The driver of the minivan in front of me suddenly swung into the store’s parking lot without using a turn signal. I hit my brakes and swerved, narrowly avoiding a rear-end collision. I knew I shouldn’t have been following so closely, but I had to get to work. Steve had warned me…if I was late again, I’d be fired.
Without stopping, I slammed the gas pedal of my 1998 Ford Ranger 4×4 to the floor, trying to make up a few precious seconds. Were it not for the flashing red and blue lights of the Lake Havasu City police cruiser suddenly appearing in my rearview mirror, I might have made it on time. Damn, another ticket.
Thirty minutes later, I pulled up to the jobsite with the aggravation of having to do some fast talking to convince Steve to let me keep my job.
Steve Wilkes, a tall, husky man in his mid-forties, wearing shorts and a tank top, promptly left his landscaping crew and hurried to the truck before I could open the door. He barked, “Don’t bother, Donny. I told you last time what would happen if you were late again.”
“I would have made it,” I whined. I held my ticket out the window. “I got pulled over. So, technically, it’s not my fault.”
Steve ran a hand across his sun-bleached, buzz-cut hair, then shook his head sadly. “You’ll never change, Donny. You always have an excuse for everything. Nothing’s ever your fault. I’m sorry, but for the sake of my business, I can’t keep you on.”
As Steve walked back to his crew, I sunk down in my seat. Shit, Donny Jamison screws up again, I thought. Another job lost. The fourth one in the last year. What now? I wasn’t in the mood to pound the pavement looking for another job.
Gathering myself, I reached for the ignition key. You know what? I’m glad Steve fired me. I’ll take a few days to explore that new canyon I’ve been looking at on the map. I fired up the engine and headed for home.
* * *
After heating a cup of coffee, I spread a mineral survey map out on my kitchen table. I secured the top corners with my smokes and ashtray. My coffee cup and the T.V. remote held the other two corners.
Everybody always said I was a dreamer, that I’ve always been a slacker. Hell, maybe I am. Even in grade school, my teachers had let me sit and stare out the window. They had given up on getting me involved with the class.
Dad had told me I would never accomplish anything worthwhile in life if I didn’t have a passion for something. Well, I have a passion…finding a way to make money without working. Hence, the survey map laid out before me. I hoped to find a vein of gold and never have to work again. I’ll show ‘em.
The map displayed an area of the Mohave Mountain Range in Western Arizona, mountains that potentially held gold-bearing quartz. Red marks on the map indicated areas where gold could possibly be found. One little strip of red pointed to a remote canyon high on one of the mountains.
In the past, I had spent a lot of time roaming the desert and hills outside Lake Havasu City. A few years back, I’d even been in the general area of Mount Crossman, the location I planned to explore today. With growing excitement, I double-checked the route, rolled up the map, and stuck it in my pack. Dressed in my usual desert clothes—Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, and a long-sleeved shirt—I grabbed my cowboy hat off the hook by the door and slapped it on my head on my way out. I threw my hiking gear into the truck and set out for the remote canyon.
An hour later, weaving my truck around creosote bushes, rocks, and an occasional cactus, I slowly made my way up the wash that led to the canyon where I hoped to find my fortune. With the mid-March temperature in the mid-sixties and the windows rolled down, country music blared from my speakers, shattering the peaceful quiet of the desert morning.
Driving as far as I could take my truck, I parked and jumped out. I gathered my equipment, carefully checking to take everything I might need for an emergency. Coming out on the desert alone was risky, I knew, but I’d been out here by myself many times. I figured, as long as I didn’t take any unnecessary chances, I’d be okay.
After pulling on my backpack and securing my Ruger .44 cal. pistol in its holster, I locked the door, slipped the keys into my pocket, and climbed out of the wash. Following the ridge of a hill, I made my way higher up the mountain.
