Previously on: “The Mysterious Caravan”
It was something that I saw, there near the river. I was with Jason. On the island, Cabin Island!
The copper cable is bound from the low branch of the Cottonwood on the south side of the river, stretching to the bending Willow on the island. It hangs rusting, catching floods, and wind. For nineteen feet it sags, never catching the muddy water of the San Juan. We begin then, once upon a time, a cold January day, two young boys hanging suspended on that brown frozen copper wire. Their small white hands, gloveless in the cold, wrapped tightly around the dark cable. I would guess their jeans held patches, legs wrapped tightly around coiled copper, as they inched their way across frozen darkened waters. It’s a different time, a time that you look through a child’s eyes. The beginning of voyage. You see, what two young boys see. Their eyes searching and hungry, and it could be wanting. Yes I would say those boys were wanting. Those lads, meant to cross to the other side, for somewhere there, they knew they could skip toil and trouble. Somewhere there, they knew hózhó lay, and indeed there my friend no dark valley thrived. For it was there that our dear young boys, ages eight and nine had their first adventure. It was there they found the temple. Indeed Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, known dearly to so many of you, as Frank and Joe Hardy began there. On the island, Cabin Island!
Reverend A.E. Sammons had settled into the little Wesleyan Methodist Mission compound by the San Juan River, in the fall of 1952. An Englishman, coming from parts unknown, his claim to fame outside of dispensing aspirin and salvation to the Navaho was that he had served in her majesty’s guard in India. In 1969 when my parents had taken an interest in helping the good Reverend out at the mission, he claimed to be ninety years of age, which in truth he looked the part walking solidly with a cane, and having a head full of white flowing hair. Many years later, I was to discover, that Mr. Sammons, or Dr. Sammons as he preferred to be called in moments of grandiosity, had been born in 1889, making his true age closer to eighty at the time. Sunday Morning services at the mission had an air of excitement as the old Englishman loved to regal his sparse audience with tales of his youth in her majesties guard. Long winded sermons usually concluded with strong admonishments not to sin. For emphasis on the punishment of sin, A.E. Sammons would often flail at the old scared oak pulpit, striking it over and over with his black cane, revealing his thoughts on how the sinner might be rewarded upon reaching the judgement day of the Lord.
The good Reverend had a bit of a gossip streak running up and down his dusky smelling black “Hickey Freeman” suits which I never saw him without one on. Except one time, more on that later. The man smiled, when not in his authoritative state of good English regimen, and the truth of the matter was he was a good man, but still as a child he bothered me. Perhaps it was his willingness to take on the title of Doctor, that even at the age of nine, I realized he was not entitled too. It could have been the way that he took the Navajo’s Jewelry in exchange for band aids and aspirin that troubled me. His penchant for discussing with my parents or any other adult who would listen, the trials and the troubles of his Indian flock, was in my young mind the ultimate of a religious statist sin.
It could be conversations I heard at Thanksgiving, at the mission in 1969. Words dripping from the old missionary’s mouth. Poor Albert Nakai, the sins of the father, traveling to the son. “The boy Jimmy, he died in Viet Nam, you know, I think it was back in September”. Old Albert just sins and drinks, and sits on that island”. “He burned the cabin out there, I think he’s doing Peyote, drowning his sorrows in evil”. “He came to me asking me what to do, he’s burying his kids’ stuff out there he said, coughing and crying around”. “He said he’s looking for harmony”. “I of course told him Jesus is the only harmony, just like the Lord said, give what you have until your poor, for such is the kingdom of heaven”. “I told him to stay away from that island, let the mission take care of it, somethings not right out there”.
Tuesday, January 6, 1970 7:35 AM
The bus hangs on the corner of the gravel road for a moment before righting itself on the pavement, heading north toward the zenith of the bluff and then downward toward the river. The cold permeates the thick windows frosting the inside, even as my breath dissipates the thin frost. I use my elbow to clear a small portal, enough to see out, as the bus descends toward the one way bridge slanting downwards over the muddy San Juan River. Its unusually quiet this morning, kids huddled together, as if the subzero temperature has sealed lips, and frozen buttocks to the thick green vinyl bench seats. A light snow throughout the night has mixed in with the tan sand of the high desert bluff, giving the ground the appearance of the rear end of an Appaloosa stallion running against the high thin air.
The river looks like the Arctic Ocean, slow moving, large chunks of white, bobbing, making their way westward. The Wesleyan Methodist mission on the north bank bows in deference to the damp cold coming off the water. The small chapel hides from the frosty morning wind, pointing its solid white back to the muddy frozen waves. The bus is midway over the bridge, when I see the island, so far up river to the east. It’s one of three really, the furthest to the north. I’m a little bit more awake suddenly, the blur of early morning semi consciousness gone quickly. The island, the one with Albert Nakai’s burnt cabin holding the helm of it, has an early morning visitor.
Albert Nakai, stands at the tip of his island, his arms upheld, holding a basket. Albert’s watching, all that distance across frozen water watching, maybe a quarter of a mile away watching, his eyes connecting to something he thinks I see. His traditional wear, moving shimmering in the morning freeze, and then his arms are moving, and something black is falling. I still see it, mainly in my dreams. My neck turning, my young eyes bulging, watching as the bus makes it way off of the bridge, black sand falling from the air above Albert Nakai’s face, covering, his eyes following, never leaving something he thinks I see.
