“Ooh, see the fire is sweeping
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way”.
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
Previously on: The Mystery of Cabin Island
Part One – Operation Gas Buggy
Sunday, May 21,1972, 9:00 A.M.
I’m staring at the three men in the back yard. “That Hoskie boy”, is standing, near the cattle grate, at the back of the yard, talking to my dad and Mr. Benally. His red and white plaid shirt stands out strong against his brown skin, and contrast against my dad’s, blue shirt and Mr. Benally’s muted gray.
I’m watching them talk, looking out the dining room window, the windows high so I’m having to stand on my tiptoes. Mom’s behind me fretting. It is Sunday Morning after all. She’s muttering under her breath about dad not being ready for church, and saying things like it’s the, “Lord’s day Jack Swearingen, and you’re not even dressed to meet him”.
“Why is “That Hoskie boy” waving his arms like a windmill, and pointing down the road”? My mom sounds more frustrated than curious.
I’m thinking it’s just fine. I’m eleven years old, and full of curiosity, I don’t mind being a little late to meet Jesus and listen to Reverend Sammons, holler and yell about the roots of all evil. The truth is there is something much more important brewing in my own back yard. Yes, sir, something important appears to be going on out there. “That Hoskie boy”, knows something significant. He’s probably describing a great event in miniscule detail. I’ve heard my mom say before, “if there’s anything left to describe “That Hoskie boy will describe it”.
All three men keep looking down the gravel road to the north. From this distance my dad seems to be the calmest of the trio, which is unusual, because it’s Mr. Benally whose known for his calm demeanor.
Kenneth Benally is principal at the Nenahnezad BIA boarding school. My dad says, “he’s a fine man”. He escaped from a German POW camp in World War II, and was never captured. Dad says Mr. Benally doesn’t talk much about it, unless it’s getting close to Veterans Day, then dad says. Mr. Benally and he sit in the faculty lounge and he tells dad all about it. I would give anything to hear some of those stories. That right there is “real life” as my buddy Jason would say.
I’m not sure what “That Hoskie boy’s”, first name is? He does the maintenance work around Nenahnezad, and sometimes fixes our sink at the house if it’s clogged up with spaghetti, or chicken bones. Rumor has it, that his hearing was damaged by a land mine in Vietnam. Mr. Smallcanyon over at the boy’s dorm told me one time that “Hoskie” was a part of “Operation Popeye” in the war. Mr. Smallcanyon said “Hoskie” had something to do with making it rain over there. I told Jason about it and he said it was one of those doors we Hardy Boys should open someday. Jason’s always saying things like that. I’ll tell you more about Jason and I being Hardy Boys later.
Occasionally, I see my dad leave the serious conversation and stroll over to the cattle guard and look down the dirt road. It’s like he’s measuring it. My dad’s a quiet man. He likes to study a situation closely, and take his time with an answer. I think my dad’s almost a Navajo himself. He likes to be in harmony, a serious man who believes that a peppermint candy can cure just about any ill.
Mom’s voice has reached that “unsatisfied Sunday pitch” it usually peaks at, this time every week. “Good lord, Jack the road’s still there, Danny, get your shoes on and go tell your dad it’s time he come in, and get ready for church”! She’s no longer standing still, and has begun a nervous pacing, putting shoes in a row by the door for a fast exit. She’s grumbling, to herself, “a whole household to get ready every Sunday, and a man who would rather spend time talking about a dirt road”! It’s hard for me to understand her burden now, with the puzzling mystery that seems to be developing in our back yard. Still I can respect the tone of her voice. She won’t be having to ask me twice, to fetch my dad.
Sunday, May 21,1972, 9:15 A.M.
Maybe it’s the way the wind began to blow, picking itself up off the muddy San Juan River, some three quarters of a mile to the north. Maybe it’s the way several dark clouds moved in a circle, spinning, out of a blue sky, to block the sun. Maybe it was just me, thinking about Jason, and “those doors we probably should open someday”. There were strange happenings alright, when I started across that back yard to get my dad. There was a low rumbling sound coming from the ground, and it was growing louder with each step I took.
“That Hoskie boy”, heard it too. I could tell, by the way he jumped up into the air, and as I walked up behind the men, he swept both arms rapidly toward the north, his index fingers extending, as if they could reach the river itself.
The rumbling in the ground has grown to a loud roar, the sound of heavy machinery and moving parts moving closer to us. I look up, the dark clouds have formed a perfect twirling circle around the sun throwing prisms of red and green across the sky. The dust from the dirt road begins to billow, making brown powder clouds on the northeastern horizon. Mr. Benally, and “That Hoskie boy” have moved next to each other, as if they are afraid they might fall over, without each other’s support.
“The poison from the “Gas Buggy” is upon us, the trucks are here”! “That Hoskie boy’s”, voice rings out, in a high falsetto, he’s jumping up and down, both hands now clasp over his head. I see Mr. Benally’s head lowered, shaking from side to side, his hands over his eyes. “What has this government done to us”? Mr. Benally’s usually soft pleasant voice, sounds defeated, matching his bended head.
I look up at my dad, he’s turning, and sees me, his blue eyes are wide, and filled with fear. He reaches for me, as if to hold me, protect me, just as the first U.S. Army armored transport rumbles across the cattle guard. I look down suddenly. Something small, round and white catches my attention, down by my dad’s right foot. He has lost his peppermint.
Sunday, May 21,1972, 10:35 P.M.
The half-moon floats outside my bedroom window, flinging strange beams and images across the northern sky. The dark clouds that surrounded the sun earlier in the day, have found their way to the night, and now they circle the half moon, at times cutting its light into slivers of pie. The house is silent, after a long and adventurous day, and I can’t sleep. Throughout the day, Jack and Vera Swearingen have huddled together whispering, their eyes throwing furtive glances at their three children as if they might disappear in a puff of smoke.
The morning caravan of two U.S. Army tanks and a transport, sandwiching in a semi-truck dragging three large containers has set the Nenahnezad school compound ablaze with worry and gossip. The concern is not to be shared with children however. I have born witness to that. No, the distress of the vehicles and what they carry is not to be privy to sleuths, of the age of eleven. The mysterious caravan had moved slowly down the road to the east of the campus, disappearing beyond the white cinder block gymnasium. Mr. Benally and “That Hoskie boy”, had taken pursuit of the vehicles on foot, with Mr. Benally turning briefly to shout out, “Jack, stay here, stay with your family, we will talk in the morning”.
“Where are, they going”? I had asked my dad looking up at his anxiety filled face. “To that place you kids call the fort”, my dad had replied, still holding me within his grasp as if I might make a run for it.
The fort brings a mixture of feelings for me. The large, concrete walled enclosure sits just to the south of the girl’s dormitory on the campus. Two large chain link gates stand as the only entrance, to the rectangular structure. No one including my dad has ever been inside of it. There has always been something about the fort that has brought a fear to me. Maybe it’s the quietness that surrounds it, the heaviness, the feeling that something is entombed there.
