Chapter Eleven: Ashe
He was still hungry. His stomach growled, but he’d have to find something else to eat later. There was something he needed to do first.
Speedway narrowed as it climbed up into the foothills toward the Tucson Mountains.
He turned off at North Silverbell, skirting along the edge of the foothills. The air was crisp and clear, the stars above preternaturally bright. The moon had risen a few moments before, and sat yellow and swollen just above the looming mass of "A" Mountain ahead, so called because of the big whitewashed University of Arizona "A" that looked over the valley below.
Ashe entered Sentinel Peak Park, climbing the narrow road up the mountain, and the moon disappeared behind Sentinel Peak above, plunging him into darkness.
This place held so many memories from his college days, both good and bad. Coming up here to get drunk and screw around with Jaxx while they looked out at the stars. And breaking up with him on this same mountainside when his father's needs became too pressing to ignore.
That part of his life was over now. And he'd be adding another memory before the night ended, one he would have given almost anything to avoid.
He came to the metal barrier that closed off the park, just before the lower parking lot. With the ease of long practice, he threaded the space between two boulders on his bike into the lot and around the barrier. He passed the second barrier in similar fashion. Soon he was on his way up the mountain again.
He passed below the “A”, almost glowing in the moonlight, and pulled the bike off the main road into the upper parking lot, stopping in the dirt alongside the asphalt. Although the park was officially closed, a couple goblin kids were making out on a blanket in the parking lot next to a Vespa scooter, and a satyr was leaning against a big boulder, smoking some skunk weed. The man stared at him, his eyes glassy and dazed, but said nothing.
For just a moment, Ashe wished he’d brought Jaxx with him.
He dismounted and freed his father's duffel bag from the back of the bike, along with the plastic bag from the convenience store. He started up the dirt trail which led to the mountain peak. Sentinel Peak was small, as far as mountains went—only about 500 feet above downtown Tucson below.
The rising moon lit his way, casting a pale glow across the scene. The trail was familiar, even after the years that had passed. It was about 400 feet from the parking lot to the peak, but it got steeper toward the end as he neared the top. A few more steps brought him up and over to the city side, the lights of downtown Tucson glittering below.
He sat down and stared at the grid of street lights and skyscrapers for a good five minutes, hoping to feel something.
Love or lust, anger or hatred. Anything.
But his heart was numb.
He took the Circle K bag and pulled out the matches. Then he opened the duffel bag, and transferred his few belongings—clothes, coin, and toiletries—into the plastic bag.
His father had told him once, long ago, that their family honored their dead by burning their ashes, along with something the deceased had once owned and treasured.
He set the plastic bag aside on an outcropping of rock, and then took out the makeshift urn. Pulling off the lid, he carefully poured the ashes into the duffel bag, spilling only a little bit into the air, where it was also whipped away by the wind.
Satisfied, he zipped up the bag, and found a wide, flat rock to place it on.
He didn’t know the ritual his people used when consigning the spirit of one of their own to the afterlife. So he improvised. His good will would have to suffice.
“Father, may the wind bear you out into the world, where you may mingle with fire and air, water and earth, and rise again as something new.”
He thought his father would have appreciated that.
He sprinkled the old duffle bag with lighter fluid, struck a match, and lit it on fire. It seemed like a suitable vessel to carry his father’s ashes into the heavens.
The bag quickly went up in flames with the smell of burning paper, and then his father’s ashes caught fire as well. That shouldn’t have been possible, and yet the pyre burned incandescent, the light getting brighter and brighter, until it lifted from the rock and floated into the air, higher and higher, all the while bleeding light behind it like the tail of a comet.
Ashe stood there watching, transfixed. He had never witnessed the ascent of a phoenix’s soul into the heavens.
He felt pressure on his shoulder, and turned to see his father’s face, just for an instant, translucent in the air against the lights of the city.
Then there was a final burst of white light above, and his father was gone.
It took a minute for Ashe’s eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. He wiped the moisture from his eyes and was about to grab the plastic bag to make his way down the hillside when he saw a sparkle in the moonlight. He looked down to see something metallic laying on the flat stone.
He picked it up. It was a safe deposit box key.
“They wanted the key.”
It was the last thing his father had told him.
The last thing had been “It’s in the bag.”
Ashe had been sure Kino meant his hospital bag of personal belongings. But it must have been hidden somewhere in the duffle bag instead. Sewn into the lining, perhaps. His mother had repaired the bag half a dozen times when it had been ripped or worn down in one spot or another.
Why didn’t it melt?
He stared at it in the moonlight as if it might reveal its secrets to him. But it was just a key. He slipped it into his pocket. He would worry about it later.
He grabbed his things and started back down the mountain. It took about ten minutes, working his way cautiously through the darkness.
The goblin kids were gone, as was the stoned satyr.
He secured the plastic bag, and rode back down the mountainside, passing the two barriers, and pulled up short.
A red hatchback was parked on the side of the road, and Jaxx was looking up at him expectantly.