Daydreaming about finding the richest vein of gold in history, I almost walked into a patch of cholla cacti. I’d learned on my first trip to the desert to avoid the cholla at all costs. From a distance, the plants look like furry teddy bears. Up close, their tennis-ball-like pods hold hundreds of needles. The pods seem to jump out to attach to clothing and skin, earning them the name “jumping cactus.”
Once safely past the patch of cacti, I moved quickly, making good time, reaching the short peak sooner than I’d expected. Slipping off my pack, I pulled out a water bottle and took a few sips while I looked out over the valley. Far to the northwest, I could see the Colorado River, a ribbon of blue, flowing into the twenty-nine-mile-long Lake Havasu. Although impressive, I lost interest after a few minutes and turned to study the next leg of my hike. From here, I had to travel down the back side of the peak and through the saddle, then hike a half-mile or better up the next peak. Returning my water bottle into the pack, I swung the pack over my shoulder and started down the hill.
As I walked, my mind wandered back to the encounter earlier in the day when Steve had fired me. Deep down, I knew he had done the right thing. After all, this was the fourth job in the last year I had lost. It wasn’t my fault if I couldn’t find a job I liked, was it? Hell, no. Either the work was boring, or the boss and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. Sometimes, I just flat out didn’t like the work. Whatever the case, I’d been moving through jobs faster than most people change the oil in their cars.
Two years ago, I had heard of a guy finding gold out on the desert. I figured, if other people could find gold, why couldn’t I? So, I’d started hanging out at the local rock shop and made friends with several rock hounds who had invited me to visit the Havasu Gem and Mineral Club. I joined the club and met a couple of guys who went out looking for gold. With their help, I had learned enough to go searching on my own. With maps, rock hammers, and lots of enthusiasm, I had spent the last two years roaming isolated canyons looking for…hoping for…that big strike so I would never have to work another day in my life.
Today is gonna be different, I told myself. This remote canyon didn’t appeal to the guys in the gem club. They avoided it at all cost because it was too hard to get to. Therefore, I’d deduced that no one locally had been up here searching. The possibility of finding a rich vein of shiny gold, running through an outcropping of quartz, loomed large in my mind. Girls, parties, booze, a big red Dooley with all the bells and whistles in my driveway. Gold nuggets, here I come. I picked up my pace with eagerness.
* * *
An hour later, I came to a stop in front of my anticipated destination. I stood in the mouth of a steep-walled, rocky canyon. Resting for a moment, I looked out across the valley. A rocky hillside sloped away at my feet.
Not only did I see most of the lake, I caught a glimpse of Bullhead City and Laughlin to the far north. To the west, past the little town of Havasu Landing on the other side of the lake, I observed the thirty-mile stretch of the Old Woman Mountains. Sucking in my breath, I stared in awe, duly impressed by the wide span of the valley from this vantage point.
Behind me in the canyon, a rock rolled and bounced, thumped off other rocks, then stopped with a solid thunk.
I turned with my hand on my gun. Starkly aware of my isolation and distance from help, I shifted my gun into a more accessible position on my hip. I swallowed hard, listening for more movement. Rocks fall all the time, I told myself. It’s a natural event.
Curious to find out if I was alone, I slowly made my way forward with my right hand remaining on my gun. I wove through the boulders, heading cautiously into the canyon.
My head and eyes constantly scanned the crevices and rocks. If someone else was in the canyon, I wanted the advantage of seeing that person…or persons…first. At my slow pace, I also checked for outcroppings of quartz that might bear a vein of gold.
Fifteen minutes later, a smaller canyon branched off to the right from the main canyon. I didn’t remember this area from the maps.
Not seeing or hearing anyone in the vicinity, I decided to explore the first part of this smaller canyon, which seemed to be less steep than the first one. After two hundred yards, it leveled out. I found myself walking in a sandy wash interspersed with occasional boulders and rocks.