One hundred feet from the south wall of the fort, there is a sand ridge that runs from east to west, climbing in the east to meet the black Burnham Mesa, and climbing again in the west toward Morgan Lake, and the Navajo mine. Last August, one week before school started, Jason and I climbed the embankment on a Saturday afternoon. We were bored, and looking for any mystery that might come our way. I had shared my feelings about the fort with Jason, on that hot day. We had sat there in the sand, looking down into the open yard of the crumbling walled stronghold. Against the west barrier was a long building built into the wall, with shuttered windows, and one wooden door. Both of us had sat there staring down at the door as if we thought it might open. “What do you think they do down there”, Jason had asked? “Beats me”, I said,” my dad says it’s supposed to be a maintenance yard, but how come no one is ever there maintaining”? I had folded my arms, signaling I knew nothing further. The sun had burned its way out of a brilliant sky, lighting up every corner of the fort, yet it still seemed filled with shadows.
“You know”, Jason had looked over at me his blue eyes lighting up, a strand of his blond hair coming loose from his front wave and dangling still in the heat, “we might have us our own “Haunted Fort” here”. His words had sent a mixture of trepidation and excitement through me.
“The Haunted Fort” was an awesome Hardy Boy book. Jason and I had checked the book out numerous times throughout the year since his August declaration, from the school library. We had taken turns reading the chapters to each other on Friday night sleepovers, discussing the ghostly aspects of the mystery and the villains involved. It had never occurred to me that on the cusp of the school year ending, the Fort with its foreboding shadow, no more than a half mile from where I lay, might yield an actual mystery.
Monday, May 22,1972, 2:24 A.M.
I’m dreaming or awake, I’m not sure. The background of snores coming from my parents’ bedroom would surely assure reality, as would the cool feel of the tiled linoleum underneath my bare feet. But my way, through the small government owned house, dragging my left hand around the edge of the metal dining room table, and through the galley kitchen, has a glide like feel to it. A deep subconscious impression. There’s the yellow washer and dryer to my left with a lingering aroma of something unwashed, the empty hamster cage that I look down upon to my right, and then I’m in the garage. Opening the backdoor to an array of lights in the sky and the sound of men’s voices.
The flashing lights and voices are coming from points south of the school across the street. Shadows leak out beneath the strobes of lights casting ghost like apparitions across the school’s rock veneer and the white concrete gymnasium that sits directly to the east of the building. The clouds have left the heavens, and the half-moon looks to be grimacing in an upside-down grin. The dark firmament around the moon is reaching downwards grasping pointing, trying to explain the obvious. The mysterious lights and voices are coming from behind the school, behind the girl’s dormitory. They are originating from the fort. The Haunted Fort. I go to turnback, sleepwalking or dreaming, but not before, I see the outline of the ghost, the yeibichai, passing in the shadows of the gymnasium headed to points south.
Monday, May 22,1972, 10:15 A.M.
“And you didn’t follow him”, Jason’s eyes are wide, behind his taped black framed glasses, his voice echoing off the side of the old brick gymnasium. We are gathered in our “Mystery Spot” as we call it, our detective club away from the main hubbub of the noisy playground. Its first recess, and I have finished the tale of yesterday’s adventures to my friend and brother, Jason Waite, alias Joe Hardy. “I’m not sure it was real”, I mutter, not sure if I should be aggrieved at the suggestion, I didn’t sleuth when I should have, or elated that Jason is taking the story so seriously. Jason is so excited he is mimicking “That Hoskie Boy”, his arms stirring the air, his staccato questions, asking me for quick explanations, and descriptions of all I had seen or heard from the day before. “Look”, he says, “I need to get into the library and see if Ms. Hickman will let me check out “The Haunted Fort” before noon”. “We need some help here, on how to solve this mystery”. “Maybe we can find a clue in the Hardy’s original investigation of the haunted fort“. I don’t have a chance to reply. My friend, with a flip of his hand to say see ya, has already started for the front door of the school, to find our first clue on the hallowed shelves of the library.
Monday, May 22,1972, 12:35 P.M.
Fifth-grade teacher Ms. Priddy, had found it mighty suspicious that she had two fifth grade boys, with stomach aches, asking to vacate lunch and stay in the classroom over the lunch hour. However, the woman was not one to take chances, and perhaps foreseeing the damage to her reputation of having two boys puking over other students, while they dined, she ordered us to report to the school’s nurse’s office to have our temperatures taken, and other vitals evaluated. Jason had managed to secure “The Haunted Fort” from the library earlier in the day. As we collected our books and papers to take with us, in case school nurse “Mary Lou Johnson ordered us homebound, I saw him slip the blue bound book inside his three-ringed binder. This however did not miss the steady gaze of Ms. Priddy. “Mr. Waite, this is the last week of school, you will leave the library book at your desk, in case you are too ill to return”. The lady’s voice was cold and even, and for a short moment, while Jason returned the book, humbly to the bottom of his desk, it occurred to me that I might rather face the inside of the Nenahnezad fort, then Ms. Priddy when she was stirred to action. Still our plan had worked better than we could have hoped for, as we bent our heads with feigned expressions of ulcerated pain, and left the classroom under the alerted eyes of our peers, and teacher.
The schedule of a school nurse covering two Central Consolidated Elementary Schools had apparently not occurred to Ms. Priddy. One could not blame her for this oversight. Her day was filled with short time minded students, and her own thoughts of a three-month vacation, so close to her grasp. This left little room to consider, what two young schemers might. Mary Lou Johnson, school nurse found her time divided, each school day. She dutifully assisted grades third through sixth at Grace B. Wilson Elementary School from 8:00 until 11:30 each day. The remainder of her day was spent serving the health needs of the lower grades housed at Ruth N. Bond Elementary School, barely one mile away.
Jason and I could not believe our fine luck, we literally skipped our way down the east hall of the building, pausing to hide our grins, and hold our stomachs, as we passed through the lunch room that was already filling with hungry sixth graders. Our steps lightened again as we headed down the south hall, before reaching the short entryway, where sat the nurse’s office, across the hall from the principal’s office, and the freedom of the front exit. The sunlight of self-determination was upon us, indeed, even without the Haunted Fort volume to guide us, the afternoon was before us. A quickly laid plan with notes before lunch, had given us a blueprint of three hours before the busses arrived for pickup. More than enough time to secret ourselves behind the brick gymnasium, and plan our investigation into the happenings of our own Haunted Fort. The spirit of “The Hardy Boys” was in us, and it was with confidence that we strode past the principal’s office. My hand was upon the smooth round bar of the door, pushing our way to liberty, when a broad shadow abruptly overtook us, and a deep voice thundered, “Gentleman, school is not over yet”!
Monday, May 22,1972, 12:50 P.M.
Principal “Archie Paul Hogden” had been principal of Grace B. Wilson for twenty years. A large Norwegian, known for his love of gardening and wielding a stiff ping pong paddle to the derriere of many an errant youngster, he is not a man to be trifled with. It had been the worst of fortune for us to be caught by him, at the worst of times.
Jason is left to ponder his fate in the outer office in front of school secretary, “Judy Nelson“. I take one last frightened backwards glance at him, as I am beckoned forward into the strict confines of the Principals office. He lifts his right hand in a weak wave as if to say farewell, and we are separated quickly.
Perhaps it’s because, I was first to the door, it could be the responsibility that comes with being the older Hardy brother. It matters not for I am the first to be frog marched into the Principal’s office to face interrogation. I sit small before his massive desk, a lamb unto the slaughter. There is little to divert my attention away from the man’s steely gaze, outside a large round sand painting that hangs on the wall behind the Principal’s desk. The detail in it is interesting. It shows beanstalks like twigs and yeibichai, dancers in white, black and turquoise colors, coming from the center. What catches my attention the most though, is the signature on the painting. It is signed by “B. Hoskie”. I am sure my reader you will more than understand, that as Archibald P. Hogden, leaned his large head over the desk, his clear blue eyes scanning my every thought. I made a quick decision to throw myself upon the mercy of the court, and tell Mr. Hogden everything.
