Capitol Reef National Park

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Welcome to the Teaser Page for My First Ghost Story / Novel.

Dead Mouths is slated to be the first of 4 books in the Blackrock Canyon Tetralogy. It tells the story about what happens when a ranch that was cursed and haunted by unspeakable incidents from the past is passed on to people who have no regard for its supernatural side, even when the effects of these incidents stare them straight in the face.
In the beginning of the first book, an almost dead and bloody hiker named Larry Gladwell is found by a rancher. He is then dropped off with the local chief of police, a guy named Tony Lucas, who is then thrust into the center of the situation. From the hiker's transfer to a local hospital in Moab, the mystery of how he got injured and left for dead unravels into demonic possessions. As the events increase in magnitude, many lives are intertwined together into the situation. Soon, the former ranch owner's son Harvey, a Native American named "Wolf," a couple from Pennsylvania named Dave and Charlotte, a woman named Suzie who has psychic abilities, and a pilot named "Chuckie" join forces with Blanding, Utah's finest in a battle that they can't even begin to fathom.
From developments in the canyon to peripheral events in the local towns, the history, present and future of this dwelling are interwoven into the mystery of what happened and how and why these things occurred.
As the tale goes on, a mix of demons, ghosts, and alien visitations to southeastern Utah are revealed. All the while, good and evil collide with the restless dead for a larger conflict, which is influenced by the actions of a small group of people who are hell bent and determined to reinvigorate the actions of a blood-thirsty shaman through his demonic master and their allegiance to his wicked way.
Will our heroes be able to save the day before the Satanic forces gets out or will they all be destroyed by the unlimited powers of black magic?
You'll  have to read the story to find out, but until it's published (hopefully, by Thanksgiving), here's a 4-section teaser.
For those people who are interested...
This story was inspired by Waldo Wilcox's Range Creek Ranch, which is not haunted (nor did any of these events take place, but I started to wonder, what if a place filled with cliff dwellings existed and it was never known about because people were being protected from it?).
It's also influenced by Cowboy Wash's cannibalism claims, which mirror many claims of cannibalism throughout the Southwest. Here, I took artistic liberty for another what if. I claim nothing about knowing reasons for the true nature of these crimes against humanity. My goal is to create a scary horrific fictional world of what if.
Other than that, I have always loved places like Mesa Verde, which is my favorite national park. I grew up loving Frank Edwards' Stranger than Science and listened to the band Iron Maiden from an early age (who doesn't love Eddie?).
Currently, I watch a lot of H2 and Destination America shows on all things haunted and paranormal as well as try my best travel to see places that get featured on these shows. I tend to watch shows like A Haunting, but what I really like is getting out and seeing the places for real and contemplating all things. This isn't easy to do since many of them (like those featured in this story) are on the other side of the country, but yeah... someday I'll get back there and see more of them.
That said, I do have a strong respect for the academic and skeptical side of people like Carl Sagan, whose The Fine Art of Baloney Detection is required reading (in my humble opinion). While I am influenced by shows like Ancient Aliens, I take a fair bit of the show, at least what's beyond some of the encounters, skeptically. To this, I see them as an introduction to archaeology, anthropology, and history - in a "what if" alternative history / sci-fi theory kind of way (as opposed to matter of fact absolute truth). Yes, it could be said that I'm recreating some of it here, but I want to be clear that I see this book as a work of fiction.
I should also say that I am a big subscriber to the techniques that M Night Shyamalan uses in most of his movies. I like the idea of not revealing too much gore and instead focusing on the terror that characters feel instead (straight out of Aristotle's Poetics). Here, I prefer psychology to gross-out 100 times out of 100.
I would have to say that I went into this book to recreate and channel a fair mix of my interest in the movies Signs, The Mummy (the Brendan Fraser one), Jaws, Altered States, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how they could be combined with the reading of books like Stephen King's The Stand. What came out is something like that, but it's nothing like what it started out to be. Frankly, it's much better than that (once again, my humble opinion).
This book is also the product of a lot of music... whether indie rock, thrash metal, classic rock, or even old school country, I feel that all genres can inspire creation, creativity, and story telling. Nevertheless, some musicians like King Diamond seem to be really great inspiration for writing horror stories since his CDs are his own ghost stories with music behind them. Slayer is pretty awesome as well since they're just so brutal and heavy. Nevertheless, some moments mellow stuff like Jack Johnson works pretty good as well. It's all relative.
As we come to the end of this rambling, I feel I should give a few warnings.
1) I try to steer away from the gore where possible since I'm not a fan of it, but some scenes are more than PG. I can't say that this is for younger kids since it's not.
2) I would have liked to have steered away from some language, but realistic speech doesn't allow for it. Sorry.
3) I don't like stories that are root for the bad guy or the killer. Personally, I believe in God. I find real evil in the world scarier than fiction. For this, I feel like we need more heroism (in both real life and fiction) where good has to confront evil (hence, this story).
4) I do believe in ghosts due to personal experience. I'm open to believing in aliens though I've never been abducted or seen one (yet!).
5) I love history, hiking, music, baseball, and commitments to family life. I have tried to incorporate them here as well. That said, the baseball and music stuff does play into the whole of this story (trust me). It's not just me throwing everything but the kitchen sink in here!
6) If you're here for Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you came to the wrong place.
7) If you're here to say, "You know, Die Hard was completely believable until that part with the..." you're probably in the wrong place. This isn't meant to be the history of what was or even 100% real (though it is based in the real), but the history of what could be. It's meant to be scary and fun, and if you're lucky, you'll check out some academic stuff and places (like I did) after reading it. Let the fiction take you to the non-fiction - but have fun with this and enjoy the fiction stuff, too. That's what I wrote it for (as do people like Stephen King)!
8) I really think you should see some of these places that I write about with your own eyes. Create your own stories! Take road trips! Feel inspired to experience! Life is too short for anything else.
9) Yes, there are scenes where characters engage in drug use. If you read the scene, you'll understand that it's not done to glorify this but rather to open the characters up to making bad decisions while messed up on substances. That's why they're here.
