Tumbleweeds blew past me and I tasted the air. It carried the flavor of dirt and sand and grittiness.
“The wind is blowing,” said the man. He had the air of someone who knows what he is talking about.
“So it is,” I replied.
We walked into the wind and it blew and our eyes dried. The water was far away and we needed it. We did not need the sand and the wind, or tumbleweeds, but we had them, so we ignored them and continued on our way to the water.
The man did not need a rattlesnake bite, either, but he got one, so I continued toward the water on my own. Far ahead there was a blurry butte that jutted into the shimmering sky. The cries of vultures echoed over the land. Behind me, the cries of the man also echoed.
“I’m your guide,” he said. “You need me.”
Water is what I need. People are two-thirds water. I turned back.
“You need to suck the poison out of the wound,” the man told me when I got back. “I can’t reach it.”
I was thirsty, so I did.
“Don’t swallow,” he said.
“Is swallowing bad?”
“You will get poison in you and die.”
I spat in the sand and scrubbed my tongue with a piece of tumbleweed. “Goodbye,” I said. “I am going to the water.”
He found a stick and limped. Later he observed, “I am going to die.” And then he did. The vultures came down and I took the man’s stick and continued without him.
I saw water at the base of the butte so I walked faster. I fell down three times and then the water was gone.
“Hallucinations,” I muttered.
The man’s stick kept me from falling over and from leaning on cacti when I got too exhausted to walk. I leaned on a cactus earlier in the day and the man had to pull spines out of my hand. I was not hallucinating when that happened. When I was hallucinating, the cacti looked fuzzier and even more huggable.
“Remember, don’t hug the cactus,” I said every time I passed one.
They had such eager arms though. Not the straight ones. The straight ones didn’t look so huggable. The tall gay ones with two arms did.
There was a rushing sound and I listened. It sounded like water so I walked toward it. My feet got wet and I looked down at the river I found by accident. I was not hallucinating this time so I flung myself headlong into the water and swallowed it in great gulps.
Then I crawled out and got stung by a scorpion. It was small and either deadly or not. The only way I could tell if it was deadly is if I died. So I waited, but I did not die.
Shades of yellow and orange colored the horizon in the west. The river ran west so I walked that way with the setting sun ahead of me and the water to my right. I stopped walking that way when the river turned into a very high waterfall because if I kept walking I would die. I sat at the edge and rested. The sun went down and I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was morning and a woman with blue hair stood by me. “You look lost,” she said.
She sighed. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“No I don’t. Are you also lost?”
“I just want a cigarette.”
“Because you’re lost?”
She sighed again. “Yes.”
“I’ve read survival guides and they always say to follow the river downstream if you are lost.”
“I did, that’s how I found you.”
“We need to find a way down the cliff.”
“I know a way,” she said.
“Good. Let’s go.”
She jumped over the edge and fell to the rocks far below. The vultures came again and I walked south along the cliff, alone, and I wished I had a cigarette.
My feet got sore but I kept walking. I walked until I found a road. I sat by it and waited but no cars came, so I got up and walked along the road.
A car came at last and it stopped and a man got out. He stared at me and I stared at him.
“I’m lost,” I said.
He sighed. “So am I.”
“At least you have a car. Do you have water too?”
“I do but I don’t have much gas.”
“There must be a town nearby. I was in a town before I went out into the desert and got lost.”
“Yes, but I don’t know which way.”
I looked both ways. Neither of them looked any more likely.
“Have you seen a woman with blue hair?” he asked. “She’s my wife.”
“I met her. She asked me for a cigarette and jumped off a cliff.”
He sighed again. “I was afraid she might. Climb in and I’ll take you back to the town. If we can find the town.”
I got in the car and he drove, and we didn’t talk. He drove until the car sputtered and stopped. It was dark when that happened. He tried to start the car again but it didn’t work.
“Sleep well,” he said, and leaned his seat back.
I did not sleep well. The man snored and I had an ache in my back. When dawn came I got out of the car and walked a distance away to relieve myself.
I heard the truck coming and I tried to hurry. Someone needed to wave at the trucker to make him stop and rescue us. I hoped the man in the car would wake up and do it.
Before I finished there was a very loud crash and then silence. I walked back to the road where the truck had smashed into the car. The man in the car was dead and so was the truck driver. The engine of the truck was still running so I pulled the driver out and drove away. I watched the vultures in the rearview mirror until I was too far to see them.
The truck driver had cigarettes in his truck so I smoked one. I passed a sign that said there was a large city sixty miles ahead. So I drove sixty more miles. I found the airport and bought a ticket to fly home.
The hunting trip had been long and strange and unrewarding. I was glad to get home and sit at my desk and write. I thought I could make a good story out of my trip, but I was wrong. I wrote it and sent it to my editor and he wrote back and said, “Matt, you should not try to imitate Hemingway. You should write in your own style. This story is crap.”
I did not cry even though I wanted to. I drank some whiskey and told my editor he should write drunk and edit sober, not the other way around.
He quit and I found a new editor who doesn’t care what I write. I like him better but I’m not sure what I’m paying him for.