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“Yeah, sure no problem man.”
Within an hour of that discussion we both slept fitfully.
At one point in the early morning I woke, and heard a wind howling outside the truck. It was like an enormous gust one could hear coming down the road, whipping around the rock formation, and then flying back out into the open desert, only to return five minutes later or so. Once I made myself get up and open the hatch, just to watch and see if I could see anything. As the gust approached, I found myself feeling nervous, and closed the hatch back shut. Looking out the window, I couldn’t see anything, and the strangest part of all was that not once did the wind ever blow directly into our little cove where the truck sat. I lay back down, feeling cold, and listening to the long, slow volley and return of what almost seemed like a miniature tornado, a dust-devil forever stuck in a long slow orbit around a state park. I remember thinking I couldn’t hear it anymore and fell back asleep until just before sunrise.
The only phenomenon that matches a sunset in a red rock valley is a sunrise in such a setting. Indeed, the Valley of Fire looked to be igniting for just a few moments, and had there been fresh shimmering heat undoubtedly it would have felt like it. But the high desert air was still cool and even invigorating despite our long night. There were only vestiges of the drugs left in our systems, and this sobered, daylight feeling seemed as if it might be more conducive now to exploration.
All four of us rehydrated with water, orange juice and devoured the last of the snacks and spare sandwich scraps. Then we drove out to the memorial marker.
Jeff pulled the truck over onto the turnout where the old cavalryman’s memorial marker stood. I climbed out of the back of the truck to survey the near landscape where I’m sure something that wanted to bleed my mortal coil out the previous night had been dwelling.
The first thing I noticed was the swarm of flying things which turned out to be bats; thousands and thousands of extremely small flying mice. Too small to be birds, and too large to be insects, I told myself that it would be no problem making my way out to the marker. Looking out and beyond, I saw nothing extraordinary other than the cross sitting on a mound of dirt about the size of a pitcher’s mound, and all the flying rodents, who seemed timid enough to keep a safe distance away from the four of us smelly humans standing on the side of the road.
I decided they didn’t dare come near me. I looked over at Ron.
“You in?” I asked. His answer was predictable.
“Nah, not really.” I didn’t care. I was going down and I was going to see the spot where this man dehydrated to death with his burro for real.
Able to easily scale down the gravel face of the hill, about 20 feet steep, I started hiking toward the mound in the distance. I was feeling pretty full of myself, thinking that these little flying rodents weren’t going to be much of a problem at all. when all of a sudden, there was the enormous dark shape, flinging itself up into the sky but this time, dive-bombing in a direct line with a point just in front of me. I took an instinctive step back. The shape (a bat? Was it a bat? ) was flinging itself up into the air again. It didn’t look like all these other tiny bats? It was at least five times the size of them.
And as I stood there gawking like the idiot fool I was, it was now clearly divebombing directly at me. My friends started yelling for me to get away, and I didn’t need to hear it again. I scrambled up the embankment a quarter of the way before daring to look back over my shoulder and yes, there was monster bat, but veering away, not even…flying? That was the crazy thing, it wasn’t even flying but like a projectile weaving through the air.
By the time I made it back up to the roadside it was gone, but everyone had seen it.
“Okay, so I’m not fucking crazy, right?”
“That was just the king bat motherfucker protecting his territory Paul, that’s all,” said Jeff.
“It didn’t even look like a bat. C’mon, you gotta admit this is weird. Right down here where Ron and I heard that…fuckin’ noise.”
Dispatches from Atlantis #16 continues...