Chapter 14

The dense cloud cover reflected the oppressive atmosphere of the Carpino home. Juniper stared out the kitchen window and reflected on the fate of this family. One child dead, another half blind and nearly deaf, the pretty, young mother rocking herself into oblivion and Angie had become a raving lunatic. 'and I'm going a little nuts, myself.' Don, not wanting to interrupt Juniper's moment of solitude, attempted to serve dinner by himself. His faltering command of the dinner plates brought Juniper to his side.

"If breaking dishes is how you expect to get my attention, we'll be eating off the bare table in no time at all!" Juniper teased, as she picked up the pieces of the plate that had shattered loudly on the floor. "I'm sorry," said Don, "I didn't want to bother you, you need to take some time for yourself. All your energy is spent caring for a family you don't even know."

" What are friends for?" Juniper looked up as the distinctive sound of a Harley Davidson interrupted her statement. Her pulse raced as she ran out the front door and into the yard; Don followed close behind. Seeing Sal brought a welcome feeling of warmth to the young woman's heart. Overcome with emotion, she burst into tears as her body slammed into his. " Whoa," Sal cried, slightly off balance, not only by the physical contact, but by Juniper's unabashed display. Juniper clutched him tightly, her face buried in his chest as she sobbed uncontrollably. Juniper was unable to give Sal an intelligible explanation of events.

Don, seeing his friend so overcome with emotion, attempted to explain the events that had lead to her current emotional state. As they walked into the house, Sal was grateful for Juniper's welcome, it resolved many problems. He had imagined several different scenes on the drive here, but this particular one had not occurred to him. Juniper let go of Sal's arm, seated him at the kitchen table, then left the room in order to compose herself.  Don put on a pot of coffee and continued the sad story. "Colleen hasn't spoken a word since she stopped screaming, just sits in her rocking chair staring off into space. Juniper's great; she changes her clothes and bathes her, feeds her some broth several times a day. We brought Terry home from the hospital yesterday. She's lost much of her hearing and she's blind in one eye. Thankfully, she doesn't remember everything that happened and sleeps most of the time. Angie is no help whatsoever, he's out of his mind with rage; totally out of control. If he had been nearby, you wouldn't have made it to the front yard. Me and Juniper made arrangements for Danny's burial, he didn't even attend the brief grave side service."

" Where is he now?" asked Sal.

" Probably searching for his son's killers." Juniper answered, as she entered the room. Again, overcome with emotion, her eyes filled with tears. Don explained that Angie would leave in the early morning and not return until after dark. They had no idea where he went, but the bloodstains that sometimes spotted his clothing spoke of the fate of some unfortunate stranger.

"Where are the others? Is everyone OK?" Juniper asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"They'll be here in a few days." Sal answered.

"You came alone? Do you think that's safe? Why did you come without them?" Juniper paused, realizing that she was jabbering.

"To see you." Sal answered calmly, his eyes full of meaning. Without warning, Juniper felt the color rise in her cheeks. Don smiled and announced that it was time to check on Terry and Colleen, and then he would be outside 'walking the grounds.' After a few embarrassing moments of quiet, Sal asked if there were any place he could work on his bike. Apparently he believed it needed 'some adjustment'. Juniper was delighted to show him Angie's work shop, but soon learned that Sal really did want to work on his bike, not their relationship. After giving the shop a brief but expert check, he brought in the motorcycle, hooked up the 'trouble light' and set to work immediately. " You might as well go back in the house, I'll be a while." Sal said without looking up from his tinkering. A little confused, Juniper replied, "I'd like to watch, if you don't mind. You can tell me what's been happening at the lake while you work."

" I don't like to work with somebody on top of me. I'll spend the night in here." Feeling a sting at his brusqueness  Juniper recovered quickly and said, "Fine, I'll stay outside in case Angie comes home. If he sees a stranger anywhere near this property, he'll blow his head off with a 12 gauge . . . I assume you'd like to keep yours."

Sal looked up at her sharp tone just in time to see the dust fly as the door slammed. 'Women', he thought, as he returned to his engine. Juniper found herself suddenly on the ground, the wind knocked from her lungs. She hadn't seen Don coming and had run right into him. "Where are you going in such a huff?" Don asked as he helped her to her feet. But Juniper only shrugged her shoulders. As she brushed off her clothes, she asked him to introduce 'That Fool' if Angie returned and then stomped off into the house.