Tuesday, January 6, 1970 7:45 AM
Ten minutes from the bridge, and I’m off the bus. A lone bird is flying above the long oblong green colored school, it sees what I do not see, running across the pavement. The ice coated lonely steel playground equipment watches me, running through the front door of Grace B. Wilson Elementary School. The heavy door hangs open, I’m skidding through the small hallway. Forward always forward. “Slow down Danny, no running in the hall”, I turn, my eyes a bit glazed from something I should have seen only minutes earlier. Judy Nelson, school secretary is standing in the open doorway to the principal’s office, she is smiling. Her eyes survey me, and then slowly they tilt downward, almost meeting her now pursed lips. The corners of her mouth turning even, as if to say “something noted, but what gained”. I look back, and then she’s gone, I’m walking now, through the library door. My eyes searching, length and breadth, the television in the corner, blaring “Mr. Green Jeans” from KRQE in Albuquerque. I see him then. He sits there at the long table in the northwest corner of the library. We call it the “Hardy Boy” lab. His glasses are almost dripping from his nose, the white tape binding both sides of the thick black frames together, his head dipped in reverence reading fervently from the brown covered book he holds carefully in his hands.
“Jason, guess what I”, I’m almost shouting. “Shhhh”, Lee Ann Hickman, librarian, looks up from her half glasses, the overhead luminescent reflecting off of her silver spun hair. “Listen”, I’m almost on him now, his face reflecting a knowledge, of adventure that only a Hardy Boy can have. “This Indian”, I start, and as Jason puts down the Hardy Boy book he’s reading, I know. I see it in the book he’s reading. The school bell is ringing, and I see it all. In Albert’s eye’s the understanding. I look down at the book Jason has so carefully placed upon the light oak wooden table. Mr. Green Jean’s, in the background, signing off for another day. “The Mystery of Cabin Island” lays before me, between us. The mystery will be discussed at first recess. No doubt it will fill our days, but I know. At nine years of age I know. Without a word spoken between us. The blue eyes behind the taped plastic framed glasses glowing, Jason knows. It is something that we see.
Tuesday, January 6, 1970 10:15 AM
We huddle against the old brick gymnasium that sits directly to the west of the school. Its tall blank southern wall glares down upon us offering only token resistance against the weather. The outside air is bitterly cold, and a wind has picked up out of the northwest, sending the mercury into even a deeper dive then it was earlier in the day. We have twenty minutes of recess time to talk, an eternity for two excited young sleuths eager to put a mystery into the making. “So the guy was pouring dirt on his head”, Jason’s voice has yet to reach the pitch of incredulity that his blues eyes are reflecting behind his glasses. “Umhmn, yup and he’s right in front of the cabin he burned too”, my head is nodding up and down, trying to keep the pace of the story from stalling into normalcy. “Ole Reverend Sammons says that burned cabin has something wrong with it, says he’s told Albert to stay away from it, but he won’t”, I finish my final words in a falsetto, partially for effect, and a bit from the cold. “Jeez, do you think Sammons is right”, Jason’s jaw is moving, trying to keep his teeth from chattering, but I have his interest now, and the cold can wait to be dealt with later. “Yeah maybe so”, I say, “May be Albert’s right, but for sure there’s something going on out there”. Jason stares hard at a spot on the pavement that’s been dug out by the harsh climate of New Mexico, “Could be there’s something on the island that Albert’s protecting”. He stares harder, and then almost a whisper, “could be Sammons doesn’t understand what it is”. The bell’s ringing, I’m staring at Jason, the cold enclosing us in a circle that includes the spot on the pavement.
The day stretches into a cold grey eternity between the morning recess and the lunch hour. Mrs. Breckenridge’s, third grade class room enters the abyss of my wandering mind. I’m thinking of what Jason said. It had a sensitivity for Albert Nakai, and yet it gave Reverend Sammons, a man I thought wanted something Albert had, the benefit of a doubt. I had told Jason about Sammons in the past, and how he seemed a little strange, and yet here was Jason, a Mormon kid, giving the Wesleyan Methodist mission pastor a pass. None of it explained what the old Indian was doing out on the island this morning, no siree Bob, it didn’t. That there, was a mystery that we Hardy’s had to solve, and by lunchtime recess, I hoped one or the other of us would have an answer.
Tuesday, January 6, 1970 3:50 PM
The wind has died down, the daylight quickly sinking into a dark gray icy gloom, as the school bus makes it way past the Fruitland Post Office and the trading post. I push my face against the cold window, wishing the glass would reveal an answer to the mystery of Albert Nakai, and his island on the river. Jason and I have made little headway during the day, in our recess attempts to solve the mystery. The temptation to play a good icy game of playground football during the lunchtime break was more than either of us could resist. The afternoon’s twenty minute recess, had failed to render even a first clue, on what might be going on out by the river, or even what our next steps should be to solve the mystery.
The bus makes a sharp left, heading northward toward the river and the bluff. The low lying river delta looking like frozen tundra, the small willows dotting the landscape bent under the weight of the thick ice. I’m sitting on the left side of the bus, which will provide me an eastern view of the river, and once again Albert’s island. I find I’m holding my breath, as the bus passes the mission and begins its ascent of the one way bridge. The frozen water looks like a mummy coming unwrapped vapors rising upwards and then curling northward toward the bluffs. My nose is tightly pressed against the cold window, my eyes staring, looking past the sandbar bend, that moves out behind the mission. There, over there in the winter afternoon shadows, those rays of darkness with no sight. There in the rising cold mist, is the pointed bow of the island, the outline of the burnt cabin drawing the darkness into its womb, and yes possibly a lone figure staring, seeing something, I now see.