Rounding a bend, I caught sight of a flash of brown skin disappearing behind a large rock. My eyes widened in alarm. I stopped and grabbed the smooth, wood grips of my gun. Son-of-a-bitch, if that hadn’t looked like a person’s leg. I listened carefully and looked around. Who’d be up here? Was someone else looking for that vein of gold? What if somebody had already found it and was mining it? Mining my gold?
For the first time, I noticed tracks in the sand of the wash…not tracks really, but evenly spaced indents about the size of a human foot. The tracks couldn’t have been made by an animal. One set of tracks seemed to indicate only one person in the party. This must be the person who had dislodged the rock that fell earlier, I told myself, not sure what danger may lay ahead if I encountered this person.
Cautiously, I followed the tracks up the wash. The walls of the canyon slowly rose steeper and grew narrower, turning into solid rock only ten feet apart on each side. Feeling trapped and claustrophobic, I paused. I wondered if it was wise to go any farther. Reconfirming the sight of only one set of tracks ahead of me, I swallowed down my fear and decided I could handle one person, if need be. With my hand still on my gun, I continued forward, one silent step at a time, checking behind myself occasionally. Up ahead, I saw a turn in the wash where the rock walls veered sharply to the left.
As I peered around the corner, I found myself facing a solid rock wall, twenty feet away, that rose straight up for at least seventy or eighty feet. A dead end with no one in sight. My eyes shot to the tracks in the sand, which stopped at the foot of the wall. Turning in a complete circle, I checked for a place where a person could climb out of the canyon. Without ropes and rock-climbing gear, or at least hand-holds, that would be impossible, and there were no signs of an escape route.
The section of the wall where the foot prints ended suddenly shimmered, looking liquid for a moment.
I blinked in surprise, fearing I was seeing things, like a mirage in the heat. When the same thing happened again, chills ran down my spine. “What the hell?” Glancing around to make sure I was still alone, I stepped up to the wall. I reached out to press my hand against the surface. The seemingly solid rock not only gave way, my hand disappeared through it. I jumped back and screamed, “Son-of-a-bitch.” I studied my hand to make sure it wasn’t damaged. It seemed to be okay.
The wall shimmered again.
I stared in disbelief. Did the other person go through there? Where does it go? Is it safe? These questions flashed through my mind as I stood frozen in place.
Finally, I picked up a rock and threw it at the wall.
Instead of bouncing, the rock disappeared as the wall shimmered again.
I stood for a long moment, wondering if I dared investigate the wall further. Was this some kind of portal, like in the movies? Maybe it went into another world, to some other planet, or to another dimension in time.
My heart raced as I considered what I should do. This could be big, I told myself. What if this was a way into another world? What would that world look like? Did people live there? The tracks seemed to be made by someone walking on two legs…or something walking on two legs.
I paced back and forth, keeping my eye on the wall to catch the illusive shimmers. It seemed dangerous to go through a portal without knowing what was on the other side. I could die or disappear forever. Movies portrayed portals as moving, shifting, opening, and closing. That was science fiction and fantasy. The strange wall before me seemed real enough, but the way it worked was a fearsome mystery.
Still, how could I not investigate? This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I stared at the wall one more time.
What the hell? What do I have to lose? There’s not much waiting for me in town. I might as well see what happens. Maybe I’ll get lucky.
I took a deep breath to calm my pounding heart as I stepped toward the wall. I stuck my hand through first. I felt no pain, just a tingling feeling. The weirdest part was watching my hand and forearm disappear up to my elbow. Drawing my arm back, I once again found no irregularity or apparent change in my hand.
The faint roar of an airplane overhead pulled my attention upward. In the thin line of blue sky visible beyond the canyon walls, I saw multiple jet streams and one dark speck of a plane flying overhead, probably at thirty thousand feet.
I shook myself. Enough distractions.
Facing the wall just in front of me, I squared my shoulders and stepped into the unknown.
My shoulders dropped in disappointment as I found myself standing in the same wash, looking at the same rock walls. Everything appeared exactly the same, except I faced away from the wall, not into it.
