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.

# # #

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.

# # #

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:


21 thoughts on “Desert Doom

  1. That’s a gripping story! I hope he made it out alive. Are you going to write a sequel or is the ending up to us?


  2. Wow- Hope Danny was found and hope you are dealing well with your medical issues. I jog and lift weights to help build bone, plus I take Boniva. My bones are better now than they were 3 years ago. Watch your fat intake and carbs for your diabetes. Can you tell I have those things, plus fibermylgia. Take care. Cher’ley


    1. I have a prescription from the doctor for a medication in pill form that is suppose to grow bone. I took it to the pharmacist. Discovered it wasn’t covered by my Medicaid insurance. The cost? $197 for four pills. You’re to take one pill a week. The medication has some scary side effects. I didn’t fill the prescription. I may in time. For now I am going with calcium with vitamin D and lots of walking. My physical therapist from my broken hip days just told me that walking is good for keeping bones strong. Sorry to hear about your physical issues, Cherley. Sharon has something called dystonia that mostly affects her neck area, but may be starting to spread.


  3. I knew that osteoporosis was more common in women, which sort of indicates it’s not completely unheard of in men. Calcium sounds like it can’t go wrong, Mike, and walking sounds like great therapy as well, providing it’s not excruciating. Take care.


  4. Great story, illustrating your point very well. Bone loss affects many people, and I think we notice it due to a larger aging population. Plus our diets have not been supportive of good health. Best to you and your ‘health’ regime, and thank you for a great story. Doris


    1. So true, Doris. I had three bouts of kidney stones back in the ’80s and was told to drink lots of cranberry juice and go easy on calcium supplements. Now they say take the calcium and drink lots of water to flush stones. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my earlier self to keep with the calcium and drink lots and lots and lots of water.


  5. I think he got rescued by the two women in the picture, who took their picture with him before calling for help! Sunshine is good too for osteoporosis, builds vitamin D, needed to use the calcium. And if taking calcium, acid like orange juice helps it be used by the body, so orange juice with calcium is good. Sounds like you are taking good care of yourself. The story was good, kept me hooked! Great imagination Mike.


    1. Hey, Neva. That happens to me too. Don’t notice that I posted something by “Wranglers” until after I post it. I copy it, delete the comment, then change Wranglers to me, paste and repost. Yea, maybe the girls did rescue him. Headline: Guardian Angels Rescue Grandpa.


    1. I do like orange juice. Will drink more of it. Amazingly, I’ve been able to stay away from candy and junk food like Hostess cupcakes for the last few weeks. I need to stay away from the local mall… it has a See’s Candy store.


    1. He seems like a pretty unlucky guy. But then again… luck’s got to change eventually right? Just when is the question. How many hikers like to get a sunset trip from the spire — and if they see that the earthquake wrecked the spire, will they just turn around and head back — and not see the poor guy?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting story, Mike. Guess I’d never thought about men having osteoporosis, but now I know. I can identify with the story because my leg gives out a lot, especially when walking, but I haven’t given up yet. The leg caused me two concussions and several falls over the years, but no broken bones, thank goodness. I loved the line about jumping the bleachers. I still think I’m in my teens too and it gets me into a lot of trouble!


  7. Great story, Mike! You need to send this into a publication … great for fiction and for a medical point to be made. Enjoy your hikes/walks as much as you can — there’s a lot to explore out there! (but watch those snakes!! 🙂


    1. Guess there could be snakes on the neighborhood hiking trails between the neighborhoods. The designers normally leave some greenway (desert way?) on both sides of the concrete trail. Plant desert foliage and sprinkle large boulders between the trees and flowering plants.


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