Valley of Fear Chapter 3. A Meeting

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Chapter 3. A Meeting

Standing in the bright early afternoon sunshine on the vista point when a trophy class condition WWII era Willy’s MB drove up and pulled into the parking stall next to the students and the professor.

“Who is in charge?” The dark eyes glinted with high intelligence and a kindly turn to his lips, it was obvious he was on a mission.

“I am, I am professor Ng.” And he shook hands with the new arrival.

“I’m Richard Aikin, my grandfather said you would be here.” Richard smiled as he shook the Professor’s hand.

“He…” The Professor’s eyes opened wide. “Who is your grandfather? Do I know him?”

“No, but, in fairness, he did not name you, but you are the only group with an Asian teacher with two white students and a black female student here.” Richard looked around. “And you are the only ones here, for that matter.”

Richard pulled his ear and laughed.

“In any event, when your experiment comes to an end, he invited you to follow me up the hill to the next valley, where my family lives.”

“How did your grandfather know we were here?” The Professor asked.

“I don’t know, I know that when he says something like that, I do it straight away. He asked me to bring you to the house, so, please, accept the invitation.” Richard nodded. “Grampa does not invite people in general. Outside people especially, but he wants to talk to you.”

“Another fifteen minutes, we have three quad-copters out in the valley, scanning the area for wildlife.” Gil said as he worked the controls, watching the video display on his laptop.

“I don’t think you will find any animals in the area, there is something, that Grampa says, has not happened since the old times.” Richard told the Professor.

“What does that mean?” Professor Ng asked.

“I don’t know, just when Grampa says something, it is just best to do it.” Richard nodded.

“Professor, infrared is not picking up anything along the river, there are normally at least some fresh scat or other animal waste that I can pick up, even during the day, but nothing.” Reedah growled at the display, flipping between screen resolutions. “White-hot, black-hot. There are no hot points where elk, deer or a bear have taken a dump.”

“Well, bring it back. Gil, you too.” The Professor instructed the doctor-in-training Gil.

“I am closing in on something odd. It looks like fire damage on a mountainside. It’s all blackened.” Andre interrupted the discussions.

“I’m zooming in on the area. It looks like polished rock.” Andre reported as the quad-copter sailed over the treetops at a thousand-foot altitude. “I can get to it in a couple of minutes.”

“Professor, I don’t want to pressure you, but Grampa is waiting.” Richard looked at his watch.

“Andre, please recover your toy, more important things are requiring our attention, we can return tomorrow.”

“Yes, professor.” Andre sounded crestfallen, he was enjoying the images and the virtual tour of the valley with his hands at the controls. Pressing two buttons, he locked the camera on the glass-like surface of what the GPS listed as Misty Mountain before returning.

The camera recorded, even though Andre missed on his screen, movement along the ground. Recorded on the removable memory in UHD (Ultra High Definition), Andre would not see what he captured for two-weeks as he studied each previous frame with meticulous detail.

The three students brought the survey equipment back to the cars, following GPS planned routes and landed them on the pavement.

“That was the damnedest thing to see.” Richard laughed. “So you kids pay a hundred-kilobucks a year to the INUTS University and you get to fly these toys?”

“A hundred-what?” Gil asked.

“Hundred-thousand dollars.” Richard defined the term.

They strapped the remote-controlled vehicles down to the top of their utility vehicle and clambered inside.

“Professor, do you think it’s safe to follow someone we don’t know?” Reedah asked. “We could go in there and we could be lost.”

Professor Ng smiled.

“I know him, seen him around with the police. He’s a detective. Sargent, I think.” The Professor nodded.

“Then why did he introduce himself?” Gil asked.

“I don’t know him personally, Mr. Van Zant, I know who he is from his lectures on security and previous investigations he has performed in the area.” The Professor tone was as a father explaining to a child missing a point.

“Besides, I think I know who Grampa might be. He used to work as a professor at the university until he retired five years ago.” The salt-and-pepper head of hair nodded.

