I'm home from the Grand Canyon with thousands of photos to edit, and a single piece of flash fiction to share.
I wrote this story for our rafting group, and specifically for Ben Whitaker, one of our 7 amazing crew. Why Ben? Because one day, after repeated drenchings, I told him I was going to take him up a dry wash and leave him there. And so I did. Of course, I could as easily have treated any of the guides the same way--repeated washings in Colorado River water is a part of running the Canyon. Ben just got first dibs.
The story is, I hope, comprehensible to those not on the trip, but is especially meant for those who were; forgive the hint of an inside joke. For the non-Canyon folks, a few notes: my trip was with Arizona Raft Adventures, aka AZRA. The "groover" is the toilet. And the food was fantastic and abundant, with no gumbo in sight (not that there's anything wrong with gumbo), and none of our guides dodged the cooking!
Without further ado, I present:
The question ran through camp like wind-blown sand, and no one had an answer. Few heard John’s added question, “and where’s the bag of gorp?” It didn’t matter. The intrepid, though sodden, river guide had vanished. It was his night to cook dinner, too. Rumblings of dismay echoed from the canyon walls.
Dodging campers dripping and irate over the repeated drenchings he had given them and ungrateful for the skill with which he’d kept them from unplanned swims, Ben had fled. Last seen wandering aimlessly toward the north end of camp, a bag of something tucked casually under one arm, he had vanished no one knew where.
When Rebecca commented on seeing Ben sneaking off with the gorp, everyone relaxed. “Gone off to recharge his social batteries,” most agreed.
“Gone off to gorge on snacks,” John muttered. “He hates gumbo night.”
Ben did hate gumbo night. He was also tired of being wet, and of taking the blame when the Colorado River got pissed off at all the boats bouncing so lightly over its surface, or of people speaking lightly of the big rapids. He was worn out with explaining the difference between rowing the rapids well and staying dry.
Plus, he liked gorp.
Now, a long time later, he was thoroughly dry. The gorp was gone and he was thinking fond thoughts even of gumbo. It was time to go back.
Unfortunately, Ben had no idea where he was, or where “back” was. When he turned to follow his tracks to camp, the ceaselessly blowing wind had eradicated all trace of his passage.
Meanwhile, with the dinner hour looming and the cook AWOL, Trip Leader Lorna had efficiently organized her crew. Bekah remained to fix the meal single-handed, in a whirlwind of chopping and cooking. Several campers tried to offer help, but were blown out of the kitchen by the gale-force slipstream of her activity. Lorna led the rest of the guides in the rescue mission, Jon and John muttering about gorp thieves while Jed worried he’d miss the bat count and Matt worried he’d miss dinner.
Not over-fond of gumbo herself, Rebecca chose to follow the searchers, announcing it was a perfect opportunity to gather material for her books. She didn’t mention that she’d seen someone follow Ben. Was that hooded and dripping figure headed for the groover—or for revenge?
Behind Rebecca, unnoticed by the highly focused seeker of stories, several more campers chose to eschew gumbo in favor of glory. Mike, Jen, and Amanda, their duel of wits drawn to a truce for the time being, found the first clue. One dropped peanut, not yet snagged by mouse or raven, suggested to them that Lorna & Co. were searching up the wrong gully. They turned right at the confluence of two dry washes.
Rebecca glanced back in time to see the Alaskans turn off, and decided to climb the ridge between the washes and watch both parties for hints on how to construct a search.
Far up the right wash, Ben had received a revelation in his time of need. Only one way led to the river: down. Turning to follow through on this excellent insight, he wondered if he had the strength for the return trip. So far from the river he felt himself desiccated and thinned, like the cast-off skin of a bored snake.
Suddenly, as he staggered with hunger and thirst, he found himself confronted by a figure in shades and an AZRA hoodie.
“Who? What?” Ben couldn’t form the words, his lips drained of all moisture by the salty gorp. His knees gave way.
The unknown figure pulled a high caliber weapon from behind its back, took aim, and fired.
A heavy stream of water caught Ben in the face as he fell. He opened his mouth, the life-saving liquid rehydrating his parched river-rat skin, and felt life returning as he knelt, lapping the water that ran down his face.
The weapon empty, the unknown assailant turned, still silent, and bounded down the gully.
Only Rebecca saw the hooded figure mix with the other campers enjoying happy hour. She watched Ben stagger into the arms of Jed and Matt (who reminded him he was supposed to be on KP). And she saw the three Alaskans, stymied by a pour-off even they couldn’t climb, slink back into camp seconds before Bekah called for dinner. Only then did she, too, slip back into camp, notebook in hand.
Taking stock of the dire situation, Lorna breached her secret stash of good Scotch and began pouring. A half hour later, everyone loved Bekah’s gumbo. And no one, not even Ben, cared who had pursued him with a vengeful super-soaker.
But John cut off Ben’s access to the snacks, forcing him to subsist merely on three massive meals a day for the rest of the trip.
And Rebecca slipped Beth a bag of warm bath water with a whispered “thank you” for a revenge well executed, as she reconverted the high-power watergun into an innocent pair of telescoping trekking poles.
My photos haven't been edited yet, but I've got a couple to illustrate the story.
|Up a dry wash...|
|And down the wet rapids.|