The Chamber of Smoke

Lonnie stepped onto the large, covered front porch overlooking a long meadow and mountains beyond wishing he were back in juvenile hall. So began week two of his 24/7 solitary confinement. It wasn’t his fault getting into trouble. The guys got bored and thought to brighten a stupid wall. Someone ratted.

Community service complete and the judge’s harsh lecture/threats burned into long-term memory, his parents moved to the country, miles from the city and friends. He had nothing to do except eat, sleep, and watch one TV channel, an educational channel to make up for classes he flunked. And chores. Couldn’t forget the chores. An endless list of chores.

His parents off to work left him with one mode of transportation – walking. The nearest neighbor, some grunge dude in his twenties, lived in a ratty-looking shack two miles down the gravel road. The highway lie a mile beyond that. He considered running away, but his dad placed a location device on his left ankle. It sent an alert if he ventured more than a hundred yards from the house. His dad worked as a technology engineer and Lonnie couldn’t figure out how to circumvent the controls.

Taking a bite of toast, he watched a ground squirrel skitter among rocks out by the split-rail fence encircling the house. Except for a stupid blue jay or the wind moaning in the pine trees, the absence of noise drove him crazy.

About to scream to at least hear the echo, a high-pitched whine rose above the unbearable silence, the distinct sound of a motorcycle. The noise peaked as the dude roared into view astride a dirt bike. Lonnie watched as he passed the house, skirt the north edge of the meadow before disappearing into the forest a quarter mile further on. Desperately trying to hold onto the sound, depression slammed back into his head as it faded into oblivion.

Going back inside, Lonnie flopped onto the sofa to watch TV and begrudgingly finished the day’s school assignments, and then sleep. At four-thirty his mother called. “Your dad and I are stopping at the grocery store, and then we will be on our way home. Please put the casserole in the oven.”

He followed instructions. The second day of week one in prison he refused to start dinner. Sent to his room with two slices of plain bread and a glass of milk, it finally sank in as his stomach knotted and complained bitterly. Disobedience and consequences were a tag team.

Certain his parents were asleep, he tiptoed in socks down to the kitchen to deactivate the house alarm system. Returning to his room, he climbed out the window intent on walking to the highway and thumbing a ride back to his friends. Having never experienced true darkness, he could barely see the gravel road, and then there were the sounds. Lonnie made it a hundred yards before scurrying back.

Latching the window, he started to cower under the bed sheets when the light came on. His dad stood leaning against the wall next to the light switch. No words of reprimand, but that stunt saw his high tops locked in a heavy, steel cabinet in the garage. A fair consequence. At least he was safe from whatever lurked in the dark out there, watching, waiting to pounce.

Spurred by citizen complaints, everyone over-reacted to self-expression in the form of graffiti. Despite the abuse from other kids, five days in juvenile hall proved a cakewalk compared to what happened at home. His dad finally stepped up to fatherly duties. Lonnie had never been spanked, although he should have long before. Teenage boys are too old for such punishment and the ordeal took him by surprise. Although large, his father didn’t appear strong until lying the fifteen-year-old over his knee and applying three swats with the flat of the hand on a bare butt.

Lonnie thought himself tough until the first strike. The second elicited a squeal. Squirming to evade the third didn’t work. Tears trickling down both cheeks. He did not want to endure that again.

Closing the oven door, he remembered his dad saying last night, “Split a cord of firewood before I come home tomorrow.”

A quick glance at the clock sent him flying off the porch still in boxers. He had two hours. It didn’t take long to realize his arms wouldn’t last, but kept swinging the ax until becoming impossible to raise the heavy head anymore. Drenched in sweat, he took a quick shower and dressed for the first time that day. His parents arrived as he came downstairs. They looked tired but in a good mood.

“I’m sorry, dad. My arms just gave out. I’ll stack it after dinner.”

His dad surprised him by saying, “That’s fine. I’ll help.”

