Lodged in faults and crevices a hundred feet above them were nests of straw and jetsam from old high water and the riders could hear the mutter of thunder in some nameless distance and they kept watch on the narrow shape of sky overhead for any darkness of impending rain.
Setting: You go in from the coast, in through the valley-and-mesa. Then the mountains arise before you, all boulders and chaparral and blue oaks. Up and down the mountains, like a green carpet, the shitty scratchy kind you find in a low-rent community rumpus room, avocado with grey splotches like old foot-ground gum. But the chaparral is deceiving; for all it looks like rolling carpet, it hides sharp gullies that can eat man and horse and spit them out somewhere else bloody and bewildered. Roll d10.
1: An old blue oak spreads wide over a bald hilltop. Tied to the limbs with hempen cord are wrist-thick locks of hair, each painstakingly braided. They wave in the breeze.
2: Four metates are worn in the smooth top of the granite. They are always full of water, no matter when it last rained.
3: A wedding under the oaks. Each tree is bound with bright, makeshift ribbons. Shabby lashed-wood symbols of incoherent make hang from the trees. An elfgirl. An elfboy. Guests, strictly segregated by some unknown code of ancient manners. Many sentinels, and arrows for interlopers—two feuding bands are being bound today, and expect other bands to disrupt.
4: Some of the long-limbed oaks are bound with bright, coarse-woven cloth, ribbons tightly interlaced, carefully knotted, not a loose end anywhere. Those are the safe oaks.
5: When the sun rises or sets, the watching shadows stand atop the hills, elongated giantmen staring into the twilight.
6: The valley floor, straw-colored swaying dried weeds, waving in the wind, begins to move. Really move. The weeds run. Uproot and frantic, they all flee together, swirling and wheeling around obstacles like a flock of starlings.
7: You smell it first. Then you see the haze of white smoke, smudging out the distance. Then the billows. Brush fire. Don’t run uphill—that shit’s faster than you.
8: The air smells of rain. Blue sky, but it’s there in the distance, grey needles from sullen withdrawn far-off clouds. The arroyos will be full in a second—in a flash, as freight trains of filthy frothing flood comes, half water and half skull-smashing debris.
9: The fire has gone but the rain has come. The black hillsides groan under the weight of water, gravity grinding gravel and substrate no longer tendoned by roots and dendrites. The hills will fall; will you be beneath?
10: The coyotes are here. All of them.
The chaparral hides more than it will ever show.