Tuesday, January 6, 1970 11:30 PM
Dinner is late at the Swearingen’s Nenahnezad residence. It consist of my dad’s favorite, liver and onions. That and the mystery at hand has led me to a sleepless night. My tossing and turning is full of questions concerning Albert Nakai and the island in the river. I tried asking my parents about the island, at supper, but the question is overruled. They have other subjects to discuss. “A.E. Sammons is coming to the school tomorrow to give the sixth graders a talk, about his time in India”, my dad sounds excited. He works at the Nenahnezad Bureau of Indian Affairs School, as a language Arts Specialist. My mom and dad have been trying to get Sammons, an inroad into the boarding school, to spread the good news of Jesus for a while now. “Is Reverend Sammons going to wear his “Sherwani“, my mom has that breathless sound, her right hand to her mouth. I assume she is talking about the sheet costume with a red sash. Sammons has been known to preach from the pulpit wearing the thing. I look over at my younger brother Timmy, he is stirring his onions in a circle around the liver on his plate trying to find a place to make it all disappear. My little sister Janell is swatting at something invisible under the table. Dinner provides no answers to my questions.
The island is almost dark, strange lights appearing out of the water moving down the south side, foaming in its muddy speed to move by. The trail is sandy and damp, moving, surrounded by wet willows, branches loaded with yellow leaves. The wind has picked up going in no particular direction, the small river trees, and bushes swaying like crazy dancers to an unheard beat. The path grows wider. There’s someone gliding, almost walking with me. The wet hand touches my left arm, I don’t scream, it’s gentle, comforting. “Frank its Joe”, I look over, Jason’s walking by me, his blonde hair shorter, he looks older, taller, somehow different. “I brought the book”, he says. He holds up the brown cloth covered book. I can see the title, the small font, and the familiar sleuths, engraved on the front. It’s “The Mystery of Cabin Island. “Where’s your glasses”, I’m whispering, but my voice seems to carry above the wind. Jason looks at me, he’s close, his blue eyes almost glowing, “I don’t need them here”, he says, his voice different somehow, older. We are walking into the island now, the trail glowing, the earth smelling rich. I look up, the sky is full of a moon, a red moon, its reflection covering, the path around us. “What is this place”, I’m whispering again. “Carrion, trail”, Jason whispers back and for a second he looks worried, and then he smiles again, “it’s okay Frank”, he says, “we’ll be to the temple soon”.
I’m awake, the house is dark, and still. My brother stirs in the bed next to me. Somewhere in the next room I hear my dad snoring. I stare at the window that sits above the bed, my eyes adjusting, to the darkness. Somewhere outside, may be as far away as the river, I can hear the sound of a drum beat.
Wednesday, January 7, 1970 10:15 AM
We sit with our backs against the south gymnasium wall, the brick feels like ice, the cold occupying my coat, making a mockery of my shirt, creating a home in my young vertebrae. Jason holds “The Mystery of Cabin Island” between his knees, having checked it out that very morning. We have yet to speak to each other this cold bitter day, a strange occurrence to happen between friends, stranger yet has been our lack of eye contact. It’s as if we have moved in tandem, by instinct coming to this our place by the wall, silently side by side, just like last night in my! “I dreamed about the island last night”, Jason’s words tumble from his mouth like cubes of ice falling into a thick glass. He looks up at me his front wave of blonde hair spiking into the air with the light cold breeze. “Whaaat”? I’m staring at him, I’m sure my eyes popping balloons of energy, “I”, I begin and then stop. “You dreamed too”, Jason is grinning, believing, knowing I believe, and then we are both grinning. “You tell first”, he says, and then grabs my left knee with his hand tightly, “no I will”. He’s Joe Hardy, the younger brother, impatient and impulsive, lighter in thought, like his dream, full of mystery and criminals, and adventure. An amazing vision of a calculating A.E. Sammons trying to take the island away from Albert Nakai. I’m Frank Hardy, the older brother, brooding and thoughtful, my dream full of mystery, unfinished, a path leading into darkness under a red moon, something there, that I don’t know if I want Jason to see. When it’s my turn, my dream is a tale of Sammons, trying to get the island away from Albert, his motives impure, he’s looking for Nakai’s silver treasure on the island. We are both laughing, nudging each other, friends and Hardy’s again, a mystery to maneuver and solve.
For a moment a dark cloud covers the cold winter sun above, bright sun spot hallucinations dotting the air overhead. It occurs to me that Jason might be lying about his dream too. As if to bring fact to my thoughts, the cloud, removes its cover to reveal our sudden somber faces. The bell rings, it is the end of recess and we are quiet again.
Wednesday, January 7, 1970 5:15 PM
“Vera you should have seen him, you just should have seen him”, dad’s face is aglow. I’m not sure if he’s truly excited, I’m thinking there’s a touch of doubt in his voice. “Did he wear his Sherwani“, mom’s voice is more genuine, enthralled. I assume they are talking about Reverend Sammons visit to the Nenahnezad School today. Dinner is an improvement from the liver and onions of the night before, roast beef sandwiches and green beans, something quick. We have to be down to the mission for Wednesday night services by 6:30. Something I normally don’t look forward too. Jason and the other Mormon kids get their church over with early. An old yellow school bus picks them up from school every Wednesday, and they go to something called primary. “Kind of a weird message Sammons had for the kids today”, dad’s got a mouth full of roast beef, trying to talk. “Really, didn’t he talk about India”? Mom sounds hurried now, she’s always the herder trying to get us to church on time. For once I’m with mom, I know it will be dark down by the river, but just the same, I’m thinking maybe I might get a chance to grill Sammons on what he knows about Albert Nakai, and the island. “Not much about India really”, my dad’s saying, he’s finishing his roast beef, the last bite, and contemplating if he has time for a round of ice cream. “No not much about India”, dads getting that sound of doubt again in his voice, “Sammons kept quoting from the book of Daniel, chapter seven, verse ten, I think”. “He was telling the kids you don’t want to be stuck on an island in a river of fire”.
I’m thinking if my luck holds out I might just get a quick run around to the back of the church, and out to the riverbank. Yes indeed it’s dark alright, but you never know what being that close to the island might draw up. What a thrill it might be, to possibly run into Albert Nakai himself, out carrying a lantern, its light reflecting off the river ice, what a story, I would have to tell Jason tomorrow. You never know, you just never know.
