The Haunted Fort


“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.

It stands there silent in the dark line of trees, just to back west wing of the girl’s dorm, its eyes now wide open, with no expression upon its face. The ghost is watching us.

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.

Epilogue

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


The Flame (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road)

(The Dream)

We come together by the ponds, near the flame, that flame so high. The vodka and tonics are like an infection, seeping through my soul, taking my boyhood memories, scaring me. Flame hill looks smaller than it used to, the winding road, the stirring yellow dust swirling, making pictures in the lights of the Anadarko Gas trucks, it looks gold, yeah gold, kind of like it’s a “Yellow Brick Road”. The pond to the north of the hill sits silent, dark, green, it looks the same, and forty-two years haven’t changed it much. Its okay, I suppose, it won’t be changed much in the story either. Behind me there’s another pond, that one a little larger, that one with the dam, the leaky dam. It has a different color, the reeds around it bent, making soft sucking noises, when they get caught in the water and the sand.

The touch on my arm, my right arm is cold, it’s a child’s touch I suppose. I look back at the ghost, somebody I know, somebody that won’t let me sleep. “Is this the yellow brick road”? I think I say that out loud, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, it doesn’t matter, the blonde headed spirit is shaking his head up and down, almost too fast, affirming something for sure. Something ready, here near flame hill, something that happened. “Did we catch him”? My question is answered already, the presence, is grinning, those dimples, I’ve seen in too many dreams over the past year.

There’s a wind kicking up out of the north, pushing the colored flame above me back and forth, it’s threatening it I suppose. That flame on the hill. The ghost is looking intently up at the fire, the body almost transparent, shimmering, and moving in tandem, with the wind. The yellow dust is moving too, throwing itself like a curtain from where I stand, I can hardly see the road.

“We did this didn’t we”? It’s a convergent question, based on historical knowledge, actual experiences. I look back, finally daring to look through the darkness to see the Southwest pond, it’s the one that holds the memories. I take a few steps, toward the base of flame hill, the shadows casting long in the darkness. The colored gas flame up above, shoots through the air, lighting the darkness, arching, it extends and then like a flickering torch it retreats leaving the truth of what I saw laughing in the past atop the water of the southwest pond.

“If I write this, it’s going to be goodbye, you know that don’t you”, I’m speaking to spirit, a dream may be, something that shouldn’t be, but is. The figure is looking intently at the flame, the blonde hair, my friend, my childhood friend. He looks at me, his smile, the same, the same grin, from the first day we met in the Grace B. Wilson Elementary School Library over a pile of Hardy Boy books.

“Write it”, he whispers. – 08.08.2015 – דָּנִיֵּאל

The Mystery of Cabin Island

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!

A.E. Sammons

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 Island

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.

Postscript

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


The Mysterious Caravan

“Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream

I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been

To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen

They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed”.

Jimmy Page/Robert Plant

Previously on “A Figure in Hiding

Sunday May 18, 1975 2:30 AM

I’m there again, waking again, the rotors turning, the deep bass, and the melodic sound of the wilderness outside my walls. The house itself so silent inside, maybe the occasional parental snore tumbling down the tri level stairs of the yellow house, the house on the hill. The house that sits next to the wilderness, that stretches wooing the vibrations, the ground swelling with the beating of sound.

I’m fourteen, nearing the end of all boys seeking adventure, closing the portal of the unknown, withdrawing from the cloak of mystery. I am less a boy, and no more a man, caught as it were between joy and wisdom, lacking in adolescence, void of want. But this. This! The hammer of the gods, drawing life from the ground. The thudding, and the undertaking of heaviness, and then the bugle, the charge, so much closer.

I’m moving from my bed, shoving the strips of cut cassette tape aside that divide my lower level room from the lower entryway to the downstairs door, my yellow patterned pajamas too long, nearly tripping me as I reach for the handle on the outer screen door. The mid May New Mexico night is chilly, and I instinctively wrap my arms encircling my hands on opposite shoulders, as if this in itself will warm me. I lean against the brick planter to my right, its cold rough exterior balancing me as I listen. The sound is much louder now, and nearer, blades whipping air, and music fainter but recognizable, coming from the east, coming from the wilderness.

The concrete from the sidewalk feels cold and raw on my bare feet, and I tiptoe as if a need for secrecy is near. I am being beckoned, the sound, the heaviness, the music. I move across the double carport opening, the sloped trunk of my parents green Pontiac Lemans, and Ford pickup truck greeting me silently as I pass by. I stand there, greeting the wilderness, stretching before me east to the darkened points of Twin Peaks, the desert reverberating with mood and sound. And then I see it, my vision mixing with sound. The half-moon stretched across the cold dry New Mexico sky, the military helicopter flying low, dipping as it were in prayer to the night. The music booming from its open darkened side door distinguishable moving in rhythm to the stars, so high in the desert sky. The light of the moon dances but for a brief moment on the lower nose of the flying craft, as it bends and turns toward the east, and I see it there. Like the music, it is distinguishable. I watch as the helicopter moves towards Twin Peaks. It hovers there, a red lone bulb blinking from near where the rotor spins on its tail. And, then it’s gone, moving on eastward, toward Farmington, leaving its memory, and secret, and I’m there again.


Sunday May 18, 1975 1:45 PM

“I can see it was right here”! Jason’s excited voice doing its level best to enter adult hood, ascends an octave higher. He’s surveying the whipped up sand, lying almost in a perfect circle around where we stand. “It was cavalry, right”, he’s nodding his head up and down in convincing fashion. “It was cavalry”, I have told it all, word for word relaying to my best friend, my early morning adventure. “They were playing Zeppelin”, Jason’s almost reverent, his eyes opening wide and blue. “Uh huh, Kashmir”, I say, “and they had a bugle, they kept playing the charge over and over”. We stand there for a moment studying each other, like it all might make sense, if we stare each other down. We are the Hardy Boys, sleuths, investigators of odd mystery’s, friends and brothers. I am Frank Hardy, the older one, dark haired, thoughtful, Jason is Joe Hardy, the younger one, impetuous, and bright. The truth is, we are growing apart, we don’t realize it yet, but this is our last adventure together. This will be our final summer together. No, we don’t know it yet, but we are embarking, into a mystery, that will seal the covenant, between us for eternity.

Jason is over to visit, on my excited invitation on a bright, warm, Sunday afternoon. He comes prepared for adventure, waving his copy of the latest Hardy Boy Book, “The Mysterious Caravan“. The book is published in January, of 1975, and both of us have sworn an oath to save reading it till June, when school was over. It was May however, close enough, and neither of us could wait a second longer. Now as we stand here, the desert widening around us, the book becoming a pointer, with Jason shoving it over my right shoulder, looking to the Northeast. “Did they land on the peaks”, his voice is almost hoarse with excitement. I turn and look, the pyramid shaped desert mounds molded against the horizon. “I’m not sure”, I say, trying to get the early morning picture straight in my mind. “They seemed to be looking for something”, I’m almost whispering, “Or someplace”, Jason finishes, his eyelids squinting against the distant sky.

“He who does not travel will not know the value of men”, Jason’s voice rings out, proudly, pronouncing, pontificating! I look at him without having to say what. He grins, and points at the Hardy Boy book he has clutched tightly in his right hand. “Remember, on page nineteen”, he announces proudly, “it’s an old Moorish proverb, and I say we should put it to use”. I know he’s talking about a trip to the peaks. It’s almost two fifteen, the peaks are close to a mile and a half away through a myriad of dry washes, and sage brush. I’m feeling lazy, I’m not up for hoofing it out there. “Let’s”, I start to say, but Jason’s tugging my arm, leading me toward the house. “Let’s get your dad’s binoculars”, he says, he’s pointing with the book again, and the decision has been made.

Sunday May 18, 1975 2:40 PM

The wind has picked up outside, as it often does in the spring. The sand is blowing throwing curtains of torment, all around our yellow house on the hill. I have just about talked my younger brother, out of a tortuous hike. I have this earnest look on my face, “We should wait Jason, we should go another time”. He knows we are growing apart, I see it still, to this very day I see it, a small dot of trust missing, the disappointment. His big brother, is growing more distant. Frank Hardy is losing his way.

It is at that moment that second in time, when two friends, young detective brothers, began to shift apart, to lose their way that the spirits that guide us all, can intervene. The magic that imparts gifts upon the gifted, can be summoned, and I did just tell you now dear reader, oh yes I did, the wind was blowing. Indeed what was too happen at that moment my friends, was to convince me that throughout my coming life, no matter what prevailed, destiny always stood taller.

“Vera, did you see the story on the Taylor kid”, my dad is reading the Sunday paper, something he seldom does. He’s a man who’s more interested in the ads. Jason and I are perched morosely in the living room floor, treading the gold carpet, pretending to study the cover of “The Mysterious Caravan”. Its yellow cover lies still between us refusing to open all by itself. “You mean the janitor from the school that was so sad”, my mom’s leaning against the opening that leads from the kitchen into the living room. “He took his own life you know”, mom’s voice down a notch, softer and sadder. “It says here he was a war hero, in Vietnam”, my dad’s sounding interested, “First Cavalry”, dad’s reading, “credited with saving over forty-five lives in the Cambodian Incursion”, in June of 1970″. Jason and I are staring at each other, my right hand is on his left hand, positioned tightly upon the cover of the Hardy Boy book between us, as a calling begins to speak. “I never would have dreamed”, my mom is saying, somewhere close to us, but sounding so far away. “Says here his name was Katz, is that Polish”, my dad is losing interest, as the seismic plates begin to shift around him, and the wind in the wilderness begins to wail. “Good nickname, they gave him”, dad’s saying, “called him Kashmir, because it says here he would climb any peak in Kashmir to save a cavalry man”.

Sunday May 18, 1975 4:10 PM

Most of our journey finds us seeking cover from the blowing sand, in the many arroyo’s that labyrinth the landscape. I carry my dad’s binoculars in their plastic case, making sure they stay hidden under my red jean jacket. Jason holds his Hardy Boy book carefully under his arm, our thinking not extending far enough to visualize what necessity it might possibly have to us on our expedition. It has taken us, an hour to hike to the peaks, and scale their sandy rounded west flank. It is as if our arrival at the tall desert peaks, has announced an armistice between our mission and the wind. In my right back pocket, carefully folded, is the front page of the Farmington Daily Times. We want to keep the story of “Kaz (Kashmir) Taylor close to us. It has summoned us from somewhere, by eyes that deem it necessary for us to know more. So it is that two young men, nearing their own ages of accountability, stand together on a bare sandy peak, looking to the west. The late afternoon sun shines its charge across the high barren plateau, striking Shiprock some twenty-five miles to the west, and casting a shadow of much awaited mystery on our two lads.

“He was gunner and medic, First Cavalry”, my voice sounds small, with the whole world below me. “He was a hero, and saved forty-five lives”, Jason continues his voice sounding stronger, than mine. “He was alone an orphan, nobody knows where he came from or if he has any family”, I continue, my voice doing its best to sound stronger. I’m taking the binoculars out of their plastic case, and taking the thick white plastic lens covers off. “He is a stranger to us”, Jason sounds almost ethereal. “He is known by his brother’s”, I finish, my voice a little higher than it needs to be, “and they are here”, I am whispering, almost at a perfect pitch, with the binoculars, making contact with my eyes.

“The horses, and the riders are over a mile away to the southwest of us. Even with my dad’s powerful binoculars, they look small but not insignificant. Jason is pulling on my left arm, demanding to see, his sleuthing instincts on high alert, and I give in to him. It is a time to share, to watch his face taunt and pale, his glasses tight against the black wide rims of the binoculars. “They’re cavalry”, he gasp, his voice once again adolescent strained and losing pitch. “Real cavalry”, he repeats in a smaller voice, as he hands the tubed glasses back to me. I look again, the horses and men are gathered around the fence near 550 highway. They are “real cavalry” as Jason said. I can make out their blues, and their stripes. I count them, and as if reading my thoughts, my younger brother, Joe Hardy, speaks, “there are seven”, he says.

We take turns watching them. The horses stand as a barrier as the cavalrymen pay attention to something by the fence. Along the shoulder of 550 highway we can make out two pickup trucks, both government green, behind them two horse trailers, empty of their cargo. It seems forever, the binoculars going back and forth between us, and as Jason is taking his turn, I realize we are laying side by side. Our stomachs are mashed into the gravel and sand of Twin Peaks, our elbows churned into the soil, Jason resting his left elbow, on the yellow cover of, “The Mysterious Caravan”. I study him for a moment, it seems I have known him my whole life. We have climbed mesas in the dead of night, entered houses unbeknown, risked life and limb above water, investigated haunted forts that we did not build. Yet he doesn’t know me, he doesn’t….”I’m flunking Mr. Ellison’s Algebra class”, I spit out. It comes out with a weak rasp, sounding anything but noble. I stare at him hard, I’m thinking maybe I have breached the vale, and this is the end, for us. The binoculars are still tightly pressed against his glasses, but it doesn’t stop the lone tear that falls, that drops onto the thirsty sand of Twin Peaks. I hear him alright, it’s a shame for me but I hear him. “I have to get an A in Ellison’s class he whispers”.

