Tuesday, January 10, 2017
FOR the past few nights, Alex Westcrow woke up screaming in terror. Last night had been no different. Cold sweat dripped from his long black hair, down his face, neck and chest. His moist tanned skin glimmered against the moon-light that beamed across his bedroom window. His breathing was heavy as though a part of his soul had remained stuck in the hellish nightmare he encountered night after night.
Each dream was the same. Alex was in-undated with images of a conflict that began with gunfire and ended with an explosion that killed all those he loved. The carnage haunted him even when he was awake. “They’re only dreams,” he told himself.
A part of him never truly believed that.
“Al, watch out!” Jason shouted.
His best friend’s urgent warning snapped Alex out of his thoughts just in time to see a deer walking straight into the path of his white Bronco. He made a hard swerve away from the narrow road and inadvertently headed onto the path of a nearby tree.
“Aw shit!” he cried as he tried to veer the vehicle away before impact.
The tires screeched against the rough gravel. Then, in a violent jolt, the front tire ripped itself apart and sent the Bronco on a tailspin. The vehicle stopped within a hairline of two huge trees and then tilted to the side slightly.
Smoke rose from the shredded wheel and silver axle.
Inside the Bronco, Alex’s head was pressed against the door’s window. Jason had been leaning over the dashboard when he suddenly sat up! He clasped the back of his neck and moaned from the sharp stabbing pain. Then, as he looked over towards Alex, he grew alarmed by his friend’s stillness.
“Al!” he called.
Jason shook Alex’s shoulder, but he didn’t wake up.
Jason stepped out of the Bronco and went around to open the driver’s side door. The hinges cracked but the door wouldn’t budge. Jason checked to see what was blocking the door. It was the metal frame above the tire, which was pressing against the hinges. Jason struggled frantically until he finally pulled the door open. Slowly and carefully, Jason held his friend in place with one hand until he had completely opened the door with the other.
Alex’s head slumped onto Jason’s shoulder, which made his heart pound with concern for his friend. He swept away the long strands of black hair from Alex’s forehead and checked for signs of injury. There weren’t any. Not even a bump on the forehead. He called his friend’s name a few times.
Then Alex opened his eyes.
With relief, Jason shouted, “Al, are you okay?”
Alex scrunched his forehead. The glaring sunlight in his eyes and the massive headache he had, made it painful to form words. So he nodded yes instead. Jason wasted no time helping him out of the vehicle. Alex tried to stand on his own, but his knees buckled. He leaned back against the Bronco for support and accidentally smacked his head with the frame of the door.
“Fuck!” Alex shouted. Still disoriented, he asked, “What the hell happened?”
Jason pointed to the axle.
“Aw man!” Alex groaned.
“Don’t worry, Al. Just rest here while I go change the tire.”
A sudden look of dread spread across Alex’s face.
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.
Alex replied sheepishly, “I don’t have a spare tire.”
Jason ran his fingers tensely through his gel spiked hair. “Well, that’s just great! So how are we going to get to the reservation without a vehicle?”
Alex smirked and said, “We’re going hiking.”
Jason stared into what seemed to be an endless abyss at the center of the road. “How far are we from the tribe?”
“Well, if I remember correctly, we should be about ten miles away.” Before Jason could pro-test, Alex walked to the back of the Bronco and opened the rear door. He dug in and then grab-bed the backpacks. “Don’t worry, Chinaman! Native Americans have guided travelers for centuries. You’re lucky to have me as a friend.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Jason with a sarcastic tone. “Where was your keen sense of direction that time you got us lost while heading to the mall?”
Alex bolted out of the Bronco and threw the beige backpack in the air. It hit Jason right in the chest.
Jason gasped as he grabbed the bag before it fell on the ground. “Hey! A little warning would have been nice!”
Alex approached him, carrying his own backpack. He looked absolutely furious, and as he passed him, he pointed a finger at Jason and shouted, “Asshole!”
Jason was baffled. “What did I do now?”
Alex didn’t answer. So Jason caught up to him. He didn’t say anything to him right away either.
Twelve years ago, Alex had convinced him to cut class to go to the arcades at the Stonestown Galleria mall in San Francisco where they lived. Jason agreed to go. The mall wasn’t too far from Lowell High School where they attended. So Jason was a bit surprised that they had been walking for over two hours and had not gotten there yet. He suggested that they turn around or ask for directions, but Alex insisted that they were going the right way. It wasn’t until they had reached the Presidio that Alex was finally able to admit that they were lost. Jason had never allowed him to forget that day. After years of being teased about it, Alex finally forced his friend to let it go, which he had until today.
“Al, I’m sorry. It just slipped out.”