Monday, May 22,1972, 9:30 P.M.
The dark closes in around me it’s soft quietness providing no clarity to my busy mind. Outside no more than a length of a football field away from where I sleep a great mystery exist. My brother, Tim curls up against my back, asleep. In times, as these I am unsure if I should envy his sleep aptitude, or pity him his lack of anxiety associated with the thoughts of adventure. I put my hands behind my head, a sure sign that the day’s events are ready to repeat, on the film that is busily rewinding to replay in my head.
Mr. Hogden, had forgone the expected swats from his green rubber covered ping pong paddle. Jason had escaped punishment too. To my greatest surprise the principal had listened to my story about the events at Nenahnezad, with the most serious expression on his face. Upon the conclusion of my tale, Mr. Hogden, had stood up, straightened his tie, and without saying a word to me, had opened his office door, and asked “Mr. Waite” to come in. The look on Jason’s face upon entering the principal’s sanctum had been one of pure horror. I for one felt that our Hardy Boy enterprise and brotherly friendship was nearing its demise.
“You boys need to understand, that I have seen some awful things in my lifetime”, Mr. Hogden’s bushy white eyebrows had been arched, his voice stern. For our part Jason and I had sat in the green hardback seats, our flushed faces glued forward to the principal’s attention. “Mr. Swearingen”, Mr. Hogden had given me a firm look, “this tale about the tank and the trucks coming up to Nenahnezad, I think that’s an abomination”. I had dared a look at Jason, and found his blue eyes glued to the principal’s hulking figure. To me an abomination was serious business. I had heard “Reverend Sammons, preach many a sermon about sin and abomination. “Mr. Swearingen, look this way”, Mr. Hogden’s brusque voice had brought me back to where I needed to be. “Gentlemen”, he said, “the simple fact is that the “Gas Buggy“, that Mr. Hoskie spoke of, that there, was a nuclear detonation over in Carson National forest about fifty four miles east of here”. “My guess is that the United States Government has plans for the nu-cl-ear remains and our little neck of the woods is going to be involved in those plans”. “YOU boys need to stay clear of any of those goings on, am I CLEAR”! Mr. Hogden’s voice had risen to a thunderous level, and his face had grown red with emotion. Both Jason and I had been nodding our heads in the affirmative before the man had begun his final roaring statement.
There had been no swats from Mr. Hogden, but there was the loss of the afternoon recess from Ms. Priddy for our mid-day stunt, in addition to her icy stare, for the rest of the day. As the school day, had come to an end, Jason and I had, but a few moments to discuss the day’s events before boarding our different busses. “Do you think I can spend the night this Friday”, Jason asked? “Of course,” I had answered, knowing my parents would agree, “we will need to come up with a plan before then”, I had yelled as I boarded the bus. “Already working on it”, I heard Jason shout, as he headed in the direction of his own ride home.
The events of the day had been overwhelming. I tried to think about The Hardy Boys and how they had solved their “Haunted Fort” case. There was little to compare. The Hardy Boys had an actual “Haunted Fort”, all Jason and I had was a, maybe haunted fort, still there was a mystery afoot. A very big mystery, something to do with a nuclear bomb. The adults were afraid. Even Mr. Holden had shown a spark of fear in his eyes, when talking about it. Adults didn’t tell you to stay away from something, unless there was something they wanted to hide, or protect you from. Somewhere in between Mr. Hogden’s warning, and my thoughts of what tomorrow might bring, I went to sleep.
Tuesday, May 23,1972, 2:30 A.M.
The thick sound of heavy machinery moving awakens me, or at least I think I’m awake. My brother has his body curled up against me, his sleeping noises dense and deep. I lay in the darkness listening, my eyes tightly closed. The sound of rotors turning, gaskets straining, cavernous sounds, coming from the south, across the campus, a steady sound. I push my brother over, and lay listening my eyes now wide open, and then I hear it, a rustling sound, near enough, outside my high bedroom window. I turnover and get on my knees, raising myself up off the bed, leaning against the bookcase headboard, a chill running up and down my spine. I lift the “Cowboys and Indians” homemade curtains, that my mother has labored over in a not so distant past, and look out the dust covered window.
The beyond three quarter waxing gibbous moon, throws her weight across the alfalfa field to the north of my bedroom window. The yeibichai ghost leaps and runs in a circle, carrying his feathered lance and looking at the sky. He points, the lance upward, his mouth moving, making no sounds that I can hear. He turns then pointing his spear southward, his painted eyes wide, and he is looking at me, and he motions with his lance for me to come to him. I close the curtains, and jump deep under the covers, grabbing my brother, who protests weakly with a grunt. I forcefully close my eyes listening for the sound of the ghost’s spear to scrape against my window. The scrape never arrives, and at some point, a troubled sleep filled with the visions of nuclear explosions overtakes me.
Tuesday, May 23,1972, 10:17 A.M.
“This can’t wait till Friday”, Jason’s tone is filled with worry, the sounds of the morning recess play, invades our space at the “Mystery Spot” by the old gymnasium. “I don’t know what we can do about it before then”, I say, “there is no way your parents or mine are going to let you stay overnight before then”. I have briefed Jason on the night’s events, and I can see it in his eyes. It’s the expression that signals he thinks he’s missing out on something. He has his Joe Hardy look going. He’s impulsive, wanting to solve the mystery now. “Look”, he says, his blue eyes flashing, “the Hardy’s had to travel to Fort Senandaga, to solve the mystery, they wouldn’t have solved anything just hanging around Bayport”. I can see Jason’s point, and being Frank Hardy, the more deliberative older sibling, I do have a plan beginning to form in the deepest reaches of my own detective brain.
“Say”, I blurt out, “Do you think your Mom has any idea when my birthday is, for instance, I continue, would she have time to get me a birthday present before this Thursday”? “Your birthday’s not till Novem…”, Jason starts to say, and then the cold idea of the manipulation and the lie begins to take hold. “Yeh”, he says, “yeh, it might just work, I got you”, he’s grinning, “a two-night sleepover”. “But what will you tell your parents”? He’s sounding worried again. “I already have that figured out”, I tell him, “I’ll tell them, you’re going to be gone all summer long, maybe even moving, and this will be the last time I might ever get to see you”. Now we are both grinning, maybe not honest Abe grins, still I’m thinking the ends justifies the means, and if we can solve this mystery, who knows, we might save the whole towns of Fruitland and Kirtland from getting blown up. Who would remember a couple of white lies if we did that. We both know we have our work cut out for us. We have two and a half days, to gather clues and a plan, and then two nights to solve a mystery, before our parents possibly find out about our deception.
“Fort Senandaga, here we come”, Jason says, grinning at me, as the morning recess bell rings, ending our productive meeting at the “Mystery Spot”.
Tuesday, May 23,1972, 7:30 P.M.
