This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Juneau Daily News, August 31
Previously Unknown Quartz Found
George Smithson, reporter
Alaska: Strange accounts of a crystal found outside Fairbanks have intrigued researchers and excited paranormal enthusiasts. Dr. Renee Samm of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, reports that the crystal brought to her for analysis is a quartz, unlike anything she has ever seen. “It has properties similar to quartz,” she told the Juneau Daily News, “but its molecular structure is more complex. It appears to be a fragment of a much larger formation.” She was in Juneau to arrange financing for an expedition to investigate the area the crystal is said to have been found.
Dorothy Overmeyer of the Area 51 Foundation for Paranormal Research said they have sent an investigator to Fairbanks. “Our reports say that the crystal transmits a feeling of intense longing,” Overmeyer said. “It is clearly of alien origin.”
Samm said she thought it unlikely the crystal was of extraterrestrial origin. “It’s a crystal. A very unusual crystal, but nevertheless a crystal.” She was disappointed to have found no financial support for her venture in Juneau but said it would not stop her from pursuing its origins.
When Lachlan woke, the fire had gone out. “Sh-sh-shiste!” Her teeth chattered. She had expected cold in Alaska, but this was beyond anything she could have imagined. She tried to find a curse word which fit the possibility of freezing to death, but couldn’t. Years of using the f-word to complain about everything from a lost book to a broken fingernail had deprived her of the language she needed now. She hauled herself up to blow on the embers, carefully ladeling bits of paper onto the steaming remains.
Without curses, she was forced to pray -- something she had not done since her father had kicked her out six, or was it seven? years ago. Now she asked some spirit to please make sure she had not doomed herself, and possibly also the woman she loved...
She saw the Juneau Daily News article at a coffee shop in Seattle. She’d just finished writing about the Maury Island UFO incident and was casting about for another story. Something current. Maury Island had been a rehash of a 1947 sighting and she needed something more immediately newsworthy. She hesitated at the article’s mention of the Area 51 Foundation. She really did not want to risk meeting up with any of those wackos, let alone Zariah Stellar. But the story was too good to pass up. She badly needed a new assignment and she knew she could sell this one.
Lachlan O’Hara did not for one minute believe in Bigfoot, ghosts, or aliens but she had made a name for herself in the thriving world of paranormal research by reporting on such mysteries. She was a good photographer and a decent writer, and she had grown up listening to her grandmother’s tales of the banshee and other Irish myths. She had never believed in leprechauns and the like, and her grandmother had not expected her to. Stories were stories, and a great way to make a living. She traveled the world reporting on the weird and the wonderful -- intensive research and credible sources optional -- and an alien crystal would be a great addition to her portfolio.
When she arrived in Juneau, she was pleasantly surprised to find it sunny and sixty degrees. The story’s reporter, a grizzled old veteran named George Smithson, agreed to talk to her in exchange for lunch. They sat talking in the Moose Head while he ate an enormous Moose Burger.
“Yeah, that Dr. Samm from the University was all in a dither about it,” Smithson said, spraying bits of burger across the table. Lachlan had never heard anyone say “dither” before.
“Where did she get it? Your article didn’t say.” She nibbled on a French fry, trying to convince herself she needed the calories for the trek ahead of her. If she’d known how right she was, she would have felt less guilty about polishing off the whole basket.
“Yeah, here’s the thing. The story she told was so weird my editor wouldn’t let me print it. I told ’im people’d love it, especially around here, but... “ He squinted at her with watery blue eyes. “He’s young, like you, and has some idea of making our little rag respectable.” He made a choking sound which at first alarmed her until she realized he was laughing. “Last story we had that made the national media was about a cat falling out a window.”
“Did you say cat?”
“Yeah. Fell eleven stories and survived. That’s news in Juneau.”
She shook her head. “About the crystal.”
“Dr. Samm is a native lady. She traveled Outside and got a degree in geology, then came back. She still has family here. She said her uncle brought her a dead muskrat. He told her the muskrat begged him to kill it. The muskrat told her it had accidently swallowed a stone which had forced it to travel far from its home. It --”
“Excuse me -- the muskrat spoke to her uncle?”
“Yeah. Now you understand why my editor didn’t want me to use the story.” He cough-laughed again. “The uncle killed the muskrat, but he was afraid of the stone taking him over. So he froze the animal and brought it to his niece because he knew she had learned stone magic at school. When she cut the muskrat open, she found the strange crystal just as he had said. And now she and her uncle have gone north.”
He winked. “Pretty good story, I think.” He was so amused, she thought she would have to use the Heimlich maneuver.
