Robledo Mountain
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2018 by Kraken

The nagging, blaring, awful noise slowly penetrated the dark void. Eventually, it woke me up. ‘Woke me up’ is probably too strong a phrase. It was more like swimming through a thick soup of unconsciousness, towards something that vaguely resembled awareness. I’d experienced this feeling before, when I’d awakened in a hospital recovery room from general anesthetic.

How long I floated in that dream like state of hazy semi-awareness I can’t say. I do remember that as I was peeking out from the haziness, there was a foreboding general sense of vague unexplainable uneasiness. I also felt the rumbling, gurgling, boiling in my head, that I somehow knew meant a major, almost paralyzing headache in my near future. None of what I was feeling was helped by that damned noise!

After some unreasonable amount of time I finally gained enough awareness to figure out that I was in my RV, and not in a hospital. With the passage of more time, I finally realized the awful noise was the sound of my RV’s horn. Then came the realization that the horn was blaring, because my forehead was resting on the center of the steering wheel; which was immediately followed by the blossoming of the predicted headache, into mind numbing reality.

A few minutes later I successfully struggled through the debilitating pain of the headache, and managed to raise my head from the steering wheel. In the blessed quiet, I forced my body back into the seat, with my head against the head rest. My eyes still closed, I waited for the rest of the fog to lift from my thoughts, and for the headache to subside.

My first real thought was about the dream I’d been having of my wife Laura, our youngest son Mike, and I.

We’d been riding our horses on a bright spring morning along the Rio Grande at the base of the Robledo Mountains. The air had been crisp without being cold, seemingly enhancing the smell of creosote and mesquite of the high desert. The feel of the horses moving underneath us as we dashed in and out of the dry riverbed, only added to the exhilaration we all felt. Despite how vivid it all seemed, it had to have been a dream. The last ride all three of us had taken together was in early 2008, almost eight years ago, just before Laura had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

That was closely followed by a new thought. The last thing I remembered was driving south on Highway 185 on my way home from Albuquerque. But why had I been in Albuquerque?

A few moments later I remembered the answer. I had been in Albuquerque for a weekend gun show. Instead of coming home immediately after the show as I normally did, I’d stay overnight so I could pick up weapons, ammunition, and clothing, from the warehouse at Kirtland Air Force Base. Six months ago, four of my long-time friends had convinced me to join them in a joint bid for a large lot in a government auction. Surprisingly, we had won. I was due in Phoenix in three days to split everything up amongst the five of us, before continuing my normal gun show circuit.

As the fog in my brain completely lifted and the headache subsided to a dull throb, I began to remember details from the last twelve hours. I’d spent the morning cleaning up the paperwork from my weekends sales, had a quick lunch, and had driven over to Kirtland Air Force Base. There I spent the afternoon and early evening loading up my custom twenty-five foot trailer, and most of the RV, with the surplus we’d bid on. By the time I was done loading and rearranging everything to my satisfaction, it was late evening. With the late start, I knew that the three hour trip home would see me pulling into my once home - now my daughter’s and her family’s home - near midnight.

I was ten miles from home on Highway 185 when a strange ground fog began welling up from out of nowhere. Seemingly within seconds it had covered all the ground in sight including the road. Slowing the RV to a crawl, I began pulling over to the dirt shoulder by feel alone. By the time I’d moved well off the road, the fog had thickened even more and risen up to where I’d even lost sight of the night sky. The very last thing I remembered before blacking out, was a feeling of profound relief as I reached to shift the transmission into park.

Without moving my head, I gave a sideways look out of the corner of my eye. Yes, I had successfully put the transmission in park before I’d blacked out. A quick glance at the dashboard clock told me that whatever this was, it had started just over an hour ago.

So, what the hell happened? Why had I blacked out? I’d been at a complete stop, so it wasn’t possible that I’d hit something. Had something hit me after I stopped? As I was thinking those thoughts, I was also checking myself out just in case. All my toes moved, my knees bent, there was no pain or problem with my back or neck, my fingers all worked, my arms moved, and although my head hurt, there were no bumps, scrapes, or bruises on my head.