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Colleen heard the faraway voices and went into her cave. She came here more and more often, these days. 'It's so pleasant here,' she thought. After descending the circular stone staircase she sat by the green pond located in the center of the large cavern. She loved to watch the water. Sometimes, a drop would fall from above, sending a circle of ripples over the glass-like surface. Staring into the depths of the healing color, she rose and dove deep. The water felt cool and comforting as it caressed her bare skin. Opening her eyes, she saw a wonderful new world through a pale green haze. It was filled with strange plants and very tall trees. 'I'm swimming through the air'. As she laughed in her mind, she saw pretty pink streamers shoot outwardly from her body and fade as she watched. Curious, she laughed again. This time the shade was slightly different and the streamers lasted longer. 'I'm a beautiful kite!" she shouted, as she turned somersaults and continued to swim/fly through her new environment. After a time, she rested on the grassy bank of a bubbling brook. " mmm", a strange faraway hum sounded in her head. Looking up, she saw two figures approaching. No sooner had she focused her attention on the shapes than they appeared clearly before her.

" Hi, Mom!" Donato greeted his mother warmly. "

What did you say?" Colleen asked, backing away slightly, "Do you know me?" Turning toward Jennie with a worried expression on his face, Danny said, "She doesn't know me. Are you sure she's OK?" Jennie smiled her reassurance as she joined the woman on the bank, then gestured to Danny to sit also. "Of course, she's just taking a little time out, aren't you, Colleen?" Extending her right hand, she introduced herself, "My name is Jennie, I'm here to help you. And this handsome lad is going to assist me." Colleen accepted the hand Jennie offered, and said," What's his name?"

" His name is Donato, if you think for a moment, you'll remember him."

Danny watched as the image of his mother began to blur. Colleen felt disoriented as she plummeted into her chair. After a moment, she recognized the familiar surroundings of her home. Quickly, the weight of her guilt smothered her consciousness back into oblivion.

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Sal was in his element. Working on his bike was a pleasure for him, the mechanics of its operation were simple and easy to understand; unlike the behavior of people. 'Juniper', he thought, 'a strange name for a strange woman.' As he worked, memories of her shifted around in his head. The duality of her personality confounded him. Her mood seemed to shift constantly, without rhyme or reason. Absentmindedly, his fingers touched the crystal she had given him, leaving a greasy smudge on his chest before returning to their task. His lips turned up in a smile when he remembered the sound of her laughter and the expression of joy on her face at the sight of him. While memories of Juniper's hips swaying as she danced played in his mind, Sal was oblivious to the shadow that slipped into the garage.

Angie crouched low in the corner as he watched Sal walk over to the grinder. The whine of the grinder turned into a scream as Sal touched the tip of a metal rod to the wheel. Blinding rage coursed through Angie's body as he watched the stranger. He knew that this man was responsible for the destruction of everything he held dear. Angie had bargained his family's return in exchange for killing every last one of them . . 'yes siree', he reasoned, trying to maintain control of his body, 'those murderin' bastards will have the devil to pay for their sins.' With care and stealth, Angie crept forward. A growl rose from the depth of his soul as he lunged for the monster, his hunting knife held ready. Sal's body twisted as he was attacked from behind. His reflexes, quick from years of living on the streets, saved his life. Instinctively, Sal placed the metal rod between him and his assailant. Holding the bar with both hands he pushed hard at Angie's chest. However, Angie was quick to regain his balance. Each bound by their struggle for life, neither was aware of Juniper's shouts or the clatter of dishes breaking on the concrete floor of the garage.

Deciding to forgive Sal for his rude behavior, Juniper had prepared a romantic supper, complete with candles. At the sight of the two men fighting, the tray fell from her hands. Angie's back was toward her. She saw the knife he held high and ready to strike. With more speed and strength than she thought possible, she jumped on his back, reaching for his wrist with both hands. The knife fell as Angie's grip relaxed and his body recoiled from the force of the metal rod piercing his chest. Juniper slipped to the floor as Angie turned toward her. Horrified, she watched as he tried to pull the object from his body. The blood quickly covered his hands and he fell to his knees. Pulling off her jacket, Juniper knelt by his side and tried to stop the flow of blood. Angie stared past her into the ashen face of his cousin. Don had run into the garage as soon as he heard Juniper scream.

