Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 24: Meeting of the Minds
by Jeff Rand
During a vigil of more than a century, much had happened within sight of the oak tree. The most unusual events in its realm occurred late each December during the most recent half century. With its branches stretched over the road towards the parking lot at Beaver Creek, it played host to the comings and goings of Winter Campers for many years. Rarely did it have a chance to be more than a casual bystander, but once during Winter Camp XVI, it lent a strong branch to hold a climbing rope. Every year blind hikes passed within its proximity, as the participants became closer to its form during the experience. Significant among its kind, its manifestation still graced the world of Winter Camp LIV.
Now a lone figure lurked beside the tree, keeping himself from sight of the Beaver Creek Building. He had spent more than two hours here waiting and hoping. Dawn would soon announce its arrival and he hoped for some salvation on this the last day of the third decade of the 21st century. When he saw headlights approaching, he jumped onto the road and ran around the bend to stop the vehicle before the others knew of its presence.
It took a moment for the 59-year-old driver to react and he nearly ran into the dark figure blocking the roadway.
"Get out of the way?" shouted the driver, barely opening the window.
"Please, we're in trouble," responded the pedestrian edging toward the driver's side of the vehicle.
"Clark, what's going on?" said the driver, when he recognized Steve Clark, the elder.
"Yes, it's me, Steve," verified Dave Milon, with window now completely down.
"I'm so glad you're back," said Steve.
"Well, that's a first."
"No, really. So much has happened since you left. Steve Donohue and Jeff Rand disappeared searching for you and have not returned," responded Clark.
"I hardly think they had any chance of success," interjected Milon.
"Their departure was much less significant then the events which followed. Dave, we've had invaders, a deadly knife fight and a fatal shooting. In addition, several more people have just vanished and Dave Woods has declared martial law."
"You're kidding! Who was killed?" asked Dave.
Steve continued, "They weren't Winter Campers. The invaders have been killed. And strange as it sounds, Mark Bollman insists that one of them was Dr. E. Urner Goodman, founder of the Order of the Arrow."
"You're absolutely insane!"
"Please believe me! Woods is about to execute Mick Belmont and Harold Oatley for the crimes!"
Suddenly, another figure stepped onto the roadway. As Dave Milon had failed to shut off his headlights, Lou Pezet was easily identified, as was the rifle he had pointed in the direction of Steve Clark.
"We've been looking for you, Mr. Clark. Suppose you introduce your friend in the car," said Lou.
"I was just checking out another potential invader," said Steve, in quick response.
"Then have him get out of the car," said Pezet.
Milon was incredulous and swung the door wide open.
Instinctively Lou fired towards the car. Apparently, the beams from the headlights spoiled his aim and the bullet missed its mark by a wide margin. Lou readied himself for a second shot.
"Lou, what the hell are you doing?" shouted Dave.
Lou froze in horror, when he realized that he had tried to shoot Dave Milon.
Clark, too, was stunned, but came to his senses. "Lou, please put the gun down," he said.
Pezet finally regained some coherence and lowered his gun. "Dave, I'm sorry. I didn't know who it was," he said in a quivering voice.
Dave turned off his headlights. Then he got out of the vehicle and walked over to Lou in order to retrieve the rifle. Lou withdrew a bit, but allowed him to take possession of the weapon.
"Suppose we all just calm down and discuss the situation more rationally," said Dave, as he turned toward Lou. "Now I've heard a wild story from Steve about invaders and murders, but suppose you tell your version of the events of the last two days.
Pezet gave a quick summary of the recent events, agreeing in most part with the Steve Clark's version. It was when he described the need to establish order through martial law that the tone changed.
Milon interrupted, "No offense to Mr. Woods, but I would think there are others who would assume leadership following the events you described?"
"Perhaps, but I think some of the others have gone over the deep edge," responded Lou.
"And Woods hasn't?" asked Steve.
"I believe Dave Woods has correctly identified the real threat to our well being," responded Lou.
Milon interjected authoritatively, "I am sorry Lou, but none of you understand the truth. I think its time we straighten things out."
"Hold it," came a voice from the woods. "I suggest you put the rifle down and all walk to the center of the road towards the cabin."
Conversation and motion ceased. A moment passed.
"We have rifles aimed your direction."
