Shortly after noon Sal crawled out of his sleeping bag. He walked over to the campfire where his friends were huddled. Somewhat bleary eyed, each was staring into the depths of their coffee cup. " Hey, what happened to you last night?" Eddie asked as Sal joined them. Sal didn't answer and Eddie did not repeat the question. Mort stretched, stood up and walked aimlessly around the camp. Bert rose and started fiddling with his bike. Jake was poking around in his gear. Eddie, who had decided to crawl back into his sleeping bag, stopped suddenly angry.
"What's the matter with us?" Eddie shouted. "We never have any fun anymore!" " You sound like my Ex." Mort answered, wryly.
Thoughtfully, Jake said, "You know, I been thinking about all those people we gave the van to? I wonder how they're doing now?"
"They're probably dead!" Sal abruptly threw his coffee into the fire and continued with unusual enthusiasm. "A bunch of assholes looking to be victims. They don't know how to survive. All that preaching about love and light will just get them dead; just a bunch of Suzy Sunshines and Gentle Bens playing with crystals, staffs and cards." he finished, swearing under his breath as he recovered his cup and put it in his pack. "Hell that bunch couldn't find their asshole with both hands. Well, I don't have anything better to do, and finding them shot up might be good for a laugh." The four men watched Sal's tirade, the surprise showing clearly on their faces.
Eddie recovered first and said, knowingly, "Well, Bert said they were heading to the Sante Fe area, and planned to travel along I-40 for the summer."
"That's right," Bert said, "and then they were going to stay near Williams before going back to Quartzsite for the winter. I bet we could find them easy, if we wanted." Mort joined in the conversation excitedly," Well, let's hit the road! I could use a change of scenery."
"Shot up hell", Bert whispered to Eddie," It's Miss Polly Prim he's missing. But now that it's come up, I miss those assholes myself." During the conversation Sal had rolled up his sleeping bag and was strapping his gear on his Harley. Quickly, the others packed their gear and followed Sal down the road.
Don looked up and watched the high thin clouds drift across the blue summer sky. He had finished the job on Mongo's jeep and was sitting on the porch sipping the glass of tea Colleen had given him. Ted MacDover's letter was lying in his lap. Colleen questioned the perplexed look on his face, "What's up chum? You look lost." " Ted wants me to go to Williams and help him with some repairs. It seems that he lost part of his roof in a windstorm last week. Well, he didn't actually ask, but it's there, between the lines."
"Great! That would help you get out of the rut you've been in for the last few months. And it wouldn't hurt to see that girl you keep talking about. Now, don't deny it." Colleen joked, "Every time you mention Megan's name, your eyes light up like a Christmas tree."
"Well, maybe I wouldn't mind seeing her again," he said as he ducked his head in an attempt to hide the color he felt rising to his cheeks. "But, I don't want to leave Angie in a bind."
"Don't be silly, Don. You know business is down. The only work around anymore is that old jeep of Mongo's and an occasional tractor, and there haven't been any robberies since you arrived. You definitely need a change of pace. And maybe a little female companionship, too," Colleen added with a wink as she went into the house to finish the bread she had been making all morning.
Angie's truck pulled up by the porch and Terry ran to Don and jumped in his lap pleading safety from Danny who just shrugged his shoulders and went in the house in search of lunch. Angie wiped his brow as he climbed the steps to the porch and joined his cousin and daughter. " Don's going to Williams," Colleen yelled from the kitchen. "How was town?"
"Supplies are getting real scarce, I'm glad you insisted on putting away extra staples. Yorwarski's is almost cleaned out and no one knows when the truckers' strike will end."
"Good thing we have a big garden, too." Danny said, his mouth full of hot bread. "So when are you leaving, Uncle Don?"
Although Don was the children's cousin, Angie and Colleen had taught them to use the respectful 'uncle' as a title when addressing Don. " Well, I haven't decided yet. Colleen just now convinced me to leave." Don said and then explained the repairs that were needed on Ted's roof.
"Right," Angie chuckled. "And I don't suppose the lovely and talented Megan has anything to do with this urge for travel. I suppose you'll be leaving first thing in the morning." Then with a wry grin he added."or maybe you should leave right now if the urge is all that hot."
