Marni V

Marni V – God’s Child


Dedicated to my Russian Friend Anatol


Thom Cantrall

            The dust had not yet settled behind the big Ford Diesel F350 Pickup as it made its exit from the ranchyard carrying Rod and his two wives back to their Montana ranch and leaving the newlywed couple alone at last on their remote, isolated homestead high in the Rocky Mountains.  Arm in arm they walked back to the house after a tearful farewell.  Each was deep in thought, each with his and her own concerns.  It had been so nice of the trio to mind the ranch for a couple of weeks while Mark and Marni enjoyed a brief Honeymoon following their wedding beside the shimmering lake in the green timber nestled in a private, quiet place that Mark had found on one of his many trips of discovery that traversed these ancient hills.

As the couple mounted the few steps to the expansive porch that virtually surrounded the century-old ranch house, the telephone made itself known.  “I’ll get that,” Marni stated, “you clear the breakfast dishes off the table.”  With a grin of sheer deviltry, she pushed her man into the dining room while she ducked down the hall to the study where she could stop the jangle of a phone designed to draw their attention even if they were out in the yard.

“Oh sure,” he complained.  “You take the easy job and leave me the mess!  Isn’t it amazing how it all changes when the marriage license is signed?”  Then, laughing heartily at the sight of the beautiful girl who was now his wife standing half in and half out of the office, with her tongue stuck out at him, he turned to the chore of setting things to right after the huge farewell breakfast just completed.

They had wanted to make an early start this morning, so they could reach their own ranch before night and to that effect, the sun was just now chinning itself on the eastern rim of their valley.  The emerging morning illuminated the vast pastures of the home ranch just beginning to show the promise of spring.  Already, wildflowers were blooming in profusion and the low hills to the south were ablaze with the colors of nature.  It was a time of promise, a time of new beginnings and a time of great change that reminded all who knew how to read these mountains just exactly how small and unimportant the individual really was in God’s great plan.  It would go forth regardless of any one man’s effort to thwart it.  After all, his laws are immutable and unbreakable.  If one jumps off a roof, he does not break the law of gravity, he merely confirms it. So it is with all of Natural Law.

Mark had just finished his assigned chore, made himself and his new bride a cup of the special tea he so enjoyed at this time of day when that bride arrived to help him carry the tray to the comfort of their morning spot on the east facing veranda.  As they settled it on the comfortable old wooden couch there, one at each end, with feet entangled, he asked her, “What was that about on the phone?  Was it anything important?”

“Well, yes, and no, depending on how you think about it.  To me, yes, it was important, but to others, perhaps not so much…” the girl answered with a smile that seemed to match the enigma of her speech.

Mark did not answer her at first, knowing that she would continue in her own time and would elucidate the situation.  He knew his bride well enough to know that she would make all known in her own time… in her own way… at her own pace.  Instead, he merely sipped his tea and watched his love’s face as she contemplated how she was to present whatever it was that concerned her.  That she would do so, he never doubted for a moment.

“Have you ever heard of the ‘Make a Wish Foundation’ Darling?” she asked quietly.

“Oh yes,” he responded, “I heartily supported them until a few years ago when they caved to ‘political correctness’ and denied the wish of a dream hunt to a child after the animal rights people applied some pressure on them.  I loved how they stepped up and helped young people with life threatening illnesses the opportunity to live at least one dream in their life.  But, when they decided that they would only allow what they thought was appropriate, I withdrew much of my support from them.”

“Did you know that there is now a group that has stepped up to supply exactly what  ‘Make a Wish’ can no longer provide?” she asked quietly.  At his obvious lack of this knowledge, she continued.  “It’s called ‘Hunt of a Lifetime’ and they do exactly that.  People twenty-one years old or under with any kind of life threatening illness is eligible to make a wish of a hunt of any kind.  The group will then arrange for just that hunt.  I think that is the most wonderful thing in the world.  Well… actually, the second most wonderful thing…”

“And just what would be first in that pretty mind of yours?” he asked tentatively.

“The fact that we’ve been asked if we would like to participate,” she answered quietly.

“Really?” he asked excitedly.  “What do they want us to do?  How can we help them?”

“Easy, big boy,” she said with a laugh.  “Don’t get all excited here.  They’ve merely asked us if we would be willing to guide one of their clients on such a hunt if the cost of the hunt can be raised in time.  They asked for a week.”

“We can do better than that,” Mark said quietly.  “The hunt is on us.  And for a full ten days and any species they’d like that we can get tags for.  Uh… ah… if that’s ok with you, darling… I’m sorry, I’m not used to thinking for two in all things yet, and I should ask you for your opinion.  As for me, I’m all for it!”

“So I have noticed,” Marni answered with a laugh, “and that’s why I told them essentially what you just said… pending your approval of course.  They are sending a rep out to visit with us next week and to finalize plans for the hunt.  All they’re asking for at this time is a Mule Deer hunt for a seventeen year-old who has hunted before, but only for small game and whitetails around his home in Missouri.”

It seemed like just a day or so had passed when Jay showed up at the ranch to talk with Mark and Marni concerning the plans in the works that would bring a young person to the ranch in the fall for the hunt of a lifetime.

“Mark, Marni,” Jay began, “our organization has only been in existence a few years now.  We began after a 1996 incident with the ‘Make a Wish Foundation’ where they had granted a young man a hunt for Kodiak Bear in Alaska.  This infuriated the animal rights extremists who, in there usual doctrine of fair play and common sense began a campaign of terror against the Foundation and the people in that organization.  Physical threats were made and executed against people to the point that many people feared for their lives.  The fact that the young man in question went on his hunt and had a wonderful time without harvesting a bear was lost on these short-sighted individuals.  In fact, so few of them know what hunting is all about that it is not surprising they would not realize that actually bringing home game is such a small part of the overall experience.”

Mark interrupted here with a serious expression on his handsome face.  “I don’t mean to dispute you, Jay, but I was under the impression that the Foundation had simply caved to the vocal and write-in campaign staged by the Humane Society of the US and PETA.  Do you mean that there was more to than that?  If that’s the truth, I owe them an apology and even more support.”

“Yes, Mark,” Jay responded, “there were more than a few physical assaults or threats involved there.”

A hush descended on the group as these revelations worked their way through the maze of nerve networks that is the human brain.  Each was involved with his or her own private reaction to this news but it was Marni who first gave voice to her thoughts… “I don’t find this out of line with the antics of these groups considering what they have done in the past.  From the act of poisoning foods in supermarkets to destroying property to release laboratory animals to a fate far worse than any found within the walls of the labs these groups have never used much common sense in their approach to the problem of animal rights.”

She continued, “If some of these people would just open their minds a bit and see what really happens in the world, they may not be quite so zealous in their preservationist activities.  A few years ago, the ‘Nova’ PBS television show showed the real facts with the African Elephants and, as true as it was then, it is even more true today.  They showed the difference between the conservation results in Kenya and Botswana.”

“What do you mean?” Jay asked.

Marni smiled and said, “In Kenya, sport hunting is strictly prohibited, hence, no licenses are sold and no funds received, so there are no means to retain and equip a law enforcement force to protect the game.  Poaching is rampant, especially among the elephants since, even with the ivory embargo, there is a lively trade in elephant tusks.  Add to this the fact that, for the native peoples who have to contend with wild elephants trampling the crops they depend on for survival, to say nothing of their very homes, there is no economic incentive to protect the pachyderms.  Consequently, Kenya is rapidly losing their elephants.  There is real fear that the elephant will disappear from Kenya within the next thirty to fifty years.”

“Compare that with Botswana where sport hunting is encouraged and the license and tag fees finance one of the finest groups of game wardens in all of Africa.  Poaching is unheard of in that region.  In addition to that fact, the average elephant brings a financial boon to the local tribe in the range of $20,000, so you can see that there is more than ample fiscal imperative to want to protect the herds.  It’s not hard to understand that there is now a surplus of elephants in southern Africa.  The same is true of even the rhinoceros in these areas with huntable populations now in most areas.”

“The same is true here,” Mark added.  “At the turn of the 20th Century, there were many animals that were near extinction.  The bison, the elk and the deer were just some of them.  Even birds were not excepted… the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon were too far gone to save, but the ducks and geese were about gone as was the wild turkey.  Fortunately, some far-sighted people stepped forward and put a stop to the market hunting that was decimating the herds and the flocks.  Then, laws were passed assessing special taxes on the sale of sporting goods and firearms.  As usual, it was the sportsmen that spearheaded the efforts to restore the populations.  Groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation and several more have done wonders to restore healthy numbers at their expense.  It’s important to note that no animal that has been classified as a game animal has ever gone extinct.  The best thing that could be done for an endangered species would be to classify it as a game animal and money from licenses and tags would be available to study them and protection would be afforded them from the game wardens.”

Jay was laughing aloud at the thought of PETA accepting the placement of the California Condor on the “Game Bird” list… especially in consequence of their efforts to prohibit any animal ever listed on the endangered list to ever being removed from the list, regardless of what the population does.

“Now, Jay,” Mark continued, “how can we be of service to you?  Do you need us to host a hunt or what?  Our cash reserves are pretty low after my recovery from being attacked by an angry she bear, but let me know what you need.”

“What we need is the donation of your time to host a hunt for a young lady who would like to get a quality Mule Deer in the time she has left.  I thought that, as close as you and Marni work together, this would be the ideal place for a young lady to come and not feel intimidated by a bunch of scruffy males in an all male hunting camp.  We have received donations enough to pay your fee, but I wanted to meet you and get an impression of what she would be encountering.  What do you say?”

Marni spoke up saying, “I say this… you keep your donations and use them for someone else… this hunt is our gift to the young lady and any escort she chooses to bring along.  We would no more think of charging for this than we would think of charging our friends for sleeping in our bunkhouse.  When can we expect her and what special requirements will she have?”

Jay remained quiet for a moment as he digested what the beautiful woman across the table had said.  Then, he began, “I thank you very much for your generous offer.  I will talk to her and her family to find out all I can.  I’m sure it will be her and her father who is an avid and accomplished hunter in his own right, but I don’t know right off hand what special requirements she will have.”  And with that, he rose, shook hands with the couple and, after some small talk and profuse thanks, he departed.

“Hurry, Mark, Honey,” an excited Marni called to the man in the barn, “They’re coming up the drive now and they’ll be here before you can get here!”

It seemed impossible that the time had elapsed so quickly and it was now time to meet their special guests.  The summer had been spectacular, as usual in the Rocky Mountain fastness they called home and now, fall was upon them and with it, hunting.  The couple had done something a bit different this year by hiring three experienced guides to handle the archery elk hunts they’d scheduled so they, themselves could be available for their special guests… those guests who were arriving now.

