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Authors: Suzan Still

Well in Time

BOOK: Well in Time
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Well in Time
Suzan Still
The Story Plant

Well in Time Copyright © 2014 by Suzan Still.

Praise for Suzan Still

 “Suzan Still’s
Fiesta of Smoke
is an extraordinary book, encompassing a vast time frame yet bringing the possibility of a contemporary Mexican revolution to vivid life through its beautifully tuned, disparate voices. With a tonality that at times echoes the quiet grace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s
Love in the Time of Cholera
, matched by passages that have the psychotic edginess of
Breaking Bad
Fiesta of Smoke
is a book that will both compel and seduce you to read it to its haunting conclusion.”
—Alexander Stuart, author of
The War Zone
Life On Mars


“As with the brush of a muralist, Suzan Still has captured fifty years of the history of Mexico in vivid color. This passionate, nonlinear novel explores the lives of three very different people involved in decades of political upheaval, and sounds the depth of injustices done for centuries there. Gripping in its detail, and daring in its reach,
Fiesta of Smoke
is a moving portrayal of the disparate cultures and complexity of a turbulent, beautiful country.”
—M. E. Hirsh, author of
Dreaming Back


Commune of Women
is a riveting read. The characters are diverse and their stories will find a place in your heart. From Betty’s fascination with fake flowers to Pearl’s horrifying and tragic life, there is something uplifting in how they found the strength to carry on. A nightmare situation and how the women came out stronger than when it began, along with compassion and the will to survive,
Commune of Women
is a captivating read that I highly recommend!”
—Minding Spot


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.


The Story Plant
Studio Digital CT, LLC
P.O. Box 4331
Stamford, CT 06907


Copyright © 2014 by Suzan Still


Cover design by Barbara Aronica-Buck
Author photo by Mic Harper and Kath Christensen


Print ISBN: 978-1-61188-184-4
E-book ISBN: 978-1-61188-185-1


Visit our website at


All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by U.S. Copyright Law.


For information, address The Story Plant


First Story Plant Printing: January 2015


Printed in the United States of America




Dr. Charles Ladley


who was awarded the Bronze Star

for safely leading his patrol from behind enemy lines,

and who did other things he took oaths never to reveal—and didn’t, despite my cajoling.

Dear friend, loyal, smart, funny, impish, vengeful, and wise




Tom Rogers


who gave me a lifetime reading list when I was twelve

on which I still labor,

who nourished countless lives as teacher, curator of Filoli, and Chinese Grandpa;

whose brilliance, sophistication, aesthetic refinement, passion, and curiosity

were remarkable for their kindness and modesty


Fare onward, friends. We shall meet again.


Like the human body, the cosmos is in part built up anew, every night, every day; by a process of unending regeneration it remains alive. But the manner of its growth is by abrupt occurrences, crises, surprising events, and even mortifying accidents. Everything is forever going wrong; and yet, that is precisely the circumstance by which the miraculous development comes to pass. The great entirety jolts from crisis to crisis; that is the precarious, hair-raising manner of self-transport by which it moves.
—Heinrich Zimmer


The descent into the darkness of the earth, which stands at the center of every initiation, is enacted in modern man, collectively and individually, as an encounter with the underworld; an encounter that fulfills the human psyche.
—Erich Neumann


The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
—Joseph Campbell


It is a difficult problem in life to decide whether we should try to develop the germ of goodness in evil men by loving acceptance, or whether we should destroy it unmercifully along with the evil.
—Marie-Louise von Franz

Huichol Sierra, Jalisco, Mexico


The voices of the winds were commanding. Otherwise, the valley stood in the somnolence of late afternoon: jagged black rocks emitted solar heat as if just cooled from magma; cactus and low scrub hunkered sparse and pallid against pale, granular soil; the surrounding hills were riven by indigo rivers of shadow cascading down corrugations in each steep, impassable gully.

On the valley floor, the man counted not one, not two, but
columns of whirling wind, each taller than three trees, broad as a small herd of deer, and each emitting its own voice. Some screamed, others muttered. Some pounded or pinged, whined or moaned. But the one on which the man focused was the most fearsome of all. It was silent to all but the ears of an adept who could hear its whisper.

Its whisper was alluring.

