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June 17, 2024

Ladies of the Rocks

By Wally Runnels

Dark rocky canyons, whose walls are covered in Indian grinding holes, and sand meadows loom over ancient fire pits, present haunting memories of the past. Spirits possessing dark powers watch these places and plot against trespassers.

Seventy miles east of San Diego and north of Mexicali on the American side, two men clambered up a boulder-strewn slope. A truck marked Case Engineering sat parked below in a sandy ravine. They moved in hunched over postures, appearing awed by the landscape. Their heads and bodies bent to the ground were set in a pondering attitude. They searched and probed under mesquite and around rocks.

Surrounded by immigrant trails and discarded clothes, they wore long-sleeved shirts and khaki trousers that were a drab green and brown. Their dress gave no hint of their occupation. Today the high desert was humid. Their attire stuck to their bodies as if laundered, but not dried.

Both wore backpacks that might have been found in most army-navy surplus stores. Canvas and faux leather trim hung grudgingly, as if wanting to have remained in their truck. The most intrusive noises were the rattle of their rock hammers, canteens, and metal marker stakes that hung from their harness. The pair spoke in low voices that were inaudible to anyone outside their sphere.

“This is a hell of a place to build a power line.” Simms, gray haired and sweating swatted a biting insect from his neck.

“At least we don’t have to build it.” Mac ducked his head from a hummingbird. Their heads angled and turned, taking in details of the terrain. They were in a no-mans-land of cartel influence that could turn deadly.

“All we got to do is find that survey marker.” Simms wiped his face with a red handkerchief.

The air above them was crowded with hummingbirds. “Shish, where’d all these little birds come from?” Mac swung at his face to ward off a hovering spectator.

They hiked up a rocky trail that twisted around boulders and dead pines. Nothing seemed alive in the area except for the hummingbirds. Desolation covered the area like the brushwork of a landscape painter. A gray, rocky dominance seemed to challenge their very existence.

“Wanna take a break?” Mac jerked his head up to his partner in the lead.

“Naaa, let’s make it to the top first.” Simms turned his smiling face to his companion. “I want to get out of this low part and find a breeze at the top.”

“Be snow on the ground come winter,” Mac groaned.

“Be damn cold. Illegals, be wearing a couple blankets when they try to cross.”

“No telling where that survey marker will be.” Mac slouched his body as if in a state of premature failure from their fruitless search.

“Trouble is everyone sent out here to find it never came back.”

Mac shook his head at Simms’ news. “This place is a little spooky. It’s got those twisty boulders and dark caves.” His body shuddered. “Who knows what’s in ‘em.” Mac looked back and turned his shoulders in a questioning appraisal. “What if we don’t find it?”

“Then we’ll have to come out here again.” Simms shrugged, “If we’re able.” “Oh man.” He slapped his foraging cap against his knee. “Wonder what happened to the guys that were sent out before us?”

“I knew Took Suerez, he was a good man.” Simms rested his hand on a granite slab. His body slumped slightly. “Keep an eye out for bodies or bones.”

“God help us. That don’t sound good.”

“Accidents happen and if you’re alone, there’s no one to help.”

“You don’t think it was foul play?”

“Won’t know until a body turns up.”

“Jesus, Simms you trying to scare me?” Mac stopped, swung his head and shoulders left and right, and looked up the slope as if searching for something. “Hey, you smell that?” Mac tilted his head back in a deep inhale. “Something kinda sweet.”

“Yeah, I’m getting a whiff of something.”

“Smells like a cheer leader I used to date.” Mac’s mouth wrinkled into a goofy smile. Below them, the desert rolled away in a dull brown and green, a seemingly innocent texture.

Simms and Mac finally reached the top of the ridge and looked down into a rocky bowl. The mountain they were on was round and created steep inclines to the depression’s bottom. It was a small, round hollow lined with boulders. At the base was a large pool of water encompassed by flat rocks. On the slabs of stone that surrounded the pond, flowers with long stalks bloomed in a variety of rainbow colors. The colorful plants twist and turned, suggesting wind or puffs of air, which gave them lithe sensuous movements. The effect suggested a Hollywood dance theme.

More hummingbirds flittered overhead and passed into the deep hole.

“Yeah, this smell reminds me of her alright.” Mac shook his head. “I’m getting a little dizzy.” He sat down, his pack rested against a boulder. “Think I’ll rest up,” he yawned.

Simms pointed to an opening in the rock wall they faced. “That grotto over there looks interesting.” He walked unsteadily on a broken path that led to a small depression with a rock overhang. “Yeah Mac, there’s something in that odor that’s making me dizzy.” He held his arm against the rock pile for support.

