Jolie’s feet crunched in the dusty gravel. Ruts and potholes littered the rural dirt road. In some places, some past rainstorm had washed the road out, reducing it to a single lane. It didn’t rain often in Southern Nevada, but when it did, the deluge could instantly change the terrain. Creek beds, dry for most of the year, altered their courses, trees were uprooted, and the asphalt layer on roads disappeared, simply washed away.
Taking the branch of the road that leads toward the mountain, Jolie followed it. It ended not far away at a weathered split-rail fence marking the beginning of the Bureau of Land Management’s territory. The path narrowed to a single person footpath as it lead out into the wild.
Surrounded by the mountains that cradled Calico Basin, Jolie could neither see nor hear Las Vegas over the hills to the east. Instead, birds called in sweet sound bites. A lizard drew lazy “S”s in the red sand with its tail. A burrow brayed.
Jolie stopped and closed her eyes. She could have been a hundred miles from Las Vegas, or on a different world. Listening to the wind whisper secrets to the red hills, she felt the tickle of attention that was focused on her and understood that its source was not human. She opened her eyes and looked up at the huge pink mountain.
“Ho, mitakuye oyasin,” she sent her own whisper out on the wind.
"Once you set your foot on the path....” Rose had said. Jolie looked down at her Converse high tops. Any part that had been white was now pink: laces, rubber toes, the sides that edged the sole. She took them off, removing her socks as well. Sticking the socks down inside the shoes, she tied the laces together and threw them over her shoulder, wriggling her toes down into the fine red sand. The smooth grains slipped between her toes like silk, changing from warm at the surface to a luxurious coolness several inches below.
Rose said that Jolie was fortunate in her gifts and the understanding they gave her. Faith had believed that too, but Jolie never felt fortunate. She struggled, wishing she could be someone else. It never changed anything, though. Time only made her feel more miserable, alienated, and disenfranchised. Maybe her friends were right. Maybe it was time to accept herself as she was and embrace the future that came of it.
Jessie Lynn had never seen any special worth in her daughter’s abilities, and being young, Jolie naturally followed her mother’s example, never seeing anything in them herself. It was a mystery to the troubled teen why others did. Jolie didn’t recognize the person her friends saw in her, but then, you couldn’t really appreciate someone if you spent all your time wishing they were someone else.
The cell phone in Jolie’s pocket buzzed. Surprised there was service out here in the basin, Jolie looked to see who it was.
It was Iris. The older woman had left a few messages, encouraging Jolie to reach out when she was ready to talk, letting her young friend know that even though Faith was gone, she was still thinking about her. Jolie hadn’t been able to face talking to Iris with everything else that was going on. They hadn’t seen each other since the memorial, so it was expected that they would talk about Faith, or would try so hard not to that it would hurt as if they had. How would Jolie explain what was going on in her life? Iris had enough to deal with in settling Faith’s estate. She didn’t need to worry about Jolie’s demonic possession. But things were better now, and it was cowardly to keep avoiding her friend.
Jolie pressed the screen on her cell phone and answered.
“Hi, Iris. I’m sorry I didn’t call or text back. Things have been pretty weird around here lately.” Jolie kept her emotions in tight check. She and Iris both prided themselves on being unemotional types, and Jolie didn’t want to embarrass herself by blubbering to her friend the first time they talked after so long.
“I knew we’d get together eventually,” Iris said in her crisp East Coast Yankee style. “So, school is okay? Home is...?
“Home is....” Jolie realized how much had gone on that Iris didn’t know about. She took a deep breath. “Mom is in the hospital.” If Iris hadn’t realized that Jolie was trying to mask her pain before, she got it now.
“Oh my god, honey. Is she alright? What happened?”
Tears welled in Jolie’s eyes. She wiped them away, glad that Iris couldn’t see her.
“Rick shot her,” Jolie’s voice cracked. Talking about it brought it all back too vividly. “He found out where she worked, went there, and shot her.”
“Jolie! When did this happen?”
“Uh, yesterday, I guess.”
“Yesterday? Was this what that call was about? You didn’t leave a message.”
“I didn’t call--at least I don’t remember calling, but things are a little fuzzy. My friends might have called looking for a ride. It doesn’t matter.”
“The hell it doesn’t,” Iris disagreed.
“Everything’s been just a crazy blur, you know?” Jolie went on. “And I haven’t been in any condition to call anyone, but it’s better now. Really, it is.”
“Where are you?” Iris demanded. “At the apartment? I’m coming to get you.”
“No, don’t, Iris. I’m fine. A friend took me in.” Jolie’s voice quavered.
“Tell me what I can do, Jo, please,” Iris insisted. “I feel so awful that you’ve gone through this alone, and so soon after Faith...” she didn’t need to finish. “I should have been there.”
