water in Niefa’s nose than our own abilities. Now I understood how much of a miracle it was: yes, our course was different, and there was some purpose for this much longer route Immel was taking but still, it was by favor of the gods and goddesses. Path- finding in the desert was a reading by stars, wind patterns, sand dune formations and even the color of the sand. Immel and his men knew all these things of the desert, and we didn’t. Perhaps that is why our appearance before them occasioned such wonder and disbelief from the elders of their mountain ksar.

Somehow we had survived.

There is a saying, probably Berber, as we are a wise people. “Sahara surrenders very few realities, only illusions”. Perhaps it was also because our perception of distance was so unreal. What looked like an oasis in the distance was only a shimmering of heat on the endless landscape. Our trek from oasis to oasis had to be exact, within a day’s foretelling as we could die in the desert if our reckoning was off even by a few miles. But Immel and his men were experienced in the desert, and I felt safe we would not perish. Of course, there were other factors to consider about our survival, but that was not assured by any god or goddess.

One late morning near noon, when the day seemed to be exactly like the day before, and the day before that, a wind picked up and the camels started to be restless, bellowing and groaning , their nostrils flaring, as if they were scenting something in the air. Suddenly we knew why. There was an enormous cloud in the distance–stretching from the ground to heaven. The sky had turned a dull orange. It was very strange from the azure blue of just a few moments before. But it wasn’t a cloud, it was that most fearful of dangers– the sandstorm! We could hear it coming, though it was miles off, a pounding roar like nothing else. Immel and the other men gathered on their uneasy camels to discuss what to do.

There were some hills off to the west. Though we could not outrun a sandstorm, to attempt to do so would mean certain death, the hills might offer protection. We turned towards those barren hills, whipping our camels into a gallop and clustered together, making the camels and pack camels to lie down together. We got on the leeway side of the camels, and prepared for the storm. We huddled together, and I saw Takama’s face, her eyes black and fearful, before she pulled her hood and cloths over them. She had taken the two foxes in their cage, had covered them with the loose woven basket and heaped some of our luggage over them. If she had to, she would lay herself over their basket to save them. She had grown so fond of them.

Immel wrapped me in his burnoose and pulled me close. I could feel his excitement and fear, as his heart pounded hard in his chest. Takama cuddled behind me, almost digging underneath the camel. We had made it in time, as the wind and the sand came barreling down the desert, and even though we were protected by the men and the covering of cloth, the sand was hard, abrasive on our clothes. No one said a word, for to open your mouth would mean sand and dust, dust carried by the wind above the sand, small and dangerous pieces of rock and dirt, would enter our throats and go down our lungs, suffocating us. The sun was blotted out. It was if nighttime had fallen at noon.

The roar of the storm was ten thousand demons and zars riding the wind. Even if I didn’t have my ears wrapped shut, I could not have heard the sound of a human.

It seemed as if I had fallen asleep. I felt the heaviness of a deep sleep, but it was the heaping of sand all around and over us that was weighed me down. Suddenly the roaring stopped. The storm had worn itself out, and the silence around us was unnatural after the roar before.

I heard Immel’s voice, as if from a long distance. He was shaking me to consciousness. I wanted to go back to sleep, but this was not the sleep of the night. It was the sleep of an almost-death. We were covered in sand and we shook ourselves to feel our limbs. We had survived one of the worst of perils of the desert. Our camels had long lashes on their eyes, something to keep the sand out. Their nostrils closed to keep their lungs safe. Thick and rough coats were also the reason they had not been beaten, flayed by the sand, but they too, had to work their way out of the heaping sand. With bellows and groans and the help of the men, they pulled themselves upright, shaking themselves, creating miniature sandstorms in the doing.

Takama uncovered the basket and the foxes were gone! Her eyes caught mine and I saw her sadness. They were gone, swept away by the djinn of the sandstorm. Though Takama was desert bred and strong, she fought to hide her tears. One of the men, who saw her distress, came over and bending down, started to dig away at the sand. There, popping out their long noses, were the two foxes! With the intelligence of desert animals, they burrowed down in the sand, safer from the storm than we above.

It is said that “The Desert is the realm of the Spirits” and to pilgrimage there is to come face to face with your mortality. The night brought spirits, demons, zars, as they rode the cold night air. They also appeared during the day, when travelers were caught far from shelter, and had to survive the elements as best they could. The roar of the sandstorm carried the voices of ghosts—men and camels who had perished in the Great Sahara for millennium.

