Prey for Zion

By E.D. MacDavey Chapter 1 The Prophet lay on his back, looking up at the desert sky. So blue it was almost purple, so blue it was frightening. As he stared, a million black specks danced in his vision. He imagined they were the host of heaven and all the souls that had ever lived. And someday they would minister to him. In his daydream, the Prophet felt several layers of reality. He knew he was looking at the irregularities everyone sees in the clear, jellylike substance filling the eyeball. But that explanation didn’t matter. Ultimately, the Creator was God. The visions were God’s messages. Messages for him. Quietly, a thought opened in his brain like a popup icon in a Windows program. I can’t forget what time it is. I can’t fall asleep, and I won’t, because the timer on my watch is set for twenty minutes. He could just pick out the Angel, circling in total silence, making lazy figures of eight. He followed it—a dazzling, shimmering white against the blue—until it became blurry, and when he looked away there was a negative image of its wings, dark against the sky. Nagging thoughts drifted away. Thoughts people who knew him didn’t think he had. Limitations melted. In their place, he sensed a world of possibilities. He felt lighter and lighter. His spirit rose until he was looking down onto the desert. He could see the blue-gray sagebrush, a vivid light green where the setting sun splashed on the sides of the bushes. Darker pinion pines were scattered here and there, casting long shadows. Outcroppings of tan rock caught the sun and turned golden. As he ascended, the landscape receded and the pines shrunk to the size of green dots. He circled for a while, making lazy eights with the Angel. Then he tipped forward and dove toward the Earth. At first the people below him didn’t notice, but then they looked up. They ran, and he mowed them down, his eyes like a fiery flame and his clothes dripping in blood. Dozens fell and lay still. He was doing them a favor, helping them pass through the heavenly gates. They could only get to heaven if they atoned for their sins with blood. As the sun sank toward the horizon, the Prophet rose again. Far below, a sheep bleated. No! It was his watch, the alarm. It was time to go home for supper. Max’s stomach growled, but he ignored it. The canyon, with its steep, ruddy walls, nodding wildflowers, and sugary sand, was too beguiling to leave. Besides, this was the first hike of his new life. He was perched on a ledge a thousand feet above the main floor of Zion Canyon, at the mouth of the well-named Hidden Canyon. This narrow cleft in the rock face was invisible from below, and just getting to it required a couple of miles of vigorous hiking. Max had started out hours ago. He wasn’t a slow walker; he just liked to take his time, looking, thinking, taking photographs. And now it was past suppertime. The sun had
© 2012 Elizabeth McBride and David Thompson

lowered and the light had mellowed, and those with kids or sore muscles had trudged back to the campground to fire up their propane stoves. He was alone in this long, hidden groove in the earth. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve. The trail, blasted from the sheer sandstone wall, was rocky underfoot since drilling stone doesn’t have the same precision as dentistry. In some places it narrowed to two feet, and the park service had bolted a chain into the wall for hikers to hang onto. Despite the long drop, Max disregarded it, except when he was looking off at some big bird circling in the sky. A canyon wren, the first Max had heard in years, piped its droll descending call: “Enter my lair, if you dare, dare, dare ….” Max walked on. He was recovering from a trying week. He and Isabel had retired last fall, and after months of debate, had ordered a small fiberglass trailer. Max had driven alone from Wisconsin to Texas to pick up the trailer from the factory and then towed it to Las Vegas, where he had met Isabel at the airport. On the way to Zion, he battled strong desert winds and negotiated the hair-raising highway that curved through the canyon of the Virgin River. That wouldn’t have been so bad if he could have kept his eyes on the road. But there were fantastic views to take in, interesting geologic features to analyze, and photos that begged to be captured. Izzy had insisted he not use the camera while he was driving. “I don’t mind dying,” she had said, “but it would be a shame to spend the night in the morgue and not in our new trailer.” Here he could forget all that. Here a fantasy world of rock, carved over tens of millions of years by tumbling boulders, swirling gravel, and blowing sand, enveloped him. The walls reached up a thousand feet to the mesatop. Where did the trail lead? Would he be able to follow it all the way to the highest point? Did he have enough food and water if he did? Max strode ahead, with gathering excitement. He scrambled over a log jam and looked around. Windblown sand had carved fantastic hollows and pillars into the canyon walls. The rock itself was banded with colorful stripes that varied from a rich, reddish brown to orange to all the hues of tawny and buff known to man. Just like the Eskimos are supposed to have names for a hundred shades of blue ice, Max figured the ancestral Puebloans must have named a thousand shades of tan. Moisture seeped from the walls. Ferns sprang from the rock crannies, along with columbine and shooting star. Hummingbirds flitted about with surprising velocity, twittering aggressively. He worked his way up the canyon, scrambling past several more rock falls, and after a while the shade deepened. Max knew every photo he shot now would be out of focus. And he was getting hungry. He didn’t worry about getting back for supper though. Izzy had learned not to expect him at any normal time when he was on one of his rambles. Plus, he reasoned, she’d probably enjoy the solitude. Max had ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He had been one of those kids who bounced off the walls and drove teachers crazy. Now he was a geezer who bounced off the walls. He still drove a lot of people crazy—especially people who liked order and followed the rules. And, more especially, people who made the rules. Hidden

