The music from Tara Varela’s flute drifted down the hillside and into the valley below near the monument where she worked. It had been her grandmother’s heritage which brought her to the Crazy Horse Memorial all those years ago. It was her love of the Black Hills of South Dakota that compelled her to finish her degree and stay there as a park ranger.
The Lakota people were proud of their heritage and were wonderful stewards to the earth and Her creatures. The view from Tara’s afternoon perch overlooked the construction of the lower part of the mountain, far away from the proud face of the honored leader. Not much happened in the winter months, although tourists from all over the world still visited daily.
While the monument was impressive to her for many reasons, the amount of work to be completed was unfathomable. After decades of construction, Crazy Horse’s face and the top of his pointing arm were the only things finished. However, the more she learned about the passion of the late sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, and his family’s continued work, the more she knew she was in the right place.
Another sour note, and Tara began again. She was still learning the correct movements for a song her co-worker, Paytah, had played at lunch recently. It had a Celtic vibe, unlike most of the music they heard day in and day out. Tara had been surprised to find it was from the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings and had watched the movie with new eyes. Much like the scenes they were played in, the haunting notes filled her heart with longing and hope. She had been trying to perfect the melody ever since.
On the days the notes came easily, the lyrics were sung in her mind in a rich baritone, unlike the woman on the soundtrack. The elder, Mato, had always said that notes strung together in a tune weren’t as important as the music of her heart. With the recent addition of the man’s voice to her rendition of the tune, she wondered if playing from her heart was starting to mess with her head.
Running steps and rustling stopped her mid-blow, and she turned to look up the hillside path. A frantic young woman ran up to her, with fresh cuts on her face and muddied clothes.
“I need your help,” she panted.
Tara had already risen to her feet, her flute and musings were forgotten at the base of the tree. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” In a few steps, she met the woman on the path and did a once-over for injuries.
The woman shook her head, sucking in large gulps of breath as she tried to slow her breathing. “Not me. My boyfriend.” She waved up the path then turned to start back the way she came. “He’s hurt.”
The woman was winded, with a few superficial scratches, but otherwise, looked fine. She was just frantic. Panic came off her in waves. It increased Tara’s heartrate and made her ill. She sent the woman calming thoughts.
“Can you take me to him?” Tara’s question was logical since she wasn’t sure how familiar the stranger was with the area. The woman looked as though she may have run a few miles.
“Yes.” The woman nodded. The sun had already been blocked by the great mountain–another hour, and it would be gone entirely. She noted the woman was dressed properly for hiking. She had gear on her belt but no backpack, which made sense if she had been in a hurry to find someone.
Tara gave her a directional nod and started to move. The woman turned and ran ahead on the path. Tara kept up the quick pace while she pulled out her cellphone and lifted the privacy settings that shared her location. She hit Paytah’s contact next and started a text, tapping the microphone symbol allowing her to do voice-to-text.
Hiker found me at my usual spot and needs help. Says her boyfriend is injured and we are on route. Location shared, follow with a med kit and blankets.
She kept walking behind the woman as she waited for a response. The three dots signifying it was coming stopped with Paytah’s reply.
Will be 10 minutes behind you.
Tara was comforted by the knowledge she had backup coming, especially since she only carried a small flashlight and first aid kit on her utility belt. From the way the woman was behaving, the injuries might need more than the bandages and gauze she had handy. Between her supplies and the woman’s, they should be able to provide enough aid until help arrived. She hoped the couple had a lantern, it would be dark soon.
Tara picked up her pace, causing the woman to walk quicker. Moving up the hillside was probably much slower going than the way down had been.
“How long were you running before you found me,” she asked.
“About 15 minutes,” the woman responded. “Was about this pace. I didn’t want to slip. It took me about 6 or 7 minutes to find you.”
“Okay good. I’ve called for help. They are right behind us. My name is Tara, by the way.”
“Maggie,” the woman said as she glanced over to Tara, who had caught up to her. They were practically walking side by side. “My boyfriend’s name is Brent.”
“Before we get there, can you tell me what happened?”
“We were hiking back to our campsite, and Brent’s foot slipped into a fox hole. He fell forward, and I heard it snap.” Maggie’s voice cracked. “I managed to slow the bleeding, but it’s broken. It pushed through his skin.” She covered her mouth with her hand.
Tara gave Maggie’s arm a quick squeeze. Sounded bad, it would be tricky to move him. Maybe they could find some branches along the way to serve as a splint. Tara took her phone out again and sent another text to Paytah.
Possible compound fracture, bring the gurney.
Her response came quickly.
Got it. On the way.
“My co-worker will come with no less than two other people. We will be able to get Brent help.”
“Thank you so much, Tara. I’m so glad I heard your music on my way to the Visitor Center. It was the only place I could think of where I would find someone.”
“We have a hospital nearby so once we get him off the mountain, they should be able to secure his break for transport.”
“I think it’s right up here through these trees.” Tara squinted beyond the tree line to determine where Maggie’s boyfriend was sitting. She spied him across the clearing, his body unmoving, eyes wide and locked on something to his left. Tara saw it then and grasped Maggie’s arm to pull her back and down into a crouching position.
