"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

24 February 2013

100 Words; Upslope

The wind blows out of the east and I start the off with lapsang souchong tea. One of those days. A couple of inches of goose down floats along the air currents in the manner of willow-the-wisp.

Inside, the DJ alternates between bluegrass and Ravi Shankar. Fantastic. Down below, trained meteorological professionals wax 'pocalyptic about this turn of events. Feast or famine. Some people are never satisfied.

It's a little. Probably not enough in the grand scheme. In the moment, perhaps it doesn't matter. There's a certain beauty and silence. Everything is made new under a blanket of fresh white.

19 February 2013

A Mud Day Beyond the End of the World

The day began warm and mild. I was quite comfortable with my down vest over a rugby shirt. I started off with making breakfast burritos, coffee, and some cleaning/grooming projects. Being a nice day in early mud, I felt the urge to do some tidying.

It's been a bit since the hounds had been subjected to a decent brushing. With Chevy and Whistler, being the former champion show dogs, this was not nearly as traumatic; just assume the position and it'll all be over sooner than later. Milarepa, on the other hand, being the youngest, and, having never been to a dog show, was a bit more spazzy, though she enjoyed the attention. Amusingly enough, she was in the least need of brushing, even if what came from all three was the equivalent of a pack of chihuahuas.

After that was a spot of vacuuming. Between three dogs, three cats, six ferrets, and two long-haired hominids, this can be interesting. Even and especially when one has been slothful about it. The penance price of this was another couple drop-kick dogs worth of hair along with the other detritus, but the Persian rug in the parlor looked fabulous.

It would not be a Tuesday without me at the very least contemplating a walkabout. Because there were a few other things I meant to accomplish during the day, I just opted for the milk run of the Bull's Head. Certainly, doing just the trail and no side excursions deeper into the bush, I'd not even need a pack. Some have told me of jogging that trail, though, with the grade, I'd think it'd be torture.

I did not even climb to the top of the rock formation, from which the trail takes its name. The soles of my boots were wet with what little snow there was, and the route I like to take up these days-when I don't take a hound with me-requires a bit of bouldering. I did make a promise to myself and that bouldering route we'd be having a date within the month. Then I cut down from the ruins of the Diamond Mine to the 730 and across to ruins of the Ashby Tunnel and the eastern edge of town.

The Road was closed because of mitigation-tis the season. I sat upon a rock, watching my tiny world go by and noting the excellent zen silence of the road being closed for a bit. As I sat, half-meditating upon the serenity of my place in the world, I came to a bit of a resolution; every Tuesday, even if I don't go on a proper walkabout, I'll at least do the Bull's Head, as to keep my lithe-a polite way of saying emaciated-figure and my trekking wits about me.

Traffic started moving again, as did I. There was the necessary evil of a trash run and a social call to my friend at the winery. I also wanted to swing by the library to start acquiring seasons of Northern Exposure for Sabina to watch. She's never seen it-imagine!-and, others within our Sahel refer to our funky little township as Colorado's version of that show. I find this to be a moral imperative, even if I do have the morals of an alley cat.

I can give Sabina shit for not having seen Northern Exposure or even Office Space-the corporate America survival guide, and we both did our penance in that perdition once upon a time-but I do get the backfists of perspective. My friend at the winery was going on about a show called Big Bang Theory and how it makes her laugh. I may have heard of this, but it's been many, many years since I've owned a television set, even then just for news, films, documentaries, and PBS. Pretty much what I do on the 'puter nowadays. A few years back, my daughter and my siblings gave up on asking me if I'd seen such-and-such show or commercial. The fact get excited about streaming a new episode of Nature or Nova doesn't surprise them. My daughter mocks me when I threaten to punish her for something like defying me and dating.

"What are you going to do, Dad? Tell me I'm grounded from TV when I visit you?"

Insolent whelp. She gets this from her mother, you realize. I'd never be that way.

Stop laughing...