The faint trail appeared to have been beaten down by other travelers. He bent down and picked up a weathered backpack. “Look what I found,” he yelled. Simms rubbed at the identity label with his fingers. “It says ‘Suerez’ on this ID pad.” He opened the bag and rummaged through notebooks, a compass, spare glasses, and a sandwich that had turned disgusting.

Mac staggered to Simms and looked at the backpack. “No damage. Looks like it was just dropped and left behind.”

“But where’s the marker?” Simms asked. “We best keep an eye out for bones.”

“Oh my God,” Mac jerked his body at Simms statement.

A soft moaning lullaby came up, and they turned their heads to the bottom of the rocky crater. Soft soothing melodies rose, mesmerizing and captivating. Simms and Mac looked down with dazed looks on their faces.

“Are there women down there?” Simms stood and tottered. “Thought I saw one.”

“I can’t say I know,” Mac whispered.

“Let’s see what this is about,” Simms suggested. Mac nodded absently, his face expressionless. He took a few wobbly steps and followed Simms as if walking in his sleep. They staggered down like drunks, passing deeper into the thickening floral ether.

“Where we going?” Mac slurred and continued on as though not expecting an answer.

“Not sure?” Simms spoke in a haunted voice and labored downward on the rocky path. He fell to his knees and staggered back to his feet, turning to gauge his companion. “You coming?”

His mouth dropped and flopped when he bumped into the descending Mac. They clasped each other for support and tottered like two drugged dancers. “This path needs handrails,” Simms spoke slowly and his hands mimicked grabbing a waist high support. They separated and continued on their deepening journey.

“I feel really drowsy, something in the air,” Mac mumbled. He slipped off his backpack.

Reaching the bottom of the crude walkway, they swayed precariously and stared at the pool of water surrounded by flat boulders. Hummingbirds hovered and hung with blurred wings, eye to eye in their faces, then with a whirr would dash away. Simms lazily swatted them away from his face. Three circled Mack’s head. Around them, ferns crept up from the cracks in the rocks. Moss covered the granite that was nearest the pool.

“Mac, look at this! It’s the marker.” Simms stumbled and pointed to a small, round metallic dais. It was the geodesic marker inserted between two rocks. Simms slid off his backpack and pulled out a GPS tablet, lazily hitting the keys. “Macsss this is it. We can get out of heresss.” He rocked on his knees, fumbling with the computer. “I’m groggy every things a blur.”

The air was thick with a nacreous perfume. Simms and Mack were held like prisoners in a stupefaction of blissful captivity. A slippery residue on the rocks made walking dangerous. Hummingbirds dipped their beaks into the shiny puddles on the acne-textured granite. Now the song from the flowers rose and filled their ears and souls with a yearning for escape. But escape from what, to where?

They sat on the rocks and studied the origin of the songs. The voices were feminine and were hypnotic as if nature was offering them a soothing drug.

Curvy beautiful female bodies were stems that grew from the flat rocks surrounding the pool. Languorous and lady-like, their sinewy stems turned erotically and beckoned the two men closer. Their faces were serene and their lips full of a quiet lust. Their hair hung long and flowed around their naked forms, giving teasing glimpses of their perfect anatomy. As blondes, brunettes, and redheads, they swayed as if caught in a seductive breeze.

Flowers grew from the tops of their heads like tiaras bearing the colors of the rainbow. They swayed to their melodious rhythms. Petals abandoned their ornamental bouquets and fell like confetti. Blurred hummingbirds hovered above the bouquets as if suspended by invisible threads. They dipped their beaks into the crowns of flowers to drink a liquid. All the while, the ornate chorus sang to the men and beckoned with their arms.

The plant ladies captivated the pair. The brunette reached out and held Simms in a firm grip. Her fingers looked like small branches but were soft and warm. He felt a sparkle of energy from her touch that gave him a feeling of pleasure. She blinked with amber eyes thick with alluring lashes.

“I’m Aurora, nature’s dawn.” She sang and leaned into Simms, rubbing her body against his. “I want to help you arrive at a better state with nature.” Simms tried to step back, but couldn’t. “Your kind tends to break and destroy. I want to help you give to nature.”

She frightened Simms. Even though his senses were dulled, he tried to pull away and look for his partner. He watched the blond lady kneel and his partner sipped something from her band of flowers.

Aurora inclined her floral crown to Simms and a strong, sweet aroma rose and filled his head with a promise of something wonderful.

“Drink, my love, drink,” Aurora crooned.

“I can’t seem to locate my companion,” Simms whispered.

“Just look up and greet him.”

“What?” Dazed, Simms looked up and a hummingbird with invisible wings hung in front of his face.

“It’s me. Mac.” A small voice peeped out through the long beak. “I can fly.”

Aurora pulled Simms’ face into her bouquet. He drank the life-changing liquor that would enable him to fly to Columbia to flee the coming winter.

Article © Wally Runnels. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-11-20
Image(s) are public domain.
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