DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By James Strauss
They climbed the steps to an area just below the third platform. The climb wasn’t a challenge for either of them, but looking beyond that platform they could see that the final stretch would be more difficult. They climbed down to a small glade, covered with pine trees overhanging the distant valley below. Matisse gathered plenty of dry branches, old needles, and cones from the protected areas under the big pines. They huddled together and had a fire going in seconds.
“So tell me boss. What happened?” Matisse asked, and then waited.
A full minute went by, but Arch didn’t respond.
“I’m here,” Matisse complained softly. “I came with you. I’m out here. I got shot at too.”
“The rifle,” Arch started out, but then stopped for a few seconds. “The rifle Lorrie used to shoot at us was the same one I gave Virginia for her birthday last year.” He finished and stared glumly into the fire.
“You gave the Haole bitch a rifle for her birthday?” Matisse asked.
Arch nodded, not looking up. “Don’t call her that,” he followed, his voice barely audible. “It’s racist.”
“Racist?” Matisse countered, in surprise, “because, I called her a Haole or a bitch?”
“Haole means white and it means white in a very negative way. We both know it, and I don’t like it. Never have.”
“So I can’t call you a Haole anymore?” Matisse asked. “You use it like Marines use swearwords for their friends. It’s a term of endearment, so I don’t care.”
“Okay bra, then I won’t call her that. I’ll just call her Virginia the bitch.”
Arch looked over at his friend, munching away on another block of musubi, and silently let out his breath in resignation.
“You gave the bitch rifle. We got shot at by same rifle.” Matisse started to laugh.
“What?” Arch finally said, more to shut Matisse up than wanting an answer.
“It’s funny,” Matisse got out between quieting laughs.
“What’s so funny?” Arch said. “Virginia loves guns,”
“You give gun to woman, and we get shot at by same gun. Logical in a, Haole way. No offense. Not good. What we going to do?” Matisse asked before going back to eating and poking the small fire with a stick.
“They know we’re here. Hell, everyone knows we’re here. Those rifle shots echoed around the entire windward side of the island. Almost nobody shoots anybody in Hawaii, unlike what’s on television shows. The islands have the lowest level of violence in the whole country. Maybe two people shoot anyone on this side of the island in a year, and it’s not with a high-powered rifle. So, the police will eventually be coming, but it doesn’t matter. We’re climbing tonight, once we’re rested and fed.”
“We’re climbing at night?” Matisse said, his voice little more than a weak whisper. He stopped taking bites from the musubi, and stared across the fire at Arch.
“Night vision,” Arch said, taking a few of the musubi from his own pack. “We can’t climb up to the third platform because they’ll stay waiting. We’ve got to climb around it. They won’t expect us to try that at night. We’ll leave everything here, including the food and water. When dawn breaks, we’ll go up with only the binoculars, my Leica camera and some rope, to see what we can see beyond the platform breaks. This whole thing is coming down to what’s hidden in one valley on this island. Everything else is directed toward that, or about that. I looked at all the Koolau peaks with the binoculars, and there’s nothing up there except some old radio antennas. It’s got to be the big valley just on the other side of the Koolau range. Nobody goes into that valley, because it’s a protected part of the watershed drinking supply for Honolulu.”
Arch rummaged through his pack for the NVGs (Night Vision Goggles), then used the firelight to located the on/off switch. He turned the set on, and brought the rig up to his eyes,without pulling the elastic straps around his head. He looked out across the valley. The valley appeared as if it was an overcast afternoon, rather than the near total darkness it was in. There was no color but at least the image was in black and white, not the green glow given off by earlier generations of the devices. He pushed one of the buttons on the left side of the rig. A changing number instantly appeared on the lower left side of the tiny screens he was looking at. Arch moved his head from side to side and the numbers changed. He realized that the glasses were giving him the range to some points across the valley. He pulled his head back and stared at the set. There was no laser light coming from it, which meant it was emitting infrared laser light to calculate the range. Which also meant it was very dangerous to handle. If either he or Matisse were to look directly into the invisible beam, it could easily cause blindness. He put the rig back on and pushed the side of the remaining ‘rocker’ button. The other side of the valley zoomed toward him. Magnification. Arch smiled to himself.