Alex kept on walking, but he slowed down long enough to tie his hair up in a ponytail. Then he stopped and turned to face Jason. “For the record, Chinaman, your sense of direction isn’t so fine tuned either.”
Jason gawked at him. “Name one time I ever got us lost!”
“The Grand Canyon.”
The men continued to argue as they walked through the road that led to the Taulsekan Tribe. They had no way of knowing that their intrusion, much like a stone tossed into a lake, sent an alarming ripple through nature that had alerted the inhabitants of their presence.
The heat was intense. It felt like 130 degrees even under the shade that the trees produced over the path. There wasn’t even a breeze blowing through. Their faces and shirts were sweaty and their legs tired from the long hike. Four hours had passed since they began their trek through the forest, but the reservation was nowhere in sight. The men knew that their chances of making it to the tribe before nightfall grew dim with each passing minute. Once the sunlight was gone, they’d be completely in the dark in a large, intimidating forest with little resources to survive.
Finally, Jason concluded, “We’re lost. Aren’t we?”
Alex stopped and turned. There was a look of resignation in his eyes as he admitted what his friend had already figured out. “Yeah. We are.”
“We shouldn’t have taken that shortcut through those trees. If we had stayed on the road we would have been there, Chief!”
Alex sighed. “It’s a dirt road, Jase, not the yellow brick road. We could have stayed on it and still gotten lost.” It didn’t take him long to realize how stupid that sounded. “Okay, I admit that we would probably be closer to the reservation if we had stayed on the road. But try not to be so pessimistic.”
Jason frowned. “I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m dirty. So I can be pessimistic if I want to.”
“Stop being such a little bitch!” said Alex. He stretched his hands up to the sky where the tree tops acted like pillars. He pointed to the leaves and branches that blocked the diminishing sunlight and said, “Don’t you find the sunlight piercing through the trees beautiful? It’s almost like the leaves have their own natural glow.”
Jason rolled his almond-shaped eyes in irritation. “Staring at trees is all I’ve done for the past few hours. I’m tired of trees. I just want to take a nice shower, have a warm dinner and go to sleep. You think we might get that tonight?”
“I’m trying here,” said Alex as he checked the compass in his hand. “This damn thing isn’t working.” He made a 90-degree turn until he realized that the compass was useless. “Damn it!” He raised his arm back and hurled the object through some trees. It landed moments later in a bed of shrubs.
“Good distance,” Jason teased, but his friend didn’t say a word. His attention seemed to drift off somewhere in the distance. “Al? You okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied. His eyes still fixed on what he was originally looking at.
Jason walked up behind him and asked, “What’s up?”
Alex pointed to the shimmering reflecting surface of a nearby body of water. “We’re close. Let’s stop and rest by that lake first.”
Crisp, long grasses stuck to their blue jeans as they wearily walked through the trees and bushes. They finally arrived at the marshy ground that surrounded the broad lake.
A couple of wooden logs littered the shore. Jason headed for one of them. His walk was that of a hundred-year-old man. He felt the blood rushing back into his legs as soon as he sat on the log.
Alex took a seat next to him. He bent down and squeezed his worn beige boots with one hand. “I must have over a million blisters on my feet.”
“You and me both,” said Jason.
Alex was parched so he slipped off his back-pack and looked for his water bottle. He couldn’t wait until he felt that refreshing gush of water soothe the dryness in his mouth. He took the cap off and pulled his head back to take a sip. Nothing came out of the bottle except for two drops.
“Shit!” he screamed.
Jason laughed. “Relax. You’ve got a lake full of water in front of you.”
The concept made Alex nauseous. “Are you kidding me? Think of all the animals that took a shit in that lake!”
Jason cringed. “I could have done without that bit of tourist info.”
“I’d rather drink water in Mexico.”
“Take my water bottle,” Jason offered. “Go on. I drank from it a while back. I’m not thirsty.”
“What are friends for?” Jason asked rhetorically.
“Who the hell knows?” Alex replied anyway.
Jason frowned while Alex loosened the straps on his backpack and dug his hand in to find the water bottle. Alex finally grabbed it, unscrewed the lid and gulped down what was left of the water.
Then Jason stood up and began to walk to-wards the edge of the lake. There was beauty as far as the eye could see. The mountains in the horizon dwarfed the labyrinth of trees that surrounded the lake. He took in a deep breath and allowed a welcoming breeze to caress his face.
“This place is so serene,” said Jason. Then suddenly, he had a realization. “Wait a minute!” he said to Alex. “This lake wouldn’t happen to be where you and your childhood crush did the nasty, would it?”
Alex simply smirked.
“Ugh!” Jason recoiled in disgust. “Now I see why you don’t want to drink from there.”
