Saturday, April 19, 2008


A fictional novel by Randy Zahara, originally intended for the screen. 250 860-2125 2671 Longhill Rd. Kelowna B.C. Canada V1V 2G5

In the summer of 2003 a monstrous wall of flame stormed ten meters per minute along the southern shore of Okanagan Lake. It consumed over sixty-three thousand acres of forest, 248 homes and forced the evacuation of thirty-thousand people.
One-year later four film students from the Southern Alberta Institute of technology travel to Kelowna to document a collection of ‘human interest’ stories related to the firestorm. They soon discover that there is more than charred timber and ash still smoldering in the heart of Okanagan Mountain Park.
A mysterious band of firefighters, who disappeared without a trace, an ancient book written in Latin during the reformation, a reclusive old man and a forty-year-old clairvoyant woman ensnare the attention of the young filmmakers. Their journalistic hunger, fueled by the story unraveling in front of them, sends the students in a direction they never anticipated and on a journey as dark as the charcoal blackened forest at the centre of the firestorm.
"O Jesus……., Son of the Eternal God…….., have pity on me!"
These words of anguish erupted in spasms from the seared throat of Michael Servetus as he slowly roasted to death.
The fury of the Spanish Inquisition would not be quelled by simply burning this "Heretic" at the stake.
The executioner was instructed to place the fuel surrounding Servetus at a distance such that the flames and smoke would not render him mercifully unconscious within the first few minutes.
It would take Servetus almost five hours to die, searing in his own body fluids. His skin was blackened and cracked with crevasses, which oozed sizzling fat that spat and popped as it hit the steaming rocks that the charred stumps of his feet rested upon.
"O Jesus……., Son of the Eternal God…….., have pity on me!"
Almost a whisper, but still audible through the intermittent crackle of the dying flames.
‘Son of the Eternal God’, ‘Son of the Eternal God’.
‘Son of the Eternal God…..’ If Servetus had changed the location of one word in that sentence he would not have been executed by the Spanish Inquisition. All that he needed to say was "O Jesus, the Eternal Son of God" and he would have been set free. He would have survived, but his beliefs would not have.
Michael Servetus was a Christian, but he did not agree with some of the doctrines of Christianity, such as the concept of the Holy Trinity or the practice of childhood baptism. He believed that all things were a part of God and that God was, in turn, a part of all things. Servetus wrote that God and the devil were locked in a cosmic battle for the salvation of the Earth, which would not finish until the Archangel Michael brought deliverance, in the form of an all-consuming firestorm.
In the first half of the 16th century, Michael Servetus published the Christianismi Restitutio, one of the most important theological works of the reformation. Only four volumes survived the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic Church kept three of the volumes, the fourth, hidden from the church, became known as the "Holy Book of Tribulation" to the followers of Servetus.
In 1553, the tribulation by fire of Michael Servetus gave birth to a radically reformed sect of Anabaptists, who survived centuries of persecution by completely sheltering their faith and community and eventually, their entire existence, from any contact with the outside world.
Isolation breeds fear and contempt. Complete isolationism breeds deformities… deformities of the body, the mind and the soul…….

"Look at that asshole, he’s disgusting." Jeremy whispered to the other boys in the car. "Look, look, the frickers’ actually drooling, and what the hell is that noise?"
Jeremy had been taping one of his companions in the front seat who’d fallen asleep while leaning against the passenger window. He zoomed in to capture the thin line of drool that’d traced its way down the boy’s chin.
"Jeremy, hold it steady, I want you to catch this.." Colin swerved the van quickly to the left, as if trying to avoid an obstacle in the road, which swayed the sleeping boy into an upright position. He then swerved back towards the right, violently rapping the sleeping boy’s head against the window that he’d been leaning against.
"What the heck?" Mark, the drooling student, looked sleepily over at Colin.
"Frog in the road" Colin answered.
Mark shook his head in feigned disgust and snatched the video camera out of Jeremy’s hands.
"You’re stalling again Jerry." Chad prodded.
"Ok, ok, I got it… Casablanca, The Big Sleep and Key Largo"
Jeremy answered, as they passed the exit road to the Kelowna International Airport.
"Eehhhh", a nasal buzzing noise erupted from Chad before Jeremy had even finished the last syllable of Largo.
"Two out of three ain’t bad for a rookie" Chad taunted.
"Ingrid Bergman was in Casablanca with Bogart, not Lauren Bacall, the other two are right though."
"OK genius, you name another movie that Bogart did with Bacall" Jeremy shot back.
Chad, anticipating the challenge from the outset of the question had been struggling to refrain from giving the answer out of turn. He knew the rules, the previous question he got to answer first, so this time, all the other students were supposed to have a chance to answer before him. It was Mark’s turn, but Jeremy’s provocation had heightened Chad’s level of excitement to such a degree that he could not hold back a premature articulation.
"Dark Passage, filmed in 1947, directed by Delmer Daves, screen play by Delmer Daves, original novel by David Godis… YES!!"
Chad had answered out of turn and Mark got the points that should have been his, but it felt sooooo good. Chad’s beaming face was more than the other film students in the car could take.
"God, I hate it when he does that, it is so frickin’ irritating" "You know Chad, the only thing more frickin’ irritating than a frickin’ genius, is a frickin’ genius that has to keep proving to everyone that he is a frickin’ genius. Give it a rest for a while, OK?"
Colin had been waiting for three hours to give Chad the hint to stop showing off. He hadn’t meant to unload so heavily on him, after-all he did like this young future moviemaker, but once he’d started it was like a floodgate bursting forth. Even before he finished his last sentence he was starting to feel a little guilty. Colin looked over his shoulder to see the expression on Chad’s face, then smiled and winked at the younger boy, and repeated, "Ok?"
Mark, who had been silently filming all of the exchanges adjusted the lens of the camera to compensate for the intense outside sunlight and shifted his attention to a floral display a quarter mile down the highway.
"Hey guys, it looks like we are here." Mark looked over at Colin, "Slow down a bit as we go past, I want to get a good shot of the ‘Welcome to Kelowna’ sign, it might fit in well with the opening montage."
A quarter mile past the sign, something of even greater interest captured Mark’s attention. Three attractive, young women, in very short shorts and bikini-tops, were roller-blading along the side of the road.
"Jeez, Colin, slow down!" Mark was now leaning out the window, not at all trying to conceal his taping of the girls. As they passed the three roller-bladers he waved at them with his free hand while still taping and they all waved back at him. When he pulled himself back into the car the other students slapped him on the back and whooped and howled as if he had accomplished some kind of great deed.
Colin looked over at Mark and smiled. "I know they’re hot buddy, but we’re here for another kind of fire!" He joked.
"Holy Shit Colin, watch out!!" Chad screamed from the back seat.
Colin locked up the brakes, skidding the 1986 Volkswagon Westfalia to a stop just inches from three men crossing the road. All three were dressed in plain black clothes, and all had long, stringy dark hair that hung limply below the worn plantation hats that covered their heads. Scraggly beards covered most of their faces and each wore aviator glasses and rawhide gloves. One of the men, startled by the sound of screeching tires, instinctively turned towards the oncoming car. His motion was catlike in its fluidity and quickness. He stood facing the van in a ready stance, with both arms outstretched and knees bent as if he would be able to push the vehicle backwards if it drew any closer. The sudden turn had dislodged his sunglasses and for a split second the boys in the car could see the man’s uncovered face. His mouth was partially open in menacing sneer, revealing jagged bits of partially decayed and yellowed teeth. The little bit of jaundiced flesh that could be seen between the beard and the brim of the man’s hat was very porous and marred by acne scars. The whites of his eyes were clouded and yellowing, like the yoke of a raw egg that has started to rot. His face was less than two feet from the windshield and the look of hatred in his eyes sent a chill through Mark as he continued to roll the tape. The man looked directly into the camera then stooped to pick up his dislodged aviators and joined his two companions on the other side of the road.
"Holy shit, what the hell was that?" Jeremy asked.
"Looked like some kind of religious cult, you know, like the ones we met outside of Cardston last summer when we were doing that piece on organic vegetable farming with the Hippie chick from Calgary." Mark offered.
"Well, that would have been a dramatic entrance to Kelowna. I can see the headlines now, ‘Graduate Film Students doing documentary on Okanagan Mountain Fire, kill Hutterite Men-folk."
Chad joked, a little nervously. He’d been shaken by the close call and was also still a little upset by Collins earlier reprimand.
"That’s too long man, It’d be something like; ‘Firestorms don’t kill, documentaries do!" Jeremy smiled at his own wit and opened a can of coke just as the three girls on roller-blades passed them. He tipped his can towards them in a toasting gesture.
"With a little luck boys, with a little luck!!!" Colin interjected. "With a little luck this documentary will Kill! We’ve got the story of the decade, we’ve got the angle and we’ve got an entire country dying to hear all of the personal little tragedies and triumphs of everyone even remotely involved with this fire. If we don’t Kill, we’d better start thinking about other career choices!"
A few minutes later they pulled into the Big White Motel parking lot.
"Chad, how many rooms did you book for us?" Colin asked as he pulled up to the curb in front of the motel lobby.
"I booked two rooms with two queen beds in each, non-smoking, no pets, just like it called for in the budget." Chad answered.
"Ohhh Maaaannn! That sucks man, I hate sharing rooms." Jeremy rolled his eyes so far back that he looked as if he was about to have a seizure. "I am not sharing with Mark!!"
Mark feigned a hurt look, "Frick you asshole, that suits me just fine."
"All right guys" Colin interrupted, "Chad, you bunk with Mark and I’ll share a room with the asshole".
"I’m an Asshole…." Jeremy broke into a Dennis Leary tune, "Such an asshole. I use public toilets and piss on the seats, but at least I don’t snore and I’m no genius geek, but I’m an asshole."
"You guys might as well wait here, I’ll be right back" Chad got out of the car, stretched, pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket, looked at it and entered the hotel lobby. A few minutes later he re-emerged and sprang down the steps holding keys in his right hand and a bulky manila envelope in his left. Written on the outside of the envelope, in black felt pen, was, "Okanagan Mountain Fire Project C/O Chad Zahara"
As Chad got into the car Mark asked, "You got fan mail already?"
Chad smiled and started to open the envelop, then looked at Colin, "Our rooms are 234 and 236, just around the back, we can park right in front of them, just put this ticket on the dash" Then he turned his attention back to the envelop.
"Whaddya got there, Chad?" Colin asked as he pulled the van away from the curb.
"Not sure, a video tape and here’s a letter" Chad pulled out an unlabeled black VHS tape.
"Probably this flee-bag joints idea of porn" Jeremy quipped.
"What’s the letter say", Collin asked Chad, ignoring the urge to argue with Jeremy, who’d been taking shots at Collin’s choice of lodging, even before they started on the trip.
Chad read the note to the other students;
"Dear Chad, a friend told me that you would be staying here. Something happened just after the fire last year that nobody knows about. I don’t want to loose my job, but somebody has to see this."
"See what?" Mark asked.
"That’s all it says. Let’s get unpacked and then see what’s on here" Chad examined the outside of tape to make sure he hadn’t missed anything when he first pulled it out of the envelop.

"DCR-VX2000 Mini DV" Colin read from a list.
Mark patted the expensive camcorder like it was his pet, "She’s here and ready to roll"
"NP F960 5900 Mah Long Life Preformance Replacement Battery, should be five of them. Colin continued to read from his list.
"1, 2, 3,…..oh, shit…oh, just a second…. Yep, 4 and 5. I love the picture quality of the VX2000, but she’ll draw the juice pretty good." Mark replied.
All of the film students had become proficient in a number of areas, but for the Okanagan Mountain Fire Documentary, Mark was assigned the responsibility of being the primary cinematographer.
"Well, that’s just about it, we could use a few more tapes for the Sony Camcorder, but other than that we’re set." Colin put down his list and sat down in a chair near the window of the small hotel room just as someone knocked on the door. He leaned forward and unlatched the lock to let Chad and Jeremy in. Each student was carrying a twenty-four pack of Molson Export beer.
"Just in time boys, we just finished." Mark reached for the box of beer Chad was carrying.
"You got the VCR set up?" Chad asked.
"You bet" Mark replied, "guess you want to watch that porno now eh?"
"Ya, let’s see what’s on it" Chad tossed Mark the video. Although Mark and Collin had been unpacking and checking all of the equipment, this was the room that Chad would be sharing with Mark for the duration of their filming in Kelowna. Mark put the video into the VCR and pushed the play button. There was static at the beginning, then a blurred image of Gil Grisom leaning over a cadaver came on for a split second then more static and then a silhouette of a man sitting in a chair facing the camera. The silhouette leaned towards the camera and started to speak.
"What you are going to see on this tape is going to change your life forever. What I am about to tell you, you are going to find hard to believe, but it’s true, it’s all true."
The film student’s attention had been completely captured by the mysterious silhouette. "This story starts almost 19 years ago. It’s a depraved tale, almost too disgusting to tell, the actions of that fateful day in the deep woods have had consequences that, even today, still echo in this community." With that, the silhouette leaned towards a lamp that was next to his chair and reacheed for the switch, the lights went on revealing a room full of seventeen and eighteen year olds and the silhouette, who turned out to be Chad’s uncle Randy. "Happy 18th Frickin Birthday Spud Buddy" Uncle Randy shouted into the camera as the room full of teenagers erupted into a chorus of "Happy Birthday To You…"
"What a whack job" Jeremy shouted, then turned to Chad. "Is it really your birthday?"
"Yep, one more year and I’m legal" Chad replied.
"Well, tonight Spud Buddy" Colin teased, tossing a can of Molson’s Export to Chad. "I decree that the legal drinking age in this motel room is 18"
"So who’s the character on the tape Chad?" Colin asked.
"That’s uncle Randy, he works for the city. He’s going to help us scout out locations and with whatever else we might need. He’s lived here all his life and knows the town like the back of his hand"
"Still looks like a Whack Job to me" Jeremy repeated.

Heavy double lined drapes helped to block most of the outside light and virtually all noise from entering the small motel room. Only a sliver of glowing red, flashing intermittently, found it’s way through crack in the fortified wall of linen. Chad had tried, unsuccessfully, several times to pull the curtains together so that they would overlap enough to stop the faint, but annoying, bit of light from shining into his sanctuary. It had been a long day, the students had been on the road for over ten hours, including several unnecessary stops and a flat tire. Even though it had been his birthday, Chad was not really in any mood to party, so he was quite relieved when Collin finally told everyone that it was time to "Pack her in for the night".
As soon as Jeremy and Collin had left, Mark crawled into bed. Chad was sure that Mark hadn’t even bothered brushing his, which had bothered Chad a bit. Now, two hours later, Chad lay tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, trying not to see Marks red illuminated, face appear, then disappear, then reappear over, and over and over again, with the consistency of a flashing neon motel "vacancy" sign.
Finally, Chad’s eyelids began to grow heavy, the hypnotic red light had started to numb his brain and thoughts of the trip there, the day before and what they needed to do next began to fade from his consciousness, then it started…`1
At first it was an almost inaudible, labored, wheezing, grinding kind of a sound, like the sound that used to come from the kitchen in Chad’s Grandma’s house. The sound that was there all day long, but you couldn’t hear it until all of the rest of the daytime noises had been eliminated. Then it became so clear that it was hard to believe that it didn’t drive you crazy long before the quiet of the night had descended. Chad’s Grandpa told him that it was just the refrigerator compressor wearing out. It had been wearing out for as long as Chad could remember, but when his grandparents finally replaced the antique refrigerator with a new one, it was even worse. The old, familiar, and annoying, but somehow comforting grinding wheeze had been replaced by a much softer, consistent electric whirring sound. Now, in the middle of the night, the kitchen seemed almost foreign to Chad, like a cold empty room, where the electric hum of the new refrigerator was a symbol of all of the changes that had occurred in his life in the past few years.
The wheezing, grinding noise that had started out so subtly on the other side of Chad’s motel room had now escalated into a symphony of demonic sounds emanating from the cavernous abyss at the centre of the upturned face of Chad’s friend and fellow student. Chad could not fathom how Mark did not wake himself up. He was sure that if there was anyone in the next room, they would never be able to sleep through this noise and would soon be phoning the night desk to complain. Chad tried covering his head with his extra pillow and blankets, but the horrible sound penetrated like a hot knife through butter.
At first, Chad had been a little concerned for his friend. The snoring would intensify to a point where it almost sounded like choking, then all of a sudden the noise would stop completely, along with Marks breathing. Time after time, Chad would just make up his mind to get out of bed to check on his roommate, when Mark would take a large gasp of air and the entire sequence would start all over again. He had been concerned that, during one of these episodes, Mark might die in his sleep, but after an agonizing thirty minutes of this inhumane torture, Chad began to wonder if that result might not be such a bad thing.
He had tried everything, pillows, wads of toilet paper stuck into his ears, even trying to get comfortable in the bathtub with the door shut, but nothing was working, then he saw the video camera sitting on the night stand. Chad turned the camera on and focussed it on his own face.
"Ok, you bastards, here is my evidence, now, if you don’t all agree to get a separate room for Mark, then someone else is going to have to share with him, as I sure as hell am not putting up with this for another night."
At the end of his statement, he turned the camera on Mark, showing the red glow of the neon light flashing on and off his unconscious face and recording the obnoxious noises coming out of his mouth. As he was doing this, Chad noticed an empty beer can on the floor beside the bed. He picked it up, and without even thinking, tossed it at Marks head, which it bounced off of with a hollow sound. Mark woke up temporarily, blinked at the light from the camera, and swore, "What the hell are you doing"..
Without even waiting for an answer, Mark rolled onto his side, away from the penetrating light of the video camera, and resumed snoring.
Chad, frustrated by all of his attempts to deal with his snoring roommate, and still somewhat reluctant to attempt using a pillow on Mark, decided to walk down to the motel office to see if the night clerk might have some ear plugs that he could buy. Even if his quest proved unsuccessful, at least it would get him out of this nightmarish room for a while. Maybe, just maybe, God would provide a miracle for him while he was gone and cure Mark of his snoring, or at least allow him to die mercifully in his sleep.
Chad still had the camcorder in his hand and so he decided to leave it running while walking down to the motel office. Two rooms down from his he paused for a second, putting his ear up to the door and listening intently. Nothing, not a peep, complete and beautiful silence. This was too much for Chad, he took one more look at the room number, "236", then picked up a wad of wet dirt out of a flower planter just outside the room and smeared the word "Assholes" on the outside of the door.
Other than the red neon "Vacancy" sign, flashing on and off, there was only one lonely street lamp struggling to keep total darkness away from the front door of the motel office. Chad crossed the parking lot in a straight line. The night air was a little cooler than he had expected and the cob-webs of semi-consciousness that had slowly begun to weave themselves into his mind, were now rapidly dissipating. As he neared the motel lobby, Chad was starting to wonder; if he had only tried a little longer, maybe he would have succeeded in finding the precious sleep that he so desperately wanted right now.
Slowly he pushed the lobby door open and walked across the empty foyer to the reception desk, which was empty as well. Chad looked around the sparsely decorated room to see if there might be a vending machine that would dispense a proper set of earplugs for him to purchase. Finding none, he was about to leave, when he heard the motel night auditor returning to the desk.
"You’re up late" the perky young girl chirped. Seeing Chad in his pajamas with the motel’s standard green acrylic blanket wrapped around him led her to the conclusion that Chad had already checked in.
"Ya, too late!" Chad smiled back at the pretty 18-year-old, suddenly wishing that he had worn something other than his "pony" pajamas.
"Did you want something?" The girl asked.
"The guy I’m sharing my room with snores." Chad replied, "Do you sell earplugs?".
The girl looked around the desk and checked some drawers, "Sorry, I just started working up front, usually I’m in housekeeping, but Megan, who usually does this job, just had her baby, she was 5 weeks early, nobody….."
Chad cut her off. Even though she was very pretty, he just wanted to get out of there and back to bed.
"It’s OK, if you can’t find any, don’t worry about it, I’ll jam a stick into my eardrums and pretend the sound of rushing air is an ocean breeze."
"Now that wouldn’t be very smart, how would you hear me tomorrow when I call you to take me out for lunch?" The girl teased. She fumbled through her purse for a minute then pulled out two tampons, which she unwrapped. She walked around to the front of the desk and approached Chad with them in her outstretched palm. "Here, this will help, my dad snores really bad and mom showed me this trick last time we went camping. She read about it in some ladies magazine, but it really works."
Chad, buoyed by the girls flirting and not wanting to appear prudish or ungrateful put the camcorder down on the counter and took the tampons from the girl. He struggled for a moment, but eventually forced one of the units into his left ear. The girl smiled at him and pulled the device out, turned it around and gently inserted the other side back into his ear.
"I think it will work best if you have the string side out." She advised.
Chad successfully inserted the remaining tampon into his other ear, ‘string side out’, and turned to leave. Surprisingly, there was silence. The hummmm of the Coke machine near the lobby door was gone. The girl was talking, but her lips moved without making a sound. Then Chad noticed the camcorder sitting on the counter. He smiled at the girl, pointing to the small video camera as he walked over to pick it up.
"THANKS, I THINK THIS WILL WORK!!" Chad shouted at the girl. The tampon earplugs were working so well that he could barely hear himself speak.
"SEE YOU TOMORROW." He proclaimed with a wink and in two steps he was out the door and crossing the parking lot carrying the still running camcorder like a lunch bucket. Chad looked back to see if she was still watching him, and he noticed her waving, but the Sony camcorder was picking up the headlights of a truck that had just turned erratically into the parking lot, heading straight towards him. Chad who was still smiling and looking at the young lady was completely unaware of the ton and a half of rusting metal that was descending rapidly upon him. He never heard the screeching of the wheels as the truck came around the corner, or the low baseline dumm, dumm, dum, dum, dummm, dummm of White Stripes "Seven Nation Army", blasting through the night from the cab of the truck like a harbinger of doom. Nor did he hear the screams from the young girl, horrified by what she was about to see.
Still walking into the direct line of the oncoming truck he continued to look back towards the motel lobby. Transfixed by the lovely young girl waving at him, he waved back, one last time, before finally noticing the panic on her face.
Chad turned just in time to see the green pickup truck bearing down upon him. He threw himself backwards and the driver, noticing the sudden movement, swerved just in time. Still clutching the video camera in his right hand, Chad picked himself up and pulled one of the tampons out of his ear so that he could talk to the worried girl who had rushed over to him.
"You OK?" She asked?
"Yeah, I’m fine" Chad checked the camera to see if it has been damaged and dusted some dirt off of the motel blanket that was still wrapped around him. "but, I almost forgot something. I wanted to get a wake up call in a couple of hours. I have to get ready for some filming in the morning before the rest of the crew gets up, so can you give me a ring at 4:30?"
"No problem, I’ll set it for you, what is your room number?" She asked.
Chad looks at her and smiled, "236, set the call for room 236, and can you make sure that it rings until the phone is picked up, cause I might not hear it with these things in."
"You got ‘er Pontiac" The girl replied, and Chad thought to himself, that he loved these colloquial small towns. His dad used that saying all the time, and he was from a small town just like this one. It wasn’t an expression the kids back home would use, but, coming from her, it sounded sweet and refreshing. Now if only he could see the look on Colin and Jeremy’s faces when they got the unexpected wake up call in a couple of hours, everything would be just perfect.
Whahut the hahelll?" Mark laughed, as he sat on the edge of his bed, scratching the back of his head. Chad, looking like a four year old in his pony pajamas, was lying on his side, his spare pillow tucked between his legs, hands, folded in prayer style, tucked under his left cheek and a tampon sticking out of his right ear.
"Hey Spud, where the hell did you get to last night?"
Chad blinked his eyes open, still very drowsy after the horrible night he had. Mark had been videotaping Chad for the past few minutes and was now laughing hysterically. The laughter grew even louder as Chad slowly sat up. The tampon sticking out of his right ear was funny enough, but the one in his left ear was horribly disfigured and bent and squished against Chad’s cheek, with the retrieval string lodged in the corner of Chad’s mouth.
Chad spat the string out, wiped the crushed tampon from his cheek and pulled the other one out of his right ear. He looked at Mark with as much disdain as his tired eyes could create.
"What?" Chad growled back.
Still laughing Mark stood up, stepped towards Chad and picked up one of the tampons that Chad had left on the bed, held it out towards Chad and asked, "What, ya worried about a brain hemorrhage or something?"
"I wouldn’t laugh" Chad was smiling himself at how ridiculous he must have looked to Mark, "These little puppies saved your life last night!!"
Mark new that he had a snoring problem, but had no idea of how extreme it was, and he really didn’t want to know. He was just about to change the subject when there was a knock at the door.
"Wake up you lazy bastards, and open the door" Jeremy shouted. "We’ve been up and ready to roll for two hours already….. Thanks for the wakeup call by the way."
Chad’s smile widened as he crossed the room to unlatch the door.
"You look like shit, buddy." Jeremy joked as he walked past Chad and over to the sink to retrieve a can of beer sitting in a small pool of melted ice.
"Do you want some Cornflakes with that?" Mark jabbed.
"Hey, it’s five o’clock somewhere." Jeremy shot back.
"Frick, I hate that song. Buffet is OK, but, God, I can’t stand Alan Jackson." Chad never wanting to be left out of a conversation offered up another unsolicited opinion.
Jeremy was just about to crack his can of beer when Colin arrived at the still open door. He brought in a paper towel covered with mud and threw it into the garbage can by the television set.
"So, who’s the artist?" He asked, while looking at Chad.
"I can’t remember if I wrote Asshole or Assholes. If I used the plural, I’m sorry Colin." Chad apologized.
"So, what’s that all about?" asked Jeremy.
"It’d probably be easier if I just showed you." Chad hooked up the camcorder to the VCR and rewound the footage that he shot the night before.
"Christ Mark, you’re lucky you’re alive…, you too Chad, by the looks of it!" Colin joked with a good-natured grin.
"Not the best work you’ve done, but the girl was hot!" Jeremy added.
"Point is guys," Chad began, "The point is, Mark is a great guy, but he has to have his own room, I’m sure we could get a deal on a third room. It would also help out a lot with the storage space."
"You’re right, Mark should have his own room, we’ll figure out a way to cover the cost. See if you can get a deal, but if not, don’t worry about it, book it anyway, but you better get it done before they fill up." Collin could hear the tension in Chad’s voice and thought that this would not be a good time to tease him. Colin also wanted to ambush any sarcastic remark that Jeremy might have been hatching so he spoke up as soon as Chad had finished talking.
"Chad, where, and what time was your uncle supposed to meet us?" Colin continued, changing the subject.
"Nine O’clock at the Whitespot on Harvey avenue." Chad replied.
"OK boys, we’d better get our asses in gear then. Mark, you and Chad get ready, Jeremy and I will put some gas in the van and we’ll meet you in the parking lot in twenty minutes."
Half an hour later they pulled into the parking lot of the Whitespot. It was a fairly new restaurant with a retro 50’s look to it and gas pumps out front advertising "Regular" at a price much lower than the students just filled the van for.
Colin smiled at the pumps, shook his head and looked at Chad. "So, what’s Uncle Randy like? Is he really as dramatic as he seemed on the video?"
"He can be pretty over-the-top at times, but he takes his job seriously, and once you get to know him, he starts to grow on you."
"Ya, and so does skin cancer!" Jeremy added.
"I’m starving, let’s go in and order." Mark opened the door and the students entered the restaurant.
"Hey Spud" Uncle Randy shouted. He spotted the students entering just as he was coming out of the restroom. Chad’s face lit up when he saw his uncle.
Randy is a large man, just over six feet tall and a solid 240 pounds, obviously an athlete in his younger years and still looking very strong. He is limping a little and eases into a chair that he has pulled up to the booth the students have settled into.
"Hi guys, Chad told me you were all pretty ugly, but jeez, I’m really sorry, I had no idea…. By the way, I’m Randy." Randy looked at Chad with a wink and then reached over to shake the hands of the other students.
"So, you’re here to talk to people about the fire, eh? I’ve set my morning aside to give you a bit of a tour, then you’ll be on your own, but if you need any more help, just let me know, Chad has my Cell number, and my schedule is pretty flexible, besides, I love this kinda shit."
"This morning we’d like you to show us a couple of spots where we can get some good shots of the city. You know, background footage for the documentary and maybe a few places where we can get some shots of the burnt forest. Then at two we pick up the boat you arranged for us at the Eldorado Marina." Chad was obviously trying to look important to Uncle Randy, as if he actually was in charge of his small band of student filmmakers.
"Sounds like a plan, I’ll let you guys get some breakfast, I’ve got a quick errand to run and I’ll be back in half an hour to pick you up. Good to see you again, Spud!" Uncle Randy got up and grabbed the back of his chair with his right hand and with his left tussled Chad’s hair before he turned to leave.
"Hey, Uncle Randy.." Jeremy called after him, "Does this town have any decent clubs?"
Uncle Randy turned towards the young man, "I’m not sure what you would consider decent, but I’ll point a few popular ones out to you this morning. Catch you in a bit guys."
Half an hour later the boys were finishing up their coffee waiting for the waitress to bring them their change when Randy pulled up outside with a one ton crew cab, the horn blaring a tinny version of the Mexican Hat Dance as it came to a stop.
"I have to admit, he is a character." Colin commented, shaking his head and smiling as he rose out of the booth. "Mark, make sure you get everything on tape this morning. If we don’t get anything useful for the documentary, I know we’ll at least get footage for America’s Funniest Videos or for Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect."
Chad smiled and opened the door for the other students, prodding, "We’ve got four hours until we have to pick up the boat, so let’s motor."
The tour had been progressing smoothly, Uncle Randy had proven to be a valuable guide and Mark had already picked up a number of scenic shots from some great vantage points.
They had just picked up lunch at the A & W drive through and were heading out Chute Lake Rd. to get some shots of burnt forest when they came across the same three men that they had narrowly missed running into the day before.
One of them was changing a flat tire on a weathered green pickup, one was standing a few paces behind the truck facing down the hill and the third was a few paces in front of the truck facing up the hill. None of the men were talking, and the two men standing almost looked like they were guarding the truck. Uncle Randy slowed right down when he neared the first man at the back of the truck. As he went by he rolled down the passenger window and shouted across the two boys sitting next to him. "You guys need a hand?"
All three men looked at him with blank expressions, and shook their heads, rejecting his offer without saying a word.
"I love doing that." Uncle Randy laughed, "Those guys are so freekin’ paranoid they probably don’t even shit alone."
"Hey, aren’t they the same guys we saw yesterday, you know the hermaphrodites?" Jeremy asked.
Uncle Randy and Colin both burst into laughter.
"Whaaaat?" Jeremy whined indignantly.
"Hutterite, the word is Hutterite, not hermaphrodite." Colin explained.
"What’s the big diff.?" Jeremy didn’t mind the first bit of laughter, but didn’t enjoy being made to look stupid.
"The difference dick head is that one is a religious sect and the other a person with both a penis and a pussy." Mark teased.
"Oh, I seeee, so I guess you are the King of these people cause you are just a big Pussieee with a little penis." Jeremy shot back.
"Are these guys Hutterites, Uncle Randy?" Chad asked, trying to cut off the escalation of insults.
"No, they’re not Hutterites. I don’t really know that much about them except that they call themselves Lasagna, or something like that. They have some kind of colony on the other side of the mountain where they do some farming and they do some pretty good woodwork too. My buddy’s got a nifty little cabinet that he bought from them last year. They’ve had that colony for as long as anyone can remember, probably since there has been a town here. They pretty well stick to themselves which is good ‘cause if you get too close to them they kind of smell like piss and maple syrup. You don’t see them in town very much. They kinda creep me out actually." Randy checked the rearview mirror to see if the men with the pickup were following him. He signaled and turned left onto a rustic dirt road, then pulled off to the side and stopped the truck and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed.
"Hi Wanda, I’ve got a one o’clock at the rec. centre with Mr. Shit for Brains, can you give him a call and re-schedule me for tomorrow.., no.. on second thoughts, next week sometime? Heh, heh, ya, you can tell him that if you want, I’ll buy you lunch tomorrow if you do. Great, thanks Wanda, you’re the best, see you around three, adios." Randy put the phone back in his pocket and turned so that he could talk to the students beside him and in the back seat at the same time.
"This guy I know, Shawn, is a captain with the fire department, he’s got some crazy stories. A couple of months ago he showed me this spot where they found some weird stuff after the fire had passed by. It’s about a half-hour from here, you guys want to check it out?"
"Remember, we’ve got the boat booked at 2:00, do you think we’ll make it in time?". Chad asked.
Randy looked at his watch, "It’s 12:15 now, we are about twenty minutes from the Kelowna Marina. Half an hour to where we are going and half an hour back to this point gives you 25 minutes to kick around up there and take some pictures and still puts you on your boat at 2, or a little sooner if I drive like hell!".
"2 will be fine." Colin volunteered. "In fact, if we are running a little late, we’ll just call the marina to let them know we’re still coming. I’d really like to check this place out."
The other three students agreed and half an hour later Randy was pulling the truck up beside a large green meadow surrounded by thousands of acres of burnt forest.
"Holly shit, this is frickin’ weird." Mark verbalized what they were all thinking. "Why isn’t this area burnt?"
"Don’t know, when Shawn got here with his crew, everything around was still smoldering and there were sticks and dry wood piled up in a big circle. All the grass inside the circle was flattened like animals had been sleeping there and they found hundreds of footprints in the ash between here and the lake. You can still see some of the sticks scattered around."
Mark was the first one out of the truck with his camera rolling. "This is great man, and listen to the wind blowing through the burnt trees, that’s freaky, Jeremy, get your ass out here and pick up these sounds!!".
Jeremy got out of the truck and grabbed a backpack out of the back seat, pulled a large microphone out zipped the pack up and put it on. He walked towards Mark holding the microphone up in front of him like a wand. When he reached Mark he softly tapped the other boy on each shoulder then on the top of his head and declared, "I now dub thee, King of the Pussy Penis People!"
"Ok, Ok, fine, you win asshole, now, please, pick up these sounds" Mark pleaded.
Jeremy took off his backpack and put it on the ground next to a small tripod, which he attached his microphone to. Next, he pulled out a windsock that he put over the end of the microphone before removing a high-performance, Deva 5 portable, hard-disk audio recorder, which he placed down upon the now empty backpack. He turned on the unit and set it to remote, then he picked up the tripod and walked around the meadow for a few moments listening intently before putting it down and walking back to the truck.
The other students and Randy watched in silence as Mark walked around the meadow taping everything from broken sticks to piles of rocks. At one point, at the border of where the green vegetation of the meadow met the scorched earth of the burnt forest, he stopped and bent down to get a better look at something. He reached toward the ash, brushing it away from an object that had captured his interest. When he picked it up and blew more ash and dust from its surface the others could see that he had found a large, very old looking book.
Mark focused his camera on the spot where he had found the book and shot a couple of seconds of video to document the location. Just as he was about to re-join the other students he noticed a second object in the ash. It was the end of a leather lanyard, which he’d unearthed when he picked up the book. He reached over to pull the leather out of the ash and attached to the other end he found a very old looking medallion that reminded him of pictures he’d seen of Spanish Doubloons. He brought both objects over to the students standing by the truck. The book was very heavy, the pages thick and yellowing and it was bound in black leather with a variety of symbols and letters embossed on the surface. The medallion had been blackened by age and by soot, but the images on it were still quite visible.
"Nice find Mark, very cool, but we’d better get going, it’s already one thirty." Colin remarked, looking at his watch.
Jeremy jumped off of the tailgate of the truck, where he had been sitting and ran over to grab the audio equipment and pack it up.
"Owe, holy shit, this peckers hot." Jeremy exclaimed. He turned off the audio recorder and went over to pack up the microphone and tripod then returned to the recording unit and touched it gingerly. "Crap, I shouldn’t have left it in the sun, son-of-a-bitch!!"
He took off his shirt and used it like a large oven mitt to pick the overheated equipment up with. He put it into the carrying pack then took it back to the truck and sat it in the middle of the back seat.
"Ok, let’s go, I wanna get on the water!!"

"So, why, exactly, are we taking a boat out to Rattlesnake Island?" Mark asked as he stowed his camera gear in the cuddy to keep it dry.
"Because it’s too far to swim!" Jeremy replied as he put the backpack containing the sound recorder beside Mark’s camera equipment.
"Actually, because Uncle Randy arranged it for us, and all we have to pay for is the gas. Rattlesnake Island is where they say the fire started, so we want to get a couple of background shots there." Chad added.
"And, because this is a beautiful lake, full of beautiful women, and this might be the only chance we get to enjoy it boys!" Collin tossed his shirt onto the seat beside the cockpit and put on a pair of sunglasses.
The other students were busy storing the rest of their gear and looking for a comfortable spot to settle in to while Colin untied the last mooring rope, and started to push the boat away from the dock.
"Hey, guys, wait up a minute." Uncle Randy called. He was walking towards the dock, balancing an oversized inflated boating tube on his head with his left hand and carrying a large cooler in his right hand. In his sandals, shorts and Miami Vice sport shirt he looked like an oversized Jimmy Buffet.
In front of him an adolescent girl was bounding down the dock toward the boat. Her eyes were bright and wide with excitement. She didn’t say a word, but the desire to go boating with the students was written all over her face. She waved shyly at Chad and smiled, but waited quietly in the middle of the dock as Uncle Randy carried his load toward the boat.
"Thought you guys might as well have a little fun on your way out to Rattlesnake Island." Uncle Randy handed the tube and cooler to Chad. "Sandra put a few snacks together for you and I picked up some beverages so you won’t dehydrate." He winked at the boys and grabbed the girl by the hand and started to head back up the dock towards the parking lot.
Chad watched as they walked away, then looked at his companions in the boat and shrugged his shoulders. They all nodded in agreement without saying a word, so he turned back towards his retreating relatives.
"Hey, Uncle Randy, Stephanie, you guys want to come with us?" He asked, half-hoping that the invitation would be declined.
"Can we dad?" Stephanie asked.
"Sorry Sweetheart, I’ve got to meet with the Wakefest organizers in an hour, besides, I thought I was dropping you off at Gyro beach to go swimming with Jessica."
"Pleeeeeease Dad? I haven’t seen Chad since last Christmas, pleeeease?"
"Well, if the boys don’t mind babysitting for the afternoon, then it’s OK with me, whatya say guys?" Uncle Randy asked.
Doing their best to fake as much enthusiasm as possible the students all agreed that it would be nice to have a young lady along.
"Thanks Dad." Stephanie jumped into the boat and gave Chad had a big hug.
"I’ll pick you all up at 7:00, Sandra’s cooking up a feast for us tonight, so make sure you’re hungry!" Randy turned and headed back up the dock again as Colin turned the ignition key and the 340 cubic inch motor roared to life.
Stephanie took a seat next to Jeremy, sitting with her hands clasped together between her knees and her eyes looking at her feet, every once in a while she would take a brief glance toward the student, then look back down again.
Chad moved to a seat across from Stephanie and began introducing her to the other students. "The guy steering the boat is Colin, he comes from Calgary, not far from Uncle Emil and Aunt Elma’s place. The guy in the front of the boat is Mark, he will be doing most of the camera work for our documentary, and this guy beside you is Jeremy, he is our sound guy and general tech expert."
When Chad introduced Jeremy, Stephanie looked up from her feet for a second, straight into Jeremy’s eyes, and, with a self-conscious smile, managed a shy; "Hi." Before returning her gaze to her feet once again.
"Hi Stephanie. So how did a little cutie like you end up with an ugly mutt of a cousin like Chad here?" Jeremy joked, which got a very big, yet still shy, smile out of Stephanie.
"Hey, watch it Romeo, that’s my favorite relative you are talking to here, besides, she’s only 11 and…"
"I’ll be thirteen in three and a half months!" Stephanie interrupted with a glaring look at her cousin for underestimating her age in front of this very cool and cute film student.
"Hey, anyone ready to try some tubing?" Colin pushed the throttle all the way forward slowing the boat to a bobbing stop a few hundred yards off of Sarson’s Beach, in an area known as the Mission. The water was about eight feet deep and crystal clear. Million dollar mansions lined the shore, interspersed with public parks and resorts.
Mark sat on the gunwale of the boat for a moment, admiring the scenery, envious of the people lucky enough to live in such a beautiful place. He put his hand down into the water to test the temperature and discovered it was as warm as his parents heated pool. The expression on his face when he looked at Colin, conveyed the message; ‘be gentle, I’ve never done this before.’ He looked back at the tube, smiled nervously, then flopped overboard into the lake.
Chad hooked the tubing rope to the Wake-board tower that arched over the centre of the boat and jumped overboard holding onto the tube. He ducked himself under the water quickly before scrambling up onto the left side of the large inflatable toy. Mark pulled himself out of the water to a position beside Chad and they gave Colin the signal to start.
Collin eased back the throttle, slowly increasing the boat’s speed until the slack in the rope had been completely pulled out. Chad had been tubing with Uncle Randy a couple of times before, but this was Marks first time out. As the boat picked up speed Mark flattened himself out on the top of the tube with his feet stretched out behind him skimming over the surface of the water like twin hydrofoils. His hands were gripping so tightly on the tube’s straps that his fingers began to numb after the first few minutes.
Chad was leaning on his forearms, the wind was blowing through his hair and he was screaming as loud as he could for Collin to increase the speed. Collin, spurred on by Chad’s antics and by the look of terror on Mark’s face pulled the throttle all the way back. The front of the boat raised dramatically with the sudden increase in speed, and Jeremy, who had been bent over in a semi-squat position, talking to Stephanie, lost his balance and tumbled towards the back of the boat. He instinctively threw is arms our as wide as they would go barely managing to grab onto a stainless steel rail that ran along the starboard gunwale. He landed hard in the back of the boat, slamming his head into the metal cooler that uncle Randy had left.
"Son of a Bitch, Colin! Who the frick taught you how to drive?" Jeremy shouted as he rubbed the growing bump on his head.
Colin had already pushed the throttle all the way forward, slowing the boat to a crawl, much to the disappointment of Chad, but to the great relief of Mark.
As soon as the boat had slowed down, Stephanie rushed over to see if Jeremy was ok. After looking at the bump on his head she opened the cooler and started putting ice into a plastic bag, which had contained a peanut butter and jam sandwich. When the bag was almost full of ice, she separated the pieces of bread from the sandwich and placed them back into the bag with the ice sandwiched between the two pieces of bread and the peanut butter and jam facing towards the outside. She then sealed the zip-lock top of the bag and handed it to Jeremy.
"Good thing you’re cute sweetie, cause you’re as weird as your crazy cousin!" Jeremy teased with a smile and a wink, trying to act tough, but feeling his head start to throb.
"I know it looks kinda’ funny" Stephanie replied, "But with the peanut butter on the outside it’s a little softer than just the ice, and the bread helps insulate the ice so the cold will last a little longer."
"Hey man, you all right?" Colin had turned the motor off and made his way to the back of the boat to take a look at Jeremy.
"Ya, thanks to Nurse Stephanie here, I think I’ll survive, but did you bring any drugs along? I could sure use a t-3 about now."
"Sorry bud, no drugs, prescription or otherwise, but maybe this’ll help a bit." Colin handed Jeremy a Molson Canadian beer from the cooler.
"Hey, what’s goin’ on guys." Chad asked as he climbed the stern ladder into the boat.
"Jeremy went bobbing for beer and the cooler lid dropped on his head." Colin joked.
"Actually, Evel Knieval here tried to kill me a little while ago. Jeremy countered, with a feigned leer towards Colin.
By now Mark had climbed into the back of the boat to join his friends. Chad tossed him a towel as Colin grabbed another Molson’s from the cooler, which he handed to Mark.
Smiling, Mark looked at Jeremy, "… to think, that just a minute ago I was wishing I’d stayed in the boat ‘cause it was safer…"
"You gonna be OK, Jeremy?" Colin asked in a much more serious tone as he looked at his friend.
"Fricken’ "A"" Jeremy replied raising his half-empty can of beer into the air in a casual salute.
"The Deer Hunter, released in 1978, directed by Michael Cimino and starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and John Savage." The words erupted from Chad as if Jeremy had stepped on a landmine. The possibility of holding back was as remote as stopping the tide from rising in the Bay of Fundy. Immediately after speaking, Chad had remembered Colin’s reprimand from the day before, and the sheepish look that covered his face was that of the proverbial deer in the headlights.
Jeremy and Mark had also half-expected a retort from Colin, which never came. Colin was looking past the other students over the port side of the boat towards the mountains. His gaze was fixed on the burnt trees and shrubs that lined the shore. A few seconds later he turned to Stephanie. "Do you know if there are any binoculars on this boat?"
"I think so, I’m sure uncle Sheldon keeps a pair in the cuddy." Stephanie ducked into the tiny cabin at the front of the boat and came out a few minutes later with a pair of Bushnell Imageview binoculars. She held them out for Colin to take, but Mark intercepted the hand-off.
"Cooooo-elll, mom got a pair of these for my dad for Christmas." Mark put the binoculars up to his eyes and started to adjust the focus. "Image clarity is pretty good, and you can digitize up to 300 shots if you want to." Mark lowered the binoculars and handed them to Colin.
Colin scanned the blackened forest along the edge of the lake. "Stephanie, is that Rattlesnake Island there? It’s hard to tell from this angle."
Stephanie took the binoculars and looked at the shore, then turned the opposite direction and looked to the far side of the lake. "Yep, I’m pretty sure it is. We usually head up towards bear creek, so I don’t know this part of the lake that well. Last summer we met some friends on the beach at Peachland and took their boat straight across to Rattlesnake Island, so I’m pretty sure that is where it should be."
Colin returned to the captain’s chair and restarted the engine, slowly easing the throttle forward again.
"Ok, everyone sit down, I don’t want anymore accidents to happen."
Within five minutes Colin was pulling the boat alongside the charred remains of Rattlesnake Island. As soon as the boat had slowed down Mark and Jeremy had ducked into the cuddy to retrieve their equipment.
"Let’s cruise around the island once to find the best angle before we start shooting." Chad suggested.
"Sounds like a plan to me." Colin agreed and pulled the boat into a slow cruise along the shore of the small island.
Shards of sunlight dancing over the surface of the water created silvery spears that disappeared into the shadowy depth of the lake. Chad had been watching the colour of the water change from a deep aqua green to lighter blue as they approached the narrow strait that separated Rattle Snake Island from the rest of the Okanagan Mountain Park. Suddenly the rocky bottom of the lake rose out of the darkness. A series of large jagged boulders emerged in an undulating pattern, eventually breaking the surface of the water like the dorsal fin of a prehistoric serpentine creature.
"Colin, it’s looking pretty shallow here, maybe we’d better lift the prop."
Colin shut the engine off and raised the prop, then handed Chad and Jeremy each a paddle to push the boat through the shallow channel.
"Let’s try to get it to shore over there." Colin pointed to one of the few places on the shoreline of the island where the slope was shallow enough to permit the boat to be tied up safely, and then winced at the loud scraping sound of the hull being pushed onto the gravely beach.
The island was rocky, with very little vegetation. Ash and soot still covered much of the surface and the few remnants of trees were now just gnarled black cinders. There were many footprints in the ash, most originating from the same small beach that the students had tied their boat up at. It was obvious that other sightseers had been here, following one another’s tracks, stopping in front of the stumps of burnt trees and meandering here and there as if looking for the best place to take a picture. Most of the tracks led to a circle of rocks on a high point near the centre of the island. From the charred debris contained within the rock formation, the students could tell that this had been a fire pit of sorts, which appeared to have been used by generations of visitors to the island.
Mark stopped at the edge of the fire pit and placed his gear down. "Chad, whaddya think buddy? Good place for the first shots of the documentary?" Mark’s question, was more of a statement. He knew this was, easily, the best spot to show both Rattlesnake Island and Okanagan Mountain Park from.
"Ya…. Ya, this’ll be great. Jeremy, set up over there beside Mark, and get Collin ready to go. The light is perfect right now and I want to get this shot before it changes too much!!"
Colin, who had been following the other students around the island, walked over to Jeremy and put the small sport bag that he had been carrying down.
"OK, bud, just give me a second." Colin unzips the bag and pulls out a black "Firestorm 2003" Tee-shirt, which he puts on, then he takes out a mirror and a comb.
"Don’t know why you bother man, no matter what you do your still gonna be ugly." Jeremy joked.
Colin finished a last bit of primping, put the comb and mirror, back into the bag and turned to Jeremy.
"Mic. Me!!" Colin snapped at Jeremy in a mocking tone.
"Let’s use a hand-held here guys." Chad suggested. "It’ll establish Colin’s role as an interviewer right from the start."
"You got ‘er Pontiac" Jeremy smiled at Chad. "So did you ever get a chance to call her today?" Jeremy asked, as he dug through his equipment looking for a hand held microphone to give to Colin.
"Call who?" Chad asked, a little sheepishly.
"You know, the sweetie at the front desk that helped you out last night… I thought she wanted to take you out for lunch today." Jeremy answered.
"No…, no, I didn’t get a chance. Maybe I’ll see if she is working tonight when we get back to the hotel." Chad turned and walked over to Mark who was setting up a tripod.
"I’d kind of like to get that ridge in the background if you can. See the one straight up the mountain, with the green meadow." Chad leaned in toward Mark and pointed to a green knoll three quarters of the way up the mountain. "I think that might be where you found the book."
"I’ll try, but I’m going to have to shoot Colin from fairly low, and with the sun where it is right now, I’m not sure how it will turn out." Mark replied. "How long is this shot? Maybe we could do it from a couple of different angles and then use the best one, or edit them together to show more of the island."
"Good idea. Colin, do you mind running through it a couple of times from start to finish?" Chad asked, knowing that Colin would be more than willing to do it twice. Partially because he loved being in front of the camera, but also because Colin could always be counted on to do what was best for the team. In high school, Colin was the guy who would always get to be the team captain. He didn’t have the talent to be an all-star or MVP in any sport, but he always put the team first and was a terrific leader. He may not have possessed any extraordinary skills himself, but he did know how to motivate others to perform at the top of their games.
Bryan McClucky, the documentary’s sponsoring professor from the Film School at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, had hand picked Colin to join the team for precisely this reason. It was Chad’s first major directorial project. Bryan had taken an interest in Chad from the moment he previewed the under-aged college entrance video. It was obvious that this young "wannabe" filmmaker had a huge future in front of him, as long as he received the right guidance.
This was a significant project for the students involved and for the school. Grants, funding arrangements and distribution rights had been negotiated based upon Chad’s idea for the documentary and the film schools reputation. Chad had worked with all of the other students before, but never in a lead role. Bryan knew that Colin would provide the support and leadership that Chad could rely on, while not being a challenge to Chad’s authority.
"Not a problem Chad, shoot as many as you want." Colin agreed, smiling at the younger student.
"O.K., everyone ready?" Chad asked the group.
"Just a sec, I’m getting a little feedback from the hard drive." Jeremy shouted. "Shit, what the hell’s wrong with this thing?" He turned the unit on and off, unplugged the battery source, cleaned the connections and plugged it back in. "Frick! What the hell is that? Colin, listen to this."
Colin took the headset from Jeremy and put it on, careful not to mess up his hair in the process. "That’s not feedback buddy, you’re picking up some kind of power surge or something. I don’t see any hydro lines nearby or anything that should be causing this. This is really strange, maybe it’s the battery, did you try your spare?"
Jeremy dug through his case and pulled out the spare pack and hooked it up. "Same thing, it’s not the battery, I’ve changed the remote, cleaned the connections, it has to be something external. Chad, take a listen, see what you think." Jeremy handed the headset to Chad.
"Shit, we are going to be losing light soon, and I don’t want to have to come all the way out here again to try to get this shot. Mark, pick up the audio with your camera, and Jeremy, use a lapel microphone for Colin. When we get back to the hotel later we’ll see if we can edit some of the noise out. If not, maybe Mark’s audio will be fine. If we have to, we’ll pick up this shot again once we’ve wrapped the rest of the project."
Jeremy slid the wire for the lapel mic under Colin’s shirt then Mark handed him the hand held mic that he’d hardwired to his camera.
"One, one, one, two, two, two, three, three, three." Colin looked over towards Mark who gave him a short nod, then looked to Jeremy who smiled, rolled his eyes back and shrugged his shoulders with his head slightly tilted to one side, as if to say, "It’s about as good as I’m gonna get it…".
"All, right then, let’s roll it." Chad ordered as he clicked his clapboard shut in front of the camera.
"Scene one, location Rattle Snake Island, Monday, June 28th 2004." When Chad stepped out of the way, Colin raised the microphone and looked into the Camera.
"In August of 2003 a lightning strike at Squally Point, located just behind this tiny island, sparked the beginning of the largest firestorm in the history of this province…."

