Marcus sat down at a booth and looked at his iPhone. He knew people were staring at him. He was used to it, and just ignored it. He was concerned for his son. He wouldn’t be able to communicate with him while he was on the mountain. They would have to save all the juice in their cellphones in case of emergencies. He knew how much his son liked to talk to him on the phone when he was not home, and he wondered if maybe he should go to town and get a couple of prepaid cellphones just to have as a backup.
The waitress brought his drink over and took his order. He brought some work papers in and started to read them. The DNA evidence came back in one case, and it wasn’t his client’s DNA. Now they would have to petition the court and show them the new evidence. He’ll file those papers when he got back to the office. The next case he still was not convinced on. The guy said he did not break in and steal the artwork from the museum, but he’s a common petty thief, and Marcus just didn’t like his demeanor. I’m going to have to really get in his face about the issue.
Marcus’s iPhone rang, and he looked to see who was calling him. It was Shana’s number. “Hello.”
“Daddy, I thought I’d call you today,’ the little voice said to him.
“I see. How are you doing, Nathan?”
“I’m doing good. Are you coming home?”
“No, not yet, son. I’m going to be gone for a while. You won’t be able to call me and talk to me for a few days.”
“I have to go into the mountains to get the Sacred Arrows. Remember I told you the story about them?”
“Well, we know where they are, so I have to go and get them in the mountains, and I won’t be able to use the phone except for emergencies only.”
“Is Nicole going to go with you, Daddy?”
Now, why would his son ask a question like that? “Yes, she is leading me to the arrows.”
“Oh. I like her.”
“You do, huh. How come?”
“She’s nice, and she has a dog.”
Marcus smiled, “I see. You like her because of the dog?”
“Yeah, but I like her not because of the dog too. When will I see her again?”
“Why do you want to see her again?”
“She likes gummy bears too.”
“So you shared your gummy bears with her?” If Nathan shared his gummy bears with her, that meant something.
“Yep. And she liked the red ones!”
“How was school today?” Marcus put his elbow on the table and rest his chin on his hand.
“It was okay.”
“Still studying the dinosaurs?”
“Yeah, we’re looking at T-Rex now.”
“You’re going on a class field trip next week, am I right?”
“Yep, Bryan is too, so is Aunt Shana.”
“Now what was the name of the place where you’re going?”
“Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum,” Nathan said excitedly. “Did you forget, dad?”
“Yeah, I must have.” Marcus chuckled quietly.
“Dad, can you imagine how big a dinosaur poop is?”
“I can only imagine.” Marcus rolled his eyes.
The waitress brought his food to the table and set it in front of him. Just the subject I want to talk about when I’m getting ready to eat.
“They eat all the time. They can eat trees.”
“Just like you eat all the time.” Marcus kidded.
“But, dad, I’m not big like the dinosaurs are.”
“That is true. You are not big.”
“What are you doing, dad?”
“I’m trying to eat my dinner.”
“Oh. Aunt Shana is making us macaroni and cheese today.”
“That sounds good.”
“Yeah, she makes it the way I like it.”
“Meaning you don’t like the way I make it?”
“No. Yours is okay. I like it with lots of cheese.”
“I see. So the next time I make it, I need to add more cheese, is that what you’re saying?”
“Daddy, I miss you, I wish you could come home.”
“I know son, I miss you too. I will be home just as soon as I can.”