The man rose from a squat and squared his shoulders. Reaching into his string medicine bag, he fingered the herbs that would sustain him, placed the dried slivers in his mouth, and began to run. There had never been so many whirlwinds. Maybe there never would be so many again. He must understand this extraordinary event.

As he approached, the column of air and dust began to spring slowly along the ground ahead of him. At each liftoff, pebbles and sticks were sucked into its mouth, in the same way that the gods pulled human souls into the abyss of time, whirling them through lifetimes and dimensions, through tempering experiences more numerous than stones or stalks of wild grass.

The column was a black coil, each turning as distinct as yarn on his wife’s spindle, and as alive as a den of snakes. He ran faster but the wind eluded him, even as its spirit exhorted him to follow.

This would not be easy or over quickly. He steeled himself to run for days, wiping pain and fatigue from his mind, focusing only on the wind’s voice and the secrets that, eventually, it would impart.

Rancho Cielo, Chihuahua, Mexico, 2014


Calypso Searcy


Tree branches beyond the bedroom window were snarled black calligraphy, written on a night sky marled with clouds and stars. Calypso wondered what message was encrypted there, as she slipped with her equally indecipherable thoughts into the envelope of blankets.

She lay fingering the enameled golden locket that hung about her neck on a thick chain of gold. She dreaded the dreams that would come should sleep and the locket have their way with her. Looking out at the night, she forced herself to stay awake, knowing it was futile.

It was always like this when she slept without Javier by her side. Despite the thick, sheltering adobe walls of the house and the reassurance of guards on the outer perimeter, she was edgy and alert. She knew it wasn’t her own safety that stirred her. It was his.



Paris, France, 2014



Hill sat with his laptop before him on the café table, staring at Calypso’s latest e-mail. His café au lait was expending its last thread of steam into crisp morning air, but he ignored it. His croissant, too, lay untouched on its white dish. Morning traffic charged down the boulevard with increasing ferocity, but he was oblivious to the noise and movement. Instead, he was focusing with acute awareness on the pit of his stomach, where something old and familiar was moving—a sense of foreboding, of something out of joint.

A newsman was just another critter, really, he reflected. No different than an elk in rut, sniffing a female ten miles distant, or a salmon, smelling one molecule of its home creek while bucking Pacific swells. If there were trouble anywhere in the world, he was the one to sense it. If he were a dog, right now his hackles would be rising.

He stared at Calypso’s terse message, so lacking in her usual jollity or quiet wisdom.
Javier is away,
he read for the
I am concerned.
Now, what the hell was he supposed to make of
What does
mean? Fallen off the cliff, last seen making a four thousand-foot free fall toward the Urique River? Kidnapped by white slavers? Gone to China to open trade negotiations? Off campaigning for
Presidente de México?

And how worried is
Mildly agitated? Pacing the property of Rancho Cielo, day and night? Frantic? Desperate? Insane with foreboding?

He was bored. Since his last trip to North Africa, he’d been idling. Or maybe several decades of starving refugees, ravening, semimad tribal gun lords, dust, dirt, squalor, and corruption were finally taking their toll. If he saw one more skeletal child with a distended belly he might be tempted to quit investigative journalism altogether. All of which was weighing in on an interpretation of Calypso’s e-mail.

What if, as his guts nudged, this was a cry for help? If he responded as if it were, she would shoot back a note denying it. What if he just ignored it and let things develop on their own?
He knew himself better than that.

He reached for the croissant without looking, tore off a savage hunk with his teeth and ruminated over it, staring down Boulevard St. Michel, but seeing instead the courtyard of Rancho Cielo, with its fountain of red sandstone, banks of roses and adobe walls scrawled with bougainvillea. How could such a tranquil place invite so much trouble? If it wasn’t drug lords abducting the mistress of the house or threatening to raid the place, it was starving Indians staggering through, or family dramas ending in body parts nailed to the front gate.

These aberrant qualities, from his vantage point in Paris and with the prospect of a quiet evening reading before the fire in his apartment on
Place des Vosges
, were sufficiently untoward as to seem from another dimension. That, and the complete lack, in Chihuahua, of amenities which to him had come to seem to be necessities—police who actually upheld the law, for instance, or crème fraiche, or Dover sole—litigated against an active response.

