|WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS
AN ORIGINAL SHORT STORY
CHARLES H. SCOTT
Headlights from an oncoming car pierce the rainy, windswept darkness as they struggle up this lonely stretch of winding, mountainside highway. Windshield wipers mark time with the gentle rhythm of the falling rain and the soft music playing on the radio.
Chris Cross, mid-30's, concentrates on the slick road, a scowl etched upon his rough, stern set face. Ann, his wife, a very beautiful but nervous woman in her early 30's, strains to read a clue on her crossword puzzle with the aid of the dashboard light. Their sandy-haired 10 year old son, Timmy, sleeps in the back seat.
The atmosphere is charged with an undercurrent of tension, and we sense they don't communicate well or often.
Chris grumbles, "Lousy damn night for driving."
"At least there's no traffic --" Ann opines.
Chris glances at Ann mildly perturbed. "That's because everyone else has the good sense to stay home." He then says, shaking his head, "Everyone but us, that is."
Ann lets his statement pass without comment so engrossed is she in her puzzle. They travel on a while in silence until Ann is stumped. "What's a ten letter word beginning with a C that stands for serving to join?" She looks impatiently at him. "Did you hear me, Chris?"
Chris stares out at the slippery blacktop intent on his driving. "Of course I heard you. I always hear everything you say. Every word."
"How am I supposed to know? You didn't answer me."
Chris immediately answers, "Copulative."
Ann spells it out to herself before she pencils it in. "Hey, you're better at this than me." She smiles at the completed puzzle.
They drive on in an awkward silence. The wet humming sound of the tires as they grab for traction on the watery road surface accompanies their movement along the slick road.
Thru the windshield Chris sees two reflective road signs which read: INDIAN WELLS 20 MILES and WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS. Chris points to the signs as they pass by. "See that sign: WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS?"
Ann looks up in time to just barely glimpse it. "Yeah. You see them all over the place. What about it?"
"Did I ever tell you the old Indian legend of Falling Rocks?"
Ann shakes her head no, "Don't think so."
"Wanna hear it?"
Ann is only moderately interested. She shrugs, "Sure. Why not?"
Chris wiggles in his seat like an eager child called on by his favorite teacher. "Well, it's a Winnabago Indian story dating back to the earliest days of the westward bound wagon trains."
"What year does this take place?"
Eighteen-forties ... I'm not exactly sure." Chris looks over at her. "Does it really matter?"
"Sorry, go on."
Exasperation is written on his face. "I hate it when you do that." He regards her questioningly. "No more interruptions, promise?"
"No -- I mean yes, I promise," Ann says.
Chris nods agreement. "Alright. As I was saying," he clears his throat. "Soaring Eagle was a brave warrior with the Winnabago tribe that roamed Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming and California."
"What happened to Falling Rocks?" Ann interjects.
Chris glares at her. "Ann ... you promised."
"Well, was his name Falling Rocks or not?"
His jaw tightens. "I'll get around to that if you'll just let me tell the story without further interruptions."
Ann waits for him to start again.
"You may continue," she allows.
Sarcastically, he says, "Thank you."
He re-composes himself. "One rainy night -- much like tonight -- when Soaring Eagle was out scouting for buffalo, it happened. " He takes a dramatic pause. "A group of drunken drovers from a nearby wagon train raided his sleepy village." The faint sounds of distant gunfire and the terrified screams of women and children as they are trampled can almost be heard by Ann. Their pathetic screams drown out by thundering hoof beats.
"Many defenseless Indians, women and children among them, were killed that night." Chris looks at her as he speaks. "Soaring Eagle's squaw and son were abducted, taken as slaves by the white settlers."
Ann glances over seat back at Timmy peacefully sleeping, feeling the pain of Soaring Eagle's loss. "How awful for him."
