Thursday, May 28, 2009


Billy zipped up his fly and got down off the picnic table. He picked up a metal plate from a mess kit and used it to shovel dirt on the remains of the campfire. Rich was pissed and Billy knew it. He kept an eye on him while finished up his work smothering the embers in the fire pit. Rich’s clothes were singed. His face was sooty – in fact, he looked like one of the ninja minstrels. No doubt about it as far as Billy was concerned, Rich had defected.

“You’ve gone over to the other side, man. You’ve gone over to the winners.”

“If winning means I don’t want to burn down the forest and go to jail, then yes, I’ve gone over to the winners.” Rich stopped briefly and peered down at Billy in the smoky darkness, “Look, just help me clean this up so I can go back home, please?” They had tamped out and smothered all of the flames. The ninja minstrels were hunting down the glowing embers that still peppered the ground.

“You’re not going anywhere.” Said the male ninja minstrel.


“You’re not going anywhere,” The man repeated. “We’re calling 911. Andrea, get the cell phone!”

“But we didn’t burn the forest down!” Rich protested. He climbed down off the Cherokee and approached the man. The determination in his voice was replaced by frantic desperation. “We’re sorry, okay? It was just a stupid accident!”


“No, no, no!” Rich threw the axe away like the handle had just burned him. “It’s not like that at all!”

“You guys came up here with that tackle box full of god knows what, got high, harassed us and proceeded to commit arson.”

“The tackle box?” Rich asked. “That’s not even mine. It’s Dave’s fucking tackle box. Dave, the guy who ran off when the trouble started.” Rich walked over to the picnic table, picked up a flashlight and searched out the tackle box. “Look, it’s not a problem. See?” He opened the tackle box latch and pulled out the accordion shelving. With one robust swing Rich threw it and its contents into the forest behind the campsite.

“That doesn’t change a thing,” the man said holding the cell phone his wife handed him. “You’re all going to jail.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The transmission made a loud clunk as the Cherokee was thrown into reverse. The engine revved and the wheels slipped on the gravel. Rich jerkily backed the jeep out of the parking strip next to the inferno and then hit the brakes. This was probably be the only real chance he had to extricate himself from this really bad situation – this really bad time. He recalled that only a few years before, a disgruntled Forest Service employee had set fire to part of the Mogollon Rim and was subsequently sent up to the Federal pen for decades. Rich was certain the same fate awaited himself and his friends, and all of this had occurred simply because they wanted to do something nice for Billy. Everything he and Dave had done here with and for Billy happened with the best of intentions.

Rich collected his thoughts and assessed the situation. The ninja-minstrels were using their sleeping bags and clothing to smother the flames spreading on the ground. Billy was making the feeblest of attempts to douse the campfire by opening his fly and urinating onto the flames from the smoldering picnic table. The tree branches above the fire pit still burned. Dave was nowhere to be found. Rich came to a decision. He wheeled the Jeep around 180 degrees and backed it into the parking strip – back into the inferno. Without saying a word, he exited the Cherokee, picked up the first cooler he saw and dumped its contents into the fire pit. The second cooler got the same treatment.

“The beer!” gasped Billy while zipping his fly.

“Shut your fucking mouth, get down here and help me or I’ll kill you right here, tonight.” Rich replied emotionlessly. He climbed up onto the roof of the jeep from the back bumper with the firewood axe and began to hack at the flaming tree branches surrounding him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


By the time Rich made it back down to the trail head at the mile maker campground, he was covered in dirt and countless abrasions. He had fallen most of the way back to the scene of the crime unfolding in front of him; the scene of the crime of arson as perpetrated by Rich and his two friends in a National Forest while drunk and under the influence of a number of illegal drugs. It looked bad. It was bad. Apparently the campfire had touched off the small propane tank of the camp stove. Dave had set it up too close. There may have even been a small explosion. Flames were spreading along the dry ground and a fair amount of the picnic table was on fire. The branches of the shade trees above the campsite were ablaze. Even the paint on the side of the Cherokee looked like it was blistering in the heat. Rich had no doubt in his mind that they were all in very deep shit.


