The two men dripped sweat after the short chase. They sat in the broiling patrol car, hot and miserable, in the mid-day heat. Officer Barrett wrote in his log.
The prisoner looked up and smiled. “Hey hombre, they say if you breathe in the smoke of the burning Deppea splenden plant, you will come face to face with the demons that hold you back. They are hidden in a world of shadows, far away from the life you truly should be living. You know what I’m talking about?”
Officer Barrett kept writing in his book and didn’t look up.
“You know, that gentle nibble, the irritation gnawing at you until it bites at your soul?”
Officer Barrett wiped sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, and glanced in the rear mirror at his prisoner.
“You got illegal plants, Golton?” Barrett asked.
“Illegal? That plant? No. Extinct in the wild, very endangered world wide.”
“The smoke sets you on a journey you wouldn’t believe.”
“I know you don’t have anything on you, unless it crawled out your ass. And I ain’t going there.”
“I know where to get it. Close by.”
“I don’t smoke amigo. But you keep talking like this, I’ll book you on more than just being a public nuisance and you can spend more time in lock up. Understand?”
“I can get it for you now. You see what it can do.”
“I can see it did wonders for you. Why don’t you just shut up?” Officer Barrett chuckled as he wrote in his log.
“You see what I mean? I have an offer for you that could change your life and all you can do is write in your police book. Why don’t you look around, Hombre? People are living other people’s lives.”
Barrett stopped writing, glanced in the side-view mirror for oncoming traffic, then merged the patrol car onto the single lane highway.
Golton made a clucking sound with his tongue and rested his head against the back door. The desert heat penetrated the car and washed over the men in rippling waves.
“Hey Hombre, how about turning up the air in this bucket?”
“Don’t worry about it, we’ll be at headquarters in fifteen minutes.”
“You telling me you don’t have air?”
Barrett said nothing. Golton kicked the seat and slumped down.
“You kick that seat again and I’ll close your window.”
The two men stared at each other in the mirror. Golton broke eye contact and hummed quietly the Spanish song, De Colores as he turned away and looked out the window.
Distant, low mountains gleamed in the desert sun. Sequoia cacti dotted the sparse landscape. The occasional tumbleweed blew across the dusty road.
“I see a few lonely plants out there, Hombre. But none like the Deppea. She has the most beautiful flowers of any plant, more beautiful than the cactus flower. It’s purple. A deep, deep purple like you’ve never seen. I can take you to it.”
Barrett smiled into the mirror. Golton frowned. “Hey, these cuffs are hurting my wrists. Why don’t you fix them at the next stop?”
“Next stop for you is the jail.”
“Before that, I have to pee.”
Barrett started to roll up the rear window.
“No, no! Please the air is all I need!”
The rear windows came back down and Barrett smiled into the rear view mirror.
“You piss in this car and you’ll be cleaning it up.”
Golton Nodded. “Have a heart, Amigo.” But Barrett said nothing.
They sat in silence for a while. Golton coughed and sighed, then said, “The first time I tried the plant, it was such a beautiful day. It was at my cousin Celia’s house, in the back yard. We sat under some trees there and she pulled out this small dried piece of the Deppea. The air was thin and dry that day, too, like today. Some clouds were trying to roll in from the foothills, but the sun was keeping them away. Celia, she lit this little twig and pulled a shawl over us to breath in the smoke. I coughed and choked, Amigo. Oh, man my throat closed up and I could hardly breathe. But, that was when I saw her. She came to me under that tree. She appeared to me first from a silver cloud and took the shape of a beautiful woman with long flowing gowns. She had flowers in her hair. I said to her, where do you come from? And do you know, she looked right at me with those stabbing eyes! Her eyes sparkled like little silver sparks from a blade, like tiny bits of sun. I have always been with you, she says. Then she spread her wings and covered me, took me in her arms and…”
Barrett looked at Golton in the rear view mirror.
“She took you for a ride, huh?”