The boy had a generous second helping of casserole. Working together was a first. So was talking. Returning to the house, his dad put an arm around his shoulders. No, he hadn’t split a full cord but came close.

“You did good, Lon. If you do a little throughout the day tomorrow, it won’t be so hard. We’ll need to lay in at least ten cords for the winter.”

He split wood after breakfast, between school assignments, and after lunch. Working at a slower pace filling the steel rack used to measure, eighteen-inches wide, eight-feet long, and four-feet tall. He even topped off yesterday’s attempt.

Again dripping sweat, he barely finished stacking the pieces when the sound of the dirt bike demolished the silence. The weird dude again, this time returning from the mountains. Had he spent the night out there? Lonnie didn’t see any sleeping bag or backpack. Maybe he had a camp already set up. The guy drove passed without so much as a glance.

Over the couple next weeks, Lonnie observed this guy’s routine. He’d drive up one afternoon and return the next morning, always three days between trips. Curiosity a prime mover, the morning of the fourth week after he returned, Lonnie dressed, tossed a couple sandwiches and cokes into a backpack. So long as it didn’t involve heading toward the highway his dad gave permission to take a day hike. Despite having earned his shoes back he headed out barefoot along the trail.

Following the bike’s nobby-tire tracks, he came to a large area of flat rock, spending much of an hour searching for the bike’s trail with no luck. About to give up, he heard the high-pitched motorcycle whine, sending him to take refuge among a cluster of boulders and small pines. The dude had come a day early. Driving across the rock, he parked in another cluster of pines not far from Lonnie. Walking into heavy undergrowth at the edge of a ravine, the guy vanished. Lonnie eased out of hiding to creep to where he had disappeared.

A sinkhole in an otherwise smooth limestone plain appeared to be a hundred yards wide and three times that long filled with vegetation, mostly pines. Lonnie hadn’t thought it possible to get down there as the sides were vertical until pushing through the brush as the weird dude did. Here, a hidden trail angled toward the bottom. He could see the top of the dude’s blonde head as he worked down the narrow trail and disappear into the thicket.

Looking at his watch, his heart jumped. His folks would be home in three hours and he hadn’t done his chores. Trotting home, he’d just began repairing the fence when the bike whine filled the valley. Despite standing next to the trail the biker shot passed without looking.

That had been on Friday. The family left on a weekender to Big Trout Lake. Going to the city and civilization was not an option. Grousing and sulking prompted serious threats from his dad. Within the hour of arriving, he met teens his age. After a full day of swimming and flag Frisbee football, Lonnie slept all the way home having lost the battle to stay an extra day.

Monday morning the dude drove past returning around four. Feeling it safe, Lonnie took off minutes after his parents left for work Tuesday arriving at the sinkhole by seven and carefully worked his way down the steep trail into the brush, determined to find the guy’s camp. It was almost ten when he heard the distinct sound of a dirt bike. His heart began pounding—he’d returned early—then realized he could easily hide. The blonde guy appeared at the top of the cliff and made his way down. Lonnie hunkered in the thickest vegetation he could find to watch as the tall, lanky neighbor strolled passed within twenty-feet of where he lie.

To the boy’s surprise, the dude stopped not thirty-feet away and began removing piled brush revealing a large, rock-lined ring. Lonnie had walked by it a half dozen times. Removing a leather pouch from around his neck, he dropped a pinch of the contents in one of five metal cans inside the ring. As he did so a wisp of smoke began curling up. When the last can ignited, the guy stood back and waited as the smoke increased, curling up in ever-denser columns before swirling counterclockwise, entwining like grayish ropes. As it began swirling faster Lonnie glanced up. The smoke rose no more than ten feet as if contained in a six foot diameter cylinder. When the neighbor stepped into the ring and disappeared Lonnie’s jaw dropped open.

