The smell of warm blackberries, baked by the hot afternoon sun. Dry grasses and drier earth, no breezes and a sky stretching overhead in a cloudless drape of pure blue.
I walk, my booted foot kicks an incidental stone off of the shimmering asphalt and sends it skidding into a bone-dry drainage ditch. It bounces off of a sun-bleached paper cup, and for a second, I’m filled with disappointment that it didn’t end up inside. I notice more dead trash lining the ditch and look away.
A distant humming drone reaches my ears and I stop walking to cock my head this way and that with animalistic curiosity, relying on instinct to find the best angle of audibility. I close my eyes. It helps, turning off one sense to strengthen another.
Single-engine prop plane. Running smooth and clean, somewhere behind and to the left, the southwest. There’s no wind to confuse the source of the sound. It’s high, though. Perhaps too high to see me.
I open my eyes and shrug my heavy backpack off my shoulders. There’s a cracked but functional pair of binoculars lashed to the top, and I unlace the rawhide cord that holds them in place. I worry that the sun might glance off the lenses and alert the approaching plane to my presence, but the angles are in my favor. I raise the binocs and point them into the sky.
The plane is moving north, following a parallel path to mine, only several thousand feet higher. I can make out some markings on the fuselage: a red sunburst with a black center. Dark Suns, one of the larger and more organized groups of raiders, so named from some ancient role-playing scenario. So, they have planes now, and pilots to fly them. Neither of these things is good. Is this one scouting, or—
“We’re going to the same place,” I say, and spit a sticky gob into the dust. There’s no question which one of us will get there first, and I battle for a moment with a heroic thought that has me somehow bringing the plane down and preventing it from gaining any further ground. And then it’s flying past, a steady movement north, and I’ve either gone unnoticed or been deemed unimportant. That’s when I notice the fat metal passenger clinging to the underside of the plane, gleaming bright from red nosecone to sharp rear fins.
I decide to travel east from there. The north has become a vain pursuit.
2014.08.23 – 2023.04.20