Los Angeles, 2036
Cameron cowered along the rough wall of the giant granite boulder and squeezed his eyes shut for a split second. It was too high to climb. He was trapped! Gritting his teeth, he gulped in a lungful of air, but it did little to take away the feeling of drowning. The air here was so thin, he hadn’t been able to take in a full breath since mysteriously ending up in this wilderness. How long had it been? Days? A week?
The low growl of the mountain lion that had stalked him into this dead end vibrated in his ears. Cam’s eyes grew wide. He shot hasty looks all around him. He picked up a rock and threw it at the predator. The cat jumped back, but turned, and growled again. It's tail swished through the air in an agitated flick.
The cat crouched, and Cameron’s heart threatened to pound out of his chest. He glanced toward the trees past the animal. Relief swept through him. The old man he’d been following stepped from behind one of the pines.
“Help me,” Cameron called, casting another nervous glance toward the cougar. The ancient Indian stood stoically. There was no emotion on his face, or in his eyes. He clutched a fur hide around his chest and watched. Surely, any second now, he’d produce some kind of weapon and come to help.
The cat crouched lower, its ears laid flat against the top of its head. All its muscles were bunched as if getting ready to leap at him. Cam whipped his head around when the sound of falling rock, reached his ear. Not a second later, a man appeared, nearly leaping over one of the many boulders in this area. He yelled, but the words were lost to Cam.
Cam’s eyes widened when the stranger raised his arm and a tomahawk flew through the air, hitting the cat squarely in the ribs. The tall man lunged forward with a loud growl of his own and threw himself at the cat, a knife blade gleaming in his hand. Cam blinked, his mouth open wide. The man rushed up to him not a second later and dropped to his knees.
“Are you all right, Cameron?”
Cam nodded, his eyes still on the cougar. The cat lay dead several yards away. Cam glanced up at the tall man. Dressed in jeans, a gray t-shirt, and hiking boots, the blond stranger still knelt in front of him. How did he know his name?
“That Indian was about to help me,” Cam said, pointing to where the old man had stood a moment ago. His forehead wrinkled.
The stranger glanced over his shoulder. “What Indian?” He didn’t sound at all surprised, but rather annoyed.
“He was just there,” Cam said, his voice shaky. “He’s gone.”
The man in front of him tensed. He chuckled slightly. “There’s no one there, Cam. Time to get you back to your scout troop, though.” The tall man grinned at him.
Cam narrowed his eyes and tilted his head. “Who are you?”
The man’s grin widened. “Chase Russell. I’m here to take you home.”
Cam pursed his lips and studied the man. He eyed the hand that was still held out to him, then reached for it. The stranger easily pulled him to his feet. Cam’s legs were as wobbly as jello.
“How do you know my name?”
“I’m with the park service. Search and Rescue,” he said simply.
Cam scanned the man’s clothes. He’d watched enough television to know that official search and rescue guys didn't dress in jeans and t-shirts and carry Indian knives and tomahawks.
“There was an Indian. I’ve been following him since I woke up in that meadow.”
Chase Russell shot him another grin. “I think your mind’s playing tricks on you, kid.”
Cam frowned. The guy was clearly blowing him off. His grip tightened on Cam’s hand, and he reached for something in the leather pouch hanging around his neck. Cam caught a glimpse of an object the man pulled from the pouch, the same object he’d touched when he’d ended up in an unfamiliar meadow, and separated from his scout troop. The red stones that looked like eyes gleamed eerily in the setting sun as if they were staring at him.
The stones glowed brighter and Cam squinted, looking further into those red eyes. A man and woman appeared. They were dressed in furs and animal hides and labored through deep snow. The man glanced over his shoulder and urged the woman forward. A baby in her arms cried loudly. The woman fell to the ground. She screamed, and then everything went black.
Cameron bolted upright in his bed. He held his hands to his temples, trying to catch his breath. He yanked the covers away and dragged his legs over the edge of the mattress.
Damn! Why couldn't he get those images out of his head? It all seemed so real. He'd been plagued by this dream ever since returning from his trip to Yellowstone National Park with the boy scouts a couple of months ago. He and a few friends had goofed off like they always did. It had landed him in trouble, which was nothing new. He hadn't wanted to go on the trip, but his parents thought it would be good for him and teach him some responsibility.
Hell, he didn't even want to be in scouting, but his parents had made him join. They told him camping in the great outdoors would build character. Yellowstone had been his first big outing with the scouts. He'd die before he admitted it to anyone, but the landscape and all the geysers and stuff had held his interest like nothing else ever had. He'd pretended not to care because his buddies didn't seem too interested in walking the boardwalks and looking at yet another hot spring.
