The Skywalk’s Story

Two campers huddled by a fire trying to stave off freezing temperatures at the lower rim of the Grand Canyon one night, when they saw quite a sight…

an old Indian was walking on air beneath the bright moonlight, casually strolling alongside the ruby red ridge without making a sound, and not even looking down…

One camper told the other who was his brother that the man they saw was Levi Levi of the Hualapai, the last great chief of the Mountain Tribe who still protects his people and gives them pride…

and who inspired a source of income that is now worldwide…

… called the Skywalk, a trail shaped like a horseshoe with a steel frame and a glass floor, to some tourists delighted horror, with sides that project 70 feet from the rim, it’s an attraction that brings them in

and the two campers let the fire dim, as they slipped into sleep dreaming of walking Skywalk’s scenic rim.

****

The Last Train

(158 words- flash fiction/poetry)

He waited impatiently on the wooden bench in front of the one-room train depot that sat in the middle of nowhere sweating in the high desert air, when he heard a faint whistle…

Dust devils danced gleefully in the distance, forerunners for a giant sandstorm gathering in the West, but the man was unimpressed, as he stared like he was possessed…

… into the direction of the whistle which grew louder with each heartbeat, and soon he could see a train through the shimmering heat, as he got to his feet, ready to board and take the back seat…

as the train idled and plumes of steam shrilly screamed with the whistle’s urgent blast, the man moved fast to get aboard and ignored the other passengers who looked bored…

There was no need to look back as they went down the track with their memories already fading with the light, something new was just ahead in the gathering night.

****

A Deadly Sense of Grace

slithering sideways across the desert sand

the scaly predator rules the land

it’s deadly fangs and sharp eyes

are assurance that it’s victim dies

the snake moves swiftly

and surely

looking for spore

on the desert floor

a sleek desert dancer

with a sense of grace

and place

Desert of Deceit

Burnt sands cover the liescape stretching between truth and deceit buried deep in a person’s mind. A desert of deceit. Unhindered by any convention, yet still possessing a conscience that sometimes asks questions about morality and sensuality.

Falsehoods, like scorpions and snakes, strike swiftly in the seething sands of a liar’s mind whose mission is to deceive. The liar’s soul, burnt by dwelling in the bronzed wasteland of duplicity, is shriveled and crispy.

There are those who dwell in this sandy hell by choice. Content to wander dunes of deceit. Content to live a lie. Content to vilify. Souls that were born bone dry. For these nomads in society, I have no pity.

Unsung Hero

450 words –

The dim glow of a quarter moon filtered through the curtains and cast shadows on the walls. Walter’s eyes struggled to make out the shifting shapes that pranced across them in a creepy parade.

Were they scenes from his past? Was waiting to die a way to suddenly come into contact with that mystical part of the brain scientists and poets write about? Do revelations reveal themselves before you’re executed?

The promise of a sure death was a blow to Walter’s soul and very being. He knew only hours separated him from the firing squad and eternity. This last night wasn’t for sleep. It was a time to pray. A time to accept one’s fate bravely. It was a time to fight the growing panic that comes when a body is not ready to die.

The idea of being tied to a stake and shot like a target didn’t register with his reality. How could this be? He wasn’t a deserter! They were wrong! The reason he was the only soldier left alive was because he never stopped fighting and the enemy drifted away after two days of fierce fighting. He didn’t run away, and come back to the fort after the battle was over like the tribunal claimed.

It was a case of universal injustice.

The rising sun went from blood red, to orange, to yellow, and finally burst into an azure blue. Not a cloud in the sky. A beautiful day to die.

When he heard gunfire coming from the walls he stopped pacing back and forth in the tiny room they locked him in next to the captain’s quarters. Screams of surprise and pain! A sustained rate of gunfire told him there was an all-out assault on the fort.

The battle lasted all day, finally slowing down at dusk. Walter looked out his shattered window and saw fires burning in some of the buildings across the courtyard. Bodies were everywhere. Legionnaires and Arabs. He could see the front gate were breeched.

