February 25, 2015 Leave a comment
The dust storm had come out of nowhere dropping visibility to zero and sending the Cessna into a spiral. He tried to radio for help but that was down too. He barely had time to grab his chute and jump before the plane dove. Through sand and swirling wind, it was a miracle he made it to ground, landing rough in a patch of thorny shrubs. The storm had moved on and it was eerily still on terra firma, with good visibility. Beige sand, rock and cactus stretched as far as the eye could see. He was somewhere in the Mexico’s central Chihuahuan Desert. This land was vast and desolate.
He was scuffed up and he’d bruised a shoulder, but he was otherwise physically fine. There was real concern, however, about making it out alive with no phone or supplies, knowing no one would miss him for days. He’d need water and food and mainly he’d need luck. He was no Bear Grylls. He didn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wild, about getting moisture from cacti or eating wild berries. Odds were against him, which made slogging though the desert, with no known destination, that much harder.
He made a tactical decision to head west, based on a dubious mental picture gleaned from glances at flight maps, of an area he’d never been to. Seven hours later it hadn’t worked out and he was in real trouble. Maybe every plan would have produced the same result. It was that remote here, and not in any way pleasant. It was hot and dry with little shade and except for a few insects, lizards and that one hare, he hadn’t seen signs of any life, let alone humans. In all the time he’d been walking the landscape had barely changed, and soon night would fall.
The temperature dropped considerably after dark, and the wildlife came out. He tried to sleep on the sand, then on a flattish rock but was kept up by the cold, the scorpions and the clouds of biting gnats. Daybreak brought massive relief, but it was short lived. He hadn’t had water in almost a day, food in longer and the cloudless sky framed a cruel sun. Without hat or sleeves his skin grew red and blistered. Exhausted, he pushed on, striving towards a fictional target, towards an invented savior, hoping against hope to find a person, road or stream. But this was a far-off corner of hell few others would think to visit. He took breaks beside boulders, tried to dig for water in the dust, catch lizards to eat raw, but this only tired him further and made his fingers bleed. He struggled on.
32 hours in, and John had begun to lose hope. He was feeling dizzy and had started to shiver. His feet were cut up and every step sent searing pain up his leg and through his back. He could not swallow, could barely see, and night would soon be upon him again. He knew that it would take him this time. That if he lay down on its endless sandy bed, under its callous, cold and silent darkness, it would take him from this world. He was so tired, so very tired and sore, but he kept walking, staving off an inevitable night. Maybe exhaustion would ease his passing. Perhaps delirium would cushion his journey from this realm. Perhaps insanity would—
‘Oi, mate. What you doin here?’ A hoarse chuckle. ‘Figured I was the only bloke crazy enough to venture to these parts!’ More laughter.
When John looked up the man was right in front of him: a big man with a round belly and full red beard dressed in khaki shorts, a pink polo, and a felt bush hat. John thought he must already have slipped some way into madness as it looked like the man held a pair of tongs in one hand, a beer in the other. ‘You lost or something?’ the impossible vision asked, stepping closer, and then laughing again. As John also stepped forward he saw more that he struggled to make sense of: tables and chairs; pots, pans, and cooler boxes; a large fire with a barbecue grill set up over it; several other people carrying cameras and microphones; and further away, a helicopter.
‘Welcome to the set of Bazza Barnes: Remote Kitchen,’ the big man said. ‘A beauty, isn’t it? And that makes me Bazza,’ he added, having reached John and sticking out a hand. John took it. It was like a bear paw. ‘You can call me Bazz, Bazzmaster or Badman B if you want,’ Bazza said, still shaking, and following with his customary laugh, which sounded much louder and deeper up close.
‘Remote Kitchen?’ John managed through his desiccated throat.
‘Yeah, yeah. You got it. It’s a cooking show. They fly me to some of the remotest places on earth and I set up a kitchen and cook one hell of a bloody tasty feast, if i say so myself, right there and then. I’m quite famous in Australia, but I guess you’ve never seen the show or you’d be acting more impressed.’ More laughter. It had begun to be deeply soothing. ‘Isn’t this place is crackers though,’ he said, looking around. ‘Brutal spot. Just brutal—but I guess I don’t have to tell you that by the look of things.’ He contented himself with huge squint-eyed smile this time. ‘How’d you get heres anyways?’
‘Plane crash. Sorry, please, I need water.’
‘Of course, of course,’ with a great wallop on the back. ‘You want sparkling or still? Cold or room temperature? Probably hungry too, aren’t ya?’ Bazza put an arm around him. ‘Let’s walk you over to camp and get you fed. Got a whole menu on the go: mini lamb burgers with tzaziki and crispy onions, grilled chicken with Sriracha mayo and crunchy apple beet slaw, a beef bourguignon that’s been on the low coals for hours, and a huge chocolate marble sheet cake. Oh, and I’ve got ice cold beer on draught. A corker of an amber ale. Figure it’ll hit the spot in this climate and I reckon it’ll taste better than sex to someone in your position—but of course, we’ll get you a few sips of water first, get hydration goin. That’s only reasonable.’ There came the inevitable laughter. ‘Then we’ll sit you down, feed you for hours and keep the beers coming. Oh boy, I’m glad you dropped in! Tonight is going to be aces. And hell, mate, looks like you going to be on Aussie TV too!’
By E.M. Vireo