The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 17

The burnt match smell very strong now, tainted by something worse, something rotten and dead–was the lake lined with dead bodies? Given Stoddard’s story, maybe it was lined with dead gold hunters. Fear was growing. He gave himself another mental shove.

You came here to find the legendary Gold Lake, didn’t you? Go find it.

The smell was so bad his legs shook. It was like entering a fog of rotten stench. He moved forward pinching his nose, trying not to gag.

A hundred steps more brought him to the steady hissing sound of a waterfall. So there must be a lake; even small waterfalls produced prodigious amounts of water. If there was no outfall stream, where was it going? And why did it smell so bad? Well, another minute you’ll know the answer. Are you a man or a boy? Suddenly he was running toward the sound–the answer–even if a big gob of fear in his stomach told him to run the other way, and his mind was crying, God help me.

He grew weak. He slowed down until he found himself crouching awkwardly forward, expecting the whizz-thump of an arrow in his chest. His shoulders ached. His feet felt like lead. His eyes were popped so wide he couldn’t blink. He tried to rally himself mentally: You’re seventeen now. This is one of those places where you become a man.

Nearing the backwall and the waterfall, at least he would see the big white buck up close and even if there wasn’t any gold it would be worth the trip. There wouldn’t be any gold. (Would there?) On the other hand California was the Promised Land.

This was an unexplored canyon. (Wasn’t it?)

Finally he saw it. Silver showering water fell at the back of the canyon. He forced himself forward. There was a cool breeze. The smell was mostly gone. He felt the sting of the arrow that would end his life. But he had to see this lake now.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 16

A clearing with white and black stones in circles–seven circles where seven chiefs had been buried. Why did he know that? The hairs on his arms raised-up. He realized something loud and clear as if someone had spoken to him.

The California Mountains were enchanted with sunshine and fresh air, famous for healing sick people. But this place–whatever that energy was–was jacked up way too high. Petr felt his neck hair bristling, and suddenly he was terribly thirsty. A big temblor of fear hit his gut and blossomed out into his first irrational thought:

Whitemen don’t belong here–and don’t get out alive.

He tried to laugh but his throat was so dry it felt cracked, and he choked. He put a pebble under his tongue, an old trick he had learned in the Nevada desert when they had no water all day every day.

Go on! You know he wants you to go on. You mean (he wanted to laugh but couldn’t)–

The deer? And where was the deer, anyway? This was a box canyon, for sure, no way out. The buck was in here. It had to be. He wanted to get a good long look at that big white buck. He walked for five minutes.

There was an ending backwall, a steep red cliff, and for some reason it was shimmering like a gold lake. Like what Tom Stoddard found and couldn’t find again? Another blast of fear hit him in the gut. He stopped.

If there was a lake–where was its outfall stream running down from it? All lakes had them. Where was it? He scanned a gully for a seasonal stream, and there wasn’t one. Maybe there was no gold lake, either. His skin went cold as if from winter wind, but there was no wind. Just beyond the chieftain graveyard was something that made him freeze. It was so stunning he swallowed his pebble.

Upthrust from the canyon floor was a thick quartz tongue, pure white, unbelievable. It was streaked with veins of gold. He coughed up the pebble. His knees crumpled, he gasped, “Holy mother of Jesus!”

He crawled until he gripped the cool slipperiness of the thing; pulled on it, but it didn’t budge. It was rooted in the earth. He patted it reverently, whispering, “Mama, Papa, Annabel, look what I found.”

The gold-streaked tusk proved no gold hunter had been here before, except maybe Tom Stoddard. Who claimed he’d left this place…this very place…in a hail of arrows!

“Must see…must see if it’s true,” he whispered. He had to go see–go see the lake.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 15

4

Petr ran closer to where the white buck had disappeared. It had disappeared down into something. He marked the spot mentally because if it was a canyon it was hidden from below. Five minutes of steep climbing later, he found the entrance. Well, well, well.

A crevice choked with brambles, cut and carefully placed–dried and withered and pale as if they had been placed long ago–to hide a hiding place. But why hide a canyon? What lay beyond the narrow gap? This must be something special. He got down on hands and knees.

After a few feet of scratchy crawling, he exited a bramble tunnel–and found himself inside a narrow canyon of silvery granite. Indians had hidden this canyon and used it–but for what? What would Indians hide from the world? What did they really care about?

It was a V-shaped canyon, remote, and forbidding. For the first time that afternoon he thought: Maybe I won’t be home for supper.

An unexpected memory came, a nightmare he’d had since he was ten, when he began thinking of girls differently from boys, returning powerfully now as he walked slowly up the narrow ramp of the little canyon. In the dream, he saw a beautiful girl with a face much like his own, a sun-ripened beauty, warm as living sunshine. He was strolling arm-in-arm with this perfectly matched to him female, perfectly happy. Then as in the way of dreams, he lost her. He could not find her anywhere; he seemed to have missed her only by minutes wherever he searched. He could picture her, almost hear her, feel her. And yet–in his dream–he never saw her again. He had lost her forever leaving a terrible loneliness inside him as if his soul was dying. Now the aching loneliness hit him hard.

He sat on a rock and covered his eyes. He noticed a faint breeze, scented as if someone had just struck a match. Sulfur? His next though was a double lightning flash.

