Art by mail: The thing in the desert

Message on postcard:

  1. This is the story of the thing in the desert. It begins as the sun rises on the Alvord playa. It’s hot and dry. I’m saving water.
  2. I’m in the van, working on my sketchbook. The dogs are hanging out outside, full of energy after eating breakfast. Then there’s a series of yips, and Skillet runs in with a bone.
  3. “Great Scott!” I exclaim. Thanks to years of active participation in online paleoanthropology forums, I recognize the bone as soon as I see it. It’s a hominid femur, twenty to forty thousand years old.
  4. I step out of the van and the dogs eagerly lead me to the site of their find. There in the sun-baked surface of the ancient, dry lakebed is the rest of a nearly complete skeleton.
  5. But something is wrong. The skull has horns. My dogs have unearthed the unthinkable — a prehistoric race of demon people.
  6. What’s more, the skeleton belonged to a demon-person who clearly had been laid to rest in some kind of ceremonial burial. He was surrounded by ritual artifacts. In his hand was a bouquet of paleobotanical fossil flowers. And on his finger, a ring.
  7. I ignore my instincts. I remove the ring.
  8. The skeleton’s head swivels, and a dusty voice creaks out . “DOOOOOOOD,” he said, “NOOOOOOOOO.” Behind me, Steens Mountain split in two.
  9. At this point the dogs are seriously freaking out. Eagles are flying out of the mountain. Everything is rumbling. The skeleton is wiggling, big time.
  10. And that’s when the smooth jazz kicks out, announcing Noam Chomsky’s arrival. He strides forth from the mountain.
  11. “Noam,” I say, “This smooth jazz? I didn’t realize you were a David Sanborn fan. Also, I thought you lived in Boston, not an underground magma chamber.”
  12. “Mike,” he says, “that demon skeleton was the linchpin of America’s two-party political system. Thanks to your discovery we can welcome in a new era of tolerance, fairness, and plurality.”
  13. “Okay,” I said.

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