Robledo Mountain
Chapter 2

Copyright© 2018 by Kraken

Early the next morning I awoke and stretched out on the queen size bed, luxuriating in the feel of crisp cool cotton sheets and thinking about how good I felt. All those minor joint aches and pains I’d learned to live with over the years simply weren’t there. And those dreams! I rarely remembered my dreams after waking, but somehow, I knew that I remembered every one of last night’s dreams. The dreams of my past, both good and bad.

With a yawn and a final stretch, I got up and started my morning routine. I’d never been one to wake up fully in the morning until after exercises and a shower, so I was pretty much on auto pilot during my morning Tai Chi. When I’d finished I walked to the closet that passed for a bathroom in an RV.

I was sixty-six years old but between my blonde hair and Welsh Cherokee heritage I had never had to shave more than every other day even when I was in the military. Most of the time I shaved every three or four days depending on what my day held for me. As usual, I glanced in the mirror to see if this was a shave day. I grinned at my reflection. Definitely not a shave day.

The next thing I knew I was sitting on the toilet seat, hyperventilating, feeling faint, and dazed. The walls seemed to be closing in around me, as claustrophobia began to take hold. I looked around as full-blown panic set in, before bolting from the bathroom to the living room. Even the spacious living area was too small! I darted out the door, ran around the RV and trailer, stopping only when I was the middle of the cave.

“What the Hell is going on!” I shouted into the cave.

The quick dash and my shout helped get rid of a little adrenalin, which made me feel a little better but that’s all it did. There was no answering voice from the heavens telling me I was the anointed one. No camera crew came into the cave to tell me I’d been punked. My family and friends didn’t rush out of hiding yelling ‘Happy Belated Birthday.’

The feeling of being closed in was relieved, though. I put my arms up, hands clasped behind my head, and tried to slow down my breathing, as I frantically tried to figure out what was going on. I knew I needed to lose some of the adrenalin that my body had dumped into my system before I would be capable of the rational thoughts necessary to figure this out. It would also help warm me up.

Thought became action, as I began moving through the Aikido katas I’d learned over fifty years ago, and had practiced almost every day since then. The movements were rushed and jerky, unworthy of a novice much less a black belt of my standing and experience. Regardless, the exercise was doing what I’d hoped. As the adrenalin began to leave my body the panic slowly receded with it, and my breathing began to even out. My mind was still racing but at least I could think now.

It was bad enough I had a missing chunk of time from last night, that I was in a cave that shouldn’t exist, in an area along the Rio Grande that didn’t exist, parked in a manner that was impossible; but this latest discovery was even more implausible. Before I’d looked in the mirror I was willing to give my whole situation the benefit of the doubt. Now, I wasn’t so sure. No! Whatever was going on was much more insidious than some cosmic joke, being punked, or a family surprise.

The face that had stared back at me from the mirror had been my face – but NOT my face. I mean it was my face, alright; but it was my smooth, teenaged, full head of sandy blonde hair face. Not my dry and wrinkled, sixty-six-year-old, almost bald face. That and that alone had started my panic and resulting mad dash out into the cave.

As I stood there, I realized I was cold in places that normally didn’t get cold. Looking down, I saw I’d lost my underwear in the mad dash somewhere between the bathroom and the middle of the cave. That was understandable, as I’d gone from a thirty-eight-inch waist when I got dressed yesterday morning, to a twenty-eight-inch waist sometime after losing consciousness at the wheel last night. The bigger surprise was the obvious fact that the physical damage done by radiation and hormone treatments for prostate cancer were no longer an issue. The half remembered normal physiological responses of a healthy young male body flooded with testosterone were in full evidence, although the cold was doing its best to dampen that normal morning response.

That got me to looking at the rest of my body, or at least what I could see of it. My stomach was flat and I could see my ribs as well as the six-pack of muscles I half remembered from all the workouts I did. My waist was trim without a sign of the love handles that I’d gained after the hormone treatments had kicked in. My legs were well muscled, and the major joints worked smoothly without a hint of pain. The scars on my hands, arms, and legs I’d gained from years of working with sharp tools and daily workouts, were gone. The scar on my thigh from an Iraqi bullet was gone. Two of a set of three scars that I hadn’t paid attention to in years, were still there.

