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Chapter 1

If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it,

he is sinking downwards to be a devil—Samuel Coleridge

 

Saturday, June 10th

I STOOD ATOP Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and spun in a circle to take in the view. On three sides, forests and jagged ridgelines surrounded us. To the east beyond the trees, the parched plains spread out as far as I could see. A dozen other people shared the summit with me. All stared off into the distance, grinning and snapping pictures.

My heart swelled in awe, and I sung to myself the first few lines of America the Beautiful. Pikes Peak, the Colorado Fourteener that’d inspired the song, rose about a hundred miles south from where I stood.

On a whim, I held my arms out from my sides like wings and wondered what it would be like to soar away. I’d be as free as an eagle. Anything seemed possible up this high.

As if on cue, a gray and white mourning dove floated up the sheer cliff in front of me, carried by a strong updraft. The bird drew closer, and I thought it might land on me.

Instead, it held its wings partway open, hovering in the air in front of me. Maybe it thought it recognized me. Sorry, I don’t know any birds.

The dove stayed in front of me. After a minute, I turned to a twenty-something blonde next to me who was staring in the same general direction I had been. “Can you believe that?”

She sighed. “Yeah, the views here are so great.”

“I mean the dove.”

She looked at me quizzically. “Where?”

I looked around and noticed three other people looking right past me but not pointing at the oddly behaving bird whose wings were glistening in the bright sunshine. Are they all as blind as bats?

Then the darned thing landed on my shoulder. I wasn’t imagining it. I could feel the bird’s weight on me, its claws digging into my jacket.

My best friend, Kevin Winsted, stood five feet away, staring right past me at the snowy Continental Divide. We’d started before dawn and slogged for eight hours to reach this cold and windy place. I stood a foot shorter than him and had struggled to keep up. Maybe my tiredness had scrambled my mind.

“Bro, do you see anything odd?” I asked him.

“Only you, Gabe. I’ll never understand how anybody as scrawny as you qualified to be a cop.”

I took that to mean the idiot hadn’t noticed the dove roosting on me!

A female voice with a Middle Eastern accent sounded in my head. They can’t see me, Gabriel.

That gave me a jolt. Nobody had ever talked in my head before. I twisted around to see who was speaking to me, but no women were close anymore.

I tried to brush the dove away, but it dug its claws in deeper.

Good Lord! I’d seen plenty of weird stuff on the force before I got laid off, but nothing like this. The steep hike and a lack of oxygen had addled my brains.

The dove rubbed its head against my cheek. I’m Cleopatra. Pleased to meet you.

This was too much. I had to sit down, so I planted my butt on a flat rock nearby.

You won’t believe how much fun flying is, Gabriel. The bird lifted off and circled the summit…twice. No matter which direction the others were looking, they couldn’t have missed this dove as it gracefully executed flips and barrel rolls in front of everybody. Showoff.

I closed my eyes. You pushed yourself too hard to get up here, Dude. Kevin proved you aren’t as tough as you think. You scrambled your head.

Whatever the explanation was, the bird seemed real. It landed on my knee this time. Our work is dangerous, but we’re humanity’s only hope. I hope you will join us.

Then the dove soared up higher until it vanished in a cloud.

I grabbed an energy bar and drank some water from my pack. Maybe my blood sugar was too low.

Over my twenty-six years, I’d hiked thousands of miles outdoors in the Rockies, and I’d never seen or heard anything as weird as that. Why the hell didn’t anybody else notice?

I stood and walked around trying to clear my head. Then a sudden gust of wind pushed me toward the sheer cliff less than ten feet away. I caught myself and stepped farther back from the edge. This was no place to lose my mind, not if I wanted to survive to get my beer.

Had I been hallucinating? Long ago, after my mom had died of cancer, I suffered from severe depression. But even during that dark time, I’d never heard voices or experienced visions.

