The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 28

11

Halfway home Annabel fully recovered, trotting behind him like a talking puppy. The sun-painted mountains grew cherry red. His vision was now razor sharp, all colors rich and dark, all pines emerald spears, all mountains hammered walls of molten iron.

“God in heaven,” he spoke warily. “My eyes are light-drinking wells.” He was roaring with wildcat energy. The world sparkled in kaleidoscopic rainbows of green, yellow and red, the sky a rich vault of cobalt blue. Never had he felt such vitality. Yet he felt anxious as if he was too late for something. He slowed down to let Annabel catch up. She was puffing.

“What did you say? Ain’t you gonna tell me what happened down there?”

Petr shrugged. “It was like a dream. I only remember snatches.”

“Tell me snatches then.”

“I dove underwater and found a tunnel. I swam until I reached a chamber filled with stale air. It was filled with gold light coming from below. That didn’t seem possible. So I went down another tunnel for a look. I found a room full of bright light. It was hot. That’s all I remember. That’s probably where I found the gold moon. But I don’t remember. I passed out for a while. I dreamed I was in a land of pyramids and pharaohs and I was looking for gold.”

She said, “Was there a beautiful girl?”

He didn’t answer. That was enough for now. They could hear the whispery welcome of Valoryvale waterfall that fell twenty feet to the valley floor. Just one more step and–

Then he heard something very bad. “Wuh-wuh-wuh,” like a big dog. He knew what it was.

A rolling mound of flesh was heading towards them and he reached back and gripped Annabel’s head. “Stay put like a rock.” She crouched behind him. She looked more like a noodle than a rock. Jack had been right to scare them with stories. Kids alone in the woods without a weapon had no–

He remembered the Indian knife and pulled it out.

The grizzly sniffed the air, gazing at them. His head was big as a bushel-basket, his body a dark sack of hunger. When it reared up Annabel screamed. Six feet of raging hunger stood on its hind legs. A greasy patch of blood smeared one shoulder–a wounded grizzly–very bad news. He remembered the gunshots earlier today. The bear made a low rumbling grumble. Then it charged.

Petr screamed: “AWAY! AWAY from my sister!” Amazing thunder in his voice, the warrior screaming in his head: Attack!

Suddenly he ran at the bear, the knife cocked at his hip, ready to strike, ready to meet the bear, and it kept coming. A little girl-scream sounded a thousand miles away. And then the bear filled his eyes.

It halted abruptly–and swung a hooked paw. Petr ducked and amber eyes blazed hatred at him. It bellowed and Petr smelled rotten fruit and death. Its gaping blue yap filled with yellow teeth. Petr struck the knife into the huge mouth.

With all his might he drove into the slimy hole, down the slimy throat, plunging until his arm was engulfed in a meat grinder. The bear gagged humid breaths and vomited purple geysers spraying Petr’s should and neck. He was clamped up to his shoulder in an iron jaw. Below his embedded fist a powerful savage heart pounded like a buried drum–

Chooomba-chooomba-chooomba!

Nothing existed in the world but him and the heart of the bear.

The bear toppled sideways and Petr felt his shoulder pop. The grizz made a curious whining cry, turning its mouth gingerly aside. Its legs coiled like springs and Petr knew his stomach was about to be churned out like spaghetti from a bowl.

Thick claws raked him but clicked against metal as something round pounded his gut. And for some reason he knew what to do next. He forced the knife into a grisly circling stroke. Hot greasy fluids boiled over his hand and the big beating heart popped like a balloon. The grizzly stiffened. Blood poured from its mouth.

From somewhere a keening wail had been going on forever. “Eeeeeeeiiiiiii!” A little girl pulling on him, screaming and kicking and beating.

Blood rivered over him in big red gushes–but the girl was there to help free him. She didn’t stop screaming as she pulled his arm from the gushing throat and his arm floated out like a newborn baby. Red teeth-marks sliced from his bicep to his wrist. He did not want to believe that arm was part of him–or his hand–a dead-looking blob that no longer held a knife. Well, it was a good place to leave the knife. He crawled away.

