The frost nipped at my ears in the bitter cold as I walked past the bluish cast of a mercury vapor lamp. I was at the end of the pavement, and the narrow track leading out into the sagebrush was before me. There was no moon out, but the track was barely discernible in the darkness.
My life was a shambles, my restaurant went up in smoke, my wife and infant daughter were gone. There was no turning back. There was just me and my Army surplus B-9 parka, and my friends at the commune two miles across the darkened sagebrush. I had decided to make a clean break of everything and just vanish.
I was comforted by the knowledge that the rattlers had long gone to their winter burrows, and only coyotes would be out in the darkness. It sure was a lonesome hike as the cold blue light dipped into the blackness as I dropped over the last hillock.
I heard something rustling off to the left side in short bursts, sounding like a dog trotting. It would stop when I stopped, and move when I moved. The gorge of fear rose in me, but there was no turning back. There was nothing left behind me and if I was going to survive at all, my future was down the imperceptible gleam of the path ahead. I wish I had picked up a weapon of some sort, maybe a stick or a board before entering the darkness, but here I was with only my hands.
I pushed back the parka hood to hear better, and felt the bite of bitter air on my ears, but now I could hear better. I tried two or three times to drop to my knees and see if I could skylight my stalker, but he was indistinguishable walking in the sage.
I sensed the narrow bridge ahead of me, but could not make it out. Carefully stepping on it, I felt around with my foot for the center board, and step by feeling step, crossed the steep canyon until I felt the powdery dirt again under my feet. The house was close now, but it was unlit and I couldn’t see it.
I heard the rustle inside the goat pen just off to my right, and knew I was on the path to the house, and finally, the white adobe walls faintly gleamed. When I got to the door, I could see the fire burning through the gaps in the pinewood door. Pushing it open, the welcoming fire lit the room brightly, so it seemed, even though it was a very small fireplace and held perhaps two sticks of wood at a time.
Old Ben, a Mexican-Indian Brujo was tending the fire, but the rest of the residents were asleep. I sure hoped I could find a spare sleeping bag.
“You are safe now.” Ben said.
I nodded, and sat down beside him. He offered me a steaming bowl of some sort of sage tea. Good. I wasn't in a mood for tripping. Ben never used cups, only clay bowls. I discovered much later that they were all a part of his ritual tools, and that he had fashioned them, painted them and fired them himself, using only the crudest of equipment. But at that time, I was just glad that the brew was warm. Though sage is not a favorite beverage of mine, it was welcomed that night.
Just before dawn, Ben got up and walked to the corner of the room, and pulled out a sleeping bag from a pile of backpack and other gear, and said: “This belonged to Button. She left for Texas last week. It is yours, now.” Then he went out the door.
I found an empty spot in the huge bunk bed, and rolled into the bag for the remainder of the night. I knew not what lay ahead, but for the moment, I was home.