“Man, they’ve come a long way since the earlier days with these,” he said to Matisse. He held out the rig and showed Matisse how to work the buttons.
“Can I sell these when we’re done? If we don’t get killed, I mean?”
Matisse said, playing with the features and holding up the goggles to his face.
“Let’s get ready. Neither one of us is in the greatest shape for this and there’s not much room on the steep slopes of that peak. The terrain is the real enemy, since Virginia has apparently instructed those two clowns not to shoot us,” Arch said, unloading his pack by the fire. “We’ll leave the fire burning. The hot embers will draw the attention of whatever they’ve got to spy on us with.”
Matisse put the NVG’s down and leaned forward. His large upper body slowly canted back and forth, gently.
“What are you doing?” Arch asked. “Get ready, it’ll be full dark soon and the glasses work best when there’s little light.”
“Hooponopono chant, Hawaiian prayer,” Matisse replied after almost a full minute. “It’s to clear my thoughts, my soul, and to say I’m sorry.” “Are you ready now?” Arch asked.
“For everything. I’m ready now.” Matisse grabbed his own pack, and pulled a fifty-foot climbing rope out, along with his own glasses.
As both men worked to get ready for the climb, the wind blew steadily over their heads, and up toward the summit of the mountains above them.
“What’s the vegetation like up ahead?” Arch asked.
“The red blossoms all around are from Ohia trees,” Matisse responded, stopping to point with one hand up toward the blackening darkness of the ever-rising range of mountains. They grow low, and have all kinds of branches. We have to go around them because they’re so thick. The bigger trees are Koa, but not many of them left. Further up, if we get there, are the Loulu palms. Shaped like fans, but bigger. The Ohia branches are small enough to hold on to.”
When they were ready to climb, Arch checked his Brequet. “We should make it around the platform in a couple of hours. We’ll circle back and hit the stairs. From there it should be a clear shot straight to the top. Probably more than a thousand steps, but even at night it shouldn’t be a problem if we have enough time.”
The going got difficult as soon as they were a few yards reaching it required penetrated the six inches or so to the hard lava rock below. Matisse’s bare feet worked better than Arch’s with his Teva sandals constantly being sucked from the bottom of his feet. The branches of the Ohia trees were not nearly as helpful as the roots of the many ferns, and other vegetation that was buried deep into the mud, and sometimes tied right into the rock surface below. They had to climb sideways to move around the conical peak. The third platform was on the top of the peak. Reaching it, however, required more grasping and sliding than climbing. They didn’t stop for two hours, until Arch found a small, basically level clearing about the size of a king size mattress. Both men lay gasping for air, and much needed rest.
“My hand is killing me,” Arch said, pulling his goggles off and setting them aside. His hand was too close to be seen with the goggles on, since they couldn’t focus on anything less than five feet away. Matisse leaned forward with his Bic lighter
“They’ll see us,” Arch hissed, “put that thing out.”
“What they going to do bra, shoot and miss us some more?” Matisse laughed, extinguishing the flame.
“Thanks though,” Arch squeezed out, trying to massage the mess that was hishand. The bandages had been indistinguishable from the mud covering them. Only the red of his blood seeping through had indicated anything about the wound. “I can’t climb anymore. We’ve got to go up and get on the stairs. We’ve got to take our chances that we’re far enough past the platform.”
It took only a few minutes for both men to recover, and begin the climb. The going was steep, as they went straight up the mud and plant covered hill, digging in their feet and thrusting upward with their thighs. It was slow going. And, Arch could only feel his way along, rather than attempt to grasp branches, or plant roots for support. Matisse, clunking his head against metal, alerted them when they reached the stairs. The aluminum was intact, as only aluminum could have been over the years of lying unattended in such moisture rich conditions. Nobody seemed to take any notice of them as they climbed the last few feet and mounted the stairs.
“Slippery,” Arch complained, almost falling on the first step he attempted.