10) That whole graffiti and destroying precious places thing... whether historic or natural or both... so uncool. Leave no trace. Stand up for history, whether on the trail or in the world as a whole. Enough said (No more Gustaf Nordenskiolds).
11) On a final note, I am an English teacher, and I went through my days reading the classics, but right now, I prefer my reading material to just flow and keep my interest. If writing can't do that, then so what if it's a classic? Then again, maybe I read too much Antonin Artaud and his call for "No More Masterpieces." So yeah, I'm not here to be Shakespeare (nor do I want to be him in any respect - though I get him). I'm here to entertain you and make you feel connected to a story for a serious chunk of time and maybe even want to read it again and share it with your friends.
So yeah... take all these things for what you want. It's what you get, and I hope you feel it's good.
Whatever this (and the other ideas flowing around my head) turn out to be, I hope that you like this! If you'd like to wax intellectual on this, feel free to send me a message!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Introduction (updated 8/11/16)

As most things do, the beginning happens when we never expect it. The dust on the past is uncovered by the smallest winds, and when history shines through, there is nothing else that can be done but to dust the rest of it off and discover that the past, the present, and the future are still with us today.
This discovery of something completely different was an invitation from a retired Army officer who sent a personal letter to Susan Mavern. Prior to getting the mysterious missive, Susan was three years removed from college, grinding out her time as a struggling writer and elementary school teacher in northern Virginia. Occasionally, she would get stories published in small time local and state magazines or for various online outlets, but it was never anything more than subsidizing income or keeping herself busy during the summers.
However, this strange handwritten letter was different. Addressed from Colonel Marcus Powell, a man she never heard of before, the letter spoke in an official way about knowing her mother and her uncle as well as many of the people that they were related to or associated with back in the latter part of the “twenty-teens.” This familiarity sparked her interest despite the fact that her parents never talked about him before. In some way, this made sense since he acknowledged that he had lost track of her by the time she was a toddler.
To compound this sense of mystery about the early days of her mother’s life, Susan had lost her uncle when she was eight. It was a sad thing, but since she only ever saw him on the yearly vacations that her family would take to Oregon, it wasn’t like he was ever really that close to her, though he was obviously close to her mother. Nevertheless, her uncle Clarence and her mother had been an inseparable pair from the time that they entered the world, at least until he moved away to Oregon to get a job. When the family would get together, it was said that they would always have these long and serious talks that nobody was ever invited to, and when they were done, they would come back and be as close as ever, though they would also be as silent as they could be, like nothing ever happened when they went away to secretly confer.
What made these discussions really strange was that even her father wouldn’t be allowed to be around for those. As a result, he would take Susan somewhere else, and well, that was that. Most of these instances of having to avoid the siblings were spent with father and daughter bonding, but as she got older, she started to wonder about what they discussed.
“When you’re older, Susan, we will tell you more, but for now, it’s a part of growing up that you’re just not old enough for.”
“Will I be old enough when I’m ten?”
“Will I be old enough when I’m thirteen?”
“No. You might be old enough at sixteen.”
“When I’m old enough to drive?”
“Actually, I was thinking at thirty-five, when you’re old enough to be the President of the United States.”
“Ha ha.”
He smiled back at her and messed up her hair.
“Don’t get old before your time, Susan. Stay young and innocent forever, like your old man.”
“Come on, Dad. What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s hard to say since I’m not even old enough for your mom to tell me everything that she and your uncle Clarence talk about.”
At that, they both laughed.
After her uncle Clarence died, Susan’s mother would talk cryptically, at least at first, about a place called Blackrock Canyon. Despite not being there for at least twenty years, she still remembered a lot of things about it. It seemed to Susan that it was the kind of place that burns itself into your subconscious and never releases you. Susan mentioned this to her mother Mary, once, and she nodded in agreement.
“If I could, I would burn that whole place to the ground, but it would probably just laugh at me and go right on standing there as it has done since the beginning of time.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Some places just never should be. This is one of those places.”
“Is it haunted?”
“What do you know about haunted?”
“Like on television. The shows you won’t let me watch.”
“Yeah. Something like that, but this is real, and real haunting isn’t friendly ghosts and dancing ghouls. It’s something internal, a feeling mixed with a presence, but it still scares you. That’s Blackrock.”
“What else is Blackrock Canyon like?”
“That’s enough for now.”
“But, Mom…”
The look she gave her daughter silenced anymore requests and even kiboshed the sour look that might have poked through the moment.
Throughout the years, Susan learned a lot of things about Blackrock, and the meaning became closer to her heart and her history, despite the fact that it seemed to be a desolate and mysterious place. Granted, it was more beautiful than some of the archaeological sites and cliff dwellings that hid themselves in these rock-strewn mountains, but it was very all-consuming and eerie, like a thick fog that rolls in from the sea and envelops the coast.
“The Greers of old would never talk about these archaeological ruins and their meaning with their girl children. It was only for the boys, but you’re different. For that, you will someday learn about this place,” her mother once said. “Even if I don’t teach you, someone else will.”
And for a time, Susan was interested in learning about this rocky world of Native Americans and ghosts and the white men who encountered them, and during that time, she was told things, always vaguely and in age-appropriate ways, but she came to know a little bit here and a little bit there. After this, makeup and boys and sports and her driver’s license came into her life, so there was no time for archaeological digs. Susan was just so into being normal that the history of people she would never meet didn’t seem that exciting to her anymore.
Besides, there was something about this family history that felt like a curse to her, and that was the kind of thing she wanted to abandon altogether.
Nevertheless, history has a way of dragging us back in, and this happened for Susan when her mother and father were killed in a car crash after she graduated from college. This brought forth a two-front sadness of familial loss and the fact that she never did find out what went in those holes that the earlier conversations between her mother and her were filled with.
And then, just like that, three years passed, and she got the letter from Colonel Powell during a period of “what the hell am I going to do with my life.” For all the mystery it opened, it also sucker punched her and brought her back to Blackrock and those ancient days of mystery, which her mother and uncle spoke about in such hush-hush tones.