No, fool, that dove was tamed by someone, and it just got lost. I said a quick prayer that it would find its master again. Nothing got to me like animals in trouble.

As for the woman’s voice, that was probably a trick. Kevin talked some woman into playing me. He was always pulling pranks.

Once I’d come up with a reasonable explanation, I relaxed and tried to enjoy my time on top of the world. It was an amazing spot, and the views were breathtaking.

-o-o-o-

IT TOOK KEVIN and me five hours to reach the trailhead again. Several times during the hike down, I spotted a dove high above us, but it didn’t get close.

Once we reached his Jeep, we drove to Estes Park to pick up his border collie, Lacey, and we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in town. Then we headed to his cabin for the night. It’d been built in a quiet part of the forest southeast of the park. Just as we walked inside the door, though, he remembered we didn’t have anything for breakfast. So, he left me and Lacey, and he drove back to the nearest store, about twenty minutes away.

When he returned, we cracked open a couple of beers and sat on the deck to watch the sun go down. My legs and feet were throbbing, but three ibuprofens and the suds started to work their magic—as long as I didn’t move below the waist.

Then I noticed a mourning dove perched on the roof of Kevin’s cabin, but this one didn’t try to approach us or show off its flying ability. I did my best to ignore it.

Darkness settled over us, we headed inside. Kevin went to bed, but I wasn’t tired. My mind dredged up memories I thought I’d locked away. Pictures of Mom lying in a hospice bed, nothing but skin and bones, haunted me again.

To distract myself, I picked up a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire from the coffee table.

I was enjoying the book when the female voice came back. Sorry to bother you, Gabriel, but I’ve just received word of a forest fire southwest of here that could be dangerous to you and your friend.

This was too much. I glanced up, and the dove was perched on the TV. “I’m losing my mind.”

She shook her head. You’re sane, and you really want to look for that fire now.

I stood, and my legs screamed for mercy. Instead of sitting again, I limped to the back door and out onto the deck. A gust of wind blew from the south. My fingers tapped against my leg to calm me down. One-two-three-four-five.

I stared southwest. Oh my Lord!

Every nerve inside me tingled. The skyline glowed red and yellow in one spot. Forty minutes ago, when I’d last let Lacey out, that part of the horizon had been completely black.

A forest fire!

The south wind gusted stronger against my face, and the acrid smoke made me cough. That wind would push the flames across the only road out of this remote valley. Oh, Jesus, we can be trapped here!

I ignored the aching in my legs and ran back into the cabin. Then I opened Kevin’s bedroom door without knocking. He was sprawled across his bed in the far corner of the room. Lacey barked in her kennel, but my friend didn’t flinch.

I shook Kevin awake.

“Wha-what?” He wiped his face with his hands.

“Forest fire! Southwest!”

My friend bolted upright. “You sure?”

“A big one. We gotta go. Now!”

Kevin yanked on his pants, a t-shirt, and his boots. Then the three of us ran outside.

“Son of a bitch!” He held the sides of his head with his hands. “Why didn’t the county call—never mind.”

We raced back into the cabin.

“Grab whatever you can in ten seconds,” he said. “Put it and the dog in the Jeep. I’ll be right behind you.”

I dashed to my room. I’d planned to get an early start to Denver in the morning, so I’d already packed most of my things in a duffel bag. The rest I left behind as I called to Lacey. “Follow me, girl.”

We ran for the Rubicon.

Once we reached Kevin’s beat-up red Jeep, I loaded my bag in the cargo area and lifted her into the travel kennel and closed it. Then I ran back to the house to help my friend.

He met me on the front porch, his arms full of clothes and a small safe. “Grab this.”

I did, and it was heavy. We hurried for his rig and dumped his stuff into the back near the kennel.

As I got in the Jeep, I heard a phone ring inside the house. Probably the reverse 911 call, but no time to check. Kevin roared down his driveway to the dirt road that led out.

