A fallen angel with raven-black hair waved his hand over a crystal ball. The swirling blue mist inside dissipated, revealing the earth slowly spinning. With piercing blue eyes, he somberly observed the world being destroyed by mankind’s greed, corruption and indifference, knowing that without intervention the earth’s inhabitants would cease to exist, leaving him alone in this godforsaken place. Realizing drastic measures were needed, the fallen angel began searching the globe for people who might join his quest to save the planet.
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
Invading the Rainforest
In a remote part of the Amazon rainforest, indigenous hunters wearing loin cloths and necklaces strung with seeds and animal teeth stealthily traversed through the jungle stalking deer, peccaries and monkeys. The men had red and black lines painted across their cheeks and foreheads. The leader, Takwa, wore a colorful feathered headdress. He steadied his blowgun, aiming a lethal dart at a monkey perched in an Aguaje palm tree eating its juicy fruit. The primate felt the hunter’s stare and turned toward him, revealing her suckling baby. An iridescent Blue Morpho butterfly fluttered near her face. Takwa lowered his blowgun. The monkey scampered away clutching her young. The hunters would search for more suitable game to feed the tribe.
Standing quietly, Takwa waited for his heart to guide him, but instead he heard a faint rumbling noise in the distance that sounded like a pride of jaguars manically purring. He beckoned the other men, who gathered around him. “There is an intruder. Let us see who it is.”
The hunters stepped lightly in the direction of the noise, carefully concealing themselves among the foliage. Noxious fumes drifted through the air. The rumbling grew louder.
Takwa gestured with his hand toward the forest’s canopy. He and the men climbed the thick vines hanging from the giant Kapok, Mahogany and Brazil-Nut trees.
High in the towering branches, the hunters saw the intruders—a bulldozer leading three armored SUVs with Resourcex Corporation decals affixed to the sides. The hunters had no reference for what they saw. The vehicles seemed like great beasts clawing and chewing through the dense underbrush, carving out a trail between the ancient trees. The cries of frightened animals and birds echoed through the jungle. A flock of parrots flew away. Screeching monkeys fled. The bulldozer jerked to a stop. Its engine coughed, spewing black exhaust into the air. Behind it, armed guards jumped out of an SUV, ready to protect their precious convoy.
Unarmed indigenous workers exited from another vehicle, grabbing rolls of cable from the cargo area, slinging them over their shoulders. The men walked along the newly created trail, running seismic lines that held small dynamite charges. After the workers finished laying the lines, they retreated to the shade.
A man in one of the SUVs pushed a button, detonating the charges, sending clumps of soil into the air.
Takwa had seen enough. He imitated a Macaw parrot. The birdcall grabbed the attention of the other hunters. Next he mimicked the Yellow-rumped Cacique. The hunters readied their blowguns. As soon as the third birdcall rang out, poisoned darts sailed silently at the intruders.
A dart struck a guard’s neck. He crumpled to the ground.
Two indigenous workers were hit. They collapsed, immobilized by the deadly toxin coursing through their bodies.
A guard fired a warning shot.
The crew rushed toward the vehicles. Once inside, the leader pulled out his satellite phone. As soon as the call connected, he shouted, “The natives are attacking! What should we do!?”
Sitting in a posh office with an incredible view of Houston, Texas, a silver-haired Resourcex executive answered, “Randy, we’ve discussed this before. You know what to do.” He ended the call.
Randy yelled at the guards, “Let’s do it!”
One of the guards grabbed a submachine gun hidden under a tarp in the back of the SUV. He jumped out of the vehicle, shooting at a rate of 10 bullets per second toward the treetops. Leaves fell like confetti. Branches splintered, crashing down.
High in the trees, Takwa and the other hunters did not understand how a man could shoot fire. The trees seemed to fall apart before their eyes. A bullet struck one of the hunters. Two more men were shot. All of them fell to the forest floor.
The gunman spat at the ground. “Sons of bitches. I know there’s more of ’em!” He renewed his efforts, firing another round. A fourth man dropped, hitting a branch before landing with a thud.
“Good one!” another guard jeered. “That’ll teach them!”
The armed guards listened for sounds that might indicate there were more men hiding in the treetops, but all of the animals, birds and hunters had fled. It was silent. The Resourcex contractors waited until they felt it was safe, then investigated their kill.
“Smaller than I expected,” a guard mentioned, poking a dead hunter with his gun.
“Yeah, tough little suckers,” another one commented.
“Look! Here’s a dead monkey. Wonder if the hide’s worth anything?”