Susan and her husband Jim Mavern walked out of the Big Rocks Nursing Home in Cortez, Colorado. Her home in Front Royal, Virginia, was a million miles away from this dried up and all but forgotten desert town outside of Mesa Verde National Park. After talking with Powell by letter and then by phone, she and her husband agreed to take a vacation here when they realized how serious the letter was concerning its impacts on her family’s history.
What’s more, there were authentic things inside these conversations that only he would know. From descriptions of Mary and Clarence to the grandparents that she had never really known, but known of, it all made sense. In fact, it made too much sense to be a mere coincidence that he would contact her as a prank. What’s more, there was a baby picture of her mother and uncle with her grandparents, who she had also never known.
“Isn’t there someone more deserving of the honor of compiling this history?”
“I never married, and I have no illegitimate kids, at least that I know of,” he laughed. “Let alone nieces and nephews.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Blackrock Canyon was my life. I met some great people in those days. I wish you could have met them, too, or maybe just known them longer.”
“I know,” she said trying to hold back a tear for the relatives she knew while not really thinking about these other people whose names that he just mentioned as anything other than names from the past. Through it all, she did her best to be kind to the ninety-year old man who was sitting in a chair in front of her.
“You know, if I was a younger man, I’d love to be reliving those days, but now, now I just think about how Penguin and Simon & Schuster passed my book over. Ungrateful bastards. When they passed on me, I still had the strength to try for a few other book deals, but they all laughed at me, too, and soon, I just gave up and said, ‘The hell with ‘em.’ These things happen, I guess, but I was never used to that with all of the respect I earned from my time in the Army and from the government organization that I worked for. Now those were some great men and women.”
“Which organization did you work?”
“We didn’t have a name. The closest thing we had to a name was a letter and number. Do you believe that?”
“I believe you,” Susan said, touching his aged and frail hand.
“You say you do, but when you look at the truth inside my collection,” he said, gesturing toward the boxes, “You’ll have your doubts, too. Until then, I’ll let you humor this old boy a little.”
“I’m sure they were just stodgy old jerks who couldn’t bring themselves to understand things that aren’t everyday love stories and action movies. Maybe you should have had scantily clad models on the cover of your book,” she said smiling.
He laughed at that, and he spoke again, saying, “The best remark was that ‘it would be better as a fictional comic book or superhero movie,’ at least that’s what Random House told me. To go about with stuff like this as non-fiction was ‘commercial suicide’ at best. Even then, it would be a hard sell without real superhero powers, just psychic abilities and paranormal relics combined with some Old West, overly macho types.”
“I’m sorry for what they did to you, but why me? Why now?”
“You’re my last solid connection to the days of my past. I checked out other people from that time’s kids, too. You have an education background, and you can write. The others are good for different things, but they can’t write. They’re also too serious. You’re open-minded, but you aren’t so much so that your brains will fall out.”
“So that’s my outstanding credentials?”
“That and your lineage… well, your honorable soul, mostly. You’re a woman of the truth. You’ll respect my work that I did prior to this. When I die, you can publish it with my name, but not while I’m alive. There’s too much ‘beyond top secret’ information,” he said laughing. “I’d rather not be grilled about divulging some of these things. Like they could put a man my age in the slammer! That said, there are some really good people who need to be known about, and Missy, I think you can do just that.”
“Are you sure this is something you want to do?”
“Because what was out there then is going to come back someday really soon. Evil always does, and when it happens, people need to be ready. At least, I hope they are this time. Preparation is everything. Nobody who could have done anything at the time was really ready, and for that, things happened. Bad things. Time allows us to conveniently forget the past, but for those of us who were there, we know that we’ll never forget. That means you need to learn and remember what I already know.”
“My mom alluded to how I had a lot of learning to do.”
“Your mother and Blackrock Canyon became even more inseparable than her relationship with her brother. God rest his soul.”
“Yeah,” she said trailing off. “Well, I thank you for entrusting me with all of this. I never knew there was so much,” she said pointing to the boxes and briefcase full of papers, photographs, hard drives, and sticky notes.
“Don’t let its appearance fool you. It’s in order.”
“I’m sure it is, sir.”
“I haven’t been a sir in ages. No reason to start now.”
They both laughed at that.
“So what do you think of him?”
“I think he’s on the level. When things like this fall into a person’s lap, it becomes time to run with the opportunity to be great. There’s no other choice. Like he said in a letter he wrote me, I need to do what I need to do.”
“So you write, and I research?”
“For the most part. I figure I’ll be doing a lot of transcribing and reorganizing what’s there. Even with teaching, we can get this going along solidly over the next two summers. We can run through samples next summer, and we can see about publishing when we have a good chunk o’ stuff put together. Marsha, who teaches fifth grade at school has an in with Rotterdam Publishing in New York City.”
“Then, let’s get on this right after vacation.”
And with that, the two of them drove off toward the Grand Canyon, which was where their vacation would end and their lives would radically change.
Exactly how much their lives would change, neither of them could begin to understand in that moment, but as they sat as comfortably as they could in their tiny airplane seats, they flipped through the first of the journals that Powell had given them. From what they saw, it was clear that the old man had given them more than he even alluded to in the conversations prior to and during their vacation.
And considering the long-winded conversations he had about all of those dark and scary moments that his team faced down, that fear that these histories inspired really was something to behold.
Upon returning home, Susan immediately placed a phone call to thank the old man, but when she did, she was told by a nurse that he had passed during the night, not long after they left.
“I guess we got there just in time,” she said, trying to fight off tears for a man that she had barely had time to get to know.
“Yeah, I guess we did,” Jim added, wondering to himself if there was something in Powell’s pressing need to see Susan so quickly, and then he just shook it off as coincidence.
“Well, no time like the present to keep reading and researching.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Chapter 1 (Updated 8/11/16)

“Friggin’ hippies.”
Bill Smith was never one to mince words about his feelings on people or issues, and he definitely had no use for the guy who was lying in the bed of his Dodge Ram. He didn’t need to say anything, in fact, to let the man standing in front of him know that this trek into town was an impediment to all of the ranch work that he had to do with his very full day, thank you. This feeling was clearly written all over the weathered lines on his sunburned and grizzled face. As the septuagenarian rancher spit on the ground to take some of the wind-blown dust out of his mouth, the words that followed this action said it all.
