There is a non-linear timeline. The prior entry is compulsion which takes place years after this event.
By ten o’clock the temperature has risen to ninety four degrees. The morning mist has long since burned away from the trail and where the sunlight bakes the yellow-brown dust the heat rises and curls around our legs. Ocotillo and sage spike upward from between gray-brown boulders. Every twenty minutes or so I have to stop and wring the sweat from my headband, leaving splotches in the dirt the earth absorbs in seconds.
Annie lags behind on these hikes so that I have to stop at an intersection or the crest of a hill to let her catch up and catch her breath. She gets listless in the heat. When she inevitably takes the wrong fork or simply stops I have to backtrack and keep her from hiking down mountainsides we’d have to retrace when it's hotter.
An objective observer would suppose that I’ve dragged my poor wife along on these hikes. Truth is, she drags me from behind. She insists she loves the desert. Insists on picking a hike that will take the greater part of the day. Insists on leaving early and carrying maximum provisions. Then she'll try to find the exact spot of the pictures she'd seen in “Outdoors” or “Arizona Highways”, and be gravely disappointed when she can't.
“Do we have our snake bite kit?” she says, panting, coming up to me when I stop at a switchback.
"Did you get bit by a snake?"
"I want to make sure we have it just in case."
I take a sip from my water jug and suggest she do the same. I say, "I dunno. Maybe. What if we don't? You can walk back to the car to get it. Just don't get bit by any snakes on the way."
"I told you to pack the snake bite kit," she says. The heat makes her testy and then we're into the unpleasant part of the trip. Why she decides we need to reenact the Bataan death march once a month is beyond me.
"Well I have mine," I say. "But I assumed you had yours."
"As long as we have one," she says. Takes a few steps as if she's going to go on without me.
I say as I walk, "You think I'm going to use my snake bite kit on you if you get bit? Think again, sister. It's every man for himself out here. There is only the law of the jungle out here. Survival of the fittest. Evolution in action. This is where the tough get going and the weak get bit by snakes and mongeese. Yessiree."
She stops and wheels around. Looks to see if anyone could possibly be near in the wilderness, then into my eyes, "You will never get another blow job as long as you live. I will see to that."
"I was kidding," I say.
"I'm not. Your days of 'oooh oooh baby like that' are over."
We walk in silence for a few minutes while I give the gravity of her threat its proper consideration. I walk behind her, contemplating her ass as she tries to keep her footing on some bare rock.
"You're the one with the 'oooh oooh baby'," I say. "I never do that. Name me one time I did that. You can't because I never did it. You do it so you think everyone does it but let me tell you it sounds like monkey talk. Here what I'm sayin? When you do that 'oooh oooh' I think, 'Jane's been spending too much time with Cheetah in the tree house.' Or maybe, Bedtime for Bonzo. 'Oh Tarzan, it's so big and you're so hairy.' That's what I'm talking 'bout."
She lets my monologue drift out over the desert pavement.
After a few more minutes watching her back pockets I say, "You know what would look good right there? One of those tattoos. Know what I'm sayin'? Right above your butt cheeks in the small of your back. Coupla wings or some sort of tantric symbology. Like those Escher paintings that go around in circles and you wind up right where you start again. Would give me something to look at when--"
She stops. Turns. She's got that trace of anger in her eyes that makes them narrow. Her jaw's set.
"You are so goddamned gorgeous when you're angry," I say, which makes her more angry, which is why I say it.
She shoots me one of her “if I kill you now I’ll have to eat you” looks and I turn to resume the death march when something moves in the brush just ahead of us. I slow my pace and hold out an arm and stop her.
She says, “Is it a snake? I'm taking the snake bite kit." She moves behind me and peers over my shoulder. “Let’s go back." She turns and starts in the opposite direction.
"Annie. Stop," I say. "This trail makes a loop. It's longer to go that way than to go straight ahead." Doesn't she read the maps?
Now the rusling is more pronounced. Branches of big creosote bush moves. It isn’t a snake. Whatever it is seems at least a few feet high. Images flash through my mind spurred on by the base instinct that lives in the reptilian part of my brain. Wild pig. Coyote. Deer.