Chris' tired, red eyes glow. The dashboard lights reflected in his pupils. "It gets worse." He shifts in seat. "After losing his wife and child, he went on the warpath." Again she hears the faint sounds of a conflict. Only this time it's Indian's war whoops and hollers and the cries of terror and death come from the white settlers. "Leading a renegade band of braves against all white men's wagon trains, for 6 months they also raided the nearby settlements." Faintly, the far-off and distant sounds of Indians fade away replaced by the rising sounds of the Cavalry's charging horses and blaring trumpets as an attack is in full swing. "His actions brought the cavalry against his tribe. A massacre ensued. Soaring Eagle was blamed for the death and destruction that had befallen his people."
The faint chants and accompanying drum beats of the chief's tribal gathering rise to a crescendo. "The chiefs had a pow wow. Afterwards, Soaring Eagle was forever banished from the tribe's village. No one was to give him food or comfort." Chris rubs his tired eyes.
"That poor man."
"His name was changed from Soaring Eagle to Falling Rocks indicating the gravity of his fall from grace." Chris draws out the story for effect. "No one was to ever speak his name again." He pauses to look carefully at her. "Shunned by his own people, destined to roam the wastelands forever in a vain search for his family, Falling Rocks simply disappeared."
Ann is visibly affected. "What happened to him?"
"He was never seen again. Legend has it that he stalks the roads of the West at night and, from time to time, waylays travelers by starting rock slides along desolate, isolated highways, even still, after 150 years, desperately seeking his wife and son."
Chris catches a quick glimpse of Ann, the light from the dashboard creating eerie shadows on his taut face. "Legend also has it when he does materialize he's bigger than a house with the strength of a hundred men."
"He never found them?"
"No. Never. To this day, he's still out there. Watching. Waiting. Looking." Chris is very pleased with his little story. "That's why the signs: Watch for Falling Rocks." He smiles, pleased and finished.
Ann gives him a long look. "Where'd you hear that story?"
"My grandfather told me years ago on a camping trip to Yosemite. I was about Timmy's age."
"Don't tell that one to Timmy. It'd scare him to death," Ann says.
Chris thinks back to that earlier time when he too was about Timmy's age. "Scared hell outta me then. I stayed awake that entire night afraid to go to sleep. I thought for sure that Falling Rocks was gonna grab me when I was asleep."
"It's just an Indian myth, isn't it Chris?"
"Most popular legends are founded on some degree of truth. I suppose there might have been a Soaring Eagle ..." his words trail off.
Ann cranes her neck and peers at Timmy. Repeating herself, she tells Chris, "Don't tell that story to Timmy. He'd have nightmares for a year." Then kiddingly, she remarks, "He takes after his father."
Chris gazes in the rear view mirror at Timmy, a troubled look in his eyes as a shadow of doubt crosses his face. Chris looks down on the muddy road as they drive on through sheets of rain. The car toils up the serpentine asphalt surface against the downhill flow of the swift moving, muddy runoff.
He gets the uneasy feeling that someone is watching them. Visibility is very limited. The headlights flash across something about 30 feet ahead in the middle of the road. Lightning strobes behind a figure looming in the murky darkness, outlining its features in an eerie, grotesque manner. Perhaps it's only the shadow of a roadside tree. Whatever it is, it's enormous.
"What the hell was that?" Chris gasps. He does a double-take as thunder claps deafeningly around them. "Did you see that?"
Ann, who wasn't paying attention, looks questioningly at him. "What?"
"In the road up ahead. I thought I saw --" Chris' words die before he can utter them.
"I didn't see anything."
"For a moment there, I thought I saw something, or someone, standing in the road up ahead."
Ann looks at him. "You wouldn't be trying to scare me?"
Chris rubs his eyes again. "Must be hallucinating. I couldn't have seen what I thought I saw."
"What do you think you saw?" Ann asks.
Chris shakes his head; she'd never believe him. "Nothing. Just forget it."
Ann glances at her watch. It reads 1:30. "How much longer?"
Chris checks the speedometer.
"About another five miles, thank God."
A loud rumbling sound close-by draws their attention.