Maggie attempted to pull away in confusion, crouching down beside Tara after her fierce whisper. “You need to stay here, and keep quiet,” Tara said. “Don’t move.”
“Oh my God, I see it,” Maggie whispered. She had hardly taken a breath since crouching down beside Tara.
Their eyes were all locked in the same direction, and while the boyfriend was closest to it, it wouldn’t take more than a few seconds for the mountain lion to make it to their location if it chose to do so. Tara scooted closer to the clearing, leaving Maggie behind her by a foot or two. It was enough of a movement to attract the animal’s attention. Its gaze locked on Tara as it adjusted its powerful body to face hers. She could hear Maggie’s slight intake in breath, but otherwise, she was as silent as an evergreen.
Tara slowly put her arms out on either side, her hands splayed with palms forward. The mountain lion bared its fangs with a sharp hiss, remaining completely still. She couldn’t think of anything else to do. The idea came as a mental flash to her mind, much like some of the other things she had been shown in the past few months. Going with her gut in these types of situations took her in the right direction her entire life–but much more so lately. Besides, it worked at home on her cat, Misty.
Tara took a deep breath and pushed her thoughts out in front of her, directing her intention at the large cat a few feet away from the injured man.
Peace. No Harm. Friend.
Interesting. The animal formed words along with the images, just like she received from Misty. The response wasn’t angry, nor did it feel urgent. This animal wasn’t starving but had merely come across something that smelled like blood. Tara felt the waves of curiosity coming from the beast. If the animal had truly been hungry, Brent would have already been attacked.
Not Food. Friend.
The mountain lion’s head tipped to the side, much like Misty did when Tara spoke aloud to her. Her best friend, Brooke, had seen how attached Tara was to her cat and had left her behind when she moved away. Tara and Misty had their communication down to a science, but this was next level. It was only because they spoke to each other this way, Tara had even thought to attempt it with the wild feline. Words were always sent with images when she spoke to her cat. It seemed like now it worked on other animals as well.
“Unbelievable,” Maggie whispered in awe. Tara could only imagine what it must look like to her. After all, Tara had now lowered herself to her knees, and the cat had shifted its muscular body, so it was facing her fully.
Tara smiled as the large cat started a rumbling purr and stopped twitching its tail. Its ears were up in a relaxed position, and it was waiting for her response. Just a conversation between two friends.
The cat relaxed even further, rolling to its side and resting its head on the forest floor. It wasn’t leaving, but Tara decided it was safe enough to approach. She needed to get the cat to leave before the others arrived. It would be a shame to tranquilize it. She knew Paytah would have the necessary tools in her kit, especially at this time of night.
The cat watched, unblinking, as Tara stood in place with her arms still splayed at her sides. Maggie muttered under her breath, and Tara glanced back with a shake of her head to quiet her. She needed to concentrate and couldn’t worry that Maggie would draw any undue attention to herself. Tara took a step forward and paused, glancing over to Brent, who was no longer staring the mountain lion’s way. He was still sitting against the tree, but his head was slumped forward chin to chest. He must have passed out from the pain. At least she hoped. Another step forward, and her attention was back on the large cat who gave her more and more of a Misty vibe as she continued to communicate with it.
The words that came to her were more visual than actual words. Pictures pushed into her mind by the cat, showed it rubbing itself across a tree stump and wrestling with its siblings. The images flickered by, like an old black and white movie. The words formed after images were shown, allowing her to know what the mountain lion truly wanted.
She was now within a couple of feet of the animal, which rolled over on its back and showed its belly to her. The cat was young, probably just old enough to be without its mother. She supposed that was part of the reason it was so easy to communicate with. It hadn’t had much human interaction, so its level of fear was minimal. Tara took the final few steps toward the cat and placed her hand on its chest. She could feel the rumble of the purr as she started to fill the feline’s request. As she rubbed her fingertips across the mountain lion’s fur, she pushed more thoughts its way.
More humans coming. Cat must hide.
The large cat raised up and looked at her, cocking its head. Tara continued to rub and pushed another message.
Cat must hide.
She pulled her hand off its belly and pushed one more message.
Man needs help.
The mountain lion understood and as Tara stood and took a step back, it rose to its feet and gave its great body a shake. The wet debris dropped from its fur. It stepped toward Tara and rubbed itself along her legs, practically knocking her over with its force. Even though it was young, it had to be over a hundred pounds. She reached down and rubbed the top of its head before giving it her final thought.
My friend. Cat hide.
Tara pointed toward the woods, and the animal gave one last look at her before turning and loping in that direction. The mountain lion was gone with a whisper, but Tara knew it wouldn’t go far. It made her wonder if it would run into any other hikers, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Its curiosity would keep it nearby and watching, but it would heed her warning. Of that, she was sure.
