3. Desert Rescue

“Alone, in the crowd,” I whispered, as I tried desperately to keep my shit straight. The mushrooms were making me forget my real name…they were making me fake it so real I was beyond fake.

I could hear the straining engine of the car behind us. The entire pick-up seemed to glow, as if a gigantic spotlight was shining upon it.

Just then, there was the sound of tires screeching, followed by a yellow flash that tore across the back of the pickup and shot up like a pinball into the great, black sky.

“Was that lightening?” I asked.

I felt someone’s arm curl around my ankle.

“It was going the wrong way to be lightening,” Trixie Treat purred from my shins. She was stretched out across the bed of the pickup like a cat.

The screech broke off, all at once. There were a few seconds of windswept silence during which someone muttered what the fuck. I understood enough to know that we were going very fast, too fast—the kind of fast that means you’re being chased. I squinted through the shadows at the back window and tried to make out the burly silhouette of Noah, the driver, but I kept hallucinating the outline of horns on his head so I closed my eyes and concentrated instead on holding the fuck on.

Due to the heightened sense of anticipation that the shrooms gave me, I felt us running off the road even before it happened.

Don’t worry, it’s a 4x4…

This thought was followed immediately, by:

Shit. I’m going to die.

I forgot the horns and started banging on the back window with one hand while holding onto one of the nylon straps that were fastened to the side of the truck with the other.

The pickup wasn’t meant to safely hold so many people crowded in the back, especially not at this speed. The dessert floor was little more than a pile of rocks. We bounced around like crazy. Everyone tried to get as flat as they could and hold on to whoever was around them. I felt legs draped over my arms, knees pressed against the top of my skull, arms over my thighs. “The five-o, the five-o,” I head someone cry out, but I knew it wasn’t the police who were after us. I know it the way someone who’s been robbed knows something is missing the second they walk in the door. They don’t yet register what, exactly, but they immediately know something is gone.

I heard music playing.

At first I wasn’t sure, but then it was unmistakable. Biggie Smalls shouted, “Where Brooklyn at? Where Brooklyn at? Where Brooklyn at?” over a raw, old school beat.

Jesusfuckingchrist, I said.

It can’t be them, it can’t be them, I thought, over and over.

We hit a bump and went flying. Everyone screamed and I looked over my shoulder to see one of the younger guys tumble over the back. Just like that. For a split second I saw him airborne--his hair stuck straight up on his head, forming a black halo against the red glow of the taillights and in the next second he was gone. I imagined him hitting the ground and SPLAT! his head exploding like a watermelon. Someone cried, “No, oh, god!” There was a loud whirling sound during which the truck lurched wildly from side to side. I lost hold of the strap and was shot to the back, gritting my teeth and holding my breath as I waited for the deadly back flip, when suddenly—miraculously--we were back on the smooth and gloriously level highway.

“We cut back to the exit!” someone yelled.

“Are you OK?’ someone else shouted—I think it was Marco--as he put his hand on my shoulder.

“I’m fine, I’m fine” I said, brushing him off. I crawled back towards the front of the bed. I felt like Mad Max, covered in dirt with the wind whipping my hair.

Had we lost them? I couldn’t see anyone behind us. I looked out at the road illuminated by our headlights and it was empty as well.

Holy shit! That kid fell out he’s going to be dead and it’s all my fault…

Suddenly, a huge cloud of dust filled the left side of the road as the other truck came charging up the rocky slope towards the road, in the same way I imagined we had. I saw that their plan was to cut in front of us. They were going so fast my eye could barely keep up with them. I felt like I was watching an old Laurel and Hardy movie, in which the action scenes always seemed to move too fast, as though someone had wound the film too tightly and it was spinning out, just barely staying on the reel. When they reached the road they tried to turn in front of us and ended up skidding instead. Before I could process the fact that it was Sterling’s bleached head that I saw in the passenger seat, the skid turned into a flip, and then another one, as I watched, half-laughing, half screaming.

“Fuck these shrooms!” I screamed, “Fuck these schrooms!”

As they had been trying to cut us off, when they flipped they landed directly in front of us. Noah turned quickly to the left, and we narrowly avoided a direct collision. I was laughing like crazy. Had there been anyone coming from the opposite direction, we would have been killed.


