Billy has taken me on a spaghetti western “set seeing tour” in Tabernas, Almería, Spain. We are ready to leave the second set that my favorite outlaw wanted me to visit again. The two of us, funnily clad alike, are riding our beautiful mare Torda Chica as we exit the set. I am still riding in the front, but now, for the next stretch of this dreamspace ride in the Tabernas Desert, Billy has decided to let me hold the mare’s reins. It makes me happy, and I have a feeling that it is Billy’s way to let me know he’s ready to really trust me. As we pass by the giant letters of “F-O-R-T–B-R-A-V-O” nailed on the palisade of a fake fortification, I wonder where that fort was in real life. Reading my thoughts again, Billy clarifies:
-In my time there was no such thing as “Fort Bravo” in the New Mexico (or Arizona) territory. I don’t know where that name comes from…
-Maybe, I suggest with a smile, the creators of this set chose the name to remind visitors of what a movie fort needs to become alive: a cheering and clapping audience.
-Maybe, Billy agrees in an amused tone.
-You know, I add, one day when busy learning about your life events, trying to find the truth through many tangled threads, I was struck by the similarity between the names of two forts which, eventually, would be associated with –I think– both your father’s demise… and your own.
-What do you mean? asks BiIlly.
-Well, I believe your dad died during the Civil War, which started when Fort Sumter fell.
-But, Billy corrects me, the only two casualties among Union soldiers at Fort Sumter died because of a stupid 100-gun salute gone wrong; my pa did not die there. My ma told me he died a gross death while being held captive at the infamous Andersonvillle prison camp. I always wondered why she could not visit my dad there, since on one cold day in 1865 she supposedly visited her brother in another camp, near Chicago…
-Oh wow! I had no idea about that.
-Well, again, that’s what she told me. Who knows… Actually many times I would imagine different scenarios for my dad’s passing. I never liked to tell others what had happened, because I myself never really knew what happened… Then of course I would brag about avenging my father from the ones responsible for his death… You know, that honor code… Truth is, I don’t have the answers to many of my important questions… That Fort Sumter thing you were saying, why do you see a parallel?
-If we assume that your dad did indeed perish at Anderson, which was also called CAMP Sumter, I see the fall of Fort SumTer, symbolically, as the beginning of the end for your father. Camp Sumter was called that way because of the name of the county where it was built in Georgia, which is ‘next door’ to South Carolina, where Fort Sumter stands. And then YOU fell under Garrett’s fire at Fort SumNer. Don’t you think that’s strange? As though Destiny was begging you to pay attention to some sort of pattern?
-Strange indeed. I never thought about that in all the years I’ve spent roaming the Earth as a spirit, but you’re right. Maybe all in life —and death— is orchestrated in meticulous ways to invite us to follow truth crumbs that will lead us to remembering our destiny’s path… every time we come down here…
-You’re a true poet, Billy… And I like this thought very much. Actually, I rely a lot on those “details” when looking for an important event from the past; they are colossal clues when one is immersed in a soul search… And since we’re at it, bear in mind that your Ma was born in County ANTRIM, in Ireland… and she ended up marrying a man with that very last name!
-That’s wild… admits Billy, who then remains in silence as I lead Torda Chica away from set #2 and its made-up “Fort Bravo”.
My thoughts then take me back to this feeling, this need for a special, safe, secret and sacred space where both of us could have a refuge to heal all pain. So I keep thinking out loud:
-When I started my soul search, years ago, at first without knowing that I was starting anything at all, a cute childhood behavior was mentioned somewhere, and it caught my attention. Did you ever have that impulse, when you were a little kid, to build YOUR fort? A safe place made out of the objects lying around the house, to retreat into a magical world stemming from your own fantasy…
-Yup… Billy confirms. Many times I dreamed of building my own fort out of books and blankets, but we never had the luxury of owning many books, so I used my Ma’s buckets, broom sticks, pots and pans to hold my one-blanket fort… No one was allowed under my ‘tent’. It drove my mother crazy to have to fight with me to force me to unbuild my fort when she needed to bake her delicious pies or clean the house. The only “person” permitted to share my fort with me was the one Ma called “my imaginary friend”, the little girl I was the only one to see…
-Wait, so was she a dead little girl, like in The Sixth Sense?