“No man, she made me see. I saw my life the way it should have been instead of the way it is now. I was a different person. I was me, but a better me.”
Barrett pulled his aviator glasses down his nose a bit and glanced at Golton. “You weren’t a screw up anymore? Good dream. Too bad you can’t live it, huh? Live the dream.” Golton looked away in dismay. “Most drug trips just kill a few thousand brain cells, yeah?”
Golton looked out the window. “You wouldn’t understand even if I told you the whole story. You would just laugh. People like you always laugh at people like me.”
“At drug addicts? Nah, I’m not laughing at you Golton, I’m laughing with you.”
Golton began to cough. He gagged and choked and tried to catch his breath. “What are you doing back there?” said Barrett. He pulled off to the side of the road and got out of the patrol car. Opening the back seat door, he leaned in to see to Golton. “You pull anything and I’ll -”
The spray hit him squarely in the face. Barrett shot up straight and put his fingers to his nose and mouth. A fine, dark purple power covered his fingers. The earth began to spin. Round and round it went until he could no longer hold on, until he staggered back and fell to his knees. His eyes crossed and his eyelids closed.
“I forgot to tell you, Amigo, it comes in powdered form, too,” Golton laughed.
Barrett was rigid on the ground. His body convulsed once, and then went limp.
“Oh, shit, Amigo. Don’t die on me. I still have to get you off the road.” Golton dragged Barrett around the back side of the cruiser and lay him face down in the dirt. He removed the keys to the cuffs and unlocked them from his wrists. “These hurt me, amigo.”
Gloton went through the deputy’s pockets, found cigarettes and matches and lit one up. In the front seat he found a bottle of water and drank it down. Water droplets tickled his nose and he rubbed his fingers under his nose and wiped. When he pulled his fingers back he saw they were purple. “No!” he said out loud and looked in the rear view mirror. The purple was in his nostrils and on his fingers. “Shit, shit!” Golton wiped his face on the deputy’s shirt. He found Barrett’s hanky and used it in each nostril, but it was too late. All he could do now was wait.
Golton sat on the front seat with the door open and stared far across the vast emptiness of the desert plane.
A small dark cloud lingered in the distance. Soon the cloud was rising up. And he could see her coming. On a galloping horse-cloud she rode. Her teeth were bright white and clenched, her hair flowing back into the wind. In an instant she was there. Her wind horse was screaming. Dust flew up into his face. She sat on the thundering horse cloud as it reared up before him. Her shadow cast him into darkness and the wind blinded him with sand.
“Have mercy!” he pleaded.
She leaned forward on the swirling horse-cloud and spread her wings.
“Forgive me mother! I am a wicked man! Please. I know I have not done what I am supposed to do. I have failed you! Please!”
Her voice rang through him like an electric current. It yanked and pulled his flesh, yet was smooth and comforting. A voice, other worldly in gravity and charm, it grounded him, pinned him to the floor of the Mother Earth and opened him like a frog on a dissection table. “You are. No more, no less than eternal truth has created you.” she said.
She picked him up in her arms and carried him far across the desert to a small oasis covered in olive trees. There she gently placed him by the water. He tried to see her, but she melted away into the sand and with her, the light of the day was gone.
He was alone in the heavy, clawing darkness for how long he couldn’t tell, until a small distant light appeared. It came close and was carried by a beautiful dark haired girl. She sat down next to Golton and looked into his eyes.
“Who are you? he asked.
She smiled a perfectly white smile and offered him a cup. He sipped and tasted, for the first time, what he knew to be his life and he spit it out. Bitterness crept inside him and he felt cramps in his stomach.
“Do you not like it?” she asked.
“It is what you have made.”
“I made this?”
She smiled and took off her clothes and stood naked before him.
“You are beautiful,” he said.
She turned and walked into the water and disappeared beneath the surface of the black pool.
“Wait. Come back,” he yelled.
