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?”


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Reconciliation's Man's Final Exam, Paseo Del Flag, Flagstaff, Arizona


  
Killing Maude was the last resort, Kevin thought to himself as he and Lauren paused at the ramshackle entrance to the small, ranch house. The two Reconciliation Agents gazed at the debris-strewn yard.
      It looked as if a bomb had gone off.
      The reconciliation concept began with the 2016 elections, the winning side decided the others had to reconcile, or else. The Supreme Court legitimized the new administration’s actions. First came re-education, then camps which were too expensive, and finally with the perfection of the small laser, the perfect solution.
      Lauren was Kevin’s mentor and this was his final test as a bona fide Agent. “This is not a drill, Soldier. “ Lauren whispered to her student. “This is your final.”
      Kevin nodded and rang the doorbell that chimed a song, perhaps a hymn. The two of them waited and Kevin breathed deeply, looking down at his left hand where he had secreted notes.
      “Try the door.” Lauren directed. And Kevin reached for the doorknob, and opened the creaking door. He poked his head inside and called for Maude Brown, the recalcitrant neighbor who refused to clean up her front yard among other social-civil infractions.
      Suddenly a small dog started yapping and Lauren gave Kevin a gentle push, indicating they should enter the house. The two agents stepped into the living room with a kitchen and a small eating area in the back. To the right, Maude was standing by a brick fireplace holding a poker and glaring at them. At the woman’s side a small terrier was nosily barking, emitting a high pitched yap that unnerved Kevin. The dog was digging at the worn carpet, as if preparing to attack. “Easy, Mr. Piddles.” The woman said, ordering the dog to hold his ground.
      Maude Brown wore a faded, brown peignoir that hung like a sack on her thin body. Maude’s red hair stood out as if the frail woman had stuck her finger in an electric socket. She pointed the poker at them with a threatening wave. “I ain’t cleaning the yard.” She croaked. “And I don’t believe in climate change either.”
Kevin glanced at his notes and saw that climate change denial was number four on the list of Maude’s offenses. Lauren nudged him and he knew it was time to start his reconciliation spiel, but as he opened his mouth Mr. Piddles bounced up and down and then lunged at the intruders.
      Without thinking, Kevin drew his laser and shot Mr. Piddles as the dog was in mid-air. There was a flash, then a smoldering pile of ashes. Maude’s eyes went wide as she gazed at Mr. Piddle’s remains, then she raised her poker to fling it at the two agents. Again, with no time to think Kevin shot Maude Brown, who vaporized into smoldering ashes next to her dog.
      Kevin turned to Lauren to explain, but his mentor had her laser out and without a word she vaporized Kevin. Lauren stood by the three piles of ashes and then knelt down beside Kevin's.“You failed your final, Soldier.” She said with a shake of her head.
      “You shouldn’t have shot Mr. Piddles.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Revenant and the Snow Beast, Coconino National Forest, Northern Arizona



The young lovers hesitated at the fork in the pine forest. Skyler explained that the road to the right was less traveled. Tara laughed and took her friend’s hand saying she felt adventurous and wanted to explore the forbidden way. Skyler nodded and they headed down the snowy path deeper into the woods. Tara strode boldly ahead while the athletic Skyler hung back, looking around as if fearful of something in the pines. Tara, of medium height with dark shoulder-length hair and large, brown eyes, felt excitement as she listened to the wind in the trees.
       Smiling back at her friend with his short blond hair and his sparkling blue eyes, Tara was pleased with their budding relationship. Proceeding slowly on the road they came to clearing with a lone, tall and straight ponderosa pine. Tara noticed Skyler appeared wary and then she saw movement ahead in the forest. To her shock he grabbed her hands and secured them behind the pine. Other men emerged from the forest and tied Tara to the tree with a heavy rope. The movement was so sudden that Tara was speechless.
        Skyler looked at her sadly while the men in white parkas and hoods stayed in the background. ”It’s January and time for the biannual sacrifice.” He said, explaining that since she lived alone with her invalid grandmother, the village had selected Tara for the biannual offering. And so they had staked her in the clearing and would leave her as tribute for the snow beast, guaranteeing another two years of peace for the village.
        “You don’t know.” Tara said, regaining her composure and Skyler hesitated, staring at her. There was something magnetic about Tara that had attracted him when she first moved to the village, something that radiated from her dark eyes. It was too bad she was chosen for the offering.
        “Last year I was hiking at Jacob Lake and I fell through the ice and drowned. I died.” Tara related.
        He raised his eyebrows, but she shook her head. “I was lucky and I made a pact. I was able to return from the dead with powers.”
        Stepping back, the young man laughed at the fanciful story. “ You made a pact with the devil?”
        “With a demon.” Tara answered. 
         Skyler’s blue eyes narrowed as he studied his friend tied to the pine tree; the snow beast was probably lurking nearby. Suddenly, he heard a rustling in the pines and a low growl. Time to leave Tara to her fate.The group of men backed to the edge of the pine forest and called out to Skyler who gently touched Tara’s cheek. She was already changing and Tara snapped at him. He jumped back shaken and hurried to join his friends. They paused in the clearing, once again hearing the snow beast’s menacing growl. Forbidden to watch, the group headed to the main road and back to the village.
        When the men were gone Tara breathed deeply and slowly tensed her muscles. As her body swelled, she let out a howl that reached the village men who froze, and then began quick stepping home.
        With her increased strength, Tara snapped the wrist ties, and then broke the heavy rope that had secured her. As she brushed her binds away, Tara saw a white, furry face peer at her from a pine tree. The creature’s eyes were yellow and fangs protruded from the beast’s ferocious mouth. Tara took a step forward and stared into the curious eyes of the beast who hesitated. She hunched over, snarled and spit, flashing her elongated teeth and leaping forward in a threatening manner.
        The snow beast backed up, turned and loped away through the pines. Tara watched her adversary disappear into the heavy forest, as the creature sought another village to terrorize. She slowly returned to her shy-girl form, brushing her hair from her eyes. Her first impulse was to return to the village for vengeance against Skyler and his friends. But she hesitated, there were towns to the east, even a city. The village could wait while she explored.
        Their time would come.                                    

