Chapter 9: A Frightening Discovery
“Oi! You okay, mister?”
I. Levitated. Five. Feet. Straight. Up.
Not literally, but it felt like that, because I went from flat prone to sprawled on my ass and hands with no apparent movement steps between. I was looking up at a woman, bent trepidatiously towards me. A gorgeous woman. Five foot two, maybe, and in great shape. (You don’t find too many out-of-shape wilderness hikers.) She had short red hair in a 90s business cut.
Ritchie & Turing protect me, Nana Visitor has just caught me naked!
It was the closest comparison I could come up with. Abso-frickin-lutely gorgeous.
And she’d caught me humping the planet! Oh my f…ffff…
I’d lost my words. Gone.
I wondered if I could disassemble myself into a smear of damp carbon as well, and if so, how fast could I get it done?
“Whew, you’re not dead after all,” she said with genuine relief in her voice. “I thought I’d come across a murder victim out here!” she exclaimed.
Then, taking a few seconds to reassess the situation, she put her hands on her hips and quirked one corner of her mouth upward. “You’re not dead, but you’re also not happy to see me,” she quipped, staring briefly at my crotch, implicitly referring to my utterly flaccid state. Fear and embarrassment will do that to a guy. “Just what the hell are you doing?” she demanded.
“Enjoying nature. Isn’t that what you’re doing?” It was the best I could do, rediscovering language just then as I was.
“Sure, but I think we might have different methods,” she said judiciously.
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” I rejoined.
“I absolutely will not be stripping down and face-planting on the sandstone, me boyo,” she said quite firmly.
“Well, suit yourself. Me, I’ve un-suited myself.” My jokes don’t often work, but I keep trying anyway. Hope springs eternal.
“This I see,” she said with a bit of an eye-roll.
“Look, I’m harmless. Well, mostly harmless.” She didn’t react to the dangled cultural reference; a pity. “If you want to just go right on around and on your way, that’s fine with me. I won’t creep around behind you or anything, but you’re also welcome to stay and chat. I’d get dressed to make you more comfortable, but as you see, I have nothing at hand,” I said with an expressive wave of said hand at the empty sand.
“And why is that? I mean, I get nude sunbathing, but nude sunbathing miles from your clothes? What sort of lunacy is that?” she demanded.
“The communing with Gaia sort,” I snapped, piqued into a more frank response than I’d have given if I hadn’t been surprised, flustered, confronted, and bedazzled by beauty. My eyebrows drew down into a stern scowl, and I didn’t even give a thought to make a joke to lighten the mood, my normal practice when things get tense around me. She’d touched one of my hot buttons: don’t call the love of my life loony!
“Okay, okay, don’t take it so seriously. I’m just teasing. I didn’t mean to offend your…um…beliefs.”
I could tell she bought into none of this, but I didn’t want to start a fight, just defend what I believed in. “Apology accepted,” I grumped. I sighed, then tried to explain my sharp reaction. “No, it’s me who should be apologizing. I’m sorry for snapping at you. I don’t take it well when my communion with Gaia is characterized as lunacy.”
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply once, then opened them and waved my hand, palm up, Vanna White style, to indicate the pile of trash nearby on the sandstone shelf. “You see the trash pile over there?” She nodded. “I had to pick all of that up before I could even begin. Had to,” I stressed.
“You…walked all over here and picked it all up?” she said, not quite believing that someone would do that all on their own without being paid. Or at least watched.
“No, I felt its presence. I sat down here, reached out, and knew where each piece was at, then I went and picked each one up and brought it back here. I’ll be packing it all out when I leave.”
“Packing out other people’s trash is all very noble, but at the risk of setting you off again, I’m back to thinking you’re loony about ‘feeling’ the trash’s presence.”
I held my temper this time and just stayed quiet. Then I saw she was chewing gum, probably to keep her mouth wet while hiking to avoid the temptation to drink too often, wasting precious stores. There are no US Forest Service maintained standpipes out here in the middle of the desert; you’ve got to carry all the water you expect to need with you. “You have the wrapper for that gum on you, right? You didn’t just throw it down somewhere?”
“Of course, I’m not an animal.”
“I’m very glad to hear it. As you can see,” indicating the trash pile again, “there are some animals in human form out there. I’m going to just sit right here and face forward, and I want you to throw it down somewhere behind me where I can’t see it. Stomp it down into the sand, smooth out your footprint, then come back here.”
She looked at me quizzically for a bit, then she shrugged, set her internal-frame overnighter backpack on the ground, straightened, and dug her hand into her back pocket. That gave my heart a bit of a pit-pat, thinking about her hand squeezing into that tight jean shorts pocket, grabbing a bit of butt cheek as she extracted the pocket’s contents, a balled-up silver gum wrapper.
She walked off with it behind me as I stared resolutely forward. I could feel her stop and look back at me a few times to make sure I wasn’t cheating, pausing a good long while at one point, then made her quiet and careful way about twenty feet up the steeply rising side of the canyon wall. The tricksy minx! She buried the wrapper in a sand-filled hollow up-slope, smoothed her chosen spot over as I’d asked, then came back.
Once she was back in front of me, I gave her a bit of a grin, rolled up into a quick handstand, which I turned into a handspring onto my feet with a half turn in mid-air to land facing away. When I’m so perfectly in tune with Gaia like this, I have excellent control over my musculature. I lose the skill pretty quickly as I move back through civilization, but after spending almost two hours out in the sun like this, soaking up Gaia’s power, I can pull down a “10” from the Russian judge and make him smile while giving it. Of course, to earn my medal, I’d have to do my gymnastic routine starkers out in the middle of nature with no tech around, but hey, what price glory?
I expect I’d impressed the girl, at least a bit, but I didn’t look at her. I was about to really blow her mind, not just appeal to her on a physical level. I marched right up the canyon wall she’d just silently clambered up, bent down, stuck two fingers unerringly into the sand, plucked out the wrapper, turned to face her, and dropped the wrapper into my open palm, held out towards her. Her mouth dropped open a bit.
I then looked down at the little pea, concentrated on it, and I realized there was more to this ball than paper and aluminum foil: there was…alcohol?…and some kind of pigment? She’d written something on the paper in ink before hiding it! Double tricksy.
I looked up at her and pointed at my palm knowingly, nodding and moving my finger like a stylus, trying to convey “I see what you did here” without words, and opened it up in front of her as I walked back down into the wash to stand before her. I didn’t look down at it until I got close to her, and then only briefly before asking her, “So what does the ‘K’ stand for?” that being the letter she’d initialed the wrapper with before wadding it back up and burying it.
“Kate,” she replied, stunned. “Kaitlyn, actually.”
“Hello, Kaitlyn. Would you like to sit with me for a while? I’d be happy to tell you how I did that.”