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The Drifter Chapter Six

When a drifter unleashes the wildness of a shy woman, she runs away with him.

As I drove along Route Sixty-six past various stores, restaurants, and billboards, we were both quiet, lost in our thoughts. I knew Avalon was about forty miles from the Black Mountains and that we'd soon be there. I saw a sign that announced we were entering Death Valley. Carla held my map on her lap while we drove past the sparse vegetation, mostly Joshua Trees, sagebrush and odd shaped cactus. Dusty bronze colored hills rose from the flat land. They created deep valleys and basins that looked like dried up lake beds. The sun was hot and the blue sky was cloudless. Large birds circled high above us and I wondered if they were eagles or hawks. I looked out at the mountains that seemed to be surrounding us. We were still on Route Sixty-six, but the highway was twisting down a steep hill deep into a valley, and then it became flat again with open barren land on both sides that were surrounded by ragged cliffs, high hills and dunes.

Carla studied the map, moving her finger. “Looks like Hesterville is not too far.”

I knew that Death Valley was well below sea level. I looked out at the high cliffs and the changing vegetation. Only a few cars and trucks passed us going in the opposite direction. Twenty minutes later, I drove past a hand painted red and white sign that said, “Avalon Theater–five miles.”

“Did you see that sign?” I asked.

“Yes. Looks like we're almost there,” Carla closed the map.

Five minutes later we passed another brightly colored sign, “Avalon Theater--two miles.”

Soon, I saw an old splintered sign that said Entering Hesterville in faded letters, but Hesterville was crossed out with a thick black line and above it Avalon painted in red letters. I continued driving until I came to a crossroads and saw a small sign with an arrow pointing to the right that said, “To Avalon.”

“Why do you think she changed the name of the town to Avalon?” Carla asked when I made the turn.

“Who knows? Maybe we'll find out. I think Avalon is connected to the King Arthur legend and has mystical connotations, but that's all I know. Anyway, it's strange, and probably illegal, to decide to change the name of a town.”

Within minutes we drove into a town of dilapidated wooden buildings on both sides of the street. An old gas station with a dangling Esso sign was on the corner and it reminded me of Jim's gas station. I drove slowly down the street and saw it was one block long—not much of a town. Several old cars and rusted pick-up trucks were angled facing the sidewalk, a few with flat tires. Half of the buildings were boarded up, or had broken windows, but the street was not littered with trash, and it seemed like the sidewalks had been swept. I was surprised at how neat and clean the town seemed despite the faded and splintered buildings and broken down cars and trucks. One building was an old hotel with a torn awning and a sign above it with the word Hesterville Hotel crossed out and Avalon Hotel written over it. Next to it was Dot's Cafe. A small red sign on the door said closed. Next to the cafe was an old barber shop with one of those old red and white barber poles. On the other side of the street was Al's Hardware with a rusted bench in front and then, next to the store, an old bank, with rusted bars on the front door and windows.

Carla was quiet and looked at everything with wide eyes and a slightly opened mouth. As we drove passed the old, shabby buildings, I saw the town was one long block and wondered where we would find Anna. It didn't look like there were any people in the town, and yet it didn't feel abandoned. I was baffled.

“This is spooky,” Carla said, leaning forward. “How could anybody live here.”

“I don't know, but it looks pretty clean. Seems like someone is living here.”

Then I saw a building at the end of the block that looked like a theater. It was brightly painted and almost glowed in contrast to the other buildings. It had an art deco appearance, a style that was popular in the thirties and forties. It was painted a bright yellow with green trim. It had a small marquee hanging over the sidewalk with the words Avalon Theater painted in bright red. When I parked in front of it, I saw a small ticket booth painted in the same yellow and green with a small sign on the window--Ticket Office opens at seven-thirty. In back of the ticket booth were two doors with shiny brass handles leading to the inside of the theater. On the front of the theater were two large posters of a woman in a graceful ballet pose wearing a short, pink fluffy skirt, white tights and pink toe shoes and the name Anna Polovna printed in bold black letters. There was also a large poster leaning on an easel --Swan Lake--Tonight at Eight.”

I looked at Carla and could see her startled eyes as she read the signs and stared at the theater.

“I don't believe my eyes. I never expected to see this theater,” I said.

“This is unreal. It's freaking me out.” Carla's eyes were wide open.

“I wonder if Anna is inside.” I was unable to take my eyes off of the posters.

“There's one way to find out,” Carla said. “Lets go inside.”

Just as I opened the truck door, an old dark skinned man with a bushy white mustache covering his upper lip came out of the theater. He was carrying a broom and started sweeping. A wide brimmed straw cowboy hat shaded his eyes. I was sure he was Mexican. He looked startled at first to see me walking towards him with Carla slightly behind me. He stopped sweeping when he saw us, then immediately started sweeping again, ignoring us and seemed strangely unconcerned that we were there.

“Excuse me, I'm looking for a woman named Anna.” I spoke softly.

“She's resting for her performance tonight.” He glanced at me, then continued sweeping.

“A friend of hers sent us to see her. It's important that we meet.” Carla said.

He looked at Carla, then at me and nodded. “I will tell her you are here and see if she wants to see anyone. She just finished rehearsing and is resting, but you can come inside and get away from the heat.” He leaned the broom against the box office and walked into the theater.

I glanced up and saw there were many light bulbs lining the edges of the marquee and wondered if they worked. I imagined them lighting up the area around the theater at night.

When he returned, he waved us into the theater.

“What's your name?” I asked. “I'm Josh and this is Carla.”

“Miguel,” he answered and glanced again at both of us but didn't say anything.

