The sun melted away over the edge of the world leaving an orange-red stain. Nathan watched as the stain faded to blue-black. It would be a clear night and a cold one. The moon's borrowed light cast shadows and an eagle, somewhere far off, called it's mate to roost.
'Brother Eagle, Sister sky,' whispered Nathan, half remembering a tale he had been told as a boy, a story he'd heard again many years later from the same man who had first shown him these mountains.
A chill brought Nathan back from dreams and he set to lighting the fire. It caught quickly, giving light to the tiny interior of his wickiup - a simple affair of bent saplings and foliage, enough to keep off a frost and shade the flames from night's eyes.
Later, squatting at the opening to his wickiup, Nathan breathed in the steam from a mug of coffee held in both hands. He smiled as he realized he was beginning to think in the language of his fathers - a good sign. It meant his troubles were back under heel, where they belonged. The night was going to be perfect, and tomorrow he would go with the flow, follow the trail nature laid for him. The day after that? Well, of course he would be back in his badged shirt, but his batteries would be fully charged. Life would be a walkover.
Perhaps the night was not perfect. How much more heart-swelling it would be if Jay were here. Father and son; father imparting the ways of the Great Spirit, son teaching the father... what? Something important anyway. But maybe Jay was a little too old for all that. Two men then, brothers, enjoying the freshness of life together.
Nathan laughed out loud. These trips of his washed away all pessimism. Maybe next time Annette would come along. They would make love under the moon. Before he could sink into the comfort of his thoughts, the fire at his back spat out a cinder and turning Nathan's gaze was drawn to it's brightness. He watched the dancing flames, the hypnotic, dancing flames, until his mind wandered and his eyes lost focus and the little wisps of smoke seemed to be people. They danced and gyrated, calling Nathan into the flame; little people of smoke with no legs and fiery bodies: and looking at him from the depths of the flame was a face - Hawk's face! Johnny Hawk was in the fire calling out for help. Nathan reached out, shaking the images away as the flame bit his fingers.
He stuck the over-warmed fingers into his mouth to suck away the pain. Silly, he thought, dismissing the fire-dream, but he was troubled for a while until he decided to turn in for the night.
His wickiup was warm and cozy, a luxury he would have done without as a younger man. He slept deep until a bear lumbered into his dreams, standing up on hind legs to draw a challenge. The roar trailed off and came again so loud that Nathan woke up. The sound of the bear's voice remained, so springing from his blanket, Nathan fumbled in the dark for his tomahawk, although now he began to wish he had brought his piece along after all.
There was no bear. It was the distant gravely purr of a four-wheel-drive picking it's way along the trackless valley. Nathan watched as it's headlights sent unsteady beams into the night, beams which would all of a sudden plunge earthward and then soar again as the - truck, jeep or whatever - bounced along uneven ground. It came steadily onward, straight towards Nathan's camp, but he knew it would soon be brought to a halt; unless the crew had a whole load of chain-saws, they would never get their vehicle through the tree line.
Halt it did. Nathan could no longer see anything as it was too dark and the trees were in the way. But the night air brought sounds; doors slamming, people talking, a laugh, the cry of some night creature calling out in alarm. Nathan was curious. What would bring folk out in the middle of the night to this rarely visited spot unless it be deeds nefarious?