Sunday May 18, 1975 4:55 PM

The wind has picked up again, blowing from the north. Dark angry clouds are rolling to the back of us, there’s a distant rumble of thunder, and it smells like rain. “They’re moving”, Jason’s lips are barely moving as he whispers, he has the binoculars held out, may be a half inch from his glasses. I take the field glasses from him, and take a quick glance, as I climb to my feet. The seven men on horseback are riding at breakneck speed and they are making a direct beeline for the peaks. I can see the lead rider of the column, he’s carrying a pole with a red and white flag on it. The other’s riding behind him, have their swords drawn, all except for the one bringing up the tail position. The rear rider has a pair of binoculars pressed to his eyes as he rides, and they are aimed up to the top of the peaks where Jason and I now stand. “They’ve seen us”, I gasp, I’m pulling Jason back from the rounded edge of the west peak, “let’s get out of here”. I’m ashamed, not sounding very Hardy like at all. Jason and I look at each other, for a moment, I see the same uncertainty, reflecting in his eyes. It’s just a split moment, the skies darker, and the thunder louder. Armed danger against us, a mystery. It’s just a split moment, and in that second, for things have indeed changed, we lock souls. Everything becomes one from our childhood adventures, to our future destiny. It’s just a split moment. “The Vault” we say it together, our voices even, and we are running to the east following the terrain downward. My dad’s binoculars clumsily packed in their plastic case tightly held in my right hand, Jason’s Hardy Boy book in his left, and we are jumping, are faces held high to the darkened sky, our free hands joined. We are falling, as the first bolt of lightning parts the sky.

Throughout the spring and summer, and early fall of 1974, Jason and I had spent much time, in what we called the wilderness, a large tract of barren land to the east of my family’s home, that overlooked Kirtland, New Mexico. The only inhabitants of the land, was an abandoned oil tanker, a couple of hollowed out old sedans from the fifties, and Twin Peaks. Throughout the summer we had mapped out the labyrinth of dry washes, rattlesnake havens and had roamed each sandy square inch of Twin Peaks, mapping its distinctions, and the best ways to ascend or descend it. One could climb it from any direction, but the best trail was on the north side. From that side two boys filled with adventure seeking skills could switchback above a rocky ledge, and then a gentle climb to the top. The eastern peak had a moderate slope, with a shallow dry wash careening down its flank, that we has nicknamed the descent. After a hard days play in the hot New Mexico sun, our choice was always to descend the east side in the shade, and its calmness, and head for home. Between the two peaks, and their shared ridge, was a large washed out square arena that dropped some fifteen feet into a four-sided sand bed of brush and gravel. The profound drop off connected to a deep narrow arroyo that wiggled down the south side between the peaks and continued on some five hundred feet before playing out behind an east to west running ridge. Jason and I had named the area “The Vault” because of its sudden steep sides. Truth be known we had always felt that somewhere within “The Vault”, we would find hidden treasure. Now we used it as an escape route.

Perhaps you can join me, my reader, as we watch Frank and Joe Hardy, alias Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, fall. Fifteen feet against a rocky wall, the ground coming up fast and hard, as the dark sky overhead makes its way closer. The warm air rising, passing the young lads as they fall, on its way upwards, past the peaks to meet its cold relation. You can watch as the boys hit the sandy earth, may be a scratch or two from the twisted sharp tumbleweeds caught in “The Vault”. They are boys however, and they are scared. You know how tough scared young lads can be. No doubt scared, like young “Kaz (Kashmir) Taylor” a young man whom we heard of his heroics earlier this very day. Now we digress, here perhaps, as we watch our young boys run down the narrow arroyo. Would it surprise you to know, that they too are thinking of Mr. Taylor as they run, among many other things, I’m sure. They recognize they must beat the charging horseman unseen, and then they know, they must solve this mystery upon them. For indeed, they know there are connections, and clues, gifted upon them this very Sunday, and it is their last mystery they will ever solve together. Let’s rejoin them now, shall we. It looks like they have reached the safety of the ridge, no worse for wear. I am concerned about the weather however. Perhaps somewhat more than the cavalry that this way rides.

We watch them from the ridge as the rain begins to fall. We see them circle to the west of our position, going to the north side of the peaks. The clouds above us are growing darker by the moment. “I think we should head out before they get to the top” I whisper to Jason. “They’ll be able to see us from up there”, I’m Frank Hardy, the careful one. Joe Hardy’s having none of it however. “We have to see what they’re doing”, Jason’s voice sounds raspy, excited, full of fear and life. We watch the top of the peaks for several minutes through the binoculars, waiting to burrow down under the ridge at the first sign of movement above us. I have just begun, to think the cavalry has gone on to the north of our position, when they come riding around the base of the eastern peak, they are no more than four hundred feet from us. “What are they doing”, I’m whispering to Jason crouching down behind the sand bank that makes up the top of the ridge. It’s his turn at the field glasses, he’s beckoning me to take a look, his finger up in the shush position. I have just pressed my eyes to the binoculars when the lightning hits.

The world explodes both in and out of sound, white fire coming down, separating Twin Peaks. The force of electricity flows into “The Vault”, and then floods the arroyo, branching out to the left and the right. I can’t hear anything for a moment, only see, horses reeling, raring, For a brief moment as Jason is pulling me down behind the sandy embankment I see the frightened well lit faces of seven men in blue U.S. cavalry uniforms. Jason’s eyes are wide and blue, scared behind the shield of his glasses, and then I can hear him, “let’s go, let’s go, come on, let’s go”, he’s yelling. We are in movement running to the south and then along a wash to the west, somewhere further to the west of us in the now pelting rain, I hear the sound of horses, and men shouting.

Tuesday May 20, 1975 4:40 PM

Jason’s mom brings us both a tall thick glass of homemade root beer. She is a kind German woman with a thick accent that always takes time to ask about my family, even distant relatives. She leaves us alone in the family’s dining room to talk. It is a day and time in which drinks and snacks far and few between are not allowed outside dining areas. It seems forever since I have been there, and it feels good to be around Jason’s family again. Over the course of the past year, Jason and I have drifted to hanging out with others, with occasional sleepovers, with other friends, and then there are the girls. All distractions to our detective years and history together, but a sad reality, that is soon to make its final decision known. Today though we talk of mystery, for upon us is an incredible puzzle. We sit and discuss the mystery of what we know of “Kaz (Kashmir) Taylor” and how it connects to the helicopter, that I saw early Sunday morning, and the mounted cavalry that we both experienced Sunday evening. “Maybe there is gold hidden in “The Vault”, and their trying to find it”, Jason says. He’s sitting up straight, his eyes dancing, excited, he goes on, and “it could be just like in “The Mysterious Caravan”, where the thieves are looking for hidden gold in the Moroccan Desert. “Really, I’m surprised Jason”, I’m talking down to him, something I have never done, “what does that have to do with dead Kashmir dude”? Jason’s not to be deterred though, “look they are looking for something out there, and I admit I don’t know what Kaz has to do with it, but there’s a secret out there”. We sit there for a moment, like we used to do, studying the complex, being Hardy Boys, and then it dawns on us both at the same time. “What were they”, we both start to say, and then get the giggles over it, like a couple of girls, even that’s funny. “Doing down by the fence line”, Jason finishes the sentence. “It looked like they were putting a sign up”, I’m kind of proud of myself for getting the actual clue spoken out loud first. “Let’s go see what it says”, Jason is already standing up, when his mom comes in to tell him, of the serious chores he has waiting for him. I offer to help, but Irma Waite is a strong believer in one doing their own work, so Jason and I agree to go Wednesday after school. “Remember to ride your bike tomorrow”, Jason says as my dad arrives to pick me up, “you remember to get your chores all done”, I’m smiling as I leave with my dad, happy I don’t have chores, or have to get an A in Ellison’s class.

Wednesday May 21, 1975 3:50 PM

Jason and I, don’t fully comprehend the magnitude of what we are involved in, but we appreciate it. Our bikes rest on their kickstands up the embankment well off of highway 550 both are facing west. We stand in awe before the nailed U.S. Cavalry hat sitting atop the old fencepost that holds part of a tattered bob wire gate. There are deep hoof prints mingled all around us in the dried mud. Underneath the hat nailed to the post is the first cryptic clue, Jason and I have ever seen in real life. A series of numbers and words written in a foreign language occupy the sign. Of particular notice and interest to Jason and I, are the two black circles we see, one above the number four, and the other encircling the number six. I’m so excited I can’t let myself believe what I see before me is real. “I’m thinking somebodies jerkin are chain here”, my voice sounds paranoid, and not at all as happy as I feel inside. “Uh, I don’t think so”, Jason’s voice is reassuring, much more calm than usual. “Nobody in Kirtland would know how to write like this”, he’s bringing out his notebook, and a #2. Something I’m glad he remembered, because I forgot mine. He’s bent down low against, the sign, squinting, he’s trying to balance the wide two inch pale notebook, in his hand and write at the same time. I lean over and take the notebook from him, and hold it, my palms open balancing it, like an altar boy does the Bible for a priest. “Make sure you get the black circles”, I’m Frank Hardy again, studious, making sure all the shoestrings are tied, and doors closed. Jason, sometimes known as Joe Hardy, my younger brother looks up at me and smiles, and then continues his copying.

Wednesday May 21, 1975 4:30 PM

We leave the hat and the sign posted to the fence as we found it. Jason and I sit on the embankment by the side of 550 highway, studying the copy he has made. The traffic from east to west has increased, early clock out for some fortunate Kirtland and Shiprock, workers, who are employed in Farmington. The sky over head has taken on a late cold spring blue, and a light breeze has kicked up coming from out of the west, blowing dry cold air over the barren landscape. I look over my shoulder, they sit there, a mile to the northwest, the peaks, a time, a place, for the rest of my life, feelings I can’t ever forget, for you see my reader, there in that barren and dry, place, there a mile away from “The Vault” I left Camelot. My friend, my dearest friend, sitting right here next to me, studying, talking, putting the pieces together, “its Vietnamese you know Danny, I’m sure of it, and the numbers they’re directions, its code, I told you, it’s “The Mysterious Caravan”, their looking for treasure”. “I bet Kaz hid it” Jason’s voice has reached a high peak of excitement, his eyes dancing from positions of high upper right visual knowledge to lower left feeling. I agree with him, I have too. He is right, for the most part I suppose, but then I have gone forward, I have left Camelot, and the mystery, the clues, the code, it is telling me more, and my excitement has turned to ashes, it descended like a descant to grief, for in some part of me the boy has gone hunting, and seen the first blood of the kill.

Thursday May 22, 1975 12:15 PM

Mrs. Shari Groves, librarian at Central Junior High in Kirtland New Mexico, stares suspiciously at the two boys who use their lunch hour to study foreign language dictionary’s and maps in the back of the small library. They sit there, the libraries globe before them, surrounded by books on far eastern language alphabets and their characteristics. It is uncommon, and those of you who our familiar with the habits, and pathways of young men ages thirteen and fourteen, recognize that Mrs. Groves with her usually cheerful disposition, no doubt has good cause, to keep a keen eye on the two lads. If you have a bird’s eye view, and in this particular story you do, you would notice that the boys have mapped out numbers on a sheet of paper to the right of them. Those numbers are “36749906.5” followed by the letter “N“. The number 6 has been circled with a dark imprinted line, as if someone has taken a pencil around it multiple times. Beneath this line of numbers you will see another series of numbers reading “1083096.8” followed by the letter “W“. To the left of our young sleuths is another sheet of letter and number filled paper. You have the privilege of studying it for yourself now. From the top left hand corner now shall we. “Mt Troop 4 Squadron 12 Đoàn 1 K Binh M Birgade 052.475“, stare closer and you will see that the number 4 has another dark imprinted circle above it. Following this line of carefully printed letters and numbers, you will see a final line that reads, “024 Trm Kashmir Chúng ta quên bn không“.

