Sample of STRUCK
by Keith Pyeatt
Part 1 -- Petroglyph Warrior
Rinconada Canyon, Western Edge of Albuquerque, NM
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The air held energy. It played across Barry Andrews's arms as he turned west off Unser Boulevard and braked to a stop. A metal gate blocked access to New Mexico's Petroglyph National Monument.
"Tough luck," Martin said from the passenger seat. "Sign says it's open until five." He checked his watch. "Missed it by ten minutes."
Inside the gate, beyond a dirt parking area and a bulletin board covered with maps and information, the trailhead beckoned. Barry drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "The parking lot's closed, but the trail is open." He turned off the Subaru and smiled at Martin. "Nice try though."
Martin shouldered open the passenger door and groaned getting out. "Why do I let you talk me into these things? These rock sketches aren't worth a hike, you know."
"You don't know that. You've lived here all your life and never seen them." Barry glanced at the ridge of black volcanic rock beyond the trailhead, placed a hand on top of the gate, and vaulted over it. "Come on. I really want to do this. You with me?"
Martin shut the car door. "I'm with you, if only to burn off some of your excess energy." He frowned at the gate. "But don't expect any gymnastics from me. I'll be lucky to get over this thing. And by the way, you're buying me dinner after this--Mexican food. None of that good-for-you crap you survive on."
As Martin hoisted a thick leg over the barricade, the western sky released a low growl. "That's not good." He paused straddling the gate. In his yellow t-shirt and brown shorts, he reminded Barry of a 230 pound finch perched uncomfortably on a fence. "Thunderstorm moving in. Bad omen."
"People keep telling me Albuquerque gets rain almost every evening this time of year. 'Monsoon season.' How can a thunderstorm be an omen?"
"This year's different. Bone dry since March, not so much as a storm cloud. Until now. It's an omen, I tell you."
Dark clouds peeked above the western horizon, but even if they broke trend and moved into Albuquerque, it'd be a while before they arrived. "It's an excuse," Barry said. "Let's go."
Martin hauled his other leg over the gate, took another look at the horizon, shrugged, and followed Barry to the trail.
"We won't go far," Barry promised. "No sense pushing it."
"Imagine you talking sense."
A roadrunner darted onto the path ahead and stopped at seeing the hikers. Barry stopped too. Man and bird studied each other a moment before the roadrunner charged on, veering to the north across sandy terrain dotted with low-growing silvery sage brush.
Barry led on. The trail kept about fifty feet south of the base of the flat-topped escarpment that wound its way along the western edge of Albuquerque. After five minutes at a moderate clip, he left the trail and approached a jumble of stones that hosted the petroglyphs. He examined a crude face on a flat surface of one of the stones, wondering if it was an ancient treasure or a more modern imitation made by kids or disrespectful adults.
Martin watched from the trail.
"Don't you even want to look?" Barry called out. "This is historic. More than historic, it's sacred to the Pueblo Indians."
Martin muttered something about new residents and tourist attractions, but he trudged his way forward. Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down his face.
"We do this regularly," Barry said, "and you'll lose some of that excess baggage you're always moaning about. Of course, that'll take away your excuse for not finding a husband."
"I've decided I want a husband who likes excess baggage, thank you very much. How far have we come?"
"Maybe a quarter mile."
Martin reached Barry and studied the petroglyph. "A quarter mile for this?"
"You have no sense of mystique, do you? You really do hate this."
Martin twisted his face into a smile. "It's not so bad. I'm being a pain because it's embarrassing to be so out of shape. Twenty-five with the stamina of an eighty-year-old. Not good."
Martin's sudden bursts of unveiled honesty often caught Barry by surprise. This one also made him feel guilty for commenting on Martin's weight. Barry squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Does this mean you won't race me back to the Subaru?"
Martin sighed and sat on a boulder. "This means I'm taking a break while you seek sacred enlightenment from these rocks."
