Please feel free to rip apart the following short story I wrote:
West From Winnemucca
On Sunday May 18th, 1980, I was traveling alongside my older lover, Ms. M——, through an area of Nevada just east of the southernmost part
of the Cascade Mountain Range in California around 9 am in the morning. The land was mostly barren, except for occasional rich spots in the otherwise
cracked and brutal landscape, and the regular irrigated parts of the meager towns, squeezing what they could (presumably) from the remainder of the
Colorado and the smaller, closer rivers, blossoming gypsum scattered on lonesome rock piles. The Suicide tape was playing. We were going west away
from Summit Lake over the endless brown terrain, over iron deposits, over countless unholy wastelands when we found ourselves driving through a place
called Chinatown. The sheer surprise of coming across a town named thus in the outskirts of (though still very much mortally far into) the desert,
struck us both as severely obscure, as I gathered from Ms. M——‘s skeptical furrowed brow and curled, mock-pouting lips. The place had been
renamed Dayton at some point in the 19th century. There was a one-on-one, a man-against-man feel to the town. The damn place looked like it was
still a gun-slinging old west town, with those seemingly arbitrary square facades on the saloons and banks, with nothing inside the buildings, then a
guy shoots you from the roof and you realize the value of a high fortified vantage point.
We met each other earlier that week on an arranged expedition I would have thought a chance encounter, judging by the overall oddity of it. My
journal says it was Monday night, the 12th, but I fear there was some overlap into the next day. I initially found myself in this part of the country
as a post-graduate, working towards degrees in Geology and Archaeology. With a graduate background in Spanish and Uto-Aztecan languages and dialects,
I became interested in the Northern Paiute Indians, the Numa, and which, if any, of their myths concerning the creation of the world pertained to the
Cascade Mountains; it would be interesting to see if any themes (or anything really) had relevance in my own research, which consisted mainly of
comparing mineral samples from ancient establishments then talking about and comparing various antiquated systems of archaeological analysis. The
question of what the human animal needs to survive has always fascinated me; also, I’m interested in how the variety of raw materials contained in a
given area produces logical corresponding societies. Recently I have seen that there are momentary examples of ancient mythology containing partial
naturalistic observations, but these scant occurrences, compared to those of the fantastic (in abundance), are intriguing and of particular concern to
my current research. Understand, my background led me to this region simply to record information without judgment. There is, I would say, in
general, relatively little public knowledge of the cultural intricacies of ancient American and Mesoamerican civilization. Specifically, because
there were discrepancies between various publications of Native American myths from the area, I took up the challenge of recovering all the basic
outlines for the stories on an interview by interview basis.
Previously in my studies, I had read that there was an ancient Paiute story describing a radical change in the shape and geology of several
of the High Cascades in an abnormally short time period. There were also reports of snakelike beings who were humanoid and who were thought to be
gods, appearing as apparitions to various Paiute individuals. The Pomo Indians of Northern California have a myth describing the creation of the
human race where a coyote and an ancient reptile called Hatanutal, are sitting in a sweat lodge when the reptile comes up with the idea that if men
were to be created, they would need fingers. Understandably, the coyote (who is a highly venerated deity in at least several Native American tribes)
becomes angry, his pride is damaged and at this point, fights the reptile. Since the reptile wins, (because he has fingers) people are given fingers.
After all, I thought, fingers are more common on reptiles than coyotes, though reptiles could be said to be farther evolutionarily from humans than
coyotes. When I read this, the idea of a strangely fascinating divergent evolution or absurd co-reality transfixed my thoughts for the following
weeks. Then I heard reports of seismic motion scattered throughout the area stretching from Northern California to Washington State and these alerts
galvanized my imagination, producing this trip to Northwestern Nevada where I met Ms. M—.
