Monday, April 3, 2017

The California Secession Incident, Coconino Forest, Northern Arizona

Grayson put a log on the fire in the ranger cabin, then opened a bottle of Arizona Zinfandel wine. He would treat the California agent to one of Arizona's better varietals. His only worry was the unexpected March cold as a polar vortex had dipped down from Canada and subjected Northern Arizona to below zero temperatures.  More snow was forecast.
        The visitor was traveling from Nevada and had agreed to meet Grayson, who represented Arizona. It was late afternoon and Grayson was worried as his visitor was late and the temperature was plummeting. Becoming impatient, he shrugged into his parka and decided to head north to see if he could find the man from California. 
        As Grayson trudged along the winding trail, he thought about the California secession from the Union 10 years ago. The Golden State had created a nirvana of sorts and now Arizona wanted to join California and secede, hopefully accessing the miraculous Silicon Valley formula that appeared to halt aging and ensure unbounded health. 
        A strong wind whipped down the trail rattling the pine forest and Grayson pulled his hood tight. He recalled telling Tess about his mission and the benefits of joining California. She had heard the rumors, but was skeptical about the California dream. Yes it would be great to have unlimited health and not to age, but there was something cloaked about the program. Supposedly there was no one over 65 in the golden state. What happened to the old timers? What happened to the sick?
         His wife had put her hand on his arm. "Be careful." She had advised.
         Grayson looked up and saw a figure approaching along the snowy trail. He gave a wave which the figure returned. They stopped about five feet apart and the California man gave the code, announcing he was Harold from Cal Tech. Grayson responded with his name and said he was from ASU. Having established their bona fides the two men shook hands. The Arizona proposal was inside Grayson's parka and he decided to hold it until they were settled in the cabin.
         "Coldddd"....Harold stuttered. "..nnnnot built for the cold."
         Explaining he had a fire at the ranger station and it was only a hundred yards back on the trail, Grayson turned and started toward the cabin. He heard a clicking and then muttering. Grayson looked back, surprised to see his guest stagger off the trail and into the snow drifts. The struggling man shouted incoherently, then veered to the right bumping the trunk of a tall Ponderosa Pine. The California Rep fell and sank into the deeper snow.
        Stunned, Grayson turned to help the man who floundered in the snow with a wisp of smoke emerging from his mouth and making a strange whirring sound. As he bent over to help, the California man's eyes suddenly went blank and he went still, silent. Shocked and sensing something terribly wrong, Grayson returned to the trail confused by Harold's strange collapse. As he stared at the prostrate figure in the snow, a chill ran down his spine.
         Slowly the reality of the miracle seeped into his mind and Grayson headed to the cabin where he would have to spend the night as a storm was brewing and darkness was hovering. He recalled Tess's comments that she doubted the California dream, that something wasn't right. " It doesn't pass the smell test." She had said with a laugh.
         Back at the cabin, Grayson settled with a glass of wine in front of the fireplace and watched the flames lick at a new log. He threw the Arizona Secession Proposal into the fire, watching as it flamed. Settling with his wine, he recalled Harold sinking into the snow bank with a sizzle, then the clicking and clacking. The Arizona Rep sighed. Tess, as always, was correct.

         It was too good to be true.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Incident, Lake Hortionia, Sudbury, Vermont

The Victorian house whispered to Miller as he stood on the porch, knowing it was a dream. He was on the verge of awakening but resisted the urge, wanting to see what was inside, what was drawing him to the gabled house.
         Standing in the small alcove, Miller knocked on the door. To his surprise, the door was opened by an anachronism, a butler dressed in bow tie and tails. The tall, bald man looked at Miller and nodded, "The Princess awaits." He said, and he followed the butler into the center hall, who motioned for Miller to enter the living room, which was off to right.
         Miller was startled to see a young woman in a mauve gown lying on a couch with her hands crossed over her chest. He approached carefully and knelt beside the sofa. She had long black hair, an angled face and alabaster skin, appearing to be in a deep sleep. Without hesitation, he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
          The princess sat up abruptly with a sigh. She turned her head and eyed Miller who pulled back. "Such a long time." She said. "I've waited eons for you. Here..." And the mysterious, young woman patted the cushion beside her. Miller obeyed and sat on the couch as she sighed and rubbed her forehead. He was quiet, knowing this was just his oddest of odd dreams. Lately, he had dreamed he was on a rural two-lane road, walking toward an unknown destination. Now he had arrived and he was convinced he would wake in a few minutes. The princess put her hand on his knee. "You are the chosen." She said. "And now your wishes have come true. We will be together through eternity and live a life of luxury in our mansion. I am yours forever!"
          Miller's eyes widened and he looked around. "This is nice." He said, referring to the quaint Victorian, but I wouldn't call it a mansion." The princess laughed. "This is the gatehouse where I have been waiting for you. Our mansion is in the woods, set on an idyllic lake. We have a staff to take care of us and your wish is their command."
         The Princess droned on about their dream life together. Miller scratched the back of his hand thinking he would wake up. But no, the Princess was telling him about the rooms in the mansion, about their chef. He nodded absently, recalling an obscure theory in quantum mechanics about parallel universes. Instead of some hidden portal, perhaps his extended sleep had transited him into this universe, one where the Princess had slept awaiting his arrival.
         "Imagine" she said. And then she prodded him with her elbow. "Are you listening? You seem far away." She said in annoyance, her voice hard.
         He looked at her and smiled."It's overwhelming", he said. She was correct... it did seem a dream come true.

