...and hike up the nearby hill.

I rise early, which means I had only slept an hour or two. Being careful not to wake my fellow campers, I slip on my shoes and grab my daypack and slip out of camp, with a mind to hike up the nearby hill and watch the sun rise.

The jaunt nearly ends before it begins, as the brush is so thick I can barely make any progress. But, after a struggle of only a few yards, a small clearing opens up, followed by another thicket, then another clearing, then a thicket, a clearing, and so on.

Each clearing reveals something more interesting --a rusted, ambiguous piece of machinery, then the crumbled remains of a prospector's cabin, the yellowed bones of some large mammal, an unnatural depression in the earth with a strange symbol etched in the turf. Likewise, each thicket is increasingly more difficult to get through.

As I stumble from the final thicket -- cursed with thorns and baby spiders -- I notice that my clothes are torn and I am scratched and bleeding on my arms and chest and cheeks. Somehow the sun has appeared and casts a light of sulfurous yellow . It burns my skin, as if suddenly I am cast upon the surface of some alien acidworld.

I can go no further; the far end of the field butts up against a nearly vertical rock cliff. Vegetation clings to the stone with more vigor the higher it goes. At the top, tall pines meet the sky.

Then, I see a flash -- coming from behind a growth of brush at the base of the cliff. A careful investigation reveals, to my surprise, an old Volkswagen van, the rear half buried in the side of the cliff, about four feet from the ground, the nose sticking up and outward at a forty-five degree angle to my eye's level, like a missile shooting from a cannon. The lay of the rubble around its base adds to the illusion that the van had burrowed from the ground, rather than been placed there from above.

As I step closer, dust and pebbles from the rocky slopes above rain down upon the top of the van. Sudden -- a gritty, low-toned growl. Large rocks begin falling all around -- then a warbling, trombone-like blast as a skinny man with sun-blackened skin and long matted hair, wearing only a tattered pair of short, cut-off jeans with his balls hanging out plops into the clearing as if dumped from a spaceship.

A mouse-like squeak claws its way from my throat and dies on my lips. The man jumps to his feet, his eyes wide and solid black, his cheeks puffed out , evidently filled with the red fluid that drips from the sides of his mouth. I try to run but my legs will not move.

The man hops over the van like a chimpanzee, slaps his hand on one of the side windows, then spews the contents of his mouth over his fingers. He removes his hand, revealing a perfect print. He looks with amazement at the print, then at his hand, then briefly at me, then back to his hand.

"Well, I'll be go-to-hell," he says in a drunken-like mumble.

I turn and run. But, strangely, my next conscious moment occurs thirty feet from where I had just turned and ran: I am looking back over my shoulder at the man still looking at his dripping hand, and me with no memory of the transition from being there to being here, thirty feet away.

And then, again, I am in the thicket, looking back through the brush at the strange man leaning against the van with his finger up his nose to the second knuckle.

Now, I am at the edge of our camp, realizing that I was mistaken about my shirt and the scratches and the blood.

Now I am in camp.

Now Phopaw and Norm are looking at me with worried faces, talking to me in a language that I can not understand.

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