“You’re more beautiful with a freshly scrubbed face and a ponytail than most women who’ve spent hours at the beauty shop.” Dax motioned for me to carry my plate-sized cinnamon roll to his table.
“Nonsense,” I couldn’t help smiling. I’m not immune to flattery. It feels good to be greeted with a compliment from a handsome man.
“I’m seriously dazzled. Your face is more beautiful than a herd of butterflies in the morning sunlight.”
“A whole herd of them, huh? Is that the correct word? Seems like flock might be a more appropriate word.” As a journalist, I’m always looking for proper terminology. Dax should be too. I wanted to redirect his attention from flattery to our profession.
“Herd. Flock. Gaggle. All plurals. They don’t work. Your beauty is singular, and I think the term to describe it just doesn’t exist.”
“Hmmmm. That will have to do for the moment. I can see you’re as hungry as I am.”
Dax parried, “Let’s gobble our giant rolls with gluttonous, guilty glee. How’s that for consonance?”
“Granted you’re garrulous and glib.” I added my own g words.
Dax stared at his half-empty plate. “I wonder if the warning from the UFO lady has anything to do with eating three platefuls of these?” He sliced off another bite. “What was it she told us on the plane? Beware the energy of the third circle?”
“Three of these rolls and I’d be energized on a sugar high for a week.”
Then I recalled Ezra’s journal entry. The Millerites had reported three circles of lights over Hannibal. Odd. A slight alarm bell went off. I immediately upbraided myself. Why would I even consider that UFO lady’s warning anyway? I don’t believe in prophetic warnings based on superstition, the stars, or psychics.
Almost in answer to my thought, Dax put down his fork. “So far, we’re dealing with only one little crop circle. Not even a fancy one at that.”
“Could it be someone is playing tricks on Harry.” I mentioned my theory about a possible prospective buyer, a plausible motive for driving the Potts from the family farm so they could buy and sell for an even higher price.
He glanced at the morning light streaming through the windows. “Could be. Maybe the sneak is aware of our surveillance cameras, and that’s why he’s staying away. Or….”
He waved his hands in the air and made his voice sound spooky. “Or maybe there really is an alien craft hovering over the field and ET is spying on the place.”
“Alien Shmaylien! Let’s go take a look at the videos and see what kind of alien critters visited the Potts farm last night.”
Dax picked up his fork for one more bite. “I drove out there and picked them up at dawn. Wanted to be sure I got back before you started to miss me. Frankly, my dear Miss Flame, I’d be heartbroken if you hadn’t missed me.”
Keep it strictly professional, I reminded myself. I couldn’t help feeling a little flattered.
We hooked up the laptop, plugged in the flash drive and ran the film. It showed the same visitors as before: a possum, couple of armadillos. No weird lights, no mysterious craft or alien creatures. Not even a blurry Big Foot.
I decided not to mention Lizzy’s book. I wanted to talk with her about it, so when Dax prepared to drive back to the Potts farm again, I begged off. He looked crestfallen.
Since our first meeting at Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans, I knew any relationship with Dax would not be an ordinary walk in a park. More like a run ahead of stampeding bulls in Spain—exhilarating, dramatic, exotic.
Stampedes are dangerous, I reminded myself. You can get seriously hurt, no matter how fast you run.
That afternoon, I searched the computer files for old news stories dating back to the 1800s during Ezra’s lifetime. I wanted to see if there were any reports of mysterious lights in the skies.
Historian James Bently recorded an 1880s story told by some striking coal miners, hungry and without wages, who went poaching on one of the mine owners’ lands. They described a purplish-red luminous ball hovering over their heads. Silently, it descended into a nearby field.
The astonished hunters hid their faces, but as tension subsided they dared to peer over the hedge. A swirling ball of smoke with small tongues of flames issuing from beneath was lifting off the ground.
When it disappeared into the heavens, the trio ran home, vowed each other to secrecy, and did not speak of what they saw until years later, and then only to their immediate family members. Eventually, persuaded to talk, one of them reported he had returned to the site only a few days after the sighting to retrieve belongings left on the property. He claimed to have found a wide, black circle of scorched grass where the thing had touched down.