Chad awoke to the sound of Jeremy in the bathroom brushing his teeth. He looked over at the radio clock on the nightstand beside his bed and his eyes widened.
"Holy shit, why didn’t you wake me up?" He shouted towards the bathroom.
"You were bagged, man, sleeping like a baby. I was gonna wake you up, then thought about how much better the morning would be, the less I had to share it with you!" Jeremy poked his head around the bathroom corner and smiled at Chad with a foamy mouth full of toothpaste.
Chad, still upset about sleeping in and a hating to give Jeremy the last word, managed a weak, "I love you too buddy." retort, that he knew was not original, but he just wasn’t in the mood for any creative bantering yet.
"Don’t worry, Spud, we still have lots of daylight ahead of us." Jeremy spat, and entered the sleeping area of the small hotel room.
"Besides, Collin didn’t think it would be a very good idea to start any of the interviews before 9:00 AM anyway." Jeremy picks up two shirts crumpled on the floor beside his bed and smells the armpits of each before throwing one back onto the floor and putting the other one on. He sits down on the edge of the bed and picks a pair of socks off of the floor and puts them on, then flops back on the bed with his arms stretched out.
"I’ve got six shots lined up for today. It’s going to be tough to get them all done if we don’t start until 9:00!" Chad called over his shoulder as he walked into the bathroom.
Jeremy grabbed the TV remote, turned the set on and started channel surfing.
"No big-D Chad, if we run out of time today, we’ll shoot the rest tomorrow. We’ll get it done, relax a bit and have some fun. God, last night you looked so fricken uptight at Uncle Randy’s I thought you were going to have a heart attack." Finding nothing of interest, Jeremy turned the TV off and put his shoes on. "I’m headin’ over to Mark’s room to check out the hard disc on the audio recorder. It was over-heating yesterday, just wanna make sure she’s ready to go, when your ready, come and get us and we’ll head out for breakfast."
"Ok," Chad shouted over the sound of the shower.
A few minutes later the water shut off and Chad slid the vinyl curtain open, blinking water out of his eyes. He reached for a towel on the rack above the toilet, but Jeremy had already used both bath towels allocated to the room.
"Shit." He thought to himself as he grabbed a hand towel to wipe as much water off of his body as possible before getting dressed. "Who are these guys? It must be a test! OK Chad, take it easy buddy, it’s only a month at the most. You can do it!!"
After getting dressed, Chad sat down at a small desk with an ancient looking, rotary dial, telephone on it and pulled open a long, narrow drawer, where he thought the local directory should be located. He found an old bible, a note pad and ballpoint pen. The other two drawers in the desk were empty. He took out the notepad and the pen and picked up the telephone and dialed "0".
"Front desk, can I help you?." It was the same sweet voice of the young lady that had helped Chad out the first night they had been there. Chad had almost forgotten about the girl, but hearing her voice reminded him of the way she had made him feel and his heart rate began to increase.
"Uh, ya.." "God, I sound like yokel", he thought to himself.
"Hi, I’m in room 224, and I was looking for a phone directory, but I can’t find one." Regaining his composure, Chad tried to sound more professional.
"I’ll have housekeeping bring one up for you." The girl replied.
"That’d be great, but I’m heading out in a minute, would you mind looking up a number for me?" Chad asked.
"You got ‘er Pontiac. Who ya’ wanna call?" The girl answered and Chad had to resist the urge to say "Ghost Busters" while wondering to himself if she’d recognized his voice or if she was this friendly with everyone.
"Is there a university or college in Kelowna?" Chad inquired.
"Kinda both, we have the Okanagan University College in town. They have two campuses, one by the airport and the other one over on K.L.O. Rd. Which campus did you want?" She asked.
Chad wondered what the hell a University-College was, but decided he didn’t have the time to get into a detailed conversation about the quality of higher education in rural Canadian towns.
"I need to talk to someone in the Anthropology department. So, whichever campus that would be at." Chad replied.
"That’s the north campus. What do you want to talk to them for?"
"We found an old book and medallion up above Squally Point yesterday. The book looks like a bible but it’s not in English and it has a bunch of strange symbols in it. We thought that maybe someone in the Anthropology department might be able help us understand what we found. We are shooting a documentary about last year’s firestorm and think that this might add a bit of an interesting side story." Chad, not one to hold back information, even surprised himself, this time, with how detailed his answer had been.
"Cool," The girl’s voice seemed even more animated than it had been, and Chad was pleased with himself.
He had never really paid much attention to the opposite sex before because his passion for movie making had consumed most of his time and attention. He had lots of friends who were girls, but none he’d call a "girlfriend, yet, something in this girls voice and the way she’d looked at him two nights ago had him thinking about her in a way that he wasn’t used to.
"I know the perfect person, Mrs. Robinson. I just finished taking a Cultural Anthropology course with her; she’s great. She also teaches a fourth year Anthropology of Religion course that my brother just finished."
The girl’s excitement was so contagious that Chad barely made the connection between Mrs. Robinson and the "Graduate", and as soon as the thought had entered his head it was gone as his mind raced ahead.
"Do you think that she’ll be on campus during the summer?" Chad asked.
"No, actually the North Campus is closed for the summer. Mrs. Robinson and her husband own an antique shop on Bernard Ave. She’s usually there when she’s not teaching." The girl replied.
"Do you know the name of the shop? I’d like to stop by and see her after we finish shooting today." Chad looked at his watch, then continued; "Shit, I gotta run, are you working tonight?"
"No, I finish in an hour, then I’m off for a couple of days. If you want, I could drop the book off for you, I’m headin’ that way later this morning anyway, I don’t mind." The girl offered.
"Uh.." Chad hesitated for a moment, then decided that he had no reason not to trust this girl and after all, it wasn’t like it was the Hope Diamond that he was going to give her. "Uh, yeah, yeah, that would be great if you could. You sure you don’t mind?"
"No problem at all. If you find anything out from Mrs. Robinson you can tell me all about it over the lunch that you still owe me." She teased.
"You got ‘er." Chad stopped himself just short of saying "Pontiac". "By the way, my name is Chad." He added.
"I know." The girl replied. "I saw it on your registration, I’m Kelsey."
"Nice talking to you Kelsey, but, I really have to run. I’ll drop the book off at the front desk on my way out, thanks again."
"No problem Chad, see you in a bit." Kelsey answered before hanging up the phone.
Chad put the phone down, picked up a sports bag and put in a cell phone, note pad, 2 pens, a map and an address book. He walked over to the small wall safe, which was tucked away inside the closet, entered the code that he had established and pulled out the medallion and ancient book that they had found the day before. He looked at both, then put the medallion back in the safe and wrapped the book in a hand towel and put it in his sport bag on top of the other items.
"Spud, buddy, we’re starving, where you been?" Mark whined as Chad entered the other student’s room. Mark was sitting in a chair next to Colin and Jeremy was listening to a set of head phones plugged into the audio recorder.
"Frickin’ weird guys, frickin’ weird!" Jeremy looked up as Chad entered the room. "This is really frickin’ weird, no buzz, no hum, she’s perfect today."
"Let’s take a back-up along, just in case." Chad suggested as he watched Jeremy pack up the audio gear. "I would have been here sooner, but I took the book down to Kelsey, at the front desk. She is going to take it to her Anthropology professor to look at."
"OOOOO, Kelsey eh Spud?" Colin jibed.
"Come on, let’s go guys!" Mark urged as he picked up his camera.
After a quick breakfast the students found themselves on a twisty, narrow road, traveling between a golf course and a swampy meadow. The road made a sharp turn and soon they were climbing the side of the mountain that locals called the "South Slopes". In front of them they could see huge black patches on the hillside. From town, it was much more difficult to pick out exactly where the fire had been.
"Colin, turn left at the next intersection, then a quick right and we should almost be there." Chad had been looking at a rough map that his Uncle Randy had given him the day before. It was completely out of scale and difficult to read, and Colin had been forced to turn around a couple of times already.
The first interviewee they were trying to find was not one that was on their original itinerary, but was a woman that Uncle Randy had insisted that they talk to. He told them it would be well worth their while, but Chad was beginning to doubt it.
Colin turned the van left then right onto a quiet country lane. Ahead, they saw a small green house next to a yellow one, just like the map had shown.
"That must be it there." Colin commented as he pulled into the driveway.
Chad was the first to get out of the van. He straightened the wrinkles in his shirt and looked at his notes again. He shook his shoulders and arms and looked back towards the other students who were in the process of selecting the gear they would need for this first interview.
"Ready guys? Let’s go see if she’s home." Chad turned towards the front door of the house. Colin joined him at the doorstep and rang the bell. Mark and Jeremy were already enthusiastically recording every movement and sound.
It was the first, full length feature that any of them had ever had a primary role in, and this interview was the first real stroke of the brush on the blank canvas that they were eager to create their masterpiece upon.
A moment later a woman, who looked about forty years old, answered the door. She was in a housecoat and her long brown hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a week. She seemed quite timid, but friendly, as she smiled at the boys.
"Hi, my name is Chad Zahara and this is Colin Drake, Mark Wilson and Jeremy Wentworth. We are filming a documentary on last year’s firestorm and my uncle Randy told us that you would be a good person to talk to. Do you have a few minutes for us?"
The woman ran her hands through her hair, as if the motion would somehow improve the disheveled mass of locks. Her smile became uneasy and her eyes narrowed a little as she watched Chad talk.
"I don’t know, I don’t know much about the fire, not much." She responded, still holding the door half shut.
"That’s ok, we would just like to ask you a few questions. You never know, maybe you know more than you think." Chad’s voice was so friendly that the woman began to relax a little, but the door remained half closed.
"O.K., I guess… a few questions will be O.K." The door opened a little more, but her hand was still solidly on the doorknob. Colin stepped closer and took a hand held microphone from Jeremy.
"Hi, Mrs. Bauer, I’m Colin, I’ll be doing the interview, it’s nice to meet you." He reaches forward to shake her free hand.
"I understand that some people in this neighborhood ended up with bears in their back yard during the fire, did anything like that happen to you?"
"I see bears around here all the time, not just during the fire. They like my garden." She answered.
"What about other animals? Deer? Wolves? Coyotes? Skunks?" Colin continued along the same path.
"I didn’t see any." She shifted her weight and began to look a little impatient and Chad started to wonder Uncle Randy had sent them up here.
"I didn’t see any animals, but at night I could hear them outside, walking past my window. They were quiet, just footsteps and sometimes I could hear them rustling past my ivy." Her face took on a distant look.
"..and then the baby’s started crying again." She spoke in a whispered voice that sent a chill right through Chad.
"The baby’s are still crying and I can’t stop them." Her voice was louder and she’d become much more animated, a look of fear and worry had clouded her face and before Colin could ask another question she moved out of the doorway and closed the door.
The students stood in silence for a moment, staring at one another, not quite sure what had just happened. Jeremy was the first to speak.
"Well, looks like we’re off to a great start. First interview done and we’re 59 minutes ahead of schedule."
Chad looked at his watch then looked back towards the house. There was an old man standing in the yard next door looking over the fence towards them.
"Hey, Mister, do you have a few minutes to talk to us." Chad called over, and started to walk in the direction of the man.
The old man looked down, then turned and started walking away from the students, as if he hadn’t even noticed they were there.
"Where’s the next interview Spud?" Colin asked.
Chad looked at his notes, then pulled out a map and spread it on the front of the van.
"Just about a block from here. I’ll call to see if anyone is home, maybe they won’t mind if we come a little early." He took a cell phone out of his pocket and dialed.
"Shit, just an answering machine…,just a sec.." he paused for a minute.."Hi Mrs. Seddon, this is Chad Zahara, I spoke with you last week to set up an interview for this morning at 10:00 AM. We are… Hello?’, Hi, Mrs. Seddon, you just got home? That’s super, we will see you in a minute, goodbye."
Chad hung up the phone and started back towards the Van. The other students followed him and they drove the short distance without talking at all.
"It can only get better guys."
Mark broke the silence as he got out of the van.
"Let’s hope." Colin added as they walked towards the front door. Before they had a chance to ring the bell a pleasant looking woman in her mid sixties opened the door, holding a large orange cat.
"Hi boys, come on in, no sense standing around in this heat." The students followed Mrs. Seddon into her house.
There was a jug of lemonade and five empty glasses sitting on a large pine coffee table in the middle of the living room. A noble looking, antique rocking chair sat in front of a sprawling fern in the far corner of the room. Mrs. Seddon started pouring a glass of lemonade then looked at the students, "Would you boys like some lemonade?" she asked.
When she finished serving the lemonade Mrs. Seddon picked up her cat and retired to the rocking chair.
"If Ginger could talk, I guess you wouldn’t even need me." She smiled.
"Mark, what do you think? The light looks pretty good there, and the backdrop is perfect, what if we shoot Mrs. Seddon right where she is." Chad looked at Mrs. Seddon and smiled, she smiled back and continued to pet her cat, which had started to purr.
"Yep, that’d be good, we just have to pull in a chair or something for Colin so I can get them both in screen at the same time for some of the shots." Mark replied.
Jeremy walked around the side of Mrs. Seddon’s chair and handed her a lapel microphone that he asked her to run under her blouse, then he fixed it to her shirt, just above her top button. She was obviously pleased with the fussing and attention.
"You can bring a chair in from the dining room if you like, that would probably be the best." She instructed Colin, who went into the dining room and came back carrying an antique ladder back oak armchair that looked like it could have been made in an Amish workshop.
"Beautiful chair." Chad commented as he watched Colin carry the chair and wondered if the other student had the slightest idea of the value of the piece of furniture in his hand.
"I got that set 30 years ago and not one chair has a squeak in it yet." Mrs. Seddon informed them.
"Ok, I’m set, and it looks like Jeremy is ready with the sound." Mark looked at Jeremy, who in turn, looked towards Chad and nodded his head.
Colin positioned the chair he was carrying, sat down and looked back towards Mark, who gave him a thumbs-up sign. He then took a cordless microphone from Jeremy and switched it on and counted to six, while watching Jeremy watch a set of needles bounce back and forth.
"Scene Two, location Mrs. Ollie Seddon’s living room, Tuesday, June 29th 2004." Chad announced.
"You mean Scene Three, don’t you?" Jeremy corrected. Chad rolled his eyes and starts again, "Scene three, location, Mrs. Ollie Sedon’s living room, Tuesday, June 29th 2004."
"This is Mrs. Ollie Seddon’s living room. It is possible for us to be here today because the firestorm miraculously passed by this neighborhood, while taking out dozens of homes on the surrounding streets. No one really knows why the fire chose some neighborhoods and not others, but this story is not about Mrs. Seddon’s beautiful house, it is about her best friend Ginger. Mrs. Seddon, please, tell us about Ginger’s adventure during the fire." Colin looked away from the camera and turned his attention to Ollie.
"Weelllll." She stroked Ginger’s head and then looked straight into the camera. "Ginger is my best friend, we have been together since before my husband passed away."
"Cut." Chad interrupted. "Mrs. Seddon, I think it might be better if you don’t look straight into the camera. If you pretend we aren’t here, and just talk to Colin as if he was a friend over for tea, it will look more natural. Ok, starting with Mrs. Seddon, on three, two, one, go ahead."
Mrs. Seddon looked at Colin and smiled. "Ginger is my best friend, we have been together since my husband passed away 8 years ago. He used to be an outdoor cat, but since the coyotes started coming into the neighborhood I started keeping him inside all the time. He hadn’t been outside for three years until just before the fire came. Last summer, on August 20th, my niece, Evelyn, and her two boys were visiting and David, the four year old, was playing in the back yard, in and out every five minutes and before you know it, Ginger was gone. The little devil snuck out while we weren’t watching.
We looked all over for him, I even missed my Wednesday night crib game with Pat Basaraba."
Mrs. Seddon picked up her glass of ice tea and took another sip, then continued.
"We looked high and low for this little stinker, we even went through the neighborhood with flashlights after it got dark."
When she paused for a moment to look down at Ginger, Colin seized the opportunity to move the interview along.
"I’m sure that you must have been very worried about Ginger, your niece told me that you looked everywhere for him for the next three days, and even put an ad in the newspaper. Tell us, where did you finally find him?"
Mrs. Seddon looked a little annoyed at being pushed so quickly to the end of her story, but carried on as if she had arrived at exactly where she had planned.
"Well, Thursday night the fire was getting really close and we were all on one hour evacuation notice. I didn’t have anything packed yet, as I had spent all my time looking for Ginger, then Evelyn came over and told me that it looked like we were going to have to be out in less than an hour. We grabbed my photo albums and Christmas decorations and my mother’s linen, and Bessie’s, my daughters, wedding dress, and took one last look for Ginger, then we left. I don’t know why I took Bessie’s dress, she’s been divorced for four years already. You just don’t think that straight when something like this happens I guess."
She stopped for another sip of tea and Ginger hopped down off her lap and meandered over to his ‘crumble’ bowl for a quick snack.
"I worried all night about Ginger, I don’t think I slept at all. The next day they let us back up to our houses for one hour to get anything else that we might want to save. I didn’t even go home, Evelyn drove me around the neighborhood the whole time looking for Ginger. When they finally made us leave, I felt like I had lost my best friend. I was sure that I would never see him again but there was nothing I could do. I felt so helpless. That night we drove up Dilworth to watch the fire. You could tell that houses were burning. There were little specks of light, and an orange glow from the smoke over the whole south slopes. It was like Hell had risen out of the earth. Everywhere, the specks of light were exploding into big licks of flame that we could see from five miles away. They called it candling, because they looked like giant birthday candles burning. I remember feeling all the life drain out of my body as we stood there. It felt like it was physically pouring right out of me from my shoulders right down to my feet. I was becoming just a hollow shell, I felt so cold and empty and alone. The man standing beside me must have noticed because he gave me his lawn chair to sit in, and Evelyn went and got me a blanket from the car, and we just sat there watching the South Slopes burn, and I just knew I would never see Ginger again. We were there until after midnight, but I couldn’t make myself leave, I thought if I did, I would be leaving my entire old life behind. Then I started to think about all of the things that were still in my house. I remembered the rose arbor that Burt built in the back yard the summer before he died and the box of toys my son used to play with that the grand children still look for when they come over. I must have cried like a baby, I don’t remember Evelyn taking me home, I just remember feeling so empty and cold."
She stopped for another sip of tea, and almost as if on cue Ginger jumped back onto her lap.
Jeremy glanced quickly over towards Chad as if to say "Hey buddy, this is getting pretty long, we are going to be putting everyone to sleep with the first interview."
Chad knew what the other students were thinking, but it was his job to get the stories, and he was willing to sit through whatever it took. After-all, this wasn’t airing live, and he did have the option of editing as much as he wanted to, so he picked up his ice tea, took a leisurely sip, and waited for Mrs. Seddon to continue.
"The next morning we were up by six to listen to the radio. They weren’t sure how many homes had been lost, but they knew that the fire had taken a lot of them. That afternoon they had a meeting for the people in the neighborhoods that had been hit hardest by the fire, and I went with Evelyn. That’s when we found out that our block had been spared, praise the Lord." With that, Ollie looked up towards the ceiling as if checking to see if God was paying attention, then she started again.
"Upper Mission and Crawford Estates lost the most homes. Crawford is a little less than a mile from here. Anyways, we started hearing some strange stories coming from the firemen that were up there trying to save the houses when the firestorm hit. There were reports of how the fire had devastated a whole block and left one house standing completely untouched.
The man on the radio, I think his name was Kim, we listened to him all the time, he interviewed people and politicians and firemen.
One of the firemen that I heard interviewed on the radio was talking about the smartest and luckiest cat he had ever seen. When the firestorm came up the canyon at the edge of the Crawford Estates, it just consumed everything in its path. Houses were gone in 30 seconds. It was like a tidal wave of fire came up over the canyon wall, with flames hundreds of feet high. Entire blocks were wiped right out. When they were going down one of the roads they noticed that someone had left a car in the carport and the house had burnt down around it. The car was just a burnt out shell, but he could see a pair of eyes peeking out from underneath the car. When he bent down to look under the car he saw a big orange cat covered with soot, his whiskers were all singed and his feet had been burnt from the heat and he was very frightened, but otherwise OK. He had another firefighter help him get the cat out and they gave him to a person from the SPCA who they had seen looking for strays a little earlier in the day. The radio announcers were calling him "Cinder The Miracle Cat". As soon as I heard this story on the radio I knew inside that Cinder had to be Ginger. I called the SPCA right away and identified Ginger over the phone then Evelyn and I went and picked him up. He must have been trapped by the fire and found a car to hide under, which saved his life, praise the Lord." Again she looked up at the ceiling, but this time she didn’t continue on with her story. She had told everything that she thought she needed to tell. Now she was waiting for the "Oohs and Aahs" that she was used to from the members of the Water Street Seniors Centre or the Kelowna Garden Club or any one of the many groups that she had told this same story to, almost verbatim, over the past year. Ginger had made her somewhat of a celebrity within her circle of acquaintances and now she was feeling a little ‘put off’ by the apparent lack of awe displayed by these rude young men.
Chad looked at his watch.
"OK, Jeremy, quick-check, how’s everything sound?"
Jeremy’s face suddenly appeared animated once again, anticipating the end of this session, he quickly reviewed a short segment of tape.
"Ya, good, great, got everything, sounds perfect, ready for the next one." His words were rushed as he began to dismantle his gear taking the microphones from Ollie and Collin before Chad even had a chance to reply.
"Thanks Jeremy. Mark, how ‘bout you, how was the light? Angle? Happy with the framing?"
Mark was as anxious as Jeremy to move on to the next interview, but did not want to seem as obviously happy about leaving Ollie’s house as Jeremy had been.
"Ummm, yah, the light’s good, and Mrs. Seddon looks like a movie star, so I got what I want." Mark winked at Mrs. Seddon before he looked back towards Chad. His compliment completely changed Mrs. Seddon’s demeanor, once again turning her into the smiling, grandmotherly person that had first greeted the boys at the front door.
"Ok, then that’s a wrap. Mrs. Seddon; thank you, very much, for your time and for your hospitality. I’m sure we have everything that we need, but if not, we know how to reach you, thanks again." By the time Chad had thanked Mrs. Seddon, Jeremy was already out the front door and Mark wasn’t too far behind.
As the boys were getting into the van Colin grabbed Chad’s arm and pulled him to the rear of the van, out of hearing range from Mark and Jeremy.
"Chad, I know this is your first time directing a major piece and I know you want to let us do our thing, but, you have to pay attention to what is happening."
Colin’s face was serious and this comment had taken Chad by surprise.
"I’m not sure if I understand what you’re talking about." Chad replied.
"Jeremy, Chad, he’s brilliant at what he does, but you have to keep on top of him. Frankly, his attitude can become a real problem if you let it. Didn’t you see how rude he was in there? Mark turned that one around for you buddy, I’d buy him a beer later if I were you, and I would talk to Jeremy as soon as you can."
Colin stood for a moment, watching the expression on Chad’s face to see if anything was sinking in.
"Thanks Colin, I appreciate the feedback. I’m not sure if Jeremy was as bad as you think, but I will talk to him because I didn’t appreciate him gearing down before I’d even checked with Mark."
Chad started towards the front of the van then took one last look at Colin to see if there was anything else he wanted to say before joining the other two students inside. Colin looked towards Mrs. Seddon’s house then got into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition key.
"One down, 23 to go."

It wasn’t the start that Chad had been looking for. His hopes had been high for the first day of interviews. In fact, he’d carefully gone through the archives of material compiled for the documentary to pick out some of the most compelling stories so that the first day of filming would provide the momentum for the rest of the project. It hadn’t worked out that way.
First there had been the one-minute freak show with Darlene Bauer, then Mrs. Seddon and her cat had almost put them to sleep. Things had started to look up when a beautiful, young, woman answered the door at the next house. She turned out to be the daughter of the person they were supposed to interview, who had totally forgotten that the students were coming and had left for Vancouver only an hour before they had arrived. Even worse, she had no stories of her own to tell, and the film students found themselves with a full two hours before their next interview. This ended up turning out to be a blessing in disguise as none of the students realized how long it would take to get from South Kelowna to Peachland. The day before it had only taken them thirty minutes to reach Squally point by boat, and Squally point was directly across the lake from where their interview with Mr. Metheral was supposed to take place. They hadn’t realized how busy the summer tourist traffic was in Kelowna and they never counted on being stuck for half an hour waiting for a single sailboat to pass under the lift-span of the aging Okanagan Lake Bridge. They’d had just enough time to pick up lunch at a drive-through in Westbank, find the little park at the corner of 3rd and Beach avenue, set up their equipment and finish their burgers and fries before Mr. Metheral came whistling down the sidewalk towards them.
There really wasn’t anything extraordinary about the interview. Mr. Metheral had been the most articulate interviewee so far, but that wasn't really saying too much. Most of his interview had focussed on details around the start of the fire and trivia about the water bombers and fire suppression crews and equipment used to fight the Okanagan Mountain fire. He was quite sure that, if the initial attack on the fire had been handled better, it would have been put out on the first day, and he had all sorts of arguments and facts to support this theory.
There was one detail from that interview that was now nagging at Chad. It hadn’t seemed important when they were actually talking to Mr. Metheral, but, then again, that was before they had spoken with Mr. Basaraba and Mrs. Ellway.
Chad was deep in thought, sitting on his bed, leaning against the backboard with his arms hugging his knees to his chest. The other students had decided to go for a swim in the pool before supper, but Chad had just wanted a little down time to decompress from the first full day of interviews.
"On the morning of the second day they had an extra twenty firefighters high up on the hill above the hot zone, nowhere near the fire. What the hell they were doing there, I don’t have a clue. It was a bloody waste of their time, they should have been down the mountain attacking the fire at its base, not screwing around up there."
The significance of this one short statement from Mr. Metheral’s interview had not really sunk in until now, until Chad had the benefit of perspective from the remaining interviews of that afternoon.
What was it that Mrs. Ellway had mentioned about watching the firefighters through her binoculars? Chad was trying to remember. It was something about how organized and hard they all seemed to be working except for the group high up on the ridge. She’d told the students that they looked like they were lost or something.
Mr. Basaraba had noticed that the firefighters on the ridge were not wearing the same uniforms as any of the other groups fighting the fires. He knew all of the different fire suppression units that had been involved from "Day One", and the men on the ridge did not have the same uniforms as any of them.
This part of Mr. Basaraba’s interview had been almost a side note. He had spent most of his time talking about how much fun he used to have with Chad’s Uncle Randy when they were both members of the Benvoulin Volunteer fire department twenty years ago.
There had been several other interviews that afternoon, but none of them had really stood out in Chad’s mind. He had been so focussed on making sure everyone was doing their job and that they were on schedule that he hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the content of the interviews.
Now, he wished that he had been more attentive. He was wondering if anyone else had noticed this strange band of firemen. Who were they? Where did they come from? What were they doing so far away from the active fire zone?
There was a knock at the hotel room door that surprised Chad and he threw his head back banging it on the headboard of the bed with a loud thunk.
"Ouch.. Shit!!" Chad sputtered. There was another knock.
"Just a second." Chad shouted at the door. He slid his feet off the side of the bed while rubbing the back of his head with his left hand. He sat at the edge of the bed, still rubbing his soar head, when the phone rang and scared him again.
"Jesus Christ!" Chad made a couple of awkward ‘Inspector Clouseau’ type karate chops in the air towards the phone, then decided to ignore it in favor of answering the door.
When he opened the door, Kelsey was standing there in front of him with a cellular phone at her ear, which she hung up as soon as the door opened. Coincidentally, Chad’s phone stopped ringing at the same time.
"Hi Chad, so how was your first day of interviews?" She asked as she enters the room, not waiting for an invitation.
"We ran a lot of tape, but, I doubt that any of it’s one to sixty." Chad answered, still rubbing the back of his head.
"What do you mean, one to sixty?" Kelsey asked.
"Oh, sorry, I’m still half out of it. A rule of thumb is that you shoot sixty minutes of raw footage in order to get one minute of edited material. I really doubt if we got more than two or three minutes of solid material today and we must have put at least six hours of tape in the can." Chad sat down at the small table across from where Kelsey had pulled up a chair.
"So, I didn’t think you were working today. What’s up?" Chad asked.
"I came in to pick up my cheque and I saw your van back here and the rest of the guys in the pool so I thought I’d pop up and let you know that I dropped the book off for you." Kelsey replied, a little put off by Chad’s abruptness. She started to get up as if she was going to leave.
"Oh, right, I almost forgot about that. Thanks, that’s great." Chad looked up at her as she reached for her purse on the table.
"Ya, she seemed pretty interested. She is going to take a look at it today. She gave me her card to give you, she’ll be at her shop until 9 tonight, if you guys want to drop by later."
Kelsey dropped the card on the table and turned toward the door about to leave.
"Uhh.. do you have a few minutes, or do you have to run, cause, I’d like to ask you a few questions about the fire if you have time." Chad was really just looking for an excuse to stop Kelsey from leaving, but then realized that he really did want to ask her some questions.
Kelsey paused for a second and looked at Chad still sitting at the table.
"I’ve got a Coke in the cooler, if your thirsty." Chad smiled, and Kelsey sat back down.
"I thought maybe you were trying to get rid of me." She pouted, only half-teasingly. "Sure, a coke would be nice, got any diet?"
Chad reached into the cooler, pulled out two cans of diet Coke, opened one and handed it to Kelsey, then he sat back down across from her.
Kelsey got up and walked over to the small vanity beside the bathroom and grabbed two water glasses wrapped in thin waxy paper. She unwrapped the glasses and threw the paper into the garbage can then she took Chad’s diet Coke from him and poured it into one of the glasses and handed it back to him placing the half empty can back onto the table between them. She then filled her own glass and sat back down.
"I hate drinking from a can, they are so filthy. Do you ever look at the top, it’s unreal what kind of crap you will find on them and people don’t even look." She took as sip and looked up at Chad.
"So, what’d you want to know about the fire?"
Chad looked at the top of his pop can and wiped something away from the opening then smiled at Kelsey.
"We interviewed a few people today, and I noticed something a little weird when I was reviewing the tapes just before you got here."
"What did you notice?" Kelsey leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table.
"I don’t know if it is anything at all. It might be something that has already been explained, but today was the first that I’ve heard about it." Chad leaned forward to match Kelsey’s interest level, and to get a little closer to her.
"The first you heard about what?" Kelsey asked.
"I have reviewed a lot of personal stories about the Okanagan Mountain Fire and there are a lot of similarities between a lot of the stories, but none of them mentioned anything about an unidentified group of firefighters on the mountain." Chad paused for a sip of Coke, then continued, " Almost half of the people we talked to today made some kind of reference to a group of out of place firefighters on the side of the hill in the first few days of the fire."
"What do you mean, ‘Out of Place’, like, they were stationed in the wrong area, or weren’t given the right directions?" Kelsey wasn’t sure what Chad was trying to get at.
"No, not like that, these guys just didn’t seem to belong there at all. No one knew who they were or where they came from or what they were doing there. Have you heard anything about them?"
"Ya, actually, My uncle Shawn is a firefighter and they’d heard about something like this and he took a couple of men up with him to see what was going on. They didn’t want any rookies fooling around and getting trapped behind the fire or interfering with the forestry guys or regular crews. They spent the better part of a day looking around, but never found anyone, just a clearing with a bunch of half dug holes."
This was the kind of information that Chad had been hoping for. "That’s incredible, would you mind telling me more about it on tape?"
"I’d rather not. I think it would be better for you to talk to Uncle Shawn. You’ll love him, he would be a perfect interview for you. His last name is O’Reilly, he’s in the phone book, and I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you, especially if you tell him that I want him to." Kelsey poured the rest of Chad’s Coke into the glass for him, then filled her glass up as well.
"So, do men always do what you want them to?" Chad delivered the line like an awkward tennis serve that just barely managed to stay in bounds.
"If they did, you would have taken me for lunch by now." Kelsey volleyed back.
It was an easy shot to make and Chad, even as inexperienced as he was, should have been able to lob it back with ease, but instead, he chose a difficult back hand that went straight into the net.
"Actually, I was kind of hoping for breakfast." As soon as the words had been delivered Chad was sure that it was game, set and match over. The absolute look of shock on his own face at uttering something so moronic made Kelsey laugh and Chad recovered quickly.
"I mean, you know, like, maybe before we started shooting tomorrow, maybe, if you have time or aren’t doing anything, maybe you could meet me at I-hop for breakfast or something, if you want."
It wasn’t smooth, actually, the stumbling was endearing and most of the damage had been reversed. Kelsey was not easily offended, but "Slick" guys who thought that she’d be an easy target really turned her off, so Chad’s sudden lack of confidence had been welcome.
"Well, I’m off tomorrow, and didn’t have too much planned, that sounds kind of nice, what time were you thinking?"
Chad’s heart began to beat again and he felt himself relaxing once more. "We have our first interview at 9:00 AM, so, probably about 7:30 if that’s OK with you… If you’re not doing anything tomorrow, how would you like to come on some of the shoots with us?"
"That sounds like fun. I could hold the light reflection thingy for you if you want." Kelsey finished her diet Coke and got up from the table. "I’d better get going, I told mom I’d help her with supper tonight, see you tomorrow."
"Great, see you tomorrow." Chad stood up and waved at Kelsey as she reached for the doorknob. "Uh, just a second Kelsey, do you want to meet here tomorrow morning and go with us from the hotel so you don’t have to leave your car at I-hop?"
"Sure, I’ll be here at 7:20 then, have a good night Chad, see you in the morning."
Chad stood outside of his room, watching her walk along the narrow balcony to the stairway until she disappeared behind a set of pillars. His heart was swelling like a balloon and he felt as light as a feather, then suddenly he was jolted back to reality by a sharp, jabbing pain in the middle of his back.
His focus on Kelsey had left him totally unaware of the rest of his surroundings and he had no clue that his three companions had come up quietly behind him. Jeremy had given Chad a hard slap with a wet hand, and the shock went through Chad as if he had been stabbed with a knife.
"What the hell?…" Chad turned around quickly with a heavy dose of "fight or flight" adrenaline rushing through his system. Upon seeing his friends he relaxed immediately, but the stinging in his back was still there. "You guys scared the shit out of me!"
Jeremy had been pleased with the reaction from Chad, but, really hadn’t intended on hitting him quite so hard.
"Sorry Spud, How’s about a brewskie to help you relax?"
All four students entered Chad’s room and Jeremy headed straight for the cooler. Chad sat back down at the table and picked up the business card that Kelsey had left.
"What time is it?" Chad asked Jeremy as the other student handed a can of Molson’s Canadian to him.
"Obviously not Miller Time" Jeremy quipped. "Why, you got a date tonight?" he asked.
Chad turned over the business card, looked at it for a second and then looked at the other boys, holding the card up in front of him, as if they could read it from where they were.
"Sheila Robinson Professor of Anthropology, Okanagan University College, owner and proprietor of Cobwebs Antiques and Curios, 234 Leon Avenue."
Chad took a sip of beer and put the card down. "Feel like a little overtime tonight guys?"
"I’m in." Mark volunteered, "But, I’ve got a feeling it’ll be just you ‘n me buddy, I think Colin and Jeremy have other plans." He looked over at Colin.
"Uh, ya, that’s right, um, a little research project, right Jeremy." Colin winked at the other boy.
"Ya, right, sacrificing our bodies to immerse ourselves in the local cultural scene. Doin’ it for the good of the film." Jeremy chugged back the rest of his beer and opened another one.
"More like cougar hunting." Mark turned to talk to Chad, "They’re hooking up with a couple of grannies we met in the pool. I think they are going to a place called the ‘Coral’, suitable name if you ask me. Must be tough to be that desperate."
"Ooo, jealousy brings out the nasty side in you, I like it." Jeremy shot a glaring look at Mark.
"Jealous? I bet that both of them are older than your mom. You guys can’t really be serious.?"
"Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know.. whoa, whoa, whooooa..". Jeremy sang into his beer as he walked into the bathroom and took his shirt off.
"I’m gonna jump in the shower, if I don’t see you guys later, have fun at the curio shop, if you want, drop by the Coral after you’re done."
Mark got up from the chair he’d been sitting in and walked over to Chad who was still sitting at the table.
"Chad, I’m gonna get changed and I’ll be back in a few minutes. Let’s grab a burger then we can go see the professor if you want."
Mark put his empty beer can on the table and left.

The room was filled with too many books. Not stacked neatly, but scattered, sometimes in piles, sometimes alone. The odd book was left open, facing downward, as if put down for a moment by a reader who had intended to return but had forgotten. This was not a room where books were revered, or respected; they were tools, a means to an end, a source of information and nothing more.
The computer on the desk was the same. Post-it notes attached sporadically around the viewing area of the monitor, phone numbers written on the case, bread crumbs between most of the letters on the keyboard and a three day old half-can of root-beer sitting on the cable modem.
The blonde woman at the desk was sitting; tilted slightly backwards, sipping a coffee and reading something she had found on the Internet. The book that Kelsey had dropped off earlier day had been enclosed in a freezer bag and was lying next to the computer.
She glanced up, over the top of her reading glasses as the young men entered the room.
"Anything interesting?" Chad asked? His curiosity had overridden any polite greeting that he otherwise might have used.
"Everything." The woman smiled at Chad and Mark as they approach her desk. She removed her reading glasses and left them hanging on a thin silver necklace, then she stood up and extended a hand towards Chad.
"I’m Sheila Robinson, and you must be the film students that Kelsey was telling me about."
Chad shook her outstretched hand and introduced himself, "Nice to meet you Ms. Robinson, I’m Chad Zahara and this is Mark Wilson."
"Please, call me Sheila. I thought that there were four of you?" She gestured to two chairs near her desk and they all sat down.
"There are, but Colin and Jeremy, the other two guys with us, had made other plans before we knew that you were available tonight." Chad explained, then continued. "It’s sure nice of you to take time to look at the book for us."
"You caught me at a good time. I’m not teaching this summer and my husband and I have hired a summer student to help out with the shop. I was planning a research trip to Machu Picchu until I fell off my bike a couple of weeks ago." She tapped a cast on her leg. "Cracked the tibia, makes it tough to climb around those mountains."
"That’s too bad." Mark cut in. "My aunt went to Machu Picchu last summer, but they took the bus all the way up. She thought it was great, got some really cool pictures of the ruins."
"Actually, Machu Picchu was just the starting point, but, it seems like, if I’m not teaching I’m travelling or writing, so I was just as happy to stay home this summer and relax. Maybe catch up on some reading and spend more time with Alfred,.. my husband." She pushed her chair back from her desk, got up and grabbed a cane that had been leaning against the wall behind her.
"Dr. told me I should be using crutches, but I hate the damned things, awkward as hell and they really hurt my armpits."
Chad began to get out of his chair, but Sheila pretends to threaten him with her cane. "Relax, I’ll be right back, I’m just going to lock up so we’re not disturbed."
She hobbled across to the same door the boys came in and flipped the "Open" sign over showing that the store was now closed, turned one deadbolt and started heading back across the room. She stopped at a long table with a pile of books on it, looked through the pile for a second until she found what she was looking for and then rejoined the boys at her desk.
"OK, let’s get started, so, where, exactly, did you find this book?" She tapped the ancient leather bound tome and looked straight into Chad’s eyes.
For a second Chad felt like he was being accused of plagiarizing a term paper.
"Mark found it at the edge of a meadow about three quarters of the way up the mountain that’s behind Rattlesnake Island." Chad answered, a little defensively.
Mark sat quietly nodding his head in agreement.
Sheila continued to study the boy’s expressions and body language for a few more seconds before deciding that they were probably telling the truth.
"I wonder what the hell it was doing up there." The book that she’d just brought back from the table near the door was now sitting on her desk, between her and the students. She reached her right hand towards the book and rested her palm on the cover, then started to tap the title with her index finger.
"That, gentlemen, is the real mystery." She looked up at the boys again, this time, with an expression of excitement covering her face.
"If what you’ve found is what I think it might be, then there are a lot more questions that will need to be answered, a lot more." Her index finger continued to tap.
"Your book needs restoration, but you can still make out most of the title, it looks like ‘Christianismi Restitutio’." She took her hand off the book and ran it through her hair then put her reading glasses back on.
Chad pulled his chair a little closer to the table and leaned forward. "So, if this book is this ‘Christian Restitution’ thing, or whatever, you called it, would that make it valuable?"
"Honestly, boys, I couldn’t really tell you what it would be worth, you’d have to find someone who specializes in rare book appraising. I’ll tell you one thing though, you’d better get yourself a safe deposit box for this baby first thing in the morning. I’ll keep it here in my store safe for the night, but, I don’t want to be responsible for it after that."
"So, are we talking thousands here?" Mark asked trying to contain his obvious excitement.
"Add a few zero’s and you might be getting close, but, I repeat, I am not an appraiser, you could be looking at several hundred thousand or maybe even a few million if it went to auction." She pushed the book, still sealed in the freezer bag, towards Mark.
"If you want, you can take it with you tonight, but, I’ve never had a robbery in all the years we have had this little shop, and no-one but the three of us have any idea of what you might have here."
Chad picked up the book in the freezer bag and held it gingerly, looking at the front cover and then at the back.
"So, if this book is what you think it is, what makes it so valuable."
Sheila picked up the book that she had been tapping and handed it to Mark. "I just finished reading this last month. It’s a book by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. They’ve written a detailed examination on the life and ideas of Michael Servetus, with a focus on his conflicts with the Catholic Church and his feud with John Calvin."
Mark looked at the cover of the book titled ‘Out of the Flames’, then handed it to Chad.
"So, are you thinking that our book has something to do with this Michael Servetus guy?" Chad asked as he put both books back on the table.
"If this is the ‘Christianismi Restitutio’ that you have, then it was written by Michael Servetus, and it is also one of the rarest books in the world. Only three were known to have survived his execution, this would be the fourth."
"Holy shit!" Mark exclaimed under his breath, unconsciously, but loud enough for both Chad and Sheila to hear.
"Holy shit indeed." Sheila agreed. "Servetus never had a significant following when he was alive, but many great men have adopted some of his ideas and the Unitarian Church considers him as one of their founders."
She pushed her chair back and started to get up. "I’ll be back in a minute, just taking a quick potty break, you boys want anything to drink while I’m up? I’ve got apple juice, water or beer."
"Better make mine a beer." Chad responded with a shy smile.
"Mine too." Mark called after Sheila as she limped towards a door at the back of the room. "Hey, do you need a hand."
"Wouldn’t mind one, thank you." Sheila disappeared behind the door and Mark joined her reappearing a minute later with a small bucket of ice and a bouquet of six corona’s.
He handed one to Chad, "Welcome to Carona British Corumbia. The only Canadian City named after a Mexican beer."
Chad took the beer and looked up at Mark. "What do you think we should do about the book? Should we take it with us tonight or leave it here, and what about tomorrow? We’ve got interviews in the morning, already lined up and waiting. It’s too late to start canceling now." Chad took a long sip of his beer, which Mark saw as a cue to answer some of Chad’s questions, even if they were mostly rhetorical.
"Well, I think…." Halfway through the sentence Sheila came hobbling back into the room.
"Please, don’t let me stop you, by all means, tell us what you’re thinking." Sheila sat back down in her chair.
"We were just trying to figure out what would be the best thing to do with the book." Mark wasn’t sure if Chad wanted to discuss this in front of Sheila, but something about her had won his trust, and so he felt it would be ‘OK’ to include her.
"That is something that the two of you will have to work out. I have offered to let you put it in my safe for tonight, but I really don’t want the responsibility of having it here after tomorrow morning." Sheila grabbed a bottle of Corona out of the bucket and tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the cap. Mark watched her struggle for a minute then took the bottle from her and opened it with his belt buckle.
"Good beer, but they haven’t discovered the twist top yet." He handed the opened beer back to Sheila.
"I’m not concerned about tonight, I think we should just leave the book here until tomorrow, but I don’t know how we are going to set up a safe deposit box and get to our appointments at the same time. Even if we can do that, then what? Do we just leave the book in the bank until we are done or should we be contacting a museum to start restoring it or do we need to let the government know about it. I’ve never been involved with something like this before." Chad was talking as much to himself as he was to Mark and Sheila.
"It is your decision, but, I would like to make a suggestion, actually, more of a request, if I may." Sheila looked towards Chad. "This book could be the find of a life time. I’ll be honest with you boys, I damned near creamed my jeans when I saw what Kelsey brought in this morning. It’s not very often that I get to study something like this. I usually end up in some Godforsaken mosquito infested hellhole trudging around for three weeks to find a couple of arrow heads and a flint knife." She picked up her beer bottle and held it in front of her. "For a Cultural Anthropologist whose passion is theological research, this is like having the proverbial ‘Holy Grail’ dropped right in my lap." She took a sip of beer and continued. "I would give my left nipple, if I had one, to work on this book."
Throughout her entire speech Sheila had maintained eye contact with Chad without so much as a blink.
"Actually, I’m pretty sure that won’t be necessary, but if you do get the chance to study the book, would you be able to translate it?" Chad asked.
"No, I’d get some help with that, but I can tell you a few things about it already." Sheila leaned toward the boys. "This isn’t just a book, it seems to be a diary as well." She took the book out of the freezer bag and opened it up to a place where she had placed a small bookmark.
"See, this page? It has been stitched in after the book was originally bound. They did a very good job, but you can still tell, and the color and print style is slightly different than that of the other pages. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like it belongs, but it doesn’t. It also has date specific entries that make it look like a journal of sorts. I’ve found about five pages like this so far, and I’m sure there will be more."
"If those pages aren’t a part of the original book, will that lower its value?" Sheila found Marks obvious concern somewhat amusing as less than an hour before he had no idea that the book could be of any value at all.
"It really depends. If they provide us with a view into the history of the people who owned this book, these extra pages could prove to be as valuable an artifact as the book itself." She hadn’t really answered his question. She knew exactly what he wanted to know, "Would he get less money for it at auction?" But to Sheila, the real value of the book was in the story it could tell, and after all, she told them she wasn’t an appraiser, she was a teacher, and a damned fine one at that.
Sheila was just about to start into a lecture on the influence Michael Servetus had on the development of modern Protestantism and on Anabaptist theology when the phone rang.
"Cobwebs Antiques and Curios…. Oh, hi honey, they are? Oh my, I totally forgot. I’ll see you in fifteen minutes. OK, love you too dear, bye." She returned the telephone to it’s cradle.
"Well, boys, that’s it for me, I’m afraid I have to run. Do you want me to store your book for you tonight?"
Chad leaned forward and pushed the book across the desk towards Sheila. "Please, and thank you for your time tonight. I’d really like to have you study the book some more, but, we’ll have to talk to Colin and Jeremy before we can make that decision."
"I understand." Sheila picked up the book and took it over to the back of the room just in front of the door that she passed through to get the beer for the boys. She flipped over the front of a rug that sat on the floor, revealing a metal plate, which was covering the top of her safe. A minute later she was limping back towards the students, the book secure for the evening.
"I’ll be here at 8:30 tomorrow morning, the bank opens at 9:00. If you want to get a safe deposit box I will go with you to the bank and we will set something up, if not, I will give you the book whenever you get here, and you can do what you want with it." She took a light sweater off of the back of her chair and started to put it on. "You boys might as well take the rest of the beer, just bring the bucket back with you tomorrow."
"Thanks Sheila, we’ll see you tomorrow morning at 8:30 then. Have a good night." Chad picked up the bucket and the remaining three beer and then he and Mark let themselves out the front door followed by Sheila who paused just long enough to lock the door before hobbling off around the corner of the building.

"Hey Colin, where’re the cougars?" Mark asked as he slid into the booth beside Colin.
"Out on the dance floor with their husbands." Colin motioned towards two couples doing some kind of western dance. He moved over a little to give Mark a bit more room on the bench beside him. "Where’s Chad?"
"In the can. We saw you when we came in the door, where’s Jeremy?" Mark looked under the table, as if trying to find the other student.
Colin pointed towards a small booth in the shape of a covered wagon. "He’s talking tech with the D.J."
"Hi Colin" Chad slid into the opposite side of the booth. "This place any good?"
"If you’re into country or old rock it’s ok. So how did things go with the professor?" Colin asked.
"I’ll go get Jeremy and we’ll fill you in." Mark slid out of the booth and returned a few minutes later with Jeremy who was carrying a jug of beer and four empty glasses.
Mark and Chad did their best to remember all of the details of their conversation with Sheila Robinson and within five minutes have filled the other two students in on the situation with the book.
"So, then, whose book is it?" Asked Jeremy. "Is it Mark’s, because he found it? Or does it belong to all of us because we were all there? Or maybe it belongs to the school because we were working for them when we found it. Or does it belong to Uncle Randy, because he showed us the place? or maybe…."
"Ok, ok, you have made your point. It’s a good question and probably one that we will eventually need a legal opinion on, but I think we should make an agreement with respect to how we share the proceeds of the book amongst ourselves if we are permitted to keep it." Colin had considered a career in law at one point, but changed his mind after completing a practice LSAT exam that his American cousin had sent up to him.
"What if we make it really simple, there were five of us there, we split anything we get out of it into five equal portions." Chad had anticipated a lengthy debate to follow his suggestion.
"That’s fine with me." Mark was the first to speak. Even though he had found the book, he knew that there were several contributing circumstances that led him to the point where he had the opportunity to find the book. He had also seen his parents go through a very messy divorce only two years before. He remembered vividly how much of their wealth had ended up in the pockets of the lawyers. Instead of trying to settle things as easily as possible, they seemed to be conspiring to keep the feud between his parents going as long as they could suck any kind of sustenance out of the proceedings. After a year and a half of swearing matches at birthday parties, bitter arguments and late night calls that left his mother in tears Mark had lost any will to ever fight with anyone he cared about over money.
He was the only one who had any legitimate claim to more than an equal share of any potential proceeds from the sale of the book, so after his quick agreement, Jeremy and Colin both nodded their approval as well.
"Good, now that’s settled, what do you guys think about letting the professor work on the book for a while?" After his initial success, Chad felt like he was on a roll.
"Hmmm, million dollar book, wacky professor we just met, small town facilities, ya, sounds like a plan to me." Jeremy looks at Chad, "C’mon Spud, you have to be kidding us?"

