“Doom Desire” by Josh Warrener
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Josh Warrener takes a detour through New Mexico.
Cold permeated. I’d been shaking uncontrollably, teeth rattling, for the better part of an hour. Every time I’d try to make myself stop, the shaking would multiply by an exponent amount and my mind would wander off somewhere else.
It was easy enough to make my mind wander. I’d eaten a cactus flower button and was hallucinating. The events of the last two weeks of my life were pouring forth as if from a spigot. I’d been on business in California, and—on the advice of a distant cousin—had decided to take a detour to New Mexico. I’d hired guides and even bought a new chrome six-gun. I fancied myself a born-again cowpoke, even though I couldn’t ride and had been making the trip astride a mule.
The guides, Willis James and Ambrose Newsome, were based in San Francisco, failed miners turned hired guns. Newsome tipped me off to this group of Navajo fur traders who performed a religious ritual every Friday night and said that it was worth seeing before I went back east. So we all went. The three of us met a group of six Navajo by a fire in a dry river basin and they gave us the buttons.
James, having never been south of Carson City, was just as situationally virginal as I was. He seemed to be having a harder time handling the experience than I was. He sweated profusely, and his eyes darted from face to face as if searching for a betrayal therein of some innate human falsehood. Newsome hadn’t warned us about the intensity of the ritual, explaining only that he had done it once and “liked it.”
I liked it, too. It made me feel like I was a bird and realize how much I’d always wanted to be one. I swore to seeing a murder of crows take off from every corner of my field of view, though we hadn’t seen a single crow in sight for days. I’d been hearing false eagles in my ear all night. The smell of the unspoiled rural west conglomerated in my nose and I felt I’d gained some unearned knowledge of the spirit of the pioneer.
The cold was the worst part. After seven days of hot sun, having every whisper of breeze send you into hypothermic shock—or at least stimulate the same nerves when combined with the button—was antithetical to my peace of mind.
I remember suddenly having to urinate and becoming acutely aware of the feeling of piss sloshing about inside me. I left the others to their mad ravings, to which I’d been paying no heed, and ambled over to some low-lying shrubs.
The heat of the piss almost hurt coming out. Tactile sensation was amplified tenfold under this spell. I felt none of the oneness with nature touted by the Navajo sages, but I did feel more acutely aware of the meaning of each individual thing, which I suppose was something.
As I walked back to the fire, a wall of negative energy broke my stride, and I instinctively darted underneath a bush, terrified. I tuned my hearing towards that direction, and was able to discern that Willis James was losing his goddamned mind.
“Who killed her? My horse . . . Who killed my horse . . .” Entranced, I inched forward under the cover of the brush. I could see a rifle in his hands; it was pointed at the others.
“Your damned horse is over there, James. Sit down and drink some water,” said Newsome trying to calm him down.
James ran up to him possessed by some devil and shoved the gun at his temple so hard it bleed. Newsom went white. I inched closer, drawing out the six.
“That’s her all right, her dead corpse. Brain all everywhere, who in the fuck would do such a sick thing to a innocent damned horse? If someone doesn’t talk now I’ll execute Newsome.” His eyes bugged. A nervous smile flickered on his face for a second. I was almost next to Newsome and him in the bushes, and the button began proliferating on me like it did to him. Paranoia came hard and fast.
“Then do it, goddamn it!”
I stood up and blew his brains out with the six. Newsome fainted. The Navajo scattered to the wind as they had come. I took James’ horse, who’d roused from sleep from the gunshot, and saddled her up. I packed my mule with supplies and the three of us struck off east towards Providence. The button wore off eventually.
JOSH WARRENER is a sophomore journalism student at Emerson College and co-founder of the Sad Squad Artist Collective. He lives a quiet, boring life in Boston and writes when he can.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions to Wilderness Wednesdays are typically posted 2–4 months after being accepted.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Oct 20, 2015
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises
- HNIC (limited edition signed package)
- How the Left Lost Teen Spirit
- The Plot Against Hip Hop
- Drawing Autism
- Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs
- What Is Punk?
- Demons in the Spring
- Artificial Light
- Bronx Biannual: The Literary Journal of Urbane Urban Literature
- Hard Art, DC 1979
- The Failure