By the time I got back to the House of Owls and Bats, thin cobweb clouds had begun to cover the sky. A harbinger; meteorological prophecy foretells of weather moving in, though it's to most cut south before doing an upslope upon the badlands of eastern Colorado. With the delightful feel to the air, one could be forgiven for questioning a storm of any kind being on its way. The way the weather's been period, comma, and explanation point, questioning weather other than dry is forgivable.

I sat back with some tea! earl grey! hot!-thank you for leaving that psychic auditory tattoo, Patrick Steward, you pigfucker-and some bluegrass on the radio. Potentially, there's a documentary from both! Nature and Nova I can stream. There's the historical society meeting if we board members can rustle up a quorum. Perhaps some jambalaya and sautéed greens for supper. The world is my metaphoric oyster, despite being many miles in distance and elevation from any of the world's oceans. As I relax, thinking of my wonderful mud day, the Talking Heads sing within the walls of my skull;

is where I want to be,
but I guess I'm already there..."

So it goes... 

17 February 2013

Being Home

It was years ago now, we were leaving the cantina with bellies fully of beer and chicken fingers and heads full of dreams. This was our Kashmir, home, and we were leaving it again return to our lives down in the greater metroplex. We were trying to work up our escape velocity, figuring out how to make it work. The siren's song of the city was no longer our jam, and it hadn't been for a bit.

We took a different route out of town that time. The way that would become our way to and from the cantina from home the rest of the time it was open. A way we still use to get to the park and museum and for walks around town sometimes. It was there, along the row of houses that line Rue Maji, we beheld a small Victorian. This in and of itself might not have been remarkable, our Kashmir being a funky little mining town. However, it was the sign, which read for sale, that got our attention. I got out and grabbed a flier. The pricing was affordable.

"We could do this," Sabina whispered.

"If you're serious, I know a mortgage broker," I told her. You'd think I'd sprouted a second head that was quoting fire and brimstone scripture for the look she gave me.

A few days afterward, Sabina had arranged for the first showing at what would become the House of Owls and Bats. A day or so after that, I was speaking with my mother, a mortgage broker by trade. The monkey's paw blood money from my father's mother was arriving in the post and we were relentless. It took eight weeks from when we spotted the house, when I grabbed the flier, when Sabina observed it might just be doable, and we were taking possession. A little less than a year from when we came to the realization this funky little mountain township was our place in the world, we made it home, something, which was the subject of song and story for about the first year we lived up here.

My mother first got sick during those whirlwind days. She was teleconferenced in for the closing because the chemotherapy and radiation treatments had been that much of a beating. I had no idea how many bridges I would unintentionally burn, how many acquaintances I'd never see or speak to again in this mad dash for the mountains. How un-citifed we'd become within just a few weeks of the move. For me, having grown up in rural environments, I suppose I shouldn't have been so shocked, though it was interesting to watch the change in Sabina. In the heat of those moments, it hardly mattered, we were living our dream and woe betide the pigfucker that got in our way.


It was Sabina that pointed out the time of year to me, which was amusing since I'm the one who generally keeps track of things. I went back through my observations and found the exact date; two days after a Rodrigo y Gabriella concert-back when the shit was real!-we saw on Saint Valentine's. Another time, another life. So it goes.

We talk about a walkabout. Though not blustery, stronger breezes whip through our Sahel. The sky is color of turquoise. Even looking out the window, so many years and lifetimes later, I still get the and we fucking live here! moments. Something I cannot imagine fading away, and, if it did, I'd probably find myself trying to find out of bullets were edible. I would ask if it's possible to have a love affair with a particular landscape, but I've read John Muir and Edward Abbey, and that right there provides me with my answer.

"The mountains are calling and I must go..."-John Muir

14 February 2013

This is Not a Love Story

"Your love has caught me darling
you've trapped me in your web,
You've tied my hands with silken cords
and tangled up my head, 
You took away the roses
but the thorns are what I miss, 
My heart is pumping desert sand
and you are my oasis..."-Space Team Electra

The first time she told me she loved me was in the swan song nights with her musician x. They'd been in-another-fight-shocking...really, I mean it...stop fucking laughing!-and, being the friend and confidant I was at the time, I was there for a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Yet, even as I reached out to comfort her, she recoiled.