We walked through the narrow lobby covered with a bright red carpet. On both walls were dozens of photos and posters. Many of them were glossy, theatrical photographs of a young ballerina with dark hair in a bun, a narrow face with her arms, hands and fingers extended gracefully. The colorful large posters advertised the names of various ballets performed by Anna Polovna. I was dazzled as I looked at them. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet. Each of them had pictures of Anna Polovna either solo or with a male partner in tights. Several said Carnegie Hall, Boston Opera House, Radio City Music Hall, La Scala and many other theaters in foreign countries. I saw a few framed posters of faded newspaper articles. One headline from the New York Times read, “Anna Polovna Thrills at Sold Out Performance.”

What was a famous ballet dancer doing in a ghost town? How did this brightly painted theater appear in Death Valley? I was mystified and remembered Jim warning us she was a character.

“I don't believe my eyes,” I said and turned to Carla after reading the article, and then looked around at all of the posters that lined the lobby.

“This is amazing,” Carla said, looking at everything. “I don't get it.”

Just then Miguel came back from inside the dark theater and waved to us. “Come, Senor with me. Anna will meet you.” He held the large door open and stood aside as we passed him.

When we entered the dimly lighted theater and stood at the rear, we saw a wide center aisle that descended to a stage. On both sides of the aisle were fifteen rows of seats that were upholstered in a dark maroon material. There must have been a hundred and fifty seats that looked in excellent condition. A red carpet leading to the stage was immaculate and above the auditorium was a large chandelier.

“Look.” Carla stopped and pointed.

Painted on all of the walls above us was a balcony that circled three sides of the theater with a wide variety of men and women painted on the wall. The men wore tuxedos or suits and the women had gowns with sparkling necklaces. Some wore glasses or had small binoculars in their hands. Some of the women wore large fancy hats with feathers. The balcony had a painted brass railing and the front was colorful and intricately detailed.

I was stunned. It was a beautiful and bizarre mural. Someone had spent a great deal of time painting it. Carla's eyes and mouth were wide open as if in awe.

Miguel waited for us in front of the stage. After a few minutes, we continued walking down the aisle towards the dimly lit stage which was draped on both sides with long maroon velvet curtains. At the rear of the stage in the pale light was a huge painting of a lake, trees and several swans which I assumed was the set for the evening performance of Swan Lake.

"What a beautiful theater,” I said to Miquel when we stopped at the front. I looked back at the red upholstered seats, the chandelier and at the painted audience in the balcony, unable to believe what I was seeing. 

“Who painted the balcony and all those people?” Carla asked.

“Mosa,” Miquel answered. “She is from the Mojave tribe. She is an artist and she painted the people for Madam Anna.”

“Madam Anna,” I repeated.

“Yes, Madam Anna.”

We followed Miguel through a heavy curtain on the side of the stage and walked up a narrow stairway to a door with a big yellow star painted on the dark wood and Anna Polovna written in gilded letters above the star. He knocked and waited.

“Come in, please.” Her voice was low, somewhat husky and reminded me of what is called a whiskey voice. I detected a European accent.

When we entered, we saw a thin, fragile looking old woman leaning back on a small green couch with her legs extended the length of it. Several colorful pillows were behind her. She was wearing a satin green kimono covered with large painted flowers. Her high cheekbones were colored with pale pink rouge. Blue make-up covered her eye lids which were lined with mascara, but nothing could hide the dark bags under her eyes, or the wrinkles lining her face. I noticed her hands were bony with blue veins and long thin fingers with the nails polished bright red. Her hair was dyed black and tied in a bun. I guessed she was in her sixties.

“And who may I ask are you?” she asked in a deep, husky, accented voice.

“I'm Josh and this is Carla. Jim told us to come here. He has an old gas station neat Oatsville.”

“Ah yes, Jim, a dear man. He helped me when my car broke down several years ago.”

“He said you could help us,” Carla said.

“Help you?” She narrowed her eyes.

“It's a long story, but the police are after us because they think Josh kidnapped me, but he didn't. I ran away. He's helping me.”

“Ah, so you want to hide here, is that what you want?” She nodded and glanced at me.

“Yes. They have pictures of me on television and they know our license number. We have to stay out of sight. It's all a big mistake.”

While Carla spoke I looked around her dressing room and saw a small dressing table with light bulbs surrounding a mirror and silver containers of makeup, but I also saw a bottle of Jack Daniels and an empty glass.

“Would you like a drink?” She noticed where I was looking. “I could use a drink. Then we can see how I can help you.”

“That sounds good.”

I stood up and walked over to the table and asked Carla if she wanted any. When she nodded no, I poured the bourbon into Anna's glass and into one I found on top of a small refrigerator.

“There's ice in the refrigerator,” she said.

“You have a beautiful theater,” Carla said.

“Thank you, my dear. Yes, I love my theater.”

I found the ice cubes and put them in our glasses and noticed several empty bourbon bottles on the floor next to her dressing table.

“Thank you so much,” she said when I handed her the drink.

I raised my glass to Anna in a gesture of good luck, but we didn't click glasses or say anything.

“I'm so delighted that you like my theater. I am performing Swan Lake tonight. I hope you can attend, although I believe we may be sold out.” She took a sip of her drink.

“We would love to,” Carla said.

“So you're running away, young lady. May I ask why.”

“It's hard to explain, but I was being forced to be someone I wasn't. I felt trapped trying to fit everyone's expectations. I had to get away. That's why I took off with Josh when he was working at my grandparent's ranch. I've never done anything like this.”

“And you, Josh what's your story?”

Before I could respond, Anna had finished her drink and held her empty glass out to me. “More.”

I was surprised by her demand and could see she was used to being catered to. I took her glass and refilled it. When I handed it to her, she smiled but didn't say thank you.

“Now tell me your story.”

