Yeah, I'm a tease...

I had a few blog ideas this week, and then I thought.  "You know what I get asked about all of the time?  The Sentinel."  I'm not sure if people actually believe I'm working on it.  So, to prove progress is being made (and save a couple hours of blog writing and use it for book writing), I'll be teasing the opening to The Sentinel.  This hasn't gone through an extensive editing/proofreading/review yet, but it'll probably read just fine.  Oh yeah, and here's the cover too.  ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

Prologue

St. Thomas, Nevada.  November 7, 1914

 

“I got you!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

“That’s enough boys.  If you can’t play together nicely then maybe you shouldn’t be playing together at all.”  Lindsey Baxter scolded her two young sons before addressing her husband.  “Jeff, do something about these boys.”

“Boys,” their father lay on the ground and slightly raised his head while tipping the brim of a large straw hat.  “Do as your ma says.”

November weather around the sleepy little town could often range widely, but this particular day was sunny and eighty-three degrees.  Not a cloud interrupted the brilliant blue sky, and rains in the previous weeks had caused the nearby Colorado River to swell.  These rains had brought the family ten miles south of their home.

“Didn’t you bring us down here for the fabulous hunting?  Why are you just laying around sleeping?”  Mrs. Baxter’s tone was noticeably annoyed.  Though she had grown up in the West, she held no love for the great outdoors.  “I really don’t understand why you need me here at all.”

“Linds,” Jeff referred to his wife by her pet name.  “First, it’s two in the afternoon.  Even in this beautiful weather, the animals are going to take a nap in the middle of the day.  Second, the boys are only eight and six; they can hunt with me in the morning, but are too tired by night.  Lastly, I need you here because I love you.”

She smiled at his final remark.  Though his first two points had been manufactured, he saved himself with the last.  Her demeanor lightened as she spoke again.

“Believe me, if I didn’t love you we wouldn’t be here.  I thought the rain was going to make deer hunting a breeze.  We’re already on our third day and I haven’t even seen one.”

“Well, we’ve had a couple of setbacks, but I’ll leave the boys with you tonight and go out on my own.  They’ve spooked three doe already.  Don’t worry; we’ll be on our way home tomorrow morning.”  Confidence oozed from Baxter's delivery.

“I think you’d better get going then.  I’m ready to sleep in our bed.”  Lindsey stood over her resting husband and gave him a light kick to the rear.  “Let’s go Mr. Great Deer Hunter.”

“Fine, fine.”  Jeff groaned as he stood and dusted himself off.  It seemed the southern drawl of his youth became more pronounced as he grew more annoyed. “I’m tellin you though darlin, the deer ain’t runnin this time of day.  I’m just gonna get out of sight and lay back down for a nap until its time.  I’d rather be here with the three of…”

At that instant a thunderclap pierced their ears, and a bright flash of lightning raced across the sky, terminating in the canyon below.  Both Lindsey and Jeff instinctively grabbed their ears, while their two young sons became quiet, looks of wonder on their faces.  After nearly thirty seconds Mrs. Baxter was the first to speak.

“What was that?”  Her tone had gone from annoyed to concerned.

“Dad!  I saw it!  I saw where it landed.  It’s just down in the canyon.  Can we go see it!  It must be a meteorite, or a ufo, or maybe even an alien!”  Their oldest son had a vivid imagination.

“Tone it down a little Willy.  You’re scaring your brother.”  Jeff’s drawl disappeared as he became serious.  “I couldn’t see where it landed.  Did you get a good look from over there?” 

The two boys had been playing nearly fifty yards away from their parents, and had a better view of the canyon below.  Both replied in unison.

“Yes!”

“OK then.” He clapped his hands, playfulness returning to his voice.  “It looks like a little family adventure.  You coming Linds?”

“No thank you.  Just being out here with you wild men is enough adventure for me.  I don’t need to chase down any aliens or meteorites.  You boys have a nice hike down into the canyon, though.  Don’t forget to bring back a deer with you this time.  I’m ready to go home!”

