Authors: Peter Rock
First Mariner Books edition 2014
Copyright Â© 2013 by Peter Rock
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Rock, Peter, date.
The Shelter Cycle / Peter Rock.
ISBN 978-0-547-85908-8 Â Â ISBN 978-0-544-28963-5 (pbk.)
1. Church Universal and TriumphantâFiction. 2. ChildrenâMontanaâFiction. 3. Self-realizationâFiction. I. Title.
An excerpt of this book originally appeared in
When I was out by myself in the mountains, I liked to think he was somewhere in the trees. I hiked up the canyons, over the ridge and under the pines and aspens to a place where an old cabin had been. It was only a stone chimney and foundation, all broken down. I tore out long grass for a bed, then stepped through the doorway, a gap in the stones with no walls on either side.
I could hear dogs barking, far away, when I closed my eyes. I heard the stream nearby, the wind in the leaves above. And I heard my name.
He stood in the doorway. Wearing his dark blue Cub Scout shirt, the patches on his pocket and his jeans with holes in the knees. Colville Young. He pretended to knock on the door, then stepped inside and stretched out next to me on the bed of grass. We were ten years old, eleven. He was shorter, and his arms were too long for his body, and his hair was almost white, even lighter than mine.
High above, the aspens' leaves slapped, the blue sky bright between them. I listened to Colville's breathing, trying to match mine to it. My shoulder felt his shoulder, even though we didn't touch. I turned my head, his ear so close to my mouth. When I moved my fingers down along my side, they touched his, and we both pulled away.
Eyes closed, we listened to the stream, its liquid sounds the voices of Undines, the nature spirits who served water. I imagined all the Elementals looking down at the two of us, on our bed of green grass. They were the servants of God and man in the planes of matter, which is where we were living, where they protected us. The Undines in the water, and the spirits that served the fire element, called Salamanders. Elementals of the earth were Gnomes. Those of the air, Sylphs.
The thoughts we had, out in nature, were actually the Elementals making their wishes seem like ours. We built tiny homes for them, filled with quartz crystal, in the little caves of the splintery cliffs. The Elementals were part of the reason our parents let us play alone out there. Our parents, they had so much to do, so many preparations to make. It was fortunate for everyone that we had spiritual protection.
What you are reading is the beginning of a letter. It is a letter to you, though I don't know when you'll be able to read it. It's also a letter to myself, to remind me of those things I might try to forget, like how it felt in those days when I was a girl, out in the mountains with Colville.
Colville and I followed deer paths, and we had our own paths, too. We walked side by side and then he went out in front with a stick, in case of rattlesnakes. As we came over the ridge, a dry wind slipped around us, and we started down the other side. The sky was wide and everywhere, full of things we could not see.
Sagebrush and cactus grew up the rock walls toward us. Far below, cars and trucks slid by on Highway 89, back and forth to Yellowstone Park. The dark river ran along next to the highway.
When we forked over into another canyon I caught a glimpse of Mount Emigrant, far away, where the pattern of the dark trees and the white snow made a kind of seahorse. I always looked for that. When I saw it, I knew I was close to home.
Around us, gray metal doors cut into hillsides. White ventilation pipes hooked out of the ground. Down the slope I could see people loading all the supplies we'd need into half-buried boxcars and, farther away, some adults atop a greenhouse, fighting with heavy plastic sheets that were blowing up and down. The rickety houses and trailers we passed were all painted shades of purple and blue.
Colville was talking about the Messenger's teachings on robots, and about space colonization, about the Mechanized Man, Atlantis, the Soviet Union. I couldn't keep up with his talk, and I didn't try. I watched the sky. I knew that Forcefields were drifting by, like floating minefields in the sea, that they could shift our moods and our energy so quickly. It made me feel vulnerable and also like I had to stay focused, to keep my energies in the right place, my attitude and intentions good all the time. That's what I was trying to do, what Colville was trying, what the Elementals were helping us with.
The country opened up as we came out of the canyon. It was so windy in the open; we always had dust in our mouths. We kept walking, past an old tepee my dad had set up, past round oil tanks that were waiting to be buried. People would live inside them, once the world all around us was no longer here.
a girl, where would he hide her?
What a way to be thinking, to catch oneself thinking. Wells Davidson stumbled on a clump of brush; the smell of sage rose into the cold, dry air. The sky above was the palest blue. Small airplanes crisscrossed through it, searching.