For a moment, Alex felt the present fall away, and in its place, two young lovers made out at the center of the lake. An ocean of sadness overwhelmed him as he recalled the last time he had been with Kayden.
AT the center of the crystal clear lake, two lovers stood together for the last time. The sky above them was slowly turning orange as the sun began to set beyond the mountains in the horizon.
For the last twelve months, eighteen-year-old Kayden Hayes and his lover Alex Westcrow, who was a year younger than him, had secretly pursued a relationship, but that was about to end, and it was all Inteus Westcrow’s fault.
Unfortunately for Alex, Inteus was his father.
Inteus was considered an insurgent and before long, his activities caught the tribal council’s attention. His wife, Alex’s mother, feared for the safety of her children and decided to leave the tribe as soon as her divorce from Inteus was finalized.
There wasn’t much time left. Twenty four little hours just weren’t enough to say goodbye. Kayden rocked Alex soothingly in his toned arms as he tried to keep himself from crying. The thought of never holding him again was impossible to fathom.
“I’ll miss you,” Alex whimpered. His head remained pressed against his lover’s chest, which was white as a ghost with just a hint of tiny blonde hairs.
Don’t cry, Kayden thought to himself as he said, “I’ll come visit you in San Francisco just as soon as I can.”
Alex’s puppy dog brown eyes locked with Kayden’s beautiful hazel eyes. “How will you get there without a car?” he asked innocently.
Kayden’s lips parted with a smile. “I’ll find a way,” he promised while passing his fingers across Alex’s tanned forehead. Then he stuck his hand underwater and brought Alex’s hand to the surface. Kayden removed the silver ring with the Mobius emblem, a symbol of eternity, from his finger and placed it on Alex’s ring finger.
“As long as you wear this, I’ll always be with you.”
Once again Alex leaned his head against his lover’s chest and cried. “I don’t want to go.”
“Alex,” Kayden started to say, but he choked with emotion. Fuck, he thought and then he began to cry too.
“AL, are you okay?”
And just like that, Alex snapped out of his memory and saw that Jason had sat back down next to him on the log. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he answered as he blinked the tears away.
Jason kindly offered his friend some reassurance. “Maybe you’ll run into him.”
“I doubt that,” said Alex. “He hated the tribe. He probably left years ago.”
“You never know.”
Alex smiled. “If he is here he shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”
“Well, because he’s the only one in the tribe that looks like a white man.”
“What? You never told me he was…” Jason was suddenly interrupted by a crunching sound coming from the woods behind them. He turned his head back. His eyes searched the woods for another traveler, a Native American, or an animal, but the sunlight was almost gone. It was difficult to see through the thick trees, but the noises continued. “There it is again. It sounded like footsteps.”
Alex strained to hear the noise. “I don’t hear anything,” he said.
Jason stood up, moving his head from left to right as his eyes continued to search for the source of the noise. Then, he turned back to his friend with a perplexed look and said, “I know I heard something out there.”
Alex looked skeptical. “Don’t get paranoid on me, Chinaman.”
“I’m not!” Jason shouted. “There’s someone out there.”
“Well maybe it’s a deer or a bear.”
“Maybe we should get out of here,” Jason suggested. “I’m not looking forward to be-coming snack food for a bear.”
Alex protested. “Look at you! You're a 2nd degree black belt and a Kung-Fu Instructor! Why are you acting like a pussy over a wild animal?”
Jason slapped the back of his friend’s neck with the palm of his hand.
Alex reacted. “Hey! What‘s your problem?” A few strands of hair loosened from the elastic band holding his ponytail together. He was compulsive about keeping his hair neatly tied back. He stood up and was ready to tackle Jason. Then he heard the sound of footsteps invading the marshy ground.
Jason tensed. “I’m guessing you heard it this time.”
As the duo took a cautious step towards the woods, a group of shadowy forms emerged from behind the trees. The shapes weren’t fully defined, but they looked like people and they were multiplying.
“Shit! How many of them are there?” Jason asked.
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Let’s just get out of here.”
They began to walk to the left, parallel to the lake’s shore, but the forms followed, never once leaving the camouflage of the trees to reveal themselves. Then Jason and Alex changed directions, walking the opposite way, but the shadow figures followed.
Angrily, Jason took a few steps forward.
Stunned by his friend’s action, Alex asked, “What are you doing, Jase?”
Jason signaled his friend to stay behind him. Then to the strangers, he shouted, “We see you! We know you see us! We don’t want any trouble! So show yourselves and state your business or be on your way!”
No one moved or made a sound for six long seconds. Then, the shadows marched towards them. There was no time to react and nothing Jason or Alex could do. They were surrounded and there was no way out!