"What was that?"
"Hell if I know," Chris answers.
The rain now falls in thick sheets limiting visibility to a few yards at best. They exchange worried looks as the car rounds a blind bend. Up ahead, in the middle of the road, lies the answer to her question -- a massive rock and mud slide. Huge boulders block their progress. A cloud of dust is still settling.
Chris quickly pumps his brakes. The tires screech as they clutch for traction. The car skids slightly sideways before stopping. It straddles the dividing line. Several not so small boulders just miss smashing into the car as they roll on down the hillside.
"Damn!" He slams his fist to the dashboard.
Ann places her hand on his shoulder consolingly. "How bad is it, Chris?"
Chris shakes his head, uncertain. "Can't tell without looking." Chris leans against the door, reaches for handle.
Ann takes his hand, caresses it tenderly. "Be careful, Chris."
Chris opens his door. Rain comes slashing in. He gets out, slams it shut.
Ann then reaches over front seat and gently shakes Timmy awake.
"What is it, Mommy?" Timmy sits up, rubs sleep from his eyes.
Ann's voice wavers, "Just some rocks in the road, honey, that's all. Nothing to worry about. Daddy's gone to take a look."
Chris pulls his jacket collar tight against the biting cold rain. He leans into the gale force winds. Illuminated by the glaring headlights, his shadow takes on grotesque and frightening proportions against the dark, wet and jagged rocks. He soon disappears from view.
A few minutes later, Chris stands rooted to the spot seemingly oblivious to the torrential downpour. From his vantage point, Chris can see that the road is completely blocked. No chance of getting through. Chris curses under his breath, turns, retraces his steps.
Timmy has a worried look in his eyes. "Where's daddy going? What's he doing out in the rain, Mommy? What's he doing out in the rain, Mommy?" Timmy repeats.
"He'll be right back, Timmy. Don't worry." Ann's reassuring tone isn't entirely convincing. Not even to herself.
Rain forms a watery veil making it difficult to distinguish movement and differentiate shapes beyond the headlights. Ann reaches over, turns on the windshield wipers.
Someone quickly approaches driver's side taking them by surprise. The driver's door opens and rain pours in. Chris plops heavily into seat thoroughly soaked. He takes a moment to squee-gee water from his head.
"What's the good news?" Ann beseeches.
Chris sits there exasperated. Exhausted. Ann takes a tissue from her purse and wipes his forehead. Timmy looks back and forth between them.
"It's not good."
"How bad is it?"
"The road is completely blocked. Impassable." He wipes his face with a tissue. "Great way to start a vacation."
Ann is beginning to show the early signs of an anxiety attack. "What're we going to do now?"
Chris shrugs, shakes head, "I really don't know."
"We can't stay here --" Ann is slowly coming undone, fighting her building fears. "We gotta get outta here. We can't stay here."
Chris places his hands on steering wheel for support. He knows this already and rapidly loses his patience. "Don't you think I know that?" his voice rising in intensity and ire.
"Don't you yell at me! This isn't my fault."
Chris glares at her. He can't believe what he's hearing.
"This was your idea -- remember?"
"Doctor James said it would do me good to get out of the city for a while."
Chris turns to her. His voice takes on an ever increasingly aggravated resonance. "Doctor James!? Doctor James is just a family practitioner." His exasperation seeps into his words. "What the hell does he know about clinical depression? Ann -- you suffered a mental break-down. You've got to face the facts."
Timmy looks back and forth between them. "Mommy. Daddy. Please don't fight. I hate it when you fight." Timmy's pitiful look embarrasses them into calming down.
Both say "I'm sorry". They force a smile at each other, then at Timmy.
After a moment of quiet contemplation, Chris offers his opinion. "We'll have to turn around. Go back the way we came. Notify the authorities about the rock slide and wait till they clear the road."
Chris starts the car.
"Daddy! I have to go to the bathroom."
Ann is fighting hard to maintain control. She snaps, "Not now, Timmy."