Wednesday, January 7, 1970 6:17 PM
The single headlamp on the old flatbed truck, is waiting for us as we exit the one lane bridge, my dad’s hands already moving into position to turn a sharp right onto the mission property. I’m sitting on the left side in the back seat, of the car. Not a good placement to look out and see anything as we cross the cold dark bridge. However it’s a fine view, to see the face of the man. That stern lined face, staring. The rolled down window of the one eyed flatbed truck is waiting, just as if it was meant to wait there, an entire eternity, for me to see.
Albert Nakai’s eyes are seeking, grieving, praying and searching, as we drive by. So slowly it seems we drive by. Perhaps his eyes are looking through me, through our car, after all we block his view in the darkness of the river, the muddy, frozen ice capped river. I turn then, ashamed and amazed. For those few small seconds, I see what Albert sees, and it seems private, a matter that belongs to an ethereal plain of understanding. For you see he is crying. Large wet tears, that spring from the dark eyes and drain down the shadowy brown lines of his weathered natural face. There is that unnatural definition that we give our daily lives, in which we breathe, and facilitate our man birthed religions, and then there is the moment when you glimpse something wonderful. The rawness of nature, powerful, primitive and enigmatic that which does not need law to survive, that which comes from millennia and that which tilts worlds. If there was nothing else to share with you from this story, then perhaps I would labor more upon that moment, there in time and what it did for me. However I am sure something tells you there is more, and indeed there is, more. For a door has been opened, and it contains the seeds of the end of all time as we know it. Shall we continue?
“Is that Reverend Sammons”, my mom’s voice carries, as if coming from the exit of a windswept tunnel. Indeed it is that, with the wind having picked up, and both the front, driver and passenger doors open on the car. My dad is standing, by his open door, blocking my view of what both of my parents are looking at. The small white chapel with light flowing from its three west windows, stands, next to the dirt parking lot, the leafless large cottonwood that shadows the space, hides the rest of my view from what my parents are staring at. “What’s he doing by the river”? My dad sounds nervous, uncertain of what is going on. He’s turning as I open my car door, “Danny stay in the car”, but it’s too late. I’m free of the backseat, the cold wind hitting me like an icy slap, and I’m already around my dad, staring into the darkness. I can hear my mom in the distance somewhere to my right, back further back telling my dad to get me, but it’s too late. The thin layer of ice filled snow, crunches under my feet. The shadows from the cottonwood’s large limbs overhead mix with the light coming from the chapel, throwing a dim path down toward, the riverbank. A gust of strong cold wind shakes the very ground, I’m running on, and then I see him, and I stop.
His shape moves bending and twisting in the wind, the outline of his turban against the backdrop of darkness, making his head look misshapen, the dark cane rising and falling as he walks toward me. A.E. Sammons in his Sherwani, strides through the thin snow, the light from the chapel windows reflecting off of his black framed glasses, traveling down the bright red scarf he wears. He looks like a Templar, as he nears me. I begin to think his cane, could be used much the way a sword might, but he is close enough that I can see him smiling, and as he passes me, he rubs my head gently. I hear him talking to my dad. “Brother Swearingen, its cold out tonight”, Sammons voice sounds aged, but strong, a slight English lilt to his R’s. He’s continuing on to the front of the church, the Wood’s family in their old green truck are pulling in the drive way. The lights from the Wood’s truck pick up Sammons waving his cane, as if he’s Moses leading the people out of bondage. I can still hear him talking. “I had to chase Albert Nakai off the property just now, he was trying to walk over the thin ice from our side to that island of his”. “I told him I’m in charge here, and he can’t trespass”. “I keep telling him the Lord wants him to give up that island, give it all to the Lord”.
Before I went into the church that night, before I heard Reverend A.E. Sammons preach from the book of Daniel, chapter seven, verse ten, I walked out to the dark riverbank in back of the chapel. I looked over the ice of the frozen San Juan. The shore line jutting out into the river with its willows and brush blocked my view of the island, but they didn’t block his, no they didn’t block his. Albert Nakai’s flatbed truck sat idling on the bridge, its one headlamp angled up disappearing into the upper bluff in its shadows, and I knew he was there, sitting, watching and waiting.
Thursday, January 8, 1970 3:00 AM
“Frank, you can rest later”, Jason, the somehow different Jason is shaking me. The sand is falling off my shirt, as I straighten my back. “How long have I been asleep”? The light from the red moon over the island seems brighter now, bouncing its light over my friend’s face and uniform. “There’s no sleep here, just rest I think”, Jason’s smiling as if he has a great secret, he can hardly wait to tell. He starts to walk off, and then stops, he’s motioning me to follow him, using the brown covered “Hardy Boy” book. “You should call me Joe here”, he says, “I think it’s almost expected”. I don’t answer him, at least not right away. The brush and willows have thinned out around us, it doesn’t smell so damp anymore. I can hear the river close by, we must be close to the north shore. “Hey um Jas-uh Joe what’s with the uniform“? I have to ask, he looks like he’s all dressed up to be in the Marines or something. He turns around, the moon light reflecting off a medal he’s wearing, kind of looks like a weird shaped cross surrounding a circle. He’s grinning almost looks like the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland”. “Just wearing the uniform to help Albert out”, he says, “Jimmy says he’s getting ready to pass over”. “Pass over'”? , I’m feeling a little disorientated here, I’m sure it sounds that way in my voice. Jason or Joe neither one seems interested in defining terminology, or how’s or whys here on the island.