Saturday, December 5, 2015

An International Assassin and the Little Girl, Wilson Arch, Moab, Utah




It was a snowy Boulder, Colorado Thanksgiving and the thin woman dressed in black sat by the fire at the Residence Inn. She glanced at a man in the lobby and nodded. The assassin recognized his contact and took the seat next to the woman. Without a word, she passed him a manila envelope and a picture of a young, angelic girl with brown hair. Her intelligent eyes stared into the camera. The girl was the target.
        “You take her to Wilson Arch outside of Moab, Utah and leave her under the arch just after sunrise….that’s important, under the arch and just after sunrise.”
        Wicker sat back and stared at the picture as he thumbed the bulky envelope containing his money. The woman was an enigma, contacting him via a circuitous route. She was paying 100% up front, which was unusual. “I have complete faith in you.” She said, as if reading his mind. “Besides,,,” and she let the thought hang. Wicker understood the unfinished sentence was a warning to do his job.
        The next morning Wicker ushered the girl to his SUV. She wore a tan parka, jeans, and hiking boots, carrying a doll and a small backpack. “My name is Ida.” She said as got into the driver’s seat. “I talk too much. Okay?”
        Wicker turned and gave Ida an icy smile, which he expected would quiet the talkative girl.
         “Good, we’ll get along.” She said in her annoying, little girl voice.
         Taking the Flatirons Freeway, Wicker proceeded to US 93, and finally onto I-70. They had started late morning so it would be evening when they got to Moab. Wicker had reserved two rooms at the Moab Best Western. He would deliver the girl to the arch just after sunrise the next day.
         Why and what for was not Wicker’s business, but it was one of his strangest assignments. His main concern was the girl would become frightened and try to escape.  But so far the girl was pliant, humming to herself and playing with her doll. He glanced at Ida and smiled as she held the doll to the window and pointed out Idaho Springs, a former mining town.  “In 1859 during the Pikes Peak gold rush, George Jackson discovered placer gold here.” She explained to her doll. “At first they used a rocker box, dipping water into it from the creek, and then sorting the gold from the sand, placer gold.”
         Wicker looked at her in a new light.
         “Yes,” Ida said, seeing his expression. “I’m a know-it-all, a pain.” She sighed. “That’s why I am being sent back to them.”
         Them?
         The two were quiet until they came to Breckenridge, an upscale ski area and Ida had another story. “George Spencer settled here to support the 1859 gold miners swarming to the Rockies.” Ida explained. “The town was named after Breckinridge, the 14th vice president of the United States. But in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, VP Breckinridge sided with the Confederacy, so in protest the mayor altered the town’s name, changing the first i to an e and renaming the town Breckenridge.”
          And so it went as they cruised past Vail and Aspen, one story after another. They finally cleared the Rockies and at Grand Junction, Ida announced she needed the rest room.
          Wicker found a Shell station and walked with Ida to the food mart facilities. He waited outside the ladies room until she came out. As they went back through the grocery, Ida took his hand and squeezed. Wicker glanced around noting the place was half full with Thanksgiving travelers, but they were quiet, standing motionless and staring at Ida. The silence and stares unnerved Wicker and they hurried back to their SUV, speeding off toward Moab.
          As they crossed into Utah, Wicker reflected on the food mart and the crowd. The shoppers had stared at Ida not with amusement, or curiosity, but with reverence.

