Brilliant copper slants of light flickered behind the long shadows of the standing figures and she shaded her eyes trying to see their features.
The hillside was bathed in an eerie yellow light and she heard soft voices chanting a rhythmic verse in a glottic and melodic language unfamiliar to
her. Her skin tingled, and a pulsing thrum that was not quite audible coursed through her. She was drawn to the light.
Kelly had pondered her dream over a breakfast of wild mulberries with cream and morel mushrooms fried in butter. She packed two apples, a sack of
venison jerky, hooked a canteen over her shoulder and walked out to the hay barn.
Kelly looked back over her shoulder at the thin tendrils of smoke of the cabin, and touched the stock of the rifle unconsciously, as a talisman
against harm. She knew she was far beyond the boundary Papa had set, and even the wild, white eyes of her Appaloosa seemed to agree that it was
past time to turn back. Papa had said, “never go beyond the Indian Caves, Kel, and trust your mare; she knows more about the dangers of the
forest than you. There are things up in the mountains that we don’t understand, and are best left alone.” Papa was not a superstitious man.
The caves had probably been used for ceremonial purposes by the ancient Shoshone tribes of the Salmon River Valley, however the local name – Indian
Caves – came from the tiny plastic beads that had once been scattered there a dozen years ago by the members of the Elks lodge prior to a Boy Scouts
Jamboree. Among the local kids who went bead-hunting at the caves, the magenta-colored beads were the most treasured, and traded at the highest
exchange rate, because of their rarity. Anybody
could find a dozen white, turquoise, red, green, yellow or black beads in a few hours of
sifting the limestone dust, but to find a magenta bead was a rare and wonderous day for any child who found one. The kids called them a
“babalooey” for no reason apparent to any of their elders.
The dome of the fire-darkened caves was just visible below the rise. Kelly and her mare, Susie, were climbing toward the rock formation known as
“The Thumb” at a rate of just over 1000 feet per hour. An oblong slanted shadow of The Thumb crossed the drainage of Fenster Creek, its banks
dotted with multicolored Paint Brush and pink Nootka Rose.
Stepping to the ground, Kelly led the mare through the steep and narrow passageway between the lichen-crusted rocks that formed the base of The Thumb.
She knew it would be dark in a couple of hours, and she was already that and more to home, but still she climbed. Since the dream, she had been
. Kelly took the bridle off her mare, put on a halter, and looped the long end of the rope over the saddlehorn. The loose Mancos shale
and flat limestone made for slow going, and Kelly knew when to stand out of the way and let the mare make her own way. Toward the top of the split
in the rock, Kelly held onto her mare’s tail, until they were amidships of The Thumb.
“Good comp’ny ah’ve found, along these headwatahs,” Bull said, as he pulled back the white-tufted cloud of Mountain Dogwood. As Will
passed by him, Bull gently eased the branches of the bush back down.
“This very bush I jes’ held for you…… d’you know what it is? What it kin do? “
Will turned and looked at him. “Bull……. can you just show me where you saw Kelly this morning?”
Bull twitched his lips, and spat. “This yere bush may save yer life some day. This yere’s dogwood. Bark’s good fer fever. Good fer a tea
that cures colic n’ you c’n make a warm poltice from the leaves that makes an achin’ woman feel better in her woman parts. This’ll fix up a
dog that’s gone crosswise with a porkypine, and the quinine juice in the bark mixed wit’ witch hazel makes a fine daub for bites ‘n skin
Bull’s mother didn’t name him for his size; Bull was named for his tenacity.
“Thank you, Bull.” Will said with forced patience, and walked forward on the trail that quartered the hillside leading up to the caves. Will
pushed through the Bittterbrush and knew that there was Syringa somewhere nearby by the smell of oranges. Bull followed, grumbling and looking at
the angle of the sunlight. Far below and to the southeast, the Salmon River glistened in the afternoon sunlight. Lewis and Clark might’ve stood
on this very promontory.