The breeze is rattling a few of the leaves on the small willows that have already turned. The shaking sounds like a baby rattle, and for some reason, that is a little disconcerting. The water appears before us suddenly, and I forget about the baby rattle sound. Jason (Joe) stops abruptly, and I have to veer to his left to keep from ploughing into him. I have never seen the San Juan look like this. The muddy water is rolling and crashing, waves pitching into the air like an angry sea. The red moon’s rays fall across the watery tumult, giving the rising dark waves the appearance of fire. “It’s never looked”…I begin, looking over at Jason (Joe), and I stop. He is staring intently across the river, his blue eyes rigid, almost orange reflecting perhaps both the river and the moon. His voice is soft, ethereal, “Frank, did Sammons preach from Daniel, chapter seven, verse ten, tonight, did he”? “What”? I hear my own voice, it’s softer more worried sounding, than my friend, as I follow his eyes across the burning river to the dark north shore, and the old man in the turban, wearing the red sashed Sherwani. As I watch, Reverend A.E. Sammons lifts his black cane slowly from where he stands, and points it at me.
I awake gasping, in folds of homemade patchwork quilted blankets. My brother doesn’t seem to notice, and I exit the squeaky bed, and stand below the high window in the room, the darkness leaking through, the heavy green curtains. The linoleum floor is cold on my bare feet, the circular braided rug not quiet reaching the edges of the room. I can hear it, somewhere there in the distance, near the river, sounding like my heartbeat, my heart has become a drum.
Thursday, January 8, 1970 2:10 PM
We sit there against the brick gymnasium wall, the sun bright, the air unbroken by the surrounding playground noise. The day brings the warmest temperatures of the week. Our four feet, they’re like a parade in a row, bending outward toward the north, saluting the direction of the river. “I think Albert Nakai is like Elroy Jefferson“, Jason says, he’s studying the familiar hole in the pavement that marks our spot by the wall. “Elroy Jefferson” is the elderly, antique collector, in “The Mystery of Cabin Island” that request the “Hardy Boys” help in finding his missing grandson Johnny. “How can we help Albert”? My question has taken on a note of sad sincerity, with a touch of mystery. “Jimmy’s dead, Sammons said he was killed in Vietnam just last September”, I finish my statement sounding a little less certain, then sincere. “Maybe there’s something Sammons don’t know”, Jason’s suddenly looking at me his eyes lighting up. “We should find Albert, and talk to him”, Jason’s starting to get wound up, his voice taking on a higher octave. “We should visit the island”. He’s almost pushed himself into a standing position looking down at me. “What about what Sammons says”? I start to caution, my inner Frank Hardy thinking of the sound of the old preacher’s voice and warnings. Jason’s not listening, he’s channeling his inner Joe Hardy, impetuous, and headstrong. “I should stay all night at your house tomorrow, would your parents let us go down to the river”? Not a chance I’m thinking, but then I remember, my parents are meeting with Sammons Saturday afternoon. He wants to talk to them about taking over the fledgling Sunday school program at the mission. I look up at Jason, he looks for a brief moment like the Jason in my dream, and for a moment I feel a shiver, and then I shake it off. “I think I know how we can do this”, I say, “We just need to figure out how we are going to get over to that island”.
Friday, January 9, 1970 3:50 PM
The answers come from the strangest sources throughout the day. Places we would not think possible provide the manna for our journey through the wilderness. Jason happens to gather bits and pieces of the story of Albert Nakai’s island from his older brother Bert. Apparently Bert Waite, along with a Baumgardner, a Foutz, maybe a Farnsworth, they gather together, occasionally with some old man, a retired cop from the thirties. He goes way back. Somebody who traps and runs the river. Boys influenced by a man of the earth, tobacco stains running from his mouth, he tells the boys where game can be found, tells them how to know the river. He tells them to stay away from the island, the land near the one way bridge. Albert’s island, the long island. There’s quicksand there he says, spinning whirlpools, that will suck a man under the island itself. Some strange darkness, why he’s even seen the old Navajo crossing from the mainland on the south side to the island. The old Indian has a cable stretched between trees down there to cross over. He saw him do it himself, of course the old Navajo saw him too. It was a strange thing he tells the boys. It was like the old Indian read his mind.
The school bus glides by the Fruitland Post Office and Trading Post, making its southerly turn, headed for the river, and the bridge. Jason and I sit side by side, barely breathing, the bus around us erupting with the joyous sounds of Friday and the weekend ahead. “The Mystery of Cabin Island” rest between us holding up our young sides, checked out, under Librarian Lee Ann Hickman’s careful guardianship. Unbeknownst to us it will never be returned. It seems that we have been waiting for this moment forever. It seems impossible that we have not always been here in this mystery. Stranger yet, to think it will never leave us alone.
We are “Frank and Joe Hardy, our eyes alive, watching the bridge come into focus. The world moving slower, the sounds around us, dimensionally out of tune. I see one of the mission gates swinging back and forth on its own, harboring the wind that has found its way from points west. We are there then, crossing the bridge, the water beneath us, no longer frozen, its muddy waves, catching the late afternoon sun, giving the river the appearance of rolling fire. The world a winter haze this 9th day of January, 1970, dates and numbers, spans and measurements building our lives for something greater, wiser, than time. He is there too, by the burnt cabin on the island, and this time, Jason sees something Albert sees too. As the school bus exits the one way bridge, I watch the back of my friends blonde haired head turn, as if in slow motion, his eyes have rain in them. “It’s just like the dream”, he whispers.
Friday, January 9, 1970 10:30 PM
We have taken turns throughout the evening reading, “The Mystery of Cabin Island“, looking for clues, perhaps tips to help us in our own mystery. The only thing in common we have found is a mysterious character in the story wearing a white robe and turban just like Sammons. It’s enough for two young sleuths though, and we go into the night, planning and scheming on what our adventure on the morrow might bring. We talk and lay the best of plans, and plan for every outcome that might befall us, but we do not discuss our dreams, nor let our thoughts tarry on any possible misadventure.