"Good morning boys, you’re right on time." Sheila was leaning on her cane with one hand and holding the front door of the antique shop open with the other.
Jeremy and Colin introduced themselves before they all moved into the office area near the back of the shop. Chad noticed that Sheila was still dressed in the same clothes that he and Mark had seen her in the night before.
There were already two people sitting at her desk. A man in his mid thirties with long stringy blonde hair and a young woman in blue jeans and an ACDC concert tour shirt from 1980. The young woman turned around as the students neared the desk and Chad noticed that it was Kelsey from the motel. They smiled at each other and Chad sat down in the chair beside her. The man was so engrossed with his examination of the book the students had found that he hadn’t even noticed them enter the room. He had two other books open on the desk in front of him and with his left index finger he appeared to be cross referencing information from book to book to book. His right hand was busy scribbling notes in a pad.
"I understand that you know my summer student and research assistant." Sheila winked at Kelsey who returned a big smile. "And this is my colleague and last night’s dinner guest, Klaus Koa. He is the assistant dean of the Anthropology department and also one of the most respected linguists in Western Canada. We have worked on over a dozen research projects together and when I told him about your discovery, he insisted on seeing the book right after supper, we have been here ever since."
"Have you been able to tell if this book is the one you think it might be?" Colin asked.
"I’m afraid that will be a fairly difficult task. I don’t have the equipment here for the necessary tests. Physically, all I can tell you at this point is that the paper seems to be the right age and the style fits with the period and location of printing."
Sheila picked up a half empty cup of coffee from her desk and took a sip. She pulled her chair up to her computer and opened up a file and started to read some notes that she’d made.
"Servetus originally published Christianismi Restitutio in 1553, likely in Vienna and definitely in Latin. The first known translation of any part of the book was by a Pole named Gregorius Paulus in 1568. The Catholic Church had confiscated the three known copies of Christianismi Restitutio at the time of Servetus’ death so it was assumed that Paulus must have copied as much of the book as he could prior to Servetus being captured by the inquisition. The fascinating thing about the book we have here is that most of the book is in Latin with the exception of the inserted pages which are in Polish."
Sheila pushes herself back from her desk, removed her glasses and let them hang from the silver chain. She was looking remarkably fresh for being up all night.
"So, what do you boys want to do with this book?"
"We’re not sure, two of us want to let you work on it, two of us want to send it back to the University of Calgary. Jeremy did some film work for Dr. Phil Currie last summer and he thinks that Dr. Currie’s lab might be a good place to work on the book." By Mark’s tone it was pretty obvious that it was the two new boys wanted to send the book to Calgary.
"Dr. Currie is a well respected paleontologist, and if this book had been written by Ayla, from Clan of the Cave Bear, instead of Michael Servetus, then I might agree with you." Sheila felt herself becoming a little defensive. In the past 24 hours she had been given the opportunity to work on the most significant literary artifact found in the last decade, maybe even in the last century, now she could feel that opportunity slipping away. She took a deep breath and another sip of cold coffee then launched into the argument that she had been preparing most of the night. She knew that it would not be easy to convince the students to keep the book in Kelowna. She also knew that Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, or any of a dozen or more universities across Canada had better research facilities than what she would have to work with, so she would have to convince them using a different strategy.
As an anthropologist and an expert in theology, she had a good understanding of motivational behavior. This was her one and only "ace-in-the-hole". She could argue that, for the sake of research, it would be best to keep the book close by. That it would be handy for the team doing the field-research to also have access to the book in the lab.
She might have been able to sell this argument to the students, but she really didn’t buy it herself. With the modern communication tools available, it wouldn’t really matter if the book was in Kelowna, Calgary or Timbuktu. With her leg in a cast she was in no condition to be doing fieldwork anyway, so it didn’t really matter to her if that connection existed, as she would be the one in the lab working on the book.
These boys were not anthropologists, so there was no point in spending too much time on anthropological arguments. What it boiled down to, what it always boiled down to, was old-fashioned greed. How would their new-found asset be best protected? The labs in the larger centres do have better security, but the Okanagan University College lab had never been broken into, but then again, there really wasn’t anything of a significant value kept in the laboratory. They did have a safe in the lab, just in case they received an artifact on loan from another institution, but, to date, the most important function it had served was for locking up her final exam questions until the scheduled testing time.
She felt that she could adequately argue the security issue, especially since the knowledge of the existence of the book was still well contained. If the book was to be transferred to another institution this would dramatically expand the number of people who would know about it, so really, the security issue was a wash. Moving it to a larger centre had some advantages, but also, some disadvantages.
Another thing in her favor was that the students had just started their film project in Kelowna, and the mere fact that they were taking most of their summer break to work on this project showed a significant commitment to their craft. She didn’t think that they would abandon their project to follow the book to Calgary. Sending the book off to another location would be giving up the hands-on control that they could have if it remained in Kelowna. Although this may or may not be important to the actual security of the book, psychologically, proximity has a huge influence over the comfort level related to ownership. From birth, we are conditioned to believe that possession is nine tenths of ownership and that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Sheila was sure that this conditioning would play in her favor.
It only took a few minutes for her to make her arguments based on security and control, but, by the looks on the film student’s faces, it was obvious that not much had changed. They had listened patiently and Kelsey and Klaus had observed quietly, hoping that Sheila would be able to persuade the boys to keep the book in Kelowna, at least for the time being.
Kelsey idolized Sheila Robinson. She had taken the job as Sheila’s summer student, not for the money, which was ok, but to be around and learn from her mentor. She sensed that things had not gone as well as Sheila had been hoping for and felt compelled to help in any way that she could.
"What if there is a connection between the book and your film?" She glared into Chad’s eyes, hoping that he would know where she was going with this and play along.
"What kind of connection are you thinking about?" Chad answered back, having a vague idea of where she might be going with this line of thought.
"Yesterday you were telling me about the interviews and how some of the people you were talking to mentioned some weird group of firefighters." Kelsey was talking to Chad, but the point of her conversation was really aimed at Jeremy and Colin.
"Ya, I remember that." Collin broke in. "I thought maybe I was just imagining things, so I didn’t mention it, but, you’re right, that was kind of weird. So where do you think the connection is?"
"Jeez Colin, even Mark could figure that one out!" Jeremy scoffed.
Kelsey’s strategy had worked. These film students had a passion for their craft and they were all very talented. All she needed to do was point them in the right direction and their journalistic instincts would take care of the rest.
"What do you think those fake firefighters were doing up in the mountain in the exact place we found the book? Looking for their lost sheep maybe?" Jeremy looked at Sheila. Her stunned expression made him smile.
"You didn’t know about the firefighters, did you?"
It was obvious by the look on Sheila’s face that this was the first that she had heard about them. It would have been a huge benefit to her argument and she was a little shocked that Kelsey hadn’t mentioned these imposters to her before.
"No, no I didn’t, but this adds a completely new dimension to the discussion. We don’t know that they were looking for the book, but then again we don’t know that they weren’t looking for it. I think we need to find out who they were and what connection, if any, they have to the book. I’m not completely familiar with what your film project is, but if there is a connection between the mysterious firemen and your book, having it researched here could provide you with a fascinating subplot." Sheila had only stated the obvious, and by the change in the body language around the table she knew that she had won, at least for the time being.

They’d intended to lease a safe deposit box to keep the book in, but decided that it would be best to keep it in the anthropology lab at the University campus. Chad and Jeremy went with Sheila and Kelsey to see where the book would be stored and to establish a protocol for research. Mark and Colin continued on with the interviews to keep up with the schedule that the film students had already set. Because of the early morning meeting to discuss the book, they had rescheduled the first interview to later in the afternoon, but they were easily able to make the second.
The title on the interview was "Grandmothers Tea-Cups". An attractive woman in her early forties opened the door shortly after they rang the bell.
"Hi, I’m Colin and this is Mark, we are here to interview you about your Grandmother’s teacups."
"Hi Colin, you’re right on time. I’m is Tracy, it’s nice to meet you boys, please, come in."
Tracy held the door open for the film students as they brought in the camera and audio equipment then she toured the students through the main floor of the house to find the best spot to tape her story. Mark chose a well-lit spot at the rear of the house where the camera would pick up images of burnt trees in the background.
Colin helped Mark set up the video camera before turning his attention to Tracy.
"Tracy, the way we like to do these interviews is very simple, I introduce you and you will do the rest. We will edit everything together so that you will look like a movie star, so you don’t have to worry about anything, just tell us your story."
"Sure, that’s fine." Tracy was a very confident woman, not at all nervous about being interviewed.
"OK, then we might as well get started. Scene fourteen, location Tracy Ficocelli’s family room, Wednesday, June 30th 2004. Four, three, two, one...go!"
After the first day, the students had become quite efficient at getting the interviews set up and done. Colin looked into the camera.
"We are sitting in the brand new home of Tracy and Ken Ficocelli. It is situated at the top of a steep ravine that was once a beautiful forested sanctuary for a wide variety of birds and wildlife. Eleven months ago this family room was a raging inferno. A tidal wave of flame crashed over the edge of the canyon and consumed every house in its path in a matter of seconds."
Colin looked out towards the back yard and the burnt mountain on the far side of the ravine, Mark followed his stare with the camera.
"Excellent, you are getting better by the minute buddy!!" Mark’s enthusiasm caused Tracy and Colin to smile.
"I just want to move a bit to the left now, so that I can get a better angle on Tracy when you’re done." Mark moved the tripod a little to the left then signaled for Colin to continue.
"A few days after the fire, families were permitted to return to their homes to see if there was anything that could be salvaged. Tracy, please tell us your story."
Colin turned from facing the camera to look at Tracy as Mark zoomed in on her for a close up. Most of the interviews had been done as medium shots as there had been nothing extra-ordinary about any of the interviewees so far, but Mark liked to vary the types of shots and felt that Tracy had warranted a close up.
For him it was simple, people liked to see either very attractive or very unattractive people close up, the rest looked better from a distance. The only exception to this rule was that if the face had a lot of character. The kind where you knew that every line was etched by an epic saga of it’s own. Last year Mark had taken a picture of a weathered sea captain which he had blown up and given to his mother for Christmas. You could read his face like a novel, each line taking you to some distant and exotic port, conjuring up images of epic storms and struggles with enormous sea creatures.
Tracy pushed her shoulders back a little, crossed her legs and put her folded hands on her right thigh, as if posing for a picture.
"Last year, when our area was put on caution notice I was still very optimistic that the fire would be under control before it got to our home. I remember standing outside on our driveway talking to our neighbors and inhaling the smoke filled air. They were saying that they had packed their pictures and special papers into boxes and they asked us if we had started packing, which I hadn’t even thought of yet. As the conversation progressed one of my neighbors suggested that I should at least pack up some pictures. Maybe I was in shock until that moment because I just felt numb. We went inside and I got out some large boxes and started packing picture albums. As I was doing this I thought to myself "this is going to be a real hassle to have to put these albums all back later. Then I looked out in the hall and my husband was video taping everything in our house. I thought he was crazy, thinking that the fire could ever reach this far, it was still miles away at this time.
The next evening was a different story however. The fire was growing larger by the minute and were now on evacuation notice."
Suddenly, Tracy’s eyes glazed over, and she paused for a second, trying to maintain her composure. When she began to speak again, her voice was a little weaker.
"As we walked through our home with this news everything seemed different. The fire was raging in the canyon just behind our house. It covered the mountainside. We felt so helpless, and now we only had time save our most important and sentimental possessions, but what do you take when you only have two vehicles and minutes to get out? We went from room to room grabbing special things and putting them into bags knowing that if you picked something up and put it back down you may never see it again. Finally, we had everything that we could fit into our vehicles and it was time to leave. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to close our front door knowing that there were still hundreds of things left inside that had been a part of our family for so many years."
Once again she paused, took a drink of water and then looked at Colin. Tears were starting to fill her eyes.
"I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was going to be so hard."
"That’s Ok, you are doing great. People want to see emotion, it shows you’re human. Just continue whenever your ready." Colin put his hand on Tracy’s and gave it a squeeze, she smiled and brushed back a tear.
"Later that evening the winds had picked up and the fire was out of control. We watched it from my mom and dad's sundeck and we could see the area where we lived going up in flames. It was a heart wrenching sight. The next morning we found out that our home was one of the sixty-four in this neighborhood that had burned. A few days later the fire had passed by our area and we were permitted to go back to our homes to see if there was anything that could be salvaged. When we first drove up our street it was hard to tell where our house had been. There was one long row of burnt out blackened holes in the ground that used to be the basements of our homes. When we found our house there was nothing left. We spent hours poking around in the rubble looking for anything that might have survived. It was all gone. I couldn’t believe how completely everything had been destroyed. We were just about to leave when all of a sudden a deep sadness had come over me and for some reason an image of sitting in my grandmas garden came into my mind.
When I was just a girl, I used to love going to grandma’s. She would make tea and we would sit on her patio, just the two of us. She would tell be about growing up on the Prairies and about my mom when she was a little girl. One of the fondest memories that I have is of Grandma and I, sipping tea in her garden. A couple of years ago, grandma passed away. When mom was going through grandma’s things she found a box with two teacups and saucers wrapped in newspaper and a picture of grandma and me having tea on her patio. In the same box there was an envelop with my name on it. Inside was a short poem in grandma’s handwriting; ‘Thank You God, for lace and pearls, for puppy dogs and pony tails and afternoon teas with little girls’.
Again, Tracy’s eyes filled with tears and she pulled another tissue out of the box beside her chair. She dabbed at her eyes to avoid smudging her makeup and then used the Kleenex to blow her nose.
"I saved the poem and the picture in a photo album that I kept with pictures of Grandma and Grandpa, and I put the tea cups in my china cabinet so that they would be a constant reminder of those magical days that I spent with her. When we were packing everything up, I had completely forgotten about the teacups, and now, standing in the middle of our burnt out house, all I could do was cry thinking about them. I knew that there was no chance they would have survived, but I had to look. I went over to where our dining room used to be. Everything had fallen through to the basement when the floor had burnt through. I found burnt and broken pieces of my china cabinet, my silver had been fused into blobs of metal and my English Rose pattern china was totally destroyed. The fire had been complete in it’s destruction, but, I noticed a single delicate china handle sticking up from the ash. I dug around it and found one of my grandma’s cups, completely unscathed. I carefully moved a little debris and brushed more ash away and found the other teacup and both saucers completely untouched, as if grandma had been watching over them from above."
Tracy turns to her left and leans over the side of her chair reaching for something that had been sitting out of site on the floor.
"Here they are." She holds up two delicate bone china teacups for Mark to focus on.
"What a beautiful story Tracy, I’m sure that your grandma must have been watching over them for you. Thank you for sharing this with us." Colin leaned forward and gave Tracy’s hand another squeeze, continuing to hold it in his as he turns to the camera to conclude the interview.
"The Okanagan Mountain Fire, an indiscriminate monster, consuming everything in it’s path, yet, sparing a pair of delicate heirloom teacups and the beautiful memories that they hold inside……. Good, and… cut."
"Tracy, thank you for your time. I think that I can honestly say that has been our most interesting interview so far." Colin was being polite, but he had really enjoyed the interview and wasn’t looking forward to moving on to the next one already.
"I thought that your interview with Darlene Bauer would have been pretty interesting." Tracy suggested with a coy smile.
"Who?" Mark asked?
"Mrs. Bauer, remember, Chad’s uncle Randy set us up with that one." Colin reminded him.
"Ohhh, the baby’s crying, right, how could I forget her?" Mark began to pack up some of the film equipment.
"Is she hearing the baby’s again?" Tracy’s grin faded and her face suddenly became somber.

"The Anthropology lab is at the North Campus, near the airport, you passed it on your way into town from Calgary." Sheila was sitting in the passenger seat, twisted sideways so that she could see the boys in the back seat while she was talking to them. Kelsey was driving, as Sheila’s cast prevented her from being able to use the gas or brake properly.
"We found an old medallion with the book, I forgot to tell you about it before. I have it in the safe in my room." Chad suddenly remembered the second artifact that they had found on the mountainside. "I’ll bring it in for you to look at tomorrow. I think it should be kept with the book, it seems like they should stay together."
"I think that would be best." Sheila’s neck was starting to get soar from facing backwards, so she turned her attention out the front window, while she continued to talk. "It takes about 20 minutes to get to OUC from here, would you like to learn a little more about Michael Servetus on the way?"
"Do you mind if we tape?" Chad had already pulled a Hi 8 video camera out of its case.
Sheila removed her shoulder belt and turned herself sideways in the front seat so that she could face the boys more comfortably while she was talking to them. She also didn’t want them shooting the back of her head while she talked, just in case they decided to use some of the footage in their documentary. She nodded her approval then began.
"Michael Servetus could have had a significant effect on mainstream religion if he had survived the inquisition. Even after he had been roasted at the stake, his ideas survived and they eventually found their way into the beliefs of many great modern thinkers."
"Was he a Christian?" Jeremy’s attention was drifting between watching scantily dressed roller-blading young women bopping down the sidewalks and the conversation with Sheila.
"Definitely, in fact, he had been raised as a Catholic, but his voracious appetite for reading and his incredible intellect resulted in a challenge to his faith. As a young man he wrote about the inconsistencies that he saw with respect to the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the holy trinity. I believe, at that point, his faith was still fairly strong and a large part of him had hoped that his ideas would be proven wrong." Sheila felt like she had just launched into a lecture on the history of the reformation, and she really hadn’t wanted to sound so formal.
"I’ve never understood how there could be so many different interpretations of the bible. If it isn’t taken literally then what value does it have?" Chad’s parents were married in the United Church and he was raised to believe in God and Jesus, but they never went to Sunday services and had no particular affiliation. Most of his religious knowledge came from TV or old Charleton Heston movies.
"The Bible was the first real attempt at establishing a doctrine that would provide a guide for people to live in harmony and in peace. It created a social order with a benevolent Supreme Being as the indisputable and omnipotent leader. If the people were going to follow this deity, their ‘God’ had to be powerful enough and feared enough to overshadow all of the other Gods of the time." Sheila looked back to see if Chad and Jeremy were following her.
"So, are you saying that God was invented as a political tool to control the masses?" Jeremy had now turned his full attention to the conversation. He’d quit going to church right after his confirmation ceremony saying that he was ‘tired of the ‘brainwashing’. Rebelling against, what he believed, was forced spiritual indoctrination he turned to rock and roll but behind the sarcasm and punkish exterior he still was a good Catholic boy.
"That’s a good question, but, I’m afraid that we don’t have time this summer to really get into that discussion. Just so you know, even though I am a scientist, I do believe in God." Sheila winked at Jeremy as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not here to attack your faith.’ Then she continued. "I figure if Stephen Hawking can believe, then so can I."
"The first five books of the Bible are believed to be written by Moses and are commonly called the Pentateuch. The first of these books is Genesis, whether divinely inspired or not, it provided the spiritual, social and moral guidelines for hundreds of generations to live by before any significant modifications were needed. Over the next 1000 years 30 different contributors added text to the version of the bible known as the Old Testament. This series concluded around 450 BC, with a short contribution by the prophet Malachi." Sheila knew that she had started lecturing, but she had decided that it would be the most efficient way to educate the students on the potential importance of the book they found. After a sip of bottled water and a check to see if there were any questions yet, she continued.
"500 years went by before any further writings started. It was a time of turmoil, and the arrival of Jesus Christ sparked the beginning of a new round of contributions. Virtually all of the New Testament was written in the last half of the first century AD. The New Testament not only provided relevancy for the time, it also showed a promise for the future if man followed its wisdom. As you know, the growth of Christianity permanently changed both the spiritual and political climate of the world. Over the next millenium the strength of the Christian Church was incredible and its interpretation of the bible beyond question. As mankind emerged from the dark ages into the renaissance, changes in thinking, politics, art, literature and the social order inspired scholars and practitioners of theology to examine the bible in new ways, with a new perspective for a new time. This brings us up to the reformation and the ‘theological war’ that Michael Servetus and John Calvin waged with Catholicism. Growing dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church’s view of the Bible resulted in the birth of several new Christian religions." Sheila paused for a moment, wondering if she should go into more detail, knowing that she had left out volumes and had done a complete disservice to the reformation. She’d hardly had any sleep in the past 26 hours, she was hungry and they were almost at the university, so she decided to push forward rather than waste any time on a more detailed explanation of that period in religious history. "Since the reformation, the world we live in has changed at a pace never seen before in human history. Today we find ourselves with situations that could never have been imagined by the original prophets of the bible. Changes in technology have resulted in drastic changes in socially acceptable behavior. For instance, slavery was recognized as an acceptable practice in the Old Testament and Homosexuality was seen as an abomination that should be eliminated. Today the thought of slavery is an abomination and Homosexual lifestyles permeate every aspect of our culture."
"So, is it a bit of the old chicken and egg thing? Religion sets moral and social guidelines, but then changes in society force religions to adapt to modern times or become irrelevant? And if their belief systems are so disposable, then what value do they have? Why do we even need religions today if they are just playing catch up with the changes in acceptable social behavior?" Chad felt like he was on a roll. In his first year of college he took a philosophy course as an elective. Ever since then he really enjoyed getting into deep discussions about politics and religion with people he considered his intellectual equal. For him it was a mental work out.
"It’s not quite as simple as that. First you have to understand the difference between religion and faith. Faith is a strong belief in something for which there is no proof, for instance God and heaven and that the Conservative Party is ready to govern Canada." It was a fairly safe bet that you wouldn’t find too many Conservatives in a car full of college students. When Sheila was still in college she had belonged to a group of young New Democrats, bent on changing the world, saving the environment and feeding all the starving children. Her dad used to tell her that New Democrats voted with their hearts, Liberals with their heads and Conservatives with the wallets. After a short laugh at the Conservative Parties expense, Sheila continued on. "Religion is the institution, or system, that provides the structure for a belief system to exist in. Your beliefs support your faith. Think of it as a fish tank. The fish in the tank represent your faith, the Goldfish is god, the Angelfish is eternal life after death, etc. Now, the water in the tank is your belief system, and the tank itself is your religion. Because the world is a big place, which is always changing, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t keep a lid on your fish tank, so impurities get in from time to time, like new ideas, changes in technology, etc. So, if you are unwilling to ever change the water in the tank, eventually it will become so polluted that your fish will die, or if you change the water too much at a time your fish will die." The completely blank look on Jeremy’s face and the smoke coming out of Chad’s ears were a hint to Sheila that a little more explanation was needed. "In the fish tank example, your faith is protected by the tank and the water. Faith can not exist by its self. It needs a strong belief system to support it, and the most effective method for promoting and maintaining a belief system is to house it within the confines of a religious institution. So, just because your beliefs change, as long as your faith remains constant your religion still has relevance."
"So did Servetus want a different tank or different water or different fish?" Jeremy liked the fish tank reference, it had helped him understand the concept a lot better and had also shut Chad up.
"Servetus liked most of the same fish, but he definitely wanted a different tank with a lot of new water. He felt that the holy trinity was a farce, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit were all one and the same. He called the Christian view of the Holy Trinity a Cerbetus, which is a three headed dog in Greek Mythology. His version of the Trinity consisted of Man, God and the Devil, where the Devil and God were engaged in a cosmic struggle for the control of mankind and he believed the Papacy was created by the devil to counter God coming to earth in the form of Christ."
Sheila took another a sip of water from a bottle that she had been holding in the front seat. The word ‘Evian’ was on the worn label, but it had been refilled dozens of times with tap water since she first picked it up at a departmental lunch.
"No wonder they toasted this guy, he sounds like a nut case." Jeremy concluded, as Kelsey pulled the car to a stop in Sheila's reserved parking stall at the rear of the Anthropology building.

Mark had set up the video camera on a tripod and was in the process of linking it to the television in Colin’s room.
Chad and Jeremy had spent the rest of the morning with Sheila and Kelsey. They saw where Sheila would be storing the book and were satisfied with the security of the facility. Most of the campus had been closed for the summer, but there was still one small cafeteria that was in operation, so they had a quick lunch before returning to town. They dropped Sheila off at her antique store then Kelsey drove Chad and Jeremy out to the Harvest Golf Course where Mark and Colin were scheduled to be interviewing Gilles, the course pro.
They found the other two students hitting a bucket of balls on the driving range. The interview had gone really well and they had finished in half the time that they’d allocated, so Gilles had treated them to lunch and a free lesson.
The rest of the afternoon had gone perfectly, the sun had been shining, everyone was happy to see the students and all of the interviews had been easy to do and interesting. Everywhere they stopped people had wanted to feed them, whether it was cookies at Mrs. O’Leary’s or a beer and nacho chips at Mr. Tucker’s place. By the time they had finished for the day they were so full that none of the students felt like eating supper, so they decided to go back to their rooms, have a few more beer and review the material they had collected so far.
Colin emerged from the bathroom pulling on a clean t-shirt. He had decided to have a quick shower while Mark was setting up the A/V equipment and Chad and Jeremy were on a beer run. The local whether was hotter than they were used to and very dry as well. It reminded Colin of trips that he had made with his parents to the Mexican Riviera when he was a teenager. The other students noticed the heat as well, but a little sweat didn’t bother them nearly as much as it affected Colin. He didn’t consider himself ‘Prissy’ as Jeremy had claimed, he just like to feel fresh, and he had a few minutes to get cleaned up, so he thought he would take advantage of them.
While Mark was finishing with the technical set up Colin was arranging chairs. He’d organized his room so that Mark would be able to control all of the A/V equipment without getting up. Chad would have the best view of the TV and Jeremy would be next to the beer cooler. Most importantly, Colin would be the only one sitting on his bed.
Just as he finished arranging his room there was a ‘Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits’ knock on the door.
Mark opened the door and all of Colin’s organizing went out the window. Kelsey had left a message for Chad to meet her in the lobby when he got back to his room. She had decided to take a chance that the boys would be in around suppertime and wanted to review the footage they had shot with them. Especially the tapes of where the book had been found.
Jeremy made a b-line straight for the chair beside the cooler. He sat down and started filling the cooler from the box of beer that he’d brought in with him. Colin thought to himself, ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ then went and sat down in the chair that he had positioned for Chad. He didn’t like the idea of anyone else sitting on his bed, but he was still, first and foremost a team player. He knew that two guys sitting on his bed together just wouldn’t feel right, and if Kelsey was going to be one of the people on his bed, then the other should be Chad. They weren’t a couple, but it was obvious that Chad had developed some feelings for this young girl and Colin didn’t want to create a situation that would cause Chad to feel jealous of any of the other students, especially him.
"OK, gang, it looks like we are ready, roll-em Mark." Colin ordered as he returned from closing the curtains and turning the lights off so that the images on the TV would be crisper.
The students laughed as the film started with a close up of Mark drooling and snoring on the way into town, and Jeremy and Colin whooped when Mark’s close up of the three female roller-bladers hit the screen.
A loud screeching sound interrupted the laughter and suddenly the TV screen was filled with the face of a wild looking bearded man with sickly yellowish eyes and rotting teeth. The sudden transformation had shocked Kelsey and, in a frightened, reflex action, she grabbed onto Chad’s arm. The camera had continued to roll as the frightening man returned to his companions and began to walk away.
"Wait, Mark, back it up a bit and pause it on that guy’s face." Jeremy was leaning forward in his chair, his eyes fixed on the screen. "Just a little more, a frame at a time buddy." The other students were wondering what Jeremy was looking for. Mark continued to humor him, rewinding the tape frame by frame.
"There, that’s it, hold it there." Jeremy got out of his chair and moved to the side of the TV trying not to block the image from the others. His finger was pointing at an object dangling from a thin chain that the man was wearing around his neck. It had been visible for only a fraction of a second, but somehow Jeremy had been able to spot it.
"Holy shit, Chad, do you still have that medallion in your room?" Now Colin was sitting at the edge of his seat staring at the image on the screen. "Mark, can you blow that part of the screen up a bit?"
Chad had slid up to the front of the bed. The butterflies that he had briefly felt when Kelsey had grabbed onto his arm had been replaced by adrenaline when he saw what Jeremy was pointing at. Even before Colin had asked him about the medallion Chad had already been mentally comparing the two objects.
"I’ll be right back." Chad hadn’t even bothered to put his runners on and he was already out the door by the time that Colin had asked Mark to enlarge the image.
Mark had connected the camera to an editing program on an Apple eMac computer that the boys had brought and had routed it into the TV so that they could all watch comfortably from around the room. Enlarging the image in question was not much of a problem, but the clarity of the object degenerated proportionately to the increase in size. The resulting image filled most of the screen, but was pixilated and hard to make out.
"Can’t you clean that up a bit?" Colin asked.
"What do you think this is? CSI?" Mark shot back.
"You should be able to get it a little clearer than that, what kind of ‘techie’ are you anyways?" Colin prodded.
"Look, these digital camera’s only capture a finite amount of information. When you expand the image you don’t get more information, you just make it bigger. I don’t know of any software that can create new information out of thin air to fill in the blanks. There might be some that will average out the information provided and give a bit smoother of a transition between the pixels, which could help with image quality, but even so, it can’t create detail that isn’t there to start with, that kind of crap is purely ‘Hollywood’."
Mark finished his technical tirade just as Chad re-entered the room with the medallion clasped tightly in his hand.
"Mark, zoom out to about 20% of what you have now." Chad sat back down on the edge of the bed, directly in front of the TV and held the medallion in his palm to compare it with the image on the screen.
Both medallions were large modified versions of the Christian cross. The cross was a combination of three separate crosses all joined together. There was the large cross in the centre, then each arm of the central cross had a vertical line going through it making them into smaller individual crosses. The surface area of each cross was covered with symbols, some of which looked vaguely familiar, but most were completely foreign to the students. Due to the poor image quality on the TV it was very difficult to compare the symbols on the crosses with one another, but it appeared that they were similar but not identical.
The students had gathered around Chad to compare the two medallions.
"Why didn’t you give this cross to Sheila with the book?" Mark asked.
"I wanted to see what she had to say about the book first." Chad had hoped that this short explanation would be adequate, in reality, he had remembered a saying that his mother liked to use, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket.’ He barely knew Kelsey and didn’t know Sheila at all when he had decided to let the book go, and so he thought that, if anything happened, at least they would still have the medallion. He didn’t want to share this information now, as he didn’t want to hurt Kelsey’s feelings. Fortunately, the other students were eager to continue watching the rest of the footage and no one challenged his explanation.
"Kelsey, you might as well take the medallion with you tonight, are you going to see Sheila tomorrow?" Chad asked.
"I’m going to meet her at the lab at 9:00 tomorrow morning." Kelsey answered, then disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a handful of Kleenex, which she used to wrap the medallion in before placing it in her purse.
"I’ll guard this with my life!!" She smiled at Chad and patted her purse before putting it back on the table.
The students spent the next hour reviewing the scenic and background shots that they took around Kelowna, commenting on how one day, they would build a house here or a restaurant there or a pub over there. The conversation was light and the beer was flowing freely.
The mood of the students became suddenly serious once again when they reached the footage of the meadow where Mark had found the book and medallion.
"What the hell is that Mark?" Jeremy was again looking closely at the screen. "Were you having focus problems or something?" He was referring to a blurred line that ran almost directly up the middle of the TV screen. "Or do you think this is just a bad segment of tape?"
"It can’t be the tape, look, see how the blur runs up and down the mountain in the same spot regardless of how the camera angle changes. If it were the tape, the blur would be consistent on the screen, not look like it was painted on the side of the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like this." He was right, the out of focus image had been restricted to a specific line that ran from the centre of the clearing that the students were filming to the top of the mountain as if it had been drawn with a ruler.
"Quiet, Mark, rewind that just a bit, and turn up the sound, and everyone, please be quiet." Jeremy was very excited and the look on his face showed that he was serious. Mark rewound about ten seconds of tape and turned up the volume.
"There, listen, what the hell is that." The students looked at each other in silence, none of them had an answer.
The sound was faint, but distinctive, and could only be heard when Mark was filming directly in line with the blur that ran up the mountainside. Jeremy’s digital audio equipment had picked up some strange sounds in the same area, but nothing like what they were hearing now.
The students hadn’t noticed the sound when they were on site just a few days before. There had been birds singing, airplanes overhead and the odd jet boat zooming by on the lake. In fact, the sound was inaudible on the rest of the tape. It only showed up when the camera was pointed directly along the blur line.
"You must have been using the directional, eh Mark?" Jeremy asked.
"Ya, I figured that you were picking up all the nice meadow sounds with the digital, so I left the directional mic on."
"Rewind it again, this time boost the volume a bit more with a little more treble and see if you can get rid of that humming sound." During his instructions to Mark, Chad’s eyes never left the screen, as if he was trying to see what could have been making those sounds.
This time the sound was unmistakable. It was the sound of a newborn baby crying. Not the sound a baby makes a few weeks after birth, but the sound of a child thrown into a strange world for the very first time, filling it’s lungs with air in short high pitched aaaaheh, aaaaheh spasms. A sound that is comforting to new mothers and fathers, but a sound that is strangely out of place coming from the remote side of a mountain that had been ravaged by fire less than a year before.
Chad went to the table where Mark had organized all of the material they had taped so far. Each tape had been labeled and they were in chronological order according to date and time. Chad selected the tape that corresponded with the time of their first interviews.
"Here, put this one in." The tape starts with the students arriving at Darlene Bauer’s house. They watch the short interview intently, all of them, except Kelsey, knowing what was about to happen.

Darlene Bauer’s image fills the TV screen.
"They were quiet, just footsteps and sometimes I could hear them rustling past my ivy and then the baby’s started crying again. The baby’s are still crying and I can’t stop them." These words from Mrs. Bauer sent chills through Chad for a second time.
Mark pulled the tape out of the player, returned it to the table and grabbed the last one in the row, the one with the interviews that he and Colin had just done that morning. He wound the tape to the end of the interview with Tracy Ficocelli.
"Guys, you have to see this. I figured we’d probably get to it later tonight, but it fits in now."
Mark started the video at the point just before Colin had reminded him about who Darlene Bauer was. There was a dramatic change in Tracy’s expression when she heard that Mrs. Bauer was hearing babies crying again.
"Mark looks at Chad and Jeremy, you have got to see this.’ He repeated, starting the tape just as Tracy asked the question; "Is she hearing the baby’s again?"
The camera remained focussed on Tracy as Colin answered off-screen. "She told us that the baby’s are crying again and she can’t stop them, then she closed the door and the interview was over. Why do you ask?"
"No, nothing, nothing at all, just curious." Tracy was obviously upset and her body language was telling a story that was a complete contradiction to her words.
"Does she hear the babies often." Colin asked.
"She used to, but not for a while, not as far as I know." Tracy took a sip of water. "She was a strange child, I was actually in high school with her for a few years. She was always weird."
"Weird, in what way?"
"She was the proverbial baby left at the doorstep. What I’ve heard is that one night a nurse at Kelowna General hospital found her in a rough basket wrapped in a blanked and left at the entrance to the emergency ward. An elderly local couple, the Bauer’s, who had no children of their own adopted her. They say that as soon as she learned how to talk she would say that she could hear babies crying. The Dr.’s thought that she was looking for attention because she used to get teased about her round shoulders and her limp when she was in elementary school." Tracy took another sip of water, looked out through the sliding glass doors to the burnt woods beyond and continued. "They thought she was schizophrenic and had her on medication for quite a few years. That’s when I knew her, in highschool. She didn’t talk about the baby’s much then, but she was always hiking around the south slopes, a real loner."
"So, did you get to know her very well in high school?" Colin waded back into the interview.
"We had a pretty small school, so she was in a lot of my classes, and we used to talk. She knew that she was adopted and she always felt different. She had a sixth sense about things."
"A sixth sense, do you mean like psychic?" Colin asked.
"Exactly! She’s not like one of these fake psychics with their generalizations that you hear on the radio. She’s the real thing and she hates it."
"What do you mean ‘Real thing’. Does she read palms or tell the future?" Colin continued to question.
"No, not like that, she dreams and she hears things,… like the baby’s. When we were in grade ten, she had a dream that our teacher, Mr. Everett was going on a long trip and that we would never see him again. She told the class about her dream and everyone thought it was very funny, but that night, Mr. Everett died of a brain aneurysm. Two weeks later she had a dream that someone in our school would be in a terrible car accident and we were all so freaked out that no one wanted to ride in a car for a long time."
"So, was anyone in an accident?"
"Not that we knew of, but two years later, just before graduation, we found out that our librarian, who had retired on the same day that Darlene had the dream had been killed in a terrible accident in France less than a month after her retirement. No one knew about it because she didn’t have any family back here or any friends either. She was kind of a strange old woman, and when she left, no one really thought of her again until we heard about the accident." Tracy paused for another sip of water.
"Can you tell me more about the baby’s crying?" Colin asked.
"The last time she heard the babies cry must have been twenty-five years ago." The change in Tracy’s voice indicated that she was about to talk about something painful.
"We were just out of high school, quite a few of us had gotten married shortly after graduation and typical for young, stupid, married girls many of us had gotten ourselves pregnant right away." Tracy looked into Colin’s eyes. "That’s when she started to hear the babies crying again. Eight of us were due in the same month, and when our babies were born, all of them had jaundice."
"But, isn’t jaundice quite common in new born babies?" Colin asked.
"It is pretty common, but babies don’t die of it, at least not that I knew of. The Doctors told us that newborn babies have a build up of bilirubin in their blood that gives a yellowish tint to their skin and to the whites of their eyes, so we shouldn’t be worried. When my little boy’s urine showed up as dark brown they started to get worried. It turned out that all eight babies had a rare condition created by conjugated bilirubin due to liver damage. Six of the babies died, my little boy was in intensive care for the first three months of his life. He barely made it. There’s nothing worse than sitting beside the incubator of your sick child not knowing if you will ever be able to hold them and cuddle them and love them." Tracy’s eyes began to tear up again and she reached for a fresh tissue.
"You’d think that going through something like that would have brought us closer together, it didn’t."
"Were the other’s jealous that your child lived?"
"That’s what I thought, but that wasn’t it. None of them have ever mentioned it, but I could see it in their eyes. Every time we saw each other they were reminded of their loss. They started finding excuses not to call, reasons to cancel lunch dates, we drifted further and further apart."
"Did the doctors ever figure out what had caused the jaundice?"
"No, not really, they did a few studies, but the Kelowna hospital really isn’t that big, and after our episode, there weren’t any more cases."
"What do you think the connection is between your babies and Darlene Bauer?"
"She’d called me the day after she started to hear the babies cry. It was the day after we returned from our honeymoon, and the day after James, our son, was conceived." Tracy took another long sip of water, cleared her throat and continued. "I was the first one to get pregnant. Within a month all of my best friends were pregnant too. It was really strange but we were all so happy to be sharing that time together. A little less than a year after James was born I saw Darlene at Orchard Park Mall and we went for a coffee. I asked her if she was still hearing the babies crying, but she told me that they had stopped, coincidentally on the same day that the last of my friends babies had been laid to rest." Tracy looked into Colin’s eyes again.
"James and his wife are expecting their first child in a couple of months, but she’s been spotting, spotting a lot lately." Tracy’s eyes filled with tears once again and she waved her hand in front of the camera to indicate that she no longer wanted to continue. Mark kept taping as she put her hand over her mouth, rose from her chair and left the room.

The next image that comes on the TV was of the entrance to the Harvest Golf Course and Country Club.
"Pretty wild eh guys?" Mark paused the video and turned to Chad.
"I think that maybe we need to re-think this project a bit, Spud, what do you think?"

Chad had been taking notes throughout the evening, some for editing, some were ideas for follow up and others were questions to ask Sheila the next time he saw her. He flipped back through the pages.
"We have a mysterious book that may have been written by one of the most controversial theologians of the reformation and a medallion that seems to link the book to one of the scariest looking gang of Hutterites I’ve ever seen. On top of that we have invisible babies crying on our tape, some kind of weird energy field and a woman with apparent psychic abilities who can hear the babies in her head."
Chad looked up at Mark. "Ya, I think it might be time to rethink this project."
"Don’t forget the mysterious firefighters that no one knew!" Kelsey added.
"Whoa buddy." Colin stood up to emphasize the point he was about to make. "Look, we have a grant to cover the firestorm stories and we have an agreement with a national network to air our documentary based on the original proposal. We have also done months of research and preparation for the project and already have three days of good shooting in the can, we can’t just abandon it because something a little more sexy comes along."
The students looked at one another in silence searching for an answer that none of them seemed to have. Chad looked down at his notes and rifled through the pages again as if a solution was hidden somewhere inside the mass of scribbled lines that he’d compiled.
"Christ all Mighty you wimpy assholes!!!" Colin was speaking again. "We have potential Genie Award material here and I make a few good points and you all turtle? Come on guys, that was just meant to be an opening argument, not the frickin’ Gospel!" Colin took a long swig of beer and slammed the can down.
"Ok, let’s start over. We can’t forget about the original documentary but let’s figure out how we can either work this in or convince the school and our backers that we have to go in a new direction." Colin was looking from student to student trying to generate some creative thinking.
"What about splitting up, Chad and I research the new stuff and you and Mark continue to do the interviews like today." Jeremy’s voice showed a lack of conviction in his own idea but, then again, it was only meant to be a starting point.
"I don’t think that’ll work, we’d just end up doing a half-assed job of both things." Mark’s earlier enthusiasm had been sucked out of him by Colin’s first set of points and still hadn’t recovered, despite Colin’s change of direction.
"OK, guys, here’s what we’re gonna do." Colin looked at Chad, smiled and winked at the younger student. "We are going to reschedule all of the interviews we have over the next five days, then we will split up into teams and blitzkrieg these new leads. After the fourth day we will go over everything we have and put together a progress report for Bryan back at the institute."
Chad knew this was the best strategy and he also knew that Colin wasn’t challenging his authority, but merely providing the benefit of his experience, yet, he still felt a little threatened by the way Colin had taken control over the past few minutes.
"That’s fine, but, I’m going to give Bryan a call tomorrow to give him a heads up, I’m sure he’ll agree with us." This little tweak to Colin’s idea was enough to let Chad feel like he was still running the show.

"Hey Spud, how’d the talk with Bryan go,?" Jeremy asked as Chad climbed into the back of the van.
The other three students had been waiting for the past twenty minutes for Chad to come down from his room. By the length of time it was taking, they knew that he must have been having a difficult time convincing Bryan that a change of direction was necessary.
"The first rule of making a documentary is to stick to your knitting. Know your subject better than anyone else and execute, execute, execute!!" Chad had lowered his voice an octave and was doing a relatively poor job of mimicking Bryan, but all of the other students knew exactly whom he was impersonating.
"Oh no…,not the knitting speech, I hate that one. It doesn’t even make sense to me." Mark was bent over, looking at the floor mat, with his hands clasped behind his neck and shaking his head.
Jeremy and Colin were sitting silently, waiting for Chad to deliver the anticipated bad news.
"So, let’s have it, what’d Bryan say?" Colin asked.
"He’s not crazy about us going off on a tangent, but he did say he thought we were the best team that he’s ever sent out, so he’s willing to give us a week to see what we come up with." Chad smiled, knowing that he’d played the other students perfectly. "He wants a progress report every couple of days."
"So, it took you twenty minutes to cover that on the phone with him?" Jeremy was looking at Chad with disbelief.
"No, we were done in under five, as soon as Bryan hung up, the phone rang and it was Kelsey." Chad smiled again, but this time it was mostly from the memory of his conversation with the young woman.
"Asshole, ass, ass Assholio! You kept us waiting, starving to death, when we could have been chowing-down on an Egg McMuffin and Hashbrowns just so you could flirt with your little girlfriend." Jeremy was joking, but Chad could tell that he was a little agitated as well.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but, we were talking about the book. She’s going to be helping Mrs. Robinson with some research for the next couple of days, so she won’t be around here much, but she’ll keep us posted with any progress they make."
The students were running late because Chad had been on the telephone longer than he’d planned. They did a quick breakfast drive-through then they were on their way up to Darlene Bauer’s house to try interviewing her again. This time, both Uncle Randy and Ollie Seddon had called Darlene to convince her to let the students do an in depth interview with her.
When Colin pulled the Westfalia to a stop in front of Darlene’s house the students felt as if they were in a déjà vu. It had been less than a week since they’d arrived at exactly the same point with a similar task at hand, there was even the same old man, leaning over the neighboring fence, watching every move they made.
This time, though, they had a completely different set of questions to ask and when they rang the doorbell the response they received was different as well. Instead of a disheveled woman, with wild hair, wearing a housecoat, they were greeted by a rather striking woman. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled back in a pony tail, she was wearing a full length, flowing summer dress that was covered with brightly coloured flowers and the cream eye shadow she’d used was the perfect color to highlight her dark eyes.
She welcomed the students into her house and Chad found himself wondering if they had arrived at the right place, then he saw his Aunt Sandra sitting at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee. She waved at the students as they came in the house. Chad was a little surprised that Stephanie wasn’t there as well, as she seemed to have really enjoyed the day on the boat with the students, but then he remembered that she was spending the week at summer camp with her friends.
Darlene held the door open for the students as they entered her house. "Sandy told me that she has already met you boys, so I guess I’m the only stranger here. I’m afraid that when you were here earlier I was a little bit under the weather, but I’m feeling much better now." Darlene went over to stand by Sandra, and put her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. "Sandy’s one of my dearest friends. We’ve known each other since kindergarten. She knew I was embarrassed by how our first meeting went, so she agreed to come over this morning, I hope you boys don’t mind."
Sandra looked up at Darlene and smiled.
"You might say that Darlene and I are sort of kindred spirits." Sandra was an attractive woman in her late thirties. Her sparkling green eyes and freckles gave her a youthful and mischievous look, and you could tell instantly that she was a lot of fun to be around. "Why don’t you boys sit down, we’ll have a cup of coffee and all get to know one another a little better before you start taping. I think that might make it a little more comfortable for everyone."
"That sounds like a great idea." Colin pulled up a chair beside Sandra and sat down. Jeremy and Mark took their recording equipment into the living room and left it by the chair they wanted Darlene to sit in during the interview, then they returned to join the others at the large wooden kitchen table.
"So, Miss Bauer, how long have you been in this house?" Colin thought he might as well start the conversation.
"Please, call me Darlene…" She had just returned to the table with a large white carafe and was busy pouring coffee for the students. "This was my parents house, I’ve lived here since they adopted me as a baby. Dad passed away ten years ago, and I’ve been here by myself since mom died last summer."
Chad was sitting at the end of the long table, watching the others and looking around the room. "Auntie Sandra, I know you wanted us all to get to know each other before the interview, but, I have an idea that I think might work even better. Mark, we’ll use three cameras, set them up around the room so we can get a good angle on everyone at the table. Jeremy, mic everyone, and put the omni in the middle of the table as a back up as we’re not going to know what we’ve got until we review it later."
Mark and Jeremy started on their assignments right away. A quick look around the kitchen and the dynamic at the table showed how obviously good Chad’s idea had been. It was a great setting, the light was perfect and they hadn’t done a group shot like this yet. Within a few minutes they were set up and ready to go. The cameras and sound recorders were left on as all the students sat back down at the table with Auntie Sandra and Darlene Bauer.
At first, the atmosphere was a little uncomfortable, everyone was too conscious of the cameras and microphones. It was almost as if they were all standing around on a sidewalk with their own piece of chalk ready to do a drawing together, but they hadn’t discussed what the picture was going to be.
Colin even felt a little uncomfortable as he was much more used to the one on one interviews and hadn’t really done any ‘round-table’ stuff since his second year media arts class. After a short silence, which seemed longer than it actually was, Colin began.
"Darlene, thank you for allowing us into your home today. I understand that you have lived here ever since you were a very young child."
"Yes, that’s right. I’ve lived here since my mom and dad brought me home from the hospital." Darlene looked at Colin to see if he was going to ask another question or if she should continue. Colin nodded in acknowledgement, as if he hadn’t heard Darlene tell him something very similar only a few minutes before.
"Was that your adoptive parents?"
"My adoptive parents, yes. They are the only parents I have ever known. I have been with them since I was only a few months old."
"Have you ever tried to find your natural parents?" Colin continued. It was not turning out to be much of a round table, but he was on a roll again and the other students thought it would be best to just let him carry the ball for now.
"No, no, there is no record of them. I was actually left at the emergency entrance to the Kelowna General Hospital when I was just a few weeks old. Someone, I guess one of my parents, had wrapped me in a blanket and put me in a cardboard box and just left me there hoping I would be found." Darlene paused and took a sip of coffee and looked back up at Colin.
"Do your mother and father still live with you here?" Colin already knew the answer, but Darlene had provided that information before they started taping.
"My dad passed away about ten years ago, and mom died last summer, so it’s just me and my cat Benjamin now."
"And your friends, don’t forget about me and Ollie." Sandra gave Darlene a coy smile and squeezed her hand under the table.
"And, what about your next door neighbour? He seems pretty interested in what is happening at your house. He’s kept a close eye on us both times we’ve been here." Chad wanted to interview the old man next door and thought that, maybe, Darlene would be able to talk him into doing an interview. Chad had no idea if he would have anything interesting to say, but the lines in his face already spoke volumes. If nothing else, he would make a great visual subject.
"That’s Mr. Jenkins. Mom told me that he moved in shortly after they brought me home from the hospital. He was almost like a second dad to me growing up." Darlene was looking out the kitchen window in the direction of Mr. Jenkins house while she was talking. It was as if she somehow felt that he could hear what she was saying about him. Chad followed her gaze out the window, and noticed the old man puttering around in his garden at the back of the lot. When Darlene mentioned that he had been like a second dad, Chad could have sworn that Mr. Jenkins had looked towards them for a moment and smiled before continuing on with his gardening.
"Mr. Jenkins is a dear. When Randy first started at the Parks Department Mr. Jenkins was one of the gardeners, but he retired right after the first summer that Randy worked there. Sandra had noticed the far away look in Darlene’s eyes, the look she got when she was experiencing one of her clairvoyant connections. She’d always thought of it as a kind of day-dreaming. Darlene would still be vaguely aware of her surroundings but on a subconscious level she was completely gone. Her episodes didn’t last very long, and if it was just the two of them visiting, Sandra would wait patiently and do a little day dreaming herself until Darlene had returned from wherever she had been. "He’s a wonderful gardener and he does beautiful wood carvings too. Darlene has quite a few that he’s made for her. This bowl here," Sandra points to a large wooden bowl in the middle of the table. "It’s one he made for Darlene when her mom passed away."
The bowl had been lined with paper towels and filled with fresh baked muffins for the student’s visit. Images typical of the Okanagan Valley, grapes, apples, mountains and trees were carved around the centre of the bowl. The images rested upon a series of crosses that looked like carved crucifixes. It was obviously a labour of love, done by a true craftsman.
"He told me to keep it in a place that reminded me of my mom so that it would fill with her memories and I would always have her near." Darlene was back again and Sandra was relieved, as she wasn’t sure how much longer she could carry the interview.
"Does Mr. Jenkins have a family of his own?" Chad continued with the questions.
"Not that I know of. He has been alone ever since I can remember. Sandy and I are probably the best friends he has," After a short pause to look out her window in the direction of Mr. Jenkins, she adds,.. "probably the only friends."
Darlene reached for the bowl in the centre of the table and hands it to Colin. "Please, boys, have a muffin, Sandy made them fresh this morning."
Each of the boys took a muffin and Colin placed the bowl back in the centre of the table.
"Tracy Ficocelli mentioned to us that she believes you have some unique abilities. In fact, it sounds like quite a few people seem to think you have some special psychic talents." Colin waded back into the conversation. He wasn’t sure why Chad had headed down the path he’d taken with the questions about the old man next door and he wanted to get back on track before the entire interview turned into a bio on Mr. Jenkins.
Darlene raised her eyebrows, "Psychic talents, that’s a good one. I’ve grown up with these people thinking I’m some kind of freak show."
"I can imagine it must have been difficult as a child…."
Colin was about to ask Darlene about her childhood experiences as a clairvoyant, but a strange expression had come across her face and her hands had begun to tremor.
Their shaking was barely visible, but she was holding on to her cup and Colin could see the ripples in the coffee. Sandra had also noticed the change that had come over Darlene. It was a change that she had witnessed more than a few times before. One minute Darlene could have the confidence of a college professor, the next she could be a frightened child. The first time the students had visited, it was the frightened child who had answered the door. This time it was the professor, but Sandra could see that something had triggered the start of a transformation. She didn’t know much about how Darlene’s clairvoyant talents worked, but she was confident that they were real, and she knew how vulnerable Darlene could become when she entered into a clairvoyant state. She knew, and she was very protective of her dear friend.
"Darlene had a rough childhood." Sandra again squeezed Darlene’s hand under the table and gave her a warm smile and a wink, as if to say, ‘It’s alright dear, I’ll take it from here’.
"Doctors don’t understand psychic phenomenon. Back when Darlene was a young girl shock therapy was still pretty popular. I’m almost surprised they didn’t attach leaches to her head to suck the evil spirits out." Sandra stopped talking for a second to take a sip of coffee then continued. "Any way, she went through years of testing. They checked for everything from epilepsy to schizophrenia to Minears Disease. Her adopted parents, the Bauer’s were pretty religious and couldn’t accept that Darlene might have some kind of clairvoyant powers. I sometimes think that must have been the hardest thing for her."
By now, Darlene was only vaguely aware of her surroundings. She was leaning against Sandra with her head on her friend’s shoulder and Sandra’s arm around her, supporting and comforting her. Darlene’s eyelids were only partially open, but her eyes were very active. The students could see them rolling rapidly back and forth under the lids.
"They’re crying again. They’re crying and they need me. They need my help, but I don’t know how to help them. I have to find them, to help them, I have to." Darlene’s voice seemed hollow and as if she was talking more to herself than to anyone else in the room. She looked up into Sandra’s eyes and her voice became much softer and sadder.
"They are all alone, so cold and alone. I have to find them. I have to help them, I have to."

