Sarah Spellings & The Cariboo Posse

Bear, Bill Miner, & Abandoned


A long, high-pitched wail petered out slowly, like a whistle running out of air. Bedding rolls were scattered like cloth caterpillars under the maple tree. Sarah squirmed out of her sleeping bag, and parted overgrown tree limbs, and was startled by the clump of rumpled black clothing on the deserted suburban street. It was the gang of attackers, she realized, crimson rig eye symbols like splashes of blood on their leather jackets. Slickers, Charlie had called them. But why did Parleyment want oil and gas? Burning fossil fuels for energy caused flooding, drought and storms. In Vancouver, energy was generated at CycleCentres, stored in batteries, and used to run everything from motorbikes to refrigerators. Sarah shook her head, confused.

Another wail made her look up—Laxgi was perched on an old electrical post, glaring at the maple tree, and keening sharply. The eagle opened her wings, and fixed Sarah with a penetrating stare.

Quinn, get up!” Sarah whispered.

The curtain of dangling maple shoots parted, and Quinn emerged onto the lawn, stretching and yawning. Laxgi cried out, took wing, and soared south down the empty street, until she was a mere speck, wheeling over pale green trees in the distance.

“She’s showing us where the Fraser River runs,” Quinn said.

A rumpled Murdock joined them, clutching Pietro’s map to the Langlockley Parleyment stables. “We’re right about here,” Murdock said quietly, using a bike-grease-stained thumb to mark their location. “We have to cross the Fraser River to get to the stables.”

Levvy appeared, rubbing her eyes with her knuckles. “Laxgi’s an eagle,” she said sleepily. “Of course she flew down to the river. She’s just hungry, and looking for fish.”

Quinn frowned. “She woke us up first, and got our attention,” he said. “Laxgi’s clearly encouraging us to move southward.”

Hanx and Trig, subdued, their faces swollen and lumpy with wasp stings, started packing the wagon. Spex handed out portions of dried fruit, and harnessed Grump.

“What about those guys?” Sarah asked, nodding at the Slickers in the street. “We have to leave them some water, at least.”

“You can’t leave us here!” The buck-toothed girl shrieked.

“If the tables were turned, they wouldn’t leave water for us,” Quinn countered.

“Tsk, tsk—Sarah’s instinct is correct,” Spex said. “We must follow our own moral compass. Someone will be along to untie them soon, but until then, they must have water.”

Fern retrieved and refilled the plastic planter she’d used as a horse trough, and left it near the morose young Slickers. One of the boys stuck out his tongue, and made a rude hand gesture. Fern ignored the provocation; Charlie and Splotch had started riding toward the river. Grump heaved his forelegs and neck, and the wagon started rolling. Two blocks south of the maple tree, Sarah noticed Levvy was limping.

“Why don’t you ride with Spex, on the wagon?” Sarah asked her friend.

“No horses for me,” said Levvy, shaking her head firmly. “I’m going to ask Charlie to make me a buggy.”

“In the Cariboo, roads weren’t destroyed by earthquakes. We can’t drag an old car over the Coast Mountain pass,” said Quinn. He nodded at the dark, jagged silhouettes of mountains on the western horizon. “If you’re coming on this journey, you’re going to be riding a horse.”

Levvy scowled, but didn’t argue. A band of pale green trees quickly got closer. It was still morning when they reached the north bank of the Fraser River. Immense poplar and cottonwood trees grew along the water, leaves rustling in a warm wind blowing through the valley. Laxgi soared in languid circles overhead. Hanx and Trig lifted Spex to the ground, and unhitched Grump. Charlie led pony and horse along a sandy trail to the water, and the animals drank deeply. Rumpus skittered over rocks and lapped water in thirsty desperation. Sarah waded into the chilly river, and pushed her water bottle below the surface. Glug-glug-glug, the bottle filled up fast; she drank the whole thing, and filled it again while Levvy and Quinn plunged their bottles into the Fraser.

“Sammy would have loved this adventure,” said Sarah.

