by Dennis Hiatt

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

American geology.

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

Kitty Stew.

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

deepening darkness.

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

the hill.

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

with him.

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

Jason alone.

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

half gone.

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

you, no."

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

in particular.

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

said, "rocks."

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

volcanic mountains."

"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.

"Thanks, Micky."

"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.