“Its latitude and longitude, it has to be the location of where the treasure is”, I’m talking loud enough to get an ssshhh from both Jason and Mrs. Groves. I take the ruler from Jason and starting with the degree of longitude given, I begin the reversal process of mapping the numbers of the equations. “Thirty-six degrees out of 360°” I’m talking too loud again which gets me a stern look of rebuke from both librarian and Joe Hardy. Numbers are not my strong point but neither is language, so I dig in to calculating the distance, and bearing between my latitude and longitude points. I have the general area on the globe but I need a map, and as I’m about to let out a scream of sleuthing frustration, Mrs. Groves, soft voice whispers in my ear, “look on the wall”. I nearly let out a scream anyway. Jason is staring at me his mouth open in a big toothy grin, that makes me what to loosen some of his teeth. He has seen Mrs. Groves approaching and taken great care to cover his work, while watching me get the big scare. I look at the west wall of the library, the large USGS map of the area, framed by oak, a gift to the school, by some unknown benefactor. I walk to it, my paper and ruler in hand, and begin to measure points. I can hear Jason and Mrs. Groves whispering in the background, but for me I am alone. I am working, the first clue in my young life, that will lead me someday to scrub millions of points of data for one of the world’s largest corporations. My right brain has met my left. “Wow, just wow, LOOK AT THIS”, I’m nearly shouting forgetting my station and location. Forgetting Mrs. Groves and Jason’s stern stare. I turn to announce my news, to an empty library.

“The Vault” on Twin Peaks holds the direct crosshairs of the latitude and longitude measurements given by the cavalry’s sign on the highway. I have to tell Jason if I can figure out where he’s off to. My heart misses a beat for a moment, perhaps, Mrs. Groves is on to us. May be she’s in league with the mysterious caravan of cavalry, looking for Kashmir’s treasure. Why at this moment Jason is no doubt sitting under the torturous gaze of Principal Carl Schmitt being grilled on what he knows, while Mrs. Groves holds his paper of findings. Schmitt’s probably in on it too. The whole darn school staff is probably in on it, they’re always talking about teachers don’t make enough. A little of Kashmir’s gold to grease their pockets would probably make them all succumb to torturing a kid. They do it on a daily basis anyway. I stand there for a few minutes bewildered, wondering at how I might form a rescue for poor Jason. I’m marching to the door of the library, paper in hand, ready to do business, when the door is flung open by none other than Principal Carl Schmitt.

Thursday May 22, 1975 12:45 PM

Our position above the library, allows us the benefit of watching Mrs. Shari Groves converse quietly with young Jason, as his friend furiously studies the USGS map on the western wall of the library. It would seem my reader that Mrs. Groves recognizes, the script at hand, and also knows whom might be able to help decipher. You see my friends, she is aware that Principal Carl Schmitt, began his tenure as a vocational agriculture teacher. Indeed one of Mr. Schmitt’s crowning achievements in his agricultural past was to learn the Vietnamese art of irrigation in order to bring water to rice fields inland. The fact is folks, Mr. Schmitt had to learn some of the Vietnamese language in order to learn about some of their farming methods. That in itself not an easy task in a small New Mexico community at the height of the Vietnam War. We can all understand young Danny’s concerns at turning to find his accomplice missing, along with their findings, but rest assured no foul play is at hand. Frank and Joe Hardy, may have gotten their first big break in their case.

“My guess is this is a summons of some sort”, Mr. Schmitt, has one of those reasonable, “can’t we gather together kind of voices”. “If you look here gentlemen, and Mrs. Groves”, he gives the grinning librarian a nod of acknowledgment, “Mt is one or a, than there is troop, Mỹ Đoàn 1 K Binh all goes together as U.S. 1st Cavalry”. “I speculate that top line is saying a gathering for 1st U.S. Cavalry 12th brigade”. Mr. Schmitt is looking over the top of his glasses, at us, and I gather he is doing some other speculation he is not telling us of. “What about the bottom line”? Jason almost forgets his manners in his excitement, “uh Mr. Schmitt”. “That one is easier boys”, Mr. Schmitt has gone from reasonable to a businessman sound. That line is saying, “Our Kashmir we will not forget you”, “I can’t tell you what the numbers are for”, Mr. Schmitt finishes with a sniff, looking even further over his glasses at Jason and I. There is a silence in the library that last forever. No one speaks, then the fourth period bell sounds. “You gentlemen better get to class”, Mr. Schmitt is standing up dismissing us, we are already gathering papers, leaving no evidence behind. Mrs. Groves, is calling out after us, before we can get our lowered gazes out the door, “tell Mr. Schmitt thank you boys”.

Thursday May 22, 1975 3:45 PM

We are at the fence post again. The hat and sign are undisturbed, just as we had left them on Wednesday. The flow of traffic along 550 highway hums in the background, a reminder that we are in between the worlds of mystery, and man. The sun hangs high in the light blue sky, its brilliance a reminder of a summer that is almost at hand. A light breeze has picked up out of the south crossing the San Juan River and is making its way up the long slope from the village of Kirtland to the northern high plain. There is one more day of school left, which is of no concern to me, outside of one failed Algebra class. Jason and I have talked nonstop since the final school bell rang, and what was unknown about our mystery is now partially known. The 12th brigade of the 1st U.S. Cavalry is among us. They are gathering to honor one of their own that has fallen, and they have chosen “The Vault” of Twin Peaks to meet at. Why and when is still a mystery, but as we stare at the sign, the numbers swarming around us, something so simple, that has been staring at us all day is summoned forth. Like the hieroglyphics that melted in Frank and Joe Hardy’s hands in “The Mysterious Caravan, the puzzle comes together. “052.475 is” Jason begins, “the date”, I interrupt, Jason looks at me grinning, “that’s Saturday”, he say’s and before I can interrupt again with the obvious question and answer, he blurts out, “024 is military time for midnight”, he’s so excited he’s almost hyperventilating, “they are doing this Saturday at midnight”.

We stand there, Frank and Joe Hardy, alias Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, integrated in time. The ghost of mystery, and childhood, struggling with the realities of adolescence and change. The sun becoming ever brighter, as it tilts towards Shiprock, our time together so fragile now, so limited, and defined, and nearing a place of goodbye.

“Why do you think the number 4 has a circle above it”, Jason’s inquisitive voice, one I hear to this day in a sweeter dream. “Yea, and why is number 6 circled in the longitude”, I’m trying to imagine my voice sounding more like Frank Hardy, but it comes out nasal sounding and small. We study the numbers on the sign for a bit, the sound of traffic on 550 growing denser in the background. “They are meeting on the 26th at midnight not the 24th“, Jason’s soft voice carries the solving of the riddle, the final clue, the missing puzzle piece. I look at him amazed. Something so obvious, concealed in plain sight. It has all come together, all of our lives to this moment, and suddenly we both are laughing, I reach over and grab him, and hug him. Nobody sees us. “Let’s go see what they do”, I’m whispering loudly in his ear”. “We have too”, he whispers back.

Saturday May 24, 1975 3:00 PM

Jason and I have spent a good deal of the day fashioning djellabas out of two moth eaten black army blankets he has found in his families garage. No doubt at some point Mr. Waite will come looking for them, but winter is a few months away, and young detectives are aware that an adults mind grows weary with the characteristics of life. One’s memory can fade, with were one might have placed blankets, or chords, and in the day to day activities such things are soon forgotten. In “The Mysterious Caravan” Frank and Joe Hardy travel to Morocco in search of an ancient treasure hidden in the desert. Their mode of wear while dealing with thieves, and smarmy characters in the North African wilderness is a hooded Berber garment called a djellaba. While we are not seamstresses, we have a tiny spot of creativity between us, and our final product while not authentic in nature to the desert wear, has us at least looking like characters from a future movie, two years hence called Star Wars. Our plan is to scale Twin Peaks Monday evening, in the darkness, concealed by our wear, and see exactly what kind of mysterious rite the U.S. 1st Cavalry has planned for their deceased comrade. We talk as we sew, with questions of death and the living. Will we see the body of “Katz (Kashmir) Taylor”? Will there be guns fired? Will treasure be found or buried with the body? Most of all we want our plan to be perfect, without the slightest chance that we will be seen, or caught. We are sleuths, and we have solved a mystery, it is time to reap our reward.

It seems reasonable to us that the cavalry will be on horses, since the landscape is difficult for any type of motorized vehicle, unless they are all on dirt bikes. That doesn’t seem likely, as even a dirt bike might have difficulty with some of the larger arroyos, especially at night. To us their best approach on horseback, is the north side of Twin Peaks, and so as I observe, Jason caringly labels the caravan trail, on our map. We have a decision to make, on where our best vantage point might be. We consider the east trail, up which we have renamed the “Kashmir Descent”, but even in darkness it is too open and we might be seen. Our only choice it seems is to assail “The Vault” in darkness, and hope that we are not seen or trapped in the narrow arroyo on our way to the top.

We walk outside the yellow house, the house that sits on the hill. The wind has picked up, blowing sand across our concrete driveway, along with two small tumbleweeds from the wilderness to the east. I walk over to the edge of the driveway, standing next to the white decorative metal stand that holds up the right front of the carport. Jason follows me over both hands in his pockets, a serious look on his face. Twin Peaks stares blankly at us across the space of brush, tumbleweeds, and dry washes. “I finished “The Mysterious Caravan” last night”, Jason’s talking to me, or maybe to the wilderness. I look over at him, “I’m almost done, with it, don’t tell me what the next one’s called”. I’m referring to the next Hardy Boy title, which is always put in the last paragraph of each book. “Okay, suit yourself, it’s really out there” he says. The afternoon has cooled off considerably with the strong wind. We stand there a little longer, two boys, on the edge of forever, staring out at the wilderness. Somewhere, a little beyond Twin Peaks we see a helicopter flying.

Monday May 26, 1975 10:15 PM

I bring you back with me, my reader, as I have done so many times before. Our age, and experiences in life, our gains and losses, our loves and fears, make us anticipate this night, as well as dread it. Frank and Joe Hardy, alias Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, are waiting for us, as they have waited on so many adventures before. You see them there don’t you. The Swearingen family’s yellow and blue tent pitched behind the yellow house on the hill. It’s thick canvas exterior rocking in the gentle breeze blowing from the wilderness, from the northeast. Above this scene a star filled sky, a universe of treasure and mystery, and beneath it, those boys, with clear eyes, and strong hearts, and such curious minds, they wait, dressed already in their black hooded djellabas, they wait. It’s a full moon tonight, my friends, the fullest, and it shines a pathway over the wilderness, lighting the brush, and the dry arroyo’s, and making Twin Peaks glow, like two worlds arisen from the past, for that they are tonight. If you listen, if you draw your subconscious open to hear, you will hear the sound of the ground swelling with the beating of sound, and you will hear a bugle. At first distant, and then closer, near the desert peaks, and then like our dear boys laying there open eyed and waiting, you will hear the hammer of the gods, drawing life from the ground. It is time!

I’m on my knees unzipping the netted opening of the tent, my black robe slipping over my hand, making my efforts difficult. Jason’s pushing me from behind, impatient to be free of our canvas quarters. At last we are free of the tent, at first on our knees and then sprinting to a run. We are passing the corral that makes up the back of our property, my brother’s horse, “Babe”, staring wide eyed at us as we run, the moonlight shining off of her brown coat, giving her an ethereal glow. We stop for a moment at the edge of the property looking with wonder across the span of the wilderness. The helicopter hovers in the distance above the peaks, a light shining down, bathing the entire expanse of the summit. “Do you hear it”, my voice is out of breath, excited. “Kashmir, its, its, its, ZEPPLIN”, Jason is beside himself reaching to pull his hood up and on, “let’s go, come on”, he’s has my left hand jerking me forward. I’m running, trailing behind my younger sleuthing brother, trying to keep my hood on. We are stumbling, falling and tripping. Our excitement is uncontrollable. Those moments! Those high flying jumps, over desert yucca, the whole of the moon to light our way. Our black robes flying open, heavy woolen hoods, bouncing off of our backs. We are forever the same as we have always been, since that first meeting over a Hardy Boy book in the Grace B. Wilson Elementary School library. We are the Hardy Boys.


Monday May 26, 1975 11:05 PM

The U.S. 1st Cavalry, 12th Division gathers nearby. The sound of horses, and the whispers of men, seem to surround us, although to our best estimation we have moved to their east, and they are behind us. The helicopter is no longer hovering above Twin Peaks, having moved on around the time we passed the abandoned oil tanker, and hollowed out sedans. Our knowledge of the wilderness, and countless hours spent mapping the labyrinth of arroyos in the wilderness, has paid off, as we have made good time under the light of the moon. In our excitement in leaving we have forgotten our flashlights. The last ridge before Twin Peaks stands before us. We are close to the same place we encountered the cavalry and the lightning over a week ago. The moon is so low, it’s as if you could reach up and touch it. I’m staring at it in wonder, Jason’s climbing ahead of me, pulling his hood up over his head for the hundredth time, cresting the ridge, “Oh”, it’s a whisper, almost prayer like. I look up, he’s on his knees, desperately signaling me forward with his left arm behind his back. “What”, I start to say, but Jason’s looking back his finger lit by the moon, going up to the shadow of his face under the hood, a plea for my silence. I instinctively bring my own hood up, as I reach the crest of the ridge, and then I too am sinking to my knees, amazed at the sight that unfolds before me.

