The Legend of Harkayee:
a Treasure Hunt Primer
Bob Quaker was born and raised in the valley of the Clearwater and knew its ways as well as anybody and better than most. A consummate naturalist, he tramped the forests and canyons and meadows and summits hereabouts, always questing to know more. After a lifetime of this, it’s fair to say Bob knew a lot about the wilderness area he called home: what most of us would call Wells Gray Park.
I’ll always remember the day Bob asked me to join him on a hike to see the orchid patch up on McLeod Hill. How could I not remember? That day changed my life forever.
To get to McLeod Hill was a long walk. The bugs were bad as I recall, and it rained hard for a time. And though we searched and searched, in the end we never did find the orchid patch.
What we found instead was this: a small opening; a pond bordered on the north by a bluff; a recess at the base of the bluff; some yellowed mosses piled up; and (lift away the mosses) a domed metal chest tightly sealed, a skeleton key hanging from its clasp. “This is weird,” I remember thinking to myself.
“Inside that chest,” said Bob, “are some things you’ll want to know someday.” The twinkle had gone out of his eyes and now his voice was serious. “One day when I’m gone, promise me you’ll return to this place and open that chest. No questions now. Just give me your solemn word you’ll do as I ask.”
“OK,” I said. Bob was like that; you got used to it.
That was back in the summer of '71. As it happened, Bob Quaker had many good years ahead of him, and then a few bad ones. He finally passed away in 2000: a sad loss for me, as for many others.
After Bob died, I somehow forgot my promise – put it out of my mind I suppose.
Then, one afternoon I happened to be hiking up on Battle Mountain. Despite the elevation, the day was warm, and a light breeze was blowing. I’d just settled in to enjoy the view, and was pulling out my camera when suddenly the air turned cold, and there was this faint smell like the smell of blood. For the briefest of moments, I sensed I was in danger.
And then as quickly as it had come, the sensation was gone. And in its place, the memory of an afternoon all those decades ago, and the promise I’d made to Bob Quaker. “Curious,” I thought to myself.
Early next morning, I set out for McLeod Hill. Once again the way was long, the bugs were bad, and it rained hard at one point. After so many years I’d expected some trouble finding the place Bob had shown me; but not at all. Round a ridge and there it was: the little clearing, the pond, the bluff rising above, the recess, the yellowed mosses still piled as Bob had left them.
Lift away the mosses, and there’s the chest, the key still hanging from its lock. Give that key a turn, and now the clasp falls open. Pull open the lid, and now I’m peering inside.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to find all these many years later, but certainly not a human skull made of gold, its eyes the colour of blood. “Whoa,” I said to myself.
Looking closer, I see the chest also contains two pieces of paper neatly folded, each propped to one side of the skull. The paper on the left proves to be a map, a treasure map in fact, while the one on the right is a letter. I’m startled to see it’s written in Bob Quaker’s shaky hand: a message from beyond the grave…
A few hours later, I’m back at my cabin. It’s dark out now and raining hard. Seated by a fire, I open my backpack and carefully remove the skull – a bronze skull I now see, not gold at all – and place it on the floor beside me. Next, I unfold the map and place it near the skull. Finally, I take up the letter and begin to read:
If you’re reading these words, it can only mean one thing: I failed, in my life time, to complete a task I must now hand over to you.
Back in the '30s, when I was a boy, the old timers used to tell of strange forces alive in the Clearwater Valley: vestiges, so they believed, of an ancient race now buried beneath rivers of lava that flooded the valley about a million years ago.
They told how trappers and hunters in the Battle Mountain country would sometimes find themselves confronted by a strange, menacing presence: Not a bear or a moose or some other animal you could actually see, but something you’d sense in the air: a dank chill, and a smell like the smell of blood; and how your horse would suddenly spook; and how you’d be gripped by sudden fear, unable to move until the feeling passed a moment later. And then invariably you’d hear this sudden, loud wail – har-kai-EEE! - a mournful sound that would somehow fill you with sadness that any living thing should be so all alone in the world.
They said that Harkayee – for that’s what the old timers called her – took her strength from the Earth’s force field (I never did understand what they meant by that); but that once each month, on the night of full moon, she’d be seized by an insatiable hunger for warm, living flesh; and that on that night, guided by the moon’s steely light, she’d go prowling. Sometimes she’d take down a mountain goat, but more often than not it was caribou flesh she was after.
|Old fire lookout atop wind-blasted summit of Battle Mountain. Photo by John Bergenske.|
None of the old timers ever claimed to have seen Harkayee; and I suppose I was the only person ever to do so. It was in the summer of '62, on a night of full moon up at the old fire lookout on the wind-blasted summit of Battle Mountain: a room with a view, you could say.
Weary from the long hike in, I gave dinner a miss that evening and hit the sack early – well before sundown as I recall. Yet, weary or not, I slept poorly that night, my dreams haunted by strange, disturbing images – triggered, I suppose, by this strange, disturbing odour that seemed to hang in the air.
Then suddenly, middle of the night, I’m being jolted awake by this loud mournful cry – a cry like no cry I’d ever heard: a long, mournful, soul-rending howl: har-kai-EEE! And again: har-kai-EEE! And then silence.