"Well, maybe I'll eat lunch first." Don almost giggled, as he enthusiastically entered the house and packed a change of clothes. That evening after super Colleen turned on the television to catch her favorite show. Instead, she saw scenes of looters.
"The riots have now escalated beyond control." The television announcer was saying, and quoted Senator Boxworth, "These incidents were primarily stimulated by the right wing's continued cuts in assistance programs, especially food stamps." The announcer then went on to say that panic purchasing along the eastern seaboard had added to the 'siege mentality' which now gripped the minds of many citizens. Coupled with the trucking strike and a recent announcement from the White House regarding the sale of United States wheat to Russia, our nation appears to be on the verge of chaos. According to Senator Smiley, the right wing majority whip, "These riots are a direct result of the tax increases over the past decade. What we are witnessing is the ramifications of the liberal 'tax and spend' policy of the White House." Colleen noted that both senators appeared in fine clothing and neither seemed to be suffering from any lack of food.
After the children were asleep, she and Angie discussed what they had seen and worried about what Don might be faced with on his way to Williams.
Molly and the troupe set up their camp at Chevlon Lake while Hank and Sandy drove the 40 miles back to Winslow to distribute the flyers he had made. That next morning Ben returned from his meeting with Warden Montgomery and announced that their show for the prison inmates had been cancelled due to rioting and possible 'subversive activities'. After exploring their options, the troupe decided to stay for the night, bypass Flagstaff and spend the rest of the summer in the Kaibab Lake area near Williams. Ben had received information from his radio buddy, Ted MacDover. According to Ted the town of Flagstaff was nearly under siege from rioters. Also, he explained that his home town of Williams had recently been hit by a few traveling bands of looters. Apparently, many of the Willliams residents had fled to Flagstaff only to find the roads blocked by the city police. The wealthy, living in secured neighborhoods felt inconvenienced, but with their small army of private guards did not feel at risk. They were fairly confident that the government would soon have these 'undesirable' under control. Newcomers were definitely not welcomed.
While Juniper and the others were finalizing their plans, others were also planning. Pastor Victor was busily calling four faithful members of his parish in order to arrange an emergency meeting regarding 'the evil that has come upon us'. Glued to their televisions the past few days, the Winslow congregation watched with horror and fascination as the chaos in Phoenix spread outwardly into nearby towns. Victor, who had spearheaded the movement to bring Jesus to the inmates of the prison, had been responsible for cancelling the 'new age' entertainment that Warden Montgomery had arranged. The pastor was positive that these pagans and others like them were in league with Satan.
Others, also, were convinced that the only way to halt the escalating world violence was to exterminate the 'vermin from hell'. Bill, who managed a local Laundromat, held the flyer he had torn from the bulletin board as he spoke to Victor. Pastor Victor and his followers knew that it was time for them to take action. Tonight the five men would gather in prayer outside the campground. Then the souls of the 'unclean' would be purified by fire.
Molly, though dismayed by the cancellation of their performance, was looking forward to spending the remaining days of summer at Kaibab Lake. It was one of their favorite places and she spent much of the day remembering incidents that had occurred there. Often, friends and family members would join her and Gaf and, in better times, drive up the road and investigate the wonders of the Grand Canyon. Their grandsons thoroughly enjoyed the scenic ride on the old Williams locomotive. One October, in particular, so many friends from the past joined them that it seemed like a giant pagan festival. A joyous celebration of souls in harmony with Mother Earth and all her creatures. Keith, who was a very dear friend, had performed a very moving ritual and called up a 'fire drake' through the campfire one night. As she recalled this incident, she saw a fleeting image of the Druid fleeing from Roman Centurions, his computer strapped to his back.
Molly smiled as she thought of the family of skunks that also attended that reunion. Jezebel may also have remembered the skunks, as she chose that moment to jump into Molly's lap. "You'll be glad to get into the forest where you can be free to run, won't you Jez?" Molly said as she nudged the big dog from her lap for the tenth time that day. Out of habit, she felt the dog's nose, it was cool and dry. Jez didn't seem ill, but the dog had been hovering around her since they arrived here, yesterday. As Molly left the motor home to join the others, Jez's whimpering turned into a mournful howl. The remainder of the day was spent uneventfully and the troupe retired early in order to be on the road at first light.