“The Mysterious Caravan”, a hundred, a thousand dress blue. The moon is speaking to the earth, the night is singing to the sky, and we are witness. Brass and swords, black arm bands, stripes and solemn faces, and we are witness. They ride from the southwest following the narrow trail from 550 Highway, to the northeast following the trail that Jason and I had put to paper, around the Twin Peaks, the caravan trail. The light of the moon fills the wilderness, the solemnity of man, invades our young souls, and in that moment we are witness. I take Jason’s hand, gently, pulling him back down from the ridge, “we better head up to The Vault”, I whisper. He nods in agreement and we back our way down the sand embankment, making our way toward the dark narrow arroyo that leads to “The Vault”.

Monday May 26, 1975 11:50 PM

There are stories that you follow, that become you. I know it’s true for you my reader. Would it be unbecoming of me, to say that you have come to cherish these boys? They are you, male or female, they are you, from the explosion of birth, to the investigation of life, to the finality of breath, they are you. I am you also, and I take you with me now, to the end. The arroyo it’s dark, so little light, twisting and narrow, turning, following the pattern of thunderstorm water. Like spirits they levitate upward. They run in darkness, their dark robes floating behind them. Their breath in ancient air, pulling it from the New Mexico sky, exhaling with life. You see them there. “The Vault”, and you see the dress blues lying there upon the naked stone, the hat, and the sword, of “Katz (Kashmir) Taylor” as they see it. From above them, from fifteen feet of stone and sand above them, you hear it, oh I know you hear it. The sound of many boots, the sound of many boots.

I am beside my brother you see. He is beside me, and it is the end. We climb “The Vault”. Strange that we have never climbed “The Vault”. Our black robes have encumbered us, and so we disrobe leaving the black blankets in the southeast corner of “The Vault” underneath a large sage bush. The moon is shining down, the light exposing the upper half of “The Vault”, and as we begin to climb, we see the uniform, hat and sword. Seven feet up a rock outcropping holds, the dress blues and side weapon of Kashmir. We climb to each side of it, grasping stone and brush, our eyes alight with adventure. We can hear the movement and the sounds of men so close to us, just above us. Many men, and then I feel the edge, the top. I look over at Jason, one foot behind me, and then he looks at me. Together we raise our heads above “The Vault” to see what we will see.

The boots, the many boots, a hundred, a thousand, and they come together, upon this place they come together. The moon falls upon the stone faces, the looks of war. The silence of life, of darkness, under the moon, on Twin Peaks, and Kashmir is here, his remains so near to our very faces.

And it was that Jason and I saw, “The Mysterious Caravan” from life unto death, and its sight, will never leave me! – 02.13.2015 – דָּנִיֵּאל

Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “The Mysterious Caravan” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap

Kashmir – All Rights – Jimmy Page & Robert Plant


A Figure in Hiding


Music by Nightwish all rights

Previously on “Mystery of the Desert Giant

Let those stars guide you, as you see them slipping by, faster now then you have ever traveled, so quick a spell throughout the night. If you die young Mr. Hardy’s, know that you die so very high, for in the end, there is a figure hiding, awaiting you so deep inside. For want of mystery Mr. Hardy’s, for want of spell, to know why. In this childhood, now Mr. Hardy’s know it now that we did fly. Know it now that we did fly!

Thursday October 11, 1973

Its picture day for the little league football teams of Kirtland, New Mexico. The sun is setting lower in the sky, considering its daily goodbye, while a gathering storm brews over the river bluffs to the south of the practice field that belongs to the LDS Church. Danny Swearingen, and Jason Waite, alias Frank and Joe Hardy, are playing football, howbeit, for different teams and weight divisions. Looking back on the situation, it’s a wonder I wasn’t maimed, playing in the heavy weight division for the Kirtland, Colts. I am barely ninety pounds sopping wet. Jason my younger detective brother in spirit, a skinny blonde haired lightweight, is grinning at me across the field. The Kirtland Cardinals are finished with their pictures, and well before the first drops of rain, are starting to fall. I wave at Jason, but he’s already taking off across the field toward the north, his football helmet under his left arm. He’s headed across the street to the Blankenship’s to wait on his Mom to pick him up. It’s their designated pick up spot. Sparky Spangler one of our coaches is yelling at me to get in line for pictures. It’s starting to rain, its cold, and I wish I was sitting on the Blankenship porch, where it’s dry, talking with Jason.

By the time, my Dad picks me up, the cold rain has stopped. A mist has moved in, unusual for New Mexico even with rain. Its eventide, almost dark, as my Dad turns west on the old Kirtland highway. I look out the pickup window, toward the northeast, seeing the Blankenship house sitting back from the highway.

Charles and Elda Blankenship were taking a long needed rest at their home in Orem, Utah. In February of 1972, the Blankenship’s had moved to Kirtland, to assist in the care of Charles’s father, who was suffering horribly from dementia. Their initial assessment that the old man would not last through the spring, had been in error, as he had hung on to precious moments of life through August of 1973. Exhausted, both physically and emotionally, the Blankenship’s had locked up, the old man’s home with the intention of returning another day to determine its destiny. Now it sits there, swimming in mist, between its two Oak guardians, it’s gloomy, and I wonder if Jason’s Mom has picked him up yet.

Friday October 12, 1973

My locker at Kirtland Central Junior High, is on the northwest corner of intersecting halls. I am accustomed to entering it gingerly as fast moving students late for class are always colliding with me when I have the door open. Even so, I am unprepared to have Jason swing around the corner knocking me into the open metal door frame. His deep blue eyes are shining, almost silver. His wire framed glasses are cocked back on his head, and he is talking, as he moves them down onto the bridge of his nose. “The Blankenship’s house is haunted, there’s something inside there”, Jason’s sputtering, so unlike him, so uncalculating, not Hardy Boy like at all. I have to be looking at him, like a lost marble, because he stops blathering for a moment. Uncharacteristically he gets in my face his lips puckered like he could place a smooch on me, “Look I saw a ghost inside the Blankenship’s last night, the lights, they just came on by themselves”. “WE HAVE TO FIND OUT WHAT”S GOING ON”! Jason’s voice reverberates above the din in the hallway. Kelly Van Camp an overgrown freshman who has a locker, three down from me, brushes by pushing Jason even further into me, “Queers” he mutters as he saunters by. Jason and I just look at each other for a moment, suddenly grinning. The five minute buzzer sounds, and at the same time we say “NOON”! We part ways, to make our morning classes our faces vibrant like dawn.

The long front lawn of the school by the line of pear trees to the east is a perfect meeting ground for young sleuths. The sunny setting seems a poor backdrop to Jason’s story, taking the edge off of the fear, and deflating the mystery somewhat. Young Joe Hardy is persistent however, and as he talks, the clouds roll in from the south, crossing the muddy San Juan, throwing wind and stirring dust, hovering, and casting strange lots. My eyes are easels my mind a canvas, and Jason’s story is indeed a hidden work of art. “It’s just like “Doc Grafton’s” house in “A Figure in Hiding“, Jason begins! It’s the Hardy Boy book he’s been reading as of late. He’s been thinking about it since last night. So it is faithful reader, to the best of my knowledge the story unfolds, something like this.

Irma Waite is late to pick up her fourth child from football practice. Coordinating a family of five children, and a busy husband, is taxing work, and the occasion does present itself for certain appointments to be met at a tardy rate. Jason had found himself pacing the Blankenship porch, as the late afternoon rain storm moved in, and just as quickly as the rain had begun it dissipated. In its stead came a mist, in Jason’s words, “thicker than any the Hardy’s had ever encountered on Barmet Bay“. He watches as parents pick up their sons from football practice, wishing his mom would hurry along. He sees my dad’s long bedded olive green Ford turning, and he lifts a hand, his farewell, knowing I don’t see him. He turns, and sighs, and the lights flash on suddenly inside the Blankenship house, illuminating the front porch where he stands.

In “A Figure in Hiding“, the Hardy Boys, along with their chum Chet Morton come across a two story house in the woods outside of Bayport, where the gangster Doc Grafton and his Eye Syndicate Gang are in hiding. The young detectives face many harrowing events in their attempts to help a young kidnapped girl escape from the gangs two story hideout. Now you dear reader can understand a young lad’s mind full of figure’s in hiding, shadows and mysteries, investigations and clues. Indeed you might would want to place yourself upon that mist shrouded porch. Watching light suddenly seep out through heavy curtains from an abandoned home, and then you like young Jason those many years ago, might hear a door open from deep inside the house.

So softly the sound, but distinguishable, with the wind retreating, the fissure of air, as a door releases its latch and opens with a slight squeak. Jason told me he was intrigued, mystified, everyone in Kirtland knew the Blankenship’s were out of town. With his brother Frank Hardy not around to caution patience, and his Hardy Boys Detective Handbook not at hand, our young Joe Hardy pitched caution to the wind and mist. Racing around the west side of the house, seeking the first curtain less window or entryway he could find. Now we can all see it so clearly now, ah reader you know, a young sleuths passion to see, to know. The first window, it is, no more than six feet from the southwest corner of the house. The large oak nearby, swaying casting reaching arms in shades upon the greyish white siding. The neglected treehouse cast aside by neighborhood children some years earlier, capping the top of the shadows near the roof line, like a hat, a witches cap. You see him don’t you, our young Jason pulling himself up to the near, curtain less window, just a light shade between the glass and the interior, and from deep in the house, by the stairs, the hooded figure, the tall dark faceless figure. Staring at our Jason, as the lights go out.

It was a time to retreat, a time to run in haste, through the mist and shadows, off of the Blankenship property. Jason ran his football helmet, and shoulder pads left on the front porch, in the darkness, with the figure. Jason ran east down the old Kirtland highway until at some moment the headlights from the family station wagon picked him up. Irma Waite, admonishing, and late, turned the car around, telling her young scared son he would have to get his football equipment later, she had a late supper to fix. Our Joe Hardy had sat in silence, his heart racing, a mystery at hand, “A Figure in Hiding“, waiting.

Saturday October 13, 1973 (Morning)

It’s a chilly October morning, I can feel the frost, biting my lips, the suns up and bright, but still not warm enough to keep the shivers away. My bike is gathering speed, rolling southward down into the valley on 6th Street. I’m at that point where a bike and a twelve year old boy are legend. Between that, the cold air, and the mystery of a hidden figure, mortality treads softly, for it cannot quench a young sleuths flame. From a different direction on this reserved morn, my detective brother also rides, and our hearts meld together, our determination like song. It will be just minutes from now. Come away with me my reader, now seconds, pedals moving. Excitement building into the LDS Church parking lot. Lift your right hand with me, and strike it high against my detective brother’s sweaty palm. Know what it feels like to turn your bike, in broad daylight, and stare across the empty pavement, the long lawn. See the Oak sentinels, those dark praetorians in color on this beautiful morning, and then look downward to the house, and wonder what or who resides there.

We park our bikes up against the side of the church, the light tan bricks feeling safe against the unknown, lying in wait across the street. The plan made on the previous day, is to approach the Blankenship house in daylight, and gather Jason’s football equipment. Once it is safely in our possession we will do a brief inspection to gather clues. “What if he comes out in the daylight”, my voice has a little tremor to it, perhaps more from the cold, or maybe I’m just scared. We’re crossing the street now, already on the Blankenship’s lawn, the sun hitting the east side of the house throwing a minor shadow against the oak on the west side. Jason looks over his left shoulder, he’s grinning, “There’s two of us”. We’re almost running now, and I can see Jason’s football helmet turned over on its side, near the front door, and as mystery descends upon us, I find I am afraid no more.

We gather Jason’s helmet and shoulder pads, examining them, as if the mysterious hooded figure might have donned them for a night time scrimmage with other villains in the Blankenship’s front yard. The front windows still curtained stare quietly back at us, and with a wave of his hand, Jason jumps off the porch leading me around the left side of the house. The window is there quietly waiting and in our excitement to look into it, we bump into each other. The light shade pulled makes it hard to see anything in the darkened interior of the house, and the room beyond to the staircase shows no dark figures or swarthy characters lurking about. The slump in our young shoulders is only matched by the collapse in our excitement. “You believe me don’t you”, Jason’s blue eyes are watery, his pupils large, he’s never been unsure before, not like this. I don’t like him like that, it puts holes in my security blanket. “Come on”, I say, let’s see what else we can find. This time I’m leading as we head on down the west side of the house.

