Thursday, October 20, 2011
FICTION: In a Flash By Katrina Erickson
My knees ached after climbing up two miles of slippery shale to the top of the mountain ridge. It had left me puffing and silently cursing General Miles. Like any good member of the military, you have to confine these thoughts to your head. You can’t go around bad-mouthing your commanding officer, no matter how dead the fellow was (100 years or thereabouts), or how alone you might be. It would be setting a bad precedent.
Carefully laying down the signaling equipment, I sat on a convenient rock and tried to catch my breath while rubbing some of the pain out of my knees and wincing at the thought of the walk back down to my Geo Metro currently baking in the sun at the bottom of the hill. When I get back this afternoon, the inside of the car would probably rival the temperature on the surface of the sun.
The view across the valley was worth it though. My equipment would easily send messages to the ridge that lay a number of miles away. The clear air and the low humidity meant that I could probably send a message farther, but there wouldn’t be anyone there to confirm the distance. Technically, of course, there wasn’t anyone over there to receive my signaling today, but I was reenacting a time when there had been someone there. Well, someone had been there over a hundred years ago when they were using heliographs like mine to signal the whereabouts of the local Native population, when such a thing was a concern anyway.
Pushing that thought from my mind I stood up and carefully dislodged the tripod from the rest of the equipment. The next half hour was spent putting things together and adjusting the mirror and signaling attachment. I could feel my face turning redder under the midday sun as I flipped the screen back and forth sending flashes of light across the valley to the adjoining mountain letting anyone over there know the status of the area in relation to the likelihood of Indian raiders: “All Clear,” my mirror flashed in the sun. After every message I used my spyglass for the regulated amount of time to check for an answer from the other mountain. I could just make out the barren scrub landscape that matched the look of the ridge I was standing on. Every so often there would be a hint of movement that might be a rabbit or bird, but never any glints of a mirror.
The afternoon sun beat down, the air still and silent in the heat as I picked my way down the slippery gravel slope clutching the heavy wood and brass equipment to me as my steps dislodged showers of stone down the hill. Stopping to wipe the sweat making its way out from under my hat and down into my eyes, I paused and squinted through the heat across the valley. At first I thought that I had gotten heatstroke, my brain fried under my blue wool hat, but from the far slope I saw them, bright white flashes coming from the crest of the ridge. I was reaching for my code book before realizing that the light was signaling just two words over and over. Two words I didn’t need to look up. A chill ran through me, the sweat turning to ice on my skin at the message sparkling at me from the barren mountain top. The silence of the afternoon was interrupted by the sound of a little cascade of rocks somewhere near me and I was painfully aware of just how far my car was down the treacherous landscape.
Through the heat and the years the message glinted, “Beware Apaches -- Beware Apaches -- Beware…”