-Well, I AM a dead person and I have what sometimes feels like a 12th sense, haha, but my girl back then was real, flesh and blood real, says Billy, obviously unaware of the “pop culture” reference I have just made from a time long after his passing.
-Of course, I smile. I was just thinking about yet another movie. You know how fond I am of them. Actually, the more it goes, the more I feel that movies are metaphors for lifetimes, when we take on different roles… In that particular story, which came out at the turn of the millenium, a little boy is able to see ghosts who need his help, and it’s often overwhelming for him.
-I guess we ghosts can be pretty pesky sometimes, Billy jokes.
-and scary too, especially for little boys… The thing is, a picture of allegedly you when you were about his age reminded me of the young actor who played the ghost seeer… I recognized ¿your? child self in his sad eyes.
I must confess that for some time I’ve been wanting to make one of those treasure books / boxes with that kid picture on the cover, to keep all things Billy in there, and to believe in my capacity to enhance my 6th sense through you, my favorite outlaw…
-Sounds good to me, kiddo! Billy says in approval.
– ♥ Thank you! ♥ And, I proceed, the funny thing is… The Sixth Sense is set in Philadelphia, where the boy lives just across from “Catharine Street”, a reminder of your Ma’s first name. I’ve read somewhere that she, your Ma, would have sent that picture of you to a friend who lived in Philadelphia. Someone named Mrs Calker. See how all is coming full circle?
-What I do see is that you are damned committed to dig deep in my story, recognizes Billy, rather impressed.
-I told you I was!
-I wish “my girl” would have been as committed as you, haha! Maybe she would have found me then, and things would have been very different… One day in Silver City I thought she had finally come to me, as my teacher Miss Richards. That’s why I gave my professor a picture of me at 15 years old. I thought she was the one because she could use both hands, like I could, and like I knew my girl could too… But then I realized she could not be Miss Richards because my girl was a bit younger than I was… So, yes, I had a little crush on my teacher for some time, but nothing compared to what I felt for my secret friend. She would visit me so often in dreams, always there with me, like a faithful shadow… I literally watched her life unfold like you watch those movies on your screen. When Ma lost patience over the whole thing (she was not exactly patient in the ‘spiritual’ department and defined herself as a practical person) I insisted my girl was real, living somewhere “back East”, when my family started moving West from New York. For some reason my girl would appear most vividly when we briefly stayed in Indiana, but wherever I was, I would always see her.
-This is so beautiful, I sigh, feeling some unexplained nostalgia.
-Yes, but when I talked about her, Ma would only shrug and run her hand in my hair…
-Oh, that’s a sweet gesture though. Your Ma didn’t understand, but still showed her appreciation, messing your hairdo to make it match your inner world as she must have felt it looked like, haha… Speaking of looks, if it is you in some later pictures that are coming to mind, I loved it when you kept your hair long and curly! I am especially fond of one picture of ¿you? as a very young man posing with a large hat.
And then yet other pictures of maybe you, already an adult, in an elegant black suit you received when you were in prison.
-Wow, you even know about that black suit Mike Cosgrove gave me! Crazy…
-…as crazy as the Mad Hatter! I tease. For some reason I thought of you too when I saw the cute kid Hatter willing to make a special hat for Alice in Through the Looking Glass…
-Well I sure love wearing big hats, and you sure love that Alice story, don’t you? Billy observes.
-Guilty… Ha! “Porter le chapeau” (to wear the hat) does mean being MADE guilty in French. I like the story in most of its versions, yes. But let’s also admit that YOU contributed to this mini obsession since YOU turned me into a croquet ball, a few episodes ago, just like that poor hedgehog in Alice’s story.
