Desert Doom

This post written by Mike Staton.
This post written by Mike Staton.

AUTHOR’s NOTE: Can men be diagnosed with osteoporosis? I didn’t think so. Yet I have osteoporosis. When I slammed into a concrete floor in 2010 while descending football stadium benches, I broke my hip. I thought it was solely caused by the force of the fall. Maybe not, I now realize. I wanted to write a nonfiction piece about osteoporosis and the importance of keeping bones strong, but instead plotted a quickie short story that deals with the issue in a creative way.

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Thunder boomed, an explosion that rocked the Red Rock Canyon terrain.

The cellphone camera Danny Russell balanced at eye level dipped to his hip. Instead of focusing on an Anasazi handprint on a rockface atop Burnt Chimney Spine, he spun around. Below, near the trail he’d just climbed, the desert landscape undulated, looking like waves spawned by a storm. Mesquites, Joshuas, yuccas and creosotes yawed wildly.

“Earthquake!” Danny croaked.

The spine swayed, then cracked. Above him, the spine’s tip splintered and caromed past Danny. Another crack… and he felt the ledge give way. Desert terrain gyrated crazily as he tumbled, flattening prickly pears, creosote bushes and marigolds. The tumbling ended, but Danny didn’t know it… a boulder had knocked him unconscious.

Danny Russell loved hiking Red Rock Canyon in Southern Nevada. The views were breathtaking. Normally, he took along a friend. This time, though, he didn't Uh-oh.
Danny Russell loved hiking Red Rock Canyon in Southern Nevada. The views were breathtaking. Normally, he took along a friend. This time, though, he didn’t Uh-oh.

When he awoke, he raised his right hand to his forehead and felt blood, warm and sticky. Stars gleamed in a deep-blue, cloudless sky in the last throes of daylight. He went to rise to his knees and screamed. Pain seared through his body, blinding him for a moment. When able to see again, he tried to turn on his side – and couldn’t. More pain. The cellphone lay just beyond his reach. Every effort to scrabble his fingertips toward the phone sent his body into spasms. He knew that pain better than he knew his ex-wife’s kisses. A broken hip. Just like the one he suffered in 2010.

Back then he’d been a sports writer for a North Carolina weekly newspaper. One fine evening he’d sat midway up football bleachers watching a girls’ high school soccer game. When the game ended, he hopscotched down the rows as if a 16-year-old boy once again. A mistake. Near the bottom, Danny tripped and plunged to the concrete floor. Broken hip… and an ambulance trip to the hospital for surgery followed by two months doing at-home rehab.

In a roundabout way, the 2010 broken hip led Danny to Burnt Chimney Spine and this second broken hip. With a slight limp and a new appreciation for life, he’d driven across the United States in March 2014 to live with a longtime friend and her father in Las Vegas. His North Carolina doctor had given him blood pressure and cholesterol pills to tide him over until Nevada Social Services approved him for Medicaid coverage under Obamacare. First, he swallowed the pills every other day, then every three days, then once a week. When the pills finally dwindled to just a couple, he went to see a doctor. The result: a blood pressure reading of 165 over 90 followed by blood, urine and bone-density X-ray tests.

Danny climbed one of Red Rock Canyon's summits to get photos of the sunset and an ancient painted handprint. Unlucky for him, an earthquake ruined Danny's evening before he had a chance to descend.
Danny climbed one of Red Rock Canyon’s summits to get photos of the sunset and an ancient painted handprint. Unlucky for him, an earthquake ruined Danny’s evening before he had a chance to descend.

The new blood pressure prescription lowered his blood pressure to 130 over 80, but the test results shocked him. Osteoporosis and diabetes. Every time Danny did his 45-minute walks and returned to his new home and friend Cindy and her father James, he’d feel pain and limp badly for several steps – but then his walking would return to normal. Now he had an explanation for the weakness in his hip and leg.

Normally, when Danny hiked in Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire, James came along. James was an active 70-something, loving to visit national and state parks, museums, restaurants, and Las Vegas 51’s baseball and Outlaw Arena football games. This time, though, he headed out on his own, leaving James snoozing in his recliner and Cindy working in the office. Neither knew his destination.

Danny felt for his water bottle, thankful for the warm touch of plastic near his side. A holster still held his 38-caliber pistol, there for protection from snakes. With temperatures dropping, he knew he could outlast the June night, but the next day’s triple-digit temperatures were another matter.

He closed his eyes. When he opened them, slivers of light painted the cliff wall near him. The first streaks of dawn… he must have fallen asleep. And a search party hadn’t found him. He took several swallows of water, then scolded himself for not bringing Granola bars.

The 9 a.m. sun kissed his forearms and legs. By early afternoon, the sunbeams would be grating his extremities. The previous afternoon he’d heard the Channel 3 weatherman predict a high of 107 degrees. Now he wished he had taken a moment to tell Cindy he planned a solitary hike to to get sunset and Anasazi handprint photos, but he feared their chitchat would awaken her father. James always wanted to accompany him, but this once Danny hungered for solitude. Osteoporosis? That only happened to women. Wrong, he thought, and then laughed bitterly.

With just a canteen of water and no food, Danny's only chance of survival depended on the chance arrival of hikers. Perhaps two young women hikers would stumble across him before the relentless sun forced him to make a hard life-and-death decision.
With just a canteen of water and no food, Danny’s only chance of survival depended on the chance arrival of hikers. Perhaps two young women hikers would stumble across him before the relentless sun forced him to make a hard life-and-death decision.

No doubt Cindy and James had contacted the police. They were probably checking hospitals or telling them he’d probably driven to California or Arizona and would return when ready.

Danny took another sip of water. In time, hikers would find him. But when? He screwed the cap back on the bottle and sighed. He could conserve the lukewarm water for several days. But he didn’t have food and he’d not last long once the water was gone, not in this triple-digit heat. He sure didn’t want to suffer.

He glanced again at the phone – so close and yet always beyond reach. He tried to crawl. The pain stopped him. Danny decided he’d wait for several more days, enduring the heat and the sunburn, the thirst and the stomach pangs. Hikers would have to eventually show up. If not – he touched his pistol’s grip – he could put the barrel to his temple and slide his finger along the trigger.

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Mike’s the author of a fantasy trilogy. Two novels, The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin, have been published by a small ebook publisher. The concluding novel, Assassins’ Lair, is in final draft and being published. To learn more: http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Staton/e/B007ZSSNRM.