I: THE SOUND
The sun rose high over the lonely desert mountains of Santa Catarina in Baja, Mexico. Jake Wyld emerged from his sun-bleached tent to find Creek blowing the remnant coals of last night’s fire into flame.
“Those coyotes were a lot closer to camp last night than they were the night before. I think I even hear a couple of strays pad their way through camp about three in the morning,” said Jake as he hopped around on one foot, kicking up dust, trying to fit the other foot into his hiking boot.
“The only thing I heard going on outside my tent last night was you shuffling around about every hour,” Creek chuckled.
“They tell you not to drink the water in Mexico, but they don’t tell you about the raw veggies washed in said water,” Jake smirked, gently rubbing his belly with both hands. “The good news is that I’m roughly six pounds closer to my weight loss goal!”
The morning was colder than it looked, despite the bright sun highlighting the entirety of the barren landscape of rock, brush, agave, and yucca that surrounded the two men. A pot of Mormon Tea sat warming on a rock next to the campfire. The pair huddled around the fire, soaking up the flames, drinking hot tea, and devouring a breakfast of homemade squash empanadas they had purchased at a roadside stand the day before.
Jake stood at the passenger’s side of the beat-up, old pick-up that he and Creek had borrowed to transport them across the unforgiving Mexican desert. With the passenger door ajar and a backpack open on the seat, Jake switched lenses and put in a fresh battery for his camera. Creek walked by with an arm full of harvested yucca leaves, “You about ready to shoot for this skill? I think we still need to grab some shots of the Spanish Dagger with the macro lens.”
“On it, boss,” said Jake, as he hoisted the camera strap up over his head and placed it around his neck. He began to weave his way through the hushed desert landscape to find the perfect specimen.
Jake wasn’t confident that he could navigate his way back to camp, as he zig-zagged through the tapestry of the desert in search of the perfect Yucca. He then understood how easy it is to get lost in the wild, especially in a place like this, where there are no landmarks or topographic clues, and you encounter the same four or five plants at every turn. He wasn’t worried, though, because he knew for sure that he was within shouting distance of camp and Creek. So, he pressed on, keeping in mind not to stray too far.
Twenty minutes or so had passed. Jake was hovered over the needle point tips of an excellent example of Spanish Dagger, perfecting his manual focus to document the plant, when he heard it. It was a sound that could have been anything, but sounded eerily familiar to him, promoting a strange sense of dread in his gut—not the same sense of gut dread caused by consuming the water in Mexico.
The next thing Jake heard was quick footsteps coming from his left. He had been crouched taking his series of photos, so when he turned to his left and looked up he was met with the blinding light of the mid-morning desert sun. He put his hand up over his eyes, but it didn’t help. He couldn’t see a thing, except for the black mass of shadow barreling toward him.
Suddenly, Jake was knocked to the ground, encompassed in a small cloud of dust, and a hand that wasn’t his was firmly clasped over his mouth. It was Creek. “Stay down and be quiet,” Creek whispered quickly but clearly, in a tone that was unmistakably sincere and full of caution. Jake nodded in agreement and Creek removed his hand. Creek motioned to a nearby boulder and started crawling silently but quickly toward it. Jake followed.
“What’s going on, man?!” said Jake in a quiet yet exclamatory whisper. Creek was silent for a moment as he peered out from around the rock listening intently to any sound that might be emerging from the foothills in the near distance. Before Creek could answer, Jake heard it again. This time it was too close to be mistaken.