Solomon's Seal

Solomon's Seal

Leigh Bridger

$2.95 December 2008
ISBN 0-9673035-7-5

Special E-Book Only Novella! 

*Not available for Kindle.

He is larger than life.
She is his only hope.
Together, they will transform our world forever.
Because some tall tales are true.

Our PriceUS$2.95
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Synopsis | Excerpt

High in a remote mountain of North Carolina lives an extraordinary man descended from myths and fairytales. But Solomon is real flesh and blood, and he gave his lonely heart to famed researcher Dr. Elizabeth Connell long before she moved to an isolated cabin on his mountaintop. A damaged loner, Elizabeth refuses to believe the folklore about a mountain recluse. Is he just a fable, her secret protector, her gallant but mysterious neighbor, or is he a dangerous predator?


There were giants in the earth in those days.

Genesis 6:4

Part One


His name was Solomon, and as far as he knew he was the last of his kind. He was not even certain what to call his kind, or himself. In all his reading, in all the books and articles he'd been able to gather, he found only rare hints that he was not the stuff of fairytales and legends. Sometimes, when he cut himself shaving, he gave a low sound of disgust. "Stop bleeding," he told his mirror. "You're a figment of someone's imagination, and figments don't bleed." He wanted desperately to be like anyone else.

On that cold, clear day in mid-autumn he had never felt more different or more trapped in his own strange fate. "Come along, Wood," he said to the five-hundred-pound log he dragged behind him with long, even strides. Several ordinary men pulling in tandem could not have budged the twenty-food section of oak tree, yet Solomon managed it comfortably. His breath made the faintest silver cloud in the autumn air as he hooked a massive iron chain higher over one shoulder, padding it with a soft wool coat he'd stitched meticulously. "There we go," he said, as the log plowed up damp leaves and roots. He spoke often to objects and animals, low valley clouds and wild vegetation, the great granite rocks fronting the mountain top's labyrinth of caves, the smallest ferns, like green lace. He named every moving and static being, categorized them, imagined they listened to his voice. He lived utterly alone on an isolated Appalachian mountain that had been old when the Himalayas were first thrust up. He realized he talked to himself.

"Ho, there," he said suddenly. A large, grizzled black bear lumbered up the hollow just left of him and growled, sniffing the air, deciphering the scent of human as it pushed heavily though thick laurel shrubs. Soon Solomon and the bear stood not more than a dozen yards apart. His name was Old Joe—even the people down in the cove knew him that way. His ears were ragged, and old fight scars marred his whitening face. Unlike most black bears, Old Joe was ill-tempered and unafraid of either people or dogs. He halted. His growl faded. He and Solomon traded one long look. Old Joe spun around and galloped back down the hollow.

Solomon sighed at his effect on the mountain's other largest creature of solitude, then moved on, giving the chain a jerk as the log caught on a hummock of loamy earth. In the deep shade of the southern forest, a hawk cried out like a courier. "It's moving," Solomon called upwards. "Yes, I know. She'll be here before we know it, and I have to hurry." When he reached the clearing around the cottage he set the log atop two cross pieces he'd nailed together earlier. The ground was already littered with wood chips and splinters. He picked up his ax and quickly chopped the large log into two-foot sections, adding fresh, sweet-scented chips to the mulch around his boots. In less time than a man armed with a chain saw could have done the job Solomon split the log sections into firewood, which he then scooped into his arms and carried to the cottage's back porch. Even though the cottage was outfitted with propane heat, a person needed good hearth fires to warm the soul and let others know all was well. The aroma of the cottage chimney would find him anywhere on the mountain. He stacked the wood neatly atop a pile that lined the entire back wall nearly to the roof. About head high, by his standards.

He went through the house, checking it one last time, bending to scoop up bits of dust or stray rug lint with his thick fingertips, straightening his paintings, rearranging a few of the books that filled tall cases in tall rooms. His ears were attuned to any small sound of arrival; the trace of a car far below, where the road ended and the jeep trail began. He could hear a deer's footstep a hundred yards away, but no sound of his new guest.

