Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shadow Men

Shadow Men

We were most manly of men. We tested out mettle by roasting in the wastes of the Mohave by day to shiver the night under the stars. Young and foolish, we invaded caves with the most primitive of scaling and lighting implements to put our necks on the line in the way that young men will when testing their manhood. We evaded slippery death to engage in forced marches to the peaks of snow-covered mountains on moonlit nights. We escaped freezing death to push the boundaries of perception via chemical means and returned intact. Though irrationally reckless we considered ourselves sternly rational and clove to the study of the physical sciences and mathematics.

Spring break prompted our road trip, from Tucson north to the Navajo Nation and the cliff ruins of XXX. A full day drive and a ten-mile hike brought us to the base of XXX. We used the twilight to crawl along a precarious trail carved centuries ago by the long disappeared inhabitants, along and up the face of the cliff, over the lower lip, and slipped into the ruins.

The walls of the rooms, flat stones upon flat stones, stood largely untouched by vandals. In the fading light, now augmented by a full moon rising large in the east, we stumbled about. No flashlights to assist we speculated as to the mystery of the inhabitants long disappeared. The roof above, pierced by a smooth rimmed eye-hole of some fifty feet diameter, enclosed stars that shone, twinkled, in the air currents that passed through the eye.

My companion and I found a comfortably low wall, sat ourselves down, and lit some weed. The moonlight provided the little illumination our eyes craved. Never the chattering types but always content in strange circumstances as this, we grew quiet and basked in the mystery. It was a black and silver scene, all contrast. Our eyes and ears open, we sat and stared into the jumble of walls of the vanished community and privately speculated. What had driven them away; was it disease, drought, invasion; what had caused them to abandon their home?

In the dark, my eyes strained for color. I raised my sight to the eye-hole above where the stars seemed to shout their brilliance and appeared as a thousand miniscule gems embedded in a single gigantic setting. Lowering my gaze to the ruins below, I took the last drag and ate the roach.

What creepy-crawly things might be moving near? It was too cold to fear rattlesnakes or scorpions. A rat or two might call this home but without the easy food source provided by the aboriginals they would be few. A flitting from above hinted of bats wedged into the cracks above our heads but surely there was no creature about, able to bring us harm. My ears strained to be filled with sound, but received nothing in return.

I caught a movement in the corner of my field of vision. It naturally drew my gaze and I fought to bring the blackness into focus. I waited and watched. Then, my heart leaped into my mouth as I saw a shadow figure move silently from one of the small rooms into the hallway that split the community. The figure paused briefly, then slipped into another room. I'd heard nothing, was uncertain I'd seen anything at all, as the moment was so brief. It appeared to have a man shape but without a neck, nor were hands or feet discernible. Its shape brought to mind the simple stylized form of the “walk” icon at crosswalks but without a neck, just a bullet shaped head attached to a torso. The most striking of all was that it seemed blacker than the surrounding blackness.

My heart had jumped up but I remained sitting, staring into the dark. Minutes passed and then again I saw it as it rose from behind a low wall and it stood before me at a short distance, unmoving. It's eyeless presence seemed to be looking directly into me, challenging me. I stared silently into the dark at it. It was the purest possible black, so black it made the surrounding darkness comfortably light.

I shifted my gaze slowly to my companion to find him staring silently, into the same darkness. I turned my gaze to its original place, to discover with a light shock the figure was missing. Though my heart now raced, I was still certain it was only a figment of my imagination and the smoke. Raising my sight again to the eye-hole, I found the stars as before competing with each other in brilliance in a sky made dark violet by the rising moon. But something had changed.

The edge of the eye hole, previously regular, and smooth, now bore an unmistakable defect. Where the rim was previously unbroken, I now saw a bullet-headed torso-figure projecting over the edge and seemed to be staring down upon us. I was certain the artifact had not been there before. I'd reached an end with this adventure, and turning to my companion I said with all the composure I could muster, “Let's go.” I'd known my friend from adolescence and thought of him as made of steel. But his response, “Yeah, let's go”, contained an element of fear I'd not heard in his voice before nor since.

We made our way down the precarious moonlit foot-holds, into the canyon below. Only when we were safely on our path to home did we stop and raise our eyes to the gaping mouth of the community above. In the moonlight, the cliff, illuminated in the stark moonlight sneered white faced, the jagged ruin's broken teeth set in its gaping mouth. We briefly compared our experiences and then marched.

We conspired to explain away the experience as merely a figment of our overactive imaginations, combined with the extreme sensory deprivation of an unfamiliar setting. We satisfied ourselves with our rational conclusions but determined there would never need be a return to the ruins. Why should one test such a tidy hypothesis?

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