A glance out the windshield just added to the puzzle. The glare from the headlights bouncing back distorted the view so much I couldn’t say with certainty but my general impression was the RV was just a few inches away from a rock wall. I knew for a fact that there weren’t any rock walls anywhere near the road on this stretch of Highway 185.

Swiveling the seat, I struggled to my feet, and opened the door. I was met with a blast of extremely cold air as I climbed down from the RV onto sand and gravel. Another puzzle. It was the middle of August, but it felt like late winter. While I could hear the whistle of a strong wind blowing somewhere nearby I was standing in an eerily cold calm. Despite the unexpected cold, and while being dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, I felt fine. In fact, other than the headache, my sixty-six-year-old body felt better than it had in a very long time.

Moving around to the front of the RV, I found no damage to the front of it, but the bumper was about an inch away from a wall of rock. At the back of the trailer attached to the RV, I discovered it was about fifteen feet from another rock wall. Another puzzle.

As I turned to walk back towards the front of the RV, I noticed an area slightly lighter in shade than the surrounding blackness. A couple of seconds later I was standing in the opening to the cave into which my RV somehow had been inserted. Shivering slightly in the cold I walked out the opening and into the wind which wasn’t as strong as I’d feared it would be. Outside the cave I was met by one of my favorite smells, the smell of the high mountain desert in late evening. The familiar scent of mesquite, creosote, and open water were tinged with the scent of something I didn’t immediately recognize. There had never been a lot of sagebrush in this part of New Mexico so it took me a moment to place it. The smell of sagebrush was much more powerful than I could ever remember, competing on an almost equal footing with the creosote, mesquite, and water.

The quarter moon gave enough light to see the Rio Grande, a little over five hundred yards away. As I took a quick look around I realized that something with the view was off. Actually, three things were off. First, I was west of the river, at least thirty feet higher than the opposite bank, and there was no sign of the levees I knew should be there. Second, I didn’t see any lights from Dona Ana. It wasn’t just that I didn’t see any lights; I didn’t even see the reflected glow of lights I expected to see this close to Las Cruces, and up Highway 70 towards San Augustin Pass. Third, there was no road. Nor was there any reflected gleam of asphalt or concrete – anywhere!

How long I stood there shivering in the dark, trying to puzzle everything out I don’t know; but eventually the cold became too much, and I turned back to the cave and warmth of the RV. Before entering the cave, I paused to look at the opening. While there are a few caves in the Robledo Mountains, including Geronimo’s Cave, none of them, that I knew of, had an opening shaped like the one I was looking at. While the opening was large enough for two men to walk through side by side, there was no way it was wide enough, or tall enough, for the RV and trailer to fit through it. Absently, I added one more piece to the puzzle and pulled out my cell phone to call my daughter. I knew she’d be waiting up for me, and I wanted to allay her fears when I didn’t make it home on time. I dialed the number, only to discover I had no cell service. It’d been years since I couldn’t get cell service anywhere on Highway 185. Shaking my head in disgust I added another stray piece to the unsolved puzzle, and entered the cave.

Just inside the cave I made one more discovery. The RV and trailer were sitting perfectly parallel with the opening but offset by ten yards. Even if the RV could fit through the opening there was simply no way for the RV and trailer to be in their current positions. There just wasn’t enough maneuvering room to come in through the entrance, turn the RV and trailer to the right and ten yards later turn it to the left and straighten out completely. My RV was stuck in this cave, like a ship in a bottle.

Standing there, I thought to myself, ‘Paul McAllister, what have you gotten yourself into this time?’

A moment later, still shivering, I shook off the thought and turned to unhitch the trailer. As I was working on leveling the RV and expanding the slide outs, I absently noticed that my clothes felt loose and baggy. The cargo shorts I could almost understand, as I was wearing a Beretta 9mm on my belt and that always caused a drag at the hips but my shirt felt baggy too. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that the combination of diet and exercise I’d been doing were finally starting to pay off.

