"Watchers" by Scott Cheshire
Issue #16 / March 2015
Illustrated by Mark Para
SCOTT CHESHIRE earned his MFA from Hunter College. His work has been published in Harper's, Electric Literature, Slice, AGNI, Guernica and the Picador anthology The Book of Men. He lives in New York City. High as the Horses’ Bridles is his first novel.
"I’ve seen the Racetrack Playa for eleven years in Januarys when the desert air and ground are still forgiving. My first year here was spent with the faces one finds in clouds, with the old men, running men, the dancing men one sees in the gnarled and raised roots of arrow weed, in the arms-in-the-air surrender of the Joshua tree, in the ever-changing weathered walls of towering rock and mud. In time, they all move and fall.
My second year here on the playa, I met two others—Raymond and Sport, a gay couple, Australian. They were wandering the Americas on foot and riding the occasional Greyhound. I happened by them in my Honda as they hitched their thumbs from the roadside. We drove some, and then sat facing the sun for two days. We didn’t speak much, our eyes scanning the flat ground beneath us. Some, like Ray and Sport, leave the playa and never come back. Others return for two years, three years. And some just keep on coming.
For instance, I met Thom Storme some ten years ago while staying in a near-dead Pocono resort in Pennsylvania. The kind of place crawling with menthol-breathing Keno addicts by 10 a.m. Thom was the outdoor events coordinator, and we became friendly while snowshoeing across a frozen mountain lake. That long ago morning, Thom taught me how to walk on water.
And I told him about the flat world of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa.
That next January, my third year on the playa, Thom sat beside me as we watched the desert sky beyond us touch the far away ground. Soon enough, we were five on the playa, then ten. Some years, fifteen, never more than fifteen people, I think. In teepees and tents, herding by the fire, some of us with little more than sunglasses and a sleeping bag.