“Nothing, there’s nothing”, Jason’s angry voice carries out, reverberating off the east side of the house. We have circled the entire house and found nothing. The silence on this cold Saturday morning seems to be mocking us. There has been no figure in hiding, no Doc Grafton, and no Eye Syndicate Gang. We are walking dejectedly across the front lawn of the Blankenship house, our shoes crunching down on the frosty grass. Almost to the street dear reader, when a slight noise catches my ear. A whisper if you will. The sound that silk makes when it catches a rough wood, and I turn so slowly, and then I’m turning Joe Hardy, my sleuthing brother, and we stand in awe. The east front upper window above the porch awning is open, and curtains blacker than night are whipping the outer edges of the window ledge. The street behind us stands empty and still.

Saturday October 13, 1973 (Evening)

I have played my last game as a Kirtland Colt. The late afternoon sun is casting long rays across the western edge of the Kirtland High School football field. The Aztec Stars run by us, victorious, goading, their coaches silent and smirking. Jason is standing with my parents, the Cardinals game played, and won earlier in the afternoon. His eyes meet mine, they are alive, I start to laugh, football, with its wins and losses is forgotten. Jason has begged his parents to stay and watch me play. They have consented, when my parents agree to drive him home. It gives us a few minutes longer to talk about the Blankenship house.

We had felt it best to leave well enough alone earlier in the day. Jason had to be home. We figured if anyone caught us climbing on top of the porch in broad daylight, with an open window in front of us, it would complicate us being able to solve the case. We were sure we had a real mystery on our hands, and we wanted to crack it ourselves. We had stared for some time at the open window watching the dark curtains flutter around, hoping to see but just a trace of “The Figure in Hiding”. You know of course my reader that we didn’t see him, I’m certain you also know what we were thinking.

As my dad drives slowly by the Blankenship house, the family car grows silent. My mom who has been discussing late dinner plans just stops talking. Jason and I instinctively sink lower into the backseat of the car, our eyes wide, peeled northward staring at the darkened house. It’s as if we left our scent there, and the figure knows we are near. The trees, the guardians of the house, they’re moving, catching the wind which has picked up, throwing shadows. “I can’t see the window, it’s too dark”, I whisper, even so my words carry. “What window”, my mom calls from the front seat. “Nothing mom”, doing my best to sound not interested, I look over at Jason, he’s still staring out the back window, his eyes moving back and forth, and I know he has a plan.

Jason, doesn’t say much when we drop him off, he gives me his A OK signal, extending his right index finger, and then pointing toward the roof of his house. I give him a thumbs up, and then a high five. I watch him as he heads for the sliding glass door nearest the families outside pantry. He bends down and looks at something on the ground studying it intently. “Is that boy ever going to make it inside”, my dad sounds impatient, ready to get home. Jason straightens up suddenly, holding what looks like a coil of wire, it’s hard to see exactly what he is holding, he looks back at the car, and waves and then he’s inside, with his plan. The ride home is quieter still. Usually not one for music in the car, my dad turns on the radio, skipping from one long distant crackling AM station to another, until my mom takes over and turns it off. We are passing the Blankenship house faster this time. I look out the back window to see if I can see anything or anyone, and the I see the lights come on, and then blink off again as we drive out of sight.

Wednesday October 17, 1973

It’s a clear day, with low wind, the skies above Kirtland spartanly clear, honest, and if one were to look from north to south or east to west, they would see goodness, to a fault, almost everywhere. Two boys, there by the pear trees, on the east side of the Kirtland Central Junior High campus, one dark hair, one blonde. Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, alias Frank and Joe Hardy. You see them don’t you reader, crouched there in the dormant grass, talking, earnestly. Papers before them, held down by once grass stained knees, planning, a compass there, you see it don’t you reader, angles, and judgments of weight, speed, dexterity, fulcrums, balances and pulleys. Measurements and gravity, what does it take to make a boy fly? What about two? Yes, it’s a clear day, an honest clear day, blemished by only one spot, a hidden figure, a mystery that plays with a young boys mind until discovered. Criminals and “Eye Syndicates” that must be brought into the light of day. What about falling from skies, what about falling at night? The older one, the dark haired one, the one who ask, the impetuous one. He’s the younger one, the blonde haired one. He’s scribbling now, making notations around angles and percentages, and gauges of wire and height, and he writes an answer. Look closer dear reader, you might see what young Jason wrote. It’s there close to the bottom of the paper. “If we die, we die high”.

We will string the 1/4 galvanized cable from fifteen feet above the porch level on the western Oak, the one we are now referring to as Charlie’s Oak. It will serve as our launch pad. The other end of the wire will be stretched and tied approximately five feet above the Blankenship’s porch roof on the eastern Oak knotted and anchored on the split, in the mammoth Y of the tree. We will build two chain anchors each with a turnbuckle and two metal thimbles to hold and tighten the wire once in place. We will be flying at night, holding onto homemade wooden spindles with holes drilled by our careful hands. We will have rope knotted and slipped up through a chain link connected to a pulley that will slide on the wire. Jason’s father has contributed without his knowledge, at least as of yet. U.S Army surplus zip line, turnbuckles, thimbles and pulleys, used in ordinary days to pull a jeep stuck in spring river mud. Now its purpose to propel the Hardy Boys through the night air.

“How do we stop”, the questions out of my mouth, it has to be asked. We will be sliding at breakneck speed from west to east, at a 30% angle, and we have no way of braking. Jason figures if we lift our legs high enough, we will slow our own momentum, and as we enter the target zone above the porch top we will jump. The estimated distance from our height to landing is twenty-six inches. The porch roof is at an incline, and we will have our football pants on, our knees will be padded. We still have a week to turn them in. The thinking is we will come in from, the air. Not something that “A Figure in Hiding” will be expecting. Our greatest concern is how to get the zip line in place between the two trees without the gang inside the house seeing us. All great plans come with a risk, and it is the one peril that we have failed to mitigate. The chance of surprise will depend heavily on deftness and size.

Friday October 19, 1973

We wait, he waits, the entire world shutters and refuses to go to sleep. The bikes sit outside the Waite home. It is a time when bikes can be left outside, unlocked, alone. It is a time when dark figures reach without hands, with mystery, across time and space and grab the thoughts of young minds who pretend to read, and wait for the human world to go to sleep. My mind takes an inventory filled with rolls of wire, and spindles, football pants, and flashlights, and friendship. I look up from “The Secret Panel” which I have been pretending to read. Jason is studying the diagram of our path into the Blankenship home, he has adjusted the incoming angle up, five more degrees. Our dithering is brought to a quick close with the entrance into the shared bedroom of Jason’s older brother Bert. “Time for night, night, buttheads, he smirks, throwing a dislodged hot wheel track at us. For once we don’t argue with him. I will never forget the look of mistrust on his face, or the smiles on ours, as Jason turns off the light, and we say goodnight.

Saturday October 20, 1973 1:48 AM

We change into our football pants, hidden deep in the Waite pantry behind barrels of Irma Waite’s homemade root beer. The wind has picked up, coming from the south, down the river bluffs whipping the muddy San Juan, disturbing the alkaline soil, breaking cattails causing strange shadows upon the land. We are headed away from the river, pedaling fast down road 6317, with the sound of Bert Waite’s snores echoing in our ears. It is cold, and I am thankful that the wind is at our backs. The stars are shaking overhead, perhaps in concern for our adventure, no doubt trying to remind us, that there are some adventures that even the heavens cannot quench. My bike sits lower toward the back. Tied to it, is a small spool, of two hundred feet of ¼ inch cable, weighing but five pounds, with strength enough to hold well over half a ton. I can feel the links of cold chain wrapped about me, securing me, as it will soon be securing our flight line. I am breathing heavy in the cold air, and I can hear my lighter weight friend next to me laboring to catch his breath. I look over at him one quick time, I can see him still in the darkness, the stars upon his face, the wind pushing his thin blonde hair forward so that it tips and whips at his forehead. His glasses tied to his face. The spindles with their adjoining hardware making clinking noises bound to his back looking like small smokestacks reaching into the air. His blue backpack carries the metal hardware and a pipe wrench for tightening and anchoring the wire between the Oaks. For a moment, it’s a snapshot of immortality, and then we ride on.

The old Kirtland Highway is dark and empty as we turn to the west, the wind now blowing against our left side. In truth it is under a mile from Jason’s house to the Blankenship property, but the minutes seem to drag out and our pace seems to slow, the bikes moving in protest, as if wishing not to be a part of this nightly venture. The highway remains empty for indeed it is small town America in 1973, and even those late night dates, have been expected home for over an hour. As if sensing the jeopardy of our mission the wind has begun to pick up strength, and what images that are created in my mind on that dark night, from the occasional blowing leaves, I leave now in haste, for it could be another boyhood story, yet to be told.


Saturday October 20, 1973 2:13 AM

We are there dear reader. The boys, you see them don’t you. I know it’s dark, and very windy, but your concern and watchfulness throughout this night is truly appreciated. You see, I’m afraid one or both of these young sleuths, might face harm tonight, if not careful. There is the risk of the wind, and the trees, the house itself, and the dark figure. The question has to be asked, what if the “Eye Syndicate” exists, what if Doc Grafton holds a kidnapped victim in that house. What better place than this small hamlet, this decent rural community. My reader, you watch them, the stars moving overhead, the slight sliver of a moon already disappeared into the molten sky. You watch them, those two young boys, one dark haired, and one blonde, parking their bicycles so carefully against the LDS church, behind those shrubs there to the east side. The feel of the cold brick resting against the metal of two bikes. Go with them as they move now, bent over at a run to the street, one holding a bundle, as if it’s a treasure, the other two spindles and a blue backpack that jingles as he runs. And for a moment they stop my reader, and they look to where they go. There in the waving shadows dark, the limbs swinging as if summoning someone or something. “A Figure in Hiding” perhaps. It is here you must stop also my reader, for in order for the veil to be lifted, and the mystery summoned, we must send the two boys forward alone.

Saturday October 20, 1973 2:30 AM

It does not take long, faster than my young mind would have imagined. Up the east Oak, I take the lead, my mittens tearing on the rough winter bark. Up we climb, eighteen feet from the ground, Joe Hardy pushing me, to climb higher to the Y of the tree. The Blankenship house dark. That figure that would be waiting is asleep, as we planned. The chain comes off of me, my pale chest gleaming under the cold stars but for a moment, and then we are pulling it around the Oak, relieved that it fits. Jason has the pipe wrench out, and we are twisting the wire into the thimbles, then the turnbuckle, securing it with our virgin fingers, tightening it with our lives. The wind is increasing, the branches of the east praetorian at war, with the early morning rites, and we are descending, the small spool of wire unraveling, as we slide, our football pants ripping in such rough plight. I look up at the open window as we cross the latent grass, dead against the season. It looks hollow, the dark curtains blowing deep inside it, and we are shadows, moving in tandem within the night. Still no light, no dark figure, and we move as investigators, our minds set on flight.

The west Oak provides the adversity. The wind has changed direction, coming out of the north, the full branches of the tree whipping backwards. We climb, guarding our pure faces, and our lives. I am carrying the spool of wire, Jason in the lead, pulling branches aside, allowing me safe passage up the darkened bark. The decaying treehouse, so far above us is our destination, it shadows us now, attempting to fall, a victim of the wind. The cold wire running through my torn mittens keeps snagging on errant branches, as if telling us, our mission is naught, and our glory is doomed. “Do you think he is watching us”, Jason’s whisper downwards, a bit of doubt perhaps, but it sounds more like curiosity. I look up at him above me, almost to the treehouse, its rotting floor sagging, noticeable in the dim light. “Doesn’t matter, I hiss, we know he’s there”!

Saturday October 20, 1973 3:05 AM

The wire is anchored above the rooftop of the treehouse where the Oak pauses and separates heading in one direction toward the Blankenship rooftop, and the other toward the sky. Jason has emptied his upper body of his bearing of chain, the thimbles and anchors tightened, the wire cold and taunt. We have mounted the pulleys and handles, the wind has come, and we are ready to fly.

From twenty-eight feet in the air, the stars receding, I plunge, like the morning star before daybreak, the wind from behind. The ground rushes to meet me, as the sound of my pulley moves gushing sparks overhead, and then it goes taunt as my body jerks upwards, I am flying. My brother he plunges behind me, his gasp audible with life, and as we fly twisting, our upper limbs stretched, our feet brought up before the sky. I look below, and the earth is moving, the side of the Blankenship home changing, and as we glide the lights are blinking on in the house below. The figure is waiting.