Collapsing on his back, wiping sticky goo from his face, he was coated in purple puke. No girl should see such a sight. Poor Annabel, where was she? Was she all right?

He didn’t have strength to stand so he twisted around. Annabel was standing over the dead bear with her fists clenched and her voice even higher than usual. “Bad old bear! Why did you do that? Bad old bear!”

He gasped, “Annabel…it’s…not much…farther. Get help…get Papa.”

She crouched beside him, hands on knees, staring at him, her dress a bloody rag, her voice awestruck. “That was amazing. Where did you learn that–that was real Injun fighting. You jumped, you swung, you rolled, you–”

“Rocky! Get Papa and don’t tell Mama.”

She nodded and ran away. She was a girl, but she was reliable. He had one last thought: That was one hell of a birthday. Then everything went black.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 27

(After the slaving author has taken a short Christmas Holiday)

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell. “You found…Gold Lake?”
He nodded wearily. “That’s part of our deal. You keep the watch. You keep your lip buttoned about all of this.” He waved his hand around. “Agreed?”
Annabel nodded. She wanted to agree. She asked suddenly, “I gotta know: How could you stay underwater an hour? How did you do that?”

He shook his head. “There’s a cave that goes under, a long ways under. There’s lots of gold. For some reason I can’t remember what happened. It’s blanked out–actually–blazed out. It’s called The Luminah. Don’t ask me what that means. I can’t remember. Don’t tell anyone.”

She was thinking: Looks like Petr, sounds like Petr, acts like Petr–but what about the glasses? “Don’ cha want your specks?” she asked innocently.

He picked them from the sand, blew on them, and pocketed them. “I don’t seem to…to need them anymore. Pretty funny, huh?”

Yeah, that was real funny, a great answer. Proof Number One. She sought more of the same damaging proof. “Where ‘ja get the funny old knife? It looks like black glass.”

He sat like Papa after a long hard day. “It’s none of your beeswax business, little Bee-bee. You already know way too much.” He rubbed his arms as if he were real flesh and blood.

She thought: That’s right, I do know too much–as much as you–if you really were Petr. The haunt didn’t look like a creature from Jack’s tales, just a tired, wet man. Could it be Petr? She reviewed her strange dream. Water Pony took her into a hole in the lake, a cave into the mountain. Was it a real place? The real Petr…could he have…just possibly-maybe might have…if it were real…swum into? Could he have breathed–inside what he calls The Luminah? Could he….

Keeping low, she approached him as if he was a hot furnace, slowly, carefully–while he was absorbed tying his boots. Would a haunt even know how to tie laces? She stared into his big whiskey eyes. He had a new sparkle in his right eye. She inched closer. He stared without needing to blink. There was a sparkling speck and it was a real humdinger.

A tiny gold star. Right there in his right eye. Wow.

This was new. The old Petr Valory had no such speck. Not to mention it. Not on your life. It might set him off. But she grew crazy bold. She touched his cheek. He was on fire! Did dead men have hot skin? She withdrew quickly. She said in a small wary voice, “Why’s there no second ‘e’ in your first name? Why’s it spelt funny?”

He tied his boots. “Because Mama said it would save ten dollars worth of ink, over my lifetime, not having to write another ‘e’. It’s her idea of economy.”

And that was true. But there was a bigger, more important burning question in the world. She blurted, “Who’s your favorite sister? What’s your nicked-name for her?”

He laughed, turning to her tenderly, “Oh Annabel. Oh Little Fifty-pounder. Our Little Puzzle-puss. We have dozens of names for you.” He tousled her hair–and she let him.

“But you’re my little Rocky. You’re my favorite sis. The one I love the best.”

Annabel threw her arms around his neck, gasping, “Oh! Petr, I thought you was dead! Oh Petr, oh God, oh Petr! I thought…I thought…” Tears spilled down her face.

Petr swung her around in a circle until her feet flew outward, until she giggled, until she said, “Oh, is it really you?”