Quietly, and at peace with herself and the Universe, Molly drifted into the first stages of restful sleep. With an occasional flickering of her eyes, she could see the splendid dancing shadow of a campfire on the walls of her tent. Falling now into a stupor of deep sleep, she was unaware of the change taking place in the stillness of the night. With stealth and cunning Pastor Victor and his followers surrounded the pagan encampment. Like the sudden fury of an exploding volcano the righteous ignited their torches and charged into the haven of the unsuspecting pagans. It was over in a matter of minutes. Sandy and Juniper were screaming, Hank and Ben were tied together with stout rope. Tyler lay on the ground with a boot jammed against his chest. Victor, with a crazed look in his eyes, shouted at Tyler, "Do you not now recognize the followers of the one true Christ?" "You're the preacher, have you forgotten Matthew 7:16?"
Enraged by Tyler's answer, Pastor Victor had him bound and gagged. He then marched in triumphant glory singing in praise of Christ the Lord. They were merciless in their abduction and paid no heed to the pleas of the infidels. Pastor Victor knew his task and grabbing Molly by the hair dragged her to the wooden cross waiting ominously in the center of the camp. His men had built what he considered a very fit funeral pyre for this unclean witch. She would be tied to the cross and burned. The black dog was laid, unconscious at her feet. The men quickly piled bramble below her and over the dog then waited patiently for the signal from the preacher to ignite the pyre.
Molly said not one word. She did not respond to the accusations, nor did she show any sign of fear. In those fleeting moments, she felt herself rise above her body and watched the scene from afar. As the preacher raised his hand to signal the burning his religious fervor masked the roar cascading over the camp. This pathetic excuse for one of God's elect never saw the blurring shadow that separated his soul from his body. However, the last thing his four assistants saw was the blood dripping from Sal's knife as it ended its path across the preacher's neck. They were quickly dispatched to follow their beloved leader by Mort, Bert, Eddie and Jake.
Juniper was sobbing as she untied Molly. She led the older woman to a camp chair and then tried to revive Jezebel. Bert and Mort untied the men as Sandy, in shock, stood surveying the destruction with detachment. Hank went to Sandy and shook her a little, staring into her eyes. "Man, oh man, are we glad to see you guys!" Ben said gratefully. "How'd you find us?"
Sal, who had been watching Juniper, pulled a crumpled flyer from his pocket. "Easy, you drew a map, the whole fuck'in world knows where you are." Then he said to the others, "Let's get this mess cleaned up."
Sal grabbed the pastor's body and threw it over his shoulder. The other four followed and they quietly proceeded down the hill to the van that was parked by the side of the road. The florescent bumper sticker "Jesus Saves" flickered in the dim starlight. Jake pulled the keys from Victor's pocket and started the engine. After the bodies were in position, Jake drove ten miles down the road with Eddie following. The two men pushed the van, still running, off the edge of a cliff and watched as it burst into an orange ball of fire. When they arrived back at the camp, the others had washed the blood away with water from the lake. Jake went down to the lake and waded toward the center until the water reached his chin, then slowly ducked his shoulders and immersed his body for several minutes. Then he casually joined the others as if nothing unusual had happened. Jezebel had recovered enough to greet her rescuers with a wag of her tail. Five Harley motorcycles escorted the troupe toward the Kaibab National Forest.
Don entered the cafe and demanded coffee. Megan smiled as she greeted him and poured out a cup. " Is that the smile you wouldn't give me the last time I was here?" Don asked. "Where's your dad?"
"He went to get any supplies, if there's anything left on the shelves." With the answer still on her lips, the cafe door slammed open and two armed men bolted into the cafe. "OK mister," barked the one holding a shotgun, "off the stool and up against the wall. Take your wallet out and drop it on the floor. Chalky, you get the money out of the till while I watch these two. And check out the kitchen, they gotta have some canned food back there."
In one motion, Chalky grabbed the bills from the cash drawer as he sprinted into the kitchen. "Not much back here," he yelled," Shit, there ain't nothing here but a pot of water and a roast. You want the roast, huh Max?"