“You’re not going to just LEAVE us?” The male ninja minstrel shouted in a rage. The athletic ninja-minstrel couple had also returned to the scene of the crime and were frantically kicking dirt and stamping on the spreading flames. “You started this! You’re responsible! You’re all responsible!”


Rich looked up from the steering wheel of the jeep where he was fumbling for his keys. He could see Billy silhouetted by the flames as he stood on the burning picnic table. He had the bottle of Dos Gusanos in his hand and was howling at the top of his lungs.


“Oh shit,” Rich groaned. He had found the keys and started the ignition.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The campfire, the ninja minstrels, the smoke in his eyes, the fire, Rich looked around him and added the sudden disappearance of Dave to his inventory. The brakes in his mind slammed his trip to a crushing halt. These two panicked ninja minstrels were in fact their maligned campground neighbors. They were the athletic looking couple they had been poking fun at eons ago – eons ago when Rich and his friends were setting up camp. The cycling couple they poked fun at eons ago before they came up to the cliff – eons ago when Dave started the roaring campfire. The roaring campfire Dave started eons ago. The roaring campfire next to which Dave set up the propane camp stove. Dave… he had completed the equation, solved for X and had the linear function laid out straight from their journey’s beginning in Tucson to an orange jumpsuit in Federal Prison.

Rich broke into a run, straight down the ridge, ignoring the switchbacks. Following close on his heels were the sooty ninja minstrel-cycling couple and Billy. Dave had undergone a separate similar deductive epiphany and took a different course of action.

Monday, May 18, 2009


With the sun’s glow quickly fading, Rich, Dave and Billy headed back down the trail toward their camp. The air was cooling off. They could feel their footsteps on the light coating of pine needles that dusted the forest floor. Suddenly, Rich stopped in his tracks.

“Hear that? Somebody’s coming.”

“Who… Who’s coming?” Dave asked. He and Billy stopped short of running over Rich where he stood. All three of them peered down the switchbacks lacing the hillside they were descending. They could hear footsteps and raised voices. It sounded like somebody running.

“There, down there. Can you see them coming up the switchbacks?” Billy hissed.

“Yeah, two.” Rich confirmed. “Look at them go.” Rich watched their progress through the pines. “They’re coming right up here. Heh, they look like ninjas!”

“What the fuck, ninjas?” Dave laughed and then caught a glimpse of the running strangers now only just a couple switchbacks away. “They’re wearing black face!”

“Minstrel show!” Billy shouted. “Hey minstrel-show, we're right up here! Come up and do the cakewalk!”

“Ninja minstrel-show… who are they?” Rich wondered. It appeared to be a man and woman who had haphazardly applied black face make up to their arms and legs. He tried to get a better look but his eyes started to water, “What’s the deal with this fog, or smoke? It’s seriously hurting my eyes.”

“Hey! A man’s voice issued from the smudgy black face of one the ascending minstrels.

“Hey what?” Rich shouted. He turned to Billy and Dave and remarked in a whisper, “Why does this kind of weird shit always happen on acid?”

“I don’t know man, I thought you might have planned this.” Dave had stopped laughing and grew increasingly nervous. This was seriously weird shit happening. Seriously weird shit Dave instinctively sensed he might need to make a hasty exit from. The ninja minstrels made it to the switchback directly in front of them. The taller male ninja minstrel sunk to his knees panting heavily. The slightly smaller, female ninja minstrel ran past him. She was coming for them. They all knew it at that point. The ninja minstrels ran up the trail to find them.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009



You should both hold hands and jump,” Dave wisecracked.  He had scrambled up behind Rich and Billy while they were watching the sun slip behind the horizon.

    “Dave!”  Rich gasped like he genuinely did not expect to see his companion up here on the cliff.  He wheeled around and hugged him like he hadn’t expected to see him anywhere north of Phoenix.  Rich’s embrace caught Dave off guard.  He dropped a lit cigarette on the ground where it quickly blew away.