“Rocky, don’t you worry. I’m more alive than you’ll ever guess. And don’t ever doubt I love you the best.” She clung to him looking up at him. He shook his head. “You’re due a good spoon-beating from Mama for ruining your dress, but first things first.”

He glanced left and right. “Let’s get down this mountain before grizzly’s suppertime.” Petr turned modestly away tucking the gold moon under his shirt, halfway down into his pants, cinching his belt. He grimaced and smiled. “Finding gold is hard, painful work. But the Valorys are rich now. You’ll wear a silk dress and be riding a fine big horse very soon.”

He hoisted Annabel onto his shoulders. “Okay, whirly-girl: You keep the pocket watch and we keep our big secret. Now let’s get home.”

The watch chinged six o’clock in Annabel’s pocket. She said, “I found a good path from home. Can we take it? I’m a good pathfinder.”

Petr laughed. “You are–unfortunately. Point the way, Rocky Pathfinder.”

She gripped his ears and prodded him with her toes for speed. “Giddy-up, horsy! Then he carried her down the mountain towards the Valoryvale.

But their day was not done yet.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 26

10

Someone–something–was dripping over her. Cold fingers brush her shoulder. Gently as a feather, gently as he–

She twitched, she couldn’t help it, but kept her eyes closed as a husky voice breathed on her. “Why…child…why…An-uh-bell?”

That wasn’t–couldn’t be Petr. That was a wicked creature’s voice trying to remember a forgotten tongue. Forget that wonderful stupid fairytale Water Pony dream. Petr is dead. Cold logic told you that. He is underwater dead. Five minutes underwater, maybe more. You don’t walk away from that. So who was this cold drippy thing hulking over her, some creepy Indian?

Annabel made razorblade eyes and saw wet blue pantaloons and legs long enough to be Petr’s strong legs. And strong arms, a carved face, dark amber eyes and hair the color of whiskey in sunlight, as Papa liked to say. But that skin was lobster red. Petr got sunburned underwater? His face was wrong, too. It had meteor streaks like something exploded in his face.

The Thing said, “Why did you…follow me…Annabel?” She winced as it stroked her hair, brushing it from her face just as Petr would have done. Thankfully, Big Jack had told her all about such vile creatures. This was something called a haunt, a walking dead thing.

She scuttled back, kicking off the boots and bringing up her fists. “Keep away from me, you creepy haunt.” Tears burned down her cheeks, and couldn’t be helped. “You’re not Petr. I had a brother once, but I don’t anymore. He drowned in yonder lake.”

The Thing seemed calm and patient, just as Petr would have been.

Smiling tiredly, sitting on a rock, it pulled on the boots, then the red shirt. It didn’t put on the spectacles which was the tip-off. Petr always wore his specks everywhere he went. The haunt’s amber eyes blazed unnaturally bright and lively. Feverbright. Now it searched the shoreline and found a black knife she hadn’t noticed before. He stuck it in his belt. But then he seemed agitated.

“Annabel–the watch, did you take it? Tell me…what time is it?”

Annabel backed away and clamped her breast pocket. “You can’t have it. It’s all I have left. It was his–now it’s mine–till the day I die.” Wishing she hadn’t added that last part.

The Thing smiled slyly. “Just tell me the time. We won’t mention this to Papa or Mama–about the watch, or the lake.” Smiling sadly, he said, “All right, little monkey-bump?”

Without agreeing to anything, Annabel read the time: “Five thirty-six.”

That jolted him, head snapping back, he swallowed hard, “God, an hour–under there.”

There was something beside him she had been too terrified to notice before, something so amazing it couldn’t be real; something impossible from the dream, shiny and wet.

A gold moon the size of a pie. Real solid gold.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 25

A shimmering blue pony with a silky coal black mane, its tail brushing the ground–What fancy blue eyes and bright teeth you have! Annabel spoke clearly: I need to go right now. Down to find Petr. Can you help me? You’re here to help me, aren’t you? Water Pony nodded three times. Down there, is he? Water Pony stomped the ground.

