A QUICK TRIP TO MOAB 7. Nestled like spoons; Even the birds were quiet.

Part 7 of the novel A QUICK TRIP TO MOAB

13. Nestled like spoons

As I came within shouting distance of the camp, I stopped and called out “CaCaw, CaCaw.” I immediately felt foolish and a bit embarrassed. Speck looked at me and almost seemed to smirk, then she looked ahead toward camp. We both listened. Nothing. We walked a little farther. “CaCaw. Cacaw.” Nothing. I looked at Speck and shook my head. We walked a little closer, nearly to the camp. I didn’t want to just barge in and startle the girl. What was her name again? Lily, that’s right. And I had left her a handgun. No, I didn’t want to startle her. “CaCaw. CaCaw.” Nothing. I looked at Speck. “Go ahead,” I said. “Go see.” I nodded toward the camp. Speck headed straight ahead. I waited a minute, and called again, “CaCaw, CaCaw.” This time I heard something in the brush. Speck came charging back at me. What? Speck, What? I could see that she was excited, her tail wagging, eyes bright. She jumped up, hit me with her paws in my chest, turned, and ran back toward camp. “Follow me,” is what I think I heard. Then I heard something else. “CaCaw. CaCaw. It’s OK, come on in.” It was Lily.

When I entered the shelter, I could see Lily sitting on the tarp next to the pack. She was petting and kissing Speck. “Your dog woke me up with a big kiss.” she said. “It was,” she shook her head and sniffed, “It was the best thing. It was the best. She is the best.” She hugged Speck close. Speck wagged her tail and nosed Lily’s hair. Speck knew. Lily was part of the team.

“I was so dead. I must have been in the deepest sleep I’ve ever had,” she said. “Man, I’m glad it was you. A bear could have walked in and eaten me and I would never have known it. Shit. I was dreaming about my mom. And Craig. I dreamed he was calling me, like he was coming for me. Kind of weird. Not a fun dream. Jesus.” She released Speck from her hug and looked up at me. “And now, here we are again. I guess I didn’t realize how exhausted I was. Am. I could sleep all day.”

“Maybe you should,” I said. “It’s about to rain, and I bet it goes all night. No reason not to rest. You need it, I’m sure. We both do.”

I looked around. Lily had piled the juniper bark on one end of the tarp and had been using it as a pillow. Her clothes were damp, but they were no longer blood and dirt-stained. She appeared to be shivering.

“Let’s get a little fire going,” I said, picking up some twigs and piling them in the firepit. “We can warm up, have something to eat, get some sleep tonight, and head out in the morning if the weather clears. Head away from these, um pirates. Get away from them.”

Lily nodded. We looked at each other, and I felt a little like I had when I looked at Speck earlier. I realized what cooperation and teamwork were really all about. I understood altruism. I wasn’t helping Lily and Speck, I was helping myself. We all needed each other. I could feel it. I could see it in their eyes. I felt strength. I felt courage. And I knew that it was not much, but it was all we had.

The rain blew in sheets, blasting through the brushy piñon and juniper trees that fronted the shelter, and under the overhanging rock. We piled the packs against the back wall, heaped the juniper bark I had gathered earlier against the packs, and made a nest. Speck was already staking out a place against the rifle bag when Lily and I sat down, backs against the packs. We piled juniper bark around us, covered ourselves loosely with the one windbreaker, and pulled the plastic tarp over us all. It took us a while to get everything right — pulling the tarp this way or that to stop leaks, wiggling ourselves into more comfortable positions, and closing drafts. Finally, as the gray light of the stormy afternoon faded into the dull black of the night, we settled in, all three of us succumbing to the exhaustion that we had fought, letting ourselves relax to the sounds of the storm, knowing that we would be safe from the outsiders, since the storm would keep them pinned down as well. They are probably playing cards and drinking coffee and smoking big cigars in a camper, or maybe the semi trailer, I thought. Fuckers. I turned on my side and felt Lily snuggle back against me. I moved into her and we lay nestled like spoons. I reached my arm over her and felt Speck curled up in the curve of Lily’s belly. This is the way Chris and I sleep most every night, I thought. Lily is longer and more angular than Chris, but the way we nested against each other felt right, and I did not feel any qualms about being this close with a woman I hardly knew. I realized that I wasn’t thinking of her as a woman. Well, clearly she is a woman, but I guess I was just seeing her mostly as another creature, a person, an ally, someone who, like Speck, was in this predicament with me, and we were going to help each other find a way out of it. I felt a great comfort having someone to hold, to touch, to share warmth with, to support each other.