As she crossed over to Brent, the sound of running steps came to Tara. Within seconds, Maggie crouched down beside her boyfriend. She was distraught. Her hands reached out then pulled back, shaking in the process. Tara always gave folks something to do when she was trying to give aid. She found it was a good idea; it kept them out of her space. Besides, for her next bit, she didn’t want Maggie around. Taking a quick inventory of the situation, Tara gave Maggie some instructions.
“I need you to find a branch, something straight and about two feet long. We might need it for the break.” With wide eyes, Maggie nodded and hurried into the tree line to fulfill Tara’s request.
Tara turned back to Brent and saw the gentle rise and fall of his chest. He was still unconscious. Time to assess the damage. It looked like a compound fracture, although it was hard to see the injury with the amount of blood that had congealed near the wound. Brent’s pulse was strong, his breathing steady. She was glad he was out of it, as panicked people never made the best patients.
From first glance, the two hikers had completed the right steps to deal with the wound. They had used his leather belt as a tourniquet, wrapping it twice around before using the notches to secure it. It staunched the flow of blood to the site and seemed to have done the trick. She cut the leg of his pants open with her knife to better see the break. The bone protruded from Brent’s muddy knee, and she decided cleaning the wound would be the best place to start. Her backup would be there shortly.
Tara unzipped her first aid kit and dumped out the meager contents, opting for the plain gauze to get most of the mud off before using the alcohol wipes. The tune she had been playing earlier came to mind, and soon she was humming the notes. The melody soothed her. Tara concentrated on the injury, thankful Brent was still unconscious during the sting of alcohol on his open wound. Her fingers tingled, and she wondered if she had scratched them earlier on the bark of the tree she had been sitting beneath. When she looked down to check them for cuts, they were glowing white.
“I found this,” Maggie’s voice said from behind her.
Tara internally jumped, her shoulders following suit for a brief second. When she looked at her hands again, the glow was gone. Maggie handed her a branch about two inches in diameter, with only a slight bend in the middle.
“This will be perfect. Do you have a flashlight? I’m having a hard time seeing what I’m doing.”
“I have one here, but weren’t you just using one?”
“Tara,” a voice called out from behind them.
“Over here,” she responded, thankful she didn’t need to answer Maggie’s question. “Go see if they need help. I’m not sure what they’ve brought with them.”
“Okay.” Maggie nodded and hurried out of the clearing, down the path that led to the Memorial. Tara heard snatches of their conversation as Maggie brought them up to speed. Tara picked up her supplies and shoved them back into her pack, securing it on her belt. She took the blanket Brent had been using to cover himself and folded it up, laying the makeshift pillow next to him. By the time she stood up and attempted to shift Brent into a prone position, Paytah was at her side.
“I was just going to lay him down, so we can slide him onto the gurney,” Tara explained.
“Don’t worry about that,” a deep voice said.
Tara glanced up and saw Paytah’s boyfriend, Robert, and another employee she didn’t know carrying the supplies.
“We can take it from here. How long has he been unconscious?”
“Just after we arrived,” Tara answered. “Less than five minutes.”
“Good,” the other man responded. “What’s his name?”
“Brent,” Maggie replied. She gathered their belongings and zipped them into backpacks. Tara watched as the man who came with Robert gave aid to the hiker. She was impressed by his muscular arms. He had a lot of tattoos, which wasn’t normally her thing, but on him, they looked good. The man snapped a packet in his fingers and waved it under Brent’s nose, causing him to wake with a start. Tara and Paytah helped Robert finish the set up on the gurney.
“Brent, I’m Tyler and this is Rob. The ladies are Paytah and…”
“Tara,” she added quickly. Tyler continued his aid without missing a beat.
“We all work at the Crazy Horse Memorial. We’re here to get you to the hospital.”
Brent nodded. He was awake, but his eyes were glazed. The waves of pain that came from him made Tara nauseous. As she mentally pulled on the red threads of agony coming from his body, her stomach churned, but it seemed to be helping him. She imagined absorbing as much as she could, pulling it deep into her body and as far away from him as possible. Tara channeled her healing energy to Brent, just like her Grandmother had taught her and Mato’s teachings had reinforced.
When Rob and Tyler moved him to the gurney, Brent’s breathing seemed much less shallow. His voice came out in not much more than a whisper.
“I’m right here,” Maggie responded. The emotion in her voice breaking, but she needed to hold it together just a little while longer. Tara gathered a ball of positive energy and kept her hands behind her back until she reached Maggie. With a brush to her shoulders, Tara passed the energy to the woman as she slid the weight of the backpacks from them.
“I’ll carry this for you.” Maggie’s shoulders relaxed, the relief reflecting in her gratitude filled eyes. “Thank you all so much.”
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, with a flash of lightning not far behind.
“Don’t thank us yet,” Rob quipped. “We still need to get our asses off this mountain. The storm is coming.”
“Let’s do this,” Tyler said.
“I’ll lead the way with Maggie,” Paytah offered. “Tara, you can follow behind the men.”
“Ready when you are,” Tara answered.
As they left the clearing, Tara glanced back and did a quick sweep with her flashlight. The luminescent glow from a set of eyes made her jump.
She pushed a message to the mountain lion with a smile as she hurried behind the group.