"Hey, Bro," Angie smiled with recognition, then slumped to the floor, lifeless. Don held the body of his cousin, slowly rocking back and forth. Wiping the blood from the corner of Angie's mouth, he cried," God damn it, Angie! Why'd you have to get so crazy on us?" Turning to Sal, who now sat by Juniper, he whispered, "I didn't see him, he must have slipped by me. Usually, he's not back this early." Sal looked into Juniper's eyes and saw she was in shock. He laid her on an old couch, covered her with the blanket and put the pillow under her feet. After moistening his bandanna at the sink in the corner, Sal lovingly brushed the hair away from Juniper's face and placed the cloth on her forehead. Juniper's eyes were glazed as she whimpered one word, "Why?"

"I don't know, " he replied, "I just don't know." Two days later, Angelo Carpino was laid to rest near the grave of his first born. In attendance were Don, Juniper, Dr. Sherman and a few neighbors. Sal remained at the house with Colleen and Theresa. As he was pouring a second cup of coffee, screams from the bedroom brought him up the stairs. The little girl stood in front of her bedroom window. Sal followed her gaze and saw the scarred earth that was once a pretty path to the Carpino front porch. Sal felt at a loss as to what should be done. With care, he knelt and placed his hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him. At the sight of the strange man, Theresa pulled away and ran from the room. " Daddy! Daddy!" she screamed. Sal quickly caught up to her. She was sitting on the top of the stairs, her face in her hands. Sal sat near her, but did not touch her or speak. The house was still except for the comforting 'tick-tock' of the old grandfather clock in the living room downstairs. Finally, the child spoke. " I guess I forgot. I know who you are, you're Sal and my Daddy is dead. So is my big brother, and my mom is awful sick." Theresa said, her voice trembling, she looked up at him and took a deep breath. Then, sticking out a very firm chin, she announced, "When I'm better, I'm going to take care of her. I'm going to be a doctor, you know."

" And a very good doctor you'll be." Dr. Sherman said. Sal and Theresa looked down to see the doctor standing with Don and Juniper in front doorway. The doctor calmly walked up the steps and stood in front of his young protégé. "Why are we sitting on the stairs? Let's go to the kitchen and have a bite to eat. I think it's time for you to be up and around a bit." While Juniper chose from the variety of food that neighbors had provided, Dr. Sherman went into the master bedroom to check on Colleen. "Well, Miss Colleen, it's a beautiful day today." He spoke as he checked her vital signs. Gently, he pulled her to her feet and walked her over to the window. "Just look at that sky . . ." Dr. Sherman kept up a stream of cheerful chatter as he walked her around the room and then sat her down in her chair. He thought her chances of snapping out of this had improved, now that her daughter was home; it was probably just a matter of time before Colleen returned to the real world.

That evening, Dr. Matthew Sherman found himself reviewing his life and the events that had led to his arrival here almost ten years earlier. Rocking in front of his stone fireplace and staring into the fire, he allowed his mind to drift back to the day after his wife's funeral. In an attempt to avoid loneliness, he moved in with his daughter, his son-in-law, and his new granddaughter. The day after burying his wife he decided to return to his work at the clinic. That morning, he kissed his daughter and granddaughter goodbye in the driveway of their home, the last time he saw them alive. Two police officers arrived at his office to tell him that his family had been in a car accident. Both his daughter and granddaughter were killed instantly when a gasoline truck went out of control on a steep hill and collided with their vehicle. Their brutal deaths were more than he could handle. Trying desperately to cope with this personal epidemic of tragedy, he abruptly left his practice. He told his colleagues he needed time away and would eventually let them know of his whereabouts. Desiring no trace of the past, he left with a simple backpack. He crisscrossed the country searching for solace and an escape from his nightmares. Eventually, he gave up using public transportation and began hitchhiking. He had been on the road for more than a year when Angelo Carpino offered him a ride on a lonely stretch of road near Goblin Valley. Now here he was at the age of 63, an old time country doctor. Angie and Colleen were like family to him. As soon as Theresa had been able to speak she continually peppered him with questions. Her insatiable curiosity about healing reminded him of himself as a child. She would make a fine doctor, 'that is', he thought, 'if this crazy world allows her to grow up.'

