About three miles north and east of Kim’s grandparents’ ranch was an expanse of nameless northern Arizona canyon. The stone was the color of rust and raw meat. One could drive to it, but, upon arrival, the canyon was only accessible on foot. It seemed to yawn away into forever, even if it didn’t exist on any official maps of the state.
This was Kim’s favorite place to go camping. As a gesture of growing friendship to Mofuko, he brought the young exchange student on one of his excursions. The spot Kim particularly loved was a shallow indention in the stone near a fresh water source. What attracted him to it initially was what was inscribed along the wall; pictograms, older than oldest memory in the region. No one knew who put them there, or when, of course. But Kim always took them as a comforting sign. Something that let him know the place he selected was safe.
“There are marks like this where I come from,” Mofuko told him, starring awestruck at the pictograms as he ran his large hands across the red rock. “The ancestors left them. Seeing these, I know my grandfather would say this shows how all things are connected.”
“Funny. My Grandpa would say the same thing if you told him that,” Kim said with a smile. The both them found that moment to be a defining one in their friendship.
Years later, when they found the red rock outcropping they would come to name the ruin, both them felt drawn to it. Although it was not in a desert canyon, both men agreed that it somehow reminded them of that canyon in northern Arizona. They both agreed it would be a perfect place to set up camp when in the field.
They were not disappointed. The ruin offered several sheltered areas from the elements, as well as spectacular vantage point in which to observe the plain. There was fresh water nearby, even in the dry season. During their initial exploration, Kim came upon Mofuko standing in a beautiful natural alcove. He was staring in awe at the wall, running his hands along the red rock. Carved into the wall were pictograms.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Kim said softly.
“Marks of the ancestors,” there was reverence in Mofuko’s voice, which only surfaced on very rare occasions.
“Your grandfather would say this shows how all things are connected,” Kim said.
“Funny,” Mofuko whispered, a smile slowly forming across his broad face. “Your grandpa would say the same thing if you told him that.”
Ever since, when going into the field, they camped in that alcove. There was a running joke between them that were going to someday leave marks of their own. Kim often suggested the remnants of a tic-tac-toe game, saying it would puzzle future anthropologists for centuries afterward. Mofuko suggested a smiley face and the well-wishes of having a nice day. Whenever these schemes were mentioned, they were laughed at, but quickly dismissed. Part of it was the reverence for the nameless artists that left the first pictograms, but the other aspect, Kim would often say, was they had no carving tools with them.
The early spring observations did not take up too much of the day and the weather was blissfully mild. Both Kim and Mofuko knew Tiben would be ribbing them about their milk run. Because of that, Kim began to compose an alternate field log with stories of wild predators, marauding militants, horrible storms, and even aliens from outer space, attacking their campsite. His reasoning being that it would at least keep Tiben entertained, if not convince him that their expedition into the field had been more than a mere camping trip.
On their final night, Mofuko brought out meat from its specially sealed containment to cook for dinner. He also pulled out two cigars for an afterward indulgence. As was tradition, Kim pulled out the bottle of whiskey for their final night under the wide open sky away from everyone and everything before returning to Crossroads Station. They ate dinner as the sun was setting and cool breeze wafted through their campsite. It was dusk as they cleaned their dishes and lit their cigars. By full dark, the bottle was opened.
“Tiben must never know you brought whiskey for this trip, my brother,” Mofuko chukled.
“He gives me a hard time and I’ll tell him to quit being so damned British.”
“I am not sure that will work.”
“Why not?” Kim inquired through a liberal gulp. “We all harass Louis about being French, and Tibs calls me a Yank more often than he uses my actual name.”
“You have a point,” Mofuko said as he took the bottle.
They sat back, passing the bottle between them slowly and silently. Above them, the moon and stars slowly moved through their nightly dance. Perhaps it was the play of firelight against the rock, maybe it was the whiskey, but the ancient pictograms seemed to almost sway within the copper-colored shadows.
“Snobi and I were talking just before I left, my brother,” Mofuko said finally.
“You’re married,” Kim said. “I hear married people do that sometimes.”
“She thinks it is time to find a woman again.”
“We’ve had this discussion before, Mofuko,” Kim snorted as he grabbed the bottle. “In fact, we have it every last night in the field, but it was old the first time we discussed it. Maybe you shouldn’t drink whiskey.”
“Maybe you should consider it.”
“I’m not ready yet.”
“Kim, my brother,” Mofuko began, already knowing where the discussion was heading, but keeping it up out of habit. “It has been seven years.”
“It can be seven more for all I care!” He snapped. “I’m through with women.”
“Not every woman is like Rosemary. You would do well to remember that.”
“Can we talk about this some other time?”
“I just want you to acknowledge I have a point,” Mofuko said.
“Is it some other time already?” Kim snarled. He then took a rather long pull of whiskey and stood up. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Are you going to leave the bottle?”
“I think you’ve had enough, Mofuko,” Kim replied with another gulp. “But I haven’t.”
With that, Kim stalked off into the shadows. This discussion, this argument, had become such a staple of being out in the field, it was all but choreographed. He would be gone for an hour or so, sitting somewhere in the dark, under the stars, drinking whiskey. Depending upon the heat of the discussion dictated how much was left in the bottle when he returned to camp. They would then finish the rest of the bottle in silence. The next morning, breakfast would be made, they would break camp, and return home. It might be a week or more before they spoke again, but once that happened, the discussion in the dark would not be mentioned.
Mofuko never asked him about what he thought about of saw out there in the shadows of the field. Although he speculated it was on such nights Kim once more fully inspected his memories of his marriage to Rosemary, perhaps trying to figure out where things went so horribly wrong. It seemed like he blamed himself for her opium addiction and the attack, which almost got him stabbed.
The elders of Mofuko’s native village would sometimes tell stories about ghosts and demons that hid in the dark. To a degree, he believed in them. At least when they came to the ruin. They were of Rosemary. Those phantasms that Kim carried with him wherever he went, but it seemed they only truly manifested when Mofuko tried to talk to his friend about the prospect of perhaps meeting someone new.
“Oh, my brother,” Mofuko muttered into the shadows after Kim. “If only I knew how to help you let go of her.”