Nat desperately tried to maintain control of the motorcycle, now slowing while fishtailing slightly in the sandy loam. The headlights coming at him, one car passing another on the narrow highway, had mandated the desperate maneuver at over 70 mph. He had no other choice but to angle off the pavement and let the classic BMW twin slow itself. Any application of the brakes, front or rear, would likely throw the cycle into a slide he might not recover from. He had no desire to end up bruised or broken in the dark, this far from anywhere. Just pure luck he hadn’t crashed straight into a boulder or a cactus.
Not that he hadn’t experienced being pushed off the roadway once before. Years ago, on a pre-dawn commute along the California coast, two side-by-side vehicles had forced him off the road as he rushed to his morning news shift on a 24-hour AM-FM radio station.
He thought he had died then. No way could he have lucked out of that situation. But there he’d been, sitting on his Yamaha beside the highway, all quiet. And now, here he was, this time with a different, bigger bike.
He had perished for sure back then, and in his mind, friends and family had mourned him. But while shaken, reality had seeped in, enabling him to continue his commute. Couldn’t let a little thing like death and dismemberment keep him from getting on with the job.
The notion of how extremely lucky he had been once again, while facing an eerily similar situation, seemed unfathomable. As the bike sat unmoving on a slight slope, he plucked up his resolve to resume his travels. The highway must be clear by now—it’s not like there was an actual head on collision. Engine still idling, he searched for first gear with his foot, felt the clunk, and slowly urged the machine up the incline.
At the top, the ground leveled out and Nat traveled nearly thirty feet before becoming confused. Was he going the wrong way? He swung the big twin around, pointing the halogen headlight back to where he’d been. The Colorado River glistened in the starlight, about a hundred yards away, where Nat had figured it would be. Then where was the road? The one he just swerved off of? He twisted the headlight around again and scanned the area carefully. The pavement had disappeared.
Something’s not right here, but way too difficult to puzzle out now, in the darkness, with no reference points visible. His springtime desert ride along the Colorado had included staying overnight at Needles, a good sized town up the road, but with no more road to go by, Nat thought it best to wait until daylight to get his bearings. Things would look different then.
A chilly breeze slivered through him. The air would get colder still as the night deepened. Although the sleeping bag he brought had been rated down to 20 degrees, Nat kept his socks on while crawling into the sack.
After snuggling in, he thought about how to handle the coming day. No sense in trying to start a fire in the morning, since he had no coffee nor means to make it. But he had a stash of granola bars to eat for breakfast. They’d also get him through the day, should he continue this spontaneous cross-country trek without immediately finding a place to replenish supplies.
Could he find a rational explanation for his current predicament? Aside from a wild theory he’d dreamed up years ago involving different dimensions?
He ran through details of the theory he’d devised after his similar near death experience that might make it plausible. Given, an impenetrable barrier separated each parallel reality, which theoretically could rupture with the application of a great enough force at just the right time, like a high-speed collision. Such a tremendous release of energy might cause one to burst through the membrane separating this reality from the next.
Another dimension! Not too far-fetched, really—someone’s essence springing into another universe when brought to a sudden stop in the one they habituated. Each universe would remain mostly as it had been, but with subtle differences—a natural process of the constant pressure exerted by the vagaries of existence, and the soul wrenching occurring when one’s spirit abruptly departed its normal plane.
He’d developed the theory after his near head-on way back then, and if he didn’t believe it totally, at least it gave him some comfort whenever he worried about all the ways one could unexpectedly exit this life.
Although, the last time he had gotten the far-fetched notion he had bumped into a parallel world, he hadn’t run across any anomalies, and couldn’t answer the question of how his motorcycle had come with him, either. So he’d quickly dismissed the whole idea as a daft exercise.
At that, he took a long look at the vast night of stars, noting how they literally blanketed the sky here in the desert, and closed his eyes.
He could not pinpoint precisely what woke him, but it had to have been an out of context noise. He tried to filter out the normal ambience of the night and concentrate on what remained. There! A pebble dislodged—something stealthily creeping toward him in the dark.
His rolled up pants served as a pillow, and storage for a compact LED Flashlight, as well as his .38 caliber Ruger Redhawk revolver he never traveled without.
He gripped these tools and sat up, snapping on the flashlight held under the gun’s barrel, and swiveled in the sound’s direction.
Two opalescent eyes reflected the light back at him, while the dark creature behind those green-yellow coals absorbed most of the beam. Some fifteen yards away, the puma crept an inch or two closer, then emitted a low guttural moan.
That’s a damn big cat!
Nat stood abruptly, bag still clinging to his hips, hopefully presenting a more formidable target.
His shout stopped any further advance of the beast, who at this sudden change in status had to be considering the cost of further pursuit.
A sudden flash and explosion from the Ruger blasting into the air convinced the animal, who turned tail and bounded off.
The man stared into the dark until sure the Puma had not lingered. “Yeah, I was too big for you anyway,” he shouted after the cat. “You would have had to drag me around for a week!”