I am falling, quietly in a rush of icy air and by count, I am releasing and jumping, my moments close, the sloping roof closer, and my feet are touching, and then I go forward, toward the rough shingles, my hands scrapping and sliding, and then a weight is upon me. Joe Hardy has fallen on top of his older brother.

Saturday October 20, 1973 3:11 AM

We are through the window, moving fast, the cold air inside the house harboring days and nights, of apparition, and wind. The dark curtains are torn, ripped, from the constant elemental changes of the past two months. Glass glows luminescent, a thousand shards of a broken lamp, scattered across the braided quilt that tops the single bed. The childhood room of Charles Blankenship, has been torn asunder by wind. I move too fast and feel my foot breaking glass, the sound echoing throughout the room. Jason grabs me, his finger to his lips. I reach down and pull up the bent and shattered picture frame. Even in the darkness, I can recognize Dick Barwegan’s face, his shoulder pads expanding outwards to meet the twisted metal. The light from the open bedroom doorway opposite of where we stand, goes dark, and as a heavy gust of wind charts its way through the open window, from deep in the house a door opens. “A Figure in Hiding” is home!

We are tiptoeing around the bed in darkness, Jason leading, the slight sound of broken glass crushing under our tiptoed feet. I have Jason’s shoulder with my left hand, my right searching my pocket, for my small flashlight. From downstairs not a sound, save the continuing wind howling through the room, and to points further throughout the house. “I’m using my flashlight“, my hoarse whisper in Jason’s ear seems to echo throughout the house. “Point it down”, he hisses, the light on, appearing like a spotlight at the Academy awards. I signal with the light toward the open door, my light catching the picture on the north wall of the 1940’s Blankenship Family. It’s hanging askew, plaintive eyes in black and white staring at young intruders who have come to rid them of a villain. We are nearing the open bedroom door, the darkness, leaking through it as from a vault, when the lights flash on again from points below.

It is our time, from all the time that we have been given, to study, to laugh and to cry, to breathe and to fly, it is our time. It is our time, as brothers that seek, who have flown in darkness, a figure to beat, it is our time. We are brothers, we are Hardy’s, and together through the bedroom door we race, side by side, in our ripped and torn apparel, the light powerful now, down the small hallway, to the upper landing. It is there, the stairs, down, down to the open doorway, light pouring through, and we are moving, side by side. I can feel the iron cold bannister in my hand, Jason, holding tightly to my other, down and together we go, it is our time!

We jump, panting and snarling, hand in hand into the light, into the Blankenship’s, living room, our eyes wide, and our free arms ready for combat. The room dimly lit, neat and uncluttered, so different from the upstairs bedroom, stares blankly back at us, sterile, and unharmed. The couch cushions placed neatly, where they have been residing for now, these past two months, and there, over there, you can come forward now my reader, and you can see him over THERE!

The closet door, the one against the east wall, near the door, that leads to the stairs. You see that don’t you dear reader. The one that has come unlatched, the one that opens with the wind and catches the horizontal light switch. The bathrobe hanging on the hook. My dear reader, you see that don’t you, and the dark unzipped hood hanging on the hook above it, surely you see that too. It could be that if you stay awhile, you will see that the door is not level, and when the wind does not blow, that door will slowly edge its natural way, and that robe that has found its long flow caught upon that light switch will tug, oh but such a small bit, and the lights will go out.

Postscript – The Blankenship home burned to the ground, in the fall of 1980. According to the Kirtland Fire Department’s assessment, the cause of the fire was due to an electrical short. I would say perhaps in a light switch. This story is kindly dedicated to Sparky Spangler, my little league football coach. – 01/14/2015 – דָּנִיֵּאל

Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “A Figure in Hiding” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap


The Mystery of the Desert Giant


Hotel California All Rights Don Felder

Previously on “What Happened at Midnight

The mystery is there young Hardy’s. The cave is there too. No doubt left, as you found it, one dark night. The broken compass buried in rich sediment upon the darkened floor. Burnham is there too, the mesa top glowing luminescent under that waning November moon. Dare we mention he is there too, his arms open, almost beckoning.

In the waning hours of nightfall, you must leave your comfort zone. In adventure, your concentration robust, you must cross the darkened non excavated Richey Pit. Look skyward at Burnham, young Hardy’s, and hold your faces from the sparse lights, twinkling from the girl’s dormitory at Nenahnezad, and only then must you scale, the Old Five Hundred, the illuminations waiting, climb higher to him.

Tuesday, October 31, 1972

The Beech 35 flying out of Aztec, New Mexico with its v-tail had been missing since Sunday evening. According to the Farmington Daily Times, the two men aboard the small aircraft had filed a flight plan, for Gallup, and then once in the air, had simply disappeared around 9:49 PM. Their further destination, remained of some mystery, as did the names of the aircraft’s occupants. The budding reporter had speculated that the missing passengers were employed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). His story further implied that the men might have been taking a closer look at the mining operations, at the Navajo Mine, and how those processes were impacting Navajo land. The mystery was being discussed a plenty by the staff at the Nenahnezad reservation school where my father was employed, as well as between my parents. The local government compound where we lived near the school was abuzz with what criminality might be afloat at the mine, hardly a mile away as the crow flew.

Two young imaginations had their own thoughts as well, on the mysterious misplaced plane. Indeed, my faithful reader, Joe and Frank Hardy, alias Jason Waite, and Danny Swearingen, were already setting the bar high for their next great adventure. It might do well to just leave them here on a Tuesday, in 1972. It’s Halloween you know, much different in those days from present. A time of homemade paper sack mask, popcorn balls in the classroom, and pillow cases for candy. That in itself would have provided our young sleuths with enough adventure, but this particular lunch hour, we find them discussing wiles of a different treat. The Grace B. Wilson Elementary playground has become the young detective’s lab, and yes, our young lads are discussing a great adventure. For you see, they feel sure they know where they might look for the missing Beech 35 and its lost passengers, for they have charted its flight. Using young Jason’s compass, they have sketched mathematical equations in the playground soil near the west chain-link fence. Their debate has centered on possible locations for air strips, and secret caverns where kidnappers might do ill will. They have discussed what treacherous signal might have been sent from the ground to the errant pilots. While the playground moves around our young lads, with a rough and tumble game, of recess football, they turn their eyes to the Southwest. Across the school rooftop, the tree line, the bluff across the river, the dark mesa. Burnham!

Thursday, November 2, 1972

Jason and I have both been reading “Mystery of the Desert Giant“. I don’t remember which one of us it belonged to, it doesn’t matter, we share all mystery, and its final revelation anyway. Our recesses, over the past two days have been filled with the Farmington Daily Times stories, of the missing Beech, and the government men. Guesses and hypothesis from letters to the editor are to be found in abundance. I bring the newspaper from home. Jason and I ignore the giggles, and stares of our classmates. Mystery consumes us. The Hardy Boys and the “Mystery of the Desert Giant“, we read in between our discussions, on the missing BLM plane. It all relates, in our boyhood thoughts, as does our knowledge, of the playground calculations we have completed. Clues imagined or real, and we know where the plane, and its missing passengers might be.

Jason and I first climbed Burnham together on Saturday, September 16, 1972. It was his eleventh birthday, and as a gift I wanted to show him a mystery that would surpass any gift, I could think of to give. I had been introduced to the mesa two years before by Navajo kids who attended the BIA school at Nenahnezad. The dark mesa with its one steep side facing west, was long and narrow, with a sheer trail switch backing its west side up to its slender flat top. The east side sloped down to a flat plain that yielded little but dried washes and scrub. The west side of the mesa was the mystery. The sand was dark, rich sediment, and at the top of the steep trail, some one hundred feet from the summit, was the holiest of holies. A cave that went into the plateau some fifty feet in length. The cavern was hidden from the ledge trail by a massive steeple shaped rock that allowed access to the deep cavity from either side of it. The gift for Jason that day was not the adventure of the climb, or the cave however. It was the walls of the chamber. Embedded deep into the rock, holding multiple colors, were Anasazi petroglyphs, scribes of giants and winged creatures. Ancient demons, in flight. Massive walls of story, that only a Hardy Boy possessed young investigator, could appreciate.

My friend’s eyes had been wide that day. His white taped glasses riding low on his nose, he had run his hand along the outline of each petroglyph, frowning and serious, looking at me his blue eyes wide, “so many clues”, he said, “it’s like a hotel cave, for something passing through”. Jason’s mysterious premise was more likely true than not, no greater words conducted from boyhood spirit have I ever heard.

We named the trail leading to the top of the mesa the “Old 500”. We had calculated the distance from the base of the butte to the summit to be approximately 500 feet, and the name seemed to be a fair entitlement for a trail, that at times was nothing more than a narrow ledge, with no accountability, or support to speak of. Though the ensuing weeks, the dark mesa and the mysterious cave had birthed many conversations between my young friend and I. The ancient drawings in the cave held clues, of that much we were certain, and after six long weeks of discussion, we were certain destiny had finally revealed to us where the mysterious signs of yesteryear might be leading us.

According to the Farmington Daily Times, the Beech 35 had set due west by southwest out of Aztec, moving to the north of Farmington due west before taking a sharp turn to the south near Hutch Canyon. The control tower at the Farmington airport had lost contact with the Beech right as it crossed the San Juan River near Fruitland. The last radio contact from the pilot of the plane to the Farmington tower, had been to request a location identification. Shortly after the radio contact, the plane had disappeared from the Farmington’s controller’s radar view.

Jason and I had taken turns over the last forty-eight hours reading the “Mystery of the Desert Giant. We had discussed the similarities with our own mystery, in great detail. Combined with calculations involving Jason’s compass, the Farmington Daily Times reporting, and our explorations of the local land we were convinced that the missing BLM men were to be found in the cave below the Burnham plateau. No doubt, they were bound and gagged, fed once a day by their swarthy unshaved kidnappers, awaiting some ransom that upon our discovery we could claim as just reward. So it was to be as that late afternoon recess concluded, in 1972 that two young sleuths, planned a rescue, and a solving of a great mystery, their eyes furtively trained toward the west. Toward Burnham! It was also to be that their lives would be forever changed.

Friday, November 3, 1972

It’s my birthday, an exciting time for any twelve year old boy, acne and adolescent girls still to the future, a heartbeat away in the scheme of life. The day means more to me than usual, this Friday in 1972. I have plans you see, great plans. The school day slows to a snail’s pace, each minute agonizing and morphing into one more. Mrs. Retha Moore’s 6th Grade classroom appears caught in a time warp. I look over at Jason who sits two rows to my right. I have to lean forward, by passing Janelle Bond, who sits between us. Janelle is busy edifying herself from an orange tabbed 6.3 SRA reading lab card. Jason is busy, studiously drawing, his thick glasses dropped to the end of his nose, shielding his work with his left arm, from Mrs. Moore’s watchful gaze. I know what Jason is doing. He is drawing out the master plan for the scaling of a mesa, the assumption of mystery and the finality of knowing the unknown. For as I am sure you know dear reader, I am certain you are already well aware. This night on my twelfth birthday, Frank and Joe Hardy, alias Danny Swearingen and Jason Waite, propose to join the realms of investigation and myth and solve a mystery.

Jason rides the bus home with me after school. He holds a paper sack, inside it my wrapped birthday gift. “The Hardy Boys”, “The Secret of Pirates’ Hill“, the original 1956 edition, a gift I will keep and treasure for the rest of my days. We barely speak, our silence in the crowded frenzied school bus, like an island of silent electricity in a water tempest. We are both staring at the open drawn map in my hands. It charts our evening, and our entry into the storm.

Jack and Vera Swearingen believe in a strong birthday festivity for their children. Each birthday is donned with a rich homemade German chocolate cake with coconut icing, hamburgers, and plenty of gifts. My twelfth birthday has been no exception, and yet every exception. My brother Joe Hardy, is there to share it with me, along with my family. I open his gift to me, and it occurs to me if only for a brief moment, that this is the most exciting day of my young life. I wonder what it will be like when we rescue the lost government pilots this night, how will we evade the kidnappers, what will be our reward? I look across the decorated dining table and see Jason’s eyes alive with the unknown, smiling, he gives me the thumbs up, and it is time for us to begin.

While it is still light, we have stacked the volcanic rocks. They are piled to the side of the house facing the alfalfa field. Lightweight they stack against each other locking together, like ancient steps leading to my high bedroom window. We test them climbing, carefully, and then cautiously remove the screen from the window, hoping that neither of my parents takes a notion to investigate the side of the house before nightfall. We have made careful preparation for our nightly journey, with two small flashlights, Jason’s compass and self-drawn schematic of the mesa. I am bringing a pocket knife to saw through the ropes that bind the kidnapped pilots, and lastly a baseball bat in case Jason and I should come face to face with the criminals themselves. The lights are turning dimmer in the Nenahnezad community.  Nightfall is at hand on the Navajo Reservation, the sky is filling with cold stars, and Burnham beckons with a dark hand.