As Mark joined his mate in the ranch yard to welcome these singular people, he marveled at how their young huntress had come across so eloquently in their many telephone conversations over the summer.  Joey (short for Jo Anne) Antonelli was like talking to a person far more mature than any seventeen year old had a right to be.  She begged off any special considerations, except those as pertained to the fact that she was missing her left leg from the knee down.  This was a result of the bone cancer that had attacked her the year prior and whose treatment had stolen even her eyebrows.  What it had not managed to diminish was her highly contagious enthusiasm and zest for life that made her a total delight to be associated with.

As the young lady told the tale of her fight against this terrible killer, her face fairly glowed as she recounted how she had, from a ground blind, taken two nice whitetails last year with her venerable Martin Prowler II bow.  She told how she could still draw fifty-three pounds comfortably and that she had been practicing every day and she was deadly out to fifty yards.  “I can shoot longer,” she related, “but I don’t trust my bow to have the energy to penetrate sufficiently beyond that range.  I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to hit your mark if you cannot penetrate, does it?”

“No, Joey, it surely does not,” Mark responded.  “But, I must say, even here in these wide open spaces, if you can reliably hit at fifty yards, you’re in fine shape.  I do wonder though, how much practice have you had shooting uphill and down?  You do understand what the effect of shooting vertically has on your arrow, don’t you?”

With that, Joey looked to her father, Mario, with a bit of chagrin and he answered for her.  “At our home in Missouri, we don’t have much opportunity to do that, so, no, I’m afraid I’ve not helped her that much in that phase.  Will that be a huge problem for her?”

“It could be if not corrected for by knowing the slope,” Mark stated, “but we have a range here that will help her out.  Besides, I’ll be along to help her with the range judgment anyway.”

As they group discussed this, Mario eased to his vehicle to return with a bowcase which he handed to his daughter… “As long as we are going to be doing some shooting and making adjustments, why don’t we adjust to this?”  The man then showed his daughter the brand new Bowtech bow in the case.  “Mark, I assume you have a place we can work to change over the sights and all from the Prowler to the new Bowtech?

“I sure do, he answered.  “And all the tools needed as well…”

An afternoon on the ranch’s outdoor course served its intended purpose and by the time they called it a day, the young shooter was well at home shooting uphill and down… although she was a bit confused by the fact that she had to hold low to hit her target when shooting both uphill and downhill, she persevered.  “You see, Joey,” Marni began, “it’s simply a matter of gravity affecting your arrow which means that only the horizontal distance is significant in determining how long gravity affects your arrow.  If you were to drop an arrow from your fingers from the exact same height and at the precise same time you fired another exactly horizontally from your bow, they’d both hit the ground at the same time…it’s just that the one fired from the bow would do so at a great distance downrange.  That’s because both are acted upon in the vertical direction ONLY by gravity.  The same is true when shooting at a slope, be it uphill or down, gravity only exerts its pressure over the horizontal distance.  Therefore, if you measure your range to be fifty yards and you judge your angle to the target to be forty-five degrees, then you would hold for a thirty-five yard shot.”

While this was not intuitively felt, the young woman did as she was told and was rewarded with hit after hit in the center of her target.

“Now, remember,” Mark began, “in these mountains distances are very difficult to judge, so use your rangefinder if you can.  Listen to me or to Marni if you cannot.”

Dawn the next morning found the small cavalcade mounted and filing out of the ranchyard.  Mark had opted for his big buckskin dun and Marni was in the rear on her paint mare.  Every other mount in the string was a mule.  Mario and Joey were on mules that stood nearly sixteen hands tall.  When the girl asked about riding mules, Marni explained how Mark had been using them for years and that they were highly reliable and extremely intelligent.  “In addition, mules are unique in that they can see all four hooves when walking.  Horses cannot see their rear hooves.  This gives the mule a decided advantage on mountain trails.  Add this to the fact that the mule can starve a horse to death on what will sustain them, it makes him much easier to maintain in the mountains.”

As the day progressed, the train made its way higher into the higher mountains.  They passed through some of the most gorgeous sub-alpine terrain in the world with sparkling blue lakes and crystal clear mountain streams making their way down from the high country to the lowlands below.

Evening found the group camped beside one of those pristine, alpine lakes.  They had forgone pitching the tents tonight as blue skies and the lack of wind and cloud foretold of a calm night.  Dinner was well along on its way to completion as Marni and Joey worked diligently at tempting enough trout from the lake to supply the hunters with a special treat for the morning’s meal.  Conversation was convivial and general when a voice was heard coming down the trail, “Ho, the camp!  Is it safe to come in?”

“Come ahead if you’re friendly,” Mark roared as a smile crossed his face, as he would have known that voice anywhere!  Charlie Two-Bears was not only an Elder in the Shoshoni Tribal Council but was a close friend as well.  Beyond this, Mark knew Charlie would know the location of every trophy quality buck within twenty miles.

Dinner was done, the dishes clean and stowed, the pack boxes repacked and the last cup of coffee was about half gone when conversation got around to where the big ones were living.  Mark had indicated he was heading into the Green River Basin, figuring that hunting should be good around there, and the elevation was such that his guests could get around without too much distress.

“Sorry, bud,” Charlie said, “But that’s just way too low.  The big bucks are all up high.  If you want to find a real wall-hanger, you’re gonna have to get above timberline.  Were it me, I’d be huntin’ the parks beyond the big saddle.  I’d get up on the ridge and glass from there down into the pucker brush on the south sides in the mornings and the north sides in the afternoon.  I think you’d do well there.  Last time I was there, I saw some critters that’d make you t’reinforce the wall in your cave just t’hang their horns!  Why I reckon you’d have to t’build your house around a hickory tree if’n you was t’want a reg’lar mount of him.”

As the laughter calmed, Mark asked, “So, Charlie, what do you think of our chances of getting to those giants?  We’re weighted down with stock here and can’t fly from peak to peak like some people I know.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Marks Shoshoni Brother confirmed.  “Just stay on the west side of Tabor Creek until you top out and you’ll be looking right down into their punkin’ patch.  It’ll be ‘bout six miles.”

As the sun peeked over the eastern rim, the small caravan had already taken leave of Charlie Two-Bears and was making a slow trip of it up the narrow trail atop the steep sided ridge.  Marni rode close to the injured girl and marveled at the strength and stamina she showed.  Every time Joey noticed Marni’s concern, she’d flash her a big, winning smile and turn her attention back to the task at hand.

Nooning found the cavalcade about a mile short of their goal, but it was time, Mark thought, to lay out a plan of sorts.  “when we reach the crest,” he began, “we will leave our stock on this side of the ridge and sneak over quietly, find a place to glass and spend some time locating the best buck in the basin.  I’m sure we’ll have time for at least one good stalk before it gets too dark.”

“Will we go back to our last camp if we’re not successful here?” Joey questioned softly.

“Not if the weather holds,” Mark replied as he read the strain beneath the question.  As obviously as Joey would never show distress, she would also know that the climb had been very hard for her and she obviously did not want to redo it soon.  “We will make a dry camp so we can start again at first light.”

“It’s so steep,” she shuddered involuntarily.  “What happens if I roll over in my bed and fall off the mountain?”

“Well,” the girl’s father replied with a grin, “we will probably have to take your good leg and tie it to a rock since there are no trees this high up.  We can’t have you sleepwalking now, can we?”

“Oh, Daddy,” she said laughingly, “you know that you’re the one we have to worry about sleepwalking.”  Turning to the others, she said, “Do you know that my Uncle Thomson told me that once, when they were teenagers, they had just moved into a new house.  The first night my daddy woke him up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night to tell him it was time to go home.  ‘Wake up,’ Daddy said to Uncle, Mother and Father said it is time to get up so we can go home.  ‘We are home,’ Uncle said but daddy insisted it was time to go and proceeded to walk to the wall to a position where the door in their old bedroom was located.  He then tried to open an imaginary door to leave the room.  By this time, Uncle had gotten out of bed to follow, he said, just to see what would happen next.”

“What happened,” Mario said, taking up the story, “as I’m told by those involved was that I finally found my way to the living room where my commotion and talking roused my mother and father from their sleep and they weren’t as amused as was my brother.  We were send back to beds without recourse.  Child Psychology not having been invented then, my parents had no qualms about saying ‘no’ and, worse yet, meaning it.  To this day I have no recollection of the events of that night but, I must say, I have no fear of forgetting any nuance of it as my father, in particular, delighted in describing to any and all who would listen exactly what happened that night.  He took particular delight in sharing the tale with any young lady I happened to be interested in and who was venturesome enough to want to meet my family after I warned of the likelihood of being ‘entertained’ at my expense.  I must say, it did serve to weed out the culls from the prospects.  If she could stand an hour of Dad’s stories, teasing and witticism, she had potential.”

“How did Mama handle Grampa?” Joey asked with a slight grin.

“Your mother HELPED him!” her father responded with a laugh.  “When he finished one story, she’d add one of her own over some foible of mine she’d observed.  I tell you that man as a father was a liability!  Though, I must admit, to the day he passed on, he was always my best friend and biggest advocate in the world… Always!”

By this time the snickering and giggling was general in the camp and Joey waited until calm had regained control and she uttered… “Mama still has the ‘picture’, you know?”

Mario’s eyes shot to her and he watched while one might have counted to ten slowly then said, “You’re kidding, aren’t you?  I thought that had disappeared years ago.”

“No, Daddy,” the girl said with a broad smile, “she has it.”

By this time the entire group was about to burst in curiosity over what they were speaking of, but it fell to Marni to ask, “What picture?  What exactly is ‘the picture’?”

Joey grinned broadly as her fathers face slowly flushed to a bright crimson.  The silence held briefly as the father and daughter kept their eyes locked.  “Okay,” he began, “When I was very young and just newly potty trained, perhaps not quite three years old, I had a habit of, wherever the need struck, I would simply remove my lower clothing and do what was necessary to the moment.  I was, so I was told, very careful to hang said trousers and underwear in any available tree.  As this usually occurred somewhere in our orchard, which I ran like a wounded deer, finding a necessary tree was not a difficult chore.  When said job was completed and the water works dried sufficiently, I assume, since I also have no recollection of this period of time either, I would go on about my business, none the worse for wear or pain.  When I got home, shirt firmly in place and bare from there south, I set off a kind of panic among the four females of the house, my mother and my three sisters, until I could either explain where I had l been or they could figure it out by the type of fruit I was eating when arriving home.  Immediately, some kind of jeans search and rescue operation was launched and the quarry retrieved.  I’m sure it all seemed a bit of a bother to me as it seems I didn’t abandon this practice for some time… most probably the advent of winter.  Well,” Mario continued, “after one of these forays someone got the idea to snap a picture of me clad in my altogether and holding my a striped t-shirt, up enough to further destroy what little dignity that might have been salvageable.  So, out came mom’s venerable old Brownie and ‘click’ history was made.  It probably would not have been so terrible, but, as looking at me now might suggest, I was a large child.  Even though I could not have been even three yet, I looked like I could have been five or even a smallish six.  Having knowledge of the existence of the little black and white monster as I grew older was disconcerting, but I could live with that knowledge secure in knowing that Mom would never share it.  Then, disaster struck!  I entered puberty about the time Dad remembered, discovered or, more probably, rediscovered its existence.  For the next four years until I joined the Navy and left home after high school, that picture, which could get a parent today arrested for child pornography, was paraded in front of every person who ever came into my house and had a knowledge of my existence.”