“When we discover gold that has fallen from heaven and disappear down the Colorado without you; you’ll be sorry.”  Jeff smiled as he packed water onto their mule, and checked the saddle’s buckles.  “We should be back by the morning though, babe.  We’ll hike down tonight, hopefully bag ourselves a deer, and by this time tomorrow; we’ll be on our way home.”

Lindsey smiled as the rugged looking man took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply.  Though they had married nearly twelve years before, and had suffered through the deaths of three of their five children, love still existed in droves.  She couldn’t imagine her life any other way.

“Be careful.  I thought I heard a mountain lion last night.”

“I heard it’s the grizzly bears that will sneak up and eat little boys.  You and I should be fine, but they love tender little boy meat.”  Jeff teased his young sons whose faces showed genuine concern.

“Be nice Jeffrey.”  Lindsey feigned disapproval, though his ability to relate to the children was one of his most endearing qualities.

“Dad, you’re just teasing.”  The older of the two boys accused his father while adding, “We don’t even have grizzly bears this far south.”

“I don’t know.  Some of the old timers say that grizzlies used to roam the mountains all the way down to the Mexico border.  Just to be on the safe side maybe I should pack the forty-five caliber Colt and take it with us.  We could use…”

“You most certainly will not be taking my Colt.”  Lindsey interrupted her husband while pretending to be upset.  “How dare you even suggest leaving me out here unprotected?”

“What do you think boys?  Should we take the Colt with us, or leave it here for mommy to protect herself?”

Both children paused, and seemed to contemplate the question intently.  The younger of the two furrowed his brow, pretended to stroke his nonexistent chin hair, all while watching his older brother.  At eight years of age, the eldest of the Baxter boys was incredibly bright, and arched his left eyebrow before speaking.

“I think we should be able to protect ourselves from grizzlies with the shotgun and the rifle.  Mom should keep the Colt just in case.  It’s only a forty-five anyway.  A grizzly bear would run right through that.”

“Thanks a lot.  I feel much better now.”  Lindsey smiled as she ruffled her oldest son’s tousled blonde hair.  “You were right, though, nobody has seen grizzly bears this far south in a long time.”

“It’s all settled then.  We leave mommy to the grizzlies and we’ll go collect our heavenly gold.”

“Do you really think its gold papa?”  The younger of the two boys spoke hopefully, his eyes shining brightly.

“Gold doesn’t fall from the sky stupid.  Dad is just playin with…”

“That’s enough.”  The eldest son’s sentence was interrupted by his father’s simultaneous rap on the back of his head.  “You don’t tell people they are stupid, and its playing, not playin.  Your mother works hard for you boys to speak correctly, unlike your ignorant old man.  Now apologize to your brother.”

“I’m sorry.”  Both boys stood, their heads down, looks of dejection on their faces.

“So.  Which one of you wants to shoot the rifle first?”  Instantly their demeanors changed and his two young sons raised their hands, clamoring for his attention.  Jeff smiled at their eagerness.  “I guess we’ll have to hike down this canyon first and see if we can find ourselves a deer.”

“Do you think we’ll find some gold too?”  The younger of the boys smiled sweetly and expectantly.

“I sure hope so son.  I certainly hope so.

 

***

Though the trek down the side of the mountainous terrain was not overly difficult, the three Baxter men made slow time.  Jeff was proud of his two young sons.  They rarely complained, and listened intently when he gave them direction.  Along the way they had seen an abundance of wildlife, including a close encounter with a mountain lion which still had the boys buzzing with excitement.

“Dad!  How many mountain lions do you think live in the canyon?”

“Yeah, do you think that the mountain lion heard us talking about them?”

“Do you think the mountain lion is going to attack mommy now?”

The questions hadn’t stopped, and though Jeff had spotted the beast before they were in any real danger, the boys had become enthralled. 

“Take it easy guys.  I doubt there are any more mountain lions around.  I don’t think they speak English.  I doubt he goes after Mommy because she has the Colt and those cats aren’t stupid.”  He attempted to divert their attentions.  “How far do you guys think before we get to our sky gold?”

“Not far dad” his eldest son replied.

“Nope, not far dad” echoed the younger.