© 2012 Elizabeth McBride and David Thompson

Canyon was a great place for him because it was all wall and there was no one to mind the bouncing. He sat on a small boulder and pulled a pack of M&M Peanuts from his day pack. He was a fan of chocolate. In his estimation, it was man’s finest invention, even greater than the wheel. Not like those New Age energy bars Isabel liked. “Coddled whey extract and organic oat hulls.” He figured energy bars had been invented by Captain Robert Scott for his death march to the South Pole, and they were probably the reason he didn’t make it back. He heard the whoosh of wings overhead, followed by the rasping call of a raven. The bird landed nearby on the sand. Maybe he’s a fan of energy bars, Max thought. A New Age raven. The bird hopped to a sandy bank a little farther up the canyon. Max idly watched it, thinking about chocolate. The sandbank sat about six feet above the canyon floor and was partly obscured by shrubs. A recent flood had sliced at its side, leaving a crumbling flank. Looking past the raven, Max saw an interesting shape embedded in it, a cartoon face. The more he looked at it, the more pronounced it seemed. A smiling—no, a leering face. Cocking its head at a strange angle. But of course, it wasn’t. Funny thing though, the raven seemed to think something was hidden under the bushes, too. It hopped up the bank toward the face. Max looked away and then looked back. He had expected the face to go away, but it was still there. He walked over to the sandbank. The raven hopped to a safe distance, eyeing him with beady eyes, first the right eye and then the left, fluffing out the feathers on its neck. Max pushed up a branch of foliage. Then the hair on the back of his own neck rose. “Damn it! Where’s the sugar?” Isabel rummaged through the cabinet above the trailer’s sink, pulling out paper towels, a box of Spicy Rice mix, dirty socks, a pair of gloves, two rubber bands, and a baseball hat. She dumped the items on the table and bent down and emptied the contents of the small cabinet below the sink. Her question went unanswered. Max—the man who had made the mess—was out adventuring. She peered out the window. It was dinnertime, and Zion’s Watchman Campground was livening up. RVs lumbered by. Trailer doors opened and closed. A middle-aged couple in matching khaki shorts strode down the dusty road, pumping their hiking sticks. Isabel was so irritated she didn’t care when Max got back. She did, however, crave a hot cup of tea. Surely some friendly camper would lend her a packet of sweetener. She stepped out the door and crossed a patch of grass to the adjacent site, where a camper van was parked on the gravel driveway. Isabel knocked and waited. “I’m coming!” called a voice from behind her. A gray-haired woman crunched up the driveway, leaning on a cane and waddling from side to side with each slow step. “This body of mine’s like an old car. You can bang on the dents, but you can’t take away the years.” Isabel smiled. “I was hoping you could lend me a little sugar.” “No sugar, but I got Splenda. You’re not baking brownies, are you? Start baking brownies, and before you know it, you’re spending all day in the trailer wiping sweat off your face with an apron. I know. I’ve been there.” The woman unlocked the door of the van, rested her cane inside, and heaved her pearshaped body up the step. Isabel followed.

© 2012 Elizabeth McBride and David Thompson

A table and bench seat took up the vehicle’s rear, and a floor-to-ceiling cabinet lined one side. On the other side stood a small sink and a two-burner stove, crusty with burnt food crumbs. A countertop was littered with dirty dishes, soup cans, boxes of pancake mix, books, and papers. Max would feel at home here, Isabel thought. A place for everything, and nothing in its place. The woman introduced herself—Ginny. “Are you by yourself?” Isabel asked. “Yep. Divorced my husband. We had four beautiful kids, but he was too bossy. Didn’t like traveling. Me, I’m 85 years old, and I still like to be outside, look at things.” She pointed to the seashells glued to the cabinet doors. The visor above the front passenger seat bristled with bird feathers. “You like that Rover you’re pulling?” Rover was the brand name of Max and Isabel’s trailer. It had also become the trailer’s nickname. “I’m not sure. We’ve only had it a couple of days. I think we’re both a little shellshocked.” Isabel remembered Max’s appearance when he met her at the airport. She was anticipating a romantic vacation, and Max showed up in mud-splattered clothes, with a three-day-old beard, greasy hair, and a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare. “It’s a tight fit,” Ginny said. Yeah, Isabel thought. Like squeezing two hump-backed whales into a sardine can. “And there are so many things to turn on and plug in and dump out.” “You’ll learn. I was a mechanic in the Marines so none of that bothers me.” Isabel did some quick mental math. “You must have been one of the first female Marines.” “Yep. I think that’s why they picked me for this Ride-with-the-Ranger program. I get to drive around the park with one of ‘em, enforcing the law.” “Do they know you’re 85?” “Well, I didn’t exactly tell them. I figure I could pass for 60.” Isabel studied Ginny’s face. She had deep grooves from her nose to her chin and papery wrinkles above her lips, but her cheeks were rosy and her blue eyes bright, and her voice was loud and strong. “Which reminds me,” Ginny continued. “Gotta check the weather. I do my first ride tomorrow.” She pointed a remote, and a small television lit up. A reporter was interviewing a park ranger, and Isabel heard the words, “Hidden Canyon.” “I was just down at the visitor center,” Ginny said, “and there was a big to-do about some guy hiking in there.” Isabel’s heart stopped. This was her greatest fear—that Max would go exploring and something terrible would happen. “Did somebody die?” “Oh, somebody died all right.” “Did he fall off a cliff?” Ginny’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. I didn’t hear anybody say that.” Isabel reached for the door jam and steadied herself. “I need to go. Maybe Max is the hiker they’re talking about.” “He’s going to be famous then.” “Famous?” “Yep. It’s not every day somebody digs up a mummy.”

© 2012 Elizabeth McBride and David Thompson