Confused, I sat down on a convenient boulder. Staring at the ground, I noticed only one set of tracks, the same tracks I had seen walking up the wash. I gingerly glanced around as my brow tightened. I had created a second set of tracks coming up the wash, left dozens of my own tracks everywhere in the area, so where were they now? I leaned forward and studied the tracks more closely. The indents appeared as though someone had walked over the same tracks in both directions. Now, the single set of tracks seemed to be going down the wash, away from the wall, not into it. How could that be?
A small rock caught my eye. The sand beneath it had been disturbed, as if the rock had been thrown and rolled to a stop.
I jumped up. It was the rock I had thrown at the wall. I must be on the other side. I spun around. Other than the tracks, nothing looked different. I shot a look up at the clear blue sky. No plane. No jet streams. An eerie feeling shivered through my body.
Tentatively, I walked down the wash, following the footsteps, watching for anything unusual. The canyon walls, the rocks, the dirt, everything, except for the footprints heading in the opposite direction, seemed to be exactly the same. Was I losing my mind?
As I stepped through the opening of the main canyon, I stopped dead in my tracks and blinked twice, trying to process what I saw.
The geography of the land looked generally the same, but the lake and the towns were gone. A river, eight to ten miles away, flowed through the virgin desert land. Everything man-made was gone.
Wait, that wasn’t totally true. In the distance, near the river, a haze of smoke hung just above the valley floor. It had to be a settlement of some kind, maybe a village or a camp. Could it be an Indian camp? Did I go back in time somehow? Is this another dimension or a parallel world?
I blinked again and rubbed my eyes, but only saw the same panorama.
Spinning in place, I tried to grapple with the situation. I’d heard about this kind of stuff, but I’d never imagined it was real, or that it could happen to me. I wasn’t sure what to think. I’d done a lot of daydreaming in my lifetime, but nothing like this. My breath caught in my throat at the thought I might be stuck in this new reality. I had to get back.
As I turned toward the canyon, a movement on the hill below me caught my eye. I quickly pulled out my binoculars and focused on the hill. A man in a loincloth and sandals darted from one boulder to another, moving downward toward the valley. Bits of leather-like material had been braided into the man’s long, black hair.
My heart raced as I lowered my binoculars. It looked like an Indian. Was I really seeing this? I lifted my binoculars again. I suspected this Indian had been the one in the canyon, the one I had glimpsed briefly, the one who had disturbed the rock, the one making the tracks.
The Indian headed toward the area in the distance where the smoke rose, re-affirming my belief there could be a tribe of natives living there. I wondered if they were friendly.
Glancing around nervously, I hoped no other Indians would pop up nearby and catch me by surprise. The one set of tracks gave me fleeting confidence the Indian had been alone. I started back, my feet hurried and my heart pounding in my chest. When I reached the wall, I stopped and gulped, hoping against hope I could get back to my own world.
I stuck out my hand. It passed easily through the wall. I closed my eyes and moved quickly to the other side.
Hearing a plane overhead, I looked up. Jet streams crisscrossed the busy blue sky from the many jets flying to and from the west coast. An airplane moved southward in the same spot I had seen the airplane earlier. A flood of relief washed over me. I was back in my own world. At least, I was pretty sure I was back in my own world.
I turned and studied the rock wall. It shimmered slightly, appearing again briefly as a pool of water.
Wow, I’d seen movies where people had gone through gateways and portals to a different time or a different dimension. Until now, I’d never really taken it seriously or even thought it was possible.
I sat down on a rock similar to the convenient rock I’d found on the other side. Sipping from my water bottle, I studied the wall and considered the other world, how much it resembled my own with the layout of the land, the location of the river, the hills and mountains around the valley, the vast stretch of desert, the wide river bed where the water flooded during rain storms. The main difference between the two worlds seemed to be that the other world lacked development, lacked civilization as I knew it. No houses. No lake. No London Bridge. It had been like stepping back into the past, maybe two hundred years or more ago, and seeing the area as it had existed before the white man had taken hold and changed it.
