Still fatigued from her restless night of insomnia, Mona yawned as she tried to awaken from the haze of weariness as she lay in the cold, unfamiliar surroundings of the tent. Water had formed on the inside of the nylon tent and dripped upon her face, making her night unpleasant and cold. The moist atmosphere made the humidity level inside almost unbearable, dampening the sleeping bag and making her chill to the bone. This had caused her difficulty breathing and clogged up her nose. Unable to breathe she inhaled through her open mouth most of the night and breathing in the wintery air had given her a sore throat. During the night the glow of the fire outside enabled her to watch her smoky breath drift upward, increasing her misery.
Unable to rest, she only slept a short while, and even in those moments of presumed sleep, her mind was unable to shut down; she thought about the journey ahead and remembered Jonas’ leering grin. Mona was sure Jonas, Wayne, and Billy had stayed up all night because every time she awakened they were still chatting. Jonas was the loudest and his cackling laughter sounded wicked and malevolent in the night, contributing to her edginess. With Jonas on the trip, she knew she would never rest, and thoughts plagued her that he might catch her off guard and attack her. Even with Wolfdog sleeping next to her, a hesitancy to continue the trip remained at the forefront of her mind. She had promised her Gee-pa and Wayne she would relax and enjoy the time in the mountains, but something was nagging at her and she could not grasp what it was. Mona desperately wanted to return to her home in New York.
Unable to sit up just yet as her frozen, stiff body was not responding. Numb and exhausted she dreaded leaving the semi-warmth of the sleeping bag. Mona opened her mouth and smoke billowed out of it; it was freezing. She did not want to get out of the thick down sleeping bag. Although the outer bag was moist, its insides held some degree of comfort for her and a cocoon of warmth around her. The fire pit was still roaring and flickers of light lit up the inside of the tent. Wolfdog lay next to her, his massive body pressed against her reassured her, but still he was not enough. It was dark out. Mona knew the three of them wanted to leave early and the sounds of them packing their gear created an unease within her. The smell of burning coffee grounds was sour and pungent, but its aroma gave her a craving for a cup of espresso from Donatello’s, a coffee shop in the lobby of her apartment building. Mona had grown up, she did not belong with them anymore, and the wilderness was no longer her friend. Mona heard rustling at the tent door.
“Mona, Mona, get up,” Wayne called out to her.
“Give me a minute please Wayne,” she replied. Five minutes later, finally, able to pull herself from the warmth inside the sleeping bag, Mona wrapped herself in her thick, nylon fleece parka and stepped out of her tent. The frosty air nipped at her nose and she pulled the hood over her head, drew the cords, and tightened it around her face. The ground had frosted over and was freezing cold, the atmosphere dreary . Despondently Mona sat down near the fire and watched Wayne tear down her tent. Jonas grinned at her, then toasted her his tin cup as smoke wafted upward from the hot beverage. Mona frowned at him, snuggled herself in her arms, and stared down at the fire ignoring his feeble attempts to gain her attention.
An hour later the sun began peeking over the mountaintops. The faux rabbit fur around the hood of her parka tickled her face; she tightened it as snug as possible, trying to keep out the cold bite of the wind blowing against her as the ATV drove along the flat forest lands. By taking this direction to Pitt Falls Creek, much of the ground they traveled upon was flat, but they would soon reach the cliffs, and the higher they went into the mountains the temperatures would become bitterly cold. The heavy parka, thick sweatshirt, long johns, jeans, and snow boots provided enough covering to keep her body lukewarm now, but she dreaded the icy numbness of the upper trail. Mona sniffled and her plugged nose finally cleared. She wiped away the snot dripping from it with a cloth she carried in her pocket.
“How long is it going to take for the sun to burn off this dew?” she asked Wayne. It was a couple of years since she had spent any time in the mountains, and she had forgotten about the harsh morning weather. Mona did not know how she spent a whole year in the mountains.
“It should warm up around ten,” answered Wayne, not bothering to look over at her or say anything further.