Jolie shook her head in silent disagreement with her friend’s assumption that what Jolie needed was an adult to fix everything.
“Everything’s fine now, really,” she repeated, feeling stronger. “The ambulance got there in time, and the police arrested Rick.” She was going for the short version. “So the excitement is over.”
“Honestly, Jo, let me come and get you.”
“I appreciate the offer, Iris, but it’s not necessary.” Jolie looked around at the red mountains. “It’s good here. Remy’s aunt’s ranch is in Red Rock and she’s a really nice lady. I think it’s better for me right now, to be out of the city.”
Iris hesitated. “Okay. If you’re sure?”
“I am. They’ve invited me to stay until mom is out of the hospital, so I’m going to do that. It’s not that I don’t want to see you, Iris. It’s just that I’m kind of overwhelmed right now, and here, I have space to sort things out. I’ve got a lot of that to do.”
“Okay. But if you need a shoulder, or an ear, or a shopping trip, or anything, you’ll call, right? I mean it, Jo. Anything.”
“Thanks. I’ll talk to you again in a few days. I promise.”
“Okay, honey. We need to talk about Faith’s will. When you’re ready.”
“Yeah. I asked her to leave me my favorite teacup as a remembrance. Will you keep it for me, for now?”
“Of course,” Iris said gently. “We’ll talk about it later when things have settled down. There’s no hurry.”
“Okay. Thanks. Later.” Jolie hung up and straightened her shoulders. With a breath of resolution, she took one step and then another along the red sand path.
Let this be the beginning of my journey as someone who can see, not just the problems, but the possibilities, she vowed, silently.
The narrow path branched off left and right. Standing at the intersection, as if guarding invisible gates, were two very large ravens. Behind them, the burro herd grazed, watched over by the old black jack. As Jolie drew closer, the jack raised his head and looked at her.
Voices drifted down from the path to the west. The jack’s ears perked up, listening. Turning his head, he looked east, then looked back at Jolie.
“Okay, east it is.” Jolie turned onto the path that curved around the east end of the mountain, jogging, then running, carried along by the buoyancy of the red earth, feeling it flood into the dark holes where the demon had burrowed, filling those empty places with a fresh and vibrant joy.
She felt triumphant and ridiculous, marvelous and amazing like she could do anything and become anyone. Her old sarcastic self laughed at the hubris of this naive happiness.
“Shut up,” she told it. “I’m alive and free and I deserve to celebrate it.”
Boulders that had splintered off from the heights of the pink mountain and fallen to the desert floor during the last several thousand years, now hunkered at its foot, scattered among the chaparral, sage, and agaves. Jolie veered off the path and made her way to a large flat-topped rock. Scrambling up, she sat facing the mountain.
“I feel like a little girl sitting here,” she said, speaking to the pink mountain. “Like I was sitting next to Mem again. Maybe if like they say, all energy is connected, then some part of her has become part of you and has been waiting here for me. Well, I’ve come now, Mem. I made it.”
All of the problems that Jolie had been trying to hide from, suddenly crashed over her like a tsunami.
“Show me what to do. Show me who I’m supposed to be.” Tears pooled over the dams of her eyes. “Because I don’t know.” Jolie lifted her tearful face to the mountain.
The events of the last few weeks had nearly broken her, but she had made it through. It was time to begin the process of rebuilding, but there was no pattern, no plan for her to follow. She pulled out the package of tobacco and opened it.
What should she say? Praying was something other people did; people like Father Owen, who kept a bible on their bookshelf, people who held to a set of rules that had no place for someone like her. But Rose had not sent her out to the desert to pray. She had sent her out to explore, and given her the tools to say thank you for the healing she had received.
“That I can do.” Jolie dug out a handful of tobacco and held it up in the air. “Ho, mitakuye oyasin,” she repeated the phrase that Rose had taught her.
The world hushed as if to listen. Jolie paused, formulating her thoughts around what weighed most heavily on her heart.
“Show me how to protect Remy.” A lump rose, blocking her throat. He should live, she continued, forming her thoughts in the silence with the basin as witness. The world needs him. His people need him. Help keep him safe. Opening her hand, she let the shredded tobacco scatter over the desert on the quickening wind.
Clouds had been moving in as she sat on the rock, and now the sky rumbled. It was already raining somewhere to the west; Jolie could smell it on the wind. The bushes rattled like dried beans poured from a barrel. Jolie closed her eyes and let the storm climb over her.
Moisture crowded the air as the clouds released raindrops that evaporated before reaching the ground: virga, they called it. The subverted rain dripped from the sky like water color paints spreading over wet paper.
The wind wrapped her dress around her ankles and tugged at her dust coated hair. Thunder crackled across the sky, echoing off the red cliffs.