I checked my watch. It was ten-fifty-two in the evening. To the southwest, the sky remained mostly dark, but the red and yellow glow from the fire seemed brighter. The fingers of my left hand tapped my thigh. If that dove hadn’t warned me, we would’ve lost precious time. What the hell is going on?

-o-o-o-

AFTER WE’D TRAVELED a mile, I turned to check on the dog. She sat alert in her kennel, looking like she was heading to a lake for a swim. Maybe it was better that she didn’t know what was up ahead. She couldn’t do anything about it, no more than I could.

But before I turned my head forward again, the Jeep hit something hard and bounced into the air. Even though I was belted in, my rear end lifted off the seat. The dog yelped but stayed upright. I didn’t complain to Kevin because we needed to hurry. This road could get cut off at any time.

“I should’ve known you’d get us into trouble,” Kevin said. “You’ve been jinxed since the day you were born.”

What a bunch of B.S. I grabbed the support handle over the front passenger door to avoid bouncing around too much. “Me? How could this possibly be my fault?”

“You have the worst luck,” he said, “and it threatens everybody around you. Remember how I grabbed your arm this morning and saved you from tumbling down the cliff?”

A chill shot through me. That’d been a close one. “I’m just clumsy.”

He had a point about my bad luck, though, so I tried to change the subject. “Any other road out of here?” My fingers on my left hand tapped my thigh harder.

“No, but we could try to run cross-country that way.” He pointed to the northeast. “We could head across a two-mile-wide stretch of open ground. There’s a small community in Big Meadow. A road there leads north to Highway 36.”

That’s Plan B? Dear Lord, we need Your help.

“No offense, bro,” I said, “but I just hate running in front of forest fires. Plus, my legs are shot. I couldn’t run a hundred yards tonight.”

Kevin yelled, “No shit. That’s why we’re driving so fast in the opposite direction.”

The old rig was as tough as a grizzly, and we needed every bit of that toughness now. A big chuckhole loomed ahead. It would’ve ripped the front end off of most vehicles, but the Rubicon dropped down, bounced up, and kept on truckin’.

Lacey yelped again, so I turned and motioned for her to lie down.

She did and whimpered.

Soon the road left the broad valley and entered the forest. The lodgepole pines here grew close together, jutting fifty feet into the sky. Except where the headlights shone, the forest was as black as the halls of Hades. The trees even leaned over the one-lane road, as though ready to pounce on us. I cringed as I realized we were surrounded by tens of thousands of giant matchsticks waiting to flare up.

Once, I swore I saw a dove flying in front of us, but that could be completely natural. All the birds in this forest had to be agitated. Some didn’t know which way to fly to save themselves.

The sky glowed brighter in front of us as we approached the fire. Ash piled up on the windshield, and Kevin had to turn on the wipers. Clouds of smoke rolled past us.

My hands trembled as I realized how fast the fire was moving toward us. “Tell me again why you bought a place so deep in the woods.”

“Because I got a helluva great deal,” Kevin said with a hysterical, high-pitched note to his voice. “Stupid, I know, but I got the cabin and sixteen acres for thirty-five grand.”

I looked at the road ahead, which was barely visible through the smoke. We hit another large rock, and I bit my tongue hard enough to draw blood. Maybe it was the previous owner who’d gotten the incredibly great deal.

This could be what kills me. I used to be a cop, and I’d known the high risks that came with wearing a badge. But I’d been a detective, not a patrol officer. I’d never pulled my gun in the line of duty, hadn't fired it except at the gun range.

A bullet seems a lot better way to go than roasting to death. Instead of saying so out loud, I asked, “How much farther?”

“At least three miles.”

Smoke began to seep into the Jeep, and it burned my throat. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah, turn the heater fan off. Set the air to recirculate.”

I adjusted the climate controls and tried to control my fast-beating heart.

Kevin drove around a curve and slammed on the brakes. “Shit!”

An abandoned car partially blocked the road, but Kevin snuck past it by driving into the ditch on one side.