Then, thinking it might be a female with a litter of hungry cubs stashed nearby, he listened to the silence, gave one last look around with his flash, and decided there were probably a lot of other critters nearby to feed on. He had only been a target of opportunity. So, spreading out his bag, he crawled back in and slept, this time with the revolver snugged against his right hip. Too damn hard to tuck under my head, anyway.
As Nat had expected, the air grew icy overnight. His cold nose woke him as the golden rays of sunlight peeked over the Hualapai range. He blinked and sat up, unrolled his pants, and pulled them on. After lacing his boots, he moved downhill a short distance to relieve himself, then walked over to the Beemer and began packing his belongings into the bike’s hard bags.
Now that he could see his surroundings, he set off walking away from the river in search of clues to lead him back to the road. He combed the area in an increasing radius from the waiting cycle.
After ten minutes, he stopped and rubbed the back of his neck. I was definitely on pavement last night when I got run off it, and now I can’t find it. Okay, how far did I come? Maybe the road just ended, like they do here along the river. That must be it.
He returned to the Beemer, shrugged into his brown bomber jacket, then the helmet. After settling into the contoured seat, he snicked the gear lever into neutral, and started the big twin. It easily rumbled to life. He sloshed the fuel back and forth, estimating he had about a half tank left. That would get him another eighty to a hundred miles. No worries there.
He planned to motor slowly back the way he had come and see if he could spot what must have been the end of the line. He hadn’t quite figured out how the headlights had been rushing at him if the roadway had ended so abruptly, but maybe he had caught a side road. It would become clearer once he found it, for sure. Last night he traveled south of Laughlin on the Needles Highway, and had cut over on a spur to be near the river. He probably should have stayed on the highway, since he couldn’t really see the water, anyway. These river roads always present surprises in one form or another. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say.
After motoring along through the chaparral for a quarter of an hour, Nat stopped the bike and peered over the landscape. Not happy with the lack of progress, he sucked a couple of deep breaths. He couldn’t find the road he’d been on, and puzzled over what he should try next. Reluctantly, he began to reevaluate his wild theory of parallel universes.
He should see signs of people—houses, stores, trucks. Instead, the land spread out before him, untouched by civilization in every direction. It’s like I’ve been plunged backwards in time to a point where civilization hasn’t arisen yet. Or maybe into a world where there just isn’t any civilization anywhere. He thought about the possibility of dinosaurs until remembering the encounter with that big cat last night. From what I could see, that animal was a creature of the modern era, not something from Jurassic Park.
Rather than search any longer for the highway, he decided to head for the closest big city. That would be Needles. There should be some sign of civil society there, assuming he hadn’t stumbled too far off track. He estimated he had only to cover about twenty-five miles to reach it.
Again, he mounted the bike and turned it south toward Needles, estimating the trip would take maybe an hour and a half to traverse the distance cross-country at the speeds circumstances now forced him to travel. He realized that could be an optimistic guess, not considering possible unforeseen hazards along the way.
He hadn’t been an hour into the journey when a half dozen of those hazards materialized. Six semi-clad dark figures clasping spears and bows stood in his direct path. They didn’t jump away, moving only to raise their weapons as he approached.
Nat hit the brakes, and the bike skidded to a stop with five yards to spare. The dark men had tensed themselves, arrows and spears at the ready, but relaxed somewhat as the dust settled.
After flipping up his face-shield, Nat kicked the side-stand down and dismounted. Not sure what trouble he faced, he slipped the Ruger out of the side pocket of the tank bag, bringing it down near his leg as he touched the ground. Knowing these guys would notice the pistol, he held it loosely, not wanting to appear threatening—nor easy prey, neither.
They stared at one another for a long moment.
Nat thought they must be indigenous to the area, maybe on their way to some local festival. One wore tattoos across a major portion of his body. The others sported individual markings on their faces. All clad themselves in what looked like woven strips of bark dangling from the waists, barely covering their tender parts. The weapons they carried had been finely hewn and appeared precise, not decorative.
“Hello,” he said.
One spoke in an unintelligible language. Another, a bigger man with a spear said, “You are Americano?”
He nodded. “Yes. I’m traveling along the river. From a long way over there.” He pointed vaguely northward, hoping these men would understand.
They kept eyes glued to him as they murmured to one another. “You a soldier from Fort Yuma?”
“No. No soldier. Just a traveler. Do you live nearby?”
More murmuring, then one posed a question. “You here looking for your people?”
Immediately put on alert by the question, Nat decided this had to be really unfamiliar territory. And he didn’t know about any soldiers in Yuma. “Not seeking anyone. I’m just a traveler. Looking for the road to Needles. Not a soldier, though. Who are you? What group is yours? Are you Mojave?” He thought he’d have a better chance dealing with these people if they were Mojave, who he knew lived on a nearby reservation, and not some random gang of misfits. His nerves twitched, and the grip on his pistol tightened.
