Time for timeout was over. If there were a rock to climb she'd climb it, and what a rock it was. On a bright spring morning its shadow cast out across the desert for miles. At sundown its umbra left the earth to cut the sky in half. It was Tse Bitai, as the Navajo called it, the Winged Sentinel of the Four Corners, the great Ship Rock.
Even at noon in the paschal week it threw out a serrated penumbra, a Clovis point aimed at earth. It defied time and night itself. She'd been lazy today, tired of looking at flowers, so barehanded up the sheer breccia tower she'd climbed, just for the fun of it. Its face was a 5.10 non-trad pump, if you can imagine, but up the lithe little botanist had ascended like a leaf in an updraft, not the full seventeen hundred feet, of course, nobody can do that; this skilled young woman had gone up only as far she could, where, luckily, she had happened upon a sunny small rock strewn cwm at about 66 feet, garnished with a lone improbable Golden Mariposa.
She had been too tired to wonder why it was there, growing out of rock, though it had been her job to wonder why. She had had been working hard, and she needed a few winks. She curled up on the side of this red Olympus, uncaring of her unkempt iron-oxide hair, and in the spring warmth, drifting, her drowsy moss-green-gray merles rolled back -- oh!
-- a start and a sleepy glance. her eyes rolled back then to gaze upon dreamland. Draped on the precipice and as careless as a kitten asleep in the crotch of a tree, there held warmly by her stony Pietà, she floated into deep slumber.
Blanketed in Sol's comforter, the five-and-a-half foot Amazon, cradeled in the Land of Enchantment, watched herself, as dreamers do, dawdling in a different Land without Adam.
She eyed herself searching for a white lily in a garden of pink Carolina Phlox. She surveyed her avatar as it dandled the puple floweres, so delicate, so rare, an Ipomopsis sanct-spiritus offered up to her in the Sangre de Cristos, alive only in the Holy Ghost Canyon. She, lost in a jumble of drifting images and unaware of the Cholla and Prickly Pair and slithering dangers in the motherland below her repose, now dreamt she heard Moki's distant barking urging her to come home.
He seemed so real -- and he had been talking to her earlier but she couldn't understand -- and, and -- but his entreaties -- and, and -- he had become garbled, muffled as a penitent's prayer in a Cape Hatteras hurricane, or murmers, as if by her sweet and frail and Baptist, deep Southern, Miss Granny Smith.
"Moki!" It was the alarm-bark going off, rousing her with the unwilling urgency of a schoolgirl waking late for the bus. It was Mom's hurry up call. Now! Moki needed his water.
Now! A botanist needed her work! Now! (Well, mostly.) The field survey was supposed to be done today. Get it done, girl. Now! Relocate that Calypso bulbosa. Find that seep. Go! Wake up! "Ohhhhh, I'm coming", she moaned to herself. She rolled onto her tummy and elongated into a lazy feline stretch, her skin a pink tabby of welts from her rock-sand bedstead.
She had dreamt, or had she imagined it, hmmm, not sure, or had she just now remembered some sticky North Carolina summer six years ago?
Parties and politics, beer, philosophy and sex before graduation, love and babies, and the drip of salt her tongue had wiped from her young friend's penis.
She droopily glanced over her shoulder at the wide Navajo plains below and took a salt lick from her muskeg forearm. She nuzzled it, trying to recapture the taste of him and the heavy sweet odor of his upraised arm, but it was not he.
She had turned tail on love with a man. She was independent: It was her nature. She rolled onto her behind and sprang up -- "C'mon Susan, get moving", she growled under her breath, and in a quick salute she shaded her eyes just as a Captain surveys the horizon above the eternal seas.
She imagined the San Juan basin's misty rises and mesas to be frozen swells which were never to crash upon this Galleon of the Desert, though they shimmered and rolled in the spring's sun warmed eddies.
