I could tell Dex was genuinely worried about me. Even though it caused butterflies at the base of my stomach, I felt like an idiot again for putting myself in that situation.
Dex let go of my hands and put one of his hands under my chin. He took the iodine pad and aimed it at my cheekbone gash.
“You know the drill,” he commanded and turned my face, gently dabbing it against my cheek. I barely felt it. I only noticed the strange look in his eyes as they stared into mine. Though they were tinged with sadness, their intensity made me feel weak in the knees and I was once again very aware that I was a shuffle away from being completely exposed.
I don’t know how long that moment lasted, or even if it was a moment, but eventually he looked away and did a final dab on my cheek. He let out a large puff of air, smelling faintly like sweet tobacco, and stepped back.
“You’re going to have a rusty blotch on your face from the iodine, but I think if you wash it in an hour you should be good to go.”
“Thanks, Dex,” I said softly.
He gave me a quick smile and then opened the door. “I’ll be downstairs.”
And with that he was gone. I was alone again in the bathroom, my wounds cleaned but my mind more infected than ever.
After I had thrown my ratty tank in the trashcan, it was time for me to pretty-up. I threw on slim-cut olive cargo pants and a billowy black kimono shirt (loose sleeves were my friend at the moment) and piled my wet hair back into a low braid, before attacking my fragile face with makeup. There was nothing I could do about the orange smear of iodine on my cheekbone but at least I could do my eyes up. Maybe I over did it with the eyeliner but I needed something to distract from my wounds.
When I felt more or less composed, I made my way downstairs. I heard voices coming from the living room and saw, well, pretty much everyone sitting there.
Will and Bird were sitting on the couch, while Maximus sat back in the loveseat beside Dex, who was scribbling into a spiral notebook. His camera sat on the table. Across from that was Sarah in her rocking chair, going through the knitting motions.
Everyone stopped talking as soon as they saw me. I could not have felt more awkward.
I waved. “I didn’t know we had a party going on.”
“Bird was just telling us about what happened,” Will explained. “Then Dex filled us in on the rest.”
I shot Dex a killer look. I thought everything I just told him was confidential!
“They all needed to know exactly what happened,” he said, ignoring my death glare and turning his attention back to the books.
Maximus nodded. “It’s the only way we’ll actually figure out how to deal with all of this.”
Sarah laughed. “All of this? Any of you think that perhaps Miss Snoops here just doesn’t get along with animals? I mean she barely gets by with-”
“Sarah,” Will warned, wagging his finger despite the fact she couldn’t see the gesture.
She clucked and continued knitting. “I’m just saying, this is a lot of fuss for some city girl who went for a walk in the woods. It’s a lot easier to blame something else.”
I crossed my arms impatiently (and carefully).
“OK, well since you were all talking about me while I was gone, how about you fill me in on any conclusions you may have had?”
Dex and Maximus and Bird all exchanged a three-way glance. I waited for them to say something but no one uttered a word. At last, Will spoke up.
“The Navajo believe that people can be cursed by someone,” Will said with embarrassment. “They believe that if a curse is placed on the person, that the person will continue to suffer from the curse until they die. Unless the curse is found and burned.”
I must have looked confused because Bird elaborated, “The curse is usually a bundle of twigs, maybe animal skin, a drawing depicting the curse and a personal item of the person, like hair or jewelry. If you can find the bundle, usually by using a medicine man, you can burn it and destroy the curse forever.”
“But that’s bull,” Will said, wriggling uncomfortably in his seat and avoiding Bird’s eyes. “I don’t believe any of that for a second and you know it Bird.”
“But you believe in ghosts,” Maximus drawled nonchalantly.
“That’s different,” said Will. But that’s all he said.
“That aside then,” I said, “could all of this be the work of a curse, Bird? If you believed it, could you get a medicine man here to find the bundle or whatever and lift the curse?”
Everyone’s eyes turned to Bird. He looked down and adjusted the hat on his head. “Technically, yes.”
“But…,” Dex added.
“But nothing,” Bird said, slapping his hands against his knees. “We could do it, if this really was a curse. But that’s a big if.”
“But couldn’t a medicine man tell you if it was or wasn’t? Maybe we just need confirmation and then we can cross it off the list,” I offered.
“Shan’s a medicine man,” Sarah piped up.
That simple remark managed to change the whole dynamic of the room.
Judging from their faces, Maximus and Dex were just as surprised to hear that as I was. Bird was shaking his head ever so slightly as if he was mad at Sarah for bringing it up, Will was rolling his eyes and Sarah looked downright smug.
“You’re kidding me,” I finally said.
“Does it look like I’m kidding?” Sarah said, then went back to her knitting, smiling to herself.
“It’s true, Shan was a medicine man,” Bird spoke slowly. “Was, though. He’s not anymore. It’s complicated.”