As he hit the gas again, my left hand’s fingers tapped on my leg. A nervous tic. One-two-three-four-five.

Chapter 2

SOON, THE WINDSHIELD was smeared with ash and cinders, and despite repeated squirts of washer fluid, the wipers barely worked anymore. The smoke also got thicker. The smoke might kill us before the fire gets here.

Every so often, though, he had to dodge animals, including an elk that was weaving from side-to-side as it ran toward us and passed us on my side. Its eyes bulged, and foam surrounded its mouth.

On the plus side, no other vehicles were in our way. Little else was going right.

I glanced into the back. Lacey whimpered but lay still. This was the same dog that never laid still, so she had to be terrified. I knew the feeling well.

“We might make it,” Kevin said, “but it’s going to be too damned close.”

I peered ahead as best I could. Burning embers were falling everywhere. The forest had looked peaceful until then, like a quiet, snowy day. Now, it glowed in places south of the road. Hell must look a lot like this.

A moment later, Kevin pointed to the north. At least one group of trees was burning on that side of the road. “Damn! The wind’s blowing the embers ahead of the main fire. We may be crazy to keep going.”

I shrugged. We were running out of time. “We’ve got no choice, bro.”

He nodded. “Right. I’m not thinking clearly anymore. What if we drove back to the creek by my cabin and soaked in the water? Maybe the fire would go around us.”

That’s suicidal. I shook my head. “That creek bed’s thick with dead willows, thanks to the drought.”

“Well,” Kevin replied. “It was a nutty idea. The air there would be filled with smoke and poisonous gases. We wouldn’t be able to breathe, even if we submerged to our necks in the water.”

I looked out my side window, and more trees were burning on the north side of the road. This wasn’t working. We’d started too late. “It’s been great knowing you, Dude. Can’t think of anyone I’d rather die with.”

Kevin nodded. “Likewise, man. Crappy way to go, eh?”

I coughed several times. The air inside the SUV was barely better than the soup outside. “If we don’t get out of this soon, we’re done for.”

The roar from the fire was loud, even with the windows rolled up. Gusts of wind whistled through the trees even louder. Every so often, the crackling of the fire was interrupted by an explosion when a tree blew apart.

This was a war zone, and we were caught in no man’s land. One-two-three-four-five. My fingers counted out the series, over and over.

Kevin kept the SUV moving ahead, but the smoke was so thick, we could’ve walked faster than he drove. We soon passed a small herd of deer huddled in a wide spot next to the double-track. Only one reacted, and it barely lifted its head. Smaller lumps on the road might be squirrels and birds, but they were covered in so much ash I couldn’t tell.

My heart pounded in my chest so much it hurt. This fire was going to kill thousands of animals, and some local residents wouldn’t get out either, like us. My tongue began to tingle.

Kevin muttered to himself more.

I glanced from one side of the road to the other, and now the trees seemed to burn as much to the north as the south. I started to pull out my phone—felt the urge to call my sister Ellen to speak to her one last time. But what could I say? The horror of this situation would freak her out. My pleasure at hearing her voice one last time had to be weighed against how she’d suffer from sharing this experience. It’d get stuck in her head, and she’d think about it for years to come. No, better for her to hear about us dying after the fact, not in real time, not even just the audio channel. I put my phone back in my pocket.

“Meeker Park can’t be much farther,” Kevin said. “I recognize that house burning on the right.”

It was an old two-story with a sharply peaked roof. Whatever color it used to be, it had turned bright orange and yellow, engulfed in flames. It burned even brighter than the pines. Hopefully, the residents had gotten out in time—unlike us.

Kevin kept following the single-lane road, dodging dead animals and potholes as best he could. Then he hit the brakes. “Oh, damn.”

A large pickup blocked most of the road. It looked like it had run into the ditch on the right side and gotten stuck. A couple of drums had fallen out of the bed onto the road behind the truck.

