It happened more than forty years ago, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. Sometimes the memory’s prompted by some TV news story, ‘bout someone who has gotten themselves lost in the Superstition Mountains outside Phoenix. Story never ends well. Bodies are seldom found and if the news day is slow, some TV newscaster ‘ill drive out to Apache Junction, use the rugged mountain terrain in the middle of the Sonoran Desert as a backdrop – like they did the time I got lost out there – and stand there between the giant saguaros and Ponderosa Pine, and broadcast their sad story. Sometimes they’ll make mention of the number of missing who’ve ventured out looking for gold, ignoring the mountain’s legendary curse. Some say it’s haunted, others believe it’s an ancient Indian burial ground, and some of the tourist traps out that way even sell maps, claiming to know the whereabouts of the Lost Dutchmen’s Mine, the Jesuit Treasure, their bars of gold and religious relics hidden in the caves, or the sight of Perlta massacre. Truth is, The Superstition Mountains are richer with stories than gold and have killed more men than made them rich. It’s not gold I’m searching for when I drive up Interstate 60 and pass that foreboding mountain range, but a time-portal. Just south of Weaver’s Needle, is an entrance to an infinite number of different dimensions where life goes on just like it did years ago, or years from now, and my friends, Steve, Karen and Amy, are still out there, I know it.
It was October 1968. I was attending college at Arizona State, just south of The Superstitions, and my buddy Steve and I were short of cash and decided to take our girlfriends out to the desert for a bonfire and a little beer, somewhere where a couple of underage freshmen could drink without getting carded and still show our girls a good time. I snuck a case of beer from my dad, hid it in the trunk of my old Camaro, and we packed ourselves into the car. I tuned up the 8-track. I remember we had Light My Fire blaring from the speakers as we blasted up Route 60, little more than two lanes of black top, surrounded by the dry desert sands, ready to party beneath the stars.
I knew the area. My dad and I had been hiking there and camping in the shadows of Weaver’s Needle since I was a kid. Could find it in the pitch of black, so it wasn’t a problem that we arrived with the last thin strands of desert light sinking beneath the horizon. As I pulled off the road, I could hear the familiar sound of gravel popping from beneath my tires and we drove for about thirty minutes before I parked the car at the base of the mountain.
“Everybody grab somethin’,” I said, as I pointed in the direction of the familiar campsite. “That’s where we’re headed, due south of Weaver’s Needle, to the base of that big monolithic spire you see ‘bout half a mile ahead, and the only way we get there’s on foot, so grab what ya need, now.”
I opened the trunk of my car and grabbed the ice chest. My girlfriend, Amy, and Steve’s girl, Karen, each grabbed one of the serape blankets while Steve pulled his guitar from the trunk. We headed up the mountain, single file, picking our way through the jumping cactus and snake holes that in the low light threatened to trip us. I figured we had less than an hour before it was dark, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I could find the campsite, but just the same, I wanted to set the campfire before the sun set.
We got to the familiar campsite, the fire pit still blackened with ash from our previous visits, just as the first faint twinkling of the stars appeared in the skies overhead. I set about to build the fire quickly as possible. Amy and Karen volunteered to search for kindling, I remember warning them to be on the lookout for cactus and critters hunting in the night, but they ignored me and I could hear them giggling in the dark as Steve hung up the serape blankets on the branches of a Ponderosa Pine. Then suddenly, I heard Amy calling to me.
“Scott! Come quick! Look, look what I found.” I came running, uncertain what I might find, and there they were, Amy and Karen, probably no more than a hundred yards from the campfire, staring at something in Amy’s hand. “Look at this,” she said, holding her hand out to me. There in the center of her small hand was this arrowhead, damn near perfect, ‘bout two inches long, probably a couple hundred years old, the edges still rough, like it had never been used, and waitin’ all this time just to be found. I looked closely at it, at least as best I could under the starlight, then pressed it back into Amy’s hand and folding her fingers over it, looked into her eyes and told it was good luck.
“Keep it close,” I said, “never know when you’re gonna need it.” Then I put my arm around her and started walking back to the campfire. I was beginning to think this was the perfect night. I had met Amy at freshmen orientation, just six weeks earlier. She was a knockout, couple inches taller than me and probably a whole lot smarter, a math major on scholarship, and I had been lookin’ for ways to ask her out her ever since. Moon-hikes through the desert, particularly the Superstitions turned out to be just the thing.
“Did you see that!” She looked up, her finger following a shooting star, with a tail so long and bright it lit up the sky like a neon light flying over our heads. “Can you believe that?” She looked at me, then suddenly another, and another, like a flash of giant, florescent fireflies, madly chasing one another, speeding across the sky. “This thing is lucky!” she said, holding the arrowhead between her hands, then looking at me, leaned closer and kissed me. And right then I knew it! Knew it from the way she kissed me that I’d lost her. But I took her hand anyway and we walked back to campfire.
