Okay, before I get down to business, let me get down to business. The above picture belongs to Maurizio Fecchio and is available for purchase here. I claim no ownership of this image and have no plans to profit from posting it…period. Wherever possible, I give credit where credit is due. I will go out of my way to do so; I make it a habit. The only reason I’m reinforcing this is that I’m currently looking for a way (other than AdSense) to monetize my blog and I don’t want to be mired in any red tape while I’m trying to pay rent.
The above is the inspiration for another writing prompt provided by +MJ Bush in her “Tell Me A Story” series. Yes, it is a few weeks later, but I’ve been letting them accrue and saving them for my Wednesday story just in case I’m drawing a blank on Tuesday. Let’s see what I can do with this one…
Three days ago, they sat face to face in a diner on the outskirts of Flagstaff discussing the terms of their arrangement. William would point John in the direction of the treasure. John would sell it to a very interested and extremely wealthy party from China, William would get paid handsomely for his Sherpa services. They would go their separate ways.
Two days ago, they got lost five times, ran out of gas twice, and proceeded to argue at length over who took the last piece of beef jerky. At around 2 in the afternoon, after the sun was highest in the sky, they pulled off to the side of the road, abandoned the car, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way through the desert. Young William headed north. William reassured John that if they head in the direction of those hills, they will find the treasure they seek. William said he knows because his grandfather told him the story of the Golden Mountain many times, just as his grandfather told him. John trusted William. William is a child of the Navajo Nation.Yesterday, they had to double back because William wasn’t entirely sure if his grandfather said north or south because the last time he actually paid attention to the story, he still had his baby teeth. John didn’t trust William so much anymore. Food and water running out. Patience will soon follow.
Six hours ago, remnants of the Santa Ana winds blew in, bringing with it what ever fog was left that San Diego couldn’t take. It was just enough to veil the setting sun. It was just enough to bring a chill to the air.
Five hours ago, John loosed a string of profanities that bounced off distant canyon walls because of all the things that he needed to pack, a sleeping bag would have been helpful. He would have, but it was too heavy and he couldn’t get passed the thought of snakes or scorpions or worse finding their way inside an enclosed area next to him. Nope. We shouldn’t be long anyway. His exact words coming back to haunt him as he put on an extra layer of clothes.
Thirty Minutes ago, William awoke well before sunrise, walked several yards away as to not awake a grumpy, slumbering John, and knelt towards the east. He pulled out a tiny rawhide rattle from his pocket, and softly chanted a song of his people.
It was a song that was passed down to him. The only one he could remember, in any case.
He never asked the meaning or bothered to learn the etymology of the verses, but it was a song that was performed in time of need. Such as seeking rain in times of great drought, the health of a loved one…
…or directions when you’ve lost your way.
“What the hell, William?!”
Five minutes ago, John woke up.
“Give me a second, would ya?” asked William without looking over his shoulder. “I’m in the middle of something.” He softly continued his chant as the first glimmer of sunrise tired its best to force its way through the fog.
John was never a brusque man, at least, not in nature. In a previous life, John lived a life of privilege. The only child of extremely rich parents, John could have had his future planned, bought and paid for. But, he never liked that life. He dropped out halfway through his second year of college knowing that there was another way to retire comfortably. Twenty years, four continents, several broken bones, and even more broken hearts later, he has never looked back.
William is indeed of Navajo heritage. At least, that’s what he found out after doing a Google search on himself. His mother is Anglo, his father owns a consulting company, and to this day, he has yet to visit a Reservation fearing that the indigenous peoples might be repelled by the stink of the suburbs that follows him.
This morning’s sky was yet another battle in a war that the fog and sun have been waging for a millennia. This morning, it felt that the fog was winning. John could no longer help himself, enough time has passed. “You know William, I’ve been thinking,” said John. “When you answered my ad last week, I was convinced, almost completely convinced that you knew this area like the back of your hand.”
“Oh, you think I don’t?” asked William, already on the defensive.
“You got us lost several times and north and south confuse you for some reason.”
William was steadfast. This was no longer a petty argument over beef jerky, this is the first volley on an assault on his character. William would always be ready for this, except that he’s not in his room in front of his computer, and there’s no wi-fi access out here. “Uhhh…,” responded William, “it happens to everyone?”
