Of Stars and Clay | Chapter 3

Earth Sentinels II coverSpider Webs

In Alberta, Canada, the sunset glowed through the virgin forest surrounding the Bear Claw First Nation Reservation. An hour earlier, the tribe members had grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, but now lounged around the bonfire talking and laughing while the children entertained themselves by burning sticks. Some of the men stood outside the circle drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

John, a spirited young man with long hair that hung free, carried an armload of logs to the fire. He shooed away the kids before placing the wood on top of the burning embers. Sparks shot into the air. He grabbed a stick, using it to prod the logs until the flames grew bolder, dazzling the children who drew closer once more.

One of the boys stepped away from the blaze, going over to Tom Running Deer, a headstrong man in his mid-thirties who sat beside his equally headstrong wife, Cecile Two Feathers. The couple both had black hair woven into braids. The boy tugged on Tom’s t-shirt, which had the words “The Original Founding Fathers” printed above an illustration of four Native American chiefs.

The man set down his beer. “Yes?”

“Uncle, tell us a story,” Hoki requested, his big brown eyes hopeful.

Tom shook his head. “No, not me. Grandmother Hausis is the storyteller.”

Overhearing her name, the old woman, who wore a flower-print cotton dress, knee-high support socks and orthopedic shoes, stopped chatting with the woman next to her. She turned her gray-haired head, calling out in a crackling voice, “What? Did I hear my name?”

Tom explained, talking louder than normal, “Grandmother! Hoki wants a story! Would you do it!?”

When the other children heard the request, they aptly followed the conversation. They loved to listen to the stories.

“What does he want to hear?” Grandmother Hausis asked.

Hoki pointed at the sky. “Tell me about those.”

Everyone gazed up at the hazy opalescent plane trails that marred the burnt-orange sky.

“Those things?” The old woman shook her head. She knew the tribe had no ancient stories of this modern-day phenomenon. “Nay, why don’t you do it, Tommy?”

Hoki and the other kids refocused their eager energy on Tom.

Cecile patted her husband on the back, and said with a smile, “Yeah, let’s hear it, big guy.”

He cleared his throat while racking his brain. “Ah…give me a minute.”

The children settled in the dirt in front of him.

Tom tried to remain optimistic for the young ones, but, deep inside, he was somber. He had done his best to ignore the plane trails all day long because he knew the Earth Sentinels’ agreement with the world’s governments had been violated, and it was too bitter of a pill to swallow after five years of good medicine.

The fire sizzled and snapped.

Everyone grew quiet, waiting for the story to begin.

Tom cleared his throat. “There are prophecies from another tribe that speak of the end of days. One says, ‘near the Time of Purification, there will be spider webs spun in the sky.’”

The children’s eyes grew big.

A girl pointed at the misty plane trails, asking with a slight lisp because her front baby teeth were missing, “But…how’d they get there?”

Tom was at a loss for words. He didn’t want to ruin the mood of the gathering by explaining that, in the past, the government had sprayed chemicals into the atmosphere for unverified reasons. Geo-engineering, such as cloud seeding, was one possibility. He also had read that the sprays might contain particles that were used to reflect the sun to counteract global warming. However, because of the secrecy, he suspected something more sinister was afoot.

Not wanting to disappoint them, Tom improvised, “Once upon a time, there was a giant spider that spun webs to keep the stars from floating away.”

His opening line captivated the children. Some of the adults chuckled. They knew he was crafting the tale from scratch.

“Whenever a strand was weak, the spider would climb up to fix it, keeping every star in place. And, because of her efforts, everything was good and balanced. But one night, the spider slept too long, and one of the strings broke, letting a star hurl through space.” Tom pretended to fling a star.

The children envisioned it flying away, lost in the cosmos.

“The hole needed to be filled so the Giant Spider went after it, hoping to catch the star and bring it back.” Tom moved his fingers like a spider scurrying through space. “But while she was gone, another spider snuck through the hole.

“Now this new spider was not like the other one. It thought only of itself, and weaved a web across the hole to keep the Giant Spider from returning. And that—” Tom pointed at the plane trails in the sky, “is what that is. The Sneaky Spider’s web.”