“Do you think Albert has buried treasure out on the island”? I whisper the question in the dark bedroom. We have the green curtains pulled aside, were standing on the bed, leaning into the oak bookshelf headboard, staring into the night. It has started to snow. “I think the Hardy’s would look at the obvious”, Jason’s voice in the quiet room has an air of knowledge to it. I look over at him, he’s got the know it all grin on his face. “Like what, chicken butt”? I’m doing my best to sound indignant, thinking maybe a good pillow to his head might be a worthwhile venture. Jason puts his hand up to his chin, as if he’s Sherlock Holmes addressing Watson, his voice taking on a deeper inflection. “He acts like he needs help leaving the island”, he says. “What about Reverend Sammons, wonder why he wants Albert gone”? I’m thinking out loud, looking once again outside at the falling snow. “Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is Albert needs in order to leave the island”, Jason says. And, for the second time this day, I look over and see rain in my friend’s eyes. A silence envelops us, as we close the curtains and lay down. From somewhere across the frozen field, no doubt near the river, a drum is beating.
Saturday, January 10, 1970 2:20 PM
The perfunctory introduction between Jason and Reverend Sammons is brief, and then we are out the door of the man’s small modest abode, which sits next to the church. My parents sipping strong tea, with the old Englishman, are already in discussion over their mission roles, and the Lord’s work to be accomplished. Indeed they pay us no heed as we slip out quietly, for it is a day and a time, when young boys play in the storm, and dare the cold of winter to give them adventure.
A veil of snow descending, a shroud of covering, a wall of cold to hide behind, as we move beyond the mission gates, and onto the one way bridge. I’m leading the way, hoping for no traffic, no lights in the blinding snow, no questions asked of two young boys as to how they come to be traversing a bridge in a blizzard. I pause to look one time, hoping to see the island, hoping to see Albert beckoning us, to come, to learn, to solve our first mystery. I can see nothing, but snow, and so we move on, hoping our invitation to adventure is just ahead.
We are more than halfway, over the bridge, when I hear the heavy sound of a large vehicle moving from behind us. I look back frantically, for a moment, catching the panic in Jason’s eyes. From behind him, maybe as far back as the bend in the road before the mission gates, I can make out the low beams of a large dark truck moving slowly. “What are we going to do”? Jason’s voice is loud husky with cold, and worry, for once not impetuous, not “Joe Hardy” like at all. “Run”, the action verb slips from my chattering teeth, sounding like the hiss of a geyser before it erupts. Our steps quicken, picking up globs of the wet snow from underneath us, weighting our shoes. We are in slow motion, plodding, breathing loudly, Jason’s smaller frame, faster than my own, moves to my side and then before me. I can’t listen anymore, for the truck behind me, my senses have shut down, better to not know how close it is. Better to be in denial of who it is. We are running, losing, in time and distance, and then Jason is looking back at me, his eyes wild. He points to the railing, and I know it is time. “Now” I scream, and for one moment my hand freezes upon the bridge’s icy railing, and then I am flying, hanging in space and time for such a moment, as I jump from the bridge. Somewhere so close, I hear Jason gasp and for an instant I feel a snow covered shoe graze my flying brown bangs, and we are falling.
The snow, hides an occasional rock, a bush a tree. We are rolling downhill a steep embankment, grunting loudly, I finally stop, well before the riverbank. Jason stops too, hanging around a small leafless willow, his glasses still miraculously adjusted perfectly on his face. “Ouch, my butt”, I’m loud, complaining about what pain I think I should feel. “SSSHHHH”, Jason’s looking sternly at me, his finger to his lips, his other hand pointing upwards at the bridge. I listen intently, and I can hear the truck slowly almost stopping overhead, so nearby, it’s almost as if you can see its tall dark shadow on the bare trees above us. I hold my crossed jinxed fingers up, just a few feet away from me Jason does the same, and it works. We hear the truck grind on, continuing up the bluff. Our adventure can continue unscarred.
Saturday, January 10, 1970 2:35 PM
We hug the riverbank, the snow pelting us from the northwest, building its nest in our hair. The cold jarred from us just minutes before from our exciting jump has returned. At times we have to climb up the steep embankment, to get around the washed out areas of the riverbank. The muddy water looks angry, small chunks of ice floating by. What had seemed but just a short hike, seems to be taking forever. We figure we have one hour, before someone looks for us. The day already appears to be done, the low hanging snow clouds giving the appearance that darkness is just around the corner. “I brought the book with me”, Jason’s voice so close behind me, surprises me, with its meek sound. “You put it under your shirt”? I ask him, not at all surprised at his forward thinking, after all good guidance can always be useful in an investigation. “Umhum”, he says, “I hope it doesn’t get ruined”. “Yup, Ms. Hickman would kill you”, I’m nodding my head as I speak with an authoritative shake, “probably kill me too”.
Saturday, January 10, 1970 2:50 PM
The muddy drops of the San Juan stand out on my clenched red hands, so tightly wrapped around the copper coil, I can feel the strands of the rough wire biting through my jeans. It’s easier not to look, not to think, to close myself off from the angry water beneath me, and the dark snowing heavens above me. We inch along the dangling cable to the island, hand over hand, dragging our wrapped legs bit by bit, praying that the trees that hold the cable at each end, do not bend any further. I go first, feeling the responsibility of being “Frank Hardy“, the older brother. I find myself peering through squinted eyes through the snow, and river spray, at Jason. He crawls behind me, hanging more loosely from the cable then I would like him to, his eyes open, popping blue behind his thick framed glasses. He’s grinning at me. I turn my head away, looking upside down, the island and a thick strand of snow covered trees, are within touching distance, we are almost there, and suddenly, I’m grinning too.