I’d undergone a long growth spurt between my thirteenth and sixteenth birthdays gaining over a foot in those three short years. As a result, that time in my life had been marked by extreme clumsiness and resulted in one major scar per year. When I was thirteen, I’d tripped over my own two feet while running down the sidewalk and smashed face first into a stone wall breaking my nose leaving a scar across the bridge of my nose. At fourteen, I walked into the kitchen to get a soda out of the fridge, and ended up playing pin ball off the counters and appliances. I’d reached out to steady myself, and upended a skillet of hot oil on the inside of my left forearm. When I was fifteen, I got a nasty slash on my calf from the fin of a slalom water ski, during a particularly nasty wipeout at Elephant Butte Lake.

The scars from the broken nose and the hot oil were still right where they were supposed to be. The water skiing scar was not. If I was putting the pieces together correctly that meant my body was as it had been when I was fifteen, making me about five feet eight inches tall with another five inches of growth coming in the next year. If this was all true, it was no wonder that I’d felt so good when I woke up this morning.

Determinedly, I marched back into the RV, past the bathroom, and into the bedroom where a full-length mirror hung on the back of the door. For the next ten minutes, I looked closely at my reflected body from every angle I could get. When I was done there was absolutely no doubt that it was a fifteen-year-old body. I was a fine specimen of a young male with a trim and well-muscled body. My bright green eyes, looking almost hypnotic in the incandescent light, looked out from a young face. A face that was unmarred, except for the small scar high on the bridge of my nose, and capped with a full head of sandy blonde hair. Sitting down on the bed I thought furiously. I mentally examined everything I knew, or thought I knew, right up to the present. I came up with three options.

Option 1: I was a sane sixty-six-year-old man whose body had regressed to the age of fifteen. Leaving aside the twin issues of how and why, for now; this was an acceptable option for my psyche, but was also the least likely.

Option 2: I was dreaming or the equivalent of dreaming, which meant I was in a coma or dead and this was the Land of Ever Summer. This was the easiest of the three options to believe, and the easiest on my psyche.

Option 3: I was full out bat shit crazy, and in the midst of a psychotic episode. This was the most likely explanation, but also the hardest on my psyche.

As I examined each option I realized that with the information I had at the moment there was no way to determine which one I was actually experiencing. I thought I was awake, but try as I might I couldn’t figure out a way to prove it. I’d never been dead or in a coma before, nor had I ever been mentally incapacitated, so I had no clue how to prove whether I was or wasn’t. That left me with a thirty -three-and-a-third percent chance that I was alive and well but regressed in age; or I was dying but perhaps already dead; or that I was bat shit crazy. I needed more information. The sooner I got it, the sooner I could figure out what was going on, and the better off I’d be.

Seeing my reflection in the mirror reminded me that I was still naked. So, first thing first. I needed a shower and clean clothes. Taking a step towards the dresser to dig out clean clothes, I realized that was a losing proposition. All of my clothes were just too big. I was now fifty pounds lighter and five inches shorter. I had plenty of clothes in other sizes out in the trailer, thanks to the surplus deal we’d won, although it was all desert or woodland camouflage with the underwear in either desert tan or woodland green. With a shrug, I went out to see what I could find in the trailer.

I’d spent a lot of money building this custom trailer. The outside looked like typically smooth, polished sheets of aluminum on a standard trailer frame. It was, in fact, aluminum sheeting, but it covered quarter inch steel plate instead of a frame. There were no visible locks on either the back roll-up door or the single door on the drivers’ side up near the hitch. The locks were electronic with a hidden magnetic override I could use if necessary. It was heavy, and it was secure.

At the back of the trailer, I pulled the electronic pad out on its sliding shelf, and entered the six-digit password, before pressing my thumb on the reader. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be able to read my younger fingerprints forcing me to use the magnetic override, but it read the thumbprint just fine and I heard the thump of the locks disengaging as usual. Rolling up the door, I climbed inside and realized this was going to take some time.