" Yeah, might as well, I'll get the girl." As Chalky left with the roast wrapped in a kitchen towel, Max grabbed Megan around the waist and shoved her out the front door. Don stood motionless. He knew Max would kill him if he tried to play hero. He tried to convince Max to leave the girl, but Max efficiently hit him across the head with the end of his shotgun. Don fell to his knees and saw a flash of white before passing out.
When Don awoke, Ted MacDover was kneeling over him slapping him in the face, and shouting repeatedly, "Where's Megan?"
The older man pulled Don to his feet and sat him in a chair. While Don explained the robbery and kidnapping, Ted wrapped a bandage around his head. "They're probably the same ones that were at Esynick's. The store was near torn apart when I got there and not a soul in sight."
Ted sat down and looked at the ceiling for a moment before asking, "Do ya have any idea which way they went? "
"No," said Don, "I didn't see a car. The only thing I know is that one of them had chalk or flour on his boots. He was the one that hit me, I remember seeing it as I went down."
"Aye," Ted responded as he rose and examined the white smears on the floor nearby, "I know where they might have come from. An old mining operation outside of Seligman. The lads who worked it used to come off the freeway covered with that white powder."
"Then let's get the sheriff and tell him what happened." Looking somewhat lost, Ted said, "There's no police force left around here since the closure of the Grand Canyon, this place has almost become a ghost town. If I'm to get my daughter back, I'll have to do it alone, and be quick about it."
The look of determination and pain on Ted MacDover's face could not be misunderstood. With reluctance, Don said, "Well maybe I can help. But I've got to warn you that I'm not very good at this sort of thing." Don remembered a few events from the past when he had backed away from direct confrontation out of cold fear.
Sizing up his would-be partner, Ted said," Listen, lad, I need help and I've no mind to make my troubles yours. However, if you're willing to take a risk, I'll do what I can to keep you from harm."
Don recognizing the necessity for prompt action said, "OK, where do we start?"
"Well, right now we need some rugged transportation. How's that motor bike you got out there handle on dirt roads?"
"Piece of cake," Don answered, "But those guys had guns. What will we do when we find them?"
Ted explained that he had a deer rifle, a handgun, and some flares in the cellar. Don's concern over carrying firearms showed in his face and the older man said, "No need to worry, just carry the .38 for your own protection, and I'll handle whatever needs to be done."
It was only a matter of minutes before Don and Ted were eating road mud from the old mining road. Because of the slick mud they couldn't travel very fast. However, it wasn't long before they could see fresh tire marks stretching ahead of them.
"The mine is just around the next bend." shouted Ted. "We better leave the bike here and walk the last mile."
Don cut the engine and rolled the bike behind an outcropping of rocks. Ted took the lead, slinging the deer rifle over his shoulder and Don followed, the revolver stuffed in his belt. The mud clung to the bottom of their boots, making walking difficult. Rather than head straight down the road, Ted made a wide path up the hill. His intention was to come in from the rear of the mine. Because of the open terrain, they had to cover the last 500 yards on their hands and knees. The slick mud and clay stuck to their boots like glue. By the time they reached the mining camp they were completely soaked, shivering with cold, and weighed down with mud. There were several buildings at the campsite, but only the one next to the water tower had smoke coming from its chimney. As Ted and Don crawled behind the tower, Don spotted Chalky pass in front of the window. The two men planned to draw the men outside by having Don climb the water tower, toss a smoke flare down the chimney and then plug it with his jacket. Ted would hold the men at bay with the deer rifle when they rushed out of the building. Don would then rescue Megan from the building. They did not intend to capture the kidnappers, they only wanted Megan's safe release.
The climb up the water tower was much harder than it looked. Don had trouble reaching the chimney from his precarious perch on the ladder. The revolver in his belt threatened to fall out each time he stretched toward the chimney. He finally managed to toss the flare, but nearly lost his footing as he threw the jacket across the top. The plan was hastily developed and neither Don nor Ted had any concept of the savage brutality of the men they were attempting to disarm. When the smoke began to billow in the cabin, both Max and Chalky crashed through the front door. Ted stood his ground and aimed the rifle at Max. Ted realized too late, that he could not cover both men with one rifle. Max recognizing Ted's dilemma moved slowly toward the truck. Chalky, quickly taking advantage of this opportunity, stooped to the ground and fired. Ted fell, but not without discharging the rifle. Max screamed in pain as he crawled into the driver's side of the truck. Chalky, seeing that Ted was still alive, began taking aim. Ted screamed for Don to shoot. Don had climbed down from the tower when Chalky and Max burst out of the cabin. He stood paralyzed as he watched Ted MacDover fall victim to Chalky's gun. Don knew he should have killed Chalky, but his finger had frozen on the trigger. That hesitation was just enough for Chalky to shoot. The bullet from Chalky's gun splattered Ted's brain across the compound.
