The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 21

7

When Petr saw the Indian his blood went cold. He froze. The Indian stood with his bow fully drawn with an arrow poised to strike, its small black point gleaming in the sun. And his eyes too bright–glittering obsidian points blazing at Petr–like he was half man, half lightning.

He barked, “Heya-hey!”

Petr jerked as if his body was operated by strings the Indian pulled. He felt his scalp rise. The knife in his hand felt foolish. This wasn’t just an Indian. He was seeing a force of nature: the supreme Warrior Being; King of the Indians–as if a bear or a mountain lion had formed into a man. Magnificent broad shoulders, the warrior was dressed in bleached white buckskins. Petr immediately thought of the big deer, the manitoo. Is it you? Did you lead me here? Just lure me to kill me?

The Indian relaxed the bowstring. He pointed the arrow at a narrow cliff. “You go there, you see?” He gestured to a ledge of rock at least twenty-five feet above the small lake. His voice very deep, “You jump–you swim down–I tell you where. You strip–shirt and shoes.”

Petr nodded and put the knife down. No question about obeying. Pretty certain disobeying meant instant death. He piled his shirt, boots, glasses–and the pretty watch.

The Warrior said, “You come up too soon, I put arrow in you,” gesturing for Petr to go up, his voice commanding, “Swim to mouth inside mountain, and go down fast as you can!”

Petr hurried to the back of the lake. At the base of the cliff where he would begin climbing was a broad slab of gray rock where Indian drawings blazed as if made by flaming fingers. Had he intruded on an Indian sacred place?

Wiggling pairs of snake lines; circles within circles and W’s like birds. Most stunning of all was a big white deer with huge antlers and a bird tangled in its horns–or flying from it.

It was the deer he had followed–the great manitoo–now falcon, now deer, now Indian? He brushed his fingers over it and felt a rising reverence.

It is their sacred place–and this warrior is going to kill me.

He moved beyond thinking as if his brain no longer told him what to do. He felt brilliant clarity had entered and a daring that bordered on insanity. He could do anything. Any thing. This Indian was somehow feeding him energy, sending him courage.

The Great Warrior watched closely, nodding encouragement, but not smiling. Petr knew what this was. Here was a test of manhood. Indians were big on bravery and manhood and showing it. Does he want me to succeed or to die?

Petr climbed smoothly up the granite face as if he had been scaling cliffs all of his life. It took only a minute to reach the high ledge above the calm water, which now looked different.

Seen from the ground the lake was a red-rimmed eye, a dead eye. Seen from here it was an icy blue eye, a turquoise mirror. His burst of fearlessness suddenly evaporated. You jump? You swim down? He couldn’t do it.

The Indian was poised like a statue, watching and waiting.

Petr called down, “What do I do now?” his voice quavery and weak.

The strong voice replied: “You gonna find out pretty soon. You jump. You swim into that hole. You gonna see. You find big place you can breathe again. You believe me or you gonna die. Now get a rock.”

The voice was so deep and powerful, Petr found he wanted to obey. He found a smooth cannonball-sized rock. Looking down, the lake now seemed the size of a small blue bucket. Leaning over the edge, he felt his stomach shrink. His vision made purple pinwheels of fire, the beginnings of a jimjam fit. He closed his eyes tight. Maybe it’s all just a jimjam dream. No, it felt very real. He spoke and his voice sounded childish.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

The warrior laughed, he said, “Indian boys jump from here long ago. They become real men, real Indians, or they die. You gonna find out now.”

Petr opened his eyes. The lake seemed very far down. “I’m afraid…I can’t…do that.”

The Warrior’s voice was deep as forest wind: “All boys afraid to die. Now you be a man. Now you do what I say, you live. You don’t do it, I kill you.”

Petr grimaced. I’m seventeen today: not a boy, not a good day to die, I refuse to die.

The Warrior nodded and his lips didn’t move, but Petr heard him anyway, only now it was inside his head and louder than before: I watch from this place for a long time–I wait for you–I know who you are. You are the one. Now hear me. I am with you when you hear me. I am in your heart when you need me. Go now and find me in your heart.

Petr didn’t understand what this meant, only that this was it. This was manitoo.