“Don’t know if I’d be caught with that…”
“Yeah. I’d probably get in more trouble for this here monkey skin than these dead Indians.” He laughed.
“Stop screwing around,” Randy said sternly. “Let’s take our men back and return tomorrow. Doubt the natives will give us any more trouble.”
During the commotion, Takwa and the other surviving hunter had snuck away, traveling deep into the jungle where their people had lived for thousands of years undisturbed by the outside world.
Survival in the rainforest depended on the tribe’s knowledge of dangers lurking in every crevice. Jaguars hid in the trees ready to pounce on passing prey. Anacondas, crocodiles, piranhas, stinging ants, poisonous snakes, frogs and spiders inflicted bodily harm and death in all the corners of the tropical jungle. Occasionally the Nawatia tribe lost a baby or pet to a predator, but, for the most part, they lived harmoniously with the creatures of the rainforest. However, the new danger—the convoy of hollow beasts carrying men who used magic sticks to shoot fire—scared the hunters more than all the others. The indigenous men raced through the forest’s dense foliage, skillfully navigating its slippery ground, finally reaching the village where they hurried past the thatch huts, women cooking and children playing, heading toward their spiritual leader, Pahtia, who lived on the outskirts. He would know what to do.
Pahtia sat in his hut receiving a message from the spirits, “Danger is coming! Beware the new beast!” He raised his gray-haired head as the two hunters ran to his doorway, stopping outside, gasping for breath. The shaman opened his eyes. “Come in. What is wrong?”
Takwa entered still breathing heavily, “There are men in the forest…men carrying magic sticks. Sticks that shoot fire! They killed four of us! These men…will come kill us all!”
“Do they have magic eyes as well?” Pahtia asked, irritated by their fumbled hunting expedition. “How did they see you?”
“No eyes are needed…to blindly shoot fire.”
“How did they know you were there?” Pahtia inquired further.
“We shot darts…killing three men.”
The shaman stared blankly while a vision came to him, showing him what had happened. “We need to talk with the elders. This is a tribal matter,” he snapped, “Hurry to tell them. I will follow.”
Takwa rushed out of the hut as Pahtia’s daughter, Conchita, a young woman with a flower tucked in her flowing black hair, came through the doorway holding a basket filled with fresh herbs. The hunter looked at her with adoring eyes wishing he could stay. She watched him race away, then asked her father, “What is wrong?”
“There is a grave threat coming. I must ask the spirits for guidance. Please join me.”
She sat next to her father, placing the basket in front of him. Pahtia gently sifted through the contents. He selected a few leaves, sniffing to confirm their identity, then dropped them into the fire. He closed his eyes, breathing in the smoke, waiting for the visions to come.
A fog rolled across the ground. A black jaguar strolled out of the forest through the haze, prowling toward Pahtia’s hut, sneaking through the doorway. The panther silently approached the shaman, coming up behind him, listening to the blood pulsating through his veins. The big cat opened her mouth over his frail neck, then licked him.
“Ooh, Taslia! You sneaky cat!” Pahtia laughed, wiping the saliva from his neck. The jaguar purred, rubbing her head against his. Taslia was Pahtia’s totem animal—his protector and guide through the spirit realm. Conchita smiled as she watched the loving interaction between her father and the totem animal.
“Taslia, old friend! Today, I need your help more than ever. Can you take me to my spirit guide?” She nodded.
Pahtia stood and straddled the jaguar’s strong back. Conchita sat behind her father, wrapping her arms around him. The totem animal strolled out of the hut, journeying through the mist into a realm resembling a mystical rainforest, leading them to a waterfall that flowed into a sparkling lake lined with lush ferns. Pahtia had been here many times before. It was the home of his spirit guide. He called out, “Maka! Please come! We need your help!”
The spirit guide appeared in the shape of a beautiful woman floating over the water. She wore white, fringed animal skins decorated with colorful feathers and beads. Her black hair hung to her knees. She gave him a warm smile. “Greetings!”
Pahtia bowed his head out of respect, then pleaded, “Please help us! Strangers are invading our home. Strangers who possess power greater than ours.”
Maka softly replied, “I will help your tribe, but you and the elders must stay with me for three moons.”
Pahtia was quiet.
“What is the matter?”
“We do not have time for that! The men and beasts will find us and kill us!”
“Do you doubt me?” she asked.
“I believe you, but the tribe might not.”
“You are a very persuasive man, Pahtia. Find a way to convince them.”