Navajo Reservation, Arizona
They climbed through the steep canyons, a fitful breeze moaning softly as it twisted through fantastically shaped rocks. He wiped his face and let the sweat on his hand soak into his shirt, the bleached and threadbare chambray darkening immediately.
Leave no part of yourself behind.
A hundred yards ahead, the old man walked steadily across the shifting sands and scattered gravel, the bare soles of his leather-hard feet leaving almost no track. Hurrying to catch up, oven-dry air rasped in and out of Jack’s lungs. He ignored his thirst, the dryness of his mouth and throat, and followed Tomas up the loose slope and out of the shade of the canyon.
The plateau was very high, the wind cooler, but the sun hotter, light reflecting from the rock and sand.
Beside a haphazard pile of broken rock, he stopped, off the skyline and in the khaki-toned shadows, watching a single bird riding the thermals in languid circles. Turkey vulture. He wasn’t sure how’d he learned that; Tomas had barely spoken in the first few days, and not much more in the last three weeks. He just somehow knew it, the same way he knew that the distinctive five-toed tracks in the sand near his feet were made by a rock squirrel, looking for shade before the sun rose too much further; the same way he knew that what he could smell, on the warm, dry breeze, was a combination of saltbush and hopsage, the oil-filled leaves bruised by the freshening wind, releasing their scents.
Tomas had vanished. Jack walked away from the rocks, his feet bare and hardened up now, hardly noticing the sharp rock and spiny grasses under them. He didn’t need to look back to see that he wasn’t leaving an easily recognizable trail, keeping mostly to the pitted rock and scattered swathes of gravel; his gaze traversed the ground ahead of him, observing the tracks and trails of the creatures that lived there, the path the water took, where the wind came around the curves of the rocks and how strong it had been and where it had died away.
There was a small tuft of uprooted grass next to the natural chimney, lying where it shouldn’t. He paused then walked lightly around the edge of the crumbling rock, finding an outcropping of harder stone and sitting down, legs dangling into the tawny…