Kyle made his way up the narrow steps to the plateau, completely soaked and wrestling a grin. The blissed out mood lasted exactly two seconds under the glare of direct sunlight. Thoughts stubbornly returned to Dylan… was there more to his continued absence than some mad scramble to an outcrop where he could take a high-arcing piss? While early morning adventures were not exactly out of character, failing to rouse an old friend was. Kyle calculated the odds. Four years… a lot of time for the old connects of friendship to lapse.
Kyle checked his backpack reflexively, feeling through canvas for the comforting contour of firmly planted car keys. Unless his friend had procured a second set of keys from the rental car agency on the sly, there was no chance of the Mustang wandering off…. was there any reason for revenge, buried there in the years? Many small incidents came to mind, none worthy of a ditching in the desert.
There was of course an easy explanation, far less palatable––Dylan could have lost balance and fallen, twisted his ankle. He could be pinned, unable to move, like that hiker in the desert who cut off his arm with a rock to escape certain death. He could have concussion, amnesia, synesthesia.
The fears crept closer, enclosing him, then dissipated in a flurry of expletives from the apparently unbroken line of rock. Twenty seconds later a familiar figure appeared from the exact spot Kyle was not looking, cradling a game knee “That fucking hurt…” Dylan drained the last of the water from his bottle. “Anyway, good to see you up, mate. While you were out I found a trail, took a little walk about. You missed one incredible view––the whole world, with a shot of infinity on top.”
“You could have roused me, eh?”
“Sorry, I tried––you were out, really out. I prodded you a couple times, it was no go. I did take a high-arcing piss, in your honor.”
If Dylan’s reasoning was sound, there was an almost forced casualness to his broad-faced apology that hinted at some covert mission at dawn. Kyle shrugged, giving in to common sense. The urge to explore was innate in Dyl and as for his inability to be roused… driving all day and getting stoned late at night was known to have a sleep-inducing effect. “I reckon we should head to the car, it’s getting late… first, let me show you something pretty amazing––keep a tight grip on your water bottle, mate.”
Kyle guided his friend to the cliff edge and down steep steps to the miracle of chilled water. As expected, Dylan’s reaction was one of dumbfounded rapture, followed by exuberant slurps. Five minutes later, having chugged several liters and instigated an ill-conceived water fight, Dylan led the way up the steps. Reaching the top, he stopped short, cocking his head at an angle.
The dark silhouette turned, finger brushing lips, “Something in the rocks.” Hefting himself over the top, Kyle caught faint voices. Female, more than two. Then abruptly louder, in debate.
“You said you would––”
“I may have mentioned something, it was definitely not a promise––”
The last words were strangled as a woman, mahogany skin framed by expansive fro, appeared from the same narrow canal that had birthed Dylan minutes ago. There was an instinctive shiver of recognition before her expression hardened into one of poised suspicion. The inevitable pile-up of friends behind, a dread clanking of aluminum water buckets, expletive-expletive-ouch! Sorting themselves out with remarkable speed, sharing quick glances, the three women arranged themselves in a defensive line.
On the left a blonde wisp of a woman in tank top, powder blue shorts, and New Balance running shoes. The woman in the middle was taller, with Latina cast and complexion, and wore an ensemble of black KISS t-shirt and camouflage shorts. Tattoos of snakes or snake-like dragons ran up and down each arm––her straight black hair centered by severe bangs of a 1940s-meets-Uma Thurman variety.
The woman with fro was the first to form words. Hands on hip, looking them up and down with infinite skepticism, she spoke in a throaty Caribbean accent. “I’m Sumuru, who the fuck are you?”
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