The bird circling high overhead marked his location so exactly she was able to avoid the steep climb and instead took a gently rising valley to the north, a quicker path to her goal. Her brother was north of Big Jack’s cabin almost two miles and just below the Crest. It was probably an hour’s worth of running, but she was good for it.
Her white dress had shredded into pitiful rags in the manzanita mazes, but she didn’t care at all. She wasn’t a boy–that would take time. But she was getting dirty. Boy, was she ever. She was a brown rag of a girl. That was a start. A boy was dirty and tough. Things might hurt a boy, but a boy didn’t care.
One hour later, she reached a granite bowl that held twin lakes. The bird was circling the far end of a high valley so she headed there. A minute later she was within a grove of dead trees where she found a flat slab of stone pocked with holes like a meteorite. Beyond this lay a dozen scorched spots, all spooky and sad, making her sense something terrible had happened here. At the far end of the valley was a dark slit in the Crest that might be a box canyon or might be nothing.
The bird circled above it. He had to be there. She sprinted for it. Getting dirty. Getting tough. Not caring. On my way to being a boy.
Getting to the box canyon was a serious five minute climb. Without the bird marking it, she would never have found it. The small entrance to the canyon was covered with tangled shrubs that had been pulled aside, so there was a small gap. With fresh greenery you wouldn’t have noticed it. But the shrubs were dead.
Either a bear or her brother had pawed his way into whatever it was–a gully or a canyon. She felt like making a good old steamboat joy-whistle scream but decided to wait. Wait until you see him.
She low-crawled through the ragged hole and was inside in seconds. The canyon was so narrow it made her feel like she was inside a jaw that was closing to swallow her up. She tried to escape the feeling by running, but it didn’t help. A few minutes later were circles of black rocks and white rocks like a small graveyard. Beyond this was a tusk of white quartz, like a crude pulpit, sparkling with gold. None of this interested her. What she wanted was to sneak up on Petr and scream, Ha, ha! Thought I couldn’t find you?
A minute later there was a red lake that smelled like dead frogs.
You didn’t go in there, did you? Then she thought, Don’t get all little girl scairdy-cat now. The place was revoltingly creepy. Red water stinking with frogs? If this didn’t make her a boy nothing would.
When she heard a faint welcoming: ching!ching!ching!ching! –the watch, it meant he was here!–her entire being quickened with an electric thrill. She ran up to the lake.
Beside the pool sat a neat pile of clothes–and the realization of what that meant sent a cold chill of fear up her spine. There his faded red shirt. Boots with the tops flopped over. The watch nestled in the shirt like a jewel. Spectacles neatly placed. Why, brother, why–have you gone swimming?
Kneeling at this soft altar, she handled the watch fondly, kissing the Lovers painted on its case. The watch should have been mine. Directly overhead the falcon cried, “Keee-iiirrrk!”
She looked, and there, high on a ledge of rock, high above the water, there he was.
Annabel gasped but barely a whisper came out. “Peh….”
He stood painted on the blue sky. Shirtless, stripped to his faded pantaloons. Why? What for? A cannonball-sized rock hoisted overhead–he looked oddly old. Eyes clenched tight, mouth gaping wide, like he was getting ready to do something crazy.
Annabel shrieked long and hard, not the happy steamboat whistle but the steam train screaming for Hell. “Eeeeeeiiiiiii!” And it didn’t do any good. Petr jumped.
Tipping into a dive, down, down, down, then a stone-first smash into water that made it splash and boil. Annabel waited open-mouthed.
Red rings formed silent farewells, and Petr did not come up.