I had studied most of the way home from school, on how to approach my parents on Jason spending the night for two nights. It turned out I needn’t have worried. My approach at supper could have granted me a larger allowance, and in retrospect I wish I would have asked. My parents had paid little attention to my request. It had been easier than I thought to get a yes from them. Both had seemed occupied with furtive glances and coded grownup language of their own. “Has Benally gotten anywhere with the situation”, my mom had asked, her eyes going upward and pointing, as if some evil secret resided on the west side of the house? My dad’s eyes had narrowed in a worried slant, as he shook his head from side to side, making it appear as if he had a terrible itch. “We can talk later” he had whispered, as if there was some grave thing, standing near his tomato soup and grilled cheese. I had known they were talking about what was going on over at the fort. It was a distraction, that I welcomed. I had been able to avoid the question of why I was asking for a two-night sleepover.
Still, as I had studied my parents worried faces over dinner, it occurred to me that Jason and I really had little to go on to solve the fort mystery by the weekend. Our clues amounted to what I had seen on Sunday Morning, and Sunday night, the dire warning from our principal to stay away from what was going on, and finally the ghost I had witnessed just the night before. We really needed more. Sleuthing was a risky business, and it was up to me to get us some clues, and it was at this moment that I made a decision that was to change my life for the rest of my days. This night I was going to follow a ghost!
Wednesday, May 24,1972, 1:30 A.M.
It is here dear reader, I ask you to still your thoughts. To read a few lines and then to close your eyes and come away with me. The noise that wakes you is the same as me, the rustling sound outside, the noise heard that floats below the distant sound of heavy machinery. The sound of rotors turning, gaskets straining. You will look as I do, pulling yourself up to kneel on the bookcase that makes up the headboard, pulling, the “Cowboy and Indian” curtains aside to see. There is no spirit this night, not one that you can see.
Come with me then. Feel your feet hit the braided rug, that rug that has held so many hours of childhood play. Pause as I pause to slip on the one month old blue Adidas, no need for any other clothing, the red striped pajama’s will do. Your mind is my mind, your thoughts my thoughts, no time for lingering. The quiet steps we take together now, down the hallway, past my parent’s room to the left, my younger sisters room to the right. Through the darkened dining room, then the kitchen, the laundry, and into the garage. Finally, the soft squeak of the unlocked backdoor, and into the shadow filled New Mexico night. We are going to find a haunt you and me. Tonight, we will see a ghost.
The clouds have rolled in from the northwest adding acreage to them as they cross the Four Corners Monument, and make their way to darken the skies under which I hide. The three-quarter moon has hidden itself away, gone to sleep in a fluffy band of clouds, a lesson sent to me to follow, which I will not. I stand under the right portico of the white concrete gymnasium, surveying the surrounding darkness, listening. The shadowy wall of the east wing of the Nenahnezad School stands like a sinister barrier not more than sixty feet from where I huddle. It will not be the only foreboding wall I see this night.
The fear resides two inches from my heart. It makes its way down my spine, sending out goosebumps, and making me want to pee. My head tells me I should not be here, my heart will refuse to beat if I am not. I wish Jason were here, the younger Hardy is needed on this sleuthing mission into the unknown. The darkness closes in around me, the concrete blocks of the Nenahnezad gym, feel cold against my side, almost as if it were February instead of late May. I listen carefully, awaiting a sinister sound, a light footstep. I push myself deeper into the shadow of the concrete gym entrance, and look out into the night. Someone or something is coming from the darkness of the school, running right towards me.
Wednesday, May 24,1972, 2:16 A.M.
The ghost comes out of the shadows, running, the eyes hidden behind paint, the shield made of skin held low, the lance with its feathers raised high. My heart has gone from beating to silence, an apparition beneath my young “Hardy” skin. I try not to breath, backing my way into the northeast corner of the concrete bricked entryway. The phantom stops some fifteen feet from where I huddle. It holds its lance above its head, and sniffs the air. I can feel it, smelling me, seeing me. It rotates its head, ninety degrees looking to the south, towards the girl’s dormitory, and points beyond. The sound of machinery moving, comes from beyond the dorm, where the fort stands. The sudden noise appears to startle the ghost. Suddenly it no longer seems interested in me. I hear it let out a chilling yell, and it is off and running again moving south toward the fort.
Perhaps it’s the loss of oxygen to my eleven-year-old brain, some might say it is the spirit of the “Hardy Boy” in me, or the lack of common sense. Still, it matters not, for I am off and running, through the darkness, chasing the phantom. My striped pajama’s that will smell faintly of leaked urine and boyhood nervous perspiration on the morrow, cling to me. A faint breeze has turned the corner from the northwest and headed back again. It gathers the vapors off nearby Morgan Lake lifting my matted hair, sending a chill down my spine. I have lost sight of the ghost, but the bright lights from inside the looming walls of the fort are what gather my present attention. I take a moment to catch my breath, leaning against the southeast corner of the girls dormitory. I try to blend in with the shadows thrown my way by a large Cottonwood tree that stands but ten feet away from my position.
The fort is ablaze with light, a crane stands twenty feet in height inside the wall, its massive arm moving slowing from right to left and then back again. I move closer to the alley that divides the campus from the fort, taking care to make sure I don’t fall into the perimeter of light that is being cast around the wall. Near the only entrance to the fort, a large dump truck larger than I have ever seen before sits. To either side of it sits an armored tank, no doubt the same ones that arrived the previous Sunday. Two men with white helmets on, are leaning against the front of the dump truck talking. I can see that both are smoking. The thought occurs to me briefly, that this might be what brings about our own nuclear demise, if Mr. Hogden is right, about what’s inside the fort. I’m sure even you my reader would agree that these weren’t the brightest men on the planet.
I start to head closer to get a better gander of the monster sized dump trunk and tanks, when I catch movement out of my left eye. I see the ghost down by the northeast corner of the fort. It’s bent over, doing something with its hand on the ground, the feathers on its head blowing up in the breeze, leaving shadows on the fort wall. I slink back into the shadow cast by the girl’s dormitory to watch it, keeping a wary eye out for the white helmets to my near right. The specter keeps digging into something around its waist, and sprinkling it on the ground. The ghost seems oblivious to the men standing not more than two hundred feet away from where it stoops. I’m turning to see what’s up with the white helmets, when there is an explosion from inside the fort plunging the entire area into darkness.
Wednesday, May 24,1972, 2:38 A.M.
It’s not easy for a common eleven-year-old boy to deduce that a high wattage series of lights have blown a fuse, but then again by this point, I’m sure most in their wisdom, have gathered there was nothing common about me. Deduction takes place almost instantly. Out of one eye I watch the white helmets run into each other in the darkness, their cigarette ash still burning, falling like kamikaze fire flies to the ground. My left eye turns slightly to the southeast. I watch as the ghost leaps into the air, and disappears around the corner of the fort. I can feel my heart trying to release itself from my young chest. Overhead the clouds have parted releasing the three-quarter moon, which cast a pale path across the gravel alley way, to the corner where the ghost had knelt. A soft plume of mist rises there from the ground.
The decision to investigate is done with Jason’s voice echoing in my head. “The “Hardy Boy Detective Handbook” says to gather clues, the Jason voice says. My Adidas make soft crunching noises stirring the gravel and sand of the road as I run under the moonlight. In the background men are shouting about lights, heat and waste barrels. Nothing to do with me.