A boy asked, “How will the Giant Spider get back?”

“When she returns with the missing star, its heat will burn up the Sneaky Spider and its sticky web. And after the star is in place, the world will become balanced once more.”

“Is the Giant Spider coming back soon?” Hoki asked.

“I hope so.”


A steady downpour hit the roof of the shack where Tom and Cecile slept. The clock on the nightstand read 8:05 a.m. The dreamcatcher hanging on the wall above the bed served as the headboard.

The sound of the rain prodded Cecile awake. She immediately noticed the aches in her body, then her throbbing head, and wondered how a sickness could come on so quickly. She looked over at her husband. His face was flushed. Concerned, she touched his forehead with the back of her hand. Feverish.

Tom opened his bloodshot eyes.

Cecile gasped. “Tom! Your eyes—” She didn’t finish her sentence. A sudden urge to vomit overcame her.

She tossed the covers off herself, rushing out of the bedroom, through the living room, and past the frayed green chair sitting under the rain-spattered window. By the time she made it to the bathroom’s threshold, she was lightheaded and forced to hold onto the doorframe to steady herself. What is wrong with me?

She reached for the sink counter, making her way to the toilet. She sunk to her knees, placing her head over the bowl, throwing up.

Tom unsteadily entered the bathroom to check on her. “You okay?”

She shook her head.

“Me, neither. Damn, I feel—” He unexpectedly gagged, then motioned for her to move out of the way.

Cecile sat back as Tom kneeled over the bowl, every muscle in his body contracting as he retched. Dizzy, he fell to the vinyl floor, lying face down and moaning.

“Tom!” she cried out, pulling on his shoulder, attempting to turn him over, but his moans echoed through her mind.

The room began spinning.

Cecile became disoriented.

Everything went black.


The makeshift infirmary in the tribe’s community center was divided in half by a waist-high barrier created out of blankets and sheets draped over chairs spaced evenly apart. The temporary wall offered a slice of privacy for the sick people lying on the floor. Men were on one side and women on the other. Most of them slept. A few moaned because of their aches and pain. All had blotches that resembled bruises covering their bodies.

A teenage boy entered from the outside through the entrance doors that had been propped open to let in the sunlight. The overhead fluorescent lights were off because the power was out. The teenager looked much healthier than his counterparts as he carried in a bucket of water that sloshed over the sides.

Adeelah, a junior at the reservation’s school, walked around the room to see who needed her assistance. She held a pitcher of water in one hand and a few empty mugs in the other. The blotches on her skin were almost indiscernible.

Cecile’s eyes, laced with broken blood vessels, flickered open for the first time since she fell ill. She lay on the floor with no idea how she had gotten here. 

Adeelah noticed that Cecile was awake and made her way over to her, sidestepping the other women. This normally timid girl seemed to embrace her role as a caregiver. She set the pitcher down, kneeling beside Cecile to check her temperature by feeling her forehead, saying, “You’re better, but you should drink something.” Adeelah poured water into an empty mug, then held it against the woman’s dry lips while telling her, “Just so you know, Tom’s here and he’s doing fine. He’s on the other side.”

Pulling her mouth away from the cup, Cecile asked, “Can I see him?” She tried to get up, but became woozy and had to stop.

Adeelah helped her to lie back down. “You should rest. Okay? Don’t worry, you’ll both be fine.”

Cecile examined Adeelah’s face, trying to detect if the interim nurse was lying, but found it hard to focus. She was simply too tired and weak. Her eyelids drooped.

Adeelah placed the half-empty mug next to the sick woman’s pillow. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she said, then walked away. There were others that needed her help.

Left alone, Cecile groggily noticed the teenagers were the only ones taking care of the others. She wondered, Where’s Grandmother Hausis? The elders? The children? But she didn’t have the strength to ask, and maybe didn’t want to know.

She fell asleep, dreaming she was walking down a red road. The sides were lined with arching trees dotted with pink blossoms. Crows flew overhead. The fiery ball in the sky was touching the horizon.