If history was to be believed, 50,000 soldiers of Cambyese’s army, had marched across the middle Sahara to fight the Ethiopians, only to perish in the desert in minutes, buried by ten feet of sand. Their bleached bones, arrowheads and lances were left scattered across the barren landscape for 2500 years.
The Sahara Desert was well called “The Mirror of the Soul”. It made or broke men, and those who survived had their lives changed forever.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012

“ANCESTORS OF STAR”, a new novel by William Gaius

September 20, 2009
Canyon de Chelly in NE Arizona, but looks just like Ancestors Canyon

Canyon de Chelly in NE Arizona, but looks just like Ancestors Canyon

Bill Gaius is  a good friend and a great writer.  For the last three years we’ve exchanged manuscripts of our novels and to say his influence on my  writing made me a better  writer is to understate this.  His gentle mentoring got me out of many holes.

I was fortunate to be there when Bill started “Ancestors” and saw the amount of passion and research he put into this novel.  Bill is one of the most polished and careful writers I know.  This book presents an exciting mix of cross cultural events and strong characters with a description  of a physical landscape that broadens the imagination and a mystical element that is believable.

Bill knows and writes from the heart of the matter and it shows.

Lady Nyo

Introduction to Chapter 15 of ‘The Ancestors of Star’.

Tim Hyatt is a college athlete and Big Man on Campus, but his plans are very serious: a career as a medical doctor, and a prosperous life with his fiancee, Natalie. Hoping to win one of the scarce Government scholarships for medical students, he takes a year from college to gain clinical experience on the tiny Lagalero reservation in New Mexico. Once on the job, he learns that his new boss, the older Elaine Yellow Star, hires a young man every year and expects more from him than cleaning bedpans.

Star soon seduces Tim, as she has all the young men before him, and uses him for her own gratification, while ignoring the lust she’s sparked in him. After an initial infatuation with her vibrant sexuality, Tim rebels in a fury and distances himself from her. But she insinuates herself into his thoughts and he cannot escape his addiction to her. He begins seeking answers, first from the last living shaman of the tribe, and later, by going directly to the sacred canyon, the home of the ancestor spirits of the Lagalero.

The full novel, ‘Ancestors of Star’ is available from
as a trade paperback ($14.95) or as an unlocked PDF download ($4.95).