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"You're going the wrong way," Sandy said. She and Hank were leading the way to the Carpino farm. After the vehicles pulled over to the side, everyone got out and stretched their legs. Checking the map, all agreed that a wrong turn had been taken. It was dusk when they finally reached their destination. " Somethin' real bad's been here." Hank said, as he drove into the driveway. Don greeted the caravan of weary travelers. His emotions were brought to the surface by the sight of his friends. Around the old kitchen table, Don spoke of the tragedy that had descended upon this house. As Don related the events that led up to the burial of his cousin that morning, Megan felt the burden of her own grief sharply. Overcome with emotion, she quietly went outside. Strangely, she felt a bond had been woven between them. Through watching Don's pain, she realized the destructive nature of 'blame'. Megan breathed deeply of the crisp, cold night air. As she exhaled, the remains of her anger over the murder of her father was released . . along with long buried resentment from the senseless death of her mother. Healing tears flowed down her face as an icy wind blew out of the north.

That night Hank was unable to rest. Thoughts of the prophecies from the 'dream' the group had shared along with the increasing craziness in the country buzzed in his head like millions of bees. So far, everyone had written their thoughts as Tyler suggested, but there had been no time to compare notes or have a serious discussion. Hank watched Sandy's face while she slept. After what seemed to him several hours, he gently shook her awake, told her he loved her and asked her to be his wife. She accepted. Winter arrived the next morning with a flurry of snowflakes. Sleeping quarters were assigned and plans made for cooperative meals. Juniper shrieked with delight when Sandy, no longer able to contain herself, announced her news. Megan suggested a Thanksgiving Day wedding. The men slapped Hank on the back cheerfully offering their congratulations. Mort, surprised at his slight feeling of disappointment, jokingly offered his condolences. Don, hearing that Thanksgiving was just around the corner, realized he had put off his hunting trip too long. After toasting the happy couple, he announced that he would go hunting in the morning and provide turkey for 'these two turkeys'. Theresa was so excited by the idea of a wedding that she ran into her mother's room to tell her she was going to be a flower girl. Out of breath and still a little weak from her days spent in bed, Theresa sat at her mothers feet and placed her head in Colleen's lap. Rested, she picked up a hairbrush from the bureau and brushed her mother's hair as she told her all about the newcomers.

Two hours before sunrise, Don left the house and walked to the base of the mountains. He had refused offers of company stating that he needed some quiet time. After a long climb to the top of Abajo Ridge he rested, perched on a large rock overlooking a mountain meadow. He and Angie had spent many hours hiking and hunting in this area. A few years ago, Fish and Game had transplanted some wild turkeys from the La Sal mountains to the Abajo. Moving down into the meadow, he made a stand in a tall patch of mountain grass. Unlike their dumb descendants, wild turkeys were extremely smart and cagey. He knew that absolute silence was mandatory for bagging this noble bird. Angie had made him a turkey call, but it was difficult to use. Don decided to wait patiently and let the universe decide if everyone would have a chance to enjoy turkey at the Thanksgiving wedding feast. It wasn't long before a plump hen weighing about 15 pounds wandered into the meadow. Under normal circumstances shooting a hen was illegal, however, these were hardly normal circumstances. Pointing his shotgun at the unsuspecting prey, he noticed from the corner of his eye a very large tom sneaking into the meadow. He knew his chances of getting both birds were slim because the tom would bolt back to the woods as soon as he fired at the hen. His decision made, he fired at the hen and went to swing towards the tom who was now plummeting back into the woods. He followed through, fired a second round but missed the bird completely. Then the report of a second gun filled the air and the large tom fell to the ground. Cautious, Don stayed hidden and watched the stranger walk to the edge of the woods and cup his hands around his mouth. " Nice shot mister, me and my friends are peaceful, but hungry." Billy Jo said as he walked toward the tom, gesturing for Joan and Richard to follow him. Don stood, picked up his hen then walked toward the three people. "I know that was your bird, I'd be more'n happy to share it with you," Gesturing toward Don's automatic, Billy Jo continued in a friendly manner, "see'n as it was yours to begin with."