“That’s good, because it’s almost time for some prime deer hunting.  I’d be willing to bet that’s what our buddy the mountain lion was out here doing.”

“I think so too.”

“Me too.”

Jeff smiled again as they rounded a bend in the trail and the canyon floor opened up around them.  His sons immediately made their way to the edge of the small stream that had dug through the rocks over millions of years.  Suddenly, though, their mule stopped in its tracks, refusing to go any farther.

“Come on old girl.”  Baxter pleaded with the stubborn animal, gently rubbing its neck.  “We still have to go back up in a little while.”

“Dad!”

“Dad!”

“Come look over here!”

“Come look over here!”

Laughing as he tied the obstinate beast to a bush, Jeff turned to look at his sons.  They stood near the edge of the small stream, but that wasn’t a problem.  At their feet, however, was a freshly killed mule deer.  Without thinking, and with incredible speed, he removed his Springfield M1903 rifle from its leather holster.

“Boys!  Get back here right now!”  He had received training on the rifle at the tail end of his military service, and upon his honorable discharge, had kept the highly accurate weapon.  He now turned, and for the first time in his life, used the M1903 with the deadly intent with which it had been designed.  Horror filled his very existence as he took aim at the massive beast sprinting towards his two young sons.  “BOYS!”

Both young men stood, almost a hundred yards away, frozen in fear.  Charging in their direction at nearly thirty-five miles per hour was a massive, angry grizzly bear.  Neither boy moved as the incredible brute bore down upon them.  All they could hear was the beating of their own hearts, and the splashing of their impending attacker’s immense paws.  Death, it seemed, was near.

Gunshots rang out, but the advancement of the centuries old killer didn’t slow.  Baxter had fired four of his five shots, and with the immense animal bearing down on his children he aimed carefully.  Staring down the battle sight of the military weapon he breathed in deeply and blew it back out.  Calm came over him as he pulled the trigger.

Hurtling through the air at 2800 feet per second, the 30.06 caliber projectile was true.  It crashed into the side of the enormous bear, just behind the shoulder blade, with the kinetic energy of nearly one hundred arrows.  Slamming into the shallow waters of the stream, the great beast roared loudly as its body slid to a stop.

Death averted, the brothers snapped from their frozen state and ran toward the man who had saved them.  Baxter moved with speed and determination, covering seventy yards before his sons had gone thirty.  He dropped his weapon and wept openly as he scooped the two boys into his arms.  They had never seen their father cry before, and both soon followed suit. 

After a full minute had gone by Jeff set his two sons down and what he saw next chilled his soul.  Thirty yards ahead, the magnificent grizzly bear stood.  Satan himself seemed to appear behind the animal’s eyes as the great beast shook the tremendous head millions of years of evolution had afforded it.  Fumbling to pick up his rifle Baxter commanded his children.

“Run boys.  RUN!”

In the waning light of the day Jeff struggled to re-load the bolt action weapon he wielded.  The bear closed distance with incredible speed, and before Baxter had time for a shot, the fifteen hundred pound beast buried its head in his stomach. 

All of the air left his body and the Springfield rifle flew through the air, landing fifty feet away.  His two children watched in abject horror as the bear slashed at his body, using its razor sharp claws as primeval weapons.  A blood curdling scream emanated from deep within their father, and pierced the late afternoon sky.  Then, almost as quickly, the sound stopped as the vicious bear grabbed the helpless man in its jaws, by the throat, tossing him nearly twenty feet.

Mercilessly, and though Baxter’s body made no attempt to move, the bear pressed the attack, when the two boys witnessed something they would never forget.  As their father’s killer advanced on his lifeless body an apparition appeared.  The gray haired man, wielding nothing but a bowie knife, leapt on the back of the great beast and began attacking it with the fervor of a banshee. 

Roaring, the monster stood to its full height of nearly ten feet.  The gray haired man loosed his grip, and athletically dropped to the ground.  He immediately attacked with the knife again, plunging the blade deep into the massive animal’s back, just above the tail.  Almost instantly the grizzly swung its claws, pivoted, and returned to all four legs. 