The trailer was literally packed, floor to ceiling, with cardboard boxes and wooden crates. After rummaging around for a while I finally found the boxes of desert camouflage gear. A few more minutes and I’d winnowed it down to the boxes holding the medium sizes. Grabbing a set of shirt, pants, underwear, and jacket; I turned to go back to the RV, when I remembered socks and boots. Another few minutes and I’d finally found the right size desert boots and socks, and was on my way back inside.

Freshly showered and dressed, I felt like a million bucks as I looked into the full-length mirror, again. The square lines of my chin with its slight dimple were still prominent. My high cheekbones stood out like they had before the effects of time and added weight had hidden them. I couldn’t help but flash myself a youthful grin as I thought, “It could be worse.”

I added both the Colt Trooper Mark III revolver in its usual holster on my right thigh, as well as the 9mm M9 in its cross-draw holster at my waist. As I walked out of the bedroom I discovered I was ravenously hungry. I quickly made myself a large breakfast of huevos rancheros, with orange juice and coffee to wash it down. I couldn’t believe how good everything tasted, or how fast it disappeared.

Walking towards the door to go outside, I paused at the computer on the table and turned it on. It booted up without a problem. I found that fact oddly reassuring for some reason. Even more reassuring was the date. August 17th, 2016.

Outside the cave, I checked the cell phone. Still no signal. Looking around, there was still no sign of roads or landmarks I was familiar with, other than the distant mountains and the river which still didn’t look quite right in the early morning light. There was absolutely no sign of people anywhere either.

Walking back inside the cave I decided to do a little exploring. Using my iPhone as a flashlight, I found the cave floor was almost perfectly level rock covered with a fine layer of sand. The cave, while large, had an irregular shape. The entrance was roughly centered with the left side about ninety feet from front to back and the right about seventy-five feet with the widest width of about seventy yards. At the back of the cave a short tunnel led to another smaller cavern roughly twenty-five feet wide and twenty feet deep. The steeply sloped tunnel appeared to be natural with the floor of the small cavern about ten feet lower than the floor of the front cavern. Near the back of the small cavern, a swift moving stream, three feet wide and four feet deep flowed from the wall on the left side before disappearing into a large irregular shaped hole just before the right wall. This little cavern was also much cooler than the front cavern.

I could see evidence of fires in both caverns, but none recently. There was absolutely no evidence of animals using the cave either. Also missing was the stale smell of frequent human use I had grown used to smelling in easily accessible caves like this one.

Back in the RV, sitting in my favorite chair with a fresh cup of coffee, I mentally summed up my situation. My RV and trailer were impossibly parked in a cave, I had no memory of how they or I had gotten here, there were no signs of civilization, no roads as far as I could tell, no cell signal, and a body that had suddenly regressed from sixty-six to fifteen years old. I had food, water, and shelter and there were no signs of obvious danger.

Finishing my coffee, I decided it was time to go find out where I was, find both civilization and help to get my RV and trailer out of this cave - if that was even possible - and then start getting answers about what was happening to me. Once again, thought became action. A quick stop at the trailer to load up on necessary items, and I was ready to go.

Outside the cave once again and in the full light of day, I could see that my initial impressions were accurate. The river was roughly six hundred yards away and thirty feet lower than the fairly level plateau I was standing on. The plateau looked to be five hundred yards long and seventy-five yards wide, before falling sharply away along its length in a steep, almost cliff like drop to a wide flood plain ending at the river bank. The north end of the plateau sloped gently down to the flood plain, while the south end fell away in the same sharp drop as the length.

There were no levees on the river banks on either side of the river, and no irrigation ditches or flumes visible in either direction. There was also no evidence of roads or houses that I knew should be there. The very landscape looked different from what I was expecting! There was more grass, a lot more than I was used to seeing, and it was much greener than I expected for mid-August. It was also much colder than it should be in August, and I was glad for the light field jacket I’d put on.