" Naw, I missed him, you got 'im. Where're you from?" Don asked, holding out his hand in friendship. They introduced themselves and casually exchanged information. Listening to Billy Jo's account of the long journey west and their encounters with ARGUS, Don felt that these people were trustworthy and invited them to follow him back to the house. He knew his friends would be interested in discussing news of what was happening around the country. The past seven weeks of living on the road had been hard on the Mannings. The trek across the country had taken less time than they had anticipated through the aid of local militia. Although willing to offer them a ride, they had not been willing to share their food supplies. Increasing economic chaos was taking its toll, not only on the citizens of the United States, but of the entire planet. It appeared that the goal of the Illuminati for total world chaos had been achieved. With the downfall of the United States government, there was little hope for those countries dependent on her aid. The ARGUS troops were able to secure most of Washington, D.C., however, quick response from militia of the surrounding states prevented them from taking over completely.

While some production continued, especially in the area of fuel and food, just about everything else had come to a standstill. The simple truth was that there was no one left for the militia to fight, outside the borders of Washington, D.C. Riot torn cities had left thousands homeless and hungry. It would not be long before most of the country reverted to a primitive third world lifestyle. Most citizens realized that the thousands of dead bodies would eventually erupt into a cataclysmic reign of death from the spread of disease. Only the cold, harsh winter months forestalled the inevitable epidemic that would spread like a firestorm around the world. Hardship had not softened Joan's attitude. She became even more manipulative and calculating, her every thought couched in terms of her own survival. Richard wanted to believe that this was caused by the stress of their circumstances, but Billy Jo knew better. He had no doubt that Joan would easily sacrifice either he or Richard if she felt threatened. For Richard, the trip had been one long bout with depression. Unless spoken to, he didn't speak at all. Earlier, the explosion of Billy Jo's gun brought back the black memory of the night he held a pistol to his own head. But, it wasn't thoughts of suicide that ate away at him; it was the memory of Joan finding him in his hour of despair and telling him to pull the trigger.

They hadn't eaten in three days and the small rabbit that Billy Jo had snared was barely enough for one, let alone three. Joan wanted the food for herself and when she couldn't convince him to pull the trigger, she grabbed for his gun in order to help him along. If not for Billy Jo's intervention, Joan would have killed him for an extra share of meat. Richard tried to distract his thoughts of Joan by concentrating on the stranger's words as he spoke to Billy Jo. Joan was also concentrating on the stranger. Thoughts of her hunger were set aside as she began her evaluation. The need for survival had sharpened her ability to correctly assess what people might have to offer her.

The trip down the mountain was uneventful. The sun was warm and the snow from yesterday's storm was quickly melting. Joan kept up a constant stream of chatter, enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting some real people - even if they are white; also, the hot shower she felt sure awaited her. Cheered by thoughts of hot food, a warm kitchen and being really clean for the first time in almost two months, she laughed aloud. They reached the house well before dark. Introductions were made and the atmosphere felt almost festive. The smell of the rich venison stew that Megan was preparing was maddening to the hungry travelers. After eating, Joan, Richard and Billy Jo made use of the shower in Angie's shop.  They borrowed clothes from the others then washed their clothes on the back porch. Dr. Sherman joined them for dinner that night and the conversation, though lively, was tinged with dread of what was to come. Later, after the doctor left and everyone was preparing to retire, Juniper was dismayed at the mess caused by the sudden influx of people. In addition to caring for what remained of Don's family, she also felt responsibility for maintaining Colleen's home - unfortunately, Colleen had been an immaculate housekeeper. Seeing the frustration on Juniper's face, Molly said, "Don't worry about it. We'll all pitch in tomorrow."

That morning Molly, Juniper, Sandy, and Megan restored order to Colleen's home. Theresa did what she could to help. As her physical health returned, so did her sense of humor. "Mom would have a cow if she saw this mess. I wish I'd have taken a picture of it to show her when she wakes up." She giggled. Joan had slept late in the warmth of the old barn. She was awakened by a noise that she couldn't define. Surprised that Richard had left her side, she sat up and stretched, raising her eyes toward the loft. Tufts of straw floated in the rays of sunlight that streamed in from the cracks in the old ceiling. Clearly, she saw what had caused the noise.

Richard's body was still swaying in the light. His neck broken, he hung from the rope he had placed over his head before leaping to his death. Joan screamed once, then scrambled up the ladder and reached out for the rope. "God damn you, Richard! You've really picked a piss-poor time to do this." Realizing that she didn't have a knife to cut the rope, she stood on the ladder, stared into the vacant eyes of her husband and thought back over the years. As a child she vowed to do anything she had to in order to escape the squalor of the ghetto, and she had succeeded. When she met Richard in college he represented everything she wanted out of life. She knew he was weak, but he was brilliant, well educated, and came from a wealthy family. She had loved him once. "Shit!", she swore, and went to get help.