They spread across the surface of an immobile ocean, still but for the Pronghorn detritus drifting upon it. This great sparkling desert lagoon enfolded her Great Ship and she felt safe upon its high deck.
"Hey!" she cried out. She spied that seep she had been looking for all morning, and it was right over there in a little arroyo, only a 660 yard dash away from the great Titan's foot. Strange there would be slickrock nearby, considering the geology of the place, but hey, who was she to argue with Creation's creation? So, armed with the view of the waters above the firmament, she decided to go to the waters below it. She wanted to hurry. She was tired and she wanted to go home. She had been in the field for six weeks by now.
"You bet," she chortled in time with her syncopated thoughts, "check it out and thy grid be done, eh Professor? Find the flower, just find the flower and get some Ph.D. smiles, huh? A bath too! Get paid -- money, yeah, money, money! Yup. Good Life. Warm bath? Yeah, oh you bet, bed bath and beyond." Deciding to go she stepped over the edge of the sheer crag and peered straight down.
"Don't rock-a-bye with vertigo now -- be very careful --" she warned herself, and checked her route descending. It was only a 5.5 scramble, much easier than Mama Jugs over at Très Piedras and -look- there was Moki right there down below, really not all that small when viewed from way up here and sounding like he was yaowling from as close as the basement stairs.
Why was it, she wondered, that high seems so much higher than long seems long?
She was only sixty-six feet up, but what a drop. On the level ground she could have crossed it in merely nine or ten bounds. "I guess we really aren't supposed to leave this good earth" she pondered.
For all she knew heaven might be only as high as a stroll across the garden is distant. In any case it was too far to jump with only beat-up kneepads to cushion the fall, and only Angels can fly, as everybody knows, for goodness sake.
The kneepads were for tonight anyway. There were also 1600 feet of intimidating stone standing erect behind her, and Moki was being just as insistently loud in any direction.
It was time to shove off. Moki, as in Mookie Wookie, Chucky Chookie, Dookie Dookie was an Australian Shepherd, called an Aussie by most, a midsized dog. This one was a midget of a man clad in a shiny black McIntosh, the shoulders over which his mother had casually thrown a white furry stole. For color, she had given him one eye of brown and the other of blue, and had added a dollop of copper above each for good luck.
His young owner loved his colors. But mostly, she loved his friendship and his loyalty. She was comfortable with his size, too. She had come to hate big ugly dogs ever since her Dad's Mastiff had torn and tortured her and taken her from the front a long time ago. "Hey Mook! I'm comin'!" she yelled. She couldn't tell if he had heard her or not. Seemingly the same updraft that carried his implorations up to her deflected hers to him, as if the Seraphim had come to bat them away.
So: Down: Quickly. This Tomb Raider of the sky had awakened to her catamenial time and the pressure of her monthly rhythm. Soon, blood would flow from the seep of her womb and in-between her open legs, when her little prince would feed the multitude of his lusts.
She was obligated. It was her rhythm. It was her nature. "Well, let's go," she thought. "Why is it always easier to go down than to climb up?" She slung her backpack over her camisole -- Ow! a little sunburn. "Ha, a little heat for a long cold naked night", she thought was a sly smile.
Eyeing the route again, she swung around and cast her socks and Swooshes over the edge as nonchalantly as stepping onto a New York fire escape. It was easy purchase, but her first step would be a wide stretch to the right. No problem, though, so she opened her legs and -- whee -- a puff of updraft fingered up her loincloth shorts. It was the cool touch of a fisherman's hand; and it lifted the scent of her own bait to her.
The chilly touch hurried her on. She noted the sun had swung to the west.
So, being a woman who judges while she works, and therefore always seems to see ahead, she leapt from jag to jag like a cougar mounting a ridge. Each jump she took in the huff and puff was a leap of faith, an utter joy of flight, as safe as Icarus at midnight. "-- But say: be careful! Think. A living dog is better than a dead lion, y' know.