I reach the corner of the fort, and at first I don’t see it, but then it’s there, in front of me, the sand painting, the phantoms art work, the coolness of the New Mexico morning air misting up from the colored sand. I stare hard at it for a moment, a dawning mixture of confusion and knowledge mixing in my mind. It is the same painting as hangs in Mr. Hogden’s office. I turn and run as fast as my Adidas will carry me home.
Part Two – To the Ends of the World
Wednesday, May 24, 1972
“Time and tide waits for no man” wrote somebody someplace, maybe before time even began. It certainly held true for the events taking place around Kirtland, New Mexico in the late spring of 1972. Jason and I had two days to don the mantels of Frank and Joe Hardy to form a plan on how to solve our own Haunted Fort mystery.
My bleary eyed breathless report to Jason, of the Wednesday morning ghost events at Nenahnezad had sent him into a frothy excited spell, like I had never witnessed before. “I should have been there, I should have been there”, he kept repeating, his blond hair shaking loose from the tight wave at the front of his head. Taking his dark framed glasses off, he had messed with the tape on the right arm unwinding it, and then tightening it back up again. “This is big, really big”, he said. I could do nothing more than nod my head up and down in agreement. Jason and I had talked many times about being the Hardy Boys and solving a mystery, but that was pretend, this was real. “Big”, Jason repeated, as I kept nodding my head. “We need a good plan”, Jason had said, and I had agreed. “you need to stay inside tonight”, Jason had gone on to say. I knew he was concerned about me being out alone with the ghost. I also had detected a wee bit of jealousy in his tenor. I couldn’t say I blamed him though. This was real sleuthing, and it needed team effort. “Are you sure it was “Hogdens” sand painting,”, Jason asked? “Umhmm”, I nodded my head, “just like it””. “Jeeze and Beelzebub”, Jason ‘s head was bobbin up and down like it might come off, “this is so big”.
“I reread “The Haunted Fort”, last night while you were galivanting around chasing the ghost”, Jason said. It was the afternoon recess, a sunny spring day, and we both had our backs up against the brick gym wall. His voice carried a hint of sarcasm, but I also knew he had discovered something in his read. His blue eyes had lit up, and had a sparkle of knowledge to them. “And”, I said, in my exasperated voice, motioning with my right hand for him to spill the beans. Jason had sat there for a few seconds almost as if waiting on the recess bell to spoil it for me, and finally he let loose, with one word! “Tunnels“, he said. “How so”, I asked? “It’s simple”, he said, “there were infiltration tunnels into Fort Senandaga , that’s how Frank and Joe figured the crooks were getting into the fort”. “I bet there is a tunnel somewhere into this one too”. Jason had snorted at the end of his theory, almost as if his guess were fact.
I wasn’t so sure. Even though I hadn’t spent a whole lot of my days at the fort, I didn’t recall seeing any sign of a tunnel anywhere. Jason seemed sure though, and I figured that even if there wasn’t a tunnel, we might be able to find a way to dig one. It would have to be somewhere on the back side of the barrier, away from all the lights I had seen the night before.
We were going to have two nights to try and solve the mystery of the fort, that was, if we weren’t caught by my parent’s, or the ghost, or the guys in white helmets. We were confident in our sleuthing abilities however, and it was a big case. We didn’t want the world blowing up before we had a chance to solve it.
Jason’s mom had agreed to the Thursday birthday party, and sleepover for two nights, but it had taken a heap amount of lying from my young friend. “She was going to call your mom, to ask her what kind of present I should bring”, Jason’s eyes had a mischievous look to them. “How did you stop her”, I’d asked him? “I told her you wanted “The Secret Panel” Jason said. “I already have the secret….” I had stopped, Jason was grinning real big. “I know”, he said, “I don’t”!
Thursday Evening, May 25, 1972
So here we are! There’s bound to be some grumbling, from a reader somewhere, about how I skipped all of Wednesday night, and most of Thursday in this tale. The truth is I thought about it, maybe adding something in here that didn’t really occur. But as it is, there is so much that has happened, and so much about to transpire, it doesn’t make sense to waste time making up filler. Wednesday night I slept, without hearing a peep. Of course, I had been up pretty much, the previous three nights, so I was due some rest. Thursday had been a day of recess planning in the “Mystery Spot”, with winks and secret nods, the drawing of the fort on paper, with plans on what parts to add, what parts to take away.
And then it had arrived, the final bell, and the boarding of the bus. Jason carrying his white pillow case, stuffed with his pajamas, and underwear for the next day, and a wrapped “Hardy Boy” book, that would soon become his own, only if we were not discovered.
The two-point two-mile trip down the Old Kirtland Highway, toward Nenahnezad, was made in somber silence. I looked over at Jason. His face was pressed against the window of the bus, looking out toward the southeast, across a spring green field. I poked him in the ribs, expecting him to jump, but he didn’t. “Hey”, I asked, “what you thinking about”. He had turned around, slowly, it almost looked like he had been crying, but I reckon it was just his springtime allergies. “What if this all gets blown up”, he had asked? “What”? I was incredulous. “You know, blown up, like with all that nuclear waste stuff”. “What if some idiot, like those white helmet nut cases, is smoking, and a match gets tossed when it shouldn’t”? I could see he was serious. The noise in the bus all around us suddenly didn’t seem annoying. The life in the yells, and the laughs seemed valuable. “It’s not going to happen”, I said. Jason had looked at me his blue eyes seeming stronger, hopeful, asking for direction, asking why not? “We are going to stop them”, I said. I was being the older brother. Frank Hardy was making an appearance. “We’re the Hardy Boys”, I said, “the Hardy Boys“!
Dinner at the Swearingen household, had certainly not been fitting of an imaginary birthday. Mom had served up a generous helping of pinto beans, and cornbread, to each of us. Still Jason seemed happy just to be at our table, and upon reflection many years later, I realized that even with pinto beans served these were some of the happiest moments in my family. “When is, your family moving”, my mom had asked Jason? Jason had been prepared, with a more is better reply. He waxed elegant about the bureaucracy of El Paso Gas keeping his family on a roller coaster ride of maybe’s or maybe nots. With a “tsk, tsk”, and “what a shame”, my mother had considered the subject matter closed.
Following dinner, Jason and I had retreated to the backyard to survey, our operating grounds, and to make our final plans. A stiff breeze that threatened to turn into a cold wind, had risen out of the north, blowing what few clouds that had been scattered in a lazy union above our heads away. Across the street, the school’s playgrounds appeared desolate with most of the reservation kids, released from the dormitories the previous weekend, to head home to summer sheep camps, and family duties.
“I don’t hear anything”, Jason said, pointing over the top of the cottonwood across the street and in the direction of the fort. “They always seem to start making noise at night”, I told him. “I heard my parent’s talking about it, and my dad said, Mr. Benally told him, their doing wicked work at night so nobody knows, what their up too”. I finished my statement looking across the street toward the corner of the school. The School jutted out in two wings, toward the street, with teachers parking their vehicles up between the east and west annexes. Somebody was standing in the shadows by the end of the west building watching us.
I nudge Jason, pointing with my lips, Navajo style toward the dark figure observing us. As Jason turns to look, the shadows fall off the top of the building and the figure moves into the last droplets of day, making a sharp turn around the north end of the building, disappearing into the dusk. “Who was that”, Jason ask? “That Mr. Joe Hardy was “that Hoskie boy”, I reply, doing my best to not sound unnerved. Yes sir, something had looked different about Mr. Hoskie. One might say he had the appearance of being up to something. It remained to be seen whether that something was good or bad.