He took a chance and climbed through the window. Taking a rifle from the dead legionnaire who was once his guard, he moved cautiously through the courtyard – rifle at the ready. After hours of searching he discovered he was the only survivor. Before disappearing into the desert the Arabs sacked the fort and spiked the two cannons. He scavenged bodies for rations.

Why no one looked in his room during the fighting was a mystery. It looked like his luck had changed.

Two days later a relief regiment arrived and discovered Walter. He told them his story. After a 25-minute trial the captain said “Arrest this deserter! We’ll make an example of him!”

The Phone Booth

400 words –

The lone phone booth stood out in stark contrast to the arid Mojave desert surrounding it. But was it a mirage?

Jason Brant tried to focus on the lone object in the distant horizon. He was lost, hungry, thirsty, and desperately trying to survive. Two days had passed since the accident. He was lucky to be alive.

He’d been driving through Mojave National Preserve at a high speed (100 mph) on interstate 15 when he drifted off the pavement for a moment. It was enough to cause him to loose control. The car rolled onto the sand and landed upside down in a patch of creosote bushes.

When he woke up he was upside down, still held by his seat belt. It took him a few frustrating minutes to get free and crawl out. That’s when he felt the pain. His right knee had ballooned to three times its size and he could feel the bone splinters stabbing his nerves.

The pain was so great he passed out several times crawling towards the road. When he regained consciousness he looked around and saw what he thought might be a phone booth in the distance.

“What a crazy place for one,” was his first thought. His next thought was, “What if the phone works and I can call for help?” He eyed the phone booth for an hour before deciding he had to try and reach it.

After two days his strength was giving out. Crawling was exhausting and slow. When he finally was close enough to see that it was real his heart started pounding with excitement.

The door was gone and he wedged himself in and looked up at the dial tone phone. A pay phone. A sense of panic gripped him as he realized he didn’t have any change! He tore the phone off the receiver and listened to the dial tone in dismay.

“Operator!” he screamed as delirium took hold of his frayed senses. When a recorded voice asked for money Jason pleaded for his life.

When the Park Ranger found Jason the next day he gently sprinkled some water from his canteen onto his lips and sat him up against the outside wall of the phone booth.

He woke up and greedily grabbed the canteen and nearly drowned himself pouring water into his parched mouth. Afterwards. “Quick man! Do you have any change” he babbled…again and again.

Joe and the Junkyard Dog

German-Shepherd-101-MWD-Support-Unit-Royal-Army-Veterinary-Corps-RAVCGraeme-Main-Crown-Copyright-MOD2008.jpg

If you’ve a mind, stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story about a lonely man and a vicious dog.

It’s the kind of story that fits this high desert community with its eccentric old-timers and desert rats who live on the outskirts of town; only visiting long enough to get supplies before going back to their self-made shacks near the Panamint Mountain Range. Or, in an area known as Wonder Valley.

Unless you’re a Marine (it’s home to the biggest Marine base in the country), you probably haven’t heard of the city of 29 Palms, California. It has a small civilian population consisting of military families. Then there’s the old families with histories going back a hundred years, when relatives moved there after WWI to take advantage of the high desert’s clean dry air to treat their lungs damaged by mustard gas in Europe.

Most of the businesses in town have connections to those old families. The family that owned the county’s only junkyard, the Mercer’s, had one of the oldest active businesses in the city. Family members belonged to organizations like the local Masons, and the Rotary Club. They were considered important members of the tight-knit little community.

Mercer Wrecking sponsored local events like “Pioneer Days,” and rodeos. They were a normal family with one exception. Percy Mercer who ran the business, had a mean son named Zack, who was a troublemaker that liked to bully people, and who taunted the family dog, a German Shepard named Max, mercilessly for years.

By anyone’s book, Zack was an asshole. When the families old dog died and they got a new puppy, Max, Zack went out of his way to make the dog miserable. Max had the run of the junkyard and was considered extra insurance against thieves. But after years of sustained cruelty heaped on him, Max became vicious and no one could approach him.

He was chained up during the day next to a wrecked hulk that was once a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. It was gutted and the rusted frame provided little shade for Max when it was in the 100s – which was often in 29 Palms. With no kind human contact, Max lived to bite someone stupid enough to try jumping the gate at night when he was free to roam the junkyard’s perimeter.