The next morning after a light breakfast at the Best Western they left Moab and headed south on Route 191. Ida was quiet, taking in the grey skies and the undulating road that snaked between the stark sandstone cliffs.     
         After a half hour they found the Wilson Arch and Wicker parked off the road, as the sun hovered to the east. He reached behind for her backpack and doll, but Ida shook her head.
         Together they crossed the blacktop and headed to the arch set back from the road. Following a narrow trail, they made their way up the sharp incline until Ida stopped. “I should go on alone.” She said, looking at her escort solemnly.
        Wicker nodded and let Ida go ahead. She clambered onto the base rock and stood under the arch, calling for Wicker to come closer. As he stepped to the base, Ida began to hum, then sang: “Ride on, see you. I could never go with you, even if I wanted to.”
         And then she hummed again the haunting tune.
         “Sing the rest.” Wicker called. “I like it.”
         Ida shrugged, saying there was no more. “The song is Celtic.” She said in explanation.
         Wicker nodded and knew it was time to go. He waved and turned back toward the road. He was halfway to the SUV when there was a shrill whistling like a Mississippi steam boat horn, and then something blotted out the rising sun, leaving Wicker in darkness as panic surged through him.
         Suddenly it was over and the sun reappeared, the whistling stopped. Fearing for the girl’s safety, Wicker turned and ran back to the arch.
         But Ida was gone.


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Candidate's Mother, Shard Villa, Middlebury, Vermont




The young newshounds got rooms at the Middlebury Inn. After a brief talk with their informant they drove south on Route 7. The candidate had stirred the pot by stating he had attacked his mother with a hammer…during his youthful, dark days. The candidate claimed he found spiritual guidance and took a different road, becoming an admired and consummate professional.
      Skyler was fascinated by the odd tale and approached Chloe to pursue the story. They got a free-lance assignment to find the candidate’s mother and interview her. The media had to know the truth!
     Fortunately, Chloe had a friend at the Vermont Medical School who was taking a residency in geriatrics. He had discovered the candidate’s mother secreted away at the Shard Villa, an upscale, assisted-living home in Middlebury, Vermont. The doctor was able to arrange a meeting for the reporters. Chloe would ask the questions and Skyler would clandestinely film the interview with the elderly woman.
     Their contact greeted them at the Shard Villa and escorted them to an upstairs turret room with a view of the Green Mountains. The two introduced themselves, taking seats in front of the candidate’s mother, Mable. The elderly woman sat on an upholstered chair with a plaid blanket over her legs. In her left hand she fingered a silver cross; Mable's right hand was under the coverlet.              After small talk, she coughed and asked Skyler to get a glass of water from the kitchenette across the room.The young man turned away and the silver cross slipped from the old lady’s gnarled hand. Chloe bent from her chair to retrieve the icon, taking the cross from the floor. Suddenly Mable‘s right hand came out from under the blanket holding a ball peen hammer. With a swift blow, she popped Chloe on the head and the young woman collapsed to the floor with a soft thud.
     Skyler was just returning with the glass of water and he gaped at Chloe sprawled on the floor.
     “I think she’s fainted.” The elderly woman said her eyes wide.
     Quickly Skyler crossed the room and knelt beside Chloe. He saw the wound in the back of her head and looked up at Mable, who then cracked Skyler in the forehead. The young man toppled on his back and the room was still, but then Chloe groaned.
     The old lady bent down. “You got it wrong, dearie.” She whispered.
     “I’m the one with the hammer.”





Thursday, November 12, 2015

The White Buffalo Trading Post Explosion, Kendrick Park, Northern Arizona






The wind whistled among the pine trees and an odd noise in the night woke Bruce. His research group was staying at the White Buffalo Trading Post and in the morning he would present the history of the Red Mountain Devil, a Hualapai tribal legend of a creature that inhabited the Grand Canyon area in Northern Arizona.
     Creeping from his bed to the window, Bruce saw there was a moon illuminating the still landscape and he heard again the clinking sound. Catching his breath, Bruce saw something lope from the inn’s propane tanks and vanish among the rocks on the other side of the road. A bobcat?
     Donning a heavy sweat shirt and jeans, Bruce hurried outside to the parking lot with a flashlight. Everything was still as he crept to the road, scanning the light among the brush. Suddenly his beam caught a figure crouched in the juniper, red eyes blazing in the dark. The shape rose and vanished along a trail into the pines. Bruce crossed the road, calling out. And then the White Buffalo exploded.

Later, sitting on the ground with a blanket around his shoulders Bruce stared at the fire-scarred ruins of the trading post. His team was dead and only he and the owners who lived in front had survived the explosion. After paramedics treated him, the Sheriff asked questions, curious why he had come outside and escaped the fire. Bruce told the Sheriff he had awakened to a noise and gone to the window, seeing something run from the shadows of the inn and cross the road. The Sheriff asked Bruce what he had seen.
          “Please don’t tell us it was the Red Mountain Devil.”  A deputy scoffed sarcastically.
          Bruce took a breath and paused.
          “Probably a bobcat.” He answered.