Orange Dawn - Chapter 6

John Clark Smith
Aphra and I both liked to keep busy. To accommodate our imaginations and interests, we developed a chart to catalogue wildlife in the area. Most of the time we searched in the daylight, but there were a few nocturnal discoveries, usually involving the garbage bin. Most often it was racoons, squirrels, rats, though once there was a spotted skunk. One night, after we had closed the windows, I woke to the familiar sound of something trying to conquer the bin. Rolling over, I saw Aphra already at the window, her hand on the latch. She gestured for me to join her. In the moonlight we saw a long-tailed weasel with thin sleek body, a brown coat above and white belly below, supported by short legs. We noticed it just as it was dragging away a vole.
Each day was the same routine. We would get up before dawn, and spend most of the morning wandering the mountainside, searching, reporting and drawing pictures of what we had seen. I also wanted to see if any changes had occurred in Harding. At about midday, we would bring out our lunch, stare down at the city from different places on the mountain, and talk.
One day we had just finished reporting on a black-capped chickadee. We were at quite a distance from the hut, which rested in the mountains to the northwest of Harding. Our plan was to explore the lower areas first, then expand outward in concentric circles. We had just gone up to a sunlit area.
We sat down on two stumps and were beginning to eat when we noticed a man hiding behind a large protruding rock below. The sight of another human being startled us. Other than the person I had glimpsed when we returned from the store, we were used to being alone.
Aphra hid behind a large fir. “I’m scared.”
“Why?”
“It could be the Guard.”
“I doubt that. They have enough to do in Harding. Let’s see who it is. We’ll be quiet.”
She shook her head.
“Do you want me to go alone?”
She nodded. “But…”
“But you want me to stay too.”
She nodded again.
“OK, tell you what. See that rotten stump up there? We need to add more insects to our reports. You go up there with Peirce, but quietly, and report what you see. They’ll be plenty there. OK?”
She agreed and started her climb. I watched her for a minute. Then I descended, moving from tree to tree and staying as low to the ground as possible. Because there hadn’t been rain for some time, the grass and weeds were dry. Every step made a noise.
I hadn’t gone very far before I heard a sound behind me. It didn’t sound like a small animal or the wind. I stopped. It stopped too. I took four steps. It also took four steps. I grabbed a stick and quickly swiveled round.
Aphra jumped from a fir tree and faced me with a mischievous smile. The sight of her brought both relief and delight.
“Scare ya?” she said and walked down toward me. I gave her a pat on her head.
“I don’t want to be up there alone,” she whispered, holding on to my arm.
We slowly progressed to the shield of a large oak. There was a man bent over doing something with his hands in the soil.
Aphra laughed.
“It’s Glen.”
I put my finger up to my lips.
“I can’t believe it,” she whispered. “I’m so happy.”
I had to smile when I saw his face. A few days earlier Aphra and I had been walking along a small plateau when we noticed a large bird perched on one of the electrical poles that ran across the hills.
“Wow,” Aphra said. “Is it a vulture?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve seen those when I traveled out west with my family. We carefully moved closer. I had never been so near to a bald eagle.
Aphra giggled. I shook my head, but the eagle heard her and flew away.
“What was so funny?” I asked.
“It reminds me of someone.”
“Who?”
“Glen.”
Now that I could see him with my own eyes, I had to agree. Glen's large, deep-set eyes and long, pointed nose seemed to comprise his entire face. His cheeks and forehead were flat, his eyebrows were thick and met in the center, and his hair was cut close. He had the nervous jerking motion of a bird too, looking about constantly. It also resembled the person I saw near the hut.
“Do you want to talk to him?” I whispered.
“He must know we’re here,” she said. “These mountains are his domain.”
“I suppose,” I said.
“I do miss him.”
“So…should I…?
She shook her head. “If he wanted to talk to me, he would.”
“But he’ll tell your Mom we’re OK, right?”
She nodded.
The thick shrubs and trees hid him in part. For a moment he went down on his knees as he concentrated on whatever he was doing, then he rose and, with a last look around, rushed away through the trees. We immediately went down to the area. Except for his footprints, the area seemed to be undisturbed.

