Martin returns to the sacred circle.
|Henry sat in the waiting area of the Sac Metro airport within sight of one of the many reader boards displaying flight statuses. His sister’s flight was on time and should be arriving within the next few minutes. Alice had called him a little over a week ago saying she needed help. He had been shocked to hear from her. They had never been close, even as kids. But she was the only family he had left and Henry figured maybe it was time for them to try the sibling bonding thing. The original plan was him taking a few days off and flying down to L.A. But over a deluge of phone calls it was agreed that instead, she would fly up and stay a couple of weeks. Henry still didn’t know what Alice’s problem is; but her being Alice, the possibilities are limitless.
The airlines reader board now showed the plane as landed. He stood as a tram full of people made its way from B terminal. The trams doors slid open and passengers of differing ages and sizes filled the causeway, creating a people jam where only minutes before the area had been empty.
Henry stood to the side of the walkway that led to the escalators and the main floor below. The tram left and he could see a second one was winding its way toward the docking area. It suddenly struck Henry that he hadn’t seen his sister in well over ten years. There was a huge probability that she could walk right past him and he wouldn’t know. Stupid. We should have realized… He grabbed his cell and called the number she had given him. It rang several times before a prompt came on saying the mailbox was full. Another tram arrived and a few more people stepped off; none that could be Alice. He stood watching trams come and go; soon the causeway emptied out and he was alone.
The thought hit him hard, Alice had played him. He had sent her money for the plane ticket instead of purchasing it online for her. She had argued that she wasn’t sure what day or time she could leave; there were a few things she needed to take care of and it would just be easier if he wired her the money. Shit… if all she had wanted was money… all she had to do was ask. He frowned. Why the ruse of calling and giving him a phony flight number and time of arrival? That just didn’t make sense… She had to be below at baggage claim; or outside looking for him. He laughed at himself; Let’s make this simple and page her.
Passing the escalator he took the stairs two steps at a time to the floor below. He had just reached the bottom landing when he heard his name paged over the intercom. “Henry Ryder please come to the Information Desk.”
Smiling, he looked for the Information counter. At least one of us is firing on all brain cells. He found the kiosk manned by an elderly man who was in a conversation with a middle aged woman.
“Excuse me.” He offered an apologetic smile. “I’m Henry Ryder.”
The woman turned and smiled in return. “I believe we have a passenger looking for you.”
Henry chuckled in relief, “I was afraid she had missed the flight.” A feeling of guilt flooded him for mistrusting his sister.
The smiling woman pointed behind him. “Well if you turn around, you will find her sitting right over there.”
Henry turned and looked in the direction she was pointing. He frowned; the area was void of people save for a child sitting on a bench looking back at him.
He turned back to the woman who was again talking in a low voice to the man at the kiosk. “Excuse me. I’m sorry, but where did you say she is?”
The woman’s left eyebrow raised a half inch as she pointed again to the bench. “She’s right there.”
“Uh huh…” He looked at the woman’s name tag; “Judith is it?” He smiled briefly, politely, as she looked at him somewhat impatiently. “I’m afraid there is some mix up…” He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down into a pair of startling blue eyes.
“Are you Henry? Alice said you would have on a uniform, because you’re a cop.”
His face went slack as he tried to comprehend; he swiveled his head from the child to Judith. Stepping away from the kiosk he turned in a half circle, his eyes searching the interior of the airport. “Where is Alice?”
“She didn’t come.” Her voice seemed to echo off the tile and steel columns of the terminal floor. “Alice… my mom, she couldn’t come.” This last admission dropped off in a whisper. She gave the now looming Judith an uncertain look as she repeated, “she didn’t…she didn’t come.”
Henry’s face dissolved into one of disbelief. “She didn’t come?”
She looked searchingly at Henry as she offered an explanation. “She said you would take care of me… and she will call you in a few days.”
He stood with his mouth agape, staring at the child standing in front of him. He coughed a laugh that sounded ridiculously like a burp. “Is this a joke?”
Her smile began to dissolve to one of uncertainty as she stood shaking her head. “She’s not here… she didn’t come.”
He suddenly needed to sit down. Holding up his hand showing his badge, he shook his head when Judith looked about to speak. His voice came out in a hoarse whisper, “I’ve got this…” He took the child’s hand and led her to a set of benches grouped beneath a floating sculpture of an immense red leaping rabbit.
They sat side by side like a pair of book ends; backs rigid, hands on knees, staring up at that ridiculous red rabbit hanging from the rafters. She spoke in a soft whisper of dawning recognition, “Alice didn’t tell you about me…”
Slowly shaking his head Henry struggled to keep his tone amiable; in contrast to the rage that was boiling inside of him. “No… she failed to mention you.”
She began to rub her knees as she looked around; “She does that a lot… not telling and leaving.”
“A lot?” Henry decided he hated the red rabbit.
“Yeah.” Her response came in the form of a long sigh of weary acceptance.
The voice of Judith carried over to them from the kiosk behind them. “Is there anything we can do to assist you?”