“Normally, I just let drunks lie on the side of the road, but this guy was different than a lot of the rabble I’ve had to rouse when I chase them from my lands.”
Tony Lucas, the Blanding Chief of Police, casually nodded in agreement. He knew that Smith was right; this wasn’t your everyday vagrant. Sure, the blue and green tie-dyed t-shirt bearing the words “It Was Great; We Went to Maine” seemed like a lot of the rock-hopping, biking, kayaking, meditating, and camera-carrying crowds that managed to make their way down from Moab or east from the parks that dotted the entire southern part of Utah, but this wasn’t one of those happy-go-lucky twenty-something guys out for an adventure in the canyons. No, something about this guy said that he met something else, which was a long way from the forests and coasts of Maine. Sure, at one point in time, he might have been one of those guys, but to find someone looking this sweaty, dehydrated, dirty, and covered in blood… No, this wasn’t someone who had a rough night at the Rusty Horseshoe or Joe the Average Tourist out in some famous slot canyon.
Time and space must have collided in one gigantic meteor because this guy met something that seemed to be lying in wait for him, and the rough hand of fate left him in need of repair.
Looking at the dazed and catatonic expression on this guy’s face, both Lucas and Smith knew that there was a story behind this unconscious moment in time that filled Smith’s truck bed. Lucas also knew Smith. He was a relic from a long forgotten time in a land that was a relic to the all but dead world that surrounded it. The only times Smith ventured to Blanding’s police station were when he had reason to rabble rouse. Sometimes, he needed to be there, but other times, most times in fact, he was letting Tony know that he could be a pain the ass since it was his tax dollars that paid Lucas’s “over-inflated salary.” That said, no matter what Lucas thought about this old curmudgeon, he knew that with Smith living fifty or so miles away in the back deserts of southeastern Utah, this wasn’t a cordial visit.
Lucas also knew that for all of Smith’s requests, thoughts, and insistences, Tony would be the final arbiter of all decisions in Blanding, Utah, and at this point, just hearing that the aging rancher had some “hippie” in his personal truck wasn’t cause for concern, at least until Lucas’s glance at the bloody and unconscious mess that was in the truck confirmed Smith’s feelings.
“Where did you find him?”
“You can thank my cattle. They seemed to spy him. My eyes are trained to avoid looking for or at trash like this. No, this boy was passed out near Muddy Creek when the cattle started making noise. I suspect he had wandered down from Blackrock Canyon. God knows what he was doing up there. He couldn’t have been there long when my sons and I found him and loaded him into the truck.”
“He’s alive,” Smith said, spitting on the ground.
A wind swept through the street as Lucas mulled over the visage of the boy in the back of the pickup truck.
“You know, Bill, this kid’s got some intestinal fortitude.”
“Some what?”
“Intestinal fortitude. Don’t you watch pro wrestling? That stuff that wrestlers summon when they get their butts kicked for five minutes straight only to come back and go ballistic on their opponents to win the match.”
“I don’t watch that crap.”
“I guess not.”
A few minutes after their short exchange, Lucas was left with a blood-covered body, still breathing, but with little else going to show he was still alive. If nothing else, at least the blood was dried up at this point in time and the kid was still breathing. Also, Tony thanked his lucky stars he made the call to get the ambulance down here from Moab as soon as he found out Smith was bringing the body to his police station
Thirty minutes from that notification he provided to Tony, Smith quickly tired of being around the police officer who he didn’t like much to begin with. He had this thing about standing around doing nothing productive, so he motioned to leave after he informed the officer that he wasn’t one to dig in the pockets of another man’s pants searching for ID. It would be up to Lucas to see if the kid had any identification, so Lucas began to think that Smith’s early exit would be a blessing in disguise. He might be left alone to handle a difficult situation, but really, he’d be left alone.
The thought of future silence was short-lived since Bill still had a few words left to say before he actually vacated the premises.
“Besides, this grubby-ass hippie might like it too much. I don’t have time to get touchy-feely with some unconscious malcontent. I need to get back to work. Little bastard already cost me six gallons of gas that I’m not getting reimbursed for…,” Smith stated, leaving the pause to imply he’d really like the money back since he felt deputized by the “emergency” of the situation.
Lucas nodded appropriately to the negative. He wasn’t interested in discussing cultural norms or reimbursements with Bill Smith, especially when Lucas knew that he had absolutely no interest in whether or not someone Smith had taken a disliking to, had the right to present himself in public however he wanted to. For those reasons and others he could have elaborated on, Lucas was just as happy to see Smith drive off with his “America: 1776-2008” and “Trump the Bitch” bumper stickers getting smaller and smaller as his aging truck proceeded south on North Black Mountain Road toward Route 191. It definitely didn’t take him long to go back to his ranch after he announced he was leaving due to the fact that Tony was not interested in entertaining the idea of paying him back for the gasoline.
“See you next time you need to bitch about the commies and the druggies and damn fool cattle who can’t stay on their own territory, Smith.”
With those words, he had nothing else to do, so he fished into the ripped up khakis and found a brown wallet with little else in it. Once again, he noticed the boy wasn’t moving, but at least he was still alive during the investigation. In the billfold, there was about $40 in bills and change that would get sealed up in evidence. The rest of the wallet contained a Visa card, a student ID from Jedidiah Smith University, and a Massachusetts driver’s license. Jackpot.
They all read the same name: Lawrence Gladwell of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Lucas looked at the boy, and he couldn’t fathom what wrecked him that badly. Gazing upon his face, he appeared to resemble Tex Cobb after those fifteen rounds with Larry Holmes in Texas back in 1982, but somehow, he was still breathing, though not even coherent in the slightest after being baked red, both from the blood and the sun, during his unknown time in the desert heat.
“Whatever was it in your life that brought you such a long way from home, Larry, and why did you feel a need to almost die on my shift? This seems to be a perfect opportunity for Sammy Marwin to refine his craft and justify his salary as our town’s fourth cop.”