Wolfdog ran alongside the ATV, galloping slowly and not expending too much energy to keep up with the slow-moving vehicle. “Are you having fun Wolfdog? You don’t have to stay with me if you want to go,” Mona cooed playfully.
Wolf dog looked up at her, and as if he understood he loped off.
“See you soon boy,” she told him as he ran into the woods.
Wayne even drove the ATV slow Mona noticed, and Jonas, who was traveling behind them, rode close to their back bumper. Jonas tipped his dirty hat at her and smiled.
“Good morning, little Miss Mona. I hope you had a good sleep last night,” Jonas yelled at her over the roar of the ATVs.
Mona turned her head quickly away from him and scowled, “Piss off Jonas.”
“One day it will be just you and me, little Miss Mona,” Jonas said to himself grinning.
Wayne looked over at her. A serious expression pasted on his face, he asked, “You don’t like Jonas much, do you?”
“Not much, no,” she replied angrily.
“Jonas is a good man Mona. He has done a lot for this community,” Wayne told her but continued looking forward.
Wayne spoke to her, but never bothered to look at her; Mona shook her head in unbelief at Wayne’s indifferent nature. He, like her Gee-pa, had been taken in by the web of Jonas’ lies. She did not want to justify her feelings to Wayne; he would never understand unless she told him about what happened, and she was not about to tell him or anyone else. It was too late. “That’s what I have heard,” Mona mumbled.
Mona’s sarcasm was new to Wayne and he noted the absence of her once affable demeanor. She had never been hostile before and he scolded her, “Jonas helps the chief and the people in the village Mona, and the chief likes and respects him.”
She was tired of everyone singing Jonas’ praises. First her Gee-pa and now Wayne. Mona cried loudly, “Wayne he is a pervert. I…. I…. I bet he has some little girl tied up somewhere in the woods right now.” The words stuttered from her lips.
Finally attentive to her, Wayne glared at her as if her words astounded him, and she had committed a deadly sin of cursing him. “Mona, you have been in that city too long. People in the village would not do anything like that. We know each other, and trust each other.” His words sharp and rebuking, Wayne continued, “Jonas is nothing like his father, and has made up for everything that man did to all of us.”
“Only someone like you would say something lik—” Mona started to say, but stopped abruptly.
Stunned by her words Wayne gazed at her and asked, “Someone like me; what do you mean by that Mona?”
Mona felt bad for what she had said, she never intended to demean him, but her words had come too quickly and now she had offended him. “I did not mean anything by it Wayne, I am sorry. It is just that so many things happen in New York, I get so wrapped up in how awful they are and I assume everywhere is the same. Kids go missing all the time. People are killed for nothing,” she sighed apologizing for her belittling words.
Wayne turned away from her and grew quiet. A few moments later he said, “You have gotten weak Mona.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Mona said trying to hide the cynicism in her words, but she knew Wayne sensed her agitation about having to return to Chilla Falls from the moment he picked her up at the airport.
A couple of hours later they reached the end of the pioneer trail. Mona was surprised to see a group of people standing around with their ATVs packed, two of which had been rented from her Gee-pa. They looked to be on their way up the mountains. There were four of them—three men and a woman—and they were peering at a laptop screen.
“Who are they Wayne?” she asked.
“I don’t know. The chief never said anything about anyone else. Maybe they are hunters,” Wayne replied.
“I doubt that,” Mona commented. They did not look like hunters; her Gee-pa was right, the word of gold travelled fast. Wayne pulled up behind the row of ATVs and stopped; Mona stepped off and walked toward the group of people. They gazed back at her as she approached with Wayne behind her.
Bryan stopped messing around with the satellite reading and approached the woman coming towards him. He recognized the one in the safari hat, Jonas, who was often out searching for missing people. Bryan hoped no one was in trouble in the mountains, but figured they were probably a search party. “Hello,” he said to the woman as she stepped up to him.
“Hello,” replied Mona coldly. “What are you people doing here? This is First Nations’ land, and unless you have a permit, you can’t be out here.”