I located other sightings dating back to the 1880s, but nothing on record around Adelphia Valley. Finally, eyes tired from staring at the screen, I decided to grab a light jacket and go for a walk. The day was unseasonably warm with a hint of humidity in the air. Thunderheads gathered in the distance. I supposed they were far enough away they could dump their rain by the time they reached the valley. I didn’t bother to take an umbrella.
Now I was faced with a dilemma. What to believe? Did God really create other beings who were visiting the planet, observing life on earth while remaining obscure? Or were these mysteries explainable in another context altogether?
Lost in thought, I didn’t register the footfalls approaching from behind until a hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder. I spun around, staring eye to eye with a man I recognized at once must be Lesley Daniels. The resemblance to his sister was unmistakable. The same pale blue eyes. The same features, round eyes, narrow lips. Hay colored locks drooping over his forehead.
He dropped his head, avoiding my gaze. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Miss O’Hare. But you have something my sister shouldn’t have taken.”
“You’re Lesley Daniels.” I extended my hand. “How do you do?”
He stood there, eyes downcast, shuffling his feet nervously.
“You must be talking about Ezra’s journal, of course. Well, you can be sure I will return it.”
“If you don’t mind, Miss O’Hare. I’d like to have it now. Today.” His entire demeanor was one of shy, self-conscious discomfort.
“Why yes, I’ll just go and get it from my room.” I was a little thrown off by his sudden appearance and his insistence on retrieving the journal at once.
His eyes narrowed, squinted at me with a hint of suspicion. “I’d like you to bring it to my van if you’d be so kind. It’s parked out behind the abbey.” He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the sanctuary’s beckoning steeple. Then he turned and hurried away.
Somewhat nonplussed, I returned to the abbey and retrieved the journal, glad I had taken the trouble to copy the pertinent pages. With it tucked under my arm, I headed for the churchyard. I didn’t see Lesley inside the van as I approached, so I opened the side panel intending to leave it on the passenger seat. There were no seats behind the driver’s side, just an empty floor that might have been used for hauling supplies.
Hands shoved me inside and slammed the door. Before I could sit up, Lesley leaped behind the wheel and started the engine.
Lesley hit the gas pedal and the van lurched forward, hurling me onto the floorboards. “What the Sam Beauregard Hill are you doing?” I struggled to right myself.
Memories assailed me of my wild ride in a similar van with a recovering zombie- friend in New Orleans. Only Tex wasn’t driving this time, and Lesley had shown himself to be no friend of mine.
“Lesley, what are you thinking? Let me out of here at once!” I grabbed the passenger’s seat to keep my balance. Lesley had driven straight into the woods behind the abbey, bouncing over downed limbs and through shallow washes.
“Just stay calm, Miss O’Hare. I don’t want to hurt you.” He jerked the wheel sharply to avoid striking an out-cropping of rocks. The sudden lurch hurled me to the side, slamming me against the door. I grabbed the handle, thinking I’d leap out. The power locks clicked. There was no way to unlock the panel door, no doubt a child-safety feature.
“Okay, mister, you’ve got the journal back. You don’t need me.”
“Be quiet!” Lesley’s jaw muscle clinched.
Something about the suppressed rage in his voice set off warning bells. He’s not right in the head. I decided to say nothing and just pay careful attention to the direction we were headed so I could find my way back.
Tree branches screeched across metal on either side before we broke through onto a roughly rutted path. The trail was not much easier. We bounced and lurched through a tall stand of trees, however the scratching sounds against the metal lessened.
I hoped we would meet a passing vehicle. I’d scream for help. But the lonely road was devoid of traffic. That was understandable. The faint trail was almost impassable. A rickety bridge appeared ahead, and Lesley pulled to a stop.
“This is Black Bear Bridge. It’s not in very good shape. We’re going to walk across it, and then we’ll take my four-wheeler the rest of the way. Come on. Get out.”
Briefly I considered making a break, but he didn’t loosen his grip on my arm. As if reading my mind, he took the precaution of looping a rope through my belt and tying it to his own, effectively linking us together. I thought I could slip out of the belt, given half a chance.