    “Hey, look what you’ve done man!  Do you want to start a goddamn forest fire up here?”  He pulled away from Rich and glanced around him with brief concern.  Distracted by the sky, Dave stopped his search and gasped, “holy shit, what a lightshow!”

    “That’s what we said.” Billy responded.  He had moved away from the cliff’s edge back toward the boulders, looking for a spot out of the wind to light a cigarette of his own.  “I’m getting kind of thirsty.”

    “I came up here to tell you acid heads that dinner is almost ready.  Let’s get back down there and dig in.” 

    “Oh yeah!, camp, dinner… beer!”  All of these wonderful things re-emerged in Rich’s thoughts.  He began his descent down the boulder field back to the trail.  “Let’s go back to camp!”



Monday, May 11, 2009



     The sun was setting.  The light from Dave’s substantial campfire danced in the low hanging bows of the surrounding pines.  Embers buzzed about like fireflies while he struggled with the stove. Dave took no notice when Rich and Billy slipped out of the camp and headed up the well worn path leading to the cliff, which offered a commanding view of the Mogollon Rim.  The only ones who noticed Dave and Billy’s departure were the cycling couple that watched their giggling and stumbling with marked disapproval. 

            They climbed the short trail to the edge of the trees.  They scrambled their way over the massive sand stone boulders to the sheer drop of the cliff.  The view was brilliant, like so many Arizona sunsets before and since.  For Rich and Billy, the setting of the evening sun was a singularity of awe and wonder.

“Holy shit, look at it all.”  Rich stood

            “It just goes, on and on; the mountains, the clouds, the earth and sun, the stars, the universe – all of it moving so fast,” Billy reflected.

             “It’s amazing.”  Most of the time it all looks so unchanging but it’s really changing right before our eyes,” Rich leaned into the wind and teetered on his tip-toes.

                 “Millions of tiny changes all happening every single moment…” Billy joined him up there in the wind.  He closed his eyes.  An electric shudder passed through his bony frame, “…an endless stream of moments that will never happen again.  I’m a bubble on the surface of that stream.  I’m no different from every other bubble, just going down stream until I pop.  No more bubble, just the stream.”  He opened his eyes and looked down.  Six inches from the end of his toes was open air.  The wind, the rocks hundreds of feet below and the smell of sage dared him to walk forward through the fear and self-medication.  The Mogollon rim dared him to walk forward into certainty.  At that moment, Rich put a hand on his shoulder.

             “Bro, I don’t know what to say.”

            “Don’t worry, it’s cool.” 

            The both of them sat for awhile in silence.  The wind blew up from the desert below and the sun turned red.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


“I’m just gonna make this a thing.  Just a cool… you could have it.”  Dave murmured as he rummaged through the food cooler.  The glory of the campfire’s ignition and the ensuing discussion had faded.  His role in the camping trip for Billy ebbed back into his nervous system.  He was high, but he had a purpose.  He tore the cellophane off of the steaks.  He hunted for the cooking tools.  He turned his attentions to the camp-stove.  “Fucking thing won’t start.  It needs some kind of more... fuel.”

            “Just like the sun.”  Billy said.  “The fire is just like the sun, here in the land of the sun.  Whoa, think about it dude, I’m leaving the land of the sun.”

            “The land of the sun?”  Rich tried to anchor his scattering attention on Billy’s words.  “Is this the land of the sun?”

            “Well, when you die, where the fuck do you go?  Wherever you’re going do you think the sun goes with you? Of course not.  It stays here. So... this is the land of the fucking sun.  It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?”

            “Sure… no, well… shit, but the only way...  Does the sun have a fucking soul?”

            “You’re starting to feel it.”  Billy’s gaze remained steady on the campfire. “It’s starting to happen.”

            “Hell yeah.”

            “Oh, the sun is setting.  We gotta hike up to the cliff.”

            “We gotta hike up there,” Rich echoed.  There were so many things going on.  There were so many things to be worried about but they came and went so fast.  There were so many things to see and they too were happening so fast.  There were so many things to say or not say.  There were so many things happening; all new, old, different.

            “We gotta go up there.” Billy commanded.

