The last time I was here, I decided to post something that may never see the light of day. Today, however, I feel it’s a little more apropos to post what is on the horizon, a sort of look into the fantasy aspects of an epic thriller.
I started posting some of these parts last year on my own blog, and if you missed I:1:1 or I:1:4 of the work in progress (Driving the Spike), head on over to this link right…here: An Excerpt from the Work in Progress — I:1:1 and right…here: An Excerpt from the Work in Progress — I:1:4. I’m skipping some of the other stuff to make you wonder what happened.
I have a mean streak.
Mark couldn’t explain where he was and didn’t know if he even could explain it. He had been staring at a feather on the end of an Indian’s stick.
That was it.
Yet he found himself on a hill, the sun high overhead, a forest far below, bathed in the heat of the day. The hill itself was not forested, but covered with tangled and dead branches, their forms like spiders in death, black hairy legs contorted in agony. At his feet, the spider legs seemed snarled around his jeans, interwoven with the laces on his sneakers, determined to keep him rooted to this one spot. He tried to lift a leg, but it was apparent he wasn’t going anywhere.
Below the hill stretched a forest, the canopy of the trees obscuring anything else. Was this the Mogollon Rim? But the trees were not familiar, nor was it mountainous. They stretched from horizon to horizon, almost choking the scene. Was he now high above where he thought he should be, where his family was? He turned in his rooted spot and caught a glimpse–reflecting the sun like a jewel–of the feather he had been hypnotized by just a few moments before.
“What is this place?” Mark asked. He didn’t see the Indian, but he felt him, smelt sweet tobacco, heard a gentle wheeze through nostrils. He turned a little more and saw the man was close. In a way, he felt comforted.
The Indian didn’t respond with voice; rather, he lifted up the stick with the feathers and pointed toward the distance. Mark tore his eyes away and looked.
In the middle of the forest, maybe a thousand miles away by his estimate, he saw a small wisp of smoke rise from under the canopy of trees. It rose into the air like a tiny worm running through water, grey but quick. As it rose, the smoke worm grew tendrils and spread out, dancing with some unnoticed wind. Within seconds, the tendrils had consumed a portion of the sky. They lit down upon the trees and created shadows that were gloomy, unforgiving. The tendrils danced among the trees, but the feeling Mark felt was not one of amazement but of fear.
How odd his feelings could switch from comfort to fear in just a few seconds.
Mark tore his eyes away from the smoke worm and its tendrils and looked up at the Indian. He was like a statue, and deep lines crossed his face like the spider brush that entangled his feet.
“What is that?” Mark asked. He didn’t expect the Indian to respond to his language, but he didn’t know what else to say. If he’d known what a rhetorical question was, he would have thought perhaps that’s what he was asking.
“Watch,” the Indian said.
Mark jumped at the word. It was English and the tone was commanding, like he’d been scolded by his father and told to sit and be silent. He didn’t know what to think, what to do.
Slowly, he turned back to the smoke worm and its relentless growth across the sky. There were hundreds of tendrils swooping down out of that blackening sky now, no longer dancing but darting back and forth like tiny tornados. Where they hit the forest canopy, another smoke worm rose up to join its parent, and from it came more tendrils. The light turned hazy red then rust colored then brown and finally retreated as the sky filled.
Just below the hill Mark was rooted to, a tiny spark flashed in his eyes. It was there and gone in a split second–something seen, recorded, but not registered. His heartbeat quickened at the thought of what that spark might have been: a fire, an explosion, the light of the Devil’s eyes. Was this where his family had made camp? He still didn’t recognize the forest, but couldn’t imagine himself anywhere but where he had been when the feather grabbed his attention.
Another spark lit up in the forest to his left in the periphery of his vision. The sky had now darkened to something less than dusk but just a tad more than total night. He was fearful of what might happen, of what he might see, and yet, to his right stood the Indian, watching the forest with him, comforting Mark with mere presence and that ever-present, sweet tobacco smell.
The forest exploded in a burst of flame. The bright light blinded Mark for a moment and he felt his body jerk backward. He needed to run and pulled on his tiny legs to free himself from the spider brush, grunts of concern laced with fear erupting from his chest.
“Watch,” said the Indian, less authoritative and more reassuring than before. Mark felt the Indian’s hand firmly on his shoulder.
“I don’t want to see,” Mark said even as he stopped struggling to free his legs and focused on the apocalyptic firestorm in front of him.
“Vision is a gift.”
The forest was engulfed in fire from horizon to horizon, like a sea of flame and smoke. Mark shivered and then wondered why he would shiver at the sight of fire. Shouldn’t he feel the flames from below, feel the scorching earth?
As he watched the fires, he became aware of something that had started in the pit of his stomach, perhaps morphed from the feeling of fear and comfort that had raged a battle inside him.
He felt relief.
Flames, sparks, flickers and flares shot heavenward, lit the smoke-filled sky and colored it red, like the blood he once watched drip from a cut in his finger. There was symmetry and beauty with each passing second. There was a dance among the dying trees as they wavered in the intense heat and turned from green to brown to blackened sticks that only hinted at their once grand form. There was destruction; Hell had taken over all Mark could see, and yet inside he was happy.
“Will they all die?” Mark found himself asking. The question was unexpected, words spoken in slumber that remained a mystery upon wakening.
The Indian turned Mark away from the firestorm below and lifted the boy’s chin with his hand. He stared with dark eyes buried under the wrinkles of a long life. They stood in silence for a while, Mark’s question still hovering in the air between them. Finally, the Indian spoke.
“It takes a spark to destroy a forest,” he said. “But a forest burned is a forest renewed.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will remember and you will understand when the sky fills with smoke and red skies rise from the west.” The Indian placed his thumb on Mark’s forehead. At first the touch was cold, but soon warmed until the boy felt the fires from below stretch across his forehead. Mark creased his eyebrows against the pain, but couldn’t take his eyes off the man in front of him.
“Until then,” the Indian said, “remain silent until you are ready to speak.” He smiled and then was no more than a memory.