The wall shimmered again.
I stood up. Excitement began to build within me as my imagination started taking over. New possibilities crossed my mind. This new world offered potential opportunities that might give me an edge on life. If this new world happened to be the same world as my own, just hundreds of years earlier in time, then the Gold Rush had never happened over there. The prospecting of the western states never took place.
And, if by chance, it wasn’t the same world…well, gold probably still existed over there in the same places as here, just like the mountains and the valley still existed over there, just like here.
As the implications dawned on me, I felt a rush of adrenaline pump through my body. The gold could still be there, all the gold I could ever use. As far as I knew from history, the Indians didn’t mine gold for profit. They never equated gold to money like the white man. It was just waiting for me to go and get it. I could taste the sweet notion on my lips.
I restrained myself from walking back through the portal right then. Even though I ached to return and check it out more thoroughly as soon as possible, I worried about how the natives might react to a stranger showing up. I needed to make preparations for the trip, and more importantly, I needed help.
Throwing my water bottle into my pack, I hurried down the canyon wash. This thing was too big to let leak to the public. Everyone would be swarming into the new world. I had to keep it under wraps, be careful about who found out. I’d talk to my brother, Eric, the successful business man. I was sure Eric would be interested in this new world and its financial possibilities.
Arriving at my truck in half the time it took me to get up the mountain, I tossed in my gear, revved up the engine, skidded through the desert brush, and pulled into town forty-five minutes later.
* * *
Sitting in the living room of Eric’s million-dollar home, I leaned forward on my legs and shifted uneasily. “Come on, Eric, just take a look. It’s really amazing.” I hadn’t yet mentioned the “portal” for fear Eric would kick me out of the house. Already, the grievance on Eric’s face told me that maybe coming to him had not been such a good idea.
“I don’t care what you found out there,” Eric said with exasperation. “I’m not taking time out of my busy schedule to go running around the desert for some wild hair of yours.”
I cringed inside at Eric’s rebuff. Eight years younger, I had always felt inferior to his natural charm and good looks. Although we stood the same height, about five-foot-seven, and both had the same wavy brown hair, the similarities between us ended there. My plain, brown eyes contrasted sharply with Eric’s ever-changing hazel irises. My skin was a lighter tone and burned easily, while Eric’s skin tanned evenly and naturally during the many hours he played sports and boated. My chin wasn’t as firm as Eric’s, and my nose and ears were larger. It wasn’t that I was ugly, but my features weren’t arranged as attractively as Eric’s. And being Mr. Popularity his whole life, Eric had never had a problem getting dates or making friends in high school and later. Not like I did.
Taking a silent breath, I kept my tone even, trying to sound convincing without seeming half-cocked, the way Eric always made me feel. “I promise, this is worth going to see. And with your nose for business, you could even make money. Lots of money.”
Eric’s glare flashed a look of interest. “What do you mean? What did you find out there? Gold?” Although Eric owned a thriving construction company that allowed him and his wife, Cindy, to live extravagantly and not have to work, Eric always sought alternative ways to make money. He had a nose for money. It was his passion.
I grinned, a little hope rising in my heart. “The only way you’re gonna find out is to come with me.”
At first, Eric shook his head. He got up, went into the kitchen, and came back with another beer. “Where is this place?”
“The Mohave Mountains.”
As Eric dropped down in his easy chair, he narrowed his eyes on me.
I held my breath, hoping it would be a go.
Eric popped open the beer can and took a long swig. To the can, he said, “Something tells me I should go. I don’t know why.” His hazel eyes looked up and bore back into me. “If this turns out to be another one of your hair-brained schemes to make money, I swear, I’ll disown you for good this time.”