Clark and Pezet obliged. Milon paused another moment, but dropped the rifle knowing he was at great disadvantage. He joined the others, as they proceeded around the bend towards the Beaver Creek Building.
Just a few tads away, Tim Hunt stepped out from behind a large oak tree. "OK. That's close enough," said Tim.
"Tim, it's me, Dave," said Milon, instantly recognizing Tim's voice in the darkness. "I'm afraid there's just been a little misunderstanding."
"Dave, I can say I'm pleased to see you, but I must exercise extreme care. We've had a rough time lately."
"You don't need to point the gun in our direction," responded Dave.
"But Steve Clark ..." said Tim.
Lou interrupted, "It's all under control, Tim."
Hunt lowered his rifle. Milon and Clark approached the tree where he was standing. Pezet retrieved the gun that Dave had dropped on the road. A faint glow began to illuminate the southeastern sky as dawn was fast approaching.
Holding a bright new climbing rope, Tim approached Dave Milon, "Suppose you help me get this attached to this large tree. It must be ready by sunrise."
"What the hell?" said Dave, noticing a noose tied in the end of the rope.
Lou interrupted, "Mick Belmont has been found guilty and will be hung at sunrise."
"I'll have no part of this!" responded Milon.
Lou raised the rifle in Dave's direction and said in a low voice, "I'm afraid Belmont's fate has been determined. For all concerned, I suggest you not be a dissenter."
Dave withdrew and put his hands up as a sign of compliance. However, he made no attempt to assist Tim in his work to attach the hanging rope. On the third toss attempt, Tim was successful in getting the rope over the branch. He pulled the rope over the limb until the noose was about 8 feet off the ground. The remainder of the rope he tied to the trunk of the old oak in order to secure the noose.
Dave and the others were puzzled by the height of the noose, until Tim went to the parking lot and retrieved Dave Wood's pickup. He moved the truck to the road, with the bed directly under the rope facing the cabin. At once, the plan made sense to all observers.
Upon three toots of the truck's horn, the door to the BC Building opened to allow exit of the processional of Winter Campers. The line of campers approached the truck and found its place to observe the ceremony about to unfold. An armed gunman and hooded figure walked about ten steps behind the rest of the group. It was, of course, Dave Woods escorting Mick Belmont. The observers separated a bit, as Woods and Belmont approached. Woods led Belmont through the group and directed him to the bed of the truck.
"Dr. Belmont," Woods began, "you have been found guilty of crimes against Winter Camp and now stand ready to achieve your just end."
Woods removed the hood, allowing Belmont to face the group. Placing a pendant around Belmont's neck, he continued, "This pendant of the sun goddess Sol, I now place around your neck, as you prepare to greet your last day on earth."
The glow in the sky grew progressively brighter, before the first rays of sunlight on December 31, 2030 illuminated the upper branches of the tree. During the next minute, as the sun rose higher in the sky, observers watched the light move down the tree until it reached the top of Belmont's head. Seconds later the pendant was fully illuminated, whereupon the engine of the truck launched into action.
Noticeably excited Woods resumed his speech, "Mick, I'll leave you alone now. I would suggest, however, that you not turn the pendant out of the sun. The next time the pendant is out of direct sunlight, it will send a signal to a control box in the truck and put it into gear for some forward movement. One would expect that after the truck moves forward a few a feet, you no will longer have a place to rest your feet. At that time you'll be required to support your weight with the rope on your neck. Now, we can't be certain when, but at some point in the near future, the sun will rise far enough to hide behind another of tree branches. At that point, should you not be able to move to maintain sunlight on the pendant, this large oak will decide the time of your death."
The group was stunned. Few actually thought things would go this far. Unfortunately, Woods had control of the situation and the firepower to enforce it.
Like the others, Milon transfixed on the movement of light and shadow. Five minutes passed before he spoke, "Dave, you don't understand the truth! I went to get John Howey. He's disappeared and I now know why. I know what has happened."
As always, the silent bystander lacked the ability to take direct action. Given enough time, it might not transport water or nutrients to some its branches. These branches would soon die and years later rot and fall to the ground. Now one of its large branches held firmly the rope. A second branch of the old oak was being warmed by the sun and cast a shadow on the branch holding the rope. As the time progressed the shadow of the branch moved down the rope until it reached the head of Mick Belmont.
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