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Questman Tales Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characaters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
FROM WITHIN THE PEACOCK’S EYES
A Quest Book
Copyright 2018 by Madeleyn Questman
All Rights Reserved
Published by Questman Tales Publishing, LLC
Battle Ground, WA
First U.S. Edition: May 2018
Printed in the USA
Table of Contents:
The Incident at Crystal Lake
I Have an Old Woman's Body
October 31, 1959
“Nasty fucking peacock!” screamed the surly teenager, his wiry frame trembling with anger. The menacing bird had him cornered and was closing in. Ramon tried to stare the bird down, “I’m going to pluck out all your feathers!” he shouted. Responding to the threat the peacock fanned its tail, masterfully displaying the dozens of sinister eyes adorning its plumes. Ramon made a break for it, darting past the watchful bird – but the bird would have done of it. For a moment Ramon thought he had escaped, but the peacock launched itself, feet first, at the unsuspecting boy, knocking him to the ground. Winded, Ramon flailed his arms, trying to deflect the bird’s attack as the peacock pecked at his head, pulling out tiny tufts of hair.
In the vegetable garden, nearer to the house, Don Perfecto, Ramon’s grandfather, heard the ruckus. Putting down his hoe, he started down the gravel path toward the barn just in time to see the screeching thirteen-year-old running toward him with the peacock in full pursuit.
“Help! Help! The fucking monster is trying to kill me!” Ramon yelped, as he reached the old man, gasping for breath. He hid himself behind Don Perfecto.
“Calm down!” scolded the stooped octogenarian. “He just doesn’t know you. You might be a thief, a murderer, or just some young cock trying to steal his women.”
“Women? What women?” the panting youth asked.
“The peahens that make up his harem. The big brown birds that look like fat chickens,” Don Perfecto answered.
This was Ramon’s first day on the farm; in fact, his father Edgar had just dropped him off an hour earlier and he was still in shock that this strange place would be his home for the whole summer. From his hiding place behind his grandfather, he surveyed his situation. The farm was old. The house looked even older, like something from a horror movie. He imagined men in leather masks wielding chainsaws. Now he was being pursued by a killer bird that had bloodied his head. He wanted to cry but mustered all his energy to hold it back.
“Ramon, Juan Pablo – that’s his name but you can call him JP – is a very old bird. He’s over fifty. He has guarded this farm his entire life, so we owe him our gratitude and respect. So please, no more cussing and yelling at him. He’s really rather gentle and when he gets to know you he will also protect you.”
The pair sat on a bench adjacent to the flower garden and a small pond with a water feature that simulated a babbling brook. Ramon recoiled as JP strutted over to him and stood glaring at him eye to eye. Don Perfecto took a small canvas bag from his pocket and handed it to Ramon. “Here, offer him some of these.” Opening the bag, Ramon found seeds and dried fruit. “Put some in your palm and slowly extend your hand toward him.”
Doing as he was told, the youth made the offering, albeit with slightly trembling hand. Surprise and relief overcame him when the bird gently took the treats. The floodgates opened and Ramon began to cry.
Seeing this, JP retreated a few steps, once again displaying his tail feathers and letting out a resounding call. Suddenly he withdrew to the barn to find the peahens, leaving behind a single molted feather.
“Pick up the feather and come with me,” the old man beckoned to Ramon as he headed toward a large shed at the far end of the house.
The shed looked more like a small abandoned barn. Stripped of paint, missing clapboards, slightly leaning, it was possibly the oldest structure on the farm. Stepping inside Ramon was awestruck and a bit frightened.
“This is my place of business,” Don Perfecto announced and before Ramon could ask he added, “I am a curandero.”
“What the hell is that?” Ramon asked, then quickly mumbled, “sorry.”
“A curandero is also known as a witch doctor, or an apothecary, or perhaps a more acceptable title is a practitioner of natural medicine,” Don Perfecto explained.
Every square inch of the space was chock full of wondrous and scary wares. Bunches of dried herbs hung from strands of cotton twine, just above Don Perfecto’s head. Along one wall, rows of narrow shelves were filled with apothecary jars of all sizes, each containing dried flowers and petals, or small colored stones, or other, less definable contents.
Brightly colored candles, more than Ramon had ever seen in one place, were tucked into various spaces; most were new, but some had been lit before, and now stood in small hardened puddles of their own wax. On a long, low wooden table were glass jars of oils, some infused with herbs and flowers, others clear, and some with insects. Next to the oils stood stacks of small cards bearing images of saints; the back sides of the cards were imprinted with prayers.
Don Perfecto guided Ramon to the wide workbench, where earlier he had been peeling roots for an elixir, directing him to sit down in one of the old, creaky drafting chairs. From his perch, Ramon watched his grandfather collect several jars from the shelves. He spread out a small square of cotton muslin and cut a neat circle from it, then placed a pinch of herbs from each of the jars into the center. Adding a small blue stone and a thin strip of dried orange peel, he gathered the edges of the cloth into a tiny beggar’s purse, the top of which he bound with white cotton thread.
Ramon studied his grandfather’s gnarled hands as he worked silently, using a tiny needle to stitch three small peacock feathers onto the side of the bag. He added a long loop of twine and hung the amulet around Ramon’s neck.
Ramon brought the little bag close to his eyes, then sniffed it delicately. “It smells like my mom’s sweater drawer,” he told Don Perfecto.
“Yes. It is a charm to protect you from many of the evils in the world. You should wear it always.”
“How is a spoonful of old dried leaves supposed to protect me from anything?”
Don Perfecto smiled. “It’s not just old dried leaves. The essences of the herbs combine to make powerful energies.”
“The energies are like spirits – they go out into the Universe and become part of everything.”
Ramon considered his grandfather’s words carefully. Don Perfecto turned back to his workbench, putting away the root shears and folding the extra pieces of muslin. “JP will see this and he will know he must protect you as well.”
“Speaking of JP,” Ramon began, “what am I supposed to do with this?” He held out the long peacock feather.
“You should keep it. It is his gift to you, and it has strong magical powers.” Don Perfecto used a soft brush to gather the tiny bits of herbs that had drifted onto the table, brushing them into a small wooden bowl. “The peacock’s eyes collect stories from the people JP meets– some of them sweet, some strange and puzzling, and some of them frightening. If you find a feather and put it under your pillow at night, you will dream of the story hidden in the eye.”
“Even in this one?”
“Yes. Since JP gave it directly to you, it will be the best dream you could ever have. But you will only dream it once, so do not waste it.” Don Perfecto carried the bowl outside, tossing the tiny drift of herbs onto a small bed of flowers.
Ramon followed him out, his fingers lightly clutching the bag. “I don’t know if I should believe you or not,” he muttered.
“It is your choice to believe me – or not – but you must remember one thing: never steal a feather from the peacock. Never pull one off of him, because the magic will turn on you.” The old man whistled low, and the peacock strolled casually toward him, stopping to nuzzle its head against Don Perfecto’s knees. JP turned to stare at Ramon, peering at him as if recognizing an old friend, then ambled off to a shady spot next to the shed, tucked his feathers in and settled comfortably.