Annabel grabbed its long black mane and climbed onto its round solid back. I’m only dreaming, so why not go? They slid into the water, not cold at all, it was dreamy cozy warm. But what Jack said was true. She was glued to Water Pony’s back. She could not get off. It took her down to a gloomy, honeycombed bottom, thirty feet below.

They entered an underwater cave sloping upwards like a teapot spout. Since it was only a dream, she could breathe underwater. The pony trotted up the watery tube and after what seemed like ten minutes they entered a cave chamber holding a dark pool nearly identical to the one outside the mountain, only this one was deep inside the mountain, its shore fine black sand. Around the lake were caves like small dark eyes. Above each cave was the drawing of an animal. Bear. Deer. Wolf. Turtle. Twelve caves with different animals.

Next she noticed a small stream that exited the back of the lake and disappeared down yet another tunnel. It was flickering with golden light. And carved above its entrance was a blazing gold falcon. The Water Pony didn’t hesitate. It went down the falcon tunnel.

Downhill five minutes into pulsing yellow light, the channel ended abruptly at the lip of a waterfall. Here the Water Pony stopped as if its job was done. Below the waterfall was a great, huge crater littered with gold. At the crater center a pool bubbled with liquid gold. That was impossible–just dream stuff–but then she saw him.

Petr! There he is!

Halfway down the crater, holding something tight to his chest, a shinybright moon, a little round moon. But why is he crying? Then she knew.

He’s trying to come home to Annabel. But it’s too hard because of the terrible weight of the moon. He turns and waves goodbye to her.

But it can’t be Petr. His eyes are glowing disks of gold.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 24

9

Red rings lapped the shore, one by one disappearing. Annabel sat repeating over and over mentally, Please come up, please come up, please. She looked at the beautiful watch: Four oh-two. Take a deep breath. Count slowly. She began the hold-the breath-game. Annabel always fizzled out after sixty seconds. Amazingly, Petr could hold for nearly three minutes. He claimed the secret was to think of a faraway story. Go away mentally. Take a little trip. Forget about breathing.

She exploded after thirty-two seconds. Okay, too excited. Don’t count, don’t think of minutes. She stared at the pool, whispering: “Come up, oh please come up.”

The water was a blank red mirror. Nothing appeared. No dripping brother saying, Rocky, I really fooled you this time! Any real boy would try the game again. Hold your breath!

She sucked in a big lungful of air. This time she tried remembering a story Big Jack told her when building their cabin last fall: Don’t ya go dandling off into the woods now, little darling. Ya hear them whispers in the stream? Them’s voices of lost children! She laughed but Jack continued sternly. Water kelpie’s got’em. He’s the prettiest pony ya iver seen. But onc’t ya hop on, ya can niver get off. Yoor stuck like glue. Takes away many a fair lass and lady ivery year, sad but true. He nearly got me onc’t when I was just a young soncie. Beware of the Water Pony.

She laughed, her breath exploded–and the red mirror held nothing at all. How long has be been under? The watch read four oh-four. Petr underwater four minutes? Impossible. Maybe the water kelpie got him too. Maybe he was playing a game just to scare her. But that was no good. He doesn’t know you’re here. She stared at the red pool. “Okay, you won the game, Petr. Now please come up, please, please.”

Still there was nothing and Petr wasn’t coming up, and then Annabel must–

She touched the water. It felt like cold teeth biting her hand!

You cannot go down into that faceless mirror of death. It’s suicide. It’s–

Go down brave boy! And find what? His bloated body stuck beneath slimy rocks? Not Petr anymore but a terrible clay cocoon? She dried her fingers on her dress. She put the gold watch in her pocket where it belonged. She picked up his shirt. She pressed it hard into her face and it smelled good: salty, tangy, sweaty leather aroma of Petr. She pulled on his floppy boots. They came up over her knees. They comforted her. Wearily she lay down using the shirt for a pillow but she began shaking, trying to hold back tears. Not a very boy-like thing, was crying. Just keep your eyes on that lake!

Exhaustion rolled her over. She was worn out. All that uphill climbing and downhill running and hopping streams, had done her in. Go to sleep now. Get some rest.

