John Gubbins latest novel, “Raven’s Fire,” is a ghost story that involves a 30-year-old secret that tears apart Joe’s and Carol’s marriage and sends Joe into his beloved woods to recuperate, only to discover that they’re filled with evil spirits.
When a person dies, an ancient spirit takes his soul to the next life. This spirit is Pauguck, the Retriever of Souls, and he has a long-standing feud with Raven, a mischievous spirit who blinds the spirits of the dead.
So when two men – including Joe – are on a river trip in the woods, Pauguck does not think his services will be needed, but Raven is intent on ending both men’s lives.
“Raven’s Fire” is available for pre-order right now on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and BooksAndThings.com, and will be in bookstores on Sept. 10.
I could have killed the fire.
Perched in a scrawny spruce, I watched it snake like a slow fuse through a clear cut.
At any point I could have flown down and snuffed it out with one beat of my black wings.
I chose not to.
The Anishinaabe were the first to notice me,
And they named me,
In their day, I robbed for a living, pillaging corn fields and birds’ nests.
For me, it was a time of frequent famine.
I dined most days on what others left unattended.
In winter the weak among us froze.
When the white loggers and miners came,
the Anishinaabe left for L’Anse, the Keweenaw, and the Soo.
The whites renamed me, Raven,
A strong name…a name I like.
But that was not all. My diet changed.
Opening roads through the forests, the whites leave dead deer, raccoons, porcupines, and skunks alongside daily.
The whites call it road kill.
I call it tribute.
I no longer live like a robber.
I live like a chief.
The week when winter turns to spring is best. The snow melts, and the bodies of winter kill emerge from drifts. So tender from the thawing and the freezing.
I start with the eyes.
The large brown eyes of deer and the black eyes of skunk are best.
This spring, after the melt, I had my fill of brown and black eyes.
So now I let the fire burn.
It will bring me something new.
It will bring me other colors.
I crave blue eyes…for a change.
Yes, blue eyes.
And there is more.
The fire will bring Pauguck. I miss him,
The ghost who collects the souls of the dead.
He takes the shape of an Anishinaabe hunter, more form than flesh,
A wraith emitting the rustle of his own footfalls and the fragrance of death.
I learned his talk from the smell of his words,
The soughing wind fluttering among birch leaves, the sigh of a swaying white pine canopy, and the plunk of dropping cones, escaping like a faint fetid breeze through death’s door.
Pauguck and I are at odds.
I overload him with work.
When I take the eyes of the dead, they cannot find their way to Ponemah, the Land of the Spirits, on their own. Instead they wander blindly, crashing about the forest.
It falls to Pauguck to lead them out.
One day, Pauguck shouted at me angrily, “I must introduce myself to each sightless soul and, with soothing talk, win their confidence. Only then can I lead them quietly to the great Silver Lake and its Blessed Isles. A four day trip into the shades. I cannot afford the time.”
I shook out my wings and made ready to fly off.
But Pauguck was not finished. “You leave so many confused spirits. And worse, without their eyes, they will never enjoy the beauty of the Blessed Isles. All I can do is guide them to the level shores of Silver Lake where they kneel and splash cool water on their empty sockets. It is pathetic. You, Kahgahgee, waste my time.”
“Aren’t they grateful to you?” I asked innocently.
“Yes, I will give you that. They are most grateful. But you blind so many. Let up for a while…at least until I can clear the woods.”
“I do not see them” I said.
Impatient, he shouted back, “They are all about you.”
Then he shook his fist at me.
It will be good to see Pauguck again.
Until Pauguck appears, I will patrol the Escanaba River.
Rising twenty miles south of the Great Lake in a ring of low mountains
Near the city white men call Marquette,
The Escanaba collects, as in a stoneware bowl,
Water from rain, melting snow, and a thousand seeps and springs.
This sodden tangle of bogs and marshes,
Charges the river,
Offers security to bear and moose,
And isolates the few humans who build camps on the hummocks of sand,
Barely rising above the damp and wet.
Here the river is rust colored,
With cedar, tamarack, and spruce crowding its banks
Olive tinted aspen flourish here also,
And gnarled tag alders
Root in the river’s shallows choking its tributaries.
From its first trickle, the Escanaba slides purposefully south
Towards the road called Highway 41.
There, the bowl begins to tip.
The river concentrates, gaining breadth and energy,
Confident in its new found power,
Battering south against waves of three billion year old bedrock,
Raised seams of basalt and granite,
Pinching the river, dropping it precipitously
Onto foaming pools and boulder strewn rapids below.
Falls…the falls of the Escanaba…
So many falls…
Each one is different;
Each one has killed.
I have fed at the bottom of each one.