He paused a bit while the roar of laughter faded to a dull roar then looked at his girl-child, the one who made life for him a total joy and said, “How in the world did she ever come in possession of that artifact from pre-history?  I thought it had died an inhumane death during those ten years I was away with the Navy.”

“The way I understand it, Daddy,” Joey began, “just after you and Mama were married, you had to make a trip somewhere for your school and while you were gone, Grampa brought it to her and asked her if she wanted it.  Of course she did.  I mean, I wasn’t around then, but that’s what she told me.”

By this time the listeners were hurting from laughing so much.  Mark was holding his wife and they were having trouble with their self control.

As the crew got things put back together and had continued on up the mountain, every once in awhile could still be heard a chuckle and Mario would begin to fade into crimson once again.

The sun was still well above the western rim when Mark located a magnificent muley buck feeding above a patch of alder brush between the limit of the brush and the vertical rock face that was the cliff face of an eight hundred foot scarf that rose to the top of the mountain.

Normally in these high mountains there would be a steep, unstable slope of cobbled rock.  This rock had been spalted, the process whereby the freeze/thaw cycle of water running into the fissures of the rock causes it to break off, for the most part, from the sheer wall above them.  In this case the resulting talus slope had been covered by a thin layer of soil sufficient for the low growing Sitka Alder to take root and thrive.  Between this brush line and the base of the wall was a space of some one hundred feet or so where grew a variety of plants and lichens that were highly appealing to a deer’s palate.  It was in this buck pasture that Mark had spotted the huge buck to whom he hoped he could get Joey close enough for a clean shot.

If the big buck had been alone and the girl able, the stalk would have been fairly straight forward with a moderately high probability for success.  The trouble was multifold in that there were at least fifteen deer he could see and an untold number more that he could not see.  Add to that the fact that his hunter… huntress, in this case… was not all that mobile.  Her prosthetic leg allowed her some ability to move about, especially on smooth ground without obstacles, but this was not even ground.  In fact, it was not, for the most part, even ground but rock and about as uneven as ground can get and still be called by that name.  The chances of getting near any deer now in sight for a fully able person would be low due to the sheer number of eyes watching.  And, as usual, it was the watchers not in view who would be the most apt to blow the lid off any attempt to stalk in close.

Mark decided, after carefully assessing the situation and locating the animal’s access and egress trail to sneak in to a point he could see where that trail from the pasture passed within feet of a large monolithic rock.  He felt he could get near that huge rock with Joey’s bay mule, thus eliminating the need for any kind of prolonged and painful hike for the girl.  The monolith had obviously fallen from the scarp above and had lodged itself securely on the slope, dividing the area above the brush line and forcing the animals to choose one side or the other in getting to and from the pasture.  This created a kind of funnel effect where the trail passed between the enormous rock and the base of the mountain above.  If all went well, the girl should have her shot at less than thirty yards, well within her lethal range.  The only thing about the entire setup that was not totally perfect was that her hideout rock was in the middle of a slope of pure stone with no growth on it whatsoever, other than lichens on the rock.  The clicking of one stone on another would be highly audible so she would have to remain totally still when on her stand.

It was the task of but about an hour to get Joey into position.  The sun was beginning to chin itself on the western rim before Mark got himself back to his vantage point and the deer in the pasture were slowly feeding their way back towards the egress trail.  As the day waned, Mark watched as first one, then another deer passed the girl hidden in the vicinity of the rock.  He could not see her as her ASAT camo clothing made her totally invisible to watchers at this range, but he knew she was there because of the antics of the wild creatures in the vicinity.  They knew she was there, so they told him she was there.  The marmots were the most wary.  When one lives at the bottom end of the food chain, one had better be wary as wariness was the price of survival.

Mark was hoping that the evening would prove successful.  Because of the air’s heating patterns in the morning and evening, airflow tends to be downslope in the evening and upslope in the morning.  This evening, she was in perfect position.  But, as time passed, the big bucks in the pasture were showing no inclination to want to leave and Mark was afraid evening would be too far advanced for shooting by the time they did make a move.  Marni asked if there was some way to make a disturbance in the area of the buck pasture that would make them want to move out of it sooner than they normally would.  She thought that perhaps someone could come up through the brush to a position where they could make just enough of a disturbance to disquiet the animals.  When Mark explained the difficulty of traversing the brush pile, she understood the futility of her thoughts and was silently watching when it happened.

From the area away from the pasture, the watchers caught sight of movement coming through the light tree cover and turned their glasses to see a band of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep making their way toward the pasture.  Mostly they were ewes and lambs but there were some respectable rams as well.  There were no huge rams as the rut was not yet on and the big males were in their own herds, not with the family bands.  As the people watched this band approach, they spotted a very respectable buck on the same trail, headed to the same place.  He was not with the sheep, but he was near them.  Marni turned to Mark and asked if he thought the girl would see this buck and Mark merely shrugged and continued watching.  He had no real idea if she would be aware enough of what was happening behind her to have the opportunity for a shot, should the deer continue on his present course.

That Mark did not know the temper of the girl in the blind became blindingly clear over the next several minutes.  In the lee of that great stone, Joey saw the sheep moving her way and was fascinated by them.  It was the first time she had ever seen them at such a short range and she was totally enthralled with them.  She was not, however, so enthralled that she did not see what was following in their immediate wake and she looked to the ridge top where she know Mark, Marni and her dad would be watching her.  She was unsure if this buck was as big as the one in the pasture, but one thing she did know, he was magnificent and, even more importantly, he was here!  It was the work of but a moment to decide that, for her, he was more than enough buck and she would make her try if he came in range.  To this end, she shifted her body around to that she could raise her new Bowtech Heartbreaker bow without being impacted by obstructions.

With her hunting arrows with their sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel broadhead hunting tip, she knew she could launch at over two hundred and seventy feet per second, making the use of  any pin other than the top pin of her fiber optic sight system unnecessary out beyond twenty five yards.  Her equipment was tops and her skill was better.  She had practiced hour after hour on their course at home.  The long hours of recuperation from her cancer and subsequent surgery meant she was not interrupted for great periods of time.  “Remember, Kitten,” her father had told her so often, “five shots fired with excellent form and concentration is better practice that fifty shots taken with sloppy form or without complete concentration.”  That came back to her now… knowing that she had shot only as long as she could maintain that form and concentration.  Day after day, she returned to the range.  For just a few minutes at first, but the time increased gradually until she could easily shoot for an hour solid with no wavering and no loss of mental acuity.  She had only her school work to do daily and her physical therapy, so she used the rest of day to build her skills and in so doing to keep the dark thoughts of what may be out of her mind.  It was true that her disease could take her tomorrow but, that notwithstanding, today was hers and she would live it her way.  And that way was coming very close to fulfillment now.

As the band of sheep reached her fastness in the rocks, they began to spread out on the loose rubble of the slope and to nibble at the lichens growing on the rocks in great profusion.  At first the girl was afraid she would be denied her quest by the antics of the sheep as the big buck stopped his approach to assess what was causing the sheep to deviate from the path.

The Mule deer is a creature of the open lands and to him, safety is distance.  Unlike his woodland cousin so common in the east who can live in a ten acre woodlot his entire life and who will jump and run at the first sign of distress, often showing only a flash of white as he disappears into heavy cover, the Mule Deer wants to know his danger.  He wants to see what that danger is and what he is doing.  Because of this, he will often just stand and look.  He will watch for long periods until he understands the nature of his adversary whereupon he will turn and, with the stiff legged peculiar to his kind, he will make even more distance between himself and that perceived danger.  This stotting behavior has a definite and loud sound to it.  That sound serves to alert every deer in the area that everything is not well and escape is the best bet.

Following these inborn instincts, the large buck watched the sheep closely to determine that they had not been spooked by something that should not have been.  He calmed a bit when he saw them calmly grazing on the rocks alongside the trail but he really did not want to mingle with them on his way to the pasture he knew to be just beyond the little rise ahead of him.  By watching him, it became obvious that he was perplexed and somewhat impatient but he did not get to be a buck the size he was, well over three hundred pounds live weight, by doing dumb things.  He would wait here to see what happened ahead of himself.

When the last of the sheep stepped off the trail to feed, he saw his opening and resumed walking toward his nearby goal.  Fifty yards… Forty…. Thirty… On he came slowly.  Joey watched him approach her position with her heart in her throat.  She had no idea he was this huge when she saw him at a distance, but he had become immense as he neared her.  At twenty five yards, with his attention fully on the sheep around him, she came to full draw and as he passed her position just a bit so that he was now starting to move away, she placed her top fiber optic pin firmly on a spot directly behind his shoulder and about seven inches above the bottom of his chest.  “Pick out one hair and use that for your target,” She heard her father say again in her mind.  So that is exactly what she did.  There was a white hair out of place in the sea of summer red on the big Muley and she placed the glowing pin right on it.  She pulled in a breath and let it half out.  She was one solid line from arrow to bow to hand to arm to shoulder, just as she had been taught.  With a quick prayer for success, she reached for and touched the trigger on her mechanical release and was totally surprised when the arrow actually leaped from the whisker biscuit rest she used.  She held her form and just watched as the arrow flew perfectly to her target.

The white hair was split in half as she watched and the deer did not move… until the arrow hit the rocks behind him.  He then jumped straight vertically.  It was not from pain, for he had felt none.  As is most often true, the animal did not even know the arrow had touched him, but the sound of it hitting the rocks startled him and he leaped and tried to run.  With a hit like the one the girl had made, an animal has between six and ten seconds before they will expire.  Joey was not sure this one even took six seconds.  But, to her mind, it could have been two hours for time meant nothing!  She watched in wonder as the huge buck crumpled and folded right in the middle of the trail to the pasture.  He was not fifty yards from her and she could see him breathing his last as he expired there before her.

Normally, she had been told, it is best to wait twenty minutes to a half hour before approaching an arrowed animal to make sure they had time to expire totally.  This was a precaution mainly instituted to protect against a less than perfect hit that is not as immediately lethal as it should be and this will give a more lightly wounded critter time to bleed out and expire.  Joey knew that would not the case here.  She knew her buck was done.  She didn’t leave her blind for a few minutes, but sat back down and allowed her breathing to return to a more normal rate and for her nerves to settle.  When she felt calm enough, and she could see that he was not going to move again, the girl stood again and, with a walking stick to help her navigate the few yards, she moved out slowly.  She did nock another arrow for safety’s sake although she was sure it was unnecessary and moved to her buck.  She did not come right up to him, in case he kicked out involuntarily as an expired animal is wont to do, but she stood off just a few feet and marveled at what God had wrought.  She bowed her head and quietly said a prayer of thanks for the delivery of this fine animal and she promised that it would not be wasted, but would go to feed her family.

