Blood of Mine Prologue Dances in the Sun shifted the loose dry dust with the toe of his moccasin. His torch cast writhing shadows on the walls of the cave, adding to the already eerie aura of the stone tomb. His tribe said this cave was a source of great evil and warned all the young men and women to stay away from it. Sun thought that if he could find some tool of this evil, a weapon or magic artifact, he could use it to fight the white people that were moving in to his nation’s ancestral home. His toe tapped against some dry bat bones buried in the dust. He gently sifted them to the top of the dust where his torch could bathe them in yellow light. As he knelt to inspect them, his hairs stood up on the back of his neck and his stomach tightened around a knot. His knee hit the surface layer of dust and all was dark. Not an ember or a spark remained of his torch. As his mind leaped to try and comprehend his situation, his left arm strove to bring the torch in front of his face. It was in that fraction of a moment that the numbness of his left arm registered in his consciousness. The understanding of evil began to settle through the racing thoughts in the absolute void of sound that spread thickly through the cave. That void suddenly filled with the sound of his torch hitting a far wall followed by the wet thud of a piece of flesh striking stone. Burning spread from his left fingertips to his shoulder, his strong legs reversed the downward momentum of kneeling to launch him upright. The smell of blood and dust and smoke filled his nostrils as he breathed in, his heart pounded one strong thud against its cage. The sharp stings in his neck told him he would join his ancestors in a very short time, and he hoped his people would be victorious in honorable battle for their lands. Raucharde pulled the leather clad body up into the niche of the ceiling. He had not fed in near five decades and the warm salty blood quenched his waking thirst. It had been a long rest, disturbed by this young Creek warrior. He would have let him go, but this cave held the last few treasures he had carried with him when he left his beloved France. Better to feed now and rest another five decades than to wake again soon filled with the thirst. Raucharde squeezed and sucked the last trickle of blood from the body and stuffed it into a small chamber of stone beside the niche. Taking another stone, he pushed it into the ceiling around the chamber. Stone flowed into stone like soft clay being kneaded together to form one piece. The crunched bones and dry flesh would never be found. CHAPTER 1 Dannie sat looking at the old gray boards and posts that covered the hole in the bluff. She wondered if it was an old copper mine. This area was known for copper mines, after all. Or maybe it was an Indian cave. They say the Cherokee used to live in these mountains! She lay back on the warm flat rock and let the cool March breeze caress her brown hair. This was her place. A quiet retreat on the mountain side that allowed her to look over the valley stream yet screened her from the prying eyes of family and neighbors. You could look up from the pasture below and see nothing but trees. The narrow bench that ran along the side of the mountain was invisible from below and was hard to spot from above, as well. Dannie turned her attention back to the cave. She wondered if the old stories about it being haunted were true. The town kids said that an old farmer boarded it up back in the early nineteen hundreds. They say he saw the ghost of an Indian that told him it was a place of evil. She smiled and shivered. The breeze and the story gave her goose bumps. It was time to head back to the house. When she got home it would be time to feed the cows and chickens. Dannie knew she would have more time here tomorrow. Today's thirty minutes had gone by quickly, but tomorrow her brother would be back and he would tend to the chores. Dannie found her mind wandering back to her sanctuary on the mountain. The alarmed chickens snapped her back and she killed the feed auger switch. She had overflowed the feed trough a little, but not bad. Dannie turned back to the door to head out to the last of the four chicken houses. As she reached for the door handle, out of the corner of her eye, just briefly, she saw a figure of a man standing in the middle of the chicken house. She turned her head to look straight at the silhouette, but there was nothing there. She stared for a moment as the sea of white chickens flowed in to fill the empty circle that had held that shadowy figure. The goose bumps on her arms slowly flattened back out. She turned her head back to face the door where her right hand hovered over the handle. ''Silly woman'' she mumbled