Lesley’s assessment of the bridge did not tell the story. It was a rotting suspension bridge, probably used as far back as horse-and-buggy days. No vehicle could possibly cross it. Several aged and weathered planks were already missing, fallen and smashed on the jagged rocks below. A fall would mean serious injury. More likely, death.
“I know it looks scary, but I’ve been across it a couple of times. Hold my hand. You’ll be fine.” Lesley jerked me forward.
He planted his foot carefully on the groaning structure, then pulled me along like a dog on leash. We had to take giant steps in several places. The bridge creaked and swayed under our combined weight. Some of the planks split and fell when we passed over them.
I dared not put my full weight on a single, weathered board, preferring instead to balance on two planks whenever possible. A frightfully large, gap loomed in the center. Lesley leaped across with the agility of a cat and turned, reaching his hand to me.
I saw my chance and made a quick attempt to loosen myself from the rope.
“Stop!” I’m coming back for you,” Lesley shouted.
At that inopportune moment, a whole section of the bridge collapsed behind me, and fell to the rocks. Any chance of escape in that direction was gone. I sank to my knees and grabbed onto the rotting wood, shaking and terrified it would give way beneath me.
“Come on. You’ve got to jump now before the whole thing collapses!” The alarm in his voice did nothing to assure me.
Groaning miserably, I heard a cracking, splintering sound.
“The boards are starting to split under you. Jump!”
“I can’t do it. It’s too far.”
“Look, I did it. You can too.” He tugged at the rope that linked me to him.
“Your legs are longer than mine. I’ll fall through and topple you with me.”
“You can do it. I won’t let you fall.” He waited with his arm stretched toward me.
I looked down. The water parted around jagged rocks. They jutted upwards from perhaps forty feet below, shaped almost triangular, like the teeth of a mythical monster waiting to chew me in pieces.
“Come on. Don’t look down.”
The splintering sound again.
Directly behind my precarious perch, another board snapped and tumbled down.
I had to try. If I didn’t make it across the gap, I was going to fall anyway.
I stretched forth an arm and teetered over empty space for a heart-stopping moment, lost my balance and cried out in alarm.
Lesley grabbed my wrist with both hands and planted himself firmly, ready to stop my fall. But he couldn’t keep me from toppling forward. The next instant my body dangled in the air, over the creek bed. Lesley strained to pull me to safety, his body tilting precariously toward the gap.
“Hold to my arms.”
I clutched wildly at his sleeves. My legs kicked forward, desperately searching for footing.
“Stop it! You’ll pull us both into the creek!” His grip on my arm was painful, but he slowly managed to drag me to solid wood. The bridge swayed wildly. I lay flat on the planks, trembling and weak as adrenalin left my bloodstream.
“Okay. You made it. Told you I wouldn’t let you fall.” He gave me a moment to catch my ragged breath.
“I can’t go on.” I decided to play the wilting coward. “I’m done.” I figured if he was determined enough to carry me, he would soon tire out.
“You’re not done yet, Miss Flame. Get up. We don’t have far to walk.”
“Just give me a minute.” How much of a threat he could be? He was slight of build but wiry. The strength of his grip belied his slender frame.
“Okay, that’s enough. We’ve got to keep moving.” He hoisted me to my feet. The rest of the bridge had fewer gaps and offered easy passage to the far side. I felt dizzy from the swaying motion and was greatly relieved to set foot on solid ground.
“Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see. You won’t regret this journey.”
At a small clearing, Lesley unloosed the rope from my belt and looped it around my neck.
Great. I’ll hang myself if I leap off. He forced me to climb aboard the waiting four-wheeler in front of him. We followed a faint trail through the trees, climbing ever higher up the steep grade.
The vehicle broke through a thick grove choked with vines, and I caught a glimpse of a horse and rider far ahead. My heart leaped with hope.
“Don’t open your mouth.” Lesley ordered. “Don’t try anything. Just keep still.”
My eyes pleaded, but the distant horseman was unlikely to see my silent plea. The horse trotted off, the disinterested rider making not the slightest turn of the head toward us. I assumed all-terrain vehicles must be a familiar sight in these woods.