On the other hand, there was the boredom, and the prospect of something contrary, ill-timed, inexpedient, adverse, annoying, and dangerous into which to root like a reportorial sow. Rancho Cielo was a living thesaurus of disaster words. If life was easy in Paris, the
petit pois
ripening and the Opéra about to stage
, then by the theory of inverse proportions under which Rancho Cielo operated, murder, mayhem, and primeval forces rummaging archaic karmic burdens would surely be the order of the day in Chihuahua. There would be granitic grit in the tortillas, some form of clan or tribal warfare in progress, and blood on the rocks.

And then there was the ultimate draw. Calypso. Years did not dim it, her union with Javier did not dissuade it, distance did not erase it—the indisputable fact that Calypso Searcy was, now and forever, the love of Hill’s life. Like it or not.

He discovered himself in the act of holding half a croissant in front of his gaping mouth, where it had apparently been poised for several minutes. An American tourist at the adjoining table was elbowing her companion and tittering, delighted by his state of waxy flexibility. He slammed the lid of his laptop and roiled his pocketful of coins, gathering up a fistful that he dropped on the table without counting, assured by its very bulk that it would be sufficient.

Rising with what he hoped was supreme dignity, he buttoned his top coat, gathered up his computer, and nodding sourly to his neighbor, departed the café. It was really no contest. Even Paris, Navel of the Universe, with all its charms, couldn’t hold a candle to a good ol’ shoot-‘em-up, dusty, treacherous, thoroughly rash sojourn in lawless Chihuahua. Even Bizet was upstaged by it. Egregious it might well be, but wasn’t that the stuff that news—and apparently his friendship with Calypso—was made of?

He dug his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Charles de Gaulle Airport. With luck, he could make the next plane out to El Paso. He was two blocks from the café when he realized he was still clutching the mangled croissant in his left hand.



Rancho Cielo

Calypso was pruning roses in the courtyard when there was a honk outside the walls. Before she could hustle around to the front, one of the guards had opened the thick wooden double gates and a dusty blue VW Super Beetle was nosing through them. She pushed a lock of hair from her eyes with the back of a gloved hand, shoved her clippers into their holster and went to investigate.

A large, familiar figure was in the process of disentangling itself from the car, which seemed comically small in comparison. “Walter!” She ran to him, and he enclosed her in a crushing bear hug. “What in the world?” She reared her head back to take in his face. “What are you

“I think I took a wrong turn on my way to Marseille.” He held her at arm’s length and studied her face. “I’ve been worried about you. So I thought I’d come and see for myself what’s going on.”

“What makes you think something’s going on?”

“Ha! You are ever dubious of my psychic powers.”

Calypso laughed and pulled from his embrace.

“Oh, Walter! I’ve missed you. Come. Get your things and I’ll get you settled in the guest room.”



Huichol Sierra, Jalisco, Mexico, 2014


Javier Carteña

Afternoon shadows cast long, blue runnels across sandy yellow soil, and the greatest heat of the day was just beginning to abate. A small group of Huichol women, in flounced skirts and embroidered blouses, was tending a cook fire in a pounded clearing surrounded by shabby brush huts, while their half-naked children played a shrieking, laughter-filled game of chase.

Javier sat in the scant shade of a scrawny tree and simply waited, as he had been told to wait. Alejandro, the Huichol shaman, had been specific. Although Javier was half indigenous himself, in this place he was considered an outsider. The quest would go on without him. He must await the outcome here on the rancho.

The women spoke in tones too low for him to hear, even if he could understand their language well, but he was fairly sure they were venting their doubts about the big Mexican under the tree, who was half again as tall and broad as the biggest man in their clan. And definitely not indigenous, judging by his blue jeans, scuffed cowboy boots and faded chambray shirt. And too handsome for his own good. The women
ed and shook their heads.

Old Catarina, her already short frame bent with arthritis so that her skirt swept the ground in front and was hoisted almost to her knees in back, came scuttling across to him holding an unglazed earthen bowl. She thrust it at him without a word and turned away, her old face seamed with worry and distrust. As he ate the shreds of roasted goat meat, the children swirled close to him, casting wary looks, then spiraled away, jabbering like a flock of startled birds.

His thoughts turned to home, to Calypso, and the daily round of Rancho Cielo, feeling their absence as a profound heaviness around his heart. He knew the Huichol ways. He wouldn’t be heading home any time soon. The quest could take days and the ritual debriefing days more. Alejandro was a young shaman, but he had shown himself, in the past, to be a man of power and a seer. He was worth the wait. His insights might make sense of the alarm that had been growing in Javier’s gut.

