Authors: Mark; Ronald C.; Reeder Meyer
PO Box 151117
San Rafael, CA 94915
Copyright Â© 2016 by Ron Meyer and Mark Reeder
Jacket design by Mariah Parker (Metta Graphics)
Interior design by Carla Green (Clarity Designworks)
All rights reserved. This book is protected by copyright.
No part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission from the author.
Printed in the United States of America
First printing: August 2016
Books by Ronald C. Meyer
18 Â½ Minutes
Books by Mark Reeder
Where Memory Has Lease
Weft of the Universe
Young Adult Books
Marc Holiday Series
Marc Holiday and the Sand Reckoner
Marc Holiday and the Travelers Ring
Marc Holiday and the Curious Cusp of Time
Marc Holiday and the Moons of Ararat
The Crystal Sword Series by Mark Reeder and Ronald C. Meyer
A Dark Knight for the King
Queen's Knight Gambit
Knight to Mate
e would like to thank the people who gave us input on the writing of this book: Our brilliant editor and publisher Byron Belitsos who made this book a reality; Dr. Alexander P. Murphy, the University of Oregon's extraordinary human geographer who taught us the “importance of place” in making sense of the world; Allan Combs, who showed us the connection between divine intervention and the Greek God
, the Norse God
, and the Native American trickster
; and our first reader, David Bartsch. A special thanks to Diane EvansâRon Meyer's wife and beloved life partnerâand to Diane Anderson.
March 24, 2016
Rio Chama, New Mexico
onathan Ramsey drove into the parking lot of the Rio Chama de Milagro Shrine and stopped in front of the adobe-bricked arch that formed the entrance to the so-called healing place. Rows of white stones marked parking spots in the dirt. He pulled into a space beside a silver pickup with New Mexico plates.
It was dawnâa chilly Friday in March.
As Ramsey stepped out of his car, he could see his breath. He looked westward. The shrine occupied a high ridge overlooking the Rio Chama River, a fast-flowing tributary of the Rio Grande. It was surrounded by stubbled meadows of rabbit grass and sage that swept toward the forested Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In the near distance the faint tinkle of bells spilled into the morning's silence as Hispanic sheepherders rose to tend their flocks. The area was withered and empty, except for the shrine itself, which stood majestically before Ramsey. Only a short time ago it had been known as the greatest healing center of its kind in North America.
Ramsey closed the car door and pulled his leather jacket tight around his shoulders against the morning chill. High above, a cold wind blew clouds from the mountains to the high plains and beyond. As the sun rose, a red band painted the hills in the east. But although he was already running late, he did not hurry. He stared through the high arching entryway at the hill where a cottonwood tree stood.
Focusing his camera, he began filming the shrine's Visitor Center at the base of the hill. It was a single-story, white stucco building built by local contractors using post-and-beam construction and hay bales. A glass dome soared above the entry. Though he had not yet set foot inside the shrine, Ramsey knew all about it. Over the past week he'd combed the web, reading every article and watching every eyewitness account he could find of its miraculous healing powers. When he finished with the Visitor Center, he found himself thinking about the late-night phone call he had received from Myriam St. Eves a week earlier.
“How soon can you make it?” she had demanded, her voice both earnest and worried.
“I have a weeklong conference in DC,” he answered.
“I can be there Friday morning.”
“That will have to do.”
The phone went dead.
Myriam St. Eves had been his principal advisor for his postdoctoral research fellowship.
He let the thought run no further, other than to wonder why she would call him of all people.
Ramsey was a thin man, brown haired with a dark beard. His eyes were slate gray. His jacket was patched and his trousers faded, the cuffs flopping carelessly over worn Nike running shoes. It was an image he cultivated when he taught his classes at Grinnell College in Iowa. Quite different from his corporate image of Canali wool suits, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, and Paul Smith London shirts. He was forty-one and unmarried.
Startled by a coughing engine, Ramsey whirled to watch a 1970s Volkswagen bus drive up the narrow one-lane road. It pulled into the space next to Ramsey's rental Prius. The engine sputtered and then died with a soft backfire.