Thursday, May 25,1972, 11:20 P.M.
Across the school grounds erupts the thick sounds of heavy machines moving. The rustling sound is in my dream, before I realize I am awake. Jason lays next to me, his left arm up over the top of my head, his hand in a position checking me for a nonexistent fever. His breathing is heavy with unwanted sleep. My brother Tim has dutifully gone to the top bunk in my sister’s bedroom in honor of my visiting guest. The rustling sound is close, almost too close. “Wake up Jason”, I’m ssshing my voice pushing Jason’s arm off my head. He stirs for a moment looking like he might not respond, and then, “WHAAA” his eyelids pop open, and he’s sitting up in the bed, causing the well-used springs to complain. “SHOOSH, ya dummy”, I whisper, feeling instantly appalled that I have said dummy to my best friend. “What is that noise”? Jason’s voice is low now, stealthy, where it should be tone wise. “It’s the ghost”, I whisper, “he’s in the field”. Jason’s eyes are the size of silver dollars, I can see them gleaming in the darkness.
I motion him to tread easy on the squeaky springs of the bed, as we climb together up on the bookcase headboard, and pull the “Cowboy and Indian” curtains aside.
The waxing gibbous, at 94% shines across the expanse of the northern sky, dropping and dancing, picking up the purple clover of the alfalfa field, in its springtime majesty. The strong breeze from earlier in the evening has retreated once again, to a mild draft, shifting the plants of the field ever so slightly to the west. The yeibichai ghost rises from the earth, no more than twenty feet away from my bedroom window, its white face grimaced, its eyes closed as if in prayer, a spear with feathers dangling from it raised towards the heavens. “Holy moly batman and robin”. Jason squeezes out the phrase under his breath, in a tone that competes with silence. Looking down, I see Jason’s hand cradling my left elbow in a vice lock grip. “Yup”, I whisper out, afraid to say more. “Let’s go talk to him”, Jason whispers. He’s in his Joe Hardy mode, ready to go. “Are you nu…”, I start to say when the phantom opens his eyes and looks right at us.
The moment is frozen in my mind, no doubt until the day that I leave this world. The path between my bedroom window panes, across twenty feet of space into the eyes of the mystic. That instant was to be one of the few moments that Jason, and I were never to discuss, and I have often wondered if he saw what I did.
The moon, was a sand painting in those eyes, rotating, beckoning, pleading. Jason’s face reflected in the right eye, my own in the left, and as the chills, shot up and down my eleven-year-old back, as the ghost beckoned with its spear and ran toward the east, disappearing out of our sight.
Thursday, May 25,1972, 11:40 P.M.
The journey through our darkened house had not been without some mishaps, after all Jason had not had the practice of navigating the darkened path throughout as I had. His right foot contacting with the metal leg of the dining room table had brought forth a sudden yell, that had stilled both of us in the darkness for several minutes. Good fortune was smiling however, there had been nothing but snores emitting from my parent’s open bedroom door.
Our exit through the backdoor of the house without being caught, had brought forth much relief from both of us. We stumbled across the backyard heading for the cattleguard, our eyes full of fear, and excitement looking for anyplace along the backyard fence that the ghost might be laying in wait. The light breeze, from the east surrounds my lightweight red stripped pajamas, lifting the bottoms sending a cool chill up my young legs. The moon sinks to the earth shifting shadows that perhaps should not be seen, never the less they are seen.
I look over at Jason, his lightweight blonde hair shifting in the breeze. “He’s probably headed towards the fort already”, my voice sounds loud in the empty air, as if in competition to be heard with the sounds of machinery coming from the fort. “Then that’s where we should go”, Jason’s voice rings out across the road, echoing, making me wince. The younger Hardy is ready though, and with a wave of his hand to follow, he is off, with his older brother Frank in hot pursuit.
Thursday, May 25, 1972, 11:46 P.M.
We take the longer route to the fort, heading south past the Blount’s house to the east, with the looming darkened, concrete gymnasium on our right. To the southeast of us looms the black mesa Burnham, a subject matter for another story in another time. Our steps leave the pavement and take to the dirt road the noise from our feet now hidden by the sounds of machinery in action coming from the nearby fort. We huddle to the right side of the road where the shadows from the now distant gym, hide our small frames from the light of the moon. The lights from the interior of the fort dance around picking up spots near us, as we near the northeast corner of the perimeter.
I grab Jason’s arm and point. “That’s where I saw the ghost making the sand painting”, my whisper seems louder than it should be. He doesn’t seem to notice nodding his head in a brusque business like way. This night the ghost is not present. In the distance, somewhere inside the perimeter of the fort a man is talking loud, giving directions, measurements it sounds like. I pull Jason over against an old rock utility building that corners the road we are on, and the alley leading down past the fort. “We should go see the sand painting, I whisper. His eyes light up, reflecting the moon that has changed its alignment in the sky. “Sure”, he whispers back, “and then we need to see how we can tunnel inside that thing”. He points at the wall so close to where we are. I feel a chill go up my spine. The picture of the stage set up inside the Grace B. Wilson Elementary Gymnasium, and Mr. Hogden pinning medals on our sleeves, runs through my mind for a moment. I look over at Jason. His eyes look a little distant too.
We run across the road, small shadows dancing between moon beams and spotlights, zig zagging for all intents, replicas of “Hogan Heroes“, escaping a POW camp in long ago Germany. I hold my breath the entire way. Out of the corner of my eye I see the tanks and large dump truck stationary at the entrance to the fort. The white helmets are slouched against the front of the truck, appearing to not have moved since I saw them last.
The light from the moon picks up the edges of the sand painting, which has known some wear since I visited it early Wednesday morning. The wind has reorganized and distorted much of it, but Jason can still pick up that it is the same as what hangs behind Mr. Hogden’s desk. “Whoa”, I hear him breath in. “Yeh, whoa”, I agree. We stand there ducking the lights shooting over the side of the fortress wall staring at something we can’t quiet comprehend, and I suppose no one would blame us for not noticing the two white helmets walking down the road our way.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 12:04 A.M.
The heavy hand descends upon my shoulder, I’m sure these many years later, my reader you can see it, anticipate it, moving downward quickly, not gently, causing me to scream. Jason yells too. The voices are deep, that hold us, the acrid aroma, of heavy cigarette usage invades my nostrils, and somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I pummel myself that the “Hardy Boys” have allowed themselves to be captured.
There is a common bond between boys, that resides deep, at least it did in 1972. The moral code of silence, of righteous indignation when trapped. The lassoing of the hearts together, in the eternal flame of brotherhood, that does not emit a sound when captured. And so, it is, Jason and I are dragged, resisting without a sound, toward the gate of the fort. I look up and above, the unshaven face of my white helmeted capturer. The moon appears to be laughing, no friend to boys in trouble and need. Our captors, do not use tender hands with us, and I regret to say to you my reader, their language and descriptors they used of our boyhood personhood, cannot be repeated here.
As we are hauled through the open chain link gate of the fort, I see Jason pushing his lips out signaling, gathering my attention to look west, beyond the tailgate of the large dump truck, beyond the armored tank.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 12:20 A.M.