         Or was it a never ending nightmare? 


Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Jeffery Steakhouse Ghost, Moab, Utah

A haunting was the last thing Rollins expected when he visited the Jeffery Steakhouse. Traveling from Scottsdale to Boulder, Colorado to visit friends, he had decided to stop in Moab and recalled a colleague recommending Jeffery's.
         He made the short walk from his motel to the upscale establishment and found the small dining room crowded.The pert hostess brought him a glass of Merlot and suggested he wait in the cozy lounge upstairs.     
         Rollins settled on a circular couch and set his glass on the coffee table. To his surprise a voice sounded out of a dark corner. A woman in a dark dress was sitting by herself in the shadows, they were the only two in the upstairs bar.
         "I'm reminiscing." She said and beckoned to Rollins. "Come join me." He took his glass and headed to the corner, appraising the young woman who had dark hair, her face covered by a veil attached to her hat. As he neared her, he thought of funeral, that perhaps she had been standing by a grave. A country song floated through is mind, the tune gone, but lyrics came back, something, something,the woman in a long black veil.
         Rollins sat down and they clinked glasses, introducing themselves. "I'm Lilly." She said with a nod. "I can use some company." They traded small talk and Rollins explained his trip from Scottsdale to visit people in Boulder. He noted a friend had recommended Jeffery's, so he had broken the trip in Moab.
         Lilly sipped her wine and said she was on an anniversary visit, the 5th year of her husband's death at Moab. He was killed in a bungee jump from the famous Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park. "Our friend Clyde miscalculated the length of the rope and Chandler jumped to his death, headfirst into the red sandstone."
          Grimacing at the image, he expressed condolences as he appraised Lilly, trying to get a better impression of her through the veil: dark hair and eyes, high cheekbones with a wide mouth and sharp chin. Although dressed in somber black, she reeked outdoors. "I read the park is dangerous." Rollins commented.
         "No accident." Lilly responded. "My husband was murdered." And a cloud descended over them. Lilly took flight back to the incident five years ago. Rollins puzzled, hoping the elegant young woman would share more of her story. His thoughts were interrupted by the hostess paging him for his table, so he offered condolences again and went downstairs.
         Rollins took his seat and asked the waitress to take a glass of Chardonnay upstairs for the woman in black. He was puzzled when the server returned with the glass and set it beside him. "She's gone." The waitress said.
         Later Rollins returned to the motel and realized he had left his key card in his room. He asked the cheerful desk clerk for another key and she obliged, asking about his meal. He noted it was fine, but that he had heard a sad story and he related Lilly's tale. 
         "Oh, but you only heard half of it." The desk clerk said. "Chandler was killed five years ago.The following year Lilly and her dead husband's friend, Clyde, gathered upstairs at Jeffery's to commiserate the  anniversary of the tragic death. Both were shot to death upstairs in the lounge; police said a murder-suicide. Apparently, Clyde proposed to Lilly who turned him down.The unbalanced Clyde shot Lilly, then shot himself. 
         Rollins was dumbfounded at the desk clerk's story. "It was about this time of year when Clyde killed her," she said. "A Moab love story."

