He chose a spot called Rice Tank, named for the adjacent earthen water catch built for the Rice family cattle herd roughly ninety years ago.
Hatchet liked it for its relatively long distance from Glen Springs Road, the one lane backroad barely maintained by the park service with gravel pooling in the lower ruts, plagued by dangerous terraced slabs of unearthed rock and craters. If one followed it south, Mexico lay at the bottom of two hours of haggard decent through the desert across the Rio Grande. Since the terror attacks of 2001, it became highly illegal to cross into Mexico from the park but Hatchet knew wandering bands of immigrants and errant drug runners and just plain stupid gringos did it all the time. Moreover, where he planned to go in Mexico, rumors held it could be difficult to find people for hundreds of miles but he knew even out here in this brutally indifferent wilderness, there existed all possible manner of human activity. Rice Tank lay directly at the foot of Chilicotal Mountain, a 4,000 foot oblong stretch of hill with a lapsed rock face high up near its spine that had been shedding massive cubed boulders down its western face for millions of years. He parked his truck at the south facing campsite and pitched the tent for use in the off chance of inclement weather.
The gangly ocotillo plants appeared more dead than alive at midday in the desert. The blade footed lechuguilla and variety after variety of prickly pear required decision in every step as he trekked up the slope of Chilicotal, seeking a solid tether to a communications satellite miles out in orbit. Periodically, Hatchet would check the temple shapes of the Chisos Mountains over his shoulder to the northwest, their peaks crowned with fleshy red crumbling rock not unlike cubes and slabs of raw meat. He saw the square-jawed faces of a thousand ancient robots in as many stripes of stone. The foothills rolled in thick blond, splattered with greens of every shade and variant. There was another color but not gray, not a fuscous illusion of many colors but a true discernible black clinging to the lines in the Earth’s crust. He had left gray behind in the land he had abandoned. Gray broods there like a troll, he told himself and recalled how the human eye loses the ability see color during the final moments of death.
On the evening of his third day in the desert, he had been watching the sun go down in the west, imagining it burning with nuclear rage everything from which he was trying to escape when the attractive young ranger came strolling up the winding little stretch of road that diverted from Glenn Springs. The sun had already dipped below the mountains and the fading glow placed a candescent halo upon her pony-tailed wind-roiled hair that Hatchet couldn't help but find inspiring. She let her backpack slide to the end of her arm and unzipped it with a fresh and expensive smile. Whiskey? she asked, extracting the bottle. He cooked her a meal of brown rice and canned chili, watching her watching him with her naturally satin complexion growing even softer in the twilight. After her sixth or seventh pull from the bottle, he deduced she was irrigating some small patch of germinating courage. There's no reason to be afraid. Who's afraid? They talked about her job and her education and how she would rather be closer to home in California. She informed him she was engaged and he quickly pointed out she wasn't wearing a ring. I used to, she said, but it felt like I had been branded.
Hatchet kissed her as the sky finally surrendered to the full depth of night and they had sex in the coarse dirt among the growling stones and rocks, the kind of sex he hadn't had in months, maybe years, the kind of sex when you don't care about the mineral taste in one another's mouth. She gripped him in a style that betrayed her longing to be someone else somewhere else and he held nothing in reserve. He knew he was inflicting pain but he only did so after she made it immanently clear that she desired the pain more than any common ecstasy. He imagined her examining with silent satisfaction the scratches and abrasions in a cheap mirror hanging in some drafty government trailer. Afterward, they lay entangled, warming each other against the chill of the desert, breathing in union with the pulsating heavens.
She asked him about the bruises on his face but he deflected her with more questions about her work. Have you seen any of the violence down here? No, but we get regular briefings from the border guards; and we hear things. She told him of the two warring gangs who battled for dominance in Ojinaga and the Mexican national park across the river, the Canallos and the Asesinos. Apparently, all the Mexican park rangers are with the Asesinos, she told him, we hear terrible things. Hatchet shuddered from a blast of wind and invited her to the sleeping bag in the truck bed but, without looking at him, she said she had to get back to headquarters. He didn't offer her a ride. He didn't know her name. He did know however, he would probably never see her again.
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Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.