The white helmets march us inside the gates and into a little building that adjoins the concrete wall immediately to the west of the entrance to the fort. Jason and I in our sketch of the fort in previous days had labeled the small building the “Captains Quarters“. It was turning out that we were not too far off in our schematic interpretation. Inside the small concrete room is sparsely furnished, with a steel dented desk, a wooden chair behind it, and three more wooden chairs sitting in one darkened corner of the little room. The desk holds one coffee mug, two U.S. Government black pens atop a scattered mess of papers. I am familiar with the pens having seen my dad abscond many a one from the school, to our home. From a single open window to the east of the room runs an orange chord, up over a hook in the ceiling. From it, is attached a single high wattage light bulb, that seems to dim every few seconds.
Our white helmeted captors which we had learned from our stout journey into the fort are named Gerald and Skeeter. The names seemed appropriate, as our captors exhibit the type of swarthy behavior a “Hardy Boy” might expect from a common criminal known by such “Christian names”. Skeeter who smells like the inside of a used cigarette, pushes me into one of the chairs, in the corner. Gerald grabs another chair scooting it across the room near the desk with his foot, and then proceeds to roughly push Jason into it. Jason’s eyes are wide, the sclera almost swallowing his deep blue irises. His cheeks are crimson. He holds his top lip in with his bottom and I am sure that he is close to tears. It never occurs to me that he is just angry for getting caught.
“Look boys”, Skeeter says, the lower right part of his mouth dragging out in a low Texas sound. “You boys were passing on government soil, and you need to tell us where you live so we can get you home, and get your parents involved”. Skeeter finishes his sentence with a look of self-satisfaction on his face. Gerald’s standing there, looking stern, but it’s almost as if there’s a grin going on somewhere behind his face. It’s almost as if he knows Skeeter is spinning in his own grease.
Jason is looking at me, he’s has both of his hands folded up to his face, almost as if he’s getting ready to pray. His cheeks have lightened some. I watch as he intertwines his fingers leaving his index digits meeting his lips. It is our secret “Hardy Boy” signal not to say a word.
Skeeter apparently, sees the signal too. He clears his throat, his face a little on the red side as well. Gerald has retreated over by the door, apparently enjoying watching Skeeter step up his game. “Look boy’s, this time the man’s voice is a little louder and up an octave. “I’m more than happy to wake up our supervisor to call the sheriff, if that’s what you wa….”.
The high-pitched scream, comes through the open window, from somewhere in the interior of the fort, it is followed by an explosion, and then darkness.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 12:38 A.M.
Bureaucracy reacts to any surprise in an irrational way. This is because bureaucracy is rooted in paranoia, and that paranoia is based on the fear of the loss of control. Skeeter and Gerald had reacted to the scream, explosion and ensuing darkness, like Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle when they visited a haunted mansion. Gerald had let out a scream of his own, followed by Skeeter stumbling over the empty chair next to me, and letting out a strong line of verbiage not suitable for this tale. The two men managed to make it to the door in the darkness. The moonlight poured through the open door, and for one moment I saw Skeeter’s grizzled face looking back into the darkness of the room. “You boys stay here, we have to go check the barrels”. Skeeter’s voice sounded worried, maybe a little scared, and then the door was closed, and Jason and I were in darkness.
Two young boys ages ten and eleven, knew that once again, the amperes supplying power to the lights inside the fort had far surpassed their voltage limitations, and at least one fuse if not many had been blown. This however did not account for the scream, unless someone somewhere had been electrocuted. This truth be known, is what interested us both the most. We both rushed to the open window, at the same time looking out across the moonlit yard to grasp what horror we might see.
It is here dear reader, I interrupt once again to describe the scene, if only as a cathartic way of stilling my own heavily beating heart, after all these years. Across the fort interior the darkness swam, interrupted only by beams from the dancing moon so far above. The strong aroma of something electrical and hot filtered through the air. On the eastern side of the perimeter near another small concrete structure four men were gathered in a semi-circle, the light from the moon dancing off their white helmets. Their voices carried through the air, unintelligible chatter mixed with an occasional understandable curse word. I was sure I heard Skeeter. Suddenly I felt Jason grabbing my arm, “Look over there”, he whispered, his voice sounding horse and low. I followed Jason’s pajama clad arm, out the open window, his pointer leading a direct line across the moonlit yard to the south where another larger concrete building stood, and there my friends I saw the ghost.
The yeibichai phantom is bent over busily waving its arms above the ground, even from where we stand we can see the sand falling from both of its hands. “It’s painting again”, I hiss in Jason’s ear. Jason backs away a little annoyed by the loudness of my voice. “Yeh”, he says trying a lower tone than me, “I don’t think those buffoons see it”. “Do you think it was the ghost that screamed”, I ask? I’m trying to get my voice even lower. “Yeh”, Jason says, “it’s given us a chance to escape, we better get out of here, but first I want to see what’s in that building over there”.
To tell the truth, I had forgotten about being on that stage at Grace B. Wilson Elementary School, and having Mr. Hogden give the hero speech and pin the medals on us. Escape to my nice bed, had been more on my mind, but after all we had been through, the Hardy Boy in me was going to win out. I knew it, and my younger brother Joe Hardy standing right next to me in his pajamas knew it too. I knew Jason was right, it was time for us to go, but before we did we had to see what was going on in the building by the ghost. We just had to figure out how to get there, and then out of the fort without being seen.
“Look, it’s on the move”, Jason’s voice is much louder with excitement, he’s grabbing my arm again, making me shake it away from him. The phantom’s feathers are blowing in the breeze, as it glides around the edge of the building and behind the crane. Finally, we can see its shadow, over toward the southeast corner of the fort, where several large trucks are parked. The white helmets are still embroiled in conversation, when another scream rents through the air, causing all four men to fall to the ground, as if they have been mowed down. I’m already, opening the door, this time grabbing Jason by the arm, and we are on our way. It is time to solve a mystery.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 12:57 A.M.
I look up one time as we run across open ground toward the darkened gray building. The moon seems to have swallowed the sky, it’s beam leading Jason and I on a well-lit path. We run together bent over, expecting any moment to feel rough hands grabbing our shoulders, or worse yet to hear a gunshot, followed by immeasurable pain. Somewhere to the back of us near the gate, I hear Skeeter’s voice ordering men to search outside the wall for the intruder. That’s good, nobody is thinking about us. Jason reaches the west side of the building ahead of me disappearing into its shadow near a darkened window, and a long tractor blade that leans against the concrete wall. He’s pointing at the sign attached to the wall just above his head, as I arrive. Jason’s eyes are wide, looking as if they might rupture at any moment, giving us some different direction to go with our concerns this night. I look at the sign. It reads, “Danger Radioactive Materials“!
Friday, May 26, 1972, 1:05 A.M.
“Let’s go” is all Jason says, pulling my arm, and we are around the corner of the building, with the moon casting our shadows upon the north face of the concrete wall. The large wooden door has a metal latch that I fully expect not to open when Jason handles it, but it does. We enter without thought or looking back, oblivious to the sounds from behind us, that signal, our escape has been noticed. We enter a dim lit room, light filtering through, a rectangular hole on the east side of a cavernous cold chamber. An acrid odor hits us both at the same time, backing us up against the wooden door behind us. “What in the Jeeze and Beelzebub is that smell”, Jason spits the words out of his mouth, the words echoing in the cavernous space. “Over there”, I’m holding my nose and mouth, my words sounding muffled. Cold chills are running up and down my spine, my pajama’s feel cold and damp. Before us, stacked to the ceiling, row after row of barrels covered in black and yellow fluorescent paint sit. A rope divides them from the rest of the room. Midway across the rope stands a sign, even with the small print the words burn through the air, and sting our eyes, we recognize the words radioactive materials.