“He would be Doctor Clark Johnson, unless I miss my guess.” The Professor looked around. “He is the local expert on pre-Columbian history.”

They drove up the highway and pulled up to large wrought-iron gates that opened when Richard pressed his remote control, pulling over immediately inside the gates to make sure the following students and their leader made it through. Nodding at the driving Professor.

Waving at them, Richard pressed on the throttle and pulled out in front of them again.

The small convoy pulled into a parking area of a two-story office building,  built as if it were part of the earth itself, buried half-into the hillside and a sod-roof, LED lighting and quadruple glazed windows, solar panels hidden on the tops of the outbuildings, the compound of offices used less energy than most single-family dwellings.

Completely owned and operated under the control of the Kootenay Tribe, standing in the main door, only slightly shorter than Richard, but powerfully built.

“Professor Ng?” He walked up to the Asian instructor, smiling and held out an open hand to shake. “I’m Doctor Clark Johnson.”

The Healing Heart

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He wore a hat these days, his hair had thinned, turned white in most of the remaining hair.

Often he would laugh when his friends complained about going grey, redheads do not go grey.  They just fade to white. But he wore his cowboy hat, the one that his daughter brought back from her travels as a good-will Ambassador several years before.

Today, he walked with his grandson, holding hands with the blond-curly vessel of non-stop questions.

“What kind of bird is that?”

“Why do cats live here and not at home?”

Nicholas the Second (Named after his grandfather) answered Nicholas the Third (Named after him) did his best to answer each question before the next one erupted from the single-digit aged young man.

For a couple years Big Nick walked this path alone, weeping at the loss of his daughter. His wife long divorced him, married another man with a position in a large company and moved out of the country.  She had abandoned them in favor of a new life, as far away from the husband, a daughter, a disabled son and a grandson as she could get.

The son, disabled with profound Down’s syndrome, played with Little Nicky and loved his nephew like no one could love another.

On days that Robert went to school, Big Nick went for a walk along the wooded lane. No other family for a thousand miles, Child Services checked in on them once a week and spent an hour inspecting cabinets, laundry and playing “endless questions”.

His finances, also under scrutiny on a regular basis, stretched to  the breaking point every month, he often held his breath. His retirement depleted early on with private care for Robert before he found a program to accept him that worked best. The stress over the years since Maggie left built to profound levels.

Then AnnaMarie’s plane went down in the ocean, there was nothing to bury, no survivors, no body. Just her and his son-in-law were gone. Nicky, too young to make the business trip for just an afternoon meeting with some politician who promised her a possible posting in a desirable location.

They talked of Japan, or Ireland, Sweden and the Nordic country names they bandied about with excitement.

But they never got to the meeting, a volcanic eruption a hundred miles away spread ash, harder than metal, in the sky.  What looked like light haze, was in point of fact, volcanic dust.

Jet engines, a spinning, flying blowtorch, ingested the abrasive salad of silica, crystalized carbon and thousand other ingredients that rapidly destroyed the internal parts of the jet engines.  The investigators discovered one engine detonated, shrapnel separated from the central hub, destroying the wing controls, then at just under five-thousand feet, the wing separated from the fuselage, sending it into a one-way trip into non-compressible water at two-hundred miles-per-hour. The ocean, there almost three miles deep, prevented proper recovery.

Hellish as it was, Big Nick had performed harder jobs at some time in his life.

Pretty sure, anyway.  He just could never remember when it was so miserable.

Explaining to Little Nicky what happened was, perhaps, the most difficult.  They both cried, Big Nick for his losses, Little Nick because he never saw the elder cry before.

Today, they walked together Little Nick and he. The young man had a spirit that pulled on his soul, so much like his mom.

He pulled his grandfather’s soul into the wind like a kite. With steely-blue eyes and a curiosity that knew no limits, the once red-headed giant of the boy’s life drew his breath again and answered the next questions while they walked, holding hands.

“How much to clouds weigh?”

“What are clouds made of?

“Why do they float….”

He loved his grandson.