Jason watched the sun set from the top of a boulder the
size of a country club. The white rock had been formed before
Nebraska had became part of the great inland sea. How the
huge granite rock had ended up near the peak of a mountain of
West Coast basalt was one of the better mysteries of North
Jason loved geology much the same way his father and
older brothers loved sports. Jason knew the whys and where-
fors of alluvial fans and ox-bow lakes, the way his father
understood the ins and outs of the wish-bone and single wing
formations. Geology was his hobby, his passion, his first
love. The grandeur and wonders of the vast, great Earth,
brought him peace. How could anyone perched on the lip of
the Grand Canyon not feel awe? How could a man standing
before a mountain who's eroded face revealed a sea bed two
hundred million years old worry about his own small problems?
Jason had driven one hundred and eighty-three miles to
admire the eighty thousand tons of granite that had no
business being on this side of the Mississippi. For five
hours Jason wasn't a slightly built, colored, computer
programmer who'd grown up in a shack in Frankfort Kentucky.
He was not a black man with an older white girlfriend. A rich
and well-connected girlfriend who seemed to hint he didn't
quite fit in her world. For five long, quiet hours he was
man primeval, and eternal.
Jason walked the mile back to his Toyota in the rapidly
gathering dark. The pines and underbrush that lined the
trail seemed denser and almost rock-like, as the dusk filled
in their hollows, and the spaces between their needles. He
did not feel as one with the forest, as he had with the
When Jason turned twelve, his growth had shot upward,
leaving him a gangling and awkward head and shoulders above
his friends. That same year he'd saw Halloween and while he'd laughed at it,
for years afterwards, he was plagued by slow motion dreams of being chased
by the fanged unseen.
Jason's interest in geology had taken him to many hidden
and lonesome places over the years. Conversations in
crossroad gas stations and country restaurants usually began
with him asking directions to a site. Somehow the locals
always managed to warn him of the perils of straying into the
hills. Vietnam vets growing dope, hung fish hooks at eye
level. Serial murders dumped the gutted bodies of whores in
the hills. Satanists rounded up camping families and hung
them out to dry from trees. And if there weren't rabid
coyotes lurking in the undergrowth, there were psychos
harvesting travelers for their flesh. During the day Jason
could laugh off the tall stories, but at night, forty miles
from even a single stop sign town, he didn't laugh.
Surrounded by the tall grey trees, Jason felt as out of place
in on the mountain as the granite boulder was on its sea of
To his relief the Toyota was still neatly parked by the
side of the Forest Service road where he'd left it. No one
was hiding in the back seat. The car started on the first
try, and nothing leaped out of the dark to claw at his door,
as Jason made a clumsy U turn on the dirt road.
There were twenty-eight miles of Forest Service road to
cover before he reached the black top that would take him the
twelve miles to Bidding. From Bidding to the interstate was
another sixty miles of two-lane highway. If there were no
problems, he should join the flow of homebound Sunday
travelers about 10 PM, and be back at his apartment before
midnight. Carol would be fast asleep in their brass bed,
cuddled deep in its old feather mattresses, but her cat,
Pascal, would slip into the kitchen hunting a fresh can of
Jason hated the cat, and if he'd thought he could lie to
Carol with a straight face would have taken the cat on a long
ride and lost it. It would be a trip like this, Jason
thought, smiled, and glanced at his rear-view mirror at the
For an instant, Jason thought he saw a light flicker in
the forest behind him. The mountain was Forest Service land,
and no one lived on it. He checked his odometer. He'd
traveled eight slow miles down the rutted, red, clay road.
The road took a broad left turn, and began down a steep
incline. At the bottom on the hill, Jason looked in his
rear-view and saw headlights paint the pines at the top of
Grinning at his own nervousness, he eased the Toyota up
to thirty-five, and tried very hard not to think of all the
ags stories he'd heard over the
In the dull, soft light of the dash board, Jason's watch
read seven-forty-five. Carol would have fed Pascal, and might
be watching television from an over-stuffed, depression era
chair. No, Jason shook his head, she'd be catching up on her
work for Monday morning. Carol owned, and operated a
clothing store named GIRL PLANET. It's motto "ISN'T FASHION FUN" did not apply to the owner.