Darlene had collapsed into Sandra’s arms. The short voyage to wherever she had gone had taken a lot out of her. Sandra held her for a while, then helped her into the living room where Darlene curled up on the couch. Sandra covered her with a large red and gray afghan and then rejoined the students in the kitchen.
"Sorry boys, I think that’s about it for this morning." Sandra tried to sound upbeat, but the students could hear the underlying concern in her voice.
"While we are here, why don’t we go over and see if Mr. Jenkins is up for an interview." They hadn’t taped as much as Chad had hoped, but there wasn’t much point in sitting in Darlene’s kitchen while she slept on the couch. "Aunt Sandra, could you come with us? The last time we saw him, he just walked away, maybe if you introduced us he’d…."
"Of course, yes, of course I’ll be happy to go with you, just give me a minute to straighten things up." Sandra had already started cleaning off the table. After she’d rinsed the coffee mugs and put the cups in the dishwasher she took the remaining muffins and put them into a paper bag along with several napkins and gave them to Chad.
"A little snack for you boys later on."
After checking on Darlene she turned off the light in the living room and rejoined the students, who were packing up their equipment.
"OK, lets go out through back door so we don’t wake Darlene up." Sandra led them through a porch that was joined to the kitchen and out onto a veranda that overlooked the back yard and neighboring property. When Mr. Jenkins saw the students emerge onto the veranda with Sandra, he began to pick up his gardening utensils.
"Hello Mr. Jenkins." Sandra was waiving at him with her arm stretched out above her head and her fingers wiggling. The cheerful greeting caught his attention and he turned towards her. He put his gardening tools back down and walked towards the fence that separated the two properties.
He rested his forearms on the fence and waited for the others to arrive. There was a gate in the fence that he had used many times in the past when visiting Darlene or her parents, but this time, he walked right past it, leaving it closed. The message was clear. "I do not want to insult my friend Sandra, but, I am not at all sure about these young men that she is with."
Sandra and the film students approached Mr. Jenkins. Chad noticed that the older man appeared much stronger than he had seemed from a distance. His stance at the fence was not threatening, but it definitely was not submissive either.
"This is my nephew Chad, he’s Randy’s, brother’s boy." Chad smiled and held his hand out to greet Mr. Jenkins who removed a well-worn gardening glove before shaking the young mans hand. Chad was struck by how solid Mr. Jenkins’ handshake was. He also noticed a small tattoo of a cross in the webbing between the old mans thumb and index finger and that his fingernails had a yellowish hue to them. Chad figured that the old man must have been a heavy smoker for most of his life.
"It’s nice to meet you Mr. Jenkins. These are my friends, Jeremy…., Mark… and Colin." Chad paused after each name, permitting each student to shake Mr. Jenkins’ hand before moving on to the next student. For some reason, that Chad didn’t quite understand, it appeared that this ritual was of importance to Mr. Jenkins, as if he was able to gain some significant information through the shaking of their hands. Chad had felt something himself when he was shaking the old man’s hand. Nothing that he could pinpoint, kind of a vague connection as if a light breeze had passed through his psyche.
"How are you." Mr. Jenkins’ voice had a flat tone and the look on his face was easy to read. He had no interest in ‘how’ the boys were, what he really wanted to know was ‘who’ they were.
"We’ve just been talking to your friend, Miss Bauer."
Chad figured he might as well cut to the chase, as there was obviously no point in making small talk with this man.
"A-yep." Mr. Jenkins looked at Chad. He had no interest in their business and just wanted to get back to his garden. He felt that he had been polite enough to satisfy Sandra. The only thing that was still stopping him from walking away from the students was his desire to find out what they had wanted with Darlene.
"She told us how close the two of you are. We saw the beautiful bowl that you made for her. Is that a hobby of yours." Chad could tell that he would have his work cut out for him if he wanted to get anything useful out of this interview.
"A-yep." Mr. Jenkins wasn’t about to provide any unsolicited information. If they asked him a question he’d answer as simply as possible, at least until he had figured out exactly what they were up to.
"We are doing a documentary on the Okanagan Mountain Fire. Do you mind if we use a video camera to record us asking you a few questions?" Chad looked at Mark and pointed at the camera in a gesture to start getting it ready. Whatever the old man’s answer was going to be, Chad still wanted a few close ups of his face.
"Nope." Now that Mr. Jenkins knew what they wanted he wanted to know what kind of questions they’d asked Darlene.
"OK Boys, let’s set up quick. Daylights burning, and I’m sure Mr. Jenkins would much rather be gardening." Chad was talking to Jeremy and Mark, but his eyes never left Mr. Jenkins. He wanted to let the old man know that he respected his time and would try to do this as quickly as possible.
"Mr. Jenkins, Colin is going to ask you a few questions, please just answer them as if the cameras weren’t even here."
Mr. Jenkins nodded and Colin stepped up to the fence with a hand held microphone. He held the microphone in front of himself and faced the camera.
"Mr. Jenkins has known Darlene Bauer for most of her life. They have been neighbors since she was a child and remain very good friends." Colin turned to face Mr. Jenkins and held the microphone towards him. Mr. Jenkins still had his forearms resting on the top rail of the fence.
"Mr. Jenkins, I understand that you were a great help to Darlene when it came time to evacuate."
Colin made a mental note, ‘open ended questions only’. He leaned in a little closer to Mr. Jenkins.
"That is a very interesting tattoo on your hand. I noticed the same pattern on the bowl that you carved for Darlene. What is the significance of that modified cross?"
Mr. Jenkins icy stare sent a shiver through Colin. The interview was over almost before it had started. The old man moved a step back from the fence and studied each of the student’s faces for a few seconds before turning and walking back to where he’d left his garden utensils. He picked up the tools and carried them to a small greenhouse at the back of his yard. The students watched him as he methodically hung each one up on a custom made rack attached to the side of the greenhouse. Once the last tool had been put away he disappeared around the back of the structure.
"Nice work Colin, really subtle, buddy. ‘What’s the significance of the modified cross?’ Jeez, why didn’t you just out and ask him if he was some kind of cult freak?" Jeremy was shaking his head and ranting while he wrapped the microphone cable.
"Shut up Jeremy." Mark was putting the camera equipment away, but paused to look at Jeremy. "Just shut up. Your shitting all over Colin isn’t going to help. These frickin’ people are psycho, what the hell are we supposed to do? Tiptoe all around them and make sure we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings? That’d make a real Oscar winner." Mark stuffed the last cable into his case and headed towards the van around the front of the house.
"Take it easy guys. I think we got some good shots here. Not much quantity, but I think that most of it will be useable." Chad was talking while still filming the other students with his camcorder.
"Jeremy was right, I screwed up. I wanted this one to really work and I screwed it up, shit!!"
Colin was following the others back to the van.
They had decided to go around the side of the house instead of through it so they wouldn’t disturb Darlene, just incase she was still sleeping. Sandra had gone in to check on Darlene right after she had introduced the students to Mr. Jenkins. She’d left shortly afterwards, stopping just for a second to tell the boys that Darlene was fine and resting.
The lots in this part of town were large. Most had mature landscaping, many had expansive garden plots, and the houses were relatively small and usually located in the middle of the lot, which provided plenty of privacy from the neighboring homes. The Bauer and Jenkins lots were an exception to this rule. A large rock outcropping at the front corner of the Bauer lot and a steep slope at opposite corner of the Jenkins lot had forced the home builders to locate the houses much closer together.
As they passed between the two dwellings on the way back to the van Chad looked over towards Mr. Jenkins’ house. The curtains of a window had been left open and the sunlight was at a perfect angle to effectively illuminate the interior of the room. The first thing that Chad noticed was a large cross in the window. It was ornate, and reminded him of the ones that he had seen inside the Greek Orthodox Church his grandma used to attend when he was a child. It had been hung in the window so that it could easily be seen by anyone approaching the house from this side. Further inside the room he could see more religious artifacts hanging on the walls and placed on shelves and desks. In a stark contrast, at the back of the room, there was a large gun rack, filled with rifles, hand guns and what Chad guessed, might be automatic weapons. It reminded him of a bumper sticker he saw when he was traveling through Kennesaw, Georgia on the way to Atlanta. On one side was a picture of an AK 47 Assault rifle, on the other side a cross and in between were the words, "Repent and Reload"
When the students reached the van, they loaded their gear in silence. The two aborted interviews had taken the wind out of their sails.
Jeremy and Mark hadn’t really wanted to interview Darlene again. They didn’t think that wasting more time with her would fit into either track that they were working on for the documentary. Chad wasn’t completely sure himself, but had insisted that they redo her interview because of the trouble that his uncle and aunt had gone through to get Darlene to meet with them again.
They had been driving for ten minutes before Chad finally spoke. "Anybody want a muffin?"

"I think we need a change of scenery boys." Chad took another bite of the strawberry muffin and continued to talk with his mouth full. Crumbs fell out of the side of his mouth and onto his lap as he spoke. He brushed them away with the back of his hand and continued. "We need to get out into the woods and get some good location shots. When I was a kid we went camping up at Chute Lake Lodge. It’s near where the fire started, and almost directly above the spot where we picked up those unusual sounds on the hard disc recorder."
"You’re right Spud, we could all use a change of pace. Take a few days to regroup, maybe even a little R & R, we’ve been goin’ at it pretty good since we got here." Colin was nodding as he talked.
He really liked the idea of doing some location shots and not having to work at another interview for a few days. Colin knew the importance of the mechanical parts of the interview. Setting up equipment, getting the lighting right, making sure the sound was good, these things were all important, but trying to read minds and pull the best responses out of these yokels for twelve hours a day had been exhausting.
Colin nodded again. "Yep, a really good idea Spud!"
The students hadn’t anticipated spending time in the wilderness other than to take a few close-ups of burnt forest, so Chad called his Uncle Randy to help arrange for the camping gear that they would need.
They decided to split up for the next day. Chad worked with Uncle Randy to get ready for the camping trip and Colin, Mark and Jeremy finished a few location shots and interviews in town. They’d planned to get as much done as they could in the morning before their scheduled meeting with Sheila Robinson at 1:00 PM in the Anthropology lab.
Chad had been disappointed that he wouldn’t get to see Kelsey, who was assisting Sheila at the Lab, but he knew that splitting up made the best use of their time.
"Don’t worry Spud Buddy, I’ll take good care of Kelsey for you." Jeremy teased with a wink as they left Chad waiting in his hotel room for Uncle Randy to arrive. The offer didn’t comfort Chad at all, nor was it intended to. Jeremy had no real interest in the girl, he just liked to push buttons, and when it came to Kelsey there was a huge button right in the middle of Chad’s forehead.
Chad pretended to laugh and waved at the boys then closed the door and went over to sit at the small table by the TV where he had compiled a list of the things they would need for the camping trip. He was reviewing his list when the telephone rang.
"Hello?" Chad was hoping that it was Kelsey calling to tell him that she was coming over to help him get the camping supplies ready. His heart sank when the voice on the other end of the line turned out to be that of Uncle Randy.
"Hi Chad, I’m gonna be a little late. I got a call from an old friend this morning, I think you might be interested in this, no, I know you are going to be interested in this tape he gave me. Do you still have the VCR set up in your room? Uncle Randy had barely been able to contain the excitement in his voice. Chad had never heard him this animated before.
"Ya, sure, we were reviewing some footage last night, whatcha got Uncle?" Chad was still a little disappointed that it wasn’t Kelsey, but Uncle Randy had him wondering what could be on the tape that could get his cool old uncle so excited.
"Good! I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes, put some coffee on for me, OK buddy? See you shortly, bye." Uncle Randy hadn’t even waited for a response. He hung up on ‘goodbye’ and Chad was wondering what the big hurry was.
Chad looked around the room for the coffee maker. He found a small pot and two paper coffee cups with plastic holders sitting beside them along with a packet of coffee and powdered sugar and creamers. Chad picked up the packet of coffee and tried to tear it open with his fingers. The thin foil casing proved to be very tough and Chad started looking for a scissors, then he remembered that there was a Tim Horton Donut shop at the end of the block. He arrived back at the hotel with a box of Tim Bits and two large coffees and condiments, just as Uncle Randy was pulling into the parking lot.
"Good man Spud." Uncle Randy was a huge ‘Timmy’s’ fan, and was pleased to see that Chad had taken his request seriously.
"So, what do you have for me Uncle?" Chad handed one of the coffees to Randy as they both pulled up chairs in front of the TV set.
"Let’s watch the video first, then I’ll fill you in on the details." Randy took a sip of coffee then sat down staring at the blank TV screen, waiting for Chad to play the video that he’d brought.
The video had been rewound to the beginning, and the plastic tab that allows tapes to be recorded over had been removed, so the tape started to play as soon as Chad put it in the VCR.
It was a police video. A VHS copy had been made from the original tape that came from the dashboard camera in a police cruiser.
The video started with the police cruiser traveling at a fairly high rate of speed along a dark country road that looked familiar to Chad. The officer turned onto a residential street and flipped the siren off, but left the red and blue flashing lights running. Chad recognized the driveway that the officer had pulled into. It belonged to Darlene Bauer.
The police car pulled to a stop facing the neighboring property. Chad couldn’t make out the house because of the bright flames coming from the bonfire in the front yard, but he new that it was the Jenkins place.
The tape recorded the sound of the officer getting out of the car, the front door closing, the rear door of the cruiser opening and closing again and then the officer appeared in the screen on the left running towards the flames with a fire extinguisher in his hand.
As he reached the burning object he raised the fire extinguisher and started spraying. The blaze was stubborn and not easily subdued. When the flame retardant hit the centre of the fire, large splinters of flames were disembodied from the burning mass and sent to dissipate in the night air.
By the time that the pressure in the fire extinguisher had dropped significantly the inferno had been reduced enough to see the outline of the thing that was burning. It was a large cross, and on the cross there was a shape. It was the shape of a person and it was still ablaze.
Chad watched in horror as the officer’s fire extinguisher expired and he frantically searched for something else to use on the persistent flames. He disappeared around the side of the house and returned with a garden hose already spraying water. The first jets of spray hit the burning object at the top of the neck and the force of the water pushed the burning head off of the rest of the body.
Sparks exploded from the head as it hit the ground and it continued to burn as it rolled towards the police cruiser. The officer dropped the garden hose and ran towards the head, removing his coat as he ran. He smothered the object with his jacket, suffocating the flames. When he was finished all that remained was an unrecognizable blackened orb, it was a horrific sight, yet, somehow, the officer looked relieved. Behind the officer, the rest of the body continued to burn, and Chad noticed what appeared to be an arm drop from the torso, and then a burning leg fell off the body.
By the time the officer had once again trained the garden hose on the fire the entire body had fallen in blackened pieces onto the ground at the base of the cross.
Chad heard more sirens approaching and a flashing red light began to invade the left part of the TV screen, then everything went to a solid blue as the taped segment came to an end.
Chad sat silently staring at the screen for several minutes, trying to collect his thoughts, trying to process what he had just seen, trying to figure out why Uncle Randy might think this could have anything to do with their film project.
"It was a dummy Chad, a mannequin. Someone had wired it to the cross then lit the whole works on fire in Mr. Jenkins front yard." Randy picked up the box of Timbits and rifled through it looking for one with a honey glaze on it. He found the one he was looking for and popped it in his mouth, then started to talk again.
"Back it up to just before the end and take a look at the cross." Chad rewound the tape to the point where all the body parts were piled up at the base of the cross, and then he pushed the pause button.
"Does it look familiar to you?"
Chad leaned even closer to the TV and looked at the cross. It was a smoldering black outline. Even with the poor quality of tape that had been used for the recording and the darkness of the night Chad could still see several distinguishing features on the cross. It was a simple Christian type cross, but each arm of the cross had been further bisected by an upright wood plank turning the arm on each side of the cross’s centre pole into smaller crosses. Although the cross had been blackened by the fire, Chad could still see the similarity between the burnt cross and the cross on the medallion that Mark had found.
"You got KKK in this area?" Chad asked.
"No, no Klan around here, never was." Randy took a sip of coffee and popped in another Tim Bit. "The police are sure that Mr. Jenkins knows who did this, but he wouldn’t tell them a thing. He won’t admit it, but the burning has sure spooked the hell out of him. He hasn’t slept in his house since the fire. He goes home every day to check on his garden and have a coffee with Darlene but he’s living in a little picker shed in the middle of a friends orchard on the other side of town. Seems like he’s hiding from someone. Darlene and Sandra and I are the only ones who know this, other than the friend who owns the orchard of course."
"I’ve seen that cross before." This time it was Chad’s finger pointing to an image on the screen.
"See the funny little crosses on the arms of the big cross? Those are exactly the same as the cross on the medallion we found and also the same as the cross the weird guy we almost hit crossing the road was wearing. They also look like the crosses on the wood bowl that Mr. Jenkins carved for Darlene and like the ones tattooed on his hands. Do you think those weird people are somehow connected to Mr. Jenkins?"
"Hi boys, nice to see you all again. Kelsey tells me Chad is getting supplies ready for a camping trip. You should have called me, I’ve got everything you’d need all ready to go." Sheila was sitting at an oval shaped boardroom table. Her crutches were leaning against the wall at the opposite end of the room. The book Mark had found was on the table in front of her. It was closed, but had numerous pieces of white paper sticking out from between the pages at various points. There were three other books stacked on top of one another sitting on the table to the left of Sheila and a mass of papers on the table between the stack of books and the book the students had found.
"Would you mind if we set up the cameras to tape this session?" Colin, was pretty sure that it would be OK, but had learned never to take anything for granted.
"Go ahead. You’ll find some plug-ins behind the counter over there." Sheila pointed to a counter near where her crutches lay. Kelsey, who was sitting on the counter, took an extension cord from Mark, leaned over and reached behind the counter to plug it in, then she sat up straight with her hands clasped together between her legs looking very much like Alice’s Cheshire Cat.
Mark and Jeremy set up the equipment while Colin adjusted his shirt and tidied his hair.
"You guys almost ready to go?" Colin asked.
"One minute. I’m getting a funny glare coming off the window behind Sheila. Could we turn the light off in that room to see if it helps? Mark had the perfect angle for the shot, and didn’t want to move just to avoid a little glare, but he also didn’t want to settle for inferior image quality either. Kelsey disappeared into the other room and a few seconds later the light was off and the glare was gone.
"Thank you, Kelsey, that’s a lot better. OK Colin, I’m ready to go. How ‘bout you Jeremy?" Mark and Jeremy had barely spoken to one another since Mark had berated Jeremy for picking on Colin the day before. Mark’s tone was friendly and had been intended to be a bit of an Olive Branch to smooth things over with Jeremy.
"Yep, just let me finish setting up this wireless mic. on Sheila and then we can get started." Jeremy picked up on the subtle peace offering and smiled at Mark as if to say, ‘OK buddy, let’s put yesterday behind us.’
"This could take awhile, you boys might as well get comfortable. Anyone want a coffee before we start?"
Sheila asked.
Kelsey poured coffee for everyone and they joined Sheila around the table.
"Before I get into any details, I just want to let you boys know that, even though we have learned a lot already, we still have a lot of work to do." Sheila was rubbing the surface of the boy’s book with her right hand as she talked.
"We have determined that this book does date back to the 16th Century. It very well could be a first edition copy of the Christianismi Restitutio. We used digital photography to capture images of the binding, the cover and fifty pages of random text, which we have sent to the curator of the Earl Morse Wilbur Library at the Starr King School for the Ministry." Sheila paused to take a sip of coffee and see if there were any questions yet, then continued.
"The Starr King School is where Unitarian Ministers are educated. I think I told you before that many of the teachings of the Unitarian Church had their origins in Michael Servetus’s Christianismi Restitutio. Anyway, their rare book collection includes one of the three known copies of the Christianismi Restitutio. I’m hoping to hear back from them within the next day or two."
"So, if the pictures match up, will that confirm the authenticity?" Jeremy was looking over the top of his coffee cup as he asked the question. His family never had much money and he was a little embarrassed at how excited he was by the thought of possibly getting rich off of some old book.
"No, it will just confirm whether or not it is worth a trip to Berkeley to compare the two books side by side."
"I noticed that the book looks a lot cleaner now, is it in pretty good shape?" Colin was almost as interested in the value of the book as Jeremy, but was a bit better at hiding it.
"Yes, we’ve had it in the restoration lab a few times, cleaning the loose grime and dirt off. Actually, for it’s age, it has been remarkably preserved. It should get you top dollar at auction." Sheila turned the book for all the students to see how much cleaner it looked now.
"Do you have any ideas yet on how much this book could sell for?" Colin figured he might just as well stop beating around the bush. All three students were wondering the same thing, so why not just ask the question.
"It is very difficult to say. Whatever I tell you I will be out by a long shot. Auctioning a book is not an exact science. All I can say for certain is that this will be an extremely rare find if we can verify that it is a first edition copy. If you decide to sell it you will get a great deal of interest, as books of that caliber only become available for auction once every generation or so." Sheila was still non-committal.
"We understand what you are saying Sheila, but we have absolutely no idea of even where the ball park is located on this one. Any guess you have would at least give us an idea of what neighbourhood we might be in." Mark wasn’t really that concerned about the financial value of the book, but he didn’t want to appear disinterested.
"OK, if you want a wild guess, I’d say the bidding would start somewhere between one and two million dollars." Sheila didn’t like guessing, but it was obvious that the students needed to hear some kind of number before she could move on to the rest of the information that she had for them.
She really had no idea at all of where the bidding would start, or if it would even be sold at an auction. This wasn’t her area of expertise, but she sold her guess well and the students appeared to be satisfied.
Mark whistled, "I guess I should go hiking more often. "So, how has the translator been coming along?"
"Actually, I have had two linguistic specialists working on the book. Klaus, who you met at my shop, has been working on the Polish sections and I have sent digital images of the first four chapters of the book to Kyle Kendal, who teaches Latin at UBC." Sheila put on her glasses and shuffled through the papers in front of her, creating two separate piles. She picked up the first pile and tapped the bottom of it gently on the table to straighten all the pages, then she put it down and picked up the top page and read the first paragraph to herself, before looking back up at the students.
"Kyle has confirmed that the content of this book is consistent with the existing copies of the Christianismi Restitutio. I asked him to translate the first chapter and a few additional random pages to check against the known translation. All of the selections were identical, so there is no point in having him continue until we know for sure if this book is authentic or just a good copy." Sheila picked up a back-scratcher that was sitting on the table beside the books and pushed the fingered end down between her cast and her leg.
"God damn, I hate this bloody cast, I can’t wait to get rid of it."
She put the scratcher back down and was just about to continue when Jeremy interrupted. While Sheila was talking he’d been looking at the book they had found.
"The book looks thinner." He observed, looking across at Sheila.
"Very observant, Jeremy. We ended up removing the inserted pages, there were about fifty of them in total. They obviously didn’t belong in the book in its original format and they were not as attached to the book as we thought. Most of them had just been placed in between other pages of text. Either, time, or some kind of weak adhesive had kept them from falling out. We have enclosed each page in its own plastic sleeve and have scanned them all for Klaus to work on."
Sheila paused for a moment to take a sip of coffee and Kelsey took the opportunity to speak.
"We have all of the Polish pages in the lab safe. I’ve been helping Klaus with some of his research. He’s been translating and I’ve been comparing dates of entry, text, penmanship, and doing a little research on the net. It looks like there have been at least 20 different contributors spanning a time frame from 1553 through to just around the time of the fire last year."
"So, each guy gets two and a half pages for his generation?" Jeremy was looking for some kind of perspective.
"How much could they say in that amount of space?"
Kelsey was about to answer him when Sheila waded back into the conversation.
"It didn’t quite work that way. Some contributors wrote nothing more than a paragraph. ‘We got chased out of there, we ended up here.’ And that’s about it. Others provided a lot more insight into the evolution of their culture and their faith."
This time it was Colin’s turn to ask a question. He’d been feeling burnt out lately, but he didn’t want to go through this entire interview without participating at least a little.
"So, has this helped you figure out who the book might have belonged to before we found it?" Colin, as well as the rest of the students had speculated that the book had probably belonged to that strange looking group of men that they almost ran over on their way in to town. They’d had more than one heated discussion about what they should do with the book if, or when, the previous owners were identified. In the end, they decided to wait until they had a better idea of what value, if any, the book might have before worrying about what they were going to ultimately do with it.
"Yes, we think so. They identify themselves as Ludzi Ognia, or, translated to English it means ‘the People of the Fire’. There is very little known about their religion. I have found some historical texts which also refer to them as Servetians."
Mark started to chuckle.
"Lasagna, shit, now I get it." He was speaking more to himself than to the others.
"What the hell are you talking about buddy?" Jeremy asked.
"Remember when we were driving out to the fire zone with Uncle Randy, he called them Lasagna. I thought he was just making fun of them, but I guess that was the way that he heard it. He probably figured they were all Italians or something." Mark was still shaking his head and smiling.
"Well, they do have some roots in Italy, in fact shortly after the death of Michael Servetus they began to migrate around Europe. They were constantly persecuted for their beliefs and so they never stayed in one place very long. The writings of Servetus taught them to be open to other philosophies in pursuit of the truth so their religion has been exposed to a wide variety of influences. I doubt that Servetus himself would even recognize the composite belief system that has evolved into their faith."
Sheila felt like she was starting to lecture again, so she paused for another sip of coffee and to allow the students to ask any questions they might have. Instead, Kelsey started talking. Her body language, the pitch of her voice and the speed of her speech gave away her excitement, which had been barely under control since the students had arrived.
"It’s incredible, they have a fundamental faith that is similar to the Anabaptist belief system practiced by religious sects like the Hutterites and the Amish, however, they have incorporated Druidism and Voodoo into their rituals."
Kelsey looked towards Sheila for a sign of approval before continuing on.
"The first followers of Servetus where really the intellectual elite. They were not satisfied with the current system of religion and wanted to fix it. When Servetus died they continued their quest for truth and knowledge, but the constant persecution forced them to find creative ways to preserve their beliefs. They were taught to be skilled warriors by the Druids and have learned the art of Voodoo as well."
Colin was focussing intently on Kelsey. He hadn’t really gotten to know her, and had dismissed her as a cute, dumb blonde, but this intellectual side had put her into a completely new light for him. A thought began to creep into his mind, ‘Maybe Chad isn’t really interested in her. After all, he hadn’t really made a move on her yet’, but as soon as the thought had appeared he’d dismissed it as even if there wasn’t anything between them, which, deep down, he knew there was, he still didn’t want to take the chance of rocking the boat.
"So, do you think these people might be dangerous then?" Colin asked.
In a show of respect for her student, Sheila looked over at Kelsey before turning to answer Colin’s question.
"If they are left to themselves and are not threatened, they are very peaceful people. However, if anyone threatens their colony, they would be willing to kill or die to defend it. They have incorporated Servetus’s ideas surrounding the holy trinity into their defense strategy. The first stage is to rely on prayer. They are very a private people of few words, but strongly believe in the power of prayer. If they do not see any results from prayer, then they resort to Voodoo to try to convince their enemies to change or to drive them away. If this fails, then they resort to the ways of man, specifically, fight or flight. They do not engage in open warfare, in fact, you’d be lucky if you ever saw them coming. If they have exhausted all other options and don’t believe that the threat to their colony can be contained by physical violence, then, at the last resort, they will move the colony. When they do move, it is always with a great deal of forethought in choosing their locations. In fact, it seems like they have a pre-existing plan and to some extent, time line, for changing locations." Sheila grabbed the backscratcher to relieve another itch inside her cast.
"I’m guessing that is a definite yes to Colin’s question. Is this all from the translation work that Klaus has done so far?" Jeremy’s tone was uncharacteristically serious.
"Most of this information has come from Klaus’s translation but Kelsey’s research has provided a lot of additional and valuable detail. The translated pages provide us with a chronological history of the Ludzi Ognia. They tell us where the Ludzi Ognia have been, about their significant events, that sort of thing. The work that Kelsey has done provides more insight into how the evolution of their faith fits into their history." Sheila gave Kelsey a big ‘Good work kid’ smile then turned back to the film students.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but at least now we have a good idea of who the book might have belonged to."
"Do you think that they were looking for their book during the fire, and that they could be the mysterious band of fire fighters that no one knew?" Jeremy continued with the questioning.
"I’d have to say no and yes. No, I don’t think that they were looking for the book. I think that the book might have had something to do with why they were up in the woods during the fire, but they weren’t there to find the book. I think that they probably lost the book after the fire had already gone through the area you found it in.
As for them being the mysterious firefighters, I am almost certain of it. I couldn’t tell you what they were searching for, or maybe trying to hide in the woods, but, there is a four wheel drive access road that goes from Okanagan Mountain Park, right into their colony."
"I think we need to find that road and go talk to these people. Christ, if we could get that freak show on camera and solve the ‘Unknown Firefighter’ mystery we’d be on our way to a frickin Genie." Jeremy had become more animated again.
"I’m not sure if that would be such a great idea guys." Kelsey was sitting with her knees up to her chest and her feet resting on the seat of her chair, swiveling back and forth as she spoke.
"Why not?" Jeremy questioned.
"Right now, these people know nothing of you, they are extremely paranoid and private and potentially dangerous. We have only scratched the surface of what we know about them. If you really need to get some tape of them for your documentary, I’d wait until your last day here, go for your visit, take the shots you want then head straight on back to Calgary."
The conversation paused for a moment as the students considered Kelsey’s warning until Colin broke the silence with an exclamation.
"Holy Shit!!! Hoooolly frickin shit!!!."
"What’s wrong Colin." Mark asked.
"Chad told me that if they got done packing early enough they would take a drive up to the Lasagna colony to ask about the fake firefighters. Uncle Randy told him about a trail over the mountain that could have been used to avoid the roadblocks at either end of Chute Lake Road."
"Hooollly Shit is right." Jeremy agreed. "We’d better call Chad on his cell and tell him about these nut jobs."
"You mean this cell here?" Colin pulled Chad’s Cell phone out of the front pocket of his jeans. "He gave it to me so that he could call us later to see how we made out with Sheila and Kelsey."
"Ok, then Randy must have a cell phone. The guy’s on the road 90% of the time. Anyone got his number?" Jeremy looked at Kelsey. "Do you have a phone book in here?"
Kelsey disappeared into the other room, reappearing with a thick volume of ‘Telus Superpages’. She handed it to Jeremy. "Look in the blue pages for the Parks Division, it will be under the City of Kelowna section." She instructed.
The others watched as Jeremy rapidly fingered through the phone book.
"OK, here it is. Parks Division, 71-PARKS, cute. Man, I frickin hate dialing those word numbers. They are a bloody waste of time. I refuse to memorize any word numbers, they just piss me right off." Jeremy was looking at the worn buttons on Chad’s cell phone and trying to figure out which number the "R" should be on.
"Jesus, just shut up and dial." Mark prodded.
"Ok, ok, I got it, the phones ringing." Jeremy was silent for a second as he listened to a prompt from an automated attendant on the other end of the line. He pushed a series of buttons in rapid succession then the students heard a loud, disconnected hummmmmmmm coming from the cell phone in his hand.
"Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit…." Jeremy pushed the end button on the cell phone and started dialing again, then stopped and pushed the end button again. "What the hell is the number again?"
"71-PARKS,…. Asshole!" Mark answered sarcastically.
Jeremy stared at Mark for a moment before going into an animated impersonation of the docile Randy Quaid character, ‘Cousin Eddie’ from the National Lampoon movie ‘Family Vacation’. "Nope, no, I’m pretty sure that the number was shorter than that." He droned.
Colin snatched the phone from Jeremy and started to dial. A few seconds later he pushed the "0" which connected him to the Parks receptionist.
"Hi, yes, my name is Colin Drake, I’m a friend of Randy Zahara." He listened for a moment, then tightened his grip on the phone and began to speak. "Yes, that’s right, I am one of the film students and, yes, I’m sure we can find a role for you Wanda." His eyes closed as Wanda spoke, he waited patiently for a moment, then broke in. "I’m afraid that we are in a bit of a hurry, what I need is Randy’s cell number, do you have it handy?……. 470-9019. Great! Thanks a lot Wanda, you’re a life saver, bye now."
Colin pushed the ‘end’ button and began to dial. He put the phone back up to his ear.
"It’s ringing! It’s ringing!"

"Good, good, good, good vibrations." The cassette player in Uncle Randy’s truck was blasting out tunes from the Beach Boys ‘Endless Summer’ album. The windows were rolled down and the sun was streaming in. It was a typically perfect Okanagan day. The kind made for travel brochures and the bronzed bikini beauties down at Gyro Beach.
Chad looked at his watch as they passed over the floating bridge that connects Kelowna to the West Side of the lake. "What time do you think we’ll be back?"
Uncle Randy waved at a couple of joggers coming towards them on the other side of the bridge, then looked towards Chad. "We’re taking the scenic route today Spud. I have to drop off this line steamer that I borrowed from the Penticton Parks Division first, then we’ll come back up the other side of the lake and head over the mountain just past Naramata. It’ll probably take us two hours to get there. On the way home we don’t have to go through Penticton, we can come back up Chute Lake road, which’ll save about 45 minutes. By the time we snoop around a bit and you ask a few questions, I’d say we should be back in time for supper."
The road to Penticton took them past orchards and vineyards and through several quaint little villages tucked along the western side of the shimmering ninety-mile long Okanagan Lake. The valley was full of summer vacationers and the blue waters of the lake were dotted with white sails and speeding boats, many of them towing passengers on a wide variety of aquatic recreational toys. Slivers of golden sandy beaches lined the shore and bathers were enjoying the temperate waters of the summer season.
Even though he’d visited this valley every summer since he was born, Chad was always amazed at how beautiful and clean everything was.
It had only taken a minute to drop off the line steamer in Penticton and a few minutes later they were entering the small farming community of Naramata, just as the Beach Boys tape came to an end.
"I gotta take a whizz Spud. It’s almost 1:00 already, so we might as well stop at Camp Creek Pub for lunch before we head over the mountain."
The inside of the pub was a celebration of the Kettle Valley Railway. As they walked through the dimly lit room Chad’s eyes roamed from picture to picture. They reminded him of hikes he’d made with his family over the majestic wooden trestles that had once spanned the many steep ravines cutting through the path of the Kettle Valley rail line.
They found a small wooden table made to look like an inverted apple bin and sat down.
Chad looked at his uncle."It’s really too bad the trestles are gone. I felt sorry for the people who lost their homes, but I felt just sick when I heard about the trestles burning."
Just as he finished his sentence a waitress dressed in a Conductors uniform approached their table. She smiled at the two men and turned towards Chad.
"Can I see some I.D. please?"
Chad had been going to the pubs and nightclubs in Alberta since before Christmas and had never been asked to show his I.D. before. The blank look of innocent guilt on Chad’s face reminded Randy of the time his daughter, Stephanie, had accidentally opened up a porn site on the computer while researching a homework assignment. Although, a complete surprise to her, and not at all her fault, the shocking images that had sprung forward at her command had made her feel as if she had done something terrible. She probably would have burst into tears, but the roar of laughter from her mother and father at the circumstance and her bewildered expression, had told her that everything was OK.
Uncle Randy took a quick glance at the nametag on the waitresses uniform before looking into her eyes. He had perfected the art of social communication to the point where a complete stranger could feel like they had known him for their entire lives. At the very least they would feel like they should know who he was and would find themselves drastically searching their memory banks for a clue as to how they might know him. It was a cruel but sadistically satisfying talent that Uncle Randy has perfected to a tee.
"It’s OK Donna, we just want a couple of cokes and a burger, no time to party this afternoon."
The waitress pulled a pen and small note pad out of one of the many pockets in her uniform and turned towards Uncle Randy and smileed.
"It’s dead in here now anyway, what’ll you have boys?"

During lunch, Uncle Randy and Chad talked about the ‘Lasagna People’ they were about to visit. Chad discovered that there wasn’t much the locals really knew about them. They had lived in the same place for as long as Randy could remember and they stayed to themselves unless they needed supplies or were dropping off a piece of furniture they’d made for someone. They never got into any trouble and if it weren’t for their odd, rare trip into town, there would be little evidence that they even existed, but for some reason Uncle Randy found them very unsettling.
Chute Lake road had just changed from pavement to gravel when Chad felt a vibration on the seat next to him, followed shortly by an elevator music version of a Caribbean beach tune.
"Chad, can you grab that for me?" The dirt road was in fairly good shape and Randy was having fun pretending to be an off-road rally driver and didn’t want slow down just to answer his cell phone.
"No problem uncle….. Hello? Hello? Hello?" The signal strength indicator on Randy’s cell phone was hovering between ‘weak’ and ‘out of service area’. Chad was just about to push the ‘end’ button when the truck rounded a corner into a large clearing and the signal improved enough for Chad to hear a static filled voice on the other end of the line. "Hi, no this is Chad." Chad’s face became somber and he placed his right hand over his free ear to block out any extra noise as he listened intently to the caller. "Just a second, I’d better write that down, let me grab a pen and paper, ok go ahead." There was another lengthy pause as Chad pulled out a pen and pad of paper and started to write a few notes. "Ok, ok, I’ve got it……yes, yes…. Ok, we’ll see you when we get back. Yep, no problem.. Bye now."
"Who the hell was that?" Randy asked as he pulled the truck out of another four-wheel drift around a sharp corner.
"Auntie Sandra. She wants you to pick up some groceries and a bottle of Summerhill Chardonnay on your way home tonight, I wrote it down." Chad lifted up his note pad to show Randy the list he’d compiled.
"By the way you looked I thought someone had died, is everything OK?" Randy’s eyes were focused ahead and his hands were darting back and forth over one another as he performed a high-speed maneuver to get the truck around a large pile of rocks in the centre of the road.
"Ya, sure, everything is fine. You just scared the shit out of me, that’s all. I thought for sure we were going over a cliff back there, do we really have to go this fast Uncle?" Chad didn’t really want to criticize Randy’s driving or sound like a wimp, but he wasn’t used to this kind of driving and really didn’t want to end up in an accident in the middle of the woods.
"Just having a little fun Spud. I used to do a little rally driving when I was around your age, and so, when I get onto these dirt roads I still like to let go a bit. No problem slowing down, we have plenty of time to get there, do some taping and pick up the grocery list too." Uncle Randy shifted the truck into a lower gear and slowed down to a more comfortable speed. He put his left hand out the window and started strumming the roof just above the door with his fingers then he looked over at Chad and smiled.
"This is better, and it will be easier to talk too."
Chad was just about to thank Randy for slowing down but was interrupted by the cell phone ringing again.
"I can get it this time Chad." Uncle Randy picked up the phone and pushes the green ‘receive’ button. "Hello?…. Hello? Hello, anybody there?." Randy looked at the phone as if it had just tried to bite him, before pushing the ‘end’ button and turning the phone off.
"We are definitely out of range now Spud, and it ain’t gonna get no better until we start heading home again."
Randy was slowly shaking his head back and forth. The animation in his voice reminded Chad of Longhorn Leghorn from the Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner hour.
"How long before we’re there?" Chad was looking at a rough map that a friend of Uncle Randy’s had drawn for them. There was no scale on the map and other than confirming that they had found the right road turning off of Chute Lake, Chad had no idea of where they were or how far they had to go yet.
"I’d say maybe a half hour at the most. We should be hitting the summit any time, then it’ll be pretty flat on the plateau for a while before we head down into the little valley they have their colony in." Randy pulled a can of diet coke out of a cooler sitting on the seat between him and Chad.
"Why do you call it a colony? It sounds like they are a bunch of ants or something." Chad took the diet coke from Randy, opened it and handed it back to him, then grabbed one out of the cooler for himself.
"I don’t know, I guess they kind of remind me of ants in a way. They all just kind of buzz around as if they are preprogrammed to perform some kind of specific function, as if they don’t have a mind of their own." Randy took a sip of pop and put the can into a cup holder mounted on the dash in front of the steering wheel.
"Talking about ‘Aunts’, how are auntie Rob and auntie Andy doing?". Ever since Chad was a young boy he’d called Andrew and Robert ‘Auntie’. It was an honest mistake. He’d first met Uncle Randy’s friends when he was only three years old, at a time when both men had flowing, shoulder length hair. At home Chad had been told to call his parents close friends either ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, depending upon their gender. He’d extended this courtesy to all of Uncle Randy and Aunt Sandra’s friends as well.
Uncle Randy had been hosting a barbecue for his family and a few friends and had introduced his new next door neighbor’s to the group as Rob and Andrew, who were very obviously gay and proud of their sexual orientation.
Less than a minute later Chad approached Rob and Andrew. In Chad’s hands was a small orange kitten, which he had been told, belonged to Uncle Randy’s new neighbors.
With the totality of innocence and purity of intent that can only be found in a child’s eyes, Chad looked up at the tall and lanky man in front of him and asked; "Auntie Rob, can I play with your pussy?"
Uncle Randy ended up wearing the entire sip of Sangria that Andrew had just taken. Andrew was laughing so hard that his stomach began to cramp and he almost peed himself. His laughter was contagious and in no time Chad’s faux pas had spread from guest to guest until Randy’s entire backyard was in an uproar of laughter.
Ever since that day, Robert and Andrew have worn title of ‘Auntie’ as if it were a badge of honor.
"They’re doing great." Randy smiled to himself, thinking about his flamboyant friends and their entertaining points of view. "Did you know that they are engaged?"
"I thought they got married in January, on Aunt Andy’s birthday." Chad was looking out the passenger side window, watching the scenery slowly change from alpine meadows to thicker forests and rolling hills.
"They were supposed to get married, but the Catholic Church wouldn’t do the ceremony for them. Boy are they pissed off. Andrew has met twice with the bishop and has written to the Vatican, and if he thought he had a chance of getting through the security he’d go visit the pope himself." Randy took a last sip of pop from his can and threw the empty on the floor by Chad’s feet.
"So why don’t they just go to a different church? The United Church in Calgary, where mom and dad go sometimes, has been doing gay weddings for a while." Chad shifted his body so that his back was leaning partially against the back of the seat and partially against the truck door. He could feel an interesting discussion coming on and wanted to be able to observe Uncle Randy’s body language.
"That’s what I’d do Spud, but then again, I couldn’t care less about which church I got married in, uhh, don’t tell Auntie Sandra that though." Randy opened another can of diet coke and put it in the cup holder. "Andrew was raised in the Catholic Church and believes in their dogma, but he hates the fact that they consider same sex marriage as ‘gravely immoral’, so he thinks his only choice is to help force a change to what he believes are outdated principles."
"Why should the Church change everything they believe in just to accommodate a few people who have all sorts of other options available to them?" Chad respected his uncle’s intelligence and he’d never been in a philosophical debate with him before so he was starting to enjoy this exploration into uncharted territory. "It doesn’t seem democratic to me, that a minority of dissatisfied members should be able to make changes to a system that the majority of people are satisfied with."
"Actually, Chad, that is how society evolves. A few people champion a cause and if they are persistent and vocal enough and the change makes sense for the day, then it happens, if it doesn’t make sense or the champions are not strong enough, it doesn’t happen." Randy paused for a few seconds to allow Chad a chance to respond before continuing on. "It’s kind of like societal ‘Platectonics’. General societal attitudes, political landscapes, religious beliefs, morals, pretty well everything involved with how people interact with one another, these things are each like huge continents that are floating on the ocean of man-kinds accumulated knowledge. As this ocean expands it forces changes in the way that each of these societal plates line up, and sometimes stresses are caused that create massive upheavals in the current equilibrium."
Usually it would take several beer and a shot of rye for Randy to get to this point in his theory of "What makes the world tick" but the radio didn’t work this far up in the hills and his nephew was obviously in the mood for some intellectual sparring.
"Uncle, WATCH OUT!!"
Instinctively Randy slammed his foot onto the brake, locking all four wheels of the truck into a skid, which he managed expertly on the gravel road. The vehicle came to a stop in a cloud of dust as Randy looked over at his nephew.
"What’s up Spud?" He asked.
"There was a little kid and a dog running through the trees along the road, just over there." He pointed to a narrow path meandering through the trees along the side of the road. "The way he was running, it looked like he didn’t know we were here and, look, the path cuts across the road right there." Chad pointed to another spot along the side of the road only a dozen meters from where they had come to a stop. There was a narrow break in the solid line of trees showing a dirt path, which cut directly across the road and up the small hill on the other side.
"I wonder where he went to?" Chad was scanning the deeper forest for any sign of the child and his dog.
"Well, he must be fine to have disappeared that fast." Randy put the truck back into gear and continued down the road.
The narrow valley they had been traveling down began to widen and there were many more deciduous trees lining the side of the road. Less than a mile from where they had skidded to a stop the road took one last sharp turn before exiting from the constant blanket of forest into a wide cultivated valley. There were farm houses and barns spread sporadically amongst the fields of corn and grains that were growing. Except for the mountain that they had just descended, Chad felt like he was back in central Alberta. Near the middle of the community was a collection of buildings that had the appearance of army barracks. These buildings surrounded a much larger structure which had a steeple topped by the same modified cross that the students had noticed on the medallion and in the book they had found.
"Looks like we’re here Spud, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal." Uncle Randy had slowed the truck down considerably as they approached the centre of the community. His eyes were searching the road ahead as well as the fields to either side. Even though his words were light in nature, by the tone in which he delivered them Chad could tell that something else was on his mind.
"Where is everyone?" Chad asked the exact question that was on Uncle Randy’s mind.
"Yes, indeed, where could they be?" Randy’s eyes continued to search the fields and farms as they drew closer to the hub of the colony.
"I don’t like this place very much Uncle, it’s kinda creepy." Chad had been filming out the side window since just before they had skidded to a stop. "Do they have a store or anything like that here?"
"I don’t know, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been here. We’ll just head into the centre of town and see if we can find anyone."
Chad continues to tape as Uncle Randy pulled the truck to a stop in front of a building that looked like a Church. He’d noticed that the community was very clean. It wasn’t the same, manicured kind of neatness that the small orchard community of Naramata prided itself for, it was more of a sterile neatness. It was actually more than just a feeling of cleanliness, it reeked of efficiency and order. The fields were all aligned perfectly, the crops appeared to be extremely healthy, the buildings were all made of dimensional lumber and were rectangular to maximize the square footage while minimizing material and maintenance costs.
There were no grass areas or ornamental plantings of any kind and no visible signs of any kind of recreational amenities. They had not seen a single person on the road or in any of the fields as they approached the collection of buildings at the centre of the community, but both men had shared the unmistakably eerie feeling of being watched by someone or something unseen.
They sat in the truck, silently staring at the front doors of the church for what seemed like an eternity.
Uncle Randy was the first to move, grabbing the door latch, he looked at Chad.
"Well……., I don’t see any welcoming committee. Time to go knock on a couple of doors Spud." Randy was almost shouting as he got out of the truck and closed the door loudly, making as much noise as possible. He’d spent enough time in the wilderness to know that it was generally not a good idea to sneak up on dangerous animals unannounced.
Chad joined his uncle outside the truck and they approached the church together. Randy was just about to climb the short set of stairs at the front of the church when the door opened and a man dressed in black pants, a black waistcoat and a white shirt stepped outside.
He appeared to be better groomed than the men Chad had seen on the way into Kelowna on the first day of their trip. He was holding a plantation hat in his hand and his long hair and full beard both appeared to have been washed and combed recently. The bit of skin visible on his face was fairly smooth and other than the yellowish tint to the whites of his eyes, he appeared quite normal. As he neared, Chad noticed a sickly sweet scent about him that reminded him of a combination of maple syrup and urine, just as uncle Randy had predicted.
The man stopped at the top of the stairs, positioning himself between the two strangers and the front doors of his church. His body language was impossible not to read. "You are not welcome here, leave!"
Uncle Randy smiled at the man. "Hi, my name is Randy and this is my nephew, Chad." He looked towards Chad, then back at the man, who still hadn’t uttered a word, nor did he appear to be planning on returning the greeting or in entering into any kind of conversation at all.
"We’ve driven up from Kelowna. Chad and his friends are working on a documentary about last year’s big forest fire, so I though I’d take him up to where it started."
The man stood patiently at the top of the stairs, showing no interest in Chad or Randy other than an obvious desire to see them leave.
"Anyways, while the boys were interviewing people, they heard about a group of firefighters that no one could identify. Nobody knows who they were, where they came from or where they went. We know they didn’t go through the checkpoints in Kelowna or Naramata, and the only other way out of the Okanagan Mountain Park is through your road."
Chad had been trying to conceal the fact that he was taping everything by holding the camera in his hand as if it was a lunch box. From time to time he would discreetly glance down at the LCD to see if everything was still framed OK. When uncle Randy had mentioned the taping, Chad, nonchalantly, lifted the camera for the man to see, then dropped it back down to his side, still taping.
"We figured if a group of firefighters had come through here during the fire, you probably would have seen them. We were also hoping to talk to you about the fire, and if you had any interesting stories that the boys might be able to use."
As soon as Uncle Randy had mentioned the mysterious firefighters, Chad had noticed a subtle change in the man’s body language. He was still saying, ‘We don’t want you here, leave!’ but now there seemed to be an addendum, ‘We don’t want you here, leave, but not until I know more about you.’
The man looked into Randy’s eyes. "We didn’t see any one come through here. We mind our own and appreciate being left alone."
He looked over at the ‘City of Kelowna’ Parks truck as if making a mental note, then he turned towards the church and was about to go back inside when a loud series of beeps escaped from the camcorder. Chad had forgotten to turn the audio signal off which indicated that there was less than five minutes of taping time left on the cassette. The man turned quickly towards Chad, his intense stare sent a jolt of fear through the film student.
"Is that on?" The man asked, looking at the camcorder in Chad’s hand.
Chad looked at his watch, then up at the man. "It’s an alarm. I set the alarm to remind me to take my pills."
Chad was scrambling for some kind of explanation that might be believable, he looked towards his uncle.
"Uncle Randy, we’d better get going, I need to take my pills and I should check in with the film school before they are gone for the day." Chad looked back up at the man on the stairs, "Uhhh, thank you for your time, goodbye."
Chad turned and started heading towards the truck.
"Wait!" The man shouted, "Show me what’s on your tape." Chad ignored the request and quickend his pace, in a second he was in the truck.
Uncle Randy followed Chad’s lead but stopped when he reached the drivers side door. He looked back towards the man before getting into the truck. "Look buddy, you don’t have to talk to us or answer any questions if you don’t want to, but just because you are some kind of weird-ass nutcase doesn’t give you the right to tell us what to do."
Randy climbed into the truck and slammed the door. A few seconds later they were heading away from the church back down the same road they’d come in on. They had barely left the compound at the centre of the community when Uncle Randy stopped the truck and pulled a pair of binoculars out of the glove compartment.
"Holy Jesus, son of Mary." He handed the binoculars to Chad, "Look, at the yellow jacket in the back of barn."
Chad followed the direction of Uncle Randy’s pointing finger and put the binoculars up to his eyes. There was a yellow fire-fighters jacket hanging in the very back of the barn. The door had been left ajar just enough for Randy to catch a glimpse of yellow as they we driving by, and the binoculars confirmed his guess.
"I have to get this on tape, I’ll be right back."
Before Uncle Randy could protest Chad was already out of the truck and had covered half of the distance to the barn. Randy began following Chad towards the barn, then stops and waited, watching as Chad pokes his head in through the partially opened door.
"Hello? Anyone in here?" Chad called. He waited for a few seconds, and hearing no answer, he opened the door just enough to slip inside. Randy took a few more steps towards the barn and stopped to listen.
The diffused light in the barn made it difficult for Chad to tape. Bright sunlight shone through a series of small, square windows that ran just below the roofline illuminating a series of sharply defined rectangles on the floor and walls but leaving the rest of the barn in deep shadow. The jacket that Uncle Randy had first spotted was hanging in the direct path one of the sunlit beams, lighting it up like a candle. Chad walked slowly towards the jacket, taping as he walked. The inside of the barn was spacious, and by the smell, Chad could tell that it was not used for animals, but likely for storing and tools. The floorboards creaked and a fine layer of wheat dust was disturbed with each step Chad took.
Underneath the jacket was a long box with a latch on it. The box was mostly in Shadow, so Chad switched the video camera to night vision and unclasped the latch. He was just about to open it when a flood of bright sunlight entered the barn through the doorway. Chad’s heart was pounding as he turned to see the silhouette of a large man standing in the opening.
"Jesus, Spud, come on, let’s get out of here!" Uncle Randy called in a loud whisper.
"One second." Chad called back and then turned his attention to the box.
He lifted the lid on the box and began to film the contents with his camera. It took a second to focus on the dim interior and another second for the resulting image to register with his brain. A second later he let go of the lid, which dropped with a loud bang as he turned back towards Uncle Randy. His exit from the barn varied between a walk and a jog, then a walk again, then a few quick steps, and with each variation it appeared that he was getting closer and closer to breaking into an all out sprint.
As he emerged from the barn into the daylight Chad could see an old, blue, pickup truck coming towards them from the compound. They were too far away from Uncle Randy’s truck to make a run for it, so they did their best to remain calm and walk back towards their truck as if everything was just fine. Beads of sweat began to form on Chad’s brow and his heart was beating so fast he felt like he’d just run a quarter mile sprint.
The blue pickup came to a stop beside Randy’s truck and three men got out of the cab. Chad recognized the man from the church right away, and the other two looked like they could have been the men that they almost ran over on their first day into town. Each of the men was carrying some kind of farm implement. The man from the church had a small scythe in his hand, one of the other men had a pitchfork and the third, an axe.
Upon seeing the truck coming towards them, Uncle Randy had turned his cell phone on and placed it in his shirt pocket.
"You’re on private property." The man from the church barked. "What were you doing in our barn?"
"Chad was looking for a bathroom, a few too many cokes on the way out here. Did you find one Spud?" Randy gave Chad a wink as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this, everything will be alright, just don’t panic buddy, just don’t panic.’
"Uh, no, no, it was too dark inside, I couldn’t see anything really, so I came back out." Chad took half a step towards the pickup, but the man from the church was obviously not ready to let them get away that easily. He stepped between Chad and the truck and pointed towards the video camera.
"Now, I want that camera!" He held out his hand towards Chad.
Just as Chad was about to hand the video camera over to the man, the phone in Randy’s pocket began to ring.
Uncle Randy removed the phone from his shirt pocket with a slow deliberation, while glaring into the eyes of the man from the church. He pushed ‘answer’ button and lifted the phone to his ear.
"Hello, Randy here. Oh, hi Wanda, I’m glad you called. No, we aren’t in Penticton anymore, no, we are at the Lasagna Colony on the other side of Okanagan Mountain park. Yes that’s right, I left a map of exactly where we were going on my desk." Randy continued to glare at the Church Man.
"I’m not sure exactly when we will be back, you see, we’ve run into a little problem with the truck. If I can fix it, we should be back in the office in an hour, and I’ll see you then. If I’m not there in an hour, give my brother Dennis a call. Yes, that’s right, he is the cop, ya, he owes me one, so if you don’t see me send him out here right away. Yes, if I can, I will call, but I have a feeling that my batteries might go dead if I stick around here too long. OK, see you in a bit then. Goodbye."
On ‘goodbye’ Randy pushed the end button then grabbed Chad by the upper arm and pulled him towards the truck, forcing their way through the men armed with farming implements.
It was a gamble, but Randy was pretty sure that his threat of having the police sent out to the colony to look for him would be enough to get them safe passage at least back into his truck. Once in the truck, he was confident that his driving abilities would be enough to get them the rest of the way home, safe and sound.
The men from the colony silently stared at Randy and Chad as they climbed into the truck. It wasn’t the disappointed stare of the hunter that had just watched his prey escape; rather, it was the stare of the hunter analyzing his prey as the hunt was about to begin.

