I remember the night vividly, the dry juniper logs crackling on the fire, their bright light providing the only barrier from the oncoming cool desert night. My little green tent faintly aglow in its light, the eerie haunted sound of coyotes echoing in the distance. When I heard his footsteps I jumped and turned around quickly, wishing that I had something to protect myself with. I guess there was always the fire. I would use it, as a last resort. “It’s funny,” he said, in a gravelly smoke stained voice, “that this is all that is left of animals after they die. It seems like there should be more.”

I stared at him, uncomfortable and alone. My headlamp illuminated his body, tall and lanky in tight worn jeans. His scuffed leather boots, cracked and worn with age moved silently as he walked on the desert pavement. His eyes dark and glistening, reflecting the fire, were all that I saw under his brimmed cowboy hat. His skin was leathery and dark, a mix of heritages and backgrounds. He walked over to the fire, looked at it cautiously, and then sat next to me on the cedar log. “See?” he said, his lips unperceivable under his mustache, showing me the skull. “Oh turn that off!” he said pointing at the headlamp that was shining brightly in his face. “If your fire couldn’t scare me off, why would you think that your newfangled gadgetry would?” He laughed heartily and I smiled switching the light off and allowing the shy stars to creep back out.

“I think it is a coyote, ‘lissa, what do you think?” I looked at the sun bleached critter’s head in his brown roughened hands. He was a nail biter. “I think you’re right. At least, it is definitely a carnivore.” I was surprised that this man was able to get me to say anything at all, I, after all didn’t know him, did I?

“Heh,” he laughed briskly, “I’m Cisco, Cisco La Sal. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He extended his other hand and shook mine vigorously. He was chilly and cold like the night, his calloused hands were rough like sandpaper against mine. “I’ve seen you out here for a while now. I know where you’ve walked, and I know what you’ve seen. It’s beautiful isn’t it? It’s got a nice blend of textures, I think. If you look over there,” he motioned to the east, “you can see the clays of bentonite. They are such a fine powder. They come in such nice colors: maroons, whites, pinks, and lovely grays. If you watch them when it rains, they melt, like ice cream.”

“And if you look over there, the mesas really add a nice contrast to the draped look of the clays.” He paused for a moment, his voice distance and pensive. “Do you think that there is too much red?” he asks, seriously.

“No, I think it is a really nice mix.” I said, imagining the scene in daylight. “The green is good too. Not overused like in some places, not ostentatious. The blend and balance is just right. There is just enough to remind you how little there is out here.”

We continue shooting the breeze and I smirk at his grumpy descriptions of the snow birds that drive on through this area. “They don’t even feel the sun on their faces or skin. They are too busy dying in their sealed containers. They drive through, pleased by the colors, but longing for a greener home. You aren’t like them, are you? He says, “I’ve seen that look before, the one in your eyes. You’re already lost, aren’t you?

“Yeah,” he smiled, laughing, and I realized that Cisco was the kind of man who seemed ageless. He could have been anywhere from in his late 30s to his mid sixties. Timeless. “Could you pass me a bit of that water there?” he asked.

The hours of the night rolled on. I laugh at his jokes, too crude for most company. I listened to him talk about the mines that are out there and how they lie, now abandoned, but how he remembers the excitement of the miners and their families, their hopes and dreams of utilizing the land for their own gain. “It’s oil that they’re after now,” he remarked, passive and uninvolved. “Boom and Bust
He speaks of his arrowhead collection and how he knows where all the sites are. He drinks my water and I blush at the knowledge he tells me, embarrassed by the sheer number of his finds. “Don’t worry, they’re all in situ really”, he assures me. He tells me about the people who’ve been here before, about how they tried to avoid this place at times. “Bad Spirits” he says, “Bad Water. You call them the Fremont, but that’s not their name at all.” He laughs, and smiled a grin that reveals some missing teeth. “And I ain’t tellin’!” He swigged my water down like it was whiskey.

We talk of various people and friends that he has known well over the years, including Edward Abbey. “We were great friends, Ed, and I. He was one of the few people who’ve I’ve seen eye to eye with. He understood me well. Heck! I even know where the bastard is buried,” he cackled into the night. “He had the same look you do…and see where it got him?” he remarked.

As the night wears down, it gets colder and darker as the fire dies. I’m afraid to move closer to him. I want to hold him to my body, I do. I want nothing more than to shyly place an arm around him and rest my head on his shoulder, but Cisco, is too rough and too distant to really get to know. The age difference doesn’t matter, I want to love him. I know Cisco isn’t the type who loves, at least not in the way I understand it. A distant man, a fickle lover, Cisco’s pleasure comes from denial and from details: the flowers on the cactus, the crazed cracking of bleached bones, the colors of agate and jasper, the withholding of water and the torrential flash floods of spring.

In the morning, by sunrise, he is gone, but I hear him singing an eerie haunted song from beyond bluffs, and arroyos–sad and lonely songs. He calls for me, and I follow, smiling at sun bleached bones on my way. Long after I’m gone, Cisco will remember me and whisper my name into the wind and add me to his list of friends and lovers as he gets into his ancient white pickup, its bumper tied on with twine, and drives over the old forgotten roads.


  1. CityRat said,

    July 4, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Cisco isn’t the spirit of the desert, he’s a garou/vampire hybrid.

  2. Ben said,

    July 4, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    A complex naturae would work also, or perhaps even an ancestor spirit.

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