“She was heah, not two hours ago,” Bull said, pointing near the jackfence that crossed the steep valley. “Ah was comin’ back from
checkin’ mah traps on the upper ridge. I hollered at her, but she dint hear me, or dint wave back. She was workin’ that mare a’ hers up
tawad th’ Thumb. That’s when I come an’ got you.”
Will looked at his watch, and wished that he’d brought a horse. He knew that Kelly took the Winchester .44 with her; she had been proficient in
its use since she was twelve. He also knew that she’d gone far beyond the boundary he’d set. Will had no choice. He pushed onward, quartering
up the steep pass toward The Thumb. He sent Bull back to the cabin, to get Sarah and the boys and Doc and told him to pack a trailbag for two days;
he’d leave sign at the Thumb if he pushed beyond it. Dear God, let her be okay.
Kelly stroked Susie’s neck as they rode above The Thumb toward the treeline. She squeezed her knees and took a loop of the lariat on her wrist,
knowing that if she got into trouble, all she had to do was stay with Susie; the mare always headed for home, as long as she still had a rider.
Kelly stopped on the rise before the peak of the mountain, and tightened up the cinch of the saddle one notch. Susie was 15 years old and 15 hands
high, and she had a penchant for puffing her stomach out when Kelly was cinching the saddle. Kelly had taken the time to put on the breast collar
and brichen, but the saddle needed to be snug to climb the rise. At least we’re out of the loose rock
, she thought.
Will climbed and shrugged to shift the backpack that he was carrying. Sarah would probably wait until near dark before calling Sheriff Joe Baker to
tell him where her daughter and husband were. That was the thing about the high land before the Mirror Lakes -- you have a helicopter, well,
that’s swell, but you ain’t gonna land anywhere NEAR those lakes, unless you c’n talk somebody into clearing a landing zone for you. The
Selway-Biterroot Wilderness was WILD, and it was dense and unforgiving to the careless traveller.
Sunlight painted the distant snow-capped peaks rose and Kelly knew she was in trouble; hell, she’d known that on some level since she’d put the
caves behind her. A diffuse golden glow rose from behind the summit of the mountain, and she pressed her heels into the mare’s flanks. The mare
abandoned quartering up the steep hillside and climbed straight up, coiling her legs and leaping upward. The mare shied sideways at the crest, eyes
white and wild and stood trembling on the flat of the mountaintop. The reins had lathered her neck and she blew out great gouts of wind. Kelly
hoped she hadn’t caught the scent of a mountain lion. Up here in the high country, humans were no longer the most dangerous predator.
Kelly waited for a moment, letting the mare rest, and waited, her anticipation thick as syrup. She stepped down and rooted in the saddlebags for the
tin of waxed matches and left the horse to graze on the thin wisps of tender Fescue grass. Susie jerked her head up frequently, seeming to hear or
sense something that Kelly didn’t see. Kelly felt it too, whatever it was.
Gathering up a small bundle of twigs and sticks, Kelly made a small fire, and warmed her hands. The sun had already gone behind the distant peaks,
and the air was beginning to cool. The night sounds seemed to close in on her, as if the forest creatures gathered, just beyond the flickering glow
of the firelight. Papa please find me. I need your help
“Sarah, you and the boys’d best stay here,” Joe said, sliding his rifle into the saddle scabbard.
“ Me’n Bull’ll take Will’s gelding with us and ride for the Thumb.
If we miss them and they come back home, fire four shots from that hand cannon a’ yours,
and we’ll know to come back down. I told Doc what’s going on, and he’s going to be waiting
by the phone, so soon as you know something, best call him so he can quit worrying.”
“Will do, Joe and……………… thank you”, Sarah said with worry etched on her face.
“Kelly knows better. I just hope they’re both okay. Will knows the woods and I can’t
imagine what would keep Kelly from………”
“Now, I’m sure they’re fine. Probably just got caught by the sunset and didn’t want to risk
coming down the cut without a light. We’ve got plenty of lights,” Joe said, patting his saddlebags,
“and I’ll even put a headlamp on that mare, if it’ll get them home safe.”
Sarah appreciated the attempt at levity, but couldn’t laugh. “You two be safe too.