Solomon stood on the front verandah, frowning, surveying the yard, then got a rake from a shed behind the cottage. He arranged the wood chips like a mulch in front of the stone walkway, where autumn rains had made the soft loam a little soggy. She was accustomed to pavement, to sidewalks, to civilization. He would be her Sir Walter Raleigh, spread his cape in the mud. He went around the yard, breaking ragged branches off the underskirt of the trees, tidying the forest. A young white pine, scarred by insects and bent from the last winter's ice storms, made an eyesore. He wrapped his hands around its trunk and pushed it over.

After he carried the small tree out of sight, he returned to the yard, put away the rake and the ax then hesitated once again, checking off his mental list of preparations. Delaying the inevitable, said the a capella song he always heard in his own voice. He believed there'd been a time when his ancestors had walked openly in the world, but that time was long past. Why had god or nature created such an outcast human being filled with such painful musings on identity? He was simply Solomon, and this day would change his lonely life forever, beginning a journey he expected would break his heart.

A large hawk swung down from the sky and landed on a tree limb a few feet from him. "Hello, Feather," Solomon said. Frowning, he communed with the raptor for a long minute. "Go and find her," he said suddenly. "Yes. Be my eyes. Take care of her."

Feather lifted off, grazing a current of air, floated over the ridge, and faded from sight.

"All ready," Solomon said with dull acceptance. There was nothing to do now but leave, so that he wouldn't frighten Elisabeth.

So that she would never know he'd been there.

Because for all intents and purposes, he couldn't possibly exist.


Let go of the steering wheel. Shut your eyes and do it.

Sweat slid down Dr. Elisabeth Connell's face. Her hands, bearing a thick diamond wedding band on the left one, made damp marks on the wheel's leather cover. She pushed her right foot, encased in a soft brown boot, harder on the accelerator. Her low, silver Lexus was packed full with luggage and supplies, and sped up sluggishly as it reached a curve that doubled back along a hundred-foot drop into the mountain creek below. Tall southern laurel and rhododendron flashed by in a green blur, along with a jeweled panorama of autumn forest. The Lexus's sleek side swung within inches of an old guard rail made of wood and stone, built over sixty years ago by poor whites, Cherokees, and a few black men hired by the federal government at starvation wages.

Those hard-driven mountain men had not anticipated a woman who thought of suicide every day.

High in the North Carolina mountains, on the edge of national forest land, traffic was sparse much of the year. On the weekends the scenic roads would be packed with families from cities like Asheville and Raleigh, and some from as far as Atlanta, viewing the mountains in their autumn splendor. But not now, thank god. The aging guard rail loomed in front of Elisabeth. A sign. A test. She had been the brilliant Dr. Connell, MD, PhD, genetics researcher, scholar. The renowned Dr. Harris Connell's beautiful young wife and partner. Tiny Cloris Isabella Connell's absolutely devoted mother. She'd never failed a test.

"End it now," she said aloud. The Lexus shot around the hairpin curve at over sixty miles an hour, and she began to lift her hands from the wheel. To let go of her nightmares and her life. Reflections of shadows, clouds and mountain, flashed across the windshield, her blood became mercury, her conscious mind began to disconnect. Calm, methodical, dignified, infinitely honorable and deeply passionate Elisabeth Connell lifted her strong hands in surrender.

And was saved.

A majestic gray hawk sailed in front of her windshield. Elisabeth slammed on the brake and snatched the steering wheel to the left. The Lexus careened across the on-coming lane and onto the road's weedy inside shoulder, coming to a stop as if nursing the mountain, the front bumper nudging a towering granite wall speckled with moss and trickling water.

The hawk disappeared into the forest without pausing—a vision, a guardian, or a mere lucky coincidence for the deeply logical to consider, which included Elisabeth. She stumbled from the car and leaned against it, gasping for breath. The air smelled of crisp rain waiting in pearl-gray clouds just above the mountaintops, and distant chimney fires from a few cabins and small farms hidden in deep, unseen hollows. Elisabeth's lungs drew it in like an elixir, without her noticing. She shoved aside tendrils of sweat-soaked auburn hair that fell over her eyes, a deep blue that had once been mesmerizing, but were now bloodshot and dazed. She slung off a long brown sweater she wore over her turtle-neck shirt and jeans then hunched over, hugging herself.

