Jolie scanned the parking lot for Remy’s scooter, parked, then ran into the hospital. The Kung Fu crowd had begun to arrive, but Remy was not among them. Bodhi’s little brother sat against a wall beside a forlorn looking older man in construction work clothes.
“Jie,” Jolie approached them. “Have you seen Remy? Is he here?” Jie shook his head, his eyes full of tears. Panic rose like bile inside Jolie. She raised her voice “Has anyone seen Remy Bishop?” No one answered. “Oh, shit.” Jolie went back outside, punching in the number for the Bishops’ house phone.
“Bishop residence,” Madison answered.
“Madison, it’s Jolie. Is Remy there?”
“No. I thought he was meeting you at the hospital.”
“He’s not here.” Jolie choked back a whimper that threatened to turn into a wail. “How long ago did he leave?”
“I don’t know, maybe an hour? He should have been there by now,” Madison said.
“He didn’t make it,” Jolie announced. “I’m at the hospital. He’s not here.”
“Is something wrong? Jolie, you sound funny. What’s happened?”
“Remy’s been in an accident,” Jolie explained. “I can’t tell you how I know, I just do, and I know how crazy that sounds, but these things I see? They come true.”
“Just a minute, Jo,” Madison interrupted her. “There’s another call coming in. I’ll be right back.”
Someone screamed a warning. Car brakes screeched, metal crunching against metal. The car struck Remy’s scooter, sending him through the air. He hit the windshield of the car that hit the scooter and rolled off the hood onto the street. His backpack split open and Bodhi’s yellow skateboard corkscrewed into the sky. Jolie looked up from Remy’s swelling face to see Yanna Maria turn and disappear into the crowd. The skateboard fell back down and smashed against the pavement, splintering the vision.
Madison’s voice brought Jolie back out. “That was the police, Jo. I have to hang up now. They’re taking Remy to Summerlin Hospital. How did you know?” There was a quaver in Madison’s voice. “How could you have known?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Jolie tried to soothe the girl. “Just get to the hospital. I’ll see you when you get here.”
“Okay.” Madison hung up.
As Jolie walked over to the emergency room ambulance entrance, she punched in the number for Yanna Maria’s shop. The fortune teller didn’t pick up. Jolie waited for the beep to begin recording her message.
“I saw you,” she accused the fortune teller. “I know you did this. How can you live with yourself? You pretend to help people, but the only person you’re interested in helping is yourself. If Remy dies, I will make sure you pay--not just in this life. I’ll make it my life’s work to find a way to wipe out your very soul, you bitch.” Jolie ended the call.
She was lingering by the driveway to the ER when the ambulance brought Remy in, lights flashing and sirens screaming.
Jolie was witness to the events in the vision again but this time she watched Yanna Maria put into place each of the seemingly innocent pieces in the chain of events that caused the car in front of Remy to suddenly stop, Remy’s scooter to slam into it, and the car behind to hit the scooter, ending with the yellow skateboard spiraling into the air.
The ambulance doors opened and the EMTs pulled Remy out on a gurney. Jolie pushed forward, keeping pace as they wheeled him down the walk.
“I’m here, Rem. I’m right here,” she told him. “Don’t let go. Do you hear me? This is not the end. You have a life, damn it. You fight for it and don’t give up.”
“Step away, kid. You can’t go any further,” the EMT warned her as they rolled the gurney through the ER doors.
Jolie’s lips trembled as the gurney pulled away from her.
“Help him,” she whispered to the sky. “He’s one of your own. Help him, please.”
She was pacing in the waiting room when the Bishops arrived, hurrying past her.
Jolie didn’t need to hear the scene being played out behind the glass doors. She had seen it before; the broken father, the cold stepmother, the stalwart and loyal younger sister, the three of them trying to come to terms with the reality that Remy was going to die.
Think, Jolie, think. There had to be a point in time when something could be changed; when choice could alter the outcome.
Madison looked out at her through the glass, her pretty face wracked with grief.
Madison, Jolie thought. Mr. Bishop had been willing to wait for his daughter’s consent before taking Remy off life support. She had argued that they needed to wait for Hoke. Madison was the answer. Madison would not let Remy die.
Jolie walked up to the glass doors and motioned for Madison to meet her there. “I need to talk to you,” she mouthed.
Madison glanced at her parents, her father distraught at Remy’s bedside, her mother tense beside him.
“Please,” Jolie pleaded, pressing her hands flat against the glass.
Madison stumbled forward, pushing out of the swinging doors.
“Oh, Jolie, what am I going to do?” she wrapped her arms around her brother’s friend, sobbing. “I think he’s going to die.”