I thought of a photograph I had seen somewhere of two baby chimpanzees in a cage, hugging each other in terror of what kept them captive and what might await them. The vision of that photo had haunted me for years, and now I felt a great kinship with those chimps. I hugged Lily and Speck tighter, and I was comforted, and I felt as though I might be giving them some security, the knowledge that someone was offering to help them, to protect them. And I also felt strength, the strength of being needed, and also of being cared for, being part of something. This is my family now, I thought. For now. And now seems like it is everything. Like this now is everything I have ever experienced, or ever known. Or ever will. Now.

I remember people telling me how the principles of Zen taught them to live in the moment. To be present. To be conscious. I realized at this moment that those kinds of thoughts are luxuries, the dalliances afforded to those whose actions are not critical, whose lives are meaningless, who have to play tricks on themselves to get themselves to concentrate on just being. I had none of those difficulties now, and I knew that Lily and Speck did not either. We are here, now, and we have to throw everything we have into it, or there might not be a tomorrow. I knew I should sleep, and the warmth of Lily’s body, the soft fur of Speck’s belly around my hand, the rushing sound of the wind, relaxed me and took me to a deep, restful, and comforting sleep, and dreams of good things, things not at all related to the wretched present.

14. Even the birds were quiet

My eyes popped open as I bolted to full consciousness. Speck and Lily tensed too, as though we had all been simultaneously awakened by something — a noise, a gust of wind, a movement. I listened. Nothing. Maybe I had just jerked myself awake fleeing a startling dream, and had broken the others’ rest. I lay quietly. I could tell that Lily and Speck were listening too, all of us having returned to consciousness, to the reality of our situation. We listened. The sounds of the storm had abated. No longer was the wind whistling and rushing through the branches. Rain had ceased to fall, and the only sound was an occasional droplet released from a leaf or branch where it had been stranded for a time, when the grip of its surface tension finally loosed, and allowed gravity to take it down. Even the birds were quiet. Perhaps they are listening too. Just waiting, listening to see what the coming day will bring. I could see the stars now, the clouds having passed, and the dark sky behind them was lightening with the slightest hint of blue replacing the stark black. I took a deep breath and was readying myself to sit up and push back the tarp when we all heard it. A sharp report, dulled and diffused by the thick, humid atmosphere through which it traveled. And then two more. Then a dozen or so, in rapid succession. We all tensed and listened. Nothing. Silence. Eventually Lily turned slightly toward me.

“Gunshots?” she said.

“Think so,” I said.

We sat quietly for a few minutes. Speck pulled herself up to a sitting position and poked her head around, trying to find an opening in the tarp. I reached over and pulled back the edge of the covering tarp so she could free her head. A stream of icy water dribbled down my neck. I sat upright to clear myself of the drip. I pulled the tarp away from Speck and Lily.

“There you go, Speck,” I said. She rose, stretched, and stepped away from the nest. “I guess we might as well get moving,” I said. “I wonder what is going on, over at, over there,” I said, nodding toward the pirate camp. “That’s where the shots or whatever they were came from,” I said. “I think.” Lily sat up and looked toward the trees, in the general direction of the enemy camp. She nodded. Speck shook and headed toward the edge of the rock shelter. She glanced back at us, then turned and ducked into the brush.

I sat the rest of the way up and rose. I slid out from under the tarp and the windbreaker, and tucked the edges around Lily, who was sitting quietly with her arms crossed in front of her. I reached for the stove, lit it, and placed the pan over the flame.

