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The Hundredth Meridian

A Night on Bald Mountain

Héctor, who had never camped out in his life before, was entirely unprepared for the nighttime cold of the desert in late spring.  And he had failed as well to anticipate the utter and complete blackness—the blackness of outer space, of nothingness—of the desert night.  Though Jesús “Eddie” built a blazing fire that lit up the rocks, brush, and trees for many yards around the camp, the overall effect was more unnerving than reassuring, especially at the edge of the circle where shoals of indeterminate light merged with shadowy ones advancing from the absolute darkness beyond.  Worst of all were the noises—the unknown, unimaginable sounds proceeding from that darkness, from the hurtling downward vibration pulling up abruptly in a trollish grunt that Jesús “Eddie” said was a bullbat, through a noise like rattling bones that in reality was a fall of stones down the steep long cañón behind the camp, to the whistle of the wind like ghosts’-breath in the boughs of the stunted, hideously deformed piñon pines standing black against a backdrop of stars as thick as frozen sandgrains.  With so much to nourish and stimulate his imagination, Héctor could if he wished—but did not, after the first attempt—imagine the stark mountainside ringing with the murderous shrieks of a couple-dozen Apache raiders breasting the steeps with heavy trunks upon...

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