Friday, November 3, 1972, 10:40 PM

Jason and I leave through my bedroom window, our shoes grasping the rough texture of the volcanic rock. I dare not look at my parents darkened bedroom window as we are moving faster now at a light run, exiting the safety of the back yard. There is a light cold breeze blowing as we cross the street cutting through the Nenahnezad School property. The fallen leaves from the cottonwoods that line the school’s boundary crunch underneath our running feet, the sound making us move even quicker. The waning crescent moon, is overhead, providing no assistance, but it is as if, a million blue stars have been created in the heavens to take the moons place. I lead Jason past the large concrete block whitewashed building that serves as the school’s gymnasium, and sometimes movie theatre. We move past its large shadowy exterior, slowing somewhat, as we reach the boarding school’s northern boundary. We head east on the paved road until it turns to dirt and then to wilderness. The stars are dancing madly overhead as we turn to the northeast, toward the dark object in the distance, when the first explosion hits.

The distant sky above Burnham is alive with color and dust mixing in with the stars from the heavens above. Lights sweep the mesa’s horizon from its northeastern tip following its flat top to the southwest. Jason and I are frozen in shock at what we see. I do not recall fear. We are in awe of the wavering beauty in the heights before us. We are young, and we are detectives, and it would come as no surprise to anyone, I suppose, that we declare at the same moment, “They’re blasting at the mine“!

Living at Nenahnezad one could become familiar with the sometimes nightly distant tremors, of the earth shaking, as the mine used blasting to loosen coal, and make the ever widening pit deeper. This, however was the first time I had ever witnessed the effects of earth, being disturbed in such a violent way. For Jason and I the effects ever mesmerizing, are not enough to keep us from moving forward. Our small flashlights out, the air around us growing ever colder. We move to avoid the occasional scrub and brush, and find ourselves moving downward into the vault of the Richey Pit, the air taking on a dampness. I remember looking back one more time as we moved toward our dark destiny. I could see a few lights from the girl’s dormitory at Nenahnezad for a few moments, and then they disappeared.

Friday, November 3, 1972, 11:15 PM

The small cinder block house has several pickups parked around it, and even from a distance, Jason and I can see the large flame from the bonfire on the backside of the house. We can see the moving shapes of the dancers too, and hear the falsetto sound of the singing. The high chanting, octave up, minor key down. The dancers look odd, misshapen, even from a distance, and for a moment we stop, our curiosity, nearly drawing our attention away from our mission, and the dark mesa so very close to us now. Our mission is saved by the barking of one of the dancers’ dogs, picking up our scent. We turn quickly, as the ground once again shakes beneath us from another explosion, and the sky overhead is lit by a fresh plume of dust. This time closer still to us, but not as close as Burnham, which we are beginning our ascent to.

“What were they doing back there”? Jason’s voice had a timid sound to it, not a tone I had ever heard before. “It was some kind of an Indian dance”, I say, “I think I heard my Dad call it a “Yeibichai Night Dance“, they’re probably trying to bring healing to something or the other”. “May be it’s to help find the pilot’s”, Jason says. I remember thinking maybe it’s to help us, because truth be known, I remember feeling a bit of uncertainty for the first time about our mission. Looking back it could have been the sound I had heard in Jason’s voice. It could have been because I had forgotten my baseball bat. I think we would have turned back at that moment, but fate was afloat under the stars, and we had arrived at the dark foreboding roots of Burnham.

We had accessed the mesa too far to the southwest of the trailhead in the dark, and with the excitement of the explosions and the “Yeibichai” dance both Jason and I were somewhat disoriented. Jason pulled his compass from his right pocket and carefully removed it from the blue felt wallet he kept it in. I held my flashlight on it, the light reflecting off of the glass surface. Jason turned it slowly until the needle pointed due north, we calculated according to Jason’s roughly drawn map that we had missed the trailhead, by about one hundred feet. Turning to the Northwest we began to walk, taking turns sounding out numbers, counting, moving around the occasional small tree. At the sound of Jason’s voice calling out ninety-two, we were there, the white rock base of the trail standing out luminescent against the dark earth of Burnham. “I can’t believe we under estimated”, Jason said, sounding disappointed. I laughed then, for he was back to sounding like the Jason that I knew. I led the way onto the rock face trail holding my light downward. “Come on Joe Hardy”, I was smiling, it would be awhile before I smiled again.

Friday, November 3, 1972, 11:45 PM

The third explosion of the night, hits as the trail narrows. I drop my flashlight, as I reflexively go to grab the mesa wall. The world seems to be spinning. I hear Jason grunt and the sound of breaking glass, as he pushes into the rock wall. We are about one hundred feet up the side of the mesa. The darkness below us cannot compare to the light of the swimming stars breathing dust so far above us. I reach down to grab my flashlight, before it can roll off the trail. To lose our sources of light up here would doom us and the rescued pilots. “Oh shoot, I broke my compass”, Jason is reaching into his pocket, feeling through the felt barrier, the broken shards of glass. He carefully tucks the pieces back into the soft sack, and puts it back in his pocket. We wait for a moment longer, not wanting to be startled on the trail up ahead by another explosion. I look far below us feeling like, I am in a plane seeing only darkness, and then I see a light. It’s a small light, but it seems to be moving, going off at times and then coming back on. Jason has seen it too! “I bet that’s a signal to the kidnappers in the cave”, he’s excited his voice a whisper. Agreeing, I tell Jason I think it’s a signal too, “I just hope someone is not warning them we are coming”, I whisper back.

We continue upwards into the steep darkness, and the path narrows even further. There are times we have to strategically place our feet in footholds and boost ourselves up onto an upper ledge to continue the trail. We haven’t spoken for a few minutes now, my fear building, as we venture closer to the “hotel cave”. The air surrounding us has grown almost bitterly cold. We are nearing the second and last switchback on the long trail, when I look and see the light again so far below. It appears to be closer to the mesa. I nudge Jason and point to it. “I think we better turn off our light’s”, Jason’s voice is low, almost to a whisper, “I think they’re following us”. I have to admit, if even for a small moment, I had hoped that the light bobbing so far below us, might be carried by my dad. The hour is late, and my sense of adventure is starting to wear thin. The trail is now a whisper of stability, it’s width in places only two feet wide, and with our flashlights off we are down to a snail’s pace. Feeling the cold rock wall of the mesa for stability, the rock smelling ancient and musty, spins my senses, intoxicating me, reviving me, I look back at my friend, and I can see his eyes glowing in the darkness. The trail widens suddenly, room for a small Pinion tree by the ledge, and we are there the cave entrance, but a few feet to the southwest of us.

The stars are falling from the sky, blue and intense, the top of steeple rock, aflame with light. The dark left entrance into the cavern beckoning to the trail, its invitation, a whisper of entrapment. Jason pushes ahead of me, I can see he is walking on his toes, looking like a danseur, he looks back at me his finger to his lips, the gravity of the moment almost unable to compete with its future grandeur. We are at the edge of the cave, our bodies pressed against the earth, we listen, making hand gestures to each other to be quieter. We hear, nothing, but the darkness, and then we are through the narrow fissure between the tall rock and the mesa, and as we enter the blackness, the earth moves, and the explosions begin. An eternity, and we are falling, rolling into a greater darkness still.

Friday, November 4, 1972, 12:10 PM

A portal, a hotel cave, it’s built there for things passing through, in the night, when the earth is moving. When blue stars are falling from the desert sky, fire built on ice, becoming one with rock, obscuring legend, making life, building boyhood, summoning, beckoning, inviting, never letting go. The dirt on the cave floor taste like ash, sputtering slightly confused, I am reaching for my flashlight, but Jason has beat me to it. His blonde hair looking wild and dirty in the dim light, his eyes darting deep into the cavern, I see his compass has fallen from its felt case in his pocket onto the cave floor. The cavern is full of dust, from deep in the interior, the sound of earth shifting. The surreal phenomena surrounds us, but it’s not what registers on our mind. “The pilots aren’t here”, Jason’s voice is filled with a deeper gloom than the deepest part of the dusty chamber. He looks at me suddenly, his eyes darting upward to the left, deducting, “I bet the crooks moved them, when they saw us coming, I bet that’s what the signal was all about”! I shine my flashlight past Jason looking into the depths of the cave, and then down toward the earth floor. Near Jason’s compass two small metal plates lie in the dirt. “What are those”? I’m pointing with my index finger, looking much darker, than it should be, covered with dirt. Jason leans forward, picking up the metal pieces and shining his light directly into the palm of his hand. “RA66 dash 105 FAA PMA”, Jason’s voice echoing in the rear dusty darkness of the cavern. “What is”, I start to say, when the side of the cavern farthest from us lets loose with a couple of bowling size boulders. The larger of the two rocks rolls to within three feet of where I’m standing. Jason and I scramble to the far wall, huddled within the cold arm grasp of an ancient sketched Anasazi hunter. The voice questioning, heavy with disapproval, thunders from the left side of the steeple rock, “What are you boys doing here“?

The Yeibichai, is swimming in the moonlight, but there is no moon, no air, just blue stars falling, strange mask shining, Jason’s heart pounding against my own, and it is the end, the final end. I hear something small hit the earth between us, it clinks. Jason has dropped the metal pieces from his hand. The Yeibichai steps forward moving the large flashlight in his right hand shining it into our eyes, Jason and I are holding each other, and I can fill the tears starting to rise in my eyes. “You boys should go home, it is dangerous here, you do not need to be here“, the mask is bowing moving, forward around to the right side of the steeple opening, bowing, moving, and retreating. The air from the caverns openings is frostlike, still, refreshing. Jason and I have moved ourselves apart closer to the left entrance of the cave. We can hear the Yeibichai walking his footsteps surprisingly heavy, moving toward the mesa summit. We stand there five, may be ten minutes, and then in silent agreement, we leave through the left vestibule of the hotel cave and turn to begin our descent home.

I turned before the first switchback on the Old 500 leading off of Burnham, I turned like Lot’s wife turned, and I saw him there, standing there, at the summit of Burnham. The sky raining blue fire, mixing and percolating dust with the thin high air. He stood there bowing and moving, like the desert giant, like the desert giant.

Postscript: I do not know if the two BLM men were ever found, I do know that a RA66-105 FAA PMA was found by two boys who likened themselves as the Hardy Boys, one night in a cave on Burnham. – 12.16.2014 – דָּנִיֵּאל

This story is kindly dedicated to Ms. Retha Gillespie Moore (Jason Waite and Danny Swearingen’s sixth grade teacher), Janelle (Bond) Davis, childhood friend who bore witness, and still faithfully reads to this day, and throughout it all Jack and Vera Swearingen, wonderful gifts as parents, who always put on a good birthday!

Hardy Boy Characters, and Title “Mystery of the Desert Giant” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap



What Happened at Midnight

Previously on “The Secret Panel

Post Nocturne

It happens now more frequently for me, undue and without reason. A certain deep minor chord from Elton’s Ticking, a ghost speaking trivialities, and dreams of the shadow of Harper Hill, foreboding and dark against its western skyline with two ten year old boys standing quiet before its incline. The La Plata River trickling southward to meet the muddy dark waves of the San Juan, breathing “sister” as she churns the ground, and it is midnight, always midnight. Merriam-Webster tells us that the word secret, has many parts to its definition. Among its many quantities a secret can be held to be, hidden, undercover, discrete, confidential, and certainly not of the least of all adjectives, esoteric, revealed only to the initiated. This is a story that stands tall and unwavering before us. In it, perhaps we find ourselves most interested in the impenetrable. It is there that all boys between the ages of 10 to 14, destined with extraordinary spirit might find themselves upon a dark and chilly night awaiting midnight. Two boys, uninitiated, Joe and Frank Hardy, alias Jason Waite, and Danny Swearingen, those two young stalwart lads brought to you by “The Secret Panel“, on such a night, in October of 1971, found to be disappointed, traversing the lonely highway from childhood to discovery, locked between adventure and the first taste of a woman’s lips. Two lads sealed between discovery and life, lost as it were between taped glasses, and immortality, timidity and fame. Still, now almost silent in the visions of discovery, as there it has been for now these forty-three years, and it is there, that I take you, for it is as if the angel moves these waters, waves now muted these many days, those tides that can be soundless no longer. From those currents, those times lost now found, I will tell you what happened at midnight. The Hardy Boys are no more, they have been lost upon the cold reality of harsh facts. Our young friends, as we had left them, startled, not bemused, indeed having discovered that the Secret Panel holds no more than a girl. One dark haired sibling with arched eyebrows and a button nose, related to one Mr. Frank Hardy playing in the Connie Mack World Series, on a chilly October night in Farmington New Mexico. The relationship is undeniable, the darkness to the psyche unstoppable, and as we left our young friends in our last tale they were indeed in a somber, one might say disagreeable mood.

