AZTEC RIDGE AND TEMPLE RUINS
He could not form a single syllable, so long stilled were his parched lips. To speak again would require time and practice. Practice - why bother? Time - let's move the clock's hands fast-forward and bring this nightmare to an end. Waiting for his own death was all that occupied the bereft father's thoughts since that day ...
Like a man half-alive, Charles gazed steadily (yet his mind drifting in and out) at the oil painting of "Aztec Ridge and Temple Ruins" that hung so proudly - so detached from its reality - above the rough hewn mantle gracing in rustic fashion the river-rock fireplace built years ago by his father, William Dexter-Hayes. 'Why oh why him and not me?' Charlie groaned to himself as tears long dammed commenced breaking way and flooding down a face weathered by sun, wind, grief. He permitted himself to cast a long and perplexed look back in time, back to that night that would probably have been otherwise forgotten, remembered briefly with a chuckle by Dad and a shudder by Mom as the typical childhood escapade
A night to remember.
Frank, scampering ahead and blazing a well sniffed-out trail for his ten-year-old master, Charlie, yelped back excitedly over his shoulder, as if to say 'Get the move on, youngin', before it gets dark and we have to turn back.'
Charlie, of his own accord, surely not needing the prompting or admonishment of any four-legged creature (or two-, for that matter), blasted forward, aiming single-mindedly toward his goal: the stunning vista of Aztec Ridge, a glorious, extraordinary sight that contrasted wildly with the old and ordinary landscape so few miles back. What's to compare? A few hundred feet more and three miles spanned. An hour's walk he could make in half the time, because Charlie never just walked: he galloped.
Looming up ahead - moments away - was the clearing that opened (dangerously so) onto the breathtaking view someone way-back-when gave a name alluding to an ancient native race that, as far as anyone can tell, never set bare foot in these environs. Well, perhaps that's the romance of it, the poetic license, so to speak. In any event, the name stuck and none of the locals seemed to feel the need to qualify to visitors why the mountains have been stuck with that peculiar moniker.
The little rabble rouser was a bit of a paradox in that he could be shut down into absolute silence and stillness by a beautiful scene painted by the mystical hand of Nature. Everyone in Flagg Junction knew that the sleepy town's chief noise maker would turn stone silent instantly when hit head on with a scene from the countryside's ravishing beauty, whether it burst out riotously - SURPRISE! - or simply seeped into Charlie's purview through visual osmosis.
Panting heavily and dropping loosey-goosey to his scarred knees, little Charlie raised his eyes and turned inward, racing ahead in his big mind and heart into the grown-up ambitions at a time in life when all ordinary boys are thinking of snails and puppy dog tails. Certainly, Charlie had these necessary matters ever present at the front of his small skull. But, for this precocious flesh-and-blood oxymoron, it was not enough to look at beauty; it MUST be captured. He would do it, somehow take and capture the image so indelibly impressed into his consciousness in glorious Technicolor with eyes wide shut. He would reproduce it. Somehow. Soon.
Sliding away in his mind, journeying into a kaleidoscope of wondrous beauty, Charlie paid no heed to the state of the ledge where he knelt worshipfully ...