The wind has picked up. The snow which has piled itself in small drifts, spins into the air, looking like breath shooting upwards from the ground. The few willows that were bent over, as if in supplication to the opposite shore, have thinned now. We walk on the southern edge of the island moving with its bend toward the northwest. Within but a few yards, we see the silent dark burned cabin, it’s threatening broken fixture, staring at us, a beacon that has haunted my mind for over the past five days. The noise from the river, sister meeting sister at the point of the island, roars, like thunder scorned by a sunny day, waves rising above the island bow, and rolling backwards on its shore. Jason and I have not spoken since we found the cable to cross over to the island. Words have not seemed necessary, as if we are emotionally and physically being drawn by some force that declares no outer language. The skies above us have darkened to a charcoal gray, and the snow has increased, falling as if it’s content, must compete with the rolling river around us.
We walk faster than perhaps we should, the cabin with its charred broken timbers, giving out ominous warnings, but then we are there, with the cold and darkness wrapping itself around us. “Uh, Mr. Nakai are you here”? My voice breaks the silence that has bound us. It sounds small, more childlike than I’d hoped it would. I watch Jason step through the broken doorway. His adventurous spirit that makes him “Joe Hardy” is in control. He looks back at me, clearing his throat, his glasses reflecting light, peeking through the dense clouds overhead. “He’s not here”, he sounds disappointed, almost distressed. I on the other hand, am thinking this is a good thing. My sleuthing, adventurous spirit has grown cold, and tired. More than that, I’m thinking we might be close to our hour being up, and we might be in a speck of trouble. “Hey, Jas…”, my voice trails off as he walks into the chasm of the cabin, I can still see him, there’s some light coming through places, where there used to be a roof. I begin again, as I watch him bend down, looking at something on the ground. “Hey Jason, maybe we shoo…”, “Well lookie here”, I hear him say, “Come lookie at this”!
The shiny silver ring is aglow in the melted snow. It rest on the floor of the cabin, its weight placed upon a surprisingly dry, wrinkled piece of paper. “What do you think this means”, Jason’s looking up at me holding the piece of paper. I’m more interested in the ring, but I grab the paper from him, and hold it up to the dim fading light. My voice sounds small, delicate, and so primary, a detour to the shadows and snow dancing around me casting lots upon an eternal game, as I read.
“Dad, A river of fire was flowing and evolving from afore him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand ten thousands arose before him. Fairness was recognized, and the records were untied and there was hozho. Love You Jimmy”.
“My eyes have to be the size of platters. My voice has gone from meek to wild, and my hands holding the wrinkled paper are shaking. “Th…This is what Sammons preached about just on Wednesday. Th…This is Daniel chapter seven verse ten, it…it sounds different here though, doesn’t sound so scary”. I finish in almost a shriek, Jason’s looking at me like I’ve missed more than one nap in my life. “It sounds kind of neat, like Jimmy’s telling Albert something’s okay”, Jason’s voice is starting to sound excited too. He finally stands up holding the ring, while I hold the paper, we are staring at each other trying to find the words to say. “I don’t think Albert knows these are here”, Jason says. “I don’t either”, I say, but it seems a stretch for either of us to tap our young souls to comprehend how we know this. The world turns, and sometimes for those of us who ask it too, no matter where we are in our lives, it stops! I look at Jason, and he looks back at me, standing in the cabin, and we both know, the world has stopped. As the snow begins to drift down through the gapping burnt roof, the somber light of day no longer lingers, and somewhere so close to where we are a drum begins to beat.
We run as if guided, by sound or invisible hands. The gray snowy daylight is fading through a small split in the storm above the western skyline. The brown frozen path, wide and open, rest between lines of gathering snow, to the south of the cabin. How we had missed seeing it on our approach is a mystery in itself. We follow it, as it leads us along the south shore of the island, before cutting back to the northeast and into the island forest. It is the trail of my dreams, maybe Jason’s dreams as well. The path is wide enough, that we run side by side, each of us holding a piece of the mystery of the island in our young hands. Our breathing comes forward like frost. Our lives, visible to the island as it closes in upon us. The last gasp of light, retreats, but somehow we see, our ears led on by the ever more frequent beat of a drum.
The trail does a sudden switchback, taking us running toward the west. It could be a mischievous sprite planted the tree root across the trail. That massive root sticking up out of the frozen silt. Its purpose in destiny and time to have us fall, and leave a part of our lives behind. We manage to both land on our fist and knees, I still holding on to Albert’s letter, Jason to Jimmy’s ring. Our cold red hands feeling the glaze of ice and the grain of sand. The sound of Jason’s navy blue corduroy coat coming apart, buttons popping, and a book, a treasured book. “The Mystery of Cabin Island“! A Grace B. Wilson Elementary School library book, taking flight into the darkness, and the rough lay of the land. The sound of its pages whipping to and fro, tearing and ripping, as it crosses from borrowed status, to lost and cannot be found again.
“Oh Jeez, Mrs. Hickman’s going to kill me”, Jason’s shaking voice in the cold darkness, sounds eerily ghostlike. We are both standing over the brown tweed book, looking at it buried half in and out of snow. Its bent gaping spine pronounces its own postmortem. I bend down, pulling it up, with my left hand, my right still gripping Albert’s letter. “What are you going to do”? It’s an uncaring question, one of no involvement in the appalling deed. The question of a silent conspirator, gawking at his friend’s pain. I instantly regret the question. Even in the cold darkness, I can see the look of betrayal. “We’ll figure something out”, I say trying to redeem myself, doing my best to make my statement sound final and firm.
