The late summer sun beat down on the roadway in front of them, causing waves of heat to rise from the pavement. Puffy cumulus clouds hung over the mountains to the east - a reminder that the summer monsoon season was still very much in full swing. It was a fairly windy day and bits of tumbleweed and trash occasionally scurried across the road at the mercy of the winds. Sometimes, these winds could whip up to a level so severe that it would carve up large amounts of desert sands, forming large rolling clouds that could travel for miles. What the locals called a haboob. These desert sandstorms could reduce visibility to zero in seconds, but today no such storms were anticipated—just more oppressive summer heat.
Jessie's air-conditioner was doing its best to keep up with the 115-degree temp outside, as well as the combined body heat of himself and his three passengers inside the vehicle. He had meant to get that damn air conditioner fixed but when it came to certain things - like keeping his car running - Jess was a bit of a procrastinator. Bud, riding 'shotgun,' was squirming around like a kid on his way to see the dentist. As Bud fiddled with the vent on the dash in front of him, he noticed his hands were shaking badly. Beads of sweat were collecting on his neck and forehead. "Mister, are you going to be, ok? You don't look so good," Lizzy asked, sitting in the back seat with Danny. At first, Bud didn't respond - seemingly distracted by his fixation with the air vent, but slowly he turned to Lizzy. "I'm fine. It's just so damn hot in here. Jess, doesn't this air conditioner blow any better than this?" Bud asked.
Jessie turned to Bud, glanced quickly at his trembling hands, and knew the heat wasn't the only problem Bud was dealing with. Jessie had seen plenty of people shaking like Bud was now at the Tribal Health Center, where he volunteered with Bonny. Withdrawal from chronic alcohol abuse is not a pretty sight. Jessie knows all too well the dangers that delirium tremens can pose to someone coming out of a long bout of drinking. He just hopes Bud can hold on long enough to give them a chance to talk to this Jack Willis guy. "Hang in there, old buddy," Jessie says to Bud. Bud looks at Jess like he's going to say something in return, but only grunts and returns to fiddling with the vent.
The car continues up U.S. 95 through the Chemehuevi Valley. They're headed for an area southeast of an area known as the Chemehuevi Mountains. The address they're going to is just outside the boundary of the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation. They were warned that the road to the property was not paved and better suited for a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but Jessie has confidence in his 2009 Toyota Camry. It may not have a great air conditioner, but it has four brand new tires, and other than the A/C, everything else is 'tip-top.'
"Turn here, Jess," Bud says. Jessie wheels the Camry onto Lake Havasu Road. They travel down the road for several miles, then turn left up a road with no name. There's no marker except for a painted boulder at the intersection of the road that heads toward the mountains. "That's the rock they told us about at the Tribal Headquarters," Bud says. After a hundred feet or so, the road turns from bumpy asphalt pavement to gravel and rock. The sound of rocks pinging up into the car's wheel wells breaks the silence in the Toyota.
"You sure this is the right way, Mr. Gutierrez?" Danny asks. "I think so, Danny. We found a property record for a tiny strip of land that backs up to the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation. It's an old record. Registered in 1932. It says the land is registered to a J. R. Willis from Tyson Wells, Arizona. We went to the Chemehuevi Tribal Office, and they said that J.R. Willis is probably the guy we're looking for. Nobody has seen him for years, and they doubted he was still alive. If he is, he must be close to a hundred years old." "Cool!" Danny said. "I've read a lot about shamans, but I’ve never met one in person," Danny added.
"Oh, he's still there. I think he's expecting us, too." Lizzy said confidently. Bud looks back at Lizzy and then at Danny - who shrugs back. "She's almost always right about these things, fellas," said Danny. Jessie looked over a Bud again, who is now looking pretty pale. Bud's squeezing his kneecaps in an attempt to calm his shaky hands. Sweat beads are now starting to flow down the back of his neck and pile up on his eyebrows. Jessie pulls a handkerchief out of the console and hands it to Bud. "Here you go, man. We're almost there."