to the nearest chickens. Dannie stepped through the door into the unseasonably warm March sunshine. She shook off the encounter and continued with the daily chores. When she was done she headed home. Wayne and Dannie had inherited the farm from their father. He had passed two and a half years before, September third of two- thousand-one, from skin cancer. Dannie had been twenty six then and Wayne had been twenty three. Randal, their father, died at a relatively young fifty four years old. Their mother had left when they were young. Dannie was ten when Randal and Annie got divorced, and while their mother, Annie had remarried two years later, Randal dated once in a while but never remarried. So the two grown children inherited the farm and another property that Randal had on the lake. The farm consisted of six-hundred-forty acres with two cattle barns, four chicken houses, three houses, two storage barns and a large tractor/machine shop. The two had discussed splitting the property, but since they both wanted to work it they decided to just keep it in joint ownership. Dannie had never married and had never even seriously considered it. She hadn't had a boyfriend since the seventh grade. Even now at twenty eight she wasn't much interested in relationships or men. Maybe when she got older she would be. Wayne was a different story! At twenty five he was married to his second wife and had his third child on the way! His first wife he had married at eighteen and a year after had his first son, Marc. Fourteen months after Marc was born they had Shane. At twenty three, he and Marie had divorced and Marie left the boys with Wayne on the farm. Six months after their divorce, Wayne and Dannie's father died. Just a month back, Wayne had married Sandra and then told Dannie that Sandra was four months pregnant! With Marc being six and Shane five they were going to have a newborn, hopefully a girl in five months. Wayne, Sandra and the boys lived in the big family house in the center of the farm. The house had been built in eighteen-ninety- nine and was still in the original layout with the exception of two added bathrooms. The two story, two-thousand-six-hundred square foot home was large and open in design. Dannie had many memories of growing up there. She lived in the more modern house on the ridge overlooking the farm valley. While not quite on top of the ridge, it was just a short walk to the crest that overlooked the pasture valley opposite the farm valley. The cave was situated west of her house by one quarter of a mile, and two thirds of the way down the mountainside. The much smaller house that Dannie lived in was a modest two bedroom one story that had been built in nineteen-ninety for her Uncle Stewart. Stewart had lived there for just five years before he moved to California. He had come back for Randal's funeral and then left without ever saying a word to either Wayne or Dannie. Not that it bothered either of them, as Stewart had always been that way. He and Randal spoke very little and had none of the closeness that Dannie and Wayne shared. Once Stewart had moved away, Dannie's father Randal had let Dannie move into the house. Shortly after that he deeded it over to her. Though it was modest, Dannie loved her house. She had put a lot of work into it and still put a bit of work in maintaining it. It's small garage held her pickup and her tools, the second bedroom was her office and library. While it wasn't ''girly'' it was comfortable and it was home. Dannie pulled off her boots on the front deck and padded into her home in her stocking feet. After a quick shower she threw a steak in the oven and some vegetables on the stove. While dinner cooked she looked out the kitchen window into the woods. Her eyes pointed to the trees, but her mind wandered into the night and explored the darkness of the mountain. When the food was ready she poured a glass of tea and took her plate to the living room where she sat in front of the fire in her cozy recliner. She ate in silence watching the flames dance over the remains of once proud trees. It was almost too warm to have the fire going, but the temperature could drop quickly after dark. Dannie finished her steak and vegetables and sipped her tea. She set the plate on the end table and waited. The fire crackled and popped in the brick confines that housed it, low but still full of heat. That warmth bathed Dannie's face and hands, filling her eyelids with the weight of restfulness. Her head sank back in the warm cushion of the chair and her curled legs under her began to tingle. She forced her eyes open. Wayne would be here soon. The clock hands were creeping up on eight o'clock. Stretching her legs out from underneath her and her arms