It occurs to me that Jason and I might have overstepped our boundaries. The shadowy smelly room is like a tomb, perhaps only interrupted by the closing sounds of adult voices seeping from the outside down through the hole in the ceiling, where a crane has been used to lower many a barrel of poison into this room. I look over at Jason, expecting to see fear, a good shiver at the very least, but he is looking onward. Toward the west side of the room. His blue eyes are bright. They hold the candle of investigative curiosity, that has always drawn me to him. “Over there”, he whispers, grabbing my arm for the umpteenth time this night. “Over there”, he repeats, although I already see it, oh yes indeed I see it. The yawning chasm by the west wall, toward the floor, broken concrete scattered all around, and what looks like stairs leading downward into the abyss of the earth.
Close, so near us, footsteps fall, voices, dangerous voices, Skeeter and Gerald’s voices, right outside the door. I can smell them, the stagnant aroma of cigarette smell, drifting under the heavy wooden door. I am sure you can understand my readers. It is instinct, not fear, that drives two young boys now. For once, I am dragging Jason, holding his damp pajama clad left arm into the hole, down the smooth steps into the cold earth, into the dimness. Somewhere as the steps go deeper, I hear the soft whisper, whether it be Jason or a ghost I know not. “To the ends of the world, we go, to the ends of the world”.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 1:22 A.M.
The sand on the floor kicks upwards with each step, in a never-ending series of steps in semi darkness. At first I lead the way holding Jason’s hand, and then he returns the favor holding mine. It is a concrete tunnel of behemoth proportions. Tubular blurred lights appear to our left embedded in the sand, and to our right barrel after barrel of nuclear waste. Somewhere in a faraway distance, no doubt in the room, we have descended from, frantic voices echo of men searching, no doubt for us. “Do you think Hogden was right”? Jason’s voice is a soft whisper, almost a broken sound, but still, yes still a reverberation of curiosity. I think about it as we step on. I know what he means. Was the principal correct in telling us to leave well enough alone. To mind our own P’s & Q’s. What have we accomplished? What mystery have we solved? The questions of course is too deep for an eleven-year-old to contemplate. Jason’s question deserves an answer though, as the ground begins to elevate upwards, as the walls narrow, and the sound of something very large and moving, begins to grow in the upcoming opening where it is suddenly very light. “I think he was not”, I say, as we near our next threshold of mystery. Jason looks back at me as we step into the ends of the world. “Yup” he says his dirt and sweat streaked face grinning, “yup”!
Friday, May 26, 1972, 1:38 A.M.
The tunnel ends suddenly, and without fanfare. Jason and I find ourselves standing in a large rectangular dirt filled room. The ground looks disheveled, uneven, as if large worms have been burrowing throughout the length of the building. I am to guess that we are in the west building that lines the barrier of the west wall of the fort. The sound of a large motor running reverberates off the concrete walls, threatening to shake the very foundations of the structure to the ground, the lights from the large yellow dump truck light up the interior of the building, revealing us. From behind us in the tunnel too close for comfort, we hear men’s voices. I look over at Jason and realize he is looking at me for guidance. It should be this way I suppose, after all I am the older brother. Frank Hardy is the deliberative one, the one who needs to have a plan to escape danger.
I wipe my face on my red striped pajama sleeve. The cloth carries the aroma of sweat and the earth, and a distant pungent smell of something unpleasant, like death, or what an eleven-year-old adventurer perceives the smell of death to be. Something catches my eye as I raise my face. The yeibichai ghost is no more than ten yards to the south of where we stand. Its face a mask in the shadows, almost transparent. The lights from the dump truck seem to pass it by, not able to pick up the spirit from another world. It is at this instant my dear reader, the most surprising thing happens, a moment that will perhaps always be with me.
Friday, May 26, 1972, 1:46 A.M.
“Danny, this way” the ghost yells, it’s voice bouncing off the concrete walls, softer than the dump truck’s engine, familiar in tone, yet different from the personality I would link it with. Jason jumps, as if he has been given a hot foot, twisting to look at what I see. “What the…”? Jason’s voice sounds as if a frog has entered his larynx. “Boy’s this way”, the ghost interrupts, beckoning us, toward the shadows, it’s feathers shaking. And then it disappears, into a dark opening in the concrete wall as if it was never there at all.
“Come on Joe”, Jason’s alias name is out of my mouth without thinking. We run without pause, hearing our would-be captors exiting the tunnel behind, where we had been but seconds before. Their attention toward the truck and its lights, and then turning toward us, their shouts of recognition trailing us, as we enter the dark opening to another small room, and a concrete wall before us. In the gloom, it would appear we are trapped.
“Oh man, oh man”, I hear Jason, sobbing, stumbling across the small space to the opposite wall. I am there with him, perhaps my sobs louder, my eyes more frantic. The voices, outside are closer. Skeeter’s voice, Geralds voice!
Jason is the first to fall into the hole, the indention in the earth on the south side of the room, that holds a shovel in it. His sudden cry of surprise, is followed by my own, as he pulls me in to follow him. The earth swallowing us.
Such a small hole though. One that has been dug perhaps only earlier this day under the south wall of the fort. Perhaps for the aluminum utility lines that run through it. Another tunnel, a smaller tunnel. One narrow enough to hold a young boy or two, to risk crawling through. Perhaps my reader even a lithe phantom could maneuver such a small opening. It is well that we do not see hands reaching for our feet out of reach, or hear the cries of rage of the hunters losing their prey.
The stars were in their place, the moon having retreated to a more distant place in the sky over Nenahnezad, as Jason and I exited the small tunnel to the south side of the fort wall to freedom. The ghost was there too, beckoning, talking, describing as “That Hoskie Boy” was known to do. Leading us on a wide berth of escape around the school compound, home.
Some years back I found a map of the fort, that Jason and I had drawn. The drawing was done some weeks after our perilous night of adventure spent there. The world has changed so much since those days. Mankind has grown more self-consumed, haughty and seemly ignorant of the hidden fire, that resides among us. Water and food supplies are often at risk from radioactive waste, that this government would not tell you of. The earth can heal itself, but sometimes it needs a little assistance. That help can come in the form of a spiritual duty, a signal, a sand painting and prayer. It can come in citizens doing their due diligence to protest, to investigate and to litigate, and in civil disobedience. It can come in letters from our children, taking a social stance on what is right for their future. All great things have a cause and effect, and nuclear energy is a great thing.
The trucks with their hazardous cargo left Nenahnezad in late August of 1972. Their departure was based upon the resistance of a small community, a yeibichai ghost, and two young witnesses, that BLM security never did find. No doubt a vestige of their young faces is scribbled upon an old and faded wanted poster to this day. Like all great adventures this one is not entirely imagined. The characters are for the most part real, as are the places. Some drama is real, some entirely imagined. I leave it up to you to decide which you would rather believe. Jason and I will be back soon. – 03.11.2017 – דָּנִיֵּאל
Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “The Haunted Fort” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap