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Robledo Mountain

Robledo Mountain

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Robledo Mountain

évaluations:
4/5 (1 évaluation)
Longueur:
735 pages
8 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Jun 6, 2018
ISBN:
9780463907092
Format:
Livre

Description

Paul McAllister, an aging military retiree, wants nothing more at this point in his life than to put the wars, cancer, and death of his wife behind him as he numbly glides into his final years doing the only thing he still enjoys – selling weapons and his services as a gunsmith on the gun show circuit of the American southwest.

Driving down the road in the Mesilla Valley of southern New Mexico, sandwiched in the few hundred yards between the Robledo Mountains to the West and the Rio Grande to the East, Paul loses consciousness while returning home from a gun show. An hour later, he regains consciousness finding himself swept away on the tides of time. Is he really in the past? Is he dreaming? Is he in the midst of a psychotic episode? So begins his journey of discovery. In the process, he fights Apache, Comanche, and Navajo warriors, discovers his roots, mines gold, finds love and friendship, and makes powerful enemies, all while establishing a home in the Mesilla Valley on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Éditeur:
Sortie:
Jun 6, 2018
ISBN:
9780463907092
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

P.C. ALLEN is a military veteran, retired businessman, recovering cancer survivor, and avid history buff. He is addicted to reading, good coffee, and diet coke. The latter two all the better to support the first. A father and grandfather, he can usually be found with his wife reading, writing, visiting the kids, exploring the east coast of the United States, or planning their next trip to their querencia, the Mesilla Valley.

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Robledo Mountain - P.C. Allen

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Although writing a book is a solitary pursuit, at least in my case, it requires the support and understanding of a large number of people, most especially family and friends. There are also those who, through their quiet encouragement, provided the impetus to get started in the first place. As an independent publisher of my own work, there is a long list of people whose help and assistance were invaluable in making this book possible. I can’t name you all, but please know you have my sincerest respect and thanks.

I would like to specifically acknowledge a few of those whose support and understanding contributed most to this effort.

My family, especially my wife, who put up with late nights, lack of concentration when I was having discussions with my characters, and my choice of music to write by. She, and they, deserve much more than just my thanks but here it is anyway.

A very big, very delayed, heartfelt thanks to my high school English teacher, Pat Crawley, who taught me, and many others, the joys and pitfalls of creative writing while nurturing our dreams and encouraging us to reach outside our comfort zone. Thank you, Pat, wherever you are!

When I finished the first draft of this book, I reached out to Robert Green, Joyce Ward Kelly, and Robert Leger, close friends all, asking them to review it and provide comments. Their willingness to be my First Readers, give of their valuable time reviewing each new draft, argue with me over story elements, large and small, and provide alternative points of view, was truly amazing. In particular, Robert Green, who spent endless hours giving me food for thought on character development, sub-plots, and one-liners. My deepest heartfelt thanks to all of them for sticking with me through the final version.

I owe a tremendous debt to my editors, ‘TeNderLoin’ and ‘TheRev’. Both of whom managed to wade through the gibberish masquerading as prose, discover disappearing words, and reign in the loose and forgotten plot lines. The book you are reading now is largely a result of their selfless efforts. Any issues you may have with this book remain my sole responsibility as the decisions on what to include, what to change, and what to ignore, were mine.

The cover of any book is just as important as the story. My sincerest thanks to Wayne Suggs of Wayne Suggs Photography, a very talented and award-winning photographer, who graciously allowed me to use one of his photographs as the background of this book’s cover. I encourage you to visit waynesuggsphotography to see more of his incredible work.

Finally, a special thanks to Tatiana Fernandez at Vila Design for the cover design. Working from nothing more than a concept and a background photograph her imagination and talent were truly impressive. You can see more of her work at viladesign.

Table of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Epilogue

A Few Words from the Author

PROLOGUE

...Great billowy clouds of smoke at once drifted skyward. Into this cloud, Creator disappeared. The other gods followed him in other clouds of smoke...Girl-Without-Parents departed westward to live on the far horizon.

~ Excerpt from Apache Creation Story ~

As was her custom, the slim dark-haired beauty sat on a small stool at a beautiful hand-carved vanity, brushing her long luxurious hair. She'd long ago forgotten where the vanity came from, or even why she brushed her hair. It was simply something she did before bed, or whenever she had to think deeply about a situation or problem.

Being one of a handful to whom great responsibility and power had been given, she liked to think that during her many years on the job she’d proven over and over again that neither had been misplaced.

At the moment, it was both a situation and a problem that had her sitting here using the brush, while deep in thought. So deep in thought, she was oblivious to the number of strokes she had already completed. Staring blankly into the mirror, periodically switching the brush strokes from one side of her head to the other almost automatically, she struggled with the decision she knew she had to make.

Living at the edge of civilization, she was very far from others. Her job, while exciting at times, could generally be described as monotonous and boring: monitoring the world situation; and when called for, using the power she’d been given to manage any man-made crisis before it became a catastrophic event. Rarely did she initiate direct action to eliminate a crisis. She was mostly forbidden from that course of action, anyway. No, her tools were indirect action, misdirection, and influence.

Worldwide crisis management was not only a full-time job but a lonely job as well. She missed the hustle and bustle of civilization, the daily contact with others, and the insights that often resulted from that contact.

So periodically, when things looked to be especially calm for a while, she left her monitoring station to rub elbows with those she protected and defended so rigorously. Her last trip had been during such a time. She’d enjoyed her sojourn so much, that she’d extended it more than once, just for the sheer enjoyment she was having.

Yet still, she remained conscious of her job, even though away from her station. She clearly saw the inflection point of a crisis fast approaching. The signs were all there. A crackpot dictator in the orient. Large groups of radicalized believers of all faiths terrorizing the world, seemingly at will. The rising tide of nationalism. Overreaction of governments, strong and weak alike, to both the crackpot and the terrorists.

True, some of what she saw took care of itself. Crackpot dictators came and went with some regularity, and most were of no real concern to the world. Most religion-based terror groups burned themselves out sooner rather than later. The ability of governments to overreact ebbed and flowed depending on the mood of the nation’s themselves.

She'd almost waited too long to return. With a herculean effort, she once again averted a major man-made catastrophe at the last minute and had everything back on track. She hadn't completely resolved every part of the potential crisis; but then again, that wasn't her job. Her job was to balance the forces and stabilize the world situation.

However, as she looked back on what had happened, she realized two things. First, something unexplained had occurred while she was gone that she had, as yet, been unable to pinpoint. The more she researched, the more she became convinced that someone somewhere was playing with the social fabric worldwide and had been for many years. They weren’t just toying with it either. They were playing it very subtly and with great skill, manipulating the world for their own ends. Exactly how and why she couldn’t say but everything in her, told her it was being done.

Again, she threw herself into learning about these strange events, trying to determine a pattern, to find an operating location, or identify the person or group responsible. After some time, the best she could do, was to identify a general location and time, from which all the events seemed to be radiating. The locus appeared to be somewhere in the state of New Mexico, in the United States. A place she knew extremely well, for her last trip had begun and ended there.

This was the situation she had to address. What to do about her discovery. How could she determine what was being done, how it was being done, and who was behind it? She needed a plan and she came up with many, only one of which was workable.

The second thing she realized was that the one plan with the highest probability of success was also the one plan she most detested. The very thought of that one plan was horrific to her.

That one plan was indeed her problem. She’d examined the plan over and over again, looking for flaws. Looking for something she could change to improve the odds. She played with every variable, added new variables, deleted variables, ran the numbers and simulations time and time again. The results were the same, no matter what she did. The original plan with the original participants remained the best option available.

Yes, the situation and the problem were intertwined to an unacceptable level. Her plan relied on the only man she’d ever met who had the right combination of intelligence, morals, ethical constraint, and common sense, required to have even the barest chance of success.

With a deep sigh, she put down the brush and stood up from the vanity. Her decision, no matter how distasteful, was made. All she could do now was hope that her abilities combined with those of the participants she’d chosen, were sufficient to carry out the plan successfully.

Turning from the vanity, the woman known to the Apache as Girl-Without-Parents, walked down the hall towards the horizon, to put her plan in motion.

CHAPTER 1

The nagging, blaring, awful noise slowly penetrated the dark void. Eventually, it woke me up. 'Woke me up' is probably too strong a phrase. It was more like swimming through a thick soup of unconsciousness, towards something that vaguely resembled awareness. I'd experienced this feeling before when I'd awakened in a hospital recovery room from a general anesthetic.

How long I floated in that dream-like state of hazy semi-awareness I can't say. I do remember that as I was peeking out from the haziness, there was a foreboding general sense of vague unexplainable uneasiness. I also felt the rumbling, gurgling, boiling in my head. Somehow, I knew that meant a major, almost paralyzing headache in my near future. None of what I was feeling was helped by that damned noise!

After some unreasonable amount of time, I finally gained enough awareness to figure out that I was in my RV, and not in a hospital. With the passage of more time, I finally realized the awful noise was the sound of my RV's horn. Then came the realization that the horn was blaring, because my forehead was resting on the center of the steering wheel; which was immediately followed by the blossoming of the predicted headache, into mind-numbing reality.

A few minutes later, I successfully struggled through the debilitating pain of the headache and managed to raise my head from the steering wheel. In the blessed quiet, I forced my body back into the seat, with my head against the headrest. My eyes still closed, I waited for the rest of the fog to lift from my thoughts, and for the headache to subside.

My first real thought was about the dream I'd been having of my wife Laura, our youngest son Mike, and me.

We’d been riding our horses on a bright spring morning along the Rio Grande at the base of the Robledo Mountains. The air had been crisp, without being cold, seemingly enhancing the smell of creosote and mesquite of the high desert. The feel of the horses moving underneath us as we dashed in and out of the dry riverbed, only added to the exhilaration we all felt. Despite how vivid it all seemed, it had to have been a dream. The last ride all three of us had taken together was in early 2008, almost eight years ago, just before Laura had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

That was closely followed by a new thought. The last thing I remembered was driving south on Highway 185 on my way home from Albuquerque. But why had I been in Albuquerque?

A few moments later I remembered the answer. I had been in Albuquerque for a weekend gun show. Instead of coming home immediately after the show as I normally did, I’d stayed overnight so I could pick up weapons, ammunition, and clothing, from the warehouse at Kirtland Air Force Base. Six months ago, four of my long-time friends had convinced me to join them in a joint bid for a large lot in a government auction. Surprisingly, we had won. I was due in Phoenix in three days to split everything up amongst the five of us, before continuing my normal gun show circuit.

As the fog in my brain completely lifted and the headache subsided to a dull throb, I began to remember details from the last twelve hours. I'd spent the morning cleaning up the paperwork from my weekend sales, had a quick lunch, and had driven over to Kirtland Air Force Base. There I spent the afternoon and early evening loading up my custom twenty-five-foot trailer, and most of the RV, with the surplus we'd bid on. By the time I was done loading and rearranging everything to my satisfaction, it was late evening. With the late start, I knew that the three-hour trip home would see me pulling into my once home - now my daughter's and her family's home - near midnight.

I was ten miles from home on Highway 185 when a strange ground fog began welling up from out of nowhere. Seemingly within seconds, it had covered all the ground in sight including the road. Slowing the RV to a crawl, I began pulling over to the dirt shoulder by feel alone. By the time I'd moved well off the road, the fog had thickened even more and risen up to where I'd even lost sight of the night sky. The very last thing I remembered before blacking out, was a feeling of profound relief as I reached to shift the transmission into Park.

Without moving my head, I gave a sideways look out of the corner of my eye. Yes, I had successfully put the transmission in Park before I'd blacked out. A quick glance at the dashboard clock told me that whatever this was, it had started just over an hour ago.

So, what the hell happened? Why had I blacked out? I’d been at a complete stop, so it wasn’t possible that I’d hit something. Had something hit me after I stopped? As I was thinking those thoughts, I was also checking myself out just in case. All my toes moved, my knees bent, there was no pain or problem with my back or neck, my fingers all worked, my arms moved, and although my head hurt, there were no bumps, scrapes, or bruises on my head.

A glance out the windshield just added to the puzzle. The glare from the headlights bouncing back distorted the view so much I couldn’t say with certainty, but my general impression was the RV was just a few inches away from a rock wall. I knew for a fact that there weren’t any rock walls anywhere near the road on this stretch of Highway 185.

Swiveling the seat, I struggled to my feet and opened the door. I was met with extremely cold air as I climbed down from the RV onto sand and gravel. Another puzzle. It was the middle of August, but it felt like late winter. While I could hear the whistle of a strong wind blowing somewhere nearby, I was standing in an eerily cold calm. Despite the unexpected cold, and while being dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, I felt fine. In fact, other than the headache, my sixty-six-year-old body felt better than it had in a very long time.

Moving around to the front of the RV, I found no damage to the front of it, but the bumper was about an inch away from a wall of rock. At the back of the trailer attached to the RV, I discovered it was about fifteen feet from another rock wall. Another puzzle.

As I turned to walk back towards the front of the RV, I noticed an area slightly lighter in shade than the surrounding blackness. A couple of seconds later I was standing in the opening to the cave into which my RV somehow had been inserted. Shivering slightly in the cold, I walked out the opening and into the wind, which wasn’t as strong as I’d feared it would be.

Outside the cave, I was met by one of my favorite smells, the smell of the high mountain desert in late evening. The familiar scent of mesquite, creosote, and open water were tinged with the scent of something I didn't immediately recognize. There had never been a lot of sagebrush in this part of New Mexico, so it took me a moment to place it. The smell of sagebrush was much more powerful than I could ever remember, competing on an almost equal footing with the creosote, mesquite, and water.

The quarter moon gave enough light to see the Rio Grande, a little over five hundred yards away. As I took a quick look around, I realized that something with the view was off. Actually, three things were off. First, I was west of the river, at least thirty feet higher than the opposite bank, and there was no sign of the levees I knew should be there. Second, I didn't see any lights from Dona Ana. It wasn’t just that I didn't see any lights; I didn't even see the reflected glow of lights I expected to see this close to Las Cruces, and up Highway 70 towards San Augustin Pass. Third, there was no road. Nor was there any reflected gleam of asphalt or concrete – anywhere!

How long I stood there shivering in the dark, trying to puzzle everything out I don't know; but eventually, the cold became too much, and I turned back to the cave and warmth of the RV. Before entering the cave, I paused to look at the opening. While there are a few caves in the Robledo Mountains, including Geronimo's Cave, none of them, that I knew of, had an opening shaped like the one I was looking at. While the opening was large enough for two men to walk through side by side, there was no way it was wide enough, or tall enough, for the RV and trailer to fit through it. Absently, I added one more piece to the puzzle and pulled out my cell phone to call my daughter. I knew she'd be waiting up for me, and I wanted to allay her fears when I didn't make it home on time. I dialed the number, only to discover I had no cell service. It'd been years since I couldn't get cell service anywhere on Highway 185. Shaking my head in disgust I added another stray piece to the unsolved puzzle and entered the cave.

Just inside the cave, I made one more discovery. The RV and trailer were sitting perfectly parallel with the opening but offset by ten yards. Even if the RV could fit through the opening there was simply no way for the RV and trailer to be in their current positions. There just wasn't enough maneuvering room to come in through the entrance, turn the RV and trailer to the right and ten yards later turn it to the left and straighten out completely. My RV was stuck in this cave, like a ship in a bottle.

Standing there, I thought to myself, 'Paul McAllister, what have you gotten yourself into this time?'

A moment later, still shivering, I shook off the thought and turned to unhitch the trailer. As I was working on leveling the RV and expanding the slide outs, I absently noticed that my clothes felt loose and baggy. The cargo shorts I could almost understand, as I was wearing a Beretta 9mm on my belt and that always caused a drag at the hips, but my shirt felt baggy too. I couldn't help but smile at the thought that the combination of diet and exercise I'd been doing was finally starting to pay off.

Entering the RV, I reached over the seat and turned off the RV headlights and engine, before moving to the living area and grabbing a Diet Coke out of the fridge. I sat down on the couch to think for a few minutes. There wasn't much I could do at this point, as it was after midnight. I had no clue where I was other than I was somewhere near the Robledo Mountains and the Rio Grande, north of Las Cruces.

After a few more minutes of thought, I realized that like the rest of the current situation, there wasn’t much I could do about it tonight. Finishing my soda, I walked to the bedroom, shucked my shirt and shorts, and tumbled into bed. My last conscious thought before sleep claimed me, was that tomorrow would just have to sort itself out.