We came to a grinding halt across the road, a pile of cacti stuffed into our front grill. Noah switched off the motor and the truck sagged backwards. The engine ticked away like crazy. That and the hushed gasps of someone crying were the only sounds.

As in a dream, I got up and jumped out of the pickup. I walked wobbly across the road, my Nikes crunching on the rocks and gravel that were strewn across it. I noticed that I could see the sky again. The clouds had gone away and the stars had come out.

Behind us was the canyon we had just passed through—a great, yawning emptiness. In the darkness, I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it.

…i could feel it opening…and then tightening it’s little rock fists…

The driver’s door of the Range Rover opened as I approached it. Fitzcarraldo was at the wheel, sitting bolt upright, his bangs in disarray.

“Hey,” he said, without turning his head. From the sing-song tone of his voice you would have thought we were bumping into each other downtown, on a street crowded with silly afternoon shoppers.

“Are you OK?” I said, my voice shaking.

“I think so,” he said.

His eyes watered up.

“Sweetheart! I can’t believe it’s really you!” he gushed. He couldn't seem to turn his head.

I felt someone nearby. I turned and saw Sterling standing by the rear of the truck.

“Get in,” she said. Her voice was low and menacing.

“Hey man, what the fuck…” I started.

“I said, get in,” she interrupted, and calmly pulled up her shirt to reveal the handle of a pistol sticking out of her jeans.

“Are you kidding me?” I said.

“Sterling!” Fitz said, still only able to look dead ahead. “What are you doing?”

Something stirred on the other side of the road. Sterling looked over and then back at me with her eyes wide.

“We’re here to rescue you. Now shut up and get in the goddamn car!” She took the gun out and pointed it at me. The whole image was made ten times worse by the drugs so it was all I could do to just fall to the ground and shit myself. Instead I stuck my arm out and let Sterling grab it and pull me towards the truck.

I looked at her, something had changed, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Have you been working out?” I asked.

“Get in!” she shouted, still pointing the gun at my chest.

“OK, OK!” I placed my foot on the step and was immediately overcome by a violent tremor. Sterling gave my ass a shove and I managed to flop in next to Fitz.

He started the engine and looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

“It’s going to be OK,” he said, in a hushed tone.

“Yeah, OK, sure, whatever,” I said, my eyes filling with tears. Sterling reached over and pulled a seatbelt across me as we rolled forward into the night. The glass had popped out of the rear view mirror, so Sterling sat up and kept a look out behind us. Several minutes passed, during which I debated the reality of my situation.

“Are we cool?” Fitz asked.

“Wait a sec,” Sterling said, still keeping watch.

“No. I need to know,” there was an hysterical ring to his voice. Perhaps because he seemed incapable of turning his neck to look for himself. “Are we cool or not?”

Sterling turned around and faced forward.

“No one’s there,” she announced, and gave a hard, flat laugh. “HA! The stupid hippies aren’t even going to try…”

She smacked the dashboard for emphasis.

I realized I was trembling.

“You pulled a gun on me,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“I needed you to get a move on.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“You were standing there like a deer in the headlights! C’mon! You know I’d never hurt you!”

“I don’t know,” I said, rubbing my face. There was the sensation of dry leaves again, but this time I recognized it as the feeling I get just before I start crying.

“Somebody fell out…at least I think they did…oh, god…I don’t know…” The truth was, I didn’t want to know. Everything was completely haphazard…the glares across the windshield formed the letters of an alien alphabet; the dashboard lights hummed a barbershop quartet filled with ill portent.

“Shhhh, it’s OK now,” Sterling said. I felt the pressure of her thigh against mine.

“Let me look at you,” she said, and she held my face in her hands. She looked me in the eyes and I flinched.

“What is it, did they hurt you?”

“I did all the hurting,” I said, “You know me.”

There was a bump in the road that made us all jump, but it was only the beginning of a newly paved stretch of highway, smooth and shiny like a freshly iced cake.

“Are you hungry?” she asked, as she smoothed my bangs across my forehead.

Hungry? Was she kidding? The only thing I’d had for days was cereal and beer.

The tears finally came, burning the corners of my eyes.

“You just have to tell me one thing, OK? OK, Sterling? Is this really happening? Can you tell me that? Can you tell me if this is real or a dream?”


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