Trauma comes in Many Ways, Caused by the Most Uncommon things.
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The first things he became aware of was that he was thirsty, he was hungry, and he was butt naked. In that order. He was cold, too. The very cold naked man looked up to realize he stood on the lip of a valley that stretched for miles, just a hint of a road down in the belly of it, desiccated country accentuated by Joshua Trees. The soft blue sky stretched away forever. He could smell the creosote, a curious incense of clean desert and urine. Black Bush, Rabbit Bush, Chia, all brown and dead to the eye in the winter’s grasp. No buildings, no water, a blank palette of wilderness as far as he could see. He felt like he could be sucked out into space, he was so alone, naked in so many ways. The rough road he stood on meandered north. After a few steps he contemplated laying down somewhere and waiting quietly to die, but that sounded as uncomfortable as just walking, exchanging the agony of his bare feet on sharp stone to his exposed chest or back. He looked over his shoulder. What was he looking for? In fact, where had he come from? Where was he going? Where was he? Who was he? A biting bitter wind blew across his back as he crested a rise. He absently continued forward, the stabbing stone on his frozen feet a minor distraction to the profound revelation that he had no idea who he was. The more he struggled to remember himself, the more he became aware of a deep sense of shame, guilt. He had done something horribly wrong, but had no idea what it might be. Whether it was his deed or the not knowing that filled him with dread, he could not tell. A stamp mill rose up to his right, and he vaguely recognized something about it. Right above it was a large vertical mine head frame. An extensive mill, it sported a steam engine to power it. Still, it had the rust and static state of an abandoned operation. Shouldn’t there be a fence around it? Shouldn’t there be cyanide tanks above the rig? Yes. Concrete tanks for fining the gold from the tailings of the old mine. But they weren’t there where they should be. That he recognized the landmark, even if there seemed to be something wrong with it, gave him a momentary sense of relief. Around the operation was a jumble of rusting trash; piles of tin cans and broken bottles, metal straps that once bounded lumber for mine bracing, broken shovels and picks, an amazing array of derelict capital. There were several shattered wagons, their wheels busted up, rigging rotting away. Over the hill, to the left of the road, a tumble of shattered wooden buildings, planks shrinking and growing dark in the merciless desert sun and dryness. Closer, another shack, glass still in the windows, had something tacked to the door. There was a clear path from the shack to a much smaller building with a crescent moon cut into the door, a trash pile just past it where the tin cans on top still gleamed, free of rust. The cold man hesitated. He was naked, seeking shelter. What if the door was opened by a woman? Children? He looked around him for something to hide his state of undress. There was a scrap of a tarp, half buried in silty dried mud just off the road. He stepped gingerly to where it lay, bent down to the cloth and pulled at it. His feet shoved into the ground, and when the bit of buried material broke loose from its tomb, he took a hard step back and stabbed his toes against unyielding scrabble. Gritting his teeth, he stood there for a moment, let the cold in his flesh replace the pain in his toes before inspecting the tattered yet tightly woven fabric. There was a galvanized metal grommet at one corner. The material smelled after some kind of petroleum. Water-proofing, he imagined. It wasn’t big enough to fit all the way around his waist, but he held it over his testicles, looked around one more time, sighed, then started toward the shack. What was he guilty of? He was mindful of the splintery wood on the porch. Blood from his sanguine feet stained it. The note tacked to the door read: Gone For Grub Be Back Soon Johnny Lang January 25th 1925 The inside walls of the shack were lined with newspaper and magazine covers. There was very little else there. Faded drapes hung shabbily over the closed windows. The tick mattress rested on a rusty set of springs on an equally rusty bed frame. Not even a blanket. The large stove was cold, the pantry bare. No food. No water. He was out of the wind, but the shack was like a walk-in refrigerator, still and cold. He sighed. He had shelter, but now he had to find something that would pass as clothes. He needed to go out again, find wood to make a fire. He needed something to protect his feet. He had to get warm. So many chores to do, and right now. Through the window, he studied the trash pile, the other structures. The buildings looked mostly like housing of some sort, dorms, boarding houses. Some of them on the verge of collapse, some already there. Housing for maybe fifty men. This had been a substantial operation. He had to take inventory. What was in the cabin? He ransacked the drawers of the large counter. There was a sink, but no faucets. This had been a kitchen, he imagined. He’d seen that before. A cabin dedicated to nothing but food. A large enamel cooking pot, a small one, both chipped. A single china plate, several spoons, forks and knives, two china cups, a china bowl, mismatched and chipped. Three loose wooden matches. A can key, a few empty bottles and jars. Twine. He sat down on the bed, and only then did he realize how exhausted he was. He could lay down, sleep, but he had to get warm first. Even before food or water, he had to do that. On a wooden box next to the bed were several magazines. He picked up one. American Mining, August, 1919. The date struck him. The note outside said 1925. All right, was that the year? Had he found some operation so thoroughly lost that