After a mile or so, the road begins to get really rough. Just when Jessie thought it might not be safe to go any further, they spot a large Airstream trailer glistening in the desert straight ahead. There’s an old house next to the Airstream. The house's base is made of large stones, but the wooden part of the structure is almost completely gone, and what's left is rotted out. Behind the house is an odd-looking structure. It's shaped like a cone, constructed with dried mud. It has an arched wooden entrance protruding several feet in front of the cone-shaped structure. There's an old wooden slat door at the front of the archway. "Very cool," Danny says enthusiastically. "I think that's a sweat lodge, folks," Danny adds. Bud thinks to himself, 'Christ, that's all I need now is a place to sweat even more than I am already.'
They pull up in front of the Airstream and park next to an old pickup truck that's jacked up and resting on four old 55-gallon oil drums. The old Ford truck had obviously not seen action in years. It has no windows, and rust has conquered pretty much the entire truck body. Jessie turns the Camry off and notices someone peeking out a small window on the side of the trailer. "Better let me go talk to this guy first," Jessie says. "That won't be required, Mr. Gutierrez," says Lizzy. "He knows why we're here,” she adds matter-of-factly. "O…k…, well then. Let's get to it," Bud says. They pile out of the car and head towards the trailer. Bud notices a sizeable solar collector behind the trailer. Such modern technology seems out of place here with everything else seeming so dilapidated.
As they reach the door, an elderly-looking man with should-length stringy white hair comes out to greet them. The long deep lines in his face reveal his advanced age, but he otherwise seems in excellent health. "Welcome, friends," the man says. "Last night, the wind told me I would have visitors today," he says. "Yawaka?" Danny asks hesitantly. "Oh, my young dream warrior. I have not heard that name in many years. Maybe I have forgotten who that is," the old man said. Danny and Lizzy look at each other with big eyes, wondering how the man knows dream warrior is the same thing that Danny's grandmother calls him. The old man reaches his hands out, "Welcome to my home. Please come join me inside." "You are Mr. J.R. Willis?" Jessie asks. The man doesn't speak but merely nods his head in approval as he steps into the trailer and motions the others to follow him inside.
They huddle around a small table in the main section of the trailer. It appears to be the only furniture in the ample living space, ample for a travel trailer that is. "How are you today, Mr. Willis?" Jessie asks. "I am happy, now that you are here," he responds. "I do not get many visitors these days. Other than my niece, I do not believe people know I still live here," he says, pointing to a picture of a strikingly tall woman whose image adorns the wall next to the refrigerator. The image is quite old, which means his niece is probably now advanced in age as well. “She brings me many things I need to survive out here. She is the one who got me the machine that captures the sun and provides electricity to my home. I had another machine, but it was constantly breaking down. My niece would bring gasoline out here all the time. Now she does not."
After they finished their introductions, the old man said, "So, let us now talk about why you are here." He slowly scanned the faces of his new visitors. Bud and Jessie both turned to Lizzy. Danny reaches out to hold Lizzy's hand in his, "Yawaka, we need your help!” Danny said. “Lizzy's father is trapped by an evil spirit who is using her dad’s lifeforce to wreak all kinds of havoc on innocent people. My grandmother told me in a dream that you could help us free her father from this evil spirit." The old man looks down at the table and sighs.
"Yes… Yes, your grandmother. A great person she was," Yawaka said proudly. "You knew my Nani?" Danny asked. "I did know her and your grandfather too," the old man replied. "She was a great person," Danny said. "I really miss her - but I do see her a lot in my dreams. She gives me tips on how to live life - stuff like that. She also told me how to find help for my friend, Lizzy." Danny went on to tell the old man what they saw that night out in the desert. Also, about his dream with Nani.
"Yes, about that…" Yawaka said as his face curled into a frown. "Tough to fight, that spirit will be." "You know what it is?" Lizzy asks. "Yes, I have heard of this story. It was just before the second of the great wars the white man fought between themselves. A young man, whose name I cannot think of right now, was banished from the Chemehuevi tribe that lived on the Great River. He was stealing the property of others, causing fights and other things I should not speak of." Jessie looks at Bud to see if his friend is still keeping it together, but the look on Bud's face is one of absolute amazement. Not only has Bud's hands stop shaking, but the sweat has dried, and his eyes are now fiercely focused on the old man.