“Guess we’ll have some tea,” I said, reaching for the bag that held our meager supply of food. Lily looked at me and nodded.

“Then let’s get the fuck out of here,” she said, pulling the tarp up around her shoulders.

“as far from here as we can get.”

Could the shots mean something is going on at the Recapture camp? Could the government be making a move to bring them down? There would be more shooting, probably. Or, maybe, maybe as my friend Brigham, who had worked for a defense contractor, told me, the military has weapons you won’t believe, not big bombs and planes, but tiny little things. Like drones the size of a small bird or even a bumblebee that they drop from planes or release from a base ship the size of a suitcase disguised as a rock or a bag of trash that has solar panels and communicates with all the tiny soldiers and charges them wirelessly. And each tiny drone is programmed to do one thing, like find a person. Some are even controlled by soldiers sitting in air-conditioned command centers in places like Las Vegas and Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. The tiny drones have cameras and can be used to watch whatever’s going on like a fly on the wall. Or they’re explosive and can fly up a person’s nose or in his ear and blow up, or spray a gas in someone’s face or inject them with something. They might put a tiny chip on someone that looks like a burr or a button or a piece of fuzz that can be used to trace where ever that person goes. I’m sure they have all these things and more we can’t even imagine. At least the government probably knows everything about the pirate camp. And they’re having a grand time testing their deadly toys. Shit, I hope they’re using them right now. I hope the Recapture Camp is no more. You never know.

When the water was hot I turned the gas off and added a yerba mate tea bag. We shared the tea, sipping it directly from the pot, which was our only container. The air was cool and humid, and the only sound came from Speck as she chewed and gnawed on the deer leg that had gotten re-hydrated a bit by the rain, which had apparently made it more delectable.

“You always do that?” Lily asked. She nodded toward my foot. “Craig was like that. Always wiggling or twitching something.”

I looked down and could see that I was bouncing my right foot against the base of a serviceberry bush that grew at the outside edge of the rock shelter. I nodded.

“I’ve always done it. My Dad does too. My Mom calls us “fidgeters.” Nervous energy I guess.”

“You keep looking over that way,” Lily said, nodding toward the southwest, in the general direction of the outlaw camp. “What do you think’s going on?”

“No idea,” I said. “Absolutely no idea. Hope they’re all shooting each other. Or the army is there teaching them a lesson.” I reached down to pet Speck, and we all jerked a little in reaction to the sound of another volley of shots broking the silence. We listened intently. I cocked my head to the side, the way Speck often did.

“Hear that?” Lily asked. “Like engines or something. Trucks maybe.”

I nodded, then shook my head.

“Let’s get ready to leave,” I said. “I’ll run up to the top and see if I can see anything, but I think you’re right. We’d better get away from here. Far away.”

At the top I scanned toward the pirate camp and saw nothing unusual, but I could still hear the sound of a motor humming. When I saw an ATV heading east on the main road, I followed its movement, then saw it turn off the road and head north along Milky Creek. I followed its path along the small road that paralleled Milky creek until I saw it. Shit. Another camp. A smaller one, only about a half dozen pickups and a few more ATVs, but it was just below us. Less than a mile away. Too close. Way to close. And high above one of the pickups, on a long pole flew the black and red triangular flag I had taken down from the ATV at the camp by my wrecked truck. Phil’s ATV. The Viking. Maybe there’s been a disagreement among the pirates, and some split off. Or maybe they’re just setting up a satellite camp. Now the Viking was closer to us than ever. Shit. We have to get out of here.

When I reached camp Lily was sipping tea and watching Speck gnaw on what was left of the deer leg. She had packed up most of our camp gear, and looked up with inquiring eyes. I told her what I had seen. She nodded resolutely, took one last sip of tea from the aluminum pan, turned it over to shake out the last drops, and slid it into the pack. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Take a good big drink and we’ll fill the water bottles,” I said. “Might be a while before we’re near water again.”

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