A young man and woman got out. They were dressed in colorful flannel shirts and blue jeans and wore clogs. The woman wore a bright red bandana on her head. The man wore a battered Stetson and carried a sleeping toddler in his arms.
“After you,” the young man said.
He shook his head. “I'm in no hurry. Go on ahead.”
“Have a good day,” the woman said.
As the couple passed through the arch, she unwound the bandana. Her head was bald and displayed a horseshoe-shaped scar above the occipital bone.
“It was a long trip, but thank God we made it,” the young man said as he drew her toward him. “I know you're going to get better.”
The woman turned to him, her mouth set. “I have faith.”
The sun topped the surrounding mountains and shone golden on the crest of the hill, where the cottonwood tree rose bright and shining into the sky like a beacon. The tree was massive and looked as if must be a thousand years old. It was impossible for any species in the genus of
to survive for so long, and yet there it stood, ancient and venerable.
The woman stopped and stared. Her breath caught in her throat. The cottonwood beckoned her forward. “It's as beautiful as I imagined.”
The young man gripped her hands. “I know it's going work.”
Ramsey watched the couple hurry up the path toward stone stairs that lead up to the shrine's famous tree. Straightening his shoulders, he started forward. The moment he crossed under the high arch of the entryway, a rush of freezing cold swept through him as though a glacial wind buffeted his soul. His vision narrowed to a single dot and he lurched against the adobe brick, crying out.
“You all right?” the young man called out.
“It's nothing.” Ramsey smiled. He pushed himself up straight. Internally he was on the ledge of a deep dark canyon fighting the demand to fall. It almost felt like a memory. Ever since he was a senior in college, sacred spaces had affected him in unusual ways. This time the transition from the outside world to a sacred place was particularly strong; he knew in that instant his life would never be the same. He walked on toward the Visitor Center.
read the text on her iPhone a second time. “i'm at the shrine. see u in 30. jonathan.”
Asking Jonathan Ramsey for help put Myriam on edge. She hated feeling beholden to him. But she couldn't refuse the request of the man she hoped to marry. Her partner, Hiram, had specifically asked for Ramsey. So she stood on the steps of the CafÃ© Rio waiting for the encounter she had thought would never happen.
The mellow scent of sage hung in the air, the morning was now clear and crisp with no hint of being overcast, and all around her were the old western Hispanic buildings of the town of Rio Chama. The place was one of those Wild West mining towns that had survived as the center of commerce for outlying ranchers until recently, when the Milagro Shrine brought in people by the thousands from across the country and the world. The influx had made the town's local businesses prosperous. Two new motels sprung up at the edge of town as well as a modern Safeway, a 24-Hour Fitness Center, and a movie theater. Bank of America built a small office complex on Main Street, its glass, steel, and concrete clashing with the wood buildings of the courthouse on one side and the James Brothers Mercantile Store on the other.
Just three months ago the Milagro Shrine was a must stop in north-central New Mexico along with Taos, Santa Fe, Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch, and the nearby mission ruins. But the shrine's pull was mysteriously fading. A large “Office Space for Lease” sign hung in the bank's front window, and the mercantile store had gone back to its original hours of 10 to 4, three days a week.
Feeling the cold especially in her right leg, Myriam climbed up the wide steps and inside the CafÃ© Rio to its atrium. Painted in the dark reds, sharp blues, and fire orange of a New Mexico sunset, it stretched half the length of the building. Pueblo pottery and ornate masks were everywhere, and in the center a round fireplace took away the chill with a mesquite-log fire. Once crowded with pilgrims and curiosity seekers at all hours, the place was nearly empty this morning. Rosa Cisneros, the cafÃ©'s owner, was talking with Raphael NÃºnez, Rio Chama's only real estate agent and the chairman of the board for the Friends of the Shrine. From the way she stood with her fists planted on her hips, and the way Raphael spread his hands supplicating, palms up as if asking for forgiveness, the conversation didn't look to be a happy one.