“No,” said John. “No, it doesn’t. It only ‘happens’ to snot-nosed, film school rejects who go into the woods with cheap VHS cameras looking for witches. It does not happen to very real, flesh and blood, not-fake Native Americans such as yourself.”
“Oh yeah,” said William with a dry smile.”I hated that movie too.”
“Now, I can understand a little hiccup here and there along the way, maybe take a few minutes to get your bearings, but most of the day?”
“It’s not my fault!” retorted William. “Look, if you wanted to get there quick, maybe you should’ve gotten a GPS or something. But no! You had to wear your ‘white man’s guilt’ on your sleeve and use a Native to guide you to a treasure that may or may not be there.”
“Aw for cryin’…” John cast his eyes to the foggy daybreak. “I told you, there is no treasure map with an ‘X’ on it. There is nothing concrete, no artifacts. All I have is legend and hearsay and some kid who claims that he knows where he’s going, who claims to know about the legend, and yet doesn’t know which way is up without consulting a smart phone, so spare me that ‘white man’s burden’ crap.”
“Oh, whatever, Quimosabe! If you want accuracy in a timely manner while trying to satisfy your Native American fetish, maybe you should have tried one of the old dudes. Maybe they would have pointed you in the right direction while telling you a story of how they bagged a dinosaur or something.” William turned back around and continued chanting quietly.
John gathered himself. “William, what are you doing here?””Helping you, apparently.”
“No, I mean what are you doing here? You are a bright kid. You could have had your pick of any school in America. Any job in the world. Why are you out here in the middle of nowhere on some wild goose chase?”
“I could ask you the same thing, John. You had everything set up for you…yes, I checked…you could have skated right along easy street. Why are you roughing it for no other reason than to satisfy some boyhood fantasy?”
“That’s easy, William. Money. Plain and simple.” John paused. The sun was climbing higher, but the fog was still thick. “I go where the money is, and sometimes that brings me to the ends of the Earth.”
“Yeah,” said William breaking his chant. “Sounds like another white guy trying to take what’s ours.”
“William, I know for a fact that that shirt you’re wearing right now came from Ambercombie & Fitch. You showed up to the meeting with an empty Starbucks cup in your hand. You are not hurting for money in any way. If you’re against another white guy taking another piece of your history, then why did you agree to this?”
William stopped, stood and faced John. “It’s for my Naali, John. My grandpa. I’m heading to college on a full scholarship next year, and he’s rotting away in some trailer park. He’s never had much, but what he had was enough. He’s the one that told me the stories of the treasure. He’s also the only one who never let me forget my heritage. While the other kids were learning how to throw a baseball, he was teaching me The Mountain Chant. My father never cared. He was more concerned about succeeding in a White Man’s world. My grandfather made me care where I came from so I can see where I’m going.”
“So you’re here because of him?”
“He worked his entire life, but he doesn’t have anything to show for it. He had to sell his old pick up truck when the work dried up, and a little piece of him died after that. I figured, if I can get enough cash to get him another one, maybe he would feel whole again.” John couldn’t argue with that. It was an honorable endeavor, and there was no reason to rebut. William turned to face the east again.
“I take it that your grandpa taught you this chant?” asked John.
“What’s it for?”
“Well, it’s for cloud-busting, actually. We’re lost and he taught me this in case I ever needed to find my way.”
“Oh, well that’s helpful.” John thought about what he was going to say next and for a second, considered biting his tongue. John can’t help himself sometimes, “Any idea what you’re saying?”
“No clue. All I know is that it’s supposed to bring clarity.”
His chanting grew louder as he felt the first rays of sunshine warm his cheek. Warm on top of warm. Heavy moisture thins to light atmosphere. The fog lifts, and the sun paints its target a bright, sparkling gold; a majestic wall of stone carved by the slow hand of time. John’s eyes widened. He has been to the far corners of the world and has seen nature at her finest from Mumbai to Anchorage. He has never seen this. “Well, I’ll be damned,” was all that could come out of John’s mouth.
