It took a very long time to gather enough firewood. The entire park seemed to be swept clean. At last Mingo felt he'd found enough to last the night. Carefully he constructed a small fire ring. Then, reaching into his shot pouch he retrieved his blow gun and went in search of the squirrels he was certain inhabited the large trees.
A short hour later he was back at his campsite with two large fox squirrels. Within a quarter hour he had them cleaned and spitted. He sat leaned back against a large elm, watching the blazing sun retreat farther westward. Seconds later he heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps rapidly approaching. He turned his head and saw a uniformed man striding toward his camp.
"Hey, you can't do that here. Can't you read?" The officer's voice was loud, impatient.
"Excuse me? Can't I read what?" Mingo's puzzlement was obvious.
"That sign right over there! See? 'Fire in designated area only.' You can't start a fire just anywhere!"
Mingo peered in the direction the officer pointed. Sure enough, a large sign proclaimed the limitations on campfires. Embarrassed, Mingo quickly kicked his fire apart. The officer's eyes followed the motion and saw the roasting squirrels. His eyes grew wide in disbelief.
"Where'd you get the squirrels? You didn't shoot the park squirrels, did you?"
"No, officer." Mingo replied honestly.
The officer's hazel eyes stared at Mingo. He saw the unusual clothing, the feathers, the beads. Several possibilities swirled through the man's mind. One, this guy was looney. Two, this guy was homeless. Three, this guy was a homeless looney. Officer Brady took two steps back, thinking.
Just then a little boy ran up to Mingo's side. A young man followed briskly. The child reached out inquisitive fingers to the hatchet resting at the Cherokee's side. "Excuse me, mister. But my boy saw you from over there," the young man pointed to a picnic table a hundred yards away. "He's fascinated by Indians. He watches all the movies. Can he see your hatchet?"
Mingo held his hatchet firmly and allowed the child to touch the blade. His little fingers gently caressed the feathers tied to the handle. Then, boldly, the boy touched Mingo's arm band. The officer and father stood silently watching the interaction between the child and the tall stranger. Mingo allowed the boy to touch anything he wanted, softly explaining as the child did so.
Cicadas began their distinctive hum as the light faded. The young father leaned over and took his son's small hand. "Come on, Justin. That's enough. Thank the man for showing you everything."
Justin did as his father bade him. Mingo smiled and waved. Justin's father leaned forward, extending his hand. "Thanks, mister. You're a great re-enactor. We watched you for a long time as we finished our picnic. You're really good with that blow gun. If you'll tell me your name I'll write the fort and let them know how much we appreciated your demonstration."
"Mingo," the Cherokee replied.
The young man's eyebrows rose. Then he nodded. "Oh, I understand. That's your 'Indian' name. I'll be sure to tell them out at the fort. Good-night."
Justin waved once more. Mingo returned the gesture then turned his attention to the officer still standing before him. Officer Brady was smiling now. With a wave of his hand he dismissed Mingo's question.
"I never considered that you'd be a re-enactor. I missed this week's briefing so I didn't know about you. I'm sorry that I bothered you. Have a good supper, Mingo. Are you planning on staying the night? If you are, I'd better radio the night officer."
"I think I will be here until at least tomorrow morning," Mingo replied. In his mind he had decided that the best time to try and get back to Kentucky was at the exact time he'd come through originally. The officer nodded, then waved his hand as he walked away. He tugged the radio from his belt. Mingo could hear some of the conversation before the officer slipped below the hill.
Shaking his head at the wonder of the device, Mingo reconstructed his fire, finished roasting his squirrels and lay back to watch the stars sprinkle the summer sky. As he lay quietly, he became aware of music floating through the still summer evening. Though unfamiliar, it was not unpleasant as the music Travis had been listening to in the morning. Curious, Mingo sat up and turned his head. The music was coming from a wooded area beyond the zoo. Rifle in hand, Mingo trotted toward the melody.
A half-hour later he stood before an enormous open area. Row after row of metal carriages spread before him. He spent several minutes investigating them, touching their rigid metal frames, peering in through the glass. Then he continued to follow the music and dialog. Apparently some kind of play was in progress.
Enormous bright lights beamed from the top of a castle-like structure. Metal gates and bars enclosed it on both sides. Large posters proclaimed: 'This week at Starlight: Ed Ames in Man of La Mancha.' Mingo slipped around to the side and peered through the bars. A large stage was bathed in white light. Performers strode before an elaborate set of what looked like medieval Spain. Suddenly he heard lines from Cervantes.
Quickly he scaled the nearest tall maple. From its branches he could see the entire stage. A tall athletic man, costumed as Don Quixote, tottered through a dance with Aldonza and his squire. Suddenly Mingo understood. This was a play about Don Quixote de la Mancha set to music. He settled comfortably in the tree and watched the performance.
The hours sped by as he was drawn into the story. When the dungeon staircase rumbled down for the last time and the two main characters climbed to their fate, Mingo slipped from the tree to the sound of thunderous applause. Humming to himself, he trotted back to his little camp near the zoo.
The summer stars winked as he stretched out on the cool damp grass. In only moments he was sound asleep, drifting through the impossible dream.
He awoke to the faint pearly gray of dawn. He spent several minutes gathering his equipment and making certain the little fire was dead. Then he slowly walked along the face of the small limestone outcropping at the edge of the park. Running his hand over the smooth cold rock, he searched for the crack in time.
As he walked, the rock began to grow warmer. Suddenly his hand slipped into the face. Seconds later he was standing inside the little dry cave. He heard Daniel's voice calling from behind him. Turning, he saw the flicker of firelight from the torch in Daniel's hand. Daniel's face looked worried.
"Mingo!" Dan shouted. "Where'd you come from? I've been lookin' for you for hours. I was afraid you'd fallen into a bottomless pit." Dan looked at his friend. He noticed the other man's missing bracelet and the addition of a small blue pouch attached to his shot pouch. Strange animals swam through a billowing sea on the pouch's top.
Mingo grinned. "In a way I did. Daniel, you won't believe me, but come back to the fire and I'll tell you. You wouldn't happen to have a pot of coffee and some jerky would you?"
Daniel touched his friend's arm to make sure he was really there. Mingo continued to grin broadly. Daniel narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He sat before the fire and readied himself for what he knew could be the tallest tale he'd ever heard. Mingo sat quietly drinking his coffee. Then, with a chuckle and a flash of deep dimples, Mingo began his fantastic story.