The gray haired apparition was faster, though, and dropped to his back.  Laying flat on the ground he attacked again, working the knife deep into the beast’s inner right thigh.  He deftly wielded his instrument of death, and used the momentum of the enormous animal’s movement to pull himself free of its clutches.

Badly injured, the grizzly momentarily halted the fight, moving off ten yards.  Both boys stood frozen once again, barely able to fathom everything that had happened in the last few minutes.  The bear grunted and groaned as it sat down on its haunches and began licking at the large wound on its inner thigh.  Blood spurted from the fatal injury to its femoral artery.  Time was no longer on its side.

With an immense serenity their gray haired savior approached the terrible animal.  As he neared, it fell to the ground, only seconds from death.  Baxter’s two sons watched as he took the ferocious beast’s massive skull in his hands and spoke to the animal in a language they couldn’t understand.  He gently caressed the bear’s head while he spoke into its right ear.  Though they did not understand, his tone was soothing, and after thirty seconds the dreadful creature stood, and ambled into the nearby stream.

His well tanned skin glistened with sweat and he watched the bear until it had disappeared under the current.  Quiet filled the canyon now, and the sound of his own breathing was all that he heard.  Turning, he moved toward the young men, and though their terror had subsided, the brothers still stood, frozen in place as he approached.

“You boys have names?”  He delivered the question with the slightest hint of a southern accent and the eldest son replied.

“My name is Willy, and his name is Tad.”

“And your father’s name is Abraham Lincoln then, I presume.” 

Willy knew that they had been named after the 16th president’s children, but he replied flatly.

“No, his name is Jeff.”

“OK then.”  The man’s smile was whiter than any they had ever seen before, and his eyes were bright blue.  “Let’s see if we can help him.”

As the three moved toward the body of Jeff Baxter the scene was grisly.  His bowels protruded from the wounds inflicted by the bear’s slashing claws, and great puncture wounds were clearly evident in his neck.  Their father’s face was a mask of blood, and Tad cried uncontrollably at the sight.

“Papa.  Papa.  Wake up Papa.”

“Shhhhhh.”  His voice was soothing and without knowing why, the brother’s trusted the stranger implicitly.  “I think he’s going to be alright boys.  All you have to do is trust me.  Just stay right here and don’t move.  I’ll be back in a jiff.”

With that the Good Samaritan leaned over, picked up the body of the badly wounded man, and quietly carried him toward the stream.  The canyon was almost perfectly still now.  Only the sound of the water gurgling across the rocks disturbed the tranquility.  Willy and Tad did as they were told, holding their ground, but watched as their father was carried into the water.

Their rescuer disappeared, Jeff in his arms, under the water, and after a minute had gone by, the boys became apprehensive.  Tad fidgeted nervously, scanning the area for predators, and Willy took a few steps toward the water.  He craned his neck, attempting to make out the men’s outlines in the mountain runoff.

“Willy, he told us to stay put.  I think we should stay put.”  Tad had spoken and for the first time in his life, Willy obeyed him.

“You’re right Tad.  I’m sorry.”  Almost another five minutes passed, and the brothers’ apprehension soared to new heights.  “It’s been almost five minutes.  I haven’t seen hide nor hair outta…”

At that moment a soaking wet mass of tousled gray hair emerged from the water.  Slowly he made his way across the current and approached the two boys, the lifeless body of their father still in his arms.  Gone, though, was the mask of blood.  More importantly, however, the wounds to his belly and neck seemed to no longer exist.  Looks of astonishment were evident on the sibling’s faces as the man spoke.

“I think he’s going to pull through boys.  We should get him home, though.  Do you live around here?”

“What did you do to him?”  Willy spoke up, asking the question both children wondered.

“It was nothing really.”  He flashed his pearly white grin as he spoke.  “I learned a few things from a great Navajo medicine man a number of years ago.”

“We’re from St. Thomas.”  Tad answered the first question.

“St. Thomas?  What in the blazes are you doing way out here?” 

“We are out hunting for deer” Willy answered.  “Father thought that we would have good hunting after the rains.”

“Your father is a wise man.  I suppose I will take you all the way back to St. Thomas then.”