            “We gotta go up there.” Rich confirmed. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The couple with the bikes and the Subaru gamely tried to ignore the boozy, juvenile taunts from the three of them.  Dave’s work with the stove and campfire continued.  He sloshed the kerosene and lighter fluid to and fro.  Soon the campsite was awash in accelerant.  The fumes hung in the air.

    “I am the god of hell-fire and I bring you…”

    “FIRE!!!”  Everybody joined in a rousing chorus of the Arthur Brown song as Dave tossed a flaming book of matches on the flammable-soaked firewood.  There was an audible whoosh and bright orange flame.  Dave, Rich and Billy stepped back from the fire pit, silenced by the spectacle.  They stared at the flames and wood, listening to the split and crackle.  They stared on and on, unaware of each other’s presence or their location.  They were consumed.

    “Whoa, it’s hot and bright.”

    “It’s orangey.”

    “When did you do that??”

    “Do what?”

    “Start the fire.”  Rich said mechanically.  He repeated himself, unsure if he was the one who asked in the first place.  “When did you start the fire?”

    “When did who start the fire?”  Dave wrestled with the meaning of each word in Rich’s question but couldn’t find enough.  “Who started the fire?”

    “You started it man,” Billy jumped in.  “You started the fire.  A man… you, started the fire.”

    “Are we talking about this fire here?  I started it, but I didn’t… wait,” Dave raced to catch up to his words.  “You weren’t asking me about fire, right?  Just this one?”

    “Fire’s fire,” Rich said.  He smiled his broad smile, “and this is a fire, and also the fire.”  His voice broke up in choking laughter.  It caught on with the other two.  All three of them wheezed with laughter.  This was fire.  It was also a fire and additionally, it was the fire.  Pretty simple stuff, really.  Pretty simple, highly amusing stuff. 

Monday, May 4, 2009


Dave complied with Billy’s request.  He distributed blotter tabs to his two friends, took an additional belt off the bottle of Dos Guzanos and began to indiscriminately pull camping gear out of the Jeep.  Very quickly, he returned to the picnic table smoking a cigarette and carrying canisters of fuel for the camp stove. 

    “Hey losers! I’m gonna totally cook us up a feast. You all should set up the tent before things get crazy around here.”

    “Losers and winners, prey and predators,” Rich walked back to the Jeep.  He picked up the storage bag for the tent off the hard clay ground.  Dave had tossed it there along with the accompanying poles in his strung out search for the stove and its fuel. "Bullshit. Come on Billy, this is the fucking U.S.A., you can be anything you want here if you work hard enough.”

    “Yeah, and having the right parents and friends doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It means you’re a bigger loser than we are, dude.” Dave interjected.  He was distractedly trying to do two things simultaneously that safety would dictate one do separately and with one's full measure of attention – start a fire and set up the camp stove.   He was definitely the most fucked up of the three from the early goings, but still up and about, still making a contribution to the proceedings.  “You come from a family with money… winners, but you decided to try and be a rock star, sooooo... here you are”

    “Here I am?”

    “Yes,” Dave and Billy responded.

“Fuck no, mi hermanos!”  Rich worked steadily at erecting the tent.  “Nobody here is any of that shit Billy’s talking about.  We’re brothers, man.  The rest of it doesn’t matter.”

    “The rest of it never matters to winners.”  Billy had finished his cigarette but made no move to help either Dave or Rich.  “Don’t worry dude, I still think you’re cool.”

    “Yeah, we won’t make you go eat some kinda freeze dried bean curd with those two dykes over there,” Dave stood up from his work and waved a piece of firewood above his head in the direction of the neighboring couple, “right ladies?”

    “That’s a man and a woman, dude!”  Rich corrected him.

    “Could’a fooled me.  With all that stupid bicycle gear on they look alike.”

    “YEAH, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT YOU!”  Billy stood up from the picnic table and shouted at the couple.  He grabbed the bottle of mescal and nosily gulped down another swallow.  He whooped like a Sonoran bandit and shouted at the couple again, “DON’T WORRY SKIP AND MUFFY, WE DIDN’T BRING OUR GUNS!”