Her skin was a dark gold color, underneath her black, almost cobalt hair. I found her illuminated in the morning, facing northeast towards a
saturated orange dust cover over the outskirts of Winnemucca, under the peeling cream sky. A mighty assortment of charms and jewels suspended in
loops of leather and twine hung from her neck—it looked like typical gypsy garb to me. Her figure was immaculate; she had a waist-to-hip ratio that
was truly pleasing—mathematically fertile. She stood on top of a knee-high wind and dust-smoothed rock; it must have been partially worn and
polished by repetition of foot movements, or so I gathered. It reminded me of the one polished statue in the art museum where the sign explicitly
asks you “to touch me please.” Nestled near the rock, upon which she stood with elaborate suspended shell and feather puppets, bellow there,
slickly tucked down in the shade of the crevice, was a rattlesnake looking at me. Above, she seemed to be recreating some kind of event with the
puppets, though I almost snickered at the flimsiness of the whole operation. She was to be my interpreter, Ms. M—, Madam Gypsy Winter, the real
thing. She had an almost Middle Eastern or Asian look to her; she was beautifully exotic, an ethereal woman of high fantasy, though from what I could
tell, she was probably Native American and from a nearby village. When she spoke to me, I instantly realized how seriously affected I was by her
presence. Her accent was musical to me; her face seemed to be perfectly in harmony with the words she spoke, reflecting the vast land in her deep
hyperconscious eyes. “I’m finished, who are you?” she said, as she turned around to see me with the other half of her body still facing the
horizon, her dark garb loosely hanging over. “I’m the researcher from New York, I know Dr. S— at USN.” She slid down. As she walked towards
me, her shroud dragged in the dirt, leaving a steady trail in the sand behind her that slithered back to the rock. “Ok, you look good Mr. Gillman,
the bright sun will bring cooperative interviews.” “Call me Ethan,” I said. Then the cloud cover ended our moment together. She told me she
would act as the most effective liaison she could, in her power, providing accurate transcriptions of every conversation we would have in written
Paiute, which she had partially devised on her own. I was more than happy to have such a lovely companion.
We walked to a coffee shop, though it looked more like someone’s home. It was across from a playground with a jungle gym and slide that
looked dilapidated from disuse. Apparently, we would have to wait a few hours for our rural contact to wake up. In that case, I said, I would have
the most caffeinated beverage I could get, but she seemed to order something for both of us before I could clarify my intentions.
We passed the time reviewing the topography of the region, identifying landmarks, towns; I would point to a location, pronounce the English word, then
she would give me the actual name of the place, which I would transcribe phonetically on a notepad. As she pronounced the words, I would get
strangely inebriated as if in a half-dream or reverie, though more potent and imagistic.
Eventually the waiter brought out two glasses of what looked like tea, but the aroma reminded me of questionable botanicals, sour fruit, or
surgical gas. We sipped our drinks, glad to have something to do while we waited for our initial trip out to the reservation to commence. She told
me her father was of some importance to her tribe and would arrange for us to have as close to an authentic experience as we wanted. When I asked her
to clarify what she meant by “authentic,” she seemed to deliberately look for some distraction so as to avoid obligation to respond. After
something more about her powerful allies, she agreed it was time to get to work, so we got out of there and I was glad. As we were leaving, I noticed
an odd swivel to the way she moved, and for a second I remembered her earlier that day on the rock. I could still taste the bitterness from that
The road and landscape were deserted to the point of looking scary; it was as if the entire planet was in a vacuum, the silence; isolation is
real out here I thought. Somewhere around Dayton I started feeling uneasy because we had been driving for hours and days and she seemed to be
directing me towards the most unlikely of places, in circles. Whenever I would ask her if we were on the right track, she would produce a strange
expression that would momentarily erase our urgencies. Once we had driven down a stretch of highway for about 1 hour, then arrived in front of a
sandstone gorge and had to turn around and drive in the opposite direction for an additional hour. She seemed amused that we had had a small
adventure. But the issue of gas was starting to concern me. We could die out here, after all, but she wouldn’t so much as sigh at our troubles en
route. After we ran over some sort of scaly fellow, maybe a cousin of the Gila Monster, she began laughing hysterically, possibly half sobbing.
Eventually I got the distinct impression that I was riding with a lunatic towards some unknown peril.
Just after 9 am, Ms. M—— began making a strange gulping sound in her throat; her tonsils and glands seemed to be puffing in and out like she was
breathing through gills of sorts. This was right around a cattle farm with the endless fence stretching down and over the rolling layout. I noticed
an adolescent male with a black t-shirt and brown Stetson walking along the highway with a few others. They looked completely out of place; they were
obscenely dusty and dirty, a few had dreadlocks, but they were the kind of kids you’d expect to find hanging around a cul-de-sac in the suburbs
somewhere. I mentioned the anachronism to my guide: she said they were probably runaways from a nearby teenage discipline camp, where dissatisfied
parents send their delinquent kids who never did drugs or grew their hair out in the 70’s. Then M——‘s eyes flashed a green glint that made me
swerve minutely. She said we were close to the meeting spot.