Chapter 15

Next day, I woke slowly, but the more consciousness grew, the more a heartsickness crept over me. A great, gaping pit opened up in my chest. I sniffed the air, but instead of the sweet tang of Star’s body, there was only the odor of the detergent I’d used to launder my bedding.
I looked at the clock, and it read 5:15. An hour before I would go to get her breakfast.
What had she meant by a ‘hormone storm’? After three days, I’d gained a little perspective. Before the night in the Super 8, I’d been thoroughly pussy whipped, as compliant as a pet dog. Like an idiot, I let her take the lead and give the orders. This had been utterly out of character for me. Evidently, she believed this was due to the ritual she’d performed in Ancestor Canyon. She’d gone on to deprive me of sexual release for a month, and it plainly excited her to do so. She must have had at least thirty or forty orgasms during that time. And somehow, according to her, I should be grateful. I certainly had no right to be upset!
What was a ‘hormone storm’ to her was a return to proper manhood for me. I didn’t need her. I could go ahead and do my job, and give her no excuse to get rid of me. I could serve my time, and walk out of here with recommendations from Waters and Murphy, at least. I could cultivate some other important locals and get more recommendations.
Or I could leave. But I didn’t treat that as a serious option anymore. I could take anything she could dish out, and I’d already learned to tolerate the spartan reservation life.
But my mind and body were at odds. The more I tried to hate her, the more she invaded my thoughts, waking and sleeping. Cursing her capriciousness didn’t help. I dreamed of her, naked and stretched on her back in the ancient ruin, or smiling on the sofa in her room, or driving in her Jeep with her black hair blowing out behind.
The alarm shrilled, and I showered, dressed, and crossed to the cafeteria. I returned with Star’s tray, and tapped on her door.
“Who is it?” The muffled voice was as soft and musical as ever.
“Your breakfast,” I said.
“Leave it by the door,” she said, in a less musical voice.
Shit! I put down the tray and stomped back to my own room. In the clinic, I slammed the bedpans about, and banged and punched through my other tasks. Before lunch, I checked the schedule to see who needed a ride to the clinic today, but there were no names listed.
No one to drive to the clinic! But who else knew this, or paid attention to the list? I could finally ditch this place for a few hours.
I stuffed a sandwich, two cokes, and a quart of water into my backpack and walked out to the van. I drove out of town, out into the desert, without destination or purpose. In an hour, I found myself between the sheer walls of Ancestor Canyon, following the rutted road until the van would go no farther. The mysterious structure in the canyon wall drew me onward, from rock to rock, into the great crack in the cliff face, and up the sloping sandstone to the ledge.
Recalling Star’s tale about the ancestral spirits, and how they defended their ancient home, I spent several minutes gathering the nerve to walk the narrow ledge. I ventured slowly onto it, trying not to look into the void, and sweating in spite of the cool breeze. The ledge was much narrower than I remembered, barely wide enough to move one foot beside another.
In spite of my caution, a golf ball-sized rock found its way under my shoe. My leg buckled, but fortunately, I stumbled toward the rockface, rather than out into the abyss. I clung to the sandstone for a few minutes until my heart slowed and my legs regained their strength. After that, I touched one hand to the wall for balance as I crept along, until I staggered onto the wide platform where the ancient structure stood. I fell to my knees before the massive ruin, breathing hard and terrified by the prospect of going back.
I slipped into the little door, following the chain of connected rooms, and emerged in the room where the mesquite tree sheltered the little altar. It was time to think about exactly why I’d come here, because at that moment, I had no idea. I’d ditched my responsibilities at the clinic and ventured onto this haunted platform, but why?
In front of the little altar where Star had burned the pinon wood, I sat crosslegged. What was I expected to do? I thought I might meditate, but I’d never done it before. I’d heard you were supposed to just sit still and let all thoughts drain away. I tried this for a few minutes, but every time I tried to empty my mind, images of Star flowed in to fill up the space.
A hawk circled in the canyon, barely using its wings. It swooped by, a hundred feet away, on the downwind half of its spiral.
A foot shifted on loose rock behind me. I twisted around, but there was no one. I stood up on aching knees and looked into the adjacent rooms, and up at the overhanging cliff. Surely, the noise had been something dropped by a bird, or a stone dislodged by the wind. Perhaps a small animal moving to escape the gaze of the hawk.
As I resumed sitting in front of the altar, the breeze loosened my hat. I removed it and tucked the brim under my butt so it wouldn’t blow around the room. In another few minutes, the sun would go behind the cliff and the hat wouldn’t matter.
Wind rushed through the ancient structure. Its soughing was like the shuffling of ancient feet. Every so often, the murmur of voices would reach my ears, a trick of the wind in the rooms and crevices of this sacred structure.
Whatever my reason in coming here, it wasn’t working. The light was beginning to dim and it was time to leave while I could still find my way down to the van. I stood up and walked in a circle to limber up my legs before heading through the connected rooms. Once out of the structure and in the full force of the wind, I pulled my hat down close over my ears and stepped toward the narrow ledge.
And stopped.
The muscles girdling my waist and crotch crawled and tingled with apprehension. Someone’s coming the other way. I neither saw nor heard anything, but I knew someone was there, just as I knew when someone stared at me in a crowd or through a window. I waited, and waited, but no one appeared.