“Madison, listen to me.” Jolie untangled Madison’s arms and held her back at arm’s length so that she could look her in the face. “They’re going to give you some time with him before they make the decision to take him off life support. I want you to call Hoke, okay? Insist that Hoke has to be here before they let Remy go. Do you understand?” Madison nodded. “Hoke isn’t going to be able to answer right now, so just leave him a message, explaining everything, but he will come. You got that?” Madison nodded again. “This is important, Madison. Don’t let them take Remy off life support until Hoke comes. No matter what. Your parents will have all kinds of reasonable excuses to let Remy go. Don’t let them do it. I’m going to go find Hoke and bring him back. He won’t let Remy die.”
“Okay. You’re going to go find Hoke,” Madison repeated. “I won’t let them give up on Rem. Hoke won’t let him die. I have to go back now.” She started through the doors, then stopped. “Wait, Jo, do you know where Hoke is?” she asked.
“I know where he’ll be at nine o’clock.” Jolie grimaced as she looked at the waiting room clock. “I have to go.”
“Yes, go. I’ll take care of things here,” Madison closed the ER doors.
Jolie turned back to the waiting room, scanning the Kung Fu crowd. There were less of them this time: no Hugo or Brutus or any of the senior students. Jolie walked up to a middle-aged Latino man. “Where’s Sifu?”
“He’s got some spiritual thing. He doesn’t know what’s happened.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Jolie muttered.
“How’s Remy?” one of the Fu kids asked her.
“Not good.” Just saying it made her want to cry. “And Bodhi?”
The student shook his head. “Jie says it’s touch and go.”
“The school will take this hard,” the Latino man said.
“They’re not gone yet and I’m not done fighting,” Jolie defied the notion that the outcome of the events was already decided. She marched out of the hospital and through the parking lot, praying that the old truck was good for one more adventure.
Every dollar she had left went into the old pickup’s gas tank, but when she was done pumping, the gas gauge still registered less than half a tank. She’d driven all the way down from Tecopa on a quarter of a tank, but going back up the steep grade was going to be the greater challenge.
The east end of Highway 160, a steep curvy two lane road before it reached the Spring Mountain Pass, was known as The Widowmaker. While older and larger vehicles struggled to climb up from Vegas on the east side grade, hot shots stuck behind them always tried to pass, often paying for their impatience with their lives or someone else’s.
On a Friday night, the fast traffic was headed downhill toward the big city’s nightlife, while the heavily loaded RVs and off-road crowd blocked the slower uphill lane, heading west to play in the wilderness.
Joining the caravan of oversized trucks, trailers, and motor homes winding up the hill, Jolie searched for a way to turn on the headlights, murmuring gratefully when she found a knob and they came on. As the highway gained elevation, she glanced north to where Red Rock Valley and Spring Mountain Ranch Park huddled in the shadows of the grand escarpment that divided the Spring Mountains, from Red Rock. She couldn’t see the big pink mountain by Rose’s from here, Calico Basin was too far north on the crescent of the valley, but she knew it was there, a quiet reservoir of strength, radiating energy toward her, calming her churning insides.
There was a time for every movie heroine when she faced the necessity of doing something bigger than herself, something she feared was beyond her abilities, and even though she knew she was more likely to fail than succeed, she chose to try anyway, because that was who she was. Jolie Figg knew this was that moment for her.
“Battle stations,” she muttered, gathering her resolve.
The old truck slowed, struggling as it chugged and spluttered up the hill, its engine heating slowly. It caught up to the RV, and Jolie stayed there in the larger vehicle’s lee.
“Come on, baby. Don’t give up on me now,” she urged the combustion dinosaur as the temperature gauge hit the red zone. Jolie pulled a few knobs. One released the engine’s heat allowing it to flood into the cab. Jolie’s hair whipped around in the wind from the open windows and the truck kept going. The temperature gauge slowly edged down.
“Good truck,” Jolie patted the spray painted dashboard.
Halfway up the mountain, the single westbound lane of Highway 160 split, giving the impatient a chance to safely pass. Jolie waited until she knew she was close to the summit, moved into the left lane, then turned off toward Mount Potosi at the sign for the Boy Scout camp. Her phone read nine-thirty.
There was no one waiting on the road, but dust still hung in the air above it. Vehicles had been here recently. Jolie drove on, hoping she could catch up. As the road snaked up the hill, she caught a glimpse of headlights ahead.
“That’s got to be them.” She clenched the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles locked.
She passed the turn off to the scout camp, then the county recreation area, before coming to a split in the road. With nothing but logic to go by, she followed the branch that went up, watching for any sign of other cars.
There were a few houses; lonely things, out in the middle of nowhere. Once they were behind her, the road became rougher until it was impassable. Jolie stopped, wondering if all the other vehicles the group had taken had four wheel drive, or if she had made a wrong turn, and was in the wrong place entirely. Pulling the Ford over to the side of the road as far as she dared, she turned off the engine and the lights.
It was impossibly dark and silent, the city and the highway now far away. Potosi’s summit rose like a dinosaur’s backbone to the east.
