Focusing her effort to detect anything out of place, Aisling studied the upper edge of the draw above the trail. Aside from the usual rimrock formations, one stood out. Centuries of weathering had left it skull-shaped, empty eye sockets staring down at her from the bone-colored stone. Sharp contrasts of light and dark created by the harsh glare of the sun gave depth to some of the hollow parts. The effect was enhanced, leaving the impression that it was part of the skeletal remains of some prehistoric giant. Misshapen limbs and twigs of dead brush cast odd lines of shadow onto the thing, and made it even spookier. Alarmed by this sighting, she cringed, then told herself it was only a startling formation with an unusual shape, magnified by her overactive senses. Stepping from the trail and walking to one side, she saw that from different angles it looked like any other piece of sandstone. It was a curiosity, a freak piece of geology caused by water and wind erosion, nothing more.
Doggedly, she walked on.
For a while, the only thing she was aware of was the sweltering heat. Despite the fact that she had stripped down to just the cotton t-shirt and jeans, small rivulets of sweat ran down her back. Pulling a bandanna out of her pocket, she folded it and tied it around her head to keep the sweat from running into her eyes.
She squinted at her surroundings.
What was she missing?
It was where Willow grew up, and the place was already thirty or so years old when she was a young woman. Aisling felt sure that she probably did not pay much attention to the home itself at that age. Despite that, the walls of this hallway and the bedroom had witnessed many days of Willow’s life. That had to count for something.
Turning the old faceted glass knob, Aisling entered the room. As she did, she was aware of something she had never experienced there before. The impossible scent of fresh lilacs sweetened the air in the room. Turning on the overhead light, she looked around. The aroma was heady, and Aisling could not tell what the source of the fragrance might be. All traces of her drowsiness vanished.
She stood in the center of the room for several moments and then walked to the huge antique wardrobe. It was oak, ornate with hand carved leaves and entwined floral designs gracing its double doors. Aisling had seen it dozens of times when she had stayed in this room, but it had never occurred to her to look inside. It always had been locked when she was small, and when she got older it did not seem important. The hair rose on the back of her neck when she realized one of its doors was slightly ajar. And as she approached it, the scent of lilacs grew stronger.
With tentative fingers, she opened the door a bit further and then swung it back completely.
Morning eased into the cottage through the small windows that faced the forest. Eibhlín was up as full daylight came on, urged on by the songs of the woodland birds. She laid several sods of turf on the glowing coals in the grate, and allowed her eyes to rest upon the small figure across the tiny room on the bed. He lay in exactly the same position she had put him in the night before. It appeared that he had not stirred; although his eyes were closed instead of set in that terrible empty stare. Eibhlín moved about as quietly as she could, taking Andrew's few belongings from the bundle, folding them and putting them on a small shelf next to where he slept. She gathered eggs and black pudding to prepare his breakfast. Her cottage was always stocked with extra food, in the event that she might need to take a meal to a neighbor or a patient. On the way back the night before, she had assumed that a growing boy would have a huge appetite. However, this morning she wondered if he would ever eat again. As she worked, she glanced in Andrew's direction, and was surprised to see he had turned on his side and was watching her intently.
They visited the canyons, with their caves high in the limestone cliffs. Black Bird Shows told Mike legends of the ancient peoples who had used these caves as their homes. From the bottom of the canyons, this seemed impossible. However, when the young men rode to the top, many old pathways and trails were apparent. They often used the same caves as overnight camping shelters on their hunts, and discovered that a number of them had ancient petroglyphs and pictographs adorning the walls. At night, in the flickering light of their campfire, these eerie works of art came to life, the animals racing along the rock and the distorted figures of the shield bearing men breathing and moving. On those nights, Mike would close his eyes, only to have his dreams invaded by the primordial peoples, speaking and dancing and singing. These were enchanted places, and visions came to both young men there.
As he watched the front of the cabin through the scope of his gun, he saw Colleen stride up to the side of the little structure. She was alone, and he reveled in the fact. It would be no effort to take her by surprise and toy with her for a time before finishing what he had come to do. He was mesmerized by the sight of this woman who had once seemed like a possible romantic conquest to him. But all of that had changed when he realized her connection to the mysterious and troublesome MacCumhaill. Then she had become a threat and a tool to be used to eliminate the biggest obstacle to the terror tactics he and his partners were implementing. He had planned to eliminate both of them at the time, but the woman had proven to be more of a problem than he had anticipated. Well, all that was about to be taken care of now.
The Magpie Odyssey
They parked the car a mile or so from their destination and began to walk. Pulling the blanket tight around herself, Colleen looked with trepidation at the stony road. Her bare feet would be defenseless against the sharp rocks. She cast an inquiring glance at Black Bird and Thomas. Both men looked back at her steadily, deep brown eyes compelling and peaceful. Softly, a feeling of trust and calm settled over her, removing all her questions. Her first tentative step brought the astonishing realization that the surface felt smooth beneath her feet. The path took them across a narrow ridge of rock, carved away by glacial forces in ages past. They entered a plateau leading to a sloping flat ridge. There, in its ancient splendor, lay the Medicine Wheel. The enigmatic ring of stones sprawled flat across the slight slope of the high flat ridge. The "spokes" of the ground-level configuration reached, spider-web of white, to spread the slightly irregular circumference. The outer edge was punctuated by rock cairns at intervals and there were signs of the visits of hundreds of native people.