You're no eagle with a nest among the stars, woman. Test first. Cling tight. Master Moki. Sex tonight. Now go. Third of the way, half of the way, most of the way down, dash away, prance away, black furry down, and -- Oh rats!" Here she came to a ledge, just wide enough to creep along. A mouse scurrying along a shelf would go faster. Should she take it on all fours or creep along clutching the wall? She reflected a moment. Her backpack might throw her off balance, and she still had to negotiate an outthrust at the end, so in one movement she slid it off and pitched it down over the side.
It was no sacrifice. By now she was only 20 feet above the desert floor and there wasn't anything in it that would break -- except. Moki! "Wow. Are you okay, Mook?" She looked down and bellowed with concern. He could've been sitting under a balcony when the thing came down like a bomb and nearly brained him. He had jumped six feet out of his skin and was scurrying around picking up bits and pieces, but otherwise he seemed fine. When he looked up, though, he seemed to say to her that she would get hers later.
"What did you say to me?" she rasped as she tilted her head like a Bobcat eyeing a vole. "You know, I could stay up here for ever if I wanted to, and there's nothing you could do about it. New Mexico is full of cute little Chihuahuas, but there's only one of me." Then, when she flicked her pony tail as extra defiance, by God, if he didn't wink back at her, or maybe it was just a wild hair, who knows?
Well, inch along it was going to be. The lady climber squished against the wall, kneading the rock. A breakout here could be trouble. She had to be sure of her grip. This was her last caress of the Titan so as a goodbye it puffed dust into her mouth and made her swallow.
"A little too much salt of the earth", she thought. Cautiously, she tread to the right. The dust which had settled on the ledge yesterday or millennia ago looked to be as fine as baby powder and may have been just as slippery, so with each cigarette smushing step she ground her tenneys down to bedrock. It wasn't tough going, but she attended to each placement of hand and foot, looking both up and then down like a bored parishioner at prayer.
As she did, her nodding pony tail feather-dusted the excess soot from her pink sensitive back and tickled the spot that the backpack had irritated. It foretold of a velvety stole that would caress her later that night, and she juiced a little, like the seep, the damp where a mother's flower becomes a seed.
Well, here she was at the outcrop with Moki barking instructions from below. Hell, there was no need for all that noise.
Brother, howling like a man who has abandoned all hope. Come on. Gees. "Awright, awright, hold your pants on", she grumbled her irritation. "I'll be there in a second." She would have to concentrate to get around this jut, and she didn't need some inhuman screeching in her ear. Out she stretched into the ether, all sixty-six inches of her, until her limbs were as taught as a bosque Cottonwood. Ah. There. Footing, blind it was, but footing. Now all she had to do was circumnavigate this thing by slithering around its base.
Not hard, but ouuuuu, the breccia gouged and pinched and scratched at her tits like a sadistic lover. She was happy her breasts weren't all that big: The way they were compressed, a couple of springy boobs would uncoil and sproing her right into the nether world. Now it was only six jumps rock to rock, and she would be at her Master's door. Bounce. Bouncy. Bounce. By now she was so dusty she poofed like an open bottle of Talcum powder.
Bounce. Bounce -- whoa! -- a little far that last one. Her sudden stop made her rock and sway for balance and flail like a kitten at a baptism. Steady, steady now. This next jump would have to be a four-point landing. She crouched, this great Lioness, this noble Huntress, this Fearsome Predator. Her loins a-quiver, muscles taut for the kill, eyes fixed on the prey, she pou.
"Awwwwww". "Moki! Move -- you're in the way." She sounded more puzzled than angry. Why was he right there anyway? "Come on Mook, move. Mooooove, pleeeze." She waved him off like a bad landing on a carrier.
He was reluctant. Then it dawned on her, of course: He could smell her, and probably he had smelled her all the way down the face. Sure, that was it. They had been at this current camp, no more than a cooler and an icky old sleeping bag on the ground, for six days already.
