A few years ago while dry camping in Baja, our friends, veteran campers in this area, showed us the way to a spring about a 45-minute hike from our camp. In this semi-desert landscape a spring of sweet water was a rare find.
Once away from the ocean, everything looked the same in the desert. I was glad of the friends’ experience, as it would have been easy to get lost. The way to the spring was marked by cairns of rocks. It was a lot of faith to put in a pile of rocks, but it worked well enough that day.
Many types of cacti dotted the landscape, all of them prickly. Hidden dangers lurked all around. Coyotes and cougars prowled after dusk. Smaller creatures like tarantulas, snakes, and scorpions might be anywhere, just minding their own business, but terrifying all the same.
We passed by an old dry well, not covered, or marked, or barricaded. In the dark anyone could walk right into it and drop thirty feet onto rocks below.
On account of the heat, sun hats, sunscreen, and bottles of water were a must.
Times are different now but in those days, the chances of stumbling onto drug dealers were minimal. I felt perfectly safe when, a few weeks after finding the spring with our friends, I went for a hike by myself.
Later when I mentioned to our host at the beach where we were staying that I’d been for a nice hike in the back country, he waggled a finger at me and shook his head. He warned me not to go by myself again. It was no place for a woman alone.
Still, with such a perfect setting, I couldn’t resist putting this trip to the spring into my novel, Orion’s Gift, about two young people who meet and fall in love in Baja. Sylvia, a beautiful California girl, leaves her upscale home near San Diego after receiving an upsetting letter. She meets Kevin, an Alberta man, who, after receiving a substantial inheritance from his father, leaves a bad marriage behind. Their love seems perfect until they learn that their spouses are tracking them down.
In this excerpt, against the advice of her host, Alfonso, Sylvia has gone to the spring for a quiet day of sketching.
Excerpt from Orion’s Gift
I was disappointed when I first saw the spring a few weeks ago, but I had my water bottle and didn’t need the spring water to be drinkable. The water level of the pool was even lower now and smelled a bit skunky, but it provided water for a good-sized palo verde nearby. The area to the back of the spring was a cool oasis on a hot day. Large flat rocks and smooth boulders under the tree made perfect tables and chairs for sitting and doing my sketching.
A light breeze made the late afternoon heat bearable, and I soon became absorbed in my work. I had a good collection of the various types of cacti in my sketchbook. I ran my hand over the book’s cover. Kevin gave me that. The first day I met him. Sweet of him. I closed my eyes to go back to that day. My brow furrowed and I opened my eyes again. What was that whiff of something in the air? An awful smell. Then it was gone. I looked around. Everything was quiet except for the buzzing of a few flies someplace nearby. Maybe it was the skunky water of the spring. Never mind. I picked up my pen to get back to my drawing. The beautiful palo verde took shape on my pages. I was happy with the results.
I took a break and ate my orange. Back to work again. But oops, sticky fingers. I could use my drinking water, but why waste it when I had spring water. I climbed around the boulders back down to the spring. It had a bit of green stuff growing on the surface, but there was plenty of clear water near the edge and I only needed a wee bit to swish the orange juice off my fingers. Actually, the water didn’t smell bad at all.
Back at my makeshift drawing station, I finished the last drawing. Twice more my nose wrinkled at some awful smell, always when the wind changed direction. Finally it wasn’t pleasant to stay there anymore. I packed my things. It was getting late anyway. Carefully, I picked my way among the boulders, back down to the spring. A gust of wind brought the most horrible smell my way. I almost vomited. Must be a dead animal someplace nearby. Curious now, I checked behind some of the bigger boulders. I found nothing, but the smell grew stronger. The buzzing of flies grew louder. Wings flapped past me and over my head. I ducked and tried to still my pounding heart. A second large bird flew up from a pile of rocks. What on earth was that heap of clothes doing out here? The smell was nauseating. I wanted to run, but I had to know what it was. The mound of clothes … had the shape of a man. A man without a head. My eyes widened and I clamped my hand over my mouth as I screamed. I wanted to let loose and scream out my terror, but I immediately thought, What if whoever did this was still nearby? Oh my God! A man’s body. I think! But there’s no head. It can’t be real. But the flies, the vultures. Then I saw it. A few feet away on a big flat rock lay the head, eyes gone, tongue hanging out, bloodied and torn. He looked familiar. I let out a shriek and, gasping for breath, I ran. I ran, not knowing or caring where I was, as long as it was away from the horror of what was once Manuel.
Orion’s Gift is available for Kindle on amazon.com: http://amzn.to/SFebny
and at smashwords.com for all e-reader types: http://bit.ly/Ru0EEr The paperback version is available at both sites as well.
Also by Anneli Purchase, The Wind Weeps, available on amazon.com: http://amzn.to/TO3AJE
and at smashwords.com: http://bit.ly/yPQvEP