The trail grew steeper. At one point, Lesley made me get off while he walked the ATV up a rocky grade. I watched for the opportunity to untie the rope, but he kept a wary eye on me.
“Get on. We don’t have far to go now.”
We headed through the trees once more, the undergrowth grasping and scratching at my legs. At one point a gushing stream cut a deep rift through the trail. The front tires hit the ditch. The ATV bounced and tossed me, screaming, into the air. When I hit ground, the rope dragged me across the rocky surface. My head thudded against a rock and pain shot through the point of impact.
Lesley stopped immediately, leaped off the bike and lifted me in his arms.
“Don’t pass out,” I heard him whisper, just before all went dark.
* * *
I could hear music. Fiddlers and banjos strumming a lively breakdown, so I knew I was not in Heaven, unless it was Country-Music Heaven. The sounds came from a radio nearby. I saw blue-checked curtains tied back on either side of a porthole-size window. My vision slowly cleared.
Where was I? Autumn tree tops swayed outside the narrow window of what was unmistakably a small camper trailer.
I felt as if I were in the grip of sleep paralysis, just waking from a nightmare. I moaned, my mouth as dry as cotton.
“Hello Miss O’Hare, I see you’re awake now.” Lesley’s voice was cheerful. “I’m sorry you knocked yourself out like that, but you’re going to be okay. You’ve got a bump on your head and a tiny cut. Don’t worry. It won’t leave a scar.”
He held a damp cloth to the area. I winced. The bump was extremely tender.
A weather alert interrupted the fiddle music to issue a severe storm warning. Lesley clicked the radio off.
“I guess you’re wondering where you are. I brought you up to my camper outside the valley.”
“Why?” I managed to rasp, hoping this was a nightmare, and I would awaken soon in my bed at the Abbey.
“Why? Yes, why indeed? They all want to know why. And when I tell them, they don’t want to believe. But you will, won’t you Miss O’Hare?” His eyes were eager, hopeful, shining with enthusiasm.
“Why that I’m on a higher cosmic plane. I’ve read your articles. I know you expose the charlatans and fakers. You’ve met enough of the false ones to know the real thing when you run into it. Well, Miss O’Hare, I’m the real thing.”
He announced the last three words with childish pride.
He’s not right in his mind.
I strained to rise up and saw with a shock of surprise that he had bound me to the chair.
“What do you mean?” My head was clearing by the moment. “Untie me!”
He ignored my demand. “I know you will understand from your research, so I’m going to tell you what I’ve never told anyone.” Lesley paused a moment, before he took a deep breath and announced, “I’m the hybrid son of an alien and an earthling.”
“You’re what?” Yes, I had interviewed people afflicted with his type of madness. Usually they had been confined to the psych wards until after their psychotic episodes wore off. Most of them were harmless enough.
“I travel with them to other worlds. You’ll see. I’m going to take you there with me.”
“You’re going to take me to another world? What for?”
“What for? To connect to the higher universal powers of course. That’s what you were born for. After you fulfill your mission on the Earth of course.”
Ice water trickled into my veins. Lesley was as crazy as the town’s people assumed. Perhaps even more so.
“Higher universal powers? Why would I need to connect?” I stammered, uncertain of how to proceed.
“Because you are chosen to be the bearer of enlightenment. A living flame.”
His excitement bordered on madness. I had seen that look somewhere before. Where? With a slight chill I recalled the photo showing eyes of Marshall Applewhite, the Heaven’s Gate cult leader who led his followers to mass suicide.
Oh boy. This isn’t good.
“You were the one following me in the church yard, right? Listen here, Buddy, I’m not going to be anyone’s light bearer. Let me loose right now.” The demand in my voice was much braver than I felt at the moment.
“Haven’t you ever wondered why you were given the name Flame? Don’t you realize the significance? It means you have a destiny. Flame represents light. You are the light bearer chosen to enlighten the inhabitants of Earth. It’s your destiny. You’re the one we’ve been waiting for.”
Well Rooty toot toot!
I’d heard that destiny thing before from weirdoes like Count Ribaldo. Werewolf Boy. Madame Chevalier. The woman on the plane. Was I ever going to escape these eerie prophecies associated with my unusual name?