Sean scowled, “We can be anywhere we damn want to be Pocahontas.”
“My name is not Pocahontas,” Mona smirked and continued, “if you came up the pioneer trail, you should have seen the keep out posters.” Mona frowned at them.
“We ain’t seen no signs,” Sean replied and laughed.
Willie laughed also and the two moved up and stood next to Bryan.
Jonas had seen them all in the village at one time and knew them all; he walked up and stood next to Mona. The young boy and the black man worked for the hydro dam, and the woman and the man worked in the government trailer behind the rock quarry; he had no quarrels with either of them, but Mona was right, the chief didn’t want outsiders on First Nations’ land.
“The signs are everywhere. Hell, there is one right there,” Jonas scoffed and pointed to a white sign with a red slash across its writing.
The sign read:
“Keep out. No hunting, ATVing, fishing, hiking. First Nations’ land.”
“If we ain’t supposed to be up here, why are you here Rambo?” Sean snarled at Jonas.
The young man was wearisome and his snide, childish comments made him want to punch him. Jonas stepped forward. “Why we are here is none of your concern, and unless you have your permits and know what you are doing, I would suggest you turn around now. This is some harsh terrain, and you four don’t look like you can handle it, and I am not going to be around to save your sorry asses when you get lost.”
Sean, as usual, was making things a lot worse than they were. Bryan moved toward Jonas and stepped in front of Willie and Sean. He did not want an incident just because Sean could not keep quiet. “Calm down Sean, let me talk to them,” he said kindly.
“Don’t tell me what do, you ain’t my boss Bryan,” Sean replied nastily.
“You better tame that little she-bitch of yours,” scowled Jonas rudely, pointing towards Sean as he spoke to Willie. Everyone knew the two of them were buds; Jonas even suspected they were lovers.
“I’ll show you who the she-bitch is Mountain Man,” cried Sean angrily moving around Bryan towards Jonas.
Willie grabbed Sean by the shoulder and motioned for him to settle down. Sean hated when Willie was angry with him and calmed down immediately.
“That’s enough Jonas,” ordered, Mona. Seeing Jonas and the young man nearly coming to blows with each other, she grew irritated at their behavior; she had not travelled this far to see a fight. She inhaled deeply, agitated by Jonas’ behavior.
“Whatever you say little Miss Mona,” Jonas mocked and stepped back to stand next to her.
Bryan reached his hand out to the woman who had appeared unsettled when Jonas grinned at her. “My name is Bryan, and I work as a geologist for the government. This is Tracy my assistant,” Bryan pointed at Tracy. “This is Willie and Sean.”
“I am Mona. This is Jonas, Wayne, and Billy,” Mona told him stiffly. Mona took Bryan’s hand; his handshake was warm, and his smile friendly, but his personality was not the issue now. “You have not answered my question. Why are you here? This is private property, and there’s no access to the public.”
Willie remarked, “We are here because we have permits to be out here.”
“Yeah that’s right,” Sean agreed angrily.
“They have permits alright,” snarled Jonas, “the village council gave the hydro workers, and government workers, passes over the area, although the chief fought against it.”
“We have our permits; do you need to see them?” Bryan said wanting to clear this up hurriedly.
“Permits do not explain why you are here,” Mona said. “Why are you dodging my question?”
“They are after the gold,” said Wayne looking into Willie’s eyes and seeing the same lust for the metal he saw in his own eyes.
“We have not been dodging your questions. Why we are here, is none of your concern; however, I will tell you.” Bryan said, and motioned for Willie and the others to remain quiet. There was no need to lie about the gold as they had permits and could travel anywhere in the mountains they wanted to. “I’ve been detecting high water levels at Pitt Falls Creek, and I wanted to check it out,” Bryan told them. Bryan cleared his throat and continued, “Willie found a chunk of gold, so while we were out, we decided to try and find out if the two had anything in common with each other.”
“Where is the gold?” asked Mona.
“Let her see it, Willie,” Bryan told him.
Willie sneered and shook his head.
