Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Secret of the Lost Tribe, Chapter One, Part Two

Begin with the beginning.

Then, earlier today, they had seen Ship Rock, a huge reddish rock formation whose several peaks must have reminded early Spanish explorers of the masts and sails of their sailing ships. Now Traynor looked past the green weeds and brush near the shoulder of the highway, across the yellow, sandy desert, to the red and brown buttes and mesas in the distance, under the pale blue New Mexico sky. He snapped some pictures with his FirstAmCam digital camera. Time and again, he was fascinated by this dry wilderness that was so different from the skyscraper canyons of his native New York City. But this fascination never lasted long with him — before long he was longing to return from these wonders of nature to the even greater wonders of man.

He sighed at the miles and miles of Navajo reservation flying by. "This has got to be the highway to hell."

"You mean because it was once numbered 666, the Number of the Beast? In fact, they even used to call it the Highway of the Beast. But then they renumbered it for conceivable reasons. Still, there are all kinds of scary stories. Sometimes drivers see the ghost of a girl in her underwear…"

"In a nightgown, actually. You're not the only one who likes to read that kind of stuff."

"Whatever. Anyway, she'll vanish if you give her a ride."

"That's nothing. When the moon is full, a phantom truck will appear and try to force you off the road. It will bear down on you at a hundred-odd miles an hour with flames shooting from its stacks and sparks flying from its wheels. And if you stop to let it pass, a pack of demon dogs will eat your tires."

"I thought they're called hellhounds."

"Then, a skinwalker may pop up in the backseat of your car — out of thin air."

"That's why I bought a roadster!" laughed Jennifer. "A skinwalker, as in 'Indian werewolf'? Cute. I'll put him on a leash and dazzle my neighbor Lars, you know, the guy who walks his python every night."

"Actually, a skinwalker is a shaman with the power to shape-shift into animals. Not only into a wolf but also into a coyote, a fox, a bear, an owl, and a crow. Into any animal. Or into nothing. That's why you don't see him coming."

"I thought if you don't see it coming, it's a fast moving train."

"No, if you don't see it coming, it's Jennifer Jordan."

"No, it's Kevin Traynor. Be that as it may, this highway will take us straight to I-40 at Gallup — even if I've got to flatten a couple of shamans and ghosts to get there. From Gallup, it'll be a walk in the park to Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and more photos."

"Amarillo by morning, huh?"

Jennifer braked. "Speaking of photos, I didn't buy any souvenirs at the Four Corners. Look there."

From some ramshackle stall beside the highway, a business-minded Navajo Indian was selling allegedly handcrafted pottery, wickerwork, and clothes.

"Well, we have got my photos."

She pulled onto the shoulder of the road. "They're only pixels on a chip. You know what happened to Dina Langdon. I'd like something tangible, too."

While Jennifer got out, Traynor remained seated.

"He'll cheat you. That stuff comes straight from some factory in Hong Kong."

Unimpressed with Traynor's warning, Jennifer looked over the displayed merchandise, and returned with an Indian deerskin jacket and a pair of moccasins. Everything was covered over and over with fringe and beads.

"What do you think?" she asked, still unperturbed by his warning.

"Would be OK without all those useless beads. To quote the gentleman we overheard on the riverboat in Pittsburgh, 'Who needs beads? I need beads like I need — cancer.' "

Back then, neither Jennifer and Traynor nor the gentleman and his companion had showed too much interest in the beads handed out at the nightly New Orleans themed party — Traynor, for one, had been more interested in nighttime views of the Golden Triangle.

She inspected the jacket in good light. "I rather like this stuff."

"You'll be sorry if you buy it. You'll never wear it, and have it gathering dust and mildew in some closet corner."

"Wanna bet?"

"Sure. If I ever see you wearing that pseudo-native junk, I'll gladly pay for it. I bet you won't wear it for a year. What will you do if I'm right?"

"Nothing. Because you lose." She took off her cowboy boots and her faded sweatshirt and stuffed them into the golf bag hatch. Then she slipped into the Indian jacket and moccasins. "Now get out and pay that gentleman."

Traynor snorted at seeing a glimpse of her "I Love New York" T-shirt under that savage garb. "Either you love New York or you love this kind of stuff. You can't have it both ways."

"I didn't say I love this stuff. Just souvenirs."

Traynor accepted the fact that he had been had. He walked over to the stall to pay the Indian.

Read on…

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