At first, I thought it was a mirage. After walking for two nights of freezing cold and two days hiding in any shade, a boulder, a large cactus, my tarp to escape the searing sun, hallucinations may have joined in this taste of hell.
My trip started on May 24, 1990. like most, a three-hour drive from one small town to another, recording information about America's dwindling small towns in the Southwest. I took hundreds of photos of dead or dying towns. I gleaned information from old newspapers in musty basements and interview people who shared stories and memories of places like Roving Springs and Monroe, Texas. Those tiny towns and others still have populations of under one-thousand permanent residents. Some areas are dead, but not quite gone, and I don't want them to be forgotten. I recorded any story people shared and included their pictures and those of thier ancestors, with their permission.
Unfortunately, my elderly Chevy Suburban died in the middle of nowhere, Texas, or maybe Oklahoma. This adventure took place before GPS, cell phones, or anything but a Rand McNally Atlas and state or county maps. Some of the towns and hamlets weren't on any map. I'd find places with just a few decaying shacks, probably from the gold-rush days in the late 1800s.
Sometimes I'd learn about these places by word of mouth, the people I interviewed were mostly elderly and loved to tell their stories, and I loved recording them for future generations before they were gone forever.
I was as prepared as I thought I needed to be, over-prepared, according to my housemate in Houston. I filled two new five-gallon gas cans with water, replacing them with fresh once a week. Liz had a double gas tank. Beef Jerky, granola bars (the kind that ripped the crap out of your mouth, they were that harsh and dry), and dried fruit filled an old cooler. I never planned on eating dried fruit and beef jerky for survival; it was mostly for peace of mind.
As things turned out, I needed every one of them and more. Hiking with a five-gallon water container didn't cut it, so I filled my two canteens and packed my camping gear; a tarp, a flashlight, extra batteries and a Bic lighter, my journal, and camera and began walking west toward the next town on my list.
I'd taken Liz, my Suburban, named for her color, an indeterminant shade of yellowish green, Liz(ard), for a thorough check-up, new tires, and a spare before leaving town. My guess is the record-breaking heat and dusty sand choked her. I'll never know.
After a couple of days and nights of seeing only sand, rocks, and cacti, my heart lept with relief and joy at the sight of buildings in the distance. At best, an inhabited town with a phone and a tow truck. At worst, abandoned buildings would provide shelter and, hopefully, a water source.
My joyous anticipation dwindled to a wisp of hope with the next sunset. I awoke that last morning as the sun relit the desert flames. The buildings looked larger, but not as much as I'd hoped. I'd run out of food and water, and the Bic lighter grew weaker with each small fire I lit to keep the night cold at bay. There was very little of anything to burn out there., Oh, and dried food is a stupid choice in the desert.
Thrusting fate to the winds, I thought, or hoped, I'd reach the buildings if I walked during the day. After a few hours, my legs shook with weakness, my breath came in short gasps, and I stumbled and fell as everything went black in the worst situation ever, daytime in the badlands.
I had no idea if I was dead or alive when I came to and took a breath of sweet, humid air. Birds chirped and cawed, and water droplets fell onto me from a thick canopy of trees.
I figured I'd died, and this place is as close to heaven as a deserter from the Catholic Church might get. I wanted to lay here forever and sleep, feeling so calm and refreshed, but an unfamiliar sound made me sit up. I heard an unusual humming, or music, beautiful and otherworldly. It came from the plants that seemed to smile and greet me. I didn't see it; I 'felt it.” I looked around at a tropical paradise. Above me, small specks of deep, clear blue sky glittered between the foliage.
I reached for my camera and discovered that all of my gear and clothing had vanished; I instinctively grabbed a fallen palm frond and covered myself. Oh shit, this was one hell of a hallucination!
Foliage rustled nearby and drew my attention to a plant with huge variegated purple and green ovoid leaves, as tall as I or maybe taller. It shimmered and took on a translucent androgynous human form. I sat there naked and transfixed as it moved nearer, reminding me of that old movie, Predator.