“I know,” William replied in silent amazement. “I’m just as surprised as you are.” The higher the sun would climb, the more beautiful the scene, and they both marveled at the splendor just a moment longer. “Well,” said William. “we should probably get moving if we want to get a jump on the day.”
“No,” said John. “You stay right there.” William froze hard as he saw John frantically rifle through his backpack. For a brief moment, William thought he should run because he heard John’s voice drop two octaves. He thought he should run because he heard a distinct metallic click from his backpack. Run because he’s seen this movie before; the innocent one leads the villain to the treasure, only to get shot for his trouble. Run because it’s been a long night, and this guy’s got a look in his eye that could drop a tiger. Run. Now.
He froze. He felt that this is the end, and he closed his eyes in preparation for his destiny. “Hey,” said John plainly. “You okay over here? You look like you’re gonna faint.” William opened his eyes. John held no weapon. Instead, this privileged white man held a very expensive digital camera around his neck and smaller dufflebag in his left hand. “I need you to help me with this,” John said, giving him the bag. William unzipped the bag and inspected what was assuredly a collapsed tripod. John had no intention of killing anybody, or taking any treasure to speak of. “Quickly now. I need to switch lenses before I lose the light.” After quickly getting a general idea, William extended an locked every leg and guesstimated the general height of where a camera would go. “Thanks a lot, William,” said John with a smile. “You should teach me that cloud-busting chant. It came in quite handy.”
“Yeah,” said William through nervous laughter. “I’ll have my grandpa get in touch with you.”
“You’re…how did you say…Naali is a good man,” said John, adjusting his focus.
“So, is this it? You’re not going any further?” asked William flustered.
“Hunh?” grunted John. “Oh, the treasure?” John had to laugh in spite of himself. “I’m sorry, William.There is no treasure. If there was, it would be long gone by now. Besides, I’m not Indiana Jones; I don’t raid other peoples’ history for my own livelihood.” The camera’s digital “shutter” flitters away. “Don’t worry, I’m not taking advantage of you for sightseeing either. We have a business arrangement, you and I, and I take that very seriously.” And with that, John continued to fill up two memory sticks worth of pictures of the purple mountains majesty. Not much else was said after that. They relocated their car, they drove back to where they started, money was exchanged, and they both parted ways.
It has been two weeks since this adventure. William has since settled in with finishing high school. Back to his regular life. As he pulled into his driveway, he barely acknowledged the truck parked on the side of the road. Thinking it was a friend of his fathers dropping by after work. “Hello,” said William as he walked through the door. “I’m home!”
“Hey, William,” replied his mother’s voice from another room. “How was school?”
“Good,” Back to his regular life. “Hey mom, who’s here?”
“No one dear, why do you ask?”
“Well, there’s this truck out here. I thought someone was here.”
“No, nobody here all day except me. Funny, I didn’t hear that truck pull up.” William gazed hard at the vehicle. Little things get taken for granted when you don’t pay attention. For instance, William noticed the truck, but didn’t notice the temporary plates, or the showroom glow of a factory paint job, or the tape marks on the passenger window indicating where a dealer sticker was. Little things get taken for granted, like the envelope wedged under the windshield wiper. He walked out to inspect further, and just as he expected, the envelope was addressed, “William”. He opened the note inside and read,
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said. About another White Guy coming along and taking your treasure. Well, I just wanted to let you know that in a way, you were right. I took something from you. The wonderful view of your golden mountains. It was a sight to behold and I’m afraid I won’t be able to give it back. Please forgive me.
What I said about the treasure being a legend, well, I was mostly wrong. There is a treasure, and my Chinese buyer was quite impressed with it. The buyer works for a film production company, and they needed someplace they’ve never seen before to be worked into a movie. They were impressed not only with the pictures, but they were also enamored with the tale of how I befriended a young Navajo warrior and how his perseverance brought me to this place of wonder. So thankful they were for my services and for being completely swept up in the story that they decided to sweeten the deal, as it were.
Tell your Naali ‘thank you’ from me. I hope he likes it. The keys are under the seat.
All the best,
William neatly folded the note and placed it back inside the envelope and ran back to the house. “Mom!” he called out. “Call Grampa! See if he’s home!”
©2014 The Writers Bloc/Tony Payson