He didn't smell so bad, for a dog or an eidolon anyway, but fair Susan was so dirty she looked like a piece of basalt and reeked like a chunk of sulfur. All the better for him, though; she was just the way he liked her: She stank to high Heaven. "Okay, a little more", she kept waving "okay, okay, more if you want'a bite of this apple of your eye.
Just one more step -- good." He was out of the way. "Okay, here I come! Okay?" She waggled. "Okay.
Okay, here I come.!" She sprang like a Lynx. Plop -- she alighted into a crouch right in front of him. "Miss me, big guy?" She almost meowed with Cheshire smiles. If anyone had had any doubt a yelp meant a yip yup, their reunion was nose to nose, eye to eye to eye, blue n' brown n' green-gray n' scratch n' sniff n' snuff n' stuff, home for Christmas, graduation day, chocolate chip cookie joy.
They petted and panted. They wagged pony and puppy dog tails; they flounced and pounced, and popping open the final bottle of Evian from the backpack, they lapped it to the last. So sated, they shared her scent, his scent, and their last supper of Fig Newtons. He showed some pink, and she grew damp: time to finish. Get to camp. "Not long", she purred. She meant it. She gave her word. Thus he marked the spot and off they went, his tail a flapping vestment, her backpack a trailing supplicant scraping across the desert floor.
The two finished the day in quiet. They had no real need to talk because it seemed each could guess the other's thoughts.
They were a team, after all, so well-trained that back in North Carolina the two had been Triad Flyball champs, founders of the team The Bleu Bayous, in fact. She could charge him out of the gate and down the course with a wink and a nod, and he would respond instantly.
At his peak Moki had run the course in 15:36, a near state record. God, they had been good. They had just loved showing off in front of a crowd of bright and caring, shining, admiring eyes, Lord, oh yes they did; but after a while he had lost a step and a second, and then he had lost some more. It wasn't fun anymore, he seemed to say, and Susan had agreed. Anyway, for a no-nonsense kind of girl like her, Botanical Survey, the stuff of the professoriate, was so much more satisfying than had been Environmental Reclamation, with its mucking around in menses-red Carolina gumbo, steaming with who-knows-what toxins, with its spying on sweltering, stinking pig farms and their owners, and with her jacking off overheated Tarheel undergrads during sticky evenings' diversions.
The desert, on the other hand, she knew to be pure in its dry contrasts of color and light, hot and cold, good and evil. It left no doubt. That was its nature. The two made their way to the seep in no time, just in time. The sun was low and the desert's daily breath was waning. Its last puffs waft cold: it's Legion's chilled hands stroked wavelets of goose bumps onto her naked arms and legs. The girl wasn't tired now, but knowing she must stay naked for the next many hours in Easter week chill already had turned her body languid.
She longed for the toasty glow of her bright afternoon nap, the cuddle-up warmth of her bedroll -- "Nonsense. C'mom. Focus --" she scolded herself. She knew she must put all of that out of her mind, warmth, softness, goodness, and such. She must suffer in the cold tonight. She must become a Piscean sacrifice there to feed some unseen multitude.
She had to. It was her nature now. She was compelled. Once six years ago as a rebellious post-grad gamine, as just another flaky summertime runaway to the Big City, then one smoggy August eve she had offered body and soul just for the fun of it.
It had been a hazy, boozily spinning, kinky kind of alkaloid ritual, just a stupid Passion play gametic stunt when it started, when she had lain upon a Cross inside a Pentagram on a New York rooftop. That's all. That's what she had thought then. That's what she had thought then amid a swirl of cats' eyes and the scent of Rosemary as she splayed out like an Ichthus scratched onto a Roman floor. That's what the girl had thought, wrongly, in her ignorance. There are no prayers uttered in jest, neither from a Gotham rooftop nor from the high places of Tophet: So now she was obligated.