“How do you know that’s even my real name?” I challenged. Lots of writers use pen names. It could be that I’m not the one you’re looking for at all.”
His eyes widened slightly, and I knew I’d scored a point.
“You’re the one.” His voice sounded convinced, but his eyes held a hint of doubt.
“Isn’t there some kind of test to let you know if I’m the real thing? I guarantee you I will fail it. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake on something so serious, now would you?” I pressed.
“A test? That won’t be necessary. The EBEs will know you at once.”
EBEs. Oh yea. Extraterrestrial biological entities. Lesley must have seen the growing alarm in my eyes, because instead of answering my question he began offering assurances once more.
“Don’t be afraid Miss Flame. You’re perfectly safe. I don’t mean you any harm. I just want you to come with me into alternate realities. I know it’s a little frightening. I was scared too the first time I had an out-of-body experience. But now it happens all the time. You might see or hear something strange. You might not. Depends on how heightened your awareness is at this point.”
I decided the best thing to do would be to play along. “Okay, tell me more. Maybe I’ve already had an out-of-body experience. Let’s compare notes.”
He blinked. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything. Tell me everything. For instance, when and where were you first contacted? How old were you? What did you see exactly?”
The longer I kept him talking, the more likely I’d be able to find a chink in the armor of his strange convictions. That was my hope at the moment. “Tell me from the beginning.”
“Okay.” Then he asked, “Have you been abducted? Contacted? Seen their ships?”
“I haven’t been contacted, but I have seen a UFO on one occasion.”
Lesley didn’t seem at all surprised. “You’ve probably seen them more than once. Maybe all your life and just didn’t recognize them. But since you saw one, I’m certain you’ve been contacted. You probably thought it was just a dream.”
I was unwilling to argue the point.
“Tell me about yourself. When did you start seeing . . . things?” Keep him talking Kaytie.
He relaxed for a moment. “You’ve read my great-great-great grandpa Ezra’s journal. It started with him, but he wasn’t chosen. My dad wasn’t chosen either. I was probably around six years old when I first saw the lights over Adelphia Valley. They moved in slow circles and then darted away.”
“I see. Did you tell anyone?”
“I tried to tell my folks about it, but they didn’t want to hear. Told me to just keep it to myself or the townsfolk would think I was crazy, just like old Ezra. Later that year, one of the EBE’s appeared in my room.”
“What’s an EBE?” I asked, keeping a calm face and an interested demeanor.
“Extraterrestrial biological entity. He was actually one of the little gray guys. I later learned the grays only act as a conduit to channel someone else’s energy to achieve what the guide wants to know or to communicate. They come from matter worlds in other dimensions from ours, but I didn’t know that then. I just felt very frightened.”
“What do you mean by other dimensions?”
“They’re fourth dimensional, like the Bigfoot people, with the ability to visit our simple, three-dimensional world. They can blip in and out at will. The fourth dimension is a sub-atomic vibrational world that not only affects light emitted by the object, but controls its capacity to occupy the same space in the three-dimensional world. You’ll see. There are millions of EBEs visiting our dimension all the time.”
“So . . . this EBE creature didn’t arrive in a space craft. He just appeared in your bedroom?”
“I woke up from a sound sleep and saw him standing there. He wasn’t solid. I could tell he wasn’t part of the physical world we live in.”
“Did he speak?”
“Yes, but not with a voice. He spoke to my mind, and I understood him.”
Lesley appeared quite comfortable with the conversation. He might have been talking about something as ordinary as a sporting event.
“Did he abduct you? Take you aboard his ship?”
“It’s not like I actually moved anywhere. It’s more like I was geared to the right frequency and the guy could create the resonating frequency to move me into a different reality.”
“You traveled—or resonated—to a new reality? What was it like?”
“It was like . . . like . . . I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I was in Stonehenge.”
“Stonehenge?” I didn’t expect that.
“You were transported back in time?”
“There’s no forward or backward in the other dimensions. Although they can travel from past to present, but they can’t travel into the future. I’ve been to the past many times since then. They’ve shown me myself in past lives. I was a Druid at Stonehenge in England. I also had a past life in ancient times as a Mayan priest.”