He could see through the whirling cylinder of smoke, but the guy vanished. He made a run for it, gaining the top in a lung-bursting minute. Arriving home he dropped exhausted on his bed. It took nearly an hour to recover a normal heart rate. This provided time to convince himself it had all been an illusion, a trick of the mind. Still somewhat shaken, he began moving rocks along the road, affording more time to ponder on what he had seen. The guy drove passed the next afternoon. To Lonnie’s surprise, he waived.

Three days later the neighbor drove past, again waiving, returning the following morning. Feeling it safe the next day, Lonnie packed a lunch and hurried to the canyon and down the slope. Carefully removing the brush cover he stared at the ring. Looking inside, each of the five tins stood at the point of a very faint, five-pointed star etched in the brown earth.

He stood there wondering about it when a voice from behind said, “Hi.” Lonnie jumped so badly he nearly fell into the ring. “I thought ya’d come back. I smelled ya here yesterday.”

“You smelled me?”

“Yeah. The soap ya use to bathe.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to . . . I was just curious.”

“No problem.”

“What’s it do?”

“It’s a transporter. Takes me anywhere I wanna go. When I need some coin or stuff I trip to a place and time, steal it, and come back. My names Tom and ye’re Lonnie.”

“Yeah, but how . . .?”

“I got ways,” he said smugly, removing a leather pouch from around his neck and adding a pinch of powder to each can. The rope-like, smoke columns began rising interlacing as they swirled faster. Soon the cylinder of almost invisible, gray smoke took shape. “Follow me,” he said and stepped inside.

Lonnie hesitated, debating, before stepping forward, pulled by curiosity into the pale, shaddowy mass. Like walking in a fog, he could make out Tom’s form. Stepping forward took him out of the ring into a dark, smelly, tunnel-like alley formed by old, tall brick apartment buildings.

“Come on,” Tom said, walking toward the bright light at the end of the tunnel.

“How do we get back?”

“There’s a portal back there. All we have to do is walk back into it. Jist remember where it is ‘cause you can’t see it. Nobody can.”

“Hey, this is where I used to live.”

“Yeah. And that’s some of your artwork,” Tom said pointing to green graffiti on the brick wall. “Not bad.”

They were about to enter onto the street when a big kid appeared shoving a small ten-year-old. Once in the alley, he pinned the child against the wall.

“Give me your money,” the older boy ordered.

“It’s to buy milk for my baby brother,” the kid squealed, panic-stricken.

“Let him suck his momma,” the much older kid said producing a switchblade.

“Let him go,” Tom said.

“Ain’t none of your business,” the boy snapped, seeming emboldened with a weapon.

“I know.”

Tom struck like a cobra as fingers wrapped around the kid’s knife wrist. Twisting elicited a cry of pain cut short when Tom followed through by driving knuckles into his solar plexus. Crumpling to his knees, unable to breathe, the kid stared wild-eyed at Tom. With a strange smile, Tom wrapped an arm around the boy’s throat, locking fingers with the other.

“If I told you once, I told you twice to leave the little kids alone. Third time is the charm.”

The bully tried to loosen the grip to no avail as Tom applied pressure until the body went limp. Released, he crumpled to the filthy cement. The little kid’s mouth opened in disbelief. Lonnie, too. Tom’s hand reached out to grab the boy while reaching into his pocket. “He ain’t dead, but ya won’t be bothered by him no more. Here. Buy somethin’ nice for your mom and little bro. Yerself, too.” He handed him several $20 bills. “Tell them what a nice man did for you.” Turned loose, the boy staggered backward a few steps before bolting, eyes glazed with a wild look.

“Is he . . . ?”

“Not this time.” Tom used a foot to turn the kid onto his back. “Let’s finish this. Take the bottom and I’ll take the top. Strip him and throw his stuff in those garbage cans.” Spread Eagle naked, Tom gave a soft, scary chuckle. “Let’s see how he explains this. Let’s go shopping.”