"Please don't," she sobbed. "I love you too much for you to see me like this."

"Excuse me?" I wasn't sure I heard what I heard. After all, I've listened to a lot of loud music in my time. She shot me a look, her big doe eyes that shine like abalone shells blazing with emotion.

"Like you didn't know!"

The first time I mentioned I loved her was in the same breath as stabbing her in the gallbladder, but, hey, it wasn't my fault, she fucking started it...

I have been married before, and it has gone badly. Actually, the married part wasn't totally horrific. Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed it. It was the being kicked to the curb, the brain damage of divorce that I could do without. Then again, who really enjoys a breakup of any kind? No one sane, I'd speculate.

I told her once that I'd gotten cynical enough about marriage I'd only consider it if I was purposed to, and to fuckery with the social construct of reality to the contrary. I sure as fuck wasn't having any more girlfriends. One of my last girlfriends had left me with some deep psychic scars, and that just doesn't work for me.

One night at her studio flat, whilst listening to jazz and drinking wine, she crawled into my lap just like she belonged there. Many times before, she'd mentioned we fit, and I still vividly recall the first time she demonstrated. It was two days before our fateful first hop to the mountains in which we'd discover our Kashmir, and she asked me to marry her. I told her I was going to hold her to it, and, a few years later, the bruja did a semi-serious ceremony for us in the kitchen of the House of Owls and Bats. We high fived. It was fantastic.

Yet she tries to deny it. She'll make noises like she's being burned alive, noises hardly befitting someone nine years closer to half a century than I-and kook-koo-kachu, Mrs Robinson-if you use spousal terms in context of the two of us. Sempi calls her my not-wife, and, when not calling her my companion, I refer to her as my significant otter or my WTF? and that's just the way of it. It still doesn't stop me from reminding her that she did purpose to me.

"You came to me, Docksey. It wasn't the other way around."

"I was drunk!" She'll protest, which she knows I see as a chickenshit excuse.

"Bah! And I might have been a little drunk the first time I innocently, wholesomely, lanced you with my white-hot love-truncheon," I retort. "And you don't see me recanting, now do you?"

And she shakes her head and rolls her eyes at me when I say that, though I cannot fathom why... 

What? Were you expecting a love story?

It's not like I didn't try to warn her away. Me being me, which is an aberration, I might not be the easiest cat to live with in the best of times. Being the way she is, she didn't listen to me, because she can be obstinate, which is a polite way of saying stubborn as a half-starved ass.

"And look at what it's gotten us," she said the last time I reminded her of the afore mentioned obstinateness. It was a crisp day in our Sahel and we were out on walkabout. Chances are I at least smirked. I may have even kissed her.

I was charged with checking the post. This happens every now and again. In the box was a postcard. The message was in all lower-case letters-how E. E. Cummings-and purple ink;

"lilacs are purple,
daffodils golden like sunshine,
please won't you be my valentine?"

I might have smirked and muttered something under my breath about being smacked with a social construct on a particular calendar date. Were I romantic, I might have done a shruggie-thing, like a girl when she first falls in love. Luckily, I don't have a romantic bone in my body, because that would've been embarrassing.

12 February 2013


A few weeks back now, about a week or so before the end of the Long Dark, I was out back with hounds. It was a mild night; no wind and the ambient air temperature closer to freezing than not. The stars shone in their ice candle brilliance, and I took time to convey unspoken greetings to Orion and the Pleiades. A January full moon gazed down like the cold unblinking eye of serpent, lighting up the snow striping the avalanche chutes along Pendleton and crowning my person Kilimanjaro in a way that gets me to think of diamond dust. I caught myself smiling at the moment.

