The first trees were twenty feet ahead. Warren sprinted, diving recklessly between two massive pines. He caught his toe on a log, crashed down, rolled to his feet, and continued on.
The ground was rising again and Warren threw himself forward, deeper into the forest.
Just in time.
Wild, chaotic barking erupted in the meadow and Warren pressed on, careful not to tread on any branches.
The hill grew steeper and Warren switched from a jog to a steady, rhythmic climb. The barking below was sporadic, confused. Glancing back through the trees, Warren could see four dogs pacing along the creek edge, whining and yelping. His jog through the stream had worked. For the moment, anyway.
Warren heard the rumble of machines and with another backward glance saw the helmeted Finleys roar into the small meadow. Todd Sr. gunned his ATV straight into the shallow creek and up the opposite bank. It made Warren sick to see such machines in the beautiful meadow, tearing up the wet earth and frightening every living creature for miles.
He climbed on, approaching the top of the ridge where tree cover thinned again. He heard excited shouts from the meadow far below and guessed the Finleys had found the skeleton. And, since his tracks were all around it, his trail, as well.
Warren pictured Todd Jr. gloating over the ancient bones and greedily fondling the spear point. There was nothing he could do about it.
He topped the ridge, swung his backpack off his shoulder, and took a long drink from his water bottle. The sun was high now but it was still cool. He jogged on.
Twenty minutes later, drenched in sweat, Warren stood at the forested entrance to Pipestone Canyon State Park. He’d run cross country, making a shortcut over two rolling, sagebrush covered hills, directly to the canyon entrance.
It was a weekday, and the gravel parking lot was empty. Lonely picnic tables sat alongside bear-proof trash containers and beige cinderblock restrooms with green metal roofs.
Pipestone was a small, out-of-the-way state park, which was one reason Warren and his uncle liked it. Now, though, the tiny picnic area and adjacent three-acre Pipestone Lake seemed to the boy forlorn, lonely. Redwing blackbirds sang in the cattails and a meadowlark trilled as the gray-green surface of the lake rippled in the breeze.
Warren had been coming here with his uncle since he was a small boy, and had caught countless trout in the little lake, which was stocked in spring and summer.
Gazing at the rippling water now, another, more remote memory formed in Warren’s mind: a memory of his mom and dad. He remembered his mother’s warm wool sweater, and her smile as she helped him with his boots. He remembered his father, too. A huge man, he’d seemed, with strong hands and gentle, laughing eyes.
The memory had come to Warren out of the blue, and it made him feel warm and comforted, sad and lonely—all at the same time.
They’d died just before his third birthday, Warren’s parents, and he missed them terribly. Sometimes feelings of longing and loneliness would hit him like a fist, leaving him weak and washed out. The feelings would tug at him awhile, and then he’d pull himself together. Life with school and friends and Uncle Dave would continue. But the bright memory of his parents—their faces, their smiles, their warm, reassuring voices—was always in the back of his mind.
Warren’s daydream ended abruptly. ATVs were on Pipestone Road.