As he took another wide left turn, he glanced in his
rear-view and saw a wall of trees light up. Jason nudged the
Toyota up to a bone-rattling forty miles an hour, and
wondered if Carol was thinking about him. He doubted it. One
of the reasons he had been drawn to her was that she seemed
so complete. She was forty-four, eight years older than him,
and to be fair, he'd fell in love with her apartment before
he'd felt anything deep for her.
Almost everything in the apartment was old. Not old by
geological standards to be sure, but still it was a place out
of time, and, to a degree, timeless. The apartment was neat,
and orderly, not over-furnished or tasteless, but there was a
mix of styles, and periods you wouldn't expect to find
together. It was rather like finding shallow-water
limestone from the Triassic, peppered with deep-water charts
from the Devonian, side-by-side with Permian sandstone on the
face of a basalt island-ark.
Carol was a beauty in decline, and her type of beauty
had been out of vogue for four hundred years. She reminded
Jason of one of James The First's mistresses. They'd met at
Mattie Karan's annual Louisiana hurricane party. After a
night of Cajun music and crawfish gumbo, Jason had drove
Carol home. She'd asked him up for coffee, and to meet
The cat, who was as black as the inside of a deep cave,
hated Jason on first sight. Jason, who didn't like children,
or pets that weren't plants, tried to suck up to Pascal, and
failed. Carol'd laughed and said with a shrug, "Men come and
go, but the cat stays."
The forest outside of the twin beams of the Toyota's
headlights blinked by, tree, by black tree, and in his rear
view, Jason saw the pines light up as the car following him
drew closer. He thought about pulling over, and letting the
vehicle pass, but something deep within him seemed to whisper
that he would not see another sunrise if that car caught up
His Toyota jarred down the road at almost fifty miles an
hour. Common sense assured Jason that the vehicle following
him could not possibly go any faster than he could slam down
the crude road. However, by the time he hit the paved road,
the car behind him had closed to about three hundred yards.
Jason put his foot to the floor, and covered the twelve miles
to Bidding in eight minutes.
He pulled into the parking lot of a tavern on the
outskirts of the town named The Dew Drop Inn. Inside the
tavern, he found a long hall which led to the rest rooms and
a beat-up, old-fashioned payphone. He barged into the men's
room and relived himself in a flurry.
As he stepped out of the bathroom, he heard the tavern's
front door slam shut. Jason shuddered, and phoned Carol.
She picked it up on the second ring. "Hello?"
Jason was surprised by the unusual softness of her
voice. "Hi Honey, I just called to see how you're doing, and
to tell you I might be a little late."
There was a slight pause, and then Carol gushed. "Baby,
poor, little Pascal's dead."
"What? What happened?" Jason shivered, and glanced down
the long, shadowy hall.
"He was hit by a car in front of the apartment." Carol
sounded near tears.
"Oh Carol I'm so sorry." Jason murmured, and oddly
enough, found he meant it. "I'll be home as soon as I can,
"Thanks Sweetheart, I'll wait up for you."
Exiting the long, dusty hall, Jason made a beeline for
the door. He was halfway across the tavern when the
bartender boomed. "Say nay-bor, if you're gonna' use the
crapper, the least you can do is buy a beer."
Jason turned and stared at the skinny old man behind the
bar. The man's face was lined with broken blood vessels, and
his yellow eyes were as bright and mean as a cornered ferret.
Several rough, older men rose from their booths, and stared
back at Jason.
"Yeah, sure...that sounds like a good idea." Jason's
voice sounded weak in his ears.
With small, claw-like hands, the old man drew a glass of
beer, and sat it on the bar. "That's two bucks."
The sign above the bartenders head said draft beer was
fifty cents a glass. Jason glanced at the sign and back to
the old man. The bartender smirked, and coughed wetly, "Old
Jason fished the money out of his wallet, and sat on a
cracked vinyl bar stool. The men who'd stood, settled back
to their seats, and the old man drifted down the bar, leaving
Using the mirror behind the bar, Jason surveyed the
country people. They were dressed in soiled coveralls, old
blue jeans, plaid shirts, and down jackets. His rock outfit
of hiking boots, khaki pants, and shirt, seemed like a
uniform in this setting.
Sipping his beer, Jason noted that all the customers
were older than he. Most of the men were bigger, and all of
them looked like they liked to fight. One old couple in a
booth seemed particularly quarrelsome. The old woman had no
teeth, and a face as wrinkled, and blotched as a rotten
apple. She was gumming away in a rather nasty fashion to a
fossil of what Jason took to be a farmer.