Entering the RV I reached over the seat and turned off the RV headlights and engine, before moving to the living area and grabbing a Diet Coke out of the fridge. I sat down on the couch to think for a few minutes. There wasn’t much I could do at this point, as it was after midnight. I had no clue where I was except somewhere near the Robledo Mountains and Rio Grande, north of Las Cruces.

After a few more minutes of thought, I realized that like the rest of the current situation, there wasn’t much I could do about it tonight. Finishing my drink, I walked to the bedroom, shucked my shirt and shorts, and tumbled into bed. My last conscious thought before sleep claimed me, was that tomorrow would just have to sort itself out.

My dreams that night were all of the past.

I dreamed of my mom giving me piano and guitar lessons in our El Paso apartment on lazy afternoons, and later in our house on the Mescalero Reservation. I dreamed of school on the reservation, where my dad taught first grade and my mom taught music and art to all five grades in the reservation’s elementary school.

I dreamed of my two closest friends: John Garcia and Hector Delgado. From the time my family moved to the reservation until I graduated from high school, we were the Three Amigos (some called us the Three Stooges but I’m sure that was just jealousy).

I dreamed of the morning Mr. Garcia told me my parents had died the night before in a car accident, and my eight-year-old world came crashing down around me. I dreamed of the relief I felt when Mr. Garcia and Mr. Delgado told me that the Garcia’s were my guardians, and I would be living with them from now on.

I dreamed of late spring, summer, and early fall days, with John and Hector riding our horses exploring the lands of the reservation and adjoining Lincoln National Forest. I dreamed of attending my first Aikido martial arts class. I dreamed of Mrs. Garcia teaching us to dance (unsuccessfully in my case), my first date, my first kiss, and our high school graduation.

I dreamed of the day we received our black belts, of goodbyes to John and Hector as they went off to college. I dreamed of my eighteenth birthday, when I learned Mr. Dominguez had started a Trust for me ten years earlier with the money from my parents’ insurance and civil court settlement.

I dreamed of my Air Force career, security police technical school, the first day at each new assignment, the first day of learning Krav Maga as part of SWAT training. I dreamed of volunteering to be a weapons smith, of attending factory schools for Smith & Wesson, Colt, Remington, and Beretta weapons. I dreamed of being the “new guy” at each base, and always getting tagged to fill joint training quotas before being assigned actual duties. I dreamed of completing the EMT course, jump school, ranger school, and sniper school.

I dreamed of meeting my wife Laura at the base hospital during my EMT recertification course, of our dates, meeting her parents in Las Cruces, and getting married. I dreamed of our honeymoon, the birth of our two sons and our daughter, of teaching them piano and guitar, and to ride horses. I dreamed of my graduation from Duke University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Civil Engineering.

I dreamed of the hot dreary days in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and of becoming a monster.

I dreamed of my retirement from the Air Force after twenty-three years. I dreamed of our move to Las Cruces, buying a house with a few acres of land, opening the Frontier Shooting Academy, all three kid’s excitement when we brought horses home. I dreamed of taking the entire family out on horseback to explore the banks of the Rio Grande, the Robledo Mountains, the Doña Ana Mountains, the Organ Mountains, and later taking my youngest son’s Boy Scout troop out on the same horseback excursions.

I dreamed of watching our three kids graduate high school, graduate college, meet the loves of their lives, get married, and start having kids of their own.

I dreamed of learning that my wife had a very aggressive strain of pancreatic cancer, watching her die, and burying both her body and our dreams. I dreamed of selling the shooting academy and living with the depression from her loss, of being told I had prostate cancer, of two years spent fighting the cancer with radiation and hormones.

I dreamed of struggling with the lack of energy, and the first day of Tai Chi to start getting back into shape. I dreamed of starting Aikido and Krav Maga classes again, of new workouts designed to fight the hormonal weight gain and rebuild my depleted stamina. I dreamed of starting a mobile business specializing in firearms, knives, and on-site gun smith work, as well as clothing and gear aimed at the prepper market. I dreamed of the three years spent traveling to gun shows throughout New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado.

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