over her head, she slid herself out of the chair and into a standing position. She yawned as she whisked up her plate and glass and sauntered to the kitchen. As she set the plate into the sink and started the dishwater, she saw Wayne's headlights shine into the living room. As he pulled up in front, she heard the motor shut off. She washed the plate, fork, knife and serving spoons quickly. Just as she dipped the vegetable pot into the soapy water, Wayne walked in. ''Hey, sis. No leftovers?'' Wayne quipped through his wry grin. ''Not for you! How was the auction?'' Dannie hoped it had gone better than the February one had. She deftly dipped her tea glass into the not-so-soapy water and washed it out. As she set it in the drying rack with the other dishes, she turned to face her brother. '' Pretty good! Sold everything we took over there AND got fifteen good heifers! Couldn't have wanted better!'' Wayne seemed truly pleased as he strode across the living room to the kitchen area. He took a stool at the small island and propped his boots on the rungs. ''Everything go OK here?'' he finished. ''Just fine.'' Dannie didn't even think of her encounter in the third chicken house. Wayne pulled all the receipts for the sales and for the new cattle out of his pocket and set them on the counter. ''Want something to drink?'' Dannie offered as she scooped up the receipt. ''Sure!'' Wayne responded. ''You know where the glasses are.'' Dannie spun on the ball of her foot and headed for the office. ''Gee, thanks sis.'' Wayne's sour face was lost on Dannie's back. ''So nice of you to offer.'' he got up and snatched the glass Dannie had just washed out of the drain rack. As he turned to open the fridge, Dannie's voice called out from the end of the hall. ''My pleasure! Make sure you wash it when you're done.'' ''Of course. Wouldn't want you to burn my pickup or nothing'.'' Wayne poured a glass of tea from the near empty pitcher, leaving less than a mouthful in it. He put the pitcher back in the fridge and swigged down the sweet, brown tea. ''You might wanna put a pot of water on the stove and start it to boiling.'' Dannie's stocking feet made just the barest of whispers as she sock-skated into the kitchen, ''or I might start something afire.'' ''There's still some in there!'' Wayne popped as he set the glass into the dishwater. ''Gotta run, Sandra and the boys are waiting on me to eat dinner. I'll see you tomorrow.'' he made a line for the door, smiling as he exited. Dannie grinned at his beck as he went out and peeked at the pitcher in the fridge. ''You shit, Wayne.'' She muttered and closed the fridge. Rather than make more tea, she went back to her chair. Before she curled up in it, she threw three more logs in the fire. She snuggled in and listened to the new voices from the fresh logs add to the song of the fire. Soon her eyelids began to slip down, filled with the warmth of the fire and the meal in her belly. Her body relaxed into the grip of the recliner and her head sank into it's cushioned headrest. Before the last tensions were chased from her arm by the fire-heat, she pulled the recliners wooden handle. As it lay back, she uncurled her legs and stretched into a restful position. Dannie woke and stretched. She cracked her eyelids to peek at the fire. Nothing but embers. She slowly rose and went to the wood bin. After reloading the fireplace, she headed for her room. Morning found Dannie sitting at the kitchen table savoring her first cup of coffee and waiting for the lazy little winter birds to rouse from their slumber. Those first pinkish purple rays of sun streaked the clouds with pastel color. Dannie padded to the coffee pot to pour her second cup. The little birds were starting their cacophony of warm ups in preparation for a day of singing. Dannie sat back down to watch and listen for just a few more minutes. She heard Wayne start the tractor on the farm side of the mountain. He had already finished the morning feedings and was moving hay from the barn to the hay feeder. Dannie turned on the little television and watched the weather. Winter was coming back to the Ozarks today. The weatherman told of a cold front moving through by noon and temperatures returning to wintry normal. By dark it would be in the low twenty's and by midnight the low teens. Ah well, she had had two weeks of days in the sixties. All good things. She finished the coffee and rinsed out her mug, clicked off the little television and headed to the front door. Before opening it, she remembered to grab her jacket. Quietly she slipped out of her silent home and into the morning orchestra of bird songs, cows mooing and squirrels chattering. The gentle breeze of yesterday was already picking up and smelled of the