Each of Cecile’s footsteps became heavier than the last, and just when she thought she couldn’t go any farther, a stag stepped out from behind the trees, standing in the middle of the road. The sunset silhouetted its strong form and magnificent set of antlers.

The totem animal had a message for her. “This will be your most difficult lesson, but you will find the strength, wisdom and courage to do that which must be done.”

The stag became streams of light, swirling around Cecile, joining with her spirit before the woman drifted deeper into her dreams.


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Excerpt from “Dreams of Heaven”

Dreams of Heaven Cover-ebook

Chapter 2

Savannah bolted upright in bed, shaking from a bad dream. It took her a moment to realize she was safe in her own bedroom. Relief flooded over her, but her heart kept pounding. She glanced at her husband, who was sound asleep, before getting up, grabbing her robe from the foot of the bed. 

She left the bedroom, heading down the dark stairwell, reaching the living room decorated with rattan furniture that mimicked the tropics. The overhead palm-leaf fan slowly spun.

Savannah pulled open the sliding glass door. The sea breeze rushed past her, rustling the vertical blinds. She stepped outside, walking across the deck. The ocean roared. She stood by the railing, watching the waves ebb and flow under the moon’s glow. The salty mist settled over her, layer by layer, slowly creating a vaporous cocoon. Savannah didn’t mind the dampness. It made her feel connected—like an old house being overcome by the elements, metamorphosing back to its natural state. In the distance, thunder rumbled. A storm was brewing.

Someone opened the sliding glass door, startling Savannah, who turned to see her husband, Steve, coming towards her.

He reached her side, asking, “What are you doing out here?”

“Just getting some fresh air.”

Steve didn’t believe her. “Something wrong?”

Savannah appreciated his concern, however, thinking about the nightmare sent shivers down her spine. Not wanting to talk about it, she replied, “Oh, nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

She faced the water to avoid his gaze.

Steve kept looking at his wife, hoping she would confide in him. When she didn’t answer, he became concerned, asking, “What is it? Do you feel okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. It was just a bad dream. That’s all.”

“A dream? What was it about?”

“You don’t want to hear about it. Trust me.”

“I can handle it.”

“Fine. I don’t remember the first part, but the dream began with a car accident.” She was surprised at the intensity of her emotions as she recounted the details. Her breathing grew labored. “All of us were in the SUV. There were sirens and ambulances everywhere. The worst part is…” she hesitated to say, “you and the kids were killed.”

Steve’s gut tightened. His wife’s fear was contagious. He fought against it, reminding himself, It was just a dream. His rational mind took control and he calmly responded, “We’re all fine. Like you said, ‘It was just a dream.’”

“I know,” she agreed, but truthfully she was worried the dream was more than that. She feared it was a premonition.

Steve consoled her, “I once read that when you dream about someone dying, it really means your relationship is changing. Maybe you’re afraid of the kids getting older and leaving the nest.”

She replied, “Maybe,” even though the explanation didn’t feel right to her.

Her husband wrapped his arm around her, pulling her closer. Together, they watched the indigo waves pitch to a primordial rhythm.

Savannah wanted to claim this moment, hoping that somehow she could stop the approaching black train that bore an ominous warning. In the distance, she heard it rumbling down the tracks. A long shrill whistle drifted through the air, coming closer and closer until it crossed the divide between realities, whispering in her ear, “I’m coming.”


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“The Organic Farm” book excerpt from “Earth Sentinels: The Storm Creators”


Earth Sentinels Cover-Amazon-240pg.inddChapter 3

The Organic Farm

On a sunny August morning, the Thompson family was busy harvesting their organic crops. Marilyn and her husband, Larry, had retired early from their stressful jobs in New York City and bought this quaint farm in Pennsylvania to get back to nature, pouring half of their life savings into the venture.

Marilyn rested while wiping the sweat from her face with a handkerchief. She stuffed it back in her pocket while looking out over the rolling hills, admiring the fertile farm beds filled with tomatoes, radishes, green beans and squash. All of this organic produce would be sold at a local farmers’ market. Bees buzzed and butterflies floated over the late blooms. She watched her 17-year-old son, Zachary, select ripe tomatoes, setting them in a wagon. He had grown a few inches taller than his father, but he had her sandy-blond hair and fine features.