When she had completed her ritual, she turned to look up the mountain to where she knew her father and the rest to be.  She heard a faint call and she felt a great primal scream building within her.  As it rose, she opened her mouth and let it flow.  It was a scream such as might have been heard by hunting peoples anywhere over the last twenty five thousand years.  It rose in pitch and intensity and she could feel her lungs straining to sustain it when a foreign sound penetrated her being… as the sound echoed back from across the chasm below her, her mind forced her to look up the slope of rock above her and what she saw scared her more than the doctor’s pronouncement following her cancer tests had.

Up the slope, the sheep that had been quietly looking down on her from loftier perches had started to run, startled by the scream of a wild thing and their run was doing something more potentially dangerous than anything in these mountains… their running was starting that slope of unstable rock to start sliding.  Joey didn’t know the level of danger she was in, perhaps, but she knew that she was in trouble.  She turned quickly and hurled her bow back in the direction of the monolith of stone just as her prosthetic leg gave out on her and she fell before that sliding mountain of rock.

Instantly, the girl covered her head with her arms in a kind of instinctive reaction to protect herself.  Down the steep slope she was sliding with no control over anything.  That rocks were hitting her, she knew, but pain was not manifesting itself.  She could not see what was happening other than that she was being carried down into whatever abyss awaited below.  She was picking up speed, she knew and more and bigger rocks were assailing her person.  A large one rapped her in the ribs and she gasped in stark pain… another, or several, banged and clanged into her prosthetic and somewhere along the way she lost it.  After what seemed like ages, she heard herself scream as she was cast over a sheer bank of unknown height and she landed once only to bounce high and collide with another hurtling stone.  This one put out her lights and she felt no more.

When Mark saw Joey leave her blind to check out her buck, he was mildly concerned for, from his distant vantage point, he could not see the arrow impact nor the reactions of the big creature.  He was afraid that she might have become overly excited by the prospect of having taken such a fine animal and had moved prematurely.  When he voiced a concern, her father assured him that he had no such worry.

“Joey knows to allow ample time for an animal to fully expire.  She has taken many deer even though she’s young, so if she has come out of cover, it’s because she is sure he has expired.  I think it’s time we started down there.”

Marni nodded her head in response to Mario’s words and looked to her husband to see his reaction.  Mark was also nodding his head if acceptance of the words the girl’s father had uttered, for, certainly, the buck was not moving and the girl was being extremely careful in her approach.  As he began to relax, he noticed her turn back in their direction and he watched as her body tensed in reaction to the preparation for her coming scream.  At this point he knew not what was coming, but he immediately saw danger as the band of sheep whose attention had been riveted on her suddenly panicked and began a fateful exit from the talus slope.

Marni’s interest turned to intense dread as she watched the massive wall of stone begin to shift and slide.  By the time the sound of the Joey’s pent up scream reached them, the entire mountain of loose rock was flowing like a river down the ridiculously steep slope. As Marni watched, Joey turned and cast her bow back to the vicinity of the large rock that had served as her blind and tried to follow.  The woman’s scream added itself to the volume and timbre of the girl’s and the mountains echoed the twin screams… one of joy, the other of terror as the young girl disappeared from sight in the downslope flow of solid matter.

When Mario would have charged down there indiscriminately, Mark stopped him physically.  “Listen man,” Mark shouted to the crazed father, “What has happened is OVER… if we go charging into that mess without thought and planning we are most apt to add to the disaster, not relieve it.  Any movement on that slope now will only send more rock down on top of wherever she is.  Right now, she is in the best shape she can be in all considered.  Anything we do that might send more of that down onto her will only serve to deteriorate her condition.  We need to stop, analyze and move forward with utmost care and caution.”

As Marni moved up to help calm the distraught man, Mark retreated to his pack animals and retrieved his satellite uplink.  His first call was to the Rocky Mountain Emergency Services facility to initiate a response on their part.  His second call was to Charlie Two-Bears.  Luck would have it that Charlie was still in the vicinity and said he would be there by early the next morning and that they should be very careful in what they did from here… a totally unnecessary admonition, he was sure, but one he felt compelled to make at any rate.

A short discussion ensued in which a plan of action was initiated.  It was decided that a temporary command post would be established just below the rim of that narrow ridge in a small, protected pocket.  Mario and one of the wranglers would man that post for now.  The other wrangler would head back down the ridge to near the point where they had met Charlie on their way up.  He would wait there until the Shoshoni arrived and direct him straight to this point.  The wrangler would then proceed down the mountain and traverse into the drainage where Mark and Marni’s mountain cabin lay.  A helicopter could reach that point and that would serve as the staging area for the search and rescue people that would be arriving by the next day.

Mark had planned to have Marni wait at the mountain command post, but realized the futility of that idea when he first tried to broach it.  His wife was a strong woman and she would not hear of any such plan that left her anywhere but as close to that surely scared and probably injured young lady and to her husband as she could possibly be!

“Listen, Buckwheat,” she began, “where you are, I am!  I’m sure that slope is unstable and dangerous, but even still, I am lighter than you and will impact it far less than your big body will.  Therefore, I am going.  There may be a point where it becomes necessary to be on it and the difference in our weight may be the difference between fear and failure!”

Mark had no argument with that, so, loading up with what gear the thought they might need and winding two one hundred feet shots of rope around his body, he kissed his bride and said “Come on, baby, daylight is burning…” and stepped off into who knew what.

Joey came to for just a few moments with no where that did not hurt and with a headache that would warn anyone not to move anything.  Her eyes would not focus, but she was aware of hands touching her.  There was sound… the sound of conversation, soft, gentle and undecipherable.  Since she could not move and could not see, she made no such attempt.  Obviously she had been found and that was all important at this time.  Who it was that found her was unimportant, she thought as she drifted back into her black void.

The first thing Mark found when he approached the vicinity of the girl’s blind was that the large buck was still exactly where he had fallen.  A cursory inspection revealed the fact that there was an outcrop probably of the base rock just above the buck’s resting place. This outcrop and split the flow of rock on the slope with some going to one side and the rest to the other side.  In the twain lay her magnificent buck.  Although the deer was now of less importance, certainly, Mark was never one to waste one of God’s creatures so he got on his small two-way radio and called Jeff, the young wrangler who had stayed with Mario at their mountain base, to come pick him up and take care of him.

While the couple waited for their young charge to arrive, they searched as thoroughly as they could in hopes another miracle had occurred and the girl was lodged in such an anomaly as was the deer.  Marni went to the blind and retrieved Joey’s bow.  The paint was marred in a couple of places, but it was otherwise unharmed by the throw the girl had given it.  Marni asked her man to boost her to the top of the rock in hopes that she might be able to see more from a higher vantage point.  Once on top of the rock, Marni sat with her twelve power binoculars and carefully glassed the entire down slope in the area she felt Joey might have slid.  While she found nothing of import, it did seem to her that there was a precipice at the base of the slope.  It did not seem that the flow continued to the bottom, but, rather, went over a kind of stone waterfall.

“Mark, darling,” she started, “could you get up here some way?  There is something I think you need to see.  I don’t know exactly what I’m seeing here, and I need your eyes.”

“As soon as Jeff gets here, I’ll have him help me.  I can’t make it on my own and I’m afraid I’d pull you off if you tried to help me.”

It was a wait of but a few minutes until the young man arrived with two mules, one for him to ride and the other to pack the buck out.  As he started to step out onto the slope, rocks began to slide again, though not nearly so many nor nearly so far.  Mark halted Jeff’s travel and asked, “Do you have a lariat with you?”  Of course, asking a wrangler that question was about like asking a fish if he had water and the young man just looked at Mark and smiled.

Jeff had already discerned what Mark had planned and with a deft flip, the loop settled nicely over the big buck’s exposed antler.  The wrangler then dallied the end of the rope around the horn of his saddle and calmly backed his mule slowly up the trail.  this drew the buck smoothly across the slope and back to the stable area behind the large rock.  Once he was on stable ground, Jeff stopped his mule and loosed his loop and proceeded to field dress the buck.

One of the real advantages of cleaning a bow-killed animal is the lack of blood in the body cavity.  If the hit is proper, and this one certainly was, there will be no damage behind the abdominal wall and it is but the work of moments to remove the entrails, save the heart and liver and discard the rest to the fauna of the area.  The small predators and scavengers would eat well this night.

When the two men had loaded the buck onto the specially rigged pack frame Mark and devised for just this job of carrying out game, he had Jeff bring his saddle mule in close to the monolith and then by climbing and standing on the saddle, he was able to hoist himself on up to the top of the rock.  As soon as he was there, he sent the wrangler on about his business and turned to the beautiful woman who was his wife.

“Now, Princess,” he stated teasingly, “what have you seen here that I should climb to the stars to see it?”

“Look to the base of the rock slide, my man, and tell me what you see,” she said quietly.

“Oh my gosh,” Mark exclaimed.  “That does not terminate against the off side of that ravine, but flows over the brink like water falling.  We need to get down there!”  He immediately began to study the bottom… reading the terrain like someone else, some lesser man, might read a roadmap.  Mark knew better than to attempt to make a direct descent into that abyss as the resulting rock fall could be catastrophic, so he looked for an area of increased stability down the ridge a ways.  When he spotted another outcropping like the one that had saved the deer, he began to think it doable.  He studied the route diligently and pointed it out to his mate.  Mark pointed to a place well down the mountain where they might make access to the bottom of the canyon without inciting a further landslide of the deadly stones.  As the couple watched a pair of superior Rocky Mountain Rams came out of the bottom very near the spot Mark had thought might allow them access.  With little effort, the rams with their massive, furling horns made they way easily out of the bottom and up the side of the steep but not unscaleable slope.  When the pair had clambered onto the trail that led past the monolith the couple was perched atop and into the pasture, Mark stood up.  The last thing he wanted was for them to start another slide in the area where the girl had disappeared.

“Baby,” Mark said quietly, “I think we’ve just been shown the way into that canyon bottom.  From there, I can make my way up the far side enough to clear the rubble in the bottom.  Also, it’ll be safer than wading under that vertical cliff in the bottom.”

When Marni would have protested about leaving her behind, Mark reminded her that he needed her right here on this rock to spot for him and to keep him aligned to the exact spot he needed to reach.  She instantly knew he was right and she stood and stepped into his enveloping arms.

“You will be careful in that awful place, won’t you, Darling?” she asked.  “One person in that hole and hurt is more than enough.  Besides, I don’t think I could get my travois into that evil place!” she added with a slight grin.