* * * * *

My dreams that night were all of the past.

I dreamed of my mom giving me piano and guitar lessons in our El Paso apartment on lazy afternoons, and later in our house on the Mescalero Reservation. I dreamed of school on the reservation, where my dad taught first grade and my mom taught music and art to all five grades in the reservation's elementary school.

I dreamed of my two closest friends: John Garcia and Hector Delgado. From the time my family moved to the reservation until I graduated from high school, we were the Three Amigos (some called us the Three Stooges but I’m sure that was just jealousy).

I dreamed of the morning Mr. Garcia told me my parents had died the night before in a car accident, and my eight-year-old world came crashing down around me. I dreamed of the relief I felt when Mr. Garcia and Mr. Delgado told me that the Garcias were my guardians, and I would be living with them from now on.

I dreamed of late spring, summer, and early fall days, with John and Hector riding our horses exploring the lands of the reservation and adjoining Lincoln National Forest. I dreamed of attending my first Aikido martial arts class. I dreamed of Mrs. Garcia teaching us to dance (unsuccessfully in my case), my first date, my first kiss, and our high school graduation.

I dreamed of the day we received our black belts, of goodbyes to John and Hector as they went off to college. I dreamed of my eighteenth birthday when I learned Mr. Dominguez had started a Trust for me ten years earlier with the money from my parents' insurance and civil court settlement.

I dreamed of my Air Force career, security police technical school, the first day at each new assignment, the first day of learning Krav Maga as part of SWAT training. I dreamed of volunteering to be a weapons smith, of attending factory schools for Smith & Wesson, Colt, Remington, and Beretta weapons. I dreamed of being the new guy at each base, and always getting tagged to fill joint training quotas before being assigned actual duties. I dreamed of completing the EMT course, jump school, ranger school, and sniper school.

I dreamed of meeting my wife Laura at the base hospital during my EMT recertification course, of our dates, meeting her parents in Las Cruces, and getting married. I dreamed of our honeymoon, the birth of our two sons and our daughter, of teaching them piano and guitar, and to ride horses. I dreamed of my graduation from Duke University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Civil Engineering.

I dreamed of the hot dreary days in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and of becoming a monster.

I dreamed of my retirement from the Air Force after twenty-three years. I dreamed of our move to Las Cruces, buying a house with a few acres of land, opening the Frontier Shooting Academy, all three kid’s excitement when we brought horses home. I dreamed of taking the entire family out on horseback to explore the banks of the Rio Grande, the Robledo Mountains, the Doña Ana Mountains, the Organ Mountains, and later taking my youngest son's Boy Scout troop out on the same horseback excursions.

I dreamed of watching our three kids graduate high school, graduate college, meet the loves of their lives, get married, and start having kids of their own.

I dreamed of learning that my wife had a very aggressive strain of pancreatic cancer, watching her die, and burying both her body and our dreams. I dreamed of selling the shooting academy and living with the depression from her loss, of being told I had prostate cancer, of two years spent fighting the cancer with radiation and hormones.

I dreamed of struggling with the lack of energy, and the first day of Tai Chi to start getting back into shape. I dreamed of starting Aikido and Krav Maga classes again, of new workouts designed to fight the hormonal weight gain and rebuild my depleted stamina. I dreamed of starting a mobile business specializing in firearms, knives, and on-site gunsmith work, as well as clothing and gear aimed at the prepper market. I dreamed of the three years spent traveling to gun shows throughout New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado.

CHAPTER 2

Early the next morning I awoke and stretched out on the queen size bed, luxuriating in the feel of crisp cool cotton sheets and thinking about how good I felt. All those minor joint aches and pains I’d learned to live with over the years simply weren’t there. And those dreams! I rarely remembered my dreams after waking, but somehow, I knew that I remembered every one of last night’s dreams. The dreams of my past, both good and bad.

With a yawn and a final stretch, I got up and started my morning routine. I'd never been one to wake up fully in the morning until after exercises and a shower, so I was pretty much on autopilot during my morning Tai Chi. When I'd finished, I walked to the closet that passed for a bathroom in an RV.

I was sixty-six years old, but between my blonde hair and Welsh Cherokee heritage, I had never had to shave more than every other day, even when I was in the military. Most of the time I shaved every three or four days, depending on what my day held for me. As usual, I glanced in the mirror to see if this was a shave day. I grinned at my reflection. Definitely not a shave day.

The next thing I knew I was sitting on the toilet seat, hyperventilating, feeling faint, and dazed. The walls seemed to be closing in around me, as claustrophobia began to take hold. I looked around as full-blown panic set in, before bolting from the bathroom to the living room. Even the spacious living area was too small! I darted out the door, ran around the RV and trailer, stopping only when I was the middle of the cave.

What the Hell is going on! I shouted into the cave.

The quick dash and my shout helped get rid of a little adrenalin, which made me feel a little better but that’s all it did. There was no answering voice from the heavens telling me I was the anointed one. No camera crew came into the cave to tell me I’d been punked. My family and friends didn’t rush out of hiding yelling 'Happy Belated Birthday.'

The feeling of being closed in was relieved, though. I put my arms up, hands clasped behind my head, and tried to slow down my breathing, as I frantically tried to figure out what was going on. I knew I needed to lose some of the adrenalin that my body had dumped into my system before I would be capable of the rational thoughts necessary to figure this out. It would also help warm me up.