Uncle Randy shifted the truck into gear and stepped on the accelerator. Dirt and rocks flew out from under the rear wheels as he fish-tailed the truck up to speed.
"I think we’ve seen enough for today Spud, let’s get the hell out of here."
Chad turned sideways to tape the compound and church as they left the colony behind in a cloud of road dust. The three men who had intercepted them outside of the barn were already climbing into their truck, a moment later they were following Randy and Chad back towards Kelowna.
"They’re coming Uncle."
"I kinda figured as much Spud." Randy accelerated, just a little, and the truck behind them matched their speed, but just enough to maintain the same distance. Their intent was obviously to follow, not to catch, at least for the time being.
"I can outrun these guys if I need to, but that’s probably what they’re hoping for." Randy opened the cooler and pulled out another Coke and handed it to Chad who opened it for him.
"They know this part of the valley like the back of their hands, and who knows, they may have even radioed to have one of their buddies throw a log in the middle of the road ahead of us. For now, it’s best that they don’t see us panic."
"Why not call Wanda back and tell her what is really happening?" The whole charade about having car troubles and the lie about Dennis being a cop was bothering Chad. He didn't understand why Randy hadn’t just told Wanda that they were having trouble with three nutcases out at the Lasagna colony, and to send the police right away.
"The cell doesn’t work out here Spud, or I would." Randy handed Chad the cell phone so that he could see for himself that there still was no signal. Chad looked over at his uncle in complete confusion.
"Who were you talking to at the colony then?" Chad asked.
"I was talking to Mr. Lasagna and his friends." Randy smiled. "Ever play poker Spud? That was what I like to call a Royal Bluff!"
"But, your phone rang, we all heard it." Chad wanted to know exactly how his uncle had pulled the illusion off.
"When I saw their truck coming, I put the phone in my shirt pocket so that everyone would hear it when it rang. Just before I put it in my pocket I set the timer to go off in one minute. It’s a little trick that I use when I see someone coming towards my office that I want to get rid of in a hurry. Works like a charm. I answer the phone, no one is on the other end of course, but I make up a conversation, which always includes an excuse to get rid of my unwanted guest and I’m good as gold. I just hope these yahoo’s bought it today."
"Well, you got me Uncle. I was sure you were talking to Wanda. I almost wish you hadn’t told me the truth now." Chad looked back at the road behind them to make sure the men following hadn’t closed the gap at all.
"So, what did you see in the barn Spud? You came out of there in a hell of a hurry. I thought maybe you bumped into one of those creepy hick-shits."
"It was dark and hard to see, but there was this big box under where the jacket was hanging." Chad licked his lips, his mouth suddenly went dry and he felt his camera hand start to shake. "It, it was hard to see, but, it looked like the box was filled with bones. I don’t know what kind of bones, but it was full of them. They must have a lot of dogs." He joked dryly.
While Chad was talking, he had been rewinding the footage he’d just shot and viewing it on the LCD screen. He stopped rewinding at the part where Uncle Randy had opened the door of the barn. He held the camera so that Randy could see the LCD screen without taking his eyes of the road, then he pushed the play button. The images on the screen were the eerie two-tone green created by a night vision setting. The video showed Chad opening the lid of the box and then the camera zoomed in on a fluorescent sea of small bones, most of them not much larger than the size of a healthy chicken drumstick.
"Do you have a spare tape on you Chad?" Randy asked.
"Ya, sure, I have a few extras in my case." Chad picked his camera case up off of the floor of the cab.
"Good, put a spare in the camera and give me the tape you took today." Uncle Randy pulled a knob off of the radio, then flipped a hidden switch, enabling him to pull the entire radio out of the dash, revealing a secret hiding compartment in the back. He took the tape from Chad and placed it in the compartment then looked over at his nephew.
"Just in case buddy, just in case."
It had been almost 2:30 in the afternoon when they had reached the colony. The short encounter with the man at the church and the stop at the barn and ensuing argument had taken less than fifteen minutes.
By 3:15 Randy and Chad were at the intersection where they had made the turn off of Chute Lake road onto the road leading to the colony.
As they approached the intersection Randy turned towards Chad, "Which way spud?" He asked.
"Whatever is the fastest. Let’s get home as quickly as we can."
Randy slowed the truck down to a complete stop at the intersection and waited.
"What are you doing?" Chad shouted as he spun around to look out the back window.
"Relax Chad, they turned back fifteen minutes ago. I think they just wanted to make sure we were really on our way home. Randy answered as he climbed out of the truck.
"Where are you going uncle?"
"Just checking the road to see if anyone has been by here recently." Randy walked to the centre of the intersection and bent over to examine the tracks in the gravel and dust. He followed one set of tracks back down the road towards Penticton, then stopped where the dust on the road was considerably thicker. He bent over again and looked intently at the track for a few seconds, then got up and returned to the truck.
"Last set of tracks to go by here are ours Spud." Randy climbed into the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition, he was just about to start the truck when he glanced down at the dashboard.
"Trucks almost empty, looks like we’ll be going back through Penticton after all."
The traffic on the way back to Kelowna was a heavier than earlier in the day but they still made it back to the Big White Motor Lodge in time for Chad to meet with the other film students at their pre-scheduled time of 5:00 PM.

As Chad climbed the stairs to the balcony leading to his room the events of the day were swimming through his mind.
‘What secret are the Lasagna People trying to protect? Why was the firefighter jacket hanging in the barn? Why did they have a chest full of bones? Why was one of their crosses lit on fire on Mr. Jenkins front lawn?’
Each step Chad took felt heavier than the one before. The weight of the camera equipment he was carrying was insignificant compared to the burden that he felt on his shoulders. Their documentary had taken several strange turns and he was not at all sure that he had made the right decisions. As the leader he was not only responsible for the project, but also for the safety of his team and in the last few days things seemed to be heading out of control.
"Hey Chad." Colin greeted him as he entered the room. "Glad to see you made it back in one piece." He joked.
Chad looked at Colin with a tired smile then plopped his camera case on the bed and dropped himself into the armchair beside the TV.
"We’ve been trying to call you all afternoon. Why didn’t Randy have his phone on?" Jeremy asked.
"We were out of range most of the time, then on the way home his battery died, or else I would have called you guys." Chad pulled a video off the top of the TV and pushed it into the VCR.
"Uncle Randy brought this over this morning. Let’s watch it before we get into anything else." Chad reached over and pulled a beer out of the cooler beside his chair, cracked the tab open and took a long sip, then pushed the play button on the remote.
The students watched the entire sequence without saying a word.
"Holy shit Spud! Where did Randy get this from?" Mark was sitting on the edge of his seat, his eyes wide with excitement.
"Supposedly; ‘An old friend’. I figure it must be someone on the force, anyway, it doesn’t matter, it’s great stuff if we can figure out how to use it." Chad lookeds over at Colin, who looked like he was about to be sick.
"Oh ya, and the guy on fire, Uncle Randy told me that was a mannequin…. By the way, does anyone recognize the place?" Chad added.
A look of relief replaced the shock on Colin’s face, as he whispered an almost inaudible, "Thank God!" Then he turned to Chad, "Mr. Jenkins place, and by the looks of it, probably not that long ago."
"OK Sherlock, let us in on your deductive reasoning." Jeremy challenged.
"Rewind it to when the cop first runs in front of the car and then freeze it." Chad quickly rewound the tape and put it on pause with the officer in full stride right in front of the car.
"Good, OK, just go ahead frame by frame until I say stop." Colin had moved up closer to the TV screen and was already pointing in the direction of the police officers right arm, as Chad advanced the tape slowly.
"Stop, there, see, look at his upper arm, see the red armband?"
"Ya, so what?" Jeremy was looking at the police officer. "So, he’s got an armband on, big deal."
"About two months ago there was a news story from Kelowna, it was about a labor problem within the local RCMP detachment. Cops aren’t allowed to strike, so they all decided to wear a red armband to show solidarity in their dispute. It only took a day before a directive came straight from Ottawa demanding an end to the armbands as it was against RCMP Uniform policy."
Colin opened the cooler and took out a beer, opened it slowly and tilted it slightly towards the other students as if to say touche’!
The students spent the next half-hour discussing the rest of the days events. Chad had laughed out loud when Mark told him that the people of the colony they had visited were really called Ludzi Ognia and not Lasagna. The tape of the three men with the farm implements and the chest full of bones generated an animated discussion and Colin and Mark seemed close to wanting to the plug on the investigation into the connection between the book, the Ludzi Ognia and the fire. It took an impassioned plea from Jeremy to convince them that if they ever wanted to play outside of the minor leagues they were going to have to take some major league chances once in a while.
Colin was just about to open another beer when there was a knock on the door. He looked out the window to see who was there.
"It’s some guy in a uniform. Looks like a bus driver or something. Mark, open the door and see what he wants." Colin directed.
Mark opened the door and looked at the man in the uniform, as if trying to figure out why he was there, " Can I help you?" Mark asked.
"I have a limo for Chad Zahara and his guests." The man replied.
Chad looked at the man suspiciously. "Where are you supposed to take us?" He asked.
"2671 Longhill Rd." The man replied.
"Uncle Randy’s place. I wonder why he sent a limo for us." Chad mused.
"Here!" The man handed Chad a piece of lined paper with what appeared to be a poem written on it. "He asked me to give you this note."
The Truth for which we seek,
Is difficult to find,
And, carefully we must tread,
When searching in the blind,
This coach was sent for you,
And now you have been shown,
That no matter where you go,
You’re no longer on your own.
The limousine pulled into a long driveway bordered by a row of tall cedars. It came to stop in front of a large rancher set in the midst of two acres of mature landscaping, filled with shrubs and evergreens, lawns and flowers. A large black dog, attached to a long run, was barking at them as they got out of the car.
"Hey Petey." Chad shouted as he ran up to pet the excited dog.
"Hi Chad." Stephanie called as she stepped out from behind the doghouse. A second later she was followed by Kelsey, who smiled and waved at Chad.
"Your girlfriends here Chad." Stephanie teased. Chad blushed and smiled at Kelsey.
"Do you want me to show you around Uncle Randy’s place? it’s pretty cool." Chad offered.
"Steph’s already taken care of that. Everybody’s around back on the deck, Randy’s about to put the meat on the barbecue, he was just waiting to see how you guys like your steaks." Stephanie grabbed Kelsey’s hand and pulled her back up towards the doghouse again.
"You already told dad how you want yours. I haven’t shown you my tree fort yet. I helped dad make it. Sometimes I sleep over in it with my friends. You wanna sleep over sometime?" Stephanie was almost giddy. This was the cousin that Chad had known, not the teenybopper that had joined them on the boat the second day they were in town. She was half lace and curls and half ‘piss and vinegar’. He wasn’t quite sure what ‘piss and vinegar’ was or what they had in common. He thought that his mom had screwed up some kind of saying, but he liked the way it sounded, so he used it, whether it was right or wrong.
"OK, let’s go." Kelsey looked over at Chad and waved. "See you around the back."
The students made their way around to the back of the house and climbed a set of stairs to the deck. Randy was standing at the barbecue with a beer in one hand and the other pointing towards the distant mountains. He was talking to Klaus and Sheila’s husband Alfred. Sheila and Sandra were sitting at an oval patio table. Each woman had a full glass of wine on the table in front of her.
Randy turned to greet the students as they came up the stairs.
"Hey boys, glad you could make it. Did Chad tell you about the fun we had today?" He bent over, opened a cooler and handed a beer to each of the students.
"Sounded pretty intense." Colin took a beer and opened it. "We’re feeling a little less enthusiastic about heading up into that area tomorrow."
"You’ll be fine." Randy put a fatherly arm around the younger man’s shoulders. "Chute Lake is over fifteen miles from the colony and those weirdo’s like to stick to their own. They didn’t even come as far as the main road when they followed us back."
"OK, but, if I see any long hair, yellow eyed, bearded, freaks, I’m out of there!" Colin joked.

Stephanie came running up the stairs behind the students. "Hey dad, I’m starving, when are we going to eat?"
It was a perfect evening. There was a light breeze blowing a lonely cotton-ball cloud around the pale blue sky. The beer and wine was flowing freely and the steaks were the best that Chad could remember ever having.
After supper Kelsey and Chad had gone for a walk down through the meadow below Uncle Randy’s house while the others played Bocci on the lawn.
Chad had been waiting to talk to Kelsey for a while, but never seemed to get the chance. They were either going in opposite directions or there was always someone around. There had been a lot of good-natured teasing going on, but Chad and Kelsey had never discussed how they felt about each other.
"Soooo, that was a good supper." Chad was looking down at a small yellow flower in his hand.
Kelsey and Chad had been strolling side by side, occasionally bumping shoulders as they walked further and further from the house.
Kelsey looked at Chad, "That was good. Your aunt is a great cook and your uncle got the steaks just right and they sure have a great sense of humor. I almost peed myself when Sandra brought out the pan full of lasagna with the noodles on top shaped like two big yellow eyes."
Chad smiled and shook his head, thinking about the crazy antics of his aunt and uncle.
"Ya, they’re great." He stopped walking and sat down on a log. They were in a wooded area, bordered on one side by a field of wild flowers and on the other side by a small stream and marsh. The forest floor was covered with pine needles and moss and the late afternoon sun was filtering down through the trees in spears of light that illuminated each particle of dust floating through it’s path. The Cicada beetles had begun their evening song and the world around the small meadow had come alive in a symphony of sight and sound that only Mother Nature could orchestrate.
It was magical. The kind of setting that inspired Disney animators. Kelsey sat down on the log beside Chad and moved a little closer to him. Chad’s heart was pounding and his palms were beginning to sweat as he looked into her eyes. He’d never felt so wanted before in his life and the urge to kiss the beautiful girl sitting beside him was growing stronger by the second, but that was not the purpose for the walk. Actually, it was almost the opposite.
Chad leaned back slowly and looked up at the treetops, sighed then looked at Kelsey.
"I really like you Kelsey." He smiled uneasily at her. "Actually, I am really falling for you, but, right now is not a good time." He looked down at his knees, his boyish innocence oozing out of every pour of his being.
Kelsey smiled at him and put her hand on his. "I feel the same way about you, Chad." She smiled.
Chad lookd back up at her again. "I want to be a film maker. That’s been my dream ever since I can remember and I’ve been given the chance to create a feature length documentary this summer that will be distributed right across Canada. It’s a fantastic chance for me." He looked down at Kelsey’s hand on his, she followed his gaze, but left her hand in place and gave his a squeeze.
"I know. It’s a great opportunity for you, and I’m really proud of you and want to help you any way I can." She looked back into Chad’s eyes, waiting to see what would come next. "You have been terrific Kelsey. Everything you have done for me…, us, has helped so much with our project. What I am worried about, is how much time I have been spending thinking about you lately. I have to focus on the project, and I’m having a hard time doing that. I really want to get to know you better and I’d really like to be more than friends, but, until we are finished with this documentary I really need you as a friend more than anything else." Chad tilted his head sideways just slightly, emphasizing the ‘Am I making any sense at all to you?’ look in his eyes.
Kelsey let go of Chad’s hand and patted him on the knee, then smiled at him.
"Guess if I’m going to get that kiss I’ve been waiting for, I’m just going to have to take it."
She leaned over and gave Chad a gentle kiss on the cheek then ruffled his hair and stood up.
"Race you back Spud." She challenged as she began to sprint towards the house.
The sun had set and Sandra had lit several torches and lanterns around the deck. Kelsey and Chad returned just in time to hear Uncle Randy begin explaining his theory on anti-matter.
"OK, you have all heard of the ‘Big Bang’ theory, and the ‘Oscillating Universe’, right?" The combination of free flowing beer and several educated guests was too much of a temptation for Randy to resist.
"Oh, Jeez, Randy, you’re not going to bore these poor people with that stupid theory of yours are you?" Sandra joked.
Randy ignored her plea and continued on. "Anyway, one thing that these theories have in common is that at some point the gravitational force within the universe becomes so great that all matter is sucked back to a point of singularity. At this point there is no longer any matter as we know it, only pure energy. All of the energy in the universe is in that single point which explodes outward again, recreating everything anew. From the moment the universe begins to expand again, gravity is already at work." Randy stopped for a second to take a sip of beer and to see if everyone was still paying attention. "So, if the function of gravity is to ultimately reduce all matter to energy, and the opposite force changes energy into matter, then it reasons that gravity is the opposite of matter. In essence, gravity is equal to anti-matter and the universe is constantly striving to reach an equilibrium between matter and anti-matter."
"Whoa, man, that is pretty deep." Jeremy was sitting across from Randy, and by the look on his face, he was totally confused, but more than willing to accept the theory as fact as long as Uncle Randy kept supplying him with free beer.
"About as deep as my bellybutton." Sandra contended. "He’s sent five different versions of that stupid theory to Stephen Hawking. I’m expecting a restraining order from that poor man any day now."
After the laughter subsided, Chad stood up and addressed the crowd. "We’re all set to head up to Chute Lake for a few days, and I think this has been a great way to send us off. I’d just like to thank Uncle Randy and Aunt Sandra and Stephanie for being such wonderful hosts tonight." Chad sat down as a chorus of ‘Thank You’s’ from the other guests echoed his sentiment.
"Now that we are talking about Chute Lake, I’ve got an idea I want to run by you boys." Randy’s look told the students he was serious.
"Darlene Bauer has spent a lot of time in that area. Sandra and I used to take her fishing with us, and when she was a kid, she used to go up there with her family all the time. She knows that area better than anyone I know, and she really wants to get back up to Chute Lake soon as she can."
Randy paused to wait for the argument that he was sure would come, especially, after the episode that the students witnessed the last time they had interviewed Darlene.
"I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but, I don’t have a problem uncle. The only thing is that the van is packed so tight, we really don’t have room for another person." Chad replied.
"No problem Spud, I’ll bring her up tomorrow afternoon, along with a few extra supplies. I haven’t been up to the lake for quite a while and I’d like to see how ol’ Bud’s been keeping." Randy looked at the other students. "Is it OK with you guys?" He asked.
Colin answered for the other students. "I think it would be fine, as long as we’re not responsible for her. It gets a little scary when she goes into one of her psychic episodes."
"That shouldn’t be a problem." Sandra offered. "She’s back on her medication, which is really very good at suppressing her clairvoyant abilities."
"It’s perfect guys. We have this strange sound that we are investigating and some kind of weird book we found near there and she also fits in with the stuff we found on the Internet today." Jeremy was beaming with enthusiasm.
"What did you find on the Internet?" Chad asked.
"Sorry, Spud, we forgot to tell you, we were in such a rush after you got back. Actually, it was Kelsey that found most of the information." Colin smiled at Kelsey, who, in turn, waved at Chad.
"There are some pretty interesting things that we have learned about that area." Colin continued.
"Have you heard of ‘Ley Lines’?" He asked Chad.
"I’ve heard of them, but, I’m not really sure what they are." Chad answered.
"Well, they have been mapped better in the UK and in Europe, but, theoretically, they exist all around the world. What they are believed to be are lines of spiritual or supernatural energy. In southern England they have mapped many distinctive lines bases upon unexplainable phenomenon that occur at various locations." Colin looked towards Kelsey for re-assurance that he’d gotten it right so far.
"In North America there seems to be a significant, 19 point, star shaped grid of Ley Lines that is centered around the Grand Teton mountain range in Wyoming. The 18th point converges at Okanagan lake in the vicinity of Rattlesnake Island. Now, another really cool thing is that the symbol associated with Ley Lines is the serpent, and, Squally point, near Rattlesnake Island, is thought to be the home of the Ogopogo, the Okanagan’s own giant lake serpent. Pretty cool eh?" Colin folded his arms on his chest like a lawyer that has just finished a summation.
"That is very cool, but, how do we tie it in with our documentary?" Chad asked.
Jeremy cleared his throat, to get everyone’s attention, then began to speak. "We picked up strange sounds on the digital recorder and a distorted line running up the mountain with the video camera. Now, for the purpose of our documentary, we don’t have to prove that these are caused by Ley Lines, all we have to do is introduce them as one possibility and let people make up their own minds."
Before anyone could ask another question Kelsey began to speak. "Another, very interesting thing that we have noticed, is that every location we have been able to place the Ludzi Ognia at, according to the record of the journal entries we found, shows a pattern of migration across Europe and North America that coincides with a known Ley Line."
"OK, now I see where you guys are going. We make use of the flawed sound and video recordings by bringing a psychic out to the area where we made the recordings to see if she can pick up on any of the energy from a Ley Line. That’s good, I like it guys. It will definitely ad some spice to the documentary." Chad glanced down at his watch.
"Holy shit guys, It’s almost midnight, we’d better get going." Chad looked at Uncle Randy. "I hope that the coach you sent to pick us up in doesn’t turn into a pumpkin if it’s not here in ten minutes." He joked.
Randy looked at Chad with a combination of concern and confusion on his face.
"I never sent anyone to pick you up!"

By the time the students had reached the outlying neighborhoods the devastation of the firestorm was obvious. New construction was underway and many homes had already been finished, but there were still a few properties that owners had decided not to rebuild on. They stood out like sore thumbs, overgrown with weeds and spotted with leafless brown shrubs and charred trees that surrounded gaping black holes where basements used to be.
The logging road switched back and forth as it slowly climbed the side of the mountain to the abandoned rail bed. The last major rainstorm of the spring, just over a month before, had carved channels through the roads’ hard packed clay surface, which was now bone dry and dusty. The drive was slow and bumpy.
Civilization was miles behind them. It had been fifteen minutes since the students had arrived at a clearing that burnt in the firestorm the summer before. Over the winter, logging crews had worked steadily to salvage any value that could be realized out of the fire-damaged trees before they began to rot.
There was an absolution to the lack of vegetation, thousands of acres of charred ground and stumps and ash covered rocks. The contrast, looking back towards the town, was incredible. In the foreground was a scene out of Dante’s Inferno, in the distance, tucked in between green hills, rows upon rows of orchards and vineyards and the sapphire blue waters of Okanagan Lake was the most beautiful little city that any of the students had ever seen.
When Kelowna disappeared from their view for the last time, a sense of security had disappeared as well. The contrasting landscapes and vistas along the road up to the rail bed had been strange. Why pockets of forest were left completely untouched while everything around them had burnt with such totality, was beyond the comprehension of the students.
The rail bed was fairly flat as it followed the contours of the mountainside. Chad looked at his watch, forty minutes had passed since they left the last houses of the city behind and it had been over an hour since they had been at the hotel. The mountainside was getting steeper and they were now in an area where logging hadn’t been feasible. The road was winding through forests of black match-stick trees with no vegetation, only rocks and charred debris.
The air outside, just like the forest around them, was dead, yet Chad had the sense that they were not alone.
Colin was driving and Mark and Jeremy were both taping the passing scenery. It had been a quiet ride, and Chad had used his time to review notes and do a little script writing.
The rail bed entered a long canyon. The rock walls climbed thirty feet on both sides of them, blocking the sun and only allowing reflected rays to filter down to the road. There had been a noticeable drop in temperature as soon as they’d entered the canyon and for the first time since they had arrived in Kelowna Chad felt cold.
Less than a minute later they re-emerged into bright sunshine finding themselves driving along the shore of a shimmering mountain lake, a stark contrast to the razed forests on the other side of the canyon.
There were green meadows filled with vibrant alpine flowers and stands of trees that hadn’t been touched by the fire. Other than a few dark patches on the far side of the lake, and a line of burnt trees at the top of the ridge above the lake, there was little evidence that a devastating firestorm had passed right by this little piece of Shangrila less than a year before.
Chad picked up a map that had been sitting on the seat beside him. He folded it out on his lap and traced a line with his finger then looked up at Colin. "We’re almost there. At the far end of this lake we’ll come to a lodge, that’s were we pick up the keys for the cabin, then we take a road around the back of the lake for a bit and we will be there."
Colin pulled the Westfalia to a dusty stop in front of an old log building. The roof was covered with moss, and rusted tin signs advertising ‘Coca Cola’ and ‘Marlboro’ hung at odd angles on either side of the main doorway. A sign carved out of a weathered two by twelve was nailed above the door, announcing that the students had arrived at the Chute Lake Lodge.
Inside, years of memorabilia hung from every possible anchor point. There were hub caps, old license plates, wood cutouts of fish, crib boards shaped like naked women a variety of animal heads and countless business cards pinned to the wall behind an ancient cigarette machine. The light streaming through the screen-covered windows bounced off the dust that hung suspended in the air, giving the feeling that time was standing still, or, at the very least, was moving at a snails pace.
Chad approached an elderly gentleman standing behind the long counter at the rear of the room.
"Hi, I’m Chad Zahara, I called yesterday to book a cabin by the lake."
The man opened an old fashion looking hotel register and turned to the correct date. He looked over his bifocals towards Chad.
"A-yup, gotcha here. Cabin 12. Sleeps six, but I only see’s fours o’ ya." He looked around the room at the other students who were busy filming and examining everything in sight, as if they had just stepped into a museum.
"How many nights ya stayin’?" He pushed a form across the counter for Chad to fill in.
"We will be here for two nights for sure, but we may want to extend that by a day or two, it depends how the filming goes."
"Not much up here to take pictures of no more, less ya likes black trees and rocks." The old man pulled a piece of black licorice out of a drawer and started to chew on it. He opened another drawer and pulled out a key attached to an oversized large yellow rubber fob with the number 12 on it.
"Twelve’s ‘bout the best cabin we got left. Still got a few trees around ‘er and doesn’t stink to much like smoke and the fishin’ is perty good just off the point there."
Chad took the key and slipped it into his pocket. "Thanks, I’m sure it’ll be great. Does it have water?"
"Sure nuff, got plenty a water, hunderd yards down the path at the lake." The old man sported a wide grin showing off a set of poorly fitting false teeth.
Chad smiled back at him, while thinking to himself, ‘I love this shit. This guy is right out of ‘Deliverance’ and we have him at our beck and call for the next few days. If we can’t get at least a scene or two with him in it we don’t deserve to be in the movie business.’
"After we get settled in then we’ll be back to pick up a few supplies, and if you don’t mind, we’d like to interview you on camera talking about the fire and maybe shoot a little video around the lodge."
The old man turned towards the door that joined the back of the lobby to an attached, humble, dwelling. "Hey Emma, I’m gonna be a movie star, jist like Bert Reynolds."
A heavy, old woman with a stained white apron and long gray hair emerged through the doorway. When she saw the film students with their cameras and she looked at the old man, shook her head, tightened her apron and disappeared through the door again.
"Whoo Weee, that’s ‘bout as excited as I’ve seen her in years." The old man smiled at the students again, waiving to them as they left the lodge.
Cabin 12 was at the furthest end of the lake from the lodge. The pothole filled road that led to the cabin twisted around giant boulders and crawled through segments of burnt forest which contained the remnants of several foundations of former cabins. There were only two cabins on their side of the lake that had survived the fire. Cabin 4 was right on the lake, with it’s own wharf and generator, and Cabin 12, which was larger was located in a green stand of trees near a small bay at the upper end of the lake. On the opposite side of the lake there was a shale bank that led up to the rail-bed road which the students had driven in on. Along the length of the lake there were points where bits of land jotted out into the lake from the bottom of the shale. Some of these little jetties contained cabins that were still standing, but were only accessible by boat, or by scrambling down 100 feet of loose shale from the road above.
It was early afternoon by the time the students had arrived at Cabin 12. Although rustic, it was still in good condition and the surviving forest that surrounded the cabin made it the most attractive one left at Chute Lake.
Chad took the large key fob out of his pocket and approached the door. The door was closed, but the padlock was missing. He unlatched the hasp and pulled the door open. The cabin appeared surprisingly large. Beside the door there was a set of plank shelves that acted as cupboards. They were stocked with basic cooking and eating utensils as well as cleaning supplies and materials for making a fire. In the middle of the room there was a large wood table with six chairs. In the middle of the table an intricate carving of what looked like a large serpent.
"Oh my God." Jeremy exclaimed, "don’t these people have any imagination? Ogopogo, Ogopogo, Ogopogo, everywhere we go. Must be the shits having a big lumpy snake as the main symbol for your community."
Jeremy threw his sleeping bag and pack onto the lower bunk of the set closest to the door. Chad put his gear on the bunk above Jeremy’s. There was another set of bunks along the wall, kitty-corner to the bunks that Chad and Jeremy had claimed and directly across from the cupboards, Colin put his sleeping bag and pack on the bottom bunk. Mark had left his gear in the Westfalia, which they had parked near the front door of the cabin. He didn’t mind being exiled from the cabin, he knew that his snoring was bad, but he had an ulterior motivation. He really didn’t care for the smell or feel of cabin camping and, in addition, the van had climate control, so if he got too hot or too cold, all he had to do was start it up for a few minutes and he would be all comfy and cozy. He never mentioned this to the other students, as he preferred to play the role of the martyr, thinking that the appearance of his sacrifice for the benefit of the others might be worth some future considerations.
The bunk-bed located against the far wall was separated from the rest of the cabin by a close-line that had been strung from the east wall to the west wall. A plain green curtain had been hung over the close-line, that, when closed, provided a private section in the back third of the cabin.
"This will be perfect." Chad’s enthusiasm was not contagious.
Jeremy’s large family had prevented them from going on many exotic vacations. They had made one road trip to Disneyland when Jeremy was ten that had nearly ended in divorce. Other than that, it was a yearly, one-week camping trip to the scout cabin at McCulloch lake.
With eight brothers and sisters, two parents and quite often one or two, drunk uncles, all sharing one cabin, Jeremy’s memories of cabin camping were not in the ‘fond’ category.
Colin, on the other hand, had been used to traveling, however, his camping trips had been restricted to mountain resorts or Motor homes with large pop-outs and satellite TV. He had been looking forward to a more earthy experience, but as soon as he found out that there was no running water, and that, for a bath they had to jump in the lake, he was not impressed. The smell of musk inside did little to alleviate his disappointment.
"All right guys, let’s get unpacked then we can do a little location shooting around the cabin, and if we have time, pop back down to the lodge for supplies and to interview the lodge owner."
Chad was a little disappointed that the other students weren’t as excited as he was, but he wasn’t going to let it get him down.
It didn’t take long to get the cabin organized. Jeremy and Mark did a little taping around the cabin and down the path to the lake and then went for a refreshing swim while Chad and Colin headed back to the lodge for some additional supplies and to interview the owner.
"Chad, how ‘bout if we tape him in the chair by the window. If we set up a reflector, it could provide a really cool effect."
Colin was adjusting the position of an overstuffed, ancient chair that was well beyond its prime. The deep maroon corduroy material had been stained by years of checker playing hunters and campers. The arms were well worn and at several points, long seams of white stuffing began to peak through the material. Even though it was old and worn it was still sturdy and comfortable and had years of use left in it, much like the old man who was about to sit in it for the interview.
Chad attached a lapel microphone next to the top buttonhole on the old man’s shirt. "Mr. Weaver, please count to ten."
The old man started counting and Chad watched the needle on the monitor bounce back and forth, he made a few minor adjustments and then looked at Colin.
"Ready to go buddy?" Chad asked.
"Let’s do it." Colin replied, then turned his attention to Mr. Weaver. "Mr. Weaver is the owner of the Chute Lake Lodge, which is located almost directly above point where the Okanagan Mountain fire started. Miraculously his lodge and many of the outlying cabins were spared from the fire, while tens of thousands of hectares of forest burnt all around." Colin put his hand up to motion a cut in action and Chad stopped taping.
"Ok, now, Chad, move around behind me, I’m only going to ask a couple questions so if you can shoot over my shoulder you’ll get a better transition from my questions to Mr. Weaver’s answers."
Chad repositioned the camera, checked the light and then nodded to Colin that he was ready.
"Mr. Weaver, how were you able to save your lodge from the fire?" Colin asked.
The old man looked directly into the camera, Chad was going to pause the shot and ask him to look at Colin, but something in Mr. Weaver’s stare made him reconsider and continue taping.
"We cleared as much dead brush away from the lodge and cabins as we could then we soaked ‘er all down. None of it would’ve mattered if the fire hadn’t turned at the last second, soon’s it hit the line." The old man looked at Colin for a second then back at the camera. "It’s the line that saved us, pure ‘n simple, that’s ‘bout it."
"Are you talking about a fire break line?" Colin asked.
"No, damned firebreaks aren’t worth shit in a fire like this. Might jist as well piss on it fer all the good they’d do! No, the one I’m talkin’ ‘bout the wife calls the ‘hokey pokey’ line. She figures it’s haunted or sumthin’. I figure there’s probably some kind of magnetic thing happenin, but whatever it is, it goes straight up the hill."
"What makes you think there is some kind of special protective line?" This was going perfectly so far. The whole idea of this interview was to try to get the old man to say something that would tie in with their investigation of the unusual readings and occurrences that the students had noticed when they were taping in this area before.
"Been up here forty years, ain’t never had a TV or radio that worked worth a damn. Telephone line came in twenty years ago, but half the time it’s so damned fuzzy that you cain’t hear shit on it anyhow. Same thing straight over on th’other side of the mountain, where those yellow eyed hippy cult freaks live. They ain’t got no TV’s or radios neither."
"Do you see the people from the other side of the mountain over here very often?" Colin was on a roll now. The old man was providing the perfect segue for the transition from the general fire stories to the in depth investigation the students were now conducting. An investigation which seemed to be leading them more and more in the direction of this mysterious group of people.
"Na, it’s a heck of a hike, a good half day or more. See em, maybe once or twice a year, don’t say much, come in, buy what they need n’ they’re gone. Quiet bastards, scare the hell out of me. Most times I don’t even hear them coming in, then all of a sudden they’re standing at the counter with their stuff. Saw one here this mornin’ as a matter of fact, but he’s the first since the fire. Probably a terrible hike now, through all the burnt crap."
Colin was just about to follow up with another question when a truck pulled to a stop outside of the lodge. The dust was still settling when the screen door opened and Uncle Randy and Darlene Bauer walked in.
"Well, Bud Weaver, your lookin’ just like a movie star. Don’t let these greenhorns try talkin’ you in to moving to Hollywood!" Randy shouted across the room. Bud took the lapel mic. off and got up to greet his old friend.
"I guess this interview is done, at least for now." Chad mumbled under his breath, half to himself and half to Colin, who had already started packing up the gear.
"Sumbitch young feller, where the hell you been? Ain’t seen you up here for two years I bet." Bud shook Randy’s hand and it was obvious that both men were happy to see one another.
"Been busy Bud, too damned busy. Time’s just flying by these days."
"Well, yer here now, how long ya fixin’ to stay?"
"I’m just droppin’ off Darlene. I figured I’d stay for supper then head home before she gets too dark. It’s a bugger driving through this burnt shit at night, especially when there’s no moon."
It was just after two AM, and Chad had been tossing and turning for hours. The bed he was sleeping on was the top section of one of three bunk beds in the cabin. Their construction was very simple, a set of two by four frames supporting a sleeping surface that consisted of a six-foot long by three foot wide piece of plywood covered by a 3 inch thick piece of foam.
Lying there awake, staring at the ceiling only a few feet from his face, he was beginning to think that it might not have been such a good idea to have had that second helping of Uncle Randy’s ‘special’ chili.
Uncle Randy had made a large batch earlier that day and had brought some of it along for the students when he dropped Darlene Bauer off at the cabin just before supper.
Randy had a reputation for making great chili, but you never knew what was going to be in it. Not even Uncle Randy knew until he was actually in the process of making it. Preparing chili was almost a Zen thing with him. He broke every rule for making ‘real’ chili, but somehow, it always turned out great. The only consistency to his recipe was that he always used kidney beans and extra lean hamburger. The rest of the ingredients consisted of whatever struck his fancy in the cupboard or fridge at the time. If necessary he would make an extra trip to the supermarket and wonder the aisles searching for inspiration.
Chad’s stomach had been a little uneasy before he had climbed into bed, but now he could feel the undigested contents moving around pretty good, and, for a second, he wondered if that was what it felt like to be pregnant. As the churning continued to intensify he decided that, for pregnancy to feel like this, he would have to be carrying a three-horned baby with eight legs and skin made of acid covered sandpaper.
A long, silent release of noxious gas had temporarily lessened the pain, but before long the warring contents in his stomach had begun to do battle again.
Chad couldn’t remember a time that he had ever felt so uncomfortable. He had rolled himself in his sleeping bag so that he could tuck the top of it around his shoulders, tight to his neck. He had done this, not because he was cold, in fact he was sweating from the heat, but he would rather roast than let those-god awful odors escape into the cabin, which had already begun to smell like a huge chili fart.
The rumbling and pressure that had been contained in his abdomen had slowly started to work its way down his bowel, and he was starting to worry that the next discharge might include something a little more than vapor.
Chad grabbed the ancient flashlight that he had stowed between his foamy and the wall. He’d had it since his first Cub Camp, over a decade before. It looked like a mini-periscope and for a split second the memories that it brought back made him forget about his abdominal pain, but the reprieve was short lived.
He climbed out of his bed as quietly as possible, his butt cheeks squeezed tightly together to avoid any unnecessary noise or emission. It was pitch dark in the cabin, but his bunk was right next to the door so he was able to get outside without using his flashlight. The night air was still warm, but considerably cooler than the heat of the previous few days, and the smell was sooo much better on this side of the cabin door. Chad turned on the flashlight and blinked a few times to get accustomed to the new light. It had been as dark outside as it was in the cabin. There was no moon that night, and a high layer of cirrus clouds blocked all of the stars.
Chad decided that sadists must have determined the location of the outhouse. It had been put midway along the path that led from the cabin to the lake. The distance was only forty yards, but to Chad, bent over with stomach cramps and waddling the entire distance, it seemed like a mile.
Less than ten feet from the outhouse Chad’s toe kicked an exposed root tripping him headlong onto the dirt path. The flashlight slipped from his hand and landed in a pile of rocks. He didn’t see where it had fallen, but from the sound of the breaking glass and the complete absence of light, he knew that there would be no point in looking for it at that time. As he climbed to his feet he felt a sudden sharp pain in his right knee. Instinctively he rubbed the sore spot and his hand became covered with a warm thick liquid, which he knew had to be blood.
Things had gone from bad to worse. The fall had done nothing to relieve the pain in his stomach and now his knee was bleeding and he was alone in the middle of a meadow in the middle of no-where in the middle of the darkest night that he has ever seen.
He’d been in dark places before but he’d never felt so vulnerable in his life. On a tour of Alcatraz with his Uncle Neil a couple of summers ago there had been a part of the tour where they put you in the cell and then turned the lights out so you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. That had freaked Chad out, but this was a hundred times worse.
At least in Alcatraz, Chad knew that he was still surrounded by tour guides and friends and other tourists and that the lights would be coming back on again. He’d also had the security of the cell surrounding him. He knew exactly who and what was in the cell with him and there wasn’t much chance of anything from the outside getting in while he was defenseless in the dark.
The vague sense that something had been watching him as he left the cabin had suddenly increased. Chad could feel every hair on the back of his neck standing at prickly attention. The vast openness around him and total lack of vision meant that anything could be coming from anywhere at anytime and he wouldn’t have a clue. Even if he could hear something coming, sounds played tricks in the mountains in the dark and he would have no idea of where to hide or run to or how to escape. He could feel the adrenaline building in his body, and his muscles were tensing. His instinct was to turn and run back up the path to the cabin, but he knew he wouldn’t make it half way without filling his pants.
Chad decided to try finding the outhouse. He had only been a few feet from it when he fell and he knew that it was right beside the path. Instead of searching blindly in the dark, Chad groped the path for a handful of small pebbles, which he began throwing in the direction where he thought the outhouse should be. On the fourth toss he hit his target.
Chad shuffled slowly towards the structure with both hands stretched out in front of him, fingers splayed, feeling for any obstacle that might present itself. He couldn’t remember a time when he had felt this bad, both physically and mentally, yet, an uninvited image had pushed itself into his mind. A little blind, deaf girl in a flannel nightgown walking with her hands outstretched, exploring her limited world with the only sensory input that she had. ‘The Miracle Worker, 1962, Directed by Arthur Penn, starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft.’
‘Even now, I’ve still got it.’ The thought brought a faint smile to Chad’s face as he reached the door of the outhouse. He found the latch and pulled the door open and a second later was sitting on the well-worn toilet seat, just in time. Even though the pressure in his stomach had been unbearable, the force, volume and noise from ensuing explosion still surprised Chad and he was sure the sound would have woken the other students had the outhouse been any closer to the cabin.
He was sitting in complete darkness, the first round was over, yet he knew that it would be a while before he could safely return to the cabin. His stomach immediately felt soooo much better, but the gas was already starting to build again. Chad put his hand in front of his face to see if he could see any shadows. For all he knew he could be completely blind. Now that the concern over his intestinal problems had abated considerably he was beginning to feel much more vulnerable, sitting alone, in the wilderness in the middle of a pitch-dark night, with his pajamas around his ankles and out of shouting range of the cabin.
‘The Shitter’ as Jeremy had called it, had recently been moved to this location, so even though it was old and rugged, the smell was still tolerable. Chad instinctively leaned forward to fasten the lock from the inside. He didn’t think that anyone would be coming along to disturb him, but it made him feel a little more secure.
The click of the latch, which would have been unnoticeable almost anywhere else on the planet, seemed to echo in the dead night air. The gentle breeze that Chad had noticed when he first left the cabin had died off completely, and the small pocket of trees that surrounded the cabin was void of any significant animal life. The fire had spared the cabin and less than an acre of surrounding forest. Enough trees were left to block the direct view of the charred mountainside, but not enough to act as an ecosystem capable of sustaining any wildlife larger than what a small rodent might require.
The cabin had been built for summer and winter use and was well insulated, so, even if someone was moving about, or talking inside, it was unlikely Chad could hear them from where he was. Mark had been made to sleep in the van, which was parked on the far side of the cabin. With all the doors shut his snoring had been effectively muted.
The absence of sight and sound had a disorienting effect. Chad had an idea of which direction the cabin was in, but if he didn’t find the path again, he could easily miss it in the dark.
As he sat waiting for the next round of diarrhea to begin, Chad listened intently for sounds in the vast darkness that surrounded the small outhouse. Any sound, the wind in the trees, a fish jumping in the lake, a car driving by on the road above the lake, the hoot of an owl, anything to reassure him that he hadn’t entered the Twilight Zone. Any sound. Any sound, except for the one that came faintly through the rear wall of the outhouse. The unexpected noise seemed to enter his brain directly through the base of his skull just above where his spinal cord ended. Once again his entire body froze. He wanted to pull up his pants and run, but where to? The surreal twilight zone feeling had been obliterated with one distant sonic vibration, and, now, in it’s place was an intense fear, verging on panic.
At first the sound was difficult to identify. A distant, muffled clicking that would pick up in intensity, abate for a moment then start all over again. From the direction the sound was coming Chad could tell that something, or more likely, some things, were moving down the shale embankment at the upper end of the lake. Before long the intermittent tumbling of rock over rock had ceased and there was silence again. But the silence did not last. It was replaced by the soft wisp that dry grass makes when something is moving through it, something that was getting closer and closer to the outhouse and heading in the direction of the cabin.
Chad wanted to call out to the noise to identify itself. He wanted to know what it was. To know that it was of no danger, something benign in the darkness, but the fear of giving his secreted location away to some potentially malignant entity was too strong and he remained silent.
The wisp, wisp, wisp drew closer and closer to the outhouse. Chad turned as far as he could towards the back wall and tried to look through cracks in the wood to see if he could make out any images in the darkness. The twisting motion and the tension in his stomach forced an unexpected and unwanted final explosion from Chad’s bowels.
The whisping stopped and there was complete silence again. Chad’s fingers were digging into his bare thighs as he held his breath waiting to find out if he had given away his location. Another explosion, but this time it came from outside the cabin in the direction of the lake. It was slightly lower in pitch, but similar to the noise Chad had made, then there was another one from even closer to the lake, then another, and suddenly the night air was filled with a chorus of bullfrogs calling to one another. The wisping sounds started up again, barely audible as whatever it was passed by the outhouse still heading in the direction of the cabin.
The bullfrog choir faded, from what had sounded like hundreds down to just a few calling back and forth across the lake to the lonely voice of one last persistent frog and finally silence once again.
Chad strained his hearing in the direction that the whisping sounds had disappeared. Once again there was nothing. Chad was just about to open the door to the outhouse when he heard a very low throaty sound coming from near the cabin. It reminded him of the manic purring that his cat made when it was extremely agitated, but this would have had to have been one very large cat, and this sound had a rhythmic quality to it. As he listened, he could tell that the sound was moving around the cabin, not as if whatever was making the sound was moving, but as if the sound was being thrown from point to point in a large triangle that surrounded the log structure. It would intensify at one point then fade, and as it was fading it would begin to intensify at the next clockwise point. The frequency of the sound passing from point to point increased until the cabin seemed to be surrounded by one long consistent guttural groan which ebbed and flowed, rising and falling like waves on the ocean. The incantation continued for several minutes, then without warning it stopped and there was complete silence, followed shortly by the wisp, wisp, wisp in the grass past the outhouse and back towards the bottom of the lake.
It had been forty minutes since the last sounds of movement had passed by the outside of his small wooden sanctuary. Chad had been waiting for the coming dawn to illuminate the way back to the cabin and to chase away whatever frightening things the dark might be harboring. He’d been watching for light to start coming through the cracks in the door, to let him know that the sun was finally rising, but his eyelids were growing increasingly heavy. The last fifteen minutes had been an incredible struggle to remain awake. One minute he would be staring at the door and into the pitch-black world beyond which had become indiscernible from the inside of his eyelids and the next minute, his head would begin to bob, which would jar him awake and the process would start all over again. At one point he had fallen so soundly asleep that he had actually lost balance and leaned forward far enough to bang his head against the door in front of him. Chad had decided that it would be safer to lean against the inside corner of the outhouse to avoid falling into the door again and potentially giving his position away. His eyes were beginning to flicker closed and a vision was beginning to invade his subconscious mind. The image was a silhouette of a tall man with the sun behind him. The man was moving closer and closer, blocking out more and more of the sun. Suddenly there was a loud bang on the side of the outhouse, followed by another on the door. The first bang had jolted Chad awake, the second had startled him off of his perch on the outhouse seat, right onto the floor with a loud thud.
"Hey, what the hell! Did you die in there or something Spud?"
Hearing Jeremy’s voice was a huge relief for Chad, but his heart was still pounding uncontrollably and he was having trouble breathing. He tried to stand up, but his legs had long since fallen asleep collapsing underneath him and dropping him to the floor once again.
"Just a second Jeremy, I’ll be right out."
Chad climbed back into a seated position on the outhouse bench and tried to rub some circulation back into his legs. He reached forward and unlatched the door for Jeremy.
"OK, now, just incase you don’t know how this works, you are going to have to get the hell out of there before I can use this shit pit."
Jeremy was standing in the doorway with a Coleman lantern from the cabin. Chad rubbed his right thigh for a little longer then grabbed onto the wall of the outhouse to help himself stand up. He stepped out onto the path allowing Jeremy to get past him and into the outhouse.
"I’ll wait out here for you Jeremy. I broke my flashlight, and doubt if I could find the cabin without it."
Chad looked towards the lake and could finally see a faint orange glow beginning to appear behind the mountains.