Jesus Christ! Can we get through?

Kevin coughed. “Son-of-a-bitch! What do you think?”

The visibility was terrible, but there seemed to be enough space on the left—between the truck and the burning lodgepoles—for him to squeeze by. “I’ll move the drums and you punch through.”

“Okay,” Kevin said.

I hopped out with a handkerchief over my nose to block a little of the hot smoke swirling past me. Most of the trees burned freely on the left side as they swayed in gusts of wind. Embers glowed bright in the air and landed on me, burning holes in my shirt. We didn’t have much time.

I pulled the two barrels out of the way. Thank God, they were empty. Then I stood farther down the road, past the truck.

Kevin hit the gas. On his side, I heard a loud pop, and the driver’s side mirror snapped off. The Rubicon slowed down, and its tires spun as the truck’s bumper scraped against the right side of the Jeep. The screeching noise was louder than the roar of the fire.

My mouth went dry. On foot, we wouldn’t make it a hundred yards. One-two-three-four-five.

The SUV shuddered as it hit a large rock in the ditch and stopped moving. The rank smell of burning plastic filled the already poisonous air. Then my door bowed inward, and the Jeep inched forward before stopping again. The tires spun uselessly.

The burning trees above us shook in the wind, and a cascade of burning embers dropped on me.

Oh, no. This really is it.

With a loud crack, one of the trees above me snapped. Something crashed onto my head, stunning me. I collapsed to the dirt. Burning, searing pain. I tried to get out from under the broken part of the tree, but it pinned my left leg to the dirt.

Sheer agony! I could feel my skin melting on that leg and my left arm, couldn’t breathe to scream. My mind dimmed—so much pain—I writhed…

-o-o-o-

WHEN I CAME to my senses again, I was standing a few feet from the still-burning treetop that had fallen on me. Kevin’s Jeep screeched as it passed the truck, and he stopped right in front of me.

“Get in!” he yelled.

I did. Then he drove like a madman through smoke so thick we could barely see ten feet ahead.

How had I gotten away from the burning treetop? And I felt fine, even on top of my head, where one of the branches had whacked me. I couldn’t even feel a sore spot there.

I looked up, and part of the Jeep’s roof had melted away. The windshield was cracked in several places, and my side window had shattered.

Kevin glanced at me. “I can’t believe you survived that fire! I thought for sure you were dead when it landed on you.”

“Not sure what happened. It knocked me loopy, and I guess I crawled out. How did you get past the truck?”

“When the wheels started spinning like mad, I locked the differentials for better traction. Then I gunned the engine. The truck’s bumper bent, and I squeezed past. Then I saw you standing there like a fucking zombie hitchhiker.”

It had been a miracle. But we weren’t in the clear yet. I checked my body, and I couldn’t find any cuts or burns. When I reached down my hand to feel the spot on my leg where my skin had been burning, I found the hole in my burned jeans. But the skin underneath seemed perfectly normal. Not even tender. “I feel okay, don’t ask me how. Just get us the hell out of here!”

Kevin laughed hysterically. “I’m trying.”

I glanced into the back. Lacey’s kennel was covered with ash and embers, but she yipped. She was still alive. We still had a chance to get out before it was too late.

When I looked at the dog more carefully, I realized her fur had burned in one spot. She’d managed to smother the flames somehow. Poor Lacey whimpered.

“Hang on!” I said. “We’re going to make it. I just know it.”

Kevin and Lacey coughed continuously, but I could breathe fine.

Then I took a good look at Kevin. Blood was trickling down his hair from some injury on the top of his head, but he wasn’t gushing blood. “You okay to drive?”

He nodded. “Good enough for now. I’m sure we’ll both whine later.”

The fire towered high above both sides of the road now. I couldn’t see a thing outside except for a few feet around the Rubicon. I prayed to God to deliver us all from this hell. Probably should’ve been doing that all along. My mind was calm, all fear gone.