Jolie got out, pulled her backpack on, and got out her phone. Putting it on flashlight mode, she started to hike up the hill through the desert brush and juniper trees. Above her, real flashlights flared, their beams crisscrossing.
I found them, Jolie thought, pleased with herself. Hoke would be there with them. All she had to do was catch up, but it wasn’t an easy climb. The fastest route between two points in this rugged terrain was not a straight line. Jolie missed where the other cars had parked, and she had not found the trail the others were on, even with the help of their flashlights. The ground rose and fell without warning. Boulders, rocks, and prickly bushes were everywhere. The high top tennis shoes which had seemed to fit the bill of comfortable shoes were fine on a city street, but ill-suited to the rougher terrain where some grip was needed.
Jolie stopped and dug a water bottle out of her backpack. She was taking a good long drink when her cell phone flashlight dimmed. If she kept using it, the battery would be dead long before she got off the mountain. She tucked her water bottle back into her pack, powered down the phone, and stashed it in a pocket of her backpack. Starlight would have to do. She waited for her eyes to adjust, then continued up the hill.
A skeleton stepped out from behind a twisted juniper, planting itself in her path, and blocking her way.
“Oh my God, you scared me.” Jolie’s hand went to her heart. Her new companion offered no reassurance. Jolie examined it.
The white skeleton design had been silk screened onto a black long sleeved turtle neck, a full face mask, and a pair of black pants.
“It’s a little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” she asked, sardonically. The skeleton continued its silence.
“I’m trying to get up to where Hoke is,” Jolie explained. It didn’t offer to help. “Fuck you, douche bag.” She turned and walked to her left for a bit, staying at the same level on the mountain, then turned right and headed again for the ridge.
Another skeleton rose from behind a rock and put itself in her path.
“Oh, come on,” Jolie groaned, turning back. After walking north a ways, she again turned and tried to climb up.
Another skeleton appeared.
“This is ridiculous. Either help me or get out of my way,” Jolie warned it as she tried to circle around.
A fourth skeleton barred her progress, a fifth rising out of the darkness behind it. Right and left, more than a dozen skeletons stood like the night watch of the dead.
“Let. Me. Pass,” Jolie commanded, separating each word. They did not move unless she moved, always stopping her from going up the hill. “Okay, I get it. You don’t want anyone going up. It’s a ceremony, and you don’t want people just hanging around, but I was invited... by Hoke.” No one spoke. No one moved. “I need to talk to Hoke. He’s up there. Old Indian, long braid, cowboy hat?”
There was no reaction.
“You stupid jerks. Let me through!” Jolie rushed the closest guard, trying to force her way past him. Arms like iron bars reached out and caught her. The skeleton was rooted like the mountain itself. As determined that she would not go up as she was that she would, it pushed her back down.
“I don’t have time for this. Remy is in trouble,” she grumbled. Cupping her hands to her mouth, she shouted. “Hoke!” Her voice echoed off the rocks. “Hoke, it’s me, Jolie. I have to talk to you. Hoke.” The skeleton moved as if to stop her from shouting. Jolie mentally gathered a ball of energy and threw it at him. “Get out of my way!” She raced forward past her opponent only to bump into a tall, thin skeleton.
“Jolie Figg?” it asked in a voice that was definitely human and definitely male.
“Yes,” Jolie breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God one of you cretins has evolved enough to talk. Can you please take me to Hoke? I have to talk to him.”
“You can talk to me,” the skeleton said. She did not doubt his authority; it was in his voice, his body language, the way he carried himself.
“Okay,” she gave in. “Hoke’s nephew, Remy was in an accident. He’s in the hospital,” she worked to keep her voice steady.
A man in long black robes, like a priest, appeared.
“Let her go up.” His black pants were drawn in at the ankles. Soft soled black leather boots wrapped muscular calves, and long dark hair hung loose around his shoulders. The only thing he wore that was not black, was a string of Buddhist prayer beads strung across his chest.
“Sifu?” Jolie wanted to throw herself into the man’s arms in relief, but one look at the dark Taoist stopped her. His energy was like a walking thunderstorm, sparking the air around him. Jolie swallowed hard.
“You can talk to Hoke as soon as he’s done,” Sifu told her. “Take her up, Rance,” he commanded the tall skinny skeleton. With a motion of his hand, two of the other skeletons stepped forward and flanked Jolie while the tall one began to lead her up the hill. The other skeletons faded back into the landscape.
“Just follow Rance,” the voice beside Jolie was familiar. “Walk where he walks. He knows the way.”
“Hugo?” Jolie stopped to examine the skeleton.
“Sssh. No talking,” the skinny one in the lead continued climbing. Jolie reached her hand out for Hugo’s hand and gave it a squeeze. He squeezed hers back, dropping the link between them when Rance looked back at them. They stepped out onto the top of the ridge.