Cameron had stared off at the mountains in awe, wishing he could go and explore them on his own, but that was out of the question. The scout leaders had kept them all together, herded like a bunch of cows, from one point of interest to another.
The tourist attractions had soon become boring, and he'd wished more and more that he could just run away and get lost somewhere in the endless wilderness. He hadn't so much as even left the city, and the vastness of the land fascinated him as if it was trying to draw him in. An odd feeling of familiarity had swept over him then like he should remember something about where he was, and that someone was calling him home.
Then that bizarre incident had happened. He and his friend, Julian, had been messing around at one of the picnic areas where the troop had stopped for lunch, tossing rocks into the river. They’d wandered a little too far away from the rest of the group. Julian had grabbed a weird-looking rock, something that reminded Cameron of a snake’s head, and he’d reached for his arm before Julian could throw it.
The next thing he knew, he was somewhere else. It was as if he’d fallen asleep, and then woken up in a meadow with no one else around. Julian was passed out next to him, and an old Native American man had stood a short distance away. He’d waved to him, then turned and walked away.
Cameron had followed him, leaving Julian asleep in the meadow, and kept yelling at the old man to stop and tell him where his troop was. The further he’d walked, the more disoriented and lost he’d become. He’d spent a cold and lonely night in the woods, huddling under a tree for some warmth. The sounds of animals had kept him awake, but strangely enough, he hadn’t been scared.
The following morning, he’d spotted the Indian again, and continued to follow him further into the woods. At the time, he hadn’t even thought about what he’d been taught by his scout leaders - to always stay put when lost, that it would be easier to be found if he didn’t wander away.
The mountain lion and the man who'd saved his life had been the last two things he'd remembered just before waking up with a bunch of park rangers and his scout leaders huddled around him.
He’d had to endure endless hours at the hospital being examined, even though he’d told everyone that he was fine except for being hungry. He’d even had to talk to a shrink, and everyone finally chalked up his experience to being lost in the wilderness. They’d told him that what he’d seen and experienced had all been in his head.
He’d called Julian, the coward, and had asked him what he’d remembered. Julian had always been chicken. Cameron could see it in his eyes that he knew more than he’d said. He had experienced the same thing Cameron had, but he’d let the shrinks tell him that he’d only imagined it. Or he’d been too scared to say anything.
Cameron groped for his cell phone on his nightstand. He turned on the lamp and told his phone to dial Julian's number. So what if it was three o'clock in the morning? These dreams were driving him nuts. He hadn't told anyone about them. His parents would only send him to the shrink again.
“Pick up,” he mumbled impatiently.
On the fifth ring, a raspy voice said a feeble “hello?”
“Jules, it’s me, Cam. I need to talk to you.”
Silence on the other end.
“Julian, wake up,” Cameron growled into the phone.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
Cameron rolled his eyes at the whiny voice coming through the receiver. Julian had better start growing a pair, or he’d be made fun of worse than he already was.
“Are you having weird dreams about . . . you know, what happened to us in Yellowstone?”
More silence. Cameron was about to yell into the phone, when Julian said, “No. Have you?”
“All the time,” he confessed. “Whatever happened to us just isn’t letting me go.”
“Nothing happened, Cam. We got lost, and like the rangers and the doctor said, we got disoriented.”
Cameron scoffed. “They really did brainwash you, didn’t they? Something happened, Jules. And it wasn’t disorientation. You and I both saw that Native American guy, the one who –”
A movement in the far corner of his room drew his attention away from the phone. Cameron looked up, then stared. His mouth gaped open. Right there, in his room, stood an old Native American, like the one from his dreams and experiences in Yellowstone that everyone had been trying to convince him hadn't been real. He moved his phone away from his ear and dropped it on his bed. Slowly, he stood and took a tentative step toward the old man. Julian's faint voice calling his name from the receiver faded away.
“Who are you?” Cameron raised his chin in a challenge to try and disguise the nervous beating of his heart. How had this guy gotten into his room?
A shriveled hand reached out to him. The man was dressed in tanned leather pants and a fringed shirt, and his white hair hung to his shoulders. He didn’t wear any feathers or carry a spear or other kinds of weapons like what he’d seen Indians do in the movies, or what he’d read in books. He looked rather plain and boring, and he was short. The hand opened, palm upward. Cameron gaped at the object the old man held out for him. It was the same snakehead-shaped thing that Julian had found in Yellowstone, right before they’d suddenly gotten “lost.”
The old man’s voice sounded raspy when he spoke.
“Come, Cameahwait. It is time.”