“So, you visited faraway places with histories that can’t be documented.”
I thought this significant, as if the entities did not wish Lesley to find any factual documentation. Whatever lies they fed him could not be confirmed.
“Why would a star man show you scenes from ‘past lives’?”
Lesley spoke with slight regret. “People died because of what I did in Chitzun Itza.”
I waited for him to explain. When he didn’t, I pressed for more information.
“What would it matter to an EBE what you did in the past? How does that have anything to do with today?”
“It matters because I still have a choice.”
I didn’t understand. “What choice?”
“They’re giving me a choice. It’s a matter of free will. See the important thing is not whether anyone is going to die as a result of someone’s bad choices, but my will, my will to get it right. I must face the same choices again and again. I’m going to do better this time.”
“You’re saying it’s not about other people, even if they die? It’s all about you?”
I thought of Hitler. How many times would he get his chance to do over his choice to exterminate six-million Jews? The Jeffery Dahmers, Jack the Rippers, and Charles Mansons of the world? Terrorists who flew the planes into the Twin Towers? Would they supposedly get to do it over and over again in successive lives until they finally got it right? When did the entity decide they had made the right choice? Whose moral compass decides the right and wrong of a matter after all?
“An interesting concept, this idea of right and wrong, Lesley.”
“I’m going to get it right this time and cleanse my soul.”
“Lesley, what is right anyway? Whose idea of right matters? What’s a bad choice or a good one? If you can answer that, then tell me. Can re-living a bad choice eventually undo the consequences? And even if it could, would that cleanse your soul?”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, I guess I don’t. The other problem with the idea of reincarnation seems obvious to me. After 5,000 years or so, shouldn’t there be someone who has passed all the tests and achieved spiritual perfection—whatever that is? By whose standards do we judge what perfection means?”
“There are many who achieve transition to the higher planes.”
“Like who? Throughout history, tell me one person who has a spotless history. Name the most revered saint, and you’ll find he has blemishes.”
“The third dimensional plane is a circle where the soul works out its karma, the sum of a person’s actions during all phases of life cycles. Only then can he progress to higher levels.”
The words from Werewolf Boy and the woman on the plane leaped to mind. The third dimension is a circle. Beware the third circle. I felt a slight prickling of hair on my neck. My conversation with Lesley had taken on spiritual overtones that smacked of deceptive and dangerous world views. I repeated my earlier question.
“Why do you think the EBEs would be so interested in whether your soul has progressed and learned enough to make better choices? Why would aliens care about an earthling’s soul?”
Lesley couldn’t answer at once. After a pause he began a lame explanation. “For unknown reasons, a higher power felt I had earned the right to gain knowledge of who I was and where I came from.”
“The knowledge of who you are and where you came from? What does this have to do with anything? And how could you have ‘earned any rights’ after supposedly making bad choices in previous lives? Who is this higher power? Do the EBEs believe in God? Satan?”
Lesley blinked and looked at me with a vacant stare. “There is a universal consciousness, and we’re all connected in parallel realities. He is both light and darkness. Evil and good.” His voice sounded as vacant as his eyes. His words too. I had the feeling his thoughts were programmed, and he merely repeated words by rote.
“I see. But there’s a problem with that concept. If this consciousness is both good and evil, who sets the standards? Who draws the line? How can you know the difference?”
“Stop talking. You’re trying to confuse me,” He stood up abruptly, opening and closing his fists. “You should be grateful that I brought you to a place where you can expand your mind. Learn the secrets of the cosmos.” He looked at me with disappointment.
He started pulling on a jacket and cap. “I need to contact my guide. I’m going out to walk the hills so they can contact me more easily and resonate me to the parallel world if they choose. You wait right here. Don’t bother to shout. We’re miles from anywhere, and there aren’t any people living on Misty Mountain.”
“Wait! Could you please just loosen these ropes a little? They’re cutting off my circulation.”
Lesley approached and checked the ropes for tightness.