Watched by the stoic mountains, Elisabeth Connell, 35 years old but now ancient, a strong woman who had been broken, retched into the Joe Pye weed along the roadside. She dragged a baby bracelet from her jeans' pocket then caressed her wedding ring. Her hand went to her throat. She dug under the shirt's high collar and clawed at three terrible scars that curved from beneath her left ear to the center of her throat. All her talismans, the blessed and the damned, were with her.

Elisabeth washed her mouth with sweet, ice-cold water she scooped from a tiny waterfall on the weeping granite wall then got back into her car. She drove on toward the tiny valley below, holding the fast car to a crawl, her muscles on fire and her mind blank. She barely noticed the small, pleasant wooden sign that welcomed her to Anna Kim Cove, or cloud-shadowed Walker Mountain rising, majestic and mysterious, ahead of her.



An early settler named our little valley after his daughters, so the story goes. They were saved from wolves by a great big mountain man who set them high up and safe in an oak tree right where the crossroads meet today.

From Tall Tales of Anna Kim Cove

Etta Woody, Rita's mother, 1957

Anna Kim Cove lay in the laps of three legendary mountains: Hogback, Kalowa and Walker, which was the largest and the least accessible. New Age psychics and self-made gurus insisted the cove anchored some ancient, primal vortex in the Earth's magnetic field. Cherokee scholars said it had once been the site of an important peace town. A travel writer titled an article Lovely, Lost Anna Kim and recommended tourists drop by on their way to someplace else. But for the three-hundred hardy souls scattered along the ridges and hollows in house trailers, small clapboard homes, and cabins where the next-door neighbor might be a mile away, Anna Kim Cove was a strong, beating heart that drew their isolated lives together like the seams of a warm quilt.

The two-lane route from Asheville curled down Hogback's western ridge into the cove's heart, where it intersected with Sleeping Turtle Road, a narrow, dilapidated gray-top, crumbling at the edges and pocked with shallow holes. There sat downtown. Five aging wood-and-stone buildings hunkered around the sleepy intersection like old friends at a small table, with huge hemlock and fir trees hovering over them. The shops were just shabby enough to feel comfortable and well-used.

Beside Burk's there was Murphy's Hardware, which sold a little bit of everything, including farm supplies, guns, and auto parts. Penny's General Store dealt in knicknacks, greeting cards, housewares, cosmetics, and hair care products. Penny's Hair and Nail Salon occupied a back corner of Penny's General Store, behind a curtain. Penny's U.S. Post Office, a cubicle with a clerk's window, occupied a front corner. A brightly windowed side room was home to Penny's Diner, which served breakfast, lunch, and an early supper from its simple grill and counter. Penny Barker was the community's most avid entrepreneur.

Across the road, a service station, Woody And Sons, offered gas, a good mechanic, and a combination taxidermy/butcher business run by a Woody daughter, though not one of legendary country singer Rita Woody's kin needed to work for a living, anymore, and most of them had moved to her five-million-dollar horse farm outside Nashville, Tennessee.

And then there was Alton's Place. It was a strange, two-building hybrid, still a source of intrigue to outsiders and even some locals, although they revered rich, aging Dr. Franklin Alton, of the Asheville Alton's, who had suddenly moved to the cove thirty years ago, following an even earlier retreat by his eccentric sister, Joan. The front building was old, and briefly had been Anna Kim Cove's bank, decades ago. Now that building was a single large room with stone walls, a creaking wooden floor, and a fancy, pressed-tin ceiling. The old doctor had turned it into an art gallery of sorts. He sold the most amazing oil paintings, some realistic, some abstract, of mountain landscapes, wildflowers, streams, and animals. There was also finely crafted blacksmith work—amazing wall pieces of swooping metal and curlicues that defied description. Every painting, and every piece of iron art, was signed with a scrolled initial. S. Dr. Alton said it was the work of a shy mountain man he'd befriended, and would not reveal the identity. Buyers came from all over the south. The gallery had been written up in every regional magazine. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the artist was Dr. Alton, himself. He was such an odd old owl anyway, the locals said with affection.