“We’re covered in mud and these are always wet anyway,” Matisse joined in.
They used the railings to climb, almost more than the stairs themselves. Matisse counted off backwards,singing the words to “Ninety-Nine Bottle of Beer on the wall,” until Arch couldn’t take the sing song, repetitive, idiocy of the lyrics any longer.
“Will you shut it, they’re going to hear us!” he almost yelled. The higher they’d climbed, the greater the winds velocity.
“Oh sure, they hear us,” Matisse laughed from just behind him. “High wind, rain, mud and muck and we’re so far above this crazy island that a plane’s likely to hit us, and they gonna hear us. Sure boss.” But he stopped singing.
It took a couple of hours for them to reach a place close to the top. The stairs, without warning, abruptly stopped well before reaching the edge of the peak. With their goggles, they stared back and forth along the inside of the top of the ridge. A very faint path ran along the edge about fifteen feet down from the very top. Along the path, as far as they could see, ran an almost four-inch-thick cable. It was brand new and colored to match the foliage. Arch squatted down to closely examine the cable, shifting around to look back in the direction they’d come from. Where was the cable from and where did it go?
“Kaneohe’s all lit up,” Matisse pointed out, looking in the same direction. The base seemed to have every light turned on, although there was no activity visible from such a great distance. Kam Highway was lit from place to place, as it meandered the length of the island before disappearing near Turtle Bay. Only the fact that the highway lights abruptly ended,marked where that location must be.
“They’re down there,” Matisse said, his goggles aimed down the stairs.
“Yeah,” Arch agreed, seeing a glow of faint light emanating from the platform they’d so laboriously gone around.
“Which way?” Matisse asked.
Arch looked around. “Haleiwa way,” he said, finally. There being no point in going in the other direction. The valley was between their position, and that of Pearl Harbor, which was more toward Haleiwa than Diamond Head. Without further discussion, they got up and moved to the narrow path. Arch led, holding his damaged hand against his stomach, and using his right arm for balance. They came to a point where the path began to rise.Looking up, they saw that the very top lip of the mountain range ran both ways about forty feet higher up. Arch stopped and crouched down again.
“We might as well climb up and wait,” he said. Matisse didn’t reply, simply continuing to wait behind him on the path.
Very slowly, and gingerly, Arch and Matisse worked their way up to the edge, again using the cable to push up from. The ridge ran, broken here and there by breaks, like the Pali cleft, which ran from Bellows Beach beyond Hawaii Kai, all the way across Oahu to finally expire just above the North Shore town of Haleiwa. Arch eased the Leica binoculars from one pocket, and his camera from the other. He breathed in and out a few times, without giving in to his desire to look back, or down, from where he sat wedged into the rocky, muddy bracken with Matisse. He set the camera lens to its maximum optical enlargement of twenty times, and then ‘pushed’ that out to forty using digital enlargement as well. The knob for those adjustments was located right next to the shutter button. What he might get from the beautiful German device without being able to read the settings properly he didn’t know. All he could do was set the enlargement to max, and hope that putting the rest on automatic would capture something.
Arch dug both Teva’s deep into the mud, and angled forward and up until his shoulders were level with the top of the sharp rock ridge. Matisse surged up beside him. Arch removed his night vision googles carefully, knowing he’d probably never need them again. The distance down into the valley below was too great for the night vision device to return any image of distinguishable quality. Matisse had his pair of binoculars, but no camera. If there was anything to be permanently recorded, it was up to Arch’s Leica.
He looked down through the lens of his binoculars, but it was too dark to see into the valley below. The sun was set to rise off of Honolulu, and the blackness of the sea there was distinguishable beyond the city’s outline. It was easy to tell where Pearl Harbor was, butDiamond Head was barely recognizable only because Arch knew exactly where to look for it. Arch let his binoculars hang down from the safety cord around his neck. Matisse did the same.
“Too dark down there,” Arch observed.