Thought became action, as I began moving through the Aikido katas I’d learned over fifty years ago, and had practiced almost every day since then. The movements were rushed and jerky, unworthy of a novice much less a black belt of my standing and experience. Regardless, the exercise was doing what I’d hoped. As the adrenalin began to leave my body the panic slowly receded with it, and my breathing began to even out. My mind was still racing but at least I could think now.

It was bad enough I had a missing chunk of time from last night, that I was in a cave that shouldn't exist, in an area along the Rio Grande that didn't exist, parked in an impossible manner; but this latest discovery was even more implausible. Before I'd looked in the mirror, I was willing to give my whole situation the benefit of the doubt. Now, I wasn't so sure. No! Whatever was going on was much more insidious than some cosmic joke, being punked, or a family surprise.

The face that had stared back at me from the mirror had been my face – but NOT my face. I mean it was my face, alright; but it was my smooth, teenaged, full head of sandy blonde hair face. Not my dry and wrinkled, sixty-six-year-old, almost bald face. That, and that alone, had started my panic and resulting mad dash out into the cave.

As I stood there, I realized I was cold in places that normally didn't get cold. Looking down, I saw I'd lost my underwear in the mad dash somewhere between the bathroom and the middle of the cave. That was understandable, as I'd gone from a thirty-eight-inch waist when I got dressed yesterday morning, to a twenty-eight-inch waist sometime after losing consciousness at the wheel last night. The bigger surprise was the obvious fact that the physical damage, done by radiation and hormone treatments for prostate cancer, was no longer an issue. The half-remembered, normal physiological responses of a healthy young male body flooded with testosterone were in full evidence, although the cold was doing its best to dampen that normal morning response.

That got me to looking at the rest of my body, or at least what I could see of it. My stomach was flat, and I could see my ribs, as well as the six-pack of muscles I half-remembered from all the workouts I did. My waist was trim, without a sign of the love handles that I'd gained after the hormone treatments had kicked in. My legs were well-muscled, and the major joints worked smoothly without a hint of pain. The scars on my hands, arms, and legs I'd gained from years of working with sharp tools and daily workouts, were gone. The scar on my thigh from an Iraqi bullet was gone. Two of a set of three scars, that I hadn't paid attention to in years, were still there.

I'd undergone a long growth spurt between my thirteenth and sixteenth birthdays, gaining over a foot in those three short years. As a result, that time in my life had been marked by extreme clumsiness and resulted in one major scar per year. When I was thirteen, I'd tripped over my own two feet while running down the sidewalk and smashed face-first into a stone wall, breaking my nose, leaving a scar across the bridge of my nose. At fourteen, I walked into the kitchen to get a soda out of the fridge and ended up playing pinball off the counters and appliances. I'd reached out to steady myself and upended a skillet of hot oil on the inside of my left forearm. When I was fifteen, I got a nasty slash on my calf from the fin of a slalom water ski, during a particularly nasty wipeout at Elephant Butte Lake.

The scars from the broken nose and the hot oil were still right where they were supposed to be. The water-skiing scar was not. If I was putting the pieces together correctly, that meant my body was as it had been when I was fifteen, making me about five feet eight inches tall, with another five inches of growth coming in the next year. If this was all true, it was no wonder that I’d felt so good when I woke up this morning.

Determinedly, I marched back into the RV, past the bathroom, and into the bedroom; where a full-length mirror hung on the back of the door. For the next ten minutes, I looked closely at my reflected body from every angle I could get. When I was done there was absolutely no doubt that it was a fifteen-year-old body. I was a fine specimen of a young male, with a trim and well-muscled body. My bright green eyes, looking almost hypnotic in the incandescent light, looked out from a young face. A face that was unmarred, except for the small scar high on the bridge of my nose and capped with a full head of sandy blonde hair. Sitting down on the bed, I thought furiously. I mentally examined everything I knew or thought I knew, right up to the present. I came up with three options.

Option 1: I was a sane sixty-six-year-old man whose body had regressed to the age of fifteen. Leaving aside the twin issues of how and why, for now; this was an acceptable option for my psyche but was also the least likely.

Option 2: I was dreaming or the equivalent of dreaming, which meant I was in a coma or dead and this was the Land of Ever Summer. This was the easiest of the three options to believe, and the easiest on my psyche.

Option 3: I was full out bat shit crazy and in the midst of a psychotic episode. This was the most likely explanation, but also the hardest on my psyche.

As I examined each option, I realized that with the information I had at the moment there was no way to determine which one I was actually experiencing. I thought I was awake, but try as I might, I couldn’t figure out a way to prove it. I’d never been dead or in a coma before, nor had I ever been mentally incapacitated, so I had no clue how to prove whether I was or wasn’t. That left me with a thirty-three-and-a-third percent chance that I was alive and well but regressed in age; or I was dying but perhaps already dead; or that I was bat shit crazy. I needed more information. The sooner I got it, the sooner I could figure out what was going on, and the better off I’d be.

Seeing my reflection in the mirror reminded me that I was still naked. So, first thing first. I needed a shower and clean clothes. Taking a step towards the dresser to dig out clean clothes, I realized that was a losing proposition. All of my clothes were just too big. I was now fifty pounds lighter and five inches shorter. I had plenty of clothes, in other sizes, out in the trailer, thanks to the surplus deal we’d won, although it was all desert or woodland camouflage, with the underwear in either desert tan or woodland green. With a shrug, I went out to see what I could find in the trailer.

I'd spent a lot of money building this custom trailer. The outside looked like typically smooth, polished sheets of aluminum on a standard trailer frame. It was, in fact, aluminum sheeting, but it covered quarter-inch steel plate instead of a frame. There were no visible locks on either the back roll-up door or the single door on the drivers' side up near the hitch. The locks were electronic with a hidden magnetic override I could use if necessary. It was heavy, and it was secure.