Car tires scrunched over the crushed limestone driveway, coming to a stop. Dust floated around the tires. An older couple got out of the vehicle, standing side by side looking solemn.

Marilyn, Larry and Zachary waved at their neighbors, Burt and Nancy Wheeler, who returned the greeting, but remained where they stood. Something was wrong.

Larry said to his wife, “This can’t be good…looks like their best milk cow died.”

Marilyn replied, “Shhh…this might be serious. Come on.”

The Thompsons walked out of the field, passing the red barn that housed the milk cow. The chickens scratching in the yard scurried away clucking.

The neighbors met them halfway.

Larry shook the man’s hand. “Good morning.”

Burt said, “Morning. Sorry we didn’t call first, but we’ve got something important to tell you.”

“Okay…”

“This would be better sitting down.”

The Thompson family suddenly felt a sense of dread. Larry responded, “Sure, this way.” He led his neighbors through the back door of the centennial farmhouse. They entered the kitchen, taking their seats at the long plank table. Marilyn asked the neighbors if they would like something to drink, but they shook their heads.

Burt started the conversation, “We’ve been having problems with our cows, one died, and a few had stillborn calves. We heard other farmers had the same thing, so we tested our well and lake. And well…” Bert found it difficult to say the words, “The results showed toxic chemicals and methane gas.” The dairy farmer became visibly upset, his voice wavering as he said, “We’ve lived here for four generations and never had a problem with our water before they started fracking.”

“How can that be?” Marilyn asked, “They aren’t even drilling close to us!” 

“Yeah…well,” answered Burt, “we did some research and found out that Pennsylvania allows horizontal drilling, so a rig can be a mile or more away, but drill right under your house without your permission, if you don’t own the mineral rights.” He rubbed his forehead, noticeably stressed. “We own ours, and told them, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ We didn’t want their money. The farm’s enough for us. But obviously someone near us either took the money or didn’t own the rights.”

“But where’d the chemicals come from?” Larry asked.

“The fracking water. They pump millions of gallons of water, laced with chemicals, so they can extract more gas out of the shoal. Then they have the nerve to tell us it’s all suctioned up, but common sense tells ’ya it can’t be, not all of it. And if they hit an underground stream or aquifer, the contaminated water can flow for miles.”

His wife confided, “We plan on moving our cows to my cousin’s place in Dauphin County. We can’t in good conscience sell the milk. But what’ll we do? Farming’s all we know.” She bit her bottom lip, trying not to cry.

Burt changed the subject, delicately asking the Thompsons, “Have you tested your water? I only ask because our land butts up to yours.”

The awareness that the organic farm might be ruined settled over Marilyn like a dark fog. How can we claim the produce is organic if there are chemicals in the water? How can we sell it at all? She contemplated these troubling questions before quietly saying, “We didn’t give in. We refused to let them test our land and still…” she trailed off. Zachary put his arm around his mother to comfort her.

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The Magic Seeds” book excerpt from “Earth Sentinels: The Storm Creators”

Earth Sentinels Cover-Amazon-240pg.inddChapter 2

The Magic Seeds

Mahakanta Suresh stood at the edge of his field staring at the withered cotton crop. His farm had been handed down through many generations, providing not only a living, but a good way of life in India’s Cotton Belt. He leaned heavily on his hoe, reminiscing of a time long ago when his father had danced with his mother after a bountiful harvest. The entire village had prospered that year, celebrating late into the night with food, spirits and music. His father had stepped away from the festivities and sauntered over to him, holding out a velvety fig he had picked fresh from a banyan branch. Mahakanta plucked the sweet, earthy tasting treat from his father’s weathered hand, watching him laugh heartily, drunk from the free-flowing wine.

Mahakanta savored his childhood memory before it faded, leaving him to face the devastation in front of him. He could have survived the misfortune of one bad season, but alas, last year’s crop had also failed. Now there was no money left to buy new seeds. He would lose his farm and house to the moneylenders who had extended him credit.

