Utter disappointment at Monroe’s no-show didn’t describe Mary’s mood. She regarded the footholds carved in the reddish stone and sighed to realize he wasn’t coming.
The debate to press forward without him took but a few moments. She shouldered her Nikon digital SLR and exhaled a deep breath. “Make sure I don’t touch the petroglyphs,” she said, needing the sound of her voice to summon courage.
With the rock surface pitched inward at thirty degrees, the climb was easier than expected. Good thing heights don’t bother me.
She pulled herself up and knelt on the edge of the flat peak roughly eighteen to twenty feet in diameter, shivering in the stiff breeze. The four-foot-tall monument of smooth reddish stone jutted from the peak’s center.
Mary’s first impression was its perfect cylindrical shape. She estimated its circumference at roughly ten-feet. The characters on its unmarred surface encircled the stone in a straight line. Unlike primitive animals and shapes typical of petroglyphs throughout the state, these had the complexity of ancient runes or hieroglyphics.
She carefully circled the outer edge of the rim to view all sides of the cylindrical stone, taking pictures and making notes as she went. A glint caught her eye from rocky gravel piled several inches high around the monument’s base. She got on her knees to squint. A fragment of a different marking peeked from beneath the pebbles.
Mary crawled closer until she was a foot from the monument. To prevent her fingers from touching it, she used the notebook to scrape away the gravel and expose what appeared to be a humanlike stick figure. She scuffed more pebbles to uncover a second alongside it. Then a third. She unearthed fifteen figures before it ended.
One etching per known person who disappeared. Monroe’s grandmother was right. Excited at discovering new evidence, she squatted to take pictures.
Leaning forward for a close up, a loose rock wobbled beneath her boot, and she lost balance. The momentum pitched her forward—until her palms slapped against the etchings. Retracting her hands as if burned, Mary slowly backpedaled toward the peak’s edge with a sickening sensation burbling in her gut.
The petroglyphs glowed with a silver light. Mary sank to her knees when the sky and surroundings darkened like a full eclipse. Get off the peak, her mind screamed. She scrambled to find the footholds when a gale-like wind pushed her away from the edge. Loose pebbles flailed her body. The wind shifted from different directions, carrying many ethereal voices chanting in an ancient native tongue. A funnel of dust corkscrewed above the monument. The tornadic spiral rose skyward.
“No, no,” Mary shrieked. “I didn’t mean to. I tripped. I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
She jerked when an invisible force clamped around her body and pulled her toward the monument. Prickles of static danced on her skin. Dust melded with her tears to form muddy rivulets on her cheeks. “Please don’t take me,” she wailed.
Suddenly, a strong male voice behind her sang in a native dialect. The song rose and fell in timbre. The static prickling lessened. The winds abated. A few moments later, the invisible force released her body.
She collapsed in a heap, choking. Dizzy and nauseous, she vomited until nothing but bile drooled from her lips. Strong hands gently helped her to a sitting position. John Monroe’s face appeared when her vision cleared. Mary fell against his chest and bawled like a terrified child.
“I’m sorry,” she wailed between gasping hiccups. “I didn’t mean to touch it.”
“Easy now,” Monroe comforted. “It’s over now. Just breathe.”
Monroe rocked her until she cried it out. He handed Mary a handkerchief when she lifted her head.
She blew her nose. “I should have waited, but I didn’t think you were coming.”
“I was held up by slow-moving campers on the way here. Let’s get off this rock.”
Monroe went first, staying two footholds below while Mary descended on wobbly legs. He handed her a water bottle when they reached the ground.
“That song of yours,” Mary said. “What was it?”
“A little native prayer my grandmother taught me should I ever find myself at odds with spirits.”
“Do all guides know it?”
“I doubt it. Most of them are younger and don’t care much for the old ways.”
“It saved my life.” Mary honked again into the damp handkerchief. “Your grandmother was right. There are fifteen stick people etched on the rock. I almost became number sixteen.” She dabbed her eyes. “What would have happened to me?”
“The legend claims the life essence becomes one with the winds.”
My soul scattered to the four winds. She swallowed hard. “Is there any clue to who carved the petroglyphs?”
Monroe shook his head. “There are some out-of-the-box thinkers who theorize it may have otherworldly roots from before mankind walked these lands.”
Alien or not, the petroglyphs of Four Winds Butte contained a sinister, lethal power.
Monroe scrutinized lengthening shadows. “We’ve got a good hour hike down to my jeep. We should get back before dark.”
After stashing their gear, Mary climbed into the jeep’s passenger seat, still quivering from shock.
Before starting the engine, Monroe turned to her. “You understand now why we don’t allow people there. You were very lucky. So, I’d like to ask a favor.”
Mary lowered her head with shame and remorse. “Yes. Anything.”
“If you publish what you’ve experienced here, it will likely renew attraction of other adventure seekers. I don’t think you want their possible disappearances hanging on your conscious. I know of few other petroglyphs hidden from view, and not well known. Nothing as dangerous as Four Winds, but have stories of their own, some of them quite unique. How about you redirect your studies to that.”
Mary swallowed. If Professor Wilkins learned of her transgression and near fatal result, he’d probably kick her out of the master’s program. “Can we—keep what happened between us?”
“Deal.” Monroe patted her arm. “I think you’re going to be pleased with Three Hands Chasm.” He winked. “No curses. I promise.”
Sally Paradysz wrote from a book-lined cabin in the woods beside the home she built from scratch. She was an ordained minister of the Assembly of the Word, founded in 1975. For two decades, she provided spiritual counseling and ministerial assistance. Sal completed undergraduate and graduate courses in business and journalism. She took courses at NOVA, and served as a hotline, hospital, and police interview volunteer in Bucks County, PA. She was definitely owned by her two Maine Coon cats, Kiva and Kodi.
Sal is missed by all who knew her.
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