The body that now was strewn out across the police lobby’s sofa didn’t respond. Tony didn’t expect it to either, but there was something about this guy that he seemed to see in the faces of so many people who made their way down to the Four Corners area. Prior to the current state he was in, he looked like he would have been healthy, intelligent, loved, and the life of the party, but he wasn’t hardened by the desert. He wasn’t a big guy, as his 160-pound frame attested. Tony was glad for that since it made it easier for the two men to lift him out of Smith’s truck bed. Nevertheless, 160 pounds of dead weight is 160 pounds of downward and resistant force.
“An object at rest remains at rest, Bill.”
“The hell with all of them white-shirt scientist assholes.”
“Yep, Bill, the hell with Newton and all of ‘em.”
At twenty-four years old, nobody could have expected Larry to take on the leathery look and cantankerousness of Bill Smith, but certainly, he should have appeared to be less of a daydreamer and more of an outdoorsman when it came to spending time in the reality of the canyons outside of Blanding.
Maybe that’s what left him here.
As he thought about these things, Tony realized that, to some degree, he was thinking about his own son Jackie, so he muttered to himself to stop this so he could focus on the task at hand. The moment at hand was all that mattered, not whether his kid could handle the reality of adult life at college or on his own anywhere.
In the time Lucas spent waiting for the ambulance from Moab to drive down to Blanding to pick up this guy, Tony started to make some notes of his appearance. Considering his state of being, he was considering him to be the victim or perpetrator of an unknown crime, most likely the victim or at the very least a witness to all things that happened. Taking pictures of the young man who was now passed out cold, he wanted to dutifully clean off the blood, but he knew that he couldn’t play the father role… potential crime notes.
“Damn it, Jackie. Why does this kid have to look so much like you?”
Tony re-established himself, and he tried to look through the blood to see whatever he could. As he did this, he quickly discovered there were only a few bruises on his face and his body, but none of them looked like they were from being attacked. Instead, they seemed to appear as if he had fallen forward into the desert canyon’s brushy ground cover, which he was trying to escape from.
This puzzled Lucas completely and left him to wonder if the kid got lost and paranoid while trying to find his way out of a world that all looked pretty much the same in its empty, walled-in prison sense. Tony knew that the desert is known to leave lost souls stranded in a place like this. Maybe Mr. Gladwell was just another unlucky soul. 
Through it all, he continued to photograph and analyze the boy, who still seemed completely oblivious to the whole process. Occasionally, it would look like the guy would open his eyes, and it was obvious that he was breathing, but Mr. Body offered no other interaction to the situation than to seem to silently mouth some words that Tony couldn’t make out.
At first, Lucas tried to get him to respond to simple questions, but when he didn’t show signs of being able to communicate or wanting to talk about life, most likely from the exposure to the nasty summer heat, Tony just stopped making an effort. Besides, the situation would soon be someone else’s responsibility, and Tony had no need to make a Facebook friend out of a day’s work, so he just cut off the remains of the shirt to put in the bag with the rest of the evidence. When he did this, he found that the boy was not injured on his torso either, even though the shirt was splattered with copious amounts of blood.
The good news of this was that he wouldn’t have to use his really in-depth EMT training to deal with hidden injuries.
After getting the bloody, nasty shirt cut off, he sealed it up as evidence, and covered the boy in a blanket that he happened to have in the police station.
As far as Tony was concerned, someone up in Salt Lake could check the shirt over for gun powder residue, just to be sure, but it would most likely lead to nothing that would put this young man into Uinta, hopefully. He just didn’t seem like the kind of person who could kill someone and end up bloodier than a slaughterhouse floor. Besides, this wasn’t the kind of kid that looked like he knew how to handle a pistol, even if his life depended on it. He was too much like Jackie. For that bit of proof of innocence, Tony would let the forensic pros take care of this for sure. Machines like that were too expensive for a town of just over 3,000 canyon denizens. Policing a town of people who were often struggling to afford the police force that they did have meant that he would keep things together for those people who could afford high tech answers.
As the immediate investigation went on, Lucas checked the hands and fingers of his young acquaintance. There was no bruising there either. There were no signs of anything beneath the finger nails, other than dirt, to show that he had struggled against an attacker at close range. There was blood and dirt, but that seemed superficial.
His condition was simply a lot of bruising, heat-related injuries, and other evidence of being roughed up by desert canyons at the very edge of Lucas’ jurisdiction.
Lucas’s unofficial jurisdiction was anything to every single one of the compass points that stretched out from his town, places that weren’t closer to another town so they became his town. To the north on 191, the road went to Monticello. In the south, it went to Bluff. Bluff led along Route 162 to Route 41 to Route 160. Monticello led to Colorado through a whole lot of nothing on Route 491, which was the exorcised version of Route 666. However, since 2003, there was no Devil’s Highway, at least in number. All the same, no matter what it was called, there was a lot of desert along that road, which still had some tell-tale signs of its evil past left on it.
Tony always shuddered in these places, no matter who was with him at the time, and this was a man who could instill the fear in anyone he needed to impress the law upon.
The lack of towns for roughly twenty miles to the north and over twenty-five miles to the south said that there was a lot of desert country to the east and west side, which was also ground that needed covered. This was where he got involved in ranching type disputes and Native American concerns along the ghost roads that seemed to lead to nowhere in particular. Such was the life of the long arm of the law in a wide-open country.
Looking over the rest of the body that lay before him, Lucas could see that there were no wounds that could raise any red flags except for three long, scratched out marks on the back of his upper right leg, located directly above the back of his knee. However, these marks were completely dried and not very deep at all, although it was clear that they didn’t seem to be just casual scratch marks. Still, it was clear that these cuts definitely were not deep enough to cause all of this bleeding that appeared on his shirt, should he have taken it off to wipe off the wounds. Nevertheless, even if the boy had an itch, they didn’t seem to be self-inflicted.
“Don’t put your thoughts in the witness’s head. Let the hypothesis test itself. Don’t guide it.”
So it was clear that some other mystery had to have caused that, but if there was something else, then what was it?
Yes, Lucas knew that at one point, it was true that the gashed-open skin would have bled, but these incisions seemed like the kind of thing he might have encountered in trying to move through the cactuses and dried up desert brush if he was especially clumsy or just in a hurry to get away from something particularly nasty. Besides, this kid looked like he was a desert accident waiting to happen. Any number of things could have ripped him up like that.