Beside the art gallery, connected to it by an arbored walkway draped in trumpet creeper vine, sat the second building. Dr. Alton's medical clinic. Inside its wood-and-fieldstone walls the doctor maintained a state-of-the-art medical facility, including a small pharmacy and an operating room for minor procedures, and even a room filled with a dental chair and supplies. Dr. Alton called in dentists and other specialists as needed. Since his influence and respect were unequalled in the medical world, some of the most prestigious doctors in the country had served the people of Anna Kim Cove, all without a single cost for the patients. Franklin Alton rejected all praise, all awards, and all publicity for his work. Like the cove, the clinic existed in a quiet state of grace.

Anna Kim was the kind of place where no one thought it odd if an old woman wearing three sweaters and overalls drove to the crossroads on her tractor to buy milk and tennis shoes. Mattie Crow sat high on her 1942 Ford. Her hair, long, black, and streaked with gray, fluttered from beneath her third late husband's beige fedora hat. Her deeply hooded brown eyes peered calmly through large tortoise-shell glasses. She'd glued a single tiny snail shell near the hinge of each temple. Snails were among her favorite beings. She believed the smallest, slowest creatures had the biggest view of the world. Some people said she was a shaman. She said she was a watcher.

Mattie steered the tractor to a diesel-fuming stop before the long tin awning of Burk's Store. Burk's was the community grocery but also kept a back corner full of work clothes and shoes. Nothing fancy, but then the three-hundred-and-twenty-two residents of greater Anna Kim Cove didn't dress up much.

"Hi ya," she said to Tommy and Susie Burk.

"Afternoon," each replied. The blond, heavyset couple, dressed in canvas coveralls, sat on an old church pew under the awning. Their youngest child slept in a car seat by Susie's booted feet. Tommy was cleaning a chainsaw in a precise way that said he had two years of college and didn't let his equipment rust. Susie sipped from a cola bottle and chewed the peanuts she extracted with her tongue. Peanuts and cola could make a meal on a long day. The Burks looked tired and sweaty, and were flecked with sawdust. A hundred-foot fir tree lay in neatly sawed pieces so close beside the store that the pile of limbs from its bushy green crown dimmed the sunlight at one end of the porch. The hardwood forest gave way to a pocket of lush evergreens near the crossroads. Tall hemlocks, firs, pines, and cedars loomed over the intersection in shaggy splendor, footed in ferns that had turned a soft golden color for fall. Mother Nature always seemed to be waiting for any excuse to take over the cove, again. Everyone knew the valley and its three protective mountains were haunted. "Wind got the tree this morning," Susie said.

"Gonna be a hard, windy winter," Mattie returned, and pointed a bronze finger at the sky. "I seen the signs." The Burks nodded. No one questioned Mattie Crow's weather forecasts. Not just because she was Cherokee, but because her son, Albert, was a meteorologist for a Tennessee TV station. Besides, winters were always tough in Anna Kim, tough and beautiful, like the mountains themselves. A person thrived, survived and celebrated, or didn't.

Mattie climbed down from her tractor. "Got to shop."

"Holler when you're done, Miz Crow," Susie said. "I'll come in and ring you up. Me and Tommy need to stay out here and watch the road as much as we can. We told Doc Alton we'd keep an eye out."

Mattie frowned. "For what?"

"His visitor. You heard about her. Sure. Name's Elisabeth. She's some kind of doctor."

"Never heard a word. Who is she?"

Susie gaped at her. Even though the Turtle Town Cherokees avoided the outside world as much as possible, they loved to join in the local gossip. "She was in the news last year. I mean, the national news. Her story was on Tom Brokaw and Nightline and all those shows. They talked about what happened to her for weeks."

"Those folks talk about a lot of things that don't mean much to me."

