Desert Whispers – Part One
Never in my life had I any desire to trek into the Arizona desert, especially during the summer. I also didn’t think I’d ever be searching for some kind of “prophet.” Nonetheless, there I was, doing both at the same time. But at that point I didn’t have anything to lose. I needed money, and if this guy could help me, then I was going to go for it.
I worked at a bar in Sedona, where it wasn’t unusual to meet some weird characters. There were a few local regulars, but most of the people were just passing through. At the time, I was working extra hours, trying to get some more money to buy my girlfriend a ring. We were both pretty strapped for cash, but I wanted to propose as soon as possible.
While I was in the middle of cleaning some glasses, a younger kid came in. He was probably around college aged, not much older than 21. He carried a backpack that looked like it could fall apart any minute and had an awful sunburn on his face.
I set the glass down and walked over to him. “Hey, what can I get you?”
The kid looked up from his phone and quickly scanned the menu.
“You know what, I think I’m just gonna have a shot of whiskey.” I thought that was going to be the end of our conversation, but he kept talking. I rolled my eyes, coming to the realization that he was one of the chatty travelers. I put on my best friendly face and turned back around.
“Man, this desert is wild. You never know what you’re gonna see!” he exclaimed.
I laughed and grabbed the shot glass I had just finished cleaning. “That’s why you won’t ever catch me out there.” I poured his drink and set it down in front of him. “Can I see your ID, please?”
He flashed me his card and then put it back into his wallet, which was made out of duct tape. I was right, he was only 21.
“You’ll never guess what I saw this time, dude.”
Dude. I was only 26, but nothing made me feel older than when a younger person called me dude.
“What did you see?”
The man stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Doug, by the way.”
Doug downed his shot before launching into his story. “I had been out camping in the desert, and I almost out of food and water. Man, I thought I was done for! I was wandering around, trying to find a town or something, but I came across a cave. Now, there wasn’t food or water in there but there was shade, and it was hot out. I was kind of sketchy about the cave, because there could’ve been like snakes or something in there, but I felt like I was about to have a heat stroke!”
He was a wild storyteller. Doug threw his whole body into his reenactments, and I had to move a few glasses out of his way.
“Garrett, you’ll never guess what I saw in that cave.”
Dough laughed. “Nah, man! There was some old dude in there. He smelled weird, too. But he gave me some food and water, and we got to talking and he gave me some financial advice. I took it, and now I’m like, $1,000 richer!”
That caught my attention. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you his secret, because he told me I’d be in trouble if I did, but you seem like a cool dude. I’ll draw you a map and you can go see him yourself.”
Doug pulled a piece of paper from his ratty backpack and started doodling a map. I was about to tell him that it wouldn’t be necessary, but I was curious. Depending on how far I’d have to venture out, maybe it would be worth the journey.
While he drew, I poured Doug another shot. “This one’s on me.”
Doug said his thanks, downed the shot and left. I noticed he left me a $20 tip. That kid may have been weird, but he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. My shift was gong to be over in about an hour, and from what I could make out of the sloppy map, the cave didn’t seem like it was too far away. That’s how I ended up on top of a giant rock, alone in the middle of the desert.
I was beginning to think that Doug was full of shit. I had been out there for hours and hadn’t come across any caves. The only thing I was getting out of my adventure was a sunburn that could rival his.
I was ready to turn around and give up. Trusting a stranger probably wasn’t one of my brighter moments, but I was desperate. I ended up paying for that desperation with wasted time.
Turning back seemed like the only thing I could do, and I thought that going down would be the easy part, but that was quickly proven wrong. I slipped on a loose rock and rolled over the cliff. Things seemed grim and I was pretty sure I was about to be a goner, but I landed on a small ledge just a few feet down.
After taking a few moments to catch my breath and thank the Lord I was still alive, I noticed there was a cave behind me. Just like Doug had said, there old man. He was humming and roasting what looked like a piece of meat over a fire.
Without looking at me, he said, “Hello, Garrett. Take a seat.”
more by CASSIE GAMMIE
photograph by Martino Pietropoli