“Don’t worry,” I said eagerly. “I guarantee you’ll be glad you went. You can’t even imagine the opportunities you’ll have.”
“I better be glad,” Eric bellowed. He took another swig. “When do we go?”
“I want at least one more person to go with us. What about Pat, do you think he’ll go?”
“Probably. He’s always up for an adventure.”
A surge of excitement rushed over me. “Call him. See if he’s free tomorrow. I want to get back out there as soon as possible.”
As Eric dialed the number on his cell and spoke to Pat, I could hardly sit still. Nervous energy coursed through my veins.
Unknown to Eric, I had an ulterior motive for inviting his friend Pat Brinkman, a twenty-eight-year-old, full-blooded Mojave Indian from the reservation in Parker, a small town just down the river from Lake Havasu. Pat spoke his native language. While I couldn’t be sure about the language of the natives on the other side of the portal—natives who might have existed thousands of years earlier and, for all I knew, spoke Swahili—I hoped they might be related to the Mojave Indians or be Pat’s ancestors and speak the same language or something close. If so, Pat would be able to understand them and translate, maybe smooth things over with the Indians and get useful information about locations of gold.
I jumped up and paced the floor, my mind now racing through the items I would need to take on the trip. For sure, I’d take my pistol and lots of ammo. I didn’t want to take any chances with the natives. Neither Eric nor Pat ever traversed the desert without guns, so I didn’t have to suggest they bring weapons.
When Eric gave me a nod that signaled Pat would join us, I pumped my arm in the air. Yes.
“Tomorrow morning at seven,” Eric said as he snapped the phone shut. “The gas station at the southern edge of town.”
Saying my farewell, I grabbed my keys off the coffee table and headed for the door. My mind filled with fantasies of bringing home loads of gold, purchasing a shiny new truck, and surrounding myself with bathing-beauty babes. I itched to get back to the portal.
* * *
I could hardly sleep that night. This portal, this new, untouched world was my ticket to the big-time: fame, fortune, and babes. Lots of babes, all of them begging me to pick them out of the crowd. Yeah, that’s what I wanted.
I tossed off my covers and lay staring at the ceiling. I was tired of dead-end jobs. Hell, I was tired of working, period. I wanted to be one of those guys I had watched down at the lake on weekends, the guy with a one-hundred-thousand-dollar, forty-foot boat, decked out with seven or eight girls wearing skimpy bikinis, dancing to hip-hop, falling over each other to see to his every need.
I drifted off to sleep with big boats and sexy girls on my mind. Soon, the dream darkened. Dark-skinned native Indians chased and captured me, along with Eric and Pat. After many days of torture, we became their slaves.
I woke briefly, then shifted into another dream.
A horde of screeching, half-naked natives chase the three of us across the desert. Sharp rocks and cactus needles bloody our bare feet. The sun blisters the skin on our backs. We run for days on end, the bloodthirsty natives constantly hanging at our heels. Straight ahead, on a small rise, a tall Indian stands next to a large black pot. Bending over, the Indian sticks his arms into the pot and pulls out two handfuls of gold. He holds the gold out toward me, as if he dares me to come and get it.
Suddenly, I find myself in an Indian camp standing next to a fire. In the distance, drums pound out to the beat of BOOM, boom, boom, boom, BOOM, boom, boom, boom.
One of the natives, a pretty girl with big brown eyes, smiles at me. “We’re having a feast tonight to celebrate the arrival of Eric, Pat and you, Donny.”
I smile back. “Good, I’m starving. What’re we eating?”
She laughs and pulls out a large butcher knife. “You, silly,” she says as she plunges the knife deeply into my chest.
I screamed, fighting to get free from the sweaty sheets tangled around my body. I jerked upward in my bed. Catching my breath, I plopped back down. For a long time, I wondered if the dream was trying to tell me something, a premonition of things to come. When I finally convinced myself it was just another bad dream brought on by pizza and beer, I drifted off into another restless sleep.