“Actually, our mom is at our camp at the top of the gorge” Tad interjected.  “You could just help us up there, and we’ll…”

“Shhhhhhh” Willy interrupted.  “Remember what father told us?”

“Oh yes.”

“Your father told you never to go with strange men, or bring them to your mother.”  He spoke the words as the boys nodded their heads.  “Like I said before; your father is a very wise man.  Just once, though, I think it would be in his best interest if we got him to safety.  I’ll place your dad on the mule as comfortably as I can and we can proceed up the mountain.”

“Won’t it be dark soon?”  Willy asked the question.

“I suppose it will be young Willy, but that is of no matter.  We’ll have a full moon to navigate by tonight.  The two of you can ride on the mule as well.  We’ll be in camp before you know it.”

The two boys relented and within minutes the mule was loaded and ready to go.

“What about our deer?”

“Yeah, what about our deer?”

“Yes, the reason for all this trouble; a lousy deer.”  He paused before continuing.  “I suppose I could field dress it pretty quickly and we could load it onto the mule, but you boys would have to give up your seats.”

“That’s what I want to do.”

“Me too.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do.”

 

***

 

Neither boy complained on the entire return trip to camp.  The man with gray hair had set a grueling pace, expecting the brothers to fold, but they had surprised him by striving to persevere.  He garnered a respect for this family he had not afforded most in recent years, and when they had arrived in camp, the mother hadn’t let him down either.

She was a fiery woman who listened intently to the imaginative story of her sons while keeping a wary eye on the stranger in their midst.  He had unloaded the still unconscious Jeff Baxter into her personal tent, and though she was cautious, something about the unfamiliar man instilled trust.  Both boys should have been wiped out from the day’s ordeals, but adrenaline kept them awake, and as Lindsey tended to their father they sat with the stranger by the fire.

“So you boys were just down to hunt some mule deer huh?”  He struck up conversation.

“Not just mule deer.  We saw gold fall from the sky!”  Tad’s description caused the other two to laugh.

“I told you it wasn’t gold Tad.  Seriously, though, we saw a meteorite or something shoot through the sky, clap like thunder, and land down there” Willy spoke excitedly before lamenting.  “We forgot to see if we could find it.”

“Do you mean these?”

From his pocket the gray haired man pulled two smooth objects.  The glow of the fire coupled with the full moon shining brightly, danced across their glossy finish.  Colored a deep black, the objects seemed to have inscriptions upon them.

“You found them!  Are they meteorites?”

“Are they gold!”

“No.  No.  They aren’t meteorites, nor are they gold.”  The stranger laughed as he moved the two objects in his hands.  “It’s going to be a little hard for me to explain to you what exactly they are.”

“Can I hold one?”  Willy’s desire for knowledge fueled him.

“Can I hold the other one?”  Tad mimicked his brother’s wishes.

“Well, I don’t see why not.  Be careful, though, they’re delicate.”

“They came shooting from the sky and crashed to earth without getting a scratch.  How delicate can they be?” 

“Very astute Willy” laughed the stranger, “very astute indeed.”

He handed each boy one of the oval shaped objects and their faces told the entire story.  Tad’s expression changed very little as he felt the heat of the item.  Willy’s expression, however, changed dramatically.

“It’s heavy.  Way too heavy for its size.  I mean, this rock is only about twice the size of an egg, and the same shape, and it must weigh ten pounds!”

“It weighs exactly three thousand, nine-hundred grams, or roughly nine pounds.” answered the stranger.  “Also, it’s not a rock.”

“What’s a gram?”  Tad asked.

“They use it to measure stuff in Europe.”  His brother replied quickly so he could ask more questions.  “If it’s not a rock, what is it?  Why is it so warm?  What do these markings on the sides mean?  Why does it feel like mine is pulling itself towards the other one?  Why would…”

“Take it easy Willy.  You’ll blow a gasket.”  He smiled again at the eagerness.  “I’ll answer your questions, but I want to show you something while I do.  You’ll have to give them back to me, though.”