"Man, what did your uncle put in that chili?" Jeremy was wiping his hands on his shirt as he stepped out of the outhouse. "That was frickin’ brutal."
The two boys had almost reached the cabin when Jeremy stopped.
"What the heck is that?" He wondered aloud, looking down at a small pile of bones and feathers piled up beside the pathway.
"I don’t know, but I’d feel a hell of a lot better thinking about it back in the cabin." Chad answered as he walked past Jeremy. He stopped at the cabin door and looked back towards Jeremy who was still examining the small monument.
"Jeremy, just leave it there ‘til morning, then we’ll get some good shots of it."
A few hours later, Colin and Darlene Bauer both woke up feeling as if they were coming down with the Flu.
"Christ Colin, quit whining and take a good dump and you’ll feel a lot better." Jeremy was making breakfast on the ancient wood stove inside the cabin. "When you get back I’ll have a couple of eggs and some bacon ready for you."
"I wonder how Mark’s doing? He ate as much Chili as you and Colin put together." Chad remarked as he took a cup of coffee from Jeremy and opened the door.
"I’ll go see if he’s up yet, and I’ll get a couple of shots of your bone pile while I’m out there." Chad took the video camera case down from a peg beside the door and left.
A few minutes later Mark entered the cabin.
"God, I love the mountain air, it is so refreshing. I slept like a baby last night." Mark crowed, hanging the camera back up that Chad had taken.
"So, you’re feeling OK?" Jeremy asked.
"Just great buddy. That van is damned comfortable, I’m going to miss it tonight." Mark grabbed a piece of bacon out of the frying pan, blew on it, then popped it into his mouth and sat down at the table.
"Did you shoot my pile of bones?" Jeremy flipped a pan full of eggs over as he was talking to Mark.
"Ya, Chad gave me the camera, I got shots of all three of them." Mark answered.
"There were three?" Jeremy turns towards Mark, holding the frying pan in one hand and a spatula in the other.
"Ya, sure, all around the cabin. Kind of weird. The way the bones were aligned, it almost seemed as if one pile was pointing to the next." Mark took a plastic plate from a stack in the middle of the table and held it out for Jeremy to put two eggs into.
"Chad’s out there with Colin looking at them right now."
After breakfast, and a thorough examination of bones and feathers, the students split up to do some more taping around the lake and to try to finish the interview they had started the day before with Mr. Weaver.
By lunch they had completed all of their objectives and were into the first hour of an overnight backpacking trek. Their destination was a high point on the side of the mountain located three miles uphill and to the south of the Chute Lake Lodge. They’d chosen this location because it was directly in line with the spot they had picked up the strange audio and video recordings and it was along the Ley Line that Kelsey had identified. But, even more importantly to the students, it was where the mysterious firefighters had been seen working repeatedly during the fire.
They stopped for lunch by a small stream that bubbled in and out of the debris left by the fire. The firestorm had come amazingly close to destroying the Chute Lake Lodge and from where they now sat on the side of the hill overlooking the lake, the students could see just how lucky the owners had been to avoid complete devastation.
It took another two hours of hiking to get to the spot identified on their topographical map as the point they were looking for. They would have reached their destination sooner, but Jeremy had insisted upon searching for Morel mushrooms along the way. The increased nitrogen from the fire had resulted in a bumper crop of the tasty morsels, and closer to Kelowna, hundreds of people were combing the forest floor searching for them.
Jeremy had found more than enough mushrooms along the way for the hikers to have a healthy feast of them that night. While he was cooking, Chad and Colin set up camp and Mark did some video taping. Darlene Bauer had set her own tent up before going for a walk in the woods, returning just in time for supper.
They’d set up their camp in a burnt section of woods to be closer to the area they had come to investigate. It was an eerie setting, but, it had been easy to find a flat area and they hadn’t needed to clear any brush out of the way. They also had the advantage of being able to have a campfire without having to worry about starting a forest fire as all of the available fuel for hundreds of acres around had already been consumed.
After supper the students had just enough time to shoot a little more video and set up the digital audio recorder before darkness began to fall.
Chad had started a small campfire with wood debris that he had gathered from the edge of the forest nearest to their camp. Darlene and the students each found a piece of log or rock to sit on as they joined Chad around the dancing flames. Having a fire at the end of the night had always been a camping tradition for Chad and he wasn’t about to let that change.
Everyone had just settled in to their perches when Jeremy disappeared into his tent and the others could here him rummaging through his backpack. He re-emerged a few seconds later with a forty-ounce bottle of rye whisky raised victoriously in his right hand.
The students spent the next half-hour passing the bottle of rye and recounting the events that had brought them to this camp deep in the heart of the burnt-out forest. Darlene sat quietly, listening to the students and taking a small sip each time the rye passed by.
"I wonder how Mr. Jenkins is connected to the Ludzi Ognia." Colin was hoping that Darlene might know a little more about her next door neighbor than she had disclosed so far.
"How do you know he is connected?" Jeremy questioned.
"Well, you saw the burning cross on his front lawn, and the cross pattern on the bowl he made for Darlene, right?" Colin answered Jeremy with another question.
"Ya, so the crosses were the same, so what?"
"They were also the same as the cross that was on the medallion we found and similar to the ones in the Ludzi Ognia’s book." Colin looked into the fire for a moment, lost in his own thoughts. "You know, that wooden serpent on the table in the cabin looks like the same style of carving."
While the students had been talking, the sun had set. It was another moonless night and the sky was over-cast.
Outside of the small circle of firelight the rest of the world was completely black.
Mark took a large sip of whiskey, then poked the fire, using the burnt stick he’d been scratching the dirt with. A constellation of sparks flew up into the darkness and disappeared into the night.
In a low voice, almost a whisper, Mark began to speak; "You know, those carvings remind me of a story." He threw the stick into the fire, took another sip of whisky then looked from student to student and finally at Darlene.
"This married couple loved to spend Saturday mornings going to garage sales. One day they were at an estate sale and they bought an old gramophone because they liked the engraving on the wood base." He took one more sip of whisky. His hand was shaking as he passed the bottle to Jeremy.
" It was a carving of a hexagram encircled by a wreath with a head that looked like that of an Egyptian Pharo on the top. The head of an eagle was at three o’clock, a lions head at six o’clock and there was the head of a goat carved at the nine o’clock position."
Mark was staring into the centre of the fire, watching the flames devour the rest of his stick as he continued with his story.
"The gramophone had been used for decades to play satanic incantations in a house owned by demon worshipers. The couple who bought it had no idea of its dark past. They had recently re-decorated the bedroom belonging to their ten-year-old twin boys with a turn of the century, adventurers club theme. The antique gramophone fit in perfectly with the new bedroom when placed on the wooden chest at the foot of the boys bed." Mark paused and looked over his shoulder into the darkness behind him. Seeing nothing he turned back to the fire and continued on with his story.
" At exactly 3:33 in the morning the boy’s parents awoke to the screams of the twins, begging to be let go and crying for help. In seconds they were beside their trembling children who were too upset to speak. While the mother comforted the boys in the parents’ bedroom the father looked around their room and through the rest of the house, but didn’t find anyone. All of the doors and windows to the outside were still locked and there was no evidence of an intruder. Although no one could be found in the house, both children were too terrified to go back into their old room. They had both been awakened at the same time by the sensation of someone, or something, pulling at their feet. In the dim light that filtered through their curtains they could see nothing except the silhouette of the gramophone at the end of their bed, yet, some unseen force was pulling them closer and closer to the demonic artifact. Their parents had arrived just seconds before both boys would have been pulled completely off of the bottom end of the bed."
"What a load of crap man, some kind of urban legend I bet. You probably stole this from an old episode of the Twilight Zone" Jeremy barked his disbelief.
"It’s all true, I’m not shitting you!" Mark squawked defensively.
"Bullshit" Jeremy challenged again. "How the hell do you know it’s true?"
"I’m one of the twins." Mark replied somberly.
Chad broke into the conversation, "So, what was it? Was it the gramophone? Did it, whatever it was, come back?"
Mark, looked at Chad; "No, no, it never did come back. We got rid of the gramophone the next day, my mom burnt it then took the ashes to the church cemetery to bury them there. Dad thought she was nuts, but we never had any problems again."
Chad was still curious, "Weren’t you scared to sleep in your room after that?"
Mark tried to hide a self-conscious smile. "Actually, I slept on the couch in the living room for the next eight years until I graduated and left home for college."
Jeremy was still shaking his head with doubt when he turned towards Darlene Bauer; "I’ll bet you’ve got some good stories to tell."
Her vacant stare looked right through him as if she was trying to find something hidden in the charcoal blackness of the moonless night.
Her voice, as detached as her stare, was thick and heavy, weighted by a lifetime of rejection and ridicule. She spoke her words as if she had to, not because she wanted to or cared if anyone heard them. Every syllable appeared to be a catharsis. Her story unfolded as a stream of consciousness, where reality and hallucination ebbed and flowed in currents impossible to discern from one another.
"I know I was adopted, nobody knows where I came from, I just showed up at the hospital but I was born near here, I feel it. I can feel my family all around me, they know I’m here, they must know."
She looked down at the embers of the fire for a second.
"Babies crying, not old babies, new babies, just out of their mother’s womb. I hear them, they call for me, they know me, I can’t help them. I have to let them cry, I can’t stop them."
She paused for a second then continued, "When I was a little girl I heard them in the walls. I told my mamma that there were babies in the walls, but she didn’t hear them, she took me to the doctor and he gave me pills, but I could still hear them."
She looked each student in the eyes before continuing; "I can’t stop them, I can’t pick them up and comfort them and hold them.
I told my father I heard the babies in the cellar and so he locked me in the dark stairway with the crying babies. I can’t see the bottom stairs, only hear the babies crying. I look at the door at the top of the stairs and it is dark, only a bright light around the edges of the door. The door opens and my family are there. I can’t see their faces, only shadows, the light behind them is too bright, I can’t see anything else. They move closer to the top of the stairs, but I still can’t see their faces. They are blocking out most of the light, but they are still shadows. My mother speaks in a strange voice and asks me if I believe in the devil and I say no and my father asks me if I believe in God and I say no. The babies are screaming, I put my hands over my ears but I can’t stop the screaming, like cats being eaten alive, screaming awful sounds. My mother and father are shouting at me in strange voices that I must believe, I must believe. I am crying like the babies, I can barely breathe. I feel myself starting to float off of the stairs. I am frightened. I don’t want to float away. I feel my back bump up against the roof of the stairway. Everything is dark and the babies are screaming and mother and father are screaming that I must believe and I can’t move, I can’t move. I know I have to find a way to believe but I don’t know how and I can’t move and the babies are screaming."
She stops talking, and listens intently to the silence of the night, then begins again. "I scream like the babies. It doesn’t stop them, but maybe it is me I hear then, not the babies, not the babies, maybe the babies are quiet when I am screaming."
Darlene starts to cry softly and slumps forward with her face in her hands. The students, who have been mesmerized by her story sit quietly, waiting for her to continue when the stillness of the night is shattered by a high pitched wail, which is joined by another, and yet another, until the entire burnt forest around them is echoing with the demonic sounds.
"Th’ the babies? Are those the babies?" Chad asked as quietly as he could, as if trying not to bring attention to himself.
Darlene looked at Chad as if his question has released her from a spell.
"No, no, those aren’t the babies, no."
The eerie sounds stopped as soon as she had spoken.
"No, not the babies, just coyotes. They shouldn’t be out here. There’s nothing for them here, but, no, that wasn’t the babies, just coyotes."
Jeremy stood up, visibly relieved, he looked at the other students; "Well, that’s enough hocus pocus crap for me, I’m hitting the sack.."

Darlene had risen with the sun. She’d always been a morning person, but she’d had another reason for getting up early.
She was close, very close to the crying babies. She could feel the weight of their sorrow pulling at her soul. It was as if a huge magnet was drawing her towards the top of the mountain.
She left the camp while Mark was still getting dressed in his tent. She’d been as quiet as she could be, not wanting to disturb the other students and risk the possibility of them interfering with her quest. Mark had shouted out something about coffee to her, but she’d pretended not to hear him and had quickened her pace away from the camp.
The gradual increase in elevation had been more challenging than she had anticipated and before long, Darlene’s energy level had already been significantly drained. She was used to climbing much steeper hills with far less difficulty and so reasoned that her weakened state must be a result of the flu-like symptoms she had felt the day before.
She was near exhaustion when she came upon a strange pile of bones, rocks and feathers. She felt an urge to destroy the small monument, but she was finding it difficult to breathe. Her throat and chest had become incredibly tight and a cold emptiness had washed over her. The burnt forest around her was beginning to spin and to lose definition. It was as though she had entered a psychic vortex between two worlds, but this time the destination was unfamiliar to her. It was a dark, empty and cold abyss, pulsating with fear and pain.
The few remaining threads of her conscious mind drove her forward, towards the bone and feather structure. Her right leg dragged behind her, feeling as heavy as a tree trunk. The makeshift altar that lay directly in front of her was at the same time pulling in her soul while repelling her physical body.
The blackened earth came swimming up towards her face as her final grip on reality began to fade. She hit the ground with an impact that expelled the remaining breath from her. For a moment she lay as still as the dead forest around her. In less than a minute, her autonomic system, starved for oxygen, caused her lungs to convulse in a violent spasm that twisted her body, throwing her arm through the piled bones and feathers and scattering them into a benign remnant of evil.
Slowly, delicate rays of light began to disintegrate the web of darkness that had engulfed Darlene’s consciousness. She lay on her back, looking up at the morning sky through the blackened skeletal remains of two giant oak trees, reaching their bony limbs towards a lonely cloud floating directly above her.
The relief she felt, with the return of her conscious mind, was short lived. She was suddenly aware of another danger coming up the hill towards her, making her return to the camp impossible. Somehow she knew that the sinister force coming towards her was the creator of the malevolent shrine she had just destroyed.
With the determination of a hunted animal, she forced herself onward, away from the predator. She climbed the hill in front of her at a frantic pace. At one point she entered a ravine that concealed her from below, but, which would also trap her if she was discovered hiding in there. When she emerged from the top of the steep gully, she noticed that the living woods were now much closer. If she ran as fast as she could with her lame leg, she would be in the cover of the forest in forty seconds or less. Once in the forest there were thousands of places to hide from her unseen enemy.
Her sprint ended just inside the cover of the trees, where her dragging foot caught on an exposed root and sent her sprawling to the forest floor. Her head smashed onto a large rugged rock opening a jagged cut on her cheek. She pulled herself into a sitting position on a rotting log, then tore a piece of her blouse off to press against her wound. In the distance, she could hear the clatter of loose rocks and footsteps coming up the hill.
Suddenly, there was silence. They had found her trail on the ash-covered hillside. At that moment a blinding awareness engulfed her: "These people, the babies, they were connected. These were the people who made the babies cry."
Mark was leaning over the campfire adjusting a tripod holding a blackened metal pot. He’d just centred it over the flames as Jeremy crawled out of his tent. Jeremy’s eyes were still closed as he moved slowly towards the smell of fresh coffee brewing over the morning fire.
"Son-of-a-bitch" Jeremy swore as his knee came down on the neck of the empty rye bottle.
"Looks like you’re hurtin’ inside and out buddy." Mark commented as he held a hand out to help Jeremy stand up.
"I think I’d better sit down." Jeremy staggered over to a log by the fire and sat down with his head between his knees and his hands clasped over the back of his head. He mumbled something incoherently. Mark walked over to him, leaned over and put a hand on Jeremy’s back.
"Feelin’ a little green this morning?" Mark asked. Jeremy looked up with as much disdain as he could muster through the obvious pain he was in.
"Do you have a Tylenol?" Jeremy muttered, but this time Mark heard him. Jeremy was sure that Mark would have something, after all, next to Colin, Mark was the biggest Hypochondriac that Jeremy knew.
"Sure, I have T-3’s or Extra Strength Tylenol. I also have Ibuprofen if those don’t work. Do you want a Gravol for your stomach as well?" Mark slipped into his tent for a moment and came out with a small shaving kit. He pulled out several bottles of pills before he found one that contained extra strength Tylenol. He removed the lid and poured three of the pills into his hand and offered them to Jeremy.
"Thanks man." Jeremy groaned, still sitting in the same position looking at the ground. He held out his hand without looking up.
"Hey Guys." Chad shouted cheerily as he emerged from his tent. "Coffee smells great. What a gorgeous day, eh?"
Jeremy stood up and slowly started walking away from the camp.
"Where you goin’ Jeremy?" Mark asked.
"I gotta get outta here before I hurt someone." He looked back at Chad, peering out from under his eyelids with an evil stare.
"Hey, if you see Darlene, tell her the coffee is ready." Mark called after him. Jeremy continued to walk and stagger away from the camp, raising is hand in a half-hearted acknowledgement without looking back.
"What’s wrong with him?" Chad asked.
"After you and Colin went to bed, he got back up and finished the rest of the ‘forty-pounder’ of rye by himself. I think he’s a lot more screwed up inside than we figured." Mark took the coffeepot off of the tripod and poured a cup for Chad and himself.
"What do you mean?" Chad asked.
"Last night he was talking about how strict his Grandma had been, making sure that all her grand kids were raised as good Catholics, and how he broke her heart when he quit going to church." Mark put the coffeepot down and unfolded a metal grill, which he balanced on four rocks placed strategically inside the campfire. "I’m not really sure what happened to him but Darlene’s story sure hit a nerve. He started drinking rye like it was water."
Chad took a sip of his coffee and sat down on a log facing the fire. "Her story scared the piss out of me too, and that howling last night was freaky. I’ve never heard coyotes sound like that before, especially the second time they started up. It sounded like they were all around the camp. I was glad you kept the fire going."
He picked up a small stick lying just outside the reach of the fire and tossed it in to the flames to watch it burn.
"Do you think Darlene and Jeremy will be okay wandering around in the woods by themselves this morning?" Chad looked in the direction Jeremy had left in.
"He’s really hung-over right now, but I’m sure he’ll be fine. If you want, go take a look for them while I burn some breakfast for us." Mark relished the novelty of the rustic camping experience and had taken over as many camp duties as he could handle while still doing his job as the cinematographer for the documentary.
"Sounds good, see you in a little while." Chad walked out of camp in the same direction Jeremy had gone a few minutes earlier, stooping as he passed a stump with a small hatchet sticking out of it. He grabbed the hatchet and pulled it out of the stump, raising it over his head to show Mark. "Just in case ol’ Mr. Coyotee is hungry!"
Jeremy’s trail had been easy to follow. The dirt and ash floor of the burnt forest was like a huge slate that would record every hoof, paw or foot print that crossed through it. A lasting testimony to all those who visited until the next big rainstorm wiped it clean again.
He had been shuffling and staggering away from the camp. Although he left only a few minutes before Chad, and hadn’t appeared to be going very fast, Chad had a difficult time in catching up to Jeremy.
The trail that Jeremy left seemed to indicate that he was still drunk, however, Chad had remembered, contrary to what Mark had believed, most of the rye was gone when he went to bed, and at that time, Jeremy hadn’t been drinking any more than the rest of them.
Chad could still hear Mark making breakfast back at the camp when he came upon a familiar site that stopped him dead in his tracks. On the trail in front of him was a series of scattered bones and feathers, similar to the ones they’d seen arranged in piles at the Chute Lake Cabin on the previous morning.
Chad tightened his grip on the hatchet and quickened his pace. Five minutes from the camp he noticed that Jeremy’s trail had intersected another set of footprints. From that point on the two sets of tracks intermingled as if one had been following the other.
A hundred meters further uphill Chad found Jeremy sitting on a large rock, looking completely exhausted.
"Hey bud, howya doin?" Chad asked as he approached Jeremy.
"I’m totalled man." Jeremy wiped the corner of his mouth and looked up at Chad. "Have you seen Darlene?"
"No. I was hoping that I’d find you together. Mark’s almost got breakfast ready so why don’t you start heading back and I’ll see if I can find her." Chad helped Jeremy to his feet then continued following Darlene’s footprints up the hill.
With only Darlene’s tracks imprinted in the ash, Chad could tell that she was walking with a slight limp. Each step showed a longer heal-skid on the right side, and at times, where the hill was steeper, it looked as if she’d been dragging her right leg.
Chad had traveled another quarter mile before he found himself in a large ravine that had been recently cut by the spring rains. The lack of vegetation and the impermeable ash seal that now covered most of the burnt mountainside created the perfect conditions for extreme runoffs and excessive erosion to occur.
Darlene’s footprints were hard to follow in the ravine as all of the soot had been washed away leaving hardened clay and rocks behind. Near the upper end of the ravine she had emerged and turned southwest heading in the direction of the un-burnt forest. Halfway to the forest Chad noticed several sets of much larger footprints coming up the hill from the northeast and intersecting Darlene’s path. From that point, all of the tracks merged into one trail heading straight for the trees. Chad followed the trail to the tree-line and stopped. He was not a tracker. In the soot and dirt it had been easy to follow the prints, but now, through a forest of pine needles and shrubs and fallen trees, it was virtually impossible for Chad to tell in which direction the tracks were heading.
"DARLENE! DARLENE BAUER! DARLENE, can you here me?" Chad shouted, hoping that Darlene would still be close enough to answer him. "DARLENE, BREAKFAST IS READY!" He tried calling several more times, but there was no sign that anyone had heard him, so he decided to head back and join the others while the eggs and bacon were still hot.
It was almost straight downhill to the camp and without having to worry about following tracks Chad was able to jog all the way and arrived back just in time for Mark’s second serving of eggs and bacon.
"So, where’s Darlene?" Mark asked as he scraped two well-done eggs onto a plate for Chad.
"I lost her trail about a kilometer uphill from here. She headed into the forest." Chad took his plate of eggs and added some bacon that Mark had sizzling in a pan still sitting on the grill in the fire.
"Jesus, I knew we shouldn’t have agreed to let her come along." Colin was sitting beside Jeremy on a log on the opposite side of the fire.
"She’s just too wacko".
"Well, maybe she’ll run into the other guys up there and they’ll bring her back." Chad suggested.
"What other guys?" Jeremy asked.
"Didn’t you see anyone?" Chad looked at Jeremy, "When you were following Darlene’s tracks you were less than a hundred feet from their trail. By the looks of it, they must have passed right by our camp."
"So, you figure she followed them into the woods?" Mark asked.
"She must have followed them in. If they followed her, then why didn’t any of us see them when they went by our camp?" As he asked the question, Chad was already starting to think that maybe the owners of the other sets of tracks did not want to be noticed.
"I didn’t see, or hear anyone this morning. It was very peaceful, just a little breeze and the crackling of the fire." Mark sat down beside Chad and used a potholder to pick the coffeepot off of the grill and poured himself a fresh cup.
"This is starting to turn into a real freakin’ bust man." Jeremy mumbled from the other side of the fire. "Me and Colin feel like shit, and now we have to go find our fuckin’ psycho psychic somewhere up in 100,000 acres of charbroiled timber. Yee-fuckin-ha."
Chad got up and walked around to the other side of the fire to get a better look at Colin. His eyes looked heavy and there was a blueish-purple discoloration under each one. He looked like his nose had been bleeding and his complexion was very pale. It was obvious that there was very little energy left in his body.
Jeremy appeared to have revived a little, but was obviously still not feeling his normal self.
"You’re right Jeremy. I think it’s time to get back to Kelowna. After breakfast you and Colin strike the camp and get ready to hike out of here. While you’re doing that, Mark and I will pick up the rest of the shots we need then we’ll go get Darlene and then we’ll all get the hell out of here." Chad scraped a few crumbs of bacon and eggs out of his plate into the fire and slappe Mark on the back.
"Ready for a little hike buddy?" He asked.

Mark stood just inside the edge of the forest, looking down at the sets of tracks that disappeared into the undergrowth.
"Christ, we’ll never find her in here." He looked over at Chad who was on one knee examining a large rock.
"Whatcha’ got there Spud?" Mark asked.
Chad touched a dark stain on the rock with his finger and raises it into a beam of light filtering down through the forest canopy. He twisted his hand back and forth to look at the blackish liquid from different angles.
"Looks like blood to me." He looked at Mark, "I hope it’s not Darlene’s."
"DARLENE." He shouts into the forest for the second time that morning. "DARLENE BAUER."
"Shut up Spud." Mark lifted his forefinger to his lips to emphasize his request for Chad to be silent.
"Whaaat?" Chad asked, obviously confused by Marks request.
"Think about it Chad. Darlene’s been gone since first thing this morning. She never came when you called her before, it looks like someone’s followed her into the forest and now you find blood." Mark grabbed Chad’s upper arm and looked intently into his eyes. "We don’t know what happened to Darlene or where she is. She might be in danger! We might be in danger right now! The best thing we can do is to get back to town and get some help. If we get going right away, we could be back here in time with a good four hours of daylight left to search for her properly."
"Whoa Mark, you’re jumping to conclusions all over the place." Chad jerked his arm away and bent over to examine the forest floor again. After a brief investigation he called for Mark to join him. "Look! See this root, it looks like it’s been torn out of the ground recently, like someone tripped over it. That’s probably what happened, Darlene probably caught her foot on this root and fell and cut herself on the rock. She could be dazed wondering around the forest lost right now, I don’t think we should waste any more time, we need to find her."
Mark looked at the root and looked into the forest, then back at Chad. "You might be right, but I still don’t like it. If she’s hurt we would probably need search and rescue to help get her out of here. I still think we should head back to Kelowna."
"I’ll tell you what." Chad bargained, "If we don’t find her in an hour, we’ll head back down to the camp and see how Jeremy and Colin are doing. If Jeremy is feeling good enough, he can stay here and help me search for Darlene and you can take Colin and head back into town to get some help. While you’re there, get Colin checked by a Dr., he looks terrible."
"I don’t like the idea of leaving you guys here by yourself." Mark argued. "How will we find you when we get back?"
"If we haven’t found Darlene by four this afternoon, we’ll head back down to the lodge. We should easily be able to make it back there by six, we’ll meet you there, or, if you get held up in town you can call us on the lodge’s radio phone." Chad stood back up and looked into the forest one more time before turning back towards the camp. "If we find Darlene and can’t move her safely, then I’ll stay with her and I’ll send Jeremy to meet you at our camp just down the hill here."

By the time Chad and Mark returned to camp, Colin and Jeremy had packed up all the gear and the backpacks were leaning against each other in the middle of the clearing. Colin was sitting on a log by the ashes of the doused fire.
"Where’s Jeremy?" Mark asked.
Colin raised a tired arm to point at a large burnt stump at the edge of the clearing. Jeremy was slightly bent, leaning against the stump with one hand and stabilizing himself with his other hand on his thigh. A pile of fresh vomit was on the ground in front of him and there were spatterings on his shoes.
"You alright Jeremy?" Chad called.
"I’ll live." Jeremy answered without turning around. He spat into the vomit, then took a sip of water from his canteen, rinsed his mouth and spat again. He remained leaning against the tree stump for a few more seconds, once satisfied that his stomach has settled, at least for the moment, he turned around and began walking slowly back to the other students.
"No luck finding Darlene?" He asked.
"No, we’re going to head back into town to get some help. You and Colin are in no shape to be searching, so we thought it would be best to go back to Kelowna and get you guys checked out." Chad picked up a pack and helped Colin mount it on his back. He then picked up Jeremy’s pack and helped him out with it as well. Looking towards Mark he continued answering Jeremy’s question. "..and then we’ll see if search and rescue or the RCMP will come help us find Darlene."
Chad looked at Mark as if to say, ‘I can see Jeremy is in no shape to help me look for Darlene, let’s just get to Kelowna as quickly as possible so that we can get back here with some daylight left.’

Chad pulled the cell phone out of the glove compartment of the van as they started their decent from the rail bed to the valley below. Mark had slowed the van down to reduce the vibration noise so that Chad would be able to hear Uncle Randy when he got through.
"Hi uncle? ….. Ya, it’s Chad." Chad put his left hand over his free ear to block as much of the remaining noise as possible. "No, I forgot you were in Vancouver this week." Chad listened for a few more seconds and shook his head, then spoke into the phone again; "No, no, listen Uncle, we’ve had a few problems. Colin and Jeremy are really sick, and Darlene took a walk this morning and never came back to camp. We found some blood on the trail where she’d entered the woods, but there was no trace of her." Chad listened again, then responded; "Yes, we looked a couple of times. We left her camping gear where we tented last night just in case she walked out on her own, but we figured we’d better head into town to get some help." There was another short pause then Chad spoke again; "All the quads at Chute Lake were out for the day, and Mr. Weaver was on his own. They’ve been waiting for a phone repairman for the last two days so we had no choice but to drive out, besides, Colin and Jeremy both need to see a doctor." This time, while Chad was listening, he wrote down a series of phone numbers, then spoke one more time; "Okay, ya, I got it Uncle, thanks for your help. I’ll keep you posted. Bye."
Chad pushed the end button then immediately started to dial again. There was a brief pause before Chad began to speak. "Hello Mr. Jenkins, this is Chad Zahara speaking. My phone number is 470-9019. Your neighbor, Darlene Bauer was on a location shoot with us approximately four kilometers south of Chute Lake Lodge and two kilometers up from Okanagan Lake. This morning she went out for a hike on her own and did not return. We followed her trail to about one kilometer above our base camp and lost it as she entered the woods. At that point it appeared as if she had injured herself. I was informed that you have detailed maps of that area. We will be dropping by Darlene’s……" A look of disgust came over Chad’s face and he pushed the end button. "Shit, I ran out of time". He pushed the redial button and waited. "Damn, now it’s busy."
Chad looked at the next number on the list and dialed. "Hi, my name is Chad Zahara, Randy Zahara’s nephew…." Chad’s eyes rolled upward impatiently. "Yes, that’s right, we are making a film. Anyway, two members of our crew need to see a Dr. and Uncle Randy suggested that perhaps Dr. Hignal would be able to squeeze them in for a visit on short notice." Chad paused to let the other person speak then looked at his watch before continuing; "The sooner, the better, we are returning from Chute Lake lodge and are about fifteen minutes from town." Chad listened for a moment, then wrote down an address before thanking the person on the other end and hanging up the phone.
Chad looked at Mark. "Let’s head straight to the doctor. He has an opening in half an hour and will fit the guys in. When we get down to KLO road, turn right until we hit Gordon, then make a left and it’s in the first commercial plaza that we come to on the on the right hand side of the road."
Without waiting for a reply or question from Mark, Chad began to dial the third number he was given.
"Hi, may I speak to Detective Bevandick please?…. He’s not in?…. Then may I speak to Detective Mossman?" Chad waited for a moment, then suddenly there was a short, rapid beeping sound as his call was being transferred.
"Hello, Detective Mossman speaking." While they were still descending the mountain on the gravel logging road Chad had turned the cell phone volume up as loudly as it could go. Now that they were traveling on paved roads again, the outside noise was not nearly as intense, and the other students could hear the person on the other end of the phone line.
"Hello, Detective Mossman, my name is Chad Zahara, and I’m calling to report a missing person." Chad paused for a second to let Detective Mossman respond.
"I’m afraid that you’ll have to come into the office to fill out an official report Chad. I can get the paper work started over the phone, but I’ll need you to bring in some recent pictures of the missing person, as well as a few articles of clothing and a hair brush or comb that they would use on a regular basis." The detective paused for a second, and Chad was just about to speak when the detective started talking again. "What is the name of the missing person you wish to report."
Chad answered; "Darlene Bauer".
There was a hesitation on the other end of the phone line, then the detective asked several more questions in rapid succession. "How old is Ms. Bauer?"
"Around 40."
"When did you first notice she was missing."
"This morning around 8:00 AM."
"Where was she when you last saw her?"
"At a camp we’d set up approximately four kilometers south and east of Chute Lake lodge."
"I see." The detective paused for a moment. "Actually, at this point, we are not dealing with a missing person, this is a search and rescue operation. You’ll have to contact Kelowna Search and Rescue through the fire hall. I’ll transfer you back the reception and she’ll give you that number. We can’t officially open a file unless Search and Rescue is unable to locate Miss Bauer and unless there is some evidence that she is no longer in the area that she went missing." Detective Mossman delivered the critical information that Chad had been expecting.
"We kind of figured that." Chad answered. "Uncle Randy told me to give you a call anyway." Chad was just about to hang up the phone when he remembered the other reason that he had called Detective Mossman. "Last night, Darlene told me that she’d forgotten her Ziprasidone on her bathroom vanity."
"Ziprasidone, isn’t that an anti-psychotic?" Detective Mossman asked. "Does she have a bipolar disorder?"
"I don’t think so. She takes it to suppress her clairvoyant visions. I have a feeling that she left the pills at home on purpose, and just told us about it afterwards in case we noticed something strange happening."
Chad took a quick breath and kept talking.
"We are going back to look for her today, and we wanted to take her medication with us, just in case we find her. We don’t have keys to get into her place and didn’t want to get arrested breaking in so we were hoping that you’d be able to follow us there to make sure we don’t get in trouble."
"Uncle Randy’s idea I bet?" Detective Mossman asked.
"Good guess. He thought that Mr. Jenkins, the next door neighbor would probably have a key, but we can’t reach him. I’ll try again, but just in case, will you be able to help us out?" Chad pleaded.
"I guess so. Next time you talk to that miserable uncle of yours, you tell him that my wife’s birthday is coming up and one of those big hanging moss baskets the Park’s gardeners make would look really nice on her balcony." Detective Mossman joked. "Why don’t you come in to the office and we’ll head up to her place from here."
"We just have to stop at the doctors’ first. We could be there in an hour or so."
"That’s getting close to lunch. Meet me at the detachment on Doyle Avenue at 1:00 PM. Just go to reception and ask for me. I’m going to transfer you back to reception now. If I lose you, just call back on the same number that you dialed the first time and ask for the Kelowna Search and Rescue Number. See you at 1:00."
The transfer was successful, Chad got the required number from the receptionist and called the Kelowna Fire Hall and was put through to the Search and Rescue dispatcher. As soon as he’d mentioned Darlene Bauer’s name there was a change in the tone of the woman’s voice he was talking to. Darlene had the record for the local SAR chapter.
From the time she was an adolescent to the first few days of the firestorm in 2003 she had been reported lost fourteen times. Every time she had been found either wandering in the same area above Chute Lake or she had returned home on her own. The last time they had been called out to search for her was during the firestorm. She’d avoided the roadblocks and was headed straight into the fire. Search and Rescue had just been preparing to go out and look for her when one of the forestry crews called in saying that they had found her. Chad was informed that Kelowna Search and Rescue would not get involved with the search, unless it turned into a rescue operation. He was advised to wait at the Chute Lake lodge for her to walk out on her own.
By the time that Chad had finished all the phone calls Mark was already pulling into the parking lot of the doctors office. Dr. Hignal diagnosed both Colin and Jeremy as having a bacterial infection and had prescribed Bactrim for each student. The students stopped for lunch while the prescription was being filled. Mark, Jeremy and Colin ate in the restaurant and Chad took his burger out to the van to have some privacy while he talked to Kelsey on the cell phone.
The other students had long since finished their lunch and were sipping coffee when Chad finally came back into the restaurant.
"Man, you could have driven out to the college, jumped her bones and been back by now Spud. What took you so long?" Jeremy asked sarcastically.
Chad blushed at the thought then cleared his throat and started to talk. "Sorry guys, but we had a ton of information to cover." He looked down at his watch. "We’ve got about twenty minutes before we meet Detective Mossman, let’s pick up the prescription and I’ll fill you in on what Kelsey and Sheila have found out."
Klaus had translated the remaining pages of the journal entries, which had revealed some interesting facts about the Ludzi Ognia.
Their local colony was slowly disappearing. Their belief in maintaining a pure bloodline and the ongoing practice of inbreeding had resulted in the development of a unique psychic phenomenon that appeared to be growing stronger with each generation. The lack of unrelated chromosomes also produced abnormalities, including; mentally and physically deformed children, susceptibility to disease and an incredibly high proportion of male babies being born.
According to the journal entries in the book, it had been over forty years since the last female was born into the colony. She had been deformed and there was no mention of her after that point. Ten years later the woman who had given birth to the deformed daughter died giving birth to a son. It was noted that she was the last female in the colony.
One of the last entries in the book had indicated that the colony had recently discovered something that had renewed their hope for survival.
While Klaus had been working on translating the journal entries, Kelsey and Sheila had been doing research on the Internet and speaking with colleagues around the world about the Ludzi Ognia. Information on this specific sect of Servetians was sparse, however, some pieces were starting to fall into place.
In the 1970’s a Russian Scientist had been able to convince members of a Polish colony to participate in experiments to test their psychic abilities. At the invitation of the Russian government, they showed up for the experiments, but refused to demonstrate any kind of paranormal abilities. Six members of the colony had been seated around a large table and had been told to use their collective psychic powers to move a bowl of fruit that had been placed in the middle of the table.
While the Ludzi Ognia were seated around the table the Russian scientist had used a Kirlian Camera to photograph the aura’s surrounding each of the subjects. There was an extremely bright, purplish, astral layer within the aura of each person photographed. The color and brightness indicated a close bond between all of the colony members present and the existence of potentially significant psychic abilities. In a few of the pictures that were taken, glowing astral spikes could be seen arching from one person to the next.
In every case, the remaining six layers of the aura that were photographed turned out very dim or almost invisible, comparable to Kirlian photographs taken of cadavers.
The experiment lasted for five hours. The fruit never moved a centimeter, however, what had started out as a fresh bowl of peaches, pears and apricots had degenerated into an unidentifiable, semi-liquid, rotting mass by the end of the day.
The Kirlian photographs taken throughout the day showed a subtle correlation between the disintegrating aura surrounding the fruit and the increasing intensity of the astral layer surrounding the Ludzi Ognia, as if they were somehow building their psychic potential by drawing the life force out of the fruit.
Chad had just finished going over the information that Kelsey had shared with him as they pulled up in front of the RCMP detachment on Doyle Avenue.
Just inside the doors there was a glassed in waiting room with a counter at the far end.
Chad approached the clerk sitting at the counter. "Hi, my name is Chad Zahara. We have a one o’clock meeting with Detective Mossman."
The clerk looked across the counter at Chad, and picked up the telephone without saying a word. "Hello, Detective Mossman, Chad Zahara is here to see you." She hung up the phone and looked back at Chad. There was a totality to the disinterest in her eyes, which had Chad thinking that perhaps she was the perfect person for a job that required discretion, or else, she’d recently had a lobotomy.
"Detective Mossman will be out to see you shortly, please have a seat."
Chad joined the other students on a bench by the outside doors. They waited silently for Detective Mossman. He was a well-dressed athletic man who looked like he could have stepped out of the pages of GQ. Beside him was a tall muscular man, dressed more casually and ruggedly handsome.
"Good afternoon gentlemen. I’m Detective Mossman and this is my partner Detective Bevandick." Colin was the closest to the door that the detectives entered the room through and so was the first to greet them.
"Hi, my name is Colin Drake." He shook the hands of the two detectives and then introduced each of his friends.
"Okay, boys, ready to go?" Detective Mossman smiled at the students and motioned towards the outside door. "We’ll follow you boys up to Miss Bauer’s place. Try calling her neighbor again, maybe he’ll be home by now."
Chad tried Mr. Jenkins number several times, each time receiving a busy signal.
As the van pulled to a stop in front of Darlene Bauer’s they noticed that the front door to Mr. Jenkins’ house was ajar and on the opposite side of the street was an old green pick up that looked vaguely familiar to Chad.
Detectives, Mossman and Bevandick pulled to a stop behind the student’s van. Mark grabbed a video camera from its case and followed Chad as he walked over to the detective’s car.
Detective Bevandick looked towards Mr. Jenkin’s house as he got out of the car.
"That’s the Jenkin’s house." He took off his sunglasses and looked at Detective Mossman. "Remember this place, Lee?"
"What was it, maybe two, two and a half months ago?" Detective Mossman was standing by his car staring at the house, visualizing the surreal scene of a smoldering cross with a black mass of smoking debris piled at its base.
"Two months yesterday, buddy." Detective Bevandick replied.
"Well, shall we go see if Mr. Jenkins has a key for the Bauer house?" Detective Mossman asked Chad.
The front door to the Jenkins house was less than a quarter open, revealing few details of the interior other than a few shadowy outlines of furniture. Detective Mossman intentionally knocked on the door with enough force to push it fully open, illuminating a living room in shambles.
"Hello, Mr. Jenkins, are you home?" Detective Mossman shouted into the house, leaning into the living room with his feet still on the front stoop, as if there was some kind of magical line he didn’t want to cross.
"Mr. Jenkins, are you all right?" Detective Mossman called again. "Greg, we’d better call this in. You cover the front and give a heads-up to dispatch and I’ll see if Mr. Jenkins is in here anywhere."
Detective Bevandick moved to the centre of the front lawn strategically placing him in a position to intercept anyone coming from behind the house. Once in position he called dispatch to inform them of a possible burglary in progress and requesting a dog unit to assist.
Meanwhile, Detective Mossman moved slowly and methodically into the living room. Religious artifacts lay broken and scattered across the floor. There were jagged holes in the plaster on the walls, the sofa had been turned upside down, the area rug was all bunched up and flipped over and there was a large red Servetian cross painted on the inside of the front door.
At the back of the room there was a handcrafted gun rack, which now hung at an odd angle. Chad remembered seeing it through the side window and was sure that it had been full at the time. Now there were two empty spaces where rifles had been.
Mark had been following and filming the two detectives until they split up. He’d planned to follow Detective Mossman through the house until the imagery of cherished religious symbols, broken and strewn randomly about the living room captured his attention. He was focussing on a decapitated statue of the Virgin Mary when he noticed a dark stain on the floor beneath the icon.
"Detective Mossman, could you come here for a second please." Mark was standing over the dark stain that was still very wet. Droplets led from a small pool under the statue out through the back door.
Detective Mossman bent over to examine the stain and then noticed the trail of droplets leading outside. He remained in a bent position for several seconds to gain a better view of the back yard through the partially opened kitchen door. Unable to determine if anyone might still be nearby he stood up and unlatched the cover of his revolver holster, then turned towards Chad and Mark. "You boys better go wait in your Van! We’ll take this from here." Without waiting for a response he began to herd the boys towards the front door as if they were kindergarten children on a field trip. He stopped just outside the door and pointed to the van then looked at Detective Bevendick. "I’ve got a blood trail inside. You call for back up yet?"
"Ya, dog unit’ll be here in about 15 minutes." Detective Bevandick started moving towards the side of the house, pulling his revolver out of its holster as he walked.
"Where you going Greg?"
"Kids from the van went around back with a camera while I was talking to dispatch." Detective Bevandick disappeared around the side of the house with his revolver held in front of him.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Detective Mossman looked at Chad and Mark, "You boys get in the van and wait there until we’re back or until the dog team gets here. If we’re not back by the time they arrive, show them the blood trail in the house and tell them to radio me." Detective Mossman pulled his revolver out of its holster and followed Detective Bevandick around the side of the house. Chad and Mark walked backwards to the van, taping the detective as he disappeared into the back yard.
Detective Bevandick was examining a small dark droplet on the cement landing below the back door steps. "With the sun beating on the patio, this drop would be as dry as a fiddlers fart in less than an hour. Whatever happened, just happened, we’d better find those kids, Lee."

Jeremy had gotten out of the van and had been filming the others as they’d gone into the house. Detective Bevandick was walking back into the front yard when Jeremy spotted two men wearing fire-fighting night-suits hiking up the hill behind the Jenkins property. There was no sign of fire nearby so he and Colin decided to take their cameras and investigate.
They were already halfway up the hill, and out of sight of the house, by the time detective Bevandick entered the back yard. It was a hot day and the steep hill had taken a toll on their ailing bodies, but they were feeling much better than they had earlier in the day, so after a short rest they decided to push on to catch up to the firefighters.
They’d only gone a few more meters when they heard someone coming down the trail towards them. Through the trees and shrubs they could see the bright yellow uniforms of firemen approaching. By the way the men were walking it was obvious that they were unaware of the students on the path in front of them. Colin was just about to shout out a friendly greeting when Jeremy put a finger up to his lips in a signal to be quiet. He pulled Colin into a thick growth of shrubs, secreting them from the pathway. Jeremy’s eyes were wide with fear, and his silent insistence for Colin to hide with him was enough to gain Colin’s cooperation. The two boys watched from the thicket as the men neared.
From a distance the men dressed in the yellow night-suits looked like two large firemen, but now that Colin could see their faces he understood Jeremy’s fear. Their expressionless eyes were fractured by a thin red web of spider-like veins and were made even more hideous by a very pale yellowish glaze that completely covered the whites. They had long, unshaped beards, rough skin, and as they drew closer, there was the unmistakable smell of stale urine.
The man closest to Colin and Jeremy was carrying an old fashioned, double-barreled shotgun and the other man had a shovel and a pickaxe. Their pace was quick and determined, but as they passed by the front of the students hiding place, the man with the shotgun suddenly stopped.
He raised his face to the sky and began sniffing the air, taking in enormous breaths through his nasal passages, like some kind of deranged animal searching for a sign of its prey.
Colin and Jeremy were frozen with fear, watching silently from their tangled sanctuary.
The sun was shining almost directly down on the two large men standing on the pathway. The man with the gun began to relax his breathing and slowly turned towards where the students were hiding. They were now less than five meters from the man and the smell of urine had taken on a sickly sweet quality, as if warm maple syrup had been added. The man’s breathing had almost returned to normal, but his nostrils were still widely flared. He took a cautious step off of the pathway towards the boys and stopped. He stood there, listening and looking down the pathway, back towards the Jenkins place.
Neither man moved for over half a minute reminding Jeremy of the trolls that Bilbo Bagins had tricked into being frozen by the rays of the sun. Jeremy had almost convinced himself that he would be able to start breathing again when the man with the gun abruptly turned towards him, staring into the bushes as if he could see right through them and directly into Jeremy’s soul.
The man clasped his shotgun with both hands and took a large step towards the bush. The only thing between him and the students was a small mound of leaves and pine needles and a tangled mass of wild rose and Oregon Grape shrubs. He was about to take another step when Jeremy saw the barrel of a long rifle rise from the pile of forest debris that lay between the approaching man and the students. It was surreal scene, as if everything was happening in slow motion. The man was in the midst of his next large step when the rifle, now pointing almost directly upwards, went off with an enormous explosion. The force of the impacting bullet lifted the large man off his feet and threw him backward onto the ground, landing him flat on his back at the edge of the path.
His companion reacted immediately, dropping his tools and running to his friend’s side. Remarkably, the man was still conscious, and was already slowly raising himself into a sitting position. There was a gaping wound his right shoulder, yet, Jeremy noticed that there was significantly less bleeding than he would think a wound of that size would produce.
The man’s companion took a soiled looking rag out of his pocket and gave it to the man with the wound, who held it against his shoulder to stop the little remaining bleeding that was still taking place.
By this time, voices could be heard coming up the pathway less than a hundred meters from where they were. The wounded man and his partner disappeared silently into the shrubs and small trees on the far side of the path. As soon as they were out of sight the rotting mound of plant material that had produced the gun, began to move, then suddenly exploded with an eruption of leaves, pine needles and small broken branches. A man carrying the rifle that had just been fired burst forth from the pile and ran up the path in the same direction that the two firefighters had just come from.
"Holy Fuck! That looks like Mr. Jenkins." Jeremy ran out to the path and was leaning over to see further up the hill in the direction the man with the rifle had just disappeared in.
"Christ Colin, I got the whole fuckin’ thing on video, the whole fuckin’ thing! Shit, I can’t wait to show this to Brian, he’s gonna go fuckin’ apeshit man, fuckin apeshit!!" Jeremy was almost levitating he was so excited. One second he would be looking up the pathway, the next he would be looking at the video camera in his hands, then he would look down the hillside in the direction that the firefighters had left, then back down at his camera.
"I’m just glad we’re not fuckin’ dead, man!" Colin exclaimed in a more subdued tone.
"No guts no glory, baby!" Jeremy was looking down the hill, watching the fake firefighters as they drew near to the Bauer house.
"Hey, Colin, the Cops are chasing the firefighters."
Detectives Mossman and Bevandick had been climbing the hill towards Colin and Jeremy when they heard the shot that injured the man with the shotgun. They continued, cautiously, up the hill until Detective Mossman spotted the firefighter with the gun near the fence at the back of Darlene Bauer’s yard.
The injury to the shoulder of the man with the gun had slowed him down somewhat and the detectives had been able make up considerable ground. By the time the fake firefighters reached Darlene Bauer’s house the detectives had arrived at the bottom of the hill only fifty yards away. Detective Bevandick re-entered Mr. Jenkin’s front yard just in time to see the men they were pursuing climb into their truck and roar past them towards the stop sign at the end of the road.
The injured firefighter and his partner had sped past Chad and Mark and had barely slowed down for the stop sign at the corner. They almost hit a mini van and came close to rolling their truck, drifting it around the corner with a stomach-wrenching screech.
A spattering of rocks sprayed from under the front wheels of the detective’s car and hit the side of the student’s van as the detectives engaged in the pursuit of the green pickup.
Chad had already turned on the ignition by the time the detectives had reached their own car, and Mark was taping every bit of action.
The cell phone sitting on the seat between Chad and Mark began to vibrate and started playing a Caribbean Beach song. Chad looked at the incoming number display, then looked at Mark.
"It’s Jeremy, he’s got Uncle Randy’s spare cell." Chad picked up the phone.
"Hi, Jeremy, you guys ok? We thought we heard a gun shot."
"Ya, we're fine. You see the cops yet?" Jeremy asked.
"We're right behind them. They're chasing a couple of weird looking firefighters. I'm driving and Mark's taping, so I gotta go, or I'm not going to be able to keep up. Wait by Darlene's place, we'll pick you up later." Chad put the phone back down on the seat and accelerated to keep up with the pace of the detectives in front of them.
The green pickup had disappeared up the hill but Chad could still see the detective’s car. The police siren was whaling and a magnetic blue and red light had been placed on the roof of the car to indicate that a pursuit was in progress.
Chad was finding it difficult to keep up with the pace of the lead vehicles on the narrow country roads. The Westfalia was not known for it’s high speed cornering abilities, and on several occasions Chad was sure they were going to flip the van or end up in the ditch.
One week earlier they had traveled this same section of road, but, it had been at a controlled speed, and they had stopped from time to time to tape the beautiful vistas of the city below as the elevation had increased. Now, every open switchback providing a view of Kelowna meant that the results of a plunge off the side of the mountain would be increasingly deadly.
On the last hairpin corner, overlooking the valley, the Westfalia’s momentum had pulled the van to the very edge of the road. As soon as they'd hit the gravel shoulder they started to slide sideways towards a steep drop-off. Mark, who had been filming the chase in front of them, turned the camera towards the passenger window and was terrified when he could no longer see the edge of the road under the side of the van. Instinctively, Mark continued taping, holding, the video camera with his right hand, while clasping the St. Christopher’s medal his mother had given him with his left. He could see rocks and gravel, that had been pushed by the wheels on the right side of the van, suspended in a free fall arching towards a collision with the earth over three hundred feet beneath them. Chad was struggling to keep the vehicle on the road when the right rear wheel slipped over the edge, suddenly dropping the back passenger side of the van and jolting the front driver’s wheel right off of the ground. Mark’s heart sank into his stomach and in his mind he could already feel the van air-born, plunging towards the burnt trees and rocks in the valley below. Just as Mark’s premonition was about to become reality the left rear wheel regained traction on a thin strip of pavement, propelling the van back onto the road and away from danger.
"Christ, man, that was way too intense, man." Mark had swung the camera back around to follow the chase in front of them but he was looking at Chad. "Slow down Spud, if we lose them we lose them, but at least we won’t be dead! I don’t want Jeremy winning that fuckin’ Genie without us!!"
Chad ignored Mark’s request and kept pace with the police vehicle in front of them. They’d reached a plateau and were now traveling along the bottom of a winding, narrow valley. There was no longer a danger of driving off of a cliff, but now there was a new threat. This section of forest had been untouched by the fire and the roadside was heavily lined with trees that were over one hundred years old. At the speed they were traveling, a collision with mature sixty-foot tall Ponderosa Pine could be just as deadly as plunging three hundred feet into the valley below.
The road had progressed from pavement, to patches of pavement to gravel. The speeding vehicles in front of them left clouds of dust, reducing visibility and making the pursuit even more difficult.
Chad was just about to give into Mark’s request to quit the chase when the forest on either side of the road gave way to a large meadow that stretched to the hill tops on both sides of the valley. For the first time since the beginning of the chase Chad and Mark were able to see the lead vehicle, which was less than a hundred yards in front of the detective’s car. There was a red glow of brake lights shining through the cloud of road dust kicked up by the truck. It looked like the fake firefighters were about to surrender to Detectives Mossman and Bevandick. The truck had slowed considerably and just was about to stop completely when it veered off the road to the left and headed straight towards the top of the hill. The meadow that they were traveling through contained many small marshes, young trees, large rocks and dried stream beds. It was challenging for a four-wheel drive and impossible for a passenger car. Detectives Mossman and Bevandick pulled to a stop at the point where the truck entered the marsh.
"Son of a bitch!". The detectives had already gotten out of their vehicle by the time Chad and Mark pulled up.
"Son of a bitch! I hate it when that happens. Jesus, God Damned shit!" Detective Mossman looked at Detective Bevandick. "We should have taken the Bronco today bud."
Mark had gotten out of the van and had quickly set his camera on a tripod in the middle of the road. He was trying to frame the escape of the truck climbing up the hill between the two detectives leaning on their car. Just as he got the angle he was looking for Detective Bevandick turned around.
"You!" He pointed a threatening finger at the boys. "You God Damned little bastards! What the hell are you doing joining in a police chase, we should toss you in jail for the night to teach you a lesson." He looked at his partner. "Lee, write him a ticket. Five points against his license and $300 fine." Detective Bevandick looked straight into Chad’s eyes. "This ain’t no fuckin’ game kid, you could have gotten yourselves killed, or worse, killed some innocent pedestrian. We should be charging you with obstruction of justice or criminal negligence, consider yourself lucky BOY."
Detective Mossman pulled a piece of paper out of his ticket book and handed it to Chad then put a hand on Detective Bevandicks shoulder. "Well Greg, it was fun while it lasted, should we head back to the Jenkin’s house to see if the dog unit is there yet." As he gently pushed Detective Bevandick towards the front of the car he looked over his shoulder towards Chad and gave him a wink.
The detectives turned their car around and started to drive slowly back towards Kelowna. Chad looked down at the ticket that Detective Mossman had given him and smiled, then he showed the piece of paper to Mark who burst out laughing. The ticket was a bad replica of an actual speeding ticket. Detective Mossman had pulled it out of his shirt pocket while pretending it was coming out of his ticket book. There was a pre-printed message on the ticket that read:
Two detectives, $140,000 per year
One police cruiser $65,000
One bad-assed, old fashioned, toungue lashin’ by a man with a gun, no charge.
The look on your face….. Priceless.
The detective’s car had been moving away from Chad and Mark at a snail’s pace. It was obvious that they were waiting to see Chad’s reaction to the fake ticket. As soon Mark began to laugh, the front wheels of the detectives car began to spin, kicking rocks and dust out from underneath them as they accelerated towards Kelowna.