“AhaMacave. Yes. Our village is not far. What is that impossible wagon with only two wheels you come in on?”
He waved a spear at Nat’s BMW.
Nat smiled. These guys must be really isolated. “It’s my motorcycle.” He looked west toward the distant mountains. “They make them across the ocean.”
The Mojaves traded glances. They didn’t know what to make of this strangely dressed outlander. He talked nonsense. But he did not threaten, though he carried a weapon, which meant he could be dangerous. It must have been the weapon that had sounded last night, and it sounded powerful. They discussed this among themselves.
“I think we should kill him and be done with it. He might be a Matahau.”
“Do you realize how ignorant that sounds? If he was a Matahau, we would have much trouble already.”
“And we don’t want him to use his weapon on us—some of us would not survive, even if not a Matahau.”
“We need to know more about this person. We should keep him close.”
They grunted agreement, and the one who spoke English took a step toward Nat. “You have far to go until the fort. Come stay with us until the rest of your journey. It is close by, and we will trade stories.”
Nat didn’t figure he could get the Beemer gassed up there, but it wasn’t much out of his way, so why not?
After another hour of travel—the Mojaves leading the way in a brisk lope across an easy trail through grasses and gray chaparral—they came to an expansive green valley extending ahead of them. The edge of the village spread away into distant low hills, across the river.
Nat dismounted and left the cycle chugging on its stand. “Hey friend, is that where we’re going—across the water, there?”
Nat turned to look at the man, noticing how tall he actually rose. When this close, he had to look up at the guy. He wondered if he had unconsciously reverted to his first language. “Sorry, didn’t catch that.”
“My name. You may call me Seckahote. How are you called?”
“Ah.” He smiled. “Nat. Nat Williams...that’s me.”
Nat reached out a hand. “Friends?”
Seckahote observed the outstretched arm and hand. Then reached to grasp the man’s with his. “Friends.”
The others of the band took the cue and moved up to grasp Nat’s hand.
Unintelligible words and grunts and “Amigos.”
Nat pointed to the machine leaning nearby. “This wagon won’t work if it should get wet. How can we get it over the water?”
The big Mojave nodded at the question. “We have ways to cross. What does your wagon weigh?”
Nat made a few mental calculations. “About three men. More or less.”
“That will do then. We have a river carrier that has brought ten across. It will take all of us and your two-wheeled wagon—ease your mind.”
He beckoned, and all followed to the riverbank. “The river is wide here, and the current is not strong, so this is where we cross.”
Seckahote led the band to water’s edge, then south along the shore where the water gently lapped and rippled. After rounding a small point of reeds, they came to a jumbo-sized log raft that appeared able to carry the presidential limousine if called upon. It stood anchored a few feet into the river, at a spot where the combined weight of the men would not ground it as they climbed aboard.
After some discussion, the group jammed the craft as close to dry land as possible to make it easier to load the two-wheeler. It only required four of them to roll it on, after which Nat leaned the vehicle on its side-stand while they tied it down securely in the middle of the raft.
Guided by a thick, twisted overhead cable strung between two large cottonwoods, the crossing proved short and uneventful. In about twenty minutes, two men tugged the vessel onto the shore and secured it there. Several others helped Nat loosen the Beemer’s restraints and roll it to a flat area above the shoreline.
The noise level increased dramatically as the man in the Levis and brown bomber jacket found himself and the Beemer surrounded by what appeared to be hundreds of shouting and screaming dark-haired small and medium-sized children of both sexes, most wearing nothing at all.
His growing realization turned to conviction, then. He’d never been in such a place before, and likely would never find his road.
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Cool story! I love the parallel universe theory you have going on here, and I think it's awesome that you have a longer work in progress :) big projects are so fun! Nice work! --Tommie Michele
Thanks for the kind words, Tommie. I have actually completed 4 series novels, geared for adults, featuring a girl named Dell, who grew up on the streets, then fled to the northern prairie to make a better life for herself. She's a fighter with somewhat uncanny abilities. The books have gained some attention and 5 star reviews on GoodReads. Learn more about them by visiting my website, https://www.redmistgirl.com.
Oh, so interesting! I’ll have to check it out. As someone who has a completed and polished-as-I-can-get-it manuscript, I wanted to ask if you have any advice/tips for publishing and finding a publisher? Or, if you self-published, what the process was like? I’m headed over to your website right now to check it out :)
Admittedly, I am not quite satisfied with the sudden ending to this story, and am still toying with creating something to wrap it up better. The biggest constriction is the required word limit, and funny you should say it could lead into a longer story. That’s what I’m actually doing with it. I have about 18 thousand first words now of what will be a much longer work. Some of this has been put on Kindle Vella, titled “Plumb Out Of Time”, and is based on actual people, including the Oatman sisters, who lived with the Mojave for several years ...
Great start but story stops at the border of what could be the most interesting part of story i.e. entering the tribes village. Tremendous possibilities here for ongoing story, even a sudden, quick twist in the ending. A diamond in the rough needs polishing.