“Damn right, it’s complicated,” Will said. “And you aren’t involving him in any of this. Let him do his job, his proper job. Which you should be doing too, Bird.”
Sarah suddenly sprung out of her chair and flung her knitting stuff to the side, the needle ricocheting off the wood floor with a clatter. Her agility surprised me.
“I say we go see him right now and see what he says!” she exclaimed.
“Sarah, don’t you dare,” Will said as he got up and made a grab for his wife but she was already beyond his reach and shuffling with her cane towards the door.
She felt for her shoes and slipped them on effortlessly. “Well come on you ghost hunters, don’t you want to talk to a real medicine man and see if he can put an end to all of this?”
I did but there was something terribly off-putting about the way she was so gung-ho. I glanced at Dex who was already staring at me. His expression agreed. Something didn’t gel here.
But to Maximus it did and he was already joining Sarah by the door. “Bring the camera just in case,” he said and motioned to Dex, as if he was suddenly in charge of the whole operation.
“This is a bad idea,” Bird said getting out of the couch, his jaw set firmly. Will agreed.
I gave them a shrug to show that it wasn’t my idea, but I wasn’t missing this either. Dex snatched up his camera (with some annoyance, I’m sure, at being told what to do) and we ran after Maximus and Sarah who were already out the door and heading to the barn.
“She can sure move fast for a blind lady,” I said under my breath to Dex as we went after them. I couldn’t run thanks to my ankle so it was a gimpy speedwalk of sorts.
“Mmmmm,” he muttered, flipping on the camera switches.
“What are you thinking?” I asked. He had something going on in that head of his.
“I’d say the same thing you are,” he said and stopped. “Hold on.”
He licked his thumb and then smudged it along my cheek, wiping off the iodine.
“Which is what?”
“Something’s not right. But we’ll figure it out. You ready?”
“Ready for what?”
“Ready for anything. Come on, we can’t lose them,” he broke into a trot heading to the barn where Sarah and Maximus just disappeared into. I did my best to keep pace.
As we entered the darkness of the barn, my eyes had a hell of a time adjusting to the light. I walked blindly for a few moments, feeling for Dex, when I heard a Spanish-accented snarl.
“You too?” Miguel’s voice came from the shadows.
We stopped. Miguel came out from a tack room, wiping his hands on a dirty cloth.
“Sarah and–” Dex started.
“They went to see Shan,” Miguel interrupted, pointing out the other end of the barn where the hall opened into a tunnel of light. “I don’t know why. He’s sick.”
He nearly spat out that last word, like it was our fault.
“He’s sick?” Dex repeated.
“His chest hurts. Nothing bad but he’s in bed.”
“Thanks,” Dex said and began for the end of the barn.
“I think it’s stupid. Leave the man alone,” Miguel said. I gave him a small smile as I passed him. His dark eyes were glaring at me with all their might as per usual, but I felt an aura of fear radiating off of him. Maybe it was my imagination. It was obviously having its way with me today.
I couldn’t dwell on it. I limped after Dex, our footsteps echoing down the cloudy hall until we entered the sunlight again and made our way for Shan and Miguel’s house, just behind a line of junipers.
It was a simple, small bungalow made with faded grey wood. Maximus was standing alone outside the front door. It was closed.
“Thanks for waiting,” Dex said sarcastically. “Where’s Sarah?”
Maximus ignored him with a twitch of his head and pointed at the door. “She went in there. Miguel said Shan was feeling ill and she freaked right out.”
“Chest pains?” I asked.
“I reckon so. Hope it’s not a heart attack. I don’t know how well equipped the hospital is here.”
“Yeah,” I said absently. That off-feeling was nagging at me again. I wondered if Maximus sensed it too.
“You can’t go in there with her?” I asked him.
He shook his head and stepped away from the door. He came over to us in a hush, putting one big arm over each of our shoulders, and led us away from the house.
“Are any of you getting a bad feeling about this?” he whispered, head between us.
Dex and I agreed. I hadn’t been in a huddle since my childhood softball games.
“I don’t know what though,” I added.
“Yeah, me neither,” Maximus sighed and straightened up.
The sound of the door opening caused us all to turn around. If Sarah could have seen us we’d have probably looked a might suspicious in our little head to head. But she couldn’t.
She closed the door firmly behind her and said, “Hello?”
“We’re here,” Dex answered, walking over to her. “Is Shan OK? Miguel told us what happened.”
She poked her cane out in front of her, almost nailing Dex in the knee, and walked toward the trees. “He’s fine, just has a sore chest,” she said dismissively.
“Sore chest?” I repeated.
She stopped but didn’t turn around. “Yes. A sore chest. Are you deaf? He probably pulled something. He does most of the work around here, don’t let Miguel or Bird tell you otherwise.”