She remembered Smithson and that greasy spoon now with longing. Vinyl-covered bench seat with hot air blowing down from an overhead duct, smell of fried food and hot coffee... Civilization. The time before she’d seen the crystal. She blew on the embers of her pitiful little fire and wondered what her father would say if he could see her now. Probably, “It’s God’s judgment.” Maybe it was. She was too cold to cry, but she couldn’t stop a whimper and was disgusted with herself. What did the British call it? “Whinging.” A good word, whinging. She wished Americans would adopt it, so when she got back to civilization she could report in her blog that she had been whinging. Assuming she survived this to post another blog...
After paying for Smithson’s lunch, Lachlan hired a bush pilot to take her to Fairbanks. The expenses were mounting, but the story was everything she had hoped for. A month of work and she would be “n like Flynn” as her grandmother would have said.
How ignorant she had been.
It was five degrees colder and cloudy in Fairbanks. She bought herself warmer gloves and a fiberfill vest to wear under her down coat. At the University of Alaska, they told her Dr. Samm, her uncle, and the lady from the Area 51 Foundation had headed for Fort Yukon a week earlier. Again Lachlan felt uneasy. Area 51 did not have many female reporters. Could it be Zariah? Surely not...
Anyway, she was committed now. She had invested too much to stop. Hadn’t she?
Lachlan chartered another plane. In Fort Yukon, they told her that her quarry had taken to kayaks on the Yukon River. Worse, the description of the Area 51 lady (“cute little girl with bright green eyes and the frizziest brown hair I’ve ever seen!”) fit Zariah. Lachlan swallowed her doubts. She’d come so far. She needed this story. Surely Zee wouldn’t still be angry with her....
Although a veteran of many hunting trips and an experienced kayaker, all Lachlan’s knowledge came from the Pacific Northwest, so she tried to hire a guide. Unfortunately, Fort Yukon’s small population did not include many, and those who might have taken on the job were currently out hunting, or guiding hunters. It was moose hunting season, she was told. Guiding hunters from Outside and fur trading were two of Fort Yukon’s biggest sources of income. Dr. Samm’s Uncle Charlie had been out checking his traps when he had found the muskrat.
Martha, her native hostess at the bed and breakfast, told her there were about 12 hours of daylight in Fort Yukon in September, and the temperature averaged 50 degrees. Lachlan decided if she left at first light and kayaked for six hours, she might get lucky and find their trail. If so, she would then have to decide whether to risk following. If she didn’t see anything in six hours, she would turn around and come back to town and reconsider.
“‘Yukon’ means ‘great river’ in the Gwich’in language,” Martha told her. “Do not take the river for granted.” Martha reminded Lachlan of Marilyn on Northern Exposure, only she was a lot more talkative. “You must show respect,” said Martha sternly. Lachlan nodded and went to rent and buy all the equipment and supplies Martha told her she would need. Lachlan knew she was being an idiot; probably every storekeeper in town was related to Martha in some way and half the supplies would be unnecessary. Lachlan did it anyway. She had always found that listening to the locals paid off in the end.
The next day she loaded her rental equipment into a kayak and pushed off onto the Yukon River. Almost immediately, the weight of her ambition lifted. It had always been like this when she kayaked -- whatever was currently obsessing her became background noise. Every time she dipped her oar, she felt more free. Maybe it was this that had really motivated her to follow Dr. Samm so far. It wasn’t the possibility of reconciling with Zariah. Not at all. Not. At. All. She pushed the thought out of her head.
The smoothness of the water, the birds flying by, the gray-blue hills, the snowy mountains, the ever-changing clouds -- they all lulled her. She watched the water droplets fall from her paddle. She looked down through the clear water to the stones below. She drew in the incredibly fresh air. It was cold, but her paddling and the clothes Martha had recommended kept her comfortable. For long periods she forgot to look for signs of Dr. Samm. She did see bear, otter, wolves, and a lynx drinking along the bank. None were interested in her, thank God. She pulled out her camera and recorded them -- good background for her story. She also saw and photographed bluebirds, ospreys, and eagles. She saw signs of beaver, but none of the creatures themselves. Or muskrats.
She reflected that she could only remember ever seeing a beaver once, in western Washington. They had surprised each other on a rainy evening when her father and she had been on their way back to the car after a long, successful day fishing. Her father had been ahead of her, walking silently like the hunter he was. She had been attempting to imitate him, apparently with some success. She had seen some movement in the pond to her left and looking over, saw a furry face looking back. A flick and a splash and it was gone.
The six-hour mark passed. Lachlan noted it and kept going. She didn’t really think about it. She just didn’t stop. The water flowed north, and even if she didn’t work at it, she got swept along at a steady pace. She felt free and happy for the first time in a long, long while.
As the slow twilight approached, she saw a kayak beached on a sandbank.
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