The car begins a painstakingly slow U-turn made all the more difficult by the increasing downpour and the swift, mucky run-off. The left tire sinks deep into the saturated muddy shoulder, spins as it grips for traction.
Chris, hands firmly grasping the steering wheel, guns the racing engine. The left tire spews mud for 20 yards as it takes hold of the slippery asphalt before it catapults the car down the highway.
"Last town we passed must be 25 miles back," Chris thinks aloud.
"I remember seeing a motel --" Ann offers.
"I'm hungry, Mommy."
Chris stares out at the road as the car rapidly descends.
Ann is even more on edge. "Not now, Timmy."
From a high angle, someone peers down on the car far below. Only this time, we are peering over the shoulder of someone we can't see. But we do see that this person, oblivious to the pouring rain, is dislodging rocks, pushing them to the ledge. And with a mighty grunt sets the rocks to tumbling and cascading down the saturated hillside carrying mud and rock onto the road below.
Timmy, wide-eyed, points at something out the window. "Daddy --"
Ann too sees the rolling stones. Her eyes reflect her terror.
"Chris -- watch out!"
Up ahead, boulders the size of pickup trucks cascade onto the road from above. Crashing into each other with a tremendous force that pulverizes the asphalt road surface, burying it under tons of granite and slate and mud. Some stones continue to roll down the hillside.
Chris takes evasive action. He swerves and brakes. An unwilling partner in an unwelcome waltz with the premature headstones. All his driving skills come into play as he alternatingly brakes, swerves and guns his engine.
The slide's intensity quickly diminishes.
Their car travels a short distance before coming to another even larger slide on the road they'd just climbed. They've come to a complete stop. Rain pelts the car harder, sounding like an army on the march.
"We're trapped. I just knew something like this would happen," Chris pounds steering wheel in frustration. "That's just great." Chris turns around and looks out the back window.
"What are we going to do?" Ann whines. "We can't stay here."
Chris shakes his head, at a loss himself. "Ride out the storm." He shrugs his shoulders. "What else can we do?"
Timmy leans over the back of the front seat. "Daddy, I got to go to the bathroom."
Already annoyed, this irritates Chris even more.
"Timmy ... pee in your pants if you must but please stop your whining. I can't think with all that."
Now it's Ann who shoots Chris an odious glance. "How can you say such a thing?"
Chris is remorseful but defiant, "He'll only get wetter outside."
Ann moves to open her door.
Chris takes hold of her wrist, restrains her with a stern glance. "C'mon Timmy, let's go." He turns to Ann. "Stay here. Don't go anywhere." Chris nudges his door open.
Timmy slides over front seat and scoots out open door and into the downpour, hard on Chris' heels, rushing to keep up. "Wait for me, Daddy."
Ann watches as they're both obscured by the relentless rain. Lightning flashes behind the rising mountains lighting up the velvety black sky for an electrifying instant. She's all alone now. Several anxious moments pass. Rainstorms terrify her; from the look on her face it's easy to see that they always have. At first she's mildly uncomfortable, but the sensation soon grows into pervasive edginess then borderline terror leading to a full on panic attack.
Lightning flashes. The gnarly trees camped above the road throw their twisted shadows across the windshield. Ann reacts as if she's seen something frightening beyond words. Her breath comes in short bursts of incomplete inhalations. She hurriedly locks the doors, now frantic. A branch carried on the howling wind scrapes her side of the car. She jumps, startled.
Chris and Timmy fight against the bracing, swirling winds. Rain stings their faces and hands. Chris stops just around the bend. But Timmy wanders off in a different direction. In the apocalyptic, nightmarish scene, they get separated.
Chris stops, realizes he's lost sight of Timmy. "Timmy -- Timmy!
Where are you?" His voice becomes very excited. "Timmy -- where are you?!"
It's useless. The wind and the rain drown out his voice, throwing it back into his face like a watery insult.