“I will walk on cat’s feet,” he responded.  “The last thing we need is more rocks coming in on us.”  With a warm hung and a soft kiss he bade his bride adieu and made his way to the hopeful route.  Upon arriving at the jump off point, he studied it carefull and didn’t like his chances at all.  He was carefully weighing his options on this presupposed route when his eyes caught motion in the brush on the ridge opposite.  As his glance was automatically carried that way, he detected a large, dark body moving through the brush.  It was not in view long, nor was it ever clearly seen, but he could have sworn it was walking upright.  Bears, he knew could and often did stand on two legs, but they seldom ever attempted to walk in that position.  Before he could make any further assessment, whatever it was on that ridge simply disappeared into the thick brush.

As Mark forced his eyes from the place the creature he had seen had been the thought to himself that it was probably a bear and I need to be thinking about that girl just now.  The physical action of refocusing his attention brought his attention to a slender, broken-backbone of a ridge that descended into the depth of the mountain canyon.  It was close and it appeared to be solid all the way down the dangerous slope.  As he studied it closely, he realized this was his avenue to the opposite slope.  He also realized that he would be out of the view of his woman, so, before starting his descent, he called her on their little hand held two-ways and outlined what he’d found and why he was changing their plan.

While the girl was not thrilled that he would not be in her sight range, she understood the need for it and accepted that over which she had no control.  Her anxiety level was high, but she trusted her mate and knew just how capable he was.

Mark moved out onto the spine of rock protruding above the loose scree and began his more than careful descent toward the bottom of the slope.  It was the work of but a few minutes to make his way safely to the base of the spine.  From that point things deteriorated suddenly as he found his spine terminated at a vertical trench the water had formed in the very bottom of the canyon.  The man knew he could not venture out onto the loose material without the probability of burying himself in sliding rock.  A quick inspection revealed a dim trail into the bowels of that trench and, hopefully a way up the other side as well.  It took only a few moment so make it to the bottom, but the climb out was not nearly so quickly done.

Hand over hand, Mark scaled the nearly vertical wall.  One rock to the next, he came slowly up.  The entire climb was probably not more than eighteen feet vertical distance, the degree of difficulty was extreme for to lose a grip here meant a fall with a risk of injury far higher than he wished to contemplate.  That knowledge bred extreme care into every move which manifested itself as a very careful, extremely controlled ascent of the face.

It was with a sigh of welcome relief that Mark topped out of the gorge and made his way further up along the edge of the alder growth.  The way was hard and the brush thick and difficult to pass through as only one who has attempted it would know.  Difficult it was, but not impassable and the man made a slow but steady progress up the rugged ridge.

—————-               —               —————               —               —————

The words seemed to form within her mind.  There was no sound but there were words.  She heard them as clearly as if they had been spoken to her… “Be still, Small One,” the disembodied voice said.  “Do not struggle.  I have you and you are safe now.  Do not be frightened, Little One, you are with me.”

The desire to open her eyes did not out weigh the feeling of safety and well being that soothing voice brought to her, so she did not.  Joey could feel the hands on her, lifting her carefully from among the abrasive and crushing stones.  It seemed to take forever for the rocks holding her pinned in place to be moved, but the touch of those huge hands, for she realized they were far larger than her own, soothed and calmed her.  She relaxed now and knew she was safe and she knew this wonderful voice would not let her come to harm.

It was with definite purpose that her giant benefactor removed the young girl from peril.  She knew the rescuers would not be able to reach her before dark and she also knew the bottom of this rocky chasm was not the place for the girl to try and survive the night.  She had a plan, the large female did, and it was well under way before the man and the woman on the far side of the mountain had parted company.

—————-               —               —————               —               —————

Blindly, Mark struggled in the packed alder.  This species grew densely and from its roots its stalk grew down the slope for ten to twenty feet whereupon it turned skyward for the last five to ten feet.  All of the leaves were at the end of the upturned shafts with just a bare stalk paralleling the slope and six inches to two feet off it.  It created a nightmare to try and traverse under the best of conditions and, as pressed as Mark was for time in the waning day, this was far from the best of anyone’s conditions.

Mark had no idea at this point how he could possibly get the girl out of her predicament or if he could even find her, and then out to safety.  One thing was more than certain… this was not going to be his egress route unless a crew of at least a hundred brush clearers arrived to clear his path.  As these thoughts worked their way through his unconscious mind, it happened…

What a suddenness common to these mountains, a tricky situation became downright life-threatening.  As Mark climbed over a particularly stubborn stem and parted the canopy ahead of him, he felt a rock roll beneath his boot and suddenly he was hanging suspended over a vertical gorge that was not less than twelve feet across and well over twenty feet in depth.  That this fissure was created by the cooling of the rock he had been crawling over and around that made this mountain, he knew. He also knew that the only thing that separated him from critical injury or death at the bottom of that chasm was the death grip he now had on the strong and wiry stems under his arms and in his hands.  Very carefully he eased himself back onto the ledge he had just left and, without relinquishing his grasp on the stems he pulled himself away from this menace.  As soon as he felt safe enough to do so, he relaxed his grip and turned to survey the gorge that had come far too close to claiming a victim.  In his careful assessment of his situation, he found nothing to bring him cheer.  That crease in the earth extended as far as he could see into the tangled brush and there was absolutely no way he could find either across or around it.  He was stopped dead in his tracks with darkness approaching and a young girl possibly dying under tons of rock so close he could almost taste her!

Without an apparent route open to him, he paused and called Marni on the little two-way.  He had nearly laughed at his wife when she came home with this simple fifty dollar set of radios.  They were simply short range, line of sight radios.  They had a range under the best of conditions of a mile or so and anything blocking the path would destroy the signal, but, Mark had to admit, in their present situation, they had been priceless.  They added no appreciable weight so it was nothing to just stick one in a shirt pocket and forget about it until needed.  And, it was needed now.  A short conversation reminded him that the day was dying and it would soon be too dark to proceed.  As there appeared to be no other way, Mark began retracing his arduous route back through the dreadful brush and up the bone backed ridge to be met by his woman as he made the trail at last.  It was just a short ride for  the couple back to their spike camp on the leeward side of the main ridge where waited the rest of his party, save those who had headed to the low country to meet the expected search and rescue team.  As Mark mulled over this thought, he fervently prayed that they were, indeed just that, and not a recovery team.

Daylight came early to the high mountains and it found a camp that was up and busy.  Breakfast was over and gear had been stowed.  The Mountain Rescue Team had arrived just at dark the previous evening, had been briefed and were now in council deciding how best to approach this situation.  There was comfort with neither the scenario nor the circumstances.  The team was very concerned over the river of moving rock they had to contend with to get to the area they knew the girl to be trapped.

The long conversation with Mark had not buoyed spirits as he described the treacherous path he had followed only to be turned back by the, for him, unbreachable moat between him and the site the girl disappeared.  It was not considered great news that there was a vertical drop at the end of the long slope… if Joey had gone into that abyss, the chances of a positive outcome were slight.

It was decided that, at this time, the team’s helicopter would not be needed so they had it remain at the base established for it back at Mark and Marni’s home ranch.  This was an ideal staging area for the team as there was road access to the ranch and it was a short hop to the search area.  A fuel truck was brought in and a supply tent and bunkhouse/mess tent were erected.  It was decided the main force of searchers would be held in reserve here pending need.

The sun had just peeked over the eastern ridge enough to chase shadow from the very western pinnacles and send the gloom on its trek down those western slopes to the very bottoms of the deepest defiles when a four person team of very experienced rock people started their descent on the route Mark had pioneered in his abortive attempt to gain Joey’s position the night prior.  With great care to not dislodge even a single stone, the two men and two women comprising this team had made this type of descent before and were not happy to be doing it again now with, potentially, a life being on the line.

Slowly, foot after careful foot, they four descended… one foot down… lift the next… that one carefully down then repeat the process.  The last thing the team wanted was to cause further disruption of the scene, or, heaven forbid, have another victim to rescue!  It took almost an hour to descend to the bowels of the gorge and another twenty minutes to cross safely.  The climb through the miserable brush was neither easier nor faster than it had been for Mark the evening prior but being forewarned kept them from danger in the vicinity of the steep defile that had stopped Mark’s trek.

To traverse this vertical sided canyon the team had planned to use a line throwing gun to cast a thin line with a small grappling hook across the gap in hopes it would wrap itself around one of the myriad alder stems growing on the other side.  To trust the hook to just engaging one of the stems would probably create a situation too dangerous to contemplate.  The chance of the grappling hook pulling off the stem while the person was traversing the span was just too high to feel good about attempting.  Because of this consideration, they had brought in four loads for the gun.

The Team Leader, Rae Glenn, lined up the portable unit and with a quick prayer for success she touched off the charge, sending the heavy hook in a high arc toward the thick brush across the chasm.  The hope was that the heavier hook would settle into the canopy of brush far enough to get thoroughly tangled in the horizontal stems.  No one breathed as the hook completed its arch and disappeared into the brush.  At first, it seemed they had been successful when they tried to pull the line free and it resisted strenuously… smiles were beginning to appear when, all at once, the line gave way and the grapple popped out of the brush and fell into the canyon before them.

A second attempt was being contemplated when Russ White suggested they hold the gun so that the trajectory was more horizontal.  His argument was that this would drive the hook into the green jungle across the chasm and would cause it to penetrate it more fully than lofting it in as they had attempted could afford them.  The discussion was quick and intense, but the consensus was a more direct shot would afford a greater chance of a secure lash up in the brush.

At the sound of the shot, all breathing stopped and it seemed like minutes elapsed as the projectile flew inexorably across the yawning gap toward the waiting alder brush.  The first hope for success came as the hook disappeared into gap between several of the horizontal stems and could be heard rattling around before all sound ceased and breathing resumed among the waiting team… “Now,” Rae said in a quiet voice, “if it will just find something to hang onto securely…”

After the entire team had done all they could do to tear the grappling hook from its lodging in the brush without success, it was declared as good as it was going to get.  Gina Costa had already been designated as the first across because she was the lightest of the crew and was an accomplished climber who was experienced in setting the Tyrolean Traverse method of rappelling across horizontal barriers such as faced them now.  She began by hooking up firmly to the suspended line then, using carabiners she hooked two lines to herself that the rest of the team would play out behind her as she crossed the chasm.  When all was as ready as they could make it, the girl eased to the brink of the hundred foot deep precipice and laid out allowing the line spanning the gulf to feel her weight for the first time.

All thoughts were on that hook and the prayer that it would hold for Gina to get across the thirty or so feet to the far side.  Inch by slow inch she eased her way along.  Her skyline was far springier than she was accustomed to due to the fact that it was not solidly anchored but was snarled in the movable wooden stems of the alder brush.  She was bouncing far more than she wished.  It made her task much more difficult than had been anticipated.  Bouncing, she knew, was terribly dangerous because of the extra forces it applied to the static skyline that was carrying her.  Each time it bounced, the woman stopped and allowed it to come to full stop before moving on again.  As can be imagined, it was a long and slow process to slither across that span, but slither it she did.  When Russ thought to tease her about her slow progress, she simply stopped and, looking back at him, said, “I’ll gladly slide back and let you take my place… I’m pretty sure this ribbon will handle your two hundred and forty pounds just fine!  …That pretty much ended the discussion and it remained quite quiet until she finally, about two days later, it seemed to her, made the far bank and just laid quietly recuperating slowly.