“Yeah, they’re tight. I’d cut you free, but I don’t trust you to stay here till I get back.” He peered into my face a moment. “Nope. You’d run like a scared rabbit.”
“What’s going to happen when you get back? How long are you going to keep me here?”
A beatific expression lit his eyes. “I will set you free to soar the cosmos . . . with or without your earth-bound form.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“I have been a priest in my past Mayan life. I set many people free to join the cosmic consciousness. It was my duty. I have not offered anyone to the Star People in this century, but you are the chosen one. Believe me, Miss Flame. You have nothing to fear.”
Mercifully, he loosened the bounds slightly before he walked out, closing the camper door behind him. I heard a deadbolt click. From the outside.
Set people free to join the cosmos? Offer me to the Star People? I thought of the Mayan priests and their grizzly offerings. Was Lesley so deluded he would be willing to kill in order to achieve his hopes?
I wasn’t going to wait around to find out if I could help it. I tested my ropes. They were just loose enough to allow circulation.
Okay, Kaytie, you can do this. You’ve done it before.
Of course, the last time my hands were tied I had Tex with me and a pocket knife. I decided to bounce my chair toward the tiny galley and see if I could reach a kitchen knife or a cutting tool.
The room was small. I hop-scooted my chair to the counter easily enough, but rummaging through drawers was not going to be easy. The counter top was tidy. No kitchen tools lay anywhere in sight. If Lesley ever cooked here, there was no sign of it.
Using my teeth, I managed to slide a tiny drawer open. It was empty.
The thunder didn’t bother to grumble its approach with a warning. It exploded, a startling clap, rattling the windows of the trailer. A sudden gust whipped the tree limbs outside. The weather man’s storm warning was right on target.
How safe am I inside this camper? A second earsplitting boom sounded even louder. I could see wind-whipped leaves hurtling past the tiny window, back lit by a blinding flash.
Oh boy. This was going to be one of those dark and stormy nights that youngsters describe in campfire stories. I’d like to ask, what night isn’t dark after? Has anyone ever heard of a light night? Night is dark and that’s fine, but the stormy part I could do without. Working my fingers and wrists against the rope seemed wasted effort, but I had nothing better to do.
I turned my chair so the back of it wedged against the counter top, hoping to fray the rope by rubbing it against the metal edge. The counter top was too high. Maybe a handle on a drawer? They were too rounded. I soon abandoned that project.
Rising wind hurled leaves and small twigs against the window. I expected a torrential rain to follow momentarily. Instead the gusts came to a complete halt. The sudden stillness made me wary. Heavy humidity inside the trailer seemed to suck the breath right out of me.
As a child, I’d been through a tornado once while visiting an aunt in Kansas. This was exactly how the air had felt. A frightening thought. I was trapped inside one of the most dangerous of shelters. Everyone knows trailers are tornado magnets. What could I do?
Then I heard it. A roaring sound like a train.
Wind slammed the camper with the force of a locomotive, rocking it violently. The shriek grew louder. The next instant I was hurled to the ceiling which had become the floor. The tin shell tumbled and rolled, tossing my body about the interior like a rag doll in the jaws of a bull dog.
A few terrifying seconds later, and it was over. I heard a sound like rapid-gunfire, rain pelting the metal shell.
The back of my chair had broken off, allowing me to slip free of the rope. I sat up and examined myself for broken bones. My rib cage felt bruised and one knee was bleeding, but other than that I was in one piece.
The tossed camper had landed door-side up which would have done me no good except the entire door had been ripped off and hurled to parts unknown. I poked my head through the opening, immediately soaked by the downpour, but I hardly cared. I only wanted out before Lesley made his way back. If he had survived the windstorm, he wasn’t going to walk far in this weather. Then again, maybe you caught a ride on a space ship up to the third dimensional circle, and you won’t be back at all.
Lightning etched the trees against the side of the steep incline. I could see a trail of flattened undergrowth marking the camper’s slide down the grade. Branches littered the hillside and a few trees had been uprooted. Clearly, it had been a small one, but powerful. It was strangely out of season this late in the year, although tornadoes have been known to strike Missouri at any time of the year.
A timely tornado.
Not only had I survived the storm, but I was free of restraints. “Thank you, Lord,” I whispered.
