Turning off the highway onto the back road to the reservation is a bitch because the road runs right across an alluvial bajada and the washboard road rattles the wheels. Worse are the inconstant mounds of sand accumulated by the wind you cant see in the dark. When one side of the car climbs one and then descends with a crash it feels like the axle’s been trashed. I havent traveled far onto this medieval path when i see something black in the middle of the road and i swerve and stop the car.
What RU doing? Liz says.
Stopping, i say. That black thing in the road.
It’s just a dead animal. Drive around it.
No. I want to have a look at it, whatever it is.
You’re not getting out of the car, she says.
I turn on her and say hatefully, Oh, no? Just watch me!
It’s cold out on this barrial as i take a flashlight and walk over to it. It turns out to be a dead hawk. I can tell even before i put the flashlight beam on it because i see its feathers ruffling in the night wind. I cast the light on it and raise one wing and let it fall. Cold yellow eye dead to the black firmament above. A big Red Tail. I pick it up by one wing and carry it to the ditch beside the road and drop it into the wiregrass there. A curse and omen from and offering to the dark lord that scours this place with ash and sand.
Back in the car i give Liz a withering look and drive to the trading post and stop and park.
This place looks like a fucked up Cracker Barrel, i say.
That’s what i thought, Liz says.
I get out of the car and she gets out of the car and i say, Where do we go?
He just said come back tonight. That’s all he said.
An indian boy steps noiselessly out of the shadows and says to Liz, Who’s this guy?
Oh, uh, this is my friend Max, Coyote.
I invited you, he hisses like an Asian. Just you. And BTW my name’s Eddie, not Coyote. To me: When i told Liz my name was Coyote i was just fucking with her head.
And i think, any douchebag who calls himself Coyote even as a joke is out to prove something and if you’re not careful he’ll prove it on you.
Liz says, Yeah, i know but this is really important for both of us.
Sorry, he says.
Wait! Liz says. You cant just leave.
Because i know this symbol, i say, holding out the pendant. It means something to me.
Please, Liz says. It’s important.
Finally he says, There will be a test. If you pass it River Dog will answer all your questions.
Liz and i look at each other and she says, Let’s go.
He sighs heavily and points his flashlight into the chaparral. We just stand here like fools until he stops and turns back to us and says, Well. RU coming or not?
We follow into the bracken and walk thru high bloodweeds and wire grass and sacahuista. Beyond and thru arroyos where there are tracks of dragons. Liz and i are hopelessly out of shape and can barely keep up.
It seems like we’ve been walking all night when Liz says, Eddie, uh, how much further?
It’s very close, he says.
Max, Liz says, I dont think this is such a good idea. We’ve been walking for too long.
Liz, fatigue makes cowards of us all, i say. Hey, Eddie. Where exactly RU taking us?
You’re here, he says.
We’re here? I say.
We’re where? Liz says.
Good luck, Coyote/Eddie says. He snaps off his flashlight and seems to vaporize into the cold night.
No! Liz says, panting. Eddie. Eddie, U cant just leave us here.
Eddie, goddamnit, i say, wheezing. Eddie!
In the paleness of my flashlight we both stand demoralized and puffing. What are we going to do? Liz pants.
Goddamn that little faggot, i say.
I cannot believe any of this, she says at the precipice of hysteria. I start to turn and try to retrace our steps when Liz says, No. Max, look.
I follow her eyes to where the mouth of a cave yawns politely at us. We go in and i hope there are no bats. Somewhere there is a thud and i drop the flashlight and it goes out and i hear Liz scream.
Liz, where RU? I yell into the blackness.
She just screams again.
Let her go, i say to whatever is in here.
I have the pendant in my hands. Suddenly it erupts into a violent burst of white light. I knew the stone was old, an artifact of a pre-anglo culture but it was always heavy, dead, inert. Now it positively hums and throbs in my hands, crying to be free to sing its ancient songs of earth and power. In its light i see Liz beside me.
Who RU? I say to the tall indian in front of me that looks like sitting bull.
You have passed the test, River Dog says to me calmly. I used to know someone like you. I didnt know where he came from or why he was here.
River Dog lights torches and ensconces them in orifices in the cave wall and i can really see for the first time in hours.
He stayed pretty much to himself, River Dog goes on. But he befriended me and everyone here. He began to trust me.
Do U know where i can find him? I say.
I havent seen him in fifty years or more. Besides me the only man he trusted was Atherton. The man gave Atherton his necklace. The one you now have.
What happened to him? I say.
Atherton was murdered, he says.
Who killed him?
The man killed him.
Maybe he was defending himself, i say. Atherton was a UFO nut. He couldve been trying to expose him or somehow hurt him.
I was too far away to see what happened. But when i reached them Atherton was dead.
When was this? I say.
