He didn’t know what had woken him; probably it had been the chill in the air, because he was only wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The sky, dark as it ever got in LA, had no moon yet and only a scattering of stars. Gabe sat up, scrambled around in his backpack and found his phone: 7.23. He’d slept for ages, out for the count too, as there was another missed call from his mom. It was late, so she’d no doubt be worried, and he was hungry now – hungry enough not to care about the mood round the dinner table. Time to go home. Gabe slid down the rock, now cooler to the touch, most of its heat given back to the night, and got his bike. Standing for a moment he debated what to do, finally admitting there was no way it would be a good idea to ride out. He was going to have to walk the twisting path, which clung like ivy to the steep hillsides.
As he set off, Gabe thought about calling his mom, but decided not to. She’d only ask what he was doing, who he was with and where he was.
“Well, Ma, I just woke up, alone in the canyon,”wasn’t what she’d want to hear. He’d figure out a better story by the time he got home. And, kind of like the way life often is, everything went fine until it didn’t.
Even when you’re trying hard to be careful, if nothing goes wrong for long enough you get cocky and the lazy part of your brain stops paying as much
attention as it should. That was how Gabe failed to notice how unstable the pathway was. The next step he took, the ground unexpectedly gave way, he lost
his balance and, arms flailing, he fell. It wasn’t all bad. The drop turned out to be not so steep or so very far down, and also he let go of his bike and it didn’t come tumbling after him. Gabe, who was fit enough and good enough to be in the
school athletic team, managed the fall pretty well, skidding down the side of the narrow arroyo, arms and legs held close in. He came to a stop, slightly winded, a bit bruised but with nothing broken, in a bed of dried-up mud.
There’d been a short, sharp late-summer storm, a pretty spectacular one, the previous week. The sky had turned coal-tar black in the middle of the day,
there was thunder and it seemed like a ton of water per square metre had fallen in about two minutes flat. Drains had blocked, gutters overflowed, dogs went crazy, traffic snarled up and then, as quick as it had started, it was over. All that water had had to go somewhere, and in the canyon a deluge hurtled downwards, finding any exit it could; it ripped out
small trees and dislodged rocks and earth from the arroyo – brick-dry from the long, hot summer – as it raced towards the San Fernando valley.
Picking himself up, Gabe found he was in a two maybe three-metre deep, four-metre wide cut that wouldn’t have been there before the storm. As he looked around for the best way to get back up to his bike, the moon peeked over the ragged treeline behind him. Its soft, monochrome light made it seem like he was standing in an old grainy photographic negative; it gave everything a weird, spooky look.
A metre or so away from him it also picked out the distinctive shape of a human skull.