-A hedgehog! exclaims Billy. I’m remembering a day when I was at one of the beaches near here, admiring the sunset, and a Gypsy woman saw me. Not too many among the living are able to see ghosts, so I stopped to talk to her for a bit… She was a fortune teller and was ending her work day, keeping her tarot cards in her big turquoise duffel bag. From out of it she took what she called an “uchubalocho”, a hedgehog in her caló language. She smiled at me and said, talking about her critter friend: “if one day you’re lucky enough to find one on your path, don’t walk away from it, make friends with it, keep it close to you. They are guides. They teach us patience, adaptability, healthy curiosity, gentleness, fortitude and harmony.” Then after a pause she added with a smirk: “And should you have to kick it away from your life for some time, don’t kick too hard… You’ll be happy to find it back…”
-Oh wow! I say in awe. I’m grateful for her insight. Hedgehogs sound like good companions. And their spikes are quite soft actually, it’s more of an “air” than anything else, since their quills are hollow… It feels as though the Gypsy lady was holding a mirror to our future croquet game, wasn’t she? Speaking of mirrors, how many times have I gone through them in this story already? I only wish that, instead of crashing through, I could cross over in a smoother way, just like Alice. There’s a screenshot from the movie I love where, as she peeks through the mirror, switching from a cold-looking environment to the warmth of “the other side”, her face is multiplied while in-between worlds, in a very symbolic way…
-I like that… says Billy. We sure have many different faces through life… and life after life…
-…and I guess in-between lives as well, I add. I have a feeling that once in spirit form we constantly shapeshift but sometimes let ourselves be seen by loved ones on Earth in the appearance they remember from the life spent together. In that movie, Alice will become an expert at time traveling. Remember that vision you had of me whistling “at the helm” of the saloon rooftop? Alice actually starts off as a ship captain on board her father’s inheritance, the “SS WONDER”… She is going back to England after saving the crew from shipwreck in the shallow waters of the Strait of Malacca. The name sounds exactly like the Arabic name of Málaga by the way, Mālaqah… where I lived for one year. I have decided that the city’s name comes from ‘Queen’, Malika, I say out of the blue, feeling the urge to look to the left towards the village of Tabernas and the ruins of its Moorish castle…
-I have roamed Málaga too! says Billy, happy to see we have many places in common. I like how it sounds in Arabic… “Mālaqah, Malika, the Queen, my Queen”… he says, pensive.
-I wonder who that Queen might have been, I say. In my waking life, I have figured out a few things that strangely popped up in earlier episodes of this story. Regarding Mālaqah, the one in the Alice movie is actually close to Sarawak, which is from where a strange lady started dancing in my vision after I thought of mantones de manila. It was before you woke me up from the “pink dream” on the other set. I found out that the dancing lady was Dorothy Brett’s sister. But I’m much more interested in the movie than in “the Brett” to be honest, and I prefer to walk in Alice’s shoes than in Dorothy’s. In the film’s first minutes, Alice risks it all to sail ‘dead ahead’ through the Strait, to escape pirates.
-Pirates, huh… says Billy. It brings another memory from this place we’re in. One day when I was roaming the set we’re leaving, all alone as always, I witnessed a conversation between an old fisherman and the guy at the entrance booth we’ve just passed. The old man was visiting the set for the first time with his family. The concept of this fake Old Wild West made him laugh, and he wondered if they had ever shot a movie about the REAL adventures that his ancestors experienced here, centuries ago. He mentioned the 1566 raid, when pirates from North Africa reached Tabernas, looting the town and taking prisoners. He added that many local “Moriscos” were actually happy to see the pirates and even joined them!
-Oh I knew about that! A Spanish artist from my time has dedicated a song to one of those natives of the region who joined the pirates that day. The character he sings about is el monfí el Joraique!
-What does monfi mean? Billy asks.
-Something like “outlaw”… Some say they were renegades, others argue they were defending their land and culture…
-Ha! It sure resonates with me… ironizes Billy.
-I guess… I smile as I press my talons on Torda Chica’s flanks to start walking faster towards the “croquet wickets” of the bridge that straddles the dirt path our mare is on.
-Will you please keep talking about Through the Looking Glass? asks Billy who sounds interested in the story that started with a pirate chase.
-My pleasure! I always like to talk about Alice and her sweet Mad Hatter.
-I wanted to know: why do they call him mad? Is it mad as in angry or mad as in crazy?
-A little bit of both, like all of us can be… I answer.
A goat is heard bleating in the distance, and I add: “Ha! una cabra loca, a crazy goat! She must have heard our conversation and she agrees with me!”
-Would you describe ME as mad? asks Billy, totally ignoring my funny goat comment.