Other members of his teamâother neighbors, trying to helpâwalked ten feet on either side of him. A tall man with dark hair, wearing a ski parka over a dress shirt. A woman in a khaki outfit with a white hat like a cloth sombrero. All through the foothills of Boise, people swarmed in these organized groups. Searching, calling. From up here, Wells could see the ridge of Saddleback Park, the towers of the hospitals downtown. He could see his neighborhood, far below, the small house that he shared with his wife, Francine. He could even see the black shape of their dog, Kilo, circling the yard, next to the picnic table, looking up and probably wondering why so many people were in the hills again this afternoon.
The girl had disappeared two nights before. Nine years old, and she'd been sleeping in her back yard, on a trampoline with her younger sister, who didn't wake up until the next morning, an empty sleeping bag beside her. Wells had known the girlâher name and her sharp face, her wild black hair. She waved when she coasted down the sidewalk on her red bicycle. That was all. She lived just down the street, two houses from him and Francine.
The trampoline, at this distance, looked like a dark hole bored deep into the earth. Yesterday morning he'd looked out his kitchen window and seen three men in suits and gloves dusting for fingerprints, picking at the black mat with tweezers, photographing it.
“Hurry up,” someone called. “Keep the line straight.” It was the short, thick police officer who led their search team. His gun belt looked heavy, the crown of his felt hat lined dark with sweat despite the cold.
Wells had thought that one day of searching would be enoughâafter all, if the girl had been stolen away, it was probably in a car and she was now miles, states from here. Francine disagreed; almost eight months pregnant, she wanted to search. She thought that evidence from the trampoline or wherever else might suggest that the girl was closer. Francine was with another team now; she'd started earlier, while he was helping with the tents again. He'd listened as the sheriff spoke to the volunteers, saying, “We know in our hearts that she's alive,” saying that it had been two nights but that it was quite possible that whoever had done this was sitting tight, waiting for things to quiet down so they could move farther away.
Wells glanced up just as his team met another group of searchers. The two lines slipped through each other, paths crossing at right angles. He slowed, surrounded for a moment by girls, blond girls in stocking caps and heavy coats, boots. Serious expressions on their faces, chapped lips set tight. They were the lost girl's classmates, perhaps, or from her church, or both. They didn't look up as they passed, just straight ahead, down at the ground, searching for their friend.
The wind whistled, sharp and cold. It was mid-October; if the weather had been like this two days ago, the sisters would never have slept outside on the trampoline. But it had been warmer, and they had wanted to try out their new down sleeping bags.
Plastic shell casings, a piece of cloth that wouldn't have anything to do with anything, shards of broken bottle so cloudy they looked like beach glass. Wells picked it all up with his gloved hand, slipped it into the clear plastic bag he'd been given. What would he do if he found the girl? What if she was dead? He was supposed to leave her be, to alert the others, not to touch her. But that didn't seem right somehow. If a person found his dead body in a place like this, tangled in the sagebrush with shards of sharp stones around his head or blood on his throat, he'd want them to reach out, at least to touch his shoulder, comfort him somehow, close his eyes.
They were circling back to where they'd started now. Over a slight ridge, along a line of half-finished houses, all exposed plywood and white Tyvek, construction sites cordoned off with yellow tape. The streets here weren't paved yet. Down below, all the vehicles and the orange tents stood at the end of the blacktop. Police cars lined that edge, along with an ambulance. Only police dogs were allowed on the searchâa K9 truck was parked to one sideâand the dogs other people had brought along were all tied together, leashes snarled. They pulled each other in and out of the shade, looking from a distance like one solid, furry mass. One barked, then another.
Wells tried to find Francine, but she wasn't around the tents. Across the hillsides, teams were still searching; she was either out there or already home, waiting for him.
He turned and headed down the curving streets. Perhaps the girl had walked up this slope, led by a person or persons, into the foothills to hide. Or perhaps she was alone, wandering off, confused, something wrong with her memory. She could be so many places.
Posters with her smiling face hung everywhere.
PLEASE FIND ME
. And blue ribbons had been tied in the trees' branches. The trees here in the heights, by the newer homes, were recently planted, all their leaves gone. As he descended closer to his own neighborhood, the branches of the older, taller trees shook in the wind. A few yellow leaves, blown loose, spun down.
Vans from the local news stations were parked all along the curb, call numbers painted on their sides; telescopic arms with round satellite dishes rose from them. He stepped over the thick black cords that snaked everywhere, pausing to look at the girl's house, where all the cameramen pointed their lenses. It was one of the few two-story houses on the street. Clapboard, painted blue. All the curtains were drawn. He imagined the parents trapped inside, waiting for any word, the younger sister wondering why she'd been left behind.