"It is said that this young man went to live in a cave not far from the Great River. One night the cave began to fill with water, and bats that lived in the cave began to panic." Danny turned to Lizzy and said, "That must have been when they closed the gates on the Parker Dam for the first time!" "Yes, that is possible," Yawaka replied. "It is told that the bats attacked the young man, but he did not die because he was afraid to pass on into the afterlife. It is said that the bats and the young man became one and fled into the mountains not far from here, where they reside in a dark cave somewhere." "What about the thing we saw with my Dad, mister?"
"Ah yes, the Evil One. Well, it was told by the elders and other shamans besides me that when an evil person dies, they must be cremated to eliminate their evil spirit along with their physical being." "I thought Indian tribes always cremated their dead?" Bud spouted awkwardly. "No, that's just what you always see in the Hollywood movies," Danny said in a snarky tone. The old man smiled and continued. "There were hundreds of gravesites that were washed over when they damned the Great River. The Evil One that lives with the bats in the mountains, the spirit of that tormented young man, at first, he used the spirits of those who had not yet passed into the afterlife for strength. They were in turmoil because their sacred burial grounds were destroyed, and he used this confusion to prey on their fears. But, one by one, they all found their path to the great beyond. When that happened, the Evil One began to look for anyone he could to feed his vicious cycle of hate and fear."
"So now he has my dad!" Lizzy exclaimed, tears welling up in her eyes. "Yes, I am afraid he does, young one," Yawaka said. "Then what can we do? If you could have only seen the terror in my dad’s eyes that night," she said. "Yawaka, tell us what to do, and we will do it!" Danny added vigorously. "Well… we must go to where the spirit lives,” the old man replied. “I mean the place where the spirit believes it is safe. Only there will he let his guard down long enough for us to fully engulf him in a torrent of fire hot enough to dissolve his evilness straight out of existence in this world."
"How do we find this place?" Danny asked. "It is said that the Evil One may live up in the mountains not far from here. Somewhere in yet another dark cave. I believe the young one there has the power to find this place," the old man said, pointing to Lizzy. "You see, a hawk came and spoke to me the other day. It told me I would be visited by one with great power - the power to hear from afar. Perhaps she can use this power to listen for her father. Wherever her father is, there too must be the evil spirit we seek," Yawaka proclaimed.
"Sir, you keep saying we, but, no offense, you are very elderly. Are you sure you can make a trip like this up into the mountains?" Jessie asked. The old man turned to Jessie and laid his hand gently on his arm. "I must do what the spirits tell me to do, young man. Right now, they are telling me I need to help you find this evil spirit in the wilderness. If this journey is my last - then I will have fulfilled the destiny the Great Spirit has intended for me." "When do we start?" Lizzy asked excitedly. The old man looked intently at Lizzy and said, "At the next full moon, young one. That's five days from now. Can you come back then?" "Sure, I guess. If that's what you say we should do, then we have no choice but to wait." Danny said. "Good, then it's settled," Jessie said. Jessie looked over at Bud but Bud looked like he was hypnotized. Lizzy was getting ready to object to the delay, but Danny gave her arm a good squeeze, and she relented.
As they prepare to get up, the old man looked curiously at Bud. "You have a troubled spirit, my new friend.” Bud, still looking quite dazed, just nodded his head in agreement. "Perhaps you can spend some time with me until your friends return?" Yawaka asked. "I have helped many such as yourself who have fallen off the spiritual path to which they were intended." Bud's face unfroze long enough for him to turn to his old friend. "Jess, I'm going to stay here till you get back," Bud said in an almost monotone voice. Jessie, not quite understanding Bud's sudden fascination with the old man and having doubts about Bud’s ability to withstand a return trip back down the bumpy, dusting, and scorching road back to town just nodded in agreement and walked out of the Airstream with Danny and Lizzy.
Just before getting into Jess's car, Lizzy turned back to catch the old man waving to them. "We'll see you in a couple of days, Yawaka! Please take care of our friend, and thanks for your help,” she shouted. The old man just smiled back as they drove away.
To be continued…