Chris hurries back to the car hoping Timmy is there. Chris opens his door, slides behind the wheel. He looks at Ann then to the empty back seat. "Where's Timmy?" Chris is dripping wet. "We got separated. I thought he'd come back here."
"Oh my God. He's out there alone." She is gripped by a mother's worst fear. "Timmy?!." Ann starts out her side.
Chris grabs at her arm and holds her back. "Ann, you gotta get a hold of yourself." Chris looks at her, worry etched into his rough features. "Stay here, I'll go." Reassuringly, he says, "He couldn't have gone too far."
"Sure you really want to find him?" she glowers at him spitefully.
Chris is stunned. "What!? What did you just say?"
"You heard me. You never wanted children --"
"That's nonsense, Ann. And you damn well know it. I always wanted children of my own."
"You've been so cold and distant since Timmy was born. Why?"
Chris looks extremely haggard. He shakes his head; he doesn't need this now. "This isn't a good time --"
Ann's frustration boils over into seething animosity. She flies into a frenzy of inner rage. She cuts him off. "That's the problem, Chris. There's never a good time to talk to you. You're always too busy for us to talk."
Chris isn't taking this too well himself.
"Every conversation we have seems to end the same way: me in tears and you yelling." There is a long, pregnant pause. Then she tells him, "You never call him "son" -- it's always "Timmy". I want to know why."
Chris shoots her a "you really want to know" look. Ann's expression says she's not entirely sure she does now.
"Are you ready to stop pretending everything's fine?"
She doesn't know where this is heading, but it's too late to turn back now. Ann glances at him from the corner of her eyes, seething.
Chris is past the point of caring and rapidly approaching the point of no return. "Timmy is not MY son."
Ann's eyes go wide. Her mouth drops open. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means what it says. I can't be Timmy's father ...," Chris strains to control his rage. "I'm sterile."
Ann sits there totally floored. Chris could stab her in the heart right now and she wouldn't feel a thing. Ann is incredulous, "You can't be!"
"I wish it weren't but it's true."
Ann shrinks back into her shell weighted down by this sudden, unexpected revelation.
"You never told me," she says meekly.
"You never asked."
Chris reaches out to her, but she pulls away as if he were about to strike her. Discouraged, Chris shoulders open the door. He hesitates a moment. She averts her eyes to avoid his accusatory glance. "You're dead wrong, Annie. I'd march through hell and high water for you and Timmy." He fires a parting shot, "You two are what I live for."
Chris gets out without another word.
Ann turns to Chris with a remorseful look. It's too late.
He slams the door before disappearing in the pouring rain and gathering gloom of night's darkness.
She is again left alone, with only her troubled thoughts for meager comfort.
Chris struggles against the swift run-off beside the road close to the precipitous hillside. He treads his way carefully through the muddy residue of rocks and debris.
Ann stares blankly out the steamed windows. Rivulets of rain slide down the windshield. She wipes the inside with a tissue rubbing hard as if trying to remove an unseen spot. She tries desperately to see beyond the windshield and her own freely-flowing tears. A pressure-cooker without a release valve, she explodes out the door -- racing up the hill, not troubled with closing her door against the slashing rain.
An instant later, Chris carries a drenched, frightened and shaking Timmy towards the car. He immediately notices the open door.
"For crying out loud!"
Chris hugs Timmy tightly. He opens the driver's door, setting Timmy down behind the steering wheel. Chris crouches beside the open door. "Timmy, I need you to listen to me very carefully. I'm going to find your mother." He forces himself to remain calm. "Lock the doors. Don't leave the car for any reason. Understand?"
Timmy shakes with fear and the cold, wet clothes he wears. He clings to Chris. His tears mix with the rain. "Don't leave me, Daddy. I'm scared. Please don't leave me."
Chris bows his head then looks up at Timmy. "You're a young man now, Timmy. You'll be just fine now, won't you?"
Timmy struggles to muster all the strength his emerging young
manhood can provide. He puts on a brave front, "Yes Daddy."