The junkyard was a mile east of downtown 29 Palms. It sat like a blight in the middle of the desert with floodlights at night that attracted insects in massive numbers. Roadrunners ran by the perimeter, often crossing Highway 62 and getting run over by half asleep Marines at night, heading back to the base from a weekend pass. Coyotes avoided the junkyard. They were well aware of Max.

If you were to travel further east of the junkyard, on Highway 62, you’d eventually come upon Wonder Valley, home to hermits and desert rats. There was one small community building that served as an informal post office, firehouse, and meeting place. The residents paid for their crude services by holding constant fundraisers. Bar-b-ques and lots of cold beer held the odd community together.

One of the more eccentric residents was Joe Knudsen, a retired US Navy captain who served in Vietnam’s “Brown Water Forces” on the Mekong for two tours. He was wounded twice on his second tour. The most serious wound was a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead. Somehow he survived delicate brain surgery and was honorably discharged with a 100 per cent disability rating. It was 1975, and he ran away from human contact as soon as he got back to California. A friend told him about the high desert and its sparse population. It served his purpose. He bought a five-acre parcel and built a shack to live in.

The thing about Joe was he had PTSD, and his brain injury slowed down his reflexes and ability to think clearly. Staying focused became increasingly difficult since he sustained his injuries over 50 years ago. Sometime he would become confused and would wander outside his shack, rambling around the creosote bushes and dry rivers on his land. More than one local resident found him dehydrated and hungry in the middle of nowhere, and took him back to his shack. There were a few old veterans that tried to keep an eye on Joe, but he lived more than a mile from his nearest neighbor. It wasn’t easy. He was as lean as a rail and could walk for miles with little effect other than sweating. At 67-years old, Joe was in remarkable physical shape.

No one ever thought of calling the county, or anyone else, to take him away for his own safety. It was against the code of the desert. Live free. Die free. Not in some nursing home where a man couldn’t see the fantastic sunsets and sunrises the open desert offered daily.

Late one afternoon, Joe had a flashback and wandered out into the desert like a man in a trance. In his mind he was on a recon mission looking for a VC encampment. His feet carried him into the night and he walked along under the full moon searching for an invisible enemy.

When he saw four floodlights bathing a fenced perimeter he crouched down and inched forward. He heard a man drunkenly cursing something as he low-crawled on the desert floor, unmindful of the rough underbrush.

“Damn dog! I’m going to kill you!” someone shouted.

Joe stopped crawling for a moment. He was confused. His consciousness was torn between an alternate reality, and reality. To him, the angry shouts were in Vietnamese. He came to the chain link fence and easily scaled it, landing lightly on his feet inside.

Cautiously he trotted over to a row of piled up old heaps to get a better look. He listened closely, and heard the man’s angry voice again.

“Tried to bite me you son of a bitch!” Zack Mercer screamed. Joe saw him stumble between a row of piled up cars across from him. Zack had a gun in his hand, and a bottle of booze in the other. His arm and leg were bleeding. When someone ran out of the office to confront Zack he shot them! It was one of his cousins that was spending the night at his house.

Max sprang from the shadows and went after Zack who fired his remaining bullets at the charging dog! One of the bullets hit Max’s shoulder and he flipped over howling in pain. Zack was walking up to the wounded dog while clumsily trying to reload his revolver. Something took over Joe who found a rusted tie-rod on the ground and picked it up. He  ran up on Zack from behind and swung the rusted piece of metal at his head. There was a sickening thud and Zack sank to the ground…dead.

Joe moved past him and over to the wounded Max, who was panting in pain and laying on his side. He picked the big dog up like a baby, or wounded comrade, and carried him out of the yard and into the rapidly cooling desert towards his home.

Afterwards, no one in Wonder Valley asked Joe about where he got his new dog, a mild-mannered German Shepard he called “Buddy.” To be sure, Joe wasn’t entirely sure how he found Buddy, but it sure was a boost for one lonely old desert rat.

As It Stands, in a world of blacks and whites, there are gray areas we don’t fully understand and are left to marvel at.