Yet, for the zen perfection of the moment, there was an undertow of macabre. Such is way, a sliding scale of paradoxical balance; for every perceived blessing there is a corresponding curse, and even good deeds have their consequences. Barely a few inches of snow covered parts of the back, and there were patches were winter-browned grass was plainly visible. The mild countenance of the evening spoke more of February going into March, or perhaps giving that month a miss and barreling straight toward April, than January getting ready to slough its calendar skin to February.

"This might be about the best we can hope for," I whispered to the night sky. Chevy, standing by me, took in a mouthful of crusted snow as a bit of a dysfunctional snack.

"You know when winter was?" Miguel Loco asked me a few days later when I spoke with him on the subject. "It was Christmas and right after New Year's. This is pathetic."

It was then we decided, winter was over and done with in the High Country. Or at least here in our Sahel. More than a month early, we were starting toward mud season. This has seemed to be something of a motif lately; being either a month ahead or behind in terms of the climate. We work to adapt to the new paradigm.

In some respects, it's not as bleak as last year, however. There's been snow up high. Loveland has had a total of one-hundred eleven inches this year-last year at this time, they were at sixty-seven-and the snowpack total for the state presently hovers at seventy-eight percent of normal, which is seventy-three percent of average. I do not know what it was this time last year, but I remember Miguel Loco saying it was pretty frightening.

Still, the drought isn't over, even if it would seem winter is. Even the recent dustings-and that's about all we got in our Sahel-have felt more like March snows than those of deep winter. I am not optimistic about us getting a major dump, which leaves the ski areas with plenty of snow and the river-feeding rafters and farmers-with plenty of water.

Part of me feels bad, because part of me wants it warm up more. To be late spring going into summer. I catch myself longing to ride my bicycle and wear shorts on walkabout. We received our first correspondence from the community garden, and I want to look at starts. My daughter might help us more on our plot this year.

Selfish, ridiculous thoughts, I realize...

Here and now, I watch. I like to watch. Later spring and summer will be here very soon indeed. Right now, earlier than anticipated, it is early mud. I listen to rhythms and rhymes of the cosmos, wondering if one of those celestial melodies will sing of at least a little more moisture to keep us from catching fire once it gets hot.

07 February 2013

Epilogue; The Custodians

Trace was taken down from Phantom Peak without further incident, just questions racing through his mind. That night, the storm moved in. A dusting of a few inches of snow coated the higher peaks. Had he not been found, he would’ve died of exposure, becoming a meal for the scavengers and bleached bones upon the tundra. Another victim of the mountain locals called haunted or cursed.

It was only when the doctors began to examine him that he really felt he had gone downhill. The skull fracture had caused swelling to his brain, which had damaged motor skills to his right side. Not that it really mattered; his right collarbone was broken in three places and his right forearm in six. He had broken his back, as was well his pelvis. His right leg was not so much shattered as ground into powder.

He would live, but it was questionable how well he would be able to function, let alone walk. Trace wondered if being told he’d survive, given the damage, was really good news after all. Maybe exposure was the better option.

“A few years ago, Lazarus’s big sister was in a rollover up Deneb Gulch. The doctors said she’d never walk again.” Ian said a few days later. “Six months later, she was dragging herself along through Leeds’s town park with a set of crutches. She’s determined to summit the Death’s Head in the next two years.”

Trace knew his cousin was trying to help. Telling him not to give up. The pain and the surgeries and talk of therapy made such pep talks sounds silly. A few days after Ian’s visit, a card arrived for him. It was a picture of some nameless snowcapped peak with a very brief message written inside;

If you give up now, then your injuries have beaten you. Bear that in mind.

-L. Lankin


It was the middle of March when Ian brought him up to Marrakech. His leg, precariously held together by pins, like a few other parts of his body, was encased in a brace and he hobbled along with crutches. One of his doctors remarked how proud he was of Trace’s progress and he mentioned the name Bast Lankin. The doctor chuckled.