No, I won’t sleep! Maybe close my eyes for a quick minute. I’ll be right here when he–

She barely whispered: “When he comes up…please…come…up.”

She couldn’t help it. She fell deeply asleep dreaming a long dream that began with children laughing, crying, playing. She knew all about them: the lost children who thought they knew better than big folks, thought they could wander off alone in the mountains. She knew because Big Jack had told her. But why did they sound so happy? They would never be seen again because the Water Pony took them away. Jack warned her about the Water Pony. It took children and drowned them.

The day was getting worse because now she saw it. The Water Pony galloped around the lake. Now it stood before her. It was beautiful

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 23

8

John climbed up to the loft, looked over the rail, and laughed. Then he came back down. Magya watched him nervously. What was so funny? He hadn’t talked to Annabel, only laughed.

He went to his shed for ten minutes. When he came back inside he was stinking of whiskey and grinning like a fool. The demon was back! Where did he get whiskey? From that evil mining camp? She yelled, “Get away from me!” But it did no good this time.

Twenty years before he was drunk with smooth lines from Shakespeare. That’s how he’d charmed her. After they married he lost Shakespeare and took whiskey every night. But for seven months–the journey west–he had been sober. Now the dirty beast returned.

He tossed his glasses aside and plunged at her. “Now you–be my wife again!”

She cried out, “Help me, Annabel!” She jumped onto the ladder and climbed as fast as she could, but John was right behind her. Laughing, gripping her legs as she screamed tumbling into the loft. John followed and she backed away quickly. She grabbed the broom but it wouldn’t come loose. He brushed it aside, laughing. The rooster! No more of that. Not ever. Rather die. “Stay back, you dirty beast!”

He peeled his filthy gloves revealing the horrid nubs of his fingers. He said, “My hen, she’s all alone now.” He was chortling, giddy, all roostered-up.

She held her bosom in her hands but her hands were too small to cover them. She tried reasoning. “Remember, I raise him like my own boy–and you said you’d leave me be.” Her voice trembling, “You need dirty things, you go to King’s tavern and buy you an Island Girl.” Shocked that she’d said that to him, then she screamed, “Leave me be!”

He grinned, lunging at her.

“No! Keep back!” Must not let this happen. Not another baby! Their first baby was born dead. Then giving birth to Annabel had nearly killed her. When he began kneading her like dough, she gasped.

He laughed again, “Oh, that pretty song, too.” He tore at her buttons. There were fifty white buttons down the front of her black Sunday dress.

She slapped him so hard it sounded like a rifle shot, but he didn’t stop. Finish him off, say anything. “Annabel and I leave–”

John pulled with all his strength and buttons flew like shining stars.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 22

For one brilliant moment he considered the possibility that he had gone completely mad. Sorrow filled him to a degree he had never experienced before. He wanted to bawl like a baby. Other thoughts entered him that were stronger and braver than his usual white man’s store of knowledge: It is The Luminah…I will be with you…You will know what to do…You will not be afraid…ever again…I am with you…Tell no one!

Then his own thoughts returned: Do it quick now. Or he’ll kill you. Must jump into Gold Lake suddenly because it’s so shockingly cold. No other way to go in–deep. He lunged for the edge but stopped again. Need lots of air. The Indian said he would swim into the mountain into a hole. He would find a place where he could breathe again. It sounded impossible but he had no choice.

He filled his lungs until they felt like balloons of air. Then he exhaled and inhaled again. Holding the stone high overhead he leaned out and felt the heavy rock pulling him forward, felt waves of fear. The forest voice whispered again: Go deep into the lake…It is The Luminah…I will be with you…You will know what to do…You will not be afraid again…ever…I am with you…Tell no one!

The forest voice pulled him forward.

Now! He swung the stone high and leaped into the air and tipped into a dive. Plunging full of hope, flying, falling, strange words trailing after him like streamers of smoke: You will find yourself in The Luminah.

At the last instant he prayed: Let me be born alive!

When he hit the water he heard a little girl scream like a steam whistle.

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.