“My story is not that interesting. I'm just taking a trip...working my way to California...taking one day at a time, then I met Carla a few days ago and here we are.”

“Yes and you have found Avalon and my theater.”

I glanced at Carla who was staring at Anna as if she was looking at an object in a museum.

“I saw all of your pictures in the lobby and read the newspaper articles about you. You were famous. A big star.” Carla's eyes were wide with fascination.

“Yes, I have had a wonderful career and still do. I was on my way to Hollywood to become a movie star. I wanted to be on the silver screen and dance for the whole world.”

“But why are you here? This is a ghost town.” Carla leaned forward. “I don't understand.”

“I know it must seem strange to you, but I was inspired. You see, I was on my way to California when my car broke down again. I ran out of oil and my wonderful Buick just wouldn't go any farther. I had all of my savings with me. I made a great deal of money as a ballerina, but I don't trust banks. My father lost a fortune in the Depression, but that's another story. I am world famous, as you know, but I was now competing with younger ballerinas and that's why I decided to go to Hollywood. But my car broke down in this town. I was stranded in Death Valley. There was no one around and no telephone. I got out of my car and walked up and down the street to see if I could find anyone to help me and then I saw it--this old theater. I still don't know why, but I decided to walk in. It was unlocked which I took as a sign. The theater was dirty and filled with spider webs, but suddenly I knew I wanted to stay here. It came to me like a bolt of out of the blue and I knew I was meant to bring this theater back to life. It was as if God spoke to me and that's what I have done thanks to Miguel and Mosa and a few other people who believed in me. I've never been happier.”

“But this is a ghost town,”Carla said. “I thought you wanted to perform for the whole world...that's what you said.”

“I still do, but I fell in love with this theater. I followed my dream to have my own theater. I believe the world will come here to Avalon to see me perform.”

She took a deep drink and emptied her glass, then looked down at the ice cubes, and then suddenly swung her arms out wide. “See, I have made a beautiful theater where I perform all of my favorite ballets to wonderful cheers and applause. All of my performances are sold out. Often I take a dozen curtain calls. You will see me perform Swan Lake tonight. I will leave tickets for you at the box office.”

I looked at Carla who was still staring at Anna. We were both spellbound, but I was also concerned about the police finding us. I wondered how she survived when her car broke down and no one was around, but put that thought aside.

“I'm fascinated by your story, but is it possible that we hide here for awhile?”

She narrowed her eyes and looked at me and then at Carla. “Yes, of course you can hide here. The police won't come here. They think I'm crazy, but I'm not. I know exactly what I am doing. They're angry that I renamed the town Avalon, but now they ignore me; however, my fans adore me and that is all that matters.”

“Good, you seem happy.”

I glanced at her empty glass and remembered the empty bottles I saw on the floor next to her table.

“I am happy...very happy. What could be better than having one's own theater...This is a dream come true.”

She finished her drink and handed me the glass. “Just a little more.”

“You're lucky,” Carla said. “I hope I can make my dreams come true.”

“Just don't let anyone or anything stop you,” Anna said. “They will try, but you have to defy them...that's the test.”

“Test?” Carla asked, narrowing her puzzled eyes.

“Yes, of your determination and character. Nothing must stop you.”

I refilled her glass and listened. I knew what she meant because I had been tested many times.

“Where can we hide?” I asked, anxious to find out.

“There's an old trailer in back of the theater. It's empty now but clean. That is where the carpenters I hire stayed. My trailer is next to it. You can stay there for as long as you need to. Miguel will show you where it is, but now I must rest.”

“That sounds great,” I said and finished my drink. I stood up, then put the glass on the dressing table,

“Thanks for the drink. I needed that.”

Anna nodded and took a sip of her drink. Though she had been drinking a lot, she did not seem drunk. She sure can hold her liquor, I thought and realized I was a little woozy.

“I'll leave tickets for you at the door. You will be my guests.”

“Thank you. I look forward to seeing you perform tonight.”

I stood up and put my empty glass on the table and glanced at myself in the mirror. I needed a shave and saw my shaggy long hair was almost to my shoulders. I straightened my faded baseball cap.

When we left her dressing room, we walked through the theater. I looked up at the mural of a balcony filled with painted people, at the chandelier, then saw Miguel dusting the arms of the seats. He was moving through one of the rows of chairs towards the rear of the theater. I could hear him humming. At first he didn't see me, but then looked up when I interrupted him. He glanced at me, then at Carla, but did not stop dusting.

“Excuse me, Miguel, can you show us to the trailer out back. Anna said we could stay there.”

“Si, senor, ” he said, but continued dusting.

“Would you mind showing us. We've been on the road all day.” I know he heard the insistence in my voice, but continued dusting.
 
“I don't need to show you. Drive your truck around the corner and you will see a pink trailer. Next to it is the old workers' trailer. It is unlocked. It will be hot, but there is an air conditioner. I have too much to do to get the theater ready for tonight.” He took a weary breath and went back to dusting.

When we got back into the truck, I sat and looked at the theater, then at the poster of Anna Polovna. I looked back at the empty street and the boarded up buildings, the scattered old trucks and cars, then glanced at Carla who was looking out the front window, deep in thought.

“Well, here we are.” I reached for her hand. 

 She turned and squeezed my hand. “My adventure is getting pretty weird. I never thought I'd see anything like this.”

“Me either, but at least we have a place to hide.”

“Do you think she's nuts?”

“Probably, but so what? She has her own theater and she seems happy. That's more than I can say for a lot of people.”

“But this isn't real. She's living in her own made up world.”

“Maybe we all live in our own made up world.” I glanced at her, then looked back at the theater and the sign advertising Swan Lake.

“My world isn't made up. I'm running away and now the police are after you...that's real.”