“Her stubbornness is contagious,” the doctor said.

A fat full moon shone down upon the fresh fallen snow across Gaia’s Backbone, making the high peaks look like they were encrusted in a blanket of cut diamonds. Warm light and jovial voices spilled out of Magpie Jack’s. Trace smiled weakly to himself. It had been six months since he’d had a beer, and he intended to buy a glass of wine for the man who pulled him off of Phantom Peak.

Lankin was sitting with Bast and a brunette girl who was introduced as Sydney. He traded civilities with Ian that seemed strained at best. Even so, it seemed the two men respected one another.

“And how long before I pull you off another mountain?” Lankin asked Trace with a smirk that was rather predatory.

“Hopefully never again,” he replied. “But I want to start hitting trails again by summer. My girlfriend’s been taking me to Denver’s City Park to try walking a little more outside of PT.”

“That’s good. You’ll recover. Give it a season, you’ll be hitting the Backcountry again.”

“I’m hoping so,” Trace said. “I don’t know that I’ll be trying another shot at Phantom Peak.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Lankin mused.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened up there,” Trace said. “I swear I heard laughing and voices. I swear I saw a girl, and maybe even a guy, not a stands of aspens. And the mountain lions? Was I in shock, or did you really call them Mother and Father?”

Lankin’s gaze hardened. He seemed to be restraining something. Trace noticed how Bast was eyeing him strangely. Both Ian and Sydney seemed uneasy at the Lankin siblings’ reaction.

“Let’s go up to the bar and get a drink, Trace,” Lankin said suddenly. “I owe you a beer from our first meeting, and I’m sure Grizz would be interested to hear of your trials and tribulations.”

“Oh, sure. Let’s go.”

The others watched them go up to the bar. Grizz made an excited greeting at receiving his company, calling for a round, on him. Ian looked over at Bast, but quickly averted his gaze, going back to his beer. Sydney started to open her mouth, but was silenced by gentle squeeze to her wrist.

“Were you to ask some of these old-timers, like Grizz, we Lankins don’t die, we just disappear,” Bast began, as though in a trance. “That we haunt the wilderness, as it were. There are other old-timers who say our parents are shape-shifters. Some will claim to hear their voices on the wind and others say to have seen them just as they must have looked the day they left Lazarus and I.” She looked away, almost wistfully. “Then, there are those who say they appear as two groves of aspens; one with yellow leaves and one with red, far closer to tree-line than normal. And, of course, the mountain lions…

“They watch. Perhaps it is they are the ones who decide who comes out of the Backcountry and who doesn’t. Some would call it all ghost stories, and there’s a logical explanation. But they’re up there, and they’re always watching.”

05 February 2013

Watcher Upon the Rocks

For Trace, all he had were the moments. Moments of pain. Moments of cold. Moments of hunger. Moments of thirst. Moments of fear. Moments of anger. All of these were shrouded in intervening moments of blackness. He really had no idea how long he’d been where he was. Although, once he woke to the sight of the moon staring down at him like a cold half-lidded eye against phantasm clouds, giving him the impression at least one day had passed. Beyond that, time had little meaning. With what had happened to his right arm, it’s not like he could check his watch or reach for his phone to pretend to call for help.

He assessed the damage in stages. For every bit he discovered, the pain sent him back into the black. First, was his head, which had been wet and sticky on the left side. When he tried to touch it, it felt like something that was supposed to be solid gave way. He might have screamed before he passed out. Next, was the realization he could not feel his right arm, and it looked like his collarbone might even be sticking out of his shirt. Finally, he was able to lift his head up just enough to see his right leg was at an odd angle and partially buried.

First, he was terrified. Injured, half-buried under scree, this was not good. He was in no condition to move and it could be days before anyone even thought to look for him. Then, the anger came. He was angry that he thought he could beat Phantom Peak, that he let himself get caught in this situation, that he didn’t listen to the stories, that he’d stupidly left his pack behind when he went scrambling across the scree.