“You don’t want us to have to take it from you?” threatened Jonas and glared angrily at the black man.
Wayne slapped Jonas on the shoulder and said, “Backup Jonas, we don’t want any problems here.” No harm could come to Mona under his watch and he stepped to her left.
Tracy was growing frightened; she and Bryan never had problems like this before, and she muttered, “Show it to them, Willie.”
Mona’s face was stern and severe; she was not his type, and the three Bulldogs with her would probably want to fight if he did not cooperate. Besides that, Bryan would be at odds with him and the trip would probably end here. Willie reached into his parka pocket searching for the gun. He felt the cold hard steel against his hands but reached instead for his inner pocket and pulled out the nugget. Willie showed the gold to the woman.
“Where did you find this?” Mona asked and took the nugget from Willie. Its odd coloring was like the gold her Gee-pa kept in his desk drawer. It was different from other gold; much lovelier in appearance and its coloring was stunning. Jonas and Wayne stared down at the nugget and she saw the glint in both their eyes.
Willie did not answer Mona.
“She asked you where you found it,” uttered Jonas as he reached for the nugget.
Mona closed her hand around the gold and handed it back to Willie.
“Bitch,” he mumbled softly.
“I found it near the dam,” Willie replied grabbing the nugget from the woman’s hand.
Bryan raised his eyebrows. “I thought you told me you found the nugget near the canyon woods?” he asked suspiciously.
Willie froze; he had forgotten about what he had told Bryan and had to come up with an explanation. “I just did not want to tell them where I found it Bryan. They are already pretty upset because we are here.”
Bryan gazed at him, and Wayne shifted closer to the woman.
“My mistake, I shouldn’t have lied; I did not want to upset them further. Sean and I were near the canyon woods doing a little target practice. I did not think you needed to know that.”
“Target practice; its people like you that wound animals for nothing, and leave them to die,” Mona told him, indignation filling her words.
The Groups Unite
“Where you found it, doesn’t matter right now Willie, but how it ended up in the creek is,” Bryan remarked. Bryan realized Willie had lied and this created reluctance within him to continue. He wanted to locate the lost village and with the others watching his back it might allow him time to concentrate on finding Goldum and not worry about what Willie and Sean were up to. The situation was getting out of hand, but if the two groups could join, that would make the search easier. “I am sure you are also looking for the gold,” Bryan said to them.
“Yes we are,” confessed Wayne, “the chief said a young couple brought in a nugget about the same size as that one. Now there are two big pieces of it out there. We have to find the source and let the chief know Mona.” Wayne glared at the chunk of gold the man held; its beauty captivated him, and he wanted more than anything to tell Chief Shaw they had located the missing village.
“So you all want the gold too,” scoffed Jonas.
“The gold is of little importance to me,” Bryan said. “I am searching for the village in the legend. Now that two pieces have shown up I am convinced a doorway might have opened.”
Mona glowered at Bryan suspiciously.
“Of course, the village will have complete right to approve any of my findings before I publish them. I had every intention of telling Chief Shaw if we found something,” Bryan said.
While Bryan and the others talked, Willie stepped back and stood next to Sean. “You alright man?” he asked.
“Yeah, I am good,” replied Sean glaring at Bryan and the woman.
“Hold it together for a little while longer, and that gold is ours. Then we will get out this backwoods dungeon,” Willie muttered.
Sean looked over at him and grinned.
The tension in the air was too much, and it disturbed her peaceful nature; Tracy wanted to let them know that they had no evil motives in mind, and hoped everyone would just calm down. She spoke out, “The legend sounded so interesting I wanted to see if it was true.”
Mona eyed Tracy distastefully as she spoke. Bryan had not convinced her that joining the groups was a good idea. “I’m sorry, I am not going to permit you to go looking for the gold.”
Mona was bluffing and her attempts of displaying power were superficial at most. Bryan understood this but Jonas was different, almost disturbing. Bryan had not seen Mona before, but he had often seen Jonas, always alone with a smirk of arrogance on his face. Still, neither could make them leave. Bryan kindly replied, “You don’t have that right.”