“I didn't say anything, but nodded, then turned on the ignition and drove around the theater to the back. About fifty feet from the rear of theater was a long pink trailer with flower boxes lining the windows. They were filled with red, blue and yellow plastic flowers. I noticed a television aerial on the roof and a thick electric wire coming from the theater. In front of the trailer was a small gravel path leading to the front door. On both sides of the path were several large plastic pink flamingos. The sight of them made me chuckle and mutter, What are pink flamingos doing in the desert?

I drove another thirty or so feet and parked in front of a small, shabby white and brown trailer. It was rounded at the back and the hitch at the front was propped up on a big rock. A long yellow heavy duty extension cord ran between the two trailers.

When we walked to the rear of my truck to get our backpacks, I glanced at Carla in disbelief that I was here with her in the middle of nowhere taking one day at a time. I liked how her dusty blonde ponytail hung just below her shoulders. While she looked around I thought she looked both innocent and sexy at the same. The urge to embrace her came over me. I took her hand and turned her to face me and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around me and returned my kiss, then smiled and gazed into my eyes. I pulled her closer and kissed her harder, more passionately, then pulled my lips away.

“That was nice,” she said. "I like a lusty man."

“Good! ” I smiled and squeezed her hand, then opened the back of the truck. "We'll make it."

We got our backpacks and walked up to the trailer. As soon as I opened the door we were hit with a blast of heat that made us stop.
 
I kept the door open and then walked in, looked around and saw a small refrigerator, a dirty sink, a gray Formica table with a bench on one side and a folded brown canvas chair facing it. I chuckled at the crooked “Home Sweet Home” sign on the wall.

“So this must be where the carpenters stayed.” Carla rubbed her finger on the dusty counter next to the sink then walked to the small bedroom at the rear of the trailer.

“I wonder what they thought about this job and working for Anna,” I said.

“Probably the same as we're thinking, but money is money.”

I turned on the air conditioner and knew it would take awhile to cool the trailer down.

“Sure is hot in here,” Carla said from the bedroom.

“It won't be hot for too long. It will cool down soon.”

“I think I would like to make it hotter,” she said and smiled.

I looked up from fiddling with the dial and saw Carla lift her T-shirt over her head. I was stunned by what she was doing, especially in the heat of the trailer.

She stood in front of the bed, gazing at me while she unbuttoned her jeans, and slowly unzipped them.
She had a seductive smile on her lips as she shook her hips and started to lower her jeans. “I like it hot.”

Though I was sweating from the heat of the trailer, I watched her as she started to squirm out of her jeans. I took off my t-shirt as I walked to her. Damn she's sexy. I was getting hard.

I looked around the trailer and noticed the green curtains on the back window, the beige, soiled carpet and felt the stifling heat.

When she put her arms around me, I kissed the top of her head, then embraced her and felt her soft breasts against my chest. Though I was turned on, I couldn't shake the danger we were in from my mind and suddenly, my lust dissipated.

“ I hope we're safe here,” I said, rubbing the soft skin on her back.

“ I do too. I don't want you to get caught for being a kidnapper and I don't want to go home.”

“ I know, but we can't stay here forever.” I held her close, but I know she felt I was distracted.

We were holding each other when I suddenly got the idea of continuing our trip in the trailer. I didn't say anything at first as the thought about the trailer swelled in me. I released Carla and took her hand.

“ I just had an idea. I wonder if we can buy this trailer off of Anna. We could hide in here no matter where we are.”

“ Wow, that's a great idea, but we don't have any money.”

“ I know, but maybe we can do some work for her in exchange.”

“ The police would never find us if we had this trailer. Do you think she'll go for it?”

“ We'll see.” I was inspired by the idea.

Carla put her arms around me again and kissed me, then started to stroke my cock, arousing me. Now, I wanted her. I kissed her and moved my hands to her ass and pulled her against me. We kissed harder and started grinding against each other. The steam was rising, when someone knocked at the door. I was startled.

“ Looks like we have company,” I said.

I slipped on my t-shirt and Carla zipped and buttoned her jeans. I went to the door. When I opened it, I saw a small woman with long black hair that fell halfway down her back, smooth light brown skin with high cheekbones and dark eyes. She was wearing jeans and a colorful flowery blouse.

“ Can I come in,” she asked. “I must talk to you.”

When I held the door open for her, Carla came to us and stood in back of me.

“ I am Mosa. I am Anna's friend.”

She spoke in a low voice and I could see concern in her eyes.

“ You're the artist who painted the balcony with all of the people.” Carla said.

“ Yes and I paint the sets for her performances.”

“ Why are you here? What can we do for you?”

“ You are not safe here,” she said.

“ How do you know?” I asked.

“ How do you know who we are?” Carla asked.

“ I saw you on the television. I live with Anna next door and I saw you when you parked.”

“ But no one else knows we are here. Who would find us? This a ghost town.”

“ The sheriff knows you are here. He said you told him you were coming here. He called me on my cellphone. I know him because he has been here many times before when we made all of the Avalon signs. He thinks we are crazy and dislikes Anna. He is not a nice man. Believe me I know.”

“ Oh, no.” Carla placed her hands over her eyes and shook her head.

“ He must have realized it was us when he went back to his office,” I said.

“ Why are you helping us if you saw the story on the news? They think I am a kidnapper.”

“ I saw you hug when you got out of the truck. I saw how you held her hand. You're not a kidnapper. You're helping her. I can tell.”

“ Good. Thank you, but what should we do?” Carla asked. “I thought we would be safe here.”

“ You can hide your truck and I will say you are not here,” Mosa said. “Then you will be safe when he leaves. He will be here soon. We must hurry.”

“ He probably won't come alone, if he thinks we're here,” I said.

