I walked over the hills to look for the wolf, taking the same path I’d run in my astral form. I wandered through trees and stones and dust. It was lucky that I had the moon, so I had plenty of light to see in front of me. The sky was getting lighter with each step. I zipped up my leather jacket, and kept hiking, trying to quicken my pace. He said to come back before dawn. The sky was beginning to lighten with its red fingers raking across the desert sky. I remembered what my dad had once told me and my brother on our vacation to Big Sur years ago. “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” This was the desert not the ocean, but I couldn’t help thinking it still applied.
I had no idea what I was walking into, but what the wolf had said had jived with what my gut had been telling me since San Francisco. We couldn’t stick together. It was a promise I had to break. Good luck follows bad and vice versa, so I was due.
I had a .357 and a half a box of ammo and three clips, so if I was walking into something, at least there was that. Flip taught me how to shoot the second time he took me out. We practiced on empty bottles and cans, and he said I was a practically an ace, a dead-eye as beginners go. I went over what he taught me. Boxer’s stance. Left foot forward. Right foot back. Hold it high. Hold it hard. Less kick, less jump. Sights in a straight line. Eyes on the front sight. Roll the trigger. My mind passed over the process a few more times, keeping my mind occupied as I walked. I had the pistol tucked in the back waist of my jeans, and my jacket to cover it.
Just when the sun began to leak over the horizon, I came upon a monolith shaped like a warped skull of some kind. It had a large hollow eye above a triangular crater above crooked vertical grooves. Smoke rose behind the stone, so walked up to it and around and found an old man sitting cross-legged by the fire.
His back was to me, and he was shirtless, with a long grey braid down his back. I was just about to announce my presence, when he said in a deep and mellow voice, “Share the fire with me, Girl. You don’t have much time.”
I hesitated for a moment but decided this is what I came for and sat down on the ground next to him. He had one eye just like the wolf, and the other eye socket revealed a white space rimmed with red. He had a pelt of fur across his lap and a wreath of black feathers around his neck. Otherwise all he was wearing was a pair of dirty faded jeans. His chest was covered in angular tattoos in red, black, and yellow. He also had tattoo on his forehead of a sun and the four phases of the moon were drawn under his eyes, two under each eye. He had a hooked nose that looked like it had been broken and hardly anything for a chin.
I realized I was staring, so I shook my head to concentrate. I started to speak, but he cut me off again, “How old are you, Girl?”
His mouth twitched into a grim smile, and he whispered, “How old are you, really?”
“Seventeen….” He didn’t answer this time, but his gaze pressed me further. “Sixteen.”
“Sixteen, and a woman grown. What’s that in your hand?”
I looked down at my hand. “An induction jack.”
“Foreign matter. An abomination.”
“Uhh… If you say so. Who are you?”
“I am Onatah Okwaho.”
“On-a-tah Ok---“ I just nodded and tried to take in the idea.
“You may call me Old Man Wolf.”
“So that was you last night. How did you do that?”
“What did I do?”
“You were a wolf.”
“It was a form of magic, Girl.”
“Ah ok. Like a masking spell or something?”
He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t inquire further. The guy had an authoritative air about him, and I really didn’t want to annoy him. He reached into a leather sack covered in beads and stitching and pulled out a pipe and filled it. After it was lit, he puffed from it and handed it to me. I looked at him wide-eyed in answer.
“You will see what you are meant to see.”
Or I could end up stoned off my hoop out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, miles from pretty much everywhere, without a clue why I came here.
I took a long pull from the pipe and exhaled skyward, and within moments the sun started traveling across the sky at warp speed, the long red fingers of the sun dissolving swiftly into a clear blue sky. Suddenly, my eyelids felt very heavy, and I fought to keep them open. My head began to swim. The last thing I saw was Old Man Wolf easing me down onto a slip of fur.
Then, I was standing in a room that looked like outer space clouds and streams of alphanumeric characters zooming past me like stars, my hand pressed to a glass wall, downloading them, passing them through me. It had to be the Trix. My reflection in the glass was a woman with multicolored hair like tongues of flame, and eyes like black holes swirling hypnotically with white, clothed in all black with black wings and an orbiting black halo above my head. An orb flickering with runes and swirling with data was embedded in my right hand and a redline pistol in my left. Then my image collapsed into a stream of vivid neon light, and I sped off, sailing like a comet with a tail. I ran into a panther and shattered it into oblivion. I passed through a train station and slipped through the door just in time for it to take off.
When I got off the bus, I caught a glimpse in a window, and I looked like me again--blonde curls, blue eyes, clothing tattered and worn. It was snowing lightly, and I walked down from the platform and out into the street and stopped in front of a door. Over the door there was a sign that said, “Harvey Hightower and Associates.” I opened the door, and the room was black. I was wandering through dark rooms and dark hallways, running and then walking to catch my breath. I walked for what felt like an eternity, and then, I woke up.
When I opened my eyes, Old Man Wolf was preparing dinner. He was roasting something on a spit, and had a couple cans of beans stuck down in the fire to cook. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, looking around. I was in the same place I was when I went down, but now it was dusk again. The old man handed me a canteen of water, and I drank from it heartily, gulping down the water so fast I almost choked and spat out a mouthful, coughing. I touched my face. I had a ferocious sunburn on the left side of my face and along my left arm.
“You palefaces don’t do well out here in sun of the desert.”
“Well if I’d known I was going on a psychedelic adventure, I might have used sunblock. Did you just call me a paleface, Old Man?”
The old man laughed for the first time. His laugh was warm and friendly. “Your energy is refreshing, Girl. So tell me what did you see, young Quinn?”I blinked my eyes a few times, “Quinn? My name’ s Kirsten…”
“It won’t be from this moment forward. You will assume a new identity when you leave. So where are you going?”
“How should I know? This is weird.” I stood up and fished a pack of cigarettes from my pack and lit one, and stared him down.
The old man laughed again, “If you understand what you saw, you will know where you are going.”
“Wait. Quinn? Like Quintessence? How did you know what my family called me?”
“I do not pretend to understand how I know what I know. It is never so simple as knowing.”
“Okay enough with the cryptic, mystic crap. I want to know what this is. You call me out here, get me high as fraggin heaven, give me a different name, and ask me where I’m going?”
Old Man Wolf smiled at me and whispered a word, and a wave of serenity washed over me. “Come. You’ve rested. Now you must eat. We will figure this out over supper.”
“Was that a spell? The calm?”
“Just an old trick, Girl.”
He smiled and handed me a tin plate of meat and beans. I was too hungry to ask what it was, but it was filling. After dinner, I lay back on the slip of fur and smoked another cigarette and looked up at the sky. There was only a sliver of a crescent moon in the sky amidst a huge net of stars.
“What I saw was the Trix, I think. And a train station… And an office building with a sign. That’s it.”
“So you will need to find that office. I don’t pretend to understand the technology of this new world, but use it if you must. You are headed to Denver, I believe. I saw you in a city of mountains and snow in my fires last night.” He tossed me another pelt of fur. “In the morning, I’ll take you in and get you set up with a ride to the train depot in Twentynine Palms. My boy will take you.”
“I have questions.” All I had were questions, honestly.
“Of course you do. No more for today. Let your mind rest.”
"You punched me in the boob! Prepare to die obviously!" - Roxy Richter.