Desert Talk
Essays, poems and other creative writing

By Space Cowboy

The three horses sized me up. I stood perfectly still as they looked down on

They smell our water, Mason said softly as he stepped to my side.

They're big, I answered, not daring to look away.

You said you'd seen em in here before.

Never this close.

Mason stepped up between me and them, and stared with the eyes of a dead man,
straight through the giant beasts in front of us.

After awhile the lead horse snorted, turned and meandered away on unshod
hooves. The others followed. They disappear around the monolith we were
camped up against.

If they want our water, Mason offered blandly, they can pretty much come in
and take it.

I blinked.

So, we're going to be mugged by wild horses?

Mason didn't answer, staring grimly where the horses had disapeared. Finally,
he stepped back.

Grab your bladder.

I walked to my backpack and pulled the two and a half gallon water bladder
out, then turned to where Mason had crawled into the mouth of the Cave From
Hell. I stood there for a second. He looked out from the jaws of the cave,
one hand reaching toward me.


I looked back at him.

I'd never have picked this spot if I'd known the Cave from Hell was here, I
answered. Mason lowered his hand a bit and waited.

From The Garden of Earthly Delights," I continued. "The right side panel
is Hell, and that?s the cave from it.

Mason leaned back out of the stone cave and looked up the spiraling boulder.
A single rock six feet across and twenty feet tall, it was, like so many other
stones in Moon valley, a monolith. The cave, which faced into camp, had been
eaten out by wind and rain just above the ground. If not exactly like the
craven cave in Dosch?s Hell, close enough. Mason turned back to me.

The water please.

I handed him the bladder and my spare canteen. Mason stuck them on a ledge in
the back of the cave.

Horses can't get in there.

If they can, we're going home, I answered.

Moon Valley was where we wanted to start from, rest there that night, then
work our way down into Myer Valley, and finally into Pinto Wash, where we knew
water was. We figured once we started into the rocks, the feral horses would
be our last concern.

The sun set, and the hard cold came, no wood for a fire. I pulled off my
boots and crawled into my sleeping bag, pulled a space blanket over the whole
thing. It didn't help. Cold seeped into my bag, my flesh, my bones. I'd
never been so cold, before or since.

No moon. I'd never seen the sky so clear, the multitude of stars a crystal

Half asleep, something caught my eye. I thought we were alone in the valley,
but apparently someone was camped behind us over by the border fence, building
a bonfire. It shimmered brightly off the towering stone wall to the north.

We could hear wild horses snorting, stumbling just outside of our camp.

They probably like to bed down here,? Mason said.

We would pick here, I answered thickly.

You picked,? Mason countered.

Despite the cold, mosquitoes started torturing my attempt at sleep. I could
feel them landing on my eyelids, and I'd swat them away.

The flames of the silent bonfire kept catching my eye. It never stopped,
never seemed to run out of wood, playing eerily on ghostly crags and haunted
shadows in the stone. Yet in the deepening silence, I never heard wood
popping or murmuring voices.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Where before restless horses moved around,
now urgent snorts, unbelievably loud screeches rose up from the floor of the
Valley. Defiant, angry bellows, a chorus of protesting whinnies. Screaming,
howling, satanic thunder rolled across the Valley of the Moon. A horrible
battle was being fought in the cover of darkness.

Mason was up, knelt down with his flashlight in hand. I crouched beside him
with my flashlight, but we waited, frozen as the crescendo of the struggle
reached a fevered pitch. Dull thuds jarred the horrible bellows. In the
moonless night we could only see occasional silhouettes on the star-washed
horizon. Finally, we snapped on our lights.

Two stallions were up on their hind legs two hundred yards off, smashing away
at each other with their front hooves, nostrils flared and wild manes flying.
Mares circled the battle in some crazed ritual dance as the two giants
struck, the dull thud of the blow coming a second later; merciless, brutal,
hypnotic. The mares grew wilder with panic as the stallions uncoiled their
deadly drama.

Our flashlights cut back and forth across the scene through the layer of dust
that hugged the ground, kicked up by the wild horses. Savage eyes glowed
fierce red when our light beams fell across them.

Suddenly, they became aware of us, non-members of the tribe. The circling
stopped, the stallions backed off, and all of them slipped away, north and

Lights off. We crouched in silence, a moment's pause. Mason's voice shivered
as he whispered.

If we went home right now, it would've all been worth it.

I nodded, and we both stared into the darkness, the cascade of stars filling
everything above the horizon. I leaned toward Mason.

Think our neighbors saw it.


The guys with the bonfire.

Mason stirred.

What bonfire?

Incredulously I looked back at him. Mason followed my motions, to the
flickering light, to where the bonfire had to be to reflect so clearly, then
his face swiveled back to me. I could not see his eyes, only something of his

There is no bonfire, Cowboy. We're all alone out here.

I snorted my protest, kicked my boots on and started west, picking my way
around the Cave from Hell, always looking south to see the bonfire. I'd gone
twenty yards before I stopped and stared.

There was no bonfire, no other campers. I looked around me and saw the
throbbing light now on everything, on the northern wall of stone, on our own
campsite, the monoliths beyond to the east, to Tahe Peak where the Elliot Mine
is. I spun around and everywhere I looked, pulsing blue light danced on the

Mason appeared.

I thought there was a fire. I spun to the west. Am I going crazy?
There's light pounding all over everything.

Mason stuck his hands into the jacket he'd pulled on.

For pity's sake, Cowboy, that's the light from the stars.

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