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J. Allen Wilson

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Desperation Gulch
By J. Allen Wilson
Posted: Saturday, September 27, 2003
Last edited: Saturday, September 27, 2003

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Recent stories by J. Allen Wilson
· The Thanksgiving That Was and The Silver Star
· “Ceremony of the Gift”
· Twice Loved and Twice Left
· A Boy and His Journey
· The Death Of Josiah Johnson/ 2nd installment
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· The Daddy Long-Back Letters Continued
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Fiction tale of a old miners deliverance from evil.

Sparkling sand shone forth on the distant vista as the tormenting sun bore its harsh and unrelenting heat upon my bare skin. It had been two days now, and still no trail in sight; just empty wasteland and this old miners harrowing plight. Tall and intimidating sandstone cliffs stood in silence on both sides of me. To the front of me, nestled in blackness was an opening; a gorge, a portal that beckoned me into the unknown. Haggard and dry, I ventured onward. I knew that I had to find water soon, or I would surely die. Desperation begets desperation I thought, as I took a jagged rock and inscribed the words "Now Entering Desperation Gulch" into the soft sandstone edifice that loomed before me.
Tossing the stone aside, I stepped into the darkness. Thinking that this may be the last time I see the light of day, I turned and looked toward the entrance of the ravine, picked up another piece of stone and scribbled my name, " Henry Thomas came this way---1878". I then began my trek into destinations unknown. The words, "unknown" rang out in hollow spasms inside my mind, as I walked forward into the shadows. Thirst consumed my being, my judgment; and all that I could think, or feel, or breathe, resounded in one word. Water! I stopped and scrounged for my canteen; then lifted the almost empty container to my lips. I slowly nursed the cool liquid savoring each drop. Words cannot describe the pleasure that a few drops of water can be to a man lost in the desert, and dying of thirst. Water, precious water is what this old miner needed and there was none in sight; not even a drop. Memories of a circuit riding preacher man filled my mind, and I could hear his voice, as he told about a rich man who had all that his money could buy, and had want or need of nothing. The preacher continued to tell that upon his death, the rich man’s money could not buy him the one thing that he wanted. He was engulfed in hot, fiery, inescapable flames, begging a man called Abraham to allow his servant to dip the tip of his finger in cool water to place upon his dry, parched tongue. In the desert, water is as subtle as a maiden’s kiss; it does not reach out and slap you, it just lingers in secret places. But there was no such lingering here, no tell tale signs of lichen on the rocks, not even a thistle of scrub that would indicate the presence of moisture.
Nothing but rocks and shadows; but, at least its cooler. I need to rest, I thought, but I also need to keep moving. For two days I had been steadily walking, searching, and now, I felt the weight of exhaustion dragging my body to a halt, with the same power, as the driving force that was pushing me to quench my thirst. I was torn between the two opposing needs, but eventually I realized the decision was not mine to make. I succumbed. I cozened myself against the wall of the gorge and closed my eyes to rest them, for they were burnt from the white-hot sand that flew around like locust on a farmer’s field. Oh, to rest but a little was sweet, that is until the dream. The dream that awoke me with such a start, that I thought my death to be imminent.
A chill in the air made me aware that it was no longer day, but pitch night. That is part of the mystery of the desert; it can be 110 in the shade by day, and nearly freezing at night. With my heart still pounding, I stood slowly to my feet and observed my surroundings. Against the backdrop of a nearly full moon, the walls of the gorge seemed more ominous than before. Small outcroppings of rocks that appeared in the manner one might expect to see in the light of day now seemed to take on a life of their own. Hideous shapes appeared, sending more terror to my already frightened heart.
Suddenly, behind me, at the entrance to the gorge, I heard the clop, clop, clop of a horse, traveling over the broken shards of stone. Almost overjoyed at the thought of rescue, I turned around and saw what had awakened me from my dream. Fear gripped me, as my eyes fell upon the most monstrous creature I had ever seen. Leaving my pack, I scrambled over one of the rocky outcroppings and headed further into the dark canyon. I ran until I could run no more, feeling that my lungs were on the edge of bursting. I stopped. I tried to listen above the sound of my pounding heart. I heard nothing, not a sound, except that of the wind whistling down the sides of the canyon walls. I thought again of that circuit-riding preacher, remembering how he had told about a certain King that had written a song when he was afraid. Some of those words came to me, as I stood almost paralyzed in my horror. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me". If ever there was a time that I needed to have comfort, it was now.
Alone in the desert, Frightened, exhausted, thirsty, and lost. “Yes”, I mumbled almost audibly. “Yes, if never before, I welcome comfort”.
