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The Midnight Desert

Stalked by coyotes in the last glowing embers of sunset; rattlesnakes leaping out at you from bushes as you hike; scorpions just waiting for some unsuspecting walker to pass by wearing sandals. All these are just some of the means that the desert has as its disposal to kill you, should you be so disrespectful as not to respect its power. If you find yourself out there, without food or water or cellphone, the desert will show no mercy. She will claim you for her own; you will slip away, and then her animals will come to feed, until your bones are picked clean and left to bleach in her unrelenting sun. It’s not a pretty death, but it’s nevertheless part of the cycle. Everything dies to become food for something else. It’s the natural order of things.

Yet there is something out there that is wholly unnatural. Terrifyingly, sickeningly, unspeakably unnatural.

I used to be complacent of the Mojave Desert. Of course, I’d heard all the myths and legends about the foul creatures that inhabit the nighttime desert, but skepticism and complacency meant that I merely assumed these tall tales had been created to stop folks going into the desert alone after sundown. My complacency ended on the night of Halloween 2001.

That night, the full moon was riding high. The scrubland bordering the desert was illuminated in a silvery, almost ethereal, glow. I was parked on the edge of the desert, on a small road that headed straight into the scrubland, before petering out into a dirt track, which in turn disappeared into the desert. My Cherokee was in park, the engine idling, while I stared vacantly into the distance, wondering what to do next.

A kaleidoscope of images swirled through my mind. My boyfriend, Dan, and my best friend, Emma, naked on the bed; the hot tears stinging my face as I ran from the room, screaming that I never wanted to see either of them again; my grandmas face, as I practically collided with her as I sped out of the driveway. She was right all along, of course. Dan was a “bad one”. His eyes were too close together. Pity Emma’s legs weren’t.

I couldn’t go back there, not yet anyway. I needed some time alone, to think; gather my thoughts in peace, without other people giving me well-meaning, but otherwise unsolicited, advice.

“Fuck it!” I said out loud. And slamming the Cherokee into drive, I sped off into the desert, leaving naught but a trail of dust and small stones in my wake.

During the day, the skies of the Mojave are a clear blue. The ground is flat and sparse, with nothing save the odd cactus or shrub to break the monotony stretching for miles and miles. At night, the desert takes on a power of its own, a power reinforced by the sheer infinity of it all. Beyond the sphere of lights from your own car, or the moon sailing on the ocean of stars above, there is nothing but an absolute blackness. And it was in this blackness that I hoped to find the anodyne of solitude.

Once I felt that I had gone far enough, I stopped the car, put it in park, turned off the ignition, and stepped out. Grabbing a blanket from the trunk, I wrapped it around me, and then climbed up onto the roof of the Cherokee. Then I lay back, let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and marvelled at the multitudinous stars, their twinkling unimpeded by light pollution.

I breathed deeply and evenly, listening to the sounds of the desert permeating the night air. There were bugs chirruping, the rustling of dried brush as the light breeze wound through the withered leaves. The same light breeze brushed against my face, as if it were stroking my skin, soothing, comforting. My heart slowed, my breathing became slightly deeper, and before long my anger and frustration were ebbing away, as I drifted into a tranquil doze.

They say that when you fall asleep somewhere new, part of your brain remains awake, alert to any danger. So it must have been with me, for suddenly I was awake.

A noise. One quite apart from those which I had heard before. A kind of soft thud and then a scrape, like something dragging in the dirt.

I listened, motionless.

There is was again. The thud and the scrape. Like someone taking a step and dragging their other foot.

Flooded with adrenaline, I was up and off the roof of the Cherokee in an instant. A moment more, and I was back inside the car, locking all the doors and fumbling to put the key in the ignition. Finally, I managed to get the key in and fired up the Cherokee, flipping on the headlights as I did so. The desert lit up in front of me. Small wisps of dust danced in the light, dust that had been kicked up by whatever had left strange shapes in the dirt; shapes that looked like the print of a human foot, together with drag marks.

Someone was out there. Someone who seemingly couldn’t walk properly. Were they hurt? Trying to get attention? Were they dangerous? All these thoughts and more ran through my mind, chasing each other round and round, until a movement through the passenger side window broke my concentration. Slowly, I turned my head to see the cause of the movement, and immediately wished I hadn’t.

It was human in shape, but that is where the similarity ended. Every inch of skin on the…creature, was red, blistered, and hanging off in great swags. It had no lips, just a gaping mouth filled with long, sharp, rotting teeth. Empty black holes stained with dried blood took the place of eyes, while claw-like nails protruded from long skeletal fingers. Before I could even react, it slammed its body against the passenger window, leaving streaks of blood on the glass, while it growled and screamed in a way that sounded as if each note was shredding its throat. Time and again its hand banged so hard against the glass that I knew it was only a matter of time before it gave way. Instinctively, I threw the Cherokee into drive, floored the accelerator and careered forward into the night, while the creature stumbled after me through the dust.

I had gone less than five hundred meters, when more creatures appeared, filtering into the light of the headlights from the blackness of the desert. Though they were all different in shape, they all had the same red, blistered, peeling skin, the same lipless, gaping mouths, and the same empty holes where eyes should have been. I was going as fast as the engine would allow, so that as these creatures leaped at the car, one by one my faithful Cherokee deflected their attacks and they fell, wailing and screaming, into the dust.

Somehow I managed to find the dirt track which I had initially followed, and soon I was nearing the main highway. Despite the fact that I had gone to the desert to be alone, now, more than anything, the idea of being alone filled me with dread. Turning off the main highway, I headed out towards my grandma’s place.

The lights still burned in the window, as I skidded the Cherokee to a halt on her driveway. She must have heard the screech of tyres, because she opened the front door before I even had a chance to knock. I fell into her arms, sobbing and shaking, muttering incoherently about the desert and monsters. Despite the bizarre details, my grandma believed my story. She said that she had heard of such creatures when she was a girl, but that like me, she had believed they were just stories created to stop foolish people like me going into the desert after dark.

Over strong coffee laced with brandy, we hypothesized as to what these creatures were. Demons? Military experiments? Revenants? There were endless possibilities.

Although several years have passed since that night, I have never told anyone other than my grandma about my experience. I only speak of it now because of a story that hit the headlines earlier today. A pair of hikers who had set off into the Mojave desert ten days ago, had been found dead. Their bodies had been shredded, their eyes gouged out leaving gaping holes of dried blood. Members of the nighttime search party called in the grisly discovery to the local police, who in turn dispatched forensic officers to scene. Upon arrival, however, the bodies – and the search party – had disappeared.

And so, I find myself telling you of my experience in the hope it may serve as a warning. A warning that there is something, something terrible, something horrible, something insatiable, out there in the midnight desert.

Copyright © 2019 Whispers Amongst The Corn


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