Bolt upright, heart pounding, I lift myself from the bed, reach for my coat and rifle, and slowly, very slowly pull open the cabin door. A moment later, I’m standing outside, the eerie tinfoil light of the moon falling directly from the south. And there’s that smell again, only stronger. A chill runs through me as suddenly I realize what it is. It’s blood. It’s the smell of fresh blood.
I’m making my way east now along the main ridge. There’s a flashlight in my coat pocket, but the moon is bright, and I don’t need it until – the smell of blood now overwhelming – I come upon a dark shape out on this patch of snow. Beaming my light, I see it’s a carcass: the remains of a large animal freshly killed: a Mountain Caribou.
What I see next haunts me to this day. The carcass has literally been torn asunder, bits and pieces scattered over the snow like shredded wrapping paper. The flesh, the intestines, the bones, the skull: everything’s gone, devoured. All that’s left is the hide – a flayed, bloody hide. Beam my light again, and I notice steam still rising from it, curling upward in the cold midnight air.
As I’m pondering this, a rock dislodges higher on the ridge, maybe 30 or 40 feet away. I look up and there she is: Harkayee: a black silhouette against the brightness of a full moon: a looming creature in shape like a human, but huge and misshapen, and with a head seemingly too small for its body.
Staring out from that head are two round eyes glowing red in the blackness of silhouette. They’re fixed on me. Considering.
Then a moment of reflex: I raise my gun, take aim, fire. An explosion, a blinding flash of light. And then darkness, nothing.
Next thing I know it’s early morning and I’m a shivering heap on the hide of that poor dead caribou: all that’s kept me from freezing to death out there on the snow.
Struggling to my feet, I make my way over to the place where Harkayee had stood. What was I expecting to find? The huge twisted hulk of her body? The shadow of a nightmare the morning after? Either way, I’m hardly prepared for what awaits me there among the lichened boulders: a golden skull with garnet eyes. Upturned. Glaring at me.
Since that day, there have been no more stories of Harkayee. No more cries of anguish on a moonlit night, no more horses spooked, no more Mountain Caribou flayed and devoured. For better or worse, Harkayee seems to have gone from this world. Many believe she is dead, while others think she has returned to her spirit people, somewhere beneath the lava fields.
What do I believe? I believe that Harkayee is still out there: a shrunken waif endlessly wandering, a nagging spirit in search of a golden head with garnet eyes.
So long as Harkayee and her eyes remain apart, I believe she is harmless. But if ever she should find them, and once again draw her power through them, then who could blame her if she seeks revenge not just on me but on all humankind?
And besides, the Mountain Caribou seem destined soon to disappear from these mountains – victims of our own appetite for the oldgrowth forests that sustain them. If this should happen, then I leave it to you to imagine what species of flesh Harkayee will turn to on her nights of full moon.
For now, the golden skull with its garnet eyes is hidden in a place she will never find. I’ve seen to that. But there’s always a chance somebody will someday stumble upon my cache. Should that happen, the odds are greatly increased that Harkayee and her eyes will sooner or later reunite.
There is nothing for it, my friend: you must find the golden skull I have hidden, and somehow you must destroy it and disperse those garnet eyes so they can never be reunited.
To start you in this task, I have fashioned a bronze replica of the golden skull, drawn a treasure map, and provided the clues you’ll need to locate the original.
The rest you must work out for yourself. Now off with you.
|Unidentified tracks, winter of 2008. Does Harkayee still lurk?|
…I put the letter down and stare a long while into the flickering fire, and then longer still into those ruby-red eyes gazing out at me from the bronze skull. Finally I pick up Bob’s treasure map, and begin to study it.
The landmarks depicted were well known to me: the Clearwater and Murtle rivers, McLeod Hill, Battle Mountain, the Trophies and so forth. Soon I made out several hiking trails, ten in fact, each as familiar to me as they’d likely be to anybody who’s ever spent time off road in the Valley of the Clearwater.
Each trail had been assigned a number, from one to ten. Extending to the right of each number was a sinuous line. These crisscrossed each other like the circuitry of an old-fashioned telephone switchboard, finally resolving on the right hand side of the map to ten arrowheads arranged in a new order, and pointing to ten empty boxes – space for some word or letter or number which I understand I’m to inscribe. So far, so good.
Turning the map over, I see that Bob’s trail numbers are linked to written clues. Gradually it comes to me that each of these clues, once decoded, is meant to yield a single-digit number; and that these numbers, when assembled overleaf, will give a coordinate: latitude first, longitude second. Where these two sets of numbers intersect on the map – X marks the spot – is the place I need to search if I’m to locate the golden skull.
In the end I did locate the golden skull with its garnet eyes. The former I melted down and sold for a good price, while the latter I dispersed, as instructed, to the ends of the Earth. Now no one need fear Harkayee’s powers ever again. Not you, not me, not the Mountain Caribou.
Whether Harkayee was really as vengeful as Bob Quaker imagined; or whether, for that matter, she existed in the first place: these are now matters for conjecture. One thing I do know, however, is how grateful I am to Bob for bequeathing me, from beyond the grave, all these many months of questing and learning and discovery. What a guy.
How to thank uncle Bob? Best thing I can think of is to pass along his treasure hunt for others to enjoy.
So you’ve read the story. Now it’s your turn.
Copyright ©2015 by Trevor Goward and Jason Hollinger