“Yeah,” Levvy agreed. “But at least you know he’s safe in the grove.”

“I guess,” Sarah murmured. Her father’s shifty behaviour at Sunset Council had deepened her suspicion that Tony Spellings was hiding something. She soaked a bandana, tied it kerchief-style on her head, and inhaled sharply as freezing water trickled down her spine.

“It’s too deep to cross here,” Fern declared.

“True. But there’s an old road beside the river.” Charlie pointed at two wheel ruts snaking through tall grass. “We’ll come to a crossing sooner or later.”

Murdock raced ahead on his bicycle, but it was slow going for the rest of them. Here and there the old road was blocked by rocks or fallen trees, and they had to backtrack and blaze a new trail, wading through thick, thigh-high grass and bushes. Sarah saw evidence of people, well-used footpaths and tended gardens, but they met no one. Garter snakes slithered, yellow and green stripes flashing, and the air was abuzz with insects.

“HO!” Charlie shouted.

Sarah snapped out of a reverie, and the caravan crunched to a halt. A large bear stood on the road ahead. Splotch snorted and stamped. Rumpus growled, his fur bristling. Fern nocked an arrow.

“Don’t shoot,” Charlie said calmly. “We scared her, that’s all. She has two cubs—behind her, in the bushes.”

“She’s a black bear,” said Levvy. “Ursus americanus. She won’t attack.”

The bear sow tossed her head, and moved a few steps closer. Grump backed up, jostling a nervous Spex. Hanx and Trig stepped out from behind the wagon, and approached the mother bear. Her rheumy eyes flicked from giant to giant, considering. At last she turned away, and ambled back into the bushes, joining her cubs.

“You should have seen them, before they saw us,” Charlie accused Fern.

Fern returned arrow to quiver with an angry thunk. “If I reported everything giving off heat, we’d be paralyzed. We’ve passed a dozen people fishing, and twice as many on horseback. And for your information, if I use my heat-sensing vision in the daytime, it damages my retinas.”

Spex, his glasses askew and his forehead sweaty, tried to diffuse the tension. “Courage my friends. It’s been a long day of travel, after a poor night’s sleep. I propose we find a campsite, and throw a few fishing lines in the river.”

“Are we going to eat soon?” Hanx asked.

“Yeah. I’m hungry,” Trig murmured.

Levvy rolled her eyes, and Sarah smiled weakly, thinking that Hanx and Trig made up in kindness and brute strength what they lacked in maturity. Everyone in Sassamatta brought different strengths to the grove; even her father pulled his weight, doing maintenance repairs on ladders, bridges, and treehouses. A wave of homesickness washed over Sarah, and she lowered her head to hide tears.

They stopped for the night in a glade of birch trees. No one caught a fish, so they dug further into their stores of dried food, and after sunset risked a small campfire. Orange flames danced, throwing ghosts of smoke toward the stars.

“Does anyone have a good story?” Trig asked.

“We’ve heard each others’ stories a thousand times—how about a story from the Cariboo?” Levvy suggested.

Charlie poked the campfire coals with a stick. “Our most famous story,” he said, “is the legend of Billy Miner’s lost treasure.”

“I love treasure stories!” Hanx exclaimed.

“A long time ago, gold was discovered in the Cariboo,” Charlie began. “Two centuries ago, big lodes of ore were discovered in the Willow River, and the mountains around Quessnell Lake, where I’m from. There was a gold rush. The route from the city of Hope to the Cariboo, the one we’re going to travel, is called the Old Gold Rush Trail. There’s a railroad now, but back then people travelled on horseback, and in stagecoaches. Miners went into the Cariboo, and fortunes came back, protected by from thieves by armed riders. Gunfights were common.”

“Are there guns in the Cariboo now?” Sarah asked, with a tingle of fear.