“Not for long, dawn’s almost here,” Matisse observed, scratching his head and then popping two spam musubis out of his shirt pocket. Breakfast boss?” he offered, holding one out in his right hand.”I’m really tired. Maybe there’s nothing there. All of this for nuthin’ except to be messed with by the bitch’s goons.”
Arch took the musubi and bit off a piece. He was too tired himself to argue. He shifted his position to favor his damaged hand, but slid part way back down the slope.
“Come on, let’s tie ourselves to some of this shrubbery so we can rest a bit,” he instructed Matisse, unlimbering the rope from around his neck after taking off his binoculars.
The securing job only took up a few feet of the thin but extremely strong climbing rope. Matisse tied the two ropes together, around them and then up and around the base of a low Ohia tree, located right near the very top edge of the mountain ridge.
“Special Hawaiian knot,” Matisse said with satisfaction when he was done. “One pull on that loop and we are free.” He dropped the remainder of the joined ropes down the cliff face beneath them. Arch watched the rope snake down until the bottom of it settled onto a steep decline, covered with a green carpet of taro plants and ferns.
Arch nodded off, letting the rope take his weight, but was awakened only seconds later, or so he thought at first, until he saw Matisse fully asleep next to him. It was barely light out. They’d slept right into early dawn.
“Matisse,” he hissed as silently as he could, reaching around to poke the big thick Hawaiian in the neck with the index finger of his good hand.
Matisse jerked awake, and they both struggled to crawl the few feet back up to the lip, after Arch recovered his binoculars from the mud next to him, thankful that the Leica’s hadn’t fallen to the valley floor below.
Arch peered through the lenses down into the valley on the leeward side of the range. He took a quick scan and then pulled his glasses down to try to clean them. The lenses were clear. Bringing the Leica’s back up to his eyes, he looked down into the valley again.
“Jesus Christ,” he breathed out, and then said the words over and over again, staring into the distance.
“What is it?” Matisse asked, his own eyes glued to the scene below.
A silver object lay isolated inside a circle of heavy foliage in the valley below. Arch figured the object to be about a hundred feet long and about twenty in diameter, judging from the few pieces of heavy equipment working around it. Both ends of the object were rounded. It looked like a giant silver hot dog with raised circles protruding around both ends a few feet from the ends. The raised metal circles looked like giant rivets. The area around the object was cleared red dirt but the backhoes and caterpillars weren’t clearing forest. It became obvious that they were burying the object as quickly as they could.
“Shit,” Arch whispered, dropping the glasses to his chest and reaching for the camera. He touched the shutter button. The camera’s lens extended out to its maximum and its back screen lit up. He hit the autofocus button and the object zoomed up at him. “Shit,” he said again, this time without whispering.
“Bra, that’s not right. Not right. There’s something wrong,” Matisse followed, his voice matter-of-fact, his inflection dead flat.
“God…good God…it’s not real,” Arch said, his own tone one of shock and disbelief.
The object was changing. The ‘rivets’ slowly faded and then re-appeared and then did it again. Arch moved the control for video in order to catch the changes.
“They blinking,” Matisse whispered, “they blinking like lights but not lights. Here and not here. Man, this scaring me.”
“I’m getting it on video…” Arch said, until the bullet hit and blew a large chip form the lip of the ridge between he and Matisse. The sound of the shot came seconds later from behind them. Arch cringed but managed to hit the off button on the camera and slide it into his pants pocket. A split second later Matisse, in a panic, pulled the Hawaiian loop he’d carefully tied into the climbing rope.
Arch fell, sliding down to hit the cable he’d seen located just above the path twenty feet below. He slid off the cable and onto the path itself, which instantly gave way. There was nothing to hold onto. For the half second he was seemingly stationary Arch’s body rotated outward until he was looking out over the entire expanse of the leeward side of Oahu coming alive with the morning sun. The soft beauty of the scene was instantly replaced by total terror in Arch’s mind. He plummeted downward facing out, his body having no contact at all with the cliff face as his speed increased. He heard Matisse scream from somewhere nearby but all he could do was watch the green carpet they’d viewed from above come up at him with tremendous speed.