That i can tell you. It was November 1959. I have one more thing to show you. It’s why it was necessary to bring you out here. This way.
Into an adjacent chamber of this warren where hieroglyphs glow oddly in the torchlight. I think of the cave paintings at Lascaux in France, 35,000 years old but they were just pictures. This is a language with a pictographic alphabet.
Did he draw this? I say.
Yes. He said someday you would come.
I run my hands over the bas-relief glyphs and feel an emotional shock just beyond the threshold of recognition or memory.
It seems familiar, i say. Like i somehow know what it means but i cant remember.
It must be some sort of language, Liz says.
Well, duh, Liz, i say.
He was afraid they were going to kill him, River Dog says brusquely.
IDK. He felt they were close to finding him so he had to leave. I promised i would never share this information with anyone unless they passed the test.
Has anyone else come? Anyone else passed?
No. No one.
So this has some kind of meaning. A message for us, i say. Perhaps it’s a warning.
IDK, River Dog says wearily. It’s time 4U2 leave.
Can i come again? I say.
No. I’ve kept my promise. There’s nothing more i can tell you. Nothing 4U2 learn. Not here.
I turn and start to walk away. Liz starts to leave but River Dog says to her, Wait. UR not one of them.
Liz? I say irritably.
Make sure he deserves your trust, he says to her gravely.
Let’s go, i say.
As we are walking back thru the chaparral i say to Liz, Well, dushka, it just kills me to admit it but you finally did something right for the very first time. By coming here, i mean.
She tries to take my hand but i yank it away. It seems like hours pass before we emerge from the brush and onto the bajada road. Liz tries to put her arm around me and i push her to the side roughly.
Dont get so close to me, i say. And dont touch me. I dont like you.
Later i will find that from that night on i can make my eyes glow in the dark at will like i’ve always wanted. With a little work i can even narrow my pupils to slits, like a serpent’s.
Now that is really something.
MARIA AND MICHAEL AND IZZIE
Inside the closed, dark Crashdown Maria and Izzie and Michael wait nervously for any news. Liz and Max and they had had to work a complex shell game to shake Topolsky’s dogged surveillance that had involved multiple car changes and passenger shuffling. It has not helped anyone’s mood.
When Michael gets tired of pacing he comes over to where the women are sitting at the counter talking and says, What do we do?
We wait, Izzie says with alien coldness. They’ve only been gone a little over an hour.
I’m telling you this sucks a moose’s cock. Right? They’re out there on my vision quest and i’m sitting here with a couple of girls yakking.
That very interesting, Michael, Maria says. You know some women of the Twenty First Century might find that last remark a tad offensive.
Michael sits astride the counter like it is a horse. Why? He says, taking off the plastic cover over a chocolate cake.
Why? Maria says.
Welcome to Michael Land, Izzie says.
I hope you intend to pay for that cake, Maria says as Michael eats it.
I dont, he says.
Then that’s theft, buddy, Maria says.
Michael dumps a load of tobasco sauce on the cake and says, So what? Bust me.
Izzie starts eating the cake with her fingers. Maria says, So what’s with all the tobasco sauce?
Sweet and spicy, Michael says.
Sweet and spicy? Maria says, bewildered.
Izzie says, We like things very sweet mixed with something very spicy. Whoever genetically engineered us didnt give us human taste buds. Everything tastes like cardboard.
Well, Maria says. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
Michael smiles at Maria and says, You do that.
Maria smiles involuntarily and lowers her eyelids but does not stop smiling.
Izzie looks at them incredulously and says RU2 flirting? Excuse me while i go throw up.
Izzie flees in disgust into the kitchen. A wave of nerves hits Maria and she starts compulsively filling up the sugar containers. She says, This is taking too long. They’re in trouble.
Calm down, Michael says.
We should go out there, Maria says.
They’ll follow us.
Then what are we supposed to do?
Now i know why Isabel left, Maria says. You’re obviously the last person to be around in a crisis.
We were told to sit here and wait till they come back. And that’s what i’m doing. I’m not freaking. You are.
I am not freaking!
You keep pouring sugar from one container to the other and back again. Quit it! It’s driving me insane.
I wish you would say something, she says, louder.
What do you want me to say?
IDK what. Just something to make me feel calm, to make me feel like it’s going to be alright.
Maybe it wont be alright. Can you grasp that?
Thanx! That helps a ton.
What do you want me to do? He screams.
Shut up then!
I hate you!
Likewise! He bellows.
All i ask of you is to just try to make me feel a little better. Be a real guy or something. Oh, forget it. I’m obviously barking up the wrong tree.
She walks away and faces the wall. Michael spins her around and kisses her on the mouth and she kisses him back hard and it lasts all of ten seconds and they are panting when they pull away from each other.
That was to calm you down, he says.
Thanks, she says.
Neither knows what to do after that. They walk away and sit in opposite sides of the big room.