Won’t do anybody any good you getting hurt up there,” Sarah said, pulling her shawl tighter against the evening chill.
She herded the boys onto their porch, and settled in the swing chair to wait………… for as long as it took for her family to get home. That
girl is NOT going anywhere for a LONG time.
Will stood above the Thumb and clicked off the flashlight, letting his eyes get used to the night. He’d tracked the mare through the rock and saw
where she’d slipped lunging up the steep grade. He sniffed the air, tasting it for smoke and looked around him. A faint yellow glow rose from
beyond the top of the mountain. Fire. A big fire..
Will thought, but then noticed that the glow seemed to be consistent, as though from an
electric light. He clicked the light back on and continued to hike up the heavily-wooded mountain. Tomorrow is her ‘sweet sixteen’; God
let us be home and whole.
Kelly felt the low, thudding pulse before she heard it. As if the sun were rising from inside the mountain, it glowed and the forest became silent,
not a trill, not a soft pad of small feet. The golden light began to oscillate slowly in cadence with the growing thrum, and Kelly felt as if it
were penetrating her very bones. She was bathed in a gentle maelstrom of light that pressed in on her gently as a million feathers and the sound
increased to a chant, multiplied by several voices: Ay-click-o-POY’ocksaGAH-ogahSAY-ah…WA’ipi-Sa’PE.. Witua’….
. Kelly struggled
against the pulsing cocoon as it lifted her, turning her over and around, gyrating as a leaf on the wind, rising higher.
Joe cried out and pointed to the light that curled like a flame high above them.
“That’s the devil fire; I’ve heered of it, but never seed it,” Bull said,
“an’ if it’s got that girl, she ain’t gone be coming back.”
He knew as well as Joe the people that’d been lost forever in the high mountain area near the twin mirror lakes.
As Will climbed over the rise and saw Kelly’s mare, the flickering yellow tornado of pulsing light and sound was as a thick wall that he fought and
pushed against. The mare stood, silhouetted against the light, regal, seemingly unafraid, perfectly still.
“KELLY!!” he screamed, fighting the dense air, crying and clawing and scrambling for his daughter.
Kelly screamed as a twisting pressure wormed into her mind, cleaving her awareness in two such that she could both feel something entering her head,
and see herself tumbling inside the cyclone of light. A white owl flew into the blinding brightness and Kelly felt a question in its probing eyes…
she didn’t hear words – at least not English – but felt the question, the offering, the invitation as gentle as the tiny fist of a baby.
yes. Yes I will.
The owl spread its wings to encompass her, and the storm of light shifted to a magenta swirl and slowly lowered her to the cool ground. She opened
her eyes, and as the purple mist parted, saw the stars and heavens with such clarity that, for that moment, she could see the universe laid out before
her, a progressive chain of probabilities and events, forever to dance with the owl.
“WHAT WAS THAT?? IS SHE OKAY? GOOD LORD, WHAT WAS THAT??” Joe screamed, truthfully pissed as hell that Will was just sitting on the ground,
gazing fondly at his daughter.
“It’s okay, Joe,” he said smiling.
Kelly stood and walked to where Joe and Bull were standing, and touched Joe on the cheek.
“I’m going to be a mother, Joe.”
She turned to Bull, the fear evident in his eyes… “It wasn’t the devil, Bull.
It was nature. It has been this way since the beginning. They were here before us.”
“You’re pregnant? But how………. Who???” Joe said.
“No, not now. Not even soon, but I will be, and she will do great things,” Kelly said, laughing
and twirling with her arms held out. She opened her hands, and thousands of small,
magenta beads spilled from them.
“Babalooeys, the kids call them,” Bull said, “but how did……?”
“Payment for a promise, Bull,” Kelly said, as a white feather flitted on the wind and landed in her hair,
“Let’s go home.”
In the eastern sky, the moonlight shined through a cirrus cloud like a great lamp, and Susie led the way home, surrounded by the sounds of the forest.
edit on 10/6/12 by argentus because: paragraphs n' stuff