It was the matter of but a few moments to secure the two lines she had brought across with her as well as the one that had been shot across, making a makeshift rope bridge of sorts.  The bridge was simply one line to serve as the walkway and two lines about three feet higher one to each side of the foot path to serve as handrails.  While this might sound like something that would be flimsy and fraught with danger, it should be noted that it was not at all that substantial.

Once the bridge was in place, it was the work of only moments to make the passage to the far bank with only essential gear.  It was determined that with the bridge in place and functional, it would not be too difficult to return the few rods to retrieve anything that might be found necessary later… Quickly, the team continued their brush busting crawl to the goal they had set in the area of site of Joey’s disappearance.  On reaching that point a feeling of good fortune swept the team as they looked into the canal at the base of the rock slide to see that it was not much of a drop to the scree accumulation in the gully.  It was, it seemed, nearly full of the broken cobbles from the mountain above and chances of surviving that would be higher than they had at first surmised.  In fact, it was not difficult for two of them to traverse the depression to the base of the talus slope down which the girl would have descended.

While Russ and Gina made the inspection, Rae and TJ watched them closely until they gained the opposite slope whereupon TJ left it to Rae to keep watch while he explored their general area a bit… as he was following the line of alder brush further up the bank, he thought he could see a dim path in the grass and shrubs there.  He walked along it, paralleling it but not stepping on it and decreasing its viability in case it should turn out to be important later… just as he reached the upper limit of the tangle of brush, her heard a shout from across the ditch and turned back to see what was up with the explorers there…

A lively discussion ensued over the prosthetic limb found half buried in the mountain of rubble.  That is was Joey’s there was no doubt for where else could it have come from in this far, remote mountain fast?  The find engendered a flurry as activity as Rae called the news in to the command center and told them they would be concentrating their efforts right here unless told otherwise.  With a great spurt of newfound energy, the searchers bent to their task only to come up without a single further clue it was just after noon when an injudicious step dislodged a single stone in a mountain of stone and set into motion a slow moving slide of scree down the slope and onto their position.  Quickly, the rescue team scrambled back across the shallow ravine and onto the safe ground beyond.  With sad eyes they watched as thousands of tons of spalted stone slid inexorably down the slope and into the trench from there to slide down the trench, filling the void below.

All here knew the cause was lost and that no missing girl would be found here today… or ever, for that matter.  Sadly the four moved back up the slope to a point about where TJ had reached in his earlier investigation… before the limb had been found.  Rae had called in the report of this tragedy and was told to hang on while a conference was initiated.  Although no one had held out high expectations of finding the girl unharmed, the realization that she was gone was a bitter pill and hard to digest.  As the four sat cross-legged on the bare rock just above the limit of the alder brush, no word was spoken but all knew their work here was over.  None but knew that it would take far more than was possible to move enough rock to possibly find the girl in that sea of stone.

TJ stood and moved a few steps further around the point of brush were he could be alone to let the tears come as they would without embarrassing himself in front of his teammates.  He had been there but a few moments when he felt a small arm wrap around his and he looked down to see dark, tear stained eyes looking up at him.  “TJ, hold me please,” the girl said quietly.

“Sure, Gina,” he responded and held the girl close to his chest as they allowed the sorrow to flow forth and empty their souls.

No one knew how long this tableau held.  It seemed to last forever to those so involved but was probably no more than fifteen to twenty minutes before the team radio sputtered to life, breaking a reverie known only to those who have actually experienced it for there is no description adequate.

“Rae,” the radio sputtered, “can you make ready to receive two deputies at your 10-20?  They need to make an official report now.”

Yes, but don’t’ send anyone who cannot handle a single line suspension bridge across a deep gorge.  We have no desire to lose anyone else here today.”

“Roger that, Rae,” the answer came back.  “They will be qualified mountaineers and able to do the traverse.” And with that, the radio went silent and the team settled back to watch and wait.

After a few minutes spent in mutual support, Gina and TJ stepped back a half pace and just stood with their foreheads together in a sort of communal séance.  As reality and awareness returned to them, Gina allowed  her gaze to be diverted from that which was directly in front of her and kind of just listlessly to the grasses and shrubs above the elevation of the last of the thick brush but below the headwall of the great canyon below.  As her eyes strayed to the emerald green patch of grass there, she realized she was seeing something in the grass… she had seen many animal trails in these high pastures and was very well versed in what to look for in those, but this was different… somehow this was not a deer trail… no mountain sheep or goat had created this trace in the grass… As she stood there, she allowed her head to turn very slowly to direction of the faint line she was seeing oh so very slowly, lest she lose the image in her mind.

“TJ,” she said softly, as if even the sound of her voice might scare it away, “look very carefully to that patch of grass above the brush and tell me what you see there…”

The young man allowed first his communion then his physicality to be broken from the diminutive soul by him and raised his eyes to the spot indicated.  With a slight gasp he said… “A trail… I wonder if it could be Joey…  No, she’s missing a leg, how could she walk through there?  I mean, it looks like a trail made with two legs but it is not the gait of an animal…”

“I know,” she responded.  “It’s not any four legged critter.  That is a human trail.  Who else could it possibly be?

The spoor was spotty because there were exposed granite stones all along the range of travel, but mostly it had been reclaimed by a thin layer of soil and the grass growing there.  The couple moved closer to the scene without actually getting on it.  The last thing either of these experienced search and rescue people wanted was to damage evidence.  When they and moved to a position where more could be seen, they realized it was a bipedal trail through the fresh growing vegetation that led out of their range of vision.  TJ looked at Gina and her eyes began to glow.  She looked askingly at him and whispered, “Rae?”

He nodded slowly and she called for their leader.  “Rae, be very careful, but come to where we are but loop above us, we need to show you something here.”

Just as Rae looked around to them, they both broke into a huge grin and hugged one another warmly!  “Rae, HURRY,” Gina pleaded.  “You’ve got to see this!  You come too, Russ, but be very careful to not dislodge any rocks.”

The Team Leader stood and, though puzzled, approached the young pair in a manner and from a direction that would not disturb whatever it was these two were so excited about.  As she stood there, she took a few moments before what had attracted the attention of the young woman started to germinate within her own mind and, as it did, a large grin began to spread across her handsome countenance.

“What are you guys seeing here?” a slightly agitated Russ asked sharply.  “Personally, I don’t see a danged thing!”  When all three merely pointed to the now obvious, to them, trail, it still took him a few moments for the significance to sink in.  When it did, his eyes came wide and realization filled his mind…

As the four mulled over where to go from here, a shout rang out from back along their trail and they heard the sounds of brush breaking and muffled cursing.

“Sounds like the deputies found the bridge,” TJ said with a grin.  Turning he hollered back, “Do you need help?”

“No,” came the retort, unless you have a crew of trail clearers with you!”

The two deputies that finally broke through the last line of tangled brush were more than a little taken aback to find a relaxed, smiling rescue team awaiting them.  The last the pair had heard, they were being called in to chronicle the probable demise of the subject of the search and to find a happy crew did not well fit with that scenario.  Will Snyder had been a deputy in this county for more years than these kids had been alive and had investigated far more of these cases than he cared to remember so when he saw this, he simply asked, “Okay, people, what do you know that I don’t?”

“Deputy,” Rae began, “when we called you in, we were quite sure the young woman was buried down there,” and she pointed to the stone filled gulch below.  “Since then, however, we have found some new evidence and have called in a tracker as well.”

Over the next few minutes the team briefed the deputies on what they had done and found up to the discovery of the trackway in the grassy patch.  When the deputies appeared to accept the conclusions of the team on the events leading up to the discovery of the prosthetic leg that they assumed had belonged to the missing girl, Rae stopped in her narration of the facts and when Deputy Snyder questioned her as to why she did not feel this was the actual scenario, she just turned and pointed to the quite visible trail in the dew damp grass.

“Oh my gawd,” the deputy drawled.  “I don’t believe this.  That is a walking trail… two feet are making that trail, not one…”

Just at that moment, the sound of the brush breaking and a burst of rather inventive invective wafted up from the direction of the rope bridge and the countenance of the Shoshoni, Charlie Two-Bears appeared as if by magic from the tangle.  He paused but a moment then said, “This is one helluva place to pick to hold a convention!  What the hell you got going on here, anyway?”

“We’ve got an impossibility, Charlie,” the deputy intoned.  “What we have is a young woman who was injured in a rock slide and is possibly buried in that mountain of scree.  We have a prosthetic leg we believe belonged to her as it is known she wore one and to think there would be two such on this remote mountain boggles the mind more than the idea of an honest politician.  THEN…” and he continued more hesitantly, “we have an apparent trail leaving the scene.” And he pointed to the grassy patch.

Charlie paused but a moment in looking at the trail indicated before stating, “And you think the girl made that trail?  That is not possible.”

At this point Deputy Phil Boller looked up at the tracker and simply said, “And why not?  Are you suggested someone else climbed down into this defile to leave us a bogus set of tracks?  That’s idiocy!  That girl was the only person here, so it had to be her that made that trail… if it is one!”

“Oh,” Charlie replied to the seemingly miffed deputy, “it is most definitely a trail, but it was not left by that girl!”

“Well, who the hell else could leave it?” the deputy nearly screamed.  “She’s the only person that’s been here unless you’re saying these people made it themselves for some perverse reason!”

“With the amount of moisture on the grass, it’s pretty easy to read the story here,” the tracker explained patiently to the reddening deputy.  “You can see the marks in the dew where these people approached the trackway and stopped well short of it… obviously not wanting to obscure the trail.  The trackway proceeds across this patch of grass and the tracks were made last night, not this morning…”

“And just how do you know that?” the skeptical deputy fired at him, interrupting his explanation.

“Because,” Charlie continued patiently, “their tracks are in grass that was wet with dew when they walked into it… you can see where the water has been disturbed on the stalks of grass where their feet and legs passed.  On the trackway, the dew has settled on top of the tracks and has not been disturbed at all which tell me the tracks were there when the dew settled this morning.”

“Further, and to why this is not the trackway of the girl, if you will look closely, you will see that the tracks are all in one line… and the separation is huge.  I would judge from here that the individual tracks are at least four feet apart.”

“And just what does that mean?” the deputy asked with more and more suspicion evident with each utterance.

“It means, simply, that these tracks are not human in origin.”

The explosion that followed from a thoroughly irate Deputy Boller could have been heard all the way back to the search headquarters at the ranch… had they been listening.  He spewed forth with a line of profanity that was totally improper for an officer on duty and had to be called to order by the senior deputy.  When peace was restored and calm prevailed once more, the conversation continued.

“Charlie,” Deputy Will stated, “My apologies for my associate’s ill-considered remarks.  Would you please explain what you mean by that?”