The sheer ugliness of the couple fascinated him. He
tried to imagine them young, and...beautiful? He couldn't do
it. He worked on young and firm. That image tried to waver
into focus, and when it would not, Jason saw that the hag was
smiling at him. He looked quickly back to his beer. It was
As the old woman left the booth, Jason downed the beer
in a single gulp, but before he could wipe his mouth, the
bartender picked up his glass, and grinned a picket fence of
ragged, yellow teeth. "First refill's free."
Even as Jason waved him off, the old man drew another
beer. As he started to rise, a wrinkled hand with ragged,
dirty fingernails, clamped on his shoulder. Her old face
hovered warmly near his. "Want'a dance?"
Jason grasp the beer glass with both hands. "Uh...thank
Eyes bright, she nodded at his beer. "A few more, and I
won't look so bad."
Suppressing a shudder, Jason offered up a weak smile and
nodded back. As if on prearranged signal, when the hag made
her way to the jukebox, a giant of a middle-aged mechanic
left his friends in a booth, and came to roost beside Jason.
The grease ball's sun burntface, and steel-grey hair
floated a half head above Jason. "Micky," the mechanic
motioned to the bartender with a paw that seemed the size and
softness of a mid-range iron ore meteorite. "You screwed the
kid. Give him his change."
"No refunds." The old bartender snapped.
The giant sighed, and spread his hands on the oak bar as
if to rise. "Then give him the god-damn beer."
Pouting, the ancient bartender drew two drafts, and slid
them to Jason. Jason nodded and mumbled, "Thanks." to no one
Staring at the two beers, and sipping the third, Jason
didn't notice that several men had drifted from their seats,
and formed a rough semi-circle behind him. The dirty, old,
old man who'd been with the hag, cleared his throat, and ask.
"You gott'a reason for being this far from the highway, boy?"
Jason's head snapped up, and he wheeled on to bar stool
to face the men. "I like...," he stared to say geology, but
seeing a room full of mean, stupid eyes changed his mind and
The men looked at each other, and shook their heads as
if to say, "Bullshit."
Jason smiled as disarmingly as he could, and hoisted his
beer glass toward the door. "Up on the mountain there's a
granite bolder that's two thousand miles from where it should
be, and how it got there is one of the mysteries of this
The old, ugly farmer grinned snaggle-toothed at his
friends. "Yeah. Well, boy, there's a lot of mysteries up in
those old mountains that nobody ain't ever gonn'a dig up."
Jason looked down, into his half full glass, and said,
"What'd you say, friend?" The giant mechanic rested a
huge hand on Jason's shoulder.
Jason looked up, and met the giant's cool, blue eyes.
"Those mountain's aren't old. They were formed about fifteen
million years ago."
"Sound's damn old to me!", one of the men wheezed.
Jason shook his head, and shook off the giant's hand.
The hand came off with surprising ease. "Those mountains are
kittens in geological terms."
"Yeah?" The skinny man in soiled jeans, and rubber
boots, who lounged next to the farmer said. "How old are the
"Sixty three million years old." Jason smiled firmly
over his glass and took a swig.
"Now those suckers are truely old." A lumpy grandfather type
Jason laughed. "No they're not. They're just year-old
"How about the Alps?" Ask another mechanic who'd
sidled up to the semi-circle.
"They're just off the milk at twenty-five million."
Jason saluted the mechanic, and downed the beer.
The giant handed Jason another beer, and said, "Now the
Himalayas---they're as old as the hills!"
Jason laughed, and shook his head. "Nope, there the same
age as these mountains."
Micky tapped on the bar with his fist and said, "I'll
bet you a two dollar beer that the Andes are as old as they
"At thirty-six million you lose, pal." Jason said
smiling at the crowd before him.
"The Appalachians are old as hell, friend." A soft,
southern voice said.
Jason didn't see who'd spoken, but he nodded, and said.
"Two hundred, eighty million years of wear and tear."
Several men whistled, and someone chuckled, "That'll be
about as old as they get I reckon."
"No...", Jason leaned back against the oak bar, and
crossed his legs. "the Laurentain range is two billion,
three hundred million years old, give or take a few."
