Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The plateau

I'm naked and thirsty. The water in the reservoir below is a fetid green-brown and full of slimy debris. I sieve a handful of water-muck and take it into my mouth before spitting it out. No use curing thirst if I'm just going to give myself a nasty parasite.

I walk down to the dirt road away from the reservoir. The sky's red and so's the ground. Each step burns as my feet churn loose sand. Scattered obsidian, black needles in a sea of red, would cut deeper if my feet weren't already hardened like mistreated old leather.

The day gets worse. Early chill gives way an insufferable heat. I hide for stretches in cool dirt under large patches of sagebrush so dry the exposed roots have turned mostly white. Shade's insignificant so I curl into a fetal ball to hide as much of me as possible from the angry sun.

I sleep without dreams. When I wake the sun's directly above and my hiding place is overrun with heat. I rise and force myself to walk. In the road I see a cow's bleached skeleton, bones picked clean and scattered as critters searched for anything left over. One of the femurs is broken and looks like it could cut a man.

Hours pass and the road goes mostly north. The sun roasts my head and cooks my brain. I know this area but can't think straight, so I stick to the road and keep walking. Unsteady legs wobble but I hold my balance. Blood takes turns streaming from my lips and clotting until it breaks to stream more. Red lines roll over my chin and down my chest.

Movement is agony. Burnt skin stretches and folds in fiery pain. The sun's halfway down the western horizon on my left and it's hotter than ever. I rest again under a juniper for an hour. I hold my knees and try not to move.

I start out again and, fortunately, salvation finds me as the sun threatens to dip down for the night. Up on the right, maybe a football field's length off the road, there's an old shack with a beater Toyota pickup parked out front. I think I recognize the car. I'm not sure. I veer toward it and nearly reach the door when I hear a man's yell.

"Who that there?" the voice cries.

I try to say anything but the sand in my mouth gums the words, mixes with blood, and turns them to mud.

"Jamison? That you?"

The man was behind me but emerges into my field of vision. First thing I see is his rusted shotgun Then it's his face, scarred leather with a dominating beard. I recognize the man as Old Zeke, who's lived on the plateau his whole life.

I try to nod but end up rolling my head. My jaw goes slack and red spittle hangs off my lower lip for a moment and then falls to the dirt.

"By the Holy Spirit son," Zeke says. "Better get you inside."

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