Varying vibrations pulsed through me as if I was a radio that someone or something was trying to 'tune in.' Finally, the shifting vibrations faded, and at the risk of writing a cliché, the vision spoke with an angelic voice.
I tried to speak and move but couldn't. Panic set in. Was I truly dead, or had I been beamed up by aliens? Nothing made sense.
I heard the voice in my head, telepathy?
“Don't be afraid. You are safe. I am here to deliver a message. You are not dead. You are in a different time when your harsh desert was a flourishing place of life of every kind, many that perished eons ago.”
I still couldn't move, save for my eyes, which I closed and opened, but the vision or being remained.
“You have a gentle soul and a strong spirit. Everything happens for a reason, and your path led you here to explore and enjoy all that once was. Your trials in that world were to give you an experience, so you will be more determined to help us. We want you to share what you learn here with your world so it will stir more humans to appreciate what they have and what they are destroying.”
'What the hell?
“We chose you for those attributes as well as your curious mind, a passion for writing something important, and the ability to spend long periods of time alone. You were chosen for these reasons and others that you will discover as you work."
Be still and observe, listen, and experience life here. Do not worry. Nothing here will hurt you.”
I obeyed, not having another option. I listened to the many sounds of this place and heard house wrens, finches, parakeets, and other bird calls I was unfamiliar with. A male robin fluttered to the ground near me. This made no sense. So many birds from every climate flourishing in one place! A vast area of water appeared just beyond a patch of moss where pink flamingos, cranes, herons, and all manner of waterfowl lived. My eyes were my camera, recording every sight. Even in print, creatures and plants I'd never seen lived in peace with polar bears, wolves, and elephants.
My heart pounded against my chest as a leopard approached me, her eyes staring into mine, she was so beautiful with very distinctive markings, more like symbols of the sun and moon. She sniffed my face and 'said' “Remember us.” then sauntered back into the foliage.
The plants surrounding me began humming, a soft and loving chorus, similar to a Gregorian Chant.
One by one creatures approached me. Birds, mammals, snakes, and spiders each carried the same message. “Remember us." It all seemed to happen in a few minutes.
The angel, for lack of a better word, disappeared. I laid onto the soft multicolored moss, listening to a soothing symphony sung by every creature on land and sea, then fell into a deep, blessed sleep.
The first thing I noticed when I regained consciousness was an incredibly loud, annoying whirring and a loud voice.
“Welcome back, Mate! You're going to be okay, but you'll need to be checked over in the hospital."
I was in a helicopter. My reflection in the EMT's face guard startled me. I looked like Grizzly Adams, with long hair and a beard. The skin around my eyes was wrinkled as if I'd gone from thirty to fifty in minutes!
“What day is it?”
“He chuckled and said, “It's Wednesday, May 24, 1990. What on earth were you doing in the middle of the desert naked as the day you were born? It's lucky that a small plane spotted you. I'm surprised you're alive, you should be extra crispy and dead. Someone is watching over you.”
I nodded. What could I say?
That was five years ago. I pitched my story to a publisher with the first chapter and brief outline, that they told me were perfect for their fantasy/adventure fiction series. I've read accounts of fictional stories spun from true events, that were so unbelievable they could only be accepted as fictional.
I accepted their generous advance, and royalties allow me to live simply and comfortably in a small cabin in the mountains. I work on the true manuscript as the memories return. I draw and paint them. So many familiar bits of nature, but more importantly, flora and fauna so extraordinary and bizarre, they still haunt me. Scents of clean air, flowers, and the deep blue of the sky are a challenge to recreate.
My skill at this art is far beyond anything I could have produced before my 'experience.' I'm sure it will take the rest of my life to finish it. As soon as I complete one illustration, I rest and enjoy the mountain, then another mental image comes and I go back to the drawing board, as was once said.
Once in a while the breeze whispers, "Remember us."