Kyle winced as the sunlight hit his face far too early. He tried to regain the tail end of a quixotic dream, skimming the edges for brief seconds, halfway between figuring out an intensely deep puzzle and bottoming out. And then he was definitely out––it’s impossible to ignore a force that is turning your skin to burnt leather. "You up Dyl?" Kyle called, already aware that his friend was not in the immediate vicinity. He shielded his face and looked out with a massive squint… no one in sight.
In daylight the pool’s enrapturing qualities had vanished, replaced by an equally compelling, if soundly utilitarian, appeal as life source. Whatever spell the combination of deep heat and a many-layered cosmos had held last night, the present landscape was more rattlesnake than lounge.
Kyle felt a sudden urge to get out, split, the uneasy sense that the Mustang might have wandered off of its own volition. But Dylan was still not back and he owed it to him to wait. He gingerly traversed not-quite-burning stones, picking up stray socks and boxers beside the pool and stuffing them into his backpack.
Slinging bag over his shoulder, Kyle found a narrowing wedge of shade under large rocks that signaled steeper ascent. There was no obvious way forward, though Dylan’s disappearance suggested there must be some way off the plateau––better to stay put, following principles learned in Cub Scouts––he was not going to follow a wisp of a trail and find himself stranded.
Kyle planted himself on a low-slung boulder that made a tolerable seat, practicing monumental inertness––fighting a gnawing urge to head down to the car. There was a latent aching for air conditioning and the sweet thrust of V-6 engine, inching them back to that thin line, civilization. As Dharma Bums as yesterday had been, they had not traveled thousands of miles to experience the outback. It was time to expand in other directions––an Allan Kessler-designed tournament in Vegas, hours of mind numbing strategy in casino environs several notches too cold. The nervous, bored clatter of chips and that crisp harbinger of eternal hope, fresh cards off the deck.
Kyle checked his backpack in a rush of panic––the keys were still in the inner mesh pocket, two firm zippers away from being mislaid. He had had the sense not to trust stoned Dylan or his future stoned self with unfettered conveyance of such an essential item.
After a few minutes Kyle stood up, ready to head to the car. Dylan had probably gone ahead to see if he could rustle up a bite to eat…. first some water––the bottle he had replenished several times from the well last night was empty again and he was intensely thirsty.
Blinking through harsh sunlight at the stone well, Kyle hefted the wood cover off and turned a well-oiled winch that lowered the bucket. Steamy vapors arose… it had been a surprise last night to find the water they drew just as hot as the pool water. After a few moments of contemplation it all made sense––the well water would naturally come from the same thermal source as the pool and be of a similar temperature.
As he lowered the bucket, Kyle squinted at something a couple feet beneath the water’s surface. A dark, amorphous shape… some kind of filter or intake gasket? Kyle walked to the far side of the well and examined the ground along the same circumference as the mysterious object. Nothing, just sun-baked hardness… naturally, if a pipe ran from the well at that depth it would be deeply buried…. after staring for 10 good seconds Kyle became aware of a faint discoloration, a six-inch swathe that ran to the precipitous edge of the plateau.
Leaving the bucket dangling, Kyle followed the faint path. Twenty paces to an impossibly sheer drop. Impossible to make out, unless one was looking, a set of narrow steps etched its way along the rock face, curving out of sight halfway down. He marveled, as he had last night groping his way through rock toward the plateau, at the laborious engineering that had gone into this.
Kyle took firm grasp of a twine rope fastened along the side of the rock face and forced an unwilling foot on the first step. It was a 40 foot drop to the more-or-less horizontal terrain below––a scrabble of rocks and boulders that led, he fervently hoped, to a waiting Mustang. Reaching the bend where the steps disappeared Kyle confronted an unexpected drop, with a loosely strung rope the only guard against injurious plummet. Sharply to his left a ledge widened into a shadow-covered indentation in the rock wall––deep and well-concealed enough to be called a small cave.
As his eyes adjusted, Kyle made out a faucet, centered by metal flashing, tightly screwed into the rock face. Turning the spigot, a hard stream of cold water splashed down to a metal grate over a wide drain. He splashed water over his face, smoothing back his hair. Bending over, he drew in mouthful after mouthful of miraculous ice-cold water, too gratified for the nonce to question such an elaborate setup.