“Certainly, I will.  But, first, I want that trackway recorded.  It is my understanding that NO ONE reached this spot until your rescue team did this morning, and that glorious rope bridge did not exist until your team made it, is that correct, Rae?”  At an affirmative nod from the woman, he continued… “This being the case, it is fairly safe to assume that no one could have sneaked in and perpetrated any kind of hoax.  Are we agreed that it is likely that, before this morning, the ONLY person who could have possibly reached this spot is the girl, Joey?” And he looked directly and Deputy Boller, forcing a response from him.

It was obvious the still fuming deputy did not want to admit to this, but he could really see no viable option.  Still, he refused to acknowledge this possibility and said, “Someone could have… it’s not impossible!”

“No, not impossible, Deputy Will replied, “But I’d give mighty long odds on it if I were a betting man.  I can really see no viable way anyone could have been here between dark last night and when you arrived early this morning… and that is how the report will read.”

Charlie then had the rescue team begin the meticulous task of measuring the step length and the stride of exhibited in the trackway.  Gina was a very excellent photographer with an excellent camera and took time to carefully document the entire process.  A marker was placed at the heel of each track and at the toe, as nearly as they could be determined and a track length of over fifteen inches was estimated from these marks… until a bare area was found.

It was not large… not more than two feet long and fifteen or sixteen inches wide but directly in the middle of it was a very distinct and perfect bare footprint!”  And… oh what a footprint it was… when measured, it was fifteen and a quarter inches long with an average width of just over six inches in width.  Five perfect toes showed but there was not the arch found commonly in the human foot.  In addition, there was what appeared to be a ridge that ran across the foot in a transverse manner.

A grunt from the tracker drew the attention of both Rae and Deputy Will and the Shoshone man pointed to a small cairn of stones… only three of found stacked so as to make a tiny table top upon which was laying an archery mechanical release!  It was a smaller one… one like a woman would wear and use.  No one doubted this had belonged to the girl, Joey.  Deputy will chronicled it as it was found and then carefully moved it to an evidence bag to be positively identified at a later time.

When the trackway with this new find was considered, the entire entourage was stunned with two exceptions.  First, Charlie Two-Bears knew exactly what he was dealing with.  His people were quite familiar with “Tso Apittse” the giant of the forest.

Charlie moved back from the small patch of grass and watched as the team finished documenting the evidence found there.  He had circled the grassy patch with Deputy Will to see if he could find anything beyond but the trail exited the grass to more rock and there was no further spoor to be found.

Deputy Boller had a suspicion that he was being played for a fool and asked warily, “Why don’t you continue trailing?  Are you afraid of boogeymen?”

Charlie fixed hard, dark eyes on the slightly built man and, while one could have counted to ten slowly, just watched him, not making a sound nor a motion… then he spoke… “Deputy, I don’t know where you come from, but I do suggest you go back there right away.  You don’t belong in the mountains.  You won’t like it here, I promise you!”

“Is that a threat?” the deputy growled menacingly.

“No, just a statement of fact,” Charlie continued.  “You’re not understanding what you’re seeing here.  You’re denying your own eyes.  The being that crossed this patch is about three inches over eight feet tall and weighs between six hundred fifty and seven hundred pounds.  That being WANTS us to know he has the girl…”

And just how the HELL do you know that?” a totally apoplectic Boller shouted in disbelief… “your damned Indian poppycock is not convincing me that any ‘benevolent wildman’ lives out here in these mountains… all that bigfoot crap is total nonsense anyway!  Anyone with half a brain knows that!”

“SETTLE DOWN NOW, Boller,” an incensed Deputy Will roared.  “Sit down and shut your mouth or I’ll relieve you of duty right here and right now!”  Then to Charlie, he said calmly, “Continue, please, Charlie.  How do arrive at these conclusions?”

“Simple science, Deputy,” Gina stated.  “The anatomical constant for height in a primate is 6.5:1 … a primate’s average height is six and a half times the length of their foot… according to my Anatomy Class in college, at least.  I’m sure the weight must come from those or similar ratios, but I’m not familiar with the actual numbers.”

“Right on the button, Gina,” Charlie answered, “and, yes, the weight is from a similar ratio constant.”  I know the print was left for us because it is out of sequence with the rest of the trackway.  The individual had to short step to get their foot directly into the middle of that soil.  The release was left on a constructed table so we could not possibly miss it.  What other conclusion could there possibly be?”

“None, I think,” the deputy said calmly.  “So, what do we do from here as I think tracking across that rocky expanse where the trail led would be totally futile in any case?”

At this admission, Boller again jumped to his feet and yelled at his associate loudly, “You’re not actually buying this load of horse crap you’re being fed are you?  The man has manufactured this whole scene to make us look like fools!  You’re as bad as they are, you ignorant imbecilic idot!”

A deepening red was climbing up Will’s neck as he fought to maintain his temper.  He looked directly at his subordinate’s face and said, “You’re not needing any help in that department.  You’re doing quite well on your own!  Now, stand down and head on out of here.  What made the trackway notwithstanding, the facts remain; the victim is not here and is not able to be located here.  We have the physical evidence of the scene and our work is done.  There is no need for insults and racial slurs and epithets for anyone.  If his opinion differs from yours, so be it, keep your mouth shut and move on.  As of now, you are relieved of any duties here, so you can head out.”

After giving the man time to get out of range, Will called headquarters and made a verbal report on findings here and was told to leave the scene and return to the ranch with the Team… it was requested that the rope bridge remain in place until resolution of the case to facilitate any further investigations of the site that might be necessary.  When Will had completed his communication and relayed the message on to the team, they immediately made ready to close up this site and return down the mountain to decide where to go from here.

After the loud and irrational confrontation experienced by the Rescue Team and Deputy Will with the rest of those waiting at the ranch headquarters, it was the work of many hours to reach a conclusion concerning this situation.  The County Sheriff, the State Attorney General, the chief of the State Police and the County’s Prosecuting Attorney met behind closed doors in a very private conference call before jointly issuing an edict that, barring further evidence surfacing, there was nothing more to be gained by remaining here in an official status.  The statement issued stated simply that “One Jo Anne Antonelli, aged 17, was victim of an accidental fall precipitated by an avalanche of rock while attempting to retrieve a legally harvested mule deer buck on that date.  Attempts were made to locate the remains of the victim but results were negative.  Artifacts known to belong to Miss Antonelli in the form of her prosthetic leg and the wrist mechanical string release she was known to use were recovered from the area of the accident.   It is further averred that the young woman was in the company of her father, Mario Antonelli and a professional guide and outfitter.  No foul play is suspected nor is such contemplated.”

With this being the official stance taken by the authorities, all were released to their regular duties with the thanks of the State of Idaho and of the families involved.

Mario Antonelli had been joined by his ex-wife and Joey’s mother, Arlene the day after the accident.  He spent time with here to try and calm her and explain what happened.  He was overly distraught himself and it may well have been a case of Arlene calming him more than the other way around.

“Mario,” the woman began, “I know how important this outing was to her.  She lived to shoot her bow and her most fun times in her life were those spent with you hunting one place or another.  It never mattered if she actually got anything or not she just loved the doing of it.  She would come home and spend days telling me about every small creature she had seen and what they were doing… how they were living their lives.  She so loved being in stealth mode so she could watch nature as it actually worked and not how it’s portrayed on television.  There are so few films that tell what really happens in life.”

For hours the two talked back and forth like this about their common progeny and when Mark and Marni thought perhaps it’d be better if they retreated and gave this grieving couple some much needed time together, they demurred forcefully.  Mario felt he owed their hosts this time to know his daughter and Arlene concurred totally.

For a few moments Arlene was quiet… not speaking… as if trying to make a decision.  She thought to herself… this has to be done… so she began.

“Mario, I have something to tell you.  I’m going against Joey’s wishes here in saying this, but it has to be known.  Joey was in very serious condition.  I know she told you that her cancer was in remission and she was beating it… and she had been until her check-up just before school was to start… it appears it is back if full strength.  She didn’t want you or anyone to know until after this hunt was over but she was scheduled to resume Chemo and Radiation treatments next week and, to be truthful, the oncologists were not confident.  It has spread to her lymph nodes and her pancreas was under attack.  They told me privately and she enjoined me from telling you until after this that they didn’t think she would survive until Christmas… it was that wide spread… sooooo…” she intoned sibilantly, perhaps this is a blessing in a way for her.  She would so have hated to be a burden and to see her so unable to do for herself would have torn me apart… and you too, I’m sure.”

The room was silent for a time as each was with their own, private thoughts.  It was Mark who quietly stood and walked as silently as he could into the pantry where he found and opened a bottle of vintage Merlot he keep for just such special moment.  He located a decanter and four glasses and taking a moment to slice some cheeses, he put it all on a tray and returned to the room they were using.  When Marni saw what he was about, she rose and moved to his side and helped him serve, first, their guests, then themselves.

Quietly the four new friends sat and sipped the vintage and tasted the sharp tangs of the cheeses and thought the thoughts of their troubled minds.

It was late when the four adjourned their vigil and retired to their beds.  And it was early the next morning when Charlie Two-Bears in his venerable old Bronco rolled into the ranch yard.

Over a hearty, ranch style breakfast that Marni and Arlene had teamed up on, Mario mentioned that he and Arlene would probably on their way home later that day.  The protests from Mark and Marni he could have accepted in stride, but, if that from Arlene surprised him, that from Charlie floored him!

“Did you not hear what Will and I said happened there, Mario?” the Indian asked.  “Regardless of what that ‘official report’ said, Joey is NOT in that canyon.  She was carried out of there for some other purpose.  You must remain here for at least a few more days to see what is going to happen… that is if Mark and Marni don’t mind…”

“You know we don’t… it’s much too soon to give up on the mountains in any case but especially not with this happening,” the tall woman said, one hand resting on Mark’s shoulder.

Although Arlene was not totally confident of Charlie’s assessment and Mario had great doubts too, neither would be disrespectful of a man who had done so much for them.  If he and his people held these beliefs, they both realized they had reason to do so and it was not up to them to deny that to them.  So, with some trepidation and more than a little hope, they agreed to hold on a while longer.  “Besides,” Arlene said, “I haven’t seen the area and there is no way I could leave without doing so.”

“Fine,” Charlie stated firmly, I will take you up there myself.  “I know these two have a commitment to discharge so it will fall to me to guide you there… besides, I can show you all that we did while there and I want to remove that rope bridge as we come out of there.  That will preserve that site from human molestation, at least.”

“Are we keeping you from something,” Arlene asked, turning to face Mark and his wife.

“Not anymore,” laughed Marni, “thanks to Charlie here.  Actually, no you weren’t anyway as we are just taking a couple up to our “honeymoon cabin” for a fall bear hunt and we would have split up with Mark taking them up while I went with you, but Charlie just sent me back to Mark.”