Later in the night, Rollins awoke to radio static. A maid had set the radio clock to go off early morning. He sighed, but at least it was not the shrill alarm or the radio blaring. As the static cleared, Rollins recognized a country western song. It was a long-ago country saga...the woman in the long black veil. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Snow Bowl Witch, Flagstaff, Arizona

“I met a witch on the mountain.” David said. Andy sipped his coffee and smiled.”Tell me about it he said.
         David sat back, relating how he had gone to the Snow Bowl area looking for new hikes. He had parked at the Kuchina trail head and noted it was clouding as he started his hike, unaware that blizzard warnings were posted though it was only mid November.
         An hour into his hike, David found a small path off to the left. It was hidden by a double-trunk pine tree that towered over the trail. Taking the new route it started to snow, then blow. He hesitated, but continued navigating the narrowing of the way along a steep ravine. Suddenly a gust blew David off the trail and he fell head over heels down the slope, banging into a large rock.
         Sometime later David awoke to find himself in a warm bed while the wind howled outside. To his amazement, a black cat sat on his chest staring at him.
Shooing away the black cat, David sat up and saw a woman in white at the doorway of the small bedroom. She had long blond hair that cascaded down the front of her gown and green eyes that stared at him curiously. “Am I dead?’ He asked. “Are you an angel?”
         The woman smiled, shaking her head.” I am a witch.” She said, coming into the room and putting her hand on his head. “Sleep now. I’ll lead you back when the storm passes.”
         Awakening to morning light, David looked around and saw his clothes neatly folded on a chair beside the bed. He gingerly felt his head, then got up and quickly dressed. He went into the large room and found his host at a table near the fire. She motioned for David to sit and served him porridge. He ate surprised at his hunger. While his host tended the stove, David looked for the black cat, but did not see it in the open room.
         David tried to engage his host in conversation, but she stayed silent except to say it was time to go. He shrugged into his hiking parka; she donned a long grey coat with a large hood and pulled on black boots.
         Together they wound their way from the cottage on a sunny morning, stepping carefully through the deep snow. After an arduous hike David saw the two-trunk pine and he knew they had reached the main trail. They stood at the junction as David paused to thank her. “Don’t return looking for me.” His guide warned solemnly and then she retreated along the hidden track.

Three weeks later the early snow had melted, the trails were dry and Andy coaxed a reluctant David into visiting the cabin in the woods. They parked at the Kuchina trail head and took the main route. The day was cold but clear and after an hour, David spotted his telltale pine and pointed it out. Cautiously they turned onto the hidden path, working their way along the narrow trail. They paused occasionally to catch their breath and check their surroundings.
        Finally, they came to a clearing and among the pines they saw a structure. “Looks like a hunter’s cabin.” Andy said, pointing at the bungalow nestled in the trees. “Maybe for an antelope hunt. Let’s check it.”
        But David held back, suddenly uneasy as he recalled the woman’s warning. The neat cabin was indeed the one he had shared with the woman in white. It unnerved David and he hesitated to go inside. Andy laughed at his friend’s caution and said he would have a look around. Andy went to the door and slowly pushed it open, and then disappeared.
        Standing alone in the clearing, a cloud scudded over the sun and the pine woods darkened, a wind whistled through the needles while the tall trees swayed.
        “It’s empty.” Andy said, returning and standing in the doorway. “There’s no furniture, just dust and cobwebs everywhere. Looks abandoned.”
        “Nothing, no one? David asked.
        “Just a green-eyed black cat.” Andy replied. He started to step forward, but slumped to his knees and was dragged back inside. David’s scalp tingled and he turned to run, but felt himself drawn back to the cabin and through the entrance way. The woman in white was there, shaking her head in admonishment, but smiling. “The oven is ready.” She said, closing the door.

Jack and Ann were disoriented in the forest and it was late afternoon with a light snow. The pine woods were darkening and they feared the coming night lost and alone. Suddenly, Ann called out. She saw smoke from a chimney and through the trees they saw a cabin.
        The couple approached cautiously, pausing at the front, smelling the delicious aroma that wafted from the cabin. Jack knocked on the door and it was opened by a woman in white with long blonde hair. He explained they had taken a wrong turn and needed directions back to the main trail.
        “Come in!” She smiled. “I just finished a roast and everything is ready. I have more than enough, so please join me.” The couple graciously accepted and entered the cozy cottage, noting they were cold and hungry.
        “I’m sharing.” The woman in white said.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The DARPA Culling Outpost, Flagstaff, AZ

