Igneous creature — Igneous land.
There is an intimate chemistry between the mind and its surroundings. Sometimes it’s nothing but an admixture; sometimes there’s a reaction. This is a story about combustion.
We called her Cindy. My parents found her in an orphanage when she was just a baby and I was just a toddler. She was born on some godforsaken island off the coast of Turkey. I was born in New Armenia, in the sink south of Fresno. She was my only sister. She was my only brother.
Cindy was one of a kind. She was stronger than most boys. I’ve never known anyone with such a steady hand and steady eye. She was an ace archer—dead shot. Sharp, too.
She wasn’t what you’d call pretty, but she had eyes that could look right through you, or even burn into you. Their color was brown, like her curls, but they glowed like amber in the light.
The Sink is a basin where all the water and smoke gather, where the dust and the heat of the sky settle, as do many colors of people. It is the bosom companion of the Range of Fire in the east where the day breaks.
I found a friend in high school. He called himself Sam. Kids said he was a fierce fighter, but I never saw him get into any fights. Maybe he earned that reputation before we met. When I got to know him, he was making his reputation as the town’s star defensive back. He was quick—and cunning. He had a way of helping an opposing receiver get open. He wanted the quarterback to throw to his man so he could apply the hit. He didn’t seem to care much about the score. All he wanted was that hit. Rumor had it he’d shed tears after every collision, but nobody ever brought it up around him. I wasn’t a big football fan so I didn’t watch him play much, but I saw enough.
You wouldn’t have heard about him. They said he wasn’t big enough for college football; besides, he wasn’t interested in going to college or going pro. Sure, he craved the violent contact of football, but he craved his chores even more. More than anything, he just wanted to work at his family dairy. The harder he worked, the happier he was—if he was happy at all.
He didn’t need much else. I think he was afraid of girls, or maybe he just didn’t trust them. Not my area of expertise.
He carried a leash around everywhere he went—a dog leash. He wore it as a belt. Nobody ever said a word about it so far as I can recall.
I learned years later that Sam hadn’t always lived at the dairy and that his last name hadn’t always been Dorah. Turns out he was Iranian. The Dorahs took him in because he kept showing up with his dog, scrounging for food. He’d been on the run. It seemed Sam had got into some trouble with fire down in oil country. He never said much about his past. ‘Course I never dared to ask.
Sam and I didn’t have a lot in common. He had his cows and his gridiron and I had my maps and my ten-speed, but we were both loners so we didn’t annoy each other.
I’d done some fishing as a kid, and there came a day when I took to fishing again. I got Sam to join me by the ditch, and before long we were riding our bikes up to the lake, and then up onto the Range, once I set my mind on that golden trout. It might not have been the Golden Fleece, but then again, they say the Fleece got its gold from a stream.
We followed the old Hockett Trail and the Kaweah River to golden trout country. We met Giants along the way. We met a cowboy who worked a herd with his horse and his dog. He spent his free time fishing. He was a trout tickler, which means he fished with his hands. I could never figure out how he did it. He made it sound so easy. Next time we went to the Range, we were looking for him more than the trout.
After a year or so, Cindy joined in. She was a natural on and off the trail. She was better at finding her way around the mountains than me and Sam put together.
But Cindy had one weakness. Sometime in her early years, she’d developed a terrible fear of fire. This was more than a little inconvenient, even more with her family being Armenian. We were expected to love fire, but Cindy, she didn’t like stoves, clothes driers, cars, fireplaces, or anything else with a fire in it.
She sure wasn’t fond of forest fires. She made that clear one hot and breezy day on the Range when she spotted a column of smoke. It was too close for Cindy’s comfort, and she ran off down the trail. Sam and I lost her. She finally showed up late that night, all wet and burned. There was nylon fused to her skin. She was a bit dazed and she was running a temperature, but so far as she was concerned she was just fine—better than fine, really. She’d seen something that night that changed her. She went from fear to enchantment in a flash, and that led to trouble.
When Cindy got into something, she could really dig into it. She began to play with fire. She experimented with it in the kitchen. She studied the chemistry of it. You might have thought she was crazy, but she wasn’t missing any of her marbles. She was maybe a little too focused is all.
Sam had a focus of his own. He had an eye for Cindy, though he did his best not to show it. I’m still not quite sure of what he saw in her.
It happened that someone had an eye for Sam, and that someone wasn’t just anybody. Sue Coswell was the county’s crown cowgirl, heir apparent of one of the Sink’s wealthiest farm families. She happened to go to our school, though she could afford a lot better. This cowgirl didn’t ride in on a horse; she rode in on a Kawasaki. Sam could only manage to fear her, but she was not easily dissuaded. She contrived a strategy to get Cindy out of Sam’s sight, offering Cindy a job with the family empire.
One of the perks of Cindy’s new job was access to Rosie, Sue’s bike. As Cindy mastered her mechanical mount, she began to ride up onto the Range on her days off. Well, Sam, he got wheels of his own, and when he wasn’t avoiding Cindy he might just as likely have been tracking her—call it what you like. One day, that got him into some trouble on the Range. He put himself between a mother and her cubs, and if it weren’t for Cindy finding him he might have died there. Thing was, Cindy had to start a signal fire to save him, and that got her into trouble with the law. That didn’t sit well with Sam. She had saved his life, and he’d got her locked up in return.
There’d been some suspicious fire activity on the Range that summer, and there was this ranger who thought he’d apprehended a serial firebug when he arrested Cindy, though he could only prove she started one fire. Still, that ranger got her locked up for months. She didn’t seem to mind much. She was a model prisoner. She was near due to be released when she busted out, and the whole mess started all over again.
The ranger finally caught up with Cindy after no small effort, but this time things turned out a bit different. There was a fire—a lightning fire, and he tracked her into it with the help of a pair of hunters; but he shouldn’t have. I guess Cindy wasn’t ready to give up so easy, and none of them came out of that fire—dead or alive. It was a hot one—a firestorm, and no trace was ever found of them.
When we lost Cindy, I just headed for the coast and tried to forget. I couldn’t face my mother. I knew she’d take it hard. She roamed the rooms of her house for years. Sam wandered up and down the Range, following vultures and chasing fires, saying that he was following “her.”
I saw Sam once after that, after I’d finished school and landed a job in Yosemite. It was on the day those big fires started on the west side of the park. I’d been feeling unsettled that morning, so I took the day off to hike, and I found Sam in a hazardous situation between the spine of a ridge and the belly of a thundercloud, and I fled for my own safety. Like I said, I haven’t seen him since. I haven’t seen Cindy either, except for the occasional ghost.
For a more detailed account, please refer to the book: