Fiction

Desert Spirits

By R. Patrick Murtha

"Jack, you DO see him also, don't you?" I asked tentatively. I could see Jack, my desert Biologist friend who had been the first scientist to document the encroachment of Los Angeles air pollution into the deserts of the Southwest in the 1970s. Jack was a life-long friend and neighbor of my wife, as they were both raised in Las Vegas. We had gotten to be good friends over the years during numerous trips back to her hometown to visit her family, founders of the Las Vegas area in the early 1900s. Jack was one of those exceptional individuals who positively influenced everyone they came in contact with and it was an honor to know him. In doing his research, Jack would spend days out in the desert, collecting samples from various instrumental stations he'd established over the years and on this occasion he'd allowed me to accompany him into unexplored territory, north and east of Las Vegas, during the Spring of 1975. We'd parked the Jeep and had to hike several miles into the rough backcountry, intent on establishing a new monitoring station, sampling the air automatically between visits. On this particular trip night had fallen, the weather clear and the stars diamond-like in the heavens. As was our habit on such trips into the desert, we'd established our camp just after the sun set, hot, even this early in the season. I'd gathered wood while Jack cleared an area he'd chosen as being protected from the elements while also allowing us maximum visual access to the surrounding desert. One never knew what one would run into out here in the desert and you could never assume that you were alone. I was about to find out that this included spirits as well as coyotes.

"Yeah, I see him, just relax, I don't think he means us any harm," he whispered over the popping of the fire. Embers flew into the black night as we sought warmth, staring at the thing, neither man, neither animal, that watched us from about 30 feet away in an outcropping of rocks.

"I've seen this before," Jack continued as I tried to get a better look at our visitor. It was very hard to make out details of just who or what it was out there; first, I thought it was just the outline of a cactus, just beyond the rocks. Then, when it moved, animal like, I realized we were being watched by something quite different. Yet, when I looked directly at the shape, it seemed to disappear, then, as I would look slightly off to the side, it solidified, much like some of the apparitions I'd investigated over the years.

"Should we say something to him...or, it?" I whispered back. I wasn't concerned at all. It didn't threaten us, that was obvious, it was simply curious so it seemed and continued to circle around us to the north. Around us, all the insects and night sounds had ceased; my breathing and the fire being the only sounds.

"No, what we need to do is close our eyes, hold out our arms and ask it to join us at the fire," Jack whispered back, not taking his eyes from the thing out there.

"Close my eyes?" I managed to grunt back, unsure of this strategy.

"Don't you trust my judgment?" Jack laughed as he whispered just above the noise of the fire and he looked over to me with a quick smile. I'd depended on Jacks' judgment to get us around this alien environment before many times. He'd allowed me to accompany him on several trips, lasting from 24 hours to one trip where we spent 5 days in the desert and he'd introduced me to the beauty and wonder of this otherwise alien environment.

"You know I do, it's just…" I looked at him for a second also, his eyes sparkling in the fire, confident and relaxed.

"Where'd it go!" I exclaimed, looking back into the darkness. We'd both looked away from it for no more than just a split second, yet it was not where it had been.

"He's still here, I can feel him. Now close your eyes, relax and let him join us at the fire," Jack whispered, unconcerned and without hesitation. I did as instructed as we both took several deep breaths and I concentrated on relaxing my mind as I'd taught myself in the last couple of years, reaching alpha within 10 seconds, despite my concerns. I did trust Jack's judgment. He'd spent a lot of time out here in the desert and had told me of other experiences similar to what we were going through then. I must admit, if I'd been out there with anyone OTHER than Jack, I probably would have gotten up and headed for the Jeep because the desert can intimidate even the strongest of people. As it was, we relaxed and simply listened to the fire snapping at our feet. Then, about 2 minutes into our meditation, I heard Jack whisper aloud, "Please join us at the fire, we welcome you here and thank you for allowing us on your land. Please, join us."

Moments passed. I had managed to totally relax now and when the breeze picked up intensity it took several moments to recognize the fact. "Ok Patrick, open your eyes, but don't react..." I heard Jack whisper, just to my right. Without fear or hesitation, I opened my eyes to a slit, first seeing only the fire. Then, just beyond it and much closer than before, I could see something, neither solid nor of definite shape. Just "something" that blocked the very dim reflections off the rocks and plants beyond it. It moved liquid-like and shimmered in the flickering firelight. "Welcome, desert spirit...thank you for allowing us to share your beautiful land." Jack said aloud. I repeated the welcoming phrase aloud, word for word. A moment later, a brisk wind swept over us both forcing the fire into a small tornado-like funnel, sweeping sparks high above us. Then it was gone. I could physically sense that we were alone again; the crickets and other sounds of the desert returned and, without speaking of it again, we unrolled our sleeping bags and fixed something to eat.

I found I was very comfortable out there in the middle of nowhere, in that alien environment, knowing now I could sleep in peace. Indeed I slept like a baby, knowing we were welcomed guests now; welcomed guests of that which lives in the desert night.

Thank you Jack for blessing me with your friendship and your knowledge; rest in peace my friend.