A man sat on cement apartment steps across the street from the alley. In faded jeans and tee-shirt he didn’t look smart enough to rub two sticks together.

“Know him?” Tom asked Lonnie.

“Yeah. He’s called Junkie. We’re in my old neighborhood! That kid knows me!”

“Relax,” he said, walking straight for the guy. Sitting next to him Tom said, “Hi.”

“Whata you want?”

“A dealer.”

“Don’t know you.”

“Best that way.” He carefully showed a thick wad of bills.

“Upstairs.”

Climbing three flights of stairs they entered an apartment that hadn’t seen a cleaning rag in several decades and smelled it, too. Once inside he turned to face them.

“Mind if I see if you’re wired?” He was more aware than appearances suggest.

“Go ahead,” Tom said, holding his arms out from his sides.

The druggie frisked Tom then looked at Lonnie who held arms out. His skin felt to crawl as the man slid hands over his body.

Tom reached into his shirt pocket and took out the roll of twenties. The dealer went to the kitchen cabinet, reached to the top shelf, and took down a cookie jar.

“That’s original,” Tom said. “I’ll take all ya got.”

The dealer’s eyes lite up but had no time to enjoy the sudden wealth as Tom’s hand shot out and collapsed his windpipe. Dropping to knees trying desperately to breathe his eyes bulged with disbelief and fear. His face turned blue as he crumpled onto the floor.

Tom watched with dispassion until his victim stopped moving, eyes and mouth open, fear and surprise frozen for eternity. “I really enjoy doing that to these scum,” Tom said happily, “and the best part is that they’ll never catch me.” Scooping up the drugs and stuffing them into a leather pouch slung over his shoulder, he rummaged around the kitchen until finding more drugs and loads of money. “Let’s split.”

Lonnie stood petrified. He wanted to puke. This guy had no qualms about killing the dealer and appeared to enjoy it. Terrified, Lonnie’s mind filled with the question, could he be next?

“Worried someone will recognize you?” he said as they walked into the alley. Lonnie’s heart nearly stopped. “Don’t. At this precise moment, you are standing before a judge on the graffiti wrap. Perfect alibi.”

They passed the bully still unconscious until Tom put a foot against his chest and gave it a couple not so gentle pushes. Continuing on to where their portal waited, the two stood in a dark, recessed doorway to watch as the victim began moving. Tom had left one leg of his jeans hanging over the edge of a garbage can to give him a hint where the clothes were. He had no time to dress before a group of older guys walked passed the alley entrance and spotted him.

“This is too rad,” Tom said, cackling softly as they watched the gang take his clothing, waiving them in the air while chasing him down the street yelling sexual insults.

Tom stepped into an imperceptible haze and disappeared, Lonnie so close on his heels to nearly trip on them. Four steps found put him over the edge of the fire ring and back in the canyon.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Tom said, picking up a small spray bottle at outside edge of the ring. A quick squirt in each can doused the smoke. He then sat cross-legged on the ground, opened one of the foil packets and snorted the grayish powder. “Want some?”

“I’ve never done that,” Lonnie answered, still dazed at what had happened.

“Then jist do a little.”

“I’ll pass.”

“Do it.” Tom’s voice lowered, eyes narrowing.

Reluctantly Lonnie put a small amount on his forefinger, hesitated a moment while staring at it, looked at Tom who watched, then quickly inhaled. Tom instantly broke into a wide grin. It was getting late when he awoke. It had been a floating trip that made what happened seem like a bad dream. With Tom curled on his side out cold, he checked his watch, barely enough time to get home before his folks did. Still unsteady, Lonnie gained the top and headed home best he could, head still spinning from the drug, and not feeling any better upon reaching the yard.

His dad wasn’t pleased the chores hadn’t been done, but claiming being sick wasn’t hard. He was. He spent a restless night thinking about what had happened, finally convincing himself it had just been a dream. That next afternoon Tom rode past on his way home and waved.