At the back of the trailer, I pulled the electronic pad out on its sliding shelf, and entered the six-digit password, before pressing my thumb on the reader. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be able to read my younger fingerprints forcing me to use the magnetic override, but it read the thumbprint just fine and I heard the thump of the locks disengaging as usual. Rolling up the door, I climbed inside and realized this was going to take some time.

The trailer was literally packed, floor to ceiling, with cardboard boxes and wooden crates. After rummaging around for a while, I finally found the boxes of desert camouflage gear. A few more minutes and I'd winnowed it down to the boxes holding the medium sizes. Grabbing a shirt, pants, underwear, and jacket; I turned to go back to the RV when I remembered socks and boots. Another few minutes and I'd finally found the right size desert boots and socks and was on my way back inside.

Freshly showered and dressed, I felt like a million bucks as I looked into the full-length mirror, again. The square lines of my chin with its slight dimple were still prominent. My high cheekbones stood out like they had before the effects of time and added weight had hidden them. I couldn’t help but flash myself a youthful grin as I thought, It could be worse.

I added both the Colt Trooper Mark III revolver in its usual holster on my right thigh, as well as the 9mm M9 in its left-handed cross-draw holster at my waist. As I walked out of the bedroom, I discovered I was ravenously hungry. I quickly made myself a large breakfast of huevos rancheros, with orange juice and coffee to wash it down. I couldn’t believe how good everything tasted, or how fast it disappeared.

Walking towards the door to go outside, I paused at the computer on the table and turned it on. It booted up without a problem. I found that fact oddly reassuring for some reason. Even more reassuring was the date. August 17th, 2016.

Outside the cave, I checked the cell phone. Still no signal. Looking around, there was still no sign of roads or landmarks I was familiar with, other than the distant mountains and the river which still didn't look quite right in the early morning light. There was absolutely no sign of people anywhere, either.

Walking back inside the cave I decided to do a little exploring. Using my iPhone as a flashlight, I found that the cave floor was almost perfectly level rock covered with a fine layer of sand. The cave, while large, had an irregular shape. The entrance was roughly centered with the left side about ninety feet from front to back and the right about seventy-five feet with the widest width of about seventy yards. At the back of the cave, a short tunnel led to another smaller cavern roughly twenty-five feet wide and twenty feet deep. The steeply sloped tunnel appeared to be natural, with the floor of the small cavern about ten feet lower than the floor of the front cavern. Near the back of the small cavern, I found a swift-moving stream, three feet wide and four feet deep, flowing from the wall on the left side, before disappearing into a large irregular shaped hole just before the right wall. This little cavern was also much cooler than the front cavern.

I could see evidence of fires in both caverns, but none recently. There was absolutely no evidence of animals using the cave either. Also missing was the stale smell of frequent human use I had grown used to smelling in easily accessible caves like this one.

Back in the RV, I was sitting in my favorite chair with a fresh cup of coffee, as I mentally summed up my situation. My RV and trailer were impossibly parked in a cave, I had no memory of how they or I had gotten here, there were no signs of civilization, no roads as far as I could tell, no cell signal and my body had suddenly regressed from sixty-six to fifteen years old. I had food, water, and shelter and there were no signs of obvious danger.

Finishing my coffee, I decided it was time to go find out where I was, find both civilization and help to get my RV and trailer out of this cave - if that was even possible - and then start getting answers about what was happening to me. Once again, thought became action. A quick stop at the trailer to load up on necessary items, and I was ready to go.

Outside the cave once again and in the full light of day, I could see that my initial impressions were accurate. The river was roughly six hundred yards away and thirty feet lower than the fairly level plateau I was standing on. The plateau looked to be five hundred yards long and seventy-five yards wide, before falling sharply away along its length in a steep, almost cliff-like drop to a wide flood plain ending at the riverbank. The north end of the plateau sloped gently down to the flood plain, while the south end fell away in the same sharp drop as the length.

There were no levees on the riverbanks on either side of the river, and no irrigation ditches or flumes visible in either direction. There was also no evidence of roads or houses that I knew should be there. The very landscape looked different from what I was expecting! There was more grass, a lot more than I was used to seeing, and it was much greener than I expected for mid-August. It was also much colder than it should be in August, and I was glad for the light field jacket I’d put on.

Turning to look back at the cave I could see it was set in a cliff wall that ran up twenty feet before topping out on another plateau that appeared to be more than three times the width of the plateau I was standing on. Both ends of the upper plateau seemed to end in cliffs, dropping down the side of the mountain.

Looking back out over the desert, the mountains I could see a short distance away across the river looked like the Doña Ana Mountains. Off to the south, in the distance, were what looked like the Organ Mountains. Taking out the map and compass, I shot readings on the highest peaks of both the Doña Ana and Organ Mountains and marked the back-azimuth lines on the map.

Try as I might, the intersecting lines didn't fit the configuration of the river and plateau where I was standing. Carefully searching the map, I couldn’t find anything that looked close to where I was standing. My map skills might be rusty, but no one would ever convince me that I was that much out of practice!

I decided to head south along the river until I hit civilization. If it got dark before I found anyone, I would stop and make camp for the night. Tomorrow I’d come back here, resupply, and head north.

I walked north a short way and as I started down the slope, I felt the tug of gravity. With a whoop and a grin, I broke into a run feeling the energy running through my body as my legs churned. Man, I felt good! Reality, dream, or insanity; it made no difference at that moment! I continued the run as the slope leveled out on the desert floor, and I turned east towards the river.