"Shee-it." The southern said, and Jason spotted him off
to one side. "I never heard tell of no mountains by that
Jason shrugged. "So? You're not into rocks." Two and-a-
half beers in fifteen minutes had settled his nerves and made
him a hair cocky.< FONT>
"Say," the nasty, old farmer stepped forward, "just what
kind O' rock did you say was up on the mountain, boy?"
Jason looked to the door, and said. "There's an eighty
thousand ton granite boulder which was formed in the Devonian
period of the Palezoic era in what is now upper
Pennsylvania." He drained off half his glass, "No one can
figure out how a four hundred million year old rock ended up
half a continent away, on top of fifteen million year old
"Maybe UFO's did it. I hear tell they built the
Pyramids." The skinny mechanic looked around the circle for
approval, and found none.
The greying bear beside Jason shook his head. "Maybe that
rock's some asshole's idea of a joke. Maybe they hauled it up
there with an earth mover."
Jason uncrossed his legs, and sat up straight. "It was
first noted in the geological survey of 1902."
"Kill's that idea deader than duck shit, don't it?" The
skinny mechanic said, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
"How's about a game of eight ball, Bill?"
"Rack 'em up." The giant said as he rose, and the small
crowd drifted back to their seats.
Jason looked at the empty beer glass in his hand and
wheeled back to the bar. Five full glasses were sitting
before him. He picked one up, and saluted the bartender.
"My pleasure." The old man grinned, "You put on the best
show we've had in here since Delbert Smith rode his horse in,
and the damn thing jumped the bar, and went hog-stupid-wild."
Jason was mellowly aware that three beers in twenty
minutes made the Dew Drop Inn a tavern of rather rustic
charm. "Well," Jason sipped the beer, "it is a hell of a
Micky nodded. "Yeah, there was an Indian who lived up
there until the Forest Service drove him out, and one time,
when he was three sheets to the wind, he tried to tell me
that damn rock of your's was haunted."
"Haunted?" Jason sipped his beer.
"Well," the bartender moved down the bar to Jason, "not
exactly haunted." Micky picked up the empty glasses. "Now
just what the hell was that feather-butt's name?"
"Haunted?" Jason repeated, remembering Pascal's
accident, and wondering if he really was sorry the cat was
"Black Elk! That's what he went by." Micky wiped the oak
bar with a foul rag, but his eyes looked toward the door as
if he was thinking about the mountain. "No, not haunted
exactly. More like a wishing well where you got what you
wanted, but it didn't make you happy." Micky lowered his
old, bright eyes to Jason. "Why I remember now. Ol' Black Elk
said that before the battle of the Little Big Horn, a bunch
of chiefs made a trip to that rock and prayed for a great
victory over the Long Knives." Micky laughed and shrugged.
"Well now, they kicked butt on the Seventh Cavalry, but it
was the beginning of the end of the great Indian Nation."
Jason took a deep drink from the glass. What had he
wished for up there? Surely not the cat's death. "That's one
hell of a story. I wonder if it's true?" He said to the
Micky laughed like he was choking, and spat, "Na, I made
it up. You really think you can bullshit better than a
bartender kid?" Jason grinned, and shook his head. The old
man leaned forward, and said in a near whisper, "You may have
fooled those jackasses, but everyone knows the Andes are the
oldest damn mountains there be."
Jason laughed, and fished two dollars out of his wallet.
"Tell you what, why don't you put this in the jukebox, and
play us some tunes."
Micky nodded quickly in appreciation of their shared
wit, and went to the ancient cash register to get quarters.
Jason tipped back his beer, and drained it as the trite-but-
true words of a country-western song filled the bar.
Events after his sixth beer went from soft focus to
blurry. Jason woke the next morning with a head full of
granite, and a mouth as dry as Death Valley. The room was so
dark he couldn't see the wall, but he was deep in Carol's
feather bed. He lay holding his head, wondering if he could
survive the walk to the bathroom for some aspirin. After a
minute of near-death sickness, he noticed that the bedroom
stank like an inland sea, and he wondered if he'd been sick
on the floor. Carol stirred beside him, and he rested one
arm indifferently above her shoulder. She rolled over, and
started wetly kissing down his stomach. Jason groaned,
"Baby, I don't think I'm up for that."
"Don't you worry none Rock Man," Cooed the old hag, "I
got my teeth out."
Jason moaned in pleasure, and pain. The unfanged obscene
had finally caught him in the night.