Tad handed his object back promptly, but Willy held onto his, wanting to inspect it more, before reluctantly submitting.  The deep black color of the two mysterious eggs seemed to blend into the night, and the boys watched them intently.  As the stranger stood, he spoke with a purpose.

“You see boys, these two objects are quite important to me.  A very long time ago I used them to help achieve a very specific goal.”  As he spoke the stranger touched the two objects together, twisted each a turn counter to one another, and released them.  To each boy’s surprise, they began orbiting one another in the sky.  “You see, they aren’t rocks at all.  Have you ever seen a rock do that?”

“You’re doing a magic trick.”  Willy spoke the words hesitantly.

“I love magic!”  Tad’s youthful exuberance was refreshing and the gray haired man smiled once again.

“This isn’t magic boys.  This is science” he explained.  “These eggs are made of a very exotic element, and this element is made up of almost pure energy.  The reason they feel warm to the touch, is that the energy stored inside always keeps them warm.  These particular objects always come in matching pairs, and when I touch them together in a specific way they become active.”

“So that’s what the writing on the sides is about?  Activating them?”  Willy’s question was thoughtful.

“Very good Willy.  See, you understand them quite well.  They are warm because they are energy, and they are attracted to one another because of the same energy.”

“I noticed that they are moving around each other in a specific pattern.  What would happen…”

His question was interrupted by a long snore from Tad.  The activities of the day had taken their toll on the youngster.  Before continuing the stranger laid the boy’s head on a rucksack he figured was meant for a pillow.

“They are moving in a pattern Willy.  It’s the sign of infinity they are making.  Do you want to see something really neat?”

“Yes.”

“OK, come here.”

Willy stood and walked to where the two objects moved through the sky. 

“Without touching the other, I want you to take one object out of its orbit, and touch their main inscriptions together.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Watch me.  I’ll do it once, but it takes a total of three times in short succession.”  The stranger pulled one of the objects from the sky, and as the other still circled, allowed their largest inscriptions to glance off one another, then released the original object back into its orbit.  “Do exactly that three times, and then you’ll see something truly amazing.”

Anticipation mounted quickly as the eight year old Willy grabbed the energy mass from the sky.  He held it solidly in position as the other came into contact.  Three times the objects touched, and he quickly released his grip. 

Both of the glimmering black orbs vibrated in mid air before coming together.  Willy took a step back from them as they hovered side by side in the sky for what seemed an eternity.  Almost imperceptibly at first, the two objects moved up, separated, moved opposite one another, and proceeded to outline the shape of a box in the air.  Coming back together they hung for exactly one second longer.  What happened next caused the youngster’s jaw to drop.

In the sky, as clear as if she were standing in their midst, appeared a little girl.  She wore a green dress, which showed from underneath her wool coat, scarf, and mittens.  Her cheeks were rosy, and she smiled as she held two identical objects in her hands.  She threw them in the air, and attempted to bat them to the ground.

“What, what, what…  What is happening?”  Willy’s tone was fearful.

“Don’t be afraid.”  The stranger’s voice was soothing and he could see the young man’s demeanor shift back.  “What you are seeing is a representation of another person who has found a set of these bundles of energy.”  At that time a large man entered the picture, seemed to scold the girl, and she hid the objects in her pocket.  “Would you like to see another?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve got it.”  The stranger reached out, motioned with his finger, and the scene in the sky changed.  It was replaced with a single object, buried in the sand on a pristine white beach.  “Now that one.  That’s the one right there.”

“What do you mean?”  Willy’s inquisitiveness had returned. 

“Thirty nine of these objects exist; nineteen pairs and one all alone.  It’s the key to the whole thing.  If you can’t tell from the holographic image that one is quite a bit larger than the others and it has…”

They were interrupted when Lindsey Baxter stepped from the tent.  The stranger who had saved their father’s life quickly snatched the two floating eggs from the sky, and the images disappeared.  As his mother walked over, Willy met eyes with the stranger who winked, and held a finger over his mouth.  He understood, and vowed to himself that neither he nor Tad would utter a word.  It was a vow he was willing to take to his grave.

 

 

********************

 

 

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Posted on April 3, 2014 .