Just as Marcus was disconnecting the call with his son, he looked up and around the restaurant and spotted Nicole sitting with her brother and his wife, staring at him. He stared back at her until she realized she was looking at him, and her cheeks grew pink. She hastily turned her eyes to her brother. He didn’t realize that they were at the restaurant when he walked in. Not that it mattered much. He wasn’t sure what he thought about Nicole. His son took a keen interest in her and seemed to like her a lot. He liked her too, except for the one lie, and all it takes is one lie to ruin your reputation. He couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t get past that. He watched her at the outfitter’s store, and she seemed conservative in her spending, only getting the items that she needed for the excursion. She picked eight various hydrated chicken and rice meals. Chicken fried rice, noodles and chicken, chicken breast with mash potatoes and so on. Along with some breakfast skillet meals and energy snack bars. She also grabbed some batteries and some film for her camera. No doubt, she planned to take some pictures as well. He wasn’t going to be delayed by her stopping every few feet to take pictures. While he knew she was good at taking them and liked photography, he was on a mission and wanted to get it done and over with as soon as possible. No matter how badly he wanted to get the trip done with, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of doom. Like something was going to happen to them if they didn’t be careful. When he went hiking in the Rockies, either he went alone, or he went with his friend, David. They were both experienced hikers and knew how to take care of themselves. Nicole seemed experienced as well, but just how experienced she is, he didn’t know. He guessed he’d find out when they got out there.
He watched Nicole as she left the restaurant with her brother and sister-in-law She didn’t look at him when they walked out. He could have sworn that her impression on him changed after his sister, his son and her two boys showed up. But, maybe he just imagined it. When he was finished with his meal, he paid for it and then entered the bar through the door that stood between the café and saloon. There was not much to do around here, and he didn’t feel like going through any more paperwork from the office. He sat down at the bar and Cherry, the bartender asked him, “What will you have?”
“Scots and water, please.”
He sipped his drink and sat on the bar stool reflecting. He knew he rarely ever dreamed. Or, if he did, he never remembered them. Yet, since he’s been here, all he does is dream of Nicole deep in the night, and he wakes up hot and ready to go off. He didn’t even have to be with her, all he had to do was dream of her, and he’d get a hard on. He didn’t know her, and he only kissed her once. What’s the hell is going on with his body? This was not normal for him. He hated being out of his comfort zone. The whole thing seemed bizarre to him, and he couldn’t wait until he could get back home to his son and his work.
* * * *
Nicole got up at five-thirty Friday morning and packed her backpack. She weighed her backpack after she finished packing it, and it weighed in at twenty-two pounds. When she was finished, she took a shower, and then braided her hair down her back. She agreed to meet Marcus outside at his vehicle at seven AM. She was as nervous as all get-out about the whole trip.
She grabbed her trekking pole and her backpack and called Sierra. “Come on girl, let’s go.” Sierra jumped around like a kid excited. Almost as if she knew what the backpack and trekking pole meant. They headed out the door to his vehicle. Marcus was already there moving his stuff over so she could put her stuff in. “Good morning,” she mumbled as if she was trying not to wake anyone up.
“Good morning. Are you ready?” Marcus asked, seeming anxious. He had on a pair of nice hiking pants with a matching jacket, still unzipped. A suede shirt under the jacket, and boots. He had his hair back in a ponytail, and a red band around his head and tied in the back and his sunglasses rested on top of his head. He took her breath away as she looked him over.
He took her backpack from her and loaded it along with her trekking pole. “Hop in, Sierra,” Marcus said. As if she understood, she jumped into the back of the vehicle.
They entered the SUV and buckled their seatbelts when Marcus asked, “Where are we headed to start our trip?”
“Go down this road to the overpass, and go over the overpass and pass the exit to get on the northbound highway. Just pass the highway exit is an old cattle road. We’ll take that about a half mile down, and there is a place that I’ll show you, where you can park your vehicle.”
They drove down the rough, cattle road, avoiding the holes in the road. The road then turned from paved to dirt and the creek was flowing fast along the right side.
“You can park here.” Nicole pointed ahead on the right.
There was a spot of land that looked as if other vehicles had parked there in the past. Marcus pulled up and parked. The road and the river took a sharp turn to the left and went under the highway. They got out of the vehicle and Nicole looked around. There was a stoned like manmade bridge going over the creek, but the water was up high, and they would just barely make it.