chill air it brought. She pulled her keys from her front jeans pocket and headed for her truck. Dannie muttered bad words about fords as she torqued the oil pan bolts back down on the ancient grain truck. This time it had been the oil pump. As she finished she scanned up the engine and down the transmission for any upcoming problems. ''Crap'' she muttered. The rear u-joint looked like it was about to fall apart. She spun the creeper around and skated her way down the drive train to closely inspect it. It would have to be replaced before the truck was driven again. She slid out from under the old thing and stood up from the creeper. Stretching, she looked at the parts shelves to see if they had one. A John Deere u-joint, but that wouldn't fit the old Ford. It appeared that a trip to town would be the chore for this morning. Nine o'clock and already turning bad. Dannie hated trips to town. She washed her hands and took of the coveralls, trading them for her jacket on the coat pegs. Walking to the main house, she looked around to see if Wayne was close by. No luck. She hopped up the steps onto the porch, passed the porch swing and nearly tripped over Marc's' big wheel as she turned the corner to the door. Stepping over it, she knocked. Sandra came to the door holding her mop. ''Dannie! Heading to town?'' Sandra always seemed happy to see Dannie. ''Yep. Gotta get a part. If Wayne comes back before I do, tell him not to take the truck, it's not ready.'' ''Sure. Is it bad?'' Sandra's question was as sincere as it gets. ''Not if he doesn't drive it. I'll have it done thirty minutes after I get back.'' Dannie turned and stepped back over the big wheel. As she crossed the porch, she heard the door close. She wondered if Sandra was really as simple as she came off. She hopped in her truck and headed down the half mile driveway to the main road. Town was forty minutes away. She turned up the music and drove. Town wasn't big, not like going to Springfield, but it was too big for Dannie. Four hundred people should not live in an area smaller than forty acres. It was just too crowded. As she turned into the parts store Dannie noticed a new building under construction further down the road. It was something big. She parked and went in the little store. Inside she went straight to the counter. ''Haven't seen you in a minute!'' Vic's smiling face did nothing to make Dannie's mood any better. ''Sixty seven Ford seven ton dump, three speed, need a u- joint.'' Dannie's bluntness was lost on Vic. ''OK, beautiful!'' He typed the information into the computer. ''We got five.'' ''I'll take them.'' She dug into her pocket for the cash. “All of them?” Vic tried to make eye contact “What if someone else needs one?” “Then you better get to ordering.” Dannie’s tone stayed flat as she looked up into his eyes rather than at the cash in her hand, her expression one of pure business. “OK. I’ll be right back.” Vic left the counter and entered the stock room. Every time, the same thing. Vic tried to get her attention, and Dannie refused to give it. She waited as Vic retrieved her parts. Just a few minutes and Vic came back with the five small boxes. Dannie's curiosity about the new building was eating at her. ''What's the new building, Vic?'' ''Apartments'' Vic's tone was enthusiastic. ''That'll be forty seven seventy eight.'' He smiled at Dannie. She handed him the money and picked up the stack of five boxes. Vic got her change and receipt and tucked them into the top box. ''See you on the next trip, Dannie!'' his smile stretched across his narrow face. ''Yep, see ya Vic.'' Dannie's face had no smile as she headed back to her truck. ''Apartments'' she mumbled as she set the boxes on the seat. ''Just what we need, more people.'' She started the truck and headed for home. She had already been in town too long today. Chapter 2 Dannie sat down on the flat rock, facing away from the barricaded cave entrance. She serenely gazed over the small valley. The thin fog gave the fields a grayish color, obscuring the lush green of the grass. The early morning sun was muted by thin clouds. She poured a lid of coffee from the thermos and recapped the vessel. As she set it down on the dry leaves at the base of the rock, she felt a chill over her neck. Goose bumps rose on her arm and chills chased down her spine. Dannie smiled. That feeling stirred in her something thrilling and she loved it. She slowly turned her head toward the cave, the smile still tugging her lips as her eyes peered at the old wood straining to see beyond it. For just a heartbeat she thought she saw something move. A glimpse of darker darkness between the old slats. Her thrill heightened. She slowly drew her feet off the leaves and coiled them beneath