Those Heartless Boys - E. M. Moore


People say when you’re drawn to the Superstitions, it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens.

Volcanic activity formed the mountain range centuries ago. Comprised of layers of breccia and granite and melded together with lava, these rocks are as unforgiving as they are beautiful. It’s like God made a jagged fortress out of the skyline and spray painted it in rusty reds and browns.

Most people don’t venture up here. For generations, my family hasn’t been most people. Our paths are off the beaten track. The road less traveled by. Filled with dreams, adventure, and hope. Some would call it a fool’s hope, but I’ve never felt that.

Not until today.

“Do you understand what I’m saying, Dakota?” Lionel asks. He just happens to be Clary’s Chief of Police and the head of the rescue team who’ve been searching these mountains for my father for the past three days.

Missing. It sounds damn near impossible. Wrong in every sense of the word. No one knows these mountains better than my father. Everything he knew, he learned from his father and his grandfather who learned it from his father and so on until he passed all that knowledge onto me. We’re Wilders, after all. Searcher royalty, if there was such a thing. We’re not the go-up-into-the-mountains-and-don’t-come-back type.

“Dakota?” Lionel asks, urging a response out of me.

It’s funny if you think about it. My dad says Lionel is a good-for-nothing, immature novice who wouldn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, and now he’s taken point on searching for my father? It’s laughable, really. Though, my father’s thoughts on the Chief of Police are most likely skewed on account of everyone in Clary hating us. If we saw the chief’s cruiser coming up the dirt road, it was never for anything good.

I gaze up into the chief’s light eyes. There are barely any crow’s feet maturing his features. If wisdom is determined by the number of wrinkles on someone’s face, Lionel would be a dumbass and my father would be an Einstein-level genius. “I hear what you’re saying,” I tell him calmly, even though my insides are roiling.

Our little tête-à-tête is hidden behind a temporary, pop-up canopy tent, ground zero for the search party that committed to finding my father after he didn’t return from the mountains four days ago. Blue tarps stretch along one side and hang from ceiling to ground, shielding the interior of the tent from the sun, and right now, they’re also blocking us from the prying eyes of the media waiting on the other side. Trust me, when a renowned treasure hunter goes missing, people take notice. Reporters from local TV channels and papers have been showing up for days. One guy even said he was from The Arizona Republic. We’re big time if Phoenix’s largest newspaper is on the trail of my father’s disappearance, which also means that this story will be everywhere in a few hours.

“I know this is tough.”

He wouldn’t know anything, actually. I still don’t believe it. My dad, lost in the Superstitions? Dead, possibly?

Nah. It’s just not true.

I joined the search party myself, of course. I took them to the places we used to set up camp. I followed the trail I last knew he was on, volunteers fanning off, using sticks to move the sparse desert vegetation out of the way to cover every inch of space. Helicopters and their constant noise overhead were the anthem to our fight.

Nothing. Not one single find in three days. Now, Lionel wants to call off the search. We can’t look forever, he’d just said. At some point, someone has to make the decision that he didn’t make it. If he’s injured and can’t move, he’ll starve to death. Or, he may have met with a venomous snake or a fall he couldn’t recover from.

The truth is, there are hundreds of ways to die up in the Superstitions, and not all of them are natural.

So, yes, I get what Lionel is saying. We haven’t found any trace of Dad. We didn’t even find remnants of his camp. There’s no evidence whatsoever that Dad was even in the mountains, except from what he told me and the fact that his ancient truck was parked at the trailhead we always parked at when we went searching.

I turn to gaze upward toward the rough terrain of the mountainside. In the distance, Weavers Needle pokes out of the landscape, a distinct spire of rock that sticks out like a beacon, always