They put their backpacks on, and Nicole grabbed her trekking pole, and along with Sierra, they went down to the creek. Marcus turned and used his remote to lock his vehicle. Nicole looked up and down the creek before she ventured out over the rocks to cross over. Sierra followed behind her, and then Marcus. The mountains that were on the other side of the creek made a straight vertical climb up. The pine trees peppered the landscape.
“We had a pine beetle invasion a few years ago. That’s why we have a lot of dead pine trees now.” Nicole gazed over the mountains.
“Yes, it wiped out a lot of trees. But, it’s all a part of the ecosystem,” Marcus commented. “This looks like a path.”
“It is, and we will follow it to the tunnel.”
Sierra ran around Nicole and put herself in the lead down the path. Occasionally, she’d stop to sniff something or ran off the path looking for something, but never went very far away.
Even though there was a path, it was fraught with massive boulders, rocks, tree trunks and limbs, and the ground was uneven. There were a lot of pine trees that had been toppled and laid across the path. The mountain floor was covered with tall, yellow dead weeds and brush, and exposed roots from trees, but occasionally there were some spring flowers blooming. The smell was a sickly stink of rotted wood.
As they continued to walk, Nicole asked, “What exactly do the arrows mean and what do you do with them?”
Marcus was quiet. Finally, he spoke. “The Sacred Arrows were a gift from the Great Spirit, who gave them to Sweet Medicine when he went to the Sacred Mountain. From time to time, the Cheyenne bands gather together for a ceremony which we perform rituals to renew the arrows. It’s a four-day ceremony that we do in the summer solstice.”
“Why can’t women participate in the ceremony?”
“Women can’t participate or look upon the arrows out of respect. They must stay in their tipis for the duration of the ceremony. Only the men can participate in the ceremony and the purpose of the ceremony is to empower them.”
“What about me?”
“What about you?”
“I’ve seen the arrows, you said that we can’t look upon them.”
“You are not Native American.”
“So the fact that I’ve looked upon them won’t affect the power of the arrows or the rituals?”
“Oh. That’s good, then. I knew when I saw them that I needed to leave them alone and not touch them.”
The noise around them buzzed with wildlife. Birds were chirping, and wild rabbits were hopping across their path, branches were creaking, and squirrels chattering. Nicole looked off to the left and saw a small herd of mule deer. She stopped for a second to watch them, and Marcus came and stood next to her. “I love to see wildlife in their natural habitat.” She smiled as she took a picture of them.
They came upon the south entrance of the concrete-lined tunnel that Nicole had mentioned they would be going through to get to the other side of the mountain. There were a lot of trees, wood, and debris around the entrance to the tunnel. There were two large boulders one on each side of the entrance, and the ground was covered in rocks. The tunnel opening was shaped like an arch so that the train, when it ran through, could fit into it. Above the arch was the year it was built, 1912. Above the year was what looked like a shelf that the mountain rested upon. Just on the inside of the tunnel, there was graffiti sprayed on the walls kids had painted on them. It was dark and very narrow, but you could see a light at the other end. The rail tracks had long ago been removed. She stopped and put her wool hat over her head with her headlamp. Marcus did the same. They both pulled their flashlights out of the backpack. “We have to be careful of snakes,” Nicole said.
“Do you hike going in this direction and to the cave where we are headed to often?”
“I haven’t been hiking this way in a year or so. Last year I spent my hiking time going on the mountains behind the motel. The trek is much easier than it is here.”
The tunnel was fairly flat and easy to walk on. Occasionally there would be some debris that they had to walk around.
“How is the trek easier on that side versus on this side?”
“The hills are easier to climb. There are spots all over where you can stop and take a rest and look around you. On this side, you have a lot of straight vertical drops, with huge boulders made of limestone. It’s amazing to me to see two and three feet pine trees that look like they literally sprung up from inside the rock. The mountains on this side also contain a different kind of soil. You see red, gray, black and gold silt. I sometimes wonder if that is what they call Diatomaceous earth in its natural form. But, history says that the rocks were formed about eighty-one million years ago due to the Farallon tectonic plate.”
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