Friday, January 25, 2013
Decker awoke to red-glowing eyelids and soft gurgling from the little stream. The sun was a brilliant orange hemisphere resting on ragged shadows; the sky was a great striated agate in hues ranging from liquid gold to deep, cold blue. Wispy cirrus clouds luminesced in the dark upper depths like primitive deep-water fish. The last tenacious stars went out like oxygen-starved candles. He stood and watched the whole vista slowly brighten; watched the shadows retreat into the morning light. The scene cued memories from Degren's life; childhood games along stony creeks, gathering of hunters and forays into the wild lands where big game resided, nights full of song around cheerful fires, mornings with Furge, sharing sunrise spectacles just like this one. The gelid dawn air, which would have set Decker's old body to shivering, was deliciously bracing for him now. Amidst the flood of Degren's memories, it was difficult to sort out who he currently was; the longing for Furge's companionship seemed to balance with the hungry animal urges he'd felt when he'd last seen Lizzie; the vestiges of Degren's personality were not nearly as intense as his memories; oddly, though Decker felt that his personality was the stronger, his memories seemed more distant... was that merely a function of where he now stood? Would his memories of life in Arizona, in Minnesota, fulfill him as these current memories did? Somehow, it did not feel as though they would. It was a strange and lonely feeling, living in this mixed-up amalgamation of two completely different people. "Be-YOU-tee-ful morning, pardner!" Cletus' blatant exclamation and his rough, gnarled hand clapping down on Degren's shoulder startled him out of his revery; set his heart to thumping. "Yuh sleep good? I'uz out like a clubbed catfish meself." The scruffy miner stretched his arms out, arched his back, and groaned; Degren could hear joints popping and tendons creaking. "Yeah, um... yeah, I slept fine." Degren clapped his furry hand down on Cletus' shoulder, just a little more firmly than might be considered amiable, and Cletus staggered a bit with the impact. Degren grinned at the miner's brief discombobulation. "And it is a beautiful morning. The other two up yet?" "Ayup. Tut's heatin' up some vittles up by the cave, and Coxli is scrambling all over hell and creation. He takes a real shine to this here countryside." The sun was starting to feel warm on their backs when they broke camp and headed down the hillside. Tut studied the landscape as they walked, muttering biology and geology jargon under his breath, all the while scribbling notes on a small pad. He stopped and pointed with his pencil. "It is my hypothesis that we will idealize our prospects of finding specimens of Lophophora williamsii if we follow the stream. Though it does not absolutely require much in the way of moisture, it is often found in the shade of other types of desert flora." "This here looks like sidewinder country to me," Cletus said. "I don't reckon we might want tuh be gallivantin' alon too close tuh thuh water. Them reep-tiles favor a warm rock by a crik, yuh know." Decker dug around in Degren's memories, noted several varieties of venomous reptiles, arachnids, and insects. "Cletus is right. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes in either a solid greenish-brown color or with a sort of reddish tapestry pattern, and there could be some wicked scorpions hiding in the same shadows the peyote is likely to be. If we stay out of caves, we'll probably avoid the worst of the spiders." "Ugh... yuh jes' had tuh go and mention spiders, din't yuh?" Cletus shook, as with an ague. "Cain't abide no gol-dern spiders." "We'll have to venture near enough to the stream to investigate among the flora," Tut said. "In this particular setting, it is far more likely to be tucked in under a protective shrub." Decker noted a stand of stunted trees where another small stream joined the one they were following, and pointed. "Maybe we ought to get ourselves each a nice poking stick, so we can investigate the shrubberies without sticking our hands in them." Now that'er's a plumb fine idear, fuzzball," Cletus offered snidely, "But who's gonna stick his hands into thuh brush tuh cut thuh sticks?" Coxli popped out of a dense patch of sagebrush at Cletus' feet, startling the skittish miner into conniptions. "What are you guys so worried about? Don't your scales protect... oh, yeah." Cletus fumbled his big pistol out of its holster and waved it around shakily. "Yuh sneaky lil' sidewinder, yuh gotta be more kyer-ful! Tarnation, I plumb near plugged yuh just then!" "Anyway," Coxli continued, holding up a handful of green, turtle-ish looking bulbs, "do the things we're looking for look something like this?" "Ah, lovely specimens of the Lophophora williamsii node, or button as they are referred to colloquially!" Tut took one from Coxli and scrutinized it. "Where precisely did you find these?" "Just over there, tucked in under those bushes covered with spiderwebs." "Argh, confustulation and dagnabbit!" Cletus commenced waving his arms around as though swatting away flies. "Whut'd I tell you about flappin' yer jaws with that consarned spider talk?" Coxli filled a lunch-sized sack with peyote buttons and they found a clear bank along the stream to fill their canteens. It was decided that they'd make their way back to the cave mouth and camp for the night (the sun had passed its zenith by the time they'd discovered the cactus) before trekking back down to the river and ultimately to the Arizona shack where Decker had started on his mad hallucinatory adventure.