He could no longer face his wife and three children, who silently ate their dinner each night while hopelessness filled the air. His family once had a future, but without property, they would be burdened with a husband and father who couldn’t support or provide for them. They would become the lowest of the low.

A sacred cow wandered past him. The bells on its collar clinked as it headed toward his neighbor’s field, which was filled with thriving cotton grown from traditional seeds. Mahakanta remembered the purveyor arriving at his doorstep two years earlier, catching him as he returned home after a hard day’s work. The salesman opened his satchel, showing Mahakanta charts and photos of other customers’ cotton fields that yielded 10 times the average using his new magic seeds. In addition, he touted that the magic seeds resisted pests, eliminating the need to purchase expensive pesticides. The purveyor promised the magic seeds would make Mahakanta a very wealthy man, but what the salesman did not tell him was that these seeds were not drought tolerant like the traditional ones that had been used for generations in India. And the man did not share the fact that the seeds were genetically structured to self-destruct, ensuring that Mahakanta would have to buy new seeds the following year.

So with hope for a better future, Mahakanta naively bought and planted the magic seeds, watching the green shoots emerge in the spring. However, it was not long before the plants withered in the scorching sun and succumbed to the hungry bollworms.

How Mahakanta wished he had switched back to the traditional seeds after the first failed crop, but the purveyor assured him that the dismal harvest was caused by the drought, not the magic seeds, and the next bountiful crop would more than make up for his losses. Mahakanta’s misplaced trust had been a deadly mistake. His only comfort was that he wasn’t the only one who had fallen under the spell of the magic seeds. Dozens of other farmers in his village had done the same thing.

Knowing he could not survive this second disaster, Mahakanta unscrewed the cap on a pesticide bottle, took one last look at the land of his ancestors, then gulped the toxic fluid. The acid scorched his throat as he swallowed, and the noxious fumes made him gag and cough violently. He thought it was a fitting punishment for his failure, expecting to be dead before his family came back from working in the fields.

Instead, his son found him writhing on the ground in agonizing pain. His wife ran over screaming for help. A neighbor who had found Mahakanta not long after he drank the pesticide explained what had happened. There was nothing anyone could do—the poison always took its victim.

The wife held Mahakanta’s head in her lap and wailed, tears streaking down her cheeks, “I told you the money wasn’t important! Why didn’t you listen!?”

Mahakanta did not respond. The pain made him oblivious to his surroundings. He convulsed violently, spewing red-speckled vomit all over the front of his shirt.

His wife continued to sob, rocking back and forth in utter grief.

Mahakanta was overcome with pain. Everything went dark. He felt his body become weightless. A blue mist appeared, forming into shapes that turned into human forms. He recognized a neighbor who had committed suicide a few weeks earlier. Countless numbers of spirits came forward, one after another, each a victim of crop failure caused by the magic seeds. Before Mahakanta could ask why they came, they escorted him away.

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“Bear Claw Lake” book excerpt from “The Earth Sentinels: The Storm Creators”

Earth Sentinels Cover-Amazon-240pg.indd

Chapter 1

Bear Claw Lake

In a remote area of Canada, a white, double cab pickup truck sped down Highway 55 heading toward Bear Claw Lake, one of the deepest and largest bodies of water in the Alberta province, as well as the major tributary for the Saskatchewan and Beaver rivers. Traces of the Old North Trail ran beside its deep waters and through the surrounding dense forest, used for centuries by the Blackfoot Nation for migration and trading all the way from the permafrost Yukon Territory to sunny New Mexico. Inside the truck was a team of independent specialists commissioned by the Falicon Gas and Oil Company to investigate an ongoing oil spill.

The disaster had been caused by Falicon’s use of the in-situ extraction method that pressurized the oil bed with extremely hot steam and chemicals, cracking the reservoir, causing the oil to escape through spider web ruptures in the earth.

