For my son. You always makes me laugh, and that, my boy, is the greatest gift you can give anyone.
I found myself sitting on a cliff on the south rim of the Grand Canyon with my legs dangling into the yawning gap below. The mid-day sun bore down on my head. I felt my hair melting (melting!) and dripping onto my wing suit. It was blue, that wing suit, with yellow trim on the fringes of the wings that flipped open when I shot my arms out to the side. I had yellow gloves to match with frilly little streamers of blue and yellow tethered near my wrists.
Fed up with my melting hair, I slipped on my helmet and pulled my goggles onto my eyes and jumped off the cliff throwing myself into the mouth of the Grand Canyon. A rush of rusty sediment cut by a roaring river filled my vision. My wing suit flapped in the wind and the streamers did their streaming thing, you know, old school streaming. At first, I thought I had a defective suit because that ground sure was coming up fast, but I flapped my arms like Coyote in those old Roadrunner cartoons and the wind caught me. My momentum slowed considerably and I glided to the bottom of the canyon landing perfectly on my feet. Not bad considering I had never used a wing suit before.
I removed my helmet and goggles and shrugged off the wing suit. My hair was no longer melting and had somehow become perfectly coiffed in the confines of the stinky helmet. I fed the equipment to the raging river and watched it disappear in the foamy rapids. Before I could sidle up to the river, I heard heavy footsteps behind me.
“You’ve disturbed the urchins!” said a husky voice behind me.
I whipped my head around to the voice and saw a man-goat standing before me. Well, technically, it was a man-mountain goat of some sort, but we’ll stick with man-goat for expediency.
“Wh-What?” I stammered.
“The urchins are angry!” man-goat said.
Perplexed, I asked “As in sea urchins? Sea urchins can’t survive in freshwater, can they?”
“Not sea urchins, you fool. The furry creatures of the scrub brush. The urchins!” man-goat said impatiently.
“Are they dangerous?” I asked, still skeptical of man-goat’s claim.
“They will eat you like a steak in a piranha pool!” man-goat said puffing out his prodigious chest like he was daring me to doubt him.
“What…I mean, who are you?” I asked, too bewildered to make much sense of it all.
Man-goat seemed taken aback by my question. He paused as if no one had ever asked him to introduce himself. I took a closer look at him. He stood a good six feet tall with a lower half built exactly like an off-white, hairy mountain goat. He had monstrous haunches and powerful looking hooves for feet. At his waist, the hair transitioned to human skin giving way to a v-shaped torso with broad, strong shoulders and muscular arms. His arms were as big around as my thighs. He had a chiseled face like something out of the old-time comic books and head of wavy brown hair. If he weren’t a centaur-like creature with a mountain goat bottom half, he’d be movie-star handsome.
“I’m Troy Goats,” he said finally. I had rattled his confidence, but he stressed the last syllable of his name like he had fought back his uncertainty.
“Troy G-o-a-t-s?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I heard the name right.
“No T-r-o-y G-o-a-t-z,” he replied correcting me in a way that seemed to ridicule my lack of knowledge about the naming conventions for man-goats wandering around in the belly of the Grand Canyon.
“Okay, Troy Goatz, about those urchins…”
“Oh, yeah. They’re going to kill you!” he said adopting the melodramatic baritone that had startled me in the first place.
I doubted what he said. I had seen no evidence of impending doom among the misty river rapids and the brilliant red rocks that surrounded me. The scrub brush lined the walls of the canyon sporadically, but it was not enough to hide an army of doom, no matter what these urchins were.
“You must leave now!”
“It’s going to take a while.” I pointed to the vertical wall behind him. “I don’t know about you, but it’s going to take me a long time to hike out of here.”
“You can abscond down the river.”
“Where did you learn that word? You have a good vocabulary for a man-goat.”
“I went to college.”
“Really, somewhere I’ve heard of?”
“Yes, I graduated at the top of my class.”
“How come I’ve never heard of a man-goat graduating from Harvard, and if you went there, why are you parading down in the Grand Canyon warning hikers of urchins.”
“I’ll explain later. We’re running out of time! To the raft!”
I followed his finger to the edge of the river to the yellow raft anchored in the shallows of the raging river exactly where I’d thrown my suit earlier.
“How’d that get there?”
Troy didn’t answer. Instead, he pushed, no pulled me, to the raft and threw me in. He unhooked the raft and jumped in behind me. His weight almost folded the raft in half until he sat back on his haunches to even out the weight. He threw me a paddle and stuck his paddle at the rear of the raft to navigate.
“Paddle!” he yelled.
We crested the first rapid and then a second before we came to a relatively calm part of the river a good half mile down from where I had landed. So many questions flipped through my mind that my mouth couldn’t articulate a single coherent one to ask Troy Goatz.
“I’m going to take a break,” he said as the boat drifted slowly down the river.
“And do what?” I asked.
“Eat a snack.”
Without answering Troy reached into his fur on his right hip and pulled out a Mountain Dew and peanut butter sandwich. He took a big bite of the sandwich and a long swig of the Mountain Dew. I was thirsty, but not enough to drink Mountain Dew, especially after a man-goat got his nasty tongue all over the bottle.
I shook my head in disbelief, and finally one of my questions rattled loose. “How come I haven’t seen any urchins?” I asked.
Troy put the last of his sandwich in his mouth and shotgunned the rest of the Mountain Dew before he spoke. “Because I got you out of there before they could attack.”
“What exactly is an urchin and how do they ‘kill’ you?”
“It’s a small creature about the size of a Boston Terrier. It looks cute and all until you make it angry. Then, its mouth grows to four times its normal size and its teeth protrude like a buzz saw. It goes for your neck and basically saws your head off.”
As grisly as that sounded, I still doubted it. No such creature existed, but neither does a man-goat.
“Do you have any–,” I started.
“Here’s the next rapid!” Troy yelled.
I turned just in time to see the angry foam swelling up higher than the edge of our raft. I swallowed my question and grabbed my paddle to direct the boat away from the death knell of the rapid, but it was too late. I heard Troy yell as our raft tumbled down the rocky waterfall like a jalopy of a vehicle rattling down stone steps. The water devoured our raft and flipped it end over end. I screamed and grabbed hold of Troy but lost my purchase of his arm. The river sucked me under and I dug my fingers into everything around me including the goat fur on one of his legs. I held on tight, but the sirens of the river were determined to pull me under. I succumbed to their song as my lungs filled with water.
I broke through surface of the water gasping for air and flailing my arms until I realized I was in my bed in my room at home. It had been a dream. An awful, weird dream. My heart settled down and my breathing returned to normal as I focused my eyes on the picture of the Grand Canyon hanging on the wall opposite my bed. I had taken it on my vacation there last year. I had gotten lucky that the photo was so good that it was frame-worthy.
I smiled at the recollection of that vacation. I reached up to my forehead to wipe away the sweat that had formed during my nightmare. I realized I had something rough in my hand as it scratched against my face. I turned my palm over and stared at the swath of wet goat hair in disbelief.