Who knows how far back he was in Blackrock Canyon, if that’s where he was when stuff happened. For everything Tony knew, he couldn’t even begin to imagine what could have happened. He knew how easy it was for stuff to go bad, even on short hikes. Things have a way of happening. Murphy’s Law, the kids call it. With that, he reflected off to his own misspent and unaware youth. Nevertheless, in Southeastern Utah, there was a propensity for disaster to multiply if people weren’t careful how they placed one foot in front of the other.
Reflecting on that, Lucas looked into Larry’s blank expression and felt a sense of praise for how this young boy managed to get out of the deep rock and canyons to find his way onto Smith’s ranch in one piece, at least enough for someone else to save him from death.
Coming up for air, even after an accident like this, has to mean something.
While he didn’t like having to figure out this mystery of whether this was a murder gone awry or an escape from a murderer, it sure beat the routine day in Blanding dealing with the rebellious tumbleweeds and the Bill Smiths of the world.
Maybe it was good that he and not Sammy Marwin got this job. Things like this needed the experience of Tony’s professionalism, not another man’s inexperience.
That said, for all Smith was and wasn’t, had it not been for him when this kid got messed up out there in Blackrock, if that’s where he was, nobody would have found him for years, and by then, he would be a bleached-out skeleton picked clean by things that creepy crawl and soar over the area in the hopes of opportunistically finding free lunch.
Out here, there was lots of free lunch for the vultures.
On that note, Tony went back to his work and his thoughts. In focusing again on the kid, Tony realized that for the life of him, he couldn’t think about what a kid who was going to school in Salt Lake City would be doing on foot all the way down here in Nowhere, Utah, unless it had to do with the things that were said to be getting ready to commence at the Greer ranch. Perhaps the investigations of his officers and those of the great state of Utah would turn up evidence of a car left up on one of the dirt roads to some of the backcountry trails. This investigation would be time he didn’t really have since the drives up and back would take hours of time he didn’t have. Additionally, those southern Utah dirt roads were washboards that fired rocks up at the underside of any vehicle that dared make the journey back to them. All the same, if anyone was parked there, Tony might be able to find out if there were any other victims, survivors, or a possible attacker.
One way or another, he would find out the answer since he was a man in control. In fact, he was “THE MAN.” He even had a plaque on his office desk that said so. What’s more, everyone he knew would respectfully call him this.
This statement of his place on the totem pole couldn’t be any truer since Tony Lucas was a man’s man, a guy who was left over from a different generation. Despite having arrived twenty years too late, he did his best to try to pull himself into the current world to relate to the changes that had happened since he first became a cop in the mid-1980s. Most noticeably, sometime in the early 1990s, he stopped wearing his 1980s mustache and switched to a grunged-out goatee. As he reached his forties in the 2000s, he stopped fighting with thinning hair and shaved his head to resemble the modern tough guy look that Bruce Willis had in the later Die Hard movies. While Willis brought eternal manliness to those roles, for Tony, it was more about looking like Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Here, Tony knew that, in the end, showing a balding head could be really cool if a man made it look bad ass enough. From the talk of many women in Blanding, Tony definitely had that covered and then some.
To keep fit at age 56, Tony still worked out regularly, running and lifting weights, but he also was known to like downing a couple beers while eating extra spicy wings. Life was too short to not enjoy it, he would tell anyone who asked and many who didn’t. For this, he was always pushing himself through tough workouts to get rid of the extra calories in order to keep himself the toughest dude in southeastern Utah.
As for people who might try to warn him of the unhealthy properties of bacon, he would laugh at them for looking for a fight. However, they were more likely to face a beat-down if they commented on his wife Katy looking “shit hot for her age,” which was one of those local town mistakes that was only made once. The man in question might have walked out of the Game Seven Sports Pub on his own two feet that night, just barely, but he definitely wouldn’t show his face in the town again. While most women might find an action like that to be unnecessarily aggressive, out in the desert towns of Utah, there was still a certain chivalry in the action, such as the time that Tony actually did have to beat a message into someone remarking about the “hotness” of his truly gorgeous wife while pressuring her to go out and check out his El Camino. 
In the end, Tony cleaned up his mess and threw the guy a towel to wipe the blood off of his nose and mouth, and then he threw his ass out the door while apologizing for his own “bad attitude.”
Just like that, he was a man to be feared and respected, but at the same time, he was a good man who had his world’s best interests at heart.
To understand this concept of frontier justice is to understand the harshness of the desert. Professionally, Tony ran his police office in an area that was essentially in charge of intervening in domestic disputes, drunken escapades, and cultural disputes – either between good old boys and displaced liberals or White America and Native America.
When it came to “cowboys and Indians,” Lucas always erred on the side of who seemed the most believable in his or her explanation. If people couldn’t speak up confidently for what they did or the things that they stood for, he quickly dismissed them by not paying attention to their rants, no matter how loud they were. Here, he followed the advice that he had heard from his football coach that the only time you have to worry is when he stopped correcting you or any other person who was “shitting the bed.” Nevertheless, Tony wouldn’t hesitate to discuss problems that people were causing him, but when he did, it was always short, sweet, and to the point. Give me a solution, not a song and dance. Tony felt his guidance should go the same way. Redirect, not permanently punish.
That’s just who he was.
All the same, there were the people he had to deal with for longer than he needed to. They were regulars and needed a solution to find favorable or to get upset over. Here, a busy day was a border dispute with Bill Smith types over where cattle grazed or redirecting “rummies,” as Lucas called them. He was known to deal directly with “drunk asshole” problem types by using a method that he politely referred to as “wall to wall counseling.” Much of what he did was tough love in the no harm, no foul, no police record way. This ranged from stern conversation to jacking a loudmouth drunk up against a fence or wall to state calmly that he should “redirect his life choices.”
There was no need for towels when the message came across so clearly.