Naturally I was curious about what Glen was doing on the mountain. I couldn’t believe he was only keeping an eye on Aphra for her mother. There was no pattern to when we would see him, but over time it became clear that the locations seemed to be approximately the same distance from the city and from each other. Only on one occasion did we find any trace of him. Under some mushrooms near the entrance to the tunnel we’d used to escape, Aphra found what appeared to be a broken microchip.
I wanted to know more, but my only resource was Aphra. One day we talked while sitting on the edge of the Allegheny, our feet hanging off the bank.
“I don’t see any fish,” I said.
“You will. Glen calls it a nest.”
“Never heard that term.”
“Like home for humans. They come back here. Look, there’s a Rainbow trout, a small one.”
“Check it off,” I said. “So, what did you and Glen do together?”
“Nothing special. Play games. Wander through the tunnels.”
“Did he make the tunnels?”
“I don’t think so. But they go all over the place. Glen showed me how to escape from the downtown to my house, just in case. He has little places in them where he feeds and leaves food for animals. Sometimes he meets people in them.”
She lay on her stomach so she could get a better look. “What’s that?” Her face was only a few inches from the water.
“Musky, I think,” I said, leaning closer to the water.
“Really? They’re so long.”
“They are. So what did he talk about with these people?”
“I don’t know. He spoke in a native language. He was trying to teach me, but I only know a little.”
“Did your Mom go along too?”
“Mummy finds the tunnels scary.”
“What about Mr. Jones?”
“Sometimes. Look! A Walleye. They’re so beautiful.” She made a click as if she had a camera.
“Check it off.” I caught a glimpse of fleshy whiskers among the weeds and pointed.
She grinned. “Catfish.”
“I suppose Mr. Jones knew Glen’s father and grandfather too.”
“I guess. He’s pretty old.”
“So what did Glen talk about with you?”
“Stuff. Nature. We would see animals or plants when we were wandering about, but we wouldn’t keep track or write about them. He loves the outdoors.”
We moved a little farther north to another favorite place of Glen’s. Two streams met the Allegheny, creating a V. We sat on a large patch in the middle where the water was almost as loud as a waterfall.
I pulled out our notebook. “What’s he like?”
“He’s really nice. Kind. Weird sometimes.”
“Weird?”
She laughed. “He talks to animals.”
“Really?”
“We were in the forest and he saw a fawn. We hid between some large fallen trees. We were very close to the deer. He said to it in a squeaky voice, ‘Now Angie, where’s your mother? You know it’s dangerous alone here.’ The deer seemed to hear him and raced off. One time when we came out of one of the tunnels and there was a bear, right in front of us. ‘Walto,’ he said, ‘what are you doing here?’ The bear looked at him for a moment, then strolled away.” She paused for a moment. “What’s that smell?”
I caught a whiff of something weedy and rank. “Algae? Who knows what’s dumped in here.”
“It happens on the days the factories dump.” She put her hand in the water and brought some of it closer to her nose. “I’ll tell Glen when we get back.”
“Anyway, in the tunnels,” she continued, “he’d go into these places where he’d light candles and meditate. He tried to show me how, but it was hard.”
“He’d say, ‘Sit still and focus on that little light in the far distance of your mind.’ I couldn’t see any little light, but I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t. Meditation takes practice.”
She managed a half-smile. “Hey, where are all the fish? Let’s go back to the other place.”
“Be patient.” I took a breath. “How did he know about the tunnels?”
“I think the native people showed him. There! Isn’t that a brook trout?”
“Speckled body, red belly, whitish fins . . .”
“Yep. They’re my favorite.” She watched it swim away. “Did you know the tunnels even go under the city. He took me everywhere.”
“He trusted you.”
She nodded, took off her shoes and socks, rolled up her pants, and began to wade toward the middle of the stream. I followed her.
She looked round at me. “One time we were on the other side of Harding, where you can hunt, and he stole guns from the hunters.”
“I was waiting at the tunnel entrance. He brought them into the tunnels, and took them to another location, and buried them.”
Aphra scooped up a minnow, looked at it, and returned it to the water. “One time he saw a farmer mistreating a horse. Glen took the horse.”
“Into the tunnel?”
She looked at me. “No, of course not. To an animal rescue farm for old and abused animals.” She smiled to herself. “I adopted a rooster.”
“There’s a largemouth bass.”
“We have it.”
I checked down the list. “You’re right.”
“You know, one time I went with him when he destroyed several machines that sprayed pesticides. He poured acid all over the engine parts.”
“He could have been arrested.”
“They were hurting the plants!” Aphra said sharply as she walked back to the bank. “And people too—”
“OK, OK, settle down.”
“Don’t criticize him. Other than Mummy, he’s my best friend.”
“Sorry. I was worried about you. He’s an admirable person, but I just don’t want you to get into trouble.”
We began putting on our socks and shoes.
“I shouldn’t have told you that stuff.”
“I won’t tell anyone. It’s our secret.”
“You promise?”
“I promise.”
“Glen wouldn’t hurt anything. He’s even a vegan. I’m going to be like him when I grow up. Mummy won’t do it. She said she needs the meat.”
Aphra saw several slender and dark goldfish with black fins swimming together where the streams meet the Allegheny. “Is that a black carp?”
“Yep. Check it off. Where does he live?”
“He always comes to our house.” She turned around and looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Why do you want to know so much about Glen?”
“Just curious.”
“Can we go?” she asked abruptly. “I’m hungry.”
*

A couple of weeks passed without us discovering the reason behind Glen’s activities. Meantime, the orange hung over Harding as bright as ever. Every morning, the Hardies went to the square past the soldiers posted on the bridge. The risk of re-entering Harding was too high, but the itch to know what was happening was becoming unbearable.
One day, we were exploring on a small hill to the south of the city. We would only go there in the middle of the day when most Hardies were at work. It was high and close enough that Aphra and I could easily peek through the trees with binoculars and see what was happening in Harding.
On that day we saw a large group of people gathered in the city square around a person upon a platform beside the flagpole. The crowd mushroomed until it filled the entire square.
The sight made me nervous. I felt certain the person was going to jump, but I didn’t want to say out loud what I was thinking with Aphra there. I grabbed Aphra’s hand and we began the long climb up the winding mountain path. Why was this crowd gathering? Who was the person on the platform? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer.



[To be continued ...]

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