Now she was compelled. She had sacrificed her innocence, so now she had an Owner, so now she had a Watchdog. She was driven on. She had to finish the work of the day to start the work of the night.
With an explosion of activity, she noted such things as time, temperature, topology, GPS location, and surrounding flora. Thus occupied she had not noticed that the sunset had fired her Great Rock into the fury of a jealous lover, turning its face red against the darkening sky.
Just as the self-absorbed always seem to do, she remained oblivious until its reflected pink light cast an accusing finger of shadow across her field notes as her pencil coupled with its page.
So strong had been her dwelling place, however, her nest that had set in rock this morning, that the Winged Sentinel pulled at her and beckoned her to come back. Sighing, she felt its wistful tug in the way a traveler remembers a goodbye kiss, but the light of the world was fading, still and all, and she had to complete her journey.
"Here it is!" the young botanist proclaimed. Here in the slanting adumbration she spied what she had come to find. Peeking out from behind a tuft of the terrible Tribulus terrestris, the noxious Goathead, and undistinguished but to the experienced eye, sprang the ethereal shoots of the lavender crowned Calypso orchid. They were so light-green fresh and new, so small, fragile and winsome she wondered if they must have grown in the land of Adam.
In this seep, as the lily among the thorns, sprouting in this moist crack was proof that purity could stand alone among the slithering dangers in the land of Cholla and Prickly Pear&hellip. "Of which vertu engendred is the flour" as her frail ol' Granny Smith used to say. The girl smiled at the dear memory.
"With some April showers… I miss you Granny. look down on me." She asked as she paused in a contemplation that took no more time than a missed step. "Zip. Pow! Done!" she bellowed, jabbing her fist upward in a power salute.
"I'll be home tomorrow!" She snapped her notebook closed and plunked it into the backpack. "Hallelujah!" The echo from the Big Rock was the last spoken word the girl would hear until the next day when the Professor would travel up Route 666 from Gallup. Unlike the boisterous warmth of breezy midmorning, the stasis of night would demand utter quiet of her.
She knew that. Of course, in the beginning had been the Word, and from her a whole chatterbox full, but in the inner ring of darkness she would become too cold to speak. The two, she and he, could finish the night in silence, though. They had done it before. They were a team, after all, and tonight he would be Captain, and control her with a wink and a nod. Moki, always impatient, knew how to push her along. Like a Centurion prodding a captive his incessant bumping kept goosing his little slave onward.
Down in the arroyo, after they had crossed over a dry stream marked Cocytus on the grid map, he halted the girl and allowed her one look back at her loving, fading purple Ship Rock. Her work was done, and he must have known Susan would not pass this way again. Did he know that the pride of her heart had deceived her, she who had dwelt in the clefts of the rock, whose habituation had been high; that she had said in her heart, "Who shall bring me down to the ground?" Did she even know it herself?
Up and out of the gloomy well he nuzzled her, and then he pulled on the backpack once, twice, three times. As on command his chattel revealed her collar, a simple device of restraint, which she presented to him as reverently as a chalice, as a grail. She raised it to her neck, and snapped it into place. It had no adornment except a "D" ring on a strap which hung down her breastplate, but it held in it the universal meaning of submission.
He owned her. Moki never wore a collar of course, but in sex she must. He knew his bitch never doubted it. He divined she never had to: they were a team, after all, so well trained that even short of camp, little more than, really, a beat up sleeping bag and a cooler perched on a rise, he could bump her to a stop, sniff her to her back, force her legs apart, and as he had done often when they had been a-froggin' back East, roll in her carp to conceal his own scent.
He would be quick though, with his perfuming ritual, brief this evening, because tonight not even this unhallowed choreographer could defy time and night itself.
He had obligations too. He was as ed as instinct, without the choices his co-star may have had just this morning. His dark little film noir had a firm play date and it was plotted under a starless proscenium, so he nipped her up and onward toward that stinky old sleeping bag, her ill-lit stage.