A vast, open sky riffled above them, stars spilling across the deep black. To the northeast, the golden lights of Las Vegas glittered like some mythic god’s treasure tumbled over the valley floor.
“Look, the Emerald City is closer and prettier than ever,” she whispered to Hugo in quiet delight, surprised at the affection she felt.
Mountain ranges in every direction were visible from the ridge. To the west, jagged ridges were stacked one behind another in fading layers, barely discernible in the fading spring twilight. North, cloaked by a deeper night, the peak of Mount Charleston took focus.
Northwest of where they stood, drawn hard against the indigo sky, a tiny pocket of lights nested on the valley floor between the Spring Mountains to the east and the Nopah Range in the west.
“That’s Pahrump,” Hugo told Jolie. “It’s Paiute for water from the rock because there were springs there back in the day. The Old Spanish Trail came through about where that road is, there.” He pointed at the base of the mountain, tracing a line out toward the west.
“How do you know that?” Jolie asked.
“My abuela told me stories. There are a lot of things we don’t know about each other,” Hugo pointed out.
“Yes. I suppose that’s true.” Jolie remembered how clean and steady Hugo’s spirit flame had burned. People might dismiss the quiet boy, he wasn’t flashy like Bodhi, bombastic like Brutus, or handsome like Remy, but he was strong, good, kind, and steady.
“They’re starting,” Rance informed Jolie.
She turned around as the dark figure of a woman in a long dress stepped up onto a rocky point a few feet away, outlined against the sky. Another of the Ridge Walkers moved from the dark outline of the trees into range of the starlit backdrop, his silhouette becoming a cut out against it. Jolie continued to make a slow circle, watching the Walkers take their places along the ridge’s spine.
Hoke walked out onto a broad flat-topped boulder to her left, his soft voice beginning to call the spirits of the Six Directions. To Jolie’s right, Sifu did the same in his own Native language. Each of the participants followed suit, in their own traditions; all different, all connected.
A drum heartbeat joined them as the voices of half a dozen men and women of different spiritual callings reached out, drawing the attention of the universe.
“Do you know what they’re doing?” Hugo asked, fascinated and a little fearful.
Jolie closed her eyes, knowing that she would see the spirit world more clearly that way.
The song changed, but not the heartbeat. It remained, anchoring the singers to the physical world as their spirits lifted from their bodies, spreading out and melding their edges until they made one huge multi-colored spirit sail that shimmered against the dark sky.
“They’re inviting the lost spirits to join them here,” Jolie whispered, afraid to speak too loudly. “They’re making a net of their spirits to catch them so that they feel safe.”
“How do you know that?” Hugo asked.
“I just do.” Jolie opened her eyes. “It’s one of those things we don’t know about each other, but that we should.”
The pull of the Walker’s spirit invitation was so compelling that Jolie wanted to fall to her knees on the earth and weep, and sing, to be complete by answering their call and immersing herself in their beautiful light.
A touch on her arm jolted her back.
“Hoke is asking for you.”
Jolie followed Rance, to a path that wound up the back side of the rock where Hoke had taken his post.
“Don’t talk to him unless he asks you a question,” the senior Fu warned her.
She nodded. Cautious of her footing, she climbed up the path and walked out onto the boulder beside Hoke.
A loud crack shattered the Ridge Walker’s songs and a spinning vortex slowly opened in the air above them. Swirls of blue and green, light and dark danced, creating a tunnel. At the far end, bright white energy pulsated in rhythm with the earth’s heartbeat being beaten out on the drum.
Awestricken, Jolie began to walk forward, toward the swirling vortex. Hoke put an arm out to stop her.
“That is a path for the dead,” he cautioned. “Call your demon, Girl Who Knows Nothing. Guide him to the light.”
“I don’t know how,” Jolie faltered.
“Stop lying to yourself,” Hoke said, sternly. “It serves no one. Listen with your heart. You already know exactly what this demon needs. Leave behind your anger and fear, and seek this creature in the strength of your compassion.”
“Hoke, I have to tell you, Remy--”
“I know.” Tears marked the Native man’s face. He had made a commitment. He could not go to his nephew until it was finished. His brave anguish made Jolie ashamed of her own selfishness. “You have done your part, Wicincala Witko,” Hoke reassured her. “Madison is doing hers. Finish what you came here to do. Call your demon.”
Jolie took a deep, slow breath, settling herself into the peace she had learned to find, even when the demon was hounding her.
“Hear us. Come to us,” the ridge walkers called. Jolie gathered a ball of energy, bringing in some of the nurturing invitation the walkers had made, hoping it would lure the demon to return with her to the ridge, then sending her own spirit north and west to Tecopa, she sought Jessie Lynn and the demon.
Her eyes popped back open. “Mom!” she gasped.