“No, they were collected and destroyed when the Planet Protection Laws were passed,” said Charlie. “But slingshots and arrows can kill as efficiently as bullets, and we’re taught archery as soon as we can walk. At Quessnell Raft, we have a saying: now you are three and off you go, to ride, and row, and hold a bow. Anyway, in the gold rush days, the best gunslingers could shoot a hole through the hat of a rider at full gallop. Some were law-abiding, and some were outlaws. Billy Miner was the most famous outlaw of them all. He robbed stagecoaches until there were trains, then he robbed trains. He would ride beside a steam locomotive, stand on the back of a galloping horse, and jump onto a speeding train. More than once, Billy Miner was caught and imprisoned, but he escaped every time. His most famous escape involved a treasure.”

Levvy rummaged for paper and pen in her satchel, and started making notes. Fragrant woodsmoke drifted up to the black sky, and Sarah shivered in the cool night air.

“Billy Miner was good-looking,” said Charlie, with a sidelong glance at Levvy. “He had intense amber eyes, silver hair, and a big droopy moustache. His nickname was the Grey Fox. He always wore a broad-brimmed hat and leather boots, and he had excellent manners. He’d threaten to blow boxcar doors open with dynamite, and apologize for the inconvenience. He had just made his biggest heist ever, a fortune in gold, jewels, and bonds, and the law was closing in. Worried he’d be caught holding this treasure, he hid it somewhere in the hills of the Cariboo. Sure enough, Billy Miner was caught, and locked up in Vancouver, and the government made him a deal. If he gave back the stolen fortune, they would allow him to ‘escape’. The Grey Fox turned the government down, and escaped anyway. He dug a tunnel, and disappeared. The gold, jewels, and bonds were never found—for two hundred years, people have been searching the Cariboo for Billy Miner’s hidden treasure.”

“I’d love to find it,” Levvy whispered.

For two days, they travelled the riverside road, camping in glades of broad-leaved trees. The weather was clear and hot; they made frequent stops to cool down in the river and refill their water containers. Laxgi soared ahead of them, which Quinn said was reassurance they were going the right way. On the third day they came to a shallow stretch of the Fraser River.

“Alas,” said Spex, “I shall have to wait for you on this side. We cannot chance tipping this old wagon. Hanx and Trig, you can stay behind also, to guard our provisions and keep me company. Carry a bedroll each, cooking gear, and several days’ rations. I wish you luck procuring horses.”

Charlie and Splotch crossed the river first. Midstream, the horse had to swim, and Sarah was worried the current would wash Rumpus downstream. But the terrier paddled hard, and soon Quinn, Levvy, Sarah, Fern and Murdock were walking along a southbound roadway in waterlogged shoes toward the ‘X’ on Pietro’s map, using a smooth mountaintop as a landmark. The road led them past farmhouses and cultivated fields. In late afternoon, Charlie called out.

“Ahead of us—the stables!”

Sarah came around a bend in the road, and saw a long, low wooden building, surrounded by barren paddocks. The windows were cracked and broken; the whole place felt deserted. Sarah’s eyebrow crease formed, Levvy chewed her bottom lip. Fern’s eyes transformed, and she scanned the trees. “We can’t be at the stables,” Fern said grimly. “There’s no horses. Plenty of rats; that’s about it.”

“Let’s check the it out anyway,” said Charlie, dismounting.

Inside, the derelict building was dark and smelly. Disused horse stalls lined the walls, and pigeons flapped in the rafters. Sarah wrinkled her nose at the sharp, tangy odour. Rusty nails protruded from posts and gates, but there was no tack, and no saddles. Quinn wandered the length of the stables, and exited through the back doors.

“Hey!” Quinn shouted. “Check this out!”

It was a large sign, mounted on two posts, navy blue letters on a faded white background:



All visitors must report to the main government office in Langlockley for an access card

Animals and Equipment on these premises are the property of Parleyment

Trespassers will be Prosecuted. Thefts will be Punished

“Nothing to worry about,” said Murdock. “No one will ever know we trespassed.”

“Don’t you see it?” Quinn exclaimed, gesturing impatiently at the sign.

A faded orange triangle had been spray-painted overtop of the official Parleyment sign. It was the rig eye—the sign of the Slickers.

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