-Well, let me see, I say, feigning to think very hard about that one. Mad as la cabra loca who can’t stop jumping in joy? Often. Mad as in very angry, like the Mad Hatter when Alice deems his wildest hope im-pos-si-ble? Sometimes… Mad like the Kid Hatter and his cute antiques? Always… In case you hadn’t noticed, the Hatter is my favorite character… While learning about his life as a kid, I–and Alice— profoundly empathized with him after witnessing the biggest hurt of the Hatter’s childhood: his father lamenting the kid’s ingeniosity, and apparently dismissing the fruit of his son’s creativity. The kid had made a gorgeous little blue paper hat with a tiny top, which his father tears apart by manipulating it carelessly, ending up tossing it in the trash!!!
-Ouch! Poor little hatter… It must have hurt so much… says Billy, genuinely moved by the hat story. The things that count the most to kids are often disregarded by adults. I think that’s why I like the nickname the press chose for me. I like the idea of being a kid forever, mad like a cabra, to remind others of what counts!
–Count… I whisper. Cabra… Why do those words resonate so much together? I wonder out loud.
-Maybe because you count goats instead of sheep when you can’t sleep at night, heehee… In my dreams of my ‘imaginary’ friend, she did wear a big hat, maybe made by a mad hatter, and she had my chin, my nose, my ears and my brows… And did I mention she could use both hands?
-What you’ve just said: she could use both hands, she was am-bi-dex-trous. I guess it helps one find balance…
-Balance… Like that children’s swing, the seesaw. Once I dreamed she and I were using one.
As Billy tells me about the seesaw dream, a new vision arises at the crossroads we have reached on the dirt path.
-Did you see that? asks Billy, exactly at the same time as I ask him “Did you hear that?”
-Yes I saw… the seesaw, I say as we laugh at our perfect synchronicity. And I add: “I’ve seen that exact same seesaw statue at the angle of Laguna and San Cristóbal, in Albuquerque… The seesaw is a tree stump, and the board one of the tree’s limbs…”
-And that exact face of the little girl is the one I would see in my dreams… adds Billy. There must be an important message in this new vision… What do ‘laguna’ and ‘Cristóbal’ evoke to you? he suddenly asks.
-Well, apart from their obvious first meaning, to me ‘laguna’ in Spanish is also something that’s lacking, like a shortcoming. Maybe the message is hinting at something I lacked… in my understanding of circumstances related to Cristóbal, I say as though the words I utter were not entirely mine.
Once again, my attention is drawn towards the town of Tabernas and its old castle atop the hill.
-Maybe you’ll get to understand what was lacking soon, Billy says. Powerful things are happening here! I guess we’re getting closer to our magic fort, he jokes. Maybe my girl is the one sending us clues from her own mysterious realm…
-What a privilege, for your mystery girl, to hold that special place in your heart. That’s so sweet. Maybe that’s why you sometimes dressed up as a girl, so that you could feel that she materialized as you invited her over to your heart’s secret fort.
-My heart’s secret fort… I really like that, whispers Billy. Isn’t it time for you to take me to that fort??
As soon as Billy wishes out loud to reach our special place, a cloud forms above us, just at the intersection of the two dirt paths, and believe it or not, meowing is heard within the fluffy shape.
-What on earth is that? asks a perplexed Billy.
-Or rather what in the sky, I correct. You know, even though it may be hard to believe, I have a feeling another story of mine is materializing in the here and now of ours. I started telling stories about my cats a few years ago. I call them the Dreamtime Cats, because in those stories they live adventures in the Dreamtime, a bit like us, and they ride a cloud in the shape of a cat. Everything is so weird!
As I pronounce that word, “weird”, the cloud bursts and my feline friend, the one with the pink fluffy tail, lands before us from his strange vessel.
-Oh here you are! So sweet to see you again…
-MEOW, answers the pink-tailed cat, once again inviting me to follow him as he veers to the left, in direction of the village of Tabernas.
-Do you mind if we follow him, Billy? I think it’s important…
-The Yellow Rose is in the opposite direction though, he says a bit disappointed. Because you were taking us to that saloon on the third set, am I correct?
-You ARE correct, and I know this is quite a detour, but… Be assured that I am not forgetting what will take place for you at the Yellow Rose, I promise. It’s just that… something tells me we should honor this invitation…
-MEOW, insists the cat.
-More someONE than something, Billy chuckles. That’s all right, let’s take that left turn.