Several days later, after Lon’s parents left for work, he decided to stay in bed a bit longer until sensing something. Tom stood at the foot of the bed, staring at him. He sat up with a start.

“Pull on yer pants. I got a treat for ya.”

Stepping from the smoke, Lon realized they weren’t in the 20th Century. Not far away, several small, wood shacks stood across from large corrals with cows and horses milling about. As they approached, a woman ill-covered by a thin, white garment came out of one door.

“Tommy. Where has you been? She squealed.

“Hi, Veronica. Brought a friend. Name’s Virg . . ., as in virgin.” Lon felt her eyes play over his body. “Nice. Come to break the curse? Well, I have just the lady fer ya. Jasmine. Gotta customer. Come on in.”

Alcohol had never passed Lon’s lips and after one sip of the foul-smelling, brownish liquid, he mentally vowed to abstain forever. He easily avoided taking another expected sip thanks to Jasmine nibbling his ear and stirring all sorts of excitement racing down his spine. Stepping into the bright, noon sunshine, his mind felt cloudy, body tired as if he’d run a marathon.

Returning to the chamber of smoke, Tom said, “For peace of mind, yer folks left for work a hour ago and a guy is dumping a load of wood for ya to split. Have fun.”

A push expelled Lonnie from the smoke to fall face down on the ground in front of a pile of un-split logs. Rolling over, he saw a laughing Tom disappear. Stretching out on his back, he took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as the adventure re-played in his mind.

Tom didn’t invite him on another trip until the following week. “Yer turn. Where you wanna go?”

“Could we visit Veronica’s?”

Tom nearly collapsed from laughing, taking some time to get control. “So, ya like that, huh? Well, let’s not wear out our welcome there. But, if that’s what’s tickling yer jewels, we’ll go somewhere that’ll knock ya out”

With Tom’s control of time, the two stayed three days somewhere in the Middle-east attended by a bevy of young women. When the proprietor came to collect his money, both he and the girls were dismayed to find the pair had disappeared. Lon liked these last trips. He got physically satisfied and no one got killed; however, the next trip the following week was not as pleasant. Handed a rifle, they entered the smoke chamber to emerge among some rocks overlooking a boulder-lined pool where a group of men skinny dipped. Onshore, a half dozen women sat on the ground, arms and feet bound.

“This is World War II and them are Japanese soldiers. The women are captives being takin’ to their compatriots. They’ll die unless we help,” Tom explained.

As he spoke, a soldier stood up from behind a bush. Walking to the shoreline, he called to another who swam ashore and proceeded to the bush.

“Look through the scope and you’ll see what’s goin’ on,” Tom whispered. Two pairs of feet protruded from the bush. Tom showed him how the rifle worked. “Take aim on the bush. He’s gonna come up real fast and run to their guns. Don’t let that happen. Understand?” The way Tom said “understand,” made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate disobedience. “This is war, Lon. Kill or be killed, and them vermin like to hear their prisoners scream.”

Lon sighted on the bush. When Tom’s rifle cracked, the man on the beach lurched backward, falling partly into the water. As warned, the one in the bush popped up and ran for the guns. Lon didn’t even remember pulling the trigger. His rifle bucked. The man stumbled to sprawl face down on the ground. He began crawling.

“Shoot him again.” Lon chambered another round and squeezed the trigger. The body jerked and went still. “Okay. Now, we shoot them pigs in a barrel. Don’t let ‘em get ashore.”

Lon sighted on one scrambling out of the water. Two steps and he dropped. Tom stopped three swimming in the water. Another went deep to hide, but the clear water provided no cover.

“He’s yers. Take him,” Tom said, laughing.

Lon fired. The figure stopped swimming as a dark cloud began to encircle the body as it surfaced. He shot again.

“Okay. Let’s turn the girls loose,” he said, climbing down. They were scared beyond belief and grateful which Tom expected. “They want to show their appreciation for bein’ rescued. Which one do you like?”