“ Where can we hide?” Carla asked.

“ We can't stay here...they will search every building. They probably have dogs with them.”

“ My father lives in a trailer on the reservation. It's not far. He will hide you. I will call and tell him you are coming.”

She took out her cell phone and pressed his number. I was surprised she had a cell phone and could get a signal here and hoped our phones worked. I was baffled how they had electricity and phone service but didn't have time to ask her. I also wondered why the sheriff called her.

She closed her phone.“My father will hide you...but you must hurry!”

“ Thank you,” Carla said, then hugged her.

****

When we entered the Mojave Reservation, we drove passed several shabby, isolated mobile homes and a few shacks that sat on dry barren land with a few old pickup trucks and dusty cars parked along side of them. We were looking for a gray trailer with a blue awning. Scattered shrubs and cactus grew between the trailers and old houses. Bronze, jagged mountains were in the distance. The sun was getting lower in the western sky and would soon set behind the hills. I knew the temperature dropped when the sun went down.

Mosa said she would call us when the sheriff left and we could return to the trailer.

“I'm surprised the sheriff called her,” I said.

“Why would he have her cell phone number?” Carla leaned forward looking for the gray trailer.

“Who knows? Maybe he's got the hots for her. He called her a cutie.”

“I know he's been there before to tell Anna she had no right to change the name of the town or something. Maybe he called to make sure we were there and told her not to say anything. Anyway, it's strange that he called Mosa, but lucky for us. We would have been caught.” She closed her eyes at the thought.

When we saw the trailer with a faded blue awning and pulled up in front, a small, thin man with long white hair and wrinkled, leathery skin opened the screen door. He was smoking a corn cob pipe. When I got closer I noticed his narrow, almond shaped brown eyes and high cheekbones.

“Come in out of the heat,” he said, waving at us to hurry.

When we entered, I was surprised to see how orderly his trailer was. It was warm. A circular fan in the ceiling was moving slowly and a small fan on the table next to a recliner was swiveling from side to side. The small kitchen had dishes stacked in the drain. I could smell something cooking and saw a big black pot on the stove and a wooden spoon on the counter. One whole wall was lined with books from floor to ceiling and on the chair next to a small pot bellied stove was a stack of books and magazines. On another wall were at least a dozen unframed paintings of animals, birds, the mountains, and the barren landscape. Two of the paintings were large. I was stunned by their colors and vividness and wondered who painted them. What amazing paintings, I thought.

On a long shelf were at least a dozen carved animals and birds lined next to each other. I could see how detailed they were. In the corner was a small desk with an old typewriter and a large pile of papers, obviously a manuscript. A sheet of paper was in the typewriter and I wondered if he was writing a book. Next to the manuscript was an open spiral notebook with a pen laying on it. Above the desk was a photograph of a young man wearing a marine uniform. That must be his son, I thought before turning back to the old man.

He cleared some magazines from a wooden kitchen chair with red leather on the seat and pulled another similar chair away from the kitchen table.

“Here take a seat. Make yourself at home. Mosa said the sheriff is after you...what's that about? You're safe here.”

He spoke without pausing and we both sat down. He seemed glad that we were there and I assumed he spent a lot of time alone.

I was fascinated by the welcoming look in his dark eyes and knew I was in the presence of an unusual man. He was not what I expected and remembered my philosophy about expectations. Before speaking I gazed again around the room at all of the books and art work. I glanced at Carla who was also looking around the trailer, obviously as fascinated as I was.

When we sat down, I told him our story. He listened and nodded, narrowing his eyes.

“So they think you're a kidnapper,” he said and lit his corncob pipe.

We still hadn't introduced ourselves but just talked about our situation. Sometimes names are not important when you are together for an emergency. Still, I was curious about him.

“Are you a writer,” I asked, glancing over at his desk.

“I guess I am since I write every day. Always have.”

“Have you published anything?”

“A few poems in a Native American magazine. But I just write. One day I will publish more.”

“That looks like a big book on your desk,” I said, turning to glance at it.

“It's a history of our people. How we came to live here over a thousand years ago and what our lives have become since others moved on this land. I have gathered many of our stories.”

“Wow,” Carla said. “That's great. I'm impressed.”

“It's important that I tell our story. I don't have any grandchildren. Mosa will probably never marry and my son was killed in Vietnam.”

“Is that him over your desk?” I asked.

“Yes, he was drafted like a lot of Indians. He was smart and wanted to be a doctor, but the country had other plans and he went to fight and show he was a good American.” He shook his head and sighed, “It is hard to be an Indian in this country. We are the forgotten people.”

He stood up and took a puff from his pipe, then went to the stove to stir what he was cooking.

“Smells good, what are you making?” Carla asked.

“Black bean soup.”

He leaned over to smell the aroma. He closed his eyes then nodded as if he knew the taste he wanted, and then came back to his seat across from us.

“Your daughter is an amazing artist,” Carla said. “We saw what she did at Anna Polovna's theater.”

He looked at the paintings on the wall. “Yes, she is talented and special. She has been an artist since she was four or five. You will learn how special she is.”

“Do you know Anna Polovana?”

“Yes. She is also special.” He narrowed his eyes and nodded as if he was thinking about her. “She has a
vision for that ghost town.”

“Do you think she's crazy...a world famous ballerina making a theater in the desert and changing the name of the town to Avalon.”

“Who am I to say who's crazy or not? I have written books and poetry and doubt anyone will ever read them. Maybe we are all crazy.” He took a puff of his pipe. “If we are all crazy then no one is crazy. I no longer know what being crazy is.”

“Interesting,” I chuckled.

Just then the phone rang. “That must be Mosa. She's the only one who calls me.”