“Look,” she said, pointing up to the sky, “you really see it all out here, the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt…you can even make out Cassiopeia … it’s like the stars are so close you could just reach out and touch ‘em.”
As we approached the campfire she grabbed a rotted saguaro cactus rib and started tracing the position of the stars in the sand. Steve and Karen leaned over and watched as she connected the dots and outlined the star’s images so we could make out the formations in the sky as she talked. “You know one day people will actually travel across space. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
That’s when Steve picked up his guitar and began to play, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” code between Steve and me that Amy just wasn’t that into me.
I rolled my eyes. “So who’s got the church key?” I asked. Karen smiled and nodded to the ice chest. I reached over and popped open a cold beer for myself, and offered one to Amy while Steve began another song, this time with Karen singing, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane.’
“Very funny,” I said, hoping that Amy wasn’t picking up on Steve’s tease, but then Amy started in with, “House of the Rising Sun,’ and before long we were all humming along. I was poking the fire with the saguaro rib and had with one arm around Amy, when I heard this sound, the crunching of gravel, somebody was coming up the canyon.
“Shh!” I put a finger to my lips, and Steve put his guitar down. We looked back and forth between each other, eyes wide, listening, waiting. Then we heard it again, kind of an uneven shuffling sound, along with heavy breathin’. Then through the smoke of the fire we see this shadow. At first all I could make out was a dark form; I wasn’t sure what it was. Bear maybe, but not likely in these parts. Then, whatever it was it moved closer, and I saw it was a man. He was wearin’ a hat, and he’s just standing there, leaning on a walkin’ stick, actually he was kinda listin’ to one side onna count of the fact his left leg was all twisted. He was tall and slim, older guy, but old in the way people used to get old, with leathery skin and a few missing teeth, and he was wearing dark, dusty clothes, not jeans like we all were, but a heavier cloth fabric, and really worn-lookin’ boots, like he’d walked forever in ‘em. I could feel a chill run down Amy’s back and she leaned into me. My buddy, Steve, gave me a look that told me he wondered if this guy might be trouble, some midnight murderer or something. We had all heard tales, but I shook my head, and patted my side, a subtle reminder to my friends I’d brought along my six-shooter. Don’t go anywhere in the desert without one. Never know when a rattlesnake or some wild javelina might cross your path. Growing up in the desert in the 60’s, my dad always told me, “Scott, ain’t nothing in the desert that doesn’t bite, hiss, sting or stick ya.” So I’s glad I had it with me.
“Mind if I have a sip of what you’re drinkin’?” The Stranger asked, sitting himself down slowly, his hands on his thighs, as he lowered his unsteady body onto the log across from us. I glanced at Steve, the two of us could easily take him, then reached over to the ice chest, popped open a beer with the church key, and offered it to him.
“Like it cold, do ya?” he said, smiling as he took a sip. “Don’t get much of that.”
“You from around here?” I ran my hand up and down Army’s back then giving her a little squeeze, I whispered, “Don’t worry, he’s just some ol’ geezer, share a few stories with us, and he’ll be off.”
“Might say that,” he said, glancing back over his shoulder and up at Weaver’s Needle. “Flash flood just opened an area back up in them hills. Water come rushing down Goldfield Wash ov’r that way and I’m looking to do a bit a mining.”
I remembered hearing about Goldfield Wash and the Mammoth Mine. My father had told me it produced more than three million dollars worth of gold bullion in its day, gave a real boom to the area. In fact, a town named Goldfield grew up round it – nothing but a dusty old ghost town now. When I was a kid, my dad had showed me pictures, said the town grew up nearly over night, had the first church, a school, livery and of course of a saloon, but the main thing in town was the mill. Mill must of been goin’, as they say today, twenty-four seven, crushing ore and sending enough gold-filled dust up in the sky that it would have been visible for miles. But that was back in 1893, and the town only lasted maybe four or five years ‘fore it went bust, certainly he didn’t mean now.
The four of us glanced back and forth, watching the old man gulp the beer down, his adam’s apple pulsating beneath his scraggly beard with each swallow. When he finished, The Stranger stood up, belched, and looking pleased with himself, tossed the beer bottle into the fire pit.
“Well, that shore was ‘freshen,” he said, leanin’ on his walkin stick. “Yeah, some say it’s that Needle out there that causes this. Say it snags the energy fields above the mountain here and opens up a whole slew of time portals…” With his free hand, he made small circles above his head, shaking, and pointing in the direction of Weaver’s Needle.