“I think we should forget that. There could be others around who heard the shots.”

“True. Come on girls, let’s find a more hospitable place.”

The girl in the bushes was dead. The guys he shot not a whole lot older than he. One hadn’t died outright. The girls saw to that. The girls dressed in the uniforms. They scrambled back up to where they had arrived in this time. Not long after they heard shouting. More soldiers. Sheltering in a nearby cave, two girls kept Lon warm that night in their fire-less camp, returning to their village the next morning. Back in their time, Tom insisted Lon take the grayish powder. There was no hesitation. He began liking the floating sensation.

Awaking, Lonnie found himself lying on his side on the ground naked, Tom pressed against his back, an arm draped over his chest. Straightening his legs, Tom kissed his neck.

“That was fun, too,” he said with a breathy voice.

“Did we . . . ?”

“Oh, yeah. Bet ya don’t remember.” He laughed.

Lonnie continued accompanying Tom on acquisition raids. The sexual encounters were great, the drug trips upon returning, pleasurable. The killings continued, mostly for sport. Tom enjoyed killing, knowing he would never be caught. During those times Lonnie continued to fear that he might be next, spurring him to find a way out of the ordeal. When he saw Tom talking with his dad one Saturday panic gripped his gut.

“Just met our neighbor, the kid on the motorbike. Pleasant sort. An artist. Has a show at the museum gallery. Likes hunting, too. We may get together this fall. He knows where the elk hang out. I invited him along next week when we go to the lake.”

Lonnie dreaded that next week, but Tom didn’t make any runs. The last score left him with a substantial supply. During the fishing trip, Tom endeared himself to Lonnie’s parents so when he invited their son on a three-day hike for that mid-week there wasn’t any problem. There was no way out. Any excuse would endanger provoking Tom’s unbalanced anger.

They set out on his bike early Wednesday morning with the intent of returning Friday night. Tom’s behavior began deteriorating, becoming dark and menacing. Lonnie hopped he would return. As usual, they went to the sink and uncovered the fire ring.

“Where you wanna go?” he asked, seeming cheerful.

“I dunno know. I’ve been meaning to ask. How does it work?”

“I read this book on black magic that had the formula for the travel powder. I have a specific time and place in mind, and when I enter I just say it, and there I am.”

“Can a guy get trapped on the other side?”

“Only if someone puts the fire out on this side. Nobody comes around here so that’s pretty safe. If it does happen this shows other portals,” he said, indicating a greenish ring hung around his neck. “So, where ya wanna go?”

Lonnie tried to think of someplace, but his mind was blank. Too much fear. He shrugged.

“Well, think about it. I wanna nice, warm body to curl up with. You will do for now.”

Before Tom, sex had been an increasing subject on his mind, but too afraid to actually attempt anything not to mention people were now too far away. Inhaling a bit of the grayish powder, he let Tom have his fun as he drift along in a dreamy haze. With the jet fuel spent, he slowly landed. Lying on his back, he turned his head to see Tom finish dressing.

“Well, play with yerself while I pay a call on an old friend,” he said, beginning to place a pinch of powder in each can and start up the cylinder of smoke. “See ya later.”

Lonnie thought about putting the smoke out, but he had to be sure Tom would never come back. It was nearly dark when he returned, exhausted, but happy. After snorting a line he slipped into his sleeping bag and began snoring leaving Lonnie sitting curled next to a real fire.

The next morning Lonnie knew where to go.

“Custer’s Last Stand?”

“I thought it’d be neat to see how they died,” Lonnie answered, playing to Tom’s sick mind.

“Hum-m. Never watched that many guys git wasted. That’d be gnarly.”

“But how do we avoid getting caught?”

“Go early enough and find a good hidie hole.”

Exiting the smoke, they found themselves near a thicket in a draw and quickly slipped inside. It was early, nothing much happening as the soldiers were several miles away so Lonnie asked, “How does that portal finder work?”

