Jayleen whapped the toe of her Keen Targhee hiking boot against a slab of chert to knock off bear dung. She inspected the texture, notating the berries; the elevation was too high for the animal to find human garbage.
Standing on an outcropping, she swept in the panorama of basins filled with greenery. Flagstaff was visible; she hoped light pollution would not ruin her vision quest experience. It had taken months to dredge the courage to make this climb. Charles’ ridicule of the Hopis’ beliefs–that the Kachinas lived on this mountain– was enough to deter her. But now, with Charles and her former best friend on their way to Maui, the work of the climb drew its fuel from her fury and hope that something wonderful lay just beyond—even if in another dimension.
With her face to the sun, she cried out, offering herself to the elements. Letting her backpack drop, she surveyed the surroundings. Nearby, several rocky protrusions split into jutting teeth and supported stands of pine. Here, in these caves, it was said the Hopis had taken refuge with the Ant People during the great flood. Although weak from fasting for three days, she laid out stones in a circle, lit a fire, and began meditating. As the crepuscule moved in, shadows crept down the mountain with a chill breath.
Jayleen snuggled into her mummy bag and listened to coyotes whipping songs toward the stars. Orion winked at her.
Midway through the night, the need to urinate propelled her into her boots. With her teeth chattering in the frigid air, she sought bushes on the outer perimeter of the dying firelight.
Relieved, she stood. A sudden rustle near a manzanita jolted adrenalin into her solar plexus. She shot toward the fire, tripped on a lace, and flattened out on a pile of stones. One rock bored into her knee with sharp edges. She cried out as bolts of pain fired up her leg. The coyotes quieted, but the rustling in the bush increased, until a tall, black shadow emerged. Shock and horror warred in her mind, as she crawled on her good leg, dragging the other behind.
A pungent odor occluded the freshness of the pine with an overtone reminiscent of musk. Squeals ripped from her throat as Jayleen grappled for her sleeping bag. The creature moved forward and hovered over her. A raucous sound, the timbre of a growl chuffed from the beast. Flipping to her back, she raised her fists and foot to fend it off. It stood silhouetted in the brilliance of the moon and stars.
Long fingers, odd, metallic clothing, and lizard-like face pulled forward to a hard mouth. Her heart stopped and her breath sucked inward.
The smell of the creature intensified as it stepped forward and extended its arms. Jayleen jerked, then screamed. The sound ricocheted off the mountains and curled back toward her and the creature. Self preservation sent her into an unconscious darkness.
As she came to, she struggled against hard arms carrying her, until they tightened, pushing a rib into her gut. Complete darkness surrounded them, even as she sensed motion. The air felt pressured, as though they moved downward in a cave. Occasionally a rock scraped her leg as she listened to the creature’s breathing and shuffling.
Her captor slowed, stopped, and shifted. A moment later a shaft of dim light burned in front of them. Peeking through teary slits, she watched as they emerged into an underground tunnel, about ten feet high and eight feet wide, composed of some smooth, gray material. With no point of reference, it seemed to go on for miles. Jayleen struggled again. The creature hissed. She stopped, her internal organs shivering in shock and cold. At the end of the tunnel loomed a large door with hieroglyphics on it.
Jayleen awakened on the hilltop, six weeks later. Her mummy bag was nearby, laden with dirt and debris. Groggy and hungry, she decided to return home. She didn’t think about Charles once.
Three months later, Jayleen reclined in her bathtub and let the warm water relax her. A washrag in her mouth stifled her screams, so the upstairs neighbor wouldn’t be disturbed. Reaching between her legs, she touched a rubbery protrusion, then pulled forth a long, silvery egg. She washed the egg in the tub with her, then got out, dried off, and combed her hair. Putting on a nightgown, she looked in the mirror and checked her teeth. As she turned to go, she glanced into the tub, retrieved a towel, and wrapped the egg. Gently, she dried it while cooing a soft song. She placed the egg in bed with her and snuggled it to her body.
A week later, a thin, clear mass squiggled from the egg. It had a head, two legs, and two arms. Within an hour, it had darkened into silver, and held it’s appendages stiffly at its sides. It seemed to want something from Jayleen, but she couldn’t think what. Within two hours, its skin had changed from moist and jellylike into a coarse and hard shell. It looked into her eyes. It’s eyes were blue. “Armgh,” it said, and Jayleen smiled. She cuddled it against her stomach, as she cooed to it.
A few days later, it didn’t call to her anymore.
It began to smell, and she removed a hefty bag from her cupboard, held it over the body, and stopped. Somehow, this didn’t seem right. It had been a nice addition to her life. Perhaps she could have it stuffed. But someone might ask where she’d found it.
Folding the body in half, she stuffed it in her backpack, and put on her hiking boots. She had a vague memory of where to go. First there was a cave. Then there was a tunnel. The child had brought her joy, and she didn’t want to keep hiding it. She knew where to go to get another one.