Turning to look back at the cave I could see it was set in a cliff wall that ran up twenty feet before topping out on another plateau that appeared to be more than three times the width of the plateau I was standing on. Both ends of the upper plateau seemed to end in cliffs, dropping down the side of the mountain.

Looking back out over the desert, the mountains I could see a short distance away across the river looked like the Doña Ana Mountains. Off to the south in the distance, were what looked like the Organ Mountains. Taking out the map and compass, I shot readings on the highest peaks of both the Doña Ana and Organ Mountains, and marked the back-azimuth lines on the map.

Try as I might, the intersecting lines didn’t fit the configuration of the river and plateau I was standing on. Carefully searching the map, I couldn’t find anything that looked close to where I was standing. My map skills might have been rusty, but no one would ever convince me that I was that much out of practice!

I decided to head south along the river until I hit civilization. If it got dark before I found anyone, I would stop and make camp for the night. Tomorrow I’d come back here, resupply, and head north.

I walked north a short way and as I started down the slope I felt the tug of gravity. With a whoop and a grin, I broke into a run feeling the energy running though my body as my legs churned. Man, I felt good! Reality, dream, or insanity; it made no difference at that moment. I continued the run as the slope leveled out on the desert floor, and I turned east towards the river.

As I ran, I couldn’t help but think about the summer days on the reservation with John and Hector doing just this for days on end. We’d run all over the reservation on foot and later, when we were older, on horses as well. Those had been the halcyon days of youth, energy, and complete lack of adult responsibilities. Damn, but I missed those boys.

Slowing to a walk a few feet from the river, I examined the bank on both sides. Here was as good a place to try to ford as anywhere else. The river at this point was about a hundred and fifty feet wide, and didn’t seem to be running fast, with gently sloped banks on both sides. There was always quick sand to worry about of course but I decided to take the chance and slowly entered the ice-cold water. Reaching the opposite bank, I let out the breath I hadn’t even known I was holding, and climbed out. With a grin, I thought to myself, “So far, so good.”

Hitching the pack up a little further on my back, I turned south, breaking into the loping ground eating trot I remembered so well. A startled roadrunner took off from in front of me in a burst of speed. With an even bigger grin I chased it a few yards, jumping over a couple of small sand hills and dodging around a mesquite tree before losing sight of the little speed demon. With a laugh, I turned back south and continued my trot for another hundred yards. Stopping, I turned west looking for the cave. I finally spotted the plateaus, directly across from me, but there was no sign of the cave. From this angle and through some trick of lighting, the plateaus actually merged so that it looked like a single continuous cliff rising from the river to the upper plateau.

Curious now, I headed south once again and stopped another hundred yards later. Over and over again I repeated the run and stop to look for the cave. At no time did I get even a glimpse of the cave or the lower plateau for that matter. If the view from the north was even close to the same it was no wonder the cave was rarely used. You had to know it was there or you missed it. I finally realized that I was almost a half mile south of the cave before I quit looking for it.

Continuing south, I marveled once again at all the life the desert held. Lizards, snakes, spiders, and ants were all around me. I seemed to startle a long-eared jack rabbit every few hundred yards as well as the occasional roadrunner. Birds were everywhere. These were mostly mockingbirds; but whippoorwills, hummingbirds, and swifts were also plentiful. At one point, a covey of doves scattered in every direction as I ran toward them.

The browns of the mesquite, creosote, yucca, century plants, desert willow, and ironwood, were offset by the greens of grama grass, prickly pear, barrel, and cholla cactus. There was also a lot more of the grey-green low growth sagebrush than I was used to seeing, much less smelling.

I saw everything that I was used to and more, but I didn’t see what I was specifically looking for, civilization, roads, and people.

Shortly after noon I came across a small arroyo with a clump of ironwood trees growing along the bank providing a little shelter from the wind that had once again picked up. It couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees Fahrenheit but all the running in a long sleeve shirt and jacket had soaked my t-shirt in sweat. Sliding down the bank to the bottom of the arroyo I decided this was as good a place for lunch as any. A thirty-minute rest after eating and it was back to walking south near the river.

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