“Is it far to Route 12? We’re hoping to see some wildlife, and more of the desert in its true form.”
“Route 12?” Reuben’s brow furrowed, hooding his glassy stare.
“The map shows it runs parallel with I8, reconnecting about a hundred miles west.”
“Saw that on your map?” Reuben remarked in the form of a question.
Austin pulled his roadmap from his back pocket, unfolded it, and spread it out on the counter between them. He pointed out the route which showed “plain as day” beneath the tip of his index finger.
“Do you know the road?” Austin asked.
“Yes. I know it.” Reuben looked expressionless at the road map. “We call that stretch Death Valley Pass.”
Troy’s body stiffened, struck by a shiver. Had he heard him right?
“Death Valley Pass,” the old man repeated, as if he’d read Troy's thoughts.
Austin cocked his brow, eyeballing Troy, who returned his stare with wide, questioning eyes.
“That must be a local thing. The map says Route 12.” Austin held his finger on the mark.
“Nope. It don’t matter what that map says. The sign will read Death Valley Pass,” Reuben insisted.
Troy, leery of the clerk, was disinclined to near the counter, but had no choice but to approach when Austin gestured.
“Get those on up here so he can ring it up.” Austin refolded the map.
Troy, cradling several items, quickly dumped his supply and backed away. He didn’t trust what the man was, but his curiosity overpowered his fear, and he dug deep for the courage to speak. “Why is it called that?” He had to know.
Reuben exhibited a half-smile. “Legend tells of an unseen valley existing there.”
The man’s expression abated Troy’s jitters. “Unseen? How can a valley be unseen?” He didn’t understand.
“It’s no ordinary valley.” The clerk leaned onto the counter, “but enchanted. It is seen only by those who are destined to enter into its folds.”
“An interesting concept,” Austin said, “but he’s a bit old to believe it.”
“It is a true legend—the Valley of the Shadow.” Reuben’s dusky eyes were planted on Troy. “Sometimes you just have to have faith, even in things that may seem impossible. Many believe in God even though we cannot see or touch Him.”
“All right, you have us hooked.” Austin leaned against the counter, propped on one elbow. “Let’s hear it. I know you have a story.”
“The Valley of the Shadow, it’s an old legend…centuries old,” Reuben said, quick to oblige. “To give you the short of it, long ago, during the fifteen hundreds, a ship carrying foreign settlers to the New World was blown off course by a hurricane. Surviving the storm, but lost at sea on a ship of disrepair, the settlers washed ashore in unknown territory along the inner cove of the Gulf of California. Drawn into the clutches of a mighty desert, they had no choice but to brave the unknown land, praying that they’d eventually find the new life they’d traveled so far to find.” He leaned toward Troy, dramatizing the events. “The land was desolate, having suffered an ongoing drought, and the waterways had dried up. The settlers managed to make their way up through Mexico, eventually reaching this Arizona area, but they weren’t prepared to face such a demanding feat. Without water and nourishment, the woeful span of land started picking off the weakest first, with an occasional loss from the unfortunate strike of a rattler or bark scorpion. You can imagine how terrible it must have been for them, forced to accept their impending demise. Looking upward and seeing a sky blackened by vultures, circling, awaiting their next meal.”
“That’s terrible,” Troy said.
“It’s just a story, son,” Austin reminded him. “Maybe we’ve heard enough.”
“No, Dad. I want to hear the rest.”
“I’m nearly to the valley.” The old man went on with the tale. “Worn and weary, and all hope gone, the remaining survivors fell on their knees in the burning sand and cried out to the Lord, beseeching Him to save them from certain death.
‘Why do you suffer us?’ they called out. ‘What Father does not hear his children’s cries?’
Finally getting an answer to their prayers, the ground trembled and a light shone down from the heavens, penetrating the darkness and sending the vultures scattering. In His wondrous mercy, God sent great, holy shepherds to guide them, twelve mighty beings who led them through another day’s journey.
‘Here, God shall prepare a place for you.’ One of the giants lifted a hand, palm up, and the earth before them fissured and sunk, creating a great hollow. ‘This living valley is your Eden for so long as you follow the Lord’s commandments.’
With their work done, the shepherds transformed into earth, leaving the people to settle in the miraculous creation, a land they called the Valley of Rest. With the perfect balance of forest and open fields, animals roamed the terrain, created along with the valley. And I mustn’t forget the mystical stream they deemed the Stream of Life, supplying the land with pure, sweet water, keeping it hydrated and flourishing.”
“Amazing! Their prayer saved them.” Troy was enthralled. “But you just said the valley was called the Valley of Rest when before the story you called it the Valley of the Shadow. Did the settlers change the name?”
“That’s another tale to be told.” Reuben didn’t offer an answer.