But he knew she would not be back. He knew he was all alone. For alone is what he’d been his whole life. And he felt the stillness of this. Then he felt something very hard come to him. Not on his body but in his mind. It was hard and final and useless, and he knew it was death that he felt. Death, like the sand under his feet, was all around him and made up everything he saw. For the earth and death were the same and made of the same things. All things were living and dead at the same time.
Golton hunched down at the edge of the water and heard whispers there. Whispering voices from everyplace and no place. Pieces of words came to him and filled his heart with heaviness. Words that where whispers of what he could have done with his life, whisperings that meant nothing and all of everything. Empty and meaningless words pinched and bit at his arms and face. Echoes of choices made or ignored long ago. Black vomit full of regrets filled his heart and came out from his mouth, and he knelt down and sobbed them onto the ground. Regrets flowed from his eyes as he moaned and softly cried.
The sound to his left was love lost. The sound to his right was a wrong that could have been righted. The wind gently blew sand toward him, and in those grains, he knew, were the thousands of lost hours he’d spent doing nothing, being nothing, thinking nothing. For he was alone. And Golton wished to all the knowing grains of sand that he could have those moments back. That he could make something out of his life, if only he could have one last chance. “Please dear God, one last chance!” he cried. Then all was still, and black. And he fell asleep.
Golton awoke to a thundering voice. “Get out!” Barrett pulled Golton from the car and steadied him as they walked into the police station door. Golton strained to open his eyes. They stung and felt sand scratched as he tried to concentrate on Barrett’s commands.
“I don’t know what stunt you pulled on me, Golton. But I’ll be damned! Assault on an officer!”
“Hey, Amigo. I’m glad to see you’re all right. I thought maybe you had a bad trip or something. Some people don’t make it back fro the purple flower. It’s too much for their system. They collapse instantly and never come back. But that only a ew. It’s worth the risk, though, eh?” Golton said, as they made their way to the processing room. Barrett sat Golton on a metal chair and cuffed his hands to the table. “Hey, Amigo. Have I told you about the Deppea, the lady in the wind? She comes to me and tells me when things are going to happen.”
“Yeah? Did she tell you you’re gonna spend forever in lock up?” Barrett said, as he filled out a form. “Resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, illegal substances….”
Another voice charged the air. “Barrett, what the hell happened to you?”
A large man stood by the desk.
“Nothing, Sarg. I got the wind knocked out of me. Damn little prick hit me with some kind of spray.”
“Yes. Yes, she tells me many things, Amigo,” Golton said.
“Well, you look like crap. Get yourself hydrated.” Sarg snickered and walked away.
Golton still could not see well, but as he turned to go with Barrett, he heard a banging against the desk, then a fall. Men scuttled toward him and then to Barrett. They said things like, “Get the EMT’s.” And, “Put his feet up.” He heard the chest compressions being performed. More men scuttling back and forth and then the far off sound of a siren could be heard as it raced across the desert toward them.
“Hey, Amigo? Are you still there?”
A voice called, “Somebody get him out of here!” And Golton was being led to a cell. The blurry path to the back was lined in tan uniforms and shiny guns and badges as the whirling sounds of a life and death struggle played out in back of him.
“Amigo. Don’t fight it. I see now what she told me. Yes, she told me she was coming. For you! I thought it was for me. But she covered me with her wings. It must have been for you, Amigo. You! You see? The Deppea Splenden never lies. I told you, Amigo. She sends you on a trip, eh?” Golton laughed and coughed. “A trip, eh?”
Golton suddenly grew very tired and rested his head on the bench in the cell. He wondered what trip the policeman had been on. If she had come to him, too. Perhaps she folded her wings on him and he had pushed her away.
The sirens were there now, just outside his door, but they could not keep him awake. They could not bring him back. He fell slowly into the desert’s swirling winds, covered only by her wings. And in that moment, he felt a tinge of regret for the life he had wasted, for the man he could have become, then he felt vaguely hungry and wondered what they were serving for supper that night.