"Her husband used to come here to visit Doc Alton. You saw him a time or two here at the store. Big, tall handsome man. I know you did. Dr. Connell. Harry Connell. He wanted to ask you some questions, wanted to go over to Turtle Town and interview Big Po. You turned him down flat. Remember? He wasn't a real doctor. He was a famous scientist. He studied genes." Susie spelled the word. "You know. What we're made of. What makes us. What we come from."

Her frown deepened. "Now I remember him."

Tommy scrutinized her face. "How come you didn't like him?"

"Spent too much time up on Walker Mountain, pokin' around." She grunted. "Busybody. Is he coming back and bringing his wife?"

Susie winced. "Miz Crow, you sure nobody told you what happened to him and his wife and baby?"

Mattie searched her mind. "No." She was beginning to feel impatient. She had milk and shoes to buy, chickens waiting to be fed, and roots to dig for tea. "Just say what you mean."

"It was terrible. I hate to tell you."

"I've seen and heard and done a lot of terrible things in my life. Sayin' 'em out loud don't make 'em worse. Go on."

Susie took a deep breath. "A crazy man broke in their house up in Maryland. Just some nut who didn't like scientists. He killed Dr. Connell, killed his baby girl, and just about killed his wife. This Elisabeth who's coming here. She fought him like a tiger but he beat her nearly to death and tried to cut her throat. They say she laid on the floor about half-dead and watched the crazy man write on the wall with her baby's blood. When the police got there they caught him in the yard and shot him to death."

Mattie Crow grew very still, and very quiet. A black pall settled over her. Tragedy like this wasn't just bad luck. It was fate. Bred in the bone. It meant something. And it was coming to her cove. "And now this Elisabeth's comin' here, for sure?"

"Yes, ma'am. Today. Supposed to, anyhow. Doc Alton's gonna let her stay up on Walker for the time being. That's what he says she wants. Just to stay alone up yonder. And he says it's what she needs. You know how he is about that mountain. A plain fool. Bless his soul." Every word Susie spoke conveyed amazement and disapproval. Her husband shook his head. "A city woman alone up there all winter," he mused. "What in the world can Doc Alton be thinking? Letting her go up there alone. She doesn't know what she's getting' into. Never even seen the place before. I bet she doesn't even know how to start a fire in the fireplace."

Susie looked past Mattie and the tractor. Her eyes widened. "There she comes! Doc Alton said she drives one of those!"

The Lexus rounded the last, lazy curve at the base of Hogback and crept through dappled sunlight along the black two-lane. Mattie and the Burks could just make out the driver by the time the car drew even with a ramshackle produce stand that marked Anna Kim Cove's unofficial southern boundary. Their first glimpse of Elisabeth Connell made Susie cluck her tongue in pity. Elisabeth's face looked white and drawn. Her coppery hair straggled from a haphazard clasp at the nape of her neck. She hunched over the car's steering wheel, stared straight ahead, and guided the car at a speed so slow that two of Zene Murphy's bored dogs circled it easily, barking. When she stopped the car at the crossroads, which had no sign indicating Sleeping Turtle Road, she sat for a full ten seconds. She seemed to be staring at Alton's Place. A landmark.

"You think she's got car trouble?" Susie whispered.

Tommy shook his head. "Just nervous and not sure where she's going, I guess."

Finally Elisabeth switched on her blinker and turned right. The car inched along, heading west at no more than ten miles an hour. It finally disappeared around a bend in the forest. The Burks let out a dual sigh. "Lord, that woman's not doing too good," Susie said. "You'd think she'd have kin to go visit. Somebody to look after her."

"She's got no business going to live up on Walker," Tommy repeated. "I just can't figure why Dr. Alton's gonna let her."

Mattie barely listened to their chatter. She faced west and looked up pensively at the ancient mountain, which towered above the cove in rounded, red-and-gold majesty. She knew why Franklin Alton had invited the young woman to live up there. He and Mattie shared a humbling view of the world, a big way of thinking, a knowledge of facts and fancies beyond most people's belief.

Mattie said a silent prayer of blessing.

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