The white pickup turned off the two-lane highway onto a dirt road, dust billowing as it sped toward the disaster. The driver wore a pistol strapped to his side and rested his arm on the console. A scientist sat in the front passenger’s seat reviewing paperwork. He sighed, setting the papers down. The three engineers in the backseat rode quietly looking out the windows.

A glimpse of an old pickup in the rearview mirror caught the driver’s attention. It was a 1973 two-tone Ford with a rusty chrome grill and bumper. Inside were two men from the nearby Bear Claw First Nation reservation. Tom Running Deer sat in the passenger seat holding a Winchester 30-30 rifle between his knees with the barrel protruding a few inches above the dashboard. His black t-shirt was taut over his muscular frame. A few gray hairs highlighted his long black hair that was held back in a ponytail. Beside him was his great-uncle, Chief Keme, who gripped the wheel with his strong hands. A sterling silver ring, accented with turquoise, decorated his right ring finger. He wore a clean, white shirt with a frayed collar. Both men fiercely glared at the intruders in front of them.

The company driver checked the rearview mirror again, saying, “Don’t look, but we’re being tailed by Indians.” The engineers and scientist spun around, peering out the back window. “Jesus! I told you not to look!” The men quickly faced forward again. “Now keep your cool. They’re probably just headed back to the rez, having a little fun with us.” The driver’s comments provided little relief to his nervous passengers.

The old Ford barreled in on the white pickup truck, nearly bumping its rear end before easing back. The engineers and scientist tensely waited for the driver to react, but he drove in silence until the Ford veered off, rumbling down another dirt road, disappearing behind a cloud of dust.

A mile later, the Falicon truck came to a security check point. A guard waved it through, directing the driver to a grassy area where a dozen company vehicles were already parked. Beyond this point were hundreds of square kilometers of what used to be a virgin forest.

The men got out, removing their equipment from the back of the truck. When everyone was ready, they trudged through the eerily quiet forest.

Mike, the head engineer, sniffed the air. “God, something smells terrible!”

The team cautiously approached the lake, observing the disaster spread out before them. The water was covered with an iridescent film of oil that was decomposing into a foul, brown sludge along the shoreline, which was littered with a few dead Canadian geese and a loon gasping for air while struggling to flap its oil-covered wings. A bloated beaver carcass bobbed in the lake. Dead walleye, sauger and lake trout floated on the surface. The surrounding vegetation lay rotting in the sun. The cleanup crew, fully protected inside their bio-hazard suits, used rakes to cull the tar balls.

The scientist stared at the mess shaking his head. He tried to contain his anger, but his voice trembled as he said, “I gave my recommendations early on. I told headquarters we had no ‘Plan B’, but they went ahead anyway.” He lost control. “Fuck the animals! Fuck the planet!” He threw his hard hat down. “Do they really expect us to fix the earth!?”

The ground shuddered, alarming the scientist, who shouted, “Did you feel that!?”

Mike answered, “Yeah…strange.”

Lightning blazed out of the clear blue sky, striking the water. Thunder boomed as the oil slick ignited, creating a lake of fire. The flames reached the shoreline, following channels of oil runoff, spreading through the forest until one of the fire streams reached an oil reservoir where it exploded, creating a mammoth ball of fire that billowed over the forest. The force of the combustion knocked down the engineers, scientists and cleanup crew. Thick, black smoke descended upon the dazed team members, who struggled to their feet, coughing and choking. The earth violently shook again. Everyone raced out of the man-made hell.

The sound of the oil spill explosion reverberated throughout the Bear Claw First Nation’s reservation, which was located a mile from the lake in the middle of the forest where the tribe lived in dilapidated houses that were clustered together like a herd of buffalo protecting their young from the wolves. Crooked stove pipes stuck out of the rooftops with missing shingles. Broken-down cars and rusted-out trucks were parked haphazardly in the weeds. Children, startled by the blast, immediately stopped chasing a ball. Men playing poker and drinking beer under the shade of a tree were stunned into silence as they watched the fireball arch over the trees. Finally one of the men spoke, voicing what the others were thinking, “I knew the oil company would screw up. They always do.”

“It’s time for a council meeting,” said Tom Running Deer, “It’s time for this to end.”

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