Austin opened his wallet. “One we don’t have time for.” He cut his eyes at Reuben. “The story was a bit dark.”
“I apologize if it upset the boy.”
“Is it true…the legend?” Troy asked.
Austin looked down at Troy. “You can’t really believe that a heavenly shepherd just snapped his fingers and voilŕ, a paradise to host lost and dying settlers appeared.”
Reuben looked sincerely at Troy. “The story is said to be true.”
Something in the depths of the old man’s eyes made Troy believe the tale.
“Said by whom?” Austin asked.
The man shifted his gaze to Austin, his voice calm, not seeming affected by the skepticism. “By those who knew.”
“The road, how did it get the name Death Valley Pass?” Troy, fully immersed, wanted to know everything.
“Sadly to say, the settlers all eventually died,” Reuben told him.
“Died…how?” Troy felt a need to know.
“Stories going back as far as this one does tend to get altered to some extent,” Reuben was vague. “However, these are also the stories that hold the most intriguing mysteries.”
“I guess that means you don’t really know,” Austin said. “Run out of storyline?”
Unlike his father, Troy trusted the old man’s sincerity. It’s all true. He could tell that Reuben truly believed the story he’d told.
“You don’t know how they died?” Troy hated the way the story was left hanging.
“Like I said, that’s another tale.” Reuben rang up the items on the counter.
You know what became of those settlers. Troy feared that Reuben had left out some vital information that might very well affect him and his parents along that stretch of desert road.
A soft, radiant light suddenly emanated from the man’s eyes and Troy took in a quick breath. He squeezed his eyes shut, and reopened them a moment later, finding Reuben back to normal.
Troy rubbed his arms as a dark, dreadful feeling consumed him, a precognition that something terrible was drawing them its way, knowing it was somehow tied to the past legend of the settlers and the living valley.
The screeching sound of the screened door captured their attention.
“What’s taking so long?” Lorna stepped inside, fanning her flushed face with a brochure. “I’m burning up out there.”
“Sorry, sweets, we got carried away talking. I’m paying now,” Austin told her. “This is Reuben. He just told Troy a desert tale.”
Lorna nodded. “Nice to meet you.”
“What do I owe you, including thirty for gas?” Austin hurried things along.
“It comes to forty-one seventeen.” Reuben placed the items in a brown paper bag, took forty-five dollars from Austin, and gave him his change.
“We’ll gas up and be on our way. Thank you for the service, and the story.” Austin grabbed the bag and handed it to Troy. “It’ll provide stimulating conversation for the ride.”
Troy followed his parents to the door, lagging behind as Austin pushed it open, and Lorna headed on to the SUV.
“Be careful out there.” Reuben beckoned Troy, who turned for one last look. “Just a friendly word of warning—Death Valley Pass has a history all its own, lingering still, lying in wait for the end of days. Remember my words.”
Locked in the old man’s gaze, Troy experienced a surge of energy coursing through his body. He thought he heard Reuben’s voice, faint and distant in his mind, but the words were muddled and unrecognizable.
Are you trying to convey some sort of telepathic message, something you can’t say out loud?
Austin stood holding the door. “I’m glad my wife didn’t hear that. She’s nervous enough as it is about straying from the interstate. She likes to stick to the straight and narrow…overly cautious.”
Reuben broke his gaze with Troy and turned his focus to Austin. “She’s a wise woman, understanding that the straight and narrow road leads home. But she has no charge over fate. Sometimes forces beyond our control detour us in directions we wouldn’t ordinarily choose to go.”
“Fate?” Austin arched his brow. “You’re not suggesting this story you told is going to affect us in any way?”
Troy shuddered, hearing his dad utter his precise thoughts, despite the hint of sarcasm seeping into his voice.
“There’s a purpose for all things. Just remember the legend, in case fate happens to lead you to the Valley of the Shadow.” Reuben stepped around the counter. “You should know, the valley is only revealed to those destined to enter.”
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Left in Silence
When Troy Altmann and his parents become stranded in a haunting valley, they discover an abandoned village with one lone inhabitant, a peculiar boy named Danivar. But what is the truth surrounding this forsaken individual?
Many questions linger as strange and unexplained events awaken Troy to the fact that he is somehow linked to a legend and a curse set in motion long ago. He has been lured into the midst of supernatural forces, where spirits linger and time stands still, haunted by the valley's dark past. But could he be the key to unlocking the age-old curse?
In all things that be, there are many powers, some good and some evil. And in the Valley of the Shadow, Troy will soon come to learn that he should, most assuredly, fear the evil dwelling 'neath the cursed hollow. For the spirits are stirring, calling to Troy, awaiting the fate of one lost soul...left in silence.
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