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Dispatches from Atlantis #16

SHAPESHIFTER (Part 2)

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IT WAS ON THIS PARTICULAR TRIP to the Valley of Fire that I learned smoking pot, while perhaps relaxing as a ritual, was a complete waste of psychoactive investment while in the throes of a powerful LSD experience. The tripper might congratulate themselves on having discerned the various weedy and pungent flavors in their particulate draw,  but ultimately, the cosmic pinball show that was the night sky and the Mojave desert asserted themselves once more in the forefront of consciousness.

“Hey guys,” Jeff said. "Why don’t we go for a walk now?  Now that the moon’s higher you can kinda see.”

The group quickly agreed to hike out into the wash by the Seven Sisters rock formation. They vowed to stick together. Seventy yards out into the wash, Jeff suddenly said, “okay, okay, lets get in the middle of this Doppler shift!”

I thought I heard Ron audibly sigh.

“What dude?” Jeff barked.

“Sshh, shh not so loud dude,” Dina implored. Ron shrugged and turned west, rolling his eyes at me on the way to posturing like a mock Jesus. I stood farther out than the rest.

Soon enough the pattern of an approaching rustling sound, the wind, the roar of the plane and then ultimately the plane itself as it passed nearly overhead. I wondered if the Key Air pilots were able to see us down here. Nah, probably not.

Before the plane passed from view I began trekking further out into the wash, feeling like I wanted to take the lead. Fifteen feet later, a sage bush to my right began to rustle sharply, and I could see a large, dark shape fling itself upward from the bush and then fly off, quickly disappearing in the night sky.

Ron had heard it as well. “What was that Paul?”

“I think that was one big ass bat.”

We waited for Jeff and Dina to catch up with us before going any further. Ron and I said nothing to each other. We didn’t need to.

Another fifty yards out and the landscaped seemed to change some. We were approaching a larger slope.

“Whadda ya think guys?  Do we go over, around, back or smoke a bowl?” Jeff asked.

“Smoking weed now is just a waste of it,” I said in protest. “It’s wasting money. I can’t possibly imagine the weed having an effect on me at this point.”

Jeff passed me his bowl. “Does that mean you don’t want the green rip?”

“As a matter of fact, yes it does. I don’t feel like I need it at…oh Christ, give it here.”

Maybe smoking the bowl was a good thing. I wasn’t too crazy about wandering farther out into a genuine wilderness, especially with some doubt in my head about just what the hell sorts of creatures were living in it. As it turned out, I didn’t have to say anything. Starting back to the car by the roadside rock formation, Ron and I exchanged the quick glance. We weren’t going to get too far ahead or behind the group this time.

                                 

Sandwich fixings were greedily devoured back at Jeff’s truck. The ambient space jams on the truck’s stereo had given way to indigenous flute dirges. Ron was pushing for Jimi Hendrix. He was soundly voted down but a compromise was made in favor of the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The strains of Badalamente pouring out into this wild night time landscape fit perfectly.

On later trips to this same piece of magical Earth I would stare at individual stars so hard that I imagined myself trying to remember what it was like to be a part of a star once, as if there might be some wild memory of that time still carried inside the matter that made up my body. I felt like I got really, really close once. But I was nowhere near that sort of “enlightenment” or spontaneous combustion on this excursion. In fact I felt like maybe most of the “sid” had worn off and I was actually ready to crash after some more snacking.

An hour of or so of mindless banter and another wasted bowl of weed later, we decided to try sleeping, although Jeff was going to go recline back out on the red rocks that made up the Seven Sisters right next to us. The music stayed soft, and yet something bothered me.

“Ron,” I said, “you wanna go check out the memorial in the morning?  In daylight?  Just to see if…”

“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.


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About Paul Corman-Roberts


Paul Corman-Roberts had coffee and donuts with Eldridge Cleaver in 1995 and once pulled a graveyard shift at a Circle K during the Rodney King riots. He misses working in theater.

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