Redirecting life choices was his personal joke for overly-sensitive types who refused to tell kids that they’ve been “bad.” He wasn’t a fan of spanking; in fact, he never once spanked Jackie, but his overwhelming sense of right and wrong meant that people needed to know when they were out of line, even if they were only “temporarily” being bad. In his younger high school days, he was known to put loudmouths over a fence, but old age had mellowed him out to the point that it was mostly just a lot of close quarter discussions in a stern, but normal toned voice. His presence in such an intimate place made up for the fact that, at least according to one of the state-sponsored conferences that he attended, “a modern lawman has to understand that there are no bad kids, just bad choices.” Tony laughed when he heard that for the first time, but he quickly found a way to adapt it in with his personal way of making sure people were redirected accordingly. Frankly, it was something that really worked, even if the dumbass teenagers and their parents would still call him names for being a policeman.
The references to “pigs” didn’t bother him. However, it was worse than being called a “cracker” or “whitey.” These were nonsense terms that made him chuckle, but lately, the disrespect came in a lot of strung together profanities, which made it tough to not want to squeeze the cuffs a little tighter on the grizzled parents of these youthful malcontents. And what’s worse, the parents always seemed to be the ones who got louder and angrier when he showed any degree of authority that forbid them and their kids from being assholes or no-it-all libertarian anti-government types droning on about the “militarization of the police in America today.”
Nevertheless, for all of those moments, he had always kept his professionalism when it came time for discipline and redirection in the name of the law.
Through it all, the people of Blanding generally liked him, and that was good enough for him. Besides, if they didn’t, they were known to give him some wall to wall counseling of their own at the regular town meetings, and frankly, getting tongue-lashed for hours was worse than taking a fist to the chin.
At least a punch in the head was over and done with. Prolonged verbal abuse that he had to nod or answer appropriately to could go on for hours. Professionalism was tough in those moments, but fortunately, Tony used his vivid imagination to play out daydreams in his head while nodding appropriately.
Today, there were none of these things with rummies, rednecks, or “Injuns,” as many of the locals still derogatorily referred to the Native American population as. Instead, the discussion was one that he was having with himself about who the attacker might be. As he thought about this, the thoughts meandered into the mysterious word “killer.” Tony never had a killer in his town before. He had been in Blanding for most of his adult life, at least since he left Naturita, Colorado, at age twenty-two, in search of this career that he had always dreamed about. For as exciting as he thought it might be to deal with a murderer when he was a young age, the older Tony liked not having to deal with this stuff that involved mopping up blood, at least in any way that didn’t involve throwing the perpetrator a towel.
“We all mop the floors at one time, Sammy, and this is your time,” Tony once told his youngest and newest recruit. “I’ve done my time with it, and now that I have some degree of authority, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to let you learn the life lessons of a solid work ethic and the all-important fact that ‘shit rolls downhill.’”
Nevertheless, for not wanting to clean up the mess, the “rugged dude” in Tony still had a feeling of excitement in thinking that this young kid turning up all messed up in a desert canyon could evolve into big city news to tell his wife about, even if the closest big city was only desert oasis Moab.
This city to the north was full of wild and free adults off on their adventures into the canyons and the wild life that went with a place like that. Some of these people came, and some of them stayed there. It was a paradise for the right people, and for others, it was an opportunity for bigger city issues, which got compressed into a small town where transient people and vacation seekers brought their suburban and urban issues for the local police to deal with. Lucas was thankful to have access to the town for adventures that he and his wife Katy would take when he could escape the office, which wasn’t that often anymore, but still, he was really glad that he didn’t have to deal with all of the DUIs, drunk and disorderlies, drugs, and the excessive problems with lots of robberies, at least in comparison to Blanding, which went on up there.
Nevertheless, it was a different feeling contemplating a murder, an assault and battery, or a “whatever the hell this thing with the messed-up kid” was. Sure, when it came to his current situation, there was no body, let along bodies, which needed to be sealed into industrial strength “for medical purposes only” black garbage bags, but there was an awful lot of blood on some guy’s clothing to say that bad stuff had went down, somewhere out there. With all that blood and the heat of summer, it was safe to say that somebody else probably didn’t make it out in one piece.
The only question would be what would he find when he went back to searching the desert rocks after the medics finally came and took this young man back to Hospital of Eastern Utah at Moab.
“Damn, kid. You aren’t making this an easy Sunday for me, and I’m not even getting into the fact that your appearance made that order of wings that I was eating with my wife into a takeaway order. You ought to be damn glad it’s not a Sunday during football season.”
He wiped the sweat off of his face, and he went back to sitting and waiting for the medics to arrive, still thinking about Jackie and how he hoped that his kid was safe as he thought about the bloody mess he was about to send up the highway.
It took them about an hour and a half to get there, but when they arrived, the ambulance crew was very cordial. Lucas told them all about the important details that they needed to know, and they took Larry away. Even before revving up the ambulance, they immediately started an IV on him, and with that, there was a feeling of relief that even if the kid didn’t necessarily look Ryan Gosling attractive, he was at least going to make it out alive and recover from the sunburn, the bruises, and those three cuts that he couldn’t make heads or tails of in a way that would still make college girls swoon.
The jury was still out on what had caused the blood that covered his body. When Tony stopped paying attention to the medics, he overheard them taking bets on whether it was “damn-fool hubris” or “a drug deal gone horribly wrong.” The consensus was on the drug deal. Nobody came to that side of Blanding for a weekend of backpacking, especially without an overpriced-backpack.
After overhearing that, Tony exhaled and whispered, “I’ve done what I can. The universe and the good folks in Moab will take care of the rest. I hope.”
Tony took another deep breath, and he went out the door. Leaning over the railing, he thought about saying a quick prayer for Larry to be OK, but then he realized that he wasn’t exactly the “God” type – whatever that meant. A part of him wanted to believe in some church-ordained higher power, but he had no proof, so he always felt drawn to destroy all the evil and rottenness in the world by himself. This was the moral code that led him to want to be a cop in the first place. He had no interest in sitting in church for the stand, kneel, sit of the Catholic sermons of his childhood, and he didn’t feel drawn to start over as a Protestant, Methodist, Baptist, or Mormon, which seemed to be his only choices around these parts. Thus, instead of speaking to the Lord above, he hoped to the invisible hand of the universe’s nondescript creator that the hospital and its doctors and nurses could help this boy.
