Travis Fox rode his horse down the arroyo at the edge of his Father’s land, except he was dead so it was his land now. Try convincing his Uncle Wendell of that, though. He thought he was running the ranch. Travis tried not to fight with Wendell. He wanted peace in the household for the sake of Cassie and the children.
He’d never thought of himself as a rancher. Always fought his father’s ways until it was too late. Cancer took him, his father, strong, brave, Apache. In the end, he was just a wasted, tired old man. Not like his grandfather Chano. Chano remembered the old ways. Yes, he was born in the 20th century, but Chano’s grandfather told him the stories of the blue coats, of the treaties that were always broken, of being herded like animals into reservations.
Fox’s two sons and one daughter were children of the 21st century, but Travis longed to preserve the heritage of Chano and his ancestors. Chano died strong, fearless, still seeing past what had been done to him and his people, still disdaining those among them who had surrendered to alcohol and despair.
“They can break your body, but never your spirit, not as long as you choose to stay free.” Travis couldn’t remember the first time Chano told him that, but he did so often. They were his last words. If Father could have spoken in his final moments, Travis was convinced they would have been his last words, too.
Water. The summers were getting hotter each year and the winters colder. Last winter was the worst. So much snow, ice, cold. Arizona used to be where the “snowbirds” from the northern states came in the winter to escape. His kids loved building snowmen in front of their house, not knowing how crazy it was to ride sleds down the hills in an Arizona January.
Now in July, it was hotter than hell, as if the Devil himself has taken up residence just outside his family’s land.
Travis was desperate, and in his desperation, he remembered the legends Chano told him when the boy was still too young for school. Chano had ridden the land, like his father and grandfather before him. They knew the old ways, the old places, places where there was water, even in the most terrible of droughts. The cattle needed water. If he could find an abundant source, they could save the herd, save the ranch.
Ghost lands. That’s what Chano had called this place. Even the white men wouldn’t build out here. Not because they were superstitious, but because they believed nothing was out here but sagebrush and coyotes. Even the coyotes would have to be crazy to come out here.
The Canyon of the Moon. That’s what Chano called it. Even he didn’t know why it was named that. That name had been passed down among the Apache from one generation to the next. How long? No one knew. A thousand years? Ten thousand years? The white men said that the Apaches originally came from Alaska and Canada to settle in the American Southwest. The legends from the oldest times, the ones Chano passed down from his grandfather and the old men before them said there were places on our world that were forbidden, haunted by ghosts or things worse than ghosts. Places where no sane man would go. Ghost lands.
The Canyon of the Moon was such a place. Forbidden, but the only source of water in times of drought. Forbidden, but Chano himself had led herds here to sustain them. Forbidden, but not to men, not to Travis who was trying to preserve the past while building a future for his family.
Like generations of Apache before him, Travis Fox rode along on his Pinto horse Ranger. Yeah, “Hi Ho Silver” and all of that.
It was as if he were the only living man on Earth as he rode into the canyon. It was as if he were one of his ancestors. Brave, free, solitary, a man.
He’d studied the history of his people. Even took classes at university. The white men studied the artifacts of his ancestors without understanding what it meant to be Apache. There was one man, though. One teacher. He understood, at least a little. His mother had been indigenous, but on another continent, conquered but unafraid. He bore that history. He understood Travis.
Helicopter. What the hell?
Travis got off Ranger and pulled him to the wall of the canyon.
Big copter. Hauling cargo. What was it doing way out here? This was private property but that definitely was a military aircraft.
Travis got back on Ranger as the copter disappeared over the far end of the canyon. He moved back out, rode for high ground. He had to see what was going on.
Fifteen minutes later, he’d chosen his vantage point. He was off Ranger, on his belly, binoculars in hand, looking down at a camp at the far side of the canyon.
Men, white men. What the hell were they doing? Whatever it was, it was big, and in the middle of the only hope Travis had for saving the herd of the Double A.
“Alright, just put down the binoculars. Let me see your hands. Stand up slowly.”
Whoever had approached Travis from behind was an expert. He hadn’t heard so much as a footfall. Even Ranger hadn’t noticed the approach of the three men who were pointing military automatic rifles at him.
“We don’t want to hurt you. Come with us.”
They pointed back the way Travis came. One took Ranger’s reins, someone who know how to handle horses.
In a few minutes, Travis was in a vehicle driving back into the canyon. They pulled up next to the camp, next to the man tending the fire.
Travis was ordered out. He walked up to the man.
No. Not him. Not here. Why?
“Son, we aren’t here to hurt you, but you’re not supposed to be here. No one who isn’t crazy would be in this part of the desert.”
“My name is Travis Fox. This is my family’s land. I’m a rancher looking for water for our cattle.”
“I’ve studied the legends of the Canyon of the Moon myself. It makes sense. I just didn’t know of anyone else who knew of them.”
“The Apache know. You’re Gordon Ashe, aren’t you?”
“How do you know that name, Mr. Fox?”
“I took an extension course in archaeology at the University of Phoenix fifteen years ago. You were a guest lecturer. You’re an expert in Bronze Age Europe, but you knew a lot about Southwestern America of the same period and older. You were one of my inspirations to hold onto the past, to preserve my heritage.”
“Well I’m glad my teachings had a lasting effect, but you’ve stumbled onto something a lot bigger than the legends of the Canyon of the Moon.”
“Excuse me Sir, but what the fuck are you doing here with all of these military types on my land?”
Gordon Ashe. His father had been a young Englishman pursuing a career with a multinational corporation on his first assignment in their Bombay offices. His mother had been a child of the streets, hungry, desperate, determined. They’d met by chance on a street corner. He instantly fell in love. For her, the process took a little longer.
He wanted to take her back to London. She felt like she’d starve away from her people in the land of the colonists. He agreed to surrender his ambitions for a much greater prize: love. Gordon Ashe was a child of two worlds, taught the value of a classical education, of civilization, of technology, and that of the distant past, of tradition, of history, of coming from a proud and noble people.
How like Travis Fox was Gordon Ashe.
“I can’t tell you that yet son, but if I’m right, you’re about to become part of the biggest adventure ever facing the human race.”
This is an extension of my Time Traders homage, a small collection of chapters honoring Andre Norton’s (Alice Mary Norton’s) 1958 scifi cold war thriller The Time Traders. In 1959, she published a sequel called Galactic Derelict which introduced the character Travis Fox.
The original novels didn’t depict Ashe as having a father from England and a mother from India, but even when I was in junior high and was reading these stories, for some reason, that’s how I pictured Ashe.
This next set of stories will deviate even further from Norton’s original vision than did my tales modeled on “The Time Traders”. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
To read all ten chapters and the epilogue of the previous homage to Norton’s 1958 novel, click on the following links in sequence:
- The Recruit
- The Artifact
- The Traders
- The Curse of Lurgha
- The Cache
The second chapter in the current series is The Folsom Mystery.