Big, juicy raindrops began to plop onto the dry, sun-scorched earth: one, then two, and three, until the clouds gave up their hoard and it became a stampede, millions of drops punching little hollows in the red sand.
Jolie held up a hand to catch the precious drops in her dusty palms. She leaned her head back, her face to the sky, and let the rain wash away her tears and the cares that had brought them. It was a new start and the rain’s renewal of the thirsty earth, mirrored her own.
Waterfalls began to flow from crevices all around the red cliff, seeking the lowest point. The roar of a flash flood pounded the ravine to the north of the pink mountain.
Jolie jumped off the boulder and ran toward the sound. At the easternmost edge of the mountain, a large rock slab, fallen long ago, had wedged itself against a boulder, creating a small cave. Soaked to the skin, her hair and dress clinging to whatever part of her it touched, Jolie ran along the path toward the stone shelter, her bare feet crusted with wet red sand.
To her right, the plateau of land at the foot of the mountain dropped off into a box canyon of deep red stone. All of the rain from the north cliffs was now flowing to the upper ravine, gathering mass and racing toward the drop off that separated the upper and lower canyons.
Jolie walked cautiously to the edge and looked over. The deluge was coming so heavy now, that she could barely see through the sheet of gray.
A gush of riotous water plunged over the edge of the upper ravine, making a waterfall that only ran when it rained this hard in the basin. It was a phenomenon that few would ever see, Jolie realized.
The box canyon below had been a dry creek bed just minutes before, but the rainstorm had transformed it into a raging river. The sound was deafening.
Another clap of thunder split the roar and Jolie looked up. On the far side of the canyon, Yanna Maria stood, glaring down at her.
“Where is the demon?” the fortune teller demanded, imperiously.
“Gone,” Jolie answered. “Hoke sent it away.” Another thunderbolt struck the ground, this time very close to Jolie. She jumped in surprise but did not cower. With the pink mountain at her back, she faced the fortune tellers’ displeasure. “You said you would help me get rid of it. You didn’t. Hoke did.”
“What did he do with it?” Yanna Maria wanted to know.
“Ask him. I don’t know and I don’t care.”
“Foolish girl,” the woman growled. The fortune teller’s image faded into the falling rain. Jolie turned back to the shelter of the cave, crouching and hugging her knees for warmth, as the storm raged, water rushing over the cliff.
Yanna Maria’s ideas about what Hoke had done weren’t important, she told herself. The demon was gone. That was what mattered. It was over.
As suddenly as it had come in, the storm passed. The clouds parted, the sun came out, and the sky went back to its accustomed bright blue.
The dust had been washed from the world, making it sparkle. The colors of the rocks became deeper and brighter. Every tiny desert flower released its subtle fragrance combining into a perfume that could not be bottled.
Jolie’s were the first footprints pressed into the freshly washed sand. She headed back to Rose’s.
As she approached the house, she saw an old Jeep Wagoneer parked out front, mud caked its wheels.
Yanna Maria was leaning against it, her arms wrapped in a shawl and crossed over her bosom, her brown lips pulled tight.
“Hoke did a wipe down? Rose should have called me.” The woman scowled.
“Why would she?” Jolie asked. “As far as Rose is concerned, we haven’t even met.”
“So, you have kept our secret?”
“Yes,” Jolie answered, wondering why Yanna Maria thought keeping their arrangement from the others was necessary.
“Good,” Yanna Maria said, but she did not look as if she meant it. “Rose says you will be coming to lodges now. Then we will be seeing more of each other. We will become lodge sisters.”
Jolie found the suggestion less than encouraging.
“Won’t that make our “secret” harder to keep?”
Yanna Maria glowered. “The full nature of our relationship will remain hidden,” she insisted.
“Why exactly is that, Yanna Maria?” Jolie demanded, her tone bordering on insolent.
“Because uppity apprentices can’t resist making people think that they know more than they do, and they must be protected from themselves,” the fortune teller replied, maintaining a tone of challenge. “You let me know if you have any questions about what you see or experience in the lodge. I will answer them for you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if I decide I want to become someone’s apprentice.”
Yanna Maria snorted. “We are alike in many ways, you and I. The spiritual path is one of power, Jolie. If you are going to embrace your power, you will need a guide as fearless as you are. You will not find that in there.” She tossed her head toward Rose’s.
“Hoke seems brave enough.”
“He will teach you nothing.” Yanna Maria spat on the ground. “You are a woman.”
“And it is not the Lakota way for a man to teach a woman,” Jolie finished for her. “Yeah, I heard.”
“A convenient excuse for hoarding knowledge. He won’t teach us, but he will teach that boy, his nephew. When you are ready to take the next step, you know where to find me.” Yanna Maria wrapped her shawl around her, got into her Jeep and drove off through the puddles.