Monday, August 6, 2012
Fly Like An Eagle
Twin golden eagles circled overhead. Jeanine watched them for a moment, envious of their easy grace. Then she continued her arduous trek up the mountain.
There was a story in Talbot’s Peak. A big one. She just knew it. The coyote with the video camera had just been the tip of the iceberg. In the week she’d been poking around the town’s borders, she’d seen things that couldn’t possibly exist and heard about dozens of others. Bengal tigers, and one huge white Siberian, in a Montana forest. Squirrels with handguns. UFO sightings. A biker with a bighorn sheep riding bitch on his Harley. The two grown men in mountain goat costumes she’d actually seen for herself. The one had turned out to be a hunter studying the herd’s movements. The other she wasn’t so sure about.
Whatever was going on here—mutations, loose circus animals, secret government installations conducting clandestine experiments, alien metamorphs—Jeanine was determined to get to the bottom of it, and get the proof on video. If she had to do it on her own, so be it. Her wuss of a cameraman, Tom, had bailed on her in the wake of the coyote incident. Well, screw him. She threw herself into her climb with renewed vigor.
One of the eagles shrilled. Jeanine looked up. The pair’s shadows swept over her before both huge, majestic birds arrowed out of sight behind an outcropping. Maybe they had a nest up there. She’d just have to try to avoid it. The top of this mountain would afford her the best overall view of the town, along with those fortress-like mansions situated on the other peaks. The Wayne ranch she already knew about. She gritted her teeth when her aching feet sent up a twinge in memory. There was supposed to be a bar out in the woods that was rumored to be a hotbed of all sorts of secret, and sexual, activity, but nobody would tell her where it was. Maybe she could spot it from up here.
Her tired feet slipped on a steeply-angled rock. She clawed at the ground for purchase and crouched there, huffing for breath. No wonder only mountain goats and eagles lived up here. They must have lungs like whales and feet with Velcro on them. Jeanine was used to sitting in a tent while Nature’s dramas played out in front of her on camera. This real-life adventure was getting a bit realer than she was accustomed to dealing with. And majorly lacking in oxygen.
Ah, but the rewards, when she won them, would be spectacular. She patted the camera clipped to her belt. Reassured, she resumed her climb.
The thread of a trail she’d been following petered out a quarter-mile later. Jeanine pressed on, with frequent stops to gulp air. It was just a stupid mountain. Naturalists climbed higher hills than these all the time, and had the footage to prove it. Though if she had to do this again, she’d get herself a riding mule first.
She rounded a curve and found herself stymied by a sheer wall of rock even the most sure-footed mountain goat wouldn’t be able to scale. “Poop,” Jeanine announced and turned to retrace her steps. The gravelly ground gave way. Jeanine pitched forward, with nothing between her and a painful tumble down a steep rocky slope.
Except for two sets of hands that caught her by the arms and shoulders and eased her back to uprightness. Startled and afraid, because she’d heard no one approaching, Jeanine faced her rescuers.
Whoa. Her brain must really be starved for oxygen, because nobody like them could exist in real life, not even in her wildest fantasies: twins, identical in every way, from their shiny, brown-blond hair with the eagle feathers in it, down their naked torsos, past the deerskin breechcloths down their long, sturdy legs. Okay, both could do with a pedicure. She didn’t need to look at their feet, not with those lovely faces and those fierce amber eyes smiling down at her.
Jeanine caught what little breath she could get. I hit my head on a rock. That has to be it.
“Are you all right?” the beautiful, near-naked hallucination on her left asked.
“You almost took a nasty tumble,” the other chimed in.
“I’m fine.” Jeanine made no attempt to shake off their twin grips. If this was a dream, she wanted it to last. “I didn’t know anyone else was up here. Are you … ” She eyed their scraps of deerskin dubiously. “Game wardens?”
The left twin laughed. “Not exactly. We’re part of the Talbot’s Peak air force. I’m Rufus. He’s Rafe.”
“Oh. You’re pilots, then?”
The pair exchanged a bright-eyed look. “Something like that,” Rafe said.
Rufus peered down the mountainside. “You walked all the way up here?” He switched his peer to her worn boots. “In those?”
“I heard the view is incredible up here.” Her happy stare hopped from one to the other. Ain’t that the God-blessed truth. “I had to see for myself.”
“The best view in the county is at our place,” Rafe said. “You can see for miles up there.”
“And we have oxygen tanks,” Rufus added. “You’re not the first pretty lady who’s tried to climb up to our nest.”
Jeanine swallowed. This sounded like the start of one of those books her sister liked to read. Or one of Jeanine’s favorite sex dreams. She looked from one perfect, yellow-eyed face to the other again. She’d just spent a whole day struggling up a mountainside in worn-out boots on aching feet. Besides, at the moment a full lung-full of air sounded better than a slug of whiskey. Dream now, wake up later.
“Is it far to your place?” she asked.
The twins lifted her easily and carried her between them in a chair of their interlaced arm. Jeanine moaned with relief and laid her head against Rufus’s—or maybe it was Rafe’s—sturdy shoulder. This was the best damn hallucination she’d had in a good long while. Here’s to oxygen deprivation, she thought as she dozed off.
The two whistled while they carried her. Had Jeanine been even moderately aware, she might have wondered where they found the breath. Even at complete awareness she would not have understood eagle-speak.
One of us needs to fly to the club. Dante should be told.
You go, then. I’ll keep an eye on her.
Oh, no. You’ll try to do more than that. I know that look in your eye.
Did you see the look in hers? I’ll bet there’s enough here for both of us.
Rufus chuckled. Definitely. That’s what I love about naturalists. They’re so fond of wildlife. All right, you give her oxygen while I go to Dante’s. She should be recovered by the time I get back. Try not to start without me.
Rafe leered over Jeanine’s head at his twin. That’ll be up to her.
In short order they reached a snug little cabin built into the side of the mountain. Rufus eased Jeanine into Rafe’s arms and spread his own wide. In a blur of feathers the great golden eagle lifted into the air. In an eyeblink he shot out of sight.
Rafe paused at the doorway just long enough to unhook Jeanine’s camera from her belt. “Won’t be needing this,” he murmured. He tossed it into the bushes and carried her inside.