Tom handed Lonnie the ring while looking through binoculars. “Hold it up with both hands. Look through it with one eye. When it shows red you go in that direction and run into it,” he said beginning to shiver with excitement as the massacre began. The aftermath was too gruesome for Lonnie to watch as bodies were stripped and mutilated. Tom squirmed and giggled with glee totally fixed watching through the binoculars. That was Lonnie’s chance. With him occupied, Lonnie slipped back into the portal and jumped clear of the smoke, grabbed the spray bottle to doused the cans, closing the door.

For the next few hours he sat with arms wrapped tight around both knees off to one side. Staring at the smokeless ring, he expecting to see Tom appear at any time, but Lonnie had the finder. By the following morning, Lonnie wondered what might have happened to him. Did the Indians find him? The thicket was pretty dense. He could hide, but for how long? By afternoon he decided to go back. He had to know if Tom was still alive. Recovering a spare pouch of dust from the knapsack, he armed himself with a switchblade also in the pack and ignited the ring.

Arriving in the thicket, he cautiously looked around. He didn’t see Tom. Scattered over the rolling prairie were the remains of the soldiers. A haunting stillness lie over the prairie as he eased from the thicket constantly scanning for Indians. There were two bodies nearby. One look, he wanted to throw up. They were stripped, riddled with arrows, mutilated, and scalped. Further down the draw another body haug by his heels, a naked pincushion. Tom. His end hadn’t been easy by the looks of things. Lonnie justified it as retribution for the wanton killing he had done.

There were many questions about Tom’s disappearance. Lonnie said they had gone to a lake miles from the canyon and Tom went hiking alone. When he didn’t return, he got worried and came home to tell his folks. Teams searched for better part of a week, but of course, they found no trace and finally gave up. Lonnie slowly breathed easier as time passed.

Knowing where Tom hoarded the gray powder, he kept it stashed in the canyon where he returned a couple times a week to use it, but too frightened to start up the column until that following summer. Having used the last gram of the drug, he uncovered the fire ring.

The next few months Lonnie journeyed about time finding rewards and pleasures galore. Of course, resupplying the drug became the first trip. After reading a news article, he studied online maps of the area and positioned near the route mules traveled in south-central Arizona. What the article didn’t mention, the mule was fourteen years old. Tom would have killed him. Lonnie offered a handsome sum to continue north sans drugs. That’s not to say he wasn’t prepared. A small semi-automatic pistol tucked in the small of his back, he became proficient and no longer had qualms about using it. What he didn’t count on? The Border Patrol.

A helicopter began circling the area several miles to the east as they discussed the exchange. The boy wanted to seek refuge with an uncle who farmed in Western Nebraska and having no drugs would be good if caught. Lon figured he’d probably not make it with or without the drugs. Persuading him at gunpoint to inhale some gray powder knocked him out. Lon then dragged him into the transporter moments before the chopper’s spotlight canvased the area. The boy woke up within sight of the uncle’s house with a story chalked up to hallucinations.

The haul netted one-hundred pounds, far more than he would use, being a judicious, recreational user. Selling the excess netted a huge profit. During one drug trip, he felt to revisit Custer’s aftermath, feeling a perverse satisfaction watching from a safe position, Tom’s surprise at being stranded, his capture, and slow torture. He’d murdered a lot more people than Lonnie knew about and felt the punishment fit the crimes.

During a repeat trip to watch Tom die, a strange sensation gripped his gut. Turning toward the portal he saw movement on the other side. Someone had come to the fire ring. Staring, he tried to make out who had found the secret place. It appeared to be someone in green trousers and a bright yellow shirt. A Forest Service firefighter. Lonnie had left a real campfire burning. The guy began spraying water on the fire ring. Lonnie scrambled for the portal. It disappeared. He had the locator ring and magic powder, a white guy in the middle of hostile Indians searching for trophies.

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