We got out of the claustrophobic jeep at the edge of a prehistoric lakebed where salt and oversized barnacles were all that was left of the thing,
with plenty of fossils for the paleontologists to gawk at. I picked up a rock with the impression of a large trilobite-looking creature in it and
thought I would bring it back with me as a lark for old Daniel Spooner, one of my eccentric and slightly sterile colleagues. He had expressed an
interest in the wealth of fossil material available in this area of the country. I had almost fully refined my plan for how I would present it to him
as a surprise in my mind when Ms. M—— started looking towards the opposite edge of the barren shoreline with her superstitious stare, towards some
small huts or barracks. Upon learning that we were to venture to that place, I said, “can’t we just drive over there?” “No, the land would
die and blood fill the lake. It would mean infinite cosmic violence. It’s taboo. We walk.” Great, I thought, now I can begin investigating the
business that brought me out here in the first place and leave sooner.
As we walked towards the other side of the lakebed, Ms. M—— began a short, startling, disjointed story:
When we were young, my father told me how our people were subverted by yours, long ago Ethan, before our people could make peace. We fear we are like
the Buckthorn strewn before you in a circle; we are a means to an end for you. But your magic is weary of this place, which I can see plainly in your
hesitation. I can now only offer you one thing: peace or violence. Our high lords are present today and the land will be appeased.
Just as I had thought, this woman would be a good correspondent precisely because she believes these stories, so she would know a great deal of
detail, though I feared I would be the object of resentment for the whole lot of them; I would be the white man to them, and they would be skeptical
of my intentions because of the unfortunate turn of events that can be referenced easily in the annals of American history. Hell, I thought, I’m
not Andrew Jackson.
As we arrived at the small gathering of dwellings, my heart began palpitating in nervous adrenalized anticipation of the events that would follow. I
could smell prickly meat cooking, juicy herbs burning. As soon as I made eye contact with one of the men, we were approached. My guide talked to him
for a couple minutes, laughing and reeling while he remained expressionless. The exchange eventually gave me the feeling that I was witnessing
something alien. I ate a Lifesaver and watched the people around us as their interest had undoubtedly flared up at our presence. In a couple
seconds, we were led into one of the larger houses where we were seated on folding metal chairs next to a wood stove. The place was not decorated in
a way you would expect a Native American’s house to be: piles of papers everywhere, Coke bottles, rum bottles, whiskey bottles, beer bottles, ash
trays, a few TV’s that were on with nobody watching them. Everything was frozen in a familiar hibernating kind of way with white walls and I got
the sense that I could be anywhere; I forgot where we had driven, where we had gone. The place reminded me of a childhood friend’s house that had
been a questionable household, or so I remembered it. I was, however, well situated and ready to learn what I could for my book that I would have to
get published in the following months.
Suddenly sound struck me down. Some ritualistic chant if I ever heard one. I was being summoned. Ms. M——, she would lead me to the small
I walked down the steps onto the dirt, to the common area between the houses, following Ms. M——, just as a thick cloud cover passed over and
blocked out most of the sunlight; the entire shallow valley plain seemed eclipsed, with a grey-orange light cast over everything for miles. I
followed my attractive companion to a fire pit where people were dressed like animals, with the skins of wolves, snakes, and a variety of smaller
mammalian creatures. There was meat drying all over the place.
I took my seat in the circle around the fire pit, and as I did so I was grabbed from behind by the shoulders, by enormous powerful hands that picked
me up, threw me to the ground. Laughter. I landed, and wincing, just barely noticed one of the tribesmen throw some powdery substance into the fire:
there was a red flash, then what followed reminded me of a strobe light which seemed eerily unnatural, producing an uncanny feeling that made me think
I was witnessing some truly hellish activity. Ms. M— stood up, disrobed, and took a supremely sturdy stance in the dirt; she put her arms above her
head, stiffened, and much to my amazement and horror she began what seemed like an utterly painful transformation, as if giving birth through the
face. She drank something out of a carved wood bowl, then began thrashing and chanting. I thought, “good God, this is out of control.” Then she
began to fornicate with some of the tribesmen and I immediately felt shameful distaste of what I was witnessing, feeling slightly nauseous. I started
to walk back to the common area to find my stuff and leave; I noticed there was a guy with a strobe light attached to an extension cord running back
to the house—my feelings were hurt. What the hell was I doing here I thought. I took a glance back at the fire pit and saw my old companion taking
some slugs of Jack Daniel’s, pouring some into a wooden bowl, handing it to one of the other guys. # this, I thought, and began walking towards the
edge of the dry salted lakebed to the car, alone. I felt cheated; what did I expect to learn here anyway, coming out here willy-nilly? I deserved
this really. What a waste of money.
On the way back to Dayton, there was a mild earth quake that shook some rock formations, crumbling them in amusing ways. I thought about Daniel
Spooner and compared myself to him, afraid of the similarities. All enthusiasm and energy I had felt was gone. Ms. M—— was gone. I thought
later that I should have stayed and tried to endure the spectacle, but there was something too real about the whole thing that really put me off.