When we leave the shop, Gus and I decide to head straight over to the site I mapped out for Melinda. It’s time we just confront her and lay everything out. This was supposed to be a fun little journey to find the origin of a silly book, but it’s become some ridiculous conspiracy drama.
As we drive through Sedona, I try to picture my conversation with Melinda. She tends to take me off guard by introducing new variables when we talk. She erases history and creates something new in its place. She contradicts herself, me, and the reality we’ve all agreed on. How do you prepare for something like that? If we can rewrite history and disregard reality in the present, what does that mean for the future?
Gus is at the wheel, concentrating on the roads. It strikes me how little emotion he has and how few movements he makes. It’s almost as though his body only knows so many positions. As we take a turn onto a dirt road, the car bumps around, but Gus remains locked in place, the world bouncing around him.
We eventually arrive at my made-up trailhead. We get out of the car, and dust circles around us. It’s cinematic until Gus sneezes.
I pull out my new, more detailed map and we start walking. As we walk, the line of a single track trail forms in front of us. The dirt and rocks seem to shift away, like a tiny parting of the Red Sea. It must be a trick of the wind.
I’d set One Long Panel of Stones pretty far back off the main roads. The site itself I’d picked based on Melinda’s tape. I had to hit as many keywords as possible to convince her the trip was worthwhile. I hadn’t considered that Gus and I would eventually be following the map as well. Even though I know there is nothing but rocks at the end of this trail, I still find myself pulled forward by the mystery of it all. Confronting Melinda in the middle of the desert certainly feels like it ought to be climactic.
The hike in is slow. Gus isn’t a quick mover and neither of us were prepared for it. It’s only a few miles, but we’re covered in dust. I can feel rocks in my shoes and sand in my socks. You could set a watch to Gus sneezing.
“Gus, what do you think about this hoax thing?”
Gus sneezes, then produces a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his nose. “It’s certainly possible,” he says, “If I’m understanding all this right, hoax isn’t the right word to use, though. I think Melinda believes the present reality is based on the past we create. If she recreates a different version of the past, using the teachings of Owl and Athanasius, she’s effectively creating a new present.”
“So she likely sees herself as the modern Athanasius?”
“It certainly sounds that way. It’s an interesting proposal, really. What do we know about the past, if not what books tell us? In 50 years, 100 years, whatever, the stories change. Owl, or at least Melinda, seems to feel that she can tell the story loudly enough someone in the future will listen.”
“Why not?” Gus hits back at me quickly. “Why not believe in a world with portals to other lands? Think of a legend like King Arthur. Historians may spend page after page debunking the popular theories, but that doesn’t keep people from believing in round tables, holy grails, and mystical wizards.”
I start thinking about all the myths and folk tales I’ve heard over the years, transposing each into real historical moments. But before I get too lost in my own head, we round a corner to the One Long Panel of Stones rock formation.
Melinda’s laying on the ground, staring at the sky. Her eyes are wide open, but she doesn’t acknowledge that we’re here. Is she dead?
No, her chest is moving, she’s breathing. But she’s catatonic.
Next to her is a small Palm computer. Melinda didn’t strike me as the handheld computer type, but I guess she did run her own business. It’s open to her notes screen.