Something was wrong. A light was burning at three in the morning in the office complex. Ross got out of his security car and scanned the empty building. Procedure dictated he signal the home office when he stopped to investigate, but he hesitated not wanting to trigger paperwork.
        Ignoring protocol, Ross went to the entrance and tried the door. Surprisingly it opened and he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. At the end he could see a light burning in an office on the right. The hairs on his neck stood and a chill ran down his back as he heard noises. He took a breath and then made his way down the hall.
        As he approached the lighted office, a head poked out and a comely, young woman gasped and widened her eyes at the unexpected intruder. "I’m security and saw the light.” Ross explained.
        He followed the young woman who had introduced herself as Linda into the office and saw it was a break room, replete with vending machines and a coffee maker. Linda was fixing a cup of coffee and she offered Ross one. “We’re DARPA” she said, “a new culling outpost in Northern Arizona.”
        Linda led the way to a corner table and they sat facing each other. Ross relaxed enjoying the easy company of the young woman, slender with shoulder-length hair and captivating blue eyes. Not having called the office allowed Ross to dally with Linda and savor his cup of coffee.
        A figure appeared in the doorway, big and bulky, with a large head. Ross was stunned to see the figure had no eyes, just holes and what looked like tiny lens where eyes should be. “Bruno, go back to the lab.” Linda ordered.
“But the stranger?” Bruno responded. “No visitors after hours.”
        Linda left the table and put her hand on his shoulder, whispering. Bruno swiveled his eyeless head in Ross’s direction, then turned and left. “Bruno’s my guard when I work late. He’s a collector.”
        “His face?” Ross questioned. “What’s wrong with his eyes?” And Linda
explained that Bruno was a facsimile, an advanced experimental robot. His long-distance vision was invaluable in the forests and mountains looking for runaways trying to avoid collection.
         “My wife was collected a month ago.” Ross said glumly. “She was a cripple, a lame leg. The people spoke when we had the referendum---the elderly, the infirm, the crippled, and the challenged had to go to the energy center for vaporization.”
          Linda looked at him and shook her head. “I should weep for you, but I’m a cousin.” She said, using the euphemism for the newly introduced humanoids that were hard to distinguish from normal people.
          Ross went still; taken aback that Linda was not human. She was so natural, sitting there sipping coffee. He listened as she went on to confess that they had tinkered with the referendum. Actually, people had voted no on the collection system.
          When Ross did not comment, Linda went on to say that the energy centers were still in development and that currently the collected were taken to a holding camp, given a sedative, and then loaded on a conveyor that took them to furnaces hidden in the mountains.
         “Dust to dust.” She murmured.
         Thinking of his beloved wife, Ross clenched his fist. Linda had revealed that the referendum was a hoax and the vaporization centers were nothing more than belching smoke stacks. How could the people have been so foolish, so idiotic to turn over civilization to the artificial intelligent humanoids?
         Ross stood holding up his empty coffee cup. Linda nodded and he started toward the coffee pot. Linda’s back was to him and he paused. Ross was not allowed to carry a weapon, but he always had his switchblade with him, which he quietly opened.
         “I’m happy to know you.” Linda said, sipping her coffee. “I hope we can be friends.”
        Ross plunged the 5” blade into Linda’s right ear. Machinery whirred and clicked and she collapsed face first on the desk, smoke trickling out of her ear. A final clack and Linda was still, disconnected.

        The war with the cousins had begun

Friday, June 17, 2016

On the Road Home, Great Basin Desert, Ely, Nevada

The car lights went out leaving Chris alone in the darkness of Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. He had stopped on deserted US 93 to exercise his aching back. His timed headlights had switched off and Chris was unable to see the road or his SUV. There was no moon and no guiding light.
        Gathering his senses, Chris paused as he heard crunching in the desert, then it was quiet. A chill crept down his spine as he had just passed the junction with Extraterrestrial Highway 375, the gateway to Area 51. Chris shrugged off his skittishness, found his SUV and got in. He started his vehicle and his headlights illuminated the blacktop that cut through the desert. To his surprise, Chris saw a figure standing in the road at the edge of his lights.
        The person came forward and it was a young woman dressed in trousers and a loose shirt with a leather bag slung across her shoulder. Black hair cascaded down onto her shoulders and she held out her right arm with a thumb raised.
         Chris waved her forward and offered the hitchhiker a ride, saying he was on the way to Idaho, but would stop in Ely where he could drop her off. The young woman said Ely was fine and introduced herself as Claire. He asked what she was doing alone in the desert, but Claire said simply.” I’m going home.”
        “Where’s home? Chris asked.
        “Home is far away.” She responded.
        They drove on in quiet until Chris saw flashing lights closing behind him. He slowed and pulled to the right, but the Nevada Trooper zipped past them, much to his relief. His passenger became agitated and clutched her bag. Chris pointed out the Ely lights on the horizon and Claire relaxed, noting she was tired.
         Reaching the Pioneer Motel on the north side of Ely, Claire went with him as he checked for a room. A couple was registering ahead of Chris and to his surprise Claire asked for money to play the lower-lobby slot machines. He obliged and gave her a five dollar bill, eliciting a smile. “Wish me luck.” She waved.
         The manager said he had a large room with two queen beds that faced the highway. Chris said fine, thinking to offer Claire one of the beds. He was completing his registration when a state trooper entered and chatted with the night manager. The trooper said a young woman had escaped from an institution for the criminally insane outside of Las Vegas and the lawman produced a photo which he showed to the manager who shrugged and said no. The trooper held it up for Chris who started. The dour mug shot resembled a younger Claire staring into the camera.
        Chris gazed at the picture and shook his head, denying he knew the girl in the picture. The manager asked what she had done and the trooper explained the girl had murdered her boy friend, and then killed his father and mother. “Beat them to death with a hammer.” The trooper offered.
        ”Sounds like a real wack job.” The manager grunted.”I’ll keep an eye out.”
        Chris found his hitchhiker at a slot machine and he offered her a bed for the night. She gladly accepted and they went to room 113 on the first floor. The neat room was large with two queen beds and a large flat screen. Claire went into the bathroom and Chris set his bag on the bed nearest the widow which looked east, facing the highway.
        In a few minutes Claire emerged from the bathroom and stood by the second bed. “I am not a wack job. “ She said, having overheard the manager. “And I did not murder that family. It’s a cover story and the place I escaped from is not an institution.”
       He looked at her, at a loss for words. Claire put her finger to right ear as if listening then looked at Chris. “They are coming for me and will be here at dawn.” She went on to explain she had been held in Area 51 and through a security lapse had been able to slip away. Once outside her people had made contact, directing her to Ely where she would be met and taken home.
        Absorbing this fanciful tale, Chris gripped his phone. Was it all a fairy tale or was there a chance it was real? If something was coming, he could video them taking Claire. Put it on YouTube, perhaps fame was beckoning.