When he stood up to answer it, I remembered telling Carla, “We're all drifters.” Maybe we're all crazy drifters.

I looked at him holding the black receiver of the wall phone by his desk. It looked like something from another time. I remembered our family had a phone like that when I was growing up.

“I will tell them,” he said, then hung up and turned to us.“He's gone. It is safe to go back. You should hurry because it will be dark and cold soon.”

When I stood up I realized we had never shared names.

“By the way, I'm Josh and this is Carla. What's your name?”

“Oh, yes, our names,” he chuckled. “My American name is Charles, but my ancient name is Yuma. I am named for the river now called the Colorado River.”

When we shook hands, he gazed into my eyes as if seeing something. I wondered what he was thinking.

“You are a good man. You will find your way.”

“Thank you, I need to hear that.”

He looked at Carla. “I see wisdom in you. You, too will find your way.”

Carla smiled and didn't say anything at first, but then took a deep breath. “I hope so. I'm working on it.”

I was surprised to hear him mention her wisdom but sensed he was right and that I was in the process of discovering the real Carla.

When we stood outside by my truck, I looked at his old trailer and the blue awning. I looked out at the desert and noticed the setting sun just above the hills. I looked at Charles standing by his front door. I thought about my drifting from town to town, meeting Carla by accident, sensing her hidden self and hearing how Charles thought she was a wise woman and here we were. His words to both of us, you will find your way resonated in me with a warm glow. When we climbed back into the truck I took Carla's hand, happy she was with me. We both waved to Charles.

While I drove away, I glanced back at him in the rear view mirror and thought about him living so isolated in the desert, writing books and poetry, carving animals that no one might ever see. We drove past the old and faded reservation sign and through the darkening desert back to Avalon.

*****

When we parked in front of our trailer, Mosa ran out of Anna's trailer and greeted us. I could see how much she looked like her father, especially around her narrow, almond shaped brown eyes and high cheekbones. She was small and I could feel the same intensity and power I felt in his presence. Her bronze colored skin was smooth with no signs of wrinkles and her long black hair, now braided, came halfway down her back. She was beautiful in a mysterious way and radiated an energy that came through her eyes. The same energy I saw earlier in the vibrant paintings. Though she still wore the same flowery blouse she had on earlier, she had a half buttoned checkered flannel shirt now that it was getting dark and cooler.

“I think you are safe now,” she said.

“Good, did the sheriff come alone?” Carla asked.

“No, he had his deputy, Oscar and the State Police were with him. They looked all over the town for you. I told him you were here earlier but left and that I didn't speak to you. I had to lie. He talked to Anna and to Miguel and they also lied.”

We grabbed our gear from the back of my truck and returned all of our supplies to the trailer. Mosa helped. The desert temperature had dropped dramatically so we didn't need the air conditioner. We turned on the dim overhead light which gave the trailer a warm glow. Carla found a small lamp and put it on the kitchen table while I opened a can of chicken noodle soup and heated it on the two burner stove.

“I was impressed with your father,” I said as I stirred.

“Thank you. He has had a hard life. My mother died when I was five and he raised my brother and me in that trailer.”

“We saw your paintings...they're amazing.” Carla found three bowls in one of the cabinets. “Do you want to have dinner with us?”

“No, I must go and help Anna with her hair and make up. Also, the box office opens soon and I must change my clothes to sell the tickets.”

“Do you actually sell tickets. I mean, do people come to her performances.”

“Yes, last week ten people came,” Mosa said.

“Really. I'm surprised.”

“I know it must be strange for you to see her theater here, but she is dedicated. She said the day her car broke down five years ago and she saw this old decaying theater she had a vision. She said it was a dream come true to have her own theater. It came to her like a bolt of lightning from heaven. She
believes her dancing will bring Avalon back to life and that the restaurant will reopen and the hotel will have guests and the shops will have customers. That is why she has brought the theater back to life.”

“Build it and they will come,” I said. “Is that what she believes?”

“Yes, she has a dream and she believes it will become a reality.”

I didn't know what to think. Carla and I glanced at each other.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I love Anna. I love the Avalon Theater. I love her dream. She gave work to several carpenters,
plumbers, electricians and painters to bring the theater back to life. She has spent all of her money and has worked very hard. I spent a year painting the balcony with all the people. To me it was like the Sistine Chapel. Anna inspired me. I think it is a beautiful dream and she is a magical dancer. You will see.”

I was baffled by Mosa's story and uncertain of her sanity as well as Anna's, but I felt her conviction. It seemed crazy that a ghost town in Death Valley could come back to life because Anna decided to build a theater there. Still, Mosa didn't seem crazy and neither did Miguel. I even began to doubt my own sanity helping Carla and finding myself being hunted by the police for being a kidnapper. I was lost in my own thoughts as I stirred the soup, but could not deny the fact that the theater was here and Mosa was going to sell tickets and the ballet, Swan Lake would be performed in a little over an hour. Am I in the twilight zone? I thought, remembering re-runs of an old TV show I watched when I was a kid.

When Mosa left, we sat at the table eating our soup. I looked around the small, cozy trailer and thought how cool it would be to have the trailer as a way of hiding from the police.

“I wonder if I can do some work here in exchange for the trailer.”

“Really, do you think Anna would go for it.” Carla's eyes widened.

“I have my tools. There must be some projects I could do that would be worth it to her. We could work together like we did in the hayfield.”

“We didn't just work in the hayfield,” Carla smiled. “You seduced me and made me want an adventure...and here we are.”

“Right,” I chuckled. “And now I'm a kidnapper.”