her body, raising herself with her arms and turning to square her shoulders with the cave mouth. The movement happened again. The darker darkness moved to her left and drew away from the dry, gray wood. She rose slowly and stalked to the edge of the boards, trying to see deeper past the gap. Her ears strained to hear into the cave. As her hand lightly touched the wood she knew... There was something in there. Dannie stood frozen at that closed cave for what felt like eternity. She finally remembered to breath. Nothing moved in there for the span of fifteen slow deep breathes. The excitement began to fade. She took a slow step back, letting her left hand part from the boards and drop slowly to her side. She knew it was more than imagination. She felt something there. She backed away another slow step. Perhaps the ghost or maybe something even more fantastic! She took one more, slow step backwards. The stories might be true, or maybe just the tip of an even greater legend. Dannie turned on her heal to face her coffee. The thermos lid sat on the edge of the stone where she had left it. She took the last step to it and squatted down. As she took her first sip, she heard the birds, crickets and frogs suddenly burst into song all around her. It was at that moment she realized that the forest on the mountainside had been completely silent during the fifteen minutes or so that she had been locked in focus with the shadow on the other side of the barricade. She decided that she was going in there. After she finished her coffee she would go back to her house and get her tire iron out of the truck. She could use it as a pry bar rather than go all the way to the farm to get a real pry bar. She had a heavy duty spot light in her closet. She would get that as well. Dannie had to know what was in that cave, today. She slugged down the rest of the coffee and reached down for the thermos. It was gone. Dannie looked down at the dry leaves. There was no thermos. She looked all around at the forest floor. Nothing. The thermos was missing. She turned her head back toward the closed cave. Surely not. There were no gaps big enough for a finger, much less a full sized steel thermos. She tried to dismiss the idea, but it just wouldn't go away. Her thermos was inside that cave! She was sure of it! She set the lid back down on the rock. Turning slowly away from the cave she stepped down and began walking for home. As Dannie came down the path to her back porch, another eerie feeling overcame her. Her skin tingled and her excitement rose. There on the porch next to the back door sat her capped thermos, cup that she had left on the rock just a few minutes before included! She froze in her tracks when she saw it. Her eyes panned from the door across the back of the house to the garage, then back the other way to the forest, twenty feet from the left corner of the house. No sign of anyone or anything that may have moved the thermos. No tracks in the dewy grass other than her own from leaving earlier. No wet prints on the porch. The goose bumps began to rise again. She remained still. Alert to even the slightest movements around her. All seemed normal. Birds, squirrels, bugs and rodents all carried on their normal, noisy morning activities. Dannie began walking toward the porch again. Still cautious she walked up the stairs and across the deck to stand in front of the back door. Looking down at the thermos she tried to reason in her mind that this happened in a normal fashion. She could not come up with anything that seemed even remotely reasonable. Dannie squatted and lifted the thermos to her eye level. She inspected it carefully for any sign that an animal had moved it. There were none. No teeth marks or saliva, no animal prints on the porch. She decided that the ghost was real and had brought her thermos home. She hoped as she looked at the doorknob that he had not taken up residence in her little home. She stood and reached for the doorknob, thermos gripped in her left hand. She trembled slightly just before gripping the knob. She turned it and pushed open the door. Standing for a moment, almost not breathing, she listened for any sounds in her house. Silence to her ears, but the morning sounds of the wildlife could easily drown or mask anything from within. She stepped in and closed the door. Taking a deep breath, she listened again. No sounds out of the ordinary. She moved through the house slowly, checking each room as she came to it. Nothing, no shadows and nothing was out of place. Dannie gathered her spotlight and pry bar. At the last moment she decided on a cap and visor light as well. Carrying the bar and light and wearing the cap fitted with the visor light she headed back for the cave.