Then a tiny voice in my head whispered to me. “Call upon me, and I will answer thee”. I knew what the voice was saying, for I had heard it so many times that it had become a part of me; like breathing, but for the most part, I had rejected Him. There were a few times that I did respond and to the best of my knowledge, He did answer. However, He kept calling and I kept running. In my desperation, not knowing whether it would work or not, I cried out, “God, I know that I am not been the best sort in this life and that I have done some things that I am not very proud of.” Without warning, a thunderous crash of rock came down, and there at the edge of the cliff, stood the creature from my dream, with it's front legs thrown high into the air and fire coming from it's nostrils, all I could do was scream.
“Aaarrrgggggghhhhhhhh!” I'm here to tell you now that I was scared to death. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a horse that big in my life, and I knew that I was looking right at the devil, himself! Once again, I bargained with God. "If you ever get me out of this, I'll never go back to my old ways, Amen." I wondered if I really meant it this time, for I always went back to my old ways when the danger I was in had subsided. I never had the courage to change. I always wondered what my friends would think of me if I decided to become religious. The fact is, I do not believe I really wanted to change. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in dire straits and asked God to help me, but as soon as the coast was clear, I would forget all about my promises. There was something different about this time, though, and I was scared out of my wits. I hadn’t any more got amen off the tip of my tongue when that evil creature came running down the cliff headed straight for me. Regaining some of my strength, I set off to running down into that black canyon. Small sharp rocks tore into my flesh, thistles ripped my clothing to shreds, but I kept running. I had no time to worry over those seemingly, little things. Glancing over my shoulder to see if the beast was gaining distance upon me, I ran into a thicket of prickly pear cactus that brought my escape to a painful halt. The sweet fragrance of crushed cactus filled my senses, as thousands of tiny needles stung my flesh. I fell to my knees, writhing in pain. I felt as helpless as a newborn child. Tiny currents of blood streamed down my forehead, mingling with my tears, as I, without hope cried out for salvation. I knew that my death was at hand and that the devil himself had come to ferry me over to the other side. I slowly raised my head, expecting to see the creature, but he was nowhere in sight. My pounding heart reverberated in my head and I felt as if I were almost dead. It was then, that I noticed a faint light at the narrowing of the gorge. Struggling to make my way out of the thicket, on nearly crippled legs, I headed into that direction, leaving the darkness behind me. The moon shone a deep red, the way it does just before setting, and the monstrous shapes that jutted from the canyon walls, were no longer there. Slowly, but deliberately, I set my pace in the direction of the small, but ever growing light at the end of the canyon. I looked occasionally behind me, to see if hell’s stallion was trailing me, but I saw nothing. Numb with fear and bruised in both body and mind, I continued marching. Deeper and deeper into the canyon I went. For some unknown reason, as the light continued to grow brighter, so did my hope. I stopped for just a moment, to catch my breath, when I noticed, not one light, but many lights, and they seemed to be dancing over a clear pool of water. Skipping and dancing on this placid pool, the lights of the desert drew me nearer and nearer until I saw what I had only once heard about. I remembered that old cowpoke. What was his name? Oh yeah, Gypsum Jim. He had come into camp one day shouting some nonsense about desert angels, and how they had guided him to safety after his horse threw him, causing him to suffer a blow to his head. We all thought that he had hit his head harder than he had supposed, or that a little too much sun had half cooked his brain; but now? Now I stand looking at these beautiful lights and I wonder, am I crazy; or, was old Jim telling the truth? I fell to my knees and I began too weep. I looked back at the now distant and dark canyon. For once in my life, I knew that something wonderful had really happened to me. Suddenly, a ball of light flew right up to me and whispered, "Come Hither and you shall be free". And I did! I now know that the light that appeared to me was an angel of God. It led me right out of that canyon and straight to a railroad spur where I was tended, fed, and put on the next train to Carson City.
Now I know that some of you are going to think that I made up all of this and that my brain, too, is half cooked. If you do, then so be it. However, stand forewarned, it was God who delivered me from the devil’s snare, and lest you want to wander in the wilderness and be chased by Hell’s Steed into your own desperation gulch, then you best heed my words and look to God today. Do not wait until hell is on your heels to pray.

I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior. I have declared, and have saved,
And I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore, ye are my witness, saith the Lord, That I am God. Yea, before the day was, I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?
Isaiah 43: 11- 13


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Reviewed by m j hollingshead
enjoyed the read

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