“Bryan’s right. We don’t have to listen to you,” agreed Willie stepping alongside him.
The big First Nation eyeballed him.
“I do have that right. This is First Nations’ land, and I am the chief’s granddaughter,” Mona replied; she would hold her ground and not allow them to intimidate her regardless of how angry Bryan and the others became.
“Thought I recognized you,” Bryan chuckled, “my mother said your book was great by the way. She keeps it on her coffee table.”
Mona snickered, astonished that he knew about her and her book; embarrassed, she felt her face growing hot, she replied, “thank you.”
“You are welcome,” Bryan told her, and she smiled shyly at him. “Look you are looking for the same thing we are, so why don’t we join our groups?”
The sun behind her caused her face to glow, and although wrapped in the hood of the parka, Mona’s face was beautiful, even more so than the photo on her book cover.
“Hell no,” cried out Sean angrily, “we ain’t joining groups with them.”
“I agree with Sean on this one,” Willie spoke up. He did not want the others around either; he wanted the gold and was not planning on sharing it. “Bryan, no way; let them go on their own, they can’t go with us.”
“Then I am not going, Willie. I keep trying to tell the two of you, the trip is not going to be easy. We could use their help,” Bryan replied. “I’ve studied this entire region for the past few days looking for changes, and I can tell you, making it through those mountains will be easier as a group.”
Preacher boy could call the shots now as they needed his help. He and Sean had never been past where they were now and they did not know the mountains. “Alright, but you keep them out of my way,” Willie scoffed.
“Sean?” Bryan peered at the young man waiting for him to answer.
Sean frowned angrily at him.
“He is alright with it,” replied Willie.
“I want to hear Sean say it himself,” Bryan told Willie and gazed at Sean waiting for his answer.
“I just want to get going whatever we are going to do,” Sean cried out, “yeah, I am in.”
“Don’t worry, we have no intention of joining you,” Mona stated, “you will be turning around now.”
Willie’s hands balled into fists and he shouted, “You are not making us go anywhere.”
“Calm down everyone,” Bryan instructed them loudly. “This does not have to get out of hand. Why don’t you want to join us? You can’t make us turn around, and you know that.”
“Oh we can make you alright,” Jonas sneered and reached down to touch the end of the long army knife he carried in his leg holster.
Mona saw Jonas reaching down for the knife; she knew he would use it if given the opportunity, and dread swelled within her. Mona did not want to be on any side he was for, and maybe going into the high mountains, without the others, would be a mistake. “Wayne, Billy, what do you think?”
Wayne spoke out and said, “I don’t see any reason why they can’t tag along with us. Thinwind was almost born in these parts and raised here.” Wayne had known Bryan as a child; he had grown into his own and looked like he could handle the rough terrain. Wayne was impressed that the geologist had returned to the Yukon, when so many others did not. “Thinwind,” Wayne said, and reached out to shake Bryan’s hand.
Bryan took his hand, and nodded at Wayne. He remembered Wayne was among a group of boys he’d tried hanging with as a child, and Wayne, a couple of years older than he, always tried to stop the kids from taunting him. No one had called him Thinwind in years however he could tell by Wayne’s hearty chuckle, and firm handshake, he meant no insult. “Wayne, good to see you again.”
Billy, as usual, did not say much. “It’s up to you,” he murmured.
Crossly, Jonas charged, “I say they don’t go with us, and that is final.” He could not have the others tagging along alter his plans for Mona. Mona was taking over the group, and she made no decisions for him; Chief Shaw told him to lead the group.
“Who put you in charge Jonas?” asked Mona angrily. “Wayne, Billy, and myself agree to combine the groups.”
Jonas was fuming as she insulted him in front of the others. “The chief did, that’s who Mona,” he spat angrily.
“Well I don’t think Wayne, Billy, and I heard it that way,” replied Mona sarcastically. “Alright we will travel together.”
“I don’t agree with this,” spat Jonas. “The hell with you Mona.”