Just before impact Arch felt a huge jerk at his waist, twisting him completely around, and then the pressure was gone. Arch hit the severely angled green carpet on his back and kept going. Head first his body plunged, wildly sliding down the face of the Koolau Mountains, his view only of the clouding blue sky above. His arms were pinned by the speed of his passage and his back felt like he was receiving the worst Korean massage of all time.
The slide seemed to take minutes but Arch knew it could only be taking a few seconds. Seconds before death. Then he was in the air again, this time tumbling until he impacted the water. He didn’t know how he hit or where, all he could feel was pain all over so bad he couldn’t move.
“Matisse,” he squeaked out to the sky, lying on his back in the stream, his head somehow indented into the soft mud of one bank.
“I’m here. Oh, this is bad,” Matisse responded from nearby.
“We’re alive,” was all Arch could get out in reply.
“We’re back in the stream where we started, back in the valley,” Matisse concluded.
Both men lay within yards of one another. Matisse had landed with his face in the bank. Arch rolled to all fours and looked over at him, and then started to laugh. Matisse began to laugh with him until they were shoulder to shoulder facing downstream. Tear runnels formed on both of Matisse’s cheeks.
“I can’t walk,” Matisse said, “I can’t make my body move.”
Arch looked behind Matisse. “Your part of the rope is around a tree,” he said, starting to laugh again.
They slowly untied themselves from the remnants of the climbing rope. Even without the rope they were too weak to get up and walk, so they crawled.
“Just like last time. We crawl in the streambed. Haole God has a sense of humor.”
“Haole God. Racist!” Arch replied. “You prayed to Pele or whoever that Hawaiian God is. The forgiveness God, the God of love. How did that work for us?”
“We alive,” Matisse concluded, his voice growing stronger as they crawled under the heavy growth, the coolness of the fresh water bringing life back into their abused bodies. “Nobody could live through that. Hawaiian warriors were thrown off of the Pali and they all died. Not one warrior lived. Pele was on Kamehameha’s side. Now he on our side.”
“I can’t argue with your logic, but I think we aren’t out of trouble yet. In fact, after what we saw we may be in deeper than ever.” Arch agreed.
“What did we see?” Matisse asked, stopping to wash the mud from his face. “Better?” he asked, looking over.
“No. I like you in that browner shade,” Arch answered.
“What we see?” Matisse asked again.
“I could say anything, because that’s what we saw. Something different. Little green men come to mind. If it was something out of our own inventory they wouldn’t be burying it like that.” Arch stopped for a moment to consider after trying to answer Matisse’s question. He pulled himself to a nearby tree of some species or phylum he couldn’t identify, and slowly raised himself to a vertical position. I think I can walk. Your legs okay?”
“It’s not my legs bad,” Matisse complained, getting to his own feet. “It’s my head. I no want what’s in it. The bitch said we didn’t want to know. She was right about that.”
It took all morning for them to reach the area of the parking lot where they’d left the Lincoln. It was still there.
“Where we go?” Matisse asked, getting into the passenger side of the hot car.
Arch turned the air on full. “There’s only one place to go. Now we know why the Marine base is a hive of activity. Nobody knows what’s going on there except a few people but everyone knows there sure as hell is something happening. The big plane at Bellows? The nuclear reactor aboard, if that’s what it is? The cable up on top? We don’t know a whole lot except we know a whole lot too much. We’re either in this thing or we’re dead. I knew Virginia was in way over her head but I had no idea it was this deep. There’s never been a ‘this deep’ before.”
“The bitch’s house?” Matisse asked.
“Where else,” Arch answered, accelerating away from the school with his foot on the floorboard.
“More better!” Matisse exclaimed with a laugh.
When they arrived at the Sunset House Matisse noticed right away that the Pontiac was gone.
“They stole my car! They took my Bonneville. The best car on the island. My convertible.”
“Will you shut up,” Arch ordered. “We’ve got more serious stuff to consider than the heap of junk you call an automobile.”
Two Suburban’s were parked outside the gate but the gate and garage door were both closed. Arch pushed the buzzer but nobody answered.