That’s the one I lock onto. It’s crouching in the bushes and will pounce as we walk past. I don’t need to see anymore to know what it is. How come we’re the only people for miles?
My heart starts to race. I don’t have any weapons. Maybe we should go back.
“I think it’s a mountain lion. Look big,” I whisper to Anna, and I begin to walk backward keeping my eyes on the bushes. I know if I turn my back to it, it will attack.
“Look what? How the do I look big? How do I do that? How?”
"Act like John Goodman."
I push her backward, keeping my eyes on the animal in the bush. Behind us the trail makes a turn around a rocky outcropping. If I can get us behind the rock wall we might encourage the lion to come out and go away.
Then Anna digs in her heels. “Wait. It’s not an animal. Look.”
I haven’t taken my eyes off the moving brush. What the hell is she talking about?
Then I see what she sees.
Two dark eyes materialize within the spaces between the leaves of the bushes. Then an outline appears. This is no animal. It’s a biped. Something like human, only about three feet high. How could I have missed it?
I feel it’s sizing me up. I feel hunted.
Now I know. I feel it. Aliens abduct isolated couples in the desert. That's the secret of Roswell. Area 51. Happens all the time. Soon it would be needles in the eyes, rectal probes, and alien embryo implants. I’ve seen the shows on the fiction channel on cable.
I whisper, “Annie. Walk. Backward. Let’s get out of here.”
“No,” she says in full voice.
“It will hear you,” I say, shushing her the best I can, and I try to push her by taking a backward step. Instead of locomotion, our legs intertwine and she trips and falls backward pulling me with her.
“Nolan,” she says when we're falling.
And then the familiar feeling, the thought somehow shared. I can’t read minds. I can’t. Don’t care what she says. Can’t be done by me.
How did I know what, “Nolan” meant, then?
I yelp before we go down. I spread my arms and shout, hoping we’ll look big enough to be uninviting victims. Damn those alien paralysis rays.
The alien jumps from the brush onto the trail and lungs toward us, arms spread, hissing and spitting.
I scramble to my feet with my fists clenched, gnashing my teeth, blood pressure blasting bass drums in my ears.
It's saying something. Am I hearing this--"Annie? Annie!"
It knows her name. I hate it more for that, lousy fucking mind-reading alien punk bastard. This thing would have to kill me before it touched my wife. It runs toward us, a distorted three-plus feet of humanoid flies, emitting its horrid scream, waddling on its scrawny legs, waving its distorted arms while screaming and I scream thinking I’ll dive on it and sink my teeth into its neck when it reaches me.
“Nolan!” Anna shouts with glee.
So I shout, “Nolan,” too.
He passes me and crashes into Anna who's pulled herself to a sitting position. When he collides he knocks her to her back. There’s a popping sound and a blast of something liquid shoots out from beneath her.
Holy shit. It’s kissing her. No, it’s killing her.
I tear the creature off of her and fling it aside expecting to find her bleeding from the impact.
“Mitchell, what the hell are you doing?” Anna says, in something between shock and annoyance. “For pete's sake it’s Nolan.”
Something hits me behind the knees and I go down kneeling. An impact between my shoulder blades pushes me face first into the dirt. Then pressure on my head, grinding my teeth into the rocks.
The thing is on my back. The thing is mad.
The thing is cursing at me in English. American English. It grabs me by the hair and slams my head into the dirt while I flail helplessly trying to grab at it from behind.
“I was trying to say 'hello' you asshole. Is this what you want motherf…”
I manage to grab an ankle and yank. A child-sized sneaker comes off in my hand.
Nike. Was that what aliens are wearing these days?
“Nolan, stop!” I hear Anna. “He’s my husband.”
“All the more reason to trash the fucker,” comes the voice of a full-grown cross-country big rig driver. What the hell is happening?
I roll out from under the small man and stand facing him, my fists clenched. The metallic salty taste of blood filling my mouth.