Out in the yard, she could hear the distinctive noises of men working. Calmly, she opened the garage door, and told them what had happened. The weather was cold and a fine sleet fell on the few that stood over Richard Mannings grave. After Tyler recited a small prayer, they solemnly returned to the house. The men, except for Tyler, spent what remained of the day in the warmth of the garage. Ben changed the oil and winterized his motor home, while Bert and Hank worked on the van and Megan's car. Sal, Don and Billy Jo were busy cleaning guns, melting lead and reloading bullets with Angie's reloader. Jacob, and Mort worked on their bikes. Sal looked up and hollered over to Mort," Where'd you say Eddie went? I thought he'd be here by now."

" Hell, he should have caught up with us before we got here." Mort answered.

Without looking up from his work, Bert said," Well, I guess if he don't show up tomorrow, we'll have go find the asshole. Mort responded, "If he's shacked up with that witch at the lake he won't be very happy to see us."

For the next hour, Mort and Bert filled the air with tales of the charming Cassandra. Tyler entered quietly and waited for a break in the conversation before informing them that soon they would be able to see her 'in the flesh'. As was his way, he did not elaborate, and the others, used to his habit of making cryptic remarks from time to time, returned to their work. Don brought up the subject of minor repairs around the property that needed to be completed before winter set in. Tyler left them and casually went inside the house to see what the female population was doing. There was little left for the women to do in the way of food storage, the mood of the house was quiet, but pleasant. As Tyler had predicted, over the next few days news of strangers coming into town spread quickly. What remained of the populace, already paranoid, became increasingly fearful by rumors of 'pagan' ceremonies and 'hexers'. The early morning light was filtered through a mist as Mort, Bert, Jacob, and Sal mounted their Harley's and roared onto the highway in search of their errant friend.

Juniper regretfully watched Sal leave, plans for Sandy's wedding had stimulated daydreams of what her own might be like. The women, except for Joan, were also leaving. They were going to see a seamstress, in hopes of putting together a wedding dress. Dr. Sherman had told Molly of a dressmaker he thought lived near the junction store. Following the dust created by the bikes, Molly was surprised to see the dust settle about a quarter of a mile ahead. Puzzled over why the men would stop, she expressed her concern to the other women. As they approached the scene, she was unnerved to see the reason for the delay. They were speaking to Cassandra.

Cassandra had been walking along the roadside, her new body guards behind her, when she saw the bikes coming toward her. Mort recognized her immediately and pulled over, he felt sure she knew Eddie's whereabouts. Seeing the bikers were about to stop, the two men drew weapons and stepped protectively in front of their mistress. Sal's eyes narrowed slightly as he maneuvered his Harley in a circle around them. He disliked all three of them immediately. The black man had a coldness behind his shifting eyes and the white man looked downright crazy. Most people would consider the woman beautiful, but the set of her lips, told him she was a bitch.'

The men, first wary at the sight of four bikers, now showed obvious fear. Cassandra, knowing the cowardly Max and Chalky were useless now, pushed them aside with disgust ant told the 'stupid fools' to put away their weapons. A cheery smile on her face, she greeted Mort with pretended surprise and attempted polite introductions. Sal cut her words off in mid-sentence, abruptly asking her if she knew where Eddie was. Cassandra, again showed surprise and claimed that she had not seen him since the moon ceremony. Sal knew by the expressions on the faces of Max and Chalky that his friend had met with misfortune. He jumped off his bike to confront them. At that moment, Sandy pulled off the road. Megan was out of the van before it stopped rolling, she recognized the two men that stood near Cassandra, they were the men who had murdered her father. Sal held a knife to Chalky's throat. Max held his breath, his feet moved slightly as he prepared to run. Wild eyed, Chalky squealed, "the witch killed him! Me and Max didn't have nothin' to do with it!"

As a fine line of blood appeared underneath Chalky's chin and Megan screamed for revenge, Molly yelled, "Stop!" Surprised, Sal obeyed her order and turned his head in the direction of the sound, as did they all. To Sandy, the scene appeared as if someone had stopped the film in a movie theater. In exaggerated slow motion, Cassandra raised her cloak and stepped back a few paces, as Molly took a step toward her. A movement in the morning mist caught Juniper's eye, she watched a form take shape and advance toward them. The person wore a misshapen wide brimmed hat and was wrapped in tattered animal skins. Juniper saw that she was a woman as she set down the travois she had been pulling and began rummaging in an old burlap potato sack.