Turning to Charlie, she said, “When you guys get done there, just come over the ridge where Mark was attacked and drop into the cabin.  There will be room for us all there and we can spend a couple of great days enjoying the mountains in the fall.”

—————-               —               —————               —               —————

There was seemingly nowhere that did not hurt on the young women when she came awake, but the sound of a soft humming distracted her from the pain.  A distinct vibration was coursing over her body as she lay on a bed of fern fronds.  Her eyes were not focusing well, but she thought she could see a large figure crouched nearby, watching her closely as this strange feeling made her body shimmer.  Alarm began to arise as she took in the scene around her but just as suddenly, the large figure began to hum a calming, soothing tune that seemed to coincide with the humming of her body and she was reduced to a level of comfort she had not heretofore ever known.

In complete calm she rested then.  It was not like she understood what was happening to her, but she realized she didn’t care what it was, she just knew she didn’t want it to stop.  The vibrations of her body were soothing and calming… the humming from the large woman, for it was obvious now that is what it was… a large female being completely covered with a hairy pelt… was extraordinarily beautiful and the combination was creating a nirvana of sorts that led to a most blissful and blessed sleep.

The large woman continued her ministration to the young woman.  For hours and hours she carried on with the teachings of her mother and all the mothers before her in helping this young hairless one to cope with the hurts her body had sustained.  This was not to last, she knew, but for now, she was able to treat the girl and believe she was her own daughter who she missed so much.

—————-               —               —————               —               —————

“Look there, Mark,” Marni said as she pointed straight ahead to the curve in the trail.  “I have never seen anything like that.  That can’t be a natural occurrence, can it?  I mean, those sticks didn’t just fall that way, did they?”

For a few moments, the astounded couple just sat there looking at the large, beautiful asterisk made of three lodgepole pines at least forty feet in length.  The symmetry was beautiful and evoked a feeling of power and beauty that startled the pair.  This was the third such they had encountered on this trek from the ranch to the remote cabin on the bench and the meaning was almost on the tip of their tongues… but elusive…

“No, Honey,” the big man replied, “They didn’t just happen to occur that way.  They were very carefully placed there.  If you look closely you can see that the poles are placed upside down… the large ends are in the air and the small ends on the ground.  Sheila came through here with our hunters and the cavy a few hours ago, and I’m sure I’d have heard from him if he’d seen them as she’s about as goosey as they come with these things so they had to have been made after they passed.”

The girl sat in her saddle quietly for a few moments then said, “It’s speaking to me… I can feel an energy emanating from it.  Did Charlie’s Tso creature make this too?”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt as to that.  Who else would it be?  I think we’re being led here.” And with said, Mark paused to contemplate what he was feeling too before going on… “In fact, I think there is more significant message yet to follow.  Let’s hustle on to the cabin and get our hunters set up.  Sheila wanted this chance to guide, so let’s let her… she’s surely qualified and we will be around to back her up if needed.”

With that the couple moved out a bit more sharply and moved quickly up the trail they had such fond memories of from their first trip here.  It was well short of sundown when they broke through that last line of brush to see the cabin sitting quietly and alone in the trees at the edge of the bench above the pond.  Marni felt that if she were to come here a thousand times, she would not ever lose that glorious feeling of love she felt the first time she made this ride.

It was surprising that there was no activity around the cabin on their arrival, but that was the case.  The pack horses were standing three legged in the corral, lazily shooing flies off each other in the head to tail arrangement peculiar to these critters.  Obvious by their absence were the saddle stock and, possibly a pack mule or two, leading the couple to the conclusion that Sheila had her charges off on a scouting foray.  The hunting camp was set up back in the trees and only barely visible from the secluded cabin, so all was in readiness against the hunters’ return.

As the couple looped the reins of their mounts over the hitching post and carried their saddle bags to the door of the cabin, the woman suddenly stopped and just pointed to the walkway leading to the porch.  “Mark,” she asked, “is that another message from our mysterious friend?”

“It would appear that they are, indeed waiting for us,” he answered with a slight smile.  I’ve seen these indicators before, but never with such distinct meaning as we are seeing now.  Isn’t that a thing of pure beauty?”

“It is absolutely a thing of beauty,” she replied.  “I had never thought them capable of such art work.  This particular glyph almost appears Chinese in form… I wonder if this could be?”

“I doubt it, Honey,” he stated softly.  “I think it’s more a matter of attempting to achieve the same end using the same materials.  These giant Tso people do not think or reason like we do.  Yes, they are a form of people, alike us in many ways, but unlike us in many others.  While I don’t know what this says, I do know what it means…”

As his pause extended beyond what the girl thought reasonable, she frowned and said, “And what would that be, Mr. PLAYITONCEFOREFFECT?”

With a wide grin, he stated, “It means, ‘we’re here and we will be in touch at the proper time’ or I don’t understand anything in this life.”

“I will accept that,” she said while grinning broadly herself.  “I guess we just wait and see for a bit… as there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do.”

Each of the next two mornings a new glyph greeted the couple at their cabin retreat, letting them know that, indeed, their Tso friends were still close.

Hunting was as good, as expected with both hunters connecting on decent bears by the end of that second day.  This couple didn’t want to leave the mountains so soon, but asked if they could move their camp down the mountain to a beautiful tarn they had passed on the way up.  Marni smiled to herself, remembering what had happened at this pretty little cirque lake what seemed like so many years ago.  “I think you will love that,” Marni said.  “Sheila will set you up there and help you all she can.  There are grouse in good numbers around there and you will love how they cook up!  In fact, I recommend you get enough of them to take some home with you!  The tarn is home to some great cutthroats and they respond to well to a dry fly at this time of the year.”

When the pack train left the high meadow on its way to the cirque, the host couple had some time just to themselves and a soft sigh of contentment escaped the woman’s lips as she savored the prospect.    Marni sidled up close to her chosen man and wrapped two sinuous arms around his neck and pulled his face down to hers to let him know exactly how she felt about the prospect of spending some days alone in this cabin of memories.  To say the man was a willing participant would be no more than the truth… in essence… in fact, he was more than willing to meet her raise and rebound with a raise of his own when there arose a cry from the hills that was such that would make the skin crawl up one’s spine… High and ululating, the air warbled with the call.

The sun was disappearing when the series of calls stopped.  The man and the woman took the time then to enjoy the evening listening to the occasional call and a regular litany knocks of dead limbs on trees creating a hollow sounding resonant sound from the woods.  It seemed these happened about every twenty minutes for two solid days.

Daylight the third morning of their solo life at the cabin dawned clear and quite cold.  There was frost on the bench and ice rimmed the lake below the cabin.  It was still… there was not a sound to be heard anywhere… the calls and the tree knocks that had been so prolific prior were heard no more.  It was as if the world had gone to sleep at night and had forgotten to awaken in the morning.  Even the hunting eagles were not to be found on this special morning and the difference was not lost on the cabin’s residents.

“Mark, where has the world gone this morning?” the woman asked.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard it so still up here.  Even our tree knocks have ceased and there has not been a single call all night.”

“I’ve noticed that myself,” the man responded.  “I have been wondering what is in store.  Perhaps we should take the time to explore the area a bit… what do you think?”

“I’m totally up for that,” she replied.  “Let’s finish our breakfast and take a walk…”

The pair and not walked a quarter mile from the front door when they rounded a curve in the trail to see the most beautiful glyph structure either had ever known existed.  At the edge of the green clad, moss draped boggy area was a great, vertical glyph.  It was in two parts… To the left was a large, vertical X formation… a sign of welcome to the pair… and to the right of that there was a perfect eight point star!  The pair could do nothing but stand and watch in awe of the beauty of that which they saw.  Had they been in the Louvre of Paris, they could not have been more impressed by a work of art.  It was something to behold this structure in its native setting.

There was not a breath of air stirring… not the first critter called, cried or crowed.  The world was silent as the sun inched its way towards its zenith.  Then there was a voice… so quiet that neither was sure if it was audible or just appeared in their minds… “Go home,” it said.  “Go home for there is naught for you here today.”

The man looked at the woman as she gazed back at him… slowly he nodded his head and, placing his arm around her spare waist, he turned her back toward the cabin.  They walked in complete silence for to have made an unnecessary sound would have been to profane existence with vile existence… and the team wanted no part of anything that smacked of disrespect to the Tso People that obviously lived here.  They walked carefully down the trail, careful to not trip nor to disturb anything in their world.

When they reached the cabin, there on the porch, seated in the swing seat there, was yet one more major surprise… the young girl, Joey Antonelli was sitting, watching them approach the cabin.  She looked to be just awakening from a deep sleep and she was not yet animated and lively like she had been prior to her accident, but she was here and she was alive.

The first action the couple took was to rush to her side to ensure their eyes were not lying… the second was to help the girl into the cabin where Marni could help her wash up and be rid of days of accumulated soil and grime.  While the woman was helping her with this task, Mark stepped outside with his satellite up-link phone and called Mario and Arlene.

“Where are you right now?” he asked Mario.  When Mario told him he was less than two hours from the cabin with Charlie Two-Bears in the lead, Mark decided his news could wait… and when the reunion was done, he was glad he and done so… to say it was glorious would be far less than sufficient in description… as the girl recovered from her lethargy, she became far more animated and regaled the entire group with a fairly unbelievable account of her time spent with a large, hair-covered, female Tso Person.  She told of the kindness of the female and of the vibrations she felt and how her body resonated day after misty day.  Finally, today, she was brought back to this cabin and left sitting in that swing seat where she was found.

The day waned… a wonderfully delicious dinner of steak and all the fixings capped it off as the six humans sat around and talked, having decided this was their last night in the mountains and morning would find them on their way back down the mountain to the main ranch.  Sleep came late but it came soundly, uninterrupted by any detail until light peeking into the eastern windows told the residents that their sojourn in the mountains was complete and it was time to retreat down the slope to the low lands again.  People were in and out of the cabin several times in making preparations to ride out.  The packs were filled, the riding stock saddled, a fresh fire laid on the hearth and all preparations completed when, at last, there were no more excuses to delay departure so Mark led them out of the cabin and waited by the door to close it securely while Marni walked to the head of the stairs leading to the path that would take them to the waiting stock.  There she stopped and looked… it started as a soft, low whistle and rose in sharpness and volume as she understood what she was seeing…

There on the path was the most significant of glyphs she had ever seen… she knew immediately what it meant… the translation formed in her mind like it had been spoken there… “We are one family under one roof…” And she raised her eyes in time to see a large, hair covered female fade slowly back into the dark timber and she knew… yes, she knew as they all knew…

—————-               —               —————               —               —————

It was almost a month later when a message appeared on the screen of the couple’s home computer at the ranch… it was from the couple, Mario and Arlene Antonelli… reunited…  it spoke of the results of the endless and exhaustive tests young Jo Anne had just completed… they read all the words, but only one phrase stood out to them…



Presented by:

“Twenty One Days to Destiny – The Real Story of Bluff Creek”
Thom Cantrall

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