Barry studied the escarpment and tried to pinpoint why he felt such a need to climb higher. "You feel anything unusual?" He placed a hand over his chest. "In here."
"Well, let's see. There seems to be a rush of something entering and leaving my lungs as I gasp for oxygen. Air, I think." Martin cocked his head as if listening intently. "And there's a persistent pounding coming from deep inside. Th-thump, th-thump. That what you mean by 'unusual'?"
"Funny," Barry said. "No, it's..." He tried to think of a way to describe the feeling.
"Seriously?" Martin asked after a few seconds of silence. His eyebrows pinched together. "Is something wrong? Are you in pain?"
"No. No pain. It's kind of a tugging feeling."
"Maybe you should sit down." Martin scooted over to make room.
Barry waved off the concern. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure it's even physical. It's like-- You know how sometimes you can tell someone's looking at you, that feeling on the back of your neck? It's kind of like that. In a way." He thought some more and shook his head. "But not really."
"Thanks for clearing that up." Martin seemed to be studying him, his eyebrows still pinched.
"Really," Barry said, "I'm fine. I'm going to explore a little. Then we'll head back." He turned and followed the pull before Martin could argue.
Twenty feet up the escarpment Barry found a petroglyph of a spiral that resembled a target. Someone else must have thought so too. Bullet marks blemished the surface. Higher up the hill of stones, two carvings caught his attention. He scrambled up for a closer look. One depicted a lizard. The other was harder to make out, something triangular with two lines sticking out below, maybe a shield that hid all of a warrior except his legs and feet. A jagged line adorned the shield.
Barry squatted and traced what he assumed was a lightning bolt with his finger, feeling where the stone had been pecked away so many years ago. The day's heat, stored in the stone, flowed into his finger. He placed his palm over the warrior's shield, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the sensation.
Thunder cracked, startling his eyes open. The day had gone dark. Barry stood, disoriented. How could clouds move in so quickly? He smelled moisture in the cool west wind. Rain was imminent. The trailhead and his Subaru were out of sight around a curve, but Barry could run a quarter mile easily, even in the loose soil. Martin couldn't.
A cold drop of rain struck the back of Barry's neck. He watched a spattering of drops evaporate quickly from the lizard and shielded warrior. Light flashed behind him. Thunder exploded a second later. Wind dashed sand against his bare legs, neck, and face.
"I'm taking shelter here," Martin yelled over the wind. He disappeared behind a rock, presumably into a crevasse that would block the rain. "It's big enough for two," he called out a moment later.
Barry surveyed the area, hoping he'd be able to recognize enough of the stone arrangement to find the petroglyphs again. Shadows jumped around him. More lightning. He braced for thunder, even closer this time. Shadows jumped again, casting long fingers across the stones, dancing nimbly over ancient etchings. Barry waited for the crash of thunder.
A shadow engulfed him, blotting out the smaller, dancing ones. The air sent a signal Barry recognized without understanding why--movement. Something coming at him. Something big, traveling fast, pushing its way through the air. The image of a plummeting boulder filled Barry's mind. He needed cover. Now.
A gap between boulders looked too tight to accept his body, but it'd have to do. No time to even look up and see what approached, he reached out to steady his descent, placing his left hand on the warrior.
The air crackled.
Energy shot through Barry's body.
--Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
--Lola R. Eagle, Reading New Mexico
--Greg Lilly, author of Devil's Bridge and the Derek Mason Mysteries
--Aaron Paul Lazar, The Compulsive Reader
LIGHTNING ISN'T ALWAYS AN ACT OF NATURE.
SOMETIMES IT'S A CALLING.
When lightning strikes Barry Andrews as he hikes Albuquerque's west mesa, it's more than an accident of nature. It's a calling. A power-hungry man tapped into powers long buried in the ancient Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon. Unless Barry can learn to trust a Native American elder, accept his role as warrior, and give up all he holds dear to confront an empowered adversary, life on Earth will soon end.
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