No one seemed to react to this woman except Molly and Cassandra. Molly's face showed recognition, while the expression on Cassandra's face was clearly malicious. Juniper heard low grumbling noises as the stranger tossed onto the ground what appeared to be the skull of a small animal. Then in one hand she withdrew a leather rattle, while in the other a soft leather pouch. Cassandra's lips curled in a snarl as she pointed both of her index fingers at the woman. Juniper blinked her eyes at the sight of sparks traveling like miniature lightening bolts from the tips of Cassandra's fingers and then bouncing off the stranger as she shielded her face with crossed wrists. The strange woman walked around Cassandra, shook her rattle, and then abruptly threw the contents of the pouch into Cassandra's face. The thick powdery substance seemed to take on life as it glittered and swirled around her body. Faster, and faster, it turned until it whirled into a spiraling tornado, the dust flew as it drilled into the dirt. Tentacles of fire shot out from the dark hole as the earth opened to accept Cassandra. Max and Chalky were unable to move as they watched two orange tentacles twist and turn into ropes, then slither their way along the ground towards them. The fiery threads of death wrapped around their legs, dragging them into the abyss, while they screamed in terror.

Disbelief at what they had just witnessed showed clearly on all of their faces. "What in the hell just happened?" Bert said, not really expecting an answer, he walked over to the spot. There was no sign of disturbance. Molly greeted the stranger with a hug and then remarked, "Rowan, you're always so dramatic. Don't you think you over did it a bit?"

" Well, I know, dear, but she would have had you for lunch. And I mean that literally." Rowan responded. "Where's Gaf?"

Molly, unable to answer, looked away for only a moment before her eyes returned to her friend's face and said, "Long story." She felt a tightness in her throat as her eyes filled with tears. The arms of her friend encircled her with love and support. " Just take your time." Rowan whispered gently. Sal struggled for an explanation of what he had seen. Megan joined Bert in examining the site. Sandy started shivering with the cold. Juniper surveyed the attitude of the people around her. "Well, are we gonna just stand here or what?" They all realized the futility of standing around and staring at 'the spot'. Sal announced that he was going for a beer, Mort and Bert went with him. Jacob was anxious to have a discussion with Tyler. Molly and Rowan walked back to the house and Sandy proceeded with her wedding plans assisted by Juniper and Megan.

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Not having heard from Cassandra, for nearly a week, Katrina called Jerome and told him that it was necessary to send someone after her, and if possible to capture the Rockwood woman. It ha0d been Cassandra's responsibility to find any information concerning the location of the alien's 'infinity vortex'. The information that it was in Peru, was of little value. What she needed was an exact location. Katrina was well aware of the attempted communication from Gaf Rockwood to his wife. She also knew that his wife would not be consciously aware of the location of the 'infinity vortex', but was convinced that this knowledge did flow into Molly's subconscious whenever contact had been attempted. Katrina had many procedures for extracting this information. Some were quite benign, but she usually opted for those that involved demon possession. Katrina wanted to capture Molly Rockwood when her husband first disappeared. However, the bumbling federal agents insisted that it was her friend Don Gilleto that knew of Gaf Rockwood's location, not his wife. Katrina believed that Molly Rockwood had successfully melded into the mass population after her escape from area 51. It was Molly's accidental meeting with Cassandra that rekindled Katrina hopes of locating Gaf Rockwood. Jerome agreed with Katrina and stated that he would send his own troops in search of the Rockwood woman. He also, was unsure as to why Cassandra had not maintained communication. However, if foul play was involved, he was certain that it had come from a direction other than Molly Rockwood. It was a difficult time and he knew he might have to sacrifice Molly Rockwood. If she were turned over to Katrina, there was no doubt in his mind that whatever she knew would be revealed. He did not believe that Molly knew the location of the 'infinity vortex', however, her subconscious would correctly interpret and reveal the cards she read for Jerome. It would not take Katrina very long to figure out that it was Jerome who supplied the escape route from area 51. Somehow, Molly would have to turn up dead, either real or contrived.