Myriam crossed the tiled floor and sat at a table near the windows with a view of the street. She glanced at the time of Ramsey's text to her. It had come thirty-five minutes earlier. She tapped her turquoise-colored nails on the Mexican-tile tabletop and idly rearranged the salt and pepper shakers. She rubbed her right calf where it ached. The doctor's recent diagnosis troubled her and added to the anxiety surrounding her meeting with Jonathan. She couldn't shake the feeling that her former student was going to turn her request down.
Yet he made the trip here, which is more than I'd hoped for.
Startled, she looked up. Rosa set a carafe and a small pitcher on the table. “Decaf, skim milk, no cream.” She pulled out a small notebook and pen and began writing. “The usual?”
“Somebody is joining me. I'll order then.” The darkness in Rosa's eyes made Myriam shiver. “Anything wrong?”
Rosa shrugged. “I'm fine . . . it's just business.”
“I'm sorry. So many good times here.”
“I keep asking myself, did I do something wrong? God blessed me and then he took it away. I don't understand. What can I do to bring the shrine's power back? I pray every night.”
A shaft of ice shot through Myriam's stomach. “Has the cancer returned?”
Rosa kissed the cross hanging around her neck. “No, I'm fine. I've been so fortunate.” A smile came over her face.
“Is something else going on, then?”
“I don't want to jinx it. I'll tell you later.”
Myriam studied the Hispanic woman as she walked toward the kitchen.
What does she mean by “I don't want to jinx it
Her gaze drifted across the empty street to the weathered Rio Chama Hotel, its white-painted clapboard siding faded from the sun. Its second-story balcony made it look like a building out of an old Western movie. She remembered saying those very words ten years ago to her lifelong friend Nancy Bloomberg when they visited the shrine for the first time.
Every year since they'd graduated college thirty years before, the two of them took a week away from husbands and children to explore
some new place. The trip ten years ago was supposed to be their last, as Nancy's MS was growing progressively worse, but she insisted on one more trip before she became wheelchair bound. The night before they went to the shrine, Nancy began to shake, the tremors starting in her delicately boned hands and spreading until she fell onto the hotel room's double bed, unable to stand any longer. Her frantic weeping and pleas for help made no difference. Myriam held her until after midnight when the shaking stopped. By then Nancy's bubbly personality was replaced by a dull, confused look. They slept in each other's arms until almost checkout time.
Dressing slowly the next morning, each movement registering in a spasm of pain on her face, Nancy said quietly, “Myriam, do you believe in miracles . . . a higher intelligent healing power that we can access?”
Myriam smiled. Nancy was a born-again Christian and Myriam did not want to deflate her friend's hope. So she responded, “I don't want to jinx it.”
Myriam fell out of her reverie just for a moment as a car drove along Rio Chama's deserted main street in front of the CafÃ© Rio. Dust spun in tiny whirlwinds from its tires.
I didn't believe in any of that miraculous healing stuff back then
How wrong I was
In the morning the two women had driven to the shrine. The day was overcast and a light rain was falling. The grass and piÃ±on pine glittered bright green. The air smelled of burned copper, though no lightning crisscrossed the dull gray clouds. The only other car in the lot was a gray Toyota pickup with New Mexico plates. Myriam parked across from it and got out first, helping Nancy to stand. In town at the Mercantile they had bought a cane. Nancy grasped the handle but also leaned on Myriam for support.
Passing through the adobe archway, they stopped at the base of the hill. “Are you sure you want to climb all the way up there?” Myriam asked her friend, more afraid of the walk down than the hike up.
Her face set in a determined grimace, Nancy answered. “I need to.”
She put her foot on the first step just as a man came out of the Visitor Center. He was tall and muscular with graying red hair. A broad smile spread across his weathered face. He introduced himself, his voice a strong baritone. “I'm Adam Gwillt. I'm sort of a caretaker here. Do you need some help?”