With lightening speed, Chalky sprinted toward the truck and then turned his gun on Don. Don saw the barrel pointing at him, but was unable to move. As if in slow motion, he watched Chalky's finger press against the trigger. The expected explosion came, but not from Chalky's gun. In total shock, Don watched as Chalky fell from the impact of a bullet in his shoulder. Megan MacDover had saved his life. Half naked, she had run out of the cabin just in time to see Don stand in helpless fear as Chalky killed her father. With deliberation, she retrieved her father's rifle and shot from the hip. Neither Max nor Chalky were fatally injured. Chalky got up and dove through the open door of the truck as Max sped past. A cold wind swept across the camp as Megan sat at her father's side. As she wiped the blood from his face, tears of anguish and sorrow fell like rain drops. Don stared at the scene as if he were watching a movie.
Regaining his composure, he walked across the compound and made a feeble attempt to comfort Megan. But, Megan's rage would not be staved. With a bitter cold stare, she rejected his comforting hand. The look in her eyes told a story of disgust for the man who allowed her father to be murdered. Without making a sound, Don retreated to the cabin. Megan's grief swept over her like a tidal wave. She remained by her father's side until dawn. Don had retrieved a blanket from the cabin and used it to cover Megan's back and shoulders. He stayed with her throughout the night and listened to the sound of the desert wind as it punctuated her grief and his guilt. Exhausted by her grief, Megan could barely help with the digging of her father's grave. She wanted to bring her father back to Williams for a proper funeral. However, Don was able to convince her that there wasn't a town to go back to. Ted MacDover was buried on a small hill overlooking the valley. Megan marked the grave with stones and the memory of the sun cresting the mountain tops. The clash between emotions and practicality aggravated Megan's sense of disgust toward Don. The only way back to town was to ride on the back of Don's bike, holding onto the man she hated. Not a word passed between them until Don brought the bike to a halt in front of the smoldering remains of what had once been not only the William's cafe, but also her home. Max and Chalky had returned and taken their revenge by torching the cafe along with most of the buildings nearby. " I'm really sorry." Don began. " Sure!" said Megan. The sarcasm in her voice dripped like venom. "Well don't loose sleep over it. You aren't responsible . . for this." Don stiffened at her remark, but didn't want to make matters any worse. He tried to ease the tension by offering to stay until they found a place for her to live. However, Megan wanted nothing from him. "Listen," she said, "the last thing I need right now is your advice or help. I can take care of myself. So just go on with your business and leave me alone."
Before Don could respond he heard a familiar sound, the roar of motorcycles and Ben's old motor home. "What's happened here?" Ben said as he jumped out of his rig and ran over to Megan. Don explained all the details including Ted's death and Megan's anger towards him. Under these circumstances there was little that Ben could do to make the situation better. He was quite prepared to take responsibility for insuring Megan's safety. She did not argue when he suggested that she pack what remained of her belongings and travel the two miles to Kaibab Lake. Megan retrieved her back pack and extra camp gear from the outside entrance of the cellar. Ben had been a friend of the family since she had been a small child, his appearance was comforting and helped lessen the impact of her father's sudden and violent death. She also knew that being with Ben was her best chance of survival in the harsh days ahead. The serene deep foliage of the huge pines in the forest had a calming effect on the weary travelers. Emotionally drained, each withdrew into their own thoughts.