10:00 P.M.

Bert Waite, was enjoying all the wonders of his golden high school years, including having a pretty miss to take on a proper date to an amateur baseball game. I don’t remember her name, or the names of the other couple, that had accompanied Bert and his girl, on this wondrous evening in Americana history. Suffice to say, the parent dictated entry, and tag along of his younger ten year old brother, and friend would not have been the most welcome addition to an evening of gaiety and hand holding, at America’s favorite pastime. For Jason and I, we could have cared less about the angst brought on by our presence. For us the evening, was to be the genesis of the greatest certification of boyhood ever known. Our eyes were set upon the prize, of meeting our alter egos in life, and for that, no amount of glares, or snooty remarks coming from the older teenagers, in the vehicle pregame, could dissuade. Alas, postgame was to be of another matter entirely. As the crowds dispersed, and the stadium lights were extinguished, four flushed and boisterous teenagers arrived at the family vehicle to find two disheartened, disillusioned and dare I say sullen ten year old boys. Once self-esteemed as those preteen sleuths, we Hardy’s had become simple youth, not yet at the age of voice changes and awry thoughts, instead demoted to pouty lads. Indeed Jason and I were not open to diverse teenage dialogue and laughter, that now filtered through the darkened streets of Farmington as Bert maneuvered the family sedan onto Main Street toward home. The quarrels between siblings can be full of catastrophic semantics. It is thus among brothers, especially when one is a young lad, reaching for station in the waning hours of frustration and disappointment. It was such, on that October evening in 1971 when Bert Waite made the decision that he and his young lady and their accompanying duo date, would take of nourishment at the local Pizza Hut, located at 657 W. Main Street. Jason having no money, and knowing his young friend’s wallet was barren as well, suggested that the true course for the conclusion of the evening should be homeward bound. A bitter argument ensued. Words were tossed between brothers, those tidings of which for thoughtfulness, and respectability, will go unmentioned here. The conclusion of strife, has but of three courses it can take. The dominion of one party over another, a commitment to a lopsided peace, or an agreement of differences with a retreat to engage on another day. To my chagrin, the third option was my best friend’s choice. As the teenage foursome exited the vehicle, to enjoy their fare of thick cheese, and supreme toppings, two ten year boys, also exited the car, faces flushed, a hungrier destination at plan. The announcement by my young friend, to his older sibling was spoken thus and thus, and our intention to walk home, was met by a smirk and the unmoving, unbelieving face, of one Bert Waite. So it was, that as the night closed in, two young boys, angered and bereaved, turned to the West, and began their long passage home.

10:15 P.M.

Home in Kirtland, was a robust nine and a half miles west, of the Farmington, Main Street locale, Jason and I found ourselves standing at, that chilly October night in 1971. I remember looking at my best friend, as he pushed his taped dark framed glasses, toward the bridge of his nose. His front wave of blonde hair had shaken loose in the mild breeze, and the fierceness of his anger toward his older brother had begun to subside. In its place deep behind his glasses in his spacious blue eyes a curious shine was glowing. Any thoughts I had maintained about a cautious approach, and perhaps a warm ride home with Bert and gang quickly disappeared. Stubborn pride drew a close second to my young buddy’s genius, and with the confidence, I had witnessed so many Friday nights before, one Jason Waite, took on the exploratory alias of his alter ego, Joe Hardy, and with a wave of knowledge toward the west, he began to walk. Without deliberation, his older brother Frank Hardy loyally followed. West on the left side of the road we hiked, two lads homeward bound. My eyes tentatively looking over my left shoulder hoping against hope, for but a sign of Master Bert and the family wagon, and it’s chorus of teasing teens. Jason’s eye’s set solidly, as his face, ever west. One step and then many others, by the Safeway to the North, its lights dimming, closing, in small town America. The traffic to our backs beginning to thin, as Main Street’s cruising young lovers, headed to the bluffs to the South, for a private location, in search of snipes never to be found. We walked on, forward, without talking, side by side, the occasional street lamp as our guide, our young private thoughts, exclusive, summing mystery in the light wind. The lighted sign of the Chef Bernie’s Cafeteria, was glowing eerily, as we neared the parking lot of the restaurant. The lights for the t and the r in cafeteria were burnt out, giving the sign an almost ethereal look. I still remember the sounds of the shorted circuits talking to the night. Jason and I, had almost passed, the nearly empty parking lot, when we saw the man. The long haired Albino, was standing near the open door of his white pickup truck, near the base of the sign. He was smoking a cigarette, and just watching us, the sign above him sending strange reflections off of his pale hair. We hurried on, picking up our pace, now both of us looking over our shoulders, until we had walked up the incline of the road and were out of sight. At that moment, we began to talk, and our disappointments from earlier in the evening melted away. We were the Hardy Boys again. Taffy Marr was the greatest villain that Frank and Joe Hardy had ever encountered, as far as Jason and I were concerned. He was sinister, and his lack of conscience as a jewel thief and smuggler, ranked him as one of our favorites in many a discussion. His role in causing mischief and mayhem, for the Hardy Boys in their case, “What Happened at Midnight“, made him, in our combined opinions, enemy number one, in our investigator world. We were also convinced that we had just seen Taffy, or at least a member of his infamous thieving gang. As the night air grew chilled, and we walked on, we talked about the possibility that the man we had witnessed, in the Chef Bernie’s parking lot might be a criminal. His appearance, his demeanor, and most of all his pale eyes, skin and hair had spoken mystery to us. The more we talked of the possibilities of mystery, the more our excitement grew. We walked on talking possibilities, the street grew darker around us, the traffic sparse, and you dear reader, would not have noticed the white pickup approaching slowly from behind us either.

11:04 P.M.

The Apache Twin drive in theatre owned by the Allen family had been dutifully entertaining the citizens of the Northwest New Mexico area since 1952. Positioned between West Apache Street and Main Street, the finest that Hollywood had to offer, had been presented at one time or another, on each of its mammoth screens. As Jason and I walked by its seasonally shuttered gates, the massive double screens appeared to glow in the dark, the luminosity, casting a moonlike shadow across the vacant lot from the south screen closest to where we hiked. Our discussion on Taffy Marr, had just shifted, to what it might take, to track down and solve our own pending case, when one or the other of us, noticed the lights from a car, pulling slowly up behind us. I would expect that we turned in unison. Our minds foreseeing Bert Waite, his anger abated, his pizza sated passengers jeering two youngsters, foolishly walking homeward alone. The white pickup truck pulled abreast of us, its passenger window lowered, its driver’s pale face, absent of shadow. The cigarette hanging from the man’s mouth was lit, casting a waning shadow across his pastel chin. It was our own Taffy Marr. I remember looking down, thinking perhaps that there might be a stick, a lost revolver, a paper, with a written plan, on how to deal with villains. Jason next to me, was doing his own share of wild eyed observation. As I looked down, I noticed the tiny stenciled black letters on the door of the truck. It read, JR Ticking Ranch, Mancos, Co. “It’s kind of late for you young boys to be out by yourself”, Taffy’s voice was high, almost with the lilt of a woman’s tongue. When he spoke the cigarette stayed in his mouth, and his eyes never moved off of us. We took turns giving Taffy our story, lying, telling untruths, to a criminal. We lived close by, our parents were waiting, why anytime, our father who was a local police chief would be looking for us. Our words, and worlds stumbled together, talking faster, frantically looking for friendly headlights any savior would do. Taffy, his voice, softly making its way into the atmosphere, never moving the cigarette in his mouth, offered to give us a ride home. After all it was late, we were young children, he was sure our parents would be concerned. We declined, rapidly and politely, backing away from the rolled down window of Taffy’s truck, and then a miracle happened. Phenomena is based, on unconscious awareness, of a reality created line, that is exceeded beyond the limits, of what our neurotransmitter synapses, are prepared to have happen. It was a wonder, for two young boys that traffic seemed to spring up from nowhere, on a dark and lonely street in October of 1971. From east to west it flowed, from west to east it rolled. Headlights filled the street, the space around Taffy’s white pickup truck becoming brighter than under the noonday sun, and from the east it came, from the near east, the sound of a siren. Jason and I were still backing from the Albino’s truck, our eyes wide and glued to his pale face. The white eyes stirring, abruptly in discomfort, the cigarette, at last showing movement, in the headlights that were appearing, as if from the abyss of the desert night. I felt my back hitting the support of the Apache Twins, bordering fence, realizing Jason’s hand was held by mine. Taffy it seems, had realized that he had other opportunity’s to attend to. His composure broken if only for a moment, seemed to kick into a state of self-survival. As the sound of the siren neared, Taffy lifted his pale white hand to us as if in some solemn salute, and putting the truck into gear, he roared westward bound into the night. “He was smarmy”, I said, my favorite description to describe villains from my Hardy Boy investigative training. We were walking again, the traffic disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. The siren too. Jason was hunched over studying his once new white Adidas Athens, now dingy, his right big toe punching a small hole through the canvas top. “I don’t think he’s a jewel thief though”, he said. We were walking without the aid of street lamps now, the only light to be seen rolled across the highway from the children’s home at the Navajo Ministry complex. Our discussion full of dangerous curiosity. Taffy, or JR Ticking, was a scoundrel that much we were sure of. The nature of his background, was what we were uncertain of. His description fit the profile of every criminal, we had ever dreamed of investigating, but our close encounter with him, had given us few clues. “I think he’s a bad man” Jason said, the somber analysis, brought a silence, the only sound being our feet crunching the gravel, as we walked. “I wonder where he went”, I said? The speculative question brought further silence between us. Young detectives lost in thought, weariness, and if truth be known a growing fear.

12:00 A.M.

In 1971, Farmington, New Mexico, was a long narrow town with the majority of the new growth centered to the east and northeast of the city. The western edge, that took the city boundary out to where the La Plata River crossed underneath 550 Highway, was quiet. The last bastion of any commercial or residential life disappeared, once past the westbound Y of West Apache and Main Street. It is, this very location that we find our young sleuths, eyes perhaps not so full of adventure, upon this eve, a few minutes before the midnight hour. Jason and I, walking, the soft hills rising to our right, but a stone’s throw to the north. To the south, the plain drifting downward to meet the San Juan’s, rolling darkness. We are homeward bound now. Are young minds, committed to the long walk ahead, five, maybe six more miles. The disenchantment of the earlier evening already forgotten. Bert Waite and his pizza nourished friends no doubt already home, their young wards forgotten. In the original edition (1931) of What Happened at Midnight, Frank and Joe Hardy are tracking down Taffy Marr, in New York City, when they are the victims of a thief. Having no funds available to them, they end up sleeping in a park, and hitchhiking back to their home in Bayport. For Jason and I, that chilly October night in 1971, we entered the matrix, and fiction entered authenticity. Without money, swindled by reality, we were on foot, homeward bound. There we would find a place, a harbor, to regroup, to rest. We would find Taffy upon another day, when it was light, and reason and facts would prevail, or perhaps the following Friday evening, at Jason’s house, or my own, we would seek clues, we would chase the shadows in a known darkness, and then our world would be safe. Our breath in the darkness, I can still see Jason’s, as he see’s mine. We are at that place, the one place, where the highway tilts forward, downward slightly. The moon, a waning crescent, hiding really, not interested in our times or these ways of this earth. The shadow of Harper Hill, foreboding and dark against its western skyline with two ten year old boys standing quiet before its incline. The La Plata River trickling southward to meet the muddy dark waves of the San Juan, breathing “sister” as she churns the ground, and it is midnight. The white pickup truck waits, there, resting it would seem, where the La Plata highway joins our pathway home. Taffy waits there too. Standing by the tailgate, his long white hair floating down. Staring, eastward it seems, in search of something or someone, the cigarette glowing and unmoving.

Ticking

Very little has been changed in the truth of what you just read. For most that will bring questions, and for even more, sighs of relief. For it is that place in the human heart, that quality of the human condition, that longs for a childhood adventure, that glistens with innocence, and thrills with natural fear. – For Jason – 10.25.2014 – דָּנִיֵּאל   Hardy Boy Characters, and Title’s “The Secret Panel” and “What Happened at Midnight” All Rights – Grosset & Dunlap