I whispered to Amy, “This guy’s been out in the Arizona sun too long,” and was about to dismiss his idle ramblings as that of a homeless cowboy, when…
I ducked. A pair of horse’s hooves barely cleared my head, it’s under belly just inches above me. Amy screamed and pulled me nearly on top of her. I steadied myself and, sitting up, saw a group of renegade Indians, their faces painted, their chests bare, feathers in their hair and in their horses’ mane, circling our campfire.
I looked at Steve. He was holding Karen; she was leaning on him, her face ashen, her eyes wide as she looked down at her stomach. Shock registered on all our faces. An arrow was lodged in her diaphragm, her hands clinging to it. A red bloodstain was beginning to form on her white shirt.
The Indians circled their painted ponies around us, and the horses whinnied as they trotted through our camp, some with bows and arrows and others with long guns trampled through our camp. Then a couple with long guns pointed at the serape blankets hung on the branches of the Ponderosa Pine, and lifting them in the air, dropped them in the fire, smothering the flames as they whooped and hollered, laughing at us as we stared in disbelief.
I started to reach for my gun and was about to point it at one the bare-chested Indians when The Stranger stood up, and grabbed it from my hand.
“Git-down!” he yelled at me. I was amazed at his strength.
Then taking the gun from my hand, The Stranger limped into the center of the fire pit and pointed it in the air, shooting it off as he hollered, “I’m mining here! This here’s my claim! Get the hell out! Now scat!”
Like frightened animals the Indians left, their horses kicking up dust and cactus as The Stranger chased them off into the night. Then shaking his head, The Stranger, turned and looked back at Karen, walked over to her and without a word yanked the arrow from her stomach. The look on her face, total surprise as the arrow painlessly emerged, and the bloodstain disappeared, like some type of reverse osmosis.
“Now don’t that just beat the hell out of ya!” he said, taking the arrow and breaking it across his knee.
Beat the hell out of ya? The four us exchange looks.
“Who is this guy?” whispered Steve. “And what was that?”
I shrugged and looked at Amy. I didn’t have a clue.
“Well, I suppose we ought to get a move-on, ‘fore any other prospectors come ‘long and try stake a claim with ya. Looks to be a busy night,” The Stranger said. Then he reached in the front pocket of his dusty blazer, squinted at a yellowed piece of paper, looked up at the four of us and shook his head. “Now that is a problem,” he said as neatly folded the paper, and placed it back in his pocket. “So, which one you’s Scott?” He asked, glancing between Steve and me. “Cuz Scott’s stayin’ and the rest of ya ‘er comin’ with me.”
“What?” I asked, looking at my three friends, each of us exchanging a confused look.
“Yeah, I’m taking you, two of ya anyway with me back to Goldfield, and one of ya, you, I believe, Miss,” he said, pointing to Amy, “to the space dockin’ station up yonder. Least that’s what my orders say.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, stepping between The Stranger and Amy.
“I ‘spose you must be Scott.” He said.
“That’s right,” I said, “And, this must be some kind of joke?”
“Naw. Ain’t no joke.” He said, scratching his beard as though he were considering what more he might say.
“Well, we’re not going anywhere with you and there ain’t no space station or place called Goldfield round here anymore.”
“Shore is,” he said. “Goldfield’s a right nice place. You’re friends here ‘ill like it. Got a church, school, stable, mercantile, damn near everything a person could use, not to mention a good saloon, and we need a couple song-folk like your friends here. I suppose it ‘twas yer music that attracted me. Yes, sir, Goldfield got near everything ‘cept maybe this chilled stuff I’m drinking, but ya get used to it.”
“Used to it?” I asked. I could feel Amy, the weight of body that had been leaning against me was now lighter, she was looking at The Stranger, studying him. I reached over for her, trying to move her slightly behind me, but she stood rigid, refusing to move.
“Clean slate, that’s how I to like look at it. Once you’re there, you don’t remember a thing about here, or before here for that matter, or any of the other time places you ever lived.”
“Ask him about the docking station,” she whispered. “Ask him.”
I looked at her. “I’m not asking about the some docking station, I…”
“Tell me,” she said, moving out from behind me, and looking at The Stranger. I could tell there was something about him Amy was responding to, and it worried me. I tried to push her back behind me again. “Don’t!” she said.
“I don’ know a lot, only that those shootin’ stars you see in the sky tonight are riding gun-shot for the big ship. Happens every time just like that. The shootin’ stars come, then the big ship arrives. Should be dockin’ up yonder pretty soon now. We gotta get going. ‘ticulaly you, Miss.”
I took a step forward and tried to reach for Amy’s hand but she pulled it away. “Amy!” I said, then looking back at The Stranger I added, “Look, I don’t know what your game is, or what you’re up to, but my friends and I aren’t leaving. Are we?”
I looked over at Steve and Karen, expecting support, but found none. Steve was standing with his arms around Karen, holding her tight. They were looking into each other eyes, and I knew from the look on their faces they had made a decision. Wherever they were goin’ they were going together.
“Steve!” I yelled, but already they had backed away from the fire pit and were headed up the mountain. “Karen!” Where are you going?”
The Stranger turned to me and smiled, his head oddly cocked to one side, like he was considering my plight, then said, “They can’t hear you, son. Now say goodbye to your girlfriend here, I need to get her on to the docking station and you need to get yourself on down the mountain. It’s time we got going.”
I reached for Amy. I wanted to grab her hand and run, but she put a hand on my chest and then took the small arrowhead from inside her jacket pocket and handed to me. “Keep this. It’s lucky,” she said. Then slowly she lifted her hand off my chest, backed away, and reached for The Stranger’s hand. I watched as they walked away from me.
“No!” I yelled, “Don’t go!” But I was helpless. All I could do was watch them through the smoke of the fading fire as they vanished into the hills. I ran after them, but they were gone. They were all gone; my best friends, Steve, Karen and Amy. I stumbled down the canyon, the echo of my voice chasing me. No! No! No! Until finally I fell, and lost all sense of consciousness.
It must have been days before I woke, or so it seemed to me, my body sore and baked into the desert sands beneath the cactus and Palo Verde. My first thought was that this had all been some terrible dream. I squinted into the sun, my eyes dry, my vision blurry, but there it was, Weaver’s Needle, standing straight up above me, mocking me, this one thousand foot monolith, sitting atop this island mountain, surrounded by desert. I felt like I was seeing it for the first time. I struggled to get up, falling several times, my legs so weak they shook as I stood. I swore I heard The Stranger’s voice telling me, “The Needle snags the energy fields out there above the mountain and opens up a whole slew of time portals.” I reached into my pocket. My mouth was dry and chapped and I wanted something, but instead of a chap stick, I found the arrowhead. No, this hadn’t been a dream. Here was proof, the arrowhead Amy had given me. Somewhere out there, that Needle had snagged a hole in some time portal in the far past and in the distant future, and it had my friends. But there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I turned my back on the Needle and headed down the mountain. Ahead of me, I saw a mirage, blue, glistening waters in the sun and I stumbled in its direction. A news team had set up next to my car and I stopped long enough to determine they were real and not part of the mirage, then ran toward them.
“It’s a portal!” I screamed. “Weaver’s Needle! It’s a time portal!” My voice was hoarse and I frantically pointed back in the direction of the Needle as I ran, stumbling, waving my hands.
A young female reporter, who was about to begin her report, suddenly stopped and looked in my direction. “Scott?” The look on her face was if she had just seen a ghost.
“There’s another dimension out there! Lots of them! And their mining for us!” I must have sounded like a crazy man as I nearly stumbled into her. One of the camera crew raced forward and grabbed me, before I knocked her over. “There’s Indians! And miners! And a space docking station, right there.” I pointed to the Needle, “and they’re mining for us! Us!” I tried to reach for her mic. I wanted to tell the world, but they pulled it way and I continued to scream. “They’re out there! You’ve got to help. They shot Karen with an arrow, but she’s okay and then she and Steve went off with The Stranger, and Karen, went with him to space station. We gotta get to Goldfield! And the space station. They’re out there.”
Of course, they didn’t believe me. They don’t believe anybody who comes out of the mountain alive. They all think we’re dehydrated and deranged; suffering from delusions, the type of thing spending the night in the desert alone and loosing one’s friends can do to a man.
But it’s not a delusion. I keep the arrowhead in my pocket to remind me. And every time I drive this way, sometimes I even think I see The Stranger. I’ll catch a glimpse of him walking with that odd limp of his, and I think about what it was he said, that he was mining. Only he wasn’t mining gold, but us! Human beings for a time portal leading to parallel universes as real as that we know and live in every day. Near as I can tell, there are lots of parallel universes out there – and we’ve been rubbing up against them ever since time began. I think it’s like band width, when things get too dense here, a few of us are selected. It’s kind of a random thing. I don’t know how to explain it, ‘cept maybe that accounts for prodigies that come along every so often, or people with unusual talents and geniuses who change art and science as we know it. Maybe it even explains those with past life experiences, or people who seem like lost souls. Or maybe it’s kind of a do-over, a chance to live again in another time and who knows, maybe even learn something that will help us all down the road a bit. All I know is that the degree of separation between the past and present is little more than a smoke screen and it exists right out there, ‘neath Weaver’s Needle.
Bio: I am a published author with a novel, The Centaur’s Promise, and several short stories to my credit. I am currently working on a second novel and enrolled in UCLA’s Writers’ Program in Los Angeles.