I’m giggling inside, remembering the Bugs Bunny meme where the rabbit complains about having taken the wrong turn in Albuquerque… Maybe all this is happening because I’ve just mentioned the quirky New Mexican city when the vision of the seesaw occurred. Whichever the cosmic mechanism at play here, I know we’re doing the right thing following the magic.
-Thank you, Billy. I appreciate your patience with me. The first time I ‘obeyed’ the cat, I ended up meeting you again, so I’m sure that new, beautiful surprises await at the end of the cat’s walk! Giddy up, Torda Chica, follow that cat!
Chica happily follows the pink-tailed leader as Billy and I go on sharing our likes, dislikes, adventures and memories. Thinking of forts again as we approach the Moorish fortress, I tell Billy:
-You know, I associate the changing letters in the names of Forts SumTer and SumNer —T and N— with the state they stand for: Tennessee. I never visited Tennessee in this life, but, maybe because of dreams I can’t remember, the name always gives me unpleasant shivers and a strange feeling of sadness. I really feel that we need to symbolically build a new Fort, whose new name would help us get rid of sad memories or spooky feelings. The fort would help us rekindle the purity of our inner children’s hearts.
-Sure, and what would we name our Fort? Bravo as well? asks Billy.
-Oh no, no, no. Not at all. How do you like Fort SumMer??? A fort whose name would always make us feel warm in the heart, a fort whose name would dance in our minds like sweet hollyhocks turned into whirling dolls?
-I like that name, Billy smiles, and I like the season too, even though it was summer when I said goodbye to my body. But I’m taking this as a second chance, or a way to counteract fate… So, will we build our Fort SumMer at the saloon?
-I think it’s mostly a mind and heart construct, but we will start something important at the Yellow Rose, yes. After all, yellow roses, when they bloom, announce the warm season.
-“Yellow Rose” also makes me think of Texas, and I’m not exactly eager to meet again with SOME Texans at our secret Fort… says Billy, hesitantly. It seems we’re both particular about certain states!
-You got that right, and I do believe Texas inspired the creators of “Mini Hollywood”, the third movie set, to name their saloon.
-Probably. The visitors of your timeline always pack the place. Then the Spanish employees of the venue play and dance, putting on a strange show. Not even close to the fun I had at the fandangos of my time, sorry to say, he says in a nostalgic tone.
-I’m sure your fandangos were much more entertaining… since they were authentic!
-You bet! Billy says, finding back his spark. You should have seen me dance with the ladies. Some of them did wear a yellow rose behind their ears in late spring… All loved to dance with me.
-I can certainly picture that… Now don’t feel obliged to tell me if they wore yellow rosegarters too… For some reason, among all your dance partners, Abrana is the clearest face that comes to mind.
After voicing his astonishment, real or fake, Billy shares a memory of Abrana.
-She had such a pretty face… and she was a bit wild, too! I remember we would tease each other, calling ourselves —the two of us plus Deluvina— “the crazy bunch…” It started one evening in Sunnyside, when I laughed at Abrana and Deluvina’s dance moves in the street: “¡Bailan como LOCAS!”I exclaimed. They did dance like crazy women around a wicker basket full of cattail leaves they had just picked by the Sunnyside Spring, another beautiful spot of sweet water, near Truchas Creek…
Deluvina started laughing and laughing, taking from the basket some of their harvest, to braid a crown out of the leaves, both for her and Abrana. “THIS is lók’aa’, THIS is lók’aa’,” she would repeat again and again, meaning that lók’aa’ was the Navajo word for that plant. “Don’t eat us though, cabra loca!” she added, making another crown for me… Funny, here comes the cabra again, by the way.
-See! The cabra loca follows you, I joke. That’s sweet, you were crowned Prince, Princess and… Queen Mother of Cabra Loca, I say with a smile, picturing the three friends as they laughed and danced in the setting sun of Sunnyside. You know, speaking of mother, there’s something you might want to hear. You mustn’t feel bad for the little boy you had with Abrana. I am pretty sure that Patrocinio had a relatively happy life, even though he did not get to know his father for long. He himself became a father, and a grandfather…
-How do y…
-Thousands and thousands of people study you, track you, claim you, put dozens of “enhanced gazes” and straightened teeth on your blurry face… I’d say it only takes a bit of discernment to rewrite the most probable scenario, following one’s heart. I for one have tried my best to do so, trusting my guts and intuition, together with the signs sent by Spirit—with a capital letter— and your own spirit too. So I chose to embrace the “Hispanic side of the saga”…
–The saga… Billy repeats, still amused at how famous he has become.