Later Chris awoke with a gasp and he saw Claire standing beside his bed. Was it time for her to go? He started to sit up and reach for his phone, but Claire hit him in the forehead with a ball peen hammer.  She hit him again and then smashed his phone.
        “No YouTube and no fame.” She said, crossing to the window and watching as the morning sun crept over the Wasatch Mountain Range. She put her finger to her ear. Yes, they were arriving, just a few more minutes.

The maid opened 113 and walked in with an arm of fresh towels. On the second bed she saw a man with a bloodied face, his eyes wide open, staring blankly. She uttered a scream and backed up, glancing around for the room’s second occupant.
        But Claire was gone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Curse and the Star-Struck Lovers, Mogollon Rim, Northern Arizona

The two college students attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He was Native American, tracing his roots back to the mysterious Anasazi Indians. She was European, from somewhere in Eastern Europe or so it was said.
     Arriving at the Mogollon Rim, the Colorado Plateau’s southern escarpment, Martin spread a blanket in front of the giant pine that overlooked Walnut Canyon, a narrow gorge that housed traces of pre-Columbian Sinagua pueblos. Nadya opened their picnic basket and arranged the sandwiches and drinks.
     Finishing their light repast, they settled against the pine to watch the afternoon sun over the western mountains. Nadya nestled in the crook of Martin’s arm as they chatted about their studies. During a pause, she lifted her face seeking affection, but Martin put his hand over her lips. “I can’t.” He said. “I’m a member of an Anasazi sect that is cursed. If I kiss you I may lose control and breathe your life force. Unable to stop, I will inhale your soul and you will crumble into ashes.
     Nadya stiffened as she absorbed Martin’s tale, and then kissed his neck gently. “I too have a spell.” She said. “I’m Romani, a Gypsy.” And with that she sank her teeth into Martin’s pulsating neck. His blood splattered from the gaping wound as she gorged herself, only pulling back a second to take a breath. In that pause, Martin jerked his head and planted his mouth on hers, inhaling violently. Instantly, Nadya went limp as he sucked away her life force. When he hesitated, she gathered her strength and fought back, biting his lips.

An owl perched above in the pine tree gazed down at the struggle on the blanket and hooted. The sun touched the mountains, reds and gold streaked the evening sky. Night creatures crept forward, watching the lovers clinched in their deadly embrace.

A sheriff’s deputy met the state investigator as he pulled into the trail-head parking lot. The deputy led the way to the fatal picnic scene. “Possibly a homicide, but hard to tell what happened. Might be an animal attack, but I have no idea what animal did this.”
     The two law officers arrived at the scene and the state investigator paused considering the young man dead against the pine tree overlooking the canyon.  Sandwiches and drinks were laid out for two on the blanket. The lawman went forward and bent carefully, studying the dead student with the jagged neck gash and chewed lips. Taking his pen, he poked at something on Martin’s clothes
     “What‘s that?” The deputy asked.
     “Ash,” the investigator answered, pointing to the debris on the student’s lap and on the blanket. Gazing around the quiet pines, he wondered aloud.
     “Where’d all these ashes come from?”