He pranced her along, salivating less with intelligence than with the Pavlovian anticipations of the specticle to come. Could he visualize this child's comedic shakings as a mockery of a girl shivering to death, or did he predict the future in the way the soulless always seem to do? He had come to expect her infantile moans, those faminiar delightful soliloquies of icy suffering, but in the end it did not matter, neither to him, nor to the unhearing umber universe above, nor any longer to the Great Rock, near but forgotten.
-- -- And the award goes to. well done. Bravo! Encore! -- -- Good boy. Nice puppy. The Sun was dying over the edge of the world, so it was less than night and less than day in camp. Red was black; white was gray. Against creation's last glow Moki observed his little bitch puff into the static evening air checking to see her breath, judging the temperature thereby. Not frosty tonight, he saw, not yet anyway, but soon it would be too dark to tell even with her moss-green-grays, or with his blue and brown, with a dollip of copper.
They were a team, however, these two, so with a wink and a nod he had her unfurl the mise-en-scene where he would stage her, --Crackle and Fwap!-- She did so with such a fly-cast snap he started aback a few feet. He steadied though, when his fading bratling fished into her backpack for her kneepads and then landed them home with an authoritative Velcro crunch. She seemed so unhesitating, so self-assured, so almost eager, knowing what was to come. Was there something he did not know?
Could she defy time and the night itself? He watched as the girl dimmed to an apparition in the evening's amber glow. To him all became gray as all becomes gray to those without a soul.
His eyes could no longer follow her as she flicked off her Kleenex shorts and tissue camisole. They vanished into the living black. His world had become flat now and she was without contrast. Her lilting mons pubis was all he could see of her in the breathless din. He watched her blend into a floating detritus on a murky lagoon as she became merely a triangle of black sex hovering disembodied over a dark unforgiving sea. Her eyes were gone and she had no shape. Thus this fearsome Mistress of the Day who while she had the light, believed in the light, that she might be a child of the light, in his world clotted into a dark gelid shell of fishy incense, rotting taste, and warm cunt only.
In starlessness the sire would breed her. He would batter her perineum. He would bloody her cervix. He would make her bleat like a demon if he wanted to. He would degrade this formless breathless child on a blackened stage in an unseen amphitheater beside the Winged Sentinel of Heaven. He would tie with her for hours, in his pleasure letting her freeze before a crowd of uncaring obsidian eyes.
He had to. He was obligated. He was compelled. It was his nature. Epilogue Time has slipped away from me, fifteen years since I wrote the allegory. I have defied nether time nor night itself, nor its infirmities. Just as in memory the narrative and the wish become one, so its passions and meanings blend to and indistinct whole.
What did the story mean? Did she survive that night? The professor found her mid-morning the next day, laying spread-eagle and naked on that ratty old knapsack.
She was groggy and incoherent. She remembered only cold darkness and a feeling of being adrift throughout the night. Moki was lounging about 60 yards away, quiet, but watching as always. This he told me in an email, not in a text, a few months later. The professor mentioned that he had wrapped Susan in some blankets, revived her with a swill of Old Gawdawful, and washed her feet as best he could. He said he rushed her to San Juan Regional in Farmington, where she recovered within a few days.
The professor brought her home to the McDonald Ranch in the Jornada del Muerto to regain her strength. She left him six days later, trusting Moki to his care. She said she had things to do in North Carolina and would call soon. He never heard from her again. Moki lived on for a while, but died somewhere on the ranch outside of Alamogordo. The professor said he had died from a Legion of distempers, but I infer that he had shot him. The professor too, has gone missing. I tried to contact him last Easter to tell him that I may have found Susan on Facebook, wrongly, as it turns out, but he has left the college, and his IP address, so the provider tells me, never existed.
His ranch wasn't a ranch at all anymore, but was part of a government property. He was a mystery. I wish I had known him better. I don't know what happened to Susan. The highway from Gallop has been renamed.