He knew that Calypso was having dreams by the way she lay fingering the locket in the morning, her face drawn and pensive. Her usual eagerness to share the vivid and often premonitory visions, however, was absent. Whatever she had learned from the night’s eminence, she had kept it to herself.

He stretched out his long, denim-sheathed legs, his boot heels making a ripping sound as they scraped forward in the dirt. He glanced at his truck, sitting tipped on the uneven hillside. He’d need to find a flatter place before nightfall. Last night, sleeping in the bed of the truck, his sleeping bag kept sliding downhill until he lay crumpled against the metal side. Finally, when the stars had shifted above him for many hours, he stopped fighting gravity and slept, snuggled against the inner fender covering the wheel well, as if it were the curvature of Calypso’s body.

He liked sleeping under the stars, letting his mind sink into the vastness of space and time, liberating him from pressing concerns of the present. It put his worries in their place, diminishing them to their actual proportion. Even the prospect of death took its proper measure. And since it was death that concerned him now—his, Calypso’s, his workers’, their families’—he craved the consolation of the stars and their aloofness from all things human.

He thought again of his home in Copper Canyon far to the north and sighed. He knew that his waiting should be active, not passive, that his attention to the question at hand was required as part of the web of power being woven out in the desert by the whirling winds. He pulled his legs under him, straightened his spine, centered his mind, and quieted his breathing. Whatever the outcome, he would have to be part of its making. The westering sun began to burn the back of his neck but he sat still, his eyes half-closed, staring at nothing and everything as his ghostly blue shadow stretched longer and longer before him, also waiting.




An old man came out of the god-house and approached him. Javier knew him—Jeronimo González, Alejandro’s uncle and one of the clan’s singers, who tended the god-house and took part in all the rituals. He was a small, bow-legged man dressed in white cotton pants and tunic, both embroidered in red with Huichol symbols.

“Ha, hombre!” he greeted Javier. “Come over to Grandfather Fire and I will brush you. Then you can go pray in the god-house.”

Javier knew a great honor was being accorded him, so he stood. “Thank you, amigo. I would like that.”

He and Jeronimo approached the fire and the women retreated. All fire was sacred to the Huichol, Javier knew. It was a source of visions during peyote rituals, and no Huichol felt either safe or at home, day or night, until a fire was lit. Once beside the fire Jeronimo produced a brush and began a ritual cleansing of Javier’s body.

“What kind of feathers are those in your brush, Jeronimo?” he asked, to be companionable.

Jeronimo did not stop brushing. “These are not feathers,” he said in his soft, cracked voice. “This is a wolf’s tail.” Javier was shocked. Several of his recent dreams had featured wolves, the shy, seldom-seen gray, white, and russet ghosts that sometimes haunted the plateau around the ranch. “
, father of the wolves, came to me in a dream,” the old man said, “and told me to do this brushing for you.”

“I had a dream about a wolf, too.” The old man stopped brushing and stepped back, looking Javier deep in the eyes. “I was sleeping near a spring and a wolf came and whispered in my ear.”

“What did he say?”

Javier grinned. “I have no idea.”

Jeronimo shook his head. “Too bad. A wolf only comes with important information. Wolf is related to Father Sun, and his light will help Alejandro on his quest. It was careless of you not to remember.”

“I’m sorry.” Javier was genuinely chagrined.

“Chaos comes when the taboos are violated and there are transgressions,” the old man said. “We must be very careful to do everything in the right way, as the ancestors did. The mining is disrupting everything. All the spirits are unhappy—the wolves, the beaded lizards,
the rattlesnake, the black cloud snake,
the jaguar, the puma, even Grandfather Fire. You are right to come seeking vision.” The old man resumed his slow, careful brushing.

Javier had worked for years with the Mexican government, trying to secure Huichol lands against the depredations of mining conglomerates. Lately, however, with the passage of NAFTA and investments by the World Bank and big multinational corporations, Huichol lands were being nibbled along the edges, with vaster intrusions always threatening. With the Huichol, he always walked a fine edge between the spiritual world they inhabited, and the hard facts of political advocacy.

BOOK: Well in Time
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