it hadn’t been disturbed for decades? No, he recognized the stamp mill. At least he thought he did. The cabin was in too good of shape. Why couldn’t it be 1925? Why shouldn’t it be? He found the inability to simply accept this as unsettling. He finally did allow that it was 1925, but even that left him with an overwhelming sense of dread. If he had adequate clothing, could he not walk out of there? Once again, he realized he had no idea where ‘there’ was, and so he had no idea where anything else was in relation. Finally, he wrapped the magazine around his left foot, the rawest, and tied a piece of twine about it, twice, to keep it on. After some experimentation, he fit his right foot, stood up and walked around. If there could be but a blanket to wrap around his shoulders, he told himself, that would solve a wealth of problems. But no, not even that. He thought about draping himself in the mattress, but it would be too bulky. There was a tattered towel and a dishrag on two nails over the sink. With the remaining twine and the piece of tarp, he made himself a breach clout. He stared at his legs now, so much of it sickly white, but then some of it moderately tanned. He found himself sleuthing his body for insights into who he was. Sometimes he wore shorts, his legs showed that, but then he rarely wore anything less than ankle-high shoes or boots. There was a mirror on the back wall, and he made a point now to go and look at himself. He recognized the face. Brown eyes set wide apart, brown hair, short, nearly shaved, simple square jaw. His face was well tanned. But there was something wrong, something he couldn’t pin-point. How old was he? Another staggering revelation. He had no idea. The man in the mirror staring back at him looked roughly thirty. He was not muscular, maybe a few pounds over-weight. Definitely not in the best of shape. Not so tall, not so short. Six feet, maybe a little more. He didn’t need a shave. That was a good sign. He couldn’t have been out in the open for more than a day, less. Now he had to go back out again. The cold was the next real enemy to be dealt with. He was still thirsty and hungry, but it was January in some American desert, and that meant it would drop well below freezing tonight. He looked out the window and noted the sun close to noon, maybe a little before. He had five hours to find wood, water, food, and something to wrap himself in while he slept. Nothing else mattered for the time being. He grit his teeth and turned toward the door, grasped the handle and stepped back out onto the porch. The wind cut across him. For a moment he hesitated, wrapping his arms around his bare flabby chest. He turned away from the easterly wind, and pointed now toward the tumbled-down structures to the west. As he walked toward them, he glanced back at the shack he intended to stay in that night, and realized the logic behind pasting the inside walls with newspaper. He could see the news print through the spaces between the shriveling wood planks that made up the walls. Wind and cold would whip through the cabin without something to block it. His magazine footwear wasn’t going to last long, he knew. He had to find wood to burn and water to drink. One of the reasons the structures to the west were in such poor condition was they had been already stripped of most of the easily retrieved material. Firewood was not going to be easy to find. Inside, the simple metal bed frames were neatly stacked on top of each other in a corner of the structure, rusting away under a skinless skeleton of roofing studs. There were some splinters of wood, scraps more suited for kindling lying about. He hunted around for something to carry them in. He spotted a crumpled bucket. With some effort, he managed to open it up a bit. It still had its wire handle, and this made it easier for the very cold man to carry the growing material around. Out a glassless window, he spotted something moving delicately through the black bush. It was big for a mule deer. The animal had moved along behind the buildings, browsing as it worked its way to a wooden water trough that had collapsed decades ago, but had been replaced with a large fifty-five gallon drum cut in half. That’s now where the hand pump delivered water to. On several occasions the deer had looked right at him as he had maneuvered downwind from the gray buck. Each time he had looked away, concentrated on clearing his mind. Each time the deer had lost interest in him and gone back to browsing. The wind, still cutting his flesh, had masked the noise he made as he closed the distance between him and the buck, browned-eyed beautiful creature. The very cold man had found himself in a meditative state, a trance, really. The cold, the smell of the desert, the clear sharp contrast of the wilderness around him, all replaced his emotional reaction to the pain he was in. He felt no malice, no sadness, no shame or guilt. He was not angry, he was not in a rush, he just was, and he eased toward the deer with no intent. He was now so close, arms distance, that he could smell the dusty flesh of the deer, the slight odor of its dung. He had raised the large stone in both hands sometime back, rested it on top of his head, and now feared his arms had fallen asleep. He shifted it, and just as he heaved it down toward the deer, the animal jerked its head up. The combined momentum of the deer coming up and the stone coming down crushed the back of the buck’s head. It staggered away on its spindly legs, reminding the cold man of a newborn colt, then it collapsed onto its side, giving the man a chance to close the distance and delivery another blow. He stood there, gasping from the exertion of the kill, paused, looked to the sky. “Thank you.” He was pleased that he recognized his voice, though there was once again, something he couldn’t put a finger on. The question was now, how was he going to skin the animal, tan its hide?