The return trip to the Jenkin’s house had been uneventful. Mark had insisted on driving and the two boys stopped several times to shoot tape in areas where they had narrowly escaped a disastrous crash. As they pulled the van to a stop behind the detective’s car they could see Jeremy and Colin sitting quietly in the back seat of the police vehicle. They looked like two grade school boys being scolded by their teacher. Detective Mossman was leaning towards Colin’s open window and waving his index finger at them in exasperated animation. Detective Bevandick was pulling a piece of paper out of a notebook and getting ready to pass it to the students in the back seat of the car.
Mark had started taping the action as soon as they’d pulled in behind the detective’s car.
"Zoom in as much as you can on Colin. This kind of shit just kills him, he’s gonna freak when he sees the note."
Detective Bevandick was just in the process of changing places with Detective Mossman when Colin lurched forward and with a sudden heaving motion, threw up all over the back of the drivers seat. The smell of the vomit in such a confined space was too much for Jeremy’s already weak stomach, and soon he was joining his retching companion in a vile pukefest.
Detectives Mossman and Bevandick were standing by the side of the car in disbelief, the fake speeding note hanging loosely from Detective Bevandick’s hand.
"Looks like that one backfired!" Mark muttered under his breath.
"Oh, man, that’s gonna reek! I’d hate to be the poor bastard who’s gotta clean that mess up!" Chad was sitting in the passenger seat watching the mayhem continue.
"Jeez, how much shit do they have in them? It’s gotta stop soon!"
Just as Chad finished his sentence Jeremy’s door burst open and the young man flopped out of the car onto his hands and knees. A smooth, semi-opaque liquid came streaming from his mouth in several short bursts, with a little less volume each time. After the final emission he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and slowly climbed to his feet, looking at Mark and Chad sitting in the van. The expression on his face was the pathetic, "just shoot me now" look that Mark remembered having only too well after many a college party in the last few years. Chad had little empathy and shared his younger cousin, Stephanie’s, complete disgust with the process of vomiting. He remained in the van while Mark got out to go and help Jeremy.
Meanwhile, Colin was still sitting in the back of the van with his head between his knees. He appeared totally exhausted. Slowly, he opened the door of the car and got out. The two detectives that had been standing beside the car gave him a wide berth as he turned and began to shuffle towards the student’s van. The mock warning that Detective Bevandick had been holding was now just a crumpled piece of paper lying on the ground at his feet.
As Colin turned, Chad could see that his lap and legs had been completely covered by vomit and the thick greenish, yellow mess was sliding in liquid chunks off of his pants as he made his way towards the van. Instinctively, Chad locked the doors of the van, as if Colin was a vampire coming to suck the blood out of him.
‘Jesus Christ, let me in you little shit!" Colin screamed, while banging his fist on the van’s side door.
The sudden outburst jarred Chad out of his phobic daze, and he reached back, unlatching the door to let Colin in. Jeremy and Mark were close behind Colin. Once the two nauseous boys were buckled into the back seat, Mark got back behind the wheel and started the Van.
"What are you doing?" Chad asked.
"We’re heading back to the hotel. These guys need a shower and a rest."
"What about the Cops?" Chad was looking at detectives Mossman and Bevandick.
"They told us to get out of here, we’re just in the way anyhow." Mark answered as he turned the van around in the middle of the road driving past the two detectives in the process. Both were standing at attention holding an extended animated salute, reminding Chad of the famous fictional Mountie, Dudley Do-right.
"You guys OK?" Chad asks, looking back at Colin and Jeremy and trying not to gag in the process.
"I’m not quite up to a hike in the woods this afternoon, but if you and Mark want to go looking for Darlene, I did grab her medication." Jeremy pulled a prescription bottle out of the pocket of his jeans and held it up for the other students to see.
"Good work buddy! After the chase started, I didn’t think we’d have a hope in hell of getting into Darlene’s house." Mark glanced over his shoulder and smiled at Jeremy.
"As soon as you guys took off after the detectives, we thought we would try the front door. We figured we had about five or ten minutes until the dog team arrived, so we hustled. When we pushed on the door, it swung open. It looked like a tornado hit her place." Jeremy was speaking in short sentences, swallowing heavily in between. He paused a moment to catch his breath and to clear his throat, he was still feeling a little ill. Chad cringed, watching Jeremy suspiciously, trying to steel himself against a renewed bout of vomiting, that, fortunately, never came.
"The whole house was a mess and when we got to the bathroom there was shit scattered everywhere."
"That sounds disgusting." Mark quipped.
"Not shit, shit, moron, you know, like her personal junk was all over the place, anyway, it was pure luck that we found the pills as quickly as we did. Colin saw the bottle lying behind the toilet while he was taking a piss, then we got the hell out of there. Just in time to see the cops with the dogs arrive." Jeremy finished, then took a sip of bottled water.
"How did you end up in the back of the detective’s car?" Chad questioned.
Colin raised his head to look at Chad. He still wasn’t feeling well, and the reminder of the recent episode in the back seat of the car started his stomach churning again. "The dog cops wanted to know what we were doing in Darlene’s house. I guess Detective Bevandick must have given them instructions to check it out too. We told them that we were friends of Darlene’s and were just there to pick up her prescription."
"Did they believe you?" Chad asked.
"They told us they did, but they didn’t want us taking off on them, and they wanted to start tracking with the dogs while the trail was still fresh, so they handcuffed us together on the front porch and told us to wait for the detectives to get back." Colin looked back towards the floor and started to rub his stomach.
"You going to be OK?" Mark asked as he took his foot off the accelerator and began to slow the van down.
"Ya, no, I’ll be fine, let’s just get back to the hotel so I can get cleaned up and changed."
"So, why were you in the back of the detective car?" Chad repeated his question.
"When Dick Tracy and his sidekick got back they found us handcuffed together. The tall goofy looking one thought it was hilarious, joked that we were hardened criminals and they were probably going to lock us up and throw away the keys. That’s when they put us in the back of their car. Then the skinny guy with the ball cap started reading us the riot act and you guys came along just as Pukefest 2004 started." Colin grabbed the last bottle of water out of the cooler, twisted the top off and took a long drink.
Chad looked down at his watch. "It’s almost 3:30 already, and you guys are in no shape to be trucking around the woods right now. So why don’t I drop you off at the hotel, you take a shower and get some rest, and I’ll head over to Uncle Randy’s and pick up his GPS unit and satellite phone." Chad was about to suggest that they all meet in the hotel restaurant for supper at around 5:00 PM when his cell phone rang.
"Hello, Chad speaking." By the smile on his face it was obvious to the other students who the caller was.
"Hi Kelsey…… No, this isn’t a bad time, we were just heading back to the hotel, and I was going to run a couple of errands." Chad listened for a few seconds then started to talk again.
"Ya, sure, that sounds good, that’s out by my Uncle’s place isn’t it?" He waited for a response. "Good, I’ll see you there at 4:30 then." Chad pushed the end button and put the phone back into his pocket, then looked at the other students.
"They’ve discovered a set of handwritten pages hidden in the binding. Klaus has already translated them and Sheila and Kelsey want to meet with me at 4:30 to go over what they’ve found."

"OK, let’s see if I’ve got this right." Chad was looking back and forth between Sheila and Kelsey. "This group of religious freaks we keep bumping into are dying out?"
"Slowly, yes." Sheila answered. "According to the translated passages we just found they have been able to maintain a 100% pure bloodline for almost five hundred years. I have never heard of that kind of intensive inbreeding before." Sheila took off her glasses and looked into Chad’s eyes. "A lack of new genetic donors will result in an increase in deformities, susceptibility to disease and other anomalies. In their case, I believe that they have bred out the ability to produce female offspring. Kelsey may have mentioned this to you earlier, the birth records contained in the book you boys found show that it has been over forty years since a baby girl has been born in their colony. Unfortunately, for them, it appears that she was deformed and died shortly after her birth."
"Why wouldn’t they just breed with other colonies? Don’t the Hutterites and Amish do that?" Chad asked.
"I’ve been wondering that myself. There must be a genetic trait that they are trying to protect, or one that they are trying to develop, other than that, I can’t make any sense of it." Sheila answered.
"Do you have any idea of what kind of trait that might be?" Chad was fascinated by the new information. As soon as he had asked the question he put his hand up, in a signal to stop Sheila from answering right away. After checking to see if the camera he’d set up was still recording, he nodded for Sheila to continue.
"Have you heard of psychokenisis?" Sheila asked Chad.
"Is that like moving stuff with your mind?" Chad replied.
"Yes, that is part of it. Stories of psychokenetic activity go back as far as recorded history. The word comes from the Greek, ‘Psyche’, meaning soul and ‘Kinein’ meaning to move. The Russians have probably done the most extensive investigation on Psychokenisis to date. In addition to being able to move objects, people with highly developed psychokinetic abilities have been attributed with the power of levitation and healing." Sheila paused to take a drink of water and looked over towards Kelsey to see if there was anything she wished to add.
Kelsey smiled at Sheila, then turned towards Chad.
"Many examples of Psychokinetic phenomenon can be found in biblical texts. In the New Testament, in the book of Acts, St. Paul and the prophet Silas were imprisoned after St. Paul had healed a demon possessed slave girl who had made money for her owners through her soothsaying abilities, which were lost once the possession had been removed.
In prison, St. Paul and Silas prayed for delivery, and at midnight an earthquake occurred that shook the prison doors open, and at the same time, the shackles binding the hands and feet of the prisoners fell off onto the floor."
Kelsey had been planning to provide more examples but Chad cut her off.
"So, you think these Ludzi Ognia people have developed the ability to move objects with their minds?" Chad asked.
"I don’t think that is their primary focus, however, I do not doubt that they could possibly cause objects to move or to levitate. To me, it seems that their main interest has been focussed on developing the ability to interact with the life force of selected targets." Sheila stepped back into the discussion.
"I’m not quite sure what you mean." Chad admitted.
"Most recorded examples of Psychokenetic activities involve the healing of afflicted people by prayer or by the laying on of hands. There are Kirlian photographs that clearly show the transfer of energy from a healer to patient and the before and after photo’s show a change in the aura’s of both the healer and the patient after the exchange of energy has been completed." Sheila shifted her position in her chair and waited for the next question.
Chad didn’t disappoint her, he was loving this new information and also the fact that he was the one getting it all.
"So, you believe that the Ludzi Ognia have been inbreeding for centuries to develop Psychokentic healing powers?"
"Partially." Sheila smiled and took another sip of water. "They are not known for sharing their healing powers with outsiders, however, the people within their colonies seem to live very long, and, despite their physical appearance, healthy lives. I checked with a friend of mine who works for the Provincial Ministry of Health and she told me that there has never been a case of anyone from the Ludzi Ognia colony ever accessing any service from the public medical system in British Columbia." Sheila’s face became serious as she continued.
"Not only do they appear to have the ability to transfer their energy to heal one another, they also seem to be able to reverse the process. That is, they seem to have developed a psychic ability to draw the vitality out of other living things for their own use. The Russian experiment that Kelsey told you about earlier today showed a significant correlation between the change in energy levels associated with the fruit on the table and the Ludzi Ognia sitting around the table. However, the drop in the energy levels associated with the fruit could only account for a fraction of the increased energy shown by the people around the table. The rest of the energy had to come from somewhere else. There were several laboratory assistants that attended to the Ludzi Ognia throughout the day. Those assistants were not monitored with the Kirlian photographs, however, by the end of the day they had all reported feeling very week, and the next morning three of them woke up with severe stomach cramps. Two of the three recovered after resting for a day, but the third passed away several days later. The autopsy concluded the death was a result of malnutrition."

It was almost 8:00 PM by the time Chad rolled the van back into the hotel parking lot to pick up his fellow students. After speaking to Kelsey and Sheila he made a copy of the video footage that they had found showing portions of the Russian experiment with the Kirlian camera and the Ludzi Ognia sitting around the table of fruit. He used the excuse that he wanted to show the other students the footage while they were driving back out to Chute Lake, but in reality, he just wanted to spend the extra hour with Kelsey. To save time, he’d called the other students to let them know he would be taking longer than expected so that they could have supper before he got back. Their timing was perfect, as Chad was parking the van; Mark, Jeremy and Colin emerged from the hotel restaurant.
Within five minutes they had loaded the van with all the gear they would need for the next few days and were on their way back up to the lodge.
"You guys sure look a lot better." Chad commented as Jeremy and Colin climbed into the back of the van.
"I finally feel alive again." Jeremy replied. "Man, that was brutal for a while, I felt like a frickin zombie man, like I was just moving through some kind of clear Jello all the time."
The first part of the ride back to Chute Lake was done in silence as the other three students reviewed the video footage of the Russian experiment. After it was over, Chad explained the significance of what they had seen, as their video screen had been too small to effectively read the subtitles that had accompanied the footage. He then recounted the conversation he’d had with Sheila and Kelsey about the psychokinetic abilities of the Ludzi Ognia.
"OK, guys, I don’t know if you are all thinking what I’m thinking, but, what the frick are we doing?" Jeremy asked generically to the others in the van.
"What do you mean?" Chad responded, acting as though he had no idea what Jeremy was talking about, while the exact same question had been playing over and over in his mind for the past two hours.
"If Sheila’s right, and these nutcases really have the ability to suck the energy out of us like some kind of psychic vampire, then what the hell are we doing heading right back up into their neck of the woods?" Jeremy paused to look from student to student to student to see if his question had any impact. "What if they’ve already used me and Colin like some kind of soul sucking Popsicle?"
"You’re not afraid of the boogie man are you?" Mark taunted. "Jeez, Jeremy, you were the one all pumped up about ‘No Pain No gain’, gotta get that Genie award, now your ready to pull the plug cause you’ve heard a couple of ghost stories?"
"Fuck you Mark. If you knew how shitty we were feeling today you wouldn’t be acting like such an asshole." Jeremy shot back.
"OK guys, it isn’t just about the documentary anymore. Darlene is up there somewhere and she might be in trouble and other than us, no one gives a shit, so, the rest of you can do whatever you want, but, I’m going to go back up there to find her." Chad was trying to sound as brave as possible, but he really believed more in what Jeremy had been saying than in his own argument.
"I know exactly how Jeremy feels, but I agree with Chad, we have to go look for Darlene. We’re the only ones she has right now!" Colin’s face was somber and by the strain in his voice, it was obvious that he was still not feeling completely recovered.
This had been the third time they’d traveled the same road in the past few days and the rest of the trip back to Chute Lake seemed to fly by. After their brief discussion, none of the students had spoken until they were pulling the van up to the main lodge. By their earlier comments, Chad had been pretty sure that Colin and Mark would be joining him in the search for Darlene, but he wasn’t at all sure about Jeremy’s plans.
It was already 9:45 PM, and the sun had disappeared behind the ridge to the west of the narrow valley they were in, but there was still half an hour of daylight left. As he got out of the van, Chad looked back towards Kelowna in the east. The sky was dimming and an ominous looking cloud that had descended upon the city appeared to be chasing the rising moon across the dusk sky towards them. Chad remembered how dark it had been the previous night in the woods and knew that once the sun had completely set, the glowing sliver of the waxing moon would not provide much light in the dense mountain forest.
"Ok guys, daylights burning, let’s get moving." Chad shouted through his still open door to the other students, who were in no apparent hurry to get out of the van.
There were two ‘quads’ sitting outside the lodge entrance. They looked like oversized four-wheeled dirt bikes. Chad had ridden an all-terrain vehicle at his friend’s, parent’s ranch back in Alberta earlier in the summer and these things looked like some kind of poor, deformed cousin of the sleek machine Chad had been on.
A large wire basket, containing several long bungee cords, was mounted on the back of each ‘quad’. Mark and Jeremy loaded the vehicles with their gear while Chad and Colin entered the lodge to get the keys.
They’d made arrangements earlier in the day to borrow the quads as well as two long-range walkie-talkies. True to his word, the lodge owner, Mr. Weaver had left the two radio units in one of the wire baskets and had filled both quads with gas.
By the time Chad and Colin emerged from the lodge, Jeremy and Mark had just finished tying down their gear. There was a huge mound on the back of each vehicle that reminded Colin of the overloaded three-wheeled Tuk-Tuk’s he’d seen on a trip to Bangkok he’d taken with his dad when he was sixteen years old.
With two people on each quad and the awkward load on the back there was no way they would be able to speed back up to their original camp site. Colin was thinking that they would be lucky to triple their previous hiking speed.
They climbed through alternating patches of burnt forest, meadows and wooded areas that had been untouched by the fire. The ride had been slow and tedious, and the noise from the un-mufflered quads had made conversation impossible. At one point Chad had stopped and pointed toward a low point in the ridge across from them, where a glimpse of Okanagan Lake could be seen. The gentle flicker of running lights from a small flotilla of boats heading into a marina on the far side of the lake brought a temporary feeling of comfort to the boys. Then Chad pointed towards the east showing the rapidly approaching storm cloud that was chasing the boaters off of the lake and the feeling was gone.
"We’d better hustle!" Chad shouted over the noise of the idling motors.
He put his quad into gear and continued up the path towards their destination. The forest had become very dense at this point and the path carved a serpentine route around giant fir trees and mounds of moss covered boulders. Only a faint glow from the setting sun remained, there were no longer any distinct shadows, only light and dark areas. The headlights mounted on the front of the two quads dueled through the darkened forest in an ongoing series of thrusts and parries illuminating objects ahead with the consistency of a strobe light.
Distant objects would appear, disappear then reappear as the foils of light flicked on and off of them. Most objects were easily identified; a tree, a shrub, a large rock or a log. Occasionally a tangle of windfall would look like some kind of animal, then the lights would hit the mass of fallen trees again and their true identity would be revealed.
In some areas the edge of the fire had been distinct, as if an invisible barrier had kept the flames at bay, but at this point the fingers of flame had licked into the virgin forest creating blackened fjords of burnt trees and debris. The path was meandering in and out of burnt sections when Chad thought he noticed something moving ahead. A large tree blocked his view for a second and the object was gone. They continued on slowly and Chad thought he noticed the shape of something human-like moving through the woods, but rationalized that it was probably a set of branches. For a fraction of a second the headlights caught something that looked like a very pale face which disappeared as soon as it had been illuminated. Whatever it was seemed to be drawing nearer and nearer to the pathway.
Chad had slowed his quad down to a walking pace after seeing the movement in the forest. He had no intention of driving headlong into a trap. In this tricky light a wire strung across the pathway or an object placed on the path itself could be deadly. Chad’s nerves were raw, he was ready to jump off the quad and run into the cover of the night or accelerate into the burnt clearing ahead at top speed depending upon the danger that confronted him, but he wasn’t ready for what was about to happen.
There was one last large boulder they had to go around before the final few meters of the pathway ended at the clearing. Chad tightened his grip on the throttle, the muscles in his forearms were tensed, he was ready for a sprint to the finish line. His eyes darted right and left, right and left, gazing into the dark forest on either side of the path trying to catch any sign of the object that he had seen only moments before. Just as he was about to accelerate out of the forest and into the clearing a large dark mass dropped suddenly onto the front of his quad, smashing onto the front fender and bending the left steering fork. Chad felt a sudden jolt on his shoulder as the quad veered off of the path. He came to a stop just in front of the object that hit him, which now lay motionless directly in front of his broken vehicle.
Chad slowly got off his machine, rubbing his shoulder as he dismounted. He stood looking at the body in front of the quad. It was Mr. Jenkins, his face was bloody and bruised and his clothes were badly torn and covered with blood as well. He was still breathing and began to move slowly, groaning as he pushed himself up into a sitting position.
"Holy fuck, what the hell was that?" Asked Jeremy who’d been the passenger on Chad’s quad.
"Mr. Jenkins. I think he’s OK." Chad was still partially in shock, watching Mr. Jenkins as he rolled onto his knees in front of the quad and placed his hands on the bent front fork, supporting himself as he climbed to his feet.
"You alright?" Chad asked, looking at Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Jenkins looked up at Chad and nodded his head as he brushed loose dirt off of his chest and arms.
"What the hell are you doing. Are you trying to kill yourself?" Jeremy shouted.
Mr. Jenkins looked at Jeremy as though he was some kind of pesky insect that needed to be squashed, then turned his attention back to Chad.
"You alright son?" He asked.
"Ya, my shoulder’s a little sore, but it’ll be fine. What happened, why did you jump on our quad?" Chad responded.
"I didn’t jump. I saw the lights from your quad coming quite a while ago. I just wanted to get close to the path so I could see who you were. When I saw it was you boys, I was going to follow you until you stopped so I could talk to you, but someone pushed me off the rock just as you were driving past."
Chad bent over to take a closer look at the front of the quad. The left steering fork had been badly twisted by the force of Mr. Jenkins’s impact rendering the quad unusable. Chad looked back at Mr. Jenkins, amazed by how much damage the fall had done to his machine while doing little apparent damage to the old man.
"We’re going to have to pack in the rest of the way." Chad suggested to Mark and Colin, who had dismounted their machine and were standing beside Chad surveying the damage to his quad.
"Good thing we’re almost there" Colin replied. "Let’s transfer your packs onto our quad and I’ll walk the rest of the way to the camp with you guys." Colin grabbed Chad’s duffel bag out of the wire basked and put it on top of their already heaping mound of supplies.
Within a few minutes all of the supplies had been transferred to the other vehicle. Mark drove while Jeremy, Chad and Colin walked beside and behind the quad to support the unsteady load. Mr. Jenkins followed close behind, looking over his shoulder every few steps, peering into the darkness to make sure that nothing would be able to sneak up on them unexpectedly.
His fear was contagious. Soon all of the students were searching the darkness for any sign of a potential threat. Mark was focused on the path ahead, while Jeremy and Chad looked like their heads were on a swivel, checking side to side and occasionally behind them, just in case Mr. Jenkins had missed something. Colin was at the rear of the quad, keeping an eye on Mr. Jenkins and looking up above occasionally, not wanting to be ambushed from the same direction twice in a row.
They struggled to keep the awkward load balanced as fear pushed them through the dark woods at an increasingly frantic pace. By the time they reached the place where they’d left Darlene’s camping gear earlier that day they were near exhaustion. Mark pulled the quad to a stop in front of a large black backpack. It had been opened and the contents were strewn haphazardly about.
Mark dismounted the vehicle and left it idling, shouting over the engine noise; "Let’s get a lantern going before we turn this thing off"
Colin pulled a propane lantern out of his pack and lit it with matches he had in his pocket. He lifted the lantern over his head expanding the circumference of light like a huge iris growing accustomed to the dark. A dead fire pit was frozen in the dim light at the very edge of the illuminated circle.
"Before we do anything else, let’s get a fire going. It feels like it could rain any second and it’ll be a bitch to start if the wood gets wet." Colin suggested.
The students had originally planned on being at this site for several days and had gathered enough wood for at least two nights, so there was still a good supply left near the fire pit.
Colin and Mark worked on lighting the fire while Chad and Jeremy unpacked the quad and began to set up their tents. A humid wind was moaning through the naked, dead trees and the students knew that a major downpour was not far behind. The distant rumbling of thunder had become louder and more distinct as the storm that had been brewing over Kelowna began to descend upon them.
Mr. Jenkins stood by the quad, watching the darkness that had closed in behind them as if his eyes could penetrate the lightless void. His unblinking stare and slightly hunched shoulders reminded Chad of the Gargoyles he’d seen protecting Notre’ Dame Cathederal when he was in Paris on a trip with his grade nine French class.
The students had finished setting up the camp and Chad had found rain poncho’s for each of them, including one they’d brought for Darlene, which he now offered to Mr. Jenkins.
"How are you feeling Mr. Jenkins?" Chad asked, still curious as to how the old man could survive such a dramatic fall, let alone, come out of it without any noticeable injury.
"Fine." Mr. Jenkins answered, still staring at the invisible forest.
"Looks like it’s going to start raining pretty good. We’ve set up a tarp by the fire, why don’t you join us there for a bit, we…" Chad paused for a second, searching for the right words to phrase the remainder of his thought without making it sound like they wanted to interrogate Mr. Jenkins. "We’d like to talk to you for a bit about Darlene, if you don’t mind."
Chad handed the poncho to Mr. Jenkins and started to walk back towards the fire. Mr. Jenkins slipped the poncho over his head, took one last look towards the woods and followed Chad back to where the other students were standing.
Mr. Jenkins stopped beside Colin and looked into his eyes.
"You’re the leader."
Colin pointed towards Chad, "No, Chad’s the boss on this one, I’m just the guy that holds the microphone and does the interviews." He smiled at Mr. Jenkins.
"You’re the leader." Mr. Jenkins repeated solemnly. "You will have to decide."
"Decide what?" Colin asked.
"How much you are willing to risk to find what you are looking for." The old man answered.
Jeremy put both hands on his head pulling at his hair in exasperation. He didn’t want to be here and having Mr. Jenkins pushed onto his quad did nothing to alleviate his fear "I hate fucking riddles." Jeremy stepped towards Colin and Mr. Jenkins. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"It may already be too late." Mr. Jenkins answered cryptically, looking back towards the forest again.
"Too late for what, Old Man? Jesus Christ, just spit it out." Jeremy demanded.
Mr. Jenkins continued staring at the forest. "Too late to save yourselves."
"Save ourselves from what?" Chad asked, fearing that he already knew the answer.
"From us." Mr. Jenkins answered. It was not the answer any of the students had expected.
"Please, Mr. Jenkins, can you PLEASE tell us what you are talking about!" Chad pleaded.
"I used to be one of them. The people they call the Ludzi Ognia." Mr. Jenkins sat down on a stump by the fire, settling in for a long explanation.
"We are the descendants of the followers of Michael Servetus. These woods and the valley beyond has been our home for the past two hundred years." Mr. Jenkins picked up a small stick and broke it in half.
"We are taught, from when we are children, that, to keep our power, we must keep our blood lines clean, but sometimes it makes Satan jealous and he marks our children. The ones he marks can not be allowed to live." Mr. Jenkins stared into the flames, deep in thought.
"The Shepherd takes the child into the woods and waits for it to die so that it can be buried away from the sanctified ground of the colony. It was my duty to be The Shepherd until I produced a son who would become The Shepherd on his thirtieth birthday or on the birth of his own son. My father was The Shepherd before me, and his father before him. It has been my families duty since Satan first began marking our children."
"But you’re not a part of that anymore. What happened? Why did you leave the colony?" Colin asked.
"Ya, why would you ever leave? Sounds like you had a wonderful fuckin’ job. Did it come with benefits and a pension plan too?" Jeremy spat sarcastically.
"My first child was a girl. She had only three toes on each foot and her back was bent with the burden of the Dark Lord." Mr. Jenkins continued looking into the flames while he spoke to the students.
"It was my duty to take her into the woods and wait for her to die and to bury her, but her spirit was so bright. Her eyes sparkled like sunshine on the morning dew when she looked at me. I could not return her to the earth, she was a child of God." He stopped talking and closed his eyes, remembering that night over forty years ago. "She was a child of mine."
He opened his eyes and looked from student to student as if searching for some kind of absolution. "I carried her into town. She almost starved by the time we got to the hospital and I didn’t know what to do, so I left her by the front doors, and I watched." He turned his stare back to the flames. "I’ve been watching her ever since."
"You’re talking about Darlene, right?" Mark asked.
"Holy fuck Einstein, when did you pull your head out of your ass?" Jeremy snapped. The darkness seemed to be closing in around them and Jeremy was feeling increasingly claustrophobic. He didn’t want to come back out to the forest to start with, but peer pressure is a powerful thing and now he found himself regretting his decision more by the minute.
"Yes, Darlene is my daughter." Mr. Jenkins answered.
"Does she know?" Chad asked.
"We’ve never spoken of it, but I know she feels it inside." Mr. Jenkins walked a dozen steps back towards the woods and stopped. He listened for a moment then he tilted his head back and inhaled the night air deeply through his nostrils. After taking in several breaths he lowered his head and stared towards the gaping black maw in the wall of trees where the pathway entered the forest. His senses were betraying him. He knew they were out there, just beyond his ability to physically detect them. He may not be able to see, hear or smell them yet, but his psychic connection to the Ludzi Ognia was still very strong and he could feel their presence nearby. He’d felt it since he’d entered the woods near Chute Lake.
He backed up towards the fire, staring at the woods as he retreated.
"Do you think Darlene is in danger?" Colin asked as Mr. Jenkins as he returned to where the students were still stanging.
"We are all in danger." Mr. Jenkins replied. "I’ve tried to protect her from them, but last year, during the fire, she heard the babies crying again and had to go looking for them. The babies are the marked ones, her sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins. She hears them call to her. Her powers are very strong, she thinks she can save them." Mr. Jenkins eyes were closed again. His concentration had moved somewhere beyond the fire-pit, somewhere unknown to the students, somewhere they would never understand. A growing cloud of concern covered his face like a dark shadow.
"Was she looking for the place the babies are buried?" Colin asked, wishing that they’d set up the video equipment.
What an amazing interview this would have been. Screw the Genie Award, Colin was thinking this would be better than that political crap Michael Moore kept churning out and winning Oscars for.
"Yes, she was looking for the graves, but she never found them, she saw my people and she was frightened by them."
Mr. Jenkins answered.
"Did she know who they were?" Chad asked.
"She knows of the Ludzi Ognia. Most people who live here know of them, but she didn’t know they were her people too. For many generations we have been of pure blood and of shared spirit. When we are near one another we can feel the other’s pain, know each other’s fear and sorrow, when we stray from one another it feels like we are missing a part of ourselves, like an arm or a leg has been severed." Mr. Jenkins stared out towards the forest again, then turned his attention back to the students listening to him.
"Darlene has only ever felt this kind of connection with me. When she was up in the woods last year she was over-come with the feeling that I was nearby, but she knew that I’d gone to Vancouver Island for a vacation. When she saw the Ludzi Ognia in the woods, the feeling overwhelmed her and she ran. They also must have felt her presence nearby, and it would have been a connection that they were not familiar with."
"Did they follow her?" Chad questioned.
"No, they never act independently like that. They would have gone back to the colony first to discuss what they felt and get direction from the elders. They probably figured out that I wasn’t dead and thought it was me the felt in the woods that day. That’s when they started sending out teams to look for me."
Mr. Jenkins turned towards the woods again and for a moment the cloud of fear covering his face was replaced by a look of defiance.
He reminded Chad of an old Liam Neeson in the part of Rob Roy, standing his ground to protect his beloved Scottish clan from the invading English.
"They found my house a couple of months ago, but I could feel them coming and was able to get Darlene and leave before they got there. We drove to Nakusp for a couple of days, and when I got home the police had left a message that they wanted to talk to me about the burning cross on my lawn. I pretended that I didn’t know anything, but I did. Darlene and I haven’t slept in our houses since we returned from Nakusp."
Jeremy had been sitting on a large rock that placed the fire between him and Mr. Jenkins so that he could watch the old man while keeping an eye on the pathway into the woods. Occasionally he would look into the flames and shake his head with disbelief.
"Why didn’t you just run? Why stick around and wait for them to kill you? I’d be somewhere in Mexico shootin’ back tequila if I were you buddy!"
"Darlene and I are a part of the Ludzi Ognia people. She does not know them, but she is as connected to them as I am. Each of us provides energy to the colony and we also draw energy from the colony. The colony will carry on if one of it’s members dies or leaves, it will become weaker for a while, but it will recover. We can leave as long as we are close enough to draw from the combined residual energies of the colony. If we get too far away for too long we will wither and die like a flower that is removed from the sunlight."
"So, in Kelowna, you were close enough to benefit from the residual energy?" Chad asked.
"Yes, I chose Kelowna because it is close enough for us to live and big enough to help us hide."
The conversation was interrupted by a loud crack in the forest on the far side of the clearing opposite to the path they came in on.
The unexpected noise had come from directly behind Jeremy, sending a jolt of adrenaline through the boy as if he had been struck by lightning. He instinctively sprang up from his rocky seat, twisting towards the direction the sound had come from. The sudden movement almost caused him to lose his balance and fall into the fire.
"What the fuck was that?" Jeremy screamed into the night.
"They’re almost ready." Mr. Jenkins replied.
"Ready for what?" Jeremy demanded.
"Ready to start the transfer." Mr. Jenkins answered.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Jeremy shouted at Mr. Jenkins before turning towards the other students.
"Jesus Christ, I could ring that old bastards fucking neck!"
Mr. Jenkins looked directly at Jeremy. "They are about to start an energy transfer. One of the powers that my people have developed is the ability to telepathically absorb energy from organic objects."
He grabbed Jeremy’s wrist, shocking the younger boy who tried to pull away, but Mr. Jenkins was much stronger than Jeremy had imagined. The old man closed his eyes for a moment and a deep, raspy purring sound started to emanate from the bottom of his chest.
"Fuck, let go of me you asshole!" Jeremy screamed at him.
Mr. Jenkins opened his eyes, still looking at Jeremy. He waited a few more seconds and then let go of the boy’s wrist. Jeremy staggered backward two steps and sat back down on the rock he’d been perched on only a few moments before.
Mr. Jenkins grip had left a red bruise that looked similar to a mild burn. Jeremy sat rubbing his wrist and looking suspiciously at the old man.
"That fucken hurt, man." Jeremy’s tone was angry, but subdued. The short episode had winded him as if he had just run a few blocks up a steep hill.
Mr. Jenkins watched Jeremy for a moment then spoke. "You’re aura is very bright, your energy is sweet and available, you will be the most effected." He then turned his attention to the other students.
"He will lose energy the fastest, but he will also recover quickly, if he is able to get away."
Jeremy picked up a heavy stick, about the size of a baseball bat. "If one of those assholes comes near me I’ll knock his fucking brains out."
Mr. Jenkins turned back to Jeremy, but his comments were directed to all the students. "They don’t have to be near you. They can draw your energy by touch, that is the most direct way, but they can also combine their psychic powers to draw energy from a distance."
"How far can they draw from?" Chad asked, looking nervously towards the edge of the clearing.
Mr. Jenkins followed Chad’s stare then looked at the boy. "A little further than that."
"Is there anything we can do to block it?" Chad asked.
"No, it is more like a large invisible net that is cast over an entire area. It can’t be blocked." Mr. Jenkins answered.
"Will we be able to tell when they are doing it?" Chad asked.
"Yes, you will hear a sound like the one I made, but it will be coming from all around you. Shortly after you hear the sound, you will start to feel tired. The longer they continue, the weaker you will become. If you do not move, or they do not stop, you will die." Mr. Jenkins replied.
"I don’t plan on dying tonight boys, lets get the fuck out of here." Jeremy climbed onto the quad and turned to Mark.
"Give me the keys and climb on."
"Who died and made you God? Why the hell should you get the quad, there are four of us here." Colin shouted at Jeremy.
"The quad won’t do you any good. They will have ambushed any trails out of here. If you are going to run it would be best for you to head straight into the woods on foot."
Mark slid the keys back into his pocket without the other students noticing that he was ready to take Jeremy up on his offer.
"Are they dangerous in the forest?" Mark asked.
"Yes, they can be very dangerous. Stay as far away from them as you can. You should not go until you know where all of them are. You must be patient a little longer." Mr. Jenkins replied while scanning the edge of the forest.
"Why haven’t they started yet?" Chad was searching for any piece of information that might help protect them from the Ludzi Ognia.
"It’s a ceremony that takes time to set up and it’s meant to be done when the victim is not aware of what is happening. They need to be able to encircle their prey, which they can do with three of them if it is a small enough area. Tonight they will need at least six, or maybe nine. It is always in multiples of three." Mr. Jenkins searched the perimeter of the clearing again.
"They have to have a line of sight from one person to the next, so they’ll have to enter the clearing before they start. Each one must have a stone Alter, which can be set up quickly. The last thing they need is a focal object that has been placed in the centre of the energy capture area. Something they have made which contains their own sweat and blood and the blessing of the elders." Mr. Jenkins stopped talking and began to look around the campfire.
"What are you looking for?" Chad asked.
Mr. Jenkins stopped and turned towards the students again. "Something, anything they might have left here before. It is probably something carved of wood." When he resumed his search he had the help of four frantic students.
They’d been searching for less than a minute when a low hummmmm began to emanate from the edge of the clearing.
"Is it starting now?" Chad asked.
"No, not yet, but soon, it will start soon." Mr. Jenkins answered.
Mark looked at Mr. Jenkins, his eyes were shining with the illumination of an idea that had just clicked into his head as if a light-bulb had been turned on.
"Could they use you as the focal point?" He asked, looking at Mr. Jenkins.
By the look of surprise on Mr. Jenkins face it was obvious that he had not considered this possibility.
"Yes, it is possible. I have never seen it done, but it is possible."
Jeremy walked towards Mr. Jenkins shaking his stick in a threatening motion as he approached. "Well what the fuck are you waiting for? Get the fuck outa here!" He shouted at the old man.
Mr. Jenkins looked at the other students then slowly started away from the fire.
"Stop!" Chad shouted. "What if they still have something else here, and Mr. Jenkins is gone, we’ll still be screwed, and we won’t have his help. If he tries to get out of here himself, they’ll be sure to catch….." Chad’s sentence was cut off by the start of a throaty, purring chant, similar to the one he’d heard earlier that week while sitting in the outhouse by the cabin. The rise and fall in pitch and the deep, guttural, multiplicity of tones reminded Chad of the Tuvan Throat Singers he’d just seen perform at the University of Alberta, and he was wishing that he was back in that large, air conditioned lecture theatre again.
"There is no time left, you boys listen to me." Mr. Jenkins demanded while pulling a seven-inch long hunting knife out of his boot.
"You get out of here, find Darlene and take her back to town." He pointed the knife in the direction of the darkest segment of forest.
"That is your best chance. They can feel me, they will know if I am moving or not, but they can only see you and maybe smell you. Stay low in the bushes and work your way to the edge of the clearing. You will be able to hear where they are as you get close. Don’t let them see you, when I distract them at the fire, run like hell! I can’t stay here too long, so you boys have to be fast, now go."
There was no time to argue, Colin got down on his hands and knees and started scrambling in the direction that Mr. Jenkins had suggested. Chad, Mark and Jeremy followed close behind. Once the boys were hidden by the darkness of the night Mr. Jenkins raised his hands into the air and started to dance around the fire kicking pieces of burning wood out of the fire pit. The air around him was filled with floating embers and glowing sparks as he continued to spread the burning fuel further from the pit.
The chanting began to intensify. Mr. Jenkins glanced in the direction that the students had disappeared, then started to walk rapidly towards the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the clearing screaming the 23 Psalm into the night as he walked. He’d become a devout Christian after leaving the colony, and believed in the words of the Psalm, but his hunting knife remained gripped tightly in his right hand, just incase.
"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Colin stopped at the last set of shrubs between the fire pit and the woods. His heart started pounding even faster when he saw that the next twenty-five yards to the forest was open ground. It was very dark, but the narrow sliver of moon peaking through the gathering storm clouds provided just enough light to expose vague shapes in the blackness.
The short scramble had taken more energy than he had expected. He was breathing heavily as the other students crawled up beside him, arriving just as Mr. Jenkins began shouting the words of the 23 Psalm into the night. Colin had been focussing on a black hole in the tree line that looked like a small pathway or tunnel, but as soon as the recitation started the hole moved a few paces forward.
The students crawled away from the shadowy chanter, staying in the cover of the low shrubs. At first their route took them closer to the forest, it ran parallel for a short distance, then it started to arch away from the promised sanctuary. The gradual climb uphill was not overly challenging, yet all four boys could feel the energy slowly drain from their bodies.
Jeremy had taken over the lead in the crawl uphill. He scrambled to a point midway between the sound coming from the two nearest chanters and then he stopped and waited for the other students to catch up. He listened intently for a moment, then, satisfied there was no longer anyone between him and the woods he rose to his feet and began to run quietly towards the cover of the tall pines. Halfway to the trees he broke into a dead run. The other students, surprised by Jeremy’s sudden bolt, followed his lead into the safety of the surrounding woodland.
Chad was the last to reach the edge of the forest. As he entered the woods he could hear the other students ahead of him blindly scrambling over deadfall and crashing through low branches trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Ludzi Ognia as quickly as they could in their weakened state. They were heading southwest, away from Kelowna.
The panic in their flight was tangible. Chad could hear it in the frantic struggle through the pitch-black forest in front of him and his taste buds were saturated with the electrically metal tang of his own sweat and blood. The only thing more terrifying than the spiraling frenzy of the other students was the completeness of the silence that had closed in behind them.
The chanting had stopped. Other than the sound of Chad’s own breathing and the students in front of him crashing through the undergrowth, there was nothing. Even the soft tapping of the light rain falling into the woods had ceased.
The forest was dense and their route followed the contour of the mountainside, which was becoming increasingly steep as they approached the Naramata Creek Canyon.
The other students were only a few meters in front of him, but that was no comfort to Chad. The images in his mind of cloaked figures with yellowish eyes approaching him quietly and quickly from behind fueled his panic. The fear was white hot, as if he was being driven forward at the end of a spear. There was no room for any rational thought, only the adrenaline filled instinct of flight.
Jeremy pushed ahead through the blackness of the forest, his hands and arms scraped and bloody from encounters with countless dry twigs, small branches and tree trunks. His oxygen starved lungs felt like they were on fire in his chest and his legs were weak and heavy. It had been less than five minutes since he had led the students out of the clearing, but it seemed like they’d been running for hours. The undergrowth had been thick and difficult to move through in the total absence of light. The only indication to Jeremy that he hadn’t gone completely blind was the faint difference in shade between the night sky and the spiked silhouettes of treetops.
"Stop!" Mark gasped between labored breaths. "Stop for a second."
The command cut through the night like a bolt of lightning. Colin stopped immediately, found a tree and sat down against it, breathing heavily. Jeremy took a two more steps then dropped to his hands and knees, panting like an exhausted dog. Chad had fallen a little further behind and took a few seconds to reach his comrades, accidentally tripping over Jeremy as he searched for a place to rest in the dark.
"Son of a bitch, watch where you’re going!" Jeremy barked.
"Sorry, I didn’t see you." Chad apologized.
Colin reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a miniature flashlight and turned it on, illuminating Chad and Jeremy.
"Jesus, Colin, why the hell didn’t you use that before?" Mark asked.
"I didn’t want them to be able to see where we were going, but, I think we’re OK now." Colin answered, continuing to shine the narrow beam of light in the direction they’d been heading.
"Shhh, listen." Chad whispered.
Colin turned the flashlight off, immersing the students into blackness once again. There was only silence. Colin counted to thirty in his head then turned the light back on.
"There’s nothing Spud. We’ve lost them." Colin reassured Chad, then pointed the flashlight towards Mark.
"Are you OK Mark? Why did you tell us to stop?" Colin asked.
"I don’t know about you guys, but I was dying man and I had no idea of where we were going or how much longer I could keep up." Mark explained.
"Where the hell are we anyways?" Jeremy asked, looking at Colin.
"If we keep going this way we will hit Naramata Creek, which drains into Okanagan lake." Chad answered for Colin.
"My dad and I have done some hiking on the south side of the creek. It runs in a pretty deep ravine, but if we can get across it we should be able to make it to the town of Naramata by morning."
"Sounds like a helluva plan to me." Jeremy replied, looking like he was getting ready to get up and continue with the hike.
"Man, I’m parched. I could sure use some water." Mark declared, hoping that one of the other students might have remembered to grab a canteen.
Just as he finished his statement there was a dry static zzzzzz’t followed instantly by a jagged bolt of lightning which landed less than a quarter mile behind them. The entire forest around the students lit up for a split second. Chad hadn’t even gotten out the "and" part of the "and one, and two and three and four…" counting method, that his father taught him, before the artificial calm that had temporarily befallen the students was annihilated by a monstrous clap of thunder.
Within a matter of seconds, silence had oozed back into the night, refilling the void left by the dissipating thunderclap like quicksand covering a sinking corpse. Once again the air had become completely still and then the sky exploded with another gigantic bolt of lighting, touching down two hundred yards below them, this time, unleashing a deluge of rain with the thunder.
Jeremy stood up with his hands outstretched, letting the rain completely soak him. He looked in Marks direction with a slight smile. "You got what you asked for buddy, next time, how ‘bout going for something a little more fuckin’ useful, like a helicopter?"

The firestorm hadn’t touched this section of the mountain. It had worked it’s way up the hillside from Squally Point and south along the top of the ridge for a little ways, but the winds had changed before the fire could find its way down the mountainside, and the small lakeside community of Naramata was spared.
Two miles of densely forested steep slopes and cliffs separated the students from Okanagan Lake. Above, there was a fifty-meter ribbon of trees between them and the blackened rocks and soot and earth left behind by the fires. In the darkness it had been impossible to tell how close they were to the burnt out clearing, but once the rains began, the smell of smoke and soot kicked up by the heavy droplets told the students that they were much closer than they had thought.
The thick undergrowth and tall trees surrounding the students absorbed the rain like a sponge. Higher up the mountainside the dust and ash had combined to create an impermeable layer that water ran off of in torrents. Dry ditches became instant streams, streams became flooding creeks and creeks became raging cataracts of frothing water eroding narrow ravines with incredible efficiency. Within minutes Naramata Creek had become a small river ripping trees and vegetation from along its sides and gouging huge undercuts into the steep banks of the gully that cradled the usually calm little brook. The precipitous slope that had contained the pathway leading down to a crossing of Naramata Creek had been washed away, leaving the end of the path hanging forty feet above the churning waters of the claustrophobic current.
A lonely Lodgepole Pine swayed uneasily, marking the end of the decapitated pathway. It’s exposed roots dangled out of the end of the severed trail like torn veins and ligaments protruding from a headless corpse. A white ‘X’ had been placed on the north side of the pine marking it as a dangerous tree tagged for removal, but the rapidly eroding stream bank would soon make the job unnecessary.
"Let’s get going guys, I don’t want those bastards to catch us sitting here!" Jeremy was already starting to slowly walk away from the group. "Colin, get up here with that flashlight."
Colin was just about to turn the flashlight back on when he noticed a beam of light shining through the trees a hundred meters below their position. By its steady forward progress Colin guessed that the holder of the light was following a path. At one point the progress stopped for a moment and the beam shone back in the direction it had come from, exposing the hooded figure of a Ludzi Ognia.
"Jeremy, shut up!" Colin whispered. He put his hands on either side of Jeremy’s face and pointed his head towards the light.
"Fuck me!" Jeremy whispered. "Ok, let’s go uphill then!"
"What if they are up there waiting for us? It would have been easy for them to travel in the burnt area." Chad observed.
"Right, then our only choice is to keep moving in the direction we’ve been going." Mark suggested.
"Colin, you lead." Jeremy pushed the other student lightly on the shoulder in a gesture to start moving.
The light below them had continued along the path in the direction the students were traveling, but it was angling downhill at the same time and within a few minutes it had disappeared completely on the other side of a small ridge.
Colin waited another minute before turning his flashlight on. When he finally did he kept the beam pointed towards the ground and slightly uphill to minimize the risk of anyone below seeing them.
"Hey, Guys!" Colin called to the others quietly. "Look, here’s a path!"
Behind them the path angled steeply uphill towards the top of the mountain, in front of them it headed directly towards Naramata Creek.
"I’ll bet this is the path that goes from Naramata up to the Kettle Valley rail bed." Chad’s voice was low, but excited.
"If we keep following it we should hit the creek in a few minutes, then it’s all downhill to Naramata."
"What if it’s all downhill to those hooded freaks?" Mark asked.
"The ridge is still between us and them, so why don’t we follow this trail for a while and see where it comes out. There is only one path that fords the Naramata Creek ravine, so if this is the one, they won’t be able to cross unless they make it up here or go down to Chute Lake Rd."
Chad tried to sound convincing, but he didn’t know this area as well as he was pretending to.
Colin started cautiously down the path, as if expecting a cloaked figure to jump out from behind every tree. Several times he stopped and shone the beam of his flashlight into the surrounding trees.
"Listen." Colin stopped and pointed the flashlight further up the path. "Sounds like a waterfall."
The students could just make out the hollow roar of Naramata Creek over the muffled sound of the rain falling through the trees and splattering onto the saturated forest floor.
"Fuck!" Chad surprised himself with the profanity, but he got the other students attention. "Look, just coming over the ridge, straight down from us."
Three beams of lights crisscrossed one another as they crested the ridge before starting to work their way down into the small valley that separated the students from their pursuers.
"aaaoooohh SHIT!" Jeremy exclaimed. "Let’s get across that creek. Maybe they won’t follow us on the other side."
Colin shone the flashlight ahead and started to run. He hadn’t gone more than three steps when his foot slipped on a muddy section of the path, causing him to lose his balance and fall into a thicket of Devils Club. The flashlight flew out of his hand and spiraled up into the air until it hit an over hanging branch, stopping it’s progress and dropping it down on to the middle of the path. Its beam extinguished as soon as it hit the muddy surface.
"God damned it." Colin cried out as he climbed up out of the Devils Club. "That frickin hurt man." He complained, as he tried to wipe off the dozens of spiky little thorns embedded in his forearm.
Colin picked up the flashlight and tried to turn it on but the fall had loosened the flimsy wires that connected the batteries to the bulb. He found that if he twisted the flashlight back and forth in his hand he could get it to generate a bit of light every once in a while. By jiggling the flashlight quickly he could maintain a fairly steady strobe effect which was almost good enough to navigate by.
"Jesus, they’ve seen us!" Chad shouted to the others.
The three lights, approaching from the valley below, had made a small adjustment in their direction through the forest and were now headed straight towards the students.
Colin started running up the path again and the other students followed. The flashlight beam was getting weaker and weaker and the strobe effect was providing just enough light for Colin to see his next four or five steps up the path.
The roar of the creek was becoming louder, its hollow sound echoing up from the bottom of the ravine.
The light flashed on for a second; ‘pine trees on either side, large pot hole in middle of path… must avoid it, rock wall up ahead on left side.’ The light went out. Colin made mental notes of where he needed to go for the next four steps. The light came back on; ‘rock wall closer, path narrows and drops off on right, less trees.’ The light goes out again. Six more steps and the light returns; ‘rock wall on left, path narrow, no trees on right just lonely pine with white ‘x’ four steps ahead.’ Light goes out.