After we rode for a few more minutes, I spotted a patch of green on my right. Then another. A gust of fresh air caressed my face. The smoke thinned, and more patches of green appeared in front of us. Another dove flew in front of us, like it was leading us to safety.

“We made it,” I said. I didn’t feel the euphoria I’d expected. Once we got past that truck, I lost all my worries.

A few minutes later, the smoke thinned out. “Thank you, God.”

Dad was a fire and brimstone preacher, when he wasn’t running the ranch. Thanks to him, I’d thought more about God than most people. My faith had been tested but endured.

Then I remembered Mom’s struggle. She’d been a huge believer, too, but it hadn’t saved her from cancer. That had tested me much more than this fire.

I glanced over my right shoulder, and the flames raged behind us. Ahead, a dark forest beckoned. Kevin reached out with his right hand, and I gave it a grateful squeeze. The Jeep zoomed down a dark tunnel of unburned trees.

Within a few minutes, we reached the outskirts of Meeker Park. A fire truck sat next to a house with a large yard, and a fireman was spraying water on the yard and the house.

Kevin honked, and the fireman’s eyes opened wide. “Holy shit! I can’t believe you made it out alive. The fire’s too hot in there for anything to survive for long.”

I nodded, but my mind seemed to slow. Now that we’d escaped the immediate danger, I felt numb. We’d left behind so much death and destruction. And despite all that had happened, we’d seemed to survive unscathed. The fireman called an ambulance, and the EMTs checked Kevin and me. Neither of us had injuries. I must’ve imagined the part about the fire burning my leg, not to mention the cut on Kevin’s head.

Once the EMTs finished checking us, the fireman said, “You need to get to Estes Park as soon as possible. This will get a lot worse before it gets better. If the Jeep keeps running, drive north. If it breaks down, stay on the road. Someone will come along and take you the rest of the way.”

Kevin kept driving. My thoughts returned to standing on the road, back when I’d been engulfed in flames. How had I survived? Nothing made sense.

-o-o-o-

THE RUBICON SHOOK violently whenever my buddy drove over 25 miles per hour. He told me it was hard to steer the beast, but it kept moving us closer to Estes Park.

When we reached town, another fireman stopped us. “Your Jeep is a wreck. I can’t believe you made it this far!”

I patted the dash affectionately, and Kevin just laughed.

Then the fireman said, “I know a motel close by that’s off the beaten track. I’d advise you two to grab rooms there if you can.”

Kevin and I rented the motel’s last two rooms. Once Kevin vanished into his with Lacey, I opened the door to mine and staggered inside.

With eyes barely open, I texted my sister. Terrible news. Raging forest fire at the cabin. Kevin, Lacey, and I are okay, barely made it out. In the AM, can you come to Estes Park to get me? Love, Gabriel.

She was probably sleeping at her ranch near Golden, only about an hour away, but it was the middle of the night. And she was pregnant. She’d come when she could.

Ellen called me a few minutes later, her voice shaky. Once I reassured her that Kevin, Lacey, and I were okay, she calmed down. Then I briefly summarized my horrible night.

“I’m on my way,” she said.

“No,” I replied. “The morning is fine. I’ve got a room here, and you and the baby need to rest.”

After a bit of convincing, she agreed that waiting made the most sense and hung up. I peeled down to my shorts and flopped on the bed.

-o-o-o-

BUT I COULDN’T sleep. Instead, I lay on my back and second-guessed every move Kevin and I had made to get out. I grieved for all those animals we’d passed that probably hadn’t made it out alive. And my mind swirled with terrible images of the Jeep stuck behind that pickup and the falling tree top smothering me. My friend, his dog, and I should’ve all died. We weren’t even scratched. None of this makes sense.

It’d been a kind of hell I’d never experienced before. How many people and wild animals had burned to death already? What a horrible way to go. My fingers tapped faster than ever. One-two-three-four-five, but it was just a reflex. I felt fine already.