He was going to die. That much was obvious. He had no food or water with him and he was injured. What was worse about this realization was the knowledge that it was not going to be a quick death. Ravens would probably be picking at his flesh while he would still be alive to feel it.

The rain brought him back. Cold drops pelting his damaged frame. He opened his mouth and greedily gulped at the little bit of water falling from the sky. The breeze chilled him. He could already see the sky clearing, even if the clouds overhead were so ominously black.

Something was watching him. There was no doubt about it. He could feel the eyes burning into him. Slowly, despite the pain in doing so, he turned his head slightly to see what it was.

The mountain lion laid passively just a few yards to his right, its tail moving slightly. It didn’t look like it was going to pounce just yet. Instead, it just watched him. Only when another, far larger, cat walked up, did the first one stand to stretch. Trace swallowed back a hard lump just hoping they’d make it quick.

“Hello, Mother. It’s been a bit.” The voice sounded familiar. “I was just telling Father I was up here looking for someone that Bast said was in need of help. I’m sure she’ll just be positively tickled to know I reached him in time. Thank you so much for looking after him for me. It appears I have a new place to look for the lost here now.”

Both mountain lions were standing and watching. Then, they turned and began to walk away. Perhaps under normal circumstances, Trace would’ve been surprised beyond all reason, but he was on Phantom Peak. His experience here had taught him reason didn’t readily apply.

There were people checking him. He looked up to see a pair of familiar feline gray eyes framed by a mane of rust colored dreadlocks. The wine guy from Magpie Jack’s. Something that looked like a smile crossed his face.

“It’s alright, you’re okay,” he began. “You’ve been injured, but I’m here to help. My name is Lazarus Lankin. Can you tell me your name?”

“Trace…” He wheezed, his throat was so dry it hurt. “Trace McAlester.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Trace, Trace McAlester.”

“Just Trace,” he said, almost laughing.

“I know a girl named Just Sydney,” Lankin said in a friendly tone. “She’s yet to tell me the etymology of her name, though I think it’s Farsi.”

This got Trace to laugh, but then the pain seized him.

“Hush, relax, and save your strength,” Lankin cooed before looking over his shoulder. “Help me get his leg uncovered, then you haul ass back up to the summit to radio Connelly.”

“Do we have to worry about your…parents?” Ian asked as he started to remove rocks from around Trace’s leg.


“I never imagined you as the superstitious sort, Lazarus,” Ian mused. “Always living by that rule of respecting the Backcountry or it’ll kill you.”

“I do live by that, but you are up here because of a premonition from my sister,” Lankin said. “I allow for the possibility my parents have turned into a pair of mountain lions.” He shrugged. “It’s a leap of faith.”

“Isn’t a leap of faith the same as superstition?”

“Not really,” Lankin said casually. “Every moment here in the mountains is a leap of faith, and in the Backcountry? Doubly so.” He paused to chuckle. “Really, Deputy, I thought you’d know that by now.”

They worked in silence to get Trace’s leg uncovered. The sun came back out, warming things once more. Ian then began to hike back up to get a signal to contact Connelly. Lankin set about making sure Trace was stable enough to transport.

“You’re doing great,” he said in a warm tone. “We’ll be getting you out of here soon. In fact, we should be down in time for trivia at Magpie Jack’s, and you’re young and strong, you’ll be better and back to getting into Backcountry trouble before you know it.”

“I thought I heard someone,” Trace said weakly. “A girl. Thought I saw someone too, but it was just a tree.”

Lankin looked at Trace a moment before looking down toward tree-line. Along the krumholtz, the mountain lion pair stared back, before melting into the shadows once more.

“How interesting,” he muttered.

02 February 2013

Watcher Upon the Mountaintop

Ian liked to consider himself in good shape, but he could hardly keep up. Lankin set a merciless pace, only stopping long enough for Ian to catch up. The snarl on his face reflected his agitation at having to slow down. Above them, clouds were gathering and the air hinted of rain, perhaps even graupel.