Later, all of the marquee lights were on when we stood in front of the theater. It was dazzling and seemed to glow in the darkness. It was so bright and radiant it made the dilapidated buildings of the rest of the town invisible. The theater was like an oasis in the desert. Several cars and pickup trucks were parked across the street and at least a dozen well-dressed people stood in front of the ticket office buying tickets from Mosa. In the lobby were others looking at the posters. Several women wore long dresses with shawls on their shoulders. The men were dressed in dark suits with neckties.

“I think we're under dressed,” Carla whispered.

“I don't believe what I'm seeing.” I looked around completely baffled.

When we approached the brightly lit box office, Mosa smiled. She had a red flower in her dark hair and wore a white peasant blouse that revealed her shoulders. Several colorful beaded necklaces hung from her neck and I noticed a tattoo of a bird on her arm.

“Anna has left tickets for you,” she said, handing us two tickets.

“You have quite a crowd here,” I said, glancing around.

“Yes, this is a good night. Many of the people come to all of the performances and this year, more than last year. She is creating a following.”

“How do they know about it?” Carla asked.

“The newspaper. Many stories have been written about Anna and the theater. People are curious and they come and tell others. Though the officials think she is breaking the law and crazy, people applaud what she has done and don't care about the law. I think they like that she is defying the law and creating a theater in this ghost town.”

“Interesting,” I responded, still bewildered.

When we walked through the lobby, several people looked at us in our jeans. Still, since we were going to the theater, Carla wore her flannel shirt and had her hair down. I decided to tie my long hair into a ponytail and wore a brown sweater I hardly wear.

Miguel stood at rear of the lobby in front of the open door that led into the auditorium. He no longer looked like a janitor but was wearing a white dress shirt with a black bow tie and neatly pressed black pants. He looked elegant with his white hair, white bushy mustache and dark skin.

He bowed his head slightly when he took our tickets and handed each of us programs.

“Good Evening, Senor and Senorita.”

“Good evening, Miguel,” I responded and returned his nod.

“You look handsome,” Carla said.

Miguel smiled slightly.“You have excellent seats in the center.”

When we took our seats, the rest of the audience gradually took their seats and sat scattered in the mostly empty theater. Four people sat directly in back of us. A couple sat at the other end of our row and glanced at us. The chandelier above us cast a dim light and I was able to read the program. On the front was an elegant, detailed pen and ink drawing of toe shoes. Under the picture in beautiful calligraphy, “The Avalon Theater proudly presents Swan Lake with Anna Polovna.”

I was sure Mosa had made the drawing of the toe shoes. Inside, also hand written in beautiful calligraphy, was a short biography of Anna and a quote from her. “Swan Lake is my favorite ballet. I first performed it at the Metropolitan Opera in New York when I was twenty-two. I have performed it on many stages all over the world and am now proud to perform it at the Avalon Theater.”

On the opposite page was a history of the ballet. I read it and was impressed with how much care had been taken to present information about the composer Peter Tchaikovsky and the folk tale about a princess that was turned into a swan by the curse of an evil sorcerer. It was first performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in eighteen-seventy-seven.

When the lights of the chandelier dimmed, a spotlight shone on the bare stage and focused on the set that Mosa had painted. It was a picture of a lake surrounded by willow trees and a dozen or so swans on the water.

“What a beautiful painting,” Carla whispered. “Mosa is a genius.”

Suddenly, the chandelier lights went out. The theater was dark and then another spotlight made the stage glow. Recorded music came through speakers mounted on either side of the stage. It was scratchy, but it didn't seem to matter as Tchaikovsky's music filled the theater. I glanced down at the program and saw she was performing solo excerpts from the ballet and the first one was “The Grand Adage.”

When Anna entered the stage, several people applauded. I remembered earlier how she was slightly drunk in her dressing room and looked old and weary, but the woman I saw on the staged was now transformed and seemed vibrant and youthful. She moved gracefully across the stage on her toes, her arms extended, her long legs carrying her as if on air. Her hair was in a tight bun and her head held high on her long neck. She twirled, leaped and gracefully moved her arms and hands as if they were the swan's wings and then she rose on her toes and with her arms extended, spun around faster and faster, almost in a blur. When she finished her dance, she came to the front of the stage and bent low in an elegant curtsy. She left the stage and the spotlight blackened the stage. A few minutes later, Anna returned to the stages and danced to another theme and then another. She seemed tireless and I was dazzled by her performance and how she held the audience spellbound.

When she finished and curtsied, the audience applauded, but then a recording came on with thunderous applause and “Bravo! Bravo! being shouted. It was odd to hear what sounded like the a large crowd applauding and cheering. Anna blew kisses to the audience and it seemed like the loud applause was a drug she needed. I glanced up at the painted balcony and noticed everyone of the faces had smiles painted on their lips, something I hadn't noticed earlier.

After Anna curtsied several times and the dozen or so people in the audience stood up and clapped along with the thunderous recorded applause, Mosa came down the aisle carrying a bouquet of roses. I whispered to Carla, “Where would she get roses around here?” I wondered if they were plastic but wasn't certain.

While Carla and I applauded, I glanced around at the others applauding, then at Anna accepting the flowers and blowing kisses out at the audience. After she dashed across the stage and disappeared into the wings, we sat in stunned silence staring at the empty stage.

When the stage lights were turned off, the chandelier above us came on and brought back the dim light. As people walked up the center aisle, a few people glanced at us as they walked by our row. One woman narrowed her eyes when she looked at Carla. She looked at me, then back at Carla before continuing up the aisle. I hoped we weren't recognized, but also wondered by their formal clothes if they were pretending to be living more aristocratic lives. Still, I was concerned by the way the woman looked at us.

When the theater was empty and we were about to leave the auditorium, Miguel came to us and handed us a note. It was from Anna written in flowing letters. “Please join me in my trailer for a drink.”