Henry turned and looked at the questioning face of the airline employee named Judith. He smiled wryly. “Oh we’re just fine over here. No worries.” He turned back to stare at that damn red rabbit hanging from above, poised as if it were trying desperately to break free of its bonds.
He looked at his companion. She appeared composed for someone so young. She sat with her face lifted as if eyeing the rabbit; but he could see her glancing sideways, watching him.
He took a couple of deep calming breaths before asking, “So, what do I call you?”
“Footie.” She squinted up at the rabbit, her brow in deep furrow; “I’ve never seen a red rabbit before.”
He looked up nodding in agreement; “Me too… never seen one so big either.” He gave her a playful poke with his elbow as he growled low, “Monster rabbit.”
Her cheeks dimpled as she grinned. He could see her beginning to relax. “My name is Ruth Ann Ryder… but I like Footie.”
Henry felt something inside soften. “Ruth Ann Ryder? That was my mother’s name.”
Footie nodded. “Yeah, that’s what Alice said.”
He rubbed his chin as he looked at the child with his mother’s name. This was becoming awkward; they couldn’t just continue to sit here and spend two weeks starring at a stupid red rabbit. “Well Ruth… I mean, Footie; you got any bags we need to get?”
She shook her head no as she pointed to her backpack.
He rubbed his hands together; “Okay, well then…” He stood and saw the woman named Judith, watching them from the kiosk; now with both eyebrows raised. “Okay…” He looked down at his new found niece and forced a smile. “Let’s hit the road… we’ve got a few miles to cover.” He nodded to Judith, giving her a thumbs up as he headed toward the open air and parking lot. He could feel the burn of her eyes on the back of his neck as they exited the terminal.
He reached down and took the backpack from Footie as they walked. “Let me carry that for you.” He scowled realizing how heavy it was. “Kid you got some muscles to be carrying this thing around. What do you have in here, bricks?”
Her four foot frame matched his stride. “Everything.”
Henry stumbled a step. “Everything?”
Footie just smiled as she continued to walk.
As they settled into his Ford pickup and prepared to leave, the total enormity of their situation began to sit heavy on Henry. He sat behind a line of cars in the exit lane, waiting his turn to go through the turnstile. He had been played; lied to, used and Footie was the victim of it all. WTF Alice.
He glanced over at the kid that had been parked in his life. Being left appeared to be a normal sequence of events in her young life. She was all arms and legs. With her blonde hair, blue eyes and that smattering of freckles there was no denying she was of the Ryder gene pool. It was their turn to exit through the turnstile. “Let’s burn some rubber kid.”
Henry decided to use the ride back to the Buttes and home for a chance to maybe get some answers. “So hey, how about we get to know one another? I’ll ask you a question, then you take a turn and ask me. How about it?”
Footie sat back and was silent as she gazed out at the cluster of cars surrounding them on the highway. “Do I get to go first?”
Henry smiled as he glanced at her. “Sure, shoot.”
Footie turned in her seat and watched Henry as she asked, “Are you married and do you have kids?”
Henry looked at her; “I think that’s two questions.” He smiled. “But I’ll let you get away with it this once. No to both questions.”
She pressed, “Never, ever married?”
Henry shook his head frowning. “I think it’s my turn.”
She shrugged. “Oh yeah, sorry.”
“It’s okay, you’re new to this…” He crinkled up his face as though in thought then asked, “How old are you?”
“Eleven… well almost.” She raised an eyebrow; “How old are you?”
Henry looked at her. “Anyone ever tell you it’s not polite to ask adults how old they are?”
Footie frowned back at him. “Is that your question?”
He laughed. “You catch on quick.” Grinning, he waged a finger in the air; “Okay, here’s my question… How did you get the name of Footie?”
She shrugged as she wrinkled her nose. “I couldn’t say Ruthie very well; they thought I said Footie.” She turned to watch the passing landscape out her side window.
Henry noticed a change in her mood. “Well, I like it. It’s different.” He saw her head tilt slightly toward his direction. “I bet there aren’t a lot of people out there with Footie for a name… that makes you special.” He let the silence build for a moment then said, “I’m forty.”
He grinned as he saw her glance at him. “You asked… I’m forty.”
Her face broke into a smirk. “That’s pretty old.”
“Hey, be nice.” He reached across and tickled her knee.
She giggled. “Stop that.”
“Okay, whose turn is it?” He let her choose.
“I don’t know. Can it be mine?” She looked as full of questions as he was.
“Okay, your turn.” He had two weeks to solve the mystery of his sister… he would be gracious and not treat the kid like she is being interrogated.
She leaned forward, her hands on her knees as she gazed out at the highway stretching before them. “Where are we going?”
He pointed ahead of them; “You see those five peaks way off in the distance? They are called the Sutter Buttes… that, young lady, is where I live.” He proceeded to give her a little history of the Buttes; his job and the places he had lived while in the army. She sat and listened, occasionally asking a question. Henry was impressed with her intelligence and maturity for an ‘almost’ eleven year old.