I tried one more step toward the ledge, and I began to shake, worse than before. There was someone there!
A bony hand gripped my shoulder and froze me in place. My cry echoed across the canyon, a cry in my own voice, though I had no recall of screaming. Now I knew for certain that the spirits were going to hurl me over the edge, and take revenge for the way I had treated their daughter.
I cautiously reached for the hand that held fast to my shoulder. But it was only a twig blown from a mesquite somewhere up on the cliff. I brushed it off, and it blew onto the haunted ledge, bounced once, twice, and vanished over the precipice, down to the place where the spirits planned to send me. Except I wouldn’t float gently down, like that twig. I’d hit like a bag of soup, spattering guts and brains and blood over the jagged stones.
My legs were jelly as I staggered back to the altar room. I sat in front of the altar and felt safer again. Evaporating sweat chilled my face and the small of my back. I busied myself collecting unburned fragments of wood and making a tiny structure, as Star had. When I had finished, however, I had no way to set it afire. I ran my fingers through the ashes and debris under the altar niche, and turned up two unused wooden matches.
I knew now why I’d come here. I had to beg forgiveness of Star’s ancestors. They had bound me to her, but I had not obeyed.
I picked up one of the matches, and the wind instantly died. In the deathly quiet, leather-shod feet scuffed as the spirits gathered behind me, watching. I leaped from my knees to my feet in one motion and screamed, “Leave me alone!”
Of course, there was no one there. Only my own echo, dying away, “…alone …alone …alone…”
The match had gone astray, but I didn’t care. I lay on my side, curled into a fetal position, and thought of my mother, and father, and Star, and Natalie, and my college friends. My family would be devastated by my disappearance. My corpse, dried and mummified by the wind and sun, would eventually be found in this ruin. If I tried to leave, I would rot unseen at the base of the cliff, feeding the coyotes and eagles. Sooner or later, searchers would find the van. They might even find some bones, if the animals left them in place when they finished with me.
I looked at my watch, but the numbers seemed written in a foreign script. The hands pointed in directions that I couldn’t interpret. But I could guess at the time by the sky. The shadows were climbing the canyon wall with unnatural speed.
The narrow ledge, my only escape to the bottom of the cliff, and from there to Lag City, and the clinic, and Star, and life itself, had become very dark. It was too late to leave, even if the spirits refrained from hurling me to the canyon floor. I found the last wooden match and put it in my pocket, and curled up again, huddled in a fetal ball as the air grew chillier.
After a time, I propped myself up long enough to reach into my little backpack. I drank a soda and ate the sandwich. I kept the wrapper as possible fuel or kindling. The food banked my fear a little, but it was not going to help me get down from here in the darkness. I was going to spend the night, at least.
It was going to be cold tonight, exposed on this cliffside. The ancient dwelling would give me some protection from the wind, but temperatures might get down into the 40s or even lower. In my tee shirt and jeans, I might as well be naked.
As the sky darkened, the temperature plummeted, and I succumbed to fits of shivering. I searched my brain for my most comforting memories, something to hang onto in the depths of the night. I thought of Natalie and the nights with her in her dorm room at NIU. But my mind compulsively drifted back to Star. I thought of my mother. When I was a child frightened by lightning, I’d run into her room and she’d cuddle me under the covers. But I was a grown man now, and my greatest comfort was when Star slept on my shoulder and her breath whistled in my ear.
The stars came out, one by one, but there was no sign of a moon. I shivered violently and continuously, and fumbled in my pack for my flashlight. The batteries were fresh, but it wouldn’t light. With shaking fingers, I disassembled it to look for the problem. The bulb dropped out and bounced to where it couldn’t be found in the dusky light.
I found the last match in my pocket and resumed my place in front of the altar. The light was so weak I could barely see it. The match struck on the fifth try, and I ignited the little tower of wood. Soon I had a flame going, about as big as my hand. Once more, I felt the presences watching me, and the night breeze carried their voices.
This time, I was not afraid of them. I expected to soon be among them.
“Fathers and Mothers of Elaine Yellow Star,” I said. I hoped they understood my meaning, even if they didn’t understand English. “Show me where I’ve gone wrong. I need to be with her, I want to belong to her – ”
I stopped. I hadn’t voiced it aloud before. I needed Star! Everything else in my life, including my pride, was a trivial afterthought to that single fact.
“Help me get through this night,” I asked the spirits, “and I will treat your daughter the way she deserves to be treated. I swear this on my God and on yours.”
The voices grew in volume and number. A single pure note thrummed in my ears as the wind whistled through the ancient dwelling. The cold night wind blew on me. But even as I shivered and dreaded the night ahead, the spirits blew their warm breath in my face. Their hands touched my cheek and stroked my hair. My shivering stopped and I sighed in relief.
They urged me to lie back. The floor of the altar room was as soft as it had been when I made love to Star on this very spot. The ghosts sang their hypnotic songs in my ear, and I drifted off to sleep, dreaming that I was swaddled with Star’s warm body in a heavy featherbed.

[end ch. 15]

The full novel, ‘Ancestors of Star’ is available from
as a trade paperback ($14.95) or a download ($4.95).