First comes spring, then comes summer, then comes...
3: Golden Summer
Mike Suzuki woke in darkness. It was cool up here, even in summer, and there was a bite in the early morning air.
Nonetheless. Mike took a handful of the stiff, flannel sheets, and peeled them back from his body, lifting the heavy quilt under the Hudson’s Bay blanket. The cold air hit his body, even through his pyjamas, and he got up, his bare feet touching the varnished wood floor of the guest cabin. The glowing dial on the clock showed 4:30. Half an hour to dawn. He still couldn’t believe that the locals used radium in their clocks.
On the other hand, he thought, as he lit the kerosene lamp on the bedstand, it was convenient. Maybe by the next time he was up this way, there would be power lines up from the county seat. If there were a next time. He tried not to think that, because he knew that it was impossible. More than anything, he wanted to be back in Philadelphia. He missed his daughter. At least he hoped that Kumi was in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, all the wishing and hoping in the worlds couldn’t make something happen.
Mike splashed cold water on his face, then combed gel through his hair. The wet look will never die, he thought to himself, sarcastically. At least in a place where hot showers were for rich people and city slickers. And then Mike grinned again, picturing Landing as the “big city.” To be fair, there’d been an emigrant ship since the end of exams on May 1, and it was probably twice as big as he remembered; but that didn’t change the fact that there was horse manure in the streets and where his rooming house still had an outhouse.
Which reminded Mike of something important, so he pulled on his dungarees and his boots over fresh long johns and undershirt, and, lamp in hand, fumbled his way out the door and onto the porch. Oddly familiar birdsong filled the air, and across the yard, his horse nickered softly. Watson was a big old bully of a gelding, but give him this; he was ready to wait for breakfast until the farm horses were fed, but he was also not stupid. If Mike was up early, that meant they were back on the trail, and that meant an early breakfast for Watson.
Well, early enough, Mike thought, as he rapped on the door of the outhouse. You never knew who Nature would call, or when. That was another thing you learned around horses. But no-one was in the commode, and, soon, Mike was putting his saddle on Rosalind and the packs on Watson. It was dark, and a new trail, so Rosalind would lead. She was smarter. Of course, that meant that when they rode into Geithner’s Strike in the evening, hopefully, he’d be on Watson, who would get all the glory.
There was a reason Mike had picked those names. The pack saddles clinked as Mike buckled them down. He hoped that he would be in time to meet the mail wagon in Geithner’s. He was up to fifty DNA samples, and he really would be happier if he could send them down to the lab. With the ones he’d get in the placer mining country above Geithner’s, he’d probably have enough to run a full study, and finally figure out what was going on around here.
It was not that Mike didn’t have a theory about what was going on around “here,” and it had nothing to do with what he’d told the Governor to get the funding for his study. He just hoped that he was wrong. He hoped that a lot.
Now was not the time to be scared. At least, not of bogeymen like Teleios. The trail was scary enough, the way that it back-and-forthed down the west slope of Forty Mile Ridge. Fortunately, the light of dawn was breaking by the time Rosalind ambled into the first switchback. Mike could look out over White Lake Valley, but it was still swathed with morning fog, and he could not see Geithner’s, half way up the far side of the lake, across from McKettrick’s Ferry.
He could tell it was there, under the cottony fog that would hang low over the lake until the first touch of the hot White Valley summer sun dispersed it, though. Even from all the way up here, he could hear boat engines on the lakes and chainsaws in the woods, the manic song of the two strokes carrying miles in the mountain air. When he got closer, he knew, it would turn to diesels instead, the sound of backhoes making land along the lake. There were lots of new people coming, drawn by the summer sun and the dryness of the country, and the beautiful cherries and cold storage apples that the riverboats carried down the Narrows with the last of the spring freshet, when snowmelt lifted their hulls high above the rocks.
When the railroad was finished, there would be peaches and sweet corn, too, and even more people. Mike shuddered at the thought of what those people might mean, to Philadelphia and his daughter, and everyone back there.
Then he noticed that the rightward road didn’t end at the switchback, that the vegetation was trampled up to the right, as though something long and serpentine had crawled down out of the brush and onto the road. And he noticed, just as Rosalind nickered and pulled at the reins, that the smell of crushed summer sage was new. Mike snapped the reins with one hand, and Rosalind’s flank with the other. “Go, girl!” He whispered in her ears. They would figure out what to do with their speed down at the next switchback. “Run!”
But it was too late.