Sometime later, I realized a strange man was standing next to my bed.

I gasped and froze. How did he get in here?

His straight black hair flowed behind his ears and down to his collar. His face was narrow and clean-shaven. He looked somber, and his shoulders drooped like he carried the weight of the world. The guy wore a black suit with a matching waistcoat. The huge bow tie made him look like a character from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

“Grieve for the fallen today,” the man said with a highbrow British accent. “Tomorrow your work will begin in earnest. There is so much we need to accomplish.”

I’d seen some crazy-weird stuff lately, but this was over the top. It had to be a dream. I pinched my arm, and it hurt for a second.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’ve gone by many names, most now long forgotten. Call me Milton. That will serve, I trust. In any case, I regret coming to you when you’re in such a fraught state, but time is of the essence. You must gather yourself quickly.”

This guy spoke nonsense. “Gather for what?”

“We are shepherds. The savage wolves would spare none but for our swords. At the moment, you are hidden from their rapacious gaze. Use this time to settle your mind. God willing, your bite will sear them to the core.”

He reminded me of a character I’d seen in a Victorian zombie movie Ellen had made me watch. “There are no wolves this far south.”

“I mean all manner of foul fiends. Heed my call. Some of our legion hone their powers by reverent study, but I see you are not of that bent. Put your powers of detection to good use for the benefit of all mankind.”

He spoke gibberish, but at least he hadn’t pulled out a gun or an axe. My day had been more than wild enough. “I really need sleep.”

He chuckled and backed away from the bed into the gloom. “We will refine your latent powers, and you will provide us insight into the world of the damned. Be of good cheer. This may be the turning of the tide.”

Someone had to be playing a sick joke. This was just the kind of thing Kevin would do. “Who are you really? Look, I don’t know how you got in here, but I’m calling the manager. Then I’m going to kick Kevin’s butt.”

Instead of leaving, the stranger said, “We are called by the Almighty. Steel yourself for the never-ending struggle.” Then he stepped back into the darkness and vanished.

My heart racing, I jumped out of bed and checked the door. It was still locked from the inside, and he wasn’t in the bathroom.

No surprise, the fire is giving you nightmares. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Chapter 3

Sunday, June 11th

I MUST’VE SLEPT because when morning came, I wasn’t tired. In fact, I felt more energized than I could remember. Even better, my legs weren’t at all sore from the hike up Longs Peak.

But with the clarity of a new day, I realized something seriously weird was happening to me. It’d started with the dove flying up to Longs Peak. Why couldn’t anyone else see that bird? Was my depression returning? That had been a brutal time. Dad and Ellen had suffered as much as me, but I was the only one of us who’d spent endless sessions with a shrink. Eventually, the dark moods gradually became softer, less angry. Then they disappeared entirely. And they’d left me alone ever since. Until now?

Had the disease returned? I didn’t feel anything like the cold, dark emptiness from those days. My mind had been in a much better place for so many years. Helping Ellen at her ranch had helped me, too. I looked forward to each new day. In fact, I’d been euphoric up on Longs Peak until that crazy bird had shown up.

Face it, Dude, you’re clueless.

While I waited for Ellen, I watched the news coverage of the fire on TV. Despite the devastation, my mind was calmer than I’d expected. Kevin and I had pulled off the close escape of the century. Others, both people and animals, hadn’t been so lucky. That made my throat ache for how they must’ve suffered.

Kevin knocked on my door, and we went to a nearby diner to get breakfast, but I wasn’t hungry. Our close call had seemed to affect my appetite. I drank coffee, but it didn’t seem to energize me like it normally would’ve.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Michael Arches moved to the Denver area in the early 1980’s, and he has never left. Before coming to Denver, he had lived in eight different places, but he and his wife settled down in Colorado and raised their family here. The natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains attracted him here in the first place, and he’s still finding precious jewels in them there hills to write about.


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