“Assholes,” he whispered to the inert box.
They walked all the way back to Sunset Beach and came to the rear of the house. The sliding glass doors were open and the drapes billowed out.
“See, just like before. We in time warp,” Matisse noted, pointing.
“Stop with the science fiction crap,” Arch said, forcefully. I don’t believe in aliens. So, they might have been here before. So what? They’re not flying around over our heads all the time watching us. I don’t believe that.”
“Not over our heads. Down in the valley,” Matisse corrected.
“Shit,” was all Arch could think to reply.
They walked through the double doors. Sitting around the great room table just inside was the whole collected group they’d been encountering since the beginning. Virginia sat on the couch next to the general. He was attired in light khaki uniform for the first time since Arch had met him. On the other couch Kurt and Lorrie sat, with Kurt cradling his arm similar to the way Arch held his own, but not oozing blood
Arch stopped at the shorter base of the coffee table when Frank, his former partner walked in from the kitchen.
“What’s he doing here?” Arch asked of Virginia, glaring into her eyes.
Frank walked across the room and took a seat at one of the empty chairs at the end. He said nothing about Arch’s remark or in his own defense, only murmuring, “Arch,” as he took the seat.
Arch was about to explode when the drapes parted and Ahi came through the double doors and walked to his side.
“Gentlemen, if you would please sit down, we’ll talk,” the general said, his voice gentle but seeming to possess a core of iron.
Ahi and Arch took the last two seats.
“So who talks first, and about what?” Arch asked.
“You just did and that’s two questions,” the general answered. “The second question is the one were all here about.”
Arch looked around the table and sized everyone up according to body language. He started and finished with Virginia. He’d lost her. He could see it in her movements next to the man she was obviously with in more ways than one. She moved as if she was a part of the man, even though they were separated by inches. The meaning of life was all Monty Python’s and Arch could not get those movie images from his mind to the point where he almost laughed out loud.
“And so?” Arch asked, since nobody else said a word.
“We don’t know, and we know you don’t either,” the general stated matter-of-factly. “You’re in because you know. Your opinion and advice would be appreciated. It’d be appreciated from all of you,” he said spreading his hands to encompass the whole group.
“Oh great, not just a few hours ago your people took a killing shot at us up on that mountain,” Arch forced out, his anger and disappointment in Virginia coming through in his acidic tone.
“That was Kurt being personal,” the general commanded. “Apologize to the man Kurt and tell him you’re glad you missed. And you too Frank. You were under orders but what they hell, the man has a point. Everything’s changed. This isn’t about personal animosity, the Marine Corps, Hawaii or much of anything else other than the potential survival of the human race.”
Arch let his shoulders slink down. There was just no point in demanding anything of anyone in the group or recriminations. The general had stated things the way they really were as clearly as possible.
“What about the cable running across the top of the Koolau range, and the huge plane and nuclear plant aboard it at Bellows?” Arch asked, not giving either Kurt or Frank the opportunity to mouth meaningless platitudes of apology.
“The plane’s powering the radio interference antennas you couldn’t see,” the general responded, “he one’s suppressing radio transmissions coming out of the object. The plane’s carrying the nuclear power plant for that but also a nuclear weapon in case it’s needed, since they don’t store them at Pearl anymore and the Navy hasn’t been brought into this yet.”
“How can that be? A supposed alien craft transmitting regular old radio signals?’ Arch asked, in surprise.
“We don’t know but we do know there’s nothing regular about anything dealing with the object,” Virginia answered. “The White House wants total containment so we can’t even get expert scientific opinions about much of anything yet. The White House doesn’t know about any of you, either,” she said, looking to Ahi and Matisse before coming back to meet Arch’s gaze.
“What about my Bonneville?” Matisse asked.
“We towed it away for repairs on the base. It was the least we could do for you,” the general said.
“Where do we go from here?” Arch asked into the silence.
Nobody said a word. The general looked over at Virginia who smiled at Arch with what he now considered a cold smile.
“Down into the valley, of course,” she said.