As I ran, I couldn’t help but think about the summer days on the reservation with John and Hector doing just this for days on end. We’d run all over the reservation on foot and later, when we were older, on horses as well. Those had been the halcyon days of youth, energy, and complete lack of adult responsibilities. Damn, but I missed those boys.

Slowing to a walk a few feet from the river, I examined the bank on both sides. Here was as good a place to try to ford as anywhere else. The river at this point was about a hundred and fifty feet wide and didn't seem to be running fast, with gently sloped banks on both sides. There was always quicksand to worry about of course but I decided to take the chance and slowly entered the ice-cold water. Reaching the opposite bank, I let out the breath I hadn't even known I was holding and climbed out. With a grin, I thought to myself, 'So far, so good.'

Hitching the pack up a little further on my back, I turned south, breaking into the loping ground eating trot I remembered so well. A startled roadrunner took off from in front of me in a burst of speed. With an even bigger grin, I chased it a few yards, jumping over a couple of small sand hills and dodging around a mesquite tree before losing sight of the little speed demon. With a laugh, I turned back south and continued my trot for another hundred yards. Stopping, I turned west looking for the cave. I finally spotted the plateaus, directly across from me, but there was no sign of the cave. From this angle and through some trick of lighting, the plateaus actually merged so that it looked like a single continuous cliff rising from the river to the upper plateau.

Curious now, I headed south once again and stopped another hundred yards later. Over and over again I repeated the run and stop to look for the cave. At no time did I get even a glimpse of the cave or the lower plateau for that matter. If the view from the north was even close to the same, it was no wonder the cave was rarely used. You had to know it was there or you missed it. I finally realized that I was almost a half-mile south of the cave before I quit looking for it.

Continuing south, I marveled once again at all the life the desert held. Lizards, snakes, spiders, and ants were all around me. I seemed to startle a long-eared jackrabbit every few hundred yards as well as the occasional roadrunner. Birds were everywhere. These were mostly mockingbirds; but whippoorwills, hummingbirds, and swifts were also plentiful. At one point, a covey of doves scattered in every direction as I ran toward them.

The browns of the mesquite, creosote, yucca, century plants, desert willow, and ironwood, were offset by the greens of grama grass, prickly pear, barrel, and cholla cactus. There was also a lot more of the grey-green low growth sagebrush than I was used to seeing, much less smelling.

I saw everything that I was used to and more, but I didn’t see what I was specifically looking for: civilization, roads, and people.

Shortly after noon, I came across a small arroyo with a clump of ironwood trees growing along the bank providing a little shelter from the wind that had once again picked up. It couldn't have been more than fifty degrees Fahrenheit but all the running in a long sleeve shirt and jacket had soaked my t-shirt in sweat. Sliding down the bank to the bottom of the arroyo I decided this was as good a place for lunch as any. A thirty-minute rest after eating and it was back to walking south near the river.

Another three hours of walking, and I’d still found nothing. Stopping in the shade of a large mesquite tree to take a breather, I took a long sip of water from the camel pack. I was beginning to think that I should turn west and look for Doña Ana village instead of going to Las Cruces. It was closer for one thing and walking through the miles of pecan orchards would be preferable to walking in the desert. As I finished that thought I caught a glimpse of what looked like a dirt road, less than twenty yards to the east of where I was standing. All thoughts of Doña Ana village fled from my mind as I walked towards the road. When I reached it a few moments later, I discovered it was more of a trail than a maintained and graded dirt road. Stepping out into the middle of it, I saw it was almost as straight as an arrow, running slightly Northwest and Southeast. I’d been paralleling the damn thing since I crossed the river. That didn’t mean anything though since I hadn’t seen any dust plumes or heard vehicle engines of any kind.

Turning back to the Southeast, I was overjoyed to see a small dust cloud off in the distance. I was even happier after watching it for a minute because it looked like it was only a couple of miles away and was coming towards me. Finally, contact with civilization was just a few minutes away.

Moving over to another mesquite tree growing near the side of the road I waited out of the wind in a little more comfort. With a sigh, I sat down for a rest break and waited to see if anything came of the dust cloud.

I watched the dust cloud for another twenty minutes, the grin never leaving my face. Whatever was causing the dust cloud was most definitely coming towards me. It was traveling at a really slow pace, but it was definitely coming towards me.

Another twenty-five minutes and the vehicle causing the dust cloud was close enough to start making out some details. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I rubbed my eyes thinking they’d dried out and I was seeing a distorted image as a result. When that didn’t change what I saw I stood up to get a better view.

Coming down the trail a hundred yards away, were six of the strangest looking horses I'd ever seen, pulling an obviously heavy wagon. It looked to be a version of what we would have called a six in hand back on the reservation, where horse-drawn wagons were still used to haul wood down from the mountains for fireplaces every fall.

At fifty yards, I could tell the wagon wasn’t being pulled by horses but by mules.

At forty yards, the wagon was close enough that I could see the driver and make out some of the details. He was wearing a beat-up straw hat that looked, vaguely, like a smaller version of a sombrero. He was wearing clean but well-worn old clothes that reminded me of every supporting character in a Western movie or TV show I'd ever seen, growing up. Between the driver, the mules, the tack, and the wagon itself, I expected a Director to come running out of a hidden camera blind somewhere yelling 'Cut,' before chewing me out for messing up the take.

At thirty yards, I could clearly see the driver. To me, he looked like a down at the heels version of the most interesting man in the world from those cheesy Mexican beer TV ads.