-So, remember we were talking about the croquet game reenactment a while ago, right?
-How could I forget, and that delightful croquet strike I got to administer? Billy chuckles…
-EXACTLY!!! I confirm in a firm tone meant to convey the “ouch” I still feel from Billy’s blow in my butt. You sent me flying through the air to land in another time and place at Rudy’s house… Thank God it was ‘just’ a dream… But beware! I might grow hedgehog quills!!
-Oh come on! Billy protests. That blow was my way to unlock a beautiful gift for you: Time Travel Magic, just like your Alice.
-Yes, it’s true, I acknowledge. Maybe the giant hourglass of White Sands, where you and I first ‘met’, when I was magically taken back to the time of Madam Governor “Susana la Tejana”, was a portal to our particular Ocean of Time…
-The Ocean of Time?
-Yes, I explain, that’s the name of the stormy sea where Alice learns to navigate the “chronosphere” to go back to moments in time when disaster struck… She’s quite good at it thanks to her skills as an ocean vessel captain.
-I sure hope she taught you a thing or too, so that my vision of you at the helm of the saloon ship is fulfilled!
-Me too, me too, I say. You know, Billy, ever since I mentioned that song about el Joraique, I’ve had another of that musician’s songs in my mind. It’s one of the first lyrics I learned in Spanish… ♫ ♫ Al final de la rambla me encontré con la Negra Flor ♫♫ … lalalalala… Dime donde vas… Con tu cola de gato y tus ojos de leona… ♫ ♫ The “Black Flower” is a woman I picture as a rose. I don’t particularly like the story told in that song, which portrays a materialistic woman being sarcastic with the young man who’s in love with her, but there’s something captivating about its sound and vibe.
-Captivating, huh… As long as it does not take us prisoners for real, I’m fine with it…
–Prisoners… Captivating… THAT’S IT!!! I bet LA CAUTIVA is the one waiting for us at the end of this rambla!
-Torda Chica is taking us through an arroyo, Billy corrects my use of the Spanish word.
-It’s the name of this kind of dry riverbed path in New Mexico, yes; but in MY Spanish we call these ramblas. It comes from the Arabic word for ‘sands’. Makes more sense to me since it’s dried, whereas an arroyo technically still has water, at least in Spain, where it’s considered a ‘creek’ or ‘brook’. For some reason this scenery is no longer as dry as usual, but we’re still not in danger of any flashflood soon. Plus I trust the pink-tailed cat, and the goat that called in the distance, haha!
-You know, it’s strange, says Billy. When that goat called, I was reminded of the day I witnessed Garrett’s murder. I was there in spirit. The official cause of his death mentions a heated argument related to goats grazing on the ranch he was willing to sell in Bear Canyon, north of San Agustín Pass… Truth is, Miller was there, waiting at the precise spot where two arroyos (or ‘ramblas’ if you will) meet, to ambush ole Pat, just like Pat had done with us in Sumner when he killed my dear friend Tom… I reckon the Bible got that one right… Live by the sword, die by the sword… And here we are on yet another arroyo…
-I’m sure there’s no ambush this time, I say in a reassuring tone. Only more inspirations for us to build our best fort… And I’m also realizing that a while ago I was singing about that Black Flower “with her cat tail”, and you were remembering the cattail that Abrana and Deluvina gathered, all while pink-tailed Kitty appeared again, dropped by a cloud like in my Dreamtime Cat stories! It’s as though our conversations summon the elements we mention, or vice versa.
–What you mention is given motion. And what you think will wink… says Billy in a mysterious tone.
-Wait, what?!? I WROTE that exact sentence in the second episode of my cat stories, when the kitties were about to help ladies from the past heal their wounds at the Alhambra! One of them was ‘la cautiva’ who came to my mind a while ago! I know she’s there again!!
Billy is giggling, and even the cat seems to be smiling at my wonderment. Torda Chica whinnies in joy as she follows the feline who starts ascending the path that will lead us to the ruins of the Moorish Castle at the end of the “arroyo”, al final de la rambla…
TO BE CONTINUED