All afternoon, Elby thought about the change in Uncle Marsh. Or her perception of a change. They’d never had riches within their reach before, and maybe that disrupted things. Like a drug you don’t want overtly, but secretly crave. A normal human reaction to a pile of gold within reach of the imagination.
She even found herself daydreaming about it as she took a long walk before dinner. Before meeting this mysterious Baxter. She had to get away from Uncle Marsh and settle her thoughts. But instead of disciplined thinking, her mind whirled with the power a windfall of gold and money could bring. An image flashed in her mind. An old Victorian mansion with a sign out front: “Elby’s Safe House.”
What the hell did that mean? Safe from what? Her mind filled the house with children. The kind of children whose faces grew taut in worry when they should have been relaxed in innocence, who smiled and laughed and played, but only on the outside, their insides always full of hurt and burn. The kind of child she had been before Uncle Marsh took her in. Before he let her into his own version of a safe house.
At the top of Reservoir Hill where she walked, she found herself in tears. Why? Had she so easily succumbed to gold fever? Was it as easy as that to lose yourself in impossible dreams? But the image of that house full of children seared her heart. It erupted full-blown and spontaneous as if her subconscious had been constructing it for ages. It felt like one of her creative moments back when she worked her art. She used to collect things from the forest and combine them with torn fabric and paper, rough string and fiber, and put them together with a spare and judicious application of paint. Like one might collect broken and torn children and make them into something beautiful and interesting on the outside, and healed just enough on the inside to tolerate being alive.
Shortly after moving to Pagosa with Uncle Marsh, she found a heart-shaped rock broken nearly down the middle. On a board, she painted a hazy brown background fading to black at the top, squeezed a gob of red paint onto it, and then turned it on its side until the red ran down in a drip. After it dried, she glued the broken heart onto the red glob. The image of it haunted her so much she hid it, but she saw it in her mind at times. It kept her awake at night off and on for years.
Elby felt as torn and broken as the bleeding heart-shaped rock, her two selves (were there only two?) in full skirmish, even outright war at times. The graceful, self-assured veneer she grudgingly built and polished under the persistent and protective eye of Uncle Marsh versus the angry, raw interior that didn’t trust men and never would. She didn’t want to be hateful with men most of the time. It just came out that way when she opened her mouth, when she opened the crack of her heart and the blood flowed.
The academic in her forced a calm, disciplined internal debate as she walked the trails on Reservoir Hill. Intellectually, Elby knew how exciting finding a new genuine Anasazi marker outside its known range would be for Uncle Marsh. She used to get that feeling of being on the trail of something new and important in her literary research before she lost her drive. She remembered the energy that kept her up eighteen hours a day for weeks digging through the old records of remote European churches and museums looking for those lost and forgotten nuggets, the intellectual equivalent of hidden gold.
Much younger, before her parents died, she’d sensed that joy of academic pursuit in Uncle Marsh before he retired. Before he took Elby in. The stark contrast between him and his sister, her mother, and her father.
It’s possible—no, more than that, it’s probable—that the gold didn’t light up Uncle Marsh as much as the idea of finding that Anasazi symbol did. She sighed. She wanted that to be the reason he seemed so animated. It seemed more pure somehow than the rabid pursuit of gold.
Her father, he wouldn’t care a thing for something as esoteric as an undiscovered Anasazi glyph. In the pursuit of easy money, he would have gleefully destroyed such a thing to get his claws on what he wanted, all he really cared about, in spite of his thin coat of religion and holiness.
And yet she felt what he must have felt. That same pull of how much better a sudden fortune could make life, not just for yourself, but for others. She shook her head. How arrogant. How full of ego. How reprehensible.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to relive the time when Uncle Marsh found that new Anasazi petroglyph at Chimney Rock. He told the story dozens of times, giving it more texture and exaggeration every time. But he never drifted from the root storyline. Elby leaned against the rough bark of a tree and imagined it.
During his third year of guiding tours at the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, he started understanding the alignments with the sun and planets and stars. He began standing for hours at certain locations, watching the shadows move.
One day while giving a tour and explaining the shifting shadows, he stopped talking, seized by a sudden realization. As he told it, he grasped how an Anasazi skywatcher would see that very place. He spotted a series of low cliffs on a foothill far away and pronounced that there would be a spiral sun marker there. The retired archaeologist for the area happened to be within hearing and stepped in, shut Uncle Marsh down right in front of the tour group. Said they’d scoured the area, including those cliffs, and there were no pictographs of any kind in that direction.
Without a word, Uncle Marsh set off and hiked to the cliffs, found the dim remains of a solar spiral, took pictures, and hiked back in time to show them to a few members of the original tour group. One happened to have a daughter who worked at The New York Times, and Marshall Garvin became a local hero, the man who could interpret the sun like the Anasazi.
She remembered how energized he had been from all the attention. That’s what he wants, she told herself. More than gold. She decided to go softer on him. If there’s another Anasazi marker up there, she could certainly see how it would draw him. Give him another shot at being the hero, the savant of ancient rock art.
That gave her all the more reason to want to go along on his trip with this Baxter fellow. She had hiked these mountains since she arrived as a pre-teen, always at the heels of Uncle Marsh until she learned to out-walk him. Since the beginning, he tried to walk hard and long enough to make her drop off, but she never succumbed. She felt it as a point of pride. As they both aged, it had reversed. Garvin now refused to fall off her heel, and she liked to push him, make the old man work. It had become a game, one they hadn’t played in years.
She walked back home feeling better but still whirling, her inside-outside selves still merry-go-rounding on the swivel-point of possibilities a treasure of gold would bring. She would try, she promised herself, to be civil to this Baxter. To hear him out. To help Uncle Marsh become the rock art hero again.
Short description for The G.O.D. Journal: After he accidentally kills his wife, Baxter runs. Hiding in his derelict boyhood home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, he discovers a journal that leads to a treasure of gold. With the guiding hand of a deranged hunter and Wall Street financier, Baxter discovers true gold is concealed in the heart of a woman who helps him search for an Anasazi pictograph that is key to his family treasure. Read the full description….
Hot Water Press publications scheduled for 2013: Annie and the Second Anasazi (a trilogy set in the year 2054), and Soo Potter (an Anasazi historical novel). To find out when they’re available, sign up for notification by email here.