‘One, two,…..’ "Whoooah-holllly-FUCK" Colin screamed as the flashlight beam came back on in the midst of his third stride. One step in front of him the pathway disappeared in a jagged cut of dangling roots, rocks and mud, dropping off into a dark foaming mass of white water forty feet below. His peripheral vision picked up the white ‘x’ marked on the tree at the edge of the drop-off just as his forward thrust was about to take him over the edge.
Colin’s right hand shot out like a bullet, catching onto the trunk of the wobbly pine in the same second he became airborne. His momentum provided enough propulsion to swing him completely around the tree and back onto the path at the exact same point Jeremy had just reached. Colin crashed into the other student knocking him into the rock wall on the other side of the path, completely stopping Jeremy’s forward motion only a few feet from the end of the pathway. Colin bounced off of Jeremy and staggered back up the trail in the direction that Chad and Mark were quickly approaching from. The flickering light had provided enough warning for Mark, who was just able to stop and brace himself for Colin’s impact, catching Colin in his arms before he careened off of the side of the path into the gully below. Chad came to a stop right behind Mark and Colin.
"Holy Shit!! Is everyone OK?" Chad shouted into the dark.
"Yeah, fuck, man, yeah, I’m all right." Jeremy called, already making his way back up the path towards the others.
"I’m OK." Colin gasped.
"Me too." Mark agreed.
"Good, then let’s get moving. We’re not going to be able to make it across the creek, so we’ll have to head uphill and try to loop around back to Chute Lake Lodge."
Chad turned and started walking back up the pathway. The rain had stopped and a large enough hole had formed in the clouds above them to provide adequate moonlight for the students to be able to navigate through the woods without the use of the flashlight, which was now somewhere at the bottom of the Naramata Creek.
In the dim light Chad could see that the rock wall beside them was actually the start of the pathway that cut down into the bottom of the ravine. The students had been lucky they didn’t fall off the side of the path as they sprinted by in the dark, not to mention how fortunate Colin and Jeremy had been not to run off the end.
Thirty feet up the path they were out of the ravine and could see down into the draw that the Ludzi Ognia had been climbing through. For a moment there was only darkness, then, a single light appeared from behind a large black shape that could have been an outcropping of rocks or a small knoll. A second and then a third light followed closely behind. At their rate of progress they would intersect the student’s path in less than a minute, about fifty yards north of where the students were now standing.
Mark reached under his shirt and grabbed the chain holding his St. Christopher’s medal. He gently kissed the icon before pulling it off over his head and throwing it into middle of the path towards the ravine.
"Are you fuckin nuts?" Jeremy shouted, walking towards the abandoned medallion.
"It’s a decoy, maybe they’ll see it and think we all fell into the creek." Mark explained.
Jeremy looked back at Mark, then bent over and picked up the St. Christopher’s medal and put it on over his head. He ripped the sleeve off of his shirt and wipes his face with it, transferring dirt, blood and sweat onto the tattered piece of cloth, before throwing it even further down the pathway, close to where the wobbly pine clung precariously to the end of the trail.
"I’ll give it back to you later!" Jeremy told Mark as he ran past, turning uphill off the trail and away from the approaching Ludzi Ognia.
Chad was the last to leave the path for the cover of the woods. The canopy of trees blocked most of the faint moonlight causing the students to move cautiously to avoid giving away their location to their pursuers, who’s footsteps could already be heard thudding their way along the path towards them. Chad was less than forty yards from the muddy trail when he felt Colin’s hand on his shoulder, stopping his progress. He looked back towards the path just in time to see the three lights go by at a slow run. A moment later the students heard a surprised shout followed by the snapping sound of weakened roots torn from their tenuous hold to the side of the cliff. There was a brief silence followed immediately by a sickeningly hollow thud and loud splash.
Another short silence was followed by footsteps coming slowly back up the path. The students could see two beams of light darting back and forth over the surface of the trail analyzing each footprint in an effort to see if the students had retraced their steps.
"Let’s go." Colin whispered and the students began picking their way up the mountain again.
Every few steps Chad would look back toward the path. The lights had gone past the point that the students had turned off into the woods, but then they had returned, scanning the surface of the trail before disappearing completely.
Chad reasoned that there were three likely possibilities. The first was that the Ludzi Ognia had lost one of their members and had returned to their base and he just hadn’t seen them leave. The second possibility was that they were waiting by the path to trap the students if they came back down. The third possibility, which was his least favorite, was that they’d determined where the students had entered the woods and had turned their lights off to catch up to the students and surprise them in an ambush.
After forty-five minutes of steady hiking and no sign of anyone behind them Chad began to relax. The students had been traveling back towards the top of the burnt clearing where they had left their quad only an hour before.
They were climbing a small hill, trying to reach the top of a ridge that would provide them with a view of the mountainside back towards Chute Lake.
Colin was the first to crest the ridge. At the top there was a large plateau that disappeared into the night. He stopped and stared into the darkness while he waited for the rest of the students to catch up.
"Look, to the North." He whispered to the others when they arrived a few seconds later.
There was an eerie glow coming from amidst the trees between the students and their destination.
"Jesus, this mountain is crawling with those assholes!" Jeremy broke a brief silence.
"We don’t know it’s them, for sure." Chad countered. "It could be just some campers."
"Yeah, right, and I’m fuckin’ Quentin Tarantino." Jeremy sneered. "I say we head back down to the quad and get the hell out of here!"
"What about the ones on the trail? What if they are right behind us? What if they went back to the quad to wait for us? What if there is an ambush back there?" Mark entered into the discussion. "What if that is Darlene, or the old man signaling for help? I say we check it out."
"How are we going to help them anyway? We can’t even fuckin’ help ourselves. Jesus, have you all gone nuts?" Jeremy hissed at the other students.
"Let’s at least check it out. We’ll stay in the trees until we know who it is. If it’s them, we’ll just keep going, and be that much closer to Chute Lake." Colin suggested.
"Why don’t we just wait for morning?" Jeremy asked. "Didn’t the old man say their powers work best at night?"
"They’re not frickin Vampires, Jeremy. They looked pretty bloody threatening chasing Mr. Jenkins behind his place in the broad daylight yesterday!" Chad countered.
Colin had already started walking towards the glowing light and Mark had followed him. Chad fell in behind Mark, leaving Jeremy standing by himself. He shook his head in disgust and then reluctantly began to follow Chad, swearing under his breath as he walked along.
They approached the light from above, so that, if discovered, they would not be chased back towards the shadowy figures that had been pursuing them earlier. As they drew nearer to their destination the terrain became steeper to the point that they were traveling through a narrow strip of trees that ran between the clearing below them and the base of a monolithic cliff above.
"Ssshhh!" Colin whispered back to Jeremy as they got closer to the source of the eerie light. They crept through the forest in complete silence for the last thirty yards to the edge of a small meadow. In the centre of the meadow there was a circle of torches that looked to be about ten yards in diameter. Inside the circle the students could see five hooded shapes around a wooden altar, which held the body of a sixth hooded figure lying beside a woman dressed in a long white gown. The woman’s head was beside the man’s feet and his feet beside her head. They both lay perfectly still, as if in a deep sleep. There was a large wooden bowl beside the woman’s head and two large bones by the man’s head. Four of the hooded men were kneeling and softly chanting, the fifth was standing behind the altar and reciting verses from a black, leather bound book.
"Apollyon, father of our most ancient fathers, we call upon your spirit to return to us." The hooded priest called into the night. He then picked up one of the bones and passed it over the bodies of the man and the woman before putting it into the bowl at the other end of the altar.
"Daughter of darkness, daughter of light, daughter of fire, bring together seed and spawn and spirit within your womb and deliver to us our destiny."
He picked up the remaining bone and passed it slowly over the two bodies before placing it into the bowl with the other bone.
"Fuckin’ Freak City jackpot!" Jeremy whispered, which was greeted by a chorus of "Ssshhh" from his fellow students.
Colin tapped on Marks shoulder and pulled his shirtsleeve in a signal to keep moving past the ceremony that was taking place. Mark passed the signal on to Chad, who in turn passed it on to Jeremy.
The low, self-absorbing chant coming from the hooded figures had covered the little bit of noise the students made in their hike around the edge of the meadow.
Colin stopped suddenly and pointed towards a small thicket in the meadow between their position and the hooded men. Crouched in amongst the shrubs and rocks was the shadowy shape of a man. As the shadow moved, the students could see that it was Mr. Jenkins.
Jeremy pushed his way up to where Colin was standing to get a better view, and in the process stepped on a fragile twig, snapping it in half. His heart leapt into his throat as he watched the hooded chanters to see if they had been alerted to his position. The chanting ceremony continued without interruption, but Mr. Jenkins had now disappeared into the shadows of the thicket. A moment later one of the kneeling figures fell forward as if struck from behind. The chanting stopped and there was complete silence. The ceremony had come to an abrupt end, the cloaked figures now rising to their feet, looking out towards the perimeter of the meadow, searching for the unseen assailant.
There was a large crash in the trees right in front of Mark. A baseball-sized rock had been launched from the thicket towards the students. Mr. Jenkins had seen them and was now trying to alert the Ludzi Ognia as to their whereabouts without giving his own position away.
The hooded figures started moving towards the student’s position, walking at first, then progressing to a slow run. The students retreated into the shelter of the woods, but soon found themselves against the base of the cliff. They scrambled along the bottom of the sheer rock wall, still heading north towards Chute Lake. Chad looked back just as three torch-carrying figures reached the shale at bottom of the precipice.
"Up here!" Chad heard Mark call from ahead. "There’s a gap in the wall."
Chad took one last look back and saw torches approaching. They would reach his position in less than a minute. He turned back towards the other students, but they had disappeared into a narrow valley that had opened up in the cliff wall. Chad turned and ran in the direction that he thought the others had gone. He was scrambling up a steep slope covered in low shrubs and moss and narrow pine trees. There was a small brook at the centre of the valley ten feet below the path Chad was following. He looked back and could see the first torch enter into the narrow canyon. He pushed ahead, but his foot slipped on a wet, moss covered rock tossing him off of the path, down a steep bank into the brook. His head smashed against a piece of rotting wood lying in the middle of the small stream. There was a momentary flash, then everything went black.

When Chad regained consciousness he was lying on his back in the middle of a small brook, the back of his head felt thick and sore. At first he was groggy and disoriented, he thought that he was camping-out in the back yard of his Grandma’s house in Calgary. He was twelve years old again and soaking wet. During the night, he’d rolled off the sleeping bag and onto the long, soft, damp grass and the morning dew had soaked right through his pajamas.
He looked up at the night sky and saw a narrow strip of stars peeking through the pines that lined the tiny stream, then he noticed the high cliffs behind the trees and the cobwebs in his head began to disappear. He had no idea of how long he’d been laying there, but he knew it couldn’t have been long. There were footsteps approaching on the path above him, and voices, but not voices that he recognized. They were talking in low tones and in a foreign language that he didn’t recognize.
Chad rolled himself onto his side, squishing himself as tightly to the stream bank as he could, hoping that the darkness and little bit of underbrush covering the slope between him and the path would provide enough cover to conceal him.
"Chad, Chad, where are you?" A static-filled voice came unexpectedly out of his trouser pocket. Chad grasped frantically for the Walkie Talkie, his fingers racing to find the on-off button. "Chad.. are you OK? Can you hea….." Chad found the mute button, but it was too late. The voices and footsteps were gone, there was only the soft trickle of the stream left. A small pebble rolled down the bank towards Chad, followed by another and yet another. Someone was shuffling their feet on the path just above him, knocking gravel and dirt down the slope towards where he lay.
Chad’s head was pounding and his heart was racing, he was struggling to control his breathing. His fingers were clenched on handfuls of stringy beige roots sticking out of the bottom of the bank and every muscle in his body was taught, waiting for the inevitable critical moment to come.
A flashlight beam shot across the stream and shone into the woods on the far side of the brook. It meandered through the trees then began following the tiny creek upstream for a hundred feet, it then re-crossed back to the side Chad was laying on and started to move downstream directly towards him.
His mind began to race, weighing his options. He knew that there were at least three men chasing him. He was a muscular boy, but had never been a fighter and he didn’t know what, if any weapons the other men might have. His only choices were to stay hidden and try to avoid the light, or to run. He chose to run.
He raised himself into a sprinters starting position, waited for the light to disappear behind a tree for a second then he burst across the stream into the forest on the other side, smashing through shrubs and small branches as he scrambled up the far bank. At the top of the bank there was a narrow trail that had been cut out of the rock by prospectors a hundred years before. It had followed the contour of the cliff, slowly rising until it eventually climbed out of the canyon to the ridge above, but years of erosion had gradually narrowed the path to a sloped toe hold before finally disintegrating completely into the side of the cliff.
Chad could hear the Ludzi Ognia sliding down the bank on the far side of the brook. He took one look in either direction and decided to continue moving upstream. The path he chose was only eighteen inches wide, but it was fairly clear and it looked like it had the potential to lead him out of the canyon.
At first the trail followed the base of the cliff, so Chad was able to sprint along it in the dim light, without much difficulty, but soon it began to climb it’s way up the side of the canyon wall. Before he realized it, Chad was already thirty feet above the forest floor with the Ludzi Ognia coming up the trail behind him. He had no choice but to continue going forward. The path was now less than twelve inches wide and was sloping slightly into the canyon. Just ahead there was a corner that the path went around. Chad was hoping that it might widen at that point, or start leading down again. His pace had slowed considerably now that he could no longer see the base of the cliff or the brook beneath him. He rounded the corner and found that the path had narrowed even further. It was now only six inches wide and sloping even more towards the bottom of the canyon. He could no longer move straight ahead, but had to face the canyon wall with his hands and feet splayed apart against the rock-face.
Chad inched his way along, listening carefully for the sound of his pursuers. It had been a few minutes since he’d heard any conversation, and now, he could only hear one set of feet shuffling along the path behind him. A few seconds later he saw two beams of light working their way up the creek bed, sixty feet below him. Chad continued to move up the trail. It had now become so narrow that only his toes and the balls of his feet were on the pathway, the back half of his feet hung suspended in mid air.
Chad saw another corner coming and began to pray that the path would widen and take him quickly up and out of the canyon. As he rounded the corner his hopes were dashed. The path continued to narrow and now only the front three inches of his feet were on solid ground. He crept slowly along, testing every inch of trail before putting any weight on his leading foot. His face was squashed against the rock, looking in the same direction he was moving, and the fingers on his hands were like large spiders scurrying along, searching for any possible handhold. They found one. The end of a long taproot, belonging to an ancient Ponderosa Pine, had forced its way down through crevices in the rock wall and was protruding out into the canyon. The back of Chad’s right hand brushed blindly against the root. At first it surprised him and he almost lost his footing. He pushed himself even tighter against the wall, his calves were starting to ache and he could feel them beginning to spasm. His heart was pounding and sweat was stinging his eyes. He grabbed onto the root to test its strength.
The path had been deteriorating from the moment it began to rise from the canyon floor. Chad was terrified, his heart was pounding, his legs were shaking and he couldn’t catch his breath. It was impossible for him to continue on, so he looped the loose end of the taproot around his right wrist and waited.
The shuffling behind Chad had slowed as it approached the corner he’d just come around. Chad could hear the other man’s breathing, heavy, but even, and he could smell the other man, the same sickly sweet smell of stale urine and maple syrup that he noticed the day he’d gone to the Ludzi Ognia colony with Uncle Randy.
Chad was frozen only five feet from the corner, facing away from the approaching man, afraid to turn his head to look back down the path fearing that it would cause him to lose his balance and plunge off of the ledge. He tightened his grip on the pine root and pushed his face tighter against the wall, slowly turning it in the opposite direction, scraping bloody gashes into his cheek and flattening his nose against the side of his face. He completed his maneuver just in time to see the silhouette of a hooded figure coming around the corner.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!!" Chad screamed, his voice cracking with intensity. "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!! LEAVE ME ALONE!! Chad screamed again.
The hooded figure continued to approach, stopping two feet from Chad. They looked like two bizarre cut out paper dolls stuck to the side of the cliff. "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" Chad cried at the man in the hood as he produced a long walking stick from under his cloak. He poked the stick at Chad as if the film student was a fungus that needed to be removed from the rock face. Chad tried grabbing the stick from the other man, but he was afraid of moving too quickly and losing his balance. The man would poke and Chad would bat the stick away, they were engaged in a series of thrusts and parries sixty feet above the canyon floor. The man shuffled closer to Chad and lodged the stick between the boy and the side of the mountain. Just as he was being pried off of the ledge Chad grabbed the stick with his free hand and hung on tightly as he swung away from the side of the cliff. The tug on the stick caused the man in the cloak to loose his balance, his upper body arched away from the wall, and his hands spun wildly trying to find anything to cling to. His right foot had come completely off of the path and his left foot was about to slip off as well. At the last second the man noticed Chads silhouette still dangling in front of him. He tried to use the boys’ body to push himself back onto the path. It almost worked, but at the last second the man’s left foot lost its tenuous grip on the ledge and he plunged straight down, disappearing into the darkness. There was a second of silence followed by a sickening thud and cracking sounds as the man’s body came to a sudden stop at the bottom of the cliff.
Chad was still dangling from the long root, trying to re-establish his footing on the thin ledge. After several attempts he caught the path with his left foot and pulled himself closer to the wall which allowed him to reach a small crevice in the rock with his free hand and pull himself the rest of the way up onto the path. Chad was terrified and physically exhausted. His hands, knees and legs were shaking as he stood on the path, secured to the side of the cliff by the life saving pine root.
He knew that he would have to let go of the root if he was going to work his way back down the path, but his confidence had been completely eroded. Chad was becoming weaker with each passing minute. He looked out into the darkness and noticed that he could now see the faint outline of treetops less than twenty feet from where he stood. His mind began to race, maybe he should take fate into his own hands and try to jump for the trees and hopefully he would be able to grab onto a branch or a trunk and then climb the rest of the way down. He’d seen that kind of thing done in movies all the time.
Chad looked at the trees again, took a deep breath and let go of the pine root. He pushed his body as far as he could into the rock wall and stood for a moment, receipting the Lords Prayer. Slowly his left leg slid down the path for six inches and stopped. His fingers followed, scrambling along the rock face, catching up to the progress he’d made with his lead foot. Next, his right foot slid six inches down the path regaining the original, balanced, spacing between his two feet. He paused for a minute and let out a deep breath.
His left leg moved another six inches down the path. Chad repeated the process over and over and over again, until he’d returned to the first corner where the path had widened to a full foot. At that point Chad began to walk slowly down the rest of the trail, balancing himself against the cliff wall with his right hand as he walked. When he reached the forest floor Chad leaned back against the side of the cliff, then slowly dropped into a sitting position. He wrapped his arms around his legs and let his head drop between his knees and began to sob.

"Chad, Chad, where are you?" Colin called into the Walkie Talkie. They had lost sight of Chad when he stopped to look back at the hooded men pursuing them.
They never saw him enter the box canyon and he never saw them scramble up the slope above the brook into a small cave. They were already secured in their cramped sanctuary when Chad came running up the path towards them. They watched in horror, as he approached, slipped on the mossy rock and fell off the path into the stream. They tried calling to him, but did not want to shout too loudly fearing they would give away their position to the Ludzi Ognia. It was then that Colin remembered the Walkie Talkies.
"Chad, are you OK? Can you hear me." Colin tried contacting Chad again. He was about to try for a third time when he noticed three hooded men standing on the path directly above where Chad had disappeared.
"If they catch him, we’ll have to help him." Colin whispered to Mark and Jeremy. Both boys just nodded their heads in the dark silently praying that eventuality would not come to pass.
Flashlight beams shone across the bottom of the narrow valley and into the trees on the other side. The light ran up the small brook for a little ways and started back down again. All three students watching from the cave were waiting, muscles tense and ready to sprint to Chad’s aid if needed.
"Look!" Jeremy pointed to the bottom of bank on the other side of the stream. There was a dark figure scrambling up it towards the woods at the base of the cliff. The men with the flashlights had also seen Chad make his sprint away from them. One by one they slid down the near bank and began climbing back up the other side.
"Let’s go!" Colin ordered. "We can’t let them get out of our sight!"
A minute later the students were standing in a treed area at the base of the canyon wall. A dark figure was working its way up a narrow path, which climbed along the face of the cliff. There were two people directly underneath the man on the path who appeared to be keeping pace with his progress.
"Let’s follow those guys." Mark whispered to Colin and Jeremy. "Maybe they’re after Chad."
Mark led, followed by Jeremy and finally Colin. They moved cautiously along the base of the cliff, careful not to make any noise.
The two hooded figures disappeared around a corner fifty yards ahead. Mark, Colin and Jeremy began to move further out into the middle of the narrow canyon, putting several rows of trees between the students and the side of the cliff. They couldn’t see where the cloaked men had gone and didn’t want to bump into them accidentally in the dark. It was difficult to move quietly through the wooded area and on several occasions Mark was sure that they’d given away their location with the snap of a stick or the squishy crunch of wet pine needles and twigs under foot.
Within a few minutes the students had blazed a wide arch around the two men at the bottom of the cliff and were able to approach them secretively through the dense foliage of pine and cedar forest that covered the canyon floor. Colin crawled to the edge of the tree line and scanned the base of the cliff for the men. They were less than thirty feet away, standing near the bottom of a rock wall looking up at something that was happening on a ledge high above them.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!!" Chad’s anguished voice sent a chill through the students. "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!! LEAVE ME ALONE!! Chad screamed again.
The three students hiding in the forest stepped out of the sheltering trees to search for the source of Chad’s cries.
The sight of the young student defending himself against the hooded figure on the narrow ledge high above filled them with horror.
"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" Chad screamed.
Mark picked up a baseball size rock and moved cautiously towards the two men standing at the bottom of the cliff. Jeremy followed, carrying a thick branch he’d found near the stream. Colin grabbed two rocks, just big enough to fit inside his closed fists, and joined his friends.
Chad was pried off the face of the cliff and hung impossibly suspended in mid air. The students stopped, stunned by what they were witnessing, expecting their friend’s broken body to be bouncing off the rocks in front of them at any second. When Chad’s assailant plunged off the path instead, Jeremy fell to his knees, closed his eyes and grasped his newly acquired St. Christopher’s medal with one hand and performed the sign of the cross with the other.
Mark turned away, horrified by what was about to happen, leaving Colin the sole witness to the macabre event.
During the brief tussle on the ledge one of the men on the ground had stepped back a few yards, while the other remained directly underneath the assault which was taking place sixty feet above. He stood with arms outstretched as his companion hurtled towards him. The impact of the falling man’s body drove him into the ground with the force of an industrial sized post-pounder.
The silence of the night was broken by a thick, squashy, thud accompanied by a dull cracking that sounded like a coconut being smashed open with a hammer. The tangled mass of the two men’s bodies lie in a heap at the base of the cliff. The third man moved immediately to his crumpled companions. He quickly checked each for a pulse, then sat lotus style on the ground next to them, grabbing the wrist of one with his left hand and the wrist of the other with his right hand. His head was bowed and a low groaning chant began to rise out of his chest. He continued chanting for several minutes, weakening more with each passing second. His two companions remained motionless with the exception of the occasional twitch. The man appeared close to exhaustion, when he stopped chanting and checked for a pulse once more. He slowly stood up, took a last look at his fallen comrades, then, began walking towards the students.
As he passed between Colin and Jeremy, both students tightened the grip on their makeshift weapons, but there was no need. The man looked completely spent and there was an absolution to the lack of emotion on his face. He appeared to dissolve into the night as he continued heading towards the entrance of the canyon.
Mark watched until the man was out of sight, then turned his attention to the broken bodies at the base of the cliff. Mr. Jenkins had warned the students that these men were a threat and that they meant to harm or even kill the students. Even though Mark and his companions had been running from these strange hooded people for the past three hours, he still felt a need to see if there was anything he could do for the injured men.
He approached them as cautiously as he would a coiled rattlesnake. At least one of the men was still breathing. Mark could hear the raspy, gurgling of oxygen bubbling through airways filled with blood. He bent over for a closer look and reached out his hand to feel for a pulse. The two bodies were so tangled together, it was difficult for Mark to tell which man belonged to which body part. He found a wrist and checked for a pulse. There was none. He found another wrist, again, no pulse. A third wrist, still nothing, finally on the fourth try, he detected a very weak and erratic throbbing.
He gently separated the men and put them into a recovery position, snuggled together to preserve body heat. He wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but he wanted to try something. Finally, he took off his windbreaker and covered the torsos of the two bodies in a further attempt to keep them warm.
Jeremy and Colin watched in stunned silence.
"Where’s Chad!" Mark asked as he rose to his feet, looking up at the cliff.
"Shit! I didn’t see which way he went, I was watching you." Colin answered.
"Let’s check downhill first, and if we find him, let’s get the hell out of this canyon." Mark suggested.
"CHAD!" Colin shouted.
"Shut-up!" Jeremy warned. "What if there are more of them out there!"
The students followed the path at the base of the canyon wall until it intersected the trail descending from the cliff. A few yards further Colin almost tripped over Chad who was sitting on the ground with his head between his knees, breathing heavily.
"Hey, Spud, you OK man?" Colin asked softly, kneeling beside Chad to put his arm around the younger student’s shoulder.
"Uhhh, ya, thanks, Colin, ya, I’ll be OK. I just need a minute." Chad answered.
"Sure, take as much time as you need. I think we could all use a bit of a rest." Colin sat down beside Chad, his arm still around the other boy’s shoulder.
Chad tilted his head back and stared unblinking into the star filled sky. The glistening tracks of tears were still fresh on his cheeks. He looked at Colin, forcing himself to smile and repeated; "Ya, I’ll be OK."

Five minutes later, Chad was ready to go. His nerves had settled and the lactic acid build up in his calves had already begun to dissipate, reducing the cramping that had made it difficult for him to stand only a few minutes earlier.
The students worked their way slowly out of the canyon. By the time they’d reached the entrance, the pitch-blackness of the night had begun to fade, indicating that morning was on its way. It was just the beginning of a faint glow over the eastern horizon, but it provided the students with a better perspective of their surroundings.
The ravine they were leaving was only a fissure in the wall of a much larger canyon that horse-shoed its way completely around the clearing where they last saw the unconscious body of Darlene Bauer and where Mr. Jenkins had betrayed their position to the Ludzi Ognia.
They had three choices; cut across the clearing; continue on in the direction they were going, or head out the same way they’d come in.
There was no debate. All three choices would still have them passing by the Ludzi Ognia’s Ceremonial Altar.
The fading night, still provided a significant advantage in the cover of the trees, but that would soon be gone as the coming morning continued to erode their invisibility. The best way was the quickest way, they way they’d come in.
In less than a minute they could see a lonely torch still flickering through the trees. There was no sound, only the soft howling of a pre-dawn breeze blowing through the pines. Colin crawled to the edge of the clearing to get a better look. If the students could cut across the mouth of the canyon at this point it would put them at least a half hour closer to the Chute Lake Lodge.
The flickering torchlight revealed a violent scene. Two Ludzi Ognia, covered in blood lay on the ground near the Altar, which was now empty.
Mr. Jenkins was sitting on the ground, leaning against a large boulder that supported one of the ends of the makeshift Altar. He was covered with blood and breathing heavily.
Colin called to him from his hiding place; "Mr. Jenkins, can you hear me?"
"Yes." The old man replied weakly.
"Are there any more of them around?" Colin asked.
"No. The rest are gone." Mr. Jenkins propped himself up a little higher against the rock.
Colin stepped cautiously into the clearing and began walking slowly towards Mr. Jenkins. The other students waited for a few seconds then followed him.
Colin stood in front of Mr. Jenkins, looking down at the battered old man. "Why the fuck did you give us away?"
He shouted.
"I had to get them away from Darlene… I had to save her!"
Mr. Jenkins answered.
"How many of them were there?" Colin asked.
"These two,….. and the one on the Altar….. and the three that went after you….. and then, just after you were chased away,….. two more came from down the hill." Mr. Jenkins speech was labored, his words coming out in short bursts as he exhaled.
"What the hell happened here?" Colin pressed.
"These two… I hit one with a rock… I stabbed the other one while he was helping his friend… but, he stabbed me too." Mr. Jenkins pulled back the front of his jacket revealing a large cut in the side of his shirt and a dark pooling of blood around the hole.
"The Ofiarodawca….., the donor,….. on the Altar ….. I stabbed him too….., but before he could die….., the men from down the hill came,….. and tried to save him,…..but it took too much energy,….. they had to get him back to the colony….., they couldn’t worry about me….., he is too important to them…."
"What about Darlene? Where’s Darlene?" Chad demanded.
Mr. Jenkins eyes grew clearer and his energy seemed to revive a little with the mention of Darlene’s name.
"She’s gone….., gone to look for the babies." Mr. Jenkins gasped. "She knows where to look….., I never told her….., but, she knows….. You have to,….. find her….., If she finds the babies,….., it could,….. destroy her….." His eyes closed and his head fell back against the boulder.
Chad leaned over and grabbed Mr. Jenkins by the shoulders and shook him. "Where is she going? Where are the babies?" He shouted.
"Two valleys south,….. follow the dry stream uphill,…..over the ridge,….. babies are near the creek." Mr. Jenkins’ body went limp as he slumped to the ground.
Chad checked for a pulse, it was very weak, but steady.
"Fuck, man, this is way too fuckin’ messed." Jeremy had moved up beside Chad as the younger student was talking to Mr. Jenkins.
"Let’s get the fuck out of here, screw the psychic bitch, if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be in this shit-dicament!" Jeremy screamed.
"OK Jeremy, you and Mark head back to Chute Lake Lodge and call for help, and Chad and I will go find Darlene." Colin offered.
"Fuck that man, that’s the way back to those bastard’s colony. I ain’t chasing after those freaks. You and Mark go back and send help for us as soon as you get there." Jeremy argued.
"Look Jeremy, I’m going to look for Darlene, so if you stick with me, we’ll be heading further up the mountain. If you don’t want to help me look for Darlene, then go back to Chute Lake with Mark and I’ll take Colin with me. Your only other choice is to wait right here for someone to pick you and hope that more of those Ludzi Ognia people don’t come by first." Chad explained.
"Assholes!" Jeremy spat, unhappily.
"OK, let’s get going, while it’s still fairly dark." Mark suggested.
"Good idea, but let’s test the Walkie-Talkies first, just to make sure they are still working. Chad, you still got yours?" Colin asked.
"Ya, yes, I do." Chad takes the unit out of his pocket and turns it on. There is a bit of a hum and some static. Colin turns on his Walkie-Talkie as well.
"One, two, three….., do you read me Colin?’’ Chad tests.
"Loud and clear Spud." Colin answers.

Chad and Jeremy scrambled to the top of the ridge on their hands and knees. They were covered with soot and dirt and blood and were near exhaustion. The sun was on the verge of cresting Black Night Mountain to the east of Kelowna, but it would still be several hours before it’s direct rays would reach this part of Okanagan Mountain Park. An eerie glow of refracted light, ushering in the coming dawn, illuminated a small valley on the other side of the ridge.
It was a ghostly scene. The grove of trees that had once filled the valley was now an ashen cemetery of twisted monoliths rising out of the scorched earth like blackened bony hands. A ravine cut through the bottom of the valley, it’s edges sharp and jagged like the blistering cracks that had opened up on the charred flesh of Michael Servetus as he slowly roasted to death on the stake five hundred years before.
The two students could see a pale shape moving fluidly in and out of the remnants of trees. Chad raised the binoculars to his eyes.
Darlene was dressed in a long white flowing gown, looking like a priestess, or, more perhaps, like an aging bride. Her face was hidden behind a lacey veil. This was the first time Chad had seen her in anything at all revealing. Normally she would be dressed in heavy denim slacks, or a very thick full-length wool dress that effectively concealed her physical appearance. She was not as large as he’d thought. Her loosely draped clothing had made her look much heavier, but they had also disguised her barrel shaped chest and rounded shoulders. Chad had noticed her limp before, but had no idea that it was a result of a severely deformed left foot.
"She’s alive!" Chad whispered to Jeremy. "She’s still alive, and it looks like she’s alone." He added.
"Thank God." Jeremy replied. "Check everywhere, check every-fuckin’-where before we move an inch!" He demanded.
"She’s alone, I can see the entire valley, besides they were heading the opposite way. They’re gone Jeremy, they won’t be back, you can count on it." Chad assured his friend.
"Just check once more OK?" Jeremy urged.
Chad looked through the binoculars again, then handed them to Jeremy. "Here, take a look for yourself, she’s all alone!"
Jeremy stared through the binoculars for five minutes, examining every rock, burnt tree and depression in the entire valley. Finally satisfied that Darlene was alone he handed the binoculars back to Chad and slowly started to pick his way down the slope the bottom of the valley.
The ravine that had looked like a long narrow scar bisecting the valley floor was much larger than it had appeared from the top of the ridge and it separated Chad and Jeremy from where Darlene was performing some kind of ritual.
The sides of the bank were extremely unstable, undercut by past torrents of water no longer subdued by the calming affect of the vegetation that had once filled the valley. The depth and width of the channel varied along its length with some of the deeper portions still holding pools of water at the bottom. In these places the earth had been eroded to the bedrock below, and remnants of the rains that had carved the ravine sat stagnant in granite sinks.
Chad laid on the ground to peer over the edge of the trench. It was fifteen feet down to the bottom and over ten feet to the far side.
"We won’t cross here buddy." Chad told Jeremy as he was getting back to a standing position.
Jeremy pointed upstream. "It looks like we might be able to cross about a hundred yards upstream, hand me the binoculars."
Chad passed the binoculars to Jeremy, who examined the ravine at the spot he’d been pointing at. "Ya, that shouldn’t be too bad up there."
It took the boys less than a minute to reach a widened section of the ravine where the banks on both sides had caved in providing a much more gradual decent into and ascent out of the trench. They crossed over to the other side of the ravine and began walking down towards Darlene.
Jeremy looked towards Chad, "What if she doesn’t want to come back with us?" He asked.
Just as he finished his sentence Darlene came towards them, stopping about twenty feet from where they stood, she turned away from them and walked parallel to the ravine. She had not noticed them standing there. It was if she had entered one of her psychic trances making the outside world oblivious to her. As she walked away Chad and Jeremy could hear her reciting an unfamiliar prayer.
"O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that I may do this work with holiness of heart"
As she walked among the silhouettes of dead trees, she paused randomly for a moment or two,
"I baptize thee with the water of the earth for the birth of man".
Each time she moved she would sprinkle bits of water onto the gray ash that covered the entire forest floor. Once satisfied that she had completed this portion of the ritual she returned to the exact location where she had started her baptismal ceremony. She put down the vile of water she’d been using and picked up two smoldering branches from the edge of a dying campfire. She held one of the branches in each hand and raising them above her head she began to spin and dance her way through the exact same route that she had taken earlier with the water.
"With authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him I baptize thee with fire for the spirit of man."
Upon completion of the fire ritual, she dropped the branches and slowly started walking towards the ravine at the edge of the recently sanctified area. Twenty feet from the ravine she began to limp, dragging her weak leg behind her.
She was etching a shape into the charcoal remnants that covered the forest floor. Before long she had completed a hexagram large enough for her to lie stretched out completely within its inner hexagon without touching any of the edges. Upon finishing the hexagram she stopped at the tip of the northern most point, looked upwards and raised her hands into the air, pausing as if waiting for a sign. A slight wind blew remnants of burnt leaves to her feet and gently ruffled her white gown. For a moment she looked almost Angelic. She, slowly lowered her hands tilting her head to one side as if listening to, or for, something. Her right hand disappeared into the folds of her gown and then reappeared with a long, silver dagger. She placed the tip of the dagger into the palm of her left hand and pushed. The skin gave way under the pressure of the sharp blade and rivulets of blood began pooling in her palm. Still standing on the northern most point of the hexagram, facing the emptiness of the blackened forest, she closed her hand into a fist turning the palm downward letting blood trickle onto the ash of the forest floor.
"May the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world"
She repeated this process five more times before moving to the centre of the hexagon, where she curled up into a fetal position, sobbing.
The students, who had been mesmerized by the clairvoyant’s ritual, moved towards the hexagram. With each step a deeper and deeper terror began to erode their confidence. By the time they were within ten feet of the hexagram they were paralyzed with fear, as if some unknown force was holding them at bay. All they could do was watch the clairvoyant sob, softly at first, then louder, her back heaving with each large sigh. Then suddenly she stopped, her eyes, which had been shut, opened in a wide stare, and she was listening. Listening intently to the coming dawn, to the hollow sound of the breeze winding its way around the lifeless trees, to the sound of her own breathing, to the drone of a distant plane…. Her eyes grew even wider and she turned her stare toward the students. She was just about to speak when the ground beneath her began to shift. A puff of gray soot floated into the air as a crack began to form underneath her body, then another crack started, and another. They were radiating out from under her as if she had fallen on ice that was too thin. Chad took a large step towards her, but it was too late, the ground beneath her had opened up and swallowed her into its shadowy depth.
The hole that had opened had almost engulfed Chad as well, who at the last second had lurched backwards to avoid becoming its second victim.
Jeremy helped Chad to his feet and they stood in silence staring at the cavernous pit in front of them. Dust was still rising up from the cave-in when they heard a blood-curdling scream coming from somewhere inside.
"Holy shit, Jesus fucking Christ, I can’t take much more of this shit man, no fuckin way." Jeremy took a step back from the hole while performing the sign of the cross over his chest.
"Give me your rope and tie off to that burnt stump over there." Chad ordered.
Jeremy secured the rope and Chad lowered himself into the hole.
"Be careful Spud buddy. I don’t want to have to come in there after you." Jeremy shouted down to Chad, then under his breath he muttered, "Like that would happen."
The ground on which Darlene was just laying had been severely undercut by the last rainstorm. The thin layer of earth that had concealed the cavern had given way under Darlene’s weight dropping her eight feet onto a sloped ledge that ran into the ravine.
When Chad reached the ledge he could see the shadowed outline of Darlene leaning against the earthen wall. Her head hung down and she was humming a vaguely familiar tune between sobs.
Chad searched his pocket for a flashlight while lowering himself to his knees to be eye level with Darlene. Just as he was flipping the switch to turn the flashlight on, he remembered the song. ‘Hush now baby don’t you cry, mama’s gonna sing you a lullaby.’
The satisfaction of remembering the song turned to horror as soon as the beam of the flashlight fell upon Darlene. She was sitting on the cavern floor with her right foot twisted grotesquely underneath her. Two inches of jagged thigh-bone were protruding through a gaping cut with tendons and shredded muscle hanging limply out of the same wound.
In her lap she held a tiny skeleton, no more than twenty inches long. It’s twisted frame proof of significant deformities. The minute skull void of teeth, looked up at Darlene with its vacant sockets as if it could hear every note she hummed.
White, chalky looking rocks seemed to be embedded in the earthen wall behind Darlene. Chad trained his flashlight on one of the rocks, then stepped backwards in horror. The entire wall was filled with infantile skeletons made up of bones no larger than those of a large chicken.
Chad looked back at Darlene.
"We’re gonna get you out of here. You’re gonna be OK, I promise." He looked up towards the hole above them. "We’re gonna have to try to get her out of here Jeremy, this bank may not be that stable."
"We have to take them home, they need to go home." Darlene pleaded.
"I tried tried to help them, but they can’t rest here. They’ll wash away, they have to have a home."
Chad looked back up at the hole again, then hollered. "I’m going to tie a rope around her, then I’ll help her from the bottom and you pull from the top." Chad began to secure the rope under Darlene’s arms, taking off his own coat to put between her skin and the rope trying to cushion the strain from the rope as much as possible. "She’s got a compound fracture of the femur." Chad added.
"Speak English to me buddy, I ain’t no fuckin Dr." Jeremy’s exclaimed in exasperation.
"She broke her upper leg and the bones sticking out through the skin. It could send her into shock, we have to be as gentle as possible." Chad answered.
Chad finished securing the rope and carefully helped Darlene move herself to the shallowest part of the hole. It was less than five feet deep at this point and there was a slight slope up to where Jeremy was standing, holding the other end of the rope.
Jeremy had wrapped the rope around his shoulders for extra leverage and was bracing his feet against a small stump near the hole. Darlene was sitting with her back against the sloping wall, her broken leg now extended painfully in front of her. The jagged end of the bone had receded, but each time she moved the loose end of the bone would re-emerge through the gash in her leg, bloody and splintered. Chad looked at Darlene, trying his best to conceal the wince he knew must be etched on his face.
His stomach was in knots anticipating the excruciating pain he knew he was about to cause this woman, but there was no other way, they had to get her out of that unstable pit. He signaled for Jeremy to take up the slack in the rope while helping Darlene into a standing position. She was supporting herself on her uninjured leg while leaning against the earthen wall. Her eyes and mouth were clenched shut in agony. A low groan was coming from deep in her chest and tears were streaming out of the corners of her eyes. Chad looked down at her broken leg and a sudden feeling of nausea overcame him, for a second he thought he was going to be violently ill. The weight of her leg had separated the broken portions of bone and the damage to the surrounding muscle and tissue had been even worse than Chad had thought. The bottom of her leg dangled limply from the remaining strands of soft tissue, twisting slowly back and forth like a rope swing in the wind.
Chad readied himself, then squatted between Darlene’s legs, trying his best not to touch the broken leg. He placed his shoulders and upper back underneath her buttocks and placed his hands against the dirt wall Darlene was leaning on. As soon as he was satisfied that she was balanced on his shoulders he shouted up to Jeremy, "OK, on the count of three I want you to start pulling until I say stop. One, two, three, PULL!"
Chad extended his legs at the same time Jeremy pulled. The first effort thrust Darlene’s upper body out of the hole until the small of her back caught on a rock protruding from the edge and she was stuck. Jeremy couldn’t release the tension on the rope or she would slide right back into the pit and Chad was fully extended and couldn’t add any more leverage to push her out of the hole without repositioning himself. Darlene was being bent backwards, stretched over edge of the hole. The burning pain from the jagged rock boring a hole into the small of her back was only surpassed by the searing agony of the two broken edges of bone grinding against one another as Chad tried to force her upwards with a weakening series of heaves.
Finally, Darlene’s hands found the surface of the hole and with her last conscious effort she lifted herself off the rock. The combined force of Chad’s pushing and Jeremy’s pulling on the rope propelled her out of the hole, until the heel of her broken leg caught on the edge. She stopped with a jolt, severing most of the remaining skin, muscle and tissue that her leg still clung to.
Chad scrambled out of the hole and grabbed his pack. They’d brought first-aid supplies but nothing suitable for this kind of injury. By the time he found what he was looking for and made his way to where Darlene lay, Jeremy was already sitting beside her, obviously in a state of shock himself. He was trying to push her nearly amputated leg back on to the bloody, torn mass of tissue at the top of her thigh.
Chad put his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. "Let’s try to bandage her up as best we can before she wakes up again."
Jeremy looked up at Chad, his unblinking eyes wide with fear. "Where’s the blood? Her legs almost ripped off and there’s hardly any blood!" He looked back at Darlene.
"I don’t know. Let’s just get it covered up to keep it clean, and then see if we can get Mark and Colin on the radio." Chad bent over and gently took Jeremy’s hand off of Darlene’s leg, then he cleaned as much debris from around the wound as he could before he began to bandage.
Chad had received some first-aid training in Boy Scouts, but had no idea how to set or care for a compound fracture. He did his best to try to secure the bottom of the leg to the top with a set of small plastic splints he removed from the first-aid kit and tied the bandaging as tightly as he could around her leg to minimize movement. While Chad was working on Darlene’s leg, Jeremy retrieved the Walkie-talkie from Chad’s pack.
He put the unit up to his mouth and held in the transmit button. "Mark, Colin, you guys out there? Can you hear me?"
"I doubt it." Chad interrupted. "You’ve still got it on standby. You can receive on standby but you have to turn the unit on to send."
Jeremy powered up the unit and tries again. "Mark, Colin, you guys out there?"
There was a brief moment of static then Colin’s hollow voice came out of the speaker. "Ya, we’re here, go ahead."
"We found Darlene, she’s hurt bad! Her right leg is just hanging by a thread, Chad’s done what he can to bandage her, but we have to get her to a hospital right away." Jeremy paused and waited for a response, but there was only silence. He waited a few more seconds then repeated his plea for help, adding, "Are you still out there? Can you hear me?"
Chad was still kneeling beside Darlene. Once he was satisfied with his bandaging effort he turned his attention to removing the rope and his jacket from under her arms. He rolled up the jacket and placed it under Darlene’s head for support, then stood up and walked over to Jeremy, who was still trying to re-establish contact with Colin.
"Jeremy, let go of the transmit button."
"Oh, shit, shit!" Jeremy exclaimed, releasing the button just in time to hear Colin’s exasperated voice sending an insult he doubted Jeremy would here. "…..sound expert my ass, let go of the button moron, let go of the button."
"Ya, I’m back, I got you. You guys got my last transmission?" Jeremy asked, deciding to wear the insult rather than wasting time responding to it.
"We got it bud, sorry about the moron comment." Colin replied.
"It’s fine, I deserved it. Are you guys near the lodge?"
"We can see the lake. If I can get Mark to move his sorry ass a bit faster we could be at the lodge in ten minutes. We’ll call ‘Search and Rescue’ as soon as we get there. Keep your Walkie-Talkie on and let us know how things are going. It’s getting a little steep right now, I’m putting my radio in my pack. I’ll call you back once we are at the lodge. Out."
Jeremy put his walkie-talkie down and went over to look at Darlene. Her breathing was labored and erratic. As Jeremy knelt by her side he noticed that she was making a strange purring sound deep in her throat. He put his hand on her forehead to push the hair out of her eyes. The touch of his hand stirred Darlene and her eyes opened, but she was not awake. Her pupils were rolling back in their sockets exposing the mostly yellowish whites of her eyes as if she was about to go into a convulsive fit.
Jeremy brushed her hair back again and was just about to remove his hand from her forehead when her right hand shot up with catlike speed and clasped his wrist. Her grip was intense and Jeremy didn’t want to risk shaking her too much in an effort to get free, so he allowed her to maintain her grasp.
The purring noise she’d been making began to intensify and Jeremy’s wrist began to get warm. Soon the heat was intense, he could feel the skin burning under Darlene’s touch, but she was much stronger than he’d imagined and he could not break free. He felt himself becoming weaker and weaker until he could no longer hold himself up on his knees, and he collapsed in a fetal position beside Darlene.
Chad had been going through his pack to see if there was anything else that might be useful in an emergency. He found a light foil thermal blanket that he pulled out and was about to take it over to cover Darlene with when he saw Jeremy crumpled at her side. He was already unconscious, his body twitching epileptically beside Darlene. She was still holding onto his wrist and making a strange purring sound, her body was twitching as well, but with short electrical bursts.
Chad climbed over Jeremy’s body and grabbed onto Darlene’s wrist. The amount of heat being generated by her hold on Jeremy’s arm took Chad by surprise and he released grip. Chad shook his hands then grabbed her wrist again and tried pulling Jeremy’s arm away from her, but to no avail. He then turned and kneeled over Darlene’s chest and put his hands on her shoulders and shook her, gently at first, then with more intensity. Jeremy’s condition continued to worsen. Chad wasn’t sure how much longer his friend could survive. He turned back towards Darlene and shouted. "WAKE UP!" Shaking her violently. "WAKE UP." Chad slapped Darlene across the cheek. "GOD DAMNED It, WAKE UP!!" Chad slapped her again, this time so hard that his hand stung.
Darlene’s eyes flickered for a second and then returned to normal. She looked up at Chad sitting on her chest, then she looked over at Jeremy lying drained beside her. She looked at his wrist in her hand her eyes opened wide with horror and she threw his limp arm down onto the ash covered ground as if it was a snake that had just bitten her.
"Oh my God, Oh my God, what have I done?" She looked over at Jeremy again and grabs his wrist, closed her eyes and began to chant. Chad was just about to strike her again when he noticed that the color was beginning to return to Jeremy’s cheeks. In less than a minute Jeremy’s breathing was back to normal and he appeared fully recovered. Just as Jeremy’s eyes opened, Darlene’s grip on Jeremy’s wrist relaxed and her limp hand fell to the ground.
Chad covered Darlene with the blanket and helped Jeremy to his feet.
"I thought I’d lost you there for a minute buddy. Scared the hell out of me!" Chad smiled and put his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. They stood for a moment, watching Darlene, trying to see if she was still breathing. Satisfied that she was alive, Chad turned to Jeremy.
"How you doing pal?" He asked.
"Good, got a bit of a head-ache, but actually pretty good."
Chad picked up the walkie-talkie. "Hi, Colin, Mark, you guys at the lodge yet?"
"Ya, we just got here. Colin’s talking to search and rescue right now. They’re sending a helicopter, it should be there in half an hour. Think she’ll make it?" Mark asks.
"I don’t know, buddy, I don’t know. It’s going to be close."

The sun was streaming into the small room through the thin motel curtains and Jan ‘n Dean were belting out a beach tune on the radio. It was a typically beautiful summer day in Kelowna, but unlike most tourists dreading the end of their vacation, Chad was relieved to be finally heading back to Calgary. He’d just folded his last pair of jeans into the ancient black leather suitcase sitting on his bed when he saw Uncle Randy’s truck pull into the parking lot.
It had been a week since they rescued Darlene from the ravine. She was still in intensive care, but had stabilized and was expected to make a full recovery. The RCMP and Search and Rescue had combed the rest of the mountainside, but had found no trace of the carnage the boys had witnessed. The men at the base of the cliff and the bodies in the clearing, including that of Mr. Jenkins, were all gone. The Ludzi Ognia colony had been abandoned with care and efficiency. No trace of their existence was left. Not one finger print or shred of clothing or hair follicle or fingernail was found. It was as if the houses and crops that remained behind had raised themselves.
Uncle Randy had promised to meet with Detectives Bevandick and Mossman to find out whatever he could about the RCMP investigation and he’d promised to fill Chad in on the details before the students left for Calgary. The other boys had gone for one last swim at City Park while Chad finished his packing and waited for his uncle to arrive.
Chad zipped up his suitcase and lifted it off the bed, putting it on the floor beside his packsack and camera bag.
There were three loud raps on the door.
"Hey Spud, let your old uncle in, it’s hot as hell out here this morning!" Randy’s voice came through the door.
"Hi Uncle, you want to come in, or go for a coffee?" Chad asked as he opened the door.
"I could sure use a cup, but, I’ve got a meeting at eleven this morning that I have to be at, this won’t take long." Randy stepped into the room and pulled the chair out from the combo desk-vanity-counter contraption that can only be found in budget rate motels and hotels.
"Either Greg and Lee are playing this one really close to the chest, or the RCMP know dick all yet!" Randy threw a picture onto the table beside Chad.
"This look familiar to you Spud?" He asked.
Chad examined the picture closely. "Sure, that looks like the bin full of chicken bones I saw at the Ludzi Ognia colony, except it’s burnt pretty bad."
"Those weren’t Chicken bones, buddy, they’re baby bones." Randy looked at Chad, his face softened with empathy for the discarded infants. "Someone tried to hide the box up in KLO Canyon. They put it on a rock in the middle of the creek, set fire to it and left. It was just luck that a hiker noticed the smoke and found the box before it was too far gone."
"What about the bones that Darlene found, were they babies too?" Chad asked.
"They were exactly the same as the bones they found in the box. The cops figure that there were three different sites where the babies were buried in that valley. Two of them had been dug up and Darlene found the third one." Randy explained.
"How do they know they were the same?" Chad wanted to know.
"Every skeleton they found had some kind of deformity. Some had curvatures of the spine, others only three toes or fingers, some skulls had only one eye socket. It was pretty obvious those weird bastards had no use for less than perfect babies."
"Poor little guys." Chad lamented. "What’s going to happen to them?"
"Greg told me that once forensics is finished with them, they have lined up volunteers to help reconstruct the little bodies so that they can all be given a proper burial. I think that your friends Kelsey and Sheila are heading up that group." Randy looked at Chad and asked a question of his own. "By the way, how are Kelsey and Sheila doing with the research on the book?"
"Good, they’re pretty sure that it is an authentic fourth copy of the Christianismi Restitutio, but they want to be able to compare it against a known original copy. They are just working on getting the approval to do that." Chad answered.
"Well, good luck Spud, I hope it works out for you." Randy smiled at his nephew as he rose out of his chair.
"You mean for us." Chad replied.
"What do you mean?" Uncle Randy asked.
"I guess I forgot to tell you. We all decided that, if it wasn’t for you, we’d never have found the book in the first place, so you’re in for an equal share." Chad’s grin was infectious.
"Whooo-wee, Spud, that’s unbelievable. Hey, do me a favor, don’t mention any of this to Auntie Sandra until the divorce is finalized!" Randy winks at his nephew and smiles. "Just kidding buddy, you know I love her! Well, I gotta run, you boys have a safe trip back!"
"Ya, Spud?"
"Let me know when the funeral is, OK?"
"You got ‘er Pontiac."

One Month Later……
"I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord, he that believeth in me: yea, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever."
A gray September sky was struggling to hold back it’s burden. The few lonely droplets that were able to escape from the clutches of the large black cloud covering the cemetery were just a precursor of the deluge to come.
"I know that my redeemer liveth, and that I shall rise out of the earth in the last day, and shall be covered again with my skin, and shall see God in my flesh: yea, and I my self shall behold him, not with other, but with the same eyes."
The priest stood facing the small crowd of mourners gathered for the service. In one hand he held an umbrella, in the other a bible. His face was tanned and leathery, his hair speckled with gray, flowed in waves over his ears down to his collar.
The rain began to fall with more consistency as the priest continued on with the ancient burial prayer that Sheila had found within the pages of the Christianasmi Restitutio.
"Man that is borne of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery: he commeth up, and is cut down like a flower, he flyeth as he were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay."
A canopy of umbrellas spontaneously emerged sheltering the crowd from the growing downpour.
"FOR as much as it hath pleased almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear children, here departed, we therefore commit their bodies to the ground. Earth, to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure, and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who shall change our vile body that it may be like to his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself."
On conclusion of the prayer, the priest picked up a handful of dirt from the mound piled at the side of a small grave and threw it onto the coffin inside, stopping for a moment to cross himself before moving onto the next grave site. He repeated this process twenty-eight more times before the service was completed.
Chad and Kelsey were standing on either side of Darlene Bauer’s wheelchair. Chad had his hand on Darlene’s shoulder and Kelsey was holding Darlene’s hand in hers. Together they were sheltering her with their umbrellas, but her cheeks were still glistening from the moisture of her tears.
Darlene looked from grave to grave. Listening intently, straining to hear any sound that could possibly be coming from the infantile tombs.
One by one the rest of the mourners silently left the burial site, until Chad and Kelsey and Darlene were the last to remain.
Darlene pushed her wheelchair towards the open graves, motioning for Chad to stop when he started to follow her. She slowly passed every grave, stopping to look down at the tiny coffin at the bottom of each one before returning to where Kelsey and Chad stood.
Darlene’s hair was clinging to her face in long wet strands and her clothing was completely soaked through. The look on her face was that of deep sorrow, yet, there was a glint of relief in her eyes. One last time she looked toward the graves, and listened for a moment, then she looked up at Chad and whispered;
"They’ve stopped."

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