“You probably should leave the book here”, the voice deep with accent comes from the shadows of the trees to the west of us. I drop the book, jumping back, fear racing up and down my spine. Jason has his right shoulder dug into my left. I feel his right hand cold and wet gripping my left arm, digging through my yellow jacket, his nails feel like talons. From behind the swimming snowy darkness a man steps forth. In one hand he holds a shovel, in the other a pick axe. It is Albert Nakai. As we both watch in wide eyed terror, he walks across the small open area between us. Holding up the shovel and the pick axe by the handles, he shoves the metal ends towards our faces. “Use these”, he says his voice timbre like, “dig a hole, and bury the book, I’ll wait”.
The pick axe isn’t needed, the shovel is. I dig through the sand, while Jason holds, the Axe and then we trade out, the hole dug by our small hands growing deeper by the minute. Albert stands in the background, his eyes glowing in some luminescent way. He watches, but without threat, almost gentle like, father like. His letter and Jimmy’s ring lay nearby, the torn and battered library book, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Jason looks at me his eyes wide somehow the blue reflecting a puzzle piece found and sown. We both know it is time. I look over at Albert his silent gaze worn, and deep, his skin glowing in the snowy myriad of shadows, and he nods, yes, his head coming to rest on his chest, for the final affirmation. Jason reaches gently down, taking “The Mystery of Cabin Island” by its torn edges. He places it gently in the hole. Our final minutes of filling the hole are in silence, minus our heavy breathing, gasping the life of air, gasping the life of air, gasping the life of air.
We sit by the fire Albert has brought us too. The trail to our back, the open space around us chilled and frozen, but by the fire it is warm. The northern branch of the river runs within our sight, its muddy water apparent even under cloudy skies. The snow has stopped falling. The fire roars unkempt within a cylinder of iron laid within the sandy soil. Nearby on a fallen tree, rest our jackets warming, and drying by the fire. Jason and I sit near the fire silent, watching Albert who paces within our eyesight back and forth, casting his eyes occasionally on the deep pockets of our coats. Within Jason’s lies Jimmy’s ring, within mine Albert’s letter. A large drum sits on the opposite side of the fire from us, I stare at it, thinking it an incredible object to make sound that carries so far. Near it on the ground rest the basket, I saw Albert raise above his head, last Tuesday, and around it black sand. I scoot closer to Jason, thinking one of us should say something, when Albert’s voice breaks the silence.
“I’ve been looking for Jimmy here in this place”. The chill sets in by the fire, its circles unseen, its ghost felt. From across the fire, Albert’s eyes disappear in a mask of pain. “What you boys see here is all parts of Jimmy”. Albert’s reaching for the big drum, lifting it up, staring at something over our shoulders. “The wood’s, these are Jimmy’s woods, each tree is Jimmy’s tree. Albert’s almost smiling, a sad smile. He’s put the leather strap holding the big drum over his shoulder. “That trail there is a carrion trail”. “It holds chindi“! His voice has gone almost to a whisper, that quiet sound that see’s things it does not tell. I look over at Jason, his face is a mask, a place I have never seen. My own heart is beating, coming undone with the revelation of things in my young life I have dreamed. “I want to see Jimmy, I want him to let me know, I need to see he has passed over, me”! Albert pauses for just a moment, and then with a speed that cannot be seen he begins to beat the drum, and the fire explodes into the cold frozen night.
Circles, and sound, everything to a beat, colors of the fire reaching higher, spirits of things we do not understand, two boys eight and nine years old, watching the portal open and close. The fire grows higher still, and it reaches the cold black sky, and then retreats its reflection glowing in the nearby river. My brother and I see then the river of fire, with the sound of the ever beating drum. The vapors rise from the river, from the island around us. Chaste ghost looking for justice for a time, when they will be free. Looking for a temple, a throne to join heaven to their home. I look at Jason and he’s looking back at me, and we are both smiling and laughing, for indeed we see all that Albert see’s, and we both know we have the answer to set him free.
Albert bends low, holding us both, his wet cheeks have the smell of the rich earth, and I can feel his happiness. The copper cable to our backs awaits us, two boys, two sleuths, Frank and Joe Hardy. Albert’s voice is low, peaceful, and rich. “You boys be careful on that cable, thank you for Jimmy’s things”. Albert lets us go then, and he looks hard at the familiar figure developing and moving in the light behind the trees, wavering there on the southern riverbank. “Reverend, you take care of these boys”, he’s looking as if he sees angels over the rushing water. “These boys brought me hózhó , you take care of them you hear”.
Reverend A.E. Sammons gives each of us a musty smelling hug as we exit the cold copper cable, his eyes are warm. In the hour to come in which explanations will have to be given, his voice will be the one who begs tolerance and hózhó on our behalf.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014 3:44 AM
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost Frank”, Jason the different Jason, is pulling me away from the river, and back onto the trail. The breeze has settled now, the red moon above us is exploding in color all around us. “Uh, Ja…, I mean Joe did you see anyone back there at the riverbank” my voice sounds different a little older, maybe a little bit worn. “You mean Sammons, yep I saw him”, Jason’s looking at me grinning, even with the uniform on he looks like the same guy I crossed the cable with. “He comes here all the time, always wears the turban, it’s all a part of the hózhó of the place, I think he’s happy to do it”. Jason’s voice seems to trail off for a moment, and he looks like he’s studying something up ahead. I walk around him, it seems like the thing to do, after all I’m Frank, the older sibling, the one who should look out for my younger impetuous brother. The small clearing in the trees looks familiar, the red moonlight is casting all kinds of directional shadows around it. There’s a freshly dug hole staring right at me. “Guess what I did”? Jason’s voice sounds all of a sudden more distant from me than I care for, as if a wind has suddenly sprung and is carrying him away. I’m turning too slowly it seems for all the things that may happen in dreams. Too slowly indeed, for the island, and the moon, and my friend, my good friend, are fading so far away.
Jason Stuart Waite died on October, 8, 2014, it was the morning of the blood moon. 05.10.2015 – דָּנִיֵּאל
Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “The Mystery of Cabin Island” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap