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FICTION

Excerpt from
The Curse of Queen Califia (Chapter 6)  

An unpublished historical fantasy © R. A. Cabral 2017

CHAPTER SIX

Driving along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard toward the headland one passes through several working dairy ranches. Originally, two families owned most of the Point Reyes Peninsula totaling 52,562 acres. Over the next hundred years, those huge tracts were sold off into five dozen privately owned ranches, the largest being 7,713 acres. In 1962, the ranches were grandfathered in to the new park preserve called the Point Reyes National Seashore, which came under the supervision of the National Park Service.

“Uh, oh,” Tom said, as they passed a road sign. Gallegos looked over with concern. “Sign back there says the lighthouse is closed today. Which means the lifeboat station could be closed, too. I hope the road to Chimney Rock isn’t blocked.”

Twelve minutes later, after they passed through “A” Ranch, Tom saw the road ahead divided in two: to the right was the Point Reyes Lighthouse; to the left, Chimney Rock and the Lifeboat Station. As they approached the divide, Tom quipped “When you come to a fork in the road—take it,’” borrowing a phrase commonly attributed to New York Yankee Yogi Berra. After making the sharp left, he glanced over to see the old man chuckling to himself.

~ ~ ~

Driving south along the headland, cattle grazed on both sides of the road, prompting Tom to reduce his speed. Soon they arrived at Chimney Rock parking lot. Tom counted five cars as he bypassed the lot and eased his truck down the lane, past the sign warning visitors the roadway is reserved for vehicles on official business. “If we want to park close to the Lifeboat Station, we’ll just have to venture forward.” Morrow guided the truck leisurely down the lane past the two-story, park ranger residence. “Ever been here?”

“Oh, a long time ago,” Martín answered. “Mostly, when I strolled along these beaches.”

“They frown on that now from what I’ve heard,” Tom said. “This whole place is a protected natural area reserved for the Elephant Seals. Visitors are supposed to maintain a distance of one-hundred feet from the animals.”

When they arrived at the Lifeboat Station Tom stopped short of the parking lot. He peered through the windshield and pointed toward the next bend. “That’s where the possible cave area is located, but it looks to be at least a football field away, maybe two, Martín. If we’re going to do this together, it’s going to have to be right here, outside the truck,” he explained.

He backed the truck into the first parking stall so the rear of the vehicle faced the water. He came around the hood and opened the passenger door for Mr. Gallegos. The door to the Lifeboat Station opened. A young woman dressed in a khaki Park Ranger uniform poked her head out and instructed Tom the stalls were reserved for park business. Tom walked over and politely explained his situation: in the truck was an eighty-something-year-old man whose dying wish was to revisit the place where he first wooed his wife over sixty years ago. Not only was it a lie, but two big ones: Gallegos was not dying, and he never married. But when the woman looked beyond Tom and saw the octogenarian saluting her with a wave, she agreed to let them stay for twenty minutes. Tom thanked her and walked back to the truck where he helped the older man clamber on to the tailgate.

Tom pulled out the paper that contained the chant. He surveyed the bay and paused. “I’d prefer we weren’t so conspicuous, with the Lifeboat Station in plain view, but in this case, we have no choice.” He sat down next to Martín Gallegos. “Ready?”

“Give me a moment.” The old man’s hands trembled with anticipation. He bent his head and recited a quiet prayer, his lips moving as he spoke the words. Gallegos made the sign of the cross, finishing with a kiss of his thumb. He looked at his young partner. “I am ready.”

~ ~ ~

Morrow slid off the tailgate and walked over to the white picket fence that prevents visitors from walking on the rocky shore below. Facing the general direction of the imagined cave, two hundred yards south of their position near the Lifeboat Station, Tom drew a breath. As Gallegos’ new spokesperson, he summoned the moxie to get into character. After reciting the first two lines of the chant, and with Lana’s advice still echoing in his memory, Tom inserted the woman’s name at the end with a strong intention.

Oh, wondrous and powerful Queen Califia!

Although not a religious man, Tom found his arms involuntarily spreading apart and reaching out in a gesture of respect to the imaginary figure he hailed. Morrow held the pose for several moments, but as the weight of his extended arms began to drain his strength, he labored to maintain the position. For a brief moment, he imagined what Moses must have endured in the parting of the Red Sea. His attention returned to the present. Listening to the wind Morrow heard and saw nothing except an occasional elephant seal groan between waves sloshing on the shore. He shook his head in dejection.

Turning around with a look of dejection, he was surprised by the expression on Gallegos’ face: somewhere between intrigue and rapture. “Look!” the old man said in a loud whisper, pointing northward to an abandoned dry dock some three football fields away. Tom witnessed a charcoal-colored cloud, swirling and shape-shifting as it floated over the sand, until it meandered toward the two men waiting in wonder. At first Morrow thought it might have been a swarm of flying insects. But the charcoal cloud paused and while still airborne began to descend on the grassy area, morphing into a concrete image, and resolving at last into a human shape. When it came to a halt, there before them stood a strikingly beautiful woman: tall, lithe and muscular. She appeared as a tropical island native, wearing a flimsy feather-arrangement over her breasts and an otter-pelt apron around the waist, neither of which disguised much of her bronze-colored skin.

The woman evaluated the men. “Which of you has summoned me from my slumber?” she demanded in an imperious voice.

The old man’s hands trembled as he pointed in Tom’s direction. “It was him, your grace,” he said, with a modest bow of his head.

Surprised at Gallegos’ deference, Tom stepped forward. “I did. And you would be…?”

A thin smile formed on the woman’s lips as her eyes narrowed. “You know who I would be. For you have called me with the chant I gave to one man many cycles ago, in almost this very spot,” she said with arms stretched wide. “I am Califia, Queen of California.” She struck an aggressive pose; a huntress with a warrior spirit.

An involuntary whisper escaped from Morrow’s mouth. “My god…she is the spitting image of Beyoncé.”

“What did you say?” The woman addressed him with a hint of intemperance.

Tom felt flummoxed at the direct challenge. The woman appeared to stand almost his height: two inches shy of six feet, with a physique rivaling a modern Olympic athlete; well-toned biceps and large, defined thigh and calf muscles implying a year-round course of weight lifting and distance running. Her chocolate brown eyes and skin tone invited comparisons of loamy, fertile earth. But it was her regal bearing inspiring supreme confidence he found most intimidating. She appeared to be a goddess from Egyptian mythology. “No, I was merely observing it seems fitting your image is…beyond saying.” He grimaced, knowing the rejoinder was impossibly clunky and nonsensical. But the improvisation bought a few moments of time.

Martín Gallegos slid off the tailgate and on the ground without assistance. He walked up to the woman, and in an animated voice said, “So, you are Queen Califia. The one my ancestor Ricardo Castañeda wrote about in the map he created on these very shores.”

“I helped him create that map.” A bemused smile graced her face. “And you are his descendant?” she said, towering over the elder Hispanic man. “I see no similarity.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the ranger from the Lifeboat Station who appeared at the doorway. “Fellas, I’m going to have to have to ask you to…” Seeing Califia the ranger stopped mid-sentence at the white wooden railing. “I don’t remember seeing a woman in your cab earlier.”

“Oh, we met her a few minutes ago, an old friend,” Tom claimed. “She came walking up the beach.”

The station attendant gazed at Califia. “Well, ma’am, perhaps you aren’t aware people are not allowed on these beaches; they scare the seals.”

“I do not scare seals. They are my friends.” Califia seemed to rebuke the working woman.

“Nevertheless, this is a natural preserve.” Turning back to Tom the Ranger added, “So, we’ll need you to vacate now, sir.”

“Understood. Much obliged,” Tom said with a friendly wave. The attendant walked inside the Station house.

Tom called to Califia who had turned to depart. “Will we see you again?”

Gallegos sprung forward. “Oh, no. She must come with us. We have much more to discuss. Please,” he said, gesturing to the open passenger door of the truck. “You must join us.” He extended his arm respectfully, and seeing the woman nod in assent, walked toward the door and jumped in, allowing her to have the seat next to the door. Once Califia lifted her legs into the cab, Tom closed the door and walked around the front of the truck.

After driving up the hill, and turning back into the parking lot, Tom found an empty space. He backed in so the tailgate once again faced the taupe-colored bluffs framing the deep blue waters of Drakes Bay.

Each climbed out of the cab and walked around to the tailgate. The woman stepped away from the rear of the vehicle and surveyed the beautiful blue waters lapping against the bluffs. “The first time we met, occurred behind the bend.” She pointed in the direction of where Tom estimated a cave once existed. “Ricardo appeared in a most distressed disposition, as I found him attempting to dislodge an object which had been buried in the wet sand between two rocks. I know when I emerged from the cave my appearance startled him.”

Califia seemed to display amazing recall of her time with Ricardo Castañeda, especially for one who had been “slumbering for a good many cycles.” The woman said she should start at the beginning so the men should have a fuller understanding of Ricardo’s story.

            ^ ^ ^

(End sample)