They had covered a good twenty miles when Henry changed the subject. “I’m hungry.” He pulled into a Denny’s parking lot and shut the engine off. “Lets’ get some food.”
Once they had ordered Henry raised the question he had wanted to ask all along. “Footie… where is Alice now? Where is home?”
She leaned back against the seat and heaved a heavy sigh. “I don’t know, we stay in different places… I was staying with Janelle and Lacy; but Janelle told Alice she couldn’t keep me no more because she lost her job.” Footie picked up her silverware that was wrapped in a napkin and began to unfold it. “I liked staying with them; they were nice.” She frowned as she aligned the silverware in sequence on the place mat; knife, fork, then spoon. “Alice is probably with one of her friends. She has lots of them.”
Henry worked on keeping his face passive. “She leaves you a lot with people?”
Footie played with her water glass as she nodded. “Some of them are nice to me.”
His breath caught in his chest… Henry decided they had played the game long enough for the time being. Alice… what is wrong with you? He reached across and took her small hand in his; “Footie, I don’t know exactly what is going on with …with Alice; but for now you are safe with me.”
Her eyes began to well up with tears as she moved to his side of the table and hugged him.
Henry held her close for a moment and made the promise. “It’s going to be okay.”
I’ll give you two weeks Alice… then I file a report.
The Holcomb house was quiet in the early morning hours. Jeep sat watching the dawn as it crept its way up along the eastern horizon. The sky transforming before him; what mere minutes ago was total blackness now took on purple and blue hews. Clouds that had sat unnoticed in the darkness of the night sky, now lay scattered about; glimmering swatches of grey and silver. He caught himself holding his breath as he waited for the first arc of the blazing orb to show itself. Pink and Orange now outlined the ridge line of the Sierra and then there it was; that golden arc, chasing away the mystery of the night. He drank from his cup, the coffee now cool; but he didn’t care. As the shadows began to disappear with the light of day he relaxed and the rocking chair began to creak with the movement of his body.
“Morning Pops.” Matt stepped through the doorway and joined Jeep on the porch. He stopped on the steps as he looked out to the hillside where the cattle were milling about. “You want me to put them out to pasture now that Stu’s shot the lion?”
Jeep shook his head, “No, give it a few more days.”
Matt frowned as he looked over his shoulder at Jeep. “Henry said he was pretty sure that was the lion.”
Jeep nodded. “I know. There’s no hurry, we have plenty of feed.”
Matt stood watching him silently; an apparent turmoil going on inside his head. He shrugged as though he had come to a decision not to argue and moved across the yard toward the barn where the hay was stacked. “I’ll load the truck.”
Jeep watched his grandson. The boy had Jeeps lanky build. Matt had Graces’ light coffee complexion and good looks, and his father’s humor and good sense. He smiled briefly at the memory of Matt’s father. He’s a great kid; you’d be so proud of your boy. He choked back the emotion the memory of his son brought; a sore lump lodged itself in the back of his throat. Swallowing hard, he spat and stood. “No time for wool gathering, there’s work to be done.” He headed toward the barn to help Matt with the loading of the truck.
Martin’s body convulsed, his eyes rolling to where only the whites were visible. A foamy white drool seeped from the corners of his mouth and down the white bristles of his chin. His head lulled against his chest as the spasm receded. The sound of his labored breathing reverberated off the cavern walls.
His body grew still as a state of quiet took him. Slowly he drifted in and out of consciousness until he became aware of his surroundings. It took several attempts of blinking before his vision finally cleared. He pulled at his shirt, it was soaked from perspiration.
Glancing at his watch he was surprised to see a day and night had passed since he had entered the cavern. Where once a fire had burned brightly illuminating the interior of the cave, now only cold ashes remained. His bed roll and bottles of water lay alongside him, untouched. He tried to reach the stack of kindling he had set in when he first arrived and found his legs unresponsive. The attempt resulted in a surge of burning pain to his limbs.Scooting on his butt along the dirt floor, he found a spot along the interior wall where he could lean and feel less vulnerable. He sat massaging his extremities, encouraging blood flow.
He sat fighting back the panic that was churning in his gut. He focused upon drawing in deep breaths and letting them out slowly. He needed to remain calm and to get out of there. He had been visited by spirits while in his trance. Manifestations had flashed before him, through him; apparitions of souls waiting for release. They had warned of ‘The One’ who entered the realm of Shadows.
A mournful sigh filled the cavern as a wind began to blow through the opening. His skin prickled at the sound. He began to rub faster, urging circulation to return to his legs.
From his peripheral vision he caught a movement. He froze, his eyes scanning the back of the cavern. A faint shadow suddenly appeared and began moving slowly along the wall toward where he was sitting. Martin could find nothing in the cavern to produce the apparition. As the shadow grew closer its intensity fluctuated. The sighing of the wind carried with it a whispered a warning, “Leave here…”
Instinct took over Martin’s body; he had moved several feet toward the opening without realizing it.
The shadow drifted overhead, lingering close to Martin. It was as though a thousand voices had joined in chorus, “RUN”.
He needed no more motivation, he ran.