“Sure, big man. Come on fucker, scream like a girl. Makes you feel good to beat up on little people? Makes you feel big? Come on, I’ll tear your fucking balls off and kill the whole family you'll never have.”
Two steps backward and I can see my attacker—somehow a full-grown adult male is only three feet and some inches tall. His hair, deep black and wild rides over a high forehead and deep-set eyes. His arms and legs are too short for his torso. He wears what seem like children’s jeans and sneakers and a T-Shirt for a local strip bar that has a cartoon of two naked women kissing and reads,
*Debbie does Debbie*
Props Recharge Department
“What the thell…youth brothke suthig,” I say, feeling a tooth flopping around in my mouth. An electric bolt of pain emanates from where my fingers touched the newly exposed nerve. “He brothke mieth thooth,” I complain to Anna.
But she’s having none of me. She sits upright and the dwarf runs to her, wrapping his arms around her, kissing her full on the mouth. It’s too much. I pull him off her and he punches me in the knee. The spike of pain sends me back to the ground, one hand on my broken tooth, the other reaching to my knee, involuntarily cursing.
“For God’s sake, can’t you guys cut the bullshit?” Anna presses a palm onto the man's chest and keeps him from attacking me again “Honey, this is Nolan,” she says, then, “Nolan, stop beating my husband.”
“He started it,” Nolan says, arms flailing. “I’m out here taking a leak behind the goddamned tumbleweeds when this asshole has to get all Rambo on me. I gotta defend myself.”
“Leth hith go soth eye canth teah is heath oth,” I say. Nothing would please me more at that moment then to see his limp body fed to the coyotes.
“Brave talk, big man, you’re the one who’s bleeding,” Nolan sneers. I try to sneer back, but pain shoots from my front tooth and makes me close my mouth.
The pain turns to anger. I take a step toward him but Anna stops me. She holds out a hand, lowers her head and shouts, “Don’t you touch him,” as four hikers round the corner by the stone outcropping and see us.
Nolan sinks to the ground holding his head. “Savage bastards. You fuckers. There are laws in this state. I'll see you burn for your hate crimes.”
Anna kicks at him with the toe of her hiking boot. “Get up, you faker.”
“They’re terrorists. Dwarf-beating butchers. Hurry, get the rangers and throw them into the slammer before these truculent cows have the chance to oppress some other unfortunate soul.”
A tall male hiker breaks away from his party and says to Anna “Are you okay, ma’am?”
“Can I walk back with you?”
The man doesn’t answer right away. His friends seemed stunned.
“You’re bleeding,” the guy says to me.
“Goodth cauhl Serlock. Heah slameth meyh fase inno a rokh.”
“He…” the man starts, then looks toward Nolan. Smiling he finishes his sentence, “…slammed your face into a rock.”
“Threth timehs,” I lisp. And the bastard snickers. I feel like clocking him. If I wasn’t already in so much pain I would.
“Don’t think I can take care of myself?” Nolan says in his husky man-of-the-road voice. “That’s the problem with all you uncivilized de-evolved excuses for human beings. Always judging. Feeling superior because everyone else fits in your mold. Always knowing how other people should live their lives. Out protesting night and day to save the environment, chaning yourselves to bulldozers to save the fucking spotted burrowing owl habitat, unbeaching whales, replanting withering milk weed but not a shred of hesitation to before condemning your fellow human being because of his height. Anti-human bigotry. You people and your doggie manicurists make me nauseous. Come over this-a-way so I can puke on your boots you human maggot.”
Anna sighs, drops her shoulders and shows her palms to the sky. “Obvious--testosterone rots your brain. You boys can stay out here and butt heads. Go ahead kill each other. I’m leaving.”
Nolan calls after her, “But I am the victor. Mine IS bigger than his. You gotta stay here and check it out. "
"Whatch awthout fer thes thsnaeks. Aye steel hathe the stnake biete keet," I say.
She ignores us and starts down the trail ahead of all of us, the remaining contents of her broken water bottle dripping from her backpack leaving a trail like moist breadcrumbs for us to follow.
Next is The proper names of the angels