I could hike down the mountain and find a ride back to Adelphia. Which way to go? I turned in a slow circle. No welcoming lights twinkled in any direction. Intermittent flashes moved with the departing storm to reveal trees stretched endlessly below and above me. I’d just have to start walking and hope to find a trail. There had to be a road or path for Lesley’s ATV, but I could see no sign of it
Darkness wrapped a rain-soaked cloak around me. The light jacket I’d worn when I started my walk did not keep out the damp or the chill. I shivered but stumbled ahead, hoping I wouldn’t meet up with crazy Lesley.
Maybe he had been injured by the wind.
The going was rough, wet, cold and miserable. No one likes walking in unfamiliar and dark places. Unknown forests torment the one who ventures beneath their monstrous limbs, and I was no exception. A single wrong step could send me hurtling down a mudslide, or drop me into a ravine. I had not traveled far when I heard a familiar voice call my name.
“Flame? Where are you?”
Over my shoulder I could see a flashlight beam working its way down the rocky slope behind me. I couldn’t let him find me. Yet, he had the benefit of the flash light while I was tripping over thick brambles and fallen limbs, scratching my legs and arms in the dark. Lesley could see, and he probably knew the terrain. He would catch up with me soon enough. I had to find a place to hide.
I wanted to run but the sound of rushing water nearby alerted me to a rain-swollen creek, perhaps a waterfall, and the unwelcome thought of tumbling into water. I slowed but continued to pick my way blindly as cautiously as possible.
The flashlight beam drew closer now. It would pick up my fleeing form at any moment. I could see the wand of light swinging back and forth just above me.
Hurry, Kaytie. He’s coming.
My breath came in ragged gasps. If I tried to hide in the thickets he’d hear me wheezing as he passed by. I realized my footprints also were clearly visible on the sodden leaves and soil. No doubt he was following my trail. I headed for surer footing on rocky outcroppings where my shoes would not leave visible tracks. Fortunately, these were plentiful. Misty Mountain was covered with boulders and stoney outcroppings. But might these stony places attract lightning? The wind had picked up and thunder rumbled once more. Another storm cell was approaching.
I heard his jubilation. “Oh, there you are! I see you now. Wait. You can’t get far in this weather. You’ll get lost or hurt.”
His voice was cajoling, but I wasn’t going to stop—even if I had to slide down the incline on my backside. I could hear him crashing through the undergrowth, mere yards behind.
“Miss Flame, I’m coming. Don’t be afraid. I’ll drive you back to the abbey. I heard from my spirit guide. We must wait.” He called with a voice that sounded genuinely concerned. I almost wanted to surrender and be rescued from the dangers of lightning, rocks, and rushing water. But I thought of the psychotic gleam in his eyes and kept heading down the slope.
A loose rock slipped beneath my foot, sending me on a downward slide atop a small avalanche of pebbles and mud. I managed to right myself, only to slide again in a second mud flow. This time I plunged several yards down an even steeper pitch. Just when I was coming to a standstill, the rock slide propelled me into a rain-slick drop that outrivaled any water slide I had ever been on.
There was nothing to grab hold of. Nothing to slow my speedy descent. I landed hard on a flat surface, wet but rock solid. The force of the landing knocked the breath out of me. The absence of light was so complete that for a moment I thought I’d lost my vision. I could hear water above, but it wasn’t pelting down on me as it had before my fall. It trickled over the rocky surface. The air was strangely absent of wind which had been gusting only moments before.
Lying on my belly, I stretched forth my hands to lift myself and encountered only empty air. What was this? I’d missed sliding into a deeper hole by inches. My pupils widened, straining to pick up a source of light, but the blackness was palpable.
Then I heard the sound of wings. Bat wings.
Merciful God! I’d fallen down the mouth of a cave. A quick exploration by hands told me I was sitting on a ledge jutting out over nothingness. The sound of water rushed below. I dared not move. What if I should fall off my perch and be swallowed by an underground river? Caves are known for those things, right? I had never been much for spelunking, preferring to do my exploring above ground in the sunlight.
Now I had no choice.
And no light.