I thought this would be a good time to ask if I could barter my labor for the trailer. Before going there, we stood outside under the marquee's bright lights. We watched the people drive away and could see their headlights shine on the desolate street as they drove past the dilapidated buildings and old cars as they left the ghost town.

A few moments later, the lights of the marquee went out and we stood in the cool air and dark until a spotlight on the corner of the theater came on.

“Well that was something,” I said, astonished at what I had experienced.

“I loved it. I thought it was magical. She's amazing.” Carla glanced at the poster of Anna in front of the theater, barely visible in the dim light.

“You're right, but it was also weird.”

Carla didn't say anything, but I could feel her thinking. My mind was swirling with what I had just experienced. I glanced at Carla and could tell she was equally baffled. When we started walking, Carla hooked her arm in my elbow. I glanced up at the spotlight and saw hundreds of insects buzzing in its heat. Except for the spotlight, we were surrounded by darkness, but the spotlight helped us find our way to Anna's trailer.

When we knocked, Mosa opened the green wooden door and we entered.

“Welcome,” she smiled. She still had the red flower in her hair.

Anna was lounging in a dark green recliner. Her dark hair was no longer in a tight bun but now loose and flowed below her shoulders. She wore black slacks and the flowery kimono she had worn earlier. She was barefooted and had a glass of bourbon in her hand which she held up to us in greeting. On the floor next to the chair was a large white ceramic bowl with water and I imagined she had been soaking her feet.

“I loved your performance,” Carla said. “I never saw a ballet before.”

Mosa sat down next to Anna and took her hand. They smiled at each other and I realized they were lovers. Interesting, I thought, suddenly realizing why Mosa was living in Anna's trailer.

“Mosa, darling, would you be a dear and pour our guests a drink.”

“I'll just have a little,” Carla said, indicating with her fingers what a little looked like.

While Mosa poured our drinks, Carla and I sat on a small beige couch across from her.

“I'm delighted you were able to see my performance and my beautiful theater. Isn't it divine?”

“Yes, I'm so impressed with what you have done with the theater. It's amazing,” I said. “I don't know how you did it.”

“It was passion and faith.” She glanced over at Mosa. “And finding talent like this wonderful artist.”

“Faith?” Carla asked. “Are you religious? Do you mean faith in God?”

“No, faith in myself and my vision,” she answered just as Mosa handed us our drinks. “Passion and faith that I could bring the theater back to life and that is what I have done.”

“Well, it also took a lot of work,” I said.“I'm a carpenter and I can see how much work was involved.”

I took a sip of my bourbon and watched Carla sniff before bringing the glass to her lips. I could see she wasn't used to drinking hard liquor though I knew she liked beer.

Mosa sat next to Anna, but she was drinking water. I saw how she looked at me as if she knew what was on my mind.

I wasn't sure what to say about getting the trailer, but tried to form the sentence in my head while Anna spoke. I was glad Carla was paying attention to what Anna was saying because my mind was elsewhere.

“I have a proposition,” I announced, just as Anna finished saying something about her dream for the town.

“Yes, what is it?” Anna looked at me and narrowed her eyes.

“We could use your trailer to hide from the police. I would like to earn it in exchange for building something you need. A Barter.”

“Interesting.” Anna bit her lower lip as she thought. She sat back and I could she was considering my offer. She gazed at me, then glanced at Mosa.

“Carla and I will give you a week of labor in exchange for the trailer.”

Anna rubbed her chin as she listened then spoke.

“Do you think you can renovate the restaurant up the street?”

“Do you mean Dot's Cafe? We saw it when we drove in.”

“Yes, but it will now be The Bistro,” she said. “I love that name...The Bistro.”

“I will help,” Mosa said.

“Cool!” Carla said. “You can paint more people on the walls...pictures of people eating.”

At first, I thought Carla shouldn't have said that. It sounded sarcastic, but maybe it was me who heard it that way. Carla was being enthusiastic and serious, while I was still thinking this whole thing was completely nuts. Still, what difference did it make?

“Yes, I can renovate the restaurant if you get the supplies. We'll bring that restaurant back to life for you. We can get a lot done in a week...you will have The Bistro and we will have the trailer.”

I finished my drink and noticed that Carla had emptied the little bit she had in her glass.

“Mind if I pour myself a little more,” I asked.

“Pour me more,” Anna said, holding up her glass. “Let's celebrate.”

“Me, too,” Carla said.

“Are you sure?” I saw that her glass was empty.

“Yes. I want more.” She scowled slightly in fake annoyance, then smiled.

I took her glass and poured a little more and saw her watching.

“More...a little more than that,” she said.

“Okay,” I said and half filled her glass, then poured more into Anna's glass and mine.

“We'll check out the place tomorrow and make some plans.”

“I have stored a great deal of lumber and we have paint. It's in the back of the hotel. I'm sure I have everything you will need. I planned ahead because I knew I would need it. Now I have very little money,
but one day I will be rich again...and famous.”

I realized what a smart woman Anna was even though I also wondered about her sanity. Is she shrewd or nuts? I thought and glanced at Mosa and wondered about her also.

I finished my drink and saw that Carla had finished hers. When we stood up to leave, I knew she was drunk when she wobbled and leaned against me.

While I put my arm around Carla and we walked to the front door, I turned to Mosa. “Let's meet in front of the restaurant at eight.”

She smiled and nodded.

“Good night, Anna,” I said and guided Carla out the door.

When we staggered into our trailer, we were already kissing and groping and it wasn't long before we made wild, drunk love, rolling over and over on the bed. Carla did all she could to keep her screams down but couldn't. Either could I. We were both out of our minds. I was sure Anna and Mosa heard us, but in our drunken state, didn't care. After our lustful fucking, we lay in each others' arms and fell into a deep sleep.

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