At ten yards, I took a step towards the road and suddenly realized that I’d been standing still, wearing camouflage clothes, and the old geezer hadn’t seen me until I moved. I wasn’t too surprised when he reached down and pulled a rifle onto his lap with a startled look.

What didn't make sense was the fact that the rifle was an old muzzleloader. Okay, so it made about much sense as finding myself transported into a strange cave or meeting my fifteen-year-old self in the mirror; or expecting a Jeep and getting a six in hand mule team drawn wagon.

I was really beginning to wonder if I was dreaming. Was I in a self-directed spin-off of the Wizard of Oz? With all the strange things that had been happening to me perhaps Alice Through the Looking Glass was more appropriate. I manfully stifled the giggle that was bubbling up at the thought that at least it wasn’t Gulliver’s Travels. I didn’t think I could handle Lilliputians at this point.

From the drivers weathered and wrinkled face, it was hard to tell his age, but he looked to be in his late forties or early fifties. I was so confused at that moment that I couldn’t think of anything to say which turned out to be a good thing.

After staring at each other for a few seconds, he asked me a question in very rapid colloquial Spanish. Growing up on the reservation I learned to speak both Spanish and Apache as a matter of everyday life. The Spanish was reinforced at school as the second language of choice. Still, it took me a few seconds to figure out his question because, like everything else about this guy, his Spanish was seriously old.

He’d asked in the most formal and polite phrasing, Who are you?

Now, I had to admit, that was a damn good question, and one I’d been asking myself all day.

My mind went back to warp speed, as I tried to figure out how to respond. I needed information and yet, for some reason, I was very leery of giving away anything about myself just yet. Finally, I decided to see if I could get answers to some of my questions, without giving anything away. In other words, I decided to stretch the truth just a bit.

I hate lying. I always have. I’m not any good at it and the few times I tried as a boy, I always gave myself away. Back in my younger days, during the resistance portion of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Training, one of the instructors told us that resistance was all about effective lying; and the best lies, the most easily believable lies, were built on a strong foundation of truth.

I gave him a small smile and answered him using the most formal and respectful Spanish I knew.

Sir, it was kind of you to stop. Thank you. My name is Paul McAllister. Please forgive me if I startled you. I had an incident a few miles back and I’ve been out of sorts ever since. All of what I said was very true.

Some of the tension left his body, and he relaxed his grip on the rifle although he still had a neutral expression on his face. Are you all right, young man? Are you injured?

Again, those were both really good questions. They were, in fact, two of the questions I was trying to answer myself.

I haven’t discovered any serious injuries, Sir, but I must admit that I was unconscious for a while. I’m not quite sure where I am, and I’ve lost track of time. I’ve been tracking along the river most of the day in hopes of picking up a trail and getting things back together. Still nothing but the truth.

He gave me an evaluating look for a few moments before saying, I'm Jose Mendoza. I'm running a wagon of freight up to my son in law about forty miles north. I haven't seen any loose horses since I left Las Cruces two hours ago if that helps.

Okay, not good. As a matter of fact, I was stunned again. Las Cruces is still a little over two hours away on foot, call it eight miles at most, and I still hadn't seen any signs of civilization. As I was thinking about these things, I realized he was waiting for a reply.

Thank you kindly, Sir, that helps a lot. I guess I need to backtrack to the river and see if I can pick the tracks back up again.

Gesturing to his wagon he said, You're welcome to ride in the wagon with me if you'd like.

Thank you very much, Don Jose. That is a very kind offer, but I think I need to head back to the river until I can pick up the tracks again, I replied.

Mr. Mendoza gave me that appraising look once more before shrugging his shoulders. Well, good luck young man. Those clothes you're wearing sure make you hard to see but Victorio and Santana are both out raiding again, so be watchful.

I felt my brain begin to freeze in confusion. Instinctively, I knew those two names weren’t the names of singers or bands. They were two of the biggest names on the reservation. Oh, yes, they were legends. Legends of the wild west, of New Mexico Territory, legends of the mid-1800s.

I replied in as calm a voice as I could manage. Thank you, Don Jose. I will do as you advise. If I may ask one more favor of you, can you tell me what day it is?

Again, with that appraising look. It is Tuesday, the 5th of March.

March? What the Hell? Mentally bracing myself for the answer I asked my final question.

And the year please, Don Jose?

No appraising look this time but there was a trace of concern. Why, it is the year of our lord 1850.

In an instant, I went from brain freeze to panic. I found myself fighting to keep my breathing as smooth and regular as possible, to keep from giving away my surprise. I needed to take my leave of Don Jose as quickly as possible.

Thank you, Sir. You have been most kind. I’ve taken up too much of your time, already. I will take my leave and return to my search. Safe travels to you, Sir.

Good luck finding your horse, young man. Vaya con Dios. With that, he snapped the reins and the wagon started rolling on to the north again.

I waited until the wagon had passed me, and then turned, walking west towards the river. I took one last glance at the wagon in the distance before dropping down next to a creosote bush and feeling the now all too familiar light-headed feeling. After a few minutes of hugging my knees, I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and took out my driver's license. Yep, issued in 2014. I put it away taking out my retired ID card. Yep, retired from the Air Force in 1993. Putting my wallet away I pulled out my phone. Yep, still no signal and the date still read 17 August 2016. I rolled up my sleeve and pinched my arm as hard as I could. Yep, not dreaming!

Okay, if Mr. Jose Mendoza wasn't as batty as I was feeling; then, as Dorothy would say, I most definitely was not in Kansas anymore. Hell, some would question if I was even in the United States.

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