As the days passed, the camp settled into a routine of early morning fishing and long walks in the evening. Megan retrieved most of her food storage and a smoker from her cellar and they were able to preserve some of the fish and small game that was abundant in the area. Sal couldn't seem to make up his mind whether to go or stay, and would disappear for days at a time. Jake had begun to take long walks, often running into Tyler where the two would sit by a small brook and talk for hours. Bert was fast becoming friends with Hank and Sandy. Mort and Eddie had assumed the responsibility of maintaining their store of supplies. In fact, Molly had become wary of mentioning anything that might be needed within earshot of those two because any item that she mentioned would magically appear in front of her tent a day or two later.
Ben had raised a large radio antenna and in conjunction with the short wave radio kept them up to date on what was happening in the outside world. Gradually the original good humor of the group returned, however, whenever Megan found herself near Don, the atmosphere became so heavy that it affected everyone. Juniper felt sorry for Megan's loss, but she also understood Don's feeling of guilt. Assuming, correctly, that time would heal Megan's pain she made an effort to befriend this man who had rescued her from a snowstorm. Although she knew that the accident that had begun the drastic change in her lifestyle had only happened last February, now it seemed almost as if that life belonged to someone else. The nightmares that assaulted Juniper since that horrible attack had lessened, but she was unable to stop the emotions that overcame her whenever Sal and his friends were near. Knowing what would have happened if their persecutors had not been stopped did not erase the sight of knives, blood, and the lifeless bodies. She was having a tough time reconciling her opposing emotional reactions.
At times, the woods surrounding the lake seemed enchanted and it may be for this reason that Tyler found himself in the unique position of becoming a teacher to his dear friend Jacob. There was no doubt in Tyler's mind that Jake had undergone some sort of transformation. It was obvious to all when he insisted that everyone use his given name of Jacob. Only Sal, resisted the changes that were taking place. Some might say it was a profound religious experience. Jacob sought answers to many questions and turned to Tyler for comfort in a world gone mad. Over the past couple of weeks Tyler and Jacob often retired to a small glade within easy walking distance from the camp. It was usually toward evening that the two would drift away with the campfire smoke and with the whisper of the autumn breeze, Tyler would attempt to explain his view of existence. More recently, Jacob had been pressing Tyler for more specific answers and what Tyler thought Jacob's role and function was in these hard times. " You have many more questions than I have answers." said Tyler. "This planet has witnessed a never ending battle between oracles. In our time and place a long running conflict exists between the two Avalons of old. What most Christians fail to understand is that it is the role of the Pagan to ensure that the chapel remains in harmony with the earth. In like manner, the Pagan has often misunderstood the Christian's need to fill the chapel. Christians ask very few questions for they believe all answers are contained in their scriptures. Pagans, on the other hand, have few scriptures and seem to thrive on questions. Your role is to bring harmony between the two Avalons. What would be of value is to teach you the ancient traditions of the Druids. People must learn how to live in harmony with the planet in order to survive." At that point, Tyler handed Jacob a book and said "These pages contain a child's lessons in Druidism, I suspect these teachings will always remain."
Jacob and the others continued to seek answers to their questions and each contributed to the well being of the others. Don and Juniper became closer as their respective discomfort regarding Megan and Sal remained unresolved. Toward the end of September Don made a decision to check on his family and invited Juniper to join him. It had been Ben's intention to return to Quartzite for the winter. However, with a failing federal government and an extremely unpredictable economy wintering in Quartzite was impractical. Both food and water in southwestern Arizona would be scarce. Don suggested that the entire troupe spend winter in the Monticello area and gave Ben directions to his cousin's property. "My cousin," he explained, "owns 20 acres of farmland five miles east of Monticello. You can't miss it, you'll see the 'San Juan County Clinic' sign at the turn off, the clinic's been closed for years, but the sign's still there. Angie's house is less than 1/4 mile down the dirt road."
This plan would afford them the opportunity to hunt in an area where game was abundant and population was low. Also, just east of Monticello were huge pinto bean fields. People would have an easier time planting in an area that had already been cultivated. Although the area around Williams had game, the hilly countryside would make farming difficult at best. In addition, the larger population from Flagstaff and Phoenix would simply increase the competition for finding food. Using their prearranged code, Don telephoned Angie from Williams and told him that he would arrive in Monticello within two days and was bringing a friend. Ben insisted that Don carry Ted's hunting rifle. That next morning Sal watched Juniper leave with an unfamiliar sense of loss that he was unable to define.