Once Ian returned to Lankin’s he barely had time to transfer his gear from one vehicle to another. Lankin set off at a furious pace, getting them to the dirt tracks four-wheelers used around Gaia’s Backbone at a speed that would have resulted in a severe speeding ticket at the very least. He drove at least two, perhaps even three miles past any four-by-four road Ian was aware of before finally stopping, getting out of his vehicle and slipping into his pack before the engine had completely shut off. Lankin was already at least fifty yards away when he looked back at Ian, still getting his back on.

“We do not have time for you to dally, Deputy,” Lankin said, making no effort to mask his ire at the situation.

The sky turned black, matching his mood. Ian struggled to keep up. What was more unsettling than his companion’s mood was the fact he could feel eyes on him. Someone, something was following just out of sight. If Lankin was aware of it, he didn’t let on. He just kept his purposeful gate, marching toward the summit of Phantom Peak with grim determination of a pallbearer on the way to a gravesite.

It took two hours to reach tree-line from where they parked. Lankin finally stopped at a rather large boulder to have some water and unshoulder his pack. When Ian finally caught up, he looked on impassively.

“This is the trail, such as it is,” Lankin said. “Anyone who comes up here seems to intuit this route. It would seem that your cousin just kept going instead of turning around. If he was smart, he made for the lake on the other side, which is what the ones who come down off this mountain do.”

“And if he didn’t?” Ian asked breathlessly.

“If we don’t find him on this route, we won’t,” Lankin replied. “You’ll have to reconcile he’s one of the lost.”

“That’s a cold way of looking at it,” Ian muttered.

“No, Deputy,” Lankin corrected. “It’s realistic.”

A drop pelted Ian’s face, cold and jarring. There was a chill on the breeze. Although there was clear skies on either side of them, the sky above looked like it would open up with a deluge.

“It might blow over, but we should put on our shells,” Lankin said. “This boulder here has a nice cut we can use for a bivouac if needs be. The summer before my sister’s accident, we camped here.”

“You camped here?!?” Ian exclaimed. “With all the stories? My god! Why?”

“We had our reasons.”

They crawled inside the cut to put on their hardshells. Both men noticed the pack stashed next to the rock. Ian felt his heart sink at the realization of whom it belonged to. It didn’t fit; Trace was young and a little cocky, but to just leave his pack seemed too careless. Lankin noted the pack with a detached glance, his eyes tracking back out to dirt and rock landscape outside. It was starting to drizzle.

Movement caught Ian’s attention. He moved back toward the opening to get a better look, hoping it was Trace coming back to collect his pack, making this whole trip for naught. His hopes were dashed when he saw it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t even human.

The mountain lion looked to weigh three hundred pounds if it weighed an ounce. It was sitting looking directly at the boulder, directly at the two men. Without a conscious thought, Ian’s hand slipped down to the pistol he had belted to his waist. He only realized what he was doing when he felt a strong hand seize his wrist.

“Don’t you dare!” Lankin hissed.

With that, he pulled the hood of his shell over his head and reshouldered his pack. He stepped out into the rain causally, walking toward the big cat. Ian watched horrified as Lankin got to within just a few yards of the animal and stopped. The mountain lion could easily pounce if it so desired. At the moment it just watched as the person in front of it folded his arms across his chest and smiled off-handedly.

“Hello, Father. It’s been a bit.”

The mountain lion yawned before it laid itself down. It’s tail swished back and forth as something of an afterthought. If anything, it really didn’t seem at all interested.

“So, I’m up here looking for someone,” Lankin continued. “Someone Bast seems to think is alive, and perhaps in need of some help. Have you seen anyone like that?”

The mountain lion stood up and stretched. With another large yawn it revealed its full set of large teeth. It turned and started walking in the direction of a scree field.

“Are you coming, Deputy?” Lankin called over his shoulder as he began to walk, not bothering to see if he was being followed.