Don’t go any farther! But it’s the gold lake!

He scanned the loose gravel for what had to be there: silver-dollar-sized-deer-tracks. There were none. The path was smooth. No one here for a long time, not even animals. He swallowed hard and again began walking deeper into the canyon now steeply uphill. An icy chill shivered up his back. He saw something up ahead, man-made–Indian-made.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 14

The big buck made its high keening cry again. Standing on a small peak at the end of a narrow rim, it looked back at him and then sudden jumped down and disappeared. A hidden canyon at the end of the valley?

The watch chimed: ching! ching! ching! He glanced at the sun. How could it be three o’clock already? Time never passed this fast when he was sawing logs in half with Papa. The falcon was making its sky circling loops and its skirling cry-song. “Keee-iirrrk!” It was directly above where the big deer had disappeared.

Falcon and white deer–foolish to believe they were calling or that they were manitoos–but they seemed to be. He felt a terrible urge to follow them. Time was definitely speeding up. Find out what happened here later. Find that deer. Find the Gold Lake. Hurry up. The manitoo is guiding you.

3

She was punished for not doing her Sunday Bible reading. It was a crime against Magya Pavlovich Valory. Mama ordered Annabel into the loft to sweep her room. So she went up. It was according to plan. Annabel had plotted it out. She looked down at them both.

Magya was reading the big family Bible; John was making one of his little bottle boats. Annabel smiled. Make the broom whisper back and forth–and escape. She would follow Petr.

She settled her doll in a chair by the window. That way Miss Daisy could watch out. She took up her broom and held the rough straw in her lap–and lashed a flat piece of slate (there was a crumbling wall of it by the waterfall) onto the straw. She hung the heavy broom from a rafter–and pushed it.

Hush back and forth, hush, hush. It would last maybe a minute. They would hear her brooming and forget about her. Did we used to have a little girl? Who cared about Annabel?

She climbed out the back window. Petr had an hour head start but so what? He said where he was going in his sleep. He was heading for the high west valley. He called her ‘Rocky’ in his sleep. Today we show what little ‘Rocky’ can do.

She returned to the doll sitting by the window. She said, “That’s who I am now. Never mind the ground eight feet down. It cannot hurt a boy. Now I am Rocky, the boy.”

Blue skies blazed high above, pine scent filled the air with the sweet smell of freedom. She edged down the roof. She jumped. She hit the ground.

Good God! Her feet stung like nails were driven into them with hammers. But nothing worse. She could still move. She startled away like a deer. She ran uphill to the Valory waterfall where there was a clearing. She looked up the valley and couldn’t see Petr, but he was easy to follow. He was about two miles away. She could tell. The falcon was circling a hundred feet over him like a kite on a string.

Their falcon, the one they had been trying to tame by putting sugared meat atop a dead tree. She was sure of it. She caught her breath and started laughing. My wandering brother. Hunting for gold! She was only eight but already knew something important. “Men seek gold, and women seek love!”

The falcon circled near the Sierra Crest and it was no longer moving away. What did that mean? The falcon loves Petr and follows him as Annabel loves and follows him? (Yes?)

Afterwards she would have a long time to think about that.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 13

Petr ran down from the crest leaping manzanita brambles that crushed beneath him like mattresses made of twigs. He fell laughing a dozen times and couldn’t stop running and falling. When he reached the bottom, he fell like a blown horse. Thank God he got rid of the heavy rifle.

While he caught his breath, he studied the lower lake with its smaller twin. No glimmers of gold just big bowls of cold water. No gold here. How on earth did anyone ever find gold?

The big deer whistled and ran away into a high valley where it vanished. He’s leading me on, isn’t he? No, that was a silly idea. He glanced along the shore. Between the twin lakes lay a grove of pinenut trees all cut down and rotting. Who had done such a crime? He walked slowly into the graveyard of stumps remembering the delicious taste of pinenuts. They were starving at the end of their journey last fall, and Jack had shown them how to knock down pinecones from the tree using a long stick. They had been grateful for the nuts. More importantly, the Indians needed pinenuts to survive. Who did this?

He ran again, and a dark thought hit him: Evil is hidden beneath beauty. That couldn’t be true. Where did such an awful idea come from?

He stumbled onto a rock slab pitted with bowl-shaped holes. Indian work–a big grinding floor. Here’s where they ground the nuts into flour. He ran his hands along the smooth hollows and felt a strange thrill. How long did it take people to make such holes, centuries? The holes wavered like a mirage on a desert, warning he might be having a jimjam fit. That meant jerking on the ground and twitching while the picture in his head flipped, and flipped, and flipped. No, not today! Not this gold hunting day!

His vision steadied. He hadn’t had a fit all the way west.

A few yards off he saw ruins of an Indian village burnt to the ground, a dozen smudges like dead bonfires in a semi-circle. These had been huts the Indians called canees, now fading in the ground. But who had torched them, the Indians? Dain King? He was suddenly cold even though it was a very hot day.

Something bad had happened here. Indians were murdered here. Or simply moved away? This was a dark mystery within an hour of the Valoryvale. Thank God Annabel wasn’t here to see it.

His wrong guesses were piling up.