For extra oomph, he made sure to cross himself, just in case something named Catholic Jesus was listening to his request.
The rational world of scientific what is and what isn’t represented his only universal truth despite his lack of understanding of the deeper concepts of chemistry, biology, and physics. Tony knew enough, but he just didn’t have the patience to learn more, so he just acknowledged what was, what wasn’t, and the limits of it all as the universal truth.
And in the end, whether he said it enough or just left it implied, the greatest truth was family, friendship, and love. He had always had his wife Katy, and that was enough. That they were unable to have any more kids was a sadness that they dealt with, but it wasn’t a tragedy. He had Katy, and he had Jackie before the tumor came to Katy’s ovary.
For this, he thought about Larry again. While the boy had no wedding ring, perhaps, the hospital could locate relatives and friends to come out and collect and care for the boy. Sunday nights weren’t the best time to call around looking for general information on people. He didn’t even think Jedidiah Smith University would have staff on duty that could or would help him with figuring out who some random kid was.
What’s more, with no cellphone, a goddamn oddity for a kid his age, he had no names to connect to this kid.
Tomorrow with the professionals would have to suffice.
When that time came, there was the university’s president to turn to, and Tony would call that person to find out what he could to help out, or better yet, he would have his down-home, friendly secretary Karen Dubrowski do this for him. In the meantime, he began to wonder if his on duty officer, Pete Thompson, had located anything when he got a radio message from him.
“Hey, Tone…”
“I was just thinking about you. Do you read minds now?”
“That’s a skill above my pay grade. Ask my wife. I don’t get any of her thoughts to bring her flowers or take her anywhere nice.”
They both laughed.
“Hey, there’s a Subaru out here at the end of Darkbrush Road. It’s got Utah plates.”
“Did you run any kind of check yet, or do you need me to do that?”
“I did. The owner is a forty-six-year old guy named Steve Bronkowski. Nothing unusual with him or his life in that he doesn’t seem to have a criminal record or even any speeding tickets for being out of line in his driving behavior.”
“You’re shitting me. Who the hell is almost fifty and doesn’t have speeding tickets?”
“You got me.”
They both laughed, and then Pete continued with the report.
“The car does have a parking sticker on it for the Jedidiah Smith University and a kokopelli sticker as well as some microbrewery stickers. Not too uncommon for out here, even from a forty-six-year old guy trying to relive his twenties. However, it does also have a sticker for the American Archaeological Association.”
“Not something you see every day, but that’s not too uncommon either. We’ve got a lot of archaeology ruins, and you know all that stuff that’s going on way out in the middle of nowhere with the Greer place. Perhaps that could tie him in with our twenty-four-year old student friend. I’ll have Karen call the university tomorrow morning, and we’ll see what her sweet talk will find out for us.”
“OK, boss. Anything else you need me to do before I head back to the station?”
“No, you’re good. Take it easy on the SUV. You know your car isn’t the sturdiest vehicle out there!”
“And your rust bucket of an aging dinosaur is?!”
“There’s a reason that I drive a twenty-five-year old Jeep Wrangler. It still works, and it kicks butt on the dirt roads. That’s a lot more than I can say for your lazy ass and your import piece of crap.”
They both laughed, and Lucas started flipping through the digital memory of his camera to reveal all of the pictures that he had taken of the kid. As he did this, he provided details of what he had observed to Pete. Tony was very meticulous with the quality and detail of these images, trying his hardest to live out the concept of being an amateur photographer / researcher, even if he was a cop by paycheck.
Nevertheless, talking and doing other stuff at the same time kept his overactive mind settled. To this, multitasking was important in his position, especially since he didn’t want to be sitting here in an empty office trying to figure out what could have caused some young guy to end up like that.
Simply put, it was just as easy to do it in his car as waiting until the later hours of the evening took him back home to Katy and forced him to spend his personal time doing something work-related instead of marital.
Nevertheless, as the sun set on the plateaus and mesas of the Utah desert, he knew that there was nothing that could be done until morning. As he bid adieu to the police station, he called up to Moab and arranged to have their police chopper flown down here so they could get it up in the air for a morning search.
“We’ll give you our best crew, sir. Clyde Rayburn, the helicopter contractor, only hires the best.”
“I appreciate that, ma’am. Hope the rest of your night goes quickly.”
“So do I. Other than your call, nothing is doin’.”
Tony hung up thinking about how he had a bad omen that she was going to start to get busy for a while, real busy.
“Not my problem though. Not my problem. Not my monkeys. Not my circus.”
The next morning, Karen was in bright and early, as Tony had called and requested her to be, in order to catch up on weekend work that had accumulated from the injured student. The call she made to Thurmon Strong’s office was uneventful enough. Beverly Anderson, the secretary, extended her the professional courtesy that was necessary for the search and gave out enough general information to begin an investigation with.
Nevertheless, the conversation did have a few important points in it. For one, it turned out Steve Bronkowski had a doctorate in archaeology, and he was a relatively big time professor of sorts. Karen asked about whether he was like Sean “Big Dig” Caruthers, a famous archeologist and reality TV star, and Beverly just laughed.
“No, he’s more like a late forty-something Perry Trudeau!”
Perry Trudeau was a chunky Salt Lake City car salesman, who owned several auto dealerships despite having a plastered on toupee. 
With this they both laughed.
In addition, as for Gladwell, he was a graduate student working with Bronkowski on the initial stages of some major research that the university was part of at the Greer’s ranch. She didn’t know much about him, but she assumed he must know something about archaeology since he would have been hand-picked by Bronkowski to go on the journey.
Beverly then enquired into the whereabouts of Jimmy Simpson and Darryl Connors, two other grad students who had gone off on an archaeology scouting trip with Gladwell and Bronkowski Friday night.
“To be honest, I didn’t know anything about anyone other than the owner of the car and the kid who was shipped off to Moab. Maybe you can call Hospital of Eastern Utah at Moab.”
The police station in Blanding was small, so they did the best with what information they could get right away. The first bits of information would help, and so would the events of the day and the leads they would create.
Hopefully, wherever Gladwell had hiked from, these other three people would surely be sitting there and waiting for him to come back to them.
Fat chance of that, she thought.