The words gave him strength. He took a step backward and raised the stone over his head. It was real. Either you’re a man or you’re not. If you’re not a man, you die. Simple as that.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 20

6

The big man gutted and then salted the bird, and when he was done he tied it to his saddle horn. It was a smallish bird, a golden brown falcon. He’d missed the larger female, but it wasn’t his fault or the rifle’s fault, one of the six-shot repeaters he had stolen from the army. The bird had flown like winged hell. Earlier in the day he was disappointed by the rifle’s killing power when he shot a grizzly, and it grunted and ran away. That would be one dangerous grizzly the next time it met a man.

Munson rode in looking very used-up. King asked, “Pah Utes coming?”

“Big bend of the river right where you want ’em, waiting like corn-fed ducks.”

“And horses?”

“There’s six Injuns bringing thirty horses, nice big ones.”

King grunted with satisfaction. “All right then. We hit them at dawn. Get the men down.”

Did the Indians really think they’d get rifles for horses? Sometimes life was too easy.

 

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 19

5

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.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 18

It was not much of a lake. More like a crater, a hole in the earth. Round as a red moon, it was small, its backwall curved like a piece of broken cup, the water blood red, nothing growing within twenty yards of its arid rim, the starkness relieved only by the hissing jet of falling water. Was this Gold Lake? A bubble rose to the surface and there was that awful smell again. It made him think of giving birth to eggs. Rotten eggs. It was a creepy place. Something might jump out of the lake at any second. His hair raised again and his skin crawled and his vision wavered towards a jimjam fit. A chill ran up his back, and his arms goose-pimpled. Don’t let me pass out right now. Please.

No shimmering halos of purple light; no mental holiday into the ancient past. The jimjam didn’t happen. But it was close. His vision wavering, he gripped his head willing himself not to have a fit. He looked around. Where was the big deer? No way out, the white deer had to be in this canyon. But it wasn’t here and that wasn’t possible. He whispered, “Got to be…so strange…not to be.”

The deer wasn’t here. Somehow–the deer was somewhere else. The head of the canyon formed a tall red crown fifty feet above the lake. That probably explained the red color of the water. He scanned the rim but didn’t see the white deer. (Deer or manitoo?) He studied the lake.

At the edge there was a shiny black finger pointing at the water, and when he walked over to it, he saw it was a primitive, beautiful stone knife made by redmen.

Go on, pick it up. You know you want it.

He picked it up. He flashed the knife in the air feeling a strange savage power in his blood. He dashed around the lake swinging the knife, yelling, “Bad old Indian, you gonna mess with me now?”

Then the bad old Indian appeared out of nowhere.

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.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 12

Jack had told him all about it. Jack knew all about such things. The manitoo was a forest creature that lent you wisdom; it could help you prosper. Jack had seen this white buck and said it would be bad luck to shoot it. It was a good birthday gift. Now it was watching Petr Valory. It doesn’t like the rifle. Okay. Be rid of it then.

He ran downslope until he found the biggest cedar tree he had ever seen in his life. Massive survivor of centuries, it was tent-like, with branches that covered the ground. He crawled inside. It cool, dry and fragrant. He set the rifle against the trunk. There. Good. Crawl outside again. He made a stone pyramid to mark the tree. Come back later.

He didn’t know he wouldn’t see that rifle again for twelve years.

He searched upslope, but the white deer was gone. Probably wasn’t a manitoo anyway. Still, you didn’t see a magnum buck like that every day. Just a good luck sign that today was a lucky day: Head for that dry waterfall. See what you see.

He scrambled up until he was atop the smaller crest with its big view. Little Rocky would never make it up here. No worries about that. Again he would be wrong.

To the south lay the big blue expanse of Long Lake. Jack’s cabin looked like a toy house on a peninsula of pines jutting into the lake. To the north lay a gray valley holding two blue-jewel lakes, primitive and wild. A strong, sugary wind breezed up from the valley, a sweet pine wind. It was beautiful. Go there–to the valley of the lakes. He checked his watch: 2:15. Plenty of time before sundown. That was another miscalculation.

There it was again. The manitoo deer stood beside the first small lake, lapping up water. It raised its wide antlers at him, as if to say: Well, are you coming? Then it trotted away westward.