"I know I can count on you." Chris playfully tousles Timmy's rain-soaked hair. "Stay here. We'll be right back." Chris starts to leave, but turns back to Timmy for one final word. "I promise."
Timmy looks at Chris with big, loving and trusting eyes. "Okay Daddy."
"I promise too."
Chris hugs Timmy tightly, says deeply heart-felt, "I love you, son."
"I love you too Daddy."
Chris reluctantly lets go of Timmy's outstretched, trembling little hand. He closes and locks the doors as he leaves. Timmy watches his father disappear from sight. He steels his courage for this test of his mettle.
A huge form lurks at the edge of the hill, peering down on Chris and the car far below. Chris shuts the door and walks away from the car.
Chris, trudging up the hill, looks back over his shoulder until the car is no longer in sight. A loud rumbling draws his attention. He jumps aside swiftly as a huge boulder crashes down the hill, landing right where he was standing an instant before. It smashes to smithereens. He gazes up the hillside, thinks he spots something moving amidst the deep shadows. Chris races faster up the hill.
The wind wails a dispirited, many-voiced chorus. The haunting sounds of tom-toms and Indian chants mingle with the swirling gale.
A few minutes later Chris and Ann stand in the center of the road. He shoots her a reproachful look.
"Why did you run away like that?"
"Admit it. You never wanted a family. I know it and you know it."
"I can't tell you how much I wanted a family of my own," Chris says with a sense of the irony. "You always want what you haven't got or can't have. That's the way of life." He takes a deep breath. "When I was 10, Timmy's age in fact, I had an ... accident. A friend swung a baseball bat and hit me between the legs. My groin was seriously injured. It made me sterile." This is obviously hard for him to say. "So, when Timmy was born, I was overjoyed and enraged at the same time. I knew Timmy wasn't -- couldn't be MY son."
A look of sudden concern comes to Ann's face. "Why didn't you say anything then?"
"I loved Timmy from the minute I first saw him. Just as much as if he were my own flesh and blood. And I just let the other thing pass. It didn't seem important at the time." He pauses a long time. "In fact, I know who the father is."
Ann has a horrified expression.
"I've known all along. And I also know he refused to take any of the responsibility for your unexpected condition. That's when you came on to me." He reacts to her look. "Oh, I didn't mind. I was never much of a ladies man. And you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever known," his simple honesty is direct. "I was very flattered that you even talked to me."
Having reached the breaking point, Ann puts her hands to her head. She's losing control. Her hold on everything is more tenuous with each passing second. With the wind howling and the rain swirling about them, she is stripped defenseless, in the beginning stages of persona meltdown. Ann appears on the brink of either vomiting or spilling her guts.
"I was desperate. Alone in San Diego. Pregnant. Unemployed." She has a blank stare. "The only asset I every had was my looks. They had to be worth something." In a breathless rush, she tells him what she's hidden all these years. "We spoke several times at the grocery store. You seemed like a decent guy, with a good job. I thought -- now there's a guy who would be a good husband and father. I didn't know what else to do." She averts her eyes so he can't see her tears.
"I couldn't give up my baby. So I did the next best thing ... I tricked you into believing you got me pregnant. That you were my baby's father." After a long, painful pause, she confesses, "And that I loved you." She avoids Chris' searching eyes.
"And I believed it all because I wanted to. I was then ... and still am ... very much in love with you, Ann." He shows his hurt with a pained expression. "I knew you didn't love me the same way."
Ann takes Chris' rough hands in hers, pulls him into an embrace. "But I've grown to love you. Very much."
Winds batter the car to and fro as it rocks from side to side, pelting it with debris dredged up from below and above. Timmy turns around, looks out back window. His eyes go large with terror. His breath comes in compulsive, hyperventilating gasps. His little heart pounds away in his chest, reverberating in his ears like a million Indian drums beating at a war council.
What Timmy sees is a 50-foot tall Indian towering incredibly high above the car. His upraised and outstretched arms hold an enormous boulder. A crazy, twisted smile is painted across his face as perhaps a humorous counterpoint to his apparently murderous intent. He advances with enormous steps that seem somehow comical, in slow motion. Despite his size and bulk, he is also buffeted about by the gale force winds like an enormous balloon.
Timmy's small arms grasp for the lock and door handle. He jerks with all his might but is unable to open the door. He begins to panic. Clutching at the door lock, fumbling and unable to force it loose, he takes a deep, thoughtful breath. Regaining his presence of mind, Timmy rolls down the window with exaggerated circles.
The rain pours in as Timmy jumps out.
The ludicrous smile grows larger and is even more menacing as the giant Indian looms over Timmy. The car's headlights carom off the Indian's exaggerated features, making him appear larger and even more fierce.
Timmy hits the tarmac running.
He dashes up the hill as fast as his feet will carry him.
And without a second to spare.
The Indian hurls the huge boulder.
It crashes down, lands on the car, flattening it instantly.
Timmy runs harder. He doesn't look back. He runs right into his parents coming down the hill.
Ann kneels. Timmy jumps into her arms.
"Mommy! Daddy!" Timmy shouts with understandable relief and delight.
A bit angry at first, Chris asks Timmy, "I told you to stay in the car, didn't I?"
Timmy's eyes are silver dollar sized. His words come in a rush of fearful excitement. "But Daddy. I saw an Indian." Timmy describes with exaggerated histrionics, "He was one-hundred feet tall. And he had a big rock. He threw it at the car."
Chris and Ann exchange a questioning look: "How could he have heard?"
Timmy takes Chris and Ann's hands, leads them back towards the car. Rounding the bend, they stop dead in their tracks like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. The car is buried beneath several tons of fallen rocks. Their expression says it all. Looking at each other, they realize just how lucky they are to be alive and together.
"Chris ...," Ann starts to speak consolingly.
Chris wraps his arms around them both. They stand there in the misty rain as light slowly comes to the clearing morning skies. "It doesn't matter. We're safe. And together. Nothing else matters," he says sincerely. "My wife and son are safe. That's all I care about."
They turn, walk hand in hand away from the car, towards the quickly rising sun. Off to one side of the road, a large highway sign warns: WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS.
Ann looks over at Chris. "Honey?"
"Do you know any more of those stories?"
Chris nods yes. "Lots."
"Do me a favor. Keep them to yourself."
They share a smile and a laugh, the first in a long time.
The sky is lighter now. The landscape has that just after shower clean feel. Unseen birds chirp merrily. Life returns to the land.
They help each other over the mound of rocks that blocks the road.
On the hilltop summit they gander down. In the valley below, the quaint village of Indian Wells lies like a sleeping dog in the middle of the desert floor about three miles away.
Ann utters, "So close ..."
"And yet so far away."
Chris and Ann both glance at Timmy. They then head towards the little village post-haste.
Sun is higher in the sky. Dogs bark lazily off in the distance. Waves of heat rise from the evaporating pools on the asphalt surface. It's the beginning of a new day with all its bright promise which still lies ahead.
Chris and Ann and Timmy walk along the silt covered road as they head towards the rising sun.
Standing before the entrance to the sleepy resort town of Indian Wells,
they stare up at something. A 50-foot Indian brave, with a twisted, painted on smile, straddles the road leading into Indian Wells. His arms are raised high over his head as if he once held something he no longer has. The guide wires that secure him to the spot are all snapped. They dangle in the air like so many loose threads in a threadbare garment.
A hot breeze blows in off the desert.
The Indian, which is really an inflatable balloon, bobs back and forth, giving him the illusion of motion